Monday, January 26, 2009

Judy's Mushroom Risotto

Over the years, whenever I would attempt a new dish or dessert, Mr TruffleBird would often ask me if it was difficult. At my level of cooking, things are rarely difficult per se, at least not in terms of technique as I'm not exactly taking part in advanced French cooking, but they can often be time consuming. (So now he knows to ask if a dish was time consuming – quite trainable is that Mr. TruffleBird). Making Danish pastry was probably one of my more difficult undertakings as rolling out pastry dough can be quite tricky and does require some skill in order to attain a flaky final product.

Risotto is a dish that I for years thought fell into not only the time consuming, but also the difficult category. I pictured Italian mamas slaving over a hot stove for hours ladling spoonful after spoonful of hot broth into the pan, waiting for the rice to reach that creamy perfection. Thus, great was my surprise when I watched my friend Judy prepare a delicious mushroom risotto one night, and it dawned on me that there wasn’t really much skill required here, just an enormous amount of patience as risotto cannot be rushed. (This is by no means to take away from Judy’s cooking skills as she is a wonderful cook.)

Now, people who know me well know that while I have many wonderful virtues, patience is definitely not one of them, but nevertheless I decided that I would attempt this amazing mushroom risotto on my own. Judy was kind enough to share her recipe with me – how it came to her I don't know, so unfortunately I can’t give credit to the original creator.

The recipe follows below, but let me start by saying that I used it more as a guideline than an actual recipe. When I cook, I eyeball things a lot (contrary to when I bake) – I mean, who seriously has the patience to measure out 2 tbsp of fresh parsley or thyme? I just chop and add as I see fit. Dried porcini mushroom, while wonderful I’m sure, also sounded way too fussy for me, so instead I used about 1 ½ pounds of fresh mushrooms, and the beauty is that you can use whatever you can find at the market. This time I used crimini (also known as baby bellas, they are in fact baby Portobello mushrooms), oyster and shitake mushrooms, but use whatever you like. Since I was only cooking for two, I used about 1 cup rice and 4 cups chicken stock, but again – you can kinda eyeball it. Finally, I found a good pecorino Romano at the store and decided to use that instead of Parmesan. Again, feel free to substitute as you like.

First up, cooking the mushroom in a skillet with butter and thyme:

When they are done, add final parsley:

Saute onions and garlic, add the rice and wine, and then start adding the broth slowly. Every spoonful of broth should be incorporated before you add the next. I won't lie; this is when I start to get bored.

But after 15-20 minutes of stirring constantly, the risotto is done. Add the cheese and a handful of fresh parsley, and you're ready to eat!

The flavors are absolutely wonderful - the soft soft, creamy rice, the earthy flavor of the mushroom, the fresh thyme, the saltiness of the melted cheese...creamy, rich goodness. Mama couldn't make a better risotto, I swear :-)


Judy's Mushroom Risotto
8 cups chicken broth, low sodium
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 pound fresh portobello and crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon truffle oil
1-ounce dried porcini mushrooms, wiped of grit
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
Fresh Italian parsley, for garnish

Heat the chicken broth in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 onion and 1 clove garlic, cook, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms, herbs and butter. Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until lightly browned, season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in truffle oil then add the dried porcini mushrooms which were reconstituted in1 cup of warm chicken broth. Season again with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Sauté 1 minute then remove from heat and set aside.

Coat a saucepan with remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Sauté the remaining 1/2 onion and garlic clove. Add the rice and stir quickly until it is well-coated and opaque, 1 minute. This step cooks the starchy coating and prevents the grains from sticking. Stir in wine and cook until it is nearly all evaporated.

Now, with a ladle, add 1 cup of the warm broth and cook, stirring, until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Add the remaining broth, 1 cup at a time. Continue to cook and stir, allowing the rice to absorb each addition of broth before adding more. The risotto should be slightly firm and creamy, not mushy. Transfer the mushrooms to the rice mixture. Stir in Parmesan cheese, cook briefly until melted. Top with a drizzle of truffle oil and chopped parsley before serving.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Danish Almond Pastry

Lately, I've been obsessed with pastries - croissants, pain au chocolat, bear claws, you name it. And while you can get some good stuff here in the US, nothing really beats the real deal: Danish pastry or what we in Denmark call wienerbrød (literally "Vienna bread"). By all accounts, however, Danish pastry is a bit of a pain to make, because you have to roll out layers of dough, cover with a layer of butter, chill, and repeat the process several times to get the flaky goodness that characterizes good Danish pastry, and while I love to bake that just sounded too fussy.

Thus my excitement when I saw that Nigella (God bless her!) has a recipe for food processor Danish pastry where you basically just throw all the ingredients together in the food processor and voila: pastry dough! I had to give that a try.

Making the dough was surprisingly easy. Don't be alarmed that it looks like a big gooey mess with big butter lumps - it will turn into dough once it's been in the fridge overnight.

Rolling the dough out proved to be a bit more difficult. It kept sticking to the board and the rolling pin, and I had to use a pastry scraper to keep it from getting stuck while trying to get to that 20-inch square. But with some patience (not my strong suit!) and a bit of flour, I managed to roll it out, fold it, roll it out again etc. until I had repeated the steps the required three times. Then off to the fridge again for 30 min.

While the pastry rested, I made the almond filling. Again, the recipe calls for throwing almonds, sugar and other ingredients into the food processor, whizzing for a few seconds and you're all set. Rather than buy already toasted almonds, I toasted my own which is easy to do. Just throw the almonds or whatever nuts you're using into a warm skillet and toast over medium heat. Make sure you keep an eye on them, though, cuz nuts can burn surprisingly fast, and nobody likes the taste of burnt nuts. When you can smell them, they are probably done or perhaps even too done. Transfer to a plate as the nuts will continue to cook if you leave them in the skillet. Once cool, process with sugar and other ingredients.

So now I had my pastry dough and my filling - time to make the actual pastries. Rolling out again proved somewhat difficult, but by then I was getting the hang of it, and I decided not to roll it out too thinly to save myself some trouble. The filling was placed in the middle of each square, opposite corners pinched together and lo and behold - they actually looked like pastries! The recipe said to brush with egg wash now, which I did, although I usually don't do that until after the dough has risen, but Miss Nigella probably has her reasons, so who am I to argue with that? I left them to double in size on a baking sheet and then baked them in a 350F degree oven. My oven runs a bit cold, so I ended up baking them a bit longer than then recipe calls for - almost twice as long in fact, about 25 min. By then they were golden and puffy and looked like this:

Once they had cooled a bit, I added the clear glaze which is basically a simple syrup and makes the pastry deliciously sticky. When they had cooled completely (and believe me, this requires discipline!) I zigzagged white icing across them as well.

For a first attempt at pastry making, I have to say that these came out pretty well. Alas, they were not as flaky as I had hoped for, but I think that has to do with my problems with rolling out the dough. The flavor, however, was there, and they actually taste a lot like the bear claws you can buy at say Peets.

I tested them on my friend J, and she loved them as did her husband, so this is definitely a winner. I still have half a quantity of pastry in the freezer, so next time I'm thinking maybe a chocolate filling...yum!

Danish Almond Pastry
from Nigella Lawson How to Be a Domestic Goddess

For the dough:
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups white bread flour
1 package (1/4 oz.) rapid-rise yeast or 1 tbsp fresh yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into thin slices

For the pastry:
A half quantity of pastry dough, rolled out and ready to use
Baking sheets lined with parchment paper

For the filling:
5 oz blanched almonds, toasted
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
½ tsp almond extract
1 large egg white, beaten lightly

For the egg glaze:
1 large egg, beaten with
2 tbsp milk

For the clear glaze:
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

For the sugar glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tbsp warm water

Pour the water and milk into a measuring cup and add the egg, beating with a fork to mix. Put to one side for a moment. Get out a large bowl, then put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in the processor, and give one quick whizz just to mix. Add the cold slices of butter and process briefly so that the butter is cut up a little, though you still want visible chunks. Empty the contents of the food processor into the large bowl and quickly add the contents of the cup. Use your hands or a rubber spatula to fold the ingredients together, but don’t overdo it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, put in the refrigerator, and leave overnight or up to 4 days.

To turn it into pastry, take it out of the refrigerator, let it get to room temperature, and roll it out to a 20-inch (50 cm) square. Fold the dough square into thirds, like a business letter, turning it afterward so that the closed fold is on your left, like the spine of a book. Roll out again to a 20-inch square, repeating the steps above three more times. Cut in half, wrap both pieces in film and put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. You can keep them for up to 4 days if you haven’t already done so at the earlier stage or you can refrigerate one to use now and put the other one in the freezer to use later which is what I did.

To make the almond filling, process the almonds and powdered sugar together until finely ground. Add the butter, pulse again, then add the almond extract and 2 tbsp of the egg white. You can make this in advance and keep it in the fridge for up to a week.

Roll the pastry out to a big square and cut into thirds horizontally. Then cut it half down the middle, giving you 6 squares. Take each square and put a tablespoon of the almond filling onto the pastry at a diagonal. Bring up the opposite corners and pinch together.
Place on the baking sheet and brush with the egg glaze. Leave them to rise until they double in size and feel like marshmallow, about 1 ½ hours.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Cook for 15 minutes or until golden.

Remove to a wire rack and make the two remaining glazes. To make the clear glaze, heat the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then take off the heat. To make the sugar glaze, add the water to the confectioners’ sugar a little at a time to make a runny icing. Brush the pastries with the clear glaze first once they have cooled a bit; then when almost cold zigzag the sugar glaze over them.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A New Year - A New Beginning?

So I started this blog almost a year ago, and after the initial post nothing really happened. It wasn't that I stopped baking or cooking; I just didn't blog about it. For a while I didn't even know if I wanted to blog about anything at all, but lately I've been baking up a storm (Christmas will do that to you) and have been posting pictures on my Facebook page, so I figured - why not give this blogging thing another go? When a friend and former co-worker sent me a link to her new food blog Buttered BlasphAmy I felt both jealous (why wasn't I doing this?) but also inspired to give it another try. Yes, there are thousands of food blogs out there, and maybe this one won't offer up any original recipes or change the world of baking, but what it will do is show you my love of food and hopefully inspire someone out there to try their hand at something new.

Happy Eating!