Weeknight dinner: fish & mussel risotto

Risotto 1

I make risotto a lot in our house. It’s a good standby dish when we have people over because I can make a huge pot of it and feed an army and I also really like it because it’s an excellent carrier dish. There are so many things that can be put into a risotto so I can make it to use up all the odds and ends rattling around in the fridge.

I know that doesn’t sound appealing to everyone. I was actually an apprentice chef for the better part of a year when I first left school and I know that there are risotto purists out there because I worked for one of them. But I am not a purist. I make risotto my way and I put whatever I want in it. I use red wine when I run out of white. I use chicken stock when I should use fish stock. Heck, I don’t even make my own stock. Sure I would love to make a mushroom risotto using hand-foraged fungi sourced from the foothills of the Swiss Alps and drizzled with with first cold pressed EVOO (what the?) but sometimes all I have are some puckered old button mushrooms, a carton of shop bought stock and some leftover wine in the fridge (a rare occasion I must say). What I mean is, there are times when you can devote all your resources to an exquisite risotto and there are times you can make a hearty bowl-fullo-rice dish that is satisfying and tasty and you wont have to spend all day at the farmers market. Or the Swiss Alps.

This particular risotto came about because I had an empty fridge but a freezer full of mussels, fish and peas. It was so good I’ve made it a few times since.

Ingredients

2 cups Aborio rice

1 cup white wine

Olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 garlic clove, minced

500ml hot fish or chicken stock

1/2 cup frozen peas

1 1/2 cups diced fish (I use Rockling, a good, thick, meaty fish) (can be frozen & thawed)

8-10 mussels (can be frozen & thawed)

Dried dill tips

About 40g cold butter, cubed

Salt & pepper

1/2 tbsp freshly chopped parsly

Lemon wedges and zest of 1 lemon

Kettle of freshly boiled water

Put the white wine in a small saucepan and heat it up to a ‘just before boiling’ state then add the mussels and a pinch of dried dill and cook until the mussels are just cooked through (about 2 minutes). Don’t worry if they aren’t completely done as they will finish in the risotto. Take mussels out of the pan and set aside and keep the wine.

In a large, deep and heavy-bottomed frying pan sauté the onion and garlic in about a tablespoon of olive oil on a medium temperature until translucent (about 4-5 minutes).

Add the rice and stir non stop until the rice is well coated in oil and had a chance to fry a little (2-3 minutes) and then add the wine from the mussels. Stir until the wine has evaporated and while stirring use the spoon to scrape bottom of the pan to get all the yummy caramelised oniony bits into the wine. Add a ladle full of hot stock and stir the rice until the stock has evaporated. Stir well but be gentle. The stirring releases the starch from the grains, which is what gives risotto its creamy texture, but you want to keep the grains whole, not crush them.

Continue adding a ladle of stock, stirring until evaporation and so on until there is no stock left and test your rice. It should be about half way done, soft on the outside and hard in the middle. Add a ladle ful of hot water from the kettle in place of the stock until the rice is al dente or just a tiny bit underdone.

Add the fish and peas and more water if necessary and keep stirring. Once the fish has cooked (about 2-4 minutes, depending on the fish) add the mussels and stir until heated through.

Turn off the heat, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add the cold butter and lemon zest and stir until the risotto is glossy and ready to eat. Serve with lemon wedges.

Risotto 2

Risotto 3

 

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A melting moment in time

I have so many crafty things on the go this week that I haven’t been having much of a relaxing holiday as planned. But, that’s just how I like it! One thing that has been keeping me busy is my new Empire Red Artisan Kitchenaid courtesy of my (former) work peeps (thank you peeps!). They gave me the Kitchenaid as a leaving present and I have dubbed him ‘Sir Mix-a-Lot’ and baby, has he got back! And front! He is gorgeous and makes things so easy. So, here’s a recipe I wanted to try for a long time but thought it would be too fidley until Sir Mix-a-Lot came along.

Lemony Melting Moments (recipe adapted from Best Recipes)

Ingredients

250 g unsalted butter at room temperature

2 tbsp cornflour, sifted

2 tbsp custard powder, sifted

4 tbsp icing sugar (confectioners sugar), sifted

1 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted

Icing

1 1/2 cups icing sugar (confectioners sugar), sifted

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

2 tbsp (28.5 g) butter at room temperature

Method

Pre-heat oven to 160c

In a high sided bowl cream the butter and icing sugar and gradually beat in the flour, custard powder and corn flour and mix until a dough is formed

Roll into even sized balls, just smaller than a walnut and place in rows on a tray lined with baking paper. The biscuits will not spread a lot so space them 2-3cm apart. If the dough is too sticky, pop it in the fridge for a few minutes or roll with cold, damp hands.

Use a flat surface, like the bottom of a glass, to gently press down the ball a little. You can also use the back of a fork to make fork marks if you like.

Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through – you don’t want them to brown though.

For the icing, just beat everything together and when the biscuits are cool sandwich two biscuits together with icing. The biscuits will be very delicate – if they break when you ice them, put them in the freezer for 5 minutes to firm up.

If you prefer a vanilla icing on the biscuit, replace the lemon juice with vanilla essence and leave out the zest.

These delicious biscuits should melt in your mouth and won’t last long around boyfriends. Or me.

Let them eat pear & almond cake

When it comes to family gatherings on my Mum’s side, it seems the responsibility of cake-baker/dessert bringer has become solely mine.  This is great in some ways – it satisfies my baking urges and lets me put all those recipes I’ve been gathering into practice but it means my Grandma no longer does the baking. And boy can she bake! I’ve never seen her produce anything that wasn’t absolutely lovely (sometimes several different cakes and slices for the one occasion) and it all just has that Grandma style that I love. She likes to try different recipes too and if she thinks it is a recipe worth keeping she will say “put a big tick next to that one!”

I am happy to announce this pear and almond cake with almond crunch topping I made for Mother’s day got the Grandma Tick of Approval.  With juicy slices of sweet pear and a delicious butterscotch almond topping this is a cake that will satisfy everyone.

I also learned something. Whenever I decide to bake, I take the butter from the fridge and realise I need softened butter and mine is rock hard. When I’m really desperate to cream cold butter and sugar I put both in a stainless steel mixing bowl and into the hot oven for 10 seconds. The bowl heats up as well as the butter so while it works, there is a bit of melting and finger burning going on and it’s not ideal at all. After poking around the internet at a few different options (like pounding the butter between 2 sheets of baking paper…sounds messy right?) I found one handy hint that I like: place butter in a snaplock bag and put in a bowl of warm (not hot) water for a few minutes. It works. It’s not as even as leaving it to soften at room temperature but if you’re like me and never remember to do that, this will save you time and burnt fingers.

Here is the recipe for pear and almond cake with almond crunch topping as found on www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk

Cake Ingredients

175g softened butter

150g Golden Caster Sugar (I used regular caster sugar)

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 medium eggs

220g self-raising flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp grated nutmeg

140ml sour cream

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

50g ground almonds

2 firm pears, such as Comice (I used brown Bosc)

A little lemon juice

Topping Ingredients

50g butter

50g Light Muscovado Sugar (I used dark brown sugar)

2 tbsp double cream

75g flaked or slivered almonds

Method

Line a 20cm springform tin with non-stick baking paper. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan160°C/gas 4.

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour with the second egg. Sift the remaining flour, a pinch of salt, bicarbonate of soda and the nutmeg together in a seperate bowl. Fold half the flour into the creamed mixture. Fold in the sour cream, zest and almonds, then the remaining flour.

Peel, core and slice the pears into eighths. Toss with lemon juice to prevent discolouration. Spread half of the cake mixture over the base of the tin (it will be quite thick ) cover with the pears (I laid mine in a pin-wheel shape), then spread the  remaining cake mixture over the top (I had some left over pear slices that I placed on the top for an extra layer). Bake for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the almond topping. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the sugar and cream, then stir in the almonds and remove from heat.

Remove the cake from the oven and pour the almond mixture evenly over the top (be careful as the top of the cake will be fragile). Bake for a further 20-25 minutes, or until the topping is toffee-coloured and a skewer comes out clean from the centre of the cake. Try to aim right for the centre when skewering as it’s hard to tell if the cake is cooked when you’re skewering right through juicy pear slices! Remove and serve warm or cold. I served mine with vanilla ice-cream and the leftover double cream – delicious!

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