Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gnocchi Galore

As planned, I made butternut squash gnocchi out of the remaining squash ravioli filling. The gnocchi were not as light as clouds, but they were tasty. I did not even pretend I was going to shape my gnocchi over the tines of a fork.

I did try a method I read about in a Mario Batali cookbook, shaping the gnocchi between two teaspoons, but in the interest of eating dinner before 10 p.m., soon abandoned that effort and
settled for small, slightly rounded dumpling-shaped gnocchi.

I cooked them in some chicken stock I made this weekend, and served them with steamed broccoli. I kept them warm in a non-stick skillet over very low heat with some butter and dried sage until I had cooked up all the dough. They were a bit time consuming to form, but otherwise the process went pretty quickly and was a delicious meal -- and we have enough for lunch tomorrow. Based on this experiment, will I try making traditional gnocchi? You bet!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Oooh, I'm Hip! (in a retroactive kind of way)

A new Maine blog has debuted, The Kennebec Report. An as-of-yet un-aquainted fellow blogger at the University of Maine in Augusta, recently relocated there from Guam, will be reporting on his experiences in Maine.

In his second post, Retroactive Hipness, Rob writes about Mainers' being hip.
Maine seems to have what I would call "retroactive hipness." I find the state and its people enormously hip, but not in the Soho gallery, pencil-thin, all-black-clad, wine spritzer, closest-to-the-latest sort of way.... No, I mean a hipness that's derived from, to paraphrase the Mamas and the Papas, making your own kind of music, and it expresses itself in doing things that people did in the Depression as a matter of course: gardening, canning, knitting, crafting, woodworking, raising farm animals, et cetera, et cetera.
If he defines hipness as raising livestock, vegetable gardening, home canning, DIY home renovation/woodworking, etc.etc.etc., than I am seriously hip. I am the master of hipness. I have a Ph.D. in hip. I never in a million years would have dreamed I'd be considered hip. Me, a liberal, fashion-impaired educator, hip. Wow.

Welcome to Maine, Rob. If this is how you are going to be blogging, I'll be a real fan.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunny Sunday

We had a lovely sunny Sunday, with no wind and temps in the 20s -- practically balmy. Capping the lovely day, tonight my friend Karen gave me a lesson in making homemade pasta.

We made ravioli, filling them with a squash filling I found on Epicurious.com.
The filling was a snap to make, and the pasta, not so bad, once you get a feel for it. The dough needs to be smooth and elastic, but dry, not sticky. Once we got going, we made lots of raviolis in about 2 hours, with plenty of time for conversation and wine.


For filling
a 2-pound butternut squash, roasted and mashed
1 1/2 c diced shallot
1 1/2 teaspoons ground sage
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
4 ounces Spanish Manchego cheese, grated

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted lightly and skinned and chopped coarsely

In a skillet cook shallot and sage in butter with salt and pepper to taste over moderate heat, stirring, until shallot is golden brown. Stir in garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Cool shallot mixture slightly and add to squash. Add cheese and stir to combine well. Make ravioli.

In a 6-quart kettle bring 5 quarts salted water to a gentle boil for ravioli.

In skillet cook butter with hazelnuts over moderate heat until butter begins to brown, about 3 minutes, and immediately remove from heat (nuts will continue to cook). Season hazelnut butter with salt and pepper and keep warm, covered.

Makes 30 ravioli, serving 6 generously.

I made a few changes from the Epicurious recipe, which called for using won-ton wrappers. It made a huge amount of filling, so I have a lot left over. I may try and make the remaining filling into gnocchi later this week.

We served the ravioli with a simple roasted chicken and a lovely salad, and followed dinner with a few hands of cards. The perfect end to a nice relaxing weekend.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Heating Up the Night

A week to the day after catching the extremely evil g.i. bug that is going around, I rolled up my sleeves and started cooking again. I was just NOT interested in anything having to do with food before today.

My friend Karen is going to give me a lesson on making homemade pasta tomorrow, and we'll be making butternut squash ravioli.
In preparation I roasted a large squash this afternoon, and tonight for dinner tried a new twist on enchiladas, Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Corn.

2 1/2 lb butternut squash, roasted and mashed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 c frozen corn
1 T chili powder
1/2 cinnamon
1/2 t cumin

12 6-inch-diameter corn tortillas

8 oz. Pepper Jack cheese
8 oz. cheddar cheese

Prepared salsa or enchilada sauce

Heat 2T oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 3 minutes. Mix in squash and corn. Season with salt and pepper.

Wrap tortillas in damp paper towel and microwave briefly to soften.

Place 1 heaping spoonful of squash mixture down center of each tortilla. Top with 1 tablespoon of each cheese. Roll up tortillas. Arrange seam side down in a lightly oiled 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spoon enchilada sauce and remaining cheese over enchiladas. Bake until enchiladas are heated through and cheese is hot and bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Wow, I was amazed. They were delicious, and I think will lend themselves to all sorts of tweaking in the future. I also think you could very easily use canned squash or pumpkin and turn these into a quick weeknight meal. I didn't think to get a photo but I'll be sure to capture the pasta making tomorrow!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

January Jaundice

Although it was 60 degrees on January 2, Dan and I couldn't come to terms with the construction of the temporary brick oven, so we let the warm weather pass us by, and now are shivering at the Return of Winter.

We've had 2 little snowstorms, and it was cold last week, especially considering the week before it was so mild. Temps were in the single digits, with the gentle breeze exacerbating the bracing effect. Friday an old fashioned nor'easter ripped through, leaving snow and wind in its wake, and for Dan and I, a brush with the exceedingly unpleasant g.i. bug that is going around. YUK. As a result, we hunkered down for the weekend, armed with electrolyte-replenishing liquids, ginger ale and the woodstove.

At least the enforced semi-paralysis gave me time to work on the vegetable garden plans. When not snoozing or otherwise engaged, I browsed through the collection of seed catalogs and tried to narrow down my choices to a manageable list. Here's what made the list for veggies:
Beans--saved seed of Michael's and Gold of Bacau Pole Beans, Fedco
Beets--Burpees Golden and Ruby Queen, Pine Tree Garden Seeds
Broccoli--Broccoli Blend, Fedco
Brussels Sprouts--Falstaff,
Pine Tree Garden Seeds
Carrots--Atomic Red, Mokum, and Rainbow Mix, Fedco
Corn--Painted Mountain, Fedco
Green Onions--Deep Purple, Johnny's
Leeks--Lincoln, Fedco
Lettuce--Summer and Winter Mix,
Pine Tree Garden Seeds
Melon--Prescott Fond Blanc, Fedco and Banana,
Pine Tree Garden Seeds
Peas--Lincoln and Sugar Ann, Fedco
Peppers--Amish Pimento, Fedco and Red Beauty,
Pine Tree Garden Seeds Lemon Drop, saved
Pumpkin--Winter Luxury and Rouge Vif d'Etampes, Fedco
Potatoes--Carola, Rose Finn Apple, Dark Red Norlands, Fedco
Radish-- Easter Egg,
Pine Tree Garden Seeds
Tomatoes--Orange Banana, Amish Paste, Green Zebra, Fedco and Pineapple, Sun Gold, Gardener's Delight,
Pine Tree Garden Seeds
Summer Squash--Costata Romanesca, Early Summer Yellow Crookneck, Fedco
Winter Squash--Futsu Black,
Pine Tree Garden Seeds
Swiss Chard--Bright Lights,

I'm still debating over the tomato category, I hope to can tomatoes this summer, but I also want a good selection of fresh eating tomatoes. In the case of the beans and Lemon Drop Peppers, this will be my first experiment with saving seed myself, and I'm not all that confident in my abilities so I've hedged my bets in both cases with a second or third variety.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The 1-Hour Brick Oven

While doing some research for work today I found this example of a dry-stacked wood-fired pizza oven, and I'm dying to give it a whirl. Stacked on a pallet in the back yard we have a good collection of free-cycled bricks, and the house came with a good inventory of concrete block. We have plenty of nice dry split firewood, all ready for the woodstove, and a flat-ish spot of ground. Now all I need is the time, a few refractory bricks, and some refractory cement.

The oven designer-builder, Dale A. Callaham, built the oven pictured here in under an hour, using a chimney flue liner as the oven chamber. According to his website, the chimney flue liner cracked after a few uses, so he designed a cast oven roof using refractory cement. What a clever idea!

I'm going to skip the chimney flue-liner option and move directly to the cast refractory cement oven roof option when I try mine -- after all, I have a cement mixer, I might as well put that baby to work! The big question, can I manage this in time for a looming birthday celebration? A Pizza Party would be such a good way to celebrate, especially if it did not include the smoke detectors blaring away.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy Hot New Year!

It's official, December, 2006 was toasty. According to today's Morning Sentinel,
Through Dec. 30, the average temperature in Portland was 34.9 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

That was 7.1 degrees above normal and 0.1 degrees higher than the warmest December on record, set in 2001.

If that isn't enough, The USDA Zone maps are being revised, and many of us northerners are experiencing climate creep. The American Horticultural Society is reporting that the maps are in the process of being re-drawn.

Selfishly, I have really enjoyed using less fuel to heat my home this fall, and I'm really enjoying the ability to include a few more tender plants in the garden. Unfortunately, the drawbacks are pretty horrendous, though. Poison ivy loves this new weather patterns, and is demonstrating through luxurious growth, as are some other evils such as Japanese knotweed and Japanese honeysuckle. It is also just plain hotter in the summers, and I'm more likely to sunburn. Sigh.

Well, we've insulated and wind proofed this old house as best we can (and it is an ongoing project), I'm driving a fuel efficient car and I carpool, I'm trying to buy locally, and we're planting trees and shrubs like mad. I'm working on making the lawn mower obsolete, too. I'll keep working on it. In the meantime, best wishes to all for a happy and health new year!