Day 5, Orange-Scented Rice Pudding

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

It’s a real joy to reach into the fridge for prepared ingredients and pull together a new dish in no time flat. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know I made extra rice for the smoked turkey gumbo on Day 2 and was left with orange sugar syrup from yesterday’s candied orange peels, so I added just a few staples and came up with this quick, elegant rice pudding.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

The orange flavor wasn’t assertive at all, but the scent was divine. To send it over the top, add a little orange flower water.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

Garnish individual cups with a sprinkle of cinnamon, add a few candied orange peels, and you could serve this to guests who’d never know they were eating leftovers. Hah!

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

The tiny cups are perfect for portion control, but determined eaters don’t let them stand in the way. We absolutely demolished this and I hope you will, too.

recipe after the jump

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Amy’s first risotto

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So… yeah. It’s been a while. How’ve you been? You’re looking great — have you lost weight? My apologies for abandoning this site, but things got seriously out of hand at work those last few weeks leading up to Christmas, and I couldn’t find time to do any cooking at all, and what’s a food blog without food? Keeping quiet seemed like the way to go.

The weekend before Christmas was a little less hectic, so I did manage to cook something before taking off for Louisiana — a risotto. Actually, my FIRST risotto. (Oh, stop your gasping.) I’ve always avoided it because the thought of standing in one spot stirring for so long didn’t appeal, but it was snowing and I had a bunch of mismatched ingredients in the house that didn’t add up to much else, so hey. Why not? It was that or shovel the driveway.

My parents sent me back to Jersey with about five pounds of frozen shrimp and crab meat the last time I visited. All that was left in our freezer was one container of crab, so I set my sights on turning out a delicately-seasoned risotto. (Going easy on seasonings isn’t something that comes naturally to me, but crab requires a light hand.) It couldn’t have been easier, really. I sweated some onion in a decent amount of olive oil and butter with 4 bay leaves, added a little garlic once the onion was translucent and cooked it for 30 seconds or so, then added a cup and a half of arborio rice, stirring it in the fat until the grains were just starting to look chalky. Then the laborious process (or so I imagined it would be) of adding liquids and stirring, stirring, stirring started. I began with 1/2 cup of dry white wine, cooking until it was absorbed, then added warmed shrimp stock one ladle at a time, until the rice was creamy and cooked through.

At this point, I stirred in about 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, then folded in the crab and some finely chopped green onions. And you know what? It blew my mind. I really thought that making a passable risotto would be beyond me, but when you start with great ingredients, I guess it isn’t so hard.

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Of course, I made extra so we could have arancini with the leftovers the following day. To start, I made a quick tomato sauce with another freezer find — a Ziploc bag containing about half of a large can of crushed tomatoes. (I don’t throw anything away if I can help it.) I added it to some sauteed onions and garlic, then hit it with a shot of sherry vinegar, a pinch of sugar and some crushed red pepper, before setting it aside to simmer while I finished up the rest of the meal.

The spinach was simply wilted with some olive oil and green onions. It would’ve been heavy on the garlic if only I had some in the house, but no. Rassafrassin’ snowstorm.

For the arancini itself, I mixed in a little more cheese and some milk to the cold risotto and formed it into golf ball-sized portions, stuffed with a small piece of cheese. (Which I think was taleggio, but can’t say positively. We always have a few types of cheese in the fridge at any given time.) The rice balls went into flour, then egg wash, then panko bread crumbs before spending about 15 minutes in the freezer to firm up.

Now, for someone raised on deep fried foods, I have a distinct fear of frying on two fronts: leaden, soggy food and an oily smell permeating the house. So this was the first time in maybe 20 years I’ve actually fried anything in more than a few tablespoons of oil. Heating the oil to 375F helped with the leaden aspect, and the fact that each batch took only a minute or so to fry didn’t leave my house smelling like a fast food joint. Can’t say deep fried stuff will appear on the menu very often, but I’m much more comfortable preparing it now.

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Due to circumstances beyond my control, there wasn’t much in the way of cooking at Christmas, either. My parents are renovating their kitchen (and it looks AMAZING), but the appliances didn’t make it on time, so we ate out. A lot. Not a problem if you like fried seafood (which I do), but let’s just say it’s good to be back in my own kitchen, reacquainting myself with green vegetables and whole grains.

It was a difficult Christmas, to be honest. Everyone was “off,” as we had an unexpected death in the family just a few weeks ago and, as always in such a large extended family, someone’s going to be in terribly poor health. But it wasn’t all bleak by any means and there were many bright spots to be found — laughing with my cousin over her mother-in-law woes, watching a young cousin pulling a flaming barbecue pit on a toy wagon tied to a modified big wheel (no, seriously, I was crying with laughter and yes, I have pictures, but I’m pretty sure his mom would kill me if I published them), talking food and dogs with one of the best cooks in my family (who promises to give me his recipe for pickled mirliton, mmmm). But the icing on the cake was seeing two of my oldest and dearest friends from high school again, one for the first time in about 20 years. I can’t even tell you how happy Facebook makes me at times.

Because we ate out so much, I have almost no food pictures, but did snap a few of my dad shucking oysters on Christmas Eve. Good stuff.

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Hope you all had a great holiday. Here’s to 2010 and wishing you all a happy turning of the page. Thanks for stopping by in 2009!

The beet and the coconut

It’s not unusual to plan a meal around one ingredient, I think. You find a beautiful cut of grass-fed beef or see a flat of ruby red strawberries and the wheels start spinning as you think about the best way to highlight their natural beauty. This sort of thinking influenced a couple of our meals this week.

Usually when I buy beets, both root and green are destined for a salad inspired by an episode of Lidia’s Family Table — roasted beets, boiled greens, and sliced green apple are tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, topped with hard goat cheese, and seasoned only with salt & pepper. It’s simple and delicious, especially when the produce is at its freshest and most vibrant.

But wanting something different last weekend and thinking (incorrectly) I was prepared to deal with a certain amount of frustration, I decided on a beet tart adapted from this one. The process involved me buying my first tart pan from a store that fascinates and repels me in equal measure — New York Cake & Baking Distribution, conveniently located across the street from my office. I’m attracted to its bare bones design and singularity of purpose; this isn’t a place you go for a comfortable shopping experience with easily navigable aisles or readily located merchandise. No, you go here for baking supplies (pretty much anything at all) at a good price. Period. I’m repelled only because I’m woefully ignorant about baking and expect to be given the bum’s rush when I walk in. Insecure much?

And, you know, there’s a reason for my insecurity — I’ve never once made a pie crust that hasn’t frustrated me to the point of tears. Part of the problem is a lack of counter space, but mostly it’s simple inexperience. Is the dough too dry? Is it too wet? I DON’T KNOW! I think the problem you see above was a too-dry crust, but couldn’t say. My quick fix was to jam bits of dough into the areas where it broke apart, figuring the filling would hide my mistakes from sight, if not taste.

But what a filling it was! While the beets were roasting, I threw in a whole head of garlic, too, which I later sautéed with a chopped onion and copious amounts of thyme. Just meditate on that for a minute.

And then I topped that layer with an egg, crème fraiche, and goat cheese cheese mixture before the roasted beets and even more cheese found their way to the tippy top of the tart.

It was a lot of work, I won’t lie, and I don’t really know if I’ll be preparing the crust again since I’m such a numskull with the pastry-making, but that filling definitely will be featured again in future meals, the layers alone or in some combination. For you see, it was DELICIOUS.

OK, it looks a little pizza-like, but warm from the oven with the sweet caramelized onions, garlic and beets sandwiching that creamy filling, mmmm…

We polished off about half of the tart on the spot, calling it dinner, and put the other half away for quick lunches later in the week.

The other (and probably the more surprising) ingredient I planned a meal around was … coconut juice. I picked it up on a whim at the grocery one day and couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it, so it languished in the pantry for a few weeks. Then I thought — hey, Thai! So I broke out my new rice cooker and set about making coconut rice with brown basmati and a mixture of coconut milk and strained coconut juice. I was on a roll!

To top the rice, I defrosted about a cup of sofrito from my stash, thinking the cilantro and culantro would be right at home with the coconut, and made a thick stew with the addition of lime-marinated shrimp, shrimp stock, hot pepper paste, and the rest of the coconut milk/juice. I topped it all with thinly sliced green onions and toasted sweetened coconut to balance the tartness from the lime and have to say I was pretty pleased with the outcome:

But I think it could’ve used more heat and possibly a little funky fish sauce to bring the whole thing together. I’ll try that variation next time and report back to you.

And it doesn’t have anything to do with this post, really, but because ’tis the season, I have to show you what I did with my garlic scapes last weekend instead of grilling them.

I made a chickpea dip inspired by Mark Bittman’s white bean dip with lemon zest. I could eat this everyday. I just whirled together some canned chickpeas (drained of squack), the zest of one lemon, the juice of the same, quite a few chopped garlic scapes and harissa. While the machine was running, I drizzled in some good-quality olive oil until the mixture turned creamy; I topped it with more lemon juice, olive oil, and another sprinkling of harissa before we dove in. Yum.

recipe after the jump

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Advent Calendar, Day 8

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The Messiah
This time of year, you can usually find me at my piano poring over the score of The Messiah, trying to decide if my alto won’t embarrass me too much to sing with the masses at Lincoln Center. It’s a magical experience to hear such power and beauty result from so many individual voices working together, and it’s comforting to know any of my flubs will be drowned out by those voices, too.

Not that I’m giving up karaoke anytime soon…

For all Advent Calendar posts, click here.

recipe after the jump

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