Blue Cheese and Crispy Sage

Though I didn’t know it a few years ago, I love sage, particularly when it is cooked to a crisp in a lot of butter. I also have a serious love for blue cheese, the more flavorful, the better.

That said, sage isn’t exactly something one eats in quantity on its own. The same can largely be said for blue cheese. So tonight I made a dish that I thought was just going to be a good way to use my kabocha squash and a few leeks I had in the fridge, but quickly realized is mostly an excellent vehicle for eating crispy sage and blue cheese. At the same time. Yum.

Enter the recipe for Squash Risotto with Blue Cheese and Crispy Sage. I had this recipe stored in my Springpad account, a resource I suggested to readers a while back as an excellent way to organize your recipes. Luckily, I also had all the ingredients at home, so no shopping was required. 

MY NOTES: This recipes makes a lot of food, so either make it for a group or with the intention of having leftovers. Most of the cooking time is in baking the squash, so be sure to start that right away. And don’t forget to save the seeds for roasting! Otherwise, there really isn’t a lot to comment on this one except to say that it is exceptionally easy, and that you definitely want the blue cheese and sage, as there isn’t a lot of flavor in the squash and risotto. In other words, that part would be pretty plain without the straight-from-heaven toppings.

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December 14, 2011 at 10:52 pm 2 comments

On being Norsk: Krumkake

Ya, sure, ya betcha! Uff da! Ha det! Mange takk!

You guessed it: Jeg er Norsk. Twenty five percent anyway. My great grandparents (my mother’s father’s parents) came to America from a place called Bømlo, a small island south of Bergen off the western coast of Norway. All my life I have learned about being Norwegian. The art, national costume (for women, called a bunad), some of the language and of course, cooking and baking.

Christmas is one of the main times of the year when many traditional Norsk baked goods are made. The cookie my mother always did when I was growing up is called krumkake (pronounced kroom-kaka), literally meaning “crumb cake” (though Wikipedia says it means “bent or curved cake.”) They are incredibly delicate, like a very thin ice cream cone, and are wonderful filled with whip cream.

Last night I made krumkake, an annual ritual I have done each Christmas since I have been married (since I no longer live near my parents and my mom bought me my own iron). The recipe I use comes from the booklet that came with my Bethany Housewares iron (though I usually add a little milk), and each batch makes about six dozen cookies. As I’ve written in the past, I usually make 14-18 dozen before the holidays, and last night I made 17 dozen. While the ingredients are cheap and the cookies easy to make once you get the hang of it, krumkake is most definitely a labor of love. My iron makes two cookies at a time and takes about 35 seconds to bake. Then you roll them on a cone (before they harden). Before making the next cookies you must make sure the iron is hot again. Making a dozen krumkake probably takes about the same time as a dozen of any other cookie, except you can’t walk a way and let your oven do the work!

While making the cookies last night, I remembered something I did one of the first times I made krumkake by myself using my mom’s recipe. As any good Scandinavian cookie recipe should, it called for a stick of butter (which is unfortunate right now, given the shortage of butter in Norway). I mixed everything in my food processor, but couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t very smooth like when my mom made it. I started making the cookies and they really weren’t turning out well – they had a lot of unevenness in baking and holes I’d never seen in krumkake before. I called my mom and only then did we figure out what I’d done wrong – you have to MELT the butter first!!

I was able to salvage part of that batch, I think I may have tried to take out some of the larger chunks of butter and melt them, but it was weird because of the eggs. These days though, I am always sure to remember this very important detail. Ah the joys of learning to cook sans mama!

December 11, 2011 at 9:17 pm 4 comments

Let me plant a seed for you

As I’ve discussed in the past, I love the bounty local foods, like beets and potatoesavailable in the fall, and my enthusiasm for winter squash is no exception. Butternut squash soups, baked acorn squash with maple syrup, pumpkin pie and the list goes on.

One part of squash that many people overlook, however, is the seed. Most of us are used to toasting pumpkin seeds when we carve jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, but many people aren’t aware that you can eat the seeds of other winter squash as well. While the volume of seeds you get from other squash is smaller than a pumpkin, I would argue that they are a tastier snack. The hulls are thinner, so the seeds get crispier and require a shorter baking time. Nutritionally, they are low in sodium and every source I’ve read states they are full of zinc and magnesium. Also, if you leave the shells on (which I definitely recommend, it is way too much work to remove them), they are a good source of fiber.

Preparation for baking any seed is simple. After scooping them from the squash, rinse them well to remove any strings or bits of squash that may remain. It is good to let the seeds dry out a bit, as it will help shorten the baking time. Some recipes suggest patting them dry with a paper towel, but I usually leave them in a colander for several hours to let them air dry. You can even leave them in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the oven to 250-300º Farenheit. I recommend a lower temperature for smaller seeds, a higher temp for larger seeds like pumpkin. After they are mostly dry to the touch, lightly coat them with olive oil. You can use other oils if you like, but I usually use olive oil, which is safe at this low of a temperature. Select some of your favorite herbs and spices for flavoring. You can do sweet or savory, though I personally find the savory ones more appealing. A very simple option is garlic powder or garlic salt. Pre-made mixes also work well. It all depends on the flavors you like. I encourage you to test out different options until you find something you like. Because the batches are small, if you don’t like one batch, you don’t end up with a bunch of seeds you’re not interested in eating.

The baking time will vary depending on the type of seeds, but the small ones usually only take 15-20 minutes. Pumpkin seeds will take longer, sometimes up to 40 minutes. You may hear the seeds begin to pop, which usually means they are done. “Doneness” is also a matter of preference, we prefer a nice crispy seed versus a chewy one. You can store the seeds in any container at room temp, but if it is like my house, they won’t last more than a few hours!

So, the next time you make winter squash, don’t forget to keep the seeds for an easy and healthy snack. Happy toasting!

November 21, 2011 at 12:10 am 1 comment

My “Midwest Food Fest Quest”

Alright, I’m a sucker for rhyming, but can you really blame me when it has to do with food festivals?

A few summers ago, I started to notice a number of food related food festivals in Minnesota. I am someone who, obviously, loves food, and I also have an affinity for random gatherings of strangers around shared interests. Even if you only directly interact with the food in your mouth, I think the feeling of interconnectedness I get at these events is quite fantastic.

Now, as I share with you the festivals I’ve found, you must promise to get out your calendar, pull up a search engine and find a food festival you will go to in the next year. Seriously, you’ll have a blast.

For me, my first food related fest was the Cannon Falls Wine and Art Festival. Not being one to turn down the chance to sample wine of any kind, I loaded my husband in the car and drove the hour or so down to Cannon Falls from the Twin Cities. The festival features Minnesota vineyards and wineries (yes, grapes do grow in places other than France and California), some of them which have been around for many years and others which have just arrived on the scene of viticulture. Some of them make traditional grape wines, while others venture into the world of berries and other fruits. Some are really good and others…well, let’s just say they need some aging. Either way, for only $20 you get quite a sampling of what Minnesota has to offer, which may not meet high expectations of a wine connoisseur, but does give you an idea of the creativity oenologists must have in northern climes. For more info on that topic, check out what the University of Minnesota has been doing in grape breeding for just over 30 years.

My next festival may, in fact, be my favorite, largely because who doesn’t love GARLIC? The Minnesota Garlic Festival is held annually every August in Hutchinson, Minnesota. For only $5, you can watch cooking demos featuring the area’s finest chefs, dine at The Great Scape Cafe, sample dozens of kinds of garlic from as many vendors and purchase a supply of garlic that will last you until at least the following March. Leave the breath mints in the car and bring your appetite for fun because this one will leave you longing for more.

The last festival I went to that first year was the Warrens Cranberry Festival, which requires a jaunt over the river to Wisconsin for any Minnesota folks. Though not my favorite food festival,  it is an intriguing one to hit up. There are many cranberry foods to try (cranberry cream puffs anyone?) and activities (you must go on a bog tour, if for no other reason than to meet a cranberry farmer!), but be forewarned that this one is also SUPER busy and has a ton of vendors completely unrelated to cranberries, kind of like a giant flea market of sorts. But again, most festivals are worth checking out once, so if you’re in the area in September, consider a stop.

This summer I added a new festival to the list and it features one of my all time favorite summer foods, the ever-versatile rhubarb.

Rhubarb Fest tasting menu

The Annual Rhubarb Festival is well worth the drive to the lovely town of Lanesboro, Minnesota. Also know as the Bed and Breakfast Capital of Minnesota, Lanesboro is located on the scenic Root River, which makes for a great backdrop for a tasty festival. When you go to the Rhubarb Fest, be ready to wait in line to taste test all the rhubarb recipes cooked up for that year – to give you an idea, they included everything from the classic Rhubarb Crisp to the more adventuresome Rhubarb Grillin Salsa. Also, don’t forget the entertainment – the Rhubarb Sisters  and rhubarb games. Definitely a fun event for the whole family. And lest I forget, be sure to take a walk down the street to check out Das Wurst Haus. Even if you’re like me and don’t eat brats, the homemade rootbeer and the possibility of an impromtu accordion performance by owner Arv Fabian are well worth it.

So, I realize this may seem like a random time of year to be thinking about summer food festivals, but I felt compelled to write this post today because I just came across the next festival on MY list – the Minnesota Cheese Festival. Though their event page may still be under construction, I’ve already budgeted for the $30 ticket and marked my calendar for next June 2nd.

Have you?

November 2, 2011 at 11:00 pm 3 comments

Blue potatoes and candy cane beets: The odyssey of an heirloom

Last weekend I made a big pot of Borscht, as I do at least once every year. I use the recipe from the original Moosewood cookbook, and it’s pretty much my favorite soup ever. They should call it “Root Veggie (plus Cabbage) Delight.”

Blue potatoes and candy cane beets

But my love of Borscht is not why I’m writing this post. This post came to fruition because I used a few new ingredients in the Borscht this year. Nothing wild and crazy, just blue potatoes and candy cane beets. That’s right. BLUE potatoes and CANDY CANE beets. I promise you, I am not making these up.

You see, in our current agricultural system we grow very few of the crops once available and cultivated by humans around the planet. I recently finished reading an article in the July 2011 issue of National Geographic called “Food Ark,” which discussed a number of issues around seed varieties which have been lost and many which have been saved through the hard work of concerned individuals across the globe. Even still, the number of beets varieties commercially available has gone from 288 to 17 in the last one hundred years. Lettuce has gone from 497 varieties to just three dozen in the same period of time. And the case of dwindling options goes on – this chart gives a stark visual of the seed situation.

Many of these types of crops, as well as livestock, which are not seen in large scale farming, are referred to as “heirlooms.” Most were developed by local communities to suit the growing conditions of the area, and were subsequently saved by generation after generation. Because these seeds belong to families and communities, they are hard to patent, thus a very important aspect of heirlooms. Food sovereignty. Most of the world’s seeds are “owned” by a select few companies – something I personally think should be illegal – and these heirloom varieties are an important part of maintaining all people’s right to food.

Some people will try to tell you that heirlooms are “genetically inferior” and “only alive for nostalgia’s sake,” but it simply isn’t true. Sure, not all heirlooms can be grown everywhere, to a certain extent that defeats part of the purpose of heirlooms, but many of them have traits (pest and disease resistance, as well as drought or flood tolerance) which make them much stronger in certain regions than the commercial, monocrop varieties most of us buy at the grocery store. In addition, the taste of many heirlooms is absolutely superb. Heirlooms generally don’t do well over long distance travel, there has been no reason to breed that trait into them, as there has been with most large-scale varieties. But many commercial varieties have gained “shipability” and shelf life at the cost of flavor, something that those of us who appreciate good tasting food, in addition to high quality food, appreciate.

This summer, I was involved with three gardens. Our staff garden at work, the community garden at Cottageville Park and a shared garden with a friend, each of which contained several heirlooms. We tried the Cylindra Beet and Envy Soya Beans (edamame) from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. A friend donated squash, okra and lettuce varieties from Seed Savers Exchange. The plethora of tomato seedlings we planted in the three gardens this year were almost all heirlooms; some of my favorites have names like Stump of the World, Pruden’s Purple, Orange Strawberry, Black Cherry, KBX and Paul Robeson (many of which came from my friend at Norsejenta’s Seedlings). Our peppers came in a fantastic array of shapes, sizes and colors; highlights include Bulgarian Carrot and Cayenne, both scorchingly hot, and Lipstick and Gypsy, two sweet treats I’ll be repeating in the future.

All in all, I think this was one of the most diverse and colorful gardens I’ve ever been proud to grow. There are many options for buying both seeds and seedlings. So next spring, as you begin to plan your garden, consider heirlooms, you may just find your new favorites.

September 26, 2011 at 11:56 pm 3 comments

What eggs you, my dear?

Aside from cheese, eggs are the reason I couldn’t be a vegan (at least not by choice). They are just so tasty and make lots of things amazing.

That said, there are a lot of things in the egg world that aren’t so lovely. And I’m not talking about salmonella. No, I’m talking about “sweat shop eggs,” as my husband calls them. You know, the ones that are perfectly white and uniform which come from chickens in tiny cages (the EU and UK call them “battery cages“). The ones produced by hens with clipped beaks and few feathers.

I know, not exactly what you’re hoping to think of as you sit down to a breakfast of eggs and toast, but I think this is an issue that eaters need to take seriously.

In an effort to not dwell on the horror stories you can get on any animal rights webpage, I’d like to tell you about where I get my eggs and why. My egg man’s name is Tim. He works in the city, but raises some beautiful hens who lay the most egg-cellent eggs you could imagine (sorry, couldn’t resist). Tim raises his chickens without hormones or antibiotics, though they are not certified organic. They dine on bugs. They scratch in the dirt. Their eggs range from small to HUGE! One hen Tim referred to once as “Big Red” lays the most gigantic eggs I’ve ever seen from a chicken. Occasionally, I get a double yolk. Once I even got one with NO yolk! (Yes, it’s real, and humorously referred to as a “fart” egg. Look it up for more info.) The last dozen I got, the yolks were so orange, my husband asked if I’d added some sort of spice to the scrambled eggs to make them so dark. Most weeks the shells are a mix of white and various shades of brown, and when the Araucanas are laying, they’re even green! Oh, and did I mention he delivers the eggs to me and my co-workers at our office? All this for only $2.50 a dozen. Best local food deal I ever found.

Some weeks I miss the egg order and have to get a dozen at the store. The tricky thing at the grocery store is the labels. I’m sure you’ve noticed what I’m talking about. Organic, natural, cage-free, free-roaming, hormone free, no antibiotics, cruelty free and the list goes on. Many of these terms are almost completely unregulated. The worst in my book – natural. Arsenic and lead are “natural” my friends and you would not want them in your breakfast burrito. Even the most regulated of the terms, like “organic” is not always straightforward. As the fine folks at the Cornucopia Institute have found, not all organic brands are created equal. Some “organic” eggs are questionable in how much of the spirit of organic they actually follow. Is an antibiotic free egg really what you want if the chicken was still debeaked and raised in a barn with 10,000 other hens? A very helpful resource I would encourage you to check out is the Organic Egg Scorecard. The unfortunate thing you’ll find is that organic eggs sold as store brands are often some of the worst offenders (the same is also very true for dairy).

Ultimately, I know it is not possible for everyone to know a Tim, but for me, eggs are not something to be taken lightly. I want to know more than a label can tell me. I want to know what “cage free” really means. I want to hear about “Big Red” and how things are going for the person who raises her. I want to build that relationship of trust, because that is what really makes food safe.

September 12, 2011 at 11:07 pm 3 comments

Happy as pie

I love baking pies. I find them to be the most satisfying creations to pull out of the oven. Cookies are fun, but easily overdone. Sweet bread is comforting, but substitutions have often led to gooey middles and disappointment. But pies, well, pies are pies, and as of yet, I’ve yet to bake one I didn’t like.

I think part of the reason I like pies so much is, at least for me, they offer opportunities for a lot more creativity than other baking. I’ve found a crust recipe (kind of a mix of several) which I really like and usually use for both sweet and savory. Beyond that, it’s all up to my imagination as to how the pie will end up. Generally speaking, I’m talking fruit pies, but I’ve got a few other fun ones I like to pull out especially around the winter holidays (Frozen Pumpkin Mousse Pie, anyone? Note: I make my own pumpkin puree, much tastier than canned.)

Tonight the fruits were peaches and strawberries. The peaches are from the order I made from a chemical-free grower in Washington, and the strawberries were picked by my mom, my husband and myself on Saturday at my favorite organic PYO (pick you own) farm called Sam Kedem Nursery and Garden, in Hastings, Minnesota.

The recipe I used was pretty basic: 

1 cup sugar (I used about half this)
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups sliced strawberries
3 cups sliced peaches

MY NOTES: Per the idea of another baker, I opted to not mix the fruit, but put the strawberries in the middle, surrounded by the peaches. For the crust, I had a homemade one frozen, so that made things pretty easy. I decided not to do a complete top crust, but instead some crust art, inspired by searching for top crust alternatives. This gave the pie a bright and beautiful look that almost makes me not want to cut it. But seriously, who am I kidding? Because if I didn’t cut it, I couldn’t do the thing I love best about pies – eating them!

September 6, 2011 at 12:47 am Leave a comment

Pickle, pickle, pickle starts with “P”!

This is a time of year about which I feel very mixed. The weather is really quite lovely, most of the “work” in the garden is done and the harvest is abundant. But that’s the thing, the harvest is here. As in, it’s the end of summer folks.

However, with the end of summer comes one of my favorite summer activities. Canning. The preservation of the harvest for colder and darker times. A bit of winter “sunshine.”

Growing  up, my mom did quite a bit of canning. There were always quarts of peaches and pears which we devoured with dinner. I never liked pickled beets until I was an adult (I know, crazy, right?), but my mom canned oodles of them. In the winter she pressure canned freshwater salmon. Yum. I remember watching this happen, but can’t say I have any recollection of really helping. But kids do tend to learn by osmosis and I seem to have a part of my brain which retained at least some of the information, or interest, in any case.

I started canning as an “adult” in 2007. I can’t say exactly what inspired it, but the idea called to me loud and clear – now is the time to learn this. With my own mom over 1,500 miles away, I turned to two other mom’s here in the Midwest. With my husband’s mom I learned to can applesauce, pickles, salsa, and tomatoes, and with a friend and her mom I learned to pickle beets (yes, I LOVE them now). This inter-generational learning is of such value and with many of my generation’s grandmothers now gone, much of the passing on will fall on the shoulders of those women – now in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s – who were lucky to learn these skills. Some of them may be mothers, others may be working for their local extension service and others still volunteering in community centers. However it is being passed on, there seems to be a whole new wave of interest among young people eager to learn.

Now, you’ll notice I’ve only mentioned mothers, but I want you men out there to know you are more than welcome into the kitchen to test your hand at the water bath. To be fair, it was pretty much just womens work for a very long time.  However, canning is an incredible way for everyone to learn about buying from farmers or picking your own, realizing the realities of how long fresh fruits and veggies really last and how to safely handle and prepare foods for a longer shelf life.

The canning I have learned thus far has been hot water bath canning, which can only be used for acidic foods, such as tomatoes, jams and pickles. Vegetables and anything with meat must be pressure canned, which gets the food to a high enough temperature to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism. Canning is a lot of fun, but food safety is to be taken seriously, as the results can be fatal if it is not done properly. Most of the time, if you follow recipes which have been tested for safety, this is easy to avoid. Unfortunately, this means that, while many of the techniques we learned from grandma are still be applicable, some of her recipes may not be. If you’re not sure what kind of canning you need to do, this webpage offers some basics on how to decide.

For the last three summers, I have been doing almost all my canning with a good friend and we continue to expand our repertoire and skills each season. First on the agenda this year – dill pickles, of the cucumber kind to be exact (the term “pickle” can refer to any number of things which are made with a brine, often involving vinegar). We tried our hand at pickles last year, but weren’t quite satisfied with the “crunch factor” so this year we did a few things different including fresher, smaller cukes and a larger ice bath. Crossing our fingers.

After pickles, we did salsa (37 pints to be exact)! It’s a great recipe we’ve been using for three years now and it never fails to please. Next week, when my mom is in town, we’ll try our hand at peaches. And somewhere in the next month we’ll squeeze in beets, applesauce and hopefully some pepper jam.

In case you’re looking to do some canning yourself, here is the salsa recipe we use, courtesy of Ana Micka:

Ingredients

  • 10 cups tomatoes (peeled, cored and chopped)
  • 1 cup green pepper
  • 2 cups onions
  • ½ cup hot peppers (mixture of banana and jalapeno peppers with seeds removed)
  • ½ cup celery
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • Lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Start boiling water in the canner.
  2. Sterilize mason-type jars and lids (pint sized best for salsa)
  3. Add tomatoes to large, stainless steel pot and cook for 30 minutes, until tomatoes are very soft and the large chunks are gone.
  4. Remove excess liquid from the pot, then add additional ingredients.
  5. Continue to cook at a low boil for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Fill sterilized canning jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Add 2 tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar and process in a hot water bath for 35 minutes.

Makes 5 pints

MY NOTES: Great flavor, excellent texture too. The big thing I will say is more about safely canning salsa than this recipe. When you are using a recipe you know has been tested, DO NOT change the ratios of the ingredients. Basically, its tomatoes to everything else. You can increase the overall amount, but the volumes need to remain the same ratio to keep the pH at a safe level. And don’t forget the lemon juice!!

August 24, 2011 at 12:07 am 3 comments

Dirt Therapy – Part 2

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I find gardening to be very therapeutic. But, life isn’t perfect, and sometimes therapy isn’t very uplifting or enjoyable – though it often remains enlightening. What I didn’t write about then was the reality that sometimes gardening can make you want to pull your hair out. Tonight was one of those nights.

I arrived at the community garden around 7 o’clock and immediately noticed something was wrong. The gate was mangled and the four beautiful eggplants I had showed my mom on Sunday were gone. As I investigated further, I realized most of the tomatillos had been removed from their stems and the few pepper plants that had survived the last bit of vandalism had not escaped destruction this go ’round. Soon a few kids came over and offered names of culprits and suggestions of motives, and we learned a neighbor had seen the damage taking place and took photos of those responsible, but little was to be done tonight except to clean up the mess. Fortunately the beans had been ignored and a couple kids went home with enough to make for dinner.

Vandalism, especially of community things, has never been something I’ve understood. Maybe I’m naive, but this kind of destruction just never added up in the “making sense” category of life. So, when it happens in a place I feel directly connected to, it is hard to not take it personally. But I must also remind myself that this garden is about the community and not me as an individual, so I find I am only sad, not angry. I think one of many things influencing my disappointment is that there is a person, or persons, who doesn’t see the value of the garden and the opportunities it can provide. The chance to learn more about our food, how to cook it, how it grows and how to have patience while the fruits mature.

Unfortunately, I don’t think patience is something many people have these days. We have little patience in traffic – road rage anyone? We have little patience with slow internet or lines at the store. And we have very little patience for being told we cannot do what we want. Some times I think if we all learned how to garden as kids that we might have a little more patience. It is impossible to grow beets well without the patience to thin them, and leaving an almost ripe tomato on the vine requires the restraint of a saint.

So, how do we learn to be patient? How do we learn to leave anger and frustration at the garden gate and move at the pace of an earthworm? I believe it is really a community effort – requiring all – and until we realize that, it will be very difficult. We have a very me-centric society and it is hurting our ability to function. We may think we are “self made” and “independent,” but when was the last time you did anything that didn’t involve another human being?  If you wore clothing, ate food or used any sort of transportation today, you will realize that we cannot do it alone. And if we look in the garden, we know that the tomatoes know this too. They cannot fruit without healthy soil, abundant water and sun, motivated pollinators and a whole host of microfauna and flora doing their job underground. Similarly, the kids at our garden need guidance, nurturing and positive examples. And they especially need our patience and listening ears.

See, I told you therapy was at least enlightening.

August 9, 2011 at 11:29 pm 2 comments

Are you Italian? No? Me neither.

But sometimes I sure wish I was, at least when it comes to PESTO!

Kale pesto ingredients

That’s right, it’s that time of the summer. The basil is high and ready for picking and we’re all craving something aromatic and tastebud pleasing from the garden. Enter one of the world’s finest, yet simplest, and honestly most flexible, “sauces” around. Traditionally made with basil, pine nuts, hard cheese, olive oil and garlic, “pesto” can be made with a variety of herbs, greens, nuts and seeds. Over the last few years, the price of pine nuts has sky rocketed, so many alternatives have become popular. One of my favorite cheap options is Kale Pesto. This “poor mans” pesto is a great way to use up kale when you’re not sure what else to do with it (or need a way to convince those who “hate” kale to eat it) and also save some money – this recipe uses no cheese and substitutes sunflower seeds for the nut. It also allows for some creativity, depending on how you’re using it, when it comes to the herb flavor. Choose basil for a more traditional taste or branch out and try oregano or marjoram.

If you grow your own basil and have an abundance, I highly recommend making LOTS of pesto and freezing it. This allows for enjoyment all winter long and it takes very little space to store. One option for freezing is in little jars, saved from jams or jellies, but the best way I have found is to make your pesto (some people recommend leaving out the cheese and mixing that in when you us it. I could go either way on this) and then freeze it in ice cube trays. Once the pesto is solid, take the cubes out and put them in freezer bags or whatever container you like. These are the perfect size for single servings and are much easier to use than a large amount frozen in a jar. However, if you do go the jar route, the best way to defrost the pesto – if you’re not using the entire jar – is to put it in a pot of close to boiling water and allow it to thaw from the outside. Heat until you have enough for your meal and then pop the jar back in the freezer. This limits the amount of pesto that is thawed and refrozen each time you use it.

Now that you’re dreaming of green, go make some! Try making some with arugula. Maybe some lemon basil (we did this once and put it on grilled fish – yum). Walnuts or almonds are both grand, and there is nothing that says you have to use Parmesan for the cheese. Try it on pasta, fish, veggies and bread. Use a bunch fresh and freeze even more. Basically, when it comes to pesto, think outside the box and have fun!

August 7, 2011 at 10:39 pm Leave a comment

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