Lamb Curry with Potatoes

As cold as it is in Chicago in winter, there are some advantages to living in a place colder than a meat locker. One of my favorite sights is a winter sunrise on a shatteringly cold, clear morning. Sunday was just such a morning, and I raced out of bed and into my coat just in time to catch the last of the perfect golden sunrise. The sun shimmering on the wall of ice in front of our building was just stunning.

I think that our cold, gray winters are a gift to introverts like me. I don’t mind winter all that much, even on the extremely cold days – I know how to stay warm (thanks to LL Bean), and there’s a beauty to the snowy winter landscape – especially living on the Lake. The many moods of the Lake are beautiful to watch, and none more beautiful to me than when the ice rolls in from far out in the lake, and the water comes crashing up against the ice berm that forms on the beach. As the waves slap the ice, the water sprays high into the air and the sound of the crashing ice against waves is the best bedtime lullabye.

Without good weather and sunshine every day, I don’t feel guilty for wanting to curl up with a good book and cup of tea to spend an afternoon on the couch. The social calendar slows down as the weather grows cold and allows me to recharge my social batteries…and sometimes that means spending a quiet morning making the perfect lamb curry.

This curry requires quite a few steps, but the final product is so worth it – this curry has the depth of flavor I’ve only tasted in Indian Restaurants. I learned from Sabera that the secret to a truly authentic curry is to make your own curry paste…and she’s right. The time it takes to stir the spices, onions and tomatoes to develop the curry paste is what makes a flavorful gravy for the final dish. I tried to keep the calorie count under control by minimizing the amount of oil used, and eliminating the dairy in the recipe – it doesn’t need it anyway. Give this curry a try next time you want to spend a morning meditating at the stove.

Lamb Curry with Potatoes
Serves 5

2 1/2 cups yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1″ pieces
1 lb lamb stew, trimmed of most fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 onions – one grated (or blitzed in the food processor), one sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 T fresh grated ginger
2.5 T safflower oil, divided
1 14oz can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
2 T tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
4 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 jalepeno, seeded and sliced
kosher salt to taste
cilantro for garnish
serve over brown rice

  1. In a mortar and pestle, combine the mustard seeds, cardamom and cumin. Bash the spices around a bit to create a coarse grind. Pick out the husks of the cardamom pods and set the spice mixture aside.
  2. Preheat the broiler and set a sheet pan in the oven while it preheats. Peel and cube the potatoes into bite sized pieces. Place the potatoes in a small mixing bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon of safflower oil and a sprinkle of salt. When the broiler is preheated, remove the sheet pan from the oven and spray lightly with oil. Spread the potatoes onto the pan in one layer and broil for 6-7 minutes to par-cook the potatoes – they should not be cooked all the way through, just get a head start on cooking, and the quick roast will help them keep their shape instead of getting water-logged. After 6-7 minutes under the broiler, remove the potatoes and set aside. While the potatoes cook, sear the meat.
  3. Heat a large dutch oven over medium heat. While it’s heating, sprinkle the cubed lamb with a bit of salt. Add 1 T of the safflower oil to the pot, and when it’s shimmering, add about half of the meat to the pot in one layer – don’t crowd the meat. Sear for 2 minutes without stirring, then turn the meat pieces and sear for 1 more minute on the other side. Remove the lamb from the pot and set aside in a bowl. Add the last half of the meat and sear on both sides, then set the meat aside.
  4. Keep the pot on medium heat, and remaining tablespoon of oil and grated onion. Saute for 3-4 minutes, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, and allowing the onions to turn golden and begin to caramelize. Next, add the tomato paste, jalepenos, garam masala, mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, black pepper and garlic. Stir for a minute until fragrant. Add the can of crushed tomatoes and stir. Allow the mixture to cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally – the mixture will cook down into a thick, flavorful paste.
  5. After cooking the curry paste, add the chicken stock, sliced onion, lamb and potatoes. Stir to combine. Cover the pot and simmer on low for 30-45 minutes, until lamb and potatoes are tender. Season with salt as needed. Serve over brown rice and garnish with cilantro.

383 cal per 1 1/4 cup, 130 cal from fat, 14.8g fat, 90mg cholesterol, 400mg sodium, 780mg potassium, 31g carb, 3g fiber, 8g sugars, 31.3g protein

Italian Wedding Soup

I had never made meatballs until today. Crazy, right?! Meatballs have never been very enticing to me – an odd fact, since I love sausage. The idea of the grocery store meatball with loads of crappy filler and little flavor is not my idea of cuisine. But, I’m learning to love the humble meatball. Mark’s family made a special batch of their family’s famed Swedish Meatballs for me at Christmas. I’d never even tried these particular meatballs because of the gluten in them, and never really felt like I was missing out. I was wrong. The meatballs were heaven, swimming in a savory gravy.

This week, while I was perusing my favorite food inspiration site, Tastespotting, I saw a couple of recipes for Italian Wedding Soup. I’d never heard of it before, but the recipes featured homemade meatballs swimming in broth. I was intrigued, so I gave it a shot this morning.

The meatballs on their own are well worth making and not that much trouble. I baked them, not having the patience to saute them in several batches, as I had other things to prep in the kitchen. I would definitely make the meatballs for pasta sauce another time. I didn’t have gluten-free bread crumbs on hand (I rarely have GF bread around at all), so I threw a few Ener-G gluten free onion crackers in the mini-prep and whizzed them into submission – it worked perfectly for the meatballs. If you want to cut the calorie load a bit, you could certainly use all turkey sausage for the meatballs – I just happen to love pork. I also cut the finished meatballs into quarters, so that you’d get more bites of beautiful sausage in every bowl.

Once you’ve got the meatballs made, the rest of the soup is a snap, and follows the standard soup operating procedure – saute mire poix, add broth and spices, then simmer. The finished soup is amazing – hearty and spicy and a little like a hot and sour soup. The addition of the dill to the broth adds an almost sour note, but it really works in combination with the red pepper flakes.

Italian Wedding Soup
Serves 6

2 links Hot Italian sausage, pork (about 8oz)
2 links Hot Italian sausage, turkey(about 8oz)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T parsley, minced
1/4 cup gluten-free bread crumbs (I used pulverized GF cracker crumbs)
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 with the convection setting on. If you don’t have convection, set it to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Remove the casings from the sausages and place the meat in a large mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix with your hands until combined. Now, shape the meatballs. Use a scant tablespoon of meat for each meatball, and shape them into balls with your hands. Place the formed meatballs on the prepped sheet tray, about 2 inches apart from each other. When you’ve finished making the meatballs, bake them for 25 minutes, then remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for a few minutes, then store in the fridge while you make the soup.

1 onion, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
2 cups diced red potatoes, skin on
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 T olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups homemade chicken stock
1 T dried dill
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
3 T parsley, minced
1 bunch rainbow chard, washed, ribs removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
Meatballs, sliced into quarters

  1. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add 1 T olive oil, then saute the onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper, 1/4 tsp salt and red pepper flakes for about 5-6 minutes, until the onion is translucent and softened. Add the dill, garlic and black pepper and stir for another minute, until you smell the garlic.
  2. Add the chicken stock and potatoes and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are tender. Taste the soup, and adjust the seasonings – adding more salt, pepper or red pepper flakes if it needs it.
  3. Just before you’re ready to serve, add the rainbow chard and parsley to the pot, stirring the greens in gently. Allow them to cook for 2 minutes, then add in the quartered meatballs. Cook for 2 more minutes, then dish up the soup.

341 cal/bowl, 160cal from fat, 17g fat, 85mg cholesterol, 1080mg sodium, 470mg potassium, 39g carbs, 3g fiber, 9g sugars, 20g protein

Pasta Milanese

This dish literally took my entire family to create. When we were in Michigan, my mom gifted me with some pork from my cousin’s pig. Heather and Rick raise a few pigs every year at their home. Come fall, the pigs are butchered and my cousins share some of the meat with our family. I’d heard that their pork was pretty amazing – their pigs are fed day-old produce from the farmers near where they live, so they eat everything from sweet corn to peaches. Not a bad diet for pigs or people!

I unwrapped the bacon my mom gave me, and knew that we would be rationing the precious slabs to get as many meals out of it as possible. The smell of smoke wafted from the chilled bacon – it’s very lean, almost ham-like. For our first bacon experience, I decided to make an old family favorite – Pasta Milanese, with the fresh bacon as the star ingredient.

Pasta Milanese is a great cook-from-the-pantry dish that comes together quickly – you can have this on the table in under a half hour. Milanese was a favorite dish in our family and always disappeared from the table when mom made it (though she would make this with prosciutto or sliced pepperoni instead of bacon). I’ve changed my mom’s recipe a little bit – minimizing the amount of oil I used, and heating the dish up with lots of red pepper flakes and black pepper. This was a fantastic lunch from the pantry, and the fresh basil made me long for summer on this subzero winter day.

Pasta Milanese
Serves 2

6oz brown rice penne pasta (dried)
2 thick slices of bacon, chopped
1/2 cup sliced onion
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan, grated with microplane
1/4 cup sliced oven roasted tomatoes (substitute sun-dried tomatoes)
2 T fresh basil, sliced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

  1. Bring 3qts of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the rice pasta to the boiling water and stir to make sure the noodles don’t stick to each other. Cook according to the package directions.
  2. While the pasta cooks, make the “sauce”. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon to the hot pan and cook for a minute or two, then add the onion to the pan, and saute until the bacon begins to crisp and the onions caramelize – about 5 minutes.
  3. Turn the sauce burner down to low. Add the red pepper flakes, garlic and pepper to the pan along with the olive oil, if needed – if there’s some bacon fat in the pan coating the onion, you may not need the additional oil.
  4. When the pasta is done, drain it in a colander, then toss the pasta into the pan with the bacon and onion mixture. Quickly toss the pasta with the ingredients, then add in the basil, oven-roasted tomatoes and parmesan cheese and toss the pasta gently before serving.

537 cal/serving, 160cal from fat, 19.1g fat, 30mg cholesterol, 260mg sodium, 190mg potassium, 70g carbs, 4g fiber, 2g sugars

Skirt Steak Tacos with Chipotle Marinade

My parents gave me a very wonderful hand-me-down gift while we were in Michigan for Christmas – my mom’s old meat grinder attachment for the Kitchen Aid Mixer. Dad had gotten Mom a new one, since her old one has a couple cracks in it near the grinder face, but was otherwise still working just fine. I was happy to take the grinder home with me, but really didn’t think that my life had been lacking without a meat grinder in it.

Boy, was I wrong. I love this attachment. I went to the market first thing the next morning after we returned to Chicago, and bought a couple flaps of my favorite cut of beef – skirt steak. People overlook the humble skirt – it’s a cheap cut, and a real pain to remove all of the silver skin and fat. But pounded a bit and marinated for a few hours before a quick sear on the grill – skirt delivers the beefiest flavor to be found on the cow, and it’s our go-to cut for entertaining.

Since it is definitely not grilling season in Chicago, grabbing a couple nice pieces of skirt was the perfect opportunity to put my new grinder to the test. After removing the silver skin and most of the fat, I put the meat through the grinder on the largest grinding plate, and the resulting meat was a perfect chopped meat consistency that was perfect for the tacos. I like my tacos highly spiced, so I made a good chipotle marinade studded with garlic and brightened with a little vinegar and sherry. The finished tacos were definitely my favorite so far for wintertime (non-grilled) tacos.

Skirt Steak Tacos with Chipotle Marinade
Serves 6

2lbs skirt steak, untrimmed
1/3 cup chipotle puree
1 tsp ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red onion, finely minced
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T cooking sherry
2 T apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt

Garnishes: minced white onion, lime wedges and cilantro

  1. Lay the skirt steak (cold from the fridge) flat on a plastic cutting board and trim off most of the fat and all of the silver skin. I left a little fat on, to help give the tacos some flavor – the fat is easy to drain off later, once the meat is cooked. After you’ve trimmed the steak, cut it into large cubes so that it will fit through your meat grinder tube.
  2. Attach your meat grinder attachment to the Kitchen Aid mixer, and install the largest grinding plate. Turn on the mixer, and place a large bowl under the grinder. Feed the meat into the grinder, using the wooden plunger to push the meat down the tube. The grinder will do the rest of the work for you.
  3. Once all of the meat is ground, make the marinade. Combine the chipotle puree, cumin, garlic, onion, cider vinegar and Worcestershire sauce in a bowl. Stir to combine everything. Taste – it should be pretty salty to season all of the meat, and if you think it needs it – add up to 1/2 tsp salt.
  4. Pour the marinade over the meat, and get in there with your hands and mix it all up well. Stash the meat in the fridge, covered, for a couple hours until you’re ready for dinner.
  5. I made homemade tortillas for this feast, so if you’re going to make them yourself, make them before you cook the meat, and then just wrap them in a slightly damp kitchen towel, and put them on a plate in an oven on the lowest setting while you deal with the meat.
  6. Heat a couple of large non-stick skillets over medium-high heat. Sprinkle enough meat into each pan to cover the bottom in one layer – no crowding, so that you’ll be able to brown it. Let the meat cook for a minute, then stir, and cook for one more minute. Scoop the cooked steak out of the pan into a clean casserole with a slotted spoon, and pour off any remaining fat left in the pans. Stash the cooked meat into the oven (on low), in the covered casserole. Return the pans to the heat and cook another batch of steak, repeating the same procedure until all of the meat is cooked.

Serve the tacos with warm tortillas, lime wedges, cilantro, and minced white onion for garnish.

Chicken Posole

We’ve had a wonderful holiday season. Mark and I spent a few days in Michigan with our friends and family, and we’re now enjoying a lazy week at home. Going outdoors beyond walking the dog seems like way too much work at the moment. An afternoon on the couch with a blanket in my lap and a cup of tea in hand while I catch up on one of our favorite shows, Beyond Everest, seems just about right.

I really should be using this time off to spend a few hours on the elliptical machine to work off some of the sugar I ate last week, but it just doesn’t seem to be at the top of my priority list. Next week I know I’ll hit the workouts hard and lose the sugar baby currently attached to my belly. In the meantime, winter weather calls for a little more soup.

I couldn’t get enough of that pork stew I made a couple weeks ago, and then Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks posted her version of a red posole. I decided to get the ingredients ready for another go at this one. I wanted to lighten the calorie load just a touch, so I used some roast chicken in place of the pork. Taking Heidi’s cue, I decided to cook my own hominy – I wasn’t thrilled with the mushy texture of the canned hominy last time.

I found hominy at one of the Hispanic markets in our neighborhood, and it came in broken pieces. Hominy can hog all the space in a pot of soup, so I thought the smaller pieces would be nice. I soaked the corn overnight, and then cooked it up with some aromatics, and it is SO much better than the canned stuff – it has much more corn flavor, but more importantly, it has a nice toothy, firm texture. If you can’t find hominy at your local market, you can order it from the amazing folks at Rancho Gordo.

Chicken Posole
Serves 6

1 cup dried hominy pieces (I used Goya brand)
1 carrot, chunked
1 stalk celery, chunked
1 bay leaf
1/2 onion, whole
2 cloves garlic, whole
1/2 tsp salt
1 T Mexican oregano

Cooking hominy: Place the dried hominy in a large bowl and cover with three inches of water. Soak overnight. After soaking, drain the corn and rinse it. Pour the corn into a 3qt pot, fill with water, and add the carrot, celery, bay leaf, onion, garlic and oregano. Bring to a boil, cook for 30 minutes, then add the salt, and taste a kernel to see if it’s nearly done. It took about 50 minutes to cook the hominy pieces.

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
4 cups chicken stock
1 14oz can fire-roasted tomatoes with chipotles (Muir Glen brand)
1 T oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 T corn flour
3/4 cup frozen sweet corn, thawed
2 T ancho chile powder
2 tsp cumin, ground
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp coriander, ground
cooked hominy
cilantro – garnish
salt to taste

  1. Cooking the chicken: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then place in a roasting pan in the oven and roast for 35 minutes. Remove, and set aside to cool while you chop the veggies for the rest of the soup.
  2. Soup: Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot and bell pepper to the pot and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Sprinkle the corn flour over the vegetables, then add the garlic, ancho chile powder, cumin, smoked paprika, cumin and stir for one minute. Add the can of fire roasted tomatoes and stir, cooking for another 5 minutes to develop the flavors.
  3. Add the chicken stock and cooked hominy. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to gently simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. While the soup cooks, remove the skin and bones from the chicken breasts (stash the bones in the freezer for making chicken stock later), then dice the meat into bite-sized pieces. After the soup has simmered for 20 minutes, add the chicken to the soup and season with salt to taste. Serve each bowl garnished with cilantro.

272 cal/bowl, 80cal from fat, 8g fat, 35mg cholesterol, 790mg sodium, 600mg sodium, 31g carbs, 6g fiber, 10g sugars

Christmas Wishes

Mark, Turbo and I will be hitting the road tomorrow and heading to Michigan for a few days with our families. We have much to be thankful for this year. We’re particularly looking forward to our first Christmas with our newly HUGE family, now that Mark’s Dad got married and we have new siblings and nieces and nephews – it’s going to be a joyful Christmas for our family!

My Christmas wish when we travel to Detroit is always the same – to make it through a holiday without getting glutened. It’s much harder than you’d think, and every holiday buffet table contains peril – not just in the dishes I know I cannot eat, but from an errant spoon or fork dipping into my dishes with a crumb of wheat on it. The tiniest morsel of gluten can make me sick these days. So say a prayer for me and my nephew Matthew that we make it through the holidays healthy and happily eating our own special gluten-free goodies.

Speaking of goodies – here’s what we’ll be eating in the next few days:

Gluten-free Rugelach
Recipe from the genius GlutenFreeGirl
These rugelach are amazing – flaky, buttery, and filled with goodness. I made 2 batches of rugelach – two savory flavors and two sweet for the various potlucks we’ll be going to. For the savory fillings I used basil pesto and parmesan for one, and a puree of oven-roasted tomatoes, toasted pinenuts and feta. It’s taking all my willpower to not gobble them up before we leave! For the sweet varieties, I did one with bourbon maple cranberry puree and one with cinnamon sugar and minced dried tart cherries.

Chewy Chocolate Cookies
Recipe from Emily – The View from the 32nd Floor
I love these cookies – this is the third time I’ve made them. Perfect, chewy bites, rich with serious chocolate flavor – they’re like eating the edges of gooey brownies, and super simple to make. I dressed them up for the holidays with pieces of mints leftover from the mint chocolate ice cream.

Wild Rice with Mushrooms
This dish requires no recipe – Sautee some onions and garlic, then add to a pot with 2 cups wild rice blend, water, chicken stock, thyme and salt, and cook until tender. Top with mushrooms sauteed with olive oil and thyme and a bit of parsley. Perfect side dish for any holiday table.

Sweet Potato Crisp
with Bacon
Recipe from November 2009
I already swooned over this one at Thanksgiving, and it was so good, we’ll be having this one with Christmas dinner (Mom’s making prime rib – YUM!).

Oven Roasted Tomato & Feta Spread, Basil Pesto & Goat Cheese Spread
Serve with gluten free crackers

Have you made these oven roasted tomatoes yet? I’ve got quite a stash of them in the freezer, so I made one of the rugelach fillings with a puree of my roasted tomatoes, feta, red pepper flakes and toasted pine nuts. I had some leftover, and munched on it for lunch with some Mary’s Gone Crackers, so I decided I’d save the rest for our Christmas Eve buffet. I paired it with the leftover pesto from the other rugelach filling and whipped it with some plain goat cheese – instant appetizer!

Ancho Chile Pork Stew

I have to thank my friend Heather from the Chik n’ Pastry blog for a couple of posts that have definitely been the high points of the winter eating season thus far in our kitchen. First, Heather posted a recipe for Chinese Char Siu Pork, which we enjoyed last night (and I’ll tell you all about that a little later on). Then, Heather posted a recipe for an ancho chile pork stew, and I knew I had to make that one too. Add to that a very excellent sausage pizza I made Friday night, and we’ve been enjoying a little bit of a pork-fest this weekend – but that’s not a bad thing.

This is a pretty simple stew to put together, and once you’ve got the meat browned, it’s done in under an hour and ready for the table and warming your belly. The flavors of the stew are somewhere between a Texas-style chili and a Mexican caldo – bold, spicy with a thick broth that is perfect for mopping up with some gluten-free corn bread. We’ll happily be enjoying the leftovers for lunches this week.

Ancho Chile Pork Stew
Serves 6
Adapted from Chik n’ Pastry, which was adapted from Cooking Light, December 2009

2 T ancho chile powder
1 T dried oregano
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 t salt
2 lbs pork stew meat, in bite-sized cubes
2 T oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
3 cloves minced garlic
1 28-oz can hominy, drained
3 c chicken stock
1 14 oz can fire-roasted chipotle petite-diced tomatoes, undrained (Muir Glenn)
cilantro for garnish

  1. Combine ancho powder, oregano, paprika, cumin and salt in a large bowl (set aside 1.5 tsp spice mixture) and add in pork, tossing well to coat.
  2. Heat 1 T oil in Dutch oven over med-hi heat. add 1/3 of the pork in one layer and cook 2 minutes, then turn the pork pieces over, sear for 2 more minutes. Then, remove the pork to a clean bowl. Add a little more oil if needed, then add another 1/3 of the pork to the pot and sear for 2 minutes on both sides. Remove pork and set aside, then sear the last batch of pork, then add the last of the pork to the bowl you’ve set aside.
  3. Add 1 tsp oil to the empty pot and add onion, pepper, garlic. saute 5 minutes or until tender, stirring often to get all of the good browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Return pork to the pot and add remaining spice mixture, broth, hominy, tomatoes; bring to a boil. Partially cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 45 minutes. Serve and garnish with cilantro.

386 cal per bowl, 120cal from fat, 13.9g fat, 75mg cholesterol, 960mg sodium, 290mg potassium, 29g carbs, 4g fiber, 9g sugars, 37g protein

Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Risotto

Years ago, before we were married, there was a dish that was the favorite in our home. I called it Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Pastina, and I had adapted it the Travigne Cookbook, one of the first cookbooks I purchased after moving to Chicago. It was a pretty simple dish – a pureed sauce of roasted red bell peppers, jalepenos and roasted garlic, folded into beautiful little orbs of pastina cooked in broth. If you can eat wheat, try cooking Pastina sometime. It’s the smallest kind of pasta you can buy – it looks like couscous’ big brother, and cooks up into plump little balls. A simple sauce clings to the pastina beautifully. I would usually top the dish with a few shrimp that had been sauteed with garlic and olive oil. YUM.

I hadn’t thought about this dish in many years – giving up wheat, I’d tossed this old favorite into the dustbin of memory, until Mark inquired about it a few days ago. They don’t make rice pastina that I’ve seen, so I decided to dust the cobwebs off the central idea of the recipe – roasted peppers – and turn it into a risotto. The results were just as tasty as the pastina, and now we have an old favorite back on the menu.

To put a new twist on the recipe, I decided to make the risotto in the rice cooker…a technique which I am dubbing “fancy lazyfood.” Making a risotto without standing at the stove for 35 minutes?! Sign me up! The finished texture of the dish is a little softer than you’d get with the slow stirred stove-top method, but I can give that up for a nice weeknight meal if it frees me from the stove so that I can catch up on 30 Rock while rocking out on the elliptical machine. If you’re making this on the stovetop, refer back to my mushroom risotto recipe for the basic technique, and just add the red pepper puree when the rice is nearly done. Tip: I made the sauce over the weekend, so all I had to do when I got home was take care of the rice.

Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Risotto

Serves 3

4 Red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and de-seeded
3 jalepenos, roasted, peeled and de-seeded
4 cloves garlic, roasted, peeled
salt to taste
cayenne to taste

  1. Preheat the broiler. Put the red peppers, jalepenos and garlic (in their skins) on a pan. Place under the broiler on the top shelf for 5 minutes, until the tops of the peppers begin to blacken. Using tongs, turn the peppers onto an un-charred side and broil for another 5 minutes until the second side of the peppers is blackened. Turn the peppers again and broil until the third side is roasted. When the peppers are pretty well charred on all sides, move the peppers and garlic to a mixing bowl, cover with a plate or lid, and let the peppers rest for 5 minutes. The heat from the peppers will steam the skins loose.
  2. After five minutes, you should be able to easily peel and de-seed the peppers, and take the skins off the garlic. Put the peppers and their juices and the garlic cloves into a food processor or mini-prep and puree until smooth. Add salt to taste, and a few sprinkles of cayenne if it’s not spicy enough. Set aside. You will have some sauce leftover if you’re making a small batch of risotto – freeze it, or use it as a pizza sauce, or toss with some noodles for another night.

3/4 cup + 2 T aborio rice
1/2 onion, diced
1 T olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock, heated
pinch of saffron
1/2 tsp salt (only needed if using homemade, unsalted stock)

Garnish: sauteed shrimp and parmesan cheese

Rice Cooker Risotto:

  1. Note: I have a fancy “fuzzy logic” (don’t ask me what that means) rice cooker that has a porridge setting that I used to cook the rice – a regular rice cooker should take 25-35 minutes to do the risotto.
  2. Heat your stock in the microwave until it’s nearly boiling. Warm 3/4 cup of the red pepper sauce in the micro (does not need to be boiling).
  3. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 T olive oil, then add the onions and saute for 3 minutes, until translucent. Add the rice to the pan, and stir around for 2-3 more minutes until the rice is well coated in oil and a little bit toasted. Add the wine to the pan, and stir until the wine is absorbed.
  4. Scoop the rice mixture into the bowl of your rice cooker, and add the stock, salt (if needed) and the saffron. Close the lid on the rice cooker and cook on the porridge setting. It did not need a full cooking cycle – it cooked for about 35-40 minutes in my machine, and I did stir it once mid-cycle just to check on things. When it’s done, taste, add a little more salt if needed, and serve in bowls with freshly grated parmesan, and top with a few sauteed shrimp if you’re feeling extra fancy.

Indian Spiced Red Lentil and Rice Soup

On my way home from a long week in the office this evening, I somehow managed to get a train without heat. December is giving us a cold start to the holiday season here in Chicago, so between the meat locker-like train and the walk home, I needed something to thaw my chilled bones. The Friday night fridge is a lean proposition since I go to the market on Saturdays; dinner was either going to be another round of bacon-egg-slurry or some kind of soup since I had a quart of stock sitting in the fridge waiting for inspiration.

Heidi Swanson posted a recipe for Red Lentil Soup a couple months ago that seemed intriguing. I’d filed it in the back of my mind on the “culinary to-do list,” but didn’t give it another thought until my friend Emily tweeted that she loved the soup and had already made two pots of it. I trust Emily’s opinions on soup, so I knew this one had to be on the menu soon.

This lentil soup doesn’t call for much in the way of ingredients, so I chopped an onion and some garlic and was on my way. I decided to give Heidi’s recipe an Indian twist with some freshly toasted and ground spices, and WOW, it really turned up the volume on the flavor in the soup. I love Indian daals, and this is very reminiscent of those flavors. This is a case where I would definitely recommend toasting and grinding the spices yourself – you want the flavors to be fresh and bold. Brown mustard seeds are one of my favorite Indian spices, and I don’t use them nearly enough – they add a peppery heat and totally change the character of the cumin and coriander in the dish, making a perfect harmony of heat and spice.

The soup cooks up pretty quickly and with minimal fuss, so you can easily make this on a weeknight. I also made some Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Cornbread to go with the soup. And I think that a bowl of soup and warm homemade bread is the perfect kick-off to the weekend.

Indian Red Lentil and Rice Soup
Serves 4
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Spice mix:
1 T brown mustard seeds, divided
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

2 T coconut oil or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 T parsley (dried or fresh)
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/3 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1/2 cup brown rice
squeeze of lemon juice, or a tablespoon or two of red wine or champagne vinegar
salt to taste

Garnish: toasted slivered almonds, chopped cilantro

  1. Heat a small pan over medium heat. Pour the whole spices into the pan – cumin, coriander, peppercorns, red pepper flakes and half of the mustard seeds. Toast for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan often so that the spices don’t burn. When they begin to get fragrant, pour the spices into your spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind to a coarse powder. Set aside.
  2. In a big soup pot, over medium heat, add the coconut oil, remaining whole brown mustard seeds, onion and a pinch of salt. Saute the onions slowly and let them caramelize a bit, stirring occasionally – about 10 minutes of cooking time. When they start to brown, add the garlic and toasted spice mix. Stir for another minute or two, and when the spices are warm and very fragrant, add the chicken (or vegetable) stock. Cover, and bring to a boil.
  3. When the pot is boiling, add the lentils, rice and parsley. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and cook until the rice is tender – about an hour. Stir the soup occasionally as it simmers. The red lentils will break down into almost a puree and will thicken the soup. If the pot gets too thick for you, add a little water. When the rice is tender, season the soup with salt to taste and a squeeze of lemon juice or vinegar to brighten the flavor of the lentils, then serve. Garnish each bowl with toasted almonds and chopped cilantro.

470 cal per serving, 90cal from fat, 10g fat, 10mg cholesterol, 540 mg sodium, 490 mg potassium, 69g carbs, 11g fiber, 10g sugars, 26.3g protein

Cranberries with Bourbon

I have to subject you to one more Thanksgiving-ish recipe before I move on to other things. I saw the recipe for this cranberry sauce on The Kitchen Sink (another fabulous Chicago blogger), and trust me – you need to make this sauce. Cranberries have always been my favorite thing about Thanksgiving – Mom would make this great raw cranberry and orange zest relish that I always loved – so tart that it made the back of your jaw sting just a little. And really, we need to eat cranberries more than once a year – they’re a local and seasonal treat that can go far beyond being the sad sidekick for the Thanksgiving turkey.

This year, I wanted a cranberry dish that was a bit more mellow, so that it would go nicely on leftover turkey sandwiches – this recipe fit the bill perfectly. I added the zest and juice from a tangerine to the original recipe, and cut the sugar in half, as I still like a little pucker to my cranberries. And since Thanksgiving, I’ve made 2 more batches of the cranberries, as it has become my favorite topping for my morning bowl of steel cut oats.

Bourbon Maple Cranberries
Makes 2 cups, 1/4 cup per serving

Adapted from
Bon Apetit

1 package of fresh cranberries (12 oz)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup sugar
juice of one small tangerine
zest from tangerine, peeled
2 T bourbon

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients except burbon in a small baking dish. Bake uncovered until cranberries are tender and sugar is dissolved, stirring once, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in bourbon. Refrigerate cranberry sauce and serve however you like – on a turkey sandwich, on morning oatmeal, or by the spoonful! Will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge.

88 cal per 1/4 cup serving, 0 cal from fat, 0g fat, 20g carbs, 2g fiber, 18g sugar