Mushroom Risotto, v. 12,005,359,359

Down the hatch!


One of many variations on a theme but significantly different enough to make me want to post the recipe.   

While on Christmas vacation, Chris and I dined at a place called the Dock Cafe in Stillwater, Minnesota, overlooking the frozen St. Croix River.  It was a total guess and a lucky one in the end. Good food and it was 1/2 price wine night. After much dithering, I went for the wild mushroom risotto with pancetta. It was very good and very filling- I couldn’t get through even half of it especially as I wanted to save a bit of room for dessert.  The nice thing about this risotto was that it was creamy without a lot of added creamy fats like cream, butter and cheese.   

I did not recreate that risotto for dinner tonight but I was inspired by it.  I have made risotto with mushrooms on many previous occasions, hence the post title. I also have a nice mushroom noodle thing with ground meat that shares much in common with this dish.  


1 cup arborio rice
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3-4 slices bacon, sliced in to lardons (or pancetta, maybe?)
8-10 oz mushrooms, sliced- any kind is fine, I used shiitakes and crimini
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely diced/pressed
2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup apple brandy, from Uncle John’s Winery in St. Johns
1/4 cup shredded cheese blend (parmesan, …)
3 cups broth or water or combination
salt & pepper
olive oil (maybe) 


1. Saute bacon in large pan until crispy. Remove to paper towel-lined plate to drain. If necessary, drain some fat from pan leaving approximately 1 tablespoon.   

2. Heat broth or water to simmering in a separate pot (or in the microwave like I did)   

3. Add sliced mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and cook over medium-high heat until thoroughly cooked down and most of liquid has come out of mushrooms. Remove from pan and cover to keep warm.   

4. If necessary, add olive oil or some bacon fat back to pan. This step is only necessary if the pan is pretty dry.   

5. Add onions, celery and garlic to pan, season with salt, pepper and thyme.. Cook until softened and onions have slighltly yellowed.   

6. Add arborio rice and stir to combine. Add apple brandy (or other liquor/wine or even just broth or water) to deglaze pan. Scrape bottom of pan to pick up any tasty bits.   

7. Once most of liquid from step 6 has been absorbed, begin adding 1/2 to 1 cup of broth or water to pan at a time, stirring continously until mostly absorbed then adding more liquid.   

8. Continue adding broth or water until rice reaches desired doneness. Ideally this should be al dente- with a slight bite- but its mostly a matter of personal preference.   

9.  Return mushrooms and bacon pieces to pan along with 1 teaspoon thyme.10. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese blend. This step is also optional but as this is not a very brothy risotto, I think it adds a nice punch while keeping the mix somewhat creamy.  

Okay, true confession time. I almost never stir my risotto constantly as per the usual instructions. I’m usually too busy with cooking the other parts of the meal or running in to the living room to check Facebook (or something else equally important). On the night I made this, I did stir pretty much continously.  

I’m now a convert.

At least when I have the time.  It cooked much faster and actually used less broth than usual.  


  • The apple brandy was a fall purchase during a visit for cider and donuts. We sampled the wines, learned that neither of us are big fruit wine people then decided to buy the brandy, mostly for cooking purposes. I was also envisioning making a sangria type thing in the future.  I had only used it once before, for an apple dessert dish that did not turn out, through no fault of the brandy.  Tonight, I used it because primarily because the bottle was already open and I didn’t want to open a bottle of white just for this dish. 
  • The apple flavor was pretty subtle in the end dish but on the whole, it felt more warm than when I make it with wine. A good pairing with the thyme and bacon.


  • I updated my Facebook status during the cooking of this dish and received a comment from a friend to stop posting about food because I was making her hungry, even though she’d just ate.  As it happens, she’s a vegetarian and wouldn’t be able to enjoy this particular dish but, her comment did make me think about how to adapt for the non-meat eaters.  I am not a big fan of the fake bacon but if you are vegetarian and like it, then go for it. I would suggest replacing the bacon fat at the beginning with some butter though. Mushrooms cook up better in animal fats than vegetable fats like olive oil, in my opinion. Combining equal parts olive oil and butter would also probably work- I often go that route to saute onions when I’m making plain(er) risotto.  If you are a vegan, you are on your own.

Mushroom-Sage Sauce & Squash Risotto

We are in the midst of moving right now (literally, thinks to scheduled posting). Due to my work schedule, size of some of our furniture and general laziness, we hire movers from Two Men and a Truck and they are doing the heavy lifting this afternoon. This will be my 4th move with them since March 2007 and the fifth between Chris and I- how about a volume discount.

For me, using Two Men became a necessity after moving myself (with my parents & aunt’s help) in to a 2nd floor apartment in Charlotte: the building was 120 years old and the 2nd floor was 27 steps up. And it poured rain that day- there might have even been a tornado that night. I immediately started saving money aside for my next move so I could hire movers and I did just that a short 6 months later thanks to my hard-partying, drug-dealing upstairs neighbor. Meeting Chris and moving in with him was a wonderful thing but it also meant that most of my stuff went to storage while we finished out his lease in a 1 bedroom apartment. Our current place, while 2 bed/2 bath was still not big enough for both our belongings and things like my washer/dryer were not needed. Finally, after the dog came to live with us in July, it became glaringly obvious that we needed more room and a place with space to store things rather than pay the storage company another 100 bucks a month.

Our new house, while still a rental, is awesome. Its not huge but we have 3 bedrooms: one for us, one for guests and one as an office/craft room (for me, Chris is not a scrapbooker). A bigger kitchen, a great view of the 10 acres inhabited by deer, wild turkey and something I heard running around in the trees last night. Oh yeah, and a garden tub in the master bath plus, drumroll please: a gas stove!!!

To save time (and money) with the movers, we have been taking boxes of things over to the house, a bit at a time, since October 1. As of Thursday morning, we had the pots and pans, some utensils and most of the dishware in the house. But other than pantry foods, we hadn’t moved or bought any edibles. With Chris’s brother in town, eating out was an opportunity/excuse to eat out but that was getting expensive. So, last night, Chris bought some chicken, squash and beans before calling me on my drive home from work to ask if I “wanted” to come to the house and cook dinner. As soon as he mentioned squash, I knew he wanted the risotto so I sent him out for broth while I stopped at the apartment to load another box with things like butter, olive oil and the like. While at the apartment, I did a quick search for some kind of sauce for the chicken as I didn’t have time to marinate nor did I feel like doing the whole breadcrumbs thing.

Over at Elise’s blog, I found a recipe for Mushroom Sage Sauce. Simply Recipes is one of my go-to websites although I often end up varying from her original based on what’s on hand. While you are there, check out the pictures of her parents’ new kitchen. I’m definitely saving those links for some future reference (I hope).

As per usual, I varied but did use the main elements from this Mushroom Sage sauce recipe. I probably would have been slightly more faithful except I didn’t write anything down and did not have access to the recipe once I got to the house.

Original Ingredients
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped shallots
8-10 ounces mushrooms, cremini or shitake, thickly sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream (light cream may curdle, so use heavy cream)
3 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pieces pounded to an even 1/4 inch to 1/3 inch thickness
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

I only had 1/2 package of mushrooms and no parsley. I did have creme fraiche but didn’t use it here because I forgot. With less mushrooms, I used less sage, about 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped. To add liquid, I used some of the extra broth from the risotto and then swirled in one tablespoon butter at the end.

In Elise’s version, she cooked the mushroom sauce separate from the chicken. Since I already had a burner going to simmer the broth and another for the risotto, I opted to cook the chicken first, hold it warm in the oven and prepare the sauce using any pan drippings/fond to add more flavor.


1. Season chicken with salt, pepper and seasonings of your choice. While in Vermont, we bought some Maple Pepper with Garlic so I used that (just like it sounds, pepper with maple sugar and garlic).

2. Heat pan over medium-high heat with olive oil. Saute chicken breasts until light golden, about 5 minutes per side.

3. Remove from pan, cover to keep warm.

4. Add chopped shallots and garlic to pan, plus a little more oil if the pan is a bit dry. Cook about 1 minute then add mushrooms. Allow mushrooms to soften and release their juices. Add 1/2 cup wine to pan to deglaze.

5. Add about 1 cup broth to pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer until slightly reduced. Just before serving add 1 tablespoon butter to thicken sauce.



To accompany the chicken with mushroom sauce, I made the squash risotto which Chris loves so much. This time, I used some butternut squash from the freezer. Chris had bought me a squash- the biggest butternut squash I’ve ever seen. Peeling and chopping that sucker is going to take some time so I was quite happy to have my freezer stash for last night!!

For this version, I used Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc which was on sale at Horrocks and received 90 points from Wine Spectator. Seasonings were sage, thyme and a little cayenne (to counter the sweet squash). I also used about 1/3 cup of Creme Fraiche instead of butter at the end. For cheese, I had picked up of chunk of their special of the week: a really nutty, easily grateable variety from D&W in Williamston last weekend. Fresh sage at the end really added to the “oomph” factor and made the whole house smell delicious!

Both boys went back for seconds so its still a hit.

Squash Risotto and Pan-fried Chicken with Mustard Wine Sauce

This summer, Chris and I were spending some time with friends at their cabin near Tawas (Michigan). One day, Becky and I were trying to use up groceries as we would be leaving the next day and didn’t want to leave a lot of food behind, especially food prone to spoilage in a bad, smelly sort of way.

So, Becky had this acorn squash which we just halved then microwaved before sprinkling with a little herb seasoning and slicing at the table. Chris had long thought he didn’t like squash. But he ate this side dish without much question. Later, he asked what it was and then said “I guess I don’t mind squash then.” Since then, I’ve been thinking about some squash-spotlighting dishes to make.
The fact that I like squash is a bit surprising and probably owes to my maturation as an eater. As a baby, I loved squash. And carrots. In fact, I ate so much squash and carrots, my skin took on a orange tinge and some credit my red hair to the beta-carotene (others blame the cat, an orange/white tabby who slept on my head when I was an infant). By middle-school, I was over squash. I didn’t want anything to do with that blob of orange-yellow goop that usually only showed up around the holidays. I don’t really remember when I realized that I did, in fact, like the taste of squash but maybe sometime in college.

My preference is for firm squash without an overload of cinnamon, maple syrup, butter etc. When I want mashed or pureed veggies, its either potatoes or sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes cooked in heavy cream then mashed are amAzing if horribly high in fat.

On many occasions, I have seen recipes for squash or pumpkin or sweet potato risotto and mentally filed that concept as “one to try.” Tonight, I tried it.

Using a recipe from Simply Recipes as a jumping off point, came up with a home run. Or that’s what Chris said anyhow. For the chicken, I had some thin-cut boneless skinless breasts to use up.

Squash Risotto


1 cup arborio rice
1/2 sweet dumpling, acorn or similar sized winter squash
1/2 cup white wine (I used Barefoot Chardonnay and highly recommend it)
3 cups chicken broth, warmed (veggie broth works too)
2 tablespoons butter, divided
olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1/2 cup grated/shredded parmesan cheese or similar


To prepare squash:

  • Slice squash in half with a heavy knife (carefully), scoop out seeds then microwave 2-3 minutes on high.
  • Remove squash and when able to handle, cut flesh from skin. I cut the squash in pieces and used a vegetable peeler to get most of the skin off. I found this worked better with less waste than cutting the flesh out with a knife.
  • Chop squash in to 1 inch dice

For risotto:

  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat in a large, shallow pan. Add garlic, onions and squash. Season pan with salt. Cook 5 minutes or so, until onions are translucent but not browning.
  • Add rice to pan, stir to mix and cook another 1-2 minutes.
  • Pour wine in to pan and keep stirring until wine is absorbed.
  • Keep stirring and add some (about 1/4-1/2 cup) of the chicken broth, just enough to cover the rice.
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 teaspoons rubbed sage (dried) to the rice.
  • Keep stirring and repeat adding broth as the previous is absorbed. This process will take about 30 minutes.
  • When all the broth has been absorbed by the rice, stir in the cheese and one tablespoon of butter.

The risotto should be creamy and the squash will still have some firmness but not be crunchy.

Pan-friend Chicken with Mustard-Wine Sauce

This was pretty much all on the fly and measurements are best guesstimates.


2 thin-cut boneless, skinless chicken breasts (from Miller Amish Farms, of course)
1/2 cup bread crumbs (optionally pre-seasoned with Italian Seasonings)
1 teaspoon sage
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 cup white wine (any white, I used the Chardonnay from above)
2 tablespoons Creole mustard
1 tablespoon butter

butter or oil for saute

  • Combine bread crumbs, sage and cheese in a ziploc bag.
  • Heat saute pan over medium heat, add butter or oil (your choice). When ready, drop one chicken breast in the ziploc bag, close it up and shake it around. Remove from bag and add to pan. Repeat with second breast.
  • Cook approximately 5 minutes until coating is a light golden brown. Flip and finish chicken, another 5-7 minutes, until cooked through.
  • Remove chicken to a plate and keep warm.
  • Add wine to pan and scrape any browned bits up.
  • Add mustard and bring to a boil before stirring in butter. After butter is incorporated, reduce heat to medium-low until desired consistency is reached.

Notes: Risotto serves 4-6 but the chicken was a meal for just two.

The coating for the chicken would have done better with something to stick to, like a quick egg dip or even milk. Alas, we had neither on hand tonight.  After I put the meat in the pan, I pressed a little of the breadcrumbs and cheese in to the upside. Anything that fell off became part of the sauce.

To plate, spread a little mustard sauce on one side then top with the chicken before adding more sauce.  Garnished with oregano that is somehow still alive on our balcony.

We enjoyed our fine meal with a glass of Tiz Red, from California’s Tiz Winery.  This wine is a blended red that pretty much goes with anything.  Affordable too, we’ll buy it again.

The comments from Chris: Home run on the risotto, “you should make this for Thanksgiving”,  chicken was B+ mostly because he wanted more sauce which is easily do-able.

The Thanksgiving idea is interesting but I’m leaning towards this instead.

Blah-blah Sweet Chili Marinated Chicken

As much as I’m trying to cook from scratch these days, there are times when convenience is key. Or quick. After a few rounds of experimentation, Chris and I discovered that we like a few of the prepped items from the meat department at Kroger. They do a stuffed chicken breast or pork loin- the apple almond is good, the other flavor is mediocre. They also have a Parmesan crusted chicken breast that is basic but tasty and easily jazzed up with sauce or seasoning of one’s choice.

Tonight’s request was the Parmesan chicken with “the creamy mushroom sauce you made once.” I’m pretty sure that is the “sauce” I made for pasta, from Cooking Light.

So, I sent him off to get the Parmesan chicken and some cream. One of the nice things about this chicken and the other ready-to-cook items is they are often on sale. The chicken breasts are usually as little as 2.99 a pound. However, tonight they did not have any in the meat case. So, we decided to try this Sweet Chili marinated chicken instead. Along with some snap peas and leftover risotto.

Verdict: Decidedly underwhelmed.

The problem with marinating full chicken breasts is that the sauce just can’t get to the deep parts of the meat before the acid starts to cook the outside. As a result, you get chewy meat with only spotty flavor. If I’m marinating chicken, I either pound the breast thin or butterfly them. They cook faster too, especially when sauteing.

I baked the chicken in the oven at 350. After 20 minutes I added the snap peas to the pan, tossed them in salt/pepper and garlic powder then added a little balsamic vinegar. I poured some of the pan juices over my chicken after but it didn’t really help.

Now the risotto, we really like that. From Lundberg, the Organic Porcini Risotto is creamy and has a nice earthy mushroom flavor. For added yum, mix in some lightly sauteed fresh mushrooms and garlic or shallot.

Fair warning: there is another flavor of this risotto with spinach that we absolutely did not like despite attempted improvements. Dry and dusty tasting, the cardboard box had more going for it than the seasoning packet.