Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pumpkin Gnocchi

I fell in love with gnocchi the first time I tasted it. I was at an Italian restaurant in Old City, and the name caught my eye, so I asked the waiter about it. He told me that it was a potato pasta, and that he highly recommended it. I ordered it, and it did not disappoint. I was hooked ever since. I soon found out it was sold frozen in grocery stores, and every so often I pick up a bag (when its on sale). I've looked at recipes in hopes of making it from scratch on several occasions, but they all seemed too intimidating. But I had some leftover canned pumpkin from when I made the last recipe, and a shot in the dark googling of "pumpkin gnocchi" yielded pay dirt. No cooking or ricing of potatoes required. As a nod to healthy eating, I based my recipe on one I found at I skipped the sauce because I had some marinara from a previous meal, and the next day I had the leftovers tossed in a bit of butter with some parmesan thrown on top. Amazing both ways.

I had shredded parmesan so I used that, though the recipe called for grated. Next time I will definitely use the grated, because some of the ends of the cheese shreds stuck out of the pasta after rolling, and it just looked weird after boiling. Still tasted great though. Also it called for an egg white, but I didn't have any eggs and I saw many recipes that skipped it, so I did as well. Another note: the dough is really sticky. You need to use a lot of flour when shaping the pasta because it will stick to your hands otherwise.

Pumpkin Gnocchi
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp each nutmeg and garlic powder
3/4 cup all purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Combine canned pumpkin with cheese and spices (you want to mix well here, before adding the flour, because once the flour is in too much mixing will cause your gnocci to be tough). Add flour, mixing until just combined. Dust work surface and hands liberally with flour. Turn dough out onto flour and split into six portions, using more flour as needed. Roll each portion into a snake about 1/2 inch thick. Chop each snake into half inch pieces. Roll each piece into an oval shape, press tines of a fork briefly into pasta to shape. To cook: Bring salted water to boil. Add gnocchi to pot a few at a time, cook until they rise to the top, about three minutes. Pull out with slotted spoon, serve with sauce of your choice.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pumpkin Cake w/Orange Glaze

It feels like winter, but technically its still fall. I found a can of pumpkin in my cabinet and immediately thought of baking with it. At first I was thinking of making a simple pumpkin bread, but as I browsed for recipes, I saw these adorable glazed pumpkin cakes in baby bundt shapes. Of course I immediately switched gears. I didn't have a baby bundt pan, so I set off in search of one. Sadly, my search was in vain. The baby bundt pans that I did find were waaaay too tiny. I already had a regular sized bundt pan, so I ended up using that for my cake, and although it isn't nearly as cute as the miniatures, it's still sort of attractive.

I adapted this cake from a recipe at I didn't have all the spices ( no allspice or cloves), so I decided to add some orange flavor in the icing in the form of zest and juice, and to add some of that flavor to the cake as well, just to make the piece more harmonious. I wanted to make it a bit healthier, so I substituted applesauce for half of the oil (the original called for a cup of oil), and cut the sugar by 1/2 cup (the original called for 2 1/2 cups). I don't like nuts in baked goods for the most part, so I skipped them. The cake turned out more like a bread in my opinion, but it was still delicious, moist and pumpkin-y. Apparently that half cup of sugar is a critical one.

Pumpkin Cake w/Orange Glaze
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 cups pumpkin puree
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 T cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 T orange juice
zest of one orange

For the Glaze
2 T orange juice
zest of one orange
1 T butter, melted
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 12 cup bundt pan. In large bowl, blend together oil, applesauce, pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, orange juice and zest. In separate bowl blend together flour, baking soda, sugar, and spices. Add flour mixture to wet mixture and mix until smooth. Pour into greased pan and bake at 350 F for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Let cool for five minutes, then invert onto plate. Let cool for 15 minutes more before glazing. To prepare Glaze: Mix butter, zest, and juice. Add sugar, stir to combine.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Zucchini-Tomato Gratin

Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables. It cooks up tender and sweet, and goes with just about any flavor you can think of. As a bonus, its really low in calories (about 30 calories for a medium sized one) and well priced (I paid 50 cents for one). I googled "zucchini recipes" and after sifting through a dozen or so, I found a recipe for Zucchini Tomato Gratin at which I used as a template. This is something that I do occasionaly when cooking; I find a recipe (or two, or three) for a dish and then use the main idea of the recipe but don't follow it exactly. Sometimes its because I don't have the ingredients on hand, but in this instance, I was just feeling adventureous. My gratin turned out pretty good, although it was a bit salty. Don't get me wrong, it was delicious, but I felt like it would have been just as delicious with a smidge less salt. When salting the vegetables, I didn't take into account the saltiness of the parmesan cheese which I would be adding later, a rookie mistake. If I was to make this again, I would only salt every other layer of vegetables, rather than each one, or skip the parmesan. Also, the cheese got a little more brown than I wanted it, so I would reduce the ten minuted after adding the cheese to five. I paired this dish with oven fried chicken and sweet corn.

Zucchini-Tomato Gratin

1 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/8 inch slices
1 tomato, sliced into 1/8-1/4 inch slices
1/2 of a medium onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 T vegetable oil
2 T mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 T parmesan cheese, shredded
Salt, pepper, and italian seasoning to taste

Spray bottom of a small baking dish with non-stick spray. Layer half of tomatoes in bottom of pan, season with salt and pepper. Combine onion and garlic, sprinkle half of this mixture evenly over tomatoes. Spread half of zucchini on top of onion mix, season with salt and pepper. Repeat layers. Drizzle oil over all, making sure to let some drip down to the lower layers. Place in a 350 F oven for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with cheeses and italian seasoning, then return to oven for 10 minutes more.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Plan

I've been in a bit of a cooking funk lately, but it hasn't always been this way. When I was younger, I cooked all the time. I watched the Food Network, suscribed to Cooking Light and Southern Living, and was always poring through my mom's cookbook collection, looking for something delicious to make. If you would have asked me then whether I could cook a dish, my reply would have been 'of course, I just have to find a recipe'. I embraced any cooking challenge. I was a chef in the making.

Fast forward a few years. Fast food and takeout have become the norm. Convenience products and processed junk have taken over my kitchen. I'm in no mood to cook, and if it takes more than ten minutes, fuggetaboutit. Never mind that the taste is mediocre. I'll just drown it in ketchup or barbecue sauce. Never mind that the fat, salt, and sugar content is astronomical. When I start eating healthy (sometime in the future)it'll all balance out. Never mind that its the same meal I had yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. I'll have something different tomorrow, I swear. Never mind that I haven't had a vegetable in six days. Never mind the weight gain, the illness, the aches and pains. Never mind all of that.

I'm on a mission people. A seemingly impossible one. I want to do a diet overhaul in almost every possible category. I want to have a diet with more variety that's healthier, less processed, cheaper, faster to prepare, and more photogenic. Some of these seem to naturally work together (ie, healthier and less processed), while some of them seem to go against each other (ie, less processed and faster). However, my goal is not to achieve perfection in any one category, and I'm aware that sometimes sacrifices will have to be made in the quality of one area over another. At the end of the day, as long as it tastes good, I'll be happy.