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

Stop me if you’ve heard this:

How do you catch a unique rabbit?
You ‘neak up on ‘im!

How do you catch a tame rabbit?
Tame way!  You ‘neak up on ‘im too!

How do you catch a cheesy rabbit?
You don’t!  That’s nacho bunny!

I totally made that last part up.

So anyway.   Ricotta gnocchi.  Exactly the opposite of doughy, leaden dumplings that splooge their way down to your stomach and coagulate there for at least three weeks.

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.

The first Daring Cooks challenge is from the stunning cookbook by Judy Rodgers, named after her restaurant, The Zuni Café Cookbook.
To quote from the challenge info, “On the surface, this is a very straightforward recipe. The challenge is in the forming and handling of the gnocchi.”  So true.  The other challenge was finding a way dress these little nuggets that would showcase both the taste and delectable texture.

For me, the obvious sauces that would go on regular, dumpling-y gnocchi were out of the question due to the cheese content.  Cheese is one thing, cheesy cheese is another.  And tomato/basil, while delicious and possibly my very favorite, just seemed kind of boring. 

I’m really happy with what I ended up with.  Behold:  ricotta gnocchi dressed simply in olive oil, sundried tomatoes, and pine nuts.  With basil.  A girl’s gotta have some stability.
Not Pasta: Ricotta Gnocchi
Not Pasta: Ricotta Gnocchi

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.

Smooth and rich, this recipe is a winner.

Smooth and rich, this recipe is a winner.

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.

Cute, but lacking

Cute, but lacking

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.

Swirly happiness

Swirly happiness

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.

Cheesecake Slice

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!

Thick as Pea Soup

March 9, 2009

I'm a textural eater and need the crunch of homemade croutons in my soup

I'm a textural eater and need the crunch of homemade croutons in my soup

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
3 carrots
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.)

Another First

February 28, 2009

Chocolate Valentino

Chocolate Valentino

February is my first month as a member of an outstandling online community called Daring Bakers.

Each month, a baking challenge is issued and bakers across the world unite in producing the chosen treat and posting about their experience doing so.

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

A valentino is a flourless chocolate cake, to be served with baker’s choice of homemade ice cream.

The challenge stated that with only three ingredients, the valentino would come out tasting exactly like the (one pound of!) chocolate used,  so of course I wanted to find an interesting and tasty chocolate.  My first thought, of course, was bacon chocolate, which I would pair with eggnog ice cream, but I was serving my valentino as a Valentine’s Day dinner for four, including a pastry chef who teaches at Le Cordon Bleu and a connoisseur whom I love too much to subject to my silliness.*

I also considered and dismissed the idea of chocolate spiced with cayenne and various others available at the regular grocery store, in favor of my favorite chocolate as a kid, Ice Cube candies.  I wondered if the cold sensation would carry over to the Valentino.

Then, the night before my dinner and baking extravaganza, I tried one of the 42 Ice Cube candies I had to buy to make a pound, at $.50 apiece. Yeah, not so much happening. Despite what I paid for it, this was not $21.00/lb chocolate.

After spending about 45 minutes debating in front of the chocolate display at Whole Foods, I ended up with Dagoba organic Lemon Ginger bars and went home to try my luck.

It came out of the oven looking just like the showroom model:

Looks can be deceiving

Looks can be deceiving

But crumbled upon release. Plus, the 63% cacao, or whatever the Dagoba bars were, came out way too bitter, even this non-sweets-lover.

But I'm not bitter...

But I'm not bitter...

Luckily for me, with 3 hours until dinner guests arrived and no other options, I still had my Ice Cube candies, so I got to work on v2.0.

This cake is so easy, the hardest part may have been unwrapping 41 candies

This cake is so easy, the hardest part may have been unwrapping 41 candies

Plan B worked a lot better.

Upside down, but still heart shaped and all in one piece

Upside down, but still heart shaped and all in one piece

I served my valentino with two kinds of ice cream:  homemade chocolate butter almond, which I have been dying to try to replicate since I first tasted it circa 1986, and, in keeping with the childhood memories theme, Ovaltine ice cream, which came out malty, salty, and good.



Everyone loved this cake, and the ice cream was a perfect pairing. Having baked two, I think the cake comes out a little less sweet than whatever choclate is used, so the darker stuff is a bit of a risk if you don’t love it. I definitely still want to try it with bacon chocolate, and the ice cream maker I found ($24.99 Big Lots kismet, I like to call it) is already being used in almost weekly ice cream experiments. Help me.

Thanks again to the Daring Bakers for the opportunity to participate in this great group, and special thanks to Wendy at wmpesblog and Dharm at Dad – Baker and Chef for hosting this month’s Daring Bakers Challenge.

* Yes, I see the irony of serving my fancy friends candy bar and Ovaltine based desserts. They loved them.

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time:  20 minutes
16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Green Chicken Chili

February 22, 2009

Hearty, but still light and fresh tasting Green Chicken Chili

Hearty, but still light and fresh tasting Green Chicken Chili

Green Chicken Chili

2 T olive oil (divided)
1 bunch kale, stems removed, and chopped
1 1/2 t cumin, divided
1/2 c white wine, divided
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb dark and white meat chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
1 t coriander
4 tomatillos, diced
1 can diced green chiles
1 small jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped
1/2 c fresh cilantro, chopped, plus some for garnish
juice of one half lime
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 salt
1 15 oz can cannellini, drained and rinsed
1/3 c fresh or frozen white corn

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat in a medium skillet. Add chopped kale and 1/2 teaspoon cumin, and saute for 3-5 minutes until dark green and wilted. Add 1/4 cup white wine, cover, and turn heat to low.

2. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. In a medium stockpot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for one more minute. Add chicken pieces, coriander, and one teaspoon cumin, and saute for 4-5 minutes, stirring often, until chicken is cooked most of the way through. Add tomatillos, green chiles, jalapenos, cilantro, and lime juice and cook for 3-4 minutes, until tomatillos start to break down.

3. Add remaining 1/4 cup white wine, chicken stock, sauteed kale, salt, and cannellini; turn heat to low and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until slightly thickened and kale is tender.

4. Just before serving, add corn and cook for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, top with shredded monterey jack cheese, sour cream or creme fraiche, and tortilla chips. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Serves 4.


February 22, 2009

Perfect, beautiful tulips

Perfect, beautiful tulips

I think I might finally be learning that imperfect doen’t mean less beauty, just different beauty.

No less beautiful, just different beautifyl