Saturday, March 7, 2009

Title of the blog...

The title proclaims "stock," and so we shall have stock! As it turns out, vegetable stock is unbelievably easy to make by hand. The picture is not my best work, but it's difficult to take pictures of transparent objects! I tried taking a picture of the stock still in the pot, and I couldn't see the color - it looked like water. Next time I make it I'll try some more things and see what I can come up with.

The ingredients for vegetable stock are vegetables (root vegetables are best), water, and just a bit of spices. I used three onions, three carrots, a clove of garlic, five small radishes, and a pinch of whole black peppercorns. I just sliced all the veggies into large pieces (I smashed the garlic with the flat of my knife), covered them in the pot with water, and simmered it for about an hour. VoilĂ : stock. The radishes gave the stock a slight pink tinge which isn't visible in the photo. I've read that you should be careful with vegetables in the mustard family (turnips, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower), so I only used a few radishes, but the stock isn't too pungent or off-flavored. I didn't measure the amount of water I used, but I ended up with about five cups of stock. If you want more, just use more vegetables!

Now that I had stock, I needed something to do with it. Homemade stock only lasts a few days in the refrigerator, so barring soup, the only thing I could think of was risotto! I figured it would taste much better than if I used water or canned stock. Besides - my stock didn't have any salt. (There's no reason to use any - just add it later if you end up making soup.)

There was some exceptionally beautiful asparagus at the market this morning, so I took a chance (hoping it was asparagus season) and bought it. I also had some arborio rice from Wild Oats, since I'd been planning to do risotto at some point. There are many, many ways and theories of risotto, but I subscribed for this attempt to the "stir infrequently" method, and the result was wonderful. Don't let anybody tell you risotto is difficult - patience is required, but there are no tricky techniques here.

1 cup arborio rice
1 small bunch fresh asparagus (I didn't get it weighed, but my guess is between 3/4 and 1 pound)
1 small onion (1-2 shallots are even better, if you can find them)
6 small radishes (nontraditional, but I have to use them up!)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, preferably homemade
olive oil
Parmiggiano or other hard Italian cheese
1 dried shiitake mushroom (you'll see...)

Wash and trim the asparagus, and slice it into small pieces. You'll want to slice smaller pieces at the thicker end, and longer pieces at the tips. Mince the onion or shallot and radishes.

Blanch the asparagus for 2-3 minutes in simmering water, adding the thicker pieces first, everything but the tips thirty seconds later, and the tips another thirty seconds after that. Taste a couple pieces for doneness - when it's almost as tender as you want, drain in a colander and plunge the asparagus into an ice-water bath to stop the cooking.

Bring the stock to a bare simmer. Heat about 2 tbsp olive oil in a wide pot over high heat, and add the onion/shallot, radish, and a pinch of salt. Stir often and cook for about five minutes - if it shows any signs of browning, turn down the heat. Add the arborio (you may need a bit more oil also) and saute for a few minutes, until the rice is turning translucent.

Add enough stock to just cover the rice, and turn the heat down to low. Repeat when it's almost all absorbed, stirring every few minutes. Keep adding stock until the rice is tender but slightly chewy (or however you like it) - this should take 20-30 minutes depending on your rice and your stove. You probably won't need all the stock. Add the asparagus and stir to combine, then add about 2 tsp of butter and 1/2 cup of grated Parmiggiano, and stir that in.

You may be wondering what that shiitake mushroom is doing on the ingredients list. This is definitely cheating, but if you crave even more umami flavor than the Parmiggiano can give (as I do), get out your microplane and grate some shiitake powder over the risotto. Try it over one bowl first, just in case, but it really elevates the flavor.


Regarding the other half of the title: there isn't any Bach involved, but I am performing my first Master's oboe recital a week from tomorrow. If by some happenstance there are any Kansas Citians reading this blog, I would be honored if you would come see and hear me perform several fantastic 20th-century works for the oboe, as well as a Baroque quadro sonata featuring one of my studio-mates. Don't worry, this isn't the scary kind of 20th-century music. The recital will be at 5pm on Sunday, March 15, in Grant Recital Hall at UMKC (5200 Holmes, KCMO).

I should have known better...

I miss Italy.

Asriel and I met on a trip to Italy, where we lived for 4 months in apartments, played music all day, and traveled extensively. I miss it a lot. And sometimes, in spite of myself, I still forget that I'm not there.

There should be some glaring signs that I'm back home in America. For instance, when I walk down the street these days I don't get run over by cars driving on the sidewalk because the streets are so narrow. There aren't old Roman ruins and other historical artifacts everywhere you look. I no longer have time for everything in the day (oh, how I miss those slow days in Italy). I can't pay 8 euros each way to get on a train that takes me 4 hours away to almost the Italy/France border. I no longer have wine with dinner every night, and dinner no longer takes me 3 hours to eat (or, maybe it does. No matter where in the world I am, I've always been a slow eater).

I can no longer walk 5 minutes from my apartment and see this:

And, of course, the food here (or, more precisely, the dishes that pass for Italian-inspired food here) really get me down. Don't get me wrong, I don't walk into restaurants (especially the chain restaurant I went into today) expecting authentic Italian food. Who would? But sometimes I just...forget...that I'm not in Italy.

One of the things that makes you really shake your head and say "Toto, I don't think we're in Italy anymore" (if you had a dog named Toto. I don't. But I digress.) is when you go into a restaurant and order a panino. I'm sorry, you order a panini. Despite the fact that "panini" is a plural, and a single sandwich is a "panino", it's called "panini" here. Today I wandered into a Panera and did just that. I ordered a Tomato and Mozarella panini. The menu informed me that it had tomato, basil, and mozarella on it--reminiscent of a caprese sandwich in Italy. The menu also said it had some kind of "sundried tomato pesto" on it, but I disregarded that in my mind. Already visions of Italian caprese panini were dancing through my head--nothing more than a gigantimous slice of fresh mozarella, with some tomato and basil slapped on top, between slices of delicious bread. What could be better? Forgetting that I was currently standing in an American chain restaurant, and not one of my favorite Italian cafes, I gleefully ordered it.

I came abruptly back down to Earth when I started eating it. Was it tasty? Sure. Was it anything remotely like the Italian version? Of course not! I had forgotten that I wasn't in Italy once again, and now instead of my fantasy caprese panino, I was eating some sandwich with melted cheese and a large quantity of some kind of sundried tomato paste (see: "sundried tomato pesto").

I miss you, Italia.

The first glimpse of the faces of your bloggers! We took this picture probably less than a week after meeting, on a walk in the hills near our apartments.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

From peppers to belacan

This is what happens when the real world takes over: I end up with a dozen or two pictures on my camera that I haven't even transferred to my computer yet, let alone put up here. So here we go!

A beautiful red bell pepper, just begging to be char-grilled, sliced up, and devoured. With a gas stove, you don't even need charcoal! Just put the pepper down on the metal, grab a set of tongs, and fire it up.

The same pepper, about ten minutes later. I would have gone further, except that it was starting to drip pepper juices onto my burner and into the stove, which wasn't such a good idea. After it's nicely charred, I just ran it under cold water and rubbed off the skin. The other option is to put the pepper in a paper bag and close it (which steams it), wait until it cools down, and then get the skin off. But I didn't have a paper bag on hand.

Scallion pancakes, ready for the oil! While perusing Farmgirl Fare's recipe backlog, I came across an entry involving an overload of scallions. Buried in the comments was a very tasty-looking recipe for scallion pancakes: a simple flour-and-water dough, kneaded and mixed with scallions, torn-off pieces rolled into pancakes, and pan-fried.

The results were delicious. So delicious, in fact, that I forgot to take a picture until I had already taken a bite out of one. They weren't quite as stretchy as restaurant scallion pancakes, but I have a feeling that came from not using as much oil in the dough--I just brushed it with oil once, instead of every time I folded the dough.

From Appetite for China, I got a recipe for pan-fried green beans. I took the liberty of replacing the dried shrimp with belacan (Malaysian shrimp paste), since I couldn't locate dried shrimp at the Asian market. I also got to use my brand-new mortar and pestle! I mashed up some garlic, ginger, dried chilies, belacan, sambal balado, and doubanjiang into some sort of unholy pan-Asian spice paste, but it was fantastically delicious when I stir-fried it and mixed in the green beans. My apartment did smell a bit like a fishing pier until early this morning, but it's absolutely worth it for belacan.

There are plenty more pictures to come, including cookies and homemade bread!