Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gotta Get that Gnocchi

I'd like to dedicate this post to my good friend Laura who cooked with me this week.

We tackled a pasta that is often only found in restaurants. Or at the very least, it's something that really isn't as good when it's store-bought. 

I've always had an interesting relationship with gnocchi. When I was little, I loved it because it was gummy and starchy and I could pick it up with my fingers when Mom wasn't looking and it wouldn't be too noticeable because it fit perfectly in my mouth sans slurping. The downside: no good the next day, so no hope of it showing up in the lunch box.

The type Laura and I made, however, are still perfect the next day. And unless you're feeding an army (we served 5), you'll have leftovers; these babies are filling. 

Though time-intensive, this is an easy hands-on project when you're looking for an impressive home-cooked meal that's sure to please the traditionalist pasta crowd.

  1. Boil potatoes.
  2. Peel potatoes.
  3. Mash/cool potatoes.
  4. Mix dough.
  5. Cut.
  6. Cook.
  • 2 1/2 pounds Russet potatoes
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • ricott

1) Fill a pot half full with cold water. Place the potatoes in it and bring to a boil. Cook until a fork inserts easily, 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the potatoes. Don't peel beforehand--you risk them becoming waterlogged, which is not conducive to making gnocchi.

2) Peel the potatoes as soon as they come out of the pot. Again, this helps with the texture and consistency of the final product. The extra cooking time isn't desired.

3) Mash the potatoes until few lumps remain, spreading them out in a flat pan or on a cutting board. Cool completely (about 30 minutes) before continuing.

4) Start a large pot of water boiling on the stove.

5) Place all ingredients in a large bowl. The original recipe suggested mixing everything together on the counter, like a traditional pasta, but I'd worry about the egg sliding off the counter. Blend until thoroughly combined.

6) Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead gently, adding more flour if it gets too sticky. Pull off a small piece and drop into the boiling water. If it falls apart, knead for another minute before testing again. If it holds together, boil until it floats, taste--for quality control, of course, and continue to step 7.

7) Shape into a flattened round. Cut into eighths. Roll each piece into a rope between 1/2 and 1 inch wide. Cut into 1/2 inch segments.

Keep the counter well-floured during the process--this dough will definitely stick.
8) Optional: roll against the back of a fork to get the characteristic grooves. It's definitely preferable to do this if you're working with someone; alone it would quickly become too time-consuming.
It's easier if you use a longer-tined fork.
9) Drop the gnocchi into the pot in batches. Essentially, boil one rope's worth after it's complete. By the time you've finished shaping the next one, you'll have cooked the previous one and brought the water back to a boil.

They'll need a minute or two more after they've all floated to the surface like the ones in the lower left.
10) The cooking time is highly debatable. If you like them doughy, cook only until he float and the strain them out. I found that I liked them a little firmer, so I would set a timer for 5 minutes from the time I dropped them in.

11) Serve immediately topped with sauce and plenty of cheese (we used ricotta and shredded Parmesan-like cheese). My quicky recipe is below.

Embellished Eggplant Sauce 

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 jar tomato sauce


1) Roast the whole, unpeeled eggplant in a 400 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until a fork inserts easily. 

2) Peel while hot, using a small paring knife to aid if necessary. 

3) Cut into 1/2- to 1- inch cubes and place in a medium sauce pan with the jar of tomato sauce, using less if it becomes too soupy for your taste. Personally, I like a chunky sauce, and it works well with the gnocchi, so I only used half the jar. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

It's a Marshmallow World in the Winter

Who would've thought North Carolina would get some actual snow? Well we did, and it was enough to delay school. After a photogenic walk in the winter wonderland, I decided to make pancakes to cheer my brother, who was put out at the lack of school cancellation. 

And they weren't just any pancakes. There was something special about them. Something distinctly seasonal, something winter. They were eggnog pancakes. Yes, when I saw that they were still selling Silk (soy milk) eggnog at Harris teeter, I had to snatch it. It is my way of prolonging the all-too-brief holidays.

Eggnog Pancakes
adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook
  • 2 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup eggnog (or soy substitute)
  • 1 scant tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

1) Stir together wet ingredients. 

2) Mound the dry ingredients on top, mixing in the baking powder as best you can before incorporating into the wet.

3) Mix until most of the lumps disappear, being careful not to overbeat.

4) Cook on a hot skillet until dry around the edges and small bubbles appear in the center. Flip and continue cooking until browned. 

5) Serve with whipped cream, if you're feeling decadent.


While they were cooking, Marcus took the opportunity to make some honey candy. Very simple, very sweet. Just pour honey onto a patch of clean snow and allow to harden slightly before scraping it out with your fingers. It's painful after a while as your fingers slowly become frozen, but that's probably a good thing: it'll keep you from eating the whole jar.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

To Begin with Bagels

So here I am. Somewhere I never thought I'd be. Writing a blog. 

It's interesting how everything condenses in just such a way as to point you towards something that seemed so aloof and unfathomable. Such as posting my thoughts on life, the universe and food on the Inter Webs. Funny, really. This idea came about thanks to my friend, Claire, who said that I had a wall full of food on my Facebook page. Turns out she was right. (Not literally. THAT would have been interesting.) I'm trying this out as a new forum for my experiments and misadventures-turned-masterpieces. 

Though I may set any number of goals at this point, I doubt very many, if any, will be kept. I may say that I will post a recipe each week, but then some catastrophe (read: math test) will almost certainly occur. So instead, I'm going to off-handedly announce that I will be attempting to cook from a new recipe each week and write about the adventure at some point before the details have faded. Is that vague enough, Murphy?

Anyway, I'm simply looking forward to chronicling my ups and downs in a meaningful way that is also enjoyable to the audience. 

Welcome, 2013. I can't say I'm ready for whatever awaits, but I'll definitely take a stab at it.


Now that the introduction is complete, let's get down to the dough. The first weekend in 2013, I made bagels.

I'd had the dry ingredients measured and combined, sitting in my fridge, waiting for when I had at least 24 hours to commit to a process that was undoubtedly the longest that I have so far encountered in my cooking experience (in terms of sheer work hours). 

Don't let that scare you off, though. It's not complicated, just repetitive, and the reward is a batch of piping-hot bagels. Not to mention the extreme self-satisfaction (this I freely admit).

To be sure, this will never replace the convenience of Bruegger's, but it's worth a try if you're ready for a challenge.

Half-Wheat Bagels
I found this recipe on Kath Eats Real Food. She has gone into great detail about the mechanics of breadmaking and why each step works the way it does. I would recommend going to her blog to look at the original recipe, especially for the highly useful photographs of the process, notably the shaping. Furthermore, Kath provides measurements in weight, which are considered to be a more accurate.


     1.  Prep dry ingredients.
     2. Mix dough.
     3. Rise for 1 hour. 
     4. Shape dough.
     5. Rise for 6 hours to overnight.
     6. Boil.
     7. Bake.

  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • stand mixer (somewhat optional)
  • damp kitchen towel
  • food scale (or the ability to eyeball accurately)
  • dough divider (or a knife and counters that don't mind being scratched)
  • sheet pan (or several)
  • tongs/slotted spoon
  • cooling rack


1) Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer until the dough comes together, then beat on first speed for 3 minutes. Mix on second speed for 3 more minutes. The dough may become so stiff that the mixer stalls and/or grinds gears. If this is the case, switch to using your hands. When kneading is complete the dough should be very strong with full gluten development.

2) Place in a warm location to rise for 1 hour. There will be very little noticeable rising (though the dough will soften and become a little less stiff). 

3) Divide the dough into 14 equal portions of 3.5oz each. Make sure to keep your dough covered with the damp towel so it doesn’t develop a crust. This goes for the dough lump as well as the individual balls. Don't bother shaping them during weighing. 

4) Making sure all your dough portions are covered with the towel, remove one of them. Since the dough will be all twisted with random seams in it, or constructed from several small pieces as you portioned them, tuck the junky looking parts underneath so you have a nice smooth surface facing up. Lightly press it down so you have a fairly square piece. Begin to roll the piece with one hand into a tube. You don’t need to be too vigorous here, and it's not too big a deal if the ends taper somewhat. When it gets long enough, use two hands to roll it. The goal here is about 8 inches long. Start each roll with your hands in the middle of the tube and as you gently roll, move them to the outside to lengthen. Uniform thickness is important for even cooking. 

5) Once you have a nice tube, lift the dough up and wrap it around your fingers with the two loose ends on the underside of your fingers. Lay this down and gently roll to press the two ends together and form a full bagel. There should be an overlap of about the width of your hand. No need to put too much force into it. You’re not so much trying to roll the whole bagel up and down your fingers – it’s more about joining the ends of the dough tube together from several different angles. Don’t worry if the final product looks a little lopsided. The most important thing is getting the two ends to join up. If you still have some seams after rolling, you can pinch them shut. I ended up turning them inside out to ensure that the inner seams had closed entirely.

6) As you finish each one, place them on a sheet pan, leaving at least an inch between them, and cover well with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for a minimum of 6 hours, and up to overnight.

7) When you take the dough out of the refrigerator, you’ll notice that they will have slightly risen, but not nearly as much as you would expect normal bread to have expanded. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

8) The first step is boiling. (I learned that this is the step that gives bagels their characteristic chewy crust and soft inside.) I used a large stock pot, though the instructions said to only put in 3 at a time otherwise they could reduce the water temperature and get soggy. After putting them in, stir for a second to make sure they don't stick to the bottom. You can flip them once during the boiling, but it's not entirely necessary. Boil for 1-2 minutes (they should be floating on the surface at this point). I found it was a little tricky to keep the water at a rapid boil, but it mostly worked if I recovered the pot after I had ensured that the bagels were not stuck anywhere. 

9) Remove them with your strainer and put them in the ice water for 3 minutes. (You'll probably have to empty the bowl a little after half the bagels have been cooled in it and refill it with ice.) Don't start cooking the next set of 3 bagels until you've cooled the prior set for the full 3 minutes. Distribute them on the baking sheets, spacing out about 1 inch apart  Don’t worry about drops of water on the pans.

10) I didn't put toppings on my bagels, but the instructions said to put the toppings on the side that you desire and then place that side on the baking sheet so that they are facing down. If not, don't worry about which side is up. Place in the oven and bake for 5 minutes.

11) Flip the bagels quickly on the pans, leaving the oven door open just long enough to remove and replace the pans. Then they're back in the oven for another 15 minutes. 

12) Place the bagels on a cooling rack immediately. Eat hot. If there are any left over, store in an airtight bag at room temperature for a few days. Slice them in half and toast them if they become undesirably stale.