Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Pecans

Remember a long time ago when I wrote about how much I love orange colored vegetables in the Fall? Yeah, apparently that hasn’t changed at all. I went to Trader Joe’s today and somehow came home with 5, yes 5, different pumpkin flavored things. I in no way whatsoever needed any of them and I barely have any recollection of putting those items in my cart. And so they joined the pumpkin beer in the refrigerator. No complaints here though, pumpkin flavored cookie butter is the bomb.

Unsurprisingly the food that I actually had on my grocery list to make a sweet potato gnocchi dish still went along with the fall theme, which should be obvious because I am a female in her mid-twenties who wears flannel frequently and grinds her coffee beans by hand every day. And yes, I do frequently shake my head at myself.

But doesn’t sweet potato gnocchi sound so nice though? It’s the same light-as-a-feather dumplings we all know and love but just a tad sweeter with a hint of a caramel taste. And while a lovely pairing could be sage and brown butter or a nice peppery cream sauce, I went with roasted Brussels sprouts and toasted pecans, as inspired by Tara at Seven Spoons. The varying texture and flavors that already exist between those three things were made even more complex with a good dose of orange zest to brighten up the richness of the gnocchi and the bitterness of the sprouts and a hefty amount of Parmesan, because I really can’t think of anything that is not improved but lots of Parmesan.

Admittedly it is not exactly a recipe for the beginner cook and I will warn you that the number of dirty dishes involved is overwhelming, but with patience and good organization, the outcome will definitely be worth it. Plus the extra gnocchi can be frozen for up to several months, and makes for a very quick dinner on a lazy day. I know that gnocchi is certainly intimidating and the standard variety has given me more trouble than success, but somehow the sweet potato variety has never failed me yet.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Pecans
Serves 4-6

1¼ lbs russet potatoes (about 3 medium)
¾ lb sweet potatoes (about 2 medium)
1 egg
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 grated Parmesan
1½ - 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. butter
2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 Tbs olive oil
¾ cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
the zest of 1 orange
salt and pepper

Begin by making the gnocchi. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Scrub your potatoes clean use a fork to poke holes all around each. Rub with a little bit of olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until soft throughout. Remove from the oven, cut each in half and let cool for 5 minutes. Scrape the insides of the potatoes away from the skins and discard the skins. Press the potatoes onto a large sheet pan using a potato ricer. Allow to cool for 10 more minutes.

Combine the egg, nutmeg, a tsp. of salt and a half tsp. of pepper in a small bowl. Gather the potatoes into a mound, make a well in the center and pour the egg into that. Use your hands to combine. Add the parmesan and 1½ cups of the flour and knead it into a dough. Add more flour as needed until you have a smooth and slightly sticky dough.

Divide the dough into six pieces. Generously flour the counter and use your hands to roll one piece into a foot long rope. Use a bench scraper to cut the rope into about 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece over the tines of a fork to create the classic gnocchi look and place on a floured baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough and refrigerate the sheet pan with all of the gnocchi for about 30 minutes.

While it sits, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prep the Brussels sprouts. Toss with the olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and half of the orange zest. Spread them out on another sheet pan and roast for about 15 minutes or until tender. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once it’s boiling, cook two-thirds of the gnocchi in 3 separate batches for about 5 minutes each batch. Once cooked, transfer to a large bowl. The remaining gnocchi can be frozen for another time. Once all of the gnocchi are cooked, heat a frying pan over medium and add the butter. Once melted, add in the gnocchi and fry in the butter for 7-10 minutes, tossing frequently.

Transfer the gnocchi to a large bowl. Add in the Brussels sprouts, the pecans, and the remaining orange zest. Season with salt and pepper as desired and serve with more grated Parmesan. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Cherry Chocolate Protein Shake

In less than 6 weeks I’ll be taking on my 3rd half marathon, this one with three of my best friends on Halloween. As with the other two, it is at this point where I suddenly have an “oh, crap!” moment, realizing that the twice weekly three-milers I’ve been doing aren’t quite going to cut it for my training regimen. But now that the optimum running weather is starting to make its way in, the transition into those seven and eight mile practices should (hopefully) go smoothly.

Most long-distance runners will agree that when the training becomes intense, so does the eating, but in the best way possible. So thus begins the days where I’ll load up on carbs, protein and potassium with a side of yellow Gatorade, of course.  Over the summer I’ve really gotten to know my Vitamix well and have taken to drinking the many forms of protein shakes and power smoothies after my runs. They are cool and refreshing, the fruit works fast to replace the sugars in the body and the protein satiates tired muscles.

Though my smoothies usually end up as a conglomeration of the random bits of appropriate ingredients found in my fridge in freezer, I have recently found a combo that is really tasty and energizing too. Chocolate whey protein alongside powdered peanut butter provide tons of protein, a banana adds creaminess while preventing muscle cramps with potassium, frozen cherries provide many vitamins, antioxidants, and carbs while almond/coconut milk is the soy-free glue that holds it all together. And though there are many ways to change up this basic combination, with a simple substitution of different flavors, types of protein, and fruits, I have a feeling this one will be sticking around for quite a while.

Cherry Chocolate Protein Shake
Serves 1-2
Below are the brands I used but feel free to substitute you favorites

1 cup Califia Toasted Coconut Almondmilk
2 Tbs Tera’s Whey Dark Chocolate Whey Protein Powder
1.5 Tbs Bell Plantation PB2 powdered peanut butter
1 banana
½ cup frozen sweet cherries
a handful of ice cubes

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender. Turn on to high speed until the ice is totally crushed and everything is well blended. Add more ice if you a want a frostier texture. Pour into a glass, dust with a little cocoa powder on top, and drink right away!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Blueberry Pancakes with a Twist

Lo and behold, it is somehow already September and by the looks of a Target I was in yesterday, it’s apparently almost Halloween too. I’m the sort who would gladly live in a world where summer reigned all year round, but I know it will inevitably slip away, leaving me to acclimate to the change by means of cinnamon scented candles and the sudden appearance of flannel-clad L.L. Bean-esque men everywhere. Though with that said I suppose things could be much worse.

So in my attempt to keep the summer spirit alive as much as possible, I have sworn I will not open the Pumpking beer currently in my fridge until a day comes that I need a jacket outside… And we can just forget the fact that I binge ate a bag of pumpkin spice latte flavored M&Ms at my desk yesterday. Whoops!

My other attempt to bring a taste of summer into the colder months is with these blueberry pancakes with a twist. But blueberries? In the fall? That doesn’t make sense at all. Well that’s where the twist comes in. Thanks to the genius of the aptly titled Genius Recipes by Food 52, blueberry pancakes are better than they’ve ever been before and don’t need to be restricted to the seasonal appropriateness of the blueberries themselves. The secret, dried blueberries.

When allowed to soften in boiling water, the dried blueberries get back some of their juicy quality. But since they are still very much void of moisture, they don’t turn into the soggy mess that blueberry pancakes generally resemble and leave only that condensed sweet-tart flavor. These pancakes are also unique in that they have a TON of cottage cheese and sour cream in them making them spongy in the nice way that Yorkshire pudding is spongy. Yes, I know that cottage cheese and weird, and like, who really eats cottage cheese anyway, but trust me on this one. It has triumphed in waffles and does also in pancakes. Lemon zest and nutmeg add that little extra touch that makes these pancakes so incredible. So maybe this fall, instead of reaching for yet another can of pumpkin to add to your breakfast baked things, try out these blueberry pancakes instead.

Blueberry Pancakes with a Twist
From Deborah Madison via Food 52’s Genius Recipes
Makes about 20 small pancakes or 12 larger pancakes

1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup 4% cottage cheese, drained of liquid
1 cup sour cream
5 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbs. sugar
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
butter for frying and butter and maple syrup for serving

Place the blueberries in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Set aside while you make the batter.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cottage cheese and sour cream. Then, one at a time, whisk in the eggs. Mix in the vanilla, lemon zest, nutmeg, and sugar and then gradually incorporate the flour, baking powder and salt. Drain the soaking blueberries and add to the batter. Gently mix them in.

In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt a tablespoon of butter. When it’s melted and hot, drop large spoonfuls of the batter into the pan. Once browned evenly on the bottom, flip to cook the other side. Serve with more butter and maple syrup.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pink Lemonade Granita

Being a summer baby, the hot humid weather of northern Virginia is something that I’ve always loved. But when this busy summer turned my Saturday into an extravaganza of 2 outdoor birthday parties and 2 winery outings, it was hard to not shake my fist at the blazing sun, cursing it for my sunburn and blaming it for my dehydration... Because I’m sure the wine had nothing to do with that…

It really does feel like we are at the peak of this summer’s heat wave though. And after a long weekend spent mostly outdoors, I needed a bit of a refresher. So, as I generally do, I turned to frozen desserts to provide that. However, this time I did not settle on my go-to ice cream. I wanted something even simpler that did not require time spent at the stove and I found my answer at the end of the August chapter of the Canal House CooksEvery Day Cookbook.

Their recipe for pink lemonade granita sounded like the exact thing I was looking for. It takes only 5 ingredients and hardly 10 minutes of actual effort and in a few hours you’re left with something like the best sno-cone imaginable. The action of using a fork to flake apart the semi-frozen lemonade makes ice crystals that are super light and fluffy, providing a satisfying texture that I find to be lacking in popsicles. This particular version is intensely lemony which is almost too tart on its own, but when paired with softly whipped cream, the tanginess mellows out and the dessert becomes incredibly refreshing and addicting, just what this heat-wave calls for.

Pink Lemonade Granita

The recipe recommends using a blood orange to provide the “pink” element of the lemonade, but suggested a red grapefruit as a substitute if blood oranges are not to be found. I went with the grapefruit route and really liked that flavor addition, but next time I would probably add 2 more Tbs. of sugar since it was a pretty sour grapefruit. That adjustment is reflected in the recipe below.

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 6-8 lemons)
The juice of a red grapefruit
½ cup + 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
¼ cup water
Softly whipped cream

Combine the zest, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, water and sugar in a mixing bowl and mix until the sugar has completely dissolved. Pour the juice into a large, shallow, freezer-safe dish (I used a 13x9 inch pyrex with a lid) and place in the freezer. 

After 1-2 hours when the liquid is in a semi-frozen state (like a slushy) take a fork and use the tines to scrape across the surface of the ice, creating loose crystals. Return the dish to the freezer until it is finished freezing, another 1-2 hours. Once frozen, scrape the ice with a fork again until there are no large chunks of ice remaining. Softly whip the cream and serve the granita in a chilled glass with the whipped cream dolloped on top. The granita will keep in the freezer, covered, for a week.

Monday, August 17, 2015

An Evening at Culinaria Cooking School

For my recent birthday, I received a giftcard to take a cooking class at Culinaria Cooking School in Vienna, VA. The school teaches both demonstration and participation classes that range in variety from basic knife skills, to barbeque and smoking, to preparing a Downton Abbey style feast. Last week I signed up for the Australian food and wine pairing class. Though I went in without knowing exactly what to expect, I can now say that the evening I spent meeting new people, learning recipes and eating and drinking fantastic food and wine was an excellent one indeed.

My class was demonstration style so I got a front row seat to watch the talented chefs Stephen and Pete cook our 4-course evening meal. Alongside preparing the food throughout the night they gave us insight into food preparation tips and tricks like rolling pasta, quickly peeling and deseeding tomatoes, and cutting and deboning a lamb loin. Since the class had a wine pairing as well, our guest sommelier Steve Saiget brought 4 Australian wines and we learned why each made a natural pair with the food we ate. From start to finish, I enjoyed every moment of my class. Between the ever-changing sights and smells, the friendly banter between the chefs, and the excellent company, the was never a dull moment. I can’t wait to return!

Here’s a look at what we had:

Egg Pasta with Smoked Trout and Tomato Butter Sauce with 2014 Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc

Crab Salad over Spicy Sesame Linguine with 2009 Wolf Blass Chardonnay

Crisp Skin Salmon Moroccan Style with 2014 Lindeman’s Bin 99 Pinot Noir

Lamb Loin with Chickpea Curry and Harissa with 2013 Layer Cake Shiraz