19 July, 2010

Citrus Risotto with Garlic-Chili Prawns

This recipe is supposed to have a definite kick to it. Mine was milder than I wanted. That's because the ingredient list for the recipe I followed only said "2 red chili peppers" so I bought fresh ones. Apparently, they should be dried ones. There's a definite difference when it comes to hotness. If you buy fresh, be sure to use all the seeds. Also, as usual, I added a lot more garlic than they called for, and a bit more lemon juice. It needed it for the full flavors to come through.

Risotto is traditionally served as a first course in Italy. If you are serving as a first course, this serves 4. If you do it like me, and serve it as a main course, and it serves 2. Your choice.

This is really an easy recipe and I enjoyed the colors and flavors.

Ingredients for risotto.
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely diced (I used two shallots instead)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 lemon, finely grated zest
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
Ingredients for garlic-chili prawns.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 20 medium-sized fresh prawns, shelled and deveined
  • 2 small dried red chiles, crushed
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • sea salt
  • lemon wedges

Heat the stock in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent. Add the rice and stir until the rice is well coated with oil.

Gradually add the stock, a cupful at a time, stirring constantly. Make sure the stock is mostly absorbed before adding more stock. The whole process takes 18-20 minutes. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest after about 15 minutes. The rice is done when it is creamy but still al dente. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let stand for two minutes before serving.

For the prawns, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Season the prawns with sea salt before adding to the hot pan. Cook for 2 minutes and then add the chile and garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with parsley.

Place the prawns on top of the risotto. Serve with lemon wedges. Enjoy!





Finished dish.

18 July, 2010

Rustic Strawberry-Balsamic Ice Cream

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I first saw this flavor offered at Molly Moon's ice cream shop in Seattle a while back. Since then, I've seen it everywhere. It is THE flavor pairing of the year.

I was intrigued by it, because back in the 90s, when I bought one of my (still favorite) cookbooks "The Splendid Table" by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, she mentioned that the people of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy put balsamico on top of their ice cream. At the time, I remember turning up my nose at the idea, but over the years, I've come to realize what a great ingredient a good balsamico is, even for sweets!

For this recipe, I used the Gold Quality small jar from Trader Joe's, but I'd suggest even getting a better quality than that. The finer the balsamico, the tastier your recipes will be. Just like with wine, balsamico varies greatly by producer and with age. A really old balsamico from a good producer? Gold, Jerry. Gold!

I can't tell you how incredible the flavors of this ice cream are. The balsamico really brightens up the flavor of the strawberries, much like lemon does to fish, or lime does to cocktails.

You do not need to make a custard for this recipe, which makes me love it even more. It's just about the easiest homemade ice cream recipe ever. Enjoy!

  • 2 cups (over a pound) fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced 
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used 1 TB stevia and almost 1/2 cup xylitol)
  • 2 TB good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 3 TB kirschwasser (brightens the berry flavor and keeps the ice cream from freezing too hard)
  • 3 drops raspberry extract (optional)
  • 2 cups heavy cream (or 1 1/2 cups cream and 1/2 cup sour cream)

    Mix the strawberries with the sugar (or sugar substitutes), balsamic vinegar, kirschwasser, and raspberry extract in a large bowl. Cover and let marinate at room temp for one hour.

    Add half of the cream and process strawberry mixture in a food processor or a blender. I leave the mixture somewhat chunky, as I like pieces of fruit in my ice cream. But if you want it smoother, puree and then strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove and seeds and bits. Mix in the rest of the cream (and sour cream, if using).

    Chill the mixture for one hour and then freeze according to the instructions for your ice cream maker.


    Fresh berries

    Ingredients, and strawberries soaking in them

    Good old-fashioned chunky ice cream
    Who needs perfect scoops? 

    13 July, 2010

    My Loathsome Lover

    I've known for a long time now that Sugar and I are loathsome lovers.

    It's been a love-hate relationship that stems as far back as I can remember. Basically, I love it, but it hates me. And yet, as a dejected but obsessed lover often does, I keep going back to it, thinking things might change, perhaps our relationship just needed to mature, or maybe I just needed to be better to it.

    Since childhood, I've been a sugar addict. This was not a normal 'sweet tooth'. I remember stealing extra cookies from the jar, or sneaking extra ice cream from the freezer, to satisfy my intense cravings for sweets. In high school, after suffering from headaches and low energy, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia, a diet which I adhered to for the next year or two, while living with my parents. As soon as I moved out, however, it was back to the same old stuff. I am just never one to turn down a cookie or piece of cake. That would, for me, be total sacrilege. That's an obvious violation of my entire belief system! And when I moved to Europe for four years, I plunged even deeper down the rabbit hole of amazing pastries and candies and waffles and gelatos. The never-ending supply of outstanding sweet treats was right at my disposal. Who was I to refuse?! Come on!

    But because of this sweet tooth, and after doing much research, in and out of the doctor's office over many years, I realize that I've suffered from all kinds of maladies that stem directly from this overindulgence of sugar: depression, weight gain, headaches, low energy. Sugar is directly responsible for a good portion of my health ailments. Subconsciously knowing this, I'd occasionally go cold-turkey for a while, but like most abusers and their victims, it would wave to me from nearby pastry shops, promising great things, sending me into delighted euphoric highs, until I was firmly and unabashedly hooked again.

    Well, I've had it.

    There comes a point in a woman's life when you need to pick your self-worth off the floor and admit when your lover is treating you badly. And, for me, that time has come. The defining moment actually happened last month at the tail end of an evening enjoying a baking class with fellow foodies. In a very short time frame, we made -- and sampled -- about five very sweet desserts, not to mention washing them down with wine. It was, quite honestly, a night of poison for me. I woke up the next morning with the hangover of all hangovers--not from wine (of which I had very little) but from all of the sugar. It took me all day to feel better. That day, I picked up a book I'd bought six months prior, about those who have sugar-sensitivity, called "Potatoes Not Prozac", which talks about using food (not medication) to control health ailments, and it starts by removing health-destructing sugar from your diet. After reading even the first few chapters of the book, I vowed to not eat sugar for the entire weekend and 'try it out'. I felt so much better than I had in weeks. Truly. So, I decided then and there that I needed that to be a lasting feeling.

    So, at long last, I broke up with Sugar.

    Like it usually is after a divorce, I was sad and forlorn, not able to contemplate a future without it. That might seem overly melodramatic, but for someone who looks forward to the next sweet treat, it feels unreal to look ahead toward a life of possibly not enjoying those things again. But, as the sadness wore off, for the first time in a long while, I noticed that I feel energetic, clear-headed, and liberated.

    I take inspiration from my gluten-free friends. If they can live without gluten, I can live without sugar. It's funny, though; I do not have one single sugar-free friend. Maybe, in announcing this change, I will meet more sugar-sensitive people who, like me, yearn for better sugar-free alternatives than just NutraSweet or Splenda. I will just have to experiment on my own for now, as most baking books out there don't really provide all the criteria I need for a sugar-free diet. I need recipes that provide sweeteners that are a) natural (no artificial sweeteners) b) have a low glycemic index c) don't use other simple sugars (white flour or white rice flour) and d) use sweeteners that have a neutral taste. Currently, I am experimenting with xylitol, stevia, and occasionally, I use a little bit of honey or agave (the latter two, in very small doses). Stevia is powerful and you don't need much; it's great for kick-starting the sweetness ratio of a recipe.

    I've not only broken up with Sugar but, as I mentioned, also its simple carbohydrate cousins (which act like sugar in your system), such as white pasta and white bread. (Goodbye, French bread! Hello, rustic whole wheat loaves!) It won't be easy, especially when dining out, which is just about one of my favorite things to do. I'm sure I will end up simply indulging from time to time when alternatives just don't present themselves. But, as a general rule, in a day-to-day manner, I just know that I function better as a human being without sugar or simple carbs in my diet.

    I've wanted to break up for years. I even went off of refined sugar for Lent. But that wasn't enough. I had to also stop with the simple carbs and also eat more protein. I hate to use the word "diet" but I don't know what else to call a 'new culinary lifestyle', but whatever it is, it is somewhat reminiscent of a diet for those who have diabetes. High protein, low carbs, no refined sugar, and watching foods and how they affect your Glycemic Index. (Anything over 55 GI is probably not good for a diabetic and questionable for a Hypoglycemic.)

    I'm already pretty well-versed in adapting recipes, and experimenting with non-traditional ingredients, so I have no doubt that my foray into sugar-free baking will lead to fabulous fun. And pasta? Whole wheat for me tastes just fine. And rice? Well, I prefer brown rice anyway. For the most part, I'm good to go.

    You'll be seeing all kinds of recipes for sweets in the upcoming months; I know I'll experiment like mad. Right now, I seem to have a continuing obsession for making sugar-free frozen ice creams, yogurts, and sorbets. If you see sweet recipes on this blog, just assume they are sugar-free. However, I will always add the sugar alternative, so that anyone can make it without buying special ingredients.

    I'm sure I will be enjoying food in a restaurant that might raise my glycemic index a bit, and I know I will enjoy a glass of wine now and then (also has sugar). But daily use? Or overindulgence? Is over. I'm here to put a cap on this Sweet Tooth.

    Like any breakup, I miss Sugar, but I have no doubt that I will find great partnerships with other lovely  alternatives who treat me like a girl needs to be treated.

    And this is where it all begins.

    If you have any advice or resources for this newly unsweetened gal in Seattle, please... I solicit them.