Green Garlic Pesto

IMG_2431

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.

IMG_2432

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.

IMG_2433

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!

IMG_2434

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.

IMG_2430

Advertisements

Kale, Coconut & Tofu

IMG_1973

A few years ago, the hubby and I, on a whim, joined a CSA at a farmer’s market.  It was during the summer and the thought of getting farmer’s market fresh fruits and vegetables delivered to my apartment every week just made me giddy.  There is something intoxicating about being at a farmer’s market, walking from booth to booth checking out fresh produce, fruit, flowers, honey, home baked goods, etc.  It just sends me to a happy place.  If someone could box up that happiness, and have it waiting for me on my doorstep weekly when I got home from work, I was in.

When the shipments started showing up, I loved getting my weekly fix of fragrant basil, fresh picked peaches, juicy tomatoes and whatever else happened to be in season.  But as the air grew cooler, so did the variety in my CSA box, until weekly I came home to a box full of kale, chard and cabbage.

IMG_1958

IMG_1962

Before moving out to the west coast, I think I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I had had kale or chard.  I probably could not have told you the difference between them, let alone how to cook them.  I also had no idea what to cook with cabbage, aside from cole slaw or stuffed cabbage, and to be honest, still have no idea, but that is another post.

The hubby threw down an ultimatum, it was either let the CSA box go or start getting creative in the kitchen. He could not deal with another week of rotting leafy green vegetables in the refridgerator, and to be honest, neither could I.  Remembering those first summer shipments, and daydreaming about what those spring boxes could bring, I decided it was time to get creative.  It was then that I discovered our go-to household dinner – kale, coconut and tofu.

IMG_1965

IMG_1966

This recipe literally kept my husband and I fed weekly during the early months of parenthood.  I have made it so many times that it is now memorized and perfected.  Not only is it super easy to make but it is beyond delicious.

We have long given up the CSA boxes but I still find myself buying kale at the market every other week so the hubby and I can get our Kale, Coconut and Tofu dinner fix.

IMG_1970

IMG_1971

Kale, Coconut and Tofu

Serves 2

2 cups of cooked brown rice (I use the frozen rice for Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s)

1 bunch of kale

1/2 cup of shredded unsweetened coconut

8oz of extra firm tofu, drained, dried and cut into 1 inch cubes

1/3 cup of olive oil

2 tbsp of soy sauce

1 tsp of toasted sesame oil

Preheat oven to 350 and place the racks in the top and bottom 1/3 of the oven.

Rinse and dry the kale.  Remove the kale leaves from the stems and tear into 2 to 3 inch pieces (like you would for making kale chips).  Place in a large bowl.  Add the coconut and tofu.

In a separate smaller bowl whisk together the olive oil, soy sauce and toasted sesame oil.

Pour 2/3 of the olive oil mixture over the kale, coconut and tofu and toss.  Set the remaining 1/3 of the olive oil mixture aside.

Spread the kale, coconut and tofu mixture across two cookie sheets and place in the oven for 20 minutes, making sure to rotate the cookie sheets and mix the ingredients half way through.  (I also switch which rack the sheets are on due to heating differentials in my oven.)

When finished cooking, the tofu should be browned and the kale leaves crispy (depending on your oven it might be longer or shorter).  Remove the kale, coconut and tofu from the cookie sheets and place back in the large mixing bowl, toss with the remaining olive oil mixture and serve immediately in individual bowls over a cup of brown rice.

Adapted from Food and Wine magazine’s Kale, Coconut & Tofu

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.

IMG_1890

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

IMG_1803

 

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.

 

IMG_1800

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.

IMG_1801

 

IMG_1802

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.

IMG_1805

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.

IMG_1804

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

Fall Minestrone with Kale and Butternut Squash

Winter is definitely a week away. In fact I might argue that winter showed up in San Francisco early. As the hubby and I strolled through Hayes Valley yesterday killing time between brunch and the ballet I asked “When did this neighborhood become so New York City?”

I am not sure if the hipster residents of Hayes Valley would love that I compared their neighborhood to NYC but I am not sure if it was more the neighborhood or the weather. Overcast gray skies, chilly air, and fallen leaves reminded me so much of home. It even reminded my hubby of my home.

To make my new (I use the term very loosely) home feel a bit more like my old home I’ve started searching for recipes that warm your bones and make your apartment (or house) smell like a delicious home cooked meal. When I stumbled on a recipe for minestrone with kale and butternut squash I simply had to try it. Plus I needed to find a use for that butternut squash sitting on my counter.

One of my favorite soups as a kid was minestrone. The brand of choice was Progresso. But Progresso has nothing on this delicious soup. I have to admit I was a bit daunted by the task – cooking beans from scratch and so much chopping but when I really broke it down it wasn’t so bad! Yes cooking beans from scratch does take a bit of planning ahead and chopping is probably one of my least favorite activities, but get yourself a food processor and you are good to go!

Not only was the soup beyond delish, it also made my apartment smell like a home. There was nothing better than curling up on my couch with my hubby, a blanket and a bowl of yummy soup. Despite the work that went into this, I will definitely make it again. In fact, I might use the other butternut squash sitting on my counter to make another batch.

Fall Minestrone with Kale and Butternut Squash (adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food) 

1 cup dried cannellini beans (see instructions below to prepare)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 celery stalks finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp chopped rosemary

1 tsp chopped sage

2 tsps of salt

1 bunch of kale, stemmed, washed, and chopped

1 15oz can of diced tomatoes, drained

3 cups of water

1 small leek, diced

1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 2 cups)

1 cup bean cooking liquid

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, and celery and cook to a rich golden brown.

Add garlic, rosemary, sage, salt, kale, and tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes.

Add water and bring to a boil.

Add the leeks and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the squash and continue to cook until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the cooked beans and bean liquid. Cook for 5 minutes. If the soup is too thick add more bean cooking liquid.

Serve in bowls with olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese.

Soaking and Cooking Beans

1 cup of dried cannellini beans

Soak the cannellini beans over night in water, ensure that there is three times as much water as there are beans. Drain after soaking and use fresh water for cooking them.

In a wide non-reactive pot (I used my le creuset) add the beans and enough water so that they are covered by more than an inch. Bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat and skim off any foam. Simmer gently for 1 hour or so. Test the beans by biting into one to ensure that they are cooked.

When done let them cool in the water before draining so as not to crack the skin. Make sure to save some of the water.

Pasta with Broccoli Two Ways

I am not sure when it happened but somehow broccoli became one of my favorite vegetables. It just tastes so good regardless of how you cook it. It absorbs all the delicious sauce in a stir fry. It gets an amazing flavor when you roast it in the oven. It even tastes delicious when you saute it with some olive oil, garlic and a little red pepper flakes.

In all the times that I have cooked broccoli (and trust me I have cooked it a ton) I have never used the stems or even thought of using the stems. I mean maybe when I was cooking broccolini or broccoli rabe did I use the stems, but never when cooking their big brother.

So when I stumbled on the pasta and broccoli recipe in my Cooking 1 2 3 by Rozanne Gold (highly recommend this one!) that used the ENTIRE broccoli I had to try it. The gist of the book – every recipe uses only 3 ingredients (salt and pepper do not count). It’s pretty amazing. I generally reserve the book for fish or meat recipes and was pretty excited when I discovered the pasta section.

First you take a large head of broccoli (or two small) and cut off the florets leaving each with about a 1/2 inch stem. Set the florets aside. Then use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin off the stem of the broccoli. Cut the stem into 1 inch pieces and place them in 1 and 1/2 cups of salted water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium cover and cook for 25 minutes. The stem pieces become soft and translucent.

Transfer the broccoli stems and water to a blender (or in my case a food processor) and puree. Then add 1/2 a stick of butter (or 4 tablespoons) cut into small pieces and blend with the broccoli puree, salt and pepper.  Transfer back to a clean saucepan and slowly reheat.

Meanwhile boil a pot of salted water to cook the pasta. When water is boiling add pasta and cook according to box directions. With 3 to 4 minutes left on the pasta add the broccoli florets to the water.

When finished cooking drain the pasta and broccoli and plate. Pour the sauce over and serve.

So I couldn’t resist and had to taste the sauce mid-cooking. I have to say I was a little nervous it was super salty but somehow when added with the pasta and broccoli everything balanced each other out. It was pretty delicious – basically it tasted like pasta with butter and broccoli (I mean isn’t that exactly what it was?). I will definitely think twice now before tossing those broccoli stems.