Tag Archives: The Ultimate Justifier

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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On Flowers and Food Processors: A Fall in Review

13 Jan

Considering I am The Ultimate Justifier (seriously, throw me your conscience’s roadblocks, I’ll blast them apart with my shaky moral chainsaw faster than you can yell VICE!), the truly bizarre San Francisco winter/summer parallel would be enough for me to jump right back in like no time had passed whatsoever since my last post. But, skipping over the many months of milestones that have kept me busy since – or at least the meals I made during – would belie the bite-sized lessons I’ve learned over their course. So, since you didn’t ask, some highlights:

1. Don’t be a tool. Or, don’t worry so much about yours.

The setting: A Friday afternoon that finds me deliciously not at the office, but rather in the midst of a Los Angeles Indian Summer. Relishing the idea of playing housewife to my beloved Telanor Kousman, out slaving away on his glamorous Hollywood set, I want to find a dish that’s not only appropriate for the heat, but that will showcase a true labor of love in the rare daylight I’ve stolen. Spying the base of a food processor under his butcher’s block, I decide to cobble together my take on Jamaican Jerk Chicken – more or less this New York Times recipe but with four hours of marinating instead of 12. Apparently, house-wifery requires advance planning.

So, I drag my sweating, sundressed-self to the supermarket to gather my fresh fixings (three different kinds of hot peppers, green onions, shallots, ginger, garlic and thyme), clean and prep them, de-shoe so as to be appropriately barefoot, and set them all triumphantly in front of the food processor, ready to grind them into the “course paste” the paper demands.

Only… where’s the damn blade? I look for an hour. Sticky and defeated, I’m about to give up and trek to Joans on Third for some absurdly fancy and correspondingly priced charcuterie (which let’s be real, I did anyway), when it dawns on me – did the Maroons dragged to Jamaica as slaves who created this dish  have food processors???

No. No, they did not.

So, two hours (/two conference calls) later, knife skills vastly improved, I had my precious paste. Did it look perfect? No. Did it taste incredible? Yes. Did I find the missing blade while cleaning up after dinner hours later? Of course.

Since I don’t have a photo of that particular creation (my Blackberry was angry enough at having to pretend to function while smothered in honey and hot pepper juices – this was my passive-agressive way of punishing it at this point in our relationship), here’s another following the same principle. Martha Stewart’s Winter Fruit Crisp, valiantly executed with not a cheese cloth or electric mixer in sight.

(what’s left of) Madge’s Winter Fruit Crisp

As you can see, it was enjoyed – with nary a comment on clumpy topping. Granted, I made it for my boyfriend, who is arguably obligated to tell me it’s delicious if he wants the real sugar… but he did have three servings, take the rest home and ask me to help him translate the recipe into Arabic for his sister, so I guess we’ll take his word for it.

2. Recycling: Not just for your Diet Coke can; Or, the Evolution of a Saturday Dinner.

Turns out, recycling is also ideal for the paella made for two that you both somehow thought would be a fitting amount:

Miss Aarti, or now truly “Spicy in the City” in her awesome new Marina digs, is one of my absolute favorite cooking buddies, but we do seem to share a rather unfortunate quantity-gauging problem…

In our defense, I’m not sure which 4 – 6 people Mark Bittman, whom I love, intended to serve this yellow rice abundance. Perhaps they are professional class salsa dancers? (I’d say sumo wrestlers, but Marky just seems more refined.)

In any case, I was able to add the ridiculous amount of leftovers (less the tomatoes which became a bit soggy) to a bit of sauteed garlic and tomato paste in my Dutch Oven, split a few cherry tomatoes over the top, and rebake for an even more flavorful, crispier go the following night.

In its second life, the rice served as the perfect base to soak up the juices from Martha’s Clam Pan Roast with Sausage & Fennel, which I made as a Sunday evening dinner for my seafood-loving boyfriend (should there be any other kind?). Seriously though, click through to Madge’s little photo. Great little serving for two, right? Ha. I was eating that rice and sausage (Moh took care of all the clams that actually opened like they were supposed to, briny little bastards) for lunch and dinner for the next two days.

And the potatoes? They were soaked in a slick, delicious broth too good to waste but hadn’t quite cooked through, so I saved them in their own Tupperware. Two nights later, the lovely Carrie came up the street and we halved them again and “olive oiled” them (it’s like pan-frying, but makes me feel better about my life – try it sometime) for a good long time. We ate those damn tasty taters alongside my favorite buttermilk chicken, with a cornbread-ing this time around, and a salad. Which I then had for lunch the next day, with the rest of the potatoes, sauteed spinach and poached eggs doing just fine for a quick, cheap dinner that night.

Moral of the long-winded story? What started as one meal rolled along into feeding me and several other people for the better part of the week. Your food might really hit its stride the second time around.

3. Stop talking, Katie.

Seriously. I had some more lessons planned but even I’m sick of me. And since I’m actually sick, I’m justyifing retiring with my Vitamin-C system shock smoothie (thanks Moh! He threw peeled fresh oranges, lemons and honey into my blender and I feel ten times better already) and last night’s Top Chef (although I swear if Jamie doesn’t FINALLY pack her knives and go, I will).

But I’ll be back, well before the SF fog at long last rolls out for the refreshing spring we all know will come soon enough. Promise.

You're right, EShea, this is pretty much my jam these days. Sometimes a picture is worth more than the 1000+ words that came before it 🙂