My basil has been incredible this year – at least the one I keep by my kitchen window. It started from a small pot I got at the supermarket in the spring and since then it’s grown, grown and grown. It’s done significantly better than the basil we’re keeping on a pot inside.
And what better to do with basil than to make creamy pesto? The recipe below is very basic but it works. You may need to use less Parmesan-Romano cheese if you use a high quality one – I just went with a pre-shredded supermarket brand because it’s cheap and easy. I used walnuts, as I already had them, and they’re far cheaper than pine nuts – but, of course, pine nuts are tastier and more traditional.
If you are looking for a vegan version, try this one.
Creamy Pesto Sauce
2 cups basil leaves
5 garlic cloves, 3 whole and 2 minced
3/4 cup grated Parmesan-Romano cheese
1/2 cup olive oil plus more for sautéing
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
Using an electric food processor, puree the basil leaves, whole garlic cloves, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts and salt and pepper.
Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a small saucepan. Add the chopped garlic and sauteé for 30 seconds. Add the pesto sauce and sauteé for another 30 seconds. Add the cream and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.
This apple pie granita tastes exactly like frozen apple pie, and it’s absolutely delicious. I served it as a palate cleanser for my 2020 Christmas Eve dinner, though it’s probably too sweet for that. It would work just as well as dessert. Everyone enjoyed it nonetheless.
I made it using Martinelli’s apple juice rather than “natural-style apple juice” like the original recipe called for, because that’s what I had at home. If I made it again using regular apple juice, as I did, I’d probably reduce the sugar to 1/4 cup or leave it off altogether.
3 cups apple juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
a dash of nutmeg
a dash of allspice
Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Transfer it to an 8″x8″ glass baking dish. Place in the freezer until the sides start to freeze, about 1 to 2 hours. Using a fork, break and mix and put back in the freezer for another 2 hours. Break again with a fork and transfer to small serving glasses. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.
I made this simple tart because it sounded divine – and it might have been had I been able to make it fresh. Unfortunately, I had a dish I had to cook at a much lower temperature right before this was meant to be served, so I decided to cook it earlier at 400F, and then just reheat it before serving. This wasn’t a truly successful endeavor, as the bottom of the pastry burned. Fortunately, it was very easy to scrape off. In any case, I wouldn’t recommend making it in advance. I would, however, try to make it again – when I can eat it right away.
1 sheet puff pastry
10 oz Brie, thinly sliced
1 Golden Delicious apple, cored and thinly sliced
2 tsp honey for dripping
2 Tbsp sliced almonds
2 Tbsp pomegranate seeds (optional)
Preheat oven to 400F
Place the puff pastry on a large sheet of parchment and roll into a 10″ x 12″ rectangle. Crimp the sides, forming an elevated border.
Place the brie slices on the puff pastry sheet and then cover with the apple slices. Transfer parchment with the tart to a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 30-35 minutes.
Drizzle with the honey and sprinkle almond slices on top. Top with pomegranate seeds if using.
Plus what I learned about truffles & are the truffles sold at the Berkeley Bowl any good?
During a very brief stay in Barcelona, my daughter fell in love with a dish of truffle ravioli in a parmesan and truffle oil cream sauce at one of the Sensi tapas restaurants. So when she asked that I include a pasta dish for our Christmas dinner, I immediately thought of that dish – and started researching recipes and truffles.
Truffles, I knew, were very expensive and rare fungi that grows naturally in Italy and France and is only available at exorbitant prices for a few months of the year. What I didn’t know is that it’s extremely hard to preserve them – because it’s their aroma which actually gives dishes the ethereal earthy flavor that we so like. Infusing them in oil doesn’t really work, but food scientists were able to isolate its most prevalent odorant – a compound called 2,4-Dithiapentane – and replicate it. This is what is mixed with olive oil, butters or salt and sold as “truffle” whatever. That is to say, this is what most of us know as truffle flavor. The little pieces of truffle we see in commercial products are apparently there mostly for show.
There seems to be a revolt against truffle oil among some top chefs, who belief its fake flavor confuses diners and stops them from being able to appreciate the subtleties of real truffles. Thinking back to the truffle dishes I’ve had, I think this is likely to be the case. I still dream of Aquerello‘s ridged pasta with foie gras, scented with black truffles, which I believe is topped with real truffle, but most other truffle dishes I recall did seem to be rather one-dimentional. Years ago, my husband gave me expensive botles of black and white truffle oil for Christmas, so I know those flavors quite well. While I didn’t care much for the white truffle oil, the black truffle oil does impart a rather tasty flavor.
I found many recipes online for pasta in a truffle sauce, and at first my decision was on whether to use truffle oil or butter. While researching what was easily available to me, I found that the Berkeley Bowl was actually carrying fresh black truffles for about $160/lb (via instacart). Given that the page offered no information about these truffles, and that French black truffles are currently selling for $95/oz (a regular truffle weighs an ounce or less), I was quite doubtful of these – but I did learn that truffles are also grown in the West Coast – indeed, as close as Napa Valley – so I imagined they were domestic. My daughter suggests, however, that they might just be expired truffles – not fresh enough to retain much of their flavor. She might have been right.
Ultimately, I decided to give them a try – and so far I’ve had mixed results. I first used them the night I got them by shaving them on a dish of plain pasta served with vegan butter. The truffle shavings completely failed to impart any flavor on the dish. It was a total failure.
For my Christmas Eve dish I decided to do something different. I took part of a truffle and chopped it very finely and infused it in good quality melted butter early in the day – so that it was solid by the time I actually made the sauce for this dish. This, by itself, didn’t give the sauce much truffle flavor, but I think it helped it build, so by the time all the ingredients were combined – the truffle ravioli, the sauce and the shaved truffle on top – the results were delicious. The dish had a very earthy flavor, truffly but not as strong as truffle oil.
I was lucky enough that I was able to follow this recipe closely, as I was able to find the called-for taleggio cheese at the Berkeley Bowl as well. The recipe writer suggests that you can substitute this cheese with Fontina, Robiola or Brie, though to me its flavor was closer to camembert. Indeed, I added a couple of ounces of camembert, as I hadn’t gotten as much taleggio as the recipe called for. I’d probably had done better using less cheese, as the sauce was a tad too salty – I’m making this recommended adjustment in the recipe below.
I wanted to make ravioli in the first place, and was happy to find porcini & truffle ravioli from the Pasta Shop at the Berkeley Bowl. These are made with “truffle essence”, that is to say, the artificial aromatic compound. They were tasty by themselves, but they were really elevated by the sauce and the shaved truffle.
To store truffles before using them, dry the surface with a paper towel and then place in a bowl filled with uncooked rice (to help draw moisture away). Store in the fridge or a cool place in your house.
Ravioli in Truffle Sauce Recipe
12 oz fresh or frozen mushroom ravioli
2-3 Tbsp truffle butter
8 oz taleggio cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes
3/4 cup heavy cream
Parmesan cheese to taste
Cook the ravioli according to package instructions, drain.
Meanwhile, melt the truffle butter, cheese and cream over medium heat – stirring frequently. Transfer the ravioli to the sauce and coat all over. Transfer to a serving dish or individual plates.
My vegan daughter wanted pasta with a creamy pesto sauce for Thanksgiving, and I, of course, obliged. I was fortunate to find this amazing recipe online and both my daughter and her non-vegan sister loved it. It did require a couple of adaptations from the original recipe, noted in the one below.
12 oz pasta
2 cups plain, unsweetened oat milk or another vegan milk
Meanwhile, add the milk, pesto, corn starch, nutritional yeast and salt to a medium sauce pan. Heat over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it starts to boil. Turn heat down to medium and continue whisking until it has the consistency you want, add more cornstarch if necessary.
I made this recipe for vegan pecan pie for Thanksgiving, and my vegan daughter was quite happy with it. Unlike most vegan pie recipes this one didn’t use corn syrup and it wasn’t too sweet. It had the right consistency, however, and the pie set perfectly – no need for eggs.
I was cheap and made it using a Safeway refrigerated pie shell and it was horrible! There are far better vegan pie shells out there. The filling, though, was good:
1 pie shell
3/4 cup canned coconut milk
3 Tbsp cup corn starch
2 Tbsp vegan butter
6 oz pecans, chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake pie crust for 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a bowl. whisk together the coconut milk and corn starch until dissolved. Set aside.
Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it melts. Add the pecans and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Whisk in the coconut milk mixture, brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract and salt.
Pour the mixture onto the pie crust. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Cool on the counter for two hours and then let cool completely on the fridge.
I set out to make chicken tetrazzini as part of my exploration into Italian food for my International Food Project. Alas, after doing a bit more research into the dish, I found out that it’s not Italian at all. Rather, it was apparently created by chef Ernest Arbogast at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in honor of Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini. I had already bought the ingredients to make it, though, as well as those to make a vegan version for my daughter, so I went along and made it for dinner last night.
The regular chicken tetrazzini I made was good, my husband in particular liked it, but not special enough for me to repeat it – so I’m not going to write down the recipe (to make it, I combined this recipe by Ciao Italia with this one by Giada di Laurentiis). My daughter would like me to make the vegan version again, however, so here is the recipe (yes, this blog is mostly for myself):
8 oz spaghetti
2 Tbsp vegan butter, divided
1 Tbsp olive oil
8 oz cremini or button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
salt & pepper to taste
2 tsp flour
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups unsweetened oat, soy or almond milk
a dash of nutmeg
1/2 tsp white wine or apple cider vinegar
4 oz vegan chick’n strips, cubed
1/2 frozen peas
1/2 cup shredded vegan mozarella
1/4 cup vegan panko breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 350°F
Cook spaghetti according to package instructions and set aside.
Melt 1 Tbsp vegan butter and olive oil in a medium or large saucepan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates. Add the onion, garlic and thyme and cook until the onion is soft, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a bowl and set aside.
Add remaining tablespoon of vegan butter to the saucepan and melt over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until you have a thick paste. Whisk in the coconut milk and let cook a few minutes until it thickens, whisking occasionally. Add the non-dairy milk and cook a few more minutes until it thickens. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the vinegar and turn off heat.
Add reserved spaghetti, mushrooms, chick’n and peas to the sauce. Mix well. Transfer mixture onto an 8″x8″ or similar size oven-safe dish. Top with mozarella and breadcrumbs.
I got EveryPlate last week and I was pretty impressed by the food I got. The recipes were simple, they had few ingredients, but they were very tasty. I was particularly blown away by their spicing of ground beef for “been banh mi”. It was so simple, yet delicious! So here is the recipe:
1 Tbsp oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
10 oz ground beef
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp sugar
4 tsp soy sauce
salt & pepper to taste
Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, 4-5 minutes, stirring. Add the ground beef, garlic and sugar and cook, breaking up the clumps of beef, until it’s browned, 4-5 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce. Turn off heat. Taste and season as needed.
This is a vegan cashew cream that you can use in place of soft cheeses in traditional recipes. To my mind, this doesn’t taste anything like cheese – but I’m not vegan. My vegan daughter loved it, however.
2 cups raw cashews
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp salt
~2 cups water
Soak cashews in water for about 4 hours. Drain.
Place the cashews, lemon juice, vinegar, nutritional yeast, Dijon mustard, salt and 1 cup water in an electric blender and process until smooth. Add more water as needed to achieve the consistency you want.