Oven Risotto (because, who has the time?)

There’s something so warming about risotto. It’s creamy, and carb-y, and Italian…y.  All delicious things.

But I can’t say risotto is my favorite thing. I never crave it. I never order it at restaurants. When I do have it, sure, it’s delicious, but I don’t fall over in my chair because it’s so good.

I know people who are obsessed with it, people who love spending an hour standing at their stove, slowly adding broth to their special risotto pan in order to coax out the creaminess of the rice.

Me, I’m lazy. If I’m going to make risotto, I want a faster way to do it.  Fortunately, I read a lot of food magazines, and found a promising recipe for Oven Risotto with Kale Pesto! I figured I’d give it a try, to see if it would change my mind on the dish.

It starts with cooking some onions and then adding in a cup of arborio rice.


White on White


Then, like any good risotto, you have to add wine.


Let’s see, 1/4 cup for the dish…leaves the rest of the bottle for me!

Yes, you do have to stir it here, but only for a few minutes until the wine is absorbed. You then add some hot water, and a little seasoning, and it’s ready to go in the oven.


While that’s cooking away, it’s time to make the pesto, which starts out with grinding toasted walnuts and some garlic.


Garlic nuts. That’s a thing right?


Then in goes kale, some parsley, chives, and of course olive oil.


Literally adding layers of flavor


Process that down and you are left with a beautiful dark green pesto that is full of flavor.


At least this part is healthy!

Now you can pull the risotto out of the oven. It should be a little undercooked.


All the creamy, half the time.

Now here is where it gets fun. You add the pesto and a few tablespoons of butter to the rice.


It’s about to get better.

But there’s something missing. What is it?  Oh right.


Cheese is an important food group


You have to cover it with parmesan cheese!  Duh.  Then you stir it all together, and add the rest of the kale you have.


Green means healthy, right?


Doesn’t that look delightful?

The verdict is in: I still don’t love risotto.  But, this was actually a very tasty dish, and for the amount of work put in, very satisfying.  I’d even serve it at a dinner party, I was that happy with it. One of these days I’ll try making real risotto, I’m sure.  Or find someone who will make it for me. But until then I have a lot of leftovers to eat my way through.

Recipe is here, from Bon Appétit: Oven Risotto with Kale Pesto




Wintery Mac and Cheese

At the risk of sounding too Oprah about it, I have to say, there is a lot in life to love.  For example, the weather in Los Angeles is amazing, I have a very loving partner, two adorable dogs, and really great friends.  I love all of it.

But above everything else comes my true love:

Macaroni and Cheese.

For me, there’s nothing more satisfying, comforting, indulgent, and happiness-inducing than cheese covered pasta.  When done right, it can transport you to a place some* have described as pure nirvana.

(*I’m probably the only one who has said this)

Conversely, there is nothing more disappointing than mac and cheese done poorly. You know, like when you’re at a restaurant and that Lobster Mac and Cheese sounds delicious, and you order it, and it comes and you’re so excited, and then you bite into it and remember that lobster and cheese don’t always go well together, and the sauce is too thin, or too thick, or the wrong cheese was used, and- well you get the point.

There’s nothing quite like homemade mac and cheese, and (not to sound too cocky) I happen to be pretty good at it. It’s what I bring to potlucks and it’s always a hit.

A few years ago I invited some friends over for dinner and was presented with a list of various dietary limitations, which included onions, tomatoes, garlic, any citrus, basically everything fun to cook with. Normally I don’t accept requests, but I happen to like these people a lot, so I didn’t cancel.

Fortunately mac and cheese is a dish that you can adapt in endless ways.  You can use different cheeses! Different pastas! Different vegetables!  You can cook it in a pot or bake until it’s crispy! It’s always exciting enough to use exclamation points!

This dinner took place during the winter, so I wanted something especially warm and inviting. I decided on butternut squash and kale as the vegetables, and for the cheeses a mix of mozzarella, smoked gouda, and nutty manchego.

The next part happened purely by happenstance. I was at Trader Joe’s, with my hand on a bag of whole wheat pasta, when I saw the brown rice pasta right next to it, and it called to me.  So I took a chance and bought that instead, and let me tell you, it was the best decision. The pasta is lighter than wheat pasta, so it made the entire dish feel less heavy and didn’t give you that feeling like you had a hunk of cheese in your stomach after that second helping.

I also used 1% milk in my bechemel sauce, which is blasphemy. I’m not a pro bechemel maker, and 1% sounded healthier, but hey whatever.

First I roast the butternut squash:

IMG_6889Crispy and sweet!

While that’s roasting you can lightly braise the kale and boil the pasta.

Then shred all the cheese.

img_6871Yet another reason I love my food processor.

Next, make a simple bechemel sauce.


Then add the cheeeeeeeeeese!

IMG_6881I mean…

Then, add the kale, the squash, and the pasta.IMG_6892*SWOON*

You could eat it at this point, it would be delicious.  But if you like those crispy edges, like I do, onward.

Empty the pot into a baking pan, and top with some bread crumbs.  And then bake until golden brown.

IMG_6895Basically, I die.

Cut a piece off, take a picture to show your friends, and then eat the other 90% you left in the pan while no one’s watching.

IMG_6903I ate all the rest.

Wintery Mac and Cheese

1 lb Organic Brown Rice Pasta (available at Trader Joe’s)
2 bunches kale
1 lb butternut squash (cut into 1 inch cubes) – (if you want to cheat, get two packages of pre-cut butternut squash in the vegetable aisle)
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups 1% low fat milk
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded smoked gouda cheese
1 cup shredded Manchego cheese
2 slices whole wheat bread
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a roasting pan, lay out the butternut squash.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper, get down and dirty and toss it all together with your hands.  Roast the butternut squash 30 minutes or so, until soft and slightly caramelized.  Be sure to toss the squash once during roasting.

3.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions (be sure to salt the water!).  Drain and set to the side.

4.  While the pasta and squash are cooking, wash the kale, remove the tough stems and slice into 1/2 to 1 inch strips.

5. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, add the kale and chicken broth.  Season with salt, and toss lightly.  Cover and braise the kale until it has wilted down, about 10 minutes (it will still be a bit crunchy even after all that braising).  Drain when finished.

6.  Remove the crusts from the slices of bread and pulse in a food processor until you have fine bread crumbs.  Place in a bowl, toss with a little olive oil and set aside. You can also use store bought breadcrumbs.

7.  In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir with whisk until well incorporated.  Keep stirring until mixture thicken, about 2-3 minutes.

8.  Add the milk.  Whisk slowly, but continuously.  As the milk warms, the sauce will get thicker.  When it coats the back of a spoon, it’s ready.

9.  Add the mozzarella, gouda, and manchego cheeses.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

10.  Fold in the roasted squash, the braised kale, and the cooked pasta, and toss all together until everything is deliciously covered in the gooey white sauce.  Make sure to sample it…you know, to make sure it tastes right.

11.  Pour mixture into a baking dish large enough to handle all the goodness, and sprinkle the bread crumbs on top.  Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top of that.

12.  Place in oven for another 20 minutes, or until brown and crispy.

13.  Remove from oven and serve.

14.  Call your friends and tell them they should come over because it’s so amazing.  Just make sure you don’t eat it all before they arrive.  Oh and tell them to bring wine.  It’s only polite.

The Unsung Hero of Thanksgiving

As an eater, Thanksgiving is obviously my favorite holiday. I mean, come on, the whole day revolves around one huge meal that takes hours to make, a task that can be daunting for some, and a challenge for others. It’s filled with gloriously savory and sweet dishes and pies, I really don’t understand why it’s not everyone’s favorite holiday.

These first few weeks of November are when magazines and websites post their best Thanksgiving dishes.  From 456 ways to cook a turkey perfectly, to the most incredible cranberry sauce, to endless recipes to my favorite part of the meal: the stuffing/dressing. But there’s one side dish that gets sidelined, and I think is a vital part of making the whole meal work:  the salad.

Don’t get me wrong, salad is not my favorite part of Thanksgiving, I’m not that boring (no offense if it’s yours, it does make me question your judgement, though). But, a little salad on your plate will give your palate a welcome break from the generally salty, sweet, chewy, deliciousness that is the rest of the Thanksgiving meal.  For example:

My family’s Thanksgiving generally consists of the following:

– A big ol’ turkey
– Cheesy mashed potatoes
– Rum-glazed yams
– Sourdough bread stuffing
– The richest gravy known to man
– Green beans

The majority of it is starchy, soft, chewy, and very rich.  It weighs you down.

A few years ago I incorporated this Kale and Brussels Sprout salad into the mix, and for me, it was a game changer.  I know, I know, kale. Kale is so polarizing. How dare I submit my guests to my hippie kale agenda! #ilovekale.


But here’s what I learned: this salad is incredibly simple, easy to eat, and provides some much needed crunch and freshness to your meal. With all the yams and potatoes and bread, it’s nice to have something light and tart to balance it out.  When you eat a bite of this salad and your mouth goes “OMG yes! Something I can chew on!” And then, more importantly: “OMG I’M READY FOR MORE STUFFING YAAAAASSSSS!”  (I’m paraphrasing, obviously.)

Plus then you won’t feel as guilty when you have seconds, because you can always say “oh I wasn’t that bad, I had some salad!”

What do you think? Do you have a favorite salad you serve at your Thanksgiving eating table?