Sunday, June 28, 2009

brown rice and mushroom risotto

This recipe was inspired by a delicious brown rice risotto that I recently tried at one of my new favorite restaurants. The place is called Hugo's, and it is a hypoglycemic's paradise. Finally, a place where I can eat out and choose from quinoa, whole grain rolls, brown rice, and wheat ciabatta!! If you live in LA, you should definitely check it out - Hugo's is also great for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free people. They are also very eco-friendly and try to be a "green" restaurant as much as possible. And yet, it's not the kind of place where you feel like "healthy" is being rammed down your throat. You can get carne asada and goat cheese mashed potatoes there. Hugo's seems to be kind of an entertainment industry hangout as well, because every time we go there, we seem to overhear people at neighboring tables talking about casting calls and thier IMDB profiles. (If you don't know what IMDB is, clearly you don't live in LA - it's big here!)

Aaaanyway. Normally, my blood sugar sensitivity won't allow me to eat risotto, so brown rice risotto is a pretty exciting concept. I used short-grain brown rice from the grain bins at Whole Foods, so it's also a cheap meal. It does take at least an hour to make, with all the stirring and adding broth, but it is worth it, and the texture does turn out creamy and dense like a regular risotto. Mushroom broth can be a little bit hard to find, but I picked up Pacific brand broth at Whole Foods. If no one stocks it near you, you can make your own by rehydrating some dried mushrooms and keeping the liquid, as I described here. (Be sure to use enough dried mushrooms to make 2 cups of broth.) I wanted to use chopped up green beans for a perky little crunch, but I didn't have any, so I threw in some sliced zucchini at the last minute. It was good too, but I am eager to try this again with green beans! (Any excuse, really.)

This recipe made enough for Mike and I to have a hearty meal, but next time we'll double it so there are leftovers. I was a little sad not to have much left, especially after taking the time to make this batch.


2 teaspoons olive oil
1/3 yellow onion, diced
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
2 cups mushroom broth
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup short grain brown rice
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 cup chopped crimini (or other brown) mushrooms
1 zucchini chopped (or your choice of vegetable)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot. Saute the onions, and add the garlic after a few minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring the broth and tomato paste to a boil in a separate pot, stirring so that the paste disentegrates into the liquid.

3. When the onions are nearly translucent, add the rice to the pot and stir to coat. Then add 1 cup of the boiling broth mixture. Adding it hot will help the rice to begin to simmer. Keep it going at a very low simmer, partly covering the pot with the lid. Stir every few minutes until the rice has absorbed almost all of the liquid - this could take 30 minutes. At this point, add half of the remaining broth and repeat the procedure.

4. When the rice has once again soaked up most of the liquid, add the sage and mushrooms to the pot. Then add the rest of the broth mixture, and repeat the stirring/soaking process.

5. For the vegetable, you could steam or saute in a separate pan and add it to the risotto just before serving. This method would give you the most control over its done-ness. Or, for a simpler approach, you could throw the veggies into the rice pot on the last addition of liquid, allowing for the necessary cooking time relative to the veggie you've chosen (a little more for green beans or asparagus, a little less for zucchini).

6. When the rice has absorbed the final portion of broth, stir in the Parmesan cheese and serve. Maybe garnish with a little sage leaf. :)

Mushroom Risotto on Foodista

Saturday, June 13, 2009

in search of mocklate: almond scones with strawberry butter

Remember that episode of Friends when Monica, the chef played by Courtney Cox, was supposed to demo a new (and as it turned out, icky) chocolate substitute? That wonder product was called "mocklate," and that's what comes to mind whenever I set out to create a new version of some dessert that I normally can't have. So, even though the recipe in this post is not a chocolaty one, it fits into this category since pastries are most definitely not filthy sucre friendly.

Strawberries are gloriously in season now, so I wanted to make something in the strawberry shortcake family, and after some thought and some web surfing, I settled on scones. For one thing, scones aren't usually a super sweet pastry, so I thought it would be easier to adapt. They are also a heavier, denser pastry, which I thought would work well with whole wheat flour. But, I needed something to put on the scones - along with the strawberries, of course. Whipped cream is out because of the sugar, so originally I was going to go with creme fraiche, although I would just have to skip the jam. Anything that concentrates the fruit like in jam or preserves is too sugary for me, plus they usually add even more refined sugar on top of the de-fiberized fruit sugars. Fortunately, the perfect solution came when I saw this post from the kitchn about strawberry butter. When I read it, I knew...I HAD to make that. ASAP.

For the scones, I used this recipe as a jumping off point, and made my substitutions - whole wheat pastry flour instead of all purpose, Splenda instead of sugar. I also added the almond extract because I like its sweet cherry-ish flavor, as well as the sliced almonds. I did find that I had to add more liquid to the batter to get it to hold together, probably because I was using the whole wheat flour. At first, I was adding heavy cream a tablespoon at a time, but after the third one, I still needed more liquid, so I switched to water. In the end, the scones came out just the right texture, flaky and delicious. Mike even said that they didn't taste too wheaty.

The strawberry butter could not have been easier to make, so I made two kinds. First, I followed this recipe (scroll down and ignore the popovers), except for using Splenda instead of butter. This version was ready to use as soon as the scones were cooled enough to serve, but after it's been in the refrigerator, it would need softening again to spread easily unless you thought to form it into a sliceable log or cube before chilling it. Thus the second version of strawberry butter that I made - strawberry canola butter. Using equal parts butter and canola oil, you create a better ratio of healthy and unhealthy fats, and it really tastes the same as the all-butter version. You just pour the blended canola butter into a tupperware container and refrigerate it until it firms up. The beautiful thing is that it remains spreadable in addition to being a little healthier, and I've been eating it for the past two weeks, so it keeps well too!

If you are not hypoglycemic (or diabetic), you might have a hard time appreciating exactly how happy it made me to be able to eat a sweet pastry for breakfast, with a fruity condiment that didn't wreck my blood sugar. Needless to say, I will be making this again!


2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup Splenda (granular, not the kind you find in packets)
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons cold butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sliced raw almonds

1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, Splenda, and salt. Stir to blend. Cut in the cold butter with two knives (or use a pastry blender if you have one), until the texture is like coarse crumbs. Here's a tutorial about cutting in the butter, in case you've never done it before. It's the key to getting the flaky scone texture.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk one egg with the almond extract and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Stir the liquid mixture into the dry mixture until just combined. Gently stir in the almond slices.

3. Put the dough onto a floured surface, and try to form it into one lump. If it is too dry to hold together, add liquid (cream, milk, or water) one tablespoon at a time until it coheres. (I had to add about 6 tablespoons of cream/water). Be careful not to overwork the dough.

4. Separate the dough into two halves, and spread each half into a sheet about one inch thick. Use a knife to cut the dough into triangular scone shapes. Place the triangles onto a greased cookie sheet.

5. Make the glaze by whisking the remaining egg with two tablespoons of heavy cream. Brush the glaze lightly onto the tops of the scones, then decorate them with a few more almond slices.

6. Bake for 15-18 minutes. When a knife or toothpick comes out clean, they are ready to cool on a wire rack.


1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter, softened at room temperature
1/3 cup mashed fresh strawberries
2 Tablespoons Spenda (granular)

1. Soften the butter for a few hours.

2. Wash the strawberries and remove the green parts. In a medium sized mixing bowl, smash the strawberries with a fork. Be sure to use ripe, juicy strawberries!

3. Add the Splenda and the butter to the strawberries (keeping the juices), and use an electric mixer to combine. When it's well blended, it will be pink throughout (yay!). Try to resist the urge to lick the spoon.


1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup plus three big strawberries, mashed
4 Tablespoons Spenda (granular)

The instructions are the same as above, with the addition of the canola oil. Just mix everything together until it is pink throughout. The canola butter will initially have a consistency similar to yogurt (again, resist the temptation to dive into it with a spoon), but it will firm up in the refrigerator. Keep it in an airtight container. It will be spreadable within a few hours.