Browsing Tag

sauce

book review, recipe

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine + Pasta al Pesto

I first heard about Gail Honeyman’s novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine when someone suggested it for one of my book clubs. I jotted it down, added it to the poll for September, hopped on the library wait list (just in case), and didn’t think much more about it. I’m actually glad I came into it with no real expectations because the whole experience turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Eleanor Oliphant has worked in finance in the same small company her entire career. She is socially awkward and a bit of a curmudgeon, who is very reliant on her routine. A routine which includes eating pasta with pesto for dinner every night and drinking vodka until she passes out most weekends. Despite all of her peculiarities, Eleanor on the page is quite charming. My heart warmed to her, and I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions.

I’m excited to see what the rest of the book club thinks of Eleanor. I hope they enjoy her as much as I did! And while we chose to visit an Irish pub for our book discussion (as close to a British pub as we could find), I opted to make Eleanor’s favorite staple for today’s post – pasta with pesto.

I very much doubt she makes her own, but I couldn’t exactly plop some store bought pesto onto some pasta and call it a day. (However, if I had to make a recommendation for store bought pesto, I quite enjoy Trader Joe’s Pesto alla Genovese.) The pesto recipe I chose was so easy and delicious though, that I’ve been thinking of taking up my herb-growing again, just so I could have an abundance of basil and make this more often.

Best of all, it uses walnuts which are much more affordable than pine nuts – I think Eleanor would approve of that choice. To start, I toasted the garlic until it had some little brown spots.

Then, I moved them out of the pan to cool and toasted the walnuts as well. While those cooled, I assembled the rest of my ingredients – basil, parsley, grated parmesan, olive oil and salt and pepper.

I added everything to my food processor and blended everything until smooth.

I ended up having to add just a touch more olive oil, but use your best judgment as it comes together. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

I tossed some ribbed penne pasta (great for the pesto to cling to) with my freshly made sauce, dished it up and topped with some extra parmesan cheese for good measure.

Use your pasta of choice, and if you have any leftover pesto, it will keep in the fridge for a short while, or it can be frozen. Enjoy!

Basil Walnut Pesto

  • Servings: 8
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Ingredients

  • 6 cloves garlic unpeeled
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 4 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cup packed fresh parsley
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Toast the garlic cloves in their skin in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking often, until brown spots form, about 5 minutes. Remove to a small bowl to cool before peeling.
  2. Meanwhile, return the skillet to medium heat and add walnuts. Toast until fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes, shaking frequently to prevent scorching. Remove from heat.
  3. Combine peeled garlic, walnuts, basil, parsley, parmesan cheese, and olive oil in a blender or food processor; blend until smooth.
  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve as a topping on pasta (3/4 c. pesto per pound of pasta), as a spread on sandwiches, or as a garnish to soups.


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book review, recipe

Behold the Dreamers + Chicken Suya

Jende and Neni Jonga have come to New York City (Harlem) from Cameroon to achieve the American Dream. After struggling to make ends meet for a few years in the States, Jende secures a meeting with Clark Edwards, a high-level executive at Lehman Brothers. In 2007, this seems like another step closer to Jende’s dream.

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In Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue examines the American Dream from both sides – the Jengas’ desperate pursuit of it serves as a stark contrast to the Edwards’ comfortable lifestyle and achievements. Jende is overjoyed at the opportunity to chauffeur the entire Edwards family around the city so that Neni can complete pharmacy school and take care of their son.

In the driver’s seat, Jende is privy to many of Clark’s important conversations in the car but never lets the sensitive information slip. Even when tensions arise between the Jongas and the Edwards, Jende remains ever-loyal, not wanting to upset the careful balance that is keeping him in America. Mbue’s novel is a reminder that even those comfortably at the top should never get too comfortable, and sometimes it’s important to take a step back to determine what will truly make you happy.

Even though Jende and Neni are all too happy to be in the U.S., their kitchen table is filled with foods that remind them of home. One of the first meals we see Jende eat in the novel is African pepper chicken. I found a recipe online for Chicken Suya, commonly found in Cameroon, served with an African Pepper Sauce. Neni also serves fried ripe plantains throughout the novel, so I added those to the menu. Together, I thought it would make the perfect meal to accompany their story.

I started with the sauce and tried to remain unintimidated by the number of hot peppers it required. After cleaning and chopping them, I also roughly chopped the onions and tomatoes. Everything went into the food processor.

It came together pretty easily (as most blended sauces do), and while it simmered on the stovetop, I began prepping the chicken. I trimmed and cut the chicken thighs, dividing the pieces onto the skewers.

For the rub, I combined all of the spices, peanut butter and bouillon, working it into a paste of sorts. It ended up being extremely thick – to the point that it was nearly impossible to “brush” on the chicken as directed. I thinned it out a bit with water and ended up forcefully painting it onto the chicken with a rubber scraper.

It’s up to you, but it might be worthwhile to thin it out a bit more (either with oil or water) so that you can cover your chicken more thoroughly – mine ended up rather blotchy.

While the chicken baked, I let my oil get up to temperature for the plantains. The sauce was done by this time, so I removed it from the heat, allowing it to cool off a bit before we ate.

For the fried ripe plantains, I tried to find as a ripe a plantain as I could at the store. Thinking it would be similar to peeling a banana, I ended up having a difficult time. I would’ve benefitted from a handy guide, like this one. (Hopefully your peeling experience will be much easier than mine!) Once the pesky peel was off, I sliced it on the diagonal into large oblong coins.

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Frying them proved to be much easier than peeling them, thanks in part to my adventures in frying the johnnycakes the week before.

After a few minutes, they were a nice golden brown. I scooped them out onto a paper towel and sprinkled with salt. They proved to be not only a nice complement to the seasoning of the chicken and the spiciness of the sauce but a break from the heat as well!

I was happy to be able to make a dish that paired so well with such an enjoyable book, but truth be told, this wasn’t something I would make again. Not one for super spicy foods anyway, I could only use about a tablespoon of the pepper sauce over two skewers of chicken. My boyfriend (who loves spicy food) thought the sauce went well alongside the chicken but probably not something he’d eat without it. And, heads up, the recipe makes a decent amount of sauce – at least 4 cups.      

Chicken Suya with African Pepper Sauce

  • Servings: 4-6
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From: African Bites [Annotations from me]

Ingredients

    Suya Chicken

  • 3 pounds skinless chicken thigh
  • 4 tablespoons peanut butter or groundnut paste
  • ½ – 1 tablespoon cayenne (depending on heat preference)
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 – 8 wooden skewers
  • African Pepper Sauce

  • 10 peppers (habenero or scotch bonnet)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoon bouillon powder [I used chicken]
  • 2 basil leaves [I used 1 teaspoon dried basil]
  • 2 tablespoon parsley [I used 2 teaspoons dried parsley]
  • 1 – 3 roma tomatoes (adjust for spiciness)
  • ½ – 1 cup vegetable oil
  • salt

Directions

  1. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, onions, and discard stems of the peppers. Put the tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, parsley, basil, bouillon in the food processor along with as much oil as desired. [I used ½ cup, which seemed to be enough for my sauce.]
  2. Pour the pepper mixture into a small sauce pan bring to a boil and slowly simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burns. Add salt and adjust as needed.
  3. While the sauce is simmering, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Soak the skewers for at least 20 minutes totally submerged in water before using it to prevent burns.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, white pepper, cayenne pepper, peanut butter and bouillon. [Mine formed a pretty thick paste, making it difficult to brush/spread on the chicken. I would suggest adding some water or oil as needed to thin it out a bit.]
  5. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel. You want to have a completely dry chicken before cooking. Trim and slice the chicken into thin slices or bite size cuts (suggest cutting on a diagonal).
  6. Lightly spray or oil baking sheet or roasting pan to prevent the suya from sticking to the pan. [I covered mine with foil to make cleanup easier.]
  7. Thread the chicken onto the skewers (about 4 per skewer), making sure the skewer is fully covered with slices of chicken.
  8. Brush the chicken skewer with spice mixture on both sides. Place skewers on the sprayed/oiled roasting pan or baking sheet.
  9. Drizzle with oil and bake for about 20-25 minutes, flipping halfway through baking until chicken is fully cooked through. Towards the last 3 minutes of baking, switch to broil to get a nice crisp brown on the outside.
  10. When the pepper sauce is finished, let it cool. Pour in a mason jar or a container with a lid and store in a fridge for about a week. In order for your pepper sauce to last longer, make sure it is fully covered in oil.
  11. Serve chicken suya warm with a side of African pepper sauce [and fried plantains, if desired].

book review, recipe

The Age of Miracles + Pineapple Salsa

The Age of Miracles is the first book I’ve reread in a long while, and I’m really glad that I did. There is only so much time in a day, and with an ever-growing to-read list, I’m normally not much of a re-reader. As time is something this book calls into question, it seems a fitting choice.

book cover

When I originally read Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel three years ago, I truly enjoyed it. I suggested it to friends, and I bought a copy of my very own. (I tend to buy books pretty selectively, preferring instead to borrow from the local library.) Its place on my bookshelf brought it top of mind when my book club was looking for suggestions, and so we chose it as our most recent selection.

In The Age of Miracles, the world changes suddenly and inexplicably – the earth experiences a “slowing” and time as we know it begins to shift. Normal begins to look very different. Narrated by Julia, an insightful preteen living in California with her parents, we experience the smaller struggles of her family and her community and witness the larger struggles of society as everyone tries to adjust to this new concept of time, and ultimately, the impending end of the world.

I first read this novel in the winter, when days were short and nights were long. This time, in the height of summer, the opposite is true – the sun rises early and sets late, days are hot and bright and stretched out. None of this compares to the lengths of the days and nights within Walker’s novel, of course. She does an excellent job of taking an overwhelming concept and keeping it simple and human.

For a book with very little plot – something that tends to be a negative for me – I found it a pleasure to read because Walker’s prose paints a vivid picture of the characters as they figure out their new world. So many of her lines had me reaching for a pen.

As I was thinking of what to bring to our book club potluck, one such line struck me: “They were the last pineapples we’d ever eat in our lives.” If my memory serves, it’s the first time Julia mentions a specific food that they never have again.

I ultimately decided to make pineapple salsa because it was something I could prepare the night before, but mostly because it didn’t require turning on my oven in the middle of a heat wave. I went with a recipe from Barefeet in the Kitchen for The BEST Pineapple Salsa and didn’t alter it at all. I was nervous enough about tackling a pineapple for the first time.

Due to that worry, I almost didn’t even buy a real pineapple and went up to the cashier with two cans of them pre-sliced. I had glanced around the produce section, saw none, and thought, “Well, this will be easier than I thought.” But, as I stood in line, I noticed a tuft of pineapple leaves sticking out of the bag of the man in front of me. I was stuck – they had real pineapples and I knew I had to suck it up and figure it out.

Here is a picture of us (I’m trying to hide my terror with confidence):

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Thankfully, I thought to ask my friend and fellow foodie Scott who texted me some simple directions and encouragement to set me on the right path. It wasn’t as hard as it seemed! I ate some to celebrate before dicing the rest (perhaps a little less “finely” than suggested). I followed suit with the jalapeno, cilantro and green onion, making sure those dices were more appropriately sized. (I’m a little obsessed with cilantro, see below.)

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After adding the salt, pepper and lime juice, I tossed it all together and taste-tested. It was delicious! And here it is:

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The BEST Pineapple Jalapeno Salsa

  • Servings: yields about 3 cups
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Ingredients

  • 1 small pineapple, peeled cored and very finely diced, about 2 1/2 cups
  • 1 large jalapeno, seeded and finely minced, about 2 tablespoons, add more for a spicier bite
  • 1 small lime, juiced, about 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 handful cilantro (leaves only), finely chopped, about 2 tablespoons
  • 3 green onions, very thinly sliced, about 2 tablespoons
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, adjust to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, adjust to taste

Directions


Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Cover with lid or transfer to an airtight container. Chill until ready to serve. This will keep well in the refrigerator for about a week. Enjoy!


Excellent with tortilla chips or as a topping for tacos.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.