Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Nick's Birthday Dinner: A Recap

I'm still updating from the weekend! On Saturday I had Nick's parents and his brother over for dinner to celebrate his birthday (which actually occurs during the lost moment in time between February 28th and March 1st - yep, a Leap Year baby!!). After wrangling with ideas for dinner, I decided to go with a tried and true favorite. I have made Giada's Dirty Risotto countless times and it has always been met with rave reviews. I served it simply Italian style - with a loaf of crusty bread and a romaine salad.

Risotto is a traditional Italian dish made with a short grain rice, usually referred to as arborio rice. It is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy. It originated in North Italy, specifically Eastern Piedmont, Western Lombardy, and Veneto where rice paddies are abundant. It is one of the pillars of Milanese cuisine. When risotto is cooked, the rice is first cooked briefly in butter or olive oil until briefly coated and the rice starts to turn translucent, before the broth is added.

Patience is the name of the game when it comes to cooking risotto! You can only add about a ladle of broth at a time and must contstantly stir the rice mixture until the broth is almost completely absorbed before adding more. It takes some time, but the result is more than worth it!!

Unfortunately in the midst of getting dinner prepared I forgot to take a picture of the dish, but the recipe is below. If you like risotto, or want to try something new, I highly recommend this recipe!

Dirty Risotto

5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 T. butter
2 oz. pancetta, chopped
6 oz. Italian sausage, casing removed
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
4 oz. button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 1/2 c. Arborio rice
3/4 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer. Cover the broth and keep warm over low heat.

2. In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sausage and saute until golden brown about 5 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper and mushrooms and saute until tender,s craping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering brother and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bit and the mixture is creamy, about 25-30 minutes total.

4. Remove from heat. Stir in 3/4 of the parmesan. Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the parsley and remaining parmesan and serve immediately.

Source: Giada DeLaurentiis - The Food Network


Nick's favorite type of cake is yellow batter with chocolate, surgar-rich frosting. In years past I have always just bought box cake mix and a can of frosting. Since I am on my new cooking kick I decided that this year it HAD to be made from scratch! It definitely took a lot of time, but I think it turned out really well. The cake came out in more of a sponge cake texture than a fluffy yellow cake, but it had great flavor and the icing was perfect! I topped the cake with some dark chocolate shavings. Below are a couple of pictures and the recipes that I used.

Four-Egg Yellow Cake
Three 8- or 9-inch round layers

This is a slightly modernized version of the old 1-2-3-4 Cake.

2 2/3 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla OR 1 tsp vanilla + 1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large egg yolks
4 large egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 8x2-inch or 9x2-inch round cake pans or line the bottoms with wax or parchment paper.

1. Whisk together thoroughly in a bowl: sifted cake flour, baking powder and salt.

2. Combine in another bowl or in a liquid measure cup: milk and vanilla extract.

3. Beat butter in a large bowl until creamy. Gradually add 1 1/2 cups sugar and beat on high speed until light, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in one egg yolk at a time. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the milk mixture in 2 parts, beating until smooth.

4. Using clean beateres, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar, beating on high speed. Beat until the peaks are stiff but not dry. Use a rubber spatula to fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remaining whites. Divide the batter among the pans and spread evenly.

5. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes.

Source: Joy of Cooking cookbook

Chocolate Buttercream Icing

YIELD: 3 cups

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening (I used butter flavored Crisco)
1/2 cup butter or margarine (I used butter)
3/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. clear vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar)
3-4 T. milk
Light corn syrup**

Cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add cocoa and vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep icing covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.

**Add 3-4 T. light corn syrup per recipe to thin for icing cake.

For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use.

Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.

Source: Wilton


Jamie/Babagirls said...

Do you think there is a major difference, flavor wise, between cake mix and making it from scratch? I would think the iciing would be a lot better than the canned versions that I usually buy. Just wondering if it is worth it to make the cake mix from scratch or not. Looks yummy!