basil pesto … I can tell it’s time to start some indoor gardening

It’s Jeanne.

I’ve been taking a Master Gardening class through Montana State these past few weeks.  Which has really gotten me excited to begin plans for our 2013 garden.

Drawing diagrams.

Ordering seeds.

Checking and double-checking the calendar to make sure I get the seeds planted in time.

Dreaming of the greens and reds and blooms of spring and summer.

And watching the snow fall all over our raised beds.

Then dreaming again as I wander through the produce section of the grocery store … finding a big bunch of basil … and knowing that’s exactly what will cure my wintertime blues …

A little insight into pesto … everyone likes it their own way.  Some people like it it with kale.  Or spinach.  Or with less garlic.  Or more salt.  Or they use Asiago Cheese instead of Parmesan or Pecorino.    And I know I don’t add enough olive oil for some people.  But that’s because I like it less liquid-y.  Some people don’t toast their pine nuts.  For me … the extra two minutes it takes to toast those little nuggets makes all the difference in the world.  And the wonderful news is, you can make your pesto however you like it

Here’s how I do it.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 big bunch of basil (I used the leaves from 10-12 stalks for this batch)
  • 3/4 cup of pine nuts (toasted)
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese (shredded)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (or more, depending on consistency you like)

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DIRECTIONS:

Toast your pine nuts … the easiest way to do this is to heat up a 12-inch saucepan until it’s nice and hot.  (To check the heat, sprinkle a tiny bit of water on your pan and if it sizzles and evaporates on contact, your pan is hot enough … wipe up an extra water before you add your pine nuts).  Add the pine nuts to the hot pan and start stirring (I use a wooden spoon … you could also just shake your pan … these babies toast really quickly, and you want to be careful not to burn them, so keep the nuts moving … for about a minute or 90 seconds.  You’ll know their toasted when they’re golden and you start to smell them.)

Now that the nuts are toasted, add all the ingredients to a food processor.  Pulse 10-12 times, until basil is finely minced and ingredients well-combined.  Makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto.

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I like this semi-dry pesto on sandwiches and mixed with pasta.  

NOTE: I add a little more olive oil (and by a little more olive oil, I mean I add nearly twice as much olive oil) to use it as a dip for crispy pita chips, or for veggies, or if  I’m making a “green pizza,” which I did last night.

green pizza

Notice how much “saucier” the pesto is now?  I took 3/4 cup of the pre-made pesto and added 2 extra tablespoons of olive oil and it was the perfect texture and perfect amount for a 10″x 14″ thin crust pizza

How do you use your pesto?

We’re linked up:

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tabbouleh or not tabbouleh … is that the question?

Jeanne here.

As the days begin to stretch (we still had daylight at nearly 6 pm last night … crazy!) I’ve been dreaming of the garden we’re going to plant this year.

Actually, I’ve been doing more than dreaming.  I’ve been plotting and planning and ordering seeds and getting ready to start the seeds for some of our long-season veggies (like onions … the teacher in my Master Gardener class suggested that onions needed to be started by the this weekend if I hope to get actual onions this year … AAAaack.  I better get on it!).

And all that plotting, planning, ordering, organizing has me salivating over some of our summer’s best harvest, which has me thinking about summer foods that I can make with stuff we grow in the garden.

Like Tabbouleh.

Like tomatoes (I had such good luck with heirloom cherry tomatoes last year … I’m salivating just thinking about it!).

These are Abby's tomatoes.  I borrowed this photo without asking because I look at this photo and begin dreaming of summer.
These are Abby’s tomatoes. I borrowed this photo without asking because I look at this photo and begin dreaming of summer.

And mint (Even if you don’t have a green thumb, mint is a wonderful plant to have in your garden … it’s so dang hardy.  I’ve accidentally tried to kill it and totally failed.  It’s prolific and everywhere now!).

And parsley (I didn’t grow parsley last year … but Abby did … and it was such a perfect addition to this salad).

And onions (I only ever got mini-scallions last year … planted too late, but those baby scallions were perfect in this tabbouleh.  Perfect!).

Is it tabbouleh if you use quinoa instead of bulgar wheat?  Hmmm.

Whether it’s tabbouleh or not … it’s a taste of summer and that makes me happy.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • ½ c. soaked quinoa
  • 1 c. water
  • 6 or 7 mint leaves (finely chopped)
  • ¾ c. Italian parsley (chopped)
  • 3 or 4 scallions (chopped)
  • 2 medium ripe red tomatoes (chopped)
  • juice from half a lemon
  • 2 tbls. olive oil
  • sea salt, to taste

The night before:

Soak 1/2 cup of quinoa in filtered water and 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar.

The day of:

Rinse the quinoa very well … till the water runs clear.  The soaking will break-down the mineral binding phytates and make the quinoa easier to digest.

In a saucepan, combine ½ c. quinoa with 1 c. of water (and a dash of salt).  Bring to boil.  Lower the heat to a simmer and let it cook until the water is evaporated (10-15 minutes).  Take off the heat, cover and let rest for 5 minutes.  Fluff the quinoa with a fork.  Just like rice … with a good bit more digestible protein!  (NOTE: Quinoa has about 13g of protein, brown rice has 7.5g, white rice 6.6g).

While you let it cool…

In a medium bowl, combine mint leaves, parsley, scallions and tomatoes.  Add the quinoa.  Add juice from half a lemon (a little more if you want a little more “tang”) and olive oil.  Sprinkle with a little salt, toss with a fork and pop it in the refrigerator for at least an hour… better if you let it rest overnight, but who has that kind of time, right?

It’s sort of a perfect salad for a hot and muggy day … a little protein, a little citrus, a little mint … some spicy scallions …

Served on some pita bread with hummus … but you do what you want.  It’s your salad.

What are you craving these days?

spicy tomato soup with chard and quinoa

A few weeks ago I was soaking some quinoa for soup.

But I didn’t follow it up with a post because I was still wrestling with the recipe.

I knew what I wanted: a protein packed, spicy, chunky, flavorful tomato soup with nourishing dark leafy greens.

You see, I had been thinking about making a tomato-quinoa soup for a while … in part because I don’t love traditional “Campbells-like” thin and runny tomato soup.  I think it’s missing texture … and depth of flavor … and when it’s out of a can, it’s full of BPAs that have leached into the tomatoes.  In addition to all the reports about how BPAs affect hormone levels and might be cancer-causing, a new study from Berkeley shows that it affects thyroid function.  And there’s some preliminary evidence in the same article that shows it can affect brain development in newborns.

In light of this information, we don’t eat canned tomatoes … or much canned anything, these days unless it is fresh out of the garden and into the canning jar ;).

Which brings me to this soup that I’d been dreaming about.

So I went ahead and made my first effort.  And I’ll admit this freely: often times, my first attempt offers me a great opportunity to learn something new.  But this time … I loved the soup.

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And so did the Cowboy.

And my niece.

And her boyfriend (fiance, actually … as of about 3 weeks ago!).

And the littles.

But by the time it was clear the recipe was a success, there wasn’t enough soup left to take any photos.

And I wanted to make sure I could recreate the recipe.

And I’m very excited to report that this Saturday, I did it!  And it was JUST as good this second time around!!

serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa (soaked) – NOTE: once the quinoa soaks, it expands.  1 cup gets cooked with the soup, the rest (which turns out to be a little more than another cup) gets cooked in a pot on the side to add if you want a thicker, more quinoa-y soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons to make croutons
  • 1 yellow onion (chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon cracked red pepper
  • 2 lbs Campari tomatoes (quartered)
  • 4 large Swiss chard leaves (with the large center vein removed and chopped into 1 inch ribbons)
  • 1 quart bone broth (or vegetable broth)
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • 6 thick slices if sourdough bread
  • 1 tablespooon herbs de provence
  • 1/3 cup Manchego cheese (finely shredded)

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DIRECTIONS:

The Night Before (or early in the morning)

Soak the quinoa.  One and a half cups of quinoa in a class or ceramic container, covered with filtered water (with about an inch more water than quinoa), plus one and a half tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice).  Cover with a clean dish towel, paper towel or cheese cloth and set aside in a warm spot in your kitchen.  NOTE: The quinoa will expand to a little more than 2 cups … only add 1 cup to your soup when the time comes, cook the rest in a saucepan on the side so you can add more to each bowl if you want a thicker soup.)

spicy tomato soup

When you’re ready to start cooking (active cook-time is about 25 minutes)

Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer until the water runs clear.  (Not only soaking break down the phytic acid that binds the nutrients to the grain and makes them difficult to digest, but it also eliminates the “bitter taste” that un-soaked quinoa can have.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (this is for the croutons).

Heat a large saucepan on med-high.  Add olive oil and cracked pepper.  Add garlic and onion.  Sauté until the onions are translucent (about 5 minutes).  Add the tomatoes and let cook down until the tomatoes break down and there’s enough liquid to cover the contents of the pan (about 5 minutes).

Add the bone broth and bring to a boil.

Add 1 cup of the the thoroughly rinsed quinoa.  Simmer for 5 minutes, then cover and lower the heat.  Let it simmer on low for about 15-20 minutes (until the quinoa is thoroughly cooked.  (Use this time to cook the remaining quinoa in a saucepan on the side.  Like rice, quinoa cooks at a ratio of 2:1 … so for example, if there’s a cup of quinoa left, bring 2 cups water and salt to a boil, add the quinoa, lower the heat and cover for 15-20 minutes).

While the soup is simmering, it’s time to make the croutons.

Take the six ½” slices of sourdough bread and brush both sides with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs de provence and salt and pepper.  Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 5-7 minutes.  Turn them over and let cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the oven and put them in the bottom of your individual serving bowls.

Back to the soup.   Once the quinoa is tender and cooked through, add the Swiss Chard and let it wilt, stirring it into the broth.

Serve the soup over the croutons. In fact, be sure you don’t skip the croutons … the herbs de Provence and the texture of the crunchy bread really make a difference.

Sprinkle with Manchego cheese shavings (to taste … and you don’t have to use Manchego.  Asiago would also be tasty.  Or Parmesan.), and don’t be embarrassed if you want to lick the bowl … or go back for seconds.

NOTE:  The Cowboy likes to add extra cooked quinoa to his bowl, so I generally make an extra cup of quinoa on the side.  It definitely makes the soup more filling.  I like mine “soupier.”

We’re linked up on This Chick Cooks!

popcorn 101

Jeanne here …

When I was a little, I had a friend named Amy.  Amy E.  And every school day, she would bring with her a plastic sandwich bag overfilled with popcorn.

Popped on the stove.

By her father.  (I’m pretty sure it was her dad … at least that’s how I remember it.)

With just a little salt.

And a lot of love.

White.

Fluffy.

Delicious.

Nutritious.

Popcorn.

But this was more than a few years ago (I stopped counting after my 10 year high school reunion).

Before Orville Redenbacher came out with his “new fangled” microwave popcorn, laden with hydrogenated oils and “flavorings” that poorly replicated the taste of butter, popped in carcinogenic bags to scalding hot degrees destroying all the nutritional benefit that might have been in the corn to begin with.

Before more than 85 percent of the corn sold in commercial US markets was GMO (genetically modified in a lab to survive massive pesticide usage).

And Amy’s dad was probably popping that corn in stainless steel or cast iron (I never asked).  Not Teflon or aluminum, which leaches into the food and winds up in the consumer’s blood stream.  I haven’t been able to find conclusive studies on it, but Teflon has been linked to cancer … and aluminum … well … aluminum has long been known to contribute to diseases like Alzheimer’s and degenerative brain disorders.

Yikes!

I didn’t mean for this to be a “Debbie Downer” post!

Because, I love popcorn.

It’s a favorite snack here in the Cottage.

It’s inexpensive (even for organic corn, which we buy in bulk at our local food Co-op).

And fast.

It takes three and a half minutes to microwave a bag, right?

Well it takes three and half minutes to pop it on the stove, too.

It tastes better!

It’s better for you!

And it’s just so dang easy.

I’m going to encourage you to give it a try, and give you at least one tip that will mean you’ll never burn the popcorn in the bottom of your pot … and be sure to pop nearly all of the kernels.

NOTE:  I’m pretty sure Amy’s dad used canola oil for his corn.  We don’t use vegetable or canola oil in cooking because cooking these oils at high temperatures makes them rancid and indigestible … at least, according to Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions, which I have found to be an invaluable tool as we continue our journey to a more traditional foods diet.

INGREDIENTS:

  • ¼ cup Olive oil (or Coconut Oil  – although some find the taste of coconut oil a little too “tropical” … I personally think it’s delightful)
  • ¼ cup plus 1 Tbls. Corn Kernels
  • Sea Salt (to taste)

TOOLS:

  • 4 Qt. saucepan with a lid  (pot should be taller than it is wide)
  • Large bowl

Use just enough oil to coat the bottom of your pan (about ¼ cup)

Add the corn kernels.  There should be a single layer of kernels on the bottom of your pan.

Turn the heat on high (our burners go to “6” … I have them on “5” … so it’s “high,” but not “highest.”

After the first kernel pops, cover the saucepan and start moving it gently back and forth over the heat source.

Just like when you’re making microwave popcorn, when there’s a few seconds between each pop, remove from heat, take off the lid, and salt to taste.  After you’ve added a bit of salt and swished the popcorn around, pour your bounty into a large bowl and enjoy!

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Do NOT put the corn in first … the key to not burning your kernels is to put them in after the oil.  And wait to turn the heat on until both ingredients are in the pot.  You want the oil and the kernels to heat up at the same time.  I read somewhere that this has something to do with the water in the corn kernels … but I don’t remember what, or where I read it … the thing is … since I started doing it this way, I haven’t burned a batch!)