Friday, November 16, 2012

Cold Weather Comfort Food

Well Mother Nature is at it again!  We had a beautiful weekend last weekend of above 70 degree temps then in the matter of one day it dropped to 37 degrees.  When the weather turns like this I always enjoy putting my sweats and slippers on and making some comfort food!  Since I can't subsist off of mashed potatoes and gravy (my all time FAVORITE comfort food, family members that have had the pain of hosting me for Thanksgiving can attest) for the whole winter there's a couple other substitutes that make my cold weather comfort food cut.  Today I'm going to feature comfort food that I learned in a Williams-Sonoma techniques class, Risotto!

On a side note, WS has many great techniques classes offered each month and they are FREE!  They typically have a couple that go along with the season (i.e. prepping and cooking turkey for Thanksgiving, holiday dishes, etc.).  I have taken a couple of these since graduating college because I wanted to learn new things but I didn't want to sacrifice my paycheck.  They have other demonstrations and classes as well as book signings (depending on your local store) each month.  The techniques classes have been just right for me when I find something of interest.  They are informative and helpful while being brief as the class is only an hour.  I'd definitely recommend them to anyone who has the desire to learn a little more about cooking or baking!

Now risotto is sometimes recognized as a tricky food to prepare because you don't want it soupy and you certainly don't want the other side of the spectrum where its gluey and is better suited for spackling purposes.  Some restaurants hardly do it justice but when you find one that does, boy does it change your foodie loving life!  But why wait to find the restaurant with risotto perfection when you can accomplish it on your own at home?  I will say that this isn't really an easy weeknight dish, so plan to make it on an evening or day when you have at least 40 or more minutes on your hands.  When it comes down to it, risotto really isn't a complicated dish its just a little time consuming is all.  I happened to be on my own for dinner as Chris had a work dinner so I didn't mind taking a little extra time for such a yummy dish.

Vegetable Risotto
(I halved the recipe that WS gave me and it makes well over 4-6 servings, keep in mind some of the extra comments I've included weren't necessarily part of the WS class but just things I've learned along the way)
- 3 cups low sodium chicken stock plus some extra just in case
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion or half of a medium sized one, chopped (I always have onion in my freezer so I just used a couple handfuls of that)
-  1 c. white button mushrooms, rinsed clean and sliced
- 1 c. Arborio rice
- 1/4 c. dry white wine
- 1 Tbs. beef demi glace (this is essentially super concentrated stock, cooked down into a thick paste, its a little pricey but lasts a long time and can be used for soups, stews, sauces, etc.  A cheaper substitute could be those new Flavor Boost packs although I have yet to try them.)
- 1/2 c. frozen green peas, thawed and cooked
- 4 to 6 stalks asparagus, cooked and chopped in one inch pieces
- 1/2 c. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (try to avoid the pre-packaged grated cheese, buy a reasonably priced block in your artisan cheese section, you don't have to use it all at once, it can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen so it won't get moldy before using it up)
 - salt and pepper to taste

- Heat chicken stock in a saucepan over medium heat till it just barely simmers, reduce heat to low and keep warm.
- In a different saucepan, melt 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter with oil in a large saucepan over medium heat (the oil helps prevent the butter from burning since it is more tolerant of higher heat).
- Add onion, cook until tender and translucent (about 5 minutes).
- Add mushrooms, cook till just wilted, stir occasionally (about 2 minutes).

- Stir in rice, stir and cook until grains are hot and coated with the oil mixture (about 2 minutes).  This is a very important step in the process, by coating the rice with the oil it allows it to cook slowly (which is the whole point and art of risotto) rather than letting it suck up the liquid immediately like it would if we boiled it in liquid.  The oil helps that starch to slowly release and cook.
- Add wine, stir often until liquid is absorbed.  I use the mini bottles of wine for this so as not to have to open a whole large bottle, it just so happens the amount used for risotto leaves just enough in the mini bottle for a glass for the cook!  (Can't deny a recipe that let's you cook AND drink wine!)
- Add 1/2 c. of stock at a time, stirring often (most recipes say constantly, I like multitasking in my kitchen so I don't stir the whole time) wait until all liquid is absorbed before adding more liquid.
-The risotto is done when the rice grains are creamy on the outside and firm yet tender to the bite (you'll have to get out a tasting spoon and give it a try), usually 20 to 25 minutes total.  You'll notice the rice grains will have fluffed up a bit in size.  (In the picture you'll see it looks a little soupy, it should be thick, not really runny but it will tighten up when you add the cheese, butter and demi-glace.)

- Remove pan from heat, stir in 1/2 Tbs. butter, demi-glace, cheese, peas and asparagus.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve immediately.  Enjoy!

Note: I tweaked WS's recipe a little by not only halving it but adding some veggies.  I've made it with peppers as well and that was equally delicious!  Adding the veggies seems to make it a more substantial side although it can be served as a main dish.  I usually make a pan roasted chicken breast to go with it so as not to go into "carb/starch overload".

So there you have it, not terribly complicated but definitely worth the time!  Heads up, with my leftovers I'm going to give making Arancini a try!


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