Friday, September 21, 2012

Cooking with Casey (Sept.)

Casey is officially back in town.  Yippy!   We got together last weekend for a girl’s night in the kitchen.    With the hint of fall in the air, I was craving fall food.

This was our menu:
  • Blue-cheese stuffed figs wrapped in prosciutto
  • Arugula salad with goat cheese, beets, and toasted, honey almonds
  • Surf and turf with risotto two ways (scallops with lemon, parmesan, spinach risotto and beef tenderloin with mushroom and truffle risotto)

I kind of made up all of the recipes, so I will try to recreate them here.

TIP:  I have said this before and I will say it again.  I am not a professional recipe writer, so definitely let me know if you have questions or if something doesn’t make sense.  Also, remember these 3 things:
1)     Always read the recipe in full before you begin.  That way you can make sure you have all of your ingredients and you know the process.    It helps to get all of you ingredients and supplies in order.   Basically reading the recipe gives you the gist of what you will be doing before you begin and that is important.  Believe me; I’ve learned this the hard way.
2)     Recipes are only a guide.   Play!   Experiment with different ingredients.  And if you really like something (like parmesan) add more of it, if you don’t like something leave it out or substitute it with something you do like.
3)     Taste as you go.  That way you will know if your risotto is still hard and needs more time of if you need more salt or whatever.   

Blue-cheese Stuffed Figs Wrapped in Prosciutto
  • Wash the figs and cut them in half (cut off the stem too)
  • Put a dab of blue cheese on the flat side.
  • Wrap in prosciutto (I cut the prosciutto in half and it fit perfectly)
  • Bake at 400 for about 10 minutes.  You want the prosciutto to get crispy and the cheese to get soft. 
  • Drizzle with honey and serve. 
  • Red wine optional but encouraged
This is a such an easy appetizer and it is delicious.   Perfect for fall while figs are in season.

Cute Story: I was at Trader Joe’s and saw the figs and had to have them.   I put them in my cart and decided on the recipe above.    Not more than 20 seconds after putting the figs in my cart, a woman came up to me and asked me what I was going to do with the figs.   I told her and she thought that sounded fabulous.   She grabbed some figs and off she went.   Then when I was by the cheese and salami, she reappeared and asked me which I was going to pick.  I showed her which prosciutto and cheese I thought would be best and she put them in her cart too.  It was really cute.  Then she asked how long to bake them for.  I gave her some tips and told her to drizzle them with honey and enjoy with red wine.   She was so excited.    I have to say that has never happened to me before.  I thought it was kind of fun – random people bonding over food and cooking and sharing ideas.  There should be more of that happening.  

Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese, Beets, and Toasted, Honey Almonds

Step 1:  Make dressing

Balsamic dressing
3 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
¼ cup Canola Oil
½ cup Olive Oil
2 tsp. Dijon mustard (I like Champagne mustard)
2 tsp. honey (or agave nectar)
Salt and pepper
Optional - Fresh minced garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs.

Whisk for at least a minute so that the ingredient combine and the dressing gets a little thick.

(I admit that I kind of make my dressing different every time.  Sometimes I will use balsamic glaze or a balsamic reduction, sometimes I will use a raw egg yolk instead of mustard as an emulsifier, sometimes I will use a different vinegar, etc….  I suggest you play around with it and find your favorite way to make it.    Whatever you do, do make it.  It is so much better than the bottled stuff.)

Step 2: Combine the following in a bowl
Roasted beets cut into bite-size pieces (sometimes I roast them myself and sometimes I buy the already roasted ones at Trader Joe’s.)
Honey goat cheese (regular is fine too) broken into pieces

Step 3: Toss with Dressing

Step 4: Plate in bowls and top with fresh pepper and Caramelized almonds or pecans (I found some new honey roasted almonds at Trader Joe’s that were really great.   It saves all the work of caramelizing the nuts yourself (although I will admit the ones I do myself are always the best, but these are a good time saver.)

1 Tbsp. butter
1 large shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
4-6 cups chicken broth, kept warm on the stove
½ cup grated parmesan

Heat the butter in a heavy saucepan/skillet. Add the shallot and cook until translucent.  Stir in the garlic until just fragrant and then add the rice.  Stir the rice around for a couple minutes in order to "toast" it.  Add the wine. Cook until it's almost completely evaporated, and then add 1-2 ladles of the broth. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of the broth has been absorbed, and then add another 1-2 ladles. Keep stirring.

Risotto usually takes 22 minutes from start to finish.  (I’ve timed it many times).
The trick to risotto is to add the stock slowly and stir frequently.  The risotto should be a bit runny - that is, ALL of the liquid should NOT be absorbed like regular rice.   

Stirring the Risotto with my other little helper, Miko
At about 10 minutes into the risotto, sauté mushrooms for the mushroom risotto and then get started on the scallops and beef.  Remember to keep stirring and adding stock.   You’ll have to multi-task.   This is where a sous chef, like Casey, comes in very handy.   

Clean, dry, and slice one package of mushrooms (I like baby portabellas or shitake).
Sauté in a skillet over med-high with a little bit of butter until caramelized.   Set aside.

Beef Tenderloin
Cut the beef into appropriate portions.  Since we are doing surf and turf, I had very small portions of beef and allocated 2 scallops per person (the scallops are big).
Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season both sides with salt, pepper.
Sauté the beef in a hot pan with olive oil; about 3 minutes each side for medium rare.  Turn off heat.

Pat the scallops dry with paper towels and season both sides with salt, pepper, and cayenne.  Sauté the scallops in a hot pan with clarified butter.   Clarified butter is the the secret to perfect scallops.  Clarified butter helps caramelize the scallops perfectly and has a high smoke point so you can get it really hot to get the perfect sear.   To make clarified butter, just heat up some butter (about 4 Tbsp.) and then when it melts the milk fat will rise to the top.   Skim that off and you have clarified butter.   It is the milk fat that burns, which makes regular butter hard to sauté in because you can’t get it very hot for very long without burning.    Sauté the scallops for about 2 minutes each side.  Do not over cook.  

Back to the risotto……. 
Just before your rice is cooked al dente (risotto done properly still has a bit of texture), add the parmesan.  Stir to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper.   Then divide it into 2 separate pans over low heat.   Add ¼ cup of chicken stock to each.   

Lemon Spinach Risotto
Add fresh, raw spinach (roughly 2 cups) and lemon zest (roughly 2 tsp.).  Stir.  

FYI – for lemon zest, use a microplane or cheese grater (with the smallest holes) and zest the yellow part of the lemon – do not get the white part as it is bitter.   I like using the zest instead of lemon juice in risotto because it gives it a refreshing tastes rather than an acidic taste.   

Mushroom Risotto
Add the mushrooms and drizzle with Truffle Oil (white or black).   Stir.

Make a half and half plate – half lemon, spinach risotto and half mushroom risotto.   Grate with fresh parmesan.   Add the beef on top of the mushroom risotto and the scallops to the other.   Enjoy!

Risotto is one of my favorite comfort foods and it is so versatile.    You can add pretty much anything and there are so many variations.     What is your favorite kind of risotto?

Pairing:  I went with my old standby – bubbly!   I love Champagne with everything!   I also think this dish would be great with red wine. 


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