Pale Ale Risotto with Smoked Gouda, Ham and Peas

January 27, 2013 Entrees No Comments

In a recent ‘Joe Sixpack’ article that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, author Don Russell highlights some of the incredible combinations that local cheese makers and craft brewers are pairing together. It was very inspirationional to learn how centuries-old techniques are being embraced and incorporated into modern-day cheese and beer making. It encouraged me to put together a recipe using two of my favorite pairings, pale ale and smoked gouda. It was also an opportunity to put one of my less favorite beers (Blue Moon Belgian Pale Ale, which came in a mixed case…not bad, but by far not my favorite of this style)  to good use.

Because we are smack-dab in the middle of a frigid winter, I decided to go with risotto, one of my favorite comfort foods. I also added to the mix diced ham and peas, another of my favorite combinations, for a little extra texture and taste. This turned out to be a very hearty and flavorful dish that needed no extra seasoning. It hit the spot on a below-freezing weekend night…even my 4-year old loved it!

Pale Ale Risotto with Smoked Gouda, Ham and Peas

1 large shallot, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1 12-oz bottle pale ale (any pale ale will do, or an IPA will add a more complex taste)
3 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup cooked ham, finely diced
1/4 cup peas, cooked
6 ounces smoked gouda cheese, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

Heat the low sodium chicken broth to near boiling, set aside.

In a medium saucepan, add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent. Add the rice, sautéeing until each grain is coated.

Add the beer and heat to simmer, stirring constantly. When the beer is mostly absorbed, add a ladleful of hot chicken broth to the saucepan. Stir constantly while simmering. Repeat procedure (ladle and stir once the liquid is mostly absorbed) for around twenty minutes.

When you are down to the final two ladles of broth, stir in the ham, peas and cubed gouda. Continue to ladle and stir, the gouda will melt into the risotto.

When all broth is incorporated, remove from heat, add the parmigiano reggiano cheese and remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and stir well. Serve with crusty bread.


Beer Review: Theobroma…Food of the Gods!

January 21, 2013 Dessert, Menu No Comments

It’s hard to believe that Valentines Day is only a few weeks away. Although I still have some time to plan out a special meal to share with you (I’m thinking some sort of risotto), it’s never too early to pass along a good recommendation for a gift…and I’m not talking about gold dipped roses, either. If you and/or your loved one are fans of beer and chocolate, I highly suggest searching out a bottle of Dogfish Head Theobroma.

Translated from an ancient word that means ‘food of the gods’, Theobroma is a chile beer (a light colored ale that is infused with peppers, oils or spices, ranging from mild to REALLY hot), accented with just the right amount of cocoa and honey. This is probably one of the most interesting and complex beers that I have ever tasted, and definitely one that I really enjoyed.

Cocoa and pepper are a very trendy combination nowadays, but one that I didn’t know what to expect from in a beer. Cocoa/chocolate beers can often be misleading to begin with, especially to those that have never had one, or are drawn to it because of the chocolate appeal. Most often, these beers are not sweet like chocolate, but rather bitter like a pure cocoa, often added to a stout or porter. I liken them to a burnt coffee rather than the expected chocolate malt taste. But because Theobroma’s backbone is a lighter ale, the sweet cocoa accents really do shine through. The peppery taste is mild, but enough to be recognized. The honey adds just the right amount of smoothness. Even a little bit of vanilla could be detected in there as well. Don’t let this beer fool you, though. At 9%, this one is definitely a heavy hitter, and one that should be shared with another…or by yourself if you’re planning to just chill out at home while catching up on your favorite movie or tv show.

Unlike most other beers, which are offered either seasonally or year round, Theobroma is a special, limited-edition rotating brew offered by the Delaware-based craft brewery. In other words, if you see it, get it, because you might not know when you’ll find it again.

I highly recommend serving Theobroma with a roasted chicken or a cocoa-rubbed pork, and of course with your favorite chocolate dessert.



Capri Phyllo Squares

January 10, 2013 Appetizer, Menu, Salads No Comments

If you’re a fan of tomatoes, it’s highly unlikely that you enjoy eating them this time of year. Like a good friend of mine said on one of her Facebook posts, “winter tomatoes are pretty with no personality”. The response posted by another friend, saying that “they have the personality of Ted Baxter” still makes me laugh. But just because we are not in prime time tomato season does not mean that you cannot enjoy a store-bought tomato that is jazzed up with a little extra flavor when added to the right dish.

One of my favorite Italian dishes that uses tomatoes is the classic Capri Salad. A simple combination of tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil, the Capri is the perfect marriage of taste and texture. Whether served as a traditional salad drizzled with aged balsamic, or served appetizer-style on a fancy toothpick, it may be one of the most refreshing combinations that I like to enjoy throughout the year.

For today’s post, I’m adding a bit more depth and texture by incorporating a phyllo dough wrap to make an amazingly simple and tasty appetizer!

Capri Phyllo Squares
4 roma tomatoes, sliced (you’ll need 12 slices in all)
12 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
(tomato and cheese slices should each be about 1/2″ or so thick)
12 pieces fresh basil
1 packet of frozen phyllo dough, defrosted
(one packet should give you 18 sheets phyllo dough. You will then cut the sheets in half, leaving a total of 36 sheets)
melted butter for brushing
olive oil
salt and pepper for seasoning
balsamic vinegar

Turn oven on to 350˚. Place tomato slices on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake tomatoes in the oven for 7 minutes to soften a bit. Remove tomatoes from oven, leaving oven on.

To assemble the wraps, you will need three sheets of phyllo, stacked. Lightly brush one side of the stacked phyllo with butter. Place the butter brushed side down on a new baking tray lined with parchment paper. Place on the phyllo one slice of tomato, one slice of cheese and one basil leaf. Gently fold all four corners of the phyllo to cover the tomato, cheese and basil. Flip the square so the folded side is face down on the tray. Continue these steps until you have 12 folded phyllo squares spread out evenly on the tray. Place in oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, carefully remove squares from tray. Plate and serve immediately. For additional taste, add a very light drizzle of balsamic vinegar to the squares.


Saying “Cheese” to New Resolutions!

Another year, another round of New Year resolutions! Since starting this blog back in 2008, most of my resolutions have been food related (learning how to make home made pasta, new challenges with Una Mamma Italiana), and because of this my resolutions have been fun and enjoyable to partake in! This year, I have my cousin Jenny to thank for setting me up with my 2013 food-related resolution. Her Christmas gift to me was a fantastic book called Artisan Cheese Making at Home. The book is very well put together and is a lot of fun to look at – the pictures are absolutely mouth-watering. Everything from ricotta and mascarpone, to créme fraiche and greek yogurt, to cocoa rubbed jack cheese, ale-washed trappist cheese and tips on how to make smoked mozzarella are covered in appetizing detail. Obviously, some of these cheeses can’t even be considered just yet, not only for my lack of skills but for the lack of space and set-up in my basement. But that’s not going to stop me from reading and absorbing this book, attempting what recipes I can handle and sharing with you my journey in cheese making. If anything, I’m looking forward to trying out some of the suggested recipes included in the book…even if I have to sneak over to the 9th Street Market to get my hands on some good quality cheese, wrapped and ready to go.

I also have some other fun ideas in mind for the blog this year. Keep an eye out over the next few months for new recipes featuring:
• risotto
• soups
• pot pies
• pasta dishes
• my kids’ take on panzarotti vs. calzone

Plus…I’ll be joining my friend Carl for a very special home brewing post!

I’ll also be chasing down Una Mamma Italiana for another food challenge or two…and hopefully some other surprise visits from other special contributors.

Thanks again for visiting…here’s to a great and appetizing 2013!


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