Sunday, March 28, 2010

Oatmeal--Plain and Simple

By Kathyrn Washburn Breighner

I was in the cereal aisle of the grocery store--one of my rare dips away from the outside areas of the store that feature fresh foods--and I saw someone purusing the instant oatmeal packages. Now the good news is that this was a teacher and she was carefully reading the labels. Have you ever read the label of the instant oatmeals? Can you even pronounce what's in it? 

We grew up in a household san chemicals.  No preserved foods of any kind.  Other than an occasional Campbell's soup, there were no packaged potatoes, no jars of gravy or pasta sauce, no already prepared anything. Mom made it from scratch. Including oatmeal.

A favorite childhood food memory is camping with my Aunt Dottie and Uncle Gene. Gene rose early every a.m. and when cousin Susie and I returned from an early morning hike to some place where we probably shouldn't have been, there was a pot of thick, steel cut oats on the campstove. We topped it with brown sugar or maple syrup. A piece of heaven to start the day.

I begin most days with oatmeal. It's filling, great complex carbohydrates and fiber. And it tastes great! Lately, my morning begins with old fashioned oatmeal--rolled oats, no quick, no instant with chemicals.  I don't how long it takes to prepare the instant oatmeal in the package since I'd never buy it, so maybe 2 minutes?

Well, I make a bowl of old fashioned rolled oats in 5 minutes. And it tastes like real oatmeal! Easy: put 3/4 c of oatmeal in a bowl, add 1 1/4 c water, a dash of salt, and cinnamon or raisins or dried cranberries.  Microwave for 5 minutes at 60% power--so slower than as if you were were boiling water in the microwave  at full power.

For steel cut oats, I often do the cheat method: 1 c of steel cut oats, 4 c of water and a dash of salt and left on the stove--not cooked--over night. In the morning, I warm up the mixture, stirring, for about 10 minutes. This makes a large batch so the extra goes in the refridgerator and can be easily warmed in the microwave another day.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spinach Cream Sauce

By Perry Washburn

This is the sauce I made for my gnocchi, below. A lot like an Alfredo, this is a multipurpose sauce that has enough style to work in many situations. I made it first, without the brie (one of my pals can do cream but not cheese) for gnocchi. I added the brie for later attempts. I added some fresh shrimp at the end of the cooking and made this a pizza topping (covered wth aged Gouda!). Yum! And, I used leftovers from that as omlet filling the next day.

2 cups chopped spinach
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup cream
2 1/2 ounces creme de brie (a spreadable brie)
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/2-1 tsp paprika
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium heat in a skillet. Add cream and brie, stirring until smooth Add remaining ingredients and saute until spinach is wilted.

Melt-in-your-mouth Gnocchi

By Perry Washburn

This must be the season for gnocchi! I offered a Cajun dinner for a silent auction a year ago, but when the payoff came in late January, it had become an Italian feast. The hosts and I had enjoyed fairly recent trips to Italy, and our host mentioned her love for the gnocchi there. I had not ever made it, but did some quick study.

There appear to be two camps on gnocchi: make a fairly conventional dough, with plenty of flour (see Kathie's below), or make a dough that has only enough dough in it to hold it together. I decided to try the latter. The result is a very different process than Kath describes below (I'm sure hers are great; here's a different product.)

I altered a Bon Appetit recipe, made a cream sauce, made them for the first time for my paid dinner for 12. They were the hit of the party. As one guest said, "They melt in your mouth!" I made them again for a friend's birthday a couple of weeks ago, and daughter Madina requested them for her birthday dinner yesterday.

Note: Because this is a SOFT dough, this is probably not for the faint of heart.

I started with 6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes. Wash, stick with a fork, and microwave for 8-10 minutes until they are done.

As soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel and rice them one at a time. (There is a school of thought that it helps the end product to work with hot potatoes.) As I have no ricer or food mill, I forced these through my sieve with the back of a wooden spoon. This is HARD work, but I like the texture. This will yield about 6 cups of potatoes. To this, add:

1 whole egg and one yolk, beaten
1 tsp of coarse salt
1/2 tsp or so of fresh ground nutmeg

Mix that well, then add 1 cup of all purpose flour, continuing to add flour until this becomes a dough. This should not take 2 cups total. Move to a well floured board and knead in additional flour just until this is firm enough to work with. I doubt there is 3 cups total flour.

I cut the dough into 12 equal parts, and gently rolled each on the floured surface into a long rope 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Because the dough is soft, be careful here. I discovered that by just maintaining contact with the rope, and spreading my fingers as I rolled, I got just the right results. If your work surface is not as wide as mine (24x18), you may have to start with smaller pieces of dough as the rope gets long quickly.

Cut the dough rope into 3/4 inch pieces. When they are all cut, roll them on the back of a fork to make the indentations. This would be very hard to explain, in text, how to do. I suggest searching youtube; you'll find a couple of videos there that will make sense.

Cook in a large pot of rapidly boiling water in 5-6 batches. Wait until they float, and then perhaps 10-15 seconds more. Remove to your skillet of already prepared sauce. I have not tried to find a method to freeze these. They are VERY delicate, however, and do not fare well piled on top of each other in a bowl.

But, turned in they right sauce (see my Spinach Cream sauce above), these truly are to die for.