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Monday, May 19, 2014

Alfresco Dining on the Lanai - Whole Wheat Pasta with Zuchinni Noodles and Pesto Sauce

With the coming of the warmer weather, I want to do all of my cooking and dining outdoors.  Having a lovely yard and a good grill that allows me to do both, almost all the time.  I've gotten so adept at cooking almost an entire meal on the grill that once it turns warm, we rarely turn on the oven.  As for stove top cooking - boiling water, frying eggs and the like, I could do that outside too if I needed thanks to the side burner on the grill.  All cooking humble-brags aside, I wanted to share a pesto and zucchini noodle recipe that I made for Mother's Day Diner.  I almost called this post a Meatless Monday entree - but then I realized that half of the food photo included a decidedly carnivorous meal of marinated and grilled chicken and venison.  Utterly devoid of the Meatless Monday mission!  I'll still tag this post as a MM for future posts dedicated to eating more plant-based meals on a regular basis.  The post will also get tagged for Sunday Supper - a family-friendly meal plan I'd like to make become a regular habit amongst my logical and biological brethren and kin!

Gluten-free and reducing carbs is hot eating trend.  I'm not really into either but I do know that reducing my carb intake is beneficial to weight loss and probably one's sugar intake.  Dietary fads come and go.  Whole wheat pastas, pastas made from corn, spelt, flax, chick pea flours, you name it, exists.  Something that I've been enjoying is making "noodle-like" salads out of vegetables - zucchini, spaghetti squash are vegetables that adapt well to being converted to noodle-like stand-ins.
There's a contraption on the market right now - a "Zoodle" Maker - basically a spiral cutting machine that will turn a zucchini, yellow squash, or carrots into long, thin, Julienne strands.  You could also use a julienne peeler or the julienne blade on a mandolin. I opted for the later as that's what I have. Why buy another gadget to clutter your kitchen when you can use what you already have?  The trick to using the mandolin is to not be afraid of it, use long, firm deliberate cutting strokes and use the length of the zucchini to get the longest strands.  While I didn't cook the zucchini after it was cut, I understand you can blanch it quickly in boiling water to cook it.  I figured I was tossing into hot, whole-wheat pasta and the residual heat would help to cook the zoodles.  I enjoy the bite of raw zucchini when it's cut thinly.  Sometimes even, shaved ribbons of zucchini noodles are delightful in salads - pasta-style or just tossed lightly alone with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Last summer, I posted 3 fun ways to enjoy zucchini, check out that post here if you want other ideas!

For this recipe idea, you can use a combination of Cooked Whole Wheat Pasta  of your choosing, along with long julienne strands of zucchini and/or yellow squash, tossed together with either fresh or store-bought pesto. I tend to combine basil with fresh cleaned spinach to stretch the pesto and to keep it bright green.  I also like to add parsley to it for a bit more brightness and again, to stretch the final product.  Both the spinach and the parsley can be omitted.  The recipe for pesto, as written below can also be modified to work with what you have on hand; almonds, pumpkins seeds, pine nuts, or walnuts work well. 

You can omit the cheese and add it to the final dish as you desire, controlling the amount of cheese used.  To cut back on the oil, you can also thin the pesto with some pasta cooking water while you are pureeing the ingredients in your food processor or blender.  You can omit the pasta and use all julienne zucchini, yellow squash and carrots if you want.  As I don't tend to like the texture of cooked veggies, I'd be inclined to keep them all raw, retaining their crunch.  Even mildly blanching the zucchini is fine, but no longer than 30 seconds to 1 minute in a pot of boiling water.  It will fall apart if you try to cook it any longer than that.

You can make more or less as much as you want, of both recipes.  The Pesto will make enough for two batches of pasta salad.  Pesto can be frozen.  To make less pasta salad, cut the pasta back by half, but keep the amount of zucchini almost the same.

Spinach Basil and Parsley Pesto:
  • 2 Bunches Basil (about a cup loosely packed)- cleaned, dried and leaves removed from stems
  • 3 Cups (loosely packed) Fresh Spinach Leaves - cleaned, dried and any woody stems removed
  • 1/2 Cup Parsley - cleaned, dried and stems removed
  • 2 - 3 Garlic Cloves - blanched in hot water to tame it or roast in olive oil to bring out the nutty flavors
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Cheese - such as Parmesan, Locatelli or Pecorino Romano
Equipment Needed:
  • Food Processor or Blender
  • Rubber Spatula
  • small sauce pot and sieve or fine mesh strainer
  1. Clean the spinach, basil and parsley. Set aside
  2. Blanch the garlic in hot boiling water, boiling the garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Run under cold water to cool before adding to the pesto ingredients.
  3. Add the spinach, basil and parsley, and blanched and cooled garlic into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or into a blender.  Pulse a few times to get the leaves to start forming a paste. Keep the the lid on the blender or food processor and the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil in a slow stream through the pin-hole or removable lid of the blender or food processor.  The mixture should form a paste.  If need be, turn off the machine, and scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Replace lid and turn the machine back on and continue adding in the oil.  The mixture should be thick, not runny, but should also be a bit loose.  
  4. Scrap out the pesto into a bowl, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  5. When ready to use, stir in the finely grated cheese.  Adding it as you need it will help the pesto keep fresh longer.  Store the pesto tightly covered and refrigerated.  
  6. Pesto without the cheese added to it can be frozen for up to 3 months.  This pesto will keep, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.  Adding the spinach to it will help maintain its intense green colour. Makes 1 cup.  Add more of each, spinach, basil, parsley, oil, as needed.  My recipes, as usual, are a casual affair.  I usually toss in ingredients until I think they are where I want them to be!
Pasta Salad Ingredients:
  • 1 Box Whole Wheat Pasta - cooked according to package directions, to al dente
  • 2 Medium-Large Zucchini - cleaned, ends trimmed and cut on a mandolin into long Julienne strips, or use a julienne vegetable peeler, or a "zoodle" maker
  • 1/2 Cup of Pesto 
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • Freshly Grated or Shaved Parmesan Cheese - for garnish, optional
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.  Add in 2 tablespoons of Kosher salt to the water, then add in the dried whole wheat pasta, and cook until the pasta is al dente.  Reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water.
  2. Prepare your zucchini.  If you have a mandolin, use the julienne blade and carefully julienne the zucchini, running it down the mandolin, along the length of the zucchini, in order to cut the longest strands of zucchini "noodles."  Alternatively, you can use a y-shaped vegetable peeler that is meant for creating julienne strands of vegetables, or if you have a vegetable noodle cutting machine, use that to create your strips.  You are looking to make pasta like strands out of the squash.  Place the zucchini noodles into a large mixing or serving bowl.
  3. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, reserve 2 cups of the cooking water, and place the cooked hot pasta into the large mixing or serving bowl with the zucchini.  Add in the pesto and toss to combine.  If the pesto sauce is too thick or tight, loosen it with a bit of the reserved pasta cooking water.  Serve hot, warm or cold.  
  4. Pasta will hold, covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Serves 8 - 10.  
  5. Garnish with shaved or freshly grated Parmesan Cheese if desired.
  6. Feel free to add other vegetables as you desire.  Cherry or grape tomatoes, olives, carrots, chopped peppers or celery would all be wonderful additions.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

1 Year of Food Swapping

In early April I attended the Philly Swappers Food Swap Event, at The Reading Terminal Market.  It was a year ago that I first attended their event, also at The Reading Terminal.  What a year it's been!  Attended at least 4 other groups swaps. Started my own food swapping club. Hosted 6 swapping events of my own and we are about to celebrate our 1st year anniversary as a group.  My health may have gone to pot, my depression is back in full force, I can't ride a bike, I stiffen up if I sit too long, I'm over-weight, again, but man! at least my food swapping life is great! What we do as Collingswood Food Swappers is wonderful.  Granted, when I say, WE, I suppose I'm truly talking about my way of bringing people together and making connections.  And that's the stuff I love - bringing people together. 

In a few days, I will be celebrating 1 year of swapping as Collingswood Food Swappers.  There will be a food swap/pot luck barbecue to commemorate the occasion, right back at the scene where it all started, at the Top Gun Abode!  I'm very proud of what I've done to become a part of the Collingswood Community.  I get excited that I am able to bring people together, create these party events and open up peoples eyes and tastes to new food horizons.  Now if I could only make a paying career out of this...

Food Swaps are bigger than I ever realized when I attended my first event.  I had no idea that the desire to connect over food and drink, and by larger extent, through the myriad of swaps stuff that has been traded at my events, beers, infused spirits, hand-made potions and crafted items, would cause such a stir of excitement to so many different kinds of people from all over the Pennsylvania and New Jersey area.  If I were to take one thing away from what I've learned this past year from doing food swaps it's this, people want to connect and the best way to make a connection is across the table, sharing a meal and stories. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Pasta with Pea and Ricotta Puree

I wish I could enjoy April in Paris or New York, but alas, I'll have to take Collingswood and Philadelphia for my spring-time reveries.  The colours, smells and foods of spring are all uplifting.  And it makes me want to eat lighter and brighter foods. Asparagus. Baby New Potatoes. Lamb chops.  Strawberries and rhubarb desserts.  

For a timely spring recipe I concocted a newer version of some low-fat, creamy style recipes that I've been reworking.  My usual standby Spring recipe is the Asparagus and Lemon Puree that I adore - 5 ingredients, practically non-fat, and fabulous enough to make as an impressive diner party fare.  

At our Easter Dinner a few weeks ago, I was in the mood for peas, mint and shallots.  But that sounded a bit bland, or hard to work into a pasta dish without having a sauce for it.  I wanted the sauce to be creamy but not too rich. Satisfying yet healthy.  A puree of freshly cooked peas, sauteed shallots, mint, basil and parsley did the trick, folded into non-fat ricotta with a touch of lemon and zest for a bright clean flavor.  

Originally I had planned on making ravioli but then I didn't want to do all that work, even if I did use ready-made noodles.  Hmm, what to do what to do? I made "deconstructed" ravioli instead.  Which is a funny foodie way of saying that I made the filling and served it over wide ravioli shaped pasta.  It worked.  I took fresh store bought lasagna sheets and tore each sheet into six pieces with rough torn edges.  The result was a festive riot of spring  tastes.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

To Storybook Land

Once upon a time, a long time ago (like 42 years ago, in the dark non-Internet ages), there was a young girl who longed to visit the magical kid-dom of Storybook Land.  Her wicked mother never wanted to take her there.  "It's too weird.  To normal.  Normal is boring!" screeched the hag.  The girl, sighed and wished and wished, but her wishes were never granted.   

She tried to ask her grandparents to take her to Storybook Land, each time they passed by this tantalizing place each year on their way to the land of Atlantic City, where life on the boardwalk was peaches and cream.  Her grandparents wrung their hands, helpless to grant their only granddaughter her wish.  For they only had the girl for all of 1 or 2 weeks time before she was to be returned to the underworld.  A side-trip to Storybook Land was out of the question.  Driving was difficult for the aged grandparents, and only one trip could be taken each year.
 Years passed and the girl grew older, more jaded and she forgot about childish things.   "All Hail Caesar's Palace!" proclaimed the Mayor, turning  Atlantic City into a dark and gloomy place, filled with gambling halls and evil doings. Steel Pier gave way to Trump Taj Mahal. The grandparents died, leaving the girl with only fond memories of salt water taffy, the Ferris wheel and tram car rides on the old wooden board walk by the sea, the beautiful sea. 
Eventually, the girl escaped her wretched past and became a Duchess.  She started a family of her own.   With her wife, Queen Liz, and son, Prince Nate, they were a happy little trio.  Then, one day, the little prince, was granted a school trip, to STORYBOOK LAND!  Memories came flooding back.  Lunches were packed and the trio set out for their adventure.  Passing through the red gates and white door of the castle took on a mythic quality.  Tears flowed from her eyes, and she was transported back to childhood.  Mother Goose! Humpty Dumpty (who was getting a much needed face-painting); Moby Dick! The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe house (it was true and it wasn't even Imelda Marcos!) Rides, animals, play areas and more.  It was magical and timeless and wonderful.  The spell set upon the Duchess by the Evil Witch was broken.  And the family trio, Duchess Denine, Queen Liz and Prince Nathaniel all had a laughter-filled sunny day at Storybook Land.  The End...


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Folk Art and Found Art

Folk Art by Sam Corenzwit - a piece I've owned for over 20 years.
When were were in Baltimore this past March, we visited the American Visionary Art Museum.  I love found art (no secret to any followers of my blogs or Instagram accounts), folk art, and art created by self-taught artists.  I've collected, viewed, and documented this for well-over 20 years. It wasn't until we visited the AVAM exhibits that I remembered once knowing a man named, Sam Corenzwit, a local Philadelphia artist.  This was back in the very early 1990's, way before the Internet, digital cameras or any other modern day gadget that kept us plugged in to the whole wide world.  Something about the exhibits at the AVAM struck a chord for me.  It took me a few weeks to finally pull out the above work of art, by Sam, but here it is, my first piece of folk art, or any sort of real art, that I ever purchased. 

The back story:  I first saw Sam's works at Day By Day Restaurant and Catering.  I worked at DxD, first as a bookkeeper in the office, then as a cater waiter, on and off for most of the 1990's.  Sam Corenzwit lived in a condo on the same block as the restaurant.  He was a regular patron at the restaurant.  I guess he had a lot of art work and was quite fond of showing it off to anyone who might be interested.  Robin, the owner of the restaurant, (bless her heart!) started holding art shows by local artists in the restaurant.  Remembering what a charming character that Sam was, I'm sure he cajoled Robin into showing off his creations.  Mind you, Sam was in his late 70's, so one could hardly resist a charming older man with an eccentric streak to him!

I  saw Sam's show and fell in love with his stuff.  I bought a few things, something Dalmatian inspired for the woman I was dating at the time (she had a thing for Dalmatians); and this funny fella - the Fisher Boy.  I had little money at the time. I was probably making all of 23K at the time, which felt like a lot but I was still counting my pennies.  To splurge on buying something other than groceries, rent/utilities and clothing was a big deal for me.  I'm sure I felt that whatever his prices were they were more than I could spare at the time.  But, I was young, in love with the woman, and in love with Sam's art work…you know how it goes.  I suffered for the art!  I bought the art and became friendly with Sam for a while.  I visited with him and his wife, listened to his stories, looked at his collection of works and became a fan of his.  I think I bought some other stuff of Sam's too.  I also remember that he gave me a piece, which I've long ago lost or gave away.  

The love affair with my ex ended long ago and Sam passed away in 2000 but I still have this drawing and I'm still fascinated with outsider artists.  I hadn't thought about him, or his art in years.  But as I said, being at the American Visionary Art Museum jogged my memories of Sam.  I'm so glad I still own this jolly piece.  Sam's memory lives on in my life and his artwork will find a new home, in a proper frame, for our son's room at some point.  Good art lives!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Buffalo Bleu Cheese Chick Pea Spread

There is this slamming good recipe floating around on the Internet - a vegan Buffalo Chick Pea Spread/Dip Recipe that I found.  Actually, I think it it was first "found" by a friend of ours, then I saw the blog post recipe for it.  I love vegetarian food and have no moral objection to anything vegan but I don't think either food style is necessarily healthy.  As my favorite food writer, Mark Bitman says, "it may be organic/vegetarian/vegan but it might not be necessarily healthy…"  meaning that fat is fat and junk food is junk food no matter how it's sourced.

This recipe is easily adaptable to stuff you like or have on hand.  I always have hot sauce, lemon, chick peas and sometimes bleu cheese in the refrigerator.  I don't like mayonnaise or veganaise (vegan mayo) so I see no need use it.  The original recipe (which can be seen here at this link) calls for nayonnaise as well as tahini.  Not wanting to buy a product that I won't use again, I started to think about alternatives.  Oil or yogurt for the fat? And what to use for the tahini?  Looking in the pantry, I found almond butter and Dijon mustard.  What I also added to the mix was bleu cheese crumbles because I thought when you eat Buffalo wings you often have bleu cheese dip to go with the wings, carrot and celery sticks.  If I'm omitting some of the fat then I can use it in a way that I LIKE.  It's not a vegan recipe but it's sort of vegetarian.  

I'm going to have this on a wrap, a big heaping helping of this spread, along with shredded carrots, celery strips and cucumbers, for my lunch. I almost cannot wait to get to work in the morning so I can look forward to my lunch!

Buffalo Bleu Cheese Chick Pea Spread Ingredients:
  • 1  14-16 Ounce Can Chick Peas (Preferably low-sodium) - drained and rinsed
  • 2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
  • 1 Heaping Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 1 Heaping Tablespoon Almond or SunFlower Butter (or use Tahini if you have it)
  • 2 Tablespoons Bleu Cheese Crumbles
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Hot Sauce - Franks/Texas Pete's/Crystal but not Sriracha or Tabasco Sauce

  1. Drain and rinse the chick peas. Place them in a large bowl and mash them with a potato or avocado masher, retaining some of the texture.  You don't want to turn the chick peas into mush or hummus, so smash them but keep some of the mixture chunky.
  2. Add in the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, nut butter, bleu cheese crumbles and stir to thoroughly combine.    The mixture will be a bit dry but should hold together.  
  3. Add a few grinds of black pepper, then stir in the hot sauce, using more or less according to your taste preference.  As this spread should taste like Buffalo Wings, the hot sauce important.  Stir the mixture to to incorporate the pepper and hot sauce. Cover, refrigerate and let the flavors meld together.  The spread will taste best after it sits in the refrigerator for a few hours. 
  4. Serve with veggie sticks or as a spread on a sandwich or wrap.  Makes 2 cups of spread.  Will hold for up to 5 days.