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Free-for-All Friday: Pesto, Change-O!

Sometimes, you just need a change. So you cut your hair (and subsequently cry about it), or dye it; you take a short road trip; you try out your hand at feng shui (the couch looks great in that corner, by the way); etc.

Well, I needed a change. It took me a while to think about what I wanted and then *pesto!* — it came to me.


Normally, pesto is made with fresh basil leaves, toasted pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. But change was in the air.

Arugula is easily my favorite green (also called rocket) and I had tons in my fridge…. like three packs. It’s not a problem until you have four.

Pine nuts are delicious (I used them in Monday’s meatless recipe), but they’re also expensive. And the little voice in my head said “reach for the walnuts.” So I did.


This pesto takes just 15 minutes to make, from start to finish, including all the prep work (and clean up). You don’t need a food processor, a mini chop will work just fine.

Pesto is something that each chef, cook, mom, kitchen-dominator makes their own. Tweak as necessary, and don’t be scared to stray away from the measurements. Use them as a guideline and make this arugula-walnut pesto yours.

Enjoy summer arugula in a new way. And tell basil not to worry, he’ll make an appearance soon enough.

Arugula-Walnut Pesto


  • 2 handfuls of fresh wild arugula (roughly chopped if using a mini chop)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup raw walnuts, toasted
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic (to taste)
  • Half a lemon, juiced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan
  • EVOO

Assemble It

  1. In a mini chop or food processor, combine garlic, walnuts and arugula. Chop until well combined.IMG_6562 IMG_6564
  2. Add salt and pepper and then slowly add EVOO while mixing until desired consistency. If you’re using a mini chopper, you won’t be able to stream in the EVOO. Just add a tablespoon or two at a time and then chop until desired consistency.IMG_6566
  3. Add parmesan and lemon juice and blend again.
  4. Taste! If it needs salt, or more nuttiness, add ingredients as necessary. Make it your own.
  5. Add to any and everything — especially pasta. Oh, and lick the spoon. This stuff beats brownie batter by a mile.IMG_6571


  • Use toasted almonds
  • Roast your garlic for a more mellow flavor
  • Add red pepper flakes for some heat
  • Use lime juice instead of lemon juice
  • Try it out with different greens, like kale, for a boost of beneficial vitamins
  • Toss in some sun-dried tomatoes


Meatless Monday: Lemon Asparagus Risotto

I wasn’t fooling anyone in yesterday’s Sneak Peek. You all knew what Arborio rice is for. I bow down to you *bows dramatically*

The only way I can describe risotto is a rich, creamy, pasta/rice dish that’s starchy and filling. And oh-so-delicious. The best part is it feels pretty sinful, but you only use about 2 Tbsp. of butter and no cream.

The trick is in the stirring. As you stir the rice, you slowly release the starches, which, when combined with the broth, create a thick and cream-like sauce. Those Italians. So tricky.

Risotto is one of those versatile dishes. Throw in whatever’s in season and you’ve got a delicious dish. Since Spring is on its way (just ask my allergies), I decided to make mine an asparagus lemon varietal. I would’ve used fresh peas had I gotten myself to a farmers market. But I never really complain when asparagus is in the picture.

Some things to note:

  • Make sure your broth is hot and only add a ladle-full at a time. You don’t want your broth to be simmering, but steam should be coming up from the pot.
  • You want the risotto to have a bite to it. I’m not talking crunchy. I just don’t think it should be mush. “Al dente” is perfect. Tender but still chewy.
  • This recipe is for two people. It can very easily be doubled (and let’s face it, if you’re going through the trouble of making risotto, you might as well make a lot. Um, hello risotto balls!)
  • I squirted in about 1 tsp. of lemon juice every third ladle pour.
  • This is the time to break out that lovely wooden spoon and put it to work

Risotto with Lemon, Asparagus and Pecorino

  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 Tbsp. EVOO
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • Half a bunch of asparagus, just the tips
  • 1 lemon, juice to taste
  • Lemon zest, to taste
  • 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, grated
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Stir it Up

  1. In a medium-sized pot, heat the broth over medium heat until steaming, then reduce heat to low. Do not let it simmer, just keep it hot.
  2. In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, melt the butter with the EVOO over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the asparagus and cook for another three minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Turn the heat to low. Add the risotto and stir, toasting for about 2 minutes.
  5. With a ladle, pour some broth into the pan with the risotto and stir. Stir occasionally until evaporated.
  6. Continue pouring the broth in by the ladle, adding a new ladle-full each time the previous has evaporated. Keep stirring! This will release the starches. Continue until broth is gone and rice is al dente.
  7. Season with pepper and lemon juice about every third ladle of broth.

    Slowly but surely...

    Gettin' thicker

    Just about ready

  8. After you pour your last ladle of broth, add the cheese and a good squirt of lemon juice and stir to incorporate.
  9. Put the lid on top and let sit for about 5 minutes.
  10. Scoop the risotto, which should be thick and sticky, into bowls and top with a squirt of lemon juice and lemon zest, to taste. Add black pepper on top, to taste.
  11. Serve up and see what it’s really like to warm your soul.

Tips, Tricks and Variations

  • This recipe is easily doubled (2 cups Arborio, 7 cups broth).
  • I didn’t use very much salt because of the vegetable broth and the cheese.
  • Use peas instead of asparagus.
  • Use mushrooms and gruyere for a fall-inspired dish.
  • Saute some onions or leeks with the garlic before you add the risotto.
  • Substitute one cup of the broth for a cup of dry white wine
  • The trick to knowing when to add more broth is simple: The rice will be dry enough that your stirring spoon leaves a trail showing the bottom of the pan.


Tasty Tip Tuesday: Peeling Garlic

Garlic sure is tasty, but preparing it can be irritating. My mom always used prepared garlic growing up, sparing herself the hassle, but I’m a fan of all-things fresh.

The good news is, peeling garlic can be super easy. You just gotta know the tricks of the trade.

Here are some easy ways to peel the stubborn cloves:

Microwave: Pop your required cloves in the micro for 5 seconds and watch the peels slip right off. Careful though—if they spend too long in there they pop around like popcorn and get too hot and mushy to cut.

Chef’s knife: This is the classic way. Just turn your chef’s knife on its side and smash it down with your palm on top of the garlic. The peel will slide off.

Shake it up: If you’ve got lots of garlic to peel, break up the bulb, put it in a stainless steel bowl, put another bowl on top of it and shake it like a polaroid picture (OutKast-style) for 10 seconds. Your garlic will be wonderfully naked when you’re done. Like here:

Tell me, how do you guys peel your garlic?

Free for All Friday: Garlic-Chile Shrimp

So remember Monday’s recipe: Cheddar Cauliflower Soup? And how I got that from the Feb/March 2009 issue of Fine Cooking?

Well when I was planning out the weekly menu, I chose two recipes from that issue. I could’ve chosen all my meal plans from there, but I didn’t want my other magazines or my creativity to feel like I was favoring Fine Cooking (admission: I favor it anyway).

This is another shrimp recipe, as I find shrimp ridiculously easy to make and equally easy to not mess up. I texted my sister after making it, basically praising myself for an amazing dinner (though let’s be honest, all credit has to go to Fine Cooking) and she told me something that will haunt me forever:

I don’t eat shrimp

Um…what?! Who doesn’t eat shrimp? (don’t get all smart-ass with me and say vegetarians. In my world, vegetarians and vegans cheat when it comes to shellfish).

Anyway, this recipe will make you a shrimp lover. You might have to be force-fed it initially, but after one shrimp, you’ll be like “Thank you, Melissa, for assaulting me with shrimp. It’s actually the best thing ever.”

I only snapped one shot, as my camera batteries were “exhausted.”

Sidenote to ponder: How come when I’m exhausted a sign doesn’t flash to everyone and then I’m able to just shut down? Why do cameras get special treatment?

Salt and Pepper Shrimp with Garlic and Chile

Pair this shrimp with some brown rice, quinoa, steamed veggies or toss it in your favorite stir fry. We were gluttons and ate it with sinfully delicious rice pilaf from a box. Oh yeah, we went gourmet.

Happy Friday everyone! Use this recipe for some leisurely weekend cooking :)

Salt-and-Pepper Shrimp with Garlic and Chile

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • Pinch of Chinese five-spice powder
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • 5 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 serrano chile, thinly sliced into rounds
  • 4 large scallions (green parts only), sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 1/2 lb. large shrimp (26-30 per lb.), peeled and deveined, tails left on
  • 3 1/2 Tbsp. peanut or canola oil
  • 1 small lime, cut into 4 wedges

How It’s Done

  1. In a large bowl, mix the cornstarch, sugar, five-spice powder, 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. In a small bowl, mix the garlic, chile and scallions; set aside.
  2. Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. Line a small baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels.
  3. Add the shrimp to the cornstarch mixture and toss until evenly and thoroughly coated.
  4. In a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 1/2 Tbsp. of the oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Add half the shrimp in a single layer.
  5. Cook without disturbing until deep golden and spotty brown on one side, about 2 minutes.
  6. Using tongs, quickly flip each shrimp and continue to cook until the second sides are spotty golden brown, about 1 minute longer (The shrimp may not be cooked through at this point.)
  7. Transfer the shrimp to the prepared baking sheet.
  8. Add another 1 Tbsp. of the oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining shrimp, transferring them to the sheet when done.
  9. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to the skillet. Add the garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the chile and scallions are softened and the garlic is golden and smells toasted, about 1 minute.
  10. Return the shrimp to the pan and toss.
  11. Serve immediately, with the lime wedges.

Tasty Tip Tuesday: Garlic Germs

Is your garlic sprouting some green shoots? That’s called a “germ” and it’s pretty harmless.

If you’re chopping up some garlic for a marinade or to use for some cooked spinach, remove the germ. If you leave it in there, the garlic can retain a bitter taste.


Simply cut the garlic clove in half, and lift the germ out of both sides with a pairing knife.

Less Germy

If you’re roasting the garlic or throwing it in a crockpot, don’t bother. The germ will lose all bitterness when slow-roasted.

Look out for a roasted garlic tutorial, coming your way in a Free For All Friday.

Meatless Monday: Bruschetta

Bruschetta is one of my most favorite meals. I know it’s usually listed in menus as an appetizer, but for me, it suffices as a whole meal.

Bruschetta (brew-sket-uh) is an Italian thing–crusty fried bread with a tomato “salsa” on top. You can take the healthy route and broil the bread with just a brush of EVOO, but fried is so much better (isn’t it always?)

I make mine very simple. This dish is very much “less is more.” I use fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, kalamata olives and EVOO. I finish things off with a drizzle of balsamic. And that’s it! A couple slices of this and I can call it a night. It’s that satisfying.

Bruschetta is great on a night where you don’t really want to cook and you don’t want to weigh down your tummy.  Here’s the very simple recipe for two (or just yourself if you’re greedy hungry!) This is easy to double.

Simple Bruschetta

  • 4 thick slices (sliced 2-inched thick) of crusty bread
  • 2 large tomato, or 4 Romas, diced
  • 1/4 red onion, chopped
  • 3-4 basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (plus one clove cut in half for bread rubbing)
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • EVOO
  • Balsamic Vinegar (optional)

Toss it Together

  1. Mix the tomatoes, onions, minced garlic, basil and olives together.
  2. Drizzle the mixture with 1 Tbsp. of EVOO and toss again. Continue adding EVOO until you get the right amount of “wetness” for you. *Note: You can always leave it completely dry and drizzle EVOO on top after the finished product.
  3. In a deep, heavy bottomed pan, pour enough EVOO to cover an inch of the pan. You can mix equal parts vegetable oil and EVOO to prevent the EVOO from burning (veggie oil has a higher smoke point.)
  4. Heat over medium heat for about 1 minute.
  5. Place the slices of bread in the oil and fry for one minute, then turn and fry the other side until golden brown.
  6. Rub the halved garlic on the hot bread, then pile on the tomato mixture.
  7. Eat and enjoy!

*Image above found here.

Teriyaki-Glazed Garlic Eda-yum-me

My college roomie (Stef) and I found a pretty awesome sushi place down in SD. It’s a hole in the wall (literally. I’m pretty sure the fire code only allows 12 people in there at a time) and their sushi is inventive, fresh and fun. I’m sharing the secret with you, so click here to find out the name of this amazing find.

I love Stef for many reasons–she’s been my cooking accomplice for years, her family owns the renowned Weiser Family Farms (have you tried their potatoes?? Look out for them in San Diego farmers markets.), and she loves the same foods I do, to name a few.

So Stef and I had no problem picking sushi to share between the two of us. And we chose a Japanese appetizer staple–edamame. Garlic edamame to be technical. We both agreed it was our favorite dish of the night, that’s how well done it was.

Edamame is a young soy bean that’s often served steamed in its shell with a generous sprinkle of kosher salt.  It’s known as a health food, due to its high amounts of protein and omega-3 levels, among many other things.

Steamed edamame

I tried to recreate the garlicky, glazed edamame dish Stef and I had at this sushi joint. It’s not perfect, but just as delicious. And, per usual, it’s simple to throw together.

Teriyaki-Glazed Garlic Edamame

  • One 16-oz package of frozen edamame
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. water plus 1 Tbsp. cornstarch, mixed together to form a slurry
  • Toasted sesame seeds for sprinkling


  1. Bring the water and garlic to a boil over high heat in a deep pot.
  2. Dump the frozen edamame in and stir occasionally for about 5-8 minutes, until the pods are hot and softened. Most of the water will be evaporated at this point.
  3. Turn the heat to medium. Toss in the teriyaki sauce, brown sugar, vinegar and soy and stir to combine.
  4. Let that cook down for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Stir in the cornstarch slurry and turn the heat to low and let thicken, about a minute.
  6. Serve on a platter and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds.
  7. Tell wandering hands to get their own.

The slurry

Thickening Up

The finished product

Tips and Variations

  • After you steam them in the water and garlic, remove them from the pan and sprinkle with salt for a lighter version.
  • Add some sriracha (spicy chili sauce) to the teriyaki sauce for a spicy kick
  • Double the garlic for a health and flavor boost.
  • Some people get snap peas confused with edamame. You can’t eat the shell of edamame like you can snap peas and…um…they’re just completely different.
  • Frozen edamame is just as good as fresh–in fact, frozen food tends to be higher in nutritional value because they’re frozen when they’re nutrients are at their highest levels.

Teriyaki-Glazed Garlic Edamame

My Favorite Foodie Friend

Garlic Shrimp and Chickpeas

I have been given a subscription to the Food Network Magazine for the past two years by my now former employer. I, at one point, was getting 4 different foodie magazines, but my subscription to them all ran out and I have only received Food Network since. No biggie, I LOVE getting a magazine every month. As I told my sister when I got it for her for Christmas–it’s the gift that keeps giving!

Anyway, this month’s issue (April 2011), in particular, had some recipes with pictures that will make you salivate, even if you just had a four course meal with dessert. I tried out the first of many tonight–Garlic Shrimp and Chickpeas.

We all know my love for chickpeas and their ability to replace popcorn (see here), and I could eat copious amounts of garlic and not care one bit that I smell like an Italian’s armpit. And shrimp is a protein I can have (due to my pescatarianism) that my parents also happen to really enjoy. Woo hoo!

I proceeded with caution with this recipe, as most of the dishes I’ve made out of this magazine have been either “meh” or “bleh.” This one was a little better than “meh,” but still could have used some pizazz.

Here’s the verdict: Good. Needed lots of fresh lemon juice on top and definitely something else besides salt and garlic and red pepper flakes. Maybe some chili powder or cumin, perhaps just something as simple as season salt. Like I said, good, but was definitely missing an element.

Here’s the result, hot out of the oven.

Garlic Shrimp and Chickpeas

Looks pretty good, right? Curious to try it out for yourself? Here’s the recipe. Feel free to tweak as you like!


  • 2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 6 Tbsp. EVOO
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 lbs. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (I used 4)
  • 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Put ‘Em All Together

  1. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Toss the chickpeas with 1 Tbsp. EVOO and 1/2 tsp. salt in a large baking dish, then spread out in a single layer. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, toss the shrimp with 4 Tbsp. EVOO, the garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and 1 tsp. salt in a medium bowl. Marinate 10 minutes.
  3. REmove the baking dish from the oven and scatter the shrimp over the chickpeas. Return to the oven and bake until the shrimp are pink, 5 to 8 minutes. Drizzle with the remaining 1 Tbps. EVOO and sprinkle with the parsley. Serve with lemon wedges.

Cold Beans, Hey! And Collard Greens

Yes, I am quoting a ridiculous chant straight from Sister Act II.

And yes, I am posting a recipe for collard greens. Before you say “disgusting!” to the screen and exit out of this window, let me say something unbelievable–they’re good! This is quite an achievement, admitting they’re yummy, as I’m not from the South. But my newest article for Patch had forced me to turn the cabbage-relative into something edible.

And I did it! Such a feat!

Collard greens are very healthy for you (lots o’ fiber and vitamin C, and very low cal! Some also claim it contains anti-cancer properties, but I’m no doctor so I’ll let you all believe what you will) and are a nice, filling side dish to any main course–chicken, fish, beef.

Fresh collard greens

I’ve never cooked collard greens in my life, but I do know that they’re usually served wilted and cooked with some kind of fat (usually bacon or ham hock fat–remember, they’re a Southern thing). I wanted to keep things light, so I used a mustard vinaigrette from Cooking Light and paired it with red onion and garlic. I sauteed those collard greens until they were soft and wilted (took much, much, longer than spinach, to my foolish surprise).

The result? Tender, savory greens that I would most definitely make again–but not with cold beans.

Collard Greens with Mustard Vinaigrette, Garlic, and Onions


  • One bunch of collard greens, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced vertically (cut into quarters, pick a quarter and stand it so that the layers of the onion are going vertical. Slice thinly)
  • 3 gloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. EVOO
  • 1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 heaping tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Cayenne, to taste
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

How it’s thrown together:

  1. Whisk together the EVOO, white wine vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper
  2. Pour the vinaigrette into a medium-sized pan and heat over medium heat for about 1 minute
  3. Add the sliced red onion and cook for about 1 minute
  4. Add the minced garlic and cook for about 4 minutes
  5. Throw in the chopped collard greens and toss to evenly coat. Salt and pepper at this time if you’d like. Sprinkle some Cayenne pepper over the entire pan of greens–use about 1/8 tsp. to start. Add more if you like things spicy.
  6. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until completely soft and wilted. You don’t want a crunch–you want the texture of wilted spinach. If the leaves start to get crispy and fry, turn the heat to low and let it do its thang.
  7. Serve with your choice of protein–tofu, white-fleshed fish, chicken, steak.

Halfway-cooked collard greens


  • Toss in some toasted pine nuts for an added crunch
  • Use Tobasco sauce instead of Cayenne
  • Use chopped shallots instead of a red onion
  • Cook up diced turkey bacon, remove from pan, and cook the greens in the leftover fat with a little bit of olive oil, if needed. Sprinkle the cooked bacon on top of the finished collard greens.
  • Top it off with some shaved parmesan

Sauteed Collard Greens

Grillin’ Fish

I’m slowly easing my way into the world of fish.  I think I may  have an aversion to the underwater grub due to fish sticks as a kid.  I didn’t like the texture or the smell. Yuck.

I’ve come a long way from fish sticks days (and really, do people still eat fish sticks??) and have come to really enjoy sea bass, tilapia, and now…..SALMON.

I’ve been warned plenty of times that salmon is one of the “fishier” fishes.  I know people that love the pink seafood and plenty of people who turn their noses up at it.  My dad is a salmon-lover and I approve because of the heart-healthy omega-3 that it contains, so I broke down and bought some salmon to grill for him and myself.

How I Prepared the Salmon

Salt and Pepper is always a must.  So I liberally sprinkled the flesh with the classic duo before I doused it in the marinade.

*Note: The butcher told me you cannot remove the scales from the skin, but that the skin will just peel away once it’s cooked.  He was so right.  We had no issued with this.  The flesh literally fell off of the scaly-skin.

I combined soy sauce, honey, minced ginger, some cut scallions, and garlic to marinade the fish.  I reserved about 6 tablespoons of the marinade to pour over the fish after it was cooked.  I would say I used:

  • 1/3-1/2 cup soy sauce (get the good dark kind from the Asian market! So much better than store-bought)
  • 2-3 Tbsp. Honey (I used avocado honey–soo yummy)
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly minced ginger (this may be more than I added.  Ginger is strong so adjust to your taste)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-4 scallions, sliced (the number of scallions you use depends on your love for oniony-ness.  I used a lot cause it looks pretty, too!)

Whisk all that ^^^^ together until the honey has dissolved.  And remember to save some for putting on top of the fish!!

My dad grilled the fish on medium heat for about 8 minutes.  I glazed them with the left over marinade and then sprinkled on some toasted sesame seeds.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite time for bon apetit because the middle of the filets were still raw!  However, the oven happened to be on so I stuck them in a 400 degree oven to finish cooking.  Five minutes or so later, the fish was flaky and ready to eat.

Honey-Ginger Salmon Filet

The Verdict:  Surprise surprise!  I loved it!  Yes, it is one of the “fishier” fish I’ve eaten, but not in a bad way.  The taste is very unique but not off-putting.  I loved how the flaky meat just pulled away from the skin without any effort.  And the glaze totally made the dish!  I would use the glaze on grilled chicken, too.  It was sweet, tangy, and the sesame seeds gave a nice crunch.  I will make this again (and my heart shall thank me for it!)


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