Variations on a Theme

Spring has officially sprung in the great northwest and in my home that means it's hummus time!  Last year around this time I spent a little time every weekend making hummus and homemade pita.  (How did I never post about that?)  With my schedule lately, pita is a bit ambitious, especially with getting my organic garden off (or for a better word IN) the ground, so here's a quick post with a quick recipe for some fresh, homemade awesomeness.

Below is my simple, tried and true hummus recipe; put everything in the food processor and hit go.  What you do with it is up to you, I urge everyone to be creative, be thoughtful and be adventurous!

  • 16 oz cooked garbanzo beans with half the liquid

NOTE: I use 1 can of S&W Organic garbanzo beans for my hummus and hold all the liquid to add a bit at a time at the end to get the right consistency.  Sometimes it needs a lot, sometimes it doesn't need any.

  • 4 TBSP lemon juice
  • 2 TBSP sesame tahini
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt & pepper

Whir it up in a blender or food processor.  I usually do the garlic, tahini and lemon juice first and then add everything else because I like a little texture left in my beans.  Also, from experience I recommend NOT using a Bullet.  It does not like hummus.

Here are a couple variations I put together today for my inaugural Spring Hummus:

Organic Roasted Red Pepper

Roast one whole red bell pepper, rubbed with a little olive oil, at 375 for about 30-40 minutes.  Allow it to cool and remove the stem.  Add the whole thing, seeds, pulp and all, to the hummus.  Adjust the original recipe by:

  • Adding on extra garlic clove
  • Omitting any of the reserved garbanzo bean liquid
  • Reducing olive oil to 1/2 TBSP

Organic Cilantro, Onion & Lime

Adjust the original recipe by
  • Adding a handful of chopped cilantro
  • Adding about 1/4 cup of chopped white and/or green onion
  • Adding 1-2 TBSP lime juice to the lemon juice
  • Omitting any of the reserved garbanzo bean liquid

I recommend trying your hand at homemade pita, but in a pinch Stacy's Pita Chips will do!  Happy eating!

Easier Than It Looks

Last weekend I was feeling ambitious and craving brunch.  Having no desire to leave the house on a cozy Sunday morning I decided to make my own English muffins.

I typically tend to shy away from making bread because it's so involved.  I used to make homemade pita bread every weekend and, although it was cheap and delicious, it takes more time and energy than I usually have on a wintery weekend.  So, knowing my curiosity in creating a bread product to be a fluke, I took advantage of my fleeting ambition and my old bread maker I found for two dollars at a garage sale.

It's not great for baking, but it certainly takes the elbow grease out of mixing!  I'm sure if you look at your local Goodwill, St. VdeP or other thrift store you're bound to find something affordable, if you have the counter space (or cupboard space to hide it's hideousness) for when it isn't in use.

I researched a few recipes online and settled on the one from King Arthur Flour.  It felt low impact, had instructions for a machine mixed dough and I had all the ingredients on hand.  Also, I love King Arthur Flour.

I'm not the biggest fan of English muffins, I only really like them when I get the craving, or with Eggs Benedict (Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!)  So I didn't know much about how they are made.  For example, did you know they aren't baked?  They're cooked on a cornmeal covered griddle.  I didn't know that before last weekend.

Making English muffins is like a combo of biscuits and pancakes; you have to roll them and cut them without a lot of muss and you have to flip them at just the right time to get them nicely colored on both sides with just the right amount of bubbling within to help them rise.

The recipe was very simple to follow (I credit the ol' Toastmaster) and cooking was a snap.  Ultimately they were much cheaper and FAR MORE DELICIOUS than store bought and they had nice, soft nooks and crannies, perfect for toasting.

So... about those Eggs Benedict...

Celebrating New Year

I love learning new recipes and cooking food that requires me to go to stores I don't typically frequent.  I also love to cook things that curb cravings that usually drive people to go out to eat.  And one thing I learned when I lived in the Bay Area working with so many amazing Pinay ladies is that some food is ALWAYS better homemade than take-out.

This New Year's Day I rang in the new year with some Filipino flair and made three delicious staples.  Unfortunately I didn't have the battery power to give everything it's deserving Paparazzi.  Maybe next time.

I timed things just right to get it all done at the same time to have a fabulous dinner (plus leftovers).  I started with Chicken Adobo.  It's hard to find a trustworthy recipe since everyone I've ever known who made Adobo used different cuts of meat, different lengths of time to marinade and different spices.  But the constants I saw were vinegar, soy sauce, peppercorns and garlic.  This is the recipe I decided to use to adapt to the two chicken leg quarters I had on hand.  I let the chicken marinate for about 9 hours before starting to cook.  And it was beautiful when it was done.

I also made Pancit Canton, what one might consider the Filipino version of Chow Mein.  Only more delicious.  I used a recipe from Food Network as my guide, although I made a much smaller amount, omitted the pork, mushrooms (I love 'em, but was not in the mood) and fish sauce.  Also, if anyone knows were I can get calamansi, please let me know.

The noodles were pretty incredible; I picked up a bag at Pal Do world and expected them to be somewhat like Ramen because they're stiff and hold their shape in the packaging.  But once they hit the hot broth they softened quickly and absorbed the liquid easily without getting mushy.  Luckily they're the last step to the dish so the chicken and shrimp and veggies were all ready to go before adding broth and noodles.

Last but not least was Lumpia!!!  If you like eggrolls you'll love Lumpia.  They're very similar, but Lumpia are a bit thinner and the wraps don't end up with big bubbles in them and are nice and smooth like a spring roll (and perfect for making flautas instead of using tortillas, but that's another post).

I just checked my archives and I can't believe I've never posted about flautas... note to self...

This one didn't have a recipe, it just came by feel.  I've made them so many times, and eggrolls, too, that I just go with it.  But here's a guide recipe that looks like a pretty good one to try out.  I used chicken thigh meat instead of pork in mine.  The blog post that goes along with that recipe is also a good read.

So Happy New Year!  Here's to a wonderful 2012, hopefully full of new experiences and kitchen experiments, growth in skill and lots of tasty new things to share.  So a toast to anyone following, champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends...  Cheers!

Quickie on Holiday Baking

With the holidays I found little time to take pictures and even less time to post.  So here are a few links and pics of my holiday baking!

I wanted to try new things, so my first effort was a spin on sugar cookies; a vanilla bean and saffron drop cookie.

I used just a pinch of saffron and the insides of two whole vanilla beans in addition to the recipe found here.

The dough was a lovely yellow color, with flecks of aromatic vanilla bean.  It was a lot more coarse than I expected, but that seemed to be the theme of this year's Christmas cookies.  Possibly because my kitchen is so cold.

I rolled the balls pretty small, and they didn't spread much, surprisingly.  But the results were very tasty and a big hit at work.

I also took my first crack at biscotti with a recipe I adapted from one I got from a Real Simple daily email.

Instead of just cherries I used a dried fruit blend of cherries, blueberries and pomegranate.

Also, after they were nice and cool I dipped them in white chocolate and drizzled with semi-sweet.  Needless to say, after that they didn't last long enough to get a picture of.

I also made flour-less peanut butter cookies that were just delectable!

These also didn't spread much, however, they were extremely delicate when they came out of the oven.  Luckily, them were so delicious I didn't mind eating the broken pieces.

I also tried out:

  • This shortbread recipe to make Kalikimakas; a shortbread thumbprint filled with strawberry-guava jam.  
  • This recipe that we called Doodlebugs because they're tiny cookies that taste like Snickerdoodles
  • And of course, our family's tradition, what we call Butterballs.  Because it's just not Christmas without them.  And always the BHG recipe!

So, I'm dying to know, what did YOU make?!

Bad PR

I am of the opinion that most veggies get a bad wrap.  Broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, etc., they are all widely neglected and loathed without cause.  I've found that most people who claim not to like vegetables, either particularly or generally, have typically never had them prepared right.

For example, one of my most un-fond food memories of childhood were related to canned vegetables.  Asparagus, to be specific.  I can recall an evening when I was seven years old, sitting alone in the kitchen, just me and a plate of mushy, grey, bitter asparagus spears.  My resolve against consumption of such an abomination was, even then, steely and begrudging.  Overcooked, frozen and unfortunate pickling endeavors can be just as bad or worse than canned when it comes to veg.

One of the most commonly misunderstood veggies is Brussels sprouts.  I admit, even I was reluctant to invite them into my repertoire for a very long time, as a result of another childhood dinner table hostage negotiation.  But just like asparagus they are now one of my favorite veggie treats!  And very versatile.

So if you're just getting started, maybe a New Year's resolution to eat more leafy greens, here's something to get your feet wet with.  A very simple roasted Brussels sprouts recipe.

When buying Brussels sprouts you want bright green (not yellow), tightly packed sprouts on the smaller side.  If you can get them on the stalk that's even better, although much more labor intensive.  Avoid spotty and large sprouts.

When cleaning them, trim the ends of any brownish area and remove loose and yellow outer leaves.

1 1/2 lb of fresh Brussels sprouts, cleaned trimmed and halved.
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
A healthy pinch of Kosher salt
Pepper to taste

Mix your prepped sprouts with the oil, salt and vinegar, making sure each sprout is coated.  Roast them at 400 for 35 to 40 minutes, shaking the pan every so often to prevent sticking and encourage coloring, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.

I like them a little on the softer side and I add a little more salt before serving.  A great side dish to your Christmas Prime Rib...  I know it will be for mine!

Baking in Autumn Vol. 2

Thanksgiving and Fakesgiving have come and gone but the harvest bounty continues!  I've had an abundance of squash recently, thanks to Full Circle, and my collection gave way to signs of necessity this week; out of the four I had accumulated my Ambercup finally began to rot.  Boo.

So I had to think fast for the other three, two Delicatas, and a Carnival.  All three squash I halved, scooped out the seeds, rubbed with olive oil and roasted at 375 until they were soft and found their unique distinctions:

  • The small Delicata; pale skin with green striation.  Slightly sweet and very starchy, almost like a potato.
  • The large Delicata; pale yellow skin with orange striation.  Sweeter and softer, slightly stringy
  • The round, jolly Carnival; similarly shaped to Acorn but with an orange and green calico coloring. Soft and pleasant and sweet enough to eat on it's own
I wish I had thought to take pictures before  digging in, but hindsight is 20/20.

I combined the flesh and made dinner and dessert!

For dinner - Winter Squash Soup - serves 4

1 1/2 to 2 cups roasted squash
1 large sweet onion, roasted (I cut it in half w/skin on, rubbed with olive oil and roasted until soft)
2 cups water
2 tsp. Better Than Bullion chicken soup base
1/4 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream

Whir up the squash, onion and water in the food processor until smooth
Heat squash mixture in a medium saucepan with soup base and cream cheese over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally
Once cheese has fully melted, add sour cream and heat through until piping hot
Serve with crusty bread - I used Trader Joe's organic Ciabatta baked with a little Gruyere

For dessert - Harvest Spice Bread - makes 2 loaves
(Adapted from a recipe for Butternut Squash Bread I found here)

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 heaping teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 level teaspoon ground cloves
1 level teaspoon ground allspice
1 level teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups roasted squash, mashed
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place oven rack in center of oven. Generously grease 2 9x5-inch loaf pans.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices set aside.

 In a large bowl, combine squash, sugar, oil, eggs, and water until well blended. Add the flour mixture and stir until just blended.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack; remove from pan.

Cool completely before slicing.

Baking in Autumn Vol. 1

I LOVE AUTUMN!  It's my very favorite time of year!  It's going by so fast, though.  I need to get my bake on.

I've spent my free time of the last month moving into the new house (yay!) or working on my seasonal hibernation tactics (also yay... for me anyway).  I haven't had a whole lot of time or resources to do much cooking, which is unfortunate for the goodies in my past two Full Circle orders.  It seems that over the last month I've accumulated an abundance of Bartlett pears.

There's a common theme in my house when it comes to the produce delivery; much is done in the ways of utilizing the fresh veggies.  Soups, roasts, stir-fry, all sorts of deliciousness has been experimented with, enjoyed, tinkered, etc.  But the fruit often goes by the wayside.  It's either eaten as it is or, as in the tragic case of last month's plums, it sadly spoils.  What a waste!

So with my time today I was bound and determined to utilize what limited dishes I have unpacked and put the too-soft-to-eat, too-good-to-trash Bartletts to good use, somehow.  I considered making the pear crisp that I shared last year in my Southern Comfort post, but that seemed too rich for today.  I looked up bread recipes, muffin recipes, all of which appealed to me but didn't seem to really hit the spot for sweet.  So I decided to make an amalgam of the baked goods I found to create my own Spiced Pear Bundt Cake.

My camera is still packed and I forgot that my new iPhone is fully functional in the needed capacity until I had already made the batter.

The batter will be lumpy, due to the grated pear, but I recommend mixing until just incorporated and then moving quickly to preserve all the leavening power you can from the wet baking soda and baking powder, much like when making muffins.

Another thing I'd like to recommend is to use some plastic wrap or foil to cover the hole in your Bundt pan before dumping your batter in there.  Otherwise you'll likely end up with a mess.  I speak from experience.  (Sometimes the obvious things don't strike you when they should.)  Remove the wrap before putting the pan in the oven though.  Again... some obvious things...

To finish up the cake, depending on how rich you want it, you can make a simple glaze with powdered sugar and milk or buttermilk, if you so desire.  I think it would also pair (I seriously just wrote "pear" and then had to backspace.  Where is my mind today?!) well with a French vanilla or burnt sugar frosting.  I chose to just dust the cake with powdered sugar.

The crumb is much like zucchini bread and the cake itself is just sweet enough, dense and moist.  Flecks of pear are hidden like little fruit gems and the spice gives enough bite to keep it interesting.  I think that it will make a nice, mild desert or a great breakfast with coffee.  I imagine later in the season I'll pair it with some eggnog...  Looking forward to that.

Spiced Pear Bundt Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
3/4 cup butter, softened, or 3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups sugar
2 cups ripe pears (about 4); peeled and grated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lightly grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients until well incorporated.  Set aside.
Peel and core pears (I use a melon baller to core them).   Grate  your pears into a medium sized bowl; a typical cheese grater size will do.  Stir in the rest of the wet ingredients, making sure everything is very well blended.  
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until everything is moistened.  Then quickly transfer your batter into your prepared Bundt pan.
Bake for 1 hour, or until the cake is firm to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool your cake for about 10 minutes on a wire rack, then turn it out of the pan using the two-wire-rack technique and cool it completely.  Once cool, transfer the cake to a serving platter and top it as you so desire.

Mac & Cheese: A Love Story

When life is insane, work is stressful, family is driving you crazy and your commute has become akin to a one-sided long term relationship, comfort food is in order. 

I know, I know, I've blogged about macaroni and cheese before.  But it's my favorite comfort food.  So I won't bore you with more drudgery, recipes etc.  But here's my latest batch...

I'm improving on my Mac skills and experimenting with noodle shapes, cheese types, fat content of milk, etc.  This one is a radiatore with Tillamook Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar, Monterrey Jack and a little Beecher's Flagship made with organic 2% milk.

If you have any M&C recipes to share, please do!  My kitchen door is always open...

Mambo Italiano!!!

I.  Love.  Italian food.  I don't know anyone who can honestly say they don't.  I also love vegetarian food.  I do know plenty of people who can honestly say they don't.  My goal is to change their minds with this; my favorite vegetarian lasagna recipe.

Isn't she gorgeous?  And not as complicated or time consuming as one would think.  Here are some tips:

  • Do not fear the roux.  If you've read my post about Macaroni & Deliciousness, then you will know I once feared the roux.  But it's easy and worth facing the phobia in order to get a good Béchamel.  And don't be afraid of the intimidating name; it's just white gravy. 
  • Don't make it too hard on yourself.  The zucchini and eggplant can be trick to slice correctly if you don't have a mandolin, and the whole marinating and grilling thing can be a deterrent to doing this at all if you're not in the mood.  I recommend Trader Joe's eggplant and zucchini mélange.  They sell it in the frozen food section, so make sure it's fully thawed before you use it.
  • Fresh pasta is best, but don't beat yourself up about it.  If you use dry lasagna, par-boil to a bit firmer than preferable to eat by itself.  Don't boil the hell out of it; the rest of the cooking will come in the oven.
  • What?  No tomato sauce?!  That's right.  Trust me on this one.  Try it at least once and if you really want some red, drippy, overly robust casserole thing, do it next time.
  • As always, make it your own.  Sometimes, when I'm feeling cheesy, I'll add some extra goat cheese or Fontina.  Sometimes I increase the amount of sauce, tinker with some extra nutmeg, toss in some sun-dried tomatoes or what have you.  I recommend against black olives in this one, despite how much I love them, but if that's your thing, that's your thing.

When all is said and done you should have a deliciously oozy, crispy on the top, melty in the middle, delightfully veggie laden plate of awesomeness.  Something like this...

Buon Appetito!

Fancy Pants Vegetarian Lasagna

Olive Oil (for brushing the pan)
2 eggplants, sliced
4 small zucchini, sliced
2 Tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley (flat leaf)
1 Tbsp finely chopped Marjoram
1 Tbsp finely chopped Oregano
2 Tbsp chiffonade Basil
10 oz shredded Mozzarella (Sometimes I will substitute with a bag of good "Italian Blend" pre-shred)
1 pint (about 2.5 cups) strained canned tomatoes (S&W usually, or San Marzano if I remember to buy fancy pants tomatoes)
1 box no-precook lasagna (if you can't find it, par-boil regular lasagna until bendable but not fully cooked)
1 pint Béchamel sauce (recipe below)
4 oz freshly grated Parmesan
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Brush a large ovenproof dish w/olive oil.
Brush a large grill pan w/olive oil and heat until slightly smoking
Cook eggplant slices on grill and over medium heat for 8 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towel if needed.
Melt butter in a skillet and add the garlic, zucchini and herbs. Cook over medium heat stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until the zucchini are golden brown all over. Remove from pan and drain of paper towels.

Layer the eggplant, zucchini, mozzarella, strained tomatoes, half of the béchamel sauce and lasagna in the ovenproof dish, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Final layer should be lasagna.
Pour remaining béchamel sauce over everything, making sure all the pasta is covered.
Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Béchamel Sauce
1/2 stick butter (2 oz)
1/4 cup flour (2 oz)
2 cups whole milk
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Melt butter, add flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly for 1 minute
Remove the pan from heat and gradually stir in milk
Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until thickened and smooth.
Add the bay leaf and let simmer gently for 2 minutes.
Remove the bay leaf and season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg

A Side Note...

Damn, it's been a cold summer... Just recently has the sun decided to perch for a few days in a row.  So I've been trying to frequent as many farmer's markets as possible in these dwindling days of summer in search of vegetation.  There's nothing better than eating locally and in season, something which I've just learned a new term for! 


I'm in love with the idea already.  Here's a little something to chew on...

"...understanding that it's about deliciousness, not just the slavish attention to somebody else's rules to eating something local..."

And if you're in the area, take advantage of what is being offered nearby while you can!  Washington is such a glorious state to eat in come Indian Summer...

A Real Quickie...

I'm looking for some real feedback here, so please, share your comments!  I'm searching for a new great breakfast idea.  Well, new to me, hopefully tried and true to you.

I heard of a fantastic sounding breakfast casserole from a friend yesterday, and I'm looking forward to trying it out on my next breakfast splurge as opposed to my typical poached eggs with green onions over toast.  So if you have any other ideas to share, please do!!!

Anyway, thanks in advance...

Following the Rules

A few months ago I picked up a little Italian cookbook from a clearance table for a couple bucks.  Somehow it ended up hidden away in my closet, not to be found until last week.  Hooray!


Each recipe has an illustration and the instructions are written simply; both good ways for a cookbook to keep my attention.  I love cookbooks, but when things get too wordy or I have no idea what something is supposed to look like I tend to lose interest quickly and use a recipe as inspiration for my own creation.  So it's been a good exercise and challenge to flip through my little clearance book and follow the rules.

The first thing I made was a Genoese Vegetable Soup.  I had a big bunch of fresh yellow and green beans and some green and gold zucchinis on hand from a friend's garden and their expiration dates were a good motivator to find a recipe that would used both.  They happily accompanied a plethora of other fresh veggies which took some prep time but would end up being worth the while.

My only regret in terms of veggies is that I was unable to find fresh peas anywhere.  Too late in the season, I suppose, but the softer canned peas added some body to the hearty soup.

After my veggie prep was complete I dumped everything into my big soup pot and added some extra virgin olive oil followed by some Swanson broth. 

The recipe calls for vegetable stock, but I have been hard pressed to find a good veggie stock or broth that I enjoy.  If you have any recommendations, please post.  I used half chicken and half beef broth.  It took away the vegetarian aspect of the soup, unfortunately, but it was still delicious.

The other workaround I used was to avoid making my own pesto.  Did I mention this soup has pesto?  Divine,  no? Anyway, I really wasn't in the mood for more prep and cleaning up the food processor (I don't have a mortar and pestle... hint hint, Christmas is coming...) so I chose ready made Buitoni Pesto with Basil.  It's not bad for store bought and usually tastes pretty fresh; I was pleased.  I'll definitely make my own next time, though...

The soup cooked for a long time which made it very thick and deadened a lot of the color.  I was concerned that there wouldn't be enough liquid to cook the pasta at the end, but no worries.  I chose  Barilla Piccolinoi Mini Farfalle which didn't soak up too much liquid and cooked in about 6 minutes.

After adding the pesto and allowing the soup to sit for a few minutes we scooped up hearty bowlfuls and topped with shredded Parmesan.  Served alongside some warm, crusty Pugilese bread it made a great, hearty meal and was FULL of flavor.  It didn't make the prettiest picture, but made up for it's lacking photogenic quality in deliciousness and frugality.

So here you go, please visit your nearest Farmer's Market and take advantage of the late season bounty before we're in full-fledged fall!

There are many different recipes available for this soup, it looks like everyone goes by the veggies they like and are in season, but this is the one I used out of my clearance cookbook.

Ingredients for Soup

2 onions, sliced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 potatoes, diced
4 oz. green beans, cut into 1 inch lengths
4 oz. peas
7 oz. fresh young spinach leaves, shredded
2 zucchini, diced
8 oz. plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 cups vegetable stalk (I substituted 4 cups chicken broth and 4 cups beef broth)
salt and pepper
5 oz. dried soup pasta (I used mini farfalle)
1 recipe of Basil Pesto (see below; I substituted with ready-made basil pesto)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Ingredients for Pesto
4 Tbsp fresh basil leaves
1 Tbsp pine nuts
1 garlic clove
1 oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Put all veggies and garlic in a large, heavy-bottomed pan.  Pour in the olive oil and stock.  Bring to a boil over medium-low heat.  Reduce the heat and let simmer gently for about 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the pesto; put the basil, pine nuts and garlic into a mortar and pound to a paste with a pestle.  Transfer to a bowl and gradually work in the cheese with a wooden spoon, followed by the olive oil to make a thick, creamy sauce.  (You can also do this in a food processor by adding all ingredients except the olive oil and pulsing together to combine, then run on low speed while slowly adding the oil, but they don't tell you that...).  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed

Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper and add the pasta.  Cook for an additional 8-10 minutes, until the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite.  The soup should be very thick.  Stir in half the pesto, remove the pan from the heat and set aside to rest for 4 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt, pepper and pesto if necessary.  Any leftover pesto may be stored in a screw-top jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks (or if you're like me, you'll just keep the other half of your pesto in the container it came in ;) ).

Ladle into warmed bowls and serve immediately.  Pass around the freshly grated Parmesan cheese separately (those are the words used in the recipe, I think they're weird, but don't skimp on the cheese!)

The Fabled Bruschetta

It's been awhile since I've posted, but I've been busy with new recipes!  Before I get to those posts, though, I just want to share the pics of the AWESOME bruschetta made with those tiny, beautiful heirloom tomatoes from the previous post.

First I did a rough chop to keep hearty pieces of tomato intact.

 Then I dressed the tomatoes with a chiffonade of basil, some extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper.

It was hard not to eat it right then!  But I refrained.  I laid the sliced baguette on a wire rack over a cookie sheet and scooped my precious little jewels onto the bread...

...making sure to keep the edges clear of vegetation in order to ensure crispiness.

Then I topped the little beauties with a blend of Gouda, Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.  I also made a few pieces brushed with olive oil and topped with fresh thyme, basil and parsley and Parmesan cheese for a crispy base for some of the raw tomato mixture left over.  Here's an 'After' picture - I like the cheese to be gooey so it's lacking in typical golden deliciousness:

Yum!  Super simple supper for summer.  Don't forget to visit your local Farmer's Market.  If you're local to me, here's a good place to find one before they shut down for the winter.


I know I've already done a post about Bruschetta, but I had to share these tomato glamour shots!  They're going to be coarsely chopped and dressed with fresh basil and olive oil before adorning thin slices of baguette tomorrow...

And a landscape shot...

I seriously took, like, ten pictures of my little pint of heirloom minis, I love them so!  Thank you for the inspiration, Heidi!!!

Simple Things for Late Summer

It's September and starting to become more and more autumnal, despite the 80 degree freak weather we're having.  A perfect time to bid a fond farewell to summer and welcome the early fall.  I did so by enjoying our First Annual Welcome September Feast.

What you see here are the spoils of some lucrative cheese basket raiding from Metropolitan Market.  They have a pretty good cheese selection, but all their odds and ends from tastings and custom cutting end up individually wrapped and heaped into a big basket at the end of the refrigerator section.  Here you can find some glorious snippets for a dollar or two that will curb your craving and give you something new to try without committing to $14.99 a wedge.

Here are the selections chosen for the feasting: 

Tintern - a Welsh soft cheddar-like cheese with chives and shallots.  Very strong flavor, a known favorite of my household. 

Argentine Parma - A softer version of Parmesan from Argentina.  Not as crusty but still nice and salty. 

Mount Tam Triple Cream - An organic, creamy, earthy cheese from Cowgirl Creamery in Petaluma, CA. Good for brie lovers, not so good for noobs. 

Double Cream Gouda - From Holland, delicious, firm and creamy.  A nice break from the typical smoked Gouda, as this is sans smoke. 

Rollingstone Chèvre Cranberry Walnut Torta - I. Love. Goat cheese.  This you know from my post Cows Get All the Glory.  I try so hard not to be biased, but it was great; creamy, sweet and tangy with flecks of cranberry and little nubbins of walnut.  Yummeroo. 

Cornish Yarg - Come on, how can you pass up something called 'Cornish Yarg?!'  I had to buy it out of principle.  This one comes from the UK and is actually left to age wrapped in nettle leaves.  It was pretty mild, I was expecting more body and bite from something called 'Yarg,' but overall  it was pleasant. 

Raspberry BellaVitano - Surprisingly my favorite of the eve.  Kind of a cross between asiago and cheddar, but it's soaked in New Glarus Raspberry Tart Ale from Wisconsin to make it deliciously fruity. 

Gorgonzola - A tradish gorgonzola, nice and sweet but not a dolce. 

Circa 1926 Gouda - This was pretty amazing for a Gouda.  It's like finding out your lame cousin you see at Christmas, who sits around and talks about D&D, is a tap-dancing one-man-band on the weekends.  It was hard, but creamy, salty and sweet with a nice bite at the beginning and a smooth finish.  I was impressed.  Also, sans smoke.  This one is a Metropolitan Market exclusive from Beemster. 

Graskaas Limited Edition Cheese - Who doesn't love mystery cheese?  Plus the name reminded me of the Penny Arcade strip with Lord Skaas.  It was pretty delicious, mild and creamy.  Another one from Beemster made with the first milkings when the Beemster cows return to the fresh spring pastures after a winter without grazing. 

Point Reyes Original Blue - Another California cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.  Has a nice bite but doesn't leave too much of that bleu cheese sting behind.  Not as sweet or mild as the Gorgonzola.

To round out our feast we had a couple of awesome loaves from Macrina Bakery; the Giuseppe and the Fresh Herb Baguette.  Crunchy outsides, tender, chewy insides.  Delectable.  It went well with balsamic vinegar and garlic infused olive oil with fresh basil.

Plus some roasted almonds, dried cranberries, some Whidbey Wildberry Chocolate Truffle bar and a a big ol' sliced peach.

All together a fantastic feast for all 5 senses, worthy of the season!  There was way too much to finish, obviously, but it should make for some tasty leftovers.

The simplicity of it all was probably one of the most delicious things about the meal; slicing a peach, chopping some basil, cutting some bread and unwrapping cheese.  Voila!  A beautiful celebration for the season, honoring some delicious food in the best way possible; by doing as little as possible to it.