Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pan-fried Gnocchi with Golden Tomato Sauce

I found some beautiful yellow tomatoes at the farmers' market on Saturday. They taste a little more delicate than regular red ones, but you can use them interchangeably. I took the idea for this meal from one of my favorite vegetarian websites, 101cookbooks. It's a simple sauce - you don't need to peel the tomatoes. This recipe depends on fresh tomatoes, so I'd recommend making it soon before they go out of season.

We all loved this: fresh, bright sauce, crispy, crunchy gnocchi, and fragrant basil made for a great late summer supper!

Pan-fried Gnocchi with Golden Tomato Sauce

1 16 oz. package gnocchi, cooked according to package instructions
5 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 lbs. yellow (or any good red) tomatoes - cored, seeded, and diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. crushed red pepper
Fresh basil, cut into ribbons
Parmesan cheese

Pan fry gnocchi in two batches, using 1 T. of olive oil for each batch. Stir occasionally until gnocchi is golden brown. Set aside.

Put remaining three tablespoons of oil in a pan with garlic, salt, and crushed red pepper. Heat over medium heat, stirring as needed, until garlic starts to turn golden - about 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes to the pan and simmer a few minutes, until tomatoes start to break down.

To serve, ladle some sauce onto plate. Top with gnocchi, grated parmesan, and basil.

Serves 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 children.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pineapple Carrot Cupcakes

These are simple carrot cake cupcakes with pineapple and cream cheese frosting. They are topped with pineapple "flowers" - thin slices of fresh pineapple dried in the oven. It takes a while to dry the flowers, and they need to be sliced very thinly. But they look lovely, and the dried pineapple is delicious!

Pineapple Carrot Cupcakes

Pineapple Carrot Cake
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten lightly
1 1/2 c. self-rising flour
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
2 cups firmly packed grated carrot
3/4 cup drained crushed pineapple

Pineapple Flowers
2 T. sugar
2 T. water
12 wafer thin slices of fresh pineapple

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
4 T. butter, softened
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 t. finely grated lemon peel
3 c. powdered sugar

1. Make pineapple flowers. Heat water and sugar in a microwavable cup for 1 minute, until sugar dissolves. Brush syrup onto both sides of the pineapple.

Put a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet, and place pineapple slices in a single layer on the rack. Bake at 250 for two hours, flipping pineapple after one hour. If your slices are very thin, they will dry more quickly.

As soon as the edges are brown and they look like a flower, remove them from the drying rack. Carefully shape them into flowers and dry over an inverted egg carton.

2. Turn oven temperature to 350. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with paper baking cups.

3. Combine oil, eggs, flour, sugar, and cinnamon in medium bowl; stir until combined. Stir in carrot and pineapple.

4. Divide mixture among baking cups.

5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Turn out onto racks to cool.

5. Make lemon cream cheese frosting. Spread on top of cakes and decorate with pineapple flowers.

Salad with Fennel, Apple, Mandarin Oranges, and Pomegranate

This salad was a great counterpoint to the rich cassoulet. It's sweet and refreshing and would be an excellent choice for Thanksgiving or even Christmas. Pomegranates are out of season, so I substituted Craisins. They were good, but the juicy crunch of pomegranate seeds would be even better. You can use whatever kind of lettuce you like; I used a mix of Romaine and escarole. Just stay away from tender baby lettuces - you want the crunch of something heartier.

Salad with Fennel, Apple, Mandarin Orange, and Pomegranate

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, minced (can sub grated onion)
1/2 teaspoon (packed) grated lemon peel
1 large fresh fennel bulb, trimmed, halved, very thinly sliced
1 8-ounce Fuji apple, halved, cored, cut into matchstick-size strips

6 cups trimmed arugula, Romaine, or escarole leaves
2 mandarin oranges or tangerines, peeled, each cut crosswise into 3 slices
Pomegranate seeds

Whisk first 4 ingredients in small bowl. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Combine fennel and apple in medium bowl; mix in 3 tablespoons dressing.

Place arugula in large bowl. Add fennel-apple mixture. Toss, adding more dressing to taste. Divide salad among 6 plates. Garnish each with 1 mandarin orange slice and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

Friday, August 20, 2010

French-Style Crudités with Blue Cheese Dip

According to this site, vegetables and dip in France are a bit different. The vegetables are often untrimmed - the carrots and celery have leaves attached, etc. Also, the vegetables are tossed with a vinaigrette before you dip them into a sauce. The vinaigrette makes a huge difference in taste - it adds another layer of flavor other than just the dip. Of course, it's a bit messier to eat, though the French wouldn't eat with their fingers anyway! If you don't want to make the vinaigrette from scratch, try tossing vegetables in your favorite dressing before serving with dip. And think outside the usual veggies: in addition to grape tomatoes, carrots, red bell pepper, and celery, I also used lightly steamed green beans, radishes, and sliced zucchini.

Crudités with Blue Cheese Dip
Assorted vegetables, cleaned and sliced (lightly steam cruciferous vegetables like green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower)

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon honey

Dash of grated shallot (maybe ¼ small shallot, if that) - I used a bit of grated onion

Salt and pepper

Blue Cheese Dip

3 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup crème fraîche (I used sour cream)

1 clove garlic, grated

Salt and pepper

1. Put all the vinaigrette ingredients into a mini food processor, and whirl until emulsified. (I shook the ingredients in a jar.)
2. Trim the vegetables as desired, and toss with just enough vinaigrette to coat.
3. Stir all the ingredients for the Roquefort sauce together, and decant into a decorative bowl.
4. Arrange the vegetables in a mason or jam jar or bowl, and serve alongside the Roquefort sauce.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Catherine's Birthday Dinner

It was Catherine's birthday tonight, and I decided to try something I've wanted to make for a while: cassoulet. I know that making French food for Catherine is a bit like taking coals to Newcastle, but I've never had cassoulet and wanted her opinion. I didn't make the traditional, three-day, pork rind-lamb bones-and goose fat version: this is yet another Pam Anderson simplified and slightly Americanized version. Cassoulet has many different versions, but it's basically a slow-cooked stew of meat and beans. Catherine liked the bread crumb topping, which is apparently not traditional.

Since cassoulet is so heavy, I started with crudites in vinaigrette and a blue cheese dip and finished with a bright green salad. I'll post those recipes, along with the carrot/pineapple cupcakes we served for dessert, in another post.

Note: Cassoulet is a great choice for a fall/winter buffet, especially one where guests aren't eating at table. Everything is bite-sized, so there's not need for a knife. It can be made a day or two ahead of time and finished before serving - in fact, the flavors will be better if they have time to meld.

Cassoulet (adapted from Pam Anderson)

3 pounds boneless lamb or pork shoulder roast, cut into 11/2-inch cubes (I used pork)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound mild Italian sausages
1 cup water for sausages
1/2 pound kielbasa, cut into 6 pieces
1 1/2 pounds boneless duck breast halves (I used three duck legs)
1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup full-bodied dry red wine
reserved duck fat
2 large onions, cut into medium dice
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, minced (I used bacon)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
6 (16 ounce) cans white beans, drained
3 cups fresh bread crumbs (process sliced bread in a food processor or blender)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley


Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.

Place pork cubes in a bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, turning to coat.

Place Italian sausages, 1 cup water, and remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy roasting pan set over two burners. Cover with heavy-duty foil and turn heat to medium-high. Cook until sausages lose their raw color, about 5 minutes. Remove foil (reserve it) and continue to cook until water evaporates. Add smoked sausages and cook, turning frequently, until all sausages are browned, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate. When cool enough to handle, cut Italian sausages into bite-size chunks. Halve smoked sausages lengthwise. Set aside.

Generously sprinkle duck breasts/legs with salt and pepper. Reduce heat under roasting pan and add duck breasts, skin side down. Cook until fat has rendered and skin is mahogany brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Turn duck breasts over and continue to cook until cooked through, about 5 minutes longer.
Remove duck from pan. Drain fat from pan and reserve. Slice each breast crosswise into 4 pieces. (I just shredded the meat.)

Return roasting pan to medium-high heat. Add pork cubes and cook, turning once, until a brown crust forms on two sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer lamb to a large ovenproof pot; set roasting pan aside. Add broth mixture and wine to lamb and cover with reserved foil, pressing down so that it almost touches meat, then sealing foil around top of pot, leaving a small opening for steam to escape. Bring to a simmer and simmer for a few minutes to burn off alcohol. Seal foil completely, then cover pot with lid. Bake, without checking pot, for 1 hour and 15 minutes; meat will be very tender.

Meanwhile, reheat roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add enough reserved duck fat or olive oil to pan to equal 2 tablespoons. Add onions and garlic and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add bacon and thyme and saute to blend flavors, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add tomatoes and beans and simmer to blend flavors, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Transfer cooked lamb and broth to roasting pan. Add duck, sausages, and enough water to make a soupy, moist casserole. You can let the cassoulet mixture stand at room temperature for up to 2 hours.

An hour before serving, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring cassoulet to a simmer.

Mix bread crumbs, melted butter, and parsley and sprinkle over cassoulet. Bake until crumbs are golden and stew is bubbly, about 45 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, and serve.


Here's the recipe for big, gorgeous bubbles that don't pop easily. I quadrupled it to have enough for the galvanized tub.

1 gallon distilled water
2/3 c. Dawn dish soap
2 T. glycerin (I found some at CVS)

Mix together. You can make bubbles by bending pipe cleaners into fun shapes, or try cookie cutters. For big bubbles, slip two straws onto a long piece of strong and tie the ends together. Use the straws as handles. I've also seen metal hangers bent into a circle, but that sounds a little dangerous.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Barefoot Contessa's Pan-Fried Onion Dip

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We didn't serve a meal at Ben's birthday party, but we had snacks. I made marinated cheese, strawberry fruit dip with strawberries and grapes, a mix of cheddar, pretzel, saltine, and multi-colored goldfish (to fit the water theme), and this dip from the Barefoot Contessa. It's an amped-up version of the old onion soup mix/sour cream version: richer and infinitely more flavorful.

Once again, though - it's rich! But that just means you'll eat less of it (truly). Isn't that what we say is the correct approach to eating - a little bit of something you love rather than a whole lot of something okay? It would certainly be fine to sub lower-fat dairy products and to offer vegetables along with chips. We're thinking the leftovers would taste good as a sandwich spread.

Be sure to caramelize the onions- they should be golden and brown - not pale, and not black. If you double the recipe (recommended unless you have a small group), cook the onions in two batches.

Pan-Fried Onion Dip (adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

2 large yellow onions
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (can reduce by 1-2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup good mayonnaise

Cut the onions in half and then slice them into 1/8-inch thick half-rounds. (You will have about 3 cups of onions.) Heat the butter and oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions, cayenne, salt, and pepper and saute for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 more minutes until the onions are browned and caramelized. Drain and allow the onions to cool. Chop onions roughly (I used kitchen shears).

Place the cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or bowl and hand mixer and beat until smooth. Add the onions and mix well. Taste for seasonings. Serve at room temperature.