Thursday, March 18, 2010

Daring Cooks March: Risotto

Ready to roast
The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

If you've ever watched an episode of Hell's Kitchen, chances are good that you've probably seen Gordon Ramsay dropping f-bombs all over the place. Chances are also good that a few of them were dropped over risotto: too salty, too bland, too mushy, too firm! Well, friends, I certainly hope that hasn't made risotto into some unattainable dish in your mind; something that you'll never hope to recreate at home with $5 worth of ingredients and something you'll have to plunk down $19 for, or even $27 because restaurants really like to put seafood and sausage in there.

To make a tasty risotto, you could really get by with just broth, an appropriate breed of rice and oil. If you've got more than three ingredients in your pantry, add butter, cheese, onions/shallots/leeks and some fresh cracked black pepper.

For this challenge, I used arborio rice, which is a short-grain variety that cooks up firm, creamy and chewy. I would have loved to use some soft, pungent goat cheese and shallots, but I decided to stay reasonable and instead used feta cheese and a leek I bought at Wal-Mart (I can't believe I bought produce at Wal-Mart!). I used dehydrated mushrooms for the first time, and though I wasn't super impressed with them, I will give them another chance.

Other than preparing the risotto, we also had to make our own stock. There was no mandated veggie stock recipe, so I worked with one from Epicurious and made my own edits based on what I had on hand. A good veggie stock is pleasantly simple.

Basic Roasted Vegedible Stock
adapted from Epicurious 
  • 8-10 crimini mushrooms, halved
  • 1 medium onion, chopped into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 carrots, chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped in 1-inch pieces
  • Any vegetable ends you've been saving in the freezer
  • 4 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup of dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 litres of water
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. In a roasting pan (I use a pyrex casserole dish), toss together veggies, garlic, thyme and oil.
  3. Roast in middle of oven, turning occassionaly, for 30-40 minutes or until veggies are browning
  4. Remove pan from oven and transfer veggies to stock pot. Deglaze the roasting pan with 1 cup of white wine, by boiling it for 2 minutes, and scraping down the sides of the pan. Or, do like I did and just pour the wine in, scrape a bit and dump it into the stock pot.
  5. Add bay leaves and water to the stock pot, bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  6. Strain stock, pushing against the veggie solids to release their juices. Season with salt and pepper. Stock should keep one week in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer.
Once you're ready to make the risotto, head on over to the Daring Kitchen for the recipe.

I forgot to save some wine for the risotto (i.e. I drank it all the night before after making the stock) so if you also forget, just use some broth instead. I actually forgot to do that part too... And then I got confused because I hadn't measure out the stock I needed, I just heated up the stock I made the night before and added it a bit at a time, like when I normally make risotto. So I suggest that you measure out the amount of stock required, because otherwise the directions are very confusing.
My final risotto was spinach, feta, leek and mushroom. Not runny, not too firm, not too mushy and not at all crunchy!

Monday, March 8, 2010

A condiment for what ales you

condiment ˌkɒndɪm(ə)nt
a substance such as salt or ketchup that is used to add flavor to food.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Latin condimentum, from condire ‘to pickle.’

I really, really, really like condiments. Once, I read a blog post by dee Hobsbawn-Smith and she wrote that her fridge was full of homemade condiments. That was a couple of years ago, and at the time I couldn't really picture what kind of condiments she could possibly have in there. What condiments can you actually reproduce at home?
Beer, vinegar, mustard and seasonings marinating in a 1L jar.

As you may have guessed, I've been enlightened in the last year or so. In fact, my own fridge is home to a fair collection of homemade sauces and toppings: mixed pepper relish, hot pepper jelly, ketchup, pickled peppers, honey-lemon marmalade, blueberry jam, and, most recently, a delicious grainy mustard.
Before blending.
After blending.

This mustard has a bit of heat, a dash of texture and a wallop of flavour. Now, it's your turn to make it.

A Spicy Mustard for what Ales you
Adapted lovingly from pictures and pancakes
yields 3 1/2 cups

1 341 ml oz bottle McNally’s Extra Ale (or Guinness, or any other dark, flavourful beer. Don't use Bud Light Lime)
10 oz (300 gr) brown mustard seeds
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cinnamo
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp turmeric (for colour, skip if desired)

  1. Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive mixing bowl (i.e. not aluminum) or a 1-litre jar. Cover with plastic wrap, or a lid, and let sit at room temperature for 1-2 days.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and purée, scraping sides of the bowl as necessary.
  3. Process until most of the seeds are coarsley ground and the mixture thickens.
  4. Transfer to jars and refrigerate up to six months. 
  5. You may find the mustard slightly bitter at first. I liked mine more after it had mellowed out in the fridge for a week or so. Of course, results will vary based on your beer of choice.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Daring Bakers February: Tiramisu

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

The cookie dough: a lot lighter than your chocolate chip in a tube!

Wow. I am posting this very late, even though I made the delicious cake about 2 weeks ago. I’m going to chalk it up to photography once more, unfortunately. So I don’t have a final photo, because even though there is a piece sitting in my fridge, I just can’t put this thing off any longer!
Cookie dough ready to pipe out

This was a pretty intense, from-scratch recipe. I made mascarpone cheese, zabaglione (coffee-based syrup-like stuff), pastry cream, whipped cream and savoiardi biscuits, which are meringue-ish ladyfingers.

I don't know how, but I piped that dough real pretty!  

I will absolutely make this tiramisu again, although next time I might dip my ladyfingers into something a little more punchy than the sweetened coffee concoction. Some Daring Bakers used fruit juice, and the recipe said to use espresso or marsala. My mum suggested I try it with Grand Marnier, and I think amaretto would be pretty delightful too.
Macro lens means a good view of bubbles in the ladyfingers.

My favourite part was the ladyfingers, or savoiardi, which are mostly egg, but lightly flavoured with lemon zest as well. They were not super special on their own, but when smothered in a pool of zabaglione-pastry cream-whipping cream, their lightness provided great balance to the cake. Next time though I will probably pipe the cookie batter in a shape that is more conducive to fitting my cake dish. I didn’t think I had enough cookies for my 9x9 inch pan, so used a couple of large circular ramekins instead, breaking the cookies to mostly fit inside.

This part was kind of complicated. I guess I don't have my sifting skills down yet.

If you’re interested in making a tiramisu, plan your time wisely. It was a multi-day project, including making mascarpone cheese from scratch. The final result was absolutely delicious, but I felt a little guilty eating so much of it myself…
Voila! A little overcooked, but still delightful.