Sunday, September 27, 2009

Basil Pesto

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a huge fan of basil. Give me basil any day of the week and I'm a happy camper. (If you really want to make me happy, throw a little cheese into the mix.)

This led to my discovery that I really needed some pesto in my life. After all, think of all the uses for basil pesto:

- Toss it with some pasta
- Use it as a topping for meats or vegetables
- Spread it on bruschetta
- Add it to a grilled cheese (or any sandwich)

I'm sure there are additional ways to use basil pesto that I don't even know about yet! The possibilities are endless...

Basil Pesto
slightly adapted from The Food Network
yields~ 2/3 cup

  • 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves, washed and dried thoroughly
  • 2 tablespoons (toasted) pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1) In a food processor, combine the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, and salt and puree.

2) Add the oil in increments to the chopped ingredients until incorporated. (The original recipe calls for drizzling in the oil while the food processor motor is running, but the food processor I used doesn't have that feature.)

3) Season with pepper to taste. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator with a piece of plastic wrap placed right on the surface of the pesto to prevent discoloration, for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Since I enjoy cheese so much, I increased the amount I used in this recipe. I was also feeling lazy, so I also opted not to toast the pine nuts like the original recipe called for. It's your choice. The result still tastes great!

What I love about this recipe is that I don't have to worry about changing the proportions or adding more or less of any ingredient. This pesto is so forgiving! Well, I guess any pesto could be forgiving, but this is the best recipe, for obvious reasons.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blue Moon Cupcakes

A few months ago, I entered a little competition called Iron Cupcake Earth. While checking out my cupcake entries as well as the other not-so-worthy competitors' cupcakes, my friend Maggie stumbled across a recipe for Blue Moon cupcakes. Thus began 3 months of Maggie badgering...i mean, persuading me to bake Blue Moon cupcakes.

When Labor Day finally rolled around, our friend Bobby graciously decided to host party at his snazzy new place. In honor of this (or really, just to appease Maggie) I decided to succumb to peer pressure and bring over the Blue Moon cupcakes. What's not to love about the combination of beer and food anyway? I also had these really pretty blue cupcake liners from that I was DYING to use! This may have influenced my decision a little bit. Just a little.

Blue Moon Cupcakes
(makes ~15 cupcakes)
  • 3/4 a stick/6 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 4 oz buttermilk*
  • 6 oz Blue Moon beer*
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • zest of one orange
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp baking soda
* Here's a very important tip that I wish I was someone had thrown out there prior to my diving into the cupcake-making process. Unfortunately, I ended up learning the hard way: 1 shot glass does NOT equal 1 ounce. 1 shot glass actually equals 1.5 ounces. Thankfully I had plenty of buttermilk and Blue Moon beer, so I didn't need to run to the grocery store when I had to restart my cupcake batter after Step 3.

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Melt butter and set aside to cool down.

3) Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, beer, vanilla, and orange zest in one bowl, and mix together the sugar, flour, coriander, and baking soda in another. (Here's another tip: You can make buttermilk by combining 1 tbsp lemon juice and enough milk to add up to 1 cup. So easy!)

4) Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two parts, using a mixer to combine. Add the melted butter and combine.

5) Pour batter into cupcake cups and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool.

I initially attempted to make the Blue Moon cream cheese frosting that was posted with the cupcake recipe. Somehow, I ended up with a huge clumpy cream cheese mess. I'm not sure what went wrong here (although I suspect there's a typo in the recipe). Prior to executing a mad dash to the grocery store for additional frosting supplies, I decided to change my frosting approach. Since the first attempt didn't pan out, I went online in a search of an orange-flavored cream cheese frosting replacement. Ten minutes later, I found...

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted slightly)
  • 1 package(s) (8-ounce) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup(s) (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon(s) fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon(s) grated orange zest
  • 5 cup(s) confectioners' sugar
  • 1.5 oz Blue Moon beer
1) Blend the cream cheese, butter, orange juice, orange zest, and Blue Moon in a large bowl, using an electric mixer set at medium speed, until smooth.

2) Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and creamy -- about 3 more minutes.

The actual recipe calls for the frosting to be chilled until time for use. Since I was running late for the party, of course, I just used it right away. I don't think I've frosted cupcakes this quickly in my life! However, I think the frosting would have been significantly firmer (and probably prettier) if it had been chilled. I guess that mean I need to bake these again!

Both my roommate Kimmy and her coworker Rene thought the cupcake had a strong orange-y/wheat-y flavor. Rene thought it was a little dry, but he did get it two days after I had made it, so I'll let that slide...

Personally, I was surprised that the cupcakes came out as well as they did, since this recipe isn't officially tested by anyone other than the person who invented it. I make cupcakes all the time and they always have the potential to suck. Maybe some people just have a special knack for these things. One day that will be me!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Basil Gnocchi

I've been a horrible Food Network Magazine subscriber!
When the Food Network Magazine launched earlier this year, I was really excited so I promptly signed up for a subscription. I received my first issue a few weeks later and drooled over the contents for the next two months. My goal was to create at least one dish from the magazine. Somehow, while I was doing all this drooling, two months passed by and I had made absolutely nothing from the magazine's recipe pages! I then received my second issue of the magazine. Commence drooling again. This time, I was adamant that I had to cook, bake, or assemble something edible from Issue #2.
After taking some time to peruse the magazine's pages, I stumbled on to what I like to call a "shortcut recipe". It's exactly what it sounds like: a recipe with a shortcut. Still, it wasn't the shortcut part that sucked me in. It was the recipe. Basil Gnocchi. It's very difficult for me to go to a restaurant and not order gnocchi if it's on the menu. So of course I couldn't pass up the chance to make this dish at home. And if I needed yet another reason to start firing up the food processor, basil, my favorite herb, also plays a starring role. Need I say more?

Basil Gnocchi (adapted from Ashley's Basil Gnocchi)
Makes 4 servings


  • 1 1/2 cups instant mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil, plus more for garnish
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • Dash of salt
  • 3 shallots, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Freshly ground pepper

For the gnocchi:
1) Mix the instant potatoes with 1 cup hot water in a bowl using a fork; set aside until the potatoes absorb the liquid, 3 minutes.
2) Meanwhile, puree the basil and 1/4 cup cold water in a blender until smooth. Stir the basil puree, egg, Parmesan and 1 tablespoon salt into the potato mixture.
3) Mound 3/4 cup flour on a surface; add the potato mixture and knead together until smooth, gradually adding the remaining 1/4 cup flour.
4) Divide the dough into 3 portions; roll each into a 1-inch-diameter log. Dust with flour, if needed. The dough will feel pretty soft at this point, but that's fine.
5) Cut each log into 1/2-inch pieces; place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate while making the sauce. (I pressed fork tongs into the gnocchi to make pretty striations, but that's optional.)
6) Once the sauce is created (see below), cook the gnocchi in a large pot of salted boiling water until tender, about 1 minute after they float to the surface.
7) Drain and toss with the sauce. Top with the toasted pine nuts and more basil and Parmesan.
For the sauce:
1) Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
2) Add the pine nuts; fry until toasted, swirling the pan.
3) Transfer the nuts with a slotted spoon to paper towels and season with salt.
4) Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and cook until soft, 3 minutes.
5) Add the wine and bring to a boil.
The original recipe actually called for tomatoes as well, but since I am rarely a fan of tomatoes, I nixed them. (Unless of course, the tomatoes are in a grilled cheese sandwich, with extra points if bacon is involved!) The next time I make these and there will be a next time), will definitely add another half cup of basil leaves. I think I would get a bigger punch from this herb and a deeper green color in the gnocchi, which are both very desirable things.
I'm not sure why, but I had a tough time taking a really good picture of the final product. No matter though, because the flavor made up for it. I could smell the earthiness of the basil. The smoothness of the mashed potatoes along with the slightly tart flavor the sauce was most satisfactory. And of course the melted cheese provided it's salty, savory taste. This is a definite thumbs-up meal!