Thursday, September 24, 2015

Preserving Summer's Flavors: Basil Pesto

The last thing in the world you will ever hear me say is that I am a gardener. In fact, I pretty much have a black thumb. Try as I may, most everything I plant turns yellow and dies, or if by some miracle it doesn't, then bugs quickly devour it.

This year, the first summer in our new/old house, I got a wild hair and bought a giant pot at TJ Maxx and filled it with herbs. Lo and behold, they started to grow! Heck, they even started to flourish! Look at me! After investing probably thousands of dollars in plants, soil and pots over the years, I can now claim that I have grown at least $20.00 worth of herbs to offset my lifelong losses.

And now as they say, to everyone's life a little rain must fall. With the cooler weather and shorter days of early autumn, my herbs are doing their best to go to seed. Like their neighboring flowers, they are now becoming leggy and gangly, and I can no longer deny that I need to make a plan to keep their flavors alive.

After taking stock of what needs to be preserved the most, I decided to give my basil the treatment first. I usually don't mind using dried herbs much, but in the case of basil, I prefer not to. For some reason, dried basil has an pleasant, almost foreign flavor to me, nothing like fresh basil at all, so I prefer to use it by whizzing it up and making pesto.

I used to not like basil pesto much, but as I've gotten a bit older and my tastes have gotten a little more sophisticated, I realize how versatile it really is. Besides using it as a mix in for sauces, I also love using it as a topping for a caprese salad, or a spread on a simple bruschetta or garlic bread.  It really is a great base for lots of recipes.

After you make it, you can use it right away, refrigerate it for up to 10 days or so, or freeze it for later. No matter what you do with it, don't waste a drop. It really is a little bite of summer that you can enjoy for months.

Basil Pesto

After you make this pesto a time or two, feel free to customize this recipe to suit your own tastes. You can add more cheese, less pine nuts, more or less garlic . . . well, you get the idea. I personally prefer not to add salt and pepper because I like to add mine to my finished dish, but do what you like and enjoy.

6 - 8 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 lightly packed cups of fresh basil leaves
1/2 - 2/3 cup pine nuts or coarsely chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2/3 - 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

Place garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to chop.

Add basil, pine nuts, Parmesan and salt and pepper. Process for a few seconds or until it is well ground and completely blended.

With the processor running, add olive oil in a fine stream until a smooth, creamy consistency is achieved.

This recipe will make a couple of cups of pesto, give or take.

If you'd like to freeze some of your pesto, here's what I do:

I have a little mini doughnut pan that holds a tablespoon of pesto. You can use ice cube trays, mini muffin tins or whatever else you might have in your cupboard. Just be sure and cover each portion with extra virgin olive oil before popping them in the freezer (or the refrigerator, for that matter). This will keep the tops from turning brown before and after freezing. These little frozen nuggets will not only thaw quickly, but will add some great seasoning to my favorite Italian dishes.

Not the best photo, but like I said before, they melt quickly once removed from the molds. Here, mine are ready to return to the freezer to be used another day.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trying My Hand at a "Real" Belgian (Liege) Waffle

Hi there! Yep, it's really me. I hope you didn't give up on me. I really have no excuse for my silence other than to say that I just needed to take some time off, have some fun and pretty much shirk my blogger responsibility for a couple of months.

This post is one that I have wanted to do for a very long time. I have heard of Belgian waffles my whole life, but I have never had a real one, made by a vendor in Liege or Brussels, so I never felt experienced enough to blog about them.

Since I've never really had an authentic Belgian (or Liege) waffle, how can I write a post about them you might ask? I would like to think that because my waffle iron boasts that it is a Belgian waffle baker that qualifies me, but something tells me that just because Rival says it, doesn't make it so. So, what is a girl to do with a 6 ounce package of pearl sugar that she is dying to use? Answer is to make the best American Belgian/ Liege waffle that I can.

I found several recipes for Belgian waffles. Some of them were SUPER involved and time consuming, and if you know me, you'll know that that's not what I'm all about. I also found some that were very simple, which I suspected might not do justice to this iconic dish. Right in the middle is the couple of recipes that I decided to base mine on.

First, there was the one on the package of pearl sugar that I bought (at Sur la Table for $5.95), and then there was the one I found on Smitten Kitchen, which I always trust. Besides adding in vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract and adding a little (1/2 teaspoon) bit of cinnamon, I pretty much followed her recipe as written. Click here to see the recipe.

The first thing I found surprising about Belgian waffles is that they are really nothing like American waffles. They start from more of a bread recipe instead of a batter, and take a couple of days to be ready to cook, but the effort is definitely worth it. On this beautiful Colorado day, we had our windows open and my husband reported that coming home from his morning walk the whole neighborhood smelled like a bakery as these were cooking.

The only other thing I have to say about these waffles is to put away the butter and maple syrup. These waffles have all their flavor built in. Now, if you want to guild the lily, whip up some lightly sweetened whipped cream and serve on top. Yum, yum!

Knead the sugar pearls into the dough.

Divide the dough into 16 equal size portions.

Please don't judge me with the ugly appearance of my waffle iron. After reading several blog posts about what the sugar pearls will do to a waffle iron as they caramelized, I pulled out my old crappy one, and boy am I glad I did. This will "ef" up a girl's appliance. Oh sure, it will come off with some elbow grease, but go steal your grandma's or buy one at a garage sale and save yourself some aggravation.

It is totally not necessary, but a little whipped cream will take these waffles to a whole new level. With fall around the corner, I can just see my family munching on these inside by the fire as the wind howls outside. There has to be something good about winter weather.