Thursday, February 16, 2012

Godmothers and Gnocchi

While not everyone has a fairy godmother—or even a godmother, for that matter—I am one of the fortunate few. (You may remember me recounting the many joys of my extraordinary godparents in my post “Counting My Blessings.” 

The home in which my godmother currently resides is in the California desert—one of my favorite “happy places.” I love to spend lazy days by the pool, basking in the sun’s rays, no matter what month it is. Looking out the back door at the expanse of green (the home sits on a golf course), I can always be sure that I will not only be warm, but warmly received with open arms. 

On my recent trip, I requested that we make gnocchi, a dish that my godmother’s family had experience in, and that I have been unable to master. The twist was the recipe, which  my godmother had sent only weeks earlier: sweet potato gnocchi. I thought it would pair magnificently with a brown butter-sage sauce. And so we embarked on the adventure, donning aprons and assembling ingredients. 

We baked the sweet and russet potatoes, peeled and mashed them, and then went about preparing the dough. There is an art to the doughmaking; under-knead and you have a lumpy sticky mess; over-knead and you have tough gnocchi, an absolute no-no. 

During the process we looked at each other and found that we were in the middle of an “I Love Lucy” episode gone wrong. We had flour on the counter, on the floor, covering the aprons, on our arms and on our sleeves. Thankfully our hair and faces escaped the white powder, and in the end we were rewarded with two trays of yummy gnocchi waiting to be cooked.

I was happy with the consistency of the dough, and my godmother showed me how to take the little pillows and roll them down a cheese grater to produce a more cylindrical gnocchi. I didn’t quite grasp the technique, but I have a point of reference for the next time, and as we all know, practice makes perfect.
Fancy Stove-side Pot Filler
The gnocchi turned out wonderfully, light and airy, pairing perfectly with the nutty brown butter and crispy sage, with a hint of grated parmesan. I heartily recommend this Italian favorite, which was actually quite simple to make and doesn’t really take any fancy ingredients. (The only hard part is shaping the gnocchi, but leaving them in little pillows works just as well and takes half the time!)

An added bonus is that the gnocchi can easily be frozen for later use. Just pop the cookie tray in the freezer and once they are firm, transfer to plastic container or Ziploc bag. Cook as directed, allowing for an extra few minutes to cook. 

 Recipe on  next page

Sunday, February 05, 2012

(Self) Exploration in the Kitchen: Bacon Jam, Citrus Marmalade, Chai Spread

I learned two things yesterday in my kitchen: (1) I love to experiment and (2) I am an overachiever. Now some might say “Duh!!!”, but I have always looked at my productivity as maximizing the use of my time and being able to multitask on a very high level. I think I was just using euphemisms, as the word “overachiever” has a harsh tone to it, a bad connotation, if you will (and if you do think of it in a good context then it sounds like you are “tooting your own horn,” as my Nana used to say).

I started out the day innocently enough, planning on making use if the year’s first batch of Meyer lemons. My Meyer lemons are finally starting to get ripe, which means the ritual of making and canning lemon curd is on the agenda this month and next.

Once I haul out the canning kettle, jars, lifting tongs, funnels, pots, pans, bowls, and all the ingredients, it seems logical that I should make the best use of them by canning more than just the curd. Makes sense, right? Well, it started out with a citrus marmalade, fell into a bacon jam, and ended with a chai spread. What began at 10am ended at 4pm, with a very tired Mrs. B and 20 glorious jars of goodness. 

The lemon curd is a recipe I have been making for more than 20 years; one that didn’t have directions to can it, so I called into the Chef Narsai David’s radio show one day—at the insistence of my father—to ask how to preserve my precious curd. It’s been an annual ritual ever since. The recipe can be found here on my blog, or in my little cookbook, Eat Drink Merry.

The citrus marmalade was born out of a need to use the oranges that had arrived in my CSA box, some limes that I had on hand and, of course, the Meyer lemons. I turned to several of my canning cookbooks for inspiration, and chose to freeform a recipe, not measuring anything. I used the fruit, along with orange juice, orange blossom water, sugar, and some honey. The marmalade turned out pretty good, still having that bite (or bitterness) along with the sweet. The orange blossom water was very subtle, and I might try to add more next time around. 

The bacon jam has been in my recipe To Do file since December of 2010. I am not sure what took me so long to make it, but it is friggin’ delicious and next time I will make a triple batch. As I set about to make it, Brilliant Daughter complained about the name. She didn’t want to call something savory “jam.” (She also believes dessert shouldn’t have any kind of cheese in it.) We searched our vocabulary for a suitable word and settled on confit, although in the strictest sense, it is not really a confit. But it sounds fancy and more appropriate for this savory thick mixture.

I used a pound of my home-cured and smoked bacon, which upped the quality of the jam considerably, in my humble opinion. The original recipe was on Not Quite Nigella, but I altered the recipe a bit, using a red onion, more garlic, Sriracha, smoked paprika and a last splash of red wine vinegar. I also deleted the fresh ground black pepper, as the jam had enough kick without it. How do I know? Because I constantly tasted it. I mean constantly. It was all I could do to not eat it all. I fixed Mr. B and myself a sandwich with it: whole wheat bread, toasted, a light swath of mayo, and a thick slab of cheddar cheese. Butcher Son asked if we were supposed to eat it on a peanut butter sandwich. Hmmm…. Maybe I will just try that too!

After the bacon jam was finished, I got the inspiration to try and fashion some sort of chai spread. For Christmas, a friend brought me a jar of this luscious café au lait spread she found at the Ferry Building. It’s wonderful on morning toast or crumpets. Because my family loves, LOVES, chai, I thought I would try and make a similar spread.  

I started by steeping cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon stick (all lightly smashed with a pestle), along with an inch of fresh sliced ginger, in some water with loose black tea leaves. After boiling for 15 minutes, I had a strong reduced base, to which I added a cup of sugar and a cup of heavy cream. I simmered for 10 minutes and then tempered 6 beaten eggs and poured them into the mixture. I stirred on a very low heat for a very long time. I got some small globs when I turned up the heat, but my immersion blender took care of those nicely. Once it had thickened, I poured into jars and processed for 15 minutes. 

Mr. B and I couldn’t wait for morning to try the chai spread on French toast, so we sliced a baguette and gave them a generous schmear. Yummy. Not exactly the same consistency as the café au lait spread, and the color may not be terribly appetizing (your basic beige), but it is a tasty chai addition to my recipe files (see chaidoodles, chai bread pudding, chai-spiced cinnamon rolls). 

Pretty productive and tasty day for  me, along with the blueberry muffins I made for breakfast, all the living room baseboards and trim that I sanded, and the grocery shopping I did. Guess I’m going to have to own the moniker of “overachiever” and wear it proudly!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Absolving Guilt with Salted Caramel Cookies

I just returned from a week away from my family. While I was productive in my absence (working on a website, babysitting my granddaughter, visiting relatives), I have a modicum of guilt for leaving, albeit with plenty of soups and stews in the freezer for their fortification. Part of the guilt stems from having so much fun with my granddaughter, who we call Coradorable, and the fact that it was 70 to 75 degrees with sunshine every day in Carlsbad, California.

To make up for my desertion, I thought a sweet treat was in order. Instead of one of my old standbys, I thought I would try something new. I had a hankering for salted caramel and found this recipe for a salted caramel cookie, a new spin on the old thumbprint cookies of my youth. Originally featured on A Cozy Kitchen, it seemed pretty simple to make and would (according to the comments), yield a tasty treat. And it’s the kind of cookie for which I usually have all the ingredients on hand. (Yes, I do keep whipping cream in my refrigerator at all times!)

I did modify a few of the techniques to make the process go faster; always a good thing for those of you with little time in your schedule to make scrumptious food. My tips: Instead of using a regular spoon to scoop out the dough and rolling it into a ball, use a small cookie/ice cream scoop with release lever. It won’t get your hands messy and it takes less time than individually rolling the balls. To yield more consistent indentations than a thumbprint makes (I am a bit of a perfectionist), use a manmade rubber wine cork. (I scoured my kitchen for a suitable tool and went through several, including an antique corncob holder, before spying these in my display jar on the bookcase.) The rubberized cork didn’t stick and made nice even indentations.

Timing: It took 5 minutes to make the dough, another 5 minutes to scoop and put in the oven, 5 more to make the caramel and less than 5 to fill the cookies and salt them (using two different salts, a red Hawaiian sea salt and a flaked sale de siciliano). Add in the 12 minutes to cook and you have about 30 minutes total start to finish, plus the 1 hour chill time. Not to mention I have some leftover caramel that I can play with….


1 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup of granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Sea salt (for topping)

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and egg. Add the vanilla and mix thoroughly. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture all at once to the creamed mixture and combine just until the dough comes together. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour, although you can do this the night before.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie pans with either silpat or parchment paper. Using a small ice cream/cookie scoop, use one level scoop per cookie. Release cookie onto sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. (Alternately, you can use a spoon to scoop out the dough and your hands to roll into a ball.) Using a manmade rubber cork (or similar object) depress into cookie to form a well. Don’t be afraid to press hard, you want a good size well to hold the luscious caramel.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until they’re barely golden on the sides. Remove from oven and immediately use your cork to push down any center dough that has popped up. Cool on racks.

While they’re cooling, make the caramel by combining the sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a heavy medium saucepan (high sides). Do not stir. Cook over medium-high heat to a dark caramel color, swirling as it begins to brown to distribute the sugar.

While the sugar and water are going at it, heat up the cream in a saucepan or microwave just until warm.

Once the caramel has turned a nice dark brown, take pan off the heat and add butter. Whisk the butter in and combine thoroughly. Add the cream and whisk vigorously. The mixture will bubble, but will settle down to a velvety caramel.

Spoon as much warm caramel as you can into the indentations of your cookies and sprinkle with sea salt.

Yield: approximately 3 dozen