Pesto – amazing 

pesto [pes-toh]

noun, Italian Cookery.
1. a sauce typically made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and grated Parmesan blended together and served hot or cold over pasta, fish, or meat.
In college, I made some great friends, and one of them was a girl named Karen T. (cannot believe I remembered her whole name, but somehow that makes me feel good, but won’t divulge).
She threw excellent (read: grown up) parties. If you said you would attend, you were actually expected to do so. She was a great cook – the first person I knew to make chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. She totally rocked, and she also introduced me to pesto. I think it was her mom’s recipe, photocopied, and I remember this most clearly, the recipe was called “Pesto by the food processor method.” Hysterical now, but at the time a totally new thing for me.
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It is basically the “recipe” I still make today, except I substitute walnuts for pine nuts. I don’t notice a difference, so it works for me. And I always have walnuts in the freezer.
It’s great for pasta, for pasta salad, add some sun-dried tomatoes and it is excellent in my sun-dried tomato pesto torte. Have I not made that for you? Damn, will rectify that situation soon.

Basil – 2 bunches, stems removed mostly
Garlic – 2 cloves or or more if you would like it
1 1/4 cups walnuts or there abouts – fear the pine nuts.
1/4 cup really good olive oil
A good bit of freshly grated Parmesan – indeed.

First chop the garlic in the food processor. Then add the walnuts and mix it up again   Do this before you add the basil. Because this is a good thing. It just seems to work so well. Then stream the olive oil in and the when it is all done, add the Parmesan. And if you want to go crazy add some sun-dried tomatoes. Because that is amazing. Yep.

I was to go to Italy with Karen and Dierdre in the spring of 1993, but giving birth to the Boy put those plans into a stall. Never regret it. And he was eating pesto as a 3 years-old – he was that kind of boy. Sushi, sure. Pesto, yep. Mushroom pate – always. Kids will try anything if you don’t make a big deal of it.
Karen moved to New Jersey and we lost touch, but some things stick with you in an important way. And I miss them both.

Asparagus, Red Onion, Fettuccini with orange juice, white wine, butter sauce 

Once again I fall back on one of my vegetarian recipes. I think it is summer thing, I just want much lighter food in the summer. I really do not have an actual recipe for this, I just remember making it for something like the decade that I was a vegetarian. That said, I still prefer mostly meat-less dishes with the exception of a very good rib-eye – my favorite cut – or some bbq – or well, I will likely go on a bit to long and then disprove my “mostly meat-less” idea. Either way – summer needs to be light.

D&D_1533Now that I think about it though, I do not like soup with meat in it, kind of like ever, and nor do I like pasta with meat in it very often. Maybe that is odd, but it is just the way I am.

Be that as it may, this is one of my favorite pasta recipes ever and I find it interesting that the flavors are similar to my favorite cous cous salad recipe – orange juice, red onions … that seems to be a thing, for me anyway.

So here it is  – yet another non-recipe recipe. Hope you enjoy it and I think you will.

1 softball* sized red onion, peeled, and sliced
1 bunch of pencil thin-ish asparagus, woody stems broken off, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 package Buitoni fettuccini
fresh orange juice
Splash of vegetable stock – 2 Tbs or thereabouts
187 ml decent white wine – Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio – one of the little 4 pack bottles
More butter to finish – salted, and perhaps European, yep
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggino – the good stuff, just do not play around with this, seriously.

In at least a 12 inch sauce pan, melt the butter and then dump in the red onions.  At the same time set another pot with water to boil to blanch the asparagus. You will use the same water to boil the fettuccini – easy and healthy – or something. Saute the onions until they are soft  while blanching the asparagus, but make sure to remove the asparagus when it is bright green, it will cook a bit more in the white wine orange juice sauce.

When the onions are soft, deglaze the pan with the white wine and a couple of TBS of vegetable stock, and let it cook down a bit. Then add the orange juice about a cup and a half. It will look like way too much, but do not panic. Dump the fettuccini in the asparagus water and cook it to al dente. Move the asparagus into the white wine orange sauce – you are just going to have to wing it at this point. Tasting, judging, you might need to add a little more orange juice. The big thing is to not over cook the pasta.

Add the pasta to the orange juice butter asparagus red onion sauce and let it soak up the sauce. The just to gild the lily, add a couple of TBS of really good European butter – swirl.

When serving you need the salty bite of some Parm – yes, you do.

You are welcome.

*I think recipes really need to tell you the size of an onion – um, medium means pretty much nothing if you do not know what “medium” means. So, I think we all have an idea of a softball, so that is what I am going with.

Mac n Cheese – the best ever

This is another no recipe thing – but in the tradition of Michael Ruhlman – it is a ratio –
though I am not good at math. There it is. My mom made the best mac n cheese ever. We never had anything out of a Kraft box (ugh — so gross). I do think I picked this up my osmosis (cannot believed I spelled that correctly on the first go – woo hoo!). I really don’t remember paying that much attention to how my mom made it, but I knew how to do this by instinct  – again, in my head it was osmosis.

So this is a total ratio thing, but to me the easiest way to tell someone how to make it is to show them how to make it. It can be a little vague otherwise. This was the subject of one of the early Wednesday Cooking School nights for the Boy. It is one of his favorite things, not surprising, since it also one of my favorite things. It is also vegetarian, which means I had it in the freezer while waiting for him to be born and I remember distinctly that I had some the night I came home from the hospital with him.D&D_1397

I have this lovely ceramic dish from Portugal (I did not go there to get it, but did buy it from a store in Durham, NC) and it is a pretty dish and I bought two because of that. But here is where the ratios come into play. No matter what dish you have, to make mac n cheese for whatever sized dish you have measure out dry pasta* in the dish to about the half way full. Once you cook the pasta, then it will fill the dish — see, a ratio – who knew from math? But I knew that before Ruhlman (still love you guy).

Now here is the next ratio – fat to flour – also knew this before Ruhlman. I always prefer to have more cheese sauce than I need, so for my pan (need to measure and figure out how big that dang this is). I start with 4 Tbs of unsalted butter, which I melt over low heat and then add basically the same amount of all-purpose flour and a bit of salt and pepper. Then cook the flour for a minute or two, stirring the whole time. It  would be a good thing if you had taken your whole milk out prior to starting this and I probably should have said that before now. But as long as you add the milk a little at a time, it will be okay. Some people warm the milk in a sauce pan, but my mom never did, so I don’t either.

Here’s the thing – when you first start adding the milk it will look like a clumpy mess with the butter mixture. You really are making a light roux and then you are going on to make a bechamel sauce sort of. Anyway. Use that whisk to eliminate lumps, but pretty soon you need to switch to a good spatula (Get it Right spatulassee this link, and this one, then there is this one, and .. well you get it.)  because you don’t want the milk to scorch on the bottom of the sauce pan – that would be a disaster (i.e. start over – no other choice, nope none).

So again, this is where it is where it is so much easier to show than explain, but the ratio, is about the same amount of cups of milk as butter – in this case 3 1/2 to four, but add a bit at a time. Let simmer over low heat and let thicken over time.

Then the cheese comes into play. In my case, always extra sharp cheddar, white or yellow, your choice, but once the bechamel thickens it is time to take it off the heat and add the grated cheese, setting aside a bit to put on the top. Add the cooked pasta (you did that already, right? Dumped the pasta you measured in the pan into a nicely salted pot of boiling water and cooked until al dente) to the sauce and tip into the baking dish, top with a little extra shredded cheese and cover with foil. But in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 5 – 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly.

You need to let it cool a bit before diving in, but that is a necessary thing.

So to you from me – My Mom’s not-recipe for the best homemade mac n cheese.

*I typically use penne or rotini, but elbow is good too. Some pasta that will hold the cheesy goodness of the sauce.

2015 Butter Usage (by month – June)

1 June 2015 – 8 Tbs – Lemon Buttermilk Poundcake

2 June 2015 – 2 Tbs – Lemon Glaze

11 June 2015 – 3 Tbs – Pasta with asparagus and mushrooms

11 June 2015 – 8 Tbs – Banana Nut Bread – for Fred. Love my Dad!! And his name is not Fred, it’s just what I call him.

25 June 2015 – 16 Tbs – Sugared Lemon Cookies with Lemon Glaze

37 Tbs = 4.625 sticks = 1.15625 pounds

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Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake

Fusilli with asparagus and mushrooms

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Fusilli with mushrooms and asparagus

This is a recipe that I’ve been making for several years and was based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis. It’s quick, and to me, a very spring kind of pasta. Make it when the asparagus are at their best.

8 ozs. Fusilli
Olive oil
2 Tbs unsalted butter
8 ozs mushrooms, button or cremini, sliced
1 bundle of asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ozs mascarpone
Parmesan, for serving

Heat a pot of boiling water, add asparagus and cook until bright green and crisp tender – kind of the al dente of asparagus. Remove asparagus from water and set aside. Once the asparagus is finished, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
In a sauté pan, melt butter and add a little olive oil. Add the sliced mushroom and sauté until they’ve released their juices and most of that liquid evaporates. Add garlic and sauté for another minute more.
Add the asparagus to the mushrooms. Then add the container of mascarpone cheese. Stir until it is melted and coats the vegetables. Add a handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and stir again.
Serve with extra Parmesan for serving.

Asparagus Red Onion Pasta

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Asparagus, Red Onion Pasta with Parmesan

Another perennial favorite, especially when the asparagus are at their best which is pretty much now. I like my asparagus about #2 pencil thin, they could be thicker, but for me that’s ideal. Once again another recipe that I have no idea where is started, but it did start when I was a vegetarian – All those years ago. But it does stand the test of time and come April/May I just have to make it. I think the non-vegetarians will like this – I have proof. You can make it other times of the year if the asparagus look right to you. It’s stupidly simple and no – I don’t have any real measurements anymore. I guess that’s what happens when you make a recipe so often that it becomes a bit of a thing that you like that much. You don’t have to think, you just put the pieces parts together and it works. I especially like that you cook the asparagus and pasta in the same water. There are only two pots (or pans as it were) to do this and a good bit of butter and Parmesan are involved – two of my favorite things.

So take a deep breath, like I said it’s simple, but don’t get too hung up on the particulars – taste and adjust – I still do that. I think that’s a pretty good cooking rule to live by.

  • A bunch of asparagus, snapped and chopped into about 1 inch pieces
  • medium red onion, peeled, halved, and sliced
  • half a pound of farfalle pasta
  • splash of dry white wine, if you have it
  • orange juice
  • unsalted butter
  • Parmesan
  • olive oil

So heat the olive oil and start sautéing the red onion. At the same time, heat a big pot of very salted (like the ocean) water. Drop the asparagus into the salted water (did we get that salted is a key thing here?) and let them return to the surface and be bright green and crisp-tender. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon and let cool. You could do an ice bath, but I never have.

Meanwhile, after the onions are soft and the pan is a little on the dry side, you can hit them with a splash of white wine or if you don’t have that, or are not inclined, just add about half a cup of orange juice (real stuff please). Add the pasta to the still bubbling asparagus water and cook till al dente. When the oj/wine has reduced a bit, add the asparagus and then the pasta when it is ready. Add another splash of oj and then add about 3 Tbs unsalted butter to make a great sauce. And then – taste and adjust. Does it need more butter, more oj, a little more time to sort of meld together as a dish.

I like the sauce to thicken a bit here and if you want to add some pasta water with its starch, but not too much – thickening is the goal. You can add Parmesan now – which I do – and then serve it with more for topping. Sorry there is never too much Parmesan in a pasta dish if you ask me.

Fusilli with Artichoke Hearts and Parmesan Cream

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Pasta with Artichoke Hearts and Parmesan Cream

This is a recipe that calls for things that I have on hand – my favorite kind of recipe. After making it, it is also very easy and quick to make, perfect for the weeknight when you want to make something creamy and homey, but without a lot of fuss. I guess that’s the basis of the kind of cooking I like to do on the weeknights, now, weekends – that’s another story entirely. But for a Wednesday night this was very very good. If you don’t have fusilli on hand, which I didn’t, use any pasta that will hold the sauce better, such as rotini or a ridged pasta like mezzo penne.

Fusilli with Artichoke Hearts and Parmesan Cream

SERVINGS: 4 – 6

  •  2 1/2 cups canned, drained artichoke hearts (two 14-ounce cans), rinsed and cut into halves or quarters
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 pound fusilli
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives, scallion tops, or parsley
  • 1 cup heavy cream

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over moderately low heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the cream, salt, pepper, and artichoke hearts. Cook until just heated through, about 3 minutes.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the fusilli until just done, about 13 minutes. Drain the pasta and toss with the cream sauce, Parmesan, and chives.

Source: Food & Wine

21 Jan 2015

Bench Notes: I used two cans of baby artichoke hearts and halved them after rinsing very well and dried them on paper towels. Also used mezze penne because didn’t have enough fusilli, it worked okay, but will use fusilli next time. Used half and half and heavy cream which means it took a little longer to get the sauce to thicken, but it was a lovely cream sauce when it was finished. Added a little lemon zest to serve. Might add a little lemon juice next time and extra black pepper.

This was quick and easy and very tasty. Can’t wait to try it left over for lunch.