Sometimes my cooking works and then sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a rare occurence to have something fail completely. I remember the few times in which that has happened and two of them concerned Japanese food, so in response I’ve sworn off making Japanese food. Figuring that I’d just pay for Japanese on the rare occasion that I actually want it, I eliminated a cuisine on my roster (which I’ve pared down to mainly Mediterranean inspired dishes…no Japanese and no Mexican/Southwest).

Tonight, I made a dessert I’ve never made before. Dessert not being my focus nor my forte, it’s interesting to climb that mountain. I’ll get to that momentarily. On to my entrée for this evening….

Spring Risotto and Spicy Pork Stew

Spring Risotto and Spicy Pork StewI woke up this morning and ingested my Saturday morning trough of food-related programming (some Food TV, but mainly PBS). Already feeling hopped up for food today because of a good foodie conversation I had with Mary (Randy’s wife) last night, I felt that certain drive to cook. I’d promised over the last few days to make some vegetarian sloppy joes and my cheeseless mac and cheese for my daughter, but I informed her that she’d have to wait yet another day for that. I felt like cooking, dammit. No boxed stuff, tonight, thank you! I think she cursed me in her own special, twelve-year old way. But, she’ll live.

There’s a certain drive to cooking that has built within me over the last several years. I’d say that it’s because I have a talent for it, but I’d also say that of tantamount importance is how my attitude towards good food has developed. A good illustration of this is my recent foray into understanding what the Slow Food movement is. This is an entirely other essay that I will cover soon, once I’m finished reading Slow Food Revolution by Carlo Petrini. Suffice it to say, however, that my attitudes and beliefs towards how food is life have come full swing in being able to put some manner of label to them.

The basis for tonight’s food was seasonal relation. It is spring here in Southern California and it’s time for certain produce to be harvested. Based on what was available locally, I settled on looking for some recipes that would perhaps utilize some leeks, asparagus, garlic, etc. My source was the infamous Italian bible of recipes, The Silver Spoon. If you haven’t had the opportunity to thumb through this tome of Biblical proportions, you should. Most of the recipes (thousands, mind you) are relatively simple and do not require long lists of ingredients. Too many ingredients tends to display a certain lack of confidence and a fear that the flavor of the few may not be bold enough for the entire dish. Pick it up at your local library some time and spend a few hours glancing through its pages upon pages of Italian deliciousness.

My main choice, and the base for everything else in the entrée, is a Spring Risotto. A relatively simple dish, this Italian rice staple is rich and creamy. The first step was to build the flavors of the ingredients. I sautéed garlic in olive oil first and then removed the garlic. Immediately after, the following ingredients were added in succession with a few minutes cooking time in between: sliced cremini mushroom caps, diced onion, sliced leek, chopped asparagus, and red bell pepper. After removing these ingredients, I began the risotto with melted butter and onion. I added arbrorio rice and after a few minutes of sautéeing over medium heat, enough Pinot Grigio was added to cover the rice. Once the wine was absorbed, I added ladels full of hot vegetable stock (waiting for the rice to absorb the last dose before adding more) until the rice became thick and creamy. At this point, the veggies were added back in and a handful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (2-year aged) was added in to lock in the texture and nutty flavor.

Around the perimeter of the risotto on the plate are peas with garlic and ham. I simply sautéed the chopped ham in olive oil with 2 cloves of minced garlic. Once the ham began to crisp, I added cooked frozen peas and sautéed the entire mix for around 3 minutes.

On top was a spicy pork stew made up of garlic, diced onion, chopped boneless pork, cumin, crushed red pepper, Pinot Grigio, and lemon juice. The steps are very stright forward and yield a beautifully tender stew of pork medallions. I browned the pork in butter, chopped garlic, and diced onion. Once browned, I added a healthy amount of Pinot Grigio. covered the pan and put it into a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. At the 45 minute point, I pulled the stew out, added more Pinot Grigio, lemon juice, and sliced lemon. I put it back into the stove for another 30 minutes and finished it off. I added the pork on top of the risotto and garnished it with 4 grilled shrimp (marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic) that I cooked in my cast iron grill pan. It was all topped off by a “bam” of chopped cilantro.

This was one of the most tasty dishes I’ve made. I really enjoyed the complementing flavors and the blending of textures. The pork turned out succulently tender and the Pinot Grigio provided just the perfect level of fruitiness to push the stew over the top. The ring of peas and ham was perfectly salty which worked well with the nutty flavor of the risotto’s Parmigiano-Reggiano. A surprising highlight was the addition of the shrimp which ended up tender and bursting with flavors that complemented every part of the rest of the dish.

Pudim Flan

Pudim FlanTonight’s dessert could definitely have been better. Pudim Flan is a dessert I had at Lauro, in Portland, OR. It was an amazing custard dish filled with strong (but delicious!) hints of Port wine. I made my first attempt at duplicating it and it fared okay, at best. Following a recipe I found online in English may have been a mistake because it was the only one not in Portuguese. Although the rest of dinner was Italian based, I really felt like having a robust and sweet Portuguese dessert. The problem ended up being that it was just too flavorless. It needed more sugar and it definitely needed much more Port for a decent kick. I also needed to cover the ramekins in the water bath to prevent the skin that formed that did taste like scrambled egg. So, basically, the mixture of eggs, milk, sugar and port needed to be beefed up. My family (inlcuding my brother-in-law and his girlfriend) were all my taste-testing panel. They offered up very good suggestions and some criticism that will surely make my next attempt better.

That’s what cooking is about, I suppose – testing, cooking, and testing again. It’s always fun, consistently educational, and incessantly satisfying.