Monday, November 4, 2013

Gnocchi with sausage and leeks

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My kitchen broke. The dog ate my cookbooks... Those are about the best excuses I can come up with for my lengthy absence from this blog that was once such a big part of my life. They're not even good excuses. Heck, I don't even have a dog (if I did, my husband would probably be pretty happy if he ate a few of my cookbooks). But a lot has happened since my last post in April. My tiny one turned one... and started sleeping through the night (most of the time). My job changed. Then changed again. My manager changed. My husband's job changed.

Through it all, I have been cooking - a lot. Fortunately we are moving past the phase of baby food and I can serve one meal to my whole family at least a few times a week. This may sound ridiculous to the childless, but all you moms know exactly how monumental this is. Last night's dinner was Polish: kielbasa, pierogies and sauerkraut. And you know what?? Both kids ate kielbasa and pierogies. It made my day. These are the small victories that mean so much to working moms...

I have a stockpile of photos and recipes from the last few months, so it's time to get back to blogging. This one is a highlight - from a cookbook Mom gave me a few months back...

Note well: the gnocchi need to be started a day ahead so plan accordingly!

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Gnocchi with sausage and leeks
Adapted from Fabio's Italian Kitchen by Fabio Viviani

2 leeks
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
6-8 Sweet Italian sausages
1 c. dry white wine
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 recipe potato-ricotta gnocchi (follows)
Good quality EVOO for drizzling
Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat oven to 375F.

Clean the leeks well and slice pale green and white parts into thin rounds.

Heat the butter in a saute pan over medium heat and brown the sausages on all sides. Add the wine and reduce. While the wine is reducing, toss the leeks with the olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes.

Once the wine has reduced and leeks are roasted, drop gnocchi in a pot of salted boiling water. Remove gnocchi as soon as the first ones rise to the top. Add to the pan with the sausage mixture and toss to coat. Transfer to a serving platter and top with the leeks, a drizzle of good Extra-virgin olive oil and some shaved Parmesan.

Potato-ricotta gnocchi

6 medium baking potatoes
1/2 a whole nutmeg, grated (I used less!)
1 Tbsp. salt, plus pepper to taste
1 egg yolk
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup semolina flour
2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 425F.

Bake the potatoes for an hour until they are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Cool for a couple hours then scoop out the insides. Mash until very smooth using a fork or potato ricer.

Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper to taste, egg yolk and ricotta. Mix to combin and refrigerate overnight, covered.

The next day, spread the semolina in an even layer on a baking tray.

Place potato mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer and add the flour on low-medium speed. Once the mixture has come together, remove it from the bowl and cut into fist-sized pieces.

Roll each ball into a cigar shape and cut into 1-inch pieces. Place on the baking tray and then refrigerate for 20-30 minutes to set. Cook as noted in recipe above.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Salt Lick Green Onion and Cheese Souffle

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My last post was on the eve of my second daughter's birth: seven months and twelve days ago. It's amazing how much can change in so little time. Hurricane Sandy left her mark when little one was just seven weeks old. There was Newtown and more recently the Boston bombings... I was on maternity leave for nearly four months and have now been back at work for nearly four.

And it is work that led me to this post.

More specifically, it is work that led me to the Salt Lick.

Since returning to work, I've had three business trips - two to Texas and one to Michigan. The Michigan trip was a snowy disaster and one trip to Texas found me locked in my hotel room with a stomach bug. (The saving grace was a nice dinner when I recovered out with my two favorite people from work.) But the other trip to Texas was for a team meeting and I have a great team. These are people I would actually choose to hang out with if work hadn't thrown us together by chance. Needless to say, it made for some fun nights.

On one of those nights, the boss, a true Texas carnivore (not sure green is in his vocabulary), chose to take the team for some finger-licking good BBQ at the Salt Lick. I had heard of the Salt Lick during a recent season of Top Chef, so my little eyes lit up when he mentioned it. I had decided to buy the cookbook before we even arrived (my teammates laughed at my eagerness, but then several of the guys decided to tote home a copy for their wives!)

The barbecue was good - really good. Especially the ribs washed down with more than a couple pitchers of Shiner Bock. If I find myself in Austin again, I'm going back for more. In the meantime, I'll content myself with the book.

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Green Onion and Cheese Souffle
from the Salt Lick Cookbook by Scott Roberts and Jessica Dupuy

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup milk, room temperature
½ cup grated Gruyère cheese
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
6 oz. pancetta, finely chopped (optional)
1 – 2 bunches green onions, cleaned and sliced on the bias into ½” slices
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 egg yolks
salt and pepper to taste
8 egg whites
1 tsp. cream of tartar

Pre-heat the oven to 375º F and butter a 1½ qt. soufflé mold.

Pre-heat a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add the butter and melt until frothy. Add the flour, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, creating a roux.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the milk, whisking vigorously. Return the pot to the heat and bring this mixture to a boil so that the sauce will thicken. (This is a basic white sauce.)

Again, remove the pan from the heat and add the grated cheeses, stirring well to melt.

In a large skillet, cook the chopped pancetta (if using) over medium heat. When pancetta is fully cooked and a little crispy, add the green onions to the pan and sauté briefly. If you are not including the pancetta, simply sauté the green onions in a tbsp. of butter.

Add the green onions, mustard, and egg yolks to the cheese sauce. Taste this mixture and season with salt and pepper. (Be sure to season well or over-season slightly, since this mixture will be diluted by the egg whites later.) Let this mixture cool completely.

Whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar in a copper bowl to soft peak stage. In three stages, carefully fold the egg whites into the soufflé base. Transfer the mixture to a buttered 1½ qt. soufflé mold. Bake at 375º F for 30 minutes, or until risen and lightly browned on top. The soufflé should jiggle only slightly when finished.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bucatini All'Amatriciana with Spicy Smoked Mozzarella Meatballs

Well, this is it. Tomorrow, I officially become a mother of 2. This time around, it's quite different. I feel better prepared, ready for the challenge and joy of having a newborn. I'm not entirely sure how my 2-year-old will respond, but I think she'll do ok once she comes to grips with the fact that mommy can't pick her up for awhile.

There's one thing for sure: my freezer is stocked: sauces, chili, burgers, quick meals. (So the blogging may suffer for a bit...) Last time around, I didn't take this step. I thought I'd have time to cook - silly, silly, delusional me.

I'm still working but my last meeting ends in 90 minutes. Come 5 o'clock, I'm off til the New Year. Seems far off, but it'll no doubt fly by as I watch little peanut grow and grow and spend some extra time with big sister.

Hopefully I'll be back in the kitchen soon. In the meantime, here's a new favorite that sounds difficult but is actually pretty east to make. Excuse the less than stellar photos...

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Bucatini All'Amatriciana with Spicy Smoked Mozzarella Meatballs
Adapted from Giada at Home by Giada de Laurentiis

All'Amatriciana Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces pancetta, diced
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano

Meatballs:
1 small (6-ounce) onion, grated
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus 1/4 cup
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 cup
1/3 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
1 large egg
2 tablespoons ketchup
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
8 ounces ground beef
8 ounces ground veal
2 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese, cut into 16 (1/2-inch) cubes
1 pound bucatini or other long pasta

For the sauce: In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta and reserve. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and the cooked pancetta. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

For the meatballs: Position an oven rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the onion, 1/2 cup parsley, 2/3 cup Parmesan, bread crumbs, egg, ketchup, garlic, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the beef and veal. Using your hands, combine all ingredients gently but thoroughly. Shape the meat mixture into 16 (1 1/2-inch-diameter) meatballs and place on the prepared baking sheet. Make a hole in the center of each meatball and place a cube of mozzarella inside. Reform the meatball so that the mozzarella is completely covered with the meat mixture. Bake the meatballs for 15 minutes until cooked through.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and place in a large serving bowl. Add the meatballs and sauce. Toss gently and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and Parmesan.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Rigatoni with chicken and creamy mushroom sauce

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With 16 days (or less) until the arrival of my baby, my motivation comes and goes. Some days the nesting instinct is on a warpath and I'm cleaning everything in sight. Other days my swollen ankles leave me curled on the couch. The same goes for cooking. Last night I was a bit more motivated (I made pan-roasted duck breasts with farro risotto and caramelized figs - watch this space for the recipe). Aside from saying it was a great dinner, my fabulous husband said the nicest thing possible: "I don't know many women who would make this dinner 2 weeks before having a baby." Made my day!!!

Some days, I want to prepare big batches of stuff I can freeze for after baby's arrival. Other days, I'm more likely to take the path of least resistance. This recipe is quick and simple, and as you'll see from the picture, my 2-year-old liked it (though she picked out most of the mushrooms), which meant I only had to make one meal to feed all of us.

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Rigatoni with chicken and creamy mushroom sauce
Adapted from Giada at Home by Giada De Laurentiis

Ingredients
1/2 pound rigatoni pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound assorted mushrooms, (such as cremini, shiitake and button), cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup (4 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes.

While the water heats and pasta cooks:
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then add to the pan. Cook chicken until lightly browned on all sides and cooked through. Remove from pan using a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the shallots and garlic to the pan, adding a little more olive oil if needed. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook until mushrooms are tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the heat to high. Add the wine and cook for 3 minutes until all the liquid evaporates. Add the stock and reserved chicken simmer until liquid is slightly reduced. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the mascarpone cheese. Stir until creamy. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water, and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the mushroom mixture and the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Toss well to coat pasta, adding the reserved pasta water, if needed, to loosen the pasta. Garnish with the chopped chives. Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Easy cheese danish

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I've entered the final countdown (and yes, the song from the Rocky movie keeps playing in my head). Less than 30 days until my new baby arrives and just 17 days of work. The bathroom and laundry room renovations are done with the exception of the glass shower, but that should be installed early next week. Painters finished this morning so I can reassemble the second floor of my house over the next few days. Then I can focus on the baby...

In the meantime, I've got a freezer stocked with a fair number of quick dinners. I still have to throw together a big batch of Bolognese, but that'll be done soon... While stocking my freezer, I found some things I wanted to use up, including a package of puff pastry. These easy cheese danish were a perfect treat. I assembled them the night before and then just popped the baking sheet in the oven in the morning. My husband claims he prefers them to the ones from our favorite local bakery... impressive! Next time, I might try adding a little fruit as well, maybe some raspberry preserves...

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Easy Cheese Danish
adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 Tbsp.sugar
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg white beaten with a splash of water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream them together on low speed until smooth. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolk, ricotta, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest and mix until just combined. Don't whip!

Unfold puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it's a 10 by 10-inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. Place a heaping tablespoon of cheese filling into the middle of each of the 4 squares. Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold 2 opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they firmly stick together.

Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash. Place the pastries on the prepared sheet pan. Refrigerate the filled Danish for 15 minutes or overnight.

Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking, until puffed and brown. Serve warm.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Getting local: Frosty summer treats

I don't go outside much these days. 34 weeks pregnant and the temperature and humidity are definitely the enemy. What's worse, I crave ice cream. I haven't gained a ton of weight but 5 more weeks of ice cream might land me in some trouble on that front... Add to that the fact that I have an irresistible 2-year-old who loves "brown" ice cream and I find plenty of excuses to head to a local shoppe. (Why can't I crave stone fruits like my pregnant friend in Ireland???)

My craving has helped me find a few spots worth a visit if you're in NJ. One of them is actually healthy!

I list them below in no particular order...

Zita's Homemade Ice Cream - New Providence - If you live in Jersey, there's a good chance you've heard of or read about Zita's. They have award-winning flavors like S'Mores and have been written up in all the local papers. It's a bit of a drive from our house - 15 minutes or so - so Saturday was our first try. It was GOOD! My little one wanted her favorite: "brown". I gave her the option of plain brown or brown with peanut butter and she quickly replied "Brown with peebah budder". Smart girl. It was delish, decadent chocolate swirled with rich peanut butter. My husband and I shared a cup of their signature flavor: 91716, vanilla ice cream with chocolate covered pretzels, caramel, peanut butter and chocolate chips. It was loaded with stuff, the salt from the pretzels adding an extra layer of flavor. We will be going back (I want to try the S'mores...).

On personal note, this place is run by a guy I went to grade school with. We went our separate ways after grade school, but randomly bumped into each other in DC and then again in Jamaica while in college. He wasn't behind the counter when we ordered, but I spotted him as we left. Next time I'll have to say hi, but things were beyond busy on Saturday with the line wrapping outside the door. But if you see this Pete, nice work! I'll be sending my friends...

Double Dipper Cafe - Fanwood - Note the location and you'll understand why we go to this one more than Zita's. It's less than a mile from our house, just across the street from our favorite sushi place. My duaghter now knows that if she's good while we have our sushi, we will likely head across the street for a scoop after. Here, she likes the peanut butter decadence - vanilla ice cream swirled with lots of peanut butter and studded with tiny peanut butter cups (it's one of my favorites, too.). the best thing I've had from Dipper's is the ice cream cake. I ordered a custom cake for my daughter's borthday - their cakes are 3 layer, standard is chocolate and vanilla, but I swapped the chocolate for Dulce de Leche. Best ice cream cake I've had in ages. It will become her birthday tradition! This is another family-run spot, friendly service and delicious homemade flavors...

And last but not least, the healthy one...

Let's Yo - Watchung - The yogurt craze has taken over and there are places popping up everywhere. This place recently opened in the nearby Blue Star shopping center. They have 18 flavors of self-serve froyo. I've been hitting the place about once a week for the last few weeks - it's organic, most of it is lowfat or nonfat, but most use regular sweeteners (I won't eat artificial sweeteners while pregnant and try to avoid them when I'm not). And they have a topiing bar that takes me back to my childhood summers in Maine where we loved The Viking - and ice cream shoppe with a topping bar. We'd pile on more toppings than ice cream... I'm more conservative these days. My favorite combo at Let's Yo is coconut yogurt with slivered almonds and a drizzle of hot fudge. The chocolate yogurt is remarkably chocolatey. I also tried vanilla - very good - and peanut butter - not up to my standard of excessive peanut-butteriness. They have fruit and candy toppings and everything comes in at $.49 an ounce. A reasonably sized treat costs about $2.50 - not bad at all...

Pregnant or not, this summer heat calls for a cold treat or two, so if you are from Jersey or find yourself in the area this summer, why not indulge? Maybe we'll see each other there!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fresh peach cake

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Right now, everything in my home is geared toward getting ready. We're getting ready for the arrival of baby sister - just 6 weeks from tomorrow. So, as you might expect, we're hauling out boxes of clothes from big sister (and chuckling at how tiny everything is), washing clothes, installing car seats, assembling strollers and swings and such... the list goes on. Add to that the fact that we are on week 3 of a major renovation of our master bathroom - which should be done in the next day or two so they can start on the laundry room. Then in 2 weeks the painter arrives. In between, we have house guests every weekend... Getting ready? I'm going to need a 3 month break after all of this!!!

But the change is certainly exciting. My first little girl has made the transition to her big girl bed and she's loving it. She points to her old crib and says "baby sister's" and this weekend she tole me baby sister is her best friend. In my state of pregnancy-hormone overload, I almost cried...

So how to deal with all this chaos? Why not bake a cake? I had a couple of overripe peaches and a couple perfect peaches so this cake was just the thing. Leave a comment with your favorite way to use the season's peaches...

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Fresh Peach Cake
adapted from How Easy Is That? by Ina Garten


1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large, ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar for 3 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon.

Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half of the peaches, then sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top, and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.

Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.


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