The Great Kitchen Reorganization Part 2: More At Hand

As I mentioned last week, there’s a lot of things I’d like to change about my kitchen to make it a little more user friendly. So, in addition to make the main work space you saw in that post more cooking-oriented, I did the same with the counter directly across of it and to the side of my sink (what was also seen previously in the second picture in this post). This one was basically just more of a clean-up and organization project. See that truffle dish back there? That used to be filled with miscellaneous drink things like tea and hot chocolate that we rarely use. So, those went into the pantry which had more space in it since I moved the spice rack to the other counter.

It’s a good thing I had that space there because I also moved the blender into the pantry. I rarely blend anything and it’s just as easy to grab it from the pantry when I do need it, so why waste the space? I then filled the truffle bowl with the miscellaneous spices that don’t fit into the spice rack and the blender’s old spot with a variety of vinegarettes and other sauces and oils that I use on a regular basis.

You’ll also notice the hot pot and probably think that’s extraneous, but I actually make coffee with it every single morning (there’s the French press on the far left on top of the coffee). Oh, and the backwards-facing green M&M cookie jar actually holds tea bags. Of course, there’s your basic vitamins, baby teething drops and dishes needing to be washed also in this area, so it’s not completely free of clutter, but at least it gets some essentials out of the pantry and where I can easily get at them while cooking.

Cooking Gnocchi

Hope everyone had an enjoyable Memorial Weekend. I helped plan for, cook for and throw a birthday party for our one-year-old, took a bit of relaxing time and then helped friends dig mud out of their pool after some flooding last year. I could probably use a three day weekend for my three day weekend, but what are you gonna do?

I would have thought making gnocchi would have been as complicated as my weekend, but it was actually relatively simple (sorry for the clunky transition, it’s been a looooong week followed by a longer weekend). Anyway, a week or two back I was flipping through my copy of Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking and came across his recipe for Gnocchi (page 70). I’ll be honest, I’ve been skipping this book in my rotation lately because so much of it involves making sauces and not only is that time consuming, but winter’ s not a good time to make tomato sauce. It turns out, gnocchi only calls for seven ingredients: potatoes, butter, Parmesan cheese, two egg yolks, flour, salt and boiling water. If you have those things and some kind of sauce, you’re good to go.

You start off by boiling three quarts of aqua and then dropping five or so medium potatoes in there for 30 minutes. While those were bubbling, I decided to whip up a basic pesto sauce without pine nuts (those things are way too expensive). I basically just tossed some basil, garlic, Parm and olive oil in our smaller food processor and was good to go. I also placed six table spoons of butter in a pan on the stove near the boiling water pot, but didn’t not put heat under it. I didn’t want to burn the butter, but figured this would be a good way to melt it without having to worry and I turned out to be right!

Once the potatoes are done in the water, you pull them out and mash them in a pan that’s on the fire to help get rid of excess water. I personally didn’t bother peeling the potatoes at any point, figuring the skin has good nutrients we could use. Once everything was good and mashed, I threw the potatoes in a mixing bowl for my wife’s KitcheAide, used the dough hook and added in the egg yolks and flour. I probably could have done that by hand, but if you’ve got a good tool, use it.

Left with a nice dough ball, I got out my dough cutter which I usually just use to scrape up chopped veggies. I quartered the dough and froze half of it and worked with the other two quarters. I rolled them out on the counter and chopped them into little nuggets with the cutter. There was something in the recipe about rolling the nuggets down a fork to get that ribbed look we all know and love, but I wasn’t quite understanding it until I found the following video on YouTube, which clarified things for me.

So, once I had my nuggets of gnocchi properly forked, it was time to get them in another pot of boiling water. Much like pierogies, you drop these potato concoctions into the boiling water and they’re ready when they float to the top. I must admit, it’s a little hard to tell when something is actually on the top under it’s own powers and not the roiling boil, but I think I got the hang of it. Once they were done, I combined the gnocchi in a bowl with the melted butter and some grated Parmesan.

I thought the gnocchi turned out really good, but the mistake I made was using the amount of butter and cheese for the full recipe when I had actually only made half of the gnocchi. I didn’t realize this until well after I ate a plateful in pesto sauce and came away with the kind of stomach ache that comes from eating overly rich food. That’s when I remembered I essentially doubled the butter. Wah, wah.

This will definitely be a recipe I come back to down the line. As I mentioned over in one of my photo diary posts on The Monkee Diaries, I tried thawing out the frozen dough and making them again but they turned out really watery and gross. Adding in more flour didn’t seem to do anything and the whole thing wound up being a bust. I think what I might do next time is actually make all the gnocchi and then freeze half. Would that work?

Bonus Food Pic: Ribs & Meat At Billy Joe’s

I know I post a lot of Bonus Food Pics from Billy Joe’s Ribworks in Newburgh, New York, but that’s because the food is just so dang good! When my inlaws visited for Mother’s Day weekend, I was able to convince everyone to head down to the waterfront for some nice barbecue. And by “convince” I mean that I floated the idea out there and everyone was game. I was a hungry boy that day so I decided on the Ribs and Meat, opting for ribs (can’t remember which kind) and pulled pork with a baked potato and broccoli and cheese as a side (you know, to be healthy). I’ve had the pork and ribs before and they were great — I know it’s a little barbaric, but I do like digging my hands into my food on occasion — but the sides were a new venture for me. My father in law said he liked the broccoli and cheese, so I figured I’d give that a shot and I went with the baked and smoked potato instead of mashed to mix things up a bit. As you’d expect, everything was delicious. After devouring the ribs and most of the pork, I smashed the potato myself, mixed in the butter and sour cream and then swirled everything left on the plate together. I highly recommend this unless you’re one of those people who don’t like your food to touch in which case I’m sure the previous sentence made your stomach churn just a little bit.

The Great Kitchen Reorganization Part 1: A Better Prep Area

We’ve been having a few issues with our condo which make me want to move more than ever. But given the state of the economy and the amount of foreclosed and therefore very cheap units in our complex that are currently for sale, that will not be happening any time soon unless some company decides to give me big bucks to write about food, being a dad or pop culture. Wanting to make some kind of a change, I decided to do what I could without knocking anything down or ripping anything out and decided to rearrange my work space in the kitchen.

It was nothing major — you can see what it used to look like in this post I did last year — but I think it’s a lot more useful now. The main thing I wanted to do was put things away that I don’t use very often and try to get the things I do use within hand’s reach. I think I succeeded pretty well. I put away a few extra bowls that had been sitting out for as long as I can remember and put the toaster and tiny kitchen scale in the cupboard directly below this space. I also ate those bagel chips on the far left, you know, to help clean up.

Moving those few things out of the way gave me space to put the one thing I really wanted on the counter in a central spot and that’s my spice rack. It used to live in the pantry, which isn’t super inconvenient, but when you’re cooking and the meal just needs a little something extra, it’s nice to just reach over and grab it instead of going all the way to the pantry. Also, since our darling daughter seems to be getting more mobile and curious every day, leaving the pantry door casually open is no longer an option.

I’ve got other plans and ideas both big and small. I think I’m going to clear out some space directly behind where this photo was taken (where the computer is if you look at the pictures using the above link) and put out some of the loose spices and other things I used on a regular basis like vinegar and what not. I use those way more than the blender that’s sitting there anyway. I’d also like to box up some of the extraneous dishes we never use like the one dozen tiny coffee cups that have been used maybe twice since we moved in (they’re nowhere near big enough for my He-Man sized caffeine addiction). I’m not sure what I’ll put in there, but it would be nice to have some more space. The big project I want to eventually tackle, though, is putting down a new floor in there. We bought these black and white tiles like three years ago at a discount sale and while I didn’t care about the kitchen back then, I would love a new floor. The one we’re dealing with now is strangely porous and therefore ridiculously difficult to keep clean as even the mop or sponge water seems to settle in there.  I hate it and want to destroy it, but will probably just cover it up with a nicer, newer version. That’s just a matter of setting aside time and deciding to get it done. I’ll keep you posted on the changes as I’m sure you’re glued to your screens at the mention of my spice rack getting some counter space.

Bonus Food Pics: Chicken & Rice

This is a little embarrassing, but I can not remember where I got the recipe for the dinner these pictures were taken of. All our cookbooks are kept on a short metal shelf right outside the kitchen. I usually use small sticky notes to mark pages for recipes I’m working on, but since our one year old has gotten even more curious, she has run ripshot through the books as well as the markers. If I come across it again, I’ll let you know. I think I remember enough to explain, though.

The rice that gets mixed in with the chicken portion of the dish later on is actually made with chicken broth instead of water and also includes some lemon zest and juice along with some grated ginger. I got that going first because it took the longest. I then got to work on the rest of the prep which included cutting chicken breasts into chunks and also chopping up the onion, green pepper and garlic. I also used our box grater to take care of the carrots, which went really smoothly.

The vegetables went into the pan with the vegetable oil and cooked for a bit. Then the coconut milk was added, followed soon after by the chicken which went for a while until everything was nice and cooked through. Lime juice also went in at some point along with some basil. The rice was originally set to act as a side dish, but since the chicken portion turned out to be wetter than expected and I didn’t want to wait much longer before eating, I added the rice in at my wife’s suggestion and it worked out quite well.

The flavors in this batch were a little weak. I should have added some curry powder or maybe more lime. It actually tasted better as a leftover after the flavors got to hang out and mingle together, so maybe this is the kind of dish that works better if you make it much further ahead of time.

Pizza Party: Pizza Mia’s Pesto Chicken & Sicilian Slices

I know these aren’t the prettiest looking slices of pizza in the world, but it just goes to show how good pizza in our area is. Those look a little limp (and had most likely been sitting for a while), but they tasted awesome! On the left you have Pizza Mia’s pesto chicken slice which had a really great pesto sauce and their Sicilian. I’m in awe of Pizza Mia’s sauce which is just so sweet and zingy that I want to eat it every day.

Wok This Way: Beef Chow Fun (Sorta)

You’ll notice in the title that I don’t really commit to the idea that I cooked Beef Chow Fun. That’s because the recipe I used — from page 269 of Grace Young’s Str-Frying To The Sky’s Edge — called for broad rice noodles and bean sprouts, but I could only find thin rice noodles and broccoli sprouts, so I’m not sure if what I actually made is technically Beef Chow Fun.

Aside from those few changes, this recipe went pretty smoothly, though I think I might have used too many noodles. I don’t know if the mixture was really solid along with the sauce and beef. Anyway, this was made the same way as everything else I’ve made in the wok, so there’s not a lot to tell on that end.

I don’t usually like sprouts, but I still enjoyed this meal, it was tasty and reheated well. I must admit, I’m kind of bored writing about wok recipes as it’s pretty much the exact same thing every single time. On the other hand, I like making them because they involve lots of prep and a very short cook time. Even though these things might not be thrilling, I now know enough of the basics to figure out a recipe based on a few things I might have in the fridge or freezer now that I have a pretty good stock of wok-oriented ingredients. Pretty much any combination of meat and vegetables can be done easily and well in the wok, so that’s rad.

Cooking Southern American Succotash Soup With Chicken

Being from Toledo, Ohio from parents who were both from Ohio, I had pretty limited exposure to southern food. We didn’t have a lot of barbecue places around from what I remember, though there are a number of ones in town now. And, as far as I knew, succotash was something only preceded by “sufferin'” in cartoon character exclamations. When I was flipping through the Chicken and Duck Soups chapter of The Ultimate Soup Bible, I stumbled upon a recipe for something called American Southern Succotash Soup With Chicken (page 296) that sounded pretty amazing. Anything with corn, bacon and chicken is aces in my book, so I decided to give it a whirl.

And it turned out pretty fantastic, plus the recipe isn’t all the difficult. You start off boiling some chicken breasts in chicken broth for bout 15 minutes. While those were going, I got to work on prep, chopping up a few strips of bacon, two onions and some parsley. When that was good to go, I started making the base of the soup which involved cooking the onions in butter for a handful of minutes. To that I added the bacon. My wife doesn’t really like squishy bacon in soups, so I tried to get it a little crispier. You then add in some flour to thicken, the hot stock from the chicken (which had been removed after it was done cooking and set aside for chopping) and some corn.

My grocery store didn’t have fresh corn, which was weird because they did a few weeks ago, so I went with frozen. You also add some milk and let that cook for about 15 minutes. Then you add in the cut up chicken, the lima beans and the rest of the milk and you are ready to go. I’m sure it would have been even better with fresh corn, but I think it turned out really well. It was thick and creamy without using cream, which I appreciated, but did have bacon and beans and chicken which all mingled together in a very satisfying and filling meal. Bonus points for being equally good if not better when reheated. Definitely give this one a try when you’ve got a colder day on your hands this summer.

Bonus Food Pic: Tacos!

We have a lot of tacos in our house. Sometimes I try fancy ones like baja fish or carnitas or interesting ones that are Greek themed, but mostly I just whip up some good ol’ fashioned normal tacos with a kit, pound of ground beef, shredded cheese, sour cream and some veggies. I’ve posted about my methods before and did pretty much the same thing, but this time I used ground turkey, store-bought taco seasoning and hard shells. I also happened to have some verde salsa on hand. I thought they looked pretty colorful and figured sharing the picture wouldn’t hurt.

Cooking Pasta Estiva

Finding recipes that make sense when it gets really hot out can be super difficult. Technically, cooking anything will heat up your house — especially if you’re working in a smaller kitchen like I am — but I’m also not a big fan of cold food. So, one day last week I decided to bite the bullet and makes something that might heat things up in the house, but come out a little cooler on the other end. I decided on Pasta Estiva from Monday To Friday Pasta by Michele Urvater (page 180) because it involved a lot of nice vegetables like cucumbers, yellow squad, zucchini and tomatoes.

Basically, you get the past going at the beginning and then start chopping veggies. By the way, I forgot to get radishes, so those weren’t involved, but I would be intrigued to try them next time. Once you’ve got everything chopped, you heat a cup of water until boiling and toss in the veggies for a few minutes.

And that’s all folks! There’s a little olive oil and some salt — my wife suggested adding a little more salt when messing around with that many vegetables and no solid sauce just to keep the flavors level — but I really enjoyed the simple, fresh flavors. I imagine you could pretty much toy with this one until you found a veggie combination that works for you, but I thought this particular mix made for a good meal. Anyone ever try it with the radishes? My concern is that they’d make things a little too bitter.