My first time making gnocchi

I pulled this recipe out of Outside magazine, of all places, thinking it would be a good excuse to try making gnocchi for the first time. I figured that since it was in a magazine for manly men (one of my faves, even so), and that it only took up part of one column on the page that it would be easy enough for a beginner. But this recipe is seriously labor intensive, at least by my standards.

Still, I thought it sounded yummy, so I gave it a try.

Potato Gnocchi Tourmalet

You start by baking two pounds of potatoes, which then have to cool so you can peel and mash them. I used russets because that’s what I had on hand, but next time I would use goldens for more flavor.

In a bowl you mix up:

1 1/2 cups flour
2 beaten egg yolks
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt and pepper

When the potatoes are cooled and mashed, mix them into the bowl and form a dough ball. Let it rest for 15 minutes.

Next, make the sauce. I really loved this sauce and might use it for other recipes. The sweet chili sauce is a great addition.

Saute in more olive oil:
1 medium zucchini, cubed
1 small red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced

Then add:
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
salt and pepper to taste

When that’s all mixed together, turn off the heat and set it aside.

Set some water to boil for your gnocchi.

Now you get to actually make the gnocchi. You start by dividing your dough ball into four parts. Roll each section into a long rope, about 3/4-inch thick, on a floured surface. I ended up dividing each fourth into another half to get a manageable rope.

Then you cut the rope into 1-inch chunks and roll a fork over them to get them to curl up a little tighter. If I had one, I would have liked to use a little gnocchi roller.

When your water’s boiling, salt it, and start dropping in the gnocchi in batches of 20 or so. They only take a few minutes to cook, and when they come to the top of the water you scoop them up and drop them into an ice water bath to cool.

By this point you will have dirtied every dish in your kitchen and half your utensils. But you’re so close!

So they’re not the most beautiful gnocchi, but they are tasty.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When all the gnocchi is boiled, you’ll add it to a 9×13 baking dish with the sauce, some chopped fresh basil, and 3-4 ounces crumbled feta cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes. Then sprinkle on 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup pine nuts, and a little more fresh basil. Bake for another 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and golden.

Phew! I am exhausted just typing that.

I was really happy with how this dish turned out, though. It was really tasty, and I can see using the same potato gnocchi recipe to make with other sauces. Maybe pesto or something where you saute the gnocchi in a pan to get that brown crust.

Vegan chocolate cupcakes with cocoa ganache

After this tumultuous week of eating, I decided I wanted a baked good that would satisfy my sweet tooth without sending me into a sugar coma. I wanted to use the oat flour I bought a while back — while it’s not labeled gluten-free, it’s whole grain and would at least reduce the load on my gluten-heavy diet.

I googled around to find a vegan chocolate cake recipe that sounded like it would make a good cupcake, and then adjusted it a bit and came up with this:

Vegan chocolate cupcakes
makes 10 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups oat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 cup water

Cocoa ganache frosting

1/2 cup cocoa powder (use raw cacao powder for an ultra-rich frosting)
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt

Preheat your oven to 350. Mix up the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. Slowly mix the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. The batter will be very thin. Fill your paper cups more carefully than I did!

Bake for 45 minutes. While the cupcakes are baking, mix up the ingredients for the frosting. Though the ganache is pretty soft, you want to leave it at room temperature until the cupcakes are cool and ready to frost. It becomes so thick it’s unspreadable when refrigerated.

The cupcakes are definitely more crumbly than a typical cupcake, but I thought they came out pretty well overall. Certainly the closest you’ll come to a healthy cupcake!

Seed stitch dish cloths

I discovered a few years ago that the world’s best dish scrubbers are handmade with inexpensive cotton yarn. But I’d always thought it was the bobbled crochet stitch that made them so great. Not so! I actually think that a seed stitch works even better for creating a grime-fighting texture. And I love the way my new dish cloths look, with a neat crochet trim in a coordinating color. They’re like tiny versions of the baby blankets I used to sell.

So here’s how you make them:

Seed stitch dish cloths

approx. 8-inch squares

Worsted weight cotton yarn in two colors
Size 7 knitting needles
Size G/6 crochet hook
Yarn needle

With the knitting needles, CO 33 stitches with the main color. Work in seed stitch pattern (K1, P1) across the first row, and all subsequent rows until piece measures as tall as it is wide (should be about 7.5 inches). Bind off in pattern.

Starting on the right side of the BO row, insert the crochet hook into the top of any stitch and pull the second color through. Begin to SC a border around the entire edge of the piece, putting 3 SC into each corner. When you reach the stitch where you started, slip stitch through it, and then snip off the yarn. Weave in ends.

You’ll definitely want to block these to make sure they come out nice and square.

Chicken fajitas

This probably sounds like nothing special, but after finding this easy recipe at Food & Wine I am totally convinced that these chicken fajitas were better than any I have made before and any I have ever ordered on a sizzling plate.

It’s not just the recipe, though. I think it’s the combination of the fresh veggies, the free-range chicken, the super soft wheat/corn blend tortillas we found, and the fresh cilantro I picked from my front porch. Good ingredients = good food. Simple as that!

I’m all for the shake-in-bag technique.

The only things I changed from the recipe was adding in some red bell pepper and using 1/4 cup of water to deglaze the pan after the first few minutes of cooking. You don’t want to lose those yummy bits on the bottom.

For toppings I made a little pico de gallo with tomato, onion, garlic, green pepper, a little green chile, salt, pepper, lime juice and cilantro.

Then I mashed up an avocado with salt and lime juice.

You will need lots of napkins for these, but they’re totally worth it!

Vintage container gardening

As soon as I saw this article, I knew what I had to do with my bare front porch.

I had a minimal budget for gardening, but I already had both an old wooden soda crate and a wooden ammo box, plus a bunch of succulents growing in the front ‘yard’. Mike had always imagined the ammo box overflowing with pinkish flowers — the perfect ironic planter.

But first I started with the soda crate. Since the slats in the bottom had big openings, I decided to plant a succulent in each slot in its own little container. And I discovered that empty yogurt cups out of the recycling bin were the perfect width, as long as I cut the rims off. You just poke a little hole in the bottoms for drainage.

They were a little too short, though, so I used some pieces of egg cartons to boost them up.

I filled them about halfway with some sandy/rocky soil I got from the side of our house (which I ended up covering in weed blocker and mulch later on in the weekend).

I very delicately separated out a few plants down to their roots and replanted them in the yogurt containers. Then I popped them into the soda crate.

I was about to stop the project when I ran out of yogurts. But when I went to Home Depot I discovered a section devoted to succulents of all shapes and sizes and I pretty much cleaned them out. I am a fiend for those things.

I still didn’t have quite enough to fill the crate, but I discovered the succulent secret: some of them have more than one plant per pot. I managed to get three of them to separate into two plants, just enough to finish my project. I also tucked in some old soda bottles. And after topping off the containers with potting soil, I covered the tops with peat moss so that you couldn’t see the tops of the plastic containers.

I am so happy with how it turned out.

Sometimes your crafty vision really does turn out exactly how you thought it would.

For the ammo box, I lined the bottom with three 8×8 cheap foil trays and added rocky soil to the bottom for good drainage. Then I just bought a half flat of colorful annuals that like shade and planted them inside. After a couple days they perked right up. In fact everything I’ve planted has been super happy so far. Yay!

No more weeds! Whew.

Have you used any fun objects as planters? I always see this one house when I’m out walking with a bathtub planter and it makes me smile.

Bacon cheddar meatloaf

Sounds gluttonous, doesn’t it?

I was starting to think maybe I just didn’t like the taste of meat generally until I made this and it completely restored my faith.

I cut this recipe out of a Real Simple magazine when I was still vegetarian because it looked so yummy, and I figured I could adapt it. It calls for Gruyere cheese, but I was getting practically mauled in the cheese aisle at the Berkeley Bowl so I picked up the closest thing, which was New York cheddar. I’d say it’s a pretty good substitute.

Here is the recipe, which other than the cheese swap, and cooking it an extra 10 minutes, I followed to the letter: Bacon-Gruyere meat loaf with roasted carrots and onions

I think there are three secrets to why this is so good. (And it’s not even the bacon part!)

Using ground chuck, which is fattier, helps a lot with moisture and flavor. You still drain off all the excess fat before you serve it, so it’s not greasy or anything. And then you let it rest for 10 minutes before you cut into it, which not only brings it up to temperature, it helps it retain that moisture even more. The shredded onions are also much nicer to bite into than chopped bits would be, so I’m definitely using that technique again.

The recipe says to eat it with ketchup, but I had some leftover gravy in the fridge that was an ideal topping.

We also had some spinach salads on the side.

When you plate up a chunk of meatloaf and a scoop of roasted veggies it looks so petite on a normal-sized plate you feel like it kinda needs a little something extra.

Need a veggie meat loaf? Try this one.

Bon appetit!

(Which reminds me that I caught an episode of Julia Child on the Cooking Channel the other day where she dumps a tarte tatin onto a plate and it completely falls apart. Of course she just rolls with it. Thanks for the reminder that cooking doesn’t have to be perfect!)

Crochet color block blanket

I had a bunch of leftover yarn from a secret project (which I will tell you about later), so I got to thinking it would make an adorable blanket with blocks of bright colors.

The final version was just about big enough to cover my 4’x6′ rug.

Since I was using my leftovers, but also had to buy some new yarn, my blanket isn’t exactly perfect. But I’m pretty sure, putting this into a pattern, that you can make it with two skeins each of these:

Stitch Nation Bamboo Ewe (55 percent bamboo, 45 percent wool) – Periwinkle (A), Geranium (B), Snapdragon (C), Mermaid (D), Twilight (E), Lipstick (F), Beach Glass (G), Mercury (H)

You need a J/10 size crochet hook.

Ch 152. DC across for a total of 150 stitches.

The stripe sequence:

8 rows A
4 rows B
2 rows C
7 rows D
4 rows E
2 rows F
7 rows G
3 rows H
5 rows C
4 rows B
5 rows F
Repeat once.

(In between I added 8 rows E plus 4 rows H, but that is optional).

I love the colors and the soft, fuzzy texture of this yarn. It’s just a happy blanket.

How to hem jeans

I have so few pairs of pants that fit anymore (but not much budget for new ones), so I was really excited when I found this pair of Zara jeans at a consignment shop for $14.

Just one problem. They were a tad too long.

But I bought them anyway, because I learned a few years ago that even someone as impatient as I am with sewing can hem their own jeans in less than half an hour for a cost of nothing.

See? This is an old pair of jeans that I hemmed myself.

When you look closely you can see the little line of not-so-expertly-sewn blue stitches. But I doubt anyone is going to bend over and examine your cuffs that closely.

So yeah. There are many ways to hem jeans. This is just how I do it.

First you put on the jeans so you can figure out where on your leg you want the bottoms to hit. Then you start folding the fabric, kind of pushing it up inside itself so that the new fold meets the little stitch line of the original hem.

Once you have both sides looking right, pin them all the way around.

Now, carefully, take the jeans off. The place where you folded the new hem will probably seem a little thick. So you want to iron it nice and flat.

Now you’re ready to sew. Choose a thread that matches the jeans as closely as possible. In my case, they were so dark I went with black.

You want to line up the new fold with the old hem as closely as possible so that you can still see the original hem stitches, but there is no space between them and the fold. Leave about an 1/8-inch space between the fold and your new stitches. It’s pretty simple. Just sew a straight line all around.

You’ll probably have to speed up your machine as you go over the bumps on the sides of the jeans.

Inside, you will see the fold, but outside no one will know it’s there.

The only time it’s an issue is if you want to roll up your cuffs, say to wear them with rain boots. But it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. You can also press this fold from the inside if you want it to lay a little flatter.

Top-secret hem line. Shhhh.

Oh, and one more thing. With most jeans the bottoms are a little bit wider around than the few inches above, so you may have to pinch your fabric a little to get it to line up correctly. This is no big deal. You just sew over it.

Voila, jeans that fit like they were made for you.

Whole wheat kefir pancakes

This week’s new food discovery is kefir. (Please let me know what the correct way to say it is. Kee-fur?). I’ve been wanting to try it for a while, so I finally decided (since I’ve been adding back in more dairy lately) to do it.

It’s a lot like a thinner version of yogurt, basically the consistency of buttermilk. The nutrition information makes it sound pretty good, especially with the addition of active cultures.

I looked online for some recipes and found that due to its similarity to buttermilk, kefir is great in pancakes. I combined two recipes I found, and came up with this.

Whole wheat kefir pancakes
makes 8 pancakes

1 cup kefir
1 egg
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon agave nectar
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon flax seed meal
pinch of salt

Whisk all of the liquid ingredients together in a bowl for 20 seconds. In a separate bowl combine all the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix them together for 20 more seconds.

In a medium-low skillet, heat a little butter, oil, or nonstick spray. Drop 1/4 cup of pancake batter down for each cake. When it puffs up and starts to get bubbly, flip it over and cook until it’s brown on both sides.

I ate my pancakes with blueberries and the best pancake combo: 2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup and a little pat of butter heated in the microwave for 30 seconds.

Mmmm, pancakes. I think I will add more oats next time.

This week I’m also trying a new bread, made locally. It’s very dense and full of yummy grains.

I love that they grind flour with their own mill.

Apparently I’m on a wheat kick because I also bought this pasta, made in San Francisco.

I’m trying to use the nutritional tip of buying smaller but better quality foods, and with pasta it really does make a difference. This was awesome.

Oh, and one other thing about kefir. It is really delicious in smoothies. I mixed some with a banana and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, and it came out very rich and creamy. Can’t wait to try it in some other combinations.

Braised red cabbage

My friend Kimberly brought this recipe to my 30th birthday fancypants potluck, and I’ve been wanting to make it ever since. For a cabbage dish it has really complex flavors, and when you add some crunchy walnuts and creamy goat cheese, it becomes even better.

Braised red cabbage with walnuts and goat cheese

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1 onion, chopped
1 head red cabbage, shredded
2 tart apples, peeled and sliced thin
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup water
salt to taste
Goat cheese and chopped walnuts (optional)

Use a saute pan with high sides or a big pot, as the cabbage starts out pretty big but cooks down.

Heat the oil and sugar over medium for two minutes, then add the onion and cook until the sugar starts to brown. Stir in the cabbage, apples, vinegar, cayenne, salt, and red wine.

Cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes.

Reduce heat to low, add water and cook (covered) for 40-50 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with cheese and walnuts before serving. The original recipe called for blue cheese, so feel free to substitute that if you like it better.

We ate ours with fried eggs, which just seemed like the right accompaniment. Mike said his German ancestors would be proud.