30. March 2016 · Comments Off on Risotto With Less Babysitting · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Risotto is, in essence, fancy rice porridge. Pretty much every culture that eats rice has a variation – congee, juk, canja. The Italians goose their version with richer ingredients – wine, stock, and cheese – as opposed to plain water or broth. Traditionally, to get its creamy consistency meant standing by a simmering pot adding stock a bit at a time and stirring constantly until it is absorbed. And to be sure, this produces a silky, creamy rice dish. But no one wants to do this on a weeknight for dinner.

So, taking some inspiration from the folks over at America’s Test Kitchen, I tried a modified method. And, it wasn’t bad. The rice texture was good, the overall consistency appropriately creamy. Perhaps a bit of graininess creeps in, but that could also have been my over-mixing the shredded chicken I added at the end or the roast squash that got stirred into the rice in largish chunks.

Here’s what you need:

2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups water
5 cups stock or broth (chicken usually, but shrimp or fish stock works very well if you’re adding seafood)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced (or substitute finely minced yellow onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp minced fresh green herb, such as rosemary, thyme, or marjoram
3-4 large sprigs parsely, roughly chopped, plus some for garnish
½-¾ cup of grated hard Italian cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Asiago, etc.)
Juice of ½ a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Small vegetables and/or protein to mix in (small cooked shrimp, sweet peas, sauteed mushrooms, steamed asparagus cut into ½” pieces, diced cooked chicken, etc.)

Combine stock/broth and water in a 2-½ to 3-qt. saucepan and bring to a simmer. Keep hot over low heat.

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, melt 2 tbsp. of the butter over medium heat until it foams, then sauteed shallot/onion and garlic until fragrant and just turning translucent – about a minute. Add dry rice to pot and stir to coat. Reduce heat to medium-low and, stirring frequently, toast the rice in the butter for about three minutes. The rice will start to smell nutty and the grains will become slightly translucent with a white core.

Add the wine, stirring constantly, until completely absorbed. Add 5 cups of the hot broth mixture and your green herbs, stir, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer, cover, and set a timer for 20 minutes. While the rice is cooking, prepare your mix-in additions. During the cooking process, stir vigorously about every five minutes. Almost all of the liquid should be absorbed.

After 20 minutes, uncover and stir constantly while adding the cheese until it is fully incorporated. The creamy texture of the risotto should develop as you mix. If the rice seems too dry, ladle in another ½-¾ cup of hot broth (start with less, add more if needed) to keep a creamy, loose texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, stir in the remaining 1 tbsp of butter, the lemon and the chopped parsley. Add your vegetables and/or proteins and mix through to warm.

Serve hot, garnished with a bit of parsley (or a rosemary sprig).

I used rosemary as my green herb, Asiago as my cheese, shredded chicken from making broth as the protein, and some roasted acorn squash. Feel free to experiment.

29. March 2016 · Comments Off on Linguine alle Cozze con Pomodoro · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , ,

A classic hearty pasta dish. Delicious when mussels are in season.

Prep time: about 20 minutes if starting with fresh tomatoes, 10 minutes if using canned
Cook time: about 15 minutes.

What you need:
1 1/2 lb. Roma tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, and chopped (or two cans of whole tomatoes, drained and diced)
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup fresh basil, cut in ribbons
1/2 cup dry white wine, unoaked
1/4 cup olive oil
2 lbs mussels in shell, scrubbed and de-bearded
1/2 lb. dried linguine
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Kosher salt or fine sea salt

What you do:

Sort and clean mussels, discarding any with cracked or broken shells, or dead specimens (shell will gape open and not stay closed when squeezed shut).

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add linguine and cook until al-dente, about 11 minutes.

While pasta cooks, add olive oil to a large covered skillet and place over medium-high heat. Add garlic and oregano and stir, until garlic is aromatic, but not colored. Add mussels and turn heat to high. Toss with oil and let cook 1-2 minutes, then add wine, tomatoes, and all the basil but about a tablespoon, cover, and cook for 3-4 minutes until mussels are just opened.

Remove mussels from pan to a bowl, discarding any that did not open. Continue to cook tomatoes over high heat for another 4-5 minutes, or until sauce is reduced by about half. Add lemon juice. Season with salt to taste.

Reserve a dozen mussels to the side, and remove all the rest from their shells. Drain pasta and return to pot, add sauce from pan and the shelled mussel meats and toss for 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Remove from heat and serve pasta surrounded by a half-dozen mussels in the shell and topped with a large pinch of the remaining basil.

Makes 2 hearty servings.

28. March 2016 · Comments Off on Chickpea and Kale Stew – Making the Best of a Bad Vegetable · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , ,

Kale-I really am down on curly kale. Compared to its flat-leaf sibling, the crinkly stuff is much more fibrous and difficult to make appealing. And to be honest, kale is overrated. The juicer crowd latched onto it as a super-food, and now you can’t get away from the stuff. Which makes no sense, given that many more appealing greens and veggies in the brassica family have similar nutritional profiles.

However, there are a precious few preparations that I actually like. One of my favorites is this dish stewed with greens and chickpeas. It started out as a variation on a Spanish espinacas con garbanzos with smoked paprika, bacon/ham lardons, and loads of onion. Where I landed was a vegetarian version that slants more toward Indian flavors. The only real drawback is the cooking time, but it’s something you can just put on to simmer and leave to its own devices while you do other stuff.

Vegetarian Kale and Chickpea Stew with Indian Spices

Prep time: About 10 minutes.
Cook time: 60 minutes.

What you need:

8 oz. curly kale, rinsed, extra stem removed, and coarsely chopped
2 15½ oz. cans of chickpeas (organic is nice), drained and rinsed
1 14½ oz. can of diced tomatoes with juice
32 oz. low-sodium vegetable broth
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp whole cumin seed
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp minced garlic
½ tsp kosher salt (plus extra for seasoning)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or red wine vinegar
Fresh coriander (cilantro) or flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (1-2 tbsp, to taste)

What you do:

In a large pot or dutch oven (5-6 quart), heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering on the surface. Add cumin seed, ground coriander, and turmeric. Bloom the spices in the oil until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add garlic, saute for about a minute.

Add chopped kale and salt. Toss with hot oil and spices until bright green, about 2-3 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, and chickpeas, stir, increase heat and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook for a minimum of 45 minutes. Stir occasionally. Just before serving, stir in lemon juice or vinegar, cilantro or parsley, and season with salt to taste.

Optional: for some heat, add ½ tsp of red pepper flake or ¼ tsp of ground cayenne.

24. February 2016 · Comments Off on Scampi, Interrupted · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

This is one of those meals that is not only tasty as hell, but you can bang it out in less than a half hour using two pans. I took some liberties with a straight-forward shrimp scampi dish to streamline it for a quick-n-dirty, need something for dinner now prep.

Prep time: about 10-15 minutes to peel shrimp and chop herbs.
Cook time: 10-12 minutes.

What you need:
8 oz. dry linguini
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined (thawed quick-frozen is acceptable)
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 ½ tbsp. olive oil
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
4 cloves of minced garlic (about 2 tsp. of pre-minced, but don’t use garlic powder)
⅓ cup chopped fresh basil or flat parsley (I prefer basil)
¼ cup lemon juice

If you have time, use fresh lemons. Juice two lemons to get your ¼ cup of juice, and grate the zest of half a lemon and set aside.
Coarse ground black pepper to taste
Flaked red pepper to taste

What you do:

Start your pasta – bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Cook linguine for about 10 minutes (depending on brand) until al-dente.

While pasta is cooking, in a large skillet add olive oil and melt butter over medium heat. When butter/oil mixture foams, add minced garlic and saute for one minute. Do not brown.

Add your shrimp and season with the kosher salt. Sautee over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until pink and just to the point of being no longer translucent. Keep the shrimp moving so they do not burn/overcook.

Add the lemon juice, parsley or basil, optional lemon zest, optional pepper(s), toss with the shrimp and heat through. Remove from heat.

By now, your pasta should be just about done. Drain and immediately add to the shrimp mixture in the skillet. Over low-medium heat, toss the pasta and shrimp together until well combined and the pasta is coated with the butter sauce. Serve into warmed pasta bowls and, if you’d like, grate/shave some hard Italian cheese (parmesan, asiago, romano, etc.) over top.

17. December 2015 · Comments Off on Make Oatmeal Worth Eating · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , ,

Nothing is better on a cold winter’s morning than hot cereal, also referred to as porridge. Unfortunately, many of us were raised on stuff in wax paper packets to which one added boiling water and stirred. The result was a mushy, salty-sweet bowl of artificially-flavored goo. But you can do better! The investment, however, is time.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

1 cup steel-cut (AKA pinhead) oats
3 cups boiling water
1 tbsp unsalted butter
½ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup whole milk
2 tbsp plain yogurt

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When butter foams, add oats and mix to coat. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow oats to toast for 2-3 minutes – they will begin to smell “nutty”.

Add hot water and salt, and stir. Mixture should boil almost instantly. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and cover. Cook oats for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Whisk together milk and yogurt and stir into thickened oats. Return to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes more.

Spoon up into bowls and top with one or more of the following:

Maple sugar
Brown sugar
Toasted seeds or nuts
Dried fruit
Fruit preserves

PS: As long as you’re able to buy oats from a reputable supplier that certifies against cross-contamination, oatmeal is a GF food.

16. December 2015 · Comments Off on How to Warm Your Wiener · Categories: Cooking, Food, Quick Tips · Tags: , , ,

hotdog1How you heat your hots dogs should be determined by what kind they are.

Most franks you buy at the grocery store are casing-free, and all are pre-cooked. Casing-less wieners are well suited to high-speed production lines. The sausages are actually formed and cooked in a plastic casing which is stripped off after cooling and before packing. The result is a dog with a soft exterior and an easy “bite” with little to no resistance. These are better off grilled or griddled. High heat cooking crisps up the outside a touch for some textural interest.

Now, your boutique dog with a natural casing (often lamb intestine) is a different beast. For one, they’re in a tube that you eat, which has a bit of “snap” or “crunch” when you bite into your wiener. Second, deli and boutique dogs tend to be seasoned a bit more assertively than their bland supermarket cousins. High heat does these guys few favors. Before the inside is hot, the intense temps have dried out and toughened the casing which most people find unpleasant. So, the best way to handle a natural-casing frank is to simmer it in water. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, drop in your dogs, then lower the heat to maintain a steady but not vigorous simmer. Heat for 5 minutes and then serve.

Optionally, with casing-on franks you can griddle them for a minute or two to give some color once they’ve come out of the water. But don’t get too crazy – overcook them and you’ll lose the right texture and dry out your dog.

As for serving – straight up white bun, and yellow or spicy mustard. Pickle if you want it, or maybe sauerkraut. Avoid sugary ketchup – you want tomatoes, dice some up and put ’em on top. A little diced raw onion’s OK, too.

20. November 2014 · Comments Off on Let’s Make Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Late fall and early winter are the time of year to start craving comfort foods, especially ones where you can do a little prep work and then set them aside to cook while you get other stuff done. An old-fashioned example is the classic Carolina-style chicken and rice, with whole chicken parts simply simmered with stock in golden South Carolina rice. I’ve made it a few times before, and while it’s tasty, I always wanted something with a bit more punch flavor-wise.

So, when the co-op slings me a pound of wild rice from the Great Lakes and some free-range chicken breasts, I figure it’s time to step things up a bit. Protein and starch are fine, but I want some veg in there too – especially aromatic sorts. So let’s add some sweet red onion and carrots. Cumin goes with carrots and chicken nicely, so some toasted whole seed should be a part of this. Wild rice usually gets cooked with onion and celery, but I’m just gonna stick with celery seed for the flavor without the extra prep. For herbage, chicken loves sage and tarragon, so they’ll get simmered with the broth to extract their complex flavors.

The prep part of this takes about 15-20 minutes if you’re a decent multitasker, and about a half hour if you’re not. Then, you throw it all into an oven for and hour and a half. Which gives you plenty of time to work on your Thanksgiving menu or Christmas shopping list while your kitchen fills with fantastic smells. More »

06. August 2014 · Comments Off on Quick Tip: Pickling Jalapeños · Categories: Cooking, Food, Quick Tips · Tags: ,

Sliced jalapeno peppers in steel bowl

Here’s a quickie – pickle your own jalapeño peppers for salsa, nachos, sandwiches, salads, or anywhere else you want some chili goodness. Plus, you get to grow your own favorite pepper variety for the heat level you desire. You should be able to achieve greater potency than those flaccid rounds you get in a jar from the store.

You need:

15-20 jalapeño peppers
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
4 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 large garlic cloves


Large saucepan with lid
Screw-top jar or plastic container of about a quart capacity
Latex gloves (optional)

Peel the garlic cloves, and slightly crush (use the bottom of a glass or the flat side of a chef’s knife).

Combine water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic in the saucepan. Cover.

Wash the peppers with cold water to remove any dirt or debris. Don your gloves. Slice about ¼ inch thick, discarding the stem end. Set sliced peppers aside. Remove gloves, or if you didn’t use them – WASH YOUR HANDS WITH DISH DETERGENT BEFORE TOUCHING YOUR EYES, NOSE, MOUTH, OR TENDER BITS. This is a lesson you only need to learn once the hard way.

Bring the liquid to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from heat, add pepper slices and re-cover. Let sit for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure all the peppers are soaked in the brine. They will turn from bright to olive green.

Remove pepper slices and garlic to your container, and pour over enough liquid to cover. Keep in refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. If they last that long.

04. August 2014 · Comments Off on The Rustic Tart: Impressive but Easy · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , , , ,

Rustic bacon, cheddar, and carmelized tartDepending on what you fill it with and who you talk to, the free-form tart is also known as a croustade or galette. It is, in essence, a round of simple pastry crust onto which a few layers of flavorful sweet or savory ingredients have been piled, and the edges folded up. A pie without a pan. They look and taste delicious, and can be really easy to do. The photo to the left is of a croustade made with caramelized onions, and pre-cooking the onions was the most difficult and time consuming part. They’re also a great intro to baking, because they don’t have to be picture-perfect. They’re supposed to be a little rough, a bit wonky… rustic’s right in the name. If you can roll out dough into a roughly circular shape and spread jam on bread, you can make one of these.

So, I give you Rustic Bacon, Cheddar, and Caramelized Onion Tart, or if you want to be fancy about it, Croustade aux fromage avec oignons et lardons. Put that on your dinner party e-vite or next potluck signup list!

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16. June 2014 · Comments Off on A Brief Tale of Verdant Leaves · Categories: Cooking, Food, Ingredients · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I just realized that I have never written a single word here about greens. Not a whit about those staples that provoke an almost religious debate once you get not too far south of the Mason-Dixon line. With kale being the new nutritional darling, you would be forgiven for thinking that some attention would be paid to the broader topic.

This, people, is a problem. ‘Cause I love me some greens.

Now when I say “greens”, I mean the cooked leaves of certain hearty plants and root vegetables. Not salads, though they’re a worthy subject of discussion for later. I mean turnip greens, mustard, kale, chard, collards, and the like. You know – the things your mother or grandmother probably cooked the living hell out of, that stank up the house and turned up little noses. The plain truth of the matter is that you should be eating more of these, and they can be tasty.

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