Friday, July 29, 2011

Double Take: Risotto Primavera

Risotto Primavera

I'm somewhat of a newbie to risotto. I'd never had it before last spring. Rebecca, Ruthann and I made one with zucchini, another with green beans and a third with butternut squash. We didn't do this all in one night but we were really enjoying risotto. The zucchini from Bon Appetite: Fast, Easy, Fresh was our favorite. Its a great dish if you have a few people to feed and can send leftovers home with them.

The various vegetable combinations can really transform the veggies from the norm of steaming or sauteing. As an added bonus, I've heard that non-meatitarian families eat risotto as an meatless main for supper. If you want to go completely vegetarian you can use vegetable broth (slight shudder). I'm not a big veggie broth gal but I know there are people who are. To you I say, awesome and if you have a veggie broth you love, let me know. I'd be willing to try it.

It does take a little longer to prepare but most of the time isn't hands on time. You can walk away for a couple minutes to tend another dish and then return to stir and add a little more broth. For people who love to stir a pot, this is your dish! For people who like to walk away for a minute or two and come back, this dish works for you too! How often does that happen?

There are a few things you should know before attempting a risotto recipe.

1. What's Risotto? - a dish prepared with short to medium grained rice cooked with a broth (vegetable or meat) and finished with Parmesan cheese

2. What's Primavera? - served with a variety of fresh vegetables (This can include an oil sauce or white sauce but the only key ingredient is fresh vegetables.)

3. What's Arborio rice? - common rice for making risotto but any short to medium grain rice will do. This rice absorbs lots of fluid without becoming mushy. Look for Arborio rice at Whole Foods and you'll typically get a better price than at a supermarket. Its also available by the scoop at Whole Foods.

4. If you live by yourself, DO NOT MAKE A WHOLE RECIPE. It grows.

5. If using a stock/broth that has salt in it, don't add any extra salt until you've tasted it. It is likely that the stock will have more than enough salt.

6. Are you wondering why the recipe would call for both olive oil and butter? The olive oil can take more heat but the butter gives more flavor. Using them together allows maximum heat and flavor at once!

Daring Baker's Challenge: Peach-Blueberry Fraisier

Peach-Blueberry Fraisier

This challenge makes me think of two old sayings...1) Bad things come in threes. 2) When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. To be honest, I've had a number of caketastrophies lately. Allow me to suffice it to the fact that gravity appeared to greater than normal for the cakes I've made lately. No, they weren't falling in the sense that you think of a fallen cake or fallen bread. Instead the cakes or their elements made extreme attempts at not staying contained as desired. Please note: the cakes survived all their literal falls. Cakes were not damaged but it sure was stressful. For one cake, the pan fell from my hands to the floor. The bottom of the pan hit the floor, the cake was so shaken in the process that it broke into 15 pieces but stayed in the cake pan. I pulled the pieces out, cooled them and then reassembled them atop a piece of parchment paper in the cake pan. After chilling together in the form in the fridge, they came out as what looked like a normal cake. I set it on the bottom and no one could even tell.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Double Take: Chicken Cacciatore

Top 3 Reasons to make this dish:

1. You like it when your tastebuds sing.
2. You like it when your coworkers sniff your lunch jealously.
3. You like it when a meal doesn't require a lot of effort on your part.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Beef With Spicy Cocoa Gravy, Double Take

When Mel added this recipe to her pick list, I was skeptical. Mel loves mole (the spicy cocoa Mexican dish) but after trying it and another dish with a similar ingredient, I learned I don't like adobo peppers. They tend to bring along with them a heavy smoky flavor (cuminesque) and I'm not a heavy cumin kind of gal so at least my taste buds are consistent. Mel knows that I don't love cumin. I'll use a little but I often reduce it in recipes. As it turns out, her husband, Bender, doesn't care much for cumin either. I scanned the recipe and was relieved to see no adobo peppers. It did call for cumin but I could always adjust that. I decided, sure, I could try this.

I noticed that the cook time is a bit lengthy compared to a 30 minute wonder. It takes over an hour and a half. Since we had another dish selected that took about the same time, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I'll show you the other dish in a week or so on a future double take but you'll get a sneak peak in the photos.

Having made it, I would give you a couple words of caution about the beef with spicy cocoa gravy:

1) DO NOT DOUBLE the sauce. Holy cow, I might have accidentally doubled an ingredient and decided to solve the problem by doubling the rest of the sauce. Don't do this unless you have a gravy-loving cat. It turns out Sookie (my female cat) snubbed the gravy but Jack (male cat who has very different food preferences from Sookie) loved the gravy. He refused to eat the tomatoes and the bell pepper and onion (oops, I didn't think about the bell pepper and onion, that shouldn't be offered to a cat). Lucky for me Jack was smart enough to leave that in a pile to the side and enjoyed lapping up the gravy from his bowl.

2) I would encourage you to reduce the cumin and possibly add some cocoa to the gravy mixture if you want to have even a hint of chocolate taste.

3) Don't expect this to taste like chocolatey beef (unless you do some serious cocoa increases). It really will taste more like a chunks of roast beef in a gravy which has a Mexican influence.

4) A little goes a long way with this recipe. Their suggested portion size is apparently double mine. I apparently ate about 1/2 c at a time while the original called for 1 c. servings. Judge how much to make based on how much your family eats. I didn't notice the portion size was so large. It would've been pretty near impossible to cut this recipe into 1/4 though.

Beef with Spicy Cocoa Gravy 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Double Take: Carnitas

I'm very excited to share today's post with you. In fact, I've been excited about it since Cinco de Mayo but we had this one scheduled a little later than then on our calendar. Lucky for you, it'll be time for the Mexican Independence Day celebration on September 16th. Just pocket this recipe away til then and you'll be ready to party like its 1810...or celebrate the victory in 1821..however it works out for you. (In case you're wondering, 1810 is when the Mexicans declared Independence from Spain. They didn't gain independence until 1821 but they celebrate September 16 (the day they declared independence) as their Independence Day.)

I saw the carnitas episode on America's Test Kitchen earlier this year and was impressed but not yet won over. I'd never eaten carnitas. I wasn't sure what to expect. The next thing I knew, a friend came in from out of town and I wound up at a Mexican restaurant. Across the seat from me, Ruthann ordered carnitas. She wasn't overwhelming pleased with the ones there but said they were usually awesome. No joke, within the next two weeks, Melanie picks out not one but TWO carnitas recipes. At this point, I was like wow, apparently I'm going to be trying carnitas. I suggested the recipe from America's Test Kitchen. Their rigorous testing pleases the scientist in me but its typically more work than I'd want to go to on my own on a per recipe basis. Since they'd done the work, it seemed logical to me to try it their way. Mel was game so I was off on my journey to try carnitas.

The next thing I needed was a taste tester. It looked like carnitas could feed a small crowd. Heads really can. Be prepared to have a crowd handy or eat them for a week. This would not be one person eating them for a week either. Seriously 2-3 people could eat these for a week. But I digress, Becky was totally up for a little food themed celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

As I looked over the recipe, I realized it could use a little modification for your average joe grad student who stays at the lab way too many hours in a day. In fact, the same modification would work well for your average  Joe or Jill who works a long day on the job but wants a tasty dinner. Got a crockpot? You're in for a tasty treat.

Carnita ready to eat!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fourth of July, Blue and White: Blueberry Pie

Yesterday's post was all about the U.S. flag with special emphasis on the red and white. I mentioned that the white stars on the blue background were meant to represent a constellation. The early leaders meant this to symbolize our country's place as a sovereign power. Today's blueberry pie is constellation-esque with its white pastry stars in the blueberry "sky".

I actually made this pie for a friend's bday party. Her birthday falls in December around Christmas when no one is around so we celebrated her birthday early as a surprise in July! I wasn't quite sure how it would come out but I was thrilled with the result.

Blueberry Pie

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fourth of July, Red and White: Cherry Pie

When I think about the Fourth of July, I can't help but reflect on the U.S. flag and the soldiers who have died to keep our nation free and united. Its common for red, white and blue decorations and foods to pop up during Independence Day picnics. Its less common to consider why those colors were chosen to represent our nation. While a lot of rumors roll about our flag, the official decisions about the U.S. flag were that it have 13 stripes. (One stripe for each of the colonies which joined the union to fight in the Revolutionary War.) Further the original flag was to have a union of all the colonies in the form of white stars in a blue field symbolizing a new constellation. As the Great Seal of the U.S. was designed they tied flag themes into the seal, including the red and white stripes of the colonies and the union of the white stars on a blue field. White was stated to represent purity and innocence; blue signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice; and red represents hardiness and valor.

That's a lot to ask of three colors. Its a lot to consider that these patriots had such high ideals of what they wanted our nation to become. I wonder what they would think to see some of the trifles we quarrel over and if there would be issues we take as "normal" that they would find a higher priority in changing. Thinking about it all doesn't make me want to make some huge promise to myself that I could never complete. It doesn't make me say...Let's all stop poverty, injustice, etc...I can't do that. Its a bigger issue than me. We don't live in a perfect world but we can all help in some form of service to our neighborhood, community, local schools, etc. Seeing their high ideals makes me feel more driven to find ways to help in my community in a more focused way. Maybe that seems small...but its something. I've actually spent some time looking into ways to help out in my surrounding community over the last few weeks. Thinking about these things reminds me that there's an area garden that supports a children's home in my area that needs people to just come and pick vegetables. I can go and pick vegetables. Its not an every day thing, but its a need that happens to be something I can do. I love gardening. If you're in Winston-Salem and want to go picking veggies at the Children's Home, let me know.

Red and white: hardiness and valor, purity and innocence.

Red and white: cherry pie.