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creamy cheddar risotto

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

There are some shows that I like to watch on the Food Network and Cooking Channel and a lot that I don’t like. Nigella’s shows fall somewhere in the middle. If you’re not familiar with her she is known as the ‘Domestic Goddess” or “Queen of Food Porn” in the UK. She’s had several cooking shows and has written several cookbooks.  I love all things British and am surprised that she irks me, but that’s why she falls in the middle…I don’t care for her, yet still watch her shows. There is something about her personality that bothers me that I can’t pinpoint and I think she’s a tad condescending. When watching a segment to get a frosting recipe, her measurement for powdered sugar was a “billowy cloud.” Ummm…is that 3/4 a cup?

When browsing the cookbook section at the library I came across her Nigella Express cookbook and thought I would flip through it and try a recipe or two. The good news was all the measurements were already converted for us Americans. When I saw the recipe for cheddar risotto I knew I wanted to make this immediately. Risotto (arborio rice) release a lot of starch creating a creamy texture and when you add a lot of cheddar to it you have a mac and cheese style dish with less dairy because you don’t need to add milk or cream. It’s a cheaters mac and cheese, that tastes great.

I’ve posted risotto recipes in the past and I can’t express enough how easy it is to make. I think it is just as versatile as pasta and can take anything you add to it.

Creamy Cheddar Risotto
adapted from Nigella Express

1/2 tbs butter
1 tbs oil (whatever you have, olive, canola, vegetable…)
2-3 green onions (scallions), chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 cup of stock, heated (I used chicken, but vegetable is okay)
1 1/2-2 cups cheddar cheese
chives, chopped (or the green tops of green onions)
salt and pepper
garlic powder

Heat stock over medium-low heat. Melt butter and oil in a medium-sized pan with deepish sides over medium heat. Add risotto and mustard, saute for a few minutes. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Add green onions and one ladle of your heated stock. As the stock is absorbed, add another ladle of stock and continue until there is no stock left. Make sure to stir as you go. This process should take about 18 minutes. Add the cheddar cheese, stirring until it melts. I added 2 cups, the recipe called for 1 cup, but please, it needed more. Taste your risotto and add more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve and garnish with chives or green onions.


escarole with dates and warm hazelnut vinaigrette

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Back in early November I received a small postcard alerting me that my Aunt gifted me a subscription to Bon Appetit. You can imagine how excited I was about that. My Aunt has been a subscriber for decades I believe and it was a pretty easy guess for her that I love the magazine as well. We talk about recipes from it and I have even showed up at her house with a dish ripped straight from the pages. I’ve inherited my love and success of cooking from my Aunt, I can remember standing in her kitchen as a young girl watching her make incredible food that everyone gobbled down. She loves cooking for others and being the hostess.

Before I forget, I need to mention that she still cooks with the same stove she bought when I was a young girl. It’s become an inside family joke this stove because there is only one working burner left and you need to be careful when you open the oven door as the hinges aren’t as strong as they once were and the handle is long gone. (I really want her to start a blog called, Incredible Food, One Burner.) She also has quite a small kitchen and no dishwasher! I’ve never heard her complain once and the more the merrier is always her sentiment. Thank you Auntie Karleen for the subscription and the inspiration. I love you!

My subscription started in January and I decided I would cook and photograph at least one recipe from each issue. Have I done that? Yes. Have I blogged about it yet? No. January’s recipe was well….let’s just say I need to pick another recipe and start again. I’m starting with a salad from the February issue. It’s more of an adaption because I used what I had. The recipe called for walnuts and walnut oil, well I wasn’t going to buy walnut oil I had no use for outside of this recipe, and, I had a perfectly good hazelnut oil from making Nutella.

This salad did take a special trip to store for me because escarole isn’t something that I buy on a weekly basis, and not all the stores have it right now. I think spinach would be equally as good, so use that instead if you want to. It’s also rare that I have dried Medjool dates lying around, but I actually did! I also used champagne vinegar instead of red wine because again, that is what I had. I guess I made more substitutions than I thought…. That’s why cooking is fun, you can play around with what you have and still create something that tastes amazing. Since I had a blood orange, I segmented that and tossed on a couple pieces. I’m not sure if I would add it again to this particular salad, but hey, it was my salad to play with.

Escarole with Dates and Warm Hazelnut Vinaigrette
heavily adapted from Bon Appetit
(I played around with the measurements to make this salad for one, but below are the full measurements from the magazine and it serves 4)

1 head of escarole
5 Medjool dates, pitted and diced
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted
1/3 cup hazelnut oil (extra virgin olive oil will work)
1 shallot, chopped
2 tbs. champagne vinegar (red wine or white wine vinegar will work)
salt and pepper
bacon (optional, I didn’t have any so I left it out)

Wash and dry escarole leaves and tear up. Toast hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium-low heat for a few minutes. Combine escarole, dates and hazelnuts in a large bowl, set aside.

Saute chopped shallot in hazelnut oil until soft, about 3 minutes over low heat. Remove from heat and add the champagne vinegar, whisk to blend. Season with salt and pepper . Slowly pour  warm dressing over salad and toss to coat. If you lucky enough to have bacon, toss on it on crumbed.

nutella? well, sorta

Monday, March 7, 2011

Nutella isn’t something that I grew up spreading on toast. I’m sure most of you didn’t either. It’s still catching on here in the U.S. in my opinion, or maybe to just us in the PNW. Nutella is a hazelnut spread that boasts a hint of chocolate and milk, and while it comes from Italy, it is widely popular all over Europe.

To be quite honest, I’m not a huge fan of Nutella. The flavor has always seemed a bit chalky to me. I do enjoy it with bananas, spread out on a crepe on the sidewalks of Paris. What? I can get the same crepe here in Seattle? I am aware of this, but am always disgruntled that I have to shell out at least three times the price for one here. Also, the chocolate and banana crepe remains special as I look forward to it when I’m in Paris. When in Rome… A few summers back, I rented a tiny apartment in Paris and my good friend Josh came to stay with me for a couple weeks and he insisted on purchasing the largest jar of Nutella the store had. I warned him that I wasn’t a big fan and wouldn’t help him eat it, he assured me he would bring home what was left to enjoy; I ended up throwing it away when it wouldn’t fit in his over stuffed suitcase.

I thought I would give this hazelnut and chocolate spread another go, but this time I would make it. I got the idea back in late December when I read that January is hazelnut month. (I had no idea that nuts were assigned months.) I had good intentions to make this in January and share it with all of you, but now it’s March and oh well. I looked at different recipes for this project and settled on one that Smitten Kitchen used with peanuts. (Wow, as I’m typing this a commercial just came on for Nutella! How serendipitous.) This recipe was incredibly easy. I don’t typically have hazelnuts or hazelnut oil on hand so I had to make those purchases. I’m not fond of making a lot of specialty purchases for one recipe, but I’ve already found other uses for the hazelnut oil.

Did I like my homemade version of Nutella? I liked it enough. I’m still not a big fan of it and thought it still tasted slightly chalky. I don’t know if I’ll make it again for me, but I will for friends. Hmmmm….maybe Josh would like some! You will need a food processor to make this, a blender might work but I’m not sure. I spread mine on a crumpet and I’m determined to find other uses for it before it goes bad.

Hazelnut and Chocolate Spread
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 cups hazelnuts
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup + 1 tsp. powdered sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
3+ tbsp. hazelnut oil (I used a smidge over 3 tablespoons)

Roast your hazelnuts on a sheet pan in the oven at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes. You don’t want to burn them, just bring out the natural oils and flavor.

Pour the hazelnuts into your food processor  and turn in on. The nuts will break down and get powdery, let it keep running until the oils come out and it looks spreadable. It took about 3-4 minutes for my processor to break down the nuts. At this point add the cocoa, sugar and salt. Pulse the mixture a couple times to incorporate it into the nuts. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, and turn on to mix the oil through. At this point check your flavor and add anymore sugar or salt if you desire. Also, if you like a thick consistency you might not want to add anymore oil. I added the 3rd tablespoon and checked it again, that is when I added a smidge more to get the consistency I wanted.

That’s it. Store in an air sealed container in the fridge. According to Smitten Kitchen, this will last for one week. I better get busy finding other uses for this!

winter citrus

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The skies have been dark grey and filled with snow this week, so here is a photo of citrus fruits to brighten your day. These are the citrus I currently have in my kitchen and am actively using. From the upper left there is a cara, cara orange, a small satsuma, a large ruby red grapefruit, a lemon, a lime, an unpeeled blood orange, and in the center is a peeled and partially segmented blood orange, and two small kumquats.

Kumquats look like small grape-shaped oranges, but unlike an orange you can eat the entire thing, peel and all. This is the first year I’ve bought kumquats and have eaten them. There isn’t a lot of fruit on the inside, but there isn’t a thick peel either. I’ve been slicing them thinly and using them as salad toppers. They do have seeds that can easily be popped out with the tip of a paring knife.

The blood orange is beautiful on the inside with the fruit ranging from light pink to a ruby red. The peel will even look like it’s blushing red in certain areas. Again, I’ve been using these in salads, via segmenting them. They are also wonderful in sauces, added to certain types of pasta, juiced, and added to cocktails. Blood orange juice and sparkling water can be commonly found in most grocery stores today. In fact, I have a bottle in my fridge.

Check out what your store has for citrus fruits, it isn’t just navel oranges, grapefruits, lemon, and lime anymore. Experiment and try something new. You’ll be amazed and the variety of flavors.

home-baked wheat thins

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Growing up I LOVED Wheat Thins. We always had them on hand and I ate them plain, with cheese, or dipped into anything. I probably still love them, but haven’t bought them in years. After looking at the ingredients, I wasn’t impressed with a few things I saw. Maybe I should take second look and see if they have improved. Well, just the other day I came across a blog posting that featured wheat thins made from scratch. The recipe was incredibly simple and I knew I had to give it a try.

The dough came together in no time and was easy to roll out. I enjoyed these with a schmear of cream cheese and smoked salmon. I’m not going to go into detail regarding the ingredients and process, but instead have you visit Tracy’s Culinary Adventures where I read this recipe. I will say, you don’t need anything special to make these. You really will have everything you need in the pantry. This recipe could easily be made dairy free by using Earth Balance butter sticks for all you vegan and dairy-free folks out there.

The flavor is so good. I know that Wheat Thins come in a variety of flavors now and I can’t wait to experiment in creating flavors at home. I hope you visit Tracy’s Culinary Adventures for this recipe, it is a keeper!

lemon tea cookies

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When my friends have parties I get asked to contribute something edible most of the time. I’m always happy to oblige since I love my friends and my contributions result in smiles. I was recently asked to bring something to an evening party and I even spent a few days deciding what I should bring and came up with something clever; however, that idea didn’t see the light of day.   You see, I had to wake up extremely early the morning of the party to help a friend go wedding venue hunting.

When I returned home I decided to lay down and take a nap before I started baking, as time inched on it be apparent plan A wasn’t going to happen. Plan B was flipping through a cookbook and finding a cookie recipe that didn’t need more than one egg. I came across this lemon tea cookie recipe and was intrigued. I found this recipe in my rarely used, but oldest cookbook, Better Homes and Garden. You know, the red and white checkered one. I find most people have this staple cookbook or the Betty Crocker version in their collection.

There was only one disappointing aspect to this cookie, the lemon flavor, it was lacking. I didn’t want a hint of lemon, I wanted everyone to know this cookie was a lemon cookie. Luckily, I tasted the dough before I baked the first batch and added more fresh lemon juice and zest. I baked nine cookies and tasted one, nope still not enough lemon. I added more. I was finally pleased with the flavor, but thought it was still missing something. I made a quick glaze of powdered sugar and lemon juice and drizzled it over the cookies. Now I had a lemon tea cookie I could be proud of.

I love lemon and added quite a bit, if you do not like a heavy lemon flavor then scale back on the juice and zest. I will say though, there were no complaints at the party of these cookies being too lemony.

Lemon Tea Cookies
adapted from Better Homes and Garden

You’ll need 2 medium/large lemons

2 1/2 tsp fresh lemon zest (set aside)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
5 tbsp lemon juice

lemon juice
powdered sugar

Preheat oven at 350 degrees F.

Stir 2 teaspoons of lemon juice into the milk and set aside for five minutes. Beat the butter with a stand or electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add half the flour, the sugar, the egg, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest, and milk mixture. Beat till thoroughly combined. Beat in remaining flour.

Drop small rounded teaspoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 9 minutes. (The recipe says 10-12 minutes, but mine were done at 8-9.) Edges should be slightly browned. Cool on a wired rack.

Put a couple spoonfuls of powdered sugar into a small bowl. Slowly add a small amount of lemon juice to the sugar and stir to combine after each addition. You are looking for a thick but runny consistency. Once it’s ready, drizzle over cooled cookies with a fork or knife.

classic comfort: tomato soup and grilled cheese

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The sun finally started to shine again in Seattle, but with it came a drop in temperature. I’m okay with that because I was tiring of the rain, greyness and selecting outfits around my rainboots. I wish I could share this weather with my friends in New England and the Midwest; I’m sending sunny and melting thoughts your way! I can share this classic cold weather dish with them though. Tomato soup and grilled cheese are classics that we all remember from our childhood, but you’re never to old to enjoy it and it was just what I needed for dinner to warm up.

This recipe comes together in a matter of minutes and I suspect most of you already have the ingredients in your pantry and fridge. I used diced tomatoes and basil for a classic combination. You can also use canned whole tomatoes or stewed tomatoes, whatever you have to work with. Season with a little salt and pepper and garlic powder and your pretty much done. I also tossed in a couple spoonfuls of sugar to tone down the acidity of the tomatoes. Just toss everything into a food processor or a blender then heat and serve.

Soup alone wasn’t enough for dinner so of course I made grilled cheese. A slice a bread, some cheddar and I was all set. This tasted so good. Whenever I buy tomato soup at the store I need to season it anyway to give in flavor, this way I cut out the middleman and make it to my liking with almost fresh ingredients. I wasn’t going through the trouble of cooking and peeling skins when tomatoes aren’t even in season right now. Save yourself the trouble as well, use canned.

Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese

1 can/container tomatoes (I used diced, use what you have)
4-7 basil leaves, torn slightly
salt and pepper
garlic and onion powder (omit onion powder if you don’t have any)
dried basil seasoning
2-3 tsp. sugar
parmesan cheese, optional

sliced bread
cheddar cheese

In a blender or food processor puree the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper, and garlic and onion powder. Pour into soup pot and heat up. Taste your soup as it heats up and add more seasonings to achieve the flavor that suits you. Add only a little sugar at a time, you don’t want a sweet soup, this is just to balance the acid of the tomatoes.

Top with extra basil, parmesan cheese and a little extra salt.

If you need instructions on making a grilled cheese sandwich; well…here they are. Heat a pan over medium heat and toss in a small pat of butter. Slice your cheese, put it between two slices of bread, put in heated pan. As cheese melts and the bread side down piece browns, flip to brown other side. I weighted down my sandwich so I didn’t have to stand there putting pressure on my flipper.