Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Gnote on the gnocchi

Just a note here. My friend E tells me she attempted the gnochhi recipe listed here and when she spooned the little buggers into the boiling water, they just disintegrated. We're not sure if I miswrote the recipe or she mismeasured it, but you may want to hold off on trying that recipe until I have time to try it in the test labs. It worked beautifully when we made it, but as I mentioned, measurements were being guesstimated because Fanita was making it from memory. Update to come.

Kebabs, bread pudding and corn chowder

Another too-long silence on the old blog here, and apologies to anyone who notices when I'm away. Shout out to Alison, who always sends kind inquiries when I neglect my posting duties. It's nice to be missed and it does encourage me to get busy. These past weeks, we've been attending a wedding a weekend, as well as entertaining houseguests and hosting a croquet party. I even managed to turn 35, which might account for why I'm slowing down. Just can't blog like I used to, kids.

In any case, my birthday was a lovely celebration at Sylvi and Matthias' place in Oakland. We spent the afternoon drinking beer and then made our way up to Lake Merritt where, believe it or not, we enjoyed a traditional Venetian gondola ride. It seems to be a well-kept secret but I'm blowing the lid off this thing just to make sure it doesn't go away. Our sweet gondolier, whose name escapes me, told us the history of the boat, which was indeed imported from Venice. He sang us traditional songs like "La Donna Nobile" and oddball choices like "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and while he was no Pavorotti or Croce in vocal abilities, he gave it all a good go and we fully enjoyed his renditions. We also brought plenty of wine and cheese and really, it was one of the nicest sunsets I'd experienced in some time. Maybe it was the symbolism of the sun setting on my young years, but we'll not linger on those associations.

On to dinner, Sylvi and Matthias whipped up a fantastic marinade for skewered lamb cubes and veggies. I believe it was a combination of red wine vinegar, molasses(!), olive oil, and fresh mint. At least, that's what I put in my version when I attempted to recreate it at home.

After we massacred the sweet, sticky kebabs, Sylvi presented me with a pie she'd made of peaches and pluots. That's right, pluots, the hybrid fruit of plums and apricots. Not only was the fruit fantastic, but she told me the secret ingredient was creme fraiche, baked in the pie as the first layer between the crust and the fruit filling. Absolutely recommended!

So besides relaying those nifty food ideas, I have two others to share. After the aforementioned croquet soirée we threw this weekend (and yes, a great success, thank you), I had a ridiculous amount of leftovers that I couldn't bare to waste. I've really become fanatical about finding creative solutions for abundant leftovers and this occasion was no exception.

With the reminaing jumbo pack of hot dog buns, I made a maple and walnut bread pudding and I've saved the leftover grilled corn, tomatoes and red onions for a corn chowder, to be attempted tomorrow night. I know the hot dog bun idea sounds a bit dodgy, but really, most baking recipes call for white flour so I figured those squidgy buns were essentially the same thing. The results were really quite nice, moist, maple-y and not too sweet.

Bread Pudding

8 hot dog buns
8 eggs
2 pints whipping cream
1 cup grade B maple syrup
1/2 c. orange juice
dash vanilla
dash nutmeg
dash cinnamon
1 cup walnuts, chopped, tossed in syrup and toasted on baking sheets

Beat eggs in large mixing bowl and add all other ingredients. Rip up buns or day old bread into 1-2" pieces and stir them gently into egg mixture. Let sit for 1 hour and preheat oven too 375. After bread has soaked up egg, spoon gooey mixture into two greased cake pans. Sprinkle walnuts on top and pop into oven. Cook for 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean and center of pudding is puffed up and nicely golden brown.

As for the corn chowder, I've not made it yet, but my plan is to shave the roasted kernels off the cob and then puree them with the grilled tomato and red onion pieces. I'll season with salt and pepper and add a few cups of chicken stock. Then I'll push the thick puree through my beloved chinois (strainer) using my wooden pestle. The resulting soup will be silky and thin and delicate. I know chowders are usually a bit thicker, but I've found this treatment really elevates the corn to an unexpected texture that refines the whole dish. Will let you know how it goes.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ready for a Croatian sensation?

Greetings! I know the entries have been lagging lately–it’s just been a whirlwind of weddings and weekend excursions this summer. Finally though, I have a moment of downtime before leaving for another wedding tomorrow. So without further ado, I’ll recap our adventures in Croatian culinaria.

We set out to make three Croatian dishes: stuffed peppers, gnocchi and cevapcici, a popular regional sausage. And indeed, we accomplished all three. In mass amounts, no less. Fortunately, a spontaneous dinner party broke out so we weren’t forced to eat everything ourselves. There were only 3 of us cooking, but the recipes yielded enough for 10. These recipes come courtesy of Fanita Divizich, our sister-in-law’s mother. She keeps them filed in her head so measurements are approximate, based on what we saw her do.

One aside before we begin. Everything in Croatia is served with a side sauce of roasted red pepper puree. You can buy some roasted peppers in a jar and puree them with some cumin and salt and pepper to taste. This makes a great dipping sauce for cevapcici, bread and fried potatoes.

Enjoy all of these dishes with red wine or an ice cold pivo (Croatian for beer)!


8 potatoes (medium-large), boiled and mashed
1 ½ c flour
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
1 egg
Cheese grater

After you’ve boiled and mashed your spuds, add salt to taste. You’ll have to add multiple sprinklings, but taste as you go so you don’t go overboard. Let the potatoes cool to a lukewarm temperature before proceeding. Once the potatoes are mildly warm, add the flour, butter and the egg and mix or knead into a dough. Flour your hands and grab a small fistful of the dough and roll it into a long snakelike shape that’s maybe 3/4” thick. Be sure to flour your cutting/rolling surface and your hands so the dough doesn’t get sticky as it warms up. Cut the roll into 1” pieces and once you’ve cut the whole thing, roll the pieces into balls.

Now for the sneaky, secret part. Using your thumb, press a gnocchi ball lightly against the finest shredding blade of a cheese grater, making little indentations in the dough. Then, in one steady motion, roll the dough ball down the blade with your thumb, pressing lightly as you go. This action will ensure that the little indentations go all the way around the piece of gnocchi. It make take a few practice rounds, but if you ruin a piece, just roll it up and try again. This recipe makes quite a bit of gnocchi so once you fill up a plate with your completed pieces, sprinkle them with flour and lay a piece of wax paper over the top so you can create layers of them without any sticking together.

When you’re ready to eat, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and gently spoon the gnocchi in, cooking until they rise to the top. Try one before removing and make sure it is cooked through and not too doughy-tasting. Sometimes they need a touch longer from when they’ve risen. Serve with a light tomato sauce. Fanita makes hers by sautéing fresh tomatoes from her garden with garlic, red pepper and onion and then pressing it all through a very fine food mill. The result is light and sweet and perfectly compliments the dense, hearty gnocchi. They're also great with pesto or a meat sauce. Pretty much anything that's yum on pasta will be good here, too.

Stuffed peppers

5 green peppers
1 lb ground beef
½ lb. pork
¾ yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 egg
lots of black pepper
1 c. rice
1 dash cold water

3 cloves garlic
¾ c. onion
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
2 cans (using tomato paste can) of water
1 ½ c. chicken stock

So these are super easy to make. They are great comfort food for fall and they keep well for yummy leftovers. This recipe is very basic and traditional, but I think you could really enhance it by trying other ingredients. I’m dying to try a more middle-eastern variety with ground beef, rice, raisins, nuts and chicken broth infused with spices rather than tomato broth. I’ll put that on the list. In any case, these are satisfying and hearty as they are.

To make the sauce, sauté the garlic and onion until translucent in a large saucepan, at least 4” deep. I recommend starting with the onion and adding the garlic at the end as it won’t take as long to cook. Add tomato sauce and paste and stir. Add water and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and then prepare your peppers.

Make the peppers by cutting off the tops and scooping out the seeds and core. Mix all the above ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Spoon meat mixture into the peppers and arrange them in the pan with simmering tomato sauce. Now cover the pan and leave it simmering, returning to the pan to spoon the sauce over the peppers every 15 minutes or so. They will cook until the meat and rice are cooked through and the peppers are totally soft, but still in tact. Probably 1 ½- 2 hours.

Cevapcici (Croatian sausages)

1 ½ lbs. Beef
½ lb. pork
1 onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Few shakes of paprika
Salt and pepper
1 egg

*note, you can also substitute some lamb or veal. The blend of meats is what gives these sausages their unique flavor.

Mix all your ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Now use your hands to squeeze the meat through your fingers, ensuring that it’s broken down and easy to meld into sausage links. This takes awhile and requires some strength. You’re not going to be forming the links as you do hamburger patties–you’re really trying to make the meat almost a smooth paste rather than just ground meat. Just give it a thorough working through before proceeding to link-making. When you’re ready, form the links into 4” x1” sausages and lightly roll them in flour before assembling on a cooking sheet. Bake for 20-30 min at 350 and then test one to make sure it’s cooked through. Serve these with the aforementioned red pepper puree and enjoy!

Friday, September 01, 2006

2nd Anniversary souffle with shallots and gruyere

Let me start by saying I've been remiss in my posting duties. I have a list of recipes I've been meaning to post here, but this has been a punishing week, workwise. I promise to do it soon, but tomorrow we leave for Santa Barbara and LA so all I have time for at the moment is a quick souffle recipe.

Much like my phyllo phobia, I've had a fear of attempting to make a soufflé. I always blamed it on having a windowless oven, but since we redid our kitchen and installed a mini Viking range, I have no excuses. The temptation to open the oven door to peek is now a non-issue, so we took the opportunity of our anniversary to attempt the light-as-can-be eggstravaganza. Surprisingly, it was a great success. I'm afraid the aerial view of the outcome doesn't do it's airy fluffiness justice because we used a larger-than-necessary ramekin. In my dreams, the pillow of egg would have billowed over the edge, so next time I'll have to downsize the crock.

In any case, it was a hit.

The one suggestion I'd add is that, while lovely and simple, this souffle is very basic. If I make it again, I'd add some veggies or mushrooms or crabmeat. Even herbs. I guess my recommendation is to use this as a base model and add your favorite ingredients to it.

Gruyere and Shallot Souffle

2 shallots, cut into fine rings
3/4 cup champagne (handy if you're celebrating an occasion)
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1/2 c milk, warmed
white pepper
pinch of nutmeg
4 egg yolks
3/4 c of shredded gruyere
5 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
1/2 c breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 375. Carmelize your shallots by sauteeing til translucent and then add champagne and cook down, scraping up any brown bits and stirring occassionally. Remove from heat. In same pan, make a roux by melting the butter and stirring in the flour. Whisk in the warm milk and cook until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and nutmeg. Add onions to mixture. Stir in the cheese. Whisk the egg yolks into the mixture. In a hand mixer or bowl mixer, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture. Pour into a buttered ramekin/souffle dish that has breadcrumbs pressed against the sides and bottom. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.