July 4, 2010

Experimenting: It's what's for dinner!

There are a few recipes the Beloved and I have been antsy to try, and this weekend - well, today - was our chance! Our football team was playing an away game today, so we had our football friends D&D over for a barbecue. And, like my mother always does, I pulled out the "try ASAP" file and plucked out a few recipes. (What? Doesn't everyone experiment on company? Why else have anyone over?)

Full story and a couple of pictures after the jump.

First, prompted by my friend Katharine's recent success with cilantro pesto, and having read that you can make pesto out of pretty much anything, I was keen to try this recipe for Rosemary Pesto, which Google brought forth to my attention. I have both rosemary and mint in my herb (pot) garden, and I always have parmesan and olive oil and garlic on hand, so all I needed was pine nuts or walnuts and we'd be all systems go. So we went shopping, and here we are, all ready to blend:

Mise en place

Note to self: check the price on the bulk bin of pine nuts more carefully, and if it's $6.50 per 100 grams, buy the bloody walnuts instead. Nearly had a heart attack when my leetle bag o'nuts rang up at $26.10, I tell you. Still, I'll use them. Just have to buy a whole whack of cilantro, so I can try Katharine's recipe.

30 grams of chopped rosemary leaves turns out to be quite a quantity, as you see above. And stripping them off the stems is a resiny, aromatic experience. It's like cooking your Christmas tree, and getting the sticky stuff off your fingers requires the application of actual dishwashing liquid, and not just the water-diluted stuff in the foam pump. (That watery stuff actually collapsed on contact with the rosemary resin. I mean, I ask you.)

Finished pesto

Here's the finished product, and it's... interesting. It's not quite sauce, for one thing; more like a thick spread. Maybe I didn't add enough oil, even though I added more than the recipe called for. Maybe I should have chopped up the rosemary leaves a bit more before tossing them in to the food processor.

The recipe recommends having it with grilled lamb or grilled bread, and we didn't have either of those (one of the D's not being fond of lamb), but I thought a Triscuit would make a reasonable medium for conveying the pesto from the bowl to the mouth. And so it was, but here again the consistency proved a challenge. It was coarse and thick, and the flavour was hoo-boy strong. But I couldn't process this any further in my big food processor; the mix flew up and clung to the bowl sides at the first pulse, and no amount of oil drizzlage and scraping down would change its mind on that front. Maybe I should give it a go in our baby food processor, with a bit more oil, to see if that helps things. Yes, I'll try that.

My second experiment was Grilled Guacamole, which if you like avocados and guacamole, I highly recommend. As a secondary testimony, I offer this evidence: I was in the kitchen with Dana, assembling more snacks, and Dave and Beloved were in the living room with the chips and salsa and guacamole. Beloved brought me a chip with a dose of this guacamole. "You gotta try this," he said, so I did. "It's really good!" he said, as I chewed.

I have been married to this man for 15 years (nearly) and have never known him to eat guacamole. He doesn't like guacamole. The only way I've ever seen him eat avocado is in sushi, actually. But he loved this guacamole. And so did I and everyone else. Massive hit all around. Grilling the avos makes all the difference. I may never make guacamole any other way.

Experiment #3 was Southwest Fruit Salad, which Beloved saw the chef prepare on television and immediately wanted to try. Salting the pineapple brings the water to the surface, and grilling it evaporates the water and concentrates the sugars and makes it sweet and entirely delectable. I sectioned the oranges the way I learned on Rouxbe.com, and felt so clever and professional doing it. (I know, how nerdy. I'm fine with that.)

Neither of us - none of us, in fact - had ever tried jicama before, so that was an interesting experiment. Turns out we all like it, though, and because it's not particularly flavourful on its own, it's a terrific canvas for all the other flavours in that salad. The texture reminds me of an Asian apple-pear: firm, a juicy, a little grainy on the tongue. Having tried it once, I'll look for chances to use it again.

Our final experiment was grilled corn on the cob, which was D&D's idea. You roll the shucked cobs around in olive oil, salt & pepper, and grill until grill marks show. The heat brings up the sugars and makes the corn oh so sweet and succulent, and because it's already seasoned and oiled, you don't need to do anything but serve and chow down!

Sometimes a meal just comes together, and this one really did. Between the chicken, the corn, and the savoury fruit salad, everything on the dinner plate had touched the grill at some point. The citrus juice in the salad made a delicious counterpoint to the spices on the chicken. In all, a successful series of experiments. I just wish I'd thought to take pictures of more of it.


  1. I want this corn RIGHT NOW. And frankly, anything with rosemary in it I'm game for as it's my favourite herb. Related to absolutely nothing, my local pizzeria in NYC used to do a potato and rosemary pizza. For real. Even more astonishing was, it was GOOD! :)

    Hmmm, that SW fruit salad sounds pretty good too right now...

  2. D&D left us a couple of cobs of corn, so I have a feeling we'll be having grilled corn again this week. We don't have local corn yet, but in about six weeks the corn snarfing will begin. I recently learned that corn on the cob begins to convert sugar to starch within a day of being picked, so not only should you buy it as fresh as possible, but you should eat it on the day you buy it, for maximum sweetness.

    That salad was awesome. You should try it!

    Potato and rosemary pizza sounds kind of awesome to me, actually. I love rosemary.

  3. That all sounds delicious. I will definitely try the guacamole and the corn. I tend to roast nuts before I use them now - it seems to take away the slightly bitter taste they can sometimes have...or maybe it's just me. I am with you on the $$$...why are they so expensive??

  4. I should have roasted those pine nuts. I thought about that as I was throwing the raw ones into the food processor. Ah well, next time.