Risotto with Mushrooms

The Story:

Making risotto is contemplative cooking: it must be stirred, it can’t be rushed, you can’t be distracted, you can’t leave it. It’s soft, and therefore was a favorite of my mother’s when I moved into her home to companion her in her end years.

While cooking risotto late one afternoon, Mama napping on the other side of the wall behind the stove, I became aware that she had been asleep for a long time and was much later than usual getting up. She usually walked into the kitchen while I cooked, flipping on the overhead light that was off because I detest overhead lights. She asks me what I’m cooking, then decides if she can eat it or not that day, like I had given her a choice. But that evening, she wasn’t up. I couldn’t leave the risotto to check on her, and my head went crazy with the unlikely possibilities, even while knowing she had overslept and would be irritated with herself, or, more likely, with me.

Finally able to set the pot off the burner, I went to her bedroom. I stood in the doorway until I heard a soft snort. I let out a sigh of relief. I realized then that while I might say I was ready for this to be over, I was not. When I woke her to tell her dinner was almost ready, she was predictably vexed that I had let her sleep so long. Maybe I was ready for this to be over. But first, the Parmesan needed to be stirred into the risotto.

The Recipe:

Makes 4 servings


4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
20 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced (however much of whatever kind you want, or mixed)
2 shallots, diced
1 carrot, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
3 tablespoons dry white wine
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
2 tablespoons butter
¼ c freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Optional additions: frozen peas, steamed asparagus, baby spinach (add to cooked risotto and heat until wilted), parsley or basil . . .


In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.
Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.
Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to skillet, and stir in the shallots and carrots. Cook 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed.
Reduce heat to low: Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add more warm liquid as needed.
Remove from heat, and stir in mushrooms with their liquid (and other cooked vegetables you may choose), butter, chives, and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pork Tenderloin with Goat Cheese & Honey

The Story:

Meat was hard for Mama to chew and to digest, but pork tenderloin passed all the tests. We both loved this recipe. It’s soft (if not overcooked) and tasty. And it’s easy to prepare! It continues to be my favorite meat recipe.

The Recipe:


½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. light brown sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 lb. pork tenderloin, silverskin removed
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. chopped rosemary (opt.)
3 oz. goat cheese, sliced or crumbled
2 T. honey


Combine first five ingredients. Rub all over tenderloin and let sit for 30 minutes. (Or five, if that’s all you have.)

Drizzle with olive oil and brown on all sides in a Dutch oven.

Place in the oven and bake uncovered at 400˚F for 13-15 minutes, flipping the tenderloin over halfway through baking. Bake until center of pork registers 150˚F then transfer to a cutting board and let meat rest 5-10 min. Temperature will rise while resting, so you might find you need to remove it from the oven before it reaches 150º. (Don’t overcook! A little pink out of the oven is fine.)

Slice and place on platter or plates. Top with rosemary and goat cheese and drizzle with honey.

P.S. You can also grill meat: 18-20 minutes, to internal temperature of 130º. (I haven’t done this.)

Kale & Cauliflower Soup

The Story

Mama loved soup. By which I mean, she loved soup. She loved to make it and eat it and clean out the refrigerator into her Revere Ware pot, and she loved to preserve it. There were so many half-pint yogurt containers in the freezer developing freezer burn, I couldn’t keep up with it. When yogurt packagers stopped putting plastic lids on one-serving containers (a travesty), she covered them with plastic wrap and, foil, securing it with freezer tape or a rubber band. She went through a lot of freezer tape. She spent hours in the kitchen making soup when she couldn’t do much more.

I like soup . . . not so much. Fortunately I do like to make it, and there are stories in my memoir about making Mama soup, and of me learning to use the vegetables she bought at the farmer’s market that I would never have bought. And avoiding using the recipes she gave me from her worn out cookbooks, finding more interesting ones on the internet and not telling her. (The Therapeutic Lie in action. See Tips & Tools.) I rarely used her beloved VitaMix, especially after once being called to the kitchen to be scolded for pushing off buttons in the wrong order. Instead, I burned out the motor on the hand held immersion blender my sister gave Mama, which she never used.

Here is one we both liked.

The Recipe


1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
5 Tbs. (3 fl. oz./80 ml) olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 large bunch curly kale, stems removed, leaves torn into
  1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
7 cups (56 fl. oz./1.75 l) chicken or vegetable broth
1/3 cup (1 3/4 oz./50 g) pine nuts, toasted


Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C).

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender and the edges are browned and crisp, about 22 minutes. Reduce the oven to 300°F (150°C).

In a bowl, toss half of the kale with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil and season with salt. Place on a baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and roast, stirring once halfway through, until the kale is crispy, 26 to 28 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cauliflower and broth, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining kale, increase the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a VitaMix (or other) blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Top with the crispy kale and pine nuts and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.