Thursday, February 24, 2011

"White House Chef - Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen" - Wild Mushroom Risotto

Date I made this recipe: February 23, 2011

White House Chef – Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen by Walter Scheib and Andrew Friedman
Published by: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-471-79842-2
Recipe: Wild Mushroom Risotto – p. 130

So Monday was President’s Day, a day celebrated by all of 5 people (including my mail delivery person) and a day, naturally, where we in Minnesota were once again dumped on by snow. Actually the snow started on Sunday and that snowstorm was partly responsible for this dish being made.

To back up: I am a fan of Top Chef (when I’m not yelling at the TV over who was wrongfully eliminated) and a couple of weeks ago, the cheftestants had to make an Italian dish to satisfy the owners of Rao’s restaurant, located in East Harlem, New York. And since I happened to have the Rao’s cookbook on hand (published in 1998), I thought this would be a fine time to make something out of the book in honor of that episode.

Well, as per usual, I ended up in the valley of indecision – what to make, what to make? I noted that Rao’s had a couple of recipes for risotto but decided against making that recipe for several reasons: 1) my people are from Sicily and we don’t do risotto. Northern Italians make risotto; 2) I hate standing at the stove stirring the thing. It makes my arms fall off and my arms were already sore from snow shoveling; and 3) most importantly, one of my favorite cheftestants, Tre Wilcox, was eliminated for not cooking his risotto properly and this made me mad and so I was determined to pout and find something else to make.

And so I narrowed down my selection to two choices, neither of which was risotto and planned to grocery shop on Sunday after I met with a friend for our weekly business planning meeting at Barnes and Noble (we’re starting a consulting business together).

Any who, when I rolled into the Barnes and Noble parking lot at 10 a.m. the sky was clear as a bell. Actually, it was overcast but to Minnesotans, that’s the next best thing to being clear at this time of year. But by the time I left at 2:30, it was blowing a gale and by 5:00 it was a total whiteout. So grocery shopping was the last thing I wanted to do at that hour and so I didn’t! Problem solved. I would just wait until Monday.

But wait! All of a sudden it dawned on me that Monday was President’s Day and perhaps I should cook from the White House Chef book that’s been sitting on the shelf? Brilliant!

Except…I had a really hard time finding something to make from this book. Many recipes called for several items to be made for the complete dish, for example, chicken and biscuits, sweet potato filling and homemade ravioli and whatnot and I just was not in the mood to make multiple things. And then there were several recipes calling for bison (not a fan—I mean, it’s a modern-day Wooly Mammoth, no?!) and a few calling for veal chops. Veal is hard to find in these parts and expensive so that was a no. So once I eliminated those items plus complicated dishes plus summer dishes (there’s optimism and then there’s reality), I was left with…what the ?? Risotto??? Nooooo!

Yup. So I photocopied the recipe, checked my larder and was all set to go shopping on Monday to make risotto in honor of President’s Day.

Except…Monday was another stormy day and my husband informed me when he got home around 4 that our alley hadn’t been plowed yet. Those who live in these parts know what that can mean to you and your car—if the alley hasn’t been plowed yet, you can get stuck in it. Nothing more embarrassing than that let me tell you…well, except if the alley is plowed, oftentimes the plow creates a wall of snow at the end of the alley that one must clear, kind of horse jumping. And so you gun it (the car) toward the end of the alley with the hope that your speed and momentum will help you get over the wall because if you don’t, you get stuck on that very same wall. And don’t snicker-we’ve all done it. And talk about an award winning photo—I’m not kidding when I say that your car can look like a beached whale, tires spinning uncontrollably with you (and all the neighbors who witnessed this) shoveling to get you off the damned thing. I hate winter!

Anyway, so shopping on Monday was out of the question. So that left Tuesday and so I shopped on Tuesday (hooray!) but then was out of the house Tuesday night and so that left Wednesday for prep and cooking. And hey, if the paper couldn’t get delivered on Monday because of the storm, then I think I get a pass for celebrating President’s Day two days later! As far as I know, nobody has started a movement, similar to Christmas, to have every day be President’s Day, but I am ready to lead the charge—just say the word!

As to the recipe, there are two things that you should know: morel mushrooms, one of the intended mushrooms, do not grow at this time of year. And when they do grow, you will likely need to find them at a farmer’s market because I don’t recall too many grocery stores carrying them. And so I had to substitute and there was really nothing I could think of to use that would bring out that earthy flavor that wild mushrooms impart. And so the flavor was good but not as great as it could have been.

The other thing you should know is that I thought that the lemon zest masked the taste of the mushrooms. Perhaps it wouldn’t if I had used the right mushrooms but at this time of year, beggars can’t be choosers.

Other than those two things, I liked the dish and would make it again if I had the right mushrooms. I also liked that this recipe does not use parmesan cheese and that’s a good thing as it would have been too heavy.

One last item about the recipe: I did not make the roasted garlic puree that the recipe called for. I’m sure it was good but because of time constraints, I started this dish later in the evening and just wasn’t in the mood to roast garlic. But if you have time, I think you should.

So that’s how my intention NOT to make Rao’s risotto turned into me in fact making a White House Risotto on President’s Day! Fear not, readers, for I will be making a Rao’s recipe in the next few days.

And speaking of the White House, the entire time I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer stamina of those working in the White House kitchens. It’s one thing for me to putter around my kitchen, deciding on a whim to ashcan something like the roasted garlic puree, but it’s another to do that in such a famed kitchen serving presidential families as well as state visitors day after day after day. Yikes. Toques off to you, chefs!

Wild Mushroom Risotto – serves 4
For the mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon very finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon very finely chopped shallot
6 ounces mixed wild mushrooms, such as morels and chanterelles, wiped clean and cut into bite-size pieces (about 1 cup)
¼ cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the risotto
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely diced Spanish onion
1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
1 cup Arborio rice or other risotto rice
¼ cup dry white wine
5 to 6 cups homemade or store-bough low-sodium chicken or fish stock, simmering in a pot on a back burner
2 tablespoons crème fraiche or heavy cream
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon roasted garlic puree
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the garlic puree
1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

Saute the mushrooms: Heat the oil in a 10-inch, heavy-bottomed saute pan set over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallot and sauté until softened but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they begin to give off their liquid, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the white wine and let it reduce until nearly dry, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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