Monday, December 28, 2009

Pistachio Arugula Pesto

I have a large container of shelled pistachios in my freezer, because I needed some for something else, and decided to buy in bulk. But what to do with them all? I've been wanting to make a new pesto for awhile, and I figured "surely someone's used pistachios in pesto instead of pine nuts!" So I googled, and sure enough, there were several candidates. The ones that caught my eye were the ones with arugula as the herb/green. And since I am an elitist liberal, I love arugula, and thought that the peppery lettuce would go nicely with pistachios! I kind of winged it instead of going by a single recipe... For one I wanted to try making a pesto without cheese, as I always thought the nuts and olive oil give pestos plenty of richness on their own. So I put this together tonight... it was easy and fast and really tasty. I sauced some store-bought gnocchi with it and ate it on a bed of more arugula.

Pistachio Arugula Pesto

-A couple handfuls of shelled pistachios (approx. 1 cup)
-4 cloves garlic
-5 or six handfuls of baby arugula (approx. 6 cups unpacked)
-1 large lemon, for zest and juice
-Olive oil, about 1/2 cup
-Salt & pepper to taste

Toast the pistachios on a cookie sheet in a preheated 400ºF oven for about 5 minutes until fragrant. Let cool about 5 minutes. Combine nuts and garlic and 1-2 teaspoons of lemon zest in a food processor , about 6 pulses. Add the arugala a couple handfuls at a time, until a paste forms. Squeeze in about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, run the processor, and drizzle in olive oil slowly until the pesto is about the thickness of a pudding. Taste and add salt pepper to taste. Add to cooked pasta, using some of the pasta cooking water to thin it out as you sauce the pasta. Or spread on crusty bread as it is!

Other Iron Stef posts involving pesto and/or gnocchi:
Pepita Pesto
Gnocchi with sausage & arugula
Giant smooshed sandwich
Purple basil pesto
Stuffed gnocchi
Sweet potato gnocchi with ham & walnuts
Gnocchi with gorgonzola and walnuts
Bright pink beet gnocchi
Gnocchi with salsiccia and vegetables

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

3 Cookies: 2 simple, 1 EPIC

'Tis the season for cookie baking. It's cold outside, and the appeal of an oven-warmed house smelling of cinnamon and butter is deep and undeniable. Baking is not one of my strong suits. It's much like math, which makes my brain shut off, all precision and measurements. But who doesn't love baking cookies? Not as demanding as, say, baking a cake or bread.

Now there is this one cookies... you might call it my mecca of cookie baking. My Nonna's fig cookie. My absolute favorite cookie ever. EVAR. Since I can remember these have been a holiday staple at my Galesburg, IL family (my Dad's side). My Nonna (as if you couldn't guess by my use of the term "Nonna"), is from an Italian background. Nonna has always been one of my biggest influences in both cooking and art. Last Christmas, my aunt put together family recipe books for everyone, with several of my Nonna's recipes as well as other great-aunts/grandmothers/etc. The first recipe takes up 2 pages, the only one in the booklet that does so. It's the fig cookie recipe. I was SOOO excited to finally have this, though intimidated to actually try it out. I mean, it's a lot to live up to... my favorite cookie ever for gosh sakes! Nonna's baking!

My Nonna's fig cookies, made by my Nonna herself. These I have been hoarding in my freezer since Thanksgiving.

I'm on vacation this week, with no huge plans. I decided this would be the year I would finally tackle the fig cookies. But first, I had to build myself up (procrastinate). First with one of my other favorite Nonna cookies, Ginger cookies, then with a super-simple recipe I came across in a random cookbook, using Nutella (how could I resist?) So I will write about those 2 first, as a lead in to cookie mecca. Most of the cookie recipes from Nonna have Oleo as an ingredient. I knew I could not merely substitute butter for oleo, as some recipes have both. So I used margarine, even though I never use it for anything else. Yes, I bought "I can't Believe it's Not Butter" sticks. Well, Fabio's Italian, right?

Nonna's Ginger Cookies

3/4 cups Oleo (margarine)
1 cup sugar (plus some for rolling the dough in)
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix everything together. Roll into balls (I used a melon baller as a scoop. this made a good size, and made it easier to work with the sticky dough.) Roll the balls in sugar and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Do not flatten... they will flatten as they bake. Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 8-10 minutes.

These are a soft ginger cookie, not a ginger snap. They'll warm your soul.

Gianduia Sandwich Cookies
from Desserts 1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold

1 Cup Nutella
1 extra-large egg (I just used a reguar ol large egg.)
1 cup self-rising cake flour, plus additional for dusting
(I used 1 cup of regular cake four and added 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt)

Preheat oven to 375ºF

In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup of Nutella with the egg well (I used electric beaters). Slowly add 1 cup of cake flour until a wet dough is formed. Dust a board with a little more flour and transfer dough to board. Knead gently, adding a little more flour if necessary. Dough will be sticky. Roll dough into 18 balls, flouring your hands as you go to make rolling easier. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, several inches apart.

Bake 12 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, split cookies in half horizontally. Spread bottom with 1 teaspoon of Nutella, then replace top.

*deep breath* okay... fig cookie time. this is a big deal people. you may even want to do a drum roll to yourself before you read this.... go ahead, I'll give you time...

Let me remind you of what these cookies look like when my Nonna makes them. So you can laugh later:

Nonna's Fig Cookies (i.e. Iron Stef's favorite cookies)

2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup oleo (margarine)
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk (room temperature)
3 eggs (room temperature)
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract

1/2 cup nuts (I used pecans)
2 14 oz. packs dried figs
8 oz. dates
1 cup white raisins
1 cup black raisins
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon or so of orange juice (the mixture has to be moist enough to handle and be able to spread on dough)

1 cup powdered sugar
1/8 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

rainbow sprinkles!

For the dough:
Sift together flour, sugar and baking powder. Blend in oleo and butter to resemble pie crust (I used my hands...look for a pebbly-sand kind of texture that holds together when squeezed). Mix together the rest of the ingredients and add to flour mixture. Mix until dough is smooth. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes (I refrigerated it).

For Filling:
Soak figs in warm water. Grind nuts to a course texture in a food processor, then add figs, raisins and dates. Add spices, honey and orange juice to make a moist texture. (I did this in batches, it's very very sticky).

On a floured surface, roll out dough (I worked in 3rds) thin and cut into long strips, 3" wide. Put fig mixture down middle of strips. Fold dough over to cover filling. Cut into 2" segments. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet, seam-down. Bake at 350ºF for 18-20 minutes.

Mix together Icing ingredients until smooth. Spread a thin coating of frosting on each cookie and sprinkle with nonpareils while frosting is still wet.

Sooo.... I did it!!! they did not turn out nearly as pretty as my Nonna's. I'm gonna call them "rustic." But really they are a mess. They tasted just about right, though...yum. I think I just need to make these for Christmas every year, like Nonna, and maybe someday mine will be just as perfect as hers!

See? "Rustic." :)

More Iron Stef cookie posts:
Coconut Curry Peanut Butter cookies
Butter Pecan cookies and Almond crisps
Underwear Drawer Cookies
Dulce de Leche Cookies
Yummy Butts

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sweet Potato Chipotle Enchiladas

There's not a very exciting story behind this meal... just a lazy cold Sunday dinner that I put together from what I had in my fridge and pantry. I had some sweet potatoes that I needed to use up. And I was in the mood for enchiladas. So I combined the two for a spicy, sweet, comforting dinner. That's it.

Sweet Potato Chipotle Enchiladas

3 sweet potatoes, cut into approx. 1-inch pieces
Olive oil
salt and pepper
poultry fat skimmed from the top of cold homemade stock
1 can black beans
2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped very fine + about 1.5 Tablespoons of the adobo sauce
2 teaspoons Mexican Oregano
2 teaspoons cumin

3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 white onion, sliced thin
2 Tablespoons adobo sauce from canned chipotles
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 Tablespoon Tapatilo hot sauce
2 cups homemade chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

12 corn tortillas

For the filling: Toss the sweet potatoes in olive oil, salt, pepper and chicken fat. Roast on 400ºF for about 30-40 minutes, until the edges brown and the potatoes are soft. Combine with other ingredients and set aside.

For the sauce: Cook the garlic and onions in a little bit of oil in a sauce pan until translucent and just beginning to brown. Add the adobo sauce and spices and cook a minute or so, add the stock and bring to a simmer. Let cook and reduce about 10-15 minutes.

To assemble: pour a little bit of the sauce in a 9x13 casserole dish, just enough to coat the bottom. Dip a corn tortilla in the sauce, put about 1/4 cup of the filling in the middle, roll it up and set it seam-side down in casserole dish. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas. Pour he remaining sauce over the rolls and bake at 375ºF for 30 minutes. Serve with Queso Fresco, Sour Cream and chopped fresh cilantro.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Pork Belly Cucumber Stir-fry

Inspired by my recent experience making (well, she did most of the work, really) and eating Momofuko's pork belly steamed buns with Kelly, I bought a small slab of pork belly to cook myself. I was anxious though, and all the recipes I came across required marinating. Then I flipped through a Food & Wine Best of the Best book (Vol. 6) I had gotten from a garage sale. In the section featuring David Thompson's cookbook Thai Food, there just so happens to be a pork belly recipe that didn't require me to wait overnight! And it involved stir-frying cucumbers... intriquing. It's a simple recipe, getting most of it's flavor from pork fat and fish sauce. Oh, fish sauce. Truly one of the most off-putting yet magificent ingredients out there. Such a pungent smell! But when used right, a flavor that can't really be described.

Pork Belly Cucumber Stir-Fry
(adapted from Thai Food by David Thompson)

-4 oz. pork belly
-2 Tablespoons oil
-3 cloves garlic, minced and crushed with a pinch of salt
-1 medium cucumber cut into fat bite-sized sticks
-2 eggs, beaten
-1 Tablespoon fish sauce (really, measure this and don't use too much... so strong!)
-1 teaspoon sugar
-salt and pepper
-cilantro, chopped

Steam the pork belly for about 10-15 minutes. Let cool. Slice fairly thickly then cut into bite size rectangles, roughly the same size and shape as the cucumber. Cook garlic in oil until it starts to brown. Add the pork belly and fry over a high heat for about 5 minutes, until it has some good browning. Add cucumber and stir-fty until it begins to become transluscent. Add eggs and stir-fry for another couple of minutes. Add fish saice and sugar, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over jasmine rice (I used brown jasmine rice) with a generous sprinkling of cilantro.

I still have a nice portion of pork belly left... think it's time to make more bacon?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Pioneer Woman... I'm a fan.

Pioneer Woman. Heard of her, for sure. I follow her on twitter, and I shook her hand at the Blogher Food blogger dinner this summer, knowing I was shaking the hand of someone who is kind of a big deal. I admit, I have been a blog-reading slacker lately, so I haven't delved into Ree's fantastic website/blog as much as I'd like to. However, when I heard she was coming to St. Louis for a book signing, I for sure wanted to go. I am glad I did, even though it was so crowded that we didn't wait around to meet her in person. She is hilarious! So sweet and humble and down-t0-earth, but with a sharp wit and awesomely wicked sense of humor. Basically I could understand why the place was so full of people who were gaga over this woman. I mean, wow. Ladies LOVE the Pioneer Woman, for reals. Many almost creepily so. But, again, I get it. She's funny. She's real. She has some delicious homey recipes.

Like I said, my friend Julie and I waited for more than an hour in our seats after the Q&A session, but realized if we tried to to wait for our books to be signed, we would be there forever. There were lots of people there, and they all had something they wanted to say to Ree... and I think Ree, being the sweet lady she is, obliged them all. So we left our books behind to be signed and picked up later. This was fine with me... it was plenty to see PW's kids running around and Marlboro Man chasing them around. Also I got to sit with Alanna and the previously mentioned Mamaphunk!

We did, however, while waiting, get our books signed by one of her boys...

So, I am a fan now. The book is neat. The recipes are for the most part very family-friendly comfort-type eats. I made the "comfort meatballs" the other night. They are a fairly reasonable weeknight feat if you plan well. The ingredients are simple. I used my mandoline to grate the onions, which made for quick work. The main ingredient in the sauce is ketchup, really. Yes. These are 60's meatballs! Those sweet, sticky meatballs that are a hit at potlucks. I made similar meatballs for a party a few years ago and so many people told me that they reminded them of childhood. Which is why meatballs like these are comforting.

Since I had been weighed at the doctor' office earlier in the day (ugh!!), I limited the number of meatballs I ate (it would be so easy to just keep popping these tasty morsels into your mouth!). I had them with some rice and a simple slaw of red cabbage, carrots, green peppers, salt, pepper, vinegar and a wee bit of olive oil. Colorful and crunchy, this slaw was made easier because I used my mandoline again to shred everything.

So, Pioneer Woman. Her food is legit. Her humor is legit. She is legit. I like her. So many of the people at the signing wanted to be like her... bloggers who looked up to her and asked her how she did it all and what made her blog so successful. She really couldn't answer these questions with specific technical tips. What people need to realize is that people who are successful at blogging and/or writing are usually not out to make a buck and get as many followers as they can. Ree just loves her family, and cooking, and ranch life. She genuinely finds all this stuff fun and interesting. That comes through in her writing. And that's why hundreds of people will pack into a church and wait in hours-long lines to say hello to her.