Homemade Basil Pesto

I may not have any Italian roots, but I sure love a heaping bowl of warm linguine with homemade basil pesto when the weather starts to cool down.  Sure, you could go out to your local grocery store and snag a jar of pesto that would be quite delicious, but the satisfaction and flavor that comes from creating your own, is irreplaceable.

I decided to focus today’s post on a simple, affordable, and traditional basil pesto recipe.  All of the ingredients needed that I will list below, are obtainable at most grocery stores, including Wegmans, Tops, and Walmart.  Shall we get started?

Here’s what you will need to make 1 cup of your very own basil pesto…

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Each of these ingredients are quite simple and some might even be found in your pantry at home.  If you are unable to obtain pine nuts (they are sometimes a little pricey), feel free to substitute almonds, cashews, or walnuts.  Also, if your local grocery store just so happens to be lacking in the cheese department, substitute grated Parmesan cheese for the freshly grated Pecorino.

In terms of utensils, all you will need is:

  • Chopping knife
  • Cutting board
  • Medium size mixing bowl
  • Whisk

If you want to keep things simple, put aside the knifes and bowls, and substitute all of these utensils for a food processor.  If you choose to take this route, combine the garlic, basil, and pine nuts in the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.  Add 1/2 cup of the oil and continue to pulse until fully incorporated.  Sprinkle in your desired amount of salt and pepper.  If you are planning on utilizing the pesto immediately, add in the remaining oil and pulse until smooth.  Transfer to a serving bowl and stir in the cheese.

If you want to take a more old fashioned road of preparation, begin by finely mincing your garlic cloves and place in a medium sized bowl.  Finely chop the basil, almost to the point where it begins to form its own paste.  Combine with the garlic.  Lastly, finely chop the pine nuts to the desired size.  Mix together the garlic, basil and nuts, while also slowly incorporating the olive oil.  If you have a fresh block of Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, grate to the desired size into the bowl.  If your cheese is pre-grated, simply pour to combine with the garlic, basil, nut, and olive oil mixture.  Stir in the cheese and serve.

Typically, I enjoy putting my homemade pesto on linguine pasta (store bought, in the box.. no need to get fancy and make it yourself).  I also enjoy pesto on other types of pasta, ravioli, and even crostini toasts.  This simple dish is all you need to spice up a family dinner or wow your guests at a small gathering.

If you are not planning on using your pesto immediately, transfer to an air tight container or pour into ice cube trays, then place in a freezer bag.  You can freeze your pesto for up to 3 months.  I personally prefer freezing it in the ice cube trays because you can pop out a cube of pesto and it is the perfect amount for a single serving of pasta. 🙂

I hope you all enjoy this recipe and stay tuned for more coming your way soon!

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5 More Tips You Should Know

A few weeks ago I posted a list of simple, yet beneficial tips that are a “must” in the kitchen.  With finals just around the corner, I haven’t been able to cook as much as I would like to, so I figured I’d share a few more things you should know to ensure efficiency every time you are working your magic in the kitchen.

1. Do NOT Rinse Your Cooked Pasta

This is something that I feel like everyone has done at some point in their life.  After boiling a big pot of pasta, I know that it is almost human nature to want to just rinse it under some water after draining it into a colander.  By doing this, you are actually rinsing off all of the starches that we LOVE, leaving your pasta with less texture and nutrients.  If you are faced with the issue of pasta sticking together when left in the colander, try tossing it in some olive oil.  This will solve your problem and still leave your pasta tasting delicious.

2. Overcooking is Most Definitely the BIGGEST Cooking Mistake

BURNT FOOD IS NOT GOOD, but overcooked, tough food is also pretty terrible.  Overcooking vegetables makes them mushy, flavorless, and dull… overcooking meats makes them tough, dry, and chalky… overcooking grains makes them soggy and flimsy… None of this sounds appetizing, so it is essential that you learn to take food off the heat slightly before it is fully done and allow it to finish cooking simply by the internal temperature.  Also, do not be afraid to utilize a thermometer.  Yes these bulky things can be slightly off, but they will help you out much more than if you were to just “guess” whether or not your food is done.

3. Season Season Season

If your food tastes simply OK… it most likely needs some sort of seasoning.  A pinch of salt can go a very long way when it comes to making an OK dish, a great dish.  Yes, over salty food is not good, but under salted is even worse in my opinion.  If you have added your salt and the dish still seems a tad bland, try a splash of vinegar or something acidic to try and liven up your flavor.  You can also use acids, such as lemon, to help counteract any unwanted sweetness you may come across while cooking.  If food feels dry or sticky, you can also add a drizzle of olive oil.

4. Avoid Regular Large Onions

These big onions have a place in recipes such as stews, soups, roasts, etc., but they are unwelcome in more delicate and flavorful meals.  Onions have an extremely prominent flavor that can easily overpower any recipe, if not utilized correctly.  This is why I recommend sticking with smaller, lighter onions, such as shallots and leeks, to help enhance the dish, while also giving the other ingredients a chance to show their flavor.  Shallots have a sweeter, more delicate flavor, which is why they are one of my favorite ingredients to cook with when I come across a recipe that requires an onion.

5. Fruit Should NOT Be Stored in the Fridge

Most fruits are not intended to be stored in a cold environment, which is why you need to KEEP THEM OUT OF THE FRIDGE.  Most people believe that by doing this, they are prolonging their shelf life, but this is not the case.  Berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, should always be stored in the fridge; however, fruits like bananas, oranges, apples, uncut pineapple, and pears, should not.  Refrigerators actually dull the flavor of most produce, leaving them bland.  Extremely hot climates are an exception to this rule.

These are only a few more of the essential things one should know to ensure “optimal performance” in the kitchen.  I’ll be sure to post another 5 soon to help you all out. 🙂  Keep cooking and I have more recipes coming your way within the next week!

 

Shrimp Scampi Linguini

Seafood is my weakness.  Especially as the weather begins to warm up, there is nothing like digging my fork into a juicy piece of grilled salmon or dipping a steamed clam into some melted butter before popping it into my mouth.  Although seafood tends to scare many people off, whether it be due to the “oceany” smell, texture, etc., it is one of those categories of food where I believe that if it is cooked properly utilizing a delicious recipe, anyone can be won over.  The recipe I am about to share with you, is for a type of seafood that I can eat endlessly without ever getting tired of it.  Shrimp.  Shrimp is delicious no matter how it is prepared.  I personally love cold shrimp simply dipped in cocktail sauce; however, this recipe spices things up a bit.  In my opinion, everything is better when paired with some delicious pasta… so let’s get started because I’m starving!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound linguini
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus a tad more for drizzling
  • 2 shallots, finely diced (if shallots are unavailable, about 1 tablespoon of a finely diced sweet onion will do)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves

Directions:

Alright, so you are going to want to start by throwing a pot of water on the stove to get boiling for your pasta.  When the water comes to a boil, add several tablespoons of salt and your pasta.  Stir to ensure all of the pasta separates, cover, and cook for about 6-8 minutes until the pasta is not 100% done.  Drain pasta and set aside.

In a large skillet on the stove, melt two tablespoons of butter in two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat.Once combined together, saute the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes until the shallots are clear.  This should take about 3-4 minutes.  Season your raw shrimp with salt and pepper and then add them to the skillet.  Cook the shrimp until they have curled slightly and turned pink.  This should take approximately 2-5 minutes.  Try your best not to overcook your shrimp, for they will become extremely chewy and rubbery.  Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside while keeping it warm.

To the skillet, add the white wine and lemon juice.  Once this reaches a boil, add 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  When the butter has melted, return the shrimp to the pan along with the chopped fresh parsley and cooked pasta.  Stir well to combine and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle a tad more olive oil over the top and serve immediately!

As you can see, this recipe is quite simple.  There are hardly any ingredients or steps to follow, making this a recipe that ANYONE is capable of doing.  I also recommend serving this dinner with a nice side of garlic bread.  The two pair perfectly!  As I said before, I am a huge seafood fan, whereas a few of my housemates are not.  However, with some encouragement, I was able to convince them to give it a shot AND THEY LOVED IT.  This just goes to show that if something is cooked properly and seasoned well, it is very possibly to sway ones opinion, especially when it comes to seafood.  This recipe serves about 4-6 people, so don’t forget to double/half the ingredients if you are planning on serving a larger/smaller group of people!  Or just make all of it for yourself and have enough food to eat for a week, I support it because I know that I would do the same! 🙂

With that being said, I realize we are in college and on a budget, but this dinner was a cheap and affordable way to spice up my house’s dinner menu.  Also, if you enjoy this recipe and are interested in making more food from the ocean, stay tuned!  I’m planning on grilling up some salmon this week and I have a recipe that you will be SURE to love.

Homemade Pepperjack Mac

What’s better than a heaping bowl of your favorite comfort food after a longgggg day of classes?  That’s right, NOTHING is better than indulging in some delicious mac and cheese to make you feel at home.  This recipe definitely gives your traditional mac and cheese a fun and easy twist.  I am a huge fan of spicy foods, so I threw a bit of pepperjack cheese into this dish to kick it up a notch.  This is sure to be a recipe that you and all of your housemates will enjoy.  Let’s get started…

Ingredients: (remember, all amounts depend on how many mouths you are feeding)

  •  1 box of Pasta (I prefer Cavatappi because it holds onto the cheese so much better)
  • Pepperjack cheese
  • Velveeta cheese
  • Rotisserie Chicken (or cooked chicken breast)
  • Bread crumbs
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Milk
  • Salt

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Grab a decent size pot and get some water boiling with a pinch of salt.  While your pasta is cooking in the boiling water, begin slicing your pepperjack and velveeta cheese into small cubes (enough to cover the pasta evenly).  I prefer putting a tad more pepperjack than velveeta personally, but it’s all up to you.  Also, you can begin to shred up your chicken.  When your pasta is cooked and strained, begin to melt your cheese in the same pot, slowly adding milk as needed.  Add your pasta to the pot.  Stir until evenly coated (will be very thick) and add more cheese and milk to your liking.  Mix in your shredded chicken.  Spread into a baking dish and coat the top with bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese.  Pop into the oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble on the sides.  Pull the dish out of the oven and let cool until the mac lowers to a temp that won’t burn your mouth!  Scoop into some bowls and enjoy!

I LOVE adding just a touch of Frank’s hot sauce to give my pepperjack mac a tad more of a kick. 🙂  This is a fun, cheap, and easy recipe that will be sure to wow your friends.  Mac and cheese ALWAYS has a way of making my stomach smile and I hope this recipe will do the same for you!  Don’t be afraid to spice things up a bit.

P.S. if you ever have any leftovers (which you most likely won’t because it’s so delicious, you won’t be able to stop eating), just add a touch of milk and pop it in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds.  It’ll come out just as yummy as it was when you first made it.