Chris Maher Marathon

Remember the chef who came to dinner? Chris Maher, the chef, was teaching some cooking classes in LA, and arranged to teach a Thai cooking class on Sunday at my house. There were eight of us, learning everything from how to hold a knife and chop an onion, to tricks for making Thai green chile paste and peanut sauce. It was warm enough that we ate dinner outside in candlelight, a rare treat in the Bay Area at any time.

I took a video of Chris’s instructions and demo of how to hold and use a knife and how to chop an onion, but somehow lost the videos in the transfer.  More than that, my memory card filled up with that one video, and the rest of the dinner was undocumented.

While we were eating, we got to talking about risotto, probably because Chris made truly fluffy and delicious rice, and he agreed to make risotto on Monday. this time there were five of us for a very informal class. We made a risotto with chicken stock, pancetta, chanterelles, onions and peas, and one with vegetable stock minus the pancetta. Both were creamy without cream. They were easy to make and even easier to eat.

Best of all, because Chris stayed over, the next night we took the risotto, formed it into patties, browned it on both sides in olive oil and served it with a salad of arugula, tatsoi, and tomatoes (all from the garden) on top. The slightly lime-flavored dressing, the slightly bitter greens, and the sweet tomatoes over the risotto cakes made for a true delicacy. Chris says it’s called “Al Salto,” and is a common use of leftover risotto in Italy.  As a big plus, I’ve learned a new salad dressing–made in the food processor with shallot, garlic, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper, a dollop of dijon and juice of half a lime.

In any case, I am replete. Chris is on his way to Utah to demo his products (he has a line of scrumptious eggplant dip, salsa, and other products under the label Caleb and Milo. If you’re in Utah, Kansas, New Mexico, or Nevada, you can buy these at Whole Foods.



Don’t bother coming by my house. We scarfed up all the samples he brought!

Mackinnon-Patterson risotto

Last night I made a spring tomato risotto recipe from the “Fast Slow Food” series in the Wall Street Journal. I had a lot of spring tomatoes from the farmers’ market, and the recipe called for Carnaroli rice. I had a few pounds of this I brought back from Italy. It’s bigger and toothier than Arborio rice and perfect for risotto. The recipe was easy enough (as described), even counting straining the tomato and celery blend. I don’t usually strain things–too finicky for me–but decided to follow the recipe exactly as I’d never made anything by Mackinnon-Patterson before (well almost exactly–had to add some minced garlic to the onions, a few chopped snow peas for a little of the celery and a handful of English peas at the end as we have so many). While I liked the idea of olive oil instead of butter, the result was a little bland. Can’t say I was completely surprised–the recipe calls for water, not stock. I can’t think of any risotto that wouldn’t be improved by using stock, even a little light vegetable stock instead of water. I threw in a pinch of pepper flakes and some Italian dried peppers and garlic at the end for a little pep. Maybe I would call this, “so-so risotto.” To be fair, the risotto might be a little livelier later in the summer when the tomatoes are at their best, but then it wouldn’t be spring tomato risotto. Also, I would substitute some white wine along with stock for the water.

I’ve become a cook who assembles her ingredients before she starts to cook. This is rewarding! Here is the recipe as printed in the WSJ. If you try it, let me know how it works for you.



½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup yellow onion, diced small
1 tablespoon salt, plus extra for seasoning
4-6 cups water
1 pound juicy, ripe tomatoes
2 stalks celery
2 cups Carnaroli or arborio rice
4 tablespoons basil, chopped medium-fine
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved


1. Set a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Swirl in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Sweat onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.

2. In another pot, bring water to a simmer.

3. While water heats up and onions cook, juice tomatoes and celery. If you don’t have a juicer, pulse tomatoes and celery in a food processor or blender until liquefied. Push through fine mesh strainer, reserving juice and discarding solids.

4. Turn onion pot’s heat up to medium-high and stir rice into the sautéed onions. Toast 2 minutes, or until grains are hot and opaque.

5. Deglaze pot with 2 cups simmering water. Stir until liquid is absorbed and season with 2 teaspoons salt. Adjust heat to keep risotto at a steady simmer. Add another 1-2 cups water and continue to stir often.

6. Once liquid is absorbed, add another 1-2 cups water and continue to stir regularly.

7. When rice has cooked for about 15 minutes, or once it is five minutes shy of al dente, stir in tomato juice. Cook, while stirring, 4 additional minutes, or until risotto is creamy and rice is al dente.

8. Quickly stir in 4 tablespoons olive oil, basil and parmesan. Remove from heat and add lemon juice. Taste and season with salt, if needed.

9. In a small bowl, mix cherry tomatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and pinch of salt.

10. Garnish risotto with tomato-oil mixture. Serve immediately.