I feel like I am making up New Year's resolutions as a I go. I seem to have sidestepped the pressure of December 31. But the things I want to accomplish continue to hit my mental temples and I feel the need to organize. No surprise there.
One of the things that keeps showing up in my mind's eye, is my desire to teach my sons how to cook. And I don't mean just squishing whole, canned tomatoes with your hands. Nor do I mean following a recipe for cookies, or making scrambled eggs. They can already do that.
What I mean to teach them is a 'sense' of cooking. A little more about cooking technique, methodology and food science---explaining to them the process, showing them texture, encouraging them to taste, taste, taste (to determine the desired end result: more seasoning? too al dente?). It is the ability to cook without a recipe, to learn to use your senses.
My sons both love risotto, focaccia and chicken parmayonnaise, for example. So I plan to have just one of them at a time, team up with me for dinner-making. They will learn without even realizing it, absorbing mentally and physically things like how to properly hold a knife, how to knead or skin tomatoes, and how to make mayonnaise (and therefore, what's an emulsion?). They will learn to make risotto by feel, and add oils and stock by observation. Or when making bechamel, they will learn that when you add milk or cream you need to heat it first, so it won't freak out and curdle.
There is a lot to teach, yet it is comforting to proceed sans lesson plans. Just show up in my kitchen, and lets cook together. You cut the onions, I will get the water going...
My husband knew how to cook, and when we were first dating, made me an elaborate meal. It was impressive. And here I am, raising boys and hoping to imbue upon them the same independence and skill in the kitchen.
Tonight, Anthony and I made mushroom risotto. (In fact, we eat mushroom risotto almost every week! It easily qualifies as a default dinner).
Mushroom Risotto 1 cup arborio rice about 6 cups chicken stock 1/4 cup white wine 1/4 cup minced shallots 3-4 cloves garlic, minced 2-3 T olive oil (or bacon fat) seasonings (coarse salt, white pepper, italian herbs, etc.) 2 cups mushrooms, sliced or roughly chopped 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan 2-3 T butter
[Here I go in teaching mode]: Gather all ingredients. Gather all tools and pots you will need (one for stock, one for the risotto, a skillet for the mushrooms, a knife and cutting board, wooden spoon, cheese grater, ladle. You could use measuring cups, but today we are cooking without them). Place stock on stove and heat to a simmer; meanwhile dice shallots, garlic, mushrooms and shred Parmesan. In large pot, heat oil/fat over medium then add shallots/garlic. Caramelize. (Is it browning to quickly? Adjust the heat down a bit...). I often add some seasoning here. Add arborio and stir to coat (too dry? add more oil). After about a minute, add the wine (I often toss in a bit of brandy or sherry, too)---half a glass full. [He said he imagined pouring it into the glass: bravo!].
Let it burn off, stir a bit then add 1-2 ladles of chicken stock. Give an occasional stir so, but let it do its thing (you don't want it to stick). [why not add the liquid all at once? great question]. Two Three reasons: 1. we want to work with the rice, not drown it, and 2. because then you cannot control the amount of liquid. It is had to know the exact amount you will need until you taste it at the end. 3. you can always add more liquid, but once it is in, you can't take it out. Too much liquid makes it mushy. We are aiming for just al dente---aka a little chew left in the rice.
Small note: just after you add the second round of stock, add some oil/butter to your skillet, up it just north of medium and saute the mushrooms. Once they have released their liquid [brace yourself on our analogy: cooking them on high to get them to release their liquid... is like tickling them until they pee], lower heat. Once the risotto is finished, I put a big pile of mushrooms on top (works well too, if you have a kiddo that doesn't like mushrooms---just don't add the topper).
The liquid has been absorbed, add another 2 ladles. Stir, let it absorb, stir. On the third addition only add 1 ladle. At this point you are going to start deciding how much more liquid you do/don't want to put in. Once it is almost completely absorbed, get some grains on your spoon and taste. A little chewy? Perfect. If it is too chewy, you can add a little stock at a time until you are happy with the texture. Add Parmesan and butter. Off heat and stir, adjust seasonings (by tasting, again).
Side note: Anthony was willing to get into character by wearing an apron (with a fish photo on front)! And I had him tuck the towel on his backside, something I learned at culinary school. That way, you aren't dragging a towel in your food and your front always looks neat and clean!
Bonus tip: the next morning, saute the remainder of your mushroom risotto and top it with a poached egg, a few grinds of salt and pepper and send them off to school. Voila!