Noni Doni’s 12 Bakes of Christmas (11 & 12): You say Potato, I say Risotto

Behold, a Christmas miracle. Today A News Cafe presents the final post for Noni Doni’s 12 Bakes of Christmas. For a while, I was worried whether I could fit a dozen recipes into such a short time period. But my worries are behind me. Here we are, three days before Christmas, with the last two recipes. Ta-da!

How did I find myself in this stressful situation? Well, as often happens with my “great ideas” — I sometimes don’t think them through to the very end. For example, I chose the partial headline the “12 Bakes of Christmas” because it was reminiscent of that classic Christmas song (a partridge in a pear tree, etc.).

But right off the bat with this series, it turned out that my first recipe — English toffee — was not baked at all, but cooked stovetop in a pan. Shoot! OK, no biggie. I gave myself artistic license to present non-baked foods. Recalibrating. It is my series, after all.

Another recurring issue with my great ideas is I often misjudge how much time an idea will take to implement. This shortcoming sometimes clashes with the fact that I’m deadline driven. By God, if I promised 12 Bakes of Christmas before Christmas, I would make it happen.

For a look behind the curtain of my original idea, Part 1 of my 12 Bakes of Christmas plan was that I’d actually bake (or cook, or prepare) each item, mainly for the photographs. Part 2 of my plan was that every one of these 12 recipes would have corresponding holiday props in the food photo to coincide with that particular “Bake of Christmas” day. Case in point, in the photos below, notice there’s 1 fawn with Day 1’s English toffee, and 2 glass snowmen behind Day 2’s Chocolate Crackles, and 3 little Christmas trees behind Day 3’s Mexican Wedding Cookies. Clever, if I do say so myself.

I’m not a total space cadet. I did think far enough in advance to anticipate that in the later days – like 9 through 12 – it would be a challenge to find multiple identical props for those high-number days. Undeterred, I imagined small props, like mini candy canes, whole nutmegs, little pinecone and tiny bells. I wasn’t worried. It would be like a holiday treasure hunt in my own home.

In the beginning, I was wonderfully on task and on time. Oh what fun it is to write!

Unfortunately, my self-satisfaction was short-lived, because after Day 4, I took a closer look at the calendar and saw trouble ahead. The wheels were coming off Noni Doni’s baking wagon. There simply weren’t enough days left to publish all the recipes before Christmas, and still include regular ANC stories. I had no choice but to quickly lump all the breads together in one post to cover Days 4 though 6, and cram all the appetizers into a single post for Days 7 through 10.

I confess that I was disappointed that my props were no longer matching the recipes’ originals days and everything was all jumbled. God, grant me the serenity ... Or, to quote Elsa, Let it go, Doni.

All was well, because in a lemons-to-lemonade moment I realized that combining multiple recipes in one post would be a good thing, otherwise a steady stream of my relatively (in comparison) trivial food stories would push ANC’s more important stories — Shasta County’s political insanity — off the home page too quickly.  Wow. My altered plan felt even better than the original. Sweet!

Besides, my props/bake days correlation plans were known only to me, aside from that one person I’d told (hi, Meghan). No problem, because I doubt that anyone picked up on my obscure pattern those first three days. Side note: This is exactly why I try to keep my great ideas to myself until I know they’re a sure thing. Promising an ambitious 12 days of bakes with 12 props in 12 individual posts was like announcing you’re on a diet and then suddenly everyone’s a critic if you eat a cookie, even if it’s in the car, where nobody can see you.

The dashed recipe plans were the least of my worries, and frankly, I didn’t care at that point. I had to seriously step up my game and combine multiple recipes in single posts to beat my deadline. In short order, these accelerated recipe roll-outs were like Ethel and Lucy in the candy factory. The recipes were coming so fast that I couldn’t keep up with making the recipes so all 12 recipes would have their own little photo shoots. My solution: supply photos of the ingredients, like a bag of polenta, a wheel of brie and a box of puff pastry sheets. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Andy Warhol would have loved these photos.

So here we are today for the last two recipes: Potato Soup with Brie and Risotto with Champagne. Whew. We’re at the finish line, with three days to spare. Virtual high fives all around!

As reader Beverly so astutely pointed out in a comment, who says that these 12 Bakes of Christmas recipes could only be made for Christmas? The last time I checked “the holidays” also include New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. So true, Beverly, so true. Would you believe me if I said that’s exactly what I was thinking, too? No? OK.

Either way, these next two recipes are perfect for New Year’s Day, after the celebrations are over, when you just want to hang around the house. (I hear some people watch football.) Let’s start with the first recipe, Potato Soup with Brie. It’s a delicious, hearty, classy soup. The leeks, brie and sherry make it classy.

This soup recipe comes from dearly departed friend Karen Stephens, a retired school teacher who was a phenomenal human being and an outstanding cook. Breast cancer claimed Karen’s life in 2016, but only after suffering through three different cancers over the previous 10 years. She lived large almost until the very end, with travel, camping, girls trips, cruises, craft groups and potlucks with friends like me, which is where I first tasted this soup and begged asked for the recipe.

One of the things I love most about cooking with recipes given to me by other people is that I always think of them when I make that recipe. When I make this soup, I think of Karen. When I make the Party Cheeseball, I think of my former mother-in-law. When I make lemon curd, I think of friend Jan Gandy, and on and on. Recipes and relationships are intrinsically intertwined.

Where was I? Oh yeah. The soup recipe. No, I didn’t have time to make the soup so I could include a photograph. Sorry. But here’s one option: Close your eyes and imagine a beautiful white silky steaming soup in which pieces of mushroom, scallion and potato are floating, garnished with a piece of brie-topped toasted French bread. Can you see it? Great. Problem solved. There’s your picture. And once you make this soup you can see it in person.

Since I can’t publish a recipe without a photo, here’s what I’ve got for this recipe: potatoes, mushrooms and leeks. They’re three ingredients in Karen’s Potato Soup with Brie. You’ll find the other ingredients in the recipe below.

Karen Stephens’ Potato Soup with Brie

2 medium russet potatoes
1 leek, white part only, cut in half lengthwise
3 green onions
2 cups of sliced mushrooms (chanterelles if possible)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup dry sherry
6 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 loaf French baguette
3/4 pound brie cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and white pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/4-inch cubes. Slice the leek, green onions and mushrooms. In a Dutch oven or 4-quart saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until it foams. Add the leek, potatoes and mushrooms. Sauté about 5 minutes.

Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add cream and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Thoroughly mix the sherry and cornstarch in a bowl or cup, stirring to blend. Add this mixture to the simmering soup, whisking in well.

Return soup to a boil for about 3 minutes, or until the starch taste disappears. Thin the soup as necessary with more chicken broth, if desired. Add green onions. Season with salt and white pepper.

To serve, heat oven to 300 degrees. Slice the French baguette into 8 slices, 1/4-inch thick. Place the slices on a cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, or until light golden brown.

Slice the brie into 1/4-inch slices and completely cover the bread slices with the cheese. Return the bread slices topped with brie to the oven and broil on low to melt the brie, forming a light golden crust.

Place a bread/brie slice over each bowl of soup. Top with the chopped parsley.

Makes 8 large servings.

Leftover Champagne? Make Risotto!

Again, a million apologies. As with the last few recipes, I didn’t have time to make this risotto so I could include photos. No great loss, because my guess is that risotto wouldn’t photograph well anyway; all that glare off the whiteness and whatnot. The photos below will give you an idea of the ingredients. Notice the arborio rice, which is what’s used to make risotto. It’s rice, but a special extra creamy kind of rice.

Here is how the Spruce Eats describes arborio rice: Arborio rice is high in amylopectin, a starch present in rice. Because it undergoes less milling than ordinary long-grain rice, arborio retains more of its natural starch content. Cooking the rice releases this starch, resulting in a firmer, chewier, and creamier rice compared to other kinds of rice.

This recipe is perfect after New Year’s Eve in case you have leftover Champagne. And yes, if you have a faux alcohol-free champagne, that will work, too.

I do have one — well, not exactly a warning — piece of information about making risotto: It’s not a quickie recipe. We’re not talking Ore-Ida potatoes here. We’re talking about delicate, delicious risotto. It requires constant stirring as the broth is added, and then the same technique with the champagne. I use a wide flat wooden spatula so it covers a lot of area on the bottom of the pan so it won’t stick.

No matter what kind of risotto dish you make, it requires that the liquids be introduced methodically; only adding more broth or champagne when the previous liquid has been absorbed.

I hope this detail isn’t a risotto deal-breaker for you. Trust me, it’s worth the time to make it. You won’t be sorry.

Risotto with Champagne

4 cups chicken broth
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 cups dry Champagne
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste

Heat chicken broth in a medium saucepan. Set aside. In a large saucepan melt about half the butter. Save the rest for later.

When the butter foams, add the onion. Sauté over medium heat until pale yellow. Add the rice to the onion and mix well. When the rice is coated with butter, add 1 cup of champagne. Cook, stirring constantly, until the champagne has evaporated. Stir in 1 or 2 ladles of the heated broth to the large pan, or enough to cover the rice. Stir over medium heat until the broth has been absorbed. Continue cooking and stirring the rice, adding broth a little at a time over about 10 minutes.

During that remaining 10 minutes of cooking, add the champagne 1 cup at a time, just as you did the broth: pouring in the liquid, cooking it until it’s absorbed, and then adding more. Do not add more champagne until the previous amount of champagne has been fully absorbed.

The risotto is done when it is tender but firm to the bite. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and the remaining butter. Season to taste with salt. Place in a warmed dish and top with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Makes about 6 servings.


Happy holidays, and happy baking/cooking/eating to you all! Oh, and one more thing: If you do make either of these recipes, can you please send me pictures? I’ll revise this post with your new photos. I’ll even give photo credits.

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Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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