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I read in a magazine once that the best day for grocery shopping is Wednesday. After a thorough analysis of the results of a poll the authors ran, and based on the database collected, it was concluded the stores were least crowded on the third day of a week.

A whole lot of people must have read the same snippet in the magazine, as my local Trader Joe’s was bursting with fruit colors and soap bubbles when I arrived right past the lunch hour yesterday. Shopping carts were jamming at the front door, people pushing through, cars coming in and out of the parking lot, food disappearing from the shelves. You’d think Armageddon was coming, but I checked on my calendar that in fact March 3rd was WHAT IF CATS AND DOGS HAD OPPOSABLE THUMBS? DAY.

That surely explains the commotion at the grocery on the least frequented day in a week.

The last few days have been strongly affected by a craving rollercoaster. Since Monday, I think I stepped out of the refrigerator and paused consumption to take care of three things only – to walk Cosmo (as it would be embarrassing), brush my teeth (awkward), and when going to sleep (messy!). My right bicep is sore from the constant lifting forkfuls and spoonfuls of food to the opening in my head.

You know what I miss? I never thought I would say this but I miss being hungry. I want to feel empty for a change. Here’s a solution. While I wait for the estrogen levels to drop, I shall fill my refrigerator with foods that are filling, packed with fiber and digestion-boosting enzymes, just like my WHEAT BERRY SALAD. It tastes divine. It looks beautiful and appetizing. It’s crunchy and labor-intensive for the jaws, forcing you to chew your meal longer while enjoying its interlacing flavors and working out at the same time. Brilliant!

WHEAT BERRY SALAD

–       1 – 1.5 cups wheat berries, cooked

–       1 romaine lettuce, chopped

–       1 sm package of mixed greens

–       2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped

–       1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

–       1/2 cup scallions, chopped

–       1/3 cup toasted pine nuts, cooled off

–       3 tbsp goat cheese, crumbled

–       1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

DRESSING

–       1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

–       1/3 cup flax seed oil (or use only olive oil)

–       1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar

–       1 tsp Dijon mustard

–       1 tbsp honey

–       pinch of salt, pepper and garam masala to taste

Bowl. Toss. Dress. Toss. Serve. Eat.

Abracadabra, cravings be GONE! P-O-O-F.

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I have nothing to say to you today. It’s not personal, I swear. I like you all, every single one of you just the same amount, and the amount is rather significant.

It’s possible I’m suffering from a less known, and yet quite peculiar form of the Samson Syndrome. (Remember the story of Samson and Delilah?) I got a haircut today, and quite possibly along with the hair I lost my brainpower.

Another explanation could be hiding in my estrogen high. The hormone’s levels have been rising for a few days now, and such high tide usually pushes all reason away through my ears. There’s probably one lingering thought still roaming inside my skull. If I stay still for a minute I can actually hear it stumble upon pieces of leftover furniture in my head. It falls down, bounces against the walls, and….Wait, I can hear it now… Holly cow, I think the last rational thought I had left has just committed suicide and jumped off the cliff!

Popcorn anyone?

Luckily, I have a recipe sitting around that I had put together for my clients earlier, and now I can just pretty much copy & paste it here for your satisfaction. That requires little to NO thinking on my part. And who knows, you may actually go bananas over the salad. Check it out!

GREEN SALAD WITH MANGO & BASIL VINAIGRETTE

This guy’s name is Foeniculum vulgare, or simply Fennel for close friends. Boy, is he vulgar! And it has anise flavor to add insult to injury. Hence, it makes a perfect sense paired with sweet and tart mango and intermixed with intensely green greens. Toasted pignoli not only add body to the salad, but also round its edges. Try it and you’ll understand what I mean by that.

Fennel may look scary at the first glance, but in reality he’s a pussy cat. With a sharp knife chop the green top off, then quarter the bulb. Using the tip of your paring knife cut out the “core” in each quarter, as it’s too hard to bite, thus no longer pleasant. Now slice the fennel into paper-thin pieces. Voila! Ready for the salad.

Ingredients:

–       1 bag of green salad mix

–       fennel, thinly sliced

–       ripe mango, diced

–       1/4 cup raw pine nuts (pignoli)

–       scallions, chopped

–       fresh basil, a bunch

–       extra virgin olive oil

–       white balsamic vinegar

–       honey

–       salt + pepper to taste

Get comfortable and toast your nuts, then set the pignoli aside to cool. Empty the greens into a large bowl. Add paper-thin slices of fennel, mango cubes, chopped scallions, and the pine nuts.

Using a blender or Magic Bullet, mix together 3 tbsp of olive oil with 1 tbsp of vinegar, a bunch of fresh basil leaves, salt, pepper and a touch of honey. Taste the dressing, and if approved by your taste buds sprinkle it over the salad mix, toss about, and serve along the Chicken Thighs dish we made last time. (You know, that night you and me had an online rendez-vous playing with those THIGHS and sipping white wine by the candlelight…shhh!)

What makes one a writer, I wonder… Having a blog exploiting one’s intimate culinary encounters? I think not.

In various social circumstances, upon meeting a new person, I am often asked what it is that I do. Since I’ve been experimentally unemployed for the last couple of months (the first time in my life), I usually simply reply:

“I’ve been writing…”

“Oh, you’re a writer!” The human somehow gathers from my ambivalent response.

And I say nothing more, as what more should I add? That I’ve been working on my knifing skills? That I’ve chopped a few onions and even made a steak in our little toaster oven? Or that I’ve been testing my neighbors’ patience with loud music, and my dog’s tolerance level with the dirty dancing that I perform to get out of my head? I don’t lie, but neither do I go into further detail.

When I finally filed my taxes a few weeks ago (I had applied for an extension, worry not), my accountant chatted me up while filling out the forms. He asked about Jason (his client as well) and how long we’ve been dating, what’s our dog’s name, and how life was in general. When he asked:

“So what do you do?”…I thought he also meant… in general, in my free time.

“I’ve been writing.” I said. “I just don’t get paid for it …yet.”

“That’s how it usually goes in this town, doesn’t it?” He concluded, the smart ass that he is.

Later, when I looked at the paper work, I noticed “WRITER” under my occupation. Now, does this make me a writer? What better proof of my trade than an IRS statement?

I heard that writers exhibit strange behaviors while experiencing creative flow. Someone told me once about this guy who could only write when sitting on top of an armoire in his tiny New York apartment. Imagine? How inconvenient! I also used to know this other guy, a writer as well, who’d store his journal in a freezer. He even told me that he tried to pull money out of his shower knob one night as if it were an ATM. Actually he may have just sleepwalked that night, in all fairness. And I’m not sure the incident had anything to do with his writing.

I have a few quirks of my own – come to think of it – when in the creative mode, like perching on my bed, laptop in front, and wearing nothing more than a pair of dangling earrings and matching panties (not the dangling part, I’m talking colors). And I also have a dog that takes in a few new words a day with his morning coffee. Does that count? Because if this doesn’t make me a writer, I don’t know what does!

Thesaurus

If you’re here for the recipes, you must be in a real pickle thinking “How will she ever get to food after this intro???” Well, my friend, I’ll tell you a secret… Sit down, breathe and relax. I’ll be gentle… The truth is that FOOD is just an excuse to write. It’s a side effect. It’s a symptom, and not a cause. Luckily, I really do truly and fully, passionately and madly love to play in my kitchen. I’m keen to use various toys – or cooking utensils if you must – with those kinky names like a cooling rack, an egg separator, a whip whisk, not to mention a meat tenderizer, and a piping bag… I could go on, but you get the idea.

Today I’ll write about PESTO: how I make it without cheese, and how I then mix it with a salad in the place of a dressing. And the only toy tool I need for this is a food processor, well, and a toaster oven. Now, if you don’t have one of those smart ones that can also broil and sweep floors (There she goes again!), a frying pan makes for a capable ersatz. I only ask you to bear with me when I get to the amounts and measurements. It really is my Achilles Heel, my pet peeve if you will. I chronically forget to use my measuring cups and spoons when fixing a new dish, and later, when I try to retrace my own steps to tell you all about it, I’m fucked.

FROM WIKIPEDIA: “Fuck” can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, or interjection and can logically be used as virtually any word in a sentence (e.g. “Fuck the fucking fuckers”). It hence has various metaphorical meanings. The verb “to be fucked” can mean “to be cheated” (e.g. “I got fucked by a scam artist”). As a noun “a fuck” or “a fucker” may describe a contemptible person. “A fuck” may mean an act of copulation. The word can be used as an interjection, and its participle is sometimes used as a strong emphatic. The verb to fuck may be used transitively or intransitively, and it appears in compounds, including fuck off, fuck up, and fuck with. In less explicit usages, “fuck” or “fuck with” can mean to mess around, or to deal with unfairly or harshly. In a phrase such as “don’t give a fuck”, the word is the equivalent of “damn”, in the sense of something having little value. In “what the fuck”, it serves merely as an intensive.

ALSO, YOUTUBE OFFERS ITS OWN DEFINITION OF THE WORD “FUCK”.

To make pesto sans cheese, first you want to toast some nuts. Traditionally pesto is made with pignoli, or pine nuts in English. However, recently I made pesto with walnuts due to lack of the other kind. It came out perfectly awesome. Hence, today, be my guest and use either one – pine or walnuts! And if you feel adventurous and end up experimenting with another type of nuts, come back here and do tell!

Back to PESTO: take ABOUT a 1/2 cup of raw, organic if available, pine nuts and spread them flat on a baking sheet. Then set the pan in a toaster oven and toast for about 5 minutes. If you’re going for the frying pan, or even a conventional oven (at 375 to 400˚), it will take 3 to 7 minutes (depending on which appliance you choose) before the nuts are done. You’ll know they are when you can smell them. You must then instantly remove the kernels from the oven or off the heat. Otherwise, due to the fat content, they will burn in a New York minute.

Once the nuts cool off, dump them into the food processor along with a BUNCH of fresh basil (maybe a cup?…or two? sorry!), 1-2 cloves of garlic (However much you LOVE garlic?), a SOLID PINCH of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and you can close the lid. Now pulse a couple of times to break down the nuts and greens and bring them closer together.

By the way, basil is not your only choice. You can also use arugula, and even mix it with other fresh herbs like dill, Italian parsley and cilantro.

Turn the machine back on and start pouring GOOD olive oil s l o w l y  through the feeding tube. For pesto, I use the brands from a higher shelf, good quality, organic oils. You can use extra virgin olive oil on its own, or mix it with flaxseed oil, or even walnut oil for a different spin. How much, you ask. Ekhm. I say pour until all ingredients are incorporated into a coherent green mass. Be gentle, go slow with a small stream. If you like it chunkier and thicker, back off with that bottle earlier. Better be safe than sorry. Test it, and then add some more oil, if needed.

No matter what I tell you about measurements (as long as I’m not selling you a baking recipe) it’s essential, no, it is your duty to taste whatever you make as you go. Remember, YOU are going to eat it. YOU are the one that needs to enjoy what you make. And the more you taste during the process, the more familiar you become with certain spices, their flavors and properties. Hence, you train your tongue to tell you when something doesn’t tickle it the right way, directing you to add more of this or that. The more you sample, the better cook you become.

When done adding the oil, your pesto is ready. However, if you don’t mind the cheese, and those few extra calories mean nothing to you, go ahead and add half a cup or grated Parmesan. Pulse a few more times and mix it with the green paste – make it feel good. Store it in a tight container in the refrigerator. You can also add a tablespoon of oil to cover the surface of the pesto, thus preventing it from turning dark.

I use it on sandwiches, wraps, with pasta (duh), and in salads as a dressing. Simply, mix soft lettuce leaves with diced tomatoes, green peppers, cucumber, chopped dill and scallions, add a tablespoon or so of the pesto, and unite everybody with a few circular motions of your salad forks. Don’t forget to season it with salt and pepper, if your pesto doesn’t do the trick. It’s all about sampling, thus learning how to please your own palette.

Here is a good spot for a photograph representing the PESTO described above.

Oops, no picture on file. In the state of utmost confusion and discombobulation, I forgot to snap one while the PESTO was still in the fridge. However, know that this article leads to a complimenting installment, which will talk about PITA POCKETS WITH GRILLED SALMON AND PESTO DRESSED SALAD. There will be photos!

See you then?

Hurry! Hurry before the summer really is just a sweet, sunny memory. . The scorching heat is behind us, true, but if you open your windows, spread your arms wide and look up, your face will still get a big fat lick of energy from our Brightest Star. Hurry!

As October makes itself more at home with each passing day, there are also fewer varieties of sweet luscious fruits at the Farmers Market to be found. Bummer. Even though I’m bursting with fruit flavors for all the fall apples and pears, I wish I could somehow capture the sweet joy of peaches we devoured this past season.

PEACHES

If you HURRY, you may still be able to grab a few juicy peachy balls from the last supplies of an orchard. And while you’re there browsing the stands of fresh, organic produce from your local farmer (hats off for the love he delivers in those crates and boxes), snatch a bag of iron and calcium rich spinach, a couple of pinkish shallots and run home to check your stock of pine nuts.

I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.

As I’m pondering how to segue from the tour at the local Farmer’s Market to your kitchen, Cosmo checks on me occasionally (You know, the usual editing stuff – typos, orthography, syntax – he’s alert!) from his office.

Cosmo on desk

I won’t beat around the bush any longer. Today we’re making a Spinach and Grilled Peach Salad. Empty your shopping tote and align the following suspects on your kitchen counter:

–       2 Peaches

–       Spinach (6 oz. bag, more or less)

–       1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts

–       3 slices of pancetta

–       White Balsamic Vinegar

–       Extra Virgin Olive Oil

–       1 Shallot (the rest you can keep for later)

–       Salt + Pepper

How do you like the ingredients so far? Can you put it all together into a perfect salad just using your imagination? Can you taste the sweetness mixed with salty bites of Italian bacon, all wrapped in a smooth symphony of White Balsamic Vinaigrette? No? Then go ahead and grab yourself a grilling pan and heat it up, while you seed your peaches and give each one a wedgie – eight to ten per fruit, to be precise.

You also need your nuts toasted, and for such a small amount, I wouldn’t bother the old fat oven if I were you. Just spread the pignoli flat on a sheet pan of your toaster oven, or – if there’s a lack of such – use your loyal buddy, the frying pan. It will take circa 5 minutes (maybe 7, but that’s pushing) and only 2-3 on the pan for the guys to be all tanned and happy. The minute you smell your nuts, it’s time to get them out. (I can see where your mind is heading. Do NOT even go there!)

Your grilling pan surely is scorching hot by now – a perfect surface for the slices of pancetta. Let the fat melt away while the bacon gets crispy. Next, remove the brittle slices and set on a paper towel to get rid of the extra grease and let the guys chill.

Onto the same pan, throw the wedges of your fruit and spread in one layer. Let them sit flat for a couple of minutes until the heat breaks the body and you see grill marks on one side. Flip each one over and give it another 2 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and set the peaches aside to cool as well.

Before you relocate everybody into a bowl, you want to shake up the vinaigrette first. Mix two parts of olive oil with one part of white balsamic vinegar, add a finally chopped shallot, big pinch of salt, a smaller pinch of black pepper, and whip it good. Better even – drop the potion into a blender, and let it take a ride on a rollercoaster.

Bowling time! Into a glass bowl, toss the spinach, drizzle with just a touch of your vinaigrette, and mix until the greenery is all coated and smiling brightly. Now gently place pieces of grilled peaches on top, sprinkle with crushed chunks of cooled pancetta, bring in the pine nuts, and sprinkle all with another few drops of the White Balsamic Vinaigrette. Like a gentleman, toss everybody around, carefully, softly, easy…

Spinach

The salad is ready. Picture time! Enjoy the view, as it won’t last long after you dive with your fork for the first taste. Do you get it now? The sweet and savory fixed together in the mist of sweet and tart vinaigrette…Mmm.

Are you hungry yet?

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