Sunday, January 27, 2013

Risotto: The Epic Search and Winning Recipes




I have opened an enormous can of worms... a search for a risotto recipe. As you can see below, there are a lot of recipes that look delicious out there.

Thinking of all the types of risotto gives me memories of a few movie scenes. First, there's the scene from Forrest Gump where Bubba talks about all the types of shrimp and ways of making it:


Or the one from Best in Show, where Harlen Pepper recalls all the types of nut that he could list as a kid:


This is exactly how I felt when I started researching risotto. There's risotto milanese, shrimp risotto, beet risotto, butternut squash risotto, squid ink risotto, vegetarian risotto, spring vegetable risotto, risotto with hazelnut, champagne risotto, red wine risotto, breakfast risotto, dessert risotto, farro, barley, orzo, and couscous "risotto," risotto cakes, risotto balls, swiss chard stuffed with risotto... the list goes on. Here is a glimpse of my tabs during research time:


For the record, I only tabbed vegetarian risotto recipes, and I also have a few hard-copy cookbooks piled around me that I am using. This is an endeavor, but an enlightening one.

What is risotto?
Risotto, from what I have learned, first became possible through the Arab influence in Italy combined with the fertile Mediterranean soil that worked so well with the short-grain rice (arborio remains the most common risotto rice). In Milan, the Middle Eastern spices like saffron joined forces with the traditional slow cooking style of the region and the availability of this short, fat rice. Thus, risotto was born in its most classic form, Risotto Milanese. That was the short version-- for more info on the history of risotto, check out this intriguing site.

How did I choose?
I knew from the get go that I couldn't possibly choose just one risotto to make, so I started narrowing down my favorites to three. I wanted one that was traditional or straightforward, I wanted one packed with veggies, and I wanted one that was a little unique and quirky. I would love to make them all, but since I can't I'll just link them all for you.

Traditional & Simple Risotto:
Risotto Milanese (Simple Italian Food)

Veggie-Packed Risotto:
Leek, Mushroom, and Lemon Risotto (Vegetarian)
Risotto with Asparagus and Fennel (Simple Italian Food)

Unique & Quirky Risotto:

The Winners:
Traditional & Simple Risotto: Risotto Milanese (Simple Italian Food)
Veggie Packed Risotto: Leek, Mushroom, and Lemon Risotto, replacing the mushrooms with artichoke hearts (Vegetarian)
Unique & Quirky Risotto: Butternut Squash, Rosemary, and Blue Cheese Risotto (Bon Appetit)

The Recipe: Risotto Milanese, adapted from Mario Batali's Simple Italian Food
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 5 cups hot vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preparation:
  • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent but not browned.
  • Add the saffron and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  • Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, 3-4 minutes.
  • Add a ladleful of stock and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed.
  • Continue adding stock one ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more.
  • Cook for about 15 minutes, until the rice is al dente, creamy, and tender.
  • Stir in the butter and cheese until well incorporated. Serve immediately.


The Recipe: Leek, Artichoke, and Lemon Risotto, adapted from Linda Fraser's Vegetarian 
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:
  • 8 oz leeks, washed, green parts removed, and white part roughly chopped
  • 8 oz frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups arborio rice
  • 5 cups hot vegetable stock
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup mixed chopped chives and flat-leaf parsley
  • salt and pepper

Preparation:
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the garlic, leeks, artichoke hearts, and salt and pepper for about 10 minutes, until softened and browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • Add 2 tbsp of butter to the pan and cook the onion over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the rice and cook for 3-4 minutes, coating the rice with butter and onion until the rice turns opaque. 
  • Add a ladleful of stock and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed.
  • Continue adding stock one ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more.
  •  In about 20-25 minutes, the rice should be thick and creamy, al dente, and not sticky.
  • Just before serving, stir in the leeks, artichoke hearts, the remaining butter, 3 tbsp of lemon juice, half the parmesan, and the herbs. Season with salt and pepper if necessary and stir until incorporated. Serve immediately.
The Recipe: Butternut Squash, Rosemary, and Blue Cheese Risotto, adapted from Bon Appetit
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:
  • 5 cups hot vegetable stock
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cups butternut squash meat (from a 2 lb squash), cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups (packed) baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles
Preparation:
  • Melt the butter in a heavy pot over medium heat.
  • Add the onion and saute until tender and translucent.
  • Add the squash and half the rosemary; saute 4 minutes to coat with butter.
  • Add rice and stir for 3-4 minutes until rice is opaque.
  • Add wine and simmer until evaporated, about 1 minute.
  • Add a ladleful of stock and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed.
  • Continue adding stock one ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more.
  • Once rice is plump, al dente, and creamy, stir in the spinach, cream, parmesan cheese, and blue cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Seem overwhelming? It's not! There are a few things that stay the same no matter the risotto recipe. Stay tuned for how it all turns out, as well as my tips for making three risottos at once without wanting to pull your hair out.

Time to memorize: 4 days

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Corn Bisque with Smoked Paprika Yogurt: The Recipe & Results

Smokey paprika gives an interesting touch to this simple soup.
This week's post will be compact-- recipe and results in the same post! I promise, though, I have spent the last few days memorizing this recipe. I had on my Master List that I wanted to learn to make a bisque, but I then realized that I didn't know the difference between a chowder and a bisque. My hypothesis is the following: A chowder has potatoes and a bisque does not. Research time!

[5 minutes later]


I was wrong. It turns out a chowder and a bisque both have the same beginning preparation and similar ingredients, depending heavily on cream. However, a bisque is pureed, making it smooth, while a chowder remains chunky. Emeril Lagasse explains it from what seems to be his home office in this video:




So there we have it:

chowder= chunky
bisque= smooth

This affects the modifications I was going to make to this recipe, since I was going to leave some of the corn out of the blender to add in for texture. Does that make it a chowder? Not totally. I guess I will be making a chisque... or bowder. I hope neither of those are inappropriate words.


A final note before I get to the recipe: Corn is a summer veggie, but I love how quick and easy it is to use frozen corn, so I am going to modify the original recipe from LA Magazine to make it more NYC winter friendly (AKA: 11°F, feels like 0°. Ugh.)


They really shouldn't say that things are "easy as pie"...
let's change that to "easy as corn bisque"


Fage is the creamiest of the Greek yogurts I have tried,
so I like using a dollop on top of the soup.


The Recipe: Corn Bisque with Smoked Paprika Yogurt, adapted from LA Magazine

Yield: 6 servings
Weight Watchers Points: 3 pts. per serving (about 1 cup)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 4 cups veggie broth
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
Preparation:
  • In a large pot, sweat the diced onion and garlic in the other half of the butter.
  • Add corn, veggie broth, cream, and a pinch of sugar.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 90 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, mix together the yogurt, smoked paprika, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Refrigerate until serving.
  • Using a blender, puree the soup (carefully-- blenders don't like heat).
  • Salt and pepper to taste. Top with smoked paprika yogurt.
Only fill the food processor about a third of the way...
the soup rises to the top, and it is hot! No need for explosions.
Be sure the vent is open in your processor,
and hold a kitchen towel lightly over the opening just in case.
The Verdict:
This "bowder" ended up being the perfect consistency-- a teeny bit brothy, a little textured, not too heavy, but very creamy after timidly but successfully blending it in the food processor. The ingredients and process were both so simple that I couldn't really think of a way to mess this one up, and it was a big fan favorite. The natural sweetness of corn just begs for something a little more rough around the edges, which is where the smoked paprika steps in. Add some bread for serious dunking and you are all set! In a perfect world I would have let it sit on the stove a bit longer to evaporate some of the liquid. However, the extra moisture just gave me a reason to eat more bread!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Grilled Veggie Salad with Poached Egg: The Recipe

Poached eggs: high protein, low calorie, delicious inside and out
I might cry... two of my roommates are on a diet!

They are sweet enough to make Family Dinner day their cheat day, but since we have dining out plans next week I must adapt FamDin to their 4-Hour Body restrictions: no carbs, little oil, no dairy. God help me! Fortunately, there are some yummy things that exist in this realm of eating, so rather than stressing over finding a recipe that meets all of the requirements, I am making one up.

When I was in Charleston, SC, I went to McCrady's restaurant for their four-course dinner. Not only were the menu items locally sourced, but they were delectably prepared and described as they were brought to my table (this is my version of whispering sweet nothings in my ear). One of my favorite courses was the appetizer featuring a poached egg. Since eating that first course, I have been mildly obsessed with poaching eggs. This recipe will tap into my adoration for runny egg yolk at all hours of the day.

This salad came together through a number of factors. First, I love my indoor grill, so I get to use it for this recipe. Second, I want something versatile (aka: works for the dieters and for me). Finally, I adore vegetables and often leave them as a side dish in my Walking Cookbook recipes, so this one shines the spotlight right on the fiber-rich, mineral-packed veggies.

The Recipe: Grilled Veggie Salad with Poached Egg, from The Walking Cookbook, dressing recipe adapted from Epicurious
Yield: 8 servings

Salad Ingredients:
  • 4 heads endive, halved
  • 24 spears of asparagus, cut into 5" stems
  • 24 mushrooms, cut in half
  • 1 leek, white part only, sliced 1/2" thick at a diagonal
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, sliced into large disks
  • 2 large carrots, cut into sixths lengthwise (like matchsticks)
  • 4 tbsp safflower oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 eggs
Dressing Ingredients:
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp chopped chives
  • 1 tbsp chopped basil
  • 1 tbsp chopped dill
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Optional Ingredients: 
  • Thick slices of country bread, toasted
  • Grilled chicken breast
  • Grilled shrimp/salmon
  • Avocado
Preparation:
  • Make the dressing in advance. Combine the first ten dressing ingredients in a bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours.
  • Combine asparagus, carrots, and cauliflower and toss in 2 tbsp safflower oil. Add salt and pepper.
  • Combine mushrooms and leeks in a separate bowl and toss with 1 tbsp safflower oil. Add salt and pepper.
  • Brush the flat side of each half-head of endive with safflower oil. Add salt and pepper. 
  • Heat a grill pan over medium high heat. Brush with safflower oil.
  • When the pan is hot, add the asparagus, carrots, and cauliflower discs. Grill until dark char marks appear on the bottom side, then flip and repeat.
  • Move the grilled vegetables to a cutting board to cool slightly. Place the leeks and mushrooms on the grill pan and cook until char marks appear and the vegetables soften a bit. Remove from the pan and add to the cutting board.
  • Chop the vegetables on the cutting board into bite-sized pieces and mix together.
  • Place endive flat side down on the grill pan, letting it cook until it softens and grill marks are visible. Remove the core and cut into quarters.
  • As the endive is cooking, crack 4 eggs into 4 separate ramekins (any small bowl, shallow cup, dry measuring cup, or soup ladle will work if you don't have ramekins). 
  • Heat 3 inches of water in a wide pot, until it is simmering (just a few bubbles).
  • Delicately pour the eggs into the simmering water, keeping plenty of separation between them (if you don't have a wide enough pot, stick to two eggs at a time). 
  • Cook eggs for 3-4 minutes, until the egg white is set but still a little wiggly. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel. Repeat with the remaining four eggs.
  • Assemble the salad: Place four quarters of endive on a plate. Top with a heap of mixed grilled veggies. Top with a poached egg and drizzle with dressing (whisk the dressing first). Add optional grilled chicken, fish, shrimp, or raw avocado to the salad. Serve with a slice of lightly toasted country bread if you aren't on a diet!
Time to memorize: 4 days

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Tikka Masala: The Results and Modified Recipe


With basmati rice and naan, this recipe is a hit!
The Process:
Getting back into the habit of memorizing recipes was quick and painless, with the Tikka Masala being the perfect starting recipe. We had a group of 8, and it was simple to multiply this recipe for a larger crowd. Since I am not completely familiar with Indian spices, I wasn't able to use the common-sense approach to memorizing the spices (I didn't actually know that coriander and cardamom are common in Indian recipes). However, the alliterative component helped me out a lot. For the marinade, remembering the "four Cs" was simple: cumin, coriander, cardamon, and cayenne. Are there any other hard Cs worth thinking about?
...
...
...
None that I can think of.

The onion/ginger/garlic base for the curry reminded me a lot of the Ethiopian recipes I cooked last year, so this base was simple to memorize as well. Anyone who has ever had Tikka Masala knows that it is tomato and cream based. The interesting twist was the almond powder... who knew?

Long story short, if I wanted to whip this up on a random weeknight, the overnight marinade would stand in my way a bit. But if I didn't mind a shortened marinade time, I know I'd have no problem remembering the ingredients while at the grocery store. Oh, and as a side note, we used naan from a restaurant. I am a procrastinator and the grocery store Washington Heights did not have the yeast I needed at the last minute. Looking on the bright side, it was delicious naan!

The 4 Cs for the marinade:
 coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, and cardamom

The meat should marinate overnight. 
Here I have the two yogurt marinades and a dairy free olive oil marinade

The Verdict:
This was a delicious and comforting dish that was fairly easy to prep and make. I was able to finish it in under an hour, which I don't think is too shabby for a dinner party meal. I would love to see this recipe done on a really small scale... I wonder how the timing would turn out.

I ended up using salmon and chicken, which both were gobbled up. The salmon broke down into smaller pieces, making the flavor of the salmon infuse into the gravy. The chicken, on the other hand, maintained its structure. The gravy was a little less spicy and a little chunkier than the Tikka Masala that you get in a restaurant, but I didn't mind having something to chew on. It was still saucy enough for covering a bed of rice and dunking in a piece of naan.

I would definitely make this recipe again-- it was warm, filling, tasty, and felt fairly healthy once I added all the cauliflower. Basmati rice is really the way to go in terms of a side dish. I now have motivation to keep expanding my Indian repertoire!

My two pans ready to go: 1 for chicken, 1 for salmon.
The onion/ginger/garlic base is simple and delicious

The Modified Recipe: Chicken (or Fish) Tikka Masala, adapted from Grace Parisi at Food & Wine
Yield: 4 servings

Marinade Ingredients:
  • 1 cup plain lowfat yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • 2.5 lbs meat (skinless, boneless chicken thighs; salmon or swordfish cut in 1.5" cubes)
Gravy Ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp plus 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup whole almonds, no skin
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger*
  • 1 1/2 tbsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 35-oz can peeled tomatoes, finely chopped and juices reserved
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces and lightly steamed (3-4 minutes)
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper
Preparation:
  • Combine marinade ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Using a sharp knife, make a few shallow slashes in the pieces of meat. Add to the marinade, turn to coat, and refrigerate overnight.
  • Heat a cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat.
  • Remove the meat from the marinade and scrape off the marinade as much as possible. Place on the grill and cook until the bottom third of the meat is cooked through (3-5 minutes). Flip the meat, cover with an aluminum foil tent, and cook for another 3-5 minutes until the meat is cooked through. Keep in mind that with fish you will reduce these times significantly, since rare fish is far less dangerous (and disgusting) than rare chicken.
  • Transfer grilled meat to a cutting board and let rest.
  • Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat 1 tbsp of the oil. Add the almonds and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a plate and let cool completely. Move to a food processor* and pulse until finely ground.
  • In a large pan, heat 2 tbsp oil. Add onion, garlic, and ginger and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 8 minutes.
  • Add the garam masala and cayenne, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  • Add the tomatoes, their juices, sugar, salt, and pepper.
  • Cover partially and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
  • Add the cream and ground almonds and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes longer.
  • Stir in the meat and cauliflower; simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, and serve.
*Tips:
  • Grating Ginger: I am never ever chopping ginger again. Between the frustrating fibers and the chewy bits that inevitably get into the food, it is too much of a hassle. What is not a hassle, though, is grating ginger. After a quick peel, just run it up and down a fine grater. What you will get is the smoothest ginger puree you will ever see.
  • Grinding almonds: The thought of hauling my entire food processor onto the counter just to grind up some almonds made me want to change recipes, but I realized that I could just as easily pulse the almonds in an electric coffee grinder. I did the same with my whole cardamom seeds. It's far quieter, easier to move around, and small enough to clean up quickly. Just be sure that you do give it a good cleaning before and after use so you don't have coffee-flavored Indian food or Indian food-flavored coffee (although that might become the next food trend!)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Tikka Masala: The Recipe

Aaaaand, we're back! I hope that everyone had a lovely and restful holiday filled with delicious food and all of the other important things in life.

The end of a year and beginning of the next is always accompanied by lists. So I am going to make a list of predictions for my culinary life for the upcoming year. Look forward to the following Walking Cookbook trends:

  • Indoor grilling (I just seasoned my cast iron grill pan/skillet and can't stop looking at it)
  • Bread (and other bread-related products, to overcome my fear of yeast)
  • Celiac-friendly, egg free, and dairy free dishes (shout out to my super-allergic best friend!)
  • Sauces of all varieties
  • Micro-portions (I got a tasting party dishware set for Christmas)

We'll kick off 2013 with some food that will heat things up in two ways... Indian Tikka Masala. I'll prep some chicken and some salmon (or maybe swordfish, a new favorite of mine for its steaky texture and chickeny flavor) in the Tikka Masala style, which takes two separate steps. First, I will marinade the meat and grill it. Second, I will make the gravy (the actual meaning of the word curry) and mix it all together. Served with rice and naan, it will be a full (though not very balanced) meal.

Quick note: The meat should marinade overnight, so keep that in mind when choosing when to make this recipe.
A cilantro garnish is the perfect topper, both in color and flavor
The Recipe: Chicken (or Fish) Tikka Masala, adapted from Grace Parisi at Food & Wine
Yield: 4 servings

Marinade Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain lowfat yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • 2.5 lbs meat (skinless, boneless chicken thighs; salmon or swordfish cut in 1.5" cubes

Gravy Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp plus 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup blanched whole almonds
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 35-oz can peeled tomatoes, finely chopped and juices reserved
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper
Preparation:

  • Combine marinade ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Using a sharp knife, make a few shallow slashes in the pieces of meat. Add to the marinade, turn to coat, and refrigerate overnight.
  • Heat a cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat.
  • Remove the meat from the marinade and scrape off the marinade as much as possible. Place on the grill and cook until the bottom third of the meat is cooked through (3-5 minutes). Flip the meat, cover with an aluminum foil tent, and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the meat is cooked through. Keep in mind that with fish you will reduce these times a bit, since rare fish is far less dangerous (and disgusting) than rare chicken.
  • Transfer grilled meat to a cutting board and let rest.
  • Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat 1 tbsp of the oil. Add the almonds and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a plate and let cool completely. Move to a food processor and pulse until finely ground.
  • In a large pan, heat 2 tbsp oil. Add onion, garlic, and ginger and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 8 minutes.
  • Add the garam masala, chile powder, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  • Add the tomatoes, their juices, sugar, salt, and pepper.
  • Cover partially and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
  • Add the cream and ground almonds and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes longer.
  • Stir in the meat; simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, and serve.

Will I make naan from scratch? Not sure yet, but if I do I will use this recipe.

Time to Memorize: 6 days