Tag Archives: dinner

Weeknight-Chic Champagne Risotto

15 Apr

I have become a firm believer in celebrating life’s little wins. There’s nothing like a bottle of sparkling wine to transform a Thursday night from the final day in the weekend countdown into an evening worthy of savoring.

Depending on on how many people you’ve invited to your personal pop-up party, you may wind up with some leftover less-than-bubbly. After all, this is a weekday indulgence – and waking up with a brick on your forehead would pretty much defeat the purpose. So rather than pour that extra glitter (that one’s for you, @itsamich!) to waste, why not use that last bit of liquid gold to elevate your next meal with effortless elegance?

Wanting to capture the richness of celebratory flavor without decimating any semblance of virtuosity – and yes, also having just dropped a $20 on a lusciously extravagant non-neccesity – I decided to make a champagne risotto so as to make going the meat-free route easy. I consulted Cooking Light, which I’ve come to rely on as a resource for expert shortcuts to lighten up heavy favorites, where I found a basic recipe from which I gave myself the freedom to improvise. The recipe uses feta cheese to provide the risotto’s requisite creaminess, reserving the parm as a topping, where it will leave a lingering taste impact for minimal calories.

Weeknight-chic champagne risotto.

As I hovered over my stovetop leisurely laboring over this notorious attention-hog of a classic, I  was viscerally struck with a memory of my first attempt at risotto. Now the stuff of culinary legend amongst my beautiful and amazing roommates of the time, it’s pretty incredible to think back on that Sunday evening almost four years ago when to cook what I thought was the ultimate in classy family dinner  I donned a sparkly thriftstore dress and secondhand heels, dumped some stuff in a nonstick sautee pan over very barely there heat, and an hour later served raw rice to my nearest dearest.

Some things never change - I've always been prone to the kitchen dance party.

While I can’t say I do much Sunday afternoon “menu planning” while throwing back Baileys’ at the Gold Cane these days, I guess it’s not quite fair to say I’ve just discovered the value of turning the ordinary into the revelatory. Four years and a dozen or so risottos later, it just looks – and thankfully, tastes – more than a little different.

Where would we be without Facebook? Spring 2008.

Weeknight-Chic Champagne Risotto

*Adapted from Cooking Light’s Champagne-Feta Risotto; I also doubled the recipe so we would have leftovers. The champagne and the feta infuse this rich dish with a tanginess perfectly cut by interlaced  sweet peas and economically bulked up with some spinach.

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 9 for a serving size of 1 cup risotto, topped with grated parm cheese; This recipe will make 8 WWP+ servings (or, 2 – 3 Katie servings and 5 – 6 Moh servings)

  • 2 cans of fat free chicken broth (note: you could easily use veggie stock and make this vegetarian. I think canned veggie broth has a weird, tinny flavor that detracts from finished dishes but it’s so easy to make your own – just boil some carrots and onions with salt for a while and then strain it – I think it’s worth it.)
  • a shake or two of some dried herb of choice – I used oregano
  • however much champagne you have left – between 3/4 cup and 2 cups will probably work best*
  • a tablespoon of olive oil
  • 3 shallots
  • 2 cups of arborio rice
  • 1 6-oz. container of crumbled feta cheese
  • a handful or two of frozen peas
  • a cup or two of chopped spinach (I used fresh but frozen would work fine)

*Quality Control Note: While it doesn’t matter so much for the cooking, do yourself right when you’re toasting you. You don’t have to break out the Veuve, but please don’t defeat the purpose and settle for Andres – I find Mumm Napa, a few steps up from Cook’s, a solid compromise.

  1. Combine the chicken broth, the herb and some of the champagne (you’ll want to save 3/4 – 1 cup, so just use whatever else you have – you can also add some white wine if you have an open bottle), along with a cup or so of water, in a pot. Bring to a low, steady simmer (don’t boil).
  2. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven (ideally, you want something ceramic or with a pretty thick bottom. tee hee.) over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, sautee the shallots for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and toast for a couple minutes, stirring so that each baby grain gets some heat loving.
  3. Pour the champagne over the rice. Enjoy the hiss. Stir until it has been completely soaked up. When it has, add a cup of the simmering broth. Repeat. Just keep on repeating and, as Marcella Hazan my Italian demigoddess advises, start tasting after about 15 minutes.
  4. When it’s just about done – which is when the rice is still a bit chewy and toothsome but resting within a fluffy cloud of soft deliciousness – rinse your frozen peas under warm water for a minute, shake them dry, and add them. Stir in and cook for another minute.
  5. Add the feta and stir well.
  6. Add the chopped spinach and stir well.
  7. Top each portion with grated parm cheese and serve alongside a simple green salad (I just did balsamic, olive oil and fresh lemon juice).

Don't worry, this is a baby first helping 🙂

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Abuhamad’s Mujaddara (mmm,jeddarah!)

10 Mar

Time definitely flies when you’re having fun. It flies even faster when that involves getting engaged, promoted, married and 15 pounds lighter. While I haven’t been writing, I’ve been digging right in and helping myself to the incredible changes life has served me.

One of the most amazing things about the past few months has been the welcome with open arms from my new family.  Lucky for my me, my husband and my faithful handful of dear readers, my amazing father-in-law lives just blocks away and has also welcomed me with an open kitchen. Since our wedding, I’ve had the pleasure of  spending Sunday nights peering over his shoulder into a giant stockpot simmering with crackling olive oil, a generously fragrant fistful of minced garlic, fresh vegetables carried up from the farmers’ market and  stewed lamb falling softly from its lovingly butchered bones.

Baba in his kitchen.

The cooking I’ve grown up with and so from which have felt most comfortable to experiment tends to involve a lot of “a la minute” sauteeing (clearly, I’ve been watching Top Chef while I plug away on PR plans this week). Watching my mom from across our granite counter at home, this coordination of colorful sides is casually but carefully timed. In my own closet of a kitchen, it’s frantic, leaving a trail of overturned prep bowls in its too-tiny wake. But the Middle Eastern cooking my Abuhamed has shown me is elegant, leisurely, leaving us time to put up our feet while the rice steams away, he smokes a forbidden cigarette and I try to memorize, fascinated, the lips of the characters on Arabic TV.

Moh and Baba "resting" while rice cooks.

It’s clear where my husband’s love of food comes from. One of my first and most distinct memories of talking to Abuhamad (“father of Mohammad”) is the way he described the flavor of the olives from the trees where he grew up in Nablus in the West Bank, when you would wait all year for them to come into season. “There is no olive oil in the world that tastes like where I come from,” he said wistfully. I struggled not to tear up as I witnessed this gentle man recount such a visceral memory of a place he will never again see in his lifetime. Even if he were to return, it wouldn’t be to the place he describes as he skillfully slices onion after onion – one of simple people who never had much, but were content.

One of the traditional dishes they ate there was “Mujaddara.” Some quick Googling reveals variations across the Middle East largely because it meets that universal jackpot of being delicious, healthy, filling, cheap and easy. Comprised primarily of ingredients you always have in your pantry – lentils, rice and cumin topped with onions and served alongside a quick salad of tomatoes, cucumber and lemon – mujaddara is comfort food at its simplest, guilt-free best.

Diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.

Mujaddara

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 2 per 1/4 cup (so divide into 6 servings for 8 points+, or 8 servings for 6 points+)

My camera phone photo is insulting to this dish. There’s a beautiful photo that looks like this version on Avocado Bravado.

  • A cup of brown lentils
  • Double the  rice for lentils  (2 cups will be enough to serve at least 6 people, or 2 people with many, many leftovers)
  • A heaping spoonful of cumin
  • An onion
  • Oil (olive if watching that weight, corn or canola if not)
  • Optional, but better: A dollop of Greek yogurt to serve with (1 WWP+ for 1/4 cup lowfat)

For salad:

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 1 (for every tsp. of olive oil you use)

  • A tomato
  • A cucumber
  • Juice from a fresh lemon
  • Part of a jalapeño
  • Any other veggie you want to use up (like red cabbage)
  • Olive oil (natch)
  1. Soak rice.
  2. Wash lentils (no need to soak them). Pick out and get ride of the uglies.
  3. Put lentils in a big stockpot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 – 7 minutes after it does so; you want the lentils to be just barely cooked, but it’s important that they not get soft yet or they’ll be mushy later.
  4. Rinse rice and add to the pot.
  5. Add cumin.
  6. Adjust water level so it’s where you’d want it if you were cooking rice – just covering it by about a half inch. You might have to add a little water, you might have to scoop some out.
  7. Stir everything. Add a generous pinch (or a small spoonful) of salt.
  8. Just like you would with rice, bring to a boil over highish heat, then cover and bring to a low simmer until rice is cooked.
  9. Meanwhile, slice onion into thin strips.
  10. If serving traditionally/not calorie consciously, fry the onion in corn or canola oil over high heat and dry on paper towels. Or, for my Weight Watchers friendly variation, caramelize the onions. I like to start them in a teaspoon or two of olive oil over fairly high heat, then bring them down to low and cover, stirring occasionally. Let them go until the rice is done.
  11. Prepare the salad. Dice tomatoes, cucumber and whatever else you’re using. If you like heat, cut off the top of the jalapeño and get rid of the seeds and ribbons. Dice into tiny pieces. Add all or part, depending on how spicy it is (and you are).
  12. Squeeze juice of a lemon over the top, toss with a small amount of olive oil, and S&P.
  13. Serve mujaddara with the onions on top, alongside the salad and yogurt.

Fresh diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.