Monday, August 16, 2010

Crazy and not so Lazy Sunday and a Pasta Treat!

So, I’m still not really working and I have so many hours in the day/week/month to accomplish things. And I do keep busy, but there are some days, where you really feel as if you accomplished more than normal. This past Sunday (08/15 actually), I felt like I just hopped, skipped, jumped and went overboard with being productive on what generally is considered a luxury/lazy day off.
I actually woke up later than usual today around 10 am just in time to catch Christiane Amanpour on This Week (I think she is doing a fabulous job BTW). I wasn’t really “Feeling” it, meaning I woke not feeling all that energized and any real plans for the day, but I watched This Week and wondered how I am going to manage being a couch potato tonight, since all my favorite TV shows just happen to overlap from 9-11 on 4 different channels! 8 pm shows are a gamble, as Nature on PBS airs, but if it’s an episode I’ve seen, Big Brother wins out…Tonight the Golf Game on CBS made the decision for me.
  • ABC-Scoundrels 9 pm
  • TNT-Leverage 9 pm
  • AMC-Rubicon 9 pm
  • HBO-Hung 10 pm
  • HBO-Entourage 10:30 pm
  • AMC-Madmen 10 pm 
How much does it suck that all the good shows right now are all on Sunday Night? I can’t afford a DVR right now and some of the channels seem to be a bit lazy these days and not posting full episodes on-line or On Demand until the day of a “new” episode (TNT) or removed (AMC) all full episodes entirely for some odd reason. This has truly frustrated me, as I will have to stay up until 1 am to watch all my favorite shows and still manage to miss one of them, but ABC and HBO at least posts their episodes the next day online or On Demand. Thank you ABC & HBO! AMC and TNT-Get your SH*T together!
This brings me back to my original set up, which is the great feeling of being more productive than usual. I had a slew of things to get done, which was all about the right timing except for one major chore. So, I hadn’t really been putting things off, I knew what I needed to complete was coming and today was the ultimate day! I will say having a feeling of such accomplishment really brings up the morale and boost of energy.
I started with the dishes, which was the one chore I had ignored for a few days, but I went further and cleaned out my fridge and freezer, refilled all the empty seltzer bottles (8 in all) with fresh water for future refills of my 2 Brita pitchers (I know, not that big a deal).

I have cats and they can occasionally spit up those fur balls, and whattya know, they both had the urge while I was sleeping, yeah disgusting, but that got me cleaning my floors, not that they were that dirty anyway…except for their intestinal mess.
I took out the Fridge/Freezer and what I had for recyclables to the garbage. Walked around the block (Queens has longer blocks than Manhattan). Watered my new Basil plant I purchased on Saturday, because I am sick of buying Basil that rots in 24 hours and wasting money I just don't have. Actually found a weird little albino bug on one of the leaves, not sure what it was, but I killed it.
I also updated my resume, re-posted it on all those well known sites, I started building/developing an Access DB for an Arts Non-Profit Organization that will help automate their Vendor Sales Reports and even Data Entry processes and am writing this post! Looked up all inclusive Spas in the vicinity for my Bodega Family, the daughter is getting married in Mid September. I called my mother, took pics of the food for this post and cleaned them up with Photoshop.
BTW, I usually take about 20-30 pics of my food and then choose the best pics and I rarely modify them…meaning that I do not enhance color or layer in details. On very rare occasions I will use the Auto Level for Brightness, if it happens to be a dark day or remove a spec (a spec on the plate, but not on the food) that shouldn’t be there. All other modifications to my pics are cropping and resizing for web only. So what you see is what I eventually eat and if you are lucky, you get to eat it too!  And YES, I do pretty up my food even if it's serving just me.  I figure why should I not give myself the experience!?
On to the cooking and other stuff…With all my dishes scrubbed and cleaned, it was time to make some Lemon Simple Syrup for my individual Lemonade fix (I made 2 glasses). I will have a separate post for this. I made a new batch of Chicken Broth, part to use for the Pasta treat and the rest to freeze for another food concoction. Earlier during the day I had already put together the instructions for the pasta treat.
So, have I tired you out yet? I would think even for myself, I would be exhausted and even reading this post over; I must be some mad person trying to take on more than I can chew! So, since I’ve been so productive today, it’s time to make the treat I deserve and so I did.
Are you ready? Are you hungry now? Time for Orecchiette, Peas, Sweet Sausage, Mint & Creamy Ricotta!
To note on the ingredients, I did not opt for a spicy Sausage, because I felt at the time of purchase it would hold up with the Mint better. However, after making and tasting this dish, the mint would hold up with the spicy sausage, as long as it’s fresher than fresh. So, if you opt for spicy sausage, make sure your mint is extra fresh! I would not choose a sausage like Chorizo, as that would overwhelm the mint, and Cilantro would be a better addition.

Orecchiette (Italy's little ears), Peas, Sweet Sausage, Mint & Creamy Ricotta
Serves 4-6 as a Main Dish, 6-12 as an appetizer
  • 1 Lb Orecchiette Pasta
  • ½ Lb Bulk Sweet Pork Sausage (about 3 links, remove casing) **can use any sausage you like**
  • 2-3 Cloves Garlic finely chopped ( I use 4-6 personally)
  • 10 Oz Peas
  • 2 cups Chicken or Vegetable Broth
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese (about a few tablespoons)
  • 16 Oz Fresh Ricotta
  • About a Handful of Fresh rough chopped Mint
  • S & P to Taste
  • For Pasta, follow package directions, however make sure you remove/drain you pasta just before Aldente. About 1 to 1 ½ minute.
  • In a hot fry pan, add a few tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive, add garlic and sautee for a few moments. Add Sausage to pan, break up and sautee until cooked through. S & P to Taste
  • Add Broth to fry pan and let reduce, add peas and pasta, cook for about one to two more minutes until the rest of the broth has been soaked up by the pasta.
  • Stir in parmesan cheese to taste (this will help thicken the extra liquid to a sauce)
  • Place pasta in individual bowls and add a dollop of Ricotta on top, sprinkle fresh mint leaves and serve.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Basil Bliss

Basil is another one of my favorite foods/herbs; the perfect complement to my personal red/orange/yellow/green or multi color Tomato bliss. I think you might imagine my next favorite, but that’s another blog, but I will say it’s always white and should be consumed fresher than fresh. ;)

There is nothing that I can think of, except maybe…hmmm, I can’t think of anything, Basil can’t go with. Now keep in mind, there are several varieties of Basil, so if you want to challenge Basil's infinite use, use it as a desert garnish, choose the right variety, like sweet or lemon basil. Choose the right basil for cooking and/or drinking liquids.

I realize that Sweet is the most common, but if you have access to the various types, use them accordingly.  How tasty would a Lemon Basil sorbet be?  I quiver with enjoyable passion of the amazingly tasteful exotic flavor.

I can tell you if you choose Sweet (which is most commonly found) or Lemon Basil, this is excellent in mixed drinks that may generally call for Mint; if you are serving a spicy drink, more spicy Basil is appropriate, like Spicy Globe or Purple Ruffles.

About a year or more ago, I went out with my co-workers after I was recently let go and we met up at this bar that served a mean Pear and Basil Martini. The bar treated the drink like a Mohito, by muddling sweet basil instead of mint, served up in a martini glass. I remember that I kept asking the bartender to add more basil to my drink until it became more basil than pear and vodka because I love Basil no matter what! The Bartender thought I was crazy!

One suggestion is a twist on the tried and true Bloody Mary-We all think that Celery is a great munch, and that should not go away as the primary green for the Bloody Mary, but if you are a spicy person, muddle in some spicy Basil as an extra special addition to give your Bloody Mary a more special kick your guests will be talking about.

Hey, a Bloody Mary is essentially Tomato Based, so adding its herbal significant other can’t hurt and not make it taste like spaghetti sauce. Remember, you’re not adding oregano or marjoram and garlic, which would ultimately make a drinkable tomato sauce concoction (which wouldn't really be that outlandish and very tasty).

But, today is about Pesto, an amazing mash of Basil, Parsley, Olive Oil, nuts, cheese and additional herbs. I learned to make Pesto the old school way, originally in a mortar, but now that I own a food processor, it makes life so much easier. So I won’t subject any of you to that old world method.

There are several ways to make pesto, and not all of them need to be basil centric, but to me, the best pestos are basil dominant. Not all pesto’s need to have cheese either; my recipe this round/post is dairy free, although my pics do show slivers of cheese as a garnish only.

The one thing to note is that this is so easy to make and if you’re a person that buys that store bought stuff, you’re really missing out on the true taste of homemade fresh pesto. I will admit, on short notice, store bought pesto’s are for just that, last minute-short notice, but honestly, if you compare freshly made to store bought, you will notice the difference. For the time it takes for you to pick out pesto ingredients to the “Pre-Made Brand”, you could have made your pesto at home 2 fold.

One major difference is that homemade, you can mix it up. You can add more or less of each of the ingredients. You are not bound to what the store bought brand has sold you. You can add different herbs for different flavors and taste that will compliment your meal or appetizer. This is why I highly suggest you start and learn to make your own.  Remember, making Pesto homemade will cost you much less than if you purchased it for a quicky to get out of cleaning extra dishes or save time on your overall meal prep.

Let's just say you are making boxed pasta, the cook time is about 8-9 minutes for "aldente".  Within the 8-9 minutes, you can make pesto in about 3-4 minutes, while the pasta is cooking.  A min or 2 to peel/crush the garlic, set up the Blender or Food Processor, add the rest of the ingredients and 1-2 min to process.

Homemade Pesto, will last in your fridge for about 5 days or more and is also freezable up to 1-2 months (honestly I’ve kept homemade pesto for 2 weeks in a tight lid container in the fridge).

BTW: The cracker in the pics are a multigrain brown rice “thin cake”. I found these in my local organic market a week or so ago…Again, I am not one to promote, but these snacks are better than the thick Rice Cakes we all think and are familiar with at the supermarket. They are a product of Belgium; Suzie’s Thin Cakes. Gluten, Cholesterol, Fat and Sugar free and they are quite yummy.

Basil Mint Pesto
  • 1 Bunch Fresh Basil
  • ¼-1/3 bunch Fresh Italian Parsely (about a handful)
  • ¼ bunch Fresh Mint (about a ¾ handful)
  • 3 Cloves Garlic (medium sized) If you are a garlic freak like I am, add 1 more.
  • 6 oz of Pine Nuts or about a handful
  • About 1/8 to ¼ cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Please use the good stuff for this)
  • S&P to Taste
  • Optional: ¼ cup Grated Parm Cheese 
Add Basil Leaves, Parsley, Mint Leaves, Garlic and Pine Nuts, and Cheese (Optional) to Food processor or Blender; Pulse until a medium rough chop. Slowly drizzle in Extra Virgin Olive oil (you may not need all of it)…you should process until ingredients are well blended; pesto should not be too “wet” and should have a consistency of say, a thickened vinaigrette minus the vinegar. Do not over process! You do not want a Puree! You want to see the herbs!

Ideas on mixing it up with Pesto:
  • For Nuts Try: Almonds or Walnuts or Pecans or Cashews or hazelnuts
  • For Herbs Try: Tarragon or Marjoram or multiple varieties of Basil or Cilantro or Lavender
  • For Cheese: Any Hard Grating cheese will work; Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano or Asiago
  • Other Thoughts: Sun Dried Tomatoes or Flavored Olive Oils or Roasted Garlic or Roasted Shallots or Roasted Peppers. 
Pesto for simple and quick dishes:
  • Mix in with your favorite Pasta or even Rice as a primary sauce
  • Mix in with your favorite Tomato Sauce for an extra kick!
  • Replace Mayo or Mustard on Sandwiches, Pasta and Potato Salads
  • As per the Pics above, use as a base spread for Appetizers
  • Use as a “Dip”
  • Add to Mashed Potatoes for extra flavor
  • Even mix in with soups
 As Lidia would say “Tutti A Tavola A Mangiare!”

Monday, August 2, 2010


Pancetta (P), Leeks (L), Bursting Tomatoes (BT) and Gorganzola (G), what more can you ask for in dish! I love risotto as much as love cooking it, and who doesn’t love the idea of taking an old BLT concept to an Italian rice dish!

I am going to be short and sweet on this post…I think I said all I can say about Risotto in one of my previous posts: Risotto Done in my Italian way

So, if you read my previous post on cooking risotto, you should be comfortable making different versions of this incredible dish.

Risotto with Pancetta, Leeks, Bursting Tomatoes and Gorganzola
Serves 4-6 as a main meal-can serve up to 6-8 as an appetizer
  • 2 c Arborio Rice
  • 2 Medium Leeks-Cut into ½ in slices and fully washed
  • 2-3 cloves Garlic Minced
  • A few Tbls of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Slice ½ inch Thick Pancetta (If you use Bacon, use about 2 extra thick slices) About 1/3 cup.
  • 12 Oz Cherry Tomatoes
  • ¼ cup Gorgonzola-Crumbled or if you like Soft.
  • 6-8 Cups Broth (you can use Vegetable or Chicken-I have used Homemade Chicken Broth for this Version)
  • 1-1/2 c Dry White Wine (Pino Grigio or Chardonnay-Buy what you would drink)
  • S/P to taste **Note if using Bacon be careful on the salt**
  • Basil-Chiffonade for Garnish 
Make sure you have all your ingredients prepped ahead of time. It will make the process easier.

Step 1: Cut your Leeks and Garlic and set aside
Step 2: Cut your Pancetta into small cubes
Step 3: Heat up your Broth in a separate pan and keep it on a very low setting to keep it hot.
Step 4: Prep your Tomatoes: In a fry pan, add some EVOO and Tomatoes over medium heat, cover and let tomatoes cook until a bursting stage…about 8-10 minutes. Set aside covered to maintain heat. –You do not want to add to rice as you are cooking it, as the tomatoes are at this point very delicate.

***This is now where you should not leave the pan at anytime***

Step 6: Pre-Heat a Large Fry pan or Dutch Oven over medium heat. (for Risotto newbies…I mean a Large. The rice will double in size as its being cooked)
Step 7: Add Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Pancetta. When Pancetta has slightly browned add Leeks and Garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes until Leeks have melted properly.
Step 8: Add Arborio Rice and sauté for another 3-4 minutes. Cook, stirring until rice becomes opaque in color.
Step 9: Add White Wine and continue to stir rice until all liquid has dissipated/soaked into the rice
Step 10: Add 1 ladle or 1 cup of Broth for each interval, continually stirring the rice and liquid…Meaning add 1 ladle or 1 cup of Broth and stir until all liquid has dissipated/soaked into the rice, then add another ladle or 1 cup of Broth…Continue this process until you get to about the 5th ladle/cup. Your rice at this point should start to have a starchy milky look to it. This is good, as Arborio rice should have that starchy milky liquid.


Now for the first taste test…The Rice should be Aldente-“To the Tooth”…Which means that the rice should have a little bit of a bite, but not too much. You want the slightest resistance of the rice. If your rice is still crunchy that you can taste the crunch more than the rice itself, you will need to add more liquid. At the 5th Ladle/Cup, you should start to taste. Make sure you keep on tasting prior to each broth addition from this point on!

Step 11: Continue to add the remainder of your broth (you may not need to use all of it) until rice is done and turn heat off.
Step 12: Add Gorgonzola cheese…Stir until everything is incorporated or until cheese has melted.
Step 13: Serve Risotto, and add a few Tomatoes on top of rice and Basil as the garnish.

Cin Cin!