Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Dinner Series Part II: Not My Nonna's Gnocchi

Try saying that ten times fast!

A few weeks ago, I decided to make good on a promise I'd made Deb.  She very graciously agreed to look after our kitties in the summer while we were back in Ontario gettin' hitched... despite her pet hair allergies (uh-oh).  I honestly don't remember how we got on the topic of sweet potato gnocchi, but we did, and Deb said she wanted to try it.  So as a (belated) thank-you for watching the quadrupedal fur children, I started Googling my way to a decent-looking recipe.

I succeeded in my search.
Now, I've made gnocchi before.  Many times.  But I was VERY wary as to how this version (courtesy of, unsurprisingly, would turn out.  My mother and I share a similar stumbling block when it comes to these "little knees" (yes, that's what gnocchi means if translated literally).  Soft, sticky dough is the bane of our existence.  It's a balancing act: add too little flour and the dough becomes nigh impossible to handle and roll into the eponymous shape.  Add too much, and you end up nomming on leaden, tough dumplings once cooked.  Not good eats, either way.  I figured, with the difference in texture and moisture content between regular potatoes and the sweet variety, I could be in for a troubling time.

Pretty, fall-appropriate little orange darlings.
I was correct in my prediction, to a point.  After seeing all the caramelized, sugary juices that resulted from roasting my (massive!) sweet potato, I wondered if I might be able to get away with just a little more flour than the recipe called for.  Chilling the dough a bit also helped.  In the end, they were nice and tender, with a very distinct sweet potato colour and flavour.  I decided to dress them with a white wine butter sauce that I modified from the interwebs.  I also tossed the hot noodles and sauce with baby spinach leaves, that just wilted into the whole dish (read: I was too lazy to make a salad, so I tried to get veg in another way).  Add some shredded romano cheese, and the result was, as RR would say, "Yum-o".  Even better the next day as lunch leftovers, let me tell ya... though my coworkers were wondering what on earth I was eating.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi Florentino with White Wine Sauce
Adapted from here and here.  I love Google!

Serves four generously... we were definitely hungry!

  • 2 average-sized sweet potatoes (half a pound or 8 oz.  I weighed the massive one I had in the pantry, and it was close enough)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg (don't skip this, it really adds something!)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (Nonna typically uses cake flour for hers, but I think AP is best here)
  • 1 bag (~170 g or 6 oz) pre-washed baby spinach
  • Shredded romano, parmesan, or asiago cheese
  • 5 Tbsp (just over 1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 of a small onion, minced
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh parsley (I used my freeze-dried stuff with no ill effects)
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 3/4 cup chicken broth (not gonna lie, I only had OXO bouillon packets on hand...)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake sweet potatoes for 30 minutes, or until soft to the touch. Remove from the oven, and set aside to cool.
  2. Once the potatoes are cool enough to work with, remove the peels.  Mash them, or press them through a ricer into a large bowl. Blend in the garlic, salt, nutmeg, and egg. 
  3. Mix in the flour a little at a time until you have a soft dough. Use more or less flour as needed.  It should be only a TINY bit sticky.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. 
  5. While you wait for the water, make the gnocchi. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1 cm or ~1/2 inch thickness.  Cut strips of dough about 1 cm or ~1/2 inch wide.  Lightly flour the cut sides of the strips.  Now cut the strips into cubes, again about 1 cm or ~1/2 inch wide.  You don't have to be precise.
  6. Roll the cubes of dough along the tines of a dinner fork, pressing with your index and middle finger to create an indent.  If this makes no sense to you at all, try watching this:

    Alternatively, you can just put the unrolled cubes into the water... but I'll be disappointed.
  7. Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water, and allow them to cook until they float to the surface. Remove the floating pieces with a slotted spoon, and keep warm in a large serving bowl.  Toss the hot noodles with the fresh spinach, covering the bowl with a lid or plate to trap the heat and wilt the leaves.
  8. For the sauce, heat 1 Tbsp of butter in a medium saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the minced onion, parsley, basil, and thyme. Stir frequently and cook for about 1 minute. Add the salt and white pepper and stir.
  9. Add the white wine and bring to a boil; turn the heat down to a simmer and reduce the liquid by half.
  10. Add the chicken stock and again bring to a boil, turning down the heat once the boiling point is reached and reducing the liquid by half.  This should take about 7-10 minutes.
  11. Add the remaining 4 Tbsp butter a few pieces at a time, while constantly whisking the sauce to thoroughly incorporate the butter.  Check for seasoning.
  12. Immediately toss the sauce with the gnocchi in the serving bowl.  Top with a generous sprinkling of cheese.
  13. Enjoy hot with some white wine and good friends!

Not the greatest pictures, but I was too hungry to perfect a shot!!
Overall, I'm quite pleased with how these turned out, and I'll definitely be making them again.  Maybe, if I pluck up enough courage, I'll make them for Nonna and see what she thinks!

Off to put the finishing touches on THIS Sunday's dinner,

Sunday Dinner Series

Ahh, the adjustment to married life continues.  Not that it's a big adjustment, mind you, but it does give me an excuse to cook up some dinners that take a little extra time, thought, and love.  This was a rare occurrence when I was living alone, but now that Hubs is here, it seems appropriate to lay the groundwork for a well-loved tradition: Sunday dinner.

Sundays were very important days in my house growing up.  Of course, the day would start bright and early with a Roman Catholic service.  Once we were old enough to not throw hissy fits in the store, this would be immediately followed by grocery shopping, since the large grocery store was across the street from our church.  I have some great memories of food shopping with the family, which eventually turned into waving hello from behind the deli counter as I rushed to work at the store immediately following mass.

Just had to include a shout-out to St. Paul's, even though my old elementary school next door is now a pharmacy...
It was a rare Sunday where we didn't make a special dinner (or "lupper", as my dad usually calls it, since we typically ate around 2-3 pm).  Nonna would often be invited over to dine with us as well.  Things like pot roasts with root vegetables, homemade egg-based pasta or gnocchi with meatballs and long-simmered sauce, beef stew, oven-roasted chicken pieces in some sort of delicious sauce, or barbecued ribs or pork loin in the summer would be the typical fare.  It wasn't just the food that was important, though... it was the sense of togetherness and family.

So, now that I've officially started our own little family, I'm finding that I'm gravitating towards a similar tradition in our one-bedroom apartment.  Our dear friend/neighbor Deb often fills the role of Nonna, coming over to share with us and visit.  The past few weeks, I've really enjoyed my Sunday creations... enter the Sunday Dinner Series on A Weekend, In Food!

Part I: Can't Beet This!

Blame my father for my terrible puns.  I'm just a product of my environment.
Manitoba.  Beets.  They're kind of a "thing" here.  I've seen them on all sorts of upscale restaurant menus: in hummus, on burgers, etc.  I honestly didn't really grow up eating them.  I do remember trying the pickled variety at one point, but they weren't a staple.  I saw some lovely local bunches at the market, and couldn't resist trying them.  I'd heard that they became very sweet when roasted, so I followed this recipe from to give it a shot. 

"Breadmaker bread", on the other hand, WAS a staple for Sunday dinners.  I can distinctly remember filling up the machine's "pail" with all the necessary ingredients and lugging it downstairs.  Magically, some hours later, bread emerged.  To a 12-year-old, this is pretty amazing.  My grandmother always marveled at how much we loved it, hot from the appliance, commenting, "you seem to like it so much that you don't even put butter on it!"  True enough.  The fresh flavour was all we needed.  I bought a breadmaker from a yard sale for a bank-breaking five dollars... and produced this lovely half-white, half-whole-wheat loaf to accompany our dinner.  I think the recipe produced a bit too much dough for my machine, though, as you can see by the "mushroom top" loaf that resulted.  I didn't have any bread flour, so I used 2 cups of all-purpose and 1 cup of whole wheat flour in this (again, recipe.  Good results overall, and very simple to pull off.

Now what to do for the main?  Pork tenderloin has become a pretty frequent Sunday dinner star.  Now, I love my father to the very depths of my heart.  Really.  But his PTs are frequently seasoned with his special "rub"... which I'm convinced consists of a generous dumping of every spice and herb in the rack.  Even those that might not...err... "play nicely" together on the palate.  I will admit, though, that it forms a good, functional crust on the meat when he grills it on the barbecue.  Being 'cue-less, and preferring time-honoured combinations like oregano, garlic, and olive oil on my pork, I followed this recipe to make both roasted potatoes and a Mediterranean-inspired oven roasted pork tenderloin, with delicious results.  Three-for-three for!  It's becoming a good friend for hearty, down-home flavour ideas.

Mmm, pork.  A little bit pink in the middle, just the way I like it... which is PERFECTLY SAFE by today's swine-rearing standards.
Wondering what I did with the roasted beets?  I tossed them with mixed greens and feta, then drizzled with an olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper vinaigrette.  Hello salad course!!
A delicious plate overall.
I'm really hoping that nice Sunday dinners become a tradition in our family, especially as it expands (NOT YET!) with children.  Even though our lives aren't super-hectic at the moment, it's still nice to set aside time to sit down and really enjoy a nice, well-prepared meal that takes a bit more effort than our standard weeknight stir-frys and pastas.  Stay tuned for further installations of the Sunday Dinner Series, and let me know how I'm doing!!

Part professional, part aspiring household/gastronomic goddess, I remain,

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

G is for Goulash... and Great food.

I am, at this very moment, suffering from a small case of "didn't read the recipe right-itis" in the kitchen.  It's resulting in a bit of a cookie disaster.  So, to save face (and boost my self-esteem before attempting THIS for Thanksgiving weekend), I thought I'd post a recent recipe that worked really, REALLY well.

What with the recent nuptials, I'm now quite flush with some absolutely fantastic kitchen items thanks to the amazing generosity of my family and friends.  My Aunt Marilyn bestowed upon me a most unexpected but incredibly welcome gift: a gorgeous blue Le Creuset oval Dutch oven.  This thing is tops.  Seriously (and Ni tells me she was all stressed out, worried that I wouldn't like it!).  I'm only recently coming to understand the beauty of being able to take an item from the stovetop to the oven, and this piece definitely delivers in that category.  And when not in use, it graces the baking rack/dining room display that I had to commandeer from Hubs to store the overflow of kitchen goodness.  It even matches the décor around here (such as it is)!

There it is... my precious... Right next to the wine cooler from Karm, the brie baker from Deb, and the candles from Aunt Mary Jane!
Alright, enough drooling over crockery.  Many months ago, I bought a large piece of nondescript beef with the idea that I would cook up something nice and slow-roasted for Hubs once he moved out here.  It sat in the back of the freezer for longer than I would have liked.  At long last, I decided to bring the beef out to take it for a spin in the new Dutch oven.

Carrot, beef, and noodle close-up.
Our best man lives out in Alberta, though his parents are still in Windsor.  His dear mum Jane made it to our wedding shower and gave me a fantastic (and heavy!) tome: The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook.  Now I must confess: having access to only Food Network CANADA, I'd never seen an episode of America's Test Kitchen.  Upon reading, though, I could instantly get behind their philosophy of perfecting classic dishes for the home cook with an almost scientific approach.  I read this book before bed now.  I think it'll become a new favourite!

The picture from the cookbook (also from  I think I managed to match it!
I initially wanted to make a pot roast, but realized I had beef eye of round as opposed to chuck roast.  Delicious, yes, but didn't have enough fat for roasting.  Simmering in a paprika sauce, however, seemed more fitting.  So I turned to their Hungarian Beef Stew recipe and adapted it just a touch (given that we're only two people).  You can hit the link above and register on the website for the "original" recipe (the history/background/explanation is free!), or you can see what I did below:

Hungarian Beef Stew
Adapted (barely) from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook
Serves 4 (or 2 with leftovers for lunch!)
  • 1 boneless eye of round beef roast (about 2 pounds or ~900 grams), trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • Table salt
  • 1 12oz. jar roasted red peppers (or if you're like my dad, roast a couple of your own), drained and rinsed, about 1 cup
  • 1/2 cup sweet (not smoked, not hot) paprika, fresh if possible (I bought a new package)
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tsp white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 medium onions, minced (about 4 cups)- I got lazy and just chucked them in the food processor fitted with the blade and whizzed them until well chopped
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup beef broth, warmed
  • Ground black pepper
  • Cooked buttered egg noodles tossed with chopped parsley, for serving (just look at the package directions for your egg noodles, I know you'll figure it out!)
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat to 325ºF.  Sprinkle the meat evenly with 1 tsp salt and let stand for 15 minutes.
  2. Process the roasted peppers, paprika, tomato paste, and 2 tsp of the vinegar in a food processor until smooth, 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed.
  3. Combine the oil, onions, and 1 tsp salt in a large Dutch oven (yay!); cover and set over medium heat on the stove.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened but have not yet begun to brown, 8-10 minutes.  If the onions start to brown, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in 1 Tbsp water.
  4. Stir in the paprika mixture; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions stick to the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes.  Add the beef, carrots, and bay leaf; stir until the beef is well-coated.  Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the pot.
  5. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven.  Cook until the meat is almost tender and the surface of the liquid is 1/2 inch below the top of the meat, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the pot from the oven and add enough beef broth that the surface of the liquid is 1/4 inch from the top of the meat (the beef should not be fully submerged).  Return the covered pot to the oven and continue to cook until the meat is fork-tender, about 30 minutes longer
  7. Skim the fat off the surface using a wide spoon (I didn't really have a fat layer to deal with); stir in the remaining teaspoon of vinegar.  Remove the bay leaf, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve on your delicious buttered egg noodles!
 This made for a really nice Sunday dinner with the dude, which seems to be becoming a new trend.  He takes care of quick weeknight meals, and I enjoy my kitchen time on weekends to serve up some good slow comfort food.  It's really a win-win... hooray for teamwork!

Hoping all goes well with her first gumbo attempt on Saturday (and praying that the dark roux won't burn down the kitchen),

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Apples to apples

I suffered one of life's disappointments this past week.  One of those that makes you question your confidence and competence.  So what did I do?  Turned to the pots, pans, and a stick of butter for solace (after assuring my mother that I find no comfort at the bottom of a bottle...)

The harvest season is most definitely upon us.  The weather let up by giving us some nice temperatures this weekend, but there's no turning the leaves back to green.  Speaking of, my coworker's apple tree seems to have produced a bumper crop of tiny, tart little apples that she brought to work to share.

So cute and little!!  Maybe 5 cm in diameter, at best.
I had tempted poor Hubs with the idea of an apple pancake yesterday, but wound up feeling too tired and out of sorts to pull it off (instead, we grabbed stuff from 7-Eleven on our walk back from my dentist appointment, and he had his first Winnipeg Slurpee!  A milestone!!)  I felt it would be cruel to not deliver the promised pancake today.  I decided to get a little fancier than usual, though.  Typically I just chop up apples and mix the pieces into typical pancake batter.  Today, I decided to recreate a tasty treat I tried at the famous Pancake House chain... the German apple pancake.

Apples cooking in caramelized spiced sugar and butter.
One big pancake for two, comin' up!  It's an 11" pan, to give you a frame of reference.
Close up goodness- crispy-but-fluffy batter, soft apples, and lots of sugar, spice and all things nice.  I know, I'm terrible.
It's basically a pancake started by cooking apples in butter, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg on the stovetop (how can you go wrong?!), adding a rather eggy, runny batter, and baking in a hot oven.  A bit more prep time than what my usual apple pancakes require, but SO worth it in the end. has become one of my new best friends for inspiration, and they didn't let me down here!  Plus, it gave me an excuse to test-drive my new ovenproof skillet.  And I didn't burn my hands once!  Hurray!

Yes, I use President's Choice 15% real maple syrup table syrup.  Sorry for all you out there who think Canadians drink maple syrup by the litre... but I find the commercial varieties, while delicious, to be too runny (and too expensive) for my liking.  This is the best of both worlds for me.  Don't judge.
The next order of business was to use up some apples that have languished in my crisper for too long to be eaten out of hand.  They were Royal Galas, which my chem teacher once referred to as, "The dessert apple".  How could I interfere with that destiny??  Plus, I had yet to use my fluted tart pan for an actual tart (I've used it for something else, but I'll post that another time).

My other new friend in the online recipe world is  Now, I don't consider myself a beginner when it comes to baking, but there's something reassuring about seeing a recipe with an accompanying how-to video.  Sort of makes the whole process seem idiot-proof.  That was the case for this cream cheese apple tart with a shortbread crust base.  I wanted something to accompany the pumpkin pie ice cream I whipped up at Hubs' behest (recipe pending!)  How often does that happen?  Requesting an ice cream, then making the dessert to match it?

Please excuse my messy stovetop.  It's clean now, I promise!
Overall, I'd say both of these were a success.  I thought Hubs might enjoy the cheesecake-like filling for the tart; turns out I was right.  It was a great dessert to finish of a meal with our dear friend Deb while watching Netflix and drinking more wine than is probably recommended on a "work night".  Oops.

Planning to extend the harvest baking theme to a pumpkin-fest for next weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving, yay!),