Friday, May 27, 2011

Lemon Risotto with Peas

There is absolutely no doubt that we love our risotto around here.  It's creamy goodness has got us hooked.  And now that spring is in full swing, it's time to load on the lighter flavors - aka lemon and peas.  Since my husband won't go for the peas all by themselves, I thought I'd add them to risotto - that way there was no getting out of it.  It worked.

As you know, I'm in love with peas right now.  Really, I'm in love with anything that resembles spring right now.  I can't seem to eat enough strawberries, or asparagus, or butter lettuce, or broccoli, or... peas.  Or add enough lemon to everything I eat.  So it was a natural move to add both to this risotto dish. 

Now, there are a few tips to cooking risotto that I think make a huge difference in flavor.  I always, always, always use homemade chicken stock when making risotto.  There is just no comparison to the store bought variety.  It adds such richness and depth to the risotto.   Also, use a white wine that you would drink.  I love Trader Joe's, but three buck chuck doesn't cut it.  Enough said.  When finishing the dish, I always add 2 Tbsp of butter and a handful of parmessan or pecorino romano cheese.  Not the best nutritionally, but when you've just spent 25 consecutive minutes of your life standing over the stove stirring and adding and stirring and adding.....that butter and cheese is just what the doc ordered.

We loved this dish and hope you do, too!  Have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend. 

Happy Eating!

Lemon Risotto with Peas
Recipe by A Toast to Taste
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
1.5 cups arborio rice
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp butter, divided
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/3 cup white wine (use one that you would drink)
juice of half lemon
4.5-5 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1 cup peas, cooked
zest from half lemon
salt and pepper to taste
handful of parmessan cheese

In a medium saucepan, heat chicken stock over low heat.

In a large skillet, heat oil and 1 Tbsp butter over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add arborio rice and stir to coat with onion mixture.  Cook until slightly browned, about 2 minutes.  Pour in wine and lemon juice, stirring frequently, and cook until absorbed.  At this point, season with salt and pepper.  Add 1/2 cup of broth, stirring constantly, until absorbed.  Continue to add a 1/2 cup of broth at a time, stirring constantly, and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next.  Rice should be creamy and tender when done (about 20-25 minutes).

Remove from heat, add peas, lemon zest, 2 Tbsp butter, and parmessan.  Stir to combine well.  Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Roasted Tomatoes with Goat Cheese

I bought some beautiful vine-on tomatoes at the store this weekend and let them sit in my fruit bowl for a few days, untouched, just looking pretty.  I was really hoping they would stay that way....but wishful thinking gets me no where....

So, Sunday night rolled around and I wanted a super simple, flavorful side for dinner.  Tomatoes.  Had to do it.  I added some dried oregano, dried thyme, fresh garlic, drizzled with some good olive oil, topped with crumbled goat cheese, and baked for about 25-30 minutes.  Divine.  I love baked tomatoes, they just melt in your mouth.

Really, it couldn't get any easier than this.  Use the leftovers on a sandwich the next day, or pick at them right out of the tupperware container for the next two days like I did, ahem.

This one is a winner!  Enjoy!

Roasted Tomatoes with Goat Cheese
Recipe by A Toast to Taste
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
4 medium size tomatoes (I used vine-on), sliced thin
good olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Layer sliced tomatoes in baking dish.  Add chopped garlic and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle on oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper.   Top with crumbled goat cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Banana Bread with the Volume Turned Up

I have extremely fond memories of banana bread.  My mom is the master at making it - she's been using the same recipe that she got in 8th grade Home Economics class - and it rocks.  Of course, it calls for buttermilk, which she makes herself.  It's always so good.  And growing up we had it at every family gathering.  In fact, we still do to this day.

Lately  I've been thinking what banana bread would taste like with the volume turned up - like what would happen if we added some chocolate chips, some toasted walnuts, and perhaps a little brandy???  Now that's what I'm talking about! 

So I tried it out and have made this bread about 5 times since I had that thought.  It's absolutely, positively out of this world amazing - a texture and flavor delight.  It's savory enough to enjoy for breakfast and sweet enough to enjoy as a dessert - and I've been known to exercise both options in one day when this bread is in the house....hard to keep the mitts off!

This version was inspired by Nigella Lawson's recipe for Banana Bread from her "How to Be A Domestic Goddess" book.  I made a few tweaks to adjust to my tastes.

Please make a loaf of this bread as soon as possible....banana bread will never be same for you!

Banana Bread
Recipe Inspired by Nigella Lawson
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
3-4 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup brandy or bourbon
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

Beat butter and sugar until blended.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the bananas, vanilla and brandy.  Beat well.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add dry ingredients, a third at a time, to the wet ingredients.  Beat well.  Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.  Pour mixture into loaf pan and bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from oven, let cool for 10 minutes.  Transfer loaf to wire rack to continue to cool for 15 minutes.  Slice and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Peas, Please!

I don't know what it is but I've been crazy for greens lately - asparagus, kale, arugula, baby bok choy, and peas, yes peas.  Never thought I'd say it, but I'm lovin' on the peas right now.  Plump, cute little buggers that are packed full of nutrients, peas have been my green of choice the past few weeks.  My husband is still traumatized from his childhood peas, and I keep telling him these are nothing like the frozen {or dare I say canned} kind.  He doesn't buy it.  I guess I still have some work to do. 

Regardless, this is quite possibly one of the easiest side dishes I've made in a looong time.  And what perfect timing - in the spring and summer months I don't like to spend too much time in the kitchen with the ovens on and burners raging for hours.  So, I turn to easy options like this one.  Peas, a little onion, some olive oil, a dab of butter, seasoned with a little salt and pepper and voila!  A seasonally appropriate and healthy combination is born!

Thank goodness for Trader Joe's - they have fresh English Peas pre-packaged.  All you need to do is throw 'em in boiling water for 2 minutes and they're done!  Major life and timesaver.

I'm tellin' ya - the peas are where it's at right now. 

Recipe by A Toast to Taste
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
1 10oz bag English Peas or about 2 cups peas removed from pods
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil.  Add peas and cook for 2 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat oil and butter over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add peas, stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Transfer to serving bowl and enjoy!

As Ina Garten would say, "How easy was that??!"

Monday, May 16, 2011

Strawberry Mango Bellini

We celebrated the birthday of a dear friend of mine on Friday the 13th.  In my world, birthdays call for fun drinks, good food, and girl time.  So, I concocted this strawberry mango bellini in honor of the birthday girl....who loves a good champagne cocktail from time to time {ok, often, and that's why I love her!}.  This drink couldn't be easier to make.  It tastes best when made the day of and slightly frozen.

We gathered on a rather dreary day in Minneapolis.  Enjoyed cheeses, dried fig and oat crackers, marinated olives, wine, lots of wine, special bellinis, and enough laughter to get me through the next month or so....maybe.

We all {meaning the four of us hooligans} used to work together at the corporate headquarters of a large trendy discount retailer here in Minneapolis.  Three of us have moved on.  One still remains.  Our days of grabbing happy hour after work {at least weekly} have dwindled to quarterly occurances.  We've gotten married, had babies, gotten new jobs, bought houses, have laughed and cried together.  We've created memories that I will remember for a lifetime.

So, we talked and laughed, and ate and drank, and laughed some more....and I snapped those pics above on my girlfriend's patio.  Spring was trying so hard that day, trying to hold off on the rain....that had fallen for the third day in a row.  But alas, it poured through Saturday.  I guess the grass needed it.  At least that's what I tell myself.

The rain sure didn't stop us.  We got our bellini on and wished a big fat happy birthday to our girlfriend.  ED - here's to you! 

Strawberry Mango Bellini
Recipe by A Toast to Taste
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
1 mango, peeled and cut from core
4-5 strawberries
1-2 tsp organic agave nectar
1 bottle chilled prosecco or brut champagne

In a blender, puree mango, strawberries, and agave nectar until smooth.  Transfer to freezer safe container and place in freezer for about 20 minutes.  For the drink, place one small spoonful (about 1-2 Tbsp) of puree in bottom of champagne flute and top with prosecco or champagne.  If needed, stir to combine.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Asparagus Tart

Last week was one of those weeks....busy, stressful, a little "off", and just all around yucky.  I'm glad it's over.  But there's more to the story.  Overall, I'm going through something much larger than busy, stressful weeks.  I'm in the process.  And it feels good and awkward and slightly selfish.  Mostly, it's necessary.  I'm in the process of change.

Change.  I don't know if it's my age, but I'm really getting sick of just being.  Just being a good worker, just being a good wife, just being a good friend and daughter, just being present.  Just being.  I want to be truly thrilled with my life, with my work, with my cooking, with my blog.  I'm not there, and I don't like it.  I feel forced.  I feel caged, at times.  And I want out.

I awoke to my daily horoscope waiting in my inbox about two weeks ago, like it always is.  It went something like this - "Your ideas are all pointing towards one thing:  Change.  Make sure you are consciously guiding it as much as possible."  It had to be a sign.  It just had to be.  But change doesn't happen overnight.  It's gradual, for me anyways.  And from that point on, I decided I was going to make a change, guided by me.

I've sought out alternative methods to get my body in sync.  I was confident if my body wasn't jiving to the beat of my new thoughts, the change I wanted wasn't going to happen.  I feel it working.  Slowly.  This is a journey.  I can only hope it's a safe, serene, successful one.  This space will serve as my outlet for now.  I want to share it with you - and will always remember to include a recipe!

Because last week was so crazy, I didn't have time for anything elaborate.  I had asparagus and frozen puff pastry.  Done and done.  I've been seeing quite a few tarts lately and thought it would be a perfect option for a quick dinner.  Flaky, crunchy, slightly sweet, yet so savory - I'm definitely a fan of the tart!  The asparagus paired perfectly with the tart.  I topped it with some organic grape tomatoes, goat cheese, and fresh thyme.  Fabulous.  Served it with a nice mixed greens salad and our veggie quota was fulfilled for the day!

This is a must-try!  

Asparagus Tart
Recipe by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
flour for dusting
1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bunch asparagus, washed, tips trimmed
10 grape tomatoes
1-2oz crumbled goat cheese
2 tsp fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Flour your work surface and a rolling pin.  Remove thawed puff pastry sheet from packaging and unfold onto work surface.  Roll out to desired size, making sure to smooth out folds.  With a paring knife, lightly score the pastry dough 1-inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle.  Using a fork, pierce the dough inside the markings.  Place dough on parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes or until golden.

Remove from oven.  Top with olive oil and garlic.  Then arrange the asparagus spears in an even layer across the dough.  Top with tomatoes, goat cheese, thyme, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake until asparagus is tender, about 12 minutes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Linguine with White Wine & Herb Sauce

We finally got around to making a couple batches of homemade pasta this weekend.  I'm having a hard time keeping it around, though.  You see, we have a crazy busy week this week, and I have yet to make it to the grocery store.  That doesn't leave much for options....frozen homemade pasta and herbs.  That's where it's at right now in our kitchen.  Oh well...

Friday night we grilled up some chicken breasts and made this wonderful springy, lemony, herby, buttery sauce to toss with some homemade linguine we had just cranked out.  It was such a nice change of pace from the creamy, tomatoey, meaty sauces we've been eating for the past 7 months.  The herbs in the sauce just added this whole new dimension that MADE the sauce.  Use fresh herbs, they're best.  But dried will do the job if you don't have any on hand.

The best part about this - it's adaptable and flexible.  Add chicken like we did, or grilled salmon, or roasted tomatoes, or throw in some spring asparagus or peas.  Or you can just serve it as a side dish.  Oh the options....

Have fun with this one.  But be prepared to feel spring as soon as you take your first bite [thank goodness]!


Linguine with White Wine & Herb Sauce
Recipe by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
1 lb linguine - I used fresh but boxed is fine
3 Tbsp olive oil - few glugs around the pan, you want it to completely coat the bottom
2 Tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
about 1/3 cup white wine
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped
2 tsp fresh dill, chopped
zest from 1 lemon
juice from half the lemon
1 tsp salt
finely grated pecorino romano cheese for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  If using fresh noodles (not frozen) they will only need about 2 minutes to cook.  If using frozen fresh noodles they will need about 5 minutes.  If using boxed, cook according to directions on box. 

While pasta is cooking, heat oil and butter in large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Pour in white wine and let cook off for another minute.  At this point, add the cooked pasta to the skillet followed by the lemon zest, juice, herbs, and salt.  Toss together well.  Remove from heat, top with pecorino, and serve.