The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.
I know I have said this about most of the challenges, but it is true each and every time, so here I go again. I was so excited when I saw what this month's challenge was. Risotto has been on my to-try list for a long time. To the point that there has been a box of arborio rice sitting in the pantry just begging me to have the courage to just go for it.
Even more exciting, and possibly more surprising, was that this risotto was to be made using home-made chicken stock, something I have never actually made before. Sure I have made chicken soup, but I have always used store-bought broth - have never made my own. For some reason, I am always most scared by the recipes that are, in all reality, simplest.
So this challenge was perfect - knock two things off of my cooking wish list, AND, well, it's the perfect comfort food for the snowy, cold month that we had!
Chicken stock is a really interesting venture. In order to add extra flavor and texture to the broth, it is best to not only use chicken, but also chicken bones. So I roasted a chicken for dinner the night before I wanted to make this, and saved all of the bones in a zip-top bag in the fridge. Which was actually just a funny thing to do, really - save a bag of bones... But the next morning, little miss helped me chop vegetables (she is really persistent with her toy-knife and can usually get a few good cuts in!), and added them to the pot with the bones, a whole chicken, and a variety of spices. A little boiling and a whole lot of simmering, and the house smelled so homey and delicious. Once the chicken is cooked through, it can be removed, shredded and used for just about anything. After the fact, I learned that the bones can be returned to the pot to continue simmering with the stock. I will definitely do that next time. Not that it detracted from the finished product not to do so this time, but I can only imagine that the flavor and texture will be even more full and rich next time by giving the bones that extra time.
The "hardest" part of making the stock, for me anyway, was straining it. And the only reason it was hard is due to the size of the strainer that I have:
Fits perfectly on the soup container from the Chinese food place (I knew I saved those for a reason!), but, man, it took a while to strain all that soup! Little miss was happy to eat all of the carrots out of the bowl of veggies that were strained out, too. I had been worried, once taking the chicken out of the pot, that I wasn't going to yield that much stock out of this venture, but I was happily mistaken, and wound up with four quarts - plenty not only for risotto, but for a delicious chicken soup, as well.
Stock completed, it was time to get started on the risotto. Yes, I did this all on the same day.
Risotto is actually very straightforward, but requires a bit of attention and a lot of stirring. Risotto is also very versatile, and can be prepared in many different ways, flavored with many different foods, and served an a variety of ways. I had decided to make a mushroom-asparagus risotto, but was a bit thrown off when gathering my ingredients by the fact that... I had no asparagus?? I knew I asked for it at Produce Junction, but between the bags I was juggling and the fact that little miss kept wanting to run off to see the flowers, there was some kind of mishap, and I wound up with no asparagus. Which I didn't notice until the moment I needed it. Uh oh.
After a few minutes staring at the variety of fruits and veggies in the house, I quickly rebounded and chose a totally different flavor combination. Red onion and golden delicious apple. Which, when I put them on the table, looked like two thirds of a smiley face. So I quick grabbed a leek to complete the face. Because I am silly like that. But hey, there is nothing wrong with a little silliness, or with happy risotto.
Anyway, the risotto came together really easily, considering how scared I had been to try it. I had my pot of lightly simmering stock on one burner and my working-pot of risotto on the burner right next to it. As the rice absorbed the liquid, I simply added more and continued stirring. It is amazing how much liquid those little rice grains can hold. I know this picture isn't that great, but the colors were really pretty, between the faint pink of the red onions and the yellow of the apples. The finished dish was creamy and delicious, with a bit more texture than our regular rice. I enjoyed it quite a bit. My husband thought it was good, and, well, little miss prefers regular rice, but ate it pretty well.
I learned so much from my other daring cooks on this challenge, and there were several more things that I had been hoping to try as a second round of this challenge, including fried risotto balls (called arancini) (of which I was going to make a baked version) and a sweet dessert risotto. Unfortunately, I kept eating my leftovers, leaving not enough to try the arancini, and did not wind up having time to make the sweet risotto before today's posting date. Which doesn't mean that I won't be trying these things, merely that I didn't have time to do them prior to the posting date of this challenge. So when you see me post those, you'll know that they were inspired by this challenge.
To see some other creative risotto dishes, check out some of the other Daring Cooks.
Thank you, Eleanor and Jess, for a really great, really tasty, really comforting food challenge. I will definitely be trying more varieties, and really appreciated the opportunity to try something new!
3 weeks ago