Archive | April, 2014

Passionate for Pesto

30 Apr

Our winter was cold, snowy, and the weather was, well, dreary.  Spring has sprung, and it was a bit of a whimper, not a big bold leaping launch.  Rats.  I love spring, but our spring this year has limped in. Not with tulips and daffodils, but with gray skies and cold rain.  I am not complaining, mind you, just missing the beauty and newness of spring this year.  But darn glad that it is finally here.

With gray skies above, imagine my excitement when I zipped down to the back yard for something and realized that my parsley was absolutely bursting out of the garden!  I instantly forgot my purpose for having gone to the back yard and leaned over my garden.  I blinked and blinked again.  Yes!  Not only was the parsley happily standing up to greet me, but so was the mint, the rosemary, and rocket arugula!  Yum!  I could not resist bending over, pinching off some leaves even though there was no imminent culinary purpose, and putting the herbs up to me face.  I breathed in, my head went back, and it was a moanable moment.

I try to have pots of herbs growing in my kitchen all year long (once in a while one of my foodie friends may sneak one out of my kitchen, so I have to keep more than one plant around!). My favorite thing to make with herbs is fresh pesto. It takes moments to prepare and can be used in many different ways.  Flexible foods are my favorite, and pesto is super flexible.  How flexible?

Pesto can be liberally poured over pasta making a delicious side dish. It can be brushed onto fish, adding beautiful color and flavor to either delicate or hearty fish. I have doused chicken with pesto, adding flair to an otherwise bland weeknight dinner. Pesto can also be spread onto a sandwich as a savory condiment. I love the freedom to use my flavor packed pesto in or on most everything! It is simple and makes me look like a rock star in the kitchen at times. Who wouldn’t love that?

Pesto is very forgiving too. I have adjusted or substituted ingredients without having to sacrifice flavor. I will pass along my pesto recipe and let you have some fun with it too! It is a crowd pleaser, so make plenty. Bon appetite!

Basic Pesto:

2 cups fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup parsley leaves

1 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

1-2 cloves fresh garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

FYI- I have tried using toasted pine nuts as well as roasted garlic and it did not make a notable difference in taste. I have also substituted walnuts for pine nuts, and the flavor was great. I have used both the parmesan cheese in the green can as well as fresh parmesan cheese, and fresh makes a difference. Use it if you can, but if you only have the green can on hand, go for it! I usually add a little more olive oil if I am putting this on pasta. If you are using dried herbs in a pinch, you also may want to increase the olive oil. Go ahead! Play with this recipe! Have fun and enjoy the amazing flavors!  And don’t forget to make a big batch and freeze some for another night when time is short.

 

Advertisements

Figs. Naughty or Nice?

20 Apr

Figs. Hhhhmmm. What do we know about figs? Well, they are a biblical food, so they have quite a history. A long history. And for as wonderful as they are, they still a little mysterious in this country. I mean, they are grown in California, so they are a native food. We tend to associate them with mediterranean cuisine, which may seem a bit exotic. It’s time to demystify them. Lets learn about figs!

First, we can enjoy figs either dried or fresh. To enjoy them fresh, get them in season generally from May to January. Choose fresh figs that are soft and have a sweet aroma. Dried figs can be enjoyed all year. They can be found in the produce section of your grocer. Start looking for them. They are there…really, they are!

Time to dig into the nutritional value of figs. Figs are high in dietary fiber. (Um…not sure if that falls under “naughty” or “nice”…) With the busy lifestyle of today promoting eating on the run, getting enough fiber can be a challenge. Figs can help meet the recommended adult intake of 25-35 grams of fiber a day. As far as vitamins and minerals go, figs are a good source of b complex vitamins. Great for the immune system. Minerals like copper and iron are also found in figs. Surprised? Wait! That’s not all!

Figs are also a very good source of calcium. It is a fantastic option for folks that can’t get their calcium from dairy. Calcium is an important component of a healthy diet. Figs also have Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Figs are also high in potassium, a mineral important for assisting the body with controlling blood pressure.  This is important for good heart health, so eat up!

Interestingly enough, some folks believe that figs have some medicinal properties. Some say that when applied to pimples, acne or boils, it can improve or even cure them. Also, figs can be used as a skin cleanser. Not sure if these are old wives tales or not, but it is believed that figs soaked in water may cure hemorrhoids. Fig leaves have also been used to reduce the need for insulin in some diabetics. Good stuff, right?

So much for the nice. Let’s move to the naughty side of figs. Figs can be a sensual finger food. Sexy. Fun! Pick up these simple ingredients. Grab your significant other because this will be fun and is meant for two! Here is the recipe to get the naughty started.

6-8 figs (this is a recipe for 2)
Blue cheese
4 slices prosciutto cut in half
olive oil
Split the fig open but don’t cut through. Stuff with blue cheese and push it back together. Wrap 1/2 piece of prosciutto around the fig. Place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Put under the broiler for 2 minutes. Pull them out, remove the figs from the baking sheet, and place on a plate.

Now grab your honey and find a cozy spot. Light some candles and turn the lights low. Sit close to your honey. Pour a glass of your favorite wine (I recommend a bold red with this dish). Toast each other. Flirt. Giggle. Loosen up and let your naughty come out! Pick up a fig with your fingers and feed your sweetie. Lick your fingers. Enjoy the succulence of this dish and the moment. Figs are nutritious, but can also be sexy. So remember the nice of figs, but also let the naughty out!

 

Color my World!

6 Apr

Let’s go orange!  No, I am not talking about Snookie and her fake bake tan.  Nor am I picking sides in a college football team.  I am talking about making a commitment to going in a different direction with the colors in daily intake.  Let’s eat in color.

We tend to eat familiar colors. For example, most of us are really familiar with garden or green salads. Many of us may even eat them on a regular basis. Variety is critical in a well balanced diet and to better health.  Green salads can be an easy way to get a variety of vegetables, especially if we load them up with bell peppers, mushrooms, and maybe even strawberries.

But let’s get past the green. I am an advocate for eating 5 colors a day. Counting colors is a great way to get a wonderful array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. One of the reasons that variety is so important in our diet is because the pigment, or color, in food has health benefits. The colors in the fruit and vegetables have antioxidants, as well as fiber, potassium, vitamin c and calcium. In other words, they are loaded with nutrients.

Here is where I will challenge you. Stick to salads if you must, but increase variety by adding the following to your daily intake. Here is the rub…add in an unlikely color to your intake, that color being orange and yellow.

Oranges
Grapefruit
Lemons
Bananas
Apricots
Nectarines
Mangos
Peaches
Cantaloupe
Pineapple
Papaya
Carrots
Sweet potatoes
Pumpkin
Squash
Corn
Orange and yellow bell peppers

Just look at these exciting options! So when you are grocery shopping next time, look for the orange and the yellow in your produce section. See the rainbow before you in the produce section of the grocer, or better yet at the local farmers market.  Get outside of that comfort zone. Think variety and spice up your life! Now you have a list of great fruits and veggies to try, so go for it!

Grab the Cans!

5 Apr

Short on time? A nutritious dinner can be made quickly with a little creativity and by opening a couple of cans. Keep some good staples in the pantry as well as the freezer, and dinner can be a snap. Grab the can opener and let’s go!

Here is a super easy pasta sauce. Put the sauce together, get a big pot of water boiling, microwave some frozen broccoli, grab some olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some crusty bread. Dinner is ready. Here is the sauce recipe:

Amy’s Clam Sauce

3 cans minced clams, 2 cans drained
1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 8-12 ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1-2 T. basil
1 T. parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Also, 1 lb. fettucine, 1 large bag frozen broccoli, 1 loaf crusty french bread, olive oil, balsamic vinegar. This easily serves my family of 4.

Mix together all sauce ingredients except clams (include the clam juice from 1 can of clams, drain the others) in large sauce pan over medium heat. Turn heat to a low simmer after sauce begins to boil. Stir occasionally. While sauce is simmering, boil large pot of water for the pasta. Cook pasta. Slice bread. When pasta is nearly done, add clams to pasta sauce to heat through and microwave broccoli.

Voila! Dinner is served! I serve crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip the bread into, and sometimes sprinkle a little cheese onto broccoli while it’s hot. This is a quick and easy dinner. Try it! Let me know what you think! Bon appetite!

 

Insatiable “moanable” moment

1 Apr

Yes, that’s right. I said it. I love my “moanable moments”. Okay, those of you that went there…get your mind out of the gutter! I am talking about an aromatic moment. One that inevitably leads to a fantastic flavor moment. The culinary anticipation created by that first aromatic shot makes the head go back, the eyes flutter closed, ending in a throaty moan.   And a great aroma can cause an involuntary moan to slip out no matter where you are. We have all had them. Come on! Admit it!

I grew up in the Chicago area. Our local bakery had hardwood floors that were scuffed up and squeaky. The little blue haired ladies running the bakery had to have been 100 years old at least! Well… that is the way it seemed to me in my youth.  Shiny sparkling clean glass was the only thing separating the freshly baked sweets from anxiously waiting customers. Walking into that bakery always, 100 percent of the time, produced a “moanable moment” the instant you walked in there.  It was that good.

Entering that bakery as a child and walking in as an adult still produces that very same moment…a moanable moment. One in which your head involuntarily tips back a bit, eyes slowly droop closed, and you take a deep breath in. The exhale is in the form of a moan. The scents wafting through the air are just too good. Words cannot describe the sweet aromas, the anticipation of a freshly baked cookie or cupcake, the absolute denial of all calories about to be consumed, free of all guilt.

Few things evoke this moment, but it is a thing of beauty. A treat for the nostrils. A thrill for the palate. As a lover of food and wine, a passionate cook, an undeniable foodie, and busy mom, these prized moments are treasured. A freshly grilled piece of lemon mustard chicken. Decadent homemade pizza in the oven, bubbling away. The fragrant bouquet after uncorking of a fabulous bottle of wine.  Stepping into the bakery of my childhood on a visit home. “Moanable moments” come in all shapes and sizes. But each moment is terrific. What is your moanable moment? You know what it is!