Archive Page 3

Carnitas Caseras (Home Cooked Carnitas)

Carnitas Tacos

It’s been awhile.  It’s been quite awhile.  I could blame it on a number of things but suffice to say that I’m back.

You may remember that we recently moved from southern California to northern Virginia. Unsurprisingly, northern Virginia isn’t exactly a mecca for Mexican food.  My personal Mexican food of choice is carnitas and, unfortunately, the closest I’ve found so far in our new home is at Chipotle.

Homemade Tortilla Chips

So I decided to make my own.  These aren’t the more common carnitas found at taco stands around L.A.  These aren’t cooked for the same length of time so they don’t easily get the shredded texture of taqueria carnitas.

Instead, they are rather quickly simmered in milk before cooking the liquid off.  They’re reminiscent of an Italian recipe where pork is slowly cooked with milk.

They are quite flavorful; almost intense, as Angela described it, but at the same time mild.  The salsa (in the pictures) almost overpowered the flavor of the carnitas and I omitted it for the remainder of my tacos.  The only downside for me was that the texture was different than I was expecting.  Something that shreds more easily would work better on tacos.

These cook quickly.  Quick enough for a week night.  They go well with homemade tortilla chips and salsa.  The leftovers work well in quesadillas.

Salsa Mexicana

Carnitas Caseras (Home Cooked Carnitas)
Adapted from The Art of Mexican Cooking

4 tbsp lard or vegetable oil
3 lbs. bone-in pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 medium red onion, sliced
salt
4 sprigs of fresh marjoram
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns, crushed
1 orange, cut into eights
1 cup milk

  1. Dry the pork with paper towels and season with salt.
  2. Heat the lard in a wide, heavy pan until hot.  Add the pork and fry until lightly golden, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add the onions and cook until the meat is well browned, about 8 minutes more.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook over low heat until the meat is cooked through and tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. Remove the lid, and increase the heat, cooking until all the liquid has been absorbed (there will still be a lot of fat remaining).
  6. Remove the meat from the pot and let rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Slice the meat into small pieces and serve with corn tortillas.

Serves 6 to 8.

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

Angela and I have gone out to a restaurant for dinner on Valentine’s Day exactly once.  From the crowded restaurant to the subpar, but expensive food, it was an experience that we didn’t want to repeat.  So last year we went to our favorite pizza place. Given that Valentine’s Day was on a Saturday this year, I decided that I would make a special dinner for Angela. I decided on Tagliatelle alla Bolognese as it is one of Angela’s favorite foods. I made some bread and crème brûlée.

And then I went and ruined it by spilling hot chicken stock on my toe.  I had taken advantage of the fact that I had to stay home to watch the sauce to make a large batch of chicken stock.  All was going well until I was about to strain it.  I cook the chicken stock in a stock pot with all the solids inside a pasta strainer.  To get as much liquid out of the solids as possible, I had picked up the strainer and was trying to push any remaining liquid out.  This is when tragedy struck.  The strainer slipped out of my hands, sending chicken stock flying.  Some of it flew up and landed on my sock-clad foot.  I got the sock off as quickly as possible but the damage was already done.

My foot is finally starting to heal, a week and a half later.  I’ve been forced to wear sandals and socks to work since then.  It did, however, take my manager until yesterday to realize that I was wearing them and duly make fun of me.  Apparently wearing orange toed socks makes it more conspicuous.

Luckily, I only ruined the romantic mood on Valentine’s Day and not the food itself.  The bread and crème brûlée were done.  All that was left was to make the fresh pasta and it helped take my mind off the pain.  Angela can comment on the funny dance I did to distract myself further.

Bolognese sauce is deservedly one of the most classic Italian pasta sauces.  The long cooking in milk and wine helps mellow the beef to almost be reminiscient of veal.  It also helps mellow the normally acidic bite of tomato sauces.  In many ways, however, it almost seems to be the anti-Italian pasta.  It’s one of the few times in Italian cooking where the sauce is the star and the pasta merely the sideshow.

Despite my mishap, this was still the right choice for Valentine’s Day.  It’s a special meal, taking a good bit of time.  But that time and effort pays off in a dish that can only really be described in superlatives.

Homemade Bread

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp butter, divided
1/2 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
1/2 lbs ground beef
1/4 lbs ground pork
salt and pepper
1 cup whole milk
nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes
1 1/2 lbs. fresh tagliatelle (made with 3 eggs and 3 cups of flour)
grated parmigiano-reggiano

  1. Put the oil, 3 tbsp butter, and the onion in a large dutch oven and place over medium heat.  Cook the onion, stirring occassionally, until it has become transluscent.
  2. Add the celery and the carrot and cook for about 2 minutes more, stirring regularly.
  3. Add the ground beef and ground pork.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring the meat, until it loses its pink color.
  4. Add the milk and bring to a simmer.  Cook at a low simmer until the milk has completely cooked away, 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. Add a pinch of nutmeg.
  6. Add the wine and bring to a simmer.  Cook at a low simmer until the wine has completely cooked away, 30 to 40 minutes.
  7. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Cook at the barest of simmers for 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.  If the sauce dries out, add 1/2 cup of water, whenever necessary.
  8. Cook the fresh pasta and toss it with the sauce, adding the final tablespoon of butter.
  9. Serve immediately with grated parmigiano-reggiano.

Serves 6.

Penne con le Zucchine Fritte, Piselli e Pomodori (Penne with Fried Zucchini, Peas, and Tomatoes)

Penne with Fried Zucchini, Peas, and Tomatoes

When I announced to Angela what I was making for dinner last night, she was distinctly less than excited.  In her defense, my motive for choosing this recipe was mainly that I had a zucchini that had been sitting in the fridge long enough that I had started to worry whether or not it had turned into a home for something else.  Luckily for us it had not.

I say luckily as both Angela and I enjoyed it immensely.  This pasta was significantly better than it had any right to be given its ingredients.  It’s very simple and I always appreciate simple food but, looking at the recipe alone, I didn’t see anything that would differentiate it from the mass of other pasta recipes that have a base of tomatoes.

However, the distinct flavor of the fried zucchini slices makes the dish truly compelling.  It provides a nice counterpoint to the acidity of the tomatoes.  The peas are nice but mainly from a color and nutritional perspective.

But what will really keep me coming back to this recipe is how quick it is to make.  The longest part of the preparation is waiting for the water to boil and then cooking the pasta.  The sauce can be made entirely in the time that the pasta cooks.  It also reheats the next day fairly well.

Zucchini Frying

Penne con le Zucchine Fritte, Piselli e Pomodori (Penne with Fried Zucchini, Peas, and Tomatoes)
Adapted from Trattoria Cooking: More than 200 authentic recipes from Italy’s family-style restaurants

1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/4″ thick rounds
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 clove garlic, finely diced
salt and pepper
1 cup frozen peas
1 tbsp butter
1 lbs penne
1 cup grated Parmigiano Regiano

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the penne for one minute less than the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the zucchini and cook until both sides are golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.
  3. Add the garlic and stir briefly.
  4. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Cook over high heat until most of the tomato juice has evaporated, about 4 minutes.
  5. Add the peas and the butter and cook over low heat until the peas are warmed through, about 1 minute.
  6. Drain the pasta, reserving the pasta water.  Add the pasta to the sauce and cook for one minute over medium heat, stirring regularly.  If the pasta is dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
  7. Remove from the heat and stir in half of the parmigiano.
  8. Serve sprinkled with the remaining parmigiano.

Serves 4.

Sliced Zucchini

Pain à l’Ancienne

Pain à l'Ancienne

We end up eating a lot of bread in our household.  And I make quite a bit of it myself.  In fact, one of the easiest ways for me to pleasantly surprise Angela is to start making bread before she gets home.  I’ve even developed a “quick” recipe for bread that I make regularly and is the metric for any bread we eat, whether I make it or it’s produced elsewhere.

This is not that bread.  The bread that I make, while quite good, does not involve any special technique.  I decided that I’d like to really take my bread making up a notch and improve both my knowledge of bread making as well as my technique.

Pain à l'Ancienne

This is my first attempt at a more advanced bread.  Actually, it’s my second attempt at this bread.  The first attempt was good but I improperly shaped it so it ended up too short.  I made this using the baker’s percentages (the recipe as written makes something like 6 baguettes which is 5 more baguettes than I would eat) which made it quite easy for me to use metric measurements.  The only hard part was measuring out 2 g of yeast.

The bread turned out quite well.  Given it’s overnight fermentation, it developed a very nice flavor.  The wetness of the dough led to a very light, airy dough; much more so than the dense bread that I normally make.

I will definitely be making this bread again whenever I have the time.  It went very well with an herb brined roast chicken and a bottle of 2007 Mandolina Rosato.

Pain à l'Ancienne

Pain à l’Ancienne
Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread

300 g bread flour
6 g kosher salt
2 g yeast
240 g water, ice cold

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, salt, yeast, and water.  Beat with the paddle attachment for 2 minutes on low.  Switch to the dough hook and beat for 5 minutes on medium.  Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Remove from the refrigerator and allow to rise at room temperature until it has doubled, 2 to 3 hours.
  3. Using a plastic dough scraper, transfer the dough to a well floured counter.  Shape into a bâtard.  Carefully transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and cover until ready to bake.
  4. In the oven, place a pizza stone on the top rack and a cast iron dutch oven on the bottom rack.  Preheat the oven to 500ºF.  Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.
  5. When the oven is preheated, place the baking sheet on the pizza stone and carefully pour the boiling water into the dutch oven.
  6. Immediately reduce the temperature to 475ºF and bake for 8 to 9 minutes.  Turn the bread if it is not browning evenly.  Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the bread is a rich golden brown.
  7. Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Makes 1 bâtard.

Roast Chicken

Zuo Zong Tang Ji (General Tso’s Chicken, Taiwan Version)

Zuo Zong Tang Ji (General Tso's Chicken, Taiwan Version)

One of the very first posts I made to this blog was a version of General Tso’s Chicken.  That version was from Changsha in Hunan province and is fairly close to the version served in America (and, strangely, rarely in Hunan province).  Now, well over a year later, I tried my hand at the Taiwanese version (and succeeded in not gassing myself out of the kitchen this time).

Apparently, this is closer to the original General Tso’s Chicken which was developed in the 1950’s in Taiwan by a Hunanese chef, Peng Chang-Kuei.  He’s also responsible for the other style of General Tso’s Chicken, which is hot and sweetand was developed in New York City.  This version is hot and sour, without the sweetness of the more American version.  Despite the fact that this was not developed in Hunan itself, this version is more Hunanese as it doesn’t have the sweetness.

Of course, the unspoken issue is which is the more authentic version.  I do appreciate authenticity in cooking but I don’t think it matters in this case.  The supposed canonical example of Hunanese cuisine isn’t Hunanese at all.  I don’t think there can even be an authentic version of this dish.

Frying Chili Peppers for General Tso's Chicken

So if authenticity doesn’t matter, which is better?  It’s really hard to say (not the least because of the time delay between the two).  I remember liking the Changsha version a lot despite the high spiciness.  The Taiwanese version is much more challenging to my taste buds.  I’m simply not particularly used to food that is hot and sour.  Angela enjoyed the Taiwanese version a lot; she was already asking when I could make it again.

So my advice is simple.  Make both this version and the Changsha version and see which you like better.  Or realize that they’re different enough that you can enjoy both.

Frying chicken for General Tso's Chicken

Zuo Zong Tang Ji (General Tso’s Chicken, Taiwan Version)
Adapted from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province

4 boneless, skinless chicken, thighs
6-10 oz. dried red chilies
2 tsp finely diced ginger
2 tsp finely diced garlic
2 tsp sesame oil
peanut oil for frying

Marinade:
2 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 egg yolk
2 tsp potato flour or corn starch
2 tsp peanut oil

Sauce:
1 tbsp tomato paste mixed with 1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp potato flour or corn starch
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp clear rice vinegar
3 tbsp chicken stock

  1. Cut the chicken thighs into similiarly sized, bite size pieces.
  2. For the marinade, combine the soy sauces and egg yolk with the chicken and mix well.  Then stir in the potato flour.  Finally, stir in the potato flour or corn starch.  Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.
  3. Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl.
  4. Cut the chilies into 3/4″ pieces and discard the seeds.
  5. Heat enough oil to deep fry the chicken in a wok until it reaches 350ºF.  Add the chicken and deep fry until the chicken becomes crisp and golden.  Remove the chicken and drain on paper towels.  Pour the oil from the wok into a heat proof container.
  6. Return the wok over high heat and add 2-3 tbsp of the peanut oil.  Add the dried chilies and stir fry until they start to turn brown.
  7. Add the ginger and garlic and stir fry for several seconds.
  8. Add the sauce and stir regularly until it thickens.
  9. Return the chicken to the sauce and stir to coat the pieces in the sauce.  Remove from the heat.
  10. Stir in the sesame oil.
  11. Serve immediately over white rice.

Serves 4.

Homemade Guanciale

Diced homemade guanciale

Our recent move necessitated the use or disposal of any perishables.  Since that time, I’ve been missing my cured meats the most.  Luckily, we’ve been able to find some good bacon in Virginia. However, I have yet to find any thing as good as my homemade pancetta.

I have, however, made friends with a local pork farmer who comes to the Alexandria Farmer’s Market.  As a side note, his pork is very very good.  So far, I’ve only managed to get one pork belly from him (most are preordered by restaurants, mine has been turned into pancetta) but the real surprise for me was that he regularly sells pork jowls.  I’ve been to quite a few specialty markets, butchers, and Asian groceries and not once have I seen pork jowls for sale.

Homemade pancetta and guanciale drying

To me, the real coup with finding pork jowls is that I can turn them into guanciale (another hard to find product in the United States).  And my desire for guanciale is simply that it is the authentic ingredient in probably my most favorite pasta dish (and quite likely favorite food), spaghetti alla carbonara.

The most difficult part of making guanciale is finding a pork jowl.  It’s cured simply with just salt and a few seasonings.  Then it’s hung to dry.  My choice of hanging spot was in our unheated sun room.  The temperature was pretty close to right (50ºF to 60ºF) and seemed to have a pretty good humidity.  The only possible mistake I made was hanging it by a window as a pork jowl is mostly fat and light can damage fat.  I’ll have to return my drying to a mini-fridge in the future.

Until I had to go without, I didn’t realize how central cured meats like guanciale or pancetta are to my cooking. I like to keep some in the fridge to make quick, but good, pastas.  It’s an effective way to add some protein to a meal or to modify a side dish into being a complete meal.

Along with spaghetti alla carbonara, it is also traditionally used in bucattini all amatriciana.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara made with home guanciale

Homemade Guanciale
Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

One 2-lbs/1-kg pork jowl

Dry Cure:
70 g kosher salt
70 g sugar
10 g garlic, mashed
15 black pepper corns, cracked
1 large bunch thyme

  1. Rinse and pat the jowl dry.  Trim any stray tissue, glands, or hairs from the jowl.
  2. Combine the dry cure ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  3. Place the jowl into a large zip-top bag and rub with the dry cure on both sides.  Refrigerate for 4 to 6 days, until it feels stiff all the way through.  Overhaul the cure by redistributing the cure and turning the jowl over every other day.
  4. Remove the jowl from the bag and rinse off all the cure.  Dry thoroughly.
  5. Poke a hole in the corner of the jowl with a knife.  Run a piece of butcher’s string through the hole.  Hang the jowl in a cool, dry place for 1 to 3 weeks, until it is stiff but not hard.
  6. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or freeze for several months.

Italian Pot Roast of Beef Braised in Red Wine

Italian Beef Braised in Red Wine

Making a house into a home is difficult.  It helps that we’re mostly unpacked.  It helps that our cats are here.  But there’s a certain comfort level of a home that hasn’t quite developed yet.

I firmly believe that food and cooking can be a vital part of making a home a home.  To share a meal with family is an important component of this.  And while we’ve had family over for dinner (including just before Christmas when we realized that more people were coming than we owned chairs), the most basic, and most frequent, family dinner we can have consists of solely Angela and me.

There’s something to be said that the food served at a family dinner can be an important component of homeyness.  Despite never eating it growing up, pot roast strikes me as one of the most homey meals possible.  A slowly braised piece of meat conjures up images of a Sunday dinner in the wintertime shared with family.  But, when you really come down to it, it also conjures up images of good food.

If you’ve ever read this blog in the past, you may easily realize that my cooking tends toward Italian. And that holds true even for something that can seem as Italian as pot roast.

This is a simple preparation of beef braised in red wine and beef stock.  A few aromatic vegetables are used in a sofrito first.  Some tomato paste is added mainly for color.  There are a few herbs in the sauce.  It’s very simple but very satisfying.

This is really a variation on Beef with Barolo.  My wallet doesn’t allow me to buy Barolo, let alone cook with it.  Instead, I used a 2006 Mandolina Nebbiolo Barbera as well as the remainder with dinner.  It worked well in both cases.

Beef Chuck

Italian Pot Roast of Beef Braised in Red Wine
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

2 lbs. beef chuck roast
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp onion, finely diced
3 tbsp carrot, finely diced
2 tbsp celery, finely diced
3/4 cup dry red wine
3/4 cup beef stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh marjoram

  1. Dry the chuck roast well on all sides.  Tie the roast to keep it together.  Season well with salt and pepper on all sides.
  2. Add enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a heavy dutch oven over high heat.  Brown the chuck thoroughly on all sides in the hot oil.  Set the beef aside and discard the hot oil.
  3. In the dutch oven, add 1 tbsp oil, the butter, the onion, and a pinch of salt.  Cook over medium heat until the onion becomes lightly gold.  Add the carrots and celery and cook for 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Deglaze the dutch oven with the red wine, scraping all fond.  Add the stock and the tomato paste and stir well to incorporate.
  5. Add the thyme and marjoram and return the beef to the dutch oven.  Bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to low.  Cover and simmer for 3 hours, turning the meat every 20 minutes.
  6. Remove the beef from the dutch oven, place on a cutting board, and cover with a towel.  Remove the springs of thyme and marjoram from the sauce and discard.  Reduce the sauce in the dutch oven over high heat until it starts to become syrupy.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Slice the beef against the grain and serve with the sauce on top.

Serves 4.

Chuleta de Ternera al Ajo Cabañil (Veal Chops, Shepherd Style)

Veal Chops, Shepherd Style

I’m starting to feel that the only thing I do on here is apologize for not posting more often.  My current excuse is that the holidays were hectic.  Angela’s parents came to visit for a week and then we went skiing in Vermont.   But now I’m back and will hopefully be able to provide a little more attention to this food blog of mine.

This meal actually occurred before our New England winter sojourn.  Angela’s mother (my mother-in-law) spent a significant portion of her college experience in Spain (she’s now a Spanish teacher).  Given that she hasn’t been back to Spain since, I had the bright idea that maybe I could bring a little bit of Spain to her by making something Spanish.  It didn’t hurt that I had a new Spanish cookbook that I haven’t had a good opportunity to explore.

Veal Chops

While Angela’s parents were here, we finally decided to take them up on their offer to let us do what we normally do (we always respond that we don’t normally do much of anything and that it’d be boring for them).  I was in desperate need of some black peppercorns, so we set out in search of the Penzey’s in Falls Church. That portion of the trip was relatively uneventful (except for being told that they are discontinuing the Sarawak peppercorns that we prefer). On our way back, we passed a 7-Eleven where we stopped to pickup a soda. Driving into the parking lot, I noticed that there was the Lebanese Butcher in the same shopping center. While not a particularly large shop, they do have a good selection of meats (but no pork) at good prices (particularly for veal). Because of the prices and the fact that we wanted something fairly simple, we settled on the veal chops. I also picked up some tahini, pomegranate molasses, and rose flower water. The last two are a bit harder to come by in western stores and have nothing to do with this recipe.

Mise en Place for Veal Chops, Shepherd Style

This is a fairly simple recipe but I managed to mess it up a bit when I made it.  After you brown the veal, liquid is added and it’s cooked at a low temperature for 10 to 15 minutes (simply 15 minutes in the original recipe).  Unfortunately, different stoves have different settings for low.  When we were in California, low meant turning the knob just lower than medium (anything lower and it wouldn’t cook at all).  Here in Virginia, low is turning the knob to almost off.  While I prefer this stove to the California stove, it meant that I overcooked the veal.  It wasn’t bad, just not quite where I’d like.  So be careful about what temperature it’s cooked at.

Veal Chops Cooking

Chuleta de Ternera al Ajo Cabañil (Veal Chops, Shepherd Style)
Adapted from The Foods and Wines of Spain

2 tbsp olive oil
4 veal rib chops, about 3/4″ thick
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp chicken broth

  1. Season the veal chops with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat.  When the oil is hot, brown the chops on both sides.
  3. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, vinegar, and broth and lower the heat to low.  Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the veal chops are cooked to the desired doneness.
  4. Serve immediately with roast potatoes.

Serves 4.

Gnocchi di Ricotta con Salsiccia e Finocchi (Ricotta Gnocchi with Sausage and Fennel)

Ricotta Gnocchi

As previously mentioned, Angela and I have been in the processing of moving for the last month.  In the beginning of November, we packed up (or more precisely had movers pack up) our apartment in Long Beach, CA.  Two days later we flew to Washington Dulles and made our way to Alexandria, VA late at night, dropping off our cats with my parents on the way.

In the course of waiting for our household goods to arrive and looking for a new place, we were staying in a hotel.  While hotels are wonderful places to stay when you’re on vacation, they’re far from ideal as a residence.  I intentionally had picked a hotel that claimed it had a full kitchen.  Apparently, a full kitchen means a refrigerator, dishwasher, two electric burners, awful pots, and no oven.  My best laid plans of regularly cooking dinner there were quickly dashed if only because the pots (there was nothing that would qualify as a pan) were beyond awful.  But we did manage to eat in part of the time. And that’s one of the major reasons for lack of posts here. There simply wasn’t anything to post about (as well as some other logistical problems; I had my camera but didn’t have the computer I need to edit photos).

Toasted Fennel Seeds in a Mortar & Pestle

But that part of our moving ordeal (and what move isn’t an ordeal?) is over.  We have moved into our very own (rented) townhouse in Old Town Alexandria.  We have our cats who are still terrified and huddling in the basement.  We no longer have a dish washer.  The kitchen is tiny but I’ve appropriated the sun room for storage and a prep area.  My parents hated our old couch  that they bought us a new one.  We’ve spent more at Ikea that I’d like to admit and we still need to make another trip there.  We have our Christmas tree up.  While it may not be quite there yet, it’s slowly turning into home.

And last night, we had our first dinner guest.  My cousin Alison drove down from D.C.  Because she’s family, I had no issue with using her as a guinea pig for a new recipe.  I had purchased some ricotta at the Alexandria Farmer’s Market that I needed to use. I originally thought of ravioli but I didn’t quite have that much time on a weekday (I’m not quite set in my work schedule yet). Instead, I decided on ricotta gnocchi. I had some time to stop at a grocery store so I decided to make the full ricotta gnocchi with the suggested sauce and all.

The ricotta gnocchi were very easy to make.  Much easier than pasta or potato gnocchi.  The sauce wasn’t difficult (it’s mainly chopping) but I had problems with the Italian sausage not producing enough fat so I kept having to add olive oil.  There also wasn’t much liquid in my tomato sauce so I had to add water to the overall sauce so that the sauce could actually simmer.  This does produce a lot of sauce relative to the amount of gnocchi.  It’s almost a more Italian-American ratio than Italian but you can choose to eat as much or as little of the sauce as you choose.

If you examine the pictures, I’m pretty sure you can tell Alison’s opinion of the meal.  I heartily concur.  Alison was going to look for them at the store but they’re easy enough to make that I’d recommend making them yourself.

Ricotta Gnocchi Cooking

Gnocchi di Ricotta con Salsiccia e Finocchi (Ricotta Gnocchi with Sausage and Fennel)
Adapted from Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home

Gnocchi:

Alison enjoying Ricotta Gnocchi

1 1/2 lbs. fresh ricotta
1 cup all purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
olive oil

Sauce:

2 lbs. italian sausage, removed from casings and crumbled
1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted and ground
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
1 red onion, finely diced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 rib of celery, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce
salt and pepper
Pecorino Romano

  1. Place the ricotta in a cheese cloth lined sieve set over a bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  2. To make the gnocchi, place the drained ricotta in a bowl with the flour, eggs, parsley, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Stir together with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms.  Shape the dough into 2 tbsp balls and place them on a tea-towel covered baking sheet lightly dusted with flour.
  3. Cook the gnocchi in salted boiling water until they all float, about 7 minutes.  Place the cooked gnocchi in an ice bath and transfer them to a bowl.  Toss with olive oil and refrigerate until ready to use.
  4. In a large skillet, cook the sausage over high heat until it is lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Add olive oil if the sausage starts to stick.  Transfer the sausage to a bowl.
  5. Add the fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, onion, fennel, carrot, celery, and garlic to the pan cook until the vegetables are softened and browned, about 10 minutes.  Add olive oil if needed.
  6. Return the sausage to the pan and add the tomato sauce.  If needed, add some water to the pan.  Scrap up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes.
  7. In more boiling water, cook the gnocchi until they again float to the surface.  Transfer the gnocchi to the sauce, toss well, and cook for 1 minute more.
  8. Served topped with grated Pecorino Romano.

Serves 6.

Our Turkey at Springfield Farm

Turkeys at Springfield Farm

This is just a quick update.  We’ve moved out of Long Beach, CA and are successfully hold up in a hotel in Alexandria, VA.  We’ve been here almost two weeks.  Strangely, a “full kitchen” here only consists of two burners and no oven.  I’m beyond tired of using crappy pots (there is nothing here you can describe as a pan) on uneven burners (all the oil runs to one side) with no oven.

Our hotel sojurn is to be over soon.  We’ve applied for, and been approved to, rent a townhouse just off the mainstreet in Old Town Alexandria.  The advantages of the townhome include its location, it has a large finished basement, and has actual outdoor space (unlike our patioless apartment at Patio Gardens in California).  The disadvantage is that the kitchen is small and has no dish washer.  I plan to turn the sun room which is accessed off of the kitchen into a combination pantry and preparation area.

On a more temporally relevant note, we do get to spend Thanksgiving with family this year. I planned somewhat in advance this year and order a Narraganset turkey from Springfield Farm. The farm is only a few miles from my parents’ domicile. When we went to visit them a week and a half ago, we stopped by the farm on Sunday.  While Angela was discouraged by the cold weather, my father and I hiked the short distance up a hill to visit the turkey paddock.  By no means am I a poultry expert, but the turkeys seemed well taken care of and happy.  In particular, any time we made a loud noise, a wave gobbling would spread over the turkeys.  Unfortunately for them (but fortunately for us), the turkeys were scheduled to leave for the slaughterhouse the next day.

My parents went by this past weekend to pick up our recently deceased turkey.  I have yet to see it so I can’t comment on it yet.  I did leave instructions for my mom to use the same brine as for herb-brined roast chicken on it. We used the same brine last year and it turned out spectacularly. I’d encourage anyone to use it (in fact, my cousin Amy who we shared Thanksgiving last year with).

In any case, happy Thanksgiving to everyone.