chipotle shrimp

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One of the disadvantages-that-isn’t of living in New Mexico is that, with year-round access to a freezer full of Hatch green chiles, pretty much every other chile gets neglected. In the first three years after we moved here, I didn’t cook with poblanos, serranos, anaheims, or even chipotle chiles.  Hatch green (and, not as often, red) chile was the focus.

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This year we spent four hours peeling, seeding, chopping, and freezing Hatch green chiles only to realize afterward that this batch was a dud, with no flavor at all.  It’s unfortunate, but our pizzas, burgers, and beans have all been disappointing since we’ve started rationing out last year’s far superior chiles.  We’re impatient for next year’s harvest, but we’ve got five months to go.

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The upside is a resurgence of alternate chiles in our kitchen. Last week I made some smoky guacamole with roasted red peppers and poblanos, and chipotles are no longer languishing in the back of the freezer, forgotten. This recipe is a significant contribution to the disappearing chipotles, because any dish that takes twenty minutes to deliver a healthy bowl of spicy sauce and shellfish is going to be a favorite. Next year, it’ll be even better, when I use chipotles together with Hatch chiles, but for now, chipotles are all I’ve got.

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One year ago: Tomato and Four Cheese Lasagne
Two years ago: Shrimp Canapés a la Suede
Three years ago: Mediterranean Pepper Salad
Four years ago: Chocolate Whiskey Cake
Five years ago: Raspberry Bars

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Chipotle Shrimp (adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday via Pink Parsley)

Serves 4 as a main course

1 (28-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes in juice
2-3 canned chipotles en adobo
1 tablespoon chipotle canning sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
salt
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup rice, cooked (about 3 cups cooked rice)
about ¼ cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro

1. Process the tomatoes, chipotle chiles, chipotle sauce, and ½ teaspoon salt in the blender until pureed.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato mixture and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Taste and season with salt if necessary.

3. Add the shrimp to the pan, and cook, stirring constantly, until the shrimp are pink and curled up, about 6 minutes. Serve over rice with cilantro.

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general tso’s chicken

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I’ve never understood fried foods that are coated in sauce, like General Tso’s chicken and buffalo wings. For me, the best part of fried food is the crisp browned coating. Once you mix that with sauce and it loses its crunch, what’s the point?

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So I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be deep-frying for my version of General Tso’s chicken. Pan-frying sounded a lot easier, as least as far as clean up goes, and it seems like it should be lighter than dumping the entire piece of meat in oil, right?

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The chicken did end up good – like tender chicken nuggets – but I still have to wonder if using shredded roast chicken instead of breaded pieces would really be so bad. The rough texture of shredded chicken would soak up sauce just as well as the crags of breading. It would certainly be easier. I think the difference it would make on the final dish would be minimal, and it would without a doubt be worth avoiding the calories and mess of frying.

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One year ago: Prosecco Raspberry Gelée
Two years ago: Espresso Chocolate Shortbread
Three years ago: Pickled Coleslaw
Four years ago: Eclairs (Daring Bakers)

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General Tso’s Chicken (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Feed and Food and Wine)

Serves 4

A couple of the commenters on the ATK recipe noted that the sauce lacked something, and I’d say what it’s lacking is balance. It was very sweet and dominated by hoisin, although this might depend largely on the brand of hoisin you use. (I used Sun Luck, the only one available in my town.)

½ cup hoisin
¼ tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ cup water
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 teaspoons oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grated ginger
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1½ cup cornstarch
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 egg whites
oil for pan-frying
4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

1. In a medium bowl, mix the hoisin, white vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and water. Transfer 6 tablespoons of this mixture into a bowl with the chicken; stir to combine and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 2 cups of the hoisin mixture; increase the high to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and cover.

3. Add the cornstarch, flour, and baking soda to the bowl with the remaining hoisin mixture. Stir with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy.

4. Heat an ⅛-inch of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Dip half of the chicken pieces in the egg whites, then the cornstarch mixture. Transfer to the hot skillet; cook, without moving, for 3-4 minutes, until the bottom is browned. Flip and brown the second side. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

5. Reheat the sauce over the medium heat. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Serve over rice, topping with the scallions.

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paella

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I will always associate paella with the group of friends I hung out with in graduate school. We all enjoyed good food and good drinks, so whenever we got together, everyone would bring food and wine to share. One of my friends was from Spain, and he made paella at several of these get-togethers. Of course, it was fully authentic, cooked in a paella pan set on a tripod over an open flame. The smoked paprika, saffron, roasted red peppers, and rice came directly from Spain, picked up on his latest trip home to visit his parents. Sitting around the fire in my friends’ backyard, drinking good wine and eating paella is one of my most vivid food memories.

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I knew that cooking paella in a Dutch oven on the grill wouldn’t be the same, but I was hoping for just a twinge of that taste, that memory. That’s why I insisted on cooking it outside on the grill instead of using the much easier option of the stove and oven. Maybe it would pick up a hint of smokiness from the coals, but it was more than just the flavor I was after, it was that feeling.

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I got some of each. With the cast iron Dutch oven, the one Dave and I have taken camping for the last ten years, heated over coals on the grill, I got some of the fun of cooking outdoors. Dave sat outside with me with a glass of wine and let me babble on about different rice dishes in cultures around the world.

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The food was good, but I need some paella practice before it’ll be up to the standards of what I remember. The biggest mistake I made was preventing the formation of a soccarat, a layer of crusty bits on the bottom of the pan, which is one of the best parts of paella. Letting rice stick to the bottom of the pan goes against years of rice-cooking training, and I ended up adding too much liquid, making a wetter, saucier paella. I also think I’ll leave out the tomatoes next time. They were included in a number of the paella recipes I looked at, but it’s not a flavor I associate with paella.

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Overall, it was a successful meal, in that I had fun making it and it tasted good. But next time, I’ll use the lessons I learned, like not stirring the rice and leaving out the tomato, and my paella will be that much better. However, I doubt it’ll ever taste as good as one cooked over a fire in a paella pan while enjoying the company of good friends.

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One year ago: Bruschetta with Chickpea Puree
Two years ago: Grilled Potato and Vegetable Salad
Three years ago: Casatiello
Four years ago: Soba Salad with Feta and Peas

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Paella (adapted from Cooks Illustrated, Alton Brown, the New York Times, Leite’s Culinaria, and About.com)

Most of my problems came from not following this method, adding more liquid and stirring more often because I was worried about the rice cooking unevenly. However, it should be noted that the recipe given here has not been perfected.

The recipe specifically refers to charcoal grilling methods, but I think it could be easily adapted to a gas grill.

4 cups water
8 ounces shrimp, peeled, shells reserved
1 onion, half sliced, half diced
2 garlic cloves, 1 sliced, 2 minced
1 small bay leaf
1 large thyme sprig
salt and pepper
1 pounds chicken legs and/or thighs, bone-in, skin-on
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red pepper, diced
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron
1 cup short-grain rice, preferably Bomba
7 ounces canned diced tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons white wine
½ cup peas

1. In a medium-size pot over medium-high heat, bring the water, shrimp shells, sliced onion, sliced garlic, bay leaf, thyme sprig and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain, discarding the solids. Return the broth to the saucepan, cover, and keep warm over low heat.

2. Combine the shrimp with 2 teaspoons olive oil, the minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon paprika, and a pinch of teaspoon salt. Mix well to coat with seasonings and let marinate at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour.

3. Light about 2 quarts of charcoal briquettes; once the briquettes are lightly covered with gray ash, spread them over the bottom grate of the grill, then top with another 2 quarts of unlit coals.

4. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven directly over the coals. Add the shrimp and cook, without moving, until browned and pink on one side, 30 seconds to a minute. Flip the shrimp to brown the second side. Transfer to a plate.

5. Season the chicken generously with salt and ground black pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the hot skillet (or Dutch oven). Add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook with moving until the bottom is deeply browned, 3-4 minutes. Turn each piece of chicken to brown the other side. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate. (Because the chicken is mostly raw and the shrimp is cooked and will only be briefly reheated, don’t put them on the same plate.)

6. Add the diced onion, red pepper, and a pinch of salt to the skillet; sauté, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Add the saffron and remaining ¼ teaspoon paprika and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about a minute.

7. Add the rice, stirring well to coat with the onion mixture. Add the tomatoes, wine, half of the hot shrimp broth, ½ teaspoon salt, and the browned chicken. Bring to a brisk simmer, stirring once. Simmer, uncovered, until most of the broth has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.

8. Add the remaining broth and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and arrange the peas and shrimp over the surface of the rice in one layer. Cover the pan with a clean dish cloth. Let the rice rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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brown rice pudding

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I’ve taken to eating pudding for breakfast. It was Deb’s idea, and it’s a very good one. After all, if we regularly heat one whole grain with milk to make oatmeal, why not do the same with rice? Somehow, oatmeal feels like winter food. Rice pudding seems lighter, more appropriate for warm temperatures and topping with strawberries.

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This might seem obvious at first – you usually eat oatmeal warm and pudding cold. Except so far, I’ve been eating the rice pudding warm, so it’s more like rice porridge I suppose. But if I was organized enough, I think making it the night before and chilling it would not only save time in the morning, but make a great cool breakfast for the 100+ degree days we’ve been having around here.

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Eating dessert for breakfast isn’t anything new – who hasn’t indulged in a slice of leftover cake with their morning coffee? But that isn’t what this is about. By using brown rice instead of white and reducing the sugar, rice pudding is actually full of fiber and protein instead of empty calories. Rice pudding has never been my favorite dessert, but it’s starting to become one of my favorite breakfasts.

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One year ago: Brown Sugar Blueberry Plain Cake
Two years ago: Tender Shortcakes
Three years ago: Cappuccino Muffins
Four years ago: Baba Ghanoush, Falafel, and Hummus

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Brown Rice Pudding
(adapted from Joy the Baker)

Serves 4 to 6

This is a basic recipe that you can add all sorts of goodies to, from dried fruit and nuts to spices or a swirl of jam.

If you plan to serve this for dessert instead of breakfast, double both the sugar and the honey.

1 cup brown rice, rinsed
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon honey
½ vanilla bean, split open (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

1. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and salt; reduce the heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Drain the rice in a strainer and return it to the pot, off the heat. Cover tightly and let set for 10 minutes.

2. Add the milk, sugar, honey, and vanilla bean to the pot with the rice. (If you’re using vanilla extract, add it just before serving.) Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the milk is reduced and the rice is creamy, about 30 minutes. If you’re using vanilla extract, stir it in now. If you’re planning to eat the pudding warm, serve it now. If you’re planning to eat it cold, transfer it to serving dishes to chill.

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dolmades

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Someone please tell me to stop making recipes that involve individually filling and shaping portions after a full workday! Last week it was these dolmades, this week it was tortellini. (Tortellini, it turns out, are a lot more time-consuming to make than ravioli. A lot.) Evenings after work are not a good time to take on ambitious cooking projects.

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It didn’t help that this venture started out with a jar full of grape leaves stuffed so tightly they wouldn’t come out. All I could think of to do was rip out the middle leaves in a messy clump to loosen up the remainder, which wasn’t very satisfying. Then I discovered that grape leaves are not a shape that lends itself to easy rolling. And finally, at the end of it all, I realized that the early step of boiling the grape leaves before filling them was more important than I had counted on when I cut it short in my rush to get dinner on the table.

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And then I learned that it doesn’t matter how smoothly the dolmades come together, because the combination of grape leaves, rice, and a lemony sauce will always be a hit. Even if the grape leaves mostly unroll. And they’re just a little tough. Even if dinner is nearly an hour late. Or maybe they tasted so good because dinner was an hour late?

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One year ago: Cornmeal Shortbread Cookies
Two years ago: Chockablock Cookies
Three years ago: Brownies (comparison of 4 recipes)
Four years ago: Cheesecake Pops (Daring Bakers)

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Dolmades (adapted from Elly Says Opa and Emeril Live)

Makes about 36

1 (8-ounce) jar grape leaves, or 36 medium-sized fresh leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup pine nuts
1 cup long-grain rice
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup currants (or raisins)
⅔ cup broth + additional for cooking dolmades
1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Avgolemono sauce (recipe follows)

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer. Remove the grape leaves from the jar and drop them in batches of 4 or 5 into the hot water. Leave them in the simmering water for 4-5 minutes, then spread them flat on a towel-lined work surface. Cut the stem from each grape leaf, as needed.

2. In a large skillet over medium- high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and pine nuts and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the rice, salt, currants, broth, and the juice of half the lemon. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed. Stir in the parsley.

3. To assemble the dolmades, place 1 grape leaf on the work surface, dull side (or underside) of the leaf up. Place 1 to 2 teaspoons of rice filling near the stem end of the leaf. Fold the stem (bottom) end up over the filling, fold the sides toward the filling in the center, then roll up the leaf into a small cylindrical package, being careful not to fold too tightly, as the rice will expand during cooking.

4. Place the dolmades in a large Dutch oven or wide sauté pan, seam side down. Add the juice from the remaining lemon half, plus enough broth to just cover the dolmades. Rest a heavy plate or baking dish directly on top of the dolmades. Bring to a boil over high heat, lower the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Serve with avgolemeno sauce.

Avgolemono Sauce (adapted from Elly Says Opa)

2 eggs
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice (about 2-3 lemons)
liquid from cooking dolmades

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the lemon juice until combined. Slowly drizzle the hot dolmades cooking liquid into the egg/lemon mixture, whisking continuously to avoid scrambling the eggs.

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butterscotch peanut butter chocolate rice krispy treats

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I did something very, very stupid with this recipe. It calls for 1½ bags of butterscotch chips. The thing is, I don’t like butterscotch chips very much, so I didn’t want half a bag leftover that I would feel obligated to keep around indefinitely, where it would take up valuable cabinet space. I only bought one bag, deciding to wing it (always trouble) for the remainder.

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I started regretting this shortly after leaving the store. Because obviously I could have just dumped that half bag of chips into a batch of chocolate chip cookies and they would be hardly noticeable. Or, heaven forbid, I could just throw a handful of butterscotch chips away if I didn’t plan to use them.

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Instead of making an extra trip back to the store, I forged ahead. Things looked bad from the beginning when I measured out my single bag of butterscotch chips and it was even less than I was expecting. I still forged ahead, adding in a couple tablespoons of butter and another couple tablespoons of corn syrup to make up for the fat and sugar I was missing from the extra chips. I knew I was in bad shape when I poured in the entire box of cereal, and it filled my pot to the brim. I thought about shoveling some of the cereal out before mixing it into the melted butterscotch and peanut butter mixture but stubbornly forged ahead instead.

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No one is surprised that my rice krispy bars were a crumbly mess, are they? There simply wasn’t enough glue to hold together all that cereal. They tasted good, like that classic combination of peanut butter and chocolate, but, while I did manage to cut a few clean squares, they’re so delicate that they crumble as soon as they’re touched. Of course I ate them anyway, because they’re butterscotch peanut butter chocolate rice krispy bars. Crumbles aside, what’s not to love? But next time, I’ll follow the directions, half bag of extra chips be damned.

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One year ago: Strawberry Buttercream
Two years ago: Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Dates
Three years ago: Beer-Battered Fish
Four years ago: Julia Child’s French Bread

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Butterscotch Peanut Butter Chocolate Rice Krispy Treats (slightly adapted from Cara’s Cravings)

About 32 tall bar cookies

3 cups (1½ to 2 11-ounce bags) butterscotch chips
1½ cups (13½ ounces) creamy peanut butter
salt
1 (12-ounce) box crisp rice cereal
4 cups (2 12-ounce bags) semi-sweet chocolate chips
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup water

1. Spray a 9-by-13 inch pan with cooking spray.

2. In a large (at least 5-quart) pot over medium-low heat, melt the butterscotch chips with the peanut butter and ¼ teaspoon salt. When the mixture is smooth, which will take 8-10 minutes, add the cereal and stir to thoroughly coat the cereal with the peanut butter mixture.

3. Meanwhile, bring 1-inch of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Place the chocolate, water, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and butter in a heatproof bowl and set it over the simmering water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the powdered sugar.

4. Transfer half of the cereal mixture to the prepared pan; use a rubber spatula or greased hands to pat the mixture into an even layer, pressing lightly to compact. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the cereal in the pan. Top with the remaining cereal mixture. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

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Normally I wouldn’t waste your time describing such a mistake, but this recipe was on my list of 2012 goals for February.

butternut squash risotto

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The first time I made this risotto, all the smoke from the chicken I was roasting set off the fire alarm in my apartment building. Everyone had to go stand outside in the cold (this is back when I lived somewhere where it actually got cold), but I didn’t want to leave the stove because I needed to stir my risotto! So Dave was the one who had to go confess to everyone that the alarm was my fault. He loved that.

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And I loved this risotto. It isn’t nearly as rich as the pumpkin risotto I made a couple years ago; that one has twice the cooking fat and a generous dollop of mascarpone. All that cheese mutes the flavor of the squash, and squash is what I want to highlight in a squash risotto.

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This recipe has a trick (it’s a Cooks Illustrated recipe; of course it has a trick) to eeking out all of the possible flavor from squash, and that’s to sauté to fibers and seeds, then use them as a base for the liquid used to cook the rice. It’s almost like making a squash broth, which is the perfect way to incorporate squash flavor into the entire risotto, not just in the chunks of squash distributed throughout the rice.

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The risotto was much better than that alarm-raising chicken. It involves some annoying steps with straining the broth and of course the tedious peeling and chopping of squash, but it isn’t anything as bad as explaining to your neighbors why they have to stand out in the cold on a Sunday night.

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One year ago: Pomegranate-Glazed Salmon
Two years ago: Brown Rice with Black Beans
Three years ago: Sushi Bowls

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Butternut Squash Risotto (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 as a main course and 6 as a first course

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch dice (about 3½ cups), seeds and fibers reserved
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small onions, chopped very fine (about 1½ cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1½ cups dry white wine
¾ cup (1½ ounces) finely grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves

1. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add about 3½ cups of the squash in an even layer and cook without stirring until the squash is golden brown, 4-5 minutes; stir in ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender and browned, about five minutes longer. Transfer the squash to a small bowl and set aside.

2. Return the skillet to medium heat; add the reserved squash fibers and seeds and any leftover diced squash. Cook, stirring frequently to break up the fibers, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a large saucepan and add the chicken broth and water; cover the saucepan and bring the mixture to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a bare simmer.

3. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in the now-empty skillet over medium heat; when the foaming subsides, add the onions, garlic, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and remaining ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the rice to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are translucent around the edges, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until fully absorbed, 4 to 5 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, strain the hot broth through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Return the strained broth to the saucepan and discard the solids in the strainer; cover the saucepan and set over low heat to keep the broth hot.

5. When the wine is fully absorbed, add 3 cups of the hot broth and half of the reserved squash to the rice. Simmer, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is almost dry, about 12 minutes.

6. Stir in about ½ cup of hot broth and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes; repeat with additional broth 2 or 3 more times, until the rice is al dente. Off the heat, stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter, the Parmesan, sage, and nutmeg. Gently fold in the remaining cooked squash. If desired, add an additional ¼ cup of broth to loosen the texture of the risotto. Serve immediately.

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brown rice

I thought I’d already nailed my favorite brown rice recipe, but over time, I found myself not using it. There were two issues I was having.  One was that it takes an hour and a half, and I don’t have that kind of foresight on an average weeknight.  The other problem is that it starts on the stovetop and is transferred to the oven, which sounds simple enough, but I could never remember the cooking times and didn’t want to check a recipe for a basic side dish.  I have too much else to do and think about; rice can’t be complicated.

In the comments of that baked brown rice post, I was pointed toward a recipe for rice cooked like pasta. Also, Stacy recommended basmati brown rice over other varieties, claiming that it’s more fragrant and flavorful. Because the nutty scent of white rice is one of my favorite aspects of it, I was eager to try any trick to get that experience with brown rice.

This worked. The basmati rice smells sweet and nutty while it boils, exactly how white rice smells while it steams. And the best part is that it’s so simple to make that even I can get it done on an average weeknight.  That means we’ve pretty much eliminated another refined grain from our diets, with very little compromise in terms of effort or flavor.

One year ago: Chicken Fajitas
Two years ago: Anadama Bread
Three years ago: Sichuan Green Beans

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Brown Rice
(adapted from Saveur via Pinch My Salt)

This recipe can be scaled up or down as much as you want.

8 cups water
1 cup rice, rinsed
2 teaspoons salt

Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and salt; reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Drain the rice in a strainer and return it to the pot, off the heat. Cover tightly and let set for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork; serve.

(This is Red Beans and Rice.)

red pepper risotto

This was one of the first recipes I ever made from the Food Network. Back before I had cable, I’d heard of a lot of the chefs, but I hadn’t seen any of their shows myself. Once when I was traveling, the hotel had cable, and I was transfixed.

I still remember the first shows I saw. Alton Brown, making tomato sauce; Rachael Ray, making crab salad served on endive leaves; and Emeril, making bagna cauda, red pepper risotto, beef in Barolo, and chocolate chestnut mousse. As soon as I got home, I invited a group of friends over for dinner and made the entire menu from Emeril’s episode. I even wrote reviews on the site later, the only I’ve ever written.

It was the first risotto I’d ever made and is still my go-to risotto recipe. It’s actually a very standard risotto – sweat onions, toast Arborio, evaporate wine, gradually add broth, stir in parmesan. I’ve tried other methods, but this one is my favorite. It’s perfectly adaptable too – I’ve added peas and leafy greens, but I still think the peppers are the best addition, especially if the risotto is being used to soak up delicious beef in Barolo juices.

One year ago: Steak au Poivre
Two years ago: Sausage Apple Hash

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Risotto with Sweet Peppers (adapted slightly from Emeril)

6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ medium red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1½ medium yellow bell peppers, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons butter
½ onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1½ cups arborio or carnaroli rice
½ cup dry white wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh cracked white pepper
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until cooked through but still slightly crunchy, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3. In a large heavy saucepan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until opaque, 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring until the rice nearly completely absorbs all the liquid, about 1 minute.

4. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the thyme. Add 1½ cups of the hot stock, and cook, stirring frequently. Cook the risotto, adding more stock 1 cup at a time as it is absorbed, about 20 minutes total cooking time. Stir in the green onions and cooked bell peppers after 15 minutes cooking time. Season the risotto with 1 teaspoon of salt and white pepper. The rice should be slightly al dente.

5. Remove from the heat. Discard the thyme sprigs. Add the cheese, and stir well to mix. Adjust the seasoning, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

red kidney bean curry

When my schedule picks up, I tend to fall into a weeknight dinner rut. I think we ate pasta with chopped tomatoes and fresh mozzarella ten times during the month or so of peak tomato season. Fish tacos are in no short supply around here year-round. Red beans and rice, salmon pesto pasta, braised white beans, jalapeno-baked fish

Surely there must be new recipes for me to try that fit my tough weeknight standards – quick, light, fully balanced, vegetarian or seafood-based. And yes! This is perfect. Plus I love my one other Indian curry standard and knew there must be similar-but-different dishes out there to try.

It’s such a basic recipe – sauté aromatics and spices, add beans and other flavorings, simmer, serve over starch. It makes me wonder how many other cuisines I could do this with. I suspect I’ll be trying a few, because you can never have enough quick healthy balanced vegetarian meal ideas.

One year ago: Stuffed Mushrooms with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Two years ago: Mulled Cider

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Red Kidney Bean Curry
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

This recipe has another trait I love – it takes well to freezing. Make a large batch, freeze in portions, and your next meal is that much easier!

The first time I made this, it seemed a little bland so I’ve increased the spices and added garam masala. I love garam masala. I’ve also changed the tomatoes around to something that makes more sense to me.

I know Deb’s looks like soup and mine looks like a paste. My only explanation is that this batch was frozen and defrosted, and I was too busy catching up on The Office episodes to see that it needed more liquid.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons garam masala
1½ teaspoon ground cumin
1½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or 3 cups cooked beans)
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and jalapeno and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion just starts to brown at the edges, 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, tomato paste and spices; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the beans, and the salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then decrease the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, taste for seasoning, and serve over rice or with naan.