Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Sometimes, eating cheap isn't very pretty. If you really want to keep your budget low, you need to give up prepared foods and cook things from scratch. Somethings are just so darn easy they are hard to give up. Rice-a-Roni is one of those things. It is just so dang easy to open that box and 20 minutes later you have a rice pilaf to put along side your chicken. But the reality is that you can make it for a whole lot less and with none of the preservatives, artificial colors, or artificial flavors. But can you do it in 20 minutes like the boxed stuff? And will my family eat it? I decided to find out.
I first started with searching for copy-cat recipes on the web, there are lots. Most were variations on the following recipe. I opted to go "minimalist" in this, you could of course add tons of herbs, spices or flavorings.
All you need to make the basic chicken flavored rice pilaf is this:
A cup of rice, an onion, some butter, some garlic, a couple of bullion cubs (or canned chicken stock), and some vermicelli. For me, finding the vermicelli was the hardest part. Most on-line recipes tell you to break spaghetti noodles into one inch pieces, what a bother! My new favorite place to find spices is the Mexican food aisle at my grocery store and while I was checking out the spices I spotted this:It is El Guapo medium vermicelli and it looks exactly like what they use in rice-a-roni! And the best part? It cost 25 cents for this package! I have enough to make about 6 batches of homemade rice-a-roni, steal-of-a-deal!
So, first I chopped up my onion. I had a huge onion so I only used a quarter of it cause I didn't want onion-a-roni. I chopped it fairly fine because I wanted it to disappear into the pilaf. Then I sautéd it in some butter, it looked like this:
Bet you've never seen sautéing onions as cook as that before, have you? Am I amazing or what? After the onion had softened up, I added 1 cup of long grain rice and about a half a cup of vermicelli. It looked like this:
You can't really tell from this picture, but this looks just like the rice-a-roni does when you are cooking it, honest. After the rice and vermicelli were starting to look toasty, I added several cloves of garlic that I pressed. This is not a very authentic addition, the boxed stuff doesn't taste very garlic-y but my family loves garlic and so I added it. After the garlic starts to really smell wonderful add the rest of your ingredients. Don't let the garlic burn or you will be starting over, trust me.
Next I added three cups of chicken broth (actually it was three cups of water and three bullion cubes, but don't tell. I know that "real" cooks never use the dried cubes of bullion but I like them cause they are shelf-stable, take up far less room than cans of chicken broth, and cost next to nothing at Costco. And my family likes the taste. Sue me.) The other thing I added was a pinch of turmeric. Why? Because the first time I made this it was very pale, sort of anemic looking. The boxed stuff is a very pretty yellow color. By adding just a pinch or two of turmeric, it turned it that lovely shade of yellow and didn't taste like turmeric at all. Then I covered it up and simmered it for 20 or so minutes, until the rice is tender and all the liquid absorbed. You may need to check it and add more liquid if needed. I haven't perfectly worked out the proportions yet.
My 14 yo said, "Mom, this is even better than the real stuff, will you make it more often?" Am I amazing, or what?