It’s no secret how much I love risotto. But sometimes I want to indulge without feeling like I, well, overindulged. Sunday night I set out to make a more perfect risotto, or at least one I can eat and feel relatively guilt-free.

After a request from a fellow BC9-er for a butternut squash recipe (Thanks, Courtney!) I was inspired to create a vegan-friendly risotto, too. Surely there has to be a way to savor the creamy goodness without heavy cream and excess amounts of cheese, I thought.

Here’s what I came up with. The short grain brown rice takes a little more time and liquid than white Arborio rice, but the end result is definitely worth the effort. If you just can’t bear the thought of a cheese-less risotto, go ahead and add some parmesan at the end (confession: I did). You’ll still respect yourself in the morning, I promise.

Brown Rice Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash

1 1-1/2 lb. butternut squash
preferred seasoning for squash
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1 cup white wine
2 quarts mushroom (or whatever stock you prefer) plus 1 quart water
1 cup short grain brown rice
olive oil
½ c parmesan (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

For the squash:
Cut the squash into inch-sized cubes and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. After they come out, you can add seasoning of your choice. I used Caribbean Jerk seasoning with thyme, sugar, and red pepper, but you could use chile powder, brown sugar, or nutmeg—or just leave them plain.

For the risotto:
Sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent. While the onion is cooking, add the stock and water to a stockpot and bring to a low simmer. Add pepper and minced garlic and cook for another minute. Add the rice and allow it to toast for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine to the skillet and stir, allow the rice to soak it up a bit. Then begin adding the stock to the rice, 1-2 cups at a time. Make sure to stir regularly to help give the risotto its creamy consistency. When most of the stock is absorbed, add 1-2 more cups, repeating until you’ve used all the stock and the rice is tender.

Season with salt and pepper, stir in parmesan cheese, if desired, plate risotto and top with roasted squash.




This is kind of a strange idea, but if I had to choose one dish to make for my fiancé that symbolized our relationship, it would be this.

I ordered risotto on our very first date from this amazing little restaurant in Austin called Vespaio. (P.S. If you are ever looking for a place on South Congress to eat, please go there! It will change your life!!!) He had never tried it before, but thought it looked good.

The next time we ate at Vespaio (marking another milestone in our relationship), he finally ordered risotto for himself and was hooked. In fact, he got up in the middle of the night to eat the leftovers before I could get to them! Later, for Valentine’s Day, I surprised him with homemade risotto when he flew in to see me.

And, just a few months ago, we made risotto together for our friends at our engagement party. I guess you could say we’re a risotto-loving duo at this point.

Really, risotto is probably the one meal we’ve shared at the majority of the happiest times of our life together so far. Every time I make it (or we cook it together) it reminds us of all the good times we’ve had and how many we have to look forward to.

Here’s my “good life” risotto:

I use balsamic chicken and asparagus in mine, but feel free to substitute other ingredients.

  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 medium-large Vidalia onion, diced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb chicken breasts
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the risotto:

Cook the onion in olive oil on medium heat in a deep skillet until translucent. While the onion is cooking, add the chicken stock to a stockpot and bring to a low heat. Add the rice to the onion and toast for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine to the skillet and stir, allow the rice to soak it up a bit. Then begin adding the stock to the rice, 1-2 cups at a time. Make sure to stir regularly to help give the risotto its creamy consistency. When most of the stock is absorbed, add 1-2 more cups, repeating until you’ve used all the stock and the rice is tender. Turn the heat to low and add in salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese and cream. Stir vigorously to combine.

For the chicken:

Marinade the chicken breasts in the balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a zip-top bag for 2 hours, up to over night. Bake chicken at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

For the asparagus:

Toss asparagus, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, salt and pepper on a baking dish until spears are coated. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, or until tender but not overcooked.

Plate risotto and top with sliced chicken and asparagus. Voila! Happiness on a plate!

At Taverna the evening of our engagement, probably just finishing up some risotto. : )

At Taverna the evening of our engagement, probably just finishing up some risotto. : )

Early stages of the risotto

Just added some more broth...

In comes the cream and cheese!

Roasted asparagus... yum!

Being a grad student leaves little time for eating, let alone cooking.  So whenever I have an opportunity to cook something that will carry over for a few days, I take full advantage. Especially when that something requires minimal effort!

Last Monday, I cooked a brisket with this exact plan in mind.  Brisket is pretty common in Texas, it’s really delicious and actually can be easy to cook when you learn the proper technique.  You can barbecue it or even cook it in the oven.  Because it’s such a large cut of meat, it lasts forever!  Plus chopped beef sandwiches or even just pieces of cold, sliced brisket are amazing snacks or lunches.

To round out my meal, I also made a pot of pinto beans and some cole slaw.  In the words of Ron Popeil, this is definitely a “set it and forget it” kind of meal– the brisket bakes for several hours on low heat, the beans simmer on the stove for quite a while, and the cole slaw can even marinate overnight in the fridge.

Oven Brisket:

I used about a 4 lb. brisket, but you can get larger or smaller ones and adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 1- 4 lb. brisket
  • 1 bottle barbecue sauce plus about a half-jar of water– enough to cover the meat.  My favorite it the Salt Lick’s Lauren’s Recipe, a spicier, habanero version of their original…  you can find it at Whole Foods
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Trim the fat from the brisket, leaving a thin layer facing up to help keep the meat moist.  Season both sides of brisket with salt and pepper and cover with the sauce and water.  Cover with foil and bake at 325 for at least 4 hours.

Pinto Beans:

For two people I recommend about a half pound of dry beans.  Don’t forget to sort them before cooking… this was my big job when I was younger– taking the beans out of the bag and double-checking for rocks or beans that don’t look so great.

  • 1/2 lb. dry pinto beans
  • 1/8 cup chile powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • water to cover the beans

Sort beans into a colander and rinse under cold water.  Cover beans with water in a heavy stock pot.  Add chile powder and pepper.  IMPORTANT: Do not add salt to the beans until they’re done cooking.  Otherwise it will break them down and make them mushy.  Boil the beans on medium-high heat for an hour or so or until they’re soft.  Stir in salt.

Cole Slaw:

Using the Fresh Express packaged shredded cabbage is a HUGE time saver in this recipe.  Otherwise you can buy heads of white and red cabbage and use half of each.

  • 1 package shredded cabbage or 1/2 of a red and white head of cabbage, shredded
  • 1 bell pepper, finely sliced
  • 1 red onion, finely sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3-4 Tbsp vegetable oil (about 2 turns of the bowl)
  • 2 tsp (or a very large pinch) of sugar
  • salt and pepper

Combine the cabbage, bell pepper and red onion in a large bowl.  Toss with vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper.  Cover and refrigerate up to overnight to allow the vinegar to slightly pickle the cabbage and combine the flavors.


You may be wondering what happened to Fantasy Football Fuel this past weekend.  Well, instead of spending this Sunday enjoying some snacks and football, I spent Saturday and Sunday in Anaheim, California, handing out 250 gallons of coffee to trade show attendees.

So now you’re probably wondering what on earth this has to do with my food blog…

Imagine what it would be like if Dole, Chiquita, Del Monte, Green Giant, Fresh Express, Driscoll’s, Sunkist and virtually every other produce name you can imagine came together and held a farmer’s market.  That’s basically what the trade show I worked was like.  It’s the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit, and it’s held each year in October in a different city.

It’s a huge show, featuring the products of tons of large and small growers from all over the world.  This year, more than 19,000 people from over 50 countries attended.

Before coming back to school, I worked for Temple-Inland, a major corrugated packaging producer that supplies a lot of these growers, so I’ve had the privilege of attending this show for the past three years.  My friends at the company were gracious enough to invite me back again this year to work at the booth, where we served coffee for show attendees.

What makes this show so much fun is that you can try different, delicious foods from all over the world– tons of exotic produce and new, innovative products before they hit the market.  Don’t ever eat before you show up!

This year, we had a pretty awesome booth neighbor—Tyler Florence from the Food Network was there to give demonstrations Saturday.

Here are a couple photos of Tyler in action, courtesy of my friend, Jay Brittain.  For more photos of the PMA show, visit  http://www.pma.com/freshsummit/2010/index.cfm.

TF2 Tyler Florence in action

Temple-Inland's amazing booth won 2nd place, Best in Show.  Way to go guys!

Temple-Inland's amazing booth won 2nd place, Best in Show. Way to go guys!

This week, tacos and Spanish rice were on the menu for the Cardinals-Colts game Sunday night. Tacos are yet another one of those perfect football-watching foods– they’re portable, tasty and you can easily unconscionably eat so many you’re uncomfortably full by the end of the 3rd quarter.

Normally, I use Goya’s sofrito for my Spanish rice, but I’ve yet to find it in a grocery store here in Phoenix. (HEB, I miss you!) This time I substituted El Pato’s “Salsa de Chile Fresco”, basically a spicy tomato sauce. Either way, this adds a nice tomato-ey flavor to the rice.


Also of note: somehow, my mother instilled in me the concept of adding ridiculous amounts of chile powder to my taco meat. My recipe may call for much more than you want, but it just doesn’t taste right without it to me. Feel free to adjust the seasoning to your palate.

Tasty Tacos

  • 1 lb. ground meat (I prefer sirloin or turkey)
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 tbsp. chile powder
  • 1 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp. chipotle chile powder
  • 1 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2- 1/4 cup water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oil to coat skillet

Heat onion in a skillet on medium-high with oil until translucent. Add in ground meat and break up. Allow meat to begin browning for 1-2 minutes, then add all seasonings. Incorporate mixture and reduce heat to medium. Brown the meat until it starts to look like it’s drying out. Pour water into skillet (just enough to rise to level of ground meat) and mix to help incorporate seasonings and keep meat from getting too dry. Continue cooking meat until it has absorbed most of the water and is fully cooked. (You can repeat the water process another time if you think the meat should cook longer.)

Spanish Rice

  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1- 7 3/4 oz can of El Pato, or about 1 cup sofrito
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • about 2 cups chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oil to coat pan

Cook onion on medium heat in a deep skillet until translucent. Add rice and allow to toast for 1-2 minutes. Pour in tomato sauce and incorporate with rice. Add chicken stock to cover rice, salt and pepper, and mix again. Quickly cover rice and turn to low heat. Cook for 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Allow rice to sit, covered and off the heat for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and serve.

Sometimes you need food.  Fast.  Or, you need to get food on the table for someone else, doubly as fast.  Why is it that these situations always arise when you’re already crazy busy?

Well, I ran into this very problem Saturday night.  After spending all day studying for school, I was eagerly anticipating a girl’s night out later on.  My fiancé was also headed home from a camping trip and I’d promised a home-cooked meal upon his arrival.

Of course, being me, I completely spaced out while reading, and didn’t pay attention to the time.  Before I knew it, there were only 30 minutes between me, my hungry camper’s arrival and needing to be dressed and ready to walk out the door.

I had to think fast.  Even though my fiancé isn’t a huge fan of fish, I knew he’d go for this recipe– he’d taste-tested it months ago.

So, here’s one for all of you to try in a pinch.  Like the title suggests, it’s deceptively simple and ridiculously good!  I served mine with asparagus and brown rice.


Baked Brown-Sugar Salmon
From Meghan Pembleton’s “Make it Quick”

  • 2 boneless, skinless salmon fillets (about 4 ounces each)
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. rice vinegar

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Place salmon on a foil-lined baking sheet; season with salt and pepper.  Bake 6 minutes per side.  Meanwhile, combine brown sugar, soy sauce and vinegar in a small, microwave-safe cup or bowl and stir until blended. Microwave on high 30 seconds, then stir.  Remove salmon from oven.  Turn oven to broil and position rack about 6 inches from broiler.  Brush glaze on salmon, then broil 1 to 2 minutes.