Thursday, August 27, 2009

Late Summer Garden: Basil Pesto

Sweet baby girl picking basil from the garden.

The end of summer is near. Well, the kids are all back in school but the weather hasn't changed much. Nevertheless, all the summer gardening has come to fruition, the tomatos are delicious and the watermelons are growing. Or maybe you just threw some basil in a pot and called it quits when the temperature soared to the 100's in JUNE! Either way, it's time to use some of the leaves from those giant basil plants that we keep pruning before they go to seed and turn bitter. So here is your August reminder...pick that basil... and if you are wondering what to do with it, here are a few ideas.

Consider tomato basil soup, the recipe is coming soon, though I realize this little gem has been cirulating for some time. The kids love it with a small salad or fresh veggies and sourdough bread. Think "La Madeleine". Maybe grab a few leaves and tuck them along with some sundried tomatos under the skin of your chicken before you bake it.

Or, make some pesto! We have made this recipe several times in my cooking classes and the kids really like it. Pesto is readily available at the supermarket these days, but I promise, if you make'll appreciate the difference. So, gather all the family together at the table and enjoy this simple but delicious recipe.

Fresh Basil Pesto with Pasta

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

You do need either a food processor or blender to make pesto! First, combine the basil and the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor or blend on high a few seconds in the blender. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor or blender is in motion. Stop to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. It will make about 1 cup of pesto which is enough for a pound of pasta.

Fresh pesto is great on any kind of pasta but bowtie pasta is fun and yummy! So, cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain the boiling pasta. Then immediately pour into a bowl and add the pesto while the pasta is still steaming hot. Add a salad and serve to your family and friends for a yummy dinner!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chicken and Dumplings

Fall is coming and even though we are still sweltering in the Texas heat, I find myself looking over all those warm, delicious recipes I make when autumn finally does arrive. I decided to share my mom’s chicken and dumplings recipe with you, because I honestly make this year round.

Each of my children request this meal on their birthdays (no happy meals for them) and just yesterday my daughter asked me to make it for dinner. Now I realize EVERYONE in the south has a favorite version of chicken and dumplings passed down from Grandma, but I created a short cut for those of us with extremely busy lives. So, crank down the AC, pretend it’s a cool autumn evening and try my version of a Southern classic.

Mom’s Chicken and Dumplings


1 whole cooked rotisserie chicken (see my February blog for recipe or pick one up at the grocery store if you are in a hurry)

2 quarts of water

1-2 teaspoons salt

pepper to taste

carrots (optional)


3 cups flour

1½ cups water

1 teaspoon salt

Place the rotisserie chicken in a large cooking pot and cover with water (approximately 2 quarts) and cover with lid. Place on stove and cook over low heat letting it simmer for 1- 1 ½ hours. Remove pot from heat and carefully place chicken on a large plate or platter. Strain and reserve all stock, pouring it back into the pot. Place the stock pot with stock back over low heat and continue to simmer. Let chicken cool and then debone, pulling it into small pieces and placing in the broth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

As the chicken broth simmers, make the dumplings. Measure 3 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add 1½ cups water and stir until the dough comes together into a nice ball. Flour a work surface and place dough in the center, kneading just until the dough comes together and is smooth. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin into a rectangle approximately 12” by 15” or until dough is a ¼ inch thick. Cut dough lengthwise into long 1 inch strips. Then cut each strip into 2 inch pieces forming large bite-sized pieces.

My dumplings are rectangles about 1”x2” but you can make them any size. Dust the top of the dumplings with more flour and carefully drop them into the simmering broth one or two at a time. After all the dumplings are in, you can add baby carrots as an option is you want to sneak in some vegetables. Simmer for another 20 minutes and serve.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

French Madeleines

French Madeleines

I am so excited! I just got my new madeleine pan delivered to my door from Amazon. I felt just like a little kid opening a package on Christmas morning. I don't know how many of you have enjoyed these tasty little cakes, but they are wonderful when served fresh from the oven. You can buy them at La Madeleines or Starbucks even, but they are not cheap. They taste great with coffee or hot tea and I have wanted to make my own for some time now. I perused several recipes, but never could find the special madeleine pan when shopping around town.

I finally decided to just buy online and in just a couple of magic it was sitting at my door. So, today I will share a recipe with you for Madeleines. I actually read over several recipes and tried a few of them, but the key factor that gives them their nutty flavor, seems to be in melting and browning the butter. Not all recipes call for this, but it is worth the extra time.

Speaking of time, it really doesn't take much time at all. It takes about the same time as homemade chocolate chip cookies, but oh so good! Only problem is that they don't last. This is now the sad fact...I wish that I would have bought 2 pans, so that I could have double batches cooking at the same time. Oh, birthday is coming up so I'll file that "gift idea" for later. Technically you could make these little cakes in a mini muffin pan, but they do look beautiful in their classic shell pattern. So, think about the small a madeleine crumbles in my mouth, I decide it is worth it!

French Madeleines Recipe

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter 4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar 1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
1 cup flour 1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of one large lemon powered sugar

First, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat until it's brown and gives off a deliciously nutty aroma. The butter will need to cook around 20 minutes, to achieve the beautiful golden brown color. Remove butter from heat and strain it over a small bowl using a paper towel over a mesh strainer. You want to remove the fat solids and leave the clarified butter.

While the butter is cooling, spray cooking oil evenly into each shell of the madeleine pan making sure you get into all the ridges. Dust with flour and invert the pan, tapping out the excess flour.

Crack the four eggs into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. You can use a hand held mixer if you want, just be sure to use a spatula when folding in the flour. Add salt and whip on high speed until thick and the eggs double to triple in volume, approximately 3 minutes. Continue to mix on high speed, slowly adding the sugar in a steady stream. Whip for another couple minutes unitl the mixture is thick.

Fold in the lemon zest and vanilla with a spatula. Next, fold in the flour and butter mixture, alternating each and stirring just until incoporated. Sppon battter into the molds of the pan, filling each one 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until the edges of the Madeleines are golden brown. Remove from oven and unmold immediately. Cool on racks and dust with powdered sugar.