Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gnocchi like we had in Italy, step by step. And a video clip from our trip.


Greg and I recently traveled through Italy for three weeks. I ordered gnocchi half a dozen times. Five out of six times, what arrived at our table had clearly originated from a vacuum-packed, commercial gnocchi supplier...and with good reason. A batch of fresh gnocchi can take up to an hour to prepare.

At one point in our journey, we found ourselves in the charming and non-touristy town of Padova, AKA Padua, just outside of Venice (see video above - three weeks footage of our trip, and it took me almost a year to pots one clip!). After a long day of traveling in cold, drenching rain, we stumbled into a little inn that was a block from our hotel. Greg eagerly ordered the spicy clam linguini, and I hesitantly pointed to the gnocchi. The spicy linguini was the best we had on the trip (or ever since), and the gnocchi were amazing: sized like scallops and drenched in an artichoke puree, I felt like I was eating light, pillowy clouds. Commercial gnocchi are not exactly better or worse, they're just different. At least once, it's worth the time to try making gnocchi at home!

Recipe credit to Heidi at 101 Cookbooks

Photo credit to Greg, somewhere in Domestic Bliss (?) , CT


1. Slice two large russet potatoes. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook until a knife inserted in the center slides out easily. Alternately, bake the potatoes. Peel and let cool for a moment.


2. Push the potatoes through a ricer


3. Mound the potato shavings and make an indent in the center, in which you should place 1/2 to 1 well-beaten egg. Sift 3/4-1 cup flour on top.


4. Knead the dough lightly, adding extra sprinkles of flour as necessary (up to an additional 1/4 cup). The dough should not be sticky, but it should feel light, soft, and a little pillowy. Like Play-doh. If you can roll it into tubes without it sticking to the board, it's firm enough; feel free to add more flour to make it firmer.


5. Roll sections of dough into logs


6. Cut the logs to the desired size


7. Form the gnocchi. Drop into salted boiling water and cook until they float to the top. Gnocchi are best served with thin, clingy sauces (eg, herby pesto, a non-chunky marinara, brown butter and sage, or something creamy).

A note on how to form gnocchi: using a gnocchi board (picture), or the tines of a fork, lightly press the gnocchi to form ridges. Method (a), in the photo above, I used my index finger to create ridges on one half and smoosh the other side into a orochietti shape. Method (b), use the palm of your hand to quickly roll a segment of dough down the board. The dough turns into a tube (gemelli shape) , and this is how I made all of the gnocchi pictured at the top. Alternately, refrigerate large tubes (1" diam) and slice with a knife into scallop sized pieces.


Would you believe me if I said these gnocchi were too pillowy? These gnocchi were so soft that they lacked definite bite, and they didn't quite hold up to the quick red sauce I prepared. Slicing the gnocchi into large, scallop sized pieces about 1" around cured that problem. Alternately, and probably a better option, add a full egg (I only added half of one) and a little extra flour to create a firmer dough. This will make the gnocchi much easier to work with. Test a few pieces of gnocchi in boiling water as you go in order to find the right size gnocchi or amount of flour (this is really the only way to be sure you like the texture).

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tori's Drunk (on Pear Infused Vodka)



Tori, the dog, was drunk before noon this Saturday. It might be my fault.


Mmm, pear infused vodka. This turned out soo good...

See, lately I've been into flavored Vodka, and by "flavored" I don't mean Raspberry Stoli. I mean, flavors I choose. Thanks to my dad for passing this tip along to me: if you'd like to make an infused vodka, just pour cheap vodka into a sealable contained and toss in dried fruit, coffee beans, citrus peals, or whatever individual item strikes your fancy. Let it sit for a few days or weeks, and viola: your own, personal, preservative free Kahlua is on its way to completion.


The coffee-bean Vodka was so rapidly saturated with, err, coffee-beanyness, that it became opaque after only a few days. I tried getting a photo by holding the bottle up against a light source, and this is what I got. See the coffee beans all the way on the right?

I've used this technique to great success with dried pears. The shriveled up pears already have natural (or added?) sugar, and this sweetness rounds out the flavors of the infused vodka enough to have a sip-able or mixable concoction. Last night, I decided to churn up a Vanilla Pear Vodka ice cream (akin to Rum Raisin). Well, of course, the alcohol content was too high and the ice-cream was really more like cold-cream-not-iced, but after 3 hours in the freezer, it was semi solid enough to eat with a spoon. The flavor was excellent, though next time I'd lower the Vodka content and increase the pear content.


Thief. I might find it cuter if, in the last hour, she hadn't slurped up a bowl of soup, polished off our gnocchi leftovers, and gorged herself on a to-be-thrown-out macaroni casserole. Greg and I look forward to a sleepless night with multiple trips to the front yard...

It was Friday night and Greg and I had already devoured a hearty vegetable pot pie for dinner -- we didn't actually finish our boozey cream. We fell asleep, forgot about the cups sitting on the coffee table, and Tori found them the next morning. Needless to say, she was overly friendly for around 20 minutes before passing out for a nice Saturday morning nap. Boozehound.


This picture is from a while ago for another purpose. We used Gordon's Vodka for this recipe.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Soft Ginger Cookie-Land


I searched for a long time to find a soft ginger cookie that would match this Lemon Gelato Recipe. The recipe I finally found has many enviable merits:

  • Strong molasses /ginger flavor
  • Incredibly soft. In fact, in the week that it took us to eat all 40 of them (with friends! other people helped!), the cookies became softer every day; the ginger flavor intensified, too. This is the perfect cookie to make if you need something that won't go stale quickly. These would be fantastic care-package cookies.
  • You add boiling water to the dough. Why is this a merit? Because there's no "cutting of butter" or "mix just until incorporated" - these cookies couldn't turn out tough if you tried

CRW_6311 copy

With all these merits worth detailing, this cookie is not - a very unfortunate not - so great for you (not that cookies are healthy food, but I'd rather eat butter than hydrogenated oils any day). It calls for 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening which amounts to a very small amount of trans fat per serving (even if you get "Trans fat free" shortening, don't be fooled). Next time I make these, I'll substitute butter or oil and see if they still hold their texture.





Super Soft Ginger Cookies

Slight modification to Bon Appetit's Recipe

Makes ~40

I had the same difficulty that other bakers noted: these cookies are messy to make, since the dough is so soft. But do not despair! Rather than refrigerating for an hour, I would suggest several hours of chill time. I left mine in the fridge overnight and had little difficulty forming them out of damp hands. Lots of excess sugar helped create that mouth-watering crumbly top, and a push in the center helped keep the cookies thin and flat. I kept these cookies non-fussy by removing the extra spices.

  • 4 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup pure vegetable shortening
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
    Additional sugar


Add the flour, sugar and spices to a large bowl. Add molasses, shortening, and egg. Using electric mixer, beat until well blended. Beat in 1/2 cup boiling water. Chill dough 3-4 hour or overnight

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly moisten your hands and roll chilled dough by generous tablespoonfuls into balls. Roll in additional sugar to coat. Place dough balls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake until cookies are puffed and cracked on top and tester inserted into center comes out with some moist crumbs attached, about 12 minutes (do not overbake). Transfer cookies to racks and cool.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Luscious Lemon Gelato and a Control Fix


Do you really like it when the papers on your desk make right angles? Do you secretly smile when the tupperware containers stack exactly in the fridge with room left over? Does your heart skip a beat when the ingredients around you magically form mise en place?


You, my friend, may very well be just like me. You might be a closet control-freak. People wouldn't guess it, looking at me: hair generally awry, loose fitting clothes, dusty shoes and post it notes littering my workspace, forgotten appointments and misplaced keys... yes, I am messy, it is true. But I permit the mess in my life to exist in exchange for a a few moments of perfect order. Maybe what I really like the contrast of the two. Simplicity in the face of a chaotic day makes me smile.


Thus, there are the hectic evenings.  There are the rushed lasagnas, pa sta du jour's, and the let's-use-up-leftovers-now stews. These meals generally imply an excess of effort, complication, and hashed together attempts to balance out whatever random flavors might be sitting in my cupboard. This kind of utilitarian attitude towards cooking puts food on the table, but it doesn't relax me. Understanding the design of simple, flavorful recipes - that is what relaxes me. Those perfect recipes are the basic pleasure of cooking: pure, clean, singular flavors. Finding the simple essence of a thing is what feels healthy to me.


So this dessert might be 80% half and half and it might go well with ginger cookies that turn out to be a mess to prepare (recipe forthcoming), but it will make you feel good inside. Not only is this dessert guaranteed to taste amazing, but the recipe is as bare-bones as good cooking can get. If you're a closet control freak like me, you can make the counter spotless, arrange your ingredients in little bowls and set the whisk to the side of a heavy bottom saucepan. Then you can grin, because you know this one will taste spectacular.


No, it didn't last long.

Luscious Lemon Gelato

Slightly adapted from this Gourmet recipe

Makes ~4 cups - you can just as easily make a half batch, but why?


If you don't believe me, read the epicurious reviews: this Gelato is truly spectacular. It is just tart enough to make your mouth water, and its fresh sweetness will remind you of a perfect summer's day. The velvety cream will melt slowly in your mouth and you won't be able to stop yourself from reaching for more. It can't go wrong. Just heat the custard slowly to make sure it doesn't curdle. If you don't have an ice cream maker, try this granita style (freeze slowly on a cookie sheet, scraping with a fork every 20 minutes).


1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

The zest of four lemons*

1.5 cups sugar

1/4 tsp salt

6 egg yolks

4 cups half and half

1 tsp vanilla


In a solid saucier or soup pot, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, sugar, salt, egg yolks and 2 cups of half and half. Turn the heat to low or medium-low, and bring to a bare simmer, whisking often.  As soon as the mixture comes to a simmer, take the pot off the heat and let cool. Strain through a few layers of cheesecloth** and place in the refrigerator to chill for two hours or overnight.


Add the remaining two cups of cream and vanilla. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker, following the manufacture's direction. Let the gelato firm up for at least an hour or two in the freezer before serving (the flavor will improve as it sits)


*This should give you 1 cup lemon juice. Since you're zesting, find organic/unwaxed, if possible

**Based on Epicurious reviewer suggestions, I left the zest in the first time I made this. But Greg said it reminded of hair, so the next time I made it I included the straining step - I think it is better without the zest.


Monday, February 04, 2008

"She makes me soup"



Greg is sick, it's snowing outside, and that means soup. I came home from work in the middle of the day to make this, throwing everything together from what I had in the fridge. Because I had roasted some fennel on Sunday, the soup was done in 30 minutes.

There are two Matzoh Ball camps: dense Matzoh (my dad) and soft Matzoh (my brother). My dad rolls Matzoh balls around in his hands until they are perfectly spherical. Once simmered, these symmetric balls are dense or even chewy to the bite. Many people prefer them this way. My brother and I are of the soft camp. If you'd like to try them this way, just take a teaspoon and lightly scoop up some dough, then drop the dough into boiling water without any further manipulation. This method will yield a wonderfully spongelike Matzoh Ball that soaks up the soup flavoring. I wouldn't have them any other way.


This soup is fragrant, sweet, salty and filling. If you choose to make this with vegetable stock, this is a wonderful vegetarian alternative to chicken noodle. If you don't want to bother with fennel, substitute carrots sliced into 1/4" disks and skip the roasting step.


Matzoh Ball Soup with Fennel


1 large fennel

1 medium onion

4 cloves garlic

4 cups stock (vegetable or free-range chicken stock, or water would probably do fine)

2 cups water, optional

1/2 tsp each: celery salt, oregano, freshly ground black pepper

1 cup baby arugula or other green (eg, regular arugula, spinach, kale, or even cabbage) chopped to an edible size

Matzoh Ball Mix (or make your own)


Olive Oil

Salt to taste


The fennel may be prepared the day before. Preheat the oven to 350. Discard the fennel fronds and slice the bulb into 1/2" wide wedges. Scatter the wedges of fennel onto a nonstick cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Roast the fennel until soft throughout and brown on the edges (~30 minutes), stirring every 10 minutes or so.


Peel the onion and slice into 1/8" rings or half-moons. Peel the garlic and slice as thinly as possible. Add 1-2tbsp of olive oil to a heavy bottom soup pot and bring to medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and fennel. Saute until the onion until it is nicely browned, about 15 minutes.


Meanwhile, prepare the Matzoh Ball Mix as directed (generally this involves mixing the Matzoh powder with eggs and oil and chilling for 15 minutes).


When the onions are done, deglaze with the stock and add an additional two cups of water*. Add the seasonings. Simmer for about 5 minutes and salt to taste. How much salt this soup needs will depend on what kind of stock you used - add about a half teaspoon of salt to start, and add additional salt about 1/4 tsp at a time. Give the salt enough time to dissolve before adding more (a minute or so while simmering should do it).


Gently scoop teaspoons of Matzoh Ball Mix directly into the pot. Add the arugula, cover, and turn the heat to high. Allow the soup to boil for about 10 minutes. Simmer for another minute or two, adjusting the liquid level with water or seasoning with additional salt if desired. Enjoy.


*You may ommit this step for a thicker, stronger broth. I like my broth light.




Saturday, February 02, 2008

Eye-bee-thuh not Eye-bee-za

I want to tell you about a dinner we had. I don't have any pictures of it, I don't know exactly how it was made and I certainly won't be able to give you an entire ingredient list or link to a recipe. The dinner consisted of drinks and a few appetizers at a well-known local restaurant. I want to record it here so I never forget, so I can look back on this writing and drool, so that one day maybe I could try to make something like them myself.


Tuna Tartar - I don't even normally eat raw tuna. The tiny, perfectly sized cubes of tomato tricked me. Come to think of it, I don't even normally eat raw tomatoes! But where did the tuna stop and the tomato begin? You've got me. Their perfectly similar texture and shape was balanced by sweet tuna vs sharp tomato. With chopped fresh onion, bits of other unidentifiable goodness and perfectly simmered lentils on the side, this tuna tartar was delicious, creamy, and way more than the sum of its parts.

Seared Scallops with Corn Flour Tetilla - Seared scallops are always good, but what made this special was its side: a creamy, bechemel-ish cheese layer sandwiched between two grilled polenta-type slices. The dense texture and nutty flavor of the polenta contrasted with the creamy smoothness of who-knows-what-kind-of-tantilizing-cheese. The balance of flavor and texture was sublime.

Potato Tortilla - there are potato tortillas (oil+thinly sliced potatoes+oven) and then there's this. No I don't have a clue what was seasoning that oil but it might as well have been pure MSG. Bacon fat? Duck fat? Was it merely the Idiazabal cheese listed on the menu? I probably won't figure it out until I try it at least a few more times...

That's all folks. Oh, here's where you call for reservations.