Add butternut squash for a sweeter risotto

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When I make risotto, I usually add asparagus and a couple drops of white truffle oil and call it a day. But last week I wanted to play around and see what I could come up with. The result was a butternut squash risotto that I will definitely make again.

I like the natural sweetness of butternut squash, so I thought it would be a good starting point to choose a different vegetable to add. That gave me direction in choosing the rest of the seasonings for the risotto, which ended up being slightly sweet, really creamy, and full of flavor.

Beware if you’re cooking for one, because this makes a large amount of risotto. If you just want enough for a few servings for yourself, I recommend cutting the recipe in half.

Ingredients
1 large butternut squash
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (I used riesling)
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons butter, cut into smaller cubes
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of white pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Peel the butternut squash and remove the seeds. Place the butternut squash, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Rub with cooking oil or spray with cooking spray. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until squash is tender.

Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add a splash of cooking oil, the onion, and the garlic. Once onions are translucent, add rice and stir until slightly browned. Turn heat to medium-high and add riesling. Simmer until wine is absorbed. Stir. Add 2 cups of the chicken broth and simmer until absorbed. Add the remaining two cups and simmer until absorbed. Add cream and stir until just combined. Rice should be tender. Turn off heat. Add butter and seasoning ingredients. Cut squash into small cubes and stir into risotto. Serve.

Growing up with goulash

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Did anyone else grow up eating goulash? I’m not talking about the stew so much as the pasta version. Is that a weird Midwestern dish West Coasters haven’t heard of? I had an odd hankering for it last week, so I made a batch and, when I took some of the leftovers to work for my lunch, my coworkers didn’t seem to know what it was when I told them. The only one who had heard of it was from the Midwest, which is where my mom’s side of the family is from. I didn’t know if this was a dish grandma concocted and mom carried on making, or something more people ate. For those of you who haven’t had it, it’s kind of a more deluxe, less cheesy version of macaroni and cheese.

In any case, my mom wasn’t home to answer the phone when I called for the recipe last week, so I made a version of it based on what I remembered eating when I was a kid. The store didn’t have large elbow noodles—which is traditionally used for this—so I went with rigatoni, which I ended up liking because there was more room for the sauce inside of the noodles. The sauce in this version was a little thicker than I remember it being in my mom’s version, but it was good. Not bad for making it from memory. If you don’t want to add the cheese and bake it, you can serve it right out of the frying pan.

Ingredients
1 pound ground beef
10 ounces rigatoni
1 can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can fire-roasted corn
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sea salt
Dash of black pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the rigatoni and boil until cooked. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan over medium heat, cook the ground beef until browned. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and corn and simmer. Add the pasta, garlic, herbs, and spices. Stir until combined.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour a third of the goulash into a dutch oven. Top with 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat three times. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Cheesecake cupcakes are a decadent treat

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I owe you a recipe. I didn’t post Sunday because I didn’t have anything I felt was suitable for Valentine’s Day. But when my team had its monthly potluck today—the theme was “foods we love”—it was the perfect excuse to bake something. I made my Strawberry Bavarian Pie because it’s one of my favorite things, but also realized that I’d missed a team member’s birthday, and he had specified that cheesecake is his favorite dessert.

I’ve had a hit-and-miss experience with cheesecake. I’ve only made it two or three times. The first time, I overbaked it and it cracked. The second time I was nervous about overbaking it, so I underbaked it. It was frustrating on both accounts. This time around, since I didn’t want to wait for a full cheesecake to bake, I decided to look up cupcake recipes and saw this one. It was really easy to put together, and they were, by far, the best cheesecakes I’ve ever made. They were single-serving-size perfection.

So, if you’re still looking for a recipe for your Valentines, whip up a batch of these. They’re a winner. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Crust
1 cup graham wafer crumbs
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a small bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press a heaping tablespoon of crumbs onto the bottoms of the 12 muffin cups. Cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Filling
2 8-ounce packages of full fat cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese on low speed until creamy and smooth. Add the sugar and salt and beat until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the vanilla extract, lemon zest, and sour cream and beat until incorporated. Remove the crusts from the refrigerator and evenly divide the filling among the 12 muffin cups.

Bake for about 18-22 minutes or until firm but the centers of the cheesecakes still wobble a little. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Let cool and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (a few hours or even overnight).

Birthday cupcakes for the office

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I keep a list of my cowokers’ birthdays and favorite desserts in the top drawer of my desk. It gives me an excuse to bake, and sometimes their listed favorites are something I’ve never made before—like the plum cake my boss requested last year—so it presents a challenge. I love the challenges.

One of my coworkers had a birthday a week ago and said cupcakes were his favorite dessert. I generally avoid making cakes and cupcakes due to the amount of decorating they require, so I wanted to find something that was easy enough to put together on a weeknight after work. Another challenge I was presented with was coming up with frosting that would hold through to the afternoon without becoming runny or dried out if it sat on a table all day. That requirement instantly threw out 7-minute frosting—my favorite. I thought about the birthday cupcakes my mom made for my brother and me when we were little and started to look through my cookbooks for a good yellow cake recipe with chocolate frosting—which was always my brother’s favorite. I found my winning recipe in the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook, a book my brother got me for Christmas a few years ago. As you know by now, I love Cook’s Illustrated. They do such a solid job of explaining why certain recipes and techniques work. There’s always a lot that can be learned from them.

This recipe for Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Frosting was terrific. These aren’t your light, airy, made-from-a-box cupcakes. These are more dense and more flavorful. Because I was worried about lighter frostings, I didn’t whip the ganache as the recipe directed. I left it cool and spread a layer of it onto the cupcakes, so there was no concern of it sliding off or becoming too soft at room temperature. It was a great combination, and this will definitely be my go-to recipe for a really good yellow cake. I topped them off with blue sprinkles, both because birthday cupcakes should always have sprinkles and because my coworker is a fan of the Seahawks, who will hopefully win today’s Super Bowl. Am I a football fan? Not really. But I’ve got to root for the home team, right?

Yellowganachecupcakes020115Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg plus 2 large yolks, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil liners.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Fit stand mixer with paddle and beat flour mixture, butter, sour cream, egg, egg yolks, and vanilla together on medium speed until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl, then mix by hand using rubber spatula until smooth and no flour pockets remain.

Using ice cream scoop or larger spoon, divide batter evenly among prepared muffins cups. Bake cupcakes until tops are pale gold and toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, 20-24 minutes. Life each cupcake from tin and transfer to wire rack. Let cupcakes cool completely, about 45 minutes, before frosting.

Frosting
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Place chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour boiling cream over chocolate, and let sit, covered, for five minutes. Whisk mixture until smooth, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool and slightly firm, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip cooled chocolate mixture on medium speed until fluffy and mousse-like and soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.

Spread 2-3 tablespoons of frosting over each cooled cupcake and serve.

An introduction to homemade chili

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Since I began teaching myself to cook years ago, I’ve always wanted to try making chili. But I was intimidated. It turns out I had no reason to worry. I finally worked up the courage to try it, and used this recipe for my first-ever batch of homemade chili.

It was really quite easy, and it had a much fresher flavor than the canned stuff I’ve been eating my whole life.

The only thing I was concerned about with this recipe was how soupy it was before simmering, but giving it the full hour to simmer helped to thicken it. Next time I’ll probably make it a little spicier and add some fresh garlic, but this was a great recipe for a first attempt.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped sweet onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped yellow bell peppers
1 pound ground turkey
1 (28-ounce) can crushed organic tomatoes, undrained
1 (16-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon hot sauce (recommended: Tabasco)
11/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

In a large skillet, sauté onions, garlic and bell peppers in olive oil over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add ground turkey and cook until browned.

Add remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.