Thursday, 8 March 2012

Risotto redemption

After my culinary crisis of last weekend, I decided to do something I rarely do...cook a recipe that I've done before. Tried. Tested. True.

Yes, so my epicurean ego was slightly damaged and needed assuaging. Nothing spells redemption quite like risotto. Or maybe it's just me. 

Being of Mennonite background, risotto used to be as unfamiliar to me as a pierogi is to an Italian. (Though the word does look suspiciously Latin!) The first time I heard of risotto was on Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen and it became my new Everest. I mean, how many times have you seen Gordon Ramsay slop around a risotto appie and then yell out one of the following: "It's RAW!!!" or "BLAND!" or "Overcooked! It's MUSH. Get the **** out of my kitchen!"

Somehow I got the idea that if I could make a good risotto I could honestly consider myself an amateur cook.

Now, on this International Women's Day, I must confess that the my very first risotto attempt was made while entertaining a (dear) friend, who tried to convince my husband that women belong at home and in the kitchen. So I will have to admit that on that particular occasion the risotto got stirred a bit faster than it should have, and was not a particularly relaxing experience.

However, that being said. The risotto did turn out, and I think the act of constant stirring actually calmed me down.

In fact, over the last couple years I've found that making risotto is an extremely relaxing and therapeutic process. It's lengthy, and I know it sounds weird, but the act of slowly adding stock, and stirring and stirring     is an ideal relaxant after a long day of work.

Ontario mushroom risotto

Mushroom mixture

1/2 cup diced onions
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups mushroom
2 cloves garlic (minced)

Saute the onions in 1/4 cup of butter. Add mushrooms and garlic. When slightly tender, add white wine and saute until wine is completely reduced. Set aside.


1 1/4 litre chicken stock
450 grams arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup diced onions
1/4 cup butter

Saute onions in butter. When onions are slightly soft, add rice and toast slightly. Add white wine and stir until absorbed. Continue to add stock at about 1/2 cup at a time; each time stirring slowly until the liquid is absorbed.

When all the stock has been added and absorbed, test the risotto. Some prefer it more al dente, although I like mine less "crunchy".

Add the mushroom mixture to the risotto and add seasoning. If you really want to be decadent, add 1/4 cup parmesan and stir until melted. YUM!

This is a HUGE recipe. Ideal for serving about 10 people, so adjust accordingly.

Because risotto is so time-consuming and attention-consuming, my favourite meat dish to serve it with is something that matches the classiness of the risotto, but is actually pretty easy.

Pesto-stuffed chicken breast wrapped in bacon

In the summer, I generally make my own basil pesto, but you can also buy basil pesto at any grocery store.

Simply slit the breast 2/3 open lengthwise, stuff with 1-2 teaspoons of pesto and then wrap the breast in bacon. For a leaner option, wrap in prosciutto. It's fewer calories, but the chicken will be a bit drier.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 40-45 voila!

Seriously people, is there a better combination on earth than mushrooms, bacon, and garlic????

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Middle Eastern crisis

Okay, so maybe I should have had Madeleine Albright negotiate between me and my falafels, but I really thought I had this one in the bag!

I hadn't cooked ALL week. No joke. In fact, if someone introduces me to a piece of pizza at this moment I might just slit my throat (after I vomit profusely).

But all week, during the pizza deliveries, I was fantasizing about the amazing Middle Eastern feast I was going to create on the weekend.

The menu?

Falafels with home-made pitas

I researched dozens of recipes, compared them all, asked my lovely Iraqi friend where I could find grape leaves (she even gave me tips on the dolmas), and was PSYCHED to experiment.

But I must admit I was super cocky. Generally, (well, at least 65% of the time) my experiments work out.  So I chose Saturday night (company night, of course!) to test my hypothesis that I could whip up an authentic Middle Eastern meal.

Of course, as I'm sure you can all guess, I failed MISERABLY!

I'm not even going to post the recipes I used (as a favour to you all!), but I will detail what went wrong.

1) I didn't have time to make my own pitas. Although, mind you, this was probably a blessing in disguise. For those of you living in Canada, my fave storebought pitas are Grandma Ozery's pitas They are as close to authentic fluffy Middle Eastern pitas as you can get (unfortunately not sphere-shaped as they sell them fresh at the shuk in Israel! Mmmm....salivating....)

2) Actually, this should be number one....I SHOULD have begged my lovely Iraqi friend to take me under her wing and teach me. I was far too cocky.

3) The falafel recipe called for the falafels to be baked rather than fried. I mean, COME ON, if you're going to eat falafels, you might as well eat them fried! As my husband put it, my falafels tasted like: "dried balls of hummus." Ouch. (Yet true.)

4) The tabouleh was TOO dry. It needed more olive oil and more seasoning. And a greater ratio of parsley to bulgur. Sigh....

5) Last, but definitely not least. Although the dolmas turned out all right, I made a so-called Turkish version (pile on the raisins, cinnamon, etc.). Too sweet to keep up.

6) The tahini (storebought) was uber-nutty. Not at all like the tahini used to adorn Israeli falafels.

So there is my embarassing confession of causing my own, pathetic, Middle Eastern crisis.

On the other hand, I DID get some ROCKING shoes from my husband for Valentines Day! ;)