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Leftover Treasures: Arancini

12 Aug

There are a lot of clever ways to revive leftovers, but one of my favorites makes a new dish that can be even better than the original. I am talking of course, about arancini, Sicily’s perfect little fried rice balls.

The name translates from Italian and Sicilian to mean “little oranges” for the shape and color of the finished product. They’re said to have originated in 10th century Sicily, and later gained popularity as a food eaten on the feast of Santa Lucia. “Arancini are a traditional food for the feast of Santa Lucia on 13 December when bread and pasta are not eaten. This commemorates arrival of a grain supply ship on Santa Lucia’s day in 1646, relieving a severe famine” [1]. Today, arancini are so popular that most food outlets in Sicily sell them year-round.

Though meat in tomato sauce (ragù) and mozzarella are a traditional filling, variants are sold all over Sicily. Like any good leftover application, they are malleable enough to accommodate what you have on hand. These deep-fried delights are the answer to “I made a full recipe of risotto and only needed to feed 1 or 2 people. What now?”

Risotto already has such a wonderful depth of flavor that we don’t need to do much at all to make it something special again. Arancini are simple to make, freeze well, and fry up in less than five minutes. Sound good? Let’s go for it.

Mushroom and Cheese Arancini

Ingredients

  • Well chilled leftovers from 1 recipe Mushroom and Romano Risotto (about 3 cups for me). You can certainly use other varieties of leftover risotto, just make sure you chill it well so that it’s firm.
  • 3 eggs (2 beaten in one bowl, 1 beaten in another)
  • 2 oz. mozzarella cheese (or other melting cheese), cut into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • Neutral oil such as peanut or canola for frying (enough to measure at least 2 in. deep in a saucepan)

Put the flour, 2 beaten eggs, and bread crumbs into separate bowls and arrange on the counter in that order. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat one egg and mix it into the chilled risotto.

Take 2 tbsp. of the risotto and flatten it gently into your palm. Place a cube of mozzarella in the center and then gently close your hand to surround the mozzarella with risotto. I also roll the ball between my hands a few times to get a nice compact shape.

Dip the ball into the flour, shaking off excess.

Next, dip it into the beaten egg, letting the excess drip off.

Finally, roll the ball in the panko breadcrumbs and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. I got 18 from 3 cups of risotto. (Yes, yes, there are only 17 in the picture. One was not-so-elegantly dropped.)

At this moment, I realized that I am one human with a somewhat small appetite and what on earth was I going to do with a dozen and a half arancini? Thankfully, these freeze well. If you need to do so, freeze them on a baking sheet until firm, and then move to a freezer bag. They’ll take a little longer to fry from frozen, but will be just as excellent. Win!

If not freezing, chill the arancini in the refrigerator for at least an hour before frying. They will hold their shape much better.

Prepare to fry by filling a saucepan with at least 2 in. of neutral oil. Clip a thermometer to the side of the pot and make sure the probe is at least ½ in. into the oil. This is important because greasy fried food is not what we’re after. Use an accurate thermometer, fry at the correct temperature, and the food will only absorb a very small amount of the oil. I’ve measured on a few occasions, and it’s usually only a few tablespoons total.

Bring the oil to 350 degrees F over moderate heat. You may be tempted to use high heat to get it there, but don’t. It will be harder to control the temperature later.

Fry the arancini 2-3 at a time to keep the oil temperature from dipping. They will cook in 2-4 minutes, depending on size. Remove when they are a deep golden brown. Bring the oil back to 350 degrees between batches.

Now you get a second course of your delicious risotto with added crunchy crust and gooey mozzarella center.

I mean, just check out that cheesiness:

They’re a great appetizer or lunch alongside a simple tomato salad. Now no delicious risotto leftovers need ever go to waste. And that feels pretty great.

Ciao for now,

Neen

1. Giuseppina Siotto, Vegetaliana, note di cucina italiana vegetale: La cucina vegetariana e vegana, 2014, ISBN8868101858, chapter 14

One Night in NOLA: Salted Butter Pecan Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl

10 Aug

I don’t eat ice cream very often. I’ve made vanilla and cookies and cream versions for Joe, but usually I have a spoonful and leave it at that. I’m more of a pie and pastry person when it comes to sweets. When I think back to many birthday parties over the years, I’ve never wanted a scoop of ice cream with my cake.

But I have my moments. The craving hits every once in a while and always for the same flavor: butter pecan. And the way I see it, if you are going to treat yourself to ice cream, you should go all the way and make it everything you want. As many of my recipes are, this one is born from a memory.

Seven Junes ago, Joe proposed to me a few days before a trip to New Orleans with my family. When we arrived in NOLA, we surprised everyone with the news, and what was already set to be a fun vacation became even more celebratory and special.

The first night there was, as expected, hot and muggy. We made our way through the French Quarter to a tiny restaurant called Green Goddess. We had an excellent meal, but for one time in my whole life, it was an ice cream dessert I ordered there that embedded itself in my brain. It was a sundae consisting of butter pecan ice cream, a caramel sauce, candied bacon, and whipped cream. And it was unreal. The ice cream was perfectly creamy and packed with buttery toasted pecans, the caramel sauce was dark and rich, and the candied bacon was smoky, salty, crunchy, and sweet. The cloud of homemade, not-too-sweet whipped cream on top was the perfect finish.

So when I got my annual(?) ice cream craving, I thought about just making butter pecan, but then I thought back to that sundae and decided it needed a caramel swirl right through the ice cream along with some crispy, salty pecans. Go all the way, right?

The best part about this ice cream is that it’s really not fussy (no egg tempering!), and all of the components can be made in advance. For me, that’s really excellent. My energy level since being diagnosed with RA has been erratic at best, so recipes that allow me to do things at my own pace are especially valuable to me.

Obviously, you will need an ice cream maker of some kind to make this recipe. Whether you roll a ball or use a electric countertop model, you’ll turn out some great ice cream. Let’s get churning!

Salted Butter Pecan Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl

Ice Cream Base

  • 1 cup cold whole milk
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract or 1/3 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Salted Buttered Pecans

  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • ¾ tsp. salt

Caramel Swirl

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 7 tbsp. heavy cream
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt

Method

To make the ice cream base, whisk together milk and brown sugar until brown sugar is dissolved.

Stir in heavy cream and vanilla extract or vanilla bean pulp. I also throw the empty vanilla pod in.

Pour into a lidded container (or cover the bowl) and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, though I usually let it go overnight.

To make the buttered pecans, melt the butter in a skillet. Add pecans and salt to the pan, and cook over medium low heat until pecans are browned and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.

Remove from heat, strain off the excess butter (and save that pecan butter! It’s so good on pancakes), and spread the pecans on a foil lined baking sheet to cool.

Cool completely before use.

To make the caramel, using a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil over medium heat, stirring just until sugar is dissolved.

Then boil mixture, without stirring, but gently swirling pan, until the syrup turns a deep amber color. Be careful, it goes from golden to burnt quickly. I like to swirl on and off the heat to keep the syrup nice and even in color.

Remove pan from heat and carefully pour in the cream and vanilla extract. The mixture will bubble up and harden a bit. Return it to the heat and simmer mixture, stirring, until caramel is smooth.

Remove pan from heat, stir in the salt and cool caramel to room temperature.

If you make this on the same day you are making your ice cream, leave it at room temperature. If you make it in advance, store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. Warm to room temperature before use. You may need to heat it slightly to loosen it up.

Now let’s put it all together. Have ready the container you want to use, a large spoon for the ice cream, a spoon for the caramel, and a butter knife. Have your buttered pecans and caramel ready to go.

If you used one, remove the vanilla bean pod from the ice cream base.

Pour the chilled ice cream base into your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s directions. In my ice cream maker, this takes about 24 minutes.

Pour in the pecans during the last 3 minutes of churning.

Take 1/3 of the ice cream and spread it in the container. Quickly drizzle a layer of caramel on top.

Repeat this 2 more times, and then use the butter knife to swirl the caramel through the ice cream. I ended up using about 2/3 of the caramel I made, but it did not go to waste!

Cover the ice cream and quickly move to the freezer to harden. In my freezer, it took about four hours to reach a nice hard scoop consistency. Serve as-is, or if you’re feeling special, drizzle on some extra caramel sauce, sprinkle a few chopped salted toasted pecans, and top with some maple sweetened softly whipped cream.

While no pigs were harmed in the making of this sundae, the savory, crunchy toasted pecans and deep, rich caramel swirl running through the fluffy, soft ice cream with that little pillow of whipped cream on top instantly took me back to that wonderful summer night. Music spilling into the restaurant from the streets, my new fiancé by my side, and my family surrounding me. My heart was full. What a profound testament to the power of foods as vessels for memory.

With Joe at Green Goddess

Recipes are little time capsules we can open at any moment, and I know this is one I will surely return to on many occasions.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Downtown Dreams: Thumbprints

8 Aug

My mom worked in downtown Pittsburgh when I was growing up. It was always a treat when I got to go visit her. We would often make our way to Kaufmann’s department store (eventually Macy’s, who took over in 2006) and the Tic Toc Restaurant for lunch. I can still remember the way their tuna melt tasted 20 years later, not because it was anything particularly ground-breaking, but because I was with my mom downtown and how cool was that??

The iconic Kaufmann’s clock

The other place we’d frequent at Kaufmann’s was the Arcade Bakery. Now, this blog has made evident my love for cookies, but there are few cookies I remember more vividly and pine for more regularly than the thumbprints from the Arcade Bakery. Thick, sandy, and decadent butter cookies rolled in sprinkles or walnuts and topped with a big piped dollop of vanilla or chocolate buttercream. If there is a thumbprint divot in the middle, you’d never know under buttercream mountain.

Thumbprint, what thumbprint??

I’ve made thumbprints lots of ways, but have never quite achieved the texture and flavor of the ones from the Arcade Bakery. Apparently the recipe was never written down and some of the bakers claim not to even have one, which honestly doesn’t surprise me. I’m completely guilty of “I don’t know how much I put in, I just did it until the dough looked right.” So that’s what I had to do through many test batches. Tweak, alter, and poke at the proportions, ingredients, and most crucially the method, until I had what I wanted. It’s not a perfect copy-cat, but it is very special indeed. And transports me back to dates downtown with my mom, so I’m more than happy.

Thumbprints, inspired by Arcade Bakery and happy memories

Thumbprint Cookies

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • ½ cup shortening, room temperature
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. almond extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • Sprinkles or finely chopped walnuts
  • Chocolate buttercream
  • Vanilla buttercream

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ tbsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. almond extract
  • Pinch salt

For the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Beat the sugar, salt, shortening, and butter until fluffy.

Add the egg and extracts and beat until thick.

Stir in the flour just until a dough forms (it may still be in chunks).

Form the dough into ¾ oz. balls. This is about 1 tbsp. of dough. I use a rounded 2 tsp. cookie scoop.

Roll in the sprinkles or nuts. Then press down with your thumb (or something with a round edge, like a rolling pin) to form a thumbprint in the middle.

Chill them on baking sheets in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.

Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or until lightly golden on the bottoms. Move to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the vanilla buttercream, beat the butter until smooth and then slowly add the powdered sugar. Once it is all combined, add the salt and extracts and beat until thick. If this sounds familiar, it is! You can find a photo tutorial for this buttercream in the Ribbon Cake recipe.

Transfer to a piping bag with an open star tip. Or just use a plastic storage bag with the corner cut off.

To make the chocolate buttercream, beat the butter until smooth and then slowly add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder, and beat until combined.

On low speed, slowly stream in the milk and vanilla extract, then add the salt and continue beating until well combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Then beat on high speed until thick, about 2 minutes. Depending on the weather and temperature, you may need to add extra powdered sugar to stiffen up the frosting. On a rainy, humid day I have added as much as 1/3 cup extra.

Transfer to a piping bag with an open star tip. Or just use a plastic storage bag with the corner cut off.

To assemble, pipe a large dollop of buttercream into the thumbprint you created, swirling out over the edges and covering about 2/3 of the cookie surface.

So while the sprinkle shape might be different (I thought these coated the cookies better, but for a true replica, use long straight sprinkles), one bite and I was instantly taken back to those afternoons downtown that always felt so special.

Still and always having fun with mom!

While Kaufmann’s, The Tic Toc Restaurant, and the Arcade Bakery might be lost to time, their memories are strong in my heart. This recipe might not be the original, but it is just what I remember, and is now down on paper to share with you.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Double Dessert: Strawberry Cheesecake Brownies with a Graham Cracker Crust

23 Jul

Let’s face it, you have enough difficult decisions to make on a day to day basis, yes? So when it comes to having your dessert at the end of a long day, why add one more challenging choice into the equation? This is precisely the thought that came into my head Sunday afternoon. I wanted these super fudgy brownies I made earlier in the week (that seriously satisfied my illicit obsession with “testing” brownie/cake batter), but also had a craving for creamy cheesecake. And yes, the classic marbled chocolate and cheesecake brownie seemed like the obvious answer, but there were a few sticking points I needed to address.

First of all, if you are going to call something a cheesecake, it needs a delicious crust. And second of all, fudgy brownie and cheesecake together cry out for something fruity or acidic to cut all of that richness. So what I started to imagine was a crunchy, sweet crust, gooey, rich brownie, and smooth decadent cheesecake with a little strawberry swirl. I wandered into the kitchen without a recipe and only my cravings to guide me. And a few hours later, I definitely had no difficult choices to make.

Strawberry Cheesecake Brownies with Graham Cracker Crust

Crust

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 pinches of salt

Brownie Layer

  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. cacao or cocoa butter,* melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup cacao or cocoa powder*
  • ½ tsp. salt

*Cacao butter/powder are the raw versions of cocoa butter/powder. This just means that these products have not been processed at temperatures higher than 115 degrees F. Either will produce great results, I just like the flavor of the raw product. Can’t find cocoa butter? Any neutral cooking oil will do in a pinch.

Cheesecake Layer

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. strawberry preserves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line an 8×8 pan with aluminum foil and butter the foil.

Combine the graham crackers, sugar, salt and melted butter and mix well.

Press into the prepared pan in an even layer and bake for 12 minutes, or until just set. Move to a wire rack to cool slightly while you prepare the filling.

To make the brownie batter, combine the butter, cacao butter, and sugar and mix well.

Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until thick.

Stir in the dry ingredients, but do not overmix. Some lumps are fine.

Pour the brownie batter on top of the crust and set aside.

To make the cheesecake layer, blend the cream cheese, egg yolk, and sugar until smooth. I like to use a food processor for this.

Drop the strawberry preserves onto the cheesecake filling and swirl just slightly. Do not blend well.

Drop the cheesecake batter on top of the brownie layer in dollops and then use a butter knife to swirl the fillings together.

Bake for 35 minutes or until puffy and just set.

Allow the brownies to cool at room temperature for an hour, and then chill for 2 hours before cutting into 24 pieces. If you care about keeping it pretty, wipe down your knife with a warm, damp cloth between cuts.

This really is an awesome contrast of textures and flavors. You get that rich, fudgy brownie against smooth, creamy cheesecake with little swirls of strawberry to brighten it all up a little. Dessert need not be a difficult choice ever again. You’re welcome!

Ciao for now,

Neen

My Favorite Oatmeal Cookies

20 Jul

I love oatmeal cookies. They pair well with lots of different additions, but are also delicious left perfectly plain with a hint of spice. You can do fun things with the texture too. Make them thin and lacy, thick and cake-y, crunchy, or chewy and soft. But my favorite oatmeal cookies, combine lots of textures and have deep dark spice and caramel flavors. The recipe has gone through many iterations as I tried to find the combination of ingredients that gave me the nutty, chewy, crunchy, spicy-sweet cookie I was seeking. I really like where it’s at now, but you know I’d never promise not to play around with the recipe in the future. My imagination is already running off…

I digress. Back to the treats at hand. These are a really special little bite despite their innocent appearance. Let’s fill up the cookie jar!

Toasted Oatmeal, Pecan, and Coconut Cookies

  • ¾ cups rolled oats, toasted until fragrant*
  • ¾ cups quick cooking oats, toasted until fragrant
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • ½ cup (sweetened or unsweetened) shredded coconut, toasted until golden
  • ½ tsp. baking powder**
  • 2 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp.  cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Pinch fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 large egg

*To toast the dry ingredients, just turn the oven to 350 degrees F and spread them out on separate baking sheets. The oats and nuts usually take 7-10 minutes and the coconut takes about 2-4 minutes.

** This weird thing happened when I started taking my medication for rheumatoid arthritis. I was finding that some of my baked goods tasted…off. There was this funny aftertaste that I could not get rid of and I had no idea what it was. I realized one day when I accidentally left some baking soda out of a recipe that OH, that’s that funny taste. This particular recipe can absolutely be made with ½ tsp. of baking soda or baking powder. Use what you have on hand.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Combine the butter, shortening, brown sugar, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt, and beat until smooth and creamy.

Add the egg and beat until well combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the flour and baking powder and beat until incorporated.

Finally, stir in the oats, pecans, and coconut and beat until well distributed.

Use a small cookie scoop (mine is 2 tsp.) or spoon to drop the dough onto the sheets. I got three dozen this way and placed 18 per sheet. Gently press the cookies down with fingertips to flatten.


Bake for 11-12 minutes or until golden at the edges and lightly brown on the bottoms. Cool on a wire rack or eat them warm because YES.

So yes, I’ll admit there are some extra steps to this recipe, but they really are worth it to achieve all the crispy, chewy, crunchy goodness here. The warm spices make them a super comforting accompaniment to any cup of coffee, cocoa, or tea. Definitely a good evening porch-sitting cookie for summer.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Honey-Vanilla Sandwich Cookies with Vanilla Creme (and Their Peanut Butter Buddies)

17 Jul

Often, my recipe ideas come from prepared or packaged products I see in the grocery store, because I get deeply curious about how they are made. I’ll look at the ingredients and slowly peel away the stabilizers and preservatives to get a sense of what makes up the food itself. And then I’ll try my best to give it a little makeover.

I rarely buy packaged cookies because I love to bake so much, but there are a few that Joe buys because he really likes them. I would not come between that man and his milk chocolate Milano cookies. He also really enjoys Golden Oreos. And for whatever reason, that’s what got stuck in my head this week. I think Golden Oreos taste pretty good too, but the problem with vanilla on vanilla is that it can be too sweet and a little flat. So my goal was to create a cookie with a little more depth of flavor that was crisp at the edges, but soft enough to bite without squeezing the filling out. If the cookie had the right balance, the vanilla creme could remain nice and sweet without becoming cloying. So not really a mock Golden Oreo, but a cookie loosely based on the idea. I think I came up with something pretty good. Joe ate two this morning before he went to work, and that’s honestly the best feeling. Let’s make some sandwiches!

Honey-Vanilla Sandwich Cookies with Vanilla Creme Filling

Cookies:

  • 11 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Sparkling sugar

Vanilla Creme Filling:

  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2-3 pinches salt
  • 1-2 tsp. cold water


Get out four sheets of parchment paper the size of your baking sheets and set them aside.

To make the cookies, use an electric mixer or hand mixer to beat the butter until smooth.

Add the sugar, brown sugar, honey, and salt, and beat until fluffy (2-3 min).

Add the egg and beat until the mixture thickens slightly. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Mix in the vanilla until well incorporated.

Stir in the flour just until a soft dough forms.

I used to find the rolling/cutting of cookies to be a little messy and inconsistent. The best part about the method we’ll use here is that it makes this step super simple and avoids adding any extra flour to the dough.

Gather the dough into a ball and put it on a sheet of parchment paper, place another sheet of parchment on top and roll the dough out to ¼ in. thickness. Place this on a baking sheet and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes or until the dough is completely firm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the two remaining sheets of parchment on baking sheets.

Using a 2 in. cutter, cut out circles of dough and lay them evenly spaced on the baking sheets. You will probably need to re-roll scraps once. Do it the same way as the first round of rolling, only this time you only need to chill for 5 minutes or so. While you are working with one sheet pan, put the other in the freezer so that the cookies stay cool and firm.

I fit 20 cookies per sheet pan. They won’t spread, so you can place them fairly close.

Very, very lightly brush the tops with a tiny bit of water and then sprinkle on the sparkling sugar. This will give the cookies a wonderful crunch!

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are just golden-brown. Let them cool on the baking sheet for a minute or two before moving to wire racks to cool completely.

To make the filling, combine all ingredients except the water and mix well. It will seem too dry, but eventually it will come together. At that point, add just enough water to make it cohesive. Beat until smooth. It should be fairly stiff.

Assemble the cookies by turning half of them over and spooning or piping about 2 tsp. of the filling in the center of each one.

Place another cookie on top and gently press down in the center to spread the frosting out.

The crunch from the sparkling sugar is delightful on top of these slightly-soft-in-the-middle cookies and the filling is creamy and sweet. I love the flavor the honey adds to these too. I bet dark buckwheat honey would be almost caramel-y.

Oh! Vanilla not your thing? Beat ½ cup peanut butter with 1 ½ cups powdered sugar, a pinch or two of salt, and 3-4 tbsp. milk for a delicious peanut butter filling variation. The salt content of peanut butters varies so much brand to brand that it is best to add to your own taste here. (Oh darn you might have to taste it multiple times!)

Try out these little sandwiches and start dreaming up your own variations! A warm maple, bright lemon, or a rich chocolate-hazelnut all sound pretty heavenly to me. I think I might have to head back to the kitchen for more important experiments.

Ciao for now,

Neen