The Food Groupie Club

Hi my name is Sarah and I'm addicted to food. I have been a chef professionally for about 12 years now and am currently teaching cooking classes at a culinary school. I seriously love to cook and eat good food. The problem with cooking and eating like the professionals though is that it can be kind of intimidating for a home food enthusiast. My goal is to bring good food into every-day homes. Anyone can make healthy, good quality, good tasting, and good looking food with the right know-how. So here you made easy by a professional!

I will be featuring some of my favorite chef's recipes in my posts and will note in the post what book was used. Their books that I use will be listed in my must have cookbooks tab.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Potato Gnocchi

Thomas Keller "The French Laundry" page 90

2 lb Potatoes
1 1/2 C. Flour
3 Egg Yolks
1 Tbs. Dijon Mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Two posts in one day.... What a return! On the menu tonight was potato gnocchi (nn-yo-key).  Gnocchi's are just little potato dumplings, also known as little pillows of potato heaven.  If you can handle making mashed potatoes you can handle making these from scratch. Yes, you can find these pre-made and dried in the pasta section, but where's the fun in that??  I have tried many recipes for this and once again boyfriend TK has taken the cake here.  He has just the right proportions of potato/flour/egg yolk to make these the right consistency. You're looking for some three bear action here: not too hard, not too soft........

Step 1: Cook The Potatoes
Lets do a little potato education first before we get to the cooking here. There are different types of potatoes and each type will give you different texture results.  Russets are high in starch and will break down and get fluffy when cooked. Then you have reds which are higher in sugar than starch. Sugar helps the potatoes to hold their shape which is why reds stay firmer after being cooked.  Gnocchi recipes usually call for russets, and these work fine. I prefer using Yukon Golds. They are moderately starchy but will still have some texture after cooking. Plus they have a richer buttery-ish flavor which I love.  Your choice..... really just use which ever one you have available. You can get the Yukon's at any grocery store. the cooking..... Leave the potatoes whole, skin on and put in a pot and cover with water. Don't forget to salt the water! The best time for potatoes to absorb salt is during the cooking process.  You can peel and cut these before cooking, but that's an unnecessary step that can be avoided.

They are done when a knife easily slides into the potato and it splits a little where the knife is.  Here is why I don't bother peeling them. The skin just rolls right off after cooking. Way easier than peeling with a vegetable peeler.  {ok..... there are a ton of chefs who may punch me for saying this, but........ If you want to cool down your potatoes faster so you can handle them to peel, rinse them for a couple minutes under cold water. Most chef's freak out at this statement because "the potatoes will absorb water and water-log".  OK, calm down. The skins are still on. If they were peeled I would agree with the no rinsing potatoes after cooking. With the skin on, the actual potato is doing no more absorbing than it does during the cooking process.  Its a time saver.  Don't cool them too much though because they need to be hot to mash nicely.}

Step 2: Mixing The Potatoes:
Throw the whole peeled potatoes into a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and mix until smooth and there are no chunks.  If you don't have a stand mixer you can use any masher you want. A hand mixer or one of those old manual hand mashers will work.  Just get them smooth!

Once they are smooth add in the egg yolks, flour, dijon {This is my own addition to this recipe. TK uses it in his pate a choux gnocchi and I love it, but for some reason doesn't use it in the potato version. It adds a nice touch, so I made the change.}, and salt & pepper. Mix until the flour and egg is combined into the potato.  Do not over mix, the potatoes can get gluey and weird. They should be stiff and stick to the beater.

Step 3: Shaping and boiling
Like I said above, these are like little potato pillows.  In classical gnocchi recipes you are supposed to take a hunk o' potato and roll it into a cylinder {like a play dough snake} and cut the snake into 1 inch long pieces, then roll it on a fork to make marks on it.  I don't know about you, but I don't care about fork marks enough to do all this.  Plus I sucked it up as a kid in the play dough snake department. My snakes always looked like they just ate several mice.  Once again.... thank you TK {he's my boyfriend for a reason} for coming up with a more practical way of doing things.  We are of course going to go non-traditional on these.  Put your potato dough into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip.  Get a large pot of water boiling and squeeze your bag until about an inch of dough comes out of the tip, then scrape it into the water with a knife.

Potatoes are heavy. They will sink upon contact with the water.  As they cook they will get light and float to the top. Once they start to float, let them cook about 1-2 more minutes before removing from the water with a slotted spoon.  Keep cutting the gnocchi into the water while they cook, just stop periodically to remove the cooked ones and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet.

Step 4: Cooking Part Deux
Yes, this is a two part cooking process. Boiling first, then finish with a pan fry. Heat a large saute pan and melt about 3 Tbs. Butter in the pan combined with a little canola oil so the butter won't burn. It needs to get HOT HOT HOT before you add any of the gnocchi to the pan.  You need to hear it sizzling pretty loudly when you add them in.  Obviously if the pan starts billowing smoke and things are a burnin, you got it too hot. Here's that three bears thing again.  You will need to cook these in batches, they won't all fit in the pan at once. Repeat this with each batch.  Let them cook without fussing with them until they start to turn golden brown, then you can start flipping them to brown the other side. By flip I don't mean individually. Use a spatula or if you know how to do the pan flip have at it.  Remove to browned gnocchi to a separate plate.

Step 5: Finishing and eating
There are endless possibilities on what to serve these with. My fave is with roasted butternut squash and mushrooms. Tonight I kept it simple and just did some sauteed zucchini, herbs, and Parmesan cheese. 

 Add about 1-2 Tbs. butter into the same saute pan that you cooked the gnocchi in and let the butter brown slightly.....Add the zucchini {medium dice} and cook for 1 minute. These cook fast so watch out! You will need about 1-2 cups diced zucchini depending on how much you heart zucchini. 

Mix in the gnocchi and toss to combine then add a handful of Parmesan cheese and minced herbs. I used thyme and parsley, but use whatever you want. Basil, oregano, or chives would also work.  This can be served with a sauce, like a home-made marinara, but I like it with just the butter it's sauteed in.

Finished product:


Ok, I know I disappeared for a while..... I will confess.... I've been lazy and haven't been cooking. Ooops. Hopefully Chipotle has been happy for our business these past few weeks. I did host "Meat Fest 2011" a few weeks ago, but there was too much to do so I didn't take any pictures. It was awesome though. Yes, it's a whole festival celebrating meat. We had baby back ribs, tri-tip, chorizo hamburgers, sausage, and bacon mac n' cheese, BBQ corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, and watermelon. I love being able to bust out the smoker. Anyways,  I'm back on the cooking wagon though and we have our weekly menu planned out again, so sorry Chipotle if your sales are down this week.  

I decided to just ease back into the food blog by doing a post on Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah. You sound smarter when you say it right). 

If you haven't ever heard of this magic grain you are probably living under a rock. This has been around for-ev-er (say it like they do on 'the sandlot') but its just recently gotten a lot of media play. Quinoa is a whole grain that is a great substitute for rice. Its VERY low-carb and high in protein {and gluten free}! See, its a magic grain. It can be used and cooked just like rice as a side, filling, or stuffing.  There are a few things to know about it though otherwise you might be unpleasantly surprised, and maybe quit it before you really gave it a good chance.

#1: Don't just simply follow the package directions. The first time I tried cooking this, the package said to cook it just like rice, and said it could even be done in a steamer. I chose to try it in my rice steamer. I did not like this at all. It had very little flavor and was mushy. I seriously was wondering what all the hype was about. This package also says to basically steam it. Blegh. 
One thing you need to know about cooking, that usually if something isn't good, its not prepared properly. I learned a trick  from one of the chefs I work with that made me change my mind on this product. Toast it first. The package should say this but does not. Toasting brings out the flavor and makes it have a better texture after cooking. This is a simple task that works miracles. Just spread it out in an even layer on a cookie sheet and toast it in the oven at 350 until its golden brown and smells nutty.

#2: After toasting, put it in a mesh strainer and rinse it really good. Apparently it has a bitter coating on the outside that will go away with a good rinsing. I have a friend though that says she never rinses her's and she's never noticed any bitterness. Everything I've ever read about this says to rinse it though, so I'll stick with that. 
#3: Finally down to the cooking. I cooked this pilaf style, not steamed. I small diced 1 large red bell pepper and 1 small onion and sauteed it in a pot with about 1 Tablespoon olive oil until the onions were translucent. Then I added the quinoa and cooked that slightly in the oil (about 1 minute) and added the water. You can add a little chicken base or use chicken stock instead of water if you want a little savory undertone to it.  Cover with a lid and let it cook until the water evaporates.  The bag said to do a 2:1 ratio water to quinoa just like rice, but since it was mushy last time, I cut it down to about 1 1/2:1 and it was perfect. Side note....... This stuff expands like crazy. A little goes a long way. 1 cup will feed like 4-6 people. I used 2 cups and cooked up it fed 4 adults, 3 kids, made 3 boxed lunches for the next day and still had enough to make another meal for 3 out of it. When you buy it, the bag isn't that big so you might feel like its kindof expensive. Just remember it goes more then twice as far as rice. 

One more thing.... my friend Michele gave me a great idea for the leftovers. There was about 1 1/2 cups cooked leftovers after the 3 boxed lunches. She said to add some corn, black beans, avocado, and fresh tomato to it and serve it in a corn tortilla.  Quinoa tacos!! Genius.  They were awesome.... Plus dinner only took me about 10 minutes to make.  Great healthy meatless substitute to beef tacos. I also added some sour cream and cheddar on top.  So if you want to make your life really easy........ Cook a bunch and you can use it in a couple other meals for another day.