4.14.15 Pea Risotto with Crispy Prosciutto, Feta, and Mint

I think I can officially say that spring is here. Fact: There are buds on the trees and birds everywhere. Fact: Plants have started popping up in the yard and garden. Fact: It has been ridiculously nice out for multiple days in a row and I am once again able to use the porch and patio to their full extent. Conclusion: It must be spring. There’s no other explanation.

Most importantly, springy weather makes me excited for green spring vegetables. After months where the only produce in season are root vegetables and squash, green things seem particularly marvelous. Soon, we’ll be bogged down with all kinds of greens, lettuces, and asparagus, and I can hardly wait. For now though, I’ve really been thinking about peas.

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And what better way to showcase said peas than in a creamy bowl of risotto? This version in particular really lets the peas shine, incorporating them both in whole form as well as adding some extra springy greenness as a lovely, bright puree with mint and lemon. And of course, you really can’t go wrong by topping it all off with crispy prosciutto, tangy feta, and fresh mint. It’s the perfect way to celebrate spring.

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Pea Risotto with Crispy Prosciutto, Feta, and Mint

serves about 4

In a pinch, you can use thawed, frozen peas for this recipe, but if you can get your hands on some fresh shelled peas, you won’t regret it. I’ve had good luck finding them at Trader Joe’s.

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 8 oz arborio or other short grain rice
  • ⅓ cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups chicken stock, heated to near-boiling
  • 2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 1 ½ cups fresh peas, divided
  • 1 Tbsp (loose packed) fresh mint leaves, plus more for serving
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon zest
  • ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • crumbled feta for serving

1. Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Once melted, add the onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook until soft and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.

2. Add the rice and stir, continuing to cook until rice is well mixed with the onions and appears slightly translucent, about 2 minutes.

3. Add the wine, and continue cooking until wine is absorbed, about 3-4 minutes.

4. Add 1 cup of stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until stock is completely absorbed. Reserving ¼ cup stock to use in step 6, repeat this process, adding about 1 cup of stock at a time, until all of the remaining stock has been incorporated. This whole process should take about 20-25 minutes.

5. While rice is cooking, crisp up your prosciutto. Heat a large non-stick pan over medium high heat and add the slices of prosciutto. Cook, flipping periodically, until crispy. Cool slightly, then crumble.

6. In a blender or food processor, combine 1 cup of the peas, mint, lemon juice, lemon zest, and ¼ cup of the warm stock. Puree until smooth.

7. When the last of the stock has been almost completely absorbed into the rice and rice is tender, stir in the pea puree, the remaining ½ cup of whole peas, and the parmesan. Continue to cook, stirring, until cheese is melted and peas are just tender, about 2 minutes.

8. Serve risotto, topping each bowl with crumbled feta, crispy prosciutto, and finely chopped mint.

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4.10.15 Lemon Almond Oat Cookies

Sometimes, you just need cookies. Because, let’s be honest, there are few occasions in life that can’t be made better with a warm batch of cookies and a tall, cold glass of milk. As you can probably guess, I get a lot of cookie cravings. Which means there’s usually a decent amount of cookie baking going on at our house. I’d say that’s definitely a good thing.

Now when it comes to specific types of cookies, you can often find me making chocolate chip, or some variation thereof. But it’s always good to change things up too. Lately, I’ve had a craving for oatmeal cookies (sans raisins of course). And not just any oatmeal cookies, but those really thin, crispy, buttery ones. The kind with so many oats in them, they cook into perfect, lacy cookie wafers. Of course, when I thought more about making said glorious oatmeal cookies, I figured adding some almonds in there for additional flavor and texture wouldn’t hurt. And a bright hit of lemon (it is spring after all) wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

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This is the kind of cookie that could make you eat an entire batch in one sitting if you’re not careful. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Lemon Almond Oat Cookies

makes 2 dozen

  • ¾ cup flour
  • ¾ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup thinly sliced almonds
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup butter (1 stick), room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon zest
  • ½ tsp vanilla

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Combine flour, oats, almonds, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

3. In a larger bowl, mix the butter and both sugars together until smooth. Mix in the egg, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla.

4. Stir in the flour mixture, and mix until well combined.

5. Form cookie dough into about 1” balls and drop onto greased cookie sheets (dough will be sticky - easiest to use two spoons). You should end up with about 2 dozen cookies.

6. Bake at 375 for 9-10 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown on the bottoms. Cool in pans for about 10 min, then enjoy!

4.3.15 Mushroom Mascarpone Tart with Parmesan Crust

I’ve always been a big fan of mushrooms. I love their substantial earthiness; often times, you’ll find me scrambling them up with eggs, roasting them for salads, throwing them on pizzas, and eating them on toast.  Pure deliciousness. Unfortunately, as much as I love mushrooms, Forrest can’t stand them. And no matter what I do, I can’t seem to get him to come around (trust me I’ve tried). As a result, I never seem to cook quite as many mushrooms as I’d truly like. That is, unless Forrest is out of town. Then all bets are off.

Last weekend, with Forrest away on a ski trip, and me left to my own devices, I knew that some serious mushroom cookery was about to go down. And it so did. In the form of this lovely mushroom mascarpone tart.

This is the sort of savory pie that would be right at home at brunch, or perfectly paired with a crisp salad for a light dinner. It’s creamy, mushroomy (of course), and perhaps most importantly, doesn’t skimp on the cheese. There’s even cheese in the crust. Oh yes. I have a sneaking suspicion this much cheese may even convert my mushroom-hating husband. Anyway, it’s worth a shot.

Mushroom Mascarpone Tart with Parmesan Crust

serves 6

crust:

  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 oz cold water

filling:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, finely diced
  • 12 oz cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • ½ tsp dried thyme (or 1 tsp fresh thyme)
  • ¾ tsp salt, divided
  • ¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup grated fontina cheese, divided

1. Make the crust -  Measure the flour into a large bowl, cut the butter into small pieces, then add to the flour.

2. Using your hands, work the butter into the flour until the pieces are small (about the size of a pea) and the mixture has a grainy texture. Stir in the parmesan cheese.

3. Add the water (very cold) a little bit at a time, mixing until the dough is all incorporated into a ball. If 1 oz of water doesn’t seem to be enough, you can add a bit more, but add it a little bit at a time, and use the least amount of water possible to hold the dough together.

4. Flatten the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 15-20 minutes before working with it further.

5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

6. Once the dough has been chilled, roll it out on a well floured surface and shape it into a greased 9-inch pie or tart pan.

7. Cover crust with aluminum foil, and add some dry beans or rice to weight it down. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and bake uncovered an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool while you prepare the filling. Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.

8. Heat oil over medium heat in a pan. Add the onion, and cook until it begins to soften, about 3-4 minutes.

9. Add mushrooms, thyme, ½ tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper, and continue cooking, stirring often, until mushrooms are cooked and beginning to brown.

10. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, ¼ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper. Whisk in the mascarpone cheese. Stir in the mushroom mixture and ½ cup grated fontina cheese.

11. Pour into prepared crust, top with remaining ½ cup fontina cheese, and bake at 350 degrees until filling is golden, well set, and slightly puffed in the center, about 30 minutes. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.

3.31.15 Spicy Pickled Carrot Salad

At any given time, our refrigerator usually houses a pretty decent supply of carrots. I’d like to say it’s because we’re super healthy people, and that when a snack craving strikes, we eat things like carrot sticks (and certainly not things like spicy pickle flavored potato chips). The truth is, we have so many carrots because for some strange reason, the dog thinks they’re treats. For real. He will do pretty much anything for a carrot.

From time to time, I get a little jealous of him and wish that I loved carrots as much as he does. I mean, don’t get me wrong, carrots are great. But I’ve never been so excited about them that I go into a wild frenzy at the mere mention of them. Well, until now maybe.

This salad was inspired by those lovely pickled carrots you typically get on a banh mi sandwich. They’re so good, I always find myself wishing for more. The obvious solution was to just make my own, which is really pretty easy. Not to mention, when you make your own, you can do things like add chiles for some extra kick. And while a big plate of pickled carrots is probably delicious, adding some cucumbers and peanuts for crunch, a super simple chile lime dressing, and a few fresh herbs makes it even better. Best carrots ever? I think yes.

Spicy Pickled Carrot Salad

serves 3-4

  • ½ lb carrots, scrubbed clean (about 4 medium carrots)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp chile garlic paste
  • 1 medium Persian (or other seedless) cucumber, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • ¼ cup (loose packed) cilantro leaves
  • ¼ cup dry roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 large scallion, thinly sliced

1. Use a mandoline or vegetable peeler to cut the carrots into thin ribbons. Slice jalapeno pepper into very thin slices, then combine with the carrots in a medium bowl. Add the salt and sugar, and toss to mix evenly. Let stand for 5 minutes.

2. Combine the water and rice vinegar, then pour over the carrot mixture in the bowl. Let stand, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.

3. Drain liquid from carrots and place in a large bowl. Stir together the chile garlic paste and lime juice, add to the carrots, and toss to coat. Stir in the cucumbers, ⅔ of the cilantro leaves, ⅔ of the peanuts, and ⅔ of the scallions. Arrange salad on a plate and top with the remaining cilantro, peanuts, and scallions.

3.27.15 Chile Roasted Chicken and Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro Rice

Roasting is one of the easiest ways to make a meal. It seems so obvious, but sometimes with all of the other fun cooking techniques out there, I completely forget about it. Which is silly really. I mean, you take some vegetables or meat, toss them in a little oil, add some seasonings, throw it in the oven, and before long, you’ve transformed your raw ingredients into crispy, golden brown deliciousness. Dinner is ready, and your oven did all of the work. It’s almost too easy.

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Also, let’s talk about how roasting makes your kitchen feel extra warm and cozy, which on a chilly day is definitely a bonus. That’s why, I recently decided some roasting was in order and whipped up this fantastic supper. It’s pretty simple. Roast some chicken and sweet potatoes with chile and spices, cook up some lovely herbaceous cilantro rice while you roast, and top it all off with a nice dollop of lime sour cream.

Plus, this is the perfect meal to serve in bowl form. As in, serve everything in a bowl, mix it together and devour. Anyone who eats as many bowl meals as I do know that they’re one of the best kinds of meals. And with this one, you really can’t go wrong. It’s got it all - crispy, sweet, spicy, creamy - chicken and rice never tasted so good.

Chile Roasted Chicken and Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro Rice

serves 4

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 lb) peeled and cut into 1” pieces
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 4 thighs)
  • ½ medium red onion, roughly chopped into 1” pieces
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp ancho chile powder
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ¾ tsp salt, divided
  • 2 cups loosely packed cilantro
  • 3 scallions, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 Tbsp fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes), divided
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, roughly chopped (seeded if less heat is desired)
  • 1 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 14.5 oz can chicken broth
  • ½ cup sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine the chopped sweet potatoes, chicken thighs, and red onion. In a smaller bowl, combine 2 Tbsp oil, chile powder, paprika, cumin, coriander, and ½ tsp salt. Stir until well combined. Pour over chicken and vegetables in large bowl and mix until everything is well coated with the oil and spice mixture.

3. Spread chicken and vegetables in an even layer on a baking sheet, and bake at 400 degrees until potatoes are crispy on the edges and chicken is juicy and cooked through, about 35-40 minutes.

4. While chicken and vegetables are baking, start the rice. Combine the cilantro, scallions, garlic, 2 Tbsp lime juice, jalapeno pepper, and ¼ tsp salt in a food processor or blender and blend until a smooth paste is formed.

5. Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add the rice, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 1 minute. Add the cilantro puree and continue to cook for an additional 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook, covered, until rice is tender and no extra liquid remains, about 20 minutes.

6. Combine sour cream with the remaining 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice until well mixed.

7. When rice is cooked and chicken and vegetables are finished roasting, chop chicken into bite sized pieces. Divide cilantro rice evenly between 4 bowls, along with equal amounts of chicken and roasted vegetables. Top each bowl with a dollop of lime sour cream.

3.20.15 Bacon, Parmesan, and Cherry Tomato Strata

This warmer spring-like weather has me thinking about summer. I’m sure you feel the same. I know we’ve only had a few days above 60 degrees so far, but even weather in the 40s and 50s seems downright balmy compared to those bitterly cold days of January and February. It’s enough to make you start thinking about things like tomatoes.

I know, I know, tomatoes are not in season yet, not even close. But I miss them! And while dreaming tomato dreams, I had this great idea to use them in a savory bread pudding I was making. And so, I broke down and bought a pint of cherry tomatoes. They’re small and sweet, and once you cook them down with bacon, garlic and balsamic vinegar, you can’t even taste that  they’re not in season.

Now, while this dish is in fact a bread pudding, it technically resides in the small offshoot category of bread puddings known as stratas. Strata means layers, and when you see how this dish is constructed, you’ll immediately understand its name. Instead of mixing all of the ingredients together, the tomato and bacon mixture is layered between two layers of eggy, custardy bread before baking. It’s like a little tasty surprise just waiting for you to dig into. The result is one terrifically tasty dish that makes you think of summer, but at the same time is warm and cheesy and filling enough for colder weather. Best of both worlds? I think yes.

Bacon, Parmesan and Cherry Tomato Strata

serves 5-6

This is a great way to use up any less than fresh bread you might have lying around. Stale bread is perfect for bread pudding since it will help the bread keep its texture in the dish and not turn to mush.

  • 1 lb good sourdough, cut into about 1 inch cubes (I love using Madison Sourdough Co.’s country sourdough for this)
  • 1 ½ cups milk, heated until almost boiling
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2.5 oz cream cheese, at room temp, cut into small pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. If your bread is not already stale, lay the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, until they crisp up slightly. Or, if you plan ahead, you can leave the bread cubes lying out on your kitchen counter overnight to help speed up the staling process.

3. Place stale bread cubes in a large bowl and pour the warm milk over them. Let sit, stirring occasionally, until most of the milk has been absorbed by the bread, about 10 -15 minutes.

4. While bread is soaking, cook bacon pieces in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are just beginning to crisp up.

5. Add the garlic, scalllions, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes to the pan, and continue to cook until tomatoes soften and start to burst, about 5 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook 1 minute more.

6. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt and pepper. Add to the bread mixture, along with ½ cup grated parmesan cheese, stirring well to combine.

7. Spread half of the bread mixture into a greased 8x8 casserole dish and top with the tomato/bacon mixture, followed by an even layer of cream cheese pieces. Cover with the remaining bread mixture and top everything with the remaining ½ cup grated parmesan.

8. Bake strata at 350 degrees until puffed and golden, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

3.17.15 Quesitos (Puerto Rican Cheese Pastries)

We’ve returned from our adventures in Puerto Rico, and what a trip it was! We spent the first half of the trip in San Juan, exploring Old San Juan and spending a lot of time at the beach near our casita in Ocean Park. The second half of our trip was spent on the island of Vieques, located about 7 miles off the eastern coast of PR. We rented a Jeep, drove over backroads to hidden beaches, hiked, and even did some night kayaking in the island’s bioluminescent bay.

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In both locations, we stayed in places we found on Airbnb that had kitchens, because I knew that being on vacation was not going to stop me from wanting to do some serious cooking. Between the farmer’s markets, fruit stands, colmados, and grocery stores, I was well stocked, and ended up making some pretty fantastic food, including cheese and guava breakfast sandwiches, black beans and rice, huevos rancheros, and black bean avocado tacos.

Of course, I didn’t cook too much; we obviously had to go out and sample the local fare as well. It was, of course, pretty fantastic. Mofongo, plantain tamales, roasted pork, fish tacos, fresh coconut juice from roadside stands - it was all delicious.

Yes, we ate a lot of awesome food on our trip, but one of my favorite things would probably have to be the quesitos. We stumbled upon this delicious treat almost by accident on our first morning in San Juan when we ventured to the local panaderia for some breakfast. I’m always a fan of bakeries, and the one we visited (Kasalta) did not disappoint. Cases and cases of pastries, breads, sandwiches, cakes and other baked goods stretched the length of the store. How was I to choose? In the end, I chose something at random, and as luck would have it, it turned out to be a quesito.

A quesito is a sweet Puerto Rican pastry which, as the name implies, is filled with cheese.  And as a Wisconsinite, I am always, always down for some cheese. It’s deliciously simple - sweetened cream cheese, wrapped in a twist of pastry, with a sweet crunchy exterior. Washed down with a steaming hot cortado (espresso with milk), it was breakfast perfection. I knew immediately that I would be making some of my own quesitos when we returned home. And as you can see, I did. You probably should too.

Quesitos

makes 8

I made the standard plain cheese quesitos I fell in love with in PR, but these would be amazing with fruit preserves added to the filling as well.

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar, divided
  • 1 1-lb package frozen puff pastry, thawed (you should have two sheets of pastry)
  • 1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a bowl, combine the cream cheese and 2 Tbsp sugar until well combined. (Note: I like my quesitos a bit less sweet, but if you are a sweet tooth, you may want to add an extra Tbsp of sugar in this step)

3. Take one puff pastry sheet, and roll out on a well-floured surface until you have a 14” x 10” rectangle. Cut rectangle in half crosswise and lengthwise to form 4 equal 7” x 5” rectangles of dough. Place one eighth of the cream cheese mixture on each rectangle, about 2” in from the lower left-hand corner. Spread cream cheese mixture diagonally towards the upper left-hand corner, leaving a little space near the edges of the dough (see picture above for how this should look).

4. For each dough rectangle, fold the lower left-hand corner over the cream cheese mixture, then fold in sides and continue to wrap until filling is completely encased in pastry. Place, seam side down, on prepared baking sheet.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the remaining pastry sheet and cheese filling.

6. Whisk together the egg and 2 Tbsp sugar until completely combined. Use a pastry brush to brush egg mixture over the tops of the rolled pastries, making sure to cover them completely.

7. Bake quesitos at 400 degrees until puffed, dark golden, and shiny, about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.

3.11.14 Thai Style Stir-Fried Pork

We’re still in the Caribbean this week, but that’s not going to stop me from telling you about this most delicious stir-fry. After all, it was so tasty, it would be a shame to wait any longer to share it with you. This dish is a riff on one I once made from the Pok Pok cookbook. I went to Pok Pok when we were in Portland last year, and it was a glorious event. In particular, the chicken wings. Yes, I still dream about those Vietnamese fish sauce wings. But I digress. When we returned home, I had to get my hands on Pok Pok’s cookbook, knowing that wing recipe was in there. Also, many other amazing recipes, one of which was a stir-fry of ground chicken and some other things, served over rice and topped with a fried egg. Sold. I made it, and it was fantastic.

Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago. I needed to make dinner, and I needed to make it fast. Stir-fry was the obvious choice. I happened to have some ground pork on hand, and several different types of herbs, peppers, and condiments from my latest foray to the asian grocery store. I knew what needed to be done.

I cooked up some rice, sauteed some aromatics, and threw my pork in to brown. I whisked together a quick sauce to flavor the pork and threw that in as well. Before I knew it, dinner was ready. A couple of quickly fried eggs, and a topping of fresh chopped herbs and thai chiles, and we were ready to eat. Not too shabby.

Thai Style Stir-Fried Pork

Serves 2

  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • ½ lb ground pork
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp chile garlic paste
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs such as Thai basil, cilantro, mint, or a mix
  • 1 Tbsp chopped scallion (green part only)
  • 1-2 red Thai chiles, finely chopped (use more or less to taste)
  • White rice for serving

1. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large, non-stick pan. Add the shallot, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 3-4 minutes.

2. Add the ground pork, and cook, breaking pork apart with a spatula. Cook until pork is no longer pink.

3. Whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, chile garlic paste, and sugar. Add to the pan with the pork, and cook, stirring frequently, until no liquid remains and pork is darkly browned, about 5-6 minutes.

4. Divide rice between two plates, and top with equal amounts of the pork mixture. Return pan to heat and fry two eggs. Top each plate with a fried egg.

5. Mix together the chopped herbs, scallions, and chiles, and sprinkle an equal amount over the top of each plate. Eat immediately.