Monday, June 22, 2009

Gnocchi is Quick to Make in Small Amounts

As I've continued trolling the web for gnocchi info, I've seen lots of recipes that talk about setting aside hours for making them. And yes, if you intend to stock your freezer with many meals worth it can take a good while, just like making lots of Christmas cookies. But if you keep the batch small, it is suitably quick for an after-work supper. Starting with just one large potato in the microwave is the trick. I started at 5 and we had sweet potato gnocchi sauced and on the plate in a leisurely hour and a half -- including sitting, cooling and cooking times.

Ingredients for the gnocchi:
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and sliced
  • 1 egg
  • flour in about equal proportion to the amount of sweet potato when mashed
  • Salt, white pepper, and nutmeg (freshly ground)
Procedure (I do the first five steps all in the same bowl):
  1. Place the peeled and sliced sweet potato in a covered dish and microwave until mashable (approximately 6-8 minutes). Do not add water.
  2. Gently mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or hand masher. Use a potato ricer if you have one.
  3. Let the mashed potato cool enough so that it will not cook the egg (20 minutes or so).
  4. Add the egg, salt pepper and nutmeg and mix well with a fork. DO NOT use an electric mixer or a blender. The more you "beat up" the potatoes, the more flour they will need to form gnocchi.
  5. Using a sifter, start adding flour to the potato about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Use as little flour as possible to make a sticky ball that you can remove from the bowl.
  6. Divide the ball of dough in four and chill for 20-30 minutes to stiffen a bit.
  7. Remove a quarter of the dough and, using as little flour as possible, make 3/4 inch balls and shape each of these as desired. I roll them across the grooves on the bottom of an oven tile I use for cooking pizza. I've been known to "stamp" them with the tenderizing end of a meat hammer. Use your imagination. A simple thumb dent works, too.
  8. Place the gnocchi on a plate or cookie sheet leaving room between them. Either cook immediately or freeze.
Sweet potato gnocchi have a wonderfully mild taste with a hint of sweetness. One large sweet potato resulted in 50 good-sized gnocchi (4-6 servings depending on whether they are the main ingredient in supper).

To make sauced gnocchi for supper:
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and boil the gnocchi until they float.
  2. In a large pan with a cover, lightly saute chopped vegetables in olive oil.
  3. Add flavorings such a jarred pesto or tapenade, chopped garlic, etc.
  4. Finish the veggie sauce with a knob of butter if desired.
  5. Add the cooked gnocchi to the veggie sauce and stir.
  6. Cover and let simmer slowly for about 10 minutes to assure that the gnocchi lose their "flour taste."
  7. Serve with freshly grated cheese.
Last night it was sliced mushrooms, diced red pepper, and chopped baby romaine that was starting to wilt. Use whatever needs to be taken out of your veggie drawer. The cheese was Asiago. Yummy.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Kielbasa & Leeks in Mustard Cream

This tastes a good bit richer than it is while using skim milk and low-fat turkey kielbasa. Sometimes the low-fat sausages lack a bit of oomp. This recipe compensates for that by adding a creamy sauce. This isn't low fat but it's lower than it could be and not so rich as to be heavy.

This dish will vary greatly depending on your choice of mustard and starch. The combination of the onion-y sweetness of the leeks with a smooth honey mustard is yummy. We used some homemade potato gnocchi for the starch.

Ingredients (for two servings):
  • 2 servings of kielbasa, e.g. 1/2 a package of low fat turkey keilbasa, sliced into disks
  • 2 leaks, white & light green parts only, halved sliced and washed
  • 1-2 Tbl. butter or margarine
  • 1-2 Tbl. olive oil
  • 1-3 Tbl. mustard -- adjust according to the strength of the mustard
  • 1/4 cup (scant) milk
  • 1-2 oz. grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 servings starch (cooked gnocchi, potato, or pasta)
  1. Melt the butter or margarine and olive oil in a large skillet until sizzling.
  2. Sauté the leeks and kielbasa until the leeks are soft.
  3. Stir the mustard and milk into the leeks and kielbasa to make a sauce and cook to thicken.
  4. Stir in the cooked starch to coat with the sauce
  5. Gently stir in the grated cheese and serve.
That's it. From fridge to plate in only a few minutes.

Baked Leeks In Mustard Cream on Foodista

Friday, June 5, 2009

Quark is Not Just a Subatomic Particle

The FreeDictionary has two definitions for "quark." The first: "Any of a group of six elementary particles having electric charges of a magnitude one-third or two-thirds that of the electron, regarded as constituents of all hadrons." The second: "A soft creamy acid-cured cheese of central Europe made from whole milk." Guess which one I've been playing with!

Quark is simply milk heated, soured by acid, and wrung out. Quark spread on toast is to die for.

There are many sets of instructions for quark on the web and I've made two batches so far trying to develop quark-making skills.

First, you must get milk that is not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk has been heated to such a high temperature that the proteins in it will not form a curd. Local milk brands are less likely to be ultra-pasteurized than more widely distributed brands. The container should tell you whether the milk is pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized.

The acid can be anything. My first batch was made with a combination of lemon juice and rice vinegar. The second batch was all lemon juice. Acidity varies. If at first your mixture doesn't want to separate, heat it back up and add more acid.

It can be flavored with anything. The second batch made with all lemon juice was flavored with the lemons' zest. I'm looking forward to trying lots of other sweet or savory additions.

Equipment needed to make quark:
  • a heavy sauce pan for heating the milk
  • a spoon for stirring occasionally to prevent scalding and to break the skin that forms during heating.
  • a thermometer or a good sense of when the milk is 180°-190° Fahrenheit.
  • A sieve or collander with lined cheesecloth or muslin.
  • Something to catch the whey.
  • Something to wrap the cheese in (e.g. freezer paper, waxed paper, plastic wrap, etc.)
  • 1/2 gallon pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized milk)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup acid (e.g. lemon juice, vinegar, etc.)
  • salt (optional)
  • flavoring (optional)
  1. Heat milk slowly in a heavy saucepan to 180°-190° Fahrenheit. Try hard not to scald the milk on the bottom of the pan. If you do scald the milk, be careful not to scrape the bottom when you stir it.
  2. Remove from heat and add the acid, stirring once.
  3. Cover and let sit for an hour or more. By this point, the milk should have turned into a slurry of milk solids and clear liquid. If the liquid is still milky, add more acid and reheat.
  4. Strain the liquid through the cloth, catching the curds and discarding the whey. At this point you can add the salt if desired.
  5. As the draining slows, form a ball by gathering and twisting the edges of the cloth. The more you wring, the dryer and crumblier the cheese will be.
  6. Form the cheese into the desired shape, wrap and refrigerate.
That's all there is to it.

My first batch, which I had to reheat and add vinegar to when the juice of one lemon wasn't acidic enough, was smoother than my second batch. The second batch tasted wonderful being made all with lemon juice and having had the lemon zest added to the hot milk but I think I should have added just a touch of sugar to it as well. I am going to do another experiment to see if the second heating results in the smoother cheese. So far, I've only tried whole milk but some web sites say you can use low fat milk as well.

Imagine making a "vinegar batch," chopping up some oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes adding them before you shape the cheese. Serve this with some of the tomato oil drizzled over it as a spread for crackers. Yum.

Imprecise & Inexpensive

Two themes predominate in my approach to cooking. 1. Daily cooking of flavorful food need not be a precise art. 2. You can be an adventurous cook on a budget. Cooking and eating should be fun for both cookers and eaters.