15 December 2010

Spice shelves from leftover wood

I have a terrible habit of accumulating lots of junk. I haven't reached hoarder territory or anything, but I still buy too much crap. In the last few years, I've reevaluated my role as a mindless consumer. I try to buy mostly secondhand and to reuse and recycle items that, in the past, I would have discarded (mayonnaise jars become storage jars, etc.)

A few months ago, I (stupidly) purchased really expensive cedar so I could make a garden bed. The guy at the lumberyard cut the wood to the measurements I needed and gave me the remainder. In order to practice my recent "waste not, want not" mentality (and to justify slightly the purchase of the wood), I decided to find a use for these leftovers.

My husband and I purchased (there goes the buying again) shelf brackets and used the remainders--four pieces of wood, each about 2 feet--to create shelves for the various spice jars cluttering our kitchen counter. It was a really easy and fast project and provided us with more valuable counter space. Here are the happy results:

12 December 2010

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

I've never made gnocchi, but when I saw a link to a Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter recipe on What Julia Ate's Facebook page, I knew I had to try it. A caveat: Although this recipe is not all that difficult, it is very time consuming. I actually did it over two days, as there are several cooling periods, and I also froze my gnocchi so I could cook it in separate batches. Also, you'll need a potato ricer for this.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter
Bon Appetit, with some adaptations)
4-6 servings (depends on whether you eat it as a main course or a side)
  • 1 1-lb butternut squash
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 1 12- to 14-ounce russet potato, peeled, quartered
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup butter [decrease if working in batches]
  • 2 TBS chopped fresh sage [decrease if working in batches]
  • Additional grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the fibrous material and seeds (don't discard the latter, since you can roast them like pumpkin seeds!)* Place the squash halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet, and brush the flesh with olive oil. Roast the squash until it is soft and tender (check by piercing with a skewer) and browned in spots; this will take about 1 1/2 hours. Cool the squash slightly. After cooling, scoop out the flesh and puree it until smooth in a food processor. Cook the puree in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. You want the juices to evaporate and the puree to thicken, which will take about 5 minutes. Cool the puree, and, after cooling, measure out 1 packed cup of the puree to use (don't throw out the leftover puree! Instead, use it to make butternut squash soup or muffins).

While the squash is in the oven, cook the 12 to 14 oz. potato (peeled and quartered) in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water until the potato is very tender (about 20 minutes). Drain the potato and, while still warm, press it through a potato ricer into a medium bowl. Allow the riced potato to cool completely, after which you should measure it into 2 loosely-packed cups (eat any leftover riced potatoes while you're at it).

Mix the squash puree, riced potato,
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, 1 beaten and blended egg, 1 1/2 tsp of grated nutmeg, and 1 tsp of salt in a large bowl. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups flour, kneading it gently into the mixture until the dough holds together and is almost smooth. If the dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls. Place the dough onto a floured surface, and knead it gently but briefly just until it's smooth. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle them lightly with flour. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll out the dough on a floured surface to about a 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut the rope crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces (or just tear pieces off, like I did). Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along the back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets. When you're finished doing this with all the gnocchi, cover the whole thing loosely with plastic wrap and freeze. [The dough makes a lot of gnocchi, so you can take out of the freezer only those you will eat].

After the gnocchi have completely frozen, you can cook them in batches. Add the frozen gnocchi to a pot of boiling salted water. When they float to the top, check that they have the tenderness you desire. When they do, take them out using a slotted spoon, and transfer the gnocchi to a parchment-lined plate or baking sheet.

As soon as you transfer them, start cooking
butter in a skillet over medium heat, stirring often, just until it's golden. [The amount of butter you use depends on the size of your batch. I cooked the gnocchi in four total batches over four days, so used about 1 TBS of butter each time]. When the butter has reached a golden color, add the chopped sage and stir for about 1 minute (again, the amount you use depends on batch size and your personal taste. I used 1-2 tsp of chopped sage for each of my 4 batches). Add the gnocchi to the butter and sage mixture, and cook until the gnocchi are heated through and coated with butter. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, and transfer the gnocchi into a bowl, sprinkling additional freshly-grated Parmesan cheese to your finished product.

Eat your heart out.

(Two of my four batches of gnocchi dough. All went into the freezer so I could cook them later.)

(Since this recipe is so time-consuming, I didn't bother making perfect gnocchi indentations or shapes.)

(Sizzling gnocchi. Again, I wasn't going for aesthetics, just taste. They were really, really delicious.)

*To make roasted seeds:
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Rinse the seeds, remove any squash flesh, and pat the seeds dry. In a small bowl, toss the seeds with about 1 tsp olive oil, and then add seasonings of your choice (I like a bit of salt and cayenne pepper). Place the seeds in a single layer on a baking pan lined with aluminum foil. Heat the seeds in the oven anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. You may hear them pop, in which case, check for doneness and flavor.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday

04 December 2010

Creamy potato and leek soup

This year, I decided to take full advantage of the rich urban agriculture of Philadelphia and signed up for the winter CSA run by Greensgrow Farm. Not so long ago, I began focusing increasingly on local, seasonal food, and CSAs are a great tool that force you to think about how and what you cook. Traditionally, I would start with a recipe and then run to the supermarket to buy the ingredients (seasonal or not) that I needed. With my CSA share, I start with the ingredients and only then decide what recipe I use or adapt. In other words, each CSA share prompts you to think seasonally and creatively.

Part of my share this week was a leek and 8 small blue potatoes. Creamy leek soup immediately came to mind. I adapted an online recipe and made a soup so rich and delicious that I could hardly believe I made it myself. Try it out -- and let me know what you think!

Creamy potato and leek soup
(adapted from All Recipes)
serves 2-3
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • 1 leek - chopped
  • 2 cups of veggie broth
  • 1 1/2 tsp. corn starch
  • 2 cups of potatoes - diced (I used blue potatoes, but use what you have on hand)
  • 2 cloves of garlic - leave the peel on
  • 1 1/4 cup of raw milk (if you don't have access to raw milk, use half & half)
In a large pot, melt 3 Tbs. butter. When melted, throw in the chopped leek, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft (10-15 mins). Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix together 2 cups of veggie broth and 1 1/2 tsp. corn starch. Once the leeks are soft, throw your veggie broth mixture into the pot. Also add the 2 cups of diced potatoes, stir, and bring everything to a boil.

While you're waiting for the boil to begin, heat a small cast-iron skillet, add oil if necessary, and pan-roast 2 cloves of garlic (peel on) until they are brown on some parts and softened (you can also roast these in the oven, if you don't have a cast-iron skillet). Set aside to cool for a few minutes before removing the peel.

Once your soup mixture is boiling, add 1 1/4 cup of raw milk and the garlic, and simmer until the potatoes are tender (about 30 minutes). Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture into a creamy soup (though I leave in some chunky bits). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Eat your heart out.