Cilantro & Pepita Pesto

I make pesto all the time.  It takes about two seconds and is a great way to use fresh herbs.  Yesterday I made homemade guacamole for the Littles.  Since I only used a handful of cilantro, the rest of the bunch was left staring me in the face this morning.  So instead of a traditional basil & pine nut pesto, I decide to give tonight’s version an updated spin with cilantro & pepitas (pumpkin seeds).

Cilantro Pesto

1/2 cup roasted pepitas

4 T (more or less) extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp salt

dash of chili powder

dash of cumin

3 T fresh lime juice

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

Put the pepitas in a food processor, I like to use a small one for pestos.  Grind them until they begin to form a paste.  Slowly begin to drizzle in about 1/2 of the olive oil.  Stop the processor and scrape down the sides then add the salt, chili powder and cumin.  Pulse again a few more times and add the lime juice and crushed garlic.  Depending on the consistency, add more of the olive oil.  Add the cilantro, more olive oil and pulse until you like the texture!  You might have to add a little more oil or juice if your pesto is too thick.  If it gets to runny toss in some more pepitas.  There is no magic and it will taste delicious.

I’m serving the cilantro pesto with grilled salmon steaks for Husband and me and will also toss some into pasta for the Littles.  Don’t tell the rest of my brood, but I saved a small stash as a dip for my roasted sweet peppers for lunch tomorrow.  Cooks privilege.

P.S. Don’t forget to vote in my What to cook Friday poll.  It’s a dead heat.  I’ll choose whatever meal is ahead at noon on Thursday!


Roasted Sweet Peppers

These little gems are addicting.  Proceed with caution.  I roasted 2 pounds of these tiny little peppers and will use them all week or until I eat them all.  Hopefully, not in one sitting.  I’ll serve just a few as a side dish tonight and then save the rest for snacks and lunches.  You can pop a whole pepper right in your mouth.  One right after another.  And bonus — they are really good for you!  I like them plain, or with my yummy cilantro pesto, or sliced and added to a turkey-pita sandwich.

Roasted Sweet Peppers

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Toss sweet peppers lightly with extra-virgin olive oil and a little coarse sea salt.  Spread evenly over a foil lined baking sheet and roast for 30 – 40 minutes.  Turn the peppers every 15 minutes or so.  You’ll hear the peppers start to pop and sing towards the end.

Betcha can’t eat just one!

Osso Buco and O Sole Mio

It is no secret that Husband enjoys a good meal.  He travels frequently and is lucky to experience some of the country’s best restaurants.  He is a very simple and humble man, however this man of mine has developed a very discerning palate and is quite the food critic.  Basically, Husband has morphed into a food snob.

I will say that he has remained true to his roots.  Big names, fancy architecture, trendy, small portions, and bizarre infusions are not his thing.  He gravitates towards authentic. The more off-the-beaten-track a food find is the better. Husband is a blast to travel with and has a gift for finding just the perfect places to eat.  And he has this uncanny ability to remember exact locations, menu items, ingredients, tastes, smells, wines, all details I am never able to recollect.  Clearly I dig my husband.

So when he asked me to make him osso buco I got right on it.  Not right on it, mind you.  His request has been in the hopper for several weeks.  As our week shaped up I realized two out of the four Littles were spending Friday night out.  I pawned off a third to Mrs. Kravitz and hopefully after the littlest goes to bed, Husband and I will enjoy a quiet dinner chez nous.

Osso buco is the kind of dish you love to casually mention you will be making later after carpool.  Friends will gasp and say all kinds of things ranging from what a good wife you are to are you freakin’ nuts??? Making osso buco creates a little drama, but its actually quite simple.  Shhh…don’t tell my carpool friends.

I adapted my version from two sources: Mark Bittman and Elise over at Simply Recipes.  Thanks to you both!

Osso Buco

1/4 lb pancetta, diced

4 large veal shanks (hind is best), 6 – 8 oz each, tied with kitchen twine so they don’t fall apart (your butcher will gladly do this for you)

flour for dredging veal

1 large carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 onion, chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, diced

4 sprigs fresh thyme or (1/2 tsp dried)

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup chicken, beef or veal stock

salt & pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.  Then brown the pancetta in a dutch oven over medium high heat for about 5 minutes until its crispy brown.

While the pancetta is browning, put the veal in a paper bag with flour and shake to coat the shanks, one at a time.

When pancetta is crispy remove to a plate with a paper towel to drain.

Add the veal shanks to the pan with the hot pancetta fat.

Cook the veal shanks until well browned, about 6 minutes per side.  The veal will start to look like this:

When veal is well browned, remove to a plate and add the onions, celery and carrots to the pan. Saute for about 5 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic and thyme.

Nestle the shanks and pancetta back in the pan with the vegetables.

Next add the wine and stock.  You want the liquid to come half way up the side of the shanks.  I add the wine first — it helps deglaze all the yummy pancetta bits at the bottom of the pan.  Then I add just enough stock to hit the 1/2 way mark.  Wine is more important than stock, right?!?!

Bring to a simmer, cover and put in oven until veal is done.  I usually find 1 1/2 hours is the magic number.  And I turn my shanks at the 30 minute marks.

Remove veal  shanks to a platter and if your sauce is still soupy, put over high heat to reduce then  pour over meat to serve.  I also made a gremolada which is a garnish traditionally served with osso buco.


Mix together 1 tablespoon minced lemon zest, 2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley and 2 cloves of garlic crushed and minced.

The traditional way to serve osso buco is with polenta or risotto.  I’m going to keep it simple and serve it with crunchy bread and a bottle of red wine.  Also, don’t forget a small spoon or dull knife to scrape out the marrow — it’s the best part!

6 Ingredient Supper (Roasted Chicken & Risotto)

It’s nearing noon and I have no plan for supper.  My friends, this rarely happens at The Schell Cafe and when it does it causes the Mama to get a little panicky.  I refuse to go to the store today, and time wouldn’t allow anyway, so I pilched what was left in the produce basket and searched the pantry.  I have six worthy ingredients from which to make dinner:

chicken breasts

olive oil



parmesan cheese


carnaroli rice

Whoops. That’s seven ingredients, isn’t it? Let’s not get lost in details, friends.  Remember I’m in a fragile state of mind.  What to do? What to do?  Why my stand by roasted chicken with 1 million cloves of garlic and risotto, of course.  I make roasted chicken so frequently it barely raises an eyebrow anymore.  Even with 1 million cloves of garlic its getting a little predictable.  So, I’m breaking my very own rule and will make risotto to give the roasted chicken an unexpected flair.  My rule is this.  I don’t make risotto until the temperature finally feels like fall.  Which in Central Texas generally happens mid-November.  But, the littles absolutely love risotto and since I made them work so hard last night, I should spoil them a little.

Excuse me while I go crank up the air-conditioner.

Risotto is not hard to make. It’s just that you have to stir. And stir.  And stir.  And it gets hot standing in front of an open flame stirring for 30 minutes.

First I roasted the chicken breasts.  Which is so simple it’s embarrassing.  Here’s my nothing-fancy-straight-and-simple way to roast chicken breasts.

2 breasts, bone in, skin on

1 million cloves of garlic (maybe a scant one million)

olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Wash and pat chicken dry.  Place chicken skin side up in baking pan.  Toss garlic all around chicken and bake in oven for 15 minutes.  Take pan out of oven, brush chicken with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Turn chicken over, brush this side with olive oil, s&p.  Bake 10 minutes.  Take pan out of oven.  Turn chicken back to skin side up.  Brush again with olive oil. Shake garlic up and move it around a bit in the pan to make sure it’s getting all nice and golden.  Bake 10 more minutes.  At this point, my chicken is always roasted to perfection, but be sure to test that you have completely cooked the poultry.

Clearly I am a fan of roasted garlic.  That is 1/2 million cloves, by the way.

Risotto with Peas

olive oil

one small onion, diced

1 cup peas

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1 cup risotto

water/chicken broth

I didn’t really measure any of this today, remember I’m crunched for time and all.  But risotto is very forgiving since you slowly add the chicken broth/water in small batches.

First, add some olive oil to the heavy, non-stick saucepan.  Add chopped onion and saute for about 3 minutes or until the onions are translucent, but not browning.  Add risotto and let the grains toast for about 1 minute or so.  Then add some luke warm liquid.  Sometimes I keep chicken broth simmering so I can add it by the ladle full.  I only had a splash of chicken broth left so today I’m using mostly water.  Begin adding liquid to the grains and stir over low heat until all the water is absorbed.  Then add some more and stir until its all absorbed.  After about 30 minutes you should have a yummy, thick consistency.  Add in the parmesan cheese and peas.  Salt and pepper to taste.

In about 30 minutes and with only 6, alright 7 ingredients you can have something like this on the table.

What is your favorite last minute supper fix?  I’d love to know.

Broccoli, Ham & Cheese Quiche

Having four children can elicit some interesting comments.  Sometimes I get asked legitimate questions. For example, at the grocery store the other day I had all four children hovering at my side in the check out line.  A young woman with two small children politely smiled and asked, ‘how do you fit four car seats in your car?’.  Valid question.  I don’t drive a car.  Obviously she doesn’t drive a SUV or minivan.

But it blows my mind how often complete strangers are well, rude.  There must be a script floating out there prompting people on what to say to mothers with four or more children.  It’s bizarre because no matter where I am the comments are always the same. It never fails.  And it goes something like this:

Stranger: Wow! You sure do have your hands full.

Me: (silent smile and head nod)

Stranger: Did you mean to have so many kids or was that little one there a surprise? OR this variation is very popular too.  You do know how that happens, right?

Me: (head tilt with an affected laugh)

Stranger: Are you finished or are you going to have more?

Me: (shoulder shrug with affected smile)

I have so many thoughts on this ridiculous conversation I’m actually going to save it for its very own special post.  For the point of this post however, and I swear there is one, let’s just pretend one day I fly off the handle and respond like this:

Me: Well, you know the reason I have all these kids don’t you?

Stranger: Why on earth do you? Please tell me.

Me: So they can clean the house and cook for me, of course.

So now you know why I really created Kids Cook Night!  And since it’s Wednesday, it’s time to put those little urchins to work, dontcha think?  Tonight the children prepared a very tasty quiche.  For Husband and me, naturally.

Indentured Servant Quiche (or Broccoli, Ham & Cheese Quiche)

1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli

1 cup grated cheese (we had Babybel and parmesan on hand tonight)

1/2 cup chopped ham

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

4 large eggs

2/3 cup milk

1/4 tsp salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Layer ingredients into pie crust starting with cheese, then broccoli, then ham.  In a bowl, lightly whisk eggs and milk until combined.  Add salt.  Pour over broccoli, ham and cheese.  Bake for 40 minutes or until solid.  Cool for 15 minutes until set.

The littles hard at work…..

Dream Team in the Kitchen

My friend over here posed a fun question.  She asked who we would most like to have at a dinner party.  I tweaked the question by answering that I would have a cooking party.  My cooking dream team at The Schell Cafe would include:

Julia Child

Alice Waters

David Lebovitz

Ina Garten

Thomas Keller

Can you imagine?  Who would you invite to a dinner party chez vous or to cook in your kitchen???

Miracles, Blessings and some Chicken Noodle Soup

I’ve been thinking a lot about miracles lately.  Webster defines the word miracle as 1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs; 2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.  Tall order, huh?

Kathy Mattea sings one of my favorite Christmas songs called Mary Did You Know? Its thought provoking lyrics question if Mary knew the magnitude of the miracle she carried in her womb. Did Mary know that the lame would leap, the dumb would speak, the blind would see again all because of the miracles her son Jesus would perform?

Generally when I think of miracles I think of the huge divine acts like Jesus’ healings.  But do miracles need to be of Lazarus proportion to be a true miracle?  I think I would be frustrated, not to mention spiritually dry, if I had to wait to see a ‘movie’ miracle.  While I do believe these types of miracles occur, I like to think about every day miracles in my life.  You might say I’m confusing miracles and blessings.  Maybe, but just today I witnessed the following miracles in my life: I woke up healthy as did all four children, Husband’s plane landed safely in South Texas, and God used an ordinary event (my trainer at the gym!) to reveal more about His plan for me.  On my way to the grocery store I was hoping I’d remember all the ingredients for Chicken Noodle Soup when I called home to check on Littlest who has an icky cold.  BFF (our babysitter and littlest’s best friend for forever) was having the same thought I was and had already looked up my soup recipe and was texting me the list as we were on the phone.  Blessings? Absolutely.  Miracles?  I think all these events were divine and not so ordinary.

Really, I was just going to tell you about this yummy Chicken Noodle soup.  It’s delicious and a cinch to make.  And it’s definitely what the doctor ordered for the snarky sniffles 2 out of the 4 littles have acquired.

Chicken Noodle Soup

1 tsp olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 tsp dried oregano

2 garlic cloves, minced

8 cups chicken stock, divided (when I don’t have stock from scratch I always use Swanson’s organic free-range broth)

2 cups diced baking potato (I like to leave the skins on for added texture)

2 celery stalks

1 large carrot, sliced

3 cups chicken, cooked and chopped

2 cups fresh spinach, chopped

1 tsp salt

4 oz uncooked egg noodles (the wide ones!)

2 tbs flour

1/4 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp paprika

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Ad onion and saute 3 minutes.  Add oregano and garlic, and saute 30 seconds.  Add 6 cups chicken broth and diced potato.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until potato is tender.  Mash potato in broth mixture.  Add celery and carrot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add chicken, spinach and salt.  Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 more minutes.  Add noodles, bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes.

Combine 1/2 cup broth and flour in a small bowl, whisk well and stir into soup.  Simmer 3 minutes.  Add pepper and paprika.

Getting this meal on the table tonight was a blessing.  Finding time to shower before the First Grade dinner will be a miracle.