Thursday, August 30, 2012

St. Louis' Best Balls! Installment 2: Acero & Mango

 Oh lookie! it's time for another installment of...
wherein I showcase some of my favorite local restaurants (first installment here). St. Louis has many fantastic eateries, and I am a big proponent of bragging about your city at every opportunity.

These precious little dumplings are gnudi from Acero. They are more refined-looking than the gnudi I made last week. I'm gonna need their secret (oh hey! the recipe from Acero's chef!!)! These were served with tomato sauce and pistachios. They are not always on the menu, which changes with seasonality and local product availability, as a menu should.

Acero is a small Italian restaurant with modern twists. I've never had a mediocre dish there... everything is fantastic. Perhaps one of my favorite dishes in all of St. Louis (all the world, even!), the egg raviolo, is from Acero. A giant ravioli filled with ricotta and a runny egg yolk! I am pretty sure it's what a unicorn's ovaries would taste like. Kelly and I recreated this magical dish once. It's tempting to make it every day, for realz. But that would be magic overkill...?

Aren't these balls gorgeous? They are from a super-pretty Peruvian restaurant downtown called Mango. And when I say pretty, I mean that the first time I went there the prettiness of the space and the patrons made me wary of how the food was going to taste... pretty people don't eat, amirite? No, I am not right. I was skeptical for naught... Mango's food is wonderful! I guess I shouldn't judge a book by it's pretty cover.

These are called causa rellena (I found a recipe here!). They are basically mashed potatoes blended with a yellow peruvian pepper and topped with various deliciousness (for instance sauteed mushrooms, fried fish, grilled vegetables). Tender, fluffy and savory, I could eat causa rellena all night. Of course, these are not available at Mango on a regular basis. That would be too good to be true! You should go there, though, because they have plenty of other menu items that will make your mouth happy. Don't mind the pretty people.

Oh, St. Louis. You have some fine balls. I am not the only one who thinks so. In an extremely thorough article about St. Louis' best Italian joints, my friend Andrew wrote about some of the best meatballs in town. I will have to check them all out!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

gnudi with chicken ragu

I miss having a Josh Galliano restaurant to go to. So, while this top St. Louis Chef is between places, I try to go to some of the many events he cooks at to get my fix. Last week he did a pop-up fried chicken restaurant... so fun! This week he was teaching a class at Schnucks Cooks Cooking school. The class was on Italian summer foods. "I hope he makes something I can turn into balls for this week's post" I thought to myself. Even better? He actually made balls! Well, gnudi, which are semi-ball shaped Italian dumplings. I have actually attempted to make gnudi once before, and it didn't turn out to well... gnudi are very delicate and mine fell apart when cooking. These did not. They were fluffy and soft and creamy. Success! Leave it to Josh!

The ragu gave me an excuse to break out my medieval meat grinder. It makes such a mess and takes forever. But it's fun to play butcher sometimes. Bloody, visceral fun. This is a "white" ragu for lack of a better term. The flavors are rich, though, and this would be right at home in cold weather. The liver adds just enough funk to give it an intriguing quality that I love. The fennel does lighten the heavy flavors a bit, but overall this hearty mixture is only needed in small servings. 


1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/ cup all purpose flour, plus a bunch more for dusting
1 egg
1 egg yolk
dash of freshly grated nutmeg
salt & pepper

Combine all the ingredients until incorporated. Let rest 10-30 minutes. This is a very very sticky soft dough. Scoop into tablespoon-sized lumps and drop onto a parchment-lined,  well-floured sheet pan. Sprinkle more flour over the lumps. Let rest about 10 more minutes, then, using more flour as needed, roll into balls. Boil a big pot of water and drop the gnudi into it gently, one at a time, making sure they are not touching each other. When they float, they are done. Remove floaters immediately with a slotted spoon or spider. Continue until all gnudi are cooked. Serve on top of ragu (if you put the ragu on top of the gnudi, they will likely disintegrate as you eat...delicate little balls, they are).

Chicken Ragu

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into cubes
4 oz. chicken livers, cut into chunks
2 oz. pancetta, cut into small cubes (I doubled to 4 oz., because that's how much was in the package)
1 red onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1/4 pound interesting mushrooms (I used shitake) cleaned and cut
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock or water
your favorite hard cheese, for grating

Use a grinder to grind together the chicken thighs, livers and pancetta. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Cover the bottom of a large pot with olive oil and heat over medium high heat. Add onion, fennel and half of the garlic and cook until tender. Stir in the meats and cook for another 10 minutes or until cooked through.

Deglaze the pot with the white wine and stir constantly until all of the browned bits from the bottom are dislodged. Stir in the stock and turn heat to very low. add the sage and thyme and let cook for 35-45 minutes, adding the rest of the garlic after 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, cook the mushrooms in olive oil in a separate pan over high heat. Stir into the ragu. Serve with gnudi, gnocchi or cavatelli pasta and grated cheese.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Julia Child 100 - Tomatoes Provencal

Today would have been Julia Child's 100th Birthday. In case you haven't noticed it ALL OVER THE INTERNET. Because people love Julia. I love her. Julia was a bad-ass, fun-loving, food enthused woman. Why is she such an inspiration to me and so many others? I could gush on and on, but to summarize... Julia knew how to live life right.

As many of my devotee peers have done, I made a Julia Child recipe for dinner tonight to honor her legacy. This week (plus my lack of planning skillz) prevented me from making one of her more involved French dishes, but the lady turned out some great quick recipes, too. A friend gave me some tomatoes that needed to be used ASAP (otherwise they'd be sad... no one likes a sad tomato). All those factors made Tomatoes Provencal the perfect recipe for the evening.

After picking up the few ingredients I didn't have on hand, I realized I might have picked the ONLY Julia Child recipe that used zero butter. For shame! Not that the recipe needs it... it is prefect as is. However, a butterless Julia Child 100 birthday dinner did not seem right. I thought of my motto... Put An Egg On It!TM I fried a duck egg (slightly larger and more rich than a chicken egg) in butter and served it on top of the cooked tomatoes. I think Julia would approve.

Tomatoes Provencal

4 ripe tomatoes
1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs (they call for fresh bread crumbs)
3 cloves garlic, minced (they call for 2 shallots. I forgot to buy shallots)
1 Tablespoon dried herbs De Provence
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil

Heat oven to 400ºF. Core the tomatoes and slice in half crosswise. Use your fingers to gently squeeze and remove the seeds and liquid from the tomatoes. Place cut-side up in a shallow baking dish. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the rest of the ingredients, except the olive oil, together n a bowl. Spoon the bread crumb mixture into/onto the tomatoes (about 1/4 cup per tomato half until you run out). Drizzle the filled tomatoes with the olive oil. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the tomatoes are hot, but not disintegrating and the tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and serve. Perhaps Put An Egg On It!TM
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Thursday, August 09, 2012

smoothies for dinner

This week I had to have a minor dental procedure... well at the time I didn't think getting a tooth yanked out was "minor" but in retrospect, I was being overly dramatic. In my nervous preparation for the day, I went to the grocery store and grabbed random items to make myself some interesting smoothies. They had to be interesting because if I can't chew, a glorified glass of juice is not gonna sat-sis-fy. These 2 smoothies were passable as real meals. I admit to wanting nachos a few hours after one of them, but that was not so much hunger as it was an apparent inner-masochist thinking it would be funny to introduce my freshly violated gums to sharp corn chip shards. 

The first is a vanilla date smoothie. I should preface right now that I am one of those weirdos that actually LIKES the taste of soy milk... no, it is not a good substitute for milk if you like milk. It's soy milk, and I like it for what it is... sweet earthiness. But if you don't like it feel free to sub real milk or almond milk and some vanilla extract for the vanilla soy milk this recipe calls for. You'll want to make this smoothie... dates are one of natures original candies. Sweet, caramelly, chewy fruits from the dessert. In this smoothie, which tastes more like a shake, the dates give forth a crude honey sweetness that is quite gratifying.
Vanilla Date Smoothie
-6 or 7 Medjool dates, torn in half, pits removed
-1 1/2 cups vanilla soy milk
-1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
-1 teaspoon flax meal (optional)
-1 teaspoon honey (optional)
-2 cups ice

Combine all the ingredients except the ice in a blender and puree. Add the ice and blend until smooth.
Noodles likes it, too.

The next smoothie is honeydew, cucumber & cilantro. In case you haven't figured it out by now, this is indeed summer in a glass. The creamy yogurt and a dash of salt gives it some validity as a dinner. Subtly sweet from the melon and cucumber and vivid from the cilantro, this is like drinking Pantone 375C.

Cucumber Melon Cilantro Smoothie

-1/4 honeydew melon, rind and seeds removed, cut into chunks
-3 inches of cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
-small handful of fresh cilantro leaves
-1/2 cup yogurt
-pinch of salt (optional)
-2 cups ice

Combine all the ingredients except the ice in a blender and puree. Add the ice and blend until smooth.

So, you guys... I'm hooked on smoothies now. What is your favorite?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

food media forum - a recap and resolutions

Well, it happened! The first St. Louis Food Media Forum was this past weekend and it was (in my humble opinion) a great success! I am so proud to have been a part of the team that put this together. Shout out to my partners in crime: Laura, Kimberly, Stef and Stacy (pictured below with author/writing coach Dianne Jacob).
Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Pollack,

Dianne Jacob was the speaker of the day on the first day of the conference. She told us some ways to become better food writers, advice that I sorely needed. We did some exercises and talked blogging, recipe writing and cookbook publication. It was all very inspiring! Go read Dianne's blog post about the day and her writing exercises

Also, her book, Will Write For Food, has a blurb from Anthony Bourdain! RESPECT.
Dianne works the room. Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Pollack,

Day 2 of the conference had a bunch of speakers. The first 3 hours were dedicated to food photography. Four of my favorite photographers (and my favorite people), Jonathan Pollack (who is responsible for all of the gorgeous photos in this post!), Jennifer Silverberg, Jonathan Gayman and Corey Woodruff. You may recall that I attended a food photography class led by Corey last year. I learned a lot in that class, and even more Sunday morning! It takes a lot of knowledge and know-how to make a truly good photo... you can never learn too much! So valuable!

Another speaker on the second day was Ashlyn Brewer, from Standing PR, who taught us how to better utilize SEO (Search Engine Optimization). While I don't aspire to make money with this blog, I do like getting new readers, so this was some good stuff to hear about. Cheryl, who runs the popular Tidy Mom blog, also spoke about marketing and branding for blogs. Again... bring me more readers! I enjoyed meeting her and hearing her story and point-of-view. Catherine Neville and Kristen Brashares, from FEAST Magazine also dropped some smarts on us, talking about marketing and ethics.

Discussing ethics! Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Pollack,
Besides the wealth of knowledge this conference afforded us, there was also bonding. Everyone there was passionate enough about food to want to learn how to better tell the world about it. These are my people! Meeting and mingling was one of my favorite aspects of the weekend. Friendships were born and spicy discussions were had. 

3 main food groups? Photos Courtesy of Jonathan Pollack,
 Let's not forget about the generous sponsors! Ice cream, wine beer, cookies, t-shirts and more! These nice companies kept us well fed and heavily swagged all weekend. As organized we felt pressure to have better-than-average conference food, considering the room would be filled with food enthusiasts. See Stacy's recap and our website for the full list of sponsors... and patronize them! They rock!
Seriously. Can I used the words "Learned" and "Knowledge" any more in this post? What am I going to do to utilize these gifts? Here is a list of resolutions that I am making inspired by the St. Louis Food Media Forum. They should make this space a better use of of your time: prettier, more interesting, useful and more welcoming.
Iron Stef's Food Media Forum Resolutions:

• Write better. 
Work on describing food better, avoiding vague adjectives like "delicious," "yummy" and "tasty." 

• Take better photos. 
Full Manual Mode! Tripod! Diffusers! Reflectors! Angles! White Balance! RAW files!

• Be more involved. 
I have been lax about commenting on all the food blogs I read. I like comments, and so do others! It's how we make our blogs into a community of people passionate about food.

• Think.
Be interesting, open, thoughtful and mindful when writing EVERY post. What do my readers want? How can I get other people to dig food? Am I hurting/helping anyone? How can I boost the communities I reside in with my blog? How can I make the world a better place in small and in big ways?

If that was not enough smooshy food blog love for you, check out these posts:
-Cupcake Project's Stef tell us Ten Reasons to Start a Food Blog. I agree with them whole-heartedly!

-A recent post where I talk about why I blog.

-A great post by a new friend about his admiration for the St. Louis food community, specifically how we use twitter. Go STL!

-Robyn talks about the first day of Food Media Forum, and the writing exercises we did. She also asks for ideas on how to use some of the fabulous swag she received.