15 July 2010

Basil (Baby!) Pesto Turkey Burgers

"A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds." - St. Basil

When I was in college, I worked as a dishwasher/prep cook for a while to help pay my way. Typical story, I know. What was not typical, however, was one of our chefs. He was one of the most nondescript men I've ever met. If you saw him on the street, well-- you might see him, but you'd not pay any attention to him and you certainly wouldn't remember him. Unless he opened his mouth, that is. He was unbelievably energetic when he spoke-- and virtually everything that came out of his mouth was an exercise in alliteration. He punctuated his consonants like a staccato drumbeat and elongated vowel sounds like a comic strip character whose "owwwweeee" stretches across at least 2 or 3 frames. He was my favourite cook for so many reasons (he taught me the trick to making perfectly cooked bacon), but it's the one instance when his verbal alliteration and personality was transmitted into written form that has stuck with me all these years later-- the label he wrote on a container that used to perch on the corner of the shelf above his main stove/workstation: "Basil (Baby!)" Since that time in college, I cannot say "basil" without adding the "(Baby!)" after it.

I don't remember that cook's name anymore, but this Basil (Baby!) recipe is in honour of him. These burgers were discovered by my sister and have been lauded by her husband (who is very much a steak-and-potatoes guy), my in-laws (also more plain hamburger types), my cousins (who are fructose intolerant and can't eat beef), and by a handful of my Nestie message board ladies. They are quick and easy to make and take only 10 minutes to cook on the grill. And I'm thinking this would be an easy recipe to adjust for a meatloaf instead of burgers once the weather gets colder...

Basil (Baby!) Pesto Turkey Burgers
source: adapted from ELADOUSA, www.allrecipes.com
yield: 4 burgers (a little over 1/4 pound each)

1 lb. lean ground turkey
2 T basil pesto
1.5 - 2 tsp. minced garlic (1 large clove = 1 tsp; 1 sm clove = 1/2 tsp)
1/2 -3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1-1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup seasoned panko bread crumbs (I used plain panko bread crumbs and added a mixture of Greek herbs I had on hand)

Preheat (outdoor) grill to medium-high heat. Mix all ingredients together until evenly blended (using your hands is best). Form into 4 patties, about 3/4 of an inch thick. (I used my Typhoon scale to make each patty between 4-5 oz.) Grill burgers until no longer pink in the middle-- roughly 5 minutes each side. Sprinkle with seasoned salt halfway through, if desired (I didn't). Serve plain on bread/roll of your choice with a very little mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato if that's your taste (and times being what they are). I prefer Arnold's Sandwich Thins, myself, as they do not overwhelm or dominate the burger and have no HFCS (hooray!).

09 July 2010

The magic of pasta. And chocolate. Consecutively, not concurrently, that is.

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

These past few (obscenely hot and muggy) days since the joint birthday cookout has seen our two refrigerators packed full of side salads. Some were made by me, but the pasta salad was made by my father-- following his aunt's recipe. It was so good, I had it for breakfast, lunch, and snacks until it was gone. It is so good, it was even worth some hives (I polished off the bit without scallions he had set aside for me and had moved on to the "regular" version; I'm deathly allergic to onions, but can get away with eating scallions for now as long as I'm okay with a few hours' worth of hives and scratching like a dog with fleas). Seriously, the pasta salad looks bland, perhaps, but it's packed full of a balanced, light flavour that is perfect for this hot weather.

As an interlude to my devouring of the pasta salad, I mixed it up a bit with some of the birthday cake I made for my husband. I make it every year for him because he loves chocolate a lot-- perhaps even more than he loves me!-- and this is a family favourite that my aunt has made every Thanksgiving and every Easter since I can remember. It's incredibly rich, but if you can keep it cool during these hot summer months, it is a very refreshing dessert and a little bit goes a long way. It's one of the few times my husband isn't willing to share his food with me and, if there are only two slices left, will go against his norm and give me the smallest piece!

Aunt Margie's Simple Pasta Salad
source: Margaret Bučar
yield: roughly a bit over 1 pound

1 lb elbow pasta (we prefer Barilla pasta; especially their elbows, which have grooves to help "catch" the flavour of the other ingredients)
2 bell peppers, chopped into 1/4" and 1/2" inch pieces (we use 1 red; 1/2 orange; 1/2 green)1 bunch scallions, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 bottle Good Seasons Italian Dressing fully mixed with oil, water, vinegar (or your preferred Italian dressing; I really like Newman's Own-- no HFCS!)
4 hardboiled eggs, chopped
mayonnaise (eyeball amount for correct texture/degree of moisture-- i.e. just enough to coat the pasta and bind all the ingredients together)
salt & pepper to taste

Cook elbows for minimum minutes (7), tossing in salt just before the water boils. Drain the pasta and return it to a cooled pot or large bowl; while pasta still hot, stir in Italian dressing and put the pasta in the fridge until cold (take care if fridge shelves are glass!) Do not skimp on the dressing! (Though for a double recipe, I add 1-1/2 bottles of dressing.) Chop up and mix peppers and scallions (can do ahead if you cover and refrigerate). Hard-boil eggs (put eggs in room temp water in pan until eggs and water are the same temperature. Bring to boil over med-high heat. Remove pan from heat, let sit for 10 minutes covered. Remove eggs, cool in ice water until room temp. Should be easy to peel.) Do not slice/dice yet.

When elbows cool, mix in peppers and scallions. Add salt and pepper. Mix in mayo until seems right (again: moist but not swimming in mayo.) Slice/dice hardboiled egg and mix in to pasta. (Add salt and/or pepper to taste if you feel the egg addition has changed the flavour balance.) Refrigerate, covering securely to avoid drying out. Wait at least 1 hour before serving cool so that flavours have a chance to meld and develop.

Chocolate Satin Cake

source: Nabisco via Lois Dawson (my aunt a.k.a. Tàtà)
yield: 1 round 14" x 2-1/2" cake


One package of chocolate wafer cookies, ground fine (some say these are hard to find, but I have always managed to find them in the cookie aisle of my local grocery store)

½ cup melted butter


1 lb. semi sweet chocolate - melted and cooled (I *love* the Lindt semisweet 10 oz. bars for this cake)

2 whole eggs

4 eggs separated

2 cups heavy cream

¼ cup confectioners sugar

For the crust: Combine the crushed cookies and butter and press into a spring form pan, being sure that the crust extends at least halfway up the side of the pan-- aside from giving the cake structure once it's out of the springform, this also ensures that you don't end up with a bottom crust so thick that you can't cut/chew through it. Refrigerate the crust while you make the filling.

Note: I tend to use the bigger spring form pan (about 14" diameter). The smaller one makes the cake too high/dense and much too rich-- this "shorter" cake is plenty rich as it is, believe me!-- but it is really a matter of personal preference.

For the filling: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring continuously. When the chocolate has cooled just a bit, add the chocolate to the 2 whole eggs and the 4 egg yolks. Combine until well blended (chocolate will look very "oily" at this point). In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold gently into the chocolate mixture. Whip the heavy cream with the sugar. Fold the cream into the chocolate mixture. Poor into the crust and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Garnish with whipped cream just before serving, if so desired. This cake lends itself quite well to experimentation with flavoured whipped cream!

Note: the key to this cake is having the patience to take the time to gently fold the egg whites and whipped cream into the chocolate so that you end up with a light, fluffy, and well-blended chocolate mousse-like filling. This process is where the "satin" in the title comes from and is well-worth the extra effort!

07 July 2010

Salad is good for the complexion.

"Is there anything colder than ice?" - Me, to my sister, while about to order at the Dunkin Donut's drive-through.

Holy Moly Cow!
(to quote my 5 year old nephew.) It has been HOT these past 5 days. Hot and humid. I'm talking in the high 90s for both temperature and humidity; the air is like pea soup. This is the kind of heat where you sweat even during a cold shower. (That's Moxie in the photo at the top right: she's passed out on the floor in the hopes I may drop something but without the energy to be more active in her pursuit of food. Ever know a Lab not to actively beg for table scraps? Seriously, it was THAT hot!)

I know, I know-- all you folks who live in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida are saying "suck it up and get some A/C." But you're forgetting that this is MAINE! Aside from the fact that a lot of our houses are old and can't tolerate a ton of electrical appliances, I moved here because I like all 4 seasons, and I like them on the cool side. I mean, I don't even drink hot beverages! I like my tea and my coffee iced. I like my clothing dry and not sticking to me. It's one of the reasons I moved to Maine-- well, that and there are fewer people and more trees here. That combination makes me a much sweeter person than I was in Connecticut.

Anyhow, I digress: in the midst of this crazy heatwave, my husband and his mother had birthdays. So, as per usual, we did a joint birthday party-- my first event in the new house, so the pressure was on. We had a cookout because it's summer and it was the day after Independence Day and it seemed appropriate when I made the decision 10 days prior to the biggest heat wave in decades.

So yeah, what do you make for a cookout when it's "wicked freakin' hot" up here and we're all not used to it? The heat makes even me lose my appetite for food, and instead, start dreaming about IV fluids that have been chilled before administration. And though we are of tough New England stock, there is no reason to be stoic at times like these. My solution, then, was: SALADS!! Nothing says summer to me like cold salads. Bean salad, potato salad, pasta salad, cabbage salads-- whatever is in it, it just has to be flavourful, colourful, and above all: COLD! And to wash it all down? Sun-brewed iced tea! Preferably sipped whilst chilling in the kiddie pool. Ohhhh, yeah!

Since I am drinking it right now, shall we start with the Sun Tea? Yes? Very good, then:

Sun Tea
source: I have no idea but s/he should get a medal. Or at least a cupcake.
yield: 2 liters

12 tea bags of your choice (I highly recommend green tea for its healthy properties and light flavour)
2 liter glass jug with air-tight cover (I love this one-- from King Arthur Flour, of course)
Water to fill jug, preferably filtered

Drop your tea bags into the jug. Add the water. Put jug outside in a spot that gets good, direct sunlight. Leave for about 30 minutes-- more if you like stronger tea or plan on adding a fruity flavour to the final product, or if you want to eventually add lemonade to make an Arnold Palmer. (I think I left mine out for 2 hours while I was inside baking a cake. I know, I should probably have added gingko biloba to the tea, right?) Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the tea bags and then stir the tea briefly to ensure an even distribution of the tea's flavour. Add fruit if you desire or add to some lemonade, if that is your taste and times being what they are. Chill in the refrigerator and/or pour over ice when serving. Sip delightfully, preferably in your favourite shady spot with a good book.

Chickpea Salad
source: My husband and me!
yield: a lot (roughly 8-24 servings)

3 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
1 can green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths (or thereabouts)
1-2 red/orange/yellow bell peppers, chopped as you prefer
sugar snap peas, about as much as the palm of your hand, cut in halves or thirds
cherry/grape tomatoes (however much is aesthetically pleasing)
kalamata or black olives (optional)
8-16 oz. feta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1-2 cans tuna fish in water, drained (optional)
cilantro to taste
salt & pepper to taste
balsamic vinaigrette, enough to get all the ingredients wet
olive oil

In a small bowl, add tuna fish and break up the pieces with a fork. Add just a drizzle of olive oil-- enough to moisten the tuna fish. Put in the refrigerator to chill while preparing vegetables. Put all the vegetables in a medium to large bowl. Add the cilantro, the cheese, and olives. Add salt & pepper, then the balsamic vinaigrette. Mix thoroughly. Add the chilled tuna fish to the vegetables. Mix gently. Put in refrigerator to chill. Serve cold as a side or as a main dish.

03 July 2010

You wanna piece of this? Hunh? HUNH? You wanna piece? of THIS?

I was always taught that it is good and right to show people you love and respect them by feeding them. I think, had Moses been Italian-American, he'd have scribbled that down somewhere in the Ten Commandments. But I digress. This is not a freedom of religion post-- it's a "bad-ass" post (grrr!). My friend has a group of buddies with whom he plays Texas Hold 'Em and watches the UFC fights. I'm not so much into the poker (I have a wretched poker face, so it's easier for me just to give my money away directly to a charity), but I am definitely into the UFC (particularly Georges Rush St. Pierre: rowr!) So any chance to hang out with good company and watch very athletic men kick, punch, and grapple the snot out of each other-- heck yeah, I'm absolutely there. With food!

Now football may have its chili. Baseball may have its hotdogs and popcorn. (What does basketball have? Hmm...) But something about the UFC just screams "banana chocolate chip bread" to me. That something could just be that I have three over-ripe bananas in a basket in my kitchen who seem to be starting to attract fruit flies, or I could wax poetic and say something about how the banana grapples with the chocolate chips in this bread to produce a championship flavour that is ultimately dominated by the little kick of cinnamon. Anyhow, this is what I've baked to help share my love and respect for a really awesome guy-- a Gulf War veteran (remember Kuwait? Did you know there's an IKEA in Kuwait?), Harley rider, cool-headed boss, devoted husband and dad, and a man who knows how to laugh at himself.
Now, enough of the warm, fuzzy stuff: here's hoping Brock Lesnar gets a huge piece of humble pie handed to him, preferably hard enough that it puts him to sleep in the Octagon!

"Never interrupt me when I'm eating a banana." - Ryan Stiles

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
source: adapted by me! from James Beard, "Beard on Bread"
Yield: 1 loaf

Original recipe:
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (King Arthur Flour is best)
1 teaspoon baking soda1/2 teaspoon salt1/2 cup butter or other shortening (I used butter)1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed, very ripe bananas (usually 2-3 bananas)
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar
1/2 cup chopped nuts

My changes/additions:
I substituted 1/3 cup buttermilk for the milk and lemon juice/vinegar
I substituted 1 cup chocolate chips for the 1/2 cup chopped nuts
I added 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon oil
I added 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
I sprinkled raw sugar (brown, large crystals) on the top of the bread

Sift the flour with the baking soda and salt. Set aside. Cream the butter and gradually add the sugar. Mix well. Add the eggs and bananas and blend thoroughly. Add the cinnamon oil and almond extract. Combine the milk and lemon juice, which will curdle a bit. Or just use the buttermilk, like I did. Slowly and alternately, fold in the flour mixture and milk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Blend well after each addition. Stir in the nuts (or chocolate chips!), then pour the batter into a lavishly buttered 9 x 5 x 3-inch pan and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour, or until the bread springs back when lightly touched in the center.

Serve however you like it! (My friend Sheryl likes it with peanut butter. Me, I prefer cream cheese...)

Some items of note in making this bread:
1. It is always best to sift the flour when baking, especially cakes. And with this bread, it is so easy to get a dense, thick, heavy bread. If that's what you want, however, by all means-- don't sift the flour. It's America and you can do what you want! Me? I wanted a light bread. So I sifted.

2. I used a glass pan, and only as I watched this bread rise and rise (and rise and rise) in the oven, did I begin to think I should have used my deeper-cornered, non-slanting walled silicone bread pan. Also, I should have decreased the temperature of the oven by about 25 degrees to compensate for the glass instead of baking it for only 55 minutes. So this is what happened to my bread:
At 25 minutes in: looking good! Hope it doesn't rise any higher, though!At 35 minutes in, I think it's time to take that top rack out-- "just in case."At 45 minutes in: yup! Time for the aluminum foil tent to keep the top from burning!

Now that, actually, doesn't look too bad! Phew!

Ooo! Sparkly top! So purdy!