Sunday, August 29, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Panini

So, the idea for this sandwich was definitely NOT my own original creation. The original concept comes from the Deli Bean Cafe in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, where I had lived for several years, and I kind of just took the idea and ran with it (since they wouldn't share their own recipe with me)! I often play around with some of the ingredients and have definitely found and mastered the technique which works the best.
First and foremost, let me just start by saying that if you initially roast more of the eggplant and zucchini, you can make sandwiches for the rest of the week without having to do all of the work all over again! Slice the eggplant and zucchini each ½-thick and spritz or brush with balsamic vinegar and olive oil; roast the slices in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes per side. Also, if you make sandwiches in advance, they reheat best is you do so on a panini press or on your George Foreman. Like the ratatouille paninis, I also make these sandwiches on my George Foreman, which works the same as a panini press.
For the pesto mayonnaise, I use some of my fresh pesto or thaw some of the frozen cubes and then mix it with mayonnaise until it's combined well. You can adjust the pesto in the mayonnaise to suit your own personal tastes, but I like a good deal of pesto in mine!

2 slices potato bread
2 slices provolone cheese
Handful baby spinach leaves
2 medium/large thin slices tomato
4-6 slices each roasted eggplant and zucchini
1 Tbsp. pesto mayonnaise

Spread enough margarine on one side of each slice of bread to thinly coat. On the inside of one of the slices of bread, place one slice of the provolone cheese; on top of the cheese, layer the spinach leaves in an even layer and then the tomato slices. Place another slice of provolone cheese on top of the tomato slices, then layer with the slices of eggplant and zucchini. Spread the pesto mayo on the inside of the other slice of bread and place it on top of the vegetables to make a sandwich, with the buttered sides on the outside. Place the sandwich on a panini press, or a George Foreman grill, and toast until the outside of the bread is golden brown, the vegetables are heated through, and the cheese is melted. Makes 1 yummy sandwich

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fresh Basil Pesto

If you know me at all, you know that I LOVE basil. And is it really so hard to understand why?! Basil is so fresh-tasting and delicious that almost anything you add it to automatically tastes fresher and better! If you need convincing of this, get yourself some fresh basil and try this: take approximately 10 basil leaves and roll and slice them thinly, then sprinkle it over the top of a plain frozen cheese pizza. It won't taste like any other frozen pizza you've ever had, that's for sure!
Even though I like using the basil leaves fresh off the plant by themselves, one of my favorite things to do with fresh basil is to make pesto. The best thing about this is that it preserves well, so you can keep it for a year and enjoy the same fresh herb taste in the middle of winter that you could in the middle of summer! After you have prepared the fresh pesto, all you have to do is fill the compartments of an ice cube tray with the mixture and freeze it until it's solid. When the pesto is frozen, just pop it out of the ice cube trays and place the frozen blocks into a freezer-safe zip top bag to keep in the freezer for whenever you need or want them. You could wrap the frozen blocks of pesto in plastic wrap before placing in the freezer bag, if you would like, and that will help hold it all together, but it's not necessary.
Now, after you've made the fresh pesto, there are countless things you can do with it. Mix it into fresh-cooked pasta before adding the sauce... Mix it with mayonnaise to use on sandwiches... Use it as a sauce on pizzas... Serve with crostini... Etc.
The only thing that I have to say is this... Pine nuts are DISGUSTING!! If I wanted my food to taste like a pine tree, I would go gnaw off some of the tree and just eat that. I don't know which crazy individual discovered that pine nuts are edible and then decided it would be a good idea to eat them, but it's just wrong. Pine nuts are just what you might presume - they're the seeds from inside pine cones. Someone goes and breaks open pine cones to harvest the little seeds from inside of them so that the delusional people who are told how yummy they are will eat them and then disillusion themselves further by convincing themselves that they taste good. Who are these people?! They are just wrong! I ALWAYS use walnuts, which ARE yummy, in my pesto, and I've never had bad results. :-)

½ c. walnuts
3 - 4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 - 5 oz. fresh basil leaves
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 - 1½ c. olive oil
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan

Place the garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until garlic is coarsely chopped. Add the walnuts to the bowl and pulse again until the walnuts are chopped and mixed with the garlic, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper in batches; with the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Taco Meat

For those of us who enjoy cooking, there is not much greater reward than having people tell you how wonderful your dish was. Whether an original recipe or not is irrelevant, because YOU are the one who put the time and energy into it, maybe added some of your own little touches, and shared it with your loved ones.
For those of us who are health-conscious, or at least semi-conscious of what we're putting into our bodies, it is extremely gratifying to know that what you prepared for your loved ones not only tastes good but is also good for them. With all of the artificial colors and preservatives junk, not to mention a TON of added sodium and MSG, is there really much about the prepackaged mixes that is real?! With so much concern about heart disease and obesity, I can't even begin to explain how important it is to keep an eye on your sodium intake. A little bit really does go a long way, and it's not necessary to douse your food with the stuff. You really do want to taste the other ingredients in your dish, not be overwhelmed by the excessive salt flavor assaulting your mouth with every bite.
And that is what I love about growing my own herbs, especially basil, and mixing together my own spice mixes. Taco seasoning is no exception. For a long time, I've looked for a really good taco seasoning mix, and everything I had tried seemed to fall somewhat short of my expectations. Finally, my cooking mentor, Alton Brown, came along with his taco seasoning concoction, and I am now quite content with the taco seasoning I mix together right in my own kitchen! Not only do I get to choose the best ingredients that go into the mix, there are no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, and I get to control how much salt goes in to my dish (which I have to say is not even half of what is suggested in a recipe).
The original recipe for Alton Brown's beef tacos, which is where I got this from, is here, and I would encourage everyone to at least take a look at it. Keep the things you like, change the things you don't. As with every and any other recipe - make it your own! In my case, I couldn't find the hot smoked paprika, so I just bought the regular smoked paprika and added a tiny bit of extra cayenne pepper to the mix. I wouldn't have even needed to do that, though, since it was spicy enough!

2 Tbsp. chili powder
1½ tsp. smoked paprika
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. cornstarch
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. sea salt

Put all of the ingredients in a small jar and shake to combine. Store spice mix in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Yield: ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons spice mix

To use: Pour 2 tablespoons of canola oil into a skillet and turn heat to medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add 1 medium onion, chopped, and cook until softened and lightly browned around the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add one pound of ground sirloin, ½ teaspoon salt, and 2 cloves of garlic, minced. Cook until browned, about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, to break up the meat. Add Taco Potion and ⅔ cup (low-sodium) beef broth. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until sauce is slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.