Broccoli Mint Pesto

The rain has finally left us and this weekend has been absolutely beautiful! Even though Chris & I planned to plant our garden boxes next weekend, I couldn't help but plant something today while he was out of town. While on my Sunday errands, I picked up zucchini, yellow squash, cucumber, and cilantro from my local nursery and planted them in the ground this afternoon. I also finished a Meyer lemon thyme sorbet (more on that in a later post) and made mango chutney (to use this week with dinners). A few days ago, I picked up ingredients for a slightly modified version of a broccoli pesto I read about online and I was really excited to make it today. Basil isn't quite ready yet, and while I enjoy the arugula and cilantro pestos, I was ready for something different. And this is!

The mint and parsley add a beautiful vibrant flavor and it is super garlicky - just the way I like it. Tossed with whole wheat penne and topped with grated Parm and toasted hazelnuts, it is a perfect dinner for a summer evening. And, if I didn't have to pick Chris up from the airport later, I would definitely be pairing this with a glass of 2008 Clos du Val Chardonnay that is patiently resting in my wine fridge right now.


Broccoli Mint Pesto
Makes about 2 cups

1/4 c plus two tbsp blanched hazelnuts
2 c broccoli florets
1 1/2 c parsley leaves, loosely packed
1/4 c plus 2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 c mint leaves, loosely packed
4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
5 large garlic cloves, peeled (if you prefer a less garlicky flavor, use 3-4 cloves)
Salt & fresh ground pepper

Toast hazelnuts in skillet over medium heat until golden and fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes, shaking the skillet often. Cool, chop coarsely, and set aside.

Bring large pot of water to a boil with a pinch of kosher salt. Cook broccoli in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes, or until tender. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the food processor

Pulse broccoli, hazelnuts, parsley, olive oil, mint, lemon juice, lemon zest, and garlic in food processor until smooth. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Toss with pasta, spread on crostini or crackers, whatever you like!



So I'm sure you were all waiting anxiously (ha!) to hear how the event I catered for went. I just got a phone call not more than 30 minutes ago from my friend, and it went perfectly! All the food is gone, all of it. Guests loved the quiche and salad, truffles were being eaten two at a time, and the scones were devoured. I could not be more excited!

What have I learned from all this? Most importantly, I could never do it professionally. Despite taking a two hour break mid-day yesterday, I was burned out and exhausted by 11PM. I fell asleep on the couch, wine in hand, in mid-conversation with Chris. At the same time, I feel like knowing the party went well was like runner's high after a tough run: there are good parts and bad parts, but regardless, you feel amazing when you're done!

To review the numbers, I:
  • peeled and sliced 6 pounds of roasted beets
  • squeezed 32 blood oranges for juice (to make this cocktail)
  • made four batches of tart dough
  • hand rolled and hand coated 80 truffles
  • went through well over two pounds of butter and quart of heavy cream
  • woke up at 6AM today to make scones

My hands are still red from the blood oranges and the beets, and there is some stubborn chocolate under my nails that won't go away no matter how many times I wash my hands. My upper body is sore from kneading, rolling, slicing, and stirring. But man, I had a great time and would love to do it again. Apparently I probably will, because a few people at the party asked for my phone number :)

P.S. I'll share recipes over the next few weeks, but if there is a specific one you want, let me know. In the meantime, I have two more papers to submit for school before the end of the day today.


A New Kitchen Adventure

Back in January, a friend of mine asked me to help her design a menu for a baby shower she was hosting in March. After a few discussions about it, she asked if I would be interested in catering the event. Of course I was interested! Though, I do admit I was (and still am) a bit nervous about everything turning out the way I want it to. I've never cooked for people I don't know! Regardless, she offered me an incredible opportunity and I knew I had to take it.

The baby shower is a mid-morning Sunday brunch event with a color scheme of grapefruit pink and navy blue. I wanted to keep the menu simple, so I could drop off the food at her house and she could easily put it out for a buffet style service. I also wanted to maintain as much focus as possible on locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. After pouring over cookbooks and my favorite food blogs, I built the menu, which the my friend (the hostess) was so excited about:
  • Three quiches: traditional quiche Lorraine; arugula, lemon & homemade ricotta; and swiss chard, crimini mushroom, & sharp white cheddar
  • Beet & blood orange salad with spicy greens & blood orange sherry vinaigrette
  • Raspberry buttermilk and blueberry lemon mini scones with sweet lemon butter
  • Truffles two ways: chocolate blueberry with lavender sugar & chocolate caramel with himalayan pink salt
I plan on sharing some of the recipes with you over the next two days as I prep and cook all of these dishes, as well as share what I learned along the way. First thing I learned? Not to boil sugar and write a blog post at the same time, because you end up with burnt sugar.

Regardless of how embarrassing or premature this is, I've also named my little catering company Sage Kitchen. I'd love to know what you think!


Quinoa Granola

Today I had every intention of working on my papers due for graduate school classes. I made quinoa granola and spiced carrot soup instead.

Last week, I had breakfast with a friend at Old Soul at 40 Acres in the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento. I ordered their housemade granola, which came in a stainless steel mixing bowl (though the portion was appropriate for a normal person) with plain yogurt, sliced banana, and a generous drizzle of local honey. It was delicious, crunchy, and sweet but not too sweet. It reminded me how much I love this breakfast. So this weekend I decided to make granola, but a little different that I usually do. My typical granola recipe is oats and Wisconsin maple syrup, but this one has several more ingredients and a few spices, making it more wholesome and, quite frankly, more interesting than the stuff I'd been making previously.

My favorite way to enjoy this granola is with plain yogurt (either homemade or Greek God's Nonfat Plain), fresh fruit, and a drizzle of local honey (so local, in fact, it comes from my neighbor's bees).

Happy Breakfast!

Quinoa Granola
Makes about 5 cups

2 1/2 c thick-cut rolled oats
1/3 c quinoa (uncooked)
1/2 c sesame seeds
1/2 c whole almonds
1/2 c pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/3 c sunflower seeds
1/4 c walnuts
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c pure maple syrup*
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 c dried fruit (golden raisins, dried cherries, dried apricots, whatever you prefer or have on hand)

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, quinoa, sesame seeds, almonds, pepitas, sunflower seeds, walnuts, cinnamon, & nutmeg. Stir to combine. Add the maple syrup and vanilla extract. Stir until oat mixture is completely coated.

Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a baking mat.

Bake for one hour. Cool completely, then add the dried fruit; toss to combine. Store in an airtight container.

*I prefer my granola to not be very sweet since I add honey later, so I only added 1/2 cup of syrup. Recipes I read online suggest 3/4 cup for a recipe this size, so if you want your's a little sweeter, I suggest increasing the amount of syrup used.


Homemade Apple Butter

My kitchen smells incredible right now. I probably say that a lot, but it really does. It smells like fall; apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.

I love apple season. When I was young my parents would take me and my brothers apple picking in the bluffs near my hometown. I loved picking the apples, but also going into the barn and tasting all the different kinds of apples that tasted so different than the ones we had at home (usually Granny Smith or Braeburn). When I was in college, I would go to this place on weekends to pick up a bag of apples and a caramel apple.

This past weekend, my parents visited from Wisconsin and we were excited to share with them a wonderful local agricultural region known as Apple Hill. Though a bit touristy in some places for my taste, there are so many wonderful farms selling different kinds of apples, baked goods, winter squashes, pumpkins, and honey. There is also some good wine being made up there, my two favorites being this place (which makes an incredible smokey Pinot Noir) and this place (which focuses on natural, organic practices and sources as much as they can locally).

We brought home a 20-lb box and two 5-lb bags of apples from Larsen Orchards. My mom and I made an apple pie together, as is tradition; I've been making pies with my mom since I was little. After my parents left, however, I found I had a lot of apples that weren't going to last much longer. After doing some research, I mixed and adapted a few recipes to make apple butter, which is one of my favorite fall treats. This recipe is great because you can make it in a crock pot (meaning it doesn't require a lot of attention).

So, in addition to apple butter bubbling away in my crock pot, I sliced up several apples and put them in my dehydrator. Dried apples are great as a snack, in oatmeal or homemade granola. If you don't have a dehydrator, look around online and you'll probably find a recipe that is adapted for drying apples in an oven. For a little twist - and to make your house smell even more amazing - sprinkle some cinnamon on the apples prior to dehydrating.

This recipe makes a lot of apple butter, so give it away right away or plan on canning it. It will last about a week when refrigerated.

Now all I need is some homemade bread to go with it :)


Homemade Apple Butter
Makes about 5 cups

12 large tart apples, quartered around the core (toss the core)
2 c apple cider
1 scant cup sugar*
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice

Place the apples in a large crock pot; add the apple cider. Cover and cook on low for 10-18 hours, until apples are very soft. Put the softened apples through a food mill to remove the skins or, if you don't have a food mill, push the apples through a sieve or colander using a large wooden spoon to remove the skins. Pour the fruit back into the crock pot. Add the sugar and spices; stir well. Cover the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours, stirring every two hours or so. Remove cover after three hours to allow the fruit to cook down.

If you are canning the apple butter, add the hot fruit to hot canning jars and proceed with the canning process. You can also freeze the apple butter by spooning into freezer containers, but make sure you let the apple butter cool before putting in the freezer.

*Note: the original recipe called for three cups of sugar (1 c per 2 c of fruit), which seemed like a lot to me. I recommend starting with one and checking the flavor over time. You can always add more later if you like.


Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips & Crystallized Ginger

If there is one thing every person - baker or not - should have in their arsenal is a good banana bread. I've been making this one for years. It's quick to throw together any night of the week, especially since my guess is you probably have a lot of the ingredients on hand already.

Not a fan of walnuts in my banana bread, I usually throw in chocolate chips. I wish I could take credit for the crystallized ginger idea, but it was actually from Molly over at Orangette (I write like I know her, which I don't, but wish I did; she is an amazing writer). The ginger adds an unexpected twist; a spicy sweetness that matches perfectly with the chocolate chips.

A note on the bananas: I have used fresh and brown bananas in this recipe. If you have bananas that go brown, throw them in the freezer. When you want to make banana bread, just take the bananas out of the freezer and thaw on a plate (it only takes about an hour). If you use fresh bananas, squish them up a bit in your hands as you throw them in (or mash them in a bowl with a potato masher).


Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips & Crystallized Ginger
Makes 1 loaf

1 c sugar
1/4 c unsalted butter, softened
3 ripe bananas
1/4 c fat-free milk
1/4 plain yogurt
2 egg whites
2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c bittersweet chocolate chips
1/4 c finely chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x5 pan with cooking spray (or whatever you use).

Combine sugar and butter in a bowl; beat at medium speed until well blended. Add banana, milk, yogurt, and egg whites; beat well.

Add flour, baking soda, & salt and beat just until blended (overbeating will make the bread more dense). Gently fold in the chocolate chips and crystallized ginger.

Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes; remove from pans. Cool completely on a wire rack.


Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée

One of my (and my husband's) favorite things is the sound of a crème brûlée shell cracking as I tap my spoon on it. It is best if it takes a few taps to actually break through it and has a good crunch when you bite into it. Because of this, we've shared many different types of crème brûlée: many classic vanillas, a butterscotch version with pear compote at Riva Grill, a tart lemon version, and even a dark chocolate raspberry crème brûlée tart at Evan's in Lake Tahoe (good even though it lacked the shell we love). There are several flavors we've experienced that are escaping me at the moment, but we always go back to vanilla. Maybe topped with a few fresh berries, a small dollop of whipped cream, and a sprig of fresh mint. But to us, garnishes can get in the way of a whole lot of wonderful.

Considering how much we enjoy this dessert, it is amazing that this is only the second time I have attempted to make it. Recipes that require adding hot liquids to eggs make me nervous because a failed attempt at ice cream has made me a bit gun-shy of this technique. The first time I made crème brûlée, I spent a good part of a day making it, only to realize that the ramekins I cooked it in were too deep and the custard did not cook all the way through (which is quite gross, actually). I decided to put the dessert aside, saving its enjoyment for when we were out for a nice dinner.

Recently, my husband purchased a crème brûlée grilling set that was on sale at Sur La Table. The set comes with two ramekins and a grill press that fits perfectly into the ramekins. After making the crème brûlée, you heat the grill press on the grill until it is really hot and use it to burn the sugar. We have a torch, but this seemed novel, so when my younger brother was visiting from Minneapolis, we decided to give it a try. I used the recipe that came with the set, and I must say, it was the easiest recipe I have ever come across. The custard is smooth and silky, with a beautiful vanilla flavor hinted with citrus and cinnamon. The recipe could easily be modified to create different flavors, like dark chocolate, Meyer lemon, and butterscotch.


Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée
Makes 2 servings

1 1/2 c heavy whipping cream
One 2-inch cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla bean, split (or 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract*)
1 strip lemon peel (use a vegetable peeler or zesting tool)
3 egg yolks
1/3 c granulated cane sugar
2 tsp honey
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
4 tbsp turbinado (raw) sugar

Combine the cream, cinnamon, vanilla bean (or extract), and lemon peel in a heavy saucepan and simmer over very low heat for 10 minutes. DO NOT allow it to boil. In another heavy saucepan, whisk together the granulated sugar and cornstarch. Add the egg yolks and honey and whisk until smooth and creamy.

Strain the flavored cream to remove the solids and let sit for a minute or two to cool down slightly. (I transferred the mixture to a small pitcher to speed the cooling process and help with the next step.) While whisking the egg mixture, slowly pour in about 1/4 c of the cream. Continue whisking, adding the cream in small amounts, until all the cream has been incorporated. Caution: if you add the hot cream to the egg mixture too quickly, the eggs will curdle.

Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, whisking steadily, until the crème thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove the saucepan from heat just before it begins to boil, then continue whisking for another two minutes.

Divide the crème evenly between two shallow ramekins. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, for at least three hours or as long as overnight.

To serve, evenly sprinkle 2 tablespoons of turbinado sugar over the top of each ramekin. Using a kitchen torch or the broiling method, caramelize the sugar until golden brown. Serve immediately. And take a moment to enjoy the cracking of the shell :)

*If you use vanilla extract instead of a vanilla bean, make sure you use pure extract, not artificial. Artificial will give a very alcohol-like bitterness and will just not taste as good as the pure extract or vanilla bean.