The Children’s Book that Inspired Me to Create this Risotto

The Children’s Book that Inspired Me to Create this Risotto

Occasionally, you stumble across a treasure your busy life would have you overlook. This happened to me last week when hubby forced me into the doctor’s office to get my flu shot. Whaaat… a treasure in a doctor’s office? Yup. As I was waited to get jabbed, I glanced toward the counter and saw a display of books – something to distract from the fact of my being here.

Here’s the backstory. The only reason I had time to get that flu shot was I was supposed to take grandson, Sammy for his birthday shopping trip. But, he got the flu … kinda karma isn’t it? So there I was, sleeve rolled up and nothing to do but page through the literature in an antiseptic lobby.

I spied this book.  Its animated cover drew me in, as did its title, Puppydog Blues. I picked it up, flipped through the pages, and discovered the cutest collection of childhood poems

I have read in a very long time. Nostalgia and irreverent joy overcame me. The story was so very similar to books I’d read to Sammy when he was a baby, and felt blessed to still be reading my newest grandchild, baby Josh.

Take a gander at this sweet, impertinent and intelligently clever writing from Puppydog Blues, and read it to your little ones if you still have them.  This stanza is a particularly fun one for you foodies to nosh on. It inspired the butternut squash risotto I went home and made after my doc appointment.

Eat Your Vegetables

 

The broccoli

Is stalking me.

It’s nothing I can prove.

I’m sure those

Aren’t “sweet” potatoes

That eye my every move.

That cabbage

Is a savage.

I think it wants my head.

The lettuce

Vowed to get us

When I’m sleeping in my bed.

The corn has ears,

It snoops and hears

It’s gone starch-raving mad.

The succotash

Is talking trash-

It’s mixed up really bad.,

This smorgasbord

Is off its gourd!

So what’s a kid to do?

The message here

Is loud and clear

Eat your veggies or, I fear,

They’ll end up eating you!

 

The book is written by Marshall Silverman. For more information contact info@BookBaby.com. There are both a paperback and hardback edition of the book. I bought them both!

Now, for a weekly recipe. Keeping up with the theme of eating your veggies, here is my recipe for a tummy-filling risotto sweetened with chunks of butternut squash. Enjoy!

Risotto with Butternut Squash

serves 2 as a main and 6 as a side dish

20 minute cuisine

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ half red onion, peeled and diced, about ½ cup

½ medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into small chunks, about 2 cups

1 teaspoon Tuscan Spice blend*, optional 

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 cup arborio rice

¼ cup dry sherry

3 to 4 cups chicken broth

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon butter

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the butternut squash. Sprinkle with Tuscan seasoning, salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes more. Add the rice and cook for 1 more minute to toast. Pour in the sherry and cook until the liquid disappears, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Pour in about 1 cup of the chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid disappears, about 5 minutes. Add 1 more cup chicken broth. Continue until all the stock had been absorbed into the rice. The rice should be creamy with just a bit of a bite. You don’t want it to be mushy! Stir in the cream, butter and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with parsley.

* I am a big fan of The Spice and Tea Exchange stores. I seriously could spend a whole afternoon sniffing and smiling in their Blowing Rock store. The great news is that you can find some of the blends on-line. If you don’t have the time to find Tuscan spice, substitute with a bit of paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and cumin. Or…. choose any of your other favorite blends. It all works!

World’s Fastest Fresh Soup Recipe: Cream of Mushroom

World’s Fastest Fresh Soup Recipe: Cream of Mushroom

October is mushroom picking season in my neck of the woods. Even if you don’t have kids, being back in school — with its many open houses and events — affects us all. That’s why I’m dusting off my best crock pot and grab and go snack recipes in the coming weeks, but tonight I’m serving up this golden favorite. Cream of mushroom soup doesn’t have to be blended, and comes together in less than 15 minutes on your stovetop.

Don’t have heavy cream in the fridge? You can substitute with butter and whole milk. But do run to the market if you don’t have thyme. In a pinch, powdered Parmesan cheese works in this dish – and if you’d like to add a splash of red wine, more power to you! I didn’t chop up the Bella or cremini mushrooms as they made for an ampler bite whole.

There’s not a lot to say about this one, other than it’s easy. Wishing all of you, whether there are backpacks in your lives or not, a brilliant school year!

Cream of Bella n’ Cremini

Serves up to 10

15 minute cuisine

1 pint Bella mushrooms, washed

1 pint cremini mushrooms, washed

Butter for sautéing

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

8 cups vegetable stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a stock pot over medium high heat, cook the mushrooms in butter for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cream, thyme, garlic, cheese and vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Welcoming October with Stuffed Squash!

Welcoming October with Stuffed Squash!

 

In the Canvas & Cuisine cookbook, “apples” and “squash” appear over 80 times in the manuscript! During the fall season, we want them more than ever – that’s why I was so happy to dust off a double whammy of an autumn recipe: Apple, Sausage & Cheddar Stuffed Acorn Squash. In this version, I took a few calorie saving shortcuts.

I substituted the Italian sausage with turkey bacon, and served it sans nuts and cheese. For the fall-ish flavor bouquet, I sautéed Granny Smith Apples and bacon in a shallow bath of butter and pure cranberry juice.  There was enough left over in the pan to drizzle savory cranberry sauce over the finished product, making the baked squash extra yummy!

The thing with a gutted gourd, is that it’s a blank canvas to stuff with virtually anything you see fit.

But allow me to digress…The stuffed squash comes with quite the story, as so many of my recipes do.

I was on a trip with my artist friend, Sue, Canvas & Cuisine’s co-author. We visited Blarney Castle in Ireland, and…well…I wasn’t feeling quite lucky enough to brave its narrow (I mean EXTREMELY narrow), four-story, windowless and very claustrophobic staircase.

I barely survived my one and only panic attack. I hadn’t even known I was claustrophobic until I met Blarney Castle. When we finally burst out of the tower and onto the top, Sue and I found ourselves in-line to kiss the famous stone. Tradition has it that in order to kiss the stone to receive the gift of eloquence, one has to bend over backwards lowering your head from the parapet walk over an opening in the tower that leads all the way down to the ground below.

There are two very, very young, very, very scrawny teens, on either side of the hole in the floor to make sure you don’t fall, but they were not convincing enough for me! I ended up sprinting past Sue and that stone, down the castle’s back stairs, and found my way to the closest pub. I took refuge in a pint and comfort in a dish called Cheshire Pie, which combines chunky pork and sautéed apples in a flaky crust.

The Canvas & Cuisine recipe for stuffed acorn squash was born shortly thereafter. The recipe posted below is a modified version. In both recipes, the flavors are sweet, tart and rich. It’s super for a mid-week meal and awesome for a brunch gathering before your next sight-seeing trip. Just make sure that you check out the sight to avoid unnecessary fright!

Apple & Candied Bacon Squash

serves 4

30 to 40 minute cuisine

For Squash:

2 medium acorn squashes, halved and seeded

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon cinnamon

For Stuffing:

1 tablespoon butter

½ pound turkey bacon, finely chopped

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup 100 percent cranberry juice

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup cheddar cheese, optional

Preheat the oven to 400°. Drizzle the cut side of the squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place the squash, cut-side-down into a baking pan. Bake until the squash is fork tender, about 20 minutes.

Heat the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and cranberry juice. Add the apples and bacon, and cook until fruit is soft, and bacon brown and crumbly, about 8 minutes. Season with 1 more teaspoon cinnamon spice and some of the salt and pepper.

Pull the baking dish from the oven. Turn the squash so they are cut side up. Stuff the squash with the apple/bacon filling. Use any remaining cranberry/bacon syrup to drizzle over the top.

For the Decadent Cook:

Add cheddar cheese if desired, by placing the dish back into the oven, and cooking until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes more. Garnish the stuffed squash with a dollop of sour cream.

 

 

How to “Pumpkin-Spice” Everything as Though It Were a Verb!

How to “Pumpkin-Spice” Everything as Though It Were a Verb!

How can tell when the Fall season approaches? Is it the cool breeze, shorter days, leaves changing colors? Heck no! You can tell that it’s Fall because absolutely everything is pumpkin-spiced.

Not too long ago I wrote a recipe for pumpkin donuts in my Sunday Best cookbook. It’s easier than you think it is to make these delicious donuts at home. The downside is that unless you have a lot of friends, you may just eat all of them yourself! Check out the yield from this recipe in the photo below:

Aren’t those donuts gorgeous? They should be…for I added a new dimension this time! I pumpkin-spiced up some granulated sugar for dipping, and created a maple glaze for dunking. The results were… well, can I say sooooo Fall inspired. Give these a try… or move next door to me, and ask to borrow a cup of pumpkin-spiced latte for total pumpkin immersion!

Pumpkin-Spiced Donuts

with Maple Glaze for Dunking

For donuts

3 cups unbleached all-purpose four

1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

½ teaspoon table salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup buttermilk

¼ cup light brown sugar

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Canola oil for frying

For spiced sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

For glaze

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 to 2 teaspoons heavy cream

 Whisk together the flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Use an electric mixer to combine the eggs, pumpkin puree, sugar, buttermilk, brown sugar and butter. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in batches. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least 3 hours.

Unwrap the chilled dough onto a floured work surface. Roll out the dough to ½-inch thickness. Use a donut cutter to cut out donuts and holes, reusing the scraps until all the dough has been used. Transfer each one onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Pour enough canola oil in a deep fry pan to come up the sides two inches. This should be less than half of the depth of the pan as oil expands when heated. Heat the oil over medium high heat between 365° and 375°. Fry the donuts in batches until golden brown on one side. Turn to brown the other side, about 1 to 2 minutes total. Transfer to a paper towel-lined sheet pan.

Mix together the spiced sugar ingredients in a shallow bowl. Whisk together the glaze ingredients in a shallow bowl. Place the donuts into either the glaze or the sugar.

 

Thanksgiving is Almost Here. Read this if you’re hosting…

Thanksgiving is Almost Here. Read this if you’re hosting…

In what you now consider to be a moment of questionable good sense, you have invited an extended group of family and friends to your house for Thanksgiving dinner. Oops. Before you know it you will be staring at a frozen turkey asking yourself, why me? Since this is a holiday steeped in tradition, it’s not one that is easy to improvise. After all, you can’t possibly substitute a store bought ham or frozen lasagna for a golden roasted, aroma-flowing turkey. Can you? Well….

Whether you’re hosting a Friendsgiving or a Thanksgiving, the love among guests is unconditional, and a perfect excuse to blend new holiday traditions with the old ones. What’s a Friendsgiving, you ask? That’s when you hold a turkey day celebration with friends instead of family, because you’re a college student, on a business trip or far away from loved ones. OR, it simply means you may decide to host more than one gathering this November.

Friends don’t judge, and Friendsgivings were made for fun experimentation!

I think it’s a beautiful display of gratitude, playing party host. Here are my tips:

First thing’s first, you have to plan
Since you are the host, you take on the star of the meal: the turkey and gravy. Choose from the million or so side dishes that are designed to accent the bird. Peruse your file box, favorite cookbooks and websites (I recommend Sur La Table) to assemble the yummiest recipes.

Now, call upon your most reliable friends to contribute everything that surrounds the main feast. I may just get my best friends, who just happen to be my recipes testers, to bring the best family style recipes from SUNDAY BEST DISHES.

Cardinal rule #1: Let your guests help!

A little bird told me that party guests actually love to help get food on the table!

Ask Aunt Edna…

to bring her scrumptious crab appetizer. (Closed-mouth Edna is never going to give away that secret recipe anyway.) When once-removed cousin Jack offers to make his broccoli and avocado gratin, laced with chopped pecans and garnished with candied lemon zest, take a deep breath. Instead, offer to email him your simple recipe for sautéed green beans. Hopefully, battle weary Jack will oblige with this creative and edible veggie side dish.

If you have time to prepare a perfect pumpkin pie a day or two in advance, good for you. However, in a pinch, the corner bakery offers a long list of mouth-watering holiday treats.

Direct your most kitchen impaired pal to make a well thought out choice when it comes to dessert. Bake Me a Wish is just one of many examples!

Every year I share my new tradition’s side dish recipes, like corn soufflé casserole and white raisin dressing with my best pals (write me at jorj.com if you’d like either of these emailed to you!) – and they share theirs in return. We try to find dishes that can be made in advance and then baked ahead of time and brought warm to the dinner. My favorite dressing for Thanksgiving was published to jorj.com last year, and I’ll be rolling it out this year too!

Pick a shopping day a week or two in advance
Check out specialty markets for hard to find ingredients like white raisins, aged sherry and new varieties of fresh herbs. It may shock you to know that early planning can be fun: autumn scented candles, cakes and coffees!

Start trying new things, and auditioning the possibilities….

GET IN THE MOOD! Make your first shopping day stop, your favorite coffee house. Order a cup of pumpkin spiced coffee and a fresh baked pumpkin and butterscotch scone. While you are there, buy a pound of coffee you will eventually serve to Friendsgiving or thanksgiving guests!With tummy full, stroll the aisles of your favorite food boutique for cranberry relish or chutney. Look for jars of pumpkin butter for a fragrant and appealing addition to warm, fresh rolls.

Visit the butcher at your grocery store, and place an order for your great big bird. His first question is, “Do you want fresh or frozen?” Both are full of flavor and easily prepared. My quick rule of thumb is to choose a fresh turkey if you have room to store him properly in your refrigerator and have the time to pick him up the day before. Choose a frozen bird if you have more freezer space than time to run errands. Remember, the bigger the bird the longer the defrosting time.

Shop…then get ready at home
Thanksgiving is the holiday that takes advantage of your best china and crystal. Take stock of your tableware early. Make sure you have enough for all of your guests. Coordinate the place settings, but remember, they don’t have to match — an eclectic table is loads of fun. Go antiquing for that tablescape!

F-U-N blends with functionality when you pre-plan the table. Do you have several gravy boats or pitchers? Can you find enough serving platters and utensils? Bring out any special place card holders, porcelain salt and pepper shakers and newly popular pieces like menu holders.

On shopping day, squeeze in a side trip to your favorite second hand store, antique shop or mall store china department to browse for some new fun pieces that will bring your table together. Find an antique mall near you, with this fabulous link!

With shopping day done, kick off your shoes and flop into that favorite chair. The menu is complete, the china sorted. You’ve purchased hard-to-find ingredients and bought all of the pantry staples you will need. Your favorite recipes have been texted or PM’d to friends and family. Guess what – you are well on your way to a stress free, yummy Thanksgiving Day… the start of your NEW TRADITION.

 

4 Killer Snacks for Your Last Minute Halloween Party!

4 Killer Snacks for Your Last Minute Halloween Party!


Here are a couple of last minute tricks you can use to make some tummy-filling treats for your Halloween crew; whether it’s a block party filled with kids, or just adults at an office Halloween bash. Because there are going to be as many individual tastes as there are costumes, I created a menu that is universally loved – from the six-year-old dressed like Dracula, to the middle aged couple decked out like Anthony and Cleopatra.

Honestly, these buffet style recipes are good no matter what time of year it is. Pull out these easy party recipes again for an Easter or 4th of July gathering, and everyone will still want more!

Mummy Dogs

Jorj.com has REAL DEAL KETCHUP recipe!

Roll out a sheet of puff pastry. Cut it into 1-inch lengths. Wrap one strip of puff pastry around one hot dog. Continue with as many dogs as you like. Bake at 425° until the puff pastry is golden, about 20 minutes. Offer ketchup and mustard for dipping!

Chili Rolls

Who ate one of my chili rolls?!

Roll out a sheet of puff pastry. Cover with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Spread left-over chili (or chili-seasoned cooked ground beef) over the top. Douse with more cheese. Roll up the pastry over the filling, like you would a cinnamon roll. Cut into 1 ½-inch slices, and place cut-side up in a baking dish sprayed with vegetable oil spray. Place them a bit apart from each other to allow the puff pastry to cook all the way through. Bake at 425° until the pastry is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Skillet Nachos

Line a skillet with nacho chips. I used a large, cast iron skillet for this. Cover with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Place re-fried beans (15-ounce) can into a pot over medium-low heat. Stir in a little chicken or beef broth. This will thin the beans enough to make them spoonable. Cover the cheese with half of the beans. Top the beans with chili-seasoned cooked ground beef. Repeat the process so that you have two layers of chips, cheese, beans and meat. Top the skillet with more cheese. Bake at 400° until the cheese is melted, about 20 to 30 minutes. You can place the skillet under the broiler to really toast the cheese; after it has melted if you like. Top the nachos with your favorite toppings, like sour cream, salsa, chopped avocado, green onions and cilantro.

Chicken Fingers

Melt butter and stir in grated Parmesan cheese. Any amount works for this. The cheese is a salty component for the fingers. Mix panko bread crumbs with seasoned breadcrumbs. Season chicken fillets with salt and pepper. Dip the fillets into melted butter and then into breadcrumbs. Place each one onto a baking sheet that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray. Bake at 425° until the crust is golden and the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Happy Tricks for Treating!!!