6 Random Cooking Facts

Annie tagged me for a meme, and I figured I could tailor it to cooking since that’s what this blog is about!

6 Random Cooking Facts About Me

1. The first thing I remember making by myself is hot chocolate. I was around 6 or 7, I believe.

In a microwavable mug, combine 1 heaping T of cocoa powder with 2 t sugar (nowadays I use honey). Add a little milk to make a smooth paste, then fill mug completely. Microwave on high for approximately 2 minutes, stirring once halfway through. For variations, 1/2 t cinnamon and/or 1/4 t vanilla extract may be added.

(Those without a microwave can heat the milk on the stove and add it gradually to the mug.)

2. The most difficult food I ever made was Penuche. It doesn’t look that difficult to me now (I was 12 at the time), but I remember it being absolute torture. The memory is still fresh enough to keep me from trying again anytime soon!

3. The most time-consuming food I ever made were croissants (~6 hours). Lots of waiting and dough-work.

4. I generally start with a recipe, but I usually modify it as I go and rarely do the same thing twice. Exceptions occur, however, and there are about 8 recipes that I have memorized.

5. People sometimes ask for my recipes, but only one dish has gotten more than 3 requests. Sometime I’ll post the recipe here. (*oooh, mystery!*)

6. Aside from chocolate (which is a given), my greatest food weakness is a toss up between fresh garlic French sourdough bread and crunchy dill pickles.

Tiramisu

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Today is my grandmother’s birthday, and since she happened to be visiting with my aunt I decided to make a Very Special Birthday Dessert. Tiramisu is one of their favorites, and after experimenting with it several times over the last year, I felt I’d landed on a recipe that did the name justice. Tonight was a test, however, because my grandmother and aunt have tried many different Tiramisus, some of very high caliber. The word? Major success. They said it was superb, so I’ll be filing this away as my official Tiramisu recipe.

I haven’t tried this with mascarpone cheese, which I understand is traditionally the cheese of choice. I also don’t make mine with rum, though I’m sure it could be added to the coffee easily enough. I do make my own Ladyfingers, as I’ve been unable to find them around here. Start to finish, it takes about an hour and half to assemble the Tiramisu. Definitely worth it.

Tiramisu

6 egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese*
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
2 (3 oz) packages soft ladyfinger cookies**

unsweetened cocoa powder
fresh strawberries (opt)

1) In a medium saucepan, whisk egg yolks and sugar together; add milk and whisk constantly over medium heat until mixture thickens and comes to a boil.
2) Boil 1 minute, remove from heat and let cool slightly; cover and chill 1 hour.
3a) If making your own ladyfingers, do this now.
3b) In a medium bowl, mix together cream cheese, sour cream, and 2 Tablespoons heavy cream. Whisk into pudding until smooth.
4) In another bowl, whip heavy cream and vanilla until stiff peaks form.
5) Drizzle underside of ladyfingers with coffee and place on bottom (and sides if desired) of serving dish.
6) Evenly spread custard over ladyfingers, then spread on whipping cream; sprinkle top with cocoa, decorate with fresh strawberries, cover and refrigerate a minimum of 4 hours.

For best results, allow to refrigerate 36-48 hours.

* Cheese alternative: mix together 1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, 1/4 cup sour cream and 2 Tablespoons heavy cream

** If using homemade ladyfingers, they do not need to be cut in half; drizzle coffee on underside and layer as usual.

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Ladyfinger Cake

4 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar, divided
3/4 cup white flour + 2 Tablespoons
1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1) Pre-heat oven to 400° F.
2) Beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form, then gradually add 2 Tablespoons sugar until stiff and glossy.
3) In a separate bowl beat together egg yolks and remaining sugar on medium speed until thick and a pale yellow.
4) In a separate bowl, sift flour and baking powder together.
5) Fold half of the egg whites into the egg yolks, fold in flour, then remaining egg whites, folding until just mixed.
6) Pour mixture into a greased 9×13 pan and spread evenly.
7) Bake 8 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely in pan(s).
8) To prepare for Tiramisu, either turn cake out and return to pan upside down for a solid layer or cut into “cookies” and distribute into the Tiramisu as desired.

– for a true ladyfinger “cookie”, pipe mixture 3″ long onto greased cookie sheets and bake 5-7 minutes (or until lightly browned)

– to make chocolate ladyfingers, substitute 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder for 2
Tablespoons white flour

Gnocchi

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As a little girl I absolutely loved gnocchi. I didn’t really know what it was, I just knew I always wanted more.

In second grade each child had a turn at “kid of the week”, complete with a board full of pictures and a list of “favorites” presented in colors of the child’s choice. When my turn came, the teacher sat me down to fill out my list of favorites, and when we came to food I said without hesitation, “Gnocchi”. She stopped, pen poised over the paper, looked up, and replied, “What?

“Gnocchi,” I repeated, as if everyone should know it. It was, after all, the Best Food Ever. She asked me how to spell it, and after a little thought I took my best guess beginning with “Y” and ending with “E” because that’s how it sounded, and being 8 years old I didn’t really know much better.

How sad a day was the day our local grocery store stopped selling my precious gnocchi. I remember my mother attempting it from scratch once, but after hours of labor we all decided it wasn’t worth it and gnocchi seemed gone from my life forever.

Since marrying the GHE (Great Hidden Eyes), my cooking has improved a lot, and not too long ago I found myself wondering if gnocchi from scratch really was as difficult as I remembered it. The answer? Moderately difficult and extremely time consuming, yes, but it’s worth it to me, because it’s still one of my favorite foods.

Gnocchi in simplest terms are Italian potato dumplings. They are typically very subtle in their flavor and are designed to accept whatever flavor of sauce you put on it. I will eat them plain (most people would consider this too bland, I think), but I like them with pesto sauce best. They’re also really good with simple butter and parmesan cheese. Yum!

Gnocchi

6 medium russet potatoes
2 eggs, lightly beaten
~2 cu white and/or wheat flour
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Optional:
3 T Parmesan cheese
1/2 t garlic powder

1) Cook potatoes as you like with the skins on. Microwave, steam, boil…the important thing is to not overcook, as overcooked potatoes will affect the texture of the dough. The other thing to note is that the more water used, the more of it potatoes will absorb and therefore the more flour you’ll need in order to form the dough. I prefer to steam mine, and about 15 minutes of cook-time is perfect for this. A fork should be able to pierce with little resistance, and the potato shouldn’t fall apart. I highly recommend letting them cool a bit before continuing.

2) Peel and mash the potatoes. This is one of those recipes where I wish I had a counter top mixer or a food processor. A manual masher and a fork work, but when you do 7 pounds of potatoes at once (as I did this time), it’s impossible to get perfectly smooth potatoes and it kills your hands and wrists.

3) Make a well in the middle and add the eggs, oil, salt and pepper (and any optional ingredients). Mix thoroughly.

4) Plop it all onto a very well-floured surface and add more flour gradually, kneading to form a soft dough. It will be a messy and sticky process (thusly I suggest removing rings and watches), but it reminds me of making food sculptures as a kid, so I don’t mind so much. If you do, you can try adding flour to the bowl first to thicken it up a little.

5) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 1/2 hour. If you make a larger amount, place the dough in a bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.*

6) Return to your floured surface, and roll the dough into long ropes 1/2-3/4″ in diameter.

7) Cut the ropes in 1/2″ pieces. If you’re feeling artistic, you can shape or roll the dough and/or press with a fork or your finger. Supposedly the grooves help more sauce stay on the gnocchi when you eat it, but I’ve never paid that much attention to see if that’s true or not.

8) Drop gnocchi into boiling, salted water. They’re done when they float (usually 2-3 minutes)!

Alternately, you can lay them uncooked on a cookie sheet and freeze them for later use. You can do this with the dough itself, for that matter. Frozen gnocchi dough will keep up to a month.

*As a reminder, potatoes will oxidize if left exposed to air. I forgot about this and left my dough overnight thinking I’d continue the next day. Fortunately it only hits the surface, so I just scraped it off and picked up where I’d left off. It’s simply an aesthetic thing…I don’t like grey potatoes.

Cooking Blog!

I finally decided that I do enough recipe/ cooking posts in my regular journal to warrant a blog dedicated solely to my culinary pursuits.

Commence backdating!

This is going to be fun. 😀