Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lemon Risotto with Shrimp

Aah, risotto. You've had it before, right? So creamy you think they MUST have dumped half a gallon of heavy cream in, salty and just a touch chewy and all around delicious. I freaking love the stuff. The best part is that it's SO much easier than you think. Time consuming, yes. Challenging, not so much.

Ok sure, it takes a little while, but it's such a neat process. Look at that photo above: grains of rice swimming in chicken broth. Now look at the one below it: creamy and smooth. And the RICE did that. Not me! I swear I only added a little cheese at the end, and no cream! You don't have to use arborio or carnaroli (two types of short grain white rice) but they're easy to find (especially arborio) and they're the standard rices for this particular application. Oh, and don't even THINK about throwing out your parmesan rinds. Stick 'em in a bag in the freezer when the cheese is gone, and drop one in the pot with the rice. (See the triangle in the photo above.) You'll get every speck of creamy delicious cheesiness out of it before you throw it away.
Plain risotto made with an onion, chicken broth, and a little parmesan cheese is all well and good, but it also makes an excellent canvas for whatever flavors you're in the mood for. The other night, I wanted something light tasting and fresh, so I added the juice and zest of a lemon and some herbs. On top of the rice went some simple sauteed shrimp et voilĂ ! Dinner, she is served! (YES I know this is an Italian dish. Whatever dudes, I'm feeling the French at the moment.)

Lemon Risotto with Shrimp
serves 4
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
5 c chicken broth
one small onion, finely chopped
olive oil
parmesan rind (optional but highly recommended)
1/2 - 3/4 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper
one lemon, juice & finely chopped zest
1 T mint, finely chopped (or basil, but I had mint on hand)
3 T parsley, finely chopped
Peeled, deveined shrimp, 5-6 per serving, sauteed
Heat the chicken broth in a medium sized pot over low heat, just to keep it warm. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to a large pot over medium heat, add the onion and saute a couple of minutes until the onion is translucent but not browning. Add the rice and saute for about two minutes until you can smell it getting nutty. A few touches of gold on the grains is fine, but keep the rice moving at this point so it doesn't brown.
Add the parmesan rind (whole) and a ladelful of chicken broth to the rice and stir it in. Leave it alone for a couple seconds and stir again. At first the rice will absorb the broth quickly. When you scrape the spoon against the bottom of the pot and no liquid rushes in to cover it, you need to add more broth. Continue adding broth a ladelful at a time until the rice is creamy, 25-35 minutes. It may take longer depending on your exact heat level, your rice, and your stirring. Just go till it's done, and if you run out of broth use water - you can add more salt at the end if it needs it.
Meanwhile, chop the herbs and zest the lemon. Reserve a little bit of the herbs and zest for garnish if you like. Saute the shrimp in a touch of olive oil in another pan towards the end of the cooking process and cover to keep warm.
When the risotto is creamy (taste it to be sure the rice is cooked to your liking), add the grated cheese, lemon juice, lemon zest and herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Taste it again and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve on a plate or in a shallow bowl with shrimp on top and garnished with reserved herbs and lemon zest.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Brussel Sprouts are NOT icky.

Things are getting slow at the Farmers' Market in Government Center. A lot of the vendors pack it in at the end of October, but the heartiest will stick it out until Thanksgiving. I'm pretty bummed out about the idea of five months without super-fresh-just-picked vegetables, but I'm making the most of what's there now, and that includes Brussels Sprouts. Now don't run screaming for the hills you big baby - they're delicious! You just have to be nice to them.

I picked up a branch of these eensy weensy specimens last Wednesday. The small ones, once trimmed, were the size of my thumb nail, so I just threw them in the pan whole, and I cut some of the larger ones (large being totally relative here, they were still no bigger than a ping pong ball) in half so they would be closer in size.

Roasted in the oven with simple seasoning and oil, these mini cabbages make for a totally delicious and unbelievably good for you side dish. This bowl above was full, but I only remembered half way through that I wanted a photo of the finished goods. If you can't find dollhouse sized sprouts, just cut the regular ones in quarters.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts
Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Wash the sprouts, removing any tough or discolored outer leaves. If you bought them on the branch, be sure to trim the stem end off as well. If using regular sized sprouts, cut them in quarters or in half. Place in a pan, season generously with salt and pepper, and toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Roast until golden brown with darker spots, stirring once, at lest 20 minutes. Larger sprouts will take longer.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Key Lime Cheesecake for Hugh's Birthday

The week before I went to Atlanta, Hugh celebrated a slightly momentous birthday - not one that ends in a 0 or anything, but a birthday nonetheless. A few months earlier, she had inquired about key lime pie, but when I suggested it for the Big Event, she said "how about cheesecake?" How ABOUT cheesecake? Yes! I've never made a cheesecake before, but key lime cheesecake sounded like the perfect compromise.

Step one: Obtain graham cracker crumbs. I accomplished this by giving Hugh a baggie full of crackers and a stick with which to beat them.

Step two: Take wonky picture for your blog so people can see you are not insane and did not juice 1,304,798 teeensy weeensy key limes. Couldn't find them, actually. I went with bottled key lime juice and do not feel bad about it. I do feel bad about the crookedness of this photo, though. Oy.

Step three: Stop describing this in steps, because it could get very annoying. I like that this recipe only had half a stick of butter in it, so I took a picture of it. Oookay.

As previously mentioned, I had never made a cheesecake before, but it wasn't that scary. The crust only has three ingredients, and the filling was easy enough to pull together with my trusty handheld mixer. Plus there's cream cheese. Mmm.

I had read all the reviews on the original Epicurious recipe (reviews are the best part of Epicurious, for sure), and a lot of people mentioned the trouble they had getting the cake to set. I didn't really have any such trouble, but as you can see from one of the photos below the top of my cake had some pretty hefty cracks across it.

Luckily, they were covered up with the whipped cream topping. Oh and a note about that - if you make this, make more than the recipe calls for. I wanted more.

I also skipped the whole 'mango ribbon' thing. It seemed rather fussy to me, and I knew I would have to wait to top the cake until just before we ate it. What that means is there would be people hanging out in my apartment, silently shaking their heads as I photograph the dessert they are waiting to eat.

Add in the fact that good mangoes are tough to find in New England no matter what time of year, and it seemed that raspberries would be an easier way to lovelify (lovely-ify? can you spell it 'wrong' if it's a made up word?), so that's what I did.

How'd it go? Well it's cheesecake, so it's hard to imagine it was BAD, right? Oh my friends it was so the opposite of bad. It was delicious. I loved the tang from the lime juice, and the barely sweetened whipped cream cut through it very nicely, the raspberries were juicy and delicious and the crust was tender and crumbly. I liked it. Hugh liked. Birthday cake success is mine!

If you have a cheesecake lover in your life and you've never tried it before, let me repeat: don't be scared. You can do it, and you won't regret it.

Key Lime Cheesecake

adapted from Epicurious

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (5 oz)
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
3/4 cup Key lime juice, bottled or fresh
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 Tbsp AP flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs

1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1 Tbsp sugar

Special equipment: a 9- to 9 1/2-inch springform pan
1. Preheat oven to 350 and butter then sides and bottom of the springform pan. In a bowl combine the crumbs, sugar and butter, then use your fingers to press it evenly onto the bottom of the pan and about 1/3 of the way up the sides. Bake for 6-8 minutes, just until golden. I took mine out after six minutes because several reviewers had mentioned their crust got overcooked while they waited for the center to set.

2. Reduce oven temp to 325. Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until very fluffy, then beat in the sugar; be thorough so your cake won't be too heavy. Add sour cream, lime juice and vanilla; beat until smooth. Add eggs (all at once!) and mix just until incorporated.

3. Pour the filling into the crust and put the springform pan onto a baking sheet (in case of leaks). Bake until cake is set in the center, 60-70 minutes. I went to 70, but my cake had just the slightest bit of jiggle in the middle. Knowing it will continue to set up as it cools, I didn't want to overdo it. Cool cake completely in the springform pan on a rack. When cake is completely cool, run a thin knife around the edge of the cake before releasing the pan. Chill in fridge for at least 8 hours (or two days, if you're me).

4. When read to serve, beat cream and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixture until it just holds stiff peaks, then spread over top of cheesecake. Dot with raspberries, and serve. I like cheesecake cold, so I served it straight from the fridge, but you could also let it come up to room temp before topping and serving.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Delightful, Delicious Atlanta

I like Atlanta a lot, guys. I really do. And it's not just because some of my favorite people live there. I was there a year and a half ago for a visit home with Christy, and now that Christy has moved back there I went last weekend to visit her. Lu flew in from the Big Apple also, and we celebrated her birthday.

Upon our arrival in the ATL, we went to Mellow Mushroom for pizza (yum) and sat around drinking Trader Joe's Simpler Times Lager (yum, also and cheap!) wearing a bird on our heads a la Carrie Bradshaw. What?

Saturday we headed off to the Stone Mountain Highland Games at Stone Mountain Park, where we feasted on Turkey Legs, boiled peanuts, and delicious pastries. This is Elaine, a baker, and a Bakewell Tart. I WILL figure this one out, because oh em gee, so tasty. I had two.

What else was there for entertainment? Well, the caber toss, of course! A caber is a 120 pound, 20 foot log. It takes four guys to carry it:

But only one to toss it:

Sometimes it doesn't work so well, and in fact we only saw a couple of people get it to flip over (which is the whole point, I think).

After the caber toss we wandered around the grounds ogling people in kilts. Look at all the kilts! Also, note the dagger in the sock. Hee.

There were many tartans on display, and much sitting to be sat. Sigh. I miss it already.

I had sort of overdosed on photos after the Games, so I only have very crappy photos of the rest of the night (and the rest of the weekend), but we had a wonderful meal at Watershed (salmon croquettes, oh my), and a hilarious evening at Metalsome live band karaoke. I realize this post was not all that food centric, but hopefully you'll forgive me if I tell you my next post will be about cheesecake. Key lime cheesecake. Oh yes. Consider yourselves warned.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I've been away! And now I'm back!

And I have not yet uploaded my photos of the ATL (except to Facebook, heh). Here's a photo of kudzu I took last time I was in Atlanta - Memorial Day weekend 2007 - for your viewing pleasure. Isn't it the craziest plant?? Alton tells me you can eat it, but I haven't actually tried that...

If this is not enough for you, please read this bit about the politics of my favorite legume from Mark Bittman. I'll be back soon to tell you about my weekend and also about the cheesecake I made for Hugh's b-day last week. Happy Monday, friends!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Soup

As you may recall, I have a thing for chickpeas. I eat them at least a few times a week (if not every day) in one form or another: in salads, as hummus, or during the cooler months, in this delicious spicy soup. The recipe comes from a show on the food network that I've only seen once, probably because according to the web site it airs Monday mornings at 9:30 am. Not terribly convenient.

I saw it years ago and I've been making it ever since. It makes a big pot, so if you're only feeding a few people there are usually leftovers. I often serve it with some sort of flat bread, and I like to make my own. This "naan" recipe by Emeril is NOT naan but it IS easy and this weekend I didn't have any plain yogurt in the house. If you decide to make a naan-like flatbread, I suggest a recipe that has yogurt like this one, but if you're in a hurry and out of yogurt, that first one will get the job done, anyway.

This time around I used some Rancho Gordo garbanzos I ordered a few weeks ago and they are FANTASTIC! But I had to soak and cook them before I could start the soup, which takes several extra hours, but you can use a good quality canned bean too. I have, and no matter what you serve it with, this is a winning combination of spices that makes for a very satisfying soup.

Moroccan Spice Chick Pea Soup
adapted from Dave Lieberman

Serves 4-6

3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Onion, diced
6-8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (I use a heaping 1/8 teaspoon; I like it spicy)
1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes (fire roasted is good)
3 15 oz cans chickpeas (or equivalent in dried beans that have been soaked and cooked as you normally would)
1 quart low sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 tsp sugar
salt & pepper
1 package baby spinach (5 oz or 9 oz package both work - spinach shrinks as it wilts)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add the ground spices: cinnamon, cumin, cayenne and paprika and stir for 30 seconds or until spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, sugar and broth, season with salt and pepper. Chickpeas should be barely covered with liquid, if not, add a little water. Simmer over low heat for 30-45 minutes. Just before serving, add the spinach and stir for a minute or so until wilted. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary, serve hot with bread.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't be scared!

There's this sandwich shop in downtown Boston on Summer Street called Al Capone's. Aside from the fact that we're not in Chicago and I've never eaten one of their sandwiches, it's my favorite place to walk by in the morning because they bake bread there. And baking bread is a smell that slays me every time, it's just so... warm.
I am not a timid cook; I'm usually confident that I can follow even a complicated recipe and get a pretty good result. I've baked before. But bread still made me a little nervous. Deb at Smitten Kitchen has a couple of very good and encouraging posts about bread making and when I read the early one featuring dill bread from the Joy of Cooking, I was hooked. I made a few changes to the recipe based on what I had in the fridge, and I've got to say it is STELLAR.

Studded with bits of onion and savory dill, it fills the house with this amazing, inviting, yeasty aroma. Plus, the tactile pleasure if kneading dough cannot be denied. The key is not to worry that you're doing it wrong, just keep pushing the dough around until it comes together. It's quite a shaggy dough at first, but keep your hands floury and eventually you can maneuver it into a nice soft ball.
Toss it in an oiled bowl, and let it rise for an hour and a half or so in a warm place, or until you can poke it and the hole stays in place. My apartment is on the cool side, so I usually turn the oven on very low for a couple of minutes (my oven has a 'warm' setting of 170 degrees) then shut it off (that part is important!) and let the dough rise in the warm oven.

Then you take it out, pat it about a little to let some of the air out, and finagle it into a vaguely loafy shape, and put it in the greased loaf pan and let it rise again. I put it back in the warm oven and in 45 minutes it was threatening to rise out of the pan and take over my kitchen. I tapped the pan gently on the counter and it deflated enough to fit back in the pan - this might not be a step you need to take, but I wanted to make room for the melted butter. Butter is very important to me.

Oh and guys, if you made that meatloaf? And this bread? And you have a couple slices of cheese? Hooo boy, have you got one AMAZING meatloaf sandwich in your future. Please, I beg you, do make a sandwich on this bread, even if it's just turkey. And if you make a turkey sandwich, might I suggest you put mustard and cucumbers on it? A few weeks ago I spent an entire lunch hour NOT participating in conversation, because all I could say was, "This turkey sandwich is so good. This bread is so good. This turkey sandwich is so good. This bread is so good."

Dill Bread
adapted from Joy of Cooking

I don't have a stand mixer, but you could use it if you do!

Makes one 9×5-inch loaf

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (one package)
1/2 cup warm water (105 - 115 degrees)
3 cups bread flour
1/2 a medium red onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup large-curd cottage cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg
For top of bread (optional but oh so recommended!)
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Combine yeast and water in a small bowl and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about five minutes.

Combine flour, onion, dill, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast, cottage cheese, sour cream and egg. Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together, addition additional flour or warm water if needed. Knead for about 10 minutes by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Transfer to an oiled bowl and turn it over once to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. If you poke it with your fingers, it should retain the hole instead of springing right back into place.

Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Press the dough down to de-gas, form into a loaf and place seam side down in the pan. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. (Make sure you take the bread out first, if you're letting it rise in there!) Brush the top of loaf with melted butter, and then sprinkle with the additional salt.
Bake until the crust is golden brown and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Take the bread's temperature - it should be around 200 degrees. Remove the loaf from the pan to a rack and let cool completely.

Please, please, make a sandwich with this bread.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Monday Meatloaf

So, it's fall. Ok. I addressed that the other day so you know how I feel about it. I am trying to cook my way out of this malaise using cold-weather favorites. At Hugh's request this week, we had Meatloaf Monday.

We also had Martini Monday, but that's another story.

[Aside: Look at my pretty new knife! It made all the chopping so much FUN. That boy knows just what makes my heart go pitter pat... cutlery, apparently. Thank you!]

Knowing we would be at the supermarket Monday evening, I perused epicurious for meatloaf recipes Monday morning. When you search "meatloaf," this one from February's Gourmet is the second 'loaf listed, and the reviews are mostly favorable. Though I was hesitant about the prunes, it seemed this was the meatloaf for me. I started when we got home from the store and the groceries were put away around 6:30, so we ate quite late, but we were entertained! T^2 was around and... there were martinis. With garlic stuffed olives. Mm hmm.

ANYWAY. I didn't take very good pictures of this meatloaf, because frankly, it's hard to photograph a lump of meat. A delicious, slightly sweet and tangy, pleasantly chunky lump of meat it may be, but photogenic it is not.

Some notes: It is a slightly crumbly loaf. That may be because I didn't chop anything too finely, even the prunes. (The original recipe says to chop them in a food processor, but I just chopped finely with a knife.) It was MUCH easier to slice the next day out of the fridge, and might I suggest that you save it for meatloaf sandwiches? Because WOW. And might I also suggest that you wait a few days on the sandwich, because my next post is going to be about the most delicious sandwich bread ever? Because YOWZA.

The final note is about loaves and is prompted by some confusion in the epicurious reviews. Some meatloaves (meatloafs?) are cooked in an actual loaf pan, but this one is formed into a loaf shape and then baked in a rectangular baking dish. This ups the surface area to the max, so you get that delicious crunchy crust on more of the meatloaf. It stands to reason that the ends are the best part.

Monday Meatloaf
adapted from Epicurious

feeds 4-6 or 2-4 with leftovers for sandwiches

1 cup fresh bread crumbs
(Stale bread + food processor = fresh bread crumbs. Make them when you have stale bread, keep them in the freezer)splash of milk3-4 slices bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped3 garlic cloves, minced1 celery rib, chopped1 carrot, chopped2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce1 tablespoon cider vinegar1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
salt and pepper1/2 cup pitted prunes, finely chopped1 1/4 ground beefscant 1 lb ground pork (not lean)2 eggshandful finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 350.

Add milk to breadcrumbs in a large bowl, just enough to get them wet, and set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high, and add the chopped bacon. Saute until cooked through (or crispy, if you like), then add bacon to breadcrumbs in bowl. Drain all but a tablespoon of bacon renderings from pan, then add onion, celery, carrot and garlic and saute 5 minutes. Cover, turn heat to low, and cook 5 minutes more or until carrots are tender. Turn off the heat and add the Worcestershire sauce vineger, allspice, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Stir to combine, then add to breadcrumbs and bacon.

Add finely chopped prunes, beef, pork and chopped parsley to bowl and mix it all together with your hands until combined. Form it into an oval loaf approximately 9 x 5 in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Bake 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a thermometer registers 155 in the center of the loaf. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. And don't be scared of the liquid in the pan.

Don't be afraid to make this if you are only cooking for two, because the leftovers make amazing meatloaf sandwiches.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Begrudgingly Embracing Fall: Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Guys, I'm not ready for fall. I know, I know! It's freaking OCTOBER. It's already fall; and it's been weeks since the last summery day. I bought a winter coat this weekend. But I'm just not mentally prepared for the cooler months! We didn't have enough summer, and I didn't eat enough tomato salads.

I think that's why I've been in a bit of a funk lately; that and I had a killer cold about a week ago and I'm just now emerging from the fog. I made this scrumptious macaroni and cheese last week, and I've been so listless as to put it off until today! My pictures are less than amazing for this dish (it was dark), so I'm only showing you finished shots - sorry! Another note - I baked this in two six-ounce ramekins and a 9x9 baking dish. It was just Adam and me for dinner, so mac and cheese and a green salad was plenty, but you could probably stretch this into six (or maybe even eight) ramekins if you were making it part of a more complex meal.

This recipe is adapted from Alton Brown and I've made several adjustments, but two years ago when I first made it, I followed his recipe to the letter. Alas, nobody I made it for that first time was around last week, so I'm the only comparison you get. I like the spicy undertone from the aleppo pepper, but if you don't have aleppo (I got mine at Christina's specialty spice shop in Cambridge) you could use sweet paprika and cut it back to 1/2 a teaspoon. I also used homemade breadcrumbs that I had whizzed up in the food processor and stuck in the freezer when I had a loaf of Italian bread going stale on the counter last month. I used a combo of 2% and whole milk because I could buy them in small containers, but use 3 cups of whatever milk you want. I would skip the skim, though; if you're looking for diet food, this recipe is not for you.

This was the first comfort food of the fall for me, and you will no doubt see more as I begrudgingly embrace the falling temperatures. In fact next up is meatloaf, per Hugh's suggestion. I hope you enjoy this macaroni and cheese!

Begrudging Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Adapted from Alton Brown

Serves 6

1/2 pound short pasta (I used elbows, I was going for classic)
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp AP flour
1 Tbsp dry mustard
2 cups 2% milk
1 cup whole milk
1/2 a medium onion, diced
1 scant tsp aleppo pepper
8 ounces grated sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese
4 ounces grated gruyere cheese
1 egg

3 Tbsp butter
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pot, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente - don't overcook the pasta, it's going to keep cooking in the oven. Meanwhile in another large pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and mustard and whisk until smooth - continue whisking while roux cooks, about 1 minute. Add milk, onion and aleppo pepper and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.

Beat the egg lightly in a small bowl. Add a few tablespoons of the hot milk mixture to the egg to temper, then add the egg to the pot with the milk. Fold in 3/4 of the cheese and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper, taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary - mine needed more black pepper. Add the cooked pasta and stir to combine. Pour the macaroni and cheese into your preferred baking dish or dishes (at least a 9x13 baking dish or six six-ounce ramekins or a combo of ramekins and a smaller baking dish - see my notes above).

Melt three tablespoons of butter over medium heat, add the breadcrumbs and toss to coat. Top baking dish or dishes with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbly. Now for the hardest part: let stand about 5 minutes before serving.