Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “cheese”

Presto Pesto!

I hate myself for writing that title. Yet I can’t bring myself to delete it. Such is life…

Anyway…I’ve wanted to make my own homemade pesto for some time now. I’ve been waiting until I had access to a food processor (which I do not own), until I realized that I could probably attempt this in my bullet blender. And while the final product isn’t perfect–there are some chunks and unground nuts here and there–it’s still pretty darn good!

The other key component for homemade pesto was, obviously, basil. It’s hard to get my hands on fresh basil for some reason. They don’t sell it in regular bunches at the grocery store like they do parsley, cilantro and mint. It comes either as a big bunch with roots on the end in a package, which says to me that I’m meant to replant this. And since I have the gardening skills of a doorknob, I’ve always steered clear.

But recently I discovered a much more user-friendly version: already potted basil! Yup, I just have to take it out of the package, plop it in a larger pot or on a dish (something to catch the dirt and water) and water it from time to time. And then tada! A never-ending supply of homegrown basil.

I bought this wonderful creation yesterday, though it’s still sitting on my kitchen table because I’ve yet to transfer it to the big pot in my front yard.

Well, now that my major two pieces of this puzzle came together, it seemed like there was nothing left to do but make pesto!

This is a pretty traditional pesto, but not completely authentic. For one thing: I added parsley in with the basil to add a fresh, crisp brightness. There are also no pine nuts. (SAY WHAT?) Really. Pine nuts are expensive, and I’ve never exactly sat down with a bowl of pine nuts for a snack, so they’d really become quite a one-trick pony. So I substituted nuts I had sitting in my pantry: almonds. That’s the great thing about a sauce like pesto–you can tweak and customize to your tastes, dietary needs or pantry supplies!

Also, like this is a surprise, I didn’t measure. I grabbed things and tossed them into the blender cup. And it was tasty. It was different each time too, but that’s the beauty of experimenting. Make this to your tastes.

Basil-parsley pesto

Several large handfuls of whole, fresh basil leaves
Small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Large handful of grated Parmesan cheese
1 small garlic clove, peeled but whole
Handful of slivered or whole almonds (I had slivered on hand so I used them to cut down on the chopping once in the blender)
Generous pour of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Add everything to the cup of a bullet blender or jar of a regular blender. If using a food processor, add everything but the oil. Blend well, shaking and scraping down the sides as needed, until well incorporated and evenly chopped or puree to smooth, depending on personal preference.
-Add more oil as needed, or, if using a food processor, drizzle in oil and the dry ingredients mix. Continue to blend to desired consistency. Finish with salt and pepper.

*(Just a note if you’re using a bullet blender like I did–I used the flat chopping blade, not the regular blade that sticks up. I use that one to puree and make smoothies.)

I made my pesto pretty thick, almost paste-like, to be more versatile. I can add olive oil to it to thin it out for use as a sauce or keep it thick to use as a sandwich spread.

So what did I make first with my homemade pesto? Pasta pesto, of course!

Cook pasta (I had elbow macaroni on hand), mix with olive oil and pesto, top with more grated Parmesan and enjoy!

And for lunch the next day, I mixed a tablespoon or so of pesto into plain hummus to make pesto hummus! I used store-bought Sabra hummus, but this would be even better with homemade!

Yesterday, I made a bigger batch of pesto and used it to make a pesto pasta salad for my Memorial Day picnic! But more on that tomorrow…

Has anyone made their own pesto before? Do you go for the traditional recipe, or do you add your own tricks and tweaks? I’m seriously contemplating a cilantro pesto, since I have a cilantro obsession. What’s your favorite spin on pesto?

Advertisements

Cinco de Mayo-style Steak Fajita Bowls and Homemade Guacamole! (UPDATED)

I said I would post this recipe later in the week, and I wasn’t just holding out–I was waiting to make it perfectly opportune for Cinco de Mayo!  If you’re not doing a big Cinco party, that’s no problem; you can still have a fun, Mexican-themed dinner at home!

I’m talking about yummy (and healthy!) steak fajita bowls with homemade guacamole!  To put these bowls together, you’ll need to start with the following:

Steak Fajita Bowls

1-2 cups Rice (I used brown basmati rice, and it’s great stuff! I’m falling in love with bulk bins.) Use as much as you need for the number of people you have–for 2 people, about a cup of dry rice should be good.  You can also use instant rice.
1 sweet bell pepper (any color, but orange was the pick of the day)
Half a red onion
1-2 cloves fresh garlic
2 small skirt steaks
Steak marinade (Now, you can of course make your own marinade, but, in all honesty, I took a shortcut and used a bottled fajita marinade from Wegmans. I did get one with pretty few ingredients, though–the fewer, the better.)
Salsa (Also purchased this, but not jarred–I got a fresh medium-heat salsa from Wegman’s salsa bar)
Manchego cheese, shredded*
1-2 fresh limes
Jalapenos (optional) (I did not use, Kevin did)
Fresh cilantro (optional) I didn’t use any this time, which is a shock for anyone who knows me and my borderline-obsession with cilantro. I’d recommend it.
Homemade guacamole (recipe below)

*Manchego cheese is a firm Spanish sheep’s milk cheese. It’s nutty and one of my all-time favorites.  However, it can be expensive. So, if you want a similar flavor, you can pick up some fresh Pecorino or, for something different but still fitting, you can get any good Mexican-style cheese, like Monterey jack, cheddar or pepper jack if you like a kick.

First things first, get the steaks marinating. I like to out the steaks in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with the marinade. Seal the bag and mix it around so the meat is evenly covered in the marinade. Place the bag in a dish or other container and put it in the fridge to marinate while you do everything else.

Next, get water boiling for the rice.  Start with a one-to-one ratio of water to rice–watch it as it cooks, you may have to add more water as it goes.

Meanwhile, slice the pepper and half the onion and mince the garlic. Set aside a bit of the onion (about a teaspoon or two) and dice. Once the water boils, add the diced onion and about a teaspoon or less of the garlic. Add the rice and let it cook approximately 30 minutes.  (This varies depending on the type of rice you use–if it has a package, follow package directions.)  Add juice of half a lime into rice and water as it cooks.

While the rice is cooking, prep your cook surface for the steak–I used my George Foreman since my outdoor grill’s not up and running yet. You can cook the steak however you’d like–grill, pan, oven, broil. Just make sure you get the cooktop (or oven) nice and preheated. If using a grill (indoor or out), preheat to about a medium heat.

Go ahead and prepare the guacamole ahead of time (recipe below).

**Make sure you’re checking on the rice! Once it’s cooked through, fluff with a fork and add more lime juice, stir it in. If using cilantro, chop and add a handful into the cooked rice and stir through.

Now it’s time to get that steak on the grill! Take the steak out of the bag, and place on the grill or cooktop. Grill the steak on medium heat for about 3-5 minutes per side (depending on the level of doneness you like.) If using a George Foreman, grill about 5-7 minutes total. Remove from heat and put steaks on a plate. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Once rested, slice steak into bite-sized strips.

Get a frying or sautee pan hot on the stove with a little bit of oil. Add the peppers, onions and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Sweat the vegetables in the oil until just tender-crisp. Add some lime juice and sautee with the vegetables. Once they’re tender-crisp, remove from heat.

Now, time to assemble! Start by putting a scoop or two of rice in a bowl. Top with veggies and steak, then add all the fixins’: salsa, guacamole and jalapenos. Shred Manchego cheese over the top and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Delicioso! Now this is a fiesta!

Homemade Guacamole

I have a few secrets about my guacamole that I will share with you. First off, I use dried spices in my guac–dried garlic and dried onion. I find that the fresh, raw garlic and onion flavor is too strong and offputting in the guacamole and kind of overwhelms everything else. Using those ingredients dried still gives the flavor without being overbearing.

Instead of adding freshly diced tomatoes and other various seasonings, I add a tablespoon or two of prepared salsa (whichever I’m using in my dish.) This way, you get tomato, onion, cilantro jalapenos and whatever other flavors are in the salsa. Using a nice chunky, fresh salsa is best. Sometimes, when using jarred salsas, the flavor is there, but the salsa is very thick and red, and the two colors (red and green) mix to create a sometimes-offputting brownish hue.

Also, I use one spice that seems a little unexpected in a guacamole–just a pinch of lemon pepper. You don’t have to use it, but I love the flavor it adds.

Anyway, you’ll need:

1/2 a fresh avocado (a full avocado if making this for a crowd)
1-2 tbsp prepared salsa
Juice of 1/4 to 1/2 of a lime
Dried garlic
Dried onion powder or dried diced onion
Pinch of lemon pepper seasoning
1-2 tsp Chopped cilantro

To halve an avocado, take a large knife and cut along the middle of the avocado, along the outside. Avocados have a huge pit in the middle, so you have to cut around it. Twist the two halves to separate. Hit the knife into the pit with a bit of force and twist to remove. Scoop the avocado flesh out of the skin and mash with a fork. Add lime juice to soften and keep from oxidizing (turning brown.) Once mashed, add salsa and continue to mix/mash to get the desired consistency. Add spices and mix, tasting as you go. Add any salt and pepper and adjust spices if necessary. Mix in chopped cilantro, add a bit more lime juice and serve.

*To store leftover guacamole or avocado, sprinkle some diced red onion over the top, seal in a bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge. The onion helps prevent oxidation and keeps the avocado fresh and green! When you’re ready to serve again, either brush off the onion or mix it into your guac.*

This makes a fun, healthy and oh-so-tasty dinner any night of the week, but it’s especially fun for a Mexican-inspired Cinco de Mayo meal. If you’re really feeling the Cinco spirit, go check out my post on fun margaritas to pair with your meal. Or just pair it with a citrusy, summery beer like I did!

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Making something out of nothing

I mentioned last week that I’ve been sustaining myself on frozen food and Kind bars because I was too busy to cook, let alone go grocery shopping. Well, the other night I still had not gone grocery shopping, but I was hungry and I wanted to cook something resembling real food. So I raided my freezer and my pantry to pull together whatever I could find, and the results were not half bad. (Pretty tasty, actually!)

What I found:

A box of elbow macaroni
A bag of frozen spinach
Frozen green beans
Frozen ham steaks
Italian cheese/pizza cheese blend
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh garlic
Fresh ground pepper
Red pepper flakes

My mom ended up coming home early, so in addition to my regular pasta, I boiled up some brown rice pasta for her (she has Celiac disease, so she has a gluten intolerance.)

First, get some water boiling with a bit of olive oil in it. While the water boiled, I thawed out the ham. It’s even better if you have non-frozen ham.
Cube the ham (I used one large ham steak) and sautee in a pan. Add frozen green beans to the pan and let it all cook together.
Once the water boils, toss in as much pasta as you’d like, let cook to a nice al dente and drain.
Thaw or steam the spinach and drain to get rid of the excess water (there will be a lot.) Add to the pan with the ham and green beans.
Mince one small clove of garlic and add to the pan. Add plenty of fresh ground pepper and a small palmful of crushed red pepper flakes to add just a bit of heat.
Once the spinach cooks down, add some olive oil to the pan–just a drizzle.
Put pasta into bowls, followed by the ham and spinach mixture. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil (mine’s closer to a pour than a drizzle) and top with the cheese. Heat in the microwave for a few seconds to melt the cheese, if necessary.

Finished product

Finished prodcut 3

Finished product 2

And the best part--leftovers! Made a great lunch at work the next day.

Eataly: An Italian Food Mecca

Eataly NYC inside banner sign

First off, I want to apologize for the long wait between posts. I wrote this whole post, and then WordPress lost it, and it took a few days to get it all back together. Moving on…

Earlier this week, my boyfriend Kevin and I went to New York City and to the most glorious home of Italian food: Eataly NY. Eataly is not just a market and not just a restaurant; it is a combination of market, cooking school and 12 different eateries. The collaborative project of Oscar Farinetti, Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich, Eataly NY at 200 Fifth Ave. at 23rd St.  is the only U.S. location of the culinary collective. Before New York City, Eataly opened seven locations in Italy and six in Japan.

Now, Eataly is not for the light of heart. This is not your average, run-of-the-mill market. It’s massive, and encompasses everything from fresh exotic produces and full butcher counters to beer, wine and caviar. It has aisles upon aisles devoted to olive oils and pestos and balsamic vinegars behind lock and key. Shelves of spices from all over the world line the walls, surrounding bakery counters, fresh and dried pastas, and, of course, all those restaurants.

Shelves of spices from all over the world lined the aisles

Red, pink and black salts. Yes, a shelf just for salts, and there wasn't just one.

Our dinner: Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto san Danielle, Mortadella, Prosciutto Cotto, Speck and Salami with Ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, Cacio Marzolino, Taleggic and Gorgonzola. Condiment plate of honey, figs and candied citrus peel.

Yes, those restaurants. The various small eateries are interspersed throughout the space, each with its own niche of Italian cuisine. We stopped at La Piazza, a stand-up eatery right in the middle of the action. Literally, you stand at small, counter-like tables. The menu at La Piazza is antipasto-style, with mostly Italian meats and cheeses as well as selections of Italian wine and beer. As first-timers, we jumped right in with a meat and cheese sampler plate and a mozzarella classico with fresh basil.To complement, I had a lovely, medium-bodied glass Barbera d’ Albi and Kevin had an Italian golden ale.

While we were both familiar with the traditional cured prosciuttos, the prosciutto cotto, or uncured prosciutto, was new to us. While it wasn’t awful, it wasn’t necessarily something I’d return for. It seemed a bit reminiscent of deli ham, nothing special. I think I’ll keep taking my prosciutto cured.

The speck was the pleasant surprise of the night, though. Prosciutto is often compared to Spanish Serrano ham, though I think the speck is even more similar in flavor to the Serrano, but with a buttery, soft, melt-in-your mouth texture. It was like an elevated prosciutto.

For the most part, we both loved everything on the meat plate, except the mortadella. (I’ve never been a fan of mortadella–it reminds me of boiled ham.) Otherwise, an exciting culinary journey.

The cheeses were just as exciting. Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta and Gorgonzola were familiar, but I was new to the Cacio and Taleggic. I’m a big fan of the first three, particularly Gorgonzola, which paired deliciously with the figs and candied citrus peels from the condiment plate. The Taleggic, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, reminded me of a milder Brie. I enjoy Brie, but I generally find the rind too bitter and pungent, and too much can be overpowering. With the Taleggic, I ate it rind and all, and found the milder flavor welcoming. This too, like Brie, paired quite well with the sweet accoutrements. The Cacio Marzolino, a sheep’s milk cheese, had a nutty flavor, slightly reminiscent of a softer Parmesan. However, it was my least favorite of the cheeses and the only one we left unfinished.

The other part of dinner: Mozzarella Classico with basil

We are both longtime fans of mozzarella, so naturally, we enjoyed the classico thoroughly. Sometimes, I’m very easy to please: the freshest, most delicious mozzarella and fresh, snappy basil make me a very happy person. Add a glass of red wine (check) and I’m perfect.

My initial hope was that we would hop around from eatery to eatery, sampling some of the best Italy has to offer, but we filled up too much on meat, cheese, wine and beer. But, of course, we did leave room for dessert. Eataly houses all of its sweets, espressos and cheeses together, and we wasted no time exploring what may have been my favorite part of the store. In addition to freshly ground espresso, marscapone cheese and fruit preserves were several counters of delectable pastries, colorful chocolates and creamy gelato.

Kevin's dessert: Italian hot chocolate and tiramisu

Kevin got his favorite–tiramisu–and a rich Italian hot chocolate. But, this is no Swiss Miss. It is thick, rich and velvety, more like melted chocolate with a touch of milk than chocolate-flavored milk. The ever-so-slight bitterness of the dark chocolate prevented the hot chocolate from becoming overwhelmingly sweet.

My Lemon Baba (Limoncello-soaked cake filled with pastry cream, topped with a candied orange peel and raspberry)

As much of a chocolate-lover as I am, I was seeking something sweet and fruity to complement the meat and cheese I ate. I had a Lemon Baba, an Italian cake soaked in Limoncello, filled with pastry cream and topped off with a candied citrus peel and raspberry. (More of that citrus peel! I really did love them.) It was sweet and tangy, light and fruity, and the perfect way to finish off the meal. The tangy acidity cut through the richness of the meat and cheese. And of course, what better way to finish off the day then with a perfect, authentic Italian cappuccino? It brought me back to my days in Spain sipping cafe con leches on my way to class. (For those that don’t know, I studied in Valencia, Spain for six months. And, boy, did they know how to make a good cafe con leche. Even McDonald’s there had good coffee. But I digress.) Fewer things in the world make me happier than a great cup of coffee (even fresh mozzarella and good red wine.)

With our stomachs filled and our taste buds satisfied, we returned to our browsing. It’s pretty much impossible to walk out of a place like this empty-handed, but since we did have a whole train ride back to New Jersey to deal with, we limited ourselves to one loaf of bread each. We each went for a soft and crusty rustic bread, Kevin an Italian rye and me a raisin. I still have about half the loaf left. The tangy sourdough flavor and the sweet raisins have made for some delicious breakfasts.

One of the walls of the wine shop

In addition to the main space, there is also an entire separate wine shop next door. I went to seek out a bottle of the Barbera d’Albi I drank with dinner, but sadly, they were out. Otherwise I would have had one more purchase to add to my list.

All in all, Eataly was a fantastic experience. But, I barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer, so I’ll just have to return. It’s produce-driven eatery, Le Verdure, tops my list of must-trys, as does its aplty-named La Pasta and La Pizza. Perhaps one of the most intriguing draws of Eataly is its rooftop restaurant, Birreria.

But one of the best things about Eataly is probably its mission: Eat Better, Cook Simpler. They work on the practice of cooking what they sell and selling what they cook, with a real focus in high-quality, natural ingredients. However, they don’t do it without a bit of cheekiness. Their “policy” states that 1. The customer is not always right. 2. Eataly is not always right. 3. Through our differences, we create harmony.Eat Better Cook Simpler banner

If you’re ever in New York City (or not, but want to–and should–be) and love all things Italian, head over to Fifth Ave. and immerse yourself in the culinary haven that is Eataly. I promise, you won’t be disappointed as it quite literally has something for everyone.

Oh, and if you do find yourself there, please, let me know what you thought of it, what you did, what you ate, etc.! I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences there.

A few more shots from the Eataly market:

Fresh octopus

Some of the priciest selections, champagne and caviar, behind a locked display case

A selection of focaccias at the bread counter

Butcher counter

Colorful chocolates in the dessert section

Post Navigation

In the kitchen with Kath

Old favorites...New discoveries. Fresh and easy!

Heike Herrling

...but it tasted good

Danny's Kitchen

Food that creatively inspires...

Chicken Soup for the Sole

Cooking with no one but a pan and a plan.

Kicked,Bitten, & Scratched

writings from the mind and heart of a veterinary technician

Bookery & Cookery

A catalogue of my literary and culinary pursuits and perusals.

...our traveling without moving!...

Not just another WordPress.com site!

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

Communications & Legal Studies

Keep me posted @ IC Library

Ink-Drained Kvetch

Journalism, media and work in the digital age

Ethical Martini

The home of media ethics and martinis

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.

%d bloggers like this: