Sunday, May 25, 2014

pesto and mojo

tho' it's barely summer yet, we've already had some glorious weekend weather. the kind that makes you want grill and eat outdoors and only come inside when the dew is settling and a chill enters the air.  and barbeque means a couple of our favorite condiments - nettle pesto and mojo.

our nettles are young and tender and just perfect for big, garlicky batches of pesto. it's dead easy and i always make a big batch and hope that it lasts at least a few days into the week. you blanch the nettles to take away the sting. we actually think it's better than a basil-based pesto, but then we may be biased by our northern climes, where it's easy to grow nettles and not to easy to grow basil. but nettles are delicious and full of nutrients. plus, they're plentiful and free!

stinging nettle pesto

1 colander full of fresh nettle leaves (if they've started to bloom, don't use them, as they may give you a bad tummy)
generous handful of nuts (pistachios, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts - whatever you've got at hand - i've even used cashews)
2 fat cloves of garlic
1/4 C freshly-grated parmesan
good quality olive oil
salt & pepper
pinch of paprika

blanch the nettles in boiling water for a minute or so, drain them well and rinse with cold water. squeeze out all of the excess water and toss them into the food processor with the other ingredients and whizz it up. drizzle olive oil in until your pesto has the consistency you'd like. it's a perfect accompaniment to grilled meats and veggies, but is also delicious tossed with pasta for a quick dinner once the hectic week gets started.

another staple at our house is a peppery mojo. we had some couchsurfing guests from tenerife a few summers ago and they taught us to make it. it's a lovely combination of fresh, sweet red peppers, garlic, nuts, paprika and olive oil. i make it year-round and we use it as an accompaniment to omelettes , fresh bread, meat, pasta - anything, really. our couchsurfers served it with salt-roasted potatoes and that's the traditional way in tenerife. but like any adopters of food culture, we have suited it to our own purposes and we use it with just about everything. but we think of our couchsurfing friends from tenerife with a smile every time we make it.


3-4 fresh, long sweet red peppers
1 tsp. smoked paprika
2 fat cloves of garlic
handful of nuts - i like pistachios best, but have been known to use almonds, walnuts or pine nuts if i don't have any pistachios on hand.
salt & pepper
good olive oil

like the pesto, you just whizz up the ingredients in the food processor, drizzling in olive oil until it's the consistency you desire. i highly recommend it with virtually any meal. you can also change the flavor to a richer, deeper, darker taste by roasting the peppers and garlic in the oven instead of using them raw. delicious and versatile. often i make it in the food processor after i do the nettle pesto, leaving the last remains of the pesto there, so it becomes flecked with bits of green. 

but you can do your own experiments. if you add these two condiments to your summer grill table, i guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

the perfect mother's day cake

it's a very good year for rhubarb. we've got a double row of it and it's almost literally coming out of our years. we've picked a whole wheelbarrow full twice and you can't scarcely see it. it hasn't made a dent. these are very old rhubarb roots that we moved to another spot when we moved here four years ago. we divided a bunch of the roots at that time and it obviously made the rhubarb very, very happy, as it's thriving incredibly. i find myself thinking up ways of using rhubarb. i've made 6 bottles of cordial so far and should make about 10x more (seriously, i could probably do this in commercial quantities if i had the time). so in honor of mother's day on this rainy sunday afternoon, i turned to my mom's recipe for rhubarb coffee cake to provide us some comfort and to use up a bit of that rhubarb.

i had a conversation with husband about why it's called a coffee cake, when there's no coffee in it, but i explained that it's because you eat it with your afternoon coffee. i think for me, coffee cake is also darker and deeper than normal cake. in this case, the recipe calls for brown sugar, rather than white and i think that lends to the deep coffee cake goodness. i think it also has to do with not having frosting per se. so a coffee cake is a simpler cake.

mom's rhubarb coffee cake

Cream together:

1/2 C butter
2 C brown sugar
3 eggs
1 C buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla


2 C flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
3 C rhubarb, cut into small pieces (between 1/2" and 1", depending on how thick your rhubarb is).

Pour it into a buttered/floured 9x13 baking pan and sprinkle with:

1/2 C sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Bake at 180°C/350°F for 30-35 minutes.

Serve with coffee or even a cup of tea. Enjoy.


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