Monday, October 20, 2014

Chicken Sausage & Tortellini

This is a typical conversation that happens somewhere between 3-7 pm, almost every single day:

"So what's for dinner?"
"I don't know."
"What's in the fridge?" (usually in reference to what type of animal proteins are thawed and ready to be cooked)
"Umm, there's some ___"
"What are we going to make with that?"
"I hadn't really planned on anything."
"Hmm, what can I make with ___ without going to the store?"

Sometimes the "without going to the store" factor works out in our favor, and other times it does not.

Today, the protein du jour happened to be some of Aidell's chicken mango sausage.  When I heard that was the thawed meat, it called to mind an old recipe I had picked up from one of the cooking demonstration stations at good ole H-E-B in Texas!  Sure enough, I still had it in my recipe box.  I pulled it out and decided I was going to sort of follow this recipe as a "skeleton" recipe and make it my own.

So, here we have it, folks!

Larena's Chicken Sausage & Tortellini


Prep time - approximately 20 minutes, makes approximately 5 servings

Ingredients:
  • ~20 oz rainbow tortellini - cheese
  • 1 package of Aidells chicken mango sausage, sliced in ~3/4-inch thick slices, or whichever chicken sausage you prefer
  • 2 teaspoons caramelized garlic slices with the oil, or use 3 cloves of fresh sliced garlic
  • 1 Serrano pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided - 2 tbsp for cooking sausage
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 8 large basil leaves, sliced into 1/2 inch wide strips
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp King Cajun - Cajun cream sauce spice
  • Red chili flakes and/or cayenne pepper to taste

  1. Cook the tortellini according to the package instructions. Since you will be finishing the tortellini in a large skillet, be sure to only use the lowest cooking time listed on the package. Be sure to stir occasionally and not hard boil it too long to prevent the tortellini from bursting open.
  2. As soon as you toss the tortellini into the boiling water, put the 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. (stir the tortellini!) Saute the sausage, garlic, and Serrano pepper until the sausage is lightly brown. Use some tongs to flip the sausage so both sides of the slices get a nicely browned edge. (stir the tortellini!) Cook for 4-5 minutes.
  3. Once the tortellini has finished boiling, strain it and add the tortellini to the skillet, add the remaining olive oil, and stir to distribute evenly. Add the Cajun cream spice, basil leaves, and cherry tomatoes. Stir again to distribute evenly, and then top with the freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
  4. Garnish with a few red chili flakes and/or cayenne pepper according to your spice preference.
Optional ingredients: fresh sliced mushrooms and/or ~1/2 lb uncooked & unshelled/deveined shrimp added at the same time you cook the sausage, garlic and Serrano pepper.

For the nutritional values of this recipe, you can log it through the My Fitness Pal application.  Just search for "Larena's Chicken & Sausage Tortellini."  Disclaimer: this nutritional value calculation is just an estimation.
http://www.myfitnesspal.com/recipe/view/137730541440173

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Larena's Borracho Beans

When my father asked my mom's dad if he could marry her, my grandfather had a few questions for my dad.  You see, my grandfather knew that my dad wasn't going to pursue riches or any sort of fancy lifestyle, and he knew that wasn't something my mom was looking for either in life.  He knew my mom wasn't a gourmet chef (after all, she was only 16 at the time!), but she also knew how to make cheap, simple meals in order to make ends meet.  Most of all, my grandfather wanted to make sure my dad would take happy, willing and able to care of my mom for the rest of her life.

He asked my dad "Will you be okay with just eating beans and cornbread every day?"
My dad responded with "Absolutely!  I LOVE beans and cornbread!"

Yeah, I don't think he quite understood my grandpa's point...  haha!  Grandpa was aware my mom knew how to make beans and cornbread, and he knew my parents' budget was going to be pretty tight and meals weren't going to be very extravagant.  My dad didn't really care.  He was raised by a single mom in Texas for many years, so beans and cornbread were A-Okay by him!  Living on a meager budget was not going to be a big problem for him, and it wasn't going to be a problem for my mother either.

My dad was born and raised in Texas.  My mother was born and raised in Texas.  My brother and I were also born and raised in Texas.  Where we grew up, beans and cornbread were a staple food!  You could go to H-E-B and buy bulk pinto beans for drastically cheap prices, and guess what?  You just bought an excellent source of a cheap protein that could feed your family for days.  Beans are incredibly cheap, and they can be delicious!  Nowadays, my dad can make a pretty fantastic pot of beans.  It's one of his specialty dishes!

I was never a very big fan of refried beans, but if you put some borracho beans in front of me - oh, it was ON!  I grew up on beans and cornbread, especially during the winter months.  Since my father was in the construction business, the winter season was usually less prosperous because people were saving up money for the holidays and then recovering from the holiday spending.  People weren't able to spend the money on getting the house fixed after taking a big financial hit at Christmas!  Throughout the year, my mom would buy staple foods that wouldn't spoil so that we could be sure to have plenty to eat during the months when income was a lot lower.  

These old, ingrained habits are largely why my pantry is so full all of the time!  At any given point, you can almost always find things like beans in my pantry!  But please, don't show up at my house if a zombie apocalypse happens :P  (In other words, I am not worried about anyone showing up at my doorstep looking to ransack my pantry!)  When I set out to make these Texas style borracho beans (translation: "drunk beans") the other day, all I had to buy was an onion, cilantro, canned tomatoes, a lime, and a garlic clove (I had one, but I wanted a fresher one).  I spent about $5 at the grocery store to make this meal, and it made a very large family serving!  I had the rest of the stuff sitting in the pantry (or fridge - bacon, bell pepper and jalapenos).  I always use the dried chicken granules to make my own chicken stock, and I always use whatever bottle of beer is leftover from previously hosted gatherings.  It is a delicious and cheap way to feed large parties of people!

Also, please note you can use a crock pot to make these beans, though I recommend using an enameled Dutch oven.  I do recommend doing steps 1-2 in some sort of enameled Dutch oven or other large pan on the stove (for at least 30 minutes) before you put it in a crock pot.  It will save you a lot of time, and you really should soak the beans for at least 4 hours.  If you have a large amount of time, you can put all of the ingredients together in a large capacity crock pot and just leave it overnight or in the morning before you go to work.


As I discussed in a previous post, if you are concerned about the alcohol in the beans, please look at this link.  Since you will be simmering the beans for over 2.5 hours, there will be less than 5% of that one bottle of beer left in your beans.  5% of the 5% of alcohol by volume in an average beer leaves you with about half of the alcohol in an Alcoholics Anonymous-approved "Near Beer"!  When you divide that out into how many servings this dish makes, the amount of alcohol is almost negligible.

Larena's Borracho Beans

1 lb dried pinto beans, washed (and “sorted” to ensure there are no rocks mixed in)
Water (no salt) to soak the beans
2 quarts chicken stock
1 ½ tbsp of Salt Grass Spice (if you don’t have it, use salt/pepper to your taste, and add about ¼ tsp paprika)
2 cans Mexican style stewed tomatoes, cut into ½” pieces
1 white onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 bay leaves
¼ cup pickled jalapeno slices, cut into half-slices
1 ½ cup (approximately) of chopped fresh cilantro, including stems
1 – 12 oz bottle/can of a dark beer (or a Mexican beer such as Dos Equis, Corona, Negro Modelo, etc)
3 slices of bacon, cut into ½” wide slices (or salt pork, bits of ham from ham hocks or sliced deli meat, etc)
½ of a bell pepper, diced  into ½” pieces
1 tsp mesquite flavored liquid smoke
1 ½ tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp cumin powder
¼ tsp cayenne
½ tsp garlic powder
2-3 tbsp of tomato paste (to taste)
a small squeeze of lime juice
Additional salt/pepper to taste


  1. Soak the beans (covered) overnight, or for at least 4 hours.
  2. Drain the beans, and refill the pot with enough chicken stock to cover the beans with approximately 2 inches of chicken stock (you may need to make additional stock, depending on the size of your pan).  Season with the Salt Grass spice (or salt/pepper/paprika if you don’t have any of the 7-spice).  Cover and bring the beans to a boil.  Once it has started to boil, reduce the heat to medium low, re-cover, and cook for 1.5 hours.  Stir your beans occasionally to prevent the beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  3. Once the beans have finished their main cooking process, add in all of the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine and distribute the ingredients.
  4. Continue to cook the beans, uncovered, for 1 hour, or until the beans are nice and tender.
  5. Taste the beans and add some additional salt or pepper if necessary (I add approximately 1 more tsp of pepper if I am using the Salt Grass steak spice).
  6. Optional step: you can crush the beans just a little bit with a potato masher or a meat tenderizer to thicken the liquid.  I prefer to just cook out some of the additional liquid instead!  The beans will be quite forgiving if you keep stirring and cooking them, uncovered, at a low setting.  Just keep an eye on them and don't let them sit for more than another hour or so.

For a nutritional value breakdown of this recipe, you can find it on My Fitness Pal by doing a search for "Larena's Borracho Beans."   Disclaimer: this nutritional value calculation is just an estimation.
http://www.myfitnesspal.com/recipe/view/41575906

Monday, February 10, 2014

Beef Minestrone Soup

Soup.  Buttered saltines.  My little panda bear Chinese soup spoon.  My Care Bears TV tray.

During my childhood, these were the things that made my lunch on sick days.  Sometimes it was just lunch on a cold day.  Sometimes it was just lunch when mom wasn't feeling up for making a whole big deal out of lunch.

I don't know how she did it.  She managed to butter (okay, it was probably more like Imperial margarine spread) those saltine crackers and splay them out so that only one side of the cracker would be sticky but not too sticky to have all of the crackers stick together.  That sort of mom-prepared-meal-perfection is still endearing when I think back about it.

Progresso Beef Minestrone soup was my favorite "go to" canned soup when I was a kid.  It had all of the beans most kids wrinkle their nose at - lima beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beanscannellini beans, and peas.  I loved them all!

Then Progresso switched to only doing the minestrone soup without beef.  I was so sad!  But, I put on my big girl panties and learned to love the soup without beef.  Then at least a decade ago, they completely changed the recipe altogether.  They switched up the broth and the pasta.  They switched from a long ditalini pasta shape to a short penne shape.  *In my best sad little girl voice* It was not the same.

I've had lots of this new recipe of minestrone soup over the years, and I would long for the old recipe every time I had it.  Then one day I decided I should make some homemade minestrone soup for myself!  This is what I came up with.  Enjoy!

Special note: it can be made in a crock pot, though it will take a bit longer.  Just make sure you brown the beef and onions in a small covered skillet first.  You can experiment with it, but I recommend cooking the ditalini pasta for the last 20 minutes, if not longer, in the crock pot.  It can also stay on low simmer for much longer than an hour.  The longer it stays on simmer, the more the flavors will bloom.  I highly recommend an enameled Le Creuset Dutch oven to make this recipe.  Le Creuset pots are great in that they only need to run on very low amounts of heat to get the job done consistently.  They are *not* cheap, but one will last you a lifetime, and I have never had problems with cleanup.  It's pretty difficult to burn things in an Le Creuset pot if you maintain a low temperature.


Larena's Beef Minestrone Soup
Ingredients
·        1 lb of stew meat (beef)
·        Salt (to taste)
·        Pepper (to taste)
·        2 tbsp. of olive oil or coconut oil
·        1 small onion, diced
·        ~6 cups of vegetable broth (or chicken broth), or ~2 14.5 oz cans to start, 1 extra can after pasta is added
·        3 tbsp. of tomato paste
·        1 ½ tsp. Herbs de Provence
·        ½ tsp. basil
·        ½ tsp. oregano
·        2 bay leaves
·        1 cup of green beans, ends snapped off and pod snapped in half (fresh, not canned)
·        2 cups of cannellini beans (soaked overnight, or frozen or canned - drained)
·        1 cup of garbanzo beans (soaked overnight, or frozen or canned - drained)
·        1 cup of red kidney beans (soaked overnight, or frozen or canned - drained)
·        1 cup of lima beans (soaked overnight, or frozen or canned - drained)
·        2 cups of diced fresh Roma (Italian plum) tomatoes, or canned
·        2 medium sized carrots, peeled and sliced, large discs cut in half (yields ~1 cup)
·        2 large stalks celery, diced
·        a pinch of dried red pepper flakes
·        1 tbsp. of lemon juice
·        2 cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed
·        ½ - ¾ cup dried ditalini pasta or other small pasta (macaroni, shells, etc)
·        Optional ingredient: 2 tsp. of Salt Grass spice (no need to add additional salt/pepper aside from seasoning the beef if doing this step)

Method
1.    Pat the stew meat dry with paper towels, and season the beef with salt and pepper according to your personal taste.
2.    Using an (enameled, preferably) cast iron Dutch oven, put the stew meat, onions, and beef on low-medium heat. Cover and brown the stew meat in the oil and onions, stirring occasionally.  This will take approximately 45 minutes to an hour on low-medium heat.  The onions should be “sweated” and soft and translucent, and the beef should be nice and brown all around the outside.
3.    Combine all the ingredients in a large stock pot or saucepan (except for the pasta), mix well, and simmer for about 45 minutes. 
4.    Add the ditalini pasta, stir and simmer for another 20 minutes.  If the soup doesn’t have enough broth for your taste, add additional soup stock or water if you are out of soup stock. 
5.    Remove the bay leaves, and enjoy! This soup can be kept warm if covered and the heat is reduced to an extremely low level.  It can also be frozen or refrigerated for a second round.


For the nutritional values of this recipe, you can log it through the My Fitness Pal application.  Just search for "Larena's Beef Minestrone Soup."  Disclaimer: this nutritional value calculation is just an estimation.
http://www.myfitnesspal.com/recipe/view/41572843

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gigante Beans by Any Means

When I try new foods, I'm often surprised at how fantastic they are.  Gigante beans are definitely one of those foods!  The first time I tried them, they were cooked Greek style.  I was thoroughly impressed!

A few months ago, one of my friends asked me if I was familiar with them and if I knew where to find some in bulk.  I was familiar with them, but I had no idea where to find them.  After at quick Google search, I figured out I could find them here in Seattle at Big John's PFI near the International District.  If you are a foodie in the Seattle area, you simply must go visit this store!

Low and behold, there they were - $4.99/lb for gigante beans.  Score!  The cheapest I could find them online was for $5.99 per pound plus shipping fees through Amazon .  Alternatively, I just purchased several pounds of them from Big John's and went home.  Now what?
After doing some searching for similar recipes to the one I had previously eaten, I pieced this recipe together.  I have to say it was superb!  It is definitely being added to our "cycle" of foods we make every so often.  Though it does take a bit of time, it can be broken up easily by soaking overnight, cooking them in the pressure cooker the next evening, and baking them the next day.  Or it can all be done one weekend afternoon.

This recipe can be easily doubled.  It yielded about 6 servings.  Alternatively, you could probably easily double all of the other ingredients in the recipe (except for gigante beans) and it would still be quite tasty.

1 lb dried gigante beans (soaked overnight, or at least 4 hours)
Water to soak the beans
Water to cook the beans in a pressure cooker
½ large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
½ orange bell pepper, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
½ red bell pepper, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 – 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably Italian seasoning
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large carrot, sliced  into 1/2 inch discs, big disc pieces cut in half or quarters
1 stalk celery & leaves, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 chicken bouillon cube, crumbled
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/3 cup coconut oil (or olive oil)
1/3 lb bacon, chopped (or 6 oz. bacon and 6 oz good quality pork sausage, cut up) (optional)
Ground pepper, to taste
Hot water to cook the beans in the baking dish
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
¼ cup (approx.) of crumbled Feta cheese


Directions:

  1. Cook the pre-soaked beans in a pressure cooker, with enough water to cover by one inch, for 20 minutes.  Depending on the style of pressure cooker you have, only count the 20 minutes once the pressure cooker has begun to whistle at regular intervals (for mine, this is about 3x a minute using a 5 lb weight).  Once the 20 minutes are up, turn the heat off the beans and leave them in the pressure cooker, undisturbed, for 2-3 hours before proceeding with recipe.  (Note: if you do not have a pressure cooker, cook the beans with 3 cups of water for every 1 cup of beans in a heavy saucepan with a lid.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and then cook them for 45 minutes to an 1 hr 30 minutes, depending on how fresh your beans are.  You might have to add cooking liquid if cooking for a long period of time.  I would suggest letting them sit in the water, covered, for at least 1 more hour after they are done cooking.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees farenheit.
  3. Strain the beans and pour them into a large glass baking pan.  Note: it is okay if the beans are still a little firm at this point, but they should be plumped up quite nicely.
  4. Combine all of the remaining ingredients, except the dill, and mix well.
  5. Pour in enough hot water to cover beans by 1" in the baking dish.  Note: If the baking dish is not deep enough to cover the beans, pour enough water until it reaches 1“ from the top.  You only want to cover the beans 1” above where they originally came to in the pan before you added the other ingredients.
  6. Place the baking dish in oven and bake for 1 hour 45 minutes.  If you prefer to have your beans more tender, check the beans for the consistency after the 1 hour 45 minutes time is up.  If you want them to have a more tender texture, cook them for an additional 30 minutes.
  7. Stir the dill in, and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
  8. Remove the baking dish from the oven, and serve in bowls. 
  9. Top with a few crumbles of Feta cheese in each bowl, and enjoy!


For the nutritional values of this recipe, you can log it through the My Fitness Pal application.  Just search for "Larena's Gigante Beans."  Disclaimer: this nutritional value calculation is just an estimation, and it is based off 6 servings.  
http://www.myfitnesspal.com/recipe/view/44023960

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Zipper, My Precious Baby Dog

Zipper
April 18, 1997 - November 29, 2013


I know, I know.  This is a food blog.  You don't come here to read about dogs.  The thing is, this post isn't about just any old dog.  This is about a foodie dog and one of the best dogs who has ever graced this planet with his presence - and my oh my, did he have a presence!

Rest in peace, baby dog.  Those 16 & 1/2 years between those 2 dates were a great "dash" of a life.  Thanks for living up to your name and making that dash between your date of birth and the day you had to go so "zippy" and wonderful.  You didn't just dash through it - you always “Zipped” right through!  16 & 1/2 years is an incredibly great, long run, especially for a miniature Yorkshire Terrier.  You were simply the best there ever was, and that doesn't even begin to capture who you were to everyone.  You made every day around you a pleasure for everyone you ever met, and I am incredibly grateful for your existence in my world for just over half my lifetime.  We have all been incredibly lucky to have you in our lives, and I'm very thankful my parents took such good care of you.  The fact that you were super sweet in giving kisses from the moment I met you until your last waking moment speaks volumes about who you were.

You were a fighter through and through, my little mighty dog, and so much more. 

A best little buddy. 
An always-available petting recipient. 
A consistently cheerful, playful, and loyal companion. 
A believer in living life to the fullest.
A fierce and fearless six-pound home defender. 
An always-ready, champion fetcher. 
A unabashed smiler, miraculously managed even without lips. 
An intuitive therapist. 
A bedside nurse. 
A masterfully active and animated dreamer.
An overflowing container of so much personality.
A genetic hybrid comprised of an unexplained concoction between pure cane sugar and dog DNA that managed to melt even the coldest of hearts. 
A seemingly endless, though diminishing with age, ball of energy.
A bath disloyalist. 
A post-bath shampoo-smell remover. 
A chewer of hair dryer air. 
An electric hair trimmer antagonist. 
A shameless ham for attention. 
A converter of dog-haters. 
A converter of the dog-fearing. 
A converter of an "I don't want an indoor dog" father. 
An ever-ready travel companion. 
A highly upset announcer when you saw your “mom” bleed.
A dancer in exchange for treats or attention. 
A ball-substitute that happily ran between people for attention when they lost the fetching ball.
A highly successful beggar of food morsels. 
A stealthy, compulsive and shameless kisser.
A flawless finder of all the good spots to mark during walks. 
A sniffer of only the good leaves.
A lantana leaf junkie.
An avid fan of the great outdoors.
A one-litter father.
A sneaky chocolate thief and a subsequent hydrogen-peroxide-induced-chocolate-removal survivor. 
A survivor of a Great Dane attack. 
A survivor of rat poisoning. 
A fearless yard defender from giant, Texas-size opossums and other non-fluffy tailed creatures. 
A vet's office protester. 
A hunger protester who only accepted hand-fed morsels from favorite, worthiness-self-assessed-people when overly excited or upset. 
A fierce women-of-the-house defender. 
A perverted, non-believer in bathroom privacy and a believer in a highly probable statistics of getting attention from a captive throne-sitter.
A connoisseur of sunspots. 
A beggar of corncobs. 
A mad-dash out of kennel morning-potty runner.
A post-morning potty-run torturer of teenage daughters and sleepover victims who refused to get out of bed.
A vehicle engine noise-recognizing greeter. 
An insistent and incredibly dashing sweater model. 
A sniffer of anything butt-like. 
An eager-to-please trick show-off. 
An equal opportunity game player with cats and dogs alike.
A little dude with a complete inability to hide naughty ideas with body language.
A greeter and fetch player, even over the phone. 
A stunningly comprehensive canine student of the English language. 
An unapologetic food snob who only ate Cheerios soaked with milk upon gaining the knowledge that they could be soaked in milk. 
A cheerful part of returning home each and every day. 
A sweet welcomed-guest-greeter and an intimidating unwelcomed-guest-greeter with the remarkable ability to always know the difference between the two with absolute, 100% accuracy. 
A stunner of veterinarians with your age, personality, and vigor for life. 
The gift that truly kept on giving.
An unrepentant thief of hearts. 
A beautiful dog, inside and out. 

Thanks for making everyone love you SO much, little dude.  You are sorely missed, and will always be remembered for everything you were to all of us.  Clearly, it was a LOT.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pre-PAX Sky High Tabletop Play Benefitting Food Lifeline

Hello, readers!  I am co-hosting a charity dinner later this month, and thought some of you might be interested in attending.  100% of the proceeds go to a great charity, Food Lifeline.  Food Lifeline is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending hunger in Western Washington.  Food Lifeline makes every penny count, and 95% of the food they receive from local, state and national contributors is donated.  Event details are below.

Who: Hopefully you, along with 249 of your closest friends or soon-to-be friends
What: Pre-PAX gaming party. A night of tabletop gaming, drinking, socializing, and general merriment from the absolute most scenic location in the entire West coast and the swankiest spot in Seattle, with 100% of all proceeds going to Food Lifeline.
When: Thursday, August 29th, 7:30 pm - 2:00 am
Where: Columbia Tower Club, 76th floor, downtown Seattle. Google map directions are available here.
Why: Because you're like us - you like to game. Because you want to kick off PAX in style. Because you'd like a tasty alcoholic beverage and a supplied meal whilst you play your games. Because you're bringing an S/O whom you would like to dazzle with the most stunning views imaginable (or to at least distract them long enough for you to play). Because you're traveling and want to go someplace special. And, most importantly, because you'd like to do all of this whilst supporting a fantastic charity - and getting a tax write-off in the process. That's a lot of wins in one package.

What's included in all ticket levels:
Up to 249 other people to game with
A game library that you can borrow from (feel free to BYOG, as well)
Dinner
Full (cash) bar access
Guaranteed seating! We will have more than enough seats for everyone attending, so no waiting to play games.
A pop-up game store to make acquisitions, if you so choose
A ticket-based drawing, with prizes including gift cards to many of Seattle's best restaurants, tabletop games - and, oh yes, PAX badges in case you struck out and want to go.
As all monies spent are going to Food Lifeline, all monies spent are 100% tax deductible
(Pending final acknowledgement) Representation from the Cookie Brigade, who will be giving away their delectable treats to raise funds for Child's Play

VIP ticket levels also get:
A swankier plated dinner
Drink vouchers
Free drawing tickets
Private-access gaming rooms, if you so desire
A bigger tax deduction

For more information, and to link up to buy tickets: www.dawgsledevents.com (big link at the top that reads "tickets on sale now" that will take you to the ticketing agent).
Direct link to ticket site: shindigg.com/Event/PZFMEiVs

Map of the event in relation to the PAX location:


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Homemade Gnocchi

Before I get into my next post, I figure I should explain my absence.  I have been focusing on school lately, so I have been neglecting my blog.  Sorry, folks!  Don't worry, I've still been out and about and enjoying food as it should be enjoyed!  I just haven't had a whole lot of time to spend on writing things that aren't school assignments.  I figure for every hour I spend on my blog, that's one hour I am taking away from school time.  I'm allowing myself this one reprieve since this one won't take a whole lot of time to churn out.

Since a certain someone recently had some dental work done, he needs some soft foods for the next few weeks.  I offered to make one of my favorite dishes: homemade gnocchi!
The finished product

Some of my readers might remember me posting a link to Salumi's gnocchi recipe.  The original recipe can be found here:  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/549147  Salumi's also has printed copies of their gnocchi recipe available near the cash register in their store (you can just nicely ask for a copy).  The previous recipe was posted in honor of their famous gnocchi maker, Aunt Izzy, who passed away in 2008.  These days, Mario Batali's mother makes it almost every Tuesday.  She's a really sweet lady.  You should stop and say hello sometime!  If you are more of a "visual learner" (like I am) and you have trouble following the recipe below, you could always stop by Salumi's on gnocchi day, and watch Mario's mother roll, cut, and strike the gnocchi from the storefront window!

Do you know the great thing about gnocchi?  It's very simple to make, and it's super cheap to make!  All you need is potatoes, eggs, flour, salt, cornmeal, your favorite sauce, and some of your favorite cheese (bread is optional).  That's it!  All together, this recipe takes ~1.5 hours to make, and about half of that time is spent waiting for the potatoes to boil.  All in all, it's very easy to make, and it's delicious! It does not keep very well in leftovers since the gnocchi will just turn into mush.  So if you were planning to make the whole recipe and only cook half of it, I have to strongly advise against that.  The dough will turn grey, and the gnocchi will be very mushy.  When you strike it the next day, the ridges will not hold very well.  If you decide to make all of it and eat the leftovers the next day, I don't recommend that either.  Let's put it this way: Salumi's will  not serve their gnocchi even to go, let alone leftover from the day before!  The texture gets mushy, and they simply will not compromise the quality of their gnocchi!

Special notes: 

This recipe can be halved, and I listed the halved ingredients below.  When halved, it will serve a generous portion for 2 or a regular sized portion for 3.  The instructions are mostly the same for doing a full batch vs. a half batch.  The only real difference is it takes less time with the halved recipe since you are cutting less gnocchi pieces!  

I also strongly recommend using a kitchen scale that can measure in grams. I also recommend purchasing a gnocchi board (they're ~$5), a pastry scraper or cutter, and a potato ricer.  If using the ricer I recommend, I suggest using the "fine" setting.  Through the Amazon link below, there's a very helpful instructional video for the ricer in the Amazon reviews.  If you do not have a ricer, you can use a large-hole cheese grater to break down the cooked potato into tiny bits.  Remember, you don't want big chunks in your gnocchi dough, so it does need to be broken down as best as it can be.  Kneading the dough also helps break down the potato chunks.   I have included a link for all of the recommended tools through the Amazon widget at the bottom of this post.  


Homemade Gnocchi

Ingredients - full size / half size

500 grams potatoes (approximately 1 lb) / 250 grams potatoes (approximately 1/2 lb) (Yukon Gold is recommended, though Russets or most other types of "starchy" potato can work too)
300 grams flour / 150 grams flour
2 eggs / 1 egg
2 tsp salt / 1 tsp salt

Salt for gnocchi boiling pot
~3 tbsp  + ~3 tbsp cornmeal / ~2 tbsp + ~1.5 tbsp cornmeal

Your favorite sauce (some form of marinara, spaghetti sauce, or meat sauce is recommended)
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (or any other favorite cheese), grated

Optional: Small loaf of Italian bread or French baguette (for dipping and soaking up the leftover sauce) - 

Directions:

  1. Scrub but do not peel the potatoes.  Place the potatoes in a large pot of unsalted water, and bring it to a boil.  Cook until they are tender - approximately 30-40 minutes.  Cool and peel the potatoes while they are still warm.  Be sure to cut off any dark spots from the potatoes as well.  If you are short on time, you can peel the potatoes, cut them into large chunks, and then boil them for about 10-15 minutes.  However, I recommend boiling the potatoes whole since they will stay together easier, and you will "lose" less potato!
  2. Put a separate large pot of salted water onto boil while you prepare the gnocchi dough.  Alternatively, you can use the water from the potatoes you previously cooked, and you can just add salt to it.  If you are going to use the potato water, it is recommended to thoroughly scrub and then boil the potatoes whole, otherwise you will have too many little chunks of potato and dirt floating in your water.  Personally, I recommend just using a new pot of salted water.
  3. Put some flour down on your kneading surface, and press the potatoes through a ricer onto your floured surface.  Add the measured flour and salt so it makes a nice round mound, and make a hole in the middle of the mound - kind of like a small bird's next.  Crack the eggs into the hole.   
  4. With your fingers, break apart the egg yolk and mix it a little bit with the egg white.  Start to stir the dough mixture with your fingers, mixing the potatoes, salt, flour, and eggs together.  Once  you have mixed everything together and it's soft, knead the dough until it is smooth.  Set it aside for 5-15 minutes to let the gluten expand.
    These are all 4 stages of gnocchi dough. Starting from the upper left corner, going clockwise: the unformed dough, the dough after it's been formed and cut, the gnocchi after it has been "struck", and the dough after it is rolled out but before it is cut.  My gnocchi board and pastry cutter are also pictured.
  5. Flatten the ball to about a 1/2 inch thick rectangle shape, and cut the flattened side into 6 strips or so strips.
  6. Add more flour to your kneading surface if needed.  Roll one of the strips like a snake until it gets about as big around as your thumb.  You might have to break the piece in half or in three pieces as it gets longer.
  7. Take a butter knife or a pastry cutter and cut the "snakes" into pieces about as big as the length of the last knuckle of your index finger - a little more than half an inch.  The flour on the table should help keep the gnocchi from sticking together, but do not use too much.  Once you have cut all the gnocchi pieces, you can lightly roll them in the leftover flour.  This can also help prevent them from sticking to each other.  Remember, you want to keep the gnocchi relatively the same size since bigger gnocchi will have a longer cooking time.
  8. Roll the gnocchi on a fork or on a gnocchi board to "strike" the gnocchi and make ridges.  The ridges on the gnocchi helps the sauce stick to the gnocchi better.  Basically you roll it with the side of your thumb to make the impression on one side of the dough.  It will look a little bit like a bigger version of  "Velveeta shells and cheese."  It can take some practice.
  9. Take first measurement of cornmeal and spread it on a cookie sheet.  Place the "struck" pieces of gnocchi on the cookie sheet.  Since you don't want the gnocchi to stick to each other, try not to place the gnocchi on top of each other as best as you can.  Once the cookie sheet is full, spread the remaining cornmeal on top of the gnocchi and gently shake the cookie sheet to help roll the gnocchi in the cornmeal.  This will also help prevent the gnocchi from sticking together.
    This is the result from the half-recipe
  10. When the water is boiling, gently place half the gnocchi in the pot.  I typically use a fine mesh strainer spoon to place the gnocchi in the pot.  A "spider" wok tool will work too, as will a large slotted spoon.  I just like using as wide of a tool as possible so I can get as much gnocchi into the pot as possible at the same time, and I prefer to not just toss all the cornmeal into the pot and I don't want to run the risk of having "gnocchi mush" if the gnocchi gets stuck to each other while sliding off the cookie sheet.
  11. At first, the gnocchi will sink to the bottom.  After a minute or two, the gnocchi will float to the top.  Once it has floated to the top, cook it for one more minute.  (Hint: this is why you want to try to get all the gnocchi to be the same size and put it in the boiling water at the same time).  Once it has been cooking at the top of the water for one minute, scoop the gnocchi out and put it in a colander to drain.  Repeat for the remaining gnocchi.
  12. Serve the gnocchi in warm bowls with a couple spoonfuls of sauce, and grate some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on top.  I typically serve it with some meat sauce, and I use some of my meatball meat I always keep in the freezer.  I will post another post with my meatball meat recipe in the near future!
  13. Enjoy!

For the nutritional values of this recipe, you can log it through the My Fitness Pal application.  Just search for "Salumi's Gnocchi (without sauce)"  Disclaimer: this nutritional value calculation is just an estimation, and it is based off 6 servings.  
http://www.myfitnesspal.com/recipe/view/44057413