Archive for October 2011
It’s a strange thing, cooking (or baking) for one. Most of the reason I got into baking, and later cooking, in the first place was because of others. I love nothing more than spending an evening making a cake or gratin or whatever-it-is to share with others and sit around and talk and eat. I don’t think I’ve ever made a batch of cookies or brownies for my benefit only. After all, what’s the point if you’re not going to get anyone else’s gain in happiness out of the effort? I think it’s what Molly Wizenberg in her book A Homemade Life called “winning hearts and minds”–the reason we bake chocolate cakes and all that other stuff. (Have you read that book, by the way?)
Anyway, I’m in something of a state of limbo right now where I’m not sure how to approach food or what I make. I bake treats, and I share them with friends, I really do! But most of the time for three meals a day (four if you’re counting dessert, and oh let’s count dessert) where I’m stuck making a meal that I, and I alone, am going to have to enjoy. Oh there’s nothing wrong with this, nothing at all. It’s just a little strange, I suppose, if you’re not used to it.
This risotto dish, taken from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, is one of my experiences with getting used to cooking for myself. I made it in the middle of last week, as my reward for dutifully paying attention in classes and keeping up with my work that day (okay, that part is kind of a stretch but it’s still a relaxing treat to be able to cook after a day of school). As I was cooking the risotto and adding more and more stock, I realized that this recipe made quite a lot of risotto. Maybe not so much if you’re comparing it with the amount my mom makes to feed her family of six, but for only me? I put the remainders of the risotto in the largest tupperware I have that evening and I ate it for dinner for the next four nights.
There is something, however, to be said for cooking and eating for yourself. Although I didn’t have wild mushrooms like the recipe calls for (which I’m sure would be delicious), I didn’t worry when I added the sliced cremini mushrooms in their place even if my housemate has a “texture thing” with them. Likewise when I decided later that week to add some kale to the leftovers–an addition my boyfriend wouldn’t be too happy about due to the fact that he rarely eats anything if it at all is associated with being “healthy.” This dish was for me and me only, after all! I added what I pleased.
But besides that addition of kale, I didn’t change much to the recipe. Next time, I’d cut out the additional step of cooking the wild rice by itself and adding it to the risotto later, seeing as my mom in her risottos adds the wild rice at the same time as the arborio and I’ve never noticed any textural difference resulting from the added step. And after all, so long as we are cooking for ourselves, who wants to tack on an extra pot to clean?
Wild Rice Risotto with Butternut Squash and Mushrooms
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
Serves 4 to 6
Amy’s Notes: Although Judy discourages it (due to the fact that it will take away from the pure taste of the rice) you may add in other additions if you’d like–like kale, in my example.
4 tablespoons butter
6 ounches cleaned, sliced mushrooms (wild such as porcini, chanterelles or hedgehogs preferrable)
About 1-2 cups peeled butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 4-6 ounces)
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion (2 ounces)
2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
1/4 cup wild rice
5 to 6 cups chicken stock
about 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Maintain the simmer at a medium-low or low heat.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter into a 10 or 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the mushrooms, salt lightly, and cook, stirring or tossing a few times, until they color slightly, about 3-6 minutes depending on how wet the mushrooms are. Judy notes you should “just begin to smell their nutty aroma.” Add the squash cubes, salt lightly, and saute to warm through, about three more minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.
Warm the remaining two tablespoons of butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and salt lightly. Cook, stirring regularly, until the onions are tender and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the both the risotto rice and wild rice and stir until the grains are coated with fat. Add about 2 cups of stock. Adjust the heat to bring it to and maintain a gentle simmer, then stir as needed until it has been mostly absorbed (Judy notes it’s important not to let the rice dry up). Add another cup of stock or two and do likewise. The risotto should “look like a shiny porridge of pearls,” as she says.
Stir in the reserved mushrooms and squash into the risotto and add another cup or so of the stock and stir as needed until just absorbed. Taste again, checking for flavor and doneness. Add additional stock a few spoonfuls at a time if close to being done until the rice is al dente; the squash should be nutty-tender as well.
Off the heat, stir in the grated parmesan, and serve warm–although, I must admit, I have a soft spot for leftover, cold risotto straight from the fridge.
I like going out to eat, a lot. It’s not just the restaurant food—whenever my parents ask me if I want some food from a restaurant for takeout I respond with a no, thank you. I love the whole experience of it, sitting and talking and hearing others talk around you and the clanking from the kitchen. Picking over the menu (and if you’re like me) taking about four times as long as it should to decide on something just because everything sounds so intriguing. I love waiting for the food to arrive and when it does I love oohing and ahhing over everyone’s picked plates.
Luckily for me, I have a boyfriend who loves to go out to each just as much as I do. During the summer we developed what we called our “basic four” restaurants to go eat—places all within the general same area, varying from very, very greasy and cheap to the more “sophisticated” fine dining, I guess you could say. One of these places is an Argentine Steakhouse called Asado, which serves the best breaded and deep-fried calamari with red pepper aioli I’ve ever had, as well as some phenomenal meats and fish entrees. On the back of their menu insert listing all the specials is “Asado’s Favorite Lentil Recipe”—the lentils they serve underneath their seared, juicy steaks.
So yes, friends, you know what this means! Another lentil recipe.
My boyfriend’s mom was the first to make these at home, and I think I liked them even better than the restaurant’s. In the batch I made, shown here, I tried to recreate the lentils as she had made them. (I’ve been told she now has formed the recipe into a stew of sorts, which sounds delicious, but I have yet to attempt to make it that way.) This means substituting green for yellow lentils as called for in the recipe and serving them freshly topped with sliced green onions. What you end up with is a perfect balance of spice from the cumin and cinnamon and sweetness from the maple syrup. And the bacon? Well it’s bacon, quite a lot of it, it’s a lot of fat, and it’s really delicious. Especially with these flavors, it’s now become my favorite way to eat lentils.
Funny thing is, making these lentils at home doesn’t interfere one bit with the pleasure I get from going to the restaurant and eating them there. It’s not some form of take-out and it’s not trying to recreate an exact dish from the restaurant. The tastes are a little different and so is the experience. But I like their separate spheres, with one being crowded and exciting and quite a trip in itself and the other being quieter, more subdued, with mulling over the pot of delicious stewing lentils. Either way, it’s one of my favorite restaurants and at home this is one of my favorite lentil recipes.
Asado’s Favorite Lentil Recipe
Adapted from Asado Restaurant
Serves four as a side dish
8 strips of 1/4-inch cut bacon (about a half-pound, a little less)
1-2 red onions, diced
1/2 teaspoon chicken base (optional, if you want a deeper chicken flavor)
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/4 cups dry green lentils
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
3-4 green onions, sliced thinly
Sauté the bacon over medium heat until brown and just starting to get crispy around the edges, 12-15 minutes. Add in red onions and cook until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in chicken base.
Deglaze with wine and add lentils. Then add the stock, and stir in the seasonings. Cook lentils over medium heat, stirring periodically, until lentils are al dente and almost all the liquid has been soaked up, about 25-30 minutes. Off of the heat, stir in the maple syrup and season to taste.
Pour onto a sheet pan to cool. After a minute or two, sprinkle the sliced green onions on top and stir them into the lentils.