Cut. Chop. Dice. Sharpening my knife Skills.

My New Year’s Resolution was to do more focused things to accomplish my food related goals.  Take classes, strengthen my network, identify my strong suits, learn, and sharpen my skills.  So what better way to kick off 2016 than with a Basic Knife Skills class?  (insert sound effect of knife sharpening) 

I’m fortunate to live very close to the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking and ICASI, or International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute.  The pair provide incredible resources for both the recreational cook and the professional chef.  I’ve attended several classes at the school before, but all were recipe based and themed, like “A Night in Tuscany,” “Phyllo Baking,” etc.  This time around it was more skills based, and I was eager to get after it.

knife skills carrot demo

Our class of about 15 was lead by Chef Tim McCoy, a guy who’s taught there for just as many years and who spoke about cutting his teeth at a Japanese restaurant.  Can you imagine how much cutting and dicing goes on in the prep kitchen of a place like that?  Instant credibility.

McCoy started with the bare bones basics, like how to stand when cutting (where to place your feet, and best posture) and of course, how to hold the knife.  Immediately I began to liken this process to golf, tweaking my stance, grip and follow through to better my game.  And that analogy stuck with me throughout the evening, as I fought years’ worth of muscle memory and tried to correct what I’d been doing wrong for years…sub-par grip and lack of follow through.

knife skills carrots

After a series of demos, McCoy tasked us students with cutting a couple of carrots-julienne cut, dice, brunoise, cube.  I moved my knife much slower that usual, while even holding the vegetables differently than I have my whole life, with that “claw” grip, so as not to expose my fingertips to potential cuts, but only my knuckles.  Chef McCoy quipped you can still cut your knuckles, but there are fewer nerves there and less blood.  Good takeaway.  I felt my middle finger start to blister and knew I was doing something wrong…adjusted and kept going.  The food nerd in me was excited about doing this right.  Finally. Speed, and consistency would come along eventually, right?

Next we moved on to dicing tomatoes, and learned the chiffonade, technique for leafy greens.  Then it was the skill that brought tears to many eyes in the room…dicing the dreaded onion.

knife skills onions

I watched my fellow students’ minds being blown…as they learned and applied the proper technique that will save them enormous amounts of time and aggravation in the kitchen.

When none of the veggies were whole any longer, we set about making dinner for ourselves, splitting up into teams to tackle five recipes that required us to apply our new knife skills.

My team prepared a crisp antipasto salad and a fresh angel hair pasta primavera.

The other students made a creamy garden vegetable chowder to start, plus a tender chicken cacciatore and mixed fruit mini strudel for a  sweet finish.

I left the class in a state of mind that I like-inspired.  Now, I’m ready to tackle a new year…and a pile full of onions too! #bringiton

Tailgate Soup: Turn Sunday’s Smorgasbord into a Monday Night Football Feast

When your favorite football team is as terrible as ours, it’s best to make tailgating the “main event” of game day.  So we had a dozen or so people over for an at-home tailgate party before watching the Browns game.  After everyone went home, and the dishes were done, it was time to assess the leftovers.

tailgate soup-montage pic

Hmmm….a couple of brats, a ton of baked beans, the remnants of a veggie tray, burger fixins’ and a lot of Bloody Mary supplies.  (no beer..that we drank every last drop of to drown our sorrows)

tailgate soup-baked bean

Given the volume of baked beans which are not something we eat a lot of in our house…I decided to incorporate those into a soup because I know my daughter, Julia, will slurp it up!  Go time.

tailgate soup-julia

I started by cutting up two slices of peppered bacon (from the very elaborate Bloody Mary bar a guest came with!) Once I fried those up in a small stock pot, I added some chopped onions (red and white, but you could use whatever you’ve got) leftover from the burger toppings platter, and let those soften.  To that I added chopped celery and carrot (probably the equivalent of one carrot and one stalk of celery) and cooked on a medium high until those too were soft (just 3-4 minutes).

tailgate soup-veggies

(I added corn to this original batch because I had some around and thought it would be good for color.  I think it enhanced the soup, but it’s not necessary)

tailgate soup-saute

I sliced up one bratwurst into bite sized pieces and dumped that in to the mixture, along with 2 cups of beef broth.  Once that was brought to a boil, I added 1 cup of baked beans, and 1/2 cup of Bloody Mary mix.  Given the contents (peppered bacon, seasoned beans, and the drink mix) I went easy on the salt and pepper, but do it to your taste.  I also added dash of hot sauce.

tailgate soup-ladle

Let that magic simmer for about 25 minutes and you’ve got yourself a soup that will fill your belly and keep you satisfied through Monday Night Football.

Sisters Pasta Night: Homemade Mushroom Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage

In colleges, my sister studied abroad in Siena, Italy.  She could barely put two sentences of Italian together at the end of her experience…she mostly studied wine and Italian men.  But she came home with a killer hand-made pasta recipe.  And while she might call me on a weekly basis for meal suggestions, and help with recipe substitutions, she is still the authority in the family on home-made pasta dough.  It’s something we do together whenever she is in town. 

For this round I was ready to make a ton of pasta, and freeze it.  And I wanted to use the bountiful herb garden I was “passively cultivating.”  It’s a real jungle back there because I can’t seem to find the time to maintain it.

herb-garden

I sifted through the hip-high cilantro and lettuce plants, to snip bunches of fresh parsley, chives, sage, and basil.

garden-herbs

I knew we’d need marinara sauce for all this fresh pasta too, so I put a pot of that on as well.  Working loosely off a recipe I learned at a class at The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking, I used garlic and onion, grated celery and carrot, whole peeled tomatoes, a pinch of crushed red pepper, salt and pepper, and lots of the fresh parsley and basil.

marinara-sauce

While that simmered, we got to work on the first dough.  The ingredients are few…it’s the technique that’s still tough for me.

3 c. flour, unbleached

3 large eggs

1/4 c. dry white wine

1 tsp. salt

Water or extra flour, if needed

Lexi-making-pasta

You start by creating a “mound” with your flour, and make a deep well.  Meanwhile crack the eggs in a bowl and break the yolks up with a fork, then add the wine and salt to the eggs.  Carefully pour the egg mixture into the well.  Then, using a fork, slowly bring the flour in to the egg mixture.  When the flour is totally absorbed, begin kneading by hand for 20 min…no shortcuts!  Add water if it seems dry, or sprinkle more flour if it’s too wet.  Gather it in a ball and place it in a mixing bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to rest for 30 min…no shortcuts there either.

The first batch was dinner that night: a classic fettuccine with marinara.  We made a second batch of dough for me to make ravioli with.  I whipped up the filling while Lexi, and my eager daughters, kneaded.

Julia-making-pasta     Natalie-making-pasta

I wanted to use all that beautiful sage.  So I sautéed some mushrooms in olive oil, with garlic and shallots.  Then I added chopped sage, and a drizzle of truffle oil.  I mixed that with some ricotta, salt and pepper, and more truffle oil and let it cool while we rolled the dough.

Natalie-rolling-dough

First we cut the fettuccine, as we’ve done every time before.  You start on the widest setting, cranking that pasta machine to gradually reduce the width until the dough is the desired thickness, then cut it. (angel hair, linguine, fettuccine, etc.)  We sprinkled a tablecloth with flour and let it dry while we moved on to the delicate ravioli.

homemade-pasta

For those, we rolled the dough out, same as before.  Then we laid the sheets of pasta over my grandmother’s old ravioli plates.  I put a generous teaspoon of the filling in each pouch.

ravioli filling

Then we placed a second sheet on top, and used a rolling-pin (and the back of a spoon) to “stamp” or cut them.  We tore off the excess around the edges then carefully popped out each delicate little ravioli.

Ravioli-trays

To be honest, these usually don’t turn out so well for me…but these looked beautiful!!

Last round of dough was experimental.  I chopped up a ton of fresh chives and we incorporated that into the dough during the kneading process.  Toss this pasta with a little butter and you’ve got something pretty spectacular.

pasta-with-chives

There was salted water boiling on the stove…time to taste the fruits of our labor!  First course was the fettuccine and marinara.  It didn’t disappoint.  While we poured a second (or fourth?) glass of wine, I browned some butter and added more chopped sage, plus seasoning.  When the ravioli were cooked through in the water, I drained them and added them to the saute pan to brown them up.  Sprinkle some grated cheese on top. Perfection.

Julia-in-an-apron

I had a full heart and a full belly at the end of the evening.  It was so much fun for my girls to share in a special sisters pasta night!  I hope they carry on the tradition.

Cinco de Mayo Hangover Soup

I’ll admit it.  On the week of Cinco de Mayo, I’ll always fall prey to the marketing ploys of grocery stores (ex. limes, tortilla chips, Mexican beer, and guacamole components displayed prominently at the front of the store)  I’ve also been known to throw back a few more than I should on a day that doesn’t really have any significance to this Italian/Slovenian girl.  Hey, “when in Rome….errrr, Mexico City…” Right?  This recipe is for those of you who fall into one, or both of those same categories.  

Earlier this week I made chicken fajitas with fresh guacamole, hands down my favorite dish to order at a Mexican restaurant and one of my favorites to make at home as well.  So on day two, I found myself with some leftover chicken, black beans (both cooked), jalapenos, avocado, roasted corn and cilantro.  Rather than transforming the flavor profile of the meat (silly, since it was already heavily seasoned) I chose to make something new with some of the same ingredients I worked with the day before.

leftover chicken fajitas

I don’t know about you, but when I’m working through a hangover, I often like to “sweat it out.”  So I decided to bring the heat…and put these, and a few other ingredients, together to create a Cheftovers version of tortilla soup.

simmering mexican veggies

I chose a dutch oven for this project, and started with chopped garlic, jalapenos and onion.  I sauteed those in some canola oil until the onions were translucent, just a couple minutes.  Then I tossed in the roasted corn and season chicken (chopped into small pieces) I had leftover from “fajita night.”  Next, I cracked open a can of petite diced tomatoes and poured those in.  And since this was a soup, it certainly needed some stock.  I added a carton of chicken stock, making sure to season it generously with salt, and chipotle chili pepper to add some more, smokey heat to my “soup-to-be.”

adding ingredients to cinco de mayo soup

Finally, I tossed in a few sprigs of fresh cilantro, and squeezed a couple of lime wedges’ worth of juice into the pot to give it some brightness and acidity.

simmering cinco de mayo hangover soup

I brought the soup to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer at a medium/low for about a half hour.  Toward the end, I tossed in the leftover black beans (didn’t want them to get too mushy or break down from being in there too long).  I tasted my soup and decided to add just a little more chipotle pepper and a bit more lime juice (a preference thing).  Now, it was time for some elaborate garnishes, since I had some on hand.

finishing the cinco de mayo soup

After scooping out a couple ladles full of my Cinco de Mayo Hangover Soup, I sliced up some fresh avocado and jalapenos, then tossed in a few more sprigs of cilantro.

cinco de mayo hangover soup

You could also add some crunchy baked tortilla strips for texture, or some shredded cheese.

Vamos a comer!  Let’s eat!  This soup should make you sweat as much, or as little as you want…and help you get to Seis de Mayo.  Now, I gotta ask…What’s your favorite hangover meal?

 

Bistro Panini

I love a good grilled panini.  And like lots of other Cheftovers tricks, it’s kind of a blank canvas.  Add your favorite creamy cheese to a crispy, chewy ciabatta roll, along with whatever veggies and meat move you…and you’re in business!  

This week I used one of my got-to’s for weekday meals, a roast in the slow cooker.  I made a London broil roast with pretty basic seasoning.  But as is often the case, I made more than we needed for just two of us.

sliced roast

So I sliced up the rest of the beef and immediately began drooling over my idea, incorporating one of the tasty Orlando baked goods I came across during my review of their new products (see previous post).  I was going to grill up a couple of paninis using their Heat & Serve Ciabatta Rolls.

ciabatta rolls 

Now that I had the canvas for my panini, (the rolls) and the protein (my leftover London broil) I was excited to find a couple of other elements to boost the tastiness factor.  And I knew caramelized onions would have to join the party!

sliced onions

I sliced up a whole sweet onion into rings, then tossed a couple tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil into a saute pan.  I added the onions to the pan, seasoned them and left them on a low-medium heat for about 90 minutes, stirring them only once every 15 min or so.

(Here’s the part of my process where I unload the dishwasher, feed my kids, flip the laundry, etc.  I’m so glamorous.)

caramelized onions

When the onions turned this beautiful color, I was ready for the final components.  I found the chunk of creamy Havarti cheese that my husband picked up at the grocery store this week to snack on.  But I got to it first!   And I was sure this would be a super compliment to what I was drumming up.  Now for a sauce, spread or condiment…couldn’t be something ordinary.

panini condiments

I decided to try two routes…using a deli horseradish sauce for sandwiches (something we like to keep around the house) and I was also going to mix up a balsamic mayo.  I have developed quite a collection of balsamic vinegar varieties in my cupboard… I’ve got Sicilian Lemon and Mango white balsamic, chocolate, and raspberry.  I don’t find use for them often, but when I do, they’re usually the MVP of the dish.  For this panini, I liked the garlic cilantro one.  I mixed a couple spoonfuls of olive oil mayo with a couple teaspoons of the balsamic vinegar….oooh yeah, that was what I was going for!   balsamic mayo spread

grilling the panini

I assembled two sandwiches using a couple slices of Havarti, a spoonful of caramelized onions, three slices of my leftover roast, and one of the spreads on each.  Then I placed them on my panini press and eagerly awaited their gooey goodness.  They sat on the grill for about 5 minutes until I saw those pretty grill marks on the outside of the ciabatta rolls.  Know that the contents may slide out a bit, or ooze out a little.

bistro panini with carmelized onions

Now it was pay off time, and it was sweet!  These were warm, chewy, tangy and sweet.  And the best part?  I have more of all of the ingredients so I can make this again.

Old World bakery meets the modern kitchen

I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not a baker.  Yeast intimidates me.  And I don’t own a KitchenAid stand mixer.  I sincerely appreciate those who are good with dough, batters and the like.  So I value good family-run businesses, like Orlando Baking Company, which cranks out quality breads and dough for remedial bakers like myself to cook with (and sometimes pass off as my own).

For this Cheftovers installment, I’ve teamed up with Orlando Baking Company (http://www.orlandobaking.com/) to review two of their newest offerings.  This is not a paid endorsement, I’m simply taking them up on no-obligation invitation to try out a couple of things they’ve just introduced to the market.

You can find both of their latest products in the freezer section.  They now sell frozen ciabatta dough (a variety of bread they’re known for) and frozen pepperoni rolls.

orlando pepporini bread box

I was pleased to discover upon opening the box of pepperoni rolls, that they are packaged in four separate rolls.  (This Cheftovers queen just hates wasting half a loaf of garlic bread because I have to cook the whole thing for just a couple of us.)  This allowed me to pop one or two in the oven at a time to test them out.  I also saw that they were fully cooked, so if you want to take one of these on the go, they’ll thaw nicely and you can eat it cold. However, I wanted mine hot. So I popped a pair in the oven and baked them according to the directions on the box.

orlando pepperoni bread sliced

For me, that wasn’t nearly enough time.  If you’re looking for melty cheese on the inside, you’ll probably want to leave them in at least three more minutes than the box suggests.  But that’s a matter of preference.  Same goes for a little marinara sauce.  I would love to the see the box come with a container of marinara sauce to dip it in.  Adding pepperoncini might be a nice touch too, but those aren’t for everybody.

more pepperoni rolls

For the sake of variety, I tried one in the toaster oven. (especially since it wasn’t a whole loaf and I didn’t need to fire up the big oven)  It was nice and crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, just as it should be.

Overall, I think this is a quality product.  They’re the perfect size and shape for my little Italian-at-heart daughters to nibble on when dinner isn’t quite done yet.  And I would proudly serve these to guests an appetizer or a party snack.

orlando frozen ciabatta dough

For the ciabatta dough, I took it out of the oven and brought it up to room temperature, per instructions on the packaging.  I certainly want to respect the artisan dough that it is!  Once it was room temp, I also brushed it with oil as recommended.  However, I don’t have a pizza pan to bake it in like the instructions suggested, only a pizza stone (which to be effective should be heated in the oven first…and I couldn’t work the dough and add the toppings that way) so I chose to work on a standard cookie sheet.

ciabatta pizzs

I worked the dough out into the size and shape I wanted, which wasn’t hard at all (don’t know why I’m so scared to work with dough sometimes–fear I’m going to screw it up I guess) Then I topped it with a layer of pizza sauce, pepperoni, mushrooms, and onion, along with some spices and plenty of mozzarella cheese.

I made sure the crust had a nice coating of olive oil on it along with a light sprinkle of garlic salt.  I baked it as suggested and it turned out beautifully.

orlando ciabatta pizza

Nice and golden brown around the crust.  The outside was lightly crispy and the inside was chewy, just like I like my pizza and my ciabatta bread.  If you’re not too familiar with ciabatta, know that it isn’t going to be as light as other pizza dough.  I find it a little more dense, but I like it that way!

The frozen dough will run you about $2…a steal for the time and grief it will save you making your own, and less than other varieties of prepared pizza dough or crusts.  I bought the pepperoni rolls for about $6, which is also an inexpensive way out of a “I forgot we were supposed to bring something to the party” jam.

Both products are available at Heinen’s.  And the pepperoni rolls are also sold at Dave’s, Discount Drug Mart, Marc’s, and Zagara’s.

Duck, part deux: how I made lasagna out of cassoulet leftovers

I had a pretty awesome birthday this year, topped off by a dinner out at a fantastic French restaurant.  When I have the pleasure of dining there, I order the cassoulet. (a rich, slow cooked casserole of sorts, with duck confit, pork belly and white beans) It’s decadent and delectable.  This time I also indulged in a recommended appetizer, so I couldn’t man up and finish the entire cassoulet myself.  So, I doggy-bagged that dish and brought it home to enjoy again.  But how?

leftover cassoulet

There were a lot of white beans there, which were creamy and beautifully cooked.  But I can’t just eat spoonfuls of them.  I pureed them along with some olive oil and the other stragglers -a couple of carrots and some parsley-and decided I was going to turn this doggy bag of delight into lasagna!

white bean filling

I had some lasagna noodles in the cupboard, so that covered one layer.  I decided the white bean puree would serve the same purpose at the ricotta usually does. (it had the same texture and consistency)  And I had an Italian cheese blend in the deli drawer of my fridge.  All that was left to tackle was the sauce.

leftover duck confit

I decided the duck leg from the cassoulet would substitute for the ground meat I usually work into a lasagna sauce.  So I chopped the meat off the bone, but reserved the bone (figuring it could come in handy later)

Now, a traditional lasagna sauce starts with garlic, onion and olive oil to flavor the browning meat.  Then you add tomato and spices.  So I too began with garlic, onion and olive oil and sauteed that until the veggies softened.  Then I added about 15 oz of canned tomato sauce I had in the cupboard.  I stirred in some salt and pepper, basil and oregano then tossed in the duck leg bone to incorporate that rich meaty flavor.  When the sauce got to a nice simmer, I covered it and let it mature for about 30 min on low.  duck lasagna sauce

Next, I tossed in the chopped duck meat to make for the chunky, meaty sauce that I’m used to.  I let that sit on the stove for another 15 min, also on low.

layering the lasagna

Now it was time to layer.  I started with a thin layer of my sauce.  Then I placed a no-bake lasagna noodle on top, followed by a layer of my white bean puree and a heavy handed sprinkling of Italian cheese blend.  I repeated this process twice more, ending with a layer of sauce and white bean puree mixed together.  Then a last helping of shredded cheese.

duck lasagna

I covered this French-Italian fusion experiment with foil and popped it in the oven at 350* for 35-40 minutes (until it was bubbly).  Voila!  That’s French, right?!

If I’m being honest, I could actually eat cassoulet (leftover or not) a couple times a week.  So it wasn’t my first instinct to mess with “perfection.”  But the idea of zapping this beautiful collection of ingredients into a microwave on day two made my heart hurt.  So, getting creative (or crazy) with these classic French elements was the next best thing the next day!

Sweet and Sour “Book Ends”

Who doesn’t have a hankerin’ for Chinese food on the regular?  And Lord knows there’s usually leftovers after a night of Chinese take-out.  But I’m flipping the script and turning leftovers into Chinese!  

pork book ends

I scooped up a BOGO deal for pork sirloin roast at the grocery store this week and made it with an herb rub that included orange zest for my initial dish.  So when I searched my mental catalog for things to do with “book ends” of the roast, I thought of trying to make a sweet and sour sauce to incorporate with the leftover pork and some veggies.  Let’s do this.

sweet and sour supplies

I searched around the web to see exactly what goes into various varieties of sweet and sour sauces, and determined that I had what I needed already in house to cobble something together.  Bonus!  I set aside some rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, corn starch, brown sugar and pineapple juice.  Some people use ketchup, but I wasn’t in the mood for that “nuclear orange” color you usually see on your sweet and sour pork/chicken, so I decided to go with the pineapple juice from the canned pineapple chunks I had in the pantry.

sweet and sour sauce

I put a cup of pineapple juice, a tablespoon of soy sauce, some water, a hefty portion of brown sugar (like a quarter cup), and 3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar.  Once I stirred that around, I added roughly 3 tablespoons of corn starch to the mix and kept it at medium heat, stirring it consistently until it thickened up.

sweet and sour veggies

Next, I chopped up some green pepper, onion, celery and pineapple…the “usual suspects” of a sweet and sour combo plates.  I also used up the last of my frozen snow peas (not enough to serve as a side dish, but just enough to supplement this main course)

I’m also pretty savvy at an at-home version of fried rice, so I prepped those elements.  I like to cook brown rice in broth in stead of water.  In a separate pan, I sauted garlic and onion, then add peas and chopped carrots (and today, mushrooms since I had a couple ounces on hand).  I add the cooked rice, and mix, then create a hole in the middle of the pan, put about a tablespoon of oil (canola or vegetable) and fry an egg.

fried rice

Once that’s cooking pretty good, I mince it up in the pan and stir everything together, then add soy sauce to taste.  It’s not an exact process, but a method I mess with pretty much every time I make this.

Next step: cook the veggies for the sweet and sour.  I added some oil to a pan, and cooked then until just soft, then poured in the sweet and sour sauce I made.  After a few minutes, I tossed in the chopped leftover pork and the pineapple.

sweet and sour veggies in sauce

I tasted the mixture and decided it need a little bit of sauce.  Then, it was right where I wanted it!.  Time to eat.  I put a bed of fried rice in a deep bowl then piled on a heaping portion of the “sweet and sour book ends” for a pretty sweet dish.

Stone Soup

Seems like a soup-y kind of Sunday.  The snow hasn’t stopped falling all day and I want a warm belly full of something hearty.  As I usually do over the weekend, I cook ahead to make weekday evenings a little more relaxing.  After poaching a head of cabbage for stuffed cabbage, I realized I had half of it left, and hated to just toss it.  I poked around the pantry and fridge and thought of the children’s book, Stone Soup.  The lesson it leaves you with: make soup with what you’ve got.  Pretty soon I had a pile of veggies, (combination of canned, frozen and fresh) that were scraps and excess from other recipes, plus things I keep in the house for precisely this kind of occasion.

stone soup veggies

I started by chopping some garlic, onion and celery and sauteed that in a big pot with some hot oil.  Once those softened I added some carrots.

stone soup sauteed veggies

Found half a yellow zucchini and some kale in the vegetable drawer…why not?  Then I tossed in some frozen peas and canned corn.  I eyeballed the amounts.  You can’t really screw up soup, right?!  I also reached for whatever canned tomato product I had in the pantry.  In this case, it was crushed tomatoes.  I put about a cup of that in and a full carton of chicken broth and some water.  After I seasoned it, I covered it and brought it to a boil.  Then I reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 30 min.

ladle of stone soup

Since the cabbage was already cooked, I decided to add that last so it wouldn’t break down in the soup.

cabbage

As luck would have it there were some alphabet noodles in the cupboard too.  Sounds like this truly would be a literary inspired soup.  The letters were the final touch.

Tasty, hearty, healthy and cheap.  A lot better for the sodium levels and the wallet than a canned soup.  I’m already thinking about a corn chowder using the rest of the canned corn, and the potatoes sitting on my counter.  Maybe next Sunday.  Chances are, it’ll be damn cold, and snowy…again.  

Risotto Redux

When my husband bites into something he really likes, he often uses a playful term to describe it: “tastycakes.”  I believe I’ve just created actual “tastycakes.”  You be the judge.   I’ve asked those close to me, and those of you  following me to send me a challenge.  What are some of the leftovers you often have lingering around your house, that you’d like to give a “Cheftovers” makeover to?  My sister is this week’s challenger.  The subject: leftover risotto.

leftover risott

We like to make a lot of risotto in my family.  It’s a great side in its simplest form, and it’s a great canvas for other ingredients (often bits and pieces of excess ingredients from other dishes like asparagus, artichokes or spinach) that can help boost it up to an entree.  It takes time and attention, and arborio rice is much more expensive than white or brown rice.  For those reasons, it’s a shame to toss anything not eaten.

Whenever I see arancini on a menu, I can’t resist.  They’re rice balls (often with a cheesy center)  lightly breaded and fried, and served with a marinara…kinda like rice croquettes.  I knew I wanted to go this direction.  Problem is, I don’t have a fryer, which is necessary to get that even golden brown finish around the entire thing.  So I decided to adjust the shape for easier execution.  Just smoosh ’em down and call them risotto cakes!  I also remembered a half a bag of teeny tiny shrimp I had waiting in the freezer (the kind you’d use to make shrimp salad)  Now…I was cookin’!

start of marinara

I started on a quick marinara.  I chopped up some garlic, and onion and let those sweat it out in some olive oil while I finely diced up a stalk of celery and a carrot.  (for best results, you should really grate those both…but to be honest, I was feeling a bit lazy, so I decided to get past the slightly chunkier texture at the end to avoid that tedious step)  I allowed the veggies to cook down and soften, making sure to season them with salt and pepper.  Then I reached for the other half of a large can of crushed tomatoes I had in the fridge (from a recipe earlier in the week) as well as some tomato paste (from the same dish).  I added those, and a generous dash of crushed red pepper to give it some kick.  If I had fresh basil around, I would’ve used it here too.  But since I didn’t, I settled for dry herbs instead.  Since I was winging it, I stirred it and tasted it frequently, adding salt and water until it had the consistency and flavor I was looking for.  In the end, I actually ran it through a food processor to get a smoother texture.

marinar

Then I got to work on the risotto cakes.  To the leftover risotto, I added about a cup of chopped tiny shrimp, a heaping tablespoon of parsley, an egg and a little bit of breadcrumbs (until the mixture wasn’t “wet” anymore).  I didn’t season them too much, as the risotto already had been upon first preparation (with s/p, shallots and garlic).  I took about two tablespoons of the mixture and rolled it into a ball, then coated it in more breadcrumbs.  I placed them on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then smashed them down until they looked more like crab cakes than meatballs.  I then froze them to prevent them from falling apart in the frying pan.

risotto cakes

When I was ready to cook them, I just defrosted them in the refrigerator to defrost, than pan fried them, just like I would a crab cake.  I warmed the marinara and served it on the side.  Tastycakes, indeed.

What’s next?  Give me something good to work with!  I’m ready.  Send pics or ideas and I’ll get cooking.