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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pumpkin Gnocchi

Gnocchi are sturdy little bite-size dumplings that are often made with mashed potatoes, but other veggies can form the basis for them too.  They usually have an egg as a binder, and I like that this recipe uses an alternate (therefore allergy-free and vegan) binder that takes advantage of leftovers, if you have leftover rice.  There original recipe comes from a PBS vegan cooking show called Christina Cooks.  I choose to serve mine with a non-vegan browned butter and sage sauce.

The tricky thing about this recipe is controlling for moisture content...you can't.  Your pumpkin may have more or less water than average, and even how soon you puree and use your cooked rice alters its moisture content.  I made rice special for this recipe and (as usual) made too much.  I pureed all the rice immediately (thinking I'd freeze some as "rice cereal" for the baby) and clouds of steam poured out of the food processor.  By the time I finished the gnocchi dough, the rice left in the processor was dry and sticky...I suspect that if I'd used the rice at that stage, I would have needed less semolina in my gnocchi dough.  I also suspect using leftover rice rather than freshly prepared hot rice would have had the same effect.  So the amount of semolina you use is very approximate...keep adding until it's the right consistency.

Which, by the way, is like a soft cookie dough.  You want the dough to hold together when you boil the dumplings but you don't want the dough so stiff that the dumplings are like concrete when you cook them.  So you want a dough that can be controlled with a light dusting of flour on your hands and work surface when you roll it out, but not as stiff as, say, a pie dough or cutout cookie dough.

And the semolina...I don't know if you could easily substitute regular wheat flour for the semolina flour.  They're both wheat products, but the semolina feels like cornmeal.  It's also a higher-gluten flour than regular all purpose flour.  You can't substitute cornmeal either because cornmeal doesn't form gluten bonds and therefore won't bind properly.  I didn't have a hard time at all finding semolina flour...it was on the baking aisle at my decidedly non-fancy grocery store with "specialty" flours.  Bob's Red Mill was the brand available.  For what it's worth, I've made other gnocchi-type dumplings before from different recipes that used regular flour and I thought they were heavier and chewier than the gnocchi I made with the semolina.

Lastly, this recipe calls for 1 cup pureed pumpkin.  I used canned pumpkin.  1 cup is about 1/2 a 15 oz. can.  I HATE having half-a-can of stuff leftover.  You could double up the recipe (especially since you can freeze the uncooked gnocchi!) or make pumpkin muffins, pumpkin seafood chowder, or pumpkin pancakes.  You can use homemade pureed pumpkin or I bet even other types of pureed squash though, again, these changes will affect the moisture content of the dough and change how much semolina you need.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Pear Muffins

Pears are available year-round, but fall really is pear season.  My favorite way to eat pears is actually a no-recipe dish...a fully, juicy, tender ripe pear sliced thinly with thin slices of Havarti cheese.  I'll eat that for breakfast, dessert, snack, you name it. 

Pears are a valuable addition to one's diet for reasons other than their deliciousness though. 

WARNING: things are about to get a little gross

Pears contain sorbitol which is a natural osmotic laxative (the type of laxative that "just makes it easier to go", as the commercials say).  So do prunes and plums, but I know a lot of folks are anti-prune even though you shouldn't be...but that's another post.

If you're thinking about prepping some snacks and meals ahead in preparation for having a baby, pears should be on your list somehow.  If you've just ejected another human being from your body, whether via the baby chute or through the "sunroof", chances are there's gonna be some issues in the osmotic laxative department (personal experience speaking here).  If you're helping someone who is laid up after a surgery or long illness, chance are they're having some issues in the osmotic laxative department.  If you're caring for an elderly person, chances are...well, you get it.  Medication (particularly pain medication), surgeries, inactivity due to injury or bed rest, dehydration from illness, normal aging all tend to cause constipation, and pears will help.

OK, enough poop talk.  Pears are good for what ails you.

I've frozen batches of these muffins before just as is.  They are gooood, but get a little soggy on top in the freezer.  I've played with different ways to freezer-fortify them, and what I've come up with is a good solution I think that can be applied to any type of muffin.  A streusel topping that incorporates nuts or coconut will stand up to the freezer pretty well.  The nuts/coconut doesn't lose crunch and keeps the otherwise-soggy muffin tops covered up.

You can always make the batter and freeze it for later baking which totally side-steps the freezer-sog problem, but it does require back-end time to bake.  If you freeze before baking, spoon the batter into paper cupcake liners in a muffin pan.  Freeze the whole pan, then remove the filled liners to a ziptop bag for storage.  To thaw, put the liner-cups in the muffin pan while still frozen and let thaw in the fridge or at room temp.

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Turkey Burgers

Turkey burgers baked in a jumbo muffin pan
as mini-meatloaves (same bat time, same
bat temp) with a brush of garlic jelly as a glaze
I just adore Chris Kimball, America's Test Kitchen and their recipes.  They are almost uniformly a few steps more intensive than I'm willing to do on a regular basis, but I forgive them because they are always so, so right.  That said, I am willing to live in the place between Right and Easy, a little place I like to call Rational Compromise ;)

The July 2012 issue of Cooks Illustrated includes an egg-free, carb-free recipe for a moist, light turkey burger.  The one major departure I make from this recipe is that I do not grind my own meat by purchasing a bone-in hunk o' turkey, cutting the meat off the bone, partially freezing it and running it through the food processor for just enough pulses to produce the "perfect" grind.  Huh-unh.  Not gonna do it.  I used 1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey instead and got delicious results.

There are some surprising ingredients here...soy sauce, baking soda, gelatin.  I can't remember all the science but there's a reason for it.  Go to your local public library and check out this issue of CI for details.  A super-cool bonus of the science is this makes a nice tender burger without the usual carb-y additions or eggs for those with egg allergies.

Regarding the mushrooms...the mushrooms get very finely chopped and effectively disappear into the burger.  It's not like eating big chunks o' mushroom with your burger, in case you have some fungi-phobes at your dinner table.  I will say that you do need white button mushrooms here instead of something fancier for aesthetic reasons.  I made this recipe with brown cremini mushrooms, and they just come out looking very unappetizing in the final product.  With brown mushrooms, the burger is still PERFECTLY DELICIOUS but UGLY AS ALL HECK.

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Ham and cheese divan

If you are a fan of brunch, you will LOVE this dish at any time of day.  Like Chicken Divan, it's a casserole of vegetables and protein layered with a creamy can-o-soup sauce.  I really didn't feel like making my sauce from scratch for this, so I used a can of cheddar cheese soup plus a little milk but you certainly can make your own.  It was ridiculously tasty. 

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to make the stuffed eggs just for this dish again (although it wasn't hard).  But this is absolutely going in my post-holiday meal rotation as a way to deal with leftover deviled eggs.  Plain halved hard-boiled eggs will work fine if you want to save a little work.

Original recipe from my mom's 1970-something Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.

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