Friday, August 28, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
This month the folks at Daring Kitchen introduced Daring Cooks. The first challenge was hosted by Lis at La Mia Cucina and Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice. They chose Ricotta Gnocchi from The Zuni Café Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant, by Judy Rodgers
The actual recipe for the gnocchis looked simple enough. However, the author's description and recipe in the book is six pages. The challenge hosts cut that down some and added their tips. Still, there was lots of text about “test gnocchi’ and tweaking the recipe after testing. And then “re-testing to ensure success.” Testing and retesting? Before dinner? Also, much commentary about using only fresh ricotta that had to be drained just so. I’d read that ricotta wasn’t too hard to make, so I planned to make my own. That way it would be plenty fresh.
Yesterday afternoon I was in the kitchen and realized that I better get going on making that homemade ricotta. My thinking was that the deadline was just a few days away and I needed to make the ricotta and let it drain overnight. Then after checking to find that it was inedible or the wrong texture or just plain gross, I could run to the store and buy fresh ricotta for $12.00 from the fancy food emporium over the hill. So I did have a plan.
I went the refrigerator and the half-gallon milk carton was half empty. So, it would be small batch I thought. All went well with the heating and the curds separated from the whey as described here. Then when the cheese started to drain, it looked like a REALLY small batch, and just kept getting smaller. I squeezed the cheesecloth to help it drain, but I didn’t want to squeeze too hard because some of the precious cheese was leaking out of the cheesecloth. I put the ball, still in the cheesecloth, in a strainer, over a bowl, weighted it down with a large can of tomatoes and put it in the refrigerator to drain overnight. I sighed and planned a trip over the hill.
Then I moseyed on over to the computer to check the challenge recipe to see if I needed anything else from the store so I could make the gnocchis the next day. That’s when I realized that the posting date wasn’t a few days away, but the 14th….like the next day. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. As I shoot my photos with daylight, I’d have to produce some gnocchi asap if I wanted to make the deadline. I had one hour to go before I had to pick up my daughter. Why not? I thought. Why not just whip out a challenge? All I have to lose is that little ball of what’s supposed to be ricotta.
So I took the ricotta out of the refrigerator. It looked dry enough to me. I weighed it and it was all of 5 ounces. That’s between a quarter and a third of what is needed for the full recipe. So I mixed up the dough, using between one quarter and one third of two eggs. How much is that? I formed all of the gnocchi (all 14 of them). Then decided I better test one. Boiled it for three minutes. Tasted it with butter. It was pillowy and light. And slightly eggy. I knew that eggy taste shouldn’t be there, there’s hardly any egg in it! I tested a second one and boiled it five minutes. This time I browned some butter with some sage while waiting. Ate half the test gnocchi, eggy taste was gone. Dipped the remaining bite in browned sage butter. Heaven. Really the taste of the cheese, the butter and the sage was perfect.
I put the gnocchi in the refrigerator and ran off to pick up my daughter. I came back an hour later and boiled the rest and served them (to myself) with browned sage butter. They were fabulous. The gnocchi were so light and mild tasting. I’m not sure I’d want anything stronger than butter and herbs, or maybe a light tomato sauce (without garlic).
I have to say my ricotta was the bomb! It tasted great all by itself. The finished gnocchi taste pretty much like the ricotta. With so few ingredients, I think ricotta gnocchi requires the best you can find in ingredients. I have three kinds of sage in the garden and have never made browned sage butter before today. Talk about delicious simplicity! Melt one stick of butter with 1/3 cup chopped sage leaves. Let the butter continue to bubble on medium until it starts to brown and the foam subsides. Remove from heat. Let cool a few minutes before pouring over gnocchi. That's it.
Monday, April 27, 2009
The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
It’s been a difficult year for this Daring Baker. The February Challenge was flourless chocolate cake. And this month we baked cheesecake. In my opinion, two of the most over-rated desserts are flourless chocolate cake and cheesecake. The flourless chocolate cake challenge, well, let's say it didn't convert me. The cheesecake challenge? It didn't make cheesecake my new go-to dessert, but it is really, really good! It’s the perfect combination of sweetness, tanginess and richness. The texture is lovely. Jenny, the challenge host, gave us the basic recipe, Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake, and we could do anything we wanted with flavors, crusts and toppings.
I wanted to make an effort to use “local” and “seasonal” ingredients in my topping choice. It’s environmentally correct. It’s sustainable. It’s all the rage in the restaurant world and food blogs. I was also committed to using what was in the kitchen without having to leave the house, also environmentally correct and sustainable. And cheaper. To my dismay, my California kitchen and garden failed to cough up any kumquats, cherimoyas, lavender, or any other local, seasonal produce that would qualify my cheesecake for a Slow Food Fair. I settled on a jar of canned pears from Trader Joe’s, justifying that it was recently purchased a few miles from my house. Seasonal and local, done. I poached them in port, pomegranate juice and spices that I found in my cupboards.
Port Poached Pears
1 1/2 cups ruby port
1 1/2 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 cup sugar
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2 strips of lemon zest
1 strip of orange zest
1 vanilla bean
Canned pear halves, or fresh pear halves, peeled and cored
Mix together port, juice and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add spice and zests. Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape seeds, then add both seeds and pod to pan. Add canned pears, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until soft. Remove pears from the pan with slotted spoon and let cool. Return pan to stove and heat syrup to boiling and cook until thick and syrupy. Strain through mesh sieve and let cool.
I chose to make up my own recipe for a gluten-free nut crust. I don’t avoid gluten, but I do have a lot of gluten free flours in the cupboard from that brief period when I did. The nut crust is better than just a replacement for the traditional graham cracker crust. It’s truly tasty.
Nut Crust Supreme (gluten free)
1/2 cup superfine brown rice flour
2 tablespoons sweet rice flour
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons cold butter
Mix together flours, nuts and sugar. Cut in butter and work with fingers until crumbly. Press into oiled bottom of a spring form or cake pan. Makes enough for bottom-only crust for a 9-10” pan. Double the recipe for a full crust.
Everyone at my house loved the cheesecake. They liked it so much, that I made it again a few weeks later, this time making a topping of fresh-out-of-the-freezer blueberries.
This is a great recipe for a basic cheesecake. You can find the Challenge recipe here. A special thanks to Jenny, for hosting and providing a recipe that almost turned me into a cheesecake lover.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
I'm away for the week in Berkeley. This photo arrived in my inbox, just to let me know how much they miss me at home. I can assure you that's every dish we own. I see that all the espresso cups are there as well. I think we can assume they've moved on to take-out by now.