Sweet Potato Risotto

I was visiting my vegetarian daughter in California recently and decided to cook dinner at home. We were feeling like home bodies and wanted to relax within our own walls, so I got to work rummaging through the produce drawer in her fridge and matching what I found with something interesting at epicurious.com, one of my favorite recipe sites. I found Sweet Potato Risotto attached to a recipe for Cornish hens and decided to turn the side dish into the main dish. It's wonderful. It's ugly and needs some help with presentation—like serving it in pretty bowls instead of dumping it out onto plates—but it's very tasty. Yum.

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2/3 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup dry Riesling wine
2/3 cup mascarpone cheese*
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sweet potatoes, onion and ginger; sauté until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Cook rice in small saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Drain rice. Add rice to potato mixture in skillet. Add Riesling and stir over low heat to blend. Add mascarpone and stir to melt. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley.

Butternut Squash Soup 2

1/2 cup shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoons ginger, minced
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon dry sage
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 cups butternut squash, pealed and chopped
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream

Melt butter and oil in a large pot. Saute shallots, garlic and ginger five minutes. Stir in sage, salt and pepper. Add squash. Add syrup and stir to coat the squash thoroughly. Add broth, bring to boil, and reduce heat to simmer 30 to 40 minutes.

Blend with handheld blender until smooth. Stir in cream.

Irish Soda Bread

This bread is perfect with soup or stew. Don't bother slicing it—just break it off into hunks.

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons shortening
2/3 cup raisins, optional
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375˚ F. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and sugar. Using a pastry blender, work in shortening until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the raisins and caraway and mix well. Gradually stir in the buttermilk, 1/4 cup at a time, until dough forms. Knead dough for 1 to 2 minutes and shape into a round loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet. Cut an X on the top, 1/2 inch deep and over the sides of the loaf.

Bake for 45 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on wire rack.

North African Chicken Stew

"I grew up in Canton, Ohio." That's what the sticker says on this package of chicken thighs I bought at the local grocery store. The point is that the chicken is sort of local, and the company wants to market to people for whom buying local is an issue, but I prefer my food not talk to me in the first person no matter where it grew up. I wouldn't want a sticker on the package to say "I lived in a coop for nine months" or "I never knew my parents" or even "I had the brain the size of a pea, and my name was Rita." Simply, I do not want to hear from the actual chicken I am about to eat.

But, after I got over my distaste for the label, I cooked these thighs anyway. I followed a recipe from a Food Network cookbook for North African Chicken Stew.

It goes like this: (serves 4)

1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup uncooked couscous
4 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, quartered
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
2 carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 small red onion, halved and sliced
1 2/3 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
juice of half a lemon
1/3 cup Tunisian Pesto (recipe to follow)

Bring the 1 1/2 cups broth to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Stir in couscous and 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside while you make the stew.

Heat the oil and butter in a large pot. Season the chicken with a mixture of the cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Add to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, onions, broth, vinegar, and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through and carrots are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the pesto. Fluff the pesto and divide among four bowls. Ladle in stew and serve.

Tunisian Pesto
makes 1 cup

2 cups packed fresh cilantro, leaves and some stems
1 cup packed fresh parsley (leaves and some stems)
1/4 cup almonds
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse cilantro, parsley, almonds and garlic until coarsely chopped. With processor running, slowly pour in olive oil and process until fully incorporated. Add salt and serve immediately.

Tomato Tarts

If you're the type to make your own puff pastry, then this is a complicated dish, but if you're content with the frozen stuff, which I am, then it's relatively simple.

Here is what they look like fully assembled before baking:

And this is what they look like fresh out of the oven:

My only complaint is the wasted puff pastry, but if you make these smaller using sliced Roma tomatoes and serve them as appetizers, then you would probably not be throwing out so much pastry dough.

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts

1 package puff pastry, thawed
Olive oil
4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
3 large garlic cloves cut into thin slivers
3 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 ounces goat cheese
1 large tomato cut into 4 slices (1/4-inch thick)
3 tablespoons julienned basil leaves
2 ounces Parmesan cheese shaved

Unfold the sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll it lightly to an 11 x 11 square. Using a 6-inch-wide saucer or other round object as a guide, cut 2 circles from the sheet of puff pastry, discarding the scraps. Repeat with the second pastry sheet to make 4 circles in all. Place the pastry circles on 2 sheet pans lined with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 425˚.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium to low heat and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the wine and the thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes until the onions are lightly browned. Remove from heat.

Score a 1/4-inch-wide border around each pastry circle. Prick the pastry inside the score lines with tines of a fork and sprinkle a tablespoon of grated Parmesan on each round, staying inside the border.

Place one fourth of the onion mixture on each circle, again staying within the scored edge. Crumble 1 ounce of the goat cheese on top of the onions. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart. Brush the tomato lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with basil, salt and pepper. Scatter 4 or 5 shards of Parmesan on each tart.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.

from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Potato, Leek, and Feta Tart

This recipe is courtesy of the September 2009 issue of Real Simple magazine. I highly recommend making your own pie crust instead of using the store-bought variety. It makes for a more personal and tasty tart, and it helps create a more rustic dish. Would this tart be great with other fillings as well? I think so—fennel and sausage; carrots, potatoes and roasted chicken; peas, onion, and ham—perhaps.

Served with a generous green salad, this recipe will a make four main-course servings, although I over did it and seemed to have enough filling for two tarts and actually went ahead and made two.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks (white parts cut into half moons)
2 small zucchini, cut into half moons
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled Feta
2 tablespoons chopped dill (not a favorite in my house, so I used thyme instead)
2 medium red potatoes sliced thin, peel on
1 store-bought 9-inch pie crust (don't be so lazy—make your own)

Heat oven to 375˚. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, zucchini and salt and pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Feta and dill and add the potatoes. Toss to combine.

On a piece of parchment paper, roll out the dough into a 12-inch circle. Slide the parchment and dough onto a baking sheet. Spoon the filling onto the pie crust, leaving two inches all around. Fold the edge of the crust over the edge of the mixture. Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 50 to 60 minutes. Cover crust with foil during baking if it turns too brown.

Tip: The recipe suggests merely tossing the potatoes in the mix before filling the pastry, but some of them come out a little undone. It's probably a good idea to sauté them for a couple of minutes before filling the pastry.

Rainbow Trout with Pine Nuts, Butter Stuffing, and Sage Butter

In the middle of Ohio you can't plan ahead for something like rainbow trout. You can't run to the store one day to buy trout for dinner that night because it's hit or miss. I switched gears with my menu for the week and asked for two trouts instead of the salmon. Here is what I did with it, taken from a recipe from an old Gourmet magazine.

Serves 4

Sage Butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 scallions, finely chopped

1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 butterflied rainbow trout, whole, skin on, bones removed (ask your fish dealer to do this for you)
Vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Butter: Well in advance of cooking the fish, prepare the Sage Butter by placing all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse to combine well. Using a rubber spatula, heap the mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap and roll to form a sausage shape. Twist the ends to enclose the butter. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to harden enough so that it can be sliced.

The stuffing: Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing combining the bread crumbs, pine nuts, jalapeños, garlic, chili powder and salt and pepper in a bowl. Drizzle the 2 tablespoons vegetable oil into this mixture and blend together lightly with a fork.

The fish: Preheat the broiler. Brush both sides of the trout with vegetable oil. Season with salt and pepper and broil skin-side up to crisp the skin, a maximum of 2 to 3 minutes. Don't cook the heads—I just showed you what they looked like after you hack them off with a cleaver. Remove the fish from the broiler. Place the fish, skin-side down, in a roasting pan that has been lightly rubbed with vegetable oil. Sprinkle the stuffing mixture over the fish. Place the fish in a 375 degree oven 6 to 7 minutes to finish cooking. When the fish have nearly finished baking, crumble several pieces of the reserved Sage Butter on each fillet so that, in the last moment of cooking, the butter will melt, seasoning the fish.