Snacking Nuts

The holiday season is full of gatherings with friends.  I made this snack mix to put out while having a drink before going out to dinner.  I didn’t want everyone to fill up, but there is something nice about having a small snack with your beverage.  This is easy and will last in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks, so you can cover Christmas and New Years with one baking.  This would also make for a nice host/hostess gift with a bottle of wine or box of chocolates.

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I found this recipe on the Food and Wine website, perfect amount of sweet and savory without overbearing the natural nut flavors.

Ingredients:

2 cups almonds
2 cups pecans
2 cups walnuts
1/4 cup of pure maple syrup (heaping)
2 Tbsp of fresh chopped rosemary and thyme
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (heaping)
salt and fresh ground pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Toss to combine all ingredients except the salt and pepper in a large bowl.

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3. Spread out mixture on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.
4. When you remove them from the oven sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and stir 1-2 more times while cooling.

2013-12-21 14.57.57Enjoy!

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Tomato Cooked Chicken with Shiitake Ricotta Topping

For dinner tonight I wanted to make something that had a lot of flavor as well as used up some random vegetables and ingredients I had in the fridge.  The dish turned out even better than I thought it would, so much flavor and depth.  My husband was pretty reluctant to let me put kalamata olives in it, but it really brought the dish to a new level.  If you are really opposed to the olives, you can add some capers to enhance the flavor or skip altogether.  To serve I roasted some vegetables on the side, but it would go great over a bed of rice or roasted spaghetti squash.

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Ingredients:

– 4 chicken breasts

– 1/2 cup white wine

-2 Tbsp fresh garlic, minced

– 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced

– 1/2 onion, diced

– 1 hungarian or green pepper, diced

– 2 roma tomatoes

– 1 8oz can of diced tomatoes, with juice

– 5-6 sprigs fresh thyme, center stem removed

– 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

– 8-10 kalamata olives, sliced

– 1 cup ricotta cheese

– 10-12 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

-salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Brown the chicken breasts in a hot skillet coated with olive oil about 4 minutes on each side, remove and set aside.

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2. Add garlic, ginger, and thyme to pan and saute a few minutes, add white wine and de-glaze the skillet.  Simmer for a few minutes to cook off the wine.

3. Add onions and peppers to skillet with a 1/2 tbsp of butter and saute with red pepper flakes.

2013-09-26 19.47.464. Add diced tomatoes and can of diced tomatoes with olives, stir and simmer until heated through.

5. Place chicken back in skillet and reduce heat to low, simmer for 10 minutes flipping once.

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6. While the chicken is simmering make the ricotta topping.  Heat small cast iron skillet and saute 1 tsp minced garlic and shiitake mushrooms with a pad of butter.  Simmer for 5 minutes before removing from heat.

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7. Mix mushroom mixture with ricotta cheese and dollop on top of chicken.

8. To finish dish, put skillet in the oven on broil to heat the ricotta for a few minutes, garnish with fresh thyme.

2013-09-26 20.31.03The mushroom and ricotta cheese topping was a complete after-thought.  I wanted to put the mushrooms in the red sauce, but forgot about them.  Turns out mushrooms, garlic, butter, and cheese is delicious,  I will definitely use this again in other dishes.

Enjoy!

Stir-Fry Stuffed Acorn Squash

Today was the ideal fall day, despite the fact that it is technically still summer.  The air was crisp and cool but in the sun you melt to a comfortable temperature.  This dinner took a little advanced planning and did require a bit of chopping, but worth the efforts.  Anytime I can convince my husband to eat a dinner (and go back for seconds) that is primarily vegetables and lean meat without dairy, grains, or processed foods it is win.  This dinner sort of came together as I was making it, trying to utilize the vegetables in my refrigerator that needed eaten.  This is my best recap of what happened.

2013-09-16 19.30.12Ingredients:

– 2 acorn squash

– 2-3 boneless pork chops ( you can use pork shoulder, pork loin…even chicken or beef), cut into bite-sized pieces

– 5 carrots, peeled and sliced in thin strips

– 5 stalks of celery, sliced

– 3/4 cup of shiitake mushrooms, stem removed and sliced

– 3 Hungarian peppers (I had some red and some yellow), thinly sliced in rings

– 1 1/2 heaping Tbsp of minced fresh garlic, plus 1 tsp for marinade

– 1/2 tsp ginger powder

– 1 bay leaf

– 1/3 cup soy sauce

– 1 1/2 heaping Tbsp of minced fresh ginger

– Infused olive oil (infused with dried chili peppers, garlic, and black peppercorn)

– salt and pepper

– 1-2 dashes of red pepper flakes

Directions:

1. 12-24 hours in advance put the pork in a marinade: 1/3 cup of soy sauce, 1 Tbsp infused olive oil, 1 tsp minced garlic, 1/2 tsp ginger powder, 1 bay leaf.   I marinated the meat in a quart sized zip lock bag so I could remix easily a few times over the course of the day.

2. Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds, then cut into wedges 5-6 per half.  To make the squash easier to cut, I poke holes into it and put in the microwave for 5 minutes to soften it up.

3. Spray the wedges with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, place on pan cut side down and roast at 450 for 15 minutes before flipping and cooking for an additional 15 minutes.

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4. While the squash is roasting get to work chopping the garlic, ginger, peppers, carrots, celery, and mushrooms.

5. In a hot skillet over medium heat add some infused oil to coat the bottom of the skillet and saute the fresh minced garlic and ginger (make sure the pan is not too hot like mine was on the first round, it will instantly burn the garlic and ginger).  You want a light brown with good fragrance before adding the sliced Hungarian peppers.  Cook until the peppers get a little soft, about 5 minutes mixing constantly.

6. Remove the peppers from the pan leaving behind some oil and garlic/ginger as able.  Add more infused olive oil as needed to coat the pan then add the pork, cook until nearly fully cooked.

7. Add the peppers back to the pan when the meat has just a few minutes left to cook, stir together and let cook for 2-3 minutes.

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8. Remove the peppers and meat from the pan and set aside.  Add more oil to thickly coat the bottom of the pan and saute the rest of the vegetables.  I sprinkled a few dashes of garlic powder and red pepper flakes in with the vegetables.  Depending on how thin you were able to cut your carrots, they will be the longest vegetable to cook.  I covered the vegetables for part of the cooking process to speed the cooking of the carrots.

9. When the vegetables are nearly finished cooking, add the peppers and meat back to the dish.  Stir well, cover, and let cook on medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes to finish cooking and fuse the flavors.

10. Plate with the squash so it can be eaten in place of rice with the stir-fry.

I think in future I would add the mushrooms at the same time as the Hungarian peppers to have more of the mushroom flavor enhance the meal.  Otherwise I was pretty happy with the way these vegetables worked together to make the meal full of flavor without any one ingredient overwhelming the dish.

 

End of Summer Pesto

My basil plant has officially decided to pack it up for the summer.  It is bolting despite my efforts to prune and fertilize and the leaves are not as vibrant as they used to be, so it’s time to make Pesto!  My mother was boasting about how she used her basil at home and made 31 cups of pesto.  I thought my basil plant on the balcony was pretty big…it made 2 1/4 cups of pesto.  Note to self, get a bigger balcony.

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I didn’t have any pine nuts at home, so I substituted pistachios, and I used my infused olive oil instead of regular olive oil for a little something special.

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Ingredients:

Now I used some very loose measurements…it’s sort of about feel.  I wanted to use terms like “a lot”, “enough” and “a little” instead of actual measurements, but people like my husband will go a little crazy and abandon the project if I do that…so here are some guidelines as to what I did.

– 2 cups of packed basil leaves

– 4 sprigs of curly parsley

– 3 cloves of garlic

-12 pistachios, shelled

-1/3 cup infused olive oil (see “Garlic Chicken with Zucchini Ribbons” post for directions)

– 1/3+ cup of grape seed oil

– salt to taste

– 1/4 cup fresh shaved Parmesan cheese (I go pretty light on the cheese and add it to dishes later, most recipes call for 1/2 cup)

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Directions:

Put everything in the blender and pulse to blend, add oils slowly until consistency is smooth but not too runny.

For the final batch I didn’t have enough basil, so I added mint leaves, rosemary, and sage to fill up the food processor.  It had a nice herb flavor that will likely pair well with chicken.

Use immediately or store for a few days in the refrigerator.  If you want to freeze the pesto, most websites recommend not adding the cheese until thawed for use.  My mom has always frozen it with the cheese mixed in without consequence, so I did the same.  A good secret however is to pour a layer of olive oil on top of the pesto to keep fresh in the freezer.  Use in up to 3 months is recommended.  Again we must live on the wild side in my family, I have used pesto that is a year old and it’s still perfect and fresh…cheese and all.

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Basil, Lemon, and Jalapeno Pesto

For our anniversary my husband and I enjoyed a nice dinner out at one of our favorite wine bars the night before, La Madia.  On our actual anniversary we decided to make a meal at home.  We got a nice bottle of champagne and I was going to plan a meal to compliment it, but he was dead set on having a hamburger for dinner.  I like a burger as much as the next girl, but it wasn’t exactly what I was in the mood for.  Instead, we drank beers and grilled out, typical.  While he made his burger I tried to get creative.  It started with making a pesto…

For the pesto I took a bunch of my overgrown basil and mint to use as the base.  I used primarily basil as it is threatening to bolt, but I’m really into mint so I had to use a bit of that to round it out.

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Ingredients:

-1 cup of basil

-1/3 cup of mint

-juice from 2 lemon wedges

-1/2 jalapeno, diced

-2 cloves garlic

-1/4 cup olive oil

Directions:

Add everything to the blender or food processor except the olive oil.  I would add this slowly so as to not make it too runny, may not take the full amount.  Mine came out a little juicy looking, but it had good flavor.

2013-09-04 19.23.12My husband put the pesto on his burgers with tomatoes, basil leaves, grilled onions, and peppers.  It looked pretty tasty, but I was looking for something a little lighter and fresher.

2013-09-04 19.46.07First I put the pretzel roll on the grill, cut side down.  After a minute I took it off to spread the pesto on the top and bottom and lined it with fresh mozzarella cheese.  To melt the cheese, I put the bread back on the grill, but turned the grill off so it’s hot enough for melting the cheese but not burn the outside of the bread.

Next I filled with tomatoes, fresh basil, a grilled onion, pepper, and slice of grilled zucchini.  So good!  We ate outside so the lighting in the picture for the final product is extremely poor and doesn’t do it justice, so you will have to use your imagination.

Garlic Chicken with Zucchini Ribbons

Tonight for dinner we had a few chicken breasts left over from the BBQ last night.  Instead of the rich and bold taste of BBQ sauce I took the chicken in a different direction…Garlic.  With the ribbons of zucchini and garlic on the chicken it has a hint of fall flavor.

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Chicken: I butterflied each breast open to decrease grill time and create more flavor from the seasoning through each bite.  I sprinkled a generous amount of salt, pepper, and garlic seasoning on each breast right before grilling.  When you butterfly chicken the risk of over cooking and drying out definitely increases, so watch closely while grilling.  These took 4 minutes on each side on a high heat grill, then let them rest for 10 minutes before eating .

Zucchini Ribbons: I read a recipe today that make the zucchini similar to this but then covers it all with an alfredo sauce.  I didn’t want such a heavy dinner, so I skipped that part entirely and added Parmesan instead.

Ingredients:

2 medium zucchini (I used a large yellow and small green one)

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil (infused with garlic, pepper, and red chili peppers)

Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:

1. Using a vegetable peeler I sliced the zucchini into very thin ribbons length wise and gathered them into a bowl.  I drizzled olive oil, salt, and pepper onto the ribbons and mixed together with my hands to coat each ribbon.

2. In a cast iron skillet on medium heat I coated the skillet with olive oil and added the cloves of garlic and a crushed red pepper flakes.  I let this cook for 2-3 minutes, until I could smell the fragrance of garlic before adding the zucchini.  The zucchini cooks quickly and I didn’t want it to burn, so I tossed it with tongs every minute or so until the ribbons started to soften trying to be careful not to let them turn to mush.  Total cooking time was 8-10 minutes.  Finally I topped it off with some grated Parmesan cheese and cracked pepper.

On the side I made a small Caprese salad with a huge tomato from the farmers market and fresh basil.  I drizzled infused olive oil on it with fig balsamic from Old Town Oil.

Infused Olive Oil

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Making infused olive oil is a way to add more flavor to dishes without so much effort or cooking time.  Right now I have a garlic, pepper, and red chili pepper infused oil that is really complementary to cooked vegetables or even for dipping bread or pizza crust in.  I found this jar at Marshalls for just a few bucks, the stopper/latch combo is really a nice feature.

To make, I put a few cloves of garlic (cleaned and sliced in half), a table spoon of pepper corns, and 2 whole dried chili peppers into the jar.  Fill with a good quality olive oil and close the jar, done.  The flavor gets better over time, but I try to make sure to use it in a few weeks in case the garlic starts to turn bad.