05 September 2009

Bowl Food, Late Summer

Risotto was my first introduction to Italian food. Sure I grew up eating spaghetti and lasagna just like all of us, but it wasn't until my mom's friend Claudia introduced us to risotto that I got a taste of the real deal. As I recall, Claudia's dad was an Italian opera singer so really, how much more authentically Italian can you get? Since Claudia's risotto some 15 years ago now, I've chalked up quite a few memorable risotto experiences...massive overcooked heaps of the stuff in my co-op in college, a toothsome wild mushroom version at a fancy restaurant in Canada complete with a rusty nail (rest assured, I got a free dessert!), and, most memorably, a winter squash and gorgonzola masterpiece in the Po River valley of Italy, regional home of risotto. Versatile enough to make a satisfying meal-in-a-bowl (my favorite kind of meal) in pretty much any season, risotto might just be my ultimate comfort food.

The recipe that follows is my risotto tribute to late summer, featuring chard, tomatoes, basil and topped off with a poached egg and some creme fraiche (decadent and optional--just happened to have on hand--recipe soon!). It probably goes without saying that you can riff on this to your hearts desire...in lieu of a poached egg top with grilled shrimp or chicken, etc. The possibilities are truly endless. **Also a disclaimer--I'm not sure if this recipe or my instructions will pass muster with you "real" Italians so please feel free to correct my technique or amend the recipe!

Late Summer Risotto
serves 4

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 small minced onion
4 cups chicken or veggie stock
1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 a bunch of chard (about 4 big leaves) stalks separated from leaves, both relatively finely chopped
4 roma tomatoes
1/2 cup peas (frozen is fine, thawed and drained)
fresh basil (about a handfull)
2 tablespoons creme fraiche (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Place stock in medium pot, cover and bring to a simmer. Heat butter or oil in another large heavy pot over medium low heat. Add diced onion and saute until soft and translucent. Increase heat to medium and add rice, stirring until you can see a white dot in the center of the grains of rice--maybe 3 minutes. Stir in wine and continue stirring until wine is absorbed. Start ladling in simmering stock, about a cup at a time, stirring between additions and waiting until liquid is fully absorbed before adding the next cup. When you have only a few cups of stock left, add the chard stems and begin tasting the rice--you want it to be tender but still firm. When the rice is just about finished stir in a little more stock with the remaining greens, peas, and about half the tomato and basil. Remove from heat and fold in creme fraiche (or a little bit of butter) and about 1/4-1/2 cup grated parmesan. Let it rest a few minutes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve risotto topped with remaining tomatoes, basil, more grated cheese and your protein of choice.

31 August 2009


Unlike such 1950s-era staples as salmon patties and tuna noodle casserole, meatloaf wasn't a Mason family staple growing up. Despite my dad's nostalgia for the infamous "burploaf" of his youth, I guess Mom's red meat averse ways prevailed and nary a loaf graced our table. Until Dad morphed into the Great White Hunter a few years ago, that is, and we all had to deal with an over-abundance of ground venison. A few pounds of the stuff even came with me on my move to Austin for grad. school and I enjoyed a few semesters' worth of venison meatloaf experimentation.

I've come to discover that meatloaf has a lot going for it, indeed. Versatile enough to anchor a simple meal with a few sides, to top pasta in lieu of meatballs, or sandwich between slices of crusty bread for lunch, it can be made in advance, reheated, and even frozen in single portions for busy times ahead. Basically this picky little former vegetarian girl has turned into a full-fledged meatloaf fan. So much so, in fact, that finding myself out of venison, I went out and bought a pound of ground bison yesterday and a new iteration was born...the buffaloaf!

Much like venison, bison is a lean meat, and one that I feel comfortable eating knowing that it once lead a charmed grass-fed, feed lot free life. Aside from fat content, I think it cooks up pretty much just like beef and lends itself well to anything that would normally feature a giant hunk-o-cow. If you can't get your hands on some buffalo, I think ground turkey or, of course, regular old ground beef would be just as tasty.

The recipe that follows, adapted from
Gourmet, yields a relatively mild loaf, traditionally seasoned with parsley and Worcestershire sauce. Although this first attempt came out with pretty tasty results, I'm looking forward to future buffaloaf experimentation and some more adventurous flavor combinations. A few possibilities that come to mind: a roasted Hatch or poblano chili version, a more flavorful Italian version with porcini and more fresh herbs, and an Asian take with fresh ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic-chili sauce and a little corriander.

serves 4-5 hungry folks

1/2 cup diced onion
1 diced celery rib
1 smallish carrot, diced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
3 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil (I used olive)
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs (preferably freshly made)
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 egg
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt (you may want a little more--I did but I like salt)
freshly ground black pepper
1 lb ground bison (or venison, turkey, etc.)
6 plum tomatoes, cut into wedges* optional
a few sliced shallots* optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Cook onion, celery, carrot, and garlic in 2 teaspoons oil in large skillet over moderate heat until onion is softened. Transfer to a large bowl, let cool a bit, and stir in breadcrumbs, parsley, egg, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper (to taste). Add meat and stir (or mix with your fingers--way more fun!) until just combined. Form mixture into an oval loaf and place on baking sheet or into a loaf pan. If you want, mix tomatoes and shallots with the remaining oil and some salt and pepper and scatter on top of loaf. Bake in the middle of oven for about 1 hour or until thermometer inserted into center registers 160 degrees F. Transfer to a platter and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

24 August 2009

In Praise of Summer, Eating with Your Fingers and Corn

So I'm just going to gloss over the lame excuses (house buying, grad schooling...) for why it's been over a year (!) since I last posted here and get right down to brass tacks with the real subject of this post. And that subject is, in a word, corn. "Mexican" style, grilled over the coals, slathered up in spicy goodness corn on the cob, to be specific.

Despite being a bit freaked out by corn since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, as well as by its frightening ability to remain virtually intact after passing through my entire digestive system, I still love it. Any food that requires eating with your fingers gets an automatic two thumbs up in my book! I can pass up a soggy, over-boiled sorry excuse for corn on the cob any day but serve it to me grilled, preferably with fresh mint and some butter and it's over.

As if I need another excuse to cast my morals aside for a good bite, this recipe for "Mexican" style grilled corn comes along. **Small yet important caveat here: I have not actually made this recipe--I, sadly, have no grill! I have, however, had the immense pleasure of eating it leftover from a recent grill-o-rama at the Mason parentals. The cold, bedraggled leftover version was so lip-smackingly and finger-lickingly good that I can only imagine how delish the real deal is straight off the grill. So fire up those coals (or propane tanks), grab yourself some corn (preferably from your local organic farm stand), slather it up with this goodness and invite me over!

Mexican-style Grilled Corn

*recipe from Cooks Illustrated

veggie oil for grill

1/4 cup regular or light mayonnaise

3 tablespoons sour cream

3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

1 medium garlic clove minced or passed through press

3/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

4 teaspoons juice from 1 lime

1 oz grated pecorino romano (or Cojita cheese for more authenticity)

4 teaspoons veg oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt

6 ears of corn, husk and silk removed

1) Get your grill ready (coals fully ignited and partially covered w/ash...about 20 mins). Arrange coals evenly only on half the grill, place grate over the coals and cover, heating grate about 5 minutes. Scrape grate clean w/brush and then oil w/veggie oil soaked paper towel.

2) While grill is being prepared, combine all ingredients in list up through the cheese in one bowl, reserving 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder. In another (large) bowl mix together the oil, salt, and the reserved chili powder. Toss corn into this oil mixture and coat evenly.

3) Grill corn, turning some, until lightly charred all over, 7-12 minutes. Remove from grill, toss in bowl with mayo mixture until evenly coated. Enjoy!

**apparently you can do this on a gas grill too: turn on all burners on high and heat grill with lid down until v. hot (15 minutes). Scrape and oil grill and cook the corn with the lid down.

**image source: http://expectingrain.com/dok/jpg/CobDylan.jpg

09 April 2009

The Best Buttermilk Biscuits. Ever.

Sometimes I really surprise myself. I can't believe these actually came out of my oven. So buttery, so soft, so crisp, so flaky... So... so PERFECT!And actually pretty easy! Please make them! Eat them hot with honey and butter. Or add more sugar and top a cobbler with them. But please do make them, you'll never regret it.

Buttermilk Biscuits
2 c (260 g) flour plus more for work surface
2 teaspoons (10 g) baking powder
1/2 (2 g) teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon (15 g) sugar*
4 tablespoons (50 g) butter, cut into small chunks and chilled
3/4 c plus 1 tablespoon (200 g) buttermilk
5 cm round cookie-cutter or small glass

Preheat oven to 500°F (260°C). Whisk together the 2 c flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt. Rub and mix in butter with your finger tips until mixture resembles coarse crumbs of varying sizes, but none larger than a pea. (Or pulse in with food processor, just make sure not to over process). Stir in buttermilk until dough comes together in a ball.

Turn dough mixture out onto floured work surface. With floured hands, lightly knead dough only a few times. Gently pat out into a circle about 1 inch (25 mm) thick. Dip cutter or glass into flour and push straight down into the dough but do not twist the cutter. Form the dough scraps into an extra biscuit with your hands. Place biscuits together on a parchment-lined baking sheet so that the sides are touching. Brush tops with melted butter, if desired.

Bake for 5 minutes at 500°F (260°C) then lower oven temp to 450°F (230°C) and continue to bake until they are golden brown, about another 5 minutes.

*For sweeter, scone-like biscuits that make a mouth-watering cobbler topping, use 1/4 c (50 g) of sugar here.

20 February 2009

Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

Here's another sneak peek at what's to come in the book. Neither okra or file powder are easy to come by in Italy, but the good news is that not all gumbos require either of these ingredients. The trick to any good gumbo is a thick, hearty roux... which is a tedious process of ceaseless stirring, best accompanied by a good book and a glass (make that a bottle) of wine. The whole recipe takes a good 4 hours, but a lot of it (after the roux) is hands-off, and you can abandon your bubbling brew and attend to more pressing matters. It's a great rainy-weekend recipe, and definitely worth the trouble. 
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (230 ml)
  • 1 1/4 c flour (150 g)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
  • 1 large celery stalks, chopped fine
  • 8 c water
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1 can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 roasted chicken*, about 4 lbs (180-200g)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 lb (250 g) andouille sausage, cut into 6 mm slices
  • 3 chopped green onions
  • 1 handful chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning (see recipe, below)
First make a chicken broth, if you wish to skip this step you can use boullion instead, but you’ll lose some flavor. Separate the cooked chicken meat from the bones and chop into large chunks, set aside. Put the bones, skin and carcass in a pot and cover with about 2 liters of water. Add the scraps from your vegetables (onion skins, celery greens, etc) and boil for about 20 minutes to make a broth. Strain, discard carcass, and set broth aside.
In a large heavy Dutch oven, combine the oil & flour over medium heat stirring constantly for about 25-30 minutes, to make a dark brown roux. Be very careful not to burn, you must stir constantly.
Add the onion, bellpepper & celery and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until soft. Stir in the tomatoes, wine, and about 2 liters of broth. Add the bay leaves, garlic & thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally.
Add sausage and a tablespoon of Cajun seasoning, continue to simmer for about 30 minutes.
Season the chicken with Worchestershire sauce, Cajun seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste Add chicken and cook on low heat for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Check seasonings. Add more salt & cayenne if necessary. Add the green onion & parsley. Serve immediately in soup bowls over steamed rice.

*You can buy a pre-roasted chicken to save time but it’s very easy to do yourself. Just rub a chicken with oil, salt and pepper, and bake at 165°C for 45-60 minutes, or until juices run clear when poked with a knife

Cajun Spice Blend
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 Tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp red pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
Mix all spices together, adjusting to taste. Store in an airtight container.