Friday, November 27, 2009

Sweet and Savory: Pear and Brie Risotto with Prosciutto Chips

It's the day after Thanksgiving, and we too are serving up leftovers.

"There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat," Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, and right about now is your best chance to savor those ten minutes. Anna served up this comforting risotto blending pear and brie for Valentine's Day, but it would be a lovely light meal to share with your family this holiday weekend.

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Originally posted Feb. 13, 2009, by Anna 

When in a very famous restaurant, my choice always will be a risotto.

It requires patience, art and talent from the chef. I recalled one that I could never ever forget: pear and brie risotto from one of the finest restaurants in Leblon, a kind of Gourmet Ghetto of Rio de Janeiro. This was a long time ago, but not long enough for me to forget its perfect texture and taste. After some research, I found out very similar recipes but not any that would fit my crave for a perfect choice for a girls in lunch. For dessert, a classic shortcake cookie was cut with the help of little hands. How romantic!

Pear and Brie Risotto with Prosciutto Chips

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
3 cups arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine, the one to drink afterward
6 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 ripe but not soft Bosc pear
2 tbsp Parmesan Gran Pardano, freshly grated
3 oz. sliced prosciutto di Parma
1/2 to 1 pound French brie cheese, chopped in cubes

In a heavy pot melt butter and the olive oil over high heat. Add shallots. When shallots begin to brown, stir in rice. Pour in wine and wait for the alcohol to evaporate. Lower heat and start dropping in the stock to gradually moisten the rice. Keep dropping the stock every time you see that the water is drying. Add the pears and go to a simmer. Carry on dropping in the stock and add Parmesan cheese.

Meanwhile, in a hot skillet, grill the slices of prosciutto di Parma until they are crunchy.

When the rice achieves a pearly appearance with an al dente texture, turn off the heat and fold the brie into the rice and integrate it slowly with a wooden spoon.

Serve the risotto in soup plates and garnish with the crunchy prosciutto broken into tiny pieces.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Second Helping: Pumpkin Pudding with Cranberry Sauce

Just because I was planning to think out of the pie, I adapted one of my favorite desserts for a last-minute Thanksgiving delight. Easy, quick and really flavorful, this is a velvety and refreshing addition to a dinner table or potluck. And forget about the crust. The texture and color will speak for themselves. And you can be creative with the sauce.

Pumpkin Pudding

Ideally it should be prepared one day before dinner party. But a good 6 hours in the fridge will do the trick if you are in a hurry.

1 can organic pumpkin or 15 oz (425 g) cooked sugar pumpkin
1 14 oz. can condensed milk
2 cups Almond Milk or Soy Milk
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon lime or lemon zest
2 envelopes unflavored Knox gelatin

1/2 pound fresh cranberries
2 cups apple juice

In one bowl mix condensed milk, pumpkin and spice. In a saucer pan warm almond milk and dissolve gelatin in it. When dissolved and mix is warm integrate it to the bowl and mix for a homogeneous mix. Pour liquid in a plastic mold or bundt cake mold and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

For the sauce, simmer cranberries with apple juice up to when smooth. When cold, take pudding out of the mold and cover it with sauce. Fill the middle of the pudding with cooked cranberries.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tips & Gadgets: The Cook's Thesaurus

A few Thanksgivings ago, I set out to try a Sunset recipe for a dry-cured turkey. It calls for a heady blend of herbs and spices: thyme, marjoram, anise, rosemary, pepper, salt -- and dried juniper berries. I dragged my worn-out toddler to market after market, convinced that the turkey absolutely needed those three tablespoons of juniper berries, whatever those were.

I finally found the berries at an overpriced shop. But even as I swiped the debit card to take my little bag of berries home, I knew the quest had been a ridiculous waste of time and effort.


The next year, I skipped the search and consulted the Cook's Thesaurus, an amazing online resource for learning about swapping ingredients. Juniper berries, I found out, are used to make gin. I might have known that if I liked gin. The suggested substitution -- bay leaves and caraway seeds -- made for a turkey just as fabulous as the year before.

The Cook's Thesaurus has bailed me out more times than I can count. It's been there for me when it was too late to call my mom to find out how she'd fix whatever mess I just made. It helped me get through the year when anything containing eggs gave my older son hives, and the year when dairy, wheat, and corn products made my younger son throw up. It has saved me countless trips to the grocery store and salvaged more than a few batches of muffins.

If you haven't used it before, check it out -- and bookmark it!

The Cook's Thesaurus

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Playdate Special: Ricotta and Butternut Squash Pie with Turkey Bacon Chips

Our adorable Juju, the black cat, was not to be found early on that cold morning of Friday, November the 13th. Yes, that could be the beginning of a laughable mystery short story. Or better, just the gloomy start of an eventful time before a lunch playdate. I spent more than half an hour looking for our capricious feline, instead of using those precious moments on the mental preparation of our lunch, cleaning the house and developing even more my original recipe.

The house was uncommonly (more) messed up than ever. Plumbers were working outside, fixing irrigation pipes. No water for two hours. I thought that the food would overshadow that ongoing chaos. I prepared the filling for the quiche and also our unforgettable dessert on the night before. I just needed to do the crust and test a good recipe of polenta, which would be served as an appetizer for the main dish. That "just" was an irony.

The whole playdate was running smoothly. Some graffiti on the walls and on a side table were entertaining enough. My older son had hidden some Crayola with clothes, and on that morning he decided to share them with his dearest friends while I was trying to figure what the heck was going on with the quiche in the oven. In the meantime, broccoli was burnt at the Le Creuset and polenta got too cold in the fridge, and the clock was just running so fast! Things were not looking good at all.

But...The result was, after all, remarkable. Although kids mostly declined to eat the beautiful pie filling, just trying to get as much crust as they could grab, the flavor was extremely elegant. Homemade polenta was also great, even not being grilled, as it should be. But dessert called myself back to the senses. A friend brought a pomegranate that was added to my persimmon apple emulsion to accompany the pumpkin pudding at the last minute. But that is a story for the next posting, before Thanksgiving, of course.

In the meantime, black little miss Juju, the cat, was sleeping quietly on her basket. She was finally found before I began to cook on that cold autumn morning hiding under the new kid's bed, in a very improbable place. If I just had followed that clue my menu would be different. I would have started earlier, have easy food to prepare, aware that this was a Friday 13th!

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Pie

I used canned organic butternut squash and canned organic pumpkin. That is just a shame: I had pumpkins all over the place on Halloween, but they all got spoiled before I noticed! So probably the recipe will work fine for the cooked fresh produce too.

1 pound part skim ricotta cheese
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 can organic butternut squash
Kosher salt to taste
1 beaten egg (optional for vegan)
1/2 cup turkey bacon or Tofurkey , finely chopped and grilled on a skillet
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated

On the night before mix ricotta and butternut squash. Season it with shallots, parsley and salt. Add egg just before baking.If using bacon, sprinkle it over bottom of pie. Some pieces of bacon and Parmesan Cheese may be sprinkled over filling. Fill the pie with ricotta and bake at 375 F for 30 minutes.


1 cup unbleached flour
3 tablespoons cold water
1/2 cup butter or vegetarian spread
Sal to taste

Mix flour, water and butter and knead with hands for an even dough. Make a ball with the dough and take it to the fridge for at least 1 hour. Stretch it on a 9 inches round cheesecake pan, making sure that a fine layer is going on all edges of the pan.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Second Helping: Lazy Chicken Stock

I use broth shortcuts all the time: granules, cubes, cans, boxes. But when chicken broth has a starring role, as in the Chicken Tortilla Soup we posted last week, it's well worth the minimal effort to make your own stock.

Making chicken stock is one of those things I didn't do for a long, long time. Because making it takes a long, long time. Which I figured meant it took a lot of work.

To the contrary, I realized, chicken stock makes itself. All you really need to do is hang around the house for hours and let the stock do its thing.

Use leftovers from a roast chicken. Or throw in chicken pieces (with bones), remove the meat once it's cooked, and return the bones and scraps to the pot. Or stockpile leftover chicken bits -- bones and skin -- in a large bag in the freezer. Keep adding to it, and when it's full, make stock. Be sure to set aside a bit of leftover cooked chicken to go into the finished soup.

Lazy Chicken Stock

Put chicken in a large stock pot. Make sure you have lots of bones in there. Bones are important.

Add vegetables, chopped into large pieces: onions, carrots, leek, and celery are all good options. I usually just toss in an onion.

Pour in some white wine if you'd like -- I use half a cup.

Add a tablespoon or two of vinegar. The acid dissolves the calcium in the bones, enriching your stock. Cool, eh? Don't worry, you won't taste the vinegar.

Tuck in some herbs -- sprigs of fresh thyme or oregano, a bay leaf. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. (Save the strong seasoning for when you reheat the finished stock to make your final soup.)

Fill your pot with water and set it on the stove. Bring it to a strong simmer, reduce the heat, leave uncovered, and simmer 5 to 6 hours (or more). Add a little water if chicken bones start sticking out above the surface, but not too much -- you want it to reduce. Stir when you feel like it. Don't bother skimming the foamy fat that rises to the surface. You'll do that later.

When it's done, strain out the solids and set the broth in the refrigerator. Leave it there a few hours or overnight. When you check on it, you'll find the fat has conveniently congealed on the surface. See! It does the work for you! Scoop off it off with a shallow spoon or spatula to reveal ... chicken jelly?!

Do not panic. Be proud: You've done well. The bones add gelatin, and that's what makes the stock taste so good. (Gelatin is protein, too.) The gelatin will melt as you heat your stock, leaving you with a deep, rich, silky stock.

Use the stock soon, or freeze it for quick, tasty soup another day. Use ice cube trays or muffin tins to freeze small amounts. You might want to add water to the stock when making soup.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Playdate Special: Chicken Tortilla Soup

091106_tortilla soup_1

The domestic front has been a scene of chaos, with sweeping and dish washing and laundry and tidying all ignored as I plow through an intimidating pile of work. In the background, there's been the low buzz of disgruntled parents trying to figure out if, when, and where they can get flu vaccine to their kids, and fretting over the slightest colds.

This calls for soup. Chicken soup, specifically.

A deep, flavorful stock is essential for this soup. If you've never made your own stock, this is the time to try it. (It's easy, honest. Here's how to do it.) Orange peel adds a lovely bright note, and this particular dish included the very last of the cheerful persimmon tomatoes from the garden. The fact that it looked like a bowl of sunshine almost made up for the last-minute discovery that I had no cilantro to finish the soup. Phooey. But with stock this flavorful, it didn't matter. Much.

Soup satisfied the moms. The kids were offered quesadillas on the side, just in case they turned up their noses at the sight of vegetables. But most of them enjoyed the soup, and one even asked for seconds. Success!

Dessert was a simple apple pie, studded with raisins and currants and baked in a disappointing but serviceable refrigerated crust. It looked much better once it was dished out onto adorable Curious George tea set plates.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

091106_tortilla soup_2
Good broth is essential to making this soup sing. Use homemade stock, if you can. To bake your own tortilla strips, lightly brush corn tortillas with vegetable oil, cut into strips, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 can diced tomatoes, drained, or about 1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes peeled, seeded, and chopped
4 strips of orange peel, each about 1/2 inch by 3 inches
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, diced or shredded
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
juice from 1/2 a lime
fresh cilantro, chopped, to taste
salt and pepper
1/4 cup queso fresco cheese, crumbled (this Mexican cheese can be found in your grocery or at Latino markets)
baked tortilla strips or chips (see note)

Heat oil in stockpot over medium heat. Add onion and carrots and saute until onions begin to soften. Add stock, tomatoes, and orange peel. Simmer for 25 minutes.
Remove orange peel. Add chicken and black beans, and simmer 3 minutes. Stir in lime, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon soup into serving bowls. Encourage the kids to top their soup with a sprinkle of queso fresco and tortilla strips, with a generous handful of tortilla strips to enjoy on the side.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Salt to taste? Kosher, please.

About two years ago I started cooking mainly with Kosher salt. Just because I saw most of my favorite chefs talking and advertising about its unique qualities. No religious thoughts or traditions came into my mind when I chose to buy my first box of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, approved by the American Culinary Foundation. By the way, kosher salt might be kosher, but most importantly it has this name because it is used to process all meat to become kosher. And my old time love for coarse salt helped me to absorb its goodness and incorporate it on my recipes.

At that time, savory staples at my home were the family adored French roast beef, Curry-mustard chicken and turkey meatloaf. For beef I always tended to use coarse sea salt, as I learned on the best churrasco's houses of Brazil. With all of my recipes I had a short period to adjust to the measure of Kosher salt. First because you need more kosher salt in volume to achieve the same result of table salt. So, no danger to get a too salty meal. After tasting all purity of Kosher salt, I adopted it as a rule for my savory dishes. I don't bake too often, but many times I remember Ina Garten using it in her pastry.

The lingering question was always if my kids were missing something called Iodine in their diet. But after much reading I realized that currently we don't need to worry about that if we have some other sources and are using table salt too on a daily basis. And actually, some people even think that we don't need salt at all! I still think I love its taste and probably wouldn't be able to live without some salt in my food. That's the main reason for my recipe writing I don't give exact measurements for salt. I suggest that salt is to be added "to taste". Certainly this is a good way to go - salt is a personal , or may I say palatesonal, choice. But I really think you should try a pinch of Kosher - and please let me know how was your experience!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pumpkin Chipotle Chili

Halloween09 mosaic

Calvin planned most of the food for his Halloween party this weekend: mummies (hot dogs wrapped in breadsticks), magic potion punch, a pumpkin patch cake, molded candies, cut-out cookies, pomegranate, mozzarella eyeballs, and raisins and pretzels. An eclectic menu, certainly, and skewed to youthful tastes. There was a lot of cuteness to create, from the fondant ghosts haunting the cake to painting candy molds (oh, how I regret saying yes to that request).

For those averse to mummified pigs-in-a-blanket, I decided to make monster stew (inspired by Monster Mischief, a favorite in our house). But what, exactly, should go into a real monster stew?

Pumpkin. Definitely pumpkin. Maybe beans. Yes, pumpkin chili! And the rest of it came together instantly: smoky chipotle for the heat, and a bit of earthy sage because I'm obsessed with it. (I keep chipotle in adobo sauce in plastic bag in the freezer; it's easy to take out just the right amount.)

I don't know why so many people find the idea of roasting a pumpkin intimidating, exotic, or laborious. It's ridiculously easy, and it's worth the minimal effort for this recipe. You could use canned pumpkin, which is often a wonderful shortcut, but the texture would be very different. You also could substitute other winter squash.

This made a large, satisfying pot full of chili, though I was the only one who thought of it as monster stew. My grand plans for elegantly creepy menus devolved to a scrawled yellow sticky-note slapped on the Dutch oven midway through the party. If you want to get all Martha Stewarty about it, you could serve this in a large hollowed-out pumpkin.

Pumpkin Chipotle Chili

To roast a pumpkin, simply cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, and pierce the shell a few times with a fork; set halves on a baking sheet, cut side down, and roast at 350 degrees for 45 to 90 minutes. The pumpkin's ready when you can easily pierce to the center with a fork. To keep this child-friendly, go easy on the chile—but offer chipotle chile powder for those who want to turn up the heat.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
cooked flesh from 1 small Sugar Pie pumpkin, chopped (see note)
1 1/2 tablespoons chipotle chile in adobo sauce (more or less according to taste; see note)
1 28-ounce can of tomatoes
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cups cooked white beans (cannelini, navy, etc.)
2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
toasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish (optional)

Heat oil in Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic until softened. Add pumpkin and chile and sauté 2 minutes more. Add tomatoes, vegetable broth, beans, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, covered, 45 minutes. Serve topped with toasted pumpkin seeds.


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