As the evenings grow longer and colder, I love to pour myself a glass of wine and spend time in my cozy kitchen. Sometimes, I have the time to mess around with something posh, like the quail I tried a few weeks ago, or the venison stew I’m planning for the weekend. Other nights, I just about manage to whip up a pasta sauce. Risotto is, for me, a lovely happy medium of simplicity, cooking therapy, and deliciousness. I read a lot of recipes for ‘baked; or ‘no-stir’ risotto and I always despair. For me, the beauty of risotto is the zen-like nature of its cooking process. I love the ritual of constant stirring and ladling hot stock into bubbling rice – glass of wine in my left hand, wooden spoon in the other. Bliss. On a practical level, it’s also a great way to use up some bits and pieces in the fridge. Last night’s risotto was leek and tarragon, because I’m trying to use up all of the veg that’s hanging around before I get my next delivery from the brilliant Home Organics on Thursday.
Leek & Tarragon Risotto
(serves 2 adults and a briefly curious toddler)
– 200 g. arborio rice
– 2 leeks, trimmed, well-rinsed, and finely sliced
-500ml stock *
-1 glass of dry, white wine
– 30g butter, preferably unsalted
-big hunk of parmigiano reggiano/grana padano
-sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
– a few decent-sized stalks of fresh tarragon, chopped
*I used homemade chicken stock from last weekend’s Sunday lunch, but I also love Knorr Stock Pots, chicken or veg
Heat your stock in a small saucepan. It doesn’t need to be boiling, but it should be quite hot. Melt the butter in a large pan and gently saute the leeks for 8-10 minutes over a low heat. When the white bit of the leeks start to turn translucent, tip in your rice and stir for a minute or two, making sure that each grain is coated in butter. Turn the heat up a little bit, throw in the glass of wine (pour another for yourself!) and start stirring. As the rice absorbs the wine and the pan is almost dry, add a ladle full of hot stock. Keeping stirring, and each time the pan seems dry again, ladle in some more stock. By the time you’re out of stock, the rice should be al dente. Turn the heat way down, grate in your cheese (don’t be shy but taste as you grate – I think risotto’s cheesiness is a personal thing ), stir in your tarragon and taste again before seasoning with sea salt and adding a few cracks of black pepper. Dinner is done!
I didn’t make any brioche last week, and I definitely didn’t make any croissants, but I still celebrated my birthday week with a lot of cake! Aside from the Rocky Road cake delivered to me on my birthday eve, I made a pecan pie and an espresso bundt cake as per Sarabeth’s recipes. I’m not sure that I’ll be applying for any pastry chef jobs any time soon, but I did learn a few things…
- Always taste your batter/filling before you bake. You may realize that you’ve forgotten the sugar. (Yes, I caught it in time!)
- When blind baking pastry, remember to line the tin with parchment before pouring in the baking beans. Otherwise, you will have to pick about a hundred of them out of partially cooked pastry. (This odious task takes about 20 minutes and makes you feel pretty dumb!)
- Baking can be an expensive habit, especially if you want to invest in the proper tools – proper tins, mixers, etc. I managed with my hand mixer, but it was a challenge and involved doing a lot of washing up. I’ll be buying this about five minutes after I win the lotto.
- The moment when a cake pops effortlessly our of a tin or a tart reveals it’s crispy crust and gooey filling is immensely satisfying; sharing it with friends is even better! Because of this fact, I’ll be participating in The Great Irish Bake over the coming weeks, and would encourage anyone to give it a go. Have some friends around for a cuppa, impress them with some home baking, and raise money for Temple Street Children’s Hospital. The website has some great recipes, and I’d be happy to share suggestions as well if you’re interested.