Friday, August 30, 2013

Pesto Pasta Salad

Hello, friends! I can hardly believe it's the last real weekend of the summer. Sad face. At least we have some good stuff planned. Last night we kicked off the weekend early with dinner with a bunch of our good friends at Labrador Lounge. The food was delicious (keep an eye out on Jersey Bites for a review soon!), but the company was even better.

We went with three other couples - Heather & Kevin, Adam & Liz, and Dan & Jen. We had so much fun and all said we need to do it more often.

I got up bright and early this morning for work, but we closed at 2:00 today and I'm now waiting for my family to roll in. We have a big group staying with us this weekend, including my parents, sister and her boyfriend, grandmother and two cousins. We'll be beaching, BBQing and wine tasting all weekend so I probably won't have time to check in much, so I figured I'd leave you today with a fantastic pasta salad recipe in case you're looking for a dish to bring to any backyard parties this weekend. Basil is still in full swing, but not for much longer, so now's the time to make it!

Last weekend I made this pesto pasta for our BBQ and everyone loved it. I made a huge double batch and the whole thing was devoured.

I almost bought the pesto since I had so many other things to make, but then I checked myself. Pesto is so easy to make and tastes SO much better when it's fresh. Plus, Heather has mountains of basil and she sent me a giant Ziploc bag full of the stuff to use.

I made it in the morning but didn't toss it with pasta til the afternoon, so I coated the top of it with a thin layer of olive oil before sticking it in the fridge. The olive oil protects the basil so it stays bright green and doesn't oxidize while being stored. A little tip I learned a while ago from Ina Garten.

When it was time to serve, I tossed it over cold pasta and added garden cherry tomatoes and blanched broccoli. Yum, yum.

Can't get enough of this stuff. I had some leftover pesto (I actually made 8 cups of it) so have been eating it on everything lately - tomatoes, shrimp, crackers, everything.

Riker's out with his grandparents for the afternoon and Matt and I are both done work, so we're going to head out and enjoy some alone time for a few hours before the craziness of the weekend ensues. I'm thinking some crabbing and then a drink at the tiki bar is in order. :) Have a great Labor Day Weekend!

Pesto Pasta Salad

Serves 8-10 as a side

Ingredients - Pesto
4 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
2/3 cup walnuts (or pine nuts)
3-4 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Pinch salt and pepper

Ingredients - Salad
1 pound pasta (I used bowties)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets

To make pesto: Combine all ingredients except oil and s&p in a food processor. Pulse until it becomes a thick paste. With the blade running, stream in the olive oil until the pesto comes together. Then add salt & pepper to taste. May be used right away, or stored in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for a few months.

To make salad: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions; then drain, rinse with cool water and set aside.

Blanche the broccoli in boiling water for 2 minutes. (Tip: Just add the broccoli to the pasta during the last two minutes of cooking, then drain and rinse it right along with the pasta).

When the pasta is cool, combine with the pesto, broccoli and tomatoes. Serve immediately. Note: If you're not serving immediately, reserve some of the pesto and toss it again right before serving so the salad doesn't get dry.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cauliflower Pizza Crust Taste Test

This has been a dinner cooking-drought kind of week. We all have them, right? Monday night was busy so we had breakfast for dinner; Tuesday I had a karaoke outing with my office after work, where I nibbled on some sushi platters they had ordered, which was a good thing since I got home at 11:30 pm which is way too late to even think about eating a real dinner; and then last night I just didn't have an appetite at all. After I fed and put Riker to bed, I cuddled up on the couch to finish the third book of the Trylle trilogy, Ascend. Not impressed with that ending, by the way! :(

Around 9:00 I got a little hungry so made a big bowl of steamed broccoli with parmesan cheese - quite the late night treat, huh? Well I won't be cooking again tonight, but I will be making up for the improper dinners of the last three nights. After work we're meeting up with 3 other couples for dinner at a funky little restaurant called Labrador Lounge, and I can't wait. My entire family is coming into town tomorrow for Labor Day Weekend, I love that place and am looking forward to kicking off Labor Day Weekend a bit early with our friends. I woke up extra early this morning to squeeze in an at-home workout (I've been slacking lately...) since I know there will be wine and dessert on the menu later.

Since I haven't done much cooking this week I thought I'd share something I made a few weeks ago, because I also need some suggestions from you guys. I've been wanting to get on this new cauliflower pizza crust craze, so a couple of weeks ago Matt and I blended up some of the veggie on a Friday night to give this new pizza variation a whirl.

We had so many tomatoes from the garden and I'd already made two batches of marinara sauce for the freezer, so pizza seemed like the next logical way to use them. Plus, you know how I feel about Friday night pizza. It's my fave.

We used this cauliflower crust recipe from Paula Deen that I found on FitSugar, which seemed like it would work well and hold together nicely. Toppings included ricotta cheese, fresh mozzarella, garden tomatoes, olives, mushrooms and fresh basil.

We made his & hers versions: his in a pie plate (deep dish style) and mine on a pizza stone. We wanted to see which style worked best.

In the pie plate:

On the pizza stone:

Both were good, but I liked it on the pizza stone better since it came out looking more like a pizza once it was sliced.

So now for the verdict. I mean, it was good (actually really quite good), but it didn't taste like pizza. It tasted more like polenta pie. The recipe said you could pick this up like a regular slice of pizza, but unless I made it wrong that was a straight lie. Maybe I put too many toppings on, but it definitely had to be eaten with a fork.

So I know that a lot of you out there have been trying different cauliflower crust pizza recipes, so if you have a good one you like, please share! I need this in my life.

Off to do the work thang!

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Bagels & Lox" Omelets

Yesterday we had a special treat at the beach.

That would be a seal! I've never seen one in NJ before and it was awesome to see him up there. After cleaning up from the BBQ yesterday morning, Matt, Riker and I took our dog Butters and headed to our favorite spot at Island Beach State Park to enjoy one of the last beach days of the summer. Matt went out surfing for a bit and this guy swam right up next to him, so close he could've reached out and pet him.

He gave Matt quite a scare - where there are seals, there are often sharks - so he paddled back into shore right away. We watched the seal swim about for a while before disappearing under the water, but when we came back later he had swam up onshore to rest and catch a few rays of sunshine. So cute! We were even lucky enough to see him hobble back down and jump in the ocean to swim away. It's pretty amazing how fast they can move when carrying all that blubber. ;)

We had actually planned to take a walk out to another part of the island to meet our friends Dan & Jen, who had come in by boat, but after walking nearly a mile we realized that our two spots were separated by an inlet that was about 25 feet deep, so we weren't able to meet up.

Oh well. It was kind of a rough walk since there wasn't really a path and lots of rough grass and broken shells, but the beauty was well worth the hour going there and back. I always love walking along the jetty and seeing the Barnegat lighthouse.

I'm trying to savor these last few precious weekends before it starts to get chilly.

Today and tomorrow are city days for me, meaning I got home around 8:15 tonight pretty hungry and in no mood to cook. Matt got home a little late too, so we decided on an easy meal of breakfast for dinner.

I had some lox on hand, so whipped up some "bagels & lox omelets" (sans bagel). It was filled with cream cheese, lox, capers, red onions, fresh dill, and green olives - everything you'd find on a lox bagel, but wrapped inside an egg omelet instead. I'm such a lox lover, and it was fannnntastic.

I can't believe it's already 9:30 pm. My days in the city always tire me out, so it's off to bed I go. I'm suddenly on book 3 of the Trylle Trilogy (Ascend) and am already hooked, so the next hour will be spent curled up under the covers reading furiously. Catch you later!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Party Prepping

The last few days have been spent doing a lot of cooking, entertaining and hanging out with friends. A few of my favorite things! We haven't hosted a party at our house in a while so it felt good to have people over again.

On Thursday night we hosted our annual fantasy football draft. I can't believe it's already almost football time, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited. Our draft was from 8-10, but friends should up a little early to have some snacks and get settled. I made a few platters of apps for the gang - nothing fancy, but hey, football food isn't supposed to be.

Matt did, however, make a batch of homemade jalapeno poppers with peppers from the garden. He made the filling with a mixture of cream cheese and habanero peach jam, so they were both spicy and sweet. So good!

Friday night and all day Saturday was spent prepping for our BBQ yesterday afternoon. We had a group of about 30 friends coming over, so I had a lot of kitchen work to do. I made a few different dips and appetizers for snacking, several different salads and a variety of meats for the grill (plus veggie burgers for me and Heather, of course). I also made a big pot of marinara sauce to stash in the freezer since we have a ton of tomatoes ripening all at once and threatening to go bad before we can eat them.

I loved spending the whole day in the kitchen, and I powered through my cooking duties with several mugs of coffee, some Van Morrison on the iPod and eyes glued to my Kindle. I'm currently obsessed with the Trylle trilogy and am halfway through the second book, and simply could not put it down yesterday.

Apps included buffalo chicken & blue cheese dip (by Matt), homemade guacamole, various veggies, chips & dips, and of course spinach dip in a bread bowl.

Once we got the grill going for dinner, I brought out all the side dishes. I didn't snap photos of all the finished salads, but I made a lot of the usuals including Summer Corn & Arugula Salad, Mediterranean Couscous Salad (this time made with quinoa instead of couscous, to switch things up a bit), pasta salad with homemade pesto, and coleslaw.

I'm actually not a coleslaw fan at all, but this particular recipe is so, so good and I love it. It's from a Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives cookbook, and it has so much flavor from apple cider vinegar, celery seeds and fresh cracked pepper. It's definitely not your average bland slaw, and is always a hit.

A fresh peach cake and s'mores fixins served as desserts, and a few of our friends brought some delicious homemade sweet treats as well.

As soon as the party started I put my phone away and neglected to take any photos after the first 5 minutes, but I did snag one of the most adorable baby feet ever. Our friend Vanessa was cradling their newborn Brayden, and when I saw his little toes peeking out I couldn't resist taking a pic. So cute!

The afternoon was really a great time. Great friends, good food, sunny weather, backyard games, a fire, and a few glasses of Flower Power IPA.

I'm definitely going to miss summer.

Matt's sister Missy, her husband Corey and MomMom came over a little while ago for some leftovers and to watch Breaking Bad, so I'm off to it. :)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Peach Blueberry Crisp in a Jar {Recipe ReDux / Paleo}

When I read that this month's Recipe ReDux theme was food in Mason jars, I was smitten. We all know how I feel about jars. I drink out of them, use them as portable salad dressing containers, and use the large ones for salads in a jar.

(Those jar salads are actually my friend Heather's, but I'm sure she won't mind me stealing her pic. She actually made them today when taking her girls and Riker to Storybook Land for the day).

I can all kinds of jams, sauces and pickles with them, and eat my breakfast yogurt parfaits out of them at least several times a week. This morning included. They just fit so perfectly in the car cup holder when I'm heading to the bus station or to drop Riker off at daycare.

I even use them for flower vases since I love their rustic look outdoors.

I smile every time I look at those sunflowers on the patio table, by the way. They're just so happy!

But for a Mason jar challenge, I couldn't just whip up a new yogurt parfait creation and I've been dying to try some kind of dessert in a jar. I have a Pinterest board full of them. I really wanted to make something guilt-free that I could eat on a weeknight, though, so this recipe hits all the right buttons.

It uses fresh Jersey peaches Matt's mom picked in an orchard on Monday. It's slightly sweet but not overwhelming, and has a crunchy topping made with hazelnut flour. And it's in a jar, so it's obviously super cute and also super portable - I actually screwed the lids on top to take them over to my in-laws' house tonight, since we're having an impromptu BBQ dinner with Matt's parents, his cousins and their kids. I only made 4, so I guess we'll have to all fight over them.

These make me just want to sit in an Adirondack chair on a warm day watching the sunset. So that's just what I'll be doing in a couple of hours. :)

Peach Blueberry Crisp in a Jar (Paleo/Primal)

Serves 4

3 peaches, peeled, cored and sliced
3/4 cup blueberries
1 tsp. stevia
1/2 tsp. honey

1/2 cup nut flour (I used hazelnut, but any kind of nut flour will work)
1/2 tsp. stevia
1 Tbsp. melted butter
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 325.

In a mixing bowl, combine all filling ingredients. Stir well, then divide evenly between 4 small Mason jars.

In a separate bowl, combine all ingredients for the topping. Spoon mixture evenly over the filling in each jar. Place jars on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until fruit is bubbling and topping is browned. Serve immediately, at room temperature or cold. Top with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sprucing Up

On Friday Matt and Riker met me at my office around 2:30 for an afternoon of traipsing around the city. I have Summer Fridays, meaning my office closes at 2:00 from 4th of July to Labor Day, and while I don't always get to take advantage of them I was determined to get all my work done by the time my family arrived so we could start the weekend early. Usually once a summer Matt comes to meet me on a Friday afternoon so we can hang out in the city, and we were both excited to have Riker with us for the first time. He was a total champ all afternoon and loved the Big Apple.

We started things off with a long walk down to The High Line, which is a park built on an old, above ground railroad track. I've always wanted to check it out, and am glad we finally did. It's a really neat park and Riker had a chance to run around in some sprinklers while we enjoyed a homemade cucumber lime ice pop from one of the vendors.

After the park we hit up Chelsea Market to ogle at all the delicious eats and snack on a quick taco. I was suckered into ordering one when I saw they offered "grilled cactus tacos." Must be tried! It was good, but I wasn't that hungry so handed it off to Matt after a few bites.

Another long walk later and we were in Hell's Kitchen, which is just where you want to be at dinnertime. With Riker in tow we needed a relaxed place with quick service and kid-friendly food, so we settled on Southern Hospitality. It hit all the Riker marks, has pretty yummy food AND is owned by Justin Timberlake. ;) I had a BBQ shrimp salad with avocado and a bunch of veggies. I love Southern Hospitality's cornbread so ordered a side of that for the table as well.

Another walk - this time a short one - and we were in Times Square where we spent the rest of the evening. I loved the look on Riker's face when he saw all the big bright lights and the street performers. We had to hit up the enormous Toys 'R Us as well where we rode the indoor ferris wheel, and ended the night with fro yo on Broadway (fat free peanut butter for me, made moot by the Oreos and walnuts I spooned on top).

With no real plans for Saturday or Sunday, I really wanted to use the weekend to do some sprucing up around the house. We're having a BBQ at our place next weekend and I felt like our backyard was looking a little ho hum, not to mention that we got basically no chores done last weekend as we were beach bums the whole time, so Matt and I agreed to spend the weekend getting stuff done: cleaning, yard work, grocery shopping (including the monthly Trader Joe's stock-up), and laundry. Fun stuff!

You can't get started on the day without breakfast, though, so we immediately said yes when Matt's sister Missy invited us over for breakfast on Saturday morning. Procrastinators, we most definitely are.

Missy and Corey had their good friends Dave & Lori (and their new baby Zach) visiting, and we hadn't seen them in a while so it was really nice catching up with them over breakfast. Riker and Zach were fast friends too. :)

Morning get togethers are so nice. Seeing friends and family for breakfast/brunch starts the day off on a nice foot, and you still have the whole rest of the day/night to run errands and get stuff done. And yes, that's a beer sitting next to the coffee mug. A breakfast stout, to be precise. It was brunch after all.

The whole rest of our Saturday was spent doing yard work and going to every single store in a three town radius looking for a new patio set. We've had our set since we moved in 5 years ago and I've been itching for a new one all summer. The original has lasted us a long time and has been great, but it's starting to rust and I've really had my heart set on a wood one. I figured we could find a good deal on one at the end of summer. We looked for hours on end, and I was beginning to think we'd never find one until Matt's mom said she saw one on sale at BJ's. Bingo!

Out with the old (I promise it doesn't usually look like that, it was just covered in stuff I was working on this afternoon)...

And in with the new!

I LOVE it! We still need to get an umbrella and cushions, but we want red ones and haven't found the right ones yet. I'm not sweating it, I love it just the way it is.

Other backyard projects this weekend included replanting and mulching the flower bed behind the house, which was looking a little worn and sad with dying plants. I found some awesome grass plants at Home Depot that need barely any care. Perfect.

And throwing out our old, fraying hand-me-down fire pit chairs and replacing them with two new Adirondack chairs to match the ones my parents gave us this summer. All they need is a matching stain and we'll be all set.

I love working on the house and freshening things up, and it feels so nice to have the whole house clean and in order and the back yard refreshed and looking pretty before heading into the work week.

Meals were a little scattered throughout the weekend since we were running around and working so much, but I wanted to make sure to make a family dinner tonight. It started raining just as we finished our outdoor work, and with a chill in the air and a gray drizzle coming down outside I decided to make a big pot of coconut green curry for the clan.

It was super easy thanks to a jar of green curry paste I picked up at the store. I just simmered it with a can of coconut milk while I cooked off a few bags of frozen veggies and sauteed some tofu. Then I tossed everything together in a big pot, and dinner was served. Yum.

I've got exactly 5 minutes before Breaking Bad comes on and Matt is giving me a time check about every 30 seconds, so I've gotta get my booty in some PJ's and get settled on the couch!