Creamy Wild Mushroom Risotto

More mushrooms. I think its called “immersion therapy”. The more I expose mushrooms to my kitchen, the more I can appreciate them for more than the funny looking fungus that they are.  Every time I chop up mushrooms I remember making mushroom duxelles and cream of mushroom soup at my alma mater, Arizona Culinary Institute. I have some incredibly fond memories from school, though almost none as dear to me as getting grief from Chef Wolf about my loathe of mushrooms, tarragon and putting ketchup on everything. I’ve never had an instructor who was so damn approachable and REAL! Have you ever sang songs from the South Park movie with your teacher while roasted peppers over a flame? Have you ever quoted Team America or Anchorman with someone teaching you how to fabricate fish? I have. And to top it all off, I even got to sing Phantom of the Opera songs with Laz at minimal annoyance to Chef Wolf. He always told me he would convert me to mushroom dish acceptance and a love of tarragon. He accomplished 50% of that statement. I still hate tarragon.

Risotto is something I really enjoy making. Scratch that- I love making it. Some people find massages or hiking to be their main go to for relaxing. I make risotto. There is just something about slowly stirring the arborio rice with hot stock and watching it release its starchy goodness to become a dish barely resembling rice. Arborio rice is an Italian short-grain rice. It is grown in the Po Valley and gets its name from the town Arborio in the region. The Po Valley is also known for raising fruits, sugar beets and livestock.  We are fans of this area of Italy, yes? Yes.

Cooking the rice takes longer than the mushrooms, but for the sake of not drying out the risotto, I make the mushrooms first. They are fine to let sit on low while the risotto is cooking. For the mushrooms, I kept it simple and ,s, butter, S&P, white wine vinegar- just a splash, and fresh thyme at the end. Let these beauties simmer down to au sec, almost dry, and put them aside *covered!!* until the risotto is almost done. Before you deliver your last ladle of hot stock and add the cheese to the risotto, add the mushrooms. Obviously, each dish has its own flavor at this point, so it is important to know how they blend at this stage, eliminating a need to rebuild flavors at the end. Stir, stir, gently!

Taste!

Add the cheese (good mascarpone and freshly grated parmesan). If your pan is giving you resistance and your heavenly dish is gunky and heavy, loosen it up with a little bit more stock. Time and rest will bring it back together, so it is better to err on the “too loose” side. Taste again.

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This can be served as an entire meal by adding a salad or soup and a chunk of good bread. I included it as a side for another dish, but it was SUCH the show stealer that I will rethink that decision the next time I make it.

Stop by to see what fate awaits the leftovers…

Bacon, Bacon Vinaigrette

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I accidentally discovered something amazing. And by ‘accident’ I mean “I taste everything, even though there are some things that you just shouldn’t taste”; and by ‘amazing’ I mean “it comes from bacon. duh”. Here is the story of Bacon Balsamic Vinaigrette:

Once upon a time, I made Bacon Wrapped Chicken *see blog titled “All Tied Up in Bacon “.  After the delectable creation had rested for the appropriate time, I unfolded the foil in which It had spent all of its time. Pooling in the corner of the now semi crumpled foil was a marbling of light and brown liquid. I MUST TASTE!!! So I did. It was amazing. I felt creepy and gross the whole time, but damn!! YUM! Now, being the ever faithful ACI student, I waste nothing; I dovetail. I will use something to its most elemental state. And so, when left with bacon drippings and spinach, I went to a happy place. Balsamic vinegar. Oh, how I adore BV. I remember the first time I tried this delicious condiment (with the heaping piles of bread at Buco di Beppo after my bestie poured it over a bowl filled with olive oil and dried herbs and salt), and frankly it has been a staple in my world since. Partner it up with bacon?! Yes. You want to do this. For that particular dish, I left it simple. Sprinkled a little salt and fresh ground pepper over the dressed spinach and called it delicious. To prove that this accident wasn’t a shot in the dark, I recreated it today. I still got it, kids. At the request of T, the amazing gal who eats my food twice a week with an honest feedback and adventurous palate, I made an entire jar of it. Can you blame me?? Also, the next dish I created for her had bacon sharing its spotlight *see blog post titled ”  “, so when better to try this recreation?? My mission was clear.  In addition to the bacon gold, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and S&P, I added a hint of mustard. This will make the final product hold better than it would if it were just shaken or whisked rapidly. Hooray mustard’s super binding powers!

Enjoy over salad, as a marinade, dipping sauce…Its good for all of those. And more.

Meatloaf Love

Although I’ve lived in Arizona longer than any other state at this point- the life of an army kid, I still feel like I am “from” Indiana. See Midwest. See cheese and ketchup. I still gravitate towards traditional Midwestern meals and comforts. Being me, I am constantly looking for ways to refresh recipes with MY twists and ideas. And so I introduce my uber tasty Turkey Quinoa Meatloaf. For people with gluten restrictions this is the perfect recipe. The quinoa replaces the breadcrumbs traditionally used to bind the meatloaf. Also, because it is insanely healthful, you can enjoy this comfortable food without feeling guilty or justifying it with the cold weather. We had one day of chilly weather here and it left me all nostalgic for Oregon weather in April. Le sigh. Perfect meatloaf weather.

Cooking is about all 5 senses; I know I have said it before.

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If my house smelled of onions slowly sauteing in butter, I would almost never leave. I certainly would never use a candle or an air freshener ever again. I adore the smell. Obviously.

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Ground turkey is the way I enjoy meals typically made with red meat. It is just as tasty, sometimes cheaper, less diseased cow risks and your heart will beat a little happier for it. Turkey gets a bad rep for being “dry” and flavorless. In my opinion, the same could be said for just about anything that isn’t made well. Don’t blame the ingredient; blame the person cooking it. Give turkey a chance!!

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Tomato paste lends a tangy flavor, playing off of the natural nuttiness of quinoa. A delicious friendship.

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Season every step of the way. Season the meat. Season the onions. Season the water the quinoa cooks in, by using a veggie stock. This also sneaks in even MORE nutrients (Moms, that one is for you) without making your dish too obviously bulked up by vegetables. Realize that seasoning every step of the way is a wonderful way to understand the flavors you are combining. It also saves you from the mad dash-of-everything-at-the-end marathon. Properly seasoning in every step will a confident meal make.

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I would think that it would be obvious, but just in case (we do live in the McD’s warning label days, after all), let the onions and quinoa cool completely before adding them to the egg and turkey combo. You dont want scrambled eggs or grey turkey loaf. Big no-no.

The cavewoman in me likes to mix by hand. Not only is there something sick and pleasing at the same time about mixing something in by hand, but its the best way to determine consistency in a mixture.

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MINI PANS ARE CUTE!!

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One for T and one for the family. I opted out of the “slather in ketchup” approach; I decided to play it up a bit, make it fancy. Enter brown sugar, Worcestershire and a dash of dark yellow mustard. Let the loaf get to almost done, and lovingly shmear this concoction all over the top.

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Let them finish up, getting to an internal temp of 165, and allow them to rest about 5-9 minutes.

There you have it!! A red-meat-less meatloaf that has gained flavor, gained protein and not lost any moisture. Enjoy!

Turkey meatballs and the miracle of mirepoix.

I love the color red.

I love its many shades and levels of brilliance.

I love the emotions it evokes and suppresses.

I love how when you mention “red” in any historical context, there is an automatic association somewhere in your brain.

I love what red means in food language.

And lets not even talk wine.

No.

Lets don’t.

Okay?

Sigh. Thanks.

How many colors can you say ALL of those things about? Sure they get the shades or the food language (greens!!), but all of those? I dont think so. Red is pretty stand alone there.

That being said, I rarely eat red meat. It is not because I dislike it. I LOVE RED MEAT!! I love it rare-medium rare. I love the way it smells being cooked to perfection. I am infatuated with the perrrffeeecct bite of steak. Its nearly lusty. damn…

I want a steak.

But it wont happen. I limit my red meat intake to a zilth of a degree. It is barely there, and if it is, I am typically eating somewhere other than home. Its just worked its way out of my diet. I love how it tastes, but hate how I feel, physically, afterwards. So nope. Just avoids.

There are sooo many meals that seem to revolve around red meat; meals that we feel like we would lose if red meat were to disappear from our fridges and tables. Not so, my reader, not so. Juicy, flavorful meals are to be had with the absence of red meat! Its that dinner party that you invited your vivacious friend to (but they bailed, cuz duuh, they’re your fun friend and triple booked themselves) but had to go solo last minute with no regrets, because you charmed everyone’s pants off. Yep. Pants charming meatballs.

Charming pants meatballs?

… some things should just stay in the natural sentence order. But that was fun.

The key to the juicy awesomeness? Mirepoix. Mere-eh-pwaw. Perfect! High five! Look at us, all fancy French speaking status. I’m so proud. Mirepoix is, very simply, the DNA of cooking. It is everything. At its most basic form is celery, carrots and onions with a 1:1:2 ratio. There are alllll kinds of mirepoix which I am sure I will touch on at some point in this blog. So chop your veggies super small. I like to use handy dandy tools like a food processor for things such as this. Makes it easy and fast, WIN! So the veggies are small, the turkey is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder and a few shakes of Worcestershire, one egg and about 1/4C of bread crumbs. Depending on how fresh the turkey is, you may need more. I literally had the amazing people at Sprouts freshly grind the turkey, so it was ultra moist (yummm, drool). Mix, but do not mutilate. Once its all mixed, roll them into whatever size balls you like. Mine were moderately large, but I am kind of dramatic and I like my food to make a point. LOOK AT ME!!!

The next step was purely experimental: Fry or Bake? BOTH!! I did one batch fried by first dredging them in flour, smacking off the excess and into a large sauce pan with 1/2″ of oil-butter combo. Cook each side until nice and crispy brown. There really isnt anything better than a good crunch before the moist center. This is true of so many foods, why should meatballs be different? They arent. Simple. Drain the oil by putting done balls onto a papertowel. Then straight into the sauce to finish cooking. Internal temp 165.

Baking was another story. I light sprayed some nonstick spray on a sheet pan and arranged the meatballs about 2″ apart. 375 until internal temp of 165. I rotated mine to get the “baking crunch” on top and bottom. Again, these will go straight into the sauce until you’re ready to serve.

Conclusion: Frying was better for texture. Baking really broke down the veggie flavors. I pick frying!! But thats me and my love for crunch.

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Conclusion: Frying was better for texture. Baking really broke down the veggie flavors. I pick frying!! But thats me and my love for crunch.

 

 

Cheesey Pleasey Pt 2

The pasta was amazing. It was  wonderful the day of, reheated well (twice) and eaten cold the next day. The veggies were incredibly fresh, organic and as local as possible. Behold! The asparagus, the gorgeous kale with the whites of a green onion sliced on top and the cubed zucchini. Holy green overload, Batman! Check out that energy waiting to happen. There. Don’t you feel better about the pasta and the sexy cheese to come?? Yeah. You’re welcome. Guilt trips are passe.

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Let’s skip the boring part about boiling pasta in salted water, cooking to al dente. Your know that. High fives for assumed intelligence! I’m full of the “feel goods” today. Maybe its the rain? For the record the rain hasn’t happened yet. This is Arizona, after all, and this state loves nothing more than teasing me with the prospect of rain. The clouds. The wind. The severely lower temperatures. This should be rain, right? We shall see… This WOULD happen the weekend we go camping. I should know better. It rains on my birthday every year. That is not me being dramatic or exaggerating at all. I am absolutely serious about this weather fact. I’m more accurate than any forecaster, sans degree.

But I’m more than off topic.

While the pasta is cooking and your kale is wilting, make a roux using equal parts high quality, unsalted butter and flour. Let the flour cook out completely, so that your sauce is the best it can be. Floury cheesy is not part of pleasey. When you can no longer smell the flour, it is time to add cream. Slowly pour while whisking out any clumps. I used 2 cups to cover a pound. When the cream is all in, throw in some whole thyme, stems and all. These will be retrieved when the sauce is done thickening, about 5 minutes. Oh and be seasoning the whole time. Using unsalted butter lets you have total control of the flavor, but if youre all about avoiding the facts of how much salt it takes to make something taste good, go ahead and use the presalted. I hate to break it to you, but youre still going to add salt. White pepper is the sneaky, fast flavor, but I prefer the black, rustic look. Season til yums.

Pull the sauce off of the heat and grate some amazing Parmesan cheese into the sauce. Go nuts. Stir, stir, stirrr….and if you’re me then you’re thinking “oh yeah, it can take more cheese…” grate, grate, grate… At the end of this sauce journey, you should be left with a smooth, sexy, shiny cheese sauce. Pour this over your sauteed veggies, mixing well. And then bring the pasta to the party.

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Enjoy.

Egg On Leftovers 1

Fast breakfast win! Stuff I already had, flavors I had already built, and a cute ramekin dish that I had to have from the Goodwill down the road. I am a Goodwill junkie. Do NOT get me near the Goodwill triangle that we live in on 50% off Saturdays. Bad. Good for ME, bad for anyone who wanted to do anything kind of normal on a Saturday. I am lost in a sea of things I suddenly must own because of their ultra thrifty nature. Rereading this makes me realize I miiiight have a “problem”. But thats not the point; we aren’t here to judge.

Black bean, corn and red onion salsa. Translated: cooked black beans, corn off the cob and small diced red onion, bound with mayonnaise; seasoned with salt, pepper and the secret ingredient cumin. Wasn’t that awesome of me? Sharing secret ingredients like we are pals. We probably should be, since I’m telling you secrets and whatnot.

I made this a few days ago for our veggie burritos. It is delicious warm or cold. And obviously here, I am eating it with a hard boiled egg. Next time, I wont be so distracted cutting French toast into butterflies for my 3 year old. But she’s so darn cute, and butterflies are her thing right now, so time spent cutting was not time spent paying attention to the temperature and time of water. SOooo ya. I had to settle for a still tasty hard boiled egg. On top of this gorgeous egg that naturally ended up with a perfectly flat bottom, I sprinkled salt, pepper and dried red pepper flakes. Fork through the egg, grab some white and yolk and then scoop the salsa onto the end of it all. So good. So, so very good. And its filling, too, so even though its a nice, small portion, you are filling yourself up with yum.

I like being filled with yum.

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Eggplant Parmesan

If you’re not an eggplant (auberigine) lover, I am about to change your mind. Rock your world. Take meat out of one meal (just because. Im not about to get all preachy on you about meat…for another blog) But seriously. When EP is $.48 each (!!) at Sprouts, I pounce. My mind feverishly finds the wonderful applications for this sexy nightshade. Yes, nightshade. **Make sure you cook it all the way, or you’re in for some pains and (in children and the elderly) even death in extreme circumstances. **
So Eggplant Parm. I have tried a few different ways of tackling this delicious veggie plate. One ended up absorbing a ri-donk-ulous amount of oil and making it ultra soggy. No one likes soggy food when it is expected to be crunchy and meaty. Lesson learned: no fry. Bake!! The following is the progress of my new eggplant experiment. Enjoy!!

Check out those less than half a dollar yums!! They are ripe, medium sized and oh-so tasty!

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A first for me was peeling the eggplant. I have always just used it, skin and all. I was wondering if maybe this had to do with the unpleasant cutting last time… but I changed too many variables in the experiment to be sure. However!! I will say, they are (post cooked) more visually appealing. So here is peeling!
Cut the top and bottom ends off. This will give you a FLAT base to peel the vegetable. Lets say that in this case flatter is better. More control, less knife slippage and therefore! less injury. Yay!

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Peeling is as easy as it sounds. Take a chef or paring knife (preference here), and keeping as much meat of the veg as you can, cut the dark purple skin off. It will give you fun angles, a clean vegetable and lots of joy for your compost.
This DOESNT have to be perfect or even by any means. The goal is a blank canvas waiting for you to paint it with flavors. Go Picasso if you must…

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Once it is peeled, slice into 1/2 inch slices. These have to hold up to an oil bath, crumbing and baking/broiling BEFORE you add sauce or cheese. Don’t psych yourself out because they don’t look like au gratin potatoes. They aren’t supposed to. Keep them where you would expect chicken to be (on a good night)

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After they are sliced lay them onto a pan (mine was porous) with paper towels under and on top, if layering, with a sprinkle of salt. This will serve to dry them out a bit. Just like any meat, any moisture will result in steam, not crunch. Steam = soggy; dry= crunch! Let them sit out for at least 30 mins, rotate as needed and use your best judgment in how they feel. Cooking is all 5 senses, plus a 6th that comes with time. Use all of them!!

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Let us pause and admire my garlic oil. Fold your hands in reverence for something that I paid no more dollars for than I did buying what I would’ve used anyway. No fancy, schmancy stuff here. One night I wanted roasted garlic bread. This is as easy as taking an entire head of garlic, cutting the top 1/4 to 1/3 off of the top to expose all cloves, turn it upside down in an oven safe sauté pan filled 1 inch up with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and roast til fragrant. When the cloves are soft and squeezable (but not burnt) take the pan out of the oven (typically 375 for 20-30 mins), pull the head of garlic out to cool before squeezing and let the oil cool. DO NOT WASTE THE OIL!! I put mine into a small glass jar, refrigerated it and I use it as needed. Its amazing, simple and uber cheap!! Dove-tail win!

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After the EP slices have lost a good amount of moisture, its time to move on. Like I said, frying was a no go for me. This time I brushed each side with my garlic oil and then dipped and pressed )like my life depended on it)each slice into a panko-breadcrumb-parm mixture.The pressing is crucial to get it all to stick, since there arent any eggs being used to glue them. Oil is light but it needs some help. So get physical. I recommend the panko addiction. It gave the dish the extra crunch it needed, without drying it out by over broiling. Yum!! After each was coated, I veg sprayed the pan and laid a single layer of eggplant down to bake (I needed two with as much as I had). The goal is to bake and then broil them to give them the meaty texture before the sauce and excessive cheese are added. Into a 375 over for about 20 mins (I peeked a lot), then broil for another 5. When they smell amazing, are golden brown and can hold their shape they are done for this part. Pull them.

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At this stage, I busted out my famous and beloved homemade marinara (recipe to be seen later) and evenly covered each slice **by now I am down to one pan since the veg shrank as it cooked** with the sauce. Sprinkle parm, sprinkle mozz and shazzam! Into the oven for 15-20, or until desired cheese crispiness. Prepare yourself for an intoxicating kitchen smell. It will happen. It may run you outside to catch the last glimpse of sunset… but I digress!

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When it is done, pull it out of the oven and let it rest for at least 5 minutes. I know. It looks amazing, smells like heaven and after all of this time ALL you want to do is eat it. But let it be. Finish up your noodles and if desired, extra veggies (Hellooooooo, Asparagus!) and let it settle down. Noodles, a splash of extra sauce, and finish it with the eggplant. Of course, no meal with sauce is complete without some bread to sop up the remaining juices, but that is just me. Prepare yourself for a meatless wonder!! Freezes well and keeps in the fridge for future dinners.
Enjoy!!