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Cooking for Two: Caprese Sauce on Basil Gnocchi

Cooking for Two: Caprese Sauce on Basil Gnocchi

Don’t you just love those caprese appetizers? Those little fresh mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes skewered on picks and drizzled with balsamic vinegar? So yummy! I decided to make a sauce based on those delightful, summery, picks-o-goodness! Only no toothpicks. Because that would be dangerous.

I picked up a package of basil gnocchi at our local World Market for this dish, but regular gnocchi should work also. I used “pearl” tomatoes – which are more golf-ball sized, so I’m not sure where the name came from! A couple of diced, seeded Roma tomatoes would work just dandy. Speaking of pearls, I wish I could have found those cute little pearl-sized fresh mozzarella balls, but oh well!

1 – 16 oz. pkg. Basil Gnocchi

3-4 cloves Roasted Garlic

mozzarella balls, tomatoes, basil, caprese sauce

The sauce just needs to simmer a little longer to warm through!

¾ c white wine

1 tbl. Balsamic vinegar

1 tbl olive oil

3 small Tomatoes, cut in wedges and seeded

Salt & Pepper to taste

1/3 c chopped fresh basil (I use scissors)

12 fresh mozzarella balls (1 inch size –although I would have loved to have found the pearl-sized mozzarella)

SAUCE: Measure the wine and Balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan – add the roasted garlic and bring to a simmer. Cook 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt & pepper and simmer 2 minutes longer. Put in the mozzarella balls and basil and warm through.

gnocchi, caprese sauce, basil, tomatoes, mozzarella balls

We ate every single bite!

GNOCCHI: Using only mountain spring water, hauled by hand in a copper bucket…kidding! Cook according to package directions. Drain and return to the pan. Pour the sauce over the gnocchi and stir gently. Serve immediately.

Note: I should have added a teaspoon of sugar to the sauce to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and vinegar…next time!!

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Posted by on January 23, 2014 in Recipe

 

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Super Easy, Super Tasty: Sugared Cranberries

Sparkling cranberries; drying before storing.

My friend Kim brought a bowl of these to a potluck at my house once and I immediately had to have the recipe! Turns out they are very easy – with a little patience** – and they look just beautiful! I would say they are too beautiful to eat, but it would be wrong of me to deny you the chance to pop these little orbs of sweet-tart goodness into your mouth!

I’ve made them several times since Kim shared her recipe and – as I always do with recipes – tried out some variations. Some worked, some didn’t!

What didn’t work: Using coarse, colored sugar. I thought the larger crystals would be pretty on the berries, but it turns out that they kinda melt and just look crusty (and not a good kind of crusty!)

What did work: I poured my ultra-fine baker’s sugar (I found it in the baking aisle in a milk carton-like container) into a Tupperware container and put a couple of vanilla beans in with it for several days to give the sugar a vanilla riff. The sugar with beans is still in my cupboard and I am looking forward to making the cranberries with it to see if the vanilla is stronger! Turns out, this is pretty much how they make vanilla powder for coffee shops (also good in pie crusts!)

**Regarding patience: the cranberries have to soak in the sugar liquid for at least 8 hours, so you need to plan ahead. This is not a spur-of-the-moment recipe! It is important to make sure you do not boil the cranberries – they will pop, if boiled, and will not make a very pretty treat. They need to dry for an hour before storing – try not to eat them all before they are dry!

Now, you could make a batch of these and sit in a corner, eating them all yourself, but that would not be in the spirit of the holiday season. Bring them as a hostess gift in a pretty tin, set them in a crystal bowl alongside your appetizer platters, toss a handful onto a plate of turkey or eat them while watching a movie with your family! There is no wrong time for sugared cranberries!

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in Recipe

 

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Pre-made Simmmer Sauce, Packaged Soup Mix: Is it cheating?

Lemon Artichoke Simmer Sauce

After a recent shopping trip that included World Market, I came away with a couple of packaged recipe starters – a simmer sauce and dried soup mixes. Although some purists may disagree, I don’t believe using such things for inspiration or a jumping off point is cheating. If I am adding 4 or more ingredients I have to prepare myself to make a complete dish, then it is merely one of the steps in the preparation. (Step 5. Dump in Simmer Sauce) Few of us have the time it would take to create a fresh sauce of this sort – at least in time for that evening’s dinner! The one I chose had lemon juice, artichokes and white wine as its main flavors – which sounded like a marvelous combination to me! I used boneless chicken thighs (1 1/2 lb) that I dredged in flour/ground pepper and then lightly browned in olive oil.

4 or more ingredients added? Not cheating!

I added chopped onion (1/2 c), sliced zucchini (2 small), canned artichoke quarters (14 oz., drained), and mushrooms (1 c sliced), as well as the sauce, and simmered for 35-40 minutes. I served it on Basmati rice to soak up the juices. Delicious!

My other recipe starter was World Market’s Bistro Style Lentil Soup Mix. Even though there were dehydrated vegetables in the mix, the instructions called for fresh ingredients like onion (1/2 onion, chopped), garlic (2 cloves – it called for 4!), and carrots (1 c chopped), as well as canned diced tomatoes (14.5 oz) and chicken broth (2 c). I took it a bit further and added mushrooms (1 c sliced), spinach (2 c)  and sliced cooked Aidell’s Sausage (1 pkg. chicken & apple).

Dried Soup Mix

The soup had to simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, so this is not something you can decide to make on the spur of the moment! In all fairness, you would have simmer it that long if you gathered and measured all the lentils yourself. Undercooked lentils are crunchy and not really what you are going for in a soup. The house smelled amazing while it was cooking, by the way. I’m surprised there wasn’t a line of neighbors – or raccoons – outside the door by the time it was ready to be served! I chose a chewy ciabatta roll as an accompaniment to this soup, so we could swipe out our bowls!

Something that could have been done before adding the sausage and spinach (they were added with about 1/2 hour to go), would be to run it through a blender to make it smooth and creamy, but I had to dash out the door after bolting down a quick, still-simmering bowl, so maybe next time!

A hearty soup for a chilly day!

PS When I returned home, I grabbed a second bowl and my ciabatta roll – tasty! Plenty of leftovers, too!

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2011 in Information, Recipe

 

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Super Easy: Crispy Fruit “Pudding”

Crispy Peach "Pudding"

Once in a while, you come across a recipe that is not only easy, it is versatile and so tasty that it always garners compliments. I found this in a Family Circle magazine about a zillion years ago… Originally called “Crispy Berry Pudding,” it was made with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, but I soon discovered that just about any fruit combination would work well in this dessert. Click on the highlighted text for the recipe. Some of the fruits I’ve tried: apples and cranberries, rhubarb (with and without another fruit) and peaches – pictured here. The only fruit that I didn’t care for was plums – and maybe it was because we had “prune” plums. I also can’t imagine it would work with citrus fruits, but if you try it and it works, let me know! I have no idea why it is referred to as a “pudding” – perhaps it is a British thing…?

A Few Tips:

  • If you are using orchard fruits – such as peaches, apples or pears – be sure to peel them as a part of the preparation.

    Ready to bake! See? Not stirred!

  • Melt the butter in your baking dish while preparing the fruit, but keep an eye on it! You want it to be just melted, not browned.
  • The most important thing to remember when assembling the pudding is Do Not Stir. You will pour batter (which, yes, you have stirred, but that is a different step!) over the melted butter and then pour the fruit over the batter. No stirring!
  • I use a 3 qt. dish so there is plenty of room for juices to bubble without boiling over. This is probably my most used baking dish! If you wish, you can put it on a baking sheet or some foil to avoid a nasty boiled fruit clean up in your oven until you are sure of the recipe.
  • Watch the baking time the first few times you try the recipe. I recently got a different oven and find that I don’t have to bake it the whole hour as I did in my old oven. The pudding pictured at the top of this post was baked for 40 minutes.
  • Optional Ingredients: Add a dash of cinnamon and/or nutmeg to the fruit, along with the sugar. You could also sprinkle with chopped nuts before baking.

As Autumn blows wildly in, I am looking forward to making this dessert with apples and cranberries!

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in Recipe

 

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A Recipe in Progress: Orzo & Red Rice

"I'm late - but dinner won't be!"

When they first came out, frozen dinners were a marvel of science; a product of convenience for the modern woman. Later they became a symbol of poor nutrition and of lack of finesse in the kitchen. Today, you can find frozen dinners that are tasty and healthy. One that I tried when I had a solo weekend was by Healthy Choice (I think) and called “Mediterranean Pasta.” I loved it! It had pasta, rice apples, cranberries, spinach – very flavorful. Naturally, it was discontinued, but not before I wrote down all the ingredients and attempted to re-create this dish for myself! As it says in the title of this post, it is a work in progress…

I still don’t think I have the spices down quite right – none were specifically mentioned on the package (curse them!), but who’s going to know the difference? They don’t make this one anymore! If this sounds like your kind of recipe, please give it a try and let me know what you thought; what changes you made; how it can be improved, etc.

And speaking of changes, I like the flavor of Swiss chard better than spinach and I added mushrooms (small, sliced Portabello mushrooms). I’m calling it “Orzo and Red Rice” because I already have a recipe I use with the original name.

Let’s talk about ingredients: Red rice is an interesting choice and you may need to look hard for it, but I think a wild rice would be an acceptable substitute, nutrition and texture-wise. Fontina cheese is similar to mozzarella, but I’ve also substituted smoked extra sharp cheddar – the recipe only calls for 1/2 cup, so it is not a huge issue. Swiss chard is a fairly new vegetable for me – we bought a farm-share one summer and ended up with a lot of it. My research indicated that the stems are not eaten and the big vein down the middle should be removed, so that is how I prepare it. Also – a bunch makes a big pile of chard shards! Don’t panic because it will cook down in a few minutes. Like most of the other meatless main dish I make, my husband thinks it would be better if it included sausage or some other meat. Up to you! Apple juice was listed in the original ingredients’ list, but that is not something I keep around much. I usually end up buying a 3 pack of 100% apple juice in little boxes. (Hence, I chose 6 oz. as the amount of apple juice needed in the recipe!)

Ready to serve!

This recipe takes about 45 minutes, including prep., so it is very doable on a busy night. It all goes into one pot – in my case, a deep, 12 inch covered skillet (one of my most-used pans!), so you don’t have too much to clean up afterward- especially if you have a dog who will snap up that apple piece you dropped!

Be sure to let me know how/if you liked it and any other comments you wish to make!

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Asking for Feedback, Recipe

 

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Gemelli Pasta with Bacon & Broccoli Rabe

While on a family visit to Michigan, my husband and I went to the local grocery store to pick up a few things for his mom. At the checkout stand were the usual impulse items: candy, gossip rags, magazines geared toward women and cooking magazines. One of the cooking magazines caught my eye – Cooking Light: 5 Ingredient, 15 Minute Recipes. It had a beautiful picture of grilled salmon with a chutney or something artfully drizzled on it – looked very yummy! I picked it up (just as the merchandiser intended, I know!) and flipped it open to a full page photograph of the finished result of the recipe I’m going to share with you in this post. No – I didn’t tear out the recipe and leave the rest of the magazine! How dare you suggest such a thing! No -I bought it, took it back to the in-law’s and proceeded to go over it with a yellow highlighter and post-it flags. Yes, really. There are quite a few tasty ideas in that magazine and you may see more of them here in the future!

They play a little fast and loose with the definition of “ingredient” in the magazine – spices, water, oil (or other cooking fat) are not included in the “5” promised by the title. And the 15 minute time frame is tossed right out the window. It is clearly typed below this particular recipe, “Prep: 4 min. Cook: 25 min.” I added that up and guess what? Yup – over 15 minutes! (Thank you 2nd grade math!) The prep time – set at 4 minutes, assumes you pre-sliced garlic, pre-cut up bacon, pre-trimmed broccoli rabe*, etc. No – I think it took me probably 45 minutes to pull this together, but that is not too bad in the scheme of things. As always, I altered the recipe – this time by adding quartered artichoke hearts, quartered grape tomatoes and serving with Parmesan cheese. If I had had any feta in the house, I would have ignored the Parmesan, added sliced black olives and sprinkled it liberally with feta cheese – but that will be for another time! For a PDF of the recipe that you can view and print, click here.

To be clear, everything ended up in the large skillet – mine is wok-like with a glass lid and I think it is sometimes referred to as a “chef’s pan” or the “everything pan” – I do use it a lot and rarely use regular skillets.

Gemelli Pasta-Broccoli Rabe-Bacon-Tomatoes-Artichoke Hearts...

*If you are confused about Broccoli Rabe, it is sometimes sold as “baby broccoli.”

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2011 in Recipe

 

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Peach-N-Ginger Pie: Tastes Like Summer!

Eating Pie in front, Auction Pie in back - fresh from the oven!

Yesterday, I submitted pies to a local fundraiser in our community called, “Pie in the Park.” This event raises money for a new community center by throwing a pie tasting party and auctioning off donated pies. The pie tasting is free. Free pie? What’s not to like?!?! Those who donated pies were asked to bring one for tasting and one for auction. I hadn’t participated before, but I modestly (?) believe I make a pretty darn good pie, so off I went to get some peaches for pie! Purchasing peaches can be an unpredictable endeavor. If the grocer keeps them too cold, they are mealy and unappetizing, but you don’t know that until you cut them open – or worse, bite them. Most of the time, they are too green, so last minute shopping can prove to be disappointing. Luckily, I was able to get some good peaches a few days ahead and only one was bad when I cut it open. >whew!< I decided to kick it up a notch by adding crystallized ginger to the pie mixture  – which turned out to be a good choice! There were quite a few pies at the auction – tons of apple, pumpkin, berry – but only 2 peach/ginger concoctions. One was mine and the other from a professional baker. I don’t recall what the other one went for, but I was pleased to see that mine was sold for $80 – the winner out-bid my husband for the honor!

Ready for the oven!

The Pie Crust  Last winter, I found a new pie crust recipe in Better Homes & Gardens magazine that I fell in love with. It makes a goodly amount of dough – enough for 3 deep dish single crust pies, or, for my needs, 2 smaller sized (9 inch) pies. The recipe calls for sour cream, real butter and vinegar – among other things! – and is refrigerated before rolling out. It has a small amount of sugar in the recipe and I used extra-fine baker’s sugar in which I have stored a vanilla bean. This gives the sugar a mild vanilla flavor and is actually how “vanilla powder” is made. As a finishing touch on my pies, I brush them with milk and sprinkle sugar on them to give them a shiny, crisp crust. I also like to use tiny cookie cutters to decorate my pies instead of the usual slashes. This crust recipe bakes up really flaky so the cut-outs look almost like puff pastry after baking.

See the ginger bits? Next step: Top crust!

The Filling  I sliced the peaches fairly thin, tossed them with lemon juice and added some nutmeg and the vanilla sugar mentioned before. This takes a while because peaches are so slippery to peel! I know there is a way to quickly blanch them so that their skins slip right off, but I just didn’t want to go there on a warm summer day! I have found that when peaches are “just right” the skins will peel off nicely when I start at the stem end with hardly any “peach gouging.” To fill two 9 inch pie plates, I used 8 medium sized peaches. The ginger bits were not added in with the rest of the filling, but instead were sprinkled on top of the filling before putting the top crust in place. I used crystallized ginger bits for bakers by

Crystallized Ginger Chips by The Ginger People

The Ginger People. They are about the same size as chocolate chips. I think I got these at either Central Market  or World Market – I’ve seen them both places.

You may click here to view/print a pdf of the recipe – including the lovely crust recipe! Here is a an up close shot of my $80 pie!

Fresh from the oven -Peach-N-Ginger Pie!

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Information, Recipe

 

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