Mushroom Risotto

It’s been a little cool for Florida over the past few days. A few nights have gone down into the 40’s and 50’s here by the gulf. While it hurts my heart to say that I now consider this “cold”, it did make for a perfect excuse to making some more warm, homey dishes. We’ve had some Arborio rice knocking around in the cabinet for a minute now, and we had a half of a container of white button mushrooms in the fridge… Risotto night!

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Worth Every Second

 

Many people, including myself until recently, are intimidated by risotto. It requires a special rice. You need to watch it constantly. You need to add just the right amount of liquid at just the right time. It’s temperamental and can easily come out still crunchy or as a bowl of cream of wheat. You get the picture.

The truth is, if you have your mise en place and you keep your pairing / approach simplistic, this dish is extremely easy to prepare. Yes, this dish does require your attention. No, this is not a dish you can set-and-forget while you go about peeling, trimming and assembling an entire tray of micro-veg. Additionally, this is not a dish you should attempt to cook while your team is playing its top rival of the last five decades for that final playoff berth in the other room, or, while you are trying to catch up on the last week’s episode of “American Horror Story”. If you take your time to properly prepare your ingredients, plan or sequence all of the steps for your meal ahead of time, and put a little love into it, risotto can be an impressive recipe to add to your repertoire. Just make sure you have a playlist that you can leave alone for 45 minutes!

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Mushroom Risotto

(Serves 4)

  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced (I used button mushrooms, but any variety will work)
  • 1/2 white onion, fine chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, fine minced
  • 1 1/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 32oz beef stock (homemade is preferable)
  • 3/4 cup of dry red wine (anything you would like a glass of while you’re cooking)
  • 3 tbsp EVOO
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2+ tbsp grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 3-5 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, fine chopped

Before your do anything else, get your stock into a sauce pan and get in on the stove. You need this to be steaming hot before you start your onions. As you go through the cooking process, if you add cool or cold stock, water or wine to your pan, you will shock the rice, and you will absolutely interrupt the cooking process which can lead to problems.

Once the stock is on, prep your mushrooms, onions and garlic, then portion out the rice and wine. Now, heat 1 tbsp of EVOO in a large pan over med-high heat. Add your mushrooms and pinch of salt and saute until starting to brown. Remember, with mushrooms, if the pan is not hot enough or if you crowd the pan, you will wind up with steamed mushrooms… That said, if you need to cook the mushrooms one cup at a time, do so. Once you get a color you are happy with, remove the mushrooms to plate with a paper towel and set them aside.

You can either use a new pan, or clean and re-use the one you had the mushrooms in. Either way, this pan needs to be the largest you have. You are doing to want at least a 2″ – 3″ rim. Don’t forget, the 1 1/4 cups of rice will expand quite a bit, and you want the layer of rice to be as thin as possible in your pan throughout the whole cooking process. Bring your pan to medium heat and add the remaining 2 tbsp of EVOO. Add your onions and cook for 3 minutes, or until starting to turn translucent. Then, add your garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. You do NOT want the onions or garlic to take on any color, so watch them closely. About five minutes after you’ve started the onion, add the rice to the pan, stirring constantly for 1 minute. You need to stir the rice constantly because you do not want the rice to take on any color, and you also need to make sure that each grain of rice get coated in your EVOO and the oils from the onion and garlic. Getting them coated with fat will slow the release of their starch and will help ensure that you don’t end up with mush. After the rice has been on for 1 minute, add the wine and the first ladle of stock. Your stock should always be added at either 1/2 of 3/4 cup increments. This is not an exact science, so don’t stress about it. As long as you keep the rice wet but not drowning, you’ll be fine. Think of it this way: The rice needs to absorb liquid to expand and become tender (cook). You want to add just enough liquid so that the grains can ‘drink’, thereby absorbing the flavors you are adding to the pan. If you add too much liquid at once, the rice will not be able to absorb the flavor quickly enough and your liquid will start to simmer or boil. Now you are cooking the rice without the benefit of it absorbing flavor…. That’s the reason you want to take your time with risotto. You need to impart the flavor of the onion, garlic, leek, shallot, wine, stock, etc… into the rice. In some regions of Italy, risotto takes the place of pasta dishes. Think about the time and effort you put into your traditional red sauces… you want to put the same time and effort into this process. As the liquid is absorbed, add another ladle of stock to the pan. This process continues for up 30 minutes. As this is ongoing, it is crucial that your stir almost constantly. As you stir, you are accomplishing a few things. 1) you are making sure that all of the grains are getting the same amount of exposure to the stick as you add it. 2) you are creating friction between the grins which helps release the starches. The starch is what makes the risotto we all know and love so rich and creamy. Arborio rice has a higher starch content than other grains, which is why Arborio, in my opinion, is really the only rice to be used in a risotto (sorry, Baldo). Now, again, don’t stress out about the stirring. You have time to check get dishes organized, check on the other components of your meal, take photos for your blog, etc… as long as you are not leaving the rice sit for minutes at a time, you will be okay.

After the rice has been on for approximately 15 minutes, add the mushrooms to the pan. Once these are stirred into the risotto, grab a spoon and check a few grains of rice for flavor and doneness. It will still have crunch to it, but it will give you a good benchmark as to how the dish has progressed over the last 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning as needed and continue with the stock-and-stir. After about 25 minutes of total cook time, it’s time for the spoon test. Take a clean spoon and, without pushing down on it, drag it across the top of your risotto. Check the bottom of the spoon. If you have a nice, creamy coating on the bottom of the spoon, you’ve done good work.

Clean spoon for the test

Clean spoon for the test

After the test

After the test

Continue to taste your risotto, checking for doneness, until you’ve reached your preferred level of al denteFor The Love Of All That Is Holy, Do Not Cook Until Soft And Mushy. You’ve invested too much love and effort into this to eat it any other way than how it was meant to be eaten… Once done, remove from the heat and add 2 tbsp of pecorino romano, stirring to incorporate.

Serve hot (within a few  minutes of removing it from the heat), spooning the desired amount onto plates and garnish with parsley and another pinch of cheese.

plates

 

I paired this risotto with some simple roasted carrots, tossed with EVOO, salt and pepper, a few whole garlic cloves and a few sprigs of thyme. Left in the oven at 350 F for 25-30 minutes. (prepped these prior to starting the risotto).

One of the beautiful things about risotto is that the only limit to it is your imagination. This being Fall, mushrooms were an easy choice. Also, as mushrooms are one of the more hearty vegetables, they stands up well to the robust flavor of the beef stock. I’ve always enjoyed the dark risottos to the lighter ones anyway…

As far as nutrition goes,the Arborio rice is not going to hurt you. With no fat to speak of, and as a good source of protein and dietary fiber, it’s not a bad choice for a side or a main. You will need to be careful about what you add to it. EVOO should be used sparingly. Most recipes you will see call for copious amounts of butter to be used. Obviously, I cut that out. Constantly stirring the rice, as well as adding the cheese at the end will give you the creaminess you are looking for. The vegetables and stocks you use in your risotto will make not only a big difference in your flavor, but in nutrition. Try risotto with vegetable stock and one of your favorite vegetables and see what you think! Be careful though, as fresher vegetables like peppers or peas should not be added until the last few minutes of cooking in order prevent them from breaking down.

I hope you make some room in your schedule one night soon and devote some time to making this. Forget that 5-minute rice in a box for a night, and roll your sleeves up. Taking the time to make this dish is relaxing as well as rewarding. Trust me, you’ll taste the love in it when you do it right.

ENJOY!

Sunday Salad

So, it’s late morning on a Sunday. Yesterday, you knocked out all of your chores for the weekend. The house is clean, the shopping is done for the week, the laundry is done (less the folding, because I’m fairly certain no one washes, dries AND folds their laundry all on the same day), and now, your Sunday can be devoted to whatever your heart desires. One problem; you may or may not have caved yesterday while at the store when you came face to face with a buy one, get one free deal on those wonderfully salty corn tortilla chips….the bite-size ones. With the Sunday “off”, those bags are now sitting in one of your cabinets, softly calling your name.
The good news is, you were able to walk by the display of buy one, get one free queso cheese dips that were only 8″ away from where the chips were. Nice Work. Still, you need to find something to pair with those chips that will help fill you up, because even though they give a “serving size” on the package, it’s impossible to read it without bursting into laughter.
I’m personally not a huge fan of canned foods. When I do buy them, I look for organic products, non-GMO, and packed with just salt and water. When I find these, regardless of the product, I usually grab a few cans and sock them away in the pantry. Today, that’s turned out to be a good practice. I took what I’ve saved in the pantry, plus what I had hanging on in the garden despite the cold-snap of the last few days, and here is what we have. I’ll call it a salad because it’s very good as a stand alone, but today, I have a date with those corn chips.

Mediterranean Style Salad
Serves 4

• 2 -5oz cans of wild caught tuna, strained and dried
• 1 -15oz cans of artichoke hearts, rinsed, dried and quartered
• 2 -15oz cans of black-eyed peas, rinsed, skins removed, dried
• 1/2 red onion, fine chopped
• 1 yellow pepper, fine chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and fine chopped
• 5 small / medium basil leaves, fine chopped
• 5 sprigs of Italian oregano, leaves separated from stems and fine chopped
• 2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
• 3 tsp salt
• 2 tsp dill weed
• 1 tbsp EVOO
• 1 lime
Except for the lime, combine all of the above ingredients in a large bowl. Cover, and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to let all of the flavors meld. Once ready to serve, cut the lime into wedges and serve of the side so everyone can add their own splash of freshness. This salad (or dip) is packed with proteins. Also, black eyed peas, as with almost all legumes, are a great source of fiber. One serving of these can contain as much as 16% of your DV. Not only is fiber great for digestion and heart health, but it will also keep you feeling fuller, longer. Not a bad thing for a Sunday during football season!
ENJOY!

Sunday Breakfast Sandwich

Fried egg sandwich with tomato, basil, sauted onion, avocado and roasted garlic

Fried egg sandwich with tomato, basil, sauted onion, avocado and roasted garlic

Happy Sunday!

I woke up early this morning and, surprisingly, was hungry. I’m still trying to get used to waking up hungry. I went for almost five years not having breakfast. I ate so much for dinner the night before (none of which was remotely healthy or easy for my body to digest) that I would just wake up and go about my day. Breakfast is still a new and wonderful concept to me! Anyway, woke up hungry. I put on water for tea and turned on the coffee maker. Once I smelled coffee the brain began to function, so I took a quick inventory of what edibles we had in the house. This was interrupted by an impromptu game of “here’s my rope dad, pay attention to me!” with my 18 month-old Rottweiler, Rosie. We both lost interest after about 8 minutes, so it was back to the task at hand.

Egg Sandwich
(makes two sandwiches)
2 English Muffins
2 large organic eggs
1/2 tomato, cut into four 1/8″ slices
2 or 3 basil leaves, rough chopped
1/4 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 avocado, cut into four wedges
2 garlic clove, lightly crushed and peeled
1-1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
salt & pepper

Pre-heat the oven the 300 F. Take your garlic cloves and crush them just enough to release the clove from its shell, then cut the ‘stem” off. Place the garlic on a small oven-safe dish or pan, drizzle a small amount of EVOO on each clove, and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes. You’ll need to check these every so often to ensure that you are getting a good color while not burning or charring them. The end result you want is to get a light caramel color and to be able to easily pierce the cloves with your chef’s knife. At the same time you place your garlic in the oven, go ahead and separate your English Muffin halves and place them in the oven as well. I left these in for as long as I roasted the garlic, but personal preference reigns here. Just keep in mind, the muffin is your only ‘crunch’ element.
Next, prep your tomato, basil, onion, but NOT the avocado (you don’t want discoloration for the final product). Pre-heat a large pan to medium heat, and bring 1 tbsp EVOO to temp. Add your onions to the pan and hit them with a pinch of salt to kick-off the caramelization process. The onions will take approximately 10 minutes to finish. When the onions are almost done, go ahead and get the eggs in the pan. Salt & pepper to taste. I went with soft-fried eggs because the creaminess of the yolk paired with the creaminess of the avocado was just…..yes.
When you flip your eggs, add the tomato slices to the pan. Just 10-15 seconds on each side. You see here why I said a large pan; you’ll have the eggs, tomato and onions on the heat simultaneously.

Time to assemble the sandwich:
Place your muffin on the plate. Next, layer your tomato slices, basil, egg and onion. Now cut your avocado and place two of the four wedges on top of the onion. Lastly, take your garlic cloves (which you have removed from the oven and let cool for a few minutes) and spread a clove of garlic on the top half of each muffin as if it were butter. Gently press the top half of the muffin with the garlic spread onto your avocado, breaking the egg yolk and letting the flavors meld. Time To Eat!

Start to finish, this will take you 25-30 minutes. While perhaps not the quickest breakfast for a weekday, I hope you give it a try the next time you find yourself with a couple extra minutes in your morning routine!

ENJOY!

New Vegetarian Comfort Food

First, I need to give all of the credit for this recipe to Laura and her award-winning blog, “The First Mess”. You can check it out here: http://www.thefirstmess.com/ 

The recipe caught my eye because every ingredient in it is so damn good for you! Also, I’ve wanted to explore some new curry dishes for a while. Last, but certainly not least, her photography is amazing, you can’t help but want to try it! I will let you take the exact recipe from TFM (the post is dated 10/2/14), but I wanted to add some notes of my own regarding what I did and how it came out.

As you can see from the title of this post, this one-pot meal could very well become a new go-to Fall / Winter comfort food for me. It was incredibly deep and rich! The spices were perfectly balanced, and with just a little bit of bread to soak up the broth…. my god. My life had always revolved around meat-based comfort foods; beef or lamb stew, roasted chicken, beef/pork lasagna, etc… Nothing vegetarian I’d had to date really hit all the spots for me when I consider something a comfort food. This was the first vegetarian dish I’ve had that I can honestly say did not feel like it was lacking anything. Very hearty and satisfying with the perfect amount of heat. 

Okay, so here we go:

Total time, start to finish (less the shopping which I did the day before), this took me about 80 minutes. This is one of those meals where your mise en place needs to be on point. As you are really trying to bring out the aromas and oils (flavor) in your first several ingredients, rather than trying to break them down, you’ll need to move to the next step in a timely fashion or you will lose something from the flavor profile. Now, this is good practice for all of your cooking, but for this one in particular, get your ingredients prepped before anything hits the heat. Do not add the curry and bay leaves to the heat before you mince your garlic and dice your jalapenos. Too much inactive time in the pot (or pan) is generally bad for, well, just about everything in a saute scenario. Similarly, do not add your garlic before you dice your jalapenos. Unless you and another person are working in perfect harmony in your home kitchen (god bless you), you will be doing all this prep yourself. That means that if you add your garlic before the jalapeno is prepped, the garlic will be sitting inactive on the heat as you dice the jalapeno, which in turn means, a) the garlic will start to darken while you clean and dice the pepper and the flavor will get much more harsh than you want it to here, or, b) you’ll rush through the dicing of the jalapeno so as not to burn the garlic and your cutting board COULD end up looking like an operating table in a Civil War field hospital. NOTE: both options are undesired.

Prep

 

It says to use waxy potatoes for this dish. USE THEM. Keep in mind, you are essentially boiling the potatoes here. If you do not go with waxy, you will end up with a mess. Also, some of waxy potatoes you find can be downright beautiful, so why not use them!

Wow

Wow

The curry I used was just a typical sweet curry. My wife talked me out of picking up the hot curry, and, as usual, she was right. The sweet curry paired with the jalapenos gave this just the right amount of oomph, while still keeping it a comfort food and not a food challenge. If you want this a little hotter, I would still go with the sweet curry, and either turn up the heat with another pepper variety, or with a favorite hot sauce.

Don’t be nervous about leaving the bay leaves in there. I used dried leaves, and brought it all the way up the final stages of cooking before removing. They are easy to spot before the kale goes in.

Last step

Last step

If you hit the potatoes and cauliflower with salt and pepper before adding the tomatoes, make sure you check it again before you add the kale and chickpeas. Tomato will change the profile, especially if you go with canned, and what you thought was enough pepper may need a few more twists. Add the chickpeas first and get them incorporated into the pot so they can soak up that flavor while the kale wilts. Do this before the kale goes in, because once it does it will go EVERYWHERE when you stir, and your relaxing evening of cooking turns into three minutes of,

  • “When was the last time I cleaned the stove?”
  • “Will the dog eat kale?”
  • “The 5-second rule is totally legitimate, right?”.

Also, if you do go with a 28oz. can of crushed tomatoes, you may want to have some plum tomatoes on hand (if there are in season, which they always are in FL) to dice up and throw in there. This brightens up the sauce (or broth) a little bit.

For me, make sure you remove the stems (spine) from the kale. If you wish, you can simply rough-chop it and dump it in, but I found that since you are only wilting the kale, it retains a good bit of crunch on its own (and really adds a nice texture). The stems just will not tenderize in the same amount of time, and you could end up with something…different. But, that’s an individual preference; all you’ll end up with is a little more of a crunch and a slightly different flavor than you get from just the leaves.

You can make this dish a soup or a stew by varying the amount of vegetables and the amount of vegetable stock you use. I prefer my one-pot style meals to be on the hearty side, so went heavy on the cauliflower, potatoes and kale, while keeping the vegetable stock around the 1-cup amount that was called for.

Now for the nutrition: This dish is PACKED with good-for-you. Kale and cauliflower are both part of the cruciferous vegetable family (including broccoli, cabbage, etc…) which are some the healthiest vegetables you can consume. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals, and contain some of the best antioxidant bang-for-the-buck out there. Chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) are loaded with fiber, minerals and antioxidants, and are also supposed to be linked to heart health. While I am no nutritionist, and I believe that everyone’s health depends on their own unique set of needs, anyone would be hard pressed to find a major fault with this dish as it relates to health and nutrition.

Anyway, if you are looking for a relatively simple departure from your stand-by stews or soups this fall, I highly recommend digging the curry out of your cabinet, grabbing that bunch of organic kale that you walk by every time you go to the grocery store, and spending 80 minutes whipping up something that tastes amazing and is amazing for you.

ENJOY!