Monday, October 26, 2009

Butternut Squash Risotto

So, it was nearly 80 degrees today in San Diego. In late October. Now, don't get me wrong: I love the warm sun on my face as much as the next gal. But I also derive a huge amount of pleasure from the passing of the seasons. I love each season and although I always make an effort to "live in the moment," I can't help but look forward, gleefully, to the next season's arrival. And when it is late October and 80 degrees, I must admit that I feel cheated. I want to wear my jeans and my rocking, new, purple scarf -- not my shorts and flip-flops. I want to eat steaming bowls of soup for lunch -- not another heirloom tomato and goat cheese salad. (No matter how glorious the tomatoes from Valdivia Farms continue to be!)

And so, despite the summer-like weather, I made Butternut Squash Risotto tonight. I love risotto. I make a risotto once a week or so. I love that it simultaneously tastes like high-end restaurant fare and homey comfort food. I also love winter squash. All kinds -- acorn, spaghetti, pumpkin, kabocha, and, of course, butternut. I picked up some squash at the pumpkin patch at Bates Nut Farm a few weekends ago and have been slowly going through it. Most of it has ended up roasted with a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper, and thyme, but I used one lovely butternut squash for risotto tonight.

If you've never made risotto because you're intimidated by how much attention it allegedly needs, I am here to tell you: you don't need to baby it all that much. You need to hang out in the kitchen, for sure, but you don't need to constantly stir it and check on it. I have no problem getting a nice big salad together, filling the kids' milk cups, setting the table, etc., while the risotto is cooking. I just peek at the risotto in between each task I do. And once you learn the basic technique for risotto, there is entire world of wonderful risotto recipes out there to try!

This recipe is adapted, barely, from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables. With the sage and squash, it tastes like fall and winter, to me. Now, if only San Diego would get its act together and give me a 60 degree day to go along with this risotto!

Butternut Squash Risotto

Source: Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables, Alice Waters
Serves: 6-8
Time: about 10 mins. prep, 30 mins. cooking time
  • 7-8 c chicken stock or broth
  • 1 butternut squash
  • sage leaves, about 15-20
  • 1 onion
  • 3-5 TBSP butter
  • 2 c Arborio rice
  • 1/2 c dry white wine (I often use Champagne!)
  • Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan)
  1. Cut the squash in half, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Peel the squash using a sharp vegetable peeler or a knife. Cut the squash into small dice.

  2. Put the squash into a heavy-bottomed pot with some sage leaves and about 1-2 c of the stock. Sprinkle in some salt. Cook until tender but not too soft, about 5 mins. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, chop up some sage leaves (about 5-8) and chop up the onion into small dice.

  3. In the same pot, melt 3 TBSP of butter and cook the sage for about a minute. Then add the onion and cook until translucent (about 5 mins.).

  4. Add the rice and a sprinkle of salt and cook over low heat for about 3 mins., stirring often. Meanwhile, fill up a 2-cup glass measuring cup with stock and heat it up in the microwave.

  5. Add the wine and turn up the heat. When the wine has been absorbed, add just enough hot stock to cover the rice, stir well, and reduce the heat. Keep the rice at a gnetle simmer and continue to add more hot stock, a little at a time, letting each addition be completely absorbed by the rice before adding more.

  6. After about 15-20 mins., the rice will be nearly cooked. Stir in the reserved squash and the Romano cheese. If desired, add another tablespoon or two of butter. Continue cooking for abother 5 mins. or so.

  7. Serve with extra cheese and chopped sage leaves.

Notes: I use the same pot to cook the squash and risotto, but you can streamline the time a bit by using two different pots and cooking them at the same time. (I'd rather have one pot to clean but spend a little longer in the kitchen!) Also, most risotto recipes tell you to heat the liquid at a simmer in a separate pot and then ladle it into the rice as needed. Again, I'd rather not use another pot. So I've been heating the liquid in the microwave and just pouring in a little at a time -- about a 1/2 c. Finally, for those who want extra credit: Alice Waters calls for sauteing some sage leaves in butter until crisp, as a garnish. I tried it and it was yummy, but I just don't usually have the time (or the inclination to use another pan . . . do you detect a pattern here?).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Fancy" Oatmeal

If you have a little girl living in your house, then you probably understand the power of the word "fancy." If I suspect my daughter will not be interested in a certain object or activity, then I just grace it with the adjective "fancy," and, voila, she will at least be curious. A fantastic trick to have in my back pocket. (It took me a while to come up with a similar magic word for my son. Turns out, "secret" works pretty well.)

So, my "fancy" daughter really loves oatmeal and she and I often share a batch for breakfast. But she has become attached to a particular recipe. It's good and nourishing (made with sweet potatoes or pumpkin, yum!), but I wanted variety. I suspected that -- like most preschoolers -- she would not be open to the change. Thus, "fancy oatmeal" was born.

I saw the original recipe for this oatmeal in an issue of Cooking Light magazine and have adjusted it according to what I normally have in my pantry. It's a hearty cereal and very cozy on a chilly morning. Almost makes me yearn for the snowboots and puffer jackets of my Pennsylvania childhood . . . Almost. Then I realize that I now consider a 58 degree morning to be "chilly." Oh, Southern California, you have made me a weather wimp!

My version makes enough to get my daughter and I through about half a week's worth of breakfasts. So, cook this on a Sunday and you can indulge in fancy oatmeal for most of the work week. I enjoy about a 1/2 cup at a serving, accompanied by 2 oz. of Greek yogurt w/ honey and walnuts and half of one of the amazing grapefruits I've been getting at the market. Fancy breakfast, indeed.

"Fancy" Oatmeal

Source: adapted from Cooking Light
Serves: about 6
Time: about 5 mins. of prep and about 25 mins. of cooking time
  • 4 c water
  • 1 c steel-cut, Irish oats
  • 1/4 c wheat germ
  • 1/4 c sunflower seed kernels
  • 1/4 c flax seed meal
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 c dried (unsweetened) cranberries
  • maple syrup for serving
  1. Boil the 4 c of water in a saucepan. Add the oats and all other ingredients except maple syrup. Stir well to thoroughly combine.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer about 25 mins., or according to oatmeal package directions, stirring regularly.
  3. Drizzle some maple syrup over individual portions and serve.
Notes: This is just how we like it. It's more of a formula than a recipe, really, so feel free to try anything that you happen to enjoy in your hot breakfast! Some other suggestions: a pat of butter (my daughter's favorite); a little milk or cream; brown sugar instead of maple syrup; different dried fruits (cherries, raisins, apricots, etc.); nuts (I like walnuts or almonds); a little vanilla extract; apple cider or juice in place of some or all of the water; banana slices added near the end of cooking. The original recipe also called for oat bran, which I'm sure would be delicious -- I just don't usually have any on hand.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

And So It Begins

I've been toying with the idea of a blog for about a year, now. It all started when I stumbled upon Alice Q. Foodie during an internet search for good food in San Diego. I loved reading her posts, trying her recipes, and following her recommendations for good eats around SD. Alice, in turn, led me to other foodie blogs, fashion blogs, mom blogs, friends' blogs . . . And I got to thinking how fun it would be to have a blog. After all, I missed writing. But what do I have to say that anyone in their right mind would want to read about??

Meanwhile, in my daily life as mom, I continued to cook for my family and for many of my friends. And my friends continued to ask me for recipes. I love to cook and am passionate about food and feeding my family, and my friends know that. And so, they ask: how did you prepare that cauliflower? How did you manage to make risotto with two kids in the kitchen? What did you do with all that eggplant from the market? Where did you find that sausage? And I love to answer.

Suddenly, it was obvious what my blog should be about: what I feed my family, and why. Hopefully, it will give you some ideas about what to feed your family. And I hope you'll share your ideas with me, too!

Oh, and the blog's name, "Cooking With Gries?" That's my husband's contribution. He always wanted to have a cooking show with that title -- a play on our last name, Griesbach. Of course, my husband only cooks a few things, so it would be a short -- albeit delicious! -- show.

So, let the show begin! On this pilot episode of Cooking With Gries, let's talk about my new go-to, everyone-is-happy dinner: Spicy Beans with Sausage.

My kids are bean freaks. If dinner has beans in it, they will eat, without complaining. Obviously, this means I cook a lot of bean-based dinners: jambalaya, black bean burritos, red beans and rice, chili . . . the list goes on and on. This little casserole is our latest favorite. It's also been a great meal for taking to neighbors -- many of my friends have recently had babies, and this is a comforting, filling, nourishing, homey dinner to bring to new parents. The dinner equivalent of sitting on the couch, under a blanket, by a roaring fire and a Christmas tree.

I found the original recipe in Picnic, by DeeDee Stovel, and tweaked it so that it worked for me. It's a flexible, forgiving recipe. I've used lots of different combinations of beans, but I do recommend having at least one can of white beans. Also, I've used various types of smoked sausages and just use whatever I've got on hand. If you are serving a large crowd, go for the 2 lbs. of sausage. Otherwise -- or if you're also serving a hearty soup or side dish -- 1 lb. will do fine. I've tried adding small cubes of carrots and potaotes and enjoyed both. Finally, I think this would be divine with some buttered breadcrumbs sprinkled on top near the end of the cooking time, but haven't tried it yet. (Let me know if you do!)


PS This freezes beautifully, too!

Source: Adapted from Picnic, DeeDee Stovel
Serves: 8-10
Time: about 20 mins. of work and 90 mins. of unattended cooking

  • 3 cans of beans -- white, kidney, pinto, etc.
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 TBSP oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 x 10 oz pkg frozen corn
  • 5 slices already-cooked bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled
  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 2 TBSP tomato paste
  • 1 TBSP brown sugar
  • 1 TBSP white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1-2 lbs. kielbasa, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 c grated cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Put the beans, with their liquid, into a Dutch oven or other large, lidded casserole. Add the bay leaf and bake, covered tightly, for at least an hour -- but longer is fine, too, if you forget about them. Just check every now and again to make sure they aren't drying out -- and if they are, add a splash of water.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet and saute the onion and garlic until softened, about 2 mins. Set them aside and put the kielbasa chunks in the skillet until browned, about 15 mins.
  4. Remove the beans from the oven and add all other ingredients. Stir very gently, so as not to break up the beans too much. Return to the oven and bake, covered, another 30-40 mins., or until bubbly. Just before serving, sprinkle with some cheese.