Archive for October, 2009

Mushroom Risotto

Every time I tell Bikenut I’m going to make risotto, he always asks the same question, “That’s pasta, right?”  “No, silly.  ‘Risotto’ is Italian for ‘rice’.  You are thinking of orzo, which is a rice-shaped pasta.”  “Are you sure?”  Who is the cook here!?  Of course I’m sure!!!

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Every time I make risotto, I always hope that it will take less time to cook this time than it did the last time.  That never happens.  I’m always standing in front of the stove for about 45 minutes, but the reward for that effort is usually worth it.  This time was not an exception.

I’ve made a few risottos since I became somewhat obsessed with them a couple of years ago.  Surprisingly, with mushrooms being one of my all-time favorite ingredients, I’ve only attempted a mushroom risotto once before.  (That happened to be one time that the effort was not well-rewarded.)  I opted to try it again because I needed to use up the mushrooms I bought at the farmer’s market this past weekend.

First things first, the mushrooms (a combination of both white and brown) had to be cleaned and sliced.  I don’t know about you, but I wash my mushrooms under running water.  I go as far as to use a vegetable brush on them.  And each time I clean mushrooms, I think of my friend and one-time co-worker saying, “I bet you’re just like me and scrub those things!  I don’t trust that ‘Just brush them with a damp paper towel’ business.”  Yeah, me either!  It was another saying that would circulate through our group that reinforced that behavior — “They treat us like mushrooms — keep us in the dark and cover us with ****…”  Not something I want in my risotto, that’s for sure!

I started the risotto off by heating up some chicken broth (a 32oz carton) in a pot, and putting my 10″ stainless steel pan over medium-high heat and adding a swirl of olive oil.   Once that was good and warmed up, I added a little bit of butter and 3/4 of a cup of rice, gave it all a stir to coat the rice in the oil, then tossed in the mushrooms along with some salt and pepper, a half teaspoon each of dried thyme, garlic powder and onion powder.   (You could use fresh thyme, garlic and onion, but I didn’t have any on hand.)  I sauteed the mixture until the rice took on a nice golden color.

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Toasty rice... and mushrooms!

From this point on is where all the time and devotion to risotto is spent.  Once your rice is all toasty, you start adding the hot broth.

TIP: The trick to risotto is to use HOT broth, and to add it in stages until the rice is cooked through.  I typically add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of broth at a time, then stir, stir, stir until the broth has been absorbed.  Once the risotto starts looking dry again, it’s time to add another 1/2 cup of broth to the rice, and stir, stir, stir.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

You may need to heat additional broth (or if you are like me and run out of broth, you can use hot water) to continue this process until the rice is fully cooked.  I usually start biting into undercooked grains of rice at about the time I have one to two more portions of broth left to determine if I need to start heating more.   In this case, I did need to heat some water, but before adding the last bit of chicken broth, I tossed 2 sliced green onions into the broth to blanch them a bit, then poured it all into the risotto pan when it was ready for more broth.

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Almost time for more broth!

I have started to cheat on my risottos.  I don’t stir constantly, like every recipe I have seen has said I should do.  My arm gets tired!  And to be honest, my best risottos have been the ones where I’ve “forgotten” about it between adding the broth and giving it an initial stir.  Once the rice starts to puff up and is mostly al dente, then the constant stirring is actually more critical because it starts to stick together (and to the pan) a little more.

When I notice that the risotto starts taking on this creamy appearance, I start tooth-testing a bit more.  My advice to you is, once you think that it’s done, hit it with another dose of broth.   It usually won’t suffer for the added liquid, and it’s better to be safe than to have spent 45 minutes stirring rice and broth around only to have undercooked risotto in the end.

Give it a final taste for seasoning adjustments, and you’re done!  To serve it up, just put it in a nice bowl or along side a nice pork chop, top it with some fresh herbs or maybe a little grated parmesan if  you like, and enjoy!

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Mushroom Risotto

mushroom_risotto3-2Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup of rice (arborio or other short/medium grain white rice)
  • 1 – 32oz container of chicken broth
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 2 green onions, white and light green portion, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, dried thyme, or fresh garlic, onion, thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • Fresh herbs or grated parmesan cheese to garnish

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat broth.
  2. In a large pan, over medium-high heat, add olive oil and butter.
  3. When butter has melted, add rice to the pan, stir to coat.
  4. Add mushrooms, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, salt and pepper.  Stir.
  5. When rice appears golden in color, add 1/2 cup of heated broth to the pan.  Stir.
  6. When the added liquid appears to be absorbed, add another 1/2 cup of heated broth to the pan.  Stir.
  7. Add green onion to the risotto.
  8. Repeat Step 6 until rice is cooked through and risotto appears creamy.  You may need to heat additional broth or water.
  9. When rice is fully cooked, remove risotto to a serving dish and garnish with fresh herbs or grated parmesan cheese.
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Chocolate Almond Biscotti

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching Everyday Italian on the Food Network, and saw Giada making biscotti.  She whipped up these lemon almond numbers that looked really good, so I decided that I’d make them too!

Now, I may not appreciate Giada’s insistence on pronouncing every Italian word with an Italian accent, but she makes some delicious looking food.  My boyfriend, who I will lovingly refer to as Bikenut, went crazy over these cookies.  He seriously loved them, saying they were the best that he’s ever tasted, and even went raving about them to my friends at our monthly Aluminum Chef gathering.  With such a great response, I decided to use the same basic cookie recipe but add chocolate instead of the lemon to make Chocolate Almond Biscotti.

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The ingredients, less a tablespoon of homemade vanilla extract.

I was really surprised at the number of ingredients that were used.  It was far fewer than I imagined, and these cookies could not be any easier to throw together.   To top it off, there’s not really much of a mess to clean up afterward — something Bikenut appreciates.  I mentioned to him that I was making the biscotti today and he said, “I hope they turn out as good as the first ones!  And don’t destroy the kitchen!”

Dirtying only two bowls, the beaters of the hand mixer, a measuring cup and a couple of measuring spoons, I was able to get the biscotti logs ready for the oven.  The dough is extremely sticky, and the tip about wetting your hands before attempting to form them is an excellent trick!

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Biscotti logs, going in the oven for 35 minutes.

While the biscotti was baking, I sat back down to do some work.  Ahh, the advantages of working at home;  I can take a 15 minute break and whip up some yummy treat, then let it bake while I respond to email and the like.  Sooner than I knew, the timer was beeping.  The first bake was done!

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Cooling after the first bake. "Biscotti" apparently means, "twice baked" in Italian.

While waiting the five minutes for the cookie logs to cool, someone came knocking at the door.  My neighbor’s new girlfriend (I assume) had locked herself out of their apartment and wanted to know if I had a chair that she could borrow so she could climb through their bedroom window.  Funny how you end up meeting some of your neighbors.

With Annie safely through the window and my step-stool returned, it was back to the biscotti.  The logs had cooled enough to be handled, but the chocolate was still warm, so it dirtied the bread knife I was using a bit while I was slicing the logs into the half-rounded cookies and left chocolate-y streaks on the cut-side of some of the cookies.

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On the sheet, ready for the second bake.

Back into the oven for another 25 minute bake.  You can see in the picture above that the cookies are still somewhat moist, particularly towards the rounded tops.  The second bake drew out all of that moisture, leaving me with a yummy, crunchy, crumbly chocolate almond biscotti!  Now all I need is a nice latte to dunk them in.

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Chocolate Almond Biscotti

(adapted from Giada de Laurentiis’ “Almond and Lemon Biscotti“)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup roughly chopped almonds
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips (bittersweet, semi-sweet, or combination)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, add eggs, sugar and vanilla extract.  Beat until mixture is a pale yellow color and all the sugar appears incorporated.
  5. Combine the flour mixture a third at a time with the egg mixture, beating until just blended.
  6. Stir in almonds and chocolate chips, then let dough rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Divide dough in half and place on a baking sheet.
  8. Wet your hands with water and form each half of the dough into a log, approximately 9″x3″.
  9. Bake for 35 minutes, then remove to cool for 5 minutes.
  10. Slice logs into 1″ thick cookies and place cookies cut-side down on the baking sheet.
  11. Return to oven, bake for an additional 25 minutes.
  12. Remove from oven, cool completely.  Enjoy!

Hello world! (Or, “It Was Chile Relleno Day!”)

I have opted to leave the cheesy default title for my first post because I just can’t seem to dive into my first post without saying, “Hi!”  Besides, “Hello World” reminds me of the days when I would program my Commodore64 to print “HELLO WORLD” emblazed on a hot air balloon soaring across the screen.  Yes, I can be nerdy like that, but I digress.  Already.

Today was Chile Relleno Day!  It was my first attempt at making them, and now that I have, I want to write all about it.  I thought about posting an entry on my LiveJournal, but that’s private, and the masses wouldn’t necessarily get to see it.  I also thought about posting it on another foodie-type blog I participate on, Aluminum Chef, but it wasn’t part of any of the challenges and didn’t seem appropriate.  So I figured, if I start my own blog, I can post whatever I want! And so it goes…

As I said, I have never attempted chile rellenos before.  This is one of my favorite things to order whenever I go out for Mexican food, and I figured, if all of the Mexican restaurants suddenly disappear, I should know how to make my favorite dish.

The first thing I did was to search online for a recipe that I thought looked about right.  I was actually picking based on the appearance of the food in pictures provided, because if it didn’t look like what I wanted, I didn’t want it!

The recipe I ultimately selected claimed to be copied from one of Rick Bayless’ recipes.  After watching him on Top Chef Masters, combined with my memories of his series Mexico: One Plate at a Time, I figured I couldn’t go too wrong following one of his recipes. “Chile Rellenos in Tomato Broth” was my pick and I was sticking by it.

Fortunately, I had all the ingredients on-hand, having the idea occur to me while at the farmer’s market on Saturday.  Really it was two different farmer’s markets that day, and I had purchased chiles from both markets.  This fact became more apparent as the week went on and two of the four chiles started to wrinkle with age.

The wrinkled skin turned out to be a problem when it came time to peel the chiles.  I had blanched them in hot oil until the skin blistered.  This took considerably longer for the older chiles than the fresher ones.  After blanching, I immediately popped the chiles into paper bags and folded the top over to let the heat and steam do its thing.

Meanwhile, I began preparing the tomato “broth”.  When I hear the word “broth”, a few things come to mind — thin, light, clear.  I will have you know that the tomato broth was none of these, however, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing in the end.  The recipe for the broth called for onions to be browned in lard.  I have never cooked with lard and, quite honestly, I was apprehensive about using lard.  So I skipped it and used oil and unsalted butter instead.  I do not believe the sauce suffered any for the substitution.

Once the onions were browned and the tomato and spices were simmering away, it was back to the chiles.  They had mostly cooled by this time, so they were easy to handle.  The peeling was another story.  Again, the old wrinkly buggers took longer to peel than the fresher pair.  Overall, it was a less labor-intensive process then I had imagined after reading more than a few accounts of people wanting to give up on their recipe of choice after several hours of effort.

It was on to seeding the chiles now.  I didn’t expect this to be so tricky!  I cut a slit into one side of each chile and carefully opened it up to get at the seed bundles.  Because I had to blanch the older chiles longer, they did not hold up as well to this intrusion, with one of the stems removing itself from the rest of the chile.  If only this happened before I removed the majority of the seeds, I’d have just been able to essentially take the top off the chile — stem, seeds and all — which would have been FAR easier.  But easy isn’t always the best course of action, I was soon to discover.

Stuffing the chiles with the Monterey Jack cheese was fairly easy.  Closing the chiles with toothpicks was a little more challenging, but again, only for the softer fleshed, older chiles.  Blast those chiles!@#  Once that was complete, it was on to the batter!

My arms would like to take a moment to thank my mom for the Kitchen Aid hand blender she got me for Christmas several years ago.  It has only recently seen the light of day in the last year or so, and I’ve wondered each time I have used it how I managed to get along without it.  This time, it was put to good use whipping egg whites to stiff peaks.  Soon I had a lovely fluffy batter to dip my chiles in.  Things were looking good!

The first chile to take the plunge was the stemless one.  It was a chore trying to get it out of the batter and into the hot oil, but I managed.  I opted to fry this one solo as sort of the test chile for oil temperature, timing, etc.  The oil needed to be a bit hotter, so I turned up the heat and things went very well from there.

Three more chiles to go, and this is where I realized the benefit of leaving the stem and chile intact — it has a handle!  Holding the chile by the stem allowed for much easier battering and transferring to the hot oil.  The three remaining chiles were a snap.

After a 5 minute (or so) cooling period, I removed the toothpicks that held the cheese inside the chiles and realized why the recipe called for skewers;  those toothpicks, even the long ones, are hard to find after you’ve battered and fried the chiles!  From there, it was into the oven with them for a 15 minute wait.

So, how did they turn out?  Well, I could barely take the time to take this picture before digging in.

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The chile rellenos tasted great, and the sauce wasn’t too bad either.  The cinnamon seemed odd at first, but after that initial bite, it seemed to mellow and blend with the other flavors more.  I should also mention that the amount of sauce this recipe makes could be halved (which is what I did, since I was only making 4 chile rellenos) and it would still be enough for 8 servings.

All in all, it wasn’t the same flavor to the sauce that I’m used to getting at my favorite restaurants, so I will have to work on that, but the chiles and the batter were a great foundation.  I will definitely be having these again!  As in tomorrow, since I have two leftover and a TON of sauce.
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Chile Rellenos in Tomato Broth

Ingredients:

BROTH

  • 2 medium white onions, diced
  • 3 tablespoons lard, or cooking oil and butter
  • 2 (28 ounce) cans tomatoes with juice, undrained and pureed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock

CHILES

  • 8 poblano peppers, peeled, seeded and slit
  • 1 lb monterey jack cheese
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)
  • 8 4-inch skewers

BATTER

  • 6 large eggs, separated (cold)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • flour (for dredging)
  • cilantro (to garnish)

Directions:

  1. Brown onions in lard or oil & butter.
  2. Add tomatoes, cinnamon and pepper.
  3. Cook briskly until sauce becomes the consistency of a thick tomato sauce.
  4. Add stock, simmer partially covered for 45 minutes.
  5. Stuff chiles with cheese and hold together with skewers.
  6. Batter: Beat whites to stiff peaks with 1/2 tsp salt.
  7. Beat in yolks 2 at a time until well incorporated.
  8. Beat in flour.
  9. Dust chiles with flour and dip quickly into batter then lay in 350 degree oil.
  10. Baste tops with hot oil.
  11. When they are golden on bottom, turn over and cook other side.
  12. Drain. Once all chiles have cooled at least 5 minutes (they can sit up to 1 hour), put on sheet pan with parchment, slip out the skewer, and bake at 400 for 15 minutes.
  13. To serve, place a pool of sauce in a bowl and top with a chile.

Note: The easiest way to peel chiles for this dish is to deep fry in 350 degree oil for about 45 seconds, remove, let cool in a closed paper bag, and then peel–there is less chance of breaking the chile this way.  The oil can then be used to cook the chiles.