Sunday, October 30, 2011

Grandma's Meatloaf

What is more comforting on a cool winter night than roasted fingerling potatoes and rosemary with a nice big slice of meatloaf? Not much.

This easy and utterly delicious recipe is inspired by a recipe of my grandmother's. While she grates her onions, so you can't detect the texture, I instead opted to sauté a finely diced onion and then combine it with fresh herbs for a new twist. You could cheat and top the meatloaf with ketchup, like many "easy" meatloaf recipes suggest, but the cloyingly sweet topping is nowhere near as delicious as a homemade topping.

Serve with those crisp-roasted potatoes and some roasted broccoli. Comfort food at its finest!

Easy Meatloaf

1 pound ground beef
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped fine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
One 8-ounce can pureed tomatoes
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In the same sauté pan, combine the tomatoes, vinegar, mustard, and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Combine the ground beef and breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add the onions. Sauté until translucent over high heat, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add to beef. Season with salt and parsley. Mix well.

Press meat mixture into a loaf pan. Top with ½ cup sauce. Place in oven and bake 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, baste with the juices and add ½ cup more sauce. Continue cooking for another 10 minutes and baste again. Cook for about 10 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes. Cut into slices and serve with an additional spoonful of sauce.

Servings: 6
Makes: 1 loaf
Total time: 45 minutes

DIY Wedding Cakes?

I was recently featured on The Daily Basics with a piece on whether or not to make your own wedding cake. Hey, it's a great way to save money, and add your own flair to your big day. And if you love to bake (and frost cakes, like me) it might be the right fit for you!

Check the story out here!

Broiled Salmon with Strawberry Sauce

Making a healthy dinner doesn't have to take forever. Typically when I cook, it's once a week and I usually take on a challenge that will take me about 2-3 hours rather than 15-30 minutes. Those dishes will then last me through the week so all I have to do is come home, warm something up, pour a glass of wine, and manger!

Come summer though, I don't want to spend 4 hours cooking inside on a sunny Sunday (and I've also been away). So, I often have to come up with some quick-prep weeknight dinners. And broiling salmon, even when it's 90 (OK 101? Not so much), isn't bad (or won't set off my smoke alarm like broiling burgers does). 

There is nothing I love more than a simply broiled salmon topped with a slightly sweet, slightly salty glaze. Yes, even in the winter. While I typically glaze my fillets with maple syrup and a bit of soy sauce, fresh strawberries cooked down with a bit of strawberry jam makes for a delicious topping that can be made in mere minutes.

Serve with a side salad or, as I did, with sautéed zucchini ribbons tossed in pesto.

Broiled Salmon with Strawberry Sauce
1 cup strawberries, trimmed and diced into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 cup strawberry jam
2 salmon fillets, about 4 ounces each
Salt, for finishing
Fennel seeds, for finishing (optional)

Preheat broiler to high. Meanwhile, combine strawberries and jam. Cook either over high heat on stove top until the strawberries begin to break down or cook uncovered in microwave for 90 seconds. Set aside.

Place fillets in an oven-proof pan. Top each fillet with 2 tablespoons each of sauce. Season with salt and fennel seeds. 

Broil about 1 inch away from element for 6-8 minutes, or until the fish is nearly cooked through. Serve immediately drizzled with more sauce.

Serves 2
Total time: 20 minutes

Roasted Tomato Chicken Salad: What to Do With the Last of the Summer Tomatoes

I got my paws on the last of the heirloom tomatoes this past week. And what else to transport me back to a bit of summer goodness than a chicken salad like this.

Summer isn't summer without fresh cherry tomatoes of all colors picked still-warm from the sun from my family's garden. My favorite way to prepare them... Slowly roasting them with a sprinkle of salt in the oven. It's foolproof — if the tomatoes are a bit too watery, like they are this summer, roasting them concentrates all the flavor, adding a subtle textural element that is perfect in green salads, omelettes, or, as I've done here, in a chicken salad (or chicken salad sandwich).

Roasted Tomato Chicken Salad

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup sherry
3 cups cherry tomatoes
10 cloves garlic, peeled
Olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
1/4 cup mayonnaise, plus more if desired
4 cups arugula
Pitas, halved for stuffing (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In an ovenproof baking dish, combine the chicken, stock, and sherry. Place on the top shelf of the oven and bake until chicken is just cooked through, about 40 minutes, flipping halfway through the cooking process. Remove the chicken from the oven, flip again, and let cool in the liquid.

Meanwhile, toss the tomatoes and garlic with just enough olive oil to coat the mixture, and season lightly with salt. Place the tomatoes on a Silpat-lined baking sheet and cook on the lower shelf in the oven. You can cook the tomatoes in the oven with the chicken. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the tomatoes crack and begin to shrivel. Turn off the oven heat and leave the tray of tomatoes inside for 15 minutes, then remove.

Once the chicken has cooled, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces with your hands. Toss the chicken in mayonnaise and season with salt. Add the tomatoes and stir together lightly. Place a scoop of the salad mix onto a bed of arugula tossed in more oil and serve. If desired, you can also stuff a halved pita with arugula and a cup of chicken salad.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Spicy Beef Summer Rolls

I'll begin with a note - these are not accurate summer rolls in that they are filled with all the delicious ingredients you might find in a traditional summer roll. Nope. No fish sauce. Lots of chiles, but I've messed with the pure Thai origins, adding cumin to my ground beef (because I'm obsessed) and added a spicy red curry mayo as opposed to something salty like fish sauce to the filling. They're far from traditional, but warning: REALLY good.

After a long day at school or work, nothing beats a cool and refreshing summer roll to take the edge off. And why order some from your local Asian restaurant when you can make them at home?

I've paired a slightly spicy ground beef mixture with greens and a curried mayonnaise for layers of flavor, but once you have the wrapping technique down, the fun part of making these is experimenting. Try using fruits like mango and papaya inside or opt for shredded chicken tossed in a peanut sauce that is homemade or store-bought.

Spicy Beef Summer Rolls

1 pound ground beef
Ground cumin, to taste
Ground cayenne, to taste
1 fresh chile, thinly sliced (optional)
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon red curry paste
1 package of 12-inch rice papers, for rolling*
Coleslaw mix or shredded lettuce, cabbage, and carrots, for stuffing
Chopped almonds (optional)
½ cup sweet chile sauce
2-3 tablespoons yuzu jam

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the ground beef. Add the cumin, cayenne, and chile, if desired. Season with salt. Cook until just seared through, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise and curry paste until well mixed.

Soak the rice papers in hot water for about 20 seconds, or until tender. Remove from water. Spread the rice papers with the mayonnaise mixture. Layer with lettuce or coleslaw mix, and almonds, if desired. Add 2 tablespoons of the beef mixture. Fold over the sides of the rice paper and roll up like a burrito. Repeat until all the beef has been used.

In a small bowl, combine the chile sauce and yuzu jam and set next to the rolls for dipping.

*Note: If you can't find 12-inch wrappers, any size will do. Just be sure to leave a 1-inch border for the 6-inch wrappers, and about a 2-inch border for larger wrappers to ensure the filling doesn't break through.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My (New) Morning Coffee

It's one of the best ways to wake up in the morning. You curl your hands around the large mug, just properly sized to fit in your palms when you cup your hands together, warming your fingers around the bowl. The steam arising from the liquid's surface dances across your still bleary-eyed state. You close your eyes. Inhale. The rich, sweet, nutty, slightly chocolate-y, just a smudge of (dark) fruity, and undeniably coffee-y (and for me, a bit creamy). It's your morning cup o' Joe.

Where would we be without coffee?

Now, I'm not a coffee junkie. In fact, I really shouldn't be drinking it, according to Dr. D'Adamo. But I work hard, am active, and sometimes I just needed some added help to get out of bed in the morning. I take one mugful, in my large Gmunder Keramik cup from Austria, and savor it with half and half (guilty pleasure!) but more often vanilla almond milk. It's my one vice, aside from wine, and I abstain from it any and every other hour of the day, as it prevents me from sleeping otherwise. I've tried a bunch of brands out there, some "fresh" from my corner coffee shop, others from Italy. They smell fresh, or taste good, but I've found that sometimes there lacks a harmonious balance, a conversation at the least, from these sensory pleasures we derive from coffee...

'Til I recently re-met Peet. 

Family members used to send my parents Peet's Coffee years ago, before I graduated college and was still uninitiated when it comes to the morning coffee habit. I recently re-discovered it, specifically Cafe Domingo and Cafe Solano, two new medium-bodied varietals from this artisanal roaster... and I've fallen in love. In one of two ways. Click here for a $3.00 coupon!

These moist muffins are delicious split in half and warmed in the toaster. Smear with a smidge of salted butter, if you wish. The rich, chocolate notes in the coffee complement the chocolate in the muffins, and bring out the nuttiness of the almond flour and walnuts. So simple, yet so satisfying when you are looking for a (relatively) healthy breakfast on the go.

I've had a slew of pumpkin flesh to deal with recently - from soups, to pastas, and now... breakfast. Being gluten-free, I've had to be a little creative when making something sweet and delicious as an alternative to traditional pancakes. This is the thing, and when paired with a mug of Cafe Solano coffee, a bit fruity, with a hint of nut and sweet flower petals, the pumpkin really shines.

Disclosure for my dear readers. I received the Peet's coffee as a part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, not knowing how it would be received. All suggestions here are my own,  free of outside influence. 

Pumpkin Pancake

I love pancakes. I can't deny it. But ever since going off gluten and dairy (oh, and corn - a once-essential ingredient in my pancakes, per my darling father), they have kind of cramped my style (dietary requirement??). 'Til now.
To say I've been drowning in pumpkins is an understatement. I had 5, until I roasted one for soup, glittered another, painted yet a third with chalkboard paint, made a fourth into pasta, and saved the last - a mini white one - for decorative purposes. So, what to do with three cups of pumpkin puree when you're sick of soup, can't handle any more pasta for the time being, and just want something comforting like the filling of a pie (save the crust, and effort)? Make pancakes, of course.

The first time I did this was a lazy Saturday morning. I had 9 miles in my future, and a raging sweet tooth. And a "carb" craving. Ha. Can't have carbs as I'm sure you can. But I was determined to make a pancake, and thank goodness I had fresh heirloom pumpkin puree, and eggs, in my fridge. I'll do it my way.

This is a most delicious gluten-free, dairy-free pancake recipe, with the sweetness of vanilla, almond milk, and cinnamon, just like a pie, but with a bit more substance (minus the blood sugar crash). I like eating this with warm, homemade applesauce, or sliced bananas, toasted walnuts, and maple syrup. Try it, then tell me what your combination du jour is!!!

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pancakes

1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cooked pumpkin flesh
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grapeseed oil
Salt, to taste (I use a pinch)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine flour and baking soda well. Add pumpkin. Stir in egg, vanilla, and oil. Season with salt, vanilla, and cinnamon. Set aside.

Heat a 9-inch cast-iron skilled to hot. Add 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil til shimmering. Pour in the batter, reduce to medium heat, and cook until the sides are set, about 8 minutes. Carefully flip and continue cooking for about 5 minutes.

Flip onto plate and serve with preferred garnishes, like warm applesauce, toasted coconut, roasted nuts, and a hearty drizzle of maple syrup. Enjoy.

Makes one large pancake, serving one.

Gluten-Free Banana Walnut Muffins

In the morning, nothing quite satisfies like a muffin when you've got to grab breakfast on the run, for me at least. Yet most muffins are calorie-bombs, full of sugar, fat, and processed white flour, and completely devoid of protein for the most part.

When I went gluten-free, I initially feared my muffin days were over. Hard, for a muffin lover. Then I got to experimenting with a combination of almond and amaranth flours, both on my OK list. After mastering a simple gluten-free blueberry muffin recipe made with almond flour, next up on my list was something with bananas and walnuts, two of my favorite foods. The result is this recipe here, of course with the addition of chocolate chips, for good luck.

I like serving these with tea in the afternoon, or with my morning cappuccino.

Gluten-Free Banana Walnut Muffins

½ cups almond flour
½ cup amaranth flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil, plus more for greasing
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large overly ripe bananas
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, and salt. Mix well with a fork and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the oil, honey, and vanilla. Whisk to combine. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and combine. Add the banana and mix well again. Stir in the walnuts and chocolate chips.

Pour into a greased muffin tin, filling each cup no more than ¾ of the way. Bake for 18-23 minutes, or until the centers are just set and the muffins are golden around the edges.

Let cool 10-15 minutes and serve.

Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

Total time: 40 minutes

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Best Bite-Sized Appetizers and More Inspiration This Week

It's been a busy two weeks with birthdays, weddings, and more.

This will be my last link love sharing, as I'll be doing all the rest on Pinterest - Click here to follow my boards. (And you'll get to see all the lovely things that inspire me visually yourself!) Enjoy.

Blossom party. Do you really need an excuse to celebrate with flowers?

Wow. Run a marathon, then give birth?

How make green tomatoes turn red. Yes, RED.

Cheese or font? I love this game.

The Obama's hosted yet another flawless dinner this week. And here are 8 more of the most elaborate White House State Dinners. I'm kind of jealous of Lady Di.

Entertain with Spanish tapas, at home, via the one and only David Tanis.

Is making the perfect pie an art? My mom and Fritz Knipschildt would agree.

Dive into the lavish balls and masked soirees in history, like Truman Capote's Black and White Ball - here!

Love this new blog all about color.

Though I am no vegan (I need my steak. Yes, need), this looks delis. A delightful vegan dinner party menu.

Monarch butterflies - will they meet a significant challenge when they head to the now drought-stricken, barren land that is Texas? Scientists says yes. But is this what this once endangered species needs? No.

Healthy and delicious - I'd add a significant bunch of chicken sausage to add a hearty touch, then serve with brown rice. I can't wait to make this!

LOVE this magazine, love this video. Take me to the Loire....

Roasted salmon, with a pomegranate glaze, and a crispy almond crust? Gluten-free, healthy, and OH so delicious!

I'm still kicking myself I didn't make this party (stupid meeting) with the one and only talented Darcy Miller and delightfully talented Peter Callahan whom I interviewed here.

ACG, when can we go?

Roasted beets are transformed into something a bit more savory and much more unforgettable thanks to Melissa Clark. Click for the recipe.

A great idea for stress-free entertaining, but there are so many more things to remember. Plan ahead, make a list, and cheat when you can - nothing is store-bought when dressed up.

Foodfolio - very cool. Check it out!

Very cute alternative to traditional invitations.

One of my favorite plates in New York State. Stone Barns!

Homemade almond butter, via Morocco. Oh, reminds me of the good stuff my youngest sister brought back. YUM.

One of my FAVORITE blogs, and she's making one of my favorite breads via the town where my alma mater is. It's the best cookbook ever - Bakery Lane Soup Bowl - and sadly out of print.

Looking forward to getting my paws on Melissa Clark's new cookbook.

Stylish ideas for menus (and invites) via A Subtle Revelry.

Homemade sweet potato chips? Delish. Thanks S and L!

Ahh! The delightful dinner party I went to last weekend hosted by the one and only Kelley. L. Moore.

My mom's Christmas present. Oops. Maybe… (Hopefully she's not reading this). It's Amanda Hesser-approved!

And if pumpkin gnocchi aren't enough for you right now, try these cookies. 'Cause everything is better with pumpkin!

Make your own vanilla extract. I was recently gifted two Sri Lankan beans, and I just might have to do this!

The Best Thing to Do With Pumpkin: Make Pasta (and Add Brown Butter)

Living a gluten-free lifestyle isn't all that bad, until the time comes when you really have a craving for pumpkin ravioli. With a nutty brown butter. Real homemade pasta. Ha.

I've been inspired by pumpkins recently. I've got four in my apartment (one with stockings on it, one chalkboard painted-both found here), and another soon-to-be glittered... and then a white one), have made warm pumpkin "pudding" for breakfast, a pumpkin pancake (that I am devouring with walnuts and roasted grapes as I write this), pumpkin soup, and now this pasta.

Inspired by Roman-style gnocchi, this dish transforms sweet pumpkin purée into a delightful pasta dish that is best complemented by nutty brown butter and aromatic sage. The key here is to really cook the pumpkin so most of the moisture is released so you don't have to overdo it on the flour, losing the pumpkin flavor.

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Gnocchi
2 cups fresh pumpkin flesh, still warm*
2 eggs, beaten
3 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
½ cup Parmesan, plus more to garnish
3 cups gluten-free flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon arrowroot starch (or cornstarch)
2 sticks butter
15 sage leaves
Spiced pumpkin seeds or walnuts, for garnish (optional)

In a large pot, combine the pumpkin, eggs, salt, and cheese and mix well over medium-low heat. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and starch and mix well. Immediately add the flour and starch mixture to the pot with the pumpkin, starting with 1 ½ cups, and continuously stirring while cooking over medium heat. Continue adding more until the mixture dries out a bit and comes together into a ball. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead it for about a minute or 2. Press into a rectangular shape, about ½-inch thick, and let it rest for about an hour to dry out a bit.

Once the dough has dried, cut into 1 ½-inch squares and set aside, lightly covered in flour so they don't stick.

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 stick butter with a pinch of salt and begin to brown it. Add half of the sage leaves and fry until crisp, about 1 minute. Remove the sage and add half the gnocchi. Spoon butter all around, cooking for 2 minutes per side, until just crisp. Remove from the heat and keep warm. Repeat the process with the remaining butter, sage, and gnocchi. Serve with Parmesan, a sprinkle of salt, and spiced pumpkin seeds or walnuts, if desired.

Serves 4
Total time: 4 hours
*Note: You can steam or roast the pumpkin.

25 Ways to Wear a Scarf (in 4 Minutes!)

Brilliant. Need I say more?

What kind of scarf are you? I'm a Twist and Pull (and a Fake Knot)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fig, Nut, and Cocoa Snack Balls

aka Dairy-Free, Wheat-Free Delicious Balls of (Chocolate) Energy Deliciousness.

I've recently transitioned to a lifestyle with no dairy, no wheat, no corn (amongst a list of other foods like peanut butter, coffee, and eggplant... yikes). As the girl who would usually eat everything, sure I used to wake up lethargic or miserable-feeling at times, but little did I know that it was the gluten, sugar, and dairy. It took three days of juices to have a small aha moment -- and then this new transition.

I feel amazing -- and even more interesting, my cravings for chocolate and sugar have diminished (though when I'm tired, I crave rice, ricecakes, and almond butter. Whoa).

This past weekend was a crazy one -- from my first run (ok, jog/walk) in three months since injuring my hip, to kayaking, swimming, floating, and getting caught in a near-death experience in a massive thunderstorm -- but an unforgettable one. The epitome of summer in 36 hours. But in between our activities, I could have used a little sweet and nutty (chocolaty?!) pick me up. Yes, I resisted the brownies and ice cream and cookies (I didn't resist. I didn't want, honestly) but that craving came back to bite me this evening when making a no-cook recipe. Blame it on my light dinner and my 15-minute jog this am (yay!). Granola meets brownies meets peanut butter cups -- but with no added sugar, dairy, wheat. Could I do it? Yup.

These little balls of energy are easy to meet and even better to eat. You could make them with dates and peanuts or pistachios, but those are both on my no list. Figs are a favorite of mine, and they remind me of Fig Newtons (I just like the filling). Throw in some almond butter for protein and unsweetened cocoa powder for added antioxidant power and you've got a dessert your kids will love, don't require you to turn on the oven or any other appliance, and will satsify your hankering for something sweet.

Fruity, Nutty, Chocolaty Energy Balls

1 cup Calimyrna figs, moist and trimmed
1 cup almond butter, room temperature or warmed if possible
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Salt, to taste
1 teaspoon olive oil, if needed
1 teaspoon agave syrup, if desired

In a Cuisinart, chop figs until finely diced. Add the almond butter and cocoa and blend well. Season with a pinch of salt, and add olive oil if you need the mixture to be more soft. Add optional agave. Blend well and chill. Roll 1 tablespoon-sized balls in between palms. Chill or freeze and serve.

Makes about 20-25 balls

Fresh from the Greenmarket: Creamless Mushroom Soup

Most creamy mushroom soups have exactly that—cream—in them. In an effort to create a full-flavored, hearty soup that is both rich and creamy, without the addition of any wine, milk, or cream, I had to think carefully about the ingredients I was going to use.

It's been a little crazy around here, with birthdays (mine!) and weddings (family!). While I've been doing a bit of cooking, I've been eating out a bit more - thus no exciting recipes just yet. But, with a new computer and Photoshop suite, just you wait. Exciting things are in store...

In the meantime, enjoy one of my seasonal favorites, made with ingredients fresh from the farmers' market.

Choosing good-quality, flavorful, and fresh mushrooms at the market was key. I had very fragrant hen of the woods mushrooms to use, and the meaty texture helped give the soup body. Instead of wine, I bolstered the flavor with a bit of agave syrup and a dash of soy sauce. While I used chicken stock, for added flavor, you can use vegetable stock instead for a vegan/vegetarian soup. I also included a bit of flour as a thickener, but it is not necessary, so leave it out if you want a gluten-free dish.

Creamless Mushroom Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely diced
2 small garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, chopped
7 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, chopped
10 ounces fresh wild mushrooms, such as hen of the woods, oyster, or chanterelle
Freshly ground pepper
6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon flour, optional
2 teaspoons agave syrup, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons soy sauce, plus more to taste
Prosciutto, thinly sliced, for garnish, optional
Fresh baby spinach, in a chiffonade, optional

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. When shimmering, add the onion, carrot, and garlic. Sauté until translucent, about 8 minutes. 

Add all the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 4 minutes, then add 1/2 cup chicken stock. Cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 6 minutes. Add the rest of the stock and the flour and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender.

In a blender or with an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. Add the agave syrup and soy sauce and stir well. Add additional seasonings, to taste.

While hot, serve in bowls and garnish with prosciutto and spinach*, if desired. Serve immediately.

*Note: While I served the soup with a garnish of proscuitto and a spinach chiffonade; you could also try a dollop of sour cream, candied walnuts, and chives, or crisp bacon lardons and minced parsley.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves 4

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Delicious Oyster Risotto

For me, there are really only two ways I like my oysters: fried, like at Pearl Oyster Bar to go with my lobster roll; or atop a Caesar salad at Palmetto Café in Charleston, S.C. But last summer, I fell in love with oysters again, this time in a light yet filling seafood risotto.

There is only one way I like my oysters. Big, fat, juicy -- with a good dose of salt, thanks to these bivalves' salty sea home. Fanny Bay oysters are my choice weapon here. But I'll warn you: be patient when you're shucking. The shells are flaky and tender, but once you've conquered their muscle, the hard work really pays off.

Inspired by Oysters Rockefeller (shucked oysters topped with green herbs, breadcrumbs, and lots of melted butter, and then broiled), I created a rich-tasting alternative that really isn't all too rich — plus, it's not too seafood-y (for those who'd rather eat a steak than a lobster), and it's gluten-free.

Oyster Risotto
4 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1/2 cup frozen spinach, defrosted and drained of excess moisture
24 fat and juicy oysters, such as Fanny Bay, scrubbed and shucked
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
Basil or dill, for garnish

In a small pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil, then lower the heat to keep the stock warm.

Heat the butter in a large saucepan until bubbly. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the rice and cook until the outer edge of each grain is translucent, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook over medium heat until fully absorbed, stirring constantly.

Begin adding the warm stock in ½ cup portions, and stir until all the liquid is absorbed. Slowly incorporating the liquid and constantly stirring ensures that the starch from each grain of rice is released into the mixture, resulting in a creamy, butter-like risotto. Continue to add the stock until the rice is fully cooked and has reached a creamy consistency. Add the spinach and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the oysters and a pinch of salt. Cook for 2 minutes then add the Parmigiano. 

Serve immediately with a pinch of dill or basil, for garnish.

Cherry-Cinnamon Applesauce

As a young child, my first word, before "mom," "dad," or even "dog," was "apple." I had a thing for apple juice, or "appie juice," as I called it, and this passion for apples has followed me as I've grown up.
For some, macaroni and cheese or shepherd's pie is considered to be comfort food. Not for me — applesauce is my food fix of choice. 

Served alone, still warm, with a garnish of cinnamon, is my favorite way to enjoy this seasonal treat. But, I've served it atop a scoop of vanilla ice cream, garnished with oatmeal cookie crumbs for an impromptu fruit crisp, even layering it in cookie bars and pies — or with a healthy scoop of melted peanut butter.

While I left the skin on for added texture, it isn't required.

Cherry-Cinnamon Applesauce
10 small apples, such as McIntosh or Cortland, cored and chopped into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sugar

In a large saucepan, combine the apple chunks, and cover with a lid. Cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and give the apples a stir with a spatula, making sure to press down any uncooked chunks towards the bottom. Replace the lid, and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir again, repeating for another 5-10 minutes until the apples begin to break down. Then, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook 8-10 minutes more, with the lid on, until all of the apples have broken down.

Add the cherries, cinnamon, and sugar, adding more if necessary. Remove the pan from heat and let sit for about 10 minutes to give the cherries a chance to rehydrate. Serve warm.

What I've Been Reading: October 2, 2011

Looking to start October with a clean start? Join in for the October Unprocessed 2011 Challenge

Ah, why my 7 mile run turned into a 9 miler on Saturday. At least I made it to my dinner party on time! 

What local delicacies to seek out and enjoy when traveling abroad. 

Yummy new breakfast idea! Quinoa, meet almond milk, fruit, and nuts. My new gluten-free, dairy-free, hearty, warm breakfast alternative.

What I'll be doing to rebuild my shoulder I hurt back in December - well, that and InForm.

How do you sleep in coach - or, do you sleep? The Times investigates (then please share a comment below to let me know what your secret is).

Wow. This diagnosis is interesting and amazing: People investigate one's mysterious illness.

Can Twitter track human mood changes? How our tweets reveal an inside look into our inner psyche.

Fresh burrata, from Vermont? I love Maplebrook - makes me wish I could eat dairy again! 

I've been craving pasta, especially with a kick - can't wait to try Lisa's recipe

I love this book already - and can't wait to make the mini margs! 

For 20 years, Murray's Cheese Shop in the Village has tempted us with cheeses in its windows on Bleecker Street - this month, their opening their five subterranean caves for exclusive tastings. Anyone want to go on the 28th?

These remind me of my birthday zuckertuten

Looking for a reason to party? Host a pancake breakfast party