Sunday, May 31, 2020

Ottolenghi's Brussels Sprout Risotto

This isn't pretty, but neither is the world nowadays. As we sink further and further into what feels like one helluva horror movie I find I'm in need of kitchen therapy.

The repetitive motion of stirring risotto is ALWAYS good therapy. Nothing but your thoughts and a wooden spoon. I can't fix the world, but I can fix risotto.

The prettiest purple brussels sprouts are the inspiration for this dish. I really wanted a recipe that would showcase them.

Needless to say, if you don't love brussels sprouts, this isn't the dish for you, but if you do....well, this is right up your alley. The sprouts are incorporated in two ways: shredded and mixed into the risotto (pictured above) and fried until golden and crispy and served on top (pictured below).

This is a hearty and comforting risotto, maybe not perfect for summer, but perfect if you're in need of comfort, which I dare say we all are right now.

Brussels Sprout Risotto
Adapted from Plenty More
by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4, or more

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
2 lemons, rind shaved in long strips from one, finely grated zest the other
1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 pound brussels sprouts, 7 oz. shredded the rest quartered lengthwise
scant 2 cups dry white wine
scant 4 cups vegetable stock
about 1-2/3 cup oil, for frying Brussels
1-1/2 cups grated Parmesan
2 ounces blue cheese, broken into chunks
1/3 cup tarragon leaves, chopped
2 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste

Place the butter and olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and fry for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly caramelized. Add the garlic, thyme, and lemon rind strips and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the rice and shredded sprouts and cook for another minute, stirring frequently. Pour in the wine and let it simmer for a minute before you start adding the stock, 1 teaspoon salt, and a good grind of pepper. Turn down the heat to medium and carry on adding the stock in ladlefuls, stirring often, until the rice is cooked but still retains a bite and all the stock is used up.

While the rice is cooking, pour the oil into a separate large saucepan; it should rise 3/4 inch up the sides. Place over high heat and, once the oil is very hot, use a slotted spoon to add a handful of the quartered sprouts. (Take care that they are completely dry before you add them; they will still splatter, so be careful.) Fry the sprouts for less than 1 minute, until golden and crispy, then transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels. (Full disclosure: frying these sprouts made one heck of a mess in my kitchen so be prepared to clean splattered oil from everywhere!) Keep the sprouts warm while you finish the dish.

Add the Parmesan, blue cheese, tarragon, and half the fried sprouts to the cooked risotto and stir gently. Serve at once with the remaining sprouts spooned on top, followed, by the grated lemon zest and lemon juice, and a sprinkle of the cheese, if you like.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Ina Garten's Radishes with Herby Butter and Salt {seriously so good}!

My parents raised a very healthy eater. When I was a kid, there was no junk food in the house and we almost never ate out. I have a lot of stories about our healthy eating, but this is one of my favorites.

My dad and I loved to snack together while watching TV.  I remember he would go to the kitchen and come back with a bowlful of radishes and green onions in one hand and a salt shaker in the other. He would shake a little salt in the bowl and we would take turns dipping the green onions and radishes in the salt. We would eat a bowlful of radishes and green onions just crunching away, all the while thinking it was the best snack ever. Those are some great memories.

I'd love to say that I snack on green onions and radishes now, but as my mom liked to say, "those friends of yours introduced to you all that junk and there was no going back." However, I still do love radishes and green onions and think fondly of my dad every time I eat them.

So, since I can't visit my dad right now, and also because I'm trying my very best to be healthy, I got out my radishes (I almost always have them on hand) and made this dish. Once again, I expected to like this recipe. I did not expect it to blow my mind. But it did! You would never think this recipe would pack the flavor punch that it does, but it's got flavor and texture for days! It's simply incredible.

Now, this is nowhere as healthy as the snack my dad and I used to share, but I sure do wish I could share this dish with him because I know he would love it. The herby butter with the sliced green onions, parsley, dill, salt, and lemon really brings out the flavor of the radishes. This is a light, crispy, crunchy, salty, and flavorful appetizer that hits all the right notes. I think dad and I were definitely onto something all those years ago because green onion and radish really go well together!

So, this is for you, dad. I know you would love this dish as much as I do. In fact, this recipe is going to go down as one of my all-time favorites for this year!

I do have one tip: I loved this dish most when the bread was warm and toasty from the oven and the butter was starting to melt. Something about the contrast of warm bread and cold radishes with the melting herby butter was irresistible! This is going to be something that I make again and again. If you're a radish lover, run and make this dish. You will fall in love!

Radishes with Herby Butter and Salt
Adapted from Food Network
by Ina Garten
Serves 6-8

2 bunches radishes with the tops intact
sea salt
Herbed butter, see below
1 French baguette, sliced diagonally

Herbed Butter:
1/4 pound butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons minced scallions
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh dill
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 350F. While the oven is preheating make the herbed butter: Combine the room temperature butter and all the herbs, etc in a bowl and mix with a spoon. Add salt and lemon, to taste. Place in a small decorative bowl and set aside.

Place the sliced baguette on a baking sheet and lightly toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, flipping halfway to toast both sides. Remove the toasts and place the toasts, the butter, the salt, and the radishes on a platter in a decorative manner.

Spread the herbed butter on the warm toast and top with a radish. Or, dip your radish in salt and take turns eating a bite of radish and then a bite of toast with herbed butter. These ingredients complement each other beautifully. 

Watch Ina's video on how to make this dish. You can be enjoying this dish in almost no time at all!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Mark Bittman's Fruit and Cereal Bars

One of my projects during quarantine has been clearing out my pantry. Trust me when I say my pantry needs A LOT of clearing out. So far I've managed to organize the food into sections, but my cereal and breakfast section was threatening a takeover. Why do I buy granola and dried fruit like it's the only thing I eat? Can someone answer me this question? I've been doing this for years and I've never seemed to learn that a person can only eat so much granola.

Thankfully I found a recipe for Mark Bittman's Fruit and Cereal Bars. I've made my fair share of homemade granola bars and they've all been ok. I suppose that's what I was expecting with these bars. Only they completely blew my mind. These dang bars are INCREDIBLE! I'd even go as far as to say THESE ARE THE BEST GRANOLA BARS EVER, homemade or in the store. I'm dead serious.

So I don't know if it was the granola I used, or the combination of fruit, or the ratio of the recipe, or what, but I'm for real when I tell you that YOU NEED TO MAKE THESE BARS!

I followed Bittman's recipe, using a lovely granola called Grandyoats Classic Granola(worth sourcing/not sponsored), full of really fresh and healthy organic non-GMO ingredients such as oats, honey, sunflower seeds, pumpkins seeds, coconut, walnuts, cashews, wheat bran, and vanilla. It was fabulous and so fresh. Then I paired that with the required 1-1/2 cups dried fruit, mainly about 1 cup of dates, 3 or 4 dried apricots and 1/2 cup dried cherries. I think this was a magical combination of dried fruits so I'd do the same ratio again.

This is so simple and perfect for the summertime because this is a NO BAKE recipe. Simply blend up the fruit with the oil and honey and a little sea salt. Make sure it forms a very moist paste and mix it into the granola, pushing and packing it into the pan and refrigerate for about a half-hour.

THIS IS ME SCREAMING FROM A MOUNTAINTOP....PLEASE MAKE THESE BARS! Assuming that you use quality granola, as well as this combination of dried fruits, these are simply the best of the best. I ate two and a half in one sitting and had to stop myself from eating more. I could see myself making these every single week for a light breakfast and/or snack. They also make a really healthy dessert. I'm not kidding. They're so good they could pass for a dessert. 

Ok, I've held out long enough. Back to the kitchen for another one.

Fruit and Cereal Bars

Adapted from The Food Matters Cookbook
by Mark Bittman
Makes 10-12 bars

1-1/2 cups dried fruit*
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons honey
fruit juice or water, as needed
a sprinkling of sea salt
1 cup ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, like granola
Optional: coconut, nuts, cocoa, etc, for sprinkling on top

Notes:  I used the most wonderful new granola called Grandyoats classic granola. The granola was full of oats, seeds, and nuts and was probably the very best granola I've ever had - very fresh. I think the granola really made the difference in these bars. You can probably use any dried fruit, but I love dates so I used 1 cup of dates, about 3 dried apricots, and 1/2 cup dried cherries (also my favorite). This turned out to be a magical combination because these bars were incredible! Also, the sprinkling of sea salt helps to bring out all the flavors, so I feel like you really don't want to skip it!

Put the dried fruit, oil, and honey into a food processor or a blender and puree until smooth, adding fruit juice and/or water a little at a time to keep the machine running. You'll need to stop once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. (Add small amounts of water or fruit juice if the fruit is dried out and is not processing.).Put the puree into a large bowl and fold the cereal into it. You may want to use your hands at first and then use a spatula.

Line an 8- or 9- inch square or round pan with foil. Spread the mixture into the pan, pushing it into the corners and evening the top. If you like, dust the top with coconut, nuts, or cocoa. Refrigerate until set, then cut into bars.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Nigella Lawson's Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

I realize I'm coming at you with a butternut squash recipe in the middle of spring. This is because I bought a butternut squash about 3 months ago with plans to make a butternut squash macaroni and cheese that was very fitting for winter, but I never got around to it, until now.

I love that this butternut squash was able to hang around my house full of life for months and months. And truly, one can never go wrong with a macaroni and cheese recipe, especially in times like these, when we need comfort food on the regular.

Does anyone else have a hard time watching the news? I really just can't or I sink into a big depression. And, I have to admit, I am NOT a fan of everything opening back up, but I do realize it is vital for the economy. In my house, we will be staying in and putting our focus on doing things at home and outdoors. Again, just because you can doesn't mean you should. The virus has not gone away, folks. Please be careful!

In the meanwhile, comfort food is in full demand and macaroni and cheese it is. Now, full disclosure, Nigella wrote this recipe as Sweet Potato Macaroni and Cheese and I'm sure that is equally delicious, BUT I think butternut and sweet potato are interchangeable and right now we use what we've got. Also, I don't have the pennette pasta she calls for, but I use orecchiette, which is one of my favorites because the shape is like a little cup, perfect for holding sauces and add-ins.

Adding the sweet potato/butternut squash allows us to use far less cheese than the traditional baked macaroni and cheese. Nigella calls for sharp tangy feta and a good mature Cheddar. I relish any chance to indulge in feta so I'm happy with that. I also have a very nice aged Murray's English Cheddar. One thing is for sure: I am almost always stocked up on cheeses.

I'm going to call this a healthy macaroni and cheese BECAUSE there is literally no other macaroni and cheese that is packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. I mean we're in a pandemic and we need to be eating healthy, right? So indulge and take comfort in a hot bubbling cheesy dish that is delicious and delivers all the goodies your body needs.

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from
by Nigella Lawson
Serves 4

1 pound sweet potatoes (or butternut squash)
10 ounces pennette (or other small, short pasta)
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon English mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika, plus more for sprinkling on top
3 ounces feta cheese
1-1/4 cups mature cheddar, plus more for sprinkling on top
4 fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F. Put on a largeish pan of water to boil, with the lid on to make it come to the boil faster. Peel the sweet potatoes (or butternut squash) and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces. When the water is boiling, add salt to taste, and then add the sweet potato and/or butternut squash, and cook for about 10 minutes or until soft. Scoop them out of the water into a bowl using a slotted spoon and lightly mash with a fork, without turning it into a puree. Don't get rid of this water, as you will need it to cook your pasta.

In another saucepan, gently melt the butter and add the flour, whisking to form a roux, then take the pan off the heat, slowly whisk in the milk and, when it's all combined and smooth, put back on the heat. Exchange your whisk for a wooden spoon, and continue to stir until your gently bubbling sauce has lost any floury taste and has thickened. Add the mustard and the 1/4 teaspoon paprika. Season to taste, but do remember that you will be adding cheddar and salty feta later, so underdo it for now.

Cook the pennette in the sweet potato/butternut squash water, starting to check 2 minutes earlier than packet instructions dictate, as you want to make sure it doesn't lose its bite entirely. Drain (reserving some of the pasta cooking water first) and then add the pennette to the mashed sweet potato/butternut squash and fold in to combine, the heat of the pasta will make the mash easier to mix in.

Add the feta cheese to the sweet potato/butternut squash and pasta mixture, crumbling it in so that it is easier to disperse evenly, then fold in the white sauce, adding the 1-1/4 cups grated Cheddar as you go. Add some of the pasta cooking water, should you feel it needs loosening up at all.

Check for seasoning again, then, when you're happy spoon the brightly sauced macaroni and cheese into 4 small ovenproof dishes approximately 1-1/2 to 1-1-3/4 cup capacity or one 12x8. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar over each one, dust with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of paprika, then shred the sage leaves and scatter the skinny green ribbons over the top, too.

Put the pots on a baking tray, pop into the oven and bake for 20 minutes (or, if you're making this in a larger dish, bake for 30-35 minutes), by which time they will be piping hot and bubbling, and begging you to eat them.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Mark Bittman's Lemony Zucchini Risotto with Fried Egg

People feel all kinds of ways about reopening and venturing out. I'm not one to take risks (at all) so I go by the old adage, "just because you can, doesn't mean you should," and since I work for the school system, I will continue staying at home.

I was a homebody before the quarantine and I continue to be. Staying home never gets old for me. I love to cook. I love to read. I love to cuddle with my dog and play board games with my husband the kids. I love to do puzzles. I love to binge-watch shows. Occasionally I like to clean. I'm practicing how to be a gardener. There are a million and one things I love to do at home.

I also LOVE to see what I can cook up with bare-bones ingredients. I suppose this trait comes from my dad, who loves to make a game out of just about anything. Cooking like this is much like a game.

I have a zucchini to use up, so I start with that. I pick up Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook, which is one of my favorite cookbooks. Turns out he has about eleventeen zucchini recipes. I am astonished by all the inventive ways he uses zucchini.

I settle on Lemony Zucchini Risotto with Fried Eggs because it uses brown rice and I've never made risotto with brown rice, and I have some brown rice that needs using up and well... I love fried eggs on anything (how's that for a run-on sentence).

I will make a very inexpensive and glorious healthy vegetarian dinner, complete with every food group, using bare-bones ingredients and it will be absolutely fabulous. It may take an hour, but that's ok because I've got nothing better to do.

Mark Bittman says, "the grated zucchini mostly melts away, leaving behind a creamy richness that doesn't depend on tons of rice or mounds of cheese."

This risotto is a spring-time dish if there ever was one. It's fresh and lemony and tastes like a garden. Mark is right, the grated zucchini melts away - giving this a creamy richness that feels satisfying without weighing you down.

Lemony Zucchini Risotto with Fried Eggs
Adapted from Food Matters Cookbook
by Mark Bittman
Serves 4

1 cup short-grain brown rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped 
1/2 cup dry white wine or water
3 to 5 cups vegetable or chicken stock or water
4 small or 2 large zucchini (about 1-1/2 pounds), grated
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil, optional
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish, optional

Notes: Take note that many of these ingredients are optional and this could really be made with 5 very basic ingredients (using about any vegetable), not counting salt and pepper. Don't box yourself into the ingredients called for -use what you have. This is a base recipe that can have many variations. The most important thing is enough liquid and constant stirring.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt it. Stir in the brown rice, adjust the heat so that the water bubbles steadily, and cook, without stirring, for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain well. 

Put the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. When it's hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and coated with oil, just a couple of minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then add the wine or water. Stir and let the liquid bubble away.

Begin to add the stock, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition and every minute or so. When the stock is just about evaporated, add more. The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry. Keep the heat medium to medium-high and stir frequently.

After about 15 minutes of adding stock, stir in the zucchini and cook, stirring, until it releases its liquid and the mixture again becomes dry. (You definitely DO NOT want to wait too long before adding the zucchini because it will give off A LOT of moisture and it will take a while to cook off). Begin tasting the rice about 5 minutes later; you want it to be tender but with still a tiny bit of crunch. It could take as long as 45 minutes to reach this stage. When it does, stir in the lemon zest and juice, add the Parmesan, butter, and basil if you're using them. Meanwhile, if you'd like to top with fried eggs, go ahead and fry your eggs however you like. Taste and adjust the seasoning for the risotto. Serve immediately, garnished with your fried eggs, and additional basil if you like.