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Gnocchi from Leftover Mashed Potatoes

 

Mashed Potato Gnocchi

Mashed Potato Gnocchi

Last night, I made mashed potatoes.  For what I’m doing in this post, I’m sure any mashed potatoes will do; as long as there’s nothing strange about them. Mine were peeled, boiled russets with butter, milk, and salt. Mashed with the traditional hand mashing tool. Basic, but delicious! So, I wound up with some leftovers and did a little searching, and I realized that I could make gnocchi. I really like potato gnocchi.

I found a basic recipe that called for two cups of mashed potatoes, 1 cup of all purpose flour, 1 egg, and a pinch of salt. I found that the flour component was a little less than I required…the dough was way too sticky! The amount of flour really depends on how much moisture is in the potatoes and the humidity in the room. I just kept adding a little at a time, until I could handle the dough and knead it, without it sticking to my hands.

First, I put 1/2 cup of the flour on my board with a pinch of salt, and added the mashed potatoes on top.

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I created a well and added the egg, and another pinch of salt.

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Then, I topped that with the rest of the flour and mixed together. This was the messy part. Until the egg starts getting absorbed, it’s just a sticky mess on your hands. Have extra flour on hand that you don’t have to get out of the bag…it will save some time and wasted flour. Add a small handful of flour at a time, until you can knead the dough without it sticking to your hands or the work surface. Do not overwork the dough, though…you’re not making bread! You want light little pillows of pasta!

Kneaded dough ball.

Kneaded dough ball.

Since I hand-mashed the potatoes, there were bits of potato visible in the dough; however, they were never noticeable when cooked. Anyway, I divided the dough into four pieces and rolled out a rope, about the thickness of a soft pretzel. Maybe a tad thicker.

Dough divided. rolling out ropes of dough.

Dough divided. rolling out rope of dough. (Rope was rolled out about twice this long.)

Using the dough divider, I cut the rope into pieces. They don’t have to be perfect, but roughly the size of the the first digit on your thumb.

Cutting the gnocchi.

Cutting the gnocchi.

Now the tricky part! Make sure your gnocchi are not too sticky. Turn a fork with tines facing down on your work surface. Take each gnocchi and, beginning on the top of the slots on the back of the tines, gently roll the dough down the hill and release.

Rolling dough off of the back of the fork.

Rolling dough off of the back of the fork.

You can use the tip of your pointer finger or the side of your thumb…whatever works better for you. Ideally, your gnocchi will have ridges on one side, and a finger dimple on the other. These features will help hold sauce on the pasta.

Mashed Potato Gnocchi

Mashed Potato Gnocchi

Handle the gnocchi carefully and place them on a parchment-lined tray…or something that you can spread them out on, without them sticking. If you are not going to cook immediately, the pasta should be refrigerated or frozen. I prefer freezing. They can be cooked directly from the freezer and freezing helps them keep their shape. After they are frozen solid, they can be removed from the freezer and transferred to a zip top bag, and put back in the freezer until ready to use.

Spread out and ready to cook or freeze.

Spread out and ready to cook or freeze.

When you are ready to cook your gnocchi, bring plenty of salted water to a boil. Do not add oil! When you have a rolling boil, add the gnocchi and gently stir. Bring back to a boil. The pasta cooks very quickly. When they are floating, they are ready. I like to remove them with a skimmer, so I can handle them carefully. You can pour into a colander, if you are cautious. I like to drop mine into a saute pan with a little melted butter. This is about 7 ounces of the total yield, which was about a pound and a half.

Saute pan with melted butter and cooked gnocchi.

Saute pan with melted butter and cooked gnocchi.

One of the traditional recipes for gnocchi calls for them to be tossed in browned butter and flavored with sage. It could certainly be served with a nice ragu sauce, but cream sauces are a popular choice. I really like an alfredo style sauce flavored with Gorgonzola cheese.

This time, I prepared a basil pesto cream sauce. I happened to have some in the fridge that I made with basil and garlic grown in my garden, but there are good pesto sauces available fresh in some gourmet groceries, and bottled pesto sauce in the grocery aisles of most stores.

Sauce ingredients. Not shown: toasted pine nuts, milk.

Sauce ingredients: pesto, parmesan cheese, butter.  Not shown: toasted pine nuts, milk.

A little goes a long way. I added probably a tablespoon and tossed it a couple times for it to loosen up and start coating the pasta. Then I added enough milk to cover the bottom of the pan. I did it by sight, but I’m guessing about 1/3 cup. Tossed the pasta in the pan (or carefully stir), to combine the pesto and milk and coat the pasta. Bring to a simmer and thicken a little.

Building the sauce.

Building the sauce.

Off heat, toss in a quarter cup(-ish) of grated parmesan cheese. Transfer to a serving dish add some toasted pine nuts, to taste. (This made one serving…easily doubled.)

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

 

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Cherry Fruit Leather from Fresh Cherries

Sugar, water, cherries

Sugar, water, cherries (There’s a few Mt. Raniers in there.)

With cherries in season and some deals here and there, I had some on hand. Unfortunately, nobody was eating them and they were just passing their prime. Having recently discovered that my almost 15 month old grandson was very enthusiastic with the discovery of “Fruit by the Foot” snacks, I decided to pull out the dehydrator and give it a shot. By coincidence, I happened to find a deal on some Presto brand liners for making fruit leather and had bought a couple. That probably spurred me on a bit as well. My dehydrator is a Nesco brand, however, and it has a bigger center hole than the Presto model, so the dehydrator motor would not fit through the Presto accessory’s center hole.

Presto liner on a Nesco dehydrator. Presto has a smaller hole...oops.

Presto liner on a Nesco dehydrator. Presto has a smaller hole…oops.

Having already poured the fruit puree, my best bet was to put the trays at the bottom with the empty ones on top. Those, plus the lid, got me close…still sticking up a little, but enough for the dehydrator to work.

Put fruit leather trays on bottom. Note small gap between lid and motor.

Put fruit leather trays on bottom. Note small gap between lid and motor.

As for the fruit leather, I looked around on Pinterest and found a recipe that looked like what I was searching for. The recipe, at http://www.bakedbyrachel.com/cherry-fruit-leather/  (credit where due!), specifies using an oven at 170F and sheet pans with silicone liners, but I figured that substituting a dehydrator would be no problem. I will admit  that I didn’t really measure my cherries…but I think I was in the neighborhood of four cups. In the end, I perfectly lined the 2 inserts, with none left over.

One tip: double check your cherries for pits. I thought I was careful, but a couple made it into the blender and I had  to run the puree through a sieve. I left behind a little fiber and peel, I guess, but I think I would add that step anyway, for a smoother puree. So, here’s the recipe:

 

Cherry Fruit Leather

4 cups fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted

1/4 cup water

1/3 cup granulated sugar

 

Directions

Add the water and the fruit to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Use a potato masher to mash the cherries as they cook. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until well broken down. (I must admit that I added the sugar also and it seems to have turned out okay, though it was supposed to be added later.)

Mashed cherries simmering.

Mashed cherries simmering.

Transfer the cooked fruit to a blender, in batches, and blend until smooth. I did mine in 2 batches. Be careful with hot stuff in blenders! I left the center hole open and covered with a towel, to avoid building pressure and causing a hot fruit puree explosion.

Pureed and strained.

Pureed and strained.

Return the puree to the saucepan…after passing through a sieve, if necessary or desired. Add the sugar…if you didn’t do it when I did, by mistake. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened some. Remove from heat and stir bubbles down a bit.

Simmered on reduced heat for 10 minutes.

Simmered on reduced heat for 10 minutes.

Lightly spray your dehydrator disks with a nonstick spray or lightly brush with oil and place on dehydrator trays. Ladle the puree onto disks and carefully give a jiggle to even out puree.

Ladled onto nonstick sprayed liner.

Ladled onto nonstick sprayed liner.

Add the cover and the motor and dehydrate until a little tacky to touch, but not dried out completely. (Although…it needed to be a little drier than I thought.) Should be between 4 to 7 hours, depending on your dehydrator, humidity, etc. (Mine actually took more like nine hours.) Allow to cool. Peel from dehydrator inserts and store, rolled in wax paper or parchment and stored in an airtight container, up to one month. (Cut in smaller strips, if desired.) Enjoy!

Ready to eat cherry fruit leather. Rolled in parchment paper.

Ready to eat cherry fruit leather. Rolled in parchment paper.

I did need to go to the longer period of time for the dehydrator…actually, well beyond. One tray was a little thicker than the other and, when I touched it, it kind of schmudged it some. Yeah…made up that word. And I turned it off after about 5 hours, thinking it was done. I decided it wasn’t done, later, after it had cooled. I popped the trays back in the dehydrator and let them go another 3 or 4 hours. The thicker one then went another hour. But they turned out fine, in the end, and taste good. Live and learn. Next time, the process will be smoother.

 

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Pickled Green Beans, AKA “Dilly Beans”

Dilly Beans (I left out the optional red pepper flakes.)

Dilly Beans (I left out the optional red pepper flakes.)

I didn’t take a bunch of “process” photos, but I made 2 pint jars of pickled green beans, AKA “Dilly Beans”. I think Dilly Beans sounds kind of silly…although, it is quicker to say than pickled green beans. Anyway, I decided to give this recipe a try, because I got some green beans on sale and they looked pretty good. Plus, I have some dill in my garden that needed trimming back. I didn’t measure my beans, but I’m assuming it was a maybe a pound to a pound and a half?

Dilly Beans

Fresh green beans, trimmed both ends. Enough to firmly pack (2) pint jars.

1/8 c. kosher or pickling salt

2 medium garlic cloves, peeled, lightly crushed

2 fresh dill heads/fronds

1 t. mustard seeds

(optional: pinch of red pepper flakes per jar)

1-1/2 c. white vinegar

3/4 c. water

Directions

Combine the vinegar, water, salt, and mustard seeds in a small, non-reactive sauce pan (like stainless steel). Bring to a boil and reserve, keeping hot. Prepare a water bath canner with enough water to cover jars by an inch or two. Prepare two pint jars, lids, and screw rings. Divide the garlic, dill, and red pepper flakes (if using) between the two jars. Trim the green beans to fit the jars vertically, leaving 1/2 to 1/4 inch space from jar’s rim. Pack the jar tightly, so the green beans won’t float.

Ladle the hot brine over the beans, trying to distribute the mustard seeds evenly. Bring the brine up to 1/4″ below the jar’s rim and covering the beans. Use a skewer or a knife to make sure there are no trapped air bubbles and add more brine, if necessary. Using a paper towel or clean cloth, wipe the threads and rim. Place a prepared lid on each jar and install the screw ring to “finger tight”. Add to boiling water bath and process for 10 minutes. Leave jars in the hot water, off heat for another 5 minutes. Remove to a kitchen towel on a counter top and leave for 24 hours. When cool enough to touch, tighten lids. If lids do not “pop” to indicate seal, store in refrigerator. If properly sealed, remove the rings and store in a cool, dark place until ready to use. (I would wait at least 2 weeks and maybe a month before opening.)

I had a little leftover brine and the bean ends that I trimmed to make the beans fit the jars, so I put them in a plastic container and let them sit on the counter for a few minutes, then I popped them in the fridge. I’ll have them as a snack in a few days.

 

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Strawberry Jam, Simple but Awesome Recipe

2016 strawberry season!

mmmfoodies

Pints of Strawberry Jam Pints of Strawberry Jam

2016 update: local crop is in and looks great…won’t be around much longer, though, so I went to a local farm and picked up 2 baskets (gallon size) for $14.oo each. I have made two batches of strawberry jam today and find that I can make 2 batches from one basket. Bumping this post for seasonal reasons…get some fresh strawberries!

In 2012, my older daughter got married. As a small token to our wedding guests, I made a 4 0z  jar of  homemade strawberry jam with a little fabric cover and a label with the wedding date, the bride and groom’s names and the message “Spread the Love”. Oh, and I made two hundred and twenty-five of them!

Wedding favors. Wedding favors.

I had help picking some of the strawberries and a little help with the jam process from my younger daughter, but I did make several backache…

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Garden Update March 2016

Garden overview.

Garden overview.

There are some positive signs in the garden and I’ve added a couple of things. There are also some things that are also giving me concern. I’ve tried starting several things from seed in starters, but the results are fairly weak. I’m getting a few sprouts, but not consistent success.

Some sprouts...not too impressive yet, though.

Some sprouts…not too impressive yet, though.

I have also planted some multicolored Swiss chard from seed, directly into the garden and noticed that they are popping up, so I’m optimistic about that one.

Hard to see, but sprouts are popping through for the Swiss chard.

Hard to see, but sprouts are popping through for the Swiss chard.

I have a single yellow bell pepper plant that was purchased already growing. It seems to be okay, but not showing any vertical growth yet. I’m also experimenting a bit this year with some sweet potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes. They were sprouting in the house, so I cut some pieces and planted them. We’ll see what happens.

Previously planted and now in year 3, are Cascade hops  and muscadine grape vines. I have put some strings in for the hops to climb…they seem to be doing okay.

Hops ready to climb.

Hops ready to climb.

The muscadine vines…

Muscadine grape vines.

Muscadine grape vines. On the bottom, left, I think is ginger…bulbs look more like onion. Waiting and watching.

…I don’t know if any grapes will happen this year. I’m just letting them go where they are and see what happens. If any grapes appear this year, I’ll plan to put up a small arbor, just for them, by next Spring.

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Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

About a week ago, my wife was looking for a box of Crunch ‘n’ Munch Caramel Popcorn that I had bought. I had bought two boxes and she had eaten one over the course of a couple of days. She assumed that the second box was hers, too, since I know she likes it. A reasonable assumption, but one that was proven wrong, because I had a craving the night before. Poor thing was so disappointed!

Never wanting to leave a woman disappointed(*wink, wink*), I decided to pop onto the computer and do a little secret research. Most of the recipes called for corn syrup, which I didn’t have on hand, or exact temperatures and extra steps that I just didn’t want to deal with for a quick recipe to surprise my wife with on short notice. To the rescue came a recipeI found through Pinterest at http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2013/04/23/peanut-butter-caramel-corn/ . Take a look, if you have a chance, you may find something else you like there as well! I like to give credit, where credit is due, and support those people who have helped me with a great recipe.

This recipe is simple, easy, and can be done in a matter of about 20 minutes with pretty common ingredients and equipment. There’s no need for a thermometer or precision. What you will need is some measuring cups, a small sauce pot for the caramel, a medium sauce pot with a lid for popping the corn (or you can use microwaved or air popped), a large mixing bowl for combing the popcorn and caramel a spoon or wire whip and a rubber spatula.

Here’s the recipe:

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Ingredients:

  • 10 cups unflavored popped popcorn (homemade or 1 standard size bag)*
  • 2/3 cup dry-roasted peanuts, optional
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
 *I think I use a little more popcorn and stretch the caramel out a little thinner.
Directions:

Pop the popcorn, remove any unpopped kernels, and set aside.

Popped a good sized bowl of popcorn and leave room for mixing!

Popped a good sized bowl of popcorn and leave room for mixing!

Line a sheet pan with parchment and a little non-stick spray. Put the sugar and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir to combine. You can cover it initially to help it come to a boil, but it isn’t required. Once the mixture comes to a boil, let it go for about three minutes.
Boiling sugar and honey...HOT!!! Be careful.

Boiling sugar and honey…HOT!!! Be careful.

 

Carefully remove the mixture from heat and add the salt, peanut butter and, if using, the optional peanuts.* Stir until well-combined.
Peanuts, salt, and peanut butter added and stirred well.

Peanuts, salt, and peanut butter added and stirred well.

Pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and, using a rubber spatula, turn the popcorn until the caramel is evenly distributed.
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Pour the popcorn onto the prepared sheet pan and carefully spread the hot mass out evenly to cool completely. (See header photo) When cool, break up the caramel corn into bite-sized clusters and try not to consume it all in one sitting!
*The recipe actually calls for the peanuts to be added after the caramel is poured on the popcorn, I think…but I wanted mine coated with the caramel as well.
So, I dove into the recipe and knocked it out. I have to admit, It wasn’t *quite* completely cool when I broke mine up into clusters and presented it to my wife…so it was just a tiny bit chewy. But that didn’t really matter…my wife was suitably amazed and impressed with my thoughtfulness and effort. Then she tasted the popcorn…amazing! She could not put it down. It was a MAJOR success! Eventually, she made me take it away from her, so she wouldn’t eat it all. Again, being the loving husband, I finished the rest of it. This one really is a winner. I hope you’ll try it and enjoy!
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Starting Garden 2016

Watering the garden to start blending the soil additions and the few existing plants.

Watering the garden to start blending the soil additions and the few existing plants.

As a branch to my food endeavors, I’m including some coverage here on my gardening efforts. Since the end results are ultimately to be used in my home cooking and/or canning projects, it’s appropriate. I’m continuing to use the raised bed set-up that I started a couple of years ago. (Disregard the bulky wooden thing next to the garden. I’m rethinking trying to use it somehow and will break it down soon.) Unfortunately, some boards are bowing and some wood is rotting. I’m trying to shore them up with some stakes, but I may be looking at a rebuild next year.

Shoring up some problems.

Shoring up some problems.

Also, my rotary tiller is kaput, so I bought a small electric model for $150. Less maintenance and no fuel to mix.

Small electric rotary tiller...works just fine.

Finally, the garden was pretty much a failure last year. I figure that the fertilizer and lime that I tried to add to the soil did not do the trick in revitalizing the soil. This year, I have decided to add four big bags of MiracleGro 6 month feeding potting soil and some Jobe’s Tomato and Vegetable Fertilizer.

The first thing I did was break up the ground with a shovel. Next step was to till the existing dirt with some of the fertilizer. Then I added the potting soil and tilled it again. I used a thatching rake to level everything out and remove fibrous roots, acorns, sweetgum balls, and leaves.

I still have left, surviving in the garden from last year (amazingly), some parsley, a couple of grape vines (that I hope to transfer to a separate set-up someday), some Cascade hops rhizomes, and some ginger root with green plants above. I’ve never done ginger before, so I’m not sure where that project will go. The hops bines (why they aren’t called “vines”? I don’t know….) should be spouting up any time now.

For new plantings, I’ve checked what gardening zone I am in and picked some things accordingly. I have added some oregano and a yellow bell pepper plant, from seedlings.

My son, helping to add the oregano and bell pepper plants.

My son, helping to add the oregano and bell pepper plants.

The rest of my choices, to start with, are seed packets. Most, I plan to plant directly in the garden, but I did buy some little biodegradable seed starters. The seeds I bought for a mid-March start are: beets, mixed color carrots, radishes, mixed color Swiss chard, and basil. Pretty sure I’m going to plant everything directly, except the basil.

Seeds.

Seeds.

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Two pots in front have some strawberry plants from two years ago. Lets see how they like the new soil and fertilizer mix.

So, since I have invested in the tiller and another $150 in tools, soil, and fertilizer, I’m really hoping to have a better harvest this year, to reap some benefits from the investment!

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