Vegetarian

One Method, Endless Pesto Possibilities

The key to learning to cook, and learning to cook well, is a willingness to experiment. If you must have exact recipes and exact ingredients then you will never feel completely comfortable in the kitchen. Cooking is learning a method and experimenting and tasting and tasting until you learn what works well together and what doesn’t.

Take pesto, for example. Sure, you can follow a recipe that shows you how to make a basic basil pesto. Or you can master the method behind making pesto. Once you understand the method, then the possibilities and ingredients are endless.

And so below are the things I have found make excellent pestos:

  1. Herbs, particularly basil. Basil is, of course, the key ingredient in a traditional pesto, and I have found it is by far the best herb to use, but why not throw in other herbs as well? Parsley works well. Even non-Italian herbs, such as cilantro, can give pesto a different twist.
  2. Greens. Not traditional, but such a good way to use greens! Spinach, arugula, and kale are my favorite. Each adds a unique taste and gives you a different pesto. Experiment with using different combinations.
  3. Garlic. Really, can you have pesto without garlic? I usually use at least 1-3 cloves, depending on how garlicky I want it to be.
  4. Nuts. Pine nuts are traditional, but, in my opinion, they are not worth the money. Experiment with other nuts. I personally love almonds and pistachios in pestos.
  5. Cheese. Though not necessary, I personally love adding cheese. Hard cheeses, such as Parmesan and Romano, are best. Also good: feta. Just don’t add too much. A handful will do. You should have far more greens and herbs than cheese.
  6. An acid. Lemon juice is traditional. About 1/2 a lemon will do the trick. Also try: Lime juice. Vinegar.
  7. Olive oil. Just enough to make it smooth.
  8. Salt and pepper. Want it spicy? Add red pepper flakes.

A bulk of the pesto should be herbs and greens. Put everything, except the olive oil, in the food processor and pulse it several times. Add the olive oil while pulsing and process until smooth. Taste and adjust and write down what works well together.

Though my favorite way to serve pesto is on pasta (no surprise, right?), you can also put it on sandwiches or meat or use it as a dressing.

 

Pictured below is a combination of arugula, spinach, basil, slithered almonds, garlic, Ramon cheese, feta cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

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So what’s your favorite way to make pesto?

 

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Falafel

I love falafel but until now, I’ve never been able to make it. This recipe is perfect.

I got the recipe from The Shiksa in the Kitchen. I hope you don’t mind that I repost it here!

Here is the recipe, but I recommend you follow the above link because she gives a lot of good tips and easy to follow instructions:

  • 1 pound (about 2 cups) dry chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3-5 cloves garlic (I prefer roasted)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of ground cardamom
  • Vegetable oil for frying (grapeseed, canola, and peanut oil work well)

I didn’t use as much oil as she did, so as you’ll see in the photos below, my falafel are not as evenly fried. I also used safflower oil, because that’s what I had on hand.

My tips:

  • You absolutely must use dried chickpeas. Soak them overnight or during the day while you’re at work. Canned won’t give the right texture.
  • Also, don’t skip the fresh parsley. Just don’t do it.
  • I used my cast iron skillet to fry them, which worked perfectly.

And my photos:

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Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas

I can’t stop eating these.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Use cooked or canned chickpeas. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Toss with olive oil and spread the chickpeas onto a cookie sheet.

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Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until brown and crunchy. (Be careful. They go from crunchy to burnt very quickly!)

These are the perfect protein snack or salad topper. And they are so addictive!

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Butternut Squash Manicotti- An Experiment

It has been so long since my last post! That’s what happens when you work in the retail industry during the holidays. I feel like I’m just now getting back to my usual routine, which means you can expect to see recipes on a regular basis again!

My first post is not a usual recipe. It’s more of a journal entry of my latest experiment. About a year or so ago, I had the idea to stuff manicotti with butternut squash, yet I never got around to it. This entry below is my first try. I didn’t go by a specific recipe and just sort of made it up as I went, so excuse the lack of proper measurements.

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I began by roasting one medium butternut squash and one rather small one (a large squash would have been ideal, but this is what I had on hand). In order to roast, I cut off the stem and then, using a sharp chef’s knife, I cut the squash in half, lengthwise. Then I placed it on a cookie sheet, seed side up. I spread a touch of olive oil on each half, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and baked at 400 degrees. The time is, of course, based on how big the squash is, but I have found that you need at least an hour for a small squash, and an hour and a half for a large one.

Once done, I let them cool in the refrigerator. (I recommend roasting the squash in the morning or even the day before, if you have the time).

Next I purreed the squash in my food processor and then added it to a small sauce pan. Once it came to a boil, I added:

between a 1/4-1/2 cup of mascarpone cheese
about 2 tablespoons of Pecorino Romano cheese
1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
a handful of fresh parsley
salt and pepper

I stirred it all together until the cheese had melted and then removed it from the heat.

In the meantime, I boiled my manicotti shells for just 4 minutes. You absolutely do not want to cook the shells all the way, otherwise they will be overcooked and mushy when you bake the dish in the oven. You want to take the manicotti shells out when they are still very al dente.

Then it’s simply a matter of filling the shells, which is both fun and messy. I have tried various methods for manicotti over the years. Sometimes I cut off the corner of a plastic storage bag and use it like a pastry bag. Other times I just use a small spoon. Either method is equally successful and messy. The above method was enough to stuff 8, rather sloppy, shells.

Now, for this recipe, I melted a heaping spoonful of mascarpone cheese in a saucepan, added about a 1/4 cup of the pasta water and pepper, and then poured that mixture on top of the filled shells. I think any sauce would work, though.

Then I topped it with some more Pecorino Romano cheese and stuck it in the oven, covered for 20 minutes, and 8 minutes uncovered.

Next time, I may try ricotta cheese instead of mascarpone (the mascarpone was richer than I had in mind), and may add in egg to help bind the mixture more. But for now, here’s how the final product looked.

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Simple Vegetarian Chili

I love chili. It’s the perfect cozy-day meal that you can cook all day and watch the leaves or snow fall outside. I grew up eating beef chili, but since I don’t eat beef anymore, I’ve fallen in love with vegetarian chili. (My mom finds this hilarious since I refused to eat chili with beans as a kid.)

Sometimes I get quite fancy with my chili, but this recipe is my favorite. It’s very simple and is all about those delicious kidney beans that I refused to eat as a child. The key to this chili is cooking the dry beans in with the beer rather than just throwing a can of already cooked beans in at the end. You could do that, I suppose, but if you follow this method, the beans will take on the most wonderful flavor.

And yes, you read that right. I use beer. Me, the person who hates drinking beer. I grew up eating chili made with beer, though, and just because I’m not using meat in this recipe doesn’t mean that I’m going to cut out such a key ingredient.

And so to begin:

Start by heating olive oil in a heavy bottom pot or dutch oven. Sauté:

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Saute for about five minutes. Then add:

1-3 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped*
salt

Cook for another five minutes. Then add:

at least 3 tablespoons of chili powder
about 2 teaspoons of cumin
3 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of coriander
a few grinds of black pepper

Let the spices cook for a minute or two. Then add:

1 1/2 to 2 cups of dried red kidney beans, soaked overnight**
28 ounces of crushed or pureed tomatoes

One 12 fl oz bottle of dark beer (emphasis on dark)
1 cup of water (you may need to add more as it cooks if the chili gets too thick)

Give everything a stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Have a lid on the top of the pot, tilted so that it’s still letting steam out. The chili will start to splatter when it boils. Once it’s boiling, turn the heat down to medium low and let it simmer for hours. Taste every few hours in order to adjust seasoning. (This is the best part of making chili!) My family is notorious for adding chili powder by the spoonfuls all day long, so really, in the end, I have no idea how much chili powder I use. Also, if using canned tomatoes, you might want to add:

1 tablespoon of brown sugar (optional)

I like my chili to be really spicy with a slight hint of sweetness in the background.

If you want to add zucchini or corn in at the end, you can. I highly recommend serving the chili with cast iron skillet cornbread (recipe coming soon), Greek yogurt, and gouda cheese on top. Enjoy!

And sorry about the lighting in the below picture. It was sort of an afterthought.

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*If you’re using jalapenos from your freezer, as I do during the winter, be careful! Something about the freezing method seems to make jalapenos hotter (or at least the ones in my freezer seem to get hotter). Mine are so unpredictable that I start with a quarter of a jalapeno and add more throughout the day. I learned this lesson the hard way. One time I put a whole jalapeno in and it was so spicy that I could barely eat it (and I love spicy!). So be cautious in the beginning and keep tasting throughout the day. Also, experiment with other hot peppers. Though I usually just use jalapenos in this basic recipe, there are many others that are quite wonderful in chili.

** I say 1 1/2 to 2 cups because it depends on how beany you want your chili to be. (And yes, beany is a word.)

 

 

 

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Vanilla Pear Jam, Apple, and Roquefort Cheese Pizza

I swear, I do eat “normal” American-style pizza. You know, the cheesy kind topped with black olives, hot peppers and pineapple (ok, ok, so maybe my taste isn’t completely normal). But more often than not, I like unusual pizzas, or at least unusual in comparison to the greasy, cheese and pepperoni topped pizza that has conquered most chain pizza joints across the United States. I’m drawn to the ones topped with ricotta cheese or roasted vegetables or fig jam, prosciutto, and gorgonzola (amazing combination, by the way). So when I bought one of my favorite seasonal jams from the market (Vanilla Pear from Sweet Thing Gourmet Jams), and the owner recommended pairing it with gorgonzola cheese, I knew it was time, once again, to make pizza.

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I made a similar pizza late last winter using apples, caramelized onions, and gorgonzola (which is a delicious combination), but this jam, combined with the spiciness of the pepper flakes, gives this pizza an extra punch. I used roquefort cheese instead of gorgonzola, just for something different, but the taste is so similar that you could easily use either one. And of course, I don’t expect everyone to have access to such a unique jam, but I’m sure many other jams would work as well.

So to begin (and I apologize for the lighting in some of these photos. Dark kitchen.). You will notice in the below photos I’m using a pizza pan. It was my first time using one. Usually I use a pizza stone, but I found that the pizza pan works quite nicely as well.

Shape your pizza dough. Spread a thin layer of the vanilla pear jam onto the dough (a little goes a long way). Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, fresh garlic (about one small clove), and oregano or other Italian herbs. 

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Next add slices of apple and slices of banana peppers or another pepper of your choice.

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Between the peppers and apples, drop small chunks of roquefort or gorgonzola cheese. It spreads when it melts, so you don’t need much.

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Sprinkle the top of the pizza with a combination of asiago cheese and pecorino (or one or the other). Add a tiny pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper.

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Bake at 475 for about 8-10 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven and drizzle balsamic vinegar on top. (I used a specialty vinegar I received as a gift: Vanilla Fig. Plain vinegar will do, as well. Just make sure it’s a thick, high quality vinegar).

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It’s sweet. It’s spicy. It’s creamy and crunchy. It’s delicious. Enjoy!

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