Category Archives: Grains

Huge News…and Coconut Rice!

As of last Monday January 23rd, I took a full-time job! A legit gig, a straight 9-5 deal. I’ve been working freelance for nearly a decade, and it’s been an incredible ride. But I’ve always been one to look out for the next great thing, and believe me, I landed a great thing as the senior food editor at Tasting Table. There aren’t many jobs out there that suit me, my background, and my personality, but I can’t think of a better match. I get to create new recipes, test tons of recipes from the country’s best chefs, review cookbooks, and work alongside some super smart thinkers, writers, editors, and chefs. It’s a dynamic work environment where anything seems possible—so exciting for a food writer. For so long I’ve been scared of what’s happening with cookbooks, food television, magazines—so much upheaval, so many talented friends out of work, so much unfairness and irresponsibility (that’s life, right?). Well, now I get to bask in my good fortune. That’s how it feels on the other side of the fence, looking at nothing but possibility and great big open field of opportunity. It’s a great thing.

Getting dinner on the table though, well, that’s going to be a whole new challenge!! No longer do I have the luxury of skipping down the steps to the kitchen at 5:30 and whipping up something on a whim. No longer do I even have the luxury of sitting down to dinner with my kids (except for weekends, and what a beautiful food-filled weekend did I just have!). Now I have to really think about the week in advance. I’m planning and being strategic. We WILL still eat a homemade meal every night. It’s just going to take some creative hopscotching to do it.

So from here on forward, not only am I going to offer up recipes that inspire me and fuel me as a cook. I’m going to feature plans for getting through the week on a working moms schedule.

But you’ll hear more about that next week. Once I’ve gotten through this week and have the recipes and strategies to share (a few recipes will count on a gorgeous pork roast, so start looking for good deals now—I bought a stunning 4 1/2-pound shoulder for about $30 in Brooklyn meaning it’s probably far cheaper elsewhere!).

For now, I have a beautiful coconut rice side. Those of you who may be scared off by rice (it’s like coffee—either you’ve got the touch, or you don’t) need not worry: this dish gets baked in the oven for a nearly foolproof perfectly cooked outcome. I use coconut milk and a little water as the cooking medium, and finish it off with chopped peanuts, toasted coconut, and cilantro. Instead of white rice, I’m using long-grain brown jasmine rice that boosts up the fiber count and makes me feel okay about the sweet-rich boost from the coconut milk. It’s just the thing to make that ho-hum chicken breast seem a little more special.

Coconut Rice with Peanuts and Cilantro

Serves 4

I love this as a meat-free lunch doused with Sriracha sauce.

  • 3/4 cup long-grain brown rice (I like jasmine)
  • 1 1/4 cups coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon plus a pinch kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped raw peanuts
  • 2 tablespoons shredded coconut (preferably unsweetened)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the brown rice in a baking dish and pour in the coconut milk and water. Add the salt and give it a stir. Set the rice in the oven and bake until all the liquid is absorbed, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the baking dish from the oven, fluff, and set aside.
  2. Place the peanuts and coconut on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring every minute or so, until the coconut is golden and the peanuts take on an oily shine, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and use a spoon to scatter the peanut mixture over the rice. Finish with cilantro and serve.

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Filed under Dinner, Grains, Recipe, Side dish, Vegan, Vegetarian

Balance and Bite: Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Apples, Bacon, and Cumin-Popped Pepitas

What does it mean to develop a recipe? What does it mean to test one? What does it mean to adapt a recipe? What is a truly original recipe? These questions represent the fundamental core of what I do as a recipe developer and food writer.

To develop a recipe means that you start at square one, with an idea, and make some hits and misses along the way. You tweak, you taste, you tinker. Until the recipe is just right. Sometimes all it takes is one shot. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, and years (like my ongoing quest for perfect biscuits and cornbread). To test a recipe means you are cooking a recipe, top to tail, exactly as written. You’re noting problems, making observations on timing, and perhaps suggesting shortcuts. The main goal is for the recipe to remain true to the creator’s intent–my fingerprint shouldn’t be detected whatsoever. To adapt a recipe means you take a recipe and change an ingredient or two. Perhaps switch out honey for sugar or take a recipe for a whole chicken and “adapt” it to be suitable for chicken breasts. It’s when a new idea totally piggybacks on someone else’s method.

I’m at my happiest when I’m developing. When I’m truly creating, thinking and imaging the possibilities of what could happen if.

It often starts with a concept. It hits me, starting like a small itch, and develops into a full on compulsion until I get the idea just right. A few months ago it was deviled tea eggs stained and marbled by tea and spices, and then halved and stuffed with deviled duck rillette. Then it was little cookie-cup s’mores stuffed with chocolate truffles and topped by a tanned marshmallow (stay tuned for that recipe). This week it was this risotto.

This risotto all began with the most innocuous butternut squash. When I cut the seemingly perfect squash open, the entire bottom half was semi-rotten. Useless, trash. But the neck of the squash was fine. Not enough to roast solo for a side dish, I decided to turn it into my main dish–which would be risotto. Instead of cooking the squash in the same pot as the risotto, I decided to roast it so it would retain its independence. Rather than cooking down and melding with the rice, roasting concentrates its flavors, making it extra sweet, extra browned, and texturally divine. Bacon and butternut squash are great friends, and a little bacon added a fantastic smokiness to the squash as well as the overall dish. Roasting apple with the bacon and squash gave the dish a sweet-tart tang and the peels offer petals of color. Fresh rosemary with its piney woodsy-ness can never hurt.

I stirred this combo into a basic finished risotto. It needed something, though…something crunchy and something sharp. Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, fried with some cumin ended up to be a stellar choice. As they toast in the skillet, they expand into crunchy little pumpkin flavored footballs. Scallions add a  pungent bite. Creamy/crunchy, earthy/buttery, roasted/fresh; smoky/sweet. The risotto is a great snapshot of balance and bite, and of what happens when you wonder.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Apples, Bacon, and Cumin-Popped Pepitas

Serves 4 or 6 as a side

To make this vegetarian, leave out the bacon and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the roasting pan when cooking the butternut squash. I like creamy, sturdy carnaroli rice for risotto.

For the squash

  • 1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1/4 to 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 apple, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 bacon strips, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the pepitas

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup pepitas (hulled green pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the risotto

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or Vermouth
  • 6 cups hot vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

1. Roast the squash: Place the squash, apples, bacon, and rosemary on a rimmed baking sheet or in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast until the squash is tender and starting to brown and the bacon is crisp, 30 to 40 minutes, stirring once midway through.

2. Make the pepitas: Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Place the pepitas in the pan and cook, stirring often. Add the cumin after 6 minutes and then continue to cook until the seeds have popped and browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the seeds out onto a paper towel-lined plate, sprinkle with salt, and set aside.

3. While the squash is roasting, make the risotto: Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they begin to brown around the edges and soften, about 6 minutes. Stir in the rosemary and pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir to coat with the aromatics. Cook until the rice begins to smell toasty and turn opaque, about 2 minutes. Pour in the white wine and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed.

4. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add about 1/2 cup of broth. Cook, stirring often (you don’t have to stir constantly, but you don’t want to leave the pot standing unstirred for longer than 1 minute), until the rice nearly absorbs the broth—the pot shouldn’t look dry at the bottom and there should be a slight amount of liquid remaining, enough to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom. Continue to add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring between each, until you have added about 5 1/2 cups of broth (this will take around 25 minutes). Taste the risotto. You want it to be every so slightly al dente in the center—like pasta with a semi-white core. Continue to add broth and stir if necessary. Remember that, like a steak, risotto continues to cook once the heat is turned off. So it’s better to err on the side of undercooking than overcooking.

5. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and the Parmesan cheese. Stir the squash mixture into the risotto and taste; add more salt if needed. Serve sprinkle with scallions and the pepitas.

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Filed under Dinner, Grains, Pork, Recipe, Side dish

Side Dish or Center Plate? You decide: Broccoli-Brown Rice Pilaf with Garlic, Lemon, and Spiced Almonds

This is the first post in a weekly series on interesting, delicious, healthy side dishes. The side dish is often the forgotten component of a meal—it’s the rice, roasted potatoes, or simply buttered green beans. Sides, however, can be just as interesting and delicious as the main plus they present an incredible opportunity to get creative, try out new flavors, and figure out fun ways to get healthy and wholesome whole grains and veggies onto plates. Additionally, sides are often cheap to make and easy to turn into a vegetarian main dish (whether you’re vegetarian or not, it’s nice to add a meatless Monday or two into your week to lessen your family’s dependence on animal proteins which in turn helps the environment and your bottom line).

In this hearty pilaf, the rice and broccoli elements are easy to love, with familiar flavors like garlic and lemon. The slivered almonds are fried in olive oil until they’re golden and crunchy, and then get sprinkled with spices and salt. They’re little flavor grenades that absolutely explode when bitten into! And the cool part is that kids and adults can sprinkle them over their own portion as they wish. For some reason I love Middle Eastern, North African, and Indian spices with the nuts, but something more mellow, like a cumin mixed with paprika or chipotle chile powder with dried rosemary would be nice.

Broccoli-Brown Rice Pilaf with Garlic, Lemon, and Spiced Almonds

Serves 6 as a side, 4 as a main

Once the spices hit the sizzling-hot almonds, the essential oils in the spices are released giving the nuts an even deeper, toastier flavor. These are fantastic added to salads, too. If using white rice instead of brown, reduce the cooking time for the rice by fifteen to twenty minutes.

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 teaspoon full-flavored ground spice blend (such as ras el hanout, garam masala, za’atar)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 small shallot or 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups long-grain brown rice
  • 2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
  • 3 cups finely chopped broccoli florets (from 2 medium stalks)
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press or finely minced
  • 1/4 lemon, for serving (optional)

 

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds and cook until golden brown, stirring often, 2 to 3 minutes. Use a spatula or slotted spoon to transfer the almonds to a plate (use tongs to help you get all the almond bits out of the pan—the pan gets reused for cooking the broccoli and you don’t want leftover almond pieces to burn); turn off the heat and set the pan aside. While hot, season with the spices and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and set aside.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in another large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring often, until the shallots are soft and browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook, stirring often, until it smelly toasty, about 2 minutes. Pour in 1 1/4 cups of water and the chicken broth (if using water instead of broth, add 3 1/4 cups total). Give the rice 1 stir, bring it to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. To test the rice, quickly remove a few grains using a fork—once it’s cooked to your liking, turn off the heat and let the rice steam for 5 minutes.

 

3. While the rice cooks, make the broccoli. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the remaining oil in the pan from the almonds and set it over medium-high heat. Let the oil get hot for 1 to 2 minutes and then add the broccoli. Let the broccoli brown in the pan without stirring until it turns bright green and has browned edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and toss to combine. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, stirring often, for about 1 1/2 minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer the broccoli to a large bowl. Cover with the rice, squeeze the lemon over the top, and stir to combine. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds just before serving. Taste and add more salt if needed.

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Filed under Dinner, Grains, Recipe, Side dish, Vegan, Vegetable, Vegetarian, Vegetarian Main

Toeing the Line of Summer: Sweet Corn, Scallion, and Basil Farrotto

There gets to be a point in the summer when I start to crave cold weather. I want to be back in the kitchen turning out batches of tender-melty chocolate chip cookies, braising pork shoulders and lamb shanks, and heating the oven to 500°F. for three-cheese pizza. At the first sign of fall, usually when the mornings start to require a light hoodie for seven a.m. coffee on the deck, it feels okay to think about cooking something a little more substantial than my lunchtime addiction of tomato, cucumber, and sriracha-mayo sandwiches and at night, anything off the grill.

Here on the East Coast, sweet corn comes into its own sometime in August. Sure, you can get it before then and it’s okay. But it’s in August and September when the corn is candy sweet and ripping-juicy. I love corn on the cob. LOVE. I mean hey, I’m a Midwesterner after all. Matt and the kids, well, they have more refined East Coast palates. They like they’re corn civilized and nicey-nice, sliced off the cob and delivered to the table in a mess-free package.

When the corn is sweet enough to eat raw, and fresh enough for its juices to run as white as milk, I make corn farrotto. Farro is an ancient grain—while it looks like rice, it’s actually emmer wheat, and has been cultivated for thousands upon thousands of years. It’s toasty, nutty, chew is absolutely lovely paired with sweet corn (sliced off the cob, of course). I like to keep the flavors as pure and clean as possible. So instead of chicken broth or even vegetable broth I make a corn stock from the kernel-shaved cobs and a little salt. With some scallions, a shallot, a nod of Parm, and some basil just because, it satisfies my craving for something fall-like and hearty without completely cutting my summer ties.

Farrotto doesn’t require as much stirring as Arborio or Carnaroli rice, the two varieties most commonly associated with risotto. So don’t think you have to stand over the stove and stir endlessly. Plus, it doesn’t give off lots of starch like risotto rice either, meaning the window of perfection is cracked a little wider. Enjoy that open window while you can—cold days are just around the corner.

 

Sweet Corn, Scallion, and Basil Farrotto

Serves 4

4 ears sweet corn, husked

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 scallions

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 3/4 cups farro, rinsed

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (more if you like)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Set a box grater inside of a large, wide mixing bowl and grate the ears of corn on the medium-hole side of the grater. Set the corn pulp aside. Place the cobs in a large pot, add 8 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of the salt, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes or until the broth tastes sweet and corny. Remove the cobs from the broth and set aside. Pour the broth into a large liquid measuring cup; you should have about 5 to 6 cups of corn broth. Set aside. (If you have less than 4 cups, squeeze and “milk” the cobs over a bowl to extract more liquid. Or add enough water to equal 5 cups).

Finely chop the white parts of the scallions and set aside. Finely chop the green parts of the scallions (except for the top 1 1/2 inches of the greens—these can be tough) and set aside. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the chopped white scallions, the shallots, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soft and starting to get sticky (if they start to color, reduce the heat to medium-low), 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the farro and cook until smells toasty, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of broth and stir and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat another 4 times until you have added 5 cups of liquid and about 35 minutes have passed. Taste the farro. It should taste like it needs another 5 minutes to cook, meaning it is slightly too al dente (when cooked perfectly, farro should have some chew but not hardness at its core—it won’t become as soft or porridgey as risotto rice such as Arborio or Carnaroli), which is perfect for now. (Don’t be tempted to add salt—Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is quite salty, so taste the farrotto for salt after stirring it in later.)

Mix in the reserved corn pulp and the chopped green scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pulp starts to threaten to stick to the bottom of the pot and the farro tastes less raw at the center, about 5 minutes longer (you can add more corn stock if you think it needs it). Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and the basil. Taste for salt, adding more if needed, and serve hot.

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Filed under Dinner, Grains, Recipe, Side dish, Vegetarian, Vegetarian Main