September 21, 2009
I have an unmatched sock. It lives in the bottom of the laundry basket.
Every time I do laundry, it gets washed with the rest of the load, and every time I get to the last few socks that need to be mated, I hold out hope that this one rogue sock’s mate will have magically appeared. Maybe it was stuck in the leg of some sweatpants and I never noticed, or maybe it was under the dresser and I never reached far enough back there to get it until this time when another renegade piece of clothing made a run for it, but finally, HERE IT IS! The lonely sock that weekly gets tossed back into the basket when the last of the dish towels has been folded to wait out another week or ten days before the cycle starts all over again has lived to find its mate!
But not this week.
Still. Back in the basket it goes. It and I, still holding out hope.
May 14, 2009
No, no, Nanette. Stop even thinking of these as gnocchi. I think it’s the only way to get your head around it. ?These are gnocchi in name only.
I loved the contrast in textures between the gnocchi and the chewy sundried tomatoes. Pine nuts just always make me happy.
You be happy, too. Go make this.
For the gnocchi:
1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi
Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.
If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.
Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.
To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.
Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.
Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.
Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.
Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.
Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).
Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.
Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.
In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.
With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.
Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.
At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.
Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.
If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.
Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.
Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.
You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.
Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.
Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.
In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.
Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.
Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).
When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.
Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.
With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.
April 27, 2009
So the Daring Bakers are at it again. The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
The recipe was not difficult at all; in fact, I’ve made this cheesecake a total of three times this month. The challenge did allow for some freedom of choice in the flavoring of the cheesecake, by changing out the called-for lemon juice, vanilla, and liquor components. Coming up with a delicious and original flavor based on three tablespoons of liquid took some thought.
The first thing that came to mind was my favorite cheesecake flavor, key lime. Adding tequila to make it a margarita naturally followed. At least for me. Hi, margaritas naturally follow waking up.
I wanted a unique and surprising presentation, and mulled over a bunch of different ways to make it look like a margarita in a glass, but decided to go with the safest route and bake it in rocks glasses. The whipped cream isn’t quite a salt rim, but I call artistic license.
The problem was that it tasted terrible. Maybe I went overboard with the lime juice or my limes weren’t great tasting, or maybe tequila should only be consumed in liquid form, but these little cuties were all show and no substance.
Meanwhile, back at the drawing board, I decided to try again with my current obsession, cinnamon.
Now we’re talkin’. I wasn’t sure how to add cinnamon to the cheesecake in liquid form, since what we were changing for flavoring were three water-consistency components. So I first infused the cream in the recipe with cinnamon sticks, by bringing the cream and cinnamon sticks almost to a boil and letting it cool for several hours. I left the lemon juice in because I love the lift lemon gives, left the vanilla in, and 86ed the liquor altogether.
I added only about a half teaspoon cinnamon to the batter itself. For the swirls, I melted cinnamon chips — in the baking aisle along with the chocolate chips, if you can find them — with some butter. I knew from previous experience that those chips don’t melt well, but the butter loosened them up enough to swirl directly into the batter. All of the cracks in the top of my cheesecake came where the cinnamon chips swirls were the heaviest, so I am not complaining. The second time I made it, I mixed in the cinnamon chips and butter with some of the batter and swirled that in, and voila: no cracks. Of course, no pictures, either, but trust that it got raves from the girls at poker night.
This will definitely be my go-to cheesecake recipe. And the best tip Jenny gave us was if we didn’t have a springform pan, to bake the cheesecake in a disposable foil pan and cut the pan away for serving. Worked like a dream! And no possibility of the pan leaking, like many of my compatriots who used springform pans suffered.
Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake:
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too – baker’s choice. Set crust aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done – this can be hard to judge, but you’re looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don’t want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won’t crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.
Thanks again to Jenny from Jenny Bakes for a fun and creative challenge!
April 17, 2009
Couldn’t shake the craving for some super spicy shredded beef tacos, and you know how I love a good braise, so here’s what I did:
3.5 pound round roast
2 stalks celery
2 T Spicy Monterey Steak Seasoning*
1 t cumin
1 t coriander
1 t garlic salt
1 can green chiles
1 small can jalapenos
1/4 red wine
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
1. Rub spices all over roast. I’d like to tell you I seared the roast first, but I was too lazy and it didn’t matter a lick. Place roast in roasting pan on top of the celery and carrots.
2. Top roast with chiles and jalapenos. pour wine and chicken stock in botton of the pan.
3. Cover with foil and place in 300 degree oven for three and a half to four hours or until beef shreds easily.
And here is what I came up with:
When cool, shred the beef with two forks. Servce on corn or flour tortillas with cilantro and a squeeze of lime.
*Note: I am truly sorry I had to resort to a packaged seasoning mix, but dammit, it’s good!
April 3, 2009
Maybe it’s not a question of giving up the dream. Maybe it’s a question of reassessing what you were looking for in the first place.
Last year nearly crushed me with the weight of “too late.”
I laughingly and often joked to anyone who would hear that 2008 was my last year to mourn the passing of my fertility. Truly, though, I thought if I put a time frame on it, I would be able to contain the sadness. My self imposed ultimatum was so full of what I had expected my life to be; so heavy with those expectations, so much deeper than an offhand remark.
It was time to stop waiting for my life to begin; to really look at my life for what it already is, not for what I meant it to be by this point. And if I didn’t learn to like what I found, then, without question, it would be too late.
It wasn’t until I started mapping out the few pieces of my original plan that were still attainable that I finally started to ask, What if I have been chasing the wrong thing all along? If I had truly wanted those things that I thought I was waiting for, wouldn’t I have found a way to have them? Wouldn’t I have sacrificed different things to get them? What if I have led this life – this misbegotten, unremarkable, embarrassment of a life — because a larger part of me than I thought actually was happy in it?
I’m still testing this theory. I practice enhancing what I have, instead of waiting for someone, something to take me to what I don’t have yet. I try every day to stop thinking of this life as the waiting room for my Real Life. I grudgingly admit to finding grace in what is here, and what is now.
It’s lighter, Here. I could get used to Now, if I’m right. I could live This.
March 28, 2009
I originally wanted to make really rustic, individual servings, so I didn’t care what the noodles looked like as I rolled them. I also couldn’t take pictures of the rolling because it took two hands.
It surprised me a little that we were invited to use our own recipes for the two required sauces. I made a pretty simple, traditional bechamel, with a little garlic in it and probably a hint of lemon for some brightness. But it was the ragu that got me. Wholly cow was it amazing. I loosely followed the sample recipe given, grinding some steak and pork chop together for the meat component and using a few strips of bacon instead of prosciutto or pancetta. I did add a little tomato paste, which it didn’t call for and which I browned to within an inch of its life, and the canned tomatoes it did call for. I also used half and half instead of milk, just because I had it.
Oh, and I halved the recipes for everything. As this recipe was trying to teach me, a little goes a long way.
Thanks again to the Daring Bakers and our happy hosts for this suprising and fulfilling challenge.
From The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).
Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time
10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.
Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.
Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.
Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.
Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.
#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
Preparation: 45 minutes
Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.
2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)
Working by Hand:
A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.
A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.
A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.
Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.
A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.
Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.
Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.
With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.
Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.
Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.
Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!
Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.
March 9, 2009
I love split pea soup, and I wish I could say this turkey version was borne out of a desire to be healthier and to stifle my pig addiction. In reality, I just couldn’t find ham hocks in the grocery, so, knowing that smoked turkey wings are the secret to the best greens you’ll ever eat, I decided to apply the same principle to beans/peas, and ended up with a split pea soup I like even better than the traditional ham one. I added the turkey smoked sausage because the first question I get asked when I try to feed a certain manly man is “Is there meat in here?” Yes, love, there’s meat.
Smoked Turkey Stock
1 T olive oil
1/2 white or yellow onion
3 ribs celery
2 cloves garlic
1 package smoked turkey legs (you usually get 2 large or 3 smaller legs per package)
1 t thyme
8-10 black peppercorns
Roughly chop onion, celery, and carrots. In a large stockpot over medium high heat, saute vegetables until some begin to brown. Add garlic cloves, lightly smashed, and saute for a few more minutes. Add whole turkey legs, thyme, peppercorns, and water to cover by about 2 inches (approximately 4 quarts). Simmer for one hour or until meat is easy to remove from the bone.
Remove turkey legs to cool. Strain stock through a sieve and return to low heat. Discard vegetables. When turkey legs are cool, pick meat from bones, chop, and set aside.
Split Pea Soup With Smoked Turkey
1 lb. split peas, washed and picked over
1 lb. smoked turkey sausage or kielbasa, in 1/4 slices
2 potatoes, 1/4 inch diced
3 carrots, 1/4 inch diced
1 t thyme
1/2 t garlic powder
Reserved meat from smoked turkey legs
(Continued from stock recipe) To hot smoked turkey stock, add split peas and stir. Simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, brown smoked turkey sausage or kielbasa slices over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes. Add browned sausage slices, potatoes, carrots, reserved turkey leg meat, and spices to soup. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until peas have disintregrated and potatoes and carrots are cooked through.
To serve, garnish with crackers or croutons and a sprinkling of red wine vinegar. (I grew up putting vinegar in bean soups, so pea soup, to me, requires it, too.)