A Seasonal Risotto

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I love making dishes that I can add stuff to, like pancakes, yeasted breads, risottos, mashed potatoes… well I guess just about any home-cooked dish! It’s one thing I enjoy and am good at. I didn’t learn creativity in culinary school, since I didn’t attend any cooking school ever. It actually comes from being financially strapped and never wanting to waste anything. Got a carrot? Juice it and put it in a soup, grate it and put it in a meat loaf, purée it and add to potato mash… and so forth.

But also, since I grew up experiencing various cuisines, I figured out that it’s easy to be creative by turning any random dish into an inspired-by cuisine. Take a potato soup, for example. Add chorizo, chipotle, and fresh cilantro and you’ve got a Southwestern-inspired soup. Use ricotta in the potato soup and top it with a spoonful of basil pesto, and you’ve got an Italian-inspired soup. And so forth. Every week you can make a “different” potato soup!

So that’s how I have fun in my kitchen, when I’m not following specific recipes.

Which brings me to risotto. I was looking over old blog posts a while back, and I came upon my Paprika Cream Risotto. It’s just a “plain” risotto with the addition of paprika cream. Simple, yet fabulous. The photos could be updated, of course, but what caught my attention were my own notes on suggestions of seasonal risottos.

Spring: Lemony goat cheese risotto with salmon, peas, and basil

Summer: Tomato and tomatillo risotto with chorizo and cilantro

Fall: Brussels sprouts risotto topped with grilled sausages

Winter: Smoked gouda risotto topped with short ribs and pickled onions

Damn. Those are great ideas! The Italian purists wouldn’t appreciate these recipes, but I have no problem with this kind of inspired cooking. Especially when the outcome is so wonderful!

I decided to start with the spring version, cause it’s spring! Now, this combination isn’t unique for springtime flavors, but they are really good together! Begin with the salmon, then keep the filets warm while you prepare the risotto, then put the final dish together.

After receiving a gift of a variety of fish from my daughter at Christmas from Sitka Salmon Shares, it has become my source for fish; their salmon is perfection.

Easy Sautéed Salmon Filets
Serves 2

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 salmon filets, not steaks
Salt
Finely ground pepper

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and let it brown slightly.

Season the flesh sides of the filets, then place the filets in the skillet, flesh side up. Cook for about 2 minutes, then gently flip over.

Lower the heat slightly and cook the skin-up filets for a about 4 minutes. At this point you can easily remove the skins using a thin spatula.

Turn them over for one last time so the fish cooks under the skin more, about 2-3 minutes over the lowest heat. Place them on a plate and tent with foil to keep warm, then prepare risotto.

Lemon and Goat Cheese Risotto with Peas
Generously serves 2

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large shallot, diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup Riesling or other non-dry white
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 or 4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup prepared green peas (or sliced steamed asparagus if you prefer)
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the butter and let melt. Add the shallots and sauté for about 4-5 minutes; don’t allow much caramelization.

Add the rice to the pot and stir it around in the butter and shallots until all the grains are coated. Pour in the white wine. Stir as the rice cooks in the wine and it gradually gets absorbed.

Without letting the pot go completely dry, add some of the broth, about 1/3 cup at a time, and repeat the stirring process, without allowing any burning or sticking. Turn down the heat if you think the rice is cooking too fast; it’s always best to go slower. You can see the risotto is cooking but not ready quite yet.

When you’re down to the end of the broth, turn off the heat and gradually fold in 3 ounces of goat cheese until well distributed.

Add the salt and white pepper and taste for seasoning. If you’re satisfied, gently add the peas, lemon juice and zest, cover the pot, and set it aside.

Lemony Goat Cheese Risotto with Peas Served with Salmon

2 tablespoons goat cheese, at room temperature
Lemon zest from 1 lemon
A chiffonade of basil leaves

Strain the reserved butter in the skillet into a small bowl. There should be at least 1 tablespoon of melted browned butter. Add the 2 tablespoons of goat cheese into the butter by gently whisking until smooth. If you don’t like this idea, just put a small dollop of soft goat cheese on each filet before serving.

To serve, divide the risotto into two pasta bowls. Top each serving with a salmon filet. Divide the goat cheese-butter mixture between the filets.

Divide the lemon zest between both servings, and finish with the basil chiffonade.

I loved the goat cheese, lemon, and basil flavors together!

If you’re not familiar with the term salmon “filet,” here are photos of the two most common individual cuts – the thinner filet, and the thicker steak. Filets can be trimmed so their thickness is uniform. Save the scraps!

Thanks to Cooks Illustrated for these photos!

Chocolate Mousse

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In my lifelong experience with chocolate mousse, thanks to my mother, two versions come to mind. One is thick and dense, almost like soft fudge. The other is like the first, but aerated with whipped cream or egg whites, or both.

My preferred version is the dense one. I mean, if you’re going to eat chocolate, eat chocolate!

This is so easy to make, and the individual servings are pretty.

Chocolate Mousse
About 8 servings
Printable recipe below

6 eggs, at room temperature
12 ounces dark chocolate
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
Splash of cognac
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
Whipped cream to top
Chocolate curls, optional

Separate eggs, placing whites in a large bowl and the yolks in a small bowl. I go the extra mile and separate one egg at a time in a small bowl, and then continue with the remaining eggs. I still have the memory from a million years ago of accidentally having a bit of yolk in my whites, and of course the whites couldn’t be whipped. You never forget these things!

In the top of a double boiler, over hot water (not boiling), melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring constantly. Remember you are melting, not cooking.

Remove the top pan, and gradually pour the melted chocolate and butter into the egg yolks, whisking the whole time. Alternately, add one egg yolk at a time to the pan with the melted chocolate, but it needs to be off of the hot water.

Let the chocolate egg yolk mixture cool for 10-15 minutes, then stir in the cognac and coffee.

The coffee was always my mother’s trick. If you’re ever enjoying something chocolate, but it has some je ne said quoi… it’s probably coffee. It makes chocolate even more magical than it already is.

Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until almost stiff; you don’t want them too dry. Use a whisk or spatula to combine the whipped egg whites with the chocolate mixture. Make sure no white streaks remain.

You don’t have to be too gentle doing the folding. The mousse needs to end up dense, not fluffy. However, the egg whites prevent this mousse from being fudge!

Pour the mousse into a serving bowl, cover tightly and refrigerate for several hours or overnight before serving.

Alternatively, place the mousse in individual serving dishes, which I prefer.

To serve, add some whipped cream, if desired, as well as chocolate curls, if you’re that artsy! If you don’t want to buy Ready Whip in a can, try one of these! They work great!

I served this mousse with cookies a friend’s daughter gifted me, and they were so good with the mousse, even though they ended up looking like tortilla chips!

The mousse can be made ahead of time, but cover tightly because chocolate can absorb refrigerator odors.

I also served the mousse with sherry. Just because. The cookies went really well with the sherry, too!

Niter Kebbeh

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Niter Kebbeh is a spice-infused butter. Along with berberé, niter kebbeh is an essential element of cooking Ethiopian cuisine. The recipe I use, and have for years, is from the Time-Life series called Foods of the World.

I made this spiced butter after the lockdown in March. It’s typically made with butter, then clarified. I used 24 ounces of ghee, which is clarified butter, instead of 32 ounces of butter. The process was easier because the solids didn’t have to be removed. Following is the original recipe.

Niter Kebbeh
Spiced Butter Oil
Makes about 2 cups

2 pounds unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
4 teaspoons finely chopped ginger root
1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 cardamom pod, slightly crushed with the flat of a knife, or a pinch of cardamom seeds
1 piece of stick cinnamon, 1 inch long
1 whole clove
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

In a heavy 4- to 5-quart saucepan, heat the butter over moderate heat, turning it about with a spoon to melt it slowly and completely without letting it brown. Then increase the heat and bring the butter to a boil. When the surface is completely covered with white foam, stir in the remaining ingredients.

Reduce the heat to the lowest possible point and simmer uncovered and undisturbed for 45 minutes, or until the milk solids on the bottom of the pan are a golden brown and the butter on top is transparent.

Slowly pour the clear liquid into a bowl, straining it through a fine sieve lined with a linen towel or cheesecloth. Discard the seasonings.

If there are any solids left in the butter, strain it again to prevent it from becoming rancid later.

Pour the kebbeh into a jar, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator. It will solidify when chilled.

It can safely be kept, even at room temperature, for 2 or 3 months, but I keep mine refrigerated.

Cherries Foster

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My idea for cherries foster, inspired by bananas foster, which is a favorite of my husband’s, came about only because bananas are so long and require an elongated serving dish. I know, that’s a weird reason to ponder other forsterable fruit. But see?

Which made me think about what other fruits would allow a different sort of presentation – basically little round fruits like cherries!

Bottled cherries like Griottines or Frabbri Amarena would make a lovely topping on ice cream. But I really wanted to “foster” ripe cherries to mimic the bananas foster dessert.

Why? Because it’s fabulous. There’s caramelization, there’s sweetness, there’s fruitiness, there’s some liqueur, there’s flambéing, and ice cream. What’s not to love!

If you’ve never pitted fresh cherries before, it’s very easy. Just use an olive pitter, sometimes called a cherry pitter! I find it best to pop out the pit from or through the stem end. It can get a little messy and there can be flying pits, but it’s easy.

And definitely worth doing to make this dessert.

Here’s what I did.

Cherries Foster
Serves 4

1 pound of ripe cherries, rinsed, dried
4 ounces of butter
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
Good splash of Kirsch*
High quality vanilla ice cream

Pit the cherries, slice in half, and set aside.

Heat the butter and brown sugar in a skillet. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

Add the cherry halves and sauté them until soft, at least 5 minutes.


Add the splash and light the liqueur. Let it flame until the flame dies out. You have to look closely, but there are flames! Sauté for another few minutes then turn off the heat.

Scoop the ice cream into serving bowls. Top with the cherries with the cherries and sauce.

I found these cookie crumbs on Amazon and I thought they’d be good for some crunch.

I thought the crunch really added something. The possibilities are endless.

By the time I’d taken photos, the ice cream had become soup…

But boy was this a spectacular dessert. I truly loved it. And it’s pretty enough. I certainly could have done a better job of “styling” the cherries, but I added them still warm; my time was limited!


Thank you Mr. Foster.

* Vanilla liqueur or bourbon are other choices, or no alcohol.

Cowboy Butter

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If you’ve never checked out Delish.com, it’s worth a peek. It’s a food website with recipes, but with interesting, I guess supposedly catchy headlines, like “86 Most Delish Baked Chicken Dinners,” and “135 Most Delish Holiday Desserts.”

Personally I wouldn’t be tempted to look through 86 chicken recipes, or 135 desserts, but somebody must! The website seems popular, and there is a tab for Delish Kids as well, which is smart. Although, “21 Ways to Get Kids Involved in Making Breakfast?” Just put them in the kitchen!

Nevertheless, I came across, in some random way, a recipe for Cowboy Butter from the Delish.com website.

According to the website, the idea of “Cowboy Butter” came from a little restaurant in New York City called Mr. Donahue’s.

My world changed after I dunked a piece of prime rib into the herb-speckled butter, and the wheels really started turning once I realized everything on my plate — crispy potatoes, Parker house roll, and even mac and cheese — tasted good with it.

Well it certainly appealed to me as well, and I knew the next time I grilled steaks, I’d have to make this magic butter.

Cowboy Butter
Printable recipe below

1 cup butter, melted
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives
2 teaspoons minced thyme
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, combine the butter, lemon juice, garlic, shallot, mustard, horseradish, cayenne and paprika. Whisk to combine.

Stir in the parsley, chives and thyme.

Season with salt and pepper.

Serve warmed.

Whoever came up with this stuff was right. I started not only dipping the steak into the butter, but also the green beans.

Good stuff. That’s all I can say.

I can see it drizzled over grilled meats of any kind, plus seafood like shrimp, crab, and scallops.

Or, over grilled vegetables or baked potatoes. The possibilities are endless.

Make some – you’ll love it!

 

Coffee Butter

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A lot of links pop up on my Facebook page that I typically don’t pay any attention to, like Food 52, Food & Wine, and Tasting Table. They’re all great publications, it’s just that I like to get my recipes the old-fashioned way – from cookbooks.

But then, something popped out at me one day that I had to look into – coffee butter – published by Tasting Table. I love coffee, and I love butter, but coffee butter?!! To say the least, I was intrigued.

The recipe is from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen, and the article is written by Kristina Preka, published on April 14, 2017.

We’ve all made compound butters. Herb and wine reduction varieties are common on steaks, plus, back when I catered I made quite a few citrus and berry butters. However, I certainly have never thought to flavor butter with coffee.

This sweetened coffee butter is a “perfect spread over breakfast pastries like scones, croissants and English muffins.”

The author also suggests that an unsweetened version is good on steaks, which makes sense because coffee is often a dry rub ingredient.

So I set out to make coffee butter.

Coffee Butter
Yield: 1/2 cup

2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup ground coffee
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Cheesecloth
Flaked salt, for garnish.

In a tall airtight container, add the heavy cream and stir in the ground coffee until it’s completely mixed. Close the container with a lid and refrigerate overnight.

Strain the coffee mixture, making sure to push through as much milk fat as possible, while keeping out the sediment.

Discard the ground coffee and transfer the strained liquid to a food processor jar.

Add the sugar and kosher salt, and spin the mixture until the fat forms into butter and the liquid separates.

Transfer the mixture to a large piece of cheesecloth and wring out any excess liquid.

Transfer the butter to a small condiment bowl, garnish with flaked salt and use immediately, or store in the refrigerator, covered well, for later.

I’m not one of those “put-salt-on-everything” type of gals, but in this case it works!

And the coffee flavor is superb, even though the color of my coffee butter is lighter than what I saw online.

So if you love coffee, which is the only prerequisite for this recipe, you will love this sweet coffee butter!

Especially on toasted croissants!

Chocolate Neufchâtel

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Back when my husband and I were first married, we went on lots of picnics. I guess that’s what you do before kids, which reminds me that now that they’re grown and gone, we should be picnicking again!

In any case, I used to buy a particular chocolate Neufchâtel cheese, and paired it with strawberries and water crackers. In my memory, at least, it’s something I always packed up for our adventures, for something a little sweet.

Then there came a time when we really couldn’t afford this cheese any more. That’s when I had a light bulb moment. I can make it myself, just like I created home-made Boursin, which I call “faux” boursin!

I actually made this cheese a lot when I catered, but I haven’t made it for years now. I’d just completely forgotten about it until something jogged my memory recently.

The reason this cheese worked well for catering is that it’s inexpensive to make, slightly sweet, and very pretty.

I sometimes also made an additional strawberry Neufchâtel as well, which was pretty sitting next to her chocolate sister. But these cheeses I used to make, and am making again today, are made with cream cheese instead of Neufchâtel. The good old American variety.

I just googled chocolate Neufchâtel and I found nothing. Perhaps I was the only person eating it? Well, fortunately you can duplicate its flavor in your own kitchen, using this recipe, which can be doubled or tripled.

Chocolate Neufchâtel

1 – 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 ounce unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted

Place the cream cheese and butter in a medium-sized bowl. Using a spatula, beat them together until smooth. The addition of the butter helps in the molding process.

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Add the cocoa and powdered sugar.

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Gently stir in the ingredients until the cream cheese mixture is smooth.

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Place the cheese in a plastic wrap-lined bowl that fits it snuggly, and provides the shape of the cheese that you want. Add the cheese, smoothing the top. You might want to give the bowl a few hard taps on a cutting board to make sure that there are no air holes.

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Cover well with the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Before serving, unmold the cheese by turning the bowl upside down onto a serving platter. Carefully remove the plastic wrap. Let the cheese sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving. You want it nice and spreadable!

I served mine with fresh strawberries and water crackers, just like in the old days!

This is enough cheese to serve 4-6 people. And it cost less than $2.00 to make.

A recipe for strawberry version is here.

Cheese Log with Walnuts

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It seems like I’ve been entertaining a lot lately. I love having company. But what that means is that I have a lot of extra cheese on hand, because I always purchase good cheeses for entertaining.

Inspired by a recipe by Jacques Pepin, I decided to combine all of my leftover cheeses and make a cheese log. Jacques Pepin calls this fromage fort, which literally translates to “strong” cheese.

That’s really a misnomer because there’s nothing strong about this cheese unless you choose to make it strong. It’s all about your choice of cheeses. I used goat cheese, Manchego, and Fontina.

In his book, Chez Jacques, Jacques tells the story about how his father always made crocks of cheeses created by whatever leftover cheeses they had on hand. He also included other things like wine and sometimes garlic. His father’s cheese creations were definitely strong because he aged them for about 1 1/2 weeks in the cellar before serving.

Mrs. Pepin follows the same method of combining leftover cheese to make fromage fort, but unlike the “old” days, uses a food processor. She also adds some cream cheese or cottage cheese if the cheeses are on the dry side. I use butter for that purpose.

I’m not including cheese weights in this “recipe,” because the whole point of making this fromage fort, or potted cheese, is using what you have left over.

Cheese Log with Walnuts

Goat cheese, at room temperature
Manchego, chopped or grated
Fontina, chopped coarsely
Butter, at room temperature
Walnuts

I placed the goat cheese and the grated Manchego and Fontina in a large bowl. Then I added some butter just to make things a little softer and smoother.

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I toasted the walnuts. Then I chopped them on a cutting board.

I layed out a piece of plastic wrap on my workspace, and then carefully placed some of the chopped walnuts on the plastic wrap. I did this instead of just pouring the walnuts onto the plastic, because I didn’t want to include the walnut “powder” that comes from chopping the walnuts. I wanted the bigger, cleaner pieces.

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I used my hands to mix everything together – it was almost like kneading a greasy bread. It all could have been done in the food processor as well.

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Then I formed a log of sorts and pressed it down onto the stretch of walnuts.

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Then I added more walnuts, and kept turning over the log until all sides were completely covered with walnuts.

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Wrap the log securely and store in the refrigerator.

At least 2 hours before serving, remove the log from the fridge and place on the serving plate. Then let it come to room temperature. Serve with crackers or bread.

This is really good cheese to serve with charcuterie and olives or cornichons, as well as other cheeses.

You don’t have to turn your cheeses into a log. If you prefer, just place the mixture in a crock. But if you stick to the log idea, different nuts can be used. Instead of nuts you could use only chopped herbs in the summer. And, you could use dried fruit as well – think dried cranberries and pistachios for the holidays!!

Do this yourself some time and create a new cheese with your leftovers!