Category Archives: NUTS

VIENNESE VANILLA CRESCENTS…VANILLEKIPFERL

00vanillenkipferlWIENER VANILLEKIPFERL……a very popular Holiday cookie these are AUSTRIAN VANILLA CRESCENTS.  This type of cookie is made all over the world for the Christmas season and sometimes for special occasions thru the year.  Wedding Cookies, Greek Kourabiedes, American Almond Crescents, the list goes on but at their heart they are a butter cookie made with finely ground nuts in the dough.  The nuts can be almond or walnut.  The butter is always present and in the central European countries the Vanilla Sugar is an ingredient as well.  Simply put, it’s granulated or fine granulated sugar infused with vanilla beans and is very fragrant.  So why am I focusing in on this Viennese version?  Well last Summer I visited Vienna and bought a cookbook, in German, called WEIHNACHTS BACKEREI…translates to CHRISTMAS BAKING.ho15577518_10208099303022724_1310207240_nNice looking book, i had to buy it. Cost 6.75 Euros. One of the recipes is the Viennese crescent.  I made them last Christmas using European butter and they were fantastic, so now I share this with you.  The butter I suggest to really make them over the top delicious is butter from Europe.  A little more costly for sure than U.S. butter but they are after all European butter cookies.  A few European brands are LURPAK, from Denmark, FINLANDIA from Finland, KERRYGOLD, from Ireland.  There’s also the US made in the European style PLUGRA.  They are richer than the usual American butter. If you can’t find them the cookies will still be fantastic!

VIENNESE CRESCENTS                            TAKES: 3 hours                    YIELDS: 48-60

the rezipe
2 cups sifted unbleached flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 TBS. vanilla sugar
1 TBS pure Vanilla Extract
3 egg yolks or 2 extra large yolks
1 cup Ground Almonds (or ground walnuts)
1 CUP COLD EUROPEAN BUTTER (or good quality U.S. butter)
2 TBS vanilla sugar plus 2 TBS Confectioner’s Sugar for coating
Cream the butter and the sugar, then the eggs, then the almonds and flour.All ingredients are quickly mixed to a smooth dough in your mixer and let cool for approx. 1 hour. Cut the dough into a small roll of small, coarse pieces, shape them into crescents and place on a  well greased baking tray or baking sheet. I’d use a SILPAT mat if you have them, or lightly greased parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees F in preheated oven for 12-14 minutes till firm and golden. While still warm roll in the Vanilla sugar and confectioner’s sugar blend.
If you like the taste of Almonds in this, add 1 tsp. Almond Extract while you’re mixing the dough.
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 Quantity: about  48-60 piecesbakingnight121915-025bakingnight121915-026
Let fully cool.  Store in air tight tins or in baking tins layered with waxed paper and well wrapped.fulleuropevaca-938Just to show you were I bought the cookbook, this is a roadside scene in the WIENERWALD, or the VIENNA WOODS which lie outside of the city of Vienna, Austria.  A magical land where Wiener Vanillekiperl fall out of the sky!!  Now that you have the recipe you don’t have to wait to take a trip to Austria.  Bring Austria to you own kitchen!!!
Glückliches Kochen!
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PIGNOLI COOKIES, A GIFT FROM SICILY

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Memories taste sweet and one of the sweetest memories I have is of my Mom’s PIGNOLI COOKIES.  Hers were not unique but they were hers and that’s what makes them special. I treasure her recipe box which was really not how she cooked, only certain things were committed to a written recipe.  Her cooking was mostly recipes in her head…I wonder where I get that from.  This was one of her written ones..the PIGNOLI COOKIE which is the GRAND PRIZE if you landed the one or two that are in all ItalianAmerican cookie platters at the end of a special occasion.  Almond paste and Pignoli, the two main ingredients have always been wildly expensive.  Most bakeries today sell them for 29.99-35.00 @ lb. Making them at home is much cheaper, but not cheap.  Here’s Mom’s recipe card:aipignul As with all her written recipes, they are incomplete.  Her philosophy was , if you know how to cook, you can fill in the blanks.  So there you go.  I wanted to make them and went by memory.  Too lazy to look for Mom’s card.  I remembered it right down to the measurements…pretty scary.  I did add 2 other items away from Mom’s recipe, one was 3 tbs. of sifted Unbleached flour and 1/2 tsp. of Pure Vanilla (have we had this talk yet..go to your pantry..if your extract says Imitation, throw it out…buy a bottle of PURE Vanilla. Why are you cooking with fake stuff?  Unless you are baking everyday in big quantities the additional cost of the real item is not a burden.) The flour just helps stabilize the mixture, the vanilla I use in baking like one uses lemon in savory cooking.  It seems to carry the other flavors and enhance them.  That almond essence is just fantastic in these chewy almond macaroons (yeah, they are a form of macaroon).

So what’s the history of this cookie?  Marzipan is a very well loved and used ingredient in European confections, North, Central and Southern.  In Italy the region that Marzipan or PASTA REALE really is King is Sicily.  Certainly the Salento and Puglia have their share of Almond Paste treats, but in Sicily it’s almost a religion.  Almonds are a crop for the region and Sicilians include almonds in both their sweet and savory foods.  No one knows for sure where this pignoli (which is another hallmark of Sicilian cooking) topped almond macaroon came from.  The cookie is also made with slivered almonds on top.  Since all research I’ve read points to Sicily, I’m going with that premise.

Notice 2 things in my pictures that I don’t want you to do.  First is the foil on the baking sheet.  I had no Silpat, no parchment paper.  I improvised with lightly greasing a foil lining. In a pinch it works, but you SHOULD use silpat or Parchment.  The texture will be better.  They are also just a touch darker than they should be.  I received a work related call while I was baking them and that extra 2 minutes in the oven created a crispy sort of bottom.  They should be soft yet browned so, shut your phone off when you are cooking or risk a potential disaster.  Had I not pulled them out when I did they would have become AMARETTI, those toasted almond macaroons, delicious, but not what I was making. Seconds count in cooking and baking!!!

TIME: 45 MINUTES                                         YIELD:  18 COOKIES

8 oz. ALMOND PASTE, cut into small pieces then broken up with a mixer into small pieces

2/3 CUP SUGAR

3 TBS. SIFTED UNBLEACHED FLOUR  (omit this is you are looking for GLUTEN FREE)

2 BEATEN EGG WHITES at ROOM TEMPERATURE

1/2 TSP. PURE VANILLA EXTRACT

1 CUP PIGNOLI (PINE NUTS)

CONFECTIONER’S SUGAR FOR DUSTING (Check the labels as not all Confectioner’s Sugar is Gluten Free if you are in need of this to be GF, if not, omit)

SILPAT or PARCHMENT PAPER  (Mom used Waxed Paper, but I think Parchment is a better choice)

Let’s start baking.  Pre heat oven to 325 F.  To the already mixed up Almond paste (you can use a food processor too) add the sugar.  Mix well, Then add the flour.  Mix well. Should look like this:pignoli 001 Now add the eggs and vanilla and mix just until the mixture comes together. It will be a sticky dough so don’t be alarmed at that.  It should hold a small ball shape.  Empty the nuts into a bowl.  Now, roll 18 equal sized small balls, i guess a teaspoon full is good.  Eyeball this folks, just keep them equal size. That’s also how things bake properly and at the same time.  Dip one side of the ball into the bowl of Pignoli.  Then place them on the Silpat or Parchment Paper lined baking sheet.  Use heavy baking sheets if you can.  Less chance of burning will occur. When they are all lined up, with room in between place them into the oven on the middle rack.pignoli 002 looking at the foil is killing me.  But, honesty in cooking and blogging so there you go.. DON’T USE FOIL!! Bake them for 15 minutes.  Then place them in the top rack and bake for addition 5 minutes only.  USE YOUR HEADS HERE!! If they look too brown or brown enough don’t do the 5 extra minutes.  Every oven is calibrated differently…so use the common sense adjustment for making these.  Your eyes are your biggest cooking implement.   When you remove them let them sit for 3-4 minutes, then gently transfer them with a spatula to a cooling rack.  Let them cook for 1/2 hour.  pignoli 004  My phone call created those over toasted pignoli on the cookies and the darker ring around the base.  No phone calls.. Let it ring. That’s what voicemail is for.  Now dust them with Confectioner’s Sugar.  pignoli 005  If not serving them right away no sugar dusting until you are serving.  MAKE SURE THEY ARE STORED IN AIR TIGHT CONTAINERS!!!  You will get that wonderful soft and chewy texture then.pignoli 022 Like that!!  Even with my extended accidental baking time they were wonderfully PIGNOLI COOKIE textured.  I can hear my Mom exclaim ” AI’PIGNUL”  spoken as Ai PEENYOOL…dialect Italian…  That makes this blog and recipe much more personal for me, and so, for you too.  You are baking an HEIRLOOM recipe, as much as that overused buzzword can be thrown around, it makes perfect sense here.  With anticipation I would watch my Mom remove the Marzipan (Almond Paste) from the plastic covered tubes (Odense was the brand she used) and steal a chunk or two of it before she continued with the rest of the recipe.  Food memories make for better tasting food.  GRAZIE MOM for this gift, her recipe is like a million others but I have the proof in my hands and her handwriting.  And now I pass it on to you.  Happy Baking!  Happy Eating!!

 

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WHEN “FUSION” IDEAS MAKE SENSE, SPAGHETTI WITH ALMOND OREGANO PESTO WITH LEMON AND FETA

003  FUSION CUISINE, for this home cook those words make me shudder.  Truth is I’m very closed minded about 95% of anything termed FUSION. They say good cooks need to have an open mind but let me explain myself here, and btw, my opinion is only …my opinion.  Even if I’m 100% right..LOL.  I believe Lidia Bastianich best said this, and I paraphrase..that food tastes best when the ingredients come from the same place.  Fusion when using that guideline can be a good thing.  The current craze in many 3d generation Italian American restaurants is the Sausage and Broccoli Rabe EGG ROLL.   Again, just my opinion, no thank you.  Chinese and Italian cooking have zero in common with each other on every level except they share the same regional philosophy of using great ingredients and they take great pride in their cuisines and their food culture.  I’ll enjoy the broccoli rabe and sausage filling inside of a fried calzone. That makes sense for me.  So…using that line of thinking..countries with different cuisines but sharing a general type of produce, weather, seafood, meats, etc..THOSE cuisines seem to be candidates for a fusion of sorts.  Let’s take the Mediterranean region rich in Olive Oil, Olives, similar seafoods, cheeses, produce, wines, herbs, fruits,nuts…with varying degrees many dishes are all decended from or related to other cuisines in the region.  Religious and local customs have created many of the subtle or not so subtle differences but whether it is Southern or Southeastern French, Corsican, Moroccan, Sicilian, Maltese, Tunisian, Israeli, Turkish, Greek, Croatian, Italian, Dalmatian, Cypriot, Lebanese..well you get the idea…there’s a common thread in the region’s cuisine which then allows for lack of a better term, some “fusion”.  When the cuisines are unrelated fusion, for me, is disastrous.

Fresh herbs are part of the Summer season so…here’s a fusion of Greek and Italian ideas in a wonderfully bright and satisfying pasta dish…SPAGHETTI WITH ALMOND OREGANO PESTO with FETA AND LEMON.    Let’s cook!!!

SERVES:  4-6                       TIME: 1/2 hour

1 lb IMPORTED ITALIAN SPAGHETTI (or other long pasta) cooked al dente according to package directions

1/2 CUP FRESH OREGANO LEAVES, packed well..no stems, make sure leaves are gently cleaned

1 TBS. DRIED OREGANO

1/8 CUP FRESH CHOPPED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

1/4 CUP TOASTED UNSALTED ALMONDS

1/8 CUP GRATED PARMIGIANO REGGIANO

3 ROUGH CHOPPED PEELED GARLIC CLOVES

JUICE OF ONE LEMON

1 TSP. LEMON ZEST

1/4 CUP OF GOOD EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

1/3 CUP OF GOOD QUALITY FETA CHEESE, CRUMBLED OR DICED, IMPORTED GREEK WOULD BE BEST

KOSHER SALT

FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

Using a food processor, add the herbs, lemon juice and zest, garlic, and almonds.  Pulse until they are all crushed.  DON’T over pulse.  Next, slowly add the Olive Oil in stream while the blade is processing.  It should look like a pesto now, nice and smooth.  Now add the feta, reserving a little for garnish, and gently pulse until is somewhat blended in.  TASTE, based on what you think, add salt if necessary to taste and add about 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper.  Gently pulse. NOW..leave it out at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions in well salted water and only till AL DENTE. Drain. At that point, pour the pesto over the pasta a gently blend well. Top with some Feta and fresh sprigs of Oregano, even a little squeeze of lemon would be nice. Done..  Enjoy.

So here’s some sidebars…never cook pesto. ever.  If pesto is off colored it means it’s old or was cooked..make your own.  Herbs are one of the cheapest foods out there in the summer unless you are growing your own, even better.  The Consistency of the pesto even with the most exact and tested recipes can vary. If you find the pesto is too thick as more Olive Oil and Lemon juice to get to the consistency you are looking for.  Don’t over do the oil though as it will separated out from the mixture and it will get “oily”.  Mint (fresh) is an alternative to the grassy green flavor of the Parsley.  Feel free to use!  Fresh Thyme is another herb to use but it’s quite strong so don’t use too much of that.

Enjoy this sunny dish from my kitchen to yours!!

 

LARGE PASTA WITH BROCCOLI “CREAM” AND WALNUTS…PACCHERI CON CREMA DI BROCCOLI E NOCI

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Vegetables and dairy are wonderful pairings especially when they are creamy and  used as a pasta “sauce”.  I put “sauce” in quotes because the correct term in Italian would be a “condimento”…a condiment that enhances the pasta which, sorry to do this to you carb-haters out there, but the Pasta is the main event on a plate of macaroni.  The sauce or condimento just adds more flavor and nourishment, it’s an enhancer. And the sky is the limit with pasta dishes. Italy is full of heritage recipes, family recipes, regional recipes, with new ones are being created all the time.  I’m going to think that I created this but somewhere out there this dish may already be on a table in an Italian kitchen.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Let’s create together…for more texture I’m adding crushed walnuts.  Why?  Why NOT?  They will make the dish more interesting and complex.  The crunch with play off nicely with the toothsome pasta and creamy blend of cooked Broccoli and Mascarpone.  Parmigiano sharpens the plate and it’s nuttiness works with the Walnuts. Peperoncino because I’m of Southern Italian extraction and it’s what we do.  So I’ll give you a pass here and say if dried crushed chiles are too hot for your palate, fresh cracked black pepper will work too.  I’m going to ask you to do something that you will probably have been taught not to do.  I want you to “overcook” your broccoli.  That’s right, no crisp bright green florets for this dish, it simply will not work.  It will only taste raw.  Are you up for the challenge??  Do you have the courage to turn your Broccoli into mush?  GOOD!  Continue with me into the kitchen then..let’s go..ANDIAMO!

 

SERVES: 4-6                                    TIME: about 1 hour

2 lbs. CHOPPED WELL COOKED BROCCOLI (cook the broccoli until it’s very soft, drain well and let it sit for at least 1 hour, drain off any water that collects).

1 1/2 cups MASCARPONE CHEESE

2 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

KOSHER SALT, PEPERONCINO (or fresh ground Black Pepper)

2 TBS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Juice of 1 LEMON

3 TBS PARMIGIANO REGGIANO PLUS MORE FOR SERVING AND FINISHING

3 TBS. CRUSHED TOASTED WALNUTS

1 TBS WALNUT OIL (if available)

1 lb PACCHERI OR RIGATONI..cooked till Al Dente according to the package directions

In a Bowl, using a potato Masher, mash the Broccoli.  A Food Processor will make this  “CREMA” too thin, I like this with some small pieces of broccoli among the mashed pieces.  If you must have it thinner pulse it in a Food Processor.

In a large non stick pan, heat the olive oil…when it’s heated, add the garlic and a pinch of the peperoncino, pinch of salt.  Do not let the garlic brown, as soon as you really can smell the garlic add the broccoli  and heat the broccoli through keeping this on a low flame.  Heat for at least 8 minutes, being careful to stir frequently. Taste for seasoning, if you think it needs some salt, add a little now.  Add the lemon.,Gently stir in the MascarponeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA until it’s incorporated into the mixture.  Next add the grated PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO and the Pasta.           OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Gently mix the pasta into the “CREMA”. Make sure it’s well blended.

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How nice is that? So, let’s finish this up…top with the toasted crushed walnuts, peperoncino or black pepper, a drizzle of Walnut Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil and more Grated Parmigiano.

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That is smoking “hot”.  A nice glass of wine or Sparkling Italian Water with fresh lime or lemon, or a frosty Beer or Coca-Cola…drink what you want.  Eat what you want.  You’ll want to eat this!  Happy Cooking!!

so let’s talk PACCHERI..what the hell is A FOOD OBSESSION talking about?  It’s an oversized Rigatoni like pasta that is loved in Naples (again with the Naples, sorry) and generally paired with light seafood sauces.  It’s big and toothsome and sucks into it’s center some of the Crema di Broccoli and the nuts.  Not easy to find but it’s what I use when I make the dish.  Rigatoni will work as well so, there’s your option.

POTATO, TOMATO, AND ARUGULA WALNUT SALAD..GREAT WITH GRILLED FOODS

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SALADS are truly underrated in many kitchens.  So often you can really make an entire meal out of one and not with a tons of fats or carbs.  However I love carbs and one of my favorite ways to get my fix is through POTATOES.  Hello?? There are more way to make a potato besides french frying it or mashing it.  Not sure if there are many other ingredients with such great versatility in the kitchen.  Hit up a local green grocer, Farmers Market, Farm stand or your supermarket’s produce counter and you will find a host of ideas like a recent trip to the Farm market did for me.  I bought (locally grown, how fortunate is that?) POTATOES, ARUGULA, RED ONIONS, TOMATOES and for a side salad/dish for grilled chicken we were having that night I put together this salad which I crowned with a simple VINAIGRETTE and toasted WALNUTS.  For you nut averse types you will miss out on the nutty crunch and taste but the salad without the nuts is still quite wonderful.  I urge you to try it.

For 4-5 people.     Takes abour 1 hour start to finish, or less.

1 lb cleaned small redskin potatoes, boiled in plenty of salted water until they are just tender (a fork will glide right thru them), about 15 minutes then GET THEM OUT OF THAT WATER or they will continue to cook and start smashing onto each other.  Dramatic perhaps but once they are smashed they are overcooked and tasteless.  Remove with a slotted spoon or a spider and place into a bowl of ice water.  GENTLY, don’t turn them out at the same time because they will get crushed.  Let them sit for about 5 minutes cooling down.  It’s ok if they are slightly warm though when you make the salad.

1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tbs. Dijon Mustard

kosher salt,  fresh ground black pepper

3 tbs. finely diced red onion

2 tbs. good Apple Cider or Champagne Vinegar (or Sherry Vinegar)

2 ripe, seeded, diced beefsteak tomatoes or 1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

2 cups chopped baby arugula

1/8 cup toasted walnuts

While the potatoes are cooking, prep everything else.  The vinaigrette is simply made by adding all the ingredients except for the oil into a boil..whisk together well.  Now in a slow stream whisk the OliveOil in.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve on side.

When the potatoes are cooled, drain, pat dry and quarter them.  add the tomatoes, and the arugula.  Season with salt and pepper.  Toss together well.  IMPORTANT HERE…check the taste…you have to always taste you food as you go along.  If you are satisfied with the seasoning, then add the walnuts and the vinaigrette and toss, gently getting everything coated with the dressing.  Let this sit for a good 15 minutes.  Then serve.  It’s a great salad, especially during the Summer months.  Hit those produce markets, food never tastes as good unless you are growing it yourself.