Friday, January 24, 2014

Relaxing in the Kitchen

One of my current resolutions (I don't make New Year's resolutions because I'm always finding plenty of faults with myself that cannot wait until the calendar rolls around for me to start working on them), is to relax a little.  Sometimes it seems with school and daily tasks and appointments and sports and lessons that I have no energy left to just relax with the kids.  I find myself in a perpetual hurry.  There are about a thousand ways that we're trying to deal with this, but one that pops into my mind a lot is to take a short cut cooking.  I haven't given in to this temptation yet because 1) I take, probably too seriously, the quality of the food that we eat, and 2) short cuts never, ever, ever, ever, taste as good.  And if I'm going to take the trouble to cook it, I want it to taste good.

So, I've decided to let the kids help a little bit more than I normally do.  They almost always ask, but 4 or 5 chairs and stools lined up take up all of my counter space, so I'm not always jumping at this proposal.  But, I've been trying to find a few recipes that I can use a little more help with, and the following recipe is a perfect intro to helping in the kitchen for just about any age, and it can even be turned into a math lesson if you feel inclined.  One of the perks of this recipe is that i'm pretty sure I made it wrong, and it still tasted great.  It's kind of hard to mess up.  Here is the recipe (it comes from Williams-Sonoma's Italian cookbook),  and it's not really as fancy as it sounds:

Gnocci with Quattro Formaggi


1 3/4 lb russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (plus extra for dusting)

2 large eggs

Quattro Formaggi Sauce:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese

1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese

1/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp fresh thyme

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 lb pancetta [my addition]

Ok.  So, what you are supposed to do for the gnocci is boil the potatoes , then put them through a ricer or food mill, mix it with the flour and eggs, and then knead it for a few minutes until it's soft.  Divide into 4 pieces, roll each into a 1/2 in rope and cut them into 1 inch lengths.  Use the tines of a fork to make little indentations on each piece and then set aside until you're ready to cook.

What I did, was first of all:  I didn't measure my potatoes.  I sort of guessed.  And then I didn't rice them or put them through a food mill, I just stuck them in my mixer with the paddle, and then switched to the dough hook for kneading.  Probably because I didn't measure, I needed more flour (which I use whole wheat), and have no idea how much I added.  Just until it looked like dough.  Then, I had the kids roll it all out and cut it and even though Ansley was able to do the imprints with the tines on the fork, no one else did, and what we ended up with was not pretty AT ALL.  But we weren't so concerned with presentation, so who cares. This was very much like playing with play dough, except useful, and you could do everything from counting, to addition, to fractions with your little ropes while you cut them out.  Since this is the most labor-intensive part of the recipe, I was pretty excited about not having to do hardly any of it.   The other thing I had the kids do for this recipe, was grate all the cheese.  Another somewhat arduous task that i'm not at all upset about handing over.

For the sauce, you combine the cream, fontina, and gorgonzola (which i used another milder blue because I'm not really a fan as much as I try to be), and heat gently until the cheeses melt, then add the other two cheeses until they melt, then the thyme, salt and pepper (which I didn't use ANY salt).  And keep warm.

I again, just sort of eye-balled my cheese here, so I had to add more cream to get it creamy.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the gnocci for about 3 or 4 minutes (until it floats) and then drain, and mix in the cheese sauce. And you're done.

If you add the pancetta like I did, then you will need to cook it first in the oven (on a cookie sheet at about 400 for about 5 or 8 minutes, just until it's crispy), and then sprinkle it in when you stir the cheese and gnocci together.

Not only did the kids make half of this, they all ate it, which in my house is just short of a miracle.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dinner tonight, or last night rather.

Even though I only had one person defriend me on facebook after that last post (that I know of anyway), I thought I'd keep this one light.

We have started eating leftovers once a week, and usually it's Tuesday. But we were running a little low on leftovers because we had eaten most of them for lunch; so when a friend of mine asked what we were having for dinner, I was pondering this very thing, and had decided I would probably make a quiche.  What I did not account for was that my crust was frozen solid and I hadn't thawed it out.  And given that we are in the midst of a polar vortex and my house was not much warmer than my freezer, it wasn't thawing on the counter.  So we had a kitchen sink salad, that ended up being such a hit I had to share it.  Actually, the main thing I was so excited about was the dressing, because it was fabulous.  I am a little obsessed with the avocado-lime dressing at Chick-fil-A, and a different friend had pinned this avocado dressing recipe, so I stole it, and then decided to post my little twist here because if you actually click on the picture in pinterest, a very obscene website pulls up, so I don't want any of you to do this and if I remember I'm going to go delete the pin so I need a record of this concoction somewhere.

The ingredients in our salad aside from the dressing were:  spinach, a few slices of deli ham sliced up, shredded monterey jack cheese, boiled eggs, tomatoes, carrots, sliced beef and mushrooms (the only leftovers we had left), the crumbs from an almost empty bag of tortilla chips, bacon, and I think that's it. There are so many other things that would have been awesome if we had had them, like corn, black beans, cucumbers, really a dozen or so things, but like I said, provisions were momentarily low and I didn't have time (read: energy) to go to the store.

Here's the dressing though:

Avocado-Lime Dressing:

1 avocado
2 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 cup plain kefir (you could use greek yogurt, which was what the original recipe called for and I was out)
1 tsp hot sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup cilantro

Blend all that stuff together.  Presto.

My kids hate avocado and every single one of them at this dressing and thought it tasted like a ranch.  I was happy that it was a homemade dressing without sugar and vegetable oil.  The kefir in it was just bonus.  Next time I might add just a smidge of cumin or cayenne to give a little more flare, but it was great just like this!