This weekend my mom came to visit. For the first time since my 21st birthday, I had my mama all to myself. I shared her with Maxine, of course, but it was wonderful to chat during naps and linger over dinners and giggle while we carved pumpkins.
We made pesto chicken salad with some of the best pesto on the planet (from our local Genova Delicatessen). We tossed pumpkin seeds in cinnamon and nutmeg, chili powder and sea salt, and roasted them in the oven. We even marinated feta–soaking it in olive oil with bay leaves and cracked pepper corns and rosemary from our backyard garden and a bit of thyme–though we never got around to eating it.
My mom was determined to make granola (ok, we actually insist that she make it every time she visits). I had just collected the ingredients for my own batch, though, so I suggested she work with what I had on hand. Maddeningly, hers still turned out better than mine ever does. The nerve!
John made us this fresh ricotta cheesecake from our Chez Panisse cookbook, dotted with marsala-soaked raisins and pine nuts. Someday I’ll share the recipe with all of you. You can begin thanking me now, though. That cake is so good we ate it for dinner one night.
And for our first dinner together, John made us Jenny Rosenstrach’s Sweet Potato Chicken Pot Pie. It’s the second time we’ve had it on our table, and it’s definitely earned a permanent spot in our dinner rotation.
As is always the case when my mom visits, I am reminded that it is not only the food before me that makes a great meal, but the company, too. Watching my mom play games with Max while she ate, swapping jokes and asking each other questions, could make any meal into perfect sustenance.
Thanks for coming, Mom. I love you.
First congrats to Patricia, who is the winner of our I Love Corn cookbook giveaway. Thanks to all who entered and stay tuned for more great cookbook giveaways coming your way.
On to today’s recipe, which I put together after attending a really fun mixology class that a friend of ours bid on at a charity auction. It was in this historic home in the Berkshires that I would kill to spend the night in. (Lucky Rachel. She and John did spend two nights there for their honeymoon. Yes, you’re welcome.) Anyway, we got to hang out at the beautiful estate as the sun was setting and then moved indoors for this class. I am not a drink maker — ever, not at all, never. It’s a long story that I’ll share some day but now just know that any drinks that I consume are made by my husband, who is, fortunately, a superb mixologist.
As we sipped the first drink — a white Cosmo that was quite lovely — the innkeeper brought out some bruschetta, which, I’m not going to lie, were tasty but not fabulous. It got me thinking: I should make these someday. Someday happened on Saturday when we were going to a friend’s house for dinner and I was in charge of the appetizer. But before I go to the recipe, let me show you one of the drinks I made. It was a watermelon margarita and it was damn fine. So today you get two recipes, and I guaranteed this bruschetta will satisfy.
Janet here: After admitting my little magazine recipe-ripping, um, problem, I started 2012 with a new plan. I would start actually cooking some of these recipes and then, if I like them, put them in a neat little notebook. Last week I dutifully bought my notebook, complete with plastic sleeves to stick the pages in and dividers so I can organize them by categories. I was so pleased with myself.
But then it was time to attack the pile, a daunting task for sure because it is a mini-mountain by now. Happily we were having another couple for dinner so I found a new way of doing pesto, using almonds rather than pine nuts…..Result? Brilliant and a total keeper. Into its nice plastic sleeve it goes.
Almond Pesto with Beans Linguine
from Food Network Magazine
1/2 cup unsalted roasted almonds
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 cups fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups fresh basil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
12 ounces linguine
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Bring a pot of salted water for the linguine to a boil.
Make the pesto by pulsing the almonds and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the parsley, basil and Parmesan; pulse some more until the herbs are chopped. With the motor running drizzle in the olive oil until blended.
Transfer to a large bowl and add the ricotta and olives.
Cook the linguine, adding the beans for the last two minutes. Reserve one cup of the cooking water; then drain the pasta and beans. Add to the bowl with the pesto and toss to coat. Add the chopped tomatoes and as much of the reserved cooking water as you like to have the perfect combination. Salt and pepper to taste.
We had friends visiting Saturday night who we hadn’t seen in a number of years. In other words, the premium was on catching up, not cooking. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t want to serve something tasty. (In fact, I think the bar gets even higher when you’re cooking for someone you haven’t seen in a while don’t you? Kind of a culinary version of dress to impress…)
Anyway, this casserole features orzo, which is a pasta I only discovered a few years ago but fell in love with. I’m not sure if it’s the shape or size but orzo just tastes better than a lot of other pastas. And I think it also allows other flavors to come out more fully. It doesn’t overwhelm.
The casserole also features pesto, which is one of my favorite sauces ever. Again, not overwhelming but totally flavorful. You can make it yourself, using Rachel’s recipe) or buy some (which, I’m not gonna lie, is what I did this time).
You’re going to have to trust me on how marvelous this casserole looks. By the time it came out of the oven, just a little alcohol had been consumed….and taking a photo was no longer on my to-do list.
serves 6, more if a side dish
1 pound orzo
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 orange bell pepper, cored and diced
1 onion, minced
2/3 cup pesto
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9X13 baking pan.
Boil some water and cook the orzo until al dente. Drain. Put back in the large pot.
While the orzo is cooking, saute the onion, garlic and pepper in some olive oil until the vegetables start to get soft. Add to the orzo in the pot.
Stir in the pesto and mozzarella into the pot. Salt and pepper to taste. Spread into the baking pan, sprinkle the Parmesan on top and baked for 25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the orzo is done. Serve it up.
Janet here: I’m in serious salad mode with the summer having arrived and at least semi-hot weather here in the Northeast. Grilling some veggies, fish or chicken outside and adding a little salad is the perfect easy dinner in the summer.
For most of my adult life, potato salad was one version and one version only: the potato salad I grew up eating and recreated once I was cooking on my own. (You can get the recipe here.)
As I’ve become a more accomplished cook over the years, I’ve realized that there are actually about a gazillion potato salad recipes out there. Here’s a variation on potato salad I created this past weekend that only requires a few ingredients. It takes advantage of another summer wonder: fresh basil.
Pesto Potato Salad
1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes
1 medium red pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium yellow pepper, seeded and diced
1/3ish cup pesto (I used some made at a local farm but if you want to make your own, try Rachel’s recipe here)
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the potatoes for about 20 minutes in boiling water. Don’t overcook because mushy potato salad is just gross. Drain the potatoes and cool until ready to handle. Cut into quarters and put in a large bowl.
Add the rest of the ingredients and toss gently. Put in the fridge to cool for at least two hours. Serve and enjoy…
What’s your go-to potato salad?
First some bookkeeping: We are happy to announce that the winner of Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite is CC. Congrats CC — we’ll be contacting you by email — and thanks to everyone who entered!
Now on to Mike the Gay Beer Guy’s April post
It’s spring time … well it’s supposed to be. I think the weather in the Midwest is so much less stable than the East or West; it seems that every other day is something different. Like one day it is 70 degrees and sunny, and then the next day it’s below freezing and on the verge of snowing (yeah, for REAL! As I’m writing this, it was 65 yesterday, this morning it is in the low 50s, and tomorrow, when I’m planning to brew, it’s going to be a rainy 40 and falling for the next few days)(UPDATE: As I’m editing the post, Kansas City received a few inches of snow this past weekend… for REAL!?!?! And keep in mind it was in the 60s this afternoon)(And update from Janet, as I put this online, the East Coast is expecting up to a foot of snow, no joke!)
Rachel here: So, my mom’s on vacation this week in St. Croix with my dad and S while G is off in Florida participating in some ungodly spring break scene and I, little old me, am left with the blog all to myself. It oddly conjures feelings of having the house to myself while growing up. Anyway, in case any of you are worried about whether my mom will be enjoying herself enough this week or not, she sent this photo to assure us all that she’s well.
If you want to join me in a moment of bitterness, feel free to.
But anyway, I digress (oh, and I really can’t complain since John and I are off for our own little vacation in a week or so). It was sort of exciting to think about what I wanted to make for the blog this week without any input from my mother (though, in typical mom fashion…and I use “mom” to refer to mom-esque behavior generally and specifically…my mother had plenty of ideas that I should “feel free to use”…I told the woman to chill out and go on vacation). Initially, I decided I was going to teach myself to pickle so that, when she came back, my mom would have a moment of bitterness towards me comparable to the one I experienced when I received her photo (see above). Then I realized that, though I really do want to learn to pickle, perhaps the person who would be left with feelings of bitterness would be me instead of her if I tried to cram pickling 101 into a weekend filled with a million other tasks. So, I filed pickling for a later date.
What I decided to make in the end (for this post) was pesto chicken salad. John and I have been eating it at Meal Ticket on a near weekly basis as of late and I figured it would be fun to try to duplicate it for our very own at-home consumption. I looked in Chez Panisse Cooking (by Paul Bertolli with Alice Waters) and was delighted to discover they had a simple pesto recipe. All I needed to pull this one off perfectly was a mortar and pestle, something I figured I could pick up at our fantastic local grocery store, Berkeley Bowl. When I was at the store, though, I discovered that they only had mini mortars. This seemed ridiculously tedious to me and so I figured I could rig something on my own at home. Let’s just say that though this whole dish turned out fantastically (if I do say so myself), I will not be making it again without a mortar and pestle.
For the chicken part, I bought a small whole chicken and made chicken stock with it to cook it. We were out and homemade stock is so much better than anything you can buy at the store and plus, I figured this would be a good way to kill two birds with one stone. I will post the stock recipe another time (unless anyone’s dying for it, in which case leave a comment and I will post it sooner). Once the chicken was done I just shredded it by hand and tossed it in the pesto. The ratios were perfect. The pesto really could have been used on any number of things, though, and is a deliciously simple recipe. What do you like your pesto on?
I doubled the recipe, so feel free to halve it
1/2 c. pine nuts, lightly toasted
6 cloves garlic
4 c. basil leaves, finely chopped with a sharp knife (dull knives=lost flavor)
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. melted butter
3/4 c. Reggiano Parmigiano cheese
1/4 tspn. salt
1/4 tspn. freshly ground black pepper
Using a mortar and pestle (or, the end of a wooden handled spatula and a pyrex bowl…no, don’t do this…go buy a mortar and pestle), smash the pine nuts and garlic into a paste. Add the basil leaves, a few tablespoons at a time, and mash into a coarse paste. Add the olive oil and continue to grind mixture into a paste. Once the paste is smooth (or smooth enough for your liking…mine was pretty rustic but, again, I was mortar and pestle-less), use a rubber spatula to incorporate the cheese, salt and pepper, and melted butter.
I promptly dumped this all over my chicken (which I had shredded into a large bowl) and tossed. I suggest always serving warm . The first time we ate it with greens and tomatoes tossed in balsamic vinegar. The second time we ate it with cornbread and slices of tomatoes (again, with balsamic vinegar…the stuff is an excellent balancer for the richness of pesto). And yes, those two times were within 24 hours. Anyway, give it a try and let me know what you think!