Archive for February, 2010

27
Feb
10

Gnocchi!!!

I promised and here it is! It’s not my recipe, but it’s truly the BEST recipe for gnocchi I’ve found! The recipe is from the Tre Vigne cookbook. It’s written by Michael Chiarello. His method is what makes this special… baking the potatoes rather than boiling so their glutens aren’t as pronounced making a very light and fluffy gnocchi. These delectable little darlings are often called Angel Pillows, and this recipe truly supports that image; they are super easy to make. When I make them, I do the roll out, cut them into bite sized pieces and then simply press a dimple in the middle of each one – this works just as well as the fork roll, and is much faster.

Once you get the hang of it, trying experimenting with enhanced versions – use sweet potatoes (I’d suggest half sweet and half regular since sweet potatoes are more dense). Add some fresh herbs to the dough for extra zing. Gnocchis traditionally hail from Northern Italy. The Northern Italian cuisine is more influenced by the Swiss and Germans than the rest of Italy – more cream, butter, less olive oil, etc. So, in keeping with this, try simple cream based sauces, or browned butter and sage with Parmigiano-Reggiano as a finish… GET CREATIVE!!!

Ingredients:

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound russet potatoes
  • 3 to 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon gray salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting board and dough

Method:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Spread a layer of kosher salt on a baking sheet and arrange the potatoes on top. Bake until a bit overcooked, about 45 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle, cut in half, and scoop out the flesh. Reserve the potato skins, if desired, for another use.

Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer or grate them on the large holes of a box grater. You should have about 2 cups. Make a mound of potatoes on the counter with a well in the middle, add 3 of the egg yolks, the cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix in the potatoes and mix well with hands. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the flour over the potatoes and, using your knuckles, press it into the potatoes. Fold the mass over on itself and press down again. Sprinkle on more flour, little by little, folding and pressing the dough until it just holds together, (try not to knead it.) Work any dough clinging to your fingers back into the dough. If the mixture is too dry, add another egg yolk or a little water. The dough should give under slight pressure. It will feel firm but yielding. To test if the dough is the correct consistency, take a piece and roll it with your hands on a well-floured board into a rope 1/2-inch in diameter. If the dough holds together, it is ready. If not, add more flour, fold and press the dough several more times, and test again.

Keeping your work surface and the dough lightly floured, cut the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 1/2-inch in diameter. Cut into 1/2-inch-long pieces. Lightly flour the gnocchi as you cut them. You can cook these as is or form them into the classic gnocchi shape with a gnocchi board, ridged butter paddle, or the tines of a large fork turned upside down. Rest the bottom edge of the gnocchi board on the work surface, then tilt it at about a 45 degree angle. Take each piece and squish it lightly with your thumb against the board while simultaneously pushing it away from you. It will roll away and around your thumb, taking on a cupped shape — with ridges on the outer curve from the board and a smooth surface on the inner curve where your thumb was. (Shaping them takes some time and dexterity. You might make a batch just for practice.) The indentation holds the sauce and helps gnocchi cook faster.

As you shape the gnocchi, dust them lightly with flour and scatter them on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or waxed paper. Set gnocchi filled cookie sheet in front of a fan on low for 1/2 hour (turning gnocchi after 15 minutes). If you will not cook the gnocchi until the next day or later, freeze them. Alternatively, you can poach them now, drain and toss with a little olive oil, let cool, then refrigerate several hours or overnight. To reheat, dip in hot water for 10 to 15 seconds, then toss with browned butter until hot.

When ready to cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Drop in the gnocchi and cook for about 90 seconds from the time they rise to the surface. Remove the cooked gnocchi with a skimmer, shake off the excess water, and serve as desired.

Cook’s Note: Baking potatoes on a layer of salt allows heat to circulate 360 degrees. Scrape the salt into a jar and reuse it again and again. If you do not have time to shape the gnocchi, you can freeze the dough, defrost it in the refrigerator, and then shape it. To freeze shaped gnocchi, line baking sheets with waxed paper and dust with flour. Spread the gnocchi on the prepared sheets and freeze until hard. Remove to individual-portion-size freezer bags. Store in the freezer for up to 1 month. To cook, drop the frozen gnocchi into boiling salted water. Cook for about 2 minutes after they rise to the surface.

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27
Feb
10

I’m BAD!!! And I’m Glad…

Today is supposed to be about gnocchi, but I’ve been running around like a silly man all day in a new toy! So, I guess you could say, today is about living well.

I could have foregone my fun, and buckled down, typed in my recipe, uploaded the amazing photo Jake Sutter took, and viola – a gnocchi blog done! But instead, I’ve lived well, shrugged off my gnocchi promise. It’s next I promise.

We all (I’m talking to you) need to do this from time to time. We need to climb into an adorable, super fun new convertible, put the top down and cruise all over town… no, let me rephrase that “zip furiously all over town”. We need to tear up the streets, looking for that elusive corner to scream around at crazy high speeds, and squeal in the thrill of it! Of course, this has to be done with rain spitting on us in the open air,  threatening a deluge at any moment. We also need to care less if everyone sharing the road sees us as a stereotype! Stormy day, cold wind, brand new car, top down, driving like it’s an Indy 500 course!

Go ahead, life is too short, what are you waiting for! Let me know what you shrugged off today, it’ll help me feel less guilty… OH, WAIT – I don’t feel guilty, and neither should you!!!

23
Feb
10

Homage to the home picnic

Some people say they eat to feed their bodies, others their souls! I fall solidly in the latter camp! You can offer me the most wonderful food, but if it isn’t about the moment, occasion, and isn’t presented in its best light, I will probably not remember it beyond the time it took to consume. But if you take the simplest and most ordinary food, and present it on your best dishes, or arrange it to be viewed as well as eaten, then I’m probably going to have an enhanced culinary experience all around, and will probably remember it far longer than the more exceptional food poorly presented.

If I had my way, I’d make my life mission one that encourages people to slow down, and live in the moment they are given; to try and glean soul nourishment from each occasion. How you present and eat your food is no exception. With that in mind, I encourage each and everyone of you to do a home picnic this week. Stop at your market, pick up tasty little things you like – some cheese, some cold-cuts, some bread and/or crackers, some fresh fruit, veggies, nuts, olives, of course a bottle of wine (maybe even an inexpensive sparkling wine and some potato chips!!!)… you get the picture. Bring it all home, take 20 minutes to create an event out of it, and enjoy! You’ll be amazed at how such a simple thing can be so transcendent!

Let me know how yours turns out!!!

20
Feb
10

Liquid nirvana with a touch of white pepper… oh and some prawns too

I’m a huge advocate for different and interesting wines. I love it when people bust out of the ordinary for the extraordinary! One of my favorite white wines is Albariño. Albariño is Spain’s most popular white wine, and is rapidly becoming one of the world’s most loved white wines, and qualifies in my wine lexicon as extraordinary! It is a bright crisp, aromatic style wine with peaches and apricots being the typical fruit characteristics. It also has a touch of white pepper, usually found in the mid-palate. This delicious wine is considered to be just about the most perfect pairing for shellfish! So I’m suggesting you go to your local wine store, buy a bottle or two, stop at your local market, pick up some nice prawns, head home to make the extremely simple cocktail sauce I’ve included and have your self a little Albariño and shrimp cocktail celebration this weekend!!!

Cocktail Sauce

  • 1 cup organic ketchup
  • 2 Tablespoons pure prepared horseradish (you can use the creamed that’s all that available)
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh tarragon – minced (this adds a wow factor to the sauce)
  • Lemon Juice to taste

Method:

Blend the horseradish, fresh tarragon and lemon juice into the ketchup and adjust ingredients based on your preference. I suggest you make this and let it chill for about an hour before serving to allow the flavors to open up and harmonize.

17
Feb
10

Mailbag Wednesday – is 9 the new 10?

Question: OK, this is more of an etiquette question rather than a food question.  If a restaurant advertises their dinner hours, say something like 5pm to 10pm, what exactly does the 10pm represent?  Does that mean that they stop making food at 10pm, will happily seat you if you walk in at 10pm, or they will seat you but might do “questionable” things to the food that they serve you because they are ready to go home? Brian, Sacramento

Answer: This is a classic question! Technically if a restaurant posts open hours until 10pm, you should be able to arrive just before 10, be seated, served, and welcomed to stay until your meal experience is complete. That being said… HA HA HA!!! I actually did a google search on this question and came up with multiple hits – Waiters ranting about late comers, owners lamenting controlling costs beyond a normal shift, kitchens needing to close down at some point, etc. My normal practice in late dining moments is to get a read on the restaurant. If it’s still busy and feels active, you’re probably safe to stay. If it’s quiet and the staff seems like they’re closing up shop, probably not such a good idea. If the restaurant has a busy bar, sometimes the bar offers a more limited late night menu – it’s best to engage your better judgment, you can always ask what the kitchen schedule is, and often times the service staff will tell you that the kitchen just closed, or certain items are no longer available, etc. And yes, I’ve heard horror stories about the service and kitchen staff who are handling your food not being completely above board because they’re irritated with you for coming in late. On that note, I’d suggest you never irritate a fast food worker!!!

I’d love it if all ya’ll would weigh in with your experiences with this???

12
Feb
10

Chocolate Decadence – trust me, this is all I need to say!

My dear friend (and one with an amazing gift of hospitality) Larry has asked for a nice Valentine’s Day dessert. So, I’m telling all of you chocolate lovers… THIS IS A TO-DIE-FOR (Flourless) CHOCOLATE CAKE – If you can call something so dense and rich a simple cake. Anyway… here goes… and don’t be afraid of it, it’s really very easy to make.

Chocolate Decadence

Ingredients:

  • 9 ounces sugar (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 9 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 6 eggs
  • Heavy whipping cream – whip into cream with a touch of powered sugar and vanilla for topping cake
  • Fresh rasberries – for garnishing cake

Method:

In a small saucepan combine 6 ounces of the sugar and water, bring to a boil and remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate, stirring to incorporate completely. Stir in butter and set aside.

Use an electric mixer (a whisk and a strong arm works too), combine the eggs with the remaining 3 ounces of sugar and whisk for 2 minutes on high speed.

Add chocolate mixture slowly to egg mixture and stir until well blended. Pour batter into a  buttered 9 inch loaf pan that has been lined with buttered parchment paper. Place in a hot water bath and bake at 350f for approximately 50 minutes. Remove from oven, cool, and refrigerate the cake for a minimum of 2 hours before serving.

Alternate baking method:

You can also use individual ramekins or those cute little heart shaped baking pans. Just remember to make sure they are well buttered and adjust baking time based on batter to pan ratio (just make sure cakes are set, but don’t overcook or they’ll dry out!)

12
Feb
10

Dry, traditional, pink and all very Explosive!!!

While sitting for my WSET (London Wine and Spirit Education Trust) certification, I had two random essays to write. To my profound relief, one of the essays was on Champagne. I love Champagne! I am a self-professed Champagne geek!  I could happily focus on the process of making champagne, how it’s blended, fermented, dosaged, riddled, racked and disgorged. But it’s safe to assume you’re not as enamored as I. I could also focus on the sight, nose, taste and finish of champagne, but again – do you really care about the concentration of bubbles, the smell of yeast, caramel and green apples, its mousse, or the taste of… well the same. Do you really want to know whether its finish gives clues to its cuvee or vintage? I bet not! You might be interested, however, in a few cool facts for your upcoming love feast.

  • True Champagne must come from Champagne, France… all else is sparkling wine made in the “Methode Champenoise” style.
  • Dom Perignon is considered the father of Champagne, yet he never actually drank it.

  • Veuve (the widow) Clicquot figured out how to freeze the sediment in the neck (disgorgement) to create clear wine.

  • There are literally hundreds of miles of underground Champagne lime cellars in France, dating back to the Roman Empire.

  • Champagne is generally a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunior.

Once again, I digress… it’s Valentines weekend. What you probably care about is planning your love feast. Here’s where you can think outside the box. Traditionally, Champagne is the quintessential wine for love! Not only for Valentine’s day, but for weddings, births, promotions and christening of ships! I’m here to suggest that you have options: traditional, out of the ordinary, and down right breaking the rules.

The traditional pick is easy; pick a respected, quality Champagne or sparkling wine and plan to let it carry the mood from start to finish.

For the out of the ordinary, pick a sparkling wine that reflects who you are. Italian? Go with a Prosecco. Latin? Go with a Cava. German? Go with Sekt.

Finally, for you rule-breakers, if you love dessert as much as I (you know who you are—you willingly skip the main course for dessert), consider a fun sparkler for the dessert. There are some beautiful sparkling wine choices that pair perfectly with dessert. But (trust me on this) brut, extra sec and extra dry are not among them – in spite of the whole strawberries and Champagne myth. I must display my blatant preference here: follow the Italians. After all, they own the patent on passion and romance! Check out a Brachetto D’Acqui, It’s pink, sweet, and bursting with luscious fruit—perfect with the decadent chocolate dessert recipe I’m posting tomorrow. If you really want to throw a “LOVE FEAST”, do all three!

Whichever option you choose, make it special and memorable—something that fits who you are. Create the perfect memory for your special day, and by all means do it with passion!




Patrick Bartlett


A conversation about food, wine, and the art of living well!

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