Saturday, June 23, 2012

Authentic Pesto

One thing that is always a staple in my garden is basil. When my tomatoes wilt under the hot Texas sun and I become disenchanted with gardening in such harsh conditions once again (it is a seasonal disorder with me), I can always count on my basil. I usually plant way more than I can use. Making homemade pesto is one of those "have to" summer activities, but it has taken me a while to get around to making a batch this year. The boys and I got invited to a potluck yesterday, so I finally made my way out to the garden to pick a handful of the fragrant herb and mix up a batch of fresh pesto to serve with some chewy garlic sourdough bread. There was no pesto left to take home at the end of the night, a pleasing compliment to the chef.

I couldn't find the pesto recipe I usually work from, so I turned to one of my favorite food blogs, 101 Cookbooks. The process of making authentic pesto involves a lot of chopping. I must confess I don't own a single good knife. When I moved in with my husband, he owned a good set of knives. He took them with him when he moved out. Nough said. My single knife is a $3 bargain that I picked up after he left from, ugh, yeah...Walmart. Yes, that is my El Cheapo knife in the photo below. I chopped and chopped the best I could and here I hang my head in shame, unable to look all the Italian grandmothers in the eye. I resorted to my little food processor to finish the chopping. You just gotta work with what you have. It still tasted delicious.


1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried
3 medium cloves of garlic
one small handful of raw pine nuts
roughly 3/4 cup Parmesan, loosely packed and FRESHLY GRATED
A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Start by chopping the garlic, then add in the basil leaves in small bunches and continue chopping. Once you have the basil and garlic chopped fairly consistently, add in the pine nuts and chop some more.  Here is where I resorted to the food processor. Add all the chopped ingredients into the food processor with the Parmesan cheese. Pulse until all ingredients are chopped. Do not over process. You want it to remain fairly course, not a fine paste. Scrape into small bowl and add olive oil. I used about 4 tablespoons to get the desired consistency I wanted.

For more detailed directions on how to make pesto like an Italian grandma, visit 101 Cookbooks. No food processors, but plenty of sharp knives.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Alphabet Activity and Tofu Cheese Fail

First, for the tofu cheese fail. I decided to try a vegan recipe for lasagne swirls with tofu ricotta cheese. I have been experimenting with adding more tofu to our diet. I should have known, however, to just stop right there and go with real cheese when the tofu cheese recipe called for tahini. I like hummus, but the sesame taste is just wrong for an Italian dish and too foreign for little boy tongues. The eldest took one bite and declared, "Mom, I don't like this." He dutifully ate his and excused himself from the table, making barfing noises along the way. The littlest cautiously tasted his portion, screwed his little face into a look that said, "There is no way I'm gonna eat that crap, Mom!" OK, I hope my little one doesn't ever use the word crap, but the poor guy was not happy about the flavor explosion in his mouth. He gave it a valiant try and resorted to eating plain noodles left over in the pan. As for me, I didn't find it repulsive, but I did find myself longing for the creamy gooeyness of real cheese. As you can see from the photo above, it looks innocent enough, but don't let looks fool you.

However, out of failure comes success. I am super excited to be sending out a special mailing to my photography clients and to make it really special, the boys and I headed to Office Depot to look for some nice envelopes. No go. Well, Micheal's was next door, so of we went. Turns out they are closing this particular location and I couldn't find what I wanted there either.

While passing through the wood craft isle, the little one got himself worked up over those large wooden letters they sell. I picked out B-E-N and showed him how they spelled his name. He clutched the letters to his little chest like a cherished treasure. I really didn't want to spend $12 on three letters from the alphabet. I really thought it would be a good thing to take advantage of his eagerness to learn his letters, though. I'd been meaning to make him a set of Montessori inspired sand paper letters but, well, add it to the list.

Big brother came to the rescue. He lead us two isles over, where we discovered a whole bag of little wooden letters, the entire alphabet and a few extras thrown in, for the price of one of the big ones. Meanwhile, the little guy was filling the cart with overpriced wooden numbers. Somehow I convinced him to give up the numbers for the bag of letters and away we went.

This evening, while Momma was ruining dinner, I set the little one up at the kitchen counter with paint and wooden letters. As he painted each letter, he named the one's he recognized and I helped him with the rest. We sounded out each letter and came up with words that began with those sounds. Now he has beautifully painted letters to use for letter recognition and spelling simple words. Pick up a batch for a reasonably priced learning aide for your little learner that provides a more tactile approach than plain old flash cards. Put them in a nice little box with a handle, and they even become portable.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Homemade Flour Tortillas Without Lard

I have lived in Texas for nearly 14 years and never made tortillas from scratch until a couple days ago. It's just so easy to throw a pack of 20 into the cart at the grocery. And I must confess, I grew up in Ohio where the only "Mexican" cuisine to be had was Taco Bell or for a homemade cultural experience, hard shells filled with greasy ground beef seasoned with a mysterious flavor packet from a box (ick). And tor-tee-ya was pronounced tor-till-a. I thought there must be something difficult about making them from scratch. I am a true Texas convert now. The boys and I will only eat homemade from now on. They are easy, though perhaps a little time consuming, and much better than store bought. I think next time I will get the boys involved. It would be a great family activity.

I used the left over broth from boiling the tofu cutlets to cook up a batch of black beans, adding a bit of garlic, cumin, pepper, thyme, and salt to season them. The black beans made a perfect filling for the fresh tortillas. No one complained when we had leftovers the next night. In fact, my oldest son had so many compliments for the chef this momma was beaming.

Put on your apron, pull out the flour, and make up a batch of tor-tee-ya's tonight.

Homemade Tortillas

3 cups unbleached flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup hot water

Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder together thoroughly. Add the oil and mix with your hands until the flour mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add hot water and mix until a ball is formed. Cover and let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes. (If leaving overnight, place in refrigerator)

Divide dough into 12 even sized balls and roll out one at a time on a floured surface. Brush off excess flour and cook on a hot, ungreased griddle (I love my cast iron) over medium high heat. Turn the tortilla when brown blisters form. Serve warm.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Homemade Blackberry Ice Cream

Yesterday I dusted off the ice cream maker to make our first batch of ice cream for the summer. Since we had blackberries on hand from last week's trip to Green Country Farms it was perfect to use them up in a batch of ice cream. Ah, what a little bit of heaven for the taste buds! If we had this sitting in the freezer all the time I'd probably gain 20 pounds! My oldest son is already asking me to make another batch sometime and we still have plenty left from this one. But I hear the peaches have already shown up in the farmer's market and fresh peach ice cream also sounds like a piece of summertime heaven to me. We have one more batch of blackberries in the freezer, so I am sure we will be having another batch of blackberry ice cream before the summer is over.

I keep thinking about Ohio and Mom and Dad. I would love for the boys to go berry picking with their Papaw, and then we could whip up a batch of ice cream to share on their back porch while listening to the sounds of a summer evening. Maybe the boys could even help Dad make a batch of blackberry jam to take home with us so we could savor our visit long after we return home. But, sadly, it doesn't look like a trip to Ohio is in the cards anytime soon. 

Blackberry Ice Cream

3 cups blackberries
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 1/4 cups half and half
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract

Place berries in a food processor bowl and puree. If desired, run berry mixture through cheesecloth to remove seeds (recommended). Set aside. 

In large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and half and half. If using, split vanilla bean in half and scrape seeds into mixture. If not, add vanilla extract and mix well. Stir in berries and pour into ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tofu Cutlets Using Frozen Tofu

In an attempt to eat less meat, I have been trying tofu recipes on the boys. My first attempt at feeding them tofu was nothing extraordinary. In fact, my oldest would agree it was quite bland. Running low on groceries and wondering what to do with the block of tofu in the freezer, I did what any modern hippy would do...I googled it. After reading several ways to prepare frozen tofu I ventured into the kitchen to cook up some tofu cutlets. The boys wolfed them down, even Mr. Picky, my three year old. And I wholeheartedly agree they are delicious. So far, this is my favorite way to prepare tofu, even though it takes a couple of steps. Next time I think I'll try these with some barbeque dipping sauce on the side and maybe add a little garlic to the broth.

It is recommended that the tofu is removed from the package and the water drained from it before freezing, but I just stuck the whole thing in the freezer. Apparently draining the water from the tofu before freezing results in a less watery final product. Also good to know, if you have never frozen tofu before, the texture and color changes. It develops a yellow tint and a texture that makes it more "meat like".

Tofu Cutlets

1 frozen package good quality tofu (do not thaw)
2 cups vegetable broth
1-2 Tbsp soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Amino
about 1 cup unbleached flour
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying

Add broth and soy sauce or Bragg's in a medium saucepan. Set block of frozen tofu in pan and thaw in broth mixture over medium heat, turning tofu occasionally if broth does not cover. Remove tofu from broth when thawed thoroughly and slice into 1/2 inch thick cutlets. Cover bottom of skillet with a generous amount of oil and heat on medium heat. Dredge cutlets in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Fry in oil until both sides are golden brown. Serve hot.

*Note - the left over broth may be used as a base for other dishes. Add a couple garlic cloves to the broth and cook up a batch of black beans or maybe use as the beginnings of a nice vegetable soup.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Blackberry Cobbler and A Day in The Country

The best days for me anymore occur when the boys and I are creating new memories in places not associated with the good ole' days. We did just that on Sunday when we ventured out of town to Green Country Farm near Floresville, Texas and spend a quiet overcast afternoon picking organic blackberries. The boys had a blast. The little one took his job of pulling the wagon around quite seriously and his older brother turned it into the search for the biggest, juiciest berries he could find. I was quite amazed, and surprised, at how delicately my three year old handled the berries. I really was expecting a whole lot of squished berries. I was also expecting some covert snacking, but I didn't catch any of that either.

I, of course, brought my camera along to capture a few photos from our afternoon. So in between chasing down Ben with the wagon and picking berries I got a few pics of my city boys enjoying their day in the country.

Mr. Pullin, the gentleman who owns the farm, sent us away with four ears of freshly picked corn and a handful of figs as well. I wish I had captured a pic of him leading the boys out to the field of corn to give the oldest a lesson on how to tell if its ready to pick, but I had already put my camera back into the car.

Tonight I took some of our delicious berries and made cobbler. Oh, my, we were in heaven when that first bite touched our lips! We ate the corn tonight too. The little one had never eaten corn on the cob before and didn't quite know how to handle it. Thomas, on the other hand, was horrified to find a worm in each ear when he cleaned it. I don't know about you but I'd rather pick out a little worm than deal with all the pesticides it would take to kill it.

And here it is. The recipe for blackberry cobbler. Summer is officially here!

Blackberry Cobbler

4 cups blackberries
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 large egg
1 cup sugar 
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
6 Tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place blackberries in a lightly greased 8x8 inch baking dish, sprinkle with lemon juice. Stir together egg, sugar, and flour until mixture resembles a course meal. Sprinkle evenly over fruit. Drizzle melted butter over topping. Bake for 35 minutes, or until light brown and bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes. Serve with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream or whipped topping, if desired.