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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Homemade Pesto - Totally Worth It

I've wanted to try making homemade pesto for a while and finally decided to just do it, as Nike would say.

I found a simple recipe that seemed to have all the right ingredients and literally gave it a whirl... in my food processor. I bought all the ingredients at Nino's - some fresh basil leaves, pine nuts and parmesan/romano cheese (didn't see the pecorino specifically).

This was simple and delicious and puts all those jars of pesto I've purchased at the store to shame. I don't think I can eat those anymore. This made extra so that I could use it for 4 or 5 meals and the pesto can be used to brighten up so many dishes.

I used it for pasta and shrimp, then also for a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, more pesto pasta with chicken, and also for an awesome sandwich for The Husband and friend to go fishing with. Check out this recipe and try it if you love pesto! It's easy and fantastic.

Homemade Basil Pesto
As seen here on


2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (see Cook's Note)

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

** I didn't use it immediately OR freeze it and it's still tasting fresh. It's been in my fridge for a few weeks and didn't even get dark and discolored or anything like that.

Mango Mania

We recently took a trip to the British Virgin Islands where we were expecting an embarrassment of mangoes. We were surprised that it was a pretty arid climate and it took the whole week for our $4 a piece mangoes to ripen and we hardly saw any ripe fruit anywhere - maybe it was the wrong time of year?

Anyway, once we returned it was clearly "mango season" in Michigan (not that they are grown here.. because they so aren't...) and all the stores had piles of mangoes for 0.75 cents or $1.00 and I may have gone overboard. I definitely bought 4 one day, maybe another half dozen the next, and then I just flat out bought a case of mangoes a day or two later.

Needless to say, I am now sick of mangoes. But - it was a fun experience and let me share with you everything we made and enjoyed with this spicy, sweet and slippery fruit.

Besides just eating mangoes plain as an evening sweet snack, the first thing I made was a mango lassi. That's a classic and I already posted a great recipe which features a secret ingredient I love to add in a lassi - cardamon. Check out the recipe here. Well I guess it is not secret and I definitely saw it on some other website, but cardamon really makes a great difference.

Next I thought I needed to make some kind of dessert - I decided on a mango berry crumble. This was quite tasty. I threw in a few raspberries that I had laying around which added a nice counterpart and rose color to the otherwise mushy sweet mango layer. I used better-for-bread flour for the topping so it was not exactly as I was expecting but still good and we ate it all. I just made a strawberry rhubarb pie and the topping to that was faaaaaaar better. I can't find the recipe but you aren't missing on anything anyway, the topping was just "OK."

Lastly and my very favorite mango recipe - I made two loaves of Dorie Greenspan's fresh mango bread. This used up my last 3 or 4 mangoes and I had a feeling I'd love it so I made two parallel batches at once. I even brought some into work and gave some bread away to our friends. I have to say this might be better than even the best zucchini bread or banana bread, it was awesome! I'd definitely make this again or even try different fruits in here. The bread mixture itself is very moist and I love the amount of spices and the crispy caramelized top that you get. Dorie's loaf pans must be much bigger than mine, I had some overflow but luckily she had recommended a pan underneath. I was happy to just eat what overflowed though, so it was a bonus. Next time I'd fill my pan up to 3/4 the way and pour the rest into cupcake pans. Or I almost like the crispy top the best so maybe I could spread it out and make one giant crispy top. Is that even possible? If so, that would be awesome. I'm DEFINITELY making this recipe again. I'm almost un-sick of mangoes just thinking of it... so probably sooner than later! I think this is a nice gift bread, if you want to bake something nice for new parents or a neighbor, it's a different spin on a quick bread but I can't imagine anyone not liking it. It's so much more flavorful and interesting and moist than zucchini bread.. which I love also. I will have to try more Dorie recipes!

Fresh Mango Bread
By Dorie Greenspan as seen on The Tummy Train blog, here. 

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home To Yours, page 45
Makes one 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf

3 large eggs

3/4 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower oil

2 1/2 cups (13.5 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 packed cup light brown sugar

2 cups diced mango (from 1 large or 2 1/2 medium peeled and pitted mangoes)

3/4 cup moist, plump golden raisins

Grated zest of 1/2 a lime

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess, making sure every part of the pan is covered. Put the pan on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked one on top of the other. (This extra insulation will keep the bottom of the bread from over-baking).

2. Begin by dicing the mangoes. Set aside.

3. Whisk the eggs and oil together.

4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Rub the brown sugar between your palms into the bowl, breaking up any lumps, then stir it in.

5. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, switch to a sturdy rubber spatula or wooden spoon and mix until blended—the batter will be very thick (really more like a dough than a batter) and not easily mixed, but persevere, it will soon come together.

6. Stir in the mango, raisins and zest. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

7. Bake the bread for 1 1/2 hours, or until it is golden brown and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. (If the bread looks as if it’s getting too brown as it bakes, cover it loosely with a foil tent). Transfer the pan to a rack and cool 5 minutes before running a knife around the sides of the pan and unmolding. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up on the rack.

Serving: As good as this bread is freshly baked, Dorie feels it is even better the next day.** One day spent wrapped in plastic seems to intensify the fruit and spice flavors. Of course, if you can’t wait, don’t. Just cut the loaf into thick slices and serve with tea, hot or iced, or coffee.

Storing: Wrapped in plastic, the cake will keep for about 4 days at room temperature.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mmmm Mojitos

We've been having lots of mojitos around lately and here's just a quick snap shot of one of them. We tried to make a mint julep but sweetened Southern Comfort with mashed up mint was... not that great. I could kinda see how it might be good and maybe there is a secret to the preparation or Southern Comfort might be the wrong bourbon. The Husband and I still contend that the best use of mint is for the mojito!!

Check out the recipe I already posted a while ago if you want to make one at home yourself. I also am typically too lazy to make sugar syrup so I just mash the sugar (about 3 tablespoons to 2 tbsp fresh lime juice and 2 tbsp rum) with 8 mint sprigs and keep stirring it to try and dissolve it as best you can. It works and simplifies things a bit.

Too Hot Caribbean Hot Sauce

Everywhere we went in the British Virgin Islands to eat, there was a nondescript recycled jar or bottle on the table filled with a homemade hot sauce unique to the eatery. The Husband rediscovered his love for heat and he mentioned on the way home he'd like to try and get some hot sauce at home. We looked at Nino's but they didn't have anything that looked right so I decided to look up some recipes. I found one that kinda had the right look to it and had the name "The Ultimate Pepper Sauce Recipe" so I decided to give it a whirl.

Bitter Melon
I even found some unusual ingredients at Nino's - a bitter melon and green papaya. I cut open the bitter melon and tried it and... it was bitter. I'm not sure why anyone would choose to add that to a recipe! I decided to not add very much, but it was pretty to look at once it was cut. I tried the green papaya and it was not sweet, it tasted like a cucumber or something, so I was starting to get concerned that this sauce was going to be way too hot with nothing much to balance it out.

The recipe called for 15-20 scotch bonnets but all I could locate were habaneros so I should've known this was a bad idea. It also called for cilantro and juice of lime, garlic, and an entire lemon so I thought there was some hope for it to have some great flavors! It sure smelled delicious cutting up all these ingredients.

Once everything was prepped (I used rubber gloves and wore my sunglasses to avoid any pepper oils getting into my eyes), all I did was throw it into the cuisinart and blended. I had to try it to adjust for seasonings and BOY it was hot. This was not like the hot sauces we had in the BVI, this was overkill. Needless to say, I now have two jars of Too Hot Caribbean Hot Sauce sitting on the counter which will probably be there for a while. The Husband did like it but he just physically cannot consume too much of it.

Some of our favorite hot sauces we tried in the BVI were at the Clubhouse Restaurant at the Bitter End Yacht Club (served with our breakfast buffet) on Virgin Gorda and Foxy's Bar (served with lunch) on Jost Van Dyke. If anyone has any kind of similar recipe to those, let me know!!

Too Hot Caribbean Hot Sauce

15-20 hot peppers (scotch bonnet or habanero)

1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups vinegar
10 leaves of Shado Beni or 1 cup cilantro
6 cloves of garlic

1/4 small green papaya
1 small bitter melon (caraili)
1 lemon or 2 ripe limes
Juice of 4 limes
8 pimento peppers – optional
1 carrot – optional (helps to balance heat from peppers)

Prep ingredients and blend in processor.