Like warm hug: Truffled mushroom (& leek) Risotto

Since we have a post what to do with

risotto leftovers, it seemed appropriate to have a post on how risotto gets made at

Grazing Bears HQ.  I was really intimidated by the idea of making risotto at home because I’ve seen enough Top Chef to know this is one dish where people get sent home.  Frankly, I’m not sure what the big deal is.

It’s easy, rich, easy to course correct if things are going your way, and totally delicious.

  •  1½ – 2 cups Arborio rice (I highly recommend Trader Joe’s for this purchase)
  • “Baby” Portobello mushrooms or other dark mushroom (not button)
  • 4-6 trimmed leeks, sliced into thin rounds
  • Pad of butter
  • Garlic
  • Shallots (2) or ½ very mild white onion
  • White wine
  • 3 cups Chicken/Veggie Stock
  • ¼ cup milk or heavy whipping cream (optional)
  • 2/3 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Black or White Truffle oil or shaved truffles (optional, but sortof)
  •  Small pot/small pan/large pan (preferably with high sides)

This is one recipe where advance prep does make things roll a bit faster. Dice up all your veggies so that they’re ready to roll.  If your mushrooms have tough stems (they sometimes do, don’t throw them away, put them in the stock!).

Speaking of, put your stock on low on the stove so it starts warming up.  Meanwhile, in a DRY pan with high sides, add your Arborio rice and put it on medium heat.  You will want to gently toast the Arborio rice, until it starts to turn a little golden yellow, even some brown grains mixed in.  You’ll also know its ready by the smell, suddenly it will blossom into this very nutty, earthy scent.

Once your risotto is ready, add a pad of butter and mix in some finely chopper shallots and garlic and stir.  The rice will “fry” a bit, but keep an eye on your garlic.  As soon as it looks soft, dump a generous amount of white wine over the whole concoction.  It’ll sizzle and shutter, make sure to keep stirring and scrape up the bottom.  From here on, risotto

making would be a bit dull. Now that your stock is warm, add about a ladleful over the rice and stir, once the liquid has been absorbed, repeat.  And repeat.  You’ll be amazed how much liquid the Arborio will absorb.  Unlike what they say on tv, you do NOT need to stir every single moment – stir regularly, not constantly.  Just make sure there’s enough liquid and that you have it on medium (not high) heat and you’ll be fine.

While adding liquid to your rice, you can get started on the mushrooms.  In a separate pan, on medium heat, sauté your mushrooms with some butter, salt, and garlic. Finish with a little of the white wine. Once they’re nice and tender, they will have likely release some liquid (plus the white wine) transfer the ‘shrooms to a bowl and set aside. Add the liquid to

your risotto.   In the same pan, you can also tenderize your leeks.  Again, add a little butter, salt and garlic, and on LOW heat, let them get tender, golden, and buttery soft.

 By now, it’s probably time to check the Arborio for doneness. Try a few grains- they should have a bit of a bite in the center, but not crunch.  Al dente.  Keep adding liquid and stirring regularly if it’s not quite there yet.

Once it’s very close, add a bit of milk or heavy cream (panna if you have it), and combine completely.

Add in your mushrooms and leeks, stir.  Add in grated parm, stir. Serve, drizzle with black truffle oil or a ¼ teaspoon of shaved truffle.  Have your mind blown.  We had this particular batch with a bit of himalyan salt plate grilled shrimp.

Stay for the leftovers: Arancini (Risotto Balls)

Arancini, or little oranges, are so named for their shaped and color.  I have another name for them, which may not be appropriate for this particular forum.

Risotto is one of my favorite, go to meals.  While a little time consuming to prepare, it’s a totally doable weeknight, one dish dinner.

The question with risotto has always been, what to do with the leftovers? It’s not an easy food to reheat, and if you bother, you’ll likely be rewarded with a lukewarm, goey mess.  Enter the arrancino.  (Honestly, sometimes I make risotto just so I can have these).

Start with leftover risotto, any flavor will suffice, here, we used left over baby Portobello mushroom risotto.  There are a lot of different recipes out there, but for once, I’ve taken the road of least resistance.

What you’ll need:

Left over risotto (at least a cup or more)

2 eggs

Worchester sauce

Panko (bread crumbs are ok too)

Mini mozzarella balls

Olive oil

Put a heavy skillet on low heat with about ¼ of an inch or less of olive oil.

Make an egg wash with two eggs, a little milk, a drizzle of Worchester sauce, salt and pepper.

Using your hands, take a small, small golf ball sized ball of the cold risotto and pack tightly.  Using your thumb, dig a little hole and drop in a mozzarella ball in.  Close it up, and pack tightly using both hands, making sure that the mozzarella is completely covered by rice.

Gently roll in the egg wash, and immediately roll in the bread crumbs or panko.  Repeat.

Once you have five or six, you can start pan frying them.  I used tongs, to gently turn them, though if you press too hard you’ll end up with little squares or tetrahedrons (or just misshapen, like mine).

Once they are golden brown on all sides, drain them on a paper towel and they are ready to enjoy.

You could in theory put any kind of cheese inside (like blue) that makes sense, or just skip that step.

The result is a deliciously crunchy exterior with warm, creamy (mushroomy) risotto, followed up a melty mozzarella center.  YUM!

Old Fashion Donuts: Fried Clouds for your Pie Hole

There are some childhood memories that make you smile every time you think of it.  My mom

making these “birthday” donuts is one of my fondest food memories.

The recipe was hidden away in my mother’s favorite wooden box, which has literally traveled the world and has been around much longer than me.  The recipe card is actually older and came from a family friend who is no longer with us.

So. Invite a bunch of friends over.  Have these donuts.  Enjoy the decadence of yesteryear and make your own donut hole memories.

PS.  I hear a RUMOR, that it is possible to bake these. Like, in an oven. While we at grazing bears would never condone baking when frying is clearly the better tasting option (see: Venezuelan Arepas), feel free to experiment with that if you are so inclined.

“Special” Equipment you’ll need:

  • Donut cutter (or use a drinking glass and a coke bottle top OR two buiscut cutters in the right sizes from Sur La Table)
  • A VERY large bowl
  • Frying oil


1 ½ TABLEspoons dry yeast (about 1½ packets)
¾ cup warm (NOT hot) water

2 cups milk
½ cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup mashed potatoes (either left over from dinner, or made fresh- ok, or cheat, and make instant mashed potatoes)

2 cups flour
1 beaten egg

5 ½ cups flour

Flour for sprinkling

Simple Glaze1/4 cup of milk
1-2 cups of powdered sugar

To start, make sure your kitchen is warm.  Sounds silly, but temp is important.  If it’s not warm, turn the oven on for the duration.

Combine yeast and water in a small cup or bowl, make sure the east is fully incorporated with no lumps, set aside in a WARM place.  In a small pan, bring to a NEAR boil the milk, sugar, butter, salt and mashed potatoes.  Do not allow it to actually boil, just to a simmer, and remove from heat.  Let cool until it’s warm enough to put your finger in it without scalding, but it should still be warm.

Add to mixer bowl and mix in 2 cups of flour and beaten egg and mix until very smooth.  The dough will be wet like a cake batter, but don’t be alarmed.  Add the yeast and water mixture (which should have already risen a bit) and STIR well.

Set aside for 20-30 min.   The dough will visibly rise during this time, but probably not dramatically.  Now, transfer to a very large bowl and, using a wooden spoon, and then your hands, incorporate the 5 ½ cups of flour.

The dough will be incredibly sticky.  Like, very very sticky.  Once it’s all nicely incorporated, cover with a towel and

let it rest in a warm place.

Let rise for 30 – 45 min. If you have other things to do, now is a good time.

Using a sharp knife, slice off about a third of the dough and cover the rest.Once you’re ready to get started (dough can sit for a long while if you need more time for whatever it is you’re doing), get your work surface ready by sprinkling a little flour.  Remember, that dough is sticky!

With a floured rolling pin (or whatever), GENTLY flatten/roll the dough out- to about a ½ inch or less thickness.

Dipping your biscut cutter in flour each time, cut out the donut shapes.  You will end up with many more holes than actual donuts, try to use as much of the dough as possible.

Set the cut donuts aside, or if you have help, have one person start frying while you repeat the rolling/cutting process.  Make sure you aside the scraps, these can be reformed into a ball and re-cut.

The donuts will fry very quickly. Make sure there is enough oil in the pan so that they do NOT TOUCH THE BOTTOM, otherwise that spot will burn.

While the donuts are still hot, glaze them in either a simple melted powdered sugar glaze, roll in sugar and cinnamon or try something chocolate or fruit.

The donuts by themselves are not very sweet- so feel free to embellish!

Eat your heart out Krispie Kreme.

Ripasso: Decadence worth a Review

Ripasso (in Italian: review, (from the v. ripassare) or as it relates to wine, to pour over grapes again) is the new endeavor from the much beloved and reviled chef of the ill-fated Terragusto.  The restaurant is reborn in a new, trendy Wicker Park location (next to Nannet Lapore on Damen).  The ambience is cozy, well lit—the staff on the night we were there was pleasant and efficient.  But the food is the star.  Think: Thanksgiving in Italy (if there were such a thing “Ringraziamento” is a scam from exchange students)—better—think wedding reception in Italy.

Being true grazers, we choose the five course chef tasting menu. At $49 per person (the entire table must order it together)—it’s not exactly a cheap date.  However, the value, given the volume, quality and freshness of the ingredients, and the sheer overwhelming deliciousness; is pretty incredible.

A word on wine:  Mid-range bottles for the most part, but what was most surprising was the origin of the wines.   Red’s from famous white regions like Veneto and Trieste; Sardinian wines; and a broad selection of red’s from Sicily, Puglia and Calabria.  Highly recommend the Nero d’Avola- light, highly drinkable and a good value at $30. 


They started us off with a vegetable plate of roasted beets, shaved salad, and  “minted” carrots.  They also brought out what I can only describe as a slightly off-colored flan, with not particularly attractive strips of meat next to it.  I groaned internally for a moment, thinking, oh boy- not off to a good start.  Thankfully, I didn’t say it out loud, otherwise I’d be eating crow.  The warm onion creme mold with braised rabbit was absolutely, irrevocably, fantastic.  The effect was a thick, warm french onion soup that literally melted in your mouth as you sort of chewed,  coupled with super flavorful, mildly gamey pieces of the tenderest rabbit imaginable.

What followed was a variable orgasmic parade of dish after gut busting dish of thoughtfully prepared, lovingly executed odes to the very best of Italian cuisine.


The risotto.  Had everything else not been so amazing, one bite of this alone would have made me a believer.  Creamy, buttery risotto with heaping, perfectly cooked scallops, wild mushrooms, positively pheromone reeking of white truffles.   Earthy musk meets briney sea.  Talk about surf and turf.


The pasta course brought not one, but two incredible achievements- a butternut squash ravioli dusted with crushed peach-pit biscotti, whose velvety pillows of love filled butter, butternut put anything I’ve ever made to shame.   The cream drenched, four legged, four meat (lamb, veal, pork, & beef) bolognese over house made pappardelle, also wafting of truffle, was. Well. I’m actually at a loss for words.  My mouth is actually watering right now as I think about it.  Umami. Game. Cream.

Were I a different kind of person, I would never make pasta at home again, for shame.


The meat course was a sleeper hit; at first it look like my mom’s pork loin, but the sear crust (presumably a dry rub of salt, garlic, and cardimum?) coupled with delciously garlic, bitter rapini was greater than the sum of its parts.  After so much decadence, the meat course almost felt like a palate cleanser.

At this point you’re thinking, WTF, what else could you eat?  Stuffed does not even begin to cover it.


But there’s more.  If you call now…   the dessert course.  A whipped ricotta stracciatella with a homemade waffle cone was rich, nicely balanced and not at all over sweet.  The other dessert plate featured an apple/pecan streusel with a mild panna cotta and raw apple salad.  Again, individually, very, very good.  Eaten together, it was like apple pecan pie alla mode– the sum far greater than its parts.

All of this to say.  If you like things that are delicious. If you have the nearly unlimited stomach capacity necessary to actually eat all of this without being sick.  If you have a special occasion.  Wow. Just go.  So good. Food coma for days.

Vicent: Amsterdam in Andersonville

Vincent is a great little gem in Andersonville that is worth the trip north. It specializes in Dutch cuisine and is owned and operated by the same chef/owner as the excellent Home Bistro (HB) in Boystown.

I would definitely put them in the “winter food” category- the dinner here is good, but requires a bit of an adeventurous palette as dutch food can be a bit out of the ordinary.

We just tired the brunch for the very first time and was delighted to discover what can only be described as the ultimate hangover cure. The brunch menu features a nciely edited selection of egg and various types of meat together. Both dishes we ordered were decadent, with bold flavors and generous portions. In the “Dock Worker” (essentially a high-end Grand Slam), featured scrambled eggs, maple bacon, and pulled pork. There were lots of interesting things on the menu that I would absolutely want to come back and try.

I will say, the star of the show, however, were the drinks. They are absolutely spectacular. Hands down, the very best bloody marry I have ever had. Herbal, smokey, just the right spice, interesting and delicious. Perhaps best of all, they have several different kinds– we ordered the Cheesemonger (pictured), which for only $4 more came with a generous (and delicious) cheese board.

They are big on the herbals, many of their drinks feature raw market herbs as part of the mix, which brings a welcome element of surprise and variety. They also mix with a wonderful variety of liquors that you may not have had before like the incomparably delicious Hum liquor, produced here in Illinois and another revelation- Junipero Gin for Anchor Distilling in SF.

If nothing else, come sit at their lovely, dimly lit, bistro style bar and enjoy exploring the menu.

The staff here is top notch- very friendly and knowledgeable without being overbearing.




Maude’s Liquor Bar: Too Much is Never Enough

In my imagination, centuries of French culinary tradition can be essentially boiled down to two things:  winter and summer.   There’s the Mediterranean fare that features Salad Nicoise and herbes de provence; and then there’s the butter and cream fare that I think of as being winter French food.  (I can hear the Francophiles having convulsions right now, btw).

Maude’s Liquor Bar is indisputably winter food.  Chicago-winter food.  Fat people in Chicago winter food (hello, bears).  Unfortunately, my first time at Maude’s on a hot summer evening.  I say unfortunately because while the food and the entire experience were good-when I got up from the table I felt like a humid day, with a film of butter.   It was just too heavy and rich for hot weather. I vowed to try it again (when it was cold) and I’m really happy I came back (and that it’s chunky, cable-knit sweater weather).

There’s something about Maude’s Liquor Bar that feels exquisitely and consistently thoughtful and meticulous.  Much of the enjoyment here is in the details, and how effortless the ensemble comes together.

First, the décor is absolutely perfect:  downstairs has white tiled walls, diffuse, yellow lighting, with unassuming, but thoughtful details everywhere you look.

With a name that includes the words “Liquor” and “Bar” (two of my favorites), you’ll be happy to know that the drink menu does not disappoint.  The simple menu is divided into three categories: sparkling (I had the St. Germain Fizz, delicious, light, herbal); Stirred and Smash (presumably named for the crushed ice and not their effect), which are high-balls featuring a variety of liquors mixed in surprisingly complex ways that achieved the desired result (we tried the vodka and smokey violet).

Despite the name, the real star here is the food.   Everything on the menu is designed to be sampled and shared (a trend I’m beginning to find somewhat tiresome, to be frank, as it goes against my nature).

The classic lyonnaise salad which is one of the most decadent salads I’ve ever had (and that’s saying something).  An intriguing combination of crisp raw greens in a light vinaigrette with a warm egg (yolk dripping) and two healthy pieces of deliciously flavorful (paprika?) smoked pork belly.

The chicken liver mouse was serviced with generous buttered and grilled bread and served with a house-made shallot/red wine jelly/mystery food that had the waiter scampering back to the kitchen to tell us what it was.

The steak tartar actually defies my ability to describe exactly why it was so delicious- rich, fresh, both creamy and bright, with buttery bread as a perfect balance. We also had a pork loin and gnocchi special, which brought with it rich, dark & deep flavors- the weight of a wine reduction, an earthy flavor and strong contract to the tartar.

All in all, the service was excellent and the prices felt – reasonable (for an at least somewhat special occasion), the drinks were a revelation and the food was mouth-wateringly good.

Its just too rich and decadent to be everyday food.   Full disclosure, they do apparently have excellent steamed mussels (no doubt prepared in some form of butter) and a wide, fresh selection of raw oysters which could have lightened the load, as it were, but hey-too much is never enough.

Pumpkin Cookies/Cake bites: Semantics aside, good and easy

I’m usually a little skeptical about cakey-cookies. I don’t trust them. I feel like cookies should chewy or crisp, but at what point do you become a bread? A cupcake? It’s a slippery slope and cakey cookies are troubling.

Despite my initial complicated feelings on the matter, I decided to give these a try and found that they are a tasty treat that’s perfect for the fall/holidays brought to my attention by the baker extraordinaire in my office. The result is subtle and still really sings.

1 cup sugar
1 cup pumpkin (puree)
1 Egg
2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chopped walnuts (optional)

Cream shortening, sugar and pumpkin. Add egg and mix. Add dry ingredients. Drop from spoon on un-greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 12 minutes.

3 teaspoon butter
4 teaspoon milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
3/4 teaspoon Vanilla

Cook first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan until dissolved. Cool. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and stir. Let cookies cool before adding frosting.

I dream of buttercream: Carmelyn’s Brilliant Caramel Buttercream

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that while I can pretty much handle going through the motions of baking (the temps, the measures, the tempering, the pinches, etc.)—the science part- pretty well.  The art of baking on the other head, the decorating, frosting, peaking, etc, can be a little bit more a challenge (see, rescuing a fiasco post).

She finally shared her secret to butter cream and I will share it with you here too.  My brilliant co-work, on the other hand, is a master.  Check out the pic  of her Oreo cookie, peanut butter and smore buttercream creations.  Delish.  And beautiful.  How annoying.

This recipe is almost fool proof though, and you too and bask in the adoration of screaming fans (or office mates, as the case may be).

A few notes:

Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature.

You’ll need to jerry-rig a double boiler (make sure you’re bowl doesn’t actually touch the water, I learned the hard way).  She somehow got the kitchen aid stand mixer bowl into the equation, but after rummaging through all my cabinets I realized that wouldn’t work for me.  Instead, I used a separate bowl for the egg whites and then transferred them into the mixer.

You can use whatever flavoring you want.  I added homemade caramel at the end, but in theory you could do anything- chocolate, orange or almond extract, nutella, raspberries, peanut butter, whatever.  Alone, it is mildly sweet and eminently edible, so you could also leave it plain.

This is labor intensive.  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but its a bit of a process.  Its worth it.

To make the magic happen, you’ll need:

Caramel Cream

1 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon water

1/4 heavy whipping cream

1 teaspon vanilla

In a small saucepan, on medium heat, dump your cup of sugar in and pour a teaspoon of water on top.  Now WATCH, and wait.  Seriously, you have to watch it.  After about 4 min., the sugar will be bubbling away and suddenly it will start turning yellow, then gold, and then– oops! Burned.  The key is to turn the heat off before that happens.  Go ahead and get another saucepan going too, just in case.

Once you’re removed it from the heat at the perfect caramel (not burned brown, gold) color, SLOWLY, add the heavy whipping cream a little at a time.  It’ll sizzle.  Maybe splash- just keep stirring.  Add the vanilla and stir until it’s all incorporated.  It’ll now be a butterscotch color.  If you feel it’s too runny, apply some gentle heat, it’ll thicken up.  Make sure you put your fingers in it and taste it.

Tip #1:  You didn’t watch like I told you to and now there’s a rock hard sheet of burned, crystallized caramel on the bottom of your pot.  It’s sugar– to clean it off, you just need to fill it with water and boil it– the sugar will redissolve.

Tip #2: Cheat.  You can always just buy Mrs. Richardson’s Butterscotch Caramel ice cream topping.

For the butter cream: 

  • 4 large egg whites at room temperature
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 3 sticks of butter at room
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Flavor(ings)  Caramel sauce, in this case(about 1/2 cup, depending)

Place the egg whites and sugar in your heat proof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Wisk the egg whites and sugar continuously until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture reads 160 on a candy thermometer.

Put your egg white mixture into your kitchen aid and with the wisk attachment on.  Get out a timer, and wisk egg white mixture on medium high (8 speed on a kitchen aid) for 5 minutes. Increase to high (10) for an additional 6 minutes.  Follow the directions or do something else.  You’re peaks will look beautiful long before the time is up, but they aren’t ready.   Once the eleven minutes is up (I know, its forever, but you’ll be doing other things while this is going on).  You’re peaks will be flawless, stiff, and glossy white.

While the egg whites are wisking, put your unsalted room temp butter in a separate bowl and beat with a hand mixer until fluffy and pale in color. Set aside.

When you are done wisking the egg whites, reduce the speed to medium low (like 4) and begin adding butter ¼ cup at a time. Make sure butter is fully incorporated before adding more butter.  Add vanilla and stand back and appreciate your handiwork.

The result at this point like a creamy yellow satin sheet.  It’s also delicious.

Change to paddle attachment. Add about half of the caramel and mix on low speed until smooth and fully incorporated.
Taste as you go.  Again, at this stage, you could add any number of sweet delicious things if you wanted to add more flavor.

I love duck phuket.

His name is Duck Phuket and this the story of how we feel in love.

I know sausage is a Chicago institution, AND, I do love meat, and I do love tube shaped meats in their many iterations; but truthfully sausage has never cried out to me.

HeavenMaybe it was my experience at one of the food truck meat & greets that just didn’t sell me on the Haute Sausage food truck everyone else seems to love.  Maybe it’s the name, which frankly, I find rather… haughty.

Regardless.  As I was sauntering downstairs to fullfill a promise to try the new Duck and Roll Food Truck (if for no other reason than the name); when I’m forced to do a double take on new item on Haute’s menu.   Pot pie.

Despite the fact that my childhood didn’t inspire a Rockwell painting, something about pot pie stirs a sense of imaginary nostalgia.  My grandmother WOULD have made this under other circumstances.

I digress.

I ordered the Phuket Duck Pot Pie which according to them has  “Sherry duck sausage  with caremlized pears and onions in a thai red curry sauce.”   Two words.  Holy phuket. 

It really doesn’t look like much.  In fact, I debated the picture because it just doesn’t do it justice.  The smell that wafts off of it is of nutmeg and mulled wine, and a butter pie crust.  It smells like comfort.  It tastes like fauxstalgia.  The sherry balanced the duck and left behind a delicious red meatyness was almost beefy without being overpowering.  The red curry sauce was not overly spicy, but just enough a background kick to really bring it home.  The pairs and onions were not overt, but they whole thing had a complexity that left me full, but wanting more.   Oh.  And covered with a buttery crisp crust. My mouth is actually watered again right now.

Especially on a brisk Chicago day like today, it was like being wrapped in a warm blanket.  Perfection does not come cheap, however, $10 bucks is what it takes to gets you this beauty (on the inside).

Try it out for yourself or @hautesausage. 

Gilt Taste – Gourmet Food

I know it has been far too long sence we last posted, its funny how life and laziness can get in the way. So I recently came across an interesting website by Gilt groupe, for those of you not familiar, Gilt Groupe it is essentially a high-end online “discount” store. Providing deals on boutique spas, high-end clothing and everything in between…well almost everything except food. Now here comes Gilt Taste essentially the same concept except but in the form of a grocery store. Many of the unobtainable foods that I have mentioned in the past can be found here such as finger limes, black garlic and even Micro popcorn shoots and believe me there will be many posts to come one I get my first shipment. I can’t wait to crack open my first finger lime. More to come..