Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A love affair with Risotto

One of my favorite things about risotto is that it is already Gluten Free... I, know, it's awesome, right? I remember trying risotto in a restaurant in my late teens/early twenties and I remember not liking it... I blame the fact that my taste buds were still not mature enough for the complexity of flavors within risotto... It was the period when I thought Boone's Farm was the greatest alcoholic beverage... Yeah, I know, it wasn't the best time in my life...

A couple of years ago, I decided to try and make a semi-fancy dish for dinner with Aaron. I had tried Chicken Marsala at restaurants and it was OK (I have historically not approved of mushrooms in my diet) and I decided to try to make it myself (found Tyler Florence's recipe online... google it, if you are interested)... After all, if I didn't like the mushrooms, Aaron could eat them like he does in the restaurants... I couldn't remember what they served the Chicken Marsala with and I had just watched the "Good Eats" episode where Alton made risotto (how wrong is it that "Good Eats" is off the air? I could so totally use his help in understanding the science when converting my favorite recipes to GF options). I decided to try it...

My favorite thing about risotto? You don't really need a recipe... Nope... You don't... Oh, sure, you can use one for ideas on what to do and strictly measure the ingredients and what not - but you don't NEED to... Seriously... All you need is (1) the RIGHT kind of rice - Arborio, (2) some aromatics (onions, garlic, etc), (3) some kind of wine/alcohol (whatever you have - white, red, marsala, etc), (4) another cooking liquid,and (5) your choice of flavor options. That's it... Really...It is the process that matters, not what you put in it.

I have a container of Arborio rice in my pantry JUST for making risotto - you can't exchange it for long grain or jasmine rice. The Arborio rice has more starch and, as it cooks, the extra starch will break down into a nice thick sauce that lovingly coats the rice grains. If you try to cook Arborio rice like you would regular white rice, you will end up with a sticky, gummy, lumpy, rice ball that is not at all appetizing... Save the Arborio for risotto.

The MOST IMPORTANT STEP is to preheat your liquid choice. You generally want to let a pot of it simmer on the stove somewhere near your risotto pot. You can use any kind of stock (chicken, beef, vegetable, mushroom, seafood stock etc). You DO NOT want to use water - it will not impart any flavor to the rice... and you don't want to end up with bland rice, do you? It helps to have a ladle in the pot of liquid to make it easier to add to the rice when you need it. I've also added dried herbs to the simmering liquid, to add more flavor to the rice... You don't have to, but you can.

Once you have your liquid simmering, the risotto starts out with the aromatics sauteing in some oil (I use olive). Depending on how big of a batch you want to make, adjust your aromatic/oil ratio... When I make a single serving of risotto, I use about 1/4 cup (or less) of finely chopped onion (and maybe a little garlic, if I'm feeling adventurous) and about a tablespoon or so of oil.Some recipes call for shallots... Use whatever you want. Once the aromatics cook down a little bit, then you add some rice (about 1/3 cup for a single serving - I just eyeball it) and let it get coated with the oil and aromatics (If you've ever made Rice-a-Roni, it's the same idea as the first step for it). Saute the rice for a minute or two and then add enough of the alcohol to cover the rice. Start stirring... You will stir this pot for the forseeable future... I hope you didn't have any plans...

When the liquid from the alcohol absorbs and you can start to see the dry bottom of the pot when you move your wooden spoon through it, you are ready to add your first ladle of the hot liquid... Keep stirring... Repeat these two steps until the rice is cooked through (some prefer al dente) and you have a nice "gravy" - If you stop stirring for anything longer than about 5-10 seconds, your rice will burn and you will need to start over (speaking from personal experience here)... The stirring process helps to develop the starch to make the sauce, so it is important...

You can now add whatever else you want to the rice... want some cheese and veggies in there? Parmesan and asparagus tips (already partially cooked) can be folded in. I've seen peas and sauteed mushrooms as another possibility... Really, the kind of risotto is only really limited by what YOU want to put in it. Using red wine and beef broth, you would have a great companion for a beef dish. Marsala wine, parmesan, and italian parsley make a good side dish to Chicken Marsala... If you are so inclined, I've heard shrimp is a good additive to the risotto, but you'll probably want to add it a bit earlier in the cooking process to make sure it cooks all the way. Hmmm... I wonder if you can make an asian version by using sake and a soy sauce seasoned chicken broth...

The only thing I don't like about making risotto is all the stirring... I get tied to my stove for at least 30 minutes while making the risotto just because it has to be stirred all. the. time.... I usually don't put much stock in those "as seen on TV" products (look! You can cut a tomato!) but I think one of those Stir Crazy Robotic Stirrer thingies might be on my Christmas list this year... I'll still be tied to my kitchen, but by not having to stir the risotto (only adding liquid when needed), it frees me up to make the main dish to go with it... Then, I can have risotto more often! As much as I love the stuff, the constant stirring usually prevents me from having the time to cook it - you can't exactly read textbooks while making it...

Monday, July 23, 2012

She's Crashing! I need a pan of Brownies! STAT!

After the day I had today, anyone would understand why I NEEDED chocolate... You know, that base NEED that if you don't get it in the forseeable future, you will drop down dead... OK, maybe I'm being a little over-dramatic, but I don't care... I had a REALLY CRAPPY Monday and I NEEDED chocolate... (not to be confused with the days where I NEED a margarita... those are reserved for a different kind of day and a different post altogether).

I love my Mother-In-Law... She has become my personal shopper when it comes to my challenge of going Gluten-Free. She constantly sends care packages, and each time, there is something new for me to try. Well, this particular item has been sitting on my shelf in my pantry, mostly because I haven't had time to bake for a while... Didn't really have time for it today, but, you know, I needed the chocolate...

Vegetable Oil, Egg Replacer, Brownie Mix, Vanilla, and Water!

I almost cried because I didn't have my usual egg replacement options for the brownie mix (the only applesauce in the house has cinnamon in it... I wasn't feeling adventurous)... and then I remembered that she sent me a box of egg replacer when she sent the brownie mix. Somehow, the jar (it HAD to be repackaged - long story) got shuffled to the back of my cabinet and I forgot all about it... But, I found it and I had no excuse NOT to make brownies now!

I pretty much followed the directions on the box - except for replacing the melted butter with some vegetable oil and replacing the egg with the egg replacer mix. Oh, and I omitted the nuts, primarily because I don't have any (I AM a girl, ya know!).

What the ...?
I learned very quickly that my usual method of mixing brownies would NOT work with this mix... To be fair, it did call for the use of a hand mixer, but I, in my hubris, deemed it unnecessary... They knew what they were talking about... I have a VERY sturdy whisk and this THICK batter almost bent the wires back (I stopped before it could and I brought out the more appropriate tool for the job).

Much better...
Also courtesy of my MIL is my awesome brownie pan (that I forgot to grease ahead of time - again, not completely following the directions on the box). I had to use a paring knife to unstick the sides a little bit before I could unpan the brownies (but not too bad - the oil in the mix helped)... I got impatient (apparently I undercooked the brownies, but I don't care - I love them extra-fudgy) and served me up three... YES, three brownies... After a day like I had today, that is the requisite starting number... What was that? Brownies for dinner? Yes please!

I'll probably be so sick tomorrow........

PS - after 3 more brownies, my guilt got the better of me and I had to have "actual" dinner - I can't in good faith allow myself brownies for dinner and still call myself an adult... but I did, at least, have dessert first!

Baby Spinach, Orange Bell Peppers, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Green Onions, Parmesan, & a Balsamic Vinaigrette.
And if I haven't made myself clear by this point - the brownies DEFINITELY hit the spot!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More than just baby mush... NurturMe

Recently I ran across this company called NurturMe

You may be wondering why I was even interested in a baby food company as neither Jen or myself have any kids. Well, here's why. These things are good. So they sent out a little sample pack of the apple powder stuff. Nom Nom. 

Here's the awesome part. Those glass and plastic jar things that baby food comes in, they break. As in big giant mess. If you're me, about anything you carry around ends up in a mashed mess, likely in the deepest crevices of your purse. You never get it clean and never get the smell out. 

This company essentially makes dried fruit and veggie powder. It comes in these great little pouches that make the equivalent of one serving. Just add water and done. 

Now on to the really cool part and why a childless cook would love them, you can add these suckers to your recipes for USDA Certified Organic produce from smaller farms. Supporting the little guy, eating whole. And that's the point of this whole blog right? Good food with good friends. What better way to make friends than supporting them?! 

They even tout a good recipe page. Everything from pancakes to pasta. Remember when I squeezed in some squash to Jeff's venison gumbo? I can't remember if I told y'all that one. Well, now I can get the same effect, just without him noticing little chunks of yellow (note: remove the skin of squash when sneaking it in!). I just wrote a post today about some Banana Sugar Shortbread Cookies. Banana's out of season? Add in 2 pkgs of NurturMe and some extra water and done! 

We also bought a sampler pack to keep in our pantry. Here in MS we are rather known for bad storms. That one a few years ago, Katrina, yeah, that wasn't good. Having a few of these pouches around is a good idea for keeping up strength to fight zombies and all. 

More than anything, I just really like the company and product. No more worries about having food for your friends kids around. From the time they eat solid foods to age 4, this is like the one stop shop. My next thing to try is mixing it into a good 48 oz of water for some healthy nutrient packed flavored water. Those things you get to add into water are all gross and sugary. Lately I've been just boiling fruit with honey down to make syrup and mixing them together anyway. 

So do me a favor, just cruise around their website, check out their blog, and send me some ideas you have for using the packets in your every day food. Never know, I may even pick a post comment to reward handsomely. That's just the kind of giver I feel like today. 

Oh yeah, and Jen, they're all GF! 

Banana Sugar Shortbread Cookies

Ever have bananas sitting on the counter and they turn that putrid brown color? You know logically they're still really tasty and since they've had time to over ripen the sugar content is like WAY higher than normal, you just can't stomach to peel and eat slimy banana. Here's your solution! This is not egg or gluten free... sorry Jen! I gotta work more on those sorts of recipes. 

1 cup butter, softened but not soft (about 10 seconds in the microwave for 10 minutes on a counter)
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
2 extra ripe bananas
5-6 cups flour (depends on your environment)

I use my Kitchen Aid mixer for this one. Cream together with the beater blade the butter, bananas, sugar, and eggs. When it's sort of incorporated start adding flour, 1/2 cup at a time. It will reach the consistency of a wet dough when it has enough flour. Better at this stage to add too little than too much. The dough will stick to your finger when you touch it. That's just fine. 

Put it in a bowl, cover tightly with saran wrap, and refrigerate overnight. 

The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Flour a nice cool surface liberally and turn about half the dough out. Flour the top well and roll the dough about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick. Using your favorite cookie cutter (or a round glass if you don't have any), cut out cookies. Place on an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350F degrees for about 10-20 minutes. You need to watch them. The tops will not look very different but the bottoms will brown nicely to the color of creamed coffee. Use a spatula to lift a cookie up and check. They will solidify into a shortbread texture. If you made a hockey puck, you went too far. 

Remove from tray onto a clean dish towel on the counter. I don't like cooling racks. Basically because washing them is a PITA (pain in the ass). If you want to use a rack, be my guest. 

Let them cool until room temp. If you didn't sprinkle them already with some colored sugar or sprinkles, you can put some icing on them. Here is the one I like. 

Icing Ingredients
5 tbsp butter
5 tbsp shortening
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
3 tbsp milk
1 oz cream cheese

Cream butter, shortening, cream cheese, vanilla, and milk in your mixer with a whisk attachment. Get it nice and fluffy. 
Add in confectioners sugar slowly. 

Whip it, whip it good now. It should start to stand up and have some peaks. 

Add in any colorant. I found some green sugar on the clearance rack at the grocery story after Christmas. Sprinkled in about 2 tbsp of this to turn my icing a nice pretty green! 

Put icing in a piping bag with a round tip. My preference for all things cakes is Wilton. I grew up with them and even won a few contests as a kid! 

I did a simple swirl pattern on my round cookies and traced the outline of the airplanes. Super easy and looks really cute. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chef is sick, no cooking today...

I have been battling a bug for a few days now and I thought the worst was over when I got up this morning... I had energy! It was awesome. I was still feeling a bit congested so I went to the store before work and picked up some more medicine and a few things to eat for the day...

Lunch did not go as planned...

Mid-morning, I could tell I should probably be back in bed, but as I have a lot of work to catch up on after the last couple of days, I couldn't go home. I'd have to tough it out...

Lunch was spent taking a snooze in my car. Then, after I woke up and had to go back to work, I decided that my spicy noodle soup was not going to be on the menu... Glad I picked up some rice bowls at the store this morning. Plain jasmine rice was about all I could stomach...

After the rice, I had to go get some ginger ale to help calm my angry stomach...

I'm now snacking on Blue Diamond Nut Thins and praying they work even a little bit as well as saltines... (and I don't care how congested I feel, I am not taking any more liquid Mucinex)

It's on days like today that I wish I could eat saltines or regular white bread (plain white toast always cured my stomach aches)... I also wish that Rolaids were still on the market... They work so much better for me than Tums...

So, what are your go-to foods for when you are under the weather?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Like A Mango Boss

I keep complaining about how HOT it is in Mississippi. Well, I suppose since the rest of our nation is in the throws of some bizzare heat wave I should share a favorite cooling off recipe. Plus I am the proud inventor of the "Boss Redneck Chalice" that I want to show off.

Fresh Mangos are so incredibly good this year. Sweet and earthy. I love fresh fruit. Keep in mind this recipe can substitute any fruit you have fresh and local but canned doesn't so much taste good.

1 Fresh Mango (about 1 1/5 cups if you're using something else)
5 tea bags of your choice - I like decaf pekoe
1 cup local honey - or more if you like sweet

Boil 5 cups of water with the tea bags for about 10 minutes. Turn off and set aside to cool.
Dice the fruit into about pea sized pieces.
Place fruit into a sauce type pan. Add about a cup of water and boil down until it's soft and mushy.
Add in honey, remove from heat, mix up really well to incorporate and melt everything together. A few chunks are ok but you want to remove the majority of them and squish them up.

Fill a pitcher with ice. Pour the tea over the ice, removing the tea bags. Pour in the fruit mixture. Stir everything together.

Drink up! Add vodka for a nice happy day touch, although alcohol can dehydrate you so be safe out there.

Now to show off my crowning achievement! Next to the Chalice is a regular drinking mug. Yeah, it's that big.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Shameless Plug - Bic Razors

This is totally off topic and a shameless plug but I really liked the close shave I got from these. I have coupons too if anyone is interested.
Tried this as part of the BzzAgent BIC® Soleil® Savvy™ Campaign

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Oh Say Can You See? That's Red White and Blue Angel cake!

It's July 4th! Independence Day in the US of A! And I'm married to a pilot. So in true wheel of fortune "before & after" form I'm calling this Red White and Blue Angel cake.

So after that fattening barbeque. The stuffing your gullet with mayonaise filled salads. Sitting around drinking beer... well, you might be ready for something on the lighter side. Especially because you have like a 2 square centimeter section of large intestine for which to stuff said dessert. Here is your so tasty but seriously healthy dessert! 

I love to bake (no suprise there if you've read the blog any). So I made my own Angel food cake. 

Angel Food Cake
   12 egg whites
   1 1/4 c confectioners sugar
   2 tsp cream of tartar
   1/4 (sparse) tsp of salt
   1 tbsp vanilla extract
   1 tsp almond extract

Whip the egg whites with everything above in a KitchenAid mixer with the wire whisk until they form really stiff peaks. Giggity. They'll kind of crawl up the side of the bowl and you should be able to hold the bowl upside down over your head when they're stiff enough. That being said, you shouldn't be covered in egg after you do this... It's a thought.   Helps if your bowl is glass and both the bowl and whisk are very very clean. They'll stiffen up quicker. Hehehe. Sorry! Making Angel Food Cake is a little bit devilish. 

Fold in 1 cup of regular sugar and 1 1/5 cups of AP flour (or GF if you're Jen, although she can't have the eggs anyways! Sorry Jen!). Don't make them turn into a puddle. Be all nice like. Soft and gentle. Caress the eggs. Love the eggs.... sorry! It's a holiday. 

When everything is incorporated, gently coax it into a tube pan. It'll go, just in it's own good sweet time. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for like 40-45 minutes or until it turns golden brown and breaks. Do not under bake. When it's done, I like to turn mine upside down and balance on a vodka bottle until it's cool. You could totally use a wine bottle though. Beer bottles are too small. 

Let it cool while you prep the other junk.

Other Junk
   Cool Whip (or you could be awesome and whip your own heavy cream, this one is up to you. I've done   
   Blueberry jam or Just Fruit Blueberry
   Cherry Preserves
    4 sliced pretty Strawberries

When cool, run a knife around the outside and inside of the tube pan. Shake shake shake your booty until the thing falls out, hopefully in 1 piece. If you have a cool antique pie like mine you can pop the cake out. Just sayin'. 

Level the top (which will be the bottom) then cut the ring in half. 

Throw the top half upside down on a cake tray. But not too hard or you might break something. 
Spread the Cherry preserves around the layer. 
Flip the other half of the ring of cake on to that one. 
Beat together the blueberry jam or preserves with about 1 1/5 cups of cool whip (about half a container or 1 cup of heavy cream whipped. It'll kind of turn blue. Nifty huh!? 
Spread the blueberry junk on top of the now layered cake. 
Place the 4 pretty strawberries strategically on top of the cake. 

Ta Da! All done! 

Cheers. Heading out to watch the boom boom pretty now. See ya and Happy 4th! 
That's the pilot... He likes cake.