Wednesday, October 28, 2009


As much as I pine for the warm days of summer that invite me out doors. I have a special place in my heart for these slow-stewing-soup-making-comfort-food days of fall.

The chilly dark days seem to invite us into the kitchen to leisurely chop and dice and play with dough and yeast and listen to NPR and hardly look up to see where the day has gone.

I grew up in a much colder fall and winter climate. I have fond memories of opening the door to the house to the warm embrace of dinner's aroma greeting me like a lover returned from a long journey. All was well in my world.

I love to try and recreate that memory not only for myself but for others. After all, life's best memories are those we share with the ones we love.
I had some fresh posole that a friend had brought back to me from New Mexico. So posole it was that starred in our Sunday night dinner this week.

Posole is made from nixtamalize cacahuazintle corn (hominy) with meat. (usually pork, chicken, turkey, pork rinds, sardine, chili pepper and other seasonings and garnish) It's a traditional pre-Columbian soup or stew from Mexico.
In reading the history of posole I found a fact that made me giggle. The ancient Mexicans believed the gods made people out of cornmeal dough. Let he who has not winced when biting the head off a gingerbread man cast the first stone!

Like most stews and chili dishes, this one benefits from being made a day ahead.
I freshly ground ancho chili powder and I can't stress enough how that flavor rises to the occasion. The recipe I used as a guideline called for canned hominy. I was blessed with fresh so that's what I used.

There were 9 of us for dinner on Sunday and there was enough posole for 4 more people. We topped ours with finely shredded cabbage, chopped avocado, cilantro, lime wedges and jalapenos. We passed creme for those interested as well.
I made fresh corn tortillas to soak up the broth. They were wonderful but the hominy had pretty much done the dirty work of soaking up the broth before the pot of posole ever made its way to the table.

Day one: before the posole opened up

Day two: I like to call this "piggy goodness"

On my plate with all the toppings and a fresh soft corn tortilla

Fresh corn tortillas

Pork Posole

4 medium onions, divided
7 tablespoons canola oil, divided
4 tablespoons ancho chile powder, divided
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican), divided
1 6 to 61/2 pound bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt), cut into 4 to 5 inch pieces, some meat left on bone
5 cups or more chicken broth
4 7-ounce cans diced green chiles, drained (I like to chop my own)
5 large garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 15-ounce cans golden or white hominy, drained
4 limes, each cut into 4 wedges
chopped white onion
fresh cilantro leaves
chopped avocado
shredded cabbage
Mexican Creme or sour cream

Method: Preheat oven to 350 f. Thinly slice 2 onions. heat 4 tablespoons oil in heavy large oven proof pot over medium-high heat. Add sliced onions to pot and saute until onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon oregano; stir to coat, sprinkle pork with salt and add to pot. Add 5 cups broth. Bring to boil, cover and transfer to oven.

Braise pork until tender enough to shred easily, about 2 hours. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to a sheet pan and strain liquid.

Slice remaining onions, Heat remaining oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions: saute until soft, stirring often, about 7 minutes. Add remainig 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ancho chile powder, remaining 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon oregano, diced chiles, garlic and cumin. Stir 30 seconds. Add pork, reserved juices and hominy. Bring to a boil. If making a day ahead of time remove from heat and refrigerate then cover after it has cooled.

On day 2 remove the fat that has risen to the top and congealed. Reheat slowly and simmer until (if using fresh) hominy has opened up.

Serve with toppings and tortillas.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I have been wrestling with a couple of obsessions lately. One of them is a landmark birthday which I seem to wrestle with in the middle of the night, in my dreams and during those hours set aside to lay awake and obsess. And the other is gnocchi.
The thing about wrestling with gnocchi is that you can't really "take it out on the gnocchi" (like you can on bread dough). Gnocchi requires a gentle hand.
My first attempt at making gnocchi wasn't so bad. I really had nothing to compare it to. I'd never tasted it before. No really. I'd seen packages of it in the deli section of my grocery store but I wasn't naive enough to believe that those little lumps were going to provide me with the best example of what to shoot for in a finished product.
Having to resort to a recipe was really difficult! However, if you look at most gnocchi recipes (like bread recipes) the amount of flour varies significantly. It is a "by feel" method of preparation. I'm totally comfortable with those sort of guidelines. So, how does one prepare something by feel if they've never felt or tasted it before? BWAHAHA you thought I'd have an answer to that didn't you? It's just crazy...that's all I can say. I made gnocchi the first time for a friend who'd traveled to Italy numerous times and consumed copious amounts of gnocchi in his travels. That's how I did it. You can try it out on children if you like. Just try it out. It's fun and it's wonderful (even if you don't get it right). (Trust me, I have done it wrong plenty of times it still gets eaten.)
I read a lot before I made gnocchi too. I tried to get a sense of what it was that made good gnocchi good and in turn what constituted bad gnocchi. (It's a mystery to me how anything made with potatoes can actually be "bad") It was my understanding that gnocchi should be a "soft pillow" not heavy or "gummy". I wanted to make potato gnocchi but there are other kinds of gnocchi, ricotta for example.
In my first attempts I used Yukon Gold potatoes and steamed them. Later, I moved to good old russet potatoes and I baked them. I scooped the warm flesh out of the baked potato and riced it onto a cookie sheet to cool.

I treated the riced potato as though it were the "00" flour I used to make pasta dough. I heaped it up into a mound once it had cooled and made a well in the center. I used 3 baked potatoes (medium size) and 2 egg yolks and 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and a generous fine grating of parmagiano reggiano cheese. Finally, I added a few turns on the pepper grinder and gently mixed in 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour until just blended.

In this particular batch I was feeling feisty and full of success so I added a couple of finely minced scallions. They called out to me and assured me that they were the perfect match for my russet potatoes.

After blending in 1 1/2 cups of flour and reserving another 1/2 cup I used my pastry cutter to divide the dough into about 6 parts. I dug deep for all the Play-Doh skills I'd developed as a youngster and gently used some of the extra remaining flour to roll out "snakes". They were about 3/4" wide and 12" long. Then I cut them into approximately 1/2" pieces.

After that it was simple. I brought a pan of water to a gentle boil (be sure to keep it a gentle boil). I added a generous amount of salt and added enough gnocchi pieces to keep them from sticking together and waited until they were floating and removed them with a strainer to a cookie sheet. Then, because I wasn't using them right away I drizzled them with some melted butter.

When it came time to cook them I chose to sear them and drizzle with a red wine and veal demi reduction. I adapted a recipe from for the gnocchi. Because I hacked the recipe so badly I don't feel it's fair to even print it. I'm done obsessing about gnocchi. I feel like I can successfully make it now.
Now for that landmark birthday and all that it represents.... I like to treat it pretty much the way I do gnocchi: with a gentle hand and a kind heart. I have a dear friend whose motto is "Be kind to yourself". I recommend you try making gnocchi and I also highly recommend my friend's advice. Be very kind to yourself.

Potato Gnocchi

3 medium sized russet potatoes, scrubbed and poked
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly grated
1/2 cup finely grated Parmagiano Reggiano cheese
2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 400 f.
Rinse and dry potatoes and poke a hole in each. Place in preheated oven and bake until tender. Check after one hour.
Set baked potato aside until you can handle it. I use a folded paper towel to hold the potato while scooping out the flesh with a spoon.
Cut potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out flesh.
Press potato flesh through a ricer onto a sheet pan to cool completely.
When cool, make a mound with riced potato with a well in the center. sprinkle 1 1/2 cups of flour, the grated cheese, salt and pepper over the potatoes. Put egg yolks in the center well and with a fork gently mix everything together. The dough should be slightly sticky.
Separate the dough into 6-8 pieces with a pastry cutter and using the leftover 1/2 cup of flour roll the pieces out into "snakes" about 12"x 3/4" x 1". (remember... no hard and fast rules!)
You can roll the gnocchi on the tines of a fork for the traditional ridges if you like. I just wanted little pillows.
Bring plenty of water to a gentle boil and toss in a generous amount of kosher salt. Drop the gnocchi in batches and wait until they float. Remove with a strainer or slotted spoon.
Be sure to drizzle with olive oil or butter so they don't stick together once they cool.
These cooked gnocchi can be frozen for later use or stored for several hours (probably overnight as well) in a container in the refrigerator.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


It's here. It's really, really here. Fall.
One day you're sprinkling a little salt on a warm slice of just-picked tomato and turning your face to the sun and the next day you're preheating the oven for an all-day braising session. It happens just like that!

I love fall almost more than spring (it's a toss up). But sometimes my love of fall is stolen by the dread of pending winter. You never know with winter. It's the unpredictable teenager in the family. It can either sit day in and day out without displaying a sign of life or personality or it can shout obscenities at you as though you've been enemies for life. Sometimes there is just no love in Winter's cold heart. But that's not why I'm here. I'm here because it's fall and things are changing outside in such a beautiful way.

Living urban, one can miss the memo that harvest is taking place on farms everywhere. People think that summer is the source of produce's bounty but fall is where it's at. Just when our seasonal farmer's markets close for the year a few miles away the farms of eastern Washington are pounding out an embarrassment of riches.

For months the oven sits unused. Watching me as I pass from the refrigerator to the grill and back again. The oven, with hands on hips seems to say, "Oh, you'll be back. I know you'll be back soon." That's just what happened. Last weekend I dug out the cast iron Dutch oven and offered up some beef short ribs and a bottle of wine for braising to my oven.

The house filled with warmth and the aroma of comfort and richness. I tried again, my hand at the elusive tender pillows of potato called gnocchi. I finally got it right. I adapted a recipe online and everything I've done wrong in the past and the memory of the perfect gnocchi that I had earlier this year at Art of the Table in Wallingford. The planets were aligned for me because I finally found success.

Wine Braised Beef Shortribs with Potato Gnocchi

Start a day ahead.

For Short ribs

5 lbs bone-in beef short ribs
1 tablespoon olive oil for browning
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 medium carrots, cut in 1" pieces
1 medium onion, cut in 1" pieces
3 celery stalks, cut into 1" pieces
1 head garlic cut in half crosswise
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine (I used Zinfandel)
4 cups brown veal stock or 1/2 cup good veal demi and 31/2 cups water
4 large sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Heat oven to 325 F.
Pat beef dry. Heat oil in a wide, heavy pan (I used a 5 quart cast-iron Dutch oven) over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.
Generously season each rib with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, turning with tongs, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and hold.
Add carrots, onions, celery and garlic to oil in pot and cook over moderate heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until they begin to caramelize a little. Stir in tomato paste and "cook" for a minute or two. Add wine, and boil over moderately high heat for about 8 minutes until sauce is slightly thickened. Add veal stock, thyme, bay leaf and vinegar. Bring to a simmer. Add browned ribs and any accumulated juices on the plate and cover the pot with a tight fitting lid. Liquid in pan should cover or almost cover the meat.
Transfer to oven and braise until beef is very tender, 3 to 4 hours. Check at 3 hours. If meat is tender and falling off the bones it is done.
Remove meat from braising liquid and hold in a bowl. Strain the braising liquid through a medium mesh strainer pressing on the solids and then discarding them. Pour the sauce over the ribs, cover and refrigerate over night. (meat needs to be completely submerged in juices in order to remain moist).

On day two remove ribs from the refrigerator. There will be a layer of solid fat on top of the dish. Remove the fat and then remove the meat of the ribs from the bones. Discard any fat and gristle from the meat leaving the meat in large pieces. Bring the braising liquid to a boil in a heavy saucepan large enough to hold it comfortably. Boil until liqiud is reduced to about 4 cups and has thickened slightly. Taste for seasoning and pour it over the ribs and hold while you brown the prepared gnocchi.

I adapted a Gourmet recipe for gnocchi and seared it in clarified butter before adding it with the rib meat and sauce.
Since I didn't know I was going to finally "get it" with the gnocchi I didn't take pictures of the process. However, because I finally "got it", I'll make it again soon and come back with some pictures of the process.
In the meantime, dust off your Dutch oven and show your oven a little love.