Tag Archives: bread

Pesto Passion

23 Aug

Ok..again my Leo comes out…even in my cooking. An August birthday makes me a Leo, and I must admit, I am a lover of the sun.   Summer sunshine means amazing herbs springing to life in my garden.  I love them all, but my favorite of the summer herbs has got to be basil.

I wash my hands before I pick the delicate leaves so I can allow the delicious scent to linger on my fingers for a few extra minutes.  After first admiring my herbs, I pick some basal,  close my eyes, bring my fingers close to my face and breathe deep.  Inhaling this fresh basil is simply a culinary delight.  It plays a starring role in many of my summer recipes.  Everyone has basil around in the summer, and there are a million ways to use it, from simple bruschetta to complicated sauces.  Summer bruschetta with fresh tomatoes and basil is as refreshing as a popsicle!   Mix diced fresh tomatoes with freshly cut basil and goat cheese.  Douse this with a bit of olive oil and vinegar.  Drop a spoonful on some crusty bread and voila!  Instant delish!

My favorite thing to make with basil is fresh pesto.  It takes moments to prepare and can be used in many different ways.  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 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 freshly grated parmesan 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 freeze some rouse later.



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!


Portion (out of!) Control

20 Jan

When you are in the kitchen with your family, talk about nutrition. These discussions need to be done with a little strategy.  Children cannot be barraged with information. It will sound like lecturing, and the “off” button will be activated in your child.  Think of your conversations being constructed with bullet points. Brief. Light. Just the highlights. Discussions such as these can be easily conducted while working on getting a meal to the table.

Here is a starting point. Discussing portion size is a must. This country has been “super sized” into expecting huge portions that are not designed for optimum health. When discussing portion sizes, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • 1 ounce of meat (protein) is about the size of your thumb. 4 ounces is an appropriate serving and about the size of a deck of cards..
  • 1 egg or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter is about an ounce.
  • One serving of bread is usually 1 slice.
  • Fruit juice can generally count as 1 fruit serving a day. In other words, 2 glasses of fruit juice isn’t 2 fruit servings. And remember, high quality fruit juice is worth the extra expense.
  • A vegetable serving is 4 ounces. That equals a half cup.
  • A serving of milk is 8 ounces.  That is one cup.
  • One serving of Grape Nuts cereal is 4 ounces.  That is 1/2 cup.
  • One serving of crackers, such as Cheez-It crackers, is about 25 crackers

Are these serving sizes surprisingly small?  This briefly illustrates how out of control portion sizes have become acceptable in our diet. The expectation has changed to a “bigger is better” mentality with food. Portion size is included on the packaging of most food, but consumers fail to use this tool.

Hey, I get it.  Being in the grocery store juggling kids, a list, and playing beat the clock is rough.  Not a great time to stop, read and analyze a label.  How do we combat this?  Start by standing at your pantry or food cabinet at home. Education can begin at home.  When time isn’t so tight, take a minute or two to look at the food you have in your cupboard or pantry.  This is a great time to read the labels and start to formulate a healthy portion control plan. Start looking on food packaging for portion information at home, not at the store,  and share it with your children. It is a great habit to get your family into, and a good way to have discussions about portion control.

Talking of portion control, I do not allow my family to eat out of a bag of chips, for example, when snacking,  They must pour their snack into a bowl.  I expect this for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is simple cross contamination.  I am a clinical nutrition professional, so food safety is always on my mind.  It just isn’t healthy to put your hand to your mouth and then place that hand back into a big bag of snack food.

The second reason to portion foods, including snack food, is for control.  You just don’t know how much you are eating when not portioned it out.  And I think to learn self control, eating a certain portion raises awareness.  “Mindless eating” is eating without being conscientious of what you are eating.  Portioning your food helps eating be more mindful.

I am also a fan of eating meals att the table and on a schedule when possible.  It is important to enjoy meals with music on, with others, and making it a social event when possible.  If eating alone, I still think ambiance and environment are important.  Eating at a healthy pace, sipping water or other healthy beverage, and having conversation is a way to slow down eating.  The body signals when it is full, but you have to give those signals time to get front he stomach to the brain!

Portion control is important, as is variety and physical activity. It is important, though, to start with one small step, one small change.   Next start walking after dinner!  Another small change with a big impact!

Roasted Pasta Sauce

21 Sep
Roasted baby peppers!  yum!

Baby peppers! Perfect for roasting! Yum!

Tonight I made pasta for dinner. I roasted the sauce. Yes, that’s right. And it was fabulous. Absolutely fabulous!

Here we go. I had a taste for pasta Primavera. A Primavera sauce is a vegetable sauce usually associated with fresh, or seasonal, chunky cut vegetables. I wanted a light supper.  Nothing heavy and fatty. I needed bright, light, and colorful.   Something not only packed with flavor, but loaded with beneficial nutrients too.

And as you know, I love to use what i have on hand. That is my creativity springboard.  For some reason, that absolutely energizes me.  I started pulling vegetables out of the fridge and pantry.  For a special flavor twist, I decided to roast my sauce instead of cooking it on the stove top.  I cut up my veggies  and dumped them into a big mixing bowl.  Next I sprinkled them with pepper, both red and black, salt, herb de Provence, olive oil, and a tiny drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

A good starting point.  Chunky chopped vegetables!

A good starting point. Chunky chopped vegetables!

Next, I gave the mixture a good minute of stirring with a big wooden spoon.  Then I put it into a glass roasting pan that was about 2″ deep.  I sprinkled the vegetables with a little more salt and pepper, and tossed the pan into a preheated 375 degree oven.

In the meantime, Denis popped open a bottle of wine.  We sipped a glass of a yummy big bold red, and chatted with my son a bit.  The boys set the table.  I put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.  We had fresh pasta that was in the freezer, and that cooks pretty quickly.

Into the oven it goes!

Into the oven it goes!

In 30 minutes, I pulled the veggies out of the oven.  They had cooked down, so there was a good bit of what my grandmother called “vegetable liquor” in the pan.  There was just enough liquid for a perfect sauce.  I poured it over the cooked pasta, and voila!  A super yummy light dinner was ready.  Onto the table it went with some crusty bread.  It was a colorful healthy vegetarian dinner.   I am sharing my recipe with you, but customize it using your own palate as a flavor compass.

Amy’s Pasta Primavera

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Then start cutting…

1 large zucchini, cut into chunky quarters

1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1 large container fresh bella mushrooms, sliced

1 large container button mushrooms, sliced

3 large or a dozen small bell peppers, deseeded and sliced

6 green onions, sliced in 1/2 inch intervals from the whites to the tip of the green

8 ounces arugula (2 big handfuls)

8 ounces baby spinach

1/4 cup olive oil

3-4 T. balsamic vinegar

2 T. Herb de Provence

salt and pepper to taste

Mix together in large mixing bowl.  Add salt,  pepper, red pepper flakes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Herb de Provence and any seasoning to taste.

Pasta of choice-cooked (I used fresh ricotta penne)

Bread of choice

Toss this on the table for an incredibly mouthwatering meal loaded with flavor and packed with antioxidants and nutrients!  The great thing about this recipe is that it can be totally customized.

I am a moody garnisher.  Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t.  It depends on the flow of my day and, as always, time allowed.  Sometimes my creative juices and energy match, other times I just need to get something, anything, on the table.  But with this beautiful bounty of vegetables, my creativity ran wild,  and I garnished with chunks of creamy mozzarella cheese, some shredded zippy parmesan cheese, and fresh from the garden basil with a chiffonade cut.  It was simply wonderful!

This is the dish headed to the table.  Pasta with roasted sauce.  Super Yum!

This is the dish headed to the table. Pasta with roasted sauce. Super Yum!

Roasted Garlic! YUM!

18 Jul

I remember the first time I had roasted garlic.  It was many years ago at a sheshefoofoolala restaurant in my home town of Chicago.  The server brought a flat plate to the table along with roasted garlic, olive oil, and seasonings.  To my surprise, she smashed that roasted garlic with the back of a fork, added the seasonings, mashed it some more, then added some olive oil.  The server then invited us to enjoy this concoction with the fresh italian bread on the table.  Holy cow was that fantastic!  I became an instant convert.  Now I make it all of the time!  Good thing it is a snap to make!  Let me share it with you.

Take a bulb of garlic and cut the bottom off so that all of the cloves are exposed.  Place the bulb of garlic, cut side up, in a large piece of tin foil.  Drizzle some olive oil over it, and sprinkle a dash of salt and pepper on it too.  Seal up that foil pouch nice and tight.  Crimp the top.  Then simply toss it in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Take a whole bulb of garlic.  Chop the top off.

Take a whole bulb of garlic. Chop the top off.

Place the bulb into the center of a large piece of tim foil.

Place the bulb into the center of a large piece of tim foil


While that is baking, enjoy the rich nutty aroma filling the kitchen.  When it is done, pull it out of the oven and place on a heat proof surface.  Open the top and let the steam out.   This needs to cool a bit so you can handle it with your hands.  When it cools a bit just squeeze the cloves out of their paper wrappers.  Use it any way you choose.  The most difficult thing about roasting garlic is deciding what to do with it.  I have mashed it up and spread it on bread just like the first time I had it.  I have also added it to sauces, and it is absolutely outrageous in mashed potatoes!  I also use the oil that the garlic roasted with in the foil.  No need to waste even a tiny morsel of this!

That is all there is to roasted garlic.  Don’t you dare go buy one of those silly little garlic bakers.  First of all, I do not like kitchen utensils that can only do one little job.  Second, there is no need for one.  I have tried them, and tin foil works just as well as the little baker.  And by the way, my little baker cracked pretty quickly.

get that foil pouch nice and tight.  Then toss it in the oven!

get that foil pouch nice and tight. Then toss it in the oven!

Just look at this delicious roasted garlic!

Just look at this delicious roasted garlic!


A word of warning however.  This delicious treat may cause some gas.  Along with the breath thing, garlic has a little gas thing to deal with as well.  It may produce some methane in the lower GI system.  You may “make a little music” out the back end after having garlic of any kind.  (In my house we act surprised if a little backend music escapes and blame it on barking spiders somewhere in our vicinity).  This is fine is you are hanging around the house or with close friends after consuming this tasty treat.  But beware if you are heading out for a night of fun after eating this tasty treat.  I speak from experience…

We made the mistake of having roasted garlic, and lots of it, for Christmas Eve dinner one year.  We slathered it on the bread at our dinner table, and allowed the incredible flavors to overtake us…consuming way too much.  After dinner we toddled off to midnight mass in celebration of Christmas.  We grabbed our usual pew in the church…right up front.  Let’s just say that we spent the mass partially focused on keeping out butt cheeks pretty tight.  We never made that mistake again!

Don’t let a little gas stop you from this yummy treat.  Try it, and let me know what you do with it!  Let your creativity shine!

Hail to the Ooze

20 Feb

I love a good sandwich.  All kinds.  But I get into certain “sandwich moods”.  In other words, the kind of sandwich that I crave changes.    Sometimes a cold bologna sandwich with mustard is on my mind, sometimes it’s a big honkin turkey sandwich loaded with arugula, and sometimes just a plain old PB & J will do.

When a grilled cheese sandwich is on my mind, so is the ooze.  Listen, between my undergrad and my graduate classes in nutrition, I have had my fair share of chemistry and  food science classes.  I can very easily espouse the science behind the milk proteins and what happens to them when cheese is heated.  How the molecules react.  The maillard reaction occurring when the bread browns.  What kind of writer would I be, however, if my prose simply lulled you to sleep?  No, I don’t want to discuss the chemical reactions of grilled cheese sandwiches.  That’s ho hum…dare I say boring.  (My humble apologies to my chemist friends.  I love you!  I really do!).  It’s the ooze that makes me crave a creamy grilled cheese.

In the interest of science I have conducted some research on the appeal of melting cheese, the allure of crisp browning bread, the draw of a warm rich scent wafting through the kitchen.  Well, not exactly research.  But I talked to a lot of my friends about it at my son’s end of season basketball party.  Then to some folks at work.  And like me, people are very opinionated about grilled cheese sandwiches.

Everyone seems to have preferences about what kind of cheese must go onto a grilled cheese sandwich.  Swiss, cheddar, gouda, mozzarella, and american cheese were all thrown out there.  I heard differing opinions on the virtue of shredded cheese versus sliced too. Most folks seemed to prefer at least 2 different types of cheese on their sandwich.    The type of bread used  is also a critical component here, as it is with any sandwich.  So much to consider!

And, of course, we must discuss how to cut the sandwich after it’s done.  There are 2 methods-corner to corner or straight in half down the middle.  I personally happen to be a right down the middle  person, not corner to corner.  But that’s just me.  There are indisputable qualities that contribute to the true success of every grilled cheese sandwich.  Grill marks.  Perfect browning.  And, of course, the cheese must be fully melted.  Creamy.  Stringy.

Let me know how you like your sandwich. I can’t wait to hear from you!  But first, feast your eyes on my most recent grilled cheese…

Look at that creamy oozing cheese!  Yum! And those grill marks!  Yes!

Look at that creamy oozing cheese! Yum! And those grill marks! Yes!