Writer’s paralysis has hit. It’s not writer’s block, because I have a steady stream of topics I want to talk about, but none of them seem just right. Why does it matter if it’s my personal blog? Why don’t I just let my consciousness stream onto the screen? That’s a tricky question. As with most other trends (notably–gifs, jelly shoes, Instagram), I arrived late to the blogging party. Having examples of so many other well done blogs is inspiring and instructive, but it’s also overwhelming. Attitudes range from highly personal, candid, and grammatically challenged to nearly anonymous and flawlessly written and photographed. The most frustrating in that range being the gifted blogger who whips out deeply personal stunning writing and beautiful photographs effortlessly, because how else could they manage to post with such quality twice a week? With total admiration and zero actual knowledge of her process, this is how Laura’s blog strikes me. Hers, and most others in the running for awards from Saveur. It’s apparently the magic formula.
A big part of me wishes I had discovered this outlet sooner, before Pinterest and so many expectations of what a food blog should be. At risk of this beginning to sound like a retirement post, never fear–I’ll be here for a while, regardless of form and quality. I can’t help but imagine, though, that the lack of peers a decade ago imparted freedom to follow one’s artistic gut without worry of analytics, followers, awards, and rumors of big wigs from Bon Appetit scouting for freelancers.
Before I write, I almost always, consciously or not, ask myself what my audience would want to read. Writing a cookbook, or even a teensy magazine feature, would be a dream, so I fear including fluffy language and words strung together in non-sentences. I get that sometimes you want a humorous, relatable account of someone else’s life, but I’m more drawn to pieces that leave me feeling as if I might make food friends with the author on an intellectual level. Deb, Kate, and Ashley’s web homes are some of my favorite to visit for that reason. The new year has brought, for me, a spirit of cleansing. Last year it was all resolutions, but all I want to do as of 2015 is find ways to eliminate the unnecessary and allocate more time to the important. That will just have to include finding my authentic voice and expression here at NCK.
Luckily, I feel equally authentic when talking about food as I do writing five paragraph essays about literary self-expression or why I can’t bring myself to eat a burger, so let’s shift gears and talk risotto. It’s an oldie from my first blog that’s so…drumroll, please…true to my approach to food, that it begged for a little more testing, a meatless re-write, and some shiny new photos with moody shadows. After its meat free makeover, this risotto is now truly everything I love (okay, maybe bacon was delicious in it, too): gluten-free, one dish, meatless, cheesy, a bit nutritious, comfort food, and rice. Just rice. It comes out piping hot and creamy and gets ladled into bowls that are equally convenient to enjoy on the couch during a “Say Yes to the Dress” marathon or around the table with loved ones. After much hypothesizing and one batch of scallions scorched to near ash under the broiler, I found the best bacon replacement to be soft, caramelized scallions (my favorite onion) paired with smoky…smoked paprika. So eloquent.
If you haven’t made risotto before but love to eat it (which you do, regardless of whether you’ve ever tasted a bite), let me warn you. You may be overcome by the urge to daydream new combinations of add-ins and cheeses, which you of course must test by making risotto twice a week. Also, and what I was really going to say, don’t let the constant stirring scare or deter you. Risotto is one of those things, like a roux, that you assume might be easy to burn or otherwise ruin given the complexity or length of the recipe. I tested this theory by busying myself with a camera suspended seven feet above the floor over a hot stove, letting much more than 30 seconds pass between bouts of stirring, and I never encountered more trouble than a couple grains of rice easily unstuck from the bottom of the pan with a gentle scrape. That said, the least risky approach is to do it right, at least the first time, with constant stirring. I skipped detailed step-by-step photos because I don’t aim to reinvent the wheel, and the PW has one or more photo tutorials to walk you through risotto. I credit my knowledge of risotto fundamentals to her.
Nothing makes me happier than hearing about all you real, dinner-making people trying my recipes. Morgan and his wife Sara, friends (in real life) who read my first blog way back when (one year ago), have voiced their enthusiasm for the original of this recipe repeatedly, so rest assured that it’s practical enough for a leisurely weeknight dinner. And, although I was too lazy to try it tonight, leftovers that have firmed up can be fried into a crispy-crusted risotto cake!
Thanks for taking that wordy journey with me from writer’s paralysis to blog post. If you’re up for doing it again (and again), here’s to an authentic 2015.
- 8 scallions (about 1 bunch)
- 2 T olive oil
- 1¾ t kosher salt
- 4 C vegetable broth or stock
- 2 C water
- 2 T butter
- 1 lb. sweet potatoes (2 small), peeled, ¼ to ½" dice (3 C diced)
- ¾ t smoked paprika
- 1 C small chopped yellow onion
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1½ C dry arborio rice
- ½ C dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
- ½ C sour cream (full fat recommended)
- 1 C finely grated mild to medium cheddar (about 3 oz.)
- 1 T thinly sliced chives (optional garnish)
- Preheat oven to 375 (F) and move rack to bottom third of oven. Arrange scallions in single layer on a baking sheet, use a brush to coat all over with up to ½ tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Roast 13 to 15 minutes, turning halfway through, until light golden and soft when gently squeezed. Let cool slightly, then slice about ⅛ inch thick, discarding dark green tops and root ends.
- Combine broth or stock and water in a medium saucepan, bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and cover to keep warm.
- In a Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Add sweet potato cubes, ½ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Stir to coat, then cook 3 to 4 minutes undisturbed in nearly a single layer. Continue to cook 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most potatoes are browned on most sides. When potatoes are almost browned, sprinkle ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika into pan and stir (adding toward the end prevents the spice from burning.). Remove to a separate dish.
- Heat remaining 1½ tablespoons olive oil in same pan over medium until hot and shimmering. Add yellow onion and cook a few minutes until just softened. Add garlic and cook another minute, until fragrant. Add rice and stir to coat in oil. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until rice becomes translucent around the edges. Pour wine into pan, scraping the bottom to deglaze. Adjust heat so liquid comes to a low simmer, then cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is nearly gone (about a minute).
- Over the next 20 to 25 minutes, ladle or scoop warm broth, ½ to 1 cup at a time, into the pot with the rice. After each addition of liquid, stir almost constantly and adjust heat as needed to maintain gentle bubbling. Constant stirring prevents rice from sticking to the pan. When each addition of broth is almost absorbed, add the next portion.
- After using up half the liquid, start tasting the rice a minute or two before the liquid is fully absorbed. Each batch of risotto can require a slightly different amount of liquid, but a creamy risotto, in this case, should use most or all of the broth. Reserve at least ¼ cup broth to finish the risotto.
- When the rice tastes done--not at all raw, but not mushy--turn off heat and add another ¼ cup broth. Stir in sour cream, then stir in cheddar until melted. Finally, add the majority of the sweet potatoes (reserving a few for garnish), roasted scallions, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Start with 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Serve in bowls, or as a side dish, garnished with chives and reserved sweet potato cubes.