Pesto Chips

IMG_1718Bunches of fresh basil and some other kitchen staples are all you need to make these incredibly fragrant and savory appetizers. These are pretty easy to whip up, yet your kitchen will smell like you’re a seasoned gourmet who’s been slaving at the stove all day. I’ve been making these for years to serve either as appetizers, or as a side to a meal of grilled meat, veggies, and some fruit. When tomatoes aren’t in season, these are great with just the tortillas, pesto, and grated cheese. I often made these sans tomatoes for an after-school snack for my boys. (Hmmmmm. Maybe that’s why they developed rather sophisticated food palettes. They did occasionally get Rice Krispy bars or other more kid-friendly fare…occasionally.)

Farmer’s markets are teaming with fresh basil, parsley, and tomatoes this time of year. I got the most delicious Roma tomatoes this weekend from a little Saturday morning Farmer’s market in West St. Paul (Icy Cup parking lot, 63 George Street, corner of George and Stryker. For more info, visit My friend Sue’s daughter, Nellie (and her new husband Stephen), have a booth there selling organic produce from their farm, Whistling Thistle. The Roma’s I got from them were perfect for these, as they were meaty and had a lower moisture content than standard grocery store ‘maters. That’s essential to keep the chips crispy once baked.

Makes 8 ounces pesto

For pesto:
1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves (washed and rinsed)
½ cup fresh parsley springs (without stems), or ¼ cup dried parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup slivered almonds (or pine nuts)
1 large clove garlic, quartered
¼ teaspoon salt

For chips:
Corn or flour tortillas
Shredded aged mozzarella, or cubed fresh mozzarella
Roma tomatoes, diced

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. In a blender or food processor, combine basil, parsley, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, almonds, garlic, and salt. Cover and blend or process with several on-off turns until paste forms. Stop machine to scrape down sides as needed.

Spread a few tablespoons of pesto over one of the tortillas, and put it on a baking sheet. (Flour tortillas are tastier, but I’ve used corn tortillas to make these gluten free.) Sprinkle cheese of choice on top, then repeat process for desired number of tortillas. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until edges are crispy and slightly browned. Cut into wedges and serve as is, or sprinkle with the diced tomatoes, then cut and serve.

NOTE: If not using the pesto immediately, store in airtight container and refrigerate up to a week, or freeze for 6-12 months.

For another tasty way to use your basil pesto, Check out a previous post with directions for a basil pasta that’s a fabulous meal on it’s own.

Raspberry Wine Bread

FullSizeRender-1This sweet bread with a raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting is an absolute favorite with my current (but soon to be former!) co-workers. These are best for brunch, or as a treat with a cup of coffee or tea. Since it tastes similar to a Swedish kringle, I’m not sure why this is called “wine bread,” as there is no wine used in the recipe. Does it go great with a glass of red or white? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve been making this recipe for years, ever since it was given to me by my host mom during a Bethel College women’s choir tour. Maybe it was the break from church basement potlucks featuring red Kool-Aid and green Jell-O that made this treat especially delightful, or maybe it was the thoughtfulness of the South Dakota mom who made the effort to go beyond chocolate chip cookies to welcome her guests. In hindsight, I think the poor woman was a little shocked that a skinny little college girl (this was a while ago…), could down as many of these delicious treats as I did. She simply had to share the recipe so I could get my fix once I got home. She sure didn’t want me stalking her for more.

Don’t let the fact that there’s yeast in the recipe scare you. This is one of the easier yeast dough’s to make, as all the eggs and butter make it very pliable. I’ve included photos below of how to roll out and assemble, in case my descriptions don’t make sense. Then once you’ve tried it, give me YOUR opinion of how it got it’s name.

Makes 4 pastries, each one yielding about 8 pieces

For pastry:
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2½ teaspoons dry yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk
Raspberry pie filling *

For frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1½ cups powdered sugar
¼-1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sliced almonds

In small sauce pan, melt butter. Stir in sugar and salt, and stir until they are dissolved. Let cool to lukewarm. Pour into mixing bowl; fit mixer with dough hook. Sprinkle yeast on top of butter mixture. Mix eggs in small bowl, then add to butter and yeast in bowl, along with 1 cup of the flour. Stir to combine. Add milk and the rest of the flour all at once, and turn mixer on second to lowest setting. Stir until dough clings to dough hook, and no bits remain on outside of the bowl. Cover dough with plastic wrap, tucking it right on top of dough ball. Chill at least 15 minutes, or up to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Divide chilled dough into 4 equal parts. Sprinkle cutting board with flour and drop one section of dough onto surface, and knead into a ball. Sprinkle a little flour on top. Roll out with rolling pin to about ¼” thickness. Transfer to a baking sheet. (You will need 2 baking sheets for the 4 pastries.) Spread one-quarter of the raspberry filling down middle section of the dough, then fold 1/3 over from each side on top of filling. Repeat process with other three sections of dough to form the rest of the pastries.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and place each pastry on a cooling rack. Cool for about 30-60 minutes. Then make frosting. Place cream cheese in smaller mixing bowl, then add powdered sugar and cream thoroughly. Gradually add ¼ cup milk, and both extracts. If frosting is not thin enough to drizzle on pastry, add more milk. Drizzle or spread onto cooled dough, then sprinkle sliced almonds on top. To serve, slice into 1-2 inch wide strips. Store any remaining pastries in an airtight containers.

*NOTE: While I prefer raspberry pie filling for this recipe, you can also use blueberry or peach. I’ve made this with all those flavors, but usually raspberry is the fan favorite.


Basil Pesto

FullSizeRenderBasil is bountiful at farmer’s markets this time of year, so what can you do with this most fragrant of herbs? Pesto is a versatile sauce, and making it yourself fills your kitchen to the brim with fresh summertime smells. We love this recipe (from an older Better Homes & Gardens cookbook) stirred up over a a pound of prepared pasta, with cubes of grilled chicken, and cherry tomatoes. Delish!!! I love wide, flat noodles with pesto. Trader Joe’s lemon pepper pappardelle pasta works really well (pictured here), but you can use anything your little heart desires—penne, spaghetti, linguini, farfella (aka: bow tie pasta) or those little cup shaped ones I can’t remember the name of. I draw the line at lasagna noodles, though. That would just be silly, people.

This is also great slathered on a tortilla and sprinkled with grated parmesan, and then baked in a 375° oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until edges or tortillas are crisp. Cut like a pizza and serve with your meal. (If you use corn tortillas, this could be a gluten-free snack.) Or spread on think chunks of sourdough bread and top with fresh mozz and a slice of tomato, then broil in the oven for a few minutes. These make fabulous appetizers. 

I’ve also done a mixture of half real mayonnaise, and half prepared pesto for a sandwich spread. You want to wake up your boring old lunch, this will do it! So is that enough ideas to get you going?

IMG_1038I’m super excited because my basil is actually doing great in my mini herb garden this year. In the past, it’s grown rather sparse in my pots, but my plant is going gang-busters right now—it’s yielded enough to make 3 jars already! But when I’ve not had basil right out my back door, I’ve bought bunches from the farmer’s market, and spent a morning making multiple recipes of pesto, putting each batch in an 8-ounce container (pint jars work great). Then I use one batch fresh for dinner or appetizers, and freeze the others for use all year long. There is nothing like a batch of pesto over pasta in the dead of winter—it’s a reminder that spring will come again.

Makes 8 ounces

1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves (washed and rinsed)
½ cup fresh parsley springs (without stems), or 1/4 cup dried parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup slivered almonds*
1 large clove garlic, quartered
¼ teaspoon salt

In a blender or food processor, combine basil, parsley, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, almonds, garlic, and salt. Cover and blend or process with several on-off turns until paste forms. Stop machine to scrape down sides as needed.

If not using immediately, store in airtight container and refrigerate up to a week, or freeze for 6-12 months.

*NOTE: I used to make this with pine nuts—the traditional nut for this recipe—but they are crazy bonkers expensive, so I use almonds now and they work just as well. Pine nuts also have a tendency to go rancid if not refrigerated, and I’ve wasted those little gold nuggets unintentionally. So I quit buying them and stick with almonds.

Chicken, Rice, and Almond Casserole

IMG_0693Casseroles feel like cold-weather comfort food, but this savory chicken and rice dish is such a people-pleaser that you can make it any time of year. This is my go-to recipe when I’m bringing a meal to a friend who’s in need of a meal, whether due to the happiness of a new addition or the heartbreaking loss of a loved one. It’s mild enough for even the pickiest eaters, yet has enough flavor to keep everyone coming back for seconds. Make this ahead of time, then cover and keep in the frig for a day or two, and bake up when needed. (I wouldn’t recommend freezing it as the milk or cream in it will curdle. It doesn’t affect the taste, just the appearance.) So how do you make this easy recipe even easier? By purchasing a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store instead of baking, boiling, or grilling your own chicken.

I got this recipe from a friend about 20 years ago, and can barely read my handwriting on the recipe card—that’s how much it’s been used! My guess is that it was published by the makers of Uncle Ben’s rice, as that’s the key ingredient, but I’ve got no proof of that. The recipe calls for half and half, which you can certainly use if you have it on hand. However, it’s great made with milk in place of the cream, especially if you’re watching fat in your food. (My farm-boy father would tell you to make it with cream. End of discussion.)

Serves 6

1 box Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Rice Original Recipe
1/4 butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4–1/2 teaspoon course ground black pepper
1 cup half and half or milk
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Prepare Uncle Ben’s rice according to package directions. While rice is cooking, melt butter in large sauce pan. Add chopped onion and cook on low until onions are translucent. Remove from heat and gradually sprinkle in flour, stirring until all the flour is combined. Add salt and pepper, stir again. Put pan back on low heat and gradually stir in cream or milk until flour mixture is smooth and creamy. Add chicken broth, and stir to combine. Turn heat to medium-high. Heat and stir until mixture is smooth and bubbly. In large bowl, combine milk mixture, cooked chicken, cooked rice, and almonds. Pour into 2 quart casserole dish and bake uncovered in preheated oven for 30 minutes.

NOTE: If using gluten-free chicken broth, this is a gluten-free recipe.