Fresh Basil and Garlic Scape Pesto

One of my culinary versions of perfect deliciousness is garlic, lots of it, basil, and olive oil: pesto. I regularly make this in the summertime, either in the blender or by hand. Pesto in Italian means “to pound,” so on occasion I try the old school method with a mortar and pestle, but usually revert to the blender, as it’s a lot easier and quicker! You can serve it on warm pasta, over grilled veggies or meat, in soups and salads, or with fresh bread, any place you want a little oomph to the dish you’re cooking. The only thing I have to remember is to not get too close to people the next morning; while I’ll be keeping away the warlocks and bugs with my garlic breath, I might also be keeping away other humans!

I made this the other night and thought I had died and gone to heaven. Admittedly, I put in a little too much garlic, even for me, but it was still peppery, spicy, and delicious. I had a couple of garlic scapes I bought at the farmer’s market, added that to mix this time, along with the basil, chopped garlic, olive oil, and cheese. (Garlic scapes are the tops of garlic bulbs, that come up in June or so. Be sure to use the scape below the little bulb, the very top can be discarded. They are a milder flavor than their counterpart, a little tough, but good! Try them in the recipe or in a stir fry for a little bit of garlic flavor.) If I have it on hand, I’ll also add a small handful of parsley. I’ve also made the same recipe with cilantro in place of the basil. I was skeptical at first, but it too is delicious.

When I have an overflow of basil and garlic in August, I make batches of pesto and freeze it for later use. Placed in tiny containers with plastic wrap on top to ward off freezer burn, opening one of these in the middle of January is like a breath of summer and is a gentle reminder of what we can look forward to in a mere six months.

As with many of dishes I make, this one I make up as I go along, depending on what I have on hand. So, here goes:

Fresh Basil and Garlic Scape Pesto
• About 2 cups fresh basil
• 2-3 cloves of fresh garlic, coarsely chopped
• 2 garlic scapes, chopped
• 2 tablespoons of pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts (optional)
• About 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
• About 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

With the blender on “chop,” add the basil through the chute. Add the chopped garlic and scapes, cleaning the sides of the blender as you go along. Add the nuts, if using. With the blender whirring, gently add the olive oil. Add the cheese, then make sure everything is well mixed before adding to your dish.

A Strawberry Solstice Celebration!

For those of us living in the northern climes, summer can’t get here fast enough. From the crisp cold of November to the warming and mud of March, I feel as if I live in a small cave. It’s dark when I get up in the morning, dusk-ish when I go to work, and dark when I leave work. Lamps that aren’t touched during the summer are all glowing in an effort to bring lightness to our lives. Outdoors on Saturday mornings, I notice things that I bypassed during the week because I’m not at home during the light of day. April and May brings warmer weather, the removal of snow tires from our cars, and a general lightness, both physically and emotionally. The bulky sweaters and turtlenecks are replaced with t-shirts and dresses.

So when the sunny and light-filled day of June 21 comes along, that means two things– the longest day of the year and strawberries! Several afternoons on my way home from work, from the middle to end of June through the first couple of weeks of July, I stop at the store for a quart of strawberries. On the weekends, I go up the road to a farm and buy a couple more. Nothing compares to a fresh Vermont strawberry. Nothing. And since our growing season is short, about a month, I take full advantage of it!

Once a year I make my favorite, strawberry shortcake, and sometimes this is our dinner, our whole dinner. Or breakfast. Or brunch. Or lunch. Or snack. Really, any time is a perfect time for strawberry shortcake! If I’m making it for a crowd, I will make a large biscuit in a cake pan, let it cool, slice it in half horizontally, lay down a layer of whipped cream and strawberries, and put more cream and berries on the top. It is fairly easy and really beautiful and you will get oohs and aahs at the table. Since it was just two of us this evening, I made the biscuit and cut it into eighths, so I can individually wrap each one and stick them in the freezer for another meal.

This biscuit, which comes from The New England Cookbook, by Brooke Dojny, which was given to me as a gift from my dear friend, Sarah, many Christmases ago, is the best one I’ve found so far. Just a little sweet, not crumbly, and really complements the berries and cream. Dojny’s instructions are for using a food processor; Luddite that I am, I did this by hand, but either way will work.

And if you’re watching your weight or are gluten intolerant, a small bowl of berries and whipped cream makes an equally delicious dessert! I’ve had both this week!

Egg Biscuit Cake
From The New England Cookbook, by Brooke Dojny
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into about 10 pieces (Cook’s note: I used salted butter and cut the salt to 1/4 teaspoon)
1 egg
1/2 milk

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the dried ingredients. Add the cut butter and with a knife or pastry blender, work it into the flour until it is crumbly. In a small bowl, add the egg and mix in the milk. Make a small well at the bottom of the flour mixture, add the egg and milk, and mix until everything is incorporated. (Cook’s note: The author suggests putting this on a floured surface and kneading together. I did this in the bowl instead.) Place into a greased 8-inch cake pan and pat into a circle.

In terms of baking time, these are Dojny’s instructions:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When you put the biscuit in the oven, immediately reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for 22 to 26 minutes until the shortcake is pale golden brown on top. (Cook’s note: Since my oven is a bit more fussy, I cooked the shortcake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or so and just kept a watchful eye on it.) 

Homemade Whipped Cream
Take either whipping cream or heavy cream and put it in a bowl with a splash of vanilla and a few teaspoons of sugar (I am always taste testing as I’m whipping it to make sure there is just the right about of sugar.) With a hand mixer, turn to high and continue to move the cream around. Stop when you reach the consistency of whipped cream you like. Beware, if you go too stiff, you’ll make butter!

The Bounty is Coming….

Happy Summer Solstice!

With the rains slowly stopping and July 1st just a couple of weeks away, the bounty from our farms is starting! This is a most exciting time; Saturday mornings I stop at the farmer’s market before the grocery store and coop. In the picture you’ll see this week’s picks: pea shoots, scallions, basil, breakfast radishes (named by the British, but I put on an evening salad instead), kohlrabi, spinach, garlic shoots, and more. Saturday evening’s salad was a simple one, assorted greens topped with leftover avocado, those British radishes, and pea shoots. Two teaspoons of olive oil, a dash of champagne vinegar, and some salt and pepper. Divine! Stay tuned, while the season got a late start, I think this is going to be a fantastic one for recipe creations!

* * *

Friday night dinners are always a conundrum. After a week of work, I’m tired, yet don’t want to go out, but am willing to cook if it’s really simple. In the winter, this usually means homemade pizza or soup. Throw it in a pot and turn on the heat–or toss the crust on a pan, add some sauce, cheese, and veggies and pop in the oven. Last Friday I had no clue what I wanted to eat for dinner. Every meal I thought of just didn’t appeal to me, and I dislike going to the grocery store and searching for something to strike my fancy. So as I was driving there, I thought of the vegetables I had left in the bin from last week (peppers and carrots), some dried shiitake mushrooms in the cupboard, and some shallots and garlic on the counter. A few more veggies, a package of chicken, and a can of coconut milk and I could make a tasty red curry stir fry over rice. Exactly what I wanted! Some asparagus and chicken and I was ready for dinner, except the coconut milk. After a thorough search, I found the spot where the coconut milk was supposed to be–empty. Foiled!

I saw a recipe last week called “Sherry Vinegar Chicken Nuggets and Herbs” or something like that, so I was intrigued by the name, so I decided to make my version. It was delicious, nutritious, and best of all, really easy for a Friday night; the only thing that really took time was chopping the veggies and chicken! I put five shiitakes in a small bowl with boiling water to reconstitute them; you can used dried mushrooms, fresh one, or leave out. I’m not sure what vinegar to suggest for substituting the sherry vinegar, so I would urge you to buy a bottle. It’s my new favorite vinegar, I used it on salads all winter long. It’s tangy yet subtle, and its flavor is divine. It may be hard to find, my supermarket has just one brand, and although it’s a small bottle and a little pricey (yet under $4), I think it’s totally worth it and a little bit goes a long way. Depending on your own vegetable bin, you can use more, less, or substitute whatever would be tasty in a stir fry! Oh, and by using the skillet for both the veggies and the chicken, clean up is two knives, a cutting board, a bowl, a skillet, and plates!

Lazy Friday Night
Stir Fry
Serves 2 with plentiful leftovers

2 boneless breasts of chicken, diced into bite-sized pieces

1 cup chopped asparagus
1/2 chopped carrots
1 red pepper, sliced thinly
4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted (you can leave out or use fresh mushrooms)
A couple gloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced

A pot of cooked brown or white rice

In a skillet, heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil. When warm, add the asparagus and carrots and cook for a few minutes until soft. Add red pepper, mushrooms, and stir. When the veggies are just about done, add the garlic and jalapeno and mix until they become fragrant. Take the skillet off the stove and put mixture into a bowl.

In the same skillet, add a little bit more olive oil. When warm, add the diced chicken. Add about 1/3 of a cup of the sherry vinegar and mix it in the chicken. Since the chicken is bite sized, it should take about five minutes or so to cook, but make sure the meat doesn’t absorb the vinegar, you want a little bit left for flavoring the stir fry. On a plate, add the rice, veggies, and chicken, relax, and enjoy!

Gigi’s Chicken Salad

Gigi making her way home after an evening of waiting for her rabbit friends!

This summertime salad, named after our late cat, Gigi, encompasses a nutritious lunch or dinner: protein from the chicken and nuts, plus a bit of sweetness from the grapes. Although Gigi has been gone for almost two years now, I always expect to hear the clickity clack of her nails on the kitchen floor whenever I started to make this. She always liked a sample of chicken before I mixed it together.

I don’t like heavy, saturated salads, so this is nice and light tasting, but you can always use more mayo and/or yogurt if you prefer. As always, these are approximations and you can always use more or less of one ingredient to suit your own palate!

Gigi’s Chicken Salad
• About three cup cooked boneless breasts of chicken
• A half cup of red grapes
• Some chopped celery, if desired
• Small handful of chopped almonds, walnuts, or pecans
• Chopped fresh (or dried) dill weed
• Chopped fresh parsley (if desired and available)
• About a tablespoon of mayonnaise
• About 2 tablespoons of Greek yogurt (or 3 tablespoons of mayo)
• Salt and pepper

For lunch, I had the salad on greens with a little bit of avocado. Yum!

Dice chicken into bite sized pieces. Slice grapes into half, add the chopped nuts, herbs, and salt and pepper. Add the mayonnaise and yogurt, mix, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Place on a bed of lettuce or spinach with crusty bread or a pita pocket.

Foodie Book Review: Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard

4 out of 5 stars

The first sentence in Elizabeth Bard’s food memoir, Lunch in Paris, is “I slept with my friend husband halfway through our first date.” From there I was hooked–and so was she. An American living in London, who meets a Parisian, never to return to live in the States again. Was it the man or the food? “The waiter slapped down my pavé au poivre.  It was not a particularly impressive plate—a hunk of meat, fat fried potatoes piled carelessly to one side. But something happened as I sliced the first bite—no resistance, none at all. The knife slid through the meat; the thinnest layer of crusty brown opening to reveal a pulpy red heart. I watched as the pink juices puddled into the buttery pepper sauce.” Bard and this reader were swooning at this point!

Bard aptly captures what it’s like to live in a city and country with little knowledge of the language and eventually learning the ropes; visits to the farmer’s market and the butchers ends up with a mixture of English, French, and finger pointing. Finding friends, finding a job, life as we all know it is not as she knows it, with everything different and a struggle. But what she does have is cooking skills, and she learns how to make traditional French dishes and weaves entertaining recipes in each chapter. The recipes even are fun to read, and she carefully crafts each one with clear directions for even the novice cook. Along with cooking, Bard loving describes Paris and for the armchair traveler (and armchair foodie), this is a joy to read. It’s a romantic love story, filled with observations on French women, food habits, Paris, and even the unsexy themes such as the French health care system and buying real estate in Paris.

If I have one criticism for the book, if it can be called that, is I feel Bard may be on a different plane than perhaps her average reader as she was able to travel to the United States (and her parents to France) in what appeared to be several times a year. Most of the people I know don’t have that luxury of traveling to see overseas family once a year or more. Still, this was a fun journey to take and a life to live in for a little while.

One Word: Pasta

Last night it was a solo supper evening. When these occur, I usually have a “Chris meal,” or, a very large salad with lots of “accessories.” I went to my usual Thursday night yoga class and halfway through my dazed savasana, I awoke to one word: pasta. I had such a craving. I try to stay away from most carbohydrates, but that evening I was focused and couldn’t get it out of my head.

As I was driving home after class, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I had a rather sad looking container of mushrooms that needed attention, a few grape tomatoes, and much to my pleasure, some linguini. As the water was getting ready to boil, I minced some garlic and red onion together, heated a little bit of olive oil and butter, and once melted, added the garlic and onion and cooked at low heat. As these were cooking, I sliced the mushrooms. Once the garlic was just about soft, I added the mushrooms and cooked these also at a low heat until they released their juices and became very soft. I sliced the grape tomatoes, put the pasta in for 8 minutes, and waited–and took the compost out.

In a large mixing bowl, I added the mushrooms, cooked pasta, tomatoes, and tossed. A couple splashes of white wine (if you don’t drink alcohol, you can use vinegar or lemon for some brightness, or leave out), and ground some black pepper and added some salt and crushed red pepper for heat (of course, you can always leave that out as well). After incorporating all the ingredients, I placed a helping in a bowl, grated some cheese on top, and sat to eat with a small glass of wine and the latest Consumer Reports. I was in  heaven.

I did end up eating my salad, albeit a much smaller one. Just the way I like it, greens with a little bit of olive oil and vinegar.

Sometimes varying from the traditional can make for a very happy supper.

Simple Rhubarb-Strawberry Sauce

The middle of May to the beginning of June in Vermont means warmer weather, waking to the chirping of birds, lilacs, and rhubarb! Last spring I overdid it and bought tons of rhubarb for pies and sauces–which I discovered this spring I hadn’t used. I recently found two bags stuck in the back of the freezer, and since I’m a die-hard thrifty Yankee and I hate to throw food away, I decided to see how it would taste if I cooked it up. I had about five cups of frozen, diced rhubarb that I placed into a dutch oven, found a cup of frozen strawberries, and left the pot on the counter overnight for the fruit to defrost. In the morning, everything had melted with just the right amount of water. I put it over medium heat on the stove, stirring occasionally. I added about 3/4 of a cup of sugar, tasting along the way, and it was enough to make it sweet-tart; I added a dash of cinnamon as well for a little bit of spice. It was done in about 20 minutes. You can make this with fresh rhubarb too, just add a bit of water, strawberries or maybe red raspberries, and watch it carefully so 1. It doesn’t boil over; and 2. It doesn’t stick to the pot. (I ruined a saucepan once when I wasn’t paying attention!) Medium to low heat is best.

You can use this sauce with anything, as a dessert topped with some fresh whipped cream; as a chutney with chicken or pork; or even as a pie filling. My favorite way is just by itself in a small bowl with my breakfast!

Vegetarian Summer Rolls


Happy Friday!

Here is my first summertime recipe! I call these “summer” rolls as opposed to “spring” rolls, because I make these on evenings when I want nothing to do with turning on the stove! I made them for the first time this season the other night, 80-plus degrees with a faint breeze. Too hot to cook!

I taught myself how to make these a few years ago when a rather upscale supermarket was selling packages of four tiny rolls for nearly $5! I loved eating them, but not spending the money, and decided I could make my own much more cheaply!

My prep station!

The chopping of the veggies is what takes up most of the time, so I find having a nice cool glass of wine or sparkling water and something fun to listen to on the stereo bides the time away. Be sure to have everything chopped and ready to go; the rice paper is pretty unforgiving if you leave it either in water or outside of it for any length of time. Once you get the hang of the rice paper, the process goes fairly quickly.

This is the rice paper I use for making rolls. I find them in the ethnic section of my co-op.

You can do any number of combinations of veggies and I also like to use tofu for a nice creamy/crunchy roll. You could use zucchini, summer squash, spinach, lettuce, the list is endless for any veggie you can eat uncooked. I like to have everything somewhat the same length so they lay nicely in the roll; everything is sliced, as opposed to diced.

This is what was in this week’s rolls:

• Avocado, sliced
• Carrots, cut in matchstick pieces
• Orange pepper strips
• Cilantro leaves (mint is also a really good addition–or by itself!)
• Tofu, cut into strips
• Cucumber, seeded and cut into thin strips
• Scallions
• Cabbage, sliced

To soak the rice paper: This is my method that I discovered through trial and error. Take a large mixing bowl and fill it with hot tap water. I place one rice paper in the bowl, and move it around until it is soft, yet still pliable and not mushy. This takes about 5 seconds or so. (When I take the rice paper out of the water, I replace it with another, so it is ready to go when I come back.) Place the rice paper on a cutting board, load up the veggies. Bring in the sides of the paper, then roll in jelly roll fashion, and place on a serving platter. Once you start doing a few of these, you’ll become accustomed to how much filling to use and you’ll become a well-oiled roll making machine!

For sauces, I have an easy standby, but this time I made an extra one. I’ve had an old jar of peanut butter in the cupboard that I was saving to make a peanut sauce to accompany the summer rolls.

Peanut Sauce
About a 1/2 cup of peanut butter
Warm water
A couple dashes of rice wine vinegar
A couple dashes of soy sauce or tamari
Chili garlic sauce (sambal oelek sauce) to taste, if desired

Place the peanut butter in a small bowl and add hot water, enough to make a paste. Start off with a little bit, mix and repeat until you achieve the desired consistency for the sauce. Add the vinegar, soy sauce, and then add enough chili garlic sauce to give it a kick, if you’re using. I’m thinking this also would go well on noodles, with a little bit of chicken or tofu, and scallions.

Summer Roll Sauce
Hoisin sauce
Rice wine vinegar
Chili garlic sauce (sambal oelek sauce), to taste

Place about 1/3 of a cup of hoisin sauce in a bowl, add the vinegar and chili garlic sauce to taste.

A couple of tips:
• Leftover rolls are the best for lunch the next day! Just be sure to lay them side by side in a container as opposed to stacking otherwise they will stick to one another; trust me, I learned this the hard way!
• If you find you have too many veggies, I throw everything into a container that I can use for salads, or your next night’s dinner is ready to go! I sometimes make rolls two nights in a row, and the second night everything is prepped for you!