Sunday, March 27, 2011

Trust your gut! And eat good risotto!

Today I was reminded twice of one very important cooking rule: the recipe is not always right!

Coincidentally, both of these pleasant reminders came as slightly undercooked ingredients.
The first was in my 15-minute prep meatloaf – a bacon-Gruyere meatloaf from Real Simple magazine that requires very little hands-on time. The most time I spent was on grating the Gruyere cheese, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite to cook with.

The issue here was when the oven called my name, saying, “Elise… time to take the meatloaf out,” the meatloaf was still clearly undercooked. I’m always very paranoid about undercooking meat (a seldom-occurring quality, as I’m generally calm as a toad in the sun… J), so when my instant-read thermometer read 140 instead of 160, I knew it needed to go back in. Twenty minutes later of checking on it every five minutes, I came to my very calm executive decision--- Screw it! If it’s not done now, we’re eating it row! Lucky for my dinner guests, it was done and delicious.

My second reminder that the times listed on recipes aren’t always correct occurred in dish number two: Risotto with Butternut Squash, Leeks, and Basil. The recipe called to sauté the squash for 5 minutes or until starting to soften and brown. After 8 minutes, I used the tried and true fork test and thought it wasn’t quite done but that the rest of the cooking process would soften it up a little. When it was all done and time to serve and the squash was the same texture, I wished I had listened to my gut. While my kind dinner guests said that the squash were good, there were some pieces that were a little crispier than I’d like. Because I didn’t cut them all the exact same size, the larger pieces were a little underdone. So, as you all should when you find something about a recipe you’d like to change, I made a note on the recipe.

So today let’s raise our glasses to one of the most important cooking rules:

Go with your gut!

[from Real Simple magazine]

            1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck
            1/4 cup bread crumbs
            1/4 cup ketchup, plus more for serving
            1 small red onion, coarsely grated
            2 slices bacon, chopped
            2 cloves garlic, chopped
            1 large egg
            3/4 cup grated Gruyère or Cheddar (3 ounces)
            kosher salt and black pepper
            2 tablespoons olive oil


Heat oven to 400° F. In a medium bowl, combine the beef, bread crumbs, ketchup, grated onion, bacon, garlic, egg, ½ cup of the Gruyère, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Transfer the mixture to an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan and sprinkle with the
remaining ¼ cup of Gruyère.

Roast the meat loaf until cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes. Pour off any accumulated fat and let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Slice the meat loaf and serve with additional ketchup.

[From Bon Appetit magazine]

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled butternut squash (from 2 1/4 pounds squash)
3 cups 1/2-inch-wide slices leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 cups arborio rice
4 14-ounce cans (or more) vegetable broth
1 cup chopped fresh basil
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving


Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add squash and sauté until beginning to soften and brown around edges, about 5 minutes. Transfer squash to medium bowl.

Reduce heat to medium; add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, leeks, and thyme to same pot and stir until tender but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add rice and stir 1 minute. Add 1 cup broth and simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes. Add remaining broth by 1/2 cupfuls, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Return squash to pot. Continue to cook until rice is just tender but still very creamy, stirring gently and often, about 10 minutes longer (about 25 minutes total cooking time). Remove from heat. Stir in basil and 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to large bowl and serve with additional Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

... And it was all yellow (Shrimp dinner leftover turned alfredo pasta)

So let’s see if I completed my Mardi Gras checklist:
Get a sunburn?... Check!
Get to the parade route 2 hours before the parade actually started?.... Check!
Stand bundled up under and umbrella in the rain waiting for a parade?... Check!
Pick up the random doubloons left all around the house by my Mardi Gras obsessed husband?... Check!
At least you can’t say that I’m not dedicated…

Now that I’ve had time to recuperate after two weeks of South Louisiana fun, it’s back into the kitchen! 

This Friday, Vandebilt Regiment’s Band Boosters hosted a shrimp boil and, lucky me, I got four dinners!! (What can I say? I’ve got connections. ahem…thanks, Mom…ahem) I’m one of those people who prefer shrimp in dishes rather than just boiled, so while my husband was chowing down on his two trays, I decided to incorporate mine into a pasta dish. And don’t you worry, there was no waste. I incorporated all the items in the dinners into a dish.

My theme was yellow. (Really my theme was using whatever I happen to have in the refrigerator, but we’ll just pretend like my theme was yellow.) I sliced up some summer squash; they’re small right now, but still tasty. I julienned a yellow bell pepper from my tri-colored pepper pack. I cut the corn off the cob from the shrimp dinner. And off I went…

I keep a couple of things in stock for nights like this when I just want to whip up a quick pasta dish, such as heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. You can also use half & half, or a low-fat alternative is low-fat milk and nonfat evaporated milk with a tablespoon of flour to thicken it up.

The basic strategy for a veggie-included creamy pasta dish is as follows:

1.   If you’re including a protein, have it seasoned, cooked, and ready to go before you start. In my case, the lovely parents of the Vandebilt Band Boosters took care of that step for me.
2.     Set your pasta to boil. When you drain you pasta, reserve some of the boiling water. This is the best liquid to use to thin out the sauce if you need to after you’re done cooking. It helps the sauce stick to the pasta, versus regular water which would not work as well.
3.     Cook down the veggies (onions, peppers, squash, garlic, or whatever you feel like) in some butter or olive oil.  Get them to the consistency that you like them to be when you eat them.
4.     Add in any veggies that are already cooked (peas, corn, etc.) and add your cream/milk mixture. Let it thicken up if you’re using a thickening agent such as flour or cornstarch.
5.     Add any cheese you’d like, such as parmesan, and add your seasonings (parsley, salt, and pepper… maybe some thyme for all the veggies… but this part is really up to you).
6.     Toss with your drained pasta, adding some of the reserved boiling water as you see fit.

This is my basic strategy, but I’ll post for you exactly what I did last night with measurements below. 

So I used the shrimp and the corn; the only thing leftover were the potatoes – one of my favorite parts of a seafood boil and somehow always the part there are leftovers of. With my leftover shrimp boil potatoes, on Saturday for lunch I made mashed potatoes. The potatoes were already boiled, but not quite enough to cream them the way I like, so I peeled them and quartered them, then boiled them for another 5 minutes. After draining them, I added some evaporated milk and melted butter and used a hand-mixer to blend them to my desired consistency (which is creamy with no lumps), adding evaporated milk as needed to reach that desired consistency. I added salt to taste, but it didn’t require much because they had the flavor from the shrimp boil already incorporated. So next time, don’t let those potatoes go to waste. Stick them in the refrigerator for mashed potoatoes later in the week!

Don’t forget to comment and let me know what you think or how yours turned out!

Shrimp Alfredo with Yellow Vegetables
8 ounces fettuccini pasta
¼ cp margarine
¼ cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 small summer squash, sliced thin
1 yellow bell pepper, julienned
½ cup corn
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons thyme
salt and ground black pepper, to taste


1.     Cook fettuccine according to package directions; drain and keep warm, reserving boiling liquid for sauce adjustment.

2.     While pasta is cooking, melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, 3-4 minutes or until onion is tender. Increase heat to medium-high; add squash and yellow pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 5-6 minutes or until crisp tender (or until it has reached your desired consistency).

3.     Stir in corn and cream; cook 1-2 minutes, or until heated through, but do not boil. Stir in Parmesan cheese, parsley, thyme, salt and ground black pepper. Toss with drained fettuccine. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese if desired. Use the reserved liquid to thin out sauce if necessary.