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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Pasta, Vegetarian, on May 16th, 2016.

pasta_alla_trapenese

Oh my goodness, was this stuff delicious. Mostly it’s eggplant (see it on the bottom?) – with tomatoes, almonds, garlic, some good Italian cheese and crispy bread crumbs. Lick the plate good! It’s vegetarian (no protein) and the eggplant is the star of the show.

As you know if you’ve read my blog for a long time, I don’t post pasta recipes very often. Not that I wouldn’t like to, but I convince myself that pasta’s not good for me when I’m trying to eat lower carb. But then, a month or so ago I posted a delicious recipe for linguine with cauliflower and peas. It was SO good too. Now, here I am, a month later and I’m craving pasta.

Rachael Ray prepared this on her show. I’ve been recording her show for awhile now, and I glance at the show notes to see if the recipe looks interesting, or the guests. Half the time I delete before I’ve even pressed the “play” button. This one, though, I watched to get to this recipe. Rachael explained that this is Sicilian (her heritage). And it’s not only prepared a bit differently, but it’s also served differently. The PESTO isn’t pesto like we know it – ground up mushed stuff – no, the “pesto” is just a cooked mixture of fresh tomatoes, herbs, almonds, and garlic. And oil, of course. But first, you prepare the eggplant – Rachael specifically mentioned that you need a very FIRM eggplant, so I sought out one. I used more eggplant than the recipe indicated – I wanted this to be more about the eggplant than the pasta. The eggplant is cut into small bite-sized planks – about 2” long by 1/2” wide, and browned in just a tiny bit of oil, it was just cooked through to the soft, silky stage. The other difference in this dish was the serving – you put the eggplant into the pasta bowl first, then the mixed up pasta on top, then garnished with cheese and toasted bread crumbs.

From the photo, you can hardly tell the pasta was mixed with anything – there isn’t much sauce, as we might be used to. Almonds are toasted (she used whole almonds – I used slivered ones) and set aside, bread crumbs are toasted and set aside, then you cook some fresh tomatoes with olive oil, herbs, crushed red pepper flakes and basil. The almonds are added back in and cooked briefly – THEN you add in some of the cooking water from the pasta – it helps spread the flavors of the tomato almond pesto. Next time I make this I’ll add in more tomatoes. Rachael’s recipe calls for 4 plum tomatoes – I just think it needs a bit more than that.

But, you see, as an American, I probably like the sauce more than I like the eating of the pasta. Italians eat pasta to savor the flavor and texture of the pasta itself. The sauce is an aside! Only there to slightly enhance the pasta. This dish has quite a bit of eggplant in it, however, so since you serve it with the eggplant on the bottom of the bowl, it seems more likely the eggplant is the star of this dish. It sure was for me. I didn’t have any Pecorino cheese – only Parmigiano – but they’re very similar.

And whatever you do, don’t eliminate the bread crumbs. I used panko, and they were toasted in olive oil and they add such a different dimension to the dish. No flavor particularly, but with every bite I got a little bit of crunch. Loved it all.

What’s GOOD: As I said – I loved the whole dish. Love-loved the eggplant. Wanted more of it, so next time I will nearly double the amount – just cuz it was so delicious. The whole dish came together in about 30 minutes, even with the cooking of the eggplant and heating the water for the pasta. I also loved the crunch of the toasted panko crumbs.

What’s NOT: There is a bit of chopping and mincing, and brown this, and brown that, removing, setting aside, etc. But IF you have everything set out and ready when you start, it comes together very quickly.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pasta alla Trapenese with Almond Pesto and Eggplant

Recipe By: Adapted a bit from a Rachel Ray show, 2016
Serving Size: 4

1 large eggplant — very firm, cut into planks then pieces 2-inches long by 1/2-inch wide (see NOTE in directions)
1 tablespoon salt — to sprinkle on the eggplant
8 plum tomatoes — or vine tomatoes [I prefer double this amount]
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil — divided
1/2 cup panko — or homemade breadcrumbs
3/4 cup almonds — peeled
4 cloves garlic — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves — chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup basil leaves — torn into small pieces
3/4 pound strozzapretti — or other short-cut pasta [I used penne rigate]
1/4 cup Pecorino cheese — freshly grated
1/2 cup starchy pasta water — saved from the pasta pot

NOTE: I prefer more eggplant – the original recipe called for a medium one, but the eggplant shrinks a lot – so use more is my advice. Don’t eliminate the bread crumbs – they give a lovely crunch to nearly every bite.
1. Salt eggplant and let drain on a kitchen towel for 20 minutes; press off excess liquid.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Score the tomatoes on the bottom with an X and blanch them for 30 seconds; cold shock and peel. Seed the tomatoes and finely chop. (You may also use canned tomatoes, drained and hand crushed if you prefer.). [If using smaller tomatoes, cut them in half, then scoop out the seeds, then chop – this method doesn’t require the blanching.] Reserve pot of blanching water to cook the pasta.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil, 2 turns of the pan, in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook eggplant until golden brown, turning them at least once, about 10 minutes, remove and reserve. Add another tablespoon of oil to pan and toast breadcrumbs to golden; remove and reserve.
4. Add nuts to the skillet to toast; remove and set aside.
5. Add final tablespoon olive oil and garlic, and stir 30 seconds. Add chopped tomatoes and season with thyme, salt and pepper. Stir 2 minutes.
6. Add almonds to the tomato/garlic mixture. Stir in chili flakes, basil and EVOO, about 1/4 cup.
7. Turn the heat back on under the pot of blanching water. Salt water and cook pasta to al dente, reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water and add it to pesto. Drain pasta and toss with pesto.
8. Arrange the eggplant in shallow bowls and top with pasta. Combine cheese and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over pasta to serve.
Per Serving: 921 Calories; 57g Fat (54.1% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 88g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 1646mg Sodium. (This is high in sodium because of the salt on the eggplant; most of that is wiped off. But Pecorino is also salty.)

Posted in Pasta, Vegetarian, on April 14th, 2016.

linguine_cauliflower_peas_butter_pepper

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time you already know that I don’t post very many pasta recipes. I love pasta, but when my DH was alive (he was a Type 1 diabetic), he/we were convinced that pasta just wasn’t a good dining choice for him – he could never seem to regulate how much insulin to take based on the size of the pasta portion (even though I measured it sometimes). I’m not a fan of whole wheat pasta, so I just don’t order pasta much, and you can count on one hand how many times in the last year I’ve eaten it or prepared it. Sad, huh? I’ve convinced myself that pasta just isn’t a very healthy thing for me to eat (too many carbs). But once in awhile . . . .

So, I was looking for recipes to use up a whole head of cauliflower I’d purchased. I went to Eat Your Books, where I have an account, put in cauliflower, and up came 200+ recipe titles from my own cookbooks. In 15 minutes time, I’d spread out 4 cookbooks and was trying to decide which one to make. This recipe just called my name, although I altered it just a bit. The original came from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. She had any number of cauliflower recipes, but the pasta one seemed to be the one I gravitated towards. I decided to add peas (for color mostly). And I didn’t use Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – only because I had 2 packages of Gruyere pasta_cooking_pan_on_topbegging to be used for something. And, I added in some olive oil at the end also. Her recipe called for spaghettini, and I didn’t have any of that, so small linguine seemed the closest. I suppose any pasta would do, though.

The cooking technique is quite standard EXCEPT for how you keep the cauliflower and other ingredients hot while you cook the pasta. See the contraption at left – I used my All-Clad deep sauté pan and it nestled on top of the big, wide Le Creuset pot, with room to spare around the edges. That’s what you want/need to keep everything hot. That worked like a charm!

Once the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and toss in with the veggies, scoop a portion onto a plate or bowl, top with cheese and you’re done. My dinner came together in about 20 minutes time.

What’s GOOD: well, let me just tell you, I gobbled that dinner down in nothing flat, and I went back for a tiny scoop of seconds. I cut the recipe in half and still have a generous portion for another dinner. The cauliflower and pea mixture gave nice texture to the dish, and the butter and oil added in certainly gave it nice richness. Next time I’ll add a few more red pepper flakes – it’s easy to make things too hot with those little things. Do use a generous amount of pepper, too.

What’s NOT: nothing at all – this was a very easy meal, providing you or your family won’t miss a big hunk of protein. You probably could add some leftover chicken. Or bacon perhaps. I liked it just the way it was.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Linguine with Cauliflower, Peas, Butter, and Pepper

Recipe By: Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison
Serving Size: 5

1 whole cauliflower — cut into tiny florets
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup parsley — chopped finely
1 teaspoon coarse mustard
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups frozen peas
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pound linguine — or spaghettini
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese — shredded, or Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs — optional

1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Salt it to taste, add the cauliflower, and cook for 3 minutes. Select a large bowl or saute pan that will sit on top of the pasta pot, but doesn’t seal around the edges – I chose a saute pan with handles and the handles propped up on each side. Scoop the cauliflower into the bowl or pot and add the butter, parsley, mustard, peas and pepper flakes.
2. Add the pasta to the salted boiling water and once you’ve maintained the high simmer point, set the bowl or pot over the pasta to keep it warm. Watch the pasta pot during the cooking time that it doesn’t boil over. Cook until pasta is al dente.
3. Drain pasta and add it to the cauliflower. Add a generous tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Grind a generous amount of pepper over all, then toss with the cheese and crumbs, if using. Add salt it needed. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 531 Calories; 15g Fat (25.6% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 79g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 225mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, Vegetarian, on April 6th, 2016.

red_lentil_mex_stew

Ever get a craving for lentils? I sure do! And this recipe, very close to the one at Kalyn’s Kitchen, is such an easy soup (or stew) to make. It comes together in about 50 minutes, with only a few of those minutes where you’re actively working on it.

When I first started reading blogs way back in about 2005, Kalyn’s Kitchen was one of the first I found. I don’t follow the South Beach diet plan she advocates, but since my hubby, my DH, was a type 1 diabetic, lots of her recipes were good ones for him since most of them are low carb. My DH and I visited with Kalyn some years ago when we were on a trip in Utah and we got to see her photo studio in her house, and her prolific garden. We had a lovely visit. Anyway, I still follow Kalyn’s blog, and when this recipe popped up, I knew I’d be making it. I started this blog in 2007, much as a result of reading Kalyn’s, as well as others.

Kalyn’s recipe is a vegetarian one, with the only protein coming from the lentils themselves. I made this per her recipe, but I added in some carnitas (car-NEE-tas, a Mexican style pork shoulder slow simmered until it’s tender). I had about half a pound of carnitas on hand that needed to be used. And carnitas are Mexican, so I figured it would be a natural pairing. I’ve merely included the meat in the recipe below as an option. As I was chopping celery and onions I didn’t measure – I used a big onion and likely double the amount of celery – it made it a bit more chunky. And, I probably used a bit more spices (turmeric, cumin and chile powder). It certainly could be made with regular brown lentils, but the red ones make for a very pretty bowl. The spices are right down my alley. I added in some harissa (instead of the green Tabasco she suggested) which gave this stew a punch of heat. I squirted on some sour cream and sprinkled heavily with cilantro and it was ready to eat. This recipe doesn’t make a really huge quantity (good thing since I’m a family of one) so it’s now in a heavy-duty plastic Ziploc bag in my refrigerator.

What’s GOOD: this is so “comfort food” for me. Love the texture and the Mexican (spice) flavors. You can make it purely vegetarian if you prefer, or add in carnitas if that floats your boat. Even chicken would be fine too. Do use the toppings (sour cream and cilantro) as that adds a big boost of flavor.

What’s NOT: nary a thing – this is a very easy soup/stew to make.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mexican Red Lentil Stew with Lime and Cilantro

Recipe By: Adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen, 2016
Serving Size: 5

1 cup red lentils — or regular brown
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion — finely chopped
1 1/2 cups celery — chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chile powder
14 1/2 ounces diced tomatoes — canned, including juice
2 cups carnitas — (optional) shredded
2 cups vegetable broth — or chicken broth
1 teaspoon green Tabasco sauce — (or other hot sauce of your choice. Green Tabasco is fairly mild, so you may want less if you use a stronger hot sauce.)
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup lime juice — (2-3 limes or less if you’re not that into lime) and do use fresh limes
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro — (1/2 to 1)
Optional: cut limes and sour cream or vegan sour cream substitute for serving the soup

1. Place red lentils in a small pot, rinse and drain if needed, then add water. Bring to a boil, turn off heat and cover. Let lentils sit in the hot water 30 minutes.
2. While lentils are steeping in the water, finely chop onions and celery and mince garlic. Heat olive oil in heavy soup pot, add onion and celery and saute for 3-4 minutes, just long enough that vegetables are starting to soften. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more. Add ground turmeric, ground cumin, and chile powder, stir, and cook 1-2 minutes more.
3. Add diced roasted tomatoes, vegetable broth, and hot sauce. Add lentils after they have soaked for 30 minutes (including any water in the pot with them), then let soup simmer for 15-25 minutes (keep checking so the lentils don’t dissolve – don’t overcook).
4. While soup cooks, wash, dry and finely chop 1/2 – 1 cup fresh cilantro and squeeze limes to get enough fresh lime juice. When the lentils are softened as much as you’d like, stir in chopped cilantro and lime juice and cook 5 minutes more. Add in cooked carnitas, if you’re using that ingredient. Add more water if the mixture simmers enough that it evaporates all the water.
5. Serve hot, with additional cut limes to squeeze into the soup. Can top with sour cream or vegan substitute if desired.
Per Serving: 262 Calories; 5g Fat (17.3% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 15g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 710mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on January 31st, 2016.

basmati_wild_rice_golden_raisins_salad

What a lovely side dish this is – or it could be a vegetarian entrée, it’s so filling and complete with nutrition! Technically, I  used golden raisins since I didn’t have any currants. It was just fabulous!

Looking for a variety-packed side dish (a carb) to serve with the big family dinner I did recently, I decided to try this wild  and basmati rice (my favorite kind of white rice) side salad. My cousin, who has to eat GF, was all over it (1 1/2 teaspoons of flour is called for in the recipe, to coat the onion topping, so I used his GF flour instead). My D-I-L thought it was a great find, and one she could make and pack small cups into her son’s lunch. I don’t think anyone didn’t like it, and I certainly heard only positive descriptors, so I’d say this dish was a hit. I’d definitely make it again.

Wild rice features in this, and I used one of those already-cooked packets. If you don’t have that, just make it from scratch as instructed in the recipe.

RICE CONUNDRUM: The rice is a bit of a perplexing method. Well, let’s just say that I doubted the accuracy of the recipe when I began making it . . . for over 2 cups of white rice you used just 1 1/2 cups of water? Eh what? Surely I thought that was a typo. You need more water than rice, making it in a traditional method. I went back to the recipe in Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottalenghi. Nope, it was right. So I went on the ‘net, thinking there would be others who had posted this recipe. Yes, but the few there all showed using the same amount of water. I went to Ottolenghi’s website, thinking there might be an errata page (book errors), but no, there wasn’t. I went to my food chemistry book, Harold McGee’s small encyclopedia, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. He has no less than 6 pages of info about rice (no recipes) and in one section it did elaborate that different cultures/cuisines use different proportions of water (no specifics) and he briefly discussed the Middle East’s penchant for flavorings, and the use of oil and butter. No help there. I did a google search on “how to slow steam rice” and that brought up about 100 slow-cooker methods. I took out the “slow” and then got dozens of youtube links to show me exactly how to steam rice. Not what I needed. I even went to the publisher’s website (Random House) hoping for an errata page. I couldn’t find one. What’s with that? Publishers always used to have an errata page.

So, what did I do? I cooked the rice according to the directions, but were I to make this again, I would increase the water by about half. Usually rice needs twice as much water to rice. I’d make it with 1 1/2 times the amount of water to see if that works. The rice is slow-slow cooked on the cooktop – I used my risottos cooker on its slow cooker setting and in the allotted 15 minutes it ran out of water. I let it sit for a bit, thinking that the grains would cook a bit more. I tasted it. It was okay – just a bit crunchy. Surprise. And yet, to me, the rice was on the firm side, for sure.

Once both rices are ready, you begin adding ingredients – herbs, spices, then the raisins. The chickpeas (garbanzos) are sautéed in some oil and spices too (so the flavorings stick to the beans) and those are added in. The onion is a common thread in Middle Eastern rice and grain salads, and not just onion added to the carb, but prepared separately. I didn’t deep fry the onion as the recipe indicated as I was using my cousin’s GF flour and wasn’t certain how it would react to frying, so I just used a few tablespoons of oil and did it that way. Next time I think I’d make more onions and I’d caramelize them, since that adds so much flavor. And I’d leave out the flour – some people made the onions like onion rings, but I prefer the full-bodied flavor of caramelized onions and would mix them in. I added in a bit more olive oil at the end because I thought the dish was very (too) dry, but you can go without that.

What’s GOOD: this was a wonderful side dish. I still question the quantity of water to rice and will alter the recipe if/when I make it again. The flavors were wonderful. The golden raisins (or currants) add such a surprise taste in the savory rice. It’s colorful and everyone liked it a lot.

What’s NOT: it does take a bit more time than some dishes, but none of it was difficult or all that time consuming. If I made caramelized onions next time, THAT would take some extra time.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Basmati and Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants and Herbs

Recipe By: Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Ottolenghi
Serving Size: 6

1/3 cup wild rice
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 cups basmati rice
1 1/2 cups boiling water [my opinion – it needs more water]
2/3 cup currants
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley — chopped
1 tablespoon dill weed — minced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Drizzle more oil before serving if salad seems dry
GARBANZO BEANS:
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 cups garbanzo beans, canned — drained, rinsed, towel dried
FRIED ONIONS:
3/4 cup sunflower oil, for frying the onions (or other vegetable oil) [I used about 2 T. instead]
1 medium onion — thinly sliced * see notes
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1. Start by putting the wild rice in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and leave to simmer for about 40 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still quite firm. Drain and set aside.
2. To cook the basmati rice, pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil into a medium saucepan with a tightly fitting lid and place over high heat. Add the rice and 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir as you warm up the rice. Carefully add the boiling water, decrease the heat to very low, cover the pan with the lid, and leave to cook for 15 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a clean tea towel and then the lid, and leave off the heat for 10 minutes.
4. While the rice is cooking, prepare the chickpeas. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a small saucepan over high heat. Add the cumin seeds and curry powder, wait for a couple seconds, and then add the chickpeas and 1/4 teaspoon salt; make sure you do this quickly or the spices may burn in the oil. Stir over the heat for a minute or two, just to heat the chickpeas, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
5. ONION: Wipe the saucepan clean, pour in the sunflower oil, and place over high heat. Make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Use your hands to mix the onion with the flour to coat it slightly. Take some of the onion and carefully (it may spit!) place it in the oil. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown, then transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt. Repeat in batches until all the onion is fried. *NOTE: next time I would use twice as much onion and I’d caramelize it in oil rather than batter and fry them, only to chop them up to add to the rice mixture.
6. Finally, add both types of rice to the chickpeas and then add the currants, herbs, and fried onion. Stir, taste, and add salt and pepper as you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving (altogether incorrect because it assumes you consume the oil you fry the onions in): 445 Calories; 8g Fat (16.4% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 83g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 232mg Sodium.

Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on December 9th, 2015.

squash_corn_sugarsnap_gratin

Although this could be a vegetable side dish, I made it as my dinner entrée the other night. It was absolutely delicious. And filling. And relatively good for me (however, there’s some milk in it – just a little – and some cheese – and some butter).

Seems like I’m not as good as I used to be at planning ahead. In this case it was planning for my own dinner. So, I hadn’t defrosted any chicken, or fish, or whatever – and by the time I thought about it, it was after 5 pm. But, I did have some fresh vegetables in the crisper.

This is a riff on an Ina Garten recipe that I’ve posted here on my blog already – zucchini gratin. (That dish was a favorite of my darling DH and I haven’t made this since he passed away last year.) It’s a very simple recipe to make – cooking some onion and zucchini, pouring it into a casserole dish and topping it with panko and grated cheeses. What I had in my refrigerator were yellow crookneck and sugarsquash_corn_sugarsnap_casserolesnap peas. I always have some corn in the freezer too. And I’d bought some Fontina cheese (a good melting cheese) and I always have some Parmigiano-Reggiano in the refrigerator also. First the onion is chopped up fine, cooked in butter, and while that’s cooking you slice up the squash – very thin actually. I have a small hand-held mandoline with 4 settings on it – I used the thickest, which is still pretty thin. All that’s added in and it gets cooked over low heat for about 8-10 minutes until the squash is just about cooked through. I’d chopped up some sugar snaps and found the corn in the freezer. That was cooked just slightly, then it’s seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg (and a little flour), then some milk is added to make a very light creamy sauce. Then it all was poured into a wide gratin pan. Then I grated the cheeses and tossed that with the panko crumbs. That got sprinkled on top and into a 400° oven it went and baked for about 20 minutes until the crumbs were golden brown and the vegetables were bubbling. I got two small casseroles out of the mixture, so I have another dinner of it in the near future. I’ll heat it in the toaster oven and turn it on to broil at the last minute to crisp up the crumbs.

What’s GOOD: a vegetable gratin is always delicious in my book. And since I love summer squash anyway, it’s a given I’d love this. The original recipe called for Gruyere cheese, and I think it probably has a bit more character (flavor) than the Fontina, but it was good anyway. I nearly licked the pan (not really) if that gives you an indication of how good it was. It’s comfort food.

What’s NOT: It does take a bit of work (mincing and slicing stuff) but it all comes together easily enough. From start to finish (out of the oven) took about 45 minutes, I guess.

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Yellow Squash, Red Onion, Corn & Sugar Snap Gratin

Recipe By: Inspired by an Ina Garten recipe for Zucchini Gratin
Serving Size: 4

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 large red onion — chopped
1 pound yellow crookneck squash — sliced thinly
1/3 cup corn
1/2 cup sugar snap peas — strings removed and coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk — hot
1/2 cup Panko
1/4 cup Fontina cheese — grated
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1 tablespoon butter — for the top (optional)

1. In a large skillet melt the butter.
2. Chop up the red onion finely and add to the butter. Saute over low to medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until the onion is completely wilted.
3. Add the thinly sliced yellow squash to the pan, stir so the squash mixes up with the onion and butter, cover and allow to cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, until the squash is just barely cooked through and is limp. Add the corn and sugar snaps. Cook for another minute or two.
4. Preheat oven to 400°.
5. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and flour. Stir around so the flour is disbursed throughout. Pour in the hot milk and stir until the “gravy” has formed and thickened. Continue to cook for about 1-2 minutes over low heat. Scoop the vegetables into a casserole dish (wider rather than tall if possible).
6. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the panko and the cheeses; stir to mix. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the casserole and dot the top with butter (if desired).
7. Bake for 20 minutes until the top is golden brown and the mixture is bubbling. Remove from oven and allow to sit just a couple of minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 229 Calories; 15g Fat (58.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 128mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetarian, on August 11th, 2015.

fresh_tomato_bruschetta_toasts

Recently I visited with friends who live in Morrison, Colorado. Sue and her husband Lynn are foodies as I am, so Sue and I spent some time preparing lunch and dinner things. One night, after we’d been out for a nice lunch and weren’t overly hungry, we didn’t feel like having a regular, big dinner. So Sue made (with me helping just to chop up the tomatoes) these delicious bruschetta appetizers. These are different only in that fresh mozzarella cheese is toasted on the little baguette slices and THEN the bruschetta stuff is scooped on top.

When my friends used to live here in California, we frequently had one another over for dinner. We always had lively conversations, and talked about the wine we were drinking, or wines we’d had or were going to buy. And trips we had taken, were taking, or were talking about taking. My DH and I visited them a few years ago in Colorado, so there were shared memories of our previous visit.

toasts_to_toastThis appetizer took relatively little time to make, from beginning to end. A lovely baguette had been purchased the day before at a farmer’s market in Boulder, along with gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. Sue had basil growing in pots on her deck, and she had fresh mozzie. Plus some garlic, Parmesan and balsamic vinegar. You can serve this hot with a bowl of the topping, or you can serve it up freshly stacked, with napkins. It was our main course, and we ate a lot of them. Sue had gotten the recipe online at Taste of Home. I’ve renamed them, only because they’re not quite a typical bruschetta – the mozzie on the bottom makes them a bit different – a bit more substantial. So I’m calling them “toasts.” You could make them on bigger pieces of baguette or other bread and they’d be open-faced bruschetta sandwiches even. Any way you make them, they’re delicious.

What’s GOOD: these would be good even if you didn’t use the mozzie underneath, but that one thing makes them a bigger, nicer tidbit of an appetizer. Or a light lunch. These were delish, and although I don’t make bruschetta very often, if I make it in the future, I think I’ll use this recipe.

What’s NOT: well, you’ve got to have all the ingredients – the fresh mozzie, the good, ripe tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, Italian parsley etc. If so, you’re in business!

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Fresh Tomato Bruschetta Toasts

Recipe By: From Taste of Home, but from my friend Sue
Serving Size: 12 (2 per person)

4 whole plum tomatoes — seeded and chopped (Sue used heirloom)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves — minced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 baguette — 12″ long, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup butter — softened (optional)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella — sliced

1. In a small bowl, combine the first 10 ingredients.
2. Spread baguette slices with butter (Sue didn’t do this step – she thought the cheese was enough); top each with a cheese slice. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Broil 3-4 ” from the heat for 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
3. With a slotted spoon, top each slice with about 1 tablespoon tomato mixture. Serve immediately with napkins if you’re making this finger food.
Per Serving: 247 Calories; 14g Fat (50.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 30mg Cholesterol; 429mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on May 6th, 2015.

grilled_veggie_antipasto

That photo doesn’t look like much. Where’s the tiny sprinkle of chopped parsley? Or maybe a green vegetable in there? Well, none. When I made this, I’d been home from my trip only a few days. I’d purchased the veggies (Trader Joe’s was out of zucchini) and chose the red bells, yellow squash and the eggplant. And then I was just so sick, making this became an afterthought. I did make it, I just didn’t eat it for about a week.

While I was in Italy, I was quite enamored with the trays and platters of grilled or roasted vegetables that were in every trattoria. Of course, each and every time we were served the antipasto, we had a big basket of bread to go along with it, and a bottle of olive oil to drizzle on anything and everything (they provide it on the table, like we do salt and pepper). So once I got home, this was the first thing I wanted to make. To figure out how the Italians do it, if it’s anything different than just rubbing oil on veggies and grilling or roasting them. My darling DH was really good at grilling sliced veggies like that, and particularly red peppers, but also zucchini and onions. I’m still far from an expert at grilling – it’s a new skill since I always had Dave to do it for me. Now it’s a hassle to me, to uncover the BBQ, clean it, oil it, heat it, stand there and watch the grilling, getting hot and sweaty, then waiting until everything cools off to put it all away (and covered) for another day. [Message to my dear DH in heaven: thank you, honey, for all the years of grilling you did for me, even weeknight dinners, and for always being willing to do it.]

I have a bunch of Italian cookbooks, and some in my upstairs, little-used bookshelves of cookbooks. I hunted and hunted for what I thought we’d had. Finally, I concluded that maybe it’s such a simple thing – just like I mentioned – oiled and grilled – that nobody considers it a “recipe” as such. I did find one recipe, though, that has you soak the veggies in an Italian vinaigrette for a day before grilling. Although I wasn’t so sure that had been done in any of my Italian samplings, I decided to try it. It’s certainly more fancy than what we had, but I figured it would be good no matter what.

Dutifully, I followed the recipe and soaked the sliced vegetables in the vinaigrette for about 24 hours. In that time the veggies soaked up just about every bit of the liquid. Because I wasn’t feeling all that great (the food poisoning I had was really kicking me down), I decided not to grill them, but to make it easier on myself, I roasted them at 350° using another recipe I’d found.

I have the most wonderful readers . . . my reader Donna W, who frequently leaves comments (bless you, Donna!) emailed to suggest that she was sure she’d seen a very simple veggie antipasto in one of Frances Mayes books, so I went looking for what books I have of hers. I don’t have her cookbook (Under the Tuscan Sun – the cookbook) but I did have Bella Tuscany, and sure enough, there’s a short paragraph in that book about a very simple grilled veggie. But by then I’d already begun marinating them, so next time I’ll try Frances’ version, which truly is grilling oiled veggies.

Baking them took about 45 minutes, turning the veggies every 15 minutes, and the eggplant was the quickest to cook through, so I removed that after 30 minutes. And although I like eggplant, the one I purchased was a fairly big one – and it was too seedy. (Next time I should try to buy the smaller, narrower ones.) I peeled it, which also takes away from the “beauty” of an eggplant. Once roasted, the eggplant takes on that kind of ugly brown look. Not pretty. In the photos I have from my trip, the eggplant was definitely done on a grill (grill marks visible) and it was definitely very fresh, because the flesh is still white-ish, not brown or gray. So, I suppose the eggplant was cooked over a medium hot grill – the interior was soft and silky smooth, but the outside still retained its shape. Next time I’d not marinate the eggplant at all.

Also, I must have been too liberal with the acid in the vinaigrette (red wine vinegar and lemon juice) so I needed to drizzle a bit more olive oil onto the veggies once they were done.

What’s GOOD: these were good, but I won’t say they were exceptional. Maybe when I was in Italy I was enamored with the moment, the thrill of being in Italy, eating in different little places every single day, exploring the varieties of vegetables they did grill or roast – like leeks and long-cooked cippolini onions. The other thing is that the vegetables grown in Italy may very well be more tasty than what we can buy here. I think organic veggies usually have better flavor, but I don’t think that’s what I bought here. Europeans are much more veggie-pure, I’ll call it – they are looking for flavor, not fertilizing for size and greedy prices! As I mentioned, next time I’m going to just oil and grill using a different, much more simplified recipe and I’ll try organic too.  I added more herbs (I had only dried, not fresh) and totally forgot the parsley at the end. In most of the trattorias they served red bell peppers, sometimes green ones, small eggplant and zucchini. Sometimes whole tomatoes also. Never yellow squash. It probably wasn’t in season yet.

What’s NOT: I didn’t think the vinaigrette added that much to the dish. Maybe my palate was still “off,” also because of my food poisoning I was still recovering from when I finally ate this. It may not have been the fault of the veggies or the marinating. Guess I won’t know until I do this again. I have some zucchini in the refrigerator right now, so perhaps I’ll try them, just them, and see how I do, if I like it better.

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Roasted Vegetable Antipasto

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Foodgeeks blog.
Serving Size: 4

1/3 cup olive oil — or a little more as needed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh basil
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley — minced
Salt and Pepper to taste
VEGETABLES:
1 small yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 small eggplant — buy the small, thinner ones
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/2 large red onion
Fresh parsley for garnish — minced
Parmesan cheese shavings, optional
More olive oil drizzled on top, if desired

1. Mix all ingredients of the marinade in a heavy-duty plastic Ziploc bag and squish so it’s well blended.
2. Trim all vegetables and slice lengthwise in ¼-inch thick slices. Add the sliced vegetables to the marinade bag, making sure all the vegetables have had contact with the marinade. Let stand, covered and chilled for at least 4 hours or overnight.
3. Turn the bag of vegetables occasionally to ensure they stay coated with the marinade. Before cooking, drain the vegetables, reserving the marinade.
4. GRILL: Heat a grill pan over moderately high heat until hot. Add vegetables and grill, in batches, for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until tender. Transfer vegetables to a serving platter, drizzle with remaining marinade and sprinkle with parsley, olives and Parmesan shavings. OR ROAST: roast the vegetables in a single layer, on parchment paper, in a 350°F oven, turning the pieces over every 15 minutes. The eggplant will take about 30 minutes or less, the others about 45 minutes. Allow to cool, decoratively place the vegetables on a serving platter, taste for seasonings (like more salt and pepper) drizzle the remaining marinade over the top and garnish with parsley, cheese and more olive oil if needed.
Per Serving: 224 Calories; 19g Fat (70.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 31mg Sodium.

Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on December 28th, 2014.

scalloped potato, spinach and corn casserole

Just plain yummy side dish casserole. The Gruyere cheese is what makes it, so don’t skimp by using something else. Use the imported cheese, the real stuff. You can substitute other cheeses, but I think the Gruyere is perfect.

Need a casserole to go with just about any kind of protein? It would be great with steak, pork chops, chicken, even a sturdy, full-flavored fish. Or, you could even eat this as a vegetarian entrée. It’s just SO delicious. As I mentioned above, the Gruyere cheese (it’s a very unique Swiss cheese) is, to me, what makes this dish over the top. It’s not low in calorie, however, since it contains heavy cream and full-fat milk. The potatoes bring enough starch to the dish that it all sticks together beautifully.

spinach_layerThe potatoes, sliced just perfectly at 1/4 inch thick (it helps if you have a slicer to do this) are simmered in the cream and milk until they’re nearly done. Meanwhile you make the corn and spinach mixture which gets layered in between 2 layers of the potatoes. See photo below at left with just one layer of potatoes and the layer of spinach and corn.

potato_corn_spinach_before_baking

Another layer of potatoes goes on top, see photo at right, then you add lots of cheese on top, bake for 25 minutes covered with foil, then 10-15 more without the foil and you’re ready to go. You can also make this the day before, bring to room temp and bake in a low oven to reheat. This recipe is a keeper. From the cooking class recently with Diane Phillips.

My cousin Gary just about made this whole thing for me – we took this to a Christmas Eve dinner at my son’s home. Every last bite – and I mean ever bite, was slicked clean. Had many, many compliments on the dish.

What’s GOOD: every morsel – the cheese, the potatoes, the spinach. Everything.
What’s NOT: it does take a bit of time to put it together – make a big batch so you can have left overs.

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Potato, Corn and Spinach Gratin

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium shallot — finely chopped
2 cups white corn — fresh or frozen, defrosted
1 pound spinach — washed, spun dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes — peeled, cut 1/4 inch slices
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
More salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup Gruyere cheese — shredded
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the inside of a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray (do not use Pam).
2. In a (very) large skillet, heat butter and saute shallot for a minute, doing it slowly to bloom the flavor, until the shallot is soft. Add corn and saute for 2 minutes. Add spinach and saute until it’s all wilted.
3. In another large skillet with sides, heat the milk and cream over medium meat. Add potatoes and cook for 6-7 minutes, or until the potatoes are just barely tender (they will continue to cook during the baking process). Season with salt and pepper and pour HALF of the potatoes into the baking dish.
4. Spread all of the spinach and corn mixture over the top of the potatoes, spreading evenly, then add the remaining potatoes and milky sauce. Spread potatoes evenly, then sprinkle all the cheese on top. (MAKE AHEAD: you can cool the gratin at this point, cover and chill for up to 2 days. Bring to room temp before proceeding.)
5. Bake the gratin for 25 minutes, covered with foil, uncover and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese are golden brown and the gratin is bubbling. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
NOTES: If you’d rather make this in individual ramekins, prepare the same, but bake covered with foil for 10-15 minutes, then uncover for just 5 minutes.
Per Serving: 379 Calories; 27g Fat (63.2% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 93mg Cholesterol; 218mg Sodium.

Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on February 24th, 2014.

champagne_asparagus_risotto

Although this picture may not wow you with its color artistry, all I can tell you, bottom line, it’s ultimately a creamy, smooth, oozing risotto, filled with umami flavors. I served it with salmon, but it could be a meal unto itself.

Below you will find this recipe in two versions – one made on the stovetop, which is what most people will do – and another revised slightly for the Breville risotto cooker that I used. This recipe is one I’ve made for at least 3 decades, and was my first introduction to risotto, way back in the early 1980s. I can’t say that I’ve made it more than a dozen times, just because risotto is so high in carbs and it (used to) require so MUCH standing at the stove, stirring and stirring.

At the time, I had attended a cooking class at a then-popular cooking school called Ma Cuisine, and Tarla Fallgatter taught the class, and made risotto as well as osso buco (a recipe I’ve never posted, and suppose I should!). I’d read about risotto, never had it, and merely said to myself “no way” would I stand in front of the stove for 30-45 minutes, stirring and adding broth until it was just done. Arborio rice was very, very hard to find back then – only one upscale market carried it and at a very hefty price. Champagne, then, was a splurge, and to think of using it in rice was almost over-the-top. But when the class was served the results – oh my gosh, it was just SO good. I became a convert, and made this many times, usually when someone was visiting, who would help with the stirring. Our friend Russ was a frequent visitor for dinner then, and he was a willing helper, being the one to get a spa facial as he stood over the big frying pan stirring.

Jump forward to 2014. My DH bought me for Christmas (at my suggestion) the Breville BRC600XL The Risotto Plus Sautéing Slow Rice Cooker and Steamer. A splurge, for sure, for a device to make risotto, but I’ve used it to make rice (just regular stuff) and I’ve used it as a slow cooker too to make a bean soup (it has a slow cooker low and high function). It also has a sauté function which means you can cook the onions or leeks or shallots or whatever, in the same pan without dirtying up more dishes.

champagne_asparagas_risotto_cookingTo make this risotto in the Breville risotto cooker I did all the same steps, really, except I reduced the amount of broth I added – although I ended up adding almost all of it by the time it was served. What I didn’t want was too-soupy risotto and having not made this in the Breville before, I was hesitant to add it all at once. It’s easy enough to ADD more fluid. Not possible to remove any! I don’t use expensive champagne or sparkling wine – just something drinkable, and certainly not a bottle worth $1.99 either. Usually I use Prosecco (because we usually have some on hand and it’s very inexpensive). You want a dry taste, though, not something sweet. Some Proseccos would be too sweet – so watch that.

When the Risotto Cooker is in the cooking process (on the Risotto setting) it boils furiously. In fact, it boils so fast I wonder each time if it’s not going to be ruined. But it isn’t. Certainly it boils at a full rolling boil – a much higher heat than you’d use if you were making it the traditional way. And yet, when it’s done, well, it’s just absolutely PERFECT. The asparagus was partially pre-cooked, so I added it into the risotto about 2/3 of the way through its 30-minute cooking. Next time I’d cook the asparagus completely and add it in at the very end, just long enough to heat it through. As soon as the risotto cooker gives a warning, it switches to low and that’s when I added the little bit of cream, butter, and Parmesan. (You don’t know how long it’s going to cook – there isn’t a timer to view, but you can estimate 30 minutes.) Every time I’ve made risotto in this, it’s been at that perfection stage immediately when it dings – and I wish I’d been absolutely ready to serve up plates. It took me another 5 minutes or so to toss the green salad with Garlic VIP Dressing, dish up the garlic green beans and finish the sauce for the Salmon with Orange and Leeks that I served with it. I added about another 1/3 cup of hot broth to the risotto to get it back to that almost soupy texture and dinner was served.

This could easily be an entrée unto itself, if you choose to; I made it to accompany a meal. I made it to serve 8, but since we served buffet style, people didn’t take as much risotto as I’d anticipated, so we still have at least another 4 or more servings left over. I may make risotto cakes out of them. Once cooled, the rice is fairly thick and the creaminess has totally disappeared. To reheat, you’ll need to add more broth to thin it out. It certainly won’t be as good as the first round, but it’s actually okay for a family meal.

What’s GOOD: what’s there not to like about risotto? It was delicious, as it’s been every time I’ve ever made this. You’ll enjoy the asparagus in it and probably won’t be able to identify any other flavors except the Parmesan cheese. If you serve this to risotto fans, I guarantee they’ll like it. By making it in my Breville Risotto Cooker, I was able to work on other last-minute things.
What’s NOT: really nothing. Not exactly healthy, though – there is butter and cream in this, albeit, not a lot. If you make it the traditional way, have someone else help do the stirring and adding of the broth. It’s not difficult work to do, but requires someone to be there all the time, hovering.

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Champagne and Asparagus Risotto

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 8-10

1 pound asparagus — lower stems removed
1/2 cup onion — finely minced
4 ounces unsalted butter
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup champagne — (yes, really)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter — softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

NOTES: As a side dish this will serve about 8-10 people. If making as a main dish, it will serve about 5.
1. Remove tough stems from asparagus and discard. Remove tips from asparagus and set those aside. Cut remaining asparagus stems into small pieces and cook in chicken broth for a few minutes, until they are still slightly undercooked, adding the asparagus tips during the last minute of cooking. Drain and set aside.
2. In a large, heavy pan saute the onion in butter until soft. Add the rice and stir until well coated with the butter. Add the champagne (it’s okay if it’s a day or two old and lost its fizz) and simmer, stirring, until the champagne has evaporated.
3. Meanwhile, bring the chicken stock to a simmer in another pan. With a ladle, add about a cup of stock to the rice and stir constantly until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add another cup of broth, and continue adding another cup, cooking and stirring very often until it’s absorbed. Begin tasting the rice after you have added 5 cups. Stir in the asparagus, cheese, cream and softened butter. You want it to be just barely oozing on the plate – soft, but not runny. You can add more broth as needed to get that consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately!
Per Serving: 325 Calories; 16g Fat (43.2% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 183mg Sodium.

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Champagne and Asparagus Risotto in the Breville Risotto Cooker

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor, from a class in the 1980s
Serving Size: 8-10

1 pound asparagus — lower stems removed
1/2 cup onion — finely minced
4 ounces unsalted butter
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup champagne — (yes, really)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter — softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

NOTES: As a side dish this will serve about 8-10 people. If making as a main dish, it will serve about 5.
1. Remove tough stems from asparagus and discard. Remove tips from asparagus and set those aside. Cut remaining asparagus stems into small pieces. Start risotto cooker on the Saute function, add a bit of broth and cook until the asparagus is nearly cooked. Add the asparagus tips and continue cooking until they’re just barely done. Pour out into a dish and set aside. Drain off any excess broth.
2. Heat risotto cooker on Saute and add butter, then the onion. Cook until the onion is fully translucent and cooked through. (May be prepared ahead an hour or so to this point.) While still in the saute function, add the rice and stir until well coated with the butter. Add the champagne (it’s okay if it’s a day or two old and lost its fizz) and simmer, stirring, until the champagne has evaporated.
3. Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock to a simmer in the microwave or another pan. Pour in about 5 cups of the broth. Continue on the saute setting until the broth has started to bubble around the edges. Change setting to Risotto, put lid on. Stir the risotto once or twice during the next 25 minutes. If the risotto is too dry, add more hot broth.
4. When the bell rings on the risotto cooker the risotto should be very creamy, almost like thick soup. Stir in the asparagus, cheese, cream and softened butter. You want it to be just barely oozing on the plate – soft, but not runny. You can add more broth as needed to get that consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately! If you must allow the risotto to sit for a few minutes, you may need to add a bit of hot tap water to thin it out.
Per Serving: 325 Calories; 16g Fat (43.2% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 183mg Sodium.

Posted in Vegetarian, on October 29th, 2013.

eggplant_parmesan

To say that my husband was in food ecstasy when I made this is almost an understatement. He swooned. Hmm – do men swoon? Well, for sure he purred! Eggplant Parmesan is one of his all-time favorite meals. And I haven’t made it in years because the usual method uses SO much oil to fry the eggplant. Not any more, with this recipe. It’s a keeper.

When we dine out at an Italian restaurant, my DH almost always orders Eggplant Parmesan. He adores it, and no matter how big the portion, he eats it all. A few times over the 30+ years of our marriage I’ve made it at home, and just cringed at all the oil the eggplant soaks up during the browning/frying process. And how heavy it tasted when you eat it – from all that oil. Eggplant is like a sponge!

Then I read this recipe over at Food52. It struck a chord for me. The raw eggplant first gets lightly floured and baked – then you use the slightly dried planks to layer the casserole. You also simmer down (reduce) a tomato type sauce until it’s thick. And of course there’s Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese AND some fresh Mozzie.

I will give you a heads-up here – it takes a bit of time to make this. A lot more than I’d anticipated, at least. I should have used 2 of my big baking sheets to roast the eggplant – but still, you’ll have to make at least 2 batches of eggplant to roast/dry out in the oven.

roasted_eggplant_planksAfter baking the eggplant slices, this (at left) is what I got. Maybe the two on the left toward the top you can see how “crisp” they are, sticking out sideways as they are. That’s why I call them PLANKS. There is still some moisture in them, but not much. They’re not dry like toast or chips. But a good bit of the water in the eggplant has been baked out of them, so they totally hold their shape. They need to bake at least 30 minutes (15 minutes per side), and you want them to get just a bit golden brown.

Meanwhile, I made the sauce – it’s nothing but good canned tomatoes (use San Marzano brand if you can), some shallot and a bit of herbs (I added the herbs – they weren’t in the original recipe). You need to simmer the tomatoes over a relatively low heat – once it gets thick it’s going to sputter out and all over, so I used a mesh cover. It won’t reduce if you leave a lid on the pan as the point is to evaporate the extra water in the tomatoes.

eggplant_parmesan_layeringNow you can see the casserole as I began to layer it. I’d made the sauce while the eggplant was baking. I pulled out a big wide casserole dish and put a bit of sauce in the bottom so the eggplant wouldn’t stick. I layered in some eggplant first (the Food52 contributor says press the pieces in like a jigsaw puzzle), then some little globs of sauce that I spread around some, some Parmesan, then a new layer. In one of the middle layers you’ll use the mozzarella. I used more Parmigiano-Reggiano than the recipe called for – and I like an ample amount on the top.

Outside of Italy, until the other day, I’d never had [water] buffalo-milk Mozzarella. My guess is that most restaurants don’t use it. I’d never cooked with it for sure. Why? I don’t know – just cuz I’ve thought that the cow’s milk mozzie was good enough. Well, I’m here to tell you, there is a HUGE difference between cow’s milk mozzie and buffalo-milk mozzie. buffalo_mil_mozzarellaTrue mozzie is made with the milk from water buffalo, but then, you all knew that already, right? And it has a wholly different taste. Whereas cow’s milk mozzie is bland, this stuff is positively umami in every way. I bought an 8-ounce little tub of it at Trader Joe’s, and it was a couple dollars more than the cow’s milk version. It was one big ball, which I sliced as thinly as I could. I took a taste. Oh my! It was full-flavored, broad, deep. Wonderful. It’s a bit sour – kind of like the difference between cow cheese and goat cheese. But the umami – it’s there – like you get in balsamic vinegar, anchovies, chiles, mushrooms.

Buffalo-Milk Mozzarella

Just trust me on this one – buy the real thing if you make this – you’ll be amazed at the depth of flavor.

The umami flavor aspect is kind of like the difference between cottage cheese and goat cheese. Or white bread and wheat grain. Or instant oatmeal and steel cut.

So, when you make this, do go to the extra trouble to find and buy buffalo-milk mozzarella. Truly it makes a difference. And I suggest you taste it. I may never use cow’s milk mozzie again. It’s that good.

If I make this again – oh yes, I WILL be doing that – I’ll be sure to have at least 6 layers of eggplant. eggplant_parmesan_casseroleI managed to have just 4 (because one of the eggplants we bought was spoiled – couldn’t tell from looking at the skin), so I made do with 2 pounds of eggplant (6 small servings). It was a little bit on the thin side (see picture at top). Not that it made any difference in the taste.  There at left you can see the casserole just before I stuck it in the oven. Not all that exciting looking, but wait until you taste it!

What’s GOOD: Oh my goodness, where do I start. Taste, texture, even the eggplant itself. The umami is all over the place. Worth the trouble. Make extra – you’ll be SO glad to have left overs!
What’s NOT: As I mentioned, it takes some time to make. Allow over an hour to prep the eggplant (unless you have 2 ovens – I do, but I used only one, so it took longer, of course), and at least another 30 minutes to do the rest of the prep. Baking will take about 30-40 minutes, plus some resting time (or you’ll burn your mouth big-time). So, that’s over 2 hours. Not a dish you can make after work unless you have other helping hands.

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Eggplant Parmesan with Buffalo-Milk Mozzarella

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Food52, from Nancy Jo, a contributor
Serving Size: 6

3 pounds eggplant — (Choose the large globe variety. Make sure they are firm and smooth. Also choose male eggplants. They have fewer seeds and have a rounder, smoother bottom)
1 cup flour — (about)
salt
3 tablespoons olive oil — approximately (drizzled on eggplant)
1 1/2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/2 pound buffalo-milk mozzarella — sliced
TOMATO SAUCE:
56 ounces canned tomatoes — (28 ounce cans) San Marzano brand preferred – add another can if you want extra sauce left over. Use whole, peeled tomatoes. [I used Muir Glen diced]
3 cloves garlic — thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Notes: You will need the full 3 pounds of eggplant to make this – don’t skimp. Ideally, you want enough eggplant for about 6 layers. You’ll be surprised at how thin the eggplant becomes once it bakes. Part of the secret to this recipe is cooking down the tomato sauce – it’s almost like a paste, but not quite – that way the casserole doesn’t ooze juice through the baking process. You’ll have a lot of concentrated tomato (umami) flavor by doing it this way. If you can’t buy buffalo-milk mozzarella, use regular cow’s milk type, but it just won’t taste as good!
1. Peel the eggplant and slice long ways into 1/4 inch slices.
2. Lightly sprinkle each layer with salt and place into a colander, overlapping and salting as you go. Each slice should be salted. After you fill the colander, place a plate on top and weight it with a heavy pan or a tea kettle filled with water. Let the eggplant sweat for 30 minutes or more. If you’re concerned about using salt, just stack the slices without salt, but weight it down. You’ll still get the eggplant to drain some. Dry it off before proceeding.
3. While the eggplant sweats, make the sauce.
4. SAUCE: Coat the bottom of a sauce pan with olive oil and heat over medium high heat. Add the sliced garlic and let it cook until is sizzles (do not brown the garlic). Add the canned whole tomatoes and their juice. Stir and chop coarsely using a potato masher or two knives chopping crossways. Lower the heat and simmer until reduced by almost half. [I used Muir Glen diced tomatoes.] Add dried oregano and taste for salt and pepper [I didn’t think it needed any].
5. Remove the eggplant from the colander and thoroughly swipe and pat dry each slice with paper towels.
6. Heat the oven to 450°F. Cover the bottom of a baking sheet or two with olive oil. [I used a piece of parchment paper and drizzled the oil on one side of each eggplant slice.]
7. Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, shaking off any excess. Place on the baking sheets and drizzle each slice with olive oil. Bake until brown on one side (about 15 minutes or so) and turn over and brown the other side. Repeat until you have cooked all the eggplant. The eggplant will be moderately dry – not burned – not exactly browned – but like a plank.
8. Using a 7×11 baking dish (ceramic or earthenware, or stainless is okay too), spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom and layer the eggplant until it completely covers the bottom (it’s like a puzzle!).
9. Sprinkle generously with the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add another layer of sauce and then the eggplant. Continue to build the layers until you are about two layers from the top, then add a single layer of sliced mozzarella. Finish with a couple more layers of eggplant, sauce, and parmesan. Finish the top with parmesan – a bit more than you’ve sprinkled on any of the layers.
10. Bake in the upper third of a 400°F oven. Check after about 20 minutes. You may find that it throws off more liquid as it bakes. If so, press down on the eggplant and draw off any excess liquid. Cook for another 15 minutes or so or until the casserole is bubbling well all around the edges and a little bit in the middle. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
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Per Serving: 328 Calories; 14g Fat (35.9% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 771mg Sodium.

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