I think rice pilaf has gotten a bad rap over the past few years.  It’s become this tasteless, mushy mess… so much so that when someone says “pilaf”, people have come to see it more as a “starch filler.”  That’s why, after tasting Alton’s rice pilaf, I was in love.

Rice Pilaf

We’re now on Episode 12, Season 1: “Rice Pilaf.”  Let me say first, this post has been a long time coming… and I could not wait to get caught up and write it!  That’s because my sweet James and I realized we hadn’t fixed an Alton application yet for his family… so we trucked on over to the grocery store, picked up our ingredients, then drove to his parents’ house to prepare a wonderful Alton meal for his dad, Jim, mom, Mary and brother, Marc.

Alton teaches me “any rice dish that begins with cooking the rice in fat before adding the liquid is technically a pilaf” and that by doing this, it gives the rice more flavor.  Now don’t be getting disgusted and judging this pilaf because it uses “fat”.  The “fat” here in fact is a very small amount of butter… nothing to be scared of.  To further up the rice pilaf’s taste more, I also learned you’re supposed to bring many more flavors to the dish (something pilafs today seem to have forgotten).  Flavors we brought to this one — onion, bell peppers, orange zest, bay leaves, peas, raisins, pistachios, and saffron.  If you’re like me, you may think the last three odd ingredients to add to pilaf, but let me encourage you never to leave them out.  I am not a raisin or pistachio person, but if remaking this (which I have since this post), I will still add both — without any second thoughts.  As far as the saffron… Alton, again, I am so happy we met.  I’ve always wanted to cook with saffron, but most recipes don’t call for it.  However now, I had a wonderful excuse to spend about $15 on a very small packet of spice.  (And yes, I’m not even joking.  saffron is expensive… mainly when you account for what you get — which is a few stigmas from crocus flowers.  Now I could be wrong because there are probably several types of crocus, but I’ve had crocus on my list of ‘Flowers I Want To Plant’ for awhile… which makes me wonder if the every day crocus here can produce saffron?  …Then again, maybe not because if so, the price wouldn’t be so high…)

Crocus with red stigmas (which become saffron)

Back to the application… First, James and I melted butter to sweat our onion and red bell pepper…

Onion and bell pepper sweating it out over low heat

…then time to add the rice.   Alton calls for long-grain white rice.  We went to Whole Foods (surprise, surprise) because they have an amazing selection of rice… but the words “long-grain rice” were never printed on any!  Sure there were “short-grain” and “medium-grain” words easily seen on others… but in the end, James and I chose what we thought was best: white California basmati rice solely because, looking at the grains, this type was longer than the others.  Researching now, we made the perfect choice.  I just learned, according to Whole Foods‘, there are three common varieties of long-grain rice: basmati, Carolina, jasmine or Texmati.

White California Basmati Rice

From here, we turned up the heat to medium, cooking the rice with our veggies… until we smelled nuts, as Alton says.  James thought this was funny because, “What rice will smell like nuts?”, but as determined for the bajillionth time, Alton is never wrong.

So while I was cooking the rice and patiently waiting for the nut aroma, James went on the hunt for Paris, my puppy.  Enter Paris: Paris is my life and blood (no, I’m not joking).  I found my little chihuahua-miniature pinscher mix at a Radford shelter.  I had been avidly searching for a puppy to adopt for months, without luck.  I found most shelters have larger, older breeds… which is perfectly fine except I was in college… which meant living in a very small apartment with three other roommates… and I also wasn’t allowed to have any type of pet in my said apartment.  But I’m a rule breaker, and I needed a puppy in my life (growing up with dogs, I found that was one of the saddest experiences about college — not having a four-legged best friend).  So the only probable way I could fit and get a pup meant the bred had to be a tiny one.  I searched and searched… visiting and calling so many shelters… until one extremely cold snowy February morning, the shelter woman told me they just got in three new puppies.  I rushed down and fell head-over-heels in love with Paris… who PS–was named Rosie then.  I learned Par, her brother and her sister had been found in a barn by a farmer… and keep in mind, I did say earlier, this is during a very cold, snowy February day in the mountains.  The woman told me if that farmer hadn’t come in that day, there’s no doubt the puppies wouldn’t have made it.  In the end, my dream puppy had always been a miniature pinscher so I snatched up this new little black-and-tan friend… and named her Paris Rose, because it only seemed right to name her after the city of love since it was near Valentine’s Day… and because “Rose” fits perfectly with Valentine’s Day, along with staying true to her kennel name “Rosie.”  To cut a long story short, this three-week old puppy and I were instantly inseparable; I brought her everywhere.  (Again, no joke.  Paris often frequents grocery stores and mainly Walmart… but before you judge, I think a small puppy in a bag carries a lot less harm than little toddlers, who run sneezing, nose-whipping and coughing on every item in the store you’re about to purchase.  …Can you tell I prefer dogs over kids?)

Back to the story… So this day, my Rosie-bug went with her “Daddy-Jomes” and I to his parents.  Parie had visited his parents house before, but it was still one of her first times over… which meant I was still on pins and needles.  Here’s why: The first visit, my rambunctious, snotty puppy was horrible… and know what?  “Horrible” doesn’t even engulf half of how naughty she was.  James and I walked in the doorway, me — full of hope Paris would put her best paw forward, allowing James’ family to fall in love with her… but instead, the second her paw hit the ground, she began growling and snapping at James’ family dog, Teddy!  Poor, sweet Teddy is a cairn terrier whose getting up there age-wise.  All I could think — with jaw completely dropped — was, “Oh. my. God.  Paris is going to give him a heart attack!”  Luckily, Teddy lived through the disaster by being his regular defensive, grumpy, stubborn-self… but gosh-darn it, when it came down it, Teddy had every right to be unfriendly to this new brat, trottin’ through his home!  Anyway, so — before James and I could even get into the house — Teddy and Paris had a fight.  James parents apologized on poor Teddy’s behalf, tucking him quietly into his room.  I was f.u.r.i.o.u.s Paris made him leave the party when he lived there… but I continued to cling to my hope that she would get better and Teddy could come back soon.  Was that the worst of it?  Oooh nooo…  Paris then proceeded to strut around their house and within five minutes — while everyone’s back was turned — crapped in his parents beautiful kitchen while his mom was making dinner.  Again, I was mortified… and again, James’ parents were sweet — blaming it on their ity-bity little teacup Yorkie, Bella… which meant Bella was now down for the count and in the same room with Teddy.  If looks could kill, Paris may not be with us anymore.  I stalked that dog the rest of the night, so much so that I — and everyone else — were convinced she had started to act some-what pleasant.  “It was just first-meeting jitters,” we all said.  Happily, Ted and Bella rejoined the party… only for Paris to further astonish and humiliate me… by chasing Bella — with bugged-eyes and wet, hot panting breaths — to try and hump her!  Oh, it was horrible.  She made me turn into this crazy dog-woman too, crawling on the floor, ducking under tables and swerving around chairs in an attempt to contain her humps.  I yelled.  I whispered.  I smacked her little butt… honest to God, so much that I truly believedJames’ parents would think I lied to them about being a dog person… that or his mom would quickly retract any statement said about how she wants James and I to have babies after we’re married.  You’d think I raised Paris right.  Hell, you’d think my parenting-skills would have shown better… but that dog-of-mine can drag me to wits end some days.

…So that was my daughter’s (disgusting) first visit to her soon-to-be gpa and gma’s house.  Now you can see why I was still on edge bringing her by this time… and why, the entire time we were making dinner, James or I had to put the spoon, knife or veggies down to stalk Paris.  This time, it was James’ turn… and what did he find?!  A p.e.r.f.e.c.t.l.y behaved Par.

James’ mom with my crazy Paris and her Bella

I’m still astonished by this picture.  Paris isn’t the most welcoming pup on the first-few encounters (proven from my above story).  She never lets new people pet her; she’s like a pro football player, expertly dodging hands all while keeping her cool with her nose stuck in the air.  But here is picture proof!  Par letting Mary pet her annnd cuddle her!  I can’t decide if that’s more amazing… or if it’s that Bella is less than a foot away and Paris doesn’t seem to want to hump her!  I was so amazed at James’ find, I relaxed a bit and tried to enjoy cooking…

So where were we?  Time to add the saffron, chicken broth, orange zest, bay leaves, and salt… to the onions, peppers, rice and chicken broth.

Bay leaves, saffron, and a freshly zested orange
Almost-finished rice pilaf
My love stirring the pilaf

After the pilaf is well-blended, it’s time to bake it in the oven… and cover it with a towel.  Yes.  A towel.  I see nothing odd about this…

Towel-covered rice pilaf

Alton says he uses the towel because it creates a tight seal… which then adds a small amount of pressure inside… which theeen accelerates the cooking; and it reduces moisture.  Personally, I thought the rice was a little dry so the next time (or the third time), I may try without the towel. Last but not least, the rice gets a garnish of raisins and pistachios.

As you can see, we wanted to impress James’ family so we also made Alton’s Fish Meuniere.  I’m telling you, if you haven’t tried this trout application yet, you have to do so.  I normally don’t give out Alton’s applications because I want to encourage everyone to buy his book, but for this application, I’ll make an exception.  I’m convinced if you try it, you may just become an Alton fan like me… In the end, our dinner was a complete success.  I’m getting more used to making meals for others (it used to terrify me because I was worried everyone would find the food horrible, but would be so polite they’d eat it regardless)… and his family loved everything, mainly the delicious fish.  James and I were both really awed by the rice.  Saying it had “flavor” is an understatement.  Each ingredient added so much delicious power to the rice… and melded so well with the other ingredients.  I love this rice pilaf, and even though it may take about 30 minutes more than bagged rice pilafs — believe me — the extra minutes are well worth it.

I love you all!  I’m so excited to be a part of your family and have more of these dinners in the future!  Thanks for letting James and I treat you!

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