Monday, April 12, 2010

Mushroom Risotto

I've been making risotto for years -- it's one of the first dishes I learned to cook when I was living on my own and I used to make it fairly frequently for friends. Often a mixed mushroom version, similar to the one here, or a tomato basil one that required a bit more effort but looked even nicer on the plate.

Last night I had a fierce craving for a classic mushroom risotto so I came upon this recipe and decided to give it a go. In years past I'd cook risotto in a large saucepan, but after watching many an episode of Hell's Kitchen where I noticed the chefs cooked their risotto in a wide saute pan I decided to try that instead. I don't know how much of a difference the extra surface area made, all I know is that the risotto was fan-freaking-tastic. Creamy, not the least bit gummy, and with a tiny bit of bite still in the rice. I should mention that I now buy my rice at Rube's, an excellent purveyor of grains and legumes, and I was using homemade chicken stock, so I'm sure the quality of the ingredients also contributed to the tasty end product, but my instincts tell me the saute pan is the way to go.

I was recently advised by one of the chefs appearing on CityLine, the show I work for, that I should seek out a wooden spoon with a hole in the centre to make risotto with, as the hole allows the rice to pass through when you're stirring and aids in the texture. If I happen upon one I'll certainly pick it up, but I don't know that it's necessary.

Lemony Mushroom Risotto
Gourmet | February 2001

2 2/3 cups boiling-hot water
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 lb small cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Arborio rice (8 oz)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

'Don't Mess With Perfection' Guacamole

I've seen all sorts of things added to guacamole (onions, tomatoes, cilantro, etc), but it's my firm belief that the perfect guacamole has but four ingredients: garlic, lime juice, salt, and the all-important avocado. This goes back to the first time my friend Kama made fresh guacamole before my eyes. The flesh of a perfectly ripe avocado, scooped into a bowl, the juice of a lime, a minced garlic clove, and plenty of salt (more than you'd think to add). Mashed together roughly with a fork and not pureed, so you still have the odd chunk of creamy avocado, it was easy to prepare, gorgeous to behold, and absolutely delicious with a big bowl of tortilla chips.

This is now my go-to recipe whenever I make guac (Thanks Kama!), and so long as the avocado is ripe it's pretty much impossible to screw up. Feel free to tinker with the amount of garlic, lime juice and salt -- as mentioned I feel it needs a bit more salt than might be your instinct to put in, but give it a try and see what you think. If you're serving with salty tortilla chips you may want to back off on the salt a bit. While I used to only make guac when I had chips on hand, now I use it for sandwich spread as well (I prefer it to mayonnaise).

Don't forget that avocadoes, once sliced into, go brown quickly so try not to leave the flesh too long before adding the lime juice, which will stop the browning. Also, if you're wrapping up the leftover guac, place a sheet of plastic wrap directly over the guacamole and store it in an air-tight container.

Happy snacking!

'Don't Mess With Perfection' Guacamole

1 ripe avocado
Juice of 1 lime
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt to taste

Scoop out the avocado flesh and put it in a bowl.
Add the lime juice, garlic clove and salt.
Mash with a fork. You don't want a puree, but a rough mash.
Taste, and add more salt if desired.

Makes approximately one cup of guacamole.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Baking: Spiked Double Apple Cake With Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce

The stove got a workout this long weekend, between baking dessert for my family's Easter supper (which we had on Good Friday) and Saturday night's dinner with friends.

On Thursday night I baked Walnut Layer Cake with Coffee Buttercream, from Regan Daley's In The Sweet Kitchen, for the family dinner on Friday. I was fortunate enough to interview Regan last week, and the former pastry chef is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to baking. I have a feeling her book could become my go-to baking resource, as it's full of delicious-sounding cakes, tarts, cookies, and bars for every imaginable occasion.

I will say that the walnut cake didn't turn out quite as I'd hoped it would, but I blame myself and not the recipe. My first mistake was leaving the cake layers in the oven too long. The baking time specified 30-35 minutes, and I left them in for the full 35. They definitely could've come out at 30. Also, it was quite late when the cakes came out so I left them to cool on racks and went to bed with the idea of making the buttercream in the morning. The end result was that the cake was dry. Too bad, because the coffee buttercream was wonderful. I've never made meringue buttercream before and it was wonderfully light and creamy -- not grainy and heavy as some icings can be. The key is that you're using only egg whites, and not yolks. With its intense coffee flavour, I imagine it would go perfectly with a dark chocolate cake.

On to the second dessert of the weekend, which followed a French bistro-style dinner of roast chicken, rosemary potatoes, and haricots verts. I went with another recipe from In The Sweet Kitchen, this time Spiked Double Apple Cake with Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce (pictured). Wow. This one was absolutely spectacular, and there's no doubt I'll be making it again. Raisins and dried apples soaked in French brandy, cinnamon, brown sugar, fresh apples baked into a sheet cake that's chewy and spicy. The cake is delicious on its own, but with a generous pour of the brandy sauce on top it's sinfully delightful. I upped the decadence factor with a dollop of whipped cream. Vanilla ice cream would be great too I'm sure.

With both baking and cooking you're bound to have successes and failures -- the key is not to dwell on the failures, but to revel in the successes! (And hopefully there'll be more of those.)