Butternut Squash Risotto

Great last day of winter comfort food – adapted from Ina Garten:

Butternut Squash Risotto (6 -8 side servings or 3-4 as main dish)

• 1 butternut squash (2 pounds)
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 6 cups vegetable stock (chicken stock ok if you prefer)
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 ounces pancetta (or bacon), diced
• 1/2 cup minced shallots or sweet onions (I used pre-caramelized onions this time)
• 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 1 teaspoon saffron
• 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
• ½ tsp nutmeg


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

Heat the stock in a small saucepan.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter and saute the pancetta and shallots (note: if using caramelized onions, add those later) on medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. [If using caramelized onions]: About half way through – add the caramelized onions and the nutmeg. Continue until the rice is cooked through, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan and 2 more tbsp of butter. Mix well and serve.


Taleo – Carnitas Tamales in Mole

Taleo is a great Friday lunch place.  If I said Strawberry Margarita, do I need to say more?  Excellent Guac & Chips too.  They have great Carnitas, so I tried the Carnitas Tamales with very tender masa coating, and a really good red chile mole sauce.  This dish comes with sautéed corn and spinach.  Both sides were really tasty.  Now, the real reason we go to Taleo is the flan.  One is enough for 3 people.  Save room!

Cranberry Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

My granddaughter keeps talking about “cranberry cupcakes”, so I created this berry-ful muffin yesterday in hopes of giving her a slightly healthier option.  They came out pretty good!

2/3 cup milk

1/3 cup veg oil

1 egg

2/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup flour (+ 2-3 tbsp for berries)

1 cup quick oats

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

¾ cup dried cranberries

¾ fresh blueberries

¾ cup walnuts (diced or coarsely chopped)

Preheat oven to 375.  Line muffin tin with paper baking cups.

Whisk milk, oil, egg, sugar and vanilla together.  Whisk dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.  Hydrate the cranberries with hot water or hot juice for 5 minutes to make them soft and fluffier (I used a few tbsp of cranberry juice), then drain the liquid.  Toss the cranberries and blueberries with 2-3 tbsp of flour, just to coat (this helps prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the muffin). 

Mix wet and dry ingredients together quickly with large whisk or spoon.  Do not overwork.  Gently mix in berries and walnuts.  Distribute batter into muffin cups.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, until top looks golden brown, and toothpick comes out almost dry.  Cool on rack.

Cut Your Carbohydrate Footprint

Great article today from Eat This, Not That, on hidden carbs in food (mostly sugars).  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I eat the right yogurt (Oikos), but unpleasantly surprised to see I eat the wrong tomato sauce (Newman’s).  If you are into healthy eating, you probably already know most of this, but every little bit helps, right?

Cooking Class – Laguna Culinary Arts

Took a wonderful ‘Sauce for Meat’ class last night at Laguna Culinary Arts (right before the Sawdust Festival entrance), from a charming chef Maurice Brazier (yes he is French) – who is the chef at White House Catering, which serves at the Nixon Library, among other locations. 

In two hours, we made (from left to right in the photo):

Mushroom Tarragon Cream Sauce with chicken breast

Coffee Bean Madeira Sauce over seared pork loin

Beer Onion Sauce with beef tenderloin

Peach sauce with filet mignon (also good with duck, according to Chef)

The class was easy to follow, a lot of fun, and I learned that what seems complex can really be simple (a lesson I seem to keep repeating).  These recipes only have 5-6 ingredients, and they all work. 

This class was a birthday present to me from my wonderful staff at work (thanks to all!).  We got to eat it after we cooked it, and I got to enjoy it with a friend too.  I will definitely go back there for more – perhaps to learn more about using herbs and spices, wine tasting, etc.

AnQi – South Coast Plaza












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Enjoyed lunch today at AnQi at South Coast Plaza (directly opposite Charlie Palmer, next to Bloomingdales).  AnQi is part of the “House of An” which includes Crustacean in Beverly Hills.  The décor is elegant and hip, and the place doubles as a nightclub and does fashion shows.  Oddly, we found the interesting molded chairs at the first table to be not so wonderful, but after we moved to a couch / soft chair set-up, it was delightful.

The cocktail list is very creative, and the menu is varied with lots of good appetizers to share, salads, noodle dishes, and large plate entrees.  Service was good, and in fact, we observed they almost seemed overstaffed.  I will definitely go back and explore more. 

What we enjoyed:


PINK LOTUS – Hand-pressed pink grapefruit & orange with vodka & tequila over pink cotton candy – Fancy, but not that exciting a taste

SHAN-GRIA:  White wine, Grey Goose Citron, Cointreau, Peach Schnapps, Navan (vanilla cognac), and Licor 43 (43 ingredient Spanish liqueur) – This is one of the best drinks I’ve ever had


SURF & TURF ROLL  –  wagyu beef, spicy tuna, asparagus, chili aioli (Like beef & tuna flavored butter, with depth of flavor in the aioli, and even in the truffle flavored, lightly dressed micro greens)

CHICKEN DUMPLING – scallion, cabbage, ginger (very good –sauce a bit sweet)

HOISIN GLAZED SALMON SALAD – mandarin oriental cabbage ‘slaw’, mango tiato vinaigrette  (very good)

AN’S FAMOUS GARLIC NOODLES™ with Beef (also available with Chicken or Shrimp)  – delicious, and not overpowering

DE-CONSTRUCTED CARROT CAKE  – golden curry crème anglaise, carrot jellies, candied pecans, cream cheese ice cream -this was interesting – in that it only worked as a mouthful – the deconstructed aspect was not working.

All in all, very interesting.  Felt decadent, yet was simple, not too expensive, and a perfect Friday lunch place.