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.

Tomato Bisque

D&D_1907It is funny, or maybe just odd, that I do not like raw tomatoes, only cooked ones. Tomato sauce, yes, tomato bisque – absolutely. Sliced tomato on something – I’ll pass. Tomato bisque is a soup weakness for me. Another odd thing, I only like vegetarian soups. Not sure why that is, but it is a thing for me. I think it because when there is a protein in a soup, it is likely to get over cooked – at least to my taste. I might also be that I just prefer to make vegetarian soups – in this instance meat just seems to get in the way.

Growing up I do not remember a lot of homemade soups with the exception of homemade vegetable soup which I was never a huge fan of – my mom would put all kinds of veg in that I just didn’t care for – yes, lima beans. But if we had any tomato soup it was from a can. That’s not terrible, but making decent tomato soup is so easy and takes less than an hour, I just don’t see any reason not to make it from scratch especially when you have most of the things on hand to start with.

This is a cream soup, but to my mind it is a bisque but I realized that I really had never looked up the definition of a bisque. So here it is. Not what I was expecting to be honest.

Bisque – A thick rich soup usually consisting of puréed seafood (sometimes fowl or vegetables) and cream. p.57 Food Lover’s Companion 

Adapted from this Creamy Tomato Soup recipe in Bon Appetit via alexandracooks.com and modified by me, because I am, after all, me. Yep, that is what I do.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 sprigs thyme
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
¼ cup (or more) heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Finely grate Parmigiano-Reggiano
Chicago Italian bread

Melt butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add thyme, onion, and garlic and add salt to help soften everything. Cook until onion is completely soft. Add tomato paste and increase heat to medium and cook until pasta starts to darken in color and you can smell it.

Add tomatoes with juices from the can – you can crush the tomatoes with your hands or with a potato masher – and 4 cups water to the pot. Increase heat to high; bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer until flavors meld and soup reduces, 45 minutes or so. Remove soup from heat; discard thyme sprigs. Purée soup with an immersion blender.

Reduce heat to low and stir in ¼ cup cream – let simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed – salt, freshly cracked black pepper, more cream. Simmer 10 more minutes and taste again.

I think this time I am going to make little cheese toasts with Parmigiano Reggiano on sliced Chicago Italian and add a little swirl of 14 year old sherry vinegar.

8 June 2017

“Meyer” Lemon Bars

I have this habit of asking people what they would like me to bake or cook for them. It keeps me interested in baking and cooking and pushes me outside of what I typically do. I do it at work, “what do you guys want me to make for the pot-luck?” and I do the same thing at my favorite restaurants. I think restaurant staff is not appreciated enough. Guess that comes from being a server ages ago. I hope they appreciate it, but it is more to get me to try to do different things.dd_1599

So I asked Berta, at my beach local, to tell me what she would like in the baking department, and she said my baking nemesis – lemon bars. I have not had good luck with these in the past – at all. That said, I was going to give it another go – it is a challenge after all. And I never back down from a challenge.

This is a recipe on my little USB drive of recipes that I have been working on for ages and I just sort of picked it out of the two I had. It was daunting – I have to admit that I was not comfortable trying this idea again. I did this on a Thursday because I figured if I fucked it up, I would have Friday to try again. And I am really not scared in the baking department, but you never know if things are going to go pear-shaped.

I have to say, I just cut a corner out of this and just got stupid over how good it was. That is, indeed, a good sign. I guess when I get silly about something in the kitchen, that makes me happy and pleased with myself. And that makes me think it will be something other people will like too.

Personally, I would like to keep the entire pan of these lemon bars to myself, but I won’t. But I will damn sure to make this recipe again. The original called for Meyer lemons, but I only have those when my (precious) little tree produces Meyer lemons and this is totally the wrong time of year, so I just used regular lemons. It was amazing. Stupidly so. Yeah me! yep.

Meyer Lemon Bars

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
1 – 2 tsp ice water

5 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbs Meyer lemon zest
3/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbs confectioners’ sugar, for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan and line with parchment with an overhang on the long sides. Or all the sides really.

In the bowl of a food processor, mix all purpose flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water as needed to bring dough together. Press dough into prepared pan, pressing firmly against the inside edges. Bake crust for 20 – 25 minutes until lightly golden. Set pan on wire rack to cool slightly. Reduce oven to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until well combined and paler in color. Stir in zest, lemon juice, 1/4 cup flour and a pinch of salt. Carefully pour topping over warm crust. Bake 15 – 20 minutes, or until set.

Set the pan on a rack to cool completely. Remove squares using parchment. Cut into bars. Dust with 3 Tbs confectioners’ sugar. Or more if you want. I use way more confectioners’ sugar than that. Just me.

I think I made a few friends with these – at least I really hope so. Berta loved them and her daughter asked for them on her birthday at the end of November. I guess there are more lemon people than I had imagined. I shared one of my favorite lemon things ever – lemon, white chocolate chip cookies – they sound slightly weird, but they are stupid good.

And then in my head – lemon cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for another person that is a lemon person. I think we have to stick together. There just are not that many of us. Lemon People Unite – or something?  No, that just does not work. I guess you chocolate people have us outnumbered. Again.

Cous Cous Salad

Well, I am doing it … again. Making the same recipes over and over because I like them. That said, it does not make for new and exciting things for this blog, but it is true to life and to me that is pretty important. This is how I cook. I make things that make me and mine happy – or sometimes, just me, happy. That is the case with this recipe. It is a combination of flavors that I love. You will also find it in the Asparagus, Red Onion, Orange Juice, White Wine butter sauce pasta. Red onions and orange juice are really amazing together.

It kind of bugs me (no, really bugs me) that I cannot find the source for this recipe – google –  can you not fix this?  Again, another recipe from my vegetarian decade and I so thought this was from The Greens Cook Book, but, alas, no. Still one of my favorite cook books.D&D_1556

1 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup sultanas (or just raisins in this case)
1 medium red onion, sliced into half circles
red wine vinegar – or apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup toasted pecans (or walnuts whatever you have)
2 scallions, sliced thin
1 cup cous cous*
1 Tbs canola oil

In a dry pan, heat nuts until they are just fragrant and slightly toasted. Remove from heat. In a small pot heat water to boil and place red onion in a heat-proof bowl. Add the hot water to the red onions for a few minutes and drain. Set aside and splash with red wine vinegar. Heat orange juice in a pot over medium heat and add sultanas. Add cous cous to the  orange juice mixture and add canola oil. Cover the pot with the lid to steam. Give it a few minutes and then fluff with a fork. Add in scallions, nuts, and red onions (w/the vinegar).  This is pretty damn amazing.

This salad, in my opinion, is great at room temperature and not bad on the cold side either. The vinegar pickles the onions and makes them crunchy and that is just lovely with the cous cous and the soft sultanas and crunchy nuts.

* I have tried this with Israeli cous cous, but prefer the Italian version – smaller, in this case, is better in my opinion.

Cous Cous Salad

Yep, I am so back to my vegetarian days with this recipe. I think that making the orange juice, white wine, butter sauce pasta makes me crave this too. So many similar ingredients and flavors. Although it is interesting that I have not sized this recipe down for just me and therefore I eat it for breakfast and/or lunch for about a week. Now, I use local pecans because the are just so sweet. I know I have written about this before but Renfroe’s pecans are … I am at a loss. They are stupidly, amazing, dumbly, good. I guess because I grew up with pecans from Georgia and did not understand how the season worked, nor how to store them in between that I have learned a lot. Since moving to Pensacola, I now know how local pecans work. It is a charmed world to have such amazing fresh pecans.  Once again – spoiled.

D&D_15561 cup orange juice
1/3 cup raisins or sultanas – I prefer sultanas, but will deal with raisins, easily.
1 red onion minced
1/2 cup toasted pecans (or walnuts), salted
3 scallions, diced
1 cup Cous Cous – (not israeli couscous – I have tried, but not my favorite)
Red wine vinegar
1 Tbs Canola oil

Heat orange juice over low heat until bubbly. Add raisins or sultanas and let simmer until raisins are soft. Heat a small saucepan with water to boil. Add red onions and boil for just a minute and a half. Remove from water into a bowl and cover with red wine vinegar to soak until you are finished with everything else.

Add Cous Cous to orange juice with Canola oil. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand until orange juice is absorbed.

Toast pecans in a skillet with some kosher salt until fragrant. Just about a minute on medium heat.  Dice scallions. Drain red onions. Fluff Cous Cous with a fork and add red onions, pecans, and scallions.

I think next time some blanched asparagus would be a great addition. Or maybe some thawed frozen artichoke hearts – just make it a bit more substantial.

I think this is my goal – to take the things I make over and over again and develop them further, to add another dimension to them. I already have a few ideas for this – may be great – may be an random failure, but it is worth a shot. At least to me.

Maybe some salty cheese. Will have to think about that.

Amazing Roasted Mushrooms

I follow several food bloggers and one that I really admire is Kevin’s Closet Cooking. I really have an affinity for Kevin. His recipes are pretty simple, not lots of ingredients, not too many steps, but these are the kind of recipe that I like. I like that he is kind of all over the place. From one day to the next, you never know what you are going to get and for me, that is really great. A challenge, trying something different, something outside of what you normally make – yeah, I really like that.

D&D_1542It does not take lots of ingredients or lots of directions to make something that tastes really good, at least to me. None of this means I do not adjust Kevin’s ideas to my own. It is cooking and experimenting, after all.

I am a huge fan of mushrooms. That said, I do not like raw mushrooms at all. Ugh. So gross. I love to saute them. Funny how that changes the entire equation. There are so many dishes I love cooked mushrooms in. Pasta with asparagus and mushrooms with a sauce of mascarpone cheese, lemon, and lots of real (read: imported and expensive) Parmigiano-Reggiano. I make a great vegetarian pate with mushrooms – so good on toast with fresh lime juice. I could just go on and on, and I expect that I will. That is just me. You do not spend a decade as a vegetarian and not have recipes that still make you stupidly happy. Many of my recipes are on the vegetarian side. That makes me happy, but I do love a good steak every now and again. And bacon, and um, sausage … here we go again. Pretty much any version of pork.

8 ozs crimini mushrooms, washed and stem removed*
2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp dried thyme or not as you prefer
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggino

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray just to avoid sticking. Place cleaned mushrooms in the baking dish and spoon the butter, garlic, and thyme mixture over the mushrooms. Season with kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper.

Bake for 10 minutes.**   Remove from the oven. Add the breadcrumb Parm mixture*** and press down and bake until lightly golden – 8-10ish minutes. Garnish with chives, parsley, or scallions. And a splash of lemon juice would not go amiss.

*I cannot help it, I just remove stems from crimini and button mushrooms. Maybe not necessary, but I have always done it. You could also use button mushrooms for this recipe. I just went with what was on sale this week.

**This is one of those dishes you need to serve right out of the oven … with a little bit of cooling time so you do not burn yourself. That said, I think you could put it all together in a baking dish a day ahead and then fire up the oven for the first 10 minute part, so that makes it dinner party friendly. I did it over two days and really was wonderful.  Cover the slightly baked mushroom with foil and let them get close to room temperature before putting them in the fridge and then finishing the dish when you want the next day. I do love recipes that give me flexibility.

*** You might have extra, but I wanted to be sure I had enough and now this gives me an excellent thought – what to do with the rest. It is in the fridge for now, but the possibilities are pretty much everywhere. Maybe some kind of crostini. So Kevin, what do you think?

 

Steven’s Market Deli – Pace, Florida

I am a bit of a potato salad person. I will pretty much try everyone’s potato salad – it is just a thing for me. It is a measure of how well a restaurant can do something that is relatively simple. I love to make my own, but I also love to try any other version. Steven’s Market Deli caught my attention because they sold German Potato Salad – yes, I just did lots of capital letters there. But I had a real idea of where they procured that German potato salad (yes, I have now relaxed a bit, not so many capital letters), but it was so obvious it was from The Creamery – an excellent Gulf Breeze restaurant that sadly closed not too long after we moved here. I had the fading hope that after The Creamery closed that Steven’s might pick up the idea and make their own German potato salad. They did not, but that was a boon for me because it made me try their traditional potato salad. Damn skippy – that is some really good potato salad. D&D_1494

I used to work at a place very similar to Steven’s Market Deli. It was in Jacksonville and it was a cafe that also had ice cream. Hence, why I am so over ice cream. Serve it enough and you just do not care anymore. This place had a stupid name and though it thought itself a tearoom, it really was a small cute cafe that served croissant sandwiches, quiche, soup, and oddly enough a knockwurst plate with… wait for it … German potato salad. I will say this was my introduction to Twinings tea with my favorite being Earl Grey and that was a very good thing.

Well, once again, I have wondered far afield from where I started. Back to Steven’s Market Deli. Beyond getting potato salad to go, I have had their pork barbecue sandwich with cheddar and it is just amazing! – yes, it deserves the exclamation point. Chicken salad is also really good. And the stuffed grape leaves, sigh. I need to get them more often. I have not been to brunch there, but the menu looks pretty amazing – I just don’t quite get up early enough on the weekend for that. Yep – that is just me.

It seems when I go on the weekend to get potato salad (and next time stuffed grape leaves), there are always high school-aged kids. I think that is cool. And one thing that always impresses me is when I get my potato salad, these high school kids sprinkle the top of the potato salad with paprika and chives. It is just a little attention to detail that endears them to me. They do not have to do that, but they do – and to me that means a great deal. This is the kind of local establishment that I want to, and continue to, frequent. Love local restaurants.