Oregano Pesto

IMG_8102Our once small oregano plant has turned into a full fledged shrub, overtaking everything else that was planted around it. In order to restore balance to our perennial herb garden, a good pruning was in order. But what to do with what ended up as four packed cups of oregano leaves? How about pesto! We’ve made many a pesto in our time, but never oregano pesto. Google provided lots of variations to choose from, so in the end we went with an eclectic recipe that turned out fantastic.

Oregano Pesto
Yields 2 Cups
Four packed cups of fresh oregano leaves (stems removed, washed, and squeezed dry)
2 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary (needles only)
4 Cloves Garlic (peeled)
1/2 Cup Walnut Oil
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Sunflower Seeds (hulled and unsalted)
1/2 Tsp. Kosher Salt
1/4 Tsp. Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Put the oregano leaves, rosemary, garlic, sunflower seeds, and salt in a medium bowl and using a hand mixer (or food processor) puree while adding the oil. Add enough oil to get to a spreadable consistency. The consistency will initially be a bit more stringy than traditional pesto made with basil, but it will smooth out eventually.

IMG_8087This recipe made enough to fill two 8oz. canning jars. To store more than a few days, place in small containers or ice cube trays, pour a bit of oil over the top, freeze, then pop out (if using the trays) into zip lock bags. If this is going into the fridge to use within the next few days, just cover the top of the pesto with a bit of olive oil to prevent oxidation.

IMG_8093Some great variations on this recipe:
– Add 1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
– Do a 50/50 mix of Oregano and Basil



Pickled Rosemary Garlic

IMG_7609Pickled garlic is so delicious and very simple to make. Pickling the garlic mellows out the harshness and makes it so tasty you can eat it straight out of the jar. The recipe below consists of a simple brine, some herbs, and garlic. It is designed to be canned using the hot water bath canning method. However, you could use the same recipe and instead make a refrigerator pickle.

Pickled Rosemary Garlic
Recipe adapted from Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

7 Large Heads of Garlic, peeled
1 1/2 Cups Vinegar
1 1/2 Cups Water
1 1/2 Tbsp. Pickling Salt
1 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary

Peel the garlic, cutting out any discolored parts of the clove.
IMG_7593Combine vinegar, water, salt, in a medium saucepan. Gently bruise the rosemary to release the oils and add to the saucepan. Bring the brine to a boil, allowing the rosemary to infuse the brine while you prepare your hot water bath, jars, and lids. Fill prepared jars with garlic, leaving 1/2″ head space. Once your jars are filled, strain the rosemary from the brine and pour hot brine over the garlic cloves. I added a pinch of red pepper flakes to a few jars, but feel free to omit them.
IMG_7600Wipe the jar rims and apply lids and rings. At this point you can place the jars in the refrigerator or process the jars for 10 minutes, once the water begins to boil.
When the time is up, turn off the heat and leave jars in pot until cool enough to handle. Remove the rings and test the seals. Any unsealed jars should go directly into the refrigerator.
IMG_7614I recommend waiting at least a week or two before opening your first jar. This allows sufficient time for the harshness to dissipate. This will store for up to one year in a cool dark place.
IMG_7621Some other great variations:
Curry Ginger
– add 1/2 tsp grated ginger, 1 tsp curry powder, and 1/2 tsp tumeric to the brine.
-add 1/2 tsp. each of dried basil, dried rosemary, dried parsley, and dried oregano to the brine.


Crackly Top Espresso Brownies

We found the best little Euro market today. Along with Suho Meso, Russian chicken dumplings, and interesting Deutsch chocolate bars we discovered this Croatian espresso. Chocolate and coffee go together like, well, coffee and chocolate so we decided to make brownies!
We have never had good luck making fudgy brownies with a crackly top in other words, “The Perfect Brownie”.  It has always seemed to be more of a happy accident when it does happen. The recipe below, however, is now our go to recipe for the best fudgy crackly top brownies.

Croatian Espresso Crackly Top Fudgy Brownies
Recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma Dessert

1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Semisweet/Bittersweet chocolate chips
3/4 Cup Sugar
Pinch of Salt

2 Tbsp. Croatian Espresso (or any ground espresso)
2 Large Eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup + 1/8 Cup Flour
3/4 Cup Semisweet/Bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 8-inch square baking dish.

Setup a double boiler, or set a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water. Add butter, cut into 8 pieces. Add 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Stir butter and chocolate until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and immediately add sugar* and salt. Once cooled slightly, so as not to scramble the eggs, add both eggs and the vanilla, stirring until blended. Add the flour, stirring just until blended. Fold in the remaining 3/4 cup chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool completely before cutting. Overnight in the fridge will make these easy to cut and still have the crackly top and fudgy center.

* We suspect that dissolving the sugar is what helps create the crackly top. Would love to hear in the comments below if anyone knows for sure. Do you prefer your brownies crackly and fudgy or more cake like?


Zesty Gazpacho

With the great tomato growing season we’ve had this year everyone seems to be making Gazpacho. At least the constant flood of gazpacho recipes in my feed reader leads me to believe. Most call for combining, then pureeing everything, perhaps setting aside a few choice ingredients to add some texture at the end. If you want a smooth cooling soup you can really sink your teeth into, this gazpacho recipe will really satisfy.

6 Large Tomatoes
2-3 Green Onions
1 Large Cubanelle Pepper
1 Cucumber
3 Stalks Celery
3 Cloves Garlic
32 oz. Low Sodium V8 Juice
2 Tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce

2 Tsp Black Pepper

Chop all the veggies into 1/2 inch dice. Thinly slice the garlic. Combine everything in a bowl and chill for at least a few hours. This is a great make ahead recipe as the flavor will really develop if chilled overnight.

You can keep it strictly vegetarian…

…or add some meat candy 😉


Hummus with Homemade Tahini

I try to make this every couple weeks since it’s works great as a condiment, spread, or chip dip. I typically use store-bought tahini, but it seems we forgot to replenish our supply after the last batch of hummus. Finding a half cup of sesame seeds in the spice cupboard I ventured to create my own. It ended up being extremely simple, although a bit time consuming since it was made by hand. I definitely prefer the homemade version. Not as salty, with a nuttier smokier flavor. This recipe is a great since it can be used as basic recipe that you can add various herbs, spices, and sauces for variety.

1/2 Cup Sesame Seeds
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 Tsp. Salt
(yields ~1/2cup)

Begin by toasting the sesame seeds in a dry pan (cast iron works great!) over medium heat stirring occasionally to ensure they evenly toast (~10 minutes).

Once the seeds are toasted pour them into a mortar, or food processor, along with the salt.

Using the mortar and pestle, grind the seeds until most of the hulls have split.

Since the moisture content of the sesame seeds can vary add the olive oil 1 Tbsp at a time until you get a consistency similar to natural peanut butter. Don’t be concerned if there are still whole seeds. They’ll either be taken care of in the food processor or add texture.

1 – 15oz. can Chickpeas
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Tahini
2-3 Cloves Garlic

Drain chickpeas, reserving 1/3 cup of liquid. Add chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and tahini to food processor. Process until desired consistency, adding reserved liquid as needed.

This hummus is perfectly delicious as is, but our favorite way to serve it….

…is with some spice!

Creamy, nutty, spicy perfection!

Some other great variations:
Rosemary and Olive Oil Hummus
– Add 1 Tbsp. chopped rosemary and 2 Tbsp. good flavored EVOO.

Sour Cream and Onion Hummus
– Add 1 additional Tbsp. lemon juice and 2 Tsp. onion powder.

Pizza Party Hummus
– Add 1/4 cup chopped sliced pepperoni, 1 Tsp. dried oregano, 1 Tsp. dried basil, 1/2 tsp onion power.


Crustless Cranberry Walnut Pie

I love anything with cranberries. I found this pie recipe and was excited to try it since it’s crustless and had walnuts. So yummy and light with a little tartness, perfect for summer!

I did tweak the original recipe that I found. I added only 1/4 of butter and included vanilla extract along with the almond. I also used canned cranberry sauce since we didn’t have fresh, but I am definitely going to make this again using fresh cranberries, which I think will add a bit more deliciousness.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract

Pour mixture in a 9 inch pie plate.
Bake in a 350 deg. oven for 40 minutes.


Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Chicken Taco Friday in the Red Kitchen tonight! The fresh smoky taste of Roasted Tomatillo Salsa is the perfect companion.

2 lbs Tomatillos
1 Green Pepper
2 Medium Onions (red, white or yellow)
8 Cloves Garlic
1 Tbsp. Lime Juice
1 Tbsp Vinegar (apple cider or white)
1 Tsp. Kosher Salt

Grill all veggies over medium-high direct heat until slightly charred. The tomatillos will become soft and start dripping. This is when you want to take them off the grill so you don’t lose too much of the liquid.

Transfer the tomatillos and onions to a bowl to cool. Set the garlic cloves aside until cool enough to peel the papery skin off. Allow this to sit for 20 minutes.

Once cool enough to handle, place the onions, pepper and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until the onions and pepper are fairly well chopped but not pureed. Transfer the garlic/pepper/onion mixture to a bowl. Add tomatillos and pulse until slightly chunky. Add to bowl. Stir in the lime juice, vinegar and salt.

Refrigerate for ~1 hour to allow flavors to blend. Typically we would add 1-2 jalapeno peppers (roasting them along with everything else), but the munchkin will be eating this too. This makes ~2 quarts which seems like alot, but it freezes very well in tupperware or freezer bags.


Summer Berry Cheesecake Cookies

It was finally cool enough to consider heating up the oven. With a freezer full of this seasons berry picking adventures, these cookies seemed appropriate.

Inspired by: http://hotpolkadot.com/2011/08/18/its-12am-do-you-know-where-your-cookies-are/

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 egg
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen) *
1/4 cup strawberries (fresh or frozen) *
3 oz. cream cheese, cut into 1 tsp cubes **

Preheat oven 350 F.

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and lemon juice. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Slowly fold in berries. Chill dough for 20 minutes.

To shape cookies, shape 2 tbsp of dough into a ball, making a small indentation to insert the cream cheese. This dough can get messy and the berries will break-down, but don’t worry they’ll turn out fine ;-). Space cookies ~2″ apart on parchment paper lined baking sheet, bake for 12-15 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.

* If using fresh berries, chop strawberries into 1/2″ pieces combine with blueberries and place in freezer for ~30 minutes prior to mixing dough. If using frozen berries, chop strawberries combine with blueberries and keep in freezer while mixing dough. This will prevent the berries from becoming too mushy when folding into dough.

** Keep cream cheese cubes on parchment paper in the freezer while mixing dough.


No-Bake Cheesecake

This is our go-to recipe for no-bake cheesecake, the perfect summer treat when it’s too hot to turn on the oven.

4 Tbsp Butter, melted
2 Cups Graham Crackers/Animal cookies crushed
8oz. Softened Cream Cheese
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1/4 Cup sugar
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

For the cookie crust:
Microwave the butter in the 9×9 pan until melted. Crush the cookies in a food processor or use a mallet and plastic bag. Combine with crushed cookies. Press into pan.

For the filling:
Combine cream cheese and sugar.

Beat until fluffy. Add vanilla, mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, beat heavy cream until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture.

Spread evenly over cookie crust.

Drizzle with chocolate syrup and swirl, zig or zag.

Should be chilled for at least a few hours, if you can wait that long!