Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shrimp Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

I'm convinced that some of my best cooking happens on the fly.  At least that's what I like to tell myself at the end of a long day when I'd rather not go grocery shopping.  Last night, I was more than happy to bypass the checkout lines at my local market and head home right after work.  I was even happier when I realized I had the makings of a great dinner in my kitchen already.  Shrimp in the freezer, goat cheese and tomatoes in the fridge, arborio rice in the pantry- ingredients for a delicious, and not too difficult, risotto.

Risotto is one of Mike's favorite dishes, and I love making it for him.  Once you've got the hang of it, it's really a simple dish to put together.  Plus, you can adapt the basic recipe with whatever ingredients you have on hand.  Whether it's fresh asparagus and tomatoes from your farmer's market in the summer or butternut squash in the fall and winter, it's hard to go wrong.  I was especially pleased with tonight's combo- tangy goat cheese, flavorful roasted tomatoes, and shrimp.  Yum!

6 c. chicken broth
1 pound cooked shrimp, tails off
12 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
2 Tbs. olive oil, plus a little more to sprinkle on veggies
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. dry sherry
1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
2-3 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
Salt and black pepper, to taste (I used a great seasoned salt for extra flavor)

-Heat oven to 450 degrees.
-In a saucepan, heat chicken broth on medium-low heat, adjusting the heat as needed to keep it warm but not boiling.
-Chop shrimp into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
-Put the tomato halves on a large baking sheet lined with foil. Sprinkle with a little olive oil and kosher salt.
-Roast vegetables for 15 minutes.
-Put the 2 Tbs. of olive oil and butter in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, melting butter on medium-low heat.
-Add onions. Cook until translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two more.
-Pour in the rice and toast, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
-Turn heat up to medium and pour sherry over rice and stir until cooked off, about 1 minute.
-Add broth 1 cup at a time. After adding a cup of broth, keep stirring the rice and allow the liquid to be absorbed. Add another cup of broth when the rice seems a little dry. Continue this process until the rice is al dente. You may not need all of the broth.
-Add the shrimp to any remaining broth to gently heat them before adding to the risotto.  Once they are warm, stir the shrimp and a little more broth, if needed, into the rice.
-Remove dutch oven from heat and carefully stir in parmesan, goat cheese, and roasted tomatoes.
-Season to taste with fresh parsley, salt and pepper.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Poached Pears, Easy on the Sauce!

There's something lovely about poached pears this time of year- simple, sweet, fragrant with spices.  And as far as desserts go, they're not too heavy, making them the perfect end to a wintry meal.  I really think, though, that the best part of making poached pears is that there really isn't a strict recipe to follow- some liquid (water, wine, juice, or a combination thereof), a sweetener (I used granulated sugar), and some spices to jazz the dish up.

I have really been on a kick to use what I have on hand, so I decided to go with a bottle of cranberry wine and some mulling spices leftover from the holidays.  The wine is light, and sweet, but not overly so.  I think it worked quite well here, but so would any red or white wine with similar characteristics.  When I reduced the poaching liquid down, it made a gorgeous garnet-colored sauce, as I'm sure you can see from the picture.  I went totally overboard spooning sauce into the serving bowl because of that fact, and I recommend you using a bit more restraint than me when portioning it out.  A little goes a long way, and you don't want to overpower the flavor of the pears, lovely though the sauce may be.

These are best made ahead of time and refrigerated, making them so perfect for dessert at your next dinner party.  Why not give them a try?
4-6 firm ripe pears (depending on size)
1 750 ml bottle wine, of the sweeter, lighter variety (I used Cooper's Hawk Cranberry Wine)
1 cup cold water
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
Juice and zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons mulling spices (I had spices from both Williams Sonoma and the Spice House in my pantry.  Eek!)

-Peel and core the pears.  Set aside.
-Combine the wine, water, and sugar together in a large pot or dutch oven.
-Bring the liquid to a very gentle boil and add the orange juice, zest, vanilla bean paste, mulling spices, and pears.
-Reduce heat to maintain a simmer.
-Allow pears to simmer, turning them occasionally, until they are fork tender.  Time will vary depending on the size and variety of pear.
-Use a slotted spoon to remove pears from heat and place in a serving bowl or dish along with a little poaching liquid.  Chill pears until serving time.
-Turn the heat up on remaining poaching liquid to maintain a very gentle boil.  Allow the liquid to reduce by half.  Strain poaching liquid into a clean bowl set over ice to chill quickly, or simply refrigerate  until needed.
-To serve, place a pear in each serving dish along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or gelato.  Spoon a little sauce over the pear and serve.  The sauce will be quite sweet, so a little goes a long way.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Making Friends with Fondant...

Fondant and I, we've had our moments over the years.  Some good, a few bad, and some just pull-out-your hair frustrating!  You may remember a few of these...the Valentine's cake with its exceedingly wobbly inscription?  Or perhaps the 3-tiered, penguin themed cake that I inadvertently volunteered to make for a cake decorating event? (I had to make every ounce of fondant for that cake from scratch, by the way!)  How about the almost-disaster of a shower cake I made for my sister in 110% humidity?  It's no surprise that fondant is something I've been a little leery of.  It's fun to work with for sure- like a sugary play dough- but often quite labor intensive for something that is only technically edible.  I've always asserted that I'd rather my cake be covered in a really well-made icing or ganache.
This weekend, though, I decided to put my hang-ups aside and give fondant another try.  A baby shower was being thrown for my friends Kathy, Jeremiah, and the soon-to-be Benjamin Brown.  I happily agreed to make the cupcakes.  I wanted them to be delicious, for sure, but I also wanted them to be extra special.  Most of the cupcakes were chocolate on chocolate with a hint of coffee (Beatty's chocolate cake by the Barefoot Contessa).  I figured my pregnant friend would appreciate the flavor combo as she's been missing her daily cup of joe.  The remainder of the cupcakes were iced in a vanilla buttercream and covered in a layer of fondant.  No, I didn't make my own fondant this time- I happily bought the packaged stuff!  To cover each cupcake, I simply rolled the fondant a little thinner than I normally would and used cutters to keep the job easy.  I was really pleased with how they turned out!  Even more so when I saw people happily digging in...maybe there's hope for me and fondant after all!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Like A Kid In A Candy Store...

Oooh!  I have a new love, and it is "Layer Cake Shop" baking supply!  How it's taken me until now to discover this website is an absolute mystery.  Was this something everyone else knew about and just forgot to tell me?  I certainly hope not...

"Layer Cake Shop" is an online-only store based out of Waukegan, Illinois- which makes them my neighbors to the north.  The company was founded by two women who bonded over a love of baking and all things fun and kitschy.  Evidently, their business started on Etsy and has since grown into a thriving website full of totally cool baking items- cupcake liners in all colors and patterns, cookie cutters, crazy fun sprinkles, decors, icing colors, and toppers, as well as a more practical (yet still tantalizing) section of bags, tags, labels, etc.   I would die to take a walk thought their warehouse!  I have a feeling I'd be in big trouble if I did, though.  Just peeking through the website has already caused serious damage to my pocketbook!

Just a few of the many, many things that caught my eye:
Happy Homemaker Cupcake hilarious!  It think it'd make a great housewarming gift!

Is there anything more fun than sprinkles in every color of the rainbow?

But then, I got caught up in the Valentine's stuff and it was all over for me:
"Baked with Love" Cupcake Kit: So cheesy, so fun!

Especially when the cupcakes are boxed up in these:

And tied up with this red and white twine...

So you can attach a personalized note written on one of these:

The best part is, you can win a $10 gift card for sending them photos of your creative baking projects!  You can get a little more info on that from the "Sweet Ideas" section of their website.  $10 would be a good start to a few of these fun items, so I think we'd better get baking.  Any fun ideas you care to share??

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Oh. Yum.

Happy New Year!  Hope you rang in 2010 (2010?  Seriously?) with friends, festivities, and of course, good food!  Those resolutions will be kicking in soon enough, so I hope you're taking every opportunity to enjoy yourself while you still can.

Mike and I decided to have his family over tonight for a relaxing dinner before we get into our usual post New Year's healthy eating/workout kick.  I had some homemade turkey stock to use, so I made my turkey chili along with the best cornbread ever and root beer floats for dessert.  There may have been some Barefoot Contessa pan-fried onion dip and chips involved too, but no one needs to know about that one.  At the last minute, I decided to try out a new recipe that caught my eye.  I love sweet potatoes, and "Sweet Potato Cornbread" sounded like a perfect accompaniment to our meal.

This recipe is out of "The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking", a fantastically great baking book by Rick Curry that I've had my eye on for quite a while.  I have long been a fan of Brother Rick Curry's Irish Soda Bread, and I was happy when I received his book for Christmas.  Even more so when I realized that he had an entire chapter devoted to cornbread.  Yum!  I've since made three different cornbread recipes from the book, and they're all just great!  This one is definitely the most unique of the bunch.  If you love sweet potatoes, this is the recipe for you.  I'm toying with the idea, though, of next time using only 1/2 lb. of sweet potato and maybe more buttermilk to tone down the sweet potato flavor for those who might be a little leery.  Try it for yourself and see what you think!

Sweet Potato Cornbread
3/4 lb. sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons butter

-Bring sweet potatoes to a boil, covered with water, in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes, until tender.
-Drain thoroughly and press through a strainer into a bowl. Set aside to cool slightly.
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Sift together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, pepper, and nutmeg.
-Add the egg and buttermilk to the sweet potato puree and mix until well blended.
-In an 8 or 9 - inch ovenproof skillet, heat the butter until just sizzling - about 2 minutes. Swirl the butter in the pan to coat it well. Pour any excess butter into the sweet potato mixture.
-Quickly add the cornmeal mixture to the sweet potato mixture and stir until blended. Pour the batter into the skillet.
-Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until lightly golden and the corn bread has pulled away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and cut into wedges.