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Resolutions & Ribs

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Waiting for new floors
Hello, hello, dear abandoned blog. I know. It’s been quite a while. In all honestly, we’ve been cooking A LOT in the last year. (Except for a few weeks this summer when there was a variety of living room furniture blocking the stove. See above photo.) I’ll have to admit, my biggest energy barrier to blogging is getting the photos online. I’ve also been having an identity crisis of sorts about what I want this food blog to be. Should it be healthy recipes? Easy recipes? Cheap recipes? Ridiculous baked goods? Do I want to include nutrition information or budgetary breakdowns? Who cares? What I really need to do is to talk myself out of this blogging existential crisis. But I’ve made a resolution – let’s do this thing once a week. We come up with some tasty stuff in our kitchen, and I need to document it for myself if no one else. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

New floors!

Oh, right! Food! I bet you came here for a recipe. Here’s another resolution for us: use the slow cooker. We made a super delicious slow cooker pork shoulder for a potluck over the holidays, and it made us remember the biggest time-saving tool in our kitchen arsenal. I’ve got a new friend who is a slow cooker genius, so I’m hoping to try a few of her recipes in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, let’s kick off 2012 with another slow cooker pork recipe – Asian pork ribs.

My only caveat with this recipe is that it only takes 5 hours on low in the slow cooker. I read these types of recipes and they make me instantly crabby because I can’t add everything to the crock at 8 a.m. only to revisit it after work. Luckily, everything can be mixed the night before and if you’re able to stop home at lunch to turn on the crock, they’ll be  ready when you walk in the door after work. Serve with rice and lightly steamed broccoli or a veggie of your liking.

Asian slow cooker ribs

Ingredients

4-5 lbs country pork ribs

1-2 small onions, cut into wedges

2/3 cup low sodium chicken broth or stock

1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce

1/2 Tbsp sesame oil

1 Tbsp black bean garlic sauce (Available in the Asian aisle or at an Asian grocery)

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp honey

1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger (can be grated with a Microplane but I got a ginger grater for Christmas and it’s pretty awesome for this task)

1 Tbsp garlic, finely minced or run through the garlic press

1 Tbsp cornstarch

red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Asian slow cooker ribs

Directions

Note: The marinade can be mixed the night before, but we didn’t pour over the ribs until just before turning on the slow cooker as to not over-marinate. We added the ribs & onions to the crock and put the sauce and the crock on the fridge overnight.

Yield: about 6 servings (with ~4.5 lbs package of ribs)

1. Cut the onions into large wedges. Layer the onions and ribs in the crock of the slow cooker. Add a few grinds of black pepper & red pepper flakes over the top of the ribs (there’s enough salt in the soy sauce and chicken stock that the ribs didn’t need any additional salt).

2. Mix the broth, soy sauce, black bean garlic sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, honey, grated ginger, garlic and cornstarch in a medium bowl and whisk briefly to combine.

3. When you’re ready to turn on the slow cooker, pour the marinade over the ribs and turn the slow cooker to low for 5-6 hours.

4. When the meat is tender and slightly falling off the bone, the ribs are ready to go. They can be removed from the slow cooker, and the sauce can be thickened slightly in a saucepan if you like. We didn’t take the time to do this, but I think the gingery sauce would have been delicious over rice!

Holiday Ice Cream Extravaganza, Part 1: Pumpkin

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pumpkin ice cream

A long time friend of mine, another Sarah in fact, asked me what became of my poor, neglected foodie blog the other day. I told her that I had recently stopped neglecting it and just posted a recipe for pumpkin muffins. “I’d like to see some dairy on your blog,” she said. “Cheesecake? Ice cream? I’m looking for inspiration,” I asked. Without hesitation, she replied, “Ice cream. Peppermint.”

Pumpkin ice cream

Of course, this is me we’re talking about, and anyone who knows me knows I can’t drive to South Dakota for Thanksgiving with just one flavor of ice cream in my cooler of dry ice. Especially when we’re quickly approaching the holidays and thoughts of pumpkin ice cream immediately started dancing in my head. Oh no, friends. We are going to do this up right. We are going to have ourselves a little Holiday Ice Cream Extravaganza.

Pumpkin ice cream

So I thought we’d ease into this Extravaganza with an ice cream I’ve made before, and my personal holiday favorite – pumpkin. I’m one of those nuts who has been snapping up every can of Libby’s she can find due to the sad, sad pumpkin shortage of the last few years. Now that we’re through those dark days, I suggest we celebrate with a bowl of something that is totally opposite of those silly healthy pumpkin muffins!

—–

Pumpkin Ice Cream

Adapted from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein

Makes approximately 1.5 quarts (~1.5 L)

Note: I have made this before, and I thought the resulting texture was a little…squashy. Other friends have reported that their pumpkin ice cream had no such texture issues. Maybe I’m just picky, but I do recommend pushing the pumpkin through a fine mesh sieve for ultra-smooth ice cream. However, it is a real pain in the butt, and you might try pushing it through in batches rather than the whole can at once.

(I also have some thoughts on the addition of cornstarch and corn syrup  in this recipe which I will discuss at great lengths in a later post. I KNOW YOU’RE SUPER EXCITED.)

Ingredients

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
5 large egg yolks
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger (if you try to use fresh it can curdle your cream)
8 oz (240 mL) half and half (or just mix your own – 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup heavy cream)
1 – 15 oz can of solid pack pumpkin
8 oz (240 mL) heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Special equipment: Fine mesh sieve (optional), ice bath, ice cream maker

Pumpkin ice cream
Ice cream is hard work.

 

Directions

0. Push the pumpkin through a fine mesh sieve. You will lose about an ounce of pumpkin in the process, but I think the texture of the ice cream is improved. A small lump of deep orange and very fibrous, very dry pumpkin will remain, as shown in the photo above.

1. Measure out your spices, separate your eggs, and pour the half and half (or cream/milk mixture) into a medium heavy saucepan. Pour the cream and vanilla into the final bowl set over the ice bath.

2. Heat the half and half over medium-low to medium heat, stirring occasionally. While the half and half is heating, whisk the egg yolks, brown sugar and corn syrup in a medium bowl, until the mixture lightens to a pale yellow. (I used a small hand mixer for this step because corn syrup is really difficult to whisk.) Whisk in the spices and cornstarch.

3. Once the half and half has been brought to a simmer, slowly add it to the egg mixture while continuously whisking (with an actual whisk this time). Pour the final custard mixture back into the saucepan.

4. Heat the custard mixture over medium heat until it thickens slightly or coats the back of a spoon. Do not allow to boil, or you will get scrambled eggs! (If you are paranoid about what this means in terms of SCIENCE, you’re aiming for coagulation, not curdling, and eggs have 2 different temperatures where these phases occur. You can use an instant read thermometer as a guide –  you’re shooting for 170-180°F/76-82°C. With practice, you will learn to see, hear, and feel when the custard is adequately thick.)

5. Remove custard from heat and whisk in pumpkin. Pour through another mesh sieve into the cream and vanilla mixture sitting on the ice bath to strain out any bits of egg that curdled, or skip this if you only have one mesh sieve like me. (Or try it with the pumpkiny sieve, only to discover that the sieve is crammed with pumpkin bits and nothing is going to strain through it no matter how hard you try.)

Pumpkin ice cream
Fail.

6. Once the custard has cooled on the ice bath, cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

7. Freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Dish up, and enjoy a bit of frozen pumpkin heaven!

A health kick, of sorts

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

Sometimes I like to go on a health kick. I mean, who doesn’t from time to time? With all of the news about how terrible we eat, how fat we are becoming, and that wacky British dude and the First Lady launching nationwide efforts to get our citizenry eat a darn vegetable – sometimes it’s enough to guilt inspire a person to at least try to eat better. (My health kicks, of course, are much to the dismay of my boyfriend, who likes to hide when I start ranting about eating too much meat and not enough vegetables, again.)

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

That being said, a person cannot live off of salads alone. You can try, but if you’re anything like me, 3 p.m. rolls around and you’re craving something sweet and carb-y to carry you on through dinner time. The last few weeks at work have been great for curbing afternoon snacking, as we have been enjoying the constant drudgery of carting load after load of laboratory and office junk to our new office space via underground tunnel. Now that the busywork of moving has subsided, I find myself back to ye olde “Ugh it’s only 3 and I’m already hungry?!” and I do believe that calls for some muffins.

Do not want.

 

Have you tried Vitamuffins? In theory, their nutritional specs are pretty good, boasting tons of fiber and protein in a low-calorie muffin-like substance, which makes them all the rage in the health and diet community. I can’t say I’m a fan, although I’ve only tried the blueberry flavor.  In addition to being fairly non-delicious and full of unpronounceable ingredients,  a box of 4 is upwards of $5 at my grocery store! The usual fare at nearby campus coffee shops is not much better – not only are the baked goods on the opposite end of the healthy spectrum, they are also expensive and the varieties never change from week to week.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

So, I have found myself pining for this imaginary muffin. Something a little hearty, with spices that match the season, and maybe some nuts or some chocolate to round things out. Something that is not terrible for you, but also doesn’t make you feel deprived when you’re just inches away from raiding the candy machine down the hall. And I think I have found it, thanks to the great folks at King Arthur Flour. These whole wheat pumpkin muffins are the perfect answer to my grandma’s delicious (and sugary-oily-cream-cheesy) pumpkin bars – an autumnal baked good that reminds you pumpkin can actually be good for you, and delicious enough that you will actually want to eat it.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Yield: Approximately 12 muffins (I got 12 plus a few mini-muffins with the leftover batter)

Nutrition Info (Approximate, using SparkRecipes calculator) Per Muffin: 145 calories, 4.7 g fat (0.6 g saturated fat), 215 mg sodium, 2.5 g fiber, 3.0 g protein

(Adding 0.5 cup chopped walnuts or pecans to the batter makes each muffin about 190 cals, 8.5 g fat, 3.0 g fiber, and 4.0 g protein.)

A word on flour: I used whole wheat pastry flour, and I thought the texture of the muffins was excellent. The muffins came out hearty and fluffy, and not too dry or dense like I have experienced when baking with regular whole wheat flour. Try to  find it at Whole Foods, or a natural foods co-op in the bulk aisle, or look for Bob’s Red Mill at your supermarket. (Wheatsfield in Ames is where I get mine.) However, any combo of whole wheat, AP, or even King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat will get the job done.

What to do with the leftover 2/3 cup of pumpkin, you ask? Try a pumpkin smoothie (1/2 banana, handful of ice, milk, plain yogurt, pumpkin and a teaspoon or so of that pumpkin pie spice) or pumpkin overnight oats.

Ingredients

1.5 cups (6.75 oz/191 g) whole wheat pastry flour, regular whole wheat flour, AP flour, or a combination thereof
1.5 tsp pumpkin pie spice (Store bought, or make your own, or 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, and 1 tsp ground cinnamon if you just need enough for this recipe)
0.5 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp baking soda

2 large eggs
1 cup (8 oz/225 g) pumpkin
0.5 cup (4 oz/118 mL) milk (I used whole milk)
0.5 cup (4 oz/113 g) packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp vegetable oil (ProTip: Measure the oil first and then molasses with the same spoon, the molasses slides right off the spoon!)
1 Tbsp molasses

Optional: About 1/2-1 cup of your choice of bits: toasted walnuts or pecans, raisins, small chunks of apple or dried fruit, chocolate chips.

Directions

0. Preheat the oven to 400 °F (205 °C). Grease a regular muffin tin with non-stick spray or line with muffin liners.

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, spices, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, pumpkin, milk, sugar, oil and molasses until well combined.

3. Add the dry to the wet ingredients and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until just combined. Do not over mix.

4. Optional: fold in nuts, chocolate, etc.

5. Spoon batter into muffin tins, filling about 3/4 full. Bake at 400 °F (205 °C) for 18-20 minutes (10-12 minutes for mini muffins), until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

6. Allow to cool 5 minutes in the pan, and then remove the muffins and cool on a rack. Cool completely and store in an air-tight container.

Muffins will keep at room temperature for 2-3 days, or in the refrigerator for up to a week.

 

Say hello to my pet sourdough!

Monday, May 3, 2010

I’ve been making my own bread for about three years now, but up to this point I’d never really given sourdough much consideration. While clicking around some food blogs a while back, it suddenly dawned on me that sourdough starter means so much more than sourdough bread. Why, there’s sourdough crumpets! Sourdough English muffins! Sourdough pancakes! Sourdough banana bread! Sourdough lava cake! (These are all basically breads, I suppose, but not bread in the breadiest sense.) It blows my mind! And so, I had to find a starter.

The problem is that sourdough starters seem to be these mythical creatures that are only kept by grandmothers of yesteryear, and they’ve kept the same vat going since the Civil War. In order to obtain some starter, you’ve got to know someone who knows someone who knows a grandmother, or you’ll just have to buck the system and try to start your own. I posted on Facebook that I was looking for a mythical grandma with some starter, (obviously the #1 go-to-place for sourdough starters) and I got lots of helpful tips on starting my own from the air, and one friend suggested that I order some dried starter from the internet. It had never occurred to me that you could purchase dried starter – but commercial yeast is dried, and if the starter has been properly preserved, the bacterias should survive as well. She recommended this eBay seller, and for only $6.50 I figured what did I have to lose? Plus, since I started my starter back in February, I didn’t think I’d have much luck catching good yeasties from the air in my cold, dry, cold, cold, dry house. (You can also buy fresh starter from King Arthur Flour.)

My starter came in the mail on a Tuesday, and I decided to start it that night. Seeing as my house gets down to 58 °F during the day and night during the winter, I was worried it would take forever for the yeasties to get going. So I did what any sensible person would do – I tucked the jar of starter in my coat pocket, and took it on the bus with me to work. The building where I work is about 1.3 billion years old, and in the winter the steam radiators that pump out heat constantly. So starting that Wednesday morning, I set my starter on the windowsill next to the radiator, and a bag of flour resided on my desk. Because I am a giant dork.

Sarah’s Starter Lab Notebook

Day 1: At about 9 p.m., I mixed 1/2 tsp of dried starter with 1 Tbsp flour and 1 Tbsp water in 8 oz canning jar. Ripped a small square of paper towel, and screwed the jar rim over the paper towel to let it breath. Set near the heat register (in my house) overnight.

Sourdough starter Day 0

Day 2: In the morning the starter was not showing many bubbles. Took it to work, and set on the windowsill near the radiator. In the early afternoon a small patch of dry goop had formed on top of the starter, added 1 Tbsp flour and 1 Tbsp water at this point because I was worried it was getting dry. So this was about the 16 hour mark. Checked in the late afternoon, very small bubbles are apparent on the surface and when the starter is gently swirled in the jar. Did not feed again at 24 hour mark.

Sourdough starter Day 1

Day 3: In the morning the dry layer had returned to the top of the starter. The layer was quite a bit larger this time, covering the entire starter, and sticking to the sides. It actually formed a slight dome because of the bubbles underneath! This time I decided to peel the dried patch off the top of the starter. Fed 3 Tbsp flour, 3 Tbsp water. Very obvious yeast and fermented smell from the bacteria (like a brewery) and lots of bubbles! Towards the evening, the starter wasn’t doing much, so I threw away about 3-4 Tbsp of the starter and added another 2 Tbsp flour + 2 Tbsp water. The starter doubled quickly – within an hour, so it must have been hungry.

Sourdough starter Day 2

Day 4: When starter has calmed down, consistency is much more runny, it has very small bubbles, and the yeast smell is more apparent over the sour smell from the bacteria. (The sour smell is a little more developed now – yesterday it was more like a brewery, today it is a little more like a fermenting apple, neither of which are bad smells in my opinion!) Kept just 1 Tbsp of the starter in the jar, and added 2 Tbsp flour and 2 Tbsp water. Starter had doubled after about 3.5 hours. The instructions say not to feed your starter before it has reached its peak, because that will make for a weaker starter. Let it sit another hour before dumping all but 1 Tbsp of starter again, this time I added 2 Tbsp flour, 2 Tbsp water. Starter doubling pretty rapidly again, already doubled after 3 hours. Hopefully starter will double by the evening, and I can start a loaf of bread! The recipe I am looking at calls for 2/3 cup of starter, so this afternoon’s feeding I will give more flour. (I only ended up with 1/3 cup that night, enough for 1 loaf. It continued to bubble away vigorously over the weekend and I had several cups by the following Monday.)

(Some people will say you should let your starter go for a week or two before using it, but I figure what do you have to lose! Except some flour. My first loaf of bread from that weekend was successful, but subsequent loaves have had a better texture.)

Sourdough bread starting

This is called expanding the starter, for the first loaf of bread that I made. Basically the wet starter becomes part of a stiffer bread dough. Later these pieces are cut up and incorporated into more flour, water and salt for making a traditional sourdough loaf.

—-

I started my starter about two months ago, and I’ve been keeping it in the fridge and feeding it about twice weekly – tossing all but 1/4 cup and feeding it with 1/2 cup flour and slightly less than 1/2 cup water.  After my first few loaves, and some sourdough pizza dough, I decided to give sourdough English muffins a try. These little buns are surprisingly easy and fun to make, and the finished product is nothing short of fantastic.

Sourdough English Muffins

I’ve wanted to make English muffins for a while, but the Alton Brown recipe I was familiar with required metal rings (fashioned from tuna cans or purchased) to mold the muffins on the griddle because of the very wet dough. I am not a canned tuna aficionado, so I was happy to find a recipe that used a somewhat stiffer dough which allows the muffins to be griddle-baked without assistance.

This recipe comes from Clotilde, who is having a lot of fun with her own little sourdough starter friend named Philémon. (I think that all sourdough starters should have clever nicknames. I’m trying to think of one for mine!) The dough comes together quickly, and it is soft and somewhat reminiscent of a certain pretzel dough from the bit of butter and sugar in the mix. I was able to complete these in an evening – and depending on the activity level of your sourdough starter (and when you start the muffins), you may or may not have to fridge them overnight before the second rise. Subsequent batches I have let fridge overnight, and I do think it allows the flavor to develop a little more. Luckily a bit of commercial yeast ensures they will rise eventually!

Sourdough English Muffins

I think griddle temperature is probably the most crucial thing here – a careful balance between efficient internal cooking and slow surface browning is key. The muffins are finished in the oven for 6-8 minutes after the griddle to ensure the interiors are cooked through. My first batch browned a little too quickly in the griddle, and needed just a few extra minutes in the oven to make sure everything was cooked in the center. They won’t brown much more in the oven, so you have a little wiggle room with your first batch!

Sourdough English Muffins

I wasn’t going to sample one of these right after they came out of the oven, since it was already after 10:30 p.m. when I got around to baking them, but the slightly sweet smell from the honey in the dough and the cornmeal on the griddle – well, I just had to check to make sure the crumb was right? For science? And then I danced around the kitchen for a moment after splitting open the first muffin – success! Craggy and chewy and crumby, and a flavor that goes above and beyond anything I’ve bought at the store. So give these a whirl, for the sake of science if nothing else.

Sourdough English Muffins

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

Makes 6-8 muffins, depending on how big you make them. Doubles or triples with ease, and your friends will love you forever if you tuck 4 of them in a quart-sized zip-top bag and bring them over to share!

These keep for a week or more in the fridge, and will probably freeze well although I have not yet tried freezing. Fork-split before toasting – stab the fork tines all around the middle of the bun and split to get the craggy interior crumb.

Ingredients

8.5 oz (about 250 g) bread flour, or a combination of 1/3 white whole wheat flour and 2/3 bread flour (Feel free to experiment with this ratio)

3 oz (85 g) ripe sourdough starter, fed 12-24 hours before if you store it in the fridge (6-8 hours before if you store it on the counter, Clotilde has a picture in another post.)

1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast (SAF Instant or Red Star Bread Machine/Rapid Rise Yeast, not active dry)
1/2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp butter , softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk plus more if needed (You can also use buttermilk, although I haven’t tried it.)
cornmeal or semolina flour for sprinkling

Make the dough

1. Place flour, starter, milk, salt, yeast, butter and honey into the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir by hand with a wooden spoon, or the paddle attachment just until the dough comes together. Add a little more milk at this point if unable to incorporate all of the flour. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 8 minutes on low to medium-low speed, or knead by hand ont the counter for 10 minutes. The dough will be smooth and tacky, but not sticky.

2. Wipe out the stand mixer bowl and lightly oil, and roll the dough to coat. Cover lightly with plastic wrap or a towel and allow to rise on the counter for 4 hours. At this point, you can proceed to make the muffins or place the dough in the refrigerator overnight.

Shape the Muffins

1. If the dough has been stored in the refrigerator overnight, allow to come to room temperature before proceeding.

2. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured counter, trying to deflate as little as possible. Using a small knife or bench scraper, cut the dough into 6-7 equal pieces. (I used the scale, each should weigh about 2.5-3 oz/70-85 g) Shape the muffins by pinching the bottom and rolling lightly to seal and form a tight skin. (Clotilde links to a shaping tutorial in her recipe.)

3. Generously sprinkle a silicone baking mat, parchment paper, counter or baking sheet with cornmeal or semolina flour. Place the shaped muffins on the cornmeal, and sprinkle the tops with more cornmeal. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap, and allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours, or until puffed and almost doubled in size. (Pre-puffed, puffed.)

Bake the Muffins

1. I used a well-seasoned cast iron skillet without any grease or oil, but you could also lightly grease any non-stick skillet. Preheat the skillet over medium-low heat, and preheat the oven to 350°. Have a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking sheet ready for the finishing the griddled muffins.

2. Gently transfer the muffins one at a time to the preheated skillet, being careful not to deflate. In my 10″ skillet I can fit 3-4 muffins. Be vigilant – check the muffins frequently, especially with the first batch, and turn the heat down if you find they are browning too quickly. Once the muffin is lightly golden brown, gently turn to the other side and repeat. (Err on the side of lighter brown, remember you will be toasting them again!) The muffins took anywhere from 3-6 minutes per side, depending on my skill with the temperature setting. The longer cooking in the skillet, the less time they will need in the oven.

3. Repeat the process with subsequent batches, starting the next batch on the griddle while the previous batch is finishing in the oven.

4. Transfer the griddled muffins to the prepared baking sheet, and finish in the preheated oven for 6-8 additional minutes. I tested the internal temperature of the muffins, and checked that they were above 190 °F (88 °C) before cooling.

5. Cool the finished muffins on a wire baking rack. Do enjoy one hot out of the oven – no additional toasting required!

Sweet potato gnocchi

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sweet potato gnocchi

We made these delicious delights way back in October, but I was lazy about blogging back then. (Yeah, I know, I’m still pretty lazy about blogging.) This definitely falls into the “afternoon project” category of recipes – that is, you’re going to need a lot of dishes, a bit of time, and an extra bit of ambition if you want to crank these out. The actual process isn’t all that difficult, but as for the steps – there are many. Luckily, this recipe lends itself wonderfully to batch cooking – make a boatload during the next ice storm, freeze ‘em, and you’ll be good for a month.

Sweet potato gnocchi

Gnocchi literally means “lumps” or “knots,” and can be made from just about any starch – potatoes, bread crumbs, semolina or just plain old flour. (Kind of an anti-climactic name – like going to IKEA for the first time and finding out that they have cleverly named all of their products with the Swedish word that describes the item.) These gnocchi are made with a combination of sweet potatoes and Russet potatoes – the sweet potatoes give color and flavor, and the Russets have enough starch to ensure that the dumplings don’t fall apart when boiled. The potatoes are roasted first, riced, and combined with egg, Parmesan cheese and pepper.

Sweet potato gnocchi Sweet potato gnocchi Sweet potato gnocchi

Forming the gnocchi is actually pretty quick, but the dumplings are so tiny that you have to do this many, many times. The dough is cut into tiny cubes, rolled into balls, and then pressed against the backside of a fork to get the characteristic ridges. You can cook the gnocchi when they are still in ball form rather than ridged form, but I think the ridges are fairly easy to make, and their purpose is to trap some sauce against the dumpling when all is said and done. Plus they look awesome and will impress Italian grandmothers around the world. Here are the gnocchi in ball form, and here is a close-up of the ridging process:

IMG_6642

After roasting, ricing, mixing, cutting, and gnocchi-ing, we’re almost there. This being a recipe from dearly departed Gourmet, you of course need to fry some sage and chestnuts to go along with your gnocchis. Gourmet assured me that I would be able to find bottled roasted chestnuts at the supermarket, but there were none to be had. Thank goodness I live in a town with at least five Asian grocery stores – I went across the supermarket parking lot and wandered around my nearest Asian market for about 10 minutes before finally finding some raw chestnuts and asking the cashier if they stocked any that were pre-roasted. Why yes, she said, they had three varieties. I asked if she had a favorite, and she recommended some that were vacuum-sealed (pictured here) rather than bottled, because they had less sodium. Thanks, Ames Asian Market!

Sweet potato gnocchi Sweet potato gnocchi

Finally, the gnocchis are boiled briefly, until they gracefully drift to the surface of the water, at which point we skimmed them off and dropped them into the fat that had been used to fry the sage and chestnuts. We kept them in there for a few minutes until they got a little brown on the edges. Then everything is tossed together in a big bowl, and served hot. I had only eaten gnocchi once before, at a restaurant, and these surpassed the restaurant gnocchi in flavor and texture. Creamy orange pillows of nutmeg-scented potatoes, slightly salty from the parmesan cheese. These take a little courage and a little time, but the end result is worth the effort.

Sweet potato gnocchi

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Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Adapted from Gourmet

Makes ~3-4 cups cooked gnocchi.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish, or 4 generously as a main.

Gnocchis can be made up to one day in advance and refrigerated until ready for cooking. Chestnuts can be sliced up to one day in advance and sealed in an airtight container in the fridge.

Uncooked gnocchi can be frozen individually on a sheet pan, and then sealed in a ziploc bag once the gnocchis are frozen solid. Do not thaw before cooking. Gourmet says you can freeze up to 1 month, but I think you could probably push it to 2-3 months. When I make these again I will report back on longer-term freezability.

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Ingredients

1.25 lbs (0.5 kg) Russet potatoes

0.75 lbs (0.33 kg) sweet potatoes, about 1 large

1 large egg

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp kosher salt

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

1.5 to 2 cups (200-250 g) all-purpose flour plus more for dusting

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 – 3/4 cup sage leaves

1/3 cup roasted chestnuts, (these come bottled or vacuum sealed, check your Asian grocery store) sliced thinly with a paring knife, sharp vegetable peeler or mandoline

2 Tbsp (30 g) unsalted butter

Make the Gnocchis

1. Preheat the oven to 450° with the rack in the center position.

2. Stab potatoes with a knife or fork several times, and place on a roasting pan. Roast until just tender, 45-60 minutes.

3. Once potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove peels and push potatoes through a ricer or food mill onto a sheet pan or flexible cutting mat.

4. Whisk egg, nutmeg, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Measure out cheese and flour, and make sure you have then nearby.

5. Form riced potatoes into a mound, and make depression in the center. Pour egg mixture into the well in the center of the potatoes, and knead everything together. Knead in cheese and 1.5 cups of the flour. Continue to knead potato mixture, adding more flour as neccessary, until the dough comes together and is smooth and slightly sticky.

6. Cut dough into 6 equal pieces, and dust each piece with flour. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a rope that is 1/2 inch in diameter. Repeat each subsequent piece.

7. Cut each rope into 1/2 inch pieces, and gently roll each piece into a ball place on a sheet pan or cutting mat lightly dusted with flour.

8. Using the back side of a fork held at approximately a 45° angle with respect to the counter, roll each ball on the back of the tines. (See photo above) Basically the gnocchi is pressed against the fork and then quickly flicked off and away from the fork. Place formed gnocchis on a sheet pan covered in parchment or a silpat, separated slightly so they do not stick together.

Fry Sage Leaves and Chestnuts

1. Start a large pot of water to boil the gnocchis, and salt it well.

2. Heat olive oil in a 10-12″ skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Fry sage leaves in 2-3 batches, stirring them around just for 30 seconds or so, or until the green color lightens a shade. Remove with a spider or a slotted spoon, and place on a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

3. Fry sliced chestnuts in batches, again about 30 seconds for each batch, stirring slightly while cooking. Fry just until chestnut slices turn golden brown and crispy. Transfer to paper towel to drain, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Turn heat to medium low, and leave remaining oil in skillet.

Cook Gnocchi

1. Add the butter and a pinch of salt to the skillet with the residual frying oil and cook over medium low heat until the butter is just melted.

2. Once water has reached a gentle boil, cook the gnocchis in 2-3 batches. The gnocchis will rise to the top as they cook, after about 3 minutes. Skim the gnocchis off the top of the water as they are finished cooking.

3. Turn up the heat in the skillet to medium, or slightly higher if needed. Place the cooked gnocchis into the skillet with the butter and the oil, and fry for 2-3 minutes until the gnocchis are slightly brown on the edges. Be careful not to overheat the butter/oil mixture and burn the butter solids at this point. Remove the browned gnocchis to a serving bowl and toss with fried sage and chestnuts.

Food links, late January edition

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I’m working on a few recipe posts that I’ll hopefully have done soon, but in the meantime, here’s some interesting links I’ve encountered in the past few weeks:

- Alton Brown gives an hour-long seminar at Google (before Thanksgiving, so I’m a little late to the game). There’s a lot of Yay Google! blah blah blah in the first 10 minutes or so, but it is definitely entertaining, and will fill the gaping AB hole in your heart if you don’t have cable like me.

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-Ellie Krieger, host of Food Network’s Healty Appetite, details how to make sloppy joes and tortilla soup from every day fast food ingredients! Yeah, you read it right. Wow, just wow.

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- Not So Humble Pie blog features a variety of science-themed baked goods. I may be a decent baker, but I am so not dedicated to the art of decorating: Gingerbread scientistsPetri dish cookiesBinary cupcakesand many, many more.

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- Bacon and Cupcake mugs at Cakespy. Not that I need more coffee mugs, but these are totally cute.

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- On pressure cooking at Bitten Blog. This is something that has always intrigued me, I think it would make dried beans, etc. a lot more accessible. I’ve had a few Indian friends who swear by this technique since they cook so many legumes on a regular basis.

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- Knife Skills 101 at CRAFT Blog. Lots of good information and great photos here.

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- Thanks to Steve at Tree Lobsters for letting me repost this comic. If you’ve ever met me, you know this is exactly the kind of scientific paper I’d love to write.

Seen any interesting food links around the web lately? Let me know in the comments!

Let’s talk about stock

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Homemade chicken soup

A confession: I’m not a huge fan of soups. I have a hard time getting behind a liquidous dinner unless that dinner is in the form of a chocolate milkshake. There’s just something so soupy about soups. My mother blames my lifelong soup indifference on an evil babysitter that terrified me as a young child, and would feed some sort of questionable soup to the daycare kids on a regular basis. Regardless of my early life soup trauma, I’ve grown to appreciate the dish on my own terms. I generally favor stews, stoups (thanks, Rachel Ray) and giant bowls of Chinese noodles over anything consisting of just broth or a bunch of blended vegetables, but I’m growing, ok?

Homemade chicken soup

This chicken soup takes a little extra effort to make it extra delicious. If you’ve never made stock before, this is one application where it truly shines, and I think you should give it a try. Stock is another one of those necessities of yesteryear that has fallen by the wayside as we’ve grown accustomed to the convenience of the modern supermarket (along with two of my other favorite food pastimes, canning and bread making). For my stock-making endeavor, I was fortunate enough to have two turkey carcasses for starting materials, tucked away in the freezer since Thanksgiving. My mom chuckled a bit and my uncle gave me some grief when I asked if I could take the Thanksgiving turkey remains back to Iowa. To an outsider, this seems like a truly silly practice. It is so much easier to pitch the bones in the trash, and it takes some effort to get in the habit of making anything from scratch. But deep down we know we shouldn’t settle for the stuff in the can with the blue label, and that making stock is actually pretty hip – it is frugal, green, and delicious.

……Homemade turkey stock

Stock and broth are different on a fundamental level. Broth is made from the juices of the meat, and stock is made by cooking the bones and connective tissues for many hours at a low heat, releasing the collagen. The final result also has a drastically different consistency – broth is a liquid, while stock once cooled will gel like a delicious bowl of poultry-flavored Jell-O. A little creepy at first, but the gelling lets you know the bones have done their work. Stock is worth your time because it is much more rich and delicious than broth, and you can control the sodium content and ingredient list from start to finish. And it totally impresses the ladies.

Cooled chicken stock

One piece of advice – stock takes time, and if you’re going to make a go of it, save several chicken or turkey carcasses so you can make a big batch all at once. Also you should not start the stock pot at 6 o’clock at night, because you will finish at approximately 1 a.m. (This was not my idea.) You’re also going to need to buy some cheesecloth and a few large containers or freezer bags for long-term storage. Once the stock is made, chicken noodle soup comes together quickly. A few more spices, some cooked chicken and simmered veggies, and a few noodles at the very end. Bust out the Zestas and you’re ready to eat.

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Poultry Stock

Adapted from Alton Brown

Yield: 16-20 cups, depending the quantity of starting ingredients and the size of your stockpot

Ingredients

6-8 pounds poultry carcasses

2 large onions, quartered

6-8 carrots, peeled and cut in half

4 ribs celery, cut in half

2-3 tsp dried thyme

3 bay leaves

18-20 peppercorns

1 tablespoon minced garlic (we used the stuff preserved in olive oil in a jar) or 2-3 cloves, crushed

2-3 gallons cold water, enough to cover the carcasses in a 12 or 16 quart stock pot

Make the Stock

1. Add all ingredients to a 12 or 16 quart stock pot, and cover with water. Place a steamer basket or smaller pot lid into the stock pot to hold the bones under water.

2. Cook the stock on high heat until bubbles begin to rise to the surface. Turn the heat to medium low, and maintain a gentle simmer.

3. Skim the scum from the top of the stock pot every 10-15 minutes for the first hour, and then every half hour for the next 2 hours. Simmer uncovered for a total of 6-8 hours, adding additional water as needed to keep the bones covered. When bones break easily, the stock is finished.

4. After the simmering, strain the stock through a colander or fine mesh strainer into another large pot or heat-proof container, removing all solid vegetable/bone pieces from the stock. Cool immediately until below 40 °F in a sink full of ice (or just stick it outside if you live in Iowa and it is January). Refrigerate overnight.

5. In the morning, scrape the solidified fat off the top of the stock. The stock should resemble a loose Jell-O consistency if you’ve done everything correctly. At this point if several small pieces of vegetable remain in the stock, re-warm the stock slightly and filter through cheesecloth.

Store stock in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer up to 3 months. We froze two 8-cup containers of stock for soup, and kept one 4-cup container in the fridge for a stew we made later that week. Bring the stock to a boil for 2 minutes before using in recipes.

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Chicken Soup

Adapted from several sources, but kind of made up on the fly. Pretty similar to Tyler Florence without the initial vegetable sweat (although that may be something to try for next time).

Serves 4, with leftovers

Ingredients

8 cups chicken stock

1 medium onion, chopped

3 medium carrots, chopped

1-2 stalks of celery, chopped (we are not celery fans here, and 1 stalk was enough for us)

1.5 Tablespoons minced garlic

1 bay leaf

2-3 cups cooked chicken meat, cut into smallish pieces (leftover rotisserie chicken worked nicely)

4-6 ounces dry egg noodles (depending on how noodley you like your soup)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

12-16 ounces of water or broth, depending on how liquidous you like your soup

Herbs that would be nice, but we did not have on hand: fresh or dried thyme and/or tarragon, fresh parsley for serving.

Make the Soup

1. In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil for 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and add the chicken, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs. The meat will shred slightly as the cooking continues.

2. Add the vegetables and bring to a simmer for three to four minutes. Add more water or broth at this time if needed.

3. Add the noodles and turn up the heat slightly to a low boil. Boil until the noodles are soft, seven to eight minutes.

Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley if desired, and plenty of saltine crackers.

Edited to add: I’ve been asked about where stock/broth should be interchanged in a recipe, and I’m definitely not an expert, but I will offer an opinion. I think for recipes (soups, whatever) where you are going to have a significant number of additional herbs & spices, stock is a good option. Depending on the consistency of your stock, I’d say 2 parts stock to 1 part water/broth is going to be a starting place. (Like I said, ours was a loose Jell-O consistency, and the soup used about 8 cups stock and 3 or so cups of water.) The stock is not really thicker than broth when cooked in a soup, but it does have a heavier and richer “mouth feel” due to the high concentration of proteins. If you are going to make a very simple broth soup, I think the stock may be too plain for this application, and you may want to consider a high-quality commercial broth, or make your own broth (basically the pan juices from cooking a piece of meat).

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