Pesto: A Truly Summertime Staple

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Over the last little while, I’ve been thinking a lot about recipes to post on the blog. “Something impressive, no doubt. Something that photographs deliciously such as gooey, succulent ribs or a colourful salad filled with trendy grains and kale,” I thought.

This past weekend, Vancouver was hit with a heat wave after days of pouring rain and no one, myself included, was mentally or physically prepared for what real summer weather entailed. As a result, J. and I rarely cooked at home. Even boiling macaroni felt unbearable. Let me be clear though: I am not complaining! Bring on the heat, I say!

Consequently, pesto has been a staple in this household. Simple, no heat preparation and a convenient multi-use sauce/condiment/dip. You can’t go wrong.

I’ve been making pesto Genovese, which is the classic pesto that we’ve all come to love: basil, garlic, and pine nuts. But ‘pesto’ literally means ‘to pound’ or ‘to crush’, thus the logic goes: you can make pesto with just about anything so long as you are pounding and/or crushing. The recipe I share below can be easily substituted with other delicious possibilities that I’ve included at the bottom. So, do as I say and not as I do: experiment with your pesto.

pesto_snack

Pesto
(adapted from Martha Rose Shulman via New York Times)
You can honestly eat pesto with just about anything. The usual go-to meal is to toss it with some pasta, which is a classic for good reason. Just recently, I’ve been topping it on rice crackers, fresh roma tomatoes, and mozzarella. Joy the Baker recommends spooning it on top of roasted hasselback potatoes and Sprouted Kitchen suggests dressing an arugula salad with it. Either way, it’s easy and flavourful, which is exactly what I look for when it comes to summertime cooking.

3-4 garlic cloves
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (toasting them makes a huge difference in flavour!)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (can mix or replace with pecorino)
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

If you want to be traditional, use a mortar and pestle, but otherwise use a blender or food processor. Add garlic cloves, basil, and pine nuts and pulse to chop. Then add parmesan cheese and combine. Drizzle in olive oil while your blender or food processor is doing it’s thing. Add more or less oil than what’s recommended depending on the consistency you like. Then add salt and pepper to taste.

To keep in the refrigerator, store the pesto in a jar with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent browning. To freeze, I like to put it in a ziploc bag and spread it out into a thin layer so that I can easily break off pieces, depending on how much I need. I find it lasts a few months in the freezer. Martha Shulman recommends that you puree the basil with olive oil and salt only. And then when it’s time to use it, puree the garlic and pine nuts, then add the thawed basil puree and parmesan cheese. I never have the foresight to do this, but I found that the ziploc method worked just fine for me.

Other Pesto Possibilities:
- Blanched kale + toasted walnuts (see Sprouted Kitchen)
- Fresh peas + pine nuts (see Smitten Kitchen)
- Garlic scapes + arugula + walnuts (see Everybody Loves Sandwiches)
- Spinach + cashews + lemon juice (see Joy the Baker)

Whoa.

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It’s been awhile. Sorry about that. Since the last time I posted, a few life changes have happened: A birthday passed. A trip to Cuba was had. An MA thesis was completed. Said thesis was successfully defended. And last, but certainly not least, a puppy was adopted.

Harvey + Stick

This is Harvey. The newest addition to our little family. A little yellow lab who’s currently snoring at my feet. 3 months old and growing exponentially. He’s mellow, but excitable. Precocious, and yet silly. My heart is filled with love and I can honestly say that I feel like a new mama. I beam when he successfully makes it outside to pee and my heart breaks when I hear him cry. I can only imagine what it’ll be like when J. and I actually have children one day but for the time being, Harvey is the answer to my calling womb.

Eggnog Pound Cake

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The last couple of weeks have been good, real good. Nothing necessarily eventful happened but I just felt generally good about everything.

I’m in the editing stages of my thesis and as I’ve watched it come together, I can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment of what my brain is capable of. It’s nowhere near complete, but it’s close enough that I can see the finish line.

It’s also my birthday weekend coming up and more than anything, I’m just really excited about all the various meals I’m going to have. No joke. Tonight, we’re going out for dinner with my in-laws who are in town for the Paul McCartney concert. Saturday night, J. is taking me to Vij’s for some amazing Indian food. Sunday morning, I’m having brunch with two of my more cherished girlfriends. And Sunday night, we’re going out for dinner with my parents. My actual birthday is on Monday so no doubt, I will find a way to squeeze in another delicious meal out on the town that day that doesn’t require any cooking on my part.

Lastly, we’re going to Cuba in December for some R&R to celebrate our 1 year anniversary and to celebrate the completion of my thesis. Bliss!

And now, with absolutely no relevant segue, a recipe for eggnog pound cake…

Eggnog Pound Cake
Inspired by Ina Garten’s Lemon Yogurt Cake

This pound cake isn’t too sweet because I held off on the sugar. Eggnog is quite sweet as it is but put in as much as you desire. I recommend about 1/2 cup. Light eggnog is also a personal preference. But I bet using regular eggnog makes for a much richer cake. Light eggnog or not, this pound cake is still very moist!

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 c. eggnog
1/2 – 1 c. sugar (depending on preference)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour, and/or line with parchment paper, a regular size loaf pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg into a bowl. In another larger bowl, whisk together the eggnog, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Then fold in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a spatula until incorporated. Then fold in the vegetable oil until everything is mixed. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and tap a couple of times on the counter to pop any air pockets and to also smooth out the top. Bake for about 55-60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow it to cool completely (if possible!) before slicing.


Image via Instagram (@ms_jennyL)

A short story.

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She took one last drag of her cigarette before she extinguished it into the cigarette tray that was already overflowing. She had always meant to quit but it was always under certain conditions that she made for herself. I’ll quit when I start running more. I’ll quit after Christmas. I’ll quit when I get a new job.

She pushed the door to the coffee shop and heard the familiar bells chime above her. The barista looked up and gave her a nod as he returned to his customer. She was surprised to see him working, even though she knew he worked every Friday afternoon. She looked around and was happy to be back. The white walls looked to have been repainted with a fresh coat and the framed photographs were rearranged against the far wall. While it looked a little different, it still felt the same. She chose the small round table next to the front window: the same spot she always sat in. She placed her bag down on the opposite chair and swung her jacket onto the back of her chair. Making her way up to the counter, she briefly scanned the menu even though she already knew what she would order.

“Hey Mags. Long time, no see. What can I get for you?” the barista asked. She didn’t realize that her absence had been that noticeable, but chose to ignore it. “Hey. Yeah, I’ve been really busy,” she uncomfortably replied, “Can I just get a medium coffee?” “Sure, $2.50. It’s good see you again,” he said, choosing to ignore her evasive replies. “Yeah, thanks. You too,” she quickly responded, as she pushed her change across the counter.

She walked over to the side of the counter, waiting for her drink. “Here you go,” said the barista, as he handed her her drink. She grabbed the mug and and then slid into her chair. She stretched across the table and grabbed her computer from her bag. Pressing the on button, the familiar melody of her computer coming to life resonated as she took a sip of her coffee. Dark, bitter, and robust. It had been awhile since she had tasted these flavours and she missed it.

Meanwhile, the barista had been watching her from behind the counter, trying to figure out why it had taken her so long to come back and why she even chose to come back at all. He leaned back and rested his lower back against the cabinets and decided that he would find out. He grabbed one of the last chocolate chip cookies–it had always been her favourite–and put it on a small white plate and walked over to her.

“Hey, I know these are your favourite. It’s our last one and I thought you might want it. On the house. Think of it as a welcome back,” he cheerfully said. Startled, she looked up from her computer and gave him a half smile and replied, “Thanks. You didn’t have to do that.” She was surprised at how much he hadn’t changed. He had the same haircut and wore the same plaid shirt he always wore. He even smelled the same: a woodsy musk that was masked by the aroma of coffee. She quickly looked away, afraid he noticed that she had gazed a little longer than she should have. He noticed.

“No worries. So what have you been up to? I hope you weren’t trying to avoid me,” he jokingly asked, knowing that perhaps that was too soon. She shifted in her chair and didn’t like that he was so casual and forward about it all. She looked up again and blushed. “Oh you know, I’ve been pretty busy with writing and I was out of town for awhile, so…” she trailed off. She actually hadn’t been out of town at all, nor had she been particularly busy with work. In fact, it was quite the opposite. She was stagnant. Stuck. She frequently stayed at home or when she did feel adventurous, she tried to find other coffee shops to do work in. “Where’d you go? Was it for work?” he casually asked. He seemed genuinely interested. Fuck, she thought. “Well, um… you know, I went…” she stammered. But just then, the bells chimed. A customer had walked in. Disappointed that he wouldn’t get to hear her answer, he sighed: “Guess I better go.”

Relieved, Mags returned to her work but felt him watching her. It was distracting. Who knew it would have ended like this? It had been months since it happened and yet the residual uncertainties and regrets lingered. They never dated. But something was palpable between them. She had always loved him and he had always loved her, but the undulating lives of two very different people meant that the timing was never right. She wanted to go up to him and apologize, but she was embarrassed and unsure if an apology was even appropriate.

She finished her coffee and walked up to the counter to return her mug: to be polite and for another chance to talk. But he wasn’t there. His shift had ended and he never said goodbye.

She packed up her bag and went outside. She lit a cigarette and deeply inhaled. She closed her eyes and she knew that that was it for them. Even though they cared for each other, she decided that she could never return. This place was his. With that, she extinguished what would be her last cigarette and walked home.

I’m alive and well.

It’s been about a month or so since my last post. After our road trip, I realized that I only had a few weeks left to finish a chapter of my thesis (based on a self-imposed due date that I stupidly promised my supervisor). Enter: panic mode. Fast forward a month later… I’m still not done and 2 weeks late. Oh well.

In the meantime, I assure you that I’ve been cooking and baking up a storm. It’s funny how baking an apple pie can sound like such a great idea when you’re in the middle of writing something important.

Yeah, I baked an apple pie.

As well as homemade hamburger buns, vegey burgers, blueberry galettes, blueberry muffins, quinoa and corn salad, pizza, curries, chilli, soondubu jigae (Korean soft tofu stew), stir fry, Korean ginseng chicken soup, barbecued cornish hens, and lots of coffee.

I have no photos to post because I convinced myself that photographing my food no longer means that I’m baking/cooking to sustain myself but that I am officially procrastinating. So that’s why I’ve been MIA.

But rest assured, my kitchen has not been abandoned like how I seem to have done here. I promise to return.

Oh, and why the picture of Ryan Gosling and Jake Gyllenhaal? Out of guilt, I give you eye candy.

Monster Cookies

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Despite my efforts to eat relatively healthy over the course of our trip, many cookies, greasy breakfast sandwiches, and Red Bulls were consumed (not to mention all the fair food we had at the Calgary Stampede; think: elephant ears, pulled pork sandwiches, and lemonade).

Originally, my plan was to make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. My rationale was that pumpkin = vegetable/fruit* = healthy. That plan fell through after J. noted that the bready dough might end up getting a little stale over time. True.

So I decided to go with Monster Cookies. It has just about every classic cookie ingredient: oats, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and M&Ms. I actually first had them a couple of years ago when a girlfriend hosted a cookie exchange. Each one of us had to make enough cookies to share with everyone so that by the end of the night, we all left with dozens and dozens of various cookies. Anyways, Monster Cookies is a friend’s recipe and it was a huge hit so I gave it a go for our road trip. After all, peanut butter = protein = healthy, no?

*Apparently this is a contentious debate. Many consider it a vegetable because it’s a type of squash, while others argue it’s a fruit because it grows on vines and has seeds.

Monster Cookies (yields approx. 4-5 dozen)
Adapted from a girlfriend’s recipe
These are seriously addicting and quite possibly the best cookies on the planet. I used crunchy peanut butter so that each bite has pieces of peanuts which are quite nice. If you don’t really like that, smooth is just fine. This also yields quite a bit but the dough freezes really well. I highly recommend making the dough and then only baking a dozen whenever you’re craving cookies.

3 eggs
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1/2 tbsp. corn syrup
3/4 tbsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. peanut butter
4 1/2 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. M&Ms

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a very large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugars, vanilla, and butter together until creamy. Then add corn syrup, baking soda, and salt and peanut butter and blend until combined. Then fold in oats, chocolate chips, and m&m’s.

Drop by tablespoon or a small ice cream scoop onto cookie sheets. Bake for 10-15 minutes (11 was perfect for me). Cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

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