Friday, January 22, 2016

Fragrant Mac and Cheese

This week I haven't even tried to meal plan - lots of different things going on combine with last weeks failure on meal planning ensured that I had lots of ideas left over for this week ;) (or at least that is my excuse and I'm sticking to it).

Last night we had the usual debate about what to make for supper (I think I'm starting to come down with a cold - so I wasn't  too enthused to go cook).  I had picked up cheddar smokies when grocery shopping because someone complained mentioned they haven't had sausages in a while so I was determined to use them. However, husband wasn't necessarily in the mood for sausages and made a specific request for Mac and Cheese (not the box kind).  Usually when I have done my Mac and Cheese I have added Candied Bacon into the mix (Monkey's favourite) but Justin has often mentioned I could just add sausage so I figured why not kill two birds with one stone.  I have a basic recipe that is wonderful to work off of - but since this was going to be made with the cheddar smokies instead of bacon I figured I wanted to try and spice things up or change up the recipe a bit.  Since I have been working with a lot of typical Indian species lately I figured I would try out that combination (worst comes to worst I'd pull out some tomato sauce and we'd have shells with tomato sauce and sausages on the side.)

Anyways I added some of the extra spices into the mix and it smelled amazing (yes I am bragging) but as the sauce began to cook the flavours developed even more and I may or may not have tested several spoons of the cheese sauce before adding it to the shells and baking the dish.  The only downside is that the entire things takes about an hour to make (including the 30 minutes of baking time - but frankly it took me that long to do the dishes so the husband sees it as a win-win lol).

Here is the recipe: (the basic recipe is below, I have cross out the parts I omitted and the items in italics are the add ons for the fragrant Mac and Cheese - so if you want to use the basic recipe skip the items it italics) (Basic recipe is from Alton Brown on the website).

Fragrant Mac and Cheese

1/2 pound elbow macaroni (I used probably closer to 10 oz of shells)
4 cheddar filled sausages 3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 tbsp powder mustard
3 cups milk
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove minced 1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin1/2 tsp smoked crushed coriander seed 1/2 tsp garam masala1/2 tsp turmeric 1 egg for some reason I always skip this step)
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded (I honestly used just a three cheese blend that I had on hand)
2-4 ounces of gruyere cheese (just happened to have part of a block left in the fridge)2 tbsp or large spoon full of goat cheese (again on hand)Kosher Salt
Black Pepper
3 tbsp butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs  
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Spray the bottom of a oven safe cooking dish. Put the sausages in the dish and into the oven - I left them in until I was ready to add the cheese to my sauce or about how it takes for the sausages to start to split. Because I was using fully cooked I wasn't too concerned but I did want some nice brown bits on the sausages. 
  3. In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.
  4. While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. (remember to use low heat for this I haven't before and I've ended up with Brown butter - great for other things not so great for mac and cheese).
  5. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. I added the cumin, coriander, garam masala and turmeric here. After a few minutes I also added the onion and garlic to get it cooked really well for husband (and I really finely dice the onion - almost a mince).
  6. Make sure it's free of lumps. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf.
  7. Temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4  ALL of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish (NOTE it is REALLY important to spray the casserole dish before putting the mix into the dish or leave the cleaning up to your partner either way - just be prepared for complaints from the cleaning staff partner if you don't spray the dish ;) . Top with remaining cheese.
  8. Melt the butter in a saute pan and add the bread crumbs to the pan and coat with the butter. (I always season my bread crumbs with salt and pepper, sometimes a little garlic salt - taste them as they are toasting in the pan to make sure they are tasty).  Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Homemade Gnocchi

So I have tried Gnocchi once before and stopped when I realized that it was going to be a failure. Why was it going to be a failure - I didn't have a ricer. I waited for weeks and months for one to come on sale and then waited until the right time to attempt it again. With everything I've seen and read Gnocchi in concept shouldn't be that difficult but it requires a lot of technique to get them right. I figured that this Ramsay recipe couldn't lead me wrong.

I was half right and half wrong. In the end the Gnocchi were light and fluffy like little pillows (SO much better than store bought gnocchi). However, I don't think I had the right consistency or texture to the dough when they were being formed. I say this because they were still sticky when they went into the boiling water. I think this comes from the nature of Gnocchi - a mixture of cooking and baking skills. What do I mean by that? Well the mix for Gnocchi requires some science and precision (like baking) but it is also about instinct and feel.

In the end I would probably find a different recipe ONLY because i want something a little more exact for the ingredient amounts. I didn't have large russets - I only had some small ones of difference sizes - so I made and estimation which makes it difficult and I was very concerned about using too much or too little flour.  I used the back of a fork to make the marks on the back of the gnocchi rather than making a dimple.  The end result was still really good and yummy! So all in all not a totally failure and a fairly good job but not a complete success!

The thing - making sure the Gnocchi are dry before frying them - really important.

Homemade Gnocchi
2 large russet potatoes
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg beaten
1 thyme spring, leaves only
Grated Parmesan cheese, to serve
For the sauce
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup peas
1 thyme spring, leaves only
Zest of 1 lemon
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F
  2. Bake the potatoes in their skins for 1 - 1 1/4 hours until tender all the way through. Remove the flesh from the skins (ideally while still warm) and mash until smooth - a potato ricer works best here. Mix in the ricotta, a pinch of seal salt and white pepper, and the flour. Make a well in the middle, add the beaten egg, and begin to combine the mixture with floured hands. Work in the thyme leaves and continue until a smooth dough has formed (be careful not to overwork it or the dough will end up too dense and won't expand when it goes into the water).
  3. Cut the dough in half and shape each piece into a long sugar shape about 1/2 inch thick. Using the back of the floured table knife, cut each length of dough into 3/4 inch pieces to make "pillows" or individual gnocchi. Gently press each one in the centre using your floured finger. The dent will hold more sauce and allow the gnocchi to take on more flavour. 
  4. Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, tilting the pan from side to side briefly to keep them from sticking together, then simmer for 1 1/2-2 minutes until they start to float. Drain the gnocchi and leave them to steam-dry for 1-2 minutes. 
  5. Meanwhile, start to make the sauce. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and add a little olive oil. Add the gnocchi to the hot pan with a pinch of salt and black pepper and sauce for 1-2 minutes on each side until nicely coloured. 
  6. Add the peas to the pan with a chuck of butter and the thyme leaves. Toss to heat through, then add the lemon zest. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Meatballs in Fragrant Coconut Broth

Monkey Mincing Onion - note the knife she is using?!
I love my daughter a lot! (I mean who doesn't love their kids) but I really mean more than love her because she is my daughter.  She has a truly amazing spirit and personalty sometimes I baffled where she gets it form.  I often refer to her as my eternal optimist - no matter the situation she always finds a way to try and look on the bright side or find the lesson. Beyond this she also loves to learn anything and everything she can. I mean she loved when she learned how to clean the cat litter (yes this was a great moment in our house!)

One of the things that she loves doing - and I would like to think in part because she knows I love it - is cooking and baking. Now I know when I was a kid I used to bake things with my mom sometimes or even in high school I took Home Economics and was taught - but she's 9 and she has been at this for years now.  She not only wants to measure the simple thing she wants to be involved in every aspect of cooking - including knife work. Granted she's 9 - almost 10 years old and sometimes lacks patience needed for consistency she has no fear of diving in.  She also prides herself on making her own lunches now (including cutting the fruits and veggies). She also has taken to one night a week where she gets to decide the menu and make it all (usually all from scratch if we can).

Do you see why I love this kid?

Sharpening, cutting and mixing
So when I set out to make the Meatballs of course a monkey was on board for helping out. The first issue were her knives - so I taught her how to hone her knives properly and then clean them. If you don't know how to do this LEARN - the first time I did it I could NOT believe the difference that properly honed/sharpened knife made in the kitchen.  Since that time (years ago) I make sure I do it often and will often secretly do it to other peoples knives if they aren't looking. It just makes life so much easier. From there the recipe was relatively easy and straight forward to follow. I didn't make any modifications to the recipe - however for next time I would. I would probably use half of the chile flakes in the meatballs themselves as I found them spicy and then up the amount in the broth. I also found that there was way more broth than meat so I would probably also increase the amount of meatballs that I used.

 Last tip I have is for the meatballs - now I have made many different kinds of balls in my life but have always had a problem with consistency. I was lucky enough to get a cookie scoop for my birthday - best invention ever for making meatballs - I got them a consistent size and it worked really well and was easy to clean.

A little note about lemon grass because some people haven't used it before - I cut off the bottom root part (think of green onions) and the peal off the outer layer of leaves.  Then I cut it down the centre length wise.  Then take the back side of a knife and beat the lemon grass up - you can also pick it up, flex it and move it to help release the oils. Then I cut into 2-3 inch pieces and put in the broth.  When I have done an infusion like this before I actually put the lemon grass, ginger and garlic in a cheese cloth so I could take it out.  Note - don't eat lemon grass - I mean you can but I would recommend against it.
Meatballs in Fragrant Coconut Broth
2 tsp coriander seeds
Finished Product
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1-2 tsp dried chile flakes, to taste
2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed, smashed and cut into small sticks
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 cups chick stock
One 14-ounce can coconut milk
Zest and juice of 1 lime
For the meatballs
1 small onion, peeled, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1 1/2 tsp dried chile flakes
1 pound ground beef
2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3-4 tbsp milk

Monkey mixing the meatball mixture
  1. First prepare the meat balls. Sauce the onion and garlic with salt and pepper to taste in a hot oiled frying pan for about 5 minutes until soft and lightly coloured, adding the chile flakes after a minute or two. Place the beef in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Put the breadcrumbs in a separate bowl and moisten with the milk. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the breadcrumbs and onion mixture into the beef and combine well.  With wet hands, shape the beef mixture into class about the size of a golf ball. Transfer to a lightly greased plate or baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes until firm. 
  2. Brown the meatballs in a cleaned oiled pan for 4-5 minutes turning frequently until nicely coloured on all sides. 
  3. Add the coriander sees, cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, chile flakes, lemongrass, and ginger. Heat through, stirring until aromatic, then add the stock and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Simmer for 8-12 minutes until the sauce is flavourful and thickened and the meatballs are cooked through.
  4. Add the lime zest and juice and serve hot.