Asparagus, Artichoke and Shiitake Mushroom Risotto

For some reason, I haven’t felt like cooking recently. In an attempt to get my groove back, I made ‘the absolute tastiest’ dish I could imagine – and I think it was a success! I love blogging about food – it has given me balance, confidence and courage in a time where I am feeling uncertain about the future.  Applying to jobs as a recent graduate is a daunting task. Sending out many resumes without a response can be frustrating.

Speaking of frustrating things, this dish may frustrate some.  Risotto needs to be carefully monitored because the rice must slowly absorb the chicken broth.  The end result is worth it – the creamy texture of the rice, the crisp asparagus and the soft melted Parmesan-Reggiano is unbeatable.  The fresh shiitake mushrooms and the artichoke hearts give it texture and variety.  For entertaining or a date night a risotto is a perfect choice with its rich and luxurious flavour .

In the fall, I will be doing some volunteering in an elementary school classroom and taking some additional qualification courses in hopes of further developing my skills.  I truly enjoy helping children learn and I am very excited for the opportunity to be in a classroom again.  The feeling of September is like no other because it is a month of endless possibilities, each year you learn and develop more skills and are able to pursue more ideas.  I love seeing the inquiring young minds that are eager to learn.

Follow these directions very carefully and you will have ‘the absolute tastiest’ dish ever! (I found this recipe on the blog Smitten Kitchen.)

Ingredients:

Makes 4 main-course servings.

5 cups chicken broth (40 fl ounces)
1 cup water
1 pound thin to medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices, leaving tips 1 1/2 inches long
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
2 large fresh artichoke hearts, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices, prepared*
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup, though I used half)

Instructions:

Bring broth and water to a boil in a 4-quart pot. Add asparagus and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer asparagus with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then drain and pat dry. Keep broth at a bare simmer, covered.

Heat oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then saute mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a bowl.

Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter in saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 1 minute.

Ladle in 1 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring, until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and looks creamy, 18 to 20 minutes. (Save leftover broth for thinning.)

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup cheese, remaining tablespoon butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir in asparagus, artichokes and mushrooms, then cover pan and let stand 1 minute. If desired, thin risotto with some of remaining broth. Serve immediately with remaining cheese on the side.

* An excellent way to prepare the artichoke hearts is to remove all the outer leaves, choke and stem of a whole artichoke, leaving just the heart. (I used canned artichoke hearts, thus avoiding removing outer leaves.)

Cut the heart into 1/4 inch slices and toss it immediately in a bowl filled with the juice of one lemon. Make sure each and every edge, angle and side of the hearts gets coated in lemon juice, or they will brown very quickly.

In a small pot, boil water with a good glug or two of white wine, a splash of white vinegar and possibly a touch of a smashed garlic clove or a bay leaf.

Drop in the artichoke hearts with all of their lemon juice, and simmer them for about 10 minutes, or longer if needed for them to become tender. Drain and set them aside.

Nut Free Kung Pao Chicken

Searching for a flavourful and delicious dinner last night, Jonathan and I decided to make Kung Pao Chicken.  As the LCBO recipe mentions, this dish is usually served with cashews or peanuts, however, due to my allergies, I made it without – and made a few additions instead!  The mushrooms and asparagus that I added complimented the flavours, and fragrant ginger, garlic and green onion pulled together to create a truly dynamic meal.  This meal is tastier than a traditional stirfry – and aside from the canola oil used for cooking the chicken and in the sauce, I would say this is a relatively healthy meal – as long as you serve it with brown rice and don’t eat it everyday! Ginger is becoming one of my new favourite ingredients – I’ve always loved gingerbread cookies and ginger ale, but only recently has it made its way into my savory cooking.

Ingredients:

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts

Mushrooms – enough for two people chopped into small pieces

Asparagus – enough for two people chopped into small pieces

Chicken Marinade:

1 egg white
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp  cornstarch
Salt to taste
1/4 cup  canola oil

Sauce:
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp sherry
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp dried crushed chilies
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped ginger
1 tbsp chopped green onion

Finishing Touches:
2 tsp cornstarch

Instructions:

1.  Dice chicken into 1-inch (2.5-cm) cubes and place in bowl. Combine egg white, soy sauce, sesame oil and cornstarch in a bowl and season lightly with salt. Add chicken and stir to coat.

2.  Heat a wok over high heat. Add canola oil and swirl carefully to coat. When oil is very hot, remove chicken from marinade, add to wok in batches and fry in oil for 3 minutes or until lightly browned and almost cooked through. Remove from oil and place in a strainer over a bowl to drain.

3.  Combine chicken stock, sherry, soy sauce, sugar, Balsamic vinegar and sesame oil.

4.  Reheat oil (adding more if needed) in wok. Add crushed chilies, garlic, ginger, and green onion, and fry for 30 seconds or until fragrant.  Add in asparagus and mushrooms and sauté.  Then stir in sauce and bring to boil. Return chicken and simmer in sauce for 1 minute or until cooked through. Add cornstarch mixture slowly using only enough to thicken (I added about 2 tsp), and stir to boil.  Extra green onions can be added at the end for garnish.  Serve with brown rice.

Serves 3 as main course, 6 as part of a Chinese meal