Green Risotto

green-risottoLike most of us in the states, my cultural heritage is mixed. I’ve got Italian from my dad, and Irish (and a bunch of other things) from Mom. So what better way to celebrate St. Patricks day than to mix the two together.

I took risotto, a very Italian dish, made it green, and added beer. The green comes from a peppery bite of baby arugula, with a dollop of basil pesto from the freezer. If you don’t have any pesto don’t fret – some chopped fresh herbs will make a delicious substitution. Use a light colored beer, like a Blue Moon or Hoegaarten, so preserve the color of the rice. Serve hot, with the rest of the 6-pack to wash it down!

Green-Risotto-2Green Risotto

1 T. butter
2 shallots, finely minced
2-3 garlic, minced
1 c. risotto rice (like arborio or carnaroli)
1 c. light colored beer
3 or more c. water or stock
2 T. pesto, or chopped fresh herbs
a few large handfuls of arugula, finely chopped
1-2 T. creme fraiche, sour cream, or cold butter
sea salt to taste

garnish with toasted pine nuts (or almonds) and a shaving of parmesan

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pot or skillet over medium heat. Cook the shallots for a few minutes, then add the garlic and a few pinches of salt. Once the shallots become soft, stir in the rice to coat in butter. Let this cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes, until the rice becomes translucent around the edges.

Pour in the beer, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen anything stuck to the bottom. Simmer until most of the beer is gone, and you can drag a wooden spoon through the rice and the liquid doesn’t fill in the trail. You may have to play with the heat to keep it softly simmering, but not boiling – you don’t want too much liquid to evaporate.

Once the beer is mostly gone, add water or stock, a 1/2 c. at a time, stirring frequently and waiting until the last bit has simmered away before adding the next bit. When the rice is almost done, but still firm and a tiny bit chalky when you bite into it, stir in the pesto. If you’re using fresh herbs wait – and stir them in with the arugula.

About 20 minutes and 3 – 4 cups of liquid later, your rice should be done. It should be tender, but still a little firm to the bite. Remove from heat and stir in the creme fraiche and arugula until the greens wilt. Taste and add salt if necessary, enough to make the flavors pop. This will vary depending on whether you used water or stock, and pesto or herbs. Serve topped with the parmesan and pine nuts.

serves 3-4 as a main, 6 as a side

Perfect Guacamole

perfect-guacamole

I usually prefer to purchase my produce from the local farmer’s market. However, avocados don’t grow in these parts, and a girl can’t live without a little avocado on occasion.

So, for a treat, I made myself some guacamole for New Year’s Eve, to go alongside a few Grapefruit Margaritas. I know you may disagree with me on this, but in my humble opinion, the perfect guacamole needs just 5 ingredients: avocado, lime, cilantro, garlic and salt. No crunchy raw onions for my tongue to stumble upon, and definitely no hard, watery greenhouse tomatoes to chew on. And even though many Latin foods are spicy – my perfect guac is a cooling refreshment, to balance the rest of the meal.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you the exact ratios of all these ingredients. Avocados are different sizes, some limes are juicier than others, and salt is definitely not just salt. So, you’ll have to taste as you go. Start with the least amount of lime, garlic and salt, then taste and add – taste and add – until the flavor just explodes in your mouth.

perfect-guacamole-2

Perfect Guacamole

2 avocados
juice of 1/2 a lime (give or take)
a small handful of cilantro, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, or part of a big one (to start out with, then taste and add more as needed)
fine grain sea salt to taste

Cut the avocados in half, take out the seed, then scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl. Pour in some lime juice and add the cilantro. Mash it a bit with a fork, leaving plenty of big chunks.

Finely mince the garlic, then sprinkle the salt on top. Using the side of your chef’s knife, mash the garlic and salt into a paste. Add the paste to the avocado mixture and stir well. Taste. If it needs a little tang, add more lime. If it needs to bite a bit more, add some garlic. And if it just tastes watery and flat, you need more salt. Keep adding and tasting until you get the perfect guacamole.

serves 2

Grapefruit Margarita

grapefruit-margaritaNew Year’s Eve in New York City. That’s just one too many “new’s” for me. Instead of going out  to a packed Manhattan bar or party, drinking ’til 3 a.m., then waiting an hour for the subway to take me home, I’m spending this new year’s at a small friendly gathering – whipping up a few grapefruit margaritas and some perfect guacamole (recipe to come). I’ll (hopefully) have only a few drinks, make it home at a reasonable hour, and be all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to start the year 2013.

The days of making all sorts of resolutions has passed me by. I figure that if I really want to change something, I don’t have to wait for the new year to do it. Every day is equally ripe for transformation. That being said, I’m really hoping to work on being more mindful, living in the now, from now on. Wish me luck.

These margaritas are very simple to put together, not too sweet and not too full of liquor. I’m a bit of a lightweight (but don’t go telling all the cute boys what a cheap drunk I am!). Feel free to add a bit more tequila (or triple sec or Cointreau) if you prefer a boozier drink.

grapefruit-margarita-2

Grapefruit Margarita

1 juicy grapefruit
3 limes
agave nectar to taste
3 oz. tequila (about 1/3 c.)
to serve: a few tablespoons of sugar (coconut sugar’s great if you have it), or salt, and some ice cubes

Juice the grapefruit and two of the limes (it’s ok if some pulp gets in, just avoid the seeds). Add a little agave to make it as sweet as you like. I like mine fairly tart, I used about a teaspoon. Cut the third lime into wedges.

Pour a little sugar on a small plate. Take a lime wedge and run it along the rim of your serving glass. Dip the rim into the sugar. Place the ice cubes in the glass, then pour in half the tequila. Top with half the juice. Repeat the process for the second drink.

serves 2

p.s. – here’s a little preview of the next post

perfect-guacamole-2

 

Homemade Curry Powder

Curry-Powder

This year I celebrated an early, low-key Christmas, with beaches, pizza and presents. While the rest of the world went crazy worrying about what to wear and take to another fancy party, rushing around for last minute presents, or making sure the holidays go smoothly for their family – I was relaxing in my Dad’s hot tub, in his small, Southwest Florida town. I highly recommend it.

During the gift-giving festivities, I realized that I was more excited to see if everyone liked the presents I got them than seeing what was under the tree for me. I’m pretty sure that makes me an official adult now. That being said, I did receive a few pretty things for this space – as you can see from the photos. The enamelware measuring spoons are so classy, and this small handmade wooden spoon from a woodworker in Brooklyn just melts in your hand. I wish you could feel it. Lovely. There are a few more gems that will be popping up here in the next few weeks, I’m very excited to share (again – how adult of me).

I’ve always wanted to make my own curry powder – it just seemed like a lot of work from something you can buy in a jar. Why buy 8 spices and spend time mixing them together when you can just buy the one jar? Well, I finally found out. Freshly toasting and grinding your curry makes all the difference in the world. The taste is extraordinary. So bright and flavorful I may never go back to buying my curry powder again.

Many of these spices are easy to find in bulk at a health food store – which is what I recommend. You can purchase a small amount of each, guaranteeing that they remain fresh, and saving some cash. Just make sure you shop somewhere with a high turnover. Stored in a jar with your spices, this curry powder will stay at the height of freshness for a few weeks, after that it may lose some of it’s zing. You’re still welcome to use it – it won’t kill ya – it’ll just taste like the stuff you buy at the grocery store.

spices

Homemade Curry Powder

1 scant T. coriander seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. peppercorns
1 tsp. tumeric
1/2 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more for extra spicy)

Combine the coriander, cumin, fenugreek and mustard seeds in a small skillet over medium heat. Toast for a few minutes, until fragrant and just starting to pop. Careful not to burn them.

Transfer to a spice grinder and add the peppercorns, tumeric, ginger and red pepper flakes and grind into a fine powder. Store in a tightly sealed jar.

makes 1/4 cup

Curry-Powder-2

Creamy Soft Scrambled Eggs

Do you really need a recipe for scrambled eggs? Probably not (or maybe you do – no judgement), but hear me out. With my (everybody’s) crazy schedule in December, I’ve been cooking less big recipes and more quick, on-the-fly meals. One of my favorite standbys is eggs. Scrambled is my favorite, but I don’t normally keep milk in the house, and every good scramble requires at least a splash of milk. So I improvise. And since I’ve been doing this for quite some time – I have a few tips for making my favorite, perfect scrambled egg.

First, only buy eggs with an orange (or at least bright yellow) yolk. It really makes a big difference in flavor. Also, by cooking the eggs slowly over low heat and stirring the whole time, you get a very creamy, just barely set scramble. And finally, since I never can find a splash of milk when I need it, I substitute some creme fraiche – which I always have around.

When I have the time, I like to serve these babies with some yukon golds roasted with herbs de provence. Just cut the taters into chunks, mix with olive oil, salt and a shower of herbs, spread on a baking sheet and roast on 425 until they are soft and browned, giving them a flip on occasion. If you don’t have time for that – toast works too!

Creamy Soft Scrambled Eggs

a small knob of butter
2 good quality eggs
1-2 T. creme fraiche
pinch of salt
a few grinds on the pepper grinder
some chopped herbs for garnish (optional)

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium low. While you’re waiting, crack the eggs into a small bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and whisk. I use a fork. It’s ok if there are still big pieces of creme fraiche in there, just make sure the egg yolks are broken up.

Pour the eggs into the skillet and let them sit for about 30 seconds or a minute, until the bottom just starts to set. Using a wooden spoon, scrape along the bottom of the skillet to loosen the cooked eggs. Keep stirring and scraping the bottom until the eggs have just a tiny bit of liquid left, then turn off the heat.

Sprinkle with herbs if using, and serve with potatoes, toast, or whatever else you like for breakfast.

serves 1

p.s. – If you’re cooking for more people, just use this amount per person and mix everything together in the same bowl. You can cook it all at the same time, just be very diligent about getting everything up from the bottom of the pan as quick as you can.

 

Double Tomato Soup

Is it Winter yet? Not officially, I guess, but I’d argue that as soon as we get into the “Holiday Season”, it’s unofficially Wintertime. I’m not a big fan of cold weather, but I do love me some soup. You may have guessed, if we’ve been acquainted for long, that I eat soup pretty much all year round. This is my current favorite.

In the Chinese medicine point of view, Winter is associated with the element (or phase) of Water. And the kidneys are ruled by water. This is why you may have problems this time of year with things relating to your kidneys (and bladder), your lady or man parts, and your lower back (cause that’s where the kidneys hang out).  It’s important for everyone to stay warm, but if you tend towards any of these issues, you want to take extra care to keep your lower back covered all the time (tuck in that shirt!). Along these lines, the Kidney channel begins on the soles of your feet, so to keep your back from going out, I suggest buying a pair of warm slippers and never letting your feet get cold, because that cold travels straight up to your kidneys.

Another way to keep warm on the inside is eating warm things. This soup is great because you don’t need any super-perishable ingredients. You can keep everything around for weeks or even months most of it, and when you find yourself without and fresh veggies, you know you’ve got that can of tomatoes stashed away, just waiting to become tomato soup. The “double” tomato comes from sun-dried tomatoes, which you’ll want to keep packaged tightly so they don’t dry out. I also used some (optional) dried chilies, because they add another layer of depth to the flavor. You may find it strange to add bread to a soup, but I love the creaminess it adds without resorting to actual cream. I’ve been heating up the leftovers, and this is even better the next day. The dried tomatoes and chilies really give it a special earthy richness. It’s a keeper.

Double Tomato Soup

2-3 T, olive oil
1 onion, sliced
fine grain sea salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
2 slices of bread (any bread works, especially stale)
1/4 c. sun dried tomatoes (not the oil packed kind)
1 dried chili (optional – I used a large mild Aji chili, for more heat use a smaller, hotter chili like chipotle or chili de arbol)
3-4 c. vegetable stock
to garnish choose from: creme fraiche or sour cream, toasted almonds, olive oil drizzle, smoked paprika, cubed avocado, chopped basil or cilantro.

Heat the oil in a big pot over medium low. Add the onion, a pinch or two of salt and the sugar and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the bread, sundried tomatoes, chili, and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the sun dried tomatoes are soft.

Remove from heat and puree, either with an immersion blender (my fave, fast and easy way) or in batches in a blender or food processor.

To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with whatever your heart desires. I used creme fraishe, toasted almonds, smoked paprika and a drizzle of olive oil.

serves 4-6

Vanilla Coconut Popcorn

So, did you survive the biggest cooking day of the year? Anyone scald their arm or slice their finger wide open? I’ve been there – done that, but this Thanksgiving I remained safe and whole. And for that I am thankful.

If you’ve had your fill of cooking for the week, I won’t judge if you decide to just pop up some sweet and salty popcorn and call it lunch like I did (shh, don’t tell my mother…) In this super quick snack (meal?) I tossed stovetop popped corn with toasted coconut flakes and a honey/butter/vanilla drizzle. Vegans, I bet coconut oil and agave would be just as magnificent.

Vanilla Coconut Popcorn

1 T. coconut oil (or olive)
1/4 c. corn kernels
1/4 c. large flake coconut (if you can only find the finely flaked stuff, just use a little less)
2 T. butter (or more coconut oil)
2 T. honey (or agave)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
sea salt to taste

Heat the oil and 2 or 3 of the corn kernels in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium or medium high heat. When the kernels pop, add the rest of them to the pot and cover. Let them sit and they’ll begin to pop. Shake the pot every now and again and wait until you don’t hear any popping for about 10 seconds. Turn off the heat and let it sit and finish popping if it wants to.

Meanwhile, place the coconut in a small skillet over medium low. Toast the flakes until they turn a bit brown and fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Don’t let them burn! Set them aside.

In the same skillet, heat the butter until melted. Add the honey and vanilla and stir to combine. When it starts to bubble, turn off the heat.

To serve, combine the popcorn and coconut in a bowl, and pour the butter mixture over. Salt to taste. Feel free to double the recipe for a family movie night.

serves 2 for a snack (or one if it’s lunch…)

Cremini Buckwheat Risotto

“Risotto” is one of my favorite dishes to make. Maybe it’s because it’s endlessly adaptable. Or because it can be made into a one-pot meal. It could also just be the wine. In any case, I’ve really been into experimenting with different grains, veggies, and ways to add creaminess to my endless pots of semi-risotto.

This incarnation turned out to be really unique and delicious, and I thought I should share. Buckwheat is not actually wheat at all, but a gluten-free whole grain that cooks quickly and releases some starch as it breaks down – perfect for working in a little risotto-like creaminess.

Then are the cremini mushrooms. Button or baby bella ‘shrooms could work here, too, just make sure they are the freshest of the fresh. I buy my mushrooms whole, with some dirt still attached, and having never touched a wisp of plastic wrap. If you can only find the packaged kind, transfer them directly to a paper bag upon entering your home. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to eat them, and then just wipe them clean with a damp towel. They don’t like being drenched with water. Also, I’m not a big fan of the stems of any mushroom. I know they are edible (except shiitake – don’t eat those stems) but the texture is more dense, so I take them off. Just grab the stem right near the cap and gently wiggle it back and forth a few times, it should pop right out.

Cremini Buckwheat Risotto

2 T. butter, divided
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (button or baby bella work, too)
fine grain sea salt
3 leeks, white and light green part, sliced into thin half moons
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. buckwheat (or it’s toasted sister, kasha)
1 c. white wine or beer
2-3 c. warm water or stock
2 T. creme fraiche, plus more for garnish
chopped parsley (optional) for garnish

Melt 1 T. butter in a heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan over medium low. Add the mushrooms and a generous pinch of salt, and toss to coat in the butter. These guys soak up a lot of fat, so toss them quick, but don’t be too worried if some seem dry at first. After a few minutes they will start to release their liquid. Let the mushrooms keep cooking until most of the liquid is gone, then remove them from the pot and set aside.

Melt the other tablespoon of butter in the same pot. Add the leeks and cook for about 10 minutes, until they are very soft and maybe a little brown. Add the buckwheat, garlic, and a few more pinches of salt, and let cook a couple more minutes.

Pour in the wine or beer and bring to just a simmer. Stir around a lot until most of the liquid is gone. Add in 1/2 cup to 1 cup water or stock; keep stirring and adding more liquid when it disappears. You need to keep an eye out on the “bubbly-ness” of the liquid. It should stay at a quiet simmer, not too bubbly, but also not still. Keep adjusting the heat as needed to achieve this. Eventually the buckwheat will become tender. Start checking for doneness after you’ve added 2 cups of liquid, keeping in mind you may need to add another cup or more.

Once the buckwheat is tender, take it off the heat. Stir in the creme fraiche, then fold in the mushrooms. Taste, and add more salt if necessary (if you used water, you may need to add up to a teaspoon of salt). Garnish with the parsley and a few small dollops of the creme fraiche.

serves 4

Avocado Pasta

Ever had one of those days when you’re just too tired to cook, but you’re sick of take out? Or maybe you can’t afford to go out to eat, and you’re way too busy for that stuff anyways? Enter – the psudo recipe. We all need a few super quick and easy recipes under our belts. The type you can put together with just a few ingredients, and alter to whatever’s about to go bad in the fridge. Something that takes about as much time as boiling water, and probably less than waiting for the take-out guy to arrive.

That’s what this recipe is to me. There’s always pasta. I love me some avocado. And garlic, well, we can’t live without it can we? (Well, I suppose technically we could – but why would anyone want to?) Other than that, this meal has contained everything from leftover black beans and some corn, to shoyu and toasted sesame oil. Many times it has a sprinkling of fresh herbs, or maybe a handful of greens. And the seasonings change depending on my mood.

So think of this more as an idea than a recipe. Have fun with it, play around with it, and make it snappy!

Avocado Pasta

enough pasta for 1 (this time around I used gluten-free corn-quinoa shells)
a few tablespoons of pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
a glug of olive oil – or be decadent and use avocado oil
a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, minced
a few pinches of sea salt
a few pinches of chile powder
half an avocado, cubed
a little grated cheddar (optional, but do yourself a favor and buy a block of good quality stuff and grate it yourself)

Boil water in a pot. Add the pasta and cook according to the box instructions. When using gluten-free pasta, it’s sooo important not to overcook it. I know it says that right on the box, but I’ve experienced first hand what happens when you don’t, so please, believe them. Drain the pasta when it’s done and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium heat, toast the pepitas until just fragrant and starting to pop. Remove from skillet and set aside. Now heat the oil in the same skillet. Add the tomatoes and cook for a minute or two, until just barely starting to release liquid. Then add the garlic, salt and chile powder and stir to combine. When the tomatoes are starting to lose their shape, they are done.

I use my pasta-making pot to mix everything together. But whatever you use, mix the pasta with the tomato mixture, then add the avocado and gently fold it in. Garnish with the cheese and pumpkin seeds.

serves 1

Un-stuffed Peppers

Some days are full of new experiences. But other times it’s all about nostalgia. Today’s a nostalgia day.

When I was a junior in college I decided that I REALLY wanted to pierce my belly button. So I convinced a friend to drive down to the best piercing parlor in the area. When we got there, the nice man at the front desk informed me that I didn’t have enough fat to pierce (don’t hate me, I’ve since gained the fat…) and he was afraid he might pierce an organ. So, no belly button ring for me.

And, along the nostalgia lines, this un-stuffed pepper recipe is one of the first things I started making when I became vegetarian, all those years ago. I wish I could remember the cookbook it came out of and give credit where it’s due, but alas, the actual recipe is  long gone and all that remains is the idea: slice bell peppers in half, lay them close together and pour and sprinkle lots of yummy stuff over them. Served alongside some rice or quinoa, they employ all the ingredients of stuffed peppers, but without the hassle of actually stuffing them.

So, back to those belly buttons. For those who aren’t familiar with acupuncture, it is based on a series of meridians that run along the surface of the body. One of the meridians is called the Conception Vessel, and it runs along the middle of the abdomen and chest. And yes, it is linked to, among other things,fertility (in men and women). So, if you have any concern about fertility, or any other matters below the belt, best to take out that belly button ring!

Un-stuffed Peppers

2 large bell peppers (any color, but I obviously used red)
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 T. capers, chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1/2 c. shredded mozzarella, or other melty cheese
1/4 c. breadcrumbs (I used whole wheat panko)
2 T. olive oil
1 c. quinoa

Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the peppers in half, take out the stems and seeds, and lay, cut side down, in a baking dish that they just fit into in a single layer. Sprinkle the garlic, capers, thyme, pepper flakes and salt evenly over the peppers, then the cheese, then the breadcrumbs. Pour the olive oil over the whole thing. Slide the dish into the oven and cook for about 30 minutes. The cheese and breadcrumbs should be browned, and the peppers soft, but still retain some structure.

While the peppers cook, combine the quinoa and 2 cups of water in a heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the quinoa is soft and the water is gone.

Spread some quinoa on a plate and top with a pepper slice or two.

serves 2-3