Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Microwave Gnocchi

What's the worst part about making gnocchi? If you thought steaming the potatoes, you are absolutely right. It's a real pain. Well, I figured out a better way, via the microwave. All you do is microwave peeled, cubed potatoes and a tablespoon of water for 8 minutes, wait another 8 minutes, and then they are ready to be mashed and mixed into real Italian potato dumplings. Making homemade gnocchi has never been simpler.

Once you have the dumplings formed and cooked, you can serve them with any sauce that you'd serve over pasta. The only boundary is your creativity and adventuresomeness. I chose to serve my gnocchi this time with a garlicky parsley and walnut pesto.

Microwave Gnocchi:

2 cups peeled, cubed potatoes
1 tablespoon water
2 medium eggs (beaten)
1 cup semolina flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place potatoes and water in a microwave-safe bowl with a lid (or a plate) to cover. Microwave on high for 8 minutes, then allow potatoes to rest, covered, for another 8 minutes in the microwave. Next, mash potatoes with a potato masher and then add the eggs, flour, and salt. Mix with your hands until just mixed. Pat dough out to about 1/2-inch thickness on a floured surface. Using a pastry cutter or knife, cut dough into roughly 1/2-inch rectangles. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; cook gnocchi for 2-3 minutes. When they are done, they will float. For extra flavor and texture, sear the drained gnocchi in olive oil before tossing them with the sauce.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Chocolate-Zucchini Muffins

We floated a pleading, urgent question yesterday, and it resulted in a very delicious answer. What are we going to do with all of this zucchini?! We thought we had exhausted every available option having made stuffed, fried, sautéed, pasta-like ribbons, pickled, and pancakes, but Rachel mentioned chocolate-zucchini bread, and then this perfect recipe from Slice of Feist ended up being an instant go-to, one we'll probably refer to again today when making another batch or possibly even chocolate-zucchini cake.

The only thing we subbed in was 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour -- and also, a little bit of sugar sprinkled on top before baking never hurts anything. You can't even taste the zucchini, and that's sort of the bonus after one's had it at every single meal in every way, shape, and form. Amazing.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Caprese Tart

Tomatoes -- we love 'em! Now is the time when they're at their best. This tart can be made with any of your favorite varieties, but just make sure you de-seed the juicier ones so as not to sog the crust.

This type of tart is a common sight in our house. It can be made using any vegetables you have on hand. In fact, I just made a yellow squash and zucchini tart for a dinner party the other night. I've made a gorgonzola and caramelized onion tart and even a goat cheese and wild mushroom tart. So, be creative and see what fun and unusual combinations you can come up with for dinner tonight.

Caprese Tart

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
se salt
1/3 cup olive oil
water (cold)

Place dry ingredients into a food processor and start it up. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and then add enough cold water to bring the mixture together into a ball; you will know it when you see it, I promise. Wrap it in plastic and place it into the fridge for 20 minutes to rest.

1/4 cup mascarpone
1 egg
4 cloves of garlic
sea salt and cracked black pepper

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

6 roma tomatoes (thinly sliced)
4  ounces buffalo mozzarella (the ones about the size of an olive work best here)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 leaves of basil (torn)

Preheat the oven to 415 degrees. On a silpat-lined baking sheet, roll out the crust into a large rectangle about 1/8 of an inch thick. Fold the sides and ends up to form a retaining wall for the filling...it doesn't need to be beautiful, just functional. 

Par-bake the crust until lightly golden for about 10 minutes. First, pour in the filling and then place the tomatoes and cheese on top. Return the tart to the oven for another 20 minutes or so. You want the filling to be set and the tomatoes to begin to brown. Remove tart from the oven and drizzle it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Garnish with torn basil leaves just before serving.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bing Cherry Ice Cream + Toasted Almond Bark

Graham Sr. kindly gave us his cherry pitter to borrow since we talked up buying one (and finally making a cherry pie) so much. The ease of having a container of already-pitted cherries in the fridge was just too tempting, and of course, we ate them all.

On sale, in-season cherries are hard to pass up, and this ice cream is, too. We even saved some cherries for it.

Cherry Ice Cream

3 cups whole milk
1/3 cup cream
1 teaspoon ground vanilla bean
pinch of Maldon salt

2 cups Bing cherries
juice of one lemon
2 tbsp. can sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Whisk together the first 4 ingredients and put the bowl in the fridge to chill. Pit the cherries (a recent should-have-been-obvious discovery: a cherry pitter is so much easier than using a knife) and using a muddler, mash them with the sugar, lemon, and vanilla. Set aside. Pour the milk mixture into an ice cream machine that's already running and then pour in the cherry mixture. After it's semi-frozen, put the ice cream in the freeze for at least an hour to set.

Toasted Almond Chocolate Bark

1 cup sliced almonds
2 ounces 70% bittersweet chocolate
pinch of Maldon salt

Toast sliced almonds in a skillet on medium heat or in a 350-degree oven. Once they're fragrant, after about 3-5 minutes, spread them into a pie plate and add sea salt and the chopped chocolate. Stir until melted and coated, then stick the plate in the fridge. Use this to top the ice cream.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Concord Farms

Steve, my father-in-law, has some new land in North Mississippi on which he has decided to plant an abundance of summer crops. On the map, his place is called Concord Farms, and it is just about the quietest spot we've ever been. Hawks silently circle, and the barely perceptible wind is the lone background noise. The garden rows are meticulously kept; weeds find no mercy there, and many deer look longingly through the fence at all that's growing.

We went out for a visit a couple of weeks ago when everything was just about to happen. And since then, there's already been a lot to harvest: cardboard boxes and blue buckets full of potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and peas. We are so proud of all he has done to grow amazing food, and we're really looking forward to the okra, eggplant, and tomatoes he is sure to share in the coming weeks.

The first thing we made with some of the bounty was a trio of pizzas for a dinner party: squash blossom and ricotta, truffled potato and goat cheese, and caramelized onion and smoked tomato, with ingredients that I pulled from the ground that morning. Cooking this way is an experience that makes a concrete connection between the idea of food and the reality of the hard work it takes to tame the land and convince it to produce crops.

I saw Steve yesterday as he dropped by a mess of purple hull peas. We all stood around the kitchen counter shelling them, and he promised me a key to the garden so I could go out and pick anytime. Now I find myself daydreaming of quiet moments at Concord Farms with a hat on my head as a shield from the sun and my hands in the dirt.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fire-Roasted Tomatoes

A can of fire-roasted tomatoes adds a ton of flavor to all sorts of dishes. Here's an easy way to get the same effect without having to plug in your can opener.

All you do is throw whole tomatoes on a hot grill in order to char the tomato skins. Leave the top of the grill open during the cooking process to allow the heat to escape, and be sure to turn the tomatoes to get some color on all sides. Once the tomatoes are nice and charred, remove them from the grill and allow them to cool completely. Leaving the skins on while they cool will infuse more of that great smoky flavor.

Once cooled, peel the skins off and use the flesh in soups, sauces, or on sandwiches. Today, we'll make chili with these along with some jalapeno corn muffins. Hot weather and spicy food is an ideal combo!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Summer Salad

Summer is all about simplicity, and the combination of ingredients in a very Southern summer salad leaves little room for improvement. My trip to the farmers' market at the Memphis Botanic Gardens this past Wednesday was proof of this perfection. I left with 5 kinds of tomatoes, peaches, eggplant, blackberries, and mini cucumbers. An idea was brewing, and once the bounty was set out on the counter, I knew something for sure: I wanted summer salad for dinner.

My grandma used to make this concoction out of tomatoes, cucumber, onions, vinegar, sugar, salt, and water. She kept it in a seafoam green Tupperware container in the fridge, and I always got in a ton of trouble since it became obvious that I was the one secretly picking out all of the tomatoes. Biee would ask where all of the tomatoes went, and I would shrug. (But I knew she knew.)

What I came up with for my own summer salad is less of a recipe and more of a concept. Take small tomatoes that have been left whole or sliced in half, sliced cucumbers, and sliced onions or shallots. Place them into a bowl. Cover halfway with white vinegar. Finish it off by covering the remainder of it with water and adding a tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon (or two) of sugar.

Think of summer salad like a quick pickle. Leave it overnight or store about a week. Strain the salad and serve it over arugula with a drizzle of olive oil. Summer perfection on a plate.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Orange Sherbet Popsicles

These simple popsicles taste a whole lot like the orange Push-Up Pops I remember from years past, but they only have 5 ingredients, and you can make them anytime at home this summer. The only drawback is the absence of the unmistakable primary-colored polka-dot wrapper.

Orange Sherbet Popsicles

1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed juice (about 12 clementines or 5 oranges)
1/4 cup cream OR 1/4 cup plain yogurt
3 tbsp. cane sugar
2 tbsp. agave nectar
pinch of sea salt

Whisk all ingredients together well and pour mixture into popsicle molds (like these we use or possibly even these -- authentic push-up-like results if all goes well when you veer from the stacked cupcake application!). This recipe should make 5 pops, but it can easily be doubled. Plan to freeze them for at least a few hours and then briefly run warm water over the outside of the molds for easy removal of pops.

*By the way, we used this same recipe in making melon pops recently, and the only extra step is to blend the melon and strain it before adding the other ingredients. Also, check out this recent article about popsicles and then scroll down to see our recipes for basic creamy pops, simple icy pops, and super-spicy English cucumber-lemonade-ancho pops at the end of it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Memphis-Style Dry-Rub BBQ Tofu

Memphis BBQ (including BBQ tofu) is unique for a myriad of reasons; chief among them is the dry rub we apply before the stuff makes its way to the grill. The concept seems strange, but think of it as just a dry marinade. The dry rub punches up the flavor, and for us vegetarians, keeps the tofu from sticking to the grill grates.

Making a dry rub is easy -- and there's no real rhyme or reason to it. I've been told stories of people emptying the contents of their spice cabinet into a large jar to create their "signature" rub. It sounds crazy, but I guess that works as well as any other method. My own spicy dry rub usually contains a few key ingredients in equal measure: chipotle powder, sweet paprika, smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt, cumin, and also some warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, brown sugar, and oregano. You should try your own mix and see what happens. I promise you that if you try it once, you will never BBQ without a dry rub again. Next thing you know, I reckon you'll be speaking in a mighty fine Southern accent, y'all!

Anyway, this is an easy recipe to make for a crowd. Just plan for one block of tofu to feed two people; you can adjust the recipe accordingly. This is wonderful and easy to eat served as a sandwich, but you can also thread 4-5 slices of tofu onto a few bamboo skewers and create fun-to-eat "ribs" that everyone will love.

BBQ Tofu:
2 blocks extra-firm tofu (drained and dried)
4 tablespoons dry rub
1-2 cups BBQ sauce*
6-8 slices smoked gouda
6-8 whole wheat buns
olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper
(+ foil for grilling method)
Tofu can be tricky to grill because it sticks to the grill. A well-oiled grill plus the dry rub will help keep the tofu intact. Cut each block into 8 equal pieces and lay them flat on a sheet pan. Generously sprinkle the dry rub, salt, and pepper over the tofu slices. Turn slices over and repeat. Turn your gas grill on high; allow it to preheat for 10-15 minutes. (This is imperative. If the grill is not hot, your tofu will stick.) Using a folded paper towel and tongs, oil the grill grates just before placing the tofu on the grill. Place the tofu on the grill and leave it alone for 4 minutes. Turn the tofu using your tongs, and allow it to cook another 4 minutes. Remove tofu from the direct heat and onto the upper rack of your grill, which you have lined with foil. Reduce the heat to medium. Using a basting brush, brush both sides of tofu with BBQ sauce. Add sauce every 10 minutes of so until you are ready to serve.
Assemble the sandwiches by placing two (or three) tofu squares on a bun along with a slice of smoked gouda cheese. Top that with some purple cabbage slaw.

Smoky BBQ Sauce:
1/2 stick butter
1 large sweet onion (coarsely chopped)
6 cloves garlic (smashed)
1 large dried anaheim pepper (stem & seeds removed)
4 chipotle peppers
1 (14.5 oz) can fire-roasted tomatoes
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup ketchup
2 ounces of mustard
2 ounces Jack Daniels whiskey
a few dashes of vegetarian worcestershire sauce
a few dashes of vinegar
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon smoky paprika
12 ounces of water
Melt butter in a pot and add the onion. Cook over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add the garlic and the peppers and cook for a few minutes to marry the flavors. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Using an immersion blender, blend until mixture is smooth and return the pot to the stovetop. Simmer uncovered for an hour or until the mixture has reduced by 1/4. This will keep for a week in your fridge -- or just freeze it. Make this recipe your own by adding ripe peaches or espresso powder or chocolate to deepen the flavor -- I really never make mine the same way twice.

Purple Cabbage Slaw:
1 head of red cabbage (finely shredded)
2 carrots (finely shredded)
3 scallions (chopped)
1/2 lemon (juiced)
1/4 cup vegan mayo
1 tablespoon of olive oil
squeeze of honey
sea salt and cracked black pepper
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. If you like it a little sour, add more lemon. If you like it sweet, add more honey.