Friday, December 16, 2011

A Little Break

It's that time of year. My students' grades are almost all submitted, and the restaurant where I work is closing for two weeks. I get a break, and that means I get to pack a bag (and Pinot) and go to my sister's for ten days. In anticipation of this departure, I have been solemnly consuming ONLY the contents of my fridge and pantry, and trying very hard not to open anything that I can't finish in a few days. This morning I had the last of my yogurt with pomegranate seeds (from this week's salad), juiced the last grapefruit, and spread some butter on my last pieces of toast. I was dying to bake something because I had the whole morning to myself, but I held back like a reasonable person should. Instead I went for a walk, and to run some errands. On my way to the bank I remembered being told yesterday that the lovely people at The Planet Bakery will be baking banana bread muffins today, so I went. First I ate one muffin. Then I purchased two more. They were that good. The amazing Dahn of Planet Bakery just shared the recipe for what I honestly think are the best muffins, ever. I'm sharing the recipe with you now, because I think it's so funny that even on the day I decided not to cook/bake anything, I end up with a recipe. Try these, I know I will!

"Hey, Mina! Thanks for all the muffin love. Here's the recipe. I want to start sharing and typing up all these well-loved recipes kicking around (my head and my apt)"

Banana Bread Muffins Makes 4 large bakery style muffins

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 flax 'egg'
1/3 cup Earth Balance/Margarine
1.5 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp bkg. Powder
1 tsp bkg. Soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs flour
2 tbs rye flakes
1 tbs Earth Balance/Margarine
1/8 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup brown sugar

Beat wet ingredients together. Sift dry ingredients together. Whip sugar topping ingredients together. Combine as gently as possible, wet to dry, and spoon batter into greased tins. Top the muffins. Bake at 350*F for 30 mins, checking the inside with a toothpick.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Taking Care and Smiling Lots

Meet Pinot: possibly the sweetest and most loving kitten in the northern hemisphere. I'm not gonna tell you about all the sweet things he does and how cuddly he is and all the adorable places he finds for napping. Instead I'm gonna tell you about how interesting it's been caring for a living thing that is vulnerable and depends on me. Come to think of it, in the past few months I've done a lot of caring. At work too, I've been involved in quite a few of my students' personal issues this year. It wasn't something I had anticipated, but what do you do when someone shows up with bloodshot eyes and a lump in their throat trying to keep it together? I found myself in that situation quite a few times this year. Over cups of tea and hours on the swivel chairs in my office I've heard about parents' divorces, sibling drama, loss, anxiety, confusion, and many a break-up... Now that the term draws to a close, I grade their final papers and smile at all the little personal notes and e-mails they have sent me expressing their appreciation. I'm home a lot these days, grading papers and calculating marks... so I've been cooking a lot too. Here is what I ate today. The salad was for lunch and Pinot loved running after every stray pomegranate seed that escaped me... And the gnocchi was for dinner. I haven't even done the dishes yet.

Christmas Salad

Gala Apple
Pomegranate seeds
1 tpsp Olive oil
1 tbsp Balsamic /red wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
salt+pepper to taste

I used my mandolin to get a quick and fine julienne of the cucumber and apple, and the arugula and pomegranate are pretty self explanatory. I have a whole entire post on how to deal with a pomegranate if you feel you need help with that.

I like making the dressing in a big bowl and tossing the ingredients in it. I find it all comes together better this way.

Potato Gnocchi

2 lb Russet or Idaho Potatoes
1 1/2 cups All purpose flour (plus a pinch of fresh ground nutmeg)
1 Large egg beaten
1/2 tbsp Salt

Flour for dusting and rolling.

Wash the potatoes and place in a large pot with the skins on and fill with water. Boil until tender but firm. 10-15 minutes should do the trick. Peel when still hot but cool enough to handle. You can use a paper towel if you still have any sensation in your hands, unlike me.

Put potatoes through a potato ricer onto a cutting board and shape into a well. Sprinkle the area with flour and put the egg yolk in the center of the well and begin your mixing and kneading, incorporating all the flour and adding a bit more if needed (if you've never done this before, use a large bowl to avoid messing it all up).

Knead the dough for a few minutes until it comes together and doesn't stick, but not too much because you don't want to lose the softness of your dough. Let it sit for 30min-1 hour. This would be a good time to pour yourself a glass of wine and make a tomato sauce or a pesto...

Divide the dough, shape long strings that you can cut into 1inch nuggets and shape using a gnicchi board or fork. I recommend you look up a video to learn how to shape gnocchi. Try to find one starring an Italian grandmother... they're the best.

To cook, just bring a pot of salted water to a boil and toss in a handful of Gnocchi. When they float to the surface they are done. I like a simple lemon and butter sauce with whatever fresh herb I have lying around. To make it I melt a spoonful of butter with some lemon juice, zest, and a bit of thyme in a frying pan, and add my cooked gnocchi with a tbsp of the cooking water and toss until it looks saucy and right. Fresh cracked pepper, grated parmigiano, and you're good to go.

You could also eat these with any other sauce you like. And you can freeze the uncooked gnocchi if you've got any left.