BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO: Full Of Fall Flavor!

butternut risotto textWinter squash comes in many varieties and colors – very tempting to buy as a Fall decoration. Of course, cooking them may seem a bit daunting… what with the potential for slicing off a finger or two.

Never fear! A quick par-cook in the microwave to the rescue!!! It softens the squash just enough to ensure all body parts remain intact.

This risotto recipe cooks faster than the traditional method because it’s given a jump start of a large amount of liquid at the beginning.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO – makes about 4 cups

  • 1 lb butternut squash – whole, washed & dried
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2½ cups vegetable stock – purchased or homemade (VEGETABLE STOCK)
  • 2 T butter, divided
  • 3/4 cups onions, chopped finely
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 cup Arborio rice, unrinsed
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 oz (1/3 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 T fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 T lemon juice

Place whole squash in microwave without piercing or slicing it. (It won’t explode.) Zap for 3 minutes only. Turn it over and zap another 30 seconds. This softens the squash enough to slice through it.

Note: Save all the skin, fibers, and seeds to use in broth. 

Cut off top and bottom to give a firm foundation for peeling. With a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, remove the peel down to the deep orange part (just past the yellow part).butternut risotto3 Remove neck (yikes!), slice into rounds, then cut into 1/2″ cubes. Cut the body (this is getting creepy) in half and scrape out seeds and fibers. (Remember to save the seeds, fibers, and skin for the broth!) Slice into 1/2″ thick pieces, then cut those into 1/2″ cubes.butternut risotto10 Measure out 1¾ cup of cubes (put any remaining cubes with the skins and seeds for the broth.) Into a 12″ nonstick skillet heat the olive oil over medium/high until shimmering. Add the 1¾ cup of cubed squash, spreading out into a single layer. butternut risotto11Cook about 5 minutes without stirring, until bottoms are browned. Continue cooking another 4-5 minutes, stirring now and then, trying not to turn them over – you want only one side browned. Remove to a bowl and set aside. butternut risotto12Into the now empty skillet put the seeds and skins, cooking over medium heat about 4 minutes to brown. (Beware of popping seeds as they cook.)butternut risotto13Remove to a small saucepan. Add in the vegetable stock, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook 10-15 minutes.butternut risotto6 Into the empty skillet melt 1½ T butter. Add in the onions, salt, and black pepper. Sauté over medium heat until onions start to brown. butternut risotto7Add in nutmeg, cinnamon, and garlic. Cook another 30 seconds to bloom the spices. Pour the Arborio into the onions and sauté over medium until edges of rice become translucent. butternut risotto4Add the wine to the rice and cook uncovered over medium high until it evaporates.  butternut risotto8As the wine is cooking, strain the broth made with seeds. Discard strained solids and set broth aside.

When wine has evaporated, pour in 1½ cups of the broth and 1/2 of the reserved cooked squash cubes. Cook over medium heat uncovered until most of liquid has been absorbed, stirring now and then. In 1/2 cup increments, continue adding broth to the rice as it’s been absorbed. Add broth (you may need all of it) until the rice is softened. Total cooking time is about 12 minutes. butternut risotto2Stir in Parmesan, sage, remaining 1/2 T butter, and lemon juice. Adjust salt and lemon juice, if needed.

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STUFFED POTATOES – Hot Stuff!

twice baked pot1I can’t deny it – I’m a huge potato lover. Mashed, French fried, hash browned, scalloped, and baked: I love them all! (It must be a trait inherited from my Irish mother.)

But, as a product of the microwave generation, preparing the perfect baked potato has always eluded me. Although many have claimed excellent results from the zapper, mine seem to continuously sport an underdone center (yuk!), with a flabby skin.

The answer seems to be in returning to my roots and, like my mama before me, bake these beauties in the oven. To ensure a tender center, I skewered the potatoes with a metal rod to promote even baking. Yes, they take an hour to cook, but it’s worth it.

As a fan of make-ahead recipes, I love STUFFED POTATOES because these can be prepared earlier in the day and then broiled during the last 10 minutes of meal-prep. Also, pototes retain their heat for quite some time afterward. Thus, a perfect side dish for company when the goal is to have all dishes on the table at their peak of flavor at the same time. (In my family, there’s the added challenge of getting everyone seated at that moment.)

NOTE: Unless I have buttermilk on hand (almost never), I always make my own, especially for the small amount called for in this recipe. Just combine milk and apple cider vinegar (see amounts below).

STUFFED POTATOES – serves 4

  • 2 large russet potatoes
  • 1T butter, preferably room temperature
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (OR, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar mixed with 1/4 cup milk or cream)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 scallions, sliced – both green & white parts

Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit.

Wash potato, then poke a metal skewer through the center, lengthwise. This adds heat to the middle of the potato so it cooks from the inside, too. (If you don’t have a metal skewer, don’t worry – they’ll still cook through without it.) Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, until easily pierced with a fork all the way to the center (center should be 106º Fahrenheit). twice baked pot2Remove skewer and slice in half, lengthwise, along narrow side of potato so they lay flat.twice baked pot4Carefully, scrap out insides, leaving 1/8″ border to support the skin. (If you scrap a bit too much in a section, just take some of the potato and smash it down to form a patch.) Place potato pulp in a bowl.twice baked pot5With a fork, mash the potato, breaking down lumps – you don’t need to make it as creamy as you would with mashed potatoes…unless, you want. twice baked pot6Add in the butter and stir until melted. Then add the buttermilk, sour cream, salt, pepper, cheese, and scallions. Mix gently, but thoroughly. twice baked pot3Divide equally and fill potato skins. At this point, you can cover them and complete preparation later.twiced baked pot8Just before serving time, broil potatoes about 4″ from heating element 10-15 minutes, until spotty brown on top. Serve hot.twice baked pot9

 

 

BLEU CHEESE MASHED POTATOES: Jazzing Up A Standard Recipe!

bleu cheese mashed potatoes textGood old mashed potatoes. Straight forward. Easy to prepare. And, most of all, filling. This last one is important if you have picky eater children (I speak from experience).

But, how about if we fancied-up those potatoes to make them company worthy? What would happen if we added bleu cheese, a little thyme, and topped with port infused sautéed onions? A brilliant side dish, that’s what!

BLEU CHEESE MASHED POTATOES – makes about 3 cups

  • 1½ lbs russet potatoes
  • 3/4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 3/4 tsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp brown sugar, packed (it’s not much, but aids caramelization)
  • 1/2 lb yellow onions
  • 2½ T ruby port (or any sweet red wine such as Masala)
  • 3 T butter, melted
  • 6 T half & half
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/3 tsp dried)
  • 2 oz bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

Place whole potatoes (with skin intact) in a saucepan and cover with 1″ water. mashed pot1Bring to simmer and cook until easily pierced with fork – about 35 minutes.

While potatoes are cooking, prepare the onions. Cut onions into 1/4″ slices. In a nonstick skillet, heat oil and butter over high heat. Add in 1/8 tsp salt, brown sugar, and onions.onions saute1 Sauté 5 minutes – until they start to lose volume and become a little browned. Decrease heat to medium and continue cooking until well browned (about 20 minutes or so).onion saute2 Add in the port and letter simmer for 5 minutes to evaporate the liquid. mashed pot2Set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, warm half & half and thyme just to the simmer point. Cover and set aside.

When potatoes are cooked, remove from water and peel. (They’re very hot so you might want to use a fork to hold them in place, while peeling with a knife.) For best mashing results, use a ricer or food mill.mashed pot3 Gently fold in melted butter. Add in half & half, bleu cheese, remaining salt, and pepper. Very gently blend together. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

To serve, top with onions.

SPICY CORN FRITTERS – Crispy Pancakes With A Sweet & Sour Kick!

corn fritter textCorn on the cob is great, but sometimes one wants to enjoy fresh corn without having to floss our teeth before smiling afterwards.

SPICY CORN FRITTERS to the rescue! Yes, they’re a little more work than dropping an ear of corn in boiling water, but once you try one…or more of these crispy pancakes, you’ll agree that they’re worth the effort.

SPICY CORN FRITTERS – makes about 11, depending on how big you make them

  • 3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup + 1½ tsp sugar, divided
  • 1 red jalapeño chili, minced (or serrano, if you like to kick it up a notch)
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 2 T cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 8 oz (2 ears, about 1½ cups) – fresh, frozen, or canned
  • vegetable oil for frying

Make the sweet & sour sauce by combining vinegar, 3/4 cup sugar, chili, and 1/2 tsp salt in a small saucepan. Bring to boil, uncovered. Continue at a hard boil until sauce is reduced to 2/3 cup total. You don’t have to stir, but keep an eye on it so you don’t reduce it too much. This takes about 5 minutes, depending on how high your burner is. Cover and set aside until ready for use.

If you’re using fresh corn, like I do in the summer, remove raw kernels. This is quite easy – rest one point of the shucked ear at a diagonal, holding it away from you, and run a sharp knife from midway downwards. corn de-kernalFlip the cob and repeat. Boil kernels in a little unsalted water for about 2 minutes, until done (adding salt at the beginning of cooking can lead to tough corn). Drain.

If you’re using frozen corn, thaw.

If you’re using canned corn, drain.

Into a blender (preferably the small pitcher that comes with some blenders), place the cilantro, garlic, black pepper, and water. Blend until pureed.

In a medium bowl, combine all-purpose flour, rice flour, 1½ tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, and baking powder. Stir corn and cilantro mixture into flour.

Heat 2 T vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet (yes, you have to oil nonstick pans) over medium/high heat. When hot, pour in 1/3 cup amounts, spreading out batter to about 4″. Cook until well browned on bottom. Flip and cook other side.

Serve immediately, spooning on Sweet & Sour Sauce.

 

FARRO-ASPARAGUS SALAD – A Lovely Summer Salad!

1/2farro asparagus salad textApparently, there’s yet another new-to-me ancient wheat grain called farro. It’s kind of similar to brown rice, but heartier with a nutty taste. As a gal who gets around (well, at least, is nearby) I figured I’d give it a try. After all, I’ve jumped on board the couscous, quinoa, barley, sorghum, and Israeli couscous bandwagons. May as well sample this.

Thank goodness for my adventurous spirit. Farro is FABULOUS! I randomly picked a brand of organic farro which, fortunately, was the right kind: Italian pearled farro. Other kinds need to be soaked overnight. Also, make sure the farro you purchase in NOT instant. Look at the ingredients – it should only contain farro. (organic or not – it’s up to you)farro salad 5Don’t follow the package directions for cooking. A better way is to cook it in a large pot of water, then drain it (like pasta). This alleviates the possibility (and, for me, the almost certainty) of burning when the water runs out.

FARRO-ASPARAGUS SALAD – makes 7 cups

  • 1½ T salt, divided
  • 1½ cups Italian pearled farro, raw
  • 6 oz asparagus (about 8 stalks), cut into 3/4″ pieces
  • 6 oz sugar snap peas, cut into 1/2″ – 3/4″ pieces
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
  • 2 T shallots, minced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp dried dill, (or 3 T fresh)
  • 3 oz Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 6 oz grape tomatoes, cut in half

Rinse farro. Boil 2 quarts of water. (It doesn’t have to be precise, but should be close due to the salt – if you have too little water, the farro will be too salty.) Add in 1 T of the salt and the farro. Uncovered, bring to back to a boil, then reduce flame to keep a low boil for 15-20 minutes (17 minutes works for me) – until the farro is cooked, but still has a bit of chew. Stir now and then – especially at the beginning.orange rice salad prep2While the farro is cooking, in another pot, bring 2 cups of water to boil. Add in 1 tsp of the salt, the snap peas, and the asparagus. Boil for 2 minutes. Tip:  SET TIMER SO YOU DON’T OVERCOOK!!! – You want the veggies to have a crunch. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.

Note: If you don’t want to dirty the second pot, wait until the farro is done, and cook the asparagus and snap peas in that pot.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, shallots, Dijon, 1/2 tsp salt, black pepper, and dill. Set aside.farro salad2Once the farro is done, drain in a sieve and then pour onto a rimmed cookie sheet. Spread out evenly in order to cool and dry the farro. This should take 15-20 minutes.farro salad1To assemble the salad, place the tomatoes, asparagus, snap peas, and Feta in a large bowl. Add the farro on top (this way the dressing will be absorbed into the farro). Whisk the vinaigrette briefly and drizzle on. Stir the ingredients to blend.  Let set about 20 minutes to allow the flavors to mix.

FARRO-ASPARAGUS SALAD is best served the first day. It’s still tasty after that, but a bit drier since the dressing has been absorbed.

CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES: They’re Delicious All Day Long!

cheesy brunch potatoes textI’m a fan of potatoes – dressed up or dressed down, they’re pretty much always good. I’m, also, a fan of brunch….only for dinner. So CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES is an Antonini family favorite evening meal.

Served with a vegetable, salad, and a yogurt shake, you’ve got yourself a fast, filling, and kid-friendly meal.

CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES – serves about 6 (unless you have teenagers – then it’s 2)

  • 1½ lbs red potatoes (Yukon gold potatoes are fine, too – just not russet)
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1¼ cup jalapeño jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup medium cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2-3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup avocado, cubed

Get a pot of salted water boiling. Cut unpeeled potatoes into 3/4″ cubes. potatoes choppedWhen water reaches boil, drop in potatoes and cook about 5 minutes – just to par-cook them. potatoes boiled(You don’t want them completely cooked or they’ll start to mash when fried.) Pour into sieve to drain.

In a large nonstick skillet (at least 12″), melt butter over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, flipping them with non-metal spatula every few minutes. After about 5 minutes add in the onions (they cook faster than the potatoes – you don’t want to burn them). potatoes onions friedContinue flipping until the potatoes are browned. potatoes onions fried2Turn off flame.

Stir in salt and cheeses to blend. Gently fold in tomatoes and avocado. Add salt and pepper, if desired.brunch potatoes beauty

JICAMA-MANGO SALAD: A Winter Fruit Salad!

jicama-salad-textOne generally associates fruit salads with summer. But sometimes a heavy winter meal needs the fresh sweetness that fruit provides.

What to do? JICAMA-MANGO SALAD, that’s what. Not only is it simple to make, but it’s brightly colored with a bit of a kick to it (thanks to red pepper flakes).

JICAMA-MANGO SALAD – makes 4 cups

  • 3 T lime juice
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1/4 tsp lime zest
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 jicama, peeled
  • 2 mangoes, peeled
  • 1 orange, peeled

NOTE: Cube the jicama one layer at a time. Slicing through a stack can cause the top layer to slip, possibly yielding a nasty cut.

Cut jicama into 1/4″ pieces. Cut mangoes and orange into 1/2″ pieces.

Into a saucepan combine lime juice, sugar, lime zest, pepper flakes, and salt. Over medium flame, bring to simmer, stirring just until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add in the jicama. Cover (off heat) and set aside for 20 minutes to soften a little.

After 20 minutes, combine all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate, at least, half an hour.