Recipe Monday: Jessica’s Caramelized Onion Risotto

April 27, 2009 § 3 Comments


As soon as I found out that risotto didn’t actually require constant stirring, I was on board.  As I’ve said before, I have an almost unnatural attraction to all things creamy, custardy, puddingy and starchy.  In my thinner, younger, more adventurous days I considered doing a photoshoot of me in a bathtub full of rice pudding.  Better hygiene and my husband prevailed.  That’s not what we’re here to talk about today.

As you know.  I don’t like recipes.  I make stuff up from scratch, and when you’re making risotto and you know the basic steps, THE WORLD IS YOUR STOVETOP.  I’ve experimented with risotto a couple different ways, but most often I’m making it because  it’s “I’ve got nothing in the pantry” night, two days before payday.  You should always have onions, always have chicken broth and always have aborio rice on hand.  There’s no reason not to.  As for the chicken breast, I sometimes saute it in olive oil and butter, slice it and throw it on top of the risotto, or just serve it whole, next to the star on the plate.  So that’s your call. Let’s proceed.

What You Need (Serves 4):

  • 1 1/4 cup aborio rice
  • Olive Oil
  • 6 tbsp butter divided
  • 1 medium onion cut into half moons
  • 1 lb button mushrooms sliced
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup water or white wine
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Ok, this is a four burner meal.  Your entire stove will be hoppin’.  Start by putting the chicken stock and water in a medium saucepan over low heat (on a back burner).

In a small saute pan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium high heat until foamy.  Throw your onions in and toss them around to coat.  Keep the heat on medium low and down futz with them too much.  After the onions turn translucent, add a pinch of salt.   


Yes, yes, that’s the stuff.  So let those just caramelize away over low, medium heat while you get the risotto started.

In a deep saute pan,risotto pan or sauce pan, throw about a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter over medium high heat.  Once it’s heated, add your aborrio rice and toss it around with a flat wooden spoon to coat with the oil.  Keeping it on medium high heat and pretty much constantly stirring, saute the rice for about two or three minutes.  You’ll know it’s done because it has this great sort of buttery/nutty smell and the rice will look almost translucent.  You are now ready to add your first liquid.

I keep a heat resistant ladle in my chicken stock throughout the process so I can just grab and pour a little or a lot as needed.  When I do my first liquid addition, I’ll do about three ladle’s full, maybe 1 cup total of liquid.  Give it a quick stir to loosen any rice from the bottom of your pan and get it all incorporated.  In the beginning I stir pretty vigorously, and I also shake my pan over the heat, kind of like you’re making Jiffy Pop.  When the rice rubs together it lets the starch break out or activate or whatever we want to call it, and that starch helps to create the creaminess later in the dish.  So no, you don’t have to stir it costantly, even if your grandma from Sicily did (what does she know from food?) You just have to stir it enough to keep it from sticking and to get all the liquid incorporated.  I add a bunch at first so I have time to do my mushrooms.

If your onions look a little dry, add another knob of butter before throwing in your sliced mushrooms.  In fact, just do that anyway.  Yes yes, I know,  mo’ butter mo’ problems, but we’re serving this with boneless skinless chicken and a green salad!  You deserve it. So put your mushrooms in the onion pan, toss them around to coat them in butter and then:  LEAVE THEM ALONE FOR AT LEAST THREE FULL MINUTES.

Do you get frustrated when you’re sauteing something and it doesn’t have that gorgeous golden brown color that you see in all the food mags?  I can tell you why – it’s because you’re fiddling with it.  If you want things to get that lush, dark brown, caramel color, you have to not move them.  Gray sauteed mushrooms (like the ones in the first picture, grrrr) are the worst.  So I even press them down to make sure they’re all in one layer, touching the pan.  Also don’t add any salt or pepper until AFTER the caramelization has taken place.  The salt will draw out moisture and delay or prevent caramelization. 

After three minutes, you can toss the mushrooms and onions around, turn the heat back down to low medium, hit them with some salt and pepper and return to your risotto.

The key here is to add more liquid whenever you can draw a spoon through the risotto and see a dry pan bottom.  If you’re seeing a pool of liquid, just give it a stir and wait another thirty seconds or so.  I add one or two ladles of liquid at a time, give it a shake, a couple good stirs and then let it go.  The whole process takes about 20-25 minutes depending on how creamy or al dente you like your rice.  By the time I get to adding my last 1/2 cup of broth or so, my rice is cooked through, creamy and could be considered done, but because I’m adding in the mushrooms and onions, I add some extra broth to loosen it up.

OK, so you’re nearing the end.  Stir in your last bit of stock, add the parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, a tbsp of butter and your mushroom/onion mix.  After I’ve fully combined everything, I take it off the heat and put a lid on it until serving time.  This assures a little more incorporation of flavors and a little more liquid absorption.

It makes for great leftovers and is endlessly adaptable.  Risotto, you can do it!


Recipe Monday: Jessica’s White Chicken Chili

March 30, 2009 § 6 Comments


One of my top requested meals by my husband, my mother, my friend Ann, everyone, this high fat, high butter, high deliciousness creamy white chili has become a battered, torn and stained sheet in my recipe box.  How many times have i sat down with my little tin recipe box, determined to get it IN ORDER and THIS TIME I MEAN IT.  I make a move to transfer all my recipes onto a database on the computer or put them in a word document and print them out for index cards, or laminate them in a three ring binder.  But I never do it.  Is it laziness (yes, definitely, probably like 75% laziness)  But it’s also nostalgia.  I have recipes in there that my mother hand copied onto 3×5 cards when I went away to college, or when I got married.  They not only have the recipe, but helpful hints on the back:  “Aunt Helen’s Lasagnathis would be good with a big green salad!, Love Mom”  I have recipes torn from magazines that no longer exist, recipes written on notepads from old jobs.  My favorite, however, are the recipes I have written in my grandmother’s slanted, narrow script on the big, 4×6 index cards.  She always had a stack of them in a little seventies style desk caddy that sat next to her phone, made of smoky colored plastic, it was a series of tubes short and tall to hold pencils/pens/scissors/reading glasses and a section for notepads from Scot Forge (a ubiquitous place of employment in our family) and 4×6 notecards that she used for recipes and knitting patterns.  Sure it takes me twenty minutes everytime I want to find the recipe for mushroom pastry turnovers from Better Homes and Gardens, but I wouldn’t have my recipes any other way.

Back to the chili.  I got this recipe out of a magazine (Cooking Light?  Bon Appetit? Gourmet?  I don’t remember) about ten years ago and I’m surprised at how little I’ve deviated from it.  First and foremost, the original recipe called for the supreme idiocy of soaking dry beans over night and doing that whole shebang. If you’re going to make a soup, where the beans are simmered in a surrounding bath of flavors, I don’t see the need to use non-canned beans, but if you want to torture yourself, go crazy.  But if you don’t soak the beans, this only takes about forty minutes TOTAL!

Here’s what you need:

  • Between a pound and pound and a half of boneless, skinless chicken breast, poached until almost done and then sliced and diced into tinyness
  • 1 large yellow onion diced
  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 1/4 flour
  • 1  1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups light cream
  • the spices: cumin (ground or seed), chili powder, salt, black pepper
  • tabasco
  • 1 14 oz can Great Northern Beans drained and rinsed
  • 2 4 oz cans mild diced green chilis
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 big ol’ pot and a spoon

Melt the stick of butter over medium low heat in the pot and add the onions, sweating them down to a goldeny softness.  I usually add a little salt and pepper at this point, just to begin the layering.  After about three to five minutes of low heat add the flour.  We’re makin a roux here folks.  Don’t be afraid.

After you add that flour, you need to get your whisk on, whisking the onions and butter and flour until it becomes a golden paste.  It will be thick and bubbly and almost look like a cream sauce.  At this point add your chicken broth and light cream.  Whisk it constantly, but not frantically.  Just to keep it mixing, to get the roux evenly distributed.  It will thicken up fairly quick. 

There she is.  My camera, for some reason, was feeling somber.  I wasn’t using a flash, and the room was so bright I thought these would be the sunniest pictures in town, but they look like stills from a silent movie.  I usually let this simmer over super low heat for a few minutes while I get the other stuff ready, because frankly, we’re almost done and I always like to give flavors a chance to meet, mingle, get comfy, calm down and blend.  So maybe make your NICE GREEN SALAD now, or set the table.

Anyway, next add the cumin, chili pepper, pepper, salt and dash or 10 of tabasco.  Stir it in and let it simmer.

Now add your chopped chicken, green chilis and great northern beans.  Stir and let it simmer, particularly if your chicken was still a little pink in the middle and needs to cook through.  The reason I’m letting things bubble and simmer now is because when you add your cheese and sour cream, you don’t want to let it reach boiling point ever again.  NOT EVER!

At this point I’d adjust my seasonings (For me it usually means adding a touch more tabasco and cumin).  When you’re satisfied, add the shredded cheese and sour cream, stirring to melt it and distribute it throughout the soup.  Let it simmer, but not bubble, for another five minutes.

And then you’ve done it.  You’ve made Jessica’s White Chicken Chili. Enjoy and be proud of all you accomplished.

Recipe Monday: Quick n Easy Meat Sauce from Scratch

March 24, 2009 § 1 Comment


I don’t have a picture of this, but I wanted to throw it out there because for some reason my “completely free of Italian background” sauce is popular with whomever eats it. I’ve never followed a recipe for it because I just use whatever is in the cupboard in an effort to make a quick dinner after I’ve gotten home from work. Ideally, I’d make this in like double the recipe size in a big giant pot and simmer it for HOURS before packaging more than half of it up for a second and third meal. And I love freezing meals because it makes me feel like Ma Ingalls. Oh heck, you know what, since we don’t have a picture of the spaghetti sauce, how about a picture of Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls: Greatest Mom in the History of American Television:

Give it up for Ma

Give it up for Ma

Didn’t you just swoon when they showed her getting ready for bed and her hair was down in one thick braid, hanging over her shoulder “OH CHARLES”.

Anyway, as with all my recipes that aren’t ‘baking’ recipes, feel free to add more, less, additional in terms of veggies and spices and meat and the like.  If I’m making a single batch (which is enough for a family of four with leftovers) I can have dinner ready in forty minutes.


1 lb ground beef or turkey or even bulk italian sausage
1 medium yellow onion diced
1 medium green pepper diced
1 medium carrot peeled, diced
3 fat cloves of garlic chopped up fine
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large can (I think the Contadina can is 32 oz) of Tomato Puree or Crushed Tomatoes (I hate tomatoes, so I have to have them pureed or I throw a fit)
1 small can tomato paste
1/2 cup beef broth
dried oregano
dried basil
crushed red pepper

Heat up the pot over medium high heat for a minute or two before throwing in the meat and browning it.  Here’s the key to this step, don’t keep pushing it around.  Let it brown by staying in one place for a minute or two, THEN pushing it around with tongs or your BIG SPOON.  I also salt and pepper the meat at this point.

Once it’s browned, take it out and put it on the plate to wait a second.  Drain off the majority of the fat, leaving about a tablespoon and any bits of meat.  Add the additional olive oil.   HELPFUL TIP FOR NOT BURNING GARLIC:  Chopped garlic burns like nobody’s business.  But if you hold your pan up at an angle, so the oil all pools on one side and drop your garlic into this little pool, letting it sizzle for about thirty seconds before dropping the pan back down to the heat, you should be good.  Drop your onions, pepper and carrot immediately upon returning the pot to the heat and this will also protect the garlic, but allow it to release its glory.  Saute this little gathering until soft.

Once the veggies are soft, turn the heat down to “Low almost medium” (Ed note: I always thought that when magazines had this in there it actually meant a guy named Ed.  But if you’re going to let this do a longer simmer, turn it to low low).  Add a small palmful of oregano, basil and a pinch or more of crushed red pepper*. Add the meat, the two sauces and the broth, and let that sucker simmer.

If you’re making dinner, this is the point at which you should put your pot of water on to boil.  Don’t watch the pot, because this hinders boiling.  Go put on your ‘after work’ clothes, get a Diet Coke and watch the Simpsons, relax before dinner time.  

TIPS AND TRICKS: If the sauce starts spitting all over tarnation, turn the heat down a touch, give it a stir and swear once or twice.  But I must tell you, making sauce means making a mess.  No two ways about it.  You can do the “half lid” thing where you tilt the lid on the pot at an angle, but you’re not going to get a good reduction that way, and it’ll take longer and not be as nicely blended.  Taste it a couple times to see if you’ve got the right flavor going.  I usually have to add more salt and more oregano.  Your call.  Why carrots?  Why not?  It’s another vegetable, gives a little richness to the color, depth to the flavor and texture to the sauce.


*If you have a bottle of red wine open, feel free to throw about half a cup or so in the pot, especially if you’re letting this sucker simmer for a long time.  The less time you have, the more “fresh wine taste” you’ll get.

Recipe Monday: Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

March 17, 2009 § 1 Comment


The thing about this recipe is the title goes perfectly with the ol’ “Cabbage Rolls and Coffee” polka from the Shmenge Brothers on SCTV.  So don’t be surprised if you start singing every time you make it.

Right now, I hear many among you saying you hate brussels sprouts.  Indeed, like spinach, beets and lima beans, they are in the comedy category of “bad/funny vegetables”, but I submit that it’s simply because no one bothers to dude them up and present them in a tasty fashion.  All vegetables, even delicious delicious broccoli turns into unrecognizable mush when you just empty a freezer bag into simmering water for twenty minutes.  Brussels sprouts are delicious, tender little bundles of fun and when you add a hot dressing of bacon, onions and sage…you’re in business.

Although it seems to me this is an Autumn dish (I’ve brought it to thanksgiving dinner even) I think it would also rock the socks off of Easter dinner, or any other spring dinner party.  This recipe would serve four folks with some leftovers (but the leftovers are kind of mushy and not so great).

You need,

1 – 1 1/2 pounds of fresh brussels sprouts, cleaned off with a damp towel, trimmed of some outer leaves and cut in half

5 strips of bacon chopped (raw)

1 tsp dried sage or a fistful of sage leaves rolled and cut into ribbons (chiffonade) (you always need MORE if you’re using fresh)

“knob of butter” as they say in the business.

large saute pan, paper towels, bowl


Put halved brussels sprouts in a bowl with a touch of water, cover with a paper towel and steam in microwave for a minute or two.  Or steam it for a minute or two in a pan over medium heat.  They’ll green up but still be firm.  Cover them and set them aside.

Now, fry that bacon up in the pan over medium high heat until crispy.  Editor’s Tip: You know, I learned my lesson about bacon only a year ago.  I used to crank that mother to eleven, poppin’ the bacon in and inevitably either setting off the smoke alarm, burning the bacon or ending up with a pan full of black drippings and fat, unusable and stinky.  Slower frying over medium high heat is the answer.  It smells better and leaves you with a kitchen in better condition.  Anyway.  Set those bacon bits on the folded paper towel.  Get rid of (but my god don’t throw out) about half of the bacon fat, return the remainder to the medium heat and add the ‘knob’ of butter. If you’re like me a ‘knob’ equals about three tablespoons.  If you’re sensible, it equals about 1 tbsp.

Toss and saute the brussels for about three minutos, then add sage, salt and pepper to taste and the bacon.  Toss them all around and you’re ready to kick it, BRUSSELS STYLE.

Recipe Monday: Peachy French Toast

March 10, 2009 § 1 Comment


I grow so tired of watching Martha or Ina Garten or even Paula Deen suggesting that we make our french toast out of a ‘lovely old brioche’. 

a) as if a brioche is just waiting at my local SuperTarget in a big pile of other brioches, 1.99.  I’ve never SEEN a brioche for sale, been offered a brioche in someone’s home or enjoyed French Toast made out of old brioche

b) if I could find a brioche, there certainly wouldn’t be any of it ‘old’ enough to make french toast out of.

But really, if you’re going to make good french toast, you need a good, flavorful, dense bread that can stand up to the punishment that eggs and heat dish out.  So I use:  Challah bread, which I buy fresh on like a Wednesday, eat slices with my soup during the week and then thick slice it and set it on the counter for a few hours to dry out on Saturday morning. 

As with most of my ‘imagined recipes’ they are invented for two, unless they come from an altered original recipe that was for four or six.  But especially with something like Peachy French Toast, you can futz with the ingredients and amounts all day and make it your own. Please do!

So here’s what you need to serve 2-4 people.

Half a loaf of challah bread, cut into 4 – 8 slices about 1.5″ thick

3 large peaches, peeled and sliced into chunky half moons ( I used fresh, but I bet frozen would work)

1 tbsp white sugar

1/2 tbsp cinnamon

1 tbsp flour

3 tbsp butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 xl eggs (add an egg for 3 or 4 people)

1/4 c milk

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp sugar

dash cinnamon,nutmeg

Large Bowl, medium bowl, Medium saute pan, Large Fry/Saute Pan, Whisk, Flipper


The Peaches:  Throw the peaches in a large bowl and sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar and flour.  Toss to coat and let them sit while you melt 3tbsp of butter in the medium frying pan.  When the butter is bubbly, add the 1/2 cup of brown sugar, whisk around to melt the sugar and bring it to a dark bubbly ‘syrup’.  Dump in the peaches and toss in the butter/sugar mixture.  Saute on medium heat until dark and soft and caramelly.  If that’s not a word, by God, it should be.  Turn them off and let them sit in the pan.

The French Toast: In the medium bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon.  Whisk it to high heck.  Dunk two slices in the egg mixture and let it sit there for a full minute, occasionally poking it down under the surface to suck up more liquid.  While it’s soaking, heat a tbsp or so of butter, or PAM in the big frying pan over medium high heat.  When it’s hot enough, drop the two slices of bread in the pan.  DO NOT MOVE it for at least a minute.  When the bottom is golden brown, flip the bread and toast the other side.  Repeat this with the rest of the bread, adding more butter or PAM as needed.

To serve, layer one piece of french toast, a messload of peaches, a second dose of french toast and a couple more peaches.  If you want to really wow ’em, throw some powdered sugar on top, but trust me, the peachy syrup is sweet and tasty enough.  I tried adding maple syrup on top and I heard a low rumbling voice say “DIABETES”.

And there you have it.  Peachy French Toast.

Let’s get Psyched for a new feature!

March 2, 2009 § 7 Comments


If there is one chore in the world that I don’t mind and actually look FORWARD to doing, it’s grocery shopping.  Ever since I was kid I’ve loved going to the grocery store.  Part of it could be that my sister and I were card carrying members of the Wegmans and Star Markets cookie club, allowing the bearer of said card to receive a cookie of their choosing from the grocery store bakery and even at 9:00 in the morning, eat said cookie without a word of protest from mom.  For a while there was a creation available at Star that would make childhood nutritionists blow their stacks – the Cookie Cup.  This thing was a soft chocolate chip cookie pushed into a muffin tin so as to make a bowl to hold ABOUT A HALF A CUP OF FROSTING. It’s true.  They filled the cookie bowl with swirls and swirls of brightly colored buttercream.  This was available for free.  I don’t even have time to get into my love of old fashioned bakery frosting that I can’t find anywhere.  That will have to be a sob story for another post.


I’ve put the free cookies behind me, but getting my cart, pluggin in the ipod and hitting the Jewel is still an event I look forward to with a sort of childlike glee.  Unlike my mom, I rarely have a plan when going.  I have a partial list of things that are needed, but what I love most is just roaming the store.  I love finding a great looking bunch of asparagus, standing together like a bunch of cold co-eds outside a bar, waiting to be something delicious.  Although I’m something of a picky eater, I do like to find new ingredients and devise new dishes.  To me, cooking is a kind of crafting.  Why not?  I rarely use recipes.  Even when I’m baking I look over the ratios to assure it rises and binds and all that, but I always like to substitute sugars or flavors or cocoa or fruit.  To me, it doesn’t feel like MINE until I’ve put my personal touch on it.  So when I grocery shop I’m usually buying INGREDIENTS rather than prepared sodium boxes.  


Even if I have no need for anything in the “Household Cleaners and JuJu Fruit” aisle, I make my way down it.  Here’s why:  I’m an easy sell.  I’m a sucker for 10 for 10 sales.  I heed the call when grocery stores advise me to “stock up”.  I love the idea of “stocking up”, as if I have a dirt walled root cellar under a trap door out in the prairie.  Amongst the handwoven baskets of apples and onions and knobby potatoes, everyone needs a box of Glade Plug Ins to see them through the hard winter.

I guess this is a round about way of saying that I’m anxious to share recipes with you almost as much as I want to share my crafting and memories and housekeeping tales.  Housekeeping tales?  What will those be?  “Brian yelled at me until I agreed to throw away my last five months of magazines.”  So coming soon to the annals (heh heh) of DIAWC, the blog that tires easily, will be Jessica’s Recipes on Recipe Monday.  I hope you’ll let me know if you try them and/or improve on them.  I love hearin’ about the tweaking.:)

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