Friday, September 28, 2012

Happy "Dia De Noquis" from Taste and Savor's Culinary Intern, Stacy Maple

Gnocchi... A Curious Little Dumpling
I love gnocchi... little pillowy dumplings of goodness, each hand made with an incredible attention to detail and tossed in a rich gorgonzola cream sauce....ahhh, yum.   Pair the dish with a glass of viognier and you have just found heaven on earth!  As I sip my wine, a question arises: Why or how did a “potato” dumpling end up as a staple in traditional Italian cuisine?

Across Continents and Across Cultures
When we think of countries that are linked to the potato, Italy isn’t at the top of the list. So how did gnocchi, a potato dumpling, become synonymous with Italian cuisine? To answer this question, we must look at the history of gnocchi as it moved across continents and across cultures.

The dish of gnocchi is thought to have developed in the Middle East in ancient times. Originally, gnocchi was a porridge style dumpling of flour and water. When the Romans began exploring the Middle East, they were intrigued by many things they found. As they returned to Rome they took many of these things with them. One of them was the recipe for gnocchi. In the heart of the Roman Empire, gnocchi rooted itself. It became a staple dish in Italy. It was gradually introduced by the Romans to other countries in Europe during their many conquests. Gnocchi was first recorded in Tuscan cookbooks in the 13th century. Many countries developed their own type of small dumplings from these early gnocchi recipes.

During the 16th century, gnocchi went under a radical transformation when the potato was introduced to Europe. Over the next couple hundred years, potato replaced flour in gnocchi. Dumplings made of flour and water became known as pasta,while dumplings made of potato (or other ingredients) were gnocchi.

Gnocchi found its way to the Americas during the 20th century. Italians immigrated into South America by way of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela and North America. The recipe for gnocchi moved with them.

“Dia de Noquis”…An Argentine Tradition
As the Italians moved to Argentina, so did the recipe and with it, a curious tradition. The 29th day of every month became, “Dia De Noquis” (Gnocchi Day). The 29th was chosen because it was usually the last day before pay day so many people had run out of money. Gnocchi was a perfect meal as it was both cheap and filling. They would place a peso under their plate of gnocchi while they ate in hopes of attracting prosperity in the coming month. This tradition continues among many of the Argentine people today. Restaurant chefs and housewives invent all kinds of recipes that are intended to aid the spell.

Original Preparation
Because Gnocchi consists of a simple dough shaped in small dumplings and doesn’t require special tools, skill or technique, it most likely predates pasta. These small dumplings are some of the oldest preparations in the history of food, recorded as far back as the cookbooks of the 13th century. The following is a translation of an early Tuscan recipe:

“If you want gnocchi, take some of the cheese and mash it. Then take some flour and mix it with     egg yolks as if you are making dough. Place a pot of water over a fire. When it starts boiling, place the mixture on a board and slide it in the pot with a spoon. When they are cooked, place them on plates and top them with a lot of grated cheese.”

After the potato was introduced in Europe during the 16th century, potato was substituted for flour and the gnocchi as we know it, was born.

Gnocchi Today
Today, all dumplings made of flour and water are considered pasta, while dumplings made of different ingredients are called gnocchi. Gnocchi can be made from a variety of ingredients, such as, squash, bread and semolina flour. The dough can be flavored by adding such ingredients as, spinach, saffron and truffles. The dumplings are shaped like little sea shells. They are boiled in water or broth and can be dressed with a variety of sauces, just like pasta. Some traditional sauces served with gnocchi are pesto, tomato, cheese and butter.

Happy Gnocchi Day!
Tomorrow is the 29th day of September so why not celebrate the day with a plate of gnocchi. And, don't forget to slip a few dollars under the plate in hope of a prosperous October.  What could be better?...Happy Gnocchi Day! 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sweet Potato Gratins - Perfect for Fall and Friends

Last week, Intern Stacy and I traveled to Lawerenceville to present our quarterely wine tasting with the fun folks at Nikos. Leslie always has creative wines to match my menus - and participants learn so much by tasting and comparing the wines with each course. One of the favorites of the evening was a sweet potato gratin. (You'll love it Gewurtraminer!)

Try this recipe with squash, pumpkin or sweet potatoes! I know you are probably thinking to yourself - I've had sweet potato casserole before - and its good but not great. Think again and try this recipe. Not only will you love it, but you will have raving fans asking for more.

Spiced Squash Gratins

2 LBs Butternut Squash
1 TB Olive Oil
2 TB Maple Syrup
2 TB unsalted butter, room temperature
1 TB Orange Juice
1 TB Orange Zest
½ Tsp Cinnamon
½ Tsp Allspice
¼ Tsp Mace
1 Tsp Grated Ginger
Sea Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper to Taste
¼ Cup Finely Chopped Toasted Pecans

Step One
Peel and cut the squash and place on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Toss with the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 425F for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Step Two
Place the squash into the bowl of a standing mixer. bowl. Add the brown sugar, butter, orange juice, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, mace and ginger and beat until smooth.  Salt and pepper to taste. Place the squash into 6 – 8 ramekins and sprinkle with the pecans. Place them under the broiler until just browned.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Preserving the Harvest - A Guest Post by Taste and Savor's Culinary Intern, Stacy Maple

It’s harvest time!  As another growing season comes to an end, many of us are looking for ways to preserve the year’s harvest.  Preserving your own foods allows you to enjoy the taste of summer all throughout the year.  But, before you run off to buy a box of mason jars or gallon size freezer bags, let’s take a look at the various techniques used for food preservation.

     The term food preservation refers to any one of a number of techniques used to prevent food from spoiling.  It has become an increasingly important component of the current food industry as fewer people eat foods produced on their own lands, and as consumers expect to be able to purchase and consume foods that are “out of season”.         
Food Preservation includes methods such as drying, salting, canning or bottling, sugaring, oil and fat, curing and smoking, fermenting and pickling, refrigeration and freezing.  With so many different food preservations methods currently available, it is important to consider the following factors when deciding on which method to use.
  • Space:  The amount of space you have available to dedicate to the preserving process and/or space used for storage of preserved items should definitely impact your choice of preservation.
  • Cost:  Naturally, the costs involved in preserving your food should be weighed against the cost of purchasing the food from a local market or vendor.  In addition, there may be costs in using up storage space, purchasing specialized equipment etc.  Of course, the health, environmental, and nutrient benefits that arise from preserving your own foods, should weigh heavily in the decision process, as well
  • Climate:  The climate can aid or hinder different storage methods. 
  • Available Equipment:  Some preserving methods require specialized equipment that you may not have access to, or that you may be unwilling to use.
  • Nature of the Food:  Be realistic about the ability of the food to be preserved.  Some food may not tolerate any form of preserving and needs to be eaten fresh.  Some foods can actually become toxic when preserved so you must do your research ahead of time.
  • Hygiene and Safety:  Your ability to maintain a high level of hygiene and safety during the preservation of process is important. 
  • Local Laws and Regulations:  It is important to be aware of local laws and regulations regarding the preservation of foods, especially if you are planning to sell these items.
Food spoilage occurs from the growth of bacteria.  Bacteria grows best under the following conditions: where it has a food source, when acid levels are ideal, when given time to grow, when temperatures are between 45-135 degrees, when there is oxygen, and when there is moisture.   To slow the growth of bacteria, we restrict it from the ideal conditions needed to grow.  When we slow the growth of bacteria, we extend the shelf life of our food. We call this food preservation.  Each method of food preservation, attempts to restrict the bacteria from one or more of the ideal conditions it needs to grow and thrive.  There are many methods of food preservation available.
Drying: Drying is an ancient technique of food preservation that is still used today.  It is commonly used because it is inexpensive, as you rely only on the sun or an oven to eliminate moisture from the food.  The dried items are compact and easy to store.  The greatest disadvantage of drying is the loss of color and vitamins, and the change of flavor and texture.
Salting:  Salt is another ancient method that reduces the moisture in food.  When used as part of the drying process it increases the shelf life of items such as fish and meat and it enhances the flavor of dried items too.  It is important to wash off the excess salt or salt water brine from the foods or they will become too salty in taste and the over-consumption of salt can be harmful to one’s health.
Canning or Bottling:  Foods preserved by this method are sealed into a closed container, such as a glass jar, bottle, or can.  Therefore, this process requires special canning equipment and a heat source to properly seal the container.  Properly sealed containers deny bacteria the needed oxygen to grow.  Items preserved this way can be stored for up to a year and maintain their flavor well.  However, canning or bottling can be expensive after purchasing the special equipment needed and factoring in your fuel costs.  There is also a high risk of severe food poisoning if this process is not done properly, especially in low acid foods such as vegetables and meat. 
Sugaring: Preserving through the use of tree saps and/or sugar is commonplace in some parts of the world.  The sap produced by some trees, such as the Maple, can be stored for long periods of time.  The addition of sugar to some foods, like jams and jellies, can lengthen their shelf life.
Oil and Fat:  Some items can be stored in fat or oil to increase shelf life.  The fat or oil completely covers the food and denies bacteria the oxygen needed to grow.
Curing and Smoking: Smoking is a method used to dry meats, fish, cheese and nuts.  The smoking process not only preserved the foods, but imparts a desirable flavor into the preserved foods.  Curing requires the addition of curing agents known as nitrates and nitrites, followed by smoking to preserve the food.  Although the taste of smoked and cured meats is desirable, be aware that nitrates and nitrites are carcinogenic.
Bin Storage:  If you have access to a cool, dark place, such as a cellar or basement, it is possible to store foods for short periods of time just relying on the coolness of the room. The cool temperature will slow the growth of bacteria that causes foods to spoil.  Shelf life can be further gained by storing items in bins of sand which restricts oxygen to bacteria on foods.
Fermenting and Pickling:  High levels of acid will slow the growth of bacteria that causes foods to spoil.  Fermenting and pickling are methods of preservation where foods are stored in a flavored acid.   Foods like pickles, sauerkraut, soy bean curd, and eggs are examples of foods that have been pickled or fermented and can be kept for several months this way.

Refrigeration and Freezing:  Most commonly used in the United States and other parts of the world, refrigeration and freezing slow the growth of bacteria by storing foods in cold or freezing temperatures.  If electricity is available, this is the easiest method to store food.  However, not all bacteria are killed through the freezing process so it is important to follow safe and sanitary food practices during and after thawing the item.  Also, the quality of food can be diminished if not stored properly.
Many times a combination of methods are used to increase shelf life of foods.  Whatever method is used, it is important to always label and date your preserved foods and follow all safety requirements to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination.

This is my family's favorite bread and butter pickle recipe.  Though my boys only know them as “Grandpa’s Pickles”, the recipe is actually my Aunt Mary Lou’s.  Regardless of where the recipe originated, my boys love them and you will too. They are easy to make and unlike many pickle recipes, the process from cucumber to pickle takes only a few hours.

                                                             “Grandpa’s Pickles”

Bread and Butter Pickle Recipe
2 Quarts of sliced cucumbers
3 T Salt
1 tsp turmeric
1 ½ cups cider vinegar
1 large onion
2 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp celery salt

Wash and slice the cucumbers very thin, but do not peel them.  Thinly slice onion into rings.  Place cucumber and onion slices in large bowl and sprinkle with salt.  Cover with ice cubes and mix thoroughly. Let this stand for 3 hours. Drain thoroughly, but DO NOT rinse.

Combine remaining ingredients in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Pour over cucumber mixture and heat on stove to a slow boil.  Remove from heat and seal in hot jars. 

Makes 4-5 pints.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hot and Steamy Race - Cool and Refreshing Salsa

What fun I had at the race to benefit Cancer Wellness in Fayette today! Over 250 walkers came out to brave the humidity and support a great cause. The picture you see above is the Cancer Wellness Chef and Wellness Team! Chef Nancy, Chef Beci, Dietician Taryn and I enjoyed providing participants with healthy foods and recipes.

And speaking of recipes – here’s the one that I share today. My recipe card was all about the yummy lentil burgers I’ve made at Cancer Wellness, (they are on the Friday Four as well!) So I decided to whip up this salsa as a good topper for the burgers. I served it with tortilla chips at the race, but it’s also super with grilled salmon or chicken. In fact sometimes I just slather a little hummus on a flatbread, put a scoop of this salsa on it – and roll it up to enjoy!

Pineapple Tomato Salsa

2 Cups Chopped Fresh Pineapple
1 Cup Chopped Grape Tomatoes

¼  Cup Chopped Red Onion

¼ Cup Chopped Red Bell Pepper
Juice and Zest of 1 Lime

1 JalapeƱo, Chopped with Seeds and Ribs removed

1/2 Tsp Sea Salt

2 TB Honey Ginger Vinegar*
1/4 Cup Chopped Cilantro
Create the salsa by whisking the ingredients together in a large bowl.

* I used F. Olivers Honeyed Ginger Vinegar in my salsa for the race. You can find it on line here:
If you can't wait to make your salsa - here's how to make a version of honey ginger vinegar:
1 Cup Rice Vinegar
1 TB Grated Fresh Ginger
2 TB Honey
Shake the ingredients together in a jar. Place in your fridge for a couple of days to allow the flavors to blend. Use whenever you’d like a delicious ginger honey taste to a salad dressing or salsa.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Cheesy Excuse: A Guest Post by Healthy Sous-Chef Partyologist, Lea Bowen

Despite all of my intentions to write a new and interesting blog each week, there are instances when my hectic schedule leaves me with little time to sit quietly at my keyboard and write.  Typically, I have a valid excuse such as, I worked three thirteen hour shifts in a row or I was carpooling the kids all evening.  Last week was not one of those times. 
Last Thursday, I had every intention of stealing off to my office and writing up a new blog and recipe that I had made earlier in the week.  But alas, I was invited over to my neighboor's house for a "glass" of wine.  This is really code for "let's chat and drink a bottle of wine".  Since Carol was kind enough to supply the bottle of wine, I could not arrive empty handed, so I pulled out a nice piece of cheese that I had been saving for a special occasion.  So pehaps, this was not the special occasion I had in mind, but wine, cheese and good neighbor's company would suffice.
I walked into Carol's house with the immediate disclaimer that the odor she may smell was not me.  Many times it is me of course, because after a day in the kitchen with onions, garlic and other offending smells, well, you get the picture.  In any case, the slightly funky smell was from my prized block of cheese, that I brought to share.  This cheese is one of my new favorites and was of course introduced to me by Chef Nancy.  It is called Morbier.

Morbier is a semi-soft cow's milk cheese from France.  It resembles a blue cheese, but the vein running down the middle is actually thin layer of tasteless ash.  The cheese was still cold out of the refrigerator when we first tasted it.  It was delicious of course, but the flavor was not yet fully developed. As we sat and talked over the next couple of hours, it was great fun to see how the taste of the cheese changed and improved as it warmed up to room temperature.  Needless to say, the time passed, the wine was gone and all that remained of the Morbier was a lifeless rind sitting on a plate. 

Yikes! I had spent the entire evening eating cheese and drinking wine.  No time for a blog this evening.  I had to walk home and make some dinner for the kids and get everyone organized for school and work the next day.  

I hated having to tell Nancy that I had no new blog for her on Friday morning, but I kept my fingers crossed that she would see the humor in the picture of my "dead soldier", shown above.  She is afterall, a Partyologist!  Luckily, she did, and I ended up getting a blog out of my evening, albeit a week late.

So, the next time, you feel the urge to procrastinate and or just spend a nice evening with a friend, take along a nice slice of Morbier to share.  I buy mine at the Buford Highway Farmer's market and have seen it at Whole Food's and occasionally Costco.  Oh, and if you need to bring the wine as well, try a nice Pinot Noir.  Enjoy!