Baked Risotto with Chicken and Mushrooms

You know I love a shortcut. Cooking and presenting good *and* beautiful food is important to me. But it’s rare that I have lots of time to slowly work my way through a complex recipe on a normal night. So any shortcuts that allow me to still put beautiful healthy food on my family’s plates and I are instantly best friends.

Risotto is one of those dishes that you can get really wrong if you don’t get it right. Traditional risotto requires slow cooking with constant stirring, which also therefore requires really organized prep. I’ve seen all kinds of recipes that claim to get you a thick, creamy risotto without constant stirring, and I’ve tried a few, and most of them don’t deliver. But I’ve recently seen a few baked risotto recipes that looked promising, so I decided to give it a try myself. And you know what? It delivered! Traditionalists and trained chefs will raise their eyebrows and judge, but I promise you this is legit. Give it a shot and let me know if you agree. Here you go.

WHAT YOU NEED
* 1 1/2C arborio rice
* 4C chicken broth
* 1 sweet onion, minced
* 1 pint mushrooms, quartered (I used both white button mushrooms and baby portobellas, 50/50)
* 2t minced garlic
* 1 cup hot water
* 3/4C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
* 4T butter
* 1t salt
* Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
* Zest of 1 lemon
* Precooked rotisserie chicken from the store, broken down and cut into chunks
* Large handful fresh parsley, chopped

WHAT TO DO
Preheat the oven to 350F.

To a large, oven-safe pot, add the rice, broth, onion, mushrooms, and garlic. stir to combine.

Put the pan, uncovered, into the oven. Cook for about 35 to 40 minutes. After 20 minutes, if the rice has absorbed more than half the liquid, cover the pot.

Remove the pot from the oven and then add the hot water, Parmesan cheese, and butter. Stir to combine.

Season with salt and pepper, and then add the lemon zest and the chicken. Stir in the parsley and serve immediately.

Meatless Monday: Spaghetti and Semi-Homemade Broccoli Pesto and Broccoli

Sometimes pasta is just the way to go, right? It is easy and quick, and has literally infinite variations. Here’s one. With a little twist, a jar of store bought pesto is lightened up and brightened up and a simple, lovely meal is ready to serve. Here you go.

WHAT YOU NEED
* whole wheat spaghetti
* 1 small jar prepared basil pesto
* 3 heads of broccoli
* olive oil
* 1/4C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
* 1t honey

WHAT TO DO
Take one head of broccoli and cut it down into florets, then cut it into tiny pieces. Cut the other two heads of broccoli down into florets and set aside.

Add the pesto and chopped up broccoli pieces to a blender. Pulse to break the broccoli down further. Add the Parmesan and honey and blend on a low speed. With the blender on, drizzle in the olive oil until everything is well blended and a texture you like. Taste and add more Parmesan or oil or honey if necessary.

Boil water to cook the pasta. Add the pasta and cook to al dente according to package instructions. With 3 or 4 minutes to go, add the broccoli florets to the pasta so that it can cook to just tender. Drain the pasta and broccoli and return to the pot.

Add the pesto and mix to combine. Serve with some warm bread or a fresh salad and enjoy.

Parmesan and Garlic-Roasted Acorn Squash

I am committed to cooking with more squash this year. I get in a zone sometimes with certain ingredients and neglect others. Squash is one of those. And since fall is squash season, the time is now! This very simple dish is so incredibly tasty and luscious. It would make a beautiful Thanksgiving side, if you’re in holiday menu-planning mode. With just 4 ingredients and 30 minutes total cook time, this dish is fall and weeknight perfection. Here you go.

WHAT YOU NEED
* 1 small acorn squash
* 2T olive oil
* 1/4C grated Parmesan cheese
* 2t garlic powder

WHAT TO DO
Preheat the oven to 400F.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the insides, and slice the two halves into 1/2″semicircles.

Place the squash, olive oil, cheese, and garlic powder together in a bowl and toss to coat.

Lay the squash out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes until the squash flesh becomes tender and the cheese crisps up a bit. Add 5 minutes if the squash is still a bit hard.

Food for Thought: Modifiable Go-Tos

One of the best weapons in my weeknight cooking arsenal is versatile basics. Those go-to dishes you know you can come back to, but don’t need to be exactly the same every time. Those dishes that provide you with a solid foundation but can be customized to whatever needs to be used up in your fridge and still turn out great.

One of my most reliable stand-bys in this regard is my quiche. Literally endless combinations for fillings. A basic frame with interchangeable accessories. Know what I mean? Tonight’s quiches were: chicken sausage with a blend of cheddar and jack cheeses; and sweet onion, spinach, and basil with provolone. YUM.

So I’m wondering what kinds of modifiable recipes you keep in *your* back pocket? What’s your mix and match go-to??