Oven Risotto with Kale Pesto

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Winter is a time of year when all I feel like doing is getting under my covers, drinking bottomless cups of tea, reading and watching Netflix on repeat. Even though this comprises about 75% of my winter routine, sometimes I’ll stray from the norm.

This past weekend I went to go visit my friend Julicia in Philadelphia. I love Philadelphia year-round, but the winters can be a little intense (to say the least). Bearing this in mind, I took the earliest bus up on Saturday in full winter garb, ready to handle whatever came my way.

It ended up snowing but it wasn’t too bad, and Julicia and I trekked out to West Chester, Pennsylvania on Sunday to visit a place called “Book Barn.” It’s a huge old farm house with more than four stories, and it’s covered wall-to-wall with old books, posters and postcards. Even though it was drafty and cold, I loved walking through the rows of books and seeing what caught my eye. It reminded me of being in college, when I used to wander through the library and browse new titles, sitting for hours in one row reading plays or novels. I ended up finding a 1908 edition of an Oscar Wilde play and a hardback book on California road trips.

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When I got back to D.C., they were forecasting more snow so I decided to make this Bon Appetit risotto for dinner. Nothing is better than risotto on a cold winter night (except maybe hot chocolate), and I was intrigued by the prospect of “oven risotto” because most recipes require endless amounts of stirring. Even though I was somewhat skeptical of how the dish would turn out without this step, I was not disappointed.

The rice was soft and slightly chewy, the Parmesan added some bite and the butter made the whole dish creamy and rich. I also recommend sprinkling some toasted walnuts and cheese on top before serving–it adds a whole other layer to the dish.

I told my roommate that it is one of the best things I’ve ever made, and I’d stand by that claim. I will definitely be adding this recipe to my winter repertoire, somewhere between the endless cups of tea and Netflix binges.

Oven Risotto with Kale Pesto (from Bon Appetit)

Serves 4

Ingredients

½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 cup arborio rice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup dry white wine

1 small garlic clove

1 cup (packed) fresh parsley leaves

3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

2 cups torn Tuscan kale leaves, divided

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about 2 cups)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large ovenproof saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and translucent, 5–8 minutes. Stir in rice; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until some grains are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add wine, bring to a simmer, and cook until pan is almost dry, about 3 minutes. Add 2 cups very hot water; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover, and bake in oven until liquid is mostly absorbed but rice is still starchy in the center, 15–18 minutes (it should be undercooked).

Meanwhile, pulse garlic and half of toasted walnuts in a food processor until very finely ground. Add parsley, chives, half of kale, remaining 2 Tbsp. oil, and ¼ cup cold water; process until smooth; season pesto with salt and pepper.

Set saucepan over medium heat. Add ¾ cup very hot water and cook rice, stirring constantly, until it is tender but still has some bite and sauce is creamy, about 3 minutes. Stir in pesto, butter, three-quarters of Parmesan, and remaining kale. Adjust consistency with water, if needed; season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with remaining walnuts and cheese.

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New Year, New Chili

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It has been a while since my last post. I could blame the holidays, a busy work schedule and bouts of traveling. But instead, I’ll start with a the year with a blank slate and share this delicious chili with you.

I think that everyone should have a good chili recipe in their back pocket. When the weather gets cold, life gets busy or you’re craving comfort food, chili will never fail you; it lasts forever in the fridge, fills you up, and takes you to a happy place. I like vegetarian and non-vegetarian varieties, but a recipe I just landed on from Real Simple tops my list. It includes all of my favorite things: sweet potatoes, black beans, cumin–and, as an added bonus, cocoa powder. I did a double-take when I saw that ingredient in the recipe, but don’t be alarmed; the chili doesn’t end up tasting like chocolate, and the cocoa just adds another level of flavor and creates something akin to mole sauce.

I made this recipe in a slow cooker and I ended up having enough servings for a couple lunches and dinners.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, especially on a cold winter night when all you want to do is curl up with something warm and comforting.

Slow-Cooker Vegetarian Chili (from Real Simple)

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 medium red onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
kosher salt and black pepper
1 28-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 15.5-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1 15.5-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed
1 medium sweet potato (about 8 ounces), peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
sour cream, sliced scallions, sliced radishes for serving

Directions

In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the onion, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, cocoa, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Add the tomatoes (and their liquid), beans, sweet potato, and 1 cup water.

Cover and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender and the chili has thickened, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours (this will shorten total recipe time).
Serve the chili with the sour cream, scallions, radishes, and tortilla chips.

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Maryland Apple Picking and Apple Cinnamon Muffins

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Last weekend, I went apple picking with my friend Carly, her boyfriend and her friend from college. It ended up being a day trip, because we had to take the train up to Baltimore and then drive an hour out into the country to get to the apple orchard.

But it was well worth the journey. The orchard sold apple cider doughnuts, and we got a bag to split. The doughnuts are made fresh throughout the day, so when we pulled one out of the bag, they were still warm and fluffy. They had a light dusting of cinnamon and sugar on top, and melted in your mouth after the first bite. I had a moment where I wanted to get back into the car alone with the doughnuts, and stay there for the rest of the trip. But I restrained myself.

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After we stuffed our faces with doughnuts and lunch, we made our way to the orchard. The head of the orchard told us that apple varieties change throughout the fall, but we had our pick between Jonagold, Golden Delicious and Red Delicious. I’ve never been a fan of red delicious apples (read this article for a compelling argument against them), so I mostly picked Jonagold and Golden Delicious. The head farmer also told us we could sample apples “as long as we didn’t make a meal of it,” so I tried one or two along the way.

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Somehow, I ended up with 10 pounds of apples to take home with me. So this week, I decided to make apple cinnamon muffins. The recipe is straightforward: Mix together all the standard baking ingredients with buttermilk and egg, chop up a couple apples and mix them in, and voila–I had a delicious breakfast that lasted throughout the week. And as an added bonus, my apartment smelled like apple cinnamon for a few days after they came out of the oven.

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Apple Cinnamon Muffins (from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients

1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed, divided
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk or yogurt
2 large apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease and flour 18 muffin cups and set aside.

Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and add the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add the egg and mix well; stop once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.Mix in the buttermilk gently. (If you over-mix, the buttermilk will cause the mixture to curdle.) Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the apple chunks.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar on top. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400°F, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the tin, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

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Roasted Potatoes and Okra with Pistachio-Feta Cream

IMG_1242It’s finally starting to become fall in D.C. The leaves are changing, the weather is getting cooler and the days are getting shorter. Usually, this transition makes me long for the days of short-sleeved dresses, semi-bearable humidity and leisurely summer nights, but this year, I feel different. I am actually excited about fall.

Maybe it’s because last year in Chicago, there wasn’t really a fall. The temperatures dropped dramatically, everything froze over, and I found myself trudging through a foot of snow well before Thanksgiving. Or maybe it’s because I lived through another “real” summer that hearkened back to my youth (days so hot that my grandmother refused to leave the house, and even the swimming pool water felt lukewarm).

But over the weekend, I did some more exploring around town and I saw how things change for the better here when the weather gets cooler. There are less tourists roaming around, the pace slows down somewhat, and the buildings stand out against the sky when the sun sets. As it seems, fall brings out the best in D.C.

IMG_1251I came across Edible DC magazine when I was browsing a kitchen supply store near my apartment this weekend, and my eyes went straight to the recipe for roasted potatoes and okra with pistachio-feta cream. I started cooking more with okra recently, and I was intrigued by the combination of feta and pistachios for the sauce.

This is going to become one of my new go-to dishes. The potatoes and okra were spicy and tender, and the pistachio feta sauce balanced out the sumac dusted on the vegetables. Add a few chopped pistachios for texture and extra crunch and you’ll have the perfect meal for a brisk fall evening.

IMG_1255Roasted Potatoes and Okra with Feta-Pistachio Cream (from Edible DC)

Ingredients

1 pound okra (preferably small), trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 pound small red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 tbsp ground sumac
3 oz feta, crumbled
1/4 cup toasted pistachios, plus 2 tbsp for garnish (chopped)
2 tbsp plain Greek-style yogurt
2 tbsp water, plus more as needed

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with two large rimmed baking sheets inside. When the sheets are hot, quickly toss the okra pieces onto one sheet and the potatoes onto the other, making sure they don’t overlap. Drizzle each with 1/2 tbsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt and 1 tbsp sumac, and roast until browned on the edges and tender, using a spatula to toss the pieces occasionally: about 15 to 20 minutes for okra and 20 to 25 minutes for the potatoes.

While the vegetables are roasting, make the cream: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the feta, pistachios, yogurt, water and remaining 1 tbsp olive oil, and puree until smooth, adding a little more water if the mixture is too thick.

When the vegetables are tender, transfer them to a large serving bowl, let cool slightly and toss to combine. Divide among serving plates and dollop each serving with the feta-pistachio cream and some chopped pistachios.

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California and Rosemary Fig Scones

IMG_1177Sometimes in life, you go to a place that feeds your body and soul. That’s how I feel about California.

Last week, I went to visit one of my best friends from grad school, Lyz, in Santa Barbara. Lyz is a native Californian, and she spent four years before grad school living in Santa Barbara. When we were in school together, she would describe the beaches and culture to me, and it all sounded idyllic. I’ve never been to California and I’ve always wanted to visit, and I hadn’t seen Lyz since we graduated last fall. So, I thought, what’s stopping me from going?

IMG_1204It’s hard to say that you fall in love with a place as universally hated as LAX, but that’s sort of what happened to me. From the minute I stepped off the plane, I knew that I had landed in a place that I was meant to visit. Lyz tells me that people call LA “hell-A,” and I can see how it has its downfalls. The traffic is crazy, and everything seems pretty congested. But still, I could immediately see a marked difference in culture. People were more laid back, and not afraid to be bold–two qualities I strive for in my own life.

It was dark out when Lyz drove us back to Santa Barbara, so I didn’t get to take in the city in all its glory until the next day. It would be an understatement to say that Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. From the mountains to the ocean to the woods, all you have to do is turn around and there’s something magnificent to take in. I can see why celebrities flock there, and why Lyz wanted to go back as soon as we finished school.

IMG_1168IMG_1203I ate some delicious things during my trip, including vanilla-dipped French toast, a “California Benedict” with avocado and spinach, and more guacamole than I’ve ever consumed in a 48-hour window. But one of the best thing I ate in Santa Barbara was a fig, rosemary and walnut scone from a local bakery. We went there for breakfast in the morning, and I polished it off with a cup of chocolate chai.

IMG_1184Now that I’m back in D.C., I miss Santa Barbara and Lyz, and I found myself craving the scones. So I decided to recreate them tonight. I used a baseline recipe for fig scones, and then I added a handful of chopped walnuts and a spring of rosemary leaves. I sprinkled some sugar on top, brushed the scones with cream and popped them in the oven.

IMG_1223While I wouldn’t be so bold as to say my scones matched the ones in Santa Barbara, they came pretty close. It’s a dangerous game to try to recreate a food memory, because in food, as in life, some things are better left gilded over by time and place. But as a runner-up to the “real thing,” I think my scones did their job.

I wish I could go back and visit again tomorrow, but for now, I’m trying to find little pieces of California in D.C. And apparently, I don’t have to look too far because I found a small reminder on my walk home from work yesterday.

IMG_1220Rosemary Fig Scones (adapted from Pretty. Simple. Sweet.)

Ingredients

2 cups (280 grams/10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (75 grams/2.6 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (115 grams/1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large egg
1/2 cup heavy cream, plus 1 tablespoon (for brushing the tops)
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 – 1 cup chopped figs, fresh or dried
1 sprig rosemary
handful of chopped walnuts (or more if desired)
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F/200C degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or your fingers. Alternately, you can pulse the ingredients in a food processor or mixer. Mix until mixture resembles coarse meal. Having uneven pieces of butter throughout is OK. Gently stir in figs, walnuts, and rosemary until coated with flour.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg, 1/2 cup heavy cream, honey and vanilla extract, then add to the flour mixture. Gently toss with a rubber spatula or mix until dough begins to form. Don’t over mix. Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead gently, about 5-6 times, until a ball forms. The dough might be slightly sticky. Pat the dough into a 9-inch (22 cm) circle, about 3/4-inch thick, and cut into 8 even wedges.

Place scones on prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with a bit of heavy cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

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Blueberry Halloumi Salad

IMG_0981I’ll never forget the first time I tried halloumi. I was fifteen years old and my family and I went to a Greek restaurant down the street to celebrate my mom’s birthday. I scoured the menu for options, and my eyes landed on “saganaki–flaming cheese.” The words “flaming cheese” were enough to pique my interest, so I decided to order a plate.

A waiter rolled a cart over to our table with a small frying pan on top. He began sauteeing the cheese in oil, but then he took a giant bottle of vodka and squirted some in top. The flames shot up into the air like a dart, and for a second, I thought they would burn the ceiling. But then he squeezed fresh lemon juice over the top, extinguishing the fire. He did it so matter-of-fact that I stared at him in awe; I pictured myself doing it, and the whole restaurant going down in flames.

I cut into the cheese slowly; I think I half-expected it to go up in flames again. The outside of the halloumi was fried crispy, golden brown and the interior was melted and gooey. I tried a small piece, and the flavors hit my palette all at once: the tangy, briny taste of the halloumi, the slightly sour lemon, the rich olive oil and the slightly sweet flavor of the vodka exploded like fireworks in my mouth.  I vowed to order saganaki every time we went back to the restaurant, and looking back, I stayed true to my word.

One of my best recent discoveries was that Whole Foods sells halloumi, and so I can make a version of saganaki at home. Instead of lighting the cheese on fire, I fry it in olive oil and then put it on a salad. It’s a quick, easy meal and I always feel satisfied after eating it. Last week I found a recipe that paired the fried halloumi with a simple blueberry salad. The sweet, juicy blueberries are the perfect complement to the salty halloumi, the hazelnuts in the recipe add an extra element of texture, and the dressing incorporates lemon juice–one of halloumi’s tried-and-true pairings.

Blueberry Halloumi Salad (adapted slightly from Naturally Ella)

Ingredients

3 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces blueberries
¼ cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 (8 to 9 ounce) package halloumi, cut into 8 slices
1 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, honey, and black pepper. In a separate bowl, toss blueberries with chopped hazelnuts, pepper, 1 tablespoons mint and 1 tablespoons cilantro. Pour dressing over blueberry mixture and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add halloumi and cook until golden, 2-3 minutes per side.

Place cheese on a plate, spoon blueberries over cheese slices, and finish with remaining herbs. Serve while halloumi is still warm (although the leftovers still taste just as good).

Posted in Dinner, Lunch, Uncategorized, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Strawberry Birthday Cakes

IMG_0934On Friday, I hosted dinner on my roof for my birthday. Everyone was teasing me because technically, my birthday was last weekend…And I had already celebrated twice over pizza and brunch. But in my opinion, you can never have too many parties. And birthdays are the perfect excuse to bring everyone you care about together and enjoy delicious food.

IMG_0937For the main course, I made baked shrimp scampi and a pasta salad with oriecchette, cherry tomatoes and homemade kale/basil pesto. I also made hummus from scratch for the first time–a somewhat labor intensive process if you don’t have a food processor. I used a blender (much to my roommate’s chagrin), but I managed to achieve a nice, creamy consistency after pulsing it for about 15 minutes (and using some choice words to let off some steam). My friend Carly–whose diet consists mainly of beans–said that she wanted to eat it like ice cream from a bowl.

But the real pinnacle of the meal was dessert. My favorite kind of birthday cake is strawberry, and I found a new recipe from The Pioneer Woman’s blog called “strawberry shortcake cake” that I decided to try. Making the cake was a process; I baked it in the oven for 50 minutes and let it cool, then I sliced it in half and added layers of crushed strawberries and homemade buttercream frosting. I left it in the refrigerator overnight, which helped all the flavors meld together. The juices from the strawberries moistened the cake, and the icing added an extra touch of sweetness.

IMG_0936My friend Melissa also surprised me with a giant homemade birthday cake. She wrote “Happy Birthday” on chocolate covered strawberries. She topped it all off with whipped cream, the perfect complement to chocolate covered berries and rich dark chocolate.

I was happy I could bring everyone together for good food and conversation, and I’ll never forget my two strawberry birthday cakes–or multiple birthday celebrations.

Strawberry Shortcake Cake (from The Pioneer Woman blog)

Ingredients:

Cake
1-1/2 cup Flour
3 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
9 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Softened
1-1/2 cup Sugar
3 whole Large Eggs
1/2 cup Sour Cream, Room Temperature
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Icing
1/2 pound Cream Cheese, Room Temperature
2 sticks Unsalted Butter
1-1/2 pound Powdered Sugar, Sifted
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1 pound Strawberries

Directions:

IMPORTANT: Be sure to use a cake pan that’s at least 2 inches deep! Before baking, the batter should not fill the pan more than halfway.

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and corn starch.
Cream 9 tablespoons butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well each time. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until combined. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just barely combined.

Pour into greased and floured 8-inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes, or until no longer jiggly like my bottom. Remove from cake pan as soon as you pull it out of the oven, and place on a cooling rack and allow it to cool completely.

Stem strawberries and slice them in half from bottom to top. Place into a bowl and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar. Stir together and let sit for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, mash the strawberries in two batches. Sprinkle each half with 1 tablespoons sugar and allow to sit for another 30 minutes.

Make icing: combine cream cheese, 2 sticks butter, sifted powdered sugar, vanilla, and dash of salt in a mixing bowl. Mix until very light and fluffy.

Slice cake in half through the middle. Spread strawberries evenly over each half (cut side up), pouring on all the juices. Place cake halves into the freezer for five minutes, just to make icing easier.

Remove from freezer. Use a little less than 1/3 of the icing to spread over the top of the strawberries on the bottom layer. Place the second layer on top. Add half of the remaining icing to the top spreading evenly, then spread the remaining 1/3 cup around the sides.

IMPORTANT: Cake is best when served slightly cool. The butter content in the icing will cause it to soften at room temperature. For best results, store in the fridge!

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