June 21, 2008
Plum pretty – purple sweet potato gnocchi with cardamom brown butter
While shopping at the Korean grocery store (that’s H-Mart for my peeps in the know) yesterday, I saw a sign marked “purple yams” atop what appeared to be innocuous white-skinned sweet potatoes. Naturally, I had to buy some, even though I had no idea how I was going to prepare them. Once home, I did a bit of research and discovered that they are not purple yams, which have a dark purple skin, but are in fact purple Okinawan sweet potatoes. They have an earthier smell than common sweet potatoes and are less sweet. I had to think a bit on how to prepare them and dismissed the most traditional ways (baked, mashed or in pie) since all of those methods just scream autumn and winter. I settled on gnocchi since pasta is always in season.
Now I have been cooking for my husband for over 10 years and he obviously has been very-well fed during that time. He doesn’t give out praise lightly and most of the time it seems he’s a bit too blasé for my liking about my culinary offerings. I am happy to say he absolutely raved about this meal.
The subtle, earthy sweetness in the potato meets the cardamom and mace as equals, with neither spice nor sweetness claiming dominance. The texture is lighter than regular gnocchi due to the ricotta and the dusting of freshly grated parmesan cheese immediately before serving elevates this dish into something unforgettable.
purple Okinawan sweet potato
Purple Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Cardamom Brown Butter
2 – 2 ½ lbs. purple sweet potatoes (or regular sweet potatoes) cleaned and pierced all over with fork
1 C. fresh ricotta cheese, drained
½ C. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs. brown sugar
1 tsp. + ½ tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground mace
about 2 C. all-purpose flour
1 stick (½ c.) butter
Place sweet potatoes in large microwave-proof bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, making a slit to allow steam to escape. Microwave on high until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Cut in half and cool. Scrape soft sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash or put through potato ricer. (I do not have a ricer, so I zapped it in the food processor for a few minutes to get all the chunks out).
Add ricotta cheese; blend well. Add Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, salt, 1 teaspoon of cardamom and mace; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.
May 18, 2008
The mother of all stains is a Sharpie mark (good luck with that one), but second only to that are kim chi stains. Spaghetti sauce? Hah! Mere child’s play. Anyone who has had the pleasure of eating kim chi knows the true second burn: finding that tiny vermilion drip on your pants or shirt as you throw it into the laundry. And then finding that same stain undiminished after it comes out of the wash. After three or four washes, you pretty much resign yourself to the fact that that unflaggingly red stain is now a permanent part of your wardrobe.
Despair no longer! Here’s the simple trick to getting out kim chi and any tomato-based stains. Simply place the stained clothes in direct sunlight for several hours. I usually wash the clothes and then place it outside still damp, but inside by a very sunny window will do the trick. The problem I’ve found with placing it outside is the other things that fall on it (leaves, pollen, etc.), forcing me to wash it yet again. The stain will disappear like magic. I promise.
The downside to my kids’ love of Korean food: kim chi stains on their clothes.
Here’s my daughter’s shirt after a couple of washes – the stain did not budge even after direct scrubbing with my first line of defense (Shout gel, Fels Naptha soap, Oxiclean soak).
Her shirt after a couple of hours in the sun. The hard part was waiting for a sunny day.
May 11, 2008
We’ve been watching a robin family in one of our bushes for the past few weeks gathering twigs for a nest in preparation for their soon-to-be hatchlings. The children love getting a peak at the nest and the lovely blue eggs.
Mama robin keeps her eggs warm. She looks like she’s smiling, no?
The newest addition to the flora and fauna of our yard, hatched just yesterday.
Is that mama I hear?
Happy mother’s day to all mothers, great and small.
May 10, 2008
Drool-worthy: not my kitchen.
I recently picked my daughter up at a birthday party and I was taken aback to see she was crying. My attempts to get to the bottom of it was met with complete resistance. Her entire vocabulary seemed to have been whittled down to “I don’t know” and “I can’t explain.” But as it often happens, bedtime hugs and snuggles were the pick to the lock of the secrets of the day.
“I was … *sniff* … jealous, “ she wailed. Not of the fact that it was someone else’s birthday (she’s a veteran of at least 50 birthday parties with nary a glisten in her eye), but of its fabulousness. The party was held at her home, you know, one of those typical suburban McMansions (the irony that people who use the term McMansion are those who cannot afford to live in a McMansion is not lost on the writer), with 34 of her closest friends. I couldn’t physically have 35 seven year olds in my house (well, I suppose I could, but only with the aid of a Xanax). And the party favors - well, let’s just say the hostess spent more of the favor than I did on the gift.
It was such a raw, open statement, breath-taking in its simplicity and honesty. It was the kind of statement that most people spend the rest of their lives diligently avoiding saying unless lying on a couch and paying someone to listen to them. I kissed her for her bravery and told her it’s natural to feel jealous, but you can’t burst into tears every time someone has something better than you (otherwise I’d have mascara running down my face every time I walked past Williams-Sonoma or Neiman Marcus). We talked about how blessed we are and how there will always be people who have better, faster, more expensive things than us. And of the many, many more who have much less than us.
In that funny way the stars can align, I read this article after I put my daughter to bed (still slightly weepy – she is nothing if not dramatic). But we all need to acknowledge the seven-year-old in all of us whenever the green-eyed monster bubbles up. For me, it’s when I walk into the take-out queens’ gourmet kitchens the size of the entire first floor of my house. I just say hello to it and then beat it down with my Le Creuset Dutch oven. That sucker’s heavy.
April 29, 2008
DIY California Rolls
I’ve decided to feature my children’s favorite meals this week, starting with my daughter’s. She has always had a fairly sophisticated palate, choosing an aged Asiago over American, a hard crusty Italian bread over Wonderbread, chorizo before a hot dog, and freshly steamed hard shell crabs over fish sticks. So what does this little foodie say is her favorite meal? California rolls. Ok, I know California rolls are to sushi lovers what beefaroni is to pasta gourmets, but she’s seven. And I serve it family style, meaning everyone makes their own, which she adores. I offered to make the real deal for her birthday, rolling and cutting into the traditional individual pieces. Nope – not interested. She wanted to make her own, as she always has done.
Serendipitously, this also happens to be a no-cook dinner (other than the rice, which I don’t even count as cooking since I have a rice cooker). You do have to season the cooked rice, and the only other “cooking” is the miso soup, which I usually serve with California rolls. You can buy the dry soup packets and just add boiling water. I make my miso soup with miso paste, water, tofu and a garnish of scallions – it takes all of 3 minutes. Once you cut up the cucumbers, imitation crab meat, avocados and nori, dinner is ready!
Make your own California rolls
2-3 ripe avocados
8 oz. imitation crab meat sticks (about 10)
1 English (seedless) cucumber
8 sheets of nori
2 C. seasoned sushi rice
soy sauce for dipping
prepared wasabi for soy sauce
Cut avocados and cucumbers into strips about 3 inches long, 1/4 inch wide. Shred or cut crab meat into about 3 pieces per stick, also about 1/4 inch wide. Using scissors, cut nori sheets into quarters. Place each ingredient (avocado, cucumber, crab meat, nori, and rice) onto its own plate. Everyone takes their own nori, puts a bit of rice, one piece of cucumber, crab and avocado on it. Roll it up and dip in wasabi soy sauce.
Seasoned Sushi Rice
2 – 2 1/2 C. cooked Japanese or Korean rice
3 Tbs. rice vinegar
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
Once the rice is cooked, let cool slightly. Mix in rice vinegar, sugar and salt. Mix well and serve in California rolls immediately.
April 24, 2008
Will Smith wows his future employer with his ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube.
My son received a Rubik’s Cube for Easter and I spent the better part of the day fiddling with it. Back in the 7th grade, I could solve one side and that was pretty much the upper limit of my spatial manipulation skills. I was chagrined to discover I hadn’t progressed much past that point. I suppose my renewed interest in the perverse puzzle stems from my recent viewing of The Pursuit of Happyness in which Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith) solves the cube in a suspenseful taxi ride to his prospective employer’s house. The employer is so impressed he gives Gardner his proverbial foot in the door (Gardner eventually made millions at Bear Stearns – good thing he got out while the going was good).
Nowadays, the Rubik’s Cube comes with the solution in the package. The problem, however, is that it’s written in Cyrillic (or something very similar to it) and I simply could not decipher the cryptic abbreviations. So for all my diligent manipulations, the Cube sat forlornly for weeks with only a few sides solved.
The other day, I decided to google how to solve the Rubik’s Cube. I just needed someone to show me what Ri – F – Ti – R – B looked like, and as expected, there were plenty of videos on the web of young men sitting in front of their computers flipping and turning their Cubes at dizzying speeds. As fascinating as it was watching the twenty-ninth Youtube video of compugeek solving it in under 30 seconds, I just wanted to learn how to solve it myself. I like this video series since it’s pretty straightforward, he doesn’t move too quickly, and you only have to memorize five patterns (or algorithms).
And so I did finally learn to solve the Rubik’s Cube. In breakneck speeds of just under four minutes. Maybe if I put some WD-40 on it, I might be able to shave off a few seconds…
On a sidenote, I had taken the solved Cube and made this pattern to show the kids:
I later decided I needed some more practice and I tossed it to my son and told him to go mess it up. I came back, and it looked like this:
He’s four. Does this count as the essay portion of the early admission application to MIT?
March 28, 2008
My first grader came home with directions for her very first big school project. Nowadays, one would think the teacher would be asking for a multimedia PowerPoint presentation, a couple of digital pictures downloaded from the internet, interpretive dance perhaps? Apparently, what old is new – remember dioramas? You know, those flimsy shoeboxes filled with low-tech cardboard animals that bring back memories of plaid polyester pants and “Free to Be You and Me”? Those things you thought went the way of the Dodo bird, or at least, Betamax video tapes.
Handmade is the key, it seems, and the closer to nature is closer to the highest grade on the rubric. So off to the craft store we went, and eschewing those cool little pre-made trees and plastic animals, we headed straight for the modeling clay and pipe cleaners. In what was proving to be a more difficult endeavor, we managed to find an old shoebox hidden deep in the bowels of my closet since any cardboard boxes that enter our house get recycled immediately.
My daughter chose to do a desert scene, and after a trip to the beach to get some sand, we were truly ready to start (ok, I know they sell sand at the craft store, but any excuse to go to the beach – even in 40 degree weather). A little search on the internet for desert animals and H. was ready to start her career as the next Rodin. (Just a word to the wise – when searching Yahoo Images for camels, you might want to have your child leave the room. Apparently, “camel toe” is much more highly searched for than plain old “camels.”)
The final product. Hopefully she will be able to pass the oral defense portion of the project.