Gnocchi, Polenta, Pork

This week I knew work would be busy, but I still anticipated getting out near on time most days so over the weekend I made a pork butt with the intention of making several dishes with it. Work being work …. I ended up getting out late every day except for the day I had my hair appointment. So while I intended to have multiple pretty pictures, I only have a few.

But I started off with gnocchi. I love gnocchi, but I never make it light and fluffy. I probably make it totally wrong, use the wrong potatoes or use too much flour. But … I found a recipe that uses ricotta instead of potatoes. Interesting. Couldn’t find goat cheese ricotta so I improvised and went with a large, 32oz container of regular ricotta. I wrapped it in cheese cloth and sat it on an upside-down ash tray (the one I kept because it is from grandmom’s house and Vanessa calls the world’s smallest ash tray) in an old Corning ware pot overnight so it could drain. It actually worked really, really well. The cheese stayed above the liquid and everything was easy to clean. I followed the rest of the recipe (only for the gnocchi) pretty much as written, but made a few Sunday night because I couldn’t resist. Browned butter, sage and gnocchi. These were amazing. Light. Fluffy. Lots of flavor. Both Bob and I like them better than the regular ones and the butternut squash ones I’ve made before. (and that is saying something because I love the butternut ones.

I also used them a second day with a pork sauce.

20130929-200734.jpg Onion, garlic, carrot, whole tomatoes crushed up with the juice, thyme, oregano, and a little zinfandel. I let that cook together then added the gnocchi and let those cook just for a minute or two. The result ….


I also made a sort of pork taco this week. The same pulled pork, onions, cilantro and goat cheese. Very simple, but really flavorful, I did add a little vegetable broth when cooking the pork, just to add some juice and flavor. It worked.


Today I wanted something hearty and comforting. Both Bob and I are getting over colds, so soup sounded good, but not exactly what I wanted. So, I found an easy polenta recipe and change it just a bit. I cut it in half, substituted vegetable broth for chicken broth and eliminated the pepper. I loved how easy this was, and really, it was really, really good.

I’m pretty sure Bob would have eaten this by itself, and all of it. He really, really liked it. But I topped it with a kind of soup, kind of loose stew. Pork, onion, carrot, tomatoes, vegetable broth and apple cider. >20130929-201808.jpg I added some herbs from the garden and put it around the polenta for a pretty perfect lunch.

20130929-201855.jpg. I really loved the creamy texture of the polenta, but the carrots and onions gave it a nice texture.

Yes, there was a very definite theme this week. Of course, when you use what is on hand, that tends to happen. Hopefully I’ll be a little more creative next week, but it will depend on work. Fingers crossed it will be a lifter week.

… Oh … Dessert. Still on the shortbread kick …

20130929-202101.jpg Brown sugar shortbread with bittersweet chocolate. Kind of can’t go wrong there.

Asian Salad and Desserts

It’s been a long few weeks. After recovering from the second England trip, catching up at work, readjusting to U.S. time and three Back-to-School Nights in one week, I haven’t cooked as much as I would like. But I am making up for it this weekend with a few new dishes.

But first, Bob and I tried a new restaurant Friday. Canta Rana is a Peruvian/Purto Rican restaurant that is relatively new to Sarasota. We decided to try it and are really glad we did. There is a very limited alcohol menu, but with food this good, we were just fine with wine and beer. The star dish of the night was the appetizer – a plantain with spiced ground beef and mozerella. Oh. My. God. Good.

Talk about flavor. Tons. The sweetness of the plantain and the spice of the beef, it was a little bit of heaven.

You know I haven’t cooked much when Bob’s request for the week’s menu is “something lighter, maybe a salad or two.” (Have I mentioned it’s been a long few weeks?) So to start out this weekend I made a version of an Asian salad that I found. Of course, I changed the recipe quite a bit based on my no fish requirement and what I had on hand. So, I used mirin in place of the rice vinegar, soy sauce in place of fish sauce, juice of one lime and sesame oil in place of vegetable oil. In the salad, I reduced the cilantro by more than half and used the green onions I have in the garden in place of the scallions. I also toasted some pine nuts instead of using peanuts. So yes, there was a recipe, but I totally changed it. The results …. Fantastic. Bob was happy as anything with the heat in this salad. Not hot from cooking, but heat from the chili garlic paste. He was totally happy eating food that his food eats with this salad. There were no leftovers for me to take to work this week it was so good.


Now I can’t go totally healthy and with Dad’s birthday this weekend I used the excuse to bake. I loved the peanut shortbread from last week, but decided to go with butterscotch bars and lemon bars


I wasn’t sure about the butterscotch. It’s a flavor I can go with, but I never really want it and I never miss it if I don’t have it. I thought about substituting caramel, but I think Dad likes butterscotch, so I’ll try it. The cookie base is really simple to make and melting butterscotch chips is just not that hard. I did have to roast my own cashews as I only had raw on hand, but they worked.

20130922-152623.jpg They are a little messy into chilled, but Bob loved the flavor and thought they beat the peanut shortbread.

And then I tried lemon bars. I love lemon meringue pie, lemon cookies, lemon custard, etc. so lemon bars seemed like a great thing to try. The crust was different, but it still came out really well. I do think I like cold butter crusts rather than melted butter ones, but that really is splitting hairs. I also used way more lemon zest than the recipe calls for – zest of four lemons to be exact – but the results were perfect. Lots of lemon flavor, but not too tart (because there is enough sugar in the while thing to really cut it which is why I added extra zest).

20130922-153050.jpg These are not lasting long.

I have a pork in the slow cooker for several meals this week and ricotta draining for a gnocchi recipe I want to try. Hopefully I can get out of work early enough to actually cook this week.

Butternut Squash Soup

Florida may be over 90 degrees, and my air conditioner may be on, but it is fall. The new fall TV line up (such that it is) is premiering, regular season football is on and the kids are back in school. While the weather outside still screams summer, all I want these days is good fall food.

I got back into cooking this weekend, starting with falafel yesterday and going for a nice chicken with tomatillo sauce sandwich.

20130915-200206.jpg It is a pretty basic idea – chicken taco essentially, but we used the pita bread I had in the freezer and the star of the show was the tomatillo sauce. Roasted tomatillos, onion, cumin, pepper, chili powder, parsley and jalapeƱo.

But I still wanted real fall flavor. I’m still getting over my cold, so soup sounded great. I found a recipe for butternut squash soup and since I dint have some ingredients on hand, I improvised.

1 butternut squash, chopped
1/4 onion (all I had on hand)
1 large shallot
2 apples, peeled and chopped.

I mixed all that with some oil and roasted it in a 425 oven for about 30 minutes, stirring about half way through. Once it came out I scooped it into the food processor with some vegetable stock. This is pretty much eye balled, but I think I used about 1 1/2 cup total. Process well then strain in batches through a fine mesh sieve.

Over medium low heat I added curry powder, salt and pepper. The finished product was fantastic. Creamy, deep flavor and filling. Unfortunately there was just enough for Bob and I to have for dinner so no leftovers. But what a way to get back into cooking. And a perfect football day food. Oh … And vegan to boot!

Erin, the soup recipe – just for you. If you have an immersion blender it would be easier and you may end up with more actual soup. But try it – and don’t tell Ed it’s vegan.


Caramel Treats

I’m back at work after almost two weeks in England and trying to get caught up. That has meant long days and I’ve just been too tired to do much cooking. Thankfully Bob is good with take out for weeks like this. But that still leaves the snack food and dessert that I crave. Yes, I could be healthier and forgo sweets, but it’s just not in my nature; and, if I have a little when I want it I don’t overdue it like I do if I totally deprive myself (example of the great cake eating incident of 1998).

First up for snacks was caramel corn. This one came about because it turned out I didn’t have much of anything in the house (including flour) so baking was difficult. I used my favorite caramel corn recipe as the basic idea here. I don’t have a candy thermometer but I do pretty well eyeballing the caramel portion of this. Bill and Bob call is crack corn because, in all honesty, it is addictive and no matter how much I make – half a recipe here, double recipe other time – it all goes in one sitting. While excellent at room temperature, it is amazing warm.

Also on the plate this week was chocolate peanut shortbread. This is almost as good as the caramel corn. I think the trick to making this better is using a basic shortbread instead of a peanut shortbread. Might just be a little too much peanut taste for me. But the shortbread is pretty easy to make – it starts out like this …

20130915-131531.jpg then goes in the pan like this

20130915-131554.jpg and comes out of the oven like this


All well and good, but then you make it fantastic with some nice chopped bittersweet chocolate


Then comes the tricky part – the caramel.

20130915-131729.jpg It was looking pretty good until I stirred it. Then it went to this.

20130915-131809.jpg So I started over and actually followed the instructions about not stirring and we made it to this:

20130915-131854.jpg which turned into real caramel sauce after adding the vanilla and cream.


The dessert – still have to come up with a shorter name for it – is really pretty in the pan.

And sliced into small pieces you can see the layers better.


This may not have been the most interesting week for cooking, but it is one of the tastiest. Next week is not looking so good for cooking either – three back to school nights – so next weekend may be more desserts and snacks.

What Kind of Traveler Are You?

I love flying, I really do. I love traveling and experiencing things a little out of my ordinary. When I travel I generally find something incredible that I don’t get at home, or I come to appreciate home for little and unusual reasons. I generally don’t mind airports and TSA doesn’t bother me – the rules do, but the people enforcing those rules are generally very nice and professional. Even with all of the penny pinching from airlines, I still stare out the window at take off and landing and just marvel. Those two moments are my favorite part of flying.

Having traveled a little too much over the last few months, I have begun categorizing types of travelers. Not business, first time traveler or experienced vacationer, but how people act in this very unique environment. Here are some traveler types I’ve encountered (and I include myself in this list, so it isn’t necessarily a complaint, just an observation.)

1) The packrat. This person takes the “two carry on items” to new levels. Shoving way overfilled rollerboards into spaces they were not designed to go, pulling out purse, jacket and some form of entertainment so two items quickly becomes ten before the boarding door closes. And that bag that wouldn’t fit? It’s now two smaller ones that do.

2) The sprawler. This traveler may have only one or two bags, but they take up as much space as possible. They claim both armrests – the entire armrest – even when not seated in the middle seat. Their legs find their way into your space and, if on a long flight, your seat also has the blanket, pillow, cup and trash in it after you stand up to use the restroom or just walk a little.

3) The needy traveler. This person has a question for the flight attendants every single time they see one. And if one does not pass by every 15 minutes the call button is used. Repeatedly. If a flight attendant doesn’t respond soon enough, or doesn’t give the answer this person wants, the person next to them becomes their target.

4) The isolationist. This person is armed with earphones, books, magazines, whatever it takes to avoid all conversation up to and including a brief “hello” when sitting next to a stranger. No eye contact is ever made and they guard their space like a miser guards his money.

5) The grouch/grumbler. This person always finds something to complain about. The food is lousy, the drinks are small, there is no legroom, the flight is crowded and why are there children on the plane? It could be the perfect flight and this person will find something to complain about and someone to complain to – although rarely to anyone who could do anything about an actual issue.

6) The squatter. This person will never pay for more legroom, but as soon as the boarding door closes, they find any empty seat and move to it. They plop and hope no one forces them to move. (Note this is different than changing seats when a plane is not full to give everyone more room – this person scopes out empty seats as they board and as soon as possible, rushes up and claims the new seat – even if there are as many people around as the original seat.)

7) The talker. This person never left a stranger and you know more about them than you know about your college roommate before you hit ten thousand feet. They never stop talking unless it is to ask a question every now and then so they don’t appear rude. Your answer has no bearing on their next monologue unless they need a springboard for a new topic.

8) The sleeper. This person finds the seat and either passes due to natural causes or alcohol. There is no waking them and no moving them so you just hope they are not on an aisle.

I feel like I’m missing some, but these are the big ones. Note – they can combine categories and sometimes you get a new wrinkle in the group like a sloppy squatter who sprawls or a talker who grumbles or an isolationist who is really needy. Those are highly interesting, unless you are sitting next to them.