On a day when temperatures slowly begin dropping and skies above become clouded over in grey, there’s nothing quite like something hearty and warm. While a friend and I planned a comforting lunch to ward off the overhead gloom, the roses in front of my house bloomed beautifully despite the misty weather. Allow me a brief respite as I mention these roses. These roses! These extravagantly large, beautiful roses. Rarely have I ever seen such colossal flowers. The ones found at the florist or in the bouquet section of the grocery store are without thorns, are usually vividly colored, and always seem somewhat dainty. I feel as though store bought roses bloom to be at most as large as a softball. The ones in front of my house are simply different in practically every way.
These roses have graced the front of our house for as long as I can remember. While the bushes and stems have sharp, cruel thorns, the flowers (it almost seem such a shame to call them simply flowers) are simply magnificent. Though the colors are not as vivid as the ones in grocery stores, the pastel hues in the plump, expansive petals bring an almost ethereal quality to each bloom. And the most astounding part is the size. Like royal empresses with impressively colossal gowns, almost all of the roses had achieved at least a seven to eight inch expanse, each one practically as large as my head. Yet none were wilting, crimped, or wrinkled – though some edges had just a hint of oldness, each of the enormous roses were beautifully pristine. It was as if the roses sang joyfully of the sun and warmth behind the shroud of grey with all the liveliness and expression they could muster.
Back to something hearty, something flavorful, something delicious. As I previously said, my friend and I planned lunch, and we decided we didn’t want anything too extravagant, yet we didn’t want something too plain either. A flavorful stew would have been nice, but we didn’t have enough ingredients. We did have some wild rice cooked earlier that morning, some button mushrooms, half red onion onion, some cheeses, and rosemary. Ah. Wild rice risotto – perfect. A deceivingly simply and simply delicious (as i found out) spin off of traditional risotto, in which arborio rice is used. I have to thank Heidi Swansons, 101 cookbooks (like most times) for the inspiration behind this idea – if it were not for the very fact that Heidi has different grained risottos on her website, I would have remained ignorant of this tasty dish.
For this dish, I had already had some cooked some wild rice, though there was actually no intention of making risotto when I cooked these colorful, flavorful grains. I grated roughly an ounce each of gruyere and parmesan, and chopped up some rosemary. Though, I would have preferred using fresh parsley, rosemary lent a wonderful fragrance to this dish. Heidi uses a blend of cottage cheese and sour cream to make her risottos or rice casseroles creamy in a healthier way. Having no cottage cheese or sour cream on hand, I look forward to trying this method next time.
Wild Rice Mushroom Risotto
You can certainly try this recipe with different types of grains, combine different cheese, and experiment with different kinds of mushrooms, herbs, and seasonings. This is a wonderful way of using up any left over rice. If there is no leftovers, it would be easier to cook the grains separately and then proceed with the rest of the dish. I added oven toasted Garbanzo beans to add an element of crunch to the risotto. Toasted almond slices, herbed croutons, or maybe even a slice of toasted pita would pair nicely with this dish.
1 1/2 cups cooked wild rice
1 oz each gruyere and parmesan, grated
6 large button mushrooms, medium dice (about 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1/4″)
1/4 red onion medium dice
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
pinch of rosemary, finely minced
Sesame oil or peanut oil
Salt and Pepper as needed
Place the rice into a medium sized mixing bowl
On medium heat, warm just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Sweat the onions and garlic, adding a pinch of salt to help extract moisture, until the onions become translucent. Add in the chopped mushrooms, sprinkling again with a pinch of salt, and gently stir until the mushrooms have released some moisture, and most of the liquid in the pan is gone. Pour in the white wine and chicken broth, and turn the heat to medium high. Cook the onions and mushrooms until the mushrooms are tender and at least half of the liquid in the pan has evaporated.
Reserve some of the liquid, then, while hot, scrape the mushrooms and onions into the rice, add a generous handful of each cheese, and mix well. The heat of the mixture should help the cheese melt and the dish become nice and gooey. If the mixture appears to be too dry, add the reserved liquid. Taste, and season with salt and pepper accordingly.
Scoop out into bowls and garnish with additional cheese, mined rosemary, and a few toasted garbanzo beans.
Makes 2-3 servings
Before anything else is said, I should probably mention although I strive to cook and bake in a healthier way, I do believe in indulging once in a while. There are just some things – particularly baked goods – that cannot be made healthier yet still retain the same texture, richness, crumb, and overall deliciousness of an original recipe. That being said, I still try.
I made these for a very generous friend. For a past couple of weeks or so, this individual had been kind enough to drive me and other friends to and from San Francisco on a number of occasions. The drive, one way, was always roughly an hour long, and he always refused gas money. So, I pestered him until he gave up his favorite kind of cookie – a peppermint chocolate chip cookie. A good choice! Peppermint and chocolate play off each other quite nicely, don’t you think? Unfortunately, I had never made these in my life. And even though I had read Heidi’s version – which stressed the importance of using a good peppermint bark – I decided to try incorporating the chocolate and the peppermint separately. Big mistake – although the resulting “cookies” came out smelling fantastically of peppermint chocolate, the “cookies” looked more like odd cratered rocks. So much for a successful first attempt. Any and all pieces of peppermint had melted, leaving large gaping holes in my cookies! Though the cookies lacked nothing in taste, their appearance was certainly appalling. I have definitely learned my lesson. I tempered the rest of my chocolate and made peppermint bark instead. (Although I believe that white chocolate has it’s place among desserts, I rank dark chocolate much higher; therefore as seen in the pictures, my peppermint bark is made only with semi sweet chocolate.)
Too intimidated to try and use the bark in a cookie recipe, I decided to try another route today. Fortunately, I still had some time before my friend’s birthday, and at the same time I had stumbled upon an ingenious way of incorporating peppermint bark and cookies – and the secret to that method is in baking a sheet cookie. Combining this new method with some tips from Heidi’s website, I came up with the following recipe:
Peppermint Bark Cookie Bars
This recipe makes a large batch of cookies. The dough itself rises perhaps double its size while baking, so when pressing the dough onto a sheet pan (I used an 11 x 16 inch), make sure to press down as thin as 1/4 of an inch. It would probably be best take half of the dough and freeze half of it for later use. If you use the whole amount of dough (like I did), the result will be more of a cake-like consistency – considerably fluffier and less crunchy than an actual cookie.
3 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) at room temperature
– (you may substitute 1/2 cup for fruit puree)
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint oil
12 ounces semi sweet chocolate for melting (or tempering)
30 peppermint candies, crushed and sifted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, position the racks in the middle of the oven, and line the baking sheet with parchment paper or silpats.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
Using by using a large spoon or a stand mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Then beat in the sugar until the consistency is stiff. Beat in eggs one at a time, making sure to incorporate fully between each addition. Stir in the vanilla and peppermint extracts until evenly combined – if using fruit puree, you may add at this step. In increments of 3 or 4, gradually add and mix in the dry ingredients. The resulting dough should be moist and uniform.
Turn out half of the dough onto a prepared baking sheet and reserve the other half. Using lightly moistened fingertips, press and flatten the dough until it is uniformly spread across the sheet pan. Prick holes all across the dough using a fork and bake for about 20-25 minutes until the top is a dark golden brown and the edges begin to harden. Take out of the oven and place on a cooling rack until room temperature.
Meanwhile, place the chocolate chips into a heat safe bowl and melt over a pot of gently simmering water and reserve on the side. After the sheet cookie has cooled, simply spread melted (I prefer tempered) chocolate and sprinkle crushed peppermint candies on top. Wait until the chocolate has cooled – you may put the entire sheet cookie into the refrigerator to help the chilling process – and then cut into 1″ x 3″ bars or into irregular “bark” like pieces.
Makes 4 – 5 dozen bar cookies