Basil Pesto Pasta

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Basil Pesto Pasta! I’m tired. And I’m hungry. What in the world can I cook for dinner that doesn’t take forever? But I want the taste to make me feel like I’m someone special. First of all, go over to the wine rack and open a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Pour a little into a stemmed glass. Swirl and take a sip. This will put you in the mood. The wonderfully sweet herbal notes of the fresh basil will complement the flavor of the wine. Plus, the olive oil and parmesan cheese in the pesto sauce enhance the richness of fruit in the Cab. Take another sip. Now let’s get started. (Footnote: Obviously if you already have a jar of your favorite Basil Pesto in the kitchen pantry, you’re one step ahead.)

BASIL PESTO PASTA

Ingredients:

10.5 ounce package of cherry tomatoes

12 large basil leaves

1/3 cup almonds, slightly toasted

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup olive oil

1 pound spaghetti

1 tablespoon sea salt

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Fresh basil leaves, for garnish

Instructions:

Combine cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, toasted almonds, garlic clove, and kosher salt in a food processor. Pulse to blend into a fine purée. Scrape the sides and turn the processor on Low setting. Slowly pour the olive oil into the mixture in a continuous stream. The pesto will thicken nicely. Set aside. Cook the spaghetti in salted water, according to package directions. Drain well. Transfer spaghetti to a bowl. Quickly toss with pesto sauce. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over all. Garnish with basil leaves.

Bowlful of Cherries

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Bowlful of Cherries! Aren’t they lovely? Ripe cherries are an ideal snack, by the handful. For some, it’s so simple to remove the pit with your teeth. I knew a guy once who could tie the cherry stem into a bow. (I think he did it to impress his wife.) Ripe cherries pair well with Goat cheese, Camembert cheese, or Bleu cheese garnished with a sprig of thyme, basil, or mint. Their ruby-red color is as appealing as their natural sweetness. The possibilities are endless. Add chocolate pieces for a dessert charcuterie board if you like a relaxed atmosphere at the end of a meal. Whatever you choose, get a pound of cherries before they’re gone. And don’t forget a nice bottle of Chardonnay.

BOWLFUL OF CHERRIES

1 pound ripe cherries, stems on

1/2 pound cheese of choice

Fresh herbs

Dark Chocolate candies

Instructions:

Fill a small bowl with sweet cherries. Set aside. Make available a plate of pitted cherries. To pit a cherry, place the fruit on a cutting board. Using a sharp paring knife, press down gently on one side of the stem. Firmly slice an incision from top to bottom until the cherry loosens the pit. Do not crush the cherry. Gently pull on either side to expose the pit. Remove it with your fingernail. One side will have the stem, the other will not. Provide colorful toothpicks for piercing.

Beef and Noodles

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Eat More: Beef and Noodles! I decided to take the day off from cooking so I tag-teamed with Le Creuset. All the ingredients went into the enameled cast iron French oven pretty much all day. This reliable way of slow-cooking gave me the opportunity to spend time ironing tea towels and perusing my towering stack of current magazines. As the day wound down, the mouth-watering aromas filled the air and before I knew it, dinner was ready. The roast had basted in its own juices to blend with the herbs, wine, and vegetables for delicious results. Now leftover recipes will be a breeze. Well done!

BEEF AND NOODLES

Ingredients:

3 pound sirloin tip roast, frozen

1 can beef consommé

1/2 cup ginger beer

1 tablespoon Hawaiian Rub*

8 ounces homestyle noodles

1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup red wine

1/4 cup cornstarch

Parsley sprigs

Instructions:

Place frozen sirloin roast in a Dutch oven with a lid. Add the can of beef consommé and ginger beer. Sprinkle Hawaiian Rub over roast. Cover. Put in oven and set the temperature to 225°. After six hours, add noodles and mushrooms. Bake covered 45 minutes longer. Remove pan from oven and ladle the roast drippings into a saucepan. It should be about 2 cups of liquid. Bring to a boil. Mix the red wine and cornstarch, stirring until smooth. Slowly stir into the roast drippings, stirring occasionally to prevent lumps. As gravy thickens, reduce heat to simmer. If necessary add water if it becomes too thick. Remove beef to a platter and shred, as needed. Return shredded beef to the noodle/mushroom mixture. Cover with gravy. Transfer to serving portions. Garnish each dish with parsley sprig.

* Hawaiian Rub is available from the Salty Wahine Gourmet Hawaiian Sea Salts company. I get no recompense for mentioning this product in my recipe.

Café Portofino in Lihue, Kauai

Dining Outside the Home: Café Portofino in Lihue, Kauai! Feel the romantic rhythm of northern Italy in a tropical destination overlooking the beach. This is paradise on the island of Kauai. The food is true Italian cuisine, the wine from cellars across the world. Café Portofino, a family-owned business, offers fresh seafood and locally sourced vegetables as well as classic dishes. Notice the Red Beet Salad and Grilled Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo, both celebration-worthy. Chat with the wait staff. Their friendly reception is warm and connected with deep-felt hospitality. For a memorable evening, especially bringing in the New Year, treat yourself to a taste of Italy.

Gruyère Onion Soup

Eating My Way Through the Holidays! Festive Foods: Gruyère Onion Soup! Everyone, sooner or later, falls in love with French Onion Soup, in my opinion. After all, who can resist the savory taste of caramelized onions, buttered croutons, and gooey melted cheese smothered in a beef broth that’s been splashed with a well-aged cognac? I wish I could tell you it’s as easy to make as opening a can of soup, but it isn’t. Don’t hate me. Let’s just say this…..if you are looking for an evening of mystery, romance, and excitement, then read on. This “soup de jour” may be the love potion that’ll woo the night away. Bon Appetît!

GRUYÈRE ONION SOUP

Ingredients:

3 Vidalia onions, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon Herbs de Provence

1 cup white wine

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

10 ounces beef consommé

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

4 ounces Montamoré cheese, crumbled

Splash of cognac

4 slices baguette, toasted

4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

4 slices Gruyère cheese

Parsley flakes to garnish

Instructions:

In a shallow bowl, microwave sliced onions on HIGH for 2 minutes. In a large skillet, melt butter on low setting. Do not scorch. Layer onions over butter. Sprinkle with sea salt and Herbs de Provence. Cover and do not stir for 10 minutes. Remove lid and stir occasionally until onions are dark in color, another 10 minutes. Turn heat to High and add white wine and honey. Cook until wine is reduced and consistency is thick. Reduce heat to Simmer. Add apple cider vinegar, beef consommé, low-sodium chicken broth, and worcestershire sauce. Simmer for 15 minutes. Ladle soup into four oven-proof crocks placed on a heavy baking sheet. Add Montamoré crumbled cheese. Top with a splash of cognac. Place a toasted baguette slice on top of soup. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Lay one slice of Gruyère cheese over each bowl, with corners slightly overlapping sides. Broil on High for 2 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden. Remove carefully! Garnish with parsley flakes and serve immediately.

Garlic Butter Mussels

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Joy of Eating: Garlic Butter Mussels! One of the best ways to experience new foods is to be adventurous at your nearby market. By trying a quality product there first, you can decide if you might want to step out and either order it at a restaurant or perhaps, attempt to make it at home from scratch. That’s exactly what I did with this version of mussels. By making subtle changes that appeal to my palate, it turned my kitchen into a gourmet restaurant. Picture this, my husband was drawn indoors by the enticing aromas of garlic and seafood. I literally stood there at the stove in my bare feet feeding him fingertip morsels of aromatic mussels and herb-infused vermicelli. Talk about romantic!!!

GARLIC BUTTER MUSSELS

Ingredients:

16-ounce package mussels in garlic sauce, frozen*

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons white wine

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

4 ounces vermicelli

Sea salt to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon capers

1/8 teaspoon basil

1/8 teaspoon marjoram

1/8 teaspoon parsley

Instructions:

Empty contents of mussels pouch into a deep saucepan and cover. Heat on high for 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add butter, white wine, and garlic to increase juice. Meanwhile, cook vermicelli according to package directions. Drain. Return to pan. Add sea salt, olive oil, capers, basil, marjoram, and parsley. Mix well. Transfer vermicelli to individual serving pieces. Split mussels between them. (Serve in the shell.) Drizzle garlic butter wine sauce over all. Serve with crusty bread for dipping in juices.

*The rule of thumb for serving mussels is ALWAYS ensure mussel shells are fully opened before serving.

Jam Session

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? A Burst of Flavor: Jam Session! This recipe guarantees to be music to your ears. For once, you can make a single jar of your favorite fruit jam without spending an entire day in the kitchen. Simply put: This recipe is an answer to a time-saving prayer. Adapt to whatever is in season. If your craving today is raspberry, or strawberry, or apricot, or peach, have a jam session in minutes.

JAM SESSION

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups fresh peaches; peeled, diced, and stone removed

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon white wine*

3 discs of spiced ginger, slivered

2 cinnamon sticks

1 lemon

Pinch of sea salt

*May be substituted for water.

Instructions:

Pulse half the peaches in a food processor to make the fruit chunky. Transfer to a 2-3 quart saucepan. Add remaining diced peaches, sugar, wine, ginger, and juice of half the lemon. Slice a section of the lemon with rind on, remove seeds, and drop it into the pan. You will fish it back out later. (The lemon is a natural thickening agent.) Add two cinnamon sticks. Mix well. Cook the peaches over medium-high heat at a boil. It should begin to thicken. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking until mixture becomes jam, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let it sit for 10 minutes. Before transferring to a jar, remove the cinnamon sticks and lemon wedge. Store in the refrigerator.

White Cheddar Bacon Risotto

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: White Cheddar Bacon Risotto! Risotto. Seeing it on the menu always makes my heart palpitate a little faster. I once asked a chef his secret to creamy risotto. He confessed he cooked it part way and froze it until a customer requested it that night. He said with a wink, “That way, I only have to stir it til half my arm falls off.” Thank goodness my rice cooker knows no difference. If you must know, I had more difficulty coughing up the cost for saffron threads, the most expensive spice in the world. Once I understood that it is grown around the Mediterranean, in the Middle East, and in India, I began to see why it was such a labor-intensive crop. Saffron comes from a Fall flower and it takes more than 80,000 crocus flowers to process one pound of saffron. Perhaps that is why the taste is worth the price.

WHITE CHEDDAR BACON RISOTTO

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup shallot, diced

1 cup Arborio rice

2 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon saffron threads

1/4 cup white cheddar cheese, shredded

3-4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 tablespoon fresh parsley

Instructions:

In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Add diced shallots. Sauté shallots and Arborio rice until translucent, about 5 minutes. In a rice cooker, add chicken broth, white wine, saffron threads, diced shallots, and Arborio rice. Close and lock the lid of the rice cooker. Turn the knob to “Pressure”. Set timer for 7 minutes. When done, release the pressure. Stir in white cheddar cheese, bacon, and parsley. Serve immediately.