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November 13, 2010

Stocking up: Preggie prep & gnocchi

The baby is almost here, and I wanted to be prepared.  Diapers?  Baby clothes?  No!  I’m talking about food.  While I’m sure my favorite Chinatown eateries will be seeing plenty of baby-fatigue-driven business in the coming months, I also wanted to make sure our freezer was fully stocked.  Behold, the frozen fruits of my third trimester nesting!

what's for dinner?

I made:

I bought:

  • chicken pot pies from the Bakery House
  • indian dinners (anything Deep is usually good) and rotis
  • ice cream

I got ingredients:

  • roasted butternut squash (from the csa, destined for soup or baby food)
  • sausages (chorizo, hot italian, and chicken with apple)
  • bacon (pre-cut into bits, and whole slices)
  • short ribs (for meat sauce)
  • shredded chicken
  • peas
  • edamame
  • fruit (blueberries, cherries, raspberries, peaches)
  • butter

Yeah, it’s stocked.  It’s so stocked you can barely get the door shut.

One of the last dishes I made was gnocchi.  My sister Anne tried to convince me to make the Bouchon recipe (video), but I’m more Mark Bittman than Thomas Keller.

There is only one “trick” to making gnocchi — getting the amount of flour right.  Too little, and your gnocchi will fall apart.  Too much, and it just won’t taste very good.  Bittman suggests setting a small pot of water on to boil, and throwing in one or two to see if they have enough flour to make them hold together. 

I prefer another technique.  Don’t worry about it, just don’t boil them when you cook them.  I realized long ago that the gnocchi I prefer when I go out is pan-fried.  If you pan-fry them, it’s almost impossible to put in so little flour that they will fall apart.  (They basically won’t roll out with that little flour.)  It’s virtually no extra work to cook.  Like boiling them, you can throw them straight from the freezer into the hot pan, and they’re done in a few minutes.  Serve it up with gnocchi’s best friends, bacon and peas, for a straight-from-the-freezer dinner that tastes anything but.

gnocchi's best friends

Potato Gnocchi (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

  • 1 pound starchy potatoes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • salt and pepper

Set a pot of salted water to boil.  When it is boiling, throw in the potatoes, unpeeled, and reduce to a simmer.  Remove potatoes when tender, about 45 minutes.

Drain, rinse with cold water, then peel.  (They should practically rub off in your hands, but you can use a peeler or knife to get you started.)  Mash the potatoes.  If you have a ricer, use it.  If not, just use a fork or a masher. 

Add some salt, pepper and a half cup of flour, and stir.  Keep adding flour gradually until it comes together in a dough you can handle.  Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for a minute or less.  Now, break off a piece, and roll it into a rope a 1/2 inch thick.

cutting the gnocchi

Cut the gnocchi into 1 inch pieces.  If you feel fancy, you can roll it against a fork to get those little tine marks.  (I never do this.)  Put the pieces on a baking sheet with wax paper and a little bit of flour.  Don’t let them touch.

freezer bound

Put on your Thomas Keller hat.  You are now ready to IQF (that’s individual quick freeze — who knew freezing stuff on cookie sheets had its own acronym?)  Stick the baking sheet into your freezer.  In 30 to 60 minutes, they will be solid enough for you to shake into a ziploc bag without them sticking together.  Reward yourself by telling one of your sous chefs to clean up.

being a sous chef stinks

January 18, 2010

Stocking up: chocolate chip cookies!


Come winter, stocking homemade cookie dough in your freezer is a game-changer for folks with a sweet tooth.  Those times when you were craving something sweet, but the thought of schlepping down to Wawa was giving you frostbite?  In the past!  A hot, fresh chocolate chip cookie straight out of the oven is basically the best thing you can ask for on a cold wintry night.

There’s just one teensy thing that makes it hard.  Instead of doing this:

in the oven

You have to do this:

in the freezer?!

Take a whole sheet of cookies, that could be plate of warm, gooey cookies in just 10 minutes, and stick them in your freezer instead.  I won’t lie.  It is hard.  Consider making a double batch.  Or you may end up with a mutiny on your hands.

weighing his options

The sad face of someone who knows that sometimes he has to sacrifice today’s cookies for tomorrow’s? Or the devious look of a hardened cookie dough poacher? You’ll find out which one you live with if that bag of frozen dough balls runs out in 3 days or less.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is a slightly oversalted variant of the Toll House recipe.  Most any cookie recipe will freeze, though, so use the one you like best! (and … tell me what it is!)

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Beat butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla together until creamy.  Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a second bowl, then gradually incorporate the mixture into the first bowl.  When fully combined, stir in chocolate chips.

Prepare a level spot for a baking sheet in your freezer.  I use the top of my ice maker to hold up one side, and just stack to the same level on the other side.  (This is much easier to do without your dough balls on the sheet.)  Then cover the baking sheet with parchment or wax paper, because the frozen dough will stick a bit without it.  Scoop out your dough balls.  Remember, you’re not going to bake these, so you can cram your dough balls really tightly on the sheet.  Freeze for at least an hour, then dump the frozen balls into a ziploc bag or airtight container.

When you’re ready to eat them, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, then put the dough balls on a baking sheet and into the oven.  You can bake them straight from the freezer; they should be done in about 15 minutes.

November 18, 2009

Stocking up: meatballs

Winter is here, and I’ve been laying in provisions almost instinctually.  (bda has accused me of stocking the freezer so I know he will eat while I am traveling, but that’s not true.  I know he’ll just order Domino’s.) I’ve made chili, I’ve made curry, and now it is time to tackle the mountain of meatballs.

approaching the pyramid

When I was a kid, I thought meatballs were gross.  That is because I was eating spheres of baked ground beef, with nothing else added.  And that is gross.

A good meatball should have lots of flavor elements, starting with some nice fat.  (I was not very surprised on the burger tour to learn that all of the burgers were 80% meat, 20% fat.) I get 85%/15% ground beef at Whole Foods.  Would I get 80%/20% if they sold it?  Probably.

To that, I add bread crumbs, eggs, onion and plenty of salt and pepper.

the flavor elements

Having a sack of homemade meatballs in the freezer is a beautiful thing.  Babies love them.  You can pretend you went to the super-tasty version of IKEA.  Throwing in some meatballs even makes jar sauce feel more special.  (You should stop eating jar sauce.  Really.  But if you still do, at least you can give yourself some homemade meatballs.)

Traditional Beef Meatballs

  • 2 lbs. 85/15 ground beef
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • salt to taste (at least 2 teaspoons)
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and knead until well combined.  Roll into balls roughly 2 inches in diameter.

Heat the canola oil on medim-high heat in a large frying pan, just enough to keep the meatballs from sticking.  When the pan is hot, arrange the meatballs in the pan.  Squeeze them in tight enough that they will hold each other in place, but loosely enough that you can still turn them.

squeeze 'em in!

After one side has browned (about 2-3 minutes), begin turning the meatballs.  Turn every couple of minutes until they are browned all over.  Remove from heat; they are ready to eat.

Makes approximately 40 small meatballs.  Can be frozen for up to 6 months.

October 14, 2009

Stocking up: mozzarella

I love cheese in all its forms.  I definitely consider a cheese board and baguette to be a valid dinner.  But, I acknowledge that a hunk of brie is maybe not the most flexible cheese for a beginner cook.

Enter mozzarella.

Mozzarella balls, the kind they sell in water, are a beginning cook’s best friend.  They will last a week or two in your fridge, with no significant decline in flavor.  This mozzarella, you cook with.

Have a George Forman grill?  Slice it up, and add salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Then put it and tomato slices between bread, and make yourself the tastiest grilled cheese ever.

Or cube it up, and throw it on top of pasta.  (Totally did this 3 days ago, but forgot to take you guys a pic.)  Deep fry it, and make your own mozzarella sticks (easier than it looks.)   Make your own pizza (I used pizza dough, but french bread style is totally valid, too.)

Going further: Some day, you owe it to yourself to find a cheese shop that makes fresh mozzarella onsite.  They will wrap it up for you, in plastic or in paper.  It will still be drippy, but not in water.  Do NOT refrigerate it.  On that day, get a tomato, and a fresh loaf of bread; eat them immediately, and taste heaven.

Stock up.  Because those little extras you keep in your fridge, freezer and cupboard can go a long way towards making dinner go from a chore to a darn impressive showing.