Monday, May 31, 2010

Pesto and...Presto!

Pesto is the best sauce-invention ever. You can make simple, gourmet (seeming) meals in a flash - provided you buy the pesto. I lived on pesto during grad school. All of my friends in grad school came over and had the "pesto pasta with veggies dish." Which, I still eat, though not as often, and is the subject of this SGG post.

Unfortunately, I've never successfully made my own pesto. I only tired once, I don't have a chopper/food processor and I'm also not an Italian grandmother, so I don't need one. One of my SGG goals for the year included potentially trying this again but thus far my herb garden has ceased to provide any basil. I suppose that means I'm off the hook.

In grad school, I lived in the Netherlands and there was an abundance of tasty pesto available, however, I now find my choices to be limited - or nonexistent. I'm sure there are places with delicious pesto in DC, it's probably just $15 a jar. At the grocery store, there is one kind, that's right one. I actually asked a stock person once where I could find the pesto and he did not know what it was. Bad sign. So making your own might not be a bad idea.

In any case, when I do have good pesto available or settle for the so-so stuff, I make my grad school staple. It's simple, can use just about anything in the fridge and can be vegetarian or not.

Pesto pasta with Veggies

1-2 servings of hot pasta, cooked according to package directions (any kind of pasta you like, rotini works well)
2 cups chopped mixed veggies (can use almost anything you like, suggestions: summer squash, tomatoes, corn, broccoli, peppers)
2-3 TB of pesto
garlic to taste
salt and pepper to taste
bacon or chicken, 1 inch pieces (optional)
cheese (optional, mozzarella suggested)

Meat directions:
While cooking the pasta, in a small skillet cook bacon cubes or chicken pieces with garlic, salt and pepper for 5-6 minutes on medium heat until almost cooked. If using chicken, you might need a little bit of oil, the bacon will produce enough grease. Add veggies and cook 3-4 more minutes until veggies are soft and meat is thoroughly cooked. Toss with hot pasta and pesto sauce. Add veggie/meat mixture, top with cheese and serve.

Vegetarian directions:
While cooking the pasta, in a small skillet saute garlic in olive oil for 30 seconds and add veggies. Season with salt and pepper. Add veggies, top with cheese and serve.

Taste: B+
Cost: A-
Waste: A+

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST themed party snacks 2

So while the LOST series finale was a little bit of a let down in my opinion, my LOST themed snack was quite successful. I decided to make "Fish Biscuit Sugar Cookies," and I refused to let the unavailability of a fish cookie cutter discourage me.

I looked at Target and CVS for something that could function as a fish cookie cutter but I came up empty handed and since I only decided to make them on Thursday there wasn't enough time to order one online or go to a specialty baking supply store. So I had to get creative.

I cut a fish shape out of a piece of cardboard and I think I did pretty well. Check out the photo of my fish stencil below. My plan was to use a pair of scissors to cut around my cardboard fish but that did not work. The dough is too heavy, so when I tried to hold the dough up to cut around the fish it was constantly falling down or stretching out. So I rolled the dough out on a cutting board, laid the stencil down and used a sharp knife to trace around it. For each cookie. I was committed to to my theme. If you ever need a random cookie cutter shape and don't have to make more than a dozen of the cookies, this works pretty well. However, making a high volume of cookies this way will make you tear your hair out.

I had fun with the decorating too! This also marks the occasion of the first time I've successfully made butter cream frosting. It's simple to make, but I've always had issues in the past. I also improvised my decorators bag. Taking a plastic zip-lock bag and cutting a small hole in the corner will get you a functional if not professional decorator's bag. I used a freezer bag because I thought it would be a little more durable. Put the frosting down in the corner and squeeze the air out of the bag. Twist the bag down to the frosting and hold it tight to keep a steady flow of frosting coming out the end. You won't be able to do anything fancy, but you will be able to write or make squiggles. If you want to frost the whole cookie, you can make a little bit larger hole to get the effect of a bigger "tip" for your decorator's bag.

I decorated my fish with LOST slogans and had a pretty good time with it. See the finished product below.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

LOST themed party snacks

Everyone who was ever into LOST is going to a LOST series finale party. Well, at least I am. Therefore, I've been trying to think of what LOST themed snacks I can take to the party my friend is hosting and the possibilities are endless.

Some ideas include...

* Smoke Monster Popcorn (thekitchn)
* Pulled pork (label it Wild Boar)
* Ribs (ie Boar)
* Anything tropical or island themed (too obvious)
* Put snacks in white boxes with the Dharma logo
* Fish Biscuit sugar cookies

To get the juices flowing for your LOST party snack, check out the LOSTpedia food page to see a list of all the food featured on the show. I'm probably not going to spend Saturday making Smoke Monster Popcorn but let's see what I can get together.

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's summer (almost)!

Ahhh...summer! Summer is potentially the best season for eating, fresh produce abounds and I'm tempted to while away the days in a hammock eating fresh fruit or sit on a picnic bench with some BBQ. sigh.

Misty daydreams about summer perfection aside, the season offers ample opportunity to enjoy inexpensive, quality fruits and vegetables. With this in mind, I recently attended a BBQ - the first of many of the season, hopefully - and made one of my favorite deserts for the occasion, fruit pizza.

Fruit pizza is something of a modern classic, or so I feel and it's the perfect treat on a summer day. It's fresh and cool to the taste and takes advantage of the season's bounty. That's right, I said bounty. I'm feeling very nostalgic or something today. When my mom would make fruit pizza, my sister and I would gorge ourselves on it, arguing that it is really only good for 2 days.

Fruit pizza

Crust (can be made ahead & frozen):

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar

Press crust into the bottom of a 9x13 pan and bake 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees, or until lightly brown.

8oz cream cheese
3TB sugar
1/4 fruit juice (orange, pineapple, apple)

Blend all ingredients together and spread evenly over crust.

3+ different types of fruit, sliced (I recommend the combination pineapple, strawberry and banana)

Sprinkle fruit slices over sauce until desired coverage is reached.

Glaze (keeps fruit fresh):
1/2 cup fruit juice (orange, pineapple, apple)
1TB of corn starch

Mix fruit juice and cornstarch in small sauce pan and cook on medium heat until it thickens, about 5-8 minutes. Drizzle glaze over fruit.

Eat within 2 days, 3 maximum.

Tips & tricks

1. If you use canned pineapple in its own juice (not syrup) there will be enough juice to make your glaze and sometimes also the sauce
*If you're in a hurry, you can use pre-made sugar cookie dough and will get more or less the same result, just be careful of the baking time.

2. I think it goes without saying, but some fruit will hold up better than others. If you use bananas or apples make sure to get each of them with a dab of the glaze to keep them from turning brown.

3. If you're feeling fancy you can also make this as individual tarlets. Make your crust in a greased muffin pan, letting them cool before trying to take them out, then spread (or pipe if super fancy) the sauce in and top with fruit. These really make a lovely impression but are slightly more work.

4. Take care not to let the glaze get too thick or it will be very gelatinous on the top of the pizza. In the one pictured above, I let it cook just a little bit too long.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Broiled bacon??

While I was visiting my parents, I was watching some random cooking show - I have no idea what, actually, I was getting my nails done at the time. In any case, the chef was preparing brunch and suggested broiling bacon. I'm slightly broiler obsessed these days - it's so fast - and I have a practically life-long fixation with everything pig. So of course I was gonna try it.

Normally, I don't cook bacon at home and try to limit my consumption to restaurants. The reason for this is two-fold, first while I have a pork-fixation, I realize it's not the healthiest option. Second, I don't enjoy my whole apartment smelling like bacon for two days. I really hate it when I cook bacon, leave the house and come home to the smell.

Broiling, therefore seemed like a good option and other then when I burn things by having them too close to the flame (like my garlic toast last night) when is it ever a bad option? It made sense that the oven would contain the smell, much like when you microwave bacon, and the majority of the grease would drip into the broiling pan, improving the calorie score. Ok, yes it's probably just wishful thinking on the calorie front but hey, not bathing it in its own grease must help a little.

The taste of the broiled bacon was comparable to pan frying and the smell of bacon in the house minimal. My only reservation is that broiling would take a long time and use a lot of energy because my broiling pan is small and can only hold 4 slices of bacon at a time. hmm....I shouldn't be eating bacon all the time anyway.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Avocado crostini

Add avocado to my list of obsessions.

I had diner with a friend of mine at Cork, a wine bar in DC, last week and we had the best starter - grilled toast topped with avocado, olive oil, salt and pistachios. So simple, and yet so delicious.

Of course, I had to try and make this myself and of course they were delicious! I'm not a pistachio fan so I of course had to adapt it a bit.

Avocado crostini

Thinly sliced bread, toasted
Thin slices of avocado
Olive oil
Course salt
Chopped pistachio

Sprinkle toast lightly with olive oil and salt. Layer with avocado and serve immediately.

I have some ideas also for variations, using pesto instead of olive oil, adding tomato slices, topping with Parmesan flakes or using almonds/walnuts instead of pistachios. Get some artisan bread to dress up it for a party or whatever toast you have around for a simple and healthy snack...oh I'm going to be eating a lot of avocado.