Monday, September 28, 2009

Artichoke and Mushroom Risotto

There are a few edible things in life that I have never particularly liked: rice, pork chops, stewed tomatoes and cooked bell peppers top that list. I can now remove rice from that list after creating this recipe. The concoction below is my first foray into risotto -- that elusive, creamy rice dish that transforms a boring carb into a decadent experience. If that weren't enough, adding white truffle oil at the end adds another layer of out-of-this-world savor that transforms a weeknight dinner into something several steps above ordinary.

Artichoke and Mushroom Risotto
3-4 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 mushrooms, finely chopped
3 canned artichoke hearts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup sherry
1/2 cup Parmesan Reggiano cheese, grated
White truffle oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In small saucepan, heat chicken stock (from scratch or canned) until it reaches a gentle simmer. Set aside.
2. Heat olive oil and 2 tbsp butter in heavy-bottomed saute pan. Add red onion and cook for 4 minutes stirring occasionally until the onion is golden. Add garlic and mushrooms and continue stirring until garlic starts to caramelize, approximately 1 minute.
3. Add arborio rice and stir until it is coated with the oil-butter mixture. Add cubed artichoke hearts. Add sherry and cook, stirring gently, until it has completely evaporated and been absorbed into the rice, about 1 minute.
4. Slowly add enough heated chicken stock to cover the rice. Stir until the stock has been absorbed and evaporated. Continue adding, stirring and evaporating stock for approximately 20 minutes. (A 1/3 to a 1/2 cup at a time is sufficient.) The risotto is done when the rice is soft on the outside and al dente on the inside.
5. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 tbsp butter and the Parmesan Reggiano until both have melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve immediately with extra cheese and white truffle oil on the side.

Substitution Suggestion: My inspiration recipe, of which I largely ignored except for cooking instructions, called for carrots and zucchini to be sauteed after the onion. It also called for asparagus tips at the end of the cooking process. Any squash could probably work. Sun-dried tomatoes and green onions would work, too. The key is to think about how it will complement the protein that you'll undoubtedly serve next to it.
I don't drink, but when cooking with alcohol, I prefer sherry over white wine, so that's why it's included here. White wine will work just fine.

Lessons Learned: I've steered clear of risotto for two reasons: 1) I don't like rice, and 2) everyone says it's hard to make. With this recipe, I can now confidently declare that I like rice and if I can make this risotto on the first try without it going gummy, anyone can do this! Considering it was my first attempt, I'm pretty proud of myself. I think the tip is to add hot liquid and to continue stirring. Sure, it's labor intensive, but it is SO worth it. What a treat to feel each individual grain of rice enveloped in the creaminess that's created by the starch, stock and butter.
That said, you really need good ingredients. Chicken stock powder won't cut it here. You need real stock. I admit that I used the low-sodium canned stuff, but I'll use homemade next time. And, don't use the Parmesan in the green can that you find on the top shelf of the pasta aisle. The freshly grated stuff really isn't that much more expensive than the tasteless version with the five-year shelf life. If you use artichoke hearts, do not, I repeat do NOT use marinated hearts. All that brine will absolutely ruin the flavor you have painstakingly built with all that stirring. I found hearts that didn't have any of the leaves left on them. By putting them in early in the process, they'll absorb a lot of the flavor of the onion and garlic. The truffle oil was definitely a splurge (at $18 for the tiny bottle), but I loved the extra nuance it added to the dish.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Apple, Pear and Cranberry Crisp

Sometimes a recipe comes along that requires zero improvement. That is the case with this one, which I found on the Food Network website. It is an Ina Garten original. Though I don't enjoy watching her show, The Barefoot Contessa, I did enjoy this recipe in all of its beautiful simplicity. The tartness of the apples, the sweetness of the pears, the little sour red nuggets of unexpected cranberry -- it melds on the fork and in the mouth for the perfect embodiment of an autumnal evening.
The recipe is a cinch to put together if you have an apple corer-peeler-slicer gadget. I can't imagine creating this recipe without one. Enjoy!

Apple, Pear and Cranberry Crisp
2 pounds ripe Bosc pears (4 pears)
2 pounds firm Macoun apples (6 apples)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the topping:
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Peel, core and cut the pears and apples into large chunks and place in a large bowl. Add dried cranberries.
3. In a separate small bowl, combine the zests, juices, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour over fruit and toss until coated. Pour into a 9-by-12-by 2-inch baking dish.
4. For the topping, combine the flour, sugars, cinnamon, salt, oatmeal and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1 minute, until the mixture is in large crumbles. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit, covering the fruit completely.
5.  Place the baking dish on a sheet pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is brown and the fruit
is bubbly. Serve warm.

Substitution Suggestions: I couldn't find Macoun apples (pronounced MacCowan), but Granny Smiths will work just fine. The tartness nicely juxtaposes the sweetness of the pears.

Lessons Learned: Instead of cooking this in a casserole dish, I packed the apple mixture into foil muffin cup liners (paper liners will not work because of the juices) and topped each individual serving with the crumb topping. Aside from requiring a little extra care to get the cups out of the muffin pans, it was the perfect small serving at a dessert potluck. I wanted individual, stand-alone foil cups, but was out of luck after searching three grocery stores, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma. If you cook this in individual servings, whether with liners or in ramekins, it only requires 30 minutes of cooking as opposed to the casserole's 50 minutes.
There is one very small addition to Ina's original recipe. I added some cinnamon to the crumb topping. It just seemed wrong to leave it out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cran-Apple Crocked Chicken

When my husband and I got married, we received a wonderful recipe album set created by some of the scrapbook industry's most talented artists. (I was an editor at Creating Keepsakes.) Approximately 20 women created at least 40 6x6 scrapbook pages of their favorite recipes. The pages were combined into three small albums. The gift rendered me speechless and teary-eyed, which is quite the feat. It was one of the most thoughful gifts I have ever received.
I have turned to that album again and again. My husband loves Allison's chicken logs in cheese sauce. I fell in love with Beth's cranberry-sauced pork tenderloin, which I've made at least a dozen times. I wanted to take the idea of that recipe and create my own version. That brings me to this recipe, which was an absolute success, according to my husband. Enjoy!

Cran-Apple Crocked Chicken

4 chicken breasts, trimmed
1 can cranberry sauce
1/2 cup apple sauce
1 small apple, peeled and diced (about 3/4 cup)
1/3 cup onion, diced
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp sherry
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp chipotle powder

1. Combine all ingredients except the chicken in the crock pot. Add chicken and stir to coat. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours or until chicken is cooked and begins to fall apart in the sauce.
2. Just before serving, spoon about 2 cups of the sauce into a saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and simmer until sauce begins to reduce and thicken, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Serve sauce on the side or over potatoes.

Substitution Suggestions: This recipe will work equally well with a pork tenderloin. If you don't have chipotle powder, ground black pepper will work equally well. I just prefer chipotle.

Lessons Learned: This recipe really is as straight-forward as it sounds. If I had an emulsion blender (which I'm hoping to get for Christmas!), I would puree the sauce before I reduced it. Leave it chunky if you prefer a more rustic "gravy." If you don't have an emulsion blender, you can use a regular blender.
The canned cranberry sauce can be whole berry or smooth depending on your personal preference. And, you can leave the skin on the apple if you're not in the mood to peel it.
The recipe from which I drew my inspiration did not have apple sauce, sherry or garlic, but did include dried apricots, ginger, shallots and orange juice. If you didn't want to use apples, you could use a peach puree and dried peaches. Pears might also work.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Apple, Gorgonzola and Bacon-Stuffed Pork Chops

Cooking has always been an adventure. If science project experiments would have been compared to cooking experiments, I think I would liked science class a lot more than I did as a kid. There's just something exciting about combining flavors and textures to create something truly tasty.
This recipe is one of those experiments gone delightfully right! I found a version of it on a website when I had apples and pork chops that needed to be used. I have since altered it sufficiently to truly call it my own. It is one of my favorite fall/winter dishes. It is because of this recipe that I always have bacon bits on hand.

Apple, Gorgonzola and Bacon-Stuffed Pork Chops
4 boneless pork loin chops, butterflied
1 medium apple, diced (about 1 cup)
1/3 cup pecans, chopped
4 ounces Gorgonzola, crumbled
3 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
2 tbsp green onion, finely chopped
Garlic powder
Black pepper, ground
Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a shallow baking dish.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the apple, Gorgonzola, bacon, pecans and green onion. Season to taste with garlic powder and pepper.
3. Cut a pocket in each pork chop, making sure not to cut all the way through the chop. Pat chops dry with paper towel, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then flash sear over high heat in an olive oil-coated pan until the outside has a seared exterior. Do not cook completely through.
4. Stuff each pocket with as much apple mixture as will comfortably fit. Close and secure with toothpicks and place in greased baking dish. Spoon remaining apple mixture over chops.
3. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven. Check for doneness. (Thicker chops will take longer.)

Substitute Suggestions: This recipe also works really well with chicken, but you need to adjust the cooking time since raw poultry is wrong on so many levels. You can also swap out the Gorgonzola for blue cheese. No apples? Try fresh pears. Don't feel like frying bacon? I use bacon bits all the time!

Lessons Learned: If you don't want to mess with the pocket, sear your protein, place it in the baking dish, and then pour the mixture on top of it and bake until the protein is cooked through and the gorgonzola has melted. I typically use a one-inch thick boneless pork chop (Omaha Steak pork chops are the best!). If you opt for chicken, you could pound the chicken into paillards (1/8 to 1/4-inch thick), then roll the mixture into it, securing with toothpicks. That would probably cut down your cooking time.
I tried the recipe with a Parmesan crust instead of the flash sear. It was fabulous! Instead of searing the meat, follow these steps:
1. Create the pocket.
2. Pat the meat dry.
3. Stuff with mixture.
4. Press both sides of the stuffed chops into a mixture of 1/2 cup Parmesan, 2 tbsp flour, 1/2 tsp savory, 1 tbsp garlic powder and a pinch of salt.
5. Secure pocket opening with toothpicks and place in greased dish.
6. Spray top with baking spray (Pam) and bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes, depending on chop thickness.
7. Approximately 7 minutes before the chops are done, add the rest of the apple mixture to the pan and continue baking until chops are done and Gorgonzola has melted. (Adding it sooner will only burn it.)