It’s two weeks before I will be posting this entry, and I’m about to mutilate my fingertips. I’m talking rip them to pieces, tear my nails, all in the name of turning out a pistachio butter, one of four nut butters I’m making for this month’s Daring Cooks challenge. Pistachio butter isn’t even one of the nut butters provided to us, but I love pistachio nuts, so why not a pistachio butter? Bright green (didn’t exactly work out that way; more like swamp thing green) spreadable goodness that can be applied to so many dishes, both sweet and savory!
I’m also making peanut, cashew and pecan nut butters, but those won’t require spending hours of shelling and skinning, leaving me with raw, red fingertips, bandages, and a tube of Neosporin.
I just realized that I forgot to make almond butter. Oh well, another nut for another day.
Fast forward two weeks later; thumbnails a tad shorter, and a possible lack of fingerprints, but none the worse for wear. It’s amazing how small a yield of pistachios you get once shelled, and an even a smaller yield once ground down to nut butter (barely a scant cup of pistachio butter out of a whole pound of pistachios). Those shells take up a hell of a lot of space in those 1 lb bags!
Question of the day – why don’t they sell shelled and skinned pistachios in the bag like they do for just about every other nut out there? I had to know, so I looked it up. Well, it looks like they DO, although not in any markets near me, but now I know why. The price is outrageous for 1 lb. I suppose they’re charging for the labor and raw fingertips, but truth be told, they have machines that do it..so W-T-eff? At these prices, I’m more than happy to keep temporarily mutilating my fingertips, thank you.
Homemade Nut Butters in the Food Processor:
Peanut Butter – Grind for about 4 minutes for a smooth, creamy peanut butter.
Pecan Butter – Form a very soft, oily, pourable butter in 1 or 2 minutes.
Pistachio Butter – Grind with a few drops of oil or water for 3.5 to 4 minutes.
Cashew Butter – Form a smooth, spreadable butter after about 2 minutes of processing.
So here’s the deal; as mentioned above, I made four nut butters – peanut, cashew, pecan and the fingernail ripping, pistachio. Each nut butter was used in a savory dish, one of which I came up with myself, one that Martha Stewart lent me, and two provided to us by the hosts of this month’s Daring Cooks challenge, one of which I morphed into something else.
The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butters from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.
The first dish I made, using the aforementioned pistachios (in which I added a little warm water when grinding them into a butter, because without it, you end up with a pasty clump of pistachio paste), is a miniature version of kofte, which are oblong rolls of well spiced ground meat on a skewer, grilled until crisp on the outside. They’re of Turkish origin, and very delicious, so I decided to make baby koftes on toothpicks served with some Oikos Greek Yogurt (they sent me a ton of coupons over a year ago and I kept eating them. It finally gets its due), strained overnight, then combined with chopped red bell pepper, shredded cucumber, seasonings, and topped with toasted, ground pistachio.
The pistachio butter adds a rich, lovely texture to the meat (beef in this case), and also eliminated any need for an egg or two. They are truly the perfect appetizer plate, amuse bouche (if you serve only one, I suppose) and hors d’oeuvres for any party or get together!
Whoa, I sound like a tagline of a recipe page straight out of any lifestyle magazine. Your guests will love it!
- 1 cup shelled, skinned lightly salted pistachio nuts
- 1 pound ground beef, (you can substitute ground chicken, lamb or turkey, if desired)
- 1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and diced finely
- 1 medium onion, grated
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (chili flakes or cayenne)
- ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ cup finely chopped mint
- 2 tablespoons pure olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned; let cool. When cool, grind the pistachios into a rustic butter in a food processor with a few drops of warm water, or use a mortar and pestle.
- In a large bowl, combine the beef, pistachio butter, roasted red bell pepper, grated onion, minced garlic clove, cumin, salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper and mix with your hands. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Remove meat from fridge and lightly/gently knead the chopped parsley and mint into the meat. Cook one meatball first to taste and adjust seasonings since my spice and seasoning amounts are approximate. In other words, I threw in a pinch of this..a pinch of that etc.
- Roll the meat into scant tablespoon-size balls. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet. Add half of the meatballs and cook over moderate heat until browned all over, about 8 minutes; reduce the heat if the meatballs brown too quickly. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and kofte meatballs. Alternatively, bake the meatballs at 350 F on greased baking sheet, lightly spraying the tops with oil and turning kofte meatballs over half way through baking, for 25 minutes.
- Skewer cooked kofte meatballs with toothpicks and serve them hot or at room temperature with yogurt dip I mentioned in post, or sauce of your choice.
- Kofte can be made and frozen, uncooked, for up to three months. Double recipe for 40 kofte.
Next on my nutty agenda was using the cashew butter to make the cashew dressing and Asian inspired cold noodles given to us by our hosts. However, I did something a little different; I took the whole salad and wrapped it up in spring roll wrappers. Every component of that salad is in there; a layer of shrimp, a layer of soft lettuce, a layer of basil, a layer of thinly sliced japanese cucumber, a layer of rice vermicelli dressed with the amazing cashew dressing (I could eat the stuff with a spoon, and I did), and a layer of green onions and red bell pepper strips, plus some chives from my little deck garden. And, of course, extra cashew dressing to dip them in.
These turned out gorgeous, as well as delicious, but as luck would have it, I couldn’t get a decent, damn photo of them – NOT for lack of trying, as in 200 shots. Dear Natural Light Gods, PLEASE find a way through all the trees and kiss my humble abode!! Lowel Ego lights are nice, but, unless you really know what you’re doing (which I do not), you ‘ll never get the detailed, lovely shots natural light provides.
- 1 cup (240 ml) cashews*
- ½ inch (1 cm) slice of fresh ginger, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- ½ cup (120 ml) cashew butter
- ¼ cup (60 ml) soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) sugar
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) vinegar
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) toasted sesame oil
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon (75 ml) water
- Hot sauce to taste (optional)
- ½ pound (225 g) thin rice noodles or regular vermicelli
- 1 cup or more cashew dressing
- 10 large raw shrimp, shelled
- 1 tablespoon olive or peanut oil
- 10 to 12 spring roll wrappers (rice paper)
- warm water for softening rice paper
- 10 small leaves boston or butter lettuce
- fresh basil, about two leaves per roll.
- 10 green onions, ends trimmed, most of dark green part cut off, sliced vertically down the middle so you have two long strips of the light green part.
- 1 large red bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into thin strips (2 strips per roll)
- 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced into thin, finger long, strips
- 1 bunch chives
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) chopped cashews (optional garnish)
- Lime wedges (optional)
- Make cashew (or peanut) butter: Grind cashews in food processor for about 2 minutes until smooth. (*Or start with ½ cup (120 ml) prepared cashew butter.)
- Make cashew (or peanut) dressing: Combine ginger, garlic, cashew butter, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and water in food processor or blender. Process/blend until smooth. Be sure to process long enough to puree the ginger and garlic. The dressing should be pourable, about the same thickness as cream. Adjust consistency – thinner or thicker -- to your liking by adding more water or cashew butter. Taste and add your favorite hot sauce if desired. (If the cashew butter was unsalted, you may want to add salt to taste.) Makes about 1 ½ cups (360 ml) dressing. Store any leftover dressing in the refrigerator.
- Prepare noodles according to package instructions in salted water. Rinse and drain noodles. Toss noodles with about 1 cup or more of cashew dressing, until coated, but not too saucy. Portion the noodles into 10 to 12 equal portions. Set aside, covered.
- Prepare shrimp: Heat oil in large non-stick pan over medium heat. Add shrimp to the pan and sauté for about 3 to 4 minutes or until opaque throughout. Alternately, cook shrimp in boiling water for about 2 to 3 minutes or until done (leave shell on if boiling). Slice each shrimp in half horizontally when cool (refer to video on how to roll spring rolls, linked above, to see how to do this)
- Assemble spring rolls. Soak rice paper in warm water according to package directions, until soft. Layer in order, one leaf boston or butter lettuce, 2 basil leaves, 1 split green onion, portion of dressed noodles, 2 red bell pepper strips and 2 cucumber strips. Top with a few chives so they stick out the ends. Place the halved shrimp, sliced side up, at the end of the roll. Squeeze a little lime juice on top of vegetables and herbs and sprinkle with cashews (if desired). Roll so shrimp are facing up on top of roll. Again, see video linked above recipe to see how to do this; as it's confusing in text! Repeat all of the above with the rest of the spring roll wrappers and fillings.
- Serve with extra cashew dressing to dip.
I wish this was a ‘finally’, but it’s not. I’m already two days late and it seems to be a pattern the past few months. I almost wish I made just one nut butter and one dish, yet I am currently tempted to use the remaining pistachio butter to make pistachio cookies before I post this. OK, maybe I’ll add them later if I do ( I didn’t).
So, my next nutty endeavor was Spicy Peanut Noodles in Cucumber Cups a la Martha Stewart. I used cashew nuts instead of peanuts, and the dressing was lick the bowl clean – spicy, rich and delightful, which I also ate with a spoon.
Unfortunately, it was so good, I poured a ton of it over the noodles. Because of that, I couldn’t get that perfect ‘Martha Stewartesque’ pasta fork spiral tower of noodles that make these look so special. After twirling the fork in the drowning pasta for what seemed like hours, I finally succumbed to my saucy overindulgence and spooned the noodles into each cucumber cup. They may not be pretty, but they tasted great; just the right amount of smooth cashew butter and spicy bite, the cool cucumber putting out any fire on the tongue. With that said, when I was grinding the cashews, I drizzled in a bit of peanut oil to achieve a smoother consistency.
- 1 cup (240 ml) cashews (Or use ½ cup (120 ml) already prepared cashew butter).*
- peanut oil
- 1 large garlic clove
- 1¾-inch piece ginger, peeled and halved
- 3 teaspoons red-chile paste
- ½ cup cashew butter (above)
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3½ tablespoons sugar
- 4½ tablespoons peanut oil
- Juice of 1 lime
- 6 ounces vermicelli, or capellini
- 3½ Japanese, or 6 Kirby cucumbers, peeled
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts, finely chopped
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- Add cashew nuts to a food processor. Gring until chopped fine, them slowly drizzle in about 1 tablespoon peanut oil and continue running until smooth.
- In a food processor, pulse garlic and ginger until finely chopped. Add chile paste, cashew butter, soy sauce, sugar, peanut oil, lime juice, and 4 tablespoons water; puree until smooth. Set aside.
- Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil. Add noodles; cook until al dente, following label directions. Drain in a colander; then rinse with cold water. In a large bowl, toss noodles with 1 cup peanut sauce. Set aside.
- Cut cucumbers into thirty-six ¾-inch rounds; scoop out the seeds with a melon baller, forming deep cups. Dab some cashew dressing on the bottom of a cucumber cup. Using a small cocktail fork, twirl a few noodles together, and place in cup. Garnish with chopped cashews and scallions. Repeat with remaining cucumber cups.
FINALLY (Yes..I made it!), I made the recipe for Chicken with Pecan Cream & Mushrooms because it looked and sounded so good. Granted, photographing brown food is tough (see kofte above), but it was well worth it. I ended up adding more seasoning because it needed it, but otherwise, it was just as I thought it would be. I didn’t let the pecan butter run in the processor until completely smooth, which was no big deal since once the water was added, it morphed into a lovely, silky cream. How cool is that? Creamy using pecans instead of heavy cream, but tasting just as creamy. I like it!
- ¾ cup (180 ml) coarsely chopped pecans*, toasted
- 1 cup (240 ml) water
- ¾ teaspoon (3 ml) salt, more as needed
- ½ pound (225 g) egg noodles or pasta
- 4 (6-ounce / 170 g) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil, more as needed
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) deglazing liquid (water, broth, wine; optional)
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil, more as needed
- ¼ cup (60 ml) finely chopped shallots
- ½ pound (225 g) mushrooms, sliced
- 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) fresh thyme leaves
- Chopped pecans, (optional garnish)
- Prepare pecan cream. Grind pecans in a food processor for about a minute or so until smooth, scraping down the sides of bowl as needed. Add water and ¾ teaspoon (3 ml) salt; process until smooth, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Set aside pecan cream. (*If starting with prepared pecan butter, blend ¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons (90 ml) pecan butter with the water and salt until smooth.)
- Cook noodles according to package instructions in salted water. Drain, rinse, and keep warm.
- If desired, pound chicken to ¼ inch (6 mm) thickness to promote even cooking. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken; sauté 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Cook the chicken in 2 batches, adding more oil if needed for second batch. Set aside cooked chicken on a clean plate, cover to keep warm.
- Add deglazing liquid to pan if using and stir up any browned bits. If needed, add another teaspoon (5 ml) of oil (or more) to pan for sautéing the shallots and mushrooms. Sauté the shallots and mushrooms over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and starting to brown. Add fresh thyme to the pan. Stir in pecan cream; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1½ minutes till reduced slightly.
- Slice chicken into thin strips. Divide the noodles among serving plates. Add a scoop of the mushroom pecan sauce on top of noodles. Lay sliced chicken on top. Garnish with fresh thyme and/or a pinch of chopped pecans if desired.
To see what the other ‘nutty’ Daring Cooks turned out using nut butters, Click on the links to their blogs HERE.
On July 13, 2010, George Steinbrenner, the owner of the NY Yankees, passed away. I didn’t initially include this in this entry since I had plans to write an entry entirely dedicated to him. Upon reflection, and knowing how long it could be, I decided not to do that and instead add a little tribute to him here. George, you were loved (and hated) by many, and despite your mistakes and temper, had a heart of gold. Thank you for all the amazing WS winning teams you gave us. May you rest in peace for eternity, and now, in heaven, you can fire Billy Martin all you want!
Also, RIP Bob Sheppard (1910-2010), the ‘Voice of Yankee Stadium’ from 1951 to 2007. A classy man with no frills other than being ‘clear, concise and correct’ . I’m glad I will get to hear your voice prior to every Derek Jeter at bat for the remainder of his career.