for years i have been moulding risotto into various shapes, and serving slices of the resulting torta on buffets and summer party tables. i love to eat and serve risotto, and this allows us to enjoy it in a completely different, make-ahead kind of way.
these little rice babies are so adorable and perfect for a dinner party and especially for your vegetarian guests. if you know you’re having vegetarians over for dinner, make risotto a few nights before and do up some individuals. you can reheat them in just 20 minutes and serve a special dinner without any fuss.
feel free to experiment with vegetables too. rounds of roasted yellow and green courgettes or a fat slab of grilled eggplant would be divine in the bottom of the mould. and your risotto can change with the seasons as well.
torta di risotto bambini
1 pint little tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup butter
1 large onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
6 cups water or vegetable stock
salt and pepper
2 cups grated parmegiano reggiano
aged balsamic vinegar
white truffle oil
preheat oven to 450f. toss the little tomatoes with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. roast on a parchment lined tray for 15-20 minutes, or until starting to colour and shrivel. set aside.
heat the water or stock to simmering. in a large pan, heat the 1/2 cup olive oil with half of the butter over medium heat. add the onion and garlic and cook stirring for 4 minutes. increase heat to high and add the mushrooms and some salt and pepper, stirring and cooking until mushrooms have released their water and have begun to colour, about 6 minutes. add the rice and stir to coat with the oil and butter. after drinking half the wine, re-measure, and pour it in the pan (you know you do this!) bring to a boil and stir until the liquid is almost gone. start adding hot water or stock to the pan, a couple of ladle-fuls at a time, stirring and cooking in typical risotto-making fashion. i taste throughout the process and stop adding water when the ice has some bite, and the rice is still rather soupy. it will thicken and cook further as it stands. add the cheese and remaining 2 tbsp. of butter. add a few drizzles of balsamic and some truffle oil. stir a few more times and then allow it to cool until the risotto has become less saucy and firmer. taste again and season as needed adding salt, pepper, or more truffle oil or balsamic or cheese.
line 6-8 single-serve vessels with plastic wrap and leave an overhang. i use ramekins, or stoneware timbale molds, or indian dahl bowls, whatever i have on hand. arrange the little tomatoes in the bottom, then spoon over the rice, right to the top. fold over the plastic, then chill until firm. overnight is best.
when ready to serve, preheat oven to 400f and line a baking pan with parchment. turn out the tortas and remove the plastic wrap. bake for 20 minutes, or until the little bambinis are hot and the bottom are sizzling and turning golden brown. serve hot with a nice salad, or some tomato sauce on the side.
i’ve always thought there is a very good reason that a slice of cold pizza or a slab of leftover lasagna tastes so good for breakfast. i am a fan of fresh fruit and smoothies, or a good grain bowl, but i also love something savoury and comforting in the morning. let’s face it, after a sad breakup, or a night of heavy drinking, you know what you can do with your smoothie, know what i’m saying?
a lot of my recipes come about from the necessity of making something when there isn’t much in the fridge, or trying to use up what i have on hand and this scrambled egg/fried rice hybrid breakfast bowl made from leftover rice is no exception. my special brit friend is half japanese, and fills me in on all the sometimes weird (natto, anyone?) and wonderful things his family eats for breakfast. i was especially intrigued by the japanese rice and raw egg dish called tamago kake gohan, but…one thing i can’t seem to get past is the idea of eating raw eggs. so for this version of a rice breakfast bowl, the eggs are still stirred in at the end, but they go into very hot rice, resulting in a creamy, softly scrambled egg enveloping each grain of rice, almost like a sauce. sometimes i cook it a bit further to almost scramble the egg. either way you prepare it, it’s a protein-rich, slightly spicy and satisfying breakfast that everyone loves and takes only 15 minutes to make. for ease in the morning, chop up the vegetables the night before.
scrambled rice breakfast bowl
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 small carrot, shredded
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 tsp. chinese 5-spice powder
2 cups cold cooked white or brown rice, any variety
1 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
1 tsp. sriracha hot sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. sesame seeds plus a few more for sprinkling
4 eggs, cracked into a bowl and lightly beaten
1/2 avocado, sliced
in a large non stick pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. when the oil is shimmering, add the carrot, red pepper, and celery. cook for 4 minutes, then sprinkle on the 5-spice powder and cook for 15 seconds or so, just until the spices are lightly toasted. increase heat to high. add the rice, and cook, turning and stirring for 3-4 minutes, or until hot and starting to get a bit crispy. stir in the tamari, sriracha, sesame oil, green onions, and sesame seeds, and mix well to coat the rice. remove pan from heat, and immediately add the beaten eggs, stirring to evenly distribute the eggs into the rice, and cook until the eggs are cooked through but still soft.
load rice into bowls and top with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and the sliced avocado. serve right away.
there really is something old-fashioned and comforting about peanut butter. when we’re adults, we may snack on peanuts with a cocktail or smear some unsweetened, natural peanut butter on a piece of toast. but thoughts of peanut butter sandwiches and cookies seem to evoke walks home from school to find lunch waiting for us, washed down with cold milk before heading back on our way.
i was inspired to make these cookies because of the amazing peanut butter cookies from mabel’s bakery in toronto. they are chewy and filled with a divine peanut butter fudge. these are a treat, and one goes a long way. perfect with something cold to drink, and a few minutes to remember a time before sugar was bad and eating a cookie was always the right thing to do.
peanut butter sandwich cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 cup roughly chopped, roasted and salted peanuts
simple fudge filling:
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
2 tbsp softened butter
pinch sea salt
2 cups sifted icing sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup heavy cream
in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on high speed until light and fluffy. add the sugar and beat until light, about 4 minutes. add the honey and stir to combine. add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides and mixing well. stir together dry ingredients and peanuts. pulse to combine into a soft dough.
preheat oven to 350f. prepare two sheet pans by lining with silpats or parchment. use a 1 1/2″ scoop to portion out balls of cookie dough. roll each lightly into a ball and place 2 inches apart. bake for 15 minutes, switching tray position halfway through baking to ensure even browning. remove cookies to cooling racks and cool completely.
meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, toss in peanut butter and butter, and pulse a few times to combine. add the sea salt and the icing sugar, all at once, and pulse to combine. add the vanilla and cream. scrape down sides and pulse one more time to fully combine. scrape into bowl.
when cookies are cool, measure out a tablespoon of filling into your hand. roll to form a ball. place on the underside of one cookie, then top with another cookie and press lightly to spread the filling. repeat with remaining cookies. store in airtight container.
weirdly, i have never eaten a scotch egg. a proper, classic scotch egg, covered in sausage meat and deep-fried. i had been a vegetarian on and off for years before ceasing all meat consumption several years ago, so any opportunities i had to make them or eat them just never happened.
arancini on the other hand, i eat whenever i get the chance. they are those adorable little balls of leftover risotto, filled with cheese or tomato, covered in crumbs and fried to golden perfection. in france, deep-fried balls of leftover anything are called croquettes, and other cultures have different versions using lentils or potatoes. arancini are a great way to use up leftover risotto.
so in my usual fashion i’ve come up with a vegetarian alternative, and also mashed-up two classics: arancini, and scotch eggs. instead of cloaking a boiled egg in sausage meat, (or worse, fake sausage meat!) i’ve done these up with risotto, and voila, scotch egg arancini.
i get my eggs from a local farm gate, and before that, i raised my own. the yolk colour in the picture says it all, don’t you think? the chickens roam free and happily dine on grass and bugs.
i love to serve these as a first course for a casual dinner party, with some homemade roasted tomato ketchup, or my great-grandmother’s chili sauce. for cocktails, i’ll use teeny quail eggs, also from a local farm. the scotch egg arancini can be fried ahead and reheated just before serving.
here i’ve used a mushroom and white truffle risotto, but any kind will do. if you prefer a softer egg, do not bring the water back to the boil after adding the eggs, but i like them just like this, slightly soft but completely cooked through.
scotch egg arancini
8 small eggs, at room temperature (from free-ranging chicken, if you can)
4 cups leftover risotto, cooled
1/2 cup flour
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp. water
1 1/2 cup italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
vegetable oil for frying
bring a medium pot of water to the boil. slowly lower the eggs into the water. using rom-temperature eggs helps with cracking, but what i do is use a slotted spoon and raise and lower the eggs a few times into the hot water to warm them before plunging them in completely. when all eggs are in the water, bring back up to the boil for just an instant. remove from heat and allow eggs to stand in the water until cool enough to handle. peel eggs and place on a paper towel. place a sheet of parchment on a small baking sheet.
place the flour, beaten egg, and breadcrumbs into three separate dishes. in the biz we call this creating a breading station! add the parsley to the flour and mix to combine. roll an egg into the flour and shake of excess. using a 1/2 cup measure, scoop out the risotto and put in your hand. made an indentation in the middle, and place the egg into it. press the rice around the egg to coat completely with the risotto, pressing to cover all of the egg. place on the baking sheet and repeat with remaining eggs. chill 10 minutes. roll each egg in flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. return to the baking sheet and chill until very cold, 1 hour. replace the parchment on your baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels.
fill a deep pot with 3″ of oil, or use a deep-fryer. heat oil to 350f. if you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, use a cube of bread to test the oil. toss it in and see if it sizzles and browns right away. if not, heat a little more.
fry the arancini a few at a time, until the outside is golden brown and crispy, about 3 1/2 minutes. remove with a slotted spoon to your paper towel lined tray. allow to stand for 5 minutes, then serve hot with a tomato-ey accoutrement, such as marinara sauce, roasted tomato ketchup or chili sauce.
can be made ahead and reheated by baking at 400F for 7-10 minutes.
tyrokafteri is a lovely spicy cheese dip which serves as part of meze. this is a very fine tradition indeed. small plates of flavourful dips and other dishes are served alongside aperitifs at the beginning of a meal, or as a meal itself. my friends and family and i eat in this casual fashion quite often, so i generally have some dips on hand and make tyrokafteri alongside some labneh, hummus, or taratour. we make a big salad, toss some olive-oiled pitas on the grill to blister, and we have dinner.
a nice thing about this spicy feta dip, is that is gets quite firm when chilled, which means it can be moulded and turned out like this terrine. i like how it can be sliced and served on appetizer plates, or if i’m feeling really fancy, prepared in a smaller mould and served with a small salad and bread for each guest at a dinner party.
you may have seen a white version of this, which is essentially cheese and green chilis. this one has a few more ingredients, and a more complex flavour to match it’s warm, summery colour and gentle heat.
250g good feta cheese
3 tbsp. very thick strained yogurt (labneh) or cream cheese
squeeze of lemon juice
3 tbsp good quality greek olive oil
1 each roasted red, yellow, and orange peppers
1 tsp. crushed hot red chilis or boukovo (hot greek chilis)
1 tsp. hot smoked paprika
1 tsp. chopped fresh mint
extra olive oil, for drizzling
place the feta in a bowl of cold water and allow to stand for 20 minutes to remove excess salt. cut the roasted peppers in half, reserving one half to layer in the terrine. drain the feta and place in the bowl of a food processor, along with the yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, the pepper halves, hot chilis, and paprika. process until very smooth and creamy.
chop the reserved pepper halves into a very fine brunoise, or tiny little dice. mix together to distribute the colours. Drizzle with 1/2 tsp of olive oil, and stir in the chives.
line a 2 cup container with plastic wrap, or use 4 small ramekins, and leave an overhang. Place the chopped peppers in the bottom of the mold, or divide evenly among ramekins. Scrape the tyrokofteri into the mould(s) and smooth the top. cover with the overhanging plastic wrap, and chill for at least 4 hours, better still, over night.
turn out terrine onto a plate. remove plastic wrap and smooth the edges with a small palette knife. drizzle with olive oil and serve with warm, grilled or oven-warmed pitas. Serves 4
maple syrup is an absolutely wondrous thing. sweet liquid tapped from a tree is boiled down to make a syrup that is unique in flavour like nothing else i can imagine. it’s one of the many lovely things about living in canada, and in ontario in particular. the season is short, and for that reason the product of maple sugaring is rare and expensive. yet it’s an affordable little luxury, one worth indulging in to enjoy its smoky-sweetness, dripping down a stack of pancakes or fluffy buttermilk waffles on a lazy sunday, or used to make a special dessert.
when we had a special birthday to celebrate, i decided that springtime and maple syrup season should also be celebrated, and so i made this ontario maple pecan cake. the cake itself, studded with pecans, is easy to bake, and at the end, it gets layered with fluffy mounds of the most silky of embellishments, a buff-coloured french meringue buttercream made with pure maple syrup. heaven!
i hope you make this cake at least once. you’ll love the results, and won’t believe how easy the buttercream slides over the cake, or holds a piped peak.
ontario maple pecan cake
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups ontario syrup
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup half and half cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, divided.
1 recipe of ontario maple french meringue buttercream
flaked sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350º. butter and line 2 9-inch cake pans with parchment.Tap out any excess flour, and set pans aside. Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, and beat the butter until it has a creamy, mayonnaise-like consistency. (Placing warm hands on the bowl while it beats is helpful) Pour in the maple syrup, and add the eggs, one at a time. the mixture will look broken, not smooth. in a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. add the flour mixture all at once, and pulse to combine. pour in the cream and vanilla, and mix a few more times until smooth. Stir in 3/4 cup chopped pecans. divide batter between the two pans, and bake for 20 minutes, then rotate pans and bake 20 minutes more, or until cake tester comes out clean. cool on racks. when completely cool, slice each layer in half horizontally. spread each layer with 1/2 cup of maple buttercream. mask cake with buttercream, and decorate as you wish. we used a naked base and a star tip for the top. sprinkle with remaining nuts and a pinch pf the flaked sea salt.
salted ontario maple french meringue buttercream
i start with unsalted butter because it tastes fresher, then salt to my liking with sea salt.
6 yolks from large eggs
2 cups ontario maple syrup
1 pound of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into bits
1/2 tsp. sea salt, or to taste
fit an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, and beat egg yolks on high speed until very light and pale yellow, about 5 minutes. place the maple syrup in a large pot and bring to a boil. use a candy thermometer and bring the syrup to 240º, or the soft ball stage. this can take 10-15 minutes.
with the electric mixer running, pour the syrup in a slow, steady stream down the side of the mixing bowl into the egg-yolk mixture, about 1 1/2 minutes. continue beating until the bowl is just slightly warm to the touch, 5 to 6 minutes. switch to the paddle attachment, and toss in the pieces of butter until it is all incorporated. beat a couple of minutes more, until the frosting is very light and fluffy. add the sea salt to taste. use right away.
i don’t miss meat, but man do i miss the idea of something crispy and southern-fried! that initial crunch yielding to something tender and juicy inside, hot and crisp with a bit of salt and spice. this crispy buttermilk-fried cauliflower recipe came from those dark, evil food-craving places we all have, and my basic desire to make something fried.
cauliflower is the perfect candidate for the southern-fried treatment. it’s got all those little hills and valleys to cradle the crispy batter, it cooks quickly, and it comes out juicy and flavourful. i can also say with certainty, this is perfect with a little ranch dip or spicy-sweet barbecue sauce for dipping. you could also use smaller pieces and make this as a little appetizer (popcorn cauliflower?)
make it this weekend, and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment, or better yet, show me your results on instagram and tag me.
crispy buttermilk-fried cauliflower
1 head cauliflower, broken up into 3-inch rough pieces
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried basil
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
vegetable oil for shallow frying
place buttermilk in a medium bowl. in a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, thyme, basil, and cayenne.
line one baking sheet with parchment paper, and another with a double thickness of paper towelling. (a layer of newspaper underneath will keep your tray clean). dip the cauliflower pieces in the buttermilk, then toss in the flour mixture to fully coat. repeat, then place the pieces on the parchment lined tray. in a large skillet with straight sides, heat 1″ of vegetable oil to 350F. without crowding the pan, cook the cauliflower pieces in two to three batches, for 8 minutes, turning a few times during cooking to brown all sides. when evenly browned and crispy, place cauliflower on the paper towel lined sheet to drain for a few minutes, then serve.
to make ahead, fry all cauliflower, and place on a rack over a baking sheet. reheat by baking at 400F for 15 minutes, or until hot and crisp.
it’s been a weird april here in ontario. cloudy days and snowy, wind-chill factor nights are keeping the flowers at bay and prolonging that sweet anticipation that spring will, eventually, arrive. that’s just how it is here. spring will come, and so will the heat of summer.
it’s also monday.
so how about some chocolate, with a hint of spicy chili, no less?
one of my favourite things to enjoy in hot weather is a cold cup of drinking chocolate. these little desserts combine classic chocolate pots de creme with the flavours of an icy mexican drinking chocolate, flavoured with a whiff of cinnamon and an ever-so-subtle ht of chili spice.
best of all, this takes 10 minutes to prepare.
mexican drinking chocolate pots de creme
250g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup half and half or 18% cream
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of sea salt
1/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup whipping cream
shaved chocolate and cinnamon for dusting
place the chocolate into the bowl of a blender. in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk together the whole milk, half and half, egg yolks, sugar, salt, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon. cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula, until mixture is thick and custard-like, and coats the back of a spoon. scrape into blender bowl. carefully blend until smooth, holding a towel over the opening and allowing steam to vent. pour mixture into dessert dishes. chill until cold.
whip the 1/2 cup of whipping cream and spoon over pots de creme, and garnish with chocolate shavings and cinnamon. makes 6-8 servings.