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Gnocchi for a Birthday Party!

Homemade potato gnocchi with a simple red sauce in an antique china bowl, garnished with chopped chives.We celebrated my husband’s birthday last Sunday. The kids (our boys and their girlfriends) wanted to do an all day cook-a–thon again and my husband was delighted. As we did last year, we all made a different course while some of us created several dishes. Of course the food was great. With so much love and care going in to it, why wouldn’t it be! My boys are getting to be better cooks than me. And they correct me all the time on things. (I think I raised monsters.) But truly, the best part of this day, this party, is being all together, working in the kitchen and the banter that goes on. I LOVE it! My two courses were a pasta course and dessert. I made homemade gnocchi with a simple red sauce and pecan pie with whipped cream, which was Steve’s request.

Here’s a photo gallery of our afternoon and evening of celebration food.

Black olive tapenade with whole wheat Finn-crisp crackers.

Black olive tapenade with whole wheat Finn-crisp crackers

Chicken liver pate with toast.

Chicken liver pate with toast

Baby spinach salad with carrots and ginger miso dressing.

Baby spinach salad with carrots and ginger miso dressing

The birthday dinner table with the spinach salad.

The birthday dinner table with the spinach salad

Homemade potato gnocchi with a simple red sauce in an antique china bowl, garnished with chopped chives.

Potato gnocchi with a red sauce

Beef Wellington made with LOVE with a heart.

The main course – Beef Wellington made with LOVE with a heart

The main course plate - Beef Wellington, wilted escarole with a warm Balsamic dressing and crispy Yukon Gold potatoes.

The main course plate – Beef Wellington, wilted escarole with a warm Balsamic dressing and crispy Yukon Gold potatoes

Pecan pie, whipped cream and an amazing chocolate chip cookie topped with a little salt.

Pecan pie, (made with raw agave syrup instead of corn syrup) whipped cream and an amazing chocolate chip cookie topped with a little sea salt

And I really want to share this gnocchi recipe from Grace Parisi at Food and Wine magazine. This is the second time I have made this and it is so good and oh so very light. They came out like little delicate pillows. Two of the kids raced to the kitchen for seconds, of which there was little. This is really easy to make too. So give it a go and impress everyone. I served this with a simple red sauce with garlic, shallots and a couple of anchovies and garnished the dish with some fresh chopped chives. Basil or parsley would have been better but I already had some chives washed, dried and snipped so in they went. Serve with Parmesan or Romano cheese to grate fresh on top.

POTATO GNOCCHI – adapted from Grace Parisi at Food and Wine magazine – serves 6 as a first course

2 lbs. baking potatoes (about 4)
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 tbs. unsalted butter (optional) or a simple red sauce

Preheat the oven to 400°. Pierce the potatoes in 4 places with a fork. Bake in the oven for about 1 hour, until tender.

Halve the potatoes. Scoop the flesh into a ricer and rice the potatoes into a bowl. Stir in the egg yolks and 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the 1/2 cup of flour; stir until a stiff dough forms. Knead the dough gently until smooth but slightly sticky.Homemade gnocchi being rolled out.
Homemade gnocchi being made - delicate little pillows.

Line a baking sheet or platter with wax paper and dust with flour. On a floured surface, cut the dough into 4 pieces, rolling each into a 3/4-inch-thick rope. Cut the ropes into 3/4-inch pieces. Roll each piece against the tines of a fork to make ridges; transfer to the baking sheet or platter.Homemade gnocchi ready to cook on a platter.

In a large, deep pot of simmering salted water, cook the gnocchi until they rise to the surface, then simmer for 2 minutes longer. Make a simple red sauce in a skillet and using a slotted spoon, add the gnocchi. Fold to coat all of them in the sauce. Serve immediately garnished with chopped chives and pass Parmesan or Romano to freshly grate on top.

Alternatively, in a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter. Using a slotted spoon, add the gnocchi to the butter. Season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat for 1 minute. Sprinkle with the cheese and serve.

MAKE AHEAD: The uncooked gnocchi pieces can be frozen on the prepared baking sheet, then transferred to a re-sealable plastic bag and frozen for up to 1 month. Boil without defrosting.

TIP: Save the baked potato shells. You can top them with a little grated cheese and warm up them to make a great little hors d’oeuvres on another evening or I like to warm a half up in the morning and put an over-easy egg on top for breakfast – delicious!!

One very happy birthday boy.

One very happy birthday boy!




How’d it work out?

Thanksgiving roasted turkey.So how was your Thanksgiving? Ours was fantastic!  My family said our dinner was the best ever. But then they seem to say that every year I cook, so I guess I keep on improving? But truly, they’re still giving me compliments today so I guess it was really, really good!

I was particularly pleased this year with our appetizers. They were different and just the right touch, pre-feast. I made two recipes from Food and Wine magazine. One was for Texas smoked salmon tartare and grilled pancetta-wrapped mushrooms along with my artichoke dip. You can make the smoked salmon tartare and the artichoke dip the day before. I also had help. Agata made all of the mushrooms while I assembled the tartare on the chips with a cilantro leaf each. It was easy!

Texas smoked salmon tartare on blue corn chips as an appetizer from Food and Wine magazine.

Texas smoked salmon tartare on blue corn chips

Pancetta-wrapped grilled mushroom appetizer from Food and Wine magazine.-Pancetta-wrapped grilled mushrooms

My butternut squash soup was the best ever, I’m told. See this quick pic of the kids licking their bowls – seriously I did not ask them to do this for a photo op! This soup is based on David Waltuck’s recipe of Chanterelle fame, except that I have made my own revisions. One important one is that instead of cooking the squash by simmering it in the chicken broth, I oven roasted it at 425 degrees and then scooped it out of the skin to add to the broth and onions. Much tastier and you skip that difficult-to-peel step that makes your hands all wrinkly.Three kids licking their soup bowls clean

Oven-roasting butternut squash and sugar pumpkins

Oven-roasting squash and pumpkin

Pureed sugar pumpkin draining

Pumpkin puree draining

I also made two pies this year. One pecan and one pumpkin, from a fresh sugar pumpkin I roasted with the squash and then let it drain for several hours through four layers of cheesecloth. You need to do that to get all the water out and get to the true pumpkin flavor. The pie was so light and yummy!! Definitely give that a try.

Pumpkin pie with fresh roasted pumpkin and pecan garnish

– Super light pumpkin pie

The best Southern pecan pie from Mary Frances.

My pecan pie – Mrs. Fowler’s recipe

I hope you enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving, full of good family times, providing you with sweet memories to last the year through.

Three pumpkins at nightime - the end of Thanksgiving.

The end to a lovely day.

Hurricane Sandy, Halloween and New Features

Here in NYC, we are all trying our best to weather the most damaging storm. Personally and luckily, both of our homes are fine, no loss of electricity and no loss of trees upstate. But our office has had no power, so we’ve all been working from home or cafes that have electricity. We carry on, but our hearts and prayers go out to those who were closer to shorelines and not so lucky.

Sandy visited on Monday. The howling winds were so loud and scary that evening. It was such a helpless feeling just being in the middle of it. We woke up on Tuesday morning to an eerie quiet in our neighborhood. It was over, but the damage was massive.
Miniature pumpkinsAnd Halloween was last night, in a limited fashion here in NYC, with our major parade being cancelled. Halloween is also our wedding anniversary and I made the most marvelous veal chops for dinner! I’ll share that recipe later.

Meanwhile, with all the holidays coming, I wanted to tell you about our new feature on the right hand side of this blog, listing my favorite Thanksgiving recipes. From the ginger cranberry sauce, to the stuffing and pecan pie, it’s all there, easy to access, for you.

What a difference a pie makes…

So we had our friends Wayne and Margaret over for dinner last night and I decided to make a pecan pie (Mrs. Fowler’s recipe, of course – in an earlier post) for dessert, since I didn’t make one for Thanksgiving.

Margaret is a terrific, accomplished baker – she makes the greatest sticky buns and coconut cakes. But I’m telling you, make a pie from scratch and everyone loves you. First thing they said when they walked in the kitchen – “oh you made a pie!!”

As I was cutting the pie into eighths, after I had served the guys, Margaret puts her hand on mine (I didn’t know if this was going to be sexy or not – just kidding) and says, “Now cut this half in thirds.” I was floored and delighted that tiny Margaret wanted a bigger piece! While eating, she then proceeded to give me her mother’s secret for her pie crust and then asked to take another piece home! I loved it!

I used the recipe from my mother for my crust. Everyone thinks making a pie crust is a super big deal. It isn’t. You need to practice a little, follow instructions closely – this is baking – so different from cooking as it’s much more exacting. But, boy, do it, and everyone loves you!

We brought the two pieces home tonight (Steve had another piece before breakfast) and Zach was like, “Oh you made a pie!!!”

Here’s the recipe and hopefully some helpful photos.

BASIC PIE CRUST for Two 9” Single Crusts (cut in half for one bottom crust)
2 cups flour
1 scant tsp. salt
2/3 cup of Crisco
6 or less tbs. ice water

Whisk together flour and salt. Cut in Crisco until it forms “peas, “ using a fork or two knives or a pastry thingy. Sprinkle on ice water a tablespoon at a time, tossing lightly with a fork, combining after each addition. Press dough together with your hands and form 2 flattened rounds. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill. Roll out quickly and lightly on a floured pastry cloth or floured board and then fold into thirds and place and shape into pie pan. Refrigerate overnight for a flakier crust, if you have time.

Line crust with parchment paper and fill with dried peas or beans. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, until lightly browned.

Carefully remove parchment filled with peas. Let cool for 15 minutes before filling. Be a hero – you just made a crust from scratch!

Now Margaret says to take out 1/4 cup of the flour-salt mixture and mix it with 1/4 cup of ice water to make a slurry and then add that back in gradually to everything. I will try this the next time and see. Margaret has this German heritage and you know they know everything about making great pastries!

Unbaked pie crust

Unbaked pie crust

Unbaked pie crust with dried peas on a wooden cutting board.

Pie crust with dried peas

Partially baked pie crust on a white table.

Partially baked crust

Pecan pie.

Finished pecan pie

Truly Southern Pecan Pie

Pecan pie is my all-time favorite dessert! My father was a correspondent banker for a large bank in St. Louis, and his territory was the Southeast area. He traveled all over doing business with smaller banks in the region. And as he became close friends with many of these folks, we used to visit them on family vacations.

I learned to water ski on Lake Norfork in Mountain Home, Arkansas at Powers and Louise Fowler’s weekend lake house. They had a really fast powerboat (Powers liked speed) as well as a pontoon party barge, (Louise loved a party). One time, when I was about 12 years old, for some reason, I was with my parents alone. None of my other 5 brothers were with us and we visited the Fowlers.

So my mom says, “Louise, you make the best pecan pie and it’s Mary’s favorite. I wondered if we could have your recipe.”

Mrs. Fowler said in her lovely Southern drawl, “Well honey, why don’t we just go and make Mary one right now, and of course you can have the recipe!”

Cocktail in hand, she got up, went straight into the kitchen and made me a pecan pie right then and there.

And I have been making them for years. These days I use less sugar and Karo syrup as I like things less sweet. If you like it really sweet, go with the full cup measurements.

3 eggs beaten (take out early to be at room temperature)
1 scant cup of packed light brown sugar
1 scant cup of Karo light syrup (I know it’s not good for you – just close your eyes, just this once OR you can                                                          substitute 7/8’s of a cup of raw agave syrup)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat eggs with a whisk, add in all remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into a 9” pie crust, which has not been pricked, but has been baked for 5 – 10 minutes, weighted with beans or rice in parchment paper.

Bake for 40 – 50 minutes. Test with a knife or toothpick in the middle – should come out clean and the center slightly set. Cool completely before cutting and serving. Bake this in the morning before your feast.

Serve with whipped cream sweetened with a touch of powdered sugar and some vanilla. I use 1/2 pint of heavy cream, 1 tbs. powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla and beat until soft peaks form.

For me, this is the perfect ending to a Thanksgiving meal!

Pecan pie.