Friday, November 20, 2009

Roasted Vegetable Pizza

On Wednesday I went to the Spruill Farmers Market in Sandy Springs (Georgia). It's a nice little market that sets up weekly and sells a variety of produce, dairy, meat, jams, and the like. For $37.50 I was able to get this:


I think that's a pretty nice catch for less than 40 bucks. In case some of it is difficult to see or identify, here's a list of the produce pictured above:
*3 sweet potatoes
*1 bunch rose turnips
*1 bunch carrots
*1 bunch kale
*1 bag braising greens (collards, mustard greens, and kale)
*1 bag chickweed
*1 bag totsoi (not sure I have the spelling correct on that one)
*2 winter squash
*7 1/2 oz fresh mozzarella

Charlie and I took some of the produce pictured above (along with a few other ingredients) and turned it into this:


Now, let me tell you something. I am a lucky woman for many, many reasons. I have a wonderful family, a husband who constantly wows me with his kindness and love, amazing friends, good health, a steady job, and such. All of that keeps me going, and I'm grateful for the good fortune I've had in my life. However, I think (and hope) most of those things are shared by a great many people. There is, however, one thing I have that most people don't, and that's a husband who makes awesome pizza. Isn't that lucky? Also, he has a knack for knowing when I'm exhausted and don't feel like cooking dinner. I love when Charlie calls and says he'd like to make a pizza for dinner. My reply is almost always an enthusiastic "Yes! Please!".
We decided to make a roasted vegetable pizza with some of our farmers market bounty. Charlie started by making dough. He's been working on the perfect pizza dough recipe for awhile, and after dozens of pizzas and constant tweaking I think he's finally achieved it.
While Charlie worked his magic on the dough I roasted vegetables. I decided to go with sunchokes (purchased at the Morningside Farmers Market last weekend), winter squash, and kale. I thought that combination would give the pizza a woodsy autumn flavor. I sliced the squash, tossed it with a little olive oil and kosher salt, then popped it in the oven (preheated to 375 degrees) for about 20 minutes.



I also thinly sliced the sunchokes (with the peel still on), treated them to a little oil and salt, and added them to the oven. They took a little longer to roast -- about 30 minutes total. (Sunchokes are also known as jerusalem artichokes, but they aren't from Jerusalem, and they aren't artichokes so I go with the farmsy (just made that word up!) term, sunchokes.)


Next up: kale! I gently sauteed a large handful in just a touch of olive oil, and then the veggies were ready! Charlie rolled out the dough, and we assembled our pizza.



Oooh...the fresh mozzarella is so tasty and melts into ooey gooey deliciousness. Bagged, shredded mozzarella just doesn't compare.
Charlie slid the pizza onto the preheated pizza stone, and 12 minutes later we had dinner!



Yum! Homemade pizza really is super easy to make and can be topped with anything you like. We've tried all sorts of toppings, from capers (nice and salty but you have to trap them with melted cheese or they just roll off) to anchovies (the fish flavor is intense...use sparingly!). It's a great weekday dinner as long as you remember to start the dough as soon as you get home from work.


Charlie's Pizza Dough
(adapted from Michael Ruhlman's Ratio suggestions)

2 cups semolina flour*
1/4 teaspoon yeast
6 oz water, lukewarm
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of red pepper flakes (or more if you want a spicier crust)
1 Tablespoon olive oil (we just use a nice glug), plus additional for oiling the bowl

In a medium bowl combine flour and yeast. Create a well in the center, and add water. Allow to rest 2 - 3 minutes. Add oregano, salt, and red pepper flakes. Mix with a wooden spoon until dough begins to come together then add olive oil. Knead approximately 10 minutes or until dough is smooth, sticky, and bounces back when lightly touched. Lightly oil the inside of a medium bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow to rise 1 - 1 1/2 hours. The dough will not double in size but will swell a little.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the center of the oven to preheat along with the oven.
Turn the dough out onto a surface dusted with cornmeal. With floured hands, form the dough into a 8 - 10 inch circle with a flat center and slightly thicker edges (to form the crust), working some of the cornmeal into the dough as you shape it. (Use a gentle hand so you do not tear the dough as you work with it.) In order to prevent tearing, the final dough shaping should occur on whatever you will use to place the pizza in the oven. We use a pizza peel, but if you will be baking your pizza on a baking sheet you should use that at this point.
Top the pizza as you wish and place in the oven. Bake for 12 minutes. Let the cooked pizza rest for five minutes so the cheese and ingredients can settle, then dig in!

*For those of you in the Atlanta area, semolina flour can be purchased at the Dekalb Farmers Market. It can also be purchased in gourmet food shops, and I'm sure it's available for purchase online. Semolina is made of durham wheat and adds a unique texture to the pizza dough. If you are unable to find it, bread flour can be substituted.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Project Locavore: Step One


The Morningside Farmers Market sets up every Saturday, rain or shine, in the parking lot across from Alon's (in front of Teuscher Chocolates...yumm!). It's beautiful, and unlike a lot of farmers markets, it's open year-round. This past Saturday I went for the first time, which absolutely disgusts me since I live about 2 miles away. Why haven't I been there before? I have no idea. Seriously, I was able to walk there in less than half an hour. It's mostly laziness I suppose. I do love to sleep in on Saturdays.

Here's what I bought:
*2 lovely Berkshire pork chops
*1 giant bunch kale
*1/2 lb sunchokes
*1 winter squash
*1 1/2 heads cauliflower
*2 watermelon radishes

Total cost for all of this wonderful food: $19. And this is what we had for dinner (this is one person's serving):


In case you're unable to tell, the plate above includes:

*1 pan-seared pork chop with apples and onions
*roasted cauliflower and squash
*sauteed kale and dandelion with pine nuts
*roasted sunchokes
*homemade rye

The majority of that dinner came from the farmers market, the exceptions being: olive oil, 1 onion, 1 green apple, pine nuts, dandelion greens, and rye bread (made earlier in the week). Not too shabby, right? It was quite tasty, and we even had leftovers.

Now, time to get down to business. Our household has decided (okay, I decided and poor Charlie is very sweetly going along with my plan) to try a year of living locally. "What does this mean?" you may ask. Well, we're still pounding out the fine points, but here are the main ideas. We're going to attempt to buy at least 80% of our food locally for a full year. We'll begin in earnest this March (when the growing season begins). Until then there's plenty to do. I've been researching local farms, dairies, mills, and such. Fruit and vegetables should be no problem. Local meat, it turns out, is also easy to find. We've already joined a meat CSA -- more on that soon. There's a dairy about 50 miles away that sells milk in a nearby specialty food shop, and I think I've found a mill where we can buy whole wheat flour and grits.

And now for the do-withouts. Obviously, no sugar is grown within 100 miles of Atlanta. This means we'll either have to make a small allowance for sugar, or we'll learn to use honey as our only sweetener. I'm leaning toward honey as it is readily available and a much healthier choice than processed sugar. There are a number of spices that aren't grown near us. We'll have to make some decisions about which we'll continue purchasing even though they aren't local (salt, for example) and which we'll give up (probably cinnamon, nutmeg, and the other lovely holiday baking spices). We are not giving up coffee, but we are looking for a local roaster. Oils are tricky. Olive oil is (maybe) out, but I think we'll be able to get local peanut oil and perhaps a little sesame? Much more research is necessary, clearly.

There will be some exceptions that make up the 20% of non-local products. We'll need yeast for bread baking, and I don't think we can find that locally. I'm also looking into making some cheeses, and the cultures and rennets for those must be ordered. Charlie makes wonderful pizzas, and he needs semolina flour for the dough. I don't think that's available locally (the closest I've found is about 250 miles away), and I'm not asking him to give that up so we'll most likely continue purchasing a brand grown in Michigan.

There's much more to say about this project, but it will have to wait for another day. I leave you with pictures of the gorgeous, tasty watermelon radishes I picked up on Saturday. We ate them hinly sliced on rye bread with a little cream cheese and a sprinkling of sea salt. Delicious.



Sunday, October 18, 2009

A map and my opinion of it

This absolutely disgusts me.  The map above displays the McDonald's restaurants currently operating in the United States.  Really?  Are there THAT many?  Yes.  It turns out that there are over 13,000 McDonald's in the U.S.  I'm pleased to say that I am not one of their customers nor have I been for quite some time.   I know I sound hoity toity, but so be it.  I think they're disgusting, and I do not wish to participate.  
According to Michael Pollan (my personal hero) in his most recent book, In Defense of Food, An Eater's Manifesto, a McDonald's chicken nugget is comprised of no less than 38 ingredients.  Gross.  
I have much more to say on this topic, but at the moment I'm not up for expounding.  It's coming one of these days --- factory farms, corn, the whole bit about processed food in America --- but not today.
I was just reminded to "cop to the fact that my husband will eat a McDonald's hamburger in *snap* nothing flat"(direct quote from Charlie Bennett).  True.  We're working on that.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cocktail Time


I'm a big fan of funky little cocktails, and I found myself in need of a recipe for one at a recent dinner party.  The party had a Greek theme, and as I don't particularly care for ouzo (yuck), didn't want to serve beer, and was generally disinterested in a number of other Greek drink options, I decided to make up a specialty cocktail.  Thus, Persephone's Kiss was born.   There's nothing about this that is actually Greek, but I squeaked by because of the pomegranate.  When in trouble always look to myths and folklore!

Persephone's Kiss

1 oz pomegranate juice
3 oz Champagne 
1 small scoop pomegranate-blueberry ice cream*

Pour pomegranate juice in a champagne saucer.  Top with Champagne and gently in drop ice cream.  
*A melon baller makes small, pretty scoops


I love that these were a little fancy and a little like dessert.  I had seconds.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happiness Soup


It has been very damp and gloomy in Atlanta for the past couple of weeks, and it has affected my attitude quite a bit. I need some sunshine! The other night I felt particularly down so I decided to make a pot of Happiness Soup. The recipe for this comes from Nigella Lawson, and it's very simple. I made it on a weeknight after work, and it took no time at all.

Happiness Soup
adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson
3 medium yellow squash
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground turmeric
4 cups chicken stock*
1/2 cup basmati rice
salt and pepper

Cut the yellow squash into thin rings, then dice. Heat the oil in a medium stockpot and saute the squash along with the lemon zest for about five minutes or until squash has softened. Stir in the turmeric then add the lemon juice and chicken stock. Drop in the rice and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender. Serve with crusty bread.
*For a vegetarian soup vegetable stock may be substituted.



The name is, of course, a little silly. However, the cheery yellow in combination with the fresh squash and soft rice do make me happy. There's nothing I'd rather eat on a dreary day.

Thursday, September 24, 2009



I am gnocchi-obsessed right now. I just can't stop making the stuff! It's so tasty and (too) filling.
This has been an obsession of mine in the past, but my love for gnocchi was rekindled in Italy. I had some fabulous bites in Sorrento and a strong desire to recreate that experience at home.


The picture above is of the dish that fired up this most recent incarnation of my gnocchi obsession. This gnocchi in combination with a glass of wine made for a near-perfect meal. The gnocchi was tiny and smooth with none of the expected ridges or dimples on the side. The chef knew just how to dress the itsy bitsy dumplings -- simply. Rather than piling on a cream sauce or heavy ragu, the gnocchi was tossed with olive oil, a few perfect roasted tomatoes, red pepper flakes, chopped fresh parsley, and a little lemon. It was topped with the most fabulous mussels and clams. I assume once the gnocchi was cooked it was thrown into a sauce pan with the tomatoes, red peper flakes, olive oil, and shellfish (so the mussels and clams could open over the gnocchi and flavor the dish with their juices). It was all so delicious. Everyone else at the table had food envy when the server brought it out.


My travel buddy, Paige, had the gnocchi pictured above on our second night in Sorrento. The color was so shocking when the server brought out the dish! It's a spinach gnocchi dressed in a creamy salmon sauce, and if you look closely you can see the flecks of poached salmon in the picture. Paige said more than once that this was the best thing she ate on the trip, and it's easy to understand why. The creaminess of the sauce complimented the tenderness of the dumplings, and the strong salmon flavor was delightful. I was a little surprised to see dairy paired with seafood, as that is a classic no-no in Italian cooking, but I'm glad they did it! Delicious.

Before I start sharing recipes and posting pictures of homemade gnocchi I would like to clear up a few common misconceptions. The first, most obvious, and most common is that gnocchi is always made from potatoes. This is true sometimes but not always. Gnocchi first appears in Italian cookbooks in the 13th century, predating the arrival of potatoes in Italy by about 300 years. Before the arrival of potatoes it was generally made of semolina flour mixed with eggs and water, and these days just about anything goes. Gnocchi can be made of potatoes, semolina, riccotta, or bread crumbs and can include a variety of other ingredients (spinach, rosemary, pumpkin...). The name refers not to ingredients but to the shape. Gnocchi literally means "lump" and refers to a small, dense dumpling. I think this is great because it leaves it open for plenty of experimentation and can be paired with a number of diverse sauces. Most gnocchi have ridges on the side for sauce to cling to, but (as previously mentioned) even that's not a requirement.

The gnocchi I've been making is ricotta-based and includes some semolina (for texture and added yumminess).   I've made it several times and have modified the recipe slightly each time.  So, here's the basic recipe with plenty of notes to follow.  

Ricotta Gnocchi

2 cups whole-milk ricotta
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup semolina flour plus more for flouring work surfaces

Stir together the ricotta, eggs, cheese, and nutmeg.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add the flour, stirring to form a soft dough.  On a well-floured work space (use the semolina for this), shape the dough into several 1-inch-thick ropes.  Cut crosswise at an angle into 1-inch pieces with a very sharp knife.  Put in one layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet sprinkled with semolina flour (or all-purpose if you don't have semolina).


Refrigerate the gnocchi for 15 minutes (or up to 24 hours).  Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil, and cook the gnocchi in batches.  Each batch should take 3 to 4 minutes.  (When the gnocchi is fully cooked it will float.)  Lift the gnocchi out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon or a small strainer and drain.

That's it!  I bet that's a lot less work than you were expecting.  Right?!  

You may have noticed that the gnocchi pictured above is flecked with green.  When I made that batch I decided to throw a handful of chopped spinach into the dough.  I was very pleased with the results as the spinach added a splashy bit of color and packed a gentle flavor punch.  Other additions I plan on trying out include rosemary, pumpkin and cinnamon, garlic, and lemon zest.

Another thing you may have noticed is the size of my gnocchi compared with the restaurant pictures at the top of this post.  I chose to make a larger gnocchi with a more rustic cut.  Partly this is because I really like a less refined look, and partly it's because I can be a lazy cook at times.  It's much faster to make larger gnocchi and after a long day at work I'm not always patient when it comes to dinner.

So, the next step to making great ricotta gnocchi is dressing it.  There are countless things that can be done, but here are a few that I've tried.  The first time I slowly sauteed two chopped shallots in a generous chunk of butter until they were caramelized and the butter browned.  I then added three cloves of garlic, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, and some fresh rosemary.  I threw the cooked gnocchi in at the last minute and gave the pan a couple of tosses so the gnocchi was well coated.  I then plated the gnocchi, topped it with a handful of shredded parmesan (along with sea salt and cracked pepper), and finished it off with a dash of extra virgin olive oil.  It was very simple and also quite tasty.  



Check out those little bites of deliciousness!

The next batch of gnocchi received a similar treatment.  I omitted the rosemary and instead added fresh sage leaves which I fried in the butter along with the shallots.  I also sprinkled a few chopped walnuts on top.  I don't have any pictures of the finished product, but it was quite pretty and had a more autumnal flavor.  

The last time I made ricotta gnocchi I added the chopped spinach.  I was so pleased with the results that I decided to try a bowl with nothing more than olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper.  


I liked that very much but decided to punch things up a little.  Charlie made a wonderful tomato sauce with plenty of fresh herbs from our container garden so we tried that on the gnocchi with parmesan cheese on top and spinach as a garnish.  It looked and tasted beautiful.


Now you know the story of my recent gnocchi adventures.  I've had a blast making it and can hardly wait to try out other versions!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009



Perhaps my favorite thing that I ate while in Greece was dolmades. Before the trip I knew them as stuffed grape leaves, but dolmades (or dolmadakia) is the correct name. I ate them twice on the trip: once with tzatzki sauce and sliced tomatoes and once drizzled with a really thick oil of some sort (I never figured out just what it was, but it was tasty). I was a big fan of both, but I especially dug the freshness of the leaves with the tzatzki. The tomatoes were also a nice flavor booster.
A few nights ago I set out to make my own dolmades, and in the process I learned a little about how they are traditionally served. It turns out that they're usually referred to as dolmades when they contain meat and are served as a main course. I'm sure those are nice, but I prefer mine to be meatless and small -- served as meze (a first course). The recipe I found called for wine-soaked red currants and golden raisins, but I wasn't really in the mood for the dried fruit addition so I left it out. Also, I had some nice mozzarella in my fridge so I substituted that for the Greek cheeses the recipe called for (though I do think a nice salty feta would be very tasty). I added some sauteed scallions and a ton of minced garlic, and soon I'd created my own version of dolmadakia, just a shadow of the recipe. In the future I plan on adding a handful of chopped fresh dill to amp up the flavor a little more and perhaps a little mint for interest.
These are fun treats to make, and they look pretty impressive (I think). If you try them out yourself please let me know how yours turn out!


12 oz arborio rice
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 - 3 shallots, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz shredded mozzarella cheese (or crumbled feta)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
20 - 30 grape vine leaves packed in oil

Cook the arborio rice according to package directions. Once rice is cooked add butter and stir to incorporate.


Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small pan and saute shallots on low heat for 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the shallots, garlic, mozzarella (or feta), dill, and mint to the cooked rice. Stir to thoroughly combine.

Remove vine leaves from oil and separate one leaf from the others taking care not to tear it. Flatten the leaf on a clean work surface.


Place approximatel 2 teaspoons of the rice filling in the center of the leaf. Fold the bottom of the leaf upward, over the rice filling.


Fold the sides of the leaf in and over the rice filling. Roll the leaf forward, toward the top of the leaf. As you roll, neatly tuck in any loose pieces of the leaf. When you finish you should have a neat little bundle filled with rice. (Some of the leaves will tear so it's important to have a few extras.) Repeat with the remaining rice and leaves.


Once you have filled all of the leaves with rice and formed neat bundles, pack them in a medium sauce pan. I only made enough to form one layer in the pan I used, but if you have more you can stack them on top to create a second layer of leaves. Pack them tightly in the pan, then cover with water.



Place a lid or plate on top of the leaves to hold them under the water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook the leaves for 10 minutes. Drain the water from the pan, pressing on the leaves with the lid or plate to remove excess water. Carefully remove the leaves from the pan, place on a platter, and put in the refrigerator. Refrigerate until the leaves are cold, approximately 1 hour.
Serve the grape leaves cold or at room temperature with tzatzki sauce and sliced tomatoes.


The Greeks serve theirs in a star shape. I was pretty pleased with my presentation. The picture above is of the dolmadakia I made at home. The two pictures below were taken on my trip (in actual Greek restaurants). Not too shabby, huh?

I ate these on the island of Santorini. They were my favorites!

I had these on the island of Naxos -- very tasty as well!

I'm a pretty big fan of these little bundles. It takes a few tries to really get down the folding, but once you do it's easy to make a lot of these fairly quickly. Opa!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Branching Out: White Chili with Chicken


It's raining in Atlanta, and it has been for days and days.  Some streets have flooded, and schools are closed in three counties.  The whole weekend long we saw gray, gray skies and flashy thunderstorms at night.  Everyone seems to be tired of the dismal weather but me.  Perhaps it has something to do with the sun-soaked weeks I spent in the Mediterranean not too long ago, but I'm ready for gray, cold weather.  It's time for steamy bowls of thick soup, butternut squash, coq au vin, and apple pies!  This is my favorite time of year for cooking, and the cool rain is really getting me psyched about autumn!
Charlie and I spent the weekend snuggled up at home.  We didn't do a whole lot of anything, which was really nice for a change.  In fact, the only productive thing I did this weekend was cook, and I didn't even do a whole lot of that.  Last night was particularly dreary so I decided to make some chili before settling in to watch Mad Men (love it!).  Anyone who knows me well will be surprised by that last sentence because I don't usually cook things that involve beans.  I've never really liked beans, with the exception of green beans, so I don't cook them.  Ever.  However, I happen to be married to a man who loves Mexican food, chili, and other stewy things involving legumes so I'm trying to branch out a little.  I think kidney beans and black beans are the absolute worst (I hate the flavor and the texture) so I decided to make a white chili that had only great northern beans in it.  My Mom sent me the recipe a week or so ago, and it also contains chicken, cayenne pepper, and mild chilies -- all things I'm a fan of.  It's not a very heavy soup, and I don't think it will give hardcore chili lovers the fix they're looking for, but it does have a nice flavor.  I even enjoyed the beans in spite of myself.  

This is a really quick and easy weeknight meal.  It doesn't take long to prepare and doesn't require much tending.  Cornbread is a must to sop up some of the broth.  

White Chili with Chicken


2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium white onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 (4 oz) cans mild green chilies, roughly chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cayenne pepper
6 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
4 (16 oz) cans Great Northern Beans
3 chicken breasts, roasted and shredded
2 cups grated monterey jack cheese
sour cream

Heat the olive oil in a stock pot and saute 10 minutes or until soft and golden.  Add the garlic, chilies, cumin, oregano, and cayenne pepper.  Saute 2 minutes, until fragrant.  Add undrained beans and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Add the chicken and cheese, stirring to melt the cheese.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream on top.  

Consider yourself forewarned -- this makes a huge batch of chili!  You may want to halve the recipe if you're only serving a few people.  I made the whole recipe, and we had a ton left over so I'm going to freeze what's left.  I love stocking my freezer with soups and stews for the winter months.  When things get really gloomy it's nice to have homemade soup at a moment's notice.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cakes & Ale

"Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?"    Twelfth Night (Act 2, scene 3)

To celebrate our first anniversary (on September 17) Charlie and I returned to Cakes & Ale, the restaurant where we dined on the day we were wed.  This place is beyond amazing.  Every bite is a near-magical experience, the service is splendid, and the cocktails are crafted with the utmost care and attention to detail.  I cannot recommend Cakes & Ale enough and only wish I could figure out some way to dine there more frequently.  Unfortunately neither my pocketbook nor my waistline will allow.
Here's what we had (with plenty of commentary).

Arancini with Citrus and Fennel Pollen
I believe this may just be the best stuff in the whole world.  It truly is one of the best things I've ever eaten.  You know how people sometimes ask what you would choose if you could only eat five things over and over again for the rest of your life?  This is a definite on my list. I especially love how pronounced the citrus is in these little bites.  Don't be fooled by the simple appearance of the arancini in the picture to the left.  They are extraordinary.
Last month Bon Appetit magazine named the top ten best new restaurants in the country.  Much to my delight (and theirs no doubt), Cakes & Ale was selected as one of those restaurants, and
 this recipe was included in the magazine.  Guess what I'm trying out soon!  

House-Marinated Olives
Give me some.  Now.

We had a fabulous charcuterie comprised of the following:
  • Tomato Gelee -- Imagine the essence of a perfectly ripe summer tomato captured in a gelee.  That's exactly what this was.
  • Rabbit Rillettes with Carrots, Celery, and Onions -- A rillette is basically a rustic version of pate, traditionally made from pork. As the name implies, this one was made of rabbit. I love that the other ingredients reflect the diet of a rabbit. Charlie especially loved this dish.
  • Coppa -- Coppa is a delicious cut of cured pork that is thinly sliced and quite similar to prosciutto (but better!).  The slices presented by Cakes & Ale were just wonderful.  
  • Thinly sliced cured beef -- I don't remember what this was called or any of the specifics, but it was delicious.  Again, the meat was sliced thinner than paper and was quite salty.  I wish I could remember the name!
  • Pickled Japanese Melon -- I'm not sure what type of melon was used for this dish, but it reminded me of honeydew.  The pickling gave it a sour vinegary taste that was just terrific.  I wouldn't want this all the time, but it was a great addition to the plate.
  • House-Made Pickles -- Yum, yum, yum!  I love homemade pickles, and these were no exception.
Gnocchi with Zucchini, Pears, Corn, Green Tomatoes, and Walnuts
This was a really wild dish.  I really liked it, though I did feel the gnocchi was overwhelmed by the other ingredients.  Having said that, the gnocchi (when eaten by itself) was remarkably light and tender.  It nearly melted on my tongue.  The toppings were intense, and quite good, though I think they would have been better on their own as a side dish.  I like gnocchi simply dressed, and this was a little overwhelming.  And yet, I would order it again in a heartbeat.  Even the dishes with a few missteps at Cakes & Ale are extraordinary.

Cakes & Ale Burger and Fries
Charlie looked over the menu and noticed the Cakes & Ale burger (and fries).  Now, ordinarily a burger is a lousy choice in a farm-fresh restaurant with a seasonal menu, but this was different.  The server (Adam) informed Charlie that the burger was made of brisket and bacon, and he was sold.  Let me add that the bacon is not on top of the burger; it's ground in with the beef.  The result is a masterpiece, and the salty shoestring fries are positively addictive.

Phatty Cakes
We had these on our wedding day as well as our anniversary.  Cakes & Ale keeps a large domed cake stand on the counter, quite reminiscent of what one might find in an old general store, and it's always full of phatty cakes.  This is the restaurant's signature dessert, and it's easy to see why.  The cookies taste of gingerbread, and the filling is comprised of sweetened whipped marscapone.  These are the cookies I imagine Donna Reed making for her kids as after school treats -- super fabulous and homey without a smack of pretense.

Tres Leche Cake
This may be what love tastes like.  This sweet, milk-based cake is soaked in heavy cream, topped with softly scented cinnamon ice cream, and surrounded by puffs of freshly whipped cream.  It's beautiful and light, something out of a dream.  Also, it was a lovely anniversary gift from the restaurant. 

So, Cakes & Ale is my all-time favorite restaurant.  I'm sure it doesn't hurt that Charlie and I have been treated like celebrities each time we've been there, but even excepting that the food is consistently near-perfect.  The service is impeccable, and the atmosphere is lovely and understated.  If you're anywhere near the Atlanta area please do yourself a favor and go.  You will not be disappointed.  In fact, you'll probably glow when you leave.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Embracing Fall: Pumpkin Ravioli


Well, haven't I just been the worst blogger ever for the last few weeks?! I've been a bit overworked and haven't made time for this, but that changes now. I think I'll just dive in and share what I've been cooking lately: pumpkin ravioli!

In Italy I had so many wonderful pasta dishes (especially in the town of Sorrento) and was inspired to  make fresh pasta myself. I've made fresh pasta in the past, but I haven't taken a lot of time and care with it so it's never been spectacular. I decided to try a little harder this time and set my sights on ravioli. This was a first for me, and it initially tried my patience. The problem began when I drafted a fairly long list of cooking projects to accomplish on Labor Day. I have few days off work (excepting weekends) and even less time entirely to myself (Charlie had to work on Labor Day) so I decided that I must maximize my alone time and fill it with projects. That's all well and good except that I wasn't really in a cooking mood on Labor Day. When I realized that I should have hung up my hat, settled in for some reading, and saved the projects for another day. Instead, I decided to push myself, and my fun projects turned into a list of chores. This rarely happens to me because I really do love to cook, but this time it did and that's unfortunate.

I started the day's (newly-turned) chores by heading to the farmers market. There I found these beauties. The one on the left is called a sweet dumpling squash and the one on the right is a calabaza. Aren't they gorgeous?!

I took them home, split them, and removed the seeds. They smelled so sweet and good.


I then rubbed them with a little olive oil, placed them face-down on a baking sheet, and roasted them at 400 degrees F for about 45 minutes. Once they cooled I scooped out the flesh, mixed it together, and smushed it with the back of a wooden spoon.


That didn't give me quite the consistency I wanted (too chunky) so I popped it into my food processor and pulsed a few times. I ended up with a beautiful, orange, pumpkiny puree. A sprinkling of salt, pepper, and a splash of olive oil gave it a little more oomph.

I took my lovely pumpkin puree and added about a cup of whole milk ricotta and 8 ounces of crumbly goat cheese then stirred it all up. It was chunky, packed with the fall flavor I was looking for, and super tasty! I couldn't stop eating it by itself! (The photo below isn't beautiful, but the filling was actually sort of pretty in a rustic way.)


At this point I was pleased with what I'd created but was still dragging my feet a bit. The task of making fresh pasta felt overwhelming, but I pulled out my ingredients, cleared a spot on my kitchen table, and got started anyway.

Almost every recipe I've read for fresh pasta (in small batches) calls for 3 1/2 cups of flour and 5 large eggs. This never seems to work for me. For some reason whenever I use 3 1/2 cups of flour I end up with a pasta that's too dry so I tend to use only 3 cups up flour (and 5 large eggs). If making pasta at home you might try it with 3 1/2 cups of flour, as that seems to work for everyone except me. If yours is also too dry then toss it out (there's no saving a bad batch as far as I'm concerned) and try my way.

A word on ingredients: I like to use oo flour for making pasta. It's almost always imported from Italy and is ground so finely that it feels like baby powder. This makes for a really silky pasta that's super light. I buy my oo flour at the Dekalb Farmer's Market (just outside Atlanta), but it can also be found in gourmet food shops, Whole Foods, and Fresh Market. If you're unable to find oo flour (or want to go a less expensive route) all-purpose will also do the trick.

Okay, so the first step to making fresh pasta is dumping the flour on a large work space in a mound. Then, use your (freshly washed) hands to create a well in the middle of the flour. It should look like a volcano with an extra wide mouth. Like this:


Crack the eggs into the well, taking care not to let them escape!


Slowly and carefully pinch the yolks apart with your thumb and forefinger. You want to break the membrane that surrounds the yolks so they will flow into the whites of the eggs. As soon as you've accomplished that (it's kind of fun), start pulling little bits of flour into the eggs. Do so carefully so the eggs don't leave the well. Slowly incorporate more and more flour into the eggs until you have a dough that is able to hold itself together. Form it into a ball and begin kneading, pulling any remaining flour into the ball of dough.


Okay, here's the trick to getting really great pasta: don't be lazy when it comes to the kneading. It's hard work, and you will get tired, but it really should be kneaded for at least 15 minutes. Set a timer and get to work! I've always heard that when you think you're finished you probably should knead for about 3 more minutes. I find this to be true for me. When properly kneaded the dough will be smooth, elastic, and will spring back when pressed with your fingertips.

Once the dough has been kneaded, wrap it in plastic wrap and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.  After the pasta rests, take out your pasta machine and get ready to crank out some pasta!

Unwrap the dough and pull off a golf ball-sized chunk.  Immediately re-wrap the remaining pasta dough.  (It will dry out if not immediately re-wrapped and will have to be thrown away.)  Flatten the piece of dough with your hand, and set the pasta machine to its thickest setting.  On my pasta machine this is #1, but it varies depending on the maker.  Roll the pasta through the machine so that you have a nice, smooth piece of flattened dough.  Move the setting up a notch so it will make the pasta slightly thinner on the next roll.  Roll the pasta through again.  Continue changing the settings and rolling the pasta until you have passed the pasta through the thinnest setting  and have a paper-thin sheet of pasta.
My pasta maker has a broken clamp so I have to hold it down while running the pasta through.  This isn't that big of a deal, but it quickly became a major stresser when I already felt a bit impatient.  By this point I was no longer enjoying the process of making ravioli.  Once again, I should have put it away and saved the ravioli for another date, but I didn't. 

At this point it's important to work quickly.  If you move too slowly the pasta will dry out and you will be unable to form the ravioli.  Place the sheet of pasta on the work surface and use a spoon to drop teaspoon-sized dollops of pumpkin filling on the pasta.  Allow 1/2 - 1 inch of space all the way around each dollop of filling.  Continue placing filling on the pasta sheet until you get about halfway up the sheet of pasta.  Fold the pasta in half so that each dollop of filling is covered with pasta.  Use your fingertips to press the pasta together, trapping the filling and sealing the pasta around it.


Charlie came home around the time I reached this point.  By then I'd had enough.  It took a few tries to figure out how best to form the ravioli (and I let several sheets of pasta dry out in the process), and I was ticked off about it.   I decided to use a pairing knife to carefully cut out the ravioli.  I cut it into squares, taking care to leave enough pasta around the filling to ensure that it wouldn't escape when boiled.  This method proved to very effective but not very pretty.  When I made it again a few nights later I used a zig-zag pastry cutter to make the edges a little more interesting.  That really gave the ravioli a polished look (without spending a ton of money on a mold or specialty press).  Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures of that batch. 
After cutting out the ravioli I had a pile scraps left over.  I certainly didn't want those to go to waste -- this is homemade pasta we're talking about after all!  I took my scraps, laid them out, and used the pairing knife to cut them into mismatched strips.  I didn't care about keeping everything perfectly uniform, but I did want to make them all about the same size so they would require the same amount of time to cook.  Here's what I ended up with.




I allowed the scraps the dry for about 15 minutes then popped them in a ziplock bag for later use.  I tossed the ziplock bag in the freezer, and now I can have homemade pasta any time by boiling the frozen pasta for 2 - 3 minutes.  (Do not thaw or it will become gummy.)

I finished rolling out the remaining pasta, and made more ravioli (and scraps).  The fully formed ravioli was placed on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet for about 10 minutes before cooking.  This allowed the pasta to dry out just a bit and secured the seal around the filling before boiling.  While the pasta dries, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Drop a handful of ravioli into the water, and allow it to cook for 4 - 5 minutes or until the pasta is soft but not falling apart.  Remove the cooked ravioli from the water, drain, and drizzle with olive oil.  Continue cooking the ravioli in batches until the desired amount has been prepared.

Now it  was time to dress the ravioli.  I browned a little butter, sauteed a minced shallot with some garlic, and tossed in some red pepper flakes and fresh sage leaves for a little extra kick.  I then poured the browned butter over the hot ravioli and finished it off with another drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, freshly cracked blacked pepper, a sprinkling of shredded parmesan, and a generous handful of crumbled goat cheese.  


Though I'd certainly had a bad attitude about the project, I have to admit that it turned out pretty well.  The soft, pillowy ravioli (in combination with plenty of love and affection from my wonderful husband) put me in a very sunny mood.  In fact, I felt so good about the result that I tried it again two days later, adding the zig-zag edges, sliced baby bella mushrooms (cooked in the brown butter), and little squeeze of lemon.  

One final note before I end my re-entry blog post.  There is absolutely no reason in the world why the seeds from any pumpkin or large squash should be thrown out.  Instead, toss them with a little olive oil, kosher salt, and any other seasonings you like, and roast at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes.  They'll crisp up a little, take on the seasonings, and provide a yummy, salty snack.  I usually toss mine with curry powder and a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Bon appetit!