Monday, December 20, 2010

The Difficulties of Risotto

Recipe: Winter Risotto with Butternut Squash and Broccolini

Risotto is one of those dishes that I never seem to get right. There are a few dishes in my repertoire, such as getting homemade bread to rise properly or really anything to do with baking, that no matter how many times I make it something always goes wrong. The procedure behind risotto is a fairly simple concept. Saute some garnish and arborio rice, reduce some wine, and add hot stock bit by bit until the rice is cooked. But you can add too much stock or not enough, cook the rice too fast or too slow, stir the pot too much or too little, and before you know it you wind up with a glutenous (or rock hard) mess without any idea of what you did (or didn't do) wrong (or right).

But Oh! When you get it right, risotto is an amazing dish. Comforting on cold winter days with a bit of braised parsnips and kale, relaxing on a spring afternoon and paired with asparagus and artichokes, refreshing in summer with roasted corn and tomatoes, and hearty for fall when eaten with a bite of squash. Creamy and chewy, aromatic and warm, risotto is that wonderful buttery comfort food that is perfect in every season.

My mother and I had consumed risotto many times at reputable restaurants across the country before we thought to make it at home. This was way before my professional cooking days, but after my "rainbow sprinkles on EVERYTHING" era. My mom and I were adventurous eaters, but needed some practice in the kitchen. Needless to say, our homemade risotto was TERRIBLE. We added way more stock than the recipe called for, but the rice was still terribly undercooked. I think we were so frustrated by the whole experience that we threw the rice in the garbage and ordered pizza.

Risotto is a laborious dish, and can be frustrating to the inexperienced. But don't give up! All it needs is a little gentle love, or as Otis Redding would say: "Try a little tenderness." I got it wrong many times before I got it right.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ode to the Local Butcher Tradition

Hey all,

Sorry I haven't posted in awhile. Its been a BUSY couple of weeks since Thanksgiving. I have a lot of recipes up my sleeve, that I will hopefully get to posting within the next couple of weeks. But for now I wanted to share a quick link. Apparently Rob Levitt, formally of Mado, is opening a butcher shop here in Chicago.

Most of you are probably thinking, "So what? This is a vegetarian blog, Dana. Why are you posting about THIS?" Well, I do eat meat if I think its from a sustainable source, and most often that source is from a farmer at the Green City Market. But, there is a new (old?) trend in the culinary world where reputable chefs and butchers are opening old school butcher shops. You know, like the kind you see in old movies, where the butcher gets in a whole cow and you can take your pick between all kinds of cuts of meat. Instead of the giant grocery stores who took over the meat market where your only cut choices are shrink wrapped steak or shrink wrapped ground beef.

Apparently people are finally starting to raise their eyebrows at the fact that all of our meat processing takes place behind closed doors. Now a demand for these kinds of neighborhood shops are growing louder. Maybe this will also create a larger demand for local sustainable meat. Rob Levitt claims his meat will be humanely raised and now we'll have the chance to ask him face to face. What do you think about the growing popularity of local butcher shops?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Curry in a Hurry or Whatever....

Recipe: Vegetarian Red Curry

I was in Japan the first time I had curry. (Seems as if I was in Japan the first time I had many things....) I remember the exact restaurant, in the Shinjuku district on the 2nd floor of a building with Bollywood music videos dancing on the walls. My friends, who were much more worldly than I, dragged me along to this restaurant and I approached the event with nervous anticipation much like a 15 year old girl about to go on her first date. Only I was a 20 year old girl and my date was with a aromatic (read: smelly) unfamiliar stew and my nervous stomach was filled less with butterflies and more with Delhi Belly.

I ordered the butter chicken curry with naan (Yes I remember exactly). As I took the first bites, of what I described at the time as "Indian Baby Food," my whole attitude changed. The sauce was aromatic (read: interesting), buttery, smooth, and satiating. The naan was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside with a wonderfully smokey after taste. OK India, you've got me, I thought. From that point forward, Indian food wasn't anything to be afraid of. I ate it every chance I got. I was hooked.

Later in the year, due to a two month break in classes, I got a chance to visit India. My friends and I young, adventurous, and stupid as we were, felt as if we had enough of Japan and wanted to see other parts of Asia. But really, I was going for the food. Our trip was filled of new culinary adventures of crunchy and spicy samosas from street vendors, squeaky paneer curries from classy restaurants, milky and hot chai tea from monasteries, or bread shared with strangers on a train. We tasted the spectrum of Indian food from highbrow to lowbrow, spiritual to downright devilish. Unfortunately for me, my stomach did not respond well to the unfamiliar. I came down with a real bout of Delhi Belly and towards the end of our three weeks in India, I could only stomach food from Chinese restaurants, toast, and lime sodas.

Regardless of how my journey ended, I will keep those memories with me for the rest of my life. Here is a simple version of an Indian curry, but trust me it is not authentic in the slightest. This is my interpretation of a simple vegetable curry, not some secret and ancient recipe. Hopefully it will be as nice to your belly as it was to mine.

There are many different kinds of curry from Indian, to Thai, to Japanese. This is my interpretation of curry with Thai and Indian influences, based on the ingredients I could find at my grocery store.

Vegetarian Red Curry
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, small diced
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced
2 jalepenos, minced
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, medium diced
3 carrots, peeled and medium diced
1 Kabocha squash, peeled, seeds removed, medium diced
1 pound of crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 14 oz can coconut milk
2 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons red curry paste
2 tablespoons hot curry powder
1/2 bag spinach
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1. Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions, jalepenos, ginger, and garlic. Saute until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Add carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms. Saute 3 to 4 minutes. Add squash, coconut milk, vegetable stock, and seasonings. Bring curry to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Add spinach at the end, and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until spinach is wilted. Adjust seasonings.
3. Serve with cooked brown rice or naan.