Kitchen Through the Lens: Pesto

basil

I knew this food processor would be fun.

As The Princess said the other day when I started getting the ingredients out to make pesto, “How is this thing any different than a blender, really?”

Pfft.

garlic

I kind of figured pesto wasn’t that difficult to make – I mean, shoot, the ingredients are simple: basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil and some salt and pepper (this recipe varies slightly from the one I used – in that it uses Pecorino instead of Parmesan, but, the proportions are the same, so… have at it).

Basically, you toss everything into the food processor, pulse it up nice and pretty and BAM. Done.

I’ll never buy store bought pesto again. Store bought pesto tastes oily and gross and just… too salty. I love having the control over what goes in, how much. And as much as I love garlic, I miiiiiight reduce the garlic next go round.

Pesto

Yes. That red lid is from the parmesan cheese. I didn’t buy fresh parmesan. I went the lazy way and bought the pre-shredded stuff because I can’t find my cheese grater and I wasn’t sure if the processor would process it or if it would leave cheese clumps and cheese clumps, that doesn’t sound yummy. Well, to me anyway.

Now that you have your pesto, what can you do with it? Obviously, you can put it on pasta.

What did I do with it? I made a basic pizza dough (from scratch. This is one of my favorite uses for my breadmaker – if you are inept with yeast doughs, your breadmaker does the whole thing while you sit on the couch and watch the Michigan/Michigan State game). I rolled the dough onto a pizza pan, spread a thin layer of pesto on it (remember that oil in your pesto? You’re not gonna want a ton on your pizza), threw on some mozzarella and some parmesan cheese (there’s already parm in your pesto also, so think of the saltiness factor when you’re adding it to the toppings), and then sprinkled some browned Italian sausage on top of that. Bake until the dough is not gross and the cheese is nice and golden. Voila. Delish.

Hey. I’m totally learning how to cook. Who’d have thought?

 

Don’t like pizza? Here are some more ideas for what you can make with your pesto – fifty ideas, to be exact.

Through the Kitchen Lens: Hasselback Potatoes

It's hard to make potatoes look interesting

Making something with potatoes this week was a no brainer because I had bought a bag for last week’s mashed potato endeavor and have you ever smelled potatoes when they go bad? It’s kind of awful. I can’t let that happen. I had to use them up.

Hasselback potatoes are something I originally saw on a blog – or maybe it was Pinterest. Either way, the look of them appealed to me, and it seemed that with all of the slits cut into the top of the potato, it would eliminate that common dilemma of baked potatoes: the not-all-the-way-cooked middle of the potato.

[Note: I keep wanting to add an “e” to the end of “potato”. I know it doesn’t belong, but my fingers keep typing it.]

These are surprisingly easy – though they take awhile. I imagine they’d be a great side dish with, well… dang near anything. Today, I made it as a stand alone dish – and it was lunch. I kind of love the chance to cook on the weekends – partly because I’m not rushed after a long day of work, and partly because with autumn in full swing, the days are getting darker sooner and I don’t have as much natural light to photograph what I’m cooking.

I didn’t take many photographs while making this. Why? Because they’re potatoes. It’s hard to make a potato look interesting until it’s… SOMETHING.

So, you wash off the potato, peel it, dunk it in cold water, cut a bazillion slits in the top, add butter and sea salt, cook, add more butter, add breadcrumbs, broil, and then ADD MORE BUTTER.

The end result was heavenly.

I’ll definitely make these again. I can see adding some onion to them, maybe even some roast garlic? I just saw a recipe for these in this month’s Food Network magazine – it incorporated bacon. Bacon isn’t quite MY thing, but if it’s yours you may wanna track it down.

Long story short: Potatoes + butter = good.

File this one in the win column.

Hasselback Potatoes

Kitchen Through The Lens: Mashed Potatoes

let's start at the beginning

I wasn’t gonna make anything this week.

I got overwhelmed being away last weekend – and thus not grocery shopping – and having no real plan for meal preparation for the week.

And then I had a really long day at work one day and decided that the ONLY THING that could even make it a tiny bit better is a huge heaping bowl of mashed potatoes.
cubes

I don’t know if I’ve ever made real mashed potatoes before. I remember my mom buying (gah) instant potatoes when I was a kid. I know that for the big events, the potatoes were always real, but someone else always made them.

Thus, I ended up googling recipes for mashed potatoes.

Shush.

You would too if you were me.

So, uh, I ended up on the Cooking Light website.

I know what y’all are saying to yourselves: WHAT? Light mashed potatoes? HAVE YOU BEEN SNIFFING GLUE?
No, but… you have to start somewhere and that somewhere might as well be a less artery clogging start.

The recipe called for boiling potatoes. Then draining the water, adding butter, some chicken broth, some milk and some sour cream.

But see… I didn’t measure. I just threw it all in my KitchenAid mixing bowl, blended and then KEPT TASTING until it was perfect (more sour cream… a little more sour cream… I think maybe just a tiny bit more sour cream. There. Got it. GOOD).

It was such an in-exact process I couldn’t even begin to tell you – but!

Potatoes. So, just add the ingredients in a way that makes sense and sample sample sample.

Also, make them earlier in the day when natural lighting makes them look more appetizing. Fall weather is hell on this project.

Next week! Something else with potatoes because HEY! I BOUGHT A BIG BAG OF POTATOES, Y’ALL.

mashed potatoes

Through the Kitchen Lens: Blueberry Muffins

blueberry muffins

To tell the truth, I’m not sure why or how these made the list. I don’t eat blueberry muffins. I barely even eat muffins unless out of desperation. Muffins are too much like cake, and I’m not really a cake person either. But, my kids like blueberry muffins and they like blueberry muffins made with one of those cheap 50 cent boxes of Jiffy muffin mix and I don’t do cake mixes so I should banish muffin mixes too, am I right?

You’d think.

all of the blueberries

I pulled the recipe from one of The Princess’s cupcake/muffin cookbooks. Yes, the kid has her own. She loves to make cupcakes. (That cake/cupcake/muffin hating thing I’ve got going on? She does not. Kid LOVES cupcakes and baking them and going all Cupcake Wars in my kitchen.)

It was easy enough.

Baking always seems to be.

The recipe was simple and I was so proud of myself all, Look at me, I’m using REAL BLUEBERRIES AND THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST BREAKFAST EVER  AND THEY’RE NEVER GONNA EAT THOSE FAKE MUFFINS WITH THOSE FAKE DEHYDRATED BLUEBERRIES EVER AGAIN BECAUSE NO WAY WE’VE HAD THE REAL THING NOW AND IT’S WAY BETTER THAN THAT FAKE CRAP.

doughy muffin blobby mess

That’s what I was thinking anyway. I mixed and scooped the dough into the funky muffin liners that filled one of my grandmother’s muffin tins that made its way into my kitchen after she died (By “made its way”, I mean, it was given to me from her house. It’s not like the haunted muffin tin that somehow made its way from Traverse City into my kitchen, carried by the spirit of my grandmother… though… that wouldn’t be too far out of the realm of possibility if you believe in that sort of thing. I could see her being the kind of muffin tin delivering spirit that would do that.)

Fifteen to twenty minutes in the oven and I called the kids down to sample the muffins, ready to unleash upon them the wonder of using fresh and real ingredients.

Turns out. They like the fake crap.

Oddly enough, I liked these. So, there’s that.

muffin

Did I like them enough to eat a whole pan of muffins? Nope.

So, a successful experiment that will likely go to waste. A little bit sad, actually.

Oh well. Better luck next week.

Through The Kitchen Lens: Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken tortilla soup

Pssst… self. Lean in a little closer. I want to tell you something.

Are you listening?

Good.

Alrighty, self, here goes:

When you’re doing this cooking thing? I want you to READ THE RECIPE FIRST. Yes, that’s right. READ THE RECIPE. That way when you’re cooking chicken for 20 minutes and letting stuff boil and then letting something simmer for 45 minutes and letting something simmer for 30 minutes – well, it keeps you from expecting to have dinner on the table within an hour of getting home.

Also, you’ll end up taking pictures of your finished soup at ten p.m. in a dark kitchen beneath the glow of those yellowy environmentally friendly but photographically unflattering lights.

Not good.

Self, are you still listening?

Good. Something else I’ve been wanting to tell you.

When you use a recipe from Pioneer Woman, you have my permission to cut the recipe in half. Or fourths even. You’re feeding two daughters and not a full house of ranchers. You could also opt to invite twenty of your closest friends everyone you’ve ever met, and share your dinner with them.

We good? Good.

onion

Red onion. Sharp knives.

my knife skills bring...no one to the yard. that would be weird. put the knife down.

peppers

Onions, red and green peppers, garlic. Chicken, blah blah blah.

This soup takes a LONG time, y’all. There’s a lot of simmering involved. I meant to start at 6, looked at the recipe and went, “Uh… Maybe I’ll make it after tucking in the kids and then we’ll just reheat it tomorrow.

The flavor? Incredible. Lip burning spicy-ness (I like that).

It’s easy if you have patience (I don’t).

And since I didn’t reduce the recipe, more than half of it is in storage containers in my freezer for one of the many many days I won’t feel like cooking.

Some crispy corn tortilla strips on top.

And cilantro, because YES.

Through the Kitchen Lens: Savory Biscotti

Cheddar Parmesan Biscotti in soup

I love biscotti. Those crunchy, faintly sweet cookies are perfect for dunking in coffee or nibbling on for a slight sweets craving. I’ve made several sweeter versions: vanilla almond, some kind with coconut, and even the double double chocolate chocolate biscotti I’ve posted before.

But, I keep ripping out recipes for a savory biscotti.

Like the sweet is the perfect complement for coffee, wouldn’t savory just be a great replacement to bread with soup?

Enter: Cheddar Parmesan Biscotti, a recipe I pulled out of Cooking Light YEARS AGO and never made.

With the weather turning colder, I figured I’d try now. And then it got to the mid-seventies in temp and I thought to myself, Self? You’re making soup…TODAY? That’s not bright.

Biscotti is actually pretty easy to make. That’s the awesome thing – they taste and look like they might be a lot of work, but really? So easy. And if you don’t love baking, it’s kind of neat to make something that looks way more impressive than the amount of effort it takes.

Throw the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl

 

Oooh. Cheese. Extra sharp cheddar and fresh grated parmesan.

In my opinion? Not enough cheese for this recipe. I expected a stronger flavor and… not so much.

Then again, I tweaked this recipe. I cut out the sun dried tomatoes and basil  – thinking that wouldn’t be right with the soup I had selected.

Sometimes I’m not smart.

Hey Sarah, FOLLOW THE RECIPE ONCE AND THEN YOU CAN GET ALL IMPROVISATIONAL UP IN HERE.

Liquid ingredients

Eggs, milk, olive oil. I didn’t show the oil in the picture. You know why? Oil isn’t pretty. Oil is oil.

Shape the dough into two logs. It certainly doesn't look yummy right now.

Baked once, and ready to be sliced and baked again.

Ready to bake again

The word biscotti actually refers to how they are cooked – twice baked. Once you pull the dough logs out of the oven and they cool slightly, you’ll slice them, tip ’em on their side and bake again. Seems a pain in the hiney, but… not really. You’ll be fine. It’s easy.

biscotti

The girls didn’t like these very much. I’m kind of neutral about them. Like I said, with the tweaks I made to this recipe, it could very well be my fault that these were so boring.

But they were really boring.

And not nearly savory enough.

If you want to try them without monkeying with the recipe, I’d love to hear how it goes.

Kitchen Through the Lens: Burgers

Way to be unphotogenic, burger.

I guess I feel like I should preface this with an explanation. I mean, how can a woman be thirty-some years old and NEVER have made a burger? Seems a bit ridiculous and slightly unbelievable. BUT IT’S TRUE.

You see, for about ten years I was on a burger hiatus. No real reason. I didn’t follow a vegetarian diet. I prepared other meals with ground beef (not all good meals. This is me we’re talking about). I even made various other burger-y things (I think meatloaf is just a burger in a pan and meatballs are just…burger spheres? I don’t know. Anyway…). It wasn’t until last year in June on a LoveDrop trip on the other side of the state that we all stopped for burgers after gifting the awesome family with lots of amazing things.

It was my first in over a decade.

And it was good.

I even Instagrammed a picture of it. It was that good.

Since then, I have occasionally craved a burger. I have deliberately gone to restaurants for the purpose of consuming a burger.

But… never made one.

So, last night I googled some recipes. Yeah. Recipes.

The thing is, the burger I grew up with was just a round hockey puck of meat. Ugh. I mean, that’s all fine and good but… I don’t like ’em like that.

And there are a LOT of ways to make a burger – I even found a recipe that incorporated chopped basil into the meat (and while I love me some basil, I skipped that route).

Some minced garlic and some salt and pepper is what I decided to do. I threw them on the grill pan because I don’t really know how the barbecue grill works. They’d have been better on the grill, I think. But, such is life.

And the result was some of the most delicious, UGLIEST burgers ever (see above).

Being a burger newbie, I also kinda made them small (I could say I meant to do that and call ’em sliders, but I didn’t really mean to do that. I just don’t know what the heck I’m doing).

I added some sliced onion and some mustard and called it good (yeah, garlic AND onions). The Princess had me add cheese to hers and Pumpkin slathered her in a gruesome amount of ketchup.

And we were happy.

Next week, I will make something prettier. I couldn’t even bring myself to take a picture of raw meat because…yuck.

Kitchen Through the Lens: Strawberry Shortcake

your dessert is jealous of my dessert. unless your dessert is a brownie sundae.

 

I really love dessert.

I also love fruit.

Fruit in my dessert? Well, let’s just say I’m not always a fan.

I know, I know… But, really? It’s just the way I’m wired.

I decided to branch out a bit with this one. Explore new dessert horizons.

Strawberry shortcake.

fresas

A rather photogenic fruit, am I right? So red and lovely and even on their own, so sweet and perfect on a warm summer day. They don’t need anything else. I’m not sure why we decided we can’t just let fruit be fruit and dessert be chocolate.

slices

I recruited a helper-slash-hand-model from my pool of offspring. I selected the only one I trust with sharp objects.

pour some sugar on me

Strawberry shortcake is actually really easy to make. Cut off the stems of the strawberries, quarter them and add sugar. Let the sugar and strawberries work their mojo while you do the rest of the fun stuff.

just grab 'em in the biscuit

Like make biscuits. OH THE HEAVY CREAM.

This recipe called for just putting the dough-type-substance in an 8″ square pan and then cutting it into six pieces. NO WAY. I wanted actual pretty, round photogenic biscuits, baby.

These dense, very lightly sweetened biscuits made the perfect backdrop to those sweetened berries and rich (homemade!) whipped cream.

I could eat those biscuits alone, actually.

(I, uh… did, actually… the next day.)

 

red

The kids were pretty enthused with this week’s project (I excluded them from margarita night, so I had some making up to do!). These shortcakes were the final touch on a fabulous, if I do say so myself (and I do!), meal. It was one of those evenings where I felt like, Whoa. I may figure out this kitchen thing after all*…

*You may not want to bet money on that.

Kitchen Through the Lens: Vinaigrette

ingredients
Every once in awhile, I get a little twitchy about the number of things I buy that contain ingredients I can’t pronounce. Ingredients that were probably created in some lab somewhere as part of some science experiment involving beakers and chemical reactions and isn’t that just really gross? [Exception to the rule: I don’t care what science was involved in the making of Cheetos – it’s all good with me, though.]

An obvious place to make changes is salad dressing. I love vinaigrettes and it seems silly to buy them from a store. How hard could it be? Surely it has to be better for me, right?

cayenne, sea salt, cumin

So, I searched Google for vinaigrette recipes that didn’t require a stop at the store for more ingredients on the way home. I found three worth trying. I figured I would try all three, and use my favorite on my dinner – grilled chicken salad. FYI, I marinated the chicken in lime juice, fresh garlic, sea salt and olive oil – it’s my go-to marinade, and I wanted to pick vinaigrettes that would complement those flavors.

I picked a honey lime, honey dijon and cumin lime (seen below, left to right).

three kinds of vinaigrette

I had no cruets for salad dressing – I did have these funky glass jars, hand painted by my kids WHICH IS WAY BETTER THAN SOME STUPID CRUETS.

Honey lime vinaigrette-
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
dash cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Honey dijon vinaigrette –
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
1/2 c. olive oil
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper to taste

Cumin lime vinaigrette –
1/4 c. lime juice
1/4 c. olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Ultimately, they were all fine – but the honey dijon is the only one that felt like a true vinaigrette to me – perhaps because it’s the only one that actually HAD VINEGAR IN IT. I put that on my disappointing salad along with a little bit of the honey lime and kind of mixed the two and it was tasty. All three are now in covered dishes in my fridge where they will go bad in three days because I no longer have any salad to put them on.*

grilled chicken salad is NOT pretty

 

*Bagged salad. What a pain THAT is. I don’t know if you can tell from the above picture, but there’s a spot in my fridge that freezes lettuce. And so it’s wilty and soggy and not so yum. I threw away SO MUCH LETTUCE and was left with a pretty puny salad. Also, you’ll note from the above salad that I even grill the cloves of garlic from the marinade (I use a grill pan). Yeah, so, grilled garlic is delicious and fabulously smelly and I love it, so there.

Kitchen Through The Lens: MARGARITAS

margarita

This is what it is like to be wrangled into participating in one of my projects, and this is only my side of the conversation over several days:

“I’m going to make margaritas! You want to have margarita night with me?”

“I’m looking for margarita recipes! How fun!”

“Did you know Emeril puts pineapple juice in his margaritas? EWWWW!”

“Going tequila shopping!”

“Simple syrup? No. I hate when margaritas are too sweet.”

“Hey, I made simple syrup. Better to have it and not need it.”

“ARE YOU READY FOR MARGARITA NIGHT?”

“Oh, hey – why don’t you do all the work and make the margaritas?”

Yeah. I’m a little bit of a pain.

But here’s the scoop: I love margaritas. The problem I have with margaritas is that often they’re too sweet, and two sips in, I am SO OVER margaritas because ugh, sugar coma. In fact, I have thought on more than one occasion that a margarita shot would be a better idea… just a lil bit of that great taste, but not enough to make me sugar sick. Also? NO MIXES ALLOWED.

(Also? I think margarita glasses are dumb)

I sought “the best margarita recipe” on Twitter, and received this gem from my friend, Danielle:

4 parts 100% agave tequila
2 parts triple sec
2 parts fresh lime juice
1 part simple syrup
course sea salt for the rim of the glass

four parts

Buying the tequila? WAY easier than buying cachaça. I coulda bought more tequila for less money, but what do I need with more tequila? (Patron Silver. It was good and the bottle was pretty and those things matter)

all the puny limes

Here’s the thing: if you have a drink that involves math, maybe you should start the math with the tequila versus squeezing a bunch of limes (I squeezed the limes! Whoohoo! Go me!), and then saying, “Okay, well, let’s call this two parts of lime. If this is a half cup, then four parts of tequila would be… one cup.”

Oh, the margarita math.

And what’s up with the limes? They were all ugly. I coulda used some nice photogenic limes.

These? They were some strong margaritas.

Next time I’ll:

  • make them myself (though I did salt the glasses and that is TOTALLY IMPORTANT)
  • make a pitcher of them and perhaps pour a smaller drink
  • realize that it will take one margarita before I can’t entirely feel my teeth
  • take more pictures

In short: margaritas are delicious, this recipe is a winner, and I’m lazy and if I invite you to join me for drinks you will probably do most of the work. The end.

Wait.

Here is Grace Potter and Kenny Chesney singing “You and Tequila” (Did you know that there are way more songs about tequila than there are about cachaça?) Okay, the end.