My Haunted Library

All things spooky. Your source for paranormal and supernatural book and movie reviews, strangeography, Halloween crafts and a little cozy fall baking.


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The Basil Before the Storm: Walnut Parmesan Pesto

We’re well into October and my insanely wonderful garden is still producing. Tomatoes. Peppers. Greens. Zucchini. But, as House Stark knows, winter is coming…even though we’ve just had three gorgeous days in the mid-80s…and our cold snap is on its way.

For the first time, I’m going to try row covers to extend the season for our greens, but the writing is on the wall for the rest of the veggies, including our mighty basil plant, which has reached the intimidating size of a small hedge. So today I’m harvesting the rest of the basil and making pesto.

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Pesto rocks. You can use it in pasta sauce, as a topping for grilled salmon, on crunchy bruschetta, in a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich, for a delicious pizza topping, on decadent French fries, stuffed with goat cheese inside your prosciutto-wrapped chicken thighs and grilled, baked on a wheel of brie, spread on your turkey wrap, heck; pesto all by itself on crackers is a treat. Pesto also freezes beautifully and keeps for months! What’s not to love?

For this recipe, I’m using walnuts instead of the traditional pine nuts because pine nuts are 1) hard to find out here, and 2) expensive. I think you’ll find the walnut pesto tastes equally delicious, especially when you take the extra step and toast the nuts first.

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In the words (sort of) of the 17th-century poet, Robert Herrick: “Gather ye basil while ye may, / Old Time is still a-flying; / And this same basil that smiles today, / Tomorrow will be dying.” So go make pesto.

Ingredients:

2 cups (packed!) basil leaves

½ cup walnuts, toasted

¼ cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 Tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice

¼ cup grated Parmesan –  Romano or Asiago would also work nicely

Salt

Pepper

How to Make It:

Toast your walnuts first. Trust me on this: it doesn’t take long, isn’t hard, and it gives the nuts a deeper flavor and crisps them up. Heat your oven to 350F and put the nuts in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet. Let them bake for 5-10 minutes and keep an eye on them, stirring them around so they toast evenly. In our oven they take about 7 minutes. Don’t let them burn: you want them to turn just a little browner. You should just be able to smell a toasty aroma. Let them cool before using them in the pesto.

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See? Easy! The rest of the recipe is a breeze as well. Add the basil, cooled nuts, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, Parmesan, a pinch of salt, and a grind or two of pepper to a food processor. Blend until the pesto is a thick paste. If you want a thinner pesto, add a touch more oil or another squeeze of lemon until it is the consistency you’re looking for.

Delicious!

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Want to freeze it? No problem. You can freeze small amounts—1-2 Tablespoons—in ice cube trays, then put the frozen cubes into a freezer bag and pop out a cube whenever you need a little pesto. Or, freeze larger amounts of pesto in small containers—little Tupperware, small jelly jars, etc. If you put a thin layer of olive oil over the top surface of the pesto before freezing, it will help keep the pesto green. Keep your pesto in the freezer for six months. I will say I’ve kept it for longer without it losing quality.  Enjoy!


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Simple & Savory: Mom’s Salmon Bake

Mom’s Salmon Bake

It is a rainy spring afternoon (breaking news: spring finally arrived!) and a perfect day to make a big, comforting casserole. What better than my mom’s Salmon Bake?

Now, before you say eeew, hold on. This is loaded with rice and veggies and, yes, salmon. It works. It’s good. It is immanently customizable. Add other veggies. Use different cheeses. Spice it up. (I do!)  Try adding some herbs. Change your veggie ratios – I like more mushrooms, for example.

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Give it a try: I think you’ll be surprised and pleased at the result.

Ingredients:

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped mushrooms

1-2 cloves garlic, chopped

½ green pepper, chopped (optional)

1 Tablespoon butter

1 ½ cups wild rice, cooked

1 14-ounce can skinless, boneless salmon, flaked and drained (I use three 5-ounce pouches)

¾ cup mayonnaise

1 egg, beaten

½ cup Parmesan cheese

1 10-ounce package of frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained.

1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Salt and Pepper

Tabasco (optional)

How to Make It:

Heat the oven to 350F.

Make your rice according to the package directions – that’ll take a little time.

Sauté the onion, pepper, garlic, and mushrooms in butter until softened, seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

In a big bowl, combine the mayonnaise and the egg.  Add in the rice (make sure it is cooled a little, first), the sautéed veggies, and the salmon.  I also add a few dashes of Tabasco at this point. Mix lightly.

In a 1-quart casserole dish, layer half of the salmon mixture, then half of the Parmesan cheese.  Cheese fiend?  Sure, toss a little of the cheddar in with the Parm for this layer.  Next, layer on half of the broccoli.  Cover this with 1 cup of the cheddar cheese.  Repeat the layers: salmon mixture, Parmesan, broccoli.  Stop there.  End with the broccoli.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese and continue to bake just until the cheese melts.  The casserole should look bubbly and melty.

 

Serve with some crusty bread or a side salad.  This reheats marvelously.  Enjoy!

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A Really Lovely Apple Pie. So What if it’s April?

A cold April rain is pelting the windows in my office-slash-craft room right now. It is dark and peaceful, and I could give in and take a Saturday afternoon nap, but I want something even more comforting: pie.

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Here is an apple pie recipe you’ll turn to again and again, and probably, knowing all you bakers out there, modify it some more yourselves with your own tricks. As it stands, however, this is a beauty of a pie. Your house will smell amazing as it bakes.

Ingredients:

Pie crust for a two-crust pie – use your go-to crust recipe or refrigerated crusts. You really can’t go wrong with this pie.

6 medium apples, peeled and thinly sliced*

¾ cup sugar plus extra for sprinkling

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 Tablespoon unsalted cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 egg white

* For heaven’s sake, use your favorite apple: Granny Smith are the traditional go-to baking apples because they add a nice tartness. Lots of folks enjoy McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious, or a blend. Go with what you enjoy or what you have on hand. Like the crust, you won’t go wrong. I’ve got Fuji today, which are panned for their juices not thickening enough, but I’m not feeling picky. If you’re entering the county fair, then be picky.

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How to Make It:

Heat your oven to 425 F.

Place your bottom crust into a 9-inch pie plate.

In a large bowl, mix the apples, ¾ cup sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and lemon juice. Do this gently, so you don’t break up your apple slices. Spoon the filling into the bottom crust.

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Cover with your top crust. Trim off any excess and tuck the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust. Pinch it together and flute it. (No woodwinds involved.) Use both hands and pinch and seal the dough with your pointer fingers and thumbs, giving a tiny twist as you go all around the edge of the pie. Check out my Bloody Good Cherry Pie recipe for marginally more details on fluting.

With a sharp knife, cut some slits in the top crust to vent the steam. Or you could use a pie bird, or little cookie cutters and cut shapes out of the crust (before you put it on top of the filling, making sure everything stays cool) to do the same thing.

In a little bowl, whisk the egg white until it is nice and frothy. Brush the egg white over the top of the pie. This will give you a nice shiny finish.

Now, sprinkle sugar gently over the top of the egg white. You’ll end with a sparkly, delicious top.

Step carefully around your mini-Schnauzer who is positioned so she can instantly grab any accidental food-from-the-sky.  She doesn’t look alert.  That’s a deception.  Just wait until you drop something…

Bake your pie for 40 to 45 minutes or until the apples are tender, you can see bubbling through the vents, and the crust is golden brown.

Before this happens, though, you need to check after 15 to 20 minutes of baking and cover the edges of the crust. You can do this with foil, or a pie crust shield. I got these little Norpro 3275 Silicone Pie Crust Shields, 5-Piece for Christmas, and I have to say, they’re the bomb. They’re adjustable to other sizes of pie, go on so easily (WAY easier than foil) and clean up fast. I do recommend them.

Whatever method you use, be sure you cover those edges on the crust, or they will be over-browned by the end of the baking time. And you’ll be sad.

Cool your pie on the cooling rack for at least two hours before serving. If you can wait even longer, believe it or not, that’s better: the filling will set even more and not seep when you cut it. Still, I know: it smells like heaven and you can’t touch it for two hours. Now is a good time for that nap.

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Crabby Melts

Winter seems here to stay, so I’m still cheerfully making comfort food.  Here’s an easy, substantial sandwich that will make a cozy lunch or dinner.  These originally started out as an appetizer recipe from, oh, fifteen years ago, but I’ve updated it over time to make it meal-strength.  Enjoy!

 

Ingredients:

12 ounces decent white crab meat, picked over for shells – use what you can afford.  This is a cheesy sandwich melt, so the crab will be friends with some other strong flavors.  Maybe don’t drop a ton of money on the finest lump, is what I’m saying.

1 5-ounce jar of Kraft Old English cheese spread

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ cup butter, softened

½ teaspoon horseradish

Dash of Tabasco

8 English muffin halves, toasted.  (So, four English muffins, split.)

8 slices mozzarella cheese

8 slices tomato*

8 slices avocado*

8 strips of bacon, cooked, cut in half

2 scallions, chopped

* Optional: I usually use one or the other.

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How to Make Them:

Preheat the oven to 375F.

In a medium bowl, gently combine the crab, cheese spread, mayonnaise, garlic powder, butter, horseradish, and Tabasco.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease it well, and set your toasted English muffin rounds onto it.  To each round, add a slice of cheese, two pieces of bacon (the two halves of one strip), and slice of avocado or tomato.

Next, spoon the crab mixture over the top of each round.  Carefully avoid your mini-Schnauzer who has parked herself predatorily in the center of the kitchen, waiting for food to fall from the sky.

Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes until the top is golden brown and everything is heated through.  Make sure your bottom slice of cheese is melty!  Garnish with chopped scallion.

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In the winter, crabby melts go great with fries and sautéed greens like spinach or chard, or steamed veggies. In the summer, they’re lovely with a crisp salad.