Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Broiled Herbed Tomatoes in Risotto (semi- alla Milanese) Nests with a side of, fashion-squee?

Much like my first experience making polenta, I was nervous about making risotto for the first time. I had heard both were very much labors of love, requiring devoted attention and stir-power to keep from scorching the bottom of the pot. Thankfully, I've found that while both require attention and stirring, they're easy enough and worth the time.

The risotto recipe comes from A Cooking Affaire: A Collection of Classics by Jan Bertoglio and JoLe Hudson. I got the 1984, spiral-bound collection of recipes and sketches at the local library's book sale. So far, this is all I've tried out of it.

I should note that I made my own version of the risotto based on the ingredients I could get my hands on. For a risotto to be "alla Milanese" (meaning "of Milan" [Italy]), it will generally contain saffron and beef marrow, neither of which I could find in time for dinner.


Ingredients:

  • 2 C Aborio (Italian rice)
  • 3/4 C dry white wine
  • 6 - 8 C hot chicken stock, preferably a top-grade canned broth if not homemade
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 C uncooked beef marrow
  • 1/4 tsp saffron, dissolved in 1 C of stock
  • 3/4 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 stick softened butter
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • EVOO to drizzle
  • Basil, rosemary and thyme to sprinkle on tomatoes
Directions for Risotto:
  1. Bring the stock to a simmer in a large pot and keep it hot over a low flame.
  2. In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, saute the chopped onion in butter until it is transparent but not brown. 
  3. Stir in rice and marrow and stir-cook until meat loses color and rice is glazed. 
  4. Pour in wine and cook, stirring until liquid is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper.




  5. Add simmering stock, 1 C at a time, stirring with each addition until liquid is absorbed.
  6. About halfway during the cooking time, add the 1 C in which the saffron has been dissolved. Then add liquid in smaller amounts, about 1/2 C at a time, and continue to stir. The risotto is ready when rice is held together in a creamy texture - yet each grain is al dente, firm. 
  7. Finish with softened butter and Parmesan cheese.
Directions for Tomatoes:
  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Slice bottoms of tomatoes to create flat surfaces for them to rest upright and evenly in the baking pan. 
  3. Slice tops of tomatoes.




  4. Sit upright in baking pan. (An 8"x8" works fine.)
  5. Drizzle generous amount of EVOO over tomatoes.
  6. Sprinkle generous amounts of basil, rosemary and thyme over each.




  7. Broil on top rack for about 8 minutes, or until top begins to brown slightly. 
  8. Make a risotto "nest" in center of plate and place tomato in center.
Et voila!

Totally Random Sidenote: I'm not a magazine girl - never have been, don't forsee myself being one in the future either. I occasionally enjoy perusing awful headlines on covers in line at the grocery store, but I haven't subscribed to a magazine since high school (R.I.H::istory:: American Cheerleader). On a total whim, I found myself having to have a copy of the May 2010 InStyle magazine that hit shelves last Friday. Have you seen it?? I'm not even a huge fan of ScarJo, but gosh is this photo lovely! I adore pale neutrals and uber light pastels (coupled with whimsical materials) that compliment us lighter-complexioned ladies. 

For your viewing pleasure, and to provide me with a little dream-candy before I head to bed: 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Indian Spiced Beef with Roasted Asparagus

First, let me begin by wishing any/all of my readers a happy Earth Day! Thankfully, the sun has graced us with its presence, for a little while at least.

This recipe is an excuse for me to remind readers of what I believe is an important issue: knowing what you're eating. I haven't watched Robert Kenner's movie Food, Inc. yet (it's in our Netflix queue), but today on the Bonnie Hunt Show he re-emphasized (or revealed for the first time for some) the scary truth about where our food really comes from and what it goes through before it gets to us. One hamburger patty can come from over 1,000 cows! And many meat fillers (like hamburger) are sprayed with ammonia to kill e. coli bacteria. Many chicken farms have chickens pumped so full of antibiotics and growth hormones that their muscles balloon faster than the rest of their bodies and can only take a few steps before they collapse because of the unbalance.

When you're buying meat at the grocery store, pay attention! Support healthy, fair farming practices.

Ingredients (Spice Rub for Beef):

  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp grill seasoning, such as McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning
Other Ingredients:
  • 4 - 6oz. portions 1"-thick beef sirloin
  • 2 tbsp EVOO for beef + 4 tbsp for asparagus
  • 2 bunches fresh asparagus spears, trimmed
  • 4 medium shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
Directions for the Asparagus:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
  2. Place the asparagus and shallots in a large bowl, and pour the (4 tbsp) olive oil and (2 tbsp) red wine vinegar over them. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat evenly. Spread the asparagus spears out in a single layer on a baking sheet.


  3. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until tender and bright green. Shake the pan about halfway through to roll the spears over so they cook evenly. Remove from the oven, and drizzle the remaining vinegar over the asparagus. Toss lightly to coat, and serve immediately.


Directions for the Beef:
  1. Combine the ingredients and season the meat liberally. Let stand for 15 minutes.


  2. Heat a skillet with the 2 tbsp of EVOO over medium-high heat. 
  3. Add the meat and cook steak for 7 minutes, turning once for rare and up to 12 minutes for well done. Allow the meat to rest before slicing. 

Et voila!

(Indian Spiced Beef recipe from Rachael Ray's Big Orange Book and Roasted Asparagus recipe from AllRecipes.com)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Coffee Table Book: Kathryn Stockett's "The Help"


The April book for my QOSO Book Club is "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. I'd seen it on shelves at local bookstores for months and had even picked it up and carried it around a couple times. At $24.95 for a hardback ($14.95 when it's on sale), I decided to download it on our Kindle for $9.99! 

I'm not sure how to begin my review of this book. I still feel like it's not over even though I finished it days ago. Stockett does an amazing job of keeping you interested in all of the ongoing story lines weaved throughout the book. Told from the perspective of multiple, interwoven characters, "The Help" delves into the good, the bad and the ugly sides of being a woman in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi. 

The black domestic servants have a bond that only they may ever truly understand. The hate that they're exposed to is sick and heart-wrenching. The community they share is rich in experience and uniqueness. One white woman vows to share these women's stories and make things right. 

The white, upper-class women have their own bond, one built on tradition and expectations. From Junior League meetings to bridge club, their lives revolve around society's priorities. They charge their maids with not only managing the home, but even with raising their children. 

Without going too far into any one character's story, I will say that the two most endearing aspects of the book are 1) maid Aibileen's relationship with the white children she raises and 2) the unusual relationship-turned-friendship between the help and one honest white woman who believes in the power of story-telling. 

I should note that this is Stockett's first book and she does an amazing job herself of story-telling. As a white female writer (who had black help as a child - [and I have to note how similar her story is to that of the character Miss Skeeter]), she took on the tough task of using 1960s Southern dialect, specifically used by poor blacks. Having been exposed to some of it, I thought she did a fairly good job with it. 

Conclusion: This book is a tragic, but beautiful and reader-friendly. It's a page-turner that runs the gambit of emotions. Keep in mind that this is a book intended to entertain (not to be a strictly historical commentary) and you ought find good value in "The Help."

Post Script: I attended Book Club today and was totally dumbfounded at one point when a member asked who had black help growing up. I did!? I was shocked to realize that I hadn't once thought of my own experience with black help. I'm assuming it's because my experience was so significantly different - different time/place/situation. 

Toddy was my Ethiopian nanny as a small child. (I believe Toddy was short for something - Momma?) My parents helped her (and eventually her son) become green card holders here in the states. Sadly, I don't remember much about her since I was so small when she left us and my parents divorced. I can't remember her voice. Her face has been almost completely erased over time. I do remember, though, her big, warm arms and her tubby, round belly. And her smell. 

I saw her once when I was a pre-teen. At least, I think I saw her. I was waiting in the car as my mom ran in to pick up dry cleaning. I swear that I saw her in there, behind the counter. I can't imagine how this really did play out (if at all). The odds are so small, but I really can swear it happened. I hope it did. I feel this new want to see her now. To "meet" her for the first time. I always have a ton of new questions to ask my parents, both of whom are surely asleep and not up for the conversation, but I hope I'll have the chance soon to learn more about my own "help."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cheers! Wine Review: 2008 Chapoutier Bila-Haut (at Rasika)

After a lovely day wandering around the sunny, blossom-filled Tidal Basin this past Saturday, dear husband and I were both euphoric, but hungry. We had dinner reservations at Rasika, a classy little Indian spot in the Penn Quarter/Chinatown area that we'd been keeping tabs on through Washingtonian's annual Best Restaurant List

(Photo from About.com)

I won't get into a full restaurant review (though I think I might quite like to eventually), but I have to rave about the great wine we enjoyed, a bottle of 2008 Chapoutier Roussillon Bila-Haut (a Rhone red blend), rated #75 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 List of 2009 and given 90 points by Wine Spectator. 

Since I'm no good at giving all those delicious, sometimes curious, descriptions of wine, I'll share the winemaker's "notes":

Color: deep red garnet
Nose: black cherries
Mouth: well-structured with sweet meaty tannins. The wine had the heat and wildness of the Roussillon area.
Critical Acclaim: A muscular red, with concentrated flavors of dark cherry, plum, raspberry tart and grilled fig. The dense finish of dark chocolate is firm and focused, with smoky notes.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Craisin-Walnut Salad and Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Orzo

After a weekend of beautiful weather, I was blessed with yet another day of it as the week started today. A friend and I spent some time outside sipping iced tea and talking about our love of being on the water (jet-skiing, fishing, margaritas ... sighs ...). When it came time to plan my meals for the week, I knew tonight's would have to be light and summery. That being said, I came up with this:

Craisin-Walnut Salad
  • Spring salad mix
  • Chopped walnuts
  • Craisins (dried cranberries) - *Tonight, we tried (and enjoyed!) pomegranate-infused ones
  • Crumbled feta - *Usually I have feta on hand, but after realizing I didn't, I substituted with shredded mozarella. Not a bad replacement!
  • Ken's Healthy Options Raspberry-Walnut Vinaigrette 

 

Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Orzo
Ingredients:
  • 8 oz. orzo
  • 1 C water
  • 1/2 C chopped sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), divided
  • 1 plum tomato, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 3 tsp chopped fresh marjoram, divided
  • 1 tbsp red-wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp plus 1 tbsp EVOO, divided
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed (1.25 lbs)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 C finely shredded Romano cheese, divided
Directions:
  1. Cook orzo in a large saucepan of boiling water until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and rinse.
  2. Meanwhile, place water, 1/4 C sun-dried tomatoes, plum tomato, garlic, 2 tsp marjoram, vinegar and 2 tsp oil in a blender. Blend until just a few chunks remain.



    (If this doesn't scream "Under the Tuscan Sun!" [and I don't mean the movie], I'm not sure what does.)
  3. Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat remaining 1 tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent burning, until golden outside and no longer pink in the middle, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate; tent with foil to keep warm.
  4. Set aside 1/2 C of the tomato mix. Pour the rest into the pan and bring to a boil. Add the remaining 1/4 C sun-dried tomatoes to the pan along with the orzo and 6 tbsp cheese. Cook, stirring, until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide among 4 plates.



  5. Slice the chicken. Top each portion of pasta with sliced chicken, 2 tbsp of the reserved tomato mix and a sprinkling of the remaining cheese and marjoram.

Et voila!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Coffee Table Book: Richard Goodman's "French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France"

My good friend Kristin over at Holy Cannoli Recipes is a frequent Book Sale attendee at our local public library. Once a month, she heads over and scours the tables set up in the lobby for unloved books needing new homes.

Last month, we were riding in the car when she mentioned, "Oh, hey, I grabbed a book for you at the book sale. The title's French so I thought you'd like it." Now, I may have mentioned this before but in case you don't remember or I never actually vocalized it, I don't speak a lick of French. Naturally, I thought Kristin was either confused or joking when she said the French-titled book was for me. What she had grabbed, though, was really a book about France, and thankfully not written in French.

Goodman's simplicity is what makes this book such a great read. He shares his experience of up-and-leaving his fast-paced, big-city life for a year of the serene, simple French countryside. His experimentation with gardening is what roots him (literally) to the unknown country and people that he grows so fond of.

Conclusion: As an Amazon reviewer says (yes, I agree so much that I decided to quote it here), it's like "a gentle adventure for the spirit ... part travelogue, part gardener's journal, part pilgrimage ..." A refreshingly simple read.