Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Busy Mom Tip #2: Know Your Limits

When my second son was very small, I was able to host dinner parties by wearing him in a sling while I cooked. He would sleep for hours at a time, and was completely happy as long as I stopped occasionally for a feed.

It's planning your cooking schedule around that feeding time that's the trick. Once he would lie down for naps, it got a little more tricky. At one point I decided I wanted to make risotto for dinner, which seemed like a good idea until I was in the middle of my labour of love, stirring constantly, when labour of love #2 started to wail. I had to leave my post and feed him, and the whole while I was nursing I was trying to stay calm about my poor labour of love #1, bubbling away on the stove, not getting the attention it needed.

Finally, I couldn't stand it, and yelled for my husband to keep an eye on the risotto. He's out of practice, so he took a bit of coaching: "It's looking a little dry--do I add something to it?" Um, yes, the simmering stock that's right next to it. "How much?" See the ladle? One or two of those. Keep adding til it's gone.

The risotto turned out great, and we enjoyed it immensely. I was thinking to myself, though, I could do without that added stress. Maybe I won't do that again for a while. Risotto is a bit beyond the 'busy mom with a newborn' limit, unless you can call in reinforcements.

Mushroom Risotto (If you have a newborn, don't try this at home without help)
1 T. butter
2 shallots or 1/2 small onion
1 clove garlic
1 c. fresh mushrooms (or your favourite mushroom)
2 t. fresh thyme
1 c. Arborio rice
¼ c. dry sherry
½ c. dried porcini mushrooms (or your favourite dried mushroom)
2-3 cups of heated chicken stock
½ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 T. butter OR a drizzle of truffle oil or dollop of truffle butter, if you want to be fancy
Salt and pepper to taste

Have your helper pour hot water over the dried mushrooms, while you heat the chicken stock in a saucepan. Let the mushrooms soak for 20 minutes.

While you chop the shallots, garlic and thyme, have your helper slice mushrooms. Melt the butter in another saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, thyme and mushrooms and a pinch of salt and pepper, and stir until mushrooms are soft and the liquid has almost evaporated. Add rice and stir until it begins to look transparent, 3 or 4 minutes. Have your helper measure out and add the sherry, and stir until the sherry is absorbed. Add the reconstituted mushrooms and their soaking liquid, and stir until that is absorbed as well.

While you stir, have your helper add a ladle or two of chicken stock at a time to the rice mixture. Stir constantly until the liquid is almost entirely absorbed, then add another ladle or two, and so on. Keep stirring. Have your helper on hand to take over in case baby needs to feed, or toddler needs an intervention. Rice is done when it is creamy but still holds its shape. When you taste a grain, it should be firm, but not crunchy. When the risotto is cooked, remove from heat and stir in the grated Parmesan cheese and butter or truffle oil. Serve immediately with extra Parmesan cheese and a grind of pepper.

Serves 2 as a main dish, with leftovers, or serves 4 as a side dish.

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