Summer Risotto

Quick – think of the flavors of summer. What foods do you identify with summer? For me it will always be tomato, corn and peach and I would guess most people have at least one of those, if not all three in their mind. So what better way to celebrate summer than have a risotto (cause it is actually easy to make and very filling and generally has leftover) with the flavors of summer. Okay, there are no peaches in this, but a nice peach salad would not be out of place here.

Recipe*:

  • 1 cup aboro rice
  • ~ 4 cups vegetable broth (you may not need it all)
  • 1 ear fresh sweet corn
  • 3 plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 sweet onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 1/2 cup hard grating cheese (I like pecorino)
  • 1 stalk basil
  • salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

In a small to medium pot, heat vegetable broth. While the broth heats, cut the corn kernels from the cob, then cut the cob to fit into the pot. Simmer the vegetable broth and corn cobs.

Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Pick the basil leaves and cut into small ribbons. Grate the cheese. Using the same grater, grate the tomatoes.

In a large pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil. When oil is hot, add the onions and cook, stirring frequently until the are soft, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook about one minute. Add rice and toss to coat. Cook about 1-2 minutes until rice is toasty. Add tomatoes and mix well. If using, add wine and cook over medium heat until evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove corn cobs from broth. Add 1/2 – 2/3 cup broth and mix with rice/tomato mixture. Cook, stirring often, until broth is absorbed. Add broth ~1/2 cup at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Stir with each addition. Continue adding broth until rice is cooked – it should take between three and four cups of broth. As you add the last 1/2 cup of broth, add the corn. When rice is cooked and corn is heated through, remove from heat and add 1/2 of the basil and about 1/3 cup of cheese. Mix everything together well and adjust seasoning as needed.

Plate and top with more cheese and the remaining basil.

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This is an Alinea (the cat) approved dish. She even joined us at the table in hopes of getting a bit for herself.

*This was adapted from a New York Times Cooking recipe.

Cloud Break, Petite Syrah – 2016

  • Basic info: Cloud Break, Petite Syrah, California – 2016
  • Type: Red
  • Price estimate: $9.50 (Total Wine)
  • Look: Dark red with some staining on the glass. Good legs and almost opaque in the glass.
  • Smell: Wine. Nothing very discernible on the nose.
  • Taste: Dark berries. Smooth and very fruit forward. Really short finish with a hint of leather on the back end.
  • Conclusions: Eh. I drank most of the glass with my dinner (it went pretty well with grilled cheese, but not well at all with the cucumber salad) but didn’t end up finishing the wine.
  • Other notes: This was a bottle I picked up because Petite Syrah is one of the few “major” varietals that I haven’t tried since I started keeping track. I remember really not liking Petite Syrah – too woody, too earthy and a bit bitter – so it wasn’t one that I was trying to get to. However, when at Total Wine, I broke down and picked up a bottle. If you had put the glass in front of me with no indication of the wine, I would have called it as a Merlot. It had the fruitiness of Merlot and none of the heavy characteristics I generally associate with Syrahs of any kind. After about half a glass, it also tasted a bit like doctored wine. The kind of wine that has so much chemistry added after nature does its thing that it is very generic. I want to say there is nothing wrong with that, but really, it didn’t taste great.
  • From the bottle: “From the last rains of winter to the flowing of spring vines, nothing is as exciting as the cycle of the vineyard and the promise of new wine. This year’s near perfect combination of long warm days and cool evenings produced a gorgeous wine with ripe, concentrated fruit flavors, a rich texture and a great length.” 13% alcohol by volume.

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I need a hobby

Summer is great, especially as a teacher. A good amount of time off to get all those things done around the house that get put off throughout the school year, I know I’m incredibly lucky to have the time, but after a few weeks, I get bored. I need something to occupy my time and my mind. I’ve already done a few projects outdoors but it is now too hot to work on any more of those, even first thing in the morning. Okay, it’s not too hot, but it is way too humid. I’ve done most of the indoor projects and am not certain I want to tackle redoing the grout in the bathroom – that may be a step too far even for me.

Last year I had grad school and an internship and studying for my state exam. I did all of that and still ended up with two extra kittens by the end of summer. The year before, I had grad school and the Portland trip – and I ended up with a dog by mid summer. This year I don’t have grad school, don’t have a test to study for and really need something to do. I could go really deep into wine, but my liver (and budget) would not benefit from this option.

So I decided to teach myself knitting. Yep. Knitting. I’ve tried crocheting multiple times – Grandmom tried to teach me, Val tried to teach me and it has never worked for me. Someone told me to try knitting and I always thought they were nuts – I can’t do crafts with one needle, what makes anyone think I could do it with two? But … knitting needles are cheap and I have yarn so why not try. You-tube is a great invention and I watched a bunch of basic “how-to-knit” videos and tried it.

My first attempt – oh my gosh bad. This is not pretty, I don’t care who you are. the casting on was fine – I even learned two different ways to do that in less than an hour, and got pretty good at it. I thought I had the basic knit stitch down until I realized that I had 50% more stitches five rows in than I started with – this was a depressing revelation. Back to You-tube to figure out what I did wrong, try a different type of needle and be very patient and … I did it! I actually knit a square that looks like knitting. Yes, I know this isn’t earth-shattering, but it is the start of a mini project for myself – something to keep me occupied and busy before the school year starts again.

In just under a week, I’ve managed to create a few actual squares of knitting that look like knitting. There are issues and some mistakes, but I keep going. I’m not aiming for perfection with this project, just a good place to learn. I have to practice patience and be really aware of what I’m doing on each row, but so far, it isn’t bad. It’s not fantastic, but I’m pretty proud of myself for getting this far.

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Right now I’m still on the basic knit stitch, but I’m hoping to move to the purl stitch next week. Who knows, but the end of summer, I may have a little lap blanket. Whatever I end up with, I’m pretty happy with it – and the cats have something to try to play with as I knit. Just like when I do yoga, they are the obstacle to be worked around that makes it that much more fun. Frustrating, but fun.

 

Breakfast for Dinner

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on all of those projects around the house that need attention, but get neglected during the school year. These projects (cleaning out closets and cabinets, weeding the yard, cleaning the patio and patio furniture, cleaning out the garage etc.) leave me tired, yet oddly energized. On the days where I did more work than normal, it’s easy dinner and one of my favorite easy dinners is breakfast.

The original intent on this was a casserole, but I decided to do more of a hash. Potatoes, roasted vegetables, cheese and eggs – you kind of can’t go wrong. The potatoes could be roasted in the oven for crisper potatoes, but since I wanted to roast the vegetables, I boiled them first, then pan fried them in butter with a little onion and garlic. The vegetables are pretty simple – asparagus, tomato and yellow squash. The best part of this dinner is that is just uses what is on hand and can be changed based on that. I also used pre-shredded cheese for this in part because I had it on hand, and in part because I thought it fit the dish. I didn’t really want fancy cheese for this.

Recipe:

  • 1/2 pint potato
  • 1 ripe tomato
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 1 handful asparagus
  • 1/4 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 eggs
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 handful shredded mozzarella
  • 1 handful shredded cheddar

Heat oven to 400. Dice tomato, onion, and garlic. Cut asparagus and potatoes into bite size pieces. toss tomato, asparagus and squash in a little olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and bake in oven for about 20 minutes, tossing half way through.

Boil potatoes for about 15 minutes, until just cooked. In a large pan, heat butter and when foamy, add onion and garlic. Season with salt and cook over medium heat until onion softens, about five minutes, then add potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook, tossing a few times, to crisp – about ten minutes. Once vegetables are cooked, mix together and toss the potatoes with the vegetables on baking sheet.

Mix eggs well with a fork and then cook in the same pan as the potatoes (after transferring the potatoes) making sure to season with salt and pepper. Eggs cook quickly, so cook unit just beginning to set, the take off the heat – they will finish cooking.

To plate – put a base of potato/vegetable mixture on the pate and top with a handful of mixed cheddar and mozzarella cheese. Add half the egg to the top.

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Domaine Chavy-Chouet, Bourgogne Blanc – 2016

  • Basic info: Domaine Chavy-Chouet “Les Saussots” Chardonnay, Burgundy, France – 2016
  • Type: White
  • Price estimate: $22 (Somm Select)
  • Look: Pale yellow that is almost clear at the edges. No noticeable legs.
  • Smell: Pineapple and apricot
  • Taste: Round. good acidity but soft in the mouth with flavors of melon, pineapple, white peach, white cherry and granite. Medium finish with apple and more mineral.
  • Conclusions: I was really surprised with this wine. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it, but the description sounded good and I decided to try it. I am really glad I did. It was a great wine to have with dinner and it went well with food (can’t remember what I paired it with) but it was equally as good sitting on the couch watching tv later in the evening. I just wish I had picked up more than one bottle of this.
  • Other notes: I almost didn’t get this wine. There was an issue with the case of various wines that I ordered (I won’t go into details). I was frustrated and ready to cross Somm Select off my list of places to order wine from. But I was contacted by the company and not only did Connor understand why I was frustrated, he did everything he could to make it right. I can not tell you how much I appreciated the phone call – an actual phone call, not an email or text – to explain what happened and everything he did in the name of customer service. He went well above and beyond what I would have expected so rather than cross Somm Select off my list of places to order wine from, it’s gotten bumped up on the “go to” list. It also helps that the wines are generally fantastic, and this one is no different. This is one of those wines that makes you remember why you drink wine for the pure enjoyment of the experience.
  • From the bottle: No bottle notes, but from Somm Select, ” Alluring aromas of quince, yellow apple skin, white peach, preserved lemon, citrus blossoms, and pineapple core shine through, followed by notes of crushed chalk, wet stone, hazelnut, slight cream, and delicately-woven baking spices. The medium-bodied palate is soft and elegant – near crisp in style – but with rich layers. Nervy stone mineralogy and fresh waves of acid sit in perfect harmony with a delicate core of just-ripe, and finely textured fruits.” 12.5% alcohol by volume.

Fre Chardonnay – NV

  • Basic info: Sutter Homes Winery, Fre Alcohol Removed Chardonnay, California – No Vintage
  • Type: White
  • Price estimate: $8 (grocery store)
  • Look: Very pale yellow with a tint of green
  • Smell: Apple juice and white grapes (Bob’s comment was that it was just hard.)
  • Taste: Soured apple juice, sour grape, maybe a little pear if I’m being generous. Very sweet finish.
  • Conclusions: I won’t say this was undrinkable, but it was pretty much not wine. If you told me it was apple juice I’d have thought it was bad. Give it to me as a glass of wine and I’m holding on to it all night and not drinking more than a sip every now and then. If you just want something sweet to drink, there are way better options. I’m not even sure I would cook with this and I certainly didn’t finish the glass.
  • Other notes: Yes, I realize this is not wine and it is almost blasphemous to post it here, but I did. I like wine. I really like wine, but I don’t always like drinking alcohol and I was looking for non-alcoholic options for when I want a glass or two, but don’t want to drink. You know, something to sip on while sitting on the couch watching whatever superhero show Bob has on. I’ve had some sparking non-alcoholic wines before that were actually pretty good – no they won’t pass for Champaign but they were perfectly enjoyable. I was really hoping to find an option in still wine that would be the same, but oh, this just was not.
  • From the bottle: (Their marketing department did a fantastic job with the bottle notes … just saying.) “The sophisticated alternative. With its deep golden hue, and lively tropical fruit flavors that waft from the glass, our alcohol-removed Chardonnay makes any occasion special. Rich, creamy apple flavors mingle with crisp citrus notes on your palate, concluding with an enjoyable tart finish.” 24% juice, <0.5% alcohol.

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Peach Cupcakes

I love peaches, especially fresh from the grove peaches. Growing up we waited for the peach harvest to start and picked up peaches by the dozen from the road side stands near the house. Fresh Jersey peaches (yes, Jersey – they really have the best peaches, sorry Georgia) just whispered “it’s summer” from the smell alone.

The first set of peaches I picked up at the farmer’s market this year were good – really good and tasted like sweet, juicy peaches should taste. The second batch I acquired were … less than wonderful and I had a hard time eating them. I thought about making a peach pie, but I hate the texture of cooked fruit (I know, weird, but I just can’t do it). I considered peach pudding and peach shortcake, but I decided to try peach cupcakes with peach buttercream. Oh my. Yeah. That was the way to go.

To make the peach puree, I peeled the peaches, cut them up, added a squeeze of lemon and a tablespoon of maple syrup since they were not that sweet. Blend well and there you have it – peach puree.

Cupcake Recipe:

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup peach pure
  • 1/4 cup cream (or whole milk)
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

With a mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and continue mixing until well incorporated. Add peach puree and mix, then add 1/2 flour, baking powder and the salt. Mix well then add the cream and then the rest of the flour. Scrape the sides of the bowls and mix one last time.

Divide mixture between 12 lined muffin/cupcake tins – each tin should be about 1/2 full. Bake in 350 degree oven for 18-20 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Buttercream Recipe:

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter at room temperature (could use a little less for stiffer buttercream)
  • 1/3 cup peach puree
  • 1 1/2 cup confectioners sugar (more for stiffer buttercream)

img_20180620_112329Mix butter and peach puree with a mixer on medium high speed until light and fluffy. Add confectioners sugar, 1/2 cup at a time and mix well to incorporate.

Cool cupcakes completely before icing. These may need to be refrigerated as the icing is a little thin. Use slightly less butter or slightly more confectioners sugar for stiffer icing, but don’t skimp on the puree – it had a fantastic flavor.