Monday, September 27, 2010

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

As my devoted followers know, I love gnocchi. Usually I satisfy that love by buying dried, vacuum packed gnocchi (because fresh is too $$$) or by ordering at restaurants. However, for a long time I've been wanting to make gnocchi.

Bucket lists are popular these days. I don't have a bucket list, but in the back of mind I have a long list of things I would like to do someday. A lot of those things are food related---make my own pasta, take a real cooking class, make to-die-for-Almond Rolls, and eat at Uchi (or Uchiko). Some things, I've already done like making rustic Italian bread (didn't love those results and haven't had the desire to try again...), making buckeyes, making my own mayonnaise, and making a whole bunch of cookies for Christmastime. Making gnocchi was also on the list.

We loved this gnocchi (which J called Humpty Dumpty). Curtis and M normally don't like gnocchi, but they thought it was fabulous. In fact, M told me "Mommy, I can't believe you made this because it looks so good, but I saw you. I thought it came from the best bakery in the whole world." (Five year olds occasionally get food sources confused). We easily polished off a whole batch.

A couple of recipe notes: 1) This recipe takes a lot longer to make than it looks like due to dropping the gnocchi in the water. The recipe suggests doing this via a pastry bag. That works great, it doesn't give you the characteristic gnocchi ridges and looks more like a very rustic gnocchi. Your hands will also get sore from squeezing the gnocchi through the bag. Give yourself a good half hour to squeeze and cook all the gnocchi. 2) The cream sauce was an epic fail, but didn't drive me to laying on the floor and crying (like in Julie/Julia which Curtis and I watched over the weekend). I used sour heavy cream and mascarpone that had grown mold, which I scraped off. Since I knew I was throwing out the ingredients anyway, I thought I'd give it whir, just in case. Didn't work and we ended up using store bought pasta sauce we had left in my fridge from when my mother-in-law came to our house and made supper. 3) I didn't have a potato ricer and wasn't ready to go buy one. After much searching through the kitchen, I decided to try the food mill attachment for my Kitchenaid that I use for making applesauce. It worked perfectly!

This serves 4 - 6, depending on how much people eat.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
from the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission
4 medium-size sweet potatoes
1 medium-size russet potato
2 c flour
1 egg, beaten
pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Mascarpone Cream Sauce
4 shallots or 1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 T sugar
1 c heavy cream
1/2 c stock or water
4 oz mascarpone cheese
1 bunch sage, finely chopped

Roast sweet potatoes in preheated 300 degrees oven for 1 hour or until tender (could also grill, I suppose). Peel and keep warm. Meanwhile, peel and cut the russet potato into chunks. Cook in boiling water until potato is tender. Cut sweet potatoes into chunks. Put all potatoes (sweet and russet) through a potato ricer or food mill. Stir in flour, egg, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Turn mixture out onto lightly floured counter and knead briefly to help mixture hold together. Divide into two balls. Bring water to boil in a large pot. Put one ball of sweet potato mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" diameter tip (I used the base piece for the other tips and nothing else). Squeeze pastry tube over boiling water, cutting mixture with kitchen sheers at 1/2 - 1" intervals (I did closer to 1"). Cook in boiling water until dough floats to the surface. Remove with slotted spoon, put gnocchi in a colander to drain and keep warm until all gnocchi is cooked. Repeat until all dough is used.
For the sauce: In a saucepan, heat the shallots (onions), garlic, sugar, cream and stock. Add the cheese and sage and heat until cheese melts and is smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Combine gnocchi with sauce and serve.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Almond Rolls

My former favorite bakery in town (former for a variety of reasons, including change of staff and consistent removal of my favorite pastries from their pastry case, never to be seen again) used to make bear claws. These were divine things, filled with just the right amount of almond paste, and if I got to the restaurant at just the right time in the morning, they would be still warm. Sigh. I miss those bear claws. I dream about those bear claws. However, they are no more.

I immediately bookmarked the page then when I found on a recipe for Almond Rolls. Could they be similar? Warm almond paste inside a pastry? I took the plunge and attempted the slightly complex (mostly because of the series of steps that involved lots of waiting) recipe. There were good pictures to accompany it and I was happy with recipe until I got to the last step. Baking. The oven temp was listed (which was pretty easy to figure out anyway), but bake time wasn't. All it said was bake until golden. How long is that? 15 minutes? 20 minutes? Exactly how golden are we talking?

I searched the net and discovered something interesting about food blogs. Did you know people have their own food blogs that just copies and pastes the entire recipes without adding their two cents or hints? It is so blatant copying that they don't even bother to change the blurb preceding the recipe, that is copied as well. Now why would you do that? Most of them don't even source the original. From I what I figured, they never made it either because they don't explain why it looks like (from the pictures) that the cook added something to her almond paste to make it more spreadable and not so pasty or how long to bake the darn things for! My eyes were opened and I remained frustrated about the baking time.

I just experimented, I had two pans of almond rolls and the second pan was baked perfectly at 20 minutes. Fifteen minutes was definitely too short. I am including the recipe (and not just ranting), but will continue to tweak and edit this post as I get them to perfection (which they weren't, in my opinion, but everyone who tried them said they were wonderful. I think they were just being kind). When you make this recipe, keep in mind these puppies need to rest for at least 9 1/2 - 10 hours (including one overnight resting). I suggest making this as a weekend activity for Sunday breakfast. Start the dough Friday night, roll and fold Saturday, and shape and bake Sunday morning.

This yields 16 rolls. Be prepared to share!

Almond Rolls
adapted from

1 c cool water
2 1/2 t instant yeast (this is not active dry yeast--if you can't find any label instant, use rapid rise yeast)
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c sour cream
3 c bread flour
1 t kosher salt
1/2 c cold butter, cut into 12 pieces
1 (12.5) oz can almond filling (not marzipan, but almond filling, Solo brand is easy to find)
1 egg, beaten with a little water for an egg wash

In a medium bowl, mix water, yeast, sugar, and sour cream. Whisk to dissolve sugar and set aside. Put flour and salt into food processor. Drop butter into processor and pulse a few times (think pie dough or biscuits---you don't want to overmix the butter). Butter should be chick pea size, with variation to the large or small side ok. Transfer the flour mixture to the bowl with the yeast mixture. Gently fold the mixture with a rubber spatula to moisten all the flour, leaving chunks of butter intact. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, generously flour the work surface. Pat the dough into a rectangle and roll out to about 12 x 16": it doesn't have to be exact. The butter should still be chunky and clumpy. Fold the dough into thirds like a letter. Repeat the roll fold three times. Be sure to work quickly because the butter shouldn't melt or soften too much. End with the folded letter, fold it in half and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least an hour (or as long as the next day).

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and cut into two pieces. Return half of the dough to the fridge. Flatten a piece of dough and cut into into 8 pieces. Roll a piece into a 3 x 6" rectangle. Put a T of almond paste in the bottom half (I had to shape the almond paste in my hands with my fingers and then lay it on the dough--it didn't spread with an other utensil. I want to tweak this step of the recipe. I'll let you know as I do...). Roll the dough up and place seam-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicon mat. Repeat with remaining 7 pieces and then with the other piece of dough in the refrigerator. Once a pan is full, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes. Brush the rolls with the eggwash after the 30 minutes. Bake in a preheated 400 degrees oven from 20 minutes or until they are nicely browned. Let them cool and then eat (inside filling is much hotter than outside dough).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Slow Cooker Chicken Tagine

Mmm...butternut squash in a slow cooker with chicken and chick peas. Moroccan food made easy.

We enjoyed this and I was pleased to find a way to use butternut squash in a slow cooker. It was a nice stew and was great over couscous. The olives over top are optional--we put them on top the first time around, but not for the leftovers. M was a little hesitant about the squash, which was just fine with Little I who had all of his plus all of M's squash. M stuck to the chicken.

This is a great dump and cook slow cooker meal--which are my favorite kind. No sauting anything before hand--the only work is peeling and cutting the butternut squash into chunks.

This serves 6.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tagine
adapted from

1 (1 1/2 lb) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" - 1 1/2" chunks
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped or 1 c canned diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-oz) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 c chicken broth
1/3 c raisins
2 t coriander
2 t cumin
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
3 lbs (bone-in) chicken thighs, skins removed
10 oz couscous
1/2 c green olives, pitted (optional)

In a 6-qt slow cooker, combine squash, tomatoes, onion, garlic, beans, broth, and raisins. In a separate, small bowl, combine coriander, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Rub spice mixture all over chicken thighs. Place thighs on top of vegetable mixture. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.

About 10 minutes before serving, prepare couscous according to pkg directions. To serve, fluff couscous with fork. Stir olives into chicken mixture. Serve chicken mixture over couscous.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pasta alla Norma

Let me just start by saying I haven't touched my camera in two weeks except to take a picture of this dish. Enjoy this picture, it's the only I have of our food lately. :)

That said, I love eggplant. I never thought I would say that. However, eggplant in pasta sauce is just divine. It adds a nice texture and just a slight flavor. Sigh. I loved this dish and am wishing it was still around.

We all liked this pretty well. Curtis and I really enjoyed. Little I loved the eggplant in it. J and M were suspect about its presence. I gleamed some inspiration from Pasta with Robust Summer Sauce I made a couple of weekends ago (or has it been a month already?). The largest inspiration--anchovies. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I love anchovies. Anchovies got a bad rap sometime in the 70's/early 80's. Anchovies rock. They provide that last taste needed in dishes--umami. Give anchovies a chance sometime, like in the recipe for instance. They're not terribly expensive and they pack a lot of umpf! for just a small amount used.

Here it is: Pasta alla Norma alla Melani!

Pasta alla Norma
adapted from Gourmet

2 lg eggplants
olive oil
1 T dried oregano
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
large bunch of basil, leaves thinly sliced (roll up like a cigar and thinly slice into ribbons)
1 t white wine vinegar
2 anchovies, minced
28 oz (1 -28 oz can) diced tomatoes,
salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb spaghetti or other long, skinny pasta (I used cappellini)
grated Parmesan cheese

Cut the eggplants into 1/2" cubes (leaving the skin on). Add a little oil to a large skillet and heat. Fry the eggplant in batches, adding just enough oil to prevent the eggplant from sticking. You don't want the eggplant to bathe in oil to prevent them from getting oily tasting later. Fry into the eggplant are tender and starting to brown. Remove from pan and sprinkle with some oregano.

Return all eggplant to the pan, reduce the heat to medium and add a little more oil (as needed, to prevent sticking). Add the garlic and stir. Cook until garlic is fragrant, then add white wine vinegar, anchovies, and tomatoes (you can puree the tomatoes before adding if you wish, but I preferred chunky tomatoes). Simmer for 10 - 15 minutes, taste, and adjust seasonings. Add half the basil leaves (about 2 - 4 T).

Meanwhile, cook pasta. Reserve 1/2 c of cooking liquid, drain pasta, and return to cooking pot. Add the tomato sauce to the pasta pot and a little (2 - 4 T) of cooking water and toss together over low heat. Taste and adjust seasonings. To serve, sprinkle with remaining basil and Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chicken Gumbo

I want to like okra, I really do. I love how sliced okra looks--so pretty if you can ignore the slime dripping from each slice. All summer we've left our okra in the trade box or snuck it into friends' refrigerators. I decided a week or two again that it was time to use okra at least once this summer. Instead of going for the classic tomato/okra/hamburger skillet meal, I went for the other okra classic, gumbo.

See it turns out, that gumbo actually means okra. Countless gumbo recipes abound---some New Orleans' style others more African in style. I went for the New Orleans Style and found a recipe that could be made in a crockpot as well. Despite my original intentions, I didn't end up making this in a crockpot, but am including those directions because I just might make this recipe again sometime.

We all ate it. I wouldn't say anyone of us loved the entire dish. Curtis and I tolerated the okra. We tried to deny its existence in the meal. (Curtis informed me it would be much better without the okra. I told him in which case, it wouldn't be gumbo). M ate the chicken and shrimp out of it. J ate some of it. Little I picked at his, eating some of it, but it was hard to discern exactly what. I had it three days afterwards as leftovers and the okra started to grow on me. I'll make this again and we'll probably tolerate the okra again. Maybe, eventually, we just might like this dish--all parts of it.

This serves 6 - 8 if served over rice.

Chicken Gumbo
adapted from

4 T canola oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs), cut into 1" pieces
4 T unbleached flour
1 c onion, diced
1 c green pepper, diced
1/2 c celery, diced
2 c fresh okra, sliced
2 c chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 (28-oz) can diced tomatoes
1 lb cooked chicken sausage, sliced into 1/2" rounds
1 lb large shrimp, peeled (you could use significantly less--I used more for M's sake)

Brown the chicken seasoned with salt and pepper in 1 T oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside. Add remaining 3 T oil to skillet and heat until hot. Add floor and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown 3 - 4 minutes. It should be about the color of peanut butter. Add the onion, green pepper, celery, and okra.

For a slow cooker: Cook onion, etc for 2 minutes or until the vegetables start to wilt. Add the chicken broth and stir until smooth and incorporated. Transfer mixture very carefully (to not burn yourself) into slow cooker. Add the okra, bay leaves, tomatoes, and browned chicken along with any juices left in bowl. Cover and cook on low for 7 - 8 hours. Thirty minutes before serving, add the sausage and turn cooker to high. Add the shrimp 5 minutes before serving. Serve over cooked rice with plenty of Tabasco.

For stove top: Carefully stir in chicken broth to onion mixture. Return chicken and any juices to the pan. Add chicken sausage, bay leaves, and tomatoes. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook another 5 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked. Serve over rice with plenty of Tabasco.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pasta Aglio e Olio

I've been having a hard time coming up with a week's menu lately. I'm not quite sure why. Periodically this happens though. I feel like cooking nothing and am very uninspired. Last week, this was the case. To illustrate the severity of this, let me tell you about our Labor Day weekend meals. Of the 6 meals we ate (3 lunches and 3 suppers--breakfasts aren't included), 4 of those meals consisted of sandwiches of some sort---salami and cheddar, almond butter and jelly, or roasted eggplant and arugula. Another meal, Curtis cooked steaks and sweet potatoes on The Egg. Yet another, we went to someone else's house for a cookout. That sums it up. I arugula and stone fruit salad and sweet potato biscuits and that was it for 6 meals. Sad, I know.

Now that that confession is out of the way, you understand when I said I've been uninspired. I was pleased to find this recipe that used locally sourced ingredients---Texas extra virgin olive oil and basil and garlic from our CSA (I could have splurged on locally made pasta, but didn't, story of my week). This was the best version of this recipe I've found. Simple, yet very delicious. So much so, that the usual 1/2 lb of pasta I made for our family didn't go nearly far enough.

A full recipe will probably serve 4 - 5 people.

Pasta Aglio e Olio
adapted from Whole Foods

1 lb spaghetti or other long thin pasta (we used linguini)
5 T extra virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 c fresh parsley or basil, chopped
1/2 c grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/3 c of pasta cooking water, then drain well.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic begins to lightly brown. Watch carefully so garlic does not burn. Add the cooked pasta and reserved pasta water to the garlic and oil. Add all but 1 T of the basil, half of the cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and toss well. Transfer to serving bowl and top with remaining basil and cheese. Serve immediately.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Persimmon Bread

For the past couple of years, I've been seeing persimmons at the Farmer's Market. There was an article about persimmons in the current issue of Edible Austin as well. I took the plunge this year and bought a small box of persimmons last weekend.

I learned several things.
1. There are two common types of persimmons: Fuyu and Hachiya.
2. You use these two persimmons very differently.
3. Fuyus are commonly eaten while they are still hard (crisp) and often in salads or wrapped in meat.
4. Hachiyas are not eaten until they are very soft and mushy. They are usually baked. The most common recipe is some form of bread pudding.
5. If you add bourbon to a recipe, it pretty much hides the fact that you used the wrong kind of persimmons (especially if you were sure to use very soft and mushy fuyu persimmons that were beginning to smell a tad bit fermented).

I used a James Beard recipe for persimmon bread to use my very overly ripe Fuyu persimmons. It contained bourbon, which I just happen to have on hand because I am getting ready to make my own vanilla extract (thanks to my cousin who gave us homemade extract last year for Christmas). If you don't have bourbon or would rather not use alcohol in your baking, you can substitute orange juice (which I probably will do next time).

The verdict? Curtis and I thought it was pretty good. M was adamant that she didn't like it. J ate an entire piece and then decided he didn't like it. Fine with us. It makes a great breakfast bread.

This makes 1 9" loaf

Persimmon Bread
adapted from David Lebowitz who adapted it from James Beard

1 3/4 c flour
3/4 t salt
1 t baking soda
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg (or 1/2 t regular ground nutmeg)
1 to 1 1/4 c sugar
1/2 c melted butter, cooled to room temperature
2 lg eggs
1/3 c bourbon, cognac, whiskey, or orange juice
1 c persimmon puree (I peeled the persimmons and pushed them through a mesh sieve, discarding seeds in the center)
1 c pecans (or walnuts), chopped
1 c raisins or other diced dried fruits

Whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, and sugar. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients, then stir in butter, eggs, liquor or orange juice, and persimmon puree. Add the nuts and raisins and stir until just combined. Pour into a greased and floured 9" bread pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 1 hour to 1 1/4 hours, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

New Eggplant Recipes

Are you needing new eggplant recipes? I haven't made many new recipes this summer, instead going back to a lot I discovered last summer and have already posted here.

However, NPR had a piece on eggplant this week with several new eggplant recipes. I may even be encouraged to try one or two these, they looked so good like Imam Bayildi and the Caponata recipe (it looks considerably less oily than mine which is my main complaint about my caponata recipe).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rosemary Chicken

I have a confession. I made this recipe about a month ago. I don't remember much about it other than it made my list of recipes to add. Sigh. Without any further ado, here is Rosemary Chicken from Saveur's Greek Issue (August/September 2010). I am sure we all liked it, because we can't go wrong with chicken in our house.

Rosemary Chicken
from Saveur Magazine

4 whole chicken leg quarters (or a combination of leg quarters and breasts)
1/2 c flour
1/4 c olive oil
1 c white wine
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 c water
juice of 1 lemon

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Put flour on plate and dredge each piece of chicken through the flour to coat, shaking off excess. Heat oil in 12" oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, turning once, until browned. Add wine, rosemary, and bay leaves. Return pan to heat and cook until wine reduces by half, about 2 minutes. Add water and brin gto a boil. Cover skillet and transfer carefully to a preheated 425 degree oven. Cook until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes. Uncover and let chicken skin crisp, 5 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in lemon juice. Serve with pan sauce.