gnocchi tinged memories

When I was a little girl nothing would please me more than a trip to the local G. Fox & Co. department store. I’d talk my mother into taking the escalator upstairs to the housewares department and that’s when the fun would begin. I would wander around the department reading the little bridal registry cards attached to each place setting, imagining which espresso machine or serving platter I would choose and dreaming of the day grown-up me would finally be able to register for all the housewares my little heart desired. I wasn’t dreaming of being a bride mind you, I was dreaming of having a fully stocked kitchen. Funny right? But true none the less.

My love of housewares hasn’t diminished at all over the years, which would explain why I own: Five sets of dishes (we had a yard sale a few years ago and I sold my two “extra” sets), enough serving pieces to easily set a buffet for a hundred, a ridiculous number of tiny antique aperitif glasses, a crazy collection of water pitchers, just about every size and shape cocktail glass imaginable, a huge variety of pots, pans and steamers, a cast iron skillet, Dutch oven and griddle, a kitchen scale, stand mixer, potato ricer and several sizes of box graters, not to mention an array of blenders and hand mixers, a waffle iron, espresso machine, regular coffee maker and a set of individual serving ice cream makers, plus all your standard whisks, spatulas, spoons and whatnot. (Yes I realize my love may border on obsession. We all have our vices.) However, believe it or not there is actually one cooking implement that I do not have but have seriously considered… a pasta maker. I thought more than once about buying an attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer, but one thing always stopped me. What if I found making pasta to be just as frustrating and disastrous as my attempts to make bread?!? Those attachments can be quite pricy and that just wasn’t a financial (or emotional) commitment I was ready to make. But that didn’t mean I was willing to give up my desire to make fresh pasta— come now silly reader, you know me better than that! No instead I decided to approach pasta making in the simplest fashion possible, one that required limited special equipment and with a recipe that seemed nearly fool-proof. My recipe of choice— gnocchi.

I first discovered gnocchi in college when my boyfriend (now husband) took me to dinner at Louis Seafood on E. Tremont Ave. in the Bronx. The restaurant has been around since the 40’s and it was and still is the epitome of good Italian comfort food with a side of Bronx attitude. I had considered myself fairly well versed in pasta (being half Italian and all) but somehow gnocchi had never made it on my radar. The gnocchi at Louis Seafood was unlike anything I had ever tried, it was dense and filling (especially with the Bolognese sauce he always seemed to order) but at the same time I couldn’t stop myself from snitching forkfuls off his plate. For years the term gnocchi make think of college, the Bronx and Louis Seafood. Then we traveled to Florence, Italy and my perception of gnocchi completely changed.

We arrived in Florence late one afternoon after a long train ride from Rome, and we were starving! So hungry in fact that once we physically found our hotel we didn’t even step foot inside it. Instead we dragged our luggage to the little cafe next door in hopes of getting something to eat. “Oh, mi dispiace signora.” the waiter said “La cucina è chiusa.” We looked at him in disbelief, we were starving and the kitchen was CLOSED?!? This was Italy for peat’s sake, they were soposta feed us till we popped! Thankfully the waiter sensed our desperation and decided that he could in fact offer us a few limited selections off the menu. We collapsed in our chairs, ordered a few glasses of vino rosso, looked over the menu and placed our lunch order. I’ll be honest with you, I have absolutely no idea what I ate that day. The only thing I remember of the meal is my husbands gnocchi. It was like air, little puffs of loveliness, amazing and unlike anything I had ever imagined gnocchi could be. It’s been quite a few years since that trip to Florence yet every so often one of us still wistfully mentions that gnocchi.

When I decided to try my own hand at homemade gnocchi I truly didn’t anticipate stellar results. It seemed like the opportunity for heavy little lead sinkers was just too great. So imagine my delight when they turned out light, airy and delicious. There not quite Florence quality gnocchi, but then nothing could ever possibly be, they are however the closest we’ve ever come to replicating that amazing Italian meal. Buon appetito!

Simple Potato Gnocchi
These were as wonderful as the ones we always reminisce about eating in Florence, as evidenced by the nearly clean plate below.


4 cups riced russet potatoes, (about 2 large)
4 egg yolks
2 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
sauce of your choice, for serving
optional special equipment: potato ricer, gnocchi paddle

  1. Place potatoes (skin on) in a large pot of salted water and boil until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes, let them cool just enough to handle and then peel. Cut each in half and place in a potato ricer. Rice into a large bowl. Stir in the egg yolks and salt, then add the flour and stir until a shaggy dough forms. Knead gently until a smooth but slightly sticky dough forms.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with flour. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Lightly flour a work surface and roll each piece into a 3/4-inch-thick rope, then cut each rope into one-inch pieces. Place each piece against the gnocchi paddle and gently roll with your pointer finger to make ridges on one side and a small indentation on the other; drop onto the prepared baking sheet and repeat the process with the other ropes.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the raw gnocchi, 36 at a time. Allow to cook until they rise to the surface, then simmer for another 2 minutes longer. Add to a bowl with you’re favorite sauce, sprinkle with the cheese and serve.

To Make Ahead: The uncooked gnocchi pieces can be frozen on the prepared baking sheet, then transferred to a resealable plastic bag and frozen for up to 1 month. Boil without defrosting.

*adapted from food & wine


all hail kale!

Kale is a fantastic source of calcium. It actually contains more calcium per calorie than milk and its more readily absorbed by the body than dairy. Kale is loaded with vitamins A, C & K, folic acid, vitamin B6, lutein, and potassium. All of which play a key role in reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, lowering cholesterol and keeping your body in tip-top shape. Kale has natural anti-inflammatory properties, it contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, one serving contains 5% of your daily fiber requirement and it’s high in both iron and protein. Quite the laundry list don’t ya think?

I happen to love all leafy greens, including kale, and I eat them nearly every day. My family on the other hand draws the acceptable vegetable line at greens. My husband will sigh and grimace a bit but usually ends up eating whatever I make, but not my kids. No kale, no spinach, no collard greens. No way. No how. Not ever. And then along came kale chips…

If you haven’t had kale chips before then let me try to describe them for you. They’re crispy bite size bits of kale that are a little bit salty, a little bit oily, oddly delicious and totally weird at the same time. They’re absolutely addicting and before you can decide if you really like them or not, the batch will be gone! The first time I made kale chips my 8-year-old devoured three-quarters of the batch and immediately requested that I make more. “You want more what…kale?!? You got it kid!”

Kale chips…the key to longevity (or at least healthy snacking)!

Kale Chips
You can make these simply with just salt and olive oil, or get crazy with garlic, curry, and chili powder or any other spices that float your boat.

kale chip2

Small bunch curly kale
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. pink salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

  1. Preheat oven 325°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Rise the kale and remove leaves from tough center stem. Tear the leaves into bit size pieces, spread out on a dish towel and blot as dry as possible.
  3. Place the dry leaves in a large bowl. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with the salt and spices. One by one use your fingers to spread the oil and spices on the front and back of each leaf. Lay the oiled leaves in the prepared baking sheet in a fairly even layer. (You may need to make to work in batches.)
  4. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the kale is crispy and just beginning to brown on the edges.
  5. Gently pry off the parchment paper and enjoy (or not).

Play-Doh Trickery

My daughter likes to play with play-doh. And by that I mean she LOVES play-doh. I on the other hand do not particularly enjoy it (which is of course ironic since I majored in sculpture in college). But I like to see my children happy so when she asks to take it out I usually agree and become the official play-doh pancake maker/spaghetti cutter.

I’ve seen recipes for homemade play-doh before and I’ve always thought to myself “Why bother? The folks at Hasbro do a fine job.” Well I’ll tell you why; good ‘ol fashioned girl-time time dammit. I’m always trying to entice my daughter to spend a little quality time baking with me, but the minute the measuring is done she’s off to smother the dog, annoy her brother or get herself into some “Santa’s not going to bring you any presents” kind of trouble. However, since she’s the type of little lady who’s never met a craft she doesn’t love, I imagined that making play-doh might actually hold her interest for more than 5 minutes. We could whip up a batch and then we (she) could play with it till her heart’s content. Kinda like cooking, kinda like crafting, kinda like tricking her into enjoying my company. Ha ha, score one point for Mom!

This play-doh recipe was crazy simple to make, required ingredients that most everyone already has on hand and went from slop in a saucepan to dolphins, pancakes and outrageous orange spaghetti in no time flat. If you’re looking for a way to occupy a few hours one afternoon I highly recommend making play-doh. Then kick back with a little online shopping or that book you’ve been wanting to read while the kids enjoy their creation.

Homemade Play-doh
You can make this play-doh in just about any color you can imagine. We decided to go with green, orange and blue.

new play-doh

1 cup water
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
food coloring*
1 cup flour

  1. Combine water, oil, salt, cream of tartar and food coloring in a saucepan and heat 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until it’s warm.
  2. Remove from heat and add the flour, stir until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a cutting board and knead until fully blended and smooth. (The dough will be quite hot so it should be kneaded carefully and by an adult.)
  3. Form the finished dough into a ball and let cool for 5 minutes before exploring your creative side. Store in an airtight container or Ziploc bag.

To make orange = 10 drops red food coloring 14 drops yellow
To make blue = 20 drops blue food coloring + 3 drops red
To make green = 15 drops green food coloring + 5 drops blue

*adapted from family education

on a roll…

As you may already know I’m a “make it from scratch” kinda girl. I really don’t cut corners or choose the easy road because, if you’re going to bother to do something you might as well do it right. Right? For example, I wanted to make cupcakes with the perfect shade of pink frosting for my daughter’s last birthday, but I didn’t want to use red food coloring to do it. So instead I cooked down fresh raspberries, strained out the seeds and pulp and used the juice to flavor and tint the frosting. And voila, perfect pink!

The one place I must confess I’ve never had much “from scratch” success is baking bread. I find bread baking to be tricky. Either my dough is too wet, too dry or requires more time then I’m willing to invest in a simple loaf of bread. Whatever the case may be, I’m usually disappointed by the results and off to the bakery we go. That is until I found a recipe for pull apart dinner rolls that are baked in a muffin tin.

These rolls are super easy to make, require only an hour or so rise time and look fancy with their clover shape and a touch of coarse salt scattered on top. The only thing that could possibly make these lovelies a bit tastier would be some homemade butter to slather on.

Pull Apart Dinner Rolls
There is nothing like bread fresh out of the oven to make any dinner
seem extra special. These rolls are so easy to make that you could almost
serve them every night. Almost!

1 package active dry yeast
1 1/3 cup milk (105 to 115°F degrees)
3 cups flour
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
coarse salt (or sesame seeds), for garnish

  1. Heat oven 375°F. Dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm milk and set aside.
  2. Stir together 2 1/2 cups flour and salt. Add the yeast/milk mixture and oil and blend until smooth. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup of flour until a soft dough ball forms.
  3. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and drape with a dish towel. Let rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Punch down dough and fold over a few times. Brush a 12 cup muffin pan with melted butter. Pinch off 1 inch balls of dough and quickly roll in palm of hands. Put 3 balls to one muffin cup, brush with more melted butter and sprinkle with coarse salt or sesame seeds.
  5. Bake until crust is light golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Immediately remove from pan and enjoy. (These babies are really at their best right out of the oven with a little butter. In my house there are rarely leftovers, but if you do have some store them loosely covered or they will become soggy.)

* adapted from amanda’s cookin’

“butter” than sliced bread

butter [buht-er]:
An edible whitish-yellow solid made from cream by churning, for cooking and table use. ~ To apply a liquefied bonding material to (a piece or area), as mortar to a course of bricks. ~ “To butter up”; to flatter someone in order to gain a favor. ~ “Look as if butter wouldn’t melt in one’s mouth”; to look innocent, although probably not so.

Butter. You probably don’t give it all that much thought. Yeah me neither, until recently that is. As I mentioned in an earlier post I bought the cookbook “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter”, which I’ve been enjoying flipping through. But as much as the title made me chuckle it also made me think, “But why not? Why shouldn’t I make the butter?” My son (who’s 7) has made butter at school a handful of times, so I don’t imagine it could really be all that difficult. I made a mental note to give it a try one of these days.

Have you ever had one of those afternoons where you feel like you’ve spent more time thinking about everything you need to do, rather than doing it? Thursday was one of those days and before I knew it the day was half over and I still didn’t have anything in the house for dinner. I made a mad dash to the store but with my limited amount of time was forced to buy bland grocery store Italian bread rather than the good bakery stuff. I hate having to settle for bland and mediocre! Not one to be undone by something as silly as bread, I seized this as my lemonade out of lemons opportunity to see what homemade butter really was all about. Could it possibly turn this hum-drum loaf of bread into something you’d actually enjoy eating?

It turns out making butter from scratch is not hard to do at all, especially if you have a food processor. Yes I know, you’re rolling your eyes because who but a crazy person with too much time on their hands would bother to make butter. But hold on a second. It took me all of 10 minutes to turn a little heavy cream into the tastiest butter you’ve ever spread on a slice of bread. Honestly, 10 minutes and a lifetime of difference between anything you could buy at the store. And when I tell you this homemade butter was good, I mean “oh my god” good, “I will always remember this moment” good, and “how can this be legal” good. Yeah, it’s really that good!

Oh, and that lame store-bought bread? There wasn’t an un-buttered crumb left.

Homemade Butter
I added a bit of salt to my finished butter, but you can leave it out if you prefer a sweeter result. I also understand that homemade butter will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, but my family polished ours off in two days.

1 half pint of heavy cream (or 1 cup)
1/4 tsp. fine grained salt
3/4 cup of ice water

  1. Pour the heavy cream into the food processor and turn it on. Let the cream process for 1-2 minutes. You’ll see the heavy cream change first into whipped cream and then into lumps of butter. (You’ll also hear the change in the sound of motor when it goes from whipped cream to butter.) Let it process for another 2-4 minutes, until it becomes smooth and creamy.
  2. Turn the food processor off and pour the liquid that has accumulated out and into a bowl. (This is buttermilk and can be used for a future recipe.)
  3. Use a spatula to press the butter against the side of the food processor bowl, extracting as much of the buttermilk as you can.
  4. When you’ve gotten the butter as dry as possible pour in 3/4 cup of ice water and run the processor for about 30 seconds. (What you’re doing is rinsing the butter, which flushes out more of the buttermilk and will allow it to keep longer in the fridge.)
  5. Press the butter again and pour off the remaining water/buttermilk. When all the excess moisture has been removed transfer the butter into a small bowl. Mix a 1/4 tsp. fine grained salt into the butter and enjoy the fruit of your efforts. Or store in a resealable container and refrigerate.

*adapted from my earth garden