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Monday, June 23, 2014

Kale Basil Parsley and Mint Pesto

Without realizing it this post is my 500th blog post.  Technically it's really not.  I say that because 1) I had an older blog for a year prior to starting The Bicycle-Chef.   Some of those early recipe blog posts have migrated over to here. 2) I've added and deleted posts from this blog; I'm not sure how many posts I've actually written.  Rather than wait weeks and try to roll out a big hoopla post, replete with videos, photo montages and self-congratulatory back pats, I'll post this lovely recipe. Video highlights can always be done at a later date!

Onto recipe writing.  For a recent food swap I attended with The South Jersey Food Swappers, I made a batch of pesto, using kale as the basis for the pesto.  I had kale pesto at a food swap a year ago and I was so taken with it I knew I wanted to make it.  It took me a year but the wait was worth it!  I adapt things all the time, tossing ingredients in until they "taste right" to me.  My friend, Jamie Lynn, made the original batch of Kale Pesto.  I'm not sure what all she had in hers, maybe some basil; perhaps a bit of cheese; certainly olive oil.  I figured I'd give this a whirl and see how it turned out. Making pesto with kale couldn't be any harder than making it with a variety of herbs, including the all-important basil.

I made ten 4 ounce jars for the swap, and one 6 ounce jar for sampling.  My "actual" recipe would therefore make 5 to 6 cups of pesto.  I'll try to cut this down to a more manageable amount for home use - 2 cups max.  It's all about handfuls of ingredients; blanching the kale to tame the bite; and whizzing everything in a food processor to get it lusciously smooth.  This pesto was: Blanched kale and blanched garlic; basil, parsley, mint, toasted walnuts, olive oil, and Pecorino Romano cheese (it's cheaper than Parmesan), salt and pepper.  The kale helps stretch the pesto and adds a healthy veg to the mix.  Using parsley and mint help with the taste, adding in a sweeter element to work with the basil.  I picked walnuts instead of pine nuts because they are less expensive and because they have a softer taste than the bitter edge that pine nuts can sometimes add.  The recipe can be worked to suit your tastes and needs. 

Kale Basil Parsley and Mint Pesto Ingredients:
  • 2-3 Cups (loosely packed; about 1 small/medium bunch) Fresh Kale Leaves - cleaned, de-stemmed of woody/tough center rib
  • 1 Bunch Basil (about 1 cup loosely packed)- cleaned and leaves removed from stems
  • 1/2 Cup Parsley - cleaned and stems removed
  • 1/4 to 1/2 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves - cleaned and leaves removed from stems
  • 2 - 3 Garlic Cloves - peeled
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Olive Oil - or more as needed
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Walnuts
    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 kale, basil, parsley and mint Set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of  water to a rolling boil.  Add in a tablespoon of salt.  Next, add in the de-stemmed kale leaves and cook for 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic after 5 minutes and cook for 1 minute more.

3.  Put the basil leaves, parsley and mint into a colander and then drain the blanched kale and garlic leaves in that same colander, pouring the hot  water over the herb leaves.  Drain, and then immediately run cold water over everything to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze the kale and herbs dry, wringing out as much water as possible.

4. Add the blanched kale, garlic and herbs, basil and parsley,  into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or into a large/heavy duty 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. 

5. Scrap down the sides of the work bowl or blender and add in the walnuts, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse a few more times to grind the nuts.  Lastly, add in the cheese and pulse a few more times.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
6. Store the pesto tightly covered and refrigerated.  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 kale to it will help maintain its intense green colour. Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups.   

Add more of each, kale, basil, parsley, mint, 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!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Food Finds: More Winning Meals in Las Vegas

You would be hard pressed to find a bad meal in Las Vegas.  Anything is possible but this is indeed an eating town.  Finding "cheap" eats is another adventure altogether not just off the beaten path or outside of the strip.  As I wrote in my previous post, we had a more than enjoyable light lunch on our first foray onto the Strip.  Our next few meals in the heart and hotels of Las Vegas would prove to be winners as well.  
Breakfast on the Strip: A quiet breakfast in a subdued beautifully lit "created" Italian street scene in the lower level of the Venetian Hotel.  Meandering into the Venetian Hotel, up, down, across, you're not sure if you're in an M.C. Escher drawing or some Bizarre Disney Land experiment.  The Venetian offers many lovely zen-like places of calm in an otherwise town of  pulsating madness.  

We hit up Caffe Zefferino for a quiet breakfast.  It felt very authentic.  The mood lighting, the air quality (smoke free!) and the pretty surroundings, with the calls of the Gondoliers in the distance truly put us in a happy place.  Breakfast was more American style in that the portions were large and tasty.  Coffee, well, stick to Starbucks, but for a good breakfast that won't hurt your wallet and will keep you going well past lunch, this is a place to fill up!

Dinner on the Strip: We had fun meal at The Yard House at the LINQ along the QUAD corridor between The Flamingo Hotel and Harrahs.  I was skeptical at first, not wanting to dine at yet another knock-off bar filled with penis balloon toting bachelorettes (there were quite a few, wearing sashes and tiaras no less); or muscle headed bachelors sporting foot long dong bong vuvuzela shaped drinking vessels strung around their necks (way more than a few of these all over the place). 

The Yard House is a multilevel, fine pub grub dining and drinking destination in the heart of what is to my eyes and ears, a busy, night club, food club, shopping arena.  It was too dark for food photos so none to share.  I had the first of several street food fusion meals.  Korean meets Mexican style tacos.  Short Ribs slowly cooked until meltingly tender.  Piquant Mexican Rice.  Luscious Beans.  And an East-Coast Centric Micro Brew Draft Beer List - which really surprised me.  I opted for some North East Coast brews. If you find yourself in Las Vegas, the street known as the QUAD is worth a look-see and The Yard House is well worth a stop for a nibble and a slosh!

Il Fornaio at the New York New York Hotel: Head here for the sheer audacity of doing the entire NY skyline, from The Statue of Liberty, all the important iconic sky scrappers to a miniature Brooklyn bridge walkway.  Whether or not you do the roller coaster that winds its way around and through the buildings is up to your and your nerves.  If you find yourself hungry and the Coney Island food court fare isn't for you (and it shouldn't be) walk through the casino floor and do yourself a favor and have a nice, calm, quiet meal in Il Fornaio Restaurant and Bakery.  Authentic, New York style, thin crust pizzas.  Decent wine by the glass selections.  Good hearty bread with nice olive oil for dipping. If you aren't starving, you and your dining companion can share a salad and a pizza and feel satisfied for under $50! 

Off the Strip and way way away from the casinos:  If you are adventurous, not into the crowds and hubbub of Vegas, in any of the areas like the main strip, downtown near the Stratosphere, or in Old Las Vegas in the Old Downtown now known as The Fremont Street Experience, I have some DYNAMITE Places to suggest.  You'll need a car or be willing to pay a lot for taxi rides. 

District One LV - off the beaten path, in one of the many areas of the China/Asia Town district of Las Vegas, there are dozens of places to dine.  I can't exactly remember how we stumbled into this place. I think we were googling one place, and found three others and then practically threw a dart at a map and here is where we landed.  District One LV is a brand new Vietnamese Seafood and fusion bar and restaurant.  We hit on the hip insider's spot before the hip insiders found this place and ruined it!  Uber cool, the place has a North West Street Food and Pho vibe going on in here.  Lots of street food and other Asian food fusion influences happening on the menu.  If only we had time to eat more and more often...

Our meals were very memorable.  Fresh Shrimp Spring Rolls in delicate cellophane rice paper wrappings.  Inside was a crunchy center that contrasted nicely with the tender bite of the basil leaves and shrimp. Steamed Edamame pods topped with a stir fry of Szechuan peppers, garlic and sesame oil.  More addictive than potato chips.  Rachel enjoyed a platter of Vietnamese pork offerings - chops, sausages; veggies, and broken rice topped with a poached egg.  Break the egg over the rice, pour on the Nam Ploc vinegar and you create a succulent sauce for the meal.  I had a Korean Fried Cornish Hen with Chinese 5 Spice, along with the steamed broken rice.  I think Rachel got the velvet box meal here but mine was very good.  After a few wheat style summer ales and even the fish heads would have seem like a gold-plated meal to me.  We ate until we were ready to burst and then took a few bites and sips more, rolling our way back to our car.  Happy, sated and delighted with our turn of luck at finding this true gem.  

Up a piece by the New Orleans Casino, in the shadow of the strip but several miles away, we discovered a fabulous Ethiopian restaurant called Abyssinia.  After our one and only night in a hotel dead smack in the heart of The Strip, at The Flamingo (the less said, the better...) we spent 3 nights at a time-share condo 4 miles outside of town.  We had a car, lots of guide books and ample time to find better food finds than what the management of corporate Las Vegas wants the tourists to find. After our amazing luck at District One LV, we weren't sure we could find another wonderful "ethnic" meal as cheap and plentiful.  How wrong we were.  I cannot find any decent Ethiopian places back home so it surprised me to find a large Ethiopian community in Las Vegas of all places.  We had a combination dinner of meat and vegetables, which was way more food than we could handle, even if I was famished.  Ground lamb; stewed lamb; chicken in spicy tomato flavors that I can't even begin to identify.  Goat. Lentils 2 ways; Collard Greens. Raw cabbage salad and stewed cabbage. All served on a platter of spongy bread called injera, along with a basket of additional bread.

Way off the Beaten Path: Henderson, Nevada: The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill.  As if the food finds weren't already superb, we found another buried treasure in the desert.  Rachel and I took a side trip to Nelson, Nevada, to visit an old gold mine and reclaimed town.  A post with those photos and stories will be forth coming.  After a few hours of photo taking we were hot, tired and ready for a proper meal in a cool spot. More googling and glances in my guide books led us to Henderson.  It's a town know for the famous Ethel M. Chocolate Factory (which we didn't see but I did load up on their chocolates at the airport shop); the town is also listed in my guides books as having more than a few great places to eat.  And away we went! 
In a strip mall shopping center we discovered The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill.  It is clean, lovely but looks like a take-out sandwich shop.  We were a tad skeptical but the aromas and platters of food all around us told us that we were about to strike it rich.  Our meals were out of this world.  Again, more authentic ethnic food, served up by some of the most handsome Greek gods.  Tender fresh hot  men pita; juicy plump grilled shrimp and chicken kebabs.  Fluffy rice pilaf; cool refreshing Greek salad; tangy tzatziki sauce.  I ate every drop of food in front of me and could have enjoyed more if there was room in my belly.  To think we almost passed up on this opportunity.

It was a quick trip filled with a lot of laughs and some amazing meals.  Vacations should be about enjoyment of the new found things.  Our trip to Las Vegas was unique as so much of our nearly 30 year friendship is.   Whatever brings to you to Las Vegas, convention, business, sin and pleasure, you won't be disappointed by the many authentic food finds if you just look beyond the glitz. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Food Finds: The Paris Hotel Las Vegas

A lot late on the updates around here. Summer is proving to be a busy and fun season for me. I took a little jaunt to Sin City, Las Vegas, the end of May/beginning of June. The town could also be called a true foodie destination. I'm not a gambler but I am an eater and I hit up plenty of winning locations for outstanding meals during my 4 day stay. 
The trip was a get away with my best friend, Rachel.  She lives in Tucson, AZ; Vegas felt like a good meeting place for the two of us that would provide many options. Photographic excursions, possible shows (we didn't take in one darn show!!) and lots of people watching. That we had in spades. The food finds were plenty. As I said it's a food destination. Once you get past the brand named chef driven restaurants there are plenty of true non-corporate non-chain places to dine. If you want the big brands and top dog culinary faces then Vegas is truly the town to go for the food. 

Rachel and I are the type of people who want to find the hidden gems. The honest and local cooking. We don't go for the glitz and fabricated glamour for which Las Vegas has become synonymous. For two gals who didn't want to throw our pennies away, not into the slots or the Bellagio fountains, Las Vegas sure has a way to help you part with your money whether or not you want and/or realize it!  

The biggest way your money disappears is in the high charges on the incidental in the hotels or associated shops, caf├ęs and other "connected" business. All inferences intended. The mob "might" not exist. It's been replaced by the corporate mafia. And there only a handful of syndicates operating this town. 

The corporate fabrication of Las Vegas is of course noticeable in the Cirque du Soliel fantasy world of The Strip and the Food Network driven Marque Restaurant scene.  We ate a few surprisingly pleasant and reasonably priced meals at the big names hotels. Our first stop was in The Paris Hotel's bistro, Mon Ami Gabi. I read about it in one of my guide books so we thought we'd give it a try. Once we stepped inside this artful replica of The Eiffel Tower and its street level dining EXPERIENCE we were sold on the whole theme. It didn't hurt that the bistro was very similar to our favorite Philadelphia Parisian bistro fabrication, PARC. Cool ambiance. Attentive waiters. Authentic bistro menu and of course the all important glass of an afternoon aperitif to set the mood. Add in a surly looking old waiter cast out of the Guy Savoy agency and the mood was set. 

Eating a full meal in the late afternoon didn't seem quite right if we were them going to have a big dinner in the evening. So we opted to share a light dejuener. A salad of grilled summer squash shaved super thin over heirloom tomatoes and topped with chiffonade basil and basil oil. We also had a baked wedge of Brie with truffle honey, toasted hazelnuts and watercress. Along with my sparkling wine and a Demi baguette perfectly baked we were set! And well lubricated on my part. Suddenly things were looking a lot nicer than the Daytona Spring Break scene we encountered upon arrival!  
Since this meal, I've been craving tomatoes - a miracle to those who know me well.  I tend to dislike tomatoes unless they are cooked or in salsas.  These tomatoes were succulent.  Meaty.  Full of flavor like I've never before experienced.  I loved the simple way the zucchini was cooked.  Grilled super thin slices.  All components of things I've had or done before but put together in a completely new way.     

Local farm raised, sun ripened tomatoes aren't available on the East Coast yet.  We're about a month or more away from those babies.  Jersey zuchs are available now, so I made do with those instead.  I whipped up a batch of basil oil, straining the basil from the oil and saving the basil "sludge" for later use in a quick pesto or addition to sauce or vinaigrette.  To make this meal really "sing" its summer song you have to slice the zucchini very thin, but not paper thin.  About 1/8 inch thick, and then grill it on an indoor grill pan on both sides.  You give it a bit of char for flavor and visual appeal.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and drizzle with a bit of basil oil.  The grilled zucchini makes a lovely side dish to a fish or chicken dinner; over a salad with a bit of cheese, or on a sandwich with a schemer of good goat cheese.  

My recipe for Basil Oil has been posted before.  You can find the full description, details and step by step photos here at this link.  The quick version is this: Blanch a large bunch of cleaned basil leaves in a pot of salted boiling water for 30 seconds.  Strain the basil and shock it in cold water to stop the cooking and set the color.  Puree the basil in a blender for food processor with 2 to 4 cups of light olive oil or neutral vegetable oil.  Let the oil and pureed basil sit in a clean covered container in the refrigerator over-night to let the basil flavor permeate the oil.  Strain the oil over a fine mesh strainer, reserving the basil oil in one clean container.  Refrigerate the oil.  Reserve the basil puree for other uses - such as making pestos, adding to tomato or other sauces, vinaigrettes.  Both the basil and the oil can be frozen in small batches, such as in ice cube tray compartments.  Use the oil and the pureed basil with in 2 weeks.  Frozen, both will last for months.