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.

 

Fall is Here [couscous with apples, cranberries, and herbs]

*This title is dedicated to one of A Glass of Milk’s youngest readers (you made it!).

In late September, I went to a one-year-old’s birthday party.  The world of children’s soirees is new territory for me.  Until that day, my only experience came from my favorite episode of Sex and the City (“This is a child’s birthday party,” anyone?).  This particular fete was hosted by a friend of mine who is always pulled-together and who always creates a great menu.  It was there that I met Israeli Couscous with Apples, Cranberries and Herbs.  Which is a terrible name.  It will henceforth be called Fall Couscous.

This super-yellow photo is the only evidence I have that fall couscous ever existed in my home.  I served it at our housewarming party and one little lunch-sized portion was all I had left.  This is a Giada salad, folks.  Which means it is the perfect balance of flavors, textures, seasonings, even colors.  And it tastes like fall.  The woody rosemary, mixed with crisp apples and crunchy almonds all complement the shifting seasons.

I swapped Israeli for regular couscous and therein lies the secret to the recipe’s success.  It takes about 10 minutes to make.  Perfect for entertaining.  I doubled the recipe and this salad was finished approximately 10 minutes before guests were scheduled to knock on my door.  And everyone loved it.

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous (I used regular and will tell you what I did if you scroll down)
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (Want to make this a vegetarian recipe?  Cook it in vegetable stock.)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 medium green apple, diced
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted (I didn’t toast mine, shhhhh!)

And for the vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

This is what Giada says to do:

For the couscous: In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the couscous and cook, stirring occasionally until slightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated. Transfer the cooked couscous to a large bowl and set aside to cool. Add the parsely, rosemary, thyme, apple, dried cranberries, and almonds.

For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, maple syrup , salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth. Pour the vinaigrette over the couscous and toss to coat evenly.

***Now, if you are working with regular couscous, your recipe will be a little different.  You’ll want 2 C of couscous if you’re making one batch, and 4 C if you’re making a double load.  However, when you make couscous, you need to use an equal amount of broth.  So, 2 C couscous, 2 C broth, 4 C couscous, 4 C broth.  The cooking method is also different.  Bring the broth and olive oil to a rolling boil in a saucepan (you can make the dressing while you’re waiting for this to happen).  Once it’s boiling, remove the pan from heat, stir in the couscous, cover, and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and be careful not to spill the little flecks all over your stove.

Orzo [summer orzo salad]

This summer has been surprisingly relaxing.  Typically, I’m out of town each weekend, but this summer I’ve been hanging around D.C. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  I think it has a lot to do with the World Cup.  My husband does not look forward to anything as much as he looks forward to a month of intense soccer.  So call it a stay-cation or call it boring, I’m finding lots to do just outside my four walls.  Though I work most mornings in the summer, I have the afternoons to myself.  I’ve adopted a summer uniform and a couple of go-to summer dishes that I eat out on my balcony.

Without further ado, the uniform:

I wish I had three of these shirts, but sadly, I only have one.  It’s so lightweight, you can layer a tank under it or wear it by itself, and it’s super soft.  The color is just barely there, but it goes perfect with my summer “neutral”…

Nantucket Read.  Or as J.Crew is calling it this year, “pale cinnabar.”  Whatever.  I pair it with yellow oxfords, light blue polos, and of course, my new favorite summer shirt.

And the shoes that leave me in eager anticipation of Memorial Day every year (I will not wear them before, I don’t care what you say).  Jack Rogers.  I know there is an intense rivalry between JRs and Stephen Bonannos, but I side with Jack.  I remember eating lunch at some club in Southampton one summer when I was 7 or 8.  Lined up all along the deck were heaps of the same sandal, their owners having trekked to the beach below.  I was floored (and looking back I am no longer surprised) that everyone there wore the same shoe.  Jack Rogers.  So that’s what I wear.

Well, that and my wayfarers.  Which are not the real deal, but are instead cheap imitations.  I wear them for two reasons.  The first is that I firmly believe the only accessory one needs in the summer is a solid pair of sunglasses.  Anything else is superfluous.  The second is that I am blonde-haired, blue-eyed and squinty in sun, or anything remotely like it.  I wear sunglasses year round.

So that’s my uniform.  What’s for lunch, you ask?  That’s easy:  orzo.  My go-to summer food.  You can combine it with just about anything and end up with the perfect salad.  Sure, you’ve seen orzo salads before, but this is my favorite.  Probably because it’s meat-free, which gives it a lightness that the others can’t achieve.

What’s that you say?  You see chicken in there?  Ugh, my cover is blown.  I much prefer this salad meatless, but I live with the dictionary definition of a carnivore, who must have protein in his lunch.  Alas.

To make this salad, I took a recipe from Giada, and changed a lot about it to suit my every need.  It’s worth noting here that Giada is the queen of orzo, having provided the base for not one, but two of my go-to orzo salads.  For this particular one, you will need:

  • 1 pound of orzo (more than Giada calls for because I like a decent amount of pasta)
  • 1 1/2 C frozen peas
  • 1 1/2 C grape, cherry or teardrop tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 C basil, julienned
  • salt
  • pepper
  • red wine vinaigrette (please do make your own, the recipe follows)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add salt.  Pour in the orzo and cook for 4 minutes.  Add the peas and cook for 3-4 more.  Drain and let cool completely.  When cool, throw everything in a bowl and toss.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Woohoo!  That’s all it takes.

For the dressing, you will need:

  • 1/4 C red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 C olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Mix everything (I just do this in the measuring cup) and whisk.  Pour over the salad.

Let me tell you, with a bowl of this salad, a glass of lemonade (spiked or not, whatever works for you) and a trashy beach read, I’m a happy camper.

Sunday Chickens [roasted citrus herb chicken]

For me, this year has been all about getting over my unfounded fears in the kitchen.  I used to be afraid of large hunks of meat.  I would cook chicken breasts or burgers, maybe even shape some meatballs here and there, but I never made roasts.  You hear everyone’s stories about their turkey that burned, or the pot roast that wasn’t ready till the wee hours of the morning and it scares you away a little.

Today I’m here to tell you that the chicken holds no fear (well, pulling out the guts is still a little scary).  In fact, roast chicken is one of my new favorite Sunday dinners as it could not be easier, and is comforting without being loaded with fat.  I’ve been through this roasting process several times now and found one true stand out.

Giada’s Roasted Citrus Herb Game Hen Chicken

You can’t beat skin that crispy with a stick.  What Giada’s recipe does, more than any other I’ve found, is not only lock in the flavor and juiciness of the chicken, but also bring in the bright, citrusy goodness of the mixture you rub all over it.  Not many chicken recipes pull both off.  Plus, almost everything that goes into this chicken, aside from the actual chicken itself, is an ingredient I already keep on hand.

The best part about roasted chicken is that anything you don’t eat is easily used up as leftovers.  You can have chicken sandwiches, enchiladas, and chicken salads in the week ahead.  Then you keep all the bones and throw them in a pot with some onions, carrots and celery to make a chicken stock that beats the pants off of what you usually buy in the store.  So it’s an all-out, hands-down winner.

You will need:

  • a chicken (mine are usually about 4 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest, from 2 medium oranges
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest, from about 3 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves (I never have mint, so I leave this out)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons Marsala wine or dry sherry
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries or currants
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Placing an oven rack in the lower 1/3 of your oven, preheat the oven to 450.

In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, shallots, orange zest, lemon zest, thyme, mint, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Rub 2 tablespoons of the zest mixture over the skins of the chicken. Place the remainder of the zest mixture under the skin and into the cavities of the hens.

Now you’re going to grab some kitchen twine and truss (fancy kitchen word for tie) the legs together.  What does this mean?  Wrap the twine around each leg once, meet in the middle and tie a knot.  It’s nothing scary and nothing you can’t do.  If you have a roasting pan with a rack, great, use it here.  If not, then place the chicken in a shallow 9×13 baking dish that can withstand the heat.  Add the chicken stock, Marsala wine, lemon juice, orange juice, and cranberries.

Roasting time will vary a lot here, because chickens are all different shapes and sizes and your temperature is high.  Your chicken is done when you pull at the leg and the juices that run out are clear.  When this happens, pull the chicken out of the oven, transfer it to a plate, cover it loosely (tent it) with foil and let it rest.  It’s been through a lot.

You’re going to use all the juices in the pan to make a sauce.  Because of the cranberries the sauce will take on a pink hue, making it more delightful than it already is.  If you have done this in a roasting pan, you can usually just crank up the burners underneath it and make the gravy in there.  If you’re working with a baking dish, you’ll want to transfer the juices to a saucepan first.  Add the flour to the pan and whisk it in.   When the gravy starts bubbling, keep whisking and wait about 8-10 whisk-filled minutes for the gravy to thicken.  Add the butter at the very end (you can even do that off the heat) for a silky sheen to your sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste.

The gravy may seem superfluous to you, but once you taste it, you’ll be glad you took the extra 10 minutes to make it.  Besides, you were just sitting around letting the chicken rest, right?

Cut the twine off of the chicken legs and serve this baby up.

Giada serves this with a crouton salad, which I will also gladly vouch for.

And one last piece of advice.  I firmly believe that carving poultry is a man’s job (see here; mom makes it, but dad holds the knife), so it helps to have an extra pair of hands.