Sunday, October 30, 2011

Silent Sunday - Watching a Pastaio at Work


I had such a great experience learning how to make gnocchi with Mike Easton of Il Corvo Pasta; not just because I learned how to make a dish that will become a part of my culinary repertoire, but because I had the opportunity to watch a craftsman at work.

After my gnocchi lesson was done, Mike let me hang out and watch him make the pasta for that day’s lunch service.

















Not to be sappy, but there were moments when I felt like I was watching a graceful man lead his lady around the dance floor; sliding back and forth on the flour-dusted floor, easing the two simple ingredients of flour and egg into delicate blond strands of pasta.

Very cool.


Santé

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Celebrating the Season - Pumpkins

Lorelei and I are very lucky to live where we do. In less than forty minutes we can be far away from the city mucking around in mud looking for the perfect pumpkin.




And now something you rarely see on this blog...


Me
 
This Saturday we'll be carving up our bounty, lapping up biscuits and gravy and munching on chocolate shortbread cookies.

Until then, I hope you're enjoying your October.


Santé

Monday, October 24, 2011

Coming up - A meeting with a Butcher

This recovered vegetarian is meeting with a butcher tomorrow to get (and share) some pointers on how to break down a chicken and ask some questions that I've had for a very long time. Here's hoping that it'll be informative for you as well as me.

In the interim, I know that I've got a lot of new people visiting this blog (Hi!), so I'd like to share with you a little about me; philosophies of a single foodie mom, if you will.

Please enjoy:




Santé

Friday, October 21, 2011

Blog of the Month on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution... Yahoooo!

I received the news Wednesday that this blog, my little blog, was selected by Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution as Blog of the Month.

Holy Cr... er, I mean, WOW!!!!! 

I am honored and grateful for the recognition. In light of that, I would like to repost a piece that I wrote in June.
________________________

A Call the Table

I've had a couple of conversations in the last week that have made me look closer at how I see American food culture and how we feed our children.  I've been told by a chef friend, whose opinion I respect especially when it comes to food, that my style of parenting in regard to the subject is an anomaly; that most parents would sooner stop at a drive through than cook a simple meal, or dole out fruit cups rather than hand their child an actual piece of fruit.  When I tell other friends about this, they agree with him.

I must admit.  I am BAFFLED.

When we were kids, didn't our parents tell us that we had to sit at the table to eat our dinner? Didn't we have to eat what was served us? Didn't we have to say please and thank you and use our napkins?

I suppose I take the tack from old-fashioned values in that I don't see myself as my child's friend. I am her parent, her guide, her confidant, her support.  It's my job to teach her how to be a good person, how to be a good citizen, and how to take care of herself in every regard.

So, where does our journey of teaching our children start?  What do children learn about first?

FOOD.

Food is the first thing kids have contact with from the time they're born. Their tastes and preferences are guided by what their parents give them. If you feed your baby the same thing every day, they'll be more likely to refuse something new. If you hand an infant something with a wrinkled nose and say, "Try this" they'll take a cue from you and turn away from it. But, if you introduce food to your child as if variety were rote, this will be their norm.

I very rarely feed my daughter the same thing twice. Truthfully this is more a function of the fact that I never really cook anything the same way twice (I'm scattered like that), but it's also because I don't want her to get stuck in a rut. For instance, I never give her the same after school snack two days in a row or give her the same kind of bread for her morning toast week after week.

This weekend was proof positive that what I'm teaching my daughter is taking effect. On our way out of town for a much-needed getaway, we stopped at the store for some essentials. In a rush to get to our little vacation destination, I went to the deli counter where I asked her what she wanted. There were pre-made sandwiches and wraps, but she pointed at the fruit and cheese cup.  (I though to myself, 'Yes! Good Girl!!') Later that night corn on the cob was served with dinner. I've always been indifferent to corn, so I've never cooked it at home, but Lorelei couldn't get enough. She's not afraid to try something new, and I love that!! And I can't help but think that this is due to my efforts in opening up the world of food to her.

Now, I'm not saying that I disagree with my chef friend's opinion. I can see where he's hit the mark. I've recently witnessed parents saying to other parents, "Well, he's young. He'll learn how to behave later." I've read entire blog posts by parents who refuse to take their toddlers to dinner at a restaurant for fear of how the child will behave.

Unbelievable.

The thing that really gets me, though, is that the HUGE push by our government, our First Lady (Michelle Obama), Jamie Oliver's Food Foundation, even major fast food chains to change the way we see food and feeding our kids has seemingly had no effect. How is this possible?! Are parents so selfish and lazy that they can't change their habits to make a good example for their children?

The sad answer is yes.

Case in point: I wait tables. It's a nice restaurant, but not so fancy that kids can't eat what we serve. I had a mother and father come in the other day asking if we had a children's menu. I said that we didn't but that "everything on our menu is edible, and my kid eats here all the time." Both statements are very true. The parents seemed amenable but the little girl, who couldn't have been more than eight and was already terribly overweight, decided that the family wouldn't be eating in my restaurant. And so they left.

The point of this blog post is not to preach. It's more to share my astonishment of people's willingness to fall prey to convenience and their unwillingness to fight The Good Fight. This path that I've chosen is not an easy one. I struggle like anyone with what I should cook for dinner, how the hell I'm going to find time to make that recipe which calls for ingredients that will cost me a fortune and that will spoil in my fridge because it's only sold in giant portions, and how on Earth am I going to use leftovers, so they don't taste like the last three meals we've had.

Maybe Jamie Oliver is right. Start with the kids because the parents are already lost. Teach our children how to eat better so that they can make a difference for their kids.

I'd like to take it one step further; let's learn from our forefathers. Let's look at our current food culture that's descended from the American food culture of the 1950's when frozen dinners and convenient packaging became the craze. Before that, we sat at the dinner table—not in front of the TV—every night, at the same time with our families; when food was cooked by fire and not by microwaves. When things were not easy, but simple.

Let's have a Call To Table.

Let's stop walking and driving while we eat and drink. Let's sit across from one another to share the stories of our days, and tell the stories of our past. Let's laugh, teach, and learn from and with one another

I may be an anomaly. And if I am, I'm happy for it. If you care to follow my lead, I have my pipe, and I'll play it loudly and dance while I'm doing it.

I wish you well in your journey and strongly encourage you to taste something new today.

________________________


Let me know what you think in the comments below. And thanks for reading!

Santé


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gnocchi - Part 2, Making it at Home With My Babes

After my last post you may be thinking,

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. So a Chef specializing in making pasta showed you how to make gnocchi. I didn't see your hands in there. You didn't make anything. What does that have to do with me cooking at home for myself, my kid(s), or my family and friends?!"

My dear readers, everything!

The point of this series is to show you that if I can cook it, you can too... and your monkeys can help!

(As a reminder, this is a follow up post to Part 1. The formula for the gnocchi dough and instructions on how to form and cook the gnocchi are all here. I am of course happy to answer any questions that you may have, chances are though that your question will be answered in the last post.)

I met with Mike of Il Corvo Pasta a couple of Thursdays ago for our interview and gnocchi tutorial. I had planned to try my hand at making gnocchi the following Saturday, but I got busy... then this and that happened... you know... forgetaboutit!!

Then, both Lorelei and I ended up having to stay home sick last Friday. I decided that this was a good time for us to make our gnocchi; a comforting and definitely entertaining dish to make. We turned off princess movies and SpongeBob for a while and cooked together.

There wasn't much to it, reallty; I followed the steps that Mike had laid out:
Boil the potatoes, skin-on.

Peel them while they are still hot.
Then pass them through a ricer/food mill and let them sit out at room temperature for two hours or so to let them cool down and dehydrate a bit.
I know, not nearly as fluffy and Mike's, but not bad, huh? Huh?
*Disclaimer: I work at a restaurant and I am very lucky to have supportive bosses who let me borrow equipment when I need it for a recipe. I don't own a ricer/food mill nor do I own a scale of any sort, which will be needed in the next steps. (Ok, I own a bathroom scale that lives in my kitchen near the sliding glass door just waiting to be chucked out into nature if it ever gives me the wrong answer. Frankly, after a week of eating pasta because of this post, its time is regrettably coming.)

Moving on.

I let the riced potatoes sit out for as long as I was patient, then I began to pass my fork back and forth through them hoping to High Hell that they would fluff up as nicely as Mike's had.

No go. 

There was no freaking way that those potatoes were going to be as 'delicately fluffy' as they were at Il Corvo that cloudy yet red-neon-light-drenched morning. (You just have to read my last post to get where I'm going with this imagery. Here, go now.) I'm not sure what I did differently, but I had faith in myself and in the fact that it was only three potatoes; if nothing else I could mash them and serve 'em up with a chicken.

So, seeing that the 'fluff factor' was going to elude me, I did what any semi-sick, impatient, half-way asleep-from-Nyquil in the daytime mom would have done: I put the damn things in the oven thinking to myself, actually bellowing out loud, 

"Dry damn you! Dry!!"

I'm fairly certain that those potatoes heard me, because after fifteen to twenty minutes in a 200º oven (and with careful tending) they came out great!!

The next steps were easy. I placed the potatoes in a large bowl, "zeroed" out the scale, weighed them, added 1 egg per 300 grams of potatoes, then added one half of the total weight of the potato/egg mixture of flour and carried on (as seen in the last post. Wanna go there again? It's like magic!! Here)

The best part about making these gnocchi at home was kneading the dough, rolling it out into long snakes, and cutting them into bite-sized pieces with Lorelei.
My little girl really wanted to help. She pulled up a chair, grabbed the apron that her Grannie made for her, got her hands in the dough, rolled out the snakes like a pro, and cut them into pieces with her own tool.

"No mom. No, no. Like this." she said, all the while pushing my hands out of the way to get to her work. Chop, chop, chop.

She LOVED helping make this dinner; which meant that she would really enjoy eating it too. (By the way, I gave her a wooden bench scraper as her cutting tool. Plastic bench scrapers are available for a couple of bucks in kitchen supply stores and work just as well.)
 
Note: One thing that I really want to stress about this last step, the cutting of the snakes into the final pieces of gnocchi step, is that you really need to have plenty of flour on hand to dust the freshly-cut pieces so that they don't stick together. You can't use too much flour at this point. The gnocchi won't get too dry or gummy; they'll get gummy of you don't use the flour.

When the dough was all cut and ready, I boiled up the little pillows and tossed them in a simple sauce: here I sauteed some chanterelle  mushrooms with some shallots, chicken stock, salt and pepper and butter to finish.

Truth be told, at this point it wasn't about the sauce; it could have been just olive oil and herbs. What really mattered was that Lorelei and I had spent some creative, productive, and cuddle-filled time together. The bonus was the gnocchi.

Thanks again, Mike, for the lesson on how to make a yummy dinner that is certain to please many for a long time and for the foresight of knowing that making gnocchi is at least a two-person job.

Mom's Tip
You may notice in the pictures of Lorelei working that the fruit was covered with plastic. Yes, I am an awesome mom and had the foresight to cover things knowing that flour and dough would fly. And it did. I did not, however, think about the floor. I would recommend a drop cloth. 'Nuf said on that topic, huh? 


Santé

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gnocchi - Part 1: Lessons from a Pastaio




Pastaio - Pasta Maker


My big mouth has been working for me lately; a refreshing change from the norm, I must say. Remember how I mentioned Mike Easton in my Braised Short Ribs post? The guy who owns Il Corvo Pasta in Seattle? The guy who told me how I should have made that thick, amazing sauce? Well, he came into my restaurant again last week. After a little bit of chitchat my big mouth blurted out,

“Will you show me how to make pasta and maybe do an interview for my blog?”

He said, "Sure! But instead of pasta, let's do gnocchi. How about Thursday morning?"

It’s either dumb luck or I’m truly following my heart these days because at that moment I knew that this was going to be the beginning of a series of tutorials and interviews that I will be doing with chefs, craftsmen, and artisans in order to learn how I can recreate some of my favorite things at home… and for Lorelei.

Bright and early last Thursday morning I found myself in the quaint little shop that Mike shares with a gelateria just below the Pike Place Market. As I walked in, the red neon Procopio sign mounted on a wall-to-wall mirror behind the counter cast a warm glow on the place; a welcome contrast to the gray Seattle morning. With a quick, “Hello. Good morning” Mike rolled right into telling me about the first steps of the gnocchi making process.

The main theme of the lesson was about moisture; how to keep it in and out of the potatoes while cooking them, and how best to allow as much moisture to escape the potatoes after cooking in order to make a light, fluffy gnocchi.

First: boil the potatoes (preferable Yukon Golds) in salted water until they are tender to the core when tested with a knife. Then, as soon as you can, peel the spuds of their skin and pass them through a food mill or ricer.

Let the milled potatoes fall onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet in as much of an even layer as possible for uniform cooling. Then, allow to sit out uncovered for around two hours to let it come to room temperature and dry out a bit.

If you don’t have the time, as Mike doesn’t in the shop, place the uncovered tray in the fridge overnight. The next morning place the tray in your gas oven with the pilot light on for about an hour or until it's just warm to the touch. If you’re unlucky like I am and don’t have a gas range (and are as impatient as I am), carefully and with great attention, put the tray in your electric oven at 200º for fifteen to twenty-five minutes or as long as it takes for the potatoes to feel like supple little petals in your hand. That sounds flowery, I know, but it's true. The potatoes that Mike made felt like lavender petals when they had finished the drying process; delicate, fragile, and fluffy.

Then, after a little while of cooling and tending, the fun begins.

There’s a no-fail formula to making the gnocchi dough. Really. There is. It’s not about how many potatoes, or how many eggs, or how much flour to use, it’s about the weight of the ingredients.

-        For every 300 grams of boiled, riced, and ‘dried’ potatoes (yes! grams)
-        There is one egg (or there about)
-        Then, flour. Equal to 1/2 of the total weight of the potato/egg mixture.


 
No foolin’. That’s it.

One important note: Use WARM eggs. Room temperature is good, but Mike does something pretty cool; he places eggs from the fridge into a bowl of boiling water and lets them stand for five minutes or so. Using warm eggs will keep the potato/egg/flour mixture from being too stiff and will make the dough easier to work with.

Once you have the three ingredients in a bowl, get your hands in there and start mixing. It’s going to be sticky, but it’s the best kind of sticky.

Then, when everything is well incorporated, turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface.

Then, as you would bread dough, kneed it for a few minutes to develop the glutens in the mixture. Mike explained that this process is pretty crucial because this will allow the gnocchi to puff up to be tender little pillows, and not doughy gut bombs. (Technically speaking, the expanding liquids are trapped by the gluten proteins thereby making the dumplings puff up nice ‘n perty like.)

When the dough has come together and is a bit elastic, it’s time to start rolling! It’s like preschool, or art class all over again. I love it!! Cut off a small-ish piece of the dough and, on a floured surface, start rolling it out like it’s Play Dough. Of course, Mike made it look easy, deftly rolling out piece after piece, dusting each one with a pinch of flour so they wouldn’t stick to the board or to each other.

Then, when there were three or four snakes of dough rolled out, he would line them up and, with the precision of a chef (wait, he is a chef… anyway), he took his bench scraper and chopped them into even pieces.

Just after cutting, he dusted the newly formed pillows of dough with flour so that the exposed bits wouldn’t stick together. He repeated these steps until the entire loaf of dough was rolled, chopped, dusted, and ready to be cooked.

At this point, of you were to be making a small batch, or wanted to either be fancy or make your mark on your creation, you could, well, make some marks in the gnocchi; either by means of a gnocchi board, or on a fork.

Then, all that’s left is to boil ‘em up and serve ‘em up. Enjoy!

WAIT!!!!

About the boiling…

It is very important to have your water well salted, “like the sea.” Mike was sure to point out that the ocean is 3% salt, and that the boiling water for gnocchi (any pasta really) should be at least 2% salt. Remember that there was NO SALT in the dough mixture, so this is the only time that the gnocchi will be seasoned. (Don’t worry about percentages at this point, just salt the hell out of the water.)

Another thing about boiling gnocchi is that it takes way more time than what you might think. The common thought, as was mine until last week, is that gnocchi are done cooking when they float to the top of the water. No! No! Once they hit the top let ’em cook for a good long time; Mike says around four minutes, but we stood in his kitchen for I don’t know how long shootin’ the shit before he popped a piping hot pillow into his mouth and said, “Now.”
No kidding, they really puff up! They are deflated a bit in the picture, but oh boy! I've never had gnocchi like this. It was a new experience for me. In three simple letters, GUH!

You can toss the freshly cooked gnocchi into a sauce (simple is best, don't over do it), or you can generously coat the strained gnocchi with olive oil and keep them in the fridge until you're ready to serve them (this is of course what is done in the restaurant as the gnocchi are served as freshly boiled as possible)*.

I wasn’t at Il Corvo for service that day, but there’s a great shot of the gnocchi that we made that day on Mike’s site.
Mike and his assistant Johannes Heitzerberg preparing fresh pasta for service. Sometimes with music blaring, other times in silence. Either way, it's really freakin' cool... I'm such a food dork.

When I asked Mike about where and how he learned to make pasta, he said this,

“I didn’t go to Italy to learn how to cook. 
I knew how to cook before I got there. 
I went there to learn an craft.”

And that he did. What a wonderful experience I had. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to watch this craftsman at work. Mike’s pasta is available Monday through Friday 11:00 – 2:00. You can follow Il Corvo and learn about their daily specials and other fun stuff on Twitter (@ilcorvopasta), on Facebook (Il Corvo Pasta) or on Mike’s blog http://ilcorvopasta.com.

Stay tuned for Part two of the gnocchi story: Making Gnocchi at home With The Babes.

*Gnoccchi that are par-boiled and tossed with olive oil

Santé

UPDATE: Want to read part two? Here you go! Gnocchi - Part 2, Making it at Home With My Babes 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blueberry Mini Pies - Fun for me and the babes!!


A friend of a coworker recently had a cookbook published called Mini Pies. I was one of the food bloggers and reporters asked to review the book and share my thoughts in an Amazon.com review as well as on my blog. Et Voilà!!


I grew up watching my mom and Grandma making pies and have always been a little intimidated to make one myself because of how good theirs were; flaky crusts, tasty fillings, perfectly crimped edges. But when the opportunity came for me to try my hand at making mini pies, I thought, "What the heck!" And here I am.

I chose to make the Blueberry-Rose Water Mini pie. It seemed straightforward and I had most of the ingredients in the house; save one or two.
The instructions were clear and easy to follow, and it all came together without a hitch. I have to admit, though, that I did make a couple of substitutions. The first substitution was clarified butter for the shortening in the Perfect Pie Crust. I'm not a fan of shortening because of the hydrogenated oils (AKA trans fats), but I figured the point of using it was for the lower water content, so I used a different fat in its place (I’m sure lard would work too). The other substitution I made was for the Rose Water. I know, I know, I should have actually read the recipe before I started the baking process (I was just thinking Blueberry Pie, not Blueberry Rose Water Pie). In a pinch I used the juice from a jar of store-bought stewed pears that I had in the fridge. That seemed to work just fine. Certainly not the flavor profile that the authors were looking for, but I'll try it again soon with the flower water… when/if I remember to get some at the store. (Sheesh!)

The only thing that I had to jerry rig was the 4" cut-out that the recipe called for in order to get the pie crust into the perfect, uniform size for the muffin cups. So, I improvised. I dug through my kitchen drawers with my tape measure in hand looking for round things that may be yay-big. I came up with the lid to a Pyrex dish (clearly used for Lorelei's lunch bag.) It was great, although next time I will find something that's 4 1/4" to 4 1/2"; I would have liked that the filling didn't dribble out so much during the cooking process... although that might just be user error.


Lorelei had a blast helping to roll out the crust and cutting out Halloween shaped pieces for decoration. The twelve little pies cooked in 25 minutes at 350º in a muffin tin and turned out just great. The only problem with these pies and the simplicity of these recipes is that they are likely to keep showing up in my house and I won’t be able to give them away!! 


Oh!! Speaking of giving these pies away, I'll be doing a giveaway of this book next week. Stay tuned for details!!!


Mom’s Tip
If ever there was a time to include your kids in a kitchen project, this is one of them. Let your kiddo get in there and help you on this one. There are no raw eggs or anything that may carry bacteria, there is ample dough for the recipe (actually I have enough dough left over for four more pies at least). So let them have a rolling pin and cookie cutters and let them go to town!

Santé

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Advice for the Parent of a Stubborn Eater

An old friend of mine posted this on Facebook last night

"Any parents out there with helpful hints on how to get a stubborn toddler to eat some dinner?"

My response?

"Are you kidding?! I write a whole blog about this! I'll send you a message."


Here's what I sent,


______

Hiya sweetie,

You know, something I learned about Lorelei when she wasn't wanting to eat is that maybe she just wasn't hungry. Sometimes that's ok. Eat your dinner and let him (her son) do his thing. If you don't pay attention to what he's doing he may very well sneak in a nibble or two. Sometimes if you make a big deal out of something, toddlers, who are learning what they can do for themselves and how to give us gray hairs, will not do something because you want them to do it.

Another thing you can do is just say to him, "Ok, you're all done? I'll clear your plate for you." Then see what he says. If he's ok with that, then maybe he's done. If he asks for it back, he'll eat it.

After dinner is all done and you and Nick are away from the table, if Gabe says he's hungry, be firm and say that he can have a glass of milk. If he asks for more, tell him that dinner has come and gone and that he should have eaten when it was served; stick with a glass of milk!! Trust me, it will only take a time or two of that lesson for him to catch on. Anyway, he won't starve.

Good luck mama.

Kelly

______

Truth be told, most of the other sixteen comments that were left before mine said the same thing; toddlers won't starve, they'll eat when they are hungry, and it's important for the parent to be firm and steadfast in their mealtime rules. Relax and enjoy your meal.

I'll add one more thing, I don't cater to my daughter's tastes. I won't make a meal for her and one for me. Of course I make things that she likes, but when I plan out a meal I make something that will serve us both; then I just give her a smaller portion. Se does eat liver, in the form of paté (it's really high in iron), and Brussels sprouts.

Be strong my fellow parents-of-a-toddler! We'll all get through it soon enough... too soon, really. I'm afraid of the tween years. Eeeesh


Santé

Thursday, October 13, 2011

When your kids start to catch on

It's interesting to me just how young kids are when they really start to get what's going on around them. You know, like when my two year old asked me,

"You goin' to work today, mama?"

or "Mom! You forgot your purse!"
"I'm taking my backpack today baby."
"Oh. Ok, mama."

Well, my friend Rhone, he's five, had a realization the other night that has struck me so funny that I just had to share. See, his mom made meatloaf for dinner that night. He said he didn't like this one too much and asked to be excused from the table. When his mom told him that it had Grape Nuts in it and that she was surprised he didn't like it, his jaw hit the floor and he said,

"You put Grape Nuts in it?!"
"Yeah," his mom said, "there was a recipe on the box."

He nodded and took a couple of more bights. Then, a minute or two later, he cocked his head and said to her,

"YOUUUU followed a recipe on a BOX?!?!"

At the young age of five-nearly-six, Rhone knew knew not only was it rare for his mom to have followed a recipe, but he thought it to be unheard of that she followed one off of a cereal box.


I love foodie kids. They make me smile.



Santé


Monday, October 10, 2011

Edamame - A Simple, Healthy Snack

I like sharing a bowl of freshly boiled and generously salted edamame with Lorelei. The tasty little legumes are fun to eat and can easily replace popcorn or chips as a movie-watching snack.






Mom's Tip
Edamame is an easy to prepare and fantastic addition to a kiddo's lunch box.


Santé