Monday, June 29, 2009

Basil Pesto

We eat a lot of pesto. It's a magical blend of ingredients that can tie together a variety of ingredients. Pesto gets its name from the same origin as pestle. Pesta is Latin for to pound or to crush.

This evening I made my second batch of pesto with basil from the yard. Now that we have some heat the basil plants have definitely come to life.

Pesto is so easy to make and it freezes well so you can just "make and freeze" and enjoy your pesto all year.

The ingredients are simple:
Basil - Freshly picked, washed, and thoroughly dried. Two handfuls of leaves is good.
Garlic - 3-4 cloves. I like to mince ahead so you avoid surprising, spicy chunks when you serve it.
Pine nuts - Buy a big bag at Costco and keep it in the freezer. It keeps well and because of its high fat content you can throw frozen nuts right into the food processor. You can play with other nuts as well - walnuts, cashews, etc.
Cheese - Parmesan or Romano work best.
Salt and pepper - to taste.
Olive oil - Use only high quality olive oil.

If you look online you'll see a lot of variations: lemon juice, add a tablespoon of sugar, etc. Be creative.

Throw all ingredients except olive oil into a food processor. Pulse it enough to break it down into a meal. Then turn it on and slowly add olive oil until you reach your desired consistency. Taste and adjust as needed.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

First Broccoli

Things continue to go well in the garden. With the days so long I'm able to come home from work and spend some time working on the beds. This afternoon, I picked a bunch of lettuce to share with co-workers and neighbors.

But the big news was I harvested my first broccoli bunch. Truly amazing! I cut off the broccoli head and brought it in, washed it, and ate some raw. The texture of the stalk was what struck me most. It actually had texture and flavor not found in store-bought broccoli.

I lightly steamed the broccoli and added it to some cooked tortellini along with some pesto. A salad of red leaf lettuce just-picked from the backyard, heirloom tomatoes from the box and gorgonzola cheese made for a great meal.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Vegetable Gardening: June 2009

Things are going pretty well in the vegetable garden.

: Quickly went to seed but this last weekend I chopped it back quite a bit. Best to keep it under control. Six arugula plants is a lot for two people.

: The Italian flat leaf parsley has been going very well. Easy to grow. I've made a few batches of arugula-parsley pesto and put them in the freezer.

Lettuce: Excellent! There is nothing better than going out and picking leaves of lettuce for that night's salad. Romaine is growing vigorously and I've given a bag of leaves to a neighbor. The Red Sails is less vigorous but sufficient to feed the two of us.

: Coming along.

: Not too much happening. Probably not hot enough yet. Plus the broccoli is growing over it.

: Whoa! Needs a lot of room. It's a cool weather plant but there is one bunch growing. Look for a better time of year to plant this and give it more room.

: Coming along. Not sure what to expect.

: Disappointing. Again, maybe the cool start to our summer. The plants are not growing too fast. They started to go to seed but I nipped off the flower buds. I was hoping to get lots of pesto for us and a neighbor. So far I have made one batch of pesto from farmer's market basil.

: I am harvesting the first zucchini tonight!

: Growing quite well.

The weather has been so mild so far. This has meant slow growth on some vegetables but it has also meant too cool for pests. I have not had to spray any insecticidal soap thus far.

I also planted a few cosmos in the garden with the hope of attracting some beneficial insects.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Asian Dinner: East Meets West Marinated Asparagus

So the final entry on this "Asian dinner" thread will be about the asparagus side dish I served (no pics). I think this recipe is a keeper. I got it from the May/June issue of Vegetarian Times and it was the cover recipe.

The first step is to toast some sesame seeds. I got fresh sesame seeds from the bulk food section of our local (San Ramon) Whole Foods store. Heat a small saucepan over medium heat and add a tablespoon of seeds. Every few minutes stir or toss the pan. When seeds are lightly browned, turn off heat and let cool. This can be done days ahead of time.

  • 3 lbs. fresh asparagus, trimmed
  • 1/3 cup tamari soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • Bring a pot of water to boil and add salt
  • Blanch asparagus for 5 minutes or more depending on thickness and then drain
  • Combine soy sauce, vinegar, oil, garlic, ginger, honey, and cayenne
  • Pour sauce over trimmed asparagus into a pyrex baking dish
  • Cover and chill overnight
  • Bring to room temperature
  • Serve with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds
The magazine's introduction is apt.
An Asian-inspired marinade brings a balance of sweet, salty, tangy, and spicy to blanched asparagus.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Asian Dinner: Marinated Shrimp Skewers over Watermelon Salad

This was another course in the meal. Bold shrimp skewers contrast nicely with a cool salad of fruit and vegetables. It's a great refreshing summer meal. I combined a couple of different recipes.

It begins by marinating raw shrimp in a marinade I adapted from the Bobby Flay cookbook "Boy Gets Grill."
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, grated
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Vietnamese hot sauce
Soak wooden skewers in water for at least an hour.

Make a salad by combining:
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1 small watermelon, cubed
  • 1/2 English cucumber, peeled, halved, cleaned, and sliced
  • chiffonade of fresh mint leaves
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
Make a dressing that pulls it all together:
  • 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • dash or more kosher salt
Mix all ingredients together. You can make this a day ahead to save time.

Put 4-5 shrimp on each skewer and fire up the barbecue. Cook the shrimp until done and place skewers on top of the watermelon salad.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Asian Dinner: Sushi Part 2

We had a successful dinner party for 9 people on Sunday. The "theme" was Asian and I made a number of new recipes. I'll try to share a few over time.

I started the meal with a small serving of poke which is a Hawaiian staple. When we've gone to Hawaii we live on this stuff having it every evening as an appetizer with a glass (or two or...) of wine. The Safeway in Kona has a poke counter where you can get a variety of poke styles and fish.

According to this site...

Poke (pronounced "po-keh") means "to slice or cut." As a food dish served as an appetizer or snack, it usually consists of bite-sized pieces of raw, fresh fish mixed with seaweed and kukui nut relish. Today’s poke aficionados, however, incorporate a wide range of ingredients, including all types of seafood (everything from swordfish and snapper to octopus and lobster), herbs, spices, nuts, marinades, fruits, vegetables, seasonings and even tofu.

I discovered that Galvan's Market in San Leandro makes poke quite often. Their poke is a well-seasoned starting point with sesame seeds, salt, and red pepper flakes. One can add a bit of soy sauce and other ingredients.

After the poke I served some sushi rolls that I had made earlier in the day. Making the sushi roll ahead of time made all the difference. Wrap the uncut rolls in plastic and let them sit in the fridge for a few hours. Cut with a sharp knife just prior to serving. The nori wrapper will absorb the water and the starch will make it like a skin on the roll.

I used pre-cooked salad shrimp marinated with hot sauce and soy sauce. I added to the roll:
  • shredded carrots (buy a small bag at the supermarket)
  • slivers of marinated baked tofu
  • slivers of red bell pepper
  • sprouts
It was well received by our guests. I look forward to more fun with sushi rolls.