Saturday, March 29, 2008


Risotto is easy. No, I'm serious. Sure, sure, sure - I know what you've heard. "You have to stir it for 20 MINUTES!" "It is really time-consuming, you have to keep stirring and stirring!!"

It's true. Risotto IS time-consuming. Yes, you DO have to stir it for 20 minutes. But, after 15 minutes or so of prep & 20 minutes of stirring you have just about the most wonderful, starchy, flavorful and filling dish you can make in less than an hour.

Risotto is a great vehicle for leftovers & excess vegetables but also works well as a basic side dish with onions and parmigiano cheese.

Step 1: The Base
You need to start with a good base. Saute some onions and garlic or maybe some shallots in a little butter (olive oil can also be used). If you have bacon, pancetta or sausage, they also make a good base (though I generally brown them and then remove until the very end, when I add them back to the pot). I generally add some salt, fresh cracked pepper and maybe some red chili flakes or saffron threads now too. Once the onions are translucent you can add some hearty vegetables at this point (zucchini, asparagus spears, tomatoes, peas or even beets).

Step 2: Saute the Rice
Add the rice. You want to use Arborio or Carnaroli rice. Don't rinse it. Just throw it in the pan and saute it with the onions and other base ingredients. Saute the rice and make sure all grains get covered with the butter or oil that is already in the pan.

Step 3: Add the Wine
I generally use white wine or dry Vermouth. If I am using tomatoes or beets however, I'll use red wine. Adding the wine at this point helps deglaze the pan and unstick any brown bits coating the pan. It also adds a whole lotta flavor.

Step 4: Add the Liquid
At this point, the pan will look like a disjointed mess of rice and onions among other flotsam and jetsam. It doesn't look thick and most certainly doesn't look creamy. This is where the dreaded STIRRING comes into play. By adding liquid (up to 2 cups or more) and stirring over medium heat for 20 or so minutes, the rice absorbs the liquid and releases starches that help thicken the whole mix. Add about 1/2 to 1 cup of warm liquid at a time and stir for 2-3 minutes until absorbed. Repeat.

A couple tips regarding cooking liquid. It should be warm. It doesn't really need to be simmering in a pot on the stove like some recipes recommend. Just don't use COLD liquid. I generally use chicken stock. You can use beef or vegetable stock as well. If I am using meat though, I cut the stock in half with hot water. If I am using canned tomatoes, I don't discard the liquid, but rather heat it up and add it to the mix. If I am using dried porcini or other mushrooms, I reconstitute them in hot water and use that liquid as well.

Step 5: Final Testing and Seasoning
After about 20 minutes of stirring, slow down on how much liquid you are adding and begin testing the rice. They should be fairly al dente - that is, slightly chewy & dense. Add additional salt & pepper, fresh herbs and other ingredients now (cooked sausage, asparagus tips, spinach, soaked dried mushrooms, etc.).

Step 6: All'Onda
I like my risotto a little on the runny side, so I don't let all the liquid evaporate off before adding the butter and parmigiano. The Venetians (and my favorite Italian chef Marcella Hazan) call this all'onda or wavy risotto. Once the rice is al dente yet still a little runny, remove it from the heat and add copious amounts of butter and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.

Serve immediately.

Monday, March 24, 2008


I finally learned how to make Turon - Filipino banana fritters - this weekend. On my trip to the Philippines I totally fell in love with these and my sister-in-law Marie promised to teach me how to make them.

Turon are frighteningly easy to make. You just need lumpia wrappers, brown sugar, jack fruit and the right bananas.

Marie calls the bananas above saba. I guess those are also known as cooking bananas. They aren't plantains but are starchier than our standard Chiquita bananas.

The lumpia wrappers are kind of a cross between a wonton wrapper and a super thin crepe. You buy these in packs of 50 at a well-stocked Asian supermarket. Marie taught me a trick for working with these. First, you take kitchen shears and cut through the sheets to make the edges even. Then divide the stack in half, gently pulling apart the layers. Repeat. If you hit a snag, start separating from the opposite side.

Take slices of saba and roll them in generous amounts of brown sugar. I don't know that you can use too much brown sugar here. Really pack it on there.

Assembly is a snap. Just put the sugared saba on one edge of the lumpia wrapper. Top with a few chunks of jack fruit and roll up like a burrito. Wet the opposite edge slightly to seal.

1 package lumpia wrappers (approximately 50)
12 Saba (cooking bananas)
1 can jack fruit, drained
2 cups or more light brown sugar
50 lumpia wrappers
1/2 gallon vegetable oil for frying

Prep ingredients: Peel saba and slice lengthwise into 2-3 pieces. Cut jack fruit into 1/4 inch strips. Trim and seperate lumpia wrappers.

Prep assembly station: Set up the sliced saba, brown sugar, lumpia wrappers and jack fruit all in a row so you can easily assemble to turon. You'll also need a small bowl of water for sealing the edge.

Roll: Place one lumpia wrapper on the counter. Roll one slice of saba in the brown sugar (gets lots on there!). Place the sugared saba on the lumpia wrapper and top with a few slices of jack fruit. Roll up like a burrito, tucking in the sides. Wet the edge and seal.

Fry: Pour vegetable oil into a skillet until it is about 1/2 inch high. Heat on high heat, until you test one end of a turon and the oil sizzles (not an exact method, so maybe turn the heat down a notch once you get to this point). Add turon to the pan - leaving a little wiggle room between each. Fry for 2-3 minutes and flip, fry 2-3 minutes more. Once the turon are all golden brown, transfer to a papertowel lined baking sheet to cool slightly.

Enjoy: Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Halibut with Roasted Pepper Sauce

It is halibut season, which is a great time of year. I love the dense flavor and texture of halibut. It works well on the grill, fried, baked in parchment and even poached. One of my favorite ways to cook it though is to sear it in a hot pan and roast it in a hot oven until cooked through.

There was a recipe in Fine Cooking magazine last spring for cooking halibut this way and serving it with a roasted red pepper sauce. Yum-yum-yum. This sauce is amazing. We made it all summer long and used it on grilled vegetables, barbecued salmon and even pork.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
2-1/2 oz. roasted red pepper (about 1/2 large jarred roasted pepper)
1/2 oz. roasted hot cherry peppers
2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp. honey
1 medium clove garlic, peeled & minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Using a mini food processor or stick blender, blend together the peppers, vinegar, honey and garlic. Slowly pour in the 1/4 cup oil and continue to blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This sauce will keep for 4-5 days.

Seared and Oven Roasted Halibut
2 6- to 7-oz. center cut, skin-on halibut fillets
Salt & pepper
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. thinly sliced fresh chives or scallions

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Rinse the fish in cold water and pat dry. Set the fish skin side down on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Put the fish skin side up in the skillet, and cook until well browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the fish, turn off the heat, and transfer the pan to the oven. Roast until the fish is flaky, moist, and cooked through (use the tip of a paring knife to check), 5 to 7 minutes.

Transfer the fish to dinner plates, spoon the sauce onto or around each piece, sprinkle with the chives or scallions, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Scotch Tasting

Last Friday I experienced a booze trifecta. Scotch + food + free = trifecta. My friend Todd called me up and had two comp tickets to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's 15th annual tasting extravaganza downtown at the Rainier Club. These tickets are normally around $150, so this was quite a score.

We didn't know quite what we were getting into other than that there was a buffet dinner and a tasting event. Upon entering the Rainier Club, we were handed a 40+ page pamphlet listing many of the whiskys being sampled (with room for tasting notes), a tasting "snifter" and a token for cigars. Well, well, well, we thought. This is starting off well.

We went straight to Macallan to begin. Nothing was less than 15 years old. They had a 17-year-old aged in oak that was a little too peaty for me. The 18-year-old aged in Sherry oak was more my speed.

So, about this "peaty" taste. As far as I understand Scotch Whisky gets it's nutty, smoky flavor from peat, which is added to the fire as the malted barley is being dried. Scotch is also aged in oak barrels (casks?) that were used for aging bourbon. I am not a fan of the really smoky whiskys, but the Scotch Whiskys that are aged in casks that formerly aged Sherry or Port are really tasty. The smell of smoking peat is quite pleasing and at the tasting, the Laphroig distillery had some peat smoking at their table (see photo below)
There were probably 200 people at the tasting. About 85% were men and there were at least 20 or 30 guys wearing kilts. Every distillery had a table and were pouring 3 or 4 or more whiskys. They expected you to taste each one. Good grief. After our stint at Macallan we needed food. Once we filled our bellies though, we got back to tasting.

Scotch enthusiasts are well, enthusiastic. We met this guy Bruce (below), who was fully decked in his kilt and carrying this HUGE snifter. We saw a few people with these snifters and asked Bruce to tell us more.
This glass is ideal for giving you the full range of aromas when you smell the Scotch before tasting it. So, Todd filled his snifter with the same Scotch Bruce was drinking (Aberlour 16-year) and we smelled from Todd's teeny snifter and then from Bruce's ginormous snifter. There was a HUGE difference. Bruce walked us through the aromas we would smell from the top of the rim to the bottom. I can't remember the exact order but the smells were things like wildflowers, tobacco, leather, fruit and on and on and on.
My tasting notes are pretty sparse, but a few notable tasted stand out: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and Nectar d'Or, Aberlour 16-year and Tomatin 1974 30-year. Good gawd the Tomatin was like a revelation. I suppose it goes without saying that they weren't pouring seconds on that one.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Foodie Fight

Christmas came early! Or late, depending on how you look at it. My friend Rachel had to backorder my Christmas gift last December. Well, that long-ago back-ordered gift came in the mail on Tuesday night. She gave me a new trivia game called Foodie Fight! It is labeled "A Trivia Game for Serious Food Lovers."

I was headed over to Rachel's on Tuesday anyways, so over a nice selection of Iberian cheese and vodka martinis, we battled in a game of Foodie Fight.

The questions are split into 6 categories:
  • Foodiesphere - Food people, world cuisines, and food places
  • Company's Coming - Party planning, table etiquette, and wine and food pairing
  • Food Stars - Food on film and in print, music, and art
  • Lab & Field - Cooking science, nutrition, and food production
  • Dining Out - Eateries, chefs, menu matter, and restaurant service
  • What's Cooking - Cooking techniques, tools, and ingredients

We were pretty evenly matched and I have to admit that I was pretty scared for awhile. Especially, when Rachel got this question: "What rustic French dessert is traditionally made with a cake or puddinglike batter topped with cherries?" And answered, "Clafoutis," without missing a beat.

In the end I won, but probably only because of how you earn the color-coded tiles, based on rolling the right color for the tile you need. The question I won with was not really cause a ball-spiking victory dance either, "What fast-food promoter wears a size 14 1/2 shoe?"

Cinnamon Rolls

Every 6 months or so, I come across a new cinnamon roll recipe. I have my mother-in-law's recipe - which is the gold-standard - but I am still trying to find a recipe to call my own.

I think Molly Wizenberg's recipe for Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze may be a contender. Her new column in Bon App├ętit is great and her blog is even better.

The recipe isn't perfect. I have made enough yeast doughs to feel pretty comfortable with them though, so I ad libbed. Her recipe calls for starting off by mixing the wet ingredients plus a cup of the flour in a stand mixer. Beat it for 3 minutes, add the rest of the flour and mix together. She then says to knead by hand for 8 minutes. When you have already dirtied up the stand mixer, why not just keep the dough in there and let the mixer do the work? Well, I did. I switched to the dough hook and kneaded the dough for 3 minutes. Then, I kneaded by hand for another 2-3 minutes until the dough was smooth and springy.

The recipe is otherwise pretty good. It made more than 18 rolls for me, so I had to use a larger pan. I also baked them for about 5 minutes longer than the recipe calls for. I used about 50% more cinnamon and next time, I think I'd add raisins too.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Soup Night Finale!

This season's Soup Night menus followed an international theme each month: November was Mexican, December was French, January was Scandinavia (and the beginning of this blog) and February was Italian. For the finale, we decided to go native: American.

For some reason the idea of "American" food conjures up images of tater tot casserole and Velveeta cheese dip. Not that there's anything wrong with that (I love me some processed cheese food now and again), but we were thinking more Tex-mex and less white trash.

For the appetizer, we discussed a few options: deviled eggs & buffalo wings being a couple. We decided on potato skins. Everyone loves potatoes, so potatoes with cheese & bacon would be a hit! They turned out great - crispy on the outside. Salty and cheesy on the inside. These were a nice touch of Americana and a nod to bar food.

For salad, I wanted to go steakhouse retro. Iceberg wedges with blue cheese dressing.

For the main course, we made two different chilis - one vegetarian and one meat chili. The meat chili wasn't a true Texas-style chili since it included beans. We kind of ad libbed the recipe. We have a great recipe from Gavin's mom and read a good article in Fine Cooking awhile ago too. It ended up including everything but the kitchen sink: onions, red peppers, garlic, celery, green chilis, beans (black, kidney, pinto), beef broth, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, cumin, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, cayenne, salt & pepper and lots of chili powder. I made a trip to World Spice Merchants and they recommended a chipotle chili powder. It was perfect and added tons of flavor.

The trick to chili is to make it in advance. I started soaking the beans on Thursday night and made the chili Friday afternoon. Then, I simmered it nearly all day Saturday.

Cornbread is always a good partner to chili, so I made 3 batches of crunchy & sweet cornbread from the Moosewood cookbook.

For dessert I was looking forward to making pies. Nothing is more American than apple pie. The thing is, I sort of lost my touch a few years ago. I have slowly been getting it back though. I found a new crust recipe, which has helped. A recent issue of Cook's Illustrated had a recipe for "foolproof" pie crust. It calls for vodka which is kind of madness but also pretty brilliant. Anyways, The crust was flaky and rich. For the apples I used Jonagolds. Our friend Billie "aka the pie queen" and her daughter made pies for our wedding and she always uses Jonagolds. They were perfect.

But, I couldn't seem to stop at one dessert. When I started planning the menu and was thumbing through cookbooks and magazines I came across cheesecake. If anything competes with apple pie for being more American, it may be cheesecake.