Sunday, July 18, 2010

Gnocchi with Spinach, Ham, and Gorgonzola

My kids are entertained with a cartoon right now (well, the boy is at least, the baby is just wandering around playing with whatever he comes across), so I figured I might as well get a little caught up on my blog while I have some peace.

This is another recipe from the America's Test Kitchen 30-Minute Suppers magazine. I had recently cooked a whole ham and of course had a ton of ham leftover from it, so I was very excited when I saw this, especially since all I needed to make it was some spinach.

Gnocchi with Spinach, Ham, and Gorgonzola
From America's Test Kitchen 30-Minute Suppers Summer 2010 Special Issue

1 pound vacuum-packed gnocchi
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 slices deli ham, cut into 1/4-inch strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1 tsp juice from 1 lemon
2 ounces baby spinach

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and gnocchi to boiling water and cook until tender and floating, about 4 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, drain gnocchi, and transfer gnocchi to paper-towel lined plate.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add gnocchi to skillet and cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in ham and cook until it begins to brown, 2-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add reserved cooking water, pine nuts, cheese, and lemon juice to skillet and stir until cheese starts to melt and sauce becomes creamy. Add spinach and stir until just wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.


This was so tasty and so easy!! The baby had three helpings, I couldn't believe it. I ended up using regular blue cheese instead of gorgonzola because I had some on hand already. And I could have sworn I had pine nuts in my freezer, but apparently I used them all. I don't think they would have contributed a ton to the flavor but the texture they would have added would have been a nice touch. We all really liked this, so I'll definitely make it again. In fact I may reserve some of the leftover ham for it!!

Pesto Pasta Salad with Grilled Chicken

It's definitely summer here in Phoenix, with temperatures reaching up to 115 this past week. Ugh. I keep telling myself that I don't live here for the summer, just a few more months and it will be nice again. Meanwhile I'm trying to stay in the a/c as often as much as I can since even our swimming pool isn't refreshing when it's this hot. I'm trying to find light dinners that don't require a lot of heating up my kitchen...things that I can make early in the day, crockpot recipes, or grilled recipes are high on my list right now.

I recently came across a magazine from America's Test Kitchen (you know, the people that publish my beloved Cook's Illustrated magazine?) called "30-Minute Suppers." The salad pictured on the front was enough to get me to buy it, then when I flipped through it more in-depth I was so happy with my purchase. I'd say I want to make 90% of the recipes in the magazine. And since it's a summer edition a lot of the recipes meet my summer cooking criteria mentioned above.

This is one that jumped out at me right away. After reading through the recipe I figured it was something that could be served hot, room temperature, or cold. Fantastic!! And it has flavors that my whole family will eat which is another plus because I hate dinnertime struggles!

Pesto Pasta Salad with Grilled Chicken
From America's Test Kitchen 30-Minute Suppers Summer 2010 Special Issue

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsp juice from 1 lemon
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 3/4 pound)
1 pound fusilli
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3 ounces (about 4 1/2 cups) baby arugula

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Combine pine nuts, cheese, garlic, basil, and lemon juice in food processor and process until smooth, about 10 seconds. With processor running, slowly pour in 2/3 cup olive oil and process until smooth.

Brush chicken with reamining oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over hot fire until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to plate and tent with foil. Wehn cool enough to handle, shred chicken.

Meanwhile, add 1 tablespoon salt and fusilli to boiling water and cook until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, drain fusilli, and rinse fusilli with cold water. Transfer cooked fusilli to large bowl.

Toss pesto, chicken, tomatoes, and arugula with fusilli, adding reserved cooking water as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.


This was so easy to throw together!! I didn't make my own pesto because I had some jarred in the fridge, and I used spinach instead of arugula. I had meant to grill my chicken earlier in the day but got caught up in other things. This is definitely something that could be thrown together early in the day so dinner was ready to go whenever.

By the way, don't forget to keep a bit of the cooking water out to add in to the salad. I remembered once it was too late (i.e. I had poured the pasta out into a colander already), but I think it was fine without it. Next time I'll be sure to keep some of it to see how it compares.

Plum Jam

I feel like I've stepped into a new realm of domesticity--making my own jam. My sister-in-law Lori has a plum tree in her backyard and makes plum jam every summer. We usually get two or three jars from her stash, and let me tell you, we ration those bad boys out to last us a whole year. Safeway had plums on sale recently for a really reasonable price, so I thought to myself, "Why don't I just make plum jam for us and we can have more than just a few jars of it?" So I went and bot a ton of plums. Okay, not a literal ton, but it was just about five pounds. My mother-in-law had given me their plum jam recipe at one point, so I had that to go on, and my mom suggested I talk to my grandma about making jam because she's made A LOT of it over the years.

I headed to Walmart for the necessary supplies after texting some with Lori and getting a tutorial over the phone from my grandma. Walmart has a pretty big canning section which was cool. I bought a box of jars and a canning utensils set which had all the little things I needed:

I thought my friend Jen might want in on the jam making action, and sure enough she did. So Friday afternoon after we took our kids to Peter Piper Pizza for lunch (and to blow off some energy running around since it's too insanely hot here for them to play outside), we got started on the jam making endeavor. Lori had said they follow the directions in the Sure Jell packet, so that's what we did. I had to read through it several times before it made sense, so I'm hoping I can make my directions here slightly clearer. Keep in mind, this is just for plum jam but the instructions in the Sure Jell box had instructions for just about every kind of jam you could imagine, so consult that if you want to do something different. The Sure Jell website has all the recipes on there, too.

Plum Jam

6 cups prepared fruit (about 4 lb. fully ripe plums)
1/2 cup water
1 box SURE.JELL Fruit Pectin
1/2 tsp. butter or margarine (optional)
8 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl (See tip below.)

Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.

Pit plums but do not peel. Finely chop or grind fruit. Place fruit in saucepan; add water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 5 min. Measure exactly 6 cups prepared fruit into 6- or 8-qt. saucepot.

Stir pectin into fruit in saucepot. Add butter to reduce foaming, if desired. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches; add boiling water if needed.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 min. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)


Okay, the directions from the website (what you just read above) were a lot easier than what was in the package of pectin, probably because that one has generic instructions for all fruits whereas this was specific to plum jam.

Anyway, instead of chopping up the plums we put them through the food grinder attachment I have for my KitchenAid mixture. It worked great!! We cut the plums in halves or quarters and then just stuck them in there and let the mixer do the work for us. I'm all for outsourcing or automating what I can.

And after jam instructional call with my grandma, I decided to skip the water bath step at the end. She said in all her years of making jam (which is a lot) she'd never done that because she figured you cook the fruit initially so why do that step. Her jam was always fantastic, so I figured I'd skip it too. Plus then I didn't have to buy the special canning pot and rack. I'm also all for saving money when I can!

We kind of goofed up a little because I had looked at the jelly section originally, not jam, so we ended up using too many plums. I measured out how much we had after the plums had cooked and found we had eight cups instead of six, so we did a little math to figure out how much extra sugar we'd need and added that so we didn't waste any. And then once everything was mixed into the pot Jen says, "You know, we didn't add any extra Sure Jell." Oops. We figured at worst it would just be a little runny but still edible.

The husband decided to make breakfast yesterday morning and we topped our toast with some of the jam. Fan-freakin-tastic, as Jen would say!!! It was so good. And it wasn't at all runny, I was pleasantly surprised. The only thing I would change the next time I make jam (and there will be a next time!) is to use the low sugar Sure Jell because seeing a mixing bowl with eight cups of sugar (actually it ended up being over 10 cups) was just disgusting. Apparently that's the recipe Lori uses, I just forgot about that when I went to buy my Sure Jell.

I'm pretty much hooked on canning now after this jam experiment. I can't wait to make more jam, and I want to try making pickles, and I may try canning pasta sauce, too. I tell you, I'm hooked! It also motivates me to have a garden next year because how awesome (and incredibly domestic) would it be to can the fruit and vegetables that I grow?!

But I draw that line at owning livestock.

Here's Jen putting the plums through the grinder:

Our "chopped" plums:

Fruit with sugar and pectin added:

Finished jam...yum!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Grilled Whole Trout

We went out of town for the 4th of July weekend with my mom to a cabin up in northern AZ. It was fantastic!! The cabin was right on a pretty big creek, and my boys (including the husband) had a great time playing in it--fishing, shoveling mud, splashing, throwing rocks. It was an amazing, relaxing weekend.

Not far from the cabin was a trout farm. The boy and husband have gone fishing at a park near our house quite a few times, but they've never caught anything. We figured taking the boy to the trout farm would be a great way for him to catch his first fish. And it was! He ended up catching three (with the husband's help, of course) and was so pleased with himself for catching dinner for his family. It was so sweet listening to him tell me how it was going to be the best fish ever and how he was so happy he could get dinner for his family. I heart that boy so much!

I haven't cooked much fish (or rather I always stick to the same kinds because I know what I'm doing), so I had to do some Googling to figure out the best way to cook rainbow trout. I found an article on on grilling them whole and then found a very basic recipe on I hadn't really thought about grilling the fish and how to do it when we were at the grocery store earlier that day, but thankfully we had a lemon and some butter with us at the cabin.

Grilled Whole Trout

Fresh trout, cleaned with heads & tails left on

Place several pats butter and several slices fresh lemon in trout cavity. Spray aluminum foil with non-stick spray. Wrap trout with foil. Grill 8 to 10 minutes on each side, depending on size of fish.


Our trout weren't very big, so we had some cheese hot dogs to go along with this, as there wasn't enough to feed three adults and two children (one of which generally eats the same amount as an adult). Don't judge us. Thankfully the trout farm folks cleaned the fish for us. The husband had figured he'd do it, which was good because that is not in my skillset. My dad used to always clean the fish I caught. I view it as a man's job.

Anyway, this was a really, easy, simple way to prepare a whole fish, and the fish tasted fantastic!! My boy did a great job picking us three tasty fish for dinner. I assume that the only real time I'll be cooking trout is if he takes another trip to the trout farm, but I would definitely use this again! Make sure you spray the foil with non-stick spray. It would be very, very ugly if you didn't, and there's a good chance you wouldn't get a whole lot of meat from your fish.

And now, some pictures.

The first fish!

Fishing is a patience game, you know.

Our three rainbow trout, ready for the grill.

"Mom, can I touch its eye?"

To change things up a bit...a picture of me grilling the fish. Okay, okay, and opening the package of cheese dogs.

The finished product...after I took out the bones and all that. It was actually really easy to do. I was able to pull up on the spine a little and the whole skeleton came out of the fish. Weird and gross, but convenient.

And, the cheese dogs. I wouldn't want them to feel left out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bacon Salted Caramel Brownies

Did you just do a double take at the title of this blog post? Because when I first saw the recipe I sure did. Bacon?! Caramel?! Brownie?! Yes, please!!

My friend Jen told me recently that the Pioneer Woman's cooking website,, had added a section for brownies and bars and there were some good looking recipes. So I went to check it out for myself. Lordy mama, were there ever some good looking recipes!! These pretty much had me at bacon (of course, just about anything that starts out with the word bacon has me).

As an aside, my brother and husband invented this whole bacon/chocolate craze that's happening right now. Or at least the three of us are sure they did. We were at a restaurant for brunch for my grandma's 90th birthday, and they had one of those chocolate fountains. My brother--the vegetarian--dared my husband to dip a piece of bacon in the chocolate fountain and he'd give him $1. I've mentioned before that we're bacon lovers in our house, so of course he went for it. Apparently they got quite a few strange looks at the fountain, but not long after that there were articles all over the place about the bacon and chocolate combo. I have to assume that some foodie of some sort was there for brunch that day, saw their concoction and made it their own.

Now, back to the brownies. I'm not a baker...too much measuring and too many dishes to clean up afterwards it always seems. But these had me. I had never before in my life made caramel, nor had I made brownies from scratch (at least I don't think I have). But I decided from the title (and pictures) alone, these were going to be worth the trouble.

Bacon Salted Caramel Brownies
From and

For the Bacon Caramel:
2 slices bacon
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 c. sugar
6 T. salted butter

In a small saucepan, fry two slices of bacon until crisp (I find it’s easiest to do this when the bacon is cut in half). Remove bacon, set aside, reserving bacon grease in the pan. Add cream to hot pan and let cool. When bacon is cool, crumble or chop finely.

In a larger pan, heat the sugar over high heat until the mixture is liquid and a deep amber color. Add the butter and the cooled bacon cream all at once, and stir until the butter is melted. Add the chopped bacon and let the mixture cool thoroughly.

For the brownies:
8 T salted butter, cut into pieces
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. flour
Salted Bacon Caramel

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line an 8 inch square pan with two sheets of aluminum foil that covers the bottom and sides of the pan. Grease the foil with butter or a little Baker’s Joy.
In a large microwaveable bowl, melt the butter and the chocolate together in the microwave (start with 30 seconds, and stir thoroughly, then microwave for 10 seconds at a time, stirring between each bout of nuking, until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the butter) (You can also melt them together over the stove). Add the cocoa and whisk until smooth, then add in the eggs, one at a time, and the sugar, vanilla and finally the flour. Stir only until combined.

Scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan. Then drop about a third of the bacon caramel, evenly spaced, over the brownie batter in the pan. It doesn’t have to cover the whole batter, but should be in splotches. Spread the remaining brownie batter over the top, then drop spoonfuls of the remaining caramel sauce over the top of the brownies and swirl.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, but err on the side of underbaking. Remove from the oven and cool completely. The caramel will be pretty gooey still, so you might want to wait to cut these until just prior to serving, and/or store in the refrigerator.

Cut into small pieces and enjoy the gooey, salted caramel bacon goodness.


Let me first say that I got roped into making breakfast as I was working on these since I was already cooking bacon. This recipe took me just about all morning to prepare, but in my defense there is a lot of cooling involved. It worked out because we were getting ready to go out of town for the weekend, so I'd do a step or two, then work on packing or making something else to take along.

I didn't change any of this because I don't typically make changes when baking since it's so finicky. I loved the idea of putting foil in the pan to make the clean-up (and brownie removal process) easier. Oh, and I just used chocolate chips instead of having to chop up some chocolate myself.

When I took these out of the oven I was worried I had over-baked them. I checked on the pan at 35 minutes and it still seemed really gooey and wet, so I put them back in for another seven minutes. Then I was worried they were too done, but they weren't at all.

Man alive...these were some of the best brownies--nay, dessert/treat--I have ever had. I sampled one (of course) before we left for our trip and was astounded. Then that night when we got to the cabin, the husband, my mom, and I all had a little amuse bouche of brownie. It took a whole lot of self control to not sit there and eat the whole pan. The bits of bacon were almost like toffee bits, you couldn't really tell they were bacon, just a little something crunchy mixed in with everything else. The brownies themselves were so dense and rich and chocolatey. Wow. These were definitely a major pain in the ass to make, but they were totally worth it. I may make them again next week for my last bible study.

I took some pictures of the process.

Bacon grease + heavy cream = heart attack in a saucepan

The caramel process...

Sugar in a saucepan. Really? This is going to turn into caramel?

I was still pretty skeptical at this point.

Wow, look at that!! Caramel!!

Creamy, caramely, bacony goodness in a pan...

Brownie batter:

First layer of brownie + middle caramel layer = (see picture)

And this is when I was worried I had baked them for too long...but I didn't. They were just fine. And honestly even if they sucked I probably would have eaten them anyway for all the time and effort I put into them!

I figured since I was somewhere scenic with the brownies I might as well take a scenic picture of them. I guess it's not super scenic since the background is blurry. That's one of Jen's babies in the background, by the way.