gnocchi gratin with spinach and gorgonzola

You can bake gnocchi. Did you know that? I did not know that. I almost feel a little hurt, like the people who knew that you can bake gnocchi were keeping a VERY IMPORTANT SECRET from me.

A few weeks ago, I made gnocchi from scratch, and I was so proud of myself. While it didn’t turn out perfectly, I think I’ve discovered the perfect application for imperfect gnocchi.

I stashed half of the imperfect homemade gnocchi in the freezer, and it waited there for a cooking method and a gooey sauce that would make it sing. Show tunes.

Sing out, Louise!

The frozen gnocchi is boiled, browned in butter, tossed in cheese sauce, and baked. At that point, you may inquire as to the gnocchi’s status. Is the gnocchi seeing anyone? Does the gnocchi maybe want to get together for drinks?

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Italian Wedding Soup

My friends Brian and Benji were married on 10-10-10 in a perfectly sweet ceremony with an adorable Muppets-themed reception, and I made Italian Wedding Soup for lunch that day.

I wish I could say that I made the soup in honor of their union, but really, I just love soup.

This is a perfect fall soup – warm and comforting – and a pretty reasonably priced one-dish meal. Also? Tiny meatballs are adorable.

I substituted parsnips for the more traditional carrots and they were wonderful – creamy, just a little bit sweet, and a perfect complement to the buttery fresh dill.

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carrot and walnut muffins

I adore breakfast. Pancakes with maple syrup, crumbly scones, fresh fruit, smoky bacon, eggs with runny yolks and toast to dip in it like fondue. I love it all.

And yet I rarely make time to eat a proper breakfast in the morning. In fact, breakfast is so regularly neglected in my house, that I’m a little surprised it hasn’t yet asked for its CDs back.

I’m not a morning person. Most mornings I eat breakfast at my desk at work, and by breakfast, I mean a mug of instant oatmeal.

On work days, I need a breakfast that’s tasty and portable. And that’s exactly what I found in these carrot and walnut muffins.

The secret to moist muffins is conjoined yolks.

They’re sweet, fluffy, moist, and robust. I hesitate to even call them muffins. They’re more like unfrosted cupcakes that one can eat in the morning, if one is providing extra special, loving self-care.

One day I’ll use this very muffin recipe to make carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, perhaps topped with candied cumquat slices. The cake? Will be exactly the same.

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prosciutto-wrapped honeyed pears and arugula

Last week, my leftovers were so fancy, I had to put earrings on.

I made myself a schmancy-ass pizza, so I had schmancy-ass leftovers. Handsome Greg brought pasta from D’Amico for our standing Saturday night date, and I MacGyvered my leftover prosciutto, pear, and arugula into an adorable appetizer.

I wanted to do a simple bite – pear slices and arugula wrapped in prosciutto – but the pear was quite under ripe. It worked fine roasted on a pizza, but it was not all that palatable raw. So I decided to sear the pear slices in olive oil and braise them in honey.

The resulting bite was delicious, but very soft. I would’ve liked a little something crispy in there. Next time, I’d start with a ripe bosc pear, drizzle it with honey, and keep it raw. As prepared below, I thought it could’ve used a bit more salt in the pears, and maybe a pinch of red pepper flakes.

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Toblerone Cupcakes

Friends, I have some disturbing news: I’ve joined the seedy world of online competitive baking. Is it time for a kitchen carefrontation?

I’d been following Cupcake Hero, intrigued by the wild concoctions devised by the cupcake Iron Chefs. I mean, Raspberry Rose Lychee Cupcakes? Jalapeño Jelly Cupcakes with Pineapple Cream Cheese Frosting?

I finally worked up the nerve to enter, and just in time for October’s feature ingredient: honey. I’d been interested in making a Toblerone cupcake for some time, and Cupcake Hero provided the perfect opportunity to showcase the honey-laced Swiss chocolate bar.

If you’ve never had a Toblerone, well, you obviously haven’t been to German camp. I was there in 1987, and it was all the rage, as was 99 Luftballons.

A Toblerone bar is creamy milk chocolate with chewy bits of honey almond nougat, in a row of peaks like tiny, delicious Swiss Alps.

My Toblerone-inspired cupcake starts with a moist, dense chocolate cake, peppered with gooey Toblerone chunks. The cake is frosted with sweet honey buttercream, and topped with salty honey roasted almonds.

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bacon scallion cornbread muffins with cheddar and honey butter

Dear Cornbread,

I will not let you break me.


These muffins had everything going for them: cheese, bacon, honey butter, bacon. I took all those things for granted.


The original recipe came from Cook’s Illustrated, and it called for cornmeal, as nearly all corn bread recipes do. I didn’t have cornmeal, but I did have corn flour. I took a chance and substituted one for the other (WHAT?! Improvised baking!), and they turned out… mostly fine.

(I also substituted brown sugar for granulated sugar, and bacon fat for some of the butter. I’m truly living on the edge.)


Fresh out of the oven they were wonderful – maybe a little less coarse than regular cornbread, but awfully tasty.

Upon reheating, the texture was off – a little rubbery, somehow. The flavor was great, and the whipped honey butter was earnest in masking the texture funk, but they still weren’t good enough for company.

When I toothpick-tested them, they seemed underdone. So I put them back in the oven, and they got a lot darker than I wanted, and yeah. Rubbery. Next time I’ll make them smaller, and take them out sooner.

I was punished for my recklessness with rubbery corn muffins. But I’ll make the adjustments and try this cornbread again.

Goonies never say die!

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spicy chicken, black bean, and grilled corn soup

Handsome Greg and I went to Mexico two years ago, and I came home with the worst cold evah, right about the time we were all just hearing about swine flu.

(I did not have swine flu.)

I was fine for most of our vacation, but two days before we left Mazatlan for home, I woke up in our hotel room with a sore throat, a stuffy nose, and a lingering cough that made me want to gargle in my lungs.

There were a few things that comforted me in those I-can’t-believe-I’m-sick-on-vacation days: travel Scrabble on the balcony with Greg, the wholehearted sun (in March, you guys), the ocean lapping at my feet, and the tortilla soup at the hotel restaurant on the beach.

Until I tried the tortilla soup at the Hotel Playa Mazatlan, I’d never believed in the magical healing power of chicken soup. But this soup. This was the kind of soup that divides your life into Before Tortilla Soup and After Tortilla Soup.

The soup I had at the Hotel Playa Mazatlan started with a bowl of freshly fried tortilla strips, queso fresco, and avocado. A steaming, spicy, smoky chicken broth was poured over the fresh ingredients, melting the cheese and softening the tortillas. Then bright, fresh cilantro was snipped on top.

While I could never dream of recreating the Mexico soup made of fireworks and lullabies and unicorns, I was inspired to make my own spicy chicken soup. The soup I make in my kitchen is cheap and tasty and filling. It’s not going to blow your head off with heat, but my Midwestern palette finds it warming all the way down, like a scotch neat.

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meatloaf variations for the spinster aunt

I’m a spinster aunt, so I do a lot of cooking for one. I’ll make a big dish of something on Sunday afternoons, and bring it for lunch every day for the coming week. It’s convenient, cheap, and generally pretty healthy, but lately I’ve found myself stifled creatively by this arrangement. If I make something with a very distinct flavor, say rosemary, then by Wednesday I never want to eat rosemary again. So I end up using inoffensive, nondescript flavors that I know won’t grate on me in a couple days.

I am in a cooking rut.

There were no pretty pictures of the meatloaf.

So in an effort to avoid a mid-week lunch mutiny (i.e. trip to Subway for a turkey sammich), I decided to make three different varieties of meatloaf this week, and bake them up as adorable meatloaf cupcakes.

The timing is perfect, really. The heat just kicked on in my apartment building this week, which can only mean one thing: it’s gravy season! The heater sounds like it’s trying to reach me via Morse code through the entire night, so I’ve been in a grumpy, sleep-deprived mood for days that only the gravy can soothe.

I would’ve liked to have used a sautéed onion, but I didn’t have any. So I took my original recipe and added onion powder and olive oil.

Day One I ate the BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger loaf. It tasted just like a BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, without the bun. It’s moist, gooey, sweet, smoky, and salty.

I ate the Sun-dried Tomato and Goat Cheese loaf on Day Two, and it didn’t fare quite as well as leftovers. The flavors were fantastic, but the texture was not as great as it was the night before. It was drier, and a little crumbly.

On Day Three, I tried the Honey Chipotle loaf. I wanted to avoid the leftover texture issues I experienced the day before, so I cut the microwave reheating time in half. That absolutely solved the problem. While Day Three meatloaf was not quite as succulent as fresh-out-of-the-oven meatloaf, it was far better than the Day Two microwaved-into-submission meatloaf.

The Honey Chipotle meatloaf had other issues, though. I was concerned that it would be too spicy, too smoky, or too sweet, so I only used 1/2 teaspoon each of the honey and chipotle sauce. The chipotle left the tiniest sensation of heat in my mouth, but was otherwise undetectable. There was no sweetness at all. Next time I make this recipe, I will double both the honey and the chipotle. I might also add a tablespoon of chopped cilantro for a little freshness.

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prosciutto, pear, and goat cheese pizza with arugula and wild blackberry honey

In the one short month since I began blogging about what I’m cooking, the way I cook and eat has already changed. Rather than cooking my usual fare and then writing about it, I’m thinking about what would make a good blog post, what would make a pretty photograph, and then cooking it.

Last Friday, I had a quiet evening in by myself. I was planning to heat up the last of the pasta e fagioli for dinner (and eat it on the couch directly from the plastic container), when I remembered that leftover pizza dough in the freezer from the fried parmesan croutons.

I went a little wild. I decided to make a nice, pretty pizza with rather extravagant toppings. Just for me. I know!

I had a travel-size bottle of the world’s most delicious wild blackberry honey to drizzle on top. Mom brought it back for me when she was visiting my brother and his family in Seattle last summer, and I’d been saving it in the pantry for something special. I ran to Rainbow and picked up a bosc pear, a few slices of prosciutto (yeah, you can buy prosciutto by the slice at the deli counter–don’t judge), arugula, and goat cheese.

And I made myself a perfectly lovely little pizza, that I ate at the dining room table, using my nice dishes, wearing pants. OK, sweatpants. But still!

It felt a little funny to prepare such a nice little pizza when I had no company to share it with, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Jenni Ferrari-Adler summed it up perfectly in her intro to Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant:

A good meal is like a present, and it can feel goofy, at best, to give yourself a present. On the other hand, there is something life affirming in taking the trouble to feed yourself well, or even decently. Cooking for yourself allows you to be strange or decadent or both. The chances of you liking what you made are high, but if it winds up being disgusting, you can always throw it away and order a pizza; no one will ever know.

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Pasta e Fagioli

Bacon is my favorite color.

pasta e fagioli

If not for the bacon – the heroic bacon – this would be an entirely beige bowl of soup.

Bacon

I made this soup on one of the first cool, crisp days of the fall, and it was just what I needed: a little spicy, comforting, and oh-my-god-is-it-payday-yet cheap. The priciest ingredient used is the bacon, but with only three slices of bacon for 5-6 servings, it’s still a bargain. The bacon (yeah, I’m still talking about bacon) adds a smoky and savory depth to an otherwise plain soup.

Beans

But the hardworking protein source in this hearty soup is the creamy (and cheap!) cannellini beans. I absolutely love cannellini beans. They’re so smooth – they’re like bean-flavored butter.

The ridged macaroni fills out this soup perfectly. I made a big pot of pasta e fagioli on Sunday afternoon for my lunch the following week. I cooked all the pasta right away, but stored it in the fridge tossed with a tiny bit of olive oil separately from the rest of the soup, to keep it firm. Each morning I ladled out some soup into a plastic container and topped it with a handful of pasta. The texture of the soup and the pasta remained perfectly intact.

Recipe below the fold.

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