Summer on a Plate

Basil Pesto, Eggplant, Pasta, Vegetable Recipes

On one beautiful summer weekend, Jeff and I along with four of our friends (with one couple’s two young children) rented a vacation house on a sand dune by Lake Michigan. Oh what a fun weekend we had!

We probably spent the whole weekend being outside. We swam in the lake, strolled around a cute beach town, grilled and cooked delicious food with international flavors, and chilled by the fire at night making smores while sipping wine and beer. Did I mention the delicious food we made and had? 🙂 It was no wonder at all. When you put six people who love to eat, cook, and appreciate good food, you could easily end up with some fantastic dishes.  I got too busy enjoying the food that I forgot to take pictures! So, I’ll just tell you what we had: Indonesian fried rice with shrimp, tuna steak with corn salad, turkey burger with red peppers and onions, a FANTASTIC guacamole, chili pepper marinade/dip, and an eggplant/tomato dish served with pita bread.

Now, for this blog entry, let me share with you the eggplant/tomato dish recipe—since I just made it too last night. So that weekend, we decided to take turns in making dinner. A couple of our friends brought fresh tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers from their garden. When it was their turn to cook, they prepared a one-pot meal of eggplants cooked with tomatoes, garlic, peppers, and a little bit of salt and pepper. Super easy and yummy. The dish reminded me of me of this Indonesian eggplant dish, only milder. Our friends served the dish with pita bread and gave the rest of the fresh vegetables they didn’t cook to me to take home.

Yesterday, I gazed at the abundance of fresh produce our friends gave us. I also noticed that my basil plants were in full force. A dinner idea came to mind: that eggplant/tomato dish and my basil pesto pasta  with pan-seared sea bass and sea scallops. What a great flavor and color combination they made! The green basil pesto coated the pasta with that fantastic basil fragrance, the savory taste from the cheese, and nuttiness of pine nuts. The eggplant/tomato dish gave out sweet, tangy, and fresh flavors that wonderfully complemented the pesto pasta taste. So delightful!

Here’s how I made the eggplant dish (just like how my friend made it at the beach house):

  • I used four smaller and skinnier eggplants
  • Halved the eggplants and cut into four long pieces
  • Chopped them up into shorter cuts
  • I diced up five medium size tomatoes
  • Minced four garlic
  • Chopped three sweet peppers
  • Chopped seven hot finger peppers (optional)
  • Heated up a medium pot with a tablespoon of olive oil
  • Let the garlic sizzled for a minute, add all of the above, and a little salt and pepper  into the pot
  • Closed with a lid and cooked until the eggplants turned soft and translucent

Click here to see: Basil Pesto Pasta with Seared Scallops recipe (I used spaghetti instead of penne for this one)

I’ll post more delicious recipes that came out of our beach house adventure soon 🙂

Have a great weekend, everyone!

(Original recipe by and a special thanks to Leena Hamdi, and to Spas)

Easy Summer/Picnic Menu: Chicken Salad Sandwich with Basil Pesto

Basil Pesto, Poultry Recipes, Sandwiches

Freshly made basil pesto is heavenly. I learned about the sauce through a food talk with a friend a long time ago and I’ve been hooked ever since! Basil really liven things up. Not to mention the fragrance…oh so delightful. I have them growing in a container outside of our apartment this summer. So I’ve been able to use them a lot for pesto, on pizza, and on tomato salad. Yumm!

Anyway, one time last month I picked a bunch of basil leaves and made pesto sauce. Then I mixed it with roasted chicken breast and made sandwiches out of the delicious combination. I packed them up along with another type of chicken salad sandwich with mayo, chives, and celery and brought them for lunch on our hiking trip. The pesto sauce, with that fantastic aroma of basil, crunchy pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and garlic, wrapped the roasted chicken so well. Super easy to make and packed with great flavors. Now that’s a great combination 🙂

What we’ll need:

  • 1 pound of thick-cut roasted chicken breast meat from the deli section. (Next time I will roast bone-in and skin-on chicken in the oven, like this recipe. I was rushing to pack for the trip since I had miscalculated my schedule that day. Hence the deli alternative to create the sandwich at the time. It worked really well though!

Chop and mix in a food processor:

  • Two handful of fresh basil leaves (maybe close to two cups)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • A tablespoon of pine nuts  (I’ve read that walnuts work fine too)
  • 1/4 cup of Parmesan/Asiago cheese
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


  • Dice the roasted chicken
  • In a large bowl, mix basil pesto sauce with the chicken
  • Serve with Italian or Pumpernickel bread

Seared Scallop over Basil Pesto Pasta and Roasted Artichoke

Basil Pesto, Seafood Recipes

I have always loved sea scallops. But for whatever reason I would always forget to make them a regular menu in our kitchen. I am not sure why. Maybe I was still searching for the right pairing for this seafood in a dish.

Earlier this month, we “fell back” an hour to daylight savings time and were in adjustment to the early nighttime. So that Monday night I decided to distract myself from dreading about the coming of winter by making a special dinner. Somehow the thought of pan-seared scallops with basil pesto penne pasta and roasted artichoke came to mind. I enjoy all three, individually, very much and thought that the combination would make a great dish. The result did not disappoint at all. The sweet and succulent seafood is a perfect canvas for me to make a savory dish.

So here’s what I got in mind:

  • Preheat oven to 375 F
  • Create a marinate oil in a small bowl for both artichoke and scallops. Mix olive oil, minced garlic, a little salt, pepper, and cayenne powder.  Do the artichoke first.
  • Dip the canned quartered artichoke hearts (One can should be enough. I usually get rid of the water from the can and give the artichoke a quick wash. Or you can also substitute with the frozen ones), place them on an oven tray, and bake for 15-20 minutes on each side.
  • Dip 8-10 sea scallops into the marinate oil and let them sit on a plate for 15 minutes
  • Heat up a non-stick pan (medium heat)
  • Sear the scallops for about 2 minutes on each side or until both sides get those beautiful golden crust
  • Boil three handful of penne pasta. Add a pinch of salt. Let it cook for about 12 minutes, drain, and set aside.
  • Mix a handful of basil leaves, a teaspoon of pine nuts, one clove of garlic, and ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese in a food processor. Add olive oil and transfer to a serving bowl to be mixed with the penne pasta.
  • Serve (immediately) the scallops over the basil-pesto covered penne pasta and roasted artichoke

Serve 2

I think a special dinner doesn’t have to be tied to a particular occasion all the time. It also doesn’t have to be super fancy. To me, “special” means, of course, out of the ordinary but it should also be original and creative. So once in a while, try to combine food that you like (or that you’ve wanted to make for a while) and then pick a very ordinary night to have them. See if this pick-me-up trick works for you too. Have a great Monday!