Friday, August 10, 2007

New Twist on Gnocchi

One of the new, quick recipes I tried out this week was Gratineed Gnocchi. It looked so fabulous that I actually tried it out on a dinner guest and I was not disappointed. It is hearty, comforting, and works well as a main dish (for 4) or a side dish (for 6+). I happened to serve it with some chicken sausage and a big salad. Everyone agreed it was a keeper.

It really doesn’t take that long to make – less than a half hour total. I even cheated and made the sauce and spinach ahead of time. Then just boiled the gnocchi when I was ready, mixed it together and popped it in the oven for a few.

Gratineed Gnocchi with Spinach & Ricotta

1 lb. package gnocchi
2/3 c heavy cream
½ t flour
½ t salt
½ t pepper
1/8 t ground nutmeg
2 – 6oz packages fresh baby spinach leaves
½ c ricotta cheese
2/3 cup shredded mozzarella

Bring 5-quart pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, preheat broiler.

Whisk together cream, flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Continue to boil until reduced by half (about 2 minutes). Add spinach in handfuls, tossing with tongs. Cook 2-4 minutes until wilted. While spinach is cooking, toss the gnocchi in the water for specified amount of time (usually 2-4 minutes). Drain gnocchi and stir into spinach mixture. Remove from heat. (At this point you can put the mixture into a nice ovenproof serving dish, if you want.) Spoon ricotta over gnocchi in 5-6 large dollops and sprinkle all with mozzarella. Broil 4-6 inches from heat until cheese is brown and bubbling.

FYI – I am heading out on vacation for 10 days, so there will be another lull. Sorry!

Monday, August 06, 2007

A First for Mrs. B

We have taken to going to the Saturday Farmer’s Market in downtown Redwood City. We head to Peets, pick up some coffee and walk to the market. I try to find something new to try while I am there, and am always intrigued by items I am unfamiliar with.

This week Mr. B and Brilliant Daughter accompanied me, and we had a blast calculating what we wanted to make with all the delicious offerings. BD decided she was going to make roasted tomato salsa, buying huge tomatoes that were at least ½ pound apiece ($1/pound). She picked up the jalapenos, onions, and cilantro there as well. Oh, and she bought some very dramatic dahlias for her dining table.

I, on the other hand, was intrigued by the mound of pickling cucumbers at one of the stands. Not too big, not too small, I thought they would make the perfect dill spears. One of the last memories I have of my godfather being active, prior to the end-stage ravages of ALS invading his body, is making pickles at LJB Farms in San Martin, just outside Gilroy. LJB Farms, located at 585 Fitzgerald Avenue, is a family-run farm with a barn/store selling all local produce. The farm is run by Louie Bonino and his two sons, Brent and Russell, while the barn and store is run by my godmother’s sister, Judy. Over Labor Day 2004, Louie and Max, with a lot of helping hands, set up a canning area outside the barn and pickled cases of peppers and cucumbers. It was fun to watch the assembly line they had set up and reminded me of that old saying where many hands make light work. I myself have never attempted pickling, but was recently inspired by Molly at Orangette, who made pickled veggies for her wedding festivities (Congrats, by the way!). So I bought a bag full of the little green gems and came home to find a recipe.

I have a very old book by Ortho called The Complete Book of Canning. I have had this book for over 20 years (copyright date is 1982), and have used it frequently. Everything is explained, recipes are pretty simple, and there is nothing intimidating about it. I settled on the recipe for Dill Spears, and set to work cutting, assembling ingredients, and getting the canning kettle and brining mixture to boil.

The process is pretty simple. Basic canning rules apply. I ran the bottles through the dishwasher and heated the lids right before canning. Take one jar out of the dishwasher, pop in some fresh dill, a garlic clove or two, some peppercorns, and then stuff in the cucumber spearks. Fill to ½-inch from the top, put lid and ring on and put in water. Repeat until canner is full. Boil 20 minutes. Remove jars, and start again (if you bought that many cucumbers, which I did). It certainly wasn’t difficult. I got 12 jars of pickles out of it. (Unfortunately I did not have any quart jars, so made do with smaller ones.) I even got a little creative, putting whole dried peppers in a few of them, and some celery seed in some others.

Now comes the waiting part. Tap…tap…tap..tap…….

Dill Spears

4 pounds pickling cucumbers, wshed and blossom ends removed
3 cups white or cider vinegar
3 cups water
1/3 cup salt
3-5 peppercorns per jar
2 dill heads per jar
1-2 garlic cloves per jar

Set canning kettle to boil. Mix up vinegar, water and salt and set to boil. Run jars through rinse/heat cycle on dishwasher. Cut cucumbers and ready your peppercorns, dill and garlic in small bowls. Once canning bath is boiling, take brining mix off heat. Start with one jar, add in peppercorns, dill and garlic, then pack in spears tightly. Fill jars with boiling brine, leaving ½ inch headspace. Seal. Process for 20 minutes,

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Iced Tea: Three Ways

In the summertime we make a lot of iced tea. I just throw tea bags into a pitcher of water, put it in the fridge overnight and Voila!, cold tea. I favor plain black tea, nothing herbal or fruity like white peach or cranberry. Just good old-fashioned iced tea. Because we usually have an abundance of lemons and mint, I might throw in a slice or a sprig to dress it up. But recently I had company over and wanted something just a little bit fancier. So I made flavored simple syrups. A few ice cubes, some cold tea, and a dash of simple syrup in mint, lemon, or ginger. Kind of like Emeril’s Cajun Seasoning, the syrup kicks it up a notch. The syrups are easy to make and the recipe can easily be doubled. We have even used them to flavor plain seltzer or club soda. If you find yourself with some leftover mint from those mojitos, or grab a nice knob of ginger at the market, you might give it a whirl:

Mint Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup mint leaves
Toss all in a saucepan, bring to a boil and boil for 3-4 minutes, making sure all sugar is dissolved. Take off heat and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain out mint leaves and place syrup in decorative jar or cruet.

Lemon Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 whole lemon, zested and then cut into quarters
Toss all in a saucepan, bring to a boil and boil for 3-4 minutes, making sure all sugar is dissolved. Take off heat and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain out lemon pieces and zest and place syrup in decorative jar or cruet.

Ginger Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices
Place water and ginger into saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil lightly for 10 minutes. Add sugar and return to boil for 304 minutes, making sure all sugar is dissolved. Take off heat and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain out ginger pieces and place syrup in decorative jar or cruet. (BONUS: you can take those tender ginger slices and roll them in granulated sugar. Place in a jar in the refrigerator. They make a good snack or remedy for an upset tummy.)