Tuesday, December 9, 2014

never bake while tired (or, that time I used flour instead of powdered sugar. or, nonny's icebox cookies).

I had been craving cookies for a few weeks. Specifically my grandmother's icebox cookies, which are kind of like a shortbread-sugar-cookie hybrid (more short than sugar), and pretty much the best ever. When I finally got around to pausing Gilmore Girls (Netflix, I'm not sure whether to kill you or hug you) long enough to be a productive member of society for 10 minutes, it was 10pm on a Sunday night when I definitely had to be at work the next day.

Perfect time to bake some cookies, right?

The beauty of this dough is that it takes about 30 seconds to throw together, and I always have the ingredients on hand. The hardest part is remembering to take butter out of the freezer to thaw, since we don't have a microwave.

Once the cookies were done, Danny and I enjoyed a few while watching the last episode for the night (or was it?). I kept thinking, "does powdered sugar lose its flavor over time? Because it tastes really bland!" The cookies tasted just fine, but the dusting of sugar on top could have been left off.

When I went into the kitchen to wrap up the remaining cookies, I looked around at the counters and it hit me: I had absolutely, definitely, positively just dusted a whole batch of cookies with all-purpose flour. The powdered sugar had been put back in the pantry after making the dough, and even though the container for the flour is a completely different size and shape, I somehow did not even notice I was using the wrong powder for the finishing touches.

And that is why you never bake when tired.

Luckily the flour was easily wiped off, and the cookies were re-dusted with powdered sugar, and all is now well with the world. The end.

Icebox Cookies (makes more than you probably need, but less than you probably want)

1 cup chilled unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 350*. Cream the butter and sugar until incorporated and fluffy. Mix in egg yolks and vanilla, then flour, until dough is formed. Break the dough into a few smaller dough balls (this will depend on how much you want to make at a time), and roll each ball into logs about 1.5" thick. Wrap the logs up and chill in the freezer until firm, about an hour (or refrigerate for a few hours). Slice logs at an angle to make cookies, about .5" thick. Place cookies on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until slightly golden. Dust with powdered sugar. Eat while hot if you're crazy like me and just can't wait, or let them cool if you're a normal person. Careful not to inhale while eating, as powdered sugar causes coughing fits. Not that I know from experience, or anything.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

ricotta gnocchi

Ricotta gnocchi. 

Doesn't it just sound super schmancy?

When I was in Italy with my family last month, one of our mornings included a cooking class at a local restaurant. After learning about the chef's philosophy about using homegrown ingredients and touring the farm on the property, we made our way to the kitchen to cook. 

Side note: I am still trying to get over the fact that the clover we tried on the farm tasted like cucumber. I mean, it's a flower kind of. Talk about mind blown. 

When you hear "ricotta gnocchi", you might think " potato gnocchi with ricotta sauce" or something similar. In actuality, it's gnocchi made of cheese. I know, I know. Crazy talk! But it worked, it was easy, and it was delicious to boot!


See? Looks totally normal. 

The beauty of making gnocchi with ricotta instead of potato is that you're not contending with the starches in the potato, trying to beat out the sticky guminess as you perfect your dough and shape the pasta. And don't worry, the pasta doesn't taste like cheese. 

My favorite prep for this pasta is to throw together a pesto and toss it all together in a pan for a minute or two to get everything nice and saucy. Simple, delicious, and because it's green it's healthy, right? 


Ricotta Gnocchi (serves 3-4)

50 grams flour (pasta flour is preferred, but AP will work if you sift it first), plus extra for dusting and in case you need more for dough consistency
250 grams ricotta, strained
1 egg yolk (optional)

In a medium bowl, mix flour into ricotta in stages to help avoid lumps. Add the egg yolk if you want to add color to make the gnocchi look closer to potato gnocchi. The dough should be slightly tacky, but not sticking to your hands sticky. Once it's reached this consistency turn it onto a floured surface. Roll it into a log (or multiple logs, depending on space constraints) about .75"-1" in diameter. Cut the log into .5"-.75" pieces (basically you're looking for gnocchi-sized pieces here, no need to get out the ruler!). Press each piece into the back of a fork and roll it into a curl, if you want the ridged look. The benefit of the ridges is they hold more sauce! Everyone loves sauce. As you're rolling out the pasta, make sure to flour as necessary. Place each gnocchi on a floured plate or in a floured bowl, and as you need to layer the pieces make sure to flour as you go. You don't want them to stick together, and the extra flour won't affect the finished product. 

While you're rolling out the dough, get a pot of salted water boiling. Turn it down to a low boil when you're ready to drop the pasta in so you don't scald youself! Carefully drop the gnocchi into the water and cook about 1-2 minutes, until the pasta floats to the top. Remove them piece by piece as they're ready, and drop into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. At this point you can store the pasta until you're ready to make your meal. 

To reheat, you can either cook again in boiling water until the gnocchi float, or you can just toss into a pan with your sauce of choice for a couple minutes, until hot. Buon appetito!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

savory chicken and waffles with crispy panko-cheddar crumbles and bacon

After a string of takeout meals and way more pizza than anyone should consume in a three day period (if that's even possible), I thought today might be a good day to make something tasty at home. The kicker? I didn't want to go to the store for ingredients, and figuring out something to make with what I had on hand was proving difficult. 

Bacon, eggs, Greek yogurt, cheese, frozen chicken. When you already had eggs for breakfast, that list doesn't sound too promising.

The one thing I kept coming back to was waffles. 

It might help to mention that my family's waffle recipe is a savory sour cream waffle. Considering Greek yogurt can often be used as a substitute, I suppose it makes sense. 

Of course, when you have a fiancĂ© who gave up sugar for Lent, you have to be creative when doing a breakfasty food for dinner. While I grew up eating pancakes and waffles plain with my hands (as much as my parents tried to get me to use a fork it just never took. I don't eat toast with a fork, why would I use one for a plain waffle? Because logic), I realize most people prefer their carby goodness drizzled with syrup and whatnot. 

At this point, I thought maybe I could put the chicken to good use, too. Chicken and waffles, people! We like to keep bags of Trader Joe's flash frozen chicken thighs on hand, which are awesome in a pinch because you can cook them straight from frozen. You know what they're not good for? Fried chicken. 

Enter: crispy bacon crumbles and panko-crusted cheddar. Yes, yes please. 

This dinner was surprisingly easy to throw together, and we felt pretty fancy eating it! Bonus points for having leftover waffles for breakfast tomorrow. 

Savory Chicken and Waffles with Bacon and Cheddar crumble

1 batch waffles (see below)
1 boneless, skinless chicken thigh per person
3 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
1 cup cheddar, chopped or shredded
1 cup panko
4-5 scallions greens, chopped

Preheat oven to 375*. Season chicken with salt and pepper, bake for about 30 minutes if fresh, 40-45 minutes if frozen. While the chicken is cooking, fry bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel, leaving the bacon fat in the pan. Mash the panko and cheese together, and drop the mix in the bacon pan. It really helps to have a good non-stick pan for this so the cheese doesn't stick. Let the panko crisp up for a few minutes before stirring the whole thing around, breaking it into pieces as you go so it's kind of crumble-like. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is nice and golden. 

For the waffles (makes 6-7): 
1.25 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder 
3 eggs, separated
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups sour cream (ideally. You can use Greek yogurt but it won't have quite the same tang! Consistency-wise it's an even trade, though)
Pinch of salt

Mix dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Beat egg yolks and egg whites separately I used a fork for the yolks, but you want to beat the whites to a soft peak. Mix egg yolks, sour cream and butter into the dry mix until well combined and smooth. Fold egg whites in and give that batter some body! Once everything comes together, cook the waffles in your waffle iron to the doneness you like. I usually do a bit past medium. If you get the waffles cooking about 10 minutes before the chicken is done, they should time pretty well. If you don't need all of the waffles, they freeze well!


When the chicken and waffles are both done, assemble your plate by topping a waffle with a piece of chicken, and finally topping with the panko-cheese crumbles and bacon. Sprinkle scallions over top and drizzle with olive oil. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

diner-perfect home fries

Potatoes are one of my favorite foods (hi, have we met?). There's nothing quite like a plate of well-done home fries, topped with a couple over easy fried eggs. The thing is, I never seem to be able to get my home fries juuust the way I like them. Sure, I can get them crispy, but in a roasted potato kind of way, not a diner home fries kind of way. It's just not the same. 

I'm realizing I've just been doing it wrong all this time. The trick? Cook your potatoes before home frying it up!

Cut a potato into 4 pieces and put into a pot of water, fully covered. Bring to a boil, then let it go for about 10 minutes. You want it to be just fork tender. Remove them from the water when done, and roughly chop. Heat some oil in a pan over medium-high heat and throw your taters in. Let them crisp up on the bottom before turning, at least 5 minutes. Cook to desired doneness, salt and pepper to taste. Personally, I love some Cajun seasoning in there. Dig in!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

obligatory butternut squash recipe post (schmancy butternut squash mac n cheese)

I know, I know. 

Everyone and their mother is sharing recipes featuring butternut squash. After all, 'tis the season!

I'd sit this one out, except: a) I love butternut squash, and b) I love obnoxiously pushing food I love at people. Sorry I'm not sorry.

I had a reallyreallyreally hard time not eating this straight out of the pan before it was even finished, but had to keep reminding myself that eating 8 servings of pasta, cream, and cheese in one sitting would probably not be wise if I finished the dish, I wouldn't have a final photo of bubbly creamy cheesy goodness to share!

See those darker bits? Pure, caramely squash goodness. Because "caramely" is totally a word.

You'll notice (maybe) from the first photo that I used a package of pre-cut butternut squash. Generally I don't buy these packages, because I forget about them in the fridge until it's too late (and by "too late" I mean a week, which is totally ridiculous. Get your act together, squash!). Somehow I remembered about this package before it was too late, and celebrated joyously before getting down to it. If you're not afraid of a whole butternut squash, they keep for way (way way way) longer.

Butternut Squash Mac 'n Cheese (serves 6-8)

1 box elbow macaroni (8 servings)
1 package pre-cut butternut squash, or one squash peeled, de-seeded, and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2-2/3 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk (the higher the fat content the easier it'll reduce - I used whole milk)
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (don't buy pre-shredded if you can help it, it doesn't melt the same)
1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dry sage
1-2 pinches ground nutmeg (to taste)
salt and pepper, to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400*. Toss butternut squash with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sage. Lay out in a single layer on a baking sheet (lining with foil will help with the clean-up but still maintain the caramely bits you'd get from direct contact with the pan). Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the squash is easily mashable. Mash roughly with a fork (or puree if you don't want any texture/chunks of squash in your mac) and set aside. Don't turn the oven off! You're not done with it yet.

While the squash is cooking (when it has about 20 minutes left), start water in a pot for the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box. Melt butter in a medium shallow saucepan. Once melted, add flour and mix to form a roux. Stir almost constantly for 3-5 minutes over medium heat, until the mixture has darkened to a golden brown. Add cream and stir until the roux is fully incorporated. Add milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Let the mix cook for another 5-10 minutes until reduced to a slightly-thicker-than-heavy-cream consistency, stirring occasionally. Mix in cheese and mashed squash, and let the whole mix cook for another few minutes to make sure everything is melty goodness. Taste to see if you want/need any more seasoning.

Once the pasta is done, drain and transfer to a large oven-safe dish (I used a cast iron but I bet a casserole dish would work well too). Pour cheesy goodness over top, stir well, and toss in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the top is bubbly and golden. If you're feeling extra fancy, sprinkle some extra shredded parmesan over top for the last few minutes. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

goat cheese and spinach ravioli with brown butter scallions and parmesan

I love cheese. 

In particular, I reallyreally love goat cheese, pretty much any which way. I've probably mentioned this before. 

When I babysit Chester for my parents, I take full advantage of having an awesome kitchen at my disposal (and I make sure to clean up after myself too, dad, if you're reading this). 

How are these related? Is there a point here?

Why yes, there is. 

After seeing a picture while at the house of fresh ravioli filled with goat cheese and butternut squash, I decided I just had to have some. Since there was no butternut squash around (seriously? Get your act together grocery store! It's fall, otherwise known as butternut squash season), I settled for spinach instead. 

If you haven't made pasta before, it's super easy and rewarding! Even if you don't have a pasta roller, I promise. I used a rolling pin this time around since I don't carry my pasta roller around with me in case I decide to make pasta on a whim. It just doesn't quite fit in my purse. 

This pasta was nice and light, but also a substantial meal. Because, cheese. And butter. You can never have enough brown butter. Trust me on that one. 


Goat cheese and spinach ravioli with brown butter scallions and Parmesan (serves 2-4)

4 ounces of soft goat cheese
2 cups fresh spinach (you could probably sub about 1/2-1 cup frozen spinach and thaw it)
1-1.5 cups flower, plus extra for dusting
2 eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons water, more if necessary
2-3 tablespoons butter
3-4 chopped scallions
Pinch of salt (for the pasta dough)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Measure flour into a small mixing bowl. Add eggs, salt, and olive oil, stir to combine. If the mix is too dry, add water slowly, one tablespoon at a time. The end result should be similar to pizza dough. Let it rest while you make the filling. 

In the pot you plan on using for the pasta, bring a few inches of water to a boil. Drop the spinach in (if you're using fresh) and let it cook for just a minute or two, enough to wilt it. Drain the spinach on a paper towel, and then chop into small pieces. Mix spinach into goat cheese, making sure it's well incorporated. It won't take long and should look like spinach dip. Salt and pepper if necessary and set aside. 

Break the dough into four smaller pieces, dust a cutting board with flour and roll one piece out until the dough is pretty thin. You're looking for something thinner than pie crust, but not see-through. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into 1.5"ish squares (it really depends on your personal preference). 

Spoon a small dollop of filling onto half of your squares (not all of them, because then you have nothing to use for tops to the ravioli. Not like I made that mistake...). Dab a little water around all four sides of each piece with filling on it, line up another square on top, and lightly press the two together. The water makes sure they stick. Repeat with the remaining filling and pieces dough. 

Bring a pot of salted water (I used the spinach water. Yay extra nutrients!) to a boil and carefully drop the ravioli in, in batches. I cooked about 6-8 pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pot. The pasta will float when done, about 2-3 minutes. 

While cooking the pasta, melt butter in a large pan over medium heat, letting it brown. Once it's begun to brown, add scallions and sauté a couple minutes. Drop cooked ravioli into the pan and let it pick up the butter and maybe even brown a bit, another 1-2 minutes. Transfer pasta to a plate and garnish with Parmesan, and a scallion tied in a knot if you're fancy/crazy. Serve immediately!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

braised beef shank over creamy polenta

When did fall get here? Not that I'm complaining, but it was unbearable one day, and dark-at-5-bundle-up-closed-toed-shoes weather the next. Mother Nature left me the equivalent of being caught with an awkward 2am fire drill when you're asleep and not wearing pants, in terms of my pantry. Lots of fresh summer veggies, and salad. Salad is not a winter food. 

Luckily, I work well under pressure. 

One thawed hunk of meat and a quick trip to the store later, and we're in business!

Now re: the meat. Mind if I wax poetic for a minute? Awesome, thanks. 

We've been doing a CSA-type pickup this season from a farm in VA that does different meats (no produce). Our friends introduced us to Polyface Farms last year, when we joined them for a tour of the farm lead by farmer Joel Salatin. He's a big proponent of raising animals in as close to natural conditions as possible, which means lots of space and optimal diet (which you know, might just be grass). I know I'm not doing him and his operations justice with a few sentences, but feel free to consult Mr. Google for more info.  The farm puts a list of inventory up on their website, and they setup 8 deliveries to several locations each season (March-November). We typically don't order much (perks of living in an apartment), but everything we've tried so far has been outstanding. I may go through withdrawal when the deliveries end and I have to go to the store for eggs for 4 months. Seriously. 

Anyway! When I was putting together the order for the pickup a few weeks ago, I came across beef shanks. I had never cooked them before, but at $2.50/lb they were hard to refuse. I bought four, figuring they'd fit just fine in my freezer. I had apparently been afflicted with temporary short-term amnesia, as I had just convinced my parents to split a chicken larder with me. In case you're wondering, that's 15 chickens. I'm so thankful they have a full-sized freezer in the basement. You're the best, mom and dad!

Thats a 7.5qt slow cooker, in case you were wondering. 

Fast-forward to this weekend. We were having our friends over for dinner (the same ones who showed us the farm), so I thought it would be nice to make a perfect fall dish showcasing something we picked up from the farm. It's kind of like a roundabout way to say "thank you", or "this meat made me think of you". Isn't that sweet?

This dish was amazing. And not just because it made like 10 servings, but because it was easy, quick to prep, and absolutely delicious. As it's been raining in DC for the past week straight (it's probably God crying about the government shutdown), we were definitely in need of a comforting, stick-to-your-bones kind of meal. 

If you live in the DC/MD/VA area, I would recommend checking out the meat deliveries for next year! Not because Polyface is paying me to say this (I'm sure they don't know who I am), but because if you care about the quality and sustainability of your food and its upbringing, this is a great resource. I'd do a schmany embedded link to the site, but apparently posting from my iPad won't allow me to do so. So the order info can be found at www.polyfaceyum.com. 

Let's get to the recipe now, shall we?

Note about the meat: as you can see from the picture above, I used a whole, 5lb-ish beef shank. I'm pretty sure if you go to the store you'll typically see it cut down (think Osso Bucco), but you could either  a) reduce the cook time and check the meat for doneness, or 2) ask someone at the meat counter if honey have any pieces that haven't been cut yet. I guess it depends on what kind of presentation you're going for, mostly. 

Braised Beef Shank over Creamy Polenta (serves a million. Or like, 6-8)

1 5-lb beef shank, or pieces to make up the same amount, bone-in
2 15-oz cans of diced tomatoes (I use the fire-roasted ones, no salt added)
2 cups beef broth
Half a bottle of red wine
2 onions, chopped
1-2 cups mushrooms, chopped (baby bella or cremini)
2 bay leaves
1-2 tablespoons oil (I used safflower since it has a high smoke point and low flavor)
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the polenta

2 cups dry polenta
3-4 tablespoons butter (optional)
~.5 cup milk/cream (the higher the fat content, the less butter you'd probably need. I had 2% milk on hand) (optional)
8 cups water

Heat a saucepan with the oil (or the insert of your slow-cooker if you have an awesome one like me) over medium-high heat until hot. Lay the meat down in the pan and sear for 5ish minutes on each side, until you have a nice golden crust. Remove from the pan. Add onions and bay leave to the pan and salt generously to help the onions sweat. Cook until translucent and slightly browned, about 10-15 minutes. Add canned tomatoes, wine, beef broth and mushrooms, and let simmer for about 10 minutes to let the favors develop. Transfer to the slow cooker if you need to, and add the beef shank. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. If you have smaller pieces of meat you'll be on the lower end of that. Mine cooked for about 7 hours. The meat will be done when it's falling off the bone. 

When the meat is cooked, pull It out of the slow-cooker and shred it with two forks. If you want, scrape the marrow out of the bone and add that to the sauce for extra richness. Return the meat to the cooker to let it soak in more flavor. If your insert is safe on the stove, simmer everything over medium heat to reduce the liquid a bit. You could also add some corn starch, which would have the same effect. For this method, add water to about 1/3 cup of corn starch until it's dissolved, add to the broth and stir. Set the slow-cooker on high and let it go for maybe 20 more minutes. 

When the meat goes back into the slow-cooker, get a pot of salted water boiling for the polenta. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat and add your polenta, stirring constantly with a fork or whisk. Caution! Polenta thickens super fast, and then when bubbles pop (like they would in boiling water), the now boiling hot polenta splatters. I always turn down the heat before adding the polenta, and make sure to stir as I'm adding it to the water to lessen the likelihood of bubbles. Cook for about 10 minutes (unless you buy instant, and in that case just follow the directions on the package), and then stir in the butter and cream if you're using them. Don't start the polenta too early, otherwise it'll start to solidify in the pot. As tasty as this is sliced up and fried, it's not what we're going for!

Once the polenta is done, spoon into a bowl and top with the meat. Enjoy!