Raisin Bread Stuffing with Cranberries

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The recipe below is one I’ve saved for years to remind myself to use raisin bread as a stuffing base, a great option from cornbread or sourdough. And finally I decided to try it.

However, I could only find raisin bread with cinnamon, which isn’t an ingredient I wanted in the stuffing, mostly because I wanted it for turkey, not duck or goose. Did there used to be commercial raisin bread without cinnamon?

I considered making my own cinnamon bread by making panettone or challah and adding raisins, but then discovered a cheat mix for brioche online (at Amazon, of course) from King Arthur’s flour. It makes 1 – 1.5 pound – 9 x 5” loaf and turned out delicious. All you add is butter and warm water; the yeast came with the mix.

So in the end, I’m not really using raisin bread as a base for this stuffing, but I refuse to change the name of the recipe! One day I will find cinnamon-less raisin bread. Or, am I weird and do you think cinnamon belongs in stuffing?

Raisin Bread Stuffing with Cranberries
printable recipe below

1.5 pound loaf prepared brioche
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Scant 1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup raisins
Heaping 1/2 cup dried whole cranberries
Chopped parsley, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the crust of the prepared brioche if necessary. Cut into cubes about 1″ in diameter and place the cubes on a jelly-roll pan. (In retrospect I’d make 1/2″ cubes.)

Bake the bread cubes until golden and slightly crusty, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

f you’re wondering why I didn’t include raisins in the brioche, since I was so gung-ho on using raisin bread, it was because I decided I didn’t want the cranberries dried out from the toasting step. Adding them at the last minute assured that they remained plump. The cranberries I use are from nuts.com. They are whole dried cranberries.

Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F.

In a medium-sized skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, thyme, allspice, salt, and white pepper, and remove the skillet from the heat.

Place the cooled bread cubes in a large bowl. Add orange juice, drizzling over all of the cubes as much as possible. The bread should be soft, but not soggy.

Stir in the vegetable mixture.

Gently incorporate the raisins, cranberries, and cream. You can add the parsley at this point, but I decided to sprinkle it on before serving instead.

 

Place the dressing in an 8 x 10.5” baking dish covered tightly with foil.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, remove the foil, then continue until the top is golden brown, about 5-6 minutes.

I served the stuffing with turkey from a whole turkey breast I roasted in the oven. A perfect pairing.


This stuffing came out absolutely perfect, in spite of the absence of actual raisin bread.

Overall the stuffing isn’t sweet except for the brioche and the bit of orange juice. Even the raisins didn’t pop out as sweet. I think I could have added more allspice, but the savory components were perfect.

I hadn’t yet made cranberry sauce or chutney this year, so I opened a jar of NM prickly pear and jalapeno jelly I bought in old town Albuquerque a while back. I discovered the maker of this jelly here. It’s good stuff!

Please tell me if you know of raisin bread without cinnamon!

 

 

Couscous Risotto with Scallops

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The name of this post sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? I mean, couscous is crushed wheat, a staple in North African countries. Risotto is an Italian dish made with specific rice varieties, like Arborio.

I discovered a beautiful, tri-color couscous, and decided to turn it into a creamy risotto-of-sorts topped with seared and spicy scallops, just for fun. I assume from the size of the couscous “pearls,” that this is an Israeli couscous.

For the spiciness on the scallops, I’m using a favorite product by Penzey’s called Red and Black. It’s a mixture of black pepper and cayenne pepper.

Couscous Risotto

1 pound scallops
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black and Red Pepper
Bacon grease, or grape seed oil, about 3 tablespoons total
2 shallots, diced
1 1/2 cups couscous
2 1/4 cups broth, approximately
Heavy cream, about 1/3 cup
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh chopped parsley, optional

First rinse and dry the scallops. Season with salt and the red and black pepper; if you don’t want them spicy, use sweet paprika.

Heat bacon grease in a large, cast-iron skillet over the highest heat. You’ll have to sear the scallops in two batches.

When your grease is hot, add half of the scallops. Cook them about 2 minutes on the first side, till they’re well browned.

Turn the scallops over and reduce the heat at the same time. This will help cook the scallops through.

After another 3 minutes or so, test them with your tongs. As soon as there’s some firmness, remove them to a paper towel. Continue with the remaining scallops, first heating grease (adding more if necessary) over the highest heat.

When cooked properly, scallops should be soft and glistening.

To make the risotto, heat the grape seed oil in a medium-sized Dutch oven. Add the shallots and cook them over medium heat until they’re soft.

Pour in the couscous and stir it around until all of the pearls are glistening.


Then, just as with risotto, add some broth and stir it in well, continuing with the broth until it’s all done. This should only take about 15 minutes.

Pour in the cream and salt. Give it a stir, and cook for about 5 minutes. Then cover the pot and remove it from the heat.

Remove the lid after 10 minutes and let the couscous cool slightly.

Place the risotto in a shallow serving bowl, then add the scallops, tucking them into the risotto.

Sprinkle with parsley, if using.

I also added some cayenne pepper flakes, cause I like spicy.

The couscous risotto really came out superb. Creamy and soft, but the pearls hold their shape.


I really love my concocted dish!

And then imagine this dish with borage flowers sprinkled on top, because they were meant to be there 😬.

Lemongrass Garden Soup

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Because of where I live, I have never been able to buy fresh lemongrass. I could probably live without it, but being a fan of Thai cuisine, in which it plays a significant role, I was determined this year to grow lemongrass. Problem solved.

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The plant itself, here in September, is almost as tall as I am – at about 5′ tall. If the long leaves stood straight on end the plant would probably reach 8 feet tall. It’s a pretty grass, but doesn’t have a strong smell, say, like lemon balm.

When it came around to harvesting some lemongrass bulbs, which is the only part of the plant that’s used for culinary purposes, as far as I know, I had to watch some you-tube videos. I really had no idea what to do with the gigantic grass. I actually have three of these monstrous plants in my garden.

Well, it’s terribly simple. You simple pull one of the individual bulbs out of the dirt. One whole plant of mine must be made up of approximately 30 small bulbs.

I imagine the harvesting is much simpler if your dirt is soft; mine is not. In the process of attempting to pull a few bulbs out, I actually fell over onto the lemongrass leaves. They’re very sharp. I’d even used a small shovel to help me. But I managed to get four out of the ground without killing myself.

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Then you rinse off the lemongrass, trim the roots, and cut the bulbs into approximately 6″ lengths. Trim off the outside leaves until there are no loose leaves left. And there’s your bulb.

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So, I finally have lemongrass. The reason this soup is called lemongrass garden soup, is that everything in this soup is from the garden, except for the onion and garlic. I wanted to use my garden vegetables, and also see what lemongrass really does flavor-wise. So here’s what I did:
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Lemongrass Garden Soup

1 onion, coarsely chopped
4 small bulbs lemongrass, sliced in half
4 cloves garlic
5 red nardello chile peppers, coarsely chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Sprig of basil
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chicken broth

Begin by placing the lemongrass, garlic and chile peppers in a stock pot.
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Add the chopped tomatoes and sprig of basil.

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Add the butternut squash on top and sprinkle on some salt. I use a chicken broth powder along with water to make my broth; you can see the powder in the photo. Alternatively, pour chicken broth (or vegetable broth) just until it reaches the top of the squash.
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Bring everything to a boil, and simmer gently with the lid on, for approximately 30 minutes.
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Then remove the lid and reduce the broth until there’s just enough for blending the vegetables.
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Let the mixture cool, then blend in the blender.

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Reheat the soup before serving.


You can serve with a little butter or a dollop of sour cream.
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I topped the soup with a simple chiffonade of purple basil.

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note: You can make a creamier soup by using cream evaporated milk, sour cream, or goat’s milk in place of some of the broth.

verdict: I purposely didn’t add any spices because I really wanted to taste the lemongrass. I did add a few chile peppers, but they’re mild. In the end, I could hardly taste the lemongrass. Either it’s milder than I realized, or my lemongrass plants aren’t the quality that I expected.

Zucchini Risotto

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If you have an overabundance of zucchini from your garden right now, this recipe is for you. It’s easy, healthy, and delicious. Plus, it helps use up your zucchini in a creative way.

Risotto, and polenta as well, are two dishes that I love to play with. Purists of Italian cuisine wouldn’t appreciate my culinary playtime, changing up recipes just for fun. But if you think of it, risotto is simply rice. Think of it as a vehicle, into which you can load lots of different flavors and ingredients.

Take vegetables, for example. You can add grated carrots to risotto, or even use carrot juice. You can add fresh tomatoes, or a little tomato paste. Sweet potato and pumpkin certainly work, as do roasted red bell peppers. Maybe I wouldn’t try a risotto with cucumbers….

If you would like a tutorial on making risotto, check out my Thai-inspired risotto. But even if you’ve never made a risotto before – trust me. It’s easy. I’ve even taught little kids to make them.

So the following recipe is more of a guide for you to make a fabulous zucchini risotto, using the ingredients you choose. Enjoy!

Zucchini Risotto

Butter or oil (I chose about 3 tablespoons butter)
Some kind of aromatic (I chose 1/4 finely chopped yellow onion)
Risotto rice (I chose arborio, about 1 1/4 cups)
White wine, about 1/3 cup*
1 medium zucchini, grated
Chicken broth, approximately 2 1/2 cups
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated cheese (I chose romano)

Have all of your ingredients handy, and be prepared to devote most all of your attention to the pot on the stove. That’s the only pre-requisite for making risotto.
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Begin by melting the butter in a saucepan or risotto pan. I let my butter brown a little because I love that extra flavor. Add the onion and cook them for a few minutes, turning down the heat a little if necessary.

Add the rice to the butter-onion mixture and stir it well for about 1 minute. All of the grains of rice should be coated with the butter and look shiny. If they don’t, you haven’t started with a sufficient amount of butter or oil. This step is the most critical in making a successful risotto.

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At this point, add the wine in one or two batches, stirring until it’s absorbed by the rice. If you prefer, you can use solely chicken broth instead.

I just noticed that this pinot blanc, from the Trimbach winery, is made in Ribeauvillé . I’ve actually been there, and it’s a gorgeous little town. Today I just saw on Facebook that it’s Hubert Keller’s home town.

Once you’ve used the wine, add the zucchini and stir well. Then gradually add chicken broth, a little at a time. Just stir until the rice absorbs the liquid, then add a little more liquid. Repeat. Also at some point add the salt.

The rice will get thicker as time goes on. The total risotto-making process takes about 30 minutes.

Towards the end, which you will be able to predict is close because the rice is much slower to absorb liquid, you can add cheese. Alternatively, wait and serve the cheese at the table.

Taste. Then serve.

Some people add cream instead of some of the broth, and sometimes also add a little more butter, and both are good options.


Today I served the zucchini risotto as a side dish, along side paprika-crusted pork tenderloin, but the risotto would satisfy vegetarians as well.

For seasoning, there are so many choices. I could have used fresh basil, but I opted for a little sprinkling of fresh thyme. I find that white pepper goes really well in vegetable risottos. Use what you like.
* You don’t have to include wine with the liquid in a risotto recipe. Just use more of your choice of liquid, like chicken broth. When I taught kids to make risotto, we didn’t include wine, just so you know!

note: Typically when you use zucchini in a recipe, there is a necessary procedure to attend to in order to rid the zucchini or extra water. However, this isn’t a necessary step in a risotto, since the zucchini’s liquid plays a role along with the wine and chicken broth. Another reason why this is such an easy recipe!!!

Baked Cauliflower Risotto

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There is a lovely book written by a food blogger, Yvette van Boven, called “Home-Made Winter.” Photographs are by Oof Verschuren. The book was published in 2012.

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Not surprisingly, they also published “Home-Made Summer” together in 2013, which I also own.

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The whole idea of the summer and winter cookbooks really swept me off my feet, because I am so seasonally oriented. This isn’t just with the case of food. I change everything with the seasons, from my home decor to the lipstick I wear. And I’m not talking holidays. I’m talking seasons. I take them very seriously.

The Winter cookbook is inspired mainly by Yvette’s native land of Ireland; her summer book inspired by her love of adopted France. The recipes run the gamut from breakfast through dessert, plus drinks. There are also some holiday dishes included. The photos are a real delight, especially the ones featuring Yvette herself. She definitely doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Now, you may wonder why I chose this recipe out of Home Made Winter? There are two reasons.

First of all, even though it’s March, spring has not sprung where I live. I’m not running around outside in shorts planting tomato seedlings, and my strawberry plants don’t even look perky. It’s cold.

Secondly, I’ve never baked a risotto, so I decided this was a good time to start!

This recipe is probably not representative of the recipes in Ms. van Boven’s book, but it jumped out at me, not just because the risotto is baked, but because it includes cauliflower and Gruyere.

Baked Risotto with Cauliflower and Gruyere
adapted from Home Made Winter

1 small head of cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
7 ounces Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine, I used a Sauvignon Blanc
2 1/4 cups strong-flavored chicken broth
8 ounces grated Gruyere, or Fontina or even a white cheddar
Bread Crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Trim the cauliflower by removing the core. I usually make about 5 slices into the center of the cauliflower, slicing inward, until it comes out on its own.
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Remove excess leaves, then break up the cauliflower into florets.

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Steam the florets until they’re just tender, about 10 minutes over boiling water. Let cool, then place them on the cutting board and chop them coarsely.
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Heat a 12″ cast-iron skillet on the stove over medium heat. Add the onions and saute them for a few minutes.
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Then stir in the garlic and saute for barely a half of a minute.
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Weigh out the rice. I used arborio, but any risotto rice would work in its place.
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Pour the rice into the onion-garlic mixture.
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Stir well for about one minute. All of the grains of rice should be glistening.
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Then pour in all of the liquid.
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Add the chopped cauliflower.
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Add the grated cheese.
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Bring the liquid to a boil, then carefully place the skillet in the oven. Top with a tight fitting lid, and bake for 25 minutes.

It will look like this when it’s fully baked. Individual oven-proof dishes would have been very pretty for serving purposes, but it would have really been challenging to divide everything equally, when the rice to liquid ratio needs to be correct.

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I actually left the lid on the skillet for another 15 minutes, to insure that the rice was fully cooked. Then I removed the lid from the skillet.

The original recipe called for a large amount of bread crumbs, in my opinion. I just used a couple of tablespoons of my home-made bread crumbs to add some texture. If desired, the breadcrumbs can be mixed with dried herbs, or even fresh parsley, before being sprinkled. I left things plain for the purpose of testing my first baked risotto.
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At this point, the skillet can be placed under the broiler for browning purposes, but I left it as is. Truth be told, I got out my little butane torch for this purpose. It wasn’t working well so I refilled it. I thought I waited long enough, but somehow some butane leaked and the whole thing caught on fire. I screamed and did what any intelligent person would do and threw it on the floor, nearly missing my dog. Fortunately, the flames retarded quickly. It’s good I have a non-flammable floor. But I was more worried about my very inquisitive dog, as well as my one hand that’s now as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

Note to self: make sure to ask for a new butane torch for Christmas.

To serve, I sliced a wedge of the baked risotto because I thought it would be pretty, but there just isn’t enough cheese throughout the risotto to keep things stuck together.
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Nonetheless, I served the wedge alongside a fresh tomato salad.
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I must say it was delicious. It helps if you love cauliflower, of course.
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verdict: The top of the baked risotto looks a bit anemic – I think I probably should have taken the time to brown the top. But the looks of it doesn’t reflect the full flavors. However, I’m not really sure what purpose the arborio rice served. I think it could have been any white rice, or even brown rice, given a longer cooking time. But it was fun, and as a side dish it went very well on subsequent days with both steak and chicken. I would call it a rice-cauliflower gratin.

If I have one complaint about this book, it’s that the author doesn’t go into many details, such as pan dimensions, or number of servings. So novice cooks might be a bit challenged. If you want to check out Yvette’s blog first, here it is. She’s adorable, and has published other books than these as well.