Monday, September 27, 2010

Garden Herb and Walnut Pasta

What on earth happened to September?   Just a few days ago it was Labor Day weekend and we are now just moments away from October.  

I'm not sure exactly how it got away from me, but here we are.     And I'm finally getting to say Goodbye to Summer.    North Carolina has been breaking temperature records all month and we are finally getting a reprieve from the 90s.   This weekend it was like a light switched off.   One day we were drowning in hot and humid summer and the next we dove right into rainy cooler temperatures.    So much for smooth transitions, but, finally, Fall!

Saying goodbye to Summer for me means I am one step closer to our big day.   Just under a month now until our wedding.   I am looking forward to sharing some of the details as we get a little closer.   Warning, if wedding stuff bores you, you may want to tune out for a bit.

Before we go there though, I think it is the perfect time to share with you one of those recipes that just epitomizes the turn from summer to fall for me.   Woodsy, rustic flavors.   Fresh pasta.   Herbs.  Walnuts.  Garlic.    I just love this recipe and it gives me a chance to show off my pasta making skills.

You may recall, during my time in Rome, I spent a day at Cooking Classes in Rome with Chef Andrea.   We had such a fabulous time and one of the highlights of the day was making fresh pasta.   It was a swoon worthy experience, one I wasn't quite sure I'd be able to duplicate at home.

My instincts were right.   I gave it my best shot, but my homemade pasta did not live up to the reputation of that we produced in Italy.   Not even really close.   But, I know this.   Practice makes perfect and I am looking forward to lots more practice.    And the experience of making fresh pasta is so worth it.   It gives me a chance to really get my hands dirty and produce something from nothing.   Even if it doesn't turn out, you can't help but feel a little proud.

So today, I'll share with you the recipe that I modified from the Carrboro Farmer's Market here in North Carolina.     This is one of those handy recipes that you can really play around with.   I made lots of herbal modifications simply by using just those herbs that I actually had on hand.    Every spring I put a couple of pots out with fresh herbs and have a small window of opportunity to add them to almost everything I make before the hot sun dries them out and no amount of watering can save.

Garden Herb and Walnut Pasta

2 Tablespoons Butter
3/4 Cup Walnuts
1/3 Cup Pine Nuts
1/4 Cup Fresh Dill
1/4 Cup Fresh Thyme
1/2 Cup Fresh Sage
2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
3/4 Cup Dry White Wine
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Chicken Stock
Fresh Pasta
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Melt butter in large pan.    Add chopped walnuts and pine nuts and coat evenly with butter.   Cook until warm and toasty.   Be careful not to burn.   Remove nuts from pan and set aside.

Add olive oil to same pan and return to burner.   Add garlic, stirring until fragrant.   Add the dill and sage to the pan and stir.   Add thyme and stir.    Once combined, add the wine and stir some more.   Add the stock to pan.   Simmer for several minutes.

Pour sauce over freshly cooked pasta and toss.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Top with the buttered walnut and pine nut mixture and toss to combine when serving.    Serve hot, warm or cold!   Also good with addition of Parmesan and extra drizzle of olive oil.

There really is a lot of flexibility in this recipe and it is a great way to use up extra herbs that you may have sitting around.  I think it is a perfect introduction into what I hope will be a Fabulous Fall.

Tomorrow, I'll share the trials and tribulations of my first attempt at making homemade pasta!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rooftop Paris

I seriously wasn't expecting to feel sad as I was going through these pictures this morning.   But truth be told, I got a little teary eyed.   It is not the content, but really the context.    I felt the same way while I was up on the roof looking over the most beautiful city in the world.

This was my last day in Paris.    Yesterday, I brought you through the Galleries Lafayette which is so amazingly gorgeous with its stained glass cupola.     I have never seen anything like it.    Truly does make shopping a beautiful experience and not just a crappy trip through your neighborhood mall.  (I am not a fan of shopping malls.)

But I had heard that the rooftop of the Galleries Lafayette was not to be missed.   You have to trek up quite a few sets of stairs and weave your way to the top, but it is so worth it.     The door opens to an expanse overlooking this beautiful city.   See... I am getting teary eyed again.

There are so many wonderful spots in Paris to observe the city from.   The Eiffel Tower, Sacre Couer, the Arc de Triomphe.   All beautiful vantage points.     I like to think of the Galleries as a little hidden gem though.   A special spot of my own.    Before you think it is undiscovered, it is actually quite a popular spot, but I think its unique location sets it apart a bit.   Plus, it is free.  

I have a distinct memory of photographing a German couple up on the roof.   They were so happy in love and clearly enjoying their time in Paris.   It made me sad that I was alone, but at the same time, excited to start the journey home and begin my own life as part of a couple.     You see, part of this trip was about saying goodbye and preparing to move onto the next phase of my life.    I couldn't have asked for a better transition.

If you make it to Paris, please do checkout the rooftop views from the venue of your choice.    You will not be disappointed and it gives you a new perspective on just how lovely this city is.

From here we begin to say goodbye again and move forward.    Over the next couple of posts, I'll be highlighting some of my final days and sharing some of my early reflections.     Au revoir!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Galleries Lafayette Paris

Shopping in Galleries Lafayette in Paris is such a fabulous experience.  I can't believe I waited until my last day in Paris to make it here, but I'm so happy I finally went.    Where else can you spend an afternoon soaking up all the latest fashions and design in such an elegant environment?    Would be a great way to spend a rainy day in Paris, but honestly, it would not be a waste of your time if you spent some time on a nice day either.

Galleries Lafayette is Europe's largest department store.   Opened in 1896, the building has an unbelievably gorgeous stained glass cupola roof.   Truly a destination for this alone.    So luxurious and beautiful.    It is located at 40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris, France, near the Opera.

Floor after floor of fashion, food (the markets are amazing), everything you could want or need.   Unfortunately, as I was heading home the next day, I really didn't need anything.   Or more likely, I had no more room in my bags.    I did leave with a head full of inspiration.    Honestly giddy with it all, I called John on the way out and said we must return here.   I know it sounds silly to say this of a mall-like environment, but throw every idea you have of a mall out and trust me, just go here if you are in Paris.   Amazing.

Oh... and the views from the rooftop... wait until you see this!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Magical Powers (White Bean, Potato and Lots of Healthy Vegetables) Soup

It is probably one of the most beautiful days of the year.     Finally, September is here.    Bright Carolina blue skies are back.    I should be happy.    Why, why me?

Every muscle in my body hurts.    Every.  Single.   One.  

I could blame it on Jillian.   I could blame it on the yellow fever vaccine shot that I'm convinced is doing me in.   I could probably find a bunch of other reasons if I think hard enough, but I'm too tired.     I am admiring those gorgeous blue skies from inside on the couch because I'm sick, and therefore crabby, and very sad I'm not frolicking around outside on this beautiful hurricane free weekend.     Poor me.

It is a soup night.   A throw together whatever I can find in the kitchen kind of soup night.   Yup, I made this one up and it is really good.

Tomorrow I am supposed to go to the beach.    First time this summer.   I simply must feel better.  I have high hopes that this soup will work its magical powers over night and I will bound out of bed fresh and ready to take on the world and perhaps even the remnants of Earl in the form of super crazy waves that will knock me down to the ground over and over until I get wiped out and want to go home and take a super long nap and do it all over again on Monday.    

So, wish me luck and try this soup if you are ever in the need.   Actually, you can try it even if you are feeling healthy.   It is good like that.    As a bonus, it is not at all bad for you either and super easy to make.    Good use of all those end of summer vegetables hanging around.  

Magical Powers (White Bean, Potato and Lots of Healthy Vegetables) Soup

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 medium zucchini, chopped
32 oz low sodium chicken broth
4 small red potatoes, chopped (skins on)
1 can Northern White Beans, rinsed
1 large tomato, chopped
2 cups baby spinach, rough chopped
1 Tablespoon chopped rosemary
juice of 1 small lime

Heat olive oil in large stock pot on stove.    Add chopped onion and saute gently for 10 to 15 minutes on medium low heat until translucent.    Add chopped zucchini and cook for 5 minutes.   Add garlic and cook another minute or two until aroma is released.

Pour in the chicken broth.   Stir in chopped potatoes.    Cover pot and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until potatoes soften.  

Stir in white beans, tomatoes, spinach and rosemary.    Cover and simmer another 10 minutes to allow flavors to meld.    Stir in lime juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.   Serve warm.   (PS - If you are feel extra special, I would imagine a little Parmesan would be good in this too!)

I know what your thinking.    Lime juice.   It is actually not a weird addition at all.   It adds the extra brightness that makes this soup taste super healthy and fresh.    I like to think of it as the Magic in the Magical Powers.

Maybe I'll see you at the beach tomorrow...  if not, wishing you a relaxing and happy long weekend with friends and family!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Can Meat and Potatoes Be Intense?

I am really not a meat and potatoes girl.   For reasons described here earlier though, I decided it was time for a little weekend indulgence.    Warning, what is about to follow is intense.  

Funny thing about the word 'intense'.   Our sommelier in Paris took a particular liking to it, describing his keen fascination with America's over usage of the word "intense" to describe absolutely everything.
Think about it.   It is actually quite funny.

Found this definition in the Merriam Webster dictionary:

  • 1a existing in the extreme degree
  • 1b having or showing characteristic in extreme degree
  • 2 marked by or expressive of great zeal, energy, determination or concentration
  • 3a exhibiting strong feeling or earnestness of purpose
  • 3b deeply felt

So, in honor of Olivier, my question for you is, can meat and potatoes truly be described as intense?

We thought so, but will let you be the judge.   Our menu tonight comes from Epicurious and The Pioneer Woman.    I made only minor modifications to the recipes, so in this case, going to give credit where credit is due and refer you to the originals if you'd like to try these yourself.  

Grilled Porterhouse Steak with Paprika Parmesan Butter

Notes:    We made this with a sirloin and a ribeye instead.   Turned out perfectly.   Most importantly though, if you make this recipe, whatever you do, you need to drastically reduce the salt.    The recipe calls for 1 Tablespoon of salt in the marinade.  I used 1 Teaspoon and we still found it salty.   Other than that, this was a fabulous marinade and coupled with the smokey paprika butter, which we loved, resulted in a very 'intense' piece of meat.

Crash Hot Potatoes

Notes:    I actually make these all the time.   The recipe is super easy and always results in excellent potatoes that are crispy on the outside and creamy in the middle with just the right amount of seasoning.   I used fresh rosemary and thyme for herbs.    Soooooo good.

Served with grilled asparagus that got a tiny bit overdone on the grill but was the perfect companion for this meal.   Maybe if I had been watching the grill instead of trying to take pictures of it, we might have avoided this situation.

All in all, a success.   Just what the doctor ordered.    With that said, my fiance, who actually is a doctor, wanted me to remind everyone that this is definitely one of those things that falls into the "all things in moderation" category.  I don't know about you, but it is probably safe to say that the melting slab of paprika Parmesan butter on the ribeye should be reserved for special occasions (or maybe those requiring "just a little bit of intensity").    

Perhaps the upcoming Labor Day weekend?

Happy Grilling!