Conscious Food Choices

For the love of delicious healthy food…

Gnocchi gnocchi gnocchi gnocchi gnocchi….

Besides being really fun to say, and sort of mind-boggling to spell, gnocchi are really super fun to make. And, apparently, you can make them with pretty much anything. This winter, after years of being intimidated by the process but drawn to the allure of these puffy little dumplings, I finally decided to tackle them and pulled out my mom’s old fashioned potato mill from the pantry….

I started with what looked most legitimate – the über fussy potato ones from Nancy Silverton’s gorgeous new Mozza Cookbook. Because I am incapable of following a recipe verbatim, (even my own), and because I wanted to try making them using white whole wheat flour instead of white all-purpose, I second-guessed the recipe and added about 1/2 cup less flour than she calls for.

They were incredibly delicious – maybe one of the the most delicious potato things I have ever put in my mouth. But they were also almost too delicate, and could have used more flour in them for a bit more bite…(probably exactly what the recipe called for). Making potato gnocchi is really a project and the Mozza recipes are great – very detailed and wonderfully specific – so rather than trying to re-post my only slightly modified version of that recipe*, I am going to recommend that you get that book, which is loaded with other inspiring veggie recipes, and devote an entire Saturday afternoon to the Potato Gnocchi Gods as I did.  It’s wonderfully satisfying.

On the other end of the spectrum – for everyday life – there is ricotta gnocchi, which are so ridiculously quick and non-fussy to make that a dinner for two can be pulled together in about 30 minutes. Probably less. These are really a different creature than the potato ones, even if they look the same. Whipping these off the fork last night with the help of a somewhat ambivalent 12 year old was a whole different dimension from the Saturday mega-project, which was a dedication to art and love. The ricotta dough is definitely less silky and refined, and these gnocchi of course will not give you the Sublime Potato Experience (if you are prone to that sort of thing). Nonetheless, they are possibly even more fun to make because they can be made so easily and spontaneously, and they are unpretentious enough to really be dressed up with any funky old sauce, or none at all. They are amazingly tasty just as they are.

Fresh Ricotta Gnocchi in Herbs – for 4

  • 2 cups whole milk ricotta, (organic, grass fed if possible)
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan (use a microplane)
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t white pepper
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour, plus 1/2 cup for shaping
  • 3 T. butter, olive oil, or a mix
  • 1 T minced fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme, or a combo)
  • 1 T freshly chopped Italian parsley

In a medium sized bowl, combine ricotta, eggs, 1 cup Parmesan cheese, nutmeg salt and pepper. Still to combine thoroughly. Add flour and mix lightly to combine. Dough will be very soft.

Dump out onto well floured board, turn over and fold over very gently a few times just to fully integrate dough. Separate into two balls and, taking turns, shape and flatten each one into a 1 inch thick rectangle. Using a clean knife, cut 1 inch strips from this and gently, on a well floured board, roll each one out into a 1/2 inch thick rope of dough.

Cut the rope into 1 inch “pillows” and, using your thumb on the back of a fork, gently roll each gnocchi off the fork tines, creating ridges on one side and a bit of an indentation on your thumb side. Don’t be afraid to be liberal with the flour. Or, you can just forget the fancy fork thing and do some rustic “loggy” ones or whatever you like. Try some fishes! Just make batches in relatively all the same size so that they will cook at the same time.

Repeat shaping the remaining gnocchi, dropping the finished ones on a floured baking sheet in a single layer. These can be frozen like this, to be bagged up after they freeze or cooked immediately.

In a well seasoned or non-stick skillet, heat butter, olive oil and minced herbs gently while you cook the gnocchi. Keep on low-med heat so the herbs get a little crunchy, but do not burn.

To cook, bring a medium sized pan of salted water to a boil. (The rule for fantastic pasta of any kind is to make the water as salty as the ocean, and to use high quality grey, sea, or Himalayan salt to do this with. Trust me, it’s worth it). Cook the gnocchi in 2 – 4 batches at a time, for only about 2 – 3 minutes after they float to the surface. Alternately, you can skip the cooking and try just pan frying them, but I found them a bit lighter if you boil them first.

Drain with a slotted spoon or strainer, adding all the cooked gnocchi to your skillet before tossing quickly and giving a slight reheat in the herb-butter. Finish with a touch of coarse salt, freshly ground black pepper, and parsley, and top each serving with a bit of grated Parmesan.

*The white whole wheat flour works surprisingly well in gnocchi! Substitute 1:1 for all purpose in the recipes.  It’s delicate and just slightly nutty which works great with the butter sauce, and you know…if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know.

February 1, 2012 Posted by | "Evil Butter" Recipes, Cheese 'n (Non) Dairy, Fresh, Labors of Love, Main Courses, Pasta, Potatoes, Recipes | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ode to Annapolis” Apple Pinot Blackberry Tart

A few days ago my best childhood friend Beca and I went on an “Old Stepdads Tour” of Annapolis, the small town along the Northern California coast we grew up in. When we were kids, Annapolis was virtually unknown – one tiny post office which was only open until noon and maybe 350 people scattered around in the redwoods, making their living either growing pot, logging, or working the one little K-8 elementary school. (Very small – my 8th grade graduating class was 4 kids… including me). Our town was socially split into “rednecks” or “hippies”, with my family and Beca’s definitely landing in the hippy camp.

Beca and I grew up riding horses through the redwoods, picking huckleberries and blackberries in the summer, and trying to avoid getting shot in the hunting and pot harvest seasons. My mom and stepfather Doug were both vegetarians with a huge organic garden, which I have to admit I only appreciated for the trade in-value of our gorgeous homegrown strawberries that were swapped surreptitiously at school for white bread Fluffernutter sandwiches. I am also sorry to say that my mom’s truly gourmet whole wheat, cream cheese and artichoke-heart sandwiches ended up in the garbage can nearly every time. But growing up with hippy parents in Annapolis obviously set the stage for my (eventual) interest in organic, local, healthy gourmet vegetarian cooking, and probably gave me an early taste for marketing as well!

Beca and I spent the first couple of hours with her stepfather Bob, whose property was literally dripping with ripe apple, plum and pear trees, and left with bags of intoxicatingly ripe apples as well as several jars of Fandango Spice Garden jam which is made by Bob and Cheryl and sold in local farmers markets. They do not have a website so if you ever see it in California make sure to snatch a bottle up – it’s fantastic, with flavors like Satsuma Plum and Raspberry Shiraz. I love a fruit and wine combination!

After an afternoon of reminiscing and driving up and around the dusty back roads of Annapolis, we ended up for dinner at Doug and his wife Jane’s place –  a completely craftsman yet impressively high-tech, solar powered, totally off-the-grid hand-built house with decks and studios overlooking miles of redwood-topped mountains all the way to the Pacific. We had a delicious vegetarian meal, freshly picked from the garden, and watched news of Hurricane Irene rolling towards NYC on a TV monitor larger than most NY cinema screens. It was an amazing mix of country and technology.

From the decks you could also see some new vineyards cropping up on the ridges. Recently, as with Napa Valley and the rest of Sonoma, grapes have come to Annapolis and with them a lot of controversy over clearing mountains of redwood trees to make way for Pinot grapes. I don’t have anything against a few vineyards, but I have seen how this mono-crop has eaten up much of the gorgeous diversity of the rest of Sonoma County, and I can’t tell you how sad it would be to see more redwoods cut down and more damage done to the delicate local watershed. Trees and fish are not a fair trade for wine.

This tart, full of Annapolis apples, summer blackberries and a splash of Pinot just to rile things up, was made from an afternoon full of warm childhood memories. I hope you can taste them too.

Apple Pinot Blackberry Tart

  • 1 1/2 recipe Perfect Butter Crust (see below)
  • 1 1/2 pints fresh ripe blackberries
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup
  • 1/4 cup Pinot Noir
  • 6 – 7 ripe summer apples
  • 1/4 cup local honey
  • 6 T small pearl tapioca
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

Make a Perfect Butter Crust ( or use your own favorite double crust recipe) using 2 cups of flour and 2/3 plus 2 T butter, and increase water slightly. Split dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other, flatten each gently and chill for 1 hour.

Roll larger crust out and line a large quiche or deep dish pie pan with dough, allowing the edges to overlap the pan slightly. Chill. Roll smaller ball out and cut into strips. Weave strips together into a lattice top and chill on wax or parchment paper for 20 minutes until firm enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 425° and prepare filling:

In a small pan, cook blackberries with Pinot and agave syrup on medium heat for 5 minutes. Allow to cool while you prepare apples. Peel and slice apples thinly, tossing in a large bowl with honey, tapioca, cinnamon and salt. Crush blackberries through a strainer, discarding seeds, and add to apple mixture. Allow to sit for 20 minutes and pour into chilled bottom tart shell, smoothing out any wayward bits of fruit on top.

Gently roll lattice top onto a rolling pin, transfer to top of fruit mixture and carefully unroll onto tart. Flute lattice and tart edges together and bake for 10 minutes in 425° oven. Turn oven down to 350° and continue baking for 1 hour until top is gently brown all over. Make sure there is a pan with foil at the bottom of the oven to catch the drips. Enjoy!

August 30, 2011 Posted by | "Evil Butter" Recipes, Desserts, Food Consciousness, Fresh, Recipes | , , | 4 Comments

Happy Thankgiving Pecan Pumpkin Tart

Ok, I just created a “Evil Butter Recipes” category, in honor of this and all the the other summer gallettes I could not resist posting earlier this year. This is recipe based on one my mom used to make at Thanksgiving and people ask me about it every year. (The truth is, neither her nor I ever made it the same way twice, so feel free to play with it). And… I promise to follow up with a raw and healthier version of this recipe soon!

Pumpkin Filling

  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup/agave syrup
  • ¼ cup cream/soy milk
  • 1 ½ cups pumpkin puree (1 can, or one small sugar pumpkin, baked)
  • ½ t ground ginger
  • ½ t fresh grated ginger
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • ½ t vanilla
  • ¼ t nutmeg
  • pinch salt

Pecan Slime

  • 1 whole egg
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 T melted butter
  • ⅓ cup coconut crystals (or Sucanat)
  • 2 T bourbon/brandy/dark rum
  • ½ t vanilla
  • 1 cup pecan halves, toasted lightly
  • pinch salt
  • 1  unbaked pie pastry crust

Preheat oven to 375.

Prepare Crust: Make a Perfect Butter Crust, or use any other pie crust recipe you like. Roll out gently, place in a large (10″) pie plate, tart pan (12″) or quiche dish, trim and flute edges. Chill while you prepare filling.

Make Pumpkin Filling: Combine pumpkin, eggs and spices in large bowl. Add maple syrup and cream. Spoon into crust and smooth top. Combine pumpkin, eggs and spices in large bowl. Add maple syrup and cream. Spoon into crust and smooth top.

Top with Pecan Slime: Combine syrup, eggs and spices. Add pecans. Carefully spoon liquid over pumpkin filling in shell and then hand place slimy pecan halves on top in a decorative pattern.

Bake: Bake for 10 minutes at 375.  Reduce oven to 350 and bake for 35 – 45 minutes. Bring to room temperature before serving or transporting.

Adding the pecan mixure onto the pumpkin

November 24, 2010 Posted by | "Evil Butter" Recipes, Desserts, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes | Leave a comment

Maple Tart Tatin – Breakfast of Champions

Sugarless Tart Tatin imageThis is one of my favorite tarts, and my favorite breakfast! It’s such a beautiful simple way to use fresh seasonal apples (and/or pears) from the CSA or the farmer’s market, and its so easy to make! Sometimes I whip one up while I am making dinner and my boyfriend Hannes and I eat half for dessert and half the next morning. Unlike the traditional French recipe which uses caramelized white sugar, I found that caramelized maple syrup or agave syrup works really really well and makes you feel a lot better afterwards. Also, because the two of us have no trouble devouring an entire tart in one day, I found that with this tart you can get away with using a very small amount of pastry (only 5 T of butter for the whole thing – and tons of fruit!). This allows room to add a rich topping for a decadent dessert, or to keep it clean and simple.

Maple Tart Tatin:

Preheat oven to 375°.

  • 1/2 recipe Pure Butter Pastry (freeze the other half – makes it so easy to whip up the next one!)
  • 1/2 c. maple syrup, or a mixture of maple and agave syrup
  • 1 T butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 -6 apples, mixed varieties if possible, always organic or locally grown

Apples and Caramel for Sugarless Tart Tatin imageCaramelized Maple/Agave Syrup:

Boil the maple/agave syrup in a 9″ ovenproof skillet/saute pan over a medium high flame for about 5 -8 minutes, swirling and gently shaking liquid regularly to avoid burning. Be very careful here – this stuff is screamingly hot, and sticks – good to keep a glass of cold water nearby just in case.

Take off heat and add butter and pinch of salt, tilt and swirl pan carefully to incorporate. It will really look like caramel here. Let pan cool while you roll pastry:

Prepare the Crust:

Roll the chilled pastry out thinly, to about the same size as the pan. Chill while you prepare apples:

Prepare the Apples:

Only half-way peel the apples so you have stripes of skin showing still. This will allow the fruit to full absorb the syrup, but to keep some of the color, shine, and nutrients of the skin. Quarter each apple vertically, and slice out the core. This can be done very simply in one cut once the apples are quartered.

Apples in pan for sugarless Tart TatinArrange apples round side down, on top of caramel in pan. Pack in as many as you can in a roughly geometric pattern. Top with round of pastry, gently tucking extra pastry edges in around the apples.

Bake at 375° for 20 minutes, reduce temp to 350° and bake for another hour. Remove from oven and let sit 20 -30 minutes to absorb juices.

Place a large serving plate over skillet and quickly invert tart onto plate – give a shake to release apples from pan. (I do this over the sink, wearing a baking mit or towel to protect my hand from any hot juices.) This sounds more intimidating than it is  – say 1, 2, 3 and then do a bold, quick flip – the faster you do it the less chance of juices escaping.

Options!

  • Make this with pears instead of apples, or a mixture
  • Add a bit of chopped crystallized ginger
  • Add a sprinkling of fresh or frozen whole cranberries before you put the crust on
  • Make this using all dark agave syrup instead of maple, and add 1/2 t of vanilla to the caramel after the butter.

*Caramelizing maple or agave syrup is a little trickier than using white sugar because if you are using dark maple or agave, you will not be able to tell by color. After 4 -5 minutes the mixture should start to thicken, boil more slowly, and start to smell more caramelized. If it starts to smoke or smell burned or bitter take it off the flame immediately, and add the butter. This recipe is very forgiving – so don’t be afraid to go a little dark or light with it – you will find your own personal preference.  You are just looking to concentrate the sugars from a liquid syrup to something of a hard-crack stage which means it will be crunchy when cool, but still a thick honey-like syrup when boiling. If in doubt, dip a dry wooden spoon tip in the syrup, then dip for a 5 seconds into your a glass of cold water. It should turn into a maple tipped wooden lollipop…. Mmmmmm….

February 2, 2010 Posted by | "Evil Butter" Recipes, Breakfast, Desserts, Recipes, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Quasi-raw, butter, and my favorite Peach Gallette

For a while I have been thinking about my own eating habits as being “quasi-raw”… this  could be anywhere from 75% – 95% raw, and is totally flexible depending on whats in season, what’s on hand, what country I happen to be in, and who is coming for dinner.

I do believe in the virtues of raw food, and although much of the flavor of fresh (see Addicted to FRESH), comes from uncooked foods, I love also being able to mix it up by taking more traditional cooked/baked recipes and loading them up with really fresh seasonal fruits or veggies, and turning people ON to that freshness in other ways.

Fresh Peach Gallette imageSince my background is that of a professional pastry chef, and I LOOOOVE food,  all sorts of food…I want to say that there are some things that are not great for you, but cannot be substituted for by anything else, and one of them is butter. Really good butter. Fresh from the farmers market, organic, grass fed when possible, or at least French or European. (You have to be able to smell it, or it doesn’t count).

Can you smell it when you look at this photo? What I love about this tart is the incredible simplicity of it – the flavor is simple bright fresh peach, nestled in a flaky pure butter crust, the shape is as organic and free-form as you want to make it, and it takes no time to pull together with any fruits you happen to have on hand.

Fresh Peach Gallette

Perfect Butter Crust:

  • 1/2 c butter, frozen
  • 1 1/2 c unbleached white flour (can use up to 1/2 c wwheat pastry flour)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 ice water, with squeeze of lemon

This can be done by hand, but its incredibly easy and fast in a food processor or mini-prep:

Chop butter into 8 -10 pieces and combine with flour in mini-prep. Pulse until butter is no larger than course bread crumbs. Stop, add salt and 4 -5 T of the iced water and pulse just a few seconds more to slightly combine. Turn out into a medium mixing bowl and toss lightly with a fork, adding 1 -2 T water if nessesary until the mixture just holds a ball. Pat lightly into a 1 inch circle and chill for at least 1/2 hour, while you prepare the fruit.

Preheat oven to 375. Prepare fruit:

Peach Mixture:

  • 4 -5 peaches, washed and sliced thinly
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/4 t almond extract
  • 1/4 c Agave syrup, to taste
  • 1 t arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
  • pinch salt
  • pinch nutmeg and cinnamon

Combine fruit and remaining ingredients and allow to macerate for 10  -15 minutes while you roll the crust.

Roll the chilled dough into a large circle, 3 -4 inches beyond diameter of the the pan you are using. This is a freeform tart, so you can make it in anything you have – its supposed to be rustic. I like using an 11′ glass quiche pan (shown above).

Pile fruit in center of crust, even out, and then fold the pastry sides gently towards the middle, so they lay directly onto the fruit, leaving the middle exposed. Crazy, uneven shapes are fine – part of the charm of this tart.

Bake for about 40 minutes at 375, then reduce to 350 and bake for another 20 -30 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the peach juice is thickend slightly.

Remove from oven and brush the exposed peaches with a bit of the juice form the tart to moisten them and make them shine. Serve warm for dessert, and then finish off the next morning for breakfast!

Options:

  • Add a smattering of blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries
  • Replace cinnamon with zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Replace peaches with nectarines, plums, or any other stonefruit in season
  • Replace stonefruit with apples or pears, or combination.
  • Try adding chopped crystallized ginger and a few cranberries.
  • Use maple syrup instead of agave, or use a combination

January 28, 2010 Posted by | "Evil Butter" Recipes, Desserts, Food Consciousness, Fresh, Recipes, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes | , , , | 1 Comment