Friday, December 31, 2010

Roast Duckling Montmorency

I've been wanting to make a duck for months, but never got around to it. It seemed too extravagant for just me. So, I invited Papa Smurf over for Christmas dinner. Yes, I'm Jewish, but he isn't and I had the day off. Might as well make a fancy meal.

Ducks are great for small gatherings. They look impressive, yet they're about the same size as a chicken. Once all the fat renders off, you actually get less meat from them than you would a chicken. 99 Ranch has them for less than the average chain market.

I'm basing this on the Bible's recipe, with a few changes because I didn't actually read the whole recipe before going grocery shopping. Bad Smurf. A lot of the time, I take entire cookbooks or recipe cards with me when I go, but the Bible's too heavy to tote through the aisles. I'm also simplifying some of the steps. This was the same day I was making the plantain latkes and apple tarts.

I always prefer to use fresh cherries when they're available, even though you have to pit them. This time, I ended up with frozen. The original recipe calls for canned, dark sweet cherries.

The original recipe also used a quartered duck. I decided that a whole one looked more impressive and left it intact. You do get more meat off of it quartered, since each person gets one big piece on their plate to work on. It's all dark meat, so it doesn't matter who gets the breast or leg. Plus, the darned thing was really difficult to carve. If you don't know how to quarter poultry, pre-order it and the butcher will do it for you. Depending on the market, they might not even charge extra.

Techie Smurf is a huge fan of saving duck fat for making confit later. There certainly is plenty of it. The fat can have other culinary uses, especially if you're not a fan of lard. You can use it for sautéing vegetables in any poultry dish, instead of using butter. I'm sure there are entire sites on the subject.

1 whole duckling, defrosted
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 lb cherries, either fresh, frozen, or canned - pitted!
1/2 C claret or sherry
2 Tb currant jelly (or any neutral flavor like apricot, lemon, or apple)
1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 C water

1. Place duck, breast side up, on rack in stovetop-safe roasting pan. Prick skin all over with a fork so the fat has somewhere to go. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 325º for about 2 hours, until fork-tender and 165º in the deepest part of the thigh.

2. In small bowl, stir cherries with sherry and let macerate. Shortly before the duck is done, combine the water and cornstarch and set aside.

3. Remove duck to warm platter to rest, and start the sauce. Remove rack from roasting pan and pour off fat, leaving the drippings. Drain sherry from cherries. Place pan over medium heat and use sherry to deglaze drippings. Scrape all bits off bottom and pour the whole thing into a small saucepan. Place roasting pan in sink and start soaking it, or it's going to take a week to clean.

4. Place saucepan on the medium heat and add the jelly. Add the cornstarch slurry and stir until smooth. Cook until slightly thickened. Add cherries. Heat, stirring, until cherries are hot and all ingredients are well blended. Serve duckling with hot cherry sauce.

Difficulty rating :-0

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Plantain Latkes

I thought I was being so original with this idea until I googled it. After reading various opinions and recipes, I decided that I could just use my own latke recipe, but substitute plantain in equal weight.

Plantains are those things in the market that look like large, under-ripe, rotting bananas. They are often referred to as "cooking bananas", and the ones we eat as fruit are "dessert bananas". They have a taste and texture closer to potatoes, especially when they're green or yellow. If you let them ripen to the pink/black stage, they're much sweeter and almost taste like green bananas. The one I used was probably more ripe than I should have. It was difficult to grate. But, the finished product was slightly sweet, which melded fantastically with the onions.

If you've ever made latkes, none of this recipe should be a surprise. And, as usual, I recommend turning on the vent and opening the kitchen window when you fry them.

1 lb ripened plantains (not quite to all-black stage, but more than just a few black spots)
1/2 medium onion, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 Tb flour or matzah cake meal
1 egg, slightly beaten
oil for frying

1. Peel plantain and soak for 5 minutes in cold water. Drain, pat dry, then grate using large holes in grater.

2. Combine all ingredients in medium bowl and let sit in fridge for 10-15 minutes. Heat 1/4" oil to 350º in frying pan.

3. Spoon 2 Tb latke mix (a coffee scoop) into oil for each pancake. Fry for 3 minutes on each side, until well browned. Remove to paper towel-lined plate to drain and keep warm. If needed, add more oil between batches and wait a few minutes for it to heat.

4. Serve by themselves, or with sour cream and preserves. Since they're a tropical fruit, I recommend something like crushed pineapple or a mango chutney.

Difficulty rating  :-0

Biscuits & Gravy

I always like to make a big breakfast for New Year's. This year, I'm working in the morning, so I had my fancy breakfast a few days early. Maybe I'll make waffles for lunch on New Year's.

This recipe is kind of cheating, since I've already posted most of the components. It's just a new way to put them together.

It is, however, a bit lower in fat than you would get in a restaurant, and you can control the salt.

a double-recipe of White Sauce Base
Salt to taste
1 tsp pepper
1 package lean, pre-cooked turkey sausage links, cut into pieces

1. Prepare scones and set aside on rack to cool.

2. Prepare white sauce base. Add pepper (you may want to use more) and salt to taste. Stir in sausage pieces and cook until heated and thick.

3. Place one or two scones on each plate. They can be split open or served whole. Spoon a generous amount of country gravy on each and serve immediately.

Serves 6-8

Difficulty rating :)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Coconut-Banana Cream Pie

My guest at dinner the other night brought me a big bunch of bananas as a hostess gift. While I adore bananas, I also like them green. There was no way I could finish all of them before they were too ripe. Again, my weird cooking logic decided that extra bananas= pie.

There's no picture because this was the worst-looking crust I have ever made in my life. But, I'm taking it to work, and they don't care about anything except the "free food" part. Suffice it to say, do not use leftover pastry crust dough to make a pie crust.

I took the Bible's banana-cream pie recipe and added the coconut. In the process, I reduced the sugar in the custard from 1/2 C to 1/3 C. Not a big difference, but you do notice the extra sugar in the coconut if you don't reduce it elsewhere. The rest of the recipe is easy and involves about 15 minutes of work time. There's 2+ hours of chilling, then pour it in the crust. Done.

1 pre-baked pie crust or graham cracker crust
1/3 C sugar
1/3 C flour
1/4 tsp salt
2-1/4 C milk
4 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla
*1/2 C coconut flakes
3 bananas

1. In a medium saucepan, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Add milk and stir until smooth.

2. Over medium heat, bring milk to a low boil, stirring constantly to avoid scorching. It takes about 10 minutes. The milk will thicken to coat the spoon. Remove from heat.

3. Pour about 1/2 C of hot milk into egg yolks and beat together to temper them. Pour mixture back in saucepan and stir to combine. Return to heat and warm until mixture is very thick and mounds when dropped from a spoon. Do not boil. Stir in vanilla and coconut. Cover surface of custard with a sheet of plastic wrap, so it is not exposed to air. Chill in fridge at least 2 hours.

4. Slice bananas thinly and arrange to cover bottom of pie crust. Take any remaining slices and dip them in watered-down lemon juice to preserve color, then set aside for garnish. Pour custard into crust, then garnish with reserved banana slices and more coconut flakes, if desired. Whipped cream also makes a fantastic garnish. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Serves 8 to 10

Difficulty rating  :-0

Monday, December 27, 2010

Apple Tart

I asked Papa Smurf if he wanted to bring a guest to Christmas dinner. Since I hadn't heard from him, I planned on using a two-serving rum cake I had in the pantry. He didn't invite someone until two days before, and I was not about to go grocery shopping on Christmas Eve. So, it was time to scrounge around for ideas.

Being me, I have a lot of apples on hand, so I decided to make mini apple tarts. The recipe I'm posting is for the full 11" tart, but I'm guessing the same amount of dough and filling would make about 8 single-serving tarts. My tart tins were 10cm (about 4").

You'll notice there are no spices in this recipe, just enough sugar to make it a dessert. Tarts exist to show off the fruit. You don't want to overdo the seasonings.

1 batch of Pastry Crust
2 lbs of apples (Golden Delicious, Roma, or Gala are probably best)
1 Tb lemon juice
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
2 Tb flour
1/2 C apricot jelly (or other clear, neutral jelly like lemon or apple)

1. Fill large bowl with cold water and add lemon juice. Peel apples if desired. Core apples, halve them, and slice into 1/8" thick slices. Appearance matters in this case. The slices need to be pretty. Place slices in water so they don't brown. Preheat oven to 400º.

2. Combine sugars and flour. Into prepared, unbaked pastry crust, sprinkle half of sugar mixture. Drain apple slices and arrange in overlapping swirl pattern in the crust. It should mound up slightly above the level of the pan, but not as high as for an apple pie. Sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake 45 minutes (30 for minis), until apples are cooked and crust is browned. Remove to a rack to cool, but leave in the tart pan.

3. Melt jelly and brush top of tart. Let cool. Remove pan sides and serve.

Serves 8 to 10

Difficulty rating :-0

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pastry Crust

Pastry crust isn't exactly the same thing as pie crust. The addition of an egg makes it sturdier, so you can remove the tart from its pan and serve it free-standing. It also means you can make this in the food processor or stand mixer and not worry about over-mixing.

This recipe makes enough for one 11" tart shell. Whenever you place pastry dough in a tart pan, make it a little taller than the actual pan, and make sure it is well-pressed into all the fluted crevices. It will shrink. I recommend rolling it out, letting the dough sit on the board for a couple of minutes, and then transferring it to the pan. (See Pie Crust for transfer methods.)

1/2 C chilled butter, cut into 1 Tb pieces
1/4 C shortening
1 egg
2 Tb ice water
dash of salt
1-3/4 C flour, plus more for rolling

1. Place butter, shortening, egg, water, and salt in food processor or stand mixer with paddle attachment. Process/beat until chopped but not smooth.

2. Add flour and process/beat until crumbly and pebbly but not until it gathers into a ball.

3. Turn out onto surface and knead gently until mixture forms a disc. It's OK if it is still a little dry and crumbly. Wrap in waxed paper and chill for at least one hour, to let the moisture take effect. You can also freeze it at this point for up to a month.

4. Let dough come up close to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Roll out on floured surface into a circle about 1/8" thick. Transfer to tart pan (the fluted ones with removable bottoms). Once molded into pan, chill in fridge for about 1 hour.

5. If baking unfilled, preheat oven to 400º. Cover bottom of shell with foil or parchment paper and spread beans or a similar, ovenproof, light weight across bottom. Bake for about 12 minutes, until bottom is set and you no longer risk it puffing. Remove beans and foil and bake until lightly browned, another 12 minutes.

6. If baking filled, follow tart recipe. (Some tart recipes ask you to use a pre-baked crust, then bake it again.)

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010


And it's back to Morocco. Versions of this can be found in all different nationalities of Middle Eastern and North African cuisines. I've nicknamed it Lamburger, but it does not taste remotely like something you get on a bun. I made it for a barbecue once. Papa Smurf does not like cilantro, and automatically puts ketchup on anything with the word "ground" in it, but I got him to eat it plain, and he decided it had enough flavor for him. Triumph!

The secret to a flavorful kefta is to go heavy on the herbs. Salt will enhance the other flavors you put into the mix, but the real flavor comes from the cilantro and onions.

You're supposed to do this on skewers, and I thought I had some, but I must have used them all. The oblong shape is how they would be done; just imagine a metal or bamboo skewer through the middle. And if you use bamboo, soak them for an hour first so they don't catch on fire.

I served this with green beans and brown rice that had been seasoned with salt, pepper, and turmeric.

1 lb ground lamb
1 C finely chopped cilantro (or 1/2 cilantro & 1/2 parsley)
1/2 C finely chopped green onions
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper

1. Measure all ingredients into a bowl. Knead together until evenly dispersed. Chill for at least 1 hour for flavors to meld. If using bamboo skewers, now is a good time to start soaking them.

2. Preheat barbecue grill or oven broiler. Divide mixture into 8 pieces. Mold each around a skewer and slightly flatten so it can be turned easily. Place skewers on grill or broiler and cook until medium, about 5 minutes per side. Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I first heard about Stollen in baking class. The last time I went through the recipe box, I found Grandma's version. Hers was heavy with glacéed fruits, nuts, and brandy. It also was a big enough recipe to feed a town, and used 5 eggs. There should be a baking law against using a prime number of eggs in a recipe. So, I'm using the Bible's, which makes about half as much with 3 eggs.

Stollen uses similar flavorings to fruitcake, but people actually like eating it because it is light, sweet bread. It also makes awesome French toast. If you don't want to use glacé fruits, you can substitute any dried fruit. Briefly soak them in brandy, rum, or warm apple cider to soften them.

This bread is traditionally made for Christmas, and I make 8oz loaves to give as gifts. Or, you can make three larger loaves to have for breakfast, snack, or even dessert.

1/2 C sugar
1-1/4 C milk
2/3 C butter
5 tsp (2 packages) yeast
5-6 C flour
1-1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 C sliced or slivered almonds
1 C cut-up candied (glacé) fruits
1/2 C raisins
powdered sugar for dusting

1. Warm butter, milk, and sugar to 100º. Butter does not need to melt. Stir in yeast, and let sit until slightly foamy, 5 minutes.

2. In mixing bowl, stir together salt and 2 C flour. Beat in milk mixture until smooth. Add eggs and beat again until smooth. Beat in 1 C flour, then another cup of flour, to create a light dough.

3. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead until smooth, 5-10 minutes. Because of the eggs, the dough will never stop being sticky. It is done when the seams magically disappear. Place into greased bowl and let rise in warm place until doubled, 1 hour.

4. Punch down dough and let rest 10 minutes. Knead almonds and fruit into dough until evenly distributed. Divide into 8oz loaves (about 7) or three equal pieces for larger loaves.

5. With a rolling pin, roll each piece of dough into an oval. Fold in half lengthwise and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Do not pinch them shut. It's normal for the "halves" to come out slightly uneven. Place in warm place and let rise about 1 hr.

6. Bake at 350º for 20 minutes for smaller loaves, 25-30 minutes for larger. They are done when well browned and not squishy. Place on cooling racks immediately and dust with powdered sugar.

makes 3 - 8 loaves, depending on size and how much flour you use.

Difficulty rating :-0

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fried Calamari

I went to The Olive Garden once with a friend and ordered the fried calamari. She had never had it before, but loved it and started munching with vigor. At some point, she asked what it was and I told her it was squid. That was the last bite of it she took. More for me.

Like my friend, I'm a hypocrite of a carnivore. I like my meat and fish properly butchered so it no longer resembles the original animal. You can't really do that with calamari unless you buy frozen, pre-made rings. I did manage to find pre-cleaned ones (99 Ranch). I do know how to clean a squid, but I'd rather not do it.

Squid, octopus, abalone, and most mollusks are best cooked one of two ways: quickly with high heat, or stewed for a long time. Otherwise, they get tough.

And, yes, I did serve this with macaroni. Half-gallon mason jar full of it...I'm getting desperate for ideas.

4 medium squid (about 1-1/2 lbs), cleaned
1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp pepper
oil for frying

1. Rinse squids thoroughly and make sure they are fully cleaned. Check for plastic-like spine and any stray guts.

2. Slice bodies crosswise to form rings, and tentacle head in half (uniform size with rings, so it cooks in the same amount of time).

3. In saucepan or deep frying pan, heat 1" of vegetable oil until water drops dance, about 350º. You might want to turn on the fan and open a window.

4. Stir together flour and spices. Dredge moistened rings in flour until thoroughly coated. In batches, drop rings into oil and take a couple of steps back. Fry for about 1 minute, until crispy and slightly golden, then scoop out with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. Allow oil to reheat for a minute or two between batches.

5. Serve hot, accompanied by lemon wedges and/or marinara sauce.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, December 17, 2010

Apple Pie

Everyone has their own opinion about which apples make the best pies. Tart or sweet, dense or mealy, skin on or off (ok, I'm the only person in the world who prefers to make it with the skins on). It annoys the clerks at the grocery store, but I put at least three kinds into the pie, to create a difference in texture and so the best qualities of each blend in. The traditional Granny Smith is represented for structure. Galas and Fujis aren't as tart, but still hold up well if you want to use them as your base. Golden Delicious and Pippin are also on the tart side. Stay away from Red Delicious. Those are eating apples that don't cook well. Basically, any kind that isn't entirely one smooth red color will work.

There's also debate on how thin to slice the apples. When I use my spiral slicer, the slices come out so thin that they tend to dry out in the pie. The thicker slices you get from a wedger/corer (or cutting by hand) work better. If you cut each wedge in half crosswise, you get nice chunks that are bite-sized and easy to slice out of the finished pie.

That old image of pies cooling on the window sill isn't just something made up to sound quaint. Let any fruit pie cool to under 100º before serving. Fresh out of the oven, all the juices are still boiling and making a syrup that will gel and hold together the filling. If you serve it too soon, all that syrup will just ooze around and the pie won't look as nice. It doesn't have to go on the window sill, just any place that isn't the oven.

This is based on the Bible's apple pie

2 lbs apples
1 Tb lemon juice
2 Tb flour
1 Tb butter
2/3 C sugar (more or less depending on tartness of apples)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 Tb milk

1. Prepare bottom crust, leaving a slight overhang for crimping later, and place in pie pan. Set aside.

2. Fill medium bowl with cold water. Add lemon juice. Peel, core, and slice apples to desired size and place in bowl. Set aside.

3. In small bowl, cut together flour and butter until mealy. Cut in sugar and spices.

4. Preheat oven to 425º. Drain apples. Place half of the apples in the pie pan. Sprinkle with half of the sugar mixture. Pile on rest of apples, then rest of sugar. The mound will be considerably higher than the rim of the pie plate.

5. Roll out top crust and place on filling. Cut some kind of vent, either simple slits with a knife or something fancy with cookie cutters. Crimp edges to seal crust and clean up rim. Brush crust lightly with milk, avoiding the rim. Place on a cookie sheet (to catch any drippings) and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until crust is golden. Cool before serving.

serves 6 to 8

note: Once raw pie is sealed, it can be kept in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Remove, preheat oven, brush with milk, and bake. It doesn't have to reach room temperature before going in the oven.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pie Crust

I make no secret of the fact that I usually buy my pie crusts. The ones from the freezer section come out consistently right. The graham and cookie ones near the flour aisle mean no mess on the kitchen counter, and usually come with a plastic lid. Both kinds are made in disposable pie dishes, so you don't have to get a pie plate back when you take them somewhere.

But, sometimes you make a 2-crust pie or just run out. (I don't like the rolled refrigerator crusts. They're usually too thick.) I've tried using a store-bought for the bottom crust and making only the top, but then they don't match. I do have that really cool pastry board with built-in guides for how big to roll a pie crust for any size pie plate, but simply putting the plate over the rolled crust and adding an inch all around works just as well. Anyone who bakes even once a month usually has the ingredients for a pie crust sitting around.

I've found that the best kind of fat to use in pie crusts is a combination. An all-fat source, like lard or shortening, will give you flaky layers, but it doesn't taste very good. Butter and margarine taste better, but have lower melting points and more moisture, which brown better but can create a tougher crust. By using some of each, you get a crisp, flaky crust that browns well and actually tastes decent.

I don't own a pastry cutter. I use very well-washed hands instead. Make sure you're cleaning under the fingernails, too. It's easier to feel for larger pieces of shortening/butter, and rather therapeutic. To avoid toughness, add as little water as possible and make sure it's cold. This will reduce the gluten development and keep the layers flaky. This is why I don't like to make my crust in the food processor. It's too easy to overwork the dough.

This is a variation on the Bible's 2-crust recipe.

2 C flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 C butter or margarine
1/2 C shortening or lard
5 or 6 Tb cold water

1. In medium bowl, stir together flour and salt. With pastry cutter, cut in butter and shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

2. Sprinkle in cold water, 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing lightly with a fork after each addition. Add until pastry holds together, but is not wet.

3. Shape pastry into a ball. Chill in fridge for 30 minutes, if needed. Can also be frozen at this point for up to a month.

4. For a 2-crust pie, divide into two pieces. On a floured board, roll out the first slightly larger than the pie pan. Set crust in pie plate* and fill. Roll out other half and set on top, then bake according to pie recipe's directions.

5. For a pre-baked crust, set half in pie plate. Prick all over with fork to avoid bubbles, and trim edges. Bake at 425º for 15 minutes, or until golden.

*crust transfer methods
1. Fold in quarters, set point in center of pie plate, unfold.
2. Roll crust loosely onto rolling pin. Move pin over pie plate and unroll.
3. Set pie plate under edge of board. Slide crust off board and into plate.

For all methods, do not push crust into plate. Let gravity do most of the work and just press lightly to line things up. Bottom crusts are more forgiving. You can use extra dough to patch holes, or pinch things back together. Save the stress for the top crust, which is the one people can see.

Difficulty rating :-0

Saturday, December 11, 2010


The flavor that separates this Moroccan soup from any other vegetable-beef-lentil is the cilantro. It turns what looks like mostly American ingredients into something from north Africa.

I prefer to purée the soup slightly before serving. You can use a food processor, blender, or immersion blender. The last is definitely the option which involves the least amount of cleaning. It's also perfectly OK to serve it chunky. If you do, try to chop all the ingredients about the same size.

For chopping fresh herbs, I use the ulu knife my parents brought me from Alaska. Yes, they do exist in real life, not simply as the answer to a crossword clue. I find the rolling motion and sharp blade more efficient, since herbs tend to roll out from under a straight blade.

The lamb in this recipe is as much an accent flavor as the carrot, and not the main ingredient. If you put in more than the recipe directs, it alters the balance of the flavors. Stew beef may be substituted if lamb is unavailable.

6 C beef broth
1/2 lb boneless lamb, diced
1 large carrot, cut up
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes (I recommend "no salt added")
1 C lentils
1/2 tsp saffron (optional)
2 onions, chopped
1 C chopped cilantro
salt & pepper to taste
2 Tb lemon juice

1. Combine broth, lamb, and carrot in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

2. Pour canned tomatoes into pot, including any juice. Add lentils, saffron, and onions. Continue to simmer until lentils are cooked, about 45 minutes.

3. Taste broth and add salt & pepper as needed. Add cilantro and lemon juice. Simmer until cilantro has cooked, about 5 minutes. Purée, if desired, and reheat before serving.

makes 6 to 8 servings

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010


This Moroccan-style bread is just a single-rise water bread baked free-standing. It has very little taste of its own other than fresh-baked bready goodness. The idea is to use it instead of your fingers to scoop up dips, salads, and those last bits of soup in the bowl.

Because there is no sugar in the dough, it will not get toasty brown. It is very easy to overbake the bread while you're waiting for it to look done. The best way to judge is to touch it. The loaves should be soft, without too thick a crust, but not squishy and doughy.

If the yeast does not activate in the warm water, you can cheat a bit and add 1/4 tsp of sugar to the mix. It's a small enough amount that it won't affect the taste. And a few words about salt: it kills yeast. The original recipe from Mideast & Mediterranean Cuisines had you adding salt to the water with the yeast. Sure way to end up with matzah. Always add the salt with or after the flour.

To use a package of yeast, double this recipe

1 C warm (100º) water
1 tsp yeast
2-3 C flour
1 tsp salt

1. Dissolve yeast in water and let sit until slightly foamy, about 5 minutes. Turn on oven for about 2 minutes, then turn back off.

2. In a bowl, combine water and 1 C flour to make a batter. Add another 1 C of flour and the salt to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth, adding as little flour as you can in the process, about 5-10 minutes.

3. Divide dough in half and shape each piece into a ball. Flatten balls slightly into discs 1" high. Place on ungreased cookie sheets several inches apart. Place in warmed oven to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

4. Remove bread from oven and preheat to 350º. Bake for 15 minutes, or until done.

Makes 2 8-oz loaves

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

I've never had gnocchi, but I have made pasta before and this sounded good. There ended up being a lot of dishes to wash and it probably took longer than it had to. I wasn't paying attention to Bon Appetit's suggestion that it would take 4 hours, and should be made early in the day and reheated. I also didn't make the sauce they offered as an accompaniment, opting instead for a sun-dried tomato alfredo.

I'm fond of butternut squash, just not of cutting it open. Get out your sharpest knife for this one. Another specialty item mentioned in the recipe is a potato ricer. I don't own one, and found that the back of a fork worked just as well. You want to break up the potato in a way which does not mash it. A pastry cutter would probably do the job, too.

As for shaping the pasta, the pieces got bigger as I went along. I tried to blame it on my complete lack of a sense of size. That's what measuring cups, spoons, and scoops are for. Finally, I settled on the top joint of my thumb as a guide, and they came out much more even. I didn't give up on the part where you run the tines of a fork over each piece to make ridges, but I decided to do it before cutting the individual gnocchi, while they were still in rope form. Some of the ridges stayed better than others.

1 1-lb butternut squash (the smallest one you can find)
1 Tb olive oil
1 12 to 14-oz russet potato, peeled and cut in chunks
1/2 C finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
1-1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1-3/4 C flour, plus dusting

1. Preheat oven to 400º. Cut squash lengthwise in half; discard seeds. Place squash halves, cut side up, on baking sheet and brush with oil. Roast until squash is very tender when pierced, about 1-1/2 hours.

2. Meanwhile, boil potato in lightly salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through potato ricer and allow to cool.

3. When squash is cooked, allow to sit until cool enough to handle. Scoop out flesh and run through food processor. If purée is moist, cook out juices in saucepan, about 5 minutes.

4. Measure 1 C packed squash purée, 2 C loosely packed riced potato, Parmesan, egg, nutmeg, and salt into large bowl or stand mixer with paddle attachment. Mix until combined. Gradually add 1-3/4 flour, either by kneading by hand or with the hook attachment. (You could also use the kneading blade on the food processor, but that may not mix it evenly.) The dough is ready when it holds together and is almost smooth.

5. Divide dough into manageable portions. Roll each into a rope 1/2" in diameter. Lightly flour cookie sheets. Cut out 3/4" gnocchi from the ropes. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along back of floured fork tines, making ridges on 1 side. Transfer pieces to baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic and chill for at least 1 hour, or up to 6 hours.

6. Cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water. Do not crowd the pieces; you may have to work in 2 batches. Cook until very tender, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi back to cookie sheets to cool slightly, or they'll stick together later.

7. Reheat in chosen sauce before serving.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating  $@%!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


While repeatedly checking the Thanksgiving turkey on the porch (more about that later), I realized how many otherwise-educated people don't know anything about temperature control of high-risk foods.

(Advance warning to all non-Americans: I only know how to relate this information in Fahrenheit.)

The current temperature danger zone is 41º - 135ºF. Any foods within those extremes must be given extra attention. Basically, it means to refrigerate at 41º and below, and to hold hot food at 135º and above.

Techie Smurf brined his turkey this year in a big stockpot. The pot didn't fit in the fridge. Fortunately, it was very cold outside in Indiana. We left it on the porch all night, which was considerably colder than the inside of the fridge. The next day did get above 41º, so someone had to check the pot every couple of hours to make sure the ice hadn't melted.

The heating requirement does not mean that you can cook anything to 135º and call it done. There are all sorts of charts about what kinds of meats must be cooked to what temperature. The two biggies, Salmonella and E. coli, are eradicated at 165º. When it doubt, cook to that temperature. But the 185º that most cookbooks tell you to cook a turkey? If you do that, once it stands, it will be more like 200º, and dry as jerky. You can pull poultry and meatloaf at 160º, and they will easily be done after standing a few minutes.

Which brings up ground beef, or ground any meat. The grinding process exposes more surfaces of the meat to potential pathogens, mainly E. coli. Plus, it's a lot harder to sanitize a grinder than a single blade. Cook that as thoroughly as you would poultry, just in case.

Eggs cook around 135º. Before you freak out about Salmonella, be assured that most eggs in the American food supply do not carry it. If you're making something that might have raw or undercooked egg in it, you can buy pasteurized eggs. They taste about right, and knowing that your Hollandaise won't kill your guests makes it taste better.

When cooling something that has been cooked, time is the key. You have a total of four hours that it may be in the danger zone. So, if you had Thanksgiving dinner in an hour, then put away leftovers and they chilled to 41º in another hour, you have already used up two hours. If you make a leftover turkey sandwich for lunch and pack it in a non-insulated lunch bag, I hope you plan to eat fairly soon after making the sandwich.

This is also industry-standard for food handling places. Obviously, four hours and one minute will not make you sick. Five probably won't, either. Mainly, be conscious of any time or temperature abuse that leftovers may have suffered. Reheating them to 165º resets the clock, which is basically the concept behind frozen TV dinners.