Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spinach Gnocchi, I finally made it!!!

I have been wanting to make gnocchi for a very long time.  Most commonly you will find recipes for a potato dough, which will commonly call for a potato ricer (which I don't want).  While looking for a spinach recipe I stumbled across a spinach gnocchi recipe!  NO POTATO!  I have been looking forward to making these for over a week.  
Gnocchi are commonly referred to as pasta, but they are really a small dumpling.  So if you make them don't expect a thick noodle, more like a a large spätzl.
I made half the recipe which was perfect for dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow.

Spinach Gnocchi
1/2 Bunch Spinach
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Milk
1/8 Cup Butter
1/2 Cup Flour
2 Eggs
Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg to Taste

- Wilt the spinach in its own water.  Drain and squeeze dry.  Finely chop the spinach and set aside.
- Heat the water, milk, and butter to just boiling, dump all the flour in at once and stir until it forms a ball.  Cook the dough for 1 minute.  (This will be the consistency of a choux.)

- Remove the dough to a bowl, allow it to cool for a bit. 

- Beat in two eggs, one at a time.  (Recipe calls for electric mixer.) And add the spinach.  Dough will be damp.  Put dough in fridge to set up, about 5 to 10 minutes.

- Make quenelles with two tablespoons, and drop them into boiling water.  (I did 8 at a time.) 

- Simmer until they float to the top and are to the desired firmness, about 3-4 minutes.

- Remove each batch to a baking pan and bake at 400 degrees for a little while.  (sorry, I didn't look at the time.) Just until the outsides are a little dryer and more firm. 

While they were in the oven I whipped up a quick batch of easy alfredo sauce.  A tablespoon of butter, melted, add a tablespoon of flour, 1/2 cup of milk, and grate in fresh parm., so easy.  Today I tossed in like an half teaspoon of pesto for a little more flavor.  (NOTE: this does not work well with the plastic bottle of "shake-a" Parmesan cheese, you'll end up using tons, and it will be grainy.)

Served it with some steamed asparagus (in the Demarle, in the microwave).

(Terrible picture, I need a real camera!)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Maifun, Asian Rice Noodles

Every time I go grocery shopping I try to purchase something I have never used before.  This week was anchovy paste (I have no idea where that will take me).  A month or so ago I bought fennel.  It was a fairly yummy, but it made my heart do some funny flip flops for a day and my blood pressure dropped, so no more more me.  I bought some Asian rice sticks not to long back and they were sitting in my cupboard beckoning me to use them.  I found this recipe for Asian Cold Noodle Salad.  I switched out some ingredients, naturally.
  • 1 6.75-ounce package rice stick noodles (maifun)
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
  • 6 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
  • 4 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 pound peeled deveined cooked medium shrimp
  • 1 cup thinly sliced cucumbers
  • 1 8-ounce package sugar snap peas, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro (dried)

I mostly liked this salad.  The fish sauce, another new purchase,  was a little much.  It tastes like... well, like fermented fish liquid.  I think this would be good with a curry vinaigrette. 

I really liked the lightness of the noodles.  Mouth-feel was like vermicelli, but less starchy tasting. 
I look forward to trying these in other meals, stir-fry maybe?

How is this my FIRST PASTA post?!?!

I love pasta!  Seriously, it is one of the few things I could eat everyday and never tire of.  There are so many kinds of pasta, flavor and shape, tons of sauces and endless supply of things to mix in.
When I first moved to Utah I was living in a house with a huge kitchen (in my eyes), with lots of empty granite counter space.  Also, nobody in the house really cooked food, they made stuff to eat.  So, I took the liberty of commandeering the kitchen on many occasions.  One night I was bored with what I had to cook, so I sat down with my Fannie Farmer cookbook.  (One of the best things I have ever bought!)  I came across the recipe for pasta dough, I was SHOCKED at how easy it looked.  I hopped on my computer and googled pasta recipes.  I looked at recipes calling for only water or 10 eggs, semolina or white flour, with oil or without, herbs or veggie purees, make now or rest for 24 hours.  I sifted through them until I felt like I could go forward with semi-confidence in one of them.
I decided to make ravioli.  I have no idea why I needed to make ravioli instead of just noodles I could smother in sauce if they didn't turn out.  That first time was tough.  Pasta dough is a stiff dough, generally not a huge problem, unless you are rolling it out for ravioli.  Noodles can be sort of thick, but ravioli sheets are supposed to be fairly thin.  I must have worked on rolling out the dough for at least an hour.  But I was fairly successful, the ravioli came out fine, even if they weren't sealed perfectly and leaked a little in the boiling water. After that experience I tweaked here and there every time I made pasta. I have written in my little notes in my Fannie Farmer cookbook with all my little discoveries.  Now when I make my pasta it really feels like my own creation (even though I always keep the recipe at hand when I make it). 

Joanne's Pasta Dough (4 to 6 servings)
In a mixing bowl put about 1 cup plus of flour, add salt (about 1/2 tsp).  (I stopped trying to start it on the counter, with the traditional little flour mound and well.  I just pushed flour on the flour and made glue in the middle.  You can also add flavors here, I like to add basil, garlic, and parsley.)   
Mix together and make a slight well in the flour.  To the well, add one whole egg plus one egg white.  (I made a mistake one day, the recipe I was using called for one egg plus a yolk.  I accidentally put in the second white instead of yolk... it was great!  The dough was much easier to work with.)  Beat these together a bit, but do not mix into flour, then add 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  Start combining the flour into the wet ingredients.  
Add 1/4 cup of flour to the dough.  It will be a little crumbly and yet damp at the same time.  
Spread another 1/4 cup of flour on the counter and turn out the dough and excess flour onto the surface.  (Be sure to take off all jewelry, as pasta dough gets right into the crevices of it.)   
Flour your hands and start slowly kneading the dough.  It will be very sticky, but as you work in the flour it will get stiff.  Knead for at least  5 minutes, no more than 8.  Keep a little bowl nearby, with some water in it.  Use up to 2 Tbsp of water, a sprinkle at a time, to work the dough into an elastic smooth ball.  
Allow to rest for 15 to 30 minutes under a mixing bowl or Tupperware.  (This is one step I always skipped as I am not the most patient person in cooking.  But, one day I had to go take care of something in the middle of pasta making.  I covered the dough ball so it wouldn't dry out.  When I came back I was surprised at how easy the rolling out went.  Some say it is the moisture that builds under the cover or the resting of the gluten.  Either way, LET IT REST, it also gives you a chance to clean up the kitchen or make your filling for raviolis.)
Separate the ball into four parts.  Roll the pasta to your preferred thickness, and cut for your recipe, sheets, noodles, etc.  (Oh, I have bought a manual pasta roller to save my aching shoulders and arms.  I got mine at Ross for $15.  It clamps to the counter, rolls sheets at 8 settings, and had a noodles cutting attachment too.  Completely worth it!
Boil and ENJOY! (Fresh pasta cooks faster and tastes better al dente than the dried stuff.)

These are my Cannelloni.  Sheets of pasta rolled around a filling of ricotta, mozzarella, egg, and herbs.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pitas and Hummus a la Joanne

A few years back my mom did a food storage night for church Relief Society meeting.  She used whole wheat flour to make pitas.  While I do not keep whole wheat flour at hand, I have made these many times with regular flour.  The recipe is as follows.

                          Pita Bread
  • Mix 2 cups flour and 1 tablespoon of dry yeast.
  • Add 1 1/4 cup of warm water (120 F), and mix well.
  • Gradually add 2 cups of flour until the dough is moderately stiff.
  • Knead dough for 4 to 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic.
  • Form dough into 10 ball - 5"-6" rounds by 1/4" thickness
  • Flour both sides, place on non-stick surface to rise for 30 minutes.
  • Heat oven to 500 degrees F
  • Flip over each round before placing into oven on bottom rack.
  • (To reheat place in 350 F oven)
The high heat and flipping over allows them to puff up and create a pocket.  If they don't create a pocket or get really large, don't despair!  It took me a couple tries to get it right, and sometimes I still get a flop batch, which is actually what happened to me this week.  They rose up very large and didn't pocket.  So I decided to make some hummus to go with them.  When I do this I tear my pitas up and bake them for a bit to get crispy, or top a pita with hummus and sliced tomatoes.
Hummus is really easy to make in your blender.  Puree a can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), add two cloves of finely diced garlic, then slowly blend in olive oil and a bit of water until you find your desired consistency.  Many recipes, authentically, add tahini to this.  It is a paste made from hulled lightly roasted sesame seeds.  It is used to make a smoother hummus.  I like it made this way, but tahini can be pricey for how often I use it so I opt out.  Hummus is great because the beans are high fiber and protein, great for a vegetarian dish or light lunch. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

New Look! (for my head and my menu)

I've been needing a haircut for longer than I care to specify, but on Saturday I went in for a trim.  That trim changed when I saw a picture in a magazine.  So after some debating, and some encouragement from the stylist.......
I LOVE IT and it is totally different from anything I have ever had.  I haven't had bangs since I was SEVEN! 

So... onto the food... I have mentioned liking to plan my menu.  I do like to do that, but I hate writing out my "seven day plan", then crossing out something because I'm not in the mood, realizing I don't have something, or throwing out that paper every week.  I remembered seeing a craft blog about making your own dry erase boards using old picture frames.  So I decided to find a cute menu planner template and print it on scrapbook paper.  Instead I found this cute template from Ollibird's Blog.  About the same time Walgreen's offered a free 8x10 picture, Michael's had an 11x17 frame on clearance, and their scrapbook paper was clearance priced as well.  So I uploaded this template to Walgreen's photo, got it "shipped" to the store, and it was completely free!  Then popped the scrapbook paper into the bottom half of the frame, and came out with this!

I use three markers, red for lunches, blue for dinner, and black for grocery list.  Each day has a dinner idea in blue first.  These are based on my plans for the week, etc.  I erase the meal after two days.  This way I have spaces available to move around meals.  Like, today I didn't feel up to making the balsamic reduction steak and veggies, so I moved it to an empty space for next week, and wrote in a simpler meal.  A couple days have events on them, don't have to do dinner those days!  Also, you can see the lower middle (Saturday) just says spinach.  I don't have a recipe yet, but I need to use up my fresh spinach. Lunches get jotted down at least a day in advance, this way I can get things ready the night before.  Also I have alternative things written up top, not in days as options if nothing in the menu sounds good.  :-)
Anything I don't have for the recipes gets written in the lower area.  It is great for when I am cooking and use up the last of something.  I don't have to search for pen and paper, then search for that when I get ready to go to the store.  I just take a picture on my phone and email it to my Ipod, or type into the notepad on my Ipod.
And the frame is great for tucking in a recipe (see upper left corner).

So far this has been wonderful, easy, and convenient!

MINI Deep Dish Pizzas

I am sure you think I eat this deep dish stuff too much!  If you haven't made this recipe for pizza crust (which you can use for almost anything), I highly encourage you to do it!
We made pizza the other day, the recipe yields enough for two pizzas.  So I ended up with the dough screaming for me in the fridge.  I wondered if I could use my Demarle muffin pan to make mini pizzas.  Turns out you can!  The half yield of dough made 8 mini deep dishes.  Because I was experimenting I used various fillings.  Leftover pasta sauce, pepperoni, chicken, Caesar dressing, onions, Parmesan cheese.  Everyone was delicious!  My favorite was actually one with sliced onions and a dab of butter.  They would be great vegetarian appetizers.
I look forward to trying different fillings and other kinds of crusts and such!


Well, I often mess things up in recipes, so I just just turn them into something else.  This penchant for cooking mistakes has been happening for years.  As a kid I made instant pudding, but it just wouldn't set up.  My dad looked at it after I had put it in the freezer for an hour.  He asked me, "Did you use milk?"  "Dad, it calls for water!"  "No, Joanne, I'm pretty sure you use milk..."  "Look at this box Dad, it says use..... milk.....oops."
Another time my mom asked me to throw stuff in the bread machine before church.  We got home to a two inch brick in the bread machine... I had forgotten the water.  Imagine lots of flour mixed with a couple eggs, then baked.  :D
Well, this time the fail wasn't a mistake as much as just not something fabulous at the end of cooking.  I bought a block of Amish Gorgonzola the other day.  The Italian restaurant up the road has an amazing Gorgonzola cream sauce that I love.  So, I thought I would try out my own.  I used this recipe from Epicurious.
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese or other blue cheese (such as Maytag)
  • 3/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil
Cook pasta in medium pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.
Melt butter with oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and thyme; sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add pasta, cream, and cheese. Toss until sauce coats pasta, adding reserved cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if dry. Mix in walnuts, then basil. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

(I know the picture doesn't show much, but I hate a picture-less post.) 

It was creamy, stuck to the pasta, and too strong!  I added some pesto to the sauce and that helped add a little sweetness.  I ate a full serving, just to give it a chance, but I couldn't love.

Lesson learned?  Leave the special moldy cheese to the pros!