Friday, January 25, 2013

Italian Sausage and Wild Mushroom Risotto

Last year's post: Lemon Chicken and Fennel Pot Pies

I struggled with this post.  Not because the risotto isn't delicious - it definitely is - but because it isn't the prettiest dish I've ever photographed.  Take it as testament to the wonderful taste that I decided to post it anyway.  I published a spring risotto recipe last spring that contained asparagus, peas, pesto and turkey.  (If you're interested you can see the recipe here .)  This risotto is entirely different and definitely a winter dish with its warm and earthy flavors of Italian sausage and wild mushrooms - perfect for a cold and blustery day.  It reheats beautifully so you can make it in advance if you don't want to make it when you get home after a long day.

Risotto (basically a creamy rice dish) isn't at all hard to make, it just requires a fair amount of stirring while you slowly add the hot chicken stock to the rice.  I actually find all that stirring kind of soothing, but then I also like to chop things by hand.  (Anything other than sitting in an office staring at a computer seems sort of refreshing to me.) 

I used half hot and half sweet Italian sausage, but you could use all hot or all sweet depending on how spicy you like your food.  Allowing the sausage to brown and develope a little crust greatly adds to the flavor.

I also used half shiitake and half cremini mushrooms, but you could use other mushrooms although button (white) mushrooms won't give you the same deep earthy flavor.  Portobello mushrooms would be a better substitute.

Although I usually make a point of saying that you can change and substitute ingredients however you want, don't substitute a different kind of rice in this recipe.  Arborio rice has a higher starch content than most rices, which creates the creamy sauce that's the hallmark of risotto when you stir it with hot broth.

It was my own idea to add spinach to the risotto, both for color and because I like to add nutrients to a dish whenever possible.  I was tempted to add some roasted red bell peppers for additional color, but I was concerned they might mask the flavor of the Madeira wine.  Basically I just need to accept the fact that this is a fabulous dish that happens to be primarily brownish, and move on with life.  Try it, and I promise you won't be disappointed!

click here for a printable recipe

Italian Sausage and Mushroom Risotto
serves 4

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound Italian turkey sausage (sweet, hot, or a mix), removed from casings
8 oz shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed, sliced
8 oz cremini mushrooms, cleaned and stems trimmed, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 ½ cups Madeira, divided
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
3 cups fresh chopped spinach
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the sausage and break up with edge of a wooden spoon.  Allow to brown without stirring for a few minutes, then stir and break up more (if necessary) and allow to brown again.  Add the mushrooms, thyme, and oregano and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes.  Add ½ cup of the Madeira and scrape to deglaze the pan, about 1 minute.  Set aside.

Heat chicken stock in a large saucepan until steaming, then keep warm over low heat.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the rice; stir 2 minutes.  Add the remaining  1 cup Madeira.  Cook, stirring constantly until the Madeira has been absorbed, about 2 minutes.  Ladle in a little hot stock, just enough to barely cover the rice; simmer until almost absorbed, stirring often, about 3 minutes.  Continue to cook until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, adding more stock by ladlefuls, stirring often and allowing most stock to be absorbed before adding more, until rice is tender but still firm to the bite, about 20-25 minutes.  Stir in the spinach and allow to wilt for a minute or two.

Stir in the sausage mixture.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve, sprinkled with cheese.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rosemary-Lemon Grilled Ahi with Pearl Couscous

Last year's recipe:Salmon with Pumpkin-Seed Cilantro Pesto

Continuing a Healthy 2013
Tuna is a wonderful low-fat high-protein source of Omega-3 essential fatty acids as well as selenium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin B complex.  The Omega-3's alone are associated with eye health, cardiovascular health, cognitive ability and cancer prevention.    Together with the pearl couscous loaded with veggies it's a meal in the Mediterranean-style diet that fits right in with your healthy resolutions.

I always like to try new ingredients and pearl (also called Israeli) couscous is the one for today.  Pearl couscous is larger than regular couscous but they're both wheat-based pastas.  My store carried two varieties - a plain wheat version with brown-ish couscous pearls, and a tri-color version where color is added via spinach powder and paprika extract.  I always think colorful food looks better so I chose the tri-color version.
Pearl couscous has an entirely different taste and texture than regular couscous.  A few people I know don't like couscous because they think the small grains taste gritty.  If you're one of those people, you might like pearl couscous as an alternative.  If you can't find pearl couscous you could always substitute regular couscous or rice in this recipe.

OK, enough of couscous.  The other interesting part of this recipe is the technique used to make the lemon olive oil basting sauce.  The lemons are broiled (aka torched) in the oven until very soft, then the pulp and the juice are mashed through a strainer.

The resulting flavor is different than fresh juice - I think it tastes more mellow, although still very lemony. The lemon olive oil is used to baste the tuna as well as a finishing sauce for the dish.

One thought about tuna - I always used to order it cooked medium-well in restaurants until a friend who is a fisherman from Maine begged me to stop ordering it that way.  He claimed that good quality tuna should never be eaten any more cooked than medium-rare or it gets dry and tough.  I followed his advice and never regretted it.  Now I always have tuna cooked medium-rare and it retains wonderful flavor, texture and moisture. If grilling isn't an option in your locale at this time of the year, you could certainly grill the tuna indoors or broil or pan-sear it.

Don't be scared by the length of this recipe - the lemon olive oil is made ahead and the couscous is served at room temperature so it can be made ahead also.  If you make it the day before you plan to serve it, I'd store the salad dressing and tomatoes separate from the couscous and toss the whole thing together at the last minute to maintain freshness.  Then all you have to do the night you serve it is grill the tuna, which takes just a few minutes.  You can also serve the tuna at room temperature so the whole meal is ideal for entertaining.  The couscous would also make a wonderful main dish salad with the addition of any leftover meat you have on hand so be sure to make extra.   Great salad for work the next day, even without meat.

P.S.  We had some leftovers, so I cut up the tuna and tossed it with the couscous,leftover sauce, and and a few more greens for a cold salad a few nights later served with french bread.  It was just as good as the first preparation.

click here for a printable recipe

Rosemary-Lemon Grilled Ahi with Pearl Couscous
Serves 4

For the lemon olive oil and ahi:
6 lemons, cut in half
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
4 center-cut ahi tuna steaks, about 5 oz each

For the salad dressing:
1/3 cup olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

For the pearl couscous:
1 ¼ cups chicken broth
1 cup pearl (Israeli) couscous
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
½ zucchini, coarsely chopped
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half or quarter depending on size
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup chopped arugula

To make the lemon olive oil sauce:
Preheat broiler.  Place lemons, cut side up, in a small non-aluminum baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast, about 6 inches below the heat, until very soft, about 20 minutes.  The tops will darken and caramelize.  Let cool in the baking dish. Squeeze the lemon pulp and juice and scrape all the cooking juices from the baking dish into a strainer supported over a bowl.  Force it through and add garlic.  Whisk in rosemary and olive oil.  Keeps up to 1 week refrigerated in a tightly sealed container.

To make the salad dressing:
Whisk shallot, juice, zest, vinegar, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper together in a small bowl.  Slowly whisk in oil until emulsified.

To make the pearl couscous:
Heat the chicken broth in a small saucepan until hot but not boiling.  Heat the oil over medium-high heat and add couscous, stirring until light brown.  Add the hot stock and stir, then simmer, uncovered, 6 minutes.  Cover pan and remove from heat.  Let stand 10 minutes, then uncover and stir.  Transfer to a large bowl and let cool. When couscous is cooled to room temperature, add the tomatoes, dressing, and remaining ingredients and toss.  Serve at room temperature.

To cook the ahi:
Preheat a grill or broiler.  Reserving a small amount of lemon olive oil for later, brush the tuna pieces with the oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill over high heat, turning once and brushing again with oil, until medium rare.  Let rest for a few minutes, then cut into thin slices.  Serve drizzled with remaining lemon oil.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Balsamic Vinegar Chicken with Almond Peppers

Last year's post:Broccoli, Cabbage and Brussels Sprout Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette

There are two things I need to tell you right off the bat.  First, this recipe is adapted from a Cooking Light recipe, so you know it's healthy.  Second, the recipe is part of their Five Star collection, which means it receives the highest possible rating from reviewers.  You would never guess that it's a Cooking Light recipe from the presentation and taste, but it'll certainly help you keep on track for a healthy 2013.

Almond peppers is a dish that's common in Italy featuring the interesting combination of vinegar, raisins and almonds in addition to the peppers for a sweet-and-sour, crunchy and flavorful dish.  In this recipe it's paired with a crispy Parmesan-breaded chicken cutlet for a delicious dinner.  I like to serve it with brown rice to continue the healthy theme.

So what's a chicken cutlet as opposed to a chicken breast?  It's simply a thinner piece of chicken breast.  You can sometimes find chicken cutlets in the poultry section, or it's easy to make your own by taking a large chicken breast and cutting it in half horizontally.  Chicken breasts are so big these days that a chicken cutlet is plenty to eat and it cooks faster and more evenly than a thick breast.

Eight years ago I resolved to change my lifestyle and become more healthy.  I knew I had to change my eating habits but I also didn't want to deprive myself of delicious, interesting foods.  My goal for the last eight years has been to find great recipes that also fit into a healthy lifestyle. That's how I found this recipe, which remains one of my favorites.

I'm happy to tell you that I lost weight and continue to lead a healthy lifestyle today.  Even better, I learned to crave fresh fruits and vegetables along the way!  If I have to change my usual dietary habits due to a trip, for example, I can hardly wait to get back home and eat my fruits and veggies.  Sick, but true.

click here for a printable recipe

Balsamic Vinegar Chicken with Almond Peppers
Serves 4

1large sweet red pepper
1 large sweet green pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup raisins
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted
4 chicken cutlets or two large chicken breasts, cut in half horizontally
3 tablespoons fine dry breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (or shredded Parmesan, chopped)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons water

Core and seed peppers; cut into 2 ½ x 1” strips.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add pepper strips; sauté 8 minutes.  Add raisins; sauté 1 minute.  Add ¼ cup vinegar and next 3 ingredients; cook 1 minute.  Remove from heat; stir in almonds.  Set aside and keep warm.

Combine breadcrumbs and cheese in a shallow dish.  Place flour in a shallow dish.  Dredge each piec of chicken in flour, dip in egg whites, and dredge in breadcrumb mixture.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add chicken and cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden and done.  Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Add two tablespoons vinegar and water to the skillet the chicken was cooked in, stirring with a wooden spoon to deglaze.  To serve, spoon sauce over chicken and pepper mixture.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Shrimp, Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

Last year's post:chicken and asparagus stir-fry with cashews

Post-Holiday Detox

I really think that if I see another tray of cookies in the near future I will curl up and die.  It's time to get back on track with a delicious, light and healthy meal that's a complete change of pace from what you were eating in December.  Plus, it's citrus season and this pretty salad features red grapefruit, one of my favorite fruits.  I think Texas red grapefruit are the best but if you can't find them, any other red grapefruit will do.

The grapefruit is segmented into what are called "supremes" by first cutting off the outer skin with a sharp knife, then cutting between the membranes to release the segments without any of the membrane or pith (aka "white stuff") attached.  The white stuff is why I never eat citrus just by peeling by hand and pulling apart the segments.  Nasty white stuff.

As I've said before, it's not all that easy to photograph your own hand.
OK, so I didn't do the greatest job cutting really close to the membrane to get as much of the grapefruit as possible.  Chalk it up to post-holiday recovery.  I think "supreme" is actually both a noun (the segment you end up with) and a verb ("how to supreme a grapefruit") but I'm not positive.  Oh well, if it wasn't before, it is now.

If you live somewhere that's warm at the moment you could grill the shrimp outdoors, otherwise you could grill them indoors on a grill pan or broil them.  If you want to make it really easy you could buy pre-cooked shrimp and just toss them with the marinade prior to putting them on the salad.  Either way, this salad takes only minutes to prepare and the tart grapefruit contrasts wonderfully with the creamy avocado, rich shrimp and slightly bitter arugula.

click here for a printable recipe

Shrimp, Grapefruit and Avocado Salad
Serves 2

10 medium-large (16-20 count) raw peeled and deveined shrimp
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
¼ cup olive oil, divided
½ teaspoon salt, divided
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 large red grapefruit
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 medium head butter lettuce
1 cup arugula
1 avocado

Heat a grill (or grill pan or broiler) to medium.  Toss shrimp with 2 teaspoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and red pepper.  Marinate for 15 minutes.  Thread shrimp onto skewers (not necessary if using a grill pan or broiler) and grill until pink and cooked through – about 1 minute each side.  Set aside.

Cut the peel from the grapefruit using a sharp knife.  Cut between the membranes to release the segments while holding the grapefruit over a bowl to catch the juice.  Squeeze the juice from the remaining pith and pulp.  Measure 3 tablespoons of juice and set the remaining juice aside for another use.

Whisk the Dijon, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon lime juice, and the reserved grapefruit juice together.  Slowly drizzle in the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil while whisking, until emulsified.  Set the dressing aside.

Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit.  Score each half crosswise and lengthwise into cubes without cutting through the skin, then use a spoon to scoop between the flesh and skin and pop out the cubes into a small bowl.  Toss with the remaining tablespoon lime juice to prevent discoloring.

Line each plate with butter lettuce and arugula.  Top with the shrimp, avocado and grapefruit.  Drizzle with Dijon dressing and serve.