Risotto Made Easy

246711

OKAY. As promised (to the 3 friends who currently read my little blog), my first recipe post. I apologize in advance for A) the unorthodox style of my recipe writing and B) the fact that this isn’t a Weight Watchers or even a particularly healthy recipe. It is clean, whole foods-based, and delicious, however, and it will hopefully either demystify what some claim to be a really difficult dish to master, or give you some new ideas to break out of your “lemon-pea-parsley” risotto rut.

The fact of the matter is that risotto is not simply an Italian comfort food, but serves as a fantastic one-pot meal with Southern influence in my family. Arborio rice is a pantry staple of mine, and I rarely “plan” to make risotto for dinner. It’s usually out of a “hmm…these veggies are going to go bad if I don’t use them soon” kind of observation, or when I realize that all of my reliable proteins are frozen and I don’t feel like defrosting. As long as I have Arborio rice, stock, and wine (and rarely am I out of any of those), I can throw together a risotto. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not even that labor intensive, and since you do have to stay nearby to check your progress, it’s a great weeknight meal because you can clean your kitchen while you are cooking. When you are done it’s one pot, and however many bowls and spoons as there are people in your family. BOOM!

So, before we begin: here are my keys to risotto success.

  • Rice is important. Arborio, specifically. I don’t trust people that make risotto out of barley or quinoa or whatever else buzz-grain is around at the moment. Don’t do it! (Sidenote: there are other varieties of traditional Italian rice that are more difficult to find like Carnaroli or Vialone Nano, but I haven’t gone out of my way to find them so I stick with Arborio.)
  • Warm your stock. This was the one true key to making a more perfect and authentic version of risotto for me. Having your stock at the same temp also lessons the time it takes your rice to absorb it.
  • Equipment is personal preference. I use a Dutch oven and a Bamboo spoon similar to the traditional wooden spoon with a hole in it. A wider bottom is preferable over a narrow, deep well.
  • WINE. Because everything is better with wine.
  • Follow the method: fat, rice, aromatics, wine, stock, stock, stock, other veggies, remove, cheese, top, serve.

Beyond that, this is a simple base recipe for preparing risotto in general, with some of my more successful “twists” below to give you inspiration. I highly encourage you to do as I do, though, and clean out your vegetable drawer, use the herbs in your garden, and have fun!

Ingredients:

3/4 cup dry arborio rice

1 T Olive Oil (other fat ideas: butter, bacon grease, etc.)

Finely diced/chopped Aromatics (some combo of garlic, onion, shallots, celery, carrots, etc.) I guess you want this to be somewhere b/t .5-1 cups

A cup-ish of wine (traditionally white***)

16-32 Oz of stock/broth (chicken is my standard, but veggie and beef work. I normally heat the whole 32oz carton)

1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese (traditionally, you can get creative here, too)

Step one: put your stock in a pot on the stove, bring it up to a quick simmer, then dial the heat down to 2-3 to keep it warm.

Step two: heat your “fat” in a dutch oven over medium heat (if using meat fats, slowly render 1-2 slices of bacon or other fatty meats in your pot first, then remove them to a plate).

Step three: pour in your rice, stir to coat with the fat, and let it simmer for just a moment.

Step four: add the aromatics to the party, stir to coat, and keep your heat on the low side of medium. Let cook for a few minutes (the onions are a good thing to watch here, once they are translucent, you are good). If you use dried herbs, this is where to add them.

Step five: WINE TIME! Pour it in, stir, and then let it simmer until mostly evaporated.

Step six: Once your wine is mostly absorbed, begin adding your stock. I use a large soup ladle, and add 1-2 ladles in the beginning and 2-3 towards the end of cooking. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t HAVE to stir constantly to get good risotto. You just want to give it a good stir when you add liquid to help it “spread” in the pot and cook more evenly. After that, you can go about your kitchen business and keep an eye out, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Once you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir, you are ready to add more liquid. It’s a feeling thing…you want it to be not soup, but not mac-and-cheese gluey, either. Taste it as you go along and get the firmness of the rice that you want. Obviously, you don’t want it to be hard or crunchy.

Step middle-of-six: add optional veggies. Popular here for easy weeknight recipes are mushrooms and green peas. They will cook beautifully in the time you have. To go more complicated than that (think asparagus or butternut squash), you want to pre-cook (blanch the asparagus, or parboil cubes of squash) your veggies so that they don’t release too much water into your risotto and become gluey.

Step eight: remove from heat. Add cheese and/or butter. Parmesan is traditional, but this is another cool place ripe for experimentation. Stir to combine, and serve, topping with fresh herbs, pepper, and /or any of those delicious fats your rendered in the first place.

And that’s it! Creamy deliciousness on a plate, or in a wide flat bowl as preferred at my house. Here are some unorthodox combos that my family has raved about recently.

***Bacon and Beet risotto. This came about one night when I really, really wanted risotto but only had red wine. I scoured my kitchen and thought…hmmm…why CAN’T you make risotto with a nice Carignan? While I’m sure there are purists who scoff, I think it’s pretty genius. I had beets. Beets are going to turn it red anyway, right? Voila! I roasted my beets ahead of time, started with bacon as my fat, and subbed red wine for white. My beets were then cubed and added towards the last steps of broth time. Even my 7 year old loves this version. I also sometimes wash and cut my beet greens, and add those in as well.

IMG_6999-1024x682

Last night’s Country Proscuitto and Leek version was a hit with my husband: we had some Prosciutto made in the NC mountains (ie: a cross b/t traditional Italian bacon and straight up salty country ham). I rendered that and removed it, proceeded with every member of the albom family I could find (garlic, shallots, leeks, onions), and added a bit of goat cheese with the Parmesan at the end. I topped it with the crunchy pieces of ham and a chiffonade of basil that I GREW MY OWN DAMN SELF. Like NC on a plate.

My favorite combo is the fall one: leeks, mushrooms, and butternut squash. Pure deliciousness on a plate.

Now you make a version and tell me what you put in your risotto!

 

 

 

Seriously, Just do it!

Friday was my 38th Birthday. Already, it felt so much better than last year, which I mostly spent feeling sorry for myself. For what, I cannot remember, except depression. I was in a funk, thought no one remembered or cared, and just did everything I could to make myself miserable at everyone else’s expense. I’ve had other years like that, and I have no explanation for it except to just move on and accept that I’m going to be weird sometimes.

This year, I embraced the “I’m older, and I don’t give AF” (as the kids say) attitude. I asked my mama to keep the kids, and my husband took me out for fancy food, once of my greatest pleasures. I ordered my bottle of wine in French, embarrassing the waiter who clearly did not speak French and just asked me to point to it. They were out of the bottle (the wine list was literally 20 pages) but instead of being salty (as the kids say) I ordered myself a glass of rose` and let my husband pick his own wine. Then I had a tremendous glass of Cab Franc from the Loire Valley with my dinner, full of tropical and floral notes. It was heaven in a glass. Until I ordered a Bourbon with dessert, something I have never permitted myself to indulge in. If you are wondering, I am not typically a Bourbon woman, but it just felt right, and after doing a little research this weekend I learned that I made an expert pick for a novice Bourbon drinker wanting to try a neat that didn’t burn all the way down: Basil Hayden.

But back to what I wanted to write about…I am totally “that mom”. The one that is sad when her kids no longer need help on the playground. The one that is a little peeved when she can no longer join her kids on the bouncy equipment. The one that is the first one running around in the ocean, playing some ridiculous toss game with a 7 year old and crawling around a tide pool with a 2 year old on her back, despite the massive wedgie her swimsuit is making (true story). The Monday before my birthday, I was the mom on the water slides with her kids. And on Friday, I was the obese-mom-on-skates at her son’s ice-skating camp. Despite not being on ice skates for close to 20 years, despite outweighing the other moms watching their kids by AN ENTIRE PERSON, and despite the pain my feet were taking from way too tight hockey skates, I was the *ONLY* parent out there, shuffling around, trying not to cling to the wall or fall over, taking advantage of a free 30-minute skate with my kid. (I didn’t fall, by the way, but I also couldn’t muster the courage to do a hockey-stop.)

I don’t understand these other moms. I don’t get why you would pay to go to a water park just to park yourself under an umbrella and watch. I can understand why a tired, late-30’s mom of 2 or 3 young kids needs to spend some time resting or reading under her canopy on the beach while the kids play, because we’re ALL tired, especially after carrying a 30-pound toddler on my back for a quarter mile hike from the car to the sand, dragging the cooler behind me. But I don’t understand the mom in front of me last weekend who literally moved out of her beach chair only twice during the 3 hours her kids played with their dad, and never set foot in the ocean. I’m out there huffing and puffing, out of breath, making a general mockery of myself and showing everyone my nearly non-existent fitness level, and NOT CARING. AT ALL.

So, I will gladly be the biggest mom on the waterslide, or on the beach, or hiking up that mountain, or out there on ice skates, because Damn it, that’s about all I’ve got left in this body as it is and I’m not letting go of it. I don’t care what I look like to other people. I’m sure some are thinking, “wow, I can’t believe she’s out there in front of everyone, how embarrassing”. But mostly I hope people are thinking, “wow, look at how much fun she’s having with her kids…if she can do it, I can!”

To return to French, this year on July 7, and hopefully for the rest of the summer, I will be that mom, the one with the “joie de vivre”.

Dysmorphia

I feel like I have it, but not the way people typically have body dysmorphia. When I see myself in the mirror or look down at my wrists, my calves, my thighs on the couch, I feel like I don’t look that bad. Then I see a full-length glimpse through a mirror or photograph and I’m suddenly shocked at just how fat I look. It’s like I literally don’t recognize this obese woman staring at me.

I used to play this horrible game with my husband out in public. I would spy a woman that I thought was reasonably bigger than myself, and then slyly ask him who was bigger. At dinner, at the waterpark, etc. I stopped asking around the fifth time he had a difficult time answering, while I looked at a woman that I thought was easily wearing a size 26 swimsuit. (And yes, I realize both what a horrible thing I was doing to these other women just going about their daily business, as well as the terrible position I put my husband in.)

I don’t know why I’m so caught up in the way I look. I guess as a society we all are, and I will say I admire the women that wear their “fat-kinis” (God, how I despise that term) proudly, because I even sometimes used to catch myself thinking, “hmmm…not sure she should be wearing that”. But damn if she shouldn’t! Just because I’m uncomfortable with the cellulite on my thighs and prefer to wear swimsuits with skirts on them doesn’t mean other women should feel like they have to cover up. More times than not now, when I see women in bikinis on the beach or at the pool, especially overweight women or women my age, I am only thinking about how they ROCK.

In any case, I’m in a funk this week. All my success of last week flew out the window with the stresses of school, work, marriage, and parenting this week. I’m trying to fight it, and to tell myself I’m not a lost cause, but it’s hard. I’ve always been one to eat my feelings, and this week is no different. My youngest son likes to cry and whine constantly while I’m trying to chop fruits and veggies for the next day’s lunches, or cook breakfast, so this week I’ve been off my prep and meal plan game. Dinner at home has been successful, but breakfast has NOT, and lunch has been hit or miss.

Tonight I have a date with my older son. I’m going to gorge on movie popcorn, watch Wonder Woman, and leave all of this *crap* behind, and start fresh again tomorrow. The weekends are never perfect, but at least I will get some exercise in through swimming and yard work, so there’s hope yet. I’m going to try not to let it defeat me.

Weight Watchers…New and Improved?

Welcome! Whatever brought you here, I’m glad you found me. I hope you check my “About” page to learn a little more…until then, here goes:

This ain’t my first rodeo. I’m almost 38 years old, and if you look in my closet, you will find everything from size 12-24. Actually, I take that back. The size 12’s I probably gave away long ago, and the size 24’s I had to actually return to LB because they stretched so much I couldn’t keep them up…talk about a roller coaster of emotions between the dressing room visit and the return visit. I’m sure the smug LB manager probably wanted to smack me when I failed at holding in my glee that they were too big.

So, 14-22. I’m tall enough that a size 14 is actually a pretty comfortable, verging on Smokin’ Hot version of me. At a size 14, I weigh around 175lbs, and my BMI is just barely into the “overweight” category (if you believe in that). I’m comfortable enough in my own skin to wear a bikini at a size 14, and my weight (at least 10 years ago) balances into a nice hourglass/pear with a proportionately small waist. At the weight I stepped on the scale a week ago, however, I felt like a misshapen, heavy-all-over, unattractive blob. There are some women who can “love themselves” and be just fine rocking a bikini at 300 lbs. I give them props, but I am not one of them. I feel like my ankles are as swollen as the day I gave birth, I have trouble getting up from the ground (and I used to love sitting on the ground), and climbing the stairs to my office is something I try to avoid doing more than once a day. I’ll even admit that I have had pizza and Panera delivered to my office to avoid having to leave, more than once.

I’ve suspected for a long time that I have a food addiction, and I am pretty sure that sugar/carbs are the culprit. My breakfast beverage of choice has long been a sickly sweet iced mocha, the larger the better, and light on the ice. Up until a couple of weeks ago, my favorite thing to have with that was Biscuitville’s Spicy Chicken and Honey biscuit with egg and cheese added. I’m a secret eater, too. The dollar tree became my favorite stop on the way home from work. You can buy a small Dr. Pepper and an entirely too-large bag of Salt n Vinegar Utz for $2 and change. This is a disgusting habit. And the first one I’m trying to break.

In the past 6 weeks, I feel like I’ve hit a breaking point. I lost 15 pounds at the beginning of this year, and recently put all of them PLUS 6 more back on, in a very short period of time. I feel awful. I’m in pain from stiff joints in the morning, I can barely walk without getting out of breath, and everything I do takes more effort. Even my family can see the effects in my irritability and how quickly I get overwhelmed and stressed out. I think the weight affects this more than anything.

It’s been years since I did weight watchers, but I didn’t really know where else to begin (since “doing it on my own” clearly wasn’t working anymore, and I don’t trust myself to stick to a drastic cleanse/workout program), so last Monday, I signed up for a 3 month deal and weighed in at 302.8. I could say that this was the lowest point of my health in my adult life, but I felt an almost immediate sense of relief. I’m taking charge! I’m not letting food dictate my life.

My immediate first impression is that it’s a LOT like the My Fitness Pal tracking app, but I’m not the one stressing over my macros and all that jazz. Weight Watchers has done the work for me*, so when I’m putting in what I eat, WW is taking into account the extra sugars and carbs, weighing them against the protein and fiber content, and spitting back out my “points” value. It’s for sure easier to track than early 2000’s Weight Watchers, and with fruits and veggies being ZERO points, I am more motivated to pack cherries and carrots for my daily snacks.

I’m not going to lie, ANY diet is work. I’m making better food choices, but I’m spending a TON of time shopping (because veggies/fruit stay fresh less time), prepping, and packing my meals. And though it may feel more expensive to buy tons of fresh food, I had great luck shopping manager’s special cuts of meat, and I’m not buying lunch out more than once a week, so I think it’s pretty close to balancing out. I’m just paying with my time instead.

So here’s where I’m at: week 1. I used all of my daily points and went 20 points in the hole by the end of the week (I can attribute most of that to alcohol). But I lost 6 pounds. I’m back under 300, and back to where I was on January 1, 2017. By all accounts, a win. And enough to make me pack lunch and drink water again today. And to skip the glass of wine I planned on having tonight.

 

 

*I am not advocating or selling Weight Watchers at all. I was not paid for this, and it’s too early in my own journey to tell anyone that this is what they should do. I just want to share what brought me here, and what I’m doing to change.