Friday, February 28, 2014

Chick Peas and Egg Salad

Two simple salads come together for a very sophisticated lunch or substantial snack.

Chick peas, aka garbanzo beans or cecci are the beans that most of us associate with hummus and falafel.  (Falafel is also made from fava beans in some parts of the world.)  Chick peas' nutty flavor and creamy texture can really enhance simple preparations like egg salad.  Here chick peas doused with some rich extra virgin olive oil and chopped cilantro top classic egg salad served on romaine lettuce leaves. 

Chick peas can also be pan sauteed with a bit of bacon or olive oil and replace croutons to garnish cream soups, especially cauliflower or potato soups.  Add any spices that appeal--a touch of cumin or smoked paprika, for example.

On their own, chick peas tossed with vinaigrette dressing, a few chopped olives and roasted red peppers make an easy side dish that can act as your starch or salad.  Leftovers can be wrapped in a flour tortilla for a post-workout snack.

End of February...short post for a short month! See you in March.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Chicken-Apple Breakfast Sausage Patties

Snow bound but the power is still on.  On days like these, shovelers and snowblower drivers deserve a really good second breakfast when they make it to the end of the driveway and back.  Easy to make, homemade Chicken-Apple Breakfast Sausage Patties are the answer.  They are good on their own, next to some eggs or, my favorite, topping a piece of toast slathered with cream cheese.  (I earned my chicken sausage patty shoveling the back porch.)

This mixture, like all fresh sausage recipes, likes to sit overnight before forming patties and cooking but is fine to mix up before you head outside and cook up quickly after the snow moving work is over.  There are generally two types of chicken sausage – lean and regular. For these, I use regular which is a mixture of breast and thigh meat.  It yields a moist, rich flavor assisted by the grated apple and a light touch of maple syrup in the recipe.  You can use a lean ground chicken mixture for this as well. If so, add a little more apple tot he recipe to prevent it from getting dry when cooked. 

Chicken-Apple Breakfast Sausage Patties
Yield: 9-10 patties

1 pound ground chicken
½ peel and grated apple
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon crushed fennel seed
¼ teaspoon paprika
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

To make sausage patties:
  1. In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients together.  Use a fork or your clean fingers to ensure spices are well distributed.  
  2. Test mixture for seasoning. Form a small meatball with a teaspoon and place in a small bowl or ramekin with a few teaspoons of water.  
  3. Microwave for 30 seconds to cook through.  Allow to cool before sampling.  Taste for sweet, salt and spice.  If you like your sausage spicier add more black pepper or a pinch of cayenne. Adjust with a light touch; herbs and spices will be more flavorful when they are fully absorbed into the meat after resting. 
  4. Cover bowl and refrigerate an hour or overnight.  
  5. Form small patties (about 2 inches across) and cook as directed below. 
To cook sausage patties:
  1. Lightly oil a skillet and heat to medium-high.  
  2. Place patties on skillet in tow batches.  Cook on first side 3 minutes.  
  3. Turn patties and cover pan.  Cook an additional 2 minutes and check temperature (should read at least 165˚F) and have no trace of pink.  
  4. Remove patties to a paper towel lined plate and cook remaining patties in the same manner. 
Did I say the snow clearing is over?  I meant we are resting.  Good thing there are more chicken sausages.  Five more inches expected today.  Chicken-Apple Breakfast Sausage Patties freeze well for the next storm and reheat easily in the microwave (no need to defrost).  If it ever stops snowing, this is pure quick breakfast component.  Store cooked patties in the freezer.  Microwave and wrap in a roll or tortilla before heading out the door. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sweet Potato Ricotta Gnocchi with Pecan Brown Butter Sauce

Sweet Potato Gnocchi ready for freezing.
Here’s another orange thing to eat.

My brother in Vermont writes that he and Peggy have been enjoying Yankee Magazine’s recipe for Sweet-Potato Gnocchi with Burnt Butter Sage Sauce.  I was especially drawn to the hazelnuts in the sauce and we love sweet potatoes in all forms.

I wanted to make a version that included ricotta cheese and could be either gluten free or made using regular wheat flour.  The one I came up with is a compilation that is light and pillowy served with finely chopped pecans in the butter sauce.  Guidance in developing this recipe came from Yankee Magazine, The Kitchn.com and italianfoodforever.com.  Try their recipes or this version as a main course or a great side to roasted pork tenderloin.

You'll notice I offer a different technique from the traditional "rolling a fork" method to form nice dents in the gnocchi that hold the sauce.  This dough is delicate and fell apart when I pressed with the back of a fork.  Dimpling the rope with the tip of your finger then cutting it into pieces created a really nice hollow for the sauce and was much easier for a novice to handle.  If you want to try the fork technique, add more flour to get a stiffer dough. 

Sweet Potato Ricotta Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sauce and Pecans
Yield 5-6 side servings, 2-3 main course servings

Ingredients
1 cup cooked sweet potato (bake a large extra one)
3/4 cup ricotta cheese (drained)
1 egg
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
2 cups GF flour plus extra for rolling

Method
  1. While the cooked sweet potato is still warm, peel off skin and mash it to release as much steam as possible.  If potato is very moist, place it in a wide skillet over medium heat and stir/flip for about 15 minutes to release steam.  Cool completely.  
  2. In a medium sized bowl, mix together sweet potato and drained ricotta cheese.  Stir in egg yolk, Parmesan cheese and salt. 
  3. Now add 1 ¼ cups of the flour and stir until fully incorporated into mixture.  
  4. Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow flour to be fully absorbed.  
  5. Check dough.  It should be soft and not too tacky.  If it sticks to your fingers, add more flour, a¼ cup at a time until you can press your finger into the dough without pulling away large amounts of mixture.  The key to light gnocchi is to add just the right amount of flour to hold the dough together so you can work with it on our board but not so much that it overwhelms the sweet potato and ricotta and makes the dough heavy.  For these, I used the whole 2 cups and the result was still very light.  Refrigerate again.  
  6. When ready to make gnocchi, set a large pot of salted water over high heat.  Bring to a boil while you form gnocchi.  
  7. Cut away a handful of dough from the bowl and place on a well floured board.  Roll into a long rope, a little less than ½” thick.  With you tip of your finger, press into the rope of dough to form dimples.  Leave a small space between each dimple where you will slice to form individual gnocchi.  
  8. Use a butter knife to cut the rope into 1/2” pieces. Place formed gnocchi on wax paper on a baking sheet. (You can freeze them at this stage.  Freeze on the sheet then place individually frozen gnocchi in resealable freezer bags.)   
  9. When the gnocchi are formed and the water has reached the boiling point, lower the water heat to a simmer.  Simmer half the gnocchi at a time, about 2 minutes.  Gnocchi are done when they rise to the surface. 
  10. Remove with a slotted spoon to a colander to drain.  Simmer remaining gnocchi.  
While gnocchi simmers, make sauce (see suggested recipe below).  Place cooked gnocchi in sauce to coat completely.  Serve at once. 

 Pecan Brown Butter Sauce
Sweet Potato Ricotta Gnocchi tastes wonderful with a butter and pecan sauce.  It also goes well with southwestern flavors.  Heat chopped tomatoes or salsa with some black beans and your gnocchi.  Serves as a hearty, protein-rich vegetarian meal. 

Ingredients for 4 servings
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup pecans, finely ground or chopped

Method
  1. Melt butter in a wide skillet over medium heat.  You may leave the butter as is and add the nuts and toss with the gnocchi or you can brown the butter for a deeper caramelized flavor.  
  2. To brown the butter, hold off placing the nuts in the pan and continue cooking the butter on medium heat.  It will foam a bit as the water in the butter evaporates and the butter will darken.  Do not let it burn by using too high a heat.
  3. As you see it start to turn brown lower the heat to simmer (or use lowest setting possible).  Keep an eye on the sauce to make sure it does not burn, just brown.  When it turns a few shades darker, the sauce is done. This is a fast process, just a few minutes. Remove skillet from heat.  Stir in nuts and gnocchi. Serve immediately.

Some variations
About halfway through mixing the gnocchi dough (before I added the flour), I noticed that the mixture could have been spooned into a well-oiled baking dish and baked into a light sweet potato-cheese mash.  One could also pipe or drop little mounds onto a oiled baking sheet to make little sweet potato puffs.  We love black pepper in sweet potatoes but you might like other spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or even ginger.

Thanks for a great idea, Matthew.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Super Bowl Team Inspiration

My brother calls it devouring the enemy when he and friends plan tailgates around signature dishes of the visiting teams.

If you're in Denver like my brother, your menu choice is clear: Devour some Seattle classics like smoked or fresh salmon, Pacific oysters, Dungeness crabs, Washington State artisan cheeses and cured meats or Seattle's signature beef franks served with cream cheese and grilled onions.

Seattle has a great spice rub for fresh salmon.  There are many variations but the base is brown sugar, freshly cracked black pepper and a bit of salt.  Add spices you like including crushed, whole coriander, fennel or cumin, even star anise and orange peel.  Lightly coat a salmon fillet with the rub and let it sit about 15 minutes.  Roast the fish at 425˚F for 15-25 minutes (up to 30 minutes for a 3 pound fillet). Serve hot or make this ahead to serve at room temperature.

Cap it off with a cherry dessert- cherry hand pies or dried cherries mixed into your favorite chocolate chip or oatmeal cookie recipe perhaps. Include apples too- as a dessert or served with cheese.  Half of the U.S. supply of apples is grown in the state.

Washington state makes terrific wines. I especially like the whites.  The highest amount of acreage has been devoted to the Chardonnay varietal.  Lightly oaked (or unoaked) Washington Chardonnays really let the northwestern terroire shine through in a crisp and clear flavor profile that favors much if its seafood.  If you are serving oysters, be sure to sample some the state's other whites like Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or Gew├╝rztraminer.  After Chardonnay the state devotes the most space to Cabernet Suavignon.  That goes with beef franks, right?

For the other team, cook and then cut up a big Denver omelet (ham, green pepper, onion) to make Denver Sliders topped with ham and green chili sauce.  Sometimes its hard to find small rolls for sliders that do not overwhelm the other ingredients.  Try these easy Sweet Potato Rolls from my 8/31/2012 post which can be portioned into 16-20 mini-rolls.

My brother confirms that a green chili sauce can go over anything to make it local Denver fare and adds that beers from local breweries are a great match.  If you can get something from the state, enjoy.  Otherwise serve a beer local to you or the Colorado son, Coors.

Speaking of beer, try cooking in it for an easy Super Bowl buffet spread.  Tacos made with Chicken Cooked in Beer are easy to put together and can join a Denver/Southwest-inspired table with Chipotle Potato Salad and bison or buffalo meat burgers. Pass around Baked Jalepeno Poppers and Super Bowl Taquitoes.  Both of these can be made ahead and reheated before serving. 

Like Seattle, Denver knows its seafood too.  The state fish is Rainbow Trout.  And some say they have their own oysters as well. :)

If you have no affiliation to either team but need some menu inspiration, check these out these buffet friendly pure food blog posts:

Thanks brother Bill for being back up quarterback on this one!