Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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31-Recipe Challenge Day 7: Roasted Sweet Potato Risotto

I MADE RISOTTO! And it didn’t suck! Alas, risotto was a notorious downfall for the cheftestants on Top Chef, and I’m not sure this would save me from the wrath of Tom and Padma, but nonetheless, I made risotto on the first try and it wasn’t horrifically awful. As a matter of fact, it was downright edible! (Of course, I’m being modest…I’ve already tucked into the leftovers, so that’s always a good sign.) I also made brown butter for the first time, which also didn’t suck. As a matter of fact, I expected to need at least two tries to not burn it, but first time was a charm.  My apartment smelled delicious that night.

Sweet potato risotto 1

Cue happy dance number 3 of the month. (3? Or is it 4? I lost track…)

I didn’t just make any risotto, mind you. I made roasted sweet potato risotto from How Sweet It Is. This recipe basically combines all sorts of good things into one: risotto, which is obviously fabulous, sweet potatoes, bacon and cheese.

I was super-concerned during the cooking process that I was going to mess something up. If I didn’t feel like the stock and wine were absorbing at the right rate, I got worried. If I burned the garlic and over-toasted the rice, I freaked. (I mean, not that I did that…I totally did that. It still came out fine in the end.) Moral of the story? Don’t freak, you’re probably going to end up with a beautifully rich, creamy risotto at the end.

Cooking arborio rice

It made for a very good way to end the week and welcome in a snow storm–yup, we got hit by “Nemo,” though it wasn’t nearly as bad as what we’ve had in the past. And not having a driveway to shovel makes it even better. I also moved from a very quiet suburban street to a pretty busy local road, so we were plowed out before 9 am Saturday. That was nice.

So, the next time snow is coming your way (you can pretend if you live in a warm climate. Also, you can invite me over.), cook up a batch of creamy, wintery risotto, snuggle up with a glass of wine, and then head out and hit the bar before the snow really starts. Or you can just do the first part…(Yes, I did the latter, but granted, the bar’s only about eight blocks away and the snow didn’t even start til right before we left. Apparently Nemo’s a night owl.)

I feel like this night was the night I moved up a rank in the cooking world. Maybe I can call myself at least “intermediate” now. After all, I made brown butter AND risotto with it and both turned out on the first shot. Or maybe I’m just getting cocky. Either one.

Sweet potato risotto 2

 

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31-recipe challenge Day 5: Butternut Panzanella Salad

Can you tell I had to use up my butternut squash? I got the last of the good pieces in just in time to make this yummy, filling salad from A Communal Table. It still wasn’t quite as good as the kale and butternut salad from Day 4, but it was a solid contender, and a good light meal to eat while catching up on two hours of Smash. Also quite a good lunch the next day (just make sure you don’t dress it ahead of time if you’re planning on leftovers.)

Butternut panzanella salad 1

I made only three adjustments/modifications to this recipe: 1) I halved it since I was the only one eating it. 2) I left out the mushrooms because I really can’t stand them. And 3) I chopped the shallots for the dressing instead of sliced them because my slices didn’t look good.

Aside from prepping the bread and roasting the squash, this is a pretty quick, simple salad to make. And those croutons are the bomb. Plus, they make your house smell like yummy, toasting bread and who doesn’t like that?

This salad automatically wins in my book if just for one simple thing: marcona almonds. What is a marcona almond, you ask? Well, it’s a Spanish almond that is skinless, smooth and buttery, almost like a cross between an almond and a macadamia nut and it. is. heavenly. Wegmans only had one marcona offering: a small(ish) can of salted almonds. It was pretty expensive for what I got, but it was so worth it–these bad boys are so good! If you ever get your hands on marcona almonds, try them! (Trader Joe’s carries rosemary marcona almonds, which are amazing! But I couldn’t get out there.)

Butternut panzanella salad 2

This salad ends the reign of the butternut squash recipes. I burned through them. Don’t think there isn’t a sweet potato or two waiting in the wings still, though.

 

31-Recipe Challenge: Day 2 — Veggie Style!

Something pretty amazing happened on Saturday, aka Day 2 of my 31-recipe challenge: I got the carnivore (well, omnivore) to go herbivore and LIKE IT!

That’s right, I got my meat-loving man to eat a vegetarian meal and admit that not only did he like it, but he would eat it again! *cue happy dance #2 for the weekend*

Only two days into this thing, and I’m already seeing some pretty amazing things happen.

Sweet potato taco 1

I’m sure you’re wondering what the magic recipe was that turned this T-Rex into a Brontosaurus. Well, it was two! It was these Asian-fusion sweet potato tacos from Love and Lemons and this winter kale salad from A Tasty Love Story.

The sweet potato tacos with avocado involved several steps, but none were terribly complicated. If anything, I became more a victim of my apartment-sized kitchen’s lack of prep space more than anything else. Basically: make glaze, chop veggies, glaze veggies, roast veggies, prep toppings, eat. Said toppings include goodies like sliced avocado, cilantro, sprouts, toasted pepitas and scallions.

However, this dish almost wasn’t quite the same due to my own trepidations. As I stood in Wegmans on Friday staring at the refrigerator shelf that housed those few sad containers of miso paste, I, well, freaked out. Thirteen ounces?? Seven dollars?? I only need two tablespoons! What am I going to do with 13 ounces? Seven dollars is WAY too much for something I’m only going to use a tiny bit of! Once! Alas, then Kevin said (via text) those magical three words that somehow made such a seemingly outlandish purchase alright: “We’ll make soup.” Ah, ok, we’ll make soup. Yes, we’ll make soup.

And so there you have it. I bought miso paste, a very key ingredient for what ended up being a fairly brilliant miso-maple glaze, and sometime in the near-ish future (i.e., after February), I will make miso soup. A lot of miso soup. And probably more sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato taco 2

Oh! P.S. sidenote…fresh toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) smell pretty darn good. But not as good as toasted balsamic-honey almonds. (I’ll get to that in a moment, stick around.) Also, can we take a moment to appreciate and applaud my lovely hand model? (The aforementioned T-Rex.)

Extra sidenote…the recipe includes a fresh, bright, somehow summery coconut-cilantro sauce to top the tacos (yum!) You can optionally add Sriracha and sugar to this sauce; I added neither. It didn’t need it. (And as I admitted on Day 1, I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to bringing the heat.) But really, if you know me at all or have read my blog even a little, you probably know by now that anything that combines avocado, lime and cilantro is A-OK in my book.

But that was not all! Oh no! There was that beautiful winter salad of pomegranate, kale and apple to attend to.

Somehow, despite the fact that the five pomegranates left in the produce section seemed truly sad, and I settled for the least bad of them, I ended up with some really lovely, delicious pomegranate jewels. Seriously, I should’ve taken a picture of them, because they looked semi-precious.

This salad is fun and fast, and plays with flavors in an interesting way. It also calls for shredded kale, rather than big leaves, so I stuffed torn leaves into my Magic Bullet (in small batches), and whizzed it with the chopping blade for a hot second. It was like kale confetti. (I don’t want that coming out of my pinata, though.)

The most involved part of the salad were the aforementioned balsamic-glazed almonds. Basically, toast raw almonds, add balsamic vinegar and honey, and stir to coat over the stovetop. Then they harden up and get deliciously glossy and sticky. And I have leftovers sitting in a bag at home. I call it the base to the world’s best trail mix. (Oh yes, they are that good. Seriously, go home and make these! They take, like, five minutes and it’s like a way more sophisticated version of those yummy-smelling glazed nuts stands at the mall.)

Pomegranate, apple, kale salad

Toss kale, pomegranate arils, thinly sliced apples and glazed almonds with a quick homemade vinaigrette and enjoy! Just don’t make too much dressing and then hand it off to someone else and let them finish the salad. They won’t realize you’ve made more dressing than necessary and they WILL just dump it all on. Then it will taste like balsamic with a little salad. Not that that happened, of course. (Totally happened.)

Still, it was clear these flavors were meant to be. And boy was it pretty! It was like a winter season fashion show–jewel tones everywhere!

And after sitting down with a heaping sweet potato taco and a big, colorful bowl of kale salad, Kevin declared the meal a winner and even admitted he’d eat it for a meal again (without meat.) Of course, even after three tacos and the majority of the salad, he still finished off a bag of popcorn at the movies that night, so *maybe* I should take that with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, I declare it a victory.

Of course, my cooking for the weekend was hardly done. After all, Kevin hosted a Super Bowl party on Sunday, and yours truly was, effectively, the caterer. Cue the marathon cooking day that was my Sunday (more to come…)

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