Last Week’s Menu: Beer Cheese Soup, Bacon Brussels Sprouts & More!

In an effort to not only catalog previously attempted recipes, but also give a few hints, tips and anecdotes, here’s last week’s menu revisited!

beer cheese soup Continue reading


Cooking Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad

I’ve noticed recently that I’m getting to a place with my cooking where I don’t mind using a recipe as a spring board instead of a by-the-numbers rule book. Part of that comes from being a lot more comfortable in the kitchen and part comes from not reading recipes all the way through before adding the ingredients to my shopping list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll get to that day’s recipe read it through and realize there’s a major part I missed. In the case of this recipe for Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad from Hannaford’s Fresh magazine, I didn’t see that a major part of the process involved roasting vegetables in the oven at 450 degrees. I don’t know about where you guys are, but it’s been in the 80s for weeks now here and there’s no way I’m adding to that heat if I can avoid it. So, I decided to sauté my veggies. I also completely forgot the green beans and made homemade pasta for my version.

Aside from making the pasta which is always a time consuming, but rewarding process, this is a super simple recipe to put together that just involves the cutting up of some vegetables, some sauté time and a bit of food processing. To make room in my small kitchen, I made the pesto first. I followed the recipe as written, but wound up with a really bitter pesto from all that arugula. To balance it out, I added about 1/4 more parmesan and the juice of half a large lemon which helped balance everything out.

With that out of the way, it was veggie cutting time. I took my knife to the red pepper, squash, onion and tomatoes before tossing them in a bowl with oil and then popping them in my high-sided pan for sauté time. At this point I also had the water going for the pasta so everything would get done at about the same time for mixing. My timing wasn’t perfect, but everything came together nicely for a solid alternate version of pesto packed with vitamins and nutrients that my family really enjoyed.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 1

As any regular readers will know, it’s been a looooong time since I’ve posted here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Unfortunately, with work and all kinds of other things going one — raising our two year old and prepping for a new little baby — MATK can fall to the wayside. But, I’m still cooking almost every night which means I have a huge backlog of meals to talk about going back to last fall. So, in an effort to try and document the good recipes I’ve tried out in the last few months, I figured I’d implement a new kind of a post called Recipe Roundup that will gather a bunch of meals from different places, throw in a few pics and do my best to remember how they turned out.

Today’s subject is one of my favorite new cooking sites, Closet Cooking which is great because there’s tons of older recipes on there and the site gets updated constantly. I also appreciate that Kevin Lynch seems to be cooking in a kitchen even smaller than mine which is no small feat. So, without further ado, hit the jump to check out the first batch of CC recipes I’ve tried out in the past few months!  Continue reading

Revisiting Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto

fresh pea pesto

A few weeks back, my wife convinced me to go with her and our daughter to a nearby farm so we could pick strawberries — one of our daughter’s favorite foods — and anything else we might come across. It was luckily not too hot when we got there, but I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of doing my own picking. I don’t mind paying a little bit more to buy local goods that have been picked by other folks. In fact, after actually going out and doing this, I’m even more okay with it. Anyway, the other thing my wife decided to get from the farm was a big basket of sugar snap peas. For some reason, I can never find them fresh at our grocery store which has a pretty solid and impressive selection most of the time. So, she wanted a pea-centric recipe and I searched by blog went with Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto, a recipe that’s super easy and super tasty, two of the biggest things I look for when making food.

My wife was adamant that the fresh peas would taste far better than the frozen ones I usually wind up using. I joked with her, saying I forgot to use the fresh and went with the frozen instead and that I couldn’t tell the difference between fresh and frozen, but that was just for giggles. In fact, the fresh peas made for such a big difference that I fully support her going out and picking more…just leave me and the kid at home.

Forgotten Food: Michael Ruhlman’s Sage-Garlic-Brined & Roasted Kale Pest Pork Chops

ruhlman's sage-garlic brined pork chops

As regular readers of the blog might have realized by this point, I cook a lot more than I actually write about food. As it happens, Monkeying Around The Kitchen gets pushed to the wayside when I get swamped with work or just don’t feel like sitting under the computer any more, but I still make time to cook about five times a week. I keep a folder on my desktop of images organized as best I can, but even with so many images and saved recipes, I can’t always remember how the things I cooked turned out, especially if I few a few somewhat similar things within a short period of time. That’s the case with these two recipes I’m talking about now, Sage-Garlic-Brined Pork Chops from Rhulman’s Twenty (page 29) and Food Network’s Pork Chops With Roasted Kale and Walnut Pesto.

Above you can see the brined chops. I remember putting that brine together, frying them and that picture sure looks pretty, but I just can’t remember what they tasted like. I want to say I liked them because, well, I love lemon and capers but I can’t say for sure. Around this time I also made some parmesan pork chops that were incredibly tasty. I think that memory might have knocked this one out of my brain.

pork chops with roasted kale & walnut pest0

Meanwhile, there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the Food Network recipe, but the chops themselves weren’t particularly interesting. You’re just cooking them in oil with some salt, pepper and rosemary sprinkled around. They weren’t bad by any means, just not overly memorable. However, I was a fan of the kale and walnut pesto recipe included therein. I love how versatile pesto turns out to be and enjoy trying new takes on the classic. I don’t remember eating these as leftovers, but I do remember combining the rest of the pesto with some leftover pasta that I whipped up one day and wound up having a nice little lunch for myself.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto (Sorta)

As my go-to, single person recipe blog, I spend about as much time flipping through Smitten Kitchen’s archives as I do going through books by people like Betty Crocker, Alton Brown and Michael Ruhlman. We’re just on similar wavelenghts and she has a killer eye for good food. So, I was pretty excited when I came across her recipe for Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto. I was far less excited, however, when I went to the grocery store that week and they didn’t have any basil. I wasn’t really prepared to sub in another recipe, so I decided to wing it and the results weren’t half bad.

I followed the recipe for the most part, but added and subtracted a few things based on what I had on hand. Obviously, the basil was out of the pesto, so I tried making it a little more flavorful by adding some olives, but I don’t think that flavor really came through in the finished product. I also decided to heat up some of the frozen Thanksgiving turkey and warmed that up in the same pan I toasted the almonds in.

When the sauce was done whirring in the food processor, I added it to the defrosted chicken and let those guys get to know each other a little bit while the pasta finished doing its thing. Before draining, I pulled out some of the pasta water which I later mixed back in to thicken everything up a bit. I haven’t made the recipe yet as written, though I intend to at some point, but I can say that mine was pretty almond-y. It did feel like it was missing a little something without the basil, but overall it felt like a pretty good save.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Spaghetti With Broccoli Cream Pesto

I didn’t take a lot of pictures of my process for making Smitten Kitchen’s Spaghetti With Broccoli Cream Pesto because it’s not a particularly photo-worthy post (plus, there’s no way I can take better one that SK’s Deb Perelman). You’re boiling water, steaming broccoli, cooking pasta, cutting up broccoli, shredding cheese, chopping garlic, throwing stuff in the food processor, cooking onions and eating.

I’ve made plenty of pesto recipes before and love the variety you can come across even without the traditional ingredients of pesto and pine nuts. In this case the cooked broccoli and onions take the place of those fancier greens. The real genius of this recipe is how you basically use one pot and the food processor to make the whole thing. I got a pot of water boiling and put the steam basket in the top of it. Once it was ready, I added the cleaned and trimmed broccoli. Once that was done and set aside, I threw the pasta in.

While that cooked I took care of some of the other prep stuff. I cut up the onion and shredded the parm. When it was done and drained, I then cooked first the onion and then the broccoli in the pot. When that was done, everything but the pasta went into the food processor and we had diner after a few whirs.

I can’t really say that I’d kick my other pesto recipes to the curb for this one, but I do appreciate that it’s so simple to put together. If you’ve got an extra box of pasta and some broccoli you’re good to go. In a pinch you could use milk instead of cream, You could also cook up some chicken and add that in for added protein if you wanted. Super easy.

Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Eggplant Appetizer & Greek Pizza

This past Sunday, after attempting to hit up a few other places, we found ourselves at Mama Theresa’s for dinner. Since we didn’t order ahead of time and wanted a full pie, we decided to eat there and actually sat in the really nice back room that we’d never been in. As always, the food there was excellent. We started off with a special eggplant appetizer whose name I can’t quite remember, but think it might have been something like Eggplant Pie or Eggplant Stack or something along those lines. Basically, among slices of cooked eggplant there was also healthy doses of mozzarella, pesto, their awesome red sauce and prosciutto. It was all around delightful, the kind of thing I’d like to figure out how to make myself.

Of course, that was the opening act to the main event: pizza! When my wife first suggested getting the Greek Pizza, I vetoed that because I was thinking it would focus on the somewhat overpowering combination of feta and olives that mark such things when cooked by people without much knowledge of Greek cooking. I decided to give it a try and it was delish! The key here was not using too many olives or too much feta, but there was also great grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, onions and yellow peppers that weren’t too hot for my wussy tongue.

Cooking Rachel Ray’s Spinach Artichoke Whole-Wheat Penne

Pesto, pesto, pesto, I love me some pesto. You can tell because it has its own category on the righthand side there. I’ve actually made Rachel Rays Spinach Artichoke Whole-Wheat Penne before, but that was before the blog, so I figured it made for not only a good recipe to revisit, but also post-worthy. I’m still not sure how I feel about Rachel Ray, but she does have some good recipes that can be made with fresh (or mostly fresh) ingredients.

Anyway, this was another recipe I went with because it’s not super hot to make. You basically get the pot of water boiling for the pasta first, then get the pesto together in the food processor and cook the artichokes, mixing the various elements together at different times.

After getting the water going, I also put some of my homemade frozen stock in a pot to defrost and toasted some almonds. By the way, I love replacing the very expensive pine nuts, which I always skip, with toasted almonds, this is a good substitution. Anyway, after those things were moving along, I put the stock, toasted almonds, spinach, basil, shallot, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil in the bowl of the FP and gave it a few whirls.

At the same time, I started cooking the artichoke hearts in some olive oil in the Dutch oven. Once the sauce was done, that went into the pan with the hearts. Once the pasta was done cooking, it also went into the DO along with a bunch of shredded parm. All that got cooked together for a few minutes and you’ve got dinner.

I thought this was a pretty good alternative pesto. I wouldn’t completely replace traditional pesto with this version, but it’s nice to have an easier — and let’s face it, cheaper — version that can be easily put together. Adding in artichokes hearts makes everything better in my book, so that’s an added bonus as well. You could also grill up some chicken and include that to add some protein, something I might do next time.

Cooking Gnocchi

Hope everyone had an enjoyable Memorial Weekend. I helped plan for, cook for and throw a birthday party for our one-year-old, took a bit of relaxing time and then helped friends dig mud out of their pool after some flooding last year. I could probably use a three day weekend for my three day weekend, but what are you gonna do?

I would have thought making gnocchi would have been as complicated as my weekend, but it was actually relatively simple (sorry for the clunky transition, it’s been a looooong week followed by a longer weekend). Anyway, a week or two back I was flipping through my copy of Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking and came across his recipe for Gnocchi (page 70). I’ll be honest, I’ve been skipping this book in my rotation lately because so much of it involves making sauces and not only is that time consuming, but winter’ s not a good time to make tomato sauce. It turns out, gnocchi only calls for seven ingredients: potatoes, butter, Parmesan cheese, two egg yolks, flour, salt and boiling water. If you have those things and some kind of sauce, you’re good to go.

You start off by boiling three quarts of aqua and then dropping five or so medium potatoes in there for 30 minutes. While those were bubbling, I decided to whip up a basic pesto sauce without pine nuts (those things are way too expensive). I basically just tossed some basil, garlic, Parm and olive oil in our smaller food processor and was good to go. I also placed six table spoons of butter in a pan on the stove near the boiling water pot, but didn’t not put heat under it. I didn’t want to burn the butter, but figured this would be a good way to melt it without having to worry and I turned out to be right!

Once the potatoes are done in the water, you pull them out and mash them in a pan that’s on the fire to help get rid of excess water. I personally didn’t bother peeling the potatoes at any point, figuring the skin has good nutrients we could use. Once everything was good and mashed, I threw the potatoes in a mixing bowl for my wife’s KitcheAide, used the dough hook and added in the egg yolks and flour. I probably could have done that by hand, but if you’ve got a good tool, use it.

Left with a nice dough ball, I got out my dough cutter which I usually just use to scrape up chopped veggies. I quartered the dough and froze half of it and worked with the other two quarters. I rolled them out on the counter and chopped them into little nuggets with the cutter. There was something in the recipe about rolling the nuggets down a fork to get that ribbed look we all know and love, but I wasn’t quite understanding it until I found the following video on YouTube, which clarified things for me.

So, once I had my nuggets of gnocchi properly forked, it was time to get them in another pot of boiling water. Much like pierogies, you drop these potato concoctions into the boiling water and they’re ready when they float to the top. I must admit, it’s a little hard to tell when something is actually on the top under it’s own powers and not the roiling boil, but I think I got the hang of it. Once they were done, I combined the gnocchi in a bowl with the melted butter and some grated Parmesan.

I thought the gnocchi turned out really good, but the mistake I made was using the amount of butter and cheese for the full recipe when I had actually only made half of the gnocchi. I didn’t realize this until well after I ate a plateful in pesto sauce and came away with the kind of stomach ache that comes from eating overly rich food. That’s when I remembered I essentially doubled the butter. Wah, wah.

This will definitely be a recipe I come back to down the line. As I mentioned over in one of my photo diary posts on The Monkee Diaries, I tried thawing out the frozen dough and making them again but they turned out really watery and gross. Adding in more flour didn’t seem to do anything and the whole thing wound up being a bust. I think what I might do next time is actually make all the gnocchi and then freeze half. Would that work?

Pizza Party: Pizza Mia’s Pesto Chicken & Sicilian Slices

I know these aren’t the prettiest looking slices of pizza in the world, but it just goes to show how good pizza in our area is. Those look a little limp (and had most likely been sitting for a while), but they tasted awesome! On the left you have Pizza Mia’s pesto chicken slice which had a really great pesto sauce and their Sicilian. I’m in awe of Pizza Mia’s sauce which is just so sweet and zingy that I want to eat it every day.

Cooking Pea Pesto

It was unseasonably hot last week, which made menu planning relatively difficult. I didn’t want to make things that would heat up the house too much, but didn’t really succeed. The first thing I decided to make required not one, but two pans of boiling water. We wound up turning the AC on because it was so hot by the time my wife got home, but I think it was overall a good dinner.

I should tell you what I made, it was Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto, which I’ve actually made and enjoyed several times before. Like I said, the recipe revolves around two pots of water, one big for the pasta — I went with rotini instead of the linguine the recipe suggests — and one smaller one to cook the peas. I also prepared a bowl of cold water to shock the peas once they were done cooking.

While the peas boiled, I worked on the rest of the pesto ingredients. I followed the recipe, but also threw in the last few usable leaves of basil I had from an earlier meal. After shocking the peas, they went into the food processor and that component was all set. Once the pasta was done cooking, everything went into a bowl and got mixed up together.

I would love to make this with fresh peas, but my grocery store never seems to have them. As it is, the end result hinges on how good the peas are. This batch wasn’t quite as sweet as some previous ones, so I was missing a bit of that sweetness, but I really do love how simple and very good this recipe is. It works just as well cold as hot and you could also cook up some chicken and include that in the bowl if you so please.

Cooking Broccoli Pesto & Fusilli

Last week I asked my wife what she wanted for dinner that week. She got out her binder filled with printed and handwritten recipes and pulled out one for Broccoli Pesto & Fusilli which she printed off back in 2008 from 101 Cookbooks. It sounded simple and tasty, plus I always love trying pesto-based dishes. You can click the link to follow the recipe as it’s written, I changed a few things as I went. First off, I nixed the walnuts because they’re not baby friendly right now. I also decided to steam my broccoli instead of blanching like the recipe suggests.

So, I started off by getting a pot of water on the fire for the pasta and then set up my steamer tray in my other pot for the broccoli florets. While the heat worked on those, I got the rest of the pesto ingredients ready by introducing Parmesan, garlic, lemon juice and salt to the food processor. While that appliance waited for the broccoli to finish up–which took about 10 or 12 minutes–I chopped up the suggested handfuls of spinach and also combined that with the drained can of sliced black olives I picked up from the story. The recipe says to add those last, but I figured tossing it all together would be fine.

Once the broccoli was done steaming, I transferred them to the processor and zoomed the pesto together, dripping olive oil in from the top. Once the pasta was done cooking, I drained it and dumped it wholesale into the bowl with the spinach and olives for mixing. After those elements got to know each other, I then poured the pesto in and dinner was ready to be served.

I really liked how this recipe turned out. If I had had some basil lying around, I probably would have thrown some in when making the pesto. The only blunder I made was cooking the whole box of pasta instead of the recommended 8 ounces. The coverage was pretty good the way I made it, but I think the whole thing would have balanced better with less pasta (or more sauce, I guess). All in all, you get the elements of pesto with the addition of broccoli, so this one’s a winner in my book. You could also grill up some chicken, chop it up and add that if you wanted more protein.

Cooking Genoese Ministrone Soup

I was originally a little intimidated when it came to the recipe for Genoese Minestrone Soup found in The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 444) because of the laundry list of ingredients. But, upon closer inspection, I realized that most of them were just vegetables. I enjoy chopping, so I added celery, carrots, green beans, zucchini, potato, eggplant, cannellini beans, plum tomatoes, pasta, vegetable broth and pesto sauce to my grocery list. That’s pretty much all that goes into this recipe and I thought it wound up making a very tasty soup with tons of veggies.

First up, you cook the carrot, onion and celery in a pan in oil, then add in the beans, zucchini and potato (it also called for cabbage, but I skipped that for lack of anything to do with the rest of the head) and cook a bit more. Pop the eggplant, beans and tomatoes in, cook a few more minutes and then add the stock, salt and pepper and simmer for 40 minutes. At this point, you’re supposed to make your own, pesto, but I was feeling a bit lazy and am too cheap to buy a $10 jar of pine nuts, so I went with the jarred stuff.

After cooking for 40 minutes, you add the pasta, let simmer for five minutes and then add the pesto and simmer for another two or three minutes and you’ve got some soup on your hands. You can’t really tell from the pictures, but the soup turned out a lot thicker than I expected. The picture in the cookbook makes it look pretty clean and clear. Maybe I didn’t use the right amount of broth, but even though it didn’t look all too pretty, I thought it tasted great. All those vegetables mixed together really well with the broth and the noodles added some texture and beans some protein. All in all, this was yet another great recipe from one of my most consistently reliable cookbooks!

Cooking Lima Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato & Pesto Soup

Do you ever make a recipe that’s so simple and yet so good you wonder why everyone doesn’t make it all the time? That’s how I felt after making the Lima Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato & Pesto Soup recipe from The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 210). By the way, if you follow that link you’ll see that the book is selling for $250, which is bonkers because we got ours at Barnes & Noble for a couple bucks. Not sure why it’s so pricey.

Anyway, the recipe is crazy simple. You basically boil 56 ounces of strained lima beans, which are apparently also known as butter beans (had to look that one up on my phone because I was having zero luck finding lima beans at the grocery store). Once those are boiled you add in sun-dried tomato paste and pesto, boil, blend some up and then combine. There you go.

I also couldn’t find 28oz cans, so I went with four 15.5 ouncers. I also couldn’t find actual sun-dried tomato paste, so I got a small jar of them in oil and blended them up in the Magic Bullet. I guess that’s the same as tomato paste, right? We also didn’t have any pesto lying around from back when we had basil, so I bought a jar.

Man, oh man, this was great stuff. All those flavors combined so well and tasted so good together. It wasn’t like tasting something brand new, but more like tasting a brand new combo that makes all kinds of sense and is therefore awesome. My wife was actually pretty bummed out when I told her we were having a lima bean-based soup because she hates them. But, I convinced her to give it a shot and she really, really liked the soup. I will definitely be adding this one to regular rotation and perusing this book for more recipes to see if it’s worth that crazy-high price tag some people are selling it for!

Bonus Food Pic: Woody’s Italian Burger

Woody’s All Natural
30 Quaker Ave
Cornwall, NY
(845) 534-1111

A few weekends back we hit up Woody’s, one of our favorite local burger joints, and I wound up trying their brand new Italian burger. If memory serves it was one of their regular burgers with homemade mozzarella, basil and tomato on it. Maybe roasted red peppers, too? I can’t quite remember. It was good, but the addition of some pesto mayo would have really brought the whole thing together!

Cooking Pasta With Pesto Cream Sauce & Italian Red Swiss Chard

Like I said when I went through this week’s menu, this was the first time I ever tried cooking a recipe from The Pioneer Woman. Her recipe for Pasta with Pesto Cream Sauce was right up my alley as I love, well, all of those things and am no stranger to cooking any of them. The recipe wound up being both tasty and really easy to put together, especially because we’ve got a bunch of basil in our mini herb garden. The only change I made was not using pine nuts because–as I Tweeted–those things are freaking expensive! What’s the deal with that?

Anyway, after getting the pasta together, I realized that I didn’t really have much in the way of a vegetable. I had picked up some red swiss chard at the grocery store to mix things up a little bit (you can only have asparagus and broccoli so many times a month without going a little mad), but didn’t have a recipe in mind. So when I came across Karen’s for Italian-Style Swiss Chard on, I went with it, mostly because it was the first one I stumbled upon where I had all the ingredients. The only change I made to the recipe was not using a full 1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. I’m not a big fan of the heat, so I just gave the jar a shake or two and went from there.

The Pasta with Pesto Cream Sauce turned out amazing. With a little shredded Parmesan cheese on top it had that awesome basil-y, olive oily flavor that you expect, plus the creaminess added by the butter and cream. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a creamy basil sauce, but I’m definitely a fan. The chard though was another story. It came out pretty salty, so much so that I went back and double checked the recipe, thinking I might have accidentally used a tablespoon of salt instead of a teaspoon. Nope. It’s supposed to be that salty. So, if I were going to use that recipe again, I’d modify it to use a lot less salt. Aside from that though, this was a great meal that wound up being just as good today for lunch. It doens’t get much better than that!