Cucumber Sandwiches

Appetizers and Starters, Recipes

Good heavens! Lane! Why are there no cucumber sandwiches?

Cucumber Sandwiches

Cucumber Sandwiches

For some reason, of all the scenes in the opening act of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, the cucumber sandwiches were the most memorable to me. And now, English afternoon tea is just not complete without a tray of gorgeous, refreshing cucumber sandwiches. Elegant in their three-ingredient simplicity, cucumber sandwiches traditionally consist of thinly sliced white bread, paper thin slices of fresh cucumber, and butter.

Perfect for afternoon tea

Perfect for afternoon tea

We recently came into some fresh cucumbers from our friend’s garden, so I decided to grab Kewpie sweet mayonnaise in lieu of butter, a loaf of Japanese white bread, and steep a pot of Earl Grey. A very thin layer of the sweet mayo prevents the cucumber from making the bread soggy and adds a hint of tartness.

Ingredients:

The Ingredients

Ingredients:

White bread

Cucumbers

Kewpie Mayonnaise (or unsalted butter)

Cucumber slices, ready for action!

Cucumber slices, ready for action!

Peel and slice the cucumber as thinly as possible. You could save some time and use a mandoline if you have one.

Mmm... mayo

Mmm… mayo

Drizzle about 1 teaspoon of the sweet Japanese mayo onto a slice of bread. Spread evenly, all the way to the edges. If you have any “extra,” scrape it off and slather onto a second slice.

Arrange the cucumber slices

Arrange the cucumber slices

Arrange slices of cucumber in a single layer.

Cut off the crusts, just like elementary school lunches

Cut off the crusts, just like elementary school lunches

Top with the second slice of bread and cut off the crusts.

Serve the triangles on a platter

Serve the triangles on a platter

Cut the sandwich on the diagonal twice, making four dainty triangles.

TARDIS blend from Adagio Tea - a blend of earl grey, vanilla, and blackberry

TARDIS blend from Adagio Tea – a blend of earl grey, vanilla, and blackberry

Pour yourself a cup of tea, switch on BBC America to the latest episode of Doctor Who (unveiling of the Twelfth Doctor, anyone?), and enjoy afternoon tea with this Japanese twist on a British classic. Keep calm and carry on, my friends.

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Potato Gnocchi

Appetizers and Starters, Main Dishes, Recipes

Gnocchi. Nyo-kee. More than just a funny-sounding word for an Italian dumpling, gnocchi are fluffy pillows of potato or ricotta based dough swimming in sauces that vary from a simple brown butter to a rich bolognese. It is one of our favorite dishes to order when we go out for Italian, especially at places notorious for their homemade pasta. Finally one day, Martin had the brilliant idea to try making gnocchi ourselves.

Potato Gnocchi alla Arrabiatta

Potato Gnocchi alla Arrabiatta

As it turned out, making the gnocchi dough was relatively easy – considerably less finicky than semolina pasta dough. It does take some time to bake and cool the potatoes, but I think it’s worth having to plan ahead; baking yields a better dough texture than boiling does.

Ingredients:

2 pounds of russet potatoes

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 egg yolks

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt

(Thank you to Simply Recipes for the ingredient proportions and the crucial tip to bake instead of boil the potatoes!)

Potatoes: ready for the oven

Potatoes: ready for the oven

Scrub the potatoes under running water, leaving the skins on. Stab the potatoes all around with a fork, the way you would when baking sweet potatoes. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, arrange the potatoes equidistant from each other, and bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour.

Time to cool the potatoes!

Time to cool the potatoes!

When the potatoes are tender and the skins have started to wrinkle and pull away, transfer to a cooling rack and slice them open down the middle to let the steam escape. I waited about 15-20 minutes until the potatoes were still warm but cool enough to handle.

Using a potato ricer

Using a potato ricer

Remove the potatoes from their skins and either mash with a fork or strain through a potato ricer into a large bowl.

The dough ingredients

The dough ingredients

Add the two egg yolks , lightly beaten, and the flour and salt to the potatoes.

Ball of gnocchi dough

Ball of gnocchi dough

Stir to combine but do not overwork the dough or the gnocchi will be tough and dense instead of light and fluffy. The mixture should just start to form a doughy ball.

Rolling out the dough

Rolling out the dough

Lightly dust a cutting board with all purpose flour. Working with a handful of dough at a time, gently roll out a tube about the size of a breadstick.

Cutting the dough

Cutting the dough

Using a sharp paring knife, cut the rolled out dough into small pieces, about 1 inch long.

Rolling the gnocchi on a gnocchi board

Rolling the gnocchi on a gnocchi board

We have a gnocchi board, but you could also use the back of a dinner fork to roll out the gnocchi. Whichever you choose, be sure to flour it so your gnocchi don’t stick. Holding the board (or fork) at a 45 degree angle, start the gnocchi at the top and press down and forward with your thumb. It is hard to describe, but you are essentially smearing the dough so that rolls over on top of itself as demonstrated in this how-to video we found on Youtube.

Our dumpling army

Our dumpling army

Set your finished gnocchi aside on a floured baking sheet and repeat until you use up all of the dough.

Just wait until they float!

Just wait until they float!

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the gnocchi in batches, maybe two handfuls at a time. They will be done when they float. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and transfer to a serving dish or individual bowls.

The next batches, patiently waiting

The next batches, patiently waiting

Just top with your favorite sauce — we used a simple arrabiatta made with garlic, white wine, canned San Marzano tomatoes, and dried red pepper flakes. The ridges are great for catching the sauce, and each gnocco is a tender, pillowy cloud of potato goodness.

Our gnocchi cooking station

Our gnocchi cooking station

Writing this entry made me crave a warm, hearty bowl of gnocchi again… I think my next experiment will be a sweet potato gnocchi with a sage brown butter sauce. Will report back on how that goes!

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our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. While Martin and I have made fresh pasta on many occasions, making our own gnocchi had always been just another item on our Bucket List until recently. In retrospect, it is a bit ironic that the small wooden gnocchi board was a more intimidating piece of equipment than our Marcato pasta maker.

This month is hosted by Stacey at The Veggie Mama.

Cheers!

Sriracha Shrimp Skewers

Appetizers and Starters, Main Dishes, Recipes

We love having friends over for food and drinks and merriment, so a summer barbecue for Independence Day was inevitable. As we planned out our spread, we knew we wanted to serve up our copycat Father’s Office burgers, zesty tequila-lime chicken (recipe to come), and shrimp. Hm. Shrimp. Our brains were riddled with question marks as to the marinade and the idea of “Oh, butter, lemon, and herbs will be fine… it’s a classic combination!” relentlessly gripped my train of thought. But with our other two fancified proteins on the menu, we wanted the shrimp to stand out too. Cue, sriracha.

Sriracha Shrimp

Sriracha Marinated Shrimp

Sriracha. An Asian bottled hot sauce made popular here in the States by David Tran of Huy Fong Foods, sriracha has been a critical household ingredient in my family since before I was born. My parents always had a bottle sitting in the refrigerator, always the Huy Fong one with the rooster and the iconic green cap. Known in Vietnamese as tương ớt (or “pepper sauce”), I only ate sriracha with pho and occasionally to spice up other Asian dishes like fried rice or non-pho noodle soups. It wasn’t until I moved to LA for college that I even saw a bottle of sriracha anywhere other than an Asian restaurant. In fact, it was EVERYWHERE – the dining halls, the Mexican taco trucks, the “international” section of Ralphs. All of my friends, regardless of their ethnicity, slathered sriracha over everything. Have you ever tried sriracha in lieu of ketchup for dipping French fries? IT ROCKS.

The iconic plastic bottle with the rooster and green cap (accept no substitutes!)

The iconic plastic bottle with the rooster and green cap (accept no substitutes!)

Huy Fong Foods sells out of every batch they produce and recently expanded their facilities from Rosemead (near where Martin grew up and would smell the scent of brewing peppers wafting through the neighboring streets) to a 23-acre factory in Irwindale… it warms my heart to see the success of a company with such humble beginnings (the family immigrated during the Vietnam War, just as my parents had). There’s even a sriracha documentary coming out soon; I’m expecting a Jiro Dreams of Sushi of the hot sauce world.

These little morsels quickly disappeared...

These little morsels quickly disappeared…

But back to the barbecue. Fortunately, our friends at Foodbeast resurrected this awesome recipe from Helen at Food52, and we found it on our Facebook news feed not a moment too soon. It was a huge hit at the party and definitely a keeper for future cookouts.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup sriracha (we added 1 tablespoon extra for more kick)

1/3 cup olive oil (we reduced by 1 tablespoon)

1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

4-5 crushed cloves of garlic (we added a few more cloves)

1 teaspoon sugar

Small bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped

Salt & pepper

2 pounds large shrimp (21-25 or larger), cleaned, peeled, & deveined

(adapted from Food52)

The Marinade - At the Beginning

The Marinade – At the Beginning

In small bowl (or measuring cup – I like to minimize dirty dishes), whisk together the first six ingredients, making sure to bruise the garlic pieces as you mix. Let the marinade mixture sit while you work on the shrimp.

The Shrimp

The Shrimp

Clean the veins from the shrimp and peel them under cold water. Tails on or off – that’s up to you. I preferred them tail-off for ease of devouring these morsels whole.

Seasoned Shrimp

Seasoned Shrimp

Transfer the shrimp to a medium glass bowl. Season generously with kosher salt (or garlic salt) and fresh cracked black pepper.

Look at the stunning marinade!

Look at the stunning marinade!

Pour the marinade over (scrape every last drop!) and mix well to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The marinade (i.e. the flavor) clings well to the shrimp when it comes time to grilling, so it’s OK if you don’t quite have 2 hours to spare.

You could almost hear the shrimp soaking in all that flavor!

You could almost hear the shrimp soaking in all that flavor!

About an hour before grill time, soak some bamboo skewers in water; this keeps them from burning to a crisp over the hot coals. I set out a baking sheet on a counter I wasn’t using, spread out the skewers in a single layer, and then poured cold water over them.

Skewering Time!

Skewering Time!

When it’s time, set up the grill and get it all nice and hot. Meanwhile, thread the shrimp on the soaked skewers. We have a small grilling surface, so I did 4 per skewer. You may want to wear food-safe gloves… I didn’t and my slightly burning fingertips immediately regretted that decision.

Shrimp on the Barbie

Shrimp on the Barbie

Shrimp are an excellent party food since they cook so quickly. Just 2-3 minutes per side on a hot grill and they will be perfectly opaque and juicy. Serve them up and wait for the satisfying “yums” followed by the telltale “sss” as your guests’ varying levels of tolerance for spiciness are put to the test.

We started with this...

I managed to snap a few pics before they were all claimed and devoured

There are plenty of hot sauce marinated shrimp recipes out there, and even ones that also feature the beloved sriracha, but many only call for mere tablespoons of the stuff for the same quantity of shrimp. It’s no surprise then that Helen of Food52 was awarded “Best Shrimp Recipe” for this stellar recipe that dares to really pack a punch. Give it a whirl for your next summer barbecue – it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser! (And if you liked this recipe, check out her grilled lamb, also a winner on Food52.)

Risotto ai Funghi (Mushroom Risotto)

Appetizers and Starters, Recipes, Side Dishes

Risotto ai Funghi, Italian for mushroom risotto, is traditionally made with porcini mushrooms. However, with porcini mushrooms hard to come by aside from the foragers at local farmer’s markets, I whipped up this risotto with good ol’ cremini (baby portabello) mushrooms and it’s still a comforting, hearty meal for a cold night. You really could use any mushrooms or blend of mushrooms of your choosing, although I would not recommend using only white button mushrooms – those little guys are a bit plain in flavor.

Risotto ai Funghi

Risotto ai Funghi

Ingredients:

(adapted from this AllRecipes.com recipe)

3 cups chicken broth (low sodium or homemade would be good so you can control the seasoning)

2 tablespoons olive oil

10-12 ounces mushrooms, sliced (I used 8 oz of cremini and 3 oz of fresh shiitake)

1 shallot, finely diced

1 clove of garlic, finely minced

3/4 cup Arborio rice

1/2 cup white wine (Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc are good choices)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

In a small pot, bring the chicken broth to a simmer and lower the heat.

Mushrooms, ready to go into the skillet!

Mushrooms, almost ready to go into the skillet!

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss in the mushrooms, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and saute until they are softened and browned, about three to five minutes. Transfer the mushrooms and their liquid to a bowl and set aside.

Sauteing mushrooms

Sauteing mushrooms

Now in the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and saute the shallot and garlic until the shallot becomes translucent, about one to two minutes.

Sauteing the shallot and garlic

Sauteing the shallot and garlic

Add the rice. Let the grains toast a bit, stirring frequently so nothing burns. I learned this trick from the instructions on the back of our favorite Rice-A-Roni box. Personally, I like the toasted flavor the step imparts on the final product. After a few moments, pour in the wine and continue to stir until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

Toasting the rice

Toasting the rice

Now for the oh so fun (not) maintenance of the risotto. Working on medium to medium-high heat, start ladling in about 1/2 cup of broth. Stir gently to keep the risotto from sticking. It will take about two minutes before the liquid is absorbed. Continue slowly, adding about 1/2 cup of broth at a time, to build the starch levels, the primary contributor to the risotto’s creaminess.

Slowly but surely

Slowly but surely

You may not need all three cups of broth. Or you may find yourself needing a bit more (in which case you could also substitute wine or water, if needed). Risotto making is not a perfect science. But once the rice is al dente, add in the reserved mushrooms and their liquid. Mix to combine.

The step that makes a mushroom risotto a mushroom risotto!

The step that makes a mushroom risotto a mushroom risotto!

Plop the pat of butter and stir in, allowing it to slowly melt and blend with the risotto. Hey, I never said this dish was particularly healthy…

Mmm butter...

Mmm butter…

Sprinkle with the grated parmesan. You’ll want to know how the salty cheese impacts the overall flavor before moving on to the final step – seasoning. I like to use pink Himalayan salt as a finishing salt, along with some fresh cracked black pepper.

Parm time!

Parm time!

I particularly enjoyed this recipe since its difficulty seemed to be just right. Some recipes claim to yield a finished dish in 15 minutes and some call for a full hour or longer, but for me, the rice had absorbed all of the added liquid after about 30 minutes. Also, I found this slow, stirring method to be well worth the extra effort and attention.

Not sure how my humble risotto would fare in Hell's Kitchen!

Not sure how my humble risotto would fare in Hell’s Kitchen!

Don’t let Gordon Ramsay’s relentless yelling on Hell’s Kitchen instill a fear of risotto in you like the show did in me. I believe in you! If you do give this hearty, mushroom-y recipe a try, please holla back and let us know how it turned out.

Potato Gratin (and Bonus – Homemade Potato Chips)

Appetizers and Starters, Recipes, Side Dishes

“What’s a potato gratin?” “It’s like the mac & cheese of the potato world.” “Really?” “Yeah, seriously.”

Yup – I totally had that conversation last week. But layered with cheese, simmered in milk, and beautifully browned with a crunchy crust, the classic potato gratin really does bear resemblance to a baked macaroni and cheese dish. The fork-tender slices of potato glued by savory Gruyère and a golden crust worth fighting over both make this dish a winner!

Voilà - potatoes gratiné!

Voilà – potatoes gratiné!

Ingredients:

2 to 2.5 lbs potatoes (yukon golds are best but any will do)
4 oz gruyere cheese
1.5 cups of milk (whole, low-fat, nonfat… your choice)
Salt & pepper
Butter, about 2 tablespoons plus a thin pat for greasing the pan
1 medium onion, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash and peel the potatoes.

Potato Slices

Potato Slices

Being very careful with a knife (or using a mandoline if you have one), slice into rounds anywhere from paper-thin to no thicker than about 1/8th inch thick. Just be as consistent as you can, for even cooking.

Gruyere!

Gruyere

Grate the cheese into a bowl and set aside.

In a small pan, heat the butter until it just starts to bubble and brown. Add in the onions and season with salt and pepper. Saute until translucent and sweet – about 5 minutes. Once they’re done, set aside to cool off.

Layer #1

Layer #1

Butter a 9 x 13 pan (or a 9 x 12 gratin dish) generously on the bottom and be sure to work up the sides as well. Arrange potato slices in a single layer, allowing the slices to overlap a bit. Season with fresh cracked black pepper and sprinkle lightly with cheese. The gruyere I buy comes salted so I go easy on the added salt. Be sure to reserve about 1/3 of the cheese for the very top crust layer. Continue layering with potato, black pepper, and cheese.

Onion time!

Onion time!

After about 3 or 4 layers, arrange the next potato layer. Top with the sauteed onion, spreading to evenly distribute as best you can. Continue with another potato layer and repeat as before.

Use up all of your potato slices or as many as it takes to make about 8-10 layers, leaving one last layer of just potato. Fret not if you have extra lonely slices – you can reserve these leftover slices for making potato chips!

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Pour the milk over the prepared gratin, letting it seep between the layers. Finally, top with the reserved 1/3 of cheese and bake for about 45 minutes to one hour, or until everything gets bubbly and the crust becomes a gorgeous golden brown.

The finished product!

The finished product!

Slice into squares and serve hot. We generally cut the 9 x 13 pan into sixths but it can easily serve 8 if part of a larger meal.

Serving Suggestion

Serving Suggestion

Some nights we’ll eat the gratin on its own paired with a freshly tossed salad… and other nights, we’ll start sizzling up some steaks when the gratin is about 15 minutes out from being done. As a side or as a (relatively) light main, this potato gratin is comforting and hearty dish that’s sure to please!

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IMG_5577

Bonus Recipe: Homemade Potato Chips!

Oil (olive or vegetable)

Leftover gratin slices

Salt

Pour enough oil into a pan (or the small pot you used to saute onions if you want to save on dish-washing) to come up about 1/2 inch. Heat until a small drop of water dripped into the oil fizzles away (if it splatters, and be careful if it does, turn down the heat and let the oil cool a bit).

Fry away, little ones!

Fry away, little ones!

Drop in a few slices, making sure to not crowd the pan. I like my chips nice and browned – this will take a few minutes. Watch them carefully though! They can go from toasty to burnt in the blink of an eye.

Tip: they'll crisp up more as they cool

Tip: they’ll crisp up more as they cool

Transfer toasty chips to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle on a bit of salt (or seasonings of choice!) right when you take the chips out of the oil so they will adhere better.