Happy early birthday, to me, to me.
Very happy indeed!
I’m easily stumped when it comes to birthdays. I get asked over and over what do I want, what do I want, when really, I don’t know. I guess it’s a good sign when you are satisfied with what you have.
Since no one close to me ever wants to buy me fonts for my birthday (yes, I’m a design nerd), I was at a loss. Until I found the now infamous recipe for No Knead Bread. You see, no knead bread requires, well, a nice pot. A heavy pot that can go into the oven. I wanted this bread, and I wanted it badly. And I had no such pot.
Needless to say, I knew what I wanted for my birthday.
Lucky for me, we have a Le Creuset store downtown (next to Whole Foods, nonetheless!). And so Taylor and I made the treck to the hoity-toity shopping center. I was entirely planning to make the final purchase online, where I could surely get a better deal. Maybe it was the pushy salesman or the enticing shade of turquoise… either way, we left carrying (or, rather, Taylor was carrying) a lovely 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset, in Caribbean blue.
I’m in love (with a pot, yes, but with the boy who bought it for me too!).
And let me tell you, this bread is worth it!!
Of course, we couldn’t JUST eat bread for dinner. I recently saw this recipe for Vanilla Bean and Butternut Squash risotto over at Erin Cooks… and with my stash of ebay vanilla beans I am always looking for new ways to use them. While it might seem like an odd combination, the subtle sweetness of the vanilla is a perfect compliment to the squash and creamy risotto. Plus the tiny speckles are a sight to be seen.
Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto
Makes 4 regular or 6 side dish servings.
Recipe from Giada.
4 cups vegetable broth
1 large vanilla bean
3 cups peeled cubed (1-inch wide) butternut squash, about 12 ounces
2 tablespoons butter, plus 1 tablespoon
3/4 cups finely chopped onion (from 1 onion)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
In a medium saucepan, warm the broth over medium-high heat. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and add them, and the bean, to the broth. When the broth comes to a simmer reduce the heat to low. Add the butternut squash to the simmering broth and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon remove the butternut squash to a side dish. Turn the heat on the broth down to very low and cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, in a large, heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and sautÃ© until tender but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition to of the broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total. Discard the vanilla bean. Turn off the heat. Gently stir in the butternut squash, Parmesan, the remaining tablespoon of butter, and salt. Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl and sprinkle with chives. Serve immediately.
We’re huge fans of red curry, but decided it was time to mix things up a bit. The flavors of red and green curry are subtly different, the green being much more mild and almost sweet. This recipe pairs the green curry with shrimp and delicate rice noodles, and with a tang of cilantro is a simple recipe with a complex taste. This recipe is also much lighter than the red curry we make (though that probably has to do with the lower-fat coconut milk and the addition of chicken broth). Sometimes our red curry is too rich to enjoy it fully, but not this curry. If one could describe curry as “light,” this would be the recipe to do it.
Also, we’ve never been able to find fresh lemongrass at any “normal” grocery store. We did, however, manage to sag a bottle of dried (albeit expensive) lemongrass stalks. Just soak them in water for half and hour or so and it’s almost as good as the fresh stuff. Almost. I wonder how many people would have to petition Kroger before they’d start carrying fresh lemongrass? Hmmm…
Green Curry Shrimp with Noodles
Makes 4 servings.
Recipe from Epicurious.
1 cup chopped shallots (about 4)
2 fresh lemongrass stalks (optional), 1 or 2 outer leaves discarded and lower 6 inches of stalks thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro stems
1 to 2 tablespoons bottled Asian green curry paste
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 (13- to 14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk (not low-fat)
1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (14 fl oz)
3/4 lb dried flat 3/8-inch-wide rice noodles or 1/2 lb dried flat 1/8-inch-wide stir-fry rice noodles
1 1/2 lb peeled and deveined large shrimp (21 to 25 per lb)
2 to 3 teaspoons Asian fish sauce, or to taste
PurÃ©e shallots, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and cilantro stems in a blender with curry paste, sugar, salt, turmeric, and water until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute.
Heat oil in a 4-quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook curry paste mixture, stirring frequently, until it just begins to stick to bottom of pot, 8 to 10 minutes. Add coconut milk and broth and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 3 2/3 cups, 8 to 10 minutes.
While sauce simmers, cook noodles in a 6-quart pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. Drain noodles well and divide among 4 large bowls.
Add shrimp to sauce and simmer, stirring, until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in fish sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Ladle shrimp and sauce over noodles.
Every now and then we come across an unbelievable simple dish that blows our minds. Add to that the fact that it is quick, and healthy, and I can’t think of a better thing to cook for dinner any night of the week. Our Tomato & Olive Penne is a permanent staple in our weekly meal plans, and this recipe will soon be joining it.
We roasted everything at once, just put it in the oven and go relax (see? easy!). While we started out with the asparagus and potatoes underneath the fish in the baking dish, we ended up quarantining the two in separate receptacles. Fish is good, but potatoes that taste like fish didn’t sound quite as appealing.
We love to cook fish, but here in Tennessee the pickin’s are not so great. Too far from an ocean in every direction I guess. Our choices are either frozen or expensive, and it is for that reason that we fall back on better-when-frozen items such as shrimp more often than we do fish.
Every once in a while, though, when we make the trek across town around the vicinity of Whole Foods, well, we decide to treat ourselves. Delicacies such as halibut or tuna are always way out of our price range (even when treating), but trout, well, even at Whole Foods (dubbed Whole Paycheck by some), was a very tidy $4.50 for two fillets. Small fillets, I give you that much, but paired with some garlic roasted potatoes and asparagus, made for a fine meal indeed.
Baked Trout with Shiitake Mushrooms and Tomatoes
Recipe from Epicurious.
Makes 2 servings.
Nonstick cooking spray
2 whole rainbow trout (about 12 ounces each), cleaned, boned, butterflied
2 good sized trout fillets
2 green onions, chopped
2 large fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped seeded tomatoes
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Preheat oven to 400Â°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with foil; coat with nonstick spray. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Open fish like a book and arrange, skin side down, on prepared baking sheet.
Mix next 5 ingredients in bowl. Sprinkle mixture over fish, drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil, then top with cilantro sprigs. Bake uncovered until fish is opaque in center, about 20 minutes.
While I thought this recipe would be a bit more like a pasta-stew (don’t you think stew when you hear the word ragu?) it wasn’t at all disappointing! In fact, we’ve eaten it for 3 meals straight (read: it makes a lot) and are still raving about it.
We added the leftovers from a grocery store roasted chicken we bought on Friday. We were all cooked-out after Valentine’s day, but all the restaurants were jam packed because hey! it’s the Friday after Valentine’s day! Go figure! So we just ran to the store and bought a roasted chicken. Which was great because we spent a whole $6.50 (ok… $13.50 if you count the two boxes of girl scout cookies) on dinner when we could have easily spent $40 at the restaurant, so we weren’t complaining! Anyway, we just cubed the leftover meat and added it to the mixture.
Stew or not… it’s a keeper!
Pasta with Spinach, Chicken, and White Bean Ragu
Makes 6 servings.
Recipe from Global Gourmet
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/4 cup pancetta or bacon minced
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 (16-oz) can white (navy/cannellini) beans, rinsed and drained well
1/4 to 1 cup white wine
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Salt and Pepper
1 lb pasta
5 cloves garlic chopped
1 lb spinach, stems removed, leaves chopped or 1 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 roasted chicken, cubed (optional)
2 tbsp butter
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. SautÃ© pancetta in olive oil until lightly golden brown. Add onion and red pepper flakes and continue to sautÃ© until onion is golden brown. Gently add beans, and stir. Add wine and parsley and simmer about 15 minutes or until thickened. If mixture gets too dry keep adding white wine. Add chicken and toss until just heated through. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente; drain.
Heat remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until lightly browned. Add spinach and sautÃ© until wilted. Add tomatoes and cook until tomatoes begin to simmer. Add butter and toss until melted. Season with salt and pepper.
Return drained pasta to pot. Add bean ragu and spinach mixture and combine very well. Add Parmesan cheese, toss to coat and serve immediately.