Baked Pumpkin Risotto with Allspice Chicken

Baked Pumpkin Risotto with Allspice Chicken

It snowed today. The first snow of the season, but I’m not ready for winter. I always get a touch of the SAD – winter is long and cold in New England, and despite growing up here, it never really gets any easier. I spent the day trying to convince myself of the joy that snow brings – thinking back to boarding school days, where it was always wonderful to be on campus when the first snow arrived. Suddenly, a common occurrence was a brand new marvel: you’d see the snow through the eyes of students who had grown up in warm climates, delighted in those large white flakes for the very first time.


First Snow in New England

This day, however, was colored with my own melancholia, as I had a last lunch (soup and grilled cheese in front of a fire) with my friend Alexann, before driving her to the airport to fly away to Denver. I came home, made myself a cup of tea, and wrapped myself in a blanket. This never gets easy.

By evening, the sky was clear, and we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

Evening after first snow

For dinner, I knew that I wanted to make something with my defrosting chicken from my Walden Local Meat share. I had two large boneless, skinless breasts, which isn’t what I usually cook with – I’m a bone and skin gal – so I wanted a dish where they’d stay moist, and something a little bit rib-sticking for this cold fall day.

With the Patriots game in the background, I looked through my Eat Your Books bookshelf, to find which of my cookbooks have recipes for chicken breasts and pumpkin. I found myself flipping through a Donna Hay – and liked the look of her ‘baked chicken and pumpkin risotto’, but wanted to make it with pumpkin puree rather than the chunks of pumpkin she calls for, so I adapted the recipe to my own liking. It’s probably sacrilege to call this a risotto, but the dish calls for arborio rice, so I can justify it to myself. Italian purists, please look away, or consider the alternate title: “Pumpkin Rice with Allspice Chicken”.

Baked Pumpkin Risotto before mixing with chicken Baked Pumpkin Risotto with Chicken

Baked Pumpkin Risotto with Chicken

This recipe served two (very generous) portions. For four, I might double it, and you’d have leftover lunch for one, the next day. If you’d like a little bit soupier rice, I’d add a touch more chicken stock at the beginning.

1 cup arborio rice
1 15 oz. can organic pumpkin puree
2 oz. butter, melted
1 cup chicken stock
salt and pepper
pinch of nutmeg, pinch of allspice
olive oil
2 chicken breasts, preferably organic and free range (about 1/2 lb. each)
salt and pepper
a tablespoon allspice
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

In a bowl, stir together arborio rice, pumpkin, melted butter, and chicken stock. Add a good pinch of salt, a few twists from a black pepper grinder, a pinch of nutmeg, and another pinch of allspice. Stir, transfer to a shallow baking dish, cover with foil, and bake at 400 for 35 – 45 minutes until rice has cooked through. (This batch, for whatever reason, took me almost an hour.)

While rice is baking, heat up a frying pan with a little olive oil on medium. Season chicken with salt, pepper, and a generous coating of allspice, and cook in pan, about 4-6 minutes on each side, until cooked through – it might take an extra minute or two on each side if your chicken is thick. Take off the heat, let rest for a few minutes, while you chop your parsley and grate your cheese. Then chop, the chicken, making sure to reserve the juices.

Once rice is done, put in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the chicken and it’s juices, parsley, and parmesan, making sure to stir well, until creamy. Serve warm.

Chicken Brussels Sprouts with Soba

Chicken Brussels Sprouts

For someone who loves food and cooking so much, some nights it’s awfully hard to make a decision and get food on the table. This evening threatened to be trashy takeout night– we didn’t get home until 8:30, and it took all of my willpower not to order in. I usually reserve Sunday afternoons for batch cooking, but yesterday I was out and about, and didn’t have time to cook. I did however pick up a package of organic free range chicken thighs at Trader Joe’s, which was my starting point for tonights meal.

First I added a spoonful of coconut oil to my All Clad and heated up the pan on medium high heat, seasoned my chicken thighs (about a pound and a half) with Maldon salt and black pepper, and seared them on one side for about five minutes without touching them. Once nicely browned, I flipped them over and started rummaging through my cupboards for something to cook with them. I had some garlic, just a few cloves, which I sliced and added to the pan. Then I decided on shredded brussels sprouts, a few large handfuls, which I added after the chicken was cooked through (about 12 minutes). I tossed the chicken and sprouts, and added a pinch of urfa biber (Turkish hot pepper), and covered the lid to let the sprouts steam. At this point, I took the picture, thinking that we’d eat, until I spotted a lone portion of soba noodles, one of those single portions, maybe 2 or 3 ounces, which I decided to quickly boil and add to the pan. To finish the dish, I grated on a massive amount of parmesan cheese, which just makes everything in life better, and tossed everything together.

Mmm… butter!

I broke down and got this. Straus butter. Cost me an arm and a leg around here, but I had a serious hankering – nostalgia butter, is that a thing? Now what should I do with it?

From home.

See that? That’s my one cup of coffee that I committed to yesterday. I nursed that cup for four hours, microwaved it three times, and resisted brewing a second one. For the rest of the day I drank hot water steeped with a nob of ginger. I keep a root on my counter which I snap off piece by piece into tea. I always try to find the ones at the market that have the most little nobs for this purpose – it’s like popping bubble wrap, but you get a whiff of spicy goodness at every snap! Sometimes I stir a spoonful of honey into my ginger water, but usually I just drink it straight-up.

On Wednesdays I work from home, it’s the day I have set for several morning calls, and I plan to tackle projects that require critical thinking with limited distraction. It’s wonderful for so many reasons – I find myself more productive than normal, it breaks up the week, and I find the quiet to be restorative. And I don’t have to wear pants.

I’ve been feeling a little bit under the weather this week, so I decided to feed myself comforting foods, take it easy, and hopefully ward off anything germy that could be brewing. Normally I head to the gym on Wednesday, but by mid afternoon I was exhausted, so I took a well-needed rest day.

Lunch was a pair of eggs fried in coconut oil, and topped with Trader Joe’s frozen vegetable curry. (This is one of my favorite items at Trader Joe’s – and generally, they do quite a good job on these frozen south asian meals. The ingredients are minimal, and the flavors well developed. I could rotate between this one, the Lamb Vindaloo, and the Butter Chicken for days.)

For dinner, I was craving something warm and filling. Last week, while trying out a few recipes from my newly acquired cookbook – Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese (by the lovely Stephanie and Garrett!), I loved the tomato soup in the book so much that I had to make a second batch. So tonight I decided to make meatballs – with ground beef from the butcher, salt, pepper, cinnamon and garlic powder, and simmer them for an hour in the tomato soup. I tossed in a large handful of orzo pasta, and let it bubble gently until cooked through.

Devon walked in the door right when dinner was ready, and we both loved this meal.

Eggs simmered in Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce

Marcella Hazan, the iconic Italian cookbook author died this weekend, and like so many other food lovers, I’ve done the thing that seems the most fitting – taken to the kitchen to cook recipes in her honor. Starting with her famous tomato sauce. {Here’s a link to her obit in the NYTimes, and here’s the bible: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking – an oft consulted tome from my bookshelf.}

This is a meal I come back to again and again in various incarnations: Israeli Shakshuka, or Turkish Mememen, or with Mexican flavors sort of Ranchero style, or Greek style with lots of feta – it’s such versatile and quick meal, and lends itself to all sorts playing in the kitchen. (Usually I like to cook my own sauce, like Marcella’s here, but in a pinch, I’ll use Rao’s marinara, and the meal will come together in five minutes.)

Eggs simmered in Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce 

2 cups tomatoes 
1 medium onion
5 tablespoons butter
a good pinch of salt
2 – 3 eggs per person 

First Marcella’s sauce, which, is perhaps her most famous recipe, likely because it has only four ingredients – and some people don’t even count the salt so we’ll call it three ingredients – but also, because it’s exceedingly delicious for so little effort. Here’s what you do: take  2 cups of tomatoes, with their juices – she recommends fresh, or a 28-ounce can of imported San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, although, admittedly this time I had a single 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes from Trader Joe’s, and it turned out fine – and you put  it in a small sauce pan. Peel a medium onion, chop it in half, and add it to the tomatoes, and then put in five (yes five) tablespoons of butter, and a good pinch of salt. Gently bring to a simmer on medium heat, and cook it uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring every so often. Do a taste check – does it need more salt? Before you serve, you’ll season, and then get rid of the onion – it’s done it’s job. You can use this sauce for pasta, or over chicken, or with some sausages, or with vegetables, or simmered with eggs.

To make the eggs – put the sauce in a large, shallow pan, and cook until warm. Make a few holes in the sauce with your spoon, add the eggs – I’ll do three eggs per person, and share the entire sauce recipe between the two of us –  and cover the pan until the eggs set, about 4 minutes. Serve as is, or top with a healthy grating of Parmigiano.

Sometimes the rules don’t apply.

Like that rule that I should eat wholesome foods, and eschew items with ingredients I can not pronounce. Most of the time, I wholeheartedly agree with Michael Pollan’s edict.

Occasionally, some demon from within takes over my motor functions and puts products with “chocolate flavor” in my basket, like this “Chocolate Flavor Spread with Caramel Candy Pieces”. In my defense, it seems much more wholesome in Swedish: “Chokladkrokant Bredbar“. And IKEA sells it in other English speaking countries as “Chocolate Butterscotch Spread” which, if I use my imagination, is something that Nigel Slater would recommend that I spoon on some warm snacking cake on a lazy Sunday morning. And then there is the usage suggestion: “Use when baking, in home-made ice cream, in a glass of warm milk for breakfast or enjoy as it is directly from the jar.” Directly from the jar, you say, IKEA? I do believe I will. 

If you find yourself near an IKEA with a similar demon inside of you, I encourage you to let it be in control when you walk past this item. Happy Sunday!