Pesto Week – Friday

Dear readers, welcome to pesto week here at A Glass of Milk.  I’m hoping your garden is bursting at the seams with basil, just like K’s.  Since she asked me what to do with all that green, we’re spending the week talking about my favorite herb, and my favorite sauce.  Which also means taking a trip down memory lane.  Enjoy the ride!

Except today isn’t about pesto.  Today is just about basil.  It’s Friday.  It’s my birthday!  We’re breaking the rules!  It’s time for a drink.

I dare you to slip some vodka into this baby.  It remains the beverage of my dreams.

You know the day you can smell spring coming?  When it has been too cold for too long and suddenly you walk outside and it just feels different?  The first day you roll the windows down in your car?

I call it a Dave Matthews day, because that’s the kind of mood I’m in.  I switch to my “Chill” playlist and need fresh flavors in the kitchen.

In the fall and winter, I drink milk, water, beer and wine.  That’s it.  I don’t drink juice, I don’t drink soda, I don’t drink coffee(!).  Empty calories.

In the spring and summer I break my rules for lemonade.  I cannot resist fresh-squeezed.  I played around with the perfect ratio of lemons to water to simple syrup (and the ratio of sugar to water in that) and then I found this.  Giada.  You have truly outdone yourself.  Many reviewers called for more water, and I got on board with that.  But if you watch Giada make this, you’ll notice the glasses into which she pours the finished product are almost completely filled with ice.  In my head, a happy place where Giada can do no wrong, she has the situation covered with her large, ice-filled glasses.

The basil simple syrup makes the lemonade (do you believe it?) even cooler and more refreshing.  It feels like a drink someone would offer you at a spa.  Definitely one worth sipping on the porch.

**Updated** Ummmmmm, this is pretty much destiny, folks!  Now back to the show…

Italian Lemonade

*adapted from Giada De Laurentiis…I did add more water, and only filled the glasses with a couple of cubes of ice.  I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live their life.  Lemonade is a matter of taste as well as personal convictions.  You may enjoy different amounts of water, sugar and lemons.  This was what worked for me.

  • 2 C lemon juice (12-15 lemons)
  • 4 C water, flat or sparkling (ooh la la)
  • 1C water
  • 2 C sugar
  • 1 bunch basil, washed and stemmed
  • Ice
  • lemon slices and basil sprigs for garnish (ups the glam factor)

First, you’re going to make basil simple syrup.  Simple syrup is sugar that’s heated up with water until it dissolves.  Basil simple syrup is sugar that’s heated up with water until it dissolves but also has basil added for infused flavor.  Don’t you want to be able to say you made a basil infused simple syrup?  You’ll be ready for Top Chef in no time!

Pour 1 C flat water in a small sauce pan, with basil and 2 C sugar.  Stir, stir, stir, until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Strain syrup through a fine mesh sieve.  Discard the basil leaves.  They’ve given you all they could.

From there, pour the lemon juice, simple syrup and water in a pitcher and give it a stir.  Serve in cute little glasses with ice and a lemon twist.  Get ready for spring.

*I am posting this under drinks as well as cocktails because it has serious potential.

Timing is Everything

Do you remember being little and comparing bedtimes with all your friends?  Sous Chef Lauren barely had a bedtime past third grade, and I was the one whose parents made sure the lights were off by 8:00 p.m.  8:30 at the latest.  (Full House was on at 8:00, after all.)

In high school I remember waiting for winter and spring breaks to roll around because I was allowed to be out with my friends later than usual.

The problem was no matter how late I stayed up, I was awake by 8:00 every morning.

I’ve always been a morning person.

lemon ziti

This crazy idea hit me earlier this year and I felt like an idiot for spending almost 29 years of my life figuring it out.  The idea is simple: If you’re tired, go to sleep.

Whaaaaaaat?

It’s a liberating premise, I know.  I’m not sure why I was still holding on to the idea that it’s cool to go to bed as late as possible well into my adult years.  Yes, it was cool when you were 8.  But after that, who cares?  Isn’t sleep something we all wish we got more of?

lemon ziti

That’s how I feel about mealtimes too. (Also this picture keeps flipping sideways no matter what I do, and I really want to show you this, and I cannot seem to fix it.  #bloggerproblems)

There are people from all over the map who will tell you it’s not really dinner if you ate it before 7:00, or 8:00, or 9:00 (I’m looking at you Barcelona).  Growing up we ate at 6:30 on the nose each night.  When I found out a friend from college ate at 5:00 I thought he was crazy.

What’s the big deal?

When you’re hungry, eat.

Giada’s lemon ziti makes for a glorious late lunch.  But maybe it was just a really early dinner.  I tweaked it based on years of mac and cheese experience, and loved the way it turned out–creamy without being heavy at all.  Lemon will do that for you.

To make it, you will need:

For the casserole:

  • 1 pound ziti, or other short-cut pasta, prepared according to package directions
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/4 C flour
  • 3 1/2 C milk (she says whole, I used 2%)
  • zest of two lemons
  • 3/4 C grated Parmesan
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 C fresh chopped basil
  • 2 T fresh chopped thyme
  • 1/4 C lemon juice
  • 2 C shredded mozzarella

For the topping:

  • 2/3 C breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 C grated Parmesan
  • olive oil, for drizzling (I used a basil infused oil here–fun!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In medium saucepan, melt butter.  Stir flour in, and cook on low heat for about 2 minutes, just to cook the flour a bit.  Pour in milk, and add lemon zest.  Cook over medium heat, stirring pretty constantly, till thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.  This should take between 5 and 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, and stir in Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

Add pasta to a 9 x 13 casserole dish, and pour in lemon juice, basil, and thyme.  Give everything a good stir so the flavors are distributed throughout the dish.  Pour cream sauce over pasta, and let settle into nooks and crannies.  Depending on the thickness of your sauce, you may need to help this along by giving it a stir.

Top with breadcrumbs and Parmesan, and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until bread crumbs are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling up to the surface.

Lazy Dinner, Option 2

Lazy dinner, option 2 is my favorite kind of lazy dinner.  The kind where you take stuff that you need to use up, throw it in a pan with some eggs and walk away from the table like you meant for it to turn out that well.

Plus it counts as breakfast the next day, too.

It’s a frittata, which is a surprisingly comforting dish.  I didn’t meet frittatas until just after college, but I wish I had known them sooner.

A frittata is like a quiche without the crust, or an omelet without the flip.  When making a frittata, the only thing you need to worry about is your favorite mix-in combination.  Leek and mushroom?  Broccoli, ham and cheddar?  Peppers and spinach?

This time around I did potato and prosciutto, a la Giada.

A good rule of thumb for your frittata base is to whisk 6 eggs, 1/4 C milk (2% or fattier), plenty of salt and pepper, and basil.  Stir in 2 C worth of mix ins and fry that baby up.

Preheat the broiler.  Coat the bottom of an oven-safe skillet with olive oil and heat it up.  Add your mix ins first if you need to cook them (in this case, the onion and potato).  Cook over medium-low heat till done, then add egg mixture.  Let cook on stovetop for 3-4 minutes, until eggs are almost set.  Finish in the broiler for another 4 minutes.  Sprinkle with lots of cheese and more basil, salt and pepper.

Cakes

They’re not always baked.

Sometimes they’re molded into patties and pan-fried.  Like these couscous cakes, courtesy of Giada.  How many times have you heard someone say they use their leftover grains to make cakes before?  If you hang around a kitchen long enough it’s bound to happen.  Risotto, shredded potatoes, polenta, couscous, rice, and Grandma Glass of Milk mentioned grits last time I saw her–all these leftover grains can be molded into cakes.  Considering I’m an equal-opportunity carb lover, it’s a wonder I hadn’t tried them in my years in the kitchen.

Giada’s couscous cakes have coriander and cilantro, which I can’t say I’ve ever eaten in large quantities.  The last time I can remember using the duo was in my tikka masala.  It’s a unique combination for someone who eats pretty tame flavors–lemon, herbs and olive oil to name a few–one I’m wishing was still sitting in cake form in my fridge.  Which is shocking considering the utter lack of Parmesan cheese in these.  I didn’t even miss it.  I’m going to start making couscous for the sole purpose of making cakes with the leftovers.  They’re so snackable.

To make 8 cakes, you will need:

  • 2 Cups leftover, cooked couscous (you could cook 1 Cup if you were starting from scratch to end up with about 2 Cups cooked)
  • 1/4 C finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander (don’t skimp here, go get some)
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 3/4 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 T all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 C mango chutney for serving, if you wish
Combine the first 8 ingredients in a bowl and mix with your best tool–your hands.  Sprinkle the flour on top and mix again, just till combined.  In a large, nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Form the couscous mixture into eight patties.  Add four to the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels and cook the next batch.  Serve with chutney and some more cilantro, or just eat them fresh out of the oven.

Red, White and Green

Giada is the queen of orzo, and her tricolore salad is no exception.  This one has a completely different feel from my favorite, but remains a fantastic make it on Sunday, enjoy it for lunch throughout the week dish.

This is also a great way to get some more green into your diet.  I’ve never been a huge fan of salad greens, but when they’re mixed in with orzo and dried cranberries (which I use instead of the cherries she calls for), they don’t bother me at all.

The Lovely Giada

*photo from foodnetwork.com

If you’re reading this blog, I can’t see who you are, where you’re from, or how many times you’ve clicked here in the past ten days looking for an update, only to be disappointed.  But, WordPress does let me see what you Googled in order to land here.  One of yesterday’s results?  “Giada’s man hands.”  I recreated the search on my own and aglassofmilk does not show up on the first five pages of results.  Which was about four pages more than I wanted to look through anyway.  I’m not too worried about Giada’s hands.  Giada seems lovely to me.  And I can safely say that of all the possible posts I might dream up in the future, I just can’t picture myself posting about the hands of a beloved Food Network star.  Come back anytime, though.