Promises, promises.

I’ve been slacking so much on this blog. I’ve no reason to be behind; I just haven’t felt like I’ve had anything to write about. But now, it’s a new year, a chance to start over and do what I set out to do last year.

I’m far from perfect (surprise!), but I have very specific, solid goals for this upcoming year. The first is to post to this blog at least twice a week in January and February, and then three times a week March and April. Depending upon how interesting my writing is by then will determine my writing schedule for May and beyond.

Writing is easy. I have always loved it. I love words, grammar and the way sentences form over the course of a pot of coffee, or a glass or two of wine. Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to write. Or to find the time to cook. I find it’s even more difficult to find the time to do both, one right after another.

It is necessary to give credit where credit it due. My dear friend, Erin Keefer, started a blog recently. Today she posted about setting 11 Goals for 2011. As I read her post, I remembered how excited I was to start this blog, and my desire to truly be dedicated to my favorite things: writing and cooking. So, Erin, thank you for being the impetus to my newfound focus. You can find Erin’s blog at http://erinmoncheree.blogspot.com/.

Here’s the good news. Christmas was very good to me. My older sister, Molly, gave me Mark Bittman’s new and revised “How to Cook Everything” (which, incidentally, I gave to her for Christmas about 8 years ago). My dear friend, Stephanie, gave me the revised “Joy of Cooking”, which I am so excited to familiarize myself with.

I’ve gotten better about planning this year, already. I know what I want to write about for both official posts this week. Eggs and Whiskey…not together, mind you. Tomorrow, I will make coffee and eggs. It’s a simple breakfast, and ridiculously easy, but I have to start somewhere. I am sure by the end of the year I’ll be making Beef Wellington. (Just kidding.)

Chew on this: The shell of an egg is mostly calcium carbonate and weights only 9-12% of the total weight of an egg. (Source: http://www.aeb.org/egg-industry/egg-facts-101)

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter

Last week I made Lidia Bastianich’s Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter, from October 2010 Bon Appetit magazine. This was my first foray into making pasta, and although it didn’t turn out perfectly, it won’t be my last. The next time I make gnocchi, I will start with a basic recipe. Using add-ins, especially watery ones like squash, is best suited for people with some experience.

Nonetheless, I made it anyway. I got to my parents’ house mid-afternoon and made the realization that I had no idea what I gotten myself into. Luckily, my mom had already cooked the squash, but I had to reduce it to get the excess liquid out. It’s a fairly simple process; it just takes patience and the willingness to rely on your gut instinct.

Around the time I was mixing all the ingredients together for gnocchi, I had an audience. My older sister and mom were also in the kitchen, both asking if I needed anything, yet keeping their distance. They sensed my desire to get it right and my fear of serving squash glue for dinner.

My mom coached me through it, even though at some point she wondered aloud why I had chosen to make gnocchi with squash for my first go-around. I pointed out that to her that when I suggested the menu that she didn’t bat an eye and went so far as to say, “That sounds great.”

Once we got our ropes of gnocchi dough lined up and then cut, we rolled the gnocchi along the back of a fork, pressing ever so slightly, and giving it an indentation, a place for the brown butter with sage to rest.

We had finished our gnocchi after what seemed like an extraordinarily long amount of time. According to the Bon Appetit recipe, you’re supposed to cook the gnocchi for 15-17 minutes. That has to be a misprint. Seven minutes is about right. I don’t know what would happen to the gnocchi if you boiled it for 15-17 minutes, but I imagine it wouldn’t taste very good and the texture would be awful.

I browned the butter and added the sage. The smell is incredible. It’s what fall should smell like. You stir in the gnocchi at the end to get it coated with the butter and sage and serve it with Parmesan. It was an amazing meal. It wasn’t perfect, and Lidia probably would have been more impressed with people trying her recipe than the actual result, but it’s the thought that counts.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi With Sage Brown Butter

by Lidia Bastianich

1 1-pound butternut squash

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 12-to 14-ounce russet potato, peeled, quartered

3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1 large egg, beaten to blend

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Additional grated Parmesan cheese

Special equipment: Potato ricer

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut squash lengthwise in half; discard seeds. Places quash halves, cut side up, on baking sheet and brush with oil. Roast until squash is very tender when pierced with skewer and browned in spots, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly. Scoop flesh from squash into processor; puree until smooth. Transfer to medium saucepan; stir constantly over medium heat until juices evaporate and puree thickens, about 5 minutes. Cool. Measure 1 cup (packed) squash puree (reserve remaining squash for another use). Meanwhile, cook potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through potato ricer into medium bowl; cool completely. Measure2 cups (loosely packed) riced potato (reserve remaining potato for another use).

Mix squash, potato, 1/2 cup Parmesan, egg, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until dough holds together and is almost smooth. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls. Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead gently but briefly just until smooth. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces.

Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Sprinkle parchment lightly with flour. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough out on floured surface to about1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut rope crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets.

Repeat with remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 6 hours ahead. Keep chilled.

Working in 2 batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, 15 to 17 minutes (gnocchi will float to surface but may come to surface before being fully cooked). Using slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to same parchment-lined baking sheets. Cool. DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover loosely and chill.

Cook butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat just until golden, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes. Add sage; stir 1minute. Add gnocchi; cook until heated through and coated with butter, 5 to 7minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Writing with Discipline and Gnocchi

It’s time to start writing again. I’ve been saying this for nearly two years now, as it has been that long since I have written anything worth keeping up with. That being said, I realize that writing is a process, and out of respect for myself and “the process”, I’ve waited for awhile to get back into it.

As an avid home cook, it seemed natural to want to write about my hits and misses in the kitchen. That’s my starting point. I make a lot of mistakes in the kitchen; I overcook pasta, I undercook fish (and try to fix it by nuking it in the microwave and being greeted with a salmon explosion 30 seconds later) and sometimes I forget to put sugar in banana bread.

For Christmas 2008, I gave my parents what  I called “The Twelve Dinners of Christmas”, which was 12 menus for 2009. I made dinner for them once a month, cobbling together my amateur cooking experience and my desire to produce something memorable in the kitchen. It was a hit. My parents loved coming home from a long day at work to dinner bubbling happily away in the oven.

A few dishes I made in 2009:

Grilled Peppered Steak with Cabernet Balsamic Sauce, Alaskan Halibut with Roasted Red Pepper Coulis, Shrimp Scampi, Rigatoni with White Bolognese, Down and Dirty Pasta e Cecci and  Beef and Ale Stew.

What I made is less important than the time I got to spend in my mother’s kitchen (my favorite room in the world) and the time I spent with my parents. In November last year I asked them what they wanted for Christmas. My mom didn’t skip a beat, “We loved your gift last year! You can do that again.”

I thought about it for awhile. Would I be able to come up with creative enough menus? Could I challenge myself a little more? I mean, I wasn’t serving blue box mac and cheese, but I was no Julia Child, either. I had read somewhere that Julia had said something along the lines of , “People may not remember what you fed them, but they will remember how they felt at your table.”  Of course!

Tonight, I’m making butternut squash gnocchi and chicken under a brick. I’ve never made gnocchi before, so mom and I are going to tackle it together.  Lidia Bastianich’s recipe is in this month’s Bon Appetit magazine, and we are up for the challenge. Pictures to be posted later, if it all works out!

My mom has already tried find out which recipes will be included in next year’s menu. Apparently, she knows what she wants to for Christmas, already.