Let’s Eat: Homemade Pasta

Sometimes you just win at dinner. By win, I mean you make something so excellent and exciting and special, you can’t help but brag. Cue this week’s feature: sweet potato gnocchi with a brown butter balsamic sage sauce. A little more time-consuming and high-maintenance than simply opening a box of “Easy Mac?” Sure. Worth it? Undoubtedly. I have two chef-friends in Italy who would back me up on this…fresh pasta is the BEST.
I decided, partially by popular demand, that this was worth a share and so the recipe is below. If you’re a kitchen novice, this is a good opportunity to learn a few skills–namely how to brown butter properly and an introduction to fresh pasta making.
IMG_5693
My recipe is adapted from Just A Taste 

Let’s start with the gnocchi. You’ll need:
  • Three sweet potatoes, washed and pierced multiple times with a fork.
  • A cup of freshly grated parmesan reggiano
  • 13 ounces fresh ricotta cheese, strained for an hour in a fine mesh sieve
  • A half teaspoon of maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2-3 cups of all purpose flour
1. Roast the scrubbed and pierced sweet potatoes (no oven explosions please!) until very tender. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10-15 minutes, until cool enough to handle.
2. Scoop the flesh from the sweet potato into a large bowl and discard the skin. Thoroughly mash/puree/rice/eviscerate the potatoes until super smooth.
3. Add the strained (we are trying to minimize excess moisture!) ricotta cheese to the sweet potatoes and mix thoroughly
4. Add the Parmesan, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and mix again
5. Now comes the flour. Since the goal is to form dough, but maintain the fluffy-pillowy nature of the gnocchi, which means using the flour only to the extent it’s necessary. Doing this part right will distinguish your gnocchi from bricks of chunky paste. You need to incorporate flour with your sweet potato etc. gradually, thoroughly, and sparingly. We are looking for the bare minimum when it comes to the amount of flour we add.  To accomplish this, add the flour by the 1/2 cup and mix well inbetween each addition. When a dough forms (just a tad bit sticky but malleable) you’re done. For my gnocchi, it took about 2.3 cups of flour…Once you hit the 2 cup mark, it’s time to add flour in even smaller increments.
Next we go from dough to gnocchi!
6. Thoroughly flour a cookie sheet, your work surface, your hands, and by this point…all of your kitchen/clothing.
7. Separate the dough into 6 equally-sized balls. Place on of these balls on your work surface.
8.  Place one piece of dough in front of you and pat it into a rough oblong-shape. Using both hands, in a smooth back-and-forth motion and with very light downward pressure, roll the dough into a rope about a 1/2 inch thick, flouring the dough if necessary as you roll to keep it from sticking. (When you first begin making gnocchi, it might be easier to cut each oblong-piece of dough in half to roll it.)
9. Slice the rope into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Do your best to keep the size consistent as you slice. Sprinkle the little gnocchi babies lightly with flour and roll each piece quickly between your palms into a small, rough, ball. You can flour the dough/your hands  to prevent sticking.
http://daleydish.com/blog/2010/11/homemade-gnocchi.html                  photo by Daley Dish
The next step may feel excessive but keep in mind, the ridges in gnocchi help the pasta absorb and hold sauce!
10. Take a fork and hold the tines so the concave part faces up. Press each ball of dough with you thumb lightly against the tines of the fork as you roll it downward toward the tips of the tines. As the dough wraps around the tip of your thumb, it will form into a dumpling aka gnocchi aka heaven. Set each one on the floured baking sheet.
Homemade-Gnocchi
                            photo by Just A Taste
Gnocchi need to be either made right away or frozen. Set aside what you’re going to make that day, and freeze the rest.
Now to make the sauce….Brown butter balsamic sage sauce!
Before you begin this step, start boiling a large pot of water!
IMG_5708
You’ll need one stick of butter (1/2 cup), give or take, 1/4 cup of chopped sage leaves, 2.5 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 pepper.
  1. Heat a metal (any saucepan will do as long as it isn’t black) saucepan on medium heat. Cut the butter into equally sized pieces and melt them in the pan…
  2. As the butter melts, keep stirring so that it melts evenly. By cutting the butter into even pieces and stirring constantly, you ensure that no milk solids brown before the rest of the butter melts and result in burnt butter (not delicious)
  3. After about 40 seconds, the butter will bubble and foam–good! This is the water evaporating, which means the milk solids will be left behind to brown and get delicious. KEEP STIRRING

As the foam subsides, you should be able to see the butter changing, and the milk solids turning brown. Keep stirring and watching intentlyIMG_5726

  1. Take the pan off the heat when it starts to turn golden-brown…it continues to cook after it’s been removed from the heat, which is why people frequently blacken their brown butter

  2. After a minute, add the chopped sage and wait until it cooks a bit

  3. Add the balsamic, salt, and pepper. Stir and ta-da! You’re nearly done…

At this point, you should have a pot of boiling water. Add your gnocchi and do not crowd the pot…better to make two batches rather than create a giant sticky pasta mess. They are cooked when they float to the top, which takes about two minutes with fresh pasta! Remove with a slotted spoon and toss with the sauce.

You could always add crispy fried pancetta and ribbons of parmesan on top…this is supposed to be decadent! Either way, I’m sure you’ll be entirely happy with the result! Happy eating!

Let’s Eat: Dumplings

Last night I decided to mix things up and try some new recipes, and I’m very pleased to say that all of them were a rousing success. I made korean beef and shrimp dumplings. While the beef was a crowd favorite (given the fact that this crowd consisted of guys, no surprise there),  the shrimp dumplings seemed to earn a place permanently in everyone’s heart. I’m particularly fond of them because they were deceptively easy, leaving everyone else  impressed with the results while I exerted minimal effort in constructing them. In the spirit of sharing, it seems only fair to spill the recipe so everyone else can enjoy them too!

Shrimp (and other) Dumplings 

You’ll Need:

  • Wonton wrappers (available in the freezer aisle at most grocers)
  • 1.5 lbs Shrimp peeled, deveined, and chopped
  • 1.5 cups, shredded green cabbage
  • 4-5 scallions, finely diced
  • Scant handful of Mushrooms, finely chopped
  • Ginger root, about half an inch, peeled (use a spoon) and finely grated
  • 1 Teaspoon mirin
  • 1 Teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon oil (sesame, olive, etc.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To make:

  1. Combine all ingredients (except wonton wrappers) in a bowl and mix well
  2. Set out a bowl of warm water and clear a clean, dry workspace
  3. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, and a dusting of cornstarch or flour
  4. Lay out your wonton wrapper on the workspace and fill with about a quarter sized dollop of filling20140307-112455.jpg
  5. Wet the edges of the wonton wrapper with water, fold over, and press to seal. Set on cookie sheet. Repeat until you have desired amount of wontons. 20140307-112504.jpg20140307-112514.jpg
  6. Heat up a frying pan with just enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom.
  7. Once the oil in the pan is very hot, place wontons (not touching) in a single layer in the pan and fry until bottom is browned. Flip them and once both sides are brown, removed and set on paper towel lined dish and serve immediately. They’re delicious on their own, with soy sauce or with any asian dipping sauce

1975235_10201784654365806_1700238007_n

There would have been more pictures, except there was a lot of eating at the time, which left little patience/opportunity for a full photo shoot. Sorry!

However, alternative wonton fillings could include:

  • Crab, cream cheese, garlic, soy sauce
  • All vegetables, add sweet peppers, for example
  • Ground pork, scallions, egg, shrimp, soy sauce, salt and pepper

Instead of frying, you can also bake the filled wontons in the oven at 425 degrees (spray pan with non-stick spray) until lightly browned. Also, you can always make soup with them too: bring broth of your choice to boil over medium heat and add wontons, cook for about 5 minutes and then add other soup ingredients (shrimp, bok choy, you call) and simmer.

In case you can’t already tell, wontons are pretty easy to work with and the results are delicious. I’ve heard you can fill them with sweet fillings too, so stay tuned to see if that experiment ever pans out. In the meantime, happy wontoning and happy Friday!

Let’s Eat: Greek

While I’m enthusiastic about the German food we get to indulge in on a regular basis, sometimes it is nice to mix it up a little. Thankfully, there is a ready supply of different restaurants, cafes, and bars willing to help us out. Of the many options though, Greek is always a safe and delicious bet.  I love mediterranean cuisine so I’m never disappointed. However, last week we just didn’t feel like venturing out, so I decided to bring the Greek food in and make it myself. Since I was  pleasantly surprised with the results, I thought it was only fair to share them with you.

IMG_1374

IMG_1382

First, we had cous cous salad. It was healthy, hearty and flavorful. To make your own, the first thing you’ll need is to make the cous cous according to package directions. You can use regular cous cous, pearl cous cous, whole grain cous cous or a mixture of the three. Once all the liquid is absorbed, let it cool. Meanwhile, prep your dressing.

For the dressing I like to mix, two generous tablespoons of plain hummus, the juice of one lemon, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Set aside.

Lastly, this salad can be a main dish or a side, so anything goes. Some suggestions for what to put in yours are:

  • Cucumbers, peeled and diced
  • Grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • Chic peas, rinsed
  • Golden raisins
  • Pine nuts
  • feta cheese, crumbled
  • asparagus tips
  • kale and spinach, sautéed
  • Roasted squash
  • Roasted red peppers and tomatoes
  • Red onion
  • Flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Avocado, cubed
  • Bell peppers, diced
  • You can also sneak in some quinoa and chia
  • Top with roasted chicken or salmon leftovers for a hearty and satisfying meal

Add all of your ingredients to the cous cous, drizzle in your dressing, and toss well so everything is thoroughly combined. You can eat it then, slightly warm, or refrigerate it for a few hours until cool.

IMG_1378

Secondly, you’ll need the Tzatziki sauce:

  • 3 cups plain greek yogurt, preferably Fage 0%
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 english cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh chopped or dried dill
  • Mix all ingredients together and let chill covered in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Finally, I took some whole wheat pita bread and warmed it up in the oven so it was deliciously chewy and soft. I topped it with leftover shredded spicy chicken from the crockpot,  spinach, and the tzatziki sauce. It was crazy simple and so so so delicious. Next time, if I’m feeling ambitious, I might give this recipe for homemade pita a try.

IMG_1385

While most everything in Germany is deutsch to me, Greek food is an easy opportunity to incorporate some vegetables and complex carbs in our diet…plus the results are delicious. However, it does provoke the need to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding, so consider yourself warned.

Let’s Eat: Moroccan

Under the heading of things you already know: food is pretty great . There is enormous variety in terms of cuisine types, which makes it all the more fun in my opinion. I love going out to eat as much as the next person, but I really do enjoy making a meal to savor at home with just Jordan, a hefty group of  friends, for a special occasion, or with our families back home. Having said that, I want to introduce one of my favorite recipes with the hopes that you enjoy it just as much as I do.
Let's Eat: Moroccan
Tagines (or tajines) are a traditional North African Stew, cooked low and slow (in a earthenware pot of the same name) for a super tender and rich result. The flavor is a sweet/savory/spicy mix that tastes much more complicated than it is to make. Don’t worry though–you don’t actually need a traditional tagine to make this Moroccan meal, but you have to admit that the traditional Moroccan cooking dish is pretty eye-catching. Instead what you’ll need is:
  • A slow-cooker: any size will do, just adjust the recipe if your slow-cooker is on the smaller side or if you have an enormous one and are feeding a crowd. This recipe makes enough for four hungry people, with leftovers (which get better overnight anyways).
  • 5-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 medium sized yellow onions, thinly diced
  • 3 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 (15 oz) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 cans of chickpeas
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2.5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 generous teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1.5 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • pinch of ginger
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place all the above ingredients in your slow cooker and cook on low setting for approximately 6 hours. After 6 hours, add dried apricots, raisins and dates to your liking and taste tagine to see if you want it spicier (add more cayenne pepper) sweeter (more honey) or richer (more tomato paste).  I usually end up adding two generous fistfuls of apricots and one of dates. Cook for another hour-hour and a half. This dish is best served over cous cous, but it’s also nice with quinoa/rice and with hummus and pita or a salad on the side.

Maybe not the prettiest product when it’s all said and done, but it is so damned delicious I forgot to even take a picture until I was on helping number two. Do yourself a favor and give it to go–with winter still rearing its ugly, cold head this is the perfectly comforting pick me up. 20140211-150612.jpg