Winter Pesto

Banana Bread 036 Edited Winter Pesto

Welcome to Pesto 101. A few days ago I had never considered making pesto at home. In fact, I never much thought of pesto period. Now I think I am an expert capable of teaching anyone who reads this post how to become a homemade pesto expert. Why such bold confidence? Because it is easy. Super easy. When someone who wondered why the word “winter” was used to described this pesto recipe (yes, that would be me) can come so far so quickly, I know anyone else can too.

Lesson 1: History

Traditional pesto recipes call for basil. Since fresh basil is hard to come by at the end of January, spinach steps in. Not to worry though, this winter pesto still gets a good dose of flavor from dried basil.

Banana Bread 034 Edited Winter Pesto

Lesson 2: Health

I am not a nutritionist, but I like to think I have at least an ounce of nutritional sense. My instinct was this pesto is a fairly healthy recipe given it is packed full of a dark leafy greens and healthy fats from the walnuts and olive oil. Turns out I was partially right. This Top 10 Green Vegetables ranks spinach at number 5. It also discusses walnuts at the eighth most nutrient-dense nut.

Lesson 3: Math

Pesto = green vegetable + nuts + olive oil + cheese + garlic. Such a simple equation lends itself to seemingly endless variations. Any of the vegetables on the Top 10 list could lend themselves to pesto. As far as nuts go, traditional pesto recipes call for pine nuts, but why not try cashews or almonds or pecans or even pumpkin seeds? Asiago or Romano cheeses are good substitutes for the Parmesan.  But you must use garlic. It keeps colds and vampires away, so there is really no arguing on this point.

Banana Bread 037 Edited Winter Pesto

Lesson 4: Home Ec

The only thing that equals the number of ways to make pesto is the number of uses for pesto. As you see here, I slathered it on some bread that I first toasted with a bit of olive oil in a cast iron skillet. I also tossed it with a bowl of pasta. If you go this route, reserve a bit of the water from the cooked pasta to thin the pesto sauce. Though I have yet to do it, I will likely use up the rest of my pesto by adding it to a grilled cheese sandwich or a quesadilla. I might also stir it into a scrambled egg or use it as a topping for a baked potato or a piece of chicken. Pesto is also great as a pizza sauce or as a layer between lasagna noodles. The ever-helpful Food Network has a list of 50 Things to Make with Pesto for other ideas.

Pesto is easy to freeze for use in the future. (This is the best way to enjoy summer basil pesto in the winter.)  To freeze a batch of pesto, leave the cheese out of the initial preparation and add it in before use. Use an ice cube tray to freeze individual portions. Then transfer the blocks of pesto to a Ziploc bag once frozen. Thaw and use as needed.

After realizing how easy it is to make pesto – it took me all of 15 minutes to blend the ingredients and clean up the dishes – I plan to make it again and again. I hope you will too. Enjoy!

Banana Bread 057 Edited Winter Pesto

Winter Pesto
  • 3 cups spinach leaves, tightly packed
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ¼ walnuts
  • ½ cup olive oil, plus a bit extra for storing
  • ⅔ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  1. Process all ingredients but the cheese and salt in a food processor until smooth.
  2. Stir in the cheese and salt until blended. It may be necessary to transfer the processed spinach mixture into a bowl for this step.
  3. The pesto will keep in a container sealed with a lid for up to two weeks when refrigerated. Be sure to pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil on top of the pesto when storing to prevent it from drying out.
Make sure the stems are removed from the spinach leaves. To make the pesto, you will want to use only the leaves. It is not necessary to make this pesto with walnuts, so simply leave them out if you are not a fan.

Honey Banana Poppy Seed Bread

Banana Bread 001 Edited Honey Banana Poppy Seed Bread

It took me by surprise to realize this is the first banana bread recipe I have baked with the intent to share in this space. I make banana bread or muffins fairly often since I prefer my raw bananas on the green side. The moment they get a few brown freckles, I deem them too sweet to eat. Which is ironic, really, since the first thing I do is use them in a sweet baked good.

Since we all have our go-too recipes for banana bread, I suppose I thought sharing a banana bread recipe was just too common. The authors of this recipe, Matt Lewis and Renato  Poliafito, wrote as much when they described banana bread in their cookbook Baked Elements. For such a well known recipe, it has countless interpretations.

Some of us add milk to the batter, like this recipe, while others use yogurt or sour cream. Toasted walnuts are my personal favorite when it comes to add ins, yet I have no problem eating banana bread baked with rich chunks of chocolate. What is your favorite ingredient to add to banana bread?

Banana Bread 002 Edited Honey Banana Poppy Seed Bread

This recipe was just different enough, sweetened in part by honey and made unique with poppy seeds, that I wanted to share. It tastes just like banana bread should – tender and flavorful – and the poppy seeds lend just the right amount of “huh?” to keep this otherwise common recipe interesting. As all banana breads are, this one is delicious alone and made even better when topped with cream cheese.

When my bananas ripen past the point of consumption, I usually pop them in my refrigerator and there they sit. I recently froze a few overly ripe bananas in hopes of keeping them longer, and for this recipe, they worked just fine. Granted, they look like giant slugs as they thaw, but if you get past that, all will be well. To freeze, peel the ripe bananas, wrap each one in a layer of foil, then seal in a Ziploc bag with the air pressed out. To thaw, simply transfer them to the refrigerator.

In part, I froze my most recent batch of ripe bananas because I was burnt out on banana bread and muffins. What else is a ripe banana good for? TheKitchn offers up 10 ideas, including banana hot chocolate which sounds great for winter, in their clever “Don’t Toss Them” post. What is your favorite way to use up ripe bananas? The dozen bananas waiting in my freezer need to know!

Banana Bread 026 Edited Honey Banana Poppy Seed Bread

Honey Banana Poppy Seed Bread
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup ripe, mashed banana (about 3 large bananas)
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the wet ingredients: mashed banana, vegetable oil, milk, honey and eggs.
  3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and fill with the wet ingredients. Stir together until just combined, then fold in the poppy seeds.
  4. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9 x 5 loaf pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F for 60-70 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf should come out clean.
  6. Allow the loaf to cool until no longer hot to touch, then turn out onto a baking rack to continue to cool to room temperature.
If the top of the bread begins too look too brown during baking, tent with foil and carry on. If poppy seeds are not your thing, the original recipe suggests replacing the two tablespoons of seeds with ½ cup of chocolate chips or nuts.

Souper Bowl Sunday: Spiced Carrot Coconut Soup

Spiced Carrot Coconut Soup 016 Edited Souper Bowl Sunday: Spiced Carrot Coconut Soup

Green cardamom pods? Two years ago, I would have taken a look at this recipe, saw that it called for green cardamom pods and moved on. In all likelihood, I probably would have  moved on from any recipe that called for cardamom regardless of  its form. Now that I have made an ongoing effort to prepare something more than rice or eggs or cereal for dinner, this ingredient did not seem so daunting. And if I can overcome the “fear of the unknown ingredient”, anyone can.

I have the luxury of living in a city with a shop dedicated solely to spices, so green cardamom pods were surprisingly easy to come by. I recognize this is not the case for everyone, so I peppered the nice shop employees with questions about this spice when I was in the store. I learned the pods are ideal when a recipe calls for infusing the flavor of cardamom throughout a liquid. Because of this, it is common to steep cardamom pods in homemade tea. I do not know a thing about making teas, so I signed up for a class about how to make tea at home while I was there. I hope to tell you more after the class next month.

Unfortunately, there is not hard and fast rule to substituting cardamom pods for ground cardamom, but it is possible. Ground cardamom is prepared from the seeds within the pods, so the ground form of the spice is a bit more potent than the pods. In this soup, I would start with 1/4 teaspoon and increase the amount by 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon to taste as the soup simmers. The recipe calls for only two pods. I bought two tablespoons worth, so if you really want to try this recipe but do not want to invest in the pods, message me and I will mail you a few.

Spiced Carrot Coconut Soup 023 Edited Souper Bowl Sunday: Spiced Carrot Coconut Soup

Cardamom pods: the dark seeds in the split pod are used to make the ground spice.

To further complicate matters, this recipe called for a thumb of ginger. Does this mean the size of my thumb, or does it refer to the nodules that grow from the ginger root? Cookthink explains it is the latter. Just as one could use ground cardamom in place of pods, ground ginger can be used in place of ground ginger. However, I would strongly recommend using ginger root. It is fairly inexpensive and, in my grocery store, easily found near the potatoes in the produce section. A note of caution, the ginger flavor is a feature of this recipe, so if you do not enjoy its warm spiciness, this soup is not for you.

Lastly, the coconut milk lends this soup a very rich flavor and creamy consistency. Coconut milk seems to have become more popular in recent years, but if it remains unfamiliar in your kitchen, it should be fairly easy to find in either the baking or international foods aisle. I enjoyed this soup warm, as it was intended, but its colorful look and fresh flavor leads  me to believe it would serve well as a cold gazpacho come summer. Enjoy!

Spiced Carrot Coconut Soup 005 Edited Souper Bowl Sunday: Spiced Carrot Coconut Soup

Spiced Carrot Coconut Soup
Serves: 8
  • 3½ cups hot water
  • 1 can (400-480 ml) coconut milk
  • ½ lemon, juice of (1-2 tablespoons juice)
  • 1¼ teaspoon honey
  • ½ small to medium white onion, peeled and sliced
  • 2 green cardamom pods
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 thumb ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1⅔ pound carrots, peeled and sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Stir together the water, coconut milk, lemon juice and honey and set aside.
  2. In a pot and place over low heat, combine the onion, cardamom pods, garlic and ginger and olive oil.
  3. Sweat the ingredients until the onion is soft and translucent.
  4. Add the carrots and increase the heat to high.
  5. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring every minute or so, and then add the liquids.
  6. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer.
  7. Allow to simmer until the carrots are soft, about 30 minutes.
  8. Remove the cardamom pods and use an immersion blender or food processor to puree the soup until smooth.
  9. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, to taste.
  10. Garnish with olive oil, sour cream, red pepper or whatever else your tastebuds may desire.
See the original recipe here: