Sunday, January 31, 2010

Oh, Risotto

Sometimes winter just feels like the time we spend waiting for summer. Maybe if I was a skier I could appreciate it more. Or if Seattle delivered any sort of wonderland, I would find it to be more special. But instead I wait for the days to get longer. The drizzle to let up. The produce to fill out.

As a consolation prize, for the past few years I have tried to really learn a recipe in the winter. Learn it so well that I wouldn’t dream of using a recipe. So I know what every tweak will do to the final dish. I’ve tackled red sauce, and risotto, and this year I am learning meatballs.
I’ve tried my first batch and I have many more to try before I get there. The first round was tasty, but the flavor was a little too bacony. I need to try other meats, like lamb, veal, and pork, and to mess with the fillers a bit. How many bread crumbs give that held-together texture without feeling diluted?
Tonight, I made dinner with my mom and we made very classic mushroom risotto, calling on my lessons from a few years ago. Here’s where I've ended up with risotto.
4 T butter
1onion, diced
3 small cloves garlic
6 cups liquid (broth, wine, mushroom water…)
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1 T fresh herbs
1-2 cups solids (peas, cooked mushrooms, roasted squash, asparagus….)
½ cup parmesan or other hard salty cheese
  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet and sauté the onion until translucent, about 15 min.
  2. Add the rice and stir to coat.
  3. Bring the liquid to a simmer in a separate sauce pan.
  4. Add 1 ½ cups liquid to the rice. Stir until evaporated.
  5. Keep adding liquid, ½ cup at a time, and stirring until it evaporates.
  6. When you add the last of the liquid, add the solids and the herbs as well.
  7. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bloodhound Gang

I bought a family-sized can of Mentos at the duty free store last weekend. It felt like the right thing to do. It was late, and we had some more time in the car ahead of us until we made it to Whistler, so I thought we needed a boost. They came in special packaging only available at the duty free store (Travelers Only): individually wrapped, fancy pop-top that doubles as a Mento catapult, and two mystery flavors.

Silly marketing for kids. Except that my car full of 30 somethings loved it. What are the mystery flavors? Do I like them? Can I find another one? With all the real unanswered questions we wade through each day, there’s something fun about a mystery that can be solved. And is inconsequential. We were the Bloodhound Gang.

It’s like the fun of secret ingredients. Usually I am drawn to food that you can see and know what it is--nothing's better than a well composed cheese plate or a caprese salad. But the Bloodhound detective in me still likes a mystery ingredient challenge from time to time. And the rich lore around grandmas’ secret ingredients makes me think I should be building a cache of my own.

What are your favorite secret ingredients?  Here are a two of mine:
  • Smoothies: I love to make them with frozen berries and yogurt. Instead of using juice or milk to thin them, use water! You’ll love it. No extra sugar from the juice, no extra dairy from the milk, just yummy drinkable fruitiness.
  • Chicken stock: What gives my stock that sweet earthy roundness? Parsnips—my favorite for full flavored stocks.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Au Revoir, Gourmet

I was back at work this week after two and a half weeks off, and I feel so lucky to be able to say that it was great. I love my job. It’s busy and challenging, fun, and I work with amazing people.

So let me tell you about what I cooked this week. Nothing. I cooked nothing. If fried eggs count, then put that on the list, but I don’t think they do when the only reason I cooked them was because I was out of bread for toast, milk for granola, and I didn’t feel like eating almonds and a piece of cheese for breakfast—again.

So this weekend I am giving myself an emotional jumpstart—ready to roll on Monday with food in the fridge, a few meals planned, and the intention to cook. Part of my jumpstart is finally putting an end to my mourning period for Gourmet Magazine. I was a subscriber, and now it’s time to move on.

Here are the contenders.

Saveur: I love this magazine. Really interesting articles and cool recipes from around the world. I always learn something, but when I want to read a long article, I’m going to choose the New Yorker. My food magazine fills a different need. Save Saveur for plane rides.

Martha Stewart Living: Those who know me know about my strong allegiance to Martha. I stood by her when she was in jail. But I stopped subscribing when she started giving templates to trace for craft projects. I’m not seven—seriously. But that phase seems to have ended, and this is a really good magazine again. A top contender, for sure.

Bon Apetit: Conde Nast seems to think I should switch to Bon Apetit because they sent it to me for free, but I didn’t want to be swayed.

Cook’s Illustrated: This is a little unfair because I already subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated. I love it, and will continue to subscribe. It’s more of a “teach a girl to fish” than a “give a girl a fish” magazine, and I still remember tips that I read years ago. But CI fills a different need. It is not eye candy.

Food & Wine: Bad design. I can’t even make it to the recipes because there are too many dotted lines, and double borders and weird shapes and pointless graphics. Reading my food magazine shouldn’t be painful.

Fine Cooking: I think this is the winner. A family friend recommended it to my mom, who recommended it to me. I am new to it, so only have 2 months of experience, but I want to try all the recipes, I seem to be in line with their food philosophy, it’s a good mix of easy recipes, harder recipes, tips, and food info. Visually, it’s not as stunning as Living, but it’s way better than Food & Wine, and I think I can live with it.

Am I missing anything? If no, I think I’ll go ahead and subscribe to Fine Cooking.