Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fall Comfort Food: Butternut Squash Risotto

A large Japanese maple tree stands on my front lawn with leaves that slowly fade from green to a beautiful bright shade of orange in the fall. Outside of my bedroom window, I can see the top just beginning to make its transformation. Every year I watch as it becomes more vivid and even more breathtaking with each day. To me, it is a picture-perfect vision of autumn. At the end of its cycle, when the entire tree is cloaked in orange, its leaves cast a fiery red glow inside of the house at sunset. Then, like clockwork about a day or so before my birthday in mid-November, the last leaf falls.

Like the leaves that are changing outside my window, butternut squash brings a similar bright orange color and comfort that is quintessential of the season. Similar to a sweet pumpkin and incredibly versatile, it is my favorite winter squash to cook with. In the past, I've made butternut squash-filled homemade tortellini and roasted curried butternut squash, but I've never used it to make risotto. So with squash being this month’s theme for the Five Star Makeover Group, I decided I would try just that.

The risotto is made in the traditional way, along with the addition of roasted butternut squash puree and diced roasted butternut squash for flavor and color. Considering the minimal ingredients and preparation, risotto really is one of the easiest dishes you could make; you just need to be prepared to stir it for about 25 minutes! All that elbow grease is important because it develops the starch in the rice and makes it nice and creamy. To make it even creamier and more delicious, the “secret” is stirring in extra grated Parmegiano Reggiano cheese and butter at the end. 

The dish is garnished with goat cheese and toasted shelled pumpkin seeds. And rolling with the theme, I served it in yet another squash—mini pumpkins! The pumpkins aren't necessary and perhaps they are even a bit confusing, but I think they are kind of fun. It’s definitely a festive-looking presentation if you’re hosting a fall dinner.

P.S. For my Long Island readers, check out this recent article I wrote about Seasons 52, the newly opened restaurant in Roosevelt Field.

Butternut Squash Risotto
Yield: 6 side dishes, 4 main
- 4 mini pumpkins (optional)
- 1 butternut squash, diced small
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 4 ¾ cups chicken broth, heated to a simmer in a medium saucepan
- 3 tablespoons butter, plus ¼ cup, diced
- 2 small shallots or 1 large, finely chopped
- 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
- ½ cup white wine
- ½ cup fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
- ¼ cup shelled pumpkin seeds, toasted
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut off the tops of the mini pumpkins, if using, then hollow out and clean thoroughly; set aside.
2) Lay the diced butternut squash on a sheet tray and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, until evenly coated. Roast for 30 minutes, tossing at 15 minutes. Divide the roasted squash evenly in half.
3) While still warm, add half of the squash to a food processor. Add ¼ cup of the simmering chicken stock and puree until smooth; set aside.
4) Melt three tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until tender. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until almost completely absorbed. Add ½ cup/4-ounce ladleful of the simmering chicken broth, stirring vigorously and continuously, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add the broth in ½ cup/4-ounce ladlefuls, making sure that each addition of broth is absorbed by the rice before adding the next. Continue the process until the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy, about 25 minutes. With the final addition of broth, add the reserved squash puree.
5) Reduce the heat to low. Add the parmesan cheese, ¼ cup dice butter and salt and pepper to taste; stir until the butter is completely melted. Fold in the reserved roasted diced squash.
6) If using, fill the hollowed pumpkins with the risotto. Garnish with the crumbled goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chocolate Spider Webs

With Halloween creeping up on us, here’s a delicious treat that’s not at all tricky to make. Mini devil’s food cakes topped with chocolate spider webs are a fun project that you won’t mind getting tangled up in.

Chocolate lovers, these devil’s food cakes are for you! With lots of cocoa powder and coffee in the batter, they are dense, rich and super chocolaty. If you’re not a huge fan of rich chocolate desserts or have another favorite chocolate cake recipe, by all means use it. I won’t tell anyone if you use a box mix. ;-)

The cakes are topped with smooth cream cheese icing that drips down the sides, giving them a look that is not only temptingly luscious but spooky in a melting candle wax kind of way. I used orange juice to loosen the icing and make it drippy, which imparts a nice citrus note as well. Though it doesn’t really show up too well in the photos, I also mixed in a little orange food coloring to make the cakes look more “Halloweeny.”

For the chocolate spider webs, all you need is one cup of melted semisweet chocolate morsels, a piping bag, parchment paper, and a tiny bit of artistic flare to freehand the spider web shapes. See instructions and photos below:

 1) Cut out a piece of parchment paper large enough to fit a whole or half sheet tray. Place the parchment paper over the open end of a muffin pan and trace the circles with a pencil.
 2) Draw a spider web inside of each circle. It’s easy: just create several spiky concentric circles and connect them with straight lines.
 3) Place the parchment paper on a sheet tray. Trace the chocolate over the pencil lines using a piping bag with a small tip or a small hole cut off the end.
 4) Refrigerate until the chocolate is completely set. Carefully peel the chocolate spider webs from the parchment paper to remove.

Once the spider webs are ready, top the fully cooled and iced cakes with your creepy creations and watch them come to life. I hope that you enjoy this fun technique!

If you’re interested in more Halloween treats, don’t forget to check out my Spooky Skull Cookies. Happy Halloween!

Chocolate Spider Web Cakes:
Mini Devil’s Food Cakes with Cream Cheese Icing & Chocolate Spider Webs
Yield: 1 dozen mini cakes
Dry Ingredients (measure by weight):
- 10 ounces granulated sugar
- 4 ½ ounces cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3 ounces cocoa powder
Wet Ingredients (measure by volume):
- 3 eggs
- 4 ounces vegetable oil
- 4 ounces buttermilk (to make your own, combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice with 1 cup milk and let stand for 5 minutes
- 4 ounces coffee
- 1, 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
- 1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
- ¼ cup orange juice
- Orange food coloring (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12 cup muffin-tin with cupcake liners.
2) In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the dry ingredients. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix on medium speed until well-blended. Add the batter to the prepared muffin cups.
3) Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cakes completely. While the cakes are cooling, prepare the icing.
4) For the icing, combine the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in an electric mixer and mix on medium speed until well-blended and smooth. Add the orange juice to thin. Add food coloring if desired.
5) Remove cupcake liners from the cakes, if desired. Spoon the icing over the cooled cakes, allowing it drip decoratively over the sides. Top with chocolate spider webs (instructions above).