Monday, January 16, 2017

Italian-Inspired Potato Hash

With 2017 well into it's first month, it comes as no surprise that myself, along with seemingly everybody else on social media, is trying to go into the new year with a fresh and healthy perspective. While I have zero interest in eliminating anything from my diet, what I am trying to focus on this year is being more conscious about including fresh and healthy ingredients into every meal, with a big emphasis on balance. I'm never going to give up pastries, cheese, and cured meats, so I have to accept that if I want to make those types of foods apart of my life, I have to be able to compromise by balancing them out with the good stuff. This means lots more fruits and veg, whole grains, pulses, and most definitely a lot more colour! 

With this healthy perspective fresh in my mind, I've been trying to come up with new and exciting dinner options that will allow me to carry through my new diet goals (note that I say the word 'diet' as as in "the food and drink regularly provided or consumed," not in the restrictive sense of the word). As usual, my starting place for creating almost every recipe is by taking a look through my fridge and pantry. With some leftover pancetta and a bag full of mini Blushing Belle potatoes, the idea of a dinnertime hash came to mind. Wanting to stray from a lot of the potato hash recipes I found online, I took the pancetta as my spark for creating a unified theme to the dish. My hash would be Italian-Inspired! By adding in a cubanelle pepper, roasted cherry tomatoes, cannellini beans, and pesto, suddenly my potato hash took on the flavours of one of my favourite types of cuisine. Hearty, comforting, and full of flavour, the hash turned out delicious, and also was fantastic warmed up again the next day as a leftover breakfast. 
A hash is a great starting point for intermediate cooks who are looking to feel more confident and have more freedom in the kitchen. This is a great dish for practicing your knife skills, as well as developing your flavour palate. Play around with my recipe. Sub-in ingredients that you have in your fridge. Don't have cubanelle peppers but you do have a red pepper pepper lying around? Use that! Maybe you prefer sundried tomato pesto to a basil one? Sub that in! Play around with seasoning each aspect of this dish so you can start to learn how to taste and season as you go. If you don't use pinch bowls, start! Feeling your spices as you add them in will give you a better feel for exactly how much you're adding, and will overall make you a much better cook. If you don't already use kosher salt and are still using table table salt, this is also a great time to make that switch. Coarse kosher salt allows you to really feel the grains between your fingers, once again, allowing you to get a better sense of how much you're adding.

Ingredients:
1 dry pint cherry tomatoes
1/4 medium onion, sliced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1.5 lb Blushing Bell Mini Potatoes, diced
1/4 cup pancetta, diced
1/4 medium onion, diced
1 cubanelle pepper, seeds removed and diced
1/2 cup canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 Tbsp basil pesto (I used a homemade basil and walnut pesto, but you can use what you have!)
salt and pepper
eggs for serving

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Toss together tomatoes with sliced onion and season generously with salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until charred and wrinkly, about 10-15 minutes. Set aside.
  3. While tomatoes are cooking, prepare potatoes. Add potatoes to a large pot and fill with enough water to cover potatoes by at least 1-inch. Generously salt water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 5-minutes. Drain immediately. Set aside.
  4. In a large skillet set to medium heat, add pancetta and cook until fat has rendered and pancetta is crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to set aside to drain on paper towels.
  5. Add diced onion and sweat. Add cubanelle pepper and cook until slightly softened. Add cannellini beans and cook, stirring occasionally until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Stir in prepared roasted tomatoes, sliced onion, and pancetta.
  7. Gently stir in the potatoes and pesto, being careful not to break up the potatoes too much. Season as needed with salt and pepper. 
  8. Serve immediately, with each serving topped with a freshly fried (or poached!) egg. 
Listening To:

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Perfecting Potato Latkes (Updated)

Every Chanukah is a new opportunity to step up your potato latke game. Though each year my latkes get a little better, it wasn't until this year that they just may have reached the point of perfection. I'm not going to bore you with my history of eating and making latkes, I'm just going to get right to the point and tell you straight up my tips and tricks for creating potato latke excellence. 

Start With A Great Latke Recipe As Your Guide
I personally think that Bon Appétit has a fantastic recipe for potato latkes that I like to use as a general guide. It's really hard to list exact ingredient amounts for latkes, because it all depends on the size and flavour of your potatoes. Use the recipe as a rough guide for which ingredients to use and how much you should use of each one. I don't bother with measuring my ingredients anymore, I just go by sight and memory, and after you make your first batch, that's all you'll ever need too. While Bon Appétit's recipe is great, I adjusted it slightly by mincing my onion, and doing 2 Tbsp plain breadcrumbs, and 2 Tbsp panko breadcrumbs, instead of the grated onion and 1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs listed in their recipe. Check out their recipe and method here

Start With The Right Potatoes
Step one to making the ultimate latkes is using the correct potatoes. Though my dear love, Ina Garten likes to use a combo of both Yukon Gold and Russets, it has been in my experience to always go for all Russets. I have to admit, that the only times that I've strayed from Russet potatoes, I've gone pure Yukon Gold, so perhaps Ina knows something I don't, and maybe (maaaaybe) next year I'll give her method a try. Russets tend to be the favourite for potato latkes thanks to their high-starch, and low-moisture content, which is key in achieving a crisp latke. 

Grate Your Potatoes
Though everyone has their preference, I love a nice lacy, grated potato for my latkes. I adore the texture and think that it delivers the best crispness on the outside, while still leaving the interior of the pancake soft and tender. Grating by hand is fine if you're doing only one or two potatoes, but any more and you may never want to make latkes ever again. I recommend lugging out your food processor to do do the work for you. Swap in the grating attachment and see how quickly your potatoes are grated! Dare I say, it's a "grate" tool! (I can't stop with the dad jokes!)

Add Onion
While I'm sure there are polarizing thoughts on whether to add onion to your latkes or not, I find them essential! I love the flavour that the onion adds to the rather bland potatoes, making them a more savoury side dish, which I think complements the sweet apple sauce topping wonderfully! I used to grate my onion in as well, but I found that they taste all the better when the onion is invisible. I mince mine up super fine so they blend right into the lacy potato shreds, adding their flavour without compromising on texture, or risking someone getting a big chunk of onion in their pancake. 

Squeeze Out The Liquid
This is likely THE most essential step in making the ultimate potato latkes. I mean it when I say DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! Don't even try to. There are no short cuts. As soon as my potatoes are grated and my minced onion in stirred in, I pour everything into a clean kitchen towel with a bowl resting underneath and squeeze the hell out of that stuff! Squeeze, and squeeze, and squeeze until hardly anymore liquid comes out. Then carefully open up your towel, stir around the contents, and guess what?....You squeeze, and squeeze, and squeeze again! I like to place a bowl underneath to catch all of the starchy potato liquid. After a few minutes the natural starch from the potato liquid will fall to the bottom of the bowl, allowing you to pour out the water and add the thick starch back into your potatoes. I like to do this to help my potato mixture hold together in the pan, as well as ensure my latkes are as crisp as possible. 

Season & Bind
Once your shredded potatoes are squeezed out as much as possible, it's time to season and bind everything together. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs (I do 2-3 for every five potatoes), some baking powder, and some breadcrumbs (I like to do half regular breadcrumbs, and half panko) and combine it into your potato and onion mixture. You want the mixture to be moist but not soupy at all. If it's not moistened enough from the egg, it won't hold together, and with too much egg, you've got yourself a weird omelette/latke hybrid. In terms of seasoning, I start with a couple of large pinches of salt and pepper, and then fry off a test latke to taste. If needed, I will season once again, and continue with the rest of the pancakes. 

Flavour Your Oil
This was one step that I was so excited to add to my latkes this year. Previously, I have only used vegetable oil for frying my latkes, but couldn't resist picking up a container of duck fat from St. Lawrence Market to aid in flavouring the plain vegetable oil. While schmaltz (chicken fat) is traditionally used, duck fat sounded oh-so-luxurious and was what I found first. The duck fat not only gave my latkes even more flavour, they also helped to crisp them up even more. 

Your Cast Iron Is Your Friend
While no, it's not absolutely essential to use a big, heavy cast iron pan to fry your potato latkes, I find that it makes a world of a difference! As soon as I started frying my latkes in a cast iron, my latkes when from "novice" to "expert." I will never go back to my regular All-Clad's or nonstick for frying latkes, ever! 

Keep 'em Warm
Because frying up batches of potato latkes is quite tedious and time consuming, I keep my oven preheated to 325ºF, with a baking sheet set inside, so I can place my fried and drained latkes to keep them warm and crisp. Before I place any latkes in the oven, I'm sure to take them straight from the cast iron to a prepared wire rack set over a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. This allows any excess oil to drain off. 

Serve Immediately!
I don't care what you say, latkes DO NOT taste the same the next day. Sure, they may still be incredibly tasty, but they sure ain't the brilliant and crispy pancakes that you made the day before. It's all about the texture. Latkes are meant to be served right away! So as soon as you're done frying up all of your shredded potatoes, get those babies on the table! After spending so much time on your feet in the kitchen, frying up batch upon batch of latkes, while your clothes and furniture soak up the smell, you owe it to yourself to serve them as they were intended to taste. I like to make extra so I can eat some immediately, and then have more for leftovers throughout the week. 

Have any other questions or concerns about making potato latkes? Leave me a comment here or tweet me: @thisgingerrose.

Listening To

Friday, December 23, 2016

Mulled Cranberry Baked Brie with Spicy Candied Pecans

Holiday entertaining is all about ease of preparation, allowing you to spend less time in the kitchen, and more time with your friends and family. My Mulled Cranberry Brie with Spicy Pecans is as easy as can be and is a total showstopper, featuring the festive flavours of the holiday season. Sweet, spicy, warm, and comforting, you may want to prepare two of these, because your guests are sure to gobble it all up! Prepare the nuts and sauce in advance to have everything ready to go when your guests arrive.

Ingredients:
For The Pecans
3 Tbsp. golden corn syrup
1 1/2 Tbsp white sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp (heaping) ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 cups whole pecans
cooking spray
For The Mulled Cranberry Sauce
2 cups fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. orange juice
2 Tbsp. red wine
1/4 tsp orange zest
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice 
1 whole star anise
2 thin slices fresh ginger
1 wheel of brie (200g)

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together corn syrup, white sugar, salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and ginger. Stir in pecans.
  3. Spray medium baking sheet with cooking spray. Spread out coated pecans in one even layer and bake for 5-minutes. Stir to combine, and place back in the oven for an additional 10-minutes.
  4. While pecans are baking, prepare a medium baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Right as the pecans come out of the oven, use two forks to begin transferring, separating, and spreading the pecans on the prepared baking sheet to cool. Store in an airtight container for about 1-month. 
Listening To:

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Holiday Entertaining with Metro Ontario & How To Be The Host with The Most

WOW your guests with a striking dessert board filled frozen desserts that you can always keep on hand
I come from a family of hosts. I grew up thinking of my Oma and Opa (my mom's parents) as being the most sociable people I knew. Their home was always filled with friends, family, food, drinks, love, and lots of German drinking songs. The lives of the party, their home was constantly abuzz with a rotation of visitors, and somehow always a steady flow of fresh and delicious dishes that my Oma seemingly magically prepared. 

My mom and dad carried on this same tradition when they renovated our family home when I was seven. Suddenly our home became the hub for activity, as they regularly hosted dinner parties, family gatherings, friend hangouts, pool parties, and so much more. As our family adapted to life changes, we began to take on hosting our families holiday events as well. Christmas became our domain, and my goodness, did my parents ever knock it out of the park every year! With a beautiful home meant for entertaining, and parents with an uncanny knack for being the "hosts with the most," we started to host Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Passover (for my dad's side of the family), Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays, and I think once even Easter as well. 

"being a great host is truly about being a great juggler."

Now that I've grown up and have started hosting gatherings and parties in my own home with my boyfriend, I've started to realize just how lucky I am to have been given such great training for the role of "host" throughout my life. It's easy to take for granted, but I've come to appreciate and understand the delicate art of putting your guests at ease from the moment they arrive, setting the mood with music and decor, creating a well-balanced menu, and keeping everyone happy and comfortable throughout their time with you. It sounds simple enough, but being a great host is truly about being a great juggler. You have to be able to have your eye on all three balls in the air, and keep them from falling. 

"These women truly did it all, but that doesn't mean they weren't without their shortcuts."

Without a doubt the most difficult ball to keep control of is the food. While creating a menu and keeping guests well fed is a challenge in itself, during the holidays that challenge goes turbo, with unexpected guests and gatherings happening every few days. It seems impossible to be able to stay ahead of the game, and be ready with food and drink, should a surprise gathering arise, but somehow my Oma and my mom were always prepared. Though on the outside it appeared that they were embodying the trope of the "women who can do it all," making everything from scratch, while juggling jobs, family's, and other commitments, and don't get me wrong, they were. These women truly did it all, but that doesn't mean they weren't without their shortcuts. What my Oma and my mom taught me is that the true trick to being the host with the most, is knowing when to let someone else do the work. 

Though it's tempting to want to be able to say "I made everything!" let's face it, it's also exhausting! For the times when I just don't have the time or the energy to do everything myself, I turn to my tried and true shortcuts. This holiday season my favourite shortcut is keeping frozen desserts on hand. 
"My favourite type of frozen desserts are the ones that I can add my own personal touch to."

Since ti's the season for indulging in your sweet tooth, desserts are always an easy win for guests both unexpected and planned. My favourite type of frozen desserts are the ones that I can add my own personal touch to. The Irresistibles line from Metro Ontario carries a fantastic collection of frozen profiteroles (in both chocolate and plain) and eclairs, that have come to be my go-to holiday entertaining desserts. I love this line of desserts because 1) it allows me to have a dessert on the table in 30-minutes with very minimal effort, 2) it allows me to cater the dessert easily to the amount of guests I have, and 3) I can dress up the desserts in whichever way I please! 

My personal favourite way of serving the Irresistibles profiteroles and eclairs is by presenting them as apart of a striking dessert board. The profiteroles and eclairs look delicious on their own, but are made all the more striking and dramatic when paired with a selection of fresh fruit, dried fruit (dried cranberries, figs, and apricots are great!), other baked goods (think brownies, squares, and cookies), candied nuts, and so much more! Use your imagination and have fun with it! Your guests are going to love the beautiful presentation you've put together, as well as the delicious spread before them, and most of all, you'll have more time to spend with the people you care about, and less time stressing in the kitchen. I think I would make my Oma and my mom proud!

Tip: Because they travel so well, these are also great desserts for bringing to potluck parties! 

Listening To:

* This post was brought to you in collaboration with Metro Ontario. All words, opinions, and photographs are, as always, entirely my own and reflect my own personal views. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

April Bloomfield's Ricotta Gnudi


Here I am, almost a month into the new job, and I'm still breathing, still employed! I say it as a joke, but after my recent disastrous shift (which you can read about here) I was a little concerned that I was about to get the boot. Thankfully I followed my nightmare shift with two weeks of work that I can be proud of. I feel relatively good about walking into my shift tomorrow evening, though I know it's going to have a whole new string of challenges. 

So what is this mysterious new job that I keep alluding to? While I like to keep some things private on here, I will say that my new gig has me acting as an assistant teacher in the cooking classes at a fantastic food studio in downtown Toronto. What makes these classes so exciting is that they are very hands-on, which means getting my very own group of students to myself (which can be anywhere from 2-12 people!) for an hour, while we work through our assigned dish. It sounds simple enough, but there is so much work that goes into the preparation for each class (washing, chopping, making stocks, blanching, preparing appetizers and charcuterie boards, pre-baking, and so much more!) all within a strict time limit. Not to mention the stress of guiding a group of strangers of varying degrees of expertise and experience through a recipe that they are unfamiliar with, while working within our hour of cook-time, and all the while worrying about people burning and cutting themselves...oh and the dish has to actually taste good too, because guess what? Our students get to sit down at the end of the class, and enjoy the beautiful meal that we have all prepared together. Us assistants and teachers, plate and style each individual dish so the students can also get a little lesson in restaurant plating. Pretty cool, right?
The scariest, but also probably the most exciting part of the job, is that almost every class I will be given a new recipe to work on, oftentimes that I have just received the previous day, and may have never made in my life! That's what happened last week when I was responsible for teaching my group how to make the appetizer in our Rustic Italian-themed meal. I was in charge of guiding the group through making Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi with Sage & Walnut Pesto, something I had never made nor even eaten before! If you're unfamiliar with gnudi, think of them like naked ravioli. They are like the ricotta filling of ravioli, but without the pasta shell. Or another way of thinking of them is like gnocchi, but instead of potato, you're using ricotta. Having never made nor eaten gnudi before, I made sure to give myself enough time prior to class to do as much gnudi research as possible. This led me to learning about what is often considered to be one of the top 50 dishes to eat in New York, April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig's Ricotta Gnudi.

The moment I first saw an image of Chef Bloomfield's gnudi, I could think of nothing else. It looked like pure heaven. Fluffy little balls of ricotta, resting in a bath of buttery, cheesy, thickened pasta water, with a few crispy fried sage leaves, and a light drizzle of browned butter...sigh...perfection. You would think that getting to make the delicious Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi with my class would have satisfied my craving to make and eat them, but no. I was so wildly intrigued by Chef Bloomfield's bizarre method for forming gnudi, that I would literally lie awake each night until I finally got my butt outside to the market to buy some good quality fresh ricotta, to replicate her infamous dish at home. 

What I found so alluring about Chef Bloomfield's gnudi was that it only contained ricotta, parmesan, and salt. That's it. To prevent the gnudi from breaking apart when boiling, Chef Bloomfield has created an unusual method that requires lightly tossing the gnudi in semolina, and then allowing it to rest in what I like to call a "semolina sandbox" for three days. This semolina sandbox step encourages the ricotta dumplings to form a natural shell around them, keeping the soft and fresh ricotta contained within. 
I have to say, though the final dish looks incredibly labour-intensive, Chef Bloomfield's gnudi are actually very simple to prepare. The trick was following Serious Eats slightly adapted method, which kept my hands relatively clean, and got all of my gnudi rolled out in just a few minutes. While Chef Bloomfield used a piping bag to pipe her gnudi mixture into the semolina, and then cut them to size using scissors, Serious Eats recommended spreading out the gnudi mixture in a shallow dish, and setting it aside to chill in the freezer for 15 minutes. This quick chill in the freezer allowed the mixture to firm up just enough so it was easy to handle and form into balls. The other tip they gave was to use a small quick-release cookie scoop to scoop the mixture into the semolina. Genius! This method made making April Bloomfield's gnudi so wonderfully easy to prepare!

After hanging out in their "semolina sandbox" for three days, my gnudi were finally ready to be served! Following Bloomfield's recipe (as shown in this video from Mind of A Chef), I boiled the gnudi for about a minute, and then quickly tossed them in a mixture of pasta water, butter, and parmesan cheese. By gently shaking the pan, the remaining semolina clinging to the gnudi will break off and naturally thicken the pasta water and butter sauce. After only about a minute the gnudi are ready to be plated! Served with a light drizzle of browned butter, crispy fried sage leaves, and a dusting of parmesan, April Bloomfield's Ricotta Gnudi were just as heavenly as expected. Melt in your mouth, fluffy, little balls of heaven! De-lish! The only thing I would change for next time would be to add more fried sage, and perhaps add some sage to the brown butter to infuse its flavour into the sauce, as well as garnishing the dish with toasted pine nuts for crunch.

I encourage you to check out Serious Eats method for making April Bloomfield's Gnudi and give them a try in your own kitchen! Remember to let me know how it went and tweet me on Twitter: @thisgingerrose.