Forecast for the Future

"Every individual without exception bears a potential writer within himself. The reason is that everyone has trouble accepting the fact that he will disappear unheard of and unnoticed in an indifferent universe, and everyone wants to make himself into a universe of words before it's too late. 

Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not that far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding."

- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Friday, February 15, 2008

Week 6, Cooking Day 5: Mushroom Risotto

Tonight's meal was really and truly a success. I feel like I've been "building up" over the course of this week toward something grand and glorious.

Coming over this evening were my friends Renaissance Man Jayson Greene, Stacy F, and the Shrimp Cracker. As Jayson and Stacy are known "foodies", I had a sense from the beginning of pressure to try and pull off something worthwhile. Whenever I think of food pressure, I am reminded of a touchstone film of my adolescence, Big Night, and the powerful scenes involving Tony Shalhoub and his relationship with the dish risotto. Two things were impressed upon me during that film: 1) do NOT serve someone two starches ("side of pasta with the risotto please") and, more importantly, 2) risotto is a treasurous dish whose preparation requires laborious care and tenderness in order to execute properly. I remember those scenes so vividly and I think of them everytime I think of risotto.

I had never made risotto before; though it is true in the past that I have stood by and "assisted" the Ice Princess with her own risotto--"Stir!" "Stop!" "Hands off!"--I had never even considered that I might be able to make it myself. Which is reasonable, because beyond any doubt instilled by Tony Shalhoub's fearmongering, again: I don't ever cook; to think of stepping up to the plate with a risotto is sort of laughable. But then, stepping up to the plate with any kind of foodmaking seemed laughable before this week. Elevating from hot dogs, Annie's Mac n Cheese, and the occasional Ortega sauce tacos to any of the things I've made this week is a little unreal and it still seems pretty crazy to me that i've done any of it at all. So yes, risotto, for the gold.

Once i'd made my decision to go forward, it was time to decide upon a flavor direction. During an unforgettable weekend this summer in Montreal, I had an excellent risotto in a red sauce with plum tomatoes, but really, in my limited experience the best route to take with risotto is to use it as a vehicle to celebrate the magical fungi of the family Agaricaceae.

Recipe, and more below.

Mushroom Risotto
8 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1.3 pounds 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
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
Fresh Italian parsley, for garnish

"Italian Salad"
Green leaf lettuce
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp warmed chicken stock
Sea salt & black pepper


Adding the risotto. Frantic stirring begins.

You'll notice the ingredient "truffle oil" listed. The taste of truffles or even truffle oil is pretty heavenly, and makes an almost crucial addition to any mushroom risotto. Truffles themselves are prohibitively expensive, particularly for a person who is half-expecting to make something awful. Given that I am a man who appreciates a little over-the-top excess, I made the sort of crazy/sort of awesome decision to spend $18.95 on a bottle of black truffle oil. Now, I am quite familiar with the hubbub over truffle oils and whether or not any of them actually contain real truffles, but you know, whatever: i'm comfortable with the fact that neither my chef-ing skills nor my taste bud sensors are exactly of Alain Ducasse and that like many Americans, I am occasionally down with "bigger than life flavors that are amped up with aromatics."

Before embarking on any of this, however, I consulted with the Ice Princess on her opinions about truffle oil: "good when not overused, gross when not." I also asked her advice on cooking risotto in general and she had this to say:

Jeffrey, I know you are a retard, but you can do this. Just follow these instructions and you'll be fine.

1. dice onions
2. add oil to pot, let it heat up for a couple of min, but not smoke, on med. heat
3. add onions. cook for about 5 min until translucent. dont let them brown.
4. add about 1/2 cup of white wine. scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen bits.
5. add rice.
6. let it toast for a min or two till there is no liquid in the pan.
7. add chicken stock (you have about 10 cups or so of it in a pot on the stove warming) a ladel at a time and stir.
8. add more stock, only adding when liquid in the pot cooks off.
9. when risotto is soft enough stop adding liquid (about 20- 30 min) add some butter and parmaesan
10. VOILA
I basically stuck to these instructions and, excepting the moment where I freaked out for a second wondering whether or not I was supposed to have already cooked the risotto in a pot (like rice) before putting in the pan, it all went well and great and the risotto came out perfectly. Coupled with the salad and homemade dressing and it was a meal of great satisfaction, and best of all that it was shared with three great friends.


One of these is good and the other bad. You might guess that "table wine" means bad.


Believe it or not, he's put some faith in me.


Once again, my tools fail me: risotto must be separated into two skillets to continue.


And then it's time to recombine for the final act.


Mmmm.... risotto. Mushrooms. Add parmesan. Yum.


These are cold hands, dirty hands. Also like this and this. Salad.


Mmm. Plated risotto and salad, nearly ready to eat (needs parmesan).


Motherfuckers is like, "Ok, smile now, but please, SIT DOWN ALREADY."


Bites are moments away....


After you eat a good meal, everyone gets fuzzy and the room turns red.


Thank you Stacy and Jayson. AMAZING.

And I leave you with this video:

video

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