Monday, December 21, 2009

Jen W.: Iron Chef Blogger Challenge Chipotle

Hello again, everyone! First off, I want to offer my belated thanks to the awesome Carrie and Sarah Michelle for hosting my rogue ICBC entries on their lovely blog! My poor blogless ass is much appreciative of your hospitality, especially since I didn’t even have to break out my “Will Work for Bandwidth” sandwich board. Not the most figure-flattering outfit, that.

I hesitate to admit this, lest you all find out what kind of uncultured fool I am, but it must be said: when Leigh told us that this week’s Secret Ingredient™ was chipotle, my immediate thought was, “What the hell am I supposed to do with a burrito?” Yeah. I’m that person.

Fortunately, then I remembered that a chipotle is a type of chili. And by “remembered,” I mean I looked it up on Google. Therein, however, lies my second problem: I am a spicy-foods wuss. A big one. Seriously—my friends make fun of me, some restaurants will no longer serve me, and there are entire countries in this world where I would probably starve to death (yeah, Thailand, I’m looking at you). So to say this was going to be a challenge would probably be understating things.
Fortunately for me, on the Eighth Day, God made the Internet. In my search for all things chipotle (except for Chipotle™), I found that butternut squash was one of the more common things you can pair with it. I very much liked the idea of using something sweet to (hopefully) tone down the heat, and I’ve always been a fan of butternut squash, so after a bit of recipe-browsing, I decided to make a basic butternut squash risotto, adding the required chipotle en adobo. Sounds fancy, right? You might almost think I could actually cook or something.

The first step in a butternut squash risotto (bishotto, anyone?) is to roast the squash. The first recipe I found (on told me to roast it with the skin on for close to an hour. However, Ina Garten’s recipe told me that I could take the skin off and roast it for 30 minutes. Guess which method I decided to use?
Interesting note: cut-up butternut squash (squatter nutbash, if you’re a Friends fan) looks nothing like you would expect it to. Once you get rid of the trademark khaki-colored rind and the telltale bulbous shape, it ends up sort of looking like…cubes of cheddar. It also could pass for cantaloupe (and smells eerily similar).
In a pinch, I bet it could pass for any number of yellowish edibles. Soylent Orange, anyone?

Anyway, I cubed it up like so, and tossed it around with olive oil, salt, and, because I was feeling cheeky, some nutmeg. I threw it in the oven and was free to prep the rest of the dish. Yay!

Now, most risotto recipes (and by “most,” I mean all) call for a special kind of rice. It has a special name, but I will settle for calling it “Risotto rice.” I am on a budget, however, and I had plenty of Basmati rice at home. Reckless rebel that I am, I decided that I would make MY risotto with that. (Go ahead and tell me it’s not “real” risotto. Tell me I’m spitting in the face of proper Italian cooks everywhere. Do it. See if I care.)

I also decided that if my dish was going to stand up to the flavor of the peppers, it had better have something other than rice and squash in it. In addition to the onion called for by one of the recipes I found and the chilies called for by Leigh, I also added some ground pork, a can of mushrooms (yes, canned mushrooms—I didn’t end up using them in my mushroom ravioli last week. Waste not, want not), and cheddar cheese in addition to the traditional grated parmesan.

I was hoping I could just throw the rice and the meat and stuff into some broth and set it on the stove and forget it…but alas, the risotto technique is more…involved. It calls for a staggering 6 cups of chicken broth, which you must keep simmering in a separate pot. Once you have the rice and onion and stuff browning away in the main pot, you must then add the broth one-measly-half-a-cup at a time, waiting for the rice to absorb it before you add the next ladleful. Now, don’t just go thinking you can add that half a cup and walk away for a minute and come back—oh no, sister: you have to watch that shit. Because if you don’t (and it’s not like I learned this the hard way or anything), the rice will, in an act of brazen rebellion, stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. This was around the time that I remembered: I am actually really f-ing bad at cooking rice. I recommend having someone to talk to during this process, as it can be more than a little trying.

When, at long last, the rice has finally cooked to the right consistency (taking anywhere from 20 minutes to the time that dinosaurs will actually come back to life and re-establish themselves as the dominant species), you add the roasted squash and the cheese and stir it up into something resembling rice-based stuffing.

I served this to my roommate, who loves spicy foods, and my ever-obliging boyfriend, who agreed to eat it even though it featured butternut squash (which he claims is too “smooth and weird and bright” to be an actual vegetable). My roomie gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. My boyfriend…well, he ate seconds (even if most of the squashy bits ended up moving from his plate to mine). And as for me…I mean, I can’t be too sure since OMG-MY-MOUTH-IS-ON-FIRE, but by the grace of sour cream I was actually able to eat it and enjoy it. I might even make it again…maybe with fewer peppers.

Chipotle Butternut Squash Risotto
1 ½ C rice (special or otherwise)
A 2-3 lb butternut squash
½ lb ground pork
1 small can of Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
6 cups of chicken stock
An onion
3ish tbs of grated Parmesan cheese
A handful-esque of shredded cheddar cheese
A can of mushrooms (if you want)
Some olive oil and/or butter
Some spices (salt, pepper, and cumin work nicely)
1.Skin the squash and cut it into smallish cubes. Toss the cubes in some olive oil and a pinch of salt, dump them on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven on 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the squash is tender. (When it’s done, you can just turn the oven down to 200 to keep it warm while you finish the other steps.)
2.Start simmering the stock on medium-high heat in its own saucepan. Keep it at a good, healthy simmer throughout the cooking process.
3.In a large pot, brown the chopped onion with some butter and/or olive oil. Chop a few chipotle peppers and add them to the onion—adjust the amount of chipotle according to how spicy you like your food (if you are a wimp like me, it helps if you cut them open first and scrape out most of the seeds).
4.Add the ground pork. Poke at it until the meat is cooked.
5.Add the rice and the spices, to taste. Brown the rice along with everything else for about a minute before adding liquid.
6.Now for the tedious part: add the stock, half a cup at a time, and let each addition absorb into the rice before adding more. Keep doing this until the rice is creamy looking, but not too soft. You may have leftover broth—keep it handy.
7.Mix the squash pieces into the rice and toss the mixture well. Add the cheeses, and keep stirring and cooking the mixture until it is well blended. Add some of the leftover broth to keep it from being too clumpy or too dry. Serve immediately, and have some ice cream on hand for dessert. Just a tip.

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