Sunday, August 26, 2012

Basic Risotto

Several years ago I hosted three of my nieces for a weekend "Family Cooking Class."  Two of them were engaged to be married and the third was the reason for the event as she was the one who asked if I would teach her how to cook. Along with other of my favorites, I remember teaching them to make Tomato Soup, Homemade Pizza and Basic Risotto.   You might think this is an odd combination, but there was method to my madness. 

When teaching them to make tomato soup, they had to learn how to make a basic white sauce, the foundation for hundreds of recipes.  We had fun making individual pizza, but what I was teaching them was how to work with yeast, and with a Basic Risotto, your possibilities are endless.  

At the end of the weekend, I presented them with a basket of some of the odd ingredients, spices and seasonings we used as well as an electronic copy of the "Oliver Marko Family Cookbook" which I've been writing and continually updating for years.

Although it is simple to make, Risotto does require you  to devote 20 minutes of your undivided attention.  When cooking long grain rice, you are discouraged from stirring the rice while cooking because the starches will release and the rice will end up a sticky mess.  With Risotto, you want the starch to release which is what makes the dish creamy.  That is why we use starchy Arborio Rice and continuously stir during the cooking process.

Basic Risotto Ingredients: 

§ 1 medium onion, finely chopped
§ 3 tablespoons olive oil
§ 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
§ 1 cup Arborio rice
§ 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
§ 1/2 cup dry white wine
§ 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
§ 3 tablespoons butter
§ 3 tablespoons Thyme, finely chopped
§ 3 tablespoons butter
§ Salt and Pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan bring the broth and 1/2 cup water to simmer.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover the broth and keep hot over low heat. 

In a medium sized, heavy saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute until tender but not brown, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Add the rice and chopped garlic and stir to coat with butter and olive oil.  Add the wine and stir continuously until mixture begins to simmer.

Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes.  Continue cooking the rice adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of the broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and fresh thyme. 

When plated, the Risotto should be saucy and spread in the bowl, not sit in the center of the plate like a scoop of mashed potatoes.  Now that you've made the Basic Risotto, your possibilities are endless

I happen to have a piece of grilled salmon left over from dinner last night.  To the salmon I added 1 cup of peas for the dish you see in the photograph.

Add any or a combination of the following to enhance your Basic Risotto:
§ 1/2 cup Pesto (select the name to access the recipe for Pesto)
§ Cubed butternut squash (cube, drizzle with olive oil and salt and bake until soft)
§ 1 cup cooked vegetables (i.e. asparagus, zucchini, broccoli or artichokes)
§ Sauteed mushrooms and thyme
§ 1 cup cooked chicken, shredded 
For a printer friendly copy of this recipe, go to Basic Risotto.  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pot Roast

When I moved away from home, it was difficult to get my mother to come visit.  She was always busy with something.  Then it occurred to me....I knew exactly how to get her here.  I told her how busy I was with my business and how much I would appreciate having some of the foods I grew up with in the freezer ready to pop into the oven after a busy day at work.  I told her we could work together in the kitchen to prepare some of my favorite of her dishes.  She was here within the week.  For the past 20 years, my mother will call before her quarterly visit to Nashville to ask, "What will we be making this time?"  I have always enjoyed cooking, but I mostly cherish the mother/daughter bonding time we've enjoyed over the years. 

My mother taught me how to make pot roast, and I still use her original recipe, with just a few minor changes, but I developed an unconventional cooking technique that even she was impressed with.

I grew up on pot roast made with brisket, but I prefer to use chuck. I find this inexpensive meat to be one of the most flavorful cuts of beef. A piece that is well marbled with fat will yield the best flavor, and simmering it slowly in the oven makes the beef incredibly tender.

One thing I’ve never liked about pot roast was the vegetables. After cooking for hours, they have infused their entire flavor into the meat and juices and no longer look nor taste appetizing. So I do something unconventional. I cook the pot roast with only half of the vegetables in the recipe.

After a few hours, I remove and discard the soggy, limp pieces of carrot, celery, onion, herbs and garlic that have flavored my meat and are unwelcome on my plate. I then replace them with fresh pieces of carrot, celery and potatoes. Another 30-40 minutes in the oven and I have a pot filled with tender, flavorful meat surrounded by firm, bright and delicious vegetables to serve.

§     One 3 to 4 pound boneless chuck roast
§     2 or 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
§     1 whole onions, peeled and quartered
§     4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled
§     4 large potatoes, peeled
§     7 - 8 carrots, peeled
§     7 - 8 stalks of celery
§     1 cup red wine (optional)
§     1 cup beef broth
§     3 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
§     6 or 8 sprigs fresh thyme
§     1/2 cup parsley sprigs
§     Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously season meat on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat a thin coat of vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed skillet or Dutch oven and add seasoned meat. Over a medium high heat, sear roast on all sides, about 10 minutes.

Reduce to medium heat. With the meat in the center, add the onion, whole garlic cloves, carrots and celery.

Since I am going to discard these vegetables, I typically select the thinner, less desirable carrots and celery stalks. If all of the carrots are thin, use the thinner half to flavor the dish and the thicker ends to eat.  Add stock, red wine, (if you are not using wine, double the amount of beef broth), Worcestershire Sauce, half of the thyme and parsley. Bring to boil, cover, place in oven and roast for 2 1/2 hours or until meat is tender.

When the beef is fork tender, remove from oven and discard all of the vegetables, herbs and aromatics.

Replace them with the remaining carrots, celery and potatoes.

All of the vegetables should be similar in size. Add the remaining thyme and parsley springs and season the vegetables with salt and pepper. There should be at least 1/2 inch of juice at the bottom of the pan. If not, add a little water.

Place in oven and continue to cook for another 30 – 40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the potatoes cooked through. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the vegetables.

For a printer friendly copy of this recipe, go to Pot Roast.  Enjoy!