As a food blogger (and 1/12 of The Virtual Potluck (VP)) I get to try out new foods, cookbooks and appliances from time to time for free — for a foodie like me, this is some kind of perk! Sometimes those perks are a little better than others and sometimes those perks go a little berserk.
Recently, the VP was approached by Marx Foods who, though based in our soggy sister city to the north –Seattle, I had never run across before. We agreed to let Marx put together a selection of random ingredients for us to try out in our own signature recipes this Thanksgiving. After perusing their site, I was excited to see what they would send us.
What I found, when I received the tiny brown box, was a menagerie of seemingly unrelated items, packaged in small quantities. Upon opening the box, I was hit full force by the sweet sensual aroma of dried Madagascar (bourbon) vanilla beans (they sent two small bags — Yay! extra vanilla!) I confess, I couldn’t stop sniffing the bags– it was addictive!
Besides the glorious vanilla beans, which made their way into banana smoothies, raspberry thumbprint tea cookies, whipped cream filling in my decadent Mt. Hood cupcakes, and a bevy of other dishes and drinks (watch for them later in the week!) was that my box contained 2 deeply cherry-toned, dried Guajillo chilis, 9 dried fiery Habaneros, a palm full of dried porcini mushrooms, a slightly larger handful of dried Maitake mushrooms, and 1 cup of Italian Vialone Nano Rice — only THE best rice for making a saucy risotto!
While I was excited by the amazing quality of the ingredients (this stuff is top-notch — their quality control must be super sticklers — there was not a bad, crumpled or spotted item in the bunch), I was sort of sad to see that I had so little, in terms of quantity, to work with. We were all creating brand new recipes from scratch here and having so little of each ingredient, meant the ultimate test of cook’s skill, I was working without a net — I had to get this recipe right in one-shot! Could I do it? What ingredients should I choose? What wouldn’t be a lame cop-out — surely just whipping up some homemade vanilla bean cupcakes was too easy. What to do? What to do? And then it happened ~ all that thinking ~ all that pressure made me pop a spring!
So what did I do?I take that perfectly wonderful perk — and go berserk!
For those of you that do not know the proper definition of the word berserk let me present it to you now, courtesy of Merriam Webster:
1: an ancient Scandinavian warrior frenzied in battle and held to be invulnerable
- I am NOT a risotto rookie. Do not try this at home unless you have mastered the art of risotto, first. I learned how great risotto should taste in Italy but I actually learned to make my first risotto well before that, from Nigella Lawson (or I should say from her fabulous cookbook, Nigella Bites, it just makes you feel as if Nigella is standing right next to you, chatting away as you cook together. So, NO. . .I do not actually know Nigella but I Love her just the same!)
- I remembered once seeing a recipe floating around the interwebs for Ostrich Steaks with Mushroom Vanilla Sauce, though I’ve never tasted, attempted, or known anyone who has tasted or attempted this dish — just knowing that it existed gave me the courage to dive off this recipe’s cliff.
- I am a wuss when it comes to heat (heartburn issues), so I was extremely happy that one of the peppers I was sent were the beautifully mild and sweet Guajillo (often used for tamales and mole’ dishes) and the small but fiery, Habanero (whose scale is only about 1 rung above cayenne’s in terms of heat units on the Scoville — it’s hot, but not Ghost pepper hot!)
- We all did NOT get the same ingredients. True — we all got vanilla and the same rice and we all received mushrooms and peppers but the combination of those peppers and mushrooms varied. The ingredients I received really lent themselves well to this dish.
The result was a distinctly flavored and pleasantly complex risotto — one unlike either I or my hubby has ever experienced. The flavor combination itself, was surprisingly, autumnal and very nearly addictive. (We devoured the leftovers for lunch the next day and he has already asked me to make it again.)
Moral of the story: It pays to take risks in the kitchen — all the best chefs do — you should, too! So the next time you have some seemingly random ingredients lying around your kitchen, I hope you think to yourself, “Maybe I should go berserk and take a risk!”
Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto
- 2 small or 1 large shallot(s)
- 2 ribs celery (cleaned and de-stringed)
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup of dried Porcini mushrooms (rehydrated, reserve mushroom liquor)
- 1/4 cup of dried Maitake mushrooms (rehydrated,reserve mushroom liquor)
- 1 cup Italian Vialone Nano Rice (you can sub Arborio)
- 1 quart chicken stock (a little more or less depending on your heat and stirring action)
- 1 med dried Guajillo pepper (rehydrated and de-seeded, ribs removed)
- 2 small dried orange Habanero chilis (rehydrated and de-seeded)
- 1 vanilla bean (scraped completely)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/8 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano, plus more, for garnish
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Good grating of fresh ground black pepper
- Sea salt, to taste
Dice (or process) the shallots, onion and celery. Heat the olive oil in a deep saute pan, adding the shallot, onion and celery mixture. Cook until softened and transparent (about 5 minutes), making sure it doesn’t stick. Drain the mushrooms (you can soak them together in hot water for 30 minutes) and reserve the resulting liquor. Chop the mushrooms and add them to your saute pan. Add the liquor to an already simmering saucepan of chicken broth, that is just waiting to be added to the rice, one ladleful at a time.
With gloves or well- oiled hands and proper eye protection, remove the peppers from their water (where they have been rehydrating for the last 30 minutes as well) and slice off their stems, cutting them open to de-seed and remove the ribs (this reduces the heat — if you like more heat, leave them in.) Once the peppers are cleaned, dice these as well and add them to the sauteing mixture. Once it’s all been incorporated, mix in your rice, stirring to give it a good coating of flavor and oil.
Begin adding your ladleful of simmering stock to the rice, continually stirring until the stock is absorbed. Then add another ladleful continuing to stir. Continue to do this until your rice is al dente and saucy but not too thick and sticky. You may not need all of the stock, equally, you may need to augment with additional hot water, if your stock runs out before completion.
Mix the scraped vanilla bean, cream, and egg yolk in a small bowl or mug along with the grated parm and pepper. When the risotto done – the rice is no longer chalky but is al dente and the liquid has been absorbed but is not starchy – remove it from the heat and add your vanilla, egg, cream mixture, folding it into the risotto along with the butter and salt, to taste. Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve topped with Parmesan.
Serves 2 to 4 by itself or as a side dish can work for 4 to 8.
I served mine with a simple spinach and brie stuffed chicken breast, seasoned only with sea salt and olive oil, because I wanted the risotto’s flavors to be the focus, with the chicken complementing its deep, rich flavors but ideally, you’ll serve yours with turkey this Thanksgiving!
Want to win some booty from Marx Foods?
Some of the Virtual Potluck members are giving away ingredient samples. Visit the host page and don’t forget to visit ALL of the blogs. There will be some things given away (different items on different sites), some discounts (how about 10% off your Marx Foods purchase, any time between November 21 and 27. Just enter the word POTLUCK into the Coupon Code field at checkout for 10 % off everything.) There’s also plenty of great recipes and fun to be had on Twitter–so make sure you check it all out!