Monday, November 16, 2015

Ricotta Pumpkin Gnocchi

     Last year, while on a trip to Rome, Dear Daughter's culinary experience hit a new high.  We were dining in a small, uncrowded restaurant on our first day in Rome, and she was determined to have gnocchi for lunch.  I am not sure why she was so determined.  It could have been because of discussions she had with her best friend, who was from Italy.  It could have been that it was just something new to try.  Regardless of the reason, she had her gnocchi and dining at an Italian restaurant has never been the same.  If gnocchi is on the menu, then you know that will be her choice.  When she recently heard a friend explain how she helps her mom make gnocchi at Christmas, she shot me a look as if to say, "Why can't you make it?"  The dare was on...

     The dare might be on but so was almost a full container of ricotta cheese.  I cannot remember why I needed it but from the looks of the opened container, I had only needed about a tablespoon.  What was I going to do with the other two cups?  Then, there was the small pumpkin sitting on my counter.  It had arrived in last week's CSA shipment and was too small for many dishes.  A flash of pure culinary brilliance came to me...seriously...why not try to make Ricotta Pumpkin Gnocchi?  I had heard that ricotta gnocchi was easier to make than the potato based version.  Who cares that I cannot make pastry dough or pizza dough?  Who cares that I am not a big fan of gnocchi?  I was on a culinary make my kid proud.

     I learned that the key to a good gnocchi is to make it light - you don't want to be eating tiny bowling balls.  That meant that the flour content had to be kept at a bare minimum.  Too little and the dough would not come together.  Too much and the dough would be much too heavy.  I was amazed at how fast the dish came together.  A little music wafting through the kitchen, a small glass of red wine and I was in the Italian zone!  The finished product was served in a browned butter sage sauce and Dear Daughter declared it a winner!

Ricotta Pumpkin Gnocchi

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Salade Lyonnaise


     While many restaurants were offering deals yesterday for veterans, I decided to make a special lunch at home for our veteran.  This is one of my favorite lunch salads.  It is simple, fast and slightly decadent.  

     As it names indicates, this salad originated in Lyon, France.  It is a popular menu item in French Bouchons, which are small restaurants that specialize in comfort food.  The hardest part of this salad is poaching the eggs, but Mark Bittman, formerly of the NY Times has a foolproof method.  This is a great fall lunch or even a light dinner, especially when served with a nice French wine, a baguette and a dessert of French cheeses.  And yes, it was worthy of my special Dijon mustard!

Salade Lyonnaise

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Orecchiette with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon


     It is Brussels sprouts season!

     Ok, I have actually only had Brussels sprouts on two occasions.  However, my latest CSA shipment contained a bag of these little green things!  Not wanting anything to go to waste, I was bound and determined to find a recipe that the whole family would enjoy.  I think I did just that although I will admit, it is not my own recipe.

     But first things first...did you know that the correct spelling is actually Brussels (with an "s") and the B must be capitalized?  Did you know that this vegetable is named after Brussels, Belgium?  They were actually first cultivated in Belgium way back in the 1500's.  And, yes, they are part of the cabbage family.  Brussels sprouts are very high in fiber and in Vitamin C.  So, there you go...your history lesson for today.

     Now, on to the recipe which is easy enough for a Monday dinner.  Of course, I suppose you could eliminate the bacon and have a vegetarian option but in my family, bacon rules!

Orecchiette with Brussels Sprouts

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Pork with Camembert Sauce


     Continuing on my mustard theme, I have actually had this recipe since 2004 and had never tried it.  For years, it sat in a recipe book that I kept in our apartment in Brittany.  With the sale of the apartment, the recipe came back with us.  For Sunday evening's meal, I decided it was high time to give it a try.  I had waited much too long.

     With our weekly CSA shipment, we also get cheese made from one of many local creameries.  The cheese has been outstanding and the deli drawer in our refrigerator is bursting with cheese!  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  A few weeks ago, we received a camembert style cheese and while nothing can top camembert from Normandy, France, this was quite excellent.

     What I loved most about putting this dish together was that the main ingredients came from our local area.  The pork came Clarion River Farms just about an hour north of here.  The cream - from Brunton Dairy in Aliquippa.  The cheese - from...  The fingerling potatoes that we served alongside - from Clarion River Organics.  Good products make for a delicious meal.

     Pork tenderloin would be ideal for this dish but I had bone-in pork chops so we used them and I would do it again.  Once the meat is cooked, the sauce comes together quite easily.  

Pork with Camembert Sauce

Monday, November 2, 2015


     I love mustard.     Right now, as we speak, I have four containers of open mustard in my refrigerator.  In the pantry, I have an additional seven different kinds of mustard.  Each of these has a purpose.  Now, Dear Husband could devour spoonfuls of mustard.  I, on the other hand, prefer just a little...a little goes a long way.

     Outside of these two mustards, my stash came back with me from Europe.  Now, why would I bring so many different kinds of mustard back to the United States where we already have mustard?  I brought them back for two main reasons:  There is a tremendous variety of mustards in Europe and it tends to be super cheap.  So, why not fill a suitcase? (I didn't and now I wish I had!) I am not knocking U.S. mustard.  French's mustard is a must for hotdogs.   The mustard section in any German, French or Belgian grocery store is expansive.  Seriously, even the smallest of stores will carry close to twenty different varieties of mustard.  The price?  Pennies.  Yes, pennies.  I rarely spent over a Euro for a container of mustard...and my all time favorite...cost 71 cents for a large jar!

Mustard, Mustard, Mustard
     German mustards (senf) are particularly good with sausages.  They have different heat levels.  Susser senf is a sweet mild mustard that is particularly good with weisswurst.  Delikatess senf is a medium-heat senf, which is absolutely devine with the classic fest dish - Brotchen mit bratwurst - a grilled bratwurst sandwiched between a crusty roll.  A huge container of mustard sits next to a food truck and you put on as much as you desire.  Finally, there is Scharfer senf, which is smooth and sharp.  Taste just a bit at first or your mouth will feel like it is on fire.  Again, a little goes a long way.
They even tell you on the label that it is Sauce for Smoked Salmon!

     I have two other favorite German mustards.  First is Senf-Dill sauce.  This is heavenly when paired with smoked salmon, a favorite brunch dish of ours.  The mustard is a bit sweet with a hint of heat and the dill compliments the salmon quite well.  You can do no better than Feige Senf Sauce, a fig mustard sauce, which when served with cheese, elevates the dish to new levels.

Feige Senf Sauce is perfect with cheese!
      We  know that Dijon mustard hails from Dijon, France.  Unfortunately, having been to Dijon, there are no more mustard producers in the area, the last factory closed down in 2009.  Today, 80% of the seeds used to make Dijon mustard comes from Canada!    However, that did not stop us one year from visiting the Maille Boutique in center Dijon.  Seriously, a boutique dedicated to mustard!  Here, they have an unbelievable selection of mustards on tap.  You can sample to your heart's content, then select your favorite to be packaged in a special jar.  Yes, it is a bit touristy but fun and I guarantee you what you will sample an amazing amount of varieties.

     When we lived in Belgium, we were in the French speaking part of the country and most of the grocery stores carried French products.  We did find a unique mustard shop in Ghent, Tierenteyn Mustard Shop.  This mustard originated in 1790 and the same recipe is used today.  In fact, the shop has only had two locations, Groentenmarkt 2 and from 1862, Groentenmarkt 3 - right next door.  The mustard is made on site and since they grind mustard seeds two to three times a week, you can be assured that the mustard you taste is not more than three days old.  You pick the size jar and they fill it up.  Yummy...but unfortunately, only available in the store.

Tierenteyn Mustard from Brugge

     For sandwiches, I particularly like mayonnaise that has been mixed with a little Dijon.  My favorite grocery store in France, Hyper U has a wonderful variety.  Here in the U.S., I think Trader Joe's has a super version.  Slice a baguette, spread on some of this deliciousness... top with ham, cheese, arugula and tomatoes and that, my friends is scrumptious.

Mayonnaise mixed with Dijon Mustard - great for sandwiches

     But my absolute all time favorite is Moutarde Forte from Hyper U.  This large jar costs less than a dollar.  It is particularly good when used in a vinaigrette or cream sauce.  Forte means strong and it is.  I managed to bring home two large jars and over the weekend, I broke down and opened the second one.  It was a bittersweet opening. While I couldn't wait to use it, I knew it was the last one.  So instructions went out to the family...this is special occasion mustard!  No dipping spoons in there! 

My absolute favorite - Moutarde Forte from Hyper U

     Since I love mustard so much, it felt totally appropriate to begin collecting old mustard containers.  My favorite flea market is the Waterloo market in Belgium.  On many Sunday mornings, I would leave my warm bed early in the morning and meet up with friends to search for "treasures". The top row are my cute little jars that once contained French mustard.  The bottom row are old stoneware containers that originally came from Germany.

My collection of mustard jars

     So there it ode to my favorite condiment.  On Thursday, I will share a wonderful and easy recipe, which was totally worthy of my Hyper U mustard.