Teach a girl to gnocchi…

img_8531I’ve moved twice now over the past three years, and there’s one thing I know for certain – picking up and moving a life is not for wussies. It brings countless sleepless nights, pallets of kleenex to soak up buckets of tears, and at least a half-dozen hissy fits and panic attacks. It involves facing the possibility of not finding a good job, nice home, or decent supermarket with a well-stocked Goya aisle. And it means leaving a network of people who know you and all your quirks and love you anyway. You’re left standing alone to face a strange new place with all the confidence of a kindergartener on the first day of school. Yup, picking up and moving a life can really suck.

But, if you are brave or crazy enough to do it (and probably a little of both), it can be pretty great too. Sure my first few months here were lonely and rough, really more than the first few, but 6 months into it I can now safely say things are looking brighter, the panic, tears, and hissies come less frequently, and I’m looking forward to what’s opening up ahead. What shifted it for me? Not surprisingly, it was a bunch of pretty awesome women and the promise of a gnocchi lesson.

When it comes to my ability to make the whole pick up and move shtick work, opening up my kitchen to women who want to be there is the trick. Teach a girl to gnocchi, (or just feed them) and you have a friend forever. Sure guys can be swell too, but a kitchen filled with girlfriends, good food and wine will always make the journey easier.

So for those of you contemplating indulging your inner gypsy, take heart. No matter where you go, your girlfriends will be there. You just haven’t met them yet. ❤

Now on to that gnocchi. Over the years I’ve tried several recipes for these lovely little dumplings, and have come to the following conclusion – simple is best. Gnocchi is really only a few ingredients, regardless of whether you choose potato as the base or ricotta cheese. Flour, salt, egg, and a gentle touch is pretty much it. A potato ricer or food mill makes it easy to get fluffy fine potatoes, and draining the ricotta overnight over a sieve makes sure you don’t have too wet a base to go with. Then it’s just adding the egg, and enough flour for it to hold together and allow you to form ropes, and then cut off little pillows.

Here’s my favorite recipe for potato gnocchi from Mario Batali.

 

file-dec-31-3-07-25-pmBasic Gnocchi (From Simple Italian Food, by Mario Batali)

Makes 12 servings (I halve this recipe and it works like a charm.)

  • 3 lbs russet potatoes
  • 2 cups flour (you may not use it all)
  • 1 large egg (if you are halving the recipe, just use a yolk)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Place the whole potatoes in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook at a low boil until they are soft. While still warm, peel the potatoes (you can just rub the skins off with a doubled paper towel). Pass the warm potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill onto a floured board.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and set up an ice bath so you can drop the cooked gnocchi into it and stop the cooking while you make the next batch.

Measure out your flour into a bowl and add the salt. Mix well. Line a cookie sheet with a clean towel, and flour the towel (this is where you’ll put the formed gnocchi before they go in water, or you can take the full try and pop in freezer to freeze gnocchi for another time.)

Gather the potatoes into a mound, and make a well in the center. Add the beaten egg (or just yolk if you are making 1/2 recipe) and mix well with a fork. Slowly start adding flour and gently knead (more like folding) together until you have a dough formed. Add flour just until the dough is dry to the touch.

At this point you should break off a small piece of dough, and drop in the boiling water. If the “test gnocchi” stays together, you are good to go and form the dumplings. Trust me, this is an important step. I’ve made a whole tray, only to dump them into boiling water and have them disintegrate on me.

Divide the dough into 6 pieces, and then roll each piece into a 3/4″ rope. Cut the ropes into just under 1-inch pieces. You can cook them like this, or form ridges by rolling them down the back of a fork, or if you are like me, roll them down a floured gnocchi board (you can buy these on amazon for about $8). Place the formed dumplings on the prepared cookie sheet.

When you are ready to cook them, drop the gnocchi into boiling salted water a handful or two at a time. Cook until they float to the surface, about 1-2 minutes. Strain the cooked gnocchi into the ice water bath to stop the cooking, then to an oiled tray or plate so you can continue to cook all the gnocchi before adding to whatever sauce you are serving with them. Continue with the remaining dumplings until all are cooked. Add to heated sauce or browned butter and toss to heat through. Remove from heat and add a generous amount of grated parm or romano cheese. Serve right away.

Since this is my last post of the year, I’d like to thank you all for coming along for yet another ride. I wish you good health, great friends, more laughs than tears, many wonderful meals and more love than you think you can handle in 2017! xoxo

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), or my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

Storm’s a brewin’…

This is for all my friends on the east coast. While I wish the Matthew you were expecting had washboard abs and a fondness for things being “all right” (all right, all right), I know the anxiety of wondering just how bad it’s going to be, or at the very least, how long before your wifi works again. Here’s wishing you all smooth sailing, dry feet, and firmly planted trees.


 

Hurricanes. If you live anywhere on the East Coast you know them. If you went purely by the news coverage leading up to one, you would have thought that a meteorological Armageddon was on its way. Yes, it’s a serious storm, and the media have an obligation to keep us informed so everyone is safe and prepared. But theme music and a logo for a weather event? Not that I begrudge reporters their opportunity to don mackintosh and wellies and stand in a place no sane person would during 70 mile an hour winds and lashing rain, but come on… Surely there is a better way to notify the masses without screaming into a microphone while standing in the approaching tidal surge. It doesn’t exactly inspire calm, you know? Plus, did anyone else notice the electric cord attached to the microphone floating in that ever-increasing puddle? Certainly all the mothers watching did (especially the cameraman’s and reporter’s.)

All the brouhaha aside, a hurricane is serious business and preparations must be made so that IF the worst happens you can ride it out with the least damage. Once you’ve done that, well, what’s the harm in making sure you have a little fun in the bunker too? That’s the way my family has always looked at major catastrophic events. Be prepared — for the danger, and the party. For example, on Tuesday my mom had a birthday. As we are all sitting around the table at her birthday luncheon, it felt like the room was swaying a bit. No one was sure if it should be mentioned, so it was chalked up to the lovely cosmopolitans we were all drinking. Until someone noticed the lamp over the table swaying…. Yup, earthquake! My mom now thinks this is the BEST birthday she’s had…EVER. On Saturday my uncle turned 70 and a big party was planned…during the hurricane. Did we cancel the party? HELL no… Why should he be gypped? Mom got an earthquake; he figured a hurricane does that one better! The party went on, with a few less guests, a little more food and wine for the rest of us, and a great story to tell next year. So you see, we do know how to take it all in stride. That doesn’t mean we ignored the major event barreling up the coast aimed straight at us. We prepared too. Batteries, candles, bathtub filled with water, camp stove at the ready (if I can’t make coffee it won’t be pretty), bottles of water in the garage, and all the things that could potentially achieve lift-off safely put away or tied down. We then moved onto the really important stuff: vodka, ice, olives, wine, chocolate, good bread, cheese, sausage, and maybe some peach cake… you know, just in case.

emergency preparedness supplies

So, you have survived ‘the big one’ (well, this big one…). The power is off and the fridge is slowly but surely turning into a tropical zone. How are you going to feed all the family that picked you to stay with, plus the stray friends and neighbors who ‘dropped by’ to check in on you (and just happen to have brought a bottle of wine.) Well, before the stuff in the fridge goes green and fuzzy, make Hurricane Pasta! This was literally invented one day post storm (with the trees outside doing the hurricane hora as the last remnants of Irene left town.) I used what was at hand, and the ingredients are interchangeable so throw in whatever you like. Doesn’t even have to be a cloud in sight.

Hurricane Pasta

Serves 3 very hungry hurricane survivors or 4 average diners, and can easily be doubled or tripled for a crowd of basement bailers, fallen tree removers and helpful wine-bearing neighbors.

  • 2 cups dry short cut pasta (whole wheat or regular penne, rigatoni, or whatever you have at hand)
  • 2 tsps chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • ½ large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Portobello cap, gills removed, sliced in half, and then thinly cross-wise (you can substitute whatever mushrooms you like best)
  • 1 cup cooked bratwurst, Italian sweet sausage, or any mild sausage, sliced into ¼ inch coins
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 TBSP garlic oil
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ½ cup cooked corn kernels
  • ¼ cup blanched frozen peas
  • 3 TBSP soft mild goat cheese
  • 2 TBSP grated parmesan
  • 1 TBSP chopped parsley
  • ½ cup reserved pasta cooking water

Fill a large pot with water and set to boil for the pasta. When the water is boiling, throw in a handful of salt and stir until dissolved (the water should taste salty). Add pasta and cook according to directions on box or to just al dente.

While the water is heating, heat butter and oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the sliced onion and cook for 1 minute. Add in the mushroom, thyme, rosemary, a good pinch of salt and a small pinch pepper. Sauté until the mushroom exudes all it’s liquid and starts to brown, and the onion is soft and translucent (about 5 minutes).

Turn up the heat to high; add in the sausage and sauté for 1-2 minutes until the sausage is warmed through. Add ½ cup white wine, bring to boil and cook until the wine is reduced by 1/3rd, about 5 minutes. Turn heat down to low, add in corn and peas and heat until just warmed through. Turn off heat until pasta is almost done.

When you have about 2 minutes left on the pasta, turn the heat back on under the sauce to medium low, and add ½ cup of pasta water and 3 TBSP goat cheese. Stir until the cheese melts and it comes together as a sauce. Turn heat off, stir in Parmesan and parsley. Add drained pasta into saucepan and toss until it is well coated.

Taste to check seasoning. You probably won’t need to add any salt (the cheeses and sausage are salty enough) but you will likely need to add a little pepper.

Pour a glass of wine, serve up in bowls, and toast your success in riding out a nasty storm. Calories: You don’t need to worry about the calories tonight, do you? And anyway, you need your strength to clean up the mess tomorrow…

Deconstruction

1275177_10201146475478324_493778222_oSeveral years ago “deconstruction” became a popular term on restaurant menus. Let’s say you have a hankering for ravioli so order what you think is the usual bowl of cheese-stuffed pillows of love. Instead, what is placed before you, usually in a white and probably enormous rimmed bowl flecked with some scatter-worthy herb is a square of pasta draped over or under an array of stuff. “Deconstructed Ravioli” says menu. More like ‘fell apart’ ravioli, but who am I to argue. The end result was usually as good as the constructed original, and it all gets deconstructed once it passes the lips anyway.

Lately I’ve noticed deconstruction aptly fits me as well. First, there’s my age, or rather the years on the equipment and its associated general aches, creaks and stiffness. Dilapidation, while perhaps more appropriate, seems such an ugly word. Therefore I’ve decided that I’m just becoming deconstructed. Deconstructed is very chic, very trendy. Sure my package is increasingly undone, but you still get all the general good stuff. Then there’s life in general.  I seem to be in the midst of a deconstruction there too. Most of the pieces are still recognizable, but in a state of rearrangement. I’m crossing appendages that whatever winds up in that big rimmed bowl will be swell too, but only time will tell. So In the meantime, I’ve decided to cook.

From time to time I find myself awake when the rest of the world sleeps. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I read. This past Saturday into Sunday I cracked some eggs into flour and made pasta. Wee-hour pasta making is actually quite soothing, and a great metaphor for making sense of the thoughts you’re noodling that keep you awake in the first place. A wooden board, a pile of flour, pinch of salt, and a few eggs. As you mix the eggs up in the center of the pile, it’s an awful mess. Bring in a little flour at a time, work it some, work it some more, and suddenly you have a silky ball of pasta dough, just aching with potential. Yeah, I get a little sappy when sleepless.

FullSizeRender FullSizeRender

Anyway, as dawn rolled around and dough (unlike cook) was well rested, I decided it needed to be part of my breakfast. Tomato sauce didn’t seem a breakfast of champs so I went with the next best thing…bacon and eggs. Or in pasta terms, carbonara. In traditional pasta carbonara, spaghetti or some other long dry pasta is cooked, then tossed carefully with beaten raw eggs, cooked pancetta, maybe some sautéed onions, and parmesan. There’s always a bit of risk with traditional carbonara, since you are adding hot pasta to raw beaten eggs and hopefully coming out with an beautifully silky sauce and not scrambled eggs on the other end. My version of Deconstructed Carbonara takes that risk completely away. As the noodles are cooking to al dente, I just fried up some bacon, fried up an egg, and when pasta was done, topped with both, the browned butter from the egg pan, and some shaved parm. Sure it’s not traditional but the end result is pretty great, and really easy (especially if you buy and not make the pasta). All of which is perfect after a sleepless night of reconstruction.

FullSizeRenderDeconstructed Pasta Carbonara (or, Pasta Insomnia)

This makes one serving for the insomniac, but just double or triple for all the sleepless around you.

  • 2 ounces fresh or dried noodles
  • 2 strips bacon
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • A few shavings or gratings of parmesan cheese
  • Fresh ground pepper

Put the pasta water on to boil. While you are waiting for it, cut the bacon into smaller pieces, and brown in a pan. Remove to a paper towel and wipe out the pan.

Now if you are using fresh pasta, drop it in the boiling salted water at the same time you cook the egg so everything is ready at same time. If you are using dry pasta, heat the butter and fry egg about 4 minutes before the pasta is al dente according to the timing on pasta package.

Add the butter to the pan and heat until it foams. Add the egg and fry over med-high heat. You want the egg to be cooked and butter to brown but not burn. When the pasta is cooked, drain and put in a warm bowl. Top with the fried egg, bacon and a sprinkle of the parmesan. Break into the yolk and toss everything together. Add a few grinds of black pepper.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂

Hacks

DSC02819For this week’s post, I thought I’d share a few culinary hacks. No, I’m not planning on breaking into some super secret, presumably impenetrable cache of Pentagon recipes. The hack I mean is actually a good thing, and if you perfect one you probably won’t have to worry about the NSA tracking you down, or spending any time with Vladimir Putin.

I started to hear about ‘life hacks’ (the good kind) a few months ago. Yeah, I’m a little late to the game, again. So as not to illuminate my cluelessness further, I thought I’d do a little on-line research rather than ask a friendly twenty-something what exactly this thing was. Naturally, I went to the foremost authority on everything (Google), and then to the cyber-cyclopedia (Wiki). Here’s what they had to say, hack-wise (my comments are in parenthesis):

Life hacking refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. (In other words, being clever.) (Here’s my favorite part…)The terms hack, hacking, and hacker have a long history of ambiguity in the computing and geek communities… (I was unaware “computing” and “geek” were two separate communities.)

So in other words, a ‘hack’ is just a clever way to solve a problem. Put another way, when you are missing a thingamajig or too lazy or broke to go out and get the aforementioned whatsis, you come up with a solution with what you’ve got on hand.  Invention, catalyzed by laziness seems to sum it up. Which means I’ve been using hacks all my life. Duct tape is usually involved, unfurled paperclips or bobby pins too.  And on one occasion the cap from a can of hairspray (back when big hair was BIG), and it worked quite well to fix a running toilet. You’ve heard the phrase “the right tool for the job”? I’m more a tool that is right at hand kind of gal.

I’ve repaired squeaky hinges with olive oil cooking spray, piped decorative icing flourishes with plastic baggie, squeezed countless limes with kitchen tongs, and used a vegetable peeler on butter, chocolate, cheese, and even a carrot or spud. I didn’t know we needed a trendy hipster name for it, but since we apparently have one now, it’s safe to say I’ve hacked my way through life.

When I started to think about applying hacks to cooking, I realized about half the dishes I’ve come up with were done so with hacks firmly in place. Hacks seem tailor-made for cooking, since we are constantly trying to come up with substitutions due to allergies, calories, cost, unavailable ingredients or the likes and dislikes of our eaters. Today I’ll share two recipes, one mine, the other from the Saveur. Both take advantage of the abundance of sweet corn this time of year and use it as a cream sauce hack for pasta.

File Aug 30, 2 18 12 PM Fettuccine with Corn Crema and Charred Green Onions 

(Marc Vetri, Saveur 2015)

Serves 8-10

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1⁄2 yellow onion, minced
  • 2 large ears corn, shucked and kernels removed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 scallions, trimmed
  • 1 lb. fresh egg yolk dough or pappardelle
  • Ricotta salata, for serving

Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat; add onion and cook until soft, 3 minutes. Add 1⁄4 cup water and all but 1⁄4 cup corn; simmer until heated through and almost tender, 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper and transfer to a blender; purée crema until smooth.

File Aug 30, 2 17 39 PMHeat a 10” cast iron skillet until hot; cook scallions, flipping once, until charred, 2-3 minutes. Transfer scallions to a cutting board and mince. Wipe saucepan clean and add remaining oil; cook reserved corn and the scallions, 1 minute, then add corn crema and cook 1-2 minutes more. Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain, reserving 1⁄2 cup pasta water; add pasta and reserved water to saucepan and toss to coat. Transfer to a serving platter and grate ricotta salata over the top.

Fresh Pasta with Basil Sweet Corn Sauce

(Me, 2012 or somewhere around there)

Serves 2 as main course, 4 as starter

  • 2 small-medium ear of sweet corn (you’ll need about 1 cup kernels) – still in the husk
  • 8 oz. fresh fettucine (about 6 oz. dry)
  • 1/4 cups fresh basil leaves, plus a little extra for chopping and sprinkling on top
  • 2-3 TBSP fresh goat cheese
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 2-3 TBSP grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for table
  • Salt & pepper

Wrap the ears of corn, husk and all in a paper towel and steam in the microwave for 3-4 minutes until it is just tender. Once it cools enough so you can handle it, remove the husk and silk (this is a lot easier once it’s been steamed), and cut the kernels off of the cob. You should have about 1 cup total. Set aside 1/4 cup of corn, then put the rest, along with the goat cheese, butter and parmesan in a blender. Tear up the basil and add to blender. Add a pinch of salt and a few good grindings of pepper.

Bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Once boiling, salt liberally (the water should taste salty) and stir until the salt dissolves. Remove 2/3 cup of water and add to the blender. Blend until you have a somewhat smooth sauce. You want a little texture. Put the sauce into a skillet and add the reserved corn kernels.

Cook pasta until it is just al dente. About a minute or two before the pasta is ready, turn on the heat under the sauce and bring to a simmer. When the pasta is done, add it to the simmering sauce. Don’t drain the pasta before adding, in case you need a little more water to thin out the sauce.  Toss the pasta well on low heat until it is completely coated in the sauce. Taste for seasonings and adjust if needed. Top with a little chopped basil and extra cheese. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.

 If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  

Love Bites

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Yes gentle readers, it’s here. Again. That day named after a saint, filled with flying fat babies with arrows, and “officially sanctioned” by Hallmark as a retail holiday. There’s no getting away from it – we are in the post-Super Bowl, pre-Mardi Gras holiday slump, and retail and TV alike are desperate to tag our attentions to something.  And when it comes to observing, this holiday always seems particularly well-set with land mines as it relates to what to and not to do.

Of course, if you aren’t “coupled” and you want to be, the options lean towards a blue possibly kleenex filled day, which isn’t helped much by airwaves filled with sappy rom-coms, tear-jerking love stories, modern day fairytales and the like. There are even channels devoted to nothing else for the weeks following the end of Santa-themed TV. Funny how Rambo is never scheduled for Valentine’s week, isn’t it? I mean, there should be at least one channel devoted to things blowing up, slashed, or hacked. You know, maybe to commemorate the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. For me, when the infamous day rolled around at a time I was “non-observant”, I’d definitely select pyrotechnics over boy-meets-girl. Unless Dirty Dancing was on. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been a sucker for Dirty Dancing, having never tired of Baby being rescued from that corner. And if you’re paired-up, the path isn’t necessarily rosier. Let’s face it, due to all the hubbub and folderol associated with the heart-shaped box and rose-filled festivities, there’s a good shot at disappointment rather than loving joy filling the day.

Over many years of both V-Day options, I’ve realized the best way to avert disaster is the simple approach. I’d much rather cook something luscious (and easy) than pay exorbitant prices for a limited menu of someone else’s ideas of what makes romance. Simple pasta with cheese and butter, a great bottle of wine and your pjs can be the most romantic night with the right person. Add in a great pint of ice-cream and two spoons… heaven! Can’t find a card that says what you want? Make one. Seriously. Wouldn’t you rather get red construction paper and doilies than something mass-produced and $3.50? Remember how excited you were in 4th grade when you got one? You’re smiling right now aren’t you? Go with that.

Don’t have a special someone? Get together with special someones. You know an evening with great friends will end in laughter induced sore sides. Order a pizza and spend the big bucks on a fabulous bottle of wine to go with it. I guarantee it will be an evening you’ll never forget! And if your sweetie is far away? A package of homemade treats will remind them of your love, with every sweet love bite.photo

dsc06139To honor that saint, those chubby weapon-wielding flying babies, and countless greeting card dollars, I’ve compiled a bunch of my favorite V-Day love bites. These are all pretty simple, and any of them is guaranteed to bring a blush to the cheek and a flutter to the heart. ❤

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂

Rat Bastard

groundhog

Why? As representatives of the top of the evolutionary chain, why have we given the estimable role of spring prognosticator to a rodent? A big, furry, buck-toothed, beady-eyed rat? He doesn’t look like he wants the job, does he? Yet every year, on the second day of the shortest month, he is ripped from his mid-winter nap and thrust at a throng of screaming fans by a man in a top hat. Does that seem right to you? He doesn’t think so. No wonder he subjected us to 6 more weeks of winter.

I think he takes pleasure in making us miserable at the thought of a prolonged slog through slush, mud, and gray. Because if you are unwillingly given the official title of meteorological rat, you may as well be a bastard about it. Take THAT you silly two-legged hairless creatures! Rip me from my nice warm den in the middle of the night into the cold glare of klieg lights and TV cameras? Go right ahead. You deserve what you get. And should you happen to squeeze my middle too tight, or drop me on my head (thank you Mayor DeBlasio), I’m happy to add in a bite on your stupid gloved hand or pee on your $400 loafers too.

So thanks a lot Phil, or Chuck, or Dave, for seeing your shadow yet again. Perhaps we brought this upon ourselves, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t still one bucktoothed furry rat bastard.

To ‘celebrate’ the onset of 6 more weeks of belch, I’ve compiled a hit parade of CIMH comfort food recipes. In honor of Phil and his vermin brothers, I start with the mother-load of cozy, cheesy, comfort food goodness….Rat Bastard Mac & Cheese.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂

An Olympic Sport for the Rest of Us

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Just like many of you, I’ve spent the past week curled up on the couch watching athletes in fashion of questionable taste displaying their athletic prowess on the slopes and in the stadiums of Sochi. And while I’ve downhilled, skated, tobogganed, hurled down hills face down or feet first, cross-country skied, and shot a rifle (though not simultaneously), I never really aspired to Olympic greatness. It was always enough to sit back and watch the excitement. That was until 1998. For in that fateful year, in the city of Nagano Japan, an Olympic sport for the rest of us was sanctioned “official”. That was the year most of us discovered curling, and suddenly we could imagine ourselves as Olympic athletes. All you needed was a broom, a rock that looked like a teakettle, sensible shoes and loud pants. And some beer. Seriously, was there ever a sport better made for drinking beer? There’s even an official curling term for it – ‘stacking the brooms’.

So since I decided I could become an Olympic curler, I thought it best to learn a little more about the sport. Curling is a nice sport. As in “oh, that’s such a nice sport”. It’s a sport you could bring home to your mother. The term for a match is a spiel, which means play. No shredding, nor heats, just sweeping and play. So nice… and clean! A team captain is called ‘skip’, and the object is to get your stones closest to the ‘button’ in the ‘house.’ Adorable!

Then there are the clothes. Curling shoes are sensible, no spikes, nothing fancy, aerodynamic or engineered to nano-widths. The only thing different from your Uncle Walt’s comfy brogans is one sole has a Teflon bottom. Teflon, so it doesn’t stick. You could probably scramble eggs on it. Then there’s curling pants (yes, there are pants designed for curling). Curling pants are stretchy. Stretchy Pants! You could have a nice big meal of brats, kraut and beer, then play a spiel, and no binding waistband! Definitely my kind of sport! The final part of the uniform are some nice mittens, so your hands don’t get cold. Awww…

Of course there’s strategy to curling, players train for years to get on Olympic teams, and some spiels can get quite exciting (in a drunken bowling league kind of way.) But the best thing about curling?  With all that ice, the beer stays nice and cold. So to all those budding curlers out there — brooms up…Sweep on!

It seems the best recipe to prepare for a hot curling match would involve booze. Last weekend I was at a potluck dinner with some dear friends (in the middle of a snow storm) and the hit of the table was a dish called Drunken Noodles.  Spicy Italian sausage, caramelized onions and peppers and big fat noodles made the perfect meal for a cold and snowy night. BIG THANKS to Suny for sharing the recipe!

Italian “Drunken” Noodles (Courtesy of Suny 🙂 )

Serves 4

  • Olive oil
  • 4 spicy Italian sausage links, casings removed
  • 1 large onion, quartered and sliced thinly
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
  • 1⁄2 cup white wine (I used Chardonnay)
  • 3 ½ cups chopped tomatoes, or 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1⁄4 cup fresh basil leaves, julienned, divided
  • 8 ounces Pappardelle noodles

Place a large, heavy-bottom pan or braising pot over medium-high heat; add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and once the oil is hot, crumble the spicy Italian sausage into the pan in small chunks (you want to keep the sausage fairly chunky), allowing it to brown in the oil for a few moments on each side. Once the crumbled sausage is browned, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and place into a small bowl to hold for a moment.

Add the sliced onion into the pan with the sausage drippings, and allow it to caramelize and become golden for roughly 5 minutes or so, stirring to keep it from burning (add a touch more olive oil, if necessary).  Once the onion starts to become golden, add the salt, Italian seasoning and cracked black pepper, and stir to combine, then add in the sliced bell peppers and allow those to sauté with the onion for about 2 minutes until slightly tender and golden. Next, add in the garlic, and once it becomes aromatic, add in the white wine and allow it to reduce for a few moments, until almost completely reduced. Add in the diced tomatoes with their juice, and return the browned spicy Italian sausage back into the pan, and gently fold the mixture to combine; allow it to gently simmer for about 3-4 minutes to blend the flavors, then turn the heat off.  Finish the sauce by drizzling about 2-3 good tablespoons of the olive oil to create a rich flavor, and add in the chopped parsley and about half julienned basil. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Keep warm while you prepare the noodles.

Prepare the pappardelle noodles until just al dente. About a minute or two before the pasta is ready, bring sauce up to heat. Drain noodles and add to the sauce. Toss 1-2 minutes, giving the pasta a chance to soak up some of the sauce and it’s flavors.

To serve, add equal portions of the “Drunken” noodles to bowls, and garnish with a sprinkle of the remaining julienned basil. Top with shaved Parmesan, and an extra drizzle of olive oil. Open the wine, turn on some curling, and share with good friends!

And the gold medal for the BEST curling pants goes to:  NORWAY! (I’m thinking Aquavit may be involved…)

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Deja Food

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

This past weekend I hosted the inaugural dinner party at Chez Karin Ouest. For some people it’s planting a garden, repainting, or perhaps registering the kids in a new school. For me, it’s cooking. Actually, feeding would be more accurate. I never really feel like I’m home, in my home until I’ve fed friends at my table. And that homey feeling commenced Saturday night, when a few new friends scored the first reservation.

The first dinner in a new place, shared with new people who haven’t experienced your particular brand of epicurean handiwork could be daunting if you let it. So don’t let it. This is not the time for shock and awe, but rather an opportunity to provide a tasty backdrop to building friendship. In my view, first dinners should be welcoming, cozy, go with the conversation but not be the conversation, and involve as few utensils as possible. If you want to stretch your culinary muscles and go over the top, save it for dessert. An entire meal of gastronomical ambition is exhausting to everyone involved. And unless you are cooking for friends who moonlight as Iron Chef judges, most people aren’t all that adventurous when it comes to entrees that require too much explanation, especially when the cook isn’t well known. There will be plenty time for culinary fireworks another day. In fact, plan on it. Good cooks never seem to lack friends with appetites.

After almost three decades of dinner parties, I’ve learned that when it comes to welcoming friends the first time around my table there are a few simple rules to success: the meal has to be easy to serve, can be made ahead, and delicious. The other day as I was preparing my menu, I discovered one more thing about my “first” dinner parties. I seem to be stuck in a loop of culinary deja food. Apparently for the past three “new home” dinner parties I’ve hosted, I’ve served the exact same dish. Amazingly enough, it was entirely accidental.

I made the dish the first time about a month after moving into the big city. The guests were new friends who over the following 14 years, became my city family, sitting at my table (and I at theirs) more times than either of us can remember. The second serving was after moving from that first tiny apartment to the downtown home I would love for over ten years,  and the home I left to venture westward. The guests were 4 hungry men (it was Chelsea after all) and I made the bold move of serving Italian to Italians. They ate every speck and became dear friends and frequent guests at my table for over a decade. When I was preparing the menu last Saturday morning, I came across my “menus” file while looking for a recipe. Here was a written record of countless meals for countless occasions celebrated around the table at Chez Karin. And there it was….the same menu, three times prepared, in three new homes, over the past 14 years. The title of the dinner was the same for each – “First Dinner Party in New Place”, and while the players changed over the years, the theme, and the intention has been the same for all…Welcome Home.

Believe me when I say I was truly shocked when this deja food realization hit me. Obviously the star of the menu must have been a success, and I don’t know why I keep forgetting how delicious it is and haven’t made it more often. I have a feeling from now on I will. I found the recipe in my favorite, most dog-eared copy of Buon Appetit – the Tuscany Edition (circa 2000), and have made most of the recipes out of it countless times over the years.  This one is an all-time favorite, and obviously a crowd pleaser since each time I’ve made it the guests keep coming back. The perfect ragu for company, here is Pasta con Ragu di Vitello, Salcicce e Porcini – Pasta with Veal, Sausage and Porcini Ragu. I made it with homemade pappadelle last weekend, but dry pasta is fine, and it would be absolutely terrific over polenta too.

PASTA WITH VEAL, SAUSAGE AND PORCINI RAGU

Pasta con Ragù di Vitello,  Salsicce e Porcini

(Bon Appétit, May 2000)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms*
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 8 ounces veal stew meat, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 14§-ounce cans low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed
  • 1 pound fresh pappardelle or purchased fettuccine
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 1 cup water and mushrooms to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Let stand 15 minutes. Strain soaking liquid through paper-towel-lined sieve into bowl. Coarsely chop mushrooms. Set liquid and mushrooms aside.

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, 1/4 cup parsley and garlic. Sauté until vegetables are tender but not brown, about 5 minutes. Push vegetables to side of skillet. Add sausage and cook until brown, breaking up with back of fork, about 4 minutes. Add veal and sauté until brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine. Increase heat to high and boil until wine is almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup chicken broth; boil 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add reserved mushroom liquid. Simmer until liquid is almost absorbed, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to processor. Using about 4 on/off turns, process just until coarsely chopped. Return mixture to skillet. Mix in tomatoes with juices, bay leaves, sage, fennel seeds and porcini mushrooms. Reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered until sauce thickens, breaking up tomatoes with fork, adding remaining chicken broth 1/2 cup at a time and stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper. (Ragù can be made 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.)

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Add sauce to pasta pot and rewarm over medium heat. Add pasta and toss to combine. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with cheese and remaining 2 tablespoons parsley.

*Dried porcini mushrooms are available at Italian markets, specialty foods stores and many supermarkets.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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Smoke and Mirrors

I once went to a restaurant that was known for the way its food was displayed on the plate. This was back in the early 90’s, when food as art and celebrity chefs started to make inroads into our daily stream of things we should pay attention to. The restaurant of mention that year was located across the street from a major cultural center, and since we had time to kill before curtain up at the ballet, my friend and I ventured in. The décor? Well, lets just say Dr. Seuss would have felt right at home. The menu read like those tiny white cards affixed to walls adjacent to works of art in a gallery. Various selections were referred to with terms like “mélange”, “infusion”, “concasse” and “coulis”.  A particularly wordy description accompanied a selection listed as “vegetable presentation”.  I knew I had to order it, if only to see what exactly the presentation was, and if overhead slides might be included. Altitude was a key factor in this dish, so much so that I was surprised the height of the presentation wasn’t included in the elaborate menu description. Color upon color of poached, seared, shaved, smoked, ionized, cured and foamed veggie were layered higher and higher, culminating in a sprig of rosemary stuck into the top like the spire on the Chrysler building. It was indeed impressive, and actually quite tasty, between giggles and snorts.  Certainly coming up with something like the leaning tower of veg took considerable imagination, but truth be told, the overpriced “presentation” was really just a very nice salad, piled sky high.

I realize this may be viewed as heresy by the phalanx of foodies out there, but a heck of a lot of dishes, especially the most elaborate and hence impressive, are really a case of smoke and mirrors. Fancy accoutrements, drops of sauces decoratively strewn aren’t necessarily better, just better presented. That’s not to say there aren’t amazing artists and culinary craftsmen out there. I am lucky enough to know a few, and often stand in awe of what they can do with ingredients and kitchen alchemy. But for every truly creative construction that hits a plate, there are at least as many that look damn impressive and only the cook knows how simple the process.

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©cookinginmyheels.com

Take homemade pasta. The act of making mouthwatering meals from what is basically water, flour, maybe some egg and a pinch of salt has been going on for centuries. Yet step into a restaurant or watch a cooking demo when someone is making noodles on the spot and it instantly is transformed to something “those food people do”. Here’s a thought. Remember play dough? Well freshly made pasta is basically grown up play dough. Play dough that you really should eat.

I too was gob smacked the first time I tasted real handmade pasta. Gob smacked, until I learned just how simple it is to make myself. I absolutely love making pasta. Maybe it’s the feel of it, or how wonderful the handmade stuff is even in a sauce as simple as butter and cheese. Whatever it is, I find an afternoon filled with mixing, rolling, cutting and cooking homemade noodles intensely satisfying and even a little therapeutic. I mean, really, who doesn’t love a good noodle?  So why not give some homemade pasta a try? There are few things as simple yet impressive. Call it a “rolled wheat construction” when you serve it to your awe-filled friends…they’ll be talking about it for weeks 😉

Pasta dough is really nothing more than flour and water. Add in an egg for a little color, oil for a more subtle texture, and salt for flavor. I’ve played with mixing different flours (white, wheat, buckwheat), but my all-time favorite combines regular all-purpose flour and semolina. I love the color and the chewy-ness semolina adds, especially when used for formed pasta like orecchietti (little ears) or fusilli (spirals or corkscrews). Using a pasta maker, either hand-crank, electric or an attachment to stand mixer makes this a whole lot faster and easier, but you don’t have to run out and buy a Marcato to make lovely pasta. A bowl, fork, rolling pin and a little elbow grease is all you need to noodle at home.  Since this recipe is a little bit of ingredients and a lot of technique, I’ve added some pictures along the way. Best of all, there’s no rule saying you can’t make up your own shapes, and as an activity to inspire kids to cook, there’s nothing better than letting them play with dough and serving it up for supper. So don’t be scared. Go ahead and get your noodle on!

Semolina Pasta Dough

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ tsp olive oil
  • 3-4 TBSP cold water

[NOTE: you can make the dough in a food processor, but I’ve decided to do the whole recipe by hand. If using a processor mix the flours and salt together, beat the eggs with olive oil and add in a stream into the bowl. Using ice water, add water one tablespoon at a time and mix until the dough forms a ball. Wrap in cling film and stow in fridge for at least 30 minutes before rolling.]

Pasta by hand:

2013-10-18 13.06.49Mix the flours and salt in a large mixing bowl with your hand. Make a well in the middle and add the two eggs and olive oil. With a fork, beat the eggs until combined, then slowly pull in flour until you have a paste. With your hand, continue to mix in the flour until you have a rough ball. Either in the bowl, or on a floured surface, knead the ball about 5-8 minutes until it is smooth. Wrap in cling film and stow in fridge for at least 30 minutes. It will keep a day or so in the fridge wrapped well if you want to make ahead.

To make flat noodles: (Fettuccine, tagliatelle, pappadelle, or lasagna):2013-10-18 15.32.15

On a well floured surface, roll out dough until very thin – if you put a magazine or paper under it, you should be able to see the paper through the pasta. Let the sheet of pasta dry for about 15 minutes on the counter. Using a ruler or other straight edge cut strips with a knife or pizza cutter and toss in flour. Transfer the pasta piles to a floured cookie sheet and let dry about an hour. Transfer the pasta to a zip top freezer bag. Pasta can last in the freezer for several months in a well-sealed bag.

To make fusilli or corkscrew shapes:2013-10-19 15.57.21

After the pasta sheet has dried about 15 minutes, cut the pasta into 3-inch wide strips. Lay out the strips with the long edge facing you. Cut the pasta into very thin strips (about ¼”). Flour a chopstick or thin ¼” dowel and wrap the pasta around it to make a corkscrew spiral. Slide the pasta off onto well-floured counter. Once you have a large pile, toss well in flour, let dry about an hour, and transfer to zip top freezer bag.

20131022-061108.jpgTo make Orecchietti:

Cut off a piece of the dough and wrap up the remainder. Roll the dough into a rope about ½” thick. With a knife or bench scraper, cut 1/2” pieces off of rope. Flour the palm of your hand. Take a piece of the dough and using your thumb, press into the palm of your hand to make a cup-shape. Continue with the other pieces of dough. Once you have a large pile, toss well in flour, let dry about an hour, and transfer to zip top freezer bag.2013-10-19 16.18.45

Here’s one of my favorite sauces for homemade shaped pasta:

Orecchietti and Fusilli with Peas, Ricotta and Parmesan

Per one cup uncooked freshly made orecchietti and/or fusilli

  • 1/2 cup chopped leeks
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1 teaspoon heavy cream
  • ½ tsp lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup frozen baby peas
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp salt

Heat the butter and oil in a medium sauté pan. Add the leeks and tiny pinch salt and cook over medium low heat until caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. While the leeks are cooking, put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. When the water is boiling, add a few big pinches salt. Add the pasta and peas, bring water back to a boil and cook for 2-4 minutes or until the pasta is floating and al dente. (Fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried).

When the pasta is ready, add the ricotta, cream and lemon zest to the leeks, along with 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and peas and add to the pan with the sauce. Add salt and pepper. Cook, stirring for a minute or two until the pasta is coated with sauce. Turn the heat off, add the parmesan and toss well. Top with a grind of black pepper and serve in warm pasta bowl.  Sit back and enjoy your handmade noodles! Calories: approximately 550 per serving.

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Oregon Observations Chapter 2: Rules of the Road

They have pedestrian laws in Oregon. I learned that pretty much the first day I arrived (more on that in a minute). OK, you’re thinking, doesn’t NYC have pedestrian laws? Well, yes, but I think they are more like suggestions. I’m not sure anyone has actually observed them since the advent of the horseless carriage. In the urban jungle, jaywalking is an art form, cars, bicycles and pedestrians interchangeably predator or prey, and the rule of the road is forward motion, always. New Yorkers are like sharks. They have to keep moving forward to survive.

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

A true Gothamite would never stand on a curb waiting for a light to change. In fact, you can easily distinguish those who live or have lived in the city with those who are just visiting simply by observing curb behavior. Guests stand on the sidewalk, a foot or so from the curb, patiently waiting their turn until the white walking guy shows up on the traffic signal. Where is the native dweller waiting to cross the same street?  Off the curb, at least a step, maybe two into the street, edging into oncoming traffic like a thoroughbred straining at the starting gate. And when the signal changes to a flashing red palm of warning? Instinctually, city slickers know exactly how many flashes that palm makes before the light turns red and multi-ton machines hurl themselves at you. So based upon all of this, just imagine what happens when a Gotham gal drives into the land of cross walk courtesy.

There I am, 2,998 miles between me and NYC, and oh so happy to have finally arrived at what I sincerely hope is a new and better life. And there I go, inching my way into the middle of the intersection, watching for a slot between cars in the oncoming lane so I can make my turn. Those wide white stripes from curb to curb? Those are pretty, breaks up the stretch of black asphalt nicely. Those people giving me the big hairy eyeball as I totally ignore them and start moving? Let me just say the surliest gothamite has nothing on a PNW pedestrian who is righteous in the knowledge that you in that big car must stop for them. The glance I got would have stopped a truck in the middle of Metropolis.

Suffice to say, these days I observe the rules, and watch for anyone even thinking of stepping off a curb as I drive by. Because in addition to driving, I’m a pedestrian too. And I’ve got a hell of a withering glance I’m just itching to use…

Ah Fall. My favorite season, filled with cooler days, cozy nights, and wonderful fall fruits, veggies and all those amazing mushrooms. We’ve had a stretch of cold damp weather the past week, so cozy comfort food was on my mind. This recipe was inspired by an absolutely adorable little butternut squash I got at the farmer’s market, the still plentiful local mushrooms, and some farro I brought from back East. Farro & Chanterelle Risotto in Butternut Squash is the best cure I can think of for 4 days of rain.

Farro & Chanterelle Risotto in Roasted Squash

Serves 2

DSC07046I used a small (1 pound) butternut because that is what I had on hand, but this would be equally wonderful in a delicato or acorn squash.

For the Squash

  • 1 lb butternut, delicato or acorn squash, sliced in half lengthwise, and cleaned of seed and membrane.
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Rub olive oil on flesh side of the squash, and season with salt and pepper. Roast on a foil lined cookie sheet, cut side down until tender, about 35-45 minutes. If the squash is done before the risotto, cover with foil and keep warm.

For the Risotto with Chanterelles

This could stand as dinner all by itself, but I love the nuttiness of the farro against the sweet creamy roasted squash.

  • ½ cup farro
  • 1 ½ -2 ounces chanterelle mushrooms torn into strips (you could substitute creminis)
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 2 ½ -3 cups low sodium chicken broth, heated
  • 1 TBSP butter, divided
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ¼ cup diced apple
  • Salt and pepper

Put the farro in a bowl and cover with water. Let soak for 30 minutes. While the farro soaking, heat ½ tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon oil in a small sauté pan over medium/high heat. When the butter is foaming, add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper and toss. Cover pan, turn down to medium and cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove cover, turn up heat to high and add balsamic vinegar. Stir through for a minute to glaze the mushrooms. Remove from heat and set aside.

Drain the farro. Heat the remaining ½ tablespoon butter and teaspoon oil in saucepan. Add shallot and a pinch of salt, and sauté 3-4 minutes until soft. Add farro and stir for a minute to coat. Add 1/3-cup wine and stir until absorbed. Add ½ cup heated stock, stir and let cook, stirring occasionally until absorbed. Continue to add stock and stir, ½ cup at a time until the farro is creamy and tender.

When the farro is tender, add in the mushrooms. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Toss in the diced apple. Fill the cavities of the squash halves with the risotto, finish with a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar over and serve. Calories: Approximately 500 per serving.

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