Thursday, July 30, 2009

Return to Gnocchi: The Continuing Search for Pillowy Dumplings

Those of you who have been following my efforts to make gnocchi know that my last attempt at reaching gnocchi nirvana was more like gnocchi meets scrambled eggs. Not that I don't like something that resembles a cheese omelette but not exactly what I had in mind. So, here we go again, this time with pictures to document the attempt.

And this time, we got it right! Soft, melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi!

Microwave 1/2 gallon of whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized!) for 15 minutes.
If there is evidence of boiling, remove skin from the top. It will easily stick to a spoon. Don't try to get it all.
Pour in 1/3 cup vinegar, in this case cider vinegar. Note, the color of the vinegar will affect the color of the curds. It will start to curdle. These pictures are after about 15 minutes.
Let it sit to curdle. If after an hour or so, the whey is still white like milk, give it a stir to redistribute the vinegar and another 3 minutes in the microwave to bring it back up to temperature. Do not microwave too long at this stage or your cheese may become rubbery.
It is ready for the next step when it is cool enough to handle and the whey looks like chicken broth.
For draining, I use a screen strainer in a collander in a bowl. I don't do this directly over the sink because I don't want to risk losing the cheese.
Periodically tilt the bowl over the sink to get rid of the whey. Save the whey if you have a use for it.
Tilt the strainer, holding the cheese with a spoon to get all the separated whey out. In the past, I used muslin instead of the screen strainer and wrung the ball of cheese out. This made it too dry and rubbery. Your cheese should resemble ricotta.
Transfer the cheese to a dry bowl and stir about 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 egg.
Sift and stir in 1 cup of flour about one quarter at a time.
The dough you will end up with is quite sticky.
To form the gnocchi, use two teaspoons, a bowl of sifted flour, and something to make grooves in the gnocchi. I use the back of a tile. Even poking your thumb in a gnocchi will give it someplace for sauce to cling so don't let shaping them intimidate you.
Drop dough by spoonful into the flour and sweep flour on top of it. Then shake off the excess flour and roll into a rough ball. This picture shows, among other things how hard it is to take a picture with one hand!
Flatten the resulting ball on your grooved surface. Then lift it on one edge to roll it off the grooves.
Gently pick up the gnocchi by its ends and they will flatten as you transfer the gnocchi to a lined cookie sheet.
When the gnocchi are frozen they can be moved to plastic bags or other storage container. Keep the gnocchi frozen until you are ready to cook them.
To cook the gnocchi, place them in gently boiling water and when they float move them to the sauce of your choice. Allow the gnocchi to continue to cook in the sauce for another 3-5 minutes. Here, the gnocchi are shown in homemade pesto with mushrooms, summer squash, a minced shallot, and flat-leaf parsley.

Gnocchi on FoodistaQuark Cheese on Foodista

Tweaking the Easiest Hamburger Meal

After many years of making pan-cooked hamburgers that were dry, hard on the outside, too raw in the middle, I am so happy to discover oven grilled hamburgers! The first time I tried them the result was exactly medium burgers, no pink but still juicy. This time I aimed for the rare side of medium with just a blush of pink. Nailed it.

  • Place ridged grill pan in oven and preheat to 450°
  • Lightly brush hot grill pan with oil to prevent sticking
  • Place 3/4 inch thick burgers on pan and return to oven for ten minutes
  • Flip burgers and return to oven for another 6 minutes
In the same time it takes to roast the burgers, you can roast some vegetables. Here's what we had as our side dish:

  • Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • Mushrooms, stems trimmed and halved if largish -- make them about the size of the sprout halves
  • Dried herb mix, salt & pepper, e.g. McCormick Italian Seasoning, ground sea salt, and Alessi Lemon Pepper.
  • Olive oil
  1. Place trimmed and halved veggies in a single layer on a broiling pan, roasting pan, or cookie sheet with sides.
  2. "Droozle" a bit of olive oil over the veggies
  3. Sprinkle on the herbs, salt & pepper
  4. Stir to coat the veggies and the bottom of the pan -- I use my hands for this
  5. Roast in a pre-heated 450° oven 10 minutes
  6. Stir and roast another 6 minutes
This make such an easy supper!! In thirty minutes or less,
  1. Turn the oven on and put the grill pan in.
  2. Prepare the veggies.
  3. When the oven is at temperature, put the veggies in, brush oil on the hot grill pan and add the burgers
  4. Leave alone in the oven for 10 minutes
  5. Flip the burgers & stir the veggies
  6. Leave alone in the oven for 6 minutes
  7. Supper!!
What could be simpler?

Hamburgers on Foodista

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken by Laura Schenone

This is the first of a series of postings describing books with food as a central theme. Foodie reading is a special treat. The ads for the new movie, "Julie & Julia," remind me how much I enjoyed Julia Child's posthumously published My Life in France, which I will blog about another day.

I often have a foodie non-fiction book in the car for those times when a little reading is in order. Time spent waiting for doctors is dramatically shortened by escaping into tales from the "Kitchen Sisters" about hidden kitchens. China and Glass in America, 1880-1980, which was published to complement the Dallas Museum of Art exhibit "Table Top to TV Tray," is a coffee table book too big to read in bed but great for short stints in a comfortable chair.

I recently finished reading The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken by Laura Schenone. Part an investigation into the making of authentic Genoese ravioli, part travelogue, part self-reflection, it's a wonderful book. I enjoyed it so much I'm now reading her A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove. She's made a YouTube video that demonstrates the making of the ravioli. Watch it to bring life the rhythm of rolling the pasta and the sound of the dough slapping the table.

Full citation: Laura Schenone. The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: a Search for Food and Family. 1st ed. (New York: Norton, 2008) 343 p. ISBN10: 0393061469 ISBN13: 9780393061468

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hamburgers & Sweet Potato "Fries" in the Oven

Here's a meal that takes very little prep time and only thirty minutes in the oven. Burgers and fries are not exactly "good for you" but letting the burgers grill up out of the grease and making sweet potato fries in the oven is a healthier version.

I used Za'atar to flavor the fries. Za'atar is a variable mixture of herbs, often with thyme as a base, used in Middle-Eastern cooking. I've spoken before about buying spices while on vacation. I got this bag of Za'atar at a Lebanese grocery store while visiting friends in Los Angeles.

  • Sweet potato
  • Ground beef shaped into hamburgers about 1 inch thick
  • Za'atar or other herb mix for the potatoes
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
Determine amounts by how many servings you want. For two servings I used one large sweet potato and two four-ounce burgers.

  1. Place an iron grill pan in the oven if you have one (If you don't have an iron grill pan, forego preheating the pan and use a broiling pan with a rack.)
  2. Turn on the oven and preheat to 400°
  3. Peeled the sweet potato and cut into french-fry shaped pieces about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick
  4. Toss the sweet potato in olive oil to coat.
  5. Toss the coated potatoes with Za'atar and salt to taste
  6. Place the potatoes in a single layer on a baking pan
  7. When the oven is up to heat, cook the potatoes for 10 minutes
  8. By this time your grill pan should be very hot. Use a barbecue brush to "paint" the grill pan (or rack) with olive oil to prevent sticking.
  9. Place the hamburger on the oiled grill pan or rack and cook in the oven for 10 minutes.
  10. Flip the burgers and the potatoes.
  11. Cook another 10 minutes (30 minutes total for the potatoes, 20 minutes for the burgers)
It this point, the burgers will be medium well-done and the potatoes will be soft and slightly carmelized. We put some honey dill mustard on the burgers. Yum.

Hamburgers on Foodista

Sweet Potato Fries on Foodista

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Haddock & New Potato Casserole with Pesto

On teaching nights, Bill comes through the door just as I am setting up the web cam and logging in for live sessions with the students. The simplest suppers for these nights involved me hollering toward the front hall as he arrives, "Nuke some hot dogs and a bag of veggies."

I'm ever on the hunt for suppers that I can prepare ahead of time so he can grab his helping while I'm explaining the bibliographic universe. My helping will be sitting somewhere ready to warm up when I come stumbling offline. Hardest has been figuring out ways to get fish (other than canned tuna and salmon) into teaching night rotation.

Last night's effort worked out pretty well. It was a firm, warm casserole wherein the haddock was mild and tasty. I do love a good Maritimes sea food chowder so I started with fish, potatoes, and evaporated milk.

Ingredients for two large servings:
  • 2 servings partially thawed haddock loins or other strong fish
  • 1 medium onion, a sweet Vidalia works well here
  • 2 small servings new potatoes
  • 1 can fat free evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup jarred pesto
  • salt and lemon pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Use a "big half" of the pesto to grease the inside of a shallow baking dish
  3. Add the bread crumbs to the greased dish and shake to coat the sides, spreading the excess bread crumbs to cover the bottom with a shallow layer of bread crumbs and pesto.
  4. Slice the partially thawed fish into 1/2 inch thick pieces and layer on top of the bread crumbs.
  5. Sprinkle with salt and lemon pepper.
  6. Cut in half and thinly slice the onion. Layer it on top of the fish.
  7. Thinly slice the new potatoes. Layer these on top of the onions.
  8. Gently pour in the evaporated milk.
  9. Using a brush or your fingers, coat the potato slices with the remaining pesto.
  10. Bake about 1 hour or until the potatoes are done.
The evaporated milk, with the help of the bread crumbs, turns in to a kind of custard. The fish is very mild. The onions are soft. And the potato slices are are a wonderful topping.

I told Bill what time to turn off the oven. He ate while I bellowed to my unseen online students. My serving was sitting in the still warm oven when I finished class ready to be vacuumed off the plate. Yummy.

Tonight is not a teaching night. I think it's a good time for hamburgers and other food that requires attention.

Haddock on Foodista

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Chasing Fluffy Gnocchi

Each batch of gnocchi comes out looking a bit better and they really don't take very long to make, even making cheese from scratch. And with each batch of cheese I make, even that becomes easier.

Oh, drat. We just ate them. They disintegrated a bit in the water and then they felt grainy like an overcooked scrambled egg. Blech.

Today's variation on the hunt for the fluffiest gnocchi tries to use absolutely as little flour as possible, partly because I am going to share these with a friend who is a carb phobe and partly because I'm guessing that the less flour in them the fluffier they will be.

I use the grooved back of a ceramic tile for getting the grooves on the gnocchi. My father bought the tiles many years ago as pizza stones in the oven. Anything with grooves will do.

So, from start to finish, here 'tis.

  • 1/2 gallon skim milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 egg (and a 2nd egg if needed)
  • 1 oz. finely grated parmesan
  • salt, white pepper & freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup flour (most of this will be discarded at end)
  1. Pour the milk into a large microwaveable container
  2. Microwave the milk on high for about 15 minutes until it is very hot but not boiling over
  3. Pour the vinegar into the milk and let sit 30 minutes
  4. Reheat in the microwave on high for another 5 minutes
  5. Let sit another 30 minutes or until cool enough to handle -- at this point the milk should have separated into curds and whey
  6. Pour the mixture into a colander lined with muslin or a few layers of cheese cloth and let drain.
  7. Wring the cheese in the cloth until it is quite dry.
  8. Whir the homemade cheese, parmesan, egg and seasonings in the food processor. If the mixture remains in crumbs, add a second egg. The mixture should be stiff enough to leave the sides of the blender and form a lump.
  9. Sift the flour into a small bowl for rolling the gnocchi.
  10. Spoon up enough dough to make a 3/4 inch ball and drop it into the flour.
  11. Roll the dough in the palms of your hand to make a ball, shaking off the excess flour.
  12. Place the ball of dough on your grooved instrument (tile, fork, etc.) and flatten the ball a bit.
  13. The gnoccho should now be shaped somewhat like a raw cookie that has been flatted with a fork, flat side up. Pick up one edge of it and roll it on itself.
  14. Place each gnoccho on a lined cookie sheet and freeze.
  15. When the gnocchi are completely frozen, move them to a plastic bag.
To cook the gnocchi, boil them in plenty of water just until they float. Then place them in the sauce of your choice and let them finish cooking a little in the sauce.

This batch made 28 medium large gnocchi. If you use low fat or whole milk you will have more cheese and therefore more gnocchi.

I will let you know when we eat this if we've finally accomplished the ethereally light gnocchi I've read about but never really experienced, truth be told ...

In a word, NO.

Gnocchi on Foodista

Mashed Cauliflower: Soft White Food but Healthy

I love soft white food. Grits with butter and cheese. Mashed potatoes made with cream and topped with butter. Fettucini alfredo. Creme brulee. The list goes on. But I do attempt to keep my circumference less than my height so healthier soft white food is welcome, too.

Mashed cauliflower and light Laughing Cow cheese wedges (any flavor) come to the rescue. A whole head of cauliflower only has about 100 calories, depending on size. Three Laughing Cow light wedges have only have 35 calories each. A quarter cup of skim milk is only about 20 calories. With a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg these make a large bowl of yummy creaminess with about 225 calories in the whole bowl! If, like me, you like a touch of sweetness in your veggies, add about a teaspoon of brown sugar. A rounded teaspoon of brown sugar only adds about 20 calories.

  • 1 head cauliflower, green leaves and central stem removed
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3 wedges light Laughing Cow cheese
  • salt, pepper & nutmeg to taste
  • optionally 1 rounded teaspoon brown sugar
  1. Roughly chop the cauliflower and place in a microwave-safe bowl
  2. Sprinkle a little bit of water on the cauliflower to provide some steam
  3. Cover and microwave until soft, approximately 5-6 minutes
  4. Add the milk and cheese and mash or whir with a stick blender.
  5. Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg & sugar (if desired) to taste.
  6. If necessary, heat briefly in the microwave to bring back to serving temperature.
Bill and I find we can polish off a whole head of cauliflower between us served this way. The other night, the cauliflower accompanied some salmon patties.

Cauliflower on Foodista

Friday, July 17, 2009

Good Neighbors Make Good Pesto

I live in a row of town houses where the sun shines brightly on the front steps all afternoon. My next door neighbor is much better about watering plants than I am so she raises a crop of basil out front each summer. She doesn't cook much. I make the pesto and keep us both supplied. It's a great partnership.

Traditionally, pesto is basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, and olive oil. I also add a little salt and pepper. This works out okay for frozen basil but I'm not sure what effect the salt would have on pesto stored at refrigerator temps.

Thanks to adventurous chefs, the definition of pesto has expanded to include many variations on the theme. Right now my freezer has both traditional pesto and a spinach/parsley variation.

I also use pesto in a tube when I just need a small squit. My refrigerator door usually has a partially squeezed tube of Amore Pesto Paste (and a variety of other Amore tubes). I used to have to hunt for it but now it's easy to find in grocery stores. When fresh pesto isn't around, Classico jarred pesto works well, too.

But no pre-packaged pesto compares to home made fresh pesto. Frozen home made pesto stays bright in flavor and color for a few months if well packed.

Ingredients (Measurements for pesto are all "to taste":
  • Fresh basil leaves -- freshly picked is noticeably better than produce section basil.
  • Pine nuts
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Several cloves of garlic
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground sea salt & black pepper (optional)
  1. Cut the parmesan in cubes and then whir in the food processor until evenly cut into small granules of cheese. Place the cheese in a bowl large enough to hold all the pesto.
  2. Wash the basil well and keep only the fresh, bright leaves.
  3. Smash and peel the garlic cloves, removing the hard ends if needed.
  4. Whir the basil, garlic cloves and pine nuts in the food processor with just enough oil to keep things moving. You may need to do this in batches.
  5. Add this slurry to the cheese and mix well, adding olive oil as needed to make a wet paste.
  6. Add salt and pepper if desired.
  7. Divide the pesto into meal-sized portions to freeze and store.
There are a variety of freezing/storage options. You can make pesto cubes in ice cube trays and then wrap each cube and store in plastic bags. You can use small disposable plastic food storage containers. My latest method involves small (bathroom sized) disposable plastic cups and clear plastic wrap. The advantage of these small cups is that a small amount of hot water on the outside and the pesto slips right out into the pan for cooking. The lidded plastic cups restaurants use for dressing would be great.

Try these variations for pesto (olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper are a constant):
  • baby spinach, flat leaf parsley, romano, and nutmeg (no nuts)
  • cilantro, a hard Spanish cheese like manchego, and pine nuts
  • Curly parsley, parmesan, and walnuts
Home made gnocchi tossed in home made pesto. Ahhhhh.

A produce guy told me the local commercial farmer's market sells basil to restaurants by the pound year round. I'm thinking this will need investigation when the front porch crop runs out.

Pesto on Foodista

Friday, July 10, 2009

Kneadless Pasta!!!

I had a hankering for some fresh pasta but really didn't want to haul out the Kitchen Aid and didn't feel like hand kneading, so a quick search found a wonderful solution on The Second Pancake. What a great blog!

Their recipe involves just few pulses of the food processor and gathering the resulting particles of dough into a ball!

We're going to have fresh pasta more often around here thanx to Tim and The Second Pancake -- as soon as I find the missing crank for my pasta roller!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Chinese Dumplings - Jiǎozi - Gyōza

A friend across the table had some pretty good looking potstickers on her plate the other day and this reminded me that we haven't had any Chinese dumplings in the freezer in a good long time. I had 1/2 a cabbage in the fridge and was headed to the grocery store anyway, so time to make gyoza!

Two fellow grad students, one from Taiwan, the other from Bangkok, taught me to make dumplings many years ago. We used to wait for very cold days so we could fill the back of a pick-up with trays of fresh dumplings to freeze. Like many filled dumplings from around the world, the filling is flexible. Lots of veggies not only add flavor but stretch the meat. We eat too much meat around here so this is not a bad idea.

Ingredients (amounts are flexible):
  • 1/2 head of green cabbage, or a full head of nappa or bok choy
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • a 2-inch knob of ginger root
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 pound ground pork (or chicken or turkey)
  • 2-4 Tbl. soy sauce
  • About 100 wonton skins (usually found in the vegetable case in the grocery store)
You can use fewer wonton skins and make meatballs of part of the mixture by rolling balls of it in bread crumbs and frying.

  1. Mince cabbage, green onions, cilantro, ginger root and garlic in batches in the food processor and dump in a large bowl.
  2. Mix the vegetable mix, ground meat and soy sauce with your hands until well blended.
  3. Place a spoonful of filling on each wonton skin and fold to seal.
  4. Freeze flat on lined cookie sheets.
Note that I am not going to explain in detail how to fold these. That's because I am terrible at it. I dip my fingers in a bowl of water and wet two adjacent edges of the wonton. Then I fold it in half to make a triangle, smushing the air out and sealing the edges as best I can. Not a pretty sight. But the shape does not affect the taste so no need to shy from making them.

You can use a variety of different methods to cook these. Steam them. Boil them in chicken broth for wonton soup. Steam and then saute for pot stickers. If you are feeling very naughty, deep fry them.

Pork Potstickers on Foodista

Merging Quark & Gnocchi in Search of the Ultimate Melt-in-Your-Mouth Dumplings

Now, tell the truth. How many of us have ever had gnocchi that truly melted in our mouths? I read of gnocchi that are "cloud-like pillows" and compare that vision to my tasty little dumplings. They're good ... but "cloud-like?" Hmmph. So I've been experimenting and I'm getting closer to gnocchi that truly melt in my mouth.

The closest I have come so far to "melt in my mouth" was a batch made with a balsamic vinegar/skim milk quark. I used the microwave to make the quark and rung it out until very dry. Then I used very little flour. They look like uncooked ginger snaps but they taste wonderful and do indeed melt in your mouth!

The next experiment was with whole milk quark soured with half rice vinegar and half lemon juice. Again, I used very little flour. The result is ever so slightly rubbery but not at all heavy.

So, the next gnocchi experiment will be with skim milk and white wine vinegar. I'm just guessing that it is the fat content in the milk that is causing the rubberiness.

Each batch took 1/2 gallon milk, about 2/3 cup acid, one egg, scant 1 cup sifted flour stirred in, and flour for dropping the pieces in to roll.

Since the dough is very wet, I don't use the "roll-a-rope" method. Instead, I drop the dough by the spoonful into the bowl of flour. Then I pick up the dollop and roll it into a ball. Finally, I shape it and place it on a lined cookie sheet to freeze.

Gnocchi on Foodista

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.