Blue Potato Gnocchi of Fanciness!

What does a sane, reasonable adult do when they hit a career milestone?  I have no idea; you’ll have to ask one.  I called up two buddies and said, “I’m cooking a fancy dinner tonight.  Want to come eat it? Also, this is a ploy to get people to play Shadows Over Camelot with me.”  They complied.IMG_6807

That’s more or less the ingredients for what I did.  A pack of brats left over from the summer, 2lbs of blue potatoes, a slightly-past-optimal-use-date shallot, and half a beet I chopped for dinner a week prior then didn’t use.  Also, Parmesan cheese, because I was making gnocchi, which is pasta, and cheese always goes well pasta.IMG_6810

The beets I decided to roast since I was firing up the oven to bake the potatoes anyway, and everything else was going to be stove top.  I poured on some olive oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar, then instead of stirring or doing anything else refined, shoved the beets around the baking sheet a whole bunch with my hands until they seemed well coated.  You may want to note “dove in with my hands,” as a theme for the evening.IMG_6813

To, as they say on Chopped, elevate the brats, I pulled the sausage meat out of the casings.  Then I poured in some breadcrumbs, ground mustard, and vinegar and mixed it all up with my hands.  I really like the texture on a brat, and they’ve got a nice, heavy greasiness to them, but this treatment helped pull them into the rest of this dish so it didn’t feel like a slapped a cookout onto my fancy dinner.IMG_6817

Mmm, elevated sausage in a skillet.
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The actual active time for making gnocchi is pretty short, but those potatoes took forever to roast.  (A lot of recipes will say to just boil the potatoes.  I don’t have a potato ricer and moister is the enemy, so I opted for a less hydrated technique.)  I had the flour and salt ready to go well before I had the potatoes roasted enough to pull them out of their skins and mash.  Then I threw in an arbitrary amount of Parmesan cheese.  My rubric was, more or less, “Does this look tasty yet?”  Add the egg and then, you guessed it, dive in with my hands to mix.

By this point the guests had arrived.  One was given the sacred task of reading the rules to the game since I hadn’t actually prepared well enough to know how to play the game I lured people over for.  The other got summoned for things as serious and urgent as, “Uhm, the carton of eggs is right where my elbow is going to knock it to the floor, but my hands are covered in pasta dough.  Could you tuck those into the fridge for me?”  Heavy responsibility, I tell ya.IMG_6821

That’s what my (entirely too large) gnocchi looked like after I finished boiling them.  There are no pictures of the dough processing phase because my hands were covered in said dough and I wasn’t about to sully my camera.  Sorry.  But, my major concern with this endeavor, i.e. that the blue potatoes would turn out funky, unappealing pastas, was alleviated.  The blue looked quite nice, I think.IMG_6823

This is the toasting with butter and shallot phase.  One of said guests has an onion allergy, so her gnocchi came from the end of the toasting batch, when the shallot had pretty much been dumped from the skillet.  Yay multi-batch cooking!IMG_6826And that is blue potato gnocchi with roasted beets and elevated bratwurst, aka Fancy Dinner.  I made a centerpiece and pulled out the place mats and everything.  Would do again.

 

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Beef Pot Pie

IMG_6778 What’s your first thought when you look at that picture?  If it’s “Vegetable score 6, booyah!” then you’ve probably spent too much time in my kitchen.  Also, you’re probably me.  It’s December, but the produce force is still strong with us, so I decided to go for the easiest way to cram a ton of veggies into dinner: pot pie!IMG_6781 I’m personally not a big fan of ground meat.  There are a few places where I think it works well but usually I’d more or less prefer to have the not ground version.  But I’ve been using chicken as my go-to dead animal of choice more than I like so I decided to prevent a rut and force myself to try making ground beef tasty.IMG_6782

The bright pink things are the beauty heart radish.  Cooking this was lots of fun just because it was so gosh-darnded colorful.  IMG_6785

To get a gravy going I just added a bunch of stock.  All the proportions were eyeballed, and I wound up using just half of most of the vegetables, which was the right call.  This winds up meaning that with nothing more than my eyeballs I did a massively better job of judging good portions than half the recipes I’ve used for CSA projects this year.  I say this out loud so that I will remember it, and trust my own judgement the next time I read a recipe and go, “Is that right?  It must be, since whoever wrote it ought to know what they’re doing.”IMG_6786

For the crust I used the same recipe I’ve blogged about before, but instead of just doubling it (top and bottom) went ahead and upped it 2.5x.  That gave me more dough than I needed, but avoided the awkward not-quite-enough problem I run into a lot using that pie plate and recipe combo.  IMG_6789

See!  Much prettier than my usual pie, though the handles still thwart true artfulness, and it was a lot easier to work with when I didn’t have to make every scrap count.  I just need to think of something neat to do with scraps of leftover pie dough, and then do this as a regular thing for all future pies.IMG_6790

Only half of the filling fit in the pie, but I’d figured that would be the case the moment I decided to use all the ground beef.  The other half has been tucked away in the freezer for some cold, produce-less winter night, and I’ll just be a crust away from another pie.  Or I could make mashed potatoes and turn it into a cattle-herder-pie.  Or do bread dough and make stuffed rolls.  Or…well, I’ll do something.
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Mmmmm, bubbly pie from oven.IMG_6795Look at the colors!  It was quite pretty.  The ground beef still tasted like ground beef to me, though.  Nobody else minded, but I’m the only one who doesn’t care for hamburger, so they weren’t exactly a challenge, either.  Oh well.  It was a perfectly acceptable dinner, and the leftovers don’t appear to be fated for lingering, so that’s all I could ask for.

Potato and Leek Soup

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We liked our CSA so much over the summer that was signed up for the winter share, which will keep us in produce into December.  After that I think there may be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It could get gruesome.  I’m hoping we’ll cope.  Part of what we’ve been doing to cope is making soup and freezing portions of it, so we’ll have tasty produce-laden soup through the winter.  And since we’re somewhat overwhelmed by leeks and potatoes just now, I decided to add to our soup collection with some potato leek soup.IMG_6762

I riffed off this recipe.  It had the very clever suggestion of using one of the outer leek leaves to hold all the seasonings you’d want to remove later.  I’m a super fan and stealing this idea for future use – it was very handy and smelled fantastic.  Actually a lot of the cooking experience with this soup was an olfactory reward.IMG_6763

For example, cooking Chinese sausage in butter? (Used the sausage instead of the bacon) One of the best smells I’ve ever encountered.  It was amazing and I plan to do it from now on all the time.  I highly recommend doing this just for kicks.IMG_6766

The leeks smelled very nice, too, though not quite so overwhelmingly wow as the sausage-butter combo.  They were really fun to chop up, though.  I haven’t done much with leeks, but they’re sorta like what you’d get if an onion decided to be a fan.  A really ineffective, tasty fan. IMG_6767

The bag of frozen cubes of things from the still life shot at the top was actually cubes of frozen homemade chicken stock.  There may have been a rotisserie chicken at Costco incident that led to much home made stock.  I used those with water for the broth, and once I tossed in the little spice my kitchen was full of “Yup, we’re making soup, and it’s going to be tasty.”  I like it when my kitchen is full of these things.IMG_6770

This is what hte pot looked like once the potatoes were soft and we were ready to get our puree on.  The bouquet had gotten very wilty and scooping it out without it falling apart present a minor challenge.  My trusty wooden spoon was up to the task, though, so we prevailed.IMG_6772

I know I’ve waxed enthusiastic about our immersion blender before.  I’m going to do it again.  That thing is awesome!  If we didn’t have it, I’d have had to haul out the food processor (which is heavy, clunky, and lives under the sink), pour a pot of hot soup into it, except not all of it because there’s too much, process it, put the finished soup in a temporary bowl, process the rest, then put it all back into the pot.  Ugh.  Instead, I stick the blender in the soup, swirl it around and viola!  Then I poured in the cream, blended it some more, and felt truly mighty.IMG_6776

 

Ladies and gentlemen, the soup is served.  At some point in February I’m going to be very happy about this.

The Dish that Keeps on Dishing

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There were things in my fridge I wanted to get rid of.  These were some of those things.  Also, I was cold, so I wanted to turn on the oven.  Also also, scatter-brained and needing to do a ton of work, which is when doing things with yeast is awesome (because there are interruptions, but deadlines by which things must! be! done!)  This led to one of my more prolific experiments.IMG_6746

I wound up chopping up and sauteeing all the ingredients for the stuff in the bowl individually.  I let the onion get a good carmelization, cooked the sausage all the way through, and left the celeriac in the skillet for a really long time since it kept smelling nice and I have no idea what cooked celeriac looks like.  I think it looks like raw celeriac, except more fragrant.

The leftover squash-chip attempt that hadn’t yet been turned into scrambled egg filling got thrown in, too.

Incidentally many of the world’s tastiest cuisines are just a way to get leftovers out of your fridge.  I remind myself that leftover maintenance is what brought us jambalaya and garbage pizza every time I start to wonder whether I’ve lost my mind.  Incidentally, I spent an awful lot of time thinking about jambalaya and garbage pizza.

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I used a recipe for Parker House rolls, which are super buttery dinner rolls, to get some dough ready to go. Then I rolled them out into little rounds, put the sausage mixture into it, and folded up the edges.  IMG_6750

Mmm, raw dough filled with (hopefully) yummy things.

The roommates came home to me going, “I’ve done a thing, it has caused food.  I’m unsure whether or not it’s dinner.”

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They seemed to find it to be an adequate dinner.  I was unsatisfied.  They were tasty, but seemed more appropriate to lunch or a snack to me.  I have been informed that I have funny ideas about dinner.

But wait, there’s more!

I filled up the baking tray before I used up all the dough, so after dinner I went ahead and turned the rest of the dough into rolls.  We then ate the rolls, because rolls.

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But wait, there’s more!

I didn’t nearly use up all the filling, either.  So the next day I made a pie crust.  And then I put the filling in the pie crust.  And then I covered it in a pile of sharp cheddar.IMG_6756

I liked the pie a whole lot more than I liked the filled buns.  I also liked that one flailing kitchen experiment gave me three different dishes.  That’s efficiency at its tastiest!

Kale and Squash Salad

When I go to potlucks, I tend to make brownies.  Or pie.  Or tarts.  Or…you get the idea.  I like being the one who brought the thing made of sugar and chocolate.  It’s a cheaters way of getting people to like you.  But last week I went and the request was, “Vegetables.”  Well, I can help with that.
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Technically, our CSA is over.  There was no delivery last week.  Never fear, though, because we’re addicts.  We signed up for the winter share, and we’re going to pre-register for next year.  The vegetable onslaught has been, to put it mildly, a roaring success.  So that kale isn’t actually CSA kale, it’s “Are you just going to leave that kale in your back yard and not do anything with it?” kale I rescued from a friend.  I figured that since we didn’t have a CSA delivery last week I could do that without my roommates murdering me.  I’m still alive, so I think I was right.IMG_6722

I knew I was going to do some sort of warm salad because kale is just too sassy tough to eat raw.  And I knew I wanted to put squash on it because squash.  So far this year we’ve braised squash, mashed it, roasted it, curried it, and souped it.  I decided to see if I could make squash chips.  I sliced as thinly as I could, tossed them with olive oil and some salt, then slapped them in a very hot oven.IMG_6725

That’s all the kale chopped up and tossed with oil.IMG_6729

And that’s what it looked like after I sauteed it.  Cooks down a bit, yes?IMG_6730

The squash came out quite tasty.  It wasn’t chips, but they got super sweet and tasted like, of all things, apple.  No complaints here.IMG_6732

Since everything else was getting a trip through some oil and heat, I went ahead and sauteed the carrots, too.  And then I pulled out some old candied pecans we’ve had in the pantry forever and needed to use, chopped them up, and tossed them in. Just because I was bringing the vegetables did not mean that I couldn’t bring sweets.IMG_6734

I’m not really the person to go to for expert salad construction.  I wind up just piling everything in, then stirring and hoping the good bits don’t clump at the bottom.  Some day I’ll develop an advanced technique that is awesome.  Then I’ll take over the world.IMG_6737

Blue cheese, because blue cheese is awesome on everything, especially warm salads, especially warm salads with apple flavors and pecans.

I mixed up a dressing out of sriracha, a nice vinegar, a bit of soy sauce and some lemon juice.  Then I tossed it on at the party and did my stirring.  It was good.  People seemed to like it.  I liked it.  It was consumed in quantity, but I managed to snag leftovers.

IMG_6739Which I promptly ate for lunch the next day.  Recommended.

 

When the CSA Attacks Your Dumplings…

But first, an object lesson.  I made cupcakes for Sylvie’s birthday.  To be precise, I made matcha coconut (with a bit of jasmine) cupcakes with coconut matcha buttercream frosting.  I started with the Joy of Cooking yellow cake recipe and tinkered from there.  That recipe claimed that you don’t actually need to use cupcake wrappers in the cupcake pan so long as you grease and flour thoroughly.  The wrappers we had on hand didn’t fit very well into the pan, so I figured that might be easier.  Here’s how that first batch turned out.IMG_6691

Here’s how the second batch turned out, after I decided that maybe Joy of Cooking didn’t know what it was talking about and went ahead and used the wrappers.IMG_6693

Same amount of batter per cupcake in each batch, but these turned out taller and, dare I say it, prettier.  Use your wrappers, people.

Now, on to the main event.  I’ve been making chicken and dumplings for years.  It started at this recipe, but I’ve mixed up how I do it pretty thoroughly at this point.  The recipe for the dumplings themselves is unaltered in my typical use, but I shamelessly change everything else.  This time, went so far as to leave out the chicken and do sausage instead.  (Grilling season ended while we still had a ton of brats on hand.)

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That’s a bag of chopped kale.  There was a squash thing that called for one bunch of kale but which I decided meant 2/3 of a bunch of kale.  And celery root instead of celery.  But that’s a regular carrot, and I also chopped an onion to throw in.

The recipe calls for making a broth by boiling the veggies with the chicken.  Boiling brats struck me as…unappetizing.  So I decided to caramelize things before throwing them into the broth to cook down and get tasty.

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Oh, and I also added a clove of garlic, because garlic.  It’s in there.
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I didn’t wind up cooking the carrots enough to get them particularly soft or caramelized, but they got a good sear on the outside.IMG_6704

And that’s a plate full of chopped up sausage that’s been skillet fried.  The fact that the sausage started life as a brat is very Wisconsin, but other than that, sausage is legitimately Southern when thrown in with gravy and biscuit-like objects, so my sacrilege score on this particular meal is quite a lot lower than has been usual.IMG_6706

That’s what the dumpling dough looks like before you add the liquid ingredients.  If you’re thinking “Wow, that looks just like biscuit dough at that stage,” then, yeah.  It pretty much is.IMG_6708

And that’s the final stage of the dough.  The recipe calls for rolling it out and then being orderly about cutting out dumplings or pinching off chunks.  I’ve never had the patience for that – rolling out biscuit dough makes a mess because it’s sticky.  I pinch the dough right out of the bowl, roll it in my hands a bit, then toss it into the boiling, milky broth.IMG_6710

Speaking of the broth, I should mention the other thing I ignore the recipe on.  It calls for removing the carrot, onion etc., from the broth and discarding them.  I started making this recipe in college when grocery money was a seriously challenging budgetary item.  I was not throwing away vegetables.  And I like my broth more gravy-like in consistency than this recipe will give you if you follow it strictly.  So instead I take the immersion blender and puree the vegetables.  Before I encountered the supreme joys of the immersion blender, I’d scoop them out, regular blend them, then throw them back in.  I’ve also used cream instead of milk, cream of mushroom soup instead of milk, sour cream, and several other things.  Someday I might do a cup of cheese soup, just to see what happens.IMG_6714

Speaking of liking the texture to be gravy-like, are you aware of this product?  It’s like corn starch, except easy.  It flour.  But magic flour.  Magic, makes everything thick super-fast and without lumps flour.  The name would be unforgivable if it weren’t so darn accurate.IMG_6716

Here’s where I made my major departure from status quo.  You don’t want to eat kale raw; it’s too tough.  But that toughness means it stays green and sassy when you do something like toss it into a pot full of sausage, boiled dumplings, and gravy.  It’s like a pop of lovely nature in your bowl of delightful cardiac arrest.IMG_6718

Mmmm, bowl of cardiac arrest.  This was good.  And a nice switch up for a recipe I’ve been making nigh unto a decade now.  Adding the kale here was brilliant, and the sausage substitution did not detract.  Would do again.

Squash and Eggplant Curry with Flatbread Experimentation

The vegetable onslaught continues and I’ve begun experimenting with flatbreads.  I made a dinner a few weeks ago I really wish I’d taken the time to photograph so I could blog it.  I didn’t, so you’ll have to settle for peeking in on my second crack at flat breads.  The first turned out phenomenally well, so the bar was pretty high for this second attempt.IMG_6639

We had an eggplant and a couple squash from the CSA, so I decided to play with this recipe.  And to go with it, this recipe for chapatis.  The lack of yeast in the chapati recipe was particularly appealing since that cuts a lot of time out of the preparation, and while I had time to futz with dinner, I’m still catching up from things I let slide while I was in Richmond and have about ten other things going on I’d like to keep on top of as well, so quick was appealing.IMG_6642

The dough is extremely simple.  Mix water and flour.  That’s it.  Awesome.  My favorite part of the flat bread experimentation so far, though, is that they tend to call for wheat flour.  I bought a 25lb bag at Costco a while back on a whim, because I thought it would lend itself to making more interesting bread.  It resoundingly had the opposite effect.  All the un-fun things you associate from eating lame wheat bread growing up, none of the toothsome texture or depth I expect from wheat bread.  It’s working great for the flat breads, though.  Impulse purchase of bulk ingredient validated!IMG_6643

The part where you toast the spices is probably my favorite part of cooking.  It smells so good it’s like getting a reward just as you start.  Good job, you can heat oil and pour powder into it, have aroma of awesome!IMG_6646

I tossed in the last two of the CSA tomatoes, which upped my vegetable count.  We’re out of CSA onion, so we’ve had to switch back to the bag of grocery store onions I got just before the CSA started delivering.  I may someday go back to the grocery store for produce.  Weird.
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This is what he bowl of roasted eggplant and squash looked like when I finished peeling them.  The eggplant was actually pretty easy to do once I stopped burning my fingers on it.  The squash was much more complicated, probably because it took a detour from oven to counter and visited “smashed on floor because Anaea’s a clumsy oaf,” land, which had rather unfortunate consequences for its structural integrity.  IMG_6651

Mmm, curried mush.  And that’s basically what it is.  I wound up adding a bit of cinnamon and chicken stock to it, just because upon tasting I decided it needed something to round out the flavors a bit – the eggplant and squash weren’t quite working together as team players.  IMG_6653

The chapatis turned out to be not at all faster than a yeasted flatbread.  In fact, they took up about four times as much of my time as the pita bread I made last time.  The pita bread needed more time for rising and whatnot, but much less time from me futzing with the dough.  These chapatis are all about no ingredients but lots of time consuming technique.IMG_6655

Remember, the dough is just flour and water.  Part of the rolling out process is folding in oil, while folding up the dough.  This is where the flavor comes from, and the air trapped between the layers of dough is what’ll eventually give it its lift.IMG_6657

That’s all dough, with the edges pinched to keep the oil in.  They look like baby samosas to me, which got me to craving samosas.  Alas, there were no samosas in this dinner.IMG_6660

And that’s what the chapati looks like when you roll it out and don’t much care whether you get it perfectly round.  I did that twelve times.  Half way through I switched to doing it assembly-line style, though, which sped things up considerably.  IMG_6667

 

That looked to me very much like success.  I suspect the ring around the air bubble from pinching the edges together to seal in the oil.  Something to be cognizant of while doing that.IMG_6669

They got a really pleasant char on them while in the skillet.  It looked very much like what I expect a chapati to look like, which is always a good sign.

This is also where my biggest complaint about the chapati recipe comes in.  Cooking each piece individually in the skillet is slow.  My kitchen is very straight and clean now, but that’s not what I had among my goals for the evening.  The char is pretty, but I don’t really feel like it was worth the time commitment.  But that could be the part where I wound up serving dinner an hour and a half later than I’d wanted to talking.IMG_6671And that was dinner.

The chapati recipe is an excellent recipe for chapatis.  I miss the yeast and higher oil content in these compared to the pita, though, which just means I like pita bread better than chapatis, which I already knew.  The curry was tasty but not mind blowing – then again, I expect it’ll be better tomorrow.