Food, Recipes

Tips for Making Risotto

Risotto is a frequent dish at our house because there are so many variations and it’s NOT difficult to prepare.  Many are quite surprised when I say that as for some reason risotto has a reputation for being troublesome.

Part of the reason for this perception is the notion that it has to be cooked and stirred at the last minute meaning that if guests are coming for dinner you are standing at the stove.  Not so!  Risotto can be made before guests arrive except for adding the last liquid.  Right before you are ready to serve, add the last 1-2 cups of liquid and finish it off in only a few minutes.

One of the keys to preparing risotto is to have the liquid, usually chicken or vegetable broth, very hot as it is an important part of the cooking process.  Second is to not overcook.  Like many pastas, risotto is best when it is al dente, otherwise it’s a bit mushy.

No matter what ingredients are added, risotto is a very satisfying meal that requires nothing more than a good salad, crusty bread and a glass of wine.  Go ahead, try it and here’s a recipe sure to be a hit.

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Butternut Squash Risotto

1/2 pound peeled butternut squash
6-7 c. chicken or vegetable stock
3 T. unsalted butter
1 medium leek, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 c. arborio rice
2 rosemary branches
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/3 c. dry white wine

Finely grated zest of one lemon
1 t. lemon juice or more if you like a lemony taste
Freshly ground black pepper 
1/4 c. chopped salted pistachios
Grated parmesan cheese

 Shred the squash in a food processor or with a grater. In a small saucepan, bring stock to a simmer. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until soft. Stir in the garlic and cook  about one minute. Add rice, squash, rosemary, and salt. Stir until the rice is slightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. 

 Add the wine and let it reduce for about two minutes. Add stock, 1 c. at a time, and cook, stirring often until most of the liquid has evaporated and the risotto has become creamy and thick.  This will take about 25-30 minutes.*  Remove rosemary stems and stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and black pepper.  Garnish with the pistachios and optional cheese before serving.

*If you are preparing for guests, cook the risotto for about 15 minutes. Five minutes or so before you are ready to serve, finish it off by adding the last 1-2 c. of liquid.  Remember the liquid must be hot.

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at home, Entertaining, Tablescapes

Fun In The Kitchen

We do enjoy entertaining at home, and sometimes it’s fun to have everyone get involved in the fixing.  Nothing works better for that than pizza.

pizza/foodYou never know what toppings folks will like, so it’s best to have an assortment ready.

piza/foodTalk about an opportunity to be creative!

pizza/foodChoosing one or two toppings can be a real challenge, so loading up with a variety has real appeal!  Guys especially get into combining ingredients, and it’s always interesting to see how their creations turn out.

pizza/foodSome folks do like to keep their pizza a tad simpler so as not to totally confuse the taste buds!

appetizer/foodOnce the pizzas are in the oven we snack on appetizers.  What could be more perfect than cantaloupe wrapped with prosciutto 

crostini/appetierand tomato mozzarella  crostini?  Yum, it just doesn’t get better!

pizzaWhen the pizzas are ready, we mound slices on a platter so everyone can share.  I’m betting you won’t find any  of these combinations on a menu!

tablescapeWith platter and a caesar salad in hand, off we go to the dining room for some lip smacking fun at a very simple and colorful table.  The plates actually came from Italy so they are a good choice for pizza.

tablescapeLet me tell you, those straw wrapped wine bottles are not as easy to find as they were when we thought them dripping with candle wax was the epitome of table decor!

There you have it, a very fun way to spend an evening with friends!

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Food

Peanut Brittle Man

peanut brittleI didn’t know peanut brittle could be so good until a friend gave me some made by her husband.  It lasted all of two days so more was in order.

peanut brittleWhen I went to pick it up Peanut Brittle Man was in the kitchen stirring away, and I was lucky enough to watch him at work.  This was one of those times it was a very good thing to have a camera along.

peanut brittleThe recipe is from his mother-in-law who has been making this same peanut brittle for 60 years.  The ingredients are few: Karo syrup, raw peanuts, margarine, sugar and baking powder, all carefully measured and added at precise times in the cooking process.

peanut brittlePeanut Brittle Man explained that he wanted every batch to be the same which meant cooking at a consistent temperature.  How does that happen?  He painted little marks on the stove dial to ensure accuracy in each step of the process.  Pretty clever, I’d say.

peanut brittleWhen the cooking is done, the mixture is poured onto parchment paper and spread with a wooden spoon.

peanut brittleCool to the touch, it is flipped onto new pieces of parchment where it is stretched to its maximum size.

peanut brittleThe next step?  You guessed it!  And I wasn’t shy about putting the crumbs right into my mouth.

peanut brittleFinally, the finished brittle is packaged for all the folks who are beating down the door to claim their share.  With mine in hand, I’m trying to figure out how to keep the hubby from eating it all.  I might have to put a container back just for me or maybe I’ll share a piece or two with you.

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Metamorphosis Monday

The Scoop

Food, Tablescapes

Changing It Up

Never is a dining table bare in our house.  To see an empty surface is one of those things that makes me feel out of sync.  Yep, that’s an idiosyncrasy, but we all have them…..at least I hope that’s true!

fall tableWalking in  the Houston house after being absent for several months, the first thing I noticed was a table that had passed its season.  Before I unpacked my suitcase, I got to work on the table replacing the warmer weather runner  with a embroidered one that speaks more of nippy fall days which Houston is actually having.

fall tablePlacemats turned lengthwise to drape off the round table complete the linens.

fall tableA few pumpkins and paper turkeys from Michaels and this table is ready for dinner with friends in a couple of days.

fall tableTypically, these dishes don’t see the light of day until Thanksgiving day, but I’m cheating a little because the bowls are just the right size for the soup I’m thinking of making.

fall tableA salad plate, green Fostoria glasses, silverware, a napkin and all is done in a flash once again proving that every day tablescapes are nothing but easy.  Oh, those clementines?  Our friends are off sugar so they will be dessert, not a great replacement for a caramel/rum glazed spice cake or apple dapple cake

Not only are they off sugar, this couple is vegetarian.  Luckily, there are lots of good soups to satisfy that dietary need, and I’ll share one of my favorites from a Moosewood Restaurant cookbook.

potato kale soupCreamy Potato Kale Soup

1 c. finely chopped onions

2/3 c. finely chopped leeks

1/2 t. salt

1 T. canola or vegetable oil

4 c. vegetable stock

4 c. coarsely chopped potatoes

1/4 t. fennel, seeds or ground

1/2 c. finely chopped celery

2 T. while wine

1/2 t. dried dill

2 t. Dijon mustard

2 T. minced scallions

1 1/2 T. fined fresh basil

1/2 c. milk or half and half

4 c. loosely packed shredded kale

salt and pepper to taste, a squeeze of lemon if desired.

In a large soup pot, saute onions, leeks and salt in the oil on low heat until tender.  Add the stock and bring to a boil.  Add potatoes, fennel, celery, wine and dill. Simmer covered for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.  Puree the soup until smooth. (This is where a handheld immersion blender comes in very handy.)  Stir in mustard, scallions, basil, milk.

In a separate pot, gently boil kale in just enough water to cover.  When it is barely tender, drain and stir into the soup.  Add salt and pepper, lemon juice if desired and gently heat until all is hot.  Makes 4-6 servings.

When I make this soup, I always hope for leftovers because it’s mighty good the next day for lunch.  Should you want to modify if for meat eaters, all you have to do is add slices of Polish sausage.

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Baking, Food

For The Bundt Of It

Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Lemon Glaze
Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Lemon Glaze

Why do I like bundt cakes?  Because I am a terrible layer cake maker.  The layers are never the same thickness, one side is always higher than the other, and icing generally runs down the sides onto the plate.    You should see all my failures, and you’d know I’m speaking the truth!!

Apple Dapple Cake
Apple Dapple Cake

A bundt cake is different.  It’s a single thickness, requires nothing more than a simple glaze and glides right out of the pan without falling apart….most of the time.

cake/muffin pansBundt cakes are fun because there are so many different pan designs.  I have to confess, however, that some are better than others when it comes to cleaning.  The more detail, the harder to clean.  I have thrown a couple of pans away because they were too much of a pain to clean!

bundt panRecently, I’ve liked serving individual desserts and for cakes this Wilton pan is perfect.

pecan spice cakeSeveral friends have had birthdays in the last few days, and using the pan I was able to make each one his/her own cake.  It was a little bit of a risk to try a brand new recipe, but luckily, it turned out great.  It is a Pecan Spice Cake with Caramel/Rum Glaze from Southern Living.  Should you make individual cakes, the recipe is good for 10-12.  If you still are looking for a Thanksgiving dessert or one for a holiday party, this is a good one.  

bundt cakeCuisine Kathleen, I’ve saved one just for you for challenging your readers to a bundtathon.  It will be fun to see how everyone put their unique creative touches on all things bundt!

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Foodtastic Friday

Food, Tablescapes

An Every Night Thing

tablescapePeople ask frequently if I set a table every night.  The answer is yes even when it’s just the hubby and me.  It only takes a few minutes, and for me it’s a simple way to say I care about who is gathered there.  As silly as this may sound, I also think food tastes better when it is presented attractively.

tablescapeSeldom is a table bare at our house.  There’s always some fabric detail or colorful flowers or something whimsical atop it.

 tablescape99% of the time real dishes and cloth napkins are used. I reserve paper and plastic for picnics! 

Folding napkins is a fun part of setting a table and is one of those touches that adds a little something special.  

napkin foldnapkin foldnapkin foldLinda  054 (1)Nothing could be much simpler than this one that makes a little pocket for flatware.

tablescapeWith the table all done, I put the finishing touches on dinner.

Curried Vegetables/RiceThis night it’s a very easy to fix a curried vegetable dish that uses what was in the refrigerator and one of my favorite ingredients, coconut milk.  Though we are not vegetarian or vegan, we do not have meat every night and find this kind of meal to be very satisfying.

Fresh Vegetable Curry

2 T. canola oil

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2 T. ginger,  julienned

1 jalapeno, seeded and cut into thin strips

2 bay leaves

3 cloves minced garlic

1 t. turmeric or coriander

2 small tomatoes, coarsely chopped

14 oz. unsweetened coconut milk

1/4 c. water

3 carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1″ pieces

1 1/2 c. cubed butternut squash

1/2 lb. green beans cut into 1″ pieces

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Add onion, ginger, jalapeño and bay leaves and cook over medium heat until veggies are softened.  Add garlic and turmeric or coriander and cook for 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes and mash lightly until just beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add coconut milk and water, season with salt and bring to a boil.

Add carrots, cover and simmer over low heat until crisp tender.  Add squash and beans, cover and simmer until all veggies are tender.  Remove bay leaves.  Serve over rice.

Serves 4-6.

What I like about this dish is that it can be made ahead of time and reheated before serving.

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Food, Tablescapes

Repeat….almost

tablescapeA couple of weeks ago this table, inspired by a beautiful arrangement from a wedding reception, was posted.  What I liked about it is that it uses some of my favorite things, a vintage French cloth and cranberry dishes from the 1940s, so why not use them again?

tablescapeToday, the flowers are all but gone, however, being one who recycles as much as possible, I plucked the ones with life left and arranged them in individual vases surrounded again by the pears. 

tablescapeMaking a few changes is a quick and easy way to prepare a table for guests, and I confess to doing that often, especially when I like a particular look.  Here, the napkin is off to the side and the cup and saucer is on the plate for a first course soup.

tablescapeWine glasses are added,

tablescapeand voila, a new table is created with minimal effort.  I don’t know about for you, but that works for me every time!

The same is true for food.  I don’t want to spend all day(s) in the kitchen, but I do enjoy preparing tasty food like for this dinner which included butternut squash soup and a pork roast.  Both were simple to prepare and delicious.

Butternut Squash SoupRoasted Butternut Squash Soup

butternut squash, 1-2 pounds

2 carrots, thickly sliced

1 large sweet onion, quartered

olive oil

3-4 c. vegetable or chicken broth

1/2 t. cardamom

1/2 c. half and half

salt and pepper to taste

Cut the squash into quarters lengthwise and place on a rimmed baking sheet with the carrots and onion.  Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast at 400 until vegetables are soft.

In a food processor or blender, puree the veggies, half at a time.  Pour puree in a saucepan with broth, add seasonings and heat through.  Right before serving, add half and half.

To serve, add a dollop of yogurt, sour cream or creme fraiche and a sprig of parsley.  What is wonderful about this variation of butternut squash soup is roasting the veggies.  That was a last minute idea that really added flavor.

pork roastFor the pork roast, I slathered it with dijon mustard and coated it with a mixture of toasted walnuts and sesame seeds, 1/2 c. each.  Roast at 325 about 20 minutes per pound.  

pork roastLet the roast sit for about 10 minutes before slicing.

There you have it, a simple table with an easy to fix meal which leaves time for a walk on the dirt road!

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