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More food

Made mushroom risotto this morning, using the last of the vegetable stock I had made.

And then I finished and strained a new batch of stock. Whee!

I’m working on a pot of red beans and pork, but after several hours of cooking over two days, it’s still not coming together right. I think that’s because this is my first time trying to use canned beans instead of dried. I don’t know – I’ve just had an urge to use up my canned goods lately. Eh, even if it doesn’t develop the proper gravy-ish base, it’s still coming out with the right taste.

Tonight, I need to develop a plan for the broccoli rabe (rapini).

And then I’ll just have the copious amounts of winter squash to figure out. I think I’ll break into the sweet roasting squash first – mainly because it’s big, and I have no place to store it. I’m thinking cutting it in half and roasting it with some butter – then I’ll eat some right away with cinnamon and sugar. Make soup out of most of it. And then reserve some to make ravioli with the thai basil and then cook it in a browned butter sauce.

That’s the plan, at least.

Mushroom Risotto

I love risotto. If ever there were a food suited to my hovering and fiddling cooking style, this is it. And that’s because I don’t work from a recipe at all for this… so the tale of the mushroom risotto will be all narration, rather than direction. Then again, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’re probably used to that.

Step 1 – buy mushrooms. I popped over across the street to the guys selling produce out the back of a truck, and I bought two quarts of baby portabellas for $1 each. Yes, I’m bragging.

When I got home, I looked over the herbs on my back porch, and selected the rosemary, parsley, thyme, savory, and chives.

Okay, so the set up was three pans: one sauce pan for warming the stock, the deep skillet with the very smoothest nonstick coating for the risotto, and the next smoothest for cooking the mushrooms. I couldn’t decide whether the mushrooms should go in before the rice (and get overcooked) or after the rice (and have weird moisture issues), so I decided they’d be cooked separately and then incorporated (but not cooked first and pulled out because I don’t hold with that letting your ingredients got cold and stop cooking business).

Yes, go ahead and start warming the stock. (Adding cold stock makes your rice slow down cooking every time it is added while the dish tries to come back up to temperature. You can do it, if you don’t want to wash an extra pot, but it’s smoother if you don’t.)

Since I wasn’t serving any vegetarians, I went to my freezer and pulled out a container of bacon fat because I think bacon fat and mushrooms are best buddies. (Okay, so I actually started with a teaspoon of olive oil and only later thought of the bacon fat, but we’re pretending I didn’t. On the other hand, if you are a vegetarian feel free to pretend there is only olive oil in this dish). So I melted about 2 teaspoons of bacon fat into the risotto pan and got everything up to temperature.

As soon as the bacon melted, I added 1 yellow onion, diced rather finely.

Once the onion was at the translucent/creamy golden stage, I added the arborio rice. And no extra liquid! I kept toasting the rice until it, too, started to look a bit golden and the onions started to caramelize. (I learned this trick from Rice-a-Roni, because I’m classy like that) How much rice? Until I had a mound that would spread out to about 2cm deep in the pan and could be stirred easily without spilling even after adding mushrooms, but would still feed several people.

Now consider the order in which you add your flavors. A chef friend of mine swears that the ones you add first are more central to the dish and all of that ritual. I’ve just gotten in the habit of adding the wine first. So I opened up the bottle of white wine (I’ve made mushroom risotto with pinot noir before, too, but be aware that it will add a grey-ish tinge to your rice) (Oh, and this was a blend of several varietals with a sweet and fairly bright taste) and poured about 1/3 cup of wine into the dish – it should boil immediately and if it stops boiling, then you are pouring too much for the heat to keep up with. Stir. Cook. Stir.

Then I added 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the mushroom pan and a teaspoon of finely minced rosemary. If you let the rosemary toast, it’ll get crispy and won’t give you those obnoxious chewy bits. And then I added half of the mushrooms. Cook. Cook. Stir. Grind pepper over and add a light sprinkle of salt.

Note: as your wine cooks down, it can start tasting very salty, so skimp on your salt additions to risotto until you can taste it at the very end

After the rice starts to look dry again, add a ladle-full or two of the warmed stock. Stir. Cook. Stir.

Once the mushrooms look mostly cooked down, add them and their liquid to the risotto. Start more oil and rosemary, and then cook the rest of the mushrooms.

Keep adding stock as it needs and stirring and cooking.

For the second batch of mushrooms, I added 2-3 drops of truffle oil, too, as I was finishing it with the pepper and light touch of salt.

If you run out of stock, at this point you can add a bit of water without damaging the flavor – or a fruit juice would also work. Apple cider would probably be very tasty. I used exactly all of the stock I had, and that turned out just right. Your stock mileage may vary.

After I added the rest of the mushrooms and the risotto was getting soft and near ready, I added the minced chives, parsley, thyme, and savory. I started with a little and then ended up adding about 1/4 cup of minced herbs based on smell and taste-testings. Your herb strength may also vary, so taste as you go.

Then I started playing a bit. I added 1/2 teaspoon of white balsamic vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon of dijon mustard to give the flavor a bit more dimension.

And then to finish it off, I added a generous splash of half and half. If I’d had hard cheeses to grate in, I would have done so, but it turned out happy without.

And then garnish with more herbs.

Nom nom nom.

Miscellany – Persimmon, Simmered Quinces, Sunchoke Risotto with Prima Donna, Mashed Parsley Root, and Meaty Pasta with Blue Cheese

New Fruits
Persimmon – I picked up an Hachiya Persimmon at my produce truck (and the sweet guy just gave it to me for free. My mother, having grown up in an area with persimmon trees, had always warned me off of them: “If they aren’t just dead ripe, then they are the sourest things in the world. And it’s almost impossible to catch them between being ripe enough and rotten.”

But this was a beautiful, evenly shaped and unblemished specimen, and it called to me. So I bought it and left it to sit around for a week or two. And then one day, I came back from D&D to find that my kitchen smelled sweet and luscious. So I went over and squished the persimmon, and found it sufficiently squishy. (My research since then suggests that I would have been safer to wait until it was visibly squishy, not just to touch) So I promptly called up my mother and food co-conspirator for advice on eating the thing (Do I peel it? Do I need a specific angle of approach to avoid the seeds? Will it be disappointing on its own – should I make something to go with it?)… and both of them were out.

My mother called back and let me know that all of the seeds would be up at the top, tucked up under the stem, so you could just go on and bit the thing.

MMmmm! It was sweet! And luscious. And dribbling down my chin. It tasted a bit of pears and apricots, and had just a slightly too mushy texture.

Also, I discovered that I didn’t like the skin and proceeded to pick the skin off the next area right before I ate it. The skin is thin (like a pear or tomato, but just a bit firmer so there’s a crisp pop as you bite through… kind of like a cooked sausage casing) but papery, and I could flake it off rather easily, if messily.

Quince – I was first introduced to quinces several years ago by a wise and clever woman in Boston who shares my interest in ancient cuisine. She presented me with a quince, and I think I ended up forgetting it at my sister’s untasted. But I have thought fondly and longingly of them ever since.

And then I saw them at the Headhouse farmers’ market, so I bought 2 (at a dollar each!).

Now you know above where I said the persimmons perfumed the house? I’m not sure that was 100% true. Because I realized later that I had also brought home the quinces that afternoon, and quinces are famed for giving off an amazing floral scent while the sit on the counter and ripen. But after I ate the persimmon, the smell continued but changed a bit, so I think both were making happy smells together, and I’m sticking by that claim.

When I bought the quinces, they were consistently green, but the sweet smell finally guilted me into cooking the quinces (tannins make them tart when raw, but simmering them in sugar and water makes them amazing and pink/red).

First, I washed the outsides thoroughly, removing all of the fluff on the skin. I quartered them and cut the seeds and tough bits out. Even though everyone says you should peel them, I didn’t. I dumped the quarters into a glass loaf pan (2 quinces ended up being slightly more than 1 layer deep), and I poured over top: the rest of the simple syrup I had hanging out in my fridge, 1.5 knifefuls of the honey that had crystallized in my pantry, 3 generous teaspoons of vanilla sugar, and a bunch of water. I have no idea what the proportions were.

Then I popped it into the 350F oven in which I was also roasting a delicata squash and a rutabega. Once those were finished, I lowered the heat to 200F and draped the pan with tinfoil. And then an episode or two of Primeval later, I got bored and brought the heat back up to 350F. And then I decided I didn’t need for it to simmer all night long until it became bright red.

So I washed out a jar with hot water (yeah, I know, not sterilized, but at least the glass wouldn’t shatter with temperature shock) and took up the quinces and poured the sauce over. It was almost like canning; the lid even popped sealed and everything. Actually, I’m not sure I should have kept so much air out – I think the color darkens even more with exposure to oxygen, but at 2am, it seemed like the best way to keep the quinces happy.

see also: David Lebovitz – Rosy Poached Quinces; Zucchini & Chocolate – Vanilla Poached Quince


New Tuber
Jerusalem Artichoke – you can read the wikipeadia article I linked there for all the fun facts about jerusalem artichokes. I was drawn to them because several of the food blogs I’ve been reading through recently have raved about them. (huh, I was sure I’d have more links there.)

So I saw them at the the market, and I picked the prettiest one (yes, just one). I figured I’d make a simple 1-person soup to get to know the tuber, but I ended up seduced by risotto.

Now, I love to cook hovering by the stove and tinkering with things, and I tend to pass up recipes that involve leaving food alone for extended periods of time because I like to pick at things. So I will tell you that risotto is not that hard.

Sunchoke Risotto

I had some homemade vegetable stock (though, oddly enough, not my home), and I didn’t think it had any parsnips in it, so I took the opportunity while heating up the stock to chuck in some large cubes of parsley root (more on the difference later). But, yes, always get your liquids up to temperature for stock, if you can (by which I mean, if you are saving on dishes by not pouring a finishing splash of cream into a separate container first, there it no need to get your container of cream warm. Just suck it up and keep cooking.)

So I started off with a mixture of butter and olive oil because both tastes seemed like they would go well with the corner of jerusalem artichoke I nibbled raw and the way the flavor is described when warm (all nutty and earthy). Into that, I threw the white of a small leek (sliced, cleaned, and drained). I did not use the green part because I was aiming for an earthier dish, and I probably would have opted for onions or shallots if I hadn’t had a leek in my fridge.

Once the leek softened, I added 2 cloves of garlic (minced), my 1 jerusalem artichoke (washed, rough spots peeled off so that it was sort of striped with peel, halved lengthwise, and then sliced thinly), and some arborio rice (3/4 of a cup, maybe less).

Once the sunchoke softened and the rice was a little toasty, I ladled in a little vegetable stock. Cooked and stirred until it started looking a bit dry… then more stock. Repeat as necessary.

When the rice was almost cooked, I started to consider seasoning. 1/2 teaspoon salt (you might prefer less salt than I). A decent grinding of pepper. A shake of powdered thyme. And a small pinch of chipotle. And a few grinds of nutmeg.

I finished it off with 2 half & half creamers (so about an ounce total) and a generous grating of Prima Donna cheese I had acquired through a random offer for bartering. Grate and stir, grate and stir. And then grate a little more for the top.

It was delicious. Awesome, even. But I’m not sure I could distinguish which parts of the flavor came specifically from the jerusalem artichoke.


So – Parsley Root – I actually discovered parsley root before I figured out parsnips. There I was, in the suburbs, learning how to make stock for the first time. My mother thought I was nuts for wanting to go through all that work to make something that was just an ingredient, but she humored me and told me anyway that I needed some celery, carrots, and parsnips (and onions, garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and pepper). So we went to the supermarket to buy fresh vegetables. And there were some lovely things that looked like parsnips but still had the parsley attached at the top, labeled parsley root. So I got those and thought it wonderfully convenient to grab one thing with two ingredients and had no idea they weren’t parnips.

Then I went to a different grocery store, and they had never heard of parsnips with parsley greens. So I went back to the original store and bought the parsley root again, this time noticing the different terminology (still not realizing that it wasn’t just a vocabulary issue). Finally, after years of being puzzled, I found websites that acknowledged it was a different thing.

The main thing is that parsnips are sweeter than parsley root, and they don’t come with the delightfully flavorful greens that taught me how to appreciate parsley, too.

Mashed Parsley Root

So there I was with stock to boil. In this case, vegetable stock.

So I peeled three parsley roots (and saved the peelings for a later stock) and cut it into large, easily fished out, chunks maybe 1″ square. And put them in the stock.

Some time later, when they could be easily pierced with a fork, I pulled them out (with a slotted spoon) into a bowl. I threw in a chunk (2 Tbsp) of butter, and I went after them with my potato masher. They were still quite resistant to the mashing, and it took a decent amount of persistence… but the result was a lovely dish that I would make again at the first excuse. Not a cohesive mash like potatoes, but a delightful texture nonetheless.

Luckily, I already knew that I wanted to package up the risotto for the next day because I was glad not to have to worry about making the mashed parsley root my dinner.


And then the dish I’ve been making a lot because the weather has been cold and wet and miserable and I have wanted simple food with rich, dark flavors. This dish might not be for everyone.

Meaty Pasta with Blue Cheese

So I acquired from my mother (in with a bunch of containers of frozen leftovers) a package of her lasagne filling – ground beef with tomatoes, garlic, and onion (and probably other things) cooked down until it is solid goodness.

So I boiled two ounces of pasta (penne).

With just 4 minutes left for cooking the pasta, I heated up 3 Tablespoons of the lasagna meat. Poured over it about a cup of pasta sauce from a jar.

One the sauce was hot, I drained the pasta, poured it over the sauce, and mixed it all together with a teaspoon or so of the pasta water. I kept cooking it until the pasta was finished cooking.

Then I tossed it into a bowl, crumbles blue cheese on top, and then mushed the cheese deeper into the pasta so it would melt a little around the edges.

In later versions, I added:

  • 1 big floret of cauliflower, cut into small pieces and started cooking at about the same time as the pasta so that it could soften sufficiently.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of homemade pesto, added at the same time as the beef
  • cloves of roasted garlic, added at the same time as the beef

food list

I had people over at my house this weekend, so now I have a weird set of food to figure out.

collard greens (possibly getting too old)
4 apples
1 pomegranate
jalepeno peppers
1 aging lime
grape tomatoes
4 winter Roma tomatoes
innards of a roasted acorn squash

whole milk
tzatziki sauce
onion dip
sour cream (unopened, so that’ll keep)
scallion cream cheese
1/2 a round of goat cheese brie

2 packages chicken breasts
chicken/duck stock
2 dozen eggs (they were cute little pullet eggs)

homemade pita chips of awesome
leftover potato chips
peppermint oreos

eggplant dip of awesome
tasty herbed mayonnaise
half an opened can of tahini
2 containers of indian stuff I can’t identify

Can I turn this stuff into food?

– So the eggplant dip – there’s a lot pint of it. It was a whole eggplant, roasted, and then pureed with spices. I don’t think I want to eat it as dip. So I have some cubes of roasted lamb in the freezer. And I was thinking egg noodles with that… but now I’m thinking mashed potatoes and shepherd’s pie. Possibly there should be mushrooms in that dish.

– Chicken breasts. With pomegranate? And lemon? If I roast chicken breasts with pomegranate in my white casserole dishes, will they stain? Is there anything else from this list that can go in that dish? Yes to a jalepeno pepper. No to tomatoes. Maybes to the apples, the acorn squash, and the collard greens.

– Hummus and/or tahini. Given that I will not be frying up falafel, what else is hummus good for? Right – pita chips.

– apples and goat cheese… salad?

– pesto risotto (using the stock!) with roasted grape tomatoes. I’d need to buy parmesan cheese.

– chicken raft

Experimental risotto – Mushroom, bacon, and maple syrup

I think I’ll make mushroom risotto for dinner tonight – so the big question is whether I want to stick with what I know’ll be tasty or whether I want to try to add bacon and a tiny bit of maple syrup to change things up a bit.

I’m not usually a fan of maple syrup, but I think the bacon I usually use (for breakfast and stuff, I haven’t tried it in risotto yet) will taste… classier… with a bit of syrup drizzled about.

ETA: a drizzle of maple syrup worked even better than I expected.