Archive for the ‘food processing’ Category

Wherein Ashley Spends Forever in the Kitchen Making Gnocchi

Image by Robert S. Donovan, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. Click for link.

Play-Doh sculpting is a life skill ... just ask my sister Ashley. Image by Robert S. Donovan, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. Click for link.

Ed. note: This is the third of four posts about a recent supper club meal my sister prepared. I found this recipe for spinach gnocchi on simplyrecipes.com and instantly decided (since I have a life-long love of homemade dumplings, pasta, and noodles) it looked both fantastic and reasonably do-able, so I forwarded it to a few close friends. Ashley was the first to try it out, and here are her results. Enjoy! jf

Last time, I talked about my love affair with artichokes.  Incidentally, it also happened to be the side dish I served for the last Supper Club I hosted.  Today, I’m going to discuss the main course.

The entrée I served was a bit of a gamble.  Now, my sister refuses to cook a recipe for company without having tested it beforehand, and I agree, this is an excellent policy.  However, I usually like to throw caution to the wind and embark headlong into culinary odysseys, even if I wind up somewhere I don’t really want to be.  Besides, that’s what Supper Club is for!

A word to the wise on this, when making things that you’ve never tried from online recipes, always, always check out the comments section to see the issues/tweaks other people have made to the recipe…this can save your keister (I think Allrecipes.com does an excellent job of this).  So, having been forwarded a recipe for Spinach-Ricotta Gnocchi (not potato based…even I know my limits), I knew I’d found my entrée.

The gnocchi dough came together relatively easily via food processor; the tricky part came during the roll out.  At this point, I needed to channel all available Play-Doh skills I might have retained into adulthood  and I was praying Calculus hadn’t pushed them clear on out.  The basic technique was to divide the dough into manageable portions and roll them into log-shaped pieces about the size of your finger.  Easy enough, right? [Right! Reminds me of this. : ) jf] I found it near impossible to keep the dough at the correct level of tackiness that enabled smooth rolling.  I finally just decided that it was something attained with practice and muddled my way through best I could.

Also in the instructions for the gnocchi, was a step to use fork tines to leave dainty little impressions in each one.  Now, as romantic as making your own pasta sounds, the truth of the matter is it’s time consuming as all get out and as much as I love Supper Club (and my friends), my time was more valuable than putting fork tines in gnocchi (I’m running a one-woman show…that laundry ain’t going to do itself).  I quickly abandoned the effort…call me a cheater.  Five cajillion gnocchi later, I finished.  I did this the day before, which was fine, but I forgot to cover them with plastic wrap, so they did dry out some overnight.

The sauce came together super-fast right before I was ready to serve the meal.  It was very minimalistic and basically consisted of stewed tomatoes and goat cheese.  Cooking my pasta, which was another super easy task (I dumped them in boiling water and waited until they floated to the surface to remove them), also occurred at this time.  I topped the entree with grated parmesan.

I have to say, that while the finished gnocchi did resemble neon green fish bait, the taste was amazing when paired with the sauce.  It was definitely a scrumptious success.

My next post, Part 4: Oozing food is never good, should follow soon.

“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.” – Catherine Aird

p.s. If anyone else tries this recipe out, let us know your success with it! I’m going to be trying it soon myself and will report back as well. jf


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Step into any cooking store and you can see the vast galaxy that is the world of kitchen gadgets. But let’s face it — most of them are duds. The majority take up valuable real estate in your drawers while providing virtually no use to you. And we all know what happens: what little use they might provide is mooted because you can either never remember what you have or know where to look when you do want it.

In short, there’s a big case to be made for (pardon the pun) paring down to the essentials. But here at Home Cooking Well, I’m going to talk occasionally about tools that are useful; items every home cook should have or consider having. Here’s one: the mini-food processor.


I got this one second-hand for $5 from a departing French post-doc who worked in my friend Laurie’s biology lab at MIT. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. But in the years since, it has more than proven its worth.

This little gadget is great for prepping vegetables — particularly onions — before cooking. How many recipes call for chopped onions, garlic or ginger? With one of these, you can simply coarsely chop the vegetables and then throw them in. In 5-10 seconds all your otherwise-tedious chopping is done. And on a busy weeknight, it’s small things like this that can help you cut down on prep time in a major way.

What’s more, as a former picky eater, I know lots of picky eaters don’t like big slimy chunks of onion in their food (it’s a texture issue). This method helps you preserve the onion flavor and content while keeping the individual chunks small.

One caution: don’t chop vegetables at the same time unless the recipe calls for them to be thrown in all at once. Otherwise, just scrape out the dish and chop them separately.

These little gadgets are also great for chopping nuts and pureeing small-batch sauces (I’ve made peanut sauce in mine before), vegetables, or liquids. But beware: inexpensive ones often leak (and yes, I learned this the hard way). For  more liquidy jobs, you’ll want the big kahuna: a full-sized Cuisinart or similar. Alternatively, and this is good practice with all food-processors, hold back as much of the liquid as possible from whatever you’re pureeing and add it back in in only after you’ve taken the puree out of the processor.

How about you? Anyone else own one of these little guys? How do you use it?

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So as you’ll recall from my last post, I mashed sweet potatoes to make risotto. The question arose: what’s the best way? Two possibilities occurred: my dowdy, old-fashioned, hand-held potato masher:

potato masher

Or my new hotness food processor, the Cuisinart KFP-7TM.

I pulled out the machine’s manual (yes: miracle I could still locate it) and to see what I could find on the subject. There was a warning against mashing (white) potatoes (they get “gluey” — likely from the lysis of the starch cells by the blades) — but what about sweet potatoes? Toooootally unrelated species, right?

Well, I’m a scientist. Why not do an experiment? After cooking the sweet potatoes as peeled, cubed chunks per instructions, I threw them in the food processor and hit go. In no time flat, they were mashed sweet potato smithereens, but instead of the homogenous, fluffy cloud I’d been hoping for, they were more like gooey, mini-sweet potato shards.

processed sweet potatoes

Oh, what the heck, I thought. Cooked butternut squash cubes dissolve in risotto. Why not sweet potato shards? So, I packed them in the measuring cup and dumped them in. In the end, my hypothesis was incorrect: the shards didn’t dissolve entirely, though they did so well enough to color my risotto a lovely shade of yellow. And the risotto still tasted great!  In the mean time, I whipped out my hand-held potato masher and went to town. That helped some:

mashed sweet potatoes

I scooped some out for part of my lunch today, mixed in a little salt and pepper and dusted it with cinnamon. But still: potato shards.

sweet potato lunch

America’s Test Kitchens advises using a food mill — an old fashioned apparatus with a hand-crank on top — to mash sweet potatoes. I used one of these with my Grandma when I was a little girl and to help her process her home-grown tomatoes and applesauce for canning. I don’t own one now, but I think next time I’ll try starting with the potato masher and see if that corrects the problem.

But there’s another lesson here: Don’t be afraid to experiment. Mistakes are OK! Even failures make good lessons (I wouldn’t be writing this blog today if I hadn’t learned from countless ones I made), and 9 times out of 10, the finished product still tastes great. Even Julia Child once said something like if you screw up in the kitchen, just keep going and serve it. Most times, your company won’t even know the difference. Don’t miss this blog by Mark Bittman at “Bitten” on this very subject.

The home cook, especially the aspiring home cook, needs encouragement — not befuddlement. Show people what actually happens in the kitchen, show people that mistakes are made (”The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes” — Julia Child), show people that, just as you need not be Rafael Nadal to play tennis, you need not be Gordon Ramsay to cook a decent meal.

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