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Starches

From corn on the cob......to a stiff collar....ah, the wonderment.

Unless you're a Bengal tiger roaming the Asian rainforest, your dinner plate will consist of something other than just meat. Once you've got your vegetable(s) figured out, its time to round out your meal with some form of starch. There are plenty good reasons for a good serving of starch, too. Not only do we eat starches as comfort food, but also they contain vital complex carbohydrates for energy. Obviously, if your weight is a concern, keep this serving to a minimum, as it's likely you won't burn off all those calories after dinner. Unless, of course, you have some serious extracurricular activities planned.

The most common forms of starch that we eat are Potatoes, Rice, and Corn. There are a few things to consider when deciding what to serve and how you'll cook it.

A. POTATOES

Types

Technically, a potato is a tuber, or the fleshy underground root system of a plant that uses it to store starch and/or for reproduction. Ok, so did you really want to hear about potatoes humping? Anyway, also included in this genus are sweet potatoes, yams, and even truffles(although I generally look at truffles as more of a mushroom).

There are several common forms of potatoes found in any grocery store and depending on what you want to do with them will dictate which ones you choose. For regular potatoes, you'll find Russet(or Idaho potatoes); round white from New York and the Eastern seaboard; long white from California; and round red, or "new", potatoes.

Yams and sweet potatoes are essentially the same thing(although technically they have different origins) but they are prepared interchangeably.

Characteristics

Russet potatoes have thick skin and are high in starch, so they are ideal for baking, making french fries, or potato skins. The flesh is fluffy and light when baked, so they do pretty well for mashing.

Both types of white potatoes have thinner skins and medium starch levels and are a bit creamier than the Russets. Great for anything you make, but since they hold their shape pretty well, are also a good choice for potato salads.

Red round and colored potatoes have generally the least amount of starch in them, but hold their shape the best. Most commonly you'll use these for potato salads, but truth be told, I like to use these the best for mashed potatoes because with only a little butter or cream, they produce a really creamy texture.

Yams and Sweet Potatoes have tremendous natural sugar and flavor, so often they need nothing to add to when cooking. These are also favorites during the holiday season.

Cooking

There are tons of ways to prepare potatoes, but mostly you'll either bake them, roast them, or mash them.

If you bake them, which will most likely be your Russets, just be sure to prick the outside skin with a fork; give it a good rub with oil, butter, or bacon fat; a light sprinkle of salt; then wrap tightly in foil and stick in the oven at 400F for an hour. This obviously takes awhile and why I don't bake potatoes too often. Toppings are whatever you want on it, but I like brown gravy or grated cheddar cheese.

The process of roasting potatoes is essentially cutting up any white or colored potato, giving it a light coat of oil(I prefer olive oil, but truffle-infused oil is great too); some herbs, salt and pepper, and then putting them on a pan in the oven at 400F for about 20 minutes or so. Takes less time than baking and I like the visual presentation a bit better too.

Mashed potatoes are by far my favorite. I will also tell you that this is the easiest way to make potatoes as a side dish as well. Simply clean, don't peel, either white or colored potatoes, chop them up, then boil them for 15 minutes. Drain, put in a tablespoon of butter for each medium sized potato, maybe a cup of half and half, salt and pepper, and work out your day's frustrations on the poor little bastards. Voila. Some variations include adding bacon fat, garlic, or substituting the cream with low fat sour cream. Then again, they're your potatoes, you bought 'em, you cooked 'em, you do what you want with them. Unless, of course, there are laws against it.

Yams and sweet potatoes are generally best cooked whole in the oven. Traditional toppings include variations of butter, nutmeg, brown sugar, and maple syrup. Feel free to try other toppings, but these are always a sure bet.

For further reference you can visit the United States Potato Board's website at www.potatohelp.com. Don't laugh....this is someone's life.

B. RICE

Types

The major types of rice you'll find are long and short grain White rice, Jasmine rice, Basmati rice, Wild rice, Brown and Red rice, and the various types of thick grain rice used in Risotto dishes.....but the most used is Arborio. Also less common, but is great if you can get it, is Sticky or Sweet rice.

Characteristics

For most purposes, all white rices have similar flavors and certainly are cooked the same way. White rice should have a slightly nutty flavor and a light texture.

Jasmine rice is also known as Scented or Fragrant rice for its naturally occurring flowery perfume scent, much like Jasmine. It cooks into a fairly soft grain and has a wonderful aroma.

Basmati rice has a more distinctive nutty flavor and a somewhat more resilient texture when cooked. Basmati is a personal favorite of mine, but also a bit more expensive, as it is more limited in its production from India and Pakistan.

Wild, Red, and Brown rices have the least amount of starch in them and have the firmest texture. They also have usually stronger flavors that span nutty to earthy. These grains are great, but will take a bit longer to cook.

Arborio and Sticky rice are thick-grained rices, high in gluten. This is why the Arborio rice is perfect for making rich creamy Risotto dishes and why Sticky rice is great for when you want your rice to actually stick together, as in when you make Sushi.

Cooking

There are many variations on rice recipes, but rice is generally either boiled or steamed. For all white rice, I cook exactly the same way and it never fails: I heat up a pan with about two tablespoons of oil, butter, or fat for each cup of rice(3-4 servings) over medium high heat. I then completely coat the rice by stirring for about 3-5 minutes. Then, for every cup of rice, I add two cups of fresh water and let it return to a boil, which will take about a minute or two. I stir well, cover, and reduce to a low heat for about 15 minutes. Much unlike some pick-up lines, this never fails me.

Wild and colored rice will be almost the same recipe, except cooking times to be closer to 45 minutes or so.

For Arborio rice, you would continue to add the volume of broth(vice water) in the uncovered pot for the 20 or so minutes of cooking over low heat.

C. CORN

Types

Although rice and potatoes are almost an interchangeable dish, corn is kind of the black sheep of starches. In fact, many people group corn as a vegetable. These people should be beaten.

When you choose which corn you'll serve, just be mindful that if you want it fresh, plan to eat it on the cob.....unless you don't mind cutting the kernels off yourself. Otherwise, just buy it frozen or in the can as cut pieces.

Then, of course, there is creamed corn. I like the taste. But there is just something about the visual image of creamed corn I can't get over.....

Cooking

Cooking corn is one of those things that make it a great side dish. Again, you just can't seem to screw it up. If you want kernel, just buy the can and heat it up. Yep, just that simple. The reason, too, that corn-in-the-can is perfectly acceptable is that it is a starch and not a vegetable.......no vitamins really to worry about destroying; you're eating this for the starch.

Otherwise, there are few side dishes as delicious as seasonal fresh corn-on-the-cob. Steam it if you've got a steamer. If not, just put inch of water in a pan and drop the cob in for about 10 minutes on medium high once the water is hot. Keep some butter and salt handy on the table, dig in, and make loud typewriter noises as you eat. Oh trust me, she'll see the humor in it.


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