Risotto: A Meditation

Become one with the spoon. (Image source)

In a twist that will surprise no one, I love risotto. Which is sort of strange because I don’t have it that often, but when I do I wonder why I don’t have it Every. Single. Night. 

I guess I forget about risotto as a dinner option, reaching instead for pasta or long-grain rice and the rice cooker.  #Easy

But here’s the thing: risotto is also very, very easy.

Deceptively simple, even.

That silky sauce that appears as you stir and stir and stir. 

Ignore those silly people who say you don’t have to stir. I have tried this, letting it sit and stirring “occasionally,” but the cooking experience is not the same, and worse, the risotto is not the same. Plus this: it’s okay to take 15 minutes to yourself. Blame it on the risotto. 

Remember this:

When you have time, meditate for 15 minutes. When you don’t have time, meditate for an hour.” ~Zen saying~

Alternately, take those 15 minutes and make them your Zen-loving bitch by multi-tasking a crisp glass of wine, a little meditative stirring, and a delicious dinner at the end.” ~Me~

The decadent finish of butter. The tiny crunch in the very center of each grain of arborio rice, true al dente.


Use fresh, seasonal ingredients. Make your own stock (or buy it if you must, but be picky). Don’t forget the wine (in the pot and in the chef).

Free, Loose, And Easy Risotto (serves 4-6)

Mise en place, baby. Do it like you own it.

First, soffrito. This can be any combination of the following (but is at least the first): chopped onion, garlic cloves, leeks, shallots, carrot. Chop small (carrot, onion, shallot, celery), slice thinly (leek, white part only), or mince (garlic).

Next, measure your arborio rice, two cups.

Heat six to eight cups of stock. Use chicken, vegetable, beef, veal, seafood (so delicious with the seafood variation below).

Pour the wine. Half a cup of dry white wine for the risotto, a full glass for the chef. You can also use dry vermouth and pour yourself a different cocktail (any bourbon cocktail will do, but The Expat is lovely, especially with the seafood or squash risotto below. And because BOURBON.)

Salt and pepper should be within easy reach, as should a finishing generous tablespoon of butter. You will need some olive oil, the good kind, because with so few ingredients quality matters.

Basic method

Heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. Add your soffrito and sauté until onions are translucent.

Add the arborio rice and toast, stirring, until each grain browns slightly and becomes covered with a glorious sheen of oil. Add more oil if you need it. Don’t skimp.

Settle in. Turn on the radio. Sip your cocktail.

Add the 1/2 cup of wine to the pot. Stir until the wine begins to disappear. Happy rice.

Begin to add your warmed stock, one ladle at time. Stir. When each ladle of stock is nearly absorbed (but don’t let it dry out), add another ladle. Stir. Repeat. Stir.

This is when meditation begins. As you add each ladle of stock, bubbles hiss and pop and steam rises. The rice swells with joy and dances in the pan. I sink into a pattern of stirring, swirling around the sides with my spoon in a clockwise pattern, occasionally darting through the middle.

You will know it is nearly done when your Teenaged Daughter crawls out of the cave of her room and hovers over your shoulder.

No teenagers at home? Look for the rice to slow down its rate of absorption. There will be a lingering creaminess to the sauce, and each grain will be nearly cooked all the way through except for the tiniest bit of bite in the center. 

Don’t guess. TASTE.

When the risotto has the texture of something far more complicated than it is, remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Add salt and pepper. Taste. 

Serve in bowls with cracked black pepper and fresh Parmesan. Not the crap in the green can. What are we: animals?


If you feel a bit more complicated, the following can be easily made with a minimum of fuss.

Shrimp/Scallop Risotto: Sauté eight ounces each of cleaned shelled shrimp and scallops in olive oil, then remove from the pan. Proceed with a soffrito of onion, and celery. Use seafood stock for the risotto, and finish with fresh chopped parsley.

Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto: Peel, seed, and cut a one-pound (or a little more) butternut squash into 1/2″  cubes. Add butternut squash into a soffrito of onion, celery, and one clove of garlic and proceed with the recipe. Towards the end, before the butter, stir in one tablespoon chopped fresh sage. Finish as usual. 

Mushroom Pancetta Risotto: Add a sprig of rosemary to your warming stock (any kind of stock will do, but you will not use the rosemary in the actual risotto). Sauté four ounces of pancetta until crispy, then remove from the pan. Add 12 ounces of wild mushrooms (your choice) and cook in the fat of the pancetta (don’t crowd the pan or they will not brown. They will steam). Remove from the pan and proceed with onion, garlic, carrot soffrito.

What is your favorite kitchen meditation?

Friday Links: Provisions

Squirreling away some nuts.

I don’t know if it is the season change or the fact that our ‘fridge and cupboards look like we are two months past an apocalyptic event, but I just dropped $300 at Costco.

Yes, I now have lunchbox snacks until February.

Yes, I bought dog food, which always jacks up the total.


We are only two people in this house. How much food could we possibly need?

$300 worth, apparently, not including the other $80 that I dropped at Giant directly after, and the $40-50 I will spend at the farmer’s market on Saturday.

So this week’s post is all about provisions: what you need for a well-stocked pantry, a few tips for the bar, and how to do it all without taking on a second mortgage.

Essential Spices For Indian Food: Against all odds, I love Indian food. I have zero experience cooking it, though. My first attempt at tandoori chicken was really an overcooked piece of meat with cumin paste. My pantry is well-stocked, though, and I plan on trying again.

Bon Appetit’s Guide to What Every Kitchen Should Have: I love this list because it is simple and doesn’t focus on pre-packaged food. These staples mean dinner is always 15 minutes away. It does mean you have to cook (rather than simply heat up), which bothers The Teenager quite a bit, but that’s how things go.

Stocking The Broke Kitchen: Okay, so this one is a little controversial for me.  People have different ideas of what saving money means, and when I say “affordable,” I don’t mean $100. When I first moved to Seattle in 1996, I had $200 in my pocket. I managed to find a landlord who would take my deposit and last month’s rent on a payment plan so I could move away from a bad situation. So when I say “affordable,” I really mean like foodstamps-level broke. My budget for food was $25 a week, which I stretched by not eating breakfast and drinking lots of coffee with cream and sugar at my temp job. So I know from broke, as my Jewish grandmother would say.

Still, stocking a whole pantry with staples for $100 is pretty good.

Stocking A Bar On A Budget: Let’s face it: it gets dark early during the fall, and you are not always going to want to drag yourself out for a decent cocktail. But booze adds up fast, and if you are picky about your booze and want to drink the good stuff, your daily tipple can get spendy fast. Rein it in with this guide.

BONUS: Homemade Fireball Whiskey: Because life’s too short to drink something with anti-freeze in it

DOUBLE PLUS GOOD BONUS: Easy Dressing: Why not provision your closet with a capsule wardrobe while you’re at it?

So have fun stocking up, and tell me: what’s the one ingredient your pantry or bar can’t do without?

Local Ingredients: Verjus

This story starts with a whiskey smash and ends with the most delicious apple sorbet I have ever put in my mouth.

I am not sure if I can properly describe either. Which is problematic for a food blog, no?

So it may be best to start where it all started, at Woodberry Kitchen on my 44th birthday. My friend Kerry took me out for snacks and drinks, my choice of restaurant because, of course, it was my birthday, and we should all get exactly what we want on our birthday, yes?  

I could have gone anywhere in Baltimore, and the list of places to eat well in this city is long. Woodberry won for two reasons:

1. I had just read an article that said Woodberry Kitchen served all birthday folks a scoop of apple sorbet on a plate with “Happy birthday” written on it in chocolate. I am a sucker for strangers celebrating my birthday. Just please, no singing. And a gluten-free celebration? Even better because I can actually eat it.

2. A person at my yoga studio said Woodberry is so local-centric that they don’t even use lemon at the bar.

Number one piqued my taste buds, number two piqued my interest. How on earth could you make a craft cocktail without lemon? Or even a crappy, non-craft cocktail?

One answer: verjus.

Grapes for verjus (image source)

 Spike Gjerde opened Woodberry Kitchen with his wife in 2007, sourcing only local ingredients for the food, but a year later started to begin eliminating the majority of the citrus served in both food and drink, replacing it with verjus made from unripe grapes at Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Maryland, a scant 30 miles or so from Charm City. The result is a bright, tangy, not-unlike vinegar flavor that replaces the acidic component of drinks. Like my whiskey smash. While the bourbon must necessarily be from Kentucky, the cider (Distillery Lane Ciderworks), verjus, bitters (house-made), honey, and thyme were 100% local. 

Verjus (pronounced ver-ZHOO, but also clumsily called “verjuice”) is from the French: “vert jus,” meaning green juice. Verjus can be made from either unripe green grapes (for a cleaner taste) or unripe red grapes (producing a slightly earthier flavor). Neither preparation contains alcohol (verjus is simply pressed and bottled, no fermenting), which means that verjus will not clash with any wine served with dinner. While cooks in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance used verjus with impunity, its use has only recently grown as the local food movement has spread.

As with wine, verjus can be affected by terroir, the elements of soil and water that influence the subtle flavor variations in fruits and vegetables from a certain place. Verjus flavors can range from light, bright, and clean to murky and muddier flavors that are aggressive and more suited for heavier preparations (i.e., in wild game or heavy sauces).

Red and white verjus can be used just as you might use red or white vinegar. Some vineyards may sell verjus directly to visitors, but it can also be purchased in more “upscale” grocery stores. You can also buy verjus online if you must.

Epicurious has a few recipes using verjus if you are curious to start with more guidance, or you can even make your own verjus. Many vineyards thin their grapes well before harvest to produce sweeter grapes on the vine, and they may be willing to part with their unripe grapes. 

The whole menu at Woodberry is filled with verjus, but the cocktail menu is where it really shines, playing off house-made bitters and drinks designed to highlight the very best of local, seasonal ingredients.

I had two drinks that night (meh. I am a lightweight and no longer 24), but of the two only the memory of the whiskey smash remains. Perhaps because it went so well with the piece de resistance, my lovely scoop of apple sorbet:

I didn’t want to be one of those assholes Instagramming food, so I only got the one shot. 

I nearly absconded with the cute little glass the sorbet came in but decided thievery was not a good way to start the year, the last of my “early 40s.”

Have you had verjus before? What is your most hyper-local dining experience?

Peace One Day: Gluten Free Olive-Rosemary Bread

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.~

Peace Day is on September 21st, and it is in the spirit of peace, love and forgiveness that I started this recipe for olive-rosemary bread.

I don’t want to compare wars and violence and the eventual ceasefire and peace with the process of developing a gluten-free bread recipe, but this process did feel very involved, and there were lots of failures. I have never thrown out as much food as I did while developing this recipe.

If I still had chickens, they would have been thrilled.

And while the flavor has been delicious in every iteration of the bread and each rustic loaf looked gorgeous, they all had a wet, gummy interior. They rose well, browned well, produced a beautiful crust, and were utterly disappointing in texture.

It took some doing, but I think this is it. Chewy crust, well-balanced flavor, and a texture that mirrors a hearty, gluten-filled bread. This bread has taught me the power of egg whites and almond meal to bump up the protein in a flour.

It has made me re-think my relationship with the all-purpose flour blend as the be-all, end-all for baking. Don’t get me wrong: this blend rules for pancakes, cookies, biscuits, scones, and waffles. It makes a great cupcake. But as I continue to explore gluten-free baking, I know that there is more to it than cup-for-cup substitutes.

This bread will rise, but it will not reach the great heights of a standard bread. In the end, this does not matter. This recipe makes two, one-pound loaves: one for you, and one for a friend.



1 3/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon xanthan gum
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water (80 to 100 degrees)
3 egg whites
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
coarse sea salt for garnish


1. In a small bowl, combine yeast, sugar, and half of the water (approximately. This is just to activate the yeast). Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine flour, almond meal, salt, and xanthan gum. Mix briefly to combine.
3. Add water, proofed yeast mixture, egg whites, and olive oil. Mix until the ingredients come together, about a minute. 
4. Add olives and rosemary and stir to combine. Do this step by hand; the olives should not be crushed.
5. Turn mixture into a clean bowl, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for two hours in a warm, dry place. 
6. After two hours, divide the bread in half and shape into boules on baking sheets lined with parchment paper . Let sit for another 40 minutes. 
7. Near the end of the resting period, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a very sharp knife, cut lines in the top of each loaf and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
8. Place a pan filled with hot water on the lower rack of your oven, then slide the bread in above the water
9. Bake for approximately 65 minutes. Bread should reach an internal temperature of 180 degrees
10. Cool completely before cutting. This bread should be eaten within a of couple days.

Recipe notes:

  • Another brand of gluten-free all-purpose flour can be used, but the results may be very different.
  • This toasts beautifully and is especially delicious with homemade ricotta and freshly-cracked black pepper and/or some arugula.


Friday Links: Tips And Tricks

Unitask no more!

Hot on the heels of last Friday’s quick dinners comes links to make your work in the kitchen more effective and more enjoyable.

And BTW, I refuse to call them “hacks.” We are not breaching a firewall or pulling a McGyver here. Just making kitchen life a little easier.

TIP: Salad Spinners – Unitask No More: My kitchen is pretty small, and storage is at a premium. Because we eat our weight in salad in the spring and summer, I have a salad spinner to make washing and drying greens easier. This link was a revelation. So many of these uses seem self-evident, but if that’s the case, why am I still not doing them? This link would have been a great reminder for the 20 pounds of basil I processed into pesto last weekend. #LessonLearned.

TRICK: No Link, But Hell YEAH: Use your microplane for grating ginger and garlic. It’s for more than grating cheese and zesting lemon!

TIP: Freeze And Grate Your Butter: I have been doing this for delicate pastry for years and have recently added it to crackers for more tender cooking and more time working with the dough. The key to flaky pastry is cold, cold water and cold, cold butter. This starts you out several degrees ahead of the game.

TRICK: Throw Away Your Pot Holders: This is one of my favorite articles from Cracked, and their first tip is something I have only recently starting doing: using side towels. I have a dozen (okay, not the lint free surgical ones, but chef quality towels), and I tuck them into my apron and use them like paper towels. Not having a laundry service to come pick them up is a pain, but I plan on getting more to store in the basement for the inevitable breakdown during “service” (the towel’s, not mine). Turns out, professional cooks know what they are doing. 

TRICK: How To Sharpen Knives…Without A Sharpener: If I had known this, I would not have spent the last three years with pitifully dull (and dangerous) knives. So revelatory for me that I snuck down to the kitchen in the middle of the night to try it when I found this link during a bout of insomnia.

I am not a fan of the listicle, so tell me in the comments: what’s your favorite kitchen tip or trick?