Friday, October 27, 2006

Risotto Times Two

I am relatively new to risotto, having only started cooking it in the last four years or so. Rice, however, is a longtime friend. Not the Rice-a-roni of my childhood, but good, California-grown rice.

I was introduced to a rice pot in college thirty years ago via my godmother, and received my first one as a wedding shower gift (ironically at a shower my godmother gave me!). My freshman dorm-mate got cozy with the boy across the way and ended up marrying him three years later. He was a third-generation rice farmer from Trowbridge, California. So to support the rice farmers, and to make my meager budget stretch farther, we ate a lot of rice in our early married years, and continue to do so today. Mostly steamed rice cooked in a rice pot, but I do make a delicious Spanish rice and my mother-in-law taught me how to make Lebanese rice with vermicelli and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.

I was slow to catch on to risotto. When we ate out at a restaurant where risotto was on the menu, I always looked right past it, wanting something more exotic, something with meat, something that was more complex. But I gradually came around. I let someone else fix it for me a few times, and then realized I could do it myself.

Risotto is an Italian rice dish utilizing a medium-grain variety of rice, such as Arborio. It is cooked slowly with constant liquid additions, and requires constant stirring to release the starch from the rice, resulting in a thick, creamy product.

What’s not to love about risotto? It can be whipped up in 30-40 minutes depending on the amount of rice and the ingredients you choose to use. Risotto is easy on the tummy, kids love it, and it is a great way to use those leftover roasted veggies or roast chicken, mushrooms languishing in the crisper drawer, and that 2-ounce hunk of parmesan that you don’t know what to do with. It can be simple and homey or fancy and exotic.

My daughter began making a special risotto, with carmelized onions, roasted chicken, and balsamic vinegar. Everyone in the family loved it, especially Son the Butcher, who has now named the dish “Bomb Ass Shit.” He tells his friends about it, requests it on occasion, and we have, over time, come to refer to it as Bomb Ass Shit, as well. Here is the famous recipe:

6 T butter
1 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
7 cups chicken broth
2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onions and saut for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the onions are a dark golden brown. Remove from heat, stir in the balsamic vinegar and set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken broth.

Heat the remaining butter in the same pot over medium heat (the onion residue adds extra flavor). Stir in the rice and mix well. Let heat for about 2 minutes, stirring once or twice, then pour in the wine. Reduce heat to medium low and start pouring in the warm broth about 1 cup at a time. Add more broth as each cup is absorbed. Continue in this manner until all the broth is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 20 minutes. Stir in the reserved onion mixture and chicken and allow to heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This week I had occasion to make a new risotto recipe from the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, Volume II, which I recently received as a gift. In flipping through the huge tome, I found several great recipes. We had the Light As A Cloud Gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce Sunday, sea bass last night, and on Tuesday we had this great Asparagus Risotto:

Asparagus Risotto
Serves 4-6

2 pounds tender fresh asparagus
4T butter
1 sweet onion, chopped
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups Arborio
¼ cup whipping cream
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
a few drops of white truffle oil (optional)
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Cut off tough bottoms of asparagus and discard. Cut of top 2 ½ inches of asparagus and reserve. Roughly chop remaining stalks.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and add asparagus tips. Boil for 3 minutes. Drain, plunge into ice water bath to cool, then drain again.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and chopped asparagus pirce sand sauté for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring brother to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to keep it barely simmering.
Add the rice to the onion mixture and stir to coat with butter. Add one cup of broth and cook until absorbed, stirring constantly. Add more broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly and adding broth only when the previous addition has been absorbed. Cook for about 25 minutes until rice is tender and creamy, but al dente. Remove from heat and stir in cream, cheese, asparagus tips, and truffle oil. Season with salt and pepper.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Bread Pudding, again....

You may have noticed that, much like my penchant for lemon-based posts earlier in the year, that my daughter and I are going through a bread pudding phase of our lives. Bread pudding is something I have been making for 23 years, since a friend went to cooking school in the early 1980s in New Orleans and brought back a killer recipe. It was one of those things I made once a year or so, usually for crowds. But we have been experimenting with the whole idea of both sweet and savory bread puddings and trying different variations.

In June, I made a large batch of bread pudding for a dinner party to celebrate the visit of my friend Raj and his wife PK. It was a twist on the traditional version, utilizing fresh berries, which were in season. My daughter had two Canadian friends visiting, and they loved the dish. So my daughter made it again during their stay, using what was in her cupboards (usually chocolate chunks). And she continued to make it throughout the summer.

I also tried a savory bread pudding with chard and cheese that went over quite well, which I shamefully did not blog about.

In September, Alexandria and I got to talking and decided to experiment and make breakfast bread puddings. In this post, we talk about a rich orange version and one that incorporated maple syrup. They were most delicious and disappeared within a day. Easy to make and serve for a brunch.

Yesterday, being Sunday dinner, required a dessert. Because I am still recovering from my 10-day book tour, I am a bit fried. I was already making a homemade gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, so anything complicated was out of the question. I noticed some dinner rolls that hadn’t been particularly good, just languishing on top of the refrigerator and suggested we make bread pudding. Having just bought a tasty chai ice cream, and made a chai rice pudding with leftover rice the night before, I thought about chai bread pudding. Nothing like sticking to a theme until you can’t stand it anymore! So we ground some cardamom, added in some cloves, ginger and cinnamon, and popped it in the oven. We served it with a modified crème anglaise, and once again, we hit the jackpot. I think the addition of finely diced crystallized ginger (or maybe grated fresh ginger) would be nice, and you could throw in raisins if you are so inclined. (I personally hate raisins, and refer to them derogatorily as rat turds.)

So, if you find yourself with some leftover bread, rolls, whatever, try out our latest version of bread pudding:

Chai Bread Pudding

10 oz. stale bread
4 cups milk (or combination milk and cream)
2 cups sugar
8 T melted butter
3 eggs
2 t vanilla
1/2 t ground cardamom
1/4 t ground cloves
1/2 t powdered ginger
1 t cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 degrees and butter a large baking dish or 13x9 pan. Cut or tear bread up into large chunks and place in pan.

Mix milk, sugar and eggs. Add in melted butter, vanilla, and spices and stir. Pour over bread and work the mixture through with your hands. Pat down gently to even out.

Bake 75 minutes or until cooked in center (if the bread isn’t stale enough, it takes longer to absorb the liquid).

Serve with ice cream (frozen or melted as a sauce), whipped cream, or crème anglaise and enjoy!

I Want My Uwajimaya!

Kinda like that old saying “I want my MTV”. I figure if I get enough people to chant this on a regular basis, that this wonderful Pacific Northwest company will clone its stores and pop up all over the US. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

What is an Uwajimaya, you ask? Just the best Asian goods/grocery market I have ever seen. Awe-inspiring on the first visit. I spent over 2 hours at the Seattle store on a recent trip. First, wandering through the home goods and gift section, where they carry beautiful serving pieces, dinnerware, cooking vessels, utensils and paraphernalia. Then on to the food court, where a dozen purveyors offer up great Asian fare for the starving masses. Then into the main part of the store, where we wandered aisles, oohing and ahhing, and questioning the origin and use of multiple ingredients. Then back through the store again to make a few purchases.

Coming from the Bay Area, where there is a huge Asian population and a wealth of Asian markets, I find it difficult to shop, only because each market caters only to a few cuisines. Uwajimaya is home to products from Japan, China, Thailand, India, Vietnam, Korea, and more, as well as having traditional American grocery items. Having been in business for over 40 years, there are three Uwajimaya locations. So if you are lucky enough to live in Seattle, Bellevue, or Beaverton, you can visit whenever you want, shopping, eating, or taking a cooking class (Sushi, Singapore Fusion Cuisine, Entertaining Asian-style, Dim Sum, and more). If, like me, you are on a 4-day whirlwind book tour to Seattle and already had to pay for excess weight on your baggage, all you can do is wander and drool. Well, not quite. I was able to try a few things at the food court and buy some wonderful sushi-makings for an early supper prior to an event. But it all left me wanting for more.

Hence, my new mantra: I want my Uwajimaya!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Missing in Action

I have to say that I get very impatient with bloggers who go weeks without posting. I like my food bloggers. I have a list on my computer at work and a list on my computer at home. Much of my available spare time is spent reading food blogs. So here I am, not having posted in two weeks myself. Shame on me. All I can say is I am sorry.

But I do have a good reason. At least I hope it is a good enough reason. I have taken the Mrs. B show on the road. Kinda, sorta. My book, The World Is a Kitchen, is out on tour. We had three wonderful events in what is fastly becoming one of my favorite American cities, Seattle. Ravenna Third Place Books, Wide World Books and Maps, and Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, were the hosts to the launch of the book tour. Great venues, great people, and I had a great time. A big thanks to the bookstores, the Seattle residents, my friends Donn and Margaret (and new friend Allison), super blogger and super best bud, Tara Austen Weaver, and to Judy and Jim Ware, contributor extraordinaire and her ever-helpful husband.

Tomorrow night we have an event at the new San Francisco institution, The Ferry Building Marketplace at Book Passage. Come on down at join us at 6pm for wine and cheese, followed by an event starting at 7. We’d love to see you.

Follow along on the tour, and find out more about culinary travel at

I promise to be back sooooooon.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Tale of Two Pies

Once upon a time…naw, too corny.

Recently, I haven’t been compelled to spend much time in the kitchen. But I got bit by a bug late last week after seeing the hazelnut-chocolate shortbread on Tartelette. Today is Sunday, which means the weekly family dinner. All the kids come home to visit, fill us in on their lives, and to get a hearty meal. We have always had the Sunday meal tradition, but when two of them moved out, it was only on the condition that they come back every Sunday. Naturally, they agreed.

I couldn’t decide which main dish to cook. It was a toss-up between Roast Beef Tenderloin with Wasabi-Garlic Cream and Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Sauce. (somehow I think the wasabi sauce might go better with the pork and the gorgonzola with the beef, but I’ll stick to the recipe this time around). My plan was to hit the store and see which meat was available or looked best. Turned out to be pork. I also picked up some gorgeous pears on sale, and a big box of Ritz crackers. Ritz crackers, you ask? Yes. And therein lies the tale of two pies.

First the pears. Years ago, my father had property up in Clear Lake, California. Every September when he was visiting he would bring me home a lug or two of the local pears. They were dirt cheap, probably ten cents a pound. Of course, we were dirt poor at the time, so I made use of every scrap of pear. The lugs were overflowing and the pears were all ripe, which meant they had to be used immediately. And due to the large quantity, it meant everything pear: pear cake, pear butter, canned pears, and my favorite, pear pie. I don’t typically like fruit pies. You will never see me order an apple or cherry pie at any diner or bakery. I always go for the chocolate, the nuts, anything but the fruit. I have relented some over time, between my own pear pie and the apple pies we get at Bloomingcamp Ranch on the way to our annual Pinecrest summer vacation. But the pears were calling my name as I wandered through the produce section, and so I decided that in honor of the end of September, I would make a pear pie.

Pear Crumb Pie

1 pie crust, freshly made or from the freezer
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
21/2 pounds firm-ripe pears
1 T lemon juice
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t mace
1 T flour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare or defrost pie crust (OK, I am not a good crust maker, so I do use a good frozen brand). Keep crust chilled while working on filling.
Combine 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and butter in a small bowl. Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut the butter in until course crumbs form. Set aside.
Pare, quarter and core pears. Slice into large bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Combine the granulated sugar, cinnamon, mace and flour and pour over the pears, incorporating gently, so not to break the pears. Spoon into pastry crust, mounding them gently. Sprinkle with flour/brown sugar topping.
Bake for 40 minutes or until juices bubble up and top browns. Cool on wire rack. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, or all by its lonesome.

Because this pear pie is a family favorite, it won’t last long, and since I am enjoying my time in the kitchen, enter the Ritz crackers. Believe it or not, Ritz crackers earned me my husband. He proved his mettle by eating anything put in front of him without complaint, enjoying every bit, and having a marvelous sense of humor. The story:

Back when I was a senior in college, my roommate Darlene and I had moved into a new apartment mid-year. The guys downstairs wasted no time in inviting us for dinner to fill us in on the neighborhood. I offered to bring dessert, which wasn’t too bright of me, since we had just moved in and didn’t have a whole lot in the cupboard. Short on time and money, I rooted around until a recipe leapt out at me…from the back of the Ritz cracker box. Mock Apple Pie. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it. It was quick. It was simple. And I had all the ingredients.
Right as dessert rolled around, two more of the building’s tenants joined us. The pie was a hit, particularly with one of the latecomers (who would eventually become my husband). When I blurted out my secret recipe, everyone was astonished, but with good humor, they laughed it off. That was 27 years ago, and my husband swears I haven’t made the pie since that time, although I know I did once when my children were small. So I have made a Mock Apple Pie with Ritz crackers, and I’m gonna see if my kids notice. I even left out the apple peeler/corer/slicer doodad on the dishrack, just so they would believe it was an apple pie.

So if you are stuck sometime and need a quick dessert, this is the trick. A premade pie crust, a quick simple syrup, broken up crackers, and voila, a pie.

Mock Apple Pie

Pastry for two crust 9” pie.
36 Ritz crackers
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 t cream of tartar
2 T lemon juice
grated rind of 1 lemon

In a saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil, and boil gently for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, and let cool.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Prepare bottom crust. Coarsely break up crackers into crust (2-3 pieces per cracker). Pour cooled syrup over crackers, dot with butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Cook for 30 minutes. Best served warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Believe it or not, this pie passed muster. My youngest son did notice a different taste in the pie, which he couldn’t pinpoint, but had no idea that the culprit was Ritz crackers. One of his friends said it was the best apple pie he had ever had, but the kids’ friends, no matter how long we have known them, would never think of thumbing their nose at food I serve, so I can’t trust that comment.

I myself, loved the pear pie. I even sent over a piece to my dad for old times sake.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Seattle, Here I Come!

I will be heading up to the Seattle Area on October 8th for a week of events. Hopefully you will have time to come out and meet me and contributors Tara Austen Weaver and Judy Ware at one of the venues. As a bonus, we should be serving tasty treats at each one!

WHERE: Ravenna Third Place Books, 6504 20th Avenue, NE
WHEN: Sunday October 8th
TIME: 4:30 pm
DETAILS: Ravenna Third Place Books

WHERE: Wide World of Books & Maps, 4411A Wallingford Ave., N.
WHEN: Tuesday October 10th
TIME: 7:00 pm
DETAILS: Wide World Books & Maps

WHERE: Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake Forest Park
WHEN: Wednesday, October 11th
TIME: 7:00 pm
DETAILS: Third Place Books Lake Forest Towne Center