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Penne with Roasted Asparagus & Balsamic Butter

21 May

A big thank you to everyone who has been reading this blog, especially for being so patient these last few months while I haven’t published anything.  The death of my mother combined with the darkness of winter have made these last few months trying, to say the least. I haven’t felt like doing anything, let alone cooking or writing.  But the sun has (finally!) come out in Seattle, and it has brightened my mood considerably. I am feeling slightly more human, at any rate, and thought this recipe the perfect way to welcome spring, and me, back into the world.

Penne & Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Butter
From Food & Wine Magazine

1 pound asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 pound penne
1/4 pound butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Heat the oven to 400°. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and discard them. Cut the spears into 1-inch pieces. Put the asparagus on a baking sheet and toss with the oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer until 3 tablespoons remain. Stir in the brown sugar and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Remove from the heat.

Cook the penne in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just done, about 13 minutes. Drain the pasta and toss with the butter, vinegar, asparagus, Parmesan, and the remaining 1 3/4 teaspoons salt. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Brazil Nut Pesto

9 Jun

A couple of years ago my husband and I decided to take a cooking class while in Paris.  I did some research, and came across the website for On Rue Tatin and Susan Hermann Loomis.  Her one-day classes, which begin with a market tour and end with lunch or dinner,  sounded exactly like the Parisian experience we were after.  We were not disappointed, and spending the day cooking with her was one of the best experiences we have had in France.

All the ingredients

Since that time, I have dreamed of spending time in her renovated 12th-century convent house in the tiny village of Louviers, in Normandy.  The pictures alone were like heaven on earth to me, and I recently decided I would treat myself to a cooking class there the next time I was in France.

A girlfriend and I began planning  a trip to Paris this coming October, and this seemed like the perfect time of year to visit Normandy as well.   There I will spend 3 days at On Rue Tatin, eating local Camembert, sipping Calvedos from ancient orchards,  foraging for wild mushrooms and cooking, cooking, cooking (and eating, bien sur!).  I am giddy with delight.

It was with eager anticipation, then, that I welcomed Susan’s  latest book “Nuts in the Kitchen” to my groaning bookshelf.  Recipes like waffles with walnut whipped cream and homemade Nutella certainly caught my eye, as did marinated fish with sesame and macadamias;  smoked bacon, scallion and pecan butter; and curried belgian endive with cashews.  So many creative uses for nuts!  I know I will enjoy spending time this summer trying out many of the recipes from this book, and when I see Susan in October it will be the icing on the proverbial hazelnut torte.

This recipe is from her book, and it is a fun take on traditional pesto.  I love the texture of the brazil nuts in this, and also the combination of parsley and basil which gives it a fresh, summery flavor perfect for this time of year.  The final product is a pesto that is  familiar but also intriguing.  It is great with any kind of pasta, under the skin of a chicken destined for roasting, as a dip for raw vegetables, or slathered on pizza hot from the oven.  Enjoy!

Brazil Nut Pesto
From Nuts in the Kitchen

1/2 cup Brazil nuts, coarsely chopped
1 large garlic clove, coarsely chopped
2 cups gently packed flat-leaf parsley
1 cup basil leaves
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated

Place the nuts and the garlic in a food processor or in a mortar and pulse or crush until they are coarsely chopped.  Add the herbs and lemon zest and process or pound until all are blended into a relatively smooth still somewhat chunky mixture.  With the food processor running, or stirring with a pestle, slowly add the olive oil until it is combined with the herbs and nuts.  Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the cheese until thoroughly combined. Season with salt if necessary and reserve until ready to use.  Simple!

C’est Moi

16 May

This morning started the way I love weekend mornings to begin: Melody Gardot singing “If the Stars Were Mine,” me dancing around the kitchen with my coffee, and fresh-baked cinnamon rolls in the oven.  La vie est belle.

About me: I love to cook.  This seems to be an anomaly in this day and age, or at least in my peer group. Cooking is a lost art, demoted by families everywhere as one of those tasks somewhere above laundry but below just about everything else on one’s to-do list. But I am on a mission to encourage people to cook more for themselves. It is so much more affordable than take-out, better for your waist-line, and believe it or not is a relaxing way to unwind. I intend this blog to be a useful resource for those who want to take back their kitchens and make healthy, home-cooked meals.  My motto is: Nothing packaged, nothing processed.  Just real, wholesome food.  It really isn’t that difficult.  I promise.

My first project: homemade pasta.  You will never be able to eat pasta from a box once you have had it fresh.  There really is a world of difference.  You are probably saying to yourself “I would never have the time to make fresh pasta.” But you are so wrong! It is so ridiculously easy that I can’t believe it took me so long to try it.

I have made pasta dough about a dozen times in the last few months, and each time you make it you get a better sense of how it should look and feel. You can experiment with different flours (I happen to like a 50/50 ratio of all-purpose and semolina flours), and you can add things like fresh herbs or even spinach to give the noodles an extra kick.

The best part about cooking for yourself is that you can control the ingredients.  I am allergic to eggs, for example, so I make an egg-free pasta with olive oil and water.   The dough comes together quickly, takes 20 minutes to rest and cooks in about a minute.  You can make a big batch and freeze it so that when guests come you simply plop it in the water, but it is so easy to make that I always just make a fresh batch when entertaining.  People never fail to ooh and ahh, thinking that I have gone to all kinds of trouble to cook for them, and this never fails to elicit a great bottle of wine in gratitude.

My basic pasta recipe (vegan)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients and knead dough for about 10 minutes until elastic.  You can add flour or water as needed to get the right consistency, which you will be able to determine by feeling it.  After the third time making the dough I was able to really get a sense of how the dough should look and feel to easily move through the roller (if you’re using a pasta roller).

Let dough rest for 20 mins. (During this 20 minutes I usually get my sauce together. Because the pasta cooks up in about a minute, you will want your sauce to be all ready to go with the hot pasta.)

Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. Process one piece at a time through pasta attachment or use rolling pin to roll the dough as thin as possible and cut into desired shape (long, rustic strands are best here). I have the pasta attachment for my KitchenAid mixer, but Italian grandmothers have been rolling out this dough by hand for centuries.  It turns out great either way.  Drop strands into lightly boiling water for 1-2 minutes (closer to one minute, usually).  Serve immediately with any kind of sauce.  (serves 6)

bon appetit!


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