Tuna, Artichoke, and Basil Stuffed Potatoes

I woke up to a cool, drizzly Sunday morning and decided the best thing to do after having had a fantastic birthday yesterday was to relax today and finally post this recipe on my neglected blog. This spring has been one of the busiest I’ve had in years, rivaling my undergraduate days only with less exam stress and more long-distance driving. It was great to unwind a bit, have fun with family, and do what I do best: climb and eat! haha 🙂

I began the day by grabbing coffee and negotiating crowds at Burlington’s newly-reopened Farmer’s Market with my mom and  my brother’s girlfriend. It’s already obvious it will be a busy season for the park: only the second day the market has opened and nearly half the grounds were occupied with white tents and a variety of tables. Food vendors seem to be staking their turf early this year and after drooling over vegan baked goods, Tibetan lunches, African samosas, maple desserts, and a good old-fashioned American grill we nabbed a few grapefruit-sized stuffed dumplings from the Tibetan vendor, plopped ourselves down on the grass, and ate breakfast.

Then, threading our way out of the market and onto the cobbled Church Street strip, we did some celebratory shopping before meeting up with my two brothers for an afternoon of climbing at the gym. The only thing that would make the day more perfect would have been climbing some actual rock, but with record rains this season that wasn’t an option. Still, I was able to stick a previously-failed 5.8+ route, so my muscles are slooowly but surely starting to come back and I’m hoping to regularly climb a respectable 5.9 by summer. I can’t decide what’s harder about returning to a sport you love after years of absence: the actual physical rehabilitation or the mental teasing that comes with what you know how to do but physically can’t anymore.

Finally, to round out a perfect day with a perfect evening, the rest of the family joined us for dinner at Asiana House for some excellent food. We took turns swapping maki rolls for bites of tempura, a slurp of udon, or a spoonful of bibimbap (our favorite dish name of all time). My grandmother’s taste for Asian food has grown over the years since my return from Japan – and multiple birthdays at such restaurants – and she can now add green soba to her list of enjoyable meals. My aunt learned the best way to eat edemame and, while I still have to convince her to use chopsticks, she was the only one to order sashimi so I forgave for her for the fork, haha.

I suppose my real single regret of yesterday was leaving my camera at home. I would have loved to share the photos of both family and food with you, but it says something when an amateur photographer is having so much fun she forgets the camera. It was a great birthday.

Tuna, Artichoke, and Basil Stuffed Potatoes

(from Eating Well‘s April ’11 Edition)

Ingredients:

4   medium russet potatoes, scrubbed

2   5 – 6 oz. cans of chunk light tuna, drained*

¾   C   nonfat plain Greek yogurt

½   C   plus 2 T chopped fresh basil, divided

1   6 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (~ ½ C)

2   scallions, chopped

1   T   capers, rinsed (optional)

¼   t   salt

½   t   freshly ground pepper

¾   C   shredded provolone cheese

1   plum tomato, finely chopped

* Note: Please see the Seafood Watch program by Monterey Bay Aquarium for how to buy sustainable tuna. Along with sustainability, you can look here to find cans that are BPA-free. I took Eating Well‘s suggestion and used the brand Wild Planet. Finally, if you may become pregnant, are pregnant, or are feeding young children you should limit your consumption of tuna to 12-oz. a week for light tuna or no more than 6-oz. for albacore tuna due to the risk of mercury contamination. Yellowfin tuna is considered a “light” tuna but has higher mercury levels similar to albacore so please take note. More seafood safety information here.

Procedure:

  1. Pierce potatoes all over with a fork. Microwave on Medium, turning once or twice, until soft – about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine tuna, yogurt, ½ Cup basil, artichoke, scallions, capers (if using), salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
  2. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, carefully cut off the top third lengthwise. Scoop out the insides and add to the bowl with the tuna mix. Place the potato shells in a microwave-safe dish. Mash the potato and tuna mixture together with a fork or a potato masher until well blended.
  3. Evenly divide the tuna filling among the potato shells – they will be very well stuffed. Top with cheese and microwave on High for a few minutes until filling is hot and the cheese has melted. To serve, top each potato with some tomato and a little of the remaining 2 Tablespoons basil. They will keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days, just reheat thoroughly before serving.

Beezer’s Notes:

I don’t eat seafood as often as I’d like, but for some reason I find myself posting two seafood recipes in row. My body is probably trying to tell me something… Anyway, these stuffed potatoes are really great. They’re incredibly easy to put together, quick to cook, and very filling! They should please children and adults alike with their mild but flavorful stuffing and adaptability (scratch the capers for bacon, add some chili powder, or do a 3-cheese blend with some diced pickles instead of herbs for tuna-melt twist). Their only weakness is also their strength: they are huge. With a salad as a side, I could only eat half a potato at once. I want to work on a mini-boat version of this recipe using fingerling potatoes for an appetizer spin.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥    ♥    ♥    ♥


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Vanilla Basil Ice Cream with Pomegranate

Christmas is just a few days away! I’m so excited: this year I’m traveling up to Owen Sound, ON to see my boyfriend for the first time in the six months we’ve been separated for school. I’ve been to his home town before, but usually after a grueling 12-hour drive. Now I normally love road trips – and it’s a good thing, since I doubt I’d arrive in Owen Sound with my sanity if I didn’t – but this year I’m taking the train! I love train rides and am so jealous of the more compact countries I’ve visited who rely so heavily on them (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and especially Japan). I’m looking forward to napping, reading, and working on grad school applications while a train does the work for me this time around.

What comes to mind when you think of the Holiday Season? Lights? Snow? Peppermint hot chocolate? There are so many images, tastes, and sounds that are associated with the Holidays. I love most of those nostalgic norms, but have a few of my own that I doubt make it onto other folks’ lists. For example, one of my favorite Christmas treats that I look forward to every year is pomegranate. Yes, that’s pomegranate: the fruit, haha. I can’t remember how the tradition started, but many years ago I got a pomegranate in my stocking and was thrilled (pomegranate is my favorite fruit). Since then the trend has grown to include my two brothers and the three of us can be found stained maroon and munching on pomegranate seeds come Christmas morning.

I have been wanting to try basil ice cream for years. I can’t remember when I first heard of it but the idea sort of lodged itself in the back of my mind and it was one of the first things I thought of when I first got my ice cream maker. I wasn’t quite daring enough to try making basil-flavored ice cream until now, but with the absolutely delicious success of my Lemon Ginger Ice Cream (as well as other less exciting varieties I haven’t posted) I felt confident enough to try. I have no idea what I was so worried about – the process is ridiculously simple and the flavors develop richly all on their own. Now I DID fail horribly in my first round of custard (see Beezer’s Notes), but I’ll admit it was due entirely to me being an airhead and nothing to do with the difficulty of the recipe.

Vanilla Basil Ice Cream with Pomegranate

(adapted from Gourmet’s recipe on epicurious.com)

Ingredients:

2     C   whole milk (I mixed 1½ C of my 1% with ½ C heavy cream)

3     T   chopped fresh basil

½   C   vanilla sugar*

4   large egg yolks

½   C   well-chilled heavy cream

pinch of salt

1 ripe pomegranate fruit

* Note: Vanilla sugar is easy enough to make and store yourself: just place 1 whole vanilla bean in a small container, fill with regular granular sugar, seal airtight, and let sit. The sugar will absorb the vanilla flavoring in about a week. See Purple Foodie’s Vanilla Bean Sugar post on how to make superb vanilla sugar in which whole beans are ground up and added to the sugar itself!

Procedure:

  1. Bring milk, basil, ¼ Cup sugar, and salt to boil over medium heat while stirring in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender or transfer to upright blender and blend until basil is finely ground – about 1 minute.
  2. While basil is steeping, beat together egg yolks and remaining ¼ Cup sugar until thick and pale – about 1 minute. Once milk mixture has steeped, add it in a slow stream to yolk/sugar mixture beating continuously until both are thoroughly combined. Pour custard base back into the saucepan and return to medium heat.
  3. Stir custard base occasionally and cook until mixture reaches 175°F on a thermometer and can coat the back of a spoon. DO NOT LET BOIL. I was juggling multiple tasks the first time I attempted the custard and it boiled for just a second, but was still doomed: it immediately turned into green scrambled eggs. Not. Pretty. Go slow and be watchful!
  4. Once 175°F has been reached, immediately remove custard from heat and pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a small metal or glass bowl. Place this small bowl into a larger bowl partly filled with ice water and stir until the custard becomes cold – 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Stir cream into the custard and chill in the ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  6. Empty ice cream into an airtight container, seal, and freeze to harden which takes at least 2 hours.
  7. When ready to serve, free about ½ Cup of pomegranate seeds per ice cream serving by slicing the fruit into quarters, then inverting the concave slices in a bowl of water to help ease the small seeds free without bursting their juicy coverings. I discovered this trick after posting this recipe and so the photo of my “murder scene” cutting board remains. Glad I learned a cleaner, more efficient way.
  8. Serve ice cream with fresh pomegranate and enjoy!

Beezer’s Notes:

I definitely want to mention that my favorite sundaes are those with hot fudge and pomegranate seeds. I’m sure that’s a bit weird, but I just love how the hot gooey fudge, cold smooth ice cream, and fresh tangy pomegranate blends together. I also really enjoy how the seeds burst with juice and give way to chewy centers – I seem to eat my sundaes slower and enjoy them more whenever I add pomegranate. Give it a shot!

Also, along with my green scrambled egg disaster from my first attempt at the custard (watch that milk!!) I was totally off my game and separated egg whites initially instead of yolks. Correcting my error (and then once more with the spoiled custard) left me with 12 egg whites to deal with. I hate, hate, hate wasting food so I decided the best way to use up massive amounts of egg whites is meringue.

Cookies would take too long to bake, so I blind-baked a plain meringue crust similar to the one used in my Double-Layer Ice Cream Pie post. I filled the shell halfway with most of the soft basil ice cream (directly from the maker) and topped it off with whipped cream. The result was a pretty tasty ice cream pie with a delicious crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside meringue crust. The only drawbacks were the texture of the frozen whipped cream – now I know – and the fact that the crust was practically glued to the glass dish despite its liberal buttering before-hand. Future goals will be to figure out how to keep a meringue crust from sticking because it’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Any suggestions?

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

Baked Fries with Basil and Garlic-Paprika Mayo

I am both very lucky and very spoiled for spending nineteen years of my life living in the great green state of Vermont.  VT is, beyond any doubt, a foodie state: farmer’s markets are everywhere, restaurants like The Skinny Pancake, A Single Pebble, and Bluebird Tavern frequently make headlines; eateries toting “all-green” menus like Magnolia Bistro are starting to appear, and  New England Culinary Institute keeps turning out more fantastic chefs who stay in the state! Oh, and I can’t forget the bakeries

…and all restaurants linked above are in the city of Burlington alone! Since BTown is where I grew up, I know its food-scene the best, but there are just as many – if not more – absolutely amazing places outside the city. My grandmother in particular always requests an out-of-town restaurant for her birthday. It was at one of these restaurants that I tried an appetizer that inspired this entry. It wasn’t anything fancy: a small basket of french fries with an assortment of mayo-dips, but oooh was it good! The fries were skinny and golden little sticks with just a pinch of salt and the dips ranged from spicy, to tangy, to sweet. I don’t remember exactly what the dips contained, but when I decided to make my own homemade fries (baked!) the other day, I wanted to recreate a few of the mayo-flavors I had experienced at that restaurant.

Baked Fries with Basil and Garlic-Paprika Mayo (inspired by Black Sheep Bistro)

Ingredients:

For the Fries…

2   large russet potatoes, washed (about ½ lb.)

¼   C   EVOO

2-3   T   salt (I used ground sea salt for added crunch)

For the Dips…

1   large handful basil leaves, washed (about 1 Cup)

1   clove of garlic, minced

½   t   paprika

2/3   C   mayo (I prefer canola-based mayonnaise)


Procedure:

  1. Preheat your oven to 450°F.
  2. Slice the potatoes into generous wedges about 2″ long and ½” thick – they will shrink a bit in the oven. Lay them out evenly on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper and use a pastry brush or spoon to coat the top side with EVOO. You don’t want them to be soaked, but well covered. Sprinkle half the salt over the wedges and then flip them so the oiled and salted sides are now down.
  3. I did not need to oil again here. The oil had dripped down onto my bakery sheet enough so that the fries were well coated when flipped. If you do need to add more oil now, though, feel free. Just remember: baking is supposed to be healthier than frying. 😉 Sprinkle the remaining salt over the fries and place in the oven. Bake until deep golden brown and slightly crispy (mine took about 15 minutes).
  4. While the fries are baking, prepare the dips: first make the Basil dip by putting 1/3 Cup mayo into a food processor. Chop up your basil leaves a bit if you’re like me and have a mini-machine, or simply dump the whole leaves on top of the mayo. Process on Low for a few bursts until the leaves are completely minced and fully incorporated into the mayo. Put basil dip aside in a small bowl and clean the processor.
  5. To make the garlic dip, put the minced garlic, paprika, and remaining mayo in the food processor and process until smooth. Transfer garlic dip to another small bowl.
  6. When fries are done, slide them onto a paper towel-lined plate until they are cool enough to handle. I did not have to blot mine, but if you used extra EVOO (or are just more health-conscious) you may wish to.
  7. Serve fries as hot as possible without burning, with dollops of both dips. Dips can be saved for up to a week in the fridge and are excellent on sandwiches and wraps.

Beezer’s Notes:

So while you will have to like mayonnaise to enjoy these dips, I am convinced anyone will love these fries no matter what. They’ve got that perfect crunchy-yet-soft texture with the right amount of browning that puts frozen fries to shame. And ya know what? They really aren’t at all difficult to make. The extra 5 minutes you take to slice these up will be more than made up for in the flavor you get from NOT opening a bag of freezer-burned, overly-processed junk…and they’re not fried so you can convince yourself that they’ll count as your vegetable for the day. 🙂

As for the dips, I – for one – really enjoyed them. They did turn out rather thick compared to the dips I loved at the fancy restaurant, but I had decided against diluting (with a bit of milk) since I wanted to use most of it for sandwiches anyway. If you’re going to serve these dips exclusively with fries or chips, you’ll probably want to thin them a bit. My dad wasn’t a fan of the basil flavor (his loss, in my opinion) and said the garlic one was “way too garlic-y” for his taste. Next time, I’d like to try sauteing the garlic first in order to brown it a bit and mellow the flavor. I think that’s what real chefs do to make garlic mayo anyway – am I right?

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

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