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Pesto makes everything better

2 Aug

When we started planning our garden, the smells of the plants was a high priority for me. And boy do I love basil! So, we may have planted more basil than we really need, just because it is pretty and it smells so nice!

Fast forward a few months, and boy do we have basil!! So, we looked at how we can best use it. Pesto! Voila!

I thought to myself, “man, we have a lot of basil! We should make a double batch!” My dear husband, who is much more spatial than myself, apparently thought to himself, “Man! We have a lot of basil! We need to make 8 times the recipe!”

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So, we made a lot of pesto. We froze some of it, and we’ve given some of it away. Turns out, pesto makes a great gift when your sweet next door neighbor has fallen and is really hurting! (Basil is an anti-inflammatory.) It also turns out that when you give pesto away, people come up with really creative ways of using it! Pesto burgers, anyone? I hear they are quite tasty!

We had our inaugural pesto meal with some kale stuffed ravioli. Yummy!!

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The scary thing is, even with all that pesto giving and pesto eating, we still have tons of pesto! And the basil? You can’t really even tell that it’s been touched! Eek! Guess what’s for dinner? You got it! Pesto! With basil on the side!

The recipe we used is below. It is really tasty! And, we are always looking for excuses to break out the “robot culiniaire” (what most people call a food processor, Mike takes as a perfectly good excuse to break out his French vocabulary). 🙂

It is mostly based on Mark Bittman’s Genovese Pesto recipe from “How to Cook Everything.” if you haven’t looked into that book or the app, I’d also highly recommend it!

Genovese Pesto

2 cups loosely packed basil, rinsed and dried
Salt (to taste)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2+ cup EVOO
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Combine the basil, salt, nuts, and 1/2 the oil in the food processor or blender. Scrape it down if you need to. Add the rest of the oil gradually as you process away.
2. Store in the fridge for a week or so, or in the freezer for several months. Add the cheese just before you serve it.
3. Enjoy!

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My kind of tea party (e.g., this is not a political post) + Cranberry Scone recipe

3 Jun

As the blog-o-sphere as rightly noted, there is nothing like a Diamond Jubilee to provide the excuse for a good party. A lovely friend of mine – Jenny (and admittedly, she is more of a royal-stalker than I) decided that the Queen’s Jubilee was the reason she needed to host a tea party. Is there anything more lovely than gathering with your girlfriends, wearing a cute  sun dress, and eating gorgeous pastries? I’m not sure that there is anything better.

The tea was tasty (and beautifully served), the muffins were moist, and the petit fours were perfect. The tradition of tea supposedly comes from the need to supply food to hard-working souls who struggled to maintain the energy from one meal to another, so sugar and caffeine and foods like pastries or sandwiches hit the spot. Our little party didn’t have anything to do with sustenance, but it was a delightful way to spend a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. It inspired me, as well, to look at other tea-inspired recipes in honor of 60 years of Queen Elizabeth. Scones are biscuit-like bread hailing from Scotland and SW England, that are either sweet or savory. Here are my favorites – almost Alton Brown’s Cranberry Scones:

(makes 12)

2 c all-purpose flour (+ a little more for the work surface)

4 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

1/3 c granulated sugar (optional: add more for topping)

4 T butter, in small pieces

2 T shortening

3/4 c cream

1 egg

3/4-1 c cranberries (I like my scones to be fruity, so I tend to add more)

1. Heat oven to 375.

2. In a large bowl, thoroughly combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

3. Cut in butter and shortening.

4. In a separate bowl, combine cream and egg, and then add to the dry ingredients.

5. Stir in fruit.

6. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and then roll out the dough. Cut the dough with a biscuit-sized cutter or into the scone-shaped triangles. (sprinkle with additional sugar if you are adding that.)

7. Cook for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack (unless you like them hot, like I do, in which case, serve immediately).

A Paean to the pancake

25 May

A pancake has a certain Je ne sais quoi that spells happiness. I love them. A weekend just isn’t the same without them. That’s not to say that I can’t live without them, but why would I? 🙂

Last summer, I found pancake perfection. At a local restaurant in Bay City, MI, Heather’s (where they bill themselves as a specialty foods restaurant), they have mastered all that is the perfect pancake. Here’s the kicker: they are baked!

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Even though we returned for lunch today, I couldn’t resist the pancakes. I really love this place though- friendly and cheerful with a sense of humor. What could be better?

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Homemade, (almost) home grown Caprese

25 May

One of my goal this year is to grow food we can eat. To that end, we started a bunch of plants from seed (there is a post brewing on that), including sweet Genoese basil and a couple of varieties of tomatoes (including “strawberry tomatoes,” the likes of which I’d never heard).

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Mike and I are also very fond of homemade cheese, and we made some super- easy mozzarella last night. Our tomatoes are not yet in bloom, but our basil sure is sweet!

Cheese is a lot easier to make than most people think. It’s really just a gallon of milk, some citric acid, some rennet, and some salt. Heat it up a bit, stir it a little, wait a minute or 2, stretch it, chill it, and you’ve got your very own homemade mozzarella. We got started with a cheese making kit, which I’d highly recommend. We are soon going to embark on making hard cheeses, but cheeses like mozzarella are super easy, and even tastier than they are easy. Honestly, the hardest part is finding milk that isn’t too pasteurized (but the Buford Hwy. Farmer’s Market is another post all to itself!).

Dining (almost) alfresco all day+ Priest strangler recipe

13 May

The Horseradish GrillOne of the best parts about living where I do is the amazing variety of restaurants right around every corner. And… when the weather is as it has been, dining on the patio is definitely where you’ll find me! Yesterday was (almost) the perfect day for it, too. I had the pleasure of brunching with a good friend of mine at The Horseradish Grill, situated across from a golf course, in a spot that has a long history. Its current owners have had it for about 17 years, but its been a part of the social and culinary landscape of the neighborhood for years and years and years before that. My friend said that she’d heard that it is the oldest continuously run food establishment in Atlanta. I kind of don’t think that’s true (I think its Atkin’s Park, although that is technically a ‘tavern’), but in any case, the restaurant absolutely captures the very essence of what brunch is all about and what southern dining is supposed to be like. We started out on the patio, but the light sprinkle of a southern rain chased us indoors. Inside is also pretty perfect – the amazing windows are such a seamless transition from farmhouse to garden.

Biscuits, of course, are the centerpiece of breakfast in Atlanta. These were somewhat underwhelming, honestly. A smidge on the salty side (and I know that a good baking soda biscuit should be a little bit salty, but these were even more so to my tastes), and they just didn’t hit the proverbial sweet spot on my biscuit target.

We started out with fried green tomatoes, which were perfect. The ones there are served with warm goat cheese, remoulade sauce (which is the perfect complement for fried green tomatoes – love the kick it gives), and spiced pecans (another little kick in the pants). These are some of the best fried green tomatoes ever, honestly. Not over-fried at all, and there is still that sweet resistance of the tomato itself.

Of course, by the time I’d sampled and enjoyed all of that goodness, I really didn’t have enough room for the main event, which in my case was the goat cheese, asparagus, and smoked mushroom omelet, which were accompanied by “hash brown” potatoes. It was super-fluffy, and I loved asparagus in the eggs! I’d never had that before, but I really enjoyed the firmness of the asparagus against the softness and creaminess of the eggs and cheese. The “hash brown” potatoes were really more like chunks of potatoes sautéed with parsley (I think). And they were perfect. Just the right amount of browning, and the brightness of the herb paired very well. I will *hope* to recreate this dish at home. I may add a little flavor to the omelet, but if I only get what they produced, I will be doing very, very well.

the blowing a joint birthday cake

May is a big month in my family – Daddy’s birthday is May 2, my sister Laura’s birthday is May 6, and then Mother’s day is almost always the next weekend. My mother and I were both out-of-town for their birthdays, so we had a delayed celebration for the birthdays last night at my family’s favorite restaurant, Portofino. We go there every year for my sister’s birthday. Its got an amazing patio for dining (the sprinkles had scattered and we were left with a perfect night for patio dining).

the patio at Portofino

We started out with an order off of their monthly special menu called “Priests Strangler.” The waiter (who I was very impressed with) came up with some creative possibilities for the etymology of such a dish, but who knows… (upon searching on the internets, I understand that it comes from the name of a pasta – strangolapreti or strozzapreti, which were historically dense enough to choke the relatively delicate constitution of a priest, or that they were so irresistible that the priests would eat until they were choking on them) What I do know is that it is amazing! Honestly, it set the bar impossibly high for everything that followed. They are essentially dumpling size gnocchi made with spinach and served in a browned sage-butter sauce. I do mean A-MAZING.Awesome Priest Stranglers!

here’s a recipe: (adopted from honestcooking.com)

Ingredients
  • 8 ounces (225 g) stale bread, turned into bread crumbs in the food processor or blender
  • 1 cup (.25 l) milk
  • 16 ounces (450 g) fresh spinach, thick stems removed
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup to 1 cup (75 – 100 g) white flour
  • A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g) butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 6 whole sage leaves, plus 4 sage leaves finely chopped
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Instructions
  1. Place the breadcrumbs in a small bowl, and cover with the milk. Combine to thoroughly moisten bread.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil, and season with salt. Add the spinach, and blanch until tender, 2-3 minutes. Drain well, and immerse the blanched greens in ice water to halt the cooking. Remove from the ice water, and drain in a sieve, squeezing well to eliminate as much of the water as possible. Chop well.
  3. Squeeze any extra milk out of the breadcrumbs (there should not be much, if any), and place in a medium bowl. Add the spinach, eggs, flour, and grated nutmeg. Combine until the mixture just binds together and holds, adding more flour if necessary, but don’t overdo it. It will be very wet. You want to add as little flour as possible, to keep your strangolapreti as light as possible. Its tempting to add more flour to make it more of a dumpling, but its a better result if you resist.
  4. Flour the counter. Divide the dough into 4 or 5 equally sized pieces. Coat your hands with flour, and take one of the pieces and place it on the floured counter. Using the palms of your hands, roll the piece out into a 1/2 inch thick log, which will be about 18 inches long. Cut the log into 1-inch lengths, and place the individual strangolapreti onto a sheet pan that has been dusted with flour. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
  5. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Salt the water. Working in small batches, place the strangolapreti in the water – don’t overcrowd them. Cook until the strangolapreti rise to the surface; using a slotted spoon, remove them and place on a sheet pan in a single layer.
  6. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat. When the butter is melted, add the shallots and chopped sage leaves. Continue to cook, watching carefully, until the butter solids begin to brown and smell nutty. Remove from heat, add the strangolapreti, and serve, garnishing with the whole sage leaves. Drizzle with remaining butter.

Back at Portofino, they also make their own mozzarella there, which rendered us helpless but to sample the mozzarella salads and antipasti. Mike enjoyed the “fried mozzarella salad” while several of the rest of us sampled the “fresh mozzarella salad.” Both feature the housemade cheese and several varieties of heirloom tomatoes, as well as basil and a balsamic drizzle. We tried to get the wait-lady to share their milk source for the mozzarella to no avail. She told us that they use unpasteurized milk, but… Mike and I have made cheese a bunch of times, but the milk sourcing is so inconsistent! As my tomato and basil plants thrive, the homemade mozzarella is looming in my mind. In any case… back to the restaurant!

Their website indicates that they are a seafood-oriented Italian restaurant, and Daddy and Mike both thoroughly enjoyed their fish. Mike had the trout, and Daddy had the grouper, and if I were a fish-eating kind of gal, I probably would have joined them. Mike’s was served with spaghetti squash, and when he put it in his mouth, I could feel his happiness! Daddy was nearly mute after his entree was served, which can mostly be attributed to how good his was. That and that my mother had a glass of wine too much and was talking A LOT. 🙂 (I do love how passionate she is, though).

Aside from the amazing, untouchable, really better than anything else all day Priest Stranglers, my other main take-away was something that I’d learned before. Handmade pasta is definitely the way to go. My dish (with a pesto sauce over tomatoes), Laura’s (lamb Bolognese), and my mother’s (Cavatelli all’Amatricana) were super-tasty, but I think that the thing we all were most impressed with was the pasta itself. Exactly al dente, but SO much more flavorful (sauce or no) than anything you’ll ever get from a box. Must look into what I need to do to get going on that…

Shoe-gasm

7 May

I love shoes, but, really, who doesn’t? Someone quite wise once said, “give a girl a great pair of shoes, and she can conquer the word.” It’s a quote I live by (or at least justify my spending habits by)!

In addition to this important fact, it’s also pertinent to this post to know that I also hate moving. When Mike and I married last summer, I was incredibly eager to begin this phase of my life, but not as eager to actually move. So, most of my shoes, indeed many of my things, remained in limbo. Until… Last week. Mike declared that before we move to Germany, all of my stuff needs to be dealt with… And deal we shall!

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So began the great shoe migration of 2012. Of course, moving my shoes also meant that we had to repurpose some space: guest bedroom? Who needs a guest bedroom when you could have a shoe room! Oh, the joys of living in a small house…

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I see lots of great shoe organizing ideas out there, but I’ve also tried quite a few, and been fairly disappointed. If you have a great system, I’d love to hear it!