June 20, 2013

Yet Another Post about Returning, or; "Don't Call it an" Apple and Sausage Risotto

OK, I guess before I get into the recipe, there is a bit of bookkeeping to perform.  Yes, I abandoned you, and yes, I am back.  Unlike previous absences, it wasn't a case of allowing myself to get distracted and then suddenly realizing I'd forgotten to post for three months; I left on purpose.  If you read the last post (I Like Mine Bloody) you'll know that I was attempting to crowdsource a horror film through Kickstarter.  I thought it would work.  My friends and I aren't the most experienced crew, but I felt like our theme was sound and our stills were good.  It just wasn't meant to be.  People were giving already rich people their money to make stuff.  Or pumping money into the pockets of a guy who wanted to make a "how-to" guide for date rape.  A half hour horror movie starring a violinist and a stand-up comedian only caught the attention of a few people, and in a Catch-22 situation I didn't have the funds to create a bigger promotion.  Now, "Checkmate" isn't abandoned, but it's definitely on the back burner, to be worked on in incremental bits with my own money.

So I'm back.  But I think it's important to state that I have a new take on what I am doing here.  Part of the reason I stopped writing Catfish's Dishes apart from the time commitment I was expecting to have elsewhere was that it had started to become work.  I had gotten caught up in trying to be a "real" food blogger.  What does that mean?  It means I felt like I had to post twice a week.  Not once--I was trying to cultivate interest and make sure that passing readers came back.  Not three times--if I cooked something interesting or went out somewhere new, I should save it to take the pressure off when I needed content later, never mind that it was something that interested me now.  And forget the actual writing; the biggest issues were with self promotion.  I've always put my blogs up on Facebook for my friends and family to see, but I became focused on getting hits and (hopefully) ad revenue from people clicking on links.  I got a Twitter account and a Google + too.  I'd begun spending just as much time sharing and up voting and repinning my blog pictures on Pinterest as I did writing.  And speaking of those pictures--I had a little digital camera, but it sucked.  So I started taking pictures on my phone.  They still mostly sucked.  I assure you, it's no iPhone.  Then my parents gave me a different digital camera.  This one sucked less, although I still had issues with lighting, with not having a selection of different plates and locations to photograph things.  Things were looking up.  Then that camera died.  And that phone.  Now I have a crappier phone, which takes crappier pictures.  Another thing to be self conscious about.  However, I had a revelation the other day.  This revelation was far more important than the time that was freed up by not working on a movie.        

I don't care.  I am glad that some of the people who have enjoyed the writing on this blog are outside of my circle of friends and family, but that doesn't mean that I need to pander to them.  A lot of you have told me how much you enjoy this blog, both as an insight to what I am cooking and as a conversation; who am I to think that it's not good enough?  Who cares how many hits I have?  Who cares if I can't give away a Kitchen-Aid mixer every month to drive traffic?  When only five or twelve people read "Catfish's Dishes," it doesn't mean that the blog is worth less than when I get a hundred hits; it merely means that the people reading it actually care.  The other week, I went into the kitchen to make dinner, and I hadn't done any grocery shopping yet.  The ingredients I had to work with were less than optimal.  But there was some corn meal sitting out, and I remembered that I'd tried to make polenta once, with less than successful results.  I decided to give it another try.  There was left over blue cheese from some burgers we'd had, and I decided to mix it in with the last corner of a block of cheddar, and see how that came out.  But certainly, cheese and polenta weren't an entire meal.  We had some canned peas, which my daughter dreads.  But what if I modified it?  I cooked them in garlic and olive oil and rosemary, then threw it all into the blender with more oil, lemon juice and cashews.  A pea "pesto."  Still not complete.  We had a bag of onions that was going to turn if it wasn't used soon, so I sliced up several of them and caramelized them in butter.  I made a circle of pea pesto in the center of each plate, then topped it with a circle of the blue cheese polenta, and then piled each of them high with richly browned onions.  It was delicious, sure, but also completely unique.  I felt great, and then it hit me.  I had no measurements.  I had no pictures.  And I wasn't going to be able to tell anyone.  Luckily, we were feeding guests, but I still wished I was sharing the details with my friends online.  So here we are. I'm not going to promise to post twice a week, or even weekly.  I'm still going to share my links on social media, but once they are out there, I won't worry about who does or doesn't see them.  I will post the best pictures I can take, and if my crappy camera serves up crappy images, I will just put that much more detail into my words and hope that you get what I am going for.  All that matters now is that I cooked some faux-risotto the other night, it was pretty dang good, and I'd like to tell you about it.    

Now, I'm going to try and trim my speech just a little, since I know I already wrote a blog's worth of words before we even got to the food, but there is still a bit of back story here.  I have a friend who I only know from the internet.  Technically, we went to the same elementary school, but he was a couple of grades lower and whether we ever met in person as children I really can't recall.  Anyway, we met on the school's alumni page back in the days when Myspace was a thing, and we had some pretty great conversations.  It was decided we should meet, but he lived in Oklahoma at the time.  Then he went through some stuff, I went through some stuff, Myspace REALLY went through some stuff.  A couple of attempts to hang out failed.  But now he lives near Boise, and seeing he was in town, I tried to arrange a meet.  Didn't happen.  The Pabst Blue Ribbon I was drinking led to unclear communication, and by the time I got off work the next day he was already ready to head back to his hometown.   

I was devastated.  Well, not devastated, but bummed out.  I was a little bit sad that my friend and I were still unable to connect.  But I was also upset that I wasn't going to get to show off.  I was going to make chicken and risotto.  Now I was going home to a house that had an abundance of leftovers.  The realist in me knew I should probably just eat those.  They were good. (In fact, Wife swears that the slow-cooker chicken wings I made Saturday were worth a blog post in themselves.)  But I didn't want left-overs.  I was going to do this thing!

Except the chicken never got brought down to thaw.

And we didn't have an onion.

Or wine.

(Or even Parmesan cheese).

So don't call it a risotto.  It may pretty much use the same techniques, but don't do that.  (Anyway, I'm saving "Apple Risotto" for something else down the road.  A dessert.  But that's in the future).

Here's what I did.  First, I put the stock on the back burner to heat.  You want to bring six cups of chicken stock to a hot and heavy simmer, nearly boiling but not quite.  You will be adding it to the rice in increments, and it is important not to cool the risotto...er...whatever...off as you are cooking it.

Once you've got that going, it's time to prep the apples.  While you often add your vegetation to risotto at the end, the apples are serving the role of onions, which flavor the whole dish.  I went with two medium Fuji apples, diced small, and four cloves of garlic, minced, which I put in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat with three tablespoons of butter.  Sautee the apples in the butter until they are soft and warm throughout, and toss them with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Once the apples are ready, add two cups of short-grain rice.  Many recipes are particular about the variety, but I have found that as long as I am patient and focus on the technique, substitutions aren't an issue in this regard, apart from the grain.
You'll want to stir the rice pretty frequently to keep it from getting scorched, but what you are looking for is the majority of the rice to start to take on a golden brown toasted color.  When you are satisfied/worried that you are going to start burning things, it's time to add some liquid.

Before we start to incorporate the stock, we'll want to add wine.  Well, usually.  The wine is absorbed into the rice and helps to flavor it.  Since I didn't have any, I went with apple cider vinegar; it would add some of that same tartness, as well as helping to contribute to the apple flavor.  Add 3/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and stir until it has evaporated.  (Note:  If you just can't bring yourself to put vinegar into this rice you are about to eat, consider omitting the brown sugar listed later in this recipe--at least taste the rice without it before adding, as it only exists because the vinegar lacks the sweetness present in wine).

Once the vinegar/wine is gone, it is time to begin adding stock.  Add a cup, and stir until it is absorbed by the rice.  Then do it again.
This is why risotto is so luscious.  As some liquid penetrates the grains of rice, the starch in turn joins with the liquid it is cooking in.  Even after just adding two cups of liquid, you can see the change happening.  You will also notice that the stock isn't incorporating as quickly as it had before.  Add two teaspoons of freshly grated ginger, and begin adding the stock in 1/4 cup increments instead.  Stirring constantly is a bit of an overused term when it comes to cooking--very few dishes I have encountered have actually required constant stirring--but you definitely can't walk away.  You'll want to keep stirring and adding stock until the rice has become al dente (fully cooked but with a bit of bite; not mushy).  Although the liquid will be thick and creamy from the starches, the rice should still be individual, not clumped together.  As you are finishing up, add one kielbasa sausage sliced into rounds on a small pan set to medium heat.
 Once the "risotto" is fully cooked, salt and pepper it a second time.  If you used vinegar instead of wine, you'll also want to add two tablespoons of brown sugar to make up for the lack of sweetness in your choice of acid.  Stir in two tablespoons of butter and cover, allowing the risotto to sit while you finish cooking the sausage.  When the meat is cooked, stir it--along with any drippings--into the rice.  Serve warm.

This dish serves six, but even without some of the classic risotto touches (like a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan alongside the final bit of butter) you're better off feeding a group of four and setting some aside for later.  Both savory and sweet, it's hard to stop eating, and the left overs are great both hot and cold.

1 comment:

  1. For whatever the reason, for whatever the camera, I'm glad you're back at the blog. I don't think I've ever eaten risotto (just as I've never eaten paella) but I know I'd love to make friends of them both. I liked your idea of the sausage with it.

    On your description of your other (pictures) meal, I found myself picturing what I aid do with those leftovers. Naturally, my imaginations were not nearly as creative. For instance, I would never thought of putting the peas in a blender to make a sauce. I like foods whole and recognizable. But I'm sure the flavor made it worthwhile. Have you tried LeSur baby peas? My favorite. Maybe daughter would love those.

    Rick Bayless, one of my favorite chefs makes paella and risotto - which is where I heard of them. You would enjoy his television episode where he uses a gigantic flY pan ( I think over an open fire?) To make the first of the two dishes. Here's a link to one of his pages if you've not heard of him, although I doubt that: http://www.rickbayless.com/recipe/view?recipeID=63

    Keep on cook,blog,ing.