Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Risotto, Funghi e Tartufi, Cara Mia

My sister and I went to Paris and Rome together back in April, 1994. We flew from Paris to Rome, then took a train to the Trastevere district, and from there we got a taxi to our hotel on the Campo de Fiori. The taxi driver knew enough English to ask us "Where are you from?" My sister said "New York." I said "California." "California?" he repeated. Yes. At that point, he burst into song - his own tune, his own lyrics. I didn't understand a word he was singing, but judging from the expression on his face, I knew he was brimming with enthusiasm over the idea of California.

We left our tenor at the front door of the hotel and dragged our suitcases down a long, narrow hall to the front desk. Oh. My. God. What was waiting for us at the end of that hallway was worth the long flight, the dragging of bags, and any hint of confusion as to how best to get to this little hotel. Leonardo was his name, and judging from his over 6' frame, blond hair, chiseled features and long, thin fingers, I guessed him to be originally from the north. But at that moment, all I could do was to silently thank the Universe that he had migrated to Rome, and was there at that front desk.

After we signed all the necessary papers, he informed us that our room was 4 flights up - no elevator. "You're kidding....." "No." Then he flashed us a knee-weakening smile, grabbed our bags and lept up the stairs ahead of us. We tried. God knows, we tried to keep up with him. But even his sculpted beauty wasn't enough to jet us up those stairs at gazelle speed. When we arrived huffing and puffing at the door to our room, he stood there, smiling as he handed us our key. "Grazie", we wheezed.

I remember us flinging ourselves on the beds of our high ceilinged room, as ecstatic as any teenager over a heart throb. We were in ROME! The men in this city were GORGEOUS! Could we just stay here? Like, forever? I had never been to Rome before. I never wanted to leave this place. And that was before dinner! We composed ourselves before we trooped down the stairs to ask Leonardo to suggest a restaurant. He made us the first of many maps, showing us how to get from our hotel to a little trattoria a couple of blocks away. We thanked him and walked towards the restaurant in the gathering darkness.

I have never had the sense of time that I experienced in Rome. Rome wears it's history as casually as a teenager wears a watch. We turned a corner and there was a Corinthian column, sticking up by the side of the street. On the wall of the building behind it was a faded painting. Around the column were about 5 or 6 cars, all parked at crazy angles. There was no tag on the column. No label on the wall. No dates. No way of knowing exactly what this fragment of history used to be attached to. It was just a place to park, if you were lucky. I looked at that column, that painted wall and those cars, and realized that if this was your daily backdrop, there was no way you could see the world the same way as someone who was born and raised, say, in San Diego.

We pushed through the wooden double doors of the restaurant and instantly fell in love with this choice. The floors were small white tiles. The tables were old and wooden. Everyone was engaged in animated conversation. The waiters shouted orders into the kitchen. Our maitre d' greeted us like long lost cousins and showed us to a table. As soon as we saw the risotto with truffles, our choice was made.

I will never forget the look on my sister's face as she took her first bite of that risotto. Ecstasy describes it best. Of course I couldn't see my own face as I tasted truffles for the first time. The combination of creamy and earthy, with subtle hints of herbs made me forget that I had ever eaten anything good in my life. I thought I would never have anything like it again. Ever.

And then at the end of the Fancy Food Show last weekend, I managed to score TWO jars of truffle sauce. Admittedly, the sauce contained things other than truffles - things such as capers and olives - but it DID contain truffles. I decided to look for a recipe for risotto which might approximate that heavenly meal so many years ago. Memory is tricky, for sure. I have no idea if the recipe I found is even close. I do know that I didn't follow it precisely - of course. And I also know that it yielded a creamy, complex, subtle risotto, as well as a longing to return to Rome.


2 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved, thinly sliced crosswise (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup whipping cream

1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, cut into 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick slices
1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 tablespoon white truffle oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups (or more) hot vegetable broth
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons shaved or chopped black truffle (optional)
Chopped fresh parsley


For leeks:
Bring leeks and cream to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until leeks are tender and cream is thick, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm before continuing.

For mushrooms:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss all ingredients on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until mushrooms are tender and light brown around edges, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

For risotto:
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add rice; stir 1 minute. Add wine and stir until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup hot broth. Simmer until broth is almost absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add more broth, 1 cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next and stirring often, until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes longer. Stir in leek mixture, mushroom mixture, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, cheese, and truffle. Transfer to large bowl, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Market Tip
White truffle oil is sold at some supermarkets and at specialty foods stores and Italian markets. Black truffles are available at specialty foods stores and from igourmet.com. A flavorful substitute for the shaved truffles is the Truffle Gatherers Sauce ($19), which can be ordered from fungusamongus.com.

Kitchen Notes:

I did not have leeks, so I just used onion, and no cream. I also had run out of truffle oil (NOOOO!!!), so I just used olive oil. And instead of vegetable broth, I substituted chicken broth. I used dried shitakes softened in hot water, and added the liquid as well. If I were to make this again, I would definitely use truffle oil because it is magical, not because I felt that the risotto was bland without it. I'd also consider adding asparagus tips to it. Again, not because I felt it was bland, but just because.
I am entering this post in Chris' "Kitchen of Love" event over at Mele Cotte. The ingredient I used which is considered an aphrodisiac is the wine, of course! At least, that's the official version. As far as I'm concerned, this entire dish could be considered an aphrodisiac!
For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share which natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit Second Opinion

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fancy Food Show in San Diego

Have you ever been to a Fancy Food Show? This was my first experience, and OH....MY....GOD! I thought I had died and gone to heaven! But no - this was at the convention center in downtown San Diego.
I have a friend who started Dufour Pastry Kitchens, a high-end, gourmet line of hors d'oevres that are quite simply out of this world. She got me the badge to get into this show, and told me that she thought I'd like it. It was all about food, so I figured I was in for a good afternoon, right? Understatement. Like, major understatement. Her husband's greeting set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
As I walked through the aisles at the convention center, I discovered the international section. How can you not love a show that has about 6 aisles devoted to Italian foods?
God bless the Italians! They were all dressed beautifully, and stood around drinking wine out of glasses, not plastic. They weren't selling wine, mind you. They were just drinking it. Because....... well....... because! I mean, what else would a civilized person do to pass the hours during a food show? They had booths in which they cooked and served pasta. Others just had displays that just made you wish you had a nonna instead of a grandma - one who simmered her own secret sauce for hours on a Sunday.I never could quite figure out what the Chileans were selling. I expected seafood and wine, but didn't see either one. Still, their business seemed brisk.
And, of course, the Spanish aisle was filled with men slicing jamon. Amazing how the jamon in one booth was decidedly different from the jamon 2 booths down. In one case, the first thing to hit the tongue was salt, and in the other, the first thing to hit the tongue was the flavor of the jamon. And then I discovered this booth. My knees went weak. It was all I could do to keep from moving in. Before this, I confess I hadn't heard of Marcus Samuelsson, his restaurant Aquavit, or Jennifer English. But I live in San Diego, not New York, so perhaps I can be forgiven? At any rate, I have become a fan. A devotee, if you will. The next time I visit New York, I will have to eat in his restaurant. Not only are these spices to die for, but Jennifer and her business partner Patricia were 2 of the nicest, most generous women you could hope to meet. They were kind enough to give me a sample of his harissa, and another mixture he calls berbere, as well as several of those amazingly long sticks of cinnamon you see in the photo above. I haven't been able to wipe the smile off my face since! This shot was taken the first day of the show, when Jennifer was doing an interview for a radio show.....And thanks to my friend, who gave me 2 ginormous boxes of her frozen pastries to take home with me! She was getting on a plane and heading back to New York, so she had no use for them. Well, I certainly did! I went to a friend's birthday party on Friday nite, which was a pot luck. "Luck" was the operative word for those who attended. These little puppies were scarfed down in a heartbeat! There were a few left in the box, as we didn't have enough cookie sheets to heat all of them at once. When I asked the birthday girl if she wanted the rest of them, you'd have thought I had just offered her an original Van Gogh!As for the other box? Well, that will be for my birthday party this coming weekend. ;-) Oh, and just in case any of you want to order any of these, you can visit her website Dufour Pastry Kitchens. They make heavenly gifts!

For information on health, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cocoa and Spice Slow-Roasted Pork and Onions

Southern California can be deceptive when it comes to the seasons. When I first moved here from New Mexico, I was confused. The leaves on the liquidamber trees didn't start turning until sometime in November. Fall began shortly before winter solstice. This is San Diego in January:
Some of the trees have lost their leaves, some are still thinking about it. Now all of this can seem great if you're weary after a day of shoveling snow. And it definitely makes getting out for a walk a more pleasant idea if you know you don't have to battle icy winds to do it. But even after living here for over 20 years, I still have a hard time with the seasons.

One of the reasons is that I like to cook meals according to the seasons. There's a simple principle in Chinese Medicine which says that if you suffer from cold, then use things that warm. If you suffer from heat, then use things that cool. Salads, for instance are cooling, as are all raw fruits and vegetables. Cooked foods are warming. So in the winter, it's usually better to eat cooked foods, and in the summer, it's better to eat more raw foods. Makes sense, right?

But when you live in a place where the nighttime temperatures can be quite chilly (OK - don't even THINK of laughing, all you who live in a more frigid climate! Live here for a while and see how it feels to YOU! ;-)), and then the daytime temperatures are moderate enough that you can leave the coat or sweater in the closet - what do you eat? Warming or cooling?

Since I tend to run a bit on the cool side, I tend to err in favor of warming foods - even in our mild winters. Besides, I love the aromas coming from the kitchen when I'm cooking a stew or a roast. So I can take a walk while my food is simmering in the oven. I can admire the flowers and trees in my neighborhood. Yes, this is a jade plant in bloom!

And then I get to come home to a meal which will feel right when the sun goes down.

I saw this recipe at epicurious, and couldn't resist. I had everything but the pork, so I walked to Whole Foods and asked for a pork shoulder butt. I confess, I found this request confusing. I have asked for pork shoulder before, but combining "shoulder" and "butt" seemed like an anatomical impossibility. The butcher, however, wasn't confused at all. She gave me 3# of it (I didn't need 8 servings!). If I were to make this again, I would use a pork loin roast instead. I like that cut of meat better.

I don't know what came over me, but this time I pretty much followed the recipe. Except that I used 3.5 pounds of meat, and cooked it for probably just under 4 hours.

Spice Rub:

1/2 tablespoon whole white peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons plus 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt (preferably gray crystals)
1 tablespoon plus 2 1/4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Pork and Onions:
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 3/4 to 4 pounds onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 1/2 cups water
1 5-pound pork shoulder butt with bone


For spice rub:
Stir peppercorns and coriander in small skillet over medium heat until spices are darker in color, about 5 minutes. Transfer to spice grinder; grind finely. Place in small bowl; mix in remaining ingredients. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

For pork and onions:
Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sage; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté 10 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups water; cover and cook until onions are soft, about 15 minutes. Uncover; continue to cook until onions are beginning to brown and water has evaporated, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300°F. Sprinkle spice rub on large sheet of foil. Roll pork in rub, pressing to coat. Set pork on rack in large roasting pan. Top pork with 1/3 of onions; scatter remaining onions around pork in pan.

Roast pork until very tender and thermometer inserted into center registers 165°F, stirring onions in pan occasionally, about 6 hours. Transfer pork to platter. Season onions in pan with salt and pepper; spoon around pork.

Nutritional Information:

Per serving: 538 calories, 27g fat, 7g saturated, 152mg cholesterol, 765mg sodium, 27g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 48g protein (nutritional analysis provided by Nutrition Data)

I don't understand what's going on with the date. It says "Thursday, Jan. 10", when in fact, it's Sunday, Jan. 13th!

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share which natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit Second Opinion

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Blogaversary Cannelloni

Is it possible? Have I really been doing this for a whole year? Yesssss!!!! As of today, it is one whole year! I don't know why I started this blog. Really, I don't. I know that it was a year ago this month when I first published my website for Mission Valley Acupuncture. But what got me started on a food blog? I think it was a combination of loving to cook and also thinking about the relationship between food and health. Seemed like a natural fit at the time.

That's what got me started. But what has kept me going?

I didn't realize back then how many incredibly talented people were out there blogging about food. The photography, the writing and the recipes blew me away when I began to investigate other people's blogs.
I'm both ecstatic and humbled to be a part of this incredible community which spans the globe. I love the idea that I have friends in places like Brazil, France, Italy, Mauritius, Australia, Barbados and England, as well so many states here in the U.S. And it has been your comments and encouragement that has kept me at this. I no longer just cook for the love of it. Now I cook and then photograph and then write. And for a one-woman band, let me tell you - that takes some encouragement. So thank you.

You not only have encouraged me to continue this blog, but because of that encouragement, you have also spawned meals that might not otherwise have come out of my kitchen. After all, I can't blog too often about leftovers. Pasta and chicken. Rice and chicken. Soup made out of anything I've got that's nearly gone in the fridge. Is that worth a steady read? I think not.

thanks to all of you, I'm starting this new year of blogging with something I might not have tried otherwise. Since I'm often the only one who eats my cooking, I probably would have passed on this one, thinking that it was more work than I wanted to do on a rainy Saturday. But wait! It's a rainy Saturday! What else am I going to do? (Clean my house, but that isn't nearly as interesting!) Besides, try saying "blogaversary cannelloni" 3 times very fast! Gotta go for it, right?I got this recipe from epicurious, under their "healthy eating" section. I loved the way it looked, and when I examined the ingredients and noted that the red sauce was NOT tomato based, but red pepper based, I was in. But you know the drill......You know that I'm incapable of following the recipe. I've decided that I like Terry B's format over at Blue Kitchen, of adding "kitchen notes", where I do my 'splainin'. Check it out.


1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large shallots, sliced
4 cloves garlic
2 jars (12 ounces each) roasted red peppers, drained
Juice of 1 orange (about 1/2 cup)
2 medium eggplants, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices
Olive oil cooking spray
4 ounces goat cheese
4 kalamata olives, pitted and minced
1 teaspoon capers, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook shallots and garlic until soft, about 1 minute. Reduce heat. Cook until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add peppers and juice; bring to a boil. Lower heat; simmer until peppers are soft, about 5 minutes. Cool. Puree in a blender. Pour into a 9" x 13" baking dish. Coat eggplants with cooking spray and broil on a baking sheet until golden on both sides, about 15 minutes. Heat oven to 400°F. Mash cheese, olives, capers and 1 tablespoon of the parsley in a bowl. Place 1 tablespoon of filling at the end of each eggplant slice; roll up. Lay seam side down in dish. Bake 10 to 15 minutes. Top with remaining 1 tablespoon parsley.

Nutritional Information

Nutritional analysis per serving: 259 calories, 10.7 g fat (4.7 g saturated), 32 g carbs, 10.8 g fiber, 10.5 g protein

Kitchen Notes: I used one eggplant and one jar of peppers. I did't use cooking oil spray - I used canola oil and spread it on the eggplant by hand. Naturally, I had to add some heat to the sauce. I love the combination of spicy and sweet, so I added a good tablespoon of Hungarian paprika to balance the sweet peppers and orange juice. And then there's the matter of the filling. I was uncertain about the combination of kalamata olives and capers. Salt and salt. So I did an experiment. I did some as per recipe, some with only capers, and some where I added pine nuts. (Why not, I ask?) Which is best? You decide!

NB: Even though the date shows up as Saturday, January 5th, I published this today, Sunday, January 6th!