Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Risotto 101

I am a huge risotto fan. Have been for about 15 years now. I have had this dish both in Italy and North America. Mmm, if I could eat it everyday believe me I would. This dish isn't the low fat dish I would like it to be, but it's high in flavour if cooked properly. You can also add ingredients make it healthier, such as asparagus, mushrooms or spinach. This is part of the reason why I like to write this blog, to show people there is a way to cut a little fat out of certain dishes while adding or maintaining flavour. When you take away fat from some dishes, it takes away flavour as well. There are ways of saving the flavour of a dish while reducing the fat, hence making it healthier.

I have been eating rice my whole life, but who thought a rice dish could be so good? The Italians aren't the only culture who have a great rice dish though. The Spanish have paella, which is also quite a treat, and the Americans have Jambalaya. All 3 dishes are fun to make when other people around as you can sip on a glass of wine and chit chat while the wonderful aromas surround the room. Yes, you could say they are social dishes.

It seems to me the Italians have a knack for this dish, maybe because they have been making this wonderful dish for hundreds of years. Different regions make it different ways, some creamier or soupier than others. I haven't seen or heard of many regions who like it dry, but I know some do. I am not a big fan of this as I am a firm believer the starch released from the rice makes it creamy, not dairy, which is the way risotto should be. Some people say they prefer to rinse the rice before cooking to wash off the starch. Some people add milk or cream to the dish. Not me. I believe risotto has to be creamy to get the result you want, but this is done by stirring the rice constantly to release the starch while adding wine and then stock, not dairy. When the dish reaches the proper consistency, it is important to know when this is. Otherwise, you just wasted 22-30 minutes of your life, not including prep time you won't get back. Actually it isn't that bad, but it won't be as nice as it could have been while still being completely edible.

The great thing about risotto, it's easy to add almost any ingredient you want to the dish. I have done risottos with chicken and mushrooms, roasted red peppers, a bottle of red wine, butternut squash and the aforementioned asparagus and spinach. The list goes on and on, but you get the point. I would like to say use your imagination, but you have to be careful with this. Some things work, but there needs to be a certain way of using some ingredients to make them work. Red wine, for example. I tried this a few years back with success, but I didn't like the flavour until I added a whole handful of parsley and more Parmesan than normal. This took the Hubba Bubba grape bubble gum flavour out of it and turned it into what I read about, an extremely flavourful dish. The next time I try this, I will use a different and better bottle of red.

Choosing the proper cooking wine is key as well. If you choose the wrong grape for the dish you will not only be wasting your time, you will not get the result you are striving for. You need to use a dry white wine so the wine doesn't overpower the dish with it's fruitiness. I have used apple juice when I didn't have any wine, and that's about as fruity as you want to get.

Some people prefer a nice Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. I have found one of the best wines to use for risotto is a Dry Riesling. We usually by a case every two years from St. Hubertus in Kelowna, BC. This wine is not too dry and still has enough fruity flavour to make a nice risotto. It seems to have a good balance.

This risotto is one I make a couple of times a year, asparagus risotto. It has a healthy part to it and of course there's the flavour part. The healthy part being the asparagus of course. I fed this to Mrs. Urban Eater a few times during her pregnancy as asparagus is full of folate, something which is important in the forming of the fetus. A lack of folate may add to the chances of your baby having birth defects. I wasn't about to take any chances nor was I going to tell my wife "no" to one of her pregnancy requests.


- 3/4 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved.
- 4 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock. I used homemade chicken stock this time around.
- 2 tablespoons EVOO
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 medium red or yellow onion, diced. You could also use 1 large shallot.
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/3 cup dry white wine. I used a Pinot Grigio for this one.
- salt to taste
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3/4 oz white truffle oil


1. Bring stock to a boil. Add half the asparagus stalks and cook until quite soft, at least 5 minutes. Put cooked asparagus with stock in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth, then pour back into the pot. I use an immersion blender to puree it in the pot. This adds depth to the stock and a little colour while adding flavour during the cooking process.
2. Put oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion or shallot, stirring occasionally until it softens and becomes translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about evaporated or the rice quits falling back into the wake you leave when you pull the spoon through it, add more.

4. After about 15 minutes, add remaining asparagus pieces and tips, continuing to add stock when necessary. In 5 minutes, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch (al dente); it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. Remove skillet from heat, add remaining butter and stir briskly. Add Parmesan and stir briskly, then taste and adjust seasoning. Drizzle truffle oil over top and stir again. Risotto should be slightly soupy. Serve immediately.
Yield: 2 to 3 servings.

This is a guilty pleasure of mine. I love it so much, I avoid it and only eat it a few times a year. Sounds weird, but as you can see, it can be fattening. I cut down on the butter and as always, watched the amount of EVOO I used. You can also avoid the truffle oil. It is expensive and after all, it's oil. It does add a nice background flavour though.

Rice also adds calories, so you can't avoid that. The only thing you can really do is control the size of your portions. I always do this anyways, so it isn't hard for me. One thing I do to help this along is use a smaller plate. Seriously, this works. It is a very filling dish so don't overdo it. Oh, and don't forget the most important thing when it comes to making risotto, patience.

Little O's Menu

We are venturing back to Kiwi fruits for her again. Kiwi's are a great health food, so it works for her little growing body (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=41). We integrate it in with her yogurt. Along with strawberries, bananas and peaches, this is a nice and healthy way to start her day. She also likes a few Whole Grain Cheerios to snack on. I believe there are worse things out there than these to snack on and she likes them. She rips around the house with her little Snack Trap cup (http://www.snacktrap.com/Categories.bok?category=Made+For+Mom%3AThe+Snack-Trap) full of them stopping once in awhile to reach in and pull a few out to eat. Having fun while snacking can't be so bad, can it?

We bought a litre of organic homogenized milk for O to start drinking. She is now at the age where high fat milk is a good thing to be consuming. We bought a litre for ourselves too. I find when I drink it, I don't get a bloated feeling and all gassy when I drink regular milk. My wife thanks me for it.

I read an article by Micheal Platt in The Calgary Sun last Tuesday about how the Alberta government has a plan tho fight obesity in kids. The article says there is a provincial report which states our children are sedentary and do almost nothing at all besides play on the computer and watch television. It goes on to say "in many American states, where diabetes rates are soaring, one in three children is now considered medically obese."

I know there is a problem today with kids being disinterested in anything but television and computers, but let's get real here. The study (or the article) doesn't mention a single thing about food and diet. A kid does not get fat unless they are eating poorly along with sitting on their butts in front of some kind of screen somewhere. Most children will not get obese if they are eating properly barring some kind of medical condition. Nobody seems to want to recognize healthy eating could help alleviate most of these conditions along with an increased activity level!

If we start with a better way of eating, wouldn't you say it's a move in the right direction? Any parent who doesn't get involved somehow with their children in some kind of physical activity on a daily basis (assuming they are not gone most of the time), should start changing the way the are parenting. I plan on it with little O, so why can't everyone else start doing this from now on. Besides, it will help improve the relationship with your children, no matter how good it is already.

On a funny note, the advertisement below the article, McDonalds.

Today's quote:

"The passion of the Italian or the Italian-American population is endless for food and lore and everything about it"

- Mario Batali

Until next time, good eating everyone.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

For me, fall is a time for mixed emotions. Leaves turn orange and yellow, then they fall off the tree. They stay quite pretty for a little while, and then a big ol' wind comes up and blows them all over the place. I take a lot of pictures this time of year because it's so scenic. The scenery doesn't last long, but I don't mind as Halloween comes shortly thereafter. And with Halloween comes pumpkins!

I never knew all the different ways you can eat pumpkins. They can be used for much more than carving faces into them to scare the crap out of the local little kiddies who come knocking at your door for candy. They can be roasted, made into soup, added to risotto, the list goes on and on. Roasting is good as they get nice and caramelized and get a nutty flavour. Soup is great too, a good meal for when the weather starts to turn a little colder. And risotto, well let's just say it's good anytime with almost anything, even pumpkin.

Butternut squash is part of the pumpkin family and is quite healthy for you (http://www.wholeliving.com/article/power-foods-butternut-squash). We try to have it a few times a year in various dishes. It's colour is a nice, bright orangey-yellow inside. This usually means it is full of nutrients and vitamins.

We went to Community Natural Foods (http://www.communitynaturalfoods.com/) to pick up a few things for the soup and for a couple other projects I'm planning for this week. This is a great place to shop if you are looking for anything organic. As far as grocery stores go, their prices are fairly competitive and they have a pretty wide selection of most everything on their shelves.

This soup is pretty hearty and can be quite filling. A smaller bowl will do just fine if you are eating more than one course. A bigger bowl is practically a meal on it's own. The deep flavour of the squash goes well with many different additions you want to add to it. Before serving, I usually go to the garden and grab a few sage leaves to put on top of the soup when serving or at the bottom of the bowl before pouring the soup over top. I sometimes add a dollop of yogurt on top to mix in or a small handful of finely grated Parmesan. Chives are a good garnish as well.


- 1 Large leek (white and pale green parts only), chopped
- 1 Large onion, chopped
- 1 Large butternut squash, cubed
- 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 Quart chicken or vegetable stock. I usually use chicken stock, but today I used vegetable.
- 2 tbls curry powder
- 1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
- 1/2 tbls butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbls yogurt
- 2 Sage leaves
- 2 tbls chives, chopped

  1. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat with the EVOO. Stir in the leek and onions, cook until the onion softens and turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the squash, apple and the stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.
  2. Carefully puree the soup in batches using a blender, or use an immersion blender to puree it right in the pot. Once the soup has been pureed, season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper; simmer gently for 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls and garnish with yogurt, sage leaves and chives.

When we have people over, I strain the soup to make it smooth and velvety. If it's just us, I couldn't be bothered. It's still good. You could add a little dry white wine for an added flavour boost with this if you like. Some people add a potato, but I don't. It's thick enough without it already. I cut back on the butter and used EVOO to cook the onions and leeks. The butter flavour is still slightly there but the calories aren't. You could also add more curry if you want a stronger curry presence. Be careful not to overdo it. It can be fairly potent. The soup is also very tasty without the apple. This is the first time I have tried it and it adds a distinct background flavour. I like it! Make sure it's a Granny Smith as it has a tartness to it which the soup embraces. I have seen a few recipes which have cream in them, but I have never added this. If you can handle the extra calories, go for it.

Little O's Menu

This last week, our little peanut has been eating normally and we think she is going through another growth spurt. She has been dining on Hubbard squash with roast beef, carrots, EVOO and sea salt and fresh ground pepper for her dinners. She also had a little avocado mixed with some turkey. This didn't go over well, may be a bad combo. Have to rethink that one. She likes avocados, as long as they are mixed with cucumbers and carrots or just bananas.

Breakfasts have been the normal yogurt, rice cereal and fruit. Strawberries, bananas, pears and apples all came into active duty. We are extremely happy she looks forward to her daily feeding of fruit. She will even shy away from what we are feeding her for lunch or dinner to opt for the fruit mix. Hey, it could be a lot worse.

Mrs. Urban Eaters birthday was at the beginning of October, so last night we went out (finally) for her birthday dinner. Our destination was a nice Greek restaurant named Santorini's (http://www.santorinirestaurant.com/). We have been there before, but not for a couple of years now. Nice atmosphere to eat in. Pictures of Greece on the wall make you want to go there tomorrow.

We had the Taverna Special which is an easy way to order. You just say how many people are eating and they just bring you the food. There is quite a bit of food but we don't eat that big often, so we figured it was alright this time. It starts with a serving of hummus with pita bread, Saganaki and Horiatiki (Greek) salad. Next was calamari, Keftethes (Greek meatballs) and Spanikopita. Then we moved on to the lamb and roast potatoes. We paired this with a bottle of '04 Grande Reserve Naoussa Boutari Greek red wine. Nice pairing to go with our dinner. We couldn't even barely get started on the lamb when we decided to just take it home. This works well because little O really likes her lamb, which she ate tonight with Hubbard squash and the roast potatoes. 

It was pretty expensive the last time we went, but we noticed the prices have come down dramatically. We were pleasantly surprised about this and we will definitely go back soon. Little O was kind of a handful as she was a little hyper, but behaved very well. By the end of dinner, she was sleeping in Mrs. Urban Eaters arms. People were coming to our table saying how she was such a pleasant child to be around. We consider ourselves lucky she is like this and she normally doesn't stop or hinder us if and when we want to go out for dinner somewhere.

Today's quote:

"As a child my families menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it."

- Buddy Hackett

Until next time, good eating everyone.