Shiitake and Manchego Risotto

I think there are three key things to a good risotto. First, making a decent broth. Second, constant stirring. Third, not overcooking it.

I’ll often have broth in the freezer, made with the remains of a roast chicken, but in this case, we were without, so earlier in the day I made a turkey-based broth.

Turkey Broth

2 turkey drumsticks (or thighs)
2 large onions
4 large carrots
4 stalks of celery
2 turnips
handful of brown or white mushrooms
large handful of parsley
4 or 5 bay leaves
dry vermouth or white wine

Chop the all vegetables coarsely.

In a large pot, heat it up with a high flame until a drop of water sizzles. Drizzle a little olive oil in the pot and then brown the turkey drumsticks. Remove the turkey to the side and deglaze the pan with some dry vermouth or wine (i.e. pour in about half a cup and scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan with a spatula).

Lower the heat to medium and add in the onions. Let the onions turn translucent and then add everything else back into the pot, including the turkey. Add another cup of vermouth or wine, and then fill the pot with cold water until the level of the water is above the top of the vegetables by a couple inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for 3 hours, partially covered, adding more hot water from a kettle if it drops below the tops of the vegetables.

Remove and discard the turkey and vegetables with a slotted spoon, and then pour the broth into a large bowl through a strainer. If you want to make your broth even richer, add the broth back into the pot and put in fresh vegetables and cook for another few hours.

Shitake and Manchego Risotto

your broth (ideally 10-12 cups worth)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
olive oil
2 cups arborio rice
1 large shallot, diced
1/2 vidalia or spanish onion, diced
large handful of shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 cup of thawed frozen peas
2/3 cup of dry vermouth or white wine
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup of finely grated manchego cheese
large handful or parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Prep all of your ingredients ahead of time, because once the stirring starts, it is full-on. You’ll get a shoulder workout in.

In a saute pan, melt 1 tbsp of butter on medium-low heat and then add your shallots and onions. Cook until they start to turn translucent and add in the mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Have your broth, which should be hot, in a bowl with a ladle to the side of your stove top.

In a large pot, melt the butter and a little olive oil on medium heat. Add in the rice and let it cook, stirring periodically, for 2 minutes. Add in the vermouth and stir until the liquid is mostly (not entirely) absorbed. Add a ladel of broth and stir until the liquid is mostly absorbed.

Stir in the shallots, onions and mushrooms, and keep on adding in ladels of broth, one at a time, allowing each amount of broth to be mostly absorbed. Stir in a half-teaspoon of salt and 2 pinches of ground black pepper.

After about twenty minutes of this, taste the risotto. You want to taste for salt and pepper as well as the doneness of the rice. You want to cook the rice to a just-about al dente state, which, just like with pasta, means that it *almost* soft but still has a bit of a bite to it.

When you feel like you are almost there (having continued to stir in single ladles of broth), stir in the peas, lemon zest, cheese and parsley. Continue to stir for 2-3 minutes, keeping the risotto moist (but not swimming) with broth as needed, just long enough for the peas to cook but not so much that they lose their bright green color. As you do this, do a final taste for salt and pepper and adjust as necessary.

Serve!

(then with any leftovers, make risotto balls wrapped in chard!)

Flageolet and Meatball Peasant Stew


I love Autumn. I love the temperature, the colors, the clothes, and of course the fact that my favorite cooking style fits the weather more naturally. This recipe falls squarely into that bucket, and was a huge hit with Lisl and a friend who came over this evening.  It combines a homemade Italian meatball with a French-style peasant stew.

Meatballs
1 lb ground pork shoulder
1.5 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp kosher salt (halve if you use table salt)
1/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes
12 black peppercorns

Rest of Stew
1 lb dried flageolet beans (alternative: great northern)
1 large spanish or vidalia onion, diced
4 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
large handful of white button mushrooms, diced
1/2 to 1 cup diced tomato
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
handful of parley
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
1 tbsp tomato paste

Cook the flageolet beans until al dente: place in a large pot with 1″ of water above the top of the beans. Add 3 bay leaves, bring to a boil, then remove the lid and simmer. Soaking beforehand will speed up cooking time. While the beans cook, do the next few steps.

Pound up the fennel seed, peppercorns and pepper flakes with a mortar/pestle, then add to the ground meat along with the salt. Mix together then mold into meatballs about 1.5″ in diameter. Heat up your stew pot (I use a dutch oven) on med-high heat with a little olive oil and brown the meatballs. Then set them aside and turn off the heat.

Spoon out most of the oil left in the stew pot, leaving enough to coat the bottom. Turn the heat back on to med-low. Cook the onions until translucent, then add the garlic, celery and carrots. Cook for a few minutes, then add the diced tomato and mushroom.

Separate the parsley stems and leaves, setting the leaves aside. Create a bouquet garnis by tying the parsley stems, rosemary sprigs, and 1 bay leaf together with kitchen twine. Add the bouquet garnis to the pot, and continue to let the vegetables gently cook.

Once the beans are al dente, drain or optionally reserve the cooking liquid. Add the beans and meatballs to the stew pot, add the wine, and add either water or the bean cooking liquid until the liquid level is about three-quarters up to the top of the food. Make sure the bouquet garnis is immersed, cover and either place the pot in a 350F oven or let simmer on the stove top.

After 40 minutes, taste for salt and gently stir in the tomato paste.

Remove about 1/2 of beans and vegetables to a food processor and puree.  Return to the pot and continue to cook until the beans are soft and the flavors have melded.  This step improves the texture, thickening the stew (I hate the common use of flour or starch to thicken).

Chop up the parsley leaves waiting in the wings all this time. Serve with the parsley and a little fresh pepper scattered on top.

Winter Vegetarian Stew

vegetarian-winter-stew

This vegetarian stew was completely winged tonight but I ran with the concept of trying to heighten each flavor first, and then bring things together. I loved how it came out. The idea of the turnip puree came from Kevin on Top Chef last season and I loved it — was almost like coconut milk.  It reminded another person of a chicken pot pie.  I loved how the puree thickened the meal into a great comfort dish without the need for flour.

This was a big hit so I thought I should write down my best memory of the process while it was fresh in my mind.  The amounts below are kind of rough, but it’s stew — nothing needs to be exact here!

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup cream
1/4 tsp sugar
2 medium/large turnips, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
4 or 5 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb white mushrooms, halved and sliced
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 cans of chickpeas (or equivalent dried and cooked)
6 to 8 stalks of kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
5 or 6 small red potatoes
1 cup white wine or vermouth
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped (or half as much dried)
1 to 2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
pinch of hot red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Stage 1: cooking the separate ingredients
A. In a large pot, saute the onions and garlic in a touch of olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter, and let slowly cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Add the celery and a couple pinches of salt and continue to cook.

B. Place the turnips, 1/2 cup of cream, and 1/2 cup of water in a pot and simmer until the turnips are soft

C. Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a saute pan and cook the mushrooms, with a couple pinches of salt, for 15-20 minutes. Add 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar near the end.

Stage 2: the rest!
Pour 1/2 cup of vermouth (or white wine) into the pot with the onions and celery and let it cook down a bit, then add in the kale.  Cover and let simmer for several minutes.  Once the kale has initially softened, add in the cooked mushrooms and the chickpeas, oregano, parsley. Add another 1/2 cup of vermouth and 1 cup of water and continue to cook.

Place the turnips, with the cooking liquid, in a food processor and let cool.  At this point, I rinsed out this pot, brought water to boil, and boiled the potatoes for 10 to 15 minutes to soften.

Puree the turnip and cream, and add 1/4 tsp of sugar.  Gently stir the puree into the stew, add the pepper flakes and a couple pinches worth of freshly ground black pepper, and add the potatoes when they are done.

Cook the stew for a while longer on very low heat until you are happy the flavors have all come together.  Add some water if it feels too thick.  Taste for salt and pepper.

Cauliflower and Fennel Gratin (say “bechamel” 10 time fast)

cauliflower-fennel-gratin2

My predilection for comfort dishes means that gratins, bechamel and cheese are recurring themes, but before I begin, forgive me a small rant: there is a fine line between a dish that is richly delicious, and one that is so packed with cream and butter that you can barely eat a second bite.  Too many restaurants err on the wrong side of that line.

I remember reading the author of Cooking School Confidential write about learning the optimal way to prep potatoes for mashing in order to get as much butter into them as possible.  My first reaction was “interesting” and my second was “maybe this is why I never like the mashed potatoes in restaurants.”

It reminds me of watching Anne Burrell explain, as she grabbed a huge handful of salt, how restaurant food is tasty because it is “better seasoned.”  And I thought, “is that a euphamism for salty?”  It is true that many tentative home cooks under-salt in the cooking process, but at least guests have a chance to rectify that.  I find American Italian restaurants to be the worst offenders of over-salting.

This isn’t just about health, although that is relevant to this topic, but just the observation that more is not always better.  I understand a restaurant’s desire to exude luxury, but you shouldn’t need a red wine strong enough to punch you in the jaw to make it through more than a few bites of a dish.

Now isn’t that a marvelously hypocritical way to introduce a dish with bechamel (one with more butter than flour even!) and cheese?!  This dish is not something I would eat every night, but it was utterly delicious and while it went right smack up to the aforementioned line, it stayed just on the right side.

I’d quip that I ate my hypocrisy most happily, but perhaps the serious  analysis is that the term “too rich” is subjectively like what the judge said about pornography: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”

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Pork Pastries with Pickled Onions, or The Stuffed Cabbage That Kept On Giving

stuffedcab-meat-pie-plated

I barely know how to start this post, or write it. It was the story of the recipe that turned into three. Our saga begins with our protagonist (that would be me) adapting a Richard Olney recipe for stuffed savoy cabbage. Enter cabbage stage left. Enter stuffing stage right.  The audience gasps.

Now, I don’t know what kind of uber-cabbages Olney was eating in the south of France, but as my imaginary heckler would say, “zat stuffing will nevarre feet in zat cabbage! Zat ees not a vrai Franche cabbage!”

I had a lot of extra stuffing. I mean I had 6 pork pastries and a meatloaf worth of extra stuffing.  But like all good tales, our protagonist learned along the way and came to a happy conclusion. The learnings: that I prefer to stuff individual leaves to an entire cabbage, and that this stuffing makes a damn good meat pastry/pie!  Yes valiant readers, unlike a French movie, this tale ends happily (and with no cigarettes or accordian music either!).

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Stuffed Zucchinis with Pork, Ramp Greens, Asiago, Crème Fraîche and Lemon Zest

zucchini-stuffed-plated

What defines a “comfort” dish?  Sentimentality, based on good home cooking? Texture? Ingredients? Process?  Rustic presentation? I can’t quite put my finger on it.  This particular dish qualifies, but perhaps anything with the word “stuffed” in its name stacks the deck a little too steeply in its favor.  It is interesting how a word so derogative when applied to humans becomes so delightful when applied to food.

As I mentioned the other day, Gourmet Worrier’s recipe for Qarabaghli mimli bil-laham caught my eye. I ran with the concept, and created my own version, which combines ground pork shoulder, some nicely smoked bacon, aged asiago cheese, breadcrumbs, crème fraîche… oh nevermind, the recipe is below the fold!

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Ramp and Mushroom Risotto

risotto-mushroom

Every once in a while, you read amusing stories about the tension and strife that ensue when cooking in your mother’s kitchen. The hovering. The unsought advice. The skeptical brow. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, I have no such stories from this recent dinner. In the making of this ramp and mushroom risotto, I had free reign. Perhaps it is because I am male, or perhaps it is simply the nature of my mom, but there was no drama to rivet this tale.

I think we got most of the mother-child conflict out of our systems when I was in high school and needed heavy pushing to study and get into a good college. Her obstinate determination at that task exceeded even my own innate and not-insubstantial stubbornness. In the end, her mission was accomplished, for which I am eternally grateful.

Turning the tables and making her a great meal is the least I can do. This risotto, while not innovative in the slightest, was particularly good for three reasons: a homemade vegetable broth made with patience, the use of the last of my ramps, and a mix of porcini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms.

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Chicken Pot Pie, the Basics

chicken pot pie

On Saturday, we crawled through traffic back up the Eastern seaboard and returned from visiting family in Washington DC. There are few things more soul destroying than hours stuck traffic. Naturally, I needed to make a chicken pot pie to recuperate. Chicken pot pie is scientifically proven to pack high levels of emotionally recuperative bosons and gluons by the ounce.

It is a little known fact that they plan to test FermiLab’s Large Hadron Collider by accelerating a chicken pot pie to the speed of light and thus duplicating comfort food conditions at the origins of the universe. It will either cause the end of the world, or it won’t; there appears to be some debate, which is comforting in and of itself.

Below is a recipe for a simple pot pie, and a decent framework for elaborating upon with other ingredients (leeks, peas, turnips, parsnips) and herbs (parsley, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, etc). Note: I hope you’ll excuse the hack-job of the pastry edging in the above picture… I was moving fast in a race against the clock for Munchkin’s dinner time.

Chicken Pot Pie

1.5 lb chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 medium red potatoes, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes
1 white onion, diced
3 medium/large garlic cloves, peeled, woody end removed, and minced
3 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds or smaller
3 celery stalks, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 tsp ground savory (alternative: 1 tbsp parsley and/or 1/2 tsp dry thyme)
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
olive oil
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken stock (or water)

Pastry
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt + a couple more pinches
7.5 tbsp butter
approx 5 tbsp ice cold water

Egg wash: 1 tbsp water, 1 egg yolk

Making the Pastry
For this pot pie, I decided to work off of Alice Waters’ savory pastry proportions from The Art of Simple Food. I was only making the pastry for the top, so reduced the amounts from the 2 cups of flour in her book, keeping with her proportions (hence the extra pinches of salt to get to around 1/3 tsp).

Cut the butter into 1/4 inch cubes and place in the freezer for 15 minutes. Fill a glass with ice water and place next to your food processor. Combine the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter to the processor and add 4 tablespoons of the ice water, pulsing the mixture between each tablespoon.

Remove the mixture to a clean surface and gently work it together. If it is not holding together at all, add another tbsp of the ice water. When the crumbly mixture is just holding together (you do not want it sticky or wet, and it is ok to have a little still crumbly), form into a rough ball, wrap in plastic wrap, flatten, and place in the fridge for an hour.

Preparing the Filling

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Bring some lightly salted water to boil in a medium sauce pot and boil the potato until just tender, no more than 10 minutes given the small cut. Drain or remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon, and keep the sauce pot around for the white sauce.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a large saute pan on medium heat and brown the chicken, then remove to the bowl with the potato. Lower the heat to medium-low and saute the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes, then add the carrots. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the celery, ground savory (or other herbs), white wine, and a couple pinches of salt and pepper. Cook for another few minutes then turn off the heat.

At this point, turn to the sauce pot: melt 5 tbsp of butter on medium-low heat, then wisk in the 1/2 cup of flour and cook for a minute stirring regularly. Theoretically, it is best to have your milk and stock (or water) already at a near boil, but if you haven’t had time or the energy to dirty another pot, it isn’t the end of the world just to add them directly now. Cook at a gentle simmer for another 5 minutes. (If you like your pie really rich, you can add 1/4 cup of cream too)

Stir the white sauce into the saute pan with the vegetables and taste for salt and pepper. Then stir in the chicken and potato. Spoon the mixure into your pie dish until it is near the edge.

chicken pot pie fill
Photo note: the mixture looks a little green-ish because of the ground savory.

Finishing the Pie
Remove the wrapped pastry from the fridge, and on a lightly floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll out your pastry into a thin layer an inch or so bigger than you need for the pie dish. Lightly flour the top, to prevent it from sticking, and gently fold the pastry in half or in quarters to safely lift it in one piece to the top of the pie dish. Crimp the pastry around the edge of the pie dish, and then cut off any excess pastry hanging over the edge with a sharp paring knife. Make some vent holes in the top with the knife (or a fork).

If you have the time, it is nice to mix an egg yolk with a tbsp of cold water and brush this egg wash on top of the pastry. (I did not, this time around)

Place the pie in the oven (which was pre-heated to 375F) for 45 minutes, then let cool for 10 or 15 minutes before serving.

chicken pot pie

Meatloaf Meets Thanksgiving Stuffing

I love my mother’s meatloaf recipe. Maybe that is not unusual, but I always find myself satisfied when I make it, and I am invariably disappointed when I try meatloaf in restaurants. The recipe for the original recipe is posted here, and I hope you try it.

Tonight however, as a prelude to the looming Turkey Day here in the US, I changed things up a bit and brought hints of Thanksgiving “stuffing” into my meatloaf. The reaction was gratifyingly positive, so I deemed it blog-worthy. Apologies for the less-than-great photo above, but it gives you a sense of texture.

(Note: what kind of stuffing do I love? It comes from a 1973 NYTimes recipe for Thanksgiving turkey that my mother cut out and we have been making ever since, because it is just that good!)

Meatloaf
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 large onion (spanish), finely chopped
8 white button mushrooms, finely chopped
3 stalks of celery, finely chopped
10 large black olives, chopped
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped (if you love sage, add more)
1 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp ketchup or tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
bacon

Pre-heat oven to 425F.

Heat up a splash of olive oil in a saute pan, and saute the onions until transparent. Add the mushrooms and cook for several minutes, and then add the celery. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, combine everything but the bacon. (note: I mix it all up with my hands, well-washed before and after)

In a large baking dish, shape your meatloaf. I usually mold it into a roughly-rectangular shape about 1.5 to 2 inches high and 4 or 5 inches wide. Then drape slices of bacon across the top.

meatloaf prep

Place in the oven, and after 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 350F. Cook for another 50 to 60 minutes — if the meatloaf is firm, it should be done.

We served this with a potato, brussel sprout and celeriac gratin (in milk) — good, but I want to continue to tinker with that recipe and improve it before blogging.

potato gratin

Stewed Meatballs with Arugula

stewed meatballs

What’s not to love about meatballs stewed in tomato sauce? It’s a timeless combination, no? I love to cook variations of a recipe I originally picked up from Jamie Oliver (I’m a big fan of his cookbooks). My original adaptation of the recipe is posted here. The other day, I remade it with some changes to the meatballs — there are so many directions you can go and still have it be delicious, as long as you don’t use spices that will conflict with your tomato sauce. The other major difference was the use of a big bunch of arugula instead of basil to add more body (I’m guessing that kale would be good as well).

For this variation, I created a simple tomato sauce that combined 20 oz of peeled san marzano tomatoes with some sauted onions and garlic, ground savory, dried oregano, a splash of red wine vinegar, and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Meatballs
1+ lb of ground beef
2 slices of italian / farm bread, pulsed into breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of finely chopped parsely
1 tbsp dried mexican oregano
pinch of hot red pepper flakes
healthy pinch of salt
1 egg

Combine everything and mold the mixture into meatballs. I made 9, each about an inch and a half in diameter. Then brown them in an oven-proof pan and then turn off the heat when browning is complete.

meatballs formed

Once the meatballs are ready to go and the tomato sauce meets your approval, turn off the heat to the tomato sauce and stir in a large bunch of torn arugula leaves (my guess is about 5 oz worth – considerably more than the amount of basil that went into the original recipe).

Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs and add some chunks of mozarella cheese.

meatballs final prep

Place in an oven preheated to 400F and cook for 20 minutes.