Friday, October 21, 2011

Almost Hands-Free Risotto

My aunt always used to make risotto and I remember watching her stand over the stove, drink in hand, stirring and adding liquid for what seemed like forever.  But the end result was always worth it.  As an adult, I had never made risotto until recently because I'm not a big fan of anything that requires me to stand and stir for long periods of time (I know, I'm lazy, and probably have cooking ADD).  

Then I was watching America's Test Kitchen one day and they introduced me to the "almost hands-free" risotto.  As usual, I was skeptical.  It went against everything I knew about risotto.  But again, as usual, I was wrong and ATK was right.  One of these days you'd think I would start trusting them, seeing as they test recipes hundreds of times... 

Almost Hands-Free Risotto
Start to finish: 45 minutes
Makes 4 main dish servings

3 1/3 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 1/3 cup arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 cup frozen, shelled edamame
salt to taste

First you will want to prepare your asparagus.  Trim the ends and cut the stalks into 3/4 inch pieces.  Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch them for 1.5-2 minutes.  This will lock in that beautiful green color and make them crisp tender.

Have you ever noticed that when you blanch asparagus, the water turns green?  I figure that some of that green must be good flavor so I actually saved this water and added chicken bouillon to make my 3 and 1/3 cup of broth and then another cup for the water.  You don't have to do that, but if you don't, you will need to bring the same amount of broth and water to a boil in a large sauce pan.  This is the liquid you'll be adding to the risotto and it needs to be hot.  

Next, heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  Cook until the onions are softened but not browned, 4-7 minutes.

Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Next, add the rice and stir around until the edges of the rice are translucent around the edges.  This takes a couple minutes.

Deglaze the pan with wine and stir until fully absorbed, another couple minutes.  

When the wine is absorbed, add all but 1 cup of the broth blend.  

This goes against everything we know about risotto, but just do it and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Cover the pan and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring only twice during cooking.  Watch the progress below.

At the beginning...

 After 5 minutes

After 10 minutes

After 15 minutes

After 20 minutes add the edamame and 1/2 cup of the remaining broth mixture.  Stir gently until the risotto becomes creamy, about 3 minutes.

This liquid should be very thick, starchy and almost fully absorbed.

Next, throw in the asparagus and the parmesan cheese.  

Remove the pan from the heat and let it stand, covered, for 5 minutes.

Add salt and pepper if you think it needs any.  If your risotto gets too stiff, use the remaining broth to loosen it up.

Serve either vegetarian style:

Or with a nice sauteed chicken breast:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Super Duper Birthday Ice Cream Cake

A couple years back, my dad asked for an ice cream cake for his birthday.  The cake we had was so amazing that everyone in my family started requesting an ice cream cake for their birthdays.  Now it's become kind of a tradition.  If it's your birthday (Father's and Mother's Day have now also been incorporated) you get to choose what kind of ice cream is in the cake.  This cake is easy to put together and can go with any ice cream you choose.  This particular one was made with banana split ice cream but we've also had it with strawberry, neapolitan, cookies n cream, mint chocolate chip, tin roof sundae... you really can't go wrong.

Super Duper Birthday Ice Cream Cake
Start to finish: a few hours
Makes 8-10 servings

1/2 a standard carton of your favorite ice cream
1 bottle of hot fudge topping
1 box Jiffy white or yellow cake mix, prepared as directed (makes one layer)
1 container whipped cream
Pretty toppings (will vary based on ice cream, in this case I used bananas and vanilla wafers)

First, mix the cake mix per the directions.

Pour it into a non-stick spring form pan.  It's important you use a spring form pan so that you can easily release the cake later.

 Bake it as directed.  Let it cool.  Release the spring form sides to reveal the cake.  You will see it is domed.  We're going to shave this off so the cake is level.

Put the sides back onto the pan.  Make sure they are clasped around the base.  Pour the bottle of hot fudge into the middle of the cake and spread it evenly with an offset spatula.   You may need to microwave the jar for 30 seconds to 1 minute so that it pours out easily.

Stick this in the freezer until the hot fudge has firmed up.  I say give it an hour.  If you have a deep freeze that's even better.  It freezes better.

About 10 minutes before you are ready to take the cake out of the freezer, set out your ice cream to soften.  When it is very soft and moldable, go ahead and place half a carton of it onto your cake.

Again, use your offset spatula to spread it evenly.

Put this back into the freezer until it is rock hard (probably another hour).  When it's properly frozen, spread an entire carton of whipped topping over the top.

Are you drooling yet?

Sprinkle the cake with the toppings of your choosing.  Crumbled cookies always make a delicious topper, but depending on the ice cream, you may want to use fresh fruit, or if you're feeling festive, colored sugar and/or sprinkles.

Put the cake in the freezer until you are ready to eat it.  Set the cake out for 10 minutes before removing the spring form edges.

Even though you will be tempted to dig in right away, don't forget that technically the birthday boy/girl should get the first slice ;-)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Corn Chowder

Fall brings a lot of foods back into my life that had been given a rest during the warm summer months.  One of those foods is soup.  Ok, so soup is kind of a category of foods, but nonetheless, as soon as fall comes I tend to get a little soup crazy.  I have actually been wanting soup for quite some time but refuse to make it unless it's less than 80 degrees outside.  I don't know about you, but I don't like my food to make me sweat, and if you eat soup when it's over 80 degrees outside, you will undoubtedly be sweating by the end of your bowl.

Corn Chowder is the perfect "kick off to fall" soup because you ideally want to make it while fresh corn, in the husk, is still available.  This recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated, and they have yet to let me down.

Corn Chowder
Start to finish: 60 minutes
Makes 7 servings

8 ears of corn
1 onion, chopped
4 slices of bacon, chopped into bite size pieces
2 tsp fresh thyme
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup flour
5 cups water
3/4 pound red potatoes. cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup half and half

The first thing you'll want to do is bake your bacon.  Never baked bacon?  See how I did it here.

While it bakes, take a knife to the ears of corn and start stripping the kernels off.  This is going to get a little messy.  Try not to let corn fly everywhere.  When you're done transfer the corn to a bowl and set aside.

This next step was a lot of hard work, and it didn't yield what I thought it would, so I'm not sure if I would do this again.  You may try it and have better luck than I did.

Take the back of a butter knife and scrape away any remaining pulp on the cobs into a couple of paper towels.

Ring the pulp out, leaving the juice at the bottom of the bowl.  Discard the pulp.

Given this last picture you can probably guess why I doubt the worthiness of this step.  Maybe I am just a really good corn shucker and there wasn't much pulp left to scrape.  The recipe says you should end up with 2/3 cup of juice.  Clearly this didn't happen here.  If you go through this step when you make this soup, let me know if your efforts yield a better result.

At this point your bacon should be baked.  Pour all rendered bacon fat from the bottom of the sheet pan into the bottom of a dutch oven and turn the heat to medium.

Add the onion, thyme, salt, and pepper.  If there's not enough bacon fat to go around, add in a tablespoon of butter for good measure.  You are going to be making a roux a little later.

While you are waiting for your onions to soften, chop the potatoes.

Once the onions are cooked down, but not brown, add in the flour and cook that for about 30 seconds.  Next, deglaze the pan with some water.

Add in the rest of the water and bring the whole thing to a boil.  Once boiling, add the potatoes and corn.

Leave the soup uncovered until the potatoes have softened.  This takes about 15 minutes.

Once the potatoes are cooked, pull 2 cups of the chowder out and let it cool for a couple minutes.  Then process it in a blender until smooth.  Not chunky at all.  This is going to further thicken your soup.

Return the puree to the chowder and add in the half and half, bacon, and reserved corn juice.

My husband wants me to warn you that this soup may not be as thick as a "traditional" chowder.  He reminded me only at least a half dozen times that my soup was a little on the thin side.  But gosh darn it, it's tasty and that's all that matters!

I got this great idea from 100 Days of Real Food to individually jar and freeze the leftovers.  Perfect for work day lunches!