Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Recipe: Risotto with Oregon white truffle oil and wild mushrooms

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In case you were wondering, my complete obsession with the truffles of the world is going strong. It's white truffle season, and I can't stop thinking about the toothsome and extremely expensive nuggets my friend at Sabatino Tartufi showed me a few weeks ago. In fact, thanks to his generosity, I'm hosting a multi-course truffle dinner fundraiser for my kids' school, and he's coming to the dinner to talk about my favorite fungi. More on that another time.

But the truffles in my kitchen this week are somewhat more local, and also somewhat more affordable. Did you know that white truffles grow in Oregon? They're not the same as European truffles, but it's not really a question of better or worse, to my mind. They have their own magical powers. And the fact that they grow right here in the U.S. continues to blow my mind.

I first discovered the Oregon whites at the Santa Monica farmers market, where the mushroom forager sometimes sells marble-sized white truffles from up north in small styrofoam containers with plastic lids. I think he got in trouble for it - Santa Monica has strict rules about "local" when it comes to selling at the markets - but they do appear sometimes, if sub rosa. I'd buy a small container, an ounce or two for $20, take them home, make some pasta or scrambled eggs, and shave the whole thing over for a luxurious lunch for one. Or two, if my husband happened to be home. I remember calling him once from the market, discovering he hadn't left for work yet, and telling him to stay right where he was until I got home with the loot.

So I met Jack Czarnecki on Twitter (@TruffleOil), which is how I ended up with the unbelievably aromatic bottle of Oregon white truffle oil pictured above. Jack, who runs the Joel Palmer House Restaurant in Dayton, Oregon, and won a James Beard Award for A Cook's Book of Mushrooms in 1996, forages for truffles. And makes this amazing Oregon white truffle oil, right in the kitchen of his restaurant. And sells cases and cases of it, every year. When I opened the bottle and put my nose above it, I was literally moved to tears. I've been drizzling it on everything: salad, pasta, scrambled eggs, toast with melted cheese. It's not that I like it more or less than the beautiful Italian stuff - it's just different. A little more forceful, somehow. Kind of like the difference between a Rolls Royce and a Corvette.

In case you're wondering what to do with Oregon white truffle oil, Jack's site has a list of possibilities. Including a non-culinary suggestion, and I'll just leave it at that - you can click through for details. But here's one recipe from his restaurant I can't wait to make. Oh, and you can buy Jack's Oregon white truffle oil online, of course - I can't imagine a better gift for a fellow food lover.

Joel Palmer House wild mushroom risotto with Oregon white truffle oil
  • ½ ounce dried porcini
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • ¼ lb unsalted butter
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • ½ ounce dried onion
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 ounces Joel Palmer House Oregon White Truffle Oil
In uncovered saucepan, bring water, dried mushrooms, sugar, salt and soy sauce to a boil. Add rice and reduce heat to simmer. Strain out the liquid and reserve. Chop the mushrooms finely.

In a medium sauté pan melt the butter and add the dried onion and rice. Stir for 1 minute, then add the reserved mushroom liquid. Cook uncovered and stir gently until water is absorbed and evaporated, about 15-20 minutes.

Portion rice, drizzle lightly with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil, and serve. Serves 10 as a small starter or 4 for a main course.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Recipe: Beta carotene soup with sweet potato, carrots and pumpkin

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So last week, home sick with a mild flu, I looked in the refrigerator and found a bag of carrots that needed a home. Then, from the 99 Cents Only store (yes, they have good produce, if you go early and are willing to take what they've got), came home two small pumpkins - not the good baking sugary ones, but still, pumpkins. And the box of sweet potatoes I picked up at Costco last week was staring at me, too. Sick equals soup, and thus that's what I made.

What is it about that craving for orange vegetables in the fall? I'm thinking it's some primal need to hone our night vision, knowing that shorter days and longer nights are ahead. I can never pass up butternut squash, and I am deeply indebted to Costco for carrying large packages of pre-cut butternut squash cubes at this time of year. I buy them four at a time, toss them with olive oil and salt, roast good and hot, and eat them like french fries.

But the soup: It's thick and creamy, but dairy-free. I like the flavor of coconut milk with orange vegetables. I used a very small amount of Thai curry paste to appease my kids - the kind I get is spicy - but use more if you like. And if you don't have a hand-held immersion blender yet, please, I beg you, make that your next kitchen purchase. If nothing else, you will cook more soup, because it makes it so, so easy.

There's an alternate title for this post, by the way: The Power of Croutons. By which I mean that in my house, if there are croutons on top of a bowl of soup, I am sure that bowl of soup will end up in the belly of my younger son. I never worry about the elder - he's a true gourmand - but the little one can be picky, in that maddeningly "But you ate it and loved it a week ago!" sort of way. I buy an extra loaf of bread every week or two, cube it, toss it with olive oil and garlic salt, and bake it until the bits are golden. When cool and stored in a sealed plastic bag or container, homemade croutons keep a good long time, and they have this magical soup-enhancing power - in my house, at least.

Beta carotene soup
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Thai yellow curry paste
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 2 cups grated or diced carrots
  • 2 cups roasted pumpkin flesh (canned is fine)
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 4-6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
 Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt, and saute over medium-high heat until the onion is softened but not browned. Add the garlic and stir 30 seconds; do not let the garlic brown, either. Add the Thai curry paste and stir until the vegetables are well coated with the spices. Now add the sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, coconut milk, and stock, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer uncovered about 30 minutes, or until the sweet potato is soft. Puree with a hand-held immersion blender in the pot (or in a countertop blender if you have no other choice - but I'm not coming over to do the extra dishes). Taste, add more salt if necessary, and serve hot, with croutons on top if you, like me, have a picky child. Crispy fried onions or shallots also make an excellent garnish.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blogging school

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Today's post comes to you from the third-grade classroom of my younger son. (Yes, that's him above; yes, he's a little bigger than that now.) His class is learning about blogging and contributing to a class blog, so I thought it would be fun to do a little blogging project with them. It's a food blogging project, of course! They're going to tell you about their favorite Halloween recipes. We're using their super-secret code names to protect their privacy, by the way. Okay - ready?

Teacher's favorite recipe: Spider cupcakes
"I like this recipe because I am no longer scared of spiders. This one looks yummy!"

EA2's favorite recipe: Edible eyeballs
"I like this one because because it looks like a creepy mess."

AB3's favorite recipe: Bug juice
"I like this one because bugs are cool."

GC4's favorite recipe: Mini witch's brooms
"I like this one because witches are too big to fit on these brooms."

SF5's favorite recipe: Halloween cupcakes (check out the mummies!)
"I like this one because they look weird. They look sort of googly and funny."

MG6's favorite recipe: Spider cupcakes
"I like this one because my teacher inspired me with some other spider cupcakes so I decided to try these."

KG7's favorite recipe: Edible eyeball treats
"I like this one because it looks yummy and it has some of my favorite colors - purple, blue and red."

NH8's favorite recipe: Black bean cat crudites
"I like this one because - well, I just picked that one in a hurry because it was almost time to leave."

EH9's favorite recipe: Hairy daddy longlegs cupcakes
"I like this one because it is really cool and I think that the eyes are the funniest part on them."

MJ10's favorite recipe: Salty bones
"I like this one because it was very creative and it looked very good and it was easy."

WK11's favorite recipe: Sweet monster cupcakes
"I like this one because it looked good, it sounded good, and, well, it looked weird and I like tasting things that look weird. And I like Frankenstein."

CK12's favorite recipe: Spooktacular haunted house
"I like this one because you get to mess around with food when you make it."

NK13's favorite recipe: Roasted ghosts (mashed potatoes)
"I like this one because mashed potatoes are delicious and everybody will get scared of these. This recipe says the kids get scared of the big ones."

RL14's favorite recipe: Brain cupcakes
"I like this one because I like things that looks like brains because I like things that look scary and tasting things that look scary."

CM15's favorite recipe: Hairy daddy longlegs cupcakes (these are popular!)
"I like this one because it has a lot of chocolate."

KO16's favorite recipe: Pumpkin pie-sicles
"I like this one because I love pumpkin pie and I love really cold foods."

DR17's favorite recipe: Mini witch's brooms
"I like this one because if it has Fruit Roll-ups in it, I always eat it."

ES18's favorite recipe: Mini witch's brooms (also a popular one, apparently)
"I like this one because they're really cute and it would be really fun to eat."

GS19's favorite recipe: Graveyard cake
"I like this one because I thought the idea was really funny."

SS20's favorite recipe: Melon brain
"I like this one because it looked very creepy. I think it might be very smart."

AD21's favorite recipe: Melon brain (popular!)
"I like this one because it looks really funny."

AS22's favorite recipe: Scrumptious skeletons
"I like this one because it looked good and there were skeletons on top of the chocolate."

AT23's favorite recipe: Old fashioned caramel corn
"I like this one because I like caramel corn and I thought the old-fashioned kind would be cool."

SW24's favorite recipe: Halloween mud pie
"I like this one even though it didn't have a picture - I read the recipe and knew I would like it."

GZ25's favorite recipe: Ghost toasts
"I like this one because it looks very artistic and I love eating toast for breakfast."

So now we've got the menu all planned out for our Halloween party, right? Tell us what YOUR favorite Halloween recipe is - leave a comment below!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nobody knows the truffles I've seen....

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(with thanks to Melvin Orange for the title of this post)
See those very few knobby lumps of strangeness above? Well, friends, what you're looking at above is roughly $1,500 of Italian white truffles, by my estimation. That's wholesale, by the way. This week's to-the-trade price: nearly $2,500 per pound. And, I'm sorry to say, they'll cost more next week.

Today I was lucky enough to lunch with the local Los Angeles rep from Sabatino Tartufi, one of the U.S.'s biggest importers and producers of truffles and truffle products. The truffles above spent the morning in a cooler in the trunk of his car, which is where I caught up with them. They spent the afternoon being handed over to chefs at great restaurants all around Los Angeles, or at least that was the plan when we parted.

The Sabatino guy is to me what the dealer is to the heroin addict: He feeds my habit, and it really gives him a thrill to be able to do so. Specifically, my ever-intensifying truffle habit. Remember the pound of black summer truffles I got over the summer? Sabatino's. The truffle oil in my pantry? Sabatino's, too. And today Sabatino was nice enough to shower me with gifts: a jar of truffle honey, and samples of truffle slices, truffle crema, truffle salt, and truffle popcorn.

I should take the Sabatino guy to lunch more often.

Actually, I learned a lot today about the different kinds of truffles, particularly how to tell whether a truffle product uses the real thing (Italian or French), or is cut with impostor Chinese truffle shavings. The giveaway: price. If you think "Hey, what a bargain!" it's Chinese. The real thing comes with a real price tag. But I smelled those babies in the white bag above. They're worth it.

We also talked about truffles' affinity for white food: rice, pasta, cream, cheese, eggs. And how Oregon white truffles, while nice in their own way, aren't a substitute for the Italians.

And how Italian and Jewish mothers are cut from the same cloth: Both of our mothers a) hate that we've moved so far from home, b) seem satisfied with (a) as long as we're happy, and c) called while we were at lunch.

I've decided that one of my primary goals as a food blogger is to introduce home cooks around the world to the simple elegance of the truffle. As my husband put it: "Anyone who's willing to spend $500 on wine for a dinner party should spend $300 on truffles instead." Which is why I can't seem to stop writing truffle recipes. I'll leave you with a list of the ones already in my repertoire - more to come, I'm sure.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My amazing BlogHer Food friends

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Many of you reading this will already have heard about BlogHer Food '09, the food blogging nirvana that took place a few weekends ago in San Francisco. I'm a little slow with my report, and originally I thought it was because of all the other things I had on my plate when I returned - oh, you know, husband kids work friends laundry dishes cooking writing gardening doctor meetings, that stuff.

But the truth is that it's taken me all this time to figure out why that weekend affected me so much. I can't remember the last time I was in the company of so many people who loved what they were doing, spoke my language, and wanted as badly as I did to make connections. Everyone I met had something to say and was eager to listen. I talked with people whose writing has affected me deeply, and I told them so. I met people in the flesh with whom I'd been talking online for months. The whole thing felt so right. And it made me even more sure that all the time I'm spending writing and cooking and writing about cooking is right for me.

The photo, by the way, is of the croissant I had the day after the conference, when Caron of San Diego Foodstuff, Jackie of  Foodie Reflections, and I went up to Tartine, a lovely bakery in the "gourmet ghetto" - not knowing San Francisco well, I can't really tell you where that is, but the Mission was involved in some way, I think. This is the only picture I took the whole weekend. Because I was so busy, the rest of the time, talking and listening and being in the moment. This in itself is a huge accomplishment for me - spending time in the moment - so I'm not flogging myself for not taking more pictures. Lots of other people took lots of beautiful pictures. I can look at theirs.

No recipe today, not here, at least. If you want recipes, go over to my LA Cooking Examiner column, where you'll find a daring chicken liver pate with walnuts, bacon and Armagnac; my much-loved Thai seafood stew with coconut milk and basil; a pissaladiere-like tart with caramelized onions, olives and anchovy paste; and a creamy cauliflower soup that has no cream and will blow you away.

Today, I'm going to pay tribute to some of the wonderful writers I met at BlogHer Food by giving you the links to their blogs. I bet you'll be just as inspired as I was. And to all those listed below, and the many others I met but was not wise enough to ask for a card (how else would I be able to remember everyone?), thank you. Now go read these wonderful blogs.
  • Foodie Reflections - Jackie's a professionally trained chef living and cooking in Chicago.
  • The Mushroom Channel - all things fungal from Jessi, who does PR for the growers' association, hosted a wonderful dinner the night before the conference, and made a phenomenal mushroom soup to lift our spirits after the somewhat sad lunch.
  • Beach Eats - I love the Diva on a Diet's take on food: We all have to watch our waistlines sometime, but that shouldn't keep us from a good piece of cake.
  • Heather in SF - When I met Heather, I really felt like I'd come across a kindred spirit.
  • Mad About Martha - Maris channels the spirit, but fortunately not the personality, of you-know-who
  • Foodzie - okay, not a blog, but if you haven't visited this online marketplace for artisanal and handcrafted food products, go RIGHT NOW - Emily brought amazing goodies to the after-party.
  • What's Gaby Cooking - Gaby, a personal chef, is part of the Los Angeles group that formed spontaneously and is planning to meet for lunch very, very soon.
  • Savour Fare - The best story of my weekend: Turns out that Kate, with whom I'd been Twitter friends for a while, and I work in the same building. Can you say "lunch date?"
  • Hey What's for Dinner Mom? - Laura lives in Alaska. Not in a city. With kids, ducks, turkeys, and the occasional bear. 'Nuff said.
  • Whining 'N Dining - Liz is another L.A. gal, and like me, she often blogs about stuff her kids like to eat.
  • Black Girl Chef's Whites - Cheryl also writes for Examiner, so we'd been in touch before, but we had to go all the way to the 415 to meet in person.
  • Cook Local - Patricia and her husband write this blog together, and with very few exceptions, everything they eat and cook and write about is local to Washington State. I know the locavore thing is big, but I hadn't really met any locavores in person. I learned a ton from her, and I still owe her pictures of the pepper tree in my backyard, because according to Patricia, it's very likely producing edible peppercorns.

Happy reading!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Recipe: Roasted wild mushroom bread pudding with bacon

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The first weekend of November, I'll be joining several hundred fellow food bloggers in San Francisco for the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival, and I just can't wait. This week Nature's Pride bread, one of the sponsors, issued a challenge I had to take: Create and post a recipe using a Nature's Pride product, and they'll choose six bloggers to demonstrate their recipes at the festival as Nature's Pride "bread ambassadors." Cook for my food blogging friends and idols? You bet I want to!

So here's my entry, a rich savory bread pudding with roasted wild mushrooms, bacon, and Emmental cheese. The Nature's Pride buttermilk bread was perfect for this recipe: soft and tender, but not overly sweet. I used a combination of baby Bellas, chanterelles and beech mushrooms, but use any combination you like, can find, and can afford (the chanterelles were a real splurge for me). I can't wait to see what everyone else creates. And hey, Foodbuzz and Nature's Pride folks, if you're reading this, I hope you like it!

Roasted wild mushroom bread pudding with bacon
  • 3 lbs mixed fresh wild mushrooms, chopped into large bite-size pieces (they'll shrink during roasting)
  • 6 shallots, peeled and quartered
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 loaf Nature's Pride buttermilk bread, or any soft white bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (with crusts)
  • 1/2 lb thick-cut bacon, diced
  • 12 eggs
  • 1 quart plus 2 cups half-and-half
  • 3/4 lb grated Emmental cheese (can use Comte or Gruyere)
  • 4 branches of fresh thyme, or 1/4 tsp dried
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spread the mushrooms and shallots on two large baking sheets, toss with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast in the oven about 30 minutes, or until the mushrooms are shriveled and their aroma has the neighbors begging for a dinner invitation. Scrape the roasted vegetables into a large bowl and set aside. Leave the oven on.

Spread the bread cubes on the same roasting pans and toast in the oven about 20 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and dry. Drying the bread will help it soak up the custard base and will make for a creamier finished product. When the bread is done, add it to the mushrooms in the bowl. Again, leave the oven on.

While the bread is toasting, cook the bacon in a saute pan over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is starting to crisp and turn golden; don't cook it too much, or you'll have hard little bacon nuggets in your finished pudding. Add the cooked bacon to the mushroom-bread mixture in the bowl.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the half-and-half and whisk again. Mix in the grated cheese. Add the egg mixture to the large bowl with the mushrooms and bread, and toss. Strip the thyme leaves off their branches and add them to the bowl too (or add the dried thyme), then add salt and a lot of ground black pepper. Toss to make sure all the bread is in contact with the custard base, then let the mixture sit at room temperature about 1 hour, tossing every 10 minutes or so to redistribute the ingredients.

Spray a large baking dish with cooking spray and pour in the bread mixture, spreading it evenly in the pan. Bake about 50 minutes, or until the middle of the pudding is set. Let the bread pudding cool in the pan at least 20 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.