Green Garlic Pesto

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I don’t ever really remember having much of a special weekend routine growing up. We never had the large family Sunday night dinner or weekend sleepover at the grandparent’s house. I hated  was terrible at any sport involving hand eye coordination so my parents, luckily or unluckily (not sure how you look at it), never spent their time shuffling me from one sporting event to the next.

I wasn’t really a structured kid.  I did homework laying on my back with my feet up the wall, I thought I invented the concept of procrastination and I had a crazy active imagination which got me in trouble more times than I can count.  Me and routine went together like pickles and peanut butter, both amazing on their own but when mixed together a terrible idea.  That is until I had my son.

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I never realized not having a routine was my routine, but it was. Now my not-a-routine turned into my son’s extreme not-a-routine. I was up at all hours of the night, trying to convince a 3 week old that the dark city outside our apartment window meant that he should be asleep too. I turned into an all you could eat buffet, open 24 hours a day, and it seemed most popular every time I sat down to have a warm meal myself. I started craving routine like I did deli sandwiches the second my OB told me I couldn’t eat them.  I was shocked by the realization but needed it badly.

Every baby book I read told me how much babies craved routine and I do not know what made me think that mine would be any different. Genetics I guess. But once we found our routine together, I secretly loved it.  I loved knowing the hours of the day I could sneak in a shower, get a nap, read a book or simply just be.  The hubby did too.

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A few months ago my son and I accidentally found our Sunday routine and I am not sure who loves it more. It does not revolve around sports or other organized activities, but a local farmer’s market and everything we can do within running distance. My son actually cried when we couldn’t go a few weeks ago. Genetics I guess.

About a month ago, we bought some green garlic and fresh basil at the farmer’s market, then came home to make homemade green garlic pesto for lunch.  I forgot to snag a pic of the recipe posted with the garlic so created this one from what I could remember of that recipe combined with an Everyday Italian pesto recipe. I couldn’t find the pine nuts in my fridge so subbed in walnuts instead.  The results, and I quote my son . . . delicious!

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Green Garlic Pesto

1/2 lb of green garlic, hard ends and tops of stems removed and cut into similar size pieces

2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup of toasted walnuts

1/2 tsp of salt

2/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 a lemon, juiced

In a blender pulse the garlic, basil, walnuts and salt until finally chopped.  With the blender still running gradually pour in the olive oil.  I found that I needed pretty close to the 2/3 cup of olive oil.  You want a smooth but medium consistency – not too runny and not too pasty.  I find if it is too thick it never thins out right with pasta water.  Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the cheese.  Finish off with lemon juice.

Enjoy with your favorite pasta, ravioli or as a great spread on sandwiches.  If making with pasta, don’t forget to save a little pasta water to thin out the pesto.

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Mac & Cheese with Béchamel Sauce

Mac & Cheese

A miracle happened last night . . .  the hubby and I actually stayed awake to watch an entire movie! We rented Chef and if you haven’t seen it, it is a must in my book.  Yes the food is amazing but it was really the story that hit home for me, trying to find that perfect balance between your passions, your career and your personal life.  A struggle that I have grappled with, even before our little guy showed up.

Without giving too much of the premise away the main character is on a journey to find himself and what he used to love about cooking, as well as figure out a place for his family in that new life.  Sound familiar?  Beyond totally empathizing with the main character, I also took a way some key pieces of advice.

  1. Adding softened butter to the pan before making grilled cheese is a great technique for getting that lovely golden color.
  2. I need to go to New Orleans to have a Beignet.
  3. Sometimes you over think things and make them way more complicated then they have to be, but when you take a step back and see the simplicity in what you are trying to do, it just makes everything that much easier.

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Take mac & cheese for example.  I have this amazing recipe from the New York Times that I use religiously for making my mac & cheese to rave reviews from friends and family (I promise to share).  I excitedly whipped it up for my son’s first birthday because he LOVES himself some mac & cheese, but was left disappointed when it went virtually untouched.  While it is a pretty simple recipe in terms of executing, I can see how it could be a bit complex on the taste profile.

A few weeks ago I decided to try my luck at mac & cheese with him again. This time I went the simple route, not boxed mac & cheese, but the next best thing  . . . Béchamel Sauce.  So I feel totally crazy admitting this, but I have never really made a Béchamel sauce. I am not sure how I have been cooking this long and gotten away with it, but I have.

I can now safely say I will never be scared of Béchamel sauce again.  Not only was it super delicious, but it was also amazingly easy to make and a huge crowd pleaser with the little guy.  I scored a clean plate plus an ask for seconds.  If only figuring out how to find that perfect life balance was this easy.

Bechamel Sauce with Cheese

Makes half a cup

1 tablespoon of butter

1 tablespoon of flour

5/8 cup of milk, heated in a separate saucepan over low heat until small bubbles form at the edge

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup of cheddar cheese

Pinch of Cayenne Pepper

 

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.

Stir in the flour and cook, stir constantly, until the paste begins to bubble a bit – about 2 minutes.  Be careful not to let it brown.

Add in the hot milk and continue to stir, bringing the sauce to a boil.

Add the cheese, cayenne pepper as well as season with salt and pepper to taste.  Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in your choice of pasta, I prefer elbow noodles for my Mac & Cheese.

Adapted from Epicurious.

 

 

Pasta with Mozzarella, Roasted Tomatoes & Eggplant

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So every woman probably makes the same promise to herself, her friends, her husband, her co-workers and probably anyone who will listen . . . “Just because I have a kid doesn’t mean anything has to change.”  I really did truly believe this and myself when I kept on repeating it over and over again.

Even after our son arrived, I kept thinking . . . “I can be my old self.”  I think it was probably my first week back at work as I sat pumping in a chair in a handicap bathroom stall, the smell of someone else’s morning bowel movement overwhelming me, that I realized something definitely had changed and then the automatic sensor light went off and I was left sitting in the dark.

 

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It was definitely a low moment and not because I was sitting in the dark, in a bathroom that wreaked of sh*t with a medieval torture device attached to my boobs but because the rest of the world hadn’t changed but, despite my insistence, I had.

Not only had I changed, I had turned into that woman I swore I would not.  I was so that mom, the one who showed off pictures of her son at work meetings, talked about the cutest things that he did despite the clear signs that the other person in the conversation had no interest, and could happily spend an hour discussing feeding and sleep schedules.  The worst part of all of this, is that secretly I love being that mom but hated that my old self got lost somewhere along the way.

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So last weekend when the hubby skipped town to attend a wedding on the east coast, I found myself both excited and terrified to be alone with my 13 month old for 3 days.  I feared that I would be left exhausted and a shell of myself, trading everything that I might want or need out of a weekend for everything that my son needed.

In the end, it turned out to be one of my best weekends yet because I finally learned the art of balance.  It also might help that my love for food is rubbing off on the kid.  We had breakfast at a French bakery, hit up a local farmer’s market and lastly, cooked this delicious dinner together (ok we might have also squeezed in several hours of playground time and a birthday party).  By the way, I use the word “together” very loosely in that my son patiently watched while I prepped all the food and let me take breaks from play time to tend to it.

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The best part was sitting down to dinner, just the two of us, and watching the look on his face as he devoured his dinner.  And then it hit me, my son might require a lot of love and attention but what he really needs most is a happy mom.

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Pasta with Fresh Mozzarella, Roasted Tomato and Eggplant

Serves 2 to 3

1/2 lb of Penne pasta

1/2 of a large ball of fresh mozzarella (I think 4oz), diced

1 pint of cherry tomatoes, whole unless larger than a quarter than cut in half

1/2 of a medium eggplant, peeled and diced

6 to 7 fresh basil leaves, cut into strips

olive oil

salt

pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Place eggplant on a plate and salt, leaving for at least 10 minutes (but ideally 30 minutes).

Place washed and dried cherry tomatoes in a medium bowl with 1 to 2 tbsp of olive oil (enough to coat), fresh basil leaves, salt and pepper.  Let sit aside marinating.

Toss eggplant with 1 tbsp of olive oil and place on a roasting pan. Cook for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Place marinated tomatoes on a roasting pan and roast in oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile cook pasta according to directions.  Drain cooked pasta, reserving 1/2 a cup of pasta water.

Place diced mozzarella in the bottom of a pasta bowl, cover with pasta, roasted eggplant and cherry tomatoes.  Pour about 2 tbsp of pasta water over top, just enough to moisten pasta.  Sprinkle with a little gray salt and serve.

I like to mix up my pasta when I start eating so that the melting mozzarella at the bottom is incorporated into the dish.

Improving on Perfection

So yes I am totally one of those people who when someone says “don’t touch that,” all I want to do is touch it! I probably had no interest in touching whatever it was before, but once you tell me I can’t do something I all of sudden get this sudden urge to want to do it.

Now that I am pseudo grown-up I am pretty good at controlling that urge but when I was a kid it got me into loads of trouble. Like when one of my sleep away camp bunk mates told me not to make another “peep” or she would get out of bed and slap me. What did I do . . . I said “peep” and what happened? I got slapped. Then we both spent the following evening in our bunk while our bunk mates attended whatever evening activity was going on that night. Lesson learned? Sort of.

I absolutely love Alice Water’s simplistic approach to cooking, in fact, I admire it. So when I made her spaghetti with summer squash and walnuts I was so good about not mucking around with it, but it was honestly killing me. Since then that dish has become a household staple but tweaked in many, many different ways. So as the end of summer draws near and my endless supply of summer squash and heirloom cherry tomatoes disappears I thought I would share with you all, my summer staple pasta recipe.

Not only is it absolutely delish it is probably one of the easiest dishes I cook in my kitchen and is also totally simple to switch up.

Summer Pasta (a what i made for dinner original)

serves 2

1/3 to 1/2 lb of pasta of  your choice – I generally use penne or linguini

3 smallish summer squash (you can pick any combo you like paddy pan, crook neck, zucchini, etc)

2/3 lb of deveined, peeled shrimp (I used the easy to peel in the picture because they were on sale)

Salt

Pepper

2/3 to 1 cup of cherry tomatoes (I am obsessed with the heirlooms this year) – optional

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Basil (optional)

Goat cheese (optional)

1/4 cup Toasted walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

Now depending on cooking times you will have to time this as best you can so everything is done at the same time. I am trying to use whole wheat pasta which usually takes close to 20 minutes but check the cooking times on your pasta.

Slice the summer squash into quarter-inch thick pieces and place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 20 minutes. If you want them a little spicier I sometimes add some red pepper flakes.

Meanwhile cook pasta according to directions, drain and reserve some pasta water.

Alright so here is how you can switch it up:

  • If you want to add some shrimp place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can always use red pepper flakes here too if you want to spice it up. Place in the oven and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. You know the shrimp is done when it curls up and turns pink. Be careful not to over cook or you will end up with rubbery shrimp.
  • If you want to add some tomatoes wash and dry cherry tomatoes. Leave them whole and place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and cook from about 10 minutes.
  • If you want a crunch add some toasted walnuts. Simply put the walnuts on a cookie sheet and toast for 5 minutes until lightly browned.

Plate pasta in bowls. If you would like a creamier-style pasta add several decent size crumbles of goat cheese. I like to put them in the bowl before the pasta so the heat of the pasta melts the cheese. Then add any combo of squash, shrimp, tomatoes and / or walnuts. Pour a little reserved pasta water just to add a touch of moisture to the dish, drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and add the basil if you have it on hand. Toss and enjoy!

Some of my favorite combinations:

  • Summer squash, shrimp, red pepper flakes and basil
  • Tomatoes, shrimp, red pepper flakes
  • Both of the above are great with our without goat cheese
  • Summer squash, tomatoes and toasted almonds

Enjoy with a great glass of Chardonnay or Soave

Bolognese

Somehow California missed the memo this year that the official start to winter was almost a month ago. Rather than be socked in with rain and debating whether to wear my rain coat and freeze or my winter coat and be drenched, I have seen nothing but blue bird skies and 60 degrees temperatures making the debate do I wear a coat today or not.

While it is definitely making me tired of my fall wardrobe, bummed that I bought a ski pass this year, and worried for what this means about the general well-being of our planet, I am not complaining one bit. Especially when it means that the tan from my winter beach vacation lasts beyond my first week back.

I think most of Hollywood would share in my same sentiments. They were all looking very tan last night at the Golden Globes. My sister texted that they had really overdone the bronzer / spray tans this year but I have a sneaking suspicion that the golden hue was actually natural.

So in honor of it being officially winter but not really winter in SF I wanted to make the most wintery dish I knew – Bolognese. Shockingly I have never made Bolognese and for some reason it just sounded so delicious, and homey, and wintery. I guess I must be craving the season on some small-scale.

I sifted through the cookbooks and landed on a recipe for Tuscan Meat and Tomato Ragu from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia’s Italty. Not only did it feel totally authentic with a mix of pork, veal and sausage but it seemed pretty straightforward and easy to make.


I was a little nervous when the sauce first came together – it seemed pretty watery and not at all tomato based. But as it sat simmering for close to 3 hours the flavors really blended together and the sauce thickened up perfectly. Just as I hoped it was totally delish (although I will admit it does not make the best food pics).

Tuscan Meat and Tomato Ragu

Makes 9 cups

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms

1 medium onion, in chunks (1 cup or more)

2 celery ribs, in chunks (about 2 cups)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb ground veal

1 lb ground pork

1 lb sweet Italian sausage, removed from the casing and crumbled

1 tsp salt, or to taste

2 cups of red wine (I used a Dynamite Vineyard Merlot)

28oz can of San Marzano canned plum tomatoes crushed by hand

Meat, poultry, or vegetable stock, or water, as needed

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Soak the dried porcini in a cup or so of hot water for at least 1/2 hour.

Using the food processor, puree the onion and celery to a paste. Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium-high heat, scrape in the paste, and stir it for 3 or 4 minutes as it steams and starts to caramelize.

Add all the meats to the pan, raise the heat, and continuously turn and loosen the chopped meat as it sears and browns. Sprinkle 2 tsps salt over the meat, and keep tossing and breaking up any lumps, until all the meat is colored and has started to release moisture. Cook, frequently stirring, to evaporate the wine. Meanwhile, lift the reconstituted porcini pieces from the soaking water, squeeze them dry, and chop into bits. Stir the porcini into the sizzling meats. When the wine has almost evaporated, pour in the porcini water (but not the sediment), stir, and cook until it too has disappeared into the meat.

Pour the tomatoes into the pan, slosh the container with 2 cups of water, and stir that in. Cook, covered, until the tomato juices are bubbling, than lower the heat and simmer the sauce, partially covered for 2 to 3 hours – the longer it perks the better! As the sauce reduces, add stock or water as needed to keep the meat covered by liquid. (I didn’t find that I needed any.)

Taste, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Use right away or – for best flavor – let the sauce sit for a couple of hours or up to 2 days (refrigerated). Loosen sauce with water or stock, if necessary, when reheating.

Fusilli with Kale and Sausage

I’m back!  So sorry for the radio silence. I had such high hopes for Thanksgiving week – I had a whole slew of posts lined up -from our trial friendsgiving to the real Thanksgiving feast prepared in my favorite kitchen with my favorite cook! But alas life happened.

Just because I wasn’t writing didn’t mean that there was not magic (or debacles) happening in our kitchen. I thought for my first post back I would start with what is now a staple winter dish in our house.

A few summers ago the hubby and I subscribed to a CSA box. Every Friday the contents of our box would be posted online and we would plan out our weekly meals based on its contents. It was so much fun to have fresh squash, tomatoes, strawberries, and other delicious fresh vegetables delivered to right to our door. As fall approached we noticed the contents of the box becoming a bit more routine and by our first winter I was up to my eyes in kale, chard and cabbage. None of which I had ever cooked before.

I was at a loss – what to do with all these leafy vegetables? My cookbooks were of little help and I was forced to make the same recipes over and over again. I mean how many times can you eat stewed chard with tomatoes and garlic or buttered cabbage? But what was really just throwing me was the kale. I couldn’t really find any recipes and the ones I did find were pretty awful. That is until I had dinner at a my friend’s house and she made the most delicious kale recipe I had ever had.

How do you get kale to taste AMAZING? Serve it with sautéed sausage, onions and pasta. It might not be the healthiest way to eat kale but I have to say it is probably one of the yummiest. I was so excited about my new discovery that I think I cooked up the same recipe for my hubby later on that week. Since then it has become our winter pasta staple. Not only because it is delicious but also because it is a pretty easy recipe to make. Alice Waters you truly are a genius.

Fusilli with Kale and Sausage (adapted from The Art of Simple Food)

Serves 2

1/2 large bunch of kale

1/4 lb Italian sausage, casing removed

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 large onion, sliced thin

salt

Fresh-ground black pepper

A pinch of dried chile flakes

1/2 lb fusilli

extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Trim and wash the kale. Chop coarse and cook until tender in salted boiling water. Drain well, saving the cooking water to cook the pasta in.

Form the sausage into small balls. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the sausage and cook over medium heat until browned and cooked, through about 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove the sausage and add the onions to the pan. Saute, tossing now adn then, over medium-high heat until the onions soften and caramelize a bit. Season with salt, pepper, and chile flakes.

Add the cooked greens and sausage and cook or a few minutes, tossing and stirring. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil a

Linguine with Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts

Ok on the surface this dish does sound a little weird. I mean brussel sprouts and cauliflower in one dish? It’s a kid’s worst nightmare! But as I sat on our flight home from Shanghai, doing everything possible to keep myself awake and reduce my jet lag, I found the recipe in Food & Wine and knew it would be one of the first things I cooked when I finally got back to my kitchen. I am not sure if it had something to do with incorporating actual fresh, seasonal vegetables, its lack of mystery meat, or that it just looked so much more appealing than the plate of airplane food in front of me but I was sold. Yes reading Food & Wine magazine while eating airplane food is probably up there with one of the worst things you could do to yourself but like I said I was desperate.

Just as I dreamt on that long flight home, the dish was absolutely delicious! For me living in California, it is the perfect fall dish. The days here have been super warm and sunny but the nights cool and fall like. What could be more perfect for this weather than a light pasta dish that incorporates fall vegetables? In my mind, not much.

I had never made a recipe from Food & Wine before so I was a little nervous about the task that lay ahead. Plus, despite my amazing no jet-lag strategy, I had a pretty bad case of it. I prepped all the ingredients ahead of time and started the cooking. I might have forgotten to add the red pepper flakes while my veggies were cooking (damn jet lag) but a little red pepper flakes while plating and this dish was near perfection. It is a total make again and was a great welcome home dish for me and the hubby.

See the recipe adapted below so you can enjoy it at home too! I hear there is some seriously crazy fall, or should I say winter weather, hitting my fam on the east coast right now! Stay warm.

Linguine with Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts (adapted from Food & Wine Magazine November 2011)

Serves 2 (I halved the original recipe)

6 oz of linguine (F&W recommends bucatini or perciatelli neither of which I could find in SF)

1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 lb of cauliflower florets, cut in 1-inch pieces

1/4 lb of brussel sprouts, halved or quartered if larger

salt & freshly ground pepper

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

1 large clove of garlic, thinly sliced

2 plump oil-packed anchovies, minced

1/4 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp chopped rosemary

1/2 tsp chopped thyme

1/4 cup dry bread crumbs (I used my home-made ones and highly recommend)

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the past until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp of the oil. Add the cauliflower and brussel sprouts and season with salt and pepper; cover and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly charred and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add 2 tbsp of oil to the skillet along with the onion, garlic, anchovies, crushed red pepper, rosemary and thyme; cook, stirring, until the onion is slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Cover and cook over low heat until the cauliflower and sprouts are tender, about 3 minutes. Keep warm.

In a small skillet, heat the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add the bread crumbs and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until golden and crisp, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and transfer to a bowl.

Add the pasta and reserved cooking water to the vegetables and cook over moderate heat, tossing, until the water is nearly absorbed. Remove from the heat and stir in the 1/4 cup of grated cheese (I eyeballed this). Serve the pasta in wide bowls, passing the bread crumbs and additional cheese at the table.