Archives for category: Basil

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Sometimes cooking becomes the daily grind.  You have no creativity and don’t feel like cooking very much.  I was in that place for a little while, a funk, if you will.  I think we all go through phases like this.  I was cooking dinner and just getting by and not expanding my culinary repertoire much.  And then one day I just felt upset, upset that I’ve let something go that I’m so passionate about.

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I thought to myself, I used to go to the Farmers’ Market every Saturday and get inspired, I used to think of how I could start something with food.  I felt sad and felt as though I let myself down.  Why must I doubt myself — why must I get into these phases where I am uninspired?  I’m sure this happens to everyone.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.  Something that helped me get out of this strange aura I was living in, in regard to cooking was that  my friend Christy asked me to participate in a program/class she is involved with on the first 3 Thursdays of every month called the ELLICSR Kitchen.  This is a remarkable program that works with cancer survivors and patients and introduces them to healing, holistic nutrition.

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When Christy asked me to participate I felt a little apprehensive and scared.  I didn’t know how I could speak ON CAMERA.  When I got there I felt much better – the environment was so warm and friendly and I was a little more at ease (still nervous, though!).  Christy Brissette is a Registered Dietician and Nutritionist who explains nutritional components to dishes and Chef Geremy Capone is a wellness chef who expertly prepares all the dishes.  They chose two dishes from my blog and one new dish I created for the workshop and we prepared them together and I shared a little about myself.  Once I got going I was comfortable and I don’t think I fumbled!  The best part was interacting with the lovely audience.  They were so eager to learn and gave me to positive reinforcement I needed.

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I remember one older lady in particular.  She is living in the hospital and wheelchair bound. She is a regular at the ELLICSR kitchen.  She was the the first to arrive so she could get a prized front-row seat.  She is from India and was excited to talk about the spices we had on display. We made a Potato Radish Salad with a Tarka and she throughly enjoyed it because as she explained to me, she loves raw vegetables over cooked ones.  I’m sure she is over 80 years old and she told me about when she was a child in India.  She would accompany her mother weekly to the fruit and vegetable vendors – she would wait all week for this outing.  She loved all the fresh vegetables and would be in awe of all the activity in the market.  There were other mothers and their children at the market, she told me.  They didn’t seem to enjoy the experience as much as she did.  She plucked fresh peas from the overflowing baskets and ate them raw.  She laughed when she said, “my mother used to call me a goat because I loved to graze on green vegetables like a goat and that I was definitely a goat in my previous life.”  I was amazed at how her memory was so vivid.  She talked about her mother as if she was still a child.  She took my email and told me when she goes home she will get in touch with me.  I hope I hear from her soon.

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Since that day, I decided I wanted to reach out more and hear more stories like this.  We all have something to share and we all have memories that will last for decades and need to passed on.  Just lend an ear and give someone some time and without expectation you can gain invaluable insight.

Back into the kitchen I went.  Cooking more and eating out less.  I recently started to make ricotta cheese at home.  So easy and so good.  I made this pasta because these are flavors I love – sweet corn, fruity red chilies, fresh basil, and creamy ricotta.  It’s summer on a plate and the sunshine colors make it all the more appealing.  Share it with friends or family and learn something new about each other.

Some quickly shot photos from the ELLICSR Kitchen Event:

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Sweet Corn, Red Chili Linguine with Fresh Ricotta and Basil

Serves 4

Ingredients

linguine, or pasta of your choice

olive oil

sea salt

4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly

3 mild red chilies, chopped

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies (red chili flakes), optional

2 cups fresh shucked corn, or frozen kernels

fresh ricotta, for serving I used this recipe.

fresh basil leaves in a chiffonade

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Method

In a large sauté pan heat about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-low heat.  Add in the sliced garlic and the fresh red chilies.  Allow them to caramelize and almost confit for about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile cook the linguine according to the package instructions and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.  Add in the crushed red chilies with the garlic and red chilies, if you are using.

Turn the heat up to medium and add in the corn.  Cook the corn for about 5-7 minutes.  Season with salt, to taste and add in the heavy cream and parsley.  Toss in the linguine and add 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid and sauté until it all comes together, about 1-2 minutes.  Add in more pasta cooking liquid, if necessary.  Serve hot and top with a dollop of fresh ricotta and the basil leaves in chiffonade.

I’m an odd one who likes to have a sandwich for breakfast.  I’ll pass up eggs, cereal, french toast, pancakes, waffles for a sandwich.  Though I like all of those things, I prefer this sandwich.  When I visit my parents, I’m always sure to get some jalapeño chicken sausage and make a sandwich out of it for breakfast.  Unfortunately, I can’t find any pork-free chicken sausage here, though I’m sure they exist, so I opt for this vegetarian version.

With or without chicken sausage I am a lover of cheese, bread with almost any other combination.  I like to add basil, chives, and/or cilantro as well.  My sister and I came up with this (genius ;)) combination for breakfast.  We’re big on sandwiches and are known to turn meals into a sandwich.  All you really need is bread.

Spicy chilies and flavors are also a favorite of mine.  Hence, the radishes and jalapeños .  I think everything melds so nicely here: spicy, creamy, and fresh.  The textures all work, too.  Not too shabby if I say so myself.  I have created the perfect form of food in a sandwich.  Yes, I’m being totally sarcastic and I’m sure someone reading this will turn their nose up at this and think, “what is she going on about???”  Regardless, this is my favorite breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner for when I’m not in the mood for something that takes effort to make and after eating this sandwich I’m truly satisfied.

My Favorite Sandwich

There are absolutely no directions on how to make this sandwich.  I’ll give you some rough ideas and you go ahead and make your perfect sandwich.

Ingredients

nice hearty bread (I used honey, nut, flax)

radishes

avocados

good quality tomatoes, like heirloom

cucumbers

jalapeño peppers (fresh or pickled)

cheese of your choice (I used a semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese.)

lime juice

herbs: basil, chives, cilantro, dried herbs de Provence

sea salt

extra-virgin olive oil

Method

Toast bread drizzle on olive oil and dress with toppings of your choice.  I make them open-faced.   Easy!

My stomach is grumbling quite loudly as I am typing this.  It’s the first day of Ramadan and I am fasting.  It’s going to be almost impossible for me to survive this month.  I am feeling the pangs already.  I stocked up on some posts because cooking is going to be hard for me this month, especially since sunset is around 8:15pm.  It’s also difficult for me because my husband is not fasting with me.  His schedule is too busy and he has to study.  I won’t complain much because complaining totally negates the essence of Ramadan.  Cheers to solo fasting!

I hope my husband’s parents didn’t read the line about him not fasting (I’m pretty sure they won’t), they might get upset with him.  Oh well, I guess I can be *evil.*  My parents, on the other hand would not mind.  We try our best to fast, even if we don’t complete the 30 days.

I mentioned I stocked up on posts.  This first one is a roasted beet and carrot dish.  I love beets and love them even more when they are miniature and multicolored.  The Kingston farmer’s market yielded some gorgeous produce this summer.  The taste is incredible, out of this world fresh and full of flavor.  My favorite vendors and Okee Farms and Patchwork Gardens.  I adore their stands and their produce.  Everything is so honest and pure.

I also picked up some basil at the market.  I was at another stall ready to buy some basil, but a fellow shopper yielded me to Pathwork Gardens.  A lady and stroller approached me in a very incognito manner and quietly whispered to me, “Put this basil down and go to Pathwork Gardens, their basil is the best ever.”  Taking her cue, I sneakily put my bunch of basil back on the table and headed over to Patchwork gardens.  I smelled the basil before I saw it, so very fragrant.  I picked it up and thanked the stroller mommy for her help.  She was right and next time if I see someone picking up basil from anyone else, I might be inclined to do the same thing, minus the stroller of course.

I wanted to let the ingredients I have shine through.  Being Pakistani, it seems almost blasphemous to add only salt and pepper to a dish.  I kept it simple and resisted my urges to add more than necessary.  I coated the beets and carrots in olive oil and honey and roasted them.  The honey brought out their natural sweetness and slightly caramelized them.  I topped the beets and carrots with a simple basil and lemon dressing and tossed some toasted walnuts and sliced onion over top.  I must say this dish was truly divine and all the credit goes to the wonderful ingredients.

Honey Glazed & Roasted Beets and Carrots with a Lemon Basil Dressing

Serves 2-4

Ingredients

1 bunch baby beets (red, orange, zebra), about 6

1 bunch red carrots

2 tablespoons honey

1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

salt and black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup toasted walnuts

1/4 of a red onion, sliced finely

some leaves of arugula and basil for garnish

for the dressing:

1 cup packed basil

1 clove of garlic

juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons sour cream

salt and black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (the best you can get)

Method

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Coat the beets and carrots with the honey, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Place in a foil pouch on a baking tray and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until cooked.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining the basil, garlic, lemon juice, sour cream, salt, and pepper in a blender or food processor.  Pulse a few times and stream in the olive oil until it forms a dressing.  If it is thick stream in some water until it reaches the desired consistency.

Slice the beets and arrange on a platter.  I leave a little of the stem on for visual appeal.  I like to put a few leaves of arugula on the bottom as a bed.  Next, top with the red onions and walnuts.  Drizzle on the dressing and tear a few leaves of basil, as a garnish.

You all might be getting sick of my husband stories.  I know, believe me, we do not need to know about every couple’s every move.  But, I try not to be so PDA (public display of affection) style.  So, maybe you guys don’t mind.

Regardless of all this, I had to make something for my husband’s birthday.  Out of the four years we have been together, two of them married, I have never cooked for him on his birthday.  We opt for going out.  When, I first met my husband, in the early stages, I made lofty promises that I would make my husband this and that, including a rack of lamb (forget about it), an all-American burger (done!) and other things I can’t even bother to remember.

On this birthday, I was stumped, I even considered making the rack of lamb, but the butcher only had one sorry-looking rack left.  Thus, I was saved from that task.  My husband is a carnivore, so I knew red meat would have to be an option.  I love ribeye steaks, so juicy, tender, and flavorful.  I picked some up and went on from there.

At the farmer’s market, I saw garlic scapes, for the first time in person.  They almost reminded me of coiled parrot-green snakes, smooth and bright.  I have been intrigued by them for a few years and really wanted to use the garlic scapes in a dish.  The vendor told me they are great grilled or in a pesto.  I bought them and brought them home, and decided to try and make a salsa out of them.  Mind you, I was taking a risk on my husband’s birthday dinner and it may have well all failed and we would be going out for his birthday.  Thankfully, the salsa came together nicely.  Pungent, herbacious and ready to take on the bold flavors of the steak.

All that was left was the the corn salad.  It was so simple and fresh.  As a last-minute addition I decided to toss in some toasted pumpkin seeds.  The crunch, texture, and most of all the salty goodness really elevated the salad.  I was proud of myself for coming up with this meal for my husband’s birthday.  I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process and loved actually plating the dish in restaurant style.  For me, it’s all about the colors and this dish delivered vibrancy.  Most of all my husband loved it.

Ribeye Steaks with a Garlic Scape Salsa Verde and an Avocado, Corn, Tomato Salad

Serves 2 big eaters

for the Salsa Verde:

Ingredients

10-15 garlic scapes

1/2 a bunch cilantro

1 cup packed basil leaves

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded if you wish

juice of one juicy lime

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

water to loosen it up, if necessary

Method

On a grill pan or sauté pan, cook the garlic scapes on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until they are lightly charred.  Add all the herbs including the garlic scapes into a blender or food processor.  Begin to pulse a few times, toss in the jalapenos, lime juice, salt, and pepper.  Run your blender or food processor until everything is finely chopped, next stream in the extra virgin olive oil until everything is uniform and combined.  If the mixture is too thick, loosen it up with some water.  If you want to be extra perfect run the sauce through a sieve, I didn’t do this.  Before serving, lightly warm the salsa verde in a saucepan.

for the Avocado, Corn, and Tomato Salad:

Ingredients

1 cup fresh corn

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes,halved

1 avocado, in chunks

juice of one lime

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

a few sprigs of cilantro, chives, and garlic scapes, chopped

2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

Method

Mix together all the ingredients—so simple!

for the Steaks:

Ingredients

2- 1 pound ribeye steaks, at room temperature, I used boneless

generous amounts of salt and black pepper)

drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Season the steaks with the salt and pepper on both sides and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Heat a large oven-safe sauté pan on the stove (medium heat).  Place the steaks in the hot pan on the stove and do not touch them for about 5 minutes.  Flip them over and cook for one minute on the stove top and transfer the pan to oven for 4-5 more minutes for medium rare.  Remove them from the oven and let them rest for 10-15 minutes.

to assemble the plate:

Spoon the salsa verde on the bottom of a plate, as much as you like, I used about 1/2 a cup per plate.  Place the rested steak on top, if you wish you can slice it against the grain on an angle and arrange it over top, I chose to leave it whole.  Place some of the corn salad on top on the steak and sprinkle a few toasted pumpkin seeds around the plate.

*No birthday is complete without a cake.  So, I also made him his favorite vanilla bean cheesecake, which I will put up soon.

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You could easily step into your grocery store and grab a bottle of “Classico”, heat it up and toss it with pasta.  Sure, we get lazy, sure we don’t feel like cooking every day.  But, making a fresh tomato sauce is almost as easy as opening up a bottle of jarred sauce, and the taste has no comparison.  I know a traditional tomato sauce consists of a mirepoix of carrots, celery, and onions.  To me, a simpler sauce without the onions,carrots, and celery tastes almost like perfection.  I use shallots, garlic, and thyme infused garlic-chili oil inspired by Ina Garten as my base.  The shallots are sweeter and smoother, giving the sauce a softer taste.  The herb infused oil gives the sauce extra boldness and rounds out the flavors.

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Of course, fresh tomatoes are the best.  However, even with all the organic, pesticide-free, heirloom, local varieties of tomatoes available to us here in America, the taste is just not the same as San Marzano tomatoes.  I am a firm believer in eating local whenever possible, but until I find a suitable tomato for sauce I will stick to canned San Marzano tomatoes.  They are becoming more and more common.  Chefs on Food Network always mention them and even budget conscious cooks are embracing them. During an undergraduate spring break, I travelled to Italy, and to this day I remember how sweet and delicious Italian tomatoes are.

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My recipe is simple, the longer it simmers the better.  But, if you don’t have 4 hours to simmer your sauce, an hour should be just fine.  I like to keep the sauce simple.  I sometimes opt to add ricotta cheese to the sauce to give it a little more smoothness, but this is entirely optional and non-traditional.

Tomato Sauce:

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

a glug of extra-virgin olive oil (about 4 tablespoons)

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilis (or to taste)

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

3 shallots, chopped

1 bay leaf

2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

a 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano Tomatoes, slightly pureed (if they are not available to you then use the best quality canned tomatoes you can source)

2 heaping tablespoons ricotta cheeseIMG_7916

freshly grated parmigiano reggiano for garnish

fresh torn basil leaves

Method:

Prepare the herb-garlic infused oil by taking a small sauce saucepan on medium heat and adding the olive oil to it.  Let the oil heat up slightly and next add the crushed red chilies and allow to infuse the oil for 30 seconds, next add in the thyme and garlic and allow them to settle in the oil for a minute.  Turn down the heat to low heat (almost medium) so that the garlic does not burn and turn bitter.  Let the flavors come together, about 15-20 minutes.  In a larger pot add the herb-garlic infused oil with the springs of thyme and allow to heat up at medium heat.  Next, add the shallots and the bay leaf allow the shallots to sweat.  When the shallots are translucent pour in the red wine vinegar and move the pot away form the heat.  The vinegar will be burning off, so this may irritate your eyes, use caution.  Once the vinegar steam has settled put in the tomatoes and salt into the pot.  Stir everything together and allow to simmer on low heat for about an hour.  After an hour or so, taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.  Discard the bay leaf and any thyme stems left in the sauce.  Tear in fresh basil leaves and  mix the ricotta cheese into the sauce until combined.  Serve with any pasta of your choice and top with grated parmigiano reggiano and fresh basil leaves to garnish.

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This sauce can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, you name it.  It is a basic sauce that is quite versatile.  It be used in pastas, for dipping, on pizza, as a base for tomato soup, in eggplant/chicken/veal parmesan and the list could go on and on.  You can add olives, ground meat, vegetables, or whatever you fancy!

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