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Last month, when done with all my catering events, I found myself surrounded by an ocean of leftover fresh spinach. I had bought so much of it, turned out, I could fill the bath tub with all that green and sprinkle some more on the floor leading to our bedroom instead of rose petals. Talking about a healthy sex life!
However, since we were to leave first thing the following morning for our Christmas pilgrimage to East Texas, I was left with no choice other than to blanch the green entity in batches and freeze for later. The later came as soon as we returned to LA, when I opened the freezer and an avalanche of frosty green bricks fell out on my feet.
WHAT IN THE WORLD AM I TO DO WITH ALL THIS?
And the cooking fest began. First was Sautéed Spinach With Toasted Pistachios to accompany my Stuffed Chicken Thighs Wrapped in Bacon. (Thank you my buddy Gordon Ramsay for this decadent idea!) Next, I mixed the spinach, having thawed it out earlier (duh!), with shallots, garlic, and ricotta cheese thus turning it into a creamy filling for my Faux Ravioli (the same way I made them here). I made so much of it actually, I later used some of the mixture on Whole Wheat Crepes, folded them in four, and pan fried them into perfectly crispy Sides for my Beet Soup. A bunch of friends that came over for dinner that night saved me from devouring the entire pile by myself, the suckers were that good.
My favorite spinach transformation, however, was the dish I am about to describe, wherein the title-artichokes finally come to play their role.
If you’re one of those people that would die for a dip of an artichoke dip, but every time you allow yourself to indulge you feel awfully guilty, here comes your savior.
With the ever reliable help of my ordinary suspects–pancetta and frozen green peas–that are always in stock in my kitchen, plus a handful of frozen artichoke hearts, shallot, pistachios, tablespoon of mascarpone, salt and pepper, I was able to bring this goodness to life and declare THE END OF THE CALORIE-DENSE AND SOUL-POLLUTING ARTICHOKE DIP ERA.
The dish was ready in 15 minutes, since I was of such mind clarity to let the spinach thaw out the night before in the refrigerator. In a tiny drizzle of blended oil I sautéed some shallots first, added thinly sliced garlic and pancetta. When the fat rendered, I added pistachios, and a bunch of frozen peas and artichokes. Salt and pepper were not forgotten either. Over a slow heat, and under a lid, the veggies came to their senses and asked for Mr. Spinach to join his buddies. Another three minutes of that cuddle party and I was ready to finish the dish with a touch of mascarpone that gently spread its sweet and creamy arms all over the green meadow in the pan. Fold it once, twice, aaaand hop into a bowl. Believe it or not, that was my dinner, and I was fully satiated and content.
Try it. Let’s make the other cheesy and heavy dip retire already. Comfort foods are good especially when they are good for us. And they are good indeed. Oh, how good they are, I tell ya!
Let’s open with the latter.
I would like to take a moment to talk about the Internet. It is a mysterious machinery I do not understand. I file it under the same category as radio, airplanes, and telephones. It may be not kosher to admit that in public, but I have no clue how those work. Nor do I care really. As long as they do their job!
What puzzles me about the Internet in particular today are those little hairy monkeys from my micro-world, and directly related to these pages. As any committed blogger, I check the stats every day to know who’s coming to visit, how they find ONE MORE BITE, what pages I get linked to, etc. I don’t really KNOW who reads it, relax, unless you decide to tell me about it in the form of a comment, send me an email, postcard or a new Audi TT (black, please).
What I do know is what phrases Internauts enter into their search engines (like google or yahoo) to find my silly page in the cyber world. Today for example, some horny hungry person, clearly lucking the time to cook on their own, decided to look for “sexy personal chefs” and so typed that into the google search. I’m flattered to have been found. However, just so I don’t get too cocky and my bra doesn’t pop from pride bubbling up in my chest, there’s another little flower here leading to my blog that reads: “kill it before it spreads”. Huh?
People look for Stefan Richter and that restaurant I used to work at, Da Vinci, and find their way over here. The “quinoa and brussels sprouts recipes” entry will also successfully lead you to my blog. If you want a “goat cheese cranberry stuffed chicken”, you’re in luck–there is my Chicken Cordon Blue recipe with these components described in detail among these pages. That makes sense. “Melissa Peterman nipples” or “drop crotch carrot men” don’t.
If you think I made those up, you so overestimate my creativity and wit. I take no credit for the above. Moreover, I beg for an explanation! How in the world do people who search for a “text on indian toilet” find a food blog?? Hello! Google people, talk to me!
I don’t know when and if I’ll get my hairy monkey problem resolved. That’s all for the SOUR part for today.
Now on to the SWEET thing. Why? Because sweet is GOOD. Sweet is necessary to keep balance in your food and then in your system. Sweet is one of the four basic flavors (along with salty, sour, and bitter) that are present in any complete dish. Nonetheless, it’s all about finding that fine balance in anything you do, cooking included. Well… duh.
My sweet suggestion for today are CARDAMOM POACHED APRICOTS STUFFED WITH MASCARPONE. Even though the apricot season is pretty much over, you can make this beautiful and sweet bite all year round, as we’re using dry fruit for the thing.
Once again, I lifted the idea from my handy book called “Small Bites” by Jennifer Joyce that I had referred to previously. Once again, I changed the recipe by an inch and a half after trying once and needing some improvement. I am a big advocate of a freedom in one’s kitchen. Don’t be enslaved to a recipe. Make it work for you instead.
To start, gather the following:
– dried apricots, about 8 oz package
– handful of seeds from crushed cardamom pods (ground cardamom will do, too)
– mascarpone cheese and goat cheese, 1-2 tbsp of each, softened
– fresh mint, chopped, about 1 tbsp worth
– juice of 1 lemon
– 3 tbsp raw cane sugar
– 1-2 cups of water
– 1/2 cup unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped.
In a small sauce pan heat together the water, sugar, lemon juice and cardamom. Toss the apricots in and let it all simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the fruit is soft and plumpy. Remove the the orange balls and let them cool.
In the meantime, mix both cheeses together along with mint. See, Jennifer’s recipe calls for Mascarpone only. However, after doing it her way, I was missing something. The goat cheese will give the whole thing a tang that will take your sweet bite into a different dimension. Also, I dare you to add just a pinch of ground cardamom into the mix. Just do it. It will be fine.
Take each apricot and using a paring knife make a small incision on one side, enough to scoop in a nugget of the cheese mixture. Now dip your stuffed fruit, cheese side down, into the crushed pistachios so they stick to the filling, thus covering up the entrance to the cave. (Yes, I’m a dork, I know.)
Such prepared Sweet Bites arrange in a single layer on a platter , or in an air-tight container, and store in a refrigerator for at least an hour so the cheese sets.
An hour later… VOILA!
Cute, right? And you know what else? SWEET!