Monday, June 29, 2009

Butternut Squash Risotto

(Note on the photo: I took this photo after the risotto had been sitting out for a while; it was actually much moister in person. (heh.) (sorry. can't help it.))
This dish is probably more appropriate for winter, rather than the steamingly hot Yorkshire summer day we had yesterday. OMG you guys! It was 85 degrees! That's, like, SUMMER! I haven't had one of those since I lived in South Carolina. Sorry, Alaskans - 70 degrees is not summer, no matter how pretty it is. Talk to me when you need to take another shower the minute you step outside.

The well-written and homey is my source for this one-dish vegetarian meal. My husband was skeptical - it's vegetarian, it involves...squash...and...did I mention the squash? But he took one bite and made a noise that prompted me to check and make sure there were no Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions lying around.

Risotto is labor-intensive but not particularly time-consuming. The hardest part for me was figuring out how to "finely dice" a butternut squash. I had to microwave the dang thing just to get it soft enough to the point where I could cut it without a Sawzall - and then the bits were too hot to handle well. Also: how does one go about peeling a butternut squash with any success? There are several web sites devoted to this theme (here's one), but unfortunately I'd already grabbed the knife by the...handle...and proceeded apace, so what I got was a bit of a hacked-up mess. My sins admitted and forgiveness requested, I actually think it turns out better to have up to a 1/2 inch dice on your butternut squash, rather than fine-dicing. As my husband pointed out, he likes to be able to identify what he's eating. Also: if you don't get all the peel off, it won't kill you. I promise.

Also a time-saver: I used frozen diced onions. But I don't know if I'd do that again - the onions really should be finely chopped - I can't say the risotto didn't taste great, but I think the idea is to minimize the impact of other textures and flavors. There's not even any garlic in this recipe! The horror!

One thing I did not skimp on is vegetable stock - I actually made my own. Making vegetable stock is ridiculously easy, but it takes about an hour, so if you want to go that route instead of using pre-bought chicken or veggie stock, budget the time for it. There's a great, easy-to-follow recipe on - but the short answer is:

  • cut up a couple of onions, carrots, celery stalks (minus the leaves), peppercorns, and a whole bulb of garlic (with cloves peeled)
  • toss, along with maybe some potato scraps or leftover veggie peelings, into a big ol' pot with a bunch of water
  • bring to a boil
  • turn down the heat to low and let simmer for an hour (not too much longer, or the stock will taste...wilted)
  • strain and use.
Risotto Ingredients:
6-8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
5 T. unsalted butter, divided into 4 T. and 1 T.
1 small onion, finely chopped (ha!)
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and finely diced (whatever.)
2 cups arborio rice (can substitute medium-grain white rice, but you should use arborio. It will make you feel chic and sophisticated. Or at least poorer.)
1 cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc (I think I used a Pinot Grigio - it was el cheapo)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 T. chopped chives or garlic chives*
Salt to taste
  • Heat your stock or broth up on a burner turned way down low, just to keep it warm.
  • Melt 4 T. of butter in a large saucepan; add onion and butternut squash. Cook over medium heat until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add rice to onion and squash. Cook 1-2 minutes. Add wine. Cook, stirring constantly until wine has been absorbed by the rice or evaporated. This will make your kitchen smell like the back-end of a bar, but I'm tellin' you, it's worth it.
  • Add a few ladles of stock, just enough to barely cover the rice. Cook over medium heat until broth has been absorbed.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat - keep adding stock and stirring and waiting 'til the moisture's absorbed, adding a little bit at a time...cook..stir....cook...stir....etc. until the rice is tender but still firm. This should take about 15-20 minutes.
  • During the last couple of minutes of cooking, add that remaining tablespoon of butter, about 1/3 cup Parmesan, your chives, and salt to taste (I used about a teaspoon of kosher salt).
  • At this point the rice should have a creamy consistency. I'm not even going to bother attempting an off-color joke with that one - it's too easy.
  • Serve with remaining grated Parmesan.
*Looking back over this recipe and the results, I think I would add another herb besides or instead of chives - chives kind of get lost in the taste, to me - but maybe that's because I used dried chives (which I don't recommend, btw - they taste like pencil shavings, only less aromatic). Maybe a wee bit of dill? Thyme? If anyone makes this recipe, let me know the herbs you used. It needs something colorful, that's for sure.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

breaking through a blogging rut, and blogging last night's dinner: the shake n' bake edition

So I got my knickers all in a wad these last few weeks because I developed blogger's anxiety. No, that's not in the DSMIV, but I contend that it should be diagnosable - that dreaded feeling of having nothing worthwhile to say really turns a girl off of sharing her innermost thoughts about pork products (nom.) or rhubarb (possibly nom.) or cauliflower (ew). I kept thinking, who'd want to read my meanderings about cooking? I'm nothing special when it comes to the kitchen. There are millions - possibly billions - of people the world over who are better cooks than I. I'm inexperienced at best; I make lots of mistakes. I don't know things that other cooks learned in their cribs. You know - like how to boil an egg.*

But then, the words started getting bottled up and I had a couple of minor culinary successes and I started to re-evaluate why I started this blog in the first place. So let me set some things straight, just for my own amusement if nothing else:

I didn't start this blog because I'm good at cooking. I'm sharing the process that I'm undergoing because I'm relatively novice at the ol' applying-heat-and-chemistry-to-food-substances thing, and each day really is kind of a discovery. I'm going to make mistakes and give you the chance to laugh at me. I'm going to act all excited over a "discovery" that you might have learned when you were three. I'm going to use substitute ingredients; I'm going to use short-cuts. I may even use the microwave occasionally.

And I'm going to write about it. And people might read it, or they might not. They might get bored or disgusted and wander off to go do something more productive with their days.
And that's okay.

Because I'm not writing this for anyone but myself.

That was an important realization - or reminder - for me.

So, as Ellen DeGeneres says, "Aaanywaayyy..." Now that we've got the Manifesto out of the way...Last night, I fixed a pretty amazing meal. Oven-fried buttermilk chicken breasts, fried potatoes, and Brussels sprouts.

This is my favorite bald guy, trying to parse out what was in that amazing chicken:
It was fairly easy - the whole meal was done in about half an hour, minus the sittin' time for the poultry.

Chicken Ingredients:
A couple or three boneless skinless chicken breasts
About 1/2 c. buttermilk
A few tablespoons of cornmeal
1 T. salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper
1/2 t. each (or to taste) paprika, garlic powder, cumin, fenugreek, cayenne pepper (go easy on that one)
1 T. fresh rosemary, finely chopped (or 1/2 T. dried)
1 T. fresh thyme, finely chopped (or 1/2 T. dried)
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees (about 180 C)
  • Plop the chicken breasts in a bowl or something and pour the buttermilk over them. Let them sit for about half an hour, stewing in the buttermilk. I don't know WHY it works, but it makes the chicken breasts nice and tender and moist (insert inappropriate joke about breasts here).
  • When you're ready to cook, combine all ingredients from cornmeal down in a bowl that's big enough to scoot the chicken breasts around in.
  • Kinda shake the excess buttermilk off each breast and dredge the chicken around in the cornmeal seasonings. Put yer now-coated breasts (heh) in a baking dish of some description (darker pans require shorter cooking time, so be careful. I used a 9x13 pyrex baking dish). You might want to spray the pan with PAM or some grease equivalent to keep 'em from sticking.
  • Stick the chicken in the oven for 20 minutes. Then flip 'em over and bake for another 10-15 minutes (approx. time based on my experience with a convection oven - for food safety, check your chicken's internal temperature with a meat thermometer; it should register no less than 165 degrees. Food temperature information can be found at the USDA's web site).
  • Nice, crispy-on-the-outside, tender-and-moist-on-the-inside chicken breasts are now yours!
Potatoes Ingredients:
Uh, potatoes. I used Jersey Royals new potatoes, but use whatever waxy, not-too-flaky potatoes you want (in other words, steer clear of the giant Russet baking potatoes, because those will just fall apart). I used 6 smallish (child's fist size) potatoes, and it fed 2 people pretty well.
3 T. all-purpose flour
salt, pepper, a little chili powder if you're feeling bold, mebbe some herbs, but not too much (I used zahtar, because it's one of my favorite "secret" ingredients) - about 1/4-1/2 T. each
About 2 T. olive oil (a couple of swirls around the skillet)
Spray oil or an extra T or two of olive oil
  • Wash your potatoes and scrub any little unpleasant bits off. Poke a couple of holes in each with a fork and microwave those suckers until just tender - about 2:30 or thereabouts.
  • While the potatoes are sizzling and whining away in the nuke-box, mix your flour and seasonings in a bowl big enough to accommodate the cut-up taters.
  • When the potatoes have finished cooking, remove them carefully and cut until 1/2 inch chunks (you need asbestos-coated fingers for this, or just be patient and wait 'til they've cooled off a little)
  • Heat your skillet to medium-high heat and add your olive oil.
  • Spray the cut potatoes with oil - or toss gently in a bowl with the extra olive oil, depending on your preference.
  • Toss those greasy potatoes in the flour mixture, just to coat.
  • I then (and this is an extra step born of expediency that you may not need to do) dumped the coated potatoes in a sieve/colander, just to get the extra floury bits off of them, so it didn't all end up in the frying pan.
  • Dump the taters in the pan, and cook over medium-high heat until nicely browned - about 10 minutes.
Brussels sprouts:
Simplest thing in the world. I used frozen Brussels sprouts. Steam them (about 8 minutes) until just tender and bright green, and toss with butter, about 2 T. balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
Bingbamboom dinner.

*So about this boiled egg thing. Ever since I moved to England, I've had serious trouble getting eggs to boil so that the shells are easy to remove. I end up with eggs that look like they had an unfortunately bad case of teenage acne that left them pockmarked and socially awkward. I've tried many recipes - starting from cold water, plunging them into boiling water, bringing the pot to a boil and then turning it off and letting it sit, adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the water...all of those things, and STILL shells that refuse to peel off genteelly. I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't the eggs I'm buying or something - I don't remember having this trouble back in the States. If anyone has any thoughts about stubborn boiled egg-shells, lemme know. I'd be most grateful.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Blueberry Lemon Loaf

Yeah, sure. I don't bake. Unless, as mentioned before in the short little annals of this blog, I'm feeling social anxiety.

So, dear Reader, what the hell do you get somebody for a birthday present that you don't know very well? Personally, I bake. Because it's a) (more or less) guaranteed to please (if it turns out okay. And if you don't include known allergens); b) it's inexpensive; and c) it takes time and energy, which, in my mind, is one of the better presents you can give someone.

So I brought this recipe to a recent shindig. I think it went over okay, once the birthday girl got over her confusion over getting a loaf of bread...hrm...

Beranbaum, Rose Levy. The Cake Bible. William Morrow & Company, Inc. New York: 1988
Bon Appetit Magazine, August 1991
Joy of - recipe tweaked by Stephanie Jaworski

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (just nuke it 10 seconds or so)
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 t. pure vanilla extract (I bumped it up to 1 t. at least)
1 T. grated lemon zest
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon glaze:
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 t. Cointreau, vanilla extract, or brandy (optional)

Preheat yer oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter (or spray with a non-stick oil spray) the bottom and sides of a loaf pan (9x5x3 inch, or 23x13x8 cm, for you Metricheads out there). Set aside. Don't let the cat lick it. EW.

I read in another recipe a recommendation to cut a piece of parchment or wax paper to fit the bottom of your loaf pan. I did that, but I didn't see that there was any real point to it. But if you feel like being uber-conscientious about getting the loaf out of the pan, you could try it. I found that tip here.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a little bowl, dump your blueberries and a couple of small handfuls of flour and gently toss the blueberries 'til they're coated with flour. This (supposedly) helps keep your blueberries from sinking to the bottom of your bread - thus avoiding the dreaded Blueberry Bottom, which is a deeply embarrassing personal problem. Just ask Violet Beauregarde.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, or with really good arm muscles, beat the butter until softened (about 1 minute). Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest. Add the flour mixture a little handful at a time; between handfuls, add the milk a little at a time - you want to make sure that the flour's totally incorporated, but you don't want to OVERbeat, because then your bread will be tough. And then you'll have to cough up bail money and get it into rehab and pay for its psychotherapy and drive it to group work, and who wants that for anyone's bread, really.

Gently fold in the blueberries - use a plastic spatula or something. You don't want to squish the blueberries too much.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 55 to 65 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (or just slightly besmirched with blueberry guts, but not bready bits).

Meanwhile (back at the ranch), in a small saucepan, bring the 1/3 cup of sugar and hte 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and your little dash of something extra (if you choose to use Cointreau or almond or vanilla extract or whatever) to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

When the bread is done, remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Pierce the hot loaf all over with a toothpick or a leftover chopstick from Chinese take-out or some other pointy bit and then brush the top of the loaf with the hot lemon glaze. Cool the loaf in the pan for about 30 minutes and then remove from the pan to let cool completely on the wire rack.

As with the banana bread recipe I posted earlier, this recipe is very forgiving - you could add nuts, extra flavoring, etc. It takes about 20 minutes with the preparations, plus baking time, so you can have delicoius and not-very-good-for-you cakey-bread pretty quickly. And it makes you look like a jeen-u-wine bakerperson. Yay!