Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pumpkin Rice Pudding

I love cooking this time of year. In fact I would have to say it is probably my most favorite time of year to cook. I am especially fond of the foods that characterize the season - winter squash, the wide variety of apples and pears and citrus, oh my! At the top of the list is my love of everything pumpkin. An American original, pumpkins are high in fiber, Vitamin A, beta-carotene and low in fat (that is, before you add it to pies and breads). 

I try to incorporate pumpkin in as many dishes, both savory and sweet, as I can. I once cut up a small jack-o-lantern and put it in a chicken stew. It was so yummy and different, my husband still talks about it. I also like to saute diced pieces of pumpkin with onions and peppers for a wonderfully different side dish. But of course, I like it best in desserts. I am the one who makes the pumpkin pies for our family's Thanksgiving dinner. I have yet to find a commercially prepared pie that can compare to a baked-from-scratch one.

So, as as part of my pumpkin fest this time of year, I have incorporated some pureed pumpkin (from the can) into a traditional rice pudding. Rice pudding is a very big hit in my family, especially my husbands family.  It has become a rather staple addition to our potluck family gatherings but, I am always looking for ways to change it up a bit. Adding pumpkin seemed like an easy way to give it a new flavor. 

When I make rice pudding, I always use my fathers recipe which calls for cooking the rice directly in a milk and sugar mixture. When the rice has fully cooked, eggs are than added to give the pudding an incredible richness and luscious texture.  Don't ask my why, but this time I elected to try a different approach. One that called for cooking the rice in water first, and then recooking it in the milk and sugar mixture with no eggs at all in the recipe. I choose to do it this way this time because so many reputable cookbooks prescribed this simple method. While the end product was good, it was not great, and I would never do it this way again. 

While the pictures illustrate the method I used this time, I have written the recipe to reflect the "cook in milk with eggs added" approach. A second disclaimer -- I broke my camera the other day. Well, actually it was my husband's camera. So, while I wait for it to be repaired, I have used a spare Kodak camera that, frankly, is simply not up to the task of taking good enough pictures for this blog. As a result, many of my photos illustrating the stages of cooking the pudding did not turn out.  Fortunately, making rice pudding is not rocket science. The process is pretty simple. It just requires some patience to wait for the rice to cook. Though this recipe did not meet my expectations, I would definitely recommend adding pumpkin to my standard rice pudding.
Reminder- don't need to cook in water first, no butter required

Pumpkin Rice Pudding

4 cups whole milk
1 c. long grain white rice
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. pureed plain pumpkin
1 tsp. orange zest
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 T. vanilla extract
3/4 c. golden raisins

Reminder - cook rice, salt and sugar in the milk first
Plump raisins in a small bowl of hot water. After 15 minutes, drain and squeeze out excess water and set aside. 

In a large saucepan bring to a simmer the rice, sugar, salt and milk. Cook at a medium to low simmer till rice is fully cooked and mixture begins to thicken, stirring frequently, about 40 minutes.  

Add the vanilla extract, eggs, raisins, pumpkin, orange zest and pumpkin pie spice and bring to a light boil. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.  Pour into a serving dish, dust with cinnamon and let cool. Can be served either warm or cold.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Vic's Award Winning Chili

It's chili season. At least that what many of the September and October issues of the food magazines have suggested. Clearly, as the cold weather sets in there is nothing more comforting than a bowl of hot chili with all the fixings and a side of corn bread. Throughout the fall and winter months my chili is a welcomed meal, which I make quite often.  My chili recipe is a traditional one, but in the interest of health, I use ground turkey instead of beef.  To compensate for the bland flavor of the turkey I add lots of veggies like celery, onions, garlic, green peppers and canned jalapeno peppers. Then I highly season it with lots of chili powder, cumin, some rubbed sage, a pinch of cinnamon and either a teaspoon of cocoa powder or instant coffee.

But, the best chili recipe I know is for my dad's chili. My father, Vic, who just celebrated his 98th birthday, was in the food business as a grocer and than a restauranteur until the ripe old age of 83. Though he has a treasure trove of mostly Italian recipes, (he emigrated to the U.S. from Calabria, Italy) his chili recipe was once rated among the best in the state by Michigan Living magazine.

Though a rather traditional chili, it has a robust, authentic chili flavor and is deliciously spicy, with just the right amount of heat. It is a hearty chili that leans more towards a soup, great for soaking up crackers or freshly made corn bread. It was a favorite item among his customers in his restaurant and a standard at my husband's hunting camp for many years. 

Dad's recipe makes a large, 2 gallon amount, enough to feed a hungry group of hunters for 2 nights straight. I have cut the recipe in half, for more practical applications. Even this, however, will both serve an average family while still providing plenty more for either the freezer or another day's meal. Though incredibly good all on its own, a garnish of cilantro, chopped green onion, a dollop of sour cream and grated cheddar or colby cheese elevates it to crazy good!

Vic's Award Winning Chili

1 lb. ground beef
1 medium green pepper, diced
2 medium onions, diced
28 oz. undrained whole tomatoes, broken up
16 oz. crushed tomatoes
16 oz. water
40 oz. can of mild chili beans
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
3 T. chili powder
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. garlic, granulated 
pinch ground anise seed
1 medium bay leaf
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt

For garnish:
chopped green onions
chopped fresh cilantro
grated cheddar or colby cheese
sour cream

Cook ground beef in a large dutch oven until no longer pink. Drain excess fat.  I ground my own beef from a chuck roast. I removed much of the surrounding fat so there was no need to drain any excess fat.  The meat was lean and tasty.

Add the onions and green peppers and cook until veggies begin to soften.  

Add all the remaining ingredients - tomatoes, water, and all the spices -  except the beans and simmer for 2 hours. This helps all the flavors blend together and the spices to fully penetrate the veggies and meat.

Add the beans and simmer until the mixture returns to a good simmer. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve with all the 'fixings' --  dollop of sour cream, topped with some chopped cilantro, grated cheese and  green onions - muy delicioso!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Spaghetti with Walnut & Bread Crumb Sauce

I am always on the lookout for ways to dress pasta other than with the traditional tomato sauce. A while back I watched Lidia Bastianich dress spaghetti with a sauce made of primarily bread crumbs. The dish looked both delicious and incredibly simple to make. Intrigued by that idea when I came upon this recipe which also includes a generous amount of walnuts, I was anxious to give it a try.

The recipe requires just a handful of ingredients: walnuts, good dry bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, olive oil and, of course, cooked spaghetti.  The bread crumbs, walnuts and garlic are simply sauteed in the olive oil, then added to the cooked pasta with the fresh parsley. The most time consuming task is chopping the nuts and garlic, and processing the bread crumbs.

Though quite tasty, I'm not sure I would serve it as an entree. This is more of a light lunch item, prima piatti course or a nice side dish to a grilled meat or fish. The recipe is written for enough sauce to coat a full pound of pasta. The photos illustrate me preparing a half-recipe, just enough for a half pound of spaghetti.

Spaghetti with Walnut & Bread Crumb Sauce
from Tuscany, The Beautiful Cookbook by Lorenza De' Medici

1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts
1/4 c. dry bread crumbs, about 1-2 slices of bread
1/2 c. good olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
3 T.  chopped fresh parsley
1 lb. spaghetti, cooked as directed on package

Prepare the walnuts and bread crumbs. Either finely chop by hand for more uniform pieces or chop the nuts in the food processor but do not chop too finely. I used a food processor to turn my bread into crumbs. I used a good multi-grain bread, which add a grainy texture and further enhances the nutty taste to the sauce. A good Italian bread will produce a creamier sauce.  

Prepare spaghetti according to package instructions. While pasta is cooking, heat half the olive oil in a medium size skillet. Add the bread crumbs, garlic and nuts, and saute till garlic is soft, but not burned, and the bread and nuts begin to crisp and turn light golden broown.  Season with salt and pepper. 

Add a few tablespoons of the pasta water to the sauce to loosen. Pour over the drained cooked spaghetti. Add the parsley and toss together to combine all ingredients. Serve as is or with a sprinkle of grated cheese.