Four-Cheese Risotto with fresh Roasted Tomatoes

Four-Cheese Risotto with fresh Roasted Tomatoes

Garlic-herb Roasted Tomatoes

I’m far from vegetarian, but even for me there is nothing like roasted vegetables, especially tomatoes.  What better to go with them than a great risotto?  This recipe is very simple and takes less than an hour, although it does require some serious stirring.  It makes a filling meal or great side dish and the garlic-herb roasted tomatoes add a lot of flavor to the creamy cheesy risotto.  It is also very flexible, I used a prepackaged four cheese blend but sometimes use whatever cheeses I have on hand, a mixture of  fontina, mozzarella, Asiago, parmesan and/or Gruyère.

Ingredients:

6-8 Roma tomatoes sliced in half

2-4 cloves of garlic sliced very thinly

1 sprig of rosemary

Several tablespoons of olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Few leaves of Basil for garnish

one half onion chopped finely

1 cup arborio rice

5 cups chicken stock (or one cup white wine and 4 cups chicken stock)

2 cups four cheese blend or mix of shredded cheeses

1/2 cup cream

Procedure:

1.  Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly oil a large sheet pan either with olive oil or vegetable spray.

Place the tomatoes flat side up, add a few slices of garlic and a few bits of rosemary to each.  Place in the oven and roast for approximately 10-15 minutes, until they are soft and the garlic is slightly browned.

For the risotto:

Heat the broth to a simmer (I do it in the microwave but traditionally it is done in a separate saucepan).

Saute the onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil until soft but not browned.

Rice in olive oil

Rice and onion saute

Add the rice and stir until all the grains are coated with oil.

First addition of broth

Add the wine first if using, then the remaining broth one cup at a time, stirring constantly and waiting for it to be absorbed before adding the next cup.

Keep Stirring

Keep stirring and adding until all the broth has been added, is absorbed and the rice is tender.  I find sometimes it takes a little more broth, sometimes a little less.  Be patient, it will take 20-30 minutes but it’s worth it!

Adding cheese

Add the cheese, stirring gently to melt.

Done

Then add the cream to the consistency that you like.

Four Cheese Risotto with Roasted Garlic Herb Tomatoes

Serve with the roasted tomatoes and a little fresh basil.

The Daring Cook’s Challenge Edible Containers:  Stuffed Meatballs in a Parmesan Crisp Bowl

The Daring Cook’s Challenge Edible Containers: Stuffed Meatballs in a Parmesan Crisp Bowl

Stuffed Meatballs in Parmesan Crisp Bowl

Stuffed Meatball with spaghetti in Parmesan Crust cup

This month there was another great challenge to create something to serve in an edible container.

Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers! Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 17th to May 16th at http://thedaringkitchen.com!

I chose to make a simple Parmesan Crisp bowl and fill it with stuffed meatballs.  I made two versions, one for an appetizer and one with spaghetti that could be served as a meal.  I thought both turned out well and would be great for parties as you could make the bowls and meatballs ahead then just reheat and assemble.

First I made the crisps which are really simple.

Shredded Parmesan spread on cookie sheet

Place about 2-3 tablespoons of shredded Parmesan, depending on the size you prefer, spread into a circle.

Melted Cheese

Bake at 400 degrees for about 3-5 minutes until the cheese melts.

Making the bowl shape

Remove from the oven and quickly (but carefully as it will be hot) place in small heat proof bowls molding to the shape of the bowl.  You can do this either inside or with the bowl upside down, I chose to do it on the inside.  I would only do a couple at a time because you have to work quickly the cheese hardens fast.

Parmesan Cheese Crisp Bowl

Let cool and pop them out (or lift them off) and set aside.

Next the stuffed meatballs:

Ingredients:

1/2 pound Italian sausage, casings removed (hot or mild as you prefer)

1/2 pound ground beef

1 cup bread crumbs (I used some really good but stale ciabatta rolls)

1 small onion chopped very finely

4 cloves garlic chopped very finely

3 tablespoons mixed fresh Italian herbs ( oregano, parsley, basil)

1 egg

1 cup milk

1 cup Pizza sauce (homemade or purchased)  You could also use spaghetti sauce but it might be a little thin.

1 cup shredded mozzarella

Procedure

Mix all ingredients except the pizza sauce and cheese in a large bowl.  Mix thoroughly, but don’t handle more than necessary.

Make the balls:

Make a disk

Start by making a flattened round disk.

Add some sauce

Add a small amount of pizza sauce.

Add cheese

Sprinkle with some cheese.

Cover the filling

Make a second flattened disk and cover the filling.  Make sure and seal the edges well, then pick it up and roll (very) gently between your hands to round it out and make sure all the edges are sealed.

Ready to bake

Place in a baking pan and bake at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes depending on how big you’ve made them.  I made two versions, one small for appetizers and one of large ones for the main dish.

To serve the appetizer size, just add 2-3 small meatballs to each bowl and sprinkle with some shredded Parmesan.  For a meal, serve a large meatball with a portion of your favorite spaghetti mixed with sauce in the bowl and sprinkle with some shredded Parmesan.

Ready to serve

Daring Baker’s Challenge – Coffee Cake – Lime Cream with Coconut and Pizza

Daring Baker’s Challenge – Coffee Cake – Lime Cream with Coconut and Pizza

Lime Cream and Toasted Coconut Coffee Cake

Pizza Coffee Cake

The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.  Since the recipe conveniently makes enough for two coffee cakes, I made a sweet (lime cream and toasted coconut) and savory (pizza of course) version.  Thanks to Ria and Jamie for a great challenge, the dough was great and I can definitely see lots of possibilities for the fillings.

Dough ingredients

Ingredients:

FILLED MERINGUE COFFEE CAKE
Makes 2 round coffee cakes, each about 10 inches in diameter
The recipe can easily be halved to make one round coffee cake

Ingredients
For the yeast coffee cake dough:

4 cups (600 g / 1.5 lbs.) flour
¼ cup (55 g / 2 oz.) sugar
¾ teaspoon (5 g / ¼  oz.) salt
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons /  7 g / less than an ounce) active dried yeast
¾ cup (180 ml / 6 fl. oz.) whole milk
¼ cup (60 ml / 2 fl. oz. water (doesn’t matter what temperature)
½ cup (135 g / 4.75 oz.) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature

For the meringue:

3 large egg whites at room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup (110 g / 4 oz.) sugar

Directions:

Prepare the dough:

Dry Ingredients

In a large mixing bowl (had I thought ahead, I would have put this in my mixer’s bowl and saved some clean up) combine 1 ½ cups (230 g) of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast.

Butter milk water warmed

In a microwave save bowl, combine the milk, water and butter and heat for about 1 minute until warm and the butter is just melted.

Mixing in flour

With an electric mixer on low-speed, gradually add the warm liquid to the flour/yeast mixture, beating until well blended. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Add the eggs and 1 cup (150 g) flour and beat for 2 more minutes.

Dough hook

Switch to the dough hook or using a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that holds together.

Ready to knead

Turn out onto a floured surface (use any of the 1 ½ cups of flour remaining) and knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes (less if you give it a good mixing with the dough hook) until the dough is soft, smooth, sexy and elastic, keeping the work surface floured and adding extra flour as needed.

Split the dough

For the pizza version I added 2 tablespoons of Italian spice to the dough as I finished up the kneading.

Pizza version dough

Place the dough in a lightly greased (I used olive oil for the pizza version and vegetable spray for the sweet) bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise until double in bulk, 45 – 60 minutes. The rising time will depend on the type of yeast you use.

Prepare your filling:

Lime and Coconut

1 cup lime cream (I used 2 and it was way too much.) You could also use lemon or lime curd.

1 cup toasted coconut

Pizza version

1/2 cup pizza sauce

2 Roma tomatoes sliced thinly

6 mini or 1 regular bell pepper sliced thinly

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan

1 cup shredded mozzarella

Once the dough has doubled, make the meringue:

In a clean mixing bowl – ideally a plastic or metal bowl so the egg whites adhere to the side (they slip on glass) and you don’t end up with liquid remaining in the bottom – beat the egg whites with the salt, first on low-speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high and continue beating until foamy and opaque. Add the vanilla then start adding the ½ cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time as you beat, until very stiff, glossy peaks form.

Assemble the Coffee Cakes:

Line 2 baking/cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Pizza version rolled out

Punch down the dough. On a lightly floured surface, working one piece of the dough at a time (keep the other half of the dough wrapped in plastic), roll out the dough into a 20 x 10-inch (about 51 x 25 ½ cm) rectangle.

With Pizza sauce

Add the pizza sauce in a thin layer with a pastry brush.

Filled

Add tomatoes, peppers and cheeses.  I didn’t use meringue on the pizza version (which contributed to me using way too much on the lime cream version)

Rolling

Now, roll up the dough jelly roll style, from the long side. Pinch the seam closed to seal. Very carefully transfer the filled log to one of the lined cookie sheets, seam side down.   I opted to not make this one a roll and just left it log shaped.

Pizza version ready to bake

Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife (although scissors are easier), make cuts along the outside edge at 1-inch (2 ½ cm) intervals. Make them as shallow or as deep as desired but don’t be afraid to cut deep.  After the second rising, baste with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little extra Parmesan.

For the Lime Cream with Toasted Coconut:

Lime Cream filled

Spread half of the meringue evenly over the rectangle up to about 1/2-inch (3/4 cm) from the edges. Spread the lime cream filling evenly over the meringue and sprinkle with toasted coconut .

Ready to bake

Here’s where I really messed up.  I used way too much filling and all the meringue, forgetting that I had twice enough because I didn’t use any on the pizza version.  You are supposed to bring the ends of the log around and seal  together, forming a ring, tucking one end into the other and pinching to seal.   I ended up with a very bloated, lime and meringue covered blop which only got more bloated as it rose a second time.  Surprisingly, once it was baked it looked a lot better and tasted great so I guess it wasn’t so bad.

Cover the 2 coffee cakes with plastic wrap and allow them to rise again for 45 to 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Brush the tops of the coffee cakes with the egg wash. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until risen and golden brown. The dough should sound hollow when tapped.

Whole Pizza

Pasta Fagioli inspired by Olive Garden – Party/Freezer size

Pasta Fagioli inspired by Olive Garden – Party/Freezer size

Pasta Fagioli

Even though I know it isn’t very authentic I really enjoy the Olive Garden’s soup and bread sticks lunch, which led me to make my own version of the soup at home.  Of course it isn’t exactly the same as I tend to make my soups more substantial to the point they are often mistaken for stews.  It was very tasty and a great start to my penne with vodka sauce meal although I have adjusted the recipe a little because after the soup, everyone was too full to eat much of the pasta so I added some extra liquid to thin it out.  It freezes really well, so I made the usual gigantic batch and sealed the rest in several packages for later.  (I have learned my lesson and am now much more careful about labeling as it is amazing how similar things look once they are frozen.)

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

3 TBS olive oil

3 lbs ground beef (you could use 2 pounds but I live with the meat-eaters so I go with 3)

2 medium onions chopped

3 celery stalks chopped in a small dice

6 carrots chopped in a small dice

4 cloves garlic minced

1 large can (102 oz) crushed tomatoes

1 6 oz can tomato paste

2 cups red kidney beans

2 cups white kidney beans

8 cups beef stock

4 cups tomato juice

2 cups water

1 TBS Italian seasoning (or 2 tsp oregano and 1 tsp basil)

8 ounces small shell pasta

Procedure:

Sauté the ground beef until it starts to brown, add onions, carrots and celery and simmer for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, simmering for another 10 minutes.

Drain and rinse the beans, then add the remaining ingredients to the pot and simmer for about 45 minutes.  If you like a longer simmer (I like to let it go for several hours) don’t add the pasta until about 45 minutes before serving or it will get soggy.

Pasta Fajioli Served

Creamy Pesto and Sausage Penne

Creamy Pesto and Sausage Penne

Creamy Pesto Sausage Penne

After making all that great Pesto for holiday gifts, I did sort of keep some for myself and found a great way to use it for a quick weekday meal.  It took about 15 minutes, just long enough to cook the pasta.  Considering all the basil, I’m counting this as healthy (ignoring the cream sauce and sausage of course – but I did use chicken sausage so I get points for that).  The other great thing about this recipe is it hardly even makes a mess (something I am normally really, really good at).  It takes only two pans, one for the pasta, one for the sauce.

Ingredients:

1 lb penne pasta

1 lb sausage (I used a chicken with mozzarella sausage this time) sliced into 1/2 inch slices

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup pesto (homemade if you have it)

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan

Procedure:

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

While the pasta is cooking, brown the sausage pieces in the olive oil in a large skillet, then remove them and set aside on a paper towel to drain.

Pesto and Cream

 

Add the pesto and cream to the skillet and bring to just a boil

Adding the cheese

Add cheese and stir until melted.

Return the sausage to the sauce.

When the pasta is done, drain and add it to the sauce, mixing well.

That’s it – time to eat!

Creamy Pesto Sausage Penne

 

 

 

 

Recipe test:  Rachael Ray’s You Won’t be Single for Long Vodka Pasta Sauce

Recipe test: Rachael Ray’s You Won’t be Single for Long Vodka Pasta Sauce

You Won't Be Single For Long Vodka Penne

I know I haven’t always been kind to some of Rachael’s recipes, but this is one of my favorites.   I make it quite often and even follow the recipe You Won’t Be Single for Long Vodka Pasta Sauce pretty faithfully, which is quite unusual for me.  The only change I make is to start with 1 pound of hot Italian sausage removed from the casing and fried (leave the fat in the pan and continue on with the recipe for the best flavor).  It gives it a little more kick and of course makes the meat eaters happy.  I find that the fresh basil is what really makes it, so definitely don’t skip that.  Otherwise, it is a great, simple and quick recipe that you can easily make after a workday, serve in a bowl with some garlic knots or garlic bread and if you must, a salad (sorry I don’t do salad).

You won't Be Single for Long Vodka Penne and Green Beans with Bacon

I also sometimes serve it with green beans (with bacon of course).

Green Beans with Bacon

While frying the bacon in a large skillet, steam about a pound of green beans in the microwave for 3 minutes.   I get the packages from Costco that you can steam them right in or you can just do them in a bowl.  Fry 4 slices of bacon cut in small pieces until very crisp, then remove it from the pan, leaving the fat.  Add the partially cooked green beans and finish for a couple more minutes in the pan to the doneness that you like, then add back the crispy bacon.