Sunday, July 26, 2009

Chanterelle Stuffed Gnocchi (ravignocchi, perhaps?)

My ever generous shroom supplier gave me a baggie of Chanterelles last week. These foraged golden treasures always inspire me to make something special. Previously, I have made risotto, tarts, and pasta. This time I decided I wanted to spend the whole evening in the kitchen, since I rarely get to cook these days. Ravioli was a project that seemed perfect. I found this recipe for ravioli where the dough was made with potatoes. I sure do love me some gnocchi, so I was all over it.

The dough was very soft and quite sticky. It really was more of a gnocchi type dough than a regular pasta. This kind of made it a challenge to roll out successfully... it took a couple tries and lots of flour dusted on the counter to finally figure out. But once I did the process wasn't too hard.

For the filling, I thinly sliced a large yellow onion and sauteed it in butter, cooking it on low slow heat to make them nice and caramelized. I set those to the side, and in the same pan cooked 3 cloves of minced garlic, 1 thin sliced shallot, a dozen leaves or so of fresh sage, minced, roughly chopped chanterelles (about 2 cups whole) and roughly chopped pecans and walnuts (about 1/2 a cup each), and salt and pepper. I cooked all that until the shrooms started to soften, sprinkling it with about a tablespoon of flour to coat everything. Remove that from the heat and add to a food processor bowl along with the onions. Pulse several times until you have a chunky but sticky filling.

For the pasta: Put potatoes into a large pot, cover with salted water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes, return to pot, and dry slightly over medium-low heat, 4–5 minutes. Press potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill into a bowl or a sheet pan and set aside to cool.

Put potatoes, flour, beer, yolks, and salt to taste into a large bowl; gently mix into a soft dough. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; divide into 2 balls. Cover 1 ball with plastic wrap; refrigerate. Roll out remaining dough into a 10" × 14" rectangle; cut in half crosswise. Spoon some of the filling in small mounds (1 generous tsp. each) on half the dough, keeping them spaced about 2" apart. Lay other half of rolled-out dough over mounds; press down in between mounds to seal ravioli. Using a ravioli cutter or pizza cutter, or like me, a drinking glass with a smallish ( 2 1/2 inch) mouth to cut out around the mounds. Transfer to a lightly floured sheet pan. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Gently drop in ravioli and simmer until floating and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Once they were cooked, I sauteed some more fresh sage leaves, ripped up, in some butter and olive oil, then tossed the cooked ravignocchis in that. Sage butter has become one of my favorite ways to sauce pasta... especially when there are earthy and nutty flavors involved.

This sure was a project, but I was able to freeze a bunch of them for future dinners. And a very satisfying, comforting dinner at that!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

taco dip for dinner

Taco dip... a staple at parties. You know it. You love it... admit it! Usually a layer of beans, some sour cream, some veggies and olives, and shredded cheese. There are many variations, but that's the gist. The other night I thought why not make myself some taco dip for dinner? So that's what I did. This was a departure from the norm, however.... made it a bit simpler, healthier, fresher.

First I made a quick salsa... a few tomatillos, a couple jalepenos, garlic, LOTS of fresh cilantro, salt, pepper, cumin, all munched up in the food processor to a rough chop. Then I added a couple of avacadoes to the mix and blended it some more. I wondered briefly if this creation was indeed still a salsa, or if I had just made it cross the line into guacamole territory. Then I decided I really didn't care about semantics... it tasted damn good.

I seasoned up some canned refried beans with plenty of cumin (one of my favorite spices), Mexican oregano, chili flakes and Tapatio hot sauce, my new favorite condiment. That's about it as far as cooking.... spread the beans on a plate, spread the salsamole on top, sprinkle with crumbled queso fresco and you have a satisfying yummy dinner or party dip.

I made chips by cutting corn tortillas into triangles with a pizza cutter, lightly spraying them with olive oil spray and a sprinkle of salt, and baking them in a pre-heated 375ºF oven until they were crunchy... about 10-15 minutes. Making chips like this is the way to go... they are healthier and have more substance and flavor to them than store-bought. And so easy to do!

And yes, I feel that taco dip is a perfectly legit dinner option.

Monday, July 13, 2009

gastronomical galesburg

My late father was born and raised in Galesburg, Illinois, a historical smallish railroad town. Most of his family still lives there, and I have wonderful memories of visiting there on various Christmases, Thanksgivings, and summer vacations. I've been to Galesburg alot, at least once a year since I was a baby. However, as far as knowing the town itself, I was lacking. It makes sense, we went up there to see family, and my Nonna is an amazing cook and baker, so we rarely went out to eat. Last week I had a week's worth of vacation days booked, with no plans of what to do. So I decided I would go on a solo road trip to Galesburg, and this time I was determined to explore the town... learn it's history, eat it's food, admire it's quirks.

For lunch one day, my aunt took us to Coney Island Dog, the oldest restaurant in Galesburg. It was established in 1921, the recipe for the Coney sauce being passed from owner to owner for generations. It's a small-ish storefront place, with a long old counter, with worn wooden stools and plenty of antique kitsch decorations. If you look up you will see clouds cut out of peg board. Behind the counter there all lots of old and new collectible coke bottles, and many other nostalgic knick-knacks (all kept clean and dust free, we noted).

We all got the Coney dog, which is the classic... a dog covered with a meaty sauce, more bland than chili, spicy mustard and onions. They have a selection of locally-made potato chips and a fridge full of sodas in glass bottles. They have several dogs on the menu, including a Chicago dog and one called the "Mud Puppy," mud being a cheese and meat sauce... much like you'd put on those little rye bread party pizzas. But for my first time, I stuck with the classic. Like I said it was a little bland, but it was good, and being there gave me such a good feeling. It was friendly and fun and just plain adorable, frankly. I think I will visit every time I'm in town.

The same day I had Coney Dog for Lunch, I went to The Rib Shack for dinner. I was very excited about this place, as I had passed it over the years and admired the sign outside... a large very pink neon pig in a chef's hat. Who doesn't love Anthropomorphic Cannibalism? I mean really. So my cousin and I went. My Cousin has lived there for 12 years and had never eaten at the Rib Shack! I was shocked by this. Her dad, my uncle, of course, had hung out there lots in high-school. It has been there since 1952!

A small, squat red wooden building. Inside there are a row of picnic tables, and lots of old easily-wiped down booths with laquered wooden tables. All the tables have a roll of paper towels on a pig-shaped paper towel holder, and a little pail for discarding dirty napkins, etc. 2 waitresses took care of business, yelling to the kitchen and to each other and keeping things moving. After we ordered, the first thing they brought out was a tiny metal trough of water, for aiding in sticky-hand clean up. I ordered the rib platter and my cousin ordered the fried chicken, and we planned out sharing so we could taste thier 2 most favorite dishes. We were told the chicken takes a half hour, so would we like to order some onion rings for while we wait? Heck yes! And man, they were some Gooood onion rings... thinly sliced onions lightly battered and fried. A whole giant haystack of them!

Then our entree's came out... ridiculously large portions of meat and fried stuff. The french fries are AMAZING. the beans are okay... I mean they were quite sweet and they had bacon in them, so there you go. The Texas toast was completely unecessary, but I loved that it was there, perched atop our giant piles of food just because. The ribs were awesome. They came right off the bone, but weren't so tender they were soggy-feeling. And they had a nice smoke flavor and rally yummy BBQ sauce. The fried chicken was some of the best I've ever had, too (though admittedly I don't have much experience with fried chicken outside the typical KFC and the occasional home made stuff). Everything about the Rib Shack was what the big neon pig had promised me; good food, quirky, homey atmosphere, fun. I bought a mug, and hope to go back enough times to collect an entire set including the pitcher. What? I love that damn piggy!

On the way home from my trip, I stopped in Springfield, Il for lunch. I had used to look for interesting places, and decided on Joe Roger's Chili Parlor. It just looked like the kind of road joint one could feel comfortable eating alone. I got a bit nervous on the way there, though... a single girl in a tiny rental car driving through an iffy neighborhood... but I kept going, figuring that the shabby-looking neighborhood could very possibly mean better food. The parlor actually is located in a very industrial area, and the parking lot was full.

I went in and sat at the counter near the cash register and ordered a medium-hot bowl of chili. It came almost right away, along with a generous separate cup of oyster crackers. I was a bit surprised by the chili. It was basically a pile of finely ground meat with a few beans, surrounded by reddish oil. The oil, apparently is where a lot of the flavor comes from. Since I sat near the register, I got to hear other people order.... kind of a glimpse into what the locals do. Some ordered extra oil and some ordered their chili "with a touch" meaning very little oil. Now I know!

There were signs placed in the napkin holders and on the door advertising the fact that Man Vs. Food will be filming there next week! I asked the cashier what his challenge would be. Apparently he has to beat the record number of bowls of their Firebrand chili, the hottest they have, which is 4. So Adam is going to try to down 5 bowls of Firebrand chili. My medium-hot chili had some heat to it...I finished the bowl no problem, but it did make my eyebrows sweat and left a constant tingle in my lips. So I asked if I could try just a bit of this famous Firebrand. It was tastier than the medium-hot, I thought! Hotter yes, but it had a distinct dried-chili pepper flavor that was yummy. I don't know if I could eat a whole bowl, but I'd like to try, because if you do, you can write your name on one of the wall posters they have covering the walls. I have goals, people.

This was a great great trip for me. Not only all the fantastic eats I got to experience (and they all were EXPERIENCES in eating for sure!), but I got to learn about my daddy's hometown, get a glimpse of where and how he grew up. I also got to learn about some history... Galesburg is where the 5th Lincoln/Douglas Debates were held, and poet Carl Sandburg was born there, as was the inventor of the Ferris wheel. So much history there. And for me, family!

Solo road trips are great because I could stop on a whim at quirky antique malls, scary truck stops and park-like rest stops. The photo above is a new addition to one of my favorite stops, the Pink Elephant Antique Mall in Livingston, IL. I'm used to seeing the giant guy in blue shorts ("Beach Guy") and the big pink elephant, but this ice-cream shaped ice cream stand? Fantastic and new! Notice that they even gave the Beach Guy his own Twistee Cone!! A car, a small amount of spending cash, a camera, and a sense of adventure. AWESOME vacation.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

beet it

No this is not a Michael Jackson tribute done entirely with beets. Although....that would be spectacular. Hmmmmm...

This is me trying to salvage a crap day. A day that began with me being plowed from behind into another car on my way to work. Iron Stef sandwich. Not any of the good kinds of sandwich. A smooshed car, pain-in-the-butt, no-good day sandwich. Some might call it a sh*t sandwich, but I wouldn't because I'm so lady-like. Right. So this is my second pretty bad car accident in less than 4 months. yeah. I am not hurt, save for a skinned knee, bruised shin, and a lovely seatbelt welt. I am however, extra-cranky. I missed out on a nice night at the botanical gardens because I was not able to get a rental car due to the other driver's insurance issues.

I guess the universe was telling me to stay home at least one night this week. Maybe the contents of my fridge had a conversation with the universe and were like "dude, some of us are fantastic ingredients and we are being neglected! Make her use us!!" Understandable, fridge contents, though I do not condone the universe's methods.

Anywho, message received. I decided to make the most of it. Use those fridge-dwellers and enjoy a relaxing evening at the homestead. Who was living in my fridge? Well, some fine beets from my sister-in-law's parents garden, which had been cooked for preservation, some farm fresh eggs, and some potatoes. Fried potatoes seemed like the best thing, with runny-yolked eggs on top. As for the beets? I made a simple salad by chopping them up, adding chopped walnuts, minced garlic, a wee bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, salt & pepper. The sweet, earthy, cool salad went nicely with the comforting fried potatoes and eggs. Top with Manchego, accompany with a few cold beers and the world seems alright again.

Bad day? BEET IT!!