Wednesday, January 6, 2010


New year, new possibilities, new recipes. Let's all hope for good things.

One of the best things to happen last year was that my creative juices started to flow. And not just in a circle, but actually down to hands and feet where they become action. I took my mid-90's Pier 1 box-on-a-frame coffee table out of the basement and, via magic, turned it from this (on the deck, just moments away from beginning a miraculous transformation)

To this, with power sanding and a doo-dad from Lowe's and carpenter's glue...

to this. Voila!

I attacked it with Valspar spray paint and quickly realized that Valspar spray paint is awful and chalky and blotchy. So back to sanding, and back to Home Depot for some Krylon spray paint. Luuuurve Krylon. The table is just inside the front door, so the basket of rolled towels underneath the coffee table is for wet/muddy paws.

Oh, and the dark candle-holder on top of the coffee table was a $4 find at the Step-Up Society (on Monroe, for those of you in Atlanta). It was bright, screamin' red with classy-brassy accents and weird faux-distressing when I bought it. Spray paint on oil-rubbed bronze is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

This was the Year of Spray Paint. The god-awful brass/walnut ceiling fan in the guest room? It's now a crisp, fresh, very liveable white. The SHINY faux-gold picture frame with the 1980s pastel print? Spray-painted the frame espresso brown, kept the glass & neutral matting, and replaced the print with a historic one that we needed to frame. This was an $8.50 project via Goodwill instead of a $75 custom framing job.

And fabric. I took the dining room chairs from here -

to there -

Also a great idea, this one Sweetie's.

Know what this is? It's probably a quick escort out of the security line at the airport, for one thing, but it's GENIUS. It's an empty prescription bottle with Sweetie's I-pod earbuds. They don't get tangled, they don't get wrapped around anything else. Hell, they don't even get chocolated (were anyone to carry both an I-pod and emergency chocolate in their bag... I never would, of course...).

One of my goals for the new year is to plow through the ENORMOUS pile of "to try" recipes I've accumulated over, well, longer than I care to think about.

I love Everyday Food magazine and, after my gift subscription from TechGirl ran out, I re-upped myself*. Now maybe (maybe??) in Martha's world is risotto an "everyday" dish, but around here it's for weekends/vacation days only.

That said, it's well worth the time. I'm still on this ridiculous gluten-free thing, and rice is wonderfully starchy and creamy and gluten-free! Sweetie and I are doing a fitness challenge at our gym, and I felt no hypocrisy at all about making this dinner and being in the challenge. I don't generally feel hypocritical about indulging in a little snacky-treat, so maybe that's not a good barometer... anyway, this is really a wonderful, comforting dish on a COLD winter evening.

Risotto can be tricky. If this is your first time making it be sure to have a back-up dish (leftovers, frozen pizza, whatever) to take the pressure and the starving off. Also, read the whole recipe before you start; always a good idea, but particularly important with this one.

You can not use any kind of rice other than Arborio or carnaroli. Those two types of rice are the only two varieties that create their own creamy sauce that makes risotto what it is. Basmati or jasmine or brown or a-roni will not work. Sure, you could make a rice salad or something, but it's way not risotto.

Tomato and Sausage Risotto
Everyday Food - November, 2006 (I told you I've been saving recipes for way too long)

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice

1 TBSP olive oil (or canola oil if that's what you have; and if you only have $16/bottle olive oil, use the canola and save the pricey stuff for salad dressing or bruschetta)

3/4 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casing removed - I used the supermarket-brand Italian turkey sausage, and it was FAB. 3/4 pound was about 3 sausages. Precise weight is not at all important here. And if you're vegetarian, leave it out altogether.

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 cup Arborio rice (uncooked) - Arborio is the go-to for risotto, but carnaroli rice will also work

1/2 cup dry white wine - use chicken broth if you don't keep wine around

1 10- to 14-ounce bunch spinach, chopped, tough stems removed (or not... that's a little picky for me)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (freshly grated yourself if at all possible)

2 TBSP butter (a little gratuitous, if you ask me - and you're reading my blog, so yeah, I'm opining. 1 TBSP or less is fine)

In a saucepan combine the tomatoes, their juice, and 3 cups of water. Heat it until simmering. It is VERY important to keep it hot.

In a larger saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add sausage and onion, season with salt & pepper (or just pepper - the Parmesan and sausage both already have salt). Cook, breaking up sausage with a spoon, until sausage is opaque and onion has softened. Martha says 3 - 5 minutes, but mine took a little longer.

Add (uncooked) rice, stirring until well coated with liquid, a minute or two.

Add wine or 1/2 cup chicken broth, stirring until absorbed, about a minute. And "absorbed" means the rice no longer looks shiny-wet but has a thickened, sauce-like quality.

Add about 2 cups of hot tomato mixture AND NO MORE to rice. Stir and simmer over medium-low heat until rice is absorbed, a good 5 minutes or so. The picture below is right after an addition of tomatoes/juice that has not yet been absorbed. Also, a wooden spoon is great for this as it doesn't get hot.

Continue adding tomato mixture, ONE CUP AT A TIME, stirring until absorbed and then adding another cup. This is a lot of stirring and waiting, so here's how I cook:


After you've added more than half of the tomato mixture (one cup at a time), it's time to start taste-testing. If the rice crunches you're not done yet. When it reaches a nice, toothy consistency - creamy and not soupy, with the rice at cooked-rice-texture (you're a grown-up, you know what rice should be), you're ready to proceed. You may have some tomato mixture left over, and that's fine (you can always season it with a little oregano and basil, stick it in the fridge, and toss it with pasta later for a light lunch).
Remove the pan from the heat and add the spinach. Since spinach cooks down so much it's easiest to do this a few handfuls at a time, let it wilt, then add more.

Note that in the picture above the rice has a creamy coating; that's what you're looking for in a risotto.

Stir in Parmesan and, if you choose to use it, butter. If you're planning to have leftovers the butter will help keep the risotto from getting pasty on the later re-heat.

Settle in, light candles, put on music, and be glad you're out of the cold and enjoying a healthful, tasty dinner.

* has a terrific deal right now on a year-long subscription to Eating Well for $5. I believe the deal is on for another few days - TERRIFIC cooking magazine.


Nancy said...

The recipe looks great! I may have to try that. Have you tried the brown arborio rice that I keep seeing? I haven't yet, but these hearty flavors would go well with brown rice.

And I remember that table from it's first incarnation - I never would have recognized it now without the before and after pics.

Anonymous said...

Hey Stephanie!
I have made this recipe, but its been a few years. I was so happy to see it here as a reminder that, hey, I need to make this again. Soon.
I love this blog and think you are awesome for sharing your love of good food with us.

bj said...

Your projects are that first table.
The food...ummmm looks so so goood.
Come by my place and i'll give you another glass of wine...:O)

Rue said...

Your projects turned out great! I would never carry emergency chocolate either ;)

I love risotto and always love getting another recipe for it!


The Pleasures of Homemaking said...

Your table makeover is great! I love Valspar paint! I use Black Satin all the time.


Stephanie said...

I haven't seen brown arborio rice but would love to try it. Where have you spotted it, Nancy?

BJ, you're on for that glass of wine!

Rue, how can people NOT carry emergency chocolate? Do check back; I'm trying out a new chocolate biscotti recipe this weekend.

Stephanie said...

All - I'm taking feedback on the base of the side table. Should I change the color? If so, to what? It's currently something like a brushed nickel; I don't love it or hate it. It's in front of a brown wall (Duron's Tavern Taupe) and next to a chocolate brown leather sofa. The accent wall in the room is dark red.

My Notting Hill said...

Thanks for your comment and encouragement. Your transformations look great. Love your description about the creative juices flowing to your hand and feet!