Sunday, August 28, 2011


If there is ever a time to make fresh pesto, it's now. Fresh basil is abundant at green markets and grocery stores everywhere, and better yet--it's cheap. Fresh pesto simply screams summer to me. Plus, it's very easy (and quick) to make, and it's one of those dishes that's sure to impress just about anybody you serve it to. Confession: I get pretty impressed with myself every time I make it.
Okay, so here's what you do. Go get yourself some basil. Grab some from your garden, green market or grocery store. You're going to need a lot of it. Note: pesto (without cheese) freezes well. If you'd like to freeze your pesto for use later in the year, simply blanch the basil leaves before putting them in the food processor, continue with the recipe and freeze the finished product in jars).

Grate some parmesan cheese--you'll need it a bit later in the recipe. Toast some pine nuts. During this step, resist all urges to turn your back. You will burn the pine nuts if you don't give them your full attention. While you work, sing along to your favorite music and think about how much you love summer.
The next step is very easy. Throw everything except the cheese into the food processor. Combine it well. Then toss it with some pasta (I like it best with Penne noodles), cheese and vegetables. Or freeze it. Or use it on a salad. Most of all, enjoy this pesto along with the last, ever so sweet, days of summer.
Adapted by Alexandra Rogers, from Mark Bittman

4 cups basil leaves, washed and dried
4 medium cloves of garlic
4 Tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups of parmesan

In a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, combine basil, garlic and pine nuts. Scrape sides of the food processor with a rubber scraper and make sure ingredients are well combined and chopped. Add the olive oil slowly with food processor running. 

It's likely you won't use the full 1/2 cup of olive oil, so add enough to get the pesto to a consistency that is looser than paste but not overly oily. I usually use about 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons olive oil in total.

Turn off the food processor and dip a spoon into the pesto. Now, taste the pesto! It will taste like it needs salt. At this point, add a sprinkling of salt (far less than a teaspoon) and combine. This is the "salt to taste" step that can be somewhat confusing. When making pesto, be sure to under salt a bit since you'll be adding salty cheese later in the dish that will carry those flavors through all the way. 

Once salt is added, your pesto is ready to use. Toss with a pasta of your choice and add the parmesan cheese until thoroughly combined and serve. This makes enough pesto to cover 4-5 cups of pasta. 

You can also use the pesto as part of salad dressings or over vegetables. More specific serving suggestions will be coming your way soon!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cocoa Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting

My mother is the baker, and I am the cook. That has always been the case in our family. My mother is analytical and scientific in her reasoning, and therefore excellent at measuring with care and substituting ingredients and amounts appropriately
I'm  more of a creative type when it comes to the kitchen. I create as I go, and very rarely follow a recipe to the dot. Part of my fondness for cooking is the ability to change a dish as I see fit, at any point during its creation. I get frustrated by the patience required by baking, the waiting game and inability to change a recipe once it goes in the oven. The point is, I am not really a baker at heart. This is, I understand, a very odd proclamation to make in the middle of a brownie recipe. Hear me out. 
I bake as therapy. You see, I can make a stir fry without much thought at all. But Cocoa Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting? Those require some concentration. And sometimes, in the midst of a particularly bad week, I need to bake. Because when I bake, my mind refuses to wander. I concentrate only on the task at hand.
I know, as a frequent multi-tasker, that I don't need to focus all of my attention on leveling off a cup of sugar with the back of a knife. But, somehow, that's just what happens. 
Everything else melts away as I bake, using techniques my mother has taught me over a lifetime.
It's quite hard to feel that anything is amis in the world when you watch peanut butter and butter being  whipped together into a light and fluffy frosting. And if that doesn't do it, sampling peanut butter frosting can make just about anybody smile. (Except a person with peanut allergies. Obviously).

The very act of creating a batter, pouring it into a pan and waiting every so patiently for the result is becoming  slightly more appealing to me. Here's why: earlier this evening I stared at an empty 8" x 8" square pan, and now it's filled with delightful, soul-healing, smile-creating brownies. That is quite an accomplishment, if you really think about it. 

I must use this last paragraph to tell you about the brownies themselves and not just about me. Salty. Sweet. Delightful. I should not have waited to make them for nearly four months.  (I've been waiting since May to make this particular recipe, ever since I saw it on Not Without Salt.) It's no surprise I love them, based on my ongoing (and I might add, very justified) love affair with the chocolate and peanut butter combination (as seen here and here). 
Cocoa Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting
Adapted by Ashely from Not Without Salt, from Alice Medrich

Cocoa Brownies
1 1/4 stick (10 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large, cold eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Peanut Butter Frosting
3/4 stick (6 Tablespoons) softened butter
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
pinch salt

Cocoa Brownies
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease an 8" x 8" square pan.

First, put a medium/large pot with a few inches of water on the stove and turn on the heat (to medium) to bring to a simmer. Be sure a bowl can fit inside of it, with room to stir ingredients, and without touching the simmering water. This is basically a makeshift double boiler. It should look a little like this:

Now that you know that bowl fits in the pot the correct way, take it out and put the following ingredients in it: Sugar, Cocoa Powder, Salt. Mix those ingredients together well, with a fork or a whisk. Then, cut the butter into 1 Tablespoon pieces. The idea here is to get them small enough to melt rather quickly (quicker than if you just threw the whole block of butter in there). 

Place the bowl with the cocoa mixture over the simmering water and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon. Once the butter is almost melted (you should see only 3-4 small pats of butter left in the mixture), remove the bowl from the pot (with oven mits on) and let the mixture cool to warm. The residual heat will melt the rest of the butter. 

Once the mixture is no longer hot, add cold eggs one at a time. If you haven't allowed the cocoa mixture to cool, you will make scrambled, chocolate eggs (accidentally). Stir the eggs into the mixture with a wooden spoon, then add the vanilla extract. Once all of this is well combined, add the flour. Once the flour is integrated into the cocoa mixture (read: you can no longer see any flour), stir the mixture 40 times. 

Pour the batter into the pan, spread evenly and bake for 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out nearly clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Peanut Butter Frosting
In an electronic mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream together the butter and peanut butter. Then, incorporate the powdered sugar (I like to add 1/4 cup at a time). 

Frost the brownies once they are room temperature. Sprinkle very lightly with a pinch of kosher salt. Enjoy. Serves 16 brownies.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Seattle, Pike Place Market, Delancey

Hello dear readers. I do apologize for the delay in posting. I was a little distracted because I was running around enjoying myself on vacation with my family. You see, even though my mother was born in Washington state, I'd never been there before. My parents and I spent time with our extended family, and then explored Seattle before catching a flight home. First, we went to Pike Place Market.
If you've ever seen footage of men throwing fish to each other at a big farmer's market--this is that place. I did, for the record, witness fish being thrown. But, alas, there was somebody in my way each time I tried to snap a picture of the Alaskan Salmon flying through the air. Regardless of if you get to see the fish-tossing or not, this market is incredible. 
Fresh flowers, vegetables, fruits, fish, meat and cheese stretch as far as the eye can see. It is a chef's paradise (I would assume). It is most definitely a food blogger's paradise. 
Speaking of food bloggers, one of my favorite food bloggers is based in Washington. Ashley, from Not Without Salt, was kind enough to send me a list of her personal favorite spots to grab a great meal in Seattle. My family and I tried a few of them, and there is one I must share with you--I don't want you to miss it if you have the opportunity to be in Seattle. 

Now, this is not a restaurant review blog. I lack the professional training to tell you truly if what I eat is prepared in a precise manner, and I lack the budget (and time) to eat at great restaurants multiple times in the space of a month, in order to write a comprehensive review that addresses quality as well as consistency.

However, sometimes I just know I'm right when food is delicious. So, from one foodie to another, here's a restaurant recommendation for next time you're in Seattle. Go to Delancey. Immediately.
This pizza joint (I use the word "joint" loosely, since the ambiance here is ten million times better than that of a pizza joint) is brought to you by Molly Wizenberg of Orangette and her husband Brandon Pettit (a man who loves pizza).  
We ordered the Cremini Pizza (mushrooms, thyme, olive oil and mozzarella--yum), the Brooklyn (I had to show my favorite boro some love), with Basil added, and the Sausage pizza (housemade pork fennel sausage played a leading role). 
Oh my god. That pizza was delicious. And that's coming to you from a girl who flew straight to Seattle from NYC. I'm a little bit of a pizza snob, people, and this was some of the best pizza I've had. The sauce was light and complimented the fresh ingredients, rather than overpowering them. The crust did the same. Oh, and dessert. For dessert we ordered the Raspberry Pavlova--Meringue, topped with greek yogurt, topped with raspberries, topped with whipped cream-- and a warm chocolate chip cookie. I would share a photo with you, but we loved it so much that the only photo I have shows an empty plate scraped clean.  In short, you must go to Delancey. And, if you love food, you should probably check out Seattle as a whole. 

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