Saturday, February 14, 2015

Gnocchi with Mushroom Cream Sauce

Brought to you by. . . A New Cookbook!

Sometimes (well mostly always), gifts are the best.

To me, gifts are the things you won't buy yourself. I recently went to lunch with two dear friends and had no idea that part of the agenda was to bring belated holiday gifts. Apparently, the challahs I baked in lieu of Christmas cards, made me deserving of tangible objects this year. Both of these friends are "foodies" and I received many wonderful items, including "new" vintage cocktails supplies (shakers and glasses) as well as some wonderful chocolate bars with that special balance between heat and sweet, and some popcorn that I had previously seen on Shark Tank. I also received this new cookbook called "America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook: A Faster, Smarter Way to Cook Everything from America's Most Trusted Test Kitchen".

Now this is one of those examples of a gift being something you won't buy yourself. As a rule I don't buy cookbooks anymore, although now I'm seeing I may have been to harsh with this rule, because with the accessibility to the Internet in all its forms I thought I really didn't need them. I have easy access to the Food Network's host of recipes online and Pinterest offers me a variety of eye candy. . . When we moved I actually purged most of my cookbooks that had been collecting dust with a few exceptions. . . mostly cookbooks with sentimental value and ones that focused strictly on breads. This new cookbook however really is changing my perspective.

If you have ever watched America's Test Kitchen on PBS, you already know the extensive research that they do for you on the show. I feel like I'm doing a commercial but I am not getting paid for this. . . simply watch an episode to see. . . They offer a subscription on their website (see the link) for access to all their recipes and I'm thinking that having the cookbook is just easier. I will give you just one example. . . My husband watched an episode in the summer that featured barbecued ribs. They examined what kind of ribs to use, how to prepare them, how to smoke them, what kind of rub to make, a homemade BBQ sauce that was analyzed and tweaked for the most flavor, etc. etc. They used corn cobs as part of the smoking process with water and showed the viewer how to set it up in the charcoal grill. Hmmm, charcoal grill. . . alas we did not have one as we had used propane for years. Not surprisingly we made our first purchase of a Weber charcoal grill after repeatedly watching the episode and taking notes.

So all this being said, America's Test Kitchen impresses me but it's typically a ton of work to make one of their recipes based on this experience. However, this cookbook features QUICK recipes designed for families so this is a new twist. All of the recipes take less than an hour, from prep to at the table, and I need that. They also feature many shortcuts that I appreciate, teaching you how to do things quicker and actually recommending some store bought items down to the best brand for the recipe.
I have been playing around with several of the recipes to tweak them for our family and taking notes. Anyone that cooks with picky eaters knows that sometimes you make the recipe one time, almost if not 100% exactly as written, but the revise it over time to get it right. I have done that with a couple so far that I will feature over the coming weeks but today, I'm almost going to do it exactly as it's a new one. 

I'm especially interested in this version of Gnocchi because they use the vacuum packed ones that I often buy at Trader Joe's. Not frozen and not dried ones that you typically buy at the grocery store. I have made recipes where you boil them or alternately put them in a skillet with sauce and let them simmer. This recipe asks you to first boil them and then actually put them in a nonstick pan with a little butter to brown them a bit, before adding sauce. I thought that was pretty interesting so we are going to try this tonight. I'm actually typing this first part of my blog article before I cook them as I had some prep work to do ahead of time.

The recipe called for two types of mushrooms. Cremini and porcini mushrooms are used. The cremini mushrooms are often called "baby bellas" and were fresh, only requiring a quick trim at the stems and then slicing them thinly. The porcini mushrooms came dried and had to be rinsed before they were minced. My initial thought was the porcini mushrooms were kind of expensive as it was 6.99 for a little bag of dried nothings, but when I saw that I was getting an ounce (which I know is really nothing) and I only needed a 1/4 ounce for the recipe, I did some quick math. These smell really earthy. The cat came to check them out and he's typically not interested in anything that isn't cheese or meat, so I'm thinking they will add a dimension of flavor to the dish. My mincing was a little difficult to achieve with these dried chewy things but I think it will be okay.

I did have some other "cheats" that perhaps the cooks who created this book may frown upon but I'm always trying to save a little time. I have a confession to make, I hate working with fresh garlic cloves. I'm not very good at it, despite watching countless techniques with knives so I often use the jarred stuff. Yes, I'm admitting it and I'm not ashamed. This recipe also called for shallots and I'm not above using the jarred form of these either. I also am not using my homemade chicken stock for recipes as it takes a lot of time to prepare so I'm cheating with Trader Joe's broth in a box. I do it all the time. Also, no fresh herbs around here, they would never last. Thyme in a jar. Yes a jar, and I don't have any parsley so we are skipping that from the recipe.

Speaking of spices I think I may have an issue but I bet most of you also do if you love food and cooking. Here is my spice rack. . . It started out with the first basic rack on top but over time I have had to add new components to make this work and hold everything. If you squint you may see that they are organized in alphabetical order. Yes, I'm sick that way. I have learned that it really isn't my fault. I recently had to take a S.E.L.F. assessment to determine what personality type I was. I came up with an "E" and of course there are shortcomings with all of the types but I did learn that my "tunnel vision" is completely normal for me and that I like to organize CD's in alphabetical order. So my CD's are spices instead of songs. . .  These things can't be helped sometimes.

Part II: The Actual Recipe

The recipe called for the gnocchi to be cooked first, and then drained and sauteed in a bit of butter. We thought that was interesting, as I mentioned before, and we also decided after tasting the recipe that it was quite good. It added a whole new dimension to the texture and flavor of the dish. While I don't think that I would perhaps make this recipe again, as is, I would definitely use this technique with the gnocchi with other recipes, including a homemade Alfredo sauce. This recipe itself was a little too much like a broth and not a thick sauce.   

While most of the recipes in this book are simple takes on more complicated dishes, I found myself wondering why I had to go through that many steps for a cream sauce. I did like the addition of the porcini mushrooms and will probably add that as a new step or ingredient to my own recipe, but I wouldn't repeat this recipe in the book "as is". I make my own ad hoc Alfredo on a regular basis and even add mushrooms and it's never been this complicated, and it's actually much heartier and flavorful.

The finished dish was not bad, but it was not exemplary. I will definitely use my own recipe next time with some of the new tips I learned. . . I also thought that some grated cheese on top would add garnish and some more flavor so you will see that pictured in my photo.

Tips we learned from this dish to adapt for others:

1. Adding dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed and then minced, to fresh mushrooms for a more earthy flavor.

2. Cooking the vacuum packed gnocchi per directions on the package but sauteing them in butter after before adding to dishes.

3. Sprinkling some flour on the mushrooms as they cooked as a thickening agent (I would note that you can't rely on only that and should make a roux for the actual sauce - that's where I think this recipe went wrong).

Please don't use this post as a criticism of the cookbook. Many of the other recipes in here are very very good. I will post reviews of the two beef dishes we tried once I play around with them a little more. They were delicious!

Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Cream Sauce

From The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook with notes

1 lb. vacuum-packed gnocchi (I use Trader Joe's)
Salt and Pepper
4 Tablespoons Butter
12 oz of creminin mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin (these are often called Baby Bella)
2 shallots minced (I used the kind in the jar)
1/4 oz dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced (jar!)
2 teaspoons all purpose flour (this will not make a roux!)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced (I used jar)
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup white wine
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley (I omitted)

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the gnocchi and cook until the gnocchi are tender, and float to the top, about two minutes. Drain.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 12 inch non-stick skillet (I don't have one with a lid so I used a regular one and it was fine) over medium high heat. Add the gnocchi and cook, stirring occasionally until golden brown, about 5 minutes, transfer to plate.

Melt the remaining butter in the empty skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and shallots and cover, until the mushroom have released their liquid, about 4 minutes (I found it was closer to 7). Uncover and continue to cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are well browned, about five minutes (closer to 10).

Stir in garlic, flour, and thyme, and cook until fragrant about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth, cream and wine and simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly and reduced to about 2 cups, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the browned gnocchi and peas, and cook until well coated and cooked through, about a minute. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and parsley and serve. I added grated cheese instead.

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