Cooking Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad

I’ve noticed recently that I’m getting to a place with my cooking where I don’t mind using a recipe as a spring board instead of a by-the-numbers rule book. Part of that comes from being a lot more comfortable in the kitchen and part comes from not reading recipes all the way through before adding the ingredients to my shopping list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll get to that day’s recipe read it through and realize there’s a major part I missed. In the case of this recipe for Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad from Hannaford’s Fresh magazine, I didn’t see that a major part of the process involved roasting vegetables in the oven at 450 degrees. I don’t know about where you guys are, but it’s been in the 80s for weeks now here and there’s no way I’m adding to that heat if I can avoid it. So, I decided to sauté my veggies. I also completely forgot the green beans and made homemade pasta for my version.

Aside from making the pasta which is always a time consuming, but rewarding process, this is a super simple recipe to put together that just involves the cutting up of some vegetables, some sauté time and a bit of food processing. To make room in my small kitchen, I made the pesto first. I followed the recipe as written, but wound up with a really bitter pesto from all that arugula. To balance it out, I added about 1/4 more parmesan and the juice of half a large lemon which helped balance everything out.

With that out of the way, it was veggie cutting time. I took my knife to the red pepper, squash, onion and tomatoes before tossing them in a bowl with oil and then popping them in my high-sided pan for sauté time. At this point I also had the water going for the pasta so everything would get done at about the same time for mixing. My timing wasn’t perfect, but everything came together nicely for a solid alternate version of pesto packed with vitamins and nutrients that my family really enjoyed.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 1

As any regular readers will know, it’s been a looooong time since I’ve posted here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Unfortunately, with work and all kinds of other things going one — raising our two year old and prepping for a new little baby — MATK can fall to the wayside. But, I’m still cooking almost every night which means I have a huge backlog of meals to talk about going back to last fall. So, in an effort to try and document the good recipes I’ve tried out in the last few months, I figured I’d implement a new kind of a post called Recipe Roundup that will gather a bunch of meals from different places, throw in a few pics and do my best to remember how they turned out.

Today’s subject is one of my favorite new cooking sites, Closet Cooking which is great because there’s tons of older recipes on there and the site gets updated constantly. I also appreciate that Kevin Lynch seems to be cooking in a kitchen even smaller than mine which is no small feat. So, without further ado, hit the jump to check out the first batch of CC recipes I’ve tried out in the past few months!  Continue reading

Revisiting Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto

fresh pea pesto

A few weeks back, my wife convinced me to go with her and our daughter to a nearby farm so we could pick strawberries — one of our daughter’s favorite foods — and anything else we might come across. It was luckily not too hot when we got there, but I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of doing my own picking. I don’t mind paying a little bit more to buy local goods that have been picked by other folks. In fact, after actually going out and doing this, I’m even more okay with it. Anyway, the other thing my wife decided to get from the farm was a big basket of sugar snap peas. For some reason, I can never find them fresh at our grocery store which has a pretty solid and impressive selection most of the time. So, she wanted a pea-centric recipe and I searched by blog went with Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto, a recipe that’s super easy and super tasty, two of the biggest things I look for when making food.

My wife was adamant that the fresh peas would taste far better than the frozen ones I usually wind up using. I joked with her, saying I forgot to use the fresh and went with the frozen instead and that I couldn’t tell the difference between fresh and frozen, but that was just for giggles. In fact, the fresh peas made for such a big difference that I fully support her going out and picking more…just leave me and the kid at home.

Forgotten Food: Michael Ruhlman’s Sage-Garlic-Brined & Roasted Kale Pest Pork Chops

ruhlman's sage-garlic brined pork chops

As regular readers of the blog might have realized by this point, I cook a lot more than I actually write about food. As it happens, Monkeying Around The Kitchen gets pushed to the wayside when I get swamped with work or just don’t feel like sitting under the computer any more, but I still make time to cook about five times a week. I keep a folder on my desktop of images organized as best I can, but even with so many images and saved recipes, I can’t always remember how the things I cooked turned out, especially if I few a few somewhat similar things within a short period of time. That’s the case with these two recipes I’m talking about now, Sage-Garlic-Brined Pork Chops from Rhulman’s Twenty (page 29) and Food Network’s Pork Chops With Roasted Kale and Walnut Pesto.

Above you can see the brined chops. I remember putting that brine together, frying them and that picture sure looks pretty, but I just can’t remember what they tasted like. I want to say I liked them because, well, I love lemon and capers but I can’t say for sure. Around this time I also made some parmesan pork chops that were incredibly tasty. I think that memory might have knocked this one out of my brain.

pork chops with roasted kale & walnut pest0

Meanwhile, there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the Food Network recipe, but the chops themselves weren’t particularly interesting. You’re just cooking them in oil with some salt, pepper and rosemary sprinkled around. They weren’t bad by any means, just not overly memorable. However, I was a fan of the kale and walnut pesto recipe included therein. I love how versatile pesto turns out to be and enjoy trying new takes on the classic. I don’t remember eating these as leftovers, but I do remember combining the rest of the pesto with some leftover pasta that I whipped up one day and wound up having a nice little lunch for myself.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto (Sorta)

As my go-to, single person recipe blog, I spend about as much time flipping through Smitten Kitchen’s archives as I do going through books by people like Betty Crocker, Alton Brown and Michael Ruhlman. We’re just on similar wavelenghts and she has a killer eye for good food. So, I was pretty excited when I came across her recipe for Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto. I was far less excited, however, when I went to the grocery store that week and they didn’t have any basil. I wasn’t really prepared to sub in another recipe, so I decided to wing it and the results weren’t half bad.

I followed the recipe for the most part, but added and subtracted a few things based on what I had on hand. Obviously, the basil was out of the pesto, so I tried making it a little more flavorful by adding some olives, but I don’t think that flavor really came through in the finished product. I also decided to heat up some of the frozen Thanksgiving turkey and warmed that up in the same pan I toasted the almonds in.

When the sauce was done whirring in the food processor, I added it to the defrosted chicken and let those guys get to know each other a little bit while the pasta finished doing its thing. Before draining, I pulled out some of the pasta water which I later mixed back in to thicken everything up a bit. I haven’t made the recipe yet as written, though I intend to at some point, but I can say that mine was pretty almond-y. It did feel like it was missing a little something without the basil, but overall it felt like a pretty good save.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Spaghetti With Broccoli Cream Pesto

I didn’t take a lot of pictures of my process for making Smitten Kitchen’s Spaghetti With Broccoli Cream Pesto because it’s not a particularly photo-worthy post (plus, there’s no way I can take better one that SK’s Deb Perelman). You’re boiling water, steaming broccoli, cooking pasta, cutting up broccoli, shredding cheese, chopping garlic, throwing stuff in the food processor, cooking onions and eating.

I’ve made plenty of pesto recipes before and love the variety you can come across even without the traditional ingredients of pesto and pine nuts. In this case the cooked broccoli and onions take the place of those fancier greens. The real genius of this recipe is how you basically use one pot and the food processor to make the whole thing. I got a pot of water boiling and put the steam basket in the top of it. Once it was ready, I added the cleaned and trimmed broccoli. Once that was done and set aside, I threw the pasta in.

While that cooked I took care of some of the other prep stuff. I cut up the onion and shredded the parm. When it was done and drained, I then cooked first the onion and then the broccoli in the pot. When that was done, everything but the pasta went into the food processor and we had diner after a few whirs.

I can’t really say that I’d kick my other pesto recipes to the curb for this one, but I do appreciate that it’s so simple to put together. If you’ve got an extra box of pasta and some broccoli you’re good to go. In a pinch you could use milk instead of cream, You could also cook up some chicken and add that in for added protein if you wanted. Super easy.

Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Eggplant Appetizer & Greek Pizza

This past Sunday, after attempting to hit up a few other places, we found ourselves at Mama Theresa’s for dinner. Since we didn’t order ahead of time and wanted a full pie, we decided to eat there and actually sat in the really nice back room that we’d never been in. As always, the food there was excellent. We started off with a special eggplant appetizer whose name I can’t quite remember, but think it might have been something like Eggplant Pie or Eggplant Stack or something along those lines. Basically, among slices of cooked eggplant there was also healthy doses of mozzarella, pesto, their awesome red sauce and prosciutto. It was all around delightful, the kind of thing I’d like to figure out how to make myself.

Of course, that was the opening act to the main event: pizza! When my wife first suggested getting the Greek Pizza, I vetoed that because I was thinking it would focus on the somewhat overpowering combination of feta and olives that mark such things when cooked by people without much knowledge of Greek cooking. I decided to give it a try and it was delish! The key here was not using too many olives or too much feta, but there was also great grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, onions and yellow peppers that weren’t too hot for my wussy tongue.

Cooking Rachel Ray’s Spinach Artichoke Whole-Wheat Penne

Pesto, pesto, pesto, I love me some pesto. You can tell because it has its own category on the righthand side there. I’ve actually made Rachel Rays Spinach Artichoke Whole-Wheat Penne before, but that was before the blog, so I figured it made for not only a good recipe to revisit, but also post-worthy. I’m still not sure how I feel about Rachel Ray, but she does have some good recipes that can be made with fresh (or mostly fresh) ingredients.

Anyway, this was another recipe I went with because it’s not super hot to make. You basically get the pot of water boiling for the pasta first, then get the pesto together in the food processor and cook the artichokes, mixing the various elements together at different times.

After getting the water going, I also put some of my homemade frozen stock in a pot to defrost and toasted some almonds. By the way, I love replacing the very expensive pine nuts, which I always skip, with toasted almonds, this is a good substitution. Anyway, after those things were moving along, I put the stock, toasted almonds, spinach, basil, shallot, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil in the bowl of the FP and gave it a few whirls.

At the same time, I started cooking the artichoke hearts in some olive oil in the Dutch oven. Once the sauce was done, that went into the pan with the hearts. Once the pasta was done cooking, it also went into the DO along with a bunch of shredded parm. All that got cooked together for a few minutes and you’ve got dinner.

I thought this was a pretty good alternative pesto. I wouldn’t completely replace traditional pesto with this version, but it’s nice to have an easier — and let’s face it, cheaper — version that can be easily put together. Adding in artichokes hearts makes everything better in my book, so that’s an added bonus as well. You could also grill up some chicken and include that to add some protein, something I might do next time.

Cooking Gnocchi

Hope everyone had an enjoyable Memorial Weekend. I helped plan for, cook for and throw a birthday party for our one-year-old, took a bit of relaxing time and then helped friends dig mud out of their pool after some flooding last year. I could probably use a three day weekend for my three day weekend, but what are you gonna do?

I would have thought making gnocchi would have been as complicated as my weekend, but it was actually relatively simple (sorry for the clunky transition, it’s been a looooong week followed by a longer weekend). Anyway, a week or two back I was flipping through my copy of Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking and came across his recipe for Gnocchi (page 70). I’ll be honest, I’ve been skipping this book in my rotation lately because so much of it involves making sauces and not only is that time consuming, but winter’ s not a good time to make tomato sauce. It turns out, gnocchi only calls for seven ingredients: potatoes, butter, Parmesan cheese, two egg yolks, flour, salt and boiling water. If you have those things and some kind of sauce, you’re good to go.

You start off by boiling three quarts of aqua and then dropping five or so medium potatoes in there for 30 minutes. While those were bubbling, I decided to whip up a basic pesto sauce without pine nuts (those things are way too expensive). I basically just tossed some basil, garlic, Parm and olive oil in our smaller food processor and was good to go. I also placed six table spoons of butter in a pan on the stove near the boiling water pot, but didn’t not put heat under it. I didn’t want to burn the butter, but figured this would be a good way to melt it without having to worry and I turned out to be right!

Once the potatoes are done in the water, you pull them out and mash them in a pan that’s on the fire to help get rid of excess water. I personally didn’t bother peeling the potatoes at any point, figuring the skin has good nutrients we could use. Once everything was good and mashed, I threw the potatoes in a mixing bowl for my wife’s KitcheAide, used the dough hook and added in the egg yolks and flour. I probably could have done that by hand, but if you’ve got a good tool, use it.

Left with a nice dough ball, I got out my dough cutter which I usually just use to scrape up chopped veggies. I quartered the dough and froze half of it and worked with the other two quarters. I rolled them out on the counter and chopped them into little nuggets with the cutter. There was something in the recipe about rolling the nuggets down a fork to get that ribbed look we all know and love, but I wasn’t quite understanding it until I found the following video on YouTube, which clarified things for me.

So, once I had my nuggets of gnocchi properly forked, it was time to get them in another pot of boiling water. Much like pierogies, you drop these potato concoctions into the boiling water and they’re ready when they float to the top. I must admit, it’s a little hard to tell when something is actually on the top under it’s own powers and not the roiling boil, but I think I got the hang of it. Once they were done, I combined the gnocchi in a bowl with the melted butter and some grated Parmesan.

I thought the gnocchi turned out really good, but the mistake I made was using the amount of butter and cheese for the full recipe when I had actually only made half of the gnocchi. I didn’t realize this until well after I ate a plateful in pesto sauce and came away with the kind of stomach ache that comes from eating overly rich food. That’s when I remembered I essentially doubled the butter. Wah, wah.

This will definitely be a recipe I come back to down the line. As I mentioned over in one of my photo diary posts on The Monkee Diaries, I tried thawing out the frozen dough and making them again but they turned out really watery and gross. Adding in more flour didn’t seem to do anything and the whole thing wound up being a bust. I think what I might do next time is actually make all the gnocchi and then freeze half. Would that work?

Pizza Party: Pizza Mia’s Pesto Chicken & Sicilian Slices

I know these aren’t the prettiest looking slices of pizza in the world, but it just goes to show how good pizza in our area is. Those look a little limp (and had most likely been sitting for a while), but they tasted awesome! On the left you have Pizza Mia’s pesto chicken slice which had a really great pesto sauce and their Sicilian. I’m in awe of Pizza Mia’s sauce which is just so sweet and zingy that I want to eat it every day.