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Apple Bacon Harvest Risotto

October 8, 2013 Entrees, Menu No Comments

A few weeks back, I posted a review of Harpoon Pumpkin Cider (the verdict: not so good). I purchased the cider as a six-pack, so I have since been kicking around ideas on how to put the remaining bottles to good use without simply dumping it all down the drain. One of my favorite dishes that I like to prepare this time of year, particularly on a Sunday spent at home, is a nice pot of risotto featuring seasonal ingredients and flavors. I’ve already put together a Pumpkin Amaretto Risotto, which is one of my favorite recipes on my blog. But this gave me an idea on another seasonal favorite of mine. Since the main ingredient of cider is apples, I though it would be nice to play up on the apple angle. From there, I started thinking of other ingredients that would work well with apples. I immediately thought of  a harvest salad, and quickly came up with smoked bacon, walnuts and gorgonzola cheese. After a bit of research, I found a risotto recipe using apples, bacon and bleu cheese, and white wine and apple cider vinegar as the liquid base. With just a few minor adjustments, particularly using the cider in place of the wine and vinegar, and throwing in some allspice for an extra kick, I put together a dish that I was really happy with. The risotto was very filling and full of wonderful autumn flavors and texture. It’s a perfect recipe for this time of year. If you are a fan of risotto and the fall season, and if you have about 45 minutes of uninterrupted kitchen time available to you, give this one a try. If you don’t have apple cider on hand, I’m sure that the white wine and apple cider vinegar combination would work just as well.

Apple Bacon Harvest Risotto
inspired by a recipe found at betterrecipes.com

4 Strips Thick-cut Bacon, cut into ½” slivers

1 tbsp Olive Oil

2 Golden Delicious Apples, peeled and diced

2 Shallots, peeled and minced

4 cups Low-sodium Chicken Stock

1½ cups Arborio Rice

1 12 oz bottle Hard Apple Cider
(you can substitute cider with 1/2 cup Dry White Wine + 2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar)

¾ tsp Kosher Salt, divided

½ tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper

1 tbsp Thinly Sliced Fresh Sage Plus a Few Leaves, for garnish

3.5 oz Gorgonzola Cheese, crumbled

1 tbspn finely chopped Walnuts

Dash of Allspice (to taste)


Place the bacon in a large saute pan and cook over medium heat until golden, rendering most of the fat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon to a paper towel and drain all but one tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add the olive oil to the bacon fat in the pan and saute the shallots and apples over medium-high heat until softened and browned in spots, 5-6 minutes. Season mixture with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Meanwhile, heat the stock over low heat in a small saucepan until it comes to a simmer, then adjust heat to maintain a low simmer.

Add the rice to the saute pan with the apples and shallots and cook, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes, until rice becomes translucent at edges. Add the cider (or wine and vinegar) then cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed by the rice. Season mixture with a second 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add a ladle of simmering stock and cook, stirring frequently, until absorbed. Repeat additions of stock, adjusting the heat to keep the risotto simmering but not at a raging boil, until rice is just tender, about 20 minutes. Season with pepper, then remove from heat, add sage, reserved bacon, the final 1/4 teaspoon salt, goat cheese, walnuts and allspice, then cover for 2-3 minutes. Give a final stir and serve immediately, garnished with sage leaves.


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.


Whole Grain Baked Arancini Rice Balls

August 28, 2012 Menu 1 Comment

This past weekend, I was given a very special and unique opportunity that favored the ‘good’ side of karma. You’ll recall a few posts back, when I chatted with nutritionist Dana Gollotto, who prepares the pre-game meals for the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s moments like this – being able to sit and chat with others who share the same passion as mine about food – that make writing my blog so gratifying. This past weekend, however, Dana raised the gratification bar to a whole new level when she asked me to prepare an Italian dish, using one of my own recipes, to be presented to THE PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES!

Growing up as a life-long Phillies fan, I’m sure you could imagine how much of an honor this request was for me. Once getting past the initial excitement, reality set in. What in the world does one make for a professional sports team? Based on Dana’s suggestion of focusing on a dish high in fruits or veggies and/or lean meats and whole grains, I decided to put my recent love for risotto to the test and make a healthy version of arancini rice balls.

Traditionally, arancini rice balls are made with chilled risotto, shaped into balls (often stuffed with meats or cheese), then breaded and fried. To stay on the healthier side, I chose to use whole grain brown rice in place of arborio rice, then using a wheat bread crumb mixture for the coating, and then baking instead of frying. For additional flavor, I went with the classic combination of asparagus, lemon zest and lemon juice. For my test round, I used all brown rice. Because the brown rice does not release nearly as much starch as traditional arborio rice would, the process of making the risotto took twice as long. The rice simply would not break down and absorb the liquid. This also made for a dry taste and texture. Not bad, but not what I was shooting for.

When it was officially  ‘game time’, I decided to go with a 2/1 ratio of brown rice and arborio rice, using enough arborio to create the much needed creamy and sticky texture to hold the arancini rice balls together. This round was much better and made for the exact texture I was hoping for!

Although I was not allowed to deliver and present the arancini rice balls to the team personally – they are a professional sports team and understandably can not allow just anyone to enter their club house – Dana could not have been more grateful for the time that I spent making the dish. She also graciously passed along a bunch of recipe cards that I made up from my recent blog posts. After patiently waiting to hear what the players thought of my dish, Dana got in touch with me and said it perfectly…..” A huge hit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Everyone loved it.”

Even as a kid, I knew that my chances of ever making it to the major league was one in a million. But as far as my passion for food goes, I definitely knocked this one out of the park.

Makes about 30 balls

1 bunch asparagus spears, tough ends cut off
9 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1-1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cups short grain brown rice
1 cup arborio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 cups wheat bread crumbs
1 cup corn meal
3 large eggs
2 tbspn milk
salt and pepper to taste

Step 1: Cooking the Asparagus
In a large pot, bring enough water to cover asparagus stems to a boil. Add asparagus to boiling water for 5 minutes until crisp tender, remove from water and immediately place cooked stems into a bowl of ice water to shock the stems. When cooled, remove fro ice water, pat dry, chop into small pieces and set aside.

Step 2: Cooking the Risotto
In a medium pot, bring the stock to a simmer. Reduce heat to lowest setting and keep warm.

In a deep skillet or pot, heat 1-1/2 tablespoons butter and oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, 2 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat. Add wine. Cook, stirring, until the wine evaporates. Add stock 1 cup at a time, stirring until nearly all of the liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup. Continue until the rice is tender but not mushy. When almost finished, stir in the chopped asparagus, adding stock as needed and stirring continuously. Remove pan from the heat. Stir in remaining butter, cheese, lemon juice and lemon zest. Place cooked risotto into a covered bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Step 3: Preparing the Arancini Rice Balls 
Remove chilled risotto from the refrigerator. Scoop up about 1-2 tbspn of cold risotto and gently roll into a ball in the palm of your hands. Place the rice balls onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for about 1 hour to let the rice balls harden up again.

Preheat oven to 350˚. In one bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, corn meal, salt and pepper. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Remove rice balls from the refrigerator. Roll the rice balls into the breadcrumb mixture, then dip into the egg mixture, then roll into the breadcrumbs again. The double coating of breadcrumbs makes for an extra crispy coating. Place the rice balls on a baking sheet. Because you are baking instead of deep frying, you want to generously coat the rice balls with cooking spray to keep them from drying out. Place the baking sheets into the oven for about 30 minutes, until lightly golden and crispy. Serve immediately.

Image courtesy/istock.com © CactuSoup

Lemon Mint Risotto with Zucchini

August 6, 2012 Entrees, Menu 2 Comments

Now’s the time to put that fresh harvest of vegetables and herbs to good use! One of the new herbs that I planted this year was mint. If I had known how abundant this herb was, I would have started planning recipes to use it with months ago! After putting together multiple batches of mint pesto, mint iced tea, and mint seasoned chicken to name just a few, I searched out  a delicious combination that would put not only my mint to use, but fresh zucchini and lemon as well. This dish adds lemon zing, mint accent and fresh zucchini to classic risotto. What I found most interesting about this dish was how the zucchini was sliced and added. By simply using a vegetable peeler to make long, thin slices, the zucchini takes on a beautiful ribbon shape and texture that holds up well in the warm risotto. The ribbons gently wrap around the creamy rice, yet melts in your mouth with every bite. The mint gives the perfect refreshing accent without overpowering. If you are a fan of risotto, I suggest you give this recipe a try.


6 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for garnish
1/2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced with a vegetable peeler
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves, plus extra for garnish

Bring stock to a simmer. Reduce heat to lowest setting and keep warm.
Heat 1 tablespoon butter and oil in a deep skillet or pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, 2 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat. Add wine. Cook, stirring, until the wine evaporates. Add stock 1 cup at a time, stirring until nearly all of the liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup. Continue until the rice is tender but not mushy. When almost finished, stir in the zucchini, adding stock as needed and stirring continuously.Remove pan from the heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add mint leaves and serve immediately in bowls garnished with extra cheese, extra lemon zest and mint.


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