Search This Blog

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tabbin' in the Kitchen

I suppose this is kind of cheating, or at least bending the rules a bit, about keeping this blog about culinary spatterings... but I'd like to mention one kitchen tool which can often be overlooked.

If you asked me a couple years ago if I ever thought I'd get a Tablet, I'd have definitely said no.

I've got a myriad of electronic and networking devices already... and it is true that anything you can do on a tablet you can also do on a desktop or notebook computer.

However...

The wife got an iPad a couple years ago, through work.  It was meant primarily as an e-reader, but I think she used it more for surfing and email.

Anyway... when she left that job, they made her return the iPad.  Weird, right?  ;)

So, we were left with a void for a while... and we found we missed having it.

So, I bought a new tablet, about two months ago only.  I avoided the iPad (for several reasons, which I'd be happy to share with you should you wonder, but feel I should leave out for relevance's sake) and opted instead for the new Asus Transformer Infinity.  Oh man she's a beauty.  I'm a really big Samsung fan, and for months I was adamant on the Galaxy Tab.  However, after doing an even larger amount of research than the thoroughly extensive amount as is normal for me before such a significant purchase, I found myself well and truly swayed by Asus.  There were just so many positive reviews about the Infinity (even compared to its own predecessors!).  I mean, I'd heard of Asus before, and I admit to owning a fair few Asus computer components over the years... but I never would have considered them for a tablet.

Well... it turns out they're quite well respected, and very popular... just not here in North America.


Anyway... after a good 6 or 7 weeks of detailed research, I was convinced that it is the single best tablet on the market... and that includes the new iPad (iPad 3).


I could spend hours writing about how much better it is than its competitors, but that's not important here.


What I do want to mention, is how useful a tablet can be as a kitchen tool.




In addition to all of its MANY helpful abilities, having the tablet in the kitchen, if you're going to be in there for any length of time, can be a boon in several ways.

First and foremost, it is available for web research.  Whether you're following an online recipe, referencing a difficult culinary technique, watching an instructional video, or even just requiring a quick conversion from US Imperial to Metric, the tablet is right there waiting for you.


Some secondary benefits, which are still quite awesome, are the ability to keep on top of email, chat with someone while working, or even play some music in the background.  You could even put on a movie, if you're one of those people who likes to have movies on while you work (lookin at you, wife).


Anyway...


Obviously not needed for every culinary activity, a mobile tablet nonetheless gets recognition here as to its utility in the kitchen.  And it receives my own strong recommendation, for whatever that's worth.




Really, though... it's just here because I lurv it.
:)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Culinary Spatterings Anniversary

So... it's been a year.

If we'll all just take a minute to look back on my first post... Starting the Spatter, let us all reflect on a few things.

Firstly, though my initial expectations were modest, I can fully admit surprise as to how many people this humble blog has reached.
Oh... not in particularly meaningful or life-altering ways, to be clear... but it does surprise me to hear someone I don't know very well tell me about how they liked a post, or how they thought something was funny... or whatever.

So... thanks for the close to 5000 visitors this year.  That might be ridiculously low in terms of the webiverse, but it certainly was higher than I thought my smattering of culinary thoughts would ever garner.

Secondly, although I had intended for this to be more of a personal account of 'my own experiences' as I put it, I am delighted to discover that people from all over the world (including some places I've never even heard of, let alone could point to on a map) have come and spent a minute or three reading about my simple experiences.

It's pretty cool.

The wife is in marketing... and so she continually tells me about things I should be doing to increase traffic, and awareness, and just get out there more... and I suppose I should... but really I guess I just don't care enough to do that.  At least at this point, anyway.  Perhaps, as I get more experienced, and write about a greater variety of things, and just build up the content a bit more, maybe there would be enough to interest a bigger audience.

For now, however, I'm content to have written what has worked out to be an average of about 3 posts a week regarding my own amateur forays in the kitchen.

If we're going to be honest, this mostly affects only me and my direct friends and family.  I'll admit that.

However, some interesting side effects have occurred.  ;)

For one - it provides me an excuse to put that extra little bit of effort into the 'little' things which we might normally overlook in the cooking process.

Presentation, for example.  My cooking - like that of far too many others - used to just be unceremoniously dumped in front of whoever was eating it, and that was that.  Now I worry about how food 'looks'.  I never even considered the notion of 'plating' food.  I always assumed that was for 5-star restaurants.

Also, variety.  In the past year, my kitchen has seen a wider variety of meals than ever.  Even if they don't make it into my blog, there have been quite a few different takes on food in the last year.  I grew up in a household where the week's menu was practically as predictable as the tides.  And so it is surprisingly gratifying to see my own menu vary to the point of never really having the same thing twice.

Adventurousness.  This one is a big one.  I've never claimed to be a good cook.  As my profile states, I consider myself an amateur chef, and a discriminate eater.  I never would have guessed, therefore, just how much this venture would have broadened my culinary horizons.  Unfortunately, I am a discriminate eater; so it is just plain awesome that I've tried so many new and novel foods in the last year.  And, it is a startling realization, just how far I still need to go!

For another, it has allowed me to become a better photographer.  Anyone simply monitoring the transition from the photos taken a year ago, to those taken more recently, will notice not only a vast improvement in such things as composition, lighting, and staging, but also just more interesting shots.  Gone are simple overhead shots with the built-in flash, for example.  I'd like to think that a small percentage of these shots are actually quite nice!

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, it has vastly improved my culinary culture.  I now consider myself an amateur 'foodie', whereas a year ago I made fun of those crazies.  :)

So... in any case, not only has writing about food made me a better cook, with a better array of culinary experiences and repertoire, but it has also made me a better eater - underscoring and strengthening my own relationship with food, and allowing me to just become more educated about food in general.

And if some people happen by (whether by accident or by purpose) some of my culinary spatterings, hopefully they are positively impacted themselves... even if only slightly.

:)

Anyway, thanks for listening to my ramblings!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Quinoa Herb Bread

I like quinoa.  I find it a very tasty grain.  And it can be prepared in a wide variety of ways.

However...

Milled into flour is NOT a particularly good one, IMO.

The wife recently worked on a book called Quinoa Revolution which is a good book, but which kind of grasps at the proverbial straws if you know what I mean.  There are many delightful recipes and ideas inside, but some of the more marginal concepts are pretty far out there.

One of those concepts was the idea of Quinoa Flour Pancakes.  My wife loves pancakes... and has become quite adept at making them.  So it seemed, to everyone involved, that this might be a perfect recipe from the book for her to try out.

She followed it perfectly, but it still tasted like @$$.  Like, really, REALLY, bad.  Not even 'let's trudge through this' but more 'let's burn this and its memory from our lives' kind of thing.

They looked delicious.


But looks can be deceiving.  So utterly deceiving.

<sigh>

So... we're left holding a $13 bag of quinoa flour with almost 2/3 remaining, and me pondering how best to use it up...



Now... bread is delicious, right?  Almost absolutely so.  Throw in copious amounts of fresh butter, garlic and scallions, and it should be scrumptious... right?

Wrong.

Oh so very wrong.

Here's my rustic quinoa herb loaf, which is even only about 50% quinoa flour.  

I guess that's 50% too much.  :(







A great idea in theory... but horrible in execution.  I am not very confident that there would be ANY way to prepare quinoa flour tastily.  And I'm one of those dudes who thinks you can make almost anything taste good...

So, the conclusion?

Stick to preparing quinoa as you would a normal grain.  Steamed, boiled, in salads, as filler, etc.  Just keep it in whole grain form, and don't mill it and turn it into flour.

I'm literally shuddering remembering the flavour.  It wasn't even the wonderfully nutty flavour I associate with quinoa... it was something darker... more sinister... the stuff of nightmares, really.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vegan Spaghetti Pomodoro

We've been eating pretty richly lately, and for supper today I wanted something which would be hearty and filling, but pretty light and healthy.

For this, a light tomato sauce is usually my go-to.

It's incredibly quick, incredibly easy, and incredibly delicious.

First, as always, start a large pot of slightly salted water, for the pasta, dumping the pasta in as soon as the water reaches a rolling boil.

Next, begin by sautéing some white onion, some garlic, and some scallion.  This starts with a very generous glug of olive oil.


Then, we throw in our onion first, followed a minute or two after with the garlic, and scallion.


We're going to add a couple of chilli peppers here as well, for some heat.


Let this simmer on low for about 5 or ten minutes, just to soften everything, and to get that large quantity of olive oil you put in there to become heavily saturated with flavour.

While that is rockin', either get out a big can of tomato paste (Ingredients: Tomatoes.), or else - like I did here - bring out the blender and purée about a half dozen of fresh tomatoes.


I prefer Roma Tomatoes for sauces, as they tend to mulch a little better and have a little less water content which is good.

Once that is fully blended, dump the tomato purée into a medium saucepan, and turn it up to high.  Yes, high.

Using a malleable (like silicon) spatula, scrape out every last drop of that olive oil and veggie sauté you had rockin' in the fry pan.


Give it a good whisking, and then cover it with a splatterguard, cause it's going to get REAL nasty.


When on high like this, the water from the tomatoes will evaporate much more quickly, but it can be really messy, not to mention slightly dangerous, so care is certainly warranted.

While this is rolling along, you can drain your spaghetti which is now cooked to al-dente, and set it aside for now.  Rinse the cooked noodles with some cold water before letting them sit, in order to keep them from becoming sticky.  It's ok if the noodles get cold.  Trust me.

By now, the sauce has likely thickened substantially.  And should look a little like this:


And it's ready to have the noodles stirred in, tossed around until the sauce is evenly picked up.

At this point I started on some asparagus.

The pan which had all the gorgeous garlic-y, onion-y, olive oil in it, is now being used to quickly pan-fry a medium amount of asparagus.


Yum!

I'd suggest you stick around this pan, while cooking the asparagus.  Don't stray, as this will be benefited from frequent and regular stirring / flipping.

Once they start to turn deep green, and start to bend a little at their ends, they're done.  Sprinkle a pinch of good sea salt and some freshly-cracked black pepper, and they're good to go!



Now... served as it is like this, everything is vegan.  I was just talking about how veganism does not need to necessarily be scary strange concoctions of nuts and seeds and tofu... but can just be any old regular, easily-recognizable, meal, that just happens to be animal-product free.

Even the pasta noodles I chose to use are (relatively) vegan.  



There are always 'traces' of egg, but that's almost unavoidable unless you make your own.

Anyway - this meal is ready to serve as-is, and is a perfectly delicious, easy, vegan solution.  So eat up!

HOWEVER... (maniacal laugh)... my wife and I are not vegan...SO...

Everything got a healthy dose of Parmigiano Reggiano on top.  Even the asparagus.
Heh heh heh.  
Suck it vegans!!!  






Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....




Yummmmmmm!!!

In Defence of Veganism (with a strong word against Nut Loaves everywhere).

I've always been amazed at veganism.  I've known a few vegans in my life, and I truly admire their convictions, although I admit I admire their willpower even more.

I respect the vegan diet, and am the first to admit that it can be really healthy and generally better for you than any other similarly restrictive diet... however, it has been my experience that most vegans in fact make this choice for moral reasons, rather than reasons of health.

The theory of veganism is quite sound... however, in practice, the majority of vegans I've seen seem to fall into one of two categories.  Either they end up having incredibly bad diets... consisting almost exclusively of things like french fries, or bread (which, for the record, is not cool); or else they end up overcompensating, in an almost defensive way, for what their diet lacks (and in the process, overlook where their diet excels).  These often end up concocting, in overly-creative, adventurous, and unorthodox ways, such scary abominations which - in a good and pure world - should never have ever been realized... (which, also for the record, is very not cool).

In any case, I think the SYMPTOMS are more than apparent, that there needs to be a reconceptualization of what it means to eat - and cook - vegan.

Now, for my own part, I think it is quite obvious that I am interested in food, in all of its forms.  And - try as I might - I can not exist with my head under a rock, so that means I've most definitely seen, read, heard, and tasted, a variety of vegan foods and menus.  I'm hesitant to use the word 'fad' but veganism has certainly seen a rise in popularity over the last decade.  So, I'm not immune to... let's say... dabbling...

Some time ago, my wife and I decided to jump on the transient bandwagon of a sort of "Vegan Challenge", wherein we and several others, chose to consume only vegan-friendly foods for two weeks.

Now... where everyone else we participated with was frantically scrabbling through vegan cookbooks, scouring vegan websites and blogs, and in general trying to be as pretentiously creative as possible about cooking vegan, I was sitting there just ticking off things in my own culinary repertoire which were inherently without animal products.

To this day, it baffles me that vegans are so interested in creating substitutions for non-vegan dishes, rather than just embracing the real foods which are more than fine on their own.

I'm getting off-track here a little bit, but suffice it to say, I just wanted to mention that while many vegans struggle to make questionably-edible things palatable, (I'm looking at you Nut-Loaf!!!) it is frustrating that many traditional (in some cases, positively ancient) recipes which are inherently vegan, simply get overlooked.

To me it has always been rather simple.  If you choose not to eat, let's say meat, then just don't eat meat.  You don't need to fundamentally change your relationship with food or alter millennia of established culinary tradition.

Don't mistake me, I understand the nutrition restrictions imposed upon a vegan diet, and I am 100% endorsing the inclusion of such nutrients which might be lost (the big ones being of course, protein, iron, and calcium) without consuming meat or dairy.  However, it is my opinion that there are foods out there which work just fine on their own for these nutrients, without needing to be couched, or disguised as something they're not.  What's wrong with a bowl of quinoa instead of rice once in a while, or upping your spinach intake at a meal?  Heck - even a handful of nuts eaten at meal time should be good for a while, no?

Anyway... my own experiences with cooking vegan?

During this two-week foray, I tried a few interesting things... we tried a couple sources of meat 'replacements' which were just plain disgusting... but the crowning jewel in my vegan attempts, was the cashew milk sauce.

I love pasta sauces.  Well, all sauces, really.  So you can imagine I was particularly excited about seeing if cashew milk could indeed live up to the hype I'd heard so much about.

It didn't.

Cashew milk is disgusting.  And while it might LOOK like milk, it tastes nothing even remotely close to it.

Case and point to my argument, here.  Why not just eat cashews for cashews, and when it comes time to make a pasta sauce, just choose a sauce which is naturally without animal products.

<sigh>

Anyway... after only a few meals which were unilateral fails, we stopped trying 'new' vegan recipes from cookbooks and online, and such... and I just employed all the good vegan stuff I already had in my kitchen.

So, out came a lot of grains... couscous, quinoa, whole-grain rice, oats and bran cereals, etc.
And a ton of legumes... beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
And let's not overlook a strong emphasis on fruits and vegetables.
My best friend throughout them all, was olive oil, which I found to be absolutely indispensable.

When our friends were all relating their latest experiences trying to mold tofu, or spending hours blending strange veggie concoctions together... I just served up two weeks' worth of good food which, sure we may have had before, but everything was vegan, and everything was delicious.

Now... you might say this means that we weren't exposing ourselves to new things, or trying different ways of cooking... but we did.  We tried many, many things we'd never try otherwise, under other circumstances... but after everything, found that we'd much rather just come back to a good pasta or legume stew, a nice simple salad, or a good hearty soup.

In fact, some of the best meals I made during that 'challenge' were the simplest.

Some lentil and bean chilli sin carne  for example, with some flour tortillas.  I eat this stuff regularly (I might put some greek yogurt or some shredded cheddar on top, at other times, but those are easy omissions).

Another great example, and what I was prompted to make when faced directly with the cashew-milk-pasta-sauce disaster, was just a quick home made cheese-less pesto pasta.

It probably helped IMMENSELY that I'm a big pasta eater already, but I must have made at least a half a dozen pastas in two weeks time.  From complex herb and tomato sauces, to simple garlic olios, they are one of the easiest dishes to make delicious without the addition of animal products.

So, in conclusion, I just want to say - if you've decided to make the awesome life choice to omit animal products from your diet... good for you!  I mean it.  I'm impressed, and a little jealous.

However... please consider your motivations, and - most importantly - take a good hard look at what it is you like to eat, and don't like to eat.

If you happen to be a lazy eater, maybe try harder to incorporate more things in your diet than just potato chips and french fries.  Just because they satisfy the requirements does not mean they're sufficient.  At all.

And, conversely, if you happen to NOT be a lazy eater, and enjoy cooking in the kitchen, I was hoping I could ask a favour, and maybe you could see to it that you do not saturate the cooking world with your insane concocting of bastardized abominations involving tofu or nuts or a thousand and one soy variations?

Just eat normal food.  Oh sure, tofu, soy, and nuts are all 'normal' food, and can be quite good, and good for you, but why try so hard to make them something they're not (I'm looking at YOU Tofurkey!!!) when they're fine on their own, or in accompanying something else.  I make the same argument for any other "forced unholy marriage" of foods, even non-vegan (I'm looking at YOU Turducken!!) ... The bottom line is that I believe foods do not need to be reconstituted, or reconstructed, and that simpler is often better.  I'd much rather - for example - sauté some soft tofu in a bit of garlic and onion, and then toss in some fresh green herbs, than try a myriad of things to attempt (and ultimately fail) to make it taste like meat.  If I wanted it to taste like meat, I'd just eat actual meat.  If I don't want meat (which happens more often than not) I will just not eat anything meat-like (including, here, actual meat).

If you need good ideas on how to do this, try looking up traditional recipes, and if needed, attempt omissions rather than substitutions.

Or you can always drop me a line, as it should be obvious by now, that I'll be happy to offer suggestions!  :)


So... forgive my rant; I just made a vegan spaghetti pomodoro last night, by complete accident, and it got me to thinking about this whole rigmarole...  :D


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tarragon Roast Beef

Autumn has been positively lovely here so far.  The air is crisp, the colours beautiful, and my wistfulness is in full force.

I don't know if it was because we didn't really have much of a winter at all last year... or because this summer was particularly long and dry... but I find myself really looking forward to winter this year.

In particular, those really dark, really cold, still evenings.

Anyway, colder weather brings with it a penchant for warming, heartening, kinds of cooking.  I'm therefore looking forward to quite a few soups, stews, and... roasts.

This Sunday was pretty crisp and cool, and I may have pulled the trigger a little early on making my first roast of the season.  But oh well.

My wife was out working all day (yes, on a Sunday) so I decided to lift her spirits by cooking a Tarragon themed supper.  I think I've mentioned that Tarragon is her single favourite herb.  She likes it on a lot of things.  

Far too many things in my opinion.

I often get a bad rap when it comes to Tarragon, and am often mislabelled as being a Tarragon hater.  But there are some places where it can truly shine.

This particular meal showcases - what I believe to be - some of the better media for Tarragon: Beef, Potatoes, and Carrots.  My job of highlighting a Tarragon-themed meal was made easier for the fact that all of these foods can also be roasted together in one big pot.  :)

So, that's what I did.

I quickly seared my large beef roast, on high heat, directly in my roaster.  I can do this because it is cast iron (I love my Le Creuset).


Once nicely browned all over, I took this out to sit for a few minutes, in a large mixing bowl.

I quickly tossed in some coarsely-chopped onion, garlic, and scallion, and made sure to get them very well coated in all the gorgeous beefy left-overs in the pan.


While this was sautéing, I washed and cut up some yukon golds.  These are my favourite potato variety.  By far.  Like a REALLY far margin.  Hands down the best potato.  The worst, you ask?  Well, I know this is all merely my opinion, and purely subjective, but you're a complete and total moron if you like red potatoes.  Heh heh heh.


Once the onion and garlic are all nicely softened, toss those potatoes in and get them all coated.


Next comes the Tarragon.  A whole lot of it.  It's going to be the dominant flavour in this whole pot, no matter what we do, or how many other subtle accompaniments we can include, so we might as well go big with it.


Now it's just coating everything with this minty liquorice-y stuff.

The Beef; rub that stuff right in there... get the herbs all up in all its nooks and crannies.


And the potatoes.  Add a cup or so of some sort of liquid.  Red wine would be best, but I'm using just plain old tap water here.  The liquid helps keep everything moist inside the closed pot, but in this instance it also has the added benefit of helping the herbs mix their way around evenly.


Even though the roast beef and the recently coated potatoes were destined to come together and mingle in this pot, there was nevertheless some trepidation at first.

But then the magic was sparked.


I put some salt and pepper over top and then closed the lid, letting them roast at 350 for about an hour.

There were some carrots that were feeling antsy at this point.  So I neatly sliced them in anticipation of their upcoming introduction. 


Right around the hour mark, these orange babies got thrown (rather unceremoniously) on top of everything, and then the pot got put in for another 15 or 20 minutes.

Or at least that was the plan.

The wife was a little late... not too bad... but the roasting pot ended up getting cooked for about 20 minutes longer than it probably should have.

As you will see later, however, the beef was still very tender, moist, and juicy.  So it's all good.

When I did take everything out of the oven, I carefully removed each item from the pan, and then covered them with foil for now.

This left nothing but the cooking juices, and all the leftover beef and veggie gribblies, in the bottom of the pot.  This is where the money is.  In case you didn't already know that.


Look at all that flavour waiting to be utilized somehow!

So, I took my immersion blender, and carefully (this can get messy if you are not practised) mulched all that good stuff smooth.  Take a whisk or a spatula and scrape the big chunks of stuff off the sides, and make sure you include that in your blending.

After that, though, you've got an awesome, super-concentrated flavour liquid, to which the word "gravy" really just does not do justice.


Taking an oven mitt or similar protective hand gear, tilt the pot all around while whisking forcefully with a good wire whisk.  Make sure you get as much of the gribblies on the sides of the pot as possible.

Then, it's just a little corn starch for thickening, and maybe a pinch or two of sea salt and black pepper.

So, while the roast tarragon potatoes and carrots turned out beautifully...




What we're ALL waiting to witness, is this post's namesake, the Tarragon Roast Beef.




So, despite missing the 'medium'-cooked mark, and dipping closer in fact to the 'medium-well' mark, you can see that the beef was still quite moist, and very tender and delicious.

To summarize - Tarragon is an OK herb.  It has places where it can truly rock your socks and this is one of them.  The very deep, rich, dark, earthy essence of the Roast Beef is in fact underscored by the fresh tangy Tarragon, and they are both the better for it.

The vegetables, on the other hand, while benefited from the roasting with Tarragon... let's be honest here... were predominantly benefited from having a freaking huge chunk of juicy beef roasting alongside them for an hour and a half.  Oh, the Tarragon flavour is there, for sure, in its own strong and powerful way, but we'd be lying if we didn't admit the potatoes and carrots were singing the praises of beef juice the loudest.

As it should be, really.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Low-Fat Pesto Cream

I don't think I've talked about my low-fat pesto cream sauces... although I think there have been a few other varieties of low-fat cream sauces.  And some not so low-fat, as well.

Anyway, I like this sauce when I'm craving a rich, hearty pasta, but don't want to spend very long in the kitchen.

In the old days (like 5 years ago) I used to make my own pesto.  It's not hard.  Just mulch some pine nuts with fresh basil, add some olive oil, some garlic, and some parmesan cheese.  The problem isn't the effort, it's the expense.  Compare the cost of even a large jar of pre-made pesto with the cost of even a small package of pine nuts.  I dare you.  

Anyway, after concluding that pine nuts must only grow in the sun-soaked hallowed grounds of a sanctified corner of Shangri-La, and can only be harvested by virgin priestesses every 4th lunar cycle, I decided it's much more feasible to just buy the already assembled pesto.  

Pine nuts are ridiculously expensive.  I've bought from small, local markets, I've bought from large corporate grocers, I've even bought in bulk; but, regardless from where they come, pine nuts are easily 3-4 times more expensive than their equivalent weight in already-prepared pesto.  I guess the pesto manufacturers have a secret stash they don't open up to the public?  Perhaps they have their own indentured work force of virgin priestesses?  Who knows?

So... although sometimes it's fun to make your own, for the most part I buy pesto pre-made these days.

If you're not a fan of Pesto, I just have to ask, why not?  What's your malfunction?  Do you have a problem with awesomeness?  Is it just, in fact, too good, and you feel inadequate?  In any case, pesto is a staple in my kitchen.  You can use it in anything, pretty much, from grilled meats, to steamed vegetables, to simple cooked noodles.  There are many different pesto 'sauces' I make - from tomato basil, to pesto-cream, and even just an olio with nothing else but pesto, and it always creates a robust, intense flavour extravaganza, that never disappoints.

Anyway, this sauce is pretty simple.  It's basically a modified white sauce, with a few spoonfuls of pesto added right before serving.  To make it 'low-fat' I opt for milk rather than cream, and margarine rather than butter, but it is still super delicious.

So, our ingredients are relatively paltry.  We don't want to muddle the flavours here, and we want the pesto to have free reign here.  So, the 'white sauce' will be pretty bland.

A little bit of onion and garlic, with a small scallion for kicks.  :)



Like I mentioned, this is a low-fat sauce, so we're going to start this off with a couple tablespoons of margarine, and a splash of olive oil, on low-heat in a saucepan.



Finely chop each of the ingredients, and then gradually add them to the pot, keeping the mixture on medium-low.

Once the whole thing starts to simmer nicely, 


Add a good amount of milk.  Like two cups.


At this point, the sauce will be very runny, and the oils and milk will remain separate.  In fact, you'll be able to clearly see the margarine and oil layer sitting on top of the milk.

So, we're going to turn the heat up slowly, to about medium (maybe medium-high if you're really diligent and stirring often) and the whole thing will start to blend nicely after about 5 minutes.


At this point, we're going to need to thicken this a little bit.  We are using milk after all.  If we were to make this for judges, we would be using some full-fat cream and the resultant sauce would be naturally rich, creamy and thick.

So, we're going to mix up about a tablespoon or two of corn starch with a small amount of cold milk.


Once fully whisked, and there are no corn starch lumps, dump this mixture into your sauce, stirring all the while.

Bring the heat down to medium if you had it higher, and let this simmer for a minute or three.


Try not to let it boil a whole lot, just lightly bubble.

At this point I decided to add a few dry spices.  A pinch of salt, and pepper, and just a few freshly-ground fennel seeds to complement the pesto.


Stir that in, and test to see if your sauce is done by the 'spoon test'.  I've mentioned this before, but in order to test whether a cream sauce is ready, stick a large spoon into the sauce, keeping the spoon relatively perpendicular to the sauce (i.e. so that you're not 'scooping' up sauce, but rather just 'immersing' the spoon).  When the spoon comes away with a thick coating, you're good to go.


At this point, my noodles (in today's case, some whole-grain 'scoobi-do's' - which the wife likes, but for some reason I've never particularly warmed to) were al dente and drained.


So everything was ready to go, all that remained was to stir in the pesto.


This is really up to individual taste, but I'd recommend (for a sauce of this size) at least three or four large spoonfuls like this.

Stir that in well, and the sauce will turn a beautiful olive colour.


Take it off the heat, and serve over the dry noodles, adding some freshly ground pepper and some freshly-shaved parmigiana reggiano on top.


Extra delicious, super rich and creamy, and not too unhealthy either.  The sodium and fat are definitely on the low end, and the whole-grain noodles add some lovely fibre in addition to their wonderful texture.  And from start to finish only about 25 minutes, this is a quick and delicious pasta that is dead simple to make.


YUM!