Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Spinach Basil Walnut Pesto

I have a plethora of spinach this year. I'm not sure if it's just that the weather hasn't allowed for much else to actually grow, but I have a freezer full of it and fresh ready-for-salad spinach in the fridge. I even have more growing outside in my container. I am so glad you can freeze spinach for pasta dishes. It's overwhelming seeing the spinach keep creeping into my house.

Even with the freezer as a go-to for the spinach, I needed somewhere else for all the spinach to go. I was perusing some blogs that I follow (I'm trying to find more of you food bloggers out there!) and over at Hye Thyme Cafe there was a recipe for Kale-Mint-Almond pesto and it inspired me. I have a ton of basil from my herb garden and a plethora of spinach - pesto was the perfect solution.

Spinach Basil Walnut Pesto

You Will Need:
  • Food Processor
  • Rubber Spatula
  • Tupperware Container
  • 3 Cups Fresh Spinach
  • 1/2 Cup Fresh Basil
  • 1 Cup Walnuts
  • 1 Cup Paremesan
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Peppercorns
  • 1 Tablespoon Vinegar (ok, here's the deal - usually you put in a teaspoon of lemon juice in pesto. Well, I didn't have any and I thought vinegar would be better anyway. I used the champagne vinegar, but I'm pretty sure any kind would be good. I bet balsamic would be great if you wanted to go that way with it, even)

  1. Wash spinach and basil leaves
  2. Put all ingredients in food processor and turn it on until creamy
  3. Scrape sides down once or twice while it mixes
  4. Add extra evoo and vinegar for consistency
  5. Keep it the fridge and spread it on everything in sight :)
I've been putting it on everything. Chicken breasts as a marinade. Leftover bread. Dip for carrots. My favorite way of using the pesto, and this is thanks to the kids - who also love it, was spreading it on top of cream cheese on a plain bagel with pepperoni slices on top. Pizza Bagels on a whole new level. And, hey, the kids eat it even though it's green. I wish I had a picture, but we ate it all before I had the chance!

Key Lime Pie and Blueberries and Cream Vodka Infusions

Ever since my friend busted out a jar of Cherry Infused Whiskey, I've been wanting to infuse my own liquor. I'm not much of a cocktail girl - I never learned the basics in college and it's just too much work for one drink when I have tried (although fresh blackberry mojitos are so amazing). Infusions are perfect, though. You get all the flavors of a cocktail after much less work and it's so worth it - you get a jar full of drinks out of it, not just one (and you don't have to drink it all in one night!). With one jar of a flavored vodka or whiskey you can get very creative with cocktails or keep it on the simple side by just adding club soda or Sprite.

This summer, I decided to try 2 of my favorite summer flavors - key lime and blueberry cream. I'm not much for orange dreamsicles, but at my cabin we always sprinkled berries on everything - blueberries on ice cream was definitely my favorite. Why don't they make blueberry push pops? The Blueberry Cream Infusion was amazing. I thought it was a lot like a cream soda with a hint of fruity goodness. 

Then there's Key Lime Pie. One of my favorite desserts in the world, hands down. The Key Lime Crostata at D'Amico and Sons, yes please. Italian Gelato Key Lime Pie Sandwiches (I found them at Target!), yes please. Key Lime Pie Vodka Infusion? You get where I'm going with this. A little goes a long way and it will not disappoint. 

Key Lime Pie Vodka Infusion

You Will Need:
  • Mason Jar (pasta sauce sized)
  • Cutting Board
  • Small Knife
  • Hammer and Nail (if you're getting a whole coconut, have fun!)
  • Strainer
  • 3 Key Limes 
  • 1/4 Fresh Coconut 
  • 2 Vanilla Beans 
  • 1/2 Cup Sliced Almonds
  • Vodka (it's between 1-2 cups)
  1. Cut limes into slices
  2. Crack open the coconut and carve out chunks of the flesh
  3. Slice the vanilla beans down the middle the whole length
  4. Put all the ingredients into the jar and fill with vodka, covering the ingredients 
  5. Wait 5-7 days and strain - keep at room temperature out of sunlight
    Blueberries and Cream Vodka Infusion

    You Will Need:
    • Mason Jar
    • Cutting Board
    • Small Knife
    • Strainer
    • 1/4 Fresh Coconut
    • 2 Vanilla Beans
    • 1/2 Cup Sliced Almonds
    • 1 Cup Blueberries
    • Vodka 
    1. Hopefully you've already figured out the coconut by making the Key Lime Pie Vodka Infusion, if not, get to cracking it open
    2. Slice blueberries in half
    3. Slice down the middle of the vanilla beans along the seam
    4. Fill jar with the fresh ingredients and pour vodka covering them
    5. Wait 5-7 and strain - keep room temperature and out of sunlight
    So refreshing! Pour it over some ice cream - adult root beer float (except it's WAY better than root beer :).

      Tuesday, July 19, 2011

      Bloody Mary Infused Vodka and Vodka Pasta Sauce

      So, I started making some infused vodkas and I decided it was time to unleash the Bloody Mary flavored vodka I made. It didn't need as much time as the other infusions since it's on the spicy side and, well, I'm not very patient anyway.

      I didn't want to waste anything, so I decided I'd repurpose all the little bits that will be strained out and make a Vodka Sauce with them. I love vodka sauce. It's always been my favorite marinara sauce because it has a bit more zip to it but it also has cream. Cream makes everything just a little bit better.

      Bloody Mary Infused Vodka

      You Will Need:
      • Mason Jar
      • Cutting Board
      • Large Knife
      • Strainer
      • 3 Large Tomatoes
      • 2 Cayenne Peppers (or any chili peppers)
      • Handful of Peppercorns
      • Handful of Basil
      • Handful of Cilantro
      • A Few Shakes of Red Pepper Flakes
      • 4 Cloves of Garlic
      • Good (Enough) Quality Vodka
      1. Wash everything
      2. Quarter tomatoes
      3. Place all ingredients in the jar and add vodka to cover
      4. Store out of direct sunlight for 3-5 days, give it a shake here and there
      5. Strain
      Easiest thing in the world. So worth it. All you have to do is add the tomato juice and maybe a pinch of salt.  

      Vodka Pasta Sauce

      You Will Need:
      • Food Processor
      • Saucepan
      • Spoon
      • Leftover ingredients from Bloody Mary Infused Vodka - tomatoes, garlic, peppercorns, basil, cilantro, red pepper flakes (I took out the cayenne peppers this time)
      • 1/2 Cup Vodka
      • 1/2 Cup Tomato Juice (you could also use tomato sauce or even paste)
      • Heavy Whipping Cream
      • Grated Parmesan
      Secret Ingredients:
      • Literally, whatever you have handy - I used up some sun dried tomatoes, you could use red peppers, artichokes, spinach... just add it into the saucepan. If you're going with spinach wait 'til the end so it just barely wilts

      1. Take the leftover bits from the infused vodka and puree it in a food processor
      2. I added the end of a jar of sun dried tomatoes (maybe 6 of them) and therefore maybe a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil that they were marinated in
      3. Add a 1/2 cup of the infused vodka and a 1/2 cup of tomato juice
      4. Heat on the stovetop and bring to a boil (I boiled it on medium heat) and then let simmer (turn it down) for about an hour adding a tablespoon of water at a time for desired consistency
      5. Stir occasionally 
      6. At the end add 1/2 to 1 cup heavy whipping cream and a hearty amount of grated parmesan
      7. Stir into whatever pasta you have handy (I used whole wheat penne) with a pinch of coarse sea salt and there you have it!
      This meal was so fresh tasting - and light, even with the cream added. 

      Wednesday, July 13, 2011

      Best Burger, Grilled Asparagus and Italian Ingredients You Gotta Have Handy

      There are a lot of burgers out there and I'm sure everyone has their own idea of what is best as far as toppings go. My favorite burgers along the way have been The Bucky Burger from Ely Steakhouse, the mushroom swiss burger from Stony Ridge (although, I have given up on that place as they are NEVER open and it just gets frustrating), The Jucy Lucy from Matt's Bar (if you think it was created anywhere else, we can take this outside! And for those of you foreigners, I'm talking about a Twin Cities legacy, the burger with molten lava cheddar cheese in the middle) and then, there's the default I need a burger *fast* - the Big Mac. Yes, I like special sauce. Although, I must say, I can make a better special sauce than McDonald's. I know, maybe not that hard to do, but still worth noting. Maybe I'm not very picky about burgers, either.

      But, that's just not true and I'm about to tell you all about it. First of all, I like my burgers like I like my steak - rare. Obviously, this does not apply to the Big Mac, but let's be honest - how do you do soy filler rare anyway? Why would you waste perfectly good beef by overcooking it? I just don't understand the concept. Over the 4th of July we went to another Ely hotspot and they wouldn't do my husband's steak rare. And this is supposed to be fine dining! That poor grass-fed beef was crying about it, I swear. But, I'll get to that some other day...

      Other than the burgers being cooked rare, I also like my burgers, well, burgery? I don't want to use egg or breadcrumbs. I don't like flavoring the meat with fish oil (not as bad as it sounds, though!) or Worcestershire Sauce. I like to salt and (maybe to you it'd be heavily) pepper the meat and let it go. If I'm not going with superior beef, I like mixing it with a bit of ground pork and if I'm feeling really fancy (and want to score some bonus points from the hubs) I get ground bison.

      Another key to my favorite burgers is the cheese. And I gotta say - Jarlsburg is the way to go. It's a lot like a swiss cheese, but man - it's so much more. There's more flavor without getting too sharp. It's smooth and has depth (that made me think of those commercials where they make the cheese mature first, this cheese was born mature). You can buy huge chunks of it at Costco, and you should. I can't live without it.

      Beyond the cheese, there's onions. I am addicted to caramelized onions. I have yet to be truly successful at making them at home and I'm going to blame my electric stovetop on that one. I really don't know what I was thinking when I got a ceramic top electric oven when we remodeled our kitchen. We were on a budget, we were on a time constraint, I had pregnancy brain, but still - it was a very, very poor choice. I miss my ghetto apartment gas stove. Even if it looks horribly outdated.

      Anyway, usually I just add the onions (sometimes I use shallots or green onions from my CSA box) to the bacon that I'm cooking and hope for the best. I like turning the burner to medium low or lower after the bacon starts really turning pink and then I add them. I don't like my bacon extra crispy. I would say cutting the onions into the exact same size is probably part of my issue (issue being I don't do it...) because there's always some that are burnt, and it tends to be the smaller bits. But I don't like to waste and my knife skills aren't amazing. Maybe Culinary School is calling... Obviously, I also like some bacon on my burgers (hell, why not? It's not like we're going for the pinnacle of health here, and gotta say - I'm not a fan of too much green on my burger, a bit of greens and a thin slice of avocado doesn't hurt, I guess?).

      My favorite grilling side dish is grilled asparagus. You couldn't get me to eat the stuff when I was a kid - but I swear, my parents must not have cooked it enough or something, because now, now I feel like it's better than popcorn. To me that's really saying a lot. A coating of olive oil and a healthy amount of salt and pepper does the trick. If you feel like going the extra mile, add some grated parmesan cheese. Grill it pretty good, it gets crunchy and wonderful. The tops are amazing, but you won't stop there.

      Pictured here with the burger and asparagus was a thrown together pasta salad. It's hard to really say what all happened there, but I'll give you a list of the ingredients, as they really should be in your fridge/cupboards on hand at all times. You can have fast gourmet Italian meals in minutes, without a thought. Just add any combination of these things, some tomatoes or a simple cream sauce tossed into whatever neglected pasta you have in the cupboards. Keep these things on hand and you will never fail, seriously:
      • Parmesan Cheese (grated here)
      • Mozzarella Cheese (cubed)
      • Jar of Good Olives - and yes, even Kalamata counts, you don't HAVE to go green here
      • Jar of Marinated Artichoke Hearts
      • Jar of Sun Dried Tomatoes
      • Jar of Sliced Marinated Red Peppers (didn't actually use these in the pasta salad, but still - any marinara sauce you make should have some!)
      That just reminded me of this amazing meal that uses those red peppers... I'm gonna have to make that soon for you guys. Good, Turkish(ish), things are coming.

      Back to the pasta salad at hand - I also had some diced shallots and I added pepperoni slices (it makes it oddly more appealing to husbands and kids, I've found). A bit of evoo and red wine vinegar keeps it all together, sprinkle some fresh herbs on top (thyme was the way I went with it) and you're good to go. 

      But back to my main point - how do you like YOUR burger? 

      Sunday, July 10, 2011

      Honey Mustard Horseradish Chicken Pot Pie

      I love chicken pot pie. I'm not even sure it's possible not to. I like playing around with different sauces and mixtures of veggies with them, too. You really can't go wrong. Even on the days where all you have is an ignored bag of frozen peas and left over chicken, you can make an amazing pot pie. I don't know how I cooked before knowing how to make a roux. And sadly, that was like a year and a half ago! 

      In this reincarnation of chicken pot pie, I use roasted vegetables (usually all the root veggies I get in my CSA - Sunchokes, Parsnips, Sweet Potatoes, whatever happens to be in there) and toss them with some rosemary from the garden and some aged balsamic vinegar - it keeps the flavors lighter than in a heartier, thicker pot pie. 

      In this particular pot pie, I don't actually even use a roux. One time I did thicken the sauce with corn starch, and although I don't tend to like doing it that way unless I'm cooking Americanized Chinese food, it worked really, really well. If you see that you're looking for more "filling" and add it to the stovetop and toss in some cornstarch/water (1:2 ratio, shake in a jar until it's pasty) mixture to thicken it, know this - when taste testing it will seem much more bland than it will once mixed together and baked.

      Honey Mustard Horseradish Chicken Pot Pie

      You Will Need:

      • 1 Large Mixing Bowl
      • Cutting Board
      • Large Chopping Knife
      • Rubber Spatula
      • Baking Sheet
      • Aluminum Foil
      • Frying Pan
      • Pie Plate

      • 10 Yukon Gold Potatoes
      • 2 Carrots
      • 2 Parsnips
      • 1 Sweet Potato
      • 1 Sunchoke
      • Large Bunch Scallions 
      • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
      • Balsamic Vinegar (enough to drizzle)
      • 2 Sprigs of Rosemary (Even I, who loves to cut corners, would never use dried Rosemary... I just can't recommend that!)
      • 2 Large Chicken Breasts
      • 1-2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
      • 3 Tablespoons Honey
      • 3 Tablespoons Horseradish Mustard (one time I used fresh grated horseradish from the CSA and dijon mustard, but if you are a mustard kind of person like me, a bottle of horseradish mustard won't go to waste in the fridge door - I used Annie's Organic)
      • 1-2 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
      • Salt and Pepper to Taste
      • Pie Crust (pre-prepared or google one that looks easy)

      • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
      • Chop all of the vegetables into roughly the same sized chunks
      • Add scallions and toss with olive oil and rosemary, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and dash with salt and pepper to taste (more pepper, less salt for me!)
      • On a aluminum foil lined baking sheet roast mixture for 30 minutes
      • Cut chicken into bite-sized chunks and heat frying pan to medium
      • Add oil and wait for water-test sizzle, add chicken and cook 5 minutes
      • Drizzle with soy sauce and cook until done (3-5 minutes)
      • In mixing bowl mix together honey and mustards, salt and pepper to taste
      • Toss together chicken and vegetables into honey mustard sauce, taste! Add more honey/mustard as needed
      • Add chicken and veggie mixture to pie plate (make sure the crust is in there - I don't top this one with another pie crust) and bake at 425 for 25 minutes

      Thursday, July 7, 2011

      True Blood Season Premier Party - Red Hot Pancake Battered Shrimp and Super Easy Tater Tots and Popcorn Chicken with 3 Homemade Dipping Sauces and Peach Cobbler (it's to die for :)

      A couple Sundays ago was the series premier of True Blood and I've been meaning to have a theme party since the series premier, so I was long overdue. I'm glad I waited since this year I had Ann to help me plan it and we came up with the perfect menu. Part of me really wanted to go super fancy with it and pick up on the royal vampire feel (I'm sure they feed their blood dolls well) but we had a long week and a busy weekend, so we wanted to keep it very simple. We chose a couple things right off the bat, shrimp and cajun. Ann's plan was to make food you would get at Merlotte's.

      We decided to go with tater tots rather than sweet potato fries to keep it extra easy. A quick dusting of Cayenne Pepper spiced up the mini-tots and bag of popcorn chicken and gave us a chance to highlight a few tasty sauces for dipping. For the shrimp, Ann let me in on a secret - pancake batter was the way to go, and we kicked it up a notch with some Frank's Red Hot Sauce. Ann made up some easy sauces, a cocktail sauce, a bbq cream cheese sauce (like the one in the Jalapeno Hotdish) and a cajun sour cream. To finish off our mini-feast I made a Southern favorite - peach cobbler. And we tied it all together with some homemade Sangria.

      Here are Ann's Super Easy Saucy Dips, you really can't go wrong!

      (clicky the picture - the detail is better and you can see the yumminess better :)

      Creamy BBQ Dip
      • 1 8 Ounce Package of Softened Cream Cheese
      • 2 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Green Onion
      • 1/2 Cup Your Favorite BBQ Sauce (Ann says Devils Spit, I say KC Masterpiece and our friend Sam let us in on Billy Bear BBQ Sauce from our own Brooklyn Center and after trying it - I recommend that you do, too!)
      Mix together and keep chilled until you are ready to eat it.

      Great with popcorn chicken, veggies, tater tots - this dip makes anything good, be creative! Try it with chips or spice up your boring turkey sandwich with it.

      Easy Cocktail Sauce
      • 1 Cup Ketchup
      • 2 Tablespoons Creamy Horseradish (you may wish to change the amount to taste)
      Mix together and chill until you are ready to serve. Obviously, good with shrimp, but anything you put ketchup on would be happy to get a little horsey kick, too.

      Cajun Sour Cream
      • 1 8 Ounce Container of Sour Cream
      • 1 Tablespoon Finely Chopped Green Onion
      • 1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (add more if you are brave)
      • 1 Teaspoon Garlic Salt
      • Salt and Pepper to Taste
      • A Dash of Franks Red Hot Sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
      Mix all ingredients together and chill until served
      Great with potatoes, tater tots, fries, veggies, chicken, chips, crackers!

      If I had made the sauces, I would've added a dash or 2 of smoked paprika to them all. A bit more than a dash for the Cocktail and Cajun dip, though. Ann is anti-paprika, but I forgive her, hehe.

      Red Hot Pancake Battered Shrimp

      Ok, this one is really not finicky and I know, it may be a bit daunting because there are no specific measurements other than 1 egg and a teaspoon of veggie oil, but you can't mess it up, I promise. All you have to do is get the right consistency. 

      • 1 Package of Raw Shrimp, deveined and peeled with tail off
      • 1 Egg
      • Water
      • Milk
      • Flour
      • Tabasco or Frank's Red Hot Sauce
      • 1 Teaspoon Vegetable Oil 

      My tip is put in more milk, less water and as much flour as you need until it gets a bit heavier/more pasty. If it gets too thick, water it down. You don't need very much batter for the shrimp, a small mixing bowl is perfect. 

      A cup of flour and half a cup milk might be a good place to start. We seriously winged it and it turned out amazing. 

      Add the hot sauce to taste, keeping in mind that if you overdo it, it's ok. "Too much" is actually better in this situation - too little will be too bland and pointless. So, give it more than a couple shakes (I wouldn't necessarily go for a tablespoon or anything, though). Throw in the a teaspoon of oil and get to dipping the shrimp in.

      Heat a good amount of oil (we didn't deep fry them, but had a good standing amount in the pan, about a centimeter high) in a frying pan on medium heat and wait 'til it sizzles when flicked with water. 

      Add shrimp and cook for a few minutes on each side, until golden-brown. Let cool on a paper towel to de-grease. 

      Southern Peach Cobbler

      This is my husband's dad's real southern recipe. I had to spice it up and add some apple crisp technique to it, because I just love the crunchy spiced topping my mom makes. We used 2 regular sized cans of peaches (like the size of a can of beans or soup) and didn't think it was enough. I think we could've actually doubled the amount of peaches. 

      In One Large Mixing Bowl Mix Together:
      • 1 1/2 Cup Flour (dad says White Lily Flour, and I wouldn't argue with him! But, regular all-purpose will do)
      • 3 Tablespoons Baking Powder
      • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
      • 1/2 Cup Sugar
      • Slowly stir in 1 1/2 Cup Milk (we used half heavy whipping cream and half skim milk, whole milk is ideal, but you can make it work!)
      • 2 Cans or 4-6 Peaches (sliced and skinned)
      In Small MIxing Bowl Mix Topping With Fork:
      • 1/3 Cup Softened Butter
      • 1/3 Cup Oatmeal
      • 1/4 Cup Flour
      • 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
      • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
      • 1 Teaspoon Nutmeg
      Preheat oven to 350 degrees, melting one stick of butter in a 10x13 inch glass baking pan in the oven. Add mixture to the baking pan and top with peaches - next time, I'm definitely using fresh peaches and fully covering the top with fruit, maybe double layers. Sprinkle with crisp mixture. Bake for 40 minutes.


      In Large Bowl Mix:
      • 1 Bottle Red Wine (I'd go with a Cabernet Sauvignon)
      • 1 Cup Whiskey (hey, it was on hand! Pretty much any other booze works)
      • 1 Sliced Lemon
      • 1 Sliced Lime
      • 1 Cup Apple Cider (we were going for that spiced flavor to go with the cobbler, pick any juice you like)
      • 5 Squirts of Lime Juice (or lemon juice if that's what you have on hand)
      After letting the fruit soak for about an hour add in 1 Cup Sparkling Water or more if you want to dilute it. We kept adding sparkling water as the night went on and that worked perfectly. Best served chilled. We also ended up adding ice, but if there had been fridge room, we may have stuck with that instead.

      I really hope these simple recipes inspire you to put on a little party for your favorite show. It's a really fun theme and you can keep it easy - no excuses not to have a dinner party. Vegging out on the couch with your friends and sharing an inspired meal (even when you cheat and cut corners) is a great way to stay connected without spending a ton of money on a night out. 

      I have so many posts ready to go out, so please stay tuned this week for a variety of summer recipes!