Thursday, March 17, 2016

For the love of dinner . . .

I have a confession to make.  I have been feeding my family a lot of prepackaged crap lately.  If you're picturing Lunchables, Uncrustables, Kraft Mac & Cheese, and bags of frozen P.F. Chang's stir fry, you're on the right track.  But, I've been thinking about this book I read last year (and have mentioned on this blog ad nauseum, I know) "Bread and Wine" and her attitude towards cooking and food.  We had a disappointing day last month where baby girl got sick on the night we were supposed to meet my family for my birthday dinner.  The big girls had plans but we were staying home with Little and i had all intentions of getting take out.  But, I rallied, channeled my inner Shauna Niequiest and came up with the menu that included those Lemon Souffles.

One of the things I made was her risotto.  It did not disappoint!  I loved the process and the end result was the perfect complement to the lamb chops and roasted asparagus.  I used some chopped up thyme at the end because that was what was on the lamb.  I will be making this again soon - the mushroom version, probably.  And, it felt good to make a whole meal of real food that was more appealing than something that comes frozen or in a box.  I'm trying to keep that in mind and feed my family better!

Basic Risotto 
from Shauna Niequist
Reposted from here

6 cups chicken broth
2 cups arborio rice
4 cloves garlic
1 cup white wine
1 onion
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

It's really hard to do this recipe justice, so here it is in her own words:

I put about six cups of chicken broth in a smaller pot to warm up, and then I chop a few onions.  You know, two, maybe.  And not a fine chop—just so that they’re slender and bite-able.  
I let a thin layer—not too thin, but not a pool–of olive oil heat up in the dutch oven, and then I add the onions.  I let them soften on medium to medium-low for five minutes or so while I press four or six cloves of garlic and throw them in the pan with the warm oil.  Then I give it maybe three more minutes, till the onions are translucent and the garlic smell fills the house. 
When the garlic and onion are translucent, smelling fantastic, throw in two cups of Arborio rice—that will make a whole lot of risotto, so be ready.  6 or 8 servings, but delicious leftovers.  The rice sizzles and pops in the oil for a while, so stir, stir, stir, and then when it seems to be coated thoroughly, add some wine.  
Really, I’m not picky about the wine.  I guess I like pinot grigio the best for risotto, or champagne.  But I’ve used whatever’s open—even red is fine, although it does turn the whole thing a little pink, which is not a problem at all, I’ve found.  
Add a big glass of wine, and stir, stir, stir.  Wooden spoon, by the way.   The wine will release a fantastic smell.  Give it a little time to soften, and then when the wine is absorbed, add a cup of warmed broth, and again, stir, stir, stir.
Basically, at this point, you’re trying to keep it from drowning, and keep it from drying out.  So add a little bit more, stir a little bit more, feel free to turn the heat down if it feels a little out of control.  David Tanis, in his fabulous cookbook A Platter of Figs, says that you want to see “sinkholes” and that’s a great way to put it.  Not aggressive boiling, not lazy simmering.  Sinkholes, exactly.  Keep adding broth cup by cup.  Stir every few minutes.
Every recipe I’ve read says 18-20 minutes from this point, but to be honest, it always takes me longer.  Keep tasting along the way, and when you’ve added six-ish cups of broth, and when the rice feels soft at first, but still with a bite in the middle, you’re there.
I think some people may get into trouble with risotto because they expect there to be no gritty hardness at the center of each grain, so they overcook by a long shot.  As long as you know there will always be that hard little center, you won’t overcook.
Just two more things to throw in at this point: parmesan, for sure.  A handful mixed in, and a small handful to throw on top right at the end.  As with anything, taste for salt, but I tend not to use much, because I find the broth and the parmesan add enough.   Finish with just a little bit of Italian flat leaf parsley for color, and there you go.
Other risotto variations: 
While you’re watching, stirring, and adding stock from time to time, slice up a whole bunch of mushrooms—as many kinds as you like–and soften them in a tablespoon or so of butter.  When they’re soft, pour in some cognac or white wine and cook just a little longer.  When the risotto is cooked, stir in the mushrooms and their yummy juices from the pan.
I love chopped sundried tomatoes, soaked in hot water if they were dried.  Fresh spinach and toasted pinenuts are great with the tomatoes.  Peas and asparagus and lemon zest are great.  I love shrimp in it, maybe with a little bacon and something green—arugula?  Artichokes?  Roasted chicken or chicken sausages are great, too.

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