Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Butternut Squash Risotto

REMEMBER WHEN I TOLD YOU ABOUT MY FIRST RISOTTO experience a few months ago? I had been thinking about it again and I still had aborio rice on hand, so I made it again. This time, I used butternut squash.

I looked at many recipes for butternut squash risotto and wound up incorporating elements from several different ones. Some call for roasting the squash, some cook the squash right along with the rice, but that method seemed a little risky. Another recipe I saw called for grating the butternut squash! I'm sure that would work beautifully, but I sure don't want to grate one of those things.

And of course, what has practically become my nemesis in modern cookery, chicken broth, was well represented amongst risotto recipes. I did not want my butternut squash risotto to taste like chicken.

I used spring water, seasoned with bay leaves and thyme, to make my risotto. Vegetable stock would be good and if you like chicken broth--go for it. I used both poached and roasted butternut squash, as well as onion, celery, and garlic.

I was very happy about the results and believe this is one of the best things to come out of my kitchen in a while. I will be making this again--probably for Thanksgiving, and I won't change a thing about the recipe other than adjusting for number of servings. As given this is enough for 2 to 3 people to have as an entree, or 5 to 6 as a side.

Butternut Squash Risotto
1 (approx. 2 lb.) butternut squash
4 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups spring or filtered water
1 or 2 bay leaves, to taste
1 or 2 sprigs fresh thyme, to taste
1/4 cup butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup aborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel squash and separate the bulbous end from the slender end. Cut the slender end into cubes, toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in the oven until golden brown on the outside and tender inside, about 30 minutes.

Cut the bulbous end of the squash in half. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds, and cut squash into half-inch pieces. Heat the water, bay leaves, and thyme over medium heat. Drop in the squash pieces and leave to poach.

Over medium-low heat, warm a skillet then add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onions and cook until they become transparent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the celery and garlic. Cover and cook for 2 minutes. Increase the heat slightly and stir in the rice. Stir uncovered for about 5 minutes as this helps develop the toasty aroma of the rice.

Stir in the wine and let it bubble away to almost nothing. Reduce the heat and begin added the warm water, a ladle at a time, stirring gently and constantly during each addition. It will take about 20 minutes to reach the final ladle. By then, the squash in the water will have softened. Remove the bay leaf and thyme and using the back of the ladle, smash the squash, then stir into the risotto.

Dot the top of the risotto with butter, add a few grinds of black pepper, and sprinkle over the Parmesan cheese. Cover, remove from heat, and leave to rest for about 3 minutes, then stir through, checking the seasoning.

Spoon the risotto into shallow bowls and sprinkle with the roasted squash and additional grated Parmesan.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

White Cheddar Cheese Bread

I USED TO BAKE HOMEMADE BREAD ROUTINELY. For one thing, I love delicious bread. For another, good bread used to be almost impossible to find commercially and I have never lived in Paris.

However, over the past few years, good artisanal quality loaves have become easy to find in almost every grocery store.  I look at them and admire them and want to eat them. So many delicious flavors and combinations, olive oil and rosemary, roasted garlic and kalamata olive, multi-grain, sesame tahini, tomato basil, sour dough, cinnamon raisin. . .

Now I only bake bread for special occasions--because homemade is still the best.

I do still enjoy baking quick breads--biscuits, cornbread, banana bread, and this easy and delicious cheddar cheese loaf. This recipe welcomes many add-ins, diced apple, olives, spices and herbs, black pepper is good as is rosemary. Mustard powder works well and cayenne give a nice punch. Garlic is always good. I have made it with different cheeses, but cheddar is my favorite (and good with apples).

Here, I have used an extra sharp Vermont white cheddar and refrained from any additional ingredients. It depends really, on what you will use the bread for. The day I baked it, I was making omelets for supper. The next morning, I made toast and spread it with apricot jam. Then I used it as a base for Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwiches. And the next morning, because I had secreted away a thick slice of bacon, I had a bacon sandwich. Mmmm.

White Cheddar Cheese Bread
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom only of a standard loaf pan with shortening or cooking spray.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In another bowl whisk together milk, melted butter, and eggs.

Add the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, and stir until combined. Stir in cheese. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50 - 55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely about 1 hour.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Poached Mozzarella in Fresh Tomatoes

OUR TOMATO SEASON IS COMING TO A CLOSE. And I am eating as many as I can. This is a lovely, fresh, and flavorful way to use not only fresh tomatoes, but some of your fresh herbs. I will really miss stepping out the kitchen door to snip some fresh basil and parsley, won't you?

My Mother made this dish for me when I visited her last week. I loved it so much, I came home and made it again to share with Pritchard Parker.

It is Capri-like with the fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese, but it it served hot, as an open faced sandwich, with oozy cheese. The herb topping brightened with a squeeze of lemon juice adds another layer of fresh flavor.

Poached Mozzarella in Fresh Tomatoes
4 slices French bread, sliced 1/2" thick, brushed with olive oil
1/4 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups fresh tomatoes (about 4) peeled and diced
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. sliced fresh basil
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste
4 slices fresh mozzarella (1/2-inch thick)

Saute onion, garlic, and pepper flakes in oil over medium-high heat until onion softens, 5 minutes. Deglaze pan with wine; simmer until reduced by half, 5 minutes or so. Add tomatoes, broth, and vinegar; simmer until tomatoes begin to break down, about 10 minutes.

Toast bread under the broiler and set aside.

Toss herbs with lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper.

Add cheese to tomatoes, and cook gently until it's soft and a little gooey, 2 - 3 minutes.

Place toast in shallow bowls, lift a slice of mozzarella from the tomatoes, and place on the bread. Spoon more tomatoes around and top with some of the herb mixture.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Cobbler

AS THE SEASONS CHANGE, WE NATURALLY begin changing our diets. As our summer tomato harvest winds down, the weather gets cooler and the days shorter, I often feel myself at a loss. I will fumble along for a bit but then I will find my "sea legs" again. Meanwhile, I will prepare very simple meals to sustain us.

One thing I miss in the summer, is using my oven. I love baking and roasting--so delicious, fragrant, comforting, and warming.

Upon my return from a recent trip to the flat lands, I discovered it was quite chilly here in the mountains. I began planning a roasted dinner right away!

Using Brussels sprouts and root vegetables, seasoned with what I think of as the quintessential savory seasonings for fall--sage, rosemary, and thyme, I made this vegetable cobbler with a slightly sweet cornmeal biscuit topping.

I served it with fresh, warm, homemade applesauce. It was a perfect meal.

Roasted Vegetable Cobbler
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes
1 large sweet potato
2 large carrots
2 medium rutabagas
4 cups Brussels sprouts
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. each sage, rosemary, thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 cups flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash potatoes, carrots and rutabagas, peel if desired, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Trim the Brussels sprouts and cut in half. Place all into a large black skillet. Toss with the olive oil and seasonings.

Roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the topping, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, sour cream, vegetable oil, and brown sugar. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet until well combined.

Remove vegetables from the oven and drop spoonfuls of the batter over the top. Return to the oven and bake for 40 -45 minutes, until vegetables are tender and topping is golden brown.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Composed Salads, Grain Bowls, and Organizing Photo Files

IF YOU LOVE COOKING AND YOU LOVE PHOTOGRAPHY (a match made in heaven) you will most likely end up with a backlog of photo files to sort through.

My files had gotten so big, they were bogging down my computer. It was time to stop procrastinating and get to work. I have deleted hundreds on photos and transferred others to an external drive.

I do photograph many things other than food and this process has taken me down a memory lane of the past couple of years. There are so many cute pictures of the children--they grow and change so fast. There were pictures of my head, bald from chemo, to growing out, to my first haircut last week. There are many photos of beautiful flowers, birds, bunnies, butterflies, and bugs from our yard. Scenic photos from the gorgeous, vibrant, and hip place I am blessed to live--Asheville, North Carolina.

Mandarin Chicken Salad

As I culled photographs, I decided to share some of the things I have made, we ate, but never made it to my blog. Mainly because I wasn't pleased with the photos. But also because I wasn't thrilled with the taste of the food. I only blog about things I think are delicious.

For example, the Mandarin Chicken Salad. Ho-hum.

Shrimp, Brown Rice, and Vegetable Salad

I can see the salad has a dressing but I don't remember what it was. Which is another danger of letting my photo files back up. I can't remember what I did.

I remember loving the brown rice and tofu bowl--I would happily eat it right now. I suppose I could fake some recipes. . .

Many things I love, tuna, cheese, boiled eggs, radishes, cornichons, sprouts (!) with baby lettuces.

Waldorf Quinoa Salad

I was really happy with this meal, but I didn't get any photos I loved. Quinoa, grapes, celery, apples, lettuce, candied pecans, and crumbled blue cheese. (Some kind of dressing). Mmmm, I think I'll try this again.

I was also happy about this meal, but again did not get shots of it that I loved. It was an awesome combination of flavors, quinoa, black beans, roasted Japanese sweet potatoes, pineapple, cheddar cheese, and spinach. I dressed this one with a Honey Lime Vinaigrette.

Honey Lime Vinaigrette
1 small sweet onion, preferably Vidalia, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 large tomato, washed and peeled
1 lime, washed, roughly chopped and seeded
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

Put all ingredients into blender and process until smooth.