December 1, 2010 § Leave a Comment
It’s snowing outside. Without warning, the last days of fall have come and gone. Well, that’s not entirely true. Every morning it’s been colder, I’ve been crunching the dried leaves on the sidewalk for weeks, Thanksgiving happened, and I hear Christmas carols everywhere. I think I just wasn’t ready for it to end–fall is my absolute favorite season: the clear air and that unmistakable November blue sky, the food, the excited “back to school” feeling that still gets me every September, the smell of cinnamon…
But, now it’s December, and it is time to move forward. My immediate future (er, less than 3 weeks from now) includes: packing up my life into boxes, driving a truck with my Dad down the 14 hour trip to North Carolina, a whirlwind weekend of unpacking, and returning home briefly for the holidays. Then comes the real transition period: back to student life, facing unfamiliar experiences as a nursing student, and living on my own again.
Sounds like it’s time to cook some risotto. The ultimate comfort food (other than macaroni and cheese, which will be my next craving), this version is from Ina Garten and is hearty, filling, and warm–perfect for the beginning of winter. The color reminds you that fall wasn’t too far in the past.
My dad is the risotto master in the house, so I learned the technique from him, including toasting the raw arborio rice in the pan with butter and oil for about two minutes before adding the broth (this helps the rice absorb the broth and become creamy, rather than soggy or mealy). He also taught me to wait for the ladles of broth to become completely absorbed by the rice before adding anymore liquid to the pan, and to stir constantly. The whole process (and you can’t really leave the stove top) takes about 25-30 minutes. Yes, sort of labor intensive, but grab yourself a glass of red wine, and if you have everything else prepared (like grating the cheese and grinding the saffron with a mortar and pestle), you’ll be set. Plus, I think it’s fun watching the rice soak up the broth–suddenly, you have perfect risotto.
A few notes about the recipe:
- You must get some fresh sage leaves, fry them in olive oil and garnish them on top. I forgot to do this but luckily remembered for leftovers.
- Make sure you dice up the squash pretty small (but not so small that they’ll disappear)
- Add most of the squash during the cooking (10 minutes in), and the rest use as garnish.
Butternut Squash Risotto with Pancetta and Sage
Adapted from Ina Garten
- 1 butternut squash (2 pounds)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 2 ounces pancetta, diced
- 1/4 cup minced shallots (1 large)
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- fresh sage leaves, pan-fried in olive oil and drained on paper towels
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.
- In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and 1 T. olive oil, and saute the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter, about 2 minutes.
- Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 1 full ladle of stock to the rice plus the saffron and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock.
- Add 2/3 of the squash about 10-15 minutes in.
- Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the rest of the squash cubes and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.
- Top with fried sage leaves.
November 9, 2010 § 5 Comments
I love soup, especially the ones in the middle of fall that warm you up inside without being too hearty: butternut squash, chicken noodle, lentil, even tortilla soup. This particular red pepper soup kind of reminds me of summer (so why am I mentioning it now, you ask?) but I know what I’m going to do next time to make it perfect for crisp fall nights.
Truth is, I thought I was making roasted red pepper soup, but then was confused when I didn’t have to roast them and remove the slimy skins. It’s not that I didn’t like the result– it has a lot of grassy-sweet bell pepper flavor, which is deliciously refreshing in the summer. Now that the weather is turning colder, though, I’m craving the charred-sweet toasty depth that comes with roasting the peppers first. So, try roasting them. I think you’ll like it. And then go outside and crunch some leaves to work up an appetite while the soup is on the stove. Garlic croutons are a must (make extra).
Note: the original recipe is below…But if you want a little more depth and flavor, either use your oven (broiler) or gas stove to char the red peppers on all sides. Once they are pretty much black and look inedible, place the hot peppers in a ziploc bag, close the bag, and let them sit for at least 15 minutes. Peel the skin away (it should come off easily now) and then follow the recipe below.
Pureed Red Pepper and Potato Soup
From NYTimes Recipes for Health
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a drizzle for serving
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
Salt, preferably kosher
4 plump garlic cloves, green shoots removed, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 pounds (4 large) red bell peppers, seeded, membranes removed, cut in large dice
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 pound russet potatoes (about 2 medium), peeled and diced
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf and a couple of sprigs each thyme and parsley, tied together in a bundle
Freshly ground pepper
For garnish (optional):
Garlic croutons (toast thin slices of baguette and rub with a cut clove of garlic)
Slivered basil leaves or chopped fresh thyme leaves
1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot, and add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to soften, and then add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes, and stir in the garlic and tomato paste. Stir for a minute or two, until the garlic is fragrant and the tomato paste has darkened, and then add the peppers, paprika, and another 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until the peppers begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the potatoes, stock, and bouquet garni, and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste, one to two teaspoons, cover and simmer over low heat for one hour. Remove the bouquet garni.
3. Blend the soup until smooth in an immersion blender, or in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Work in batches, and cover the blender lid or food processor with a kitchen towel to prevent the hot soup from splashing. Strain the soup through a medium strainer, pushing it through the strainer with a spatula or the bowl of a ladle, and return to the heat. Heat through, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Garnish with garlic croutons and slivered fresh basil or chopped thyme, and drizzle a few drops of olive oil over each serving if desired.
Yield: Serves six to eight
November 2, 2010 § 4 Comments
Well, this isn’t going to be the epic welcome back post that I first envisioned when I decided to return from my laziness-induced, writer’s block-fueled, excuse-laden, more than a month-long blog hiatus. So I’ll just say this: I’m back, I’ve been in the kitchen, and I have been taking pictures…so let’s get right to it.
Say hello to roasted plums with vanilla bean sugar. I made this at least 4 times in the course of two weeks, thanks to Sam’s Club-sized containers of the fruit. I had seen this lovely version on Tartelette but didn’t have lavender and no one else in the house (besides me) wanted the chai rice pudding. I think it sounds delicious, but never mind. So instead of the lavender I used a hint (really, maybe a shake or two) of cinnamon. Vanilla beans, though expensive, are essential. Extract just won’t cut it this time. Isn’t it lovely?
The result? A phenomenal tart-sweet dessert, where you can really showcase the best of plum season. I loved them alone, warmed, cold, with ice cream, with yogurt, all topped with spoonfuls of the sticky syrup that forms on the bottom of the dish. If you’re stuck on dessert for a party, don’t have the time to do something fancy but still want the wow factor, this is perfect. Or, if you’re by yourself in your apartment and want something sweet while you watch an embarrassing number of Law & Order episodes, ta-da!
Here’s how to do it:
Roasted Plums with Vanilla Bean Sugar
Inspired by/Adapted from Tartelette
Plums, let’s say 8-9 big’uns
2 T. sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
Pinch of cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 400º
- Cut the plums in half and remove pits
- Run a spoon or knife along the inside of the vanilla bean and scrape seeds into a little bowl or dish. Add the sugar and use your fingers to evenly distribute the seeds. Add the pinch of cinnamon here too.
- Place plums pit-side up in a glass (or other deep) baking dish, and evenly sprinkle the vanilla sugar on top.
- Roast for 30 minutes or more, or until you can see a syrup and the plums are soft but have not disintegrated.
When you take them out of the oven, flip the halves over so they sit in the syrup as they cool.
September 18, 2010 § 1 Comment
Well I guess summer is basically over…but I’m not going to let it stop me from sharing some awesome summer recipes, starting with this nectarine cake. I’m usually not a cooked peach/nectarine lover, but I’ve made an exception for this cake. (And for a peach and blackberry crisp I had at Hot Chocolate a few weeks ago that nearly made me fall out of my chair.)
This recipe is from Gourmet–and it’s very similar to the dimply plum cake I made previously–the recipes are nearly identical. And like the dimply plum cake, it’s a crowd-pleaser. Perfect served right out of the oven with vanilla ice cream, room temperature the next morning with coffee, and for afternoon tea, if it lasts that long.
Plus, arranging the moon-shaped slices of nectarine in that pretty circular pattern makes it look very European. Which obviously gives you the excuse to serve slices to your friends while speaking in an unintelligible foreign accent and feel super cool. Or maybe your friends will think you’re even weirder than they already did. No big. They’ll forget about your little blunder when they take their first bite. It’ll be history when they ask for seconds.
Nectarine Golden Cake (or Golden Nectarine Cake, which sounds more better, Ya?)
Adapted from Gourmet (additions in italics)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- Rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon sugar, divided
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 2 nectarines, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- zest of 1 orange
- sprinkle of cinnamon
a 9-inch springform pan (or just a 9 inch cake pan, nonstick even…if you don’t have a springform pan, that is)
- Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Lightly butter springform (or cake) pan.
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Beat butter and 3/4 cup sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in extracts and orange zest. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined.
- Spread batter evenly in pan, then scatter nectarines over top. Or, delicately (ha) place them in a circle facing the same direction, about 1/2 inch apart. Stir together a little more nutmeg and remaining 1/2 Tbsp sugar and sprinkle over top. Bake until cake is golden-brown and top is firm but tender when lightly touched (cake will rise over fruit), 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool to warm.
September 9, 2010 § 4 Comments
In the world of food and cooking, I have many things that I avoid attempting because I’m terrified I’ll screw them up entirely, face a table of disappointed swallows and waste time. These include but are not limited to: custards, soufflés, anything involving the word “tempering”, canning things to give as gifts (good gracious, what if I give someone botulism? Would not be a Merry Christmas…), and scallops. This only represents a mere fraction of my list, but you can see I have a bit of a problem. Even though I know practice makes at least better (let’s not go towards perfection yet), I still lose confidence and end up making something at least somewhat familiar.
I’m working on it, though. Last week, for example, I conquered my fear of scallops. I always avoided scallop recipes because if you overcook them, they get tough and chewy, and with an expensive ingredient to start with, it can be a real bummer. But, I followed the directions and it wasn’t so bad after all–they were perfectly cooked! Look at me, making progress. Maybe I’ll celebrate with a cookie. Or draw a gold star and carry it around with me in my purse. This week (or weekend), I dare you to cook something you’ve been wanting to try but have hesitated for one reason or another. Do it! And then tell me. Whoever may be reading. Mom?
But back to the scallops. This recipe is pretty easy, it has bacon and garlic (so clearly, it’s a winner), and includes spinach as your vegetable so it’s a one plate meal. I found it on myrecipes.com, and it’s from Cooking Light so it’s healthy to boot. One recommendation would be to cook it on a hot pan (not non-stick) so it browns evenly. You may need to use a bit more of the bacon drippings so they don’t stick, but is that such a bad thing? Definitely serve with lemon wedges to cut through the richness–the added acidity was very welcome.
Pan-seared scallops with bacon and spinach
- 3 center-cut bacon slices
- 1 1/2 pounds jumbo sea scallops (about 12)
- 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 6 garlic cloves, sliced
- 12 ounces fresh baby spinach
- 4 lemon wedges
1. Cook bacon in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in pan (and more on the side just in case); coarsely chop and set bacon aside. Increase heat to high.
2. Pat scallops dry with paper towels (important!!). Sprinkle scallops evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Add scallops to drippings in pan; cook 2 1/2 minutes on each side or until done. Transfer to a plate; keep warm.
3. Reduce heat to medium-high. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add all of the spinach, and cook 2 minutes or just until wilted, stirring frequently.
4. Remove the pan from heat and stir in remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Divide spinach mixture among 4 plates; top each serving evenly with crumbled bacon and 3 scallops. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
August 19, 2010 § 2 Comments
I love August when I’m at home in Chicago. Lemonade stands run by restless neighborhood kids, walks through the forest preserve, stone fruit, fresh raspberries and blueberries, cheese from the farmers market, swimming, walking barefoot, wine on the candlelit porch, steamy days where iced coffee is drunk by the pitcher-full, and cool nights when we let the fresh air sweep through the upstairs.
Something I find the most luxurious is being able to cook with the fresh herbs my mom grows in pots out on the back patio. This year we have basil, thyme, tarragon, mint, and marjoram.
Keeping up with my (somewhat) healthy theme (skip over that lemon pound cake, will ya?), I decided to make a salad dressing chock-full of fresh herbs and biting garlic that complements crunchy romaine lettuce, radishes and carrots: green goddess dressing. Traditionally, the recipe uses mayonnaise as the oil base (a full 3/4 cup!). Instead, I substituted 1/2 cup of that with 2% Greek yogurt, and it didn’t lose any of the creaminess. You probably could substitute the whole thing, but I got cold feet at the last second.
This recipe is incredibly speedy if you have a food processor or good blender; the emulsion forms fast and the herbs chop up evenly in the mechanical blade instead of using manpower. I did chop up the dill and some of the herbs a bit before adding them, but it probably wasn’t necessary.
If you’re tired of your weeknight salad dressing, give this one a try–we hadn’t finished our salad with that speed in quite some time. Plus, it is a stellar dipping sauce for crudités.
Lemony Green Goddess Salad Dressing
Adapted from Food and Wine, September 2009
- 2 oil-packed anchovies, drained
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/2 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1/4 cup packed basil leaves
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped dill
- 1 tablespoon oregano leaves
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup plain low-fat (not fat free) yogurt (Greek was used, but any will work)
- 2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons snipped chives
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
In a food processor, pulse the anchovies, garlic, parsley, basil, dill and oregano until coarsely chopped. Add the mayonnaise, yogurt and lemon juice and process until smooth. Fold in the chives; season with salt and pepper.
August 16, 2010 § 1 Comment
You know those days where you keep fumbling for words, respond in incomplete sentences or stream of consciousness, confuse the heck out of anyone unfortunate enough to interact with you (forget about phone conversations) and you may even trip a few times on the sidewalk just to top it off? Welcome to my world for the past couple of weeks.
It was a combination of things, really. My life was up in the air (no longer, thank goodness–I found out today that I’m heading back to Duke come January!), I was settling back to home life with my parents, and I was missing my independence in California even more than I imagined. Seriously, I got back two weeks ago and finally this weekend I decided to unpack and do laundry. I hate unpacking. But it was so nice this morning to wake up in my own bed (not the guest room) and be able to see the floor! Shouldn’t that be enough of an incentive to just do it right away? Some things never change.
And we got an adorable distraction. His name is Benjamin. He is a rambunctious little nugget. Here he is chilling in a flower pot.
Luckily my absentmindedness didn’t keep me from the kitchen. I missed it here, posting recipes and pictures! I’ll start off with this awesome apricot compote that I read in the New York Times, where they have a section on recipes for health. I made it first in California with some very tart apricots that didn’t want to lose their skins easily, and then again here with some ripe ones from the farmer’s market that were juicy and sweet. Both times the compote was a happy complement to Greek yogurt and fruit. It keeps for 2 weeks in the refrigerator, but it didn’t last 5 days at home…
Also: this takes approximately 20 minutes from start to finish, 15 minutes of which you can either twiddle your thumbs, stare at the pot on the stove, or watch most of an episode of Modern Family. Love that Phil Dunphy.
First, rinse off about 6-8 apricots, depending on how big they are. Eat one of them to assess sweetness levels. Or to check that they aren’t poisonous. (It’s always a good idea to be the taste tester of the house…)
Put a pot of water to boil on the stove. Once the water is boiling, drop in the whole apricots:
They should boil for about 30 seconds to a minute. If your apricots are not very ripe, let them go 1-2 minutes or you’ll have a hard time with the skins. Take them out and place in an ice water bath:
Slip the apricots out of their skins, cut them into halves and remove the pits.
Place apricot halves and 2 tablespoons of sugar (or more or less, depending on your fruit) in a pot on the stove over medium heat for about 15 minutes, until the apricots have broken apart and thickened into a delicious compote. Let cool, then store in an airtight container in the fridge (will last 2 weeks or so).