Trouble With Toast

Back to Basics: Classic Pesto

July 30, 2009

A while back, I made a really bad pesto sauce.  It was arugula-based, which isn’t patently offensive, but there wasn’t enough “other stuff” to balance out the bitterness, and it was pretty much inedible.  So, when I suggested pasta with pesto as a side dish for a dinner I cooked for friends this week, Jason was understandably concerned.

This time, though, I followed a very classic, tried-and-true recipe (this specific one came from Bon Appetit magazine, but there are thousands of variations).  The results were much, much better!  I made it the night before the dinner and then covered it in oil, which preserved the moisture very nicely.  I also added a small amount of the pasta water to the sauce before adding the linguine, which helped everything to combine better.  The sauce was delicious–slightly sweet from the basil, slightly salty from the cheese, and just chock full of fresh flavors.  There’s no reason to buy pre-made pesto sauce when you can throw this together in mere moments!

  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves (from about 3 large bunches)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino Sardo or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • Combine first 4 ingredients in blender. Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down basil. Add both cheeses and salt; blend until smooth. Transfer to small bowl. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Top with 1/2 inch olive oil and chill.)

    Recipe: Seared Scallops with Lemon Orzo

    July 28, 2009
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    After my foray into fish cakes, I had enough scallops left over for one more meal.  This recipe has popped up on my searches a bunch of times before, but since I generally don’t keep scallops in the house (due to their expense and their relatively short shelf life), I hadn’t actually attempted it until last night.

    The same numero uno rule for tofu applies to scallops–make sure they are absolutely bone dry.  Moisture is your enemy here, and it will prevent you from getting the perfect result–a nice, caramelized crust on the outside, and a tender, silky mouth-feel on the inside.  For an example of scallop perfection, see my photo below.  🙂

    Seriously, this meal turned out really well.  The orzo cut the richness of the scallops a bit, due to the onions and the acidic punch of the lemon juice.  If I had to register one complaint, it was that the dish didn’t have an element of crunch–though, to be fair, that could easily be remedied with a nice salad or some sauteed vegetables.

    Note: Do not attempt this recipe with bay scallops.  Yes, they are less expensive than sea scallops.  However, sea scallops are sweeter and less tough.  Trust me, sea scallops are worth the extra cost, at least in recipes involving just a simple salt and pepper sear.

  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2  cup  chopped onion
  • 1  cup  uncooked orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
  • 1  cup  chicken stock/broth (homemade is best, of course) 
  • 1/2  cup  dry white wine
  • 1/4  teaspoon  dried thyme
  • 2  tablespoons  chopped fresh chives
  • 2  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
  • 2  teaspoons  olive oil
  • 1 1/2  pounds  sea scallops
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
  • Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in pasta, broth, wine, and thyme; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and pasta is al dente. Stir in chopped chives and lemon juice. Keep warm.

    Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet (or non-stick, if that’s what you’ve got) over medium-high heat. Sprinkle scallops evenly with salt and pepper. Add scallops to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with pasta mixture.

    Scallops and orzo

    Recipe: Spicy Fish Cakes

    July 27, 2009
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    Sometimes, you just can’t take any more chicken.  Sure, it’s versatile and cheap and healthy, but even the best ingredients get boring if overused.  Fish is a great lean protein, and I love pretty much every variety of marine creature that science has discovered, but what happens if you’re also cooking for someone who’s a little more picky about food that comes from the watery deep?

    I admit, fish is easy to screw up.  But this Cooking Light recipe is a fairly fool-proof way to get some seafood into your diet.  It’s also pretty mellow in flavor, so even the fish-averse should give it a try.  Don’t be deterred by the not-so-pretty photo below–my cakes didn’t bind together very well, mostly because I am an idiot and forgot the egg white.  Hey, I got distracted because my dog was doing something adorable.  Sue me.

    If you don’t have a food processor (which I don’t–wedding guests, be advised, IT IS ON THE REGISTRY), you’ll have to utilize some knife skills to get all of the ingredients to the equivalent of a course grind.  Even with that extra work, though, this is a simple dish to prepare and is a healthy and chicken-less weeknight meal.  Enjoy!

    • 1/3  cup chopped green onions
    • 1/4  cup panko breadcrumbs
    • 1  tablespoon chopped fresh basil
    • 2  tablespoons chili garlic sauce (in the Asian aisle at the supermarket)
    • 1  teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
    • 2  garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1  large egg white
    • 3/4  pound skinless halibut fillets, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    • 1/2  pound sea scallops
    • 2  teaspoons vegetable oil

    Preheat oven to 350°.

    Place first 9 ingredients in a food processor; pulse until coarsely ground. Divide fish mixture into 6 equal portions, shaping each portion into a 1/2-inch-thick patty.

    Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add patties; cook 2 minutes on each side. Turn patties over; wrap handle of pan with foil. Bake at 350° for 5 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

    Fish cakes 1

    Recipe: Crab, Corn, and Tomato Salad with Lemon Basil Dressing

    July 23, 2009
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    In these troubled economic times, many people–myself included–are trying to find ways to cut their food costs.  Eating out less is an obvious way to save money, but I’ve also been scanning the supermarket ads for the best sales and buying the essential non-perishables (in our house, that’s Diet Coke) in bulk.  This weekend, I will also make my triumphant return to Sunday morning coupon-clipping.

    But sometimes, just sometimes, you need a splurge.  Not a big splurge, mind you.  Not a $200 per head restaurant splurge.  Just a little tasty treat to lift your spirits and remind you that everything’s gonna be alright.  Enter this recipe.  Lump crabmeat is a definite splurge, but a little goes a long way.  And when you combine it with such fabulous summer flavors as tomatoes, corn, and basil, you’ll forget the fact that you will have to eat ramen noodles for a day or two to make up for the cost.  😉

    This recipe has it all–richness, complexity, acid, sweetness, you name it.  It is satisfying without being heavy, and the flavors just dance on your tongue.  I made four servings and we only ate two for dinner, so I packed the leftovers for lunch the next day to see how they would hold up.  Not too bad–the flavors were still great, but the veggies got a bit mushy from having bathed overnight in the dressing.

    With some crusty bread, this was a perfect way to end a tough day and to remind us of all of the blessings in our lives.  Hope you enjoy!

    • 1  tablespoon  grated lemon rind
    • 5  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice, divided
    • 1  tablespoon  extravirgin olive oil
    • 1  teaspoon  honey
    • 1/2  teaspoon  Dijon mustard
    • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
    • 1/8  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
    • 1  cup  fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
    • 1/4  cup  thinly sliced basil leaves
    • 1/4  cup  chopped red bell pepper
    • 2  tablespoons  finely chopped red onion
    • 1  pound  lump crabmeat, shell pieces removed
    • 8  (1/4-inch-thick) slices ripe beefsteak tomato
    • 2  cups  cherry tomatoes, halved

    Combine rind, 3 tablespoons juice, and next 5 ingredients (through black pepper) in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons juice mixture. Add remaining 2 tablespoons juice, corn, and next 4 ingredients (through crab) to remaining juice mixture; toss gently to coat.

    Arrange 2 tomato slices and 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes on each of 4 plates. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon reserved juice mixture over each serving. Top each serving with 1 cup corn and crab mixture.

    Crab salad

    Weeknight mish-mosh salad

    July 22, 2009

    One night last week, I was at a loss.  I had a relatively full fridge, yet I didn’t really have any specific recipes in mind, nor did I feel particularly excited about making a big mess (and then subsequently cleaning said mess) in the kitchen.  So, I decided to make a couple of salads.

    On cooking shows, particularly of the reality TV variety, much snootery abounds when a chef tries to pass off a salad as a culinary work of art.  While I generally agree that a salad is simpler to prepare than, say, a perfect consomme or bread from scratch, I do admit that I have had some really superb versions and some truly dreadful ones.  For me, the key to a good salad is textural variety.  I don’t want to break my jaw with all of the crunching, but I also don’t want a pile of mush.

    For this salad, the greens (mostly spinach) and tomatoes were soft, so I added crunch with carrots, radishes, and cukes.  For a meaty protein punch, I sliced half of a chicken breast I had cooked earlier in the week.  For sweetness, I caramelized an onion.  For tanginess, I just whipped up a basic balsamic vinegrette.  Finally, for richness–and just because I can–I placed an over-easy egg right on top.  Yum!

    Instead of the chicken and the egg, Jason’s salad got sauteed shrimp, smoked mozzarella (a strange combo, but he liked it), and croutons.

    What is on YOUR perfect salad?

    Thrown together salad

    Recipe: Curried Tofu

    July 21, 2009
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    As Jason and I drove home from our recent Florida vacation, we talked frequently about how we were going to get back to healthy eating.  After all, our diet while in the Sunshine State consisted largely of fried seafood, bacon, and beer.  Not exactly Weight Watchers material there.

    So, this was the first recipe I threw together when I got home.  Curry of any kind is good health food, as it packs a great flavor punch while also packing in some nutrition.  This vegetarian version gives you some quality protein (and, thus, a longer-lasting full feeling) with the tofu, but it also sneaks in some veggies (and you could certainly add more).  The sweetness of the pineapple tames the curry powder and red pepper flakes, and of course it plays well with the coconut milk.

    Tips: 1) Make sure you really drain the tofu well.  Tofu is delicious when seared over high heat, as it browns and caramelizes beautifully and develops a much less offensive texture.  If it is wet, you’ll end up with a mushy mess.  2) Don’t forget the basil.  I did, and I was super pissed, as it would have been a killer flavor addition.  3) Make double the sauce.  There just wasn’t enough to soak into the rice I served with the dish, so next time I’ll use the whole can of coconut milk and a little extra curry powder.


    • 2  teaspoons  vegetable oil
    • 1  (15-ounce) package reduced-fat firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
    • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
    • 1/2  cup  light coconut milk
    • 1  teaspoon  curry powder
    • 1  cup  precut matchstick-cut carrots
    • 1/4  teaspoon  crushed red pepper
    • 1  (15 1/4-ounce) can pineapple chunks in juice, drained
    • 1  medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced
    • 1/2  cup  chopped fresh basil

    Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu, and sprinkle with salt. Cook 8 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Remove from pan; keep warm.

    Add coconut milk and curry powder to pan, and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add carrots, crushed red pepper, pineapple, and bell pepper; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tofu. Sprinkle with basil.

    Curried tofu

    Recipe: Chicken and Couscous Salad

    July 20, 2009
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    As I prepared to spend the weekend triathlon-ing in Chattanooga, I had to make sure that my culinarily-challenged fiance had sustenance while I was gone.  I made him his usual favorite–beans and rice–but I also wanted to give him a little something different, so he wouldn’t be bored and tempted to spend extra money (and calories) eating out.

    This salad fit the bill perfectly.  It used ingredients I already had around the house, it was simple to throw together, and it had crisp, refreshing flavors while providing some nice nutritional punch.  The dressing was nice and tangy, but the cumin did add a touch of smokiness that just barely danced on the tongue.

    This recipe is slightly adapted from the original, which I found in Cooking Light.  You could certainly play around with the protein, or simply not use one at all.  You could also add and subtract veggies based on your tastes, as long as there is enough crunch to balance out the softness of the grains.  Enjoy!

    • 1 1/4 cups chicken broth
    • 1  (5.7-ounce) box uncooked couscous
    • 1 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken (about 6 ounces)
    • 1/2  cup thinly sliced green onions
    • 1/2  cup diced radishes (about 3 large)
    • 1/2  cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
    • 1/4  cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
    • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

    To prepare salad, bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually stir in couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Spoon couscous into a large bowl; cool slightly. Add chicken, onions, radishes, cucumber, and parsley; toss gently to combine.

    To prepare dressing, combine vinegar and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle dressing over salad; toss to combine.

    Recipe: Italian Eggs over Spinach and Polenta

    July 14, 2009

    Now that triathlon season is over, it’s back to the kitchen for healthy meals–after all, when my training goes down a notch in intensity, my caloric intake must also decrease accordingly.  Bummer.

    Breakfast for dinner is a frequent favorite, especially if I am looking for quality protein that doesn’t feel so heavy.  But plain old eggs and toast can get pretty boring, and I am always looking for new ways to serve those incredible edible little delights.  I saw this recipe for eggs over polenta and it looked really tasty, so I thought I’d give it a go.

    The recipe came from Cooking Light magazine, and I’ve included the actual instructions as they were written.  However, I didn’t really follow the directions precisely–because my fiance only likes his eggs scrambled, I cooked the eggs separately (over medium for me, as you can see in the photo) and simply wilted the spinach into the sauce as it was heating.  For plating, I used the polenta as the bottom layer, then added some sauce/spinach and cheese, then placed the eggs on top, then sprinkled a tad more cheese for the finish.

    The flavors were great–the richness of the egg was tempered by the tang of the tomato, and the polenta was a wonderful carbohydrate to soak up the leftover yolk and sauce.  Plus, as an added bonus, it was quick and easy to prepare!  I hope you enjoy this yummy “Italian” spin on eggs.

    • 1  (16-ounce) tube of polenta, cut into 12 slices
    • Cooking spray
    • 2  cups  fat-free tomato-basil pasta sauce
    • 1  (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
    • 4  large eggs
    • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) shredded Asiago cheese

    Preheat broiler.

    Arrange polenta slices on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Coat tops of polenta with cooking spray. Broil 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

    While polenta heats, bring sauce to a simmer in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in spinach; cover and cook for 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Stir to combine. Make 4 indentations in top of spinach mixture using the back of a wooden spoon. Break 1 egg into each indentation. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until eggs are desired degree of doneness. Sprinkle with cheese. Place 3 polenta slices on each of 4 plates; top each serving with one-fourth of spinach mixture and 1 egg.

    Eggs over polenta 2

    Bad blogger

    July 10, 2009
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    As Fiona Apple once sang, “I’ve been a bad, bad girl.”

    I have neglected Trouble With Toast, largely in favor of triathlon training and my other blog.  Of course, there have also been wedding invitations to create (yes, I did them myself, even though I’m the least crafty person EVER), dog training sessions to attend (our little juvenile delinquent IS making progress, though), professional issues to sort out, and, most importantly, vacations to take.  We just got back from a trip to the Sunshine State, where we visited with my cousin and his family in Clearwater and then headed over to St. Augustine for some rest, relaxation, and ridiculously tasty fried shrimp (at O’Steen’s, which deserves–and will get–its own post).

    My point?  Oh, right, I had a point.  The point is, I know I have been terrible to this site that has done me so well, so I apologize to it and to you.  After this weekend (which involves my big race in Chattanooga), I will be back with a vengeance, ready to dazzle you with tasty tales from the road and from my kitchen.

    Monday, it’s on.  🙂