Friday, June 28, 2013

Spring Lemon Risotto

To accompany my lamb chops, I served a Spring Lemon Risotto. It serves as a side of starch and veggies in one!

Risotto is a labor of love due to time and "supervision" it reuqires, but you can make it with minmal ingredients. I usually have the basic ones on hand. To liven it up, I like to add lemon and bright, crunchy green vegetables.  

Basic Risotto
Aromatics + Rice + White Wine + Stock + Cheese 
(plus pantry staples like EVOO, butter, salt & pepper)

Aromatics: Use one or some of these kinds: shallots, onion, leeks. You can saute in fennel, too. 

Rice: Aborio rice is key. You should not use other short or long-grain rice. You can try alternatives with farro or brown rice (served at Musha Restaurant in Torrance or Santa Monica). 

White Wine: I use any dry (non-sweet) white wine I have on hand be it cabernet sauvignon, pinot grigio, or chardonnay.

Stock: It can be chicken, beef, or veggie. I always use chicken, unless I want a richer flavor, then I use beef (e.g., mushroom risotto). You can used reduced sodium, too. The organic one I buy from Costco isn't available in the less salted version.

Cheese: Parmesan Cheese is a staple. You can try to add in some Pecorino Romano and finish with some Marscapone chesee, too. But, I wouldn't completely substitute. 

Cream (not listed above): Heavy cream, milk, or half and half. I like my risottos to be ligher, so I skip or skimp on the dairy, depending on how I feel. I use what I have on hand.

Original recipe here 


  • 1 large shallot
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons EVOO (eyeball it in the pan)
  • 1 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine 
  • 4 to 5 cups simmering chicken stock 
  • 3/4 pound thin asparagus (1/3 of the Costco bag size, shown below)
  • 3/4 sugar snap peas (1/2 of the Costco bag size, shown below)
  • 1 large lemon
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
  • Cream


Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute for a few minutes, until tender and translucent. 

I bought these shallots at an Asian market. They are small and round, not oval and oblong like the usual. I used three to compensate for size.

Add the rice and stir for a minute to coat with oil. Add the white wine and simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until most of the wine has been absorbed.

Add the chicken stock 1-2 ladles at a time, stirring almost constantly and waiting for the stock to be absorbed before adding more. This process should take 20-25 minutes.


Meanwhile, cut the asparagus diagonally in 1 1/2-inch lengths and discard the tough ends. Blanch in boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes, until al dente. Drain and cool immediately in ice water. 

Cut sugar snap peas into thirds. I wanted these pieces to be smaller since they are in place of sweet peas in original recipe. Blanch for 2-3 minutes in same boiling water. I like my peas to be very crunchy. Drain and cool immediately in ice water. 

If you are grating fresh parm, you can do this while your veggies are cooking. Grating your own cheese may be inconvenient, but it's cheaper than to buy the packaged kind. I buy a cheese wedge from Costco and it lasts me several months, but can keep much longer. 

When the risotto has been cooking for 15 minutes, drain the veggies and add it to the risotto with the peas, zest of one lemon, 2 teaspoons salt & 1 teaspoon pepper, and butter. 

Continue cooking and adding stock, stirring almost constantly, until the rice is tender but still firm.

Stir in juice of half the lemon. If desired, you can also add a bit of cream or marscapone cheese. I added just a bit of half and half to give it a creamy color.

When the risotto is done, turn off the heat and stir Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle more salt & pepper, if needed. I know mine is done when the rice is soft, but still has bite. It shouldn't be crunchy or mushy. 

To finish, sprinkle more cheese. Optional: Garnish with mint, fresh chives, or parsley.

Here's a different version I did with shiitake mushrooms in beef broth. 
Umami Risotto with Asparagus and Shiitake Mushrooms

What kind of risotto do you like to make (or eat)?

Grilled Lamb Chops in Fresh Herb Marinade

My friend visited me for dinner yesterday. I made her a lamb chops with lemon risotto. I bought a rack of lamb in advance for $20 from Costco for eight lollipops. 

Here is the original recipe


  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves removed 
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 6 lamb chops (3/4" thick)


Cut rack in between bones to get individual chops.
Try to make each chop equal in thickness. (In other recipes, you can also sear the entire rack and finish off in oven, then cut before serving.)

In food processor, add the garlic, rosemary, thyme, and salt. I like to season red meat with quite a bit of salt and pepper before I cook it. This time around I went really easy on the salt because I wanted to add Fleur de Sel as a finishing salt at the end. 

Tip: You can use this marinade for chicken and grilled bread, too. 

Pulse until combined. Pour in olive oil and pulse into a paste. I used my Magic Bullet since I only have a large food processor. It's great to make small amounts of wet or dry marinades, dressings, and even pesto. I also use it for smoothies. 

Rub the paste on both sides of the lamb chops and let them marinate for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Using a flexible spatula or silicone basting brush makes it easy. You can make even further in advance. The longer it sits, the more flavor it'll absorb. 

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat until almost smoking, add the chops and sear for about 2 minutes. Flip the chops over and cook for another 3 minutes for medium-rare. Tip: For smaller or thinner chops, place away from center of burner underneath. 

Sprinkle Fleur de Sel or coarse sea salt to finish. You'll really taste the salt and it'll enhance the flavor of the meat. 

Allow meat to rest prior to serving. This will ensure it retains all the juices.

Tip: If you don't want the meat to cool down too much when eating, you can warm serving plates in the oven at the lowest temp setting. 


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pesto Manifesto

Pesto is an all-purpose sauce that requires few ingredients. Throw the following items in a blender or food processor and you'll have a tasty sauce in no time.

Recipe Template

Herb + Cheese + Nut 
(Plus Olive Oil, Garlic, Salt & Pepper)

Classic Recipe

Basil + Parmesan + Pinenuts 


Greens - Parsley, Arugula, Spinach
Cheese - Pecorino, Asiago
Nuts - Walnuts, Almonds

Arugula-based Recipe

Arugula + Parmesan + Walnuts
Add Jalapeno for a kick, or try red pepper flakes

Parley-based Recipe

Parsley + Parmesan + Almonds
Add chives as sub for garlic

Nut-free Recipe

Basil + Parmesan Olives 
Add lemon zest and lemon juice for added brightness

~~ TIPS ~~

Toasted Nuts

Roast nuts to release more flavor. Place nuts without oil on a pan over medium-low heat. Remove from heat when slightly browned and fragrant. Be sure to shake and watch them as they can burn very quickly. Transfer and cool before using.

I find that if nuts taste stale, giving them this warm up in a skillet will instantly make it better


It's your personal preference if you like your pesto thick and more thin. You can always dilute thick sauce by adding pasta water.

The sauce can harden or separate in the fridge. This is normal. Just bring to room temp and stir before using.


Common uses include pasta sauce, marinade, or spread. Here are some suggestions for how you can integrate pesto into your cooking.

Herb Garden

Pesto is good to make when you have an excess of fresh herbs. Here's a little guide on growing your own basil at home.

Shelf Life

Homemade pesto can be kept in the fridge and used within a week or so. If the leaves are turning brown, that's a sign it's no longer fresh. You can also freeze it up to several months. I like to write expiration dates on masking tape and stick to tupperware and mason jars.

Do you have any favorite pesto recipes or applications?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Propagating Succulents - Book Recommendation

Did you know you can propagate succulents? Basically, you can make new plants from your existing plants. All you need is a leaf, rosette, or stem cutting.

While I have been successful rooting cuttings, I have not been able to root and grow baby plants from leaves. 

Here is an e-Book that I recommend. The author has a great blog and she also frequents the gardening forum that I like to use. 

I'll write a detailed "book report" later, but wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to buy this inexpensive guide.

Good luck :)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Nursery Visit: Armstrong Garden Centers

I finally visited a local nursery, Armstrong Garden Centers (La Habra, CA), to check out their succulent section.  

So far, I've only purchased my plants from Lowe's, Albertsons, and Vons. My sister gifted me a few from Home Depot. I did check out Walmart's nursery, but was not impressed at all. I also bought more than a dozen when I went to the LA Fower Mart with a friend. (Stay tuned for my long overdue post about this wholesale heaven)

Succulent Section at Armstrong Garden Centers
Armstrong offered three sizes of succulent plants. There were about a dozen types in the 4" size and half a dozen kinds in the 2". There were larger pots of hanging succulents for $25 such as String of Pearls.

The Skinny

  • The succulent and cacti section was underwhelming; smaller than Lowe's 
  • Costs were higher than hardware and grocery stores (2" $2.99, 4" $4.99)
    • Although, it may only be $1-2 additional per plant, it's a 50% markup from the non-specialty retailers I mentioned above
  • Small to huge bags of different soils or potting mix materials available
  • Friendly staff
  • Limited parking 
  • No succulent cuttings available for purchase

Read on to see what I bought and what else I discovered...