Monday, October 31, 2011

Comfort food, plain and simple

Lemon Risotto
It used to be that I only made risotto when I was out to impress someone. I'd rush over to potlucks in oven mitts, carrying a saucepan with a still-warm batch. I'd win over my few distinguished dinner guests (that is, real adults, not like me and my college friends, still playing at being adults) with a splash or two of wine and a generous bowlful. But then I realised recently, when I hadn't made any risotto in well over a year, that it was really something that I should just make for myself now and then. It was food for a laid-back Sunday afternoon. I could turn up the radio, chop some aromatics, leisurely add stock to arborio, and wind up just a little while later with something warm, rich, and creamy to savour while watching the leaves outside fall and flutter about. Risotto, I realised, doesn't need an occasion. Sure, white wine and reggiano make it a little luxurious, but really, risotto at its best is just comfort food, plain and simple.
So when I turned to an old favourite last weekend and read the recipe's headnotes, I had to laugh. Nigella Lawson had had it right all along--I just hadn't payed enough attention: "This is comfort food on so many levels. For one, risotto has to be one of the most comforting things to eat ever. What's more, although everyone goes on about the finicketiness and crucial fine-tuning involved, I find risotto immensely comforting to make: in times of strain, mindless repetitive activity--in this case, 20 minutes of stirring--can really help." The lady knows what she's talking about.
And her lemon risotto is good too, really good. It's the risotto I've been making since those first days of cooking for myself, the one I usually made when looking to impress--and it's still the one I like best. It doesn't look like much, I know--just a bit of lemon, rosemary, celery, shallot, and butter for flavour--but it's splendid. It always surprises me. Just this last time, I was convinced that it couldn't be as good as I remembered it being, that I'd surely outgrown it at this point. But then I had my first bite and thought: no, it is just that good. It was lemony and bright but, with that splash of cream and egg yolk at the end, also positively indulgent. I was ecstatic. It's good when something turns out to be just as you remembered it.

Lemon Risotto
Adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe
Note: About the wine. Depending on the wine you're using, you might just want to use a half cup of wine and add more stock to make up for the volume. I love tart things, but I can see how the risotto could be a touch too tart with a full cup of wine and the lemon juice. Of course, another splash of cream or a more generous dusting of parm will also cut the acid. Feel free to replace all of the wine with stock if you don't have any wine on hand, though it does make the risotto especially nice. About the stock. The amount of stock you'll need really depends on your arborio. Originally, I had only three cups of stock on the stove, and when I was down to the last ladleful, my arborio was not at all cooked through. So, I suggest having four cups on hand just in case. When you're down to about a cup of stock, start tasting the arborio for doneness and add or withhold stock accordingly. About the cream. Good risotto should be creamy without the help of any cream, but it does help cut the acidity of the wine and lemon. Add as few as two tablespoons or as many as four, depending on how indulgent you're feeling. Four tablespoons might be over-the-top luxe, but they do make the risotto very satisfying.

2 shallots, very finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons / 30 g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups / 300 g arborio rice
1 cup white wine (see headnotes)
3-4 cups good quality vegetable or chicken stock
Zest and juice of half a lemon, preferably unwaxed and organic
Needles from 1 large sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream
 Flakey sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Warm the butter and olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the stock in another saucepan and keep it at a simmer.
Then, add the arborio to the shallot and celery, stirring well to coat with the oil and butter. Toast until translucent, 1-2 minutes.
Pour about half of the wine into the arborio and keep stirring until the wine has absorbed. Then add the other half and stir again. Continue doing this with ladlefuls of stock until the arborio is al dente. You may not need all of the stock.
Stir the lemon zest and rosemary into the risotto. In a small bowl, beat the lemon juice, egg yolk, parmesan, cream, and pepper (to taste).
When the risotto is ready--when the arborio is no longer chalky but still has some bite--take it off heat and stir in the bowl of eggy, lemony mixture. Salt to taste and serve immediately (with more parmesan, if you'd like).
Serves two very hungry people or just three.

P.S. I got my copy of Momofuku Milk Bar late last week, and I am so psyched to bake from it. Christina Tosi, I'm pretty sure, is my new hero. I'm just waiting for FedEx to deliver the big bucket of liquid glucose I ordered yesterday. Yes, I am really getting 2.2 lbs of inverted sugar delivered to my door. Then I will bake up a storm and report back. I promise.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cake was a must

Brown-butter financier sans quenelle
Two nights ago, we had over our first dinner guests since the move to the new place. It felt good to finally have a proper dinner party, drinks, dessert, and all. Our guests were a couple I've mentioned before--the two who stayed with us in March for the philosophy department's prospectives' week and who came back to the new place day after day late this summer to help with painting. They've become good friends--loving food as much as we do probably didn't hurt. Between that first week in March when they showed up on our doorstep and now, we've shared a lot of food together--everything from cold lentils shovelled down between coats of paint to the best bacon ever (where else but at the Publican). They're always up for pretty much anything, especially if there's something delicious involved. We get one another out of our sleepy neighbourhood and into the city. They're good friends to have. So it was only appropriate that they were our first dinner guests.
Dinner was a warm, stewy collard cobbler, which you can read all about over here--perfect for the end of a wet and blustery day like the one we had, straight-up comfort food. Dessert was pretty much the opposite. You'll have to forgive me. I don't get nearly as many excuses (or have as much time) as I'd like to play with dessert, okay? And besides, this happened to be a belated-birthday dinner too. Cake was a must, the fancier, the better.
Hazelnuts, skin off
Ground almonds, toasted
I went with something from a cookbook I've been meaning to talk about for a while now, Mission Street Food. Now, most cookbooks are not good reads, not even the good cookbooks. I don't mean this as a complaint--they are cookbooks, after all. But MSF is a great read. There's a pretty wild story behind the food (think: Bar Tartine cook and his grad-student girlfriend serving gourmet eats out of a borrowed taco truck and then, when that doesn't work out, out of a borrowed Chinese restaurant one night a week while the restaurant is still doing take-out), and the writing is hilarious. But, maybe, what I like best about it is how no-nonsense and matter-of-fact it is. Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz are not out to warm your heart. They tell it like it is, and often, it just happens to be funny. Even the instructive bits of the book make for good reading. Take this bit about sauces: "Armed with a powerful blender, you can make a lot of the components that separate fine-dining from Schmapplebee's or SchmeeGIFriday's. [...] If you start on a setting that's too high, your contents will splash and you'll have to wipe down the edges of the pitcher with a spatula, so be cool, but not too cool, because you're on the clock and there's no point in blending on Medium-Low for eight seconds while you build up the courage to shift to Max. After all, it's called the Vita-Prep 3, not Prince Wuss-o-Matic the Third." See, instructive and entertaining.
One more thing: MSF is not an everyday sort of cookbook--though Myint and Leibowitz were not exactly working in ideal conditions, the MSF team cooked serious restaurant food. They were practically minded (they even list an approximate cost for every recipe in the book) and couldn't quite do everything the "right" way, but they still managed to do some wild stuff. Peking duck, anyone? Mozzarella mousse? Triple-fried potatoes? A little out of my league for the moment, which was why I stuck with dessert.
Oh right, dessert--I made MSF's brown-butter financiers and served them with a rosemary-infused chocolate ganache and hazelnut-brittle pebbles. Sound complicated? Let me let you in on a little secret: it isn't really. There are three parts to it, none of which are particularly technically challenging. Block your time properly, have a little patience, and soon you'll find yourself left with just the plating to do. Make it pretty.
Financier cut-outs
First component, the financier--if you've never had one before, a financier is a delicate but intensely nutty French cake. With all of the egg whites in it, it's kind of like sponge cake. You start by browning a good amount of butter over the stove. Meanwhile, you toast some almond flour. Two kinds of nutty goodness! Then it's just a matter of those egg whites, some cake flour, and some powdered sugar. Bake all of that in a 9 x 13 inch pan for a half hour, and you're set. Grab your favourite biscuit cutters and stamp out pretty shapes to your heart's delight. (If you eat the scraps while you're working, I won't tell.) By the way, Mission Street Food estimates that the financiers will run you about $8 for all the ingredients.
Hazelnut brittle
Second component, the hazelnut-brittle pebbles--making brittle is a pretty quick and painless process. You just need a bit of nerve (boiling sugar always scares me a little) and a candy thermometer. Have your ingredients measured and ready at hand to add to the mix--toasted hazelnuts (skins off, as best you can manage) and baking soda (for texture)--and don't walk away from the stove. The sugar can get hot fast. If you manage not to drop your wooden spoon on the floor and splatter bits of hot candy all over the place, you'll have done better than I did. Pour the brittle over a half-sheet, wait for it to cool, and break it into cute, bite-sized pieces. You'll have a lot of extra to snack on. Treat yourself.
Brown-butter financier
Final component, the rosemary ganache--this one is really easy. When you're just about ready to impress your guests, drop a modest sprig of rosemary into a saucepan with some heavy cream, bring it to a boil, pour it over your best finely chopped chocolate, and stir. The ganache should be luxuriantly smooth and shiny. Don't forget to pick out the rosemary. Grab an angled spatula and smooth the ganache over your financiers.
Financiers? Check. Hazelnut brittle? Check. Rosemary-infused ganache? Check. Now, arrange all of it prettily on some clean plates and finish them off with some vanilla ice cream. And, if you want, you can get really fancy and make quenelles out of the ice cream. All you need are two spoons and some practice (there's a good instructive video here--one thing that it doesn't mention is that dipping your spoon in hot water really helps. If you're really good, like this guy, you don't even need two spoons.). And there you have it, delicious, fancy-pants dessert. Lick the ganache off your fingers and pat yourself on the back.

Brown-Butter Financiers
Adapted from Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant
Note: About the almond flour. I blanched and ground my own raw almonds for the batter, and the cake turned out fine. I suspect, however, that it would have had an even more delicate crumb with proper almond flour. Grinding almonds into flour at home is always a bit tricky--you don't want to end up with almond butter. But if you can't be bothered with buying almond flour, blanch your raw almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes and drain. The skins will slide right off after that. Just give the almonds a squeeze. Let them air dry or pop them in the oven for a few minutes, then grind them as fine as you can manage in a food processor. Make ahead. As MSF says, the cake batter will keep just fine in the fridge for a couple of days. Leftover cake will be good for a day or so, tightly wrapped at room temperature.

2 sticks / 8 oz unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups / 5 oz almond flour (alternatively, try hazelnut or chestnut flour)
3/4 cup / 3.15 oz cake flour
2 1/4 cups / 9.75 oz powdered sugar
8 egg whites

Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it turns brown and nutty, stirring frequently. Set aside.
Place the almond flour on a parchment-lined tray and bake at 350 degrees F until golden, about 12 minutes.
Grease a 9 inch by 13 inch pan with butter and line with parchment.
Sift the cake flour and combine with the toasted almond flour.
Mix in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment for 30 seconds.
Add the egg whites and mix for a few minutes, until thoroughly incorporated.
Add the butter (including browned bits) and mix thoroughly. Then add the powdered sugar.
Once the sugar is incorporated, pour the batter into the lined baking pan.
Bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. The cake is done when it has developed a golden and pleasingly crusty exterior. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean. Let cool.

Hazelnut Brittle
Adapted from Tina Ujlaki at Food & Wine
Note: If you're starting with raw hazelnuts, toast them at 340 degrees F for 15 minutes on a half-sheet. Then, collect them into a large sieve and, using a clean dish towel, roll them against the surface of the sieve to remove their skins. This never works perfectly, so don't obsess about it.

1 cup / 6.85 oz sugar
1/4 / 2 oz cup water
4 tablespoons / 2 oz unsalted butter
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons / 2 oz light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups / 6 oz toasted hazelnuts, skins removed, roughly chopped
Fleur de sel or crushed Maldon sea salt

Generously butter a half-sheet.
In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, water, butter and corn syrup and bring to a boil. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel is light brown and registers 300° on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the baking soda. The mixture will bubble. Stir in the nuts, then immediately scrape the brittle onto the buttered half-sheet. Using the back of a silicone spatula, spread the brittle into a thin, even layer. Sprinkle with salt.
Let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Break the brittle into large shards. Stored in an airtight container at room temperature, the brittle will keep for a month.

Rosemary Dark-Chocolate Ganache
Note: Make the ganache at the very last minute before you need it. If for whatever reason you do find yourself with leftover ganache, you can keep it covered in the fridge and reheat it the next day. Gently melt in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water. If the ganache starts breaking, you've applied too much heat--but don't worry, just whisk it vigorously, and it should come back together.

3 oz good bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2.75 oz heavy cream
1 modest sprig of rosemary

Place the chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl.
Bring the rosemary and cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until the ganache is smooth and glossy. Remove the rosemary sprig.

Final Notes on Assembly, Etc. Cake. Cut the cake however you'd like. I thought concentric discs would be fun, so I took out my biscuit cutters. Think of it as sculpture. Stack your financiers. Lean them against one another. You've got a lot of cake, so go crazy. MSF says that you can get 12 servings out of the cake, but I think it really depends on how you want to present it. I'd say that you can probably get six 8-inch discs out of it, plus an assortment of smaller ones. Save the scraps for snacking on. They're tasty. Brittle. Make the brittle ahead of time and feel good about yourself. It will keep for up to a month. For plating, break it into small, bite-size pieces and scatter those. Ganache. Spread a thin layer of ganache on some of the financiers before serving, just enough to cover them. You don't want to overwhelm everything with chocolate.
Finish with a few rosemary needles as garnish. Serve with vanilla ice cream. Make quenelles, if you like.
Variations: MSF notes that the financiers play well with most things, especially fruit. They, for example, suggest blueberries, pine-nut brittle, mint leaves, and mint ice cream. I think vanilla poached pears would do it for me at this time of the year. This cake is versatile.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bread with butter in it

Buttery, flaky goodness
There are few things I like better than bread and butter, plain and simple, but every now and then, the thought of having something fancier gets into my head, and I have to stop and bake, even if I don't really have the time. This weekend, for example, I thought to myself: bread and butter is fine and good, but what about bread with butter in it, lots of butter?
Now, I had a few options: slipping in the butter in soft gobs and making a glossy brioche dough (which would be good for doughnuts as well as brioche), pulling out my rolling pin and laminating it between thin layers of dough, as you would for croissants (there's some great PBS footage of Julia Child and Michel Richard making puff pastry this way here), or cutting in cold flecks of it and (again) layering the dough.
Turned dough
A quick glance through Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain decided it for me. I was going to have to go with the final option if I wanted her maple danishes. Now, before you shy away from the idea of making pastry at home, let me say this: don't be intimidated by the directions, making a "rough puff" like this one is really not all that hard to do--you just have to remember to keep your butter cold. Really, it's like making pie crust, except those are made all the more complicated by fillings and par-baking and potentially soggy bottoms. All you need to make these danishes is cold butter, a metal bench scraper, and some nerve. Setting aside a few quiet hours one morning is pretty important too. You don't want to feel rushed.
You start the night before by grating frozen butter into the dry ingredients. Easy-peasy. You don't even have to cut the butter to size and decide for yourself what "pea-sized" really means. The grater does the work for you. Just remember to toss the ribbons of butter with the dry ingredients every now and then as you're grating. There's no point in making all those pretty ribbons if they're just going to get warm and clump together in the bowl. Next, you add an egg and some milk, stirring just to get everything a little wet--don't be tempted to overwork things. The dough will be a bit rough-looking, but breathe easy--you've gotten past the first stage.
Proofed spirals
In the morning, it's time for the messiest bit--turning the dough. Basically, what this comes to is rolling the dough out, folding it over itself into layers, then rolling it out again, and making more layers. Repeatedly folding the dough onto itself like this layers the flecks of cold butter. And just as with pie crust, when the butter hits the hot oven, it'll melt, and its water content will escape as steam, leaving little pockets in the dough. With the butter layered so, what you'll get are layered pockets of buttery, flaky goodness. Just remember to keep the butter cold. If between turns you find that the dough is getting warm and more difficult to handle, feel free to cover it in plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for 15 or 20 minutes before moving on. And don't be shy with the flour--flour your work surface generously before rolling out your dough, and while you're rolling it, gently lift the dough at the edges with your bench scraper occasionally, peel it back from your work surface a bit, and throw down some more flour. It can't hurt.
Maple danishes
When you've rolled out the dough for the final time, rest easy. The worst is over. Spread a bit of softened butter across the dough, sprinkle it with brown sugar and maple sugar, roll it up, and cut it into pretty spirals--ready for proofing and baking. Leave the rest to the oven. Soon, you'll have a plate piled high with burnished and buttery beauties that you can be proud of.

Maple Danishes
Adapted from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain
Note: About making these in advance. As the recipe says, these pastries are best eaten pretty much right out of the oven. If you want to make the whole batch (and you may as well, if you're going to go through the trouble of making them at all) but don't have twelve (or maybe just six, realistically) takers waiting for your oven timer to go off, you can freeze what you don't want to eat right away. Set the danishes destined for freezing on a separate half-sheet and let them proof with the rest. When the two hours are up, put them in the freezer for about an hour, just until they harden. Then, remove them from the half-sheet and return them to the freezer in a freezer bag. The night before you need them, thaw them on a half-sheet covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator and bake them as the recipe directs the next day. About maple sugar. Reduce maple sap far past the syrup stage very, very carefully, and you get maple sugar. I bought mine from KAF.

1 cup rye flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
6 oz unsalted butter, frozen
3/4 cup whole milk
1 large egg

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 tablespoons maple sugar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Sift the rye and all-purpose flours into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain that remain in the sifter. Stir in the sugar, sea salt, and yeast. Using the large holes on a box grater, quickly grate the frozen butter into the dry mixture--this will ensure that the butter stays cold. With your hands, very briefly stir the strands of butter into the mix.
Whisk together the milk and egg in a small bowl. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir just to moisten the flour. There will still be some drier bits of dough; that's fine. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
The next day, take the dough out of the refrigerator and scrape it onto a well-floured surface. It will be quite rough, but don't worry; it will come together as you work with it.
Flour the top of the dough and use your hands to shape the dough into a rough square, pressing the loose bits together as you go. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle about 9 inches by 15 inches, keeping the longer side closest to you.
For the first turn, fold the rectangle of dough into thirds like a letter. Then turn the dough to the right once, so that the longer edge is closest to you and the seam is at the top. As the dough is still quite rough, a metal bench scraper will help you lift the dough to make these folds.
Flour the surface and the dough and repeat the step above two more times, for a total of three turns. As you do the turns, the dough will become more cohesive and streaks of butter will begin to show throughout. The dough will also soften as the butter begins to warm and the yeast begins to react. (If the dough is getting too warm and difficult to handle at any point, cover it in plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes before continuing.)
To shape the dough, cut it in half with a knife or a bench scraper. Roll each piece of dough into a 12-by-8-inch rectangle, keeping the shorter side closest to your body. Rub the softened butter over the rectangles, dividing it equally between the two. Sprinkle the sugars evenly over the butter.
Roll up the dough, one rectangle at a time. starting with the shorter edge closest to you and keeping a tight spiral as you roll. Slice the log into 6 even slices and lay them on 2 parchment-lined half-sheets, spiral side up, 6 to a sheet.
To proof, cover each half-sheet with a towel or plastic wrap and allow to rest in a warm area for 2 hours. While the dough is proofing, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. After 2 hours, the spirals will be slightly swollen but will not have doubled in size.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating halfway through. The pastries are ready to come out of the oven when the sugars are caramelized and the tops of the danishes are golden-brown. These pastries are best eaten the day they're made, ideally within the hour.

Psst. Fellow Canadians out there, Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A good excuse

Wild rice and mushroom casserole
It's been awfully chilly in Chicago lately. Sweaters have been in order. I'd turn up the heat, but that's not how things work in my building. The steam radiators sort of just cycle at their whim, and right now, that means not very often at all. So, I've been looking for just about any excuse to fire up the oven.
It feels good just to be able to say that. When my boyfriend and I got back from Romania, we called up the gas company so that they could turn on our gas (there just wasn't any time before the trip) only to find out that there was a major leak in our apartment somewhere. Plumbers came, replaced everything between the stove and the floor, and still no luck. These were dark times. All we had was a slow cooker and an electric kettle to prepare our meals. So the plumbers came back to find the real source of the leak. It turned out that it was in the ceiling. My building is old, like really old, like originally-had-gas-lighting old. The pipe running from the main gas line to the old gas lighting in the kitchen had never been properly cut off and capped. Oops.
But all of that has been fixed now, which brings me back to excuses to fire up the oven. Here's a really good one: Heidi Swanson's wild rice and mushroom casserole. I've been a fan of Heidi's blog, 101 Cookbooks, for a long time. Hers was the very first food blog I'd ever stumbled upon, and it was just when I had started taking seriously the idea of cooking for myself. So, you could say that following her blog and cooking from it were formative experiences. I made my first batch of quinoa, my first vegan chocolate pudding, my first from-scratch veggie burgers, etc. encouraged by her firm and reassuring words (the gorgeous photos helped too). Though that was ages ago, I still turn to Heidi for inspiration when I'm looking for something original, wholesome, down-to-earth, and delicious. This casserole from her new(ish) cookbook, Super Natural Every Day, is all of those things.
Wild rice and mushrooms lend the casserole a little heft and earthiness. Sour cream, cottage cheese, and a couple of eggs add a bit of richness and hold it all together. Then there are a few French-inspired flourishes--Dijon mustard, gruyère, and a sprinkling of thyme. I added a few more of my own--port for some more depth, hazelnuts for crunchiness, kale for a bit of green. The result is spoonful after spoonful of warm, gooey, and comforting goodness. So when you're ready for a sweater, think about curling up with a bowlful of this too.

Wild Rice and Mushroom Casserole
Adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day
Note: To make three cups of wild rice, bring 3 cups of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Stir in 1 cup of wild rice, return it to a boil, and then bring it down to a simmer. Cook covered for about 50 minutes. Drain and fluff. You'll have a little more than the three cups you need. Baking dishes: I divided the casserole mixture between six 10-ounce ramekins and popped them on a half-sheet, which worked out really well. My boyfriend and I tended to divide a third ramekin between the two of us, since we weren't feeling fancy enough to make any sides.

2 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz cottage cheese
1/2 cup / 4 oz sour cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of chili flakes
Fine-grain sea salt
1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup / 2 oz port
8 oz cremini mushrooms, chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3-4 medium kale leaves, stems removed and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 cups cooked wild rice and/or brown rice, at room temperature
1/3 cup / 0.5 oz freshly grated gruyère cheese + more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons hazelnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme or tarragon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Rub a medium-large baking dish with a bit of butter. Alternatively, you can use individual baking dishes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cottage cheese, sour cream, mustard, chili flakes, and a scant 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with a few pinches of salt. Stir in the mushrooms and port. Cover and cook for five minutes, allowing the mushrooms to take in the port. Then uncover the skillet and let the liquid evaporate, about another five minutes. Continue to cook and stir every couple of minutes until the mushrooms are browned. Add the onion and cook until the onion is translucent, another two or three minutes. Stir in the kale and cook until just wilted, another couple of minutes. Then, add the garlic and cook for a minute or so, just until fragrant. Finally, add the rice to the skillet and stir until combined.
Add the rice mixture to the cottage cheese mixture, stir until well-combined, and turn into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the half-ounce of gruyère and hazelnuts. Then, cover with aluminium foil.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the casserole takes on a lot of colour. If you are in a rush, you can finish it under a broiler for a couple of minutes, but watch carefully so the top of your casserole doesn't burn; it can happen quickly. The finished casserole should be hot throughout and golden along the edges. Sprinkle with the chopped thyme and a bit of grated gruyère.
Serves six.