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[Recipe] Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto

14 May

My boyfriend has a few things in his life he loves immensely. The first is soccer – playing, watching, discussing – he lives the sport. He loves soccer so much that he agreed to play back-to-back games on a Saturday morning, with the first game starting at the ungodly weekend hour of 8 AM.

The second is pesto. He eats just about everything and in large quantities (case in point: he managed to polish off a 4-pound container of strawberries in just over 24 hours last weekend), but nothing quite gets his heart palpitating like that delicious, basil-green sauce.

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Being the youngest child of an Italian mama, he’s had his fair share of quality Italian food and pesto is no exception. This makes him a bit of a snob and he turns his nose up at any jarred/store-bought varieties of the stuff, declaring it decidedly inferior to the freshly ground sauce made at home, particularly with basil leaves that had been plucked from the plant just moments before.

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We usually make pesto in large batches and freeze it in small Tupperwares for easy access to pesto pasta or pesto cream sauce. We make quite a bit of it, but the last time it happened was at the end of August, so he’s had to go without for a few months now and it was quickly becoming unacceptable.

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After a trip to Costco led us down the nut aisle, he put his foot down and declared that we would spend the rest of the afternoon making pesto. Having no other plans, I agreed and picked up the requisite 5-pound bag of walnuts, but not before contemplating the pignoli sitting just adjacent.

You see, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to food. I am of the opinion that you shouldn’t try to “fake” a recipe and I would much rather plan my daily eats knowing full well that I’ll be indulging in full-fat, dairy ice cream rather than processing a frozen banana and pretending it’s the real thing. I have no problem with people making protein “frosting” or pseudo-cupcakes, but please don’t flood my Instagram saying it “tastes just like the real thing!”

It doesn’t.

But I digress; my original point is that I like to make food the way it’s meant to be made, particularly with Italian cuisine because they are notorious (along with the French) for cooking things just so because that is how it has always been.

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Pesto comes from the Italian region of Liguria, specifically Genova, home of a certain Cristoforo Colombo. The name comes from the Italian word pestare, which means ‘to pound or crush’ in the remote past conjugation (nerd alert). An official recipe for the paste that originated with the ancient Romans was first published in 1863 in  a book titled, La Cuciniera Genovese  by Giovanni Battista Ratto and if you go to the south of France, you’ll find a similar recipe for pistou, though they don’t use nuts.

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The traditionally accepted way to make pesto is using a marble mortar with a wooden pestle (pestle/pesto – get it?). First, garlic and pine nuts are placed in the mortar and reduced to a cream, then basil leaves are added and ground until creamy. The cheese is added at the very end, with some extra-virgin olive oil to help it along the way.

And it is for this reason that I always feel a twinge of guilt when Stefano and I have our pesto parties.

Stefano grating away

Stefano grating away

I am a fake.

That is, my pesto is decidedly not how it is supposed to be made.

Granted, my only real flaw is that I replace pine nuts with walnuts and parmigiano-reggiano with pecorino romano, but they are crucial ingredients and any Italian I know would be insulted that I dare call my impostor sauce ‘pesto’.

Not a mortar and pestle.

Not a mortar and pestle.

However, my dietary choices are dictated more by my bank account than Italian gourmands, so I will have to live with myself knowing that I am a gastronomic phony, a culinary charlatan.

Be that as it may, I will share with you my recipe for Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto Sauce in the hopes that you can save a few dollars and enjoy this with a bit more piece of mind than I can.

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Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (tightly packed, around 2-3 oz.) fresh basil (if you really wanted to break tradition, you could substitute a peppery arugula *wince*, but whatever you do, don’t use dried basil)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (spring for extra-virgin)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled

Directions:

  1. I always start by sticking the garlic in the food processor and giving it a few pulses, so it gets minced and then adding the nuts to get those chopped up, as well.
  2. Add the basil and get that mixed in before adding the olive oil.
  3. Add the olive oil in a consistent stream as the food processor is going. This ensures that you get a nice, smooth product at the end.
  4. After the mixture is well combined, add the cheese at the very end.
  5. Eat immediately or store in Tupperware in the freezer to use at a later date. I like to add a thin layer of olive oil on top to keep the pesto from turning a brown color. Pro-tip: Freeze pesto in an ice cube tray for easy to use portions!

You can make extra and freeze it in an ice cube tray and then you have individual portions of pesto!

If you’re curious, here is the “official” pesto recipe, as decided by the Genova Pesto World Championships.

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Some Things You Just Can’t Fake

2 May

Well the sun finally decided to come out in DC and it is because of the sun that led me to this blog post.

As some of you may know, I like to take walks on my lunch hour and often use the time to talk to my mom or stroll along with my girl, Allison. Well, today Allison was booked for lunch (you have to reserve walking appointments with her fast, her free time fills up fast, people!) and my mom wasn’t answering her phone. It was around 10 AM her time, so the only reason she wouldn’t answer is because she a) wasn’t awake yet (she works the night shift), b) she was meditating, or c) she was screening my calls. What, you don’t want to talk to me on the phone twice a day, Mommy?

Hurt feelings aside, I decided to venture to Whole Foods because they’re having a sale on Yogi tea and it gave me an excuse to nom on their chips n’ guac samples. Seriously, I don’t know what they put in their guacamole but it is unparalleled UN. PARALLELED.

After grabbing a sample (or five), I wandered to the tea aisle and debated which one I was going to bring back to the office with me. I limited myself to one because I have a bit of a tea collection that I still need to drink my way through before I can justify making any other tea purchases.

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What, you don’t have size boxes of tea at your desk?

After deciding on Caramel Apple Spice, I headed towards the checkout. Of course I had to walk through every aisle along the way and score some more free samples. Before I reached the line to check out, I was side-tracked by the frozen foods aisle. It was warm outside and I wanted something for dessert – never mind that I hadn’t eaten lunch yet.

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Anyway, I always see these Arctic Zero ice cream pints in the display and always wondering how you can make a whole pint of ice cream for just 150 calories. For those who haven’t heard the hype, Arctic Zero is famous for making 150-calorie pints of ice cream in a variety of different flavors. The calorie count is low because it’s sweetened with monk fruit and contains whey protein powder, so it’s like a frozen protein shake.

Anyway, it was a weak moment and I caved and purchased the Vanilla Maple flavor and brought it back to the office. It had time to soften on my walk over and I dug in, eager to discover what 150-calorie ice cream tastes like.

vanillamapleI knew going into it that it wasn’t going to taste like real ice cream, but it really was just…lacking. I found myself eating spoonful after spoonful trying to get something out of it. Nope, wasn’t gonna happen. It wasn’t bad-tasting and it resembled sort of a vanilla maple sorbet instead of ice cream. It just wasn’t doing it for me though and I gave up about a quarter of the way into the pint. Now it’s hidden in the back of the office freezer until I get an uncontrollable urge for something sweet.

I haven’t tried the other flavors (and at $4.99/pint I probably won’t ever buy them) but I would suggest that you save your money and go for the real deal. Better yet, freeze and blend a banana and some strawberries and you’ve got a more flavorful dessert with loads of nutrients that tastes delicious and is good for you to boot.

The moral of today’s story is there are some things you just can’t fake.

Costco Treasures

8 Jan

There is a new Costco that opened up in DC, which great because it means Stef and I don’t have to drive out to Maryland to go to the one near the University of Maryland in College Park.

It has been awhile since we have made a trip to Costco and I definitely needed to replenish some of my staples, namely the big bags of frozen vegetables and frozen berries I like to keep handy. The veggies are great for throwing in just about anything to get an extra handful of vegetables when you can. I also love the berries because they are perfect for smoothies – no ice needed! I just mix them with Greek yogurt and some soy milk and they’re good to go!

This time around, a discover a new-to-me Costco treasure: frozen salmon fillets! I am always hesitant to buy fresh fish, because I worry that I won’t make it before it goes bad, so the pre-packaged frozen servings are a wonderful discovery for me.

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I decided to try them out for dinner last night and cooked the salmon (after letting it defrost in the fridge overnight) on the stovetop with some garlic and herb seasoning. It took about 7 minutes on each side at medium heat.

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I broke out my new bag of frozen veggies and sautéed those quickly, while a sweet potato cooked in the microwave for 4 minutes. It still blows my mind that you can cook sweet potatoes and squash in the microwave – it saves so much time!

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A little Greek yogurt adds some nice creaminess to the sweet potato.

I finished off the meal with two chocolate chip cookies and an episode of Downton Abbey. I had never seen the show, but people all around me are really into it so I decided to give it a go once I realized I couldn’t get the channel for the BCS game last night and Downton Abbey was on Netflix.

I love period movies and shows (hello, I’m a woman!), but I’m not hooked on this one yet. I’ll give it a few more episodes before I pass judgment.

I went to bed nice and early last night so I was awake before my alarm went off, which gave me a little extra time to make this masterpiece:

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That’s a three egg omelette with tomatoes, half an avocado, some sliced mushrooms, a few piece of smoked salmon, and a sprinkle of feta. It was as massive as it looked and I had a bit of trouble flipping it, so the end result was a bit burnt and didn’t look so pretty.

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Nothing a little salsa can’t fix, though! I have to say that I am super full and will have no problem waiting for lunch.

I am contemplating a lunchtime ‘Cardio and Tone’ class because I want to get home earlier and didn’t manage to do a morning workout. Does anybody have any tips on getting to the gym in the morning? I always end up sleeping through the morning workouts because I know I can just go to a class in the evening and sleep sounds so much better.

Food For Thought: What time do you exercise? Is there a time of day when you tend to have more energy?

Dinner by Delivery

13 Dec

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That was my attempt at flipping my eggs this morning. Fail. Luckily, I stuck those babies between two slices of bread and covered my mistakes right up.

IMG_1636[1]One purchase I am majorly digging right now is the container of red seedless grapes I purchased last week. They are so sweet and refreshing! My eyes were way bigger than my stomach this morning and somehow I ended up with an egg sandwich AND a yogurt bowl? That should tide me over until lunch and then some.

You know what else is bigger than my stomach? The piece of pita bread I had for dinner last night. In fact, it was even bigger than my face.

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It came as part of a box of food I ordered online from a Middle Eastern grocery called Hashems.

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They are located in Dearborn, Michigan, but luckily they ship anywhere in the country and the food (before the shipping, anyway) is majorly cheap. That piece of pita? There were nine more like it in the package I ordered and it was all $1.95. WHAT?! Check out the rest of my haul, too!

IMG_1627[1]What you see:

  • 10-pack of 10″ pita
  • A corer for making mahshi kousa, Arabic for stuffed zucchini
  • 8 oz. of seven spice, which is a must-have for so many Middle Eastern recipes (they grind it by hand!)
    • Side note: seven spice is a mixture of black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, coriander, and cumin
  • 5 cans of fava beans for making ful, a quintessential Egyptian meal
  • 3-pack of mango juice boxes
  • 3-pack of guava juice boxes
  • 16-oz package of roasted watermelon seeds (a classic Egyptian snack)

I was so excited to try all the foods, I immediately ditched the whole wheat couscous and vegetables that I was going to make for dinner and cooked up some fava beans with a side of warm pita bread – delicious! I also tried one of the mango juice boxes and it was perfect. The brand is one you can actually buy in Egypt, so I knew it was going to be wonderful.

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So easy to prepare, it was like having dinner delivered to me! I can’t wait to start cooking with the spices and put the corer to good use – it really makes coring vegetables a lot easier.

Speaking of vegetables, I came across this sign at a bus stop while I was walking to work this morning.

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It was paid for by the National Institute of Health and I think it is fabulous. DC-ers, if you want to see it for yourself, it’s at the intersection of 16th, U, and New Hampshire NW.

I love that it is advertised as a challenge to make it fun for adults and kids. Did you know that many kids can’t even recognize some vegetables? In this YouTube video, Jamie Oliver visits a first grade class where the students have a very difficult time identifying different fresh vegetables – even tomatoes!

Growing up, I always had what I consider “normal” vegetables: carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, potatoes, etc. It wasn’t until I was older and making my own meals that I started to experiment with things like butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and kale. I still haven’t tried turnips or rutabagas! I think this salad challenge is a great way to get children familiar with all sorts of different vegetables. There are just so many choices that it is impossible to get bored.

Food for Thought: Which vegetables are new to you? Is there a vegetable you haven’t eaten that you’d like to try?

 

 

Back on the Wagon

27 Nov

Good morning, sunshines! It’s not sunny at all over here, actually. There was a light mist when I left the house this morning, but I didn’t have to wait for the bus in the rain, thank goodness!

After all of the Thanksgiving festivities over the weekend, it felt good to get back on the healthy eating wagon. Lunch was all about plant power and I loaded my plate with an assortment of veggies, an apple, and fatayer (a Middle Eastern flatbread).

The plate looked so pretty with all the bright colors of the vegetables and filled me right up, thanks to all of the fiber. As I explained to my mom on the phone last night, my stomach was not super copacetic with all of the rich, heavy Thanksgiving dishes. After several months of clean eating, I could definitely feel the effects of the butter and starch-heavy foods I had been consuming. Don’t get me wrong, I love stuffing and mashed potatoes and all the other Thanksgiving yummies, but meal after meal of said yummies definitely took a toll on my body and I was more than ready to welcome the veggies by the end of the weekend.

I headed over to the gym right after work to get my Pump on. Now that the sun is setting so early, it is dark outside by the time I leave the office and it feels much later than it actually is. Luckily, I walk straight to the gym and don’t have any time to talk myself out of a workout. If I had some down time at home before my classes, my gym attendance would drop faster than the Hope Diamond into the ocean (I’ll never let go, Jack!).

I was pretty eager to get to class so I could get my sweat on and also to test out my new kicks!

The shoe is the Nike Dart 9 women’s shoe and there is a similar men’s counterpart, as well. It’s meant to be a cross-training shoe and designed for low mileage (20 miles a week, or so). Since I’m not a runner, I don’t have to be especially picky about my shoes and I picked these because they were lightweight, breatheable, and came in a cute color. Priorities, right?

We had a substitute Body Pump instructor in class who had only been teaching for six months or so. He was a good teacher and definitely gave a good workout, but you could tell that he hasn’t really come into his teaching “style” yet, as he felt very technical. I felt the burn on the arm sets and the triceps and biceps got quite the workout!

By the time I walked in the door to my house, I was majorly craving some protein and threw together a quick tuna and garbanzo bean wrap. Grape tomatoes and Persian cucumbers were on sale at the grocery store, so now I have way more of each than I could possibly wanted. Maybe some cucumber tzatziki sauce is in order this week?

1 can of each garbanzo beans and tuna, a Persian cucumber, a handful of sliced grape tomatoes, a slightly-larger-than-necessary piece of feta cheese, and a drizzle of EVOO later and I had a ridiculously easy salad to wrap up in a whole wheat lavash. PLUS leftovers for lunch! Love that.

This morning it was back to the yogurt bowl, BUT I mixed it up by tossing some thawed frozen berries in the mix for a pop of flavor and color.

Frozen berries are really the way to go – they’re significantly cheaper than fresh berries and they’re accessible all year round. Plus they’re so versatile! Heat them in a saucepan with some sugar and you’ve got a great berry sauce for pancakes or French toast, toss them in frozen with some yogurt and soy milk for a quick smoothie, or thaw them out and put them in your cereal.

I haven’t decided which workout I’m going to do today – I have the option of yoga, boot camp, Zumba, or Spin. I love that the gym offers so many classes for us to try, it’s impossible to get bored!

Food For Thought: What is your favorite shoe for running or cross-training? Do you use different shoes for each?

Have a wonderful day!!

 

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