October 31, 2011

... treats, not tricks

I don't know about you, but I've always been a 'treats' girl myself.  They're so much nicer than tricks, don't you think?  Last year I made these little gems and the year before I topped them with a candy corn... cute, right?  Whether you have a lot of time to spare or just a little, there are a lot of fun ways to treat the special people in your life... and if you do, maybe they won't trick you!

Ghost Cookies
1 package Nutter Butter cookies
1 package vanilla Almond Bark
mini chocolate chips

Dip each cookie in melted almond bark to coat and shake off the excess.  Place the covered cookie on a sheet of wax paper to harden, being sure to add two "eyes" before it does.

Taylor's Notes:
I really have no idea where I learned this, but these little ghosts are always a hit when I make them.  Here's my one bit of information, though.  Definitely use Almond Bark.  It melts better and tastes better than the other brands and it's cheaper, too.  Win Win.  When you're melting the bark, do it over a double-boiler and you'll have a smooth coating on all your cookies.  Just put a bit of water in a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer.  Put the Almond Bark in a glass bowl and place it on the saucepan (make sure the bowl is larger than the saucepan and don't let the water touch the bowl).  Stir it occasionally and you'll be good to dip in no time.

Another Fall / Halloween staple is Candy Corn & Peanut Mix.  Does anyone have a better name for this?  I know there are several variations that include M&M's or other tasty candy, but I prefer the simple mix best. And, if you ask me, the perfect ratio is two peanut halves to one candy corn.

A new favorite I learned this year (thanks to my sister!) is the S'mores Mix.  Put equal parts Golden Grahams cereal, mini marshmallows, and semi-sweet chocolate chips in a bowl, stir them up and Voila! S'mores!  No campfire necessary.

I'm pretty sure these two mixes went over much better with all my friends than a bunch of tricks would any day!

Happy Halloween!

October 29, 2011

... Risotto with Mushrooms and Asparagus

Risotto is something that, if it's on the menu, I'm ordering it.  I love it and I've been saying for a couple of years now that "this is the year I'm going to learn to make risotto."  And now, like most times, I'm wondering what took me so long.  It's really not difficult, just a little time consuming.  So pour a glass of wine, prep your ingredients, and get ready to enjoy a restaurant-quality meal right at home. 

You know me and my love of veggies.  Add anything you want to this, though.  Risotto is so versatile!

serves 4-6

1/2 cup dried procini mushrooms
4 to 6 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion
1 1/2 cups Arborio or other short- or medium-grain rice
salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 to 5 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock
1 cup sliced shiitake or portobello mushroom caps
freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Rinse the dried mushrooms one or twice, then soak them in hot water to cover.  Put 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat.  When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and coated with butter, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add a little salt and pepper, then the white wine.  Stir and let the liquid bubble away.  Drain the porcini and chop them, then stir them in, along with about half of their soaking liquid.

Use a ladle to begin adding the stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring after each addition.  When the stock is just about evaporated, add more.  The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry.  Stir frequently, keeping the heat at medium to medium-high.  Meanwhile, put the remaining butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  When the butter is melted, add the fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and almost crisp, about 10 minutes, then remove from the heat.

Begin tasting the rice 20 minutes after you add it; you want it to be tender but still with a tiny bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes to reach this stage.  When it does, stir in the cooked mushrooms, with their butter, and at least 1/2 cup of Parmesan if you're using it.  Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve immediately, passing additional Parmesan at the table.

Taylor's Notes:
This is another recipe from my main man, Mark Bittman.  This time, though, I used his awesome iPad app (oh, did I mention i got an iPad? love it.  seriously.  and this app is absolutely worth the $9.99 it costs.  so if you, too, have an iPad, buy it.  like now.)  Ok, anyhoo... Mark is awesome and so are his apps, obviously.  

I followed his recipe for the most part, but as you can tell from the recipe titles, I changed just a few things along the way.  I didn't use the dried mushrooms, instead adding fresh asparagus along with the fresh (baby bella) mushrooms.  I cooked them in the skillet along with the mushrooms - for about 10 minutes or until everything was tender.  

I set out to halve the recipe, so guesstimated the amount of most of the ingredients.  I ended up using just under a cup of rice and about 3 cups of chicken stock.  I think the key to risotto is adding liquid as needed and stirring it often.  I cooked it for 20 minutes and it was perfect.  I bet I used 6 oz of mushrooms and 8 stalks of asparagus.  And, let's be honest, who wouldn't add the Parmesan?  

As with most things, add the ingredients that you like and chances are, you'll like it in the end.  If not, tweak it next time... it's all about adventure!


October 13, 2011

... Linguine with Zucchini

How can you not want to make a recipe with a rhyming name?  I mean, come on, it just sounds fun.  And when it looks like this, it's even better.

Linguine with Zucchini and Goat Cheese
serves 4

12 ounces linguine (3/4 box)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound zucchini, sliced into thin half-moons
kosher salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
5 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta, and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the zucchini, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Cook, stirring, until the zucchini is tender and any liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Add all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese into the pasta.  Add the reserved cooking water, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Stir until creamy.

Serve the pasta topped with the zucchini, lemon zest, and remaining 2 tablespoons cheese.

Taylor's Notes:
I tried one reviewers recommendation of using Laughing Cow cheese instead of the goat cheese.  I know, I'm shocked, too, but this girl needs to watch her waistline and she's not too interested in seeing it expand.  And thanks to that review, I don't have to... at least with this recipe.


October 9, 2011

... Fried Rice

Oh sure, I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking "Taylor, you're supposed to be on a diet and you're eating fried rice?!"  Well, sure, fried rice isn't very diet friendly... unless you make this recipe that's delicious and filling and only ten points on Weight Watchers... booyah.

Tofu Fried Rice
serves 4

2 cups uncooked instant rice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 (14-ounce) package reduced-fat firm tofu, drained and cut into (1/2-inch) cubes
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup (1/2-inch-thick) slices green onions
1 cup frozen peas and carrots, thawed
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
1 teaspoon bottled minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sake (rice wine)
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
thinly sliced green onions (optional)

Cook rice according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.

While rice cooks, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add tofu; cook 4 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.  Remove from pan.  Add eggs to pan; cook 1 minute or until done, breaking egg into small pieces.  Remove from pan.  Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to pan.  Add 1 cup onions, peas and carrots, garlic, and ginger; saute 2 minutes.

While vegetable mixture cooks, combine sake, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sesame oil.  Add cooked rice to pan; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add tofu, egg, and soy sauce mixture; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly.  Garnish with sliced green onions, if desired.

Taylor's Notes:
What a great recipe that allows you to make it your own.  Use whatever protein suits your fancy - tofu, chicken, shrimp - and whatever veggies you love.  Instead of frozen peas and carrots, I used frozen edamame, red bell pepper, and mushrooms.  Don't love fungi?  Toss in some broccoli.  Adverse to bell peppers?  (it's ok, I used to be, too)  How about sugar snap peas?  The possibilities and combinations are endless.  

This was the first time I'd cooked with tofu and it was really easy.  Just follow the directions and you'll be golden... just like the tofu.  


October 2, 2011

... Tortellini with Butternut Squash, Mushrooms, and Fontina

I may have said this last year about this time, but I love Fall.  Fall colors, Fall weather, and especially Fall flavors.  Although I switched up the ingredients a little bit in this recipe, I still think it was a great one to welcome in the new season.

Instead of using butternut squash, I used a sweet potato... or is it yam?  Apparently it depends on what part of the country you're from, so go with what you know.  I halved the recipe so I wouldn't feel like I needed to invite the entire on-duty crew of local firemen to dinner, although I'm thinking that may not be such a bad idea after all...

... next time, boys.

Tortellini with Butternut Squash, Mushrooms, and Fontina
serves 4

1 small butternut squash (2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound button or cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed and halved if large
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1 pound fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
2 ounces Fontina or Gruyere, grated (1/2 cup), plus more for serving

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  On two rimmed baking sheets, toss the squash and mushrooms with the sage, oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Roast, tossing once and rotating pans halfway through, until the vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the tortellini according to the package directions.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water; drain the tortellini and return to the pot.  Add the vegetables, Fontina, 1/4 cup of the cooking water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss gently to coat (add more cooking water if the pasta seems dry).  Sprinkle with additional Fontina.

Taylor's Notes:
As I mentioned before, I used a sweet potato instead of the butternut squash... mostly because I wanted to make a smaller recipe.  If you follow in my footsteps, though, you won't need to roast the veggies for quite as long, maybe more like 15 minutes.  I'm not quite sure roasting the sage for the entire time is a great idea either, as it tends to crisp up a little too much.  Maybe add it halfway through the roasting time.

I couldn't find Fontina at the store, so used Asiago.  Truth be told, I'm not sure that's a truly equal substitute, but hey, delicious cheese is delicious cheese and the Asiago was good in my book.  Really, you could use anything you like.