Hello, and Risotto Primavera

I seem to have entirely neglected, if not per perception left entirely, this website. And, truly, the perception was my own, as I had decided, in moderate intention, to stop posting and let my recipes slowly fade into the infinity of the Cloud. But as everyone in my life knows, I finally moved from Chicago to North Carolina. Durham, more specifically. And in leaving, I was interested again in keeping this up, bolstered as well by the encouragement of several friends. So the blog will be resurrected from its really-dusty-kitchen, dishes-haven’t-been-done-in-weeks level disregard. And it seems I’ll need to change my subtitle.

I was told from some people that possibly this should no longer be titled “Dinner for Brian,” as the motivation for the title originally- that I was posting recipes in Chicago for my brother to try at home- is now less substantiated. If I want, I can go see Brian on any weeknight, make him dinner (or go out together), and receive immediate feedback. The internet no longer is a necessary medium. But, if I’m being honest, I mostly like the idea of cooking for a tangible (if now much more available) person. Yes, I usually eat alone. And yes, these recipes are often to serve my palate more than my lovely ginger brother’s. But I do take credit for expanding significantly his culinary horizons, and it’s still with his review in mind that I write. (Not to diminish the influences of my other brothers, who are easily as important and definitely more interesting than I am).

The real reason I’m posting tonight, as opposed to a lazy Sunday (my usual date), is because romanesco broccoli was on sale at Whole Foods today, and it looks so super cool, and I wanted to use it. And then, in doing so, I was thinking that everyone I know needs to cook with romanesco broccoli- mostly for the fun shape- and I must provide a recipe. Also, this is really, very delicious, and it is also incredibly easy to put together. I had never made risotto with actual arborio rice before, always favoring risotto from barley (also, where would I find arborio rice?). But in an attempt to have really quite pretty jars full of grains to hide in my cabinets (in the ideal of someday having this beautiful kitchen with open and exposed shelving), I bought a bunch of grains from my neighborhood co-op, and at that time I found arborio rice sneaking among the quinoa. I determined it must be tried.

Well, this has been a lengthy composition… Here’s the recipe.

Risotto Primavera

Serves 2

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup arborio rice

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 white onion, diced finely

2 carrots, sliced thinly

1 head romanesco broccoli, chopped into small florets

1/3 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup frozen corn

1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan

Salt & pepper

Basil, sliced, to serve

Heat the stock in a small quart pan until just boiling. Lower to low heat and keep warm.

In a larger pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and mix. Add the broccoli. Season lightly. Add 2-3 ladle-fulls of stock to the pan (it will simmer and deglaze slightly). Stir and stir until the rice has absorbed most of the stock. (It’s not ridiculous, you can take breaks from stirring; just don’t leave it for a long period of time). Add another ladle or two of stock. Stir. Repeat this process until the rice is soft and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. You may not use all of your stock. Once the rice is cooked and most of the stock is absorbed, add the peas, corn, and Parmesan. Stir to combine well. Taste and season again.

Serve and top with fresh basil. Admire the pretty broccoli. And eat!


Pumpkin Barley Risotto

Pumpkin. Not spice. I’m going the savory route with pumpkin this time, because, as you all should know, pumpkin is delicious without cinnamon as well. Just as other squashes seem to work with both salt and sugar, pumpkin really blends well with earthy spices like thyme and rosemary. I’ve made barley risotto before (it’s my favorite way to make risotto), but I felt inspired to add a new twist. This inspiration is likely derived from having bought all of the pumpkin things from Trader Joe’s, including cans of pumpkin puree. (Another side note: if you haven’t bought their mini ginger snap pumpkin ice cream sandwiches, just… please. Do it). This risotto skips a bit on the traditional ingredients, side-stepping a lot of the Parmesan and butter. In fact, it quite easily could be made vegan if you felt so inclined. Rather than compromising creaminess, however, the pumpkin amps up the rich and smooth and luxurious factor of this risotto so much the additional dairy is really not necessary. I actually made it once with Parmesan and once without, and I didn’t notice any difference at all. But, of course… I do still recommend topping with an inordinate amount of goat cheese.

Goat cheese on everything.

That should be my new blog name.

I actually made this risotto twice within a week, which is basically unheard of for me because 1) every recipe gives me leftovers, so I usually move on following the fourth plate and 2) I have to contend with the dying-by-the-day vegetables in my refrigerator, rarely allowing me to repeat a meal (living alone has its challenges). But! My friend and I were having our sort-of-weekly TV night, and I promised this risotto as we’re both pumpkin and goat-cheese obsessed. It did not disappoint. With a nice side of steamed or roasted vegetables, this is a perfectly impressive yet straightforward dinner for you, your guest, or your lunchbox.

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Pumpkin Barley Risotto

Serves 2-3

1 tbsp. unsalted butter (I love Kerrygold) or olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 cup pearl barley

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 – 2  1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock, warmed

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

2 tbsp. – 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese- optional

2-3 oz. goat cheese (chevre)

In a small pot, warm the stock to just below boiling. Keep warm over low heat.

In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the vegetables and sauté until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, stir, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the barley and stir to toast for about 2-3 minutes. Add the spices, salt, and pepper, and mix. Deglaze the pot with the balsamic vinegar and stir vigorously. Lower the heat to medium low.

Add about 1/2 cup of stock to the barley. Stir the barley regularly. Once the barley has absorbed most of the liquid, add another 1/4 – 1/2 cup of stock. Continue to add stock, stir, and add stock until the barley is fully cooked, usually in about 25-30 minutes. You may not need all of the stock recommended; you may need a bit more (have more at the ready). It depends on the barley, cooking temperature, and risotto gods.

Once the barley is softened and cooked through (it retains a chewy texture but should not have any bite), add the pumpkin puree and Parmesan cheese (if adding). Stir to mix thoroughly and taste. Re-season as needed with salt and pepper.

Add the pumpkin risotto to bowls and top with 1-2 tbsp. of freshly crumbled goat cheese and a sprinkle of oregano. Devour.




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Life as a single-person household.


*You’ll notice these pictures seem to lack onions and carrots. That’s because the second time is when I added those vegetables, and I really enjoyed the variety in texture. I’d advise adding them, but it’s up to you.


(Not Absurdly Complicated) Bolognese Sauce

I’m training (so much of me wants to write “training,” because I feel pretentious acting like I’m Rocky or something really getting ready for the fight) for a 10-miler in May- the Soldier Field 10-miler, in fact- and for some reason, I’m craving red meat like crazy. This could make sense physiologically, like further oxygen demands requiring more iron stores for increased hemoglobin production and so on (or maybe I just “want” the protein), but sometimes cravings are just cravings. I typically go through a serious hamburger phase in the Summer, because the idea of a hamburger on the grill next to some grilled corn on the cob just screams joy and block parties and satiety. Maybe because I want Summer with the entirety of my being, or maybe because of all the running I’ve been making myself do, or maybe because grass-fed beef really is just delicious, I had a sudden idea to buy a pound of meat and make bolognese sauce last weekend. It’s something I’ve wanted to make for awhile, but, to be honest, had always prepared in a semi-homemade fashion. Some part of me, though- probably the part also craving a hamburger- intended to really prepare bolognese. A genuine, from-scratch, heart-felt bolognese, simmered and gently stirred. I read recipe upon recipe, gathering my influences… chopped vegetables here, tomato paste there, milk heated, milk added at the end, simmered for hours, simmered in parts for days… there was a lot to take in. I wanted to make bolognese, and I wanted deep flavors, but I also had a work-night to make it. So I compromised the recipes, leveraged some ingredients and added some others, and ended up with a truly delicious and really not overly complicated recipe. It finishes in about 4 hours, and could be done in two (although losing some of that slow-simmered flavor). It’s full of vegetables and easy on the meat, but profoundly flavored by both. And there are hearty tomato chunks, because don’t we want to know what we’re eating? I also left out the wine, simply for not having any, but I love balsamic so much, and probably prefer the substitution. You can use either.

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(Not Absurdly Complicated) Bolognese Sauce

Serves 6-8

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, minced very finely

2 large carrots, minced finely

8 cloves garlic, minced

4 oz. mushrooms, chopped finely

1 lb. grass-fed ground beef

2 tbsp. Italian seasoning (or a mixture of dried parsley, oregano, and thyme)

1/4 tsp. dried crushed red chili flake

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 6 oz. can of tomato paste (I used Muir Glen organic)

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or 1/2 cup red wine)

1 28 oz. can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes

3 cups chicken stock

1 parmesan rind

Begin by preparing the vegetables. I actually used a food processor to really break down the carrots and onions. The juices are released more fragrantly, which I think advances the flavor.

In a large dutch oven or stock pot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the minced onion and carrots and cook until lightly browning, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. The heat should be low enough that the onions don’t burn, but does allow for light caramelization. Push the caramelized onions and carrots to the edges of the pan and add minced garlic. Cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Mix the vegetables together and add the mushrooms. Cook an additional 5-10 minutes, until mushrooms are just releasing their juices. Add the ground meat to the pan and cook until browned, about 10-15 minutes. Once the meat is browned, add the spices and seasonings.

To the meat and vegetables, add a whole can of tomato paste. Stir to incorporate fully, and cook for about 5 minutes, to really “cook off” the canned flavor. Increase the heat to medium and add the balsamic vinegar or wine. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the liquid has bubbled away almost entirely, and there is just a bit of liquid apparent at the bottom of the pan. To the pot, add the whole peeled tomatoes, using the back of the spoon to crush and break up a bit. Stir to incorporate. Add the chicken stock and parmesan rind and stir. Bring the mixture to a low simmer, then reduce heat to very low, about the lowest it can be. The sauce should maintain a weak simmer, with just a few bubbles breaking the surface every few seconds.

Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered over low heat for anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. The flavors will really intensify and develop as it simmers (I thought there wouldn’t be much difference, but had time to kill, so I let it simmer. I was pretty impressed by how much “deeper” and more complex the flavors were after 3 hours of simmering as compared to one hour).

Remove from the heat and serve, likely over pasta of choice. I love to use pasta and sauce as a topping for a massive pile of greens, so that’s how I served it here. I find spinach or arugula to work best, as the pasta just barely wilts the greens to a perfect texture.

This may be one of very fews forays into Italian for me, but I have my eye on a pasta maker and anticipate much more old-fashioned kitchen fun to come.

Lemon Barley Risotto with Peas

In Chicago, you cannot be outside and not see winter. Not in the densely gray sky; not in the salt-bleached asphalt; not in the naked trees, with snow climbing high up their trunks; and especially not in the ground, exhibiting at any point a full mountain range of snow piles, exhaust-stained at its base and crisply white at its peaks. Winter is truly everywhere, save a few perfectly positioned glances out the window at sunset. So maybe this makes me a Chicagoan now, but I am utterly delighted at the idea of snow falling thickly on my south-eastern friends and family, while I optimistically drive on clear paved roads on a (remarkably) sunny day that nearly breaks freezing. We’ve suffered enough winter this year, and I’ll take any wins I can. Even if it’s just “oh, thank God it didn’t snow today!” I’m a little jealous that for other parts of the country (that I so recently called home), snow is an exciting rarity that requires immediate rest and relaxation. I wish snow meant hot chocolate and blankets instead of freezing, slow commutes. But there’s promise of a genuine heat wave- temperatures sky-rocketing to the 40s- so maybe it’s time to celebrate Spring, just a little bit, just to see how it feels. This dinner is nice in that it incorporates the fresh components of Spring flavors- lemon, peas, thyme- but requires ingredients that are pantry staples or easy freezer grabs. It’s a healthy variation on an Italian favorite, and a nice mix up from rice or pasta. The barley creates this “risotto” through the slow cooking process, yielding starches to the surrounding broth with time. It’s utterly creamy as a result, and while I’ve had “real” risotto only once or twice, barley risotto is a pretty fair comparison.

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Lemon Barley Risotto with Peas

Serves 3-4

1 tbsp. butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup pearled barley

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

3 cups water

1 tbsp. thyme, fresh or dried

2 cups peas, frozen

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, (freshly) grated

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Salt & pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, mix vegetable or chicken stock and water and heat until boiling. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, with a ladle ready for use.

In a pot, melt 1 tbsp. butter over medium heat. Add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add barley and toast, stirring frequently, about 3-5 minutes. Once the barley is fragrant and lightly browning, add thyme and bit of salt. Next, add about 1 cup of stock/water to the barley and stir. Cook  the barley until it’s absorbed most of the liquid; then, add another cup of stock/water. Repeat this process, adding about 1-1/2 cups of liquid at a time, stirring regularly, until the barley is tender and the liquids are almost entirely absorbed. This process can take anywhere from 25-45 minutes, depending on the barley.

Just before the barley is finished, with a bit of liquid remaining, add the frozen peas. Cook the peas in the barley for 2-3 minutes, until bright and softened. Remove the barley from the heat and add juice of 1/2 a lemon, zest of 1 lemon, and 1/2 cup of Parmesan. Stir together and season additionally if necessary.

Serve the barley risotto plain, with a sprinkle of goat cheese. Or, serve along side some lemon grilled chicken or your other favorite protein of the day.

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I went with some meat this time. It’s been awhile. (Also, I know you like this chicken, Brian).