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Wild Mushroom Risotto

February 27, 2011

Winter can be a rough time. The white fluffy snow is magical until winter goes on for months and months. Or until you slip and fall on the ice…twice… in a 30 second period. There are a few things that can keep my winter blues at bay. One of them is using the cold as an excuse to stay inside for most of the day and cook. Over winter break, Wilson came to visit me in Atlanta, and we took it as an opportunity to cook in a way that we hadn’t gotten to in quite a while. One night we decided to make Rosemary Roast Chicken with mushroom risotto.  It’s also worth noting that Wilson became a little obsessed with mushroom risotto after his mom had made it a few times over Thanksgiving break.

I will never know if our risotto was as good as what Wilson’s mom makes, but it is very very good.

This risotto takes quite a bit of time and vigilance, but all of the effort pays big dividends in flavor. Butter, white wine, Arborio rice, and a mixture of mushrooms combine beautifully – all of the flavors marry into a complexity of textures and flavors. Wilson and I took turns stirring the risotto while sipping on wine, and occasionally tasting and testing our masterpiece. Risotto, I think is best made when you really want to enjoy the process of cooking. The end product is divine, but there is also a real joy in reveling in the luxury of smells and tastes with someone you love. Cooking is the perfect way to pass the winter, and risotto the perfect thing to cook.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

From Bon Appetit Magazine

  • 9 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh wild mushrooms
  • (such as cèpe [porcini], hen of the woods, chanterelle, or stemmed shiitake); large mushrooms sliced, small mushrooms halved or quartered
  • 7 cups (about) low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped leek (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 1/4 cups arborio rice (8 to 9 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup dry white vermouth
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving (optional)
  • Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 of mushrooms and sprinkle with salt. Sauté mushrooms until tender and beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to medium bowl. Working in 3 more batches, repeat with 6 tablespoons butter, remaining mushrooms, and salt and pepper.

    Bring 7 cups chicken broth to simmer in medium saucepan; keep warm. Melt remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leek, sprinkle with salt, and sauté until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add rice and increase heat to medium. Stir until edges of rice begin to look translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add white wine and vermouth and stir until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 3/4 cup warm chicken broth; stir until almost all broth is absorbed, about 1 minute. Continue adding broth by 3/4 cupfuls, stirring until almost all broth is absorbed before adding more, until rice is halfway cooked, about 10 minutes. Stir in sautéed mushrooms. Continue adding broth by 3/4 cupfuls, stirring until almost all broth is absorbed before adding more, until rice is tender but still firm to bite and risotto is creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, if using. Transfer risotto to serving bowl. Pass additional Parmesan cheese alongside, if desired.

    Rosemary Roast Chicken

    January 31, 2011

    Roast chicken is unbelievable. In a nation fed on boneless, skinless chicken breasts, there is something deliciously affirmative about spending a little bit more time and roasting a real bird. And, lest I be accused of elitism, it is far cheaper, easier, and more flavorful to buy and prepare a full chicken, or even, as this post discusses, bone-in, skin-on chicken parts. While Alicia and I have roasted a full bird in the past (highly recommended, expect a full Blue Mondays post on the subject), chicken parts are a little quicker, and easier because you don’t have to carve. Whenever I indulge in this most frugal and accessible of meals, I am struck by the juicy decadence of the crackling skin, peppered with rosemary, and the moist tenderness of the meat within. And, on each bite, I can’t believe how good chicken can be.

    Chicken parts cost only a few dollars, and all we did to prepare them was to sprinkle some salt and pepper on the skin before seasoning it further with some fresh rosemary. Roast chicken is an excellent year round choice for a decadent and straightforward meal, pop it in the oven and relax for a while before pulling out an astonishingly delicious final product. It is almost hard to imagine how good roast chicken can taste.

    We got this recipe from Mark, who is always forthcoming with advice.

    Roast Chicken Parts with Olive Oil or Butter
    Makes: 4 to 6 servings
    • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or butter
    • 1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 8 pieces, or any combination of parts
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup any mild green herb—like parsley, dill, basil, or sage—or a combination of herbs (optional)
    1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Put the oil or butter in a roasting pan and put it in the oven for a couple of minutes, until the oil is hot or the butter melts. Add the chicken and turn it a couple of times in the fat, leaving it skin side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and return the pan to the oven.
    2. After the chicken has cooked for 15 minutes, toss about one-quarter of the herb, if you’re using any, over it and turn the pieces. Sprinkle on another quarter of the herb and roast for another 10 minutes.
    3. Turn the chicken over (now skin side up again), add another quarter of the herb, and cook until the chicken is done (you’ll see clear juices if you make a small cut in the meat near the bone), a total of 30 to 40 minutes at most. Garnish with the remaining herb and skim excess fat from the pan juices if necessary; serve, with some of the juices spooned over it.

    Note: We apologize for our absurd absence from Blue Mondays as of late. As students, we experienced the whirlwind of finals and a long break apart, where our eating was not documented and not together. But Blue Mondays is back, and we thank you for your patience.

    Perfectly Simple Poached Pears

    December 2, 2010

    Recently I took a trip to Portland, Oregon for an evolution convention. After a late wakeup, rather than heading straight to the convention, my friend Dorothy and I decided to get brunch at Café Nell (where we had dinner the night before). One of the things I ordered was a poached pear, which was served on a long white plate with beautiful streaks of intermingling orange syrup and yogurt. It was absolutely divine and I told Wilson over the phone that I needed to attempt its recreation when I got back. Sometimes when I eat something that’s really good, I have trouble getting it out of my head until I can make a similar dish myself.

    After a little more gushing over my poached pear experience, Wilson and I first consulted Mark (or more correctly, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman – we refer to both the book and the person as, “Mark”). We decided to use a cinnamon rather than orange syrup, and serve the pears with yogurt, as I enjoyed them in Portland.

    These pears were incredibly simple to prepare – just simmer and wait. They were also incredibly delicious. The voluptuous pear halves become slightly soft and perfectly spicy-sweet with the addition of the syrup. We had them for breakfast on a Saturday morning and enjoyed leftovers the following evening for dessert. My breakfast in Portland was perfectly scrumptious, but I must say that enjoying a similar dish at home with Wilson was much more fun.

    I love fruit– naked, in a pie, in cereal, on ice cream, you name it. But somehow this dish elevates the pears to something more luscious, without hiding the purity of the flavor and texture in pears. There is certainly nothing wrong with all of the decadent desserts that seem to be everywhere this time of year. But, sometimes simplicity is also worthy of celebration.

    Poached Pears with Cinnamon Syrup

    Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

    2 ½ cups sugar

    One 3-inch cinnamon stick or about 2 tsp. cinnamon

    4 pears

    Combine the sugar and cinnamon with 5 cups water in a medium saucepan (large enough to accommodate the pears) over high heat. Peel the pears, leaving their steps on. Core them by digging into the blossom end with a melon baller, spoon, or pairing knife.

    Lower the pears into the boiling water and adjust the heat so that it simmers gently. Cook, turning the pears every 5 minutes or so, until they meet little resistance when prodded with a thin-bladed knife, usually from 10-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the liquid.

    Transfer the pears to serving plates. Reduce the poaching liquid to a cup of less, then spoon a little over each pear before serving. Serve with plain or vanilla yogurt if desired.

    Best of Both Worlds: Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

    November 21, 2010

    The holiday season is a time for indulgence. In the words of Nigella Lawson: “These are feasting days, not fasting days.” Granted, this is a phrase I say to Wilson year-round, but it’s a pretty good mantra for this time of year. I also believe that it is important to eat strategically during the holidays. You simply can’t eat everything that will be thrown at you. There is nothing worse than finding that you have filled up on some mediocre appetizer and no longer have room in your belly for what your taste buds really desire. In some sense, you have to “save yourself” for what is really delicious.

    This recipe is all about strategy. We love pumpkin pie, we love cheesecake. This is a perfect way of having both. And I must say, it is really the best of both worlds. This cheesecake begins with a delicious graham cracker crust that becomes lightly caramelized in the oven. The filling is almost like a mousse and is far lighter in texture than what you would find in a traditional cheesecake. The flavors of the pumpkin and cream cheese merge beautifully. The cream cheese is tart and rich, while the pumpkin is mellow and has an earthy sweetness. We like to amp up the spices beyond what the recipe calls for. Spices always add a level of sophistication and complexity that I think goes beyond the one-dimensional sweetness that you find in most desserts. This is really one of the strengths of this dessert; the multiplicity of flavors result in great complexity, while there is also harmony among all of the components. Also, it has bourbon in it! Like I said, best of both worlds.

    Wilson and I love Thanksgiving. It is always exciting to maintain some level of tradition while also adding new twists to certain dishes. This cheesecake is really a winner and will show everyone that you aren’t just going through the motions.  Everyone will love it – pumpkin pie and cheesecake lovers alike!  This holiday season, think strategy, think Pumpkin Cheesecake. It’s definitely a dish worth saving yourself for! Yum!

    Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

    Adapted from Gourmet

    Yield: Makes 12 to 14 servings 

    For crust

    3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from five 4 3/4- by 2 1/4-inch crackers)
    1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 ounces), finely chopped
    1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
    1/4 cup granulated sugar
    1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

    For filling
    1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
    3 large eggs
    1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
    2 tablespoons heavy cream
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

    For topping
    2 cups sour cream (20 ounces)
    2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)

    Garnish: pecan halves

    Make crust:

    Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to create flat bottom, which will make it easier to remove cake from pan), then lock on side and butter pan.

    Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust, 1 hour.
    Make filling and bake cheesecake:

    Put oven rack in middle position and Preheat oven to 350°F.

    Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl until combined.

    Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl. Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.

    Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)
    Make topping:

    Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 minutes.

    Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.

    Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

    Memories of Summertime: Sauteed Scallops with Angel Hair

    November 10, 2010

    I will always associate scallops with the easybreezybeautiful freedom of summertime, especially when accompanied by the seasonal delights of fresh, juicy tomatoes and aromaticparsley. Although summer has sadly passed us by, and Alicia and I enter our last winter in Maine, there is still time for a few fond reminisces to the carefree eternity of a youthful New England summer by the sea. While frequenters of Blue Mondays will note our fondness for scallops, this recipe in particular offers such an array of flavor, an undeniable witness to the mouthwatering appeal of culinary simplicity. There is something so perfect about the caramelized, creamy scallops, the white wine sauce, and tomatoes that makes me yearn for summer. Alicia loves twirling her angel hair, and we like the pasta too. We most enjoy this with some Sauvignon Blanc and, of course, some baguette.

    This is a largely improvised recipe, but extremely straightforward. Start by seasoning the scallops with salt and pepper before putting them on the skillet with olive oil over high heat. The trick to cooking scallops is to flip them, and then remove them from the heat, at just the moment when the bottom side begins to caramelize. Scallops are best when the outsides are nicely caramelized and the insides are allowed to retain their smooth creaminess. Like most seafood, scallops should be treated with deft hands, allowing its natural flavors to really sing. You can see the texture in the photos; these scallops were cooked perfectly.

    In this dish I created a white wine sauce to spoon over the pasta, adding extra flavors that complement the scallops well. The trick here is to reduce the wine sauce without scraping the pan of the caramelized remnants of the scallops, giving the sauce a nice flavor.

    Another easy way to brighten up the dish, especially one as summery as this, is the simple addition of freshly chopped tomatoes and parsley. Everyone loves the combination of acidic tomatoes and aromatic parsley, and the addition adds a delicate touch of lightness to the meal. Unlike my Homecoming Scallops with Orzo and Tomatoes, both the tomatoes and the parsley are added fresh to the meal after plating. This allows each to retain all of its flavor and juices and distinguishes the dish quite nicely. Scallops are one of our favorite foods at Blue Mondays, and this classic and simple recipe does not disappoint. Even as we watch winter looming in on us, flip back the calendar with some summertime scallops!

    Summertime Scallops with Angel Hair

    serves 2

    • 4-5 ounces angel hair
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 large shallot, chopped
    • a generous 1/2 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
    • 1 lemon, chopped
    • salt and freshly ground pepper
    • 3/4 pounds large sea scallops
    • 1 chopped tomato
    • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
    1. In a saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the angel hair, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain.
    2. In a large skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the scallops, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat until browned on the bottom. Turn over and cook for 1 minute longer before removing the scallops.
    3. Add the chopped shallots into the same skillet with a drizzle of olive oil, sautéing until translucent. Add the wine and reduce, stirring occasionally.
    4. Serve the scallops over the pasta, pouring the white wine sauce over all. Add chopped tomatoes and parsley.