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Risotto Party: Four Recipes, One Night

20 Nov

The challenge:  Compare  four different varieties of Italian risotto rice.

The issues:
1) In order to compare the varieties, I would have to prepare them.
2) Risotto preparation is kind of time consuming.
3) After our trip to NYC, the deadline to finish the review was coming up quickly.  I wasn’t sure there was enough time left to actually complete the task.

What to do?

Have a risotto party!

At first, I was hesitant to pitch the idea to some of my friends….I wanted to invite them over to eat but felt a bit guilty for giving them an assignment as part of their dinner.

However, they are all love food and any chance to get together and drink wine.  Luckily, they agreed to the challenge.

The week prior was spent delivering risotto samples, researching  recipes, and buying wine.

Thursday night, (a school night!) they all came over and we had a risotto feast.  (Including a really delicious olive oil cake–recipe coming soon.)

It was so fun to see what each of them came up with and all of the risottos were very different.

The contestants:

Risotto #1:  The purple blob.

Rice: Marx Foods Italian Carnaroli rice

Recipe:  Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe for Spring Green Risotto

This risotto was not pretty.  Actually, it was a very pretty color—it just looked like a gelatinous blob.  In case you are wondering, the purple came from the addition of red wine instead of white.  According to Marx Foods website, this rice tends to hold its shape better than arborio rice and offers better liquid absorption.  Supposedly, this rice will yield a creamier risotto than other varieties.  And, this one was very creamy.

Comments:    “If I didn’t know you, I wouldn’t eat this.”

“Why is it purple?”

“What is that flavor?”

Risotto #2:  The healthy risotto.


Rice:  Marx Foods Organic Italian Arborio
Recipe:  Chef’s creation with lots of spinach and a ton of garlic.

Comments:  “Maybe it needs more salt.”

“Wow, very garlic-y!”

This is the type of rice that is normally used for risotto and just as suspected, the results were a creamy rice porridge.

Risotto #3:   The professional risotto.

Rice:  Marx Foods Vialone Nano Rice

Recipe:  Chef’s creation including asparagus, leek, sundried tomato and goat cheese.

For risotto #3, the chefs followed the basic recipes for preparing a risotto complete with toasting the rice and slowly adding the broth.  They completed the dish by adding asparagus, leek, sundried tomato and goat cheese.  This risotto was dryer than the others and the rice grains were separate.

Comments:  “This looks like what a risotto is supposed to look like.”
“This is the most professional looking of the risottos”

According to the Marx Foods website, this variety of rice and the Carnaroli are thought to make better risotto than the traditional arborio.  Vialone Nano rice absorbs liquid more quickly which is likely why this risotto was a bit dryer than the others.

Risotto #4:  The meat risotto.

Rice:  Marx Food’s Italian Integrale rice

Recipe:  Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato and Sausage Risotto

Comments:  “This could be a meal on its own.”

“Too tomato-y”

“The rice is slightly hard”

The Integrale rice is a whole grain Italian brown rice.  Following the traditional recipes for risotto resulted in a rice that was slightly undercooked.  Other recipes using this variety may need to use more liquid.

Our mission:

Our original intention was to compare the different risotto rice and determine if one variety was better than another.  However, that was difficult to do given that each chef chose a different recipe and have different levels of culinary skills.

For example:

Did risotto #1 turn gelatinous because it was prepared the day before and re-heated?  Or was it the starchiness of the rice?

Did risotto #4 taste slightly undercooked because it was a wheat grain or because of the novice cooking skills of the chef?

Did risotto #3 have nicely separated grains due to the type of risotto or because the chefs toasted the rice?

Risotto #2 looked like a typical risotto—like soupy rice—was that due to the preparation or the fact that the chef received the typical arborio rice?

If we had all prepared the same recipe, we may have been able to do a better comparison of the various rice types—but it would have been so much less fun.  However, the rice did behave as described on the Marx Foods website.


Since we weren’t really able to judge the different rice types –we just decided which risottos we enjoyed the taste of the most.

And the winner was………..

The purple blob.

Are you surprised?  I was–I have to admit I was a little bit afraid to try it but it had such a great flavor–likely due to the large amount of lemon zest and the marscapone cheese.

The runner up was:

The professional risotto.  It had great flavors, looked pretty and contained goat cheese.  How can you go wrong with goat cheese?

The healthy risotto and the meat risotto received honorable mention.

Interestingly, the two winners used the type of rice that Marx Foods describes as  Italian’s choice for the best risotto.

Great job contestants!

Thanks to Marx Foods for supplying us with risotto samples and to everyone for agreeing to make risotto.  Special thanks to the kids (all 7 of them!) for not killing each other while we ignored them.


Food Success: Chantrelle Shallot Flatbread

21 Oct

As you may remember, I had some issues with my apple cheddar scones.  Everything about them was embarrassing.  But then, later that same day, I was redeemed with this Chantrelle Shallot Flatbread.  It was good.  So good.

Like I mentioned before, I received a few samples of dried mushrooms from Marx Foods and made a wild mushroom risotto using four types of reconstituted mushrooms.  I didn’t use the Chantrelles however, I was saving them for something special.  And, this flatbread is that something special.

It is super easy and tasty too!

I started with my basic pizza dough recipe.  After the rising period, I rolled out one of the mini loaves and slathered it with about 2T of olive oil, a sprinkling of kosher salt, and a healthy dose of oregano.

I sautéed my reconstituted Chantrelles and shallots in about 1T of olive oil, and 1T of butter.  I then sprinkled these over the oiled and spiced crust and baked at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

The results were crispy, chewy and fabulous.

By the way, if you want to vote for me in the Marx Foods Mushroom Challenge, I would much appreciate it.  Go here.



Food Tragedy: Apple Cheddar Scones

19 Oct

Have you heard the research on multi-tasking?  Studies show that those who multi-task do a worse job and are less effective than those that focus on a singular task.

I always argue this with Aaron as he can only focus on one thing at a time—and while he is doing his one thing, (i.e. feeding the dogs)–I might be organizing a Halloween party, making pizza, helping the kids with their homework and dying my hair.  I can get a lot done quickly.  It is something I am proud of.

Yesterday, however, my multi-tasking didn’t work out too well.  Yesterday, I decided to cook.  I had a few recipes (chantrelle flatbread, pizza, lentil spinach soup, apple cheddar scones) dancing through my mind for awhile now and I was in the mood for food.

These Apple Cheddar Scones were posted on Smitten Kitchen and Leite’s Culinaria within the same week with rave reviews about how great they are.  I have always been curious about this apple cheese combination and thought this would be a good and easy way to try it (No, I have never tried apple pie with cheddar cheese.)   So, I got busy. While the pizza dough was rising and lentils were boiling, I followed the recipe.

I baked the apples.

I cubed the butter.

I sifted the dry.  (Can you tell which ingredient is missing?)

I mixed the butter, apples and dry ingredients together.

“Hmmmm…..why isn’t it coming together?, ” I asked myself.

Oh yeah—I forgot the egg.  At this point, I was worried as the recipe says to be very careful about overmixing.  I was getting dangerously close to that point.

Ahhh….done.  Dough on the counter top, pounding it flat thinking,   “What a nice dough this is–just some butter, flour, egg, apples and cream. Wait?  Cream?  I forgot the cream!!”

“What are scones without heavy cream?”

The dough went back to the mixer and I added the cream.   Now it was coming together.  Sort of.

The rest of the process was messy and embarrassing.  I couldn’t get it to cut in nice triangles, likely due to the odd combination of ingredients and the overmixing–so I ended up with an assortment of shapes.

The final step–the egg wash and sprinkling of sugar  reminded me that I hadn’t mixed in any sugar in the dough.   Ahhhh!  I was ready to throw the whole thing away.

And my photos—yikes!  My mind was just not there. (Speaking of minds not being there, when I told my mom I was baking scones, she said, “Scones?  What are scones?  Those things you put ice cream in?”  Maybe it had something to do with the ways the stars were aligned yesterday?)

Fortunately, the scones were edible and have the potential to be very good.  I need to try again. A time when I can focus.

In the meantime, if you are eager to try these out, I suggest heading over to Smitten Kitchen or Leite’s Culinaria for the recipe and directions.

I will only get you into trouble.

The Easiest and Best Homemade Pizza —EVER!

25 Jun

A couple of weeks ago, we had a potluck dinner party/end of the school year/ pool party for some of our new friends and their families.  The theme was: Italian Summer and everyone brought  great food to share.  We had an assortment  of pastas, salads and fruits, pesto, panna cotta and tiramisu.  My husband grilled some steaks and some veggie kabobs (which, my son would like to point out, are not very Italian.  But they were good.)   We had wine, beer and cocktails made with Lemoncello, soda, lime and mint leaves.  It was a good time and everyone left full and happy, if not, slightly tipsy.

The morning of the party, I decided to whip up some pizzas for the kids using a new recipe that I had found on Smitten Kitchen.  I realize that could have been a very risky move—-everyone knows that you don’t try out a new recipe on guests, right?

I had faith in Smitten Kitchen and just wanted to try something new.  So, I went for it and was pleasantly surprised with the results.  Actually, very, very surprised with the results.  It didn’t seem possible that the pizza crust dough could involve so few ingredients and be so perfect.

I truly think that I have found my go-to pizza crust for the rest of my life.  This is the recipe that I will pass on to my children—-it is seriously that good.

The day after the party,  I decided to make the pizza again.  Me and the kids can eat pizza everyday and I wanted to be doubly sure that the dough would turn out just as perfect.  It did.

If you feel like trying your hand at this easy peasy pizza—you really should. You will never go back to store bought pizzas again.  And you may even stop eating pizzas out (unless you are in NYC, and then you will buy a slice everyday.

Here is the recipe, borrowed from Smitten Kitchen which was borrowed from Jim Lehey.  Keep reading for  step-by-step instructions:

Jim Lahey’s Pizza Crust

I doubled the recipe and made about six 6-inch pizzas.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 cup cold water
Olive oil, for bowl and pans
1 teaspoon instant dry yeast

1. Combine flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer, and slowly add 1 cup cold water. Mix on low speed until ingredients begin to combine. Switch to a dough hook and continue to mix for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic and cleanly pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

2. Place dough in an oiled bowl, and allow to rest for 2 to 4 hours until it has doubled in size.  This is a good time to prepare your toppings and have a nice big glass of wine.  My dough is resting beneath the towel and my wine is ready!

3.  After the 2-4 hours are up, split the dough into halves, and form each into a log. Place each log on a generously floured surface, and allow it to rest (covered) until the formed dough doubles in size again, at least 1 hour.  The photo below shows the logs post rising.  See how puffy!

4.  At this point, you are ready to make your pizzas into the shape you want. I was feeding a bunch of kids so I made a bunch of little pizzas.  I didn’t roll out the dough–i just kind of stretched it out.  They weren’t beautiful but artisan.

6.  Next, add toppings.  I did the basic marinara with mozzarella, for my picky eaters.  But I also made some with pesto (leftover from the party), cherry tomatoes from my garden, and a combination of mozzarella and Parmesan.  Yummers!

Just looking at the toppings makes me crave this pizza!

7.  I prepared my mini pizzas and then stuck them in the fridge until I was ready to eat them.  Heat the oven to 450 degrees and bake for about 10-15 minutes.   (I tried the recipe both using a pizza stone and without—and I liked the chewy-ness of the crust without the stone.  I also put the oven on the HIGH broil setting for about 15 minutes before I put the pizza in.  I wanted the oven to be as hot as possible.)

Look at that pizza!  It is so professional looking, easy and delicious.  Make it and let me know what you think.

I really should be working right now but….

13 Apr

I was so excited about my little gardening project, that I wanted to share it with you.

I have just a small garden and it is my first ever success with growing any type of plant.  Usually, I forget to water the plants or move them out of the sun—-and they die.  However, my little garden is different.  Everyday, I come home and get excited to see how much the little plants have grown overnight. And it is amazing!  Tiny little broccoli buds will mature in a week or so.  One day a pepper will be the size of a dime and a few days later it can be inches long!  Everyday it seems that new cherry tomatoes are appearing and the strawberries just keep coming.  Unfortunatley, based on what I have been told, summer gardens just don’t work in Florida due to the heat and bugs.  Actually, many of my favorite places (Ellenton Earthbox and Jessica’s Organic Farm) close up shop for the summer and return as it is getting cooler.  Anyone have success with gardening in Florida in the summer?

Since this is a food blog, I should also mention that the broccoli that you see in the above picture was THE BEST BROCCOLI IN THE WORLD!   Stay tuned for recipes made from the bounty of my garden including cilantro pesto….

While I am sharing non-cake related news with you, I should mention that my name was selected to race in the 2010 NYC Marathon in November!  I am so excited and planning out my training for the next 6 months.  I am also trying to figure out which restuarants/cafes/bakeries I should be visiting while I am there.  Suggestions are welcome!