People are always impressed when I cook risotto. Dave knows better: Delicious it is; a culinary achievement it is not. Not to say that I don’t appreciate artfully crafted restaurant risotto. Or that the inventor of the dish isn’t a genius. That person deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. But I digress.
Risotto is perhaps one of the easiest, no-brainer, no-measurement-needed, no-recipe-needed meals you can make. So much so that I hesitate to even give an actual recipe.
Here’s the thing: In my opinion, many of the things that go wrong with risotto come from using a recipe in the first place. Make risotto the way I do, and this dish it utterly foolproof:
Two pots. One with rice and cooked chopped onion. One with stock, kept hot over low heat. Add a few ladles of liquid at a time to the rice pot. Stir constantly. When the stock is absorbed into the rice, add more stock. Repeat until the rice is cooked to desired tenderness. Add butter, cheese, salt, pepper and any other ‘fixins to taste. That’s it.
If you’re a first-timer, use my recipe as a gauge. You’ll be cooking by muscle memory like an old Italian nonna in no time.
Pea and pancetta risotto
What you’ll need:
2 cups arborio rice
8-10 cups chicken stock
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 of a medium yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup shredded parmesan or asiago cheese (experiment with different types of cheeses—I added a small bit of soft italian sheep’s milk cheese in my last batch)
6 oz. diced pancetta
1/2 cup peas
salt and pepper to taste
Put stock in a pot on the stove. Heat on medium. Once the stock is hot, turn burner to low. Stock shouldn’t simmer or boil, it’s just on the stovetop to stay warm.
Meanwhile, cook pancetta in a skillet over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until cooked and slightly browned. Set aside.
Cook chopped onion with olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. When onion is translucent and tender, add rice. Cook for a minute or so, constantly stirring, until rice is coated and beginning to turn translucent.
Add a few ladles full of broth to the rice pot and stir constantly. The constant stirring not only helps to keep the rice from sticking to the pan, but also releases the starches in the rice to create that divine, thick, creaminess that is the hallmark of the dish.
When the rice has absorbed the stock, add more. Repeat. After 15 minutes or so, taste the rice every so often to test for doneness. Continue to add stock and let it absorb until the rice is cooked to the desired tenderness. If you run out of stock, use warm water.
Risotto can be anywhere from slightly soupy to what I would describe as a mac ‘n’ cheese consistency. I prefer it somewhere in the middle. If the rice is cooked but you want a thinner consistency, add a little more stock right before you add the last few ingredients.
Stir in butter, cheese, cooked pancetta and peas. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Does your kitchen equipment taunt you? Maybe it’s a stand mixer, gathering dust on your countertop. A cast iron skillet peering out from behind those lower-maintenance pots and pans. An immersion blender that hasn’t seen any action since 2003.
For me, it was three gleaming KitchenAid pasta attachments and a still-packaged pasta drying rack—staring me in the face every time I reached to grab their more popular cousin, the pizza stone. Then finally, a year after I got them as wedding gifts, it was their turn.
(Adapted from Mario Batali’s fresh pasta recipe)
3 1/2 cups of flour
5 medium eggs
Water to moisten as needed
Shape flour into a mound on a large flat surface (wood is ideal, but I used a large Corian cutting board, and any flat, clean surface will work) and form a large well in the middle of the flour. Crack the eggs in the well.
Using a fork, scramble the eggs inside the well and slowly begin to incorporate the flour working your way from the inside out.
You’ll have a shaggy mess on your hands at this point. If it’s too dry to incorporate into one ball of dough, add water. It should be sticky, but workable.
Add some more flour to your work surface and begin to knead the dough. If it’s too tough and hard to work with, add a little more water. Knead for 6-8 minutes. You’ll know the dough is ready when it’s smooth, elastic and doesn’t stick to surfaces.
Cover your dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for 20 minutes. This is a very important step.
If you’re attempting to hand-roll your pasta, more power to ya. For your sanity, I recommend the mechanical route.
Cut the dough into four or eight pieces (eight is easier to work with, but if you want long, wide sheets of lasagna, for example, you might want to do four). Flatten the first piece to about 1/2-inch thick with your palm or a rolling pin, and feed it through the pasta maker, starting with the largest thickness setting (usually the “1” setting).
Incrementally increase the setting each time you feed the dough through the pasta maker.
My pasta was a tiny bit too thick, I think, so next time I’ll follow the tips I found: pasta should absolutely be no thicker than 1/16 of an inch and a good rule of thumb is to roll it out to the second-to-thinnest thickness setting on your pasta maker. Repeat this with the other portions of dough and cut pasta to the desired shape. I ran my sheets through another attachment to make linguini.
Dust your cut pasta with flour and dry on a drying rack or flat surface for 20 minutes or so. If you aren’t ready to cook it right away, freeze in plastic bags for later use. Cook fresh pasta for 2-3 minutes and prepare as desired.
I’m already itching to make more pasta, and the next time I do, I think I’ll draw a little inspiration from The Geometry of Pasta, a fantastic graphic depiction of pasta’s many forms. This book is beautiful, elegant and simple in a way you probably never thought a cookbook could/should be.
And there’s enough material in there to keep my kitchen covered in a fine layer of flour—and to help ensure my pasta-making equipment will never again suffer from neglect.
No offense, Morningstar, but your veggie burgers don’t hold a candle to these babies. While I can’t say they’ll satisfy cravings for a big, juicy hunk of ground beef (but let’s be honest, what veggie burger will?), they’re a ridiculously addictive, filling and flavorful meal option that anyone—even the most meat-and-potato midwesterners in your life—will thoroughly enjoy. Chockfull of fiber and veggies, they’re healthy to boot.
I first encountered these at Atwood Cafe in downtown Chicago—and since spent a few random afternoons reminiscing and searching Google for the recipe. Recently, when the food memory popped into my consciousness, a search yielded the recipe. FINALLY.
They’re as delicious as I remember them, albeit a bit tricky to keep in patty form when cooking. As much as you may be tempted (and I was), don’t try and grill these—unless you do it in a skillet of some sort that sits on the grill.
|Cremini burgers with goat cheese and fig aioli (adapted from Atwood Cafe’s recipe)||
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 ounces crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1 cup cooked brown rice (slightly overcooked and sticky)
- 1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
- 1 cup grated parmesan
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons thyme
- salt and pepper to taste
- goat cheese for topping
- green onions for topping
- whole wheat buns
- 4 tbsp fig jam or preserves
- 1/3 cup mayonaise
- Cook the rice per the instructions, except stir frequently to build up the starches and make the rice stickier.
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute the onion and garlic until tender.
- Add the mushrooms and cook until tender and the liquid is evaporated.
- Stir in the brown rice and cook for 1 minute.
- Remove from heat and stir in a bowl with oats, cheese, thyme, garlic powder and salt and pepper.
- Cover the mixture and refrigerate until firm, 3 to 4 hours. If you’re in a hurry, you can skip this step and make the patties immediately, but you’ll still have to refrigerate them for at least an hour or two to solidify them a bit. Otherwise, form patties after 3 to 4 hours and then refrigerate again, covered, for one hour.
- Heat a skillet over medium heat with a little olive oil. Cook burgers, turning carefully with a spatula, until nicely browned on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes per side.
- Mix fig jam and mayo for fig aioli. Spread on toasted buns.
- Arrange burgers on buns, top with goat cheese and chopped green onions.
If you like risotto and mushrooms, you’ll LOVE these. And don’t skimp on the toppings—they really put them over the edge.
The smell of spring—and bacon grease—is in the air, and both are equally intoxicating. If you care to fill your kitchen with the latter, these little fried morsels will do the trick. While I’m tempted to recommend them alongside more fried food (fried chicken anyone?) they’ll probably seem less gluttonous as an appetizer shared among friends. I had to troubleshoot a little with these because my first batch was a little dry, so I suggest dropping one in the frying pan first to test, then adding a little more butter, cheese or perhaps a little dollop of sour cream to the batter if you need to moisten them up a bit. I served mine with some garlic-herb aioli, but I suspect they’d be even better with a really creamy ranch dip.
|Bacon cheddar hush puppies||
- 1/3 cup cornmeal, plus extra for coating
- 1 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons pepper
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 cups sharp cheddar
- 1 package bacon (12 oz or so), cooked and crumbled
- 1 stick melted butter
- Combine all ingredients.
- Form dough into 1-2 inch balls. They will be a little gloppy, which is what you want, so roll them in a little corn meal to help them keep their shape and to keep from sticking to the plate.
- Fry in small batches in oil over medium heat (keep temperature at around 350 degrees) for about 3-4 minutes per batch or until a deep golden brown.
- Drain on paper towel and serve immediately with ranch. You can also save them and store in the fridge for a day or two, then heat them up in the oven at around 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
Don’t book your tickets to Portofino just yet. There’s still two more virtual Italian food tours to go. Next stop: Tuscany.
First off, let’s talk accommodations. There’s only way to stay in Tuscany, and that’s to take the agriturismo route, shacking up on a vineyard or a fattoria (a farm). We stayed at Fattoria Casa Sola outside the tiny village of San Donato in the Chianti region. Our room was an old converted farmhouse smack-dab in the middle of rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see.
Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful and impossibly romantic, but you also have instant access to the best Tuscany has to offer: LOTS of vino. Before we get our buzz on, let’s talk about our fantastic cooking lesson experience–right in the kitchen of our little converted farmhouse.
The wonderful Giovanna was our personal tour guide to everything edible in Tuscany.
I’ll share her recipes in later posts—chicken liver crostini, fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with anchovy, homemade spinach ravioli and strawberry-mint tiramisu—but for now, enjoy a little Tuscan food porn:
What to eat in Tuscany:
Yes, technically this isn’t a food, but many would say it’s just about the most important part of a Tuscan meal. I would have to agree. Wine tasting events in the Chianti region are plentiful and the number of wineries that participate is buzz-inducing—literally. We paid €15 for unlimited tasting and a souvenir wine glass. Chianti isn’t for everyone, but Dave and I happen to love it. Needless to say, we got our money’s worth—especially since several of the bottles sell for more than €100 in stores. Many of the vineyards also had a Vin Santo for tasting, an amber-colored, extremely sweet, high-alcohol dessert wine, typically served with biscotti.
Casa Sola has several fantastic Chiantis, which added a few lbs. to my suitcase on the way home.
Crostini di Fegatini (Chicken-liver pâté)
Don’t knock this Tuscan staple until you try it. The rich flavor of the fatty liver—combined with the mushrooms, onions and white wine—is undeniably delicious. If you’re squeamish about offal, fear not—it’s rendered unrecognizable by the immersion blender.
Tuscan bread has no salt, but that didn’t stop me from inhaling entire loaves of it. Slathered in fresh butter, sprinkled with a little salt, or sandwiching scrambled eggs, salami, spinach and ricotta, it’s what dreams are made of.
Yes, I grocery shopped and cooked on my honeymoon. I’ll accept my Wife of the Year award now.
One glance at the salami selection in a local San Donato butcher shop was enough to make Dave salivate. I’m a little less into cured meats—although I do love me some prosciutto—so I abstained; but for all of those salami lovers out there, Dave assures me it was some of the best he’s ever tasted.
Many of the same vineyards that produce the aforementioned Chianti also make extra virgin olive oil. It’s another can’t-go-wrong food souvenir.
Other Tuscan specialties that I either didn’t have the opportunity to sample, or that didn’t live to be photographed, are Bistecca all Fiorentina (a thick, T-bone steak, usually served rare), gamey meats, including hare, and meat stuffed pastas. Stay tuned for the best bets in the Amalfi Coast.
What better way to get back to blogging than to reminisce about the food on our Italian honeymoon. Part 1: Portofino.
I could describe every meal in glorious, pesto-drenched detail. Ok, let’s be real, no I can’t. That ship sailed after one too many glasses of vino.
Regardless, that would do you no good—you’d just be terribly hungry and painfully jealous.
Instead, being the fantastic food-obsessed tourist that I am, I sleuthed out and sampled nearly every local delicacy and regional specialty for your culinary education. So, should you ever find yourself in the Ligurian region—or Tuscany, Rome or Amalfi Coast for that matter—you’ll know exactly how to order for maximum impact.
What to eat in Portofino (Liguria)
When Dave heard we were going to the birthplace of pesto, his eyes lit up like a kid on christmas. In Liguria, the stuff is everywhere. Red sauce? What red sauce? It’s all about basil, olive oil, garlic, Parmigiano Reggiano and pine nuts muddled to perfection. Nearly every shop in the area sells jars of pesto, so if you’re looking for a gift or souvenir for your favorite foodie, there’s not much better in terms of price, portability and authenticity.
After describing his recommendation of trofie pasta (short, doughy, hand-formed twists), the waiter didn’t have to twist our arms to get us to order it. While best fresh, you can find it dried alongside the aforementioned pesto jars throughout the region. I even found it in our local grocery store here in Chicago.
I think I ate my weight in focaccia while in Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Cinque Terre. Onion, rosemary, potato, sun-dried tomato, parmesan—I sampled them ALL. It’s doughy, dense, greasy and delicious, and I gladly ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
You can’t visit the Italian Riviera or Amalfi coast without eating seafood. And if you don’t eat seafood, you’ll be eating a lot of pizza and focaccia (there are worse fates, I suppose). In Italian fishing regions, they let their fruits of the sea shine with very simple preparations. Think olive oil, salt, and roasted vegetables. Another common preparation is to bake a whole fish under a mound of sea salt, which makes for a juicy, melt in your mouth meal. The variety is nearly endless, so don’t expect me to recall the types of fish. Suffice to say every fish dish I had was tender, flavorful and impossibly fresh.
Stay tuned for more of my Italian food diary. Next up, Tuscany.
I won’t be one of those bloggers that pretends to have thousands of clamoring fans that didn’t know what to do with themselves when their favorite blogger went on hiatus. That being said, for the three of you out there who actually care, sorry for depriving you of dry humor and french toast recipes.
It’s been an insanely busy summer, but I’ll spare you the excuses and get straight to the good stuff …
Portobello, red pepper and goat cheese flatbread/pizza
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1-2 portobello mushrooms, chopped
8 oz. goat cheese
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
Crushed red pepper and salt to taste
1 bag of Trader Joe’s pizza dough (you can substitute other dough, but I love this one)
A pizza stone
Have I ever preached the merits of a good pizza stone? It is absolutely crucial if you want to achieve the perfect crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside crust. And take it from me—skip the parchment paper and slap that dough right on the stone. There is an art to this people, so allow me to explain the process:
Ideally, you’ll want to pull your dough out of the fridge an hour or so before you start to let it proof.
Then, you’ll set your oven to 500 degrees and put the pizza stone in to heat it up. Next, ready your ingredients.
In this case, I sauteed the chopped red peppers in a little olive oil for a while to soften them up (ever had a pizza with vegetables that were raw and crunchy? Nothing worse.) and then added the mushrooms in toward the end. Set your ingredients aside and let’s get doughing (forgive me for that one, I’ve been out of the food-humor game for a while). I cut the dough in half so each pizza will fit on the stone—that’s a ball of dough about the size of a baseball. You’ll need a flat, floured surface to work on.
Press your fingers into the dough about an inch inside the outer edge to form a crust. Then press down in the middle with your palms to flatten the dough, and start pulling the dough apart with fingers. Once it is thin enough, you can slap the dough back and forth between your palms or hold one end and let the weight of the dough do the work to stretch it more. If you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, here’s a good video tutorial—unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to visually document this process.
At this point, your pizza stone should be heated. Professional pie-makers may turn their noses up at my method, but trust me, for the home cook this works like a charm: Take the pizza stone out—very carefully—and set it on your counter or stove top. Again, VERY CAREFULLY, place your shaped dough (no toppings yet) on the stone. The crust will start to cook immediately from the heat of the stone, so quickly brush the dough with olive oil, crumble the goat cheese and sprinkle the toppings over the surface. I added a few grates of parmesan for good measure. Stick the pizza stone back in the oven and keep a close eye on it. It cooks very quickly—in about 5-7 minutes. Remove the stone once the crust is golden brown and let cool for a while. The pizza should slide off the stone fairly easily.
Garnish with crushed red pepper and a bit of sea salt to taste.
OK, so I stole my post title from the concept for Effen’s new cheeky ad campaign. I’m sure they won’t mind.
Recently, I had the pleasure of enjoying some “Liquid Luxury”—courtesy of Effen and the Effen awesome folks at Zocalo Group—while contemplating sustainable design, really cool succulent party favors and apple and bacon pizza.
And let me tell you, the chefs and mixologist at ROOF at The Wit aren’t Effen around (OK, I’m done with the Effen jokes, promise). The food and drinks were fantastic. And the bottles of Effen (again, courtesy of Zocalo and Effen) we got beforehand weren’t so bad either. Who gets a bottle of vodka messengered to their office?? This girl. I may or may not have gone home and immediately poured myself a stiff, impossibly smooth screwdriver.
Anyway, back to the party at the Wit, where copious amounts of vodka cocktails on a Tuesday were unabashedly encouraged.
We had more than our fair share of Sustainable Sours, Green City Gimlets, Chicago Caipiroskas and Second City Sparklers (recipes below for your imbibing pleasure). The general consensus was that the Green City Gimlet was the frontrunner. And the food, ohhhhh the food. Most of it didn’t live to be photographed, unfortunately … Funghi pizza with roasted oyster mushrooms, mozzarella and thyme; Salsicia pizza with house-made sausage, cured tomato fennel and havarti cheese; Apple and bacon pizza with sliced apple, smoked gouda, cobb smoked bacon and rosemary; Roasted sweet pepper and goat cheese crostini; Marinated rock shrimp crostini with white bean puree and parsley salad; Grilled cheese panini with tomato fontina soup; and PLT: Crispy pancetta, arugula, cured tomatoes, lemon aioli …
It was all soooo good. So, so, sooooo good. Or maybe it’s just the fact that my pre-wedding diet and workout regimen has exponentially intensified my cravings for anything cheesy and carby.
Once I’d settled down from the pizza frenzy, I was able to focus (using the word focus very loosely, as I was at least three cocktails deep at this point) on a presentation on the past, present and future of sustainable architecture and design in Chicago from Jonathan Boyer of Farr Associates, and one from clever ROOF mixologist Jonny Abens on the night’s libations. And let’s not forget the fabulous view:
I’ve always loved Effen, but after this event, I had a newfound appreciation. As a matter of fact, that bottle in my freezer is calling to me right now …
1 1/2 oz. Effen Vodka
1 oz. St. Germain
1/2 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lemon
Pour ingredients over ice, shake and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon and cherry.
Green City Gimlet
1 1/2 oz. Effen Vodka
1/2 oz. Cointreau
3/4 oz. fresh lime
2 basil leaves
Muddle one basil leaf and add remaining ingredients over ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a fresh basil leaf.
1 1/2 oz. Effen Black Cherry
1 oz. brown sugar
2 lime wedges
2 dashes cherry bitters
Muddle lime wedges and add remaining ingredients to shaker. Shake all ingredients and pour over ice into a rocks glass.
Second City Sparkler
1 oz. Effen Black Cherry
1/2 oz. Domaine De Canton
1/2 oz. fresh lemon
Pour first three ingredients over ice, shake and strain into a champagne flute. Top with prosecco and garnish with a lemon twist.
For some reason, lots of my childhood memories with my Nana revolve around food—the good, the bad and the Jewish. The good: delicious, sweet and savory meatballs. The bad: Rice Dream (sorry Nana, but that stuff is just awful). The Jewish: Chocolate babka. Mmmmmm, delicious babka. Come to find out, its origins are debatable (some say it’s Polish, some Eastern European, but from what I can tell it is largely a favorite of Jewish New Yorkers), but that doesn’t change the fact that it is AMAZING.
I fondly remember this delectable treat (and chocolate rugelach … mmmm) as something enjoyed exclusively in our yearly visits to the Jewish retirement capital of the world: South Florida.
Anyway, the babka was a pretty distant memory until a dinner club a few months back. The theme was Polish food, and for some reason it popped into my head that babka might be Polish. Sure enough, I found enough online evidence to be satisfied that it could pass. Because at that point, I just really, really wanted to make it.
And the recipe from Smitten Kitchen did not disappoint. It was light, airy and buttery—like a croissant—with sweet, chocaltey, cinnamony goodness. And it got rave reviews at dinner club. Don’t let the seemingly complex recipe scare you away—it’s totally worth it. Or for those of you in Fort Lauderdale, Margate or Boca Raton, a quick Publix run might give you your fix.
After five years of late-night, cooked-to-perfection quesadillas, being the taste-tester for countless culinary experiments and plenty of breakfasts in bed, Dave finally realized he couldn’t live another day without making an honest woman of me—and locking down a lifetime of home-cooked meals.
And when it came to the proposal, he knew he couldn’t go wrong by throwing cheese, crackers and champagne into the mix.
He did it on the first day of our vacation in Anguilla—a trip full of romance, empty white sand beaches, rum punch and amazing food. I am one lucky girl.
We started The Day off with something I’ve been looking foward to the entire year, since I last experienced them on our first Anguilla vacation:
The BEST PANINI in the WORLD, courtesy of The Cafe at Veya. Seriously. It’s all about the bread—but sorry, I’ve been sworn to secrecy when it comes to the details. Anyway, they are a little piece of gooey, crispy, salty, cheesy, eggy heaven. And, as Dave can attest, I could sit at The Cafe all day, basking on the peaceful, sun-drenched patio, sipping diet cokes and eating paninis for breakfast lunch and dinner. Seriously, they’re that good.
Bellys full of panini, we had a fabulous beach day.
He later told me he’d been dropping hints all day. With his choice of t-shirt:
And when he pointed this out, and insisted I snap a picture of it:
I remained completely clueless.
We came back to our gracious host’s abode (Neal, owner of the Cafe at Veya of Best-Pannini-in-the-World fame—my dad’s best friend and pretty much a second dad to me) to take little Lola for a late afternoon walk on the beach. But Neal was acting funny and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it …
… so we set off for Long Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (lots of “Best in the World” distinctions on this island).
We strolled along with Lola, lost in our own little piece of paradise.
Right before we reached the end of the beach, Lola bolted. The ensuing chase led to an idyllic patch of beach in front of a multi-million dollar villa, complete with a beach-blanket set up with two chairs, a bucket of champagne and a cheese and cracker platter. At this point I started to get nervous—there wasn’t a shadow of doubt in my mind that we were crashing some millionaire’s romantic rendezvous. Lola came bolting out of the bushes like a bat out of hell and went straight for the cheese platter.
“DAVE! OMYGOD, GRAB HER!!! S%#@*!! SHE’S GOING FOR THEIR CHEESE!!!!” He stood there with an indecipherable look on his face. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting for him to react while I screamed “LOLA, NOOOO!!!” Dave grabbed me by both shoulders.
“Relax! It’s OK!”
“WHAT?? What are you talking about?!?”
“It’s OK, because I put this here.” (with the help of his accomplice, Neal)
He then dropped to one knee, and the rest was a bit of a blur—a happy blur compounded by several glasses of champagne. This was my view from the beach blanket as we sipped champagne and talked weddings.
We returned to the Casa de Neal where I, high off post-proposal adrenaline and plenty of bubbly, drunk-n-Skyped several friends and family members to share the news.
OK, I’ll spare you anymore mushy details. Stay tuned for another post on the best Anguilla has to offer: Veya and a few other of our favorite island spots.