Success in life & the kitchen

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Pesto Grilled Cheese  Croutons

Fresh Tomato Salad with Pesto Grilled Cheese
Croutons

Bessie Anderson Stanley wrote this poem in 1904. She won $250.00 in a poetry contest which paid off the mortgage on her house. This famous poem grabbed my attention just yesterday as my nephew, Jeremy, read it at at his grandfather’s funeral. Naturally, it had me thinking of my William, too.

Success

He has achieved success
who has lived well,
laughed often, and loved much;

who has enjoyed the trust of
pure women,

the respect of intelligent men and
the love of little children;

who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;

who has left the world better than he found it
whether by an improved poppy,
a perfect poem or a rescued soul;

who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;

who has always looked for the best in others and
given them the best he had;

whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.

At the ripe old age of 90, still living in his own home and cared for by 3 loving sons, my father in-law, Loren D. Keys, Jr. lived a most successful life by any standards. An accomplished banker, world traveler, avid bird watcher and reader of the Wall Street Journal this poem fit him to a tee and made sense.

Grandpa Keys

Grandpa Keys

His death, although sad and painful, made sense, too. The family could see it coming. There was time to put feelings in order. We, along with him, could prepare. It was anticipated. Unlike sudden death and loss, there was a valuable period of time to look into each others eyes and say, “I love you” and good-bye. One has to be grateful for that.

Keys Family

Keys Family with William kneeling on left

Loren’s greatest measure of success is suggested by the line, “the love of little children”. He helped raise up 10 grandchildren who loved him dearly. Missing from this photo is grandson #1..the darling Zachary. He along with my William pre-deceased their grandfather.

fresh pesto

fresh pesto

Success in the kitchen begins with seasonal fresh ingredients. From the backyard garden or a local farm fresh ingredients can’t be beat in flavor, color and texture. Cooking in season is the way to roll. Right now my garden is filled with fresh basil, flat leaf parsley and grape tomatoes which brings this award winning recipe to you. The pesto is inspired by Marcella Hazan. The only thing different I do is add a cup of fresh parsley. I think it gives the pesto an extra bright green color and some added sweetness.

Fresh Tomato Salad with Pesto Grilled Cheese Croutons

¼ cup prepared basil pesto

4 slices thinly sliced firm white bread, crusts removed

1 ball fresh mozzarella, sliced

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for brushing on to bread

2 cups (1 pint) mixed cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

10 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced plus fresh sprigs for garnish

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 small fresh chile pepper, seeded, thinly sliced into slivers

2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

Spread pesto over two slices of bread; top with mozzarella in a single even layer. Cover cheese with another bread slice forming a sandwich. Brush both sides of sandwich with olive oil. Grill sandwiches until toasted golden brown on both sides; set aside on cutting surface. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine all tomatoes; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the basil and chile pepper over the tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar; toss gently. Divide salad among 4 serving plates. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Slice grilled cheese sandwiches into bite-size pieces; arrange on salad plates. Garnish with fresh basil sprigs.

BLENDER PESTO

(From Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cook Book)

2 cups fresh basil leaves (see note below) 1⁄2 cup olive oil 2 tablespoons pine nuts 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed with a heavy handle and peeled 1 teaspoon salt

1⁄2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano pecorino cheese 3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature

Put the basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic cloves, and salt in the blender and mix at high speed. Stop from time to time and scrape the ingredients down toward the bottom of the blender cup with a rubber spatula.

When the ingredients are evenly blended, pour into a bowl and beat in the two grated cheeses by hand. (This is not much work, and it results in more interesting texture and better flavor than you get when you mix in the cheese in the blender.) When the cheese has been evenly incorporated into the other ingredients, beat in the softened butter.

Before spooning the pesto over pasta, add to it a tablespoon or so of the hot water in which the pasta has boiled.

*Note: The quantity of basil in most recipes is given in terms of whole leaves. American basil, however, varies greatly in leaf sizes. There are small, medium, and very large leaves, and they all pack differently in the measuring cup. For the sake of accurate measurement, I suggest that you tear all but the tiniest leaves into two or more small pieces. Be gentle, so as not to crush the basil. This would discolor it and waste the first, fresh droplets of juice.

Serves 6.

Birthday, Basil & Cheesecake, Oh, My!

Basil Infused Strawberry Cheesecake

Basil Infused Strawberry Cheesecake

It was 11 years ago, on her 18th birthday, when I presented Caitlin with 18 hand-written love letters. It was an annual event for me to write my baby girl a letter on July 14th and stash it away in a “treasure box”. Now, as she was leaving the nest, it was time for my first-born to have them. Hopefully, seeing herself through a loving mother’s eyes and remembering all the goodness she had brought to our family would give her strength and wisdom as she set off on her own.

Cait & Sam graduate

Cait & Sam graduate

As parents, Bill and I could not have been more proud when Caitlin graduated with honors in economics from Wake Forest University. Wow!-we thought, money well-spent. She was on her way to her first big job in Philadelphia and the huge responsibility of seriously paying her own bills (woohoo!) Pretty sure there were times when she wished she was back in college, but she perseveres receiving promotion after promotion. Hello Ms Marketing Director.

marriage

And then came marriage and one of the happiest days of our lives. Hello, Mrs. Pemberton. Tomorrow she turns 29 and I realize I owe her way more than a love letter, but that is between me and her.

love my baby girl

love my baby girl

I will, however, share with you her favorite dessert which is cheesecake. Inspired by the plentiful basil in my garden and the juiciest, ripest strawberries ever this recipe is cause for celebration. Happy Birthday dear Caitlin!

cheesecake

Basil Infused Strawberry Cheesecake

1-cup heavy cream

8 fresh basil leaves, plus additional for garnish

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Crust

1 cup crushed chocolate cookie crumbs (18 Nabisco Chocolate Wafer cookies)

2 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons melted butter

Filling

3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened

¾ cup sugar

3 eggs

1 pound fresh strawberries (reserve 9 berries for garnish and puree the rest)

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream

Heat oven to 325F. In a microwave safe measuring cup heat heavy cream on HIGH for 1 minute. Bruise basil leaves lightly with your fingers and submerge in hot cream; set aside to steep. Mix cookie crumbs, sugar and butter until crumbly; press over bottom of 9-inch spring-form pan; bake 8 minutes. Cool on wire rack. In large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, strawberry puree (you should have about 1 cup), vanilla, ¼ cup of basil infused heavy cream (cover and refrigerate the remaining basil-cream mixture) and yogurt until well mixed. Pour batter into crust. Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until center is just set. Do not over bake. Cool to room temperature before transferring to the refrigerator to chill completely. Run a knife around the pan sides. Remove sides of pan. Remove basil from chilled cream. Add powdered sugar and beat with an electric mixture to stiff peaks. Garnish top of cheesecake with basil-whipped cream, reserved strawberries and basil sprigs, if desired.

Tips:

#1 place a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl of your food processor before securing the top to keep the top from getting dirty (since I hate washing the top)

#2 use a flat bottom cup to pat the crumb crust into place and the back of a spoon to smooth around the edge

A Summer Break, Beets & Berries

berries & basil

summer berries and basil

We are just one week into summer and I am ready for a vacation. Not the travel kind, but the blog writing kind. This grief stuff takes a bit of a toll on a person and “write” now I just need happy thoughts. So, I know you won’t mind if, for just a little while, all we do is talk about good food and recipes. Ha–I bet you are raising your hands in the air yelling,  “Yipee!”

fresh picked beets

fresh picked beets

In the last couple of weeks my garden has brought me so much happiness and inspiration in the kitchen. For the first time ever I have been able to grow beets which inspired a most delicious roasted beet sandwich. Just look at these beauties all roasted and sweet.IMG_2529

If this idea tickles your fancy or you’re just more curious check out the full recipe here: roasted beet sandwich

Roasted Beet Sandwich

Roasted Beet Sandwich

In addition to the beets I am picking berries. Lots of berries. In fact, me and the birds are plucking 3 different kinds. The purple bird poop (yuck) all over the yard would indicate the birds prefer the mulberries over the strawberries and the “raspberry shortcake” brazel berries (thank goodness).  It has been such a delight to gather, raspberries, strawberries and mulberries and work them into different recipes. This one is perfect for the 4th of July.

Chocolate Vinegar, Berry & Basil Pie

Chocolate Vinegar, Berry & Basil Pie a la mode

Red, white and blue food. It’s what we do this time of year. It is the reason I grow borage. The borage plant has edible blue flowers that taste like cucumbers. They are the perfect garnish for that potato salad we all make with the red, white and blue potatoes, but sorry I went off on this borage tangent instead of talking about this pie.

IMG_2539

This pie is oddly delicious. I say “oddly” because the pie contains dark chocolate vinegar, fresh basil and black pepper. It is sweet and savory and well, oddly delicious. The dark chocolate vinegar is imported for Bella Gusta of West Hartford, CT  by the Veronica Foods Company of Oakland, CA. It was a gift from my sister in law, Erin. She handed it to me saying, “I know if anyone can figure out what to do with this, you can.” I like her confidence. And if you are interested check out: http://www.bellagustaoils.com

pie

Just one tip on baking berry pies (I have learned the hard way). Berry pies have to come to a bubbling frenzy before they are fully cooked and the thickening agent is able to gel the fruit. That way when you cut into the pie all the juice doesn’t go running all over the plate and then down your shirt. So forget the baking time because every batch of fruit is different and just watch for that bubbling happiness. You are welcome!

Chocolate Vinegar 3x Berry Pie

(Inspired by the famous Butter & Scotch Bakery in Brooklyn)

Pastry for 2 crust lattice pie

2 pounds of fresh berries (I used 1 pound of halved strawberries, ¾ pound mulberries and 1 pint of raspberries)

3 tablespoons chocolate vinegar

8 basil leaves, shredded (use Thai basil if you have it)

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

pinch of salt

Heat oven to 425F. Roll out half your pastry into a 12-inch circle and fit into a 9-inch pie plate leaving the dough that overhangs the pie plate in place. In large bowl, toss the berries with the vinegar and basil. Mix the sugar, cornstarch, black pepper and salt; sprinkle over the berries and toss again. Spoon into prepared pie crust. Roll out remaining dough into a 15-inch x 11-inch rectangle. Using a pizza wheel and a ruler, cut 1-inch strips and form the lattice top. Trim the excess lattice ends. Fold the bottom crust up and over the lattice strips and crimp. Place the pie on a baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until lattice is golden brown. Reduce the heat to 375F. Continue baking for 40 minutes or until juices are bubbling. Cool completely.