risotto with spring vegetables and herbs recipe | writes4food.com

Spring vegetable and herb risotto.

Amazing, isn’t it, how our food and eating habits change with the seasons. In spring, just when the whole landscape is waking up from its winter brown, our plates take on the same green color. Peas, asparagus, spinach, lettuces, herbs … GREEN!

This recipe for risotto with fresh herbs and vegetables is the epitome of spring. Avoid the temptation to use green veggies and herbs that aren’t in season and make this a true ‘primavera’ dish. You could certainly stir in a big handful of spinach or arugula at the end to up the green factor. Use homemade vegetable stock to make this dish vegetarian.

risotto with spring vegetables and herbs recipe

serves 4 (or 6 as a side dish)

4 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade) or vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 1/4 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/2 bunch fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup minced fresh spring herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, savory)
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the stock in a saucepan and keep at a gentle simmer while you're cooking. Add the asparagus and cook for 3 minutes; remove to a bowl.

In a heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat, add the olive oil; when it's warm, add the diced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it's translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil; cook until you see a white spot in the middle of the grains, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it's almost cooked off. Begin adding stock about 3/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the stock is absorbed; when you scrape a spoon across the bottom of the pan, it will leave a path. You want the risotto to be "thirsty" before adding more stock.

The process of cooking, stirring and adding broth will take about 20 to 30 minutes. After about 20 minutes, begin tasting the risotto to see if it's done. You want the dish to be creamy, with grains of rice that are firm but tender. If the rice has a bit of crunch when you sample it, keep stirring and adding broth. When the rice is nearly done, add the peas and asparagus; cook until the vegetables are warm. Stir in the herbs and cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with additional cheese.

cherry almond overnight oatmeal in a jar recipe | writes4food.com

Cherry almond oatmeal in a jar.

How is it possible that it’s been plus-80-degrees already in May? It’s hot. Like, August-hot. In May. Eesh.

It’s too hot for oatmeal. Traditionally cooked oatmeal, that is. I love starting my day with this stuff: it’s hearty and filling and keeps me going until lunch. So in addition to this overnight steel-cut oatmeal recipe that I make often, I’ve added refrigerator oatmeal-in-a-jar to my breakfast lineup.

This version is studded with sweet cherries and almonds (both are related, horticulturally speaking, and their flavors pair beautifully). I typically use plain, unsweetened almond milk in this oatmeal recipe — again, because the flavor syncs with the rest of the ingredients — but you could certainly use dairy milk. I don’t have a prominent sweet tooth, so I think this refrigerator oatmeal is perfect as-is, but you could drizzle it with a bit of local honey before spooning it up in the morning. Be sure to add the almonds just before eating so they don’t get soggy.

This recipe makes a single serving of refrigerator oatmeal, so you can prepare several jars to get you through the week. It’s super kid-friendly, and it makes a great breakfast (or lunch) on the go, if you must.

cherry almond overnight oatmeal recipe

makes 1 serving

3/4 cup nonfat milk or plain almond milk
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Few drops pure vanilla extract
Few drops pure almond extract
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup frozen cherries
1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds, for serving
Honey, for serving (optional)

In a pint Mason jar, combine the milk, oats, brown sugar, lemon zest, extracts and salt. Shake well. Add the cherries. Refrigerate overnight. Before serving, top with sliced almonds and a drizzle of honey.

easy potato-topped homemade focaccia recipe | writes4food.com

Potato and thyme focaccia.

I spent several days last week in Chicago, covering HOW Design Live on social media. The event (for people in graphic design, advertising and related creative professions) is dear to my heart, as I spent many years as HOW’s brand leader and the event’s host. This year, I contributed marketing content and copywriting to support the event. And as a writer with strong design sensibilities, I got quite a lot of inspiration out of the experience.

Of course, I engaged in some food-related activity while I was in Chicago. (Food is part of my business, after all.) I spent some quick but quality time with my brother, a baker and chef who owns Baker & Nosh in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. I met a friend for dinner at Naha, where we feasted on James Beard Award-Winning chef Carrie Nahabedian’s Mediterranean fusion cuisine. (Hello, beet hummus! Sweetbreads, you are so delicious!)

Twice, I convinced a willing compatriot to go with me to Eataly, Mario Batali’s Italian food emporium. Mind you, I’m no celebrity chef groupie, but I do love a food emporium … and my God, this place! (Speaking of graphic design, the store’s branding, merchandising and environment are beautiful and thoughtful.)

As my colleague Marilyn and I were leaving after lunch, we passed the focaccia bar … and couldn’t resist grabbing fat slices of potato-topped focaccia for a later-in-the-day snack. It made a satisfying dinner in the airport on my way home. And over the weekend, I made a batch of homemade focaccia inspired by Mario’s.

This is an adaptation of my brother’s homemade focaccia recipe, with plenty of olive oil, salt and thinly sliced potatoes on top. I used dried thyme underneath the potatoes for an extra pop of flavor and fresh thyme leaves on top for a pretty finish, but you could use either fresh or dried in both applications.

Oh, and don’t be intimidated by making your own focaccia. It’s easy and foolproof, kind of a gateway to home bread baking. The dough is compliant and doesn’t require shaping, and you can mix it up in a Kitchen Aid. You can mix the dough and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight before finishing off the process, or do the whole recipe in an afternoon. Give it a try!

potato and thyme focaccia recipe

1 package active dry yeast
1 1/2 cup very warm water
Pinch of flour
Pinch of sugar
4 cups all-purpose or bread flour (or a combination)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more for finishing
1 russet potato, peeled
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Freshly ground pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together the yeast and water; add a pinch of flour and sugar to feed the yeast. Let the mixture rest until it's very foamy (like the head of a beer); this may take up to 30 minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the dough hook, combine the flour and olive oil; add the water/yeast and stir just to combine. Sprinkle kosher salt over the dough and mix; then knead the dough for 3–4 minutes, until it is very smooth. The dough will be slightly tacky to the touch; if it's very sticky, add a bit of flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Scoop the dough out into an oiled bowl or lidded container and turn the dough over so it's well-coated with oil. Let the dough rise until it's doubled in bulk — either overnight in the refrigerator or for 2–3 hours in a warm place.

Liberally coat the bottom and sides of a 10.5 x 15.5-inch rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and press it out with your fingers (if the dough is cold, it may spring back on you; just let it rest for about 20 minutes and again press it into the corners). Brush a piece of plastic wrap with oil and cover the pan loosely. Let the dough rise again in a warm place until it's bubbly and completely fills the pan, about 2 hours. The dough will be jiggly when it's ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 450°. Brush the dough lightly with olive oil, then sprinkle with kosher salt, ground pepper and dried thyme. Peel and very thinly slice the potato. Arrange the slices atop the dough, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake the focaccia for 25–30 minutes, until the edges are deeply golden brown and the potatoes are slightly crispy. Scatter fresh thyme leaves over the top before serving.

quinoa salad with green vegetables recipe

Spring quinoa salad.

Springtime brings green … everything. Green grass, greening trees, green vegetables. My favorite farmers’ market, on Saturdays at Findlay Market, is heating up for the growing season, and the tables are all stocked with GREEN! Scott Family Farm had first-of-the-season asparagus 2 weekends ago, and I’ve seen gorgeous lettuces, spring mixes and herbs.

This super-springy salad recipe takes advantage of all this bounty, with asparagus, peas and edamame — plus quinoa for protein. I’ve been eating this all week for lunch and not tiring of it. Just 1 cup of this salad is nicely filling and gets me through a busy afternoon. Plus, what’s not to love about the goat cheese and walnuts?

spring quinoa salad with green veggies recipe

makes 4 servings

3/4 cup quinoa
4 cups lightly cooked green vegetables (peas, asparagus, edamame)
2 ounces fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup snipped fresh herbs
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons of your favorite vinaigrette

In a small saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups of well-salted water to a boil; add the quinoa, reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes, until the quinoa is tender. Drain and fluff with a fork. In a large bowl, lightly toss together the quinoa, vegetables and herbs. Season with salt; add the walnuts and vinaigrette and toss again to combine. Serve at room temperature.

crostini with pea puree recipe

Crostini with burrata and spring pea puree.

I love sweet spring peas in all their forms: shelled, sugar snaps or snow peas. This easy recipe for spring pea puree is much like pesto, with a hint of olive oil and a bit of green onion for flavor. It’s super versatile: After schmearing some on crostini with creamy burrata cheese, I tossed the leftover pea pesto with some goat cheese ravioli for dinner. Next day, I dipped whole-wheat pita breads in the pea pesto, as a swap for hummus. Fantastic!

spring pea pesto on crostini with burrata cheese

makes 6 appetizer servings

For the pea pesto:
2 cups cooked peas
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 green onion (white and light green parts), minced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Whirl all the ingredients together in a blender or a deep container using an immersion blender, until you've got a slightly chunky mixture. Add more olive oil to thin if necessary. Season well to taste with salt and pepper.

For the crostini appetizers:
12 baguette slices, toasted
1 ball fresh burrata or mozzarella cheese
Olive oil for drizzling
Freshly cracked pepper

Drizzle the toasted baguette slices with olive oil; season with salt. Top each crostini with a generous spoonful of the pea pesto and a wedge of cheese, finishing with olive oil and cracked pepper.

easy chocolate cake recipe | writes4food.com

Easy chocolate snack cake.

Sometimes you want CAKE — three-layered, buttercream-frosted, adorned with rosettes and sprinkles.

And sometimes you want cake — just a square of moist chocolatey goodness.

This is that cake recipe. Luscious, deeply chocolatey and just stupid easy. All the ingredients in a bowl, stir, bake, BOOM! Cake.

This easy one-bowl snack cake recipe is one of my earliest recipes from The Clara Project. I made it again recently and remembered just how yummy it is. So I wanted to re-share. Make it this weekend, no?

old-fashioned one-bowl chocolate cake recipe

(makes one 8-inch square cake, about 9 servings)

1/2 cup very hot, very strong coffee (or 1/2 cup boiling water mixed with 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder)
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into pieces
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup sifted flour (sift first, then measure)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg, lightly beaten
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking pan with cooking spray, then lay in a piece of parchment paper (two edges should overhang). Spray the parchment, then flour the pan, tapping out the excess.

Place the unsweetened chocolate in a large mixing bowl and pour the hot coffee over it; stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. In a sifter or sieve, place the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda; sift the dry ingredients into the bowl with the chocolate. Stir until smooth. Cut the shortening into chunks and add to the bowl; stir to combine. Add the buttermilk and egg; stir gently until the mixture is smooth.

Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake for 35–45 minutes (a glass or ceramic baking pan will take more time than a metal one), until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove pan to a cooling rack and let cool. Invert cake onto a cutting board, invert again onto a serving plate, and dust with powdered sugar.

zucchini and fennel soup recipe

Zucchini and fennel soup.

If you’ve been reading in recent months, you’ve seen a few recipes that include fennel bulb, including this recipe for tomato and fennel soup, and this apple and fennel slaw recipe. Fennel doesn’t get enough love — mostly because people think it tastes like licorice. Believe you me, I hate licorice, but I love fennel: the crisp texture, the bright flavor. It plays especially well with tomato (as does tarragon, with its similar anise-like profile).

I recently came across a recipe for a simple pureed zucchini soup that included fennel seed. And I thought: Why not fennel bulb? And so this variation was born.

This zucchini-fennel soup recipe is pretty much the perfect transitional dish as we move from winter deeper into spring. A nice green color, light yet satisfying, packed with veggies, low in fat and calories. Like most soups, this one gets better with time in the fridge. It packs well for an easy lunch, and it would be nice chilled, with a dollop of sour cream of Greek yogurt.

zucchini and fennel soup recipe

(makes 4 servings)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and thinly sliced
3 medium zucchini, diced
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed (see Note)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Plain Greek yogurt nonfat, snipped fresh chives and toasted pine nuts for garnish

In a stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion, fennel and jalapeno, and stir to coat with oil. Season with a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 5–7 minutes. Add the zucchini, garlic and fennel seed and stir. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is soft, about 5–7 minutes. Add the stock; bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer until the vegetables are falling apart, 15–20 minutes. Let the soup cool slightly. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return it to the pot and rewarm. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the soup with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream, snipped fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts.

Lovely Easter dishes.

Remarkable, isn’t it, how a change in season changes the way we eat, the things we have a taste for? Around here, we’re shifting from roasting to grilling, from hearty pastas to lighter primaveras. Of course, Easter offers the perfect opportunity to change up our menus, too.

I’ve browsed through the library to share a few springtime recipes that would be perfect for Easter brunch or a fancy family dinner. Enjoy!

pecan cream cheese pound cake recipe | writes4food.com

Pecan cream cheese pound cake.

Can I say just how much I love this recipe for homemade pound cake, loaded with cream cheese, butter and crisp pecans?

I rediscovered this old favorite when I was recently browsing my binder of clipped recipes, seeking inspiration for upcoming posts here on writes4food.com. I hadn’t made this for several years — with just 2 people in the house, a cake that serves 24 is, well, rather excessive. (Or not.) I cut this out of a newspaper years ago — when, and from which city paper, I’m not sure. If you can judge a cake by its batter, then this one’s a winner — the batter is light, pale golden and smooth. Because I have a less-than-sweet tooth, I reduced the amount of sugar in this recipe to 2 1/2 cups, but you can certainly use the 3 cups called for in the original.

You’ll want a large (10-inch) bundt or tube pan to bake this pecan pound cake — or you can bake it in 3 regular loaf pans (reduce the baking time to 1 hour and 5–15 minutes, checking for doneness at about 55 minutes).

Yes, it makes a ton. But it keeps well for several days at room temperature, and freezes beautifully.

This beautiful cake would make a wonderful finale for your Easter brunch or dinner, topped with fresh strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream. If it gets a little stale, toast slices for breakfast, or use cubed leftover pound cake for trifle or chocolate fondue. Sweet!

pecan cream cheese pound cake

makes about 24 servings

1 1/2 cups whole raw pecans
1 1/2 (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
2 1/2–3 cups sugar (use the larger quantity if you want a very sweet cake)
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups cake flour
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 325°. Arrange the pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5–7 minutes (watch to be sure they do not burn). Remove to a cutting board and chop fine. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease a 10-inch bundt or tube pan; dust the greased pan liberally with about 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Cut the butter and cream cheese into chunks and place in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer). Beat the butter and cream cheese together until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and blend to combine. Whisk together the cake flour and salt in a medium bowl; use a 1/4-cup measure to add flour to the batter one scoop at a time, blending well on low speed. Keep adding flour until you have about 1/2 cup left; toss the chopped pecans with this remaining flour and add it to the batter. Mix just to combine. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan; smooth the top and tap the pan briskly on the countertop to settle the batter. Bake for 1 hour 35 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes, or until the top of the cake is deeply caramel-brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool about 45 minutes. Run a thin knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake; invert it onto a baking sheet and then onto a serving plate (domed side up). Cool completely before slicing. Cake freezes well, wrapped in a double layer of plastic and foil, up to 6 months.

tomato salad with homemade ricotta recipe

Caprese salad with homemade ricotta.

I know what you’re thinking: Fresh tomato salad in March? Are you crazy?

Yes. (And yes.)

Rob and I recently returned from a few days in Florida, lugging not only our golf clubs home but also a stash of fresh produce scored at a local farmers’ market. Specifically, the most flavorful strawberries and yummy beefsteak tomatoes.

We make this trip south about every March, and the farmers’ market outing keeps me sane right about the time I freak out and think we’ll NEVER get summer produce here in Cincinnati again. Right about the time I desperately pick up a clamshell pack of rock-hard imported strawberries at the grocery, only to come to my senses and return it to the shelf. Right about the time I give up on hamburgers entirely, for lack of good slicing tomatoes.

Out for dinner one night during our trip, we had an honest-to-God caprese salad, with housemade fresh mozzarella and perfectly vine-ripened local heirloom tomatoes. Heaven. So with the tomatoes I hauled back in my luggage, I vowed to make a summer-dreaming caprese salad at home, using fresh homemade ricotta.

Which brings us to this recipe for easy-to-make homemade ricotta. Two ingredients + heat + time = the most delicious, creamy, luscious ricotta cheese. Keep this ricotta recipe in the bank for July, when the first local tomatoes come in (or until May, when local farms like Neltner’s that grow in high tunnels have them). Or, make it now, add some fresh herbs and a drizzle of really good olive oil, and schmear the fresh ricotta on crostini.

homemade sweet and creamy ricotta cheese recipe

3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Line a colander with two layers of cheesecloth, and place it in a larger bowl to catch the whey. In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the milk and cream; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture registers 190° on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the lemon juice; watch in amazement as the mixture begins to separate into soft, small curds and watery whey. Let the mixture stand—do not stir—for 5 minutes, then use a strainer to gently lift the solids into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Pour any remaining liquid into the colander and let the mixture drain for 30 minutes, max, for tender, light ricotta, or up to an hour for a firmer, schmear-able ricotta. Salt the ricotta to taste if you'd like. I prefer it unsalted, so I can add seasoning as I use it.

I've kept homemade ricotta in the refrigerator for about 10 days with no problem. Keep the whey, too—you can use it in place of water or milk to make pancakes or biscuits or oatmeal, or for boiling potatoes for mashing (whey's easily digestible proteins and amino acids are good for you).