September 25, 2013

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

I joined a Fantasy Football League. Yeah. It still sounds a little weird for me to hear those words coming out of my mouth. 

Until I got married, I'd never even watched an entire football game. But my husband went to Michigan. Go Blue! See? It's a reflex. I literally can't say "Michigan" anymore without following it up with "Go Blue!"

I hear it's impossible to go to a Big Ten school without becoming a football fan. Apparently the same is true of Big Ten spouses. So I watched the games. Slowly but surely, football was reeling me in.

Then I went to a game. Michigan-Notre Dame. At Michigan. My first real football game. (Unless you count the time I went to see my college team, the Columbia Lions, play Yale. At a stadium in the Bronx. That required a long subway ride. For which the visitors had more fans than the home team.) 

It wasn't until I entered Michigan stadium that I got hooked. No, check that. It was before we got to the stadium. It was when we joined the masses of students and alum, all wearing their maize and blue, heading towards the stadium. It was a Saturday afternoon and every single person in Ann Arbor was walking together, towards the same destination, with a common purpose.

And the best part? Michigan's quarterback that year was Tom Brady.

Soon after, Brady started playing for the New England Patriots. So now we were watching Michigan games on Saturdays and Pats games on Sundays.

The more I watched, the more I learned. First the basics. Then the finer points. But I was still just watching our two teams.

Then, a few years ago, my sister's husband started talking about his fantasy football league. I was intrigued. So this year, I asked him how to join. He took my question and ran with it. He created a league and got the whole family involved -- my husband, my sister, my sister's husband, cousins, brothers-in-law, even my nephew and my dad -- joined our fantasy football league. 

But here's the thing about fantasy football that you may not know if you've never played. (At least I didn't.) You don't pick an actual, existing team to be your team. You pick a bunch of players, from different teams, that make up your fantasy team.

You know what that means? It means you watch Thursday Night Football. And Sunday afternoon football. Followed by Sunday Night Football. And Monday Night Football. Because you've likely got some skin in almost every game.

That's a lot of football. And a lot of food. Because what's Game Day without snacks, right? But if I'm going to watch football three days a week, I can't very well reach for buffalo wings and nachos every time.

That's where these buffalo cauliflower bites come in. I know it sounds strange. But trust me when I tell you it'll satisfy your buffalo wing craving without all the fat and calories and guilt. The key is the rice flour coating. It gives the cauliflower a satisfying crunch and helps the sauce to stick. The buffalo sauce is similar to what you'd use on wings. But it's made with canola oil instead of butter. You can dip the bites into blue cheese or ranch dressing to get the full buffalo wing experience. And best of all, it's finger food that you can pop in your mouth without taking your eyes off the game.

Start with the cauliflower, broken down into florets.

Combine rice flour, water, salt and a dash of hot sauce to make the batter.

Coat the cauliflower in the batter. I found it easiest to toss a few pieces of cauliflower into the batter at a time, then pull them out with a large, slotted spoon. Let the excess batter drip back down into the bowl. Then lay the cauliflower out on a baking sheet coated with nonstick spray.

Bake until the batter hardens.

In the meantime, combine the ingredients for the buffalo sauce.

When the cauliflower come out of the oven, brush them with the buffalo sauce. Bake again until the cauliflower get crispy.

Serve warm or at room temperature with blue cheese or ranch dressing and celery sticks.

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets

For the batter:
A dash or two of Frank’s Buffalo Wing Sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
1 cup white rice flour
1 cup water
Pinch salt

For the Buffalo sauce:
1/2 cup Frank’s Buffalo Wing Sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
1/2 cup canola oil
Pinch salt

1.    Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2.    Mix batter ingredients together in a small bowl. Dip the cauliflower in the batter until evenly coated, then place on greased baking sheet. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the batter hardens.

3.    Mix sauce ingredients together in a small bowl.

4.    Once the cauliflower are done baking, brush them with the hot sauce mixture and bake again for a few more minutes, until cauliflower is crispy. Remove from oven.

5.    Add more buffalo sauce to taste. Serve with blue cheese or ranch dressing and celery sticks.


September 14, 2013

Potato Gnocchi with Simple Tomato Sauce


Todd, who is The Daring Kitchen’s AWESOME webmaster and an amazing cook, is our September Daring Cooks’ host! Todd challenged us to make light and fluffy potato Gnocchi and encouraged us to flavor the lil pillows of goodness and go wild with a sauce to top them with!

I never thought I’d make homemade potato gnocchi. Made properly, gnocchi are soft and pillowy, light as air. But I’d eaten enough gummy, heavy, dense, leaden gnocchi in restaurants to know how bad gnocchi can be.

I’d also heard — from cooking shows, food magazines, even Mario Batali — that homemade gnocchi was not for the faint of heart. Choose the right potatoes! Don’t add to much flour! Don’t overhandle the dough! I figured this was something best left to Italian nonnas.

And then Daring Cooks came and threw down the challenge. Game on.

It turns out gnocchi aren’t all that hard to make. It might have been beginner’s luck. Or that the recipe provided by this month’s Daring Cooks’ host was foolproof.

In any case, the gnocchi turned out light and pillowy. I topped them with a simple, homemade tomato sauce and thinly sliced mozzarella, then threw the mixture under a broiler. I’m no Italian grandma, but I’m pretty sure the word “delizioso” escaped my lips when I took my first bite.

Bake two starchy potatoes until tender, then scoop out the flesh.

Pass through a ricer or food mill.

Place the potatoes on a floured surface. Add flour and egg.

Gently knead the flour and egg into the potato until a dough just comes together.

Take part of the dough and roll it into a 1/2 inch thick rope.

Cut the rope into small pieces. Score the gnocchi with a fork or gnocchi board if you have one.

Put the gnocchi on a parchment-lined baking sheet while you prepare the rest of the gnocchi.

Place a few gnocchi at a time into boiling water. When they're cooked, they'll rise to the top (give them an extra minute after the come to the top).

Remove gnocchi from the water and place in a bowl until all the gnocchi are cooked.

Now the sauce, which is quick, easy and tasty. Place unpeeled, whole tomatoes in a blender or food processor.

Puree until they reach a consistency you like.

Heat olive oil. Add garlic and cook until light golden brown.

Add pureed tomatoes, salt and sugar. I still have some basil growing in my backyard, so I added a few basil leaves too. Simmer until flavors meld and sauce thickens slightly.

Once the sauce is ready and the gnocchi are cooked, place some gnocchi in an individual serving bowl. Top with sauce.

And mozzarella cheese.

Pop under the broiler for a minute or two until the cheese melts.


Potato Gnocchi with Simple Tomato Sauce

Potato Gnocchi:

Recipe from A Cooking Dad

1½ pounds starchy potatoes (Russet or Idaho work well)
½ to ¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 large egg (optional)

1.    Heat the oven to 400°F and bake potatoes until tender, about an hour (mine took 1 1/2 hours to get tender). You can also boil the potatoes with their skins on. When potatoes are cooked split the potatoes open to allow steam to escape. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out their flesh.

2.    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

3.    Pass the potatoes through a ricer or food mill, on a medium setting. If you do not have a ricer or mill you can use a masher but try not to “work” the potatoes too much as this will cause the gnocchi to be tougher.

4.    Place the potatoes on a well-floured surface and form a well in the potatoes. Put ¼ cup flour and the egg (if using) in the potatoes. Gently knead the potato, adding the additional flour if needed, just until the dough comes together.

5.    Pinch off a small piece of the dough and try cooking it in the boiling water to see if it holds together. If it does not add a little more flour and try again.

6.    Roll some of the dough into a ½ inch thick rope, then cut the rope into ½ inch pieces.

7.    Score each piece with a fork or gnocchi board.

8.    Put the pieces onto a parchment lined baking sheet until ready to cook.

9.    Add the gnocchi to the boiling water in small batches. After they rise to the surface let them cook another 60 seconds and remove them with a slotted spoon.

Serves 3

Quick Pomodoro Sauce:

Recipe slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

1 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil (This was way too much. Next time I will only use 1/4 cup.)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 tsp sugar
Kosher salt
Fresh basil leaves (optional)

1.    Pulse tomatoes with juices in a blender or food processor to form a coarse puree.

2.    Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes.

3.    Add tomato puree and sugar and basil (if using). Season with salt and basil. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently until sauce is slightly thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.

Makes 3 cups.

September 9, 2013

Melted Zucchini


Go to any grocery store or farmer's market right now and you're going to see summer squash. It's one of my favorite vegetables. And now I've got a new way to cook it. 

This recipe is simplicity itself, both the preparation and the flavors. Just grate the zucchini and yellow squash, then slowly cook it down with some garlic and olive oil until it practically melts. 

Melted zucchini is incredibly versatile. Spread it on toasted bread. Serve it as a side dish with fish or chicken. Slather it on ciabatta, top with thinly sliced mozzarella and warm it in a panini press. Use it in place of tomato sauce on pizza. Or serve it as a dip with pita chips.

Grate zucchini. I used a combination of zucchini and yellow squash to get a nice combination of colors and flavors.

Place grated zucchini in a colander. Leave it for a few minutes to drain and/or squeeze out excess water with your hands.

Heat olive oil (with a bit of butter) and add garlic. Let cook for a minute or so, until the garlic is fragrant but not brown.

Add grated zucchini.

Cook it down for a few minutes until the water starts to evaporate.

And then for a few minutes until the water has completely evaporated and the zucchini starts to clump together. Season with salt and pepper.


Melted Zucchini

Recipe by Jennie Cook

2 pounds zucchini or assorted summer squash
¼ cup olive oil or butter
2 minced shallots, garlic, or combination of both
Salt and pepper

1.    Coarsely grate the zucchini. Let it drain in a colander for 3 to 4 minutes or until you are ready to begin cooking. To hasten cooking time, squeeze the water out of the zucchini by wringing it in a clean cloth towel.

2.    In a deep skillet, heat the olive oil/butter. Sauté the shallots or garlic briefly.

3.    Add the zucchini and toss. Cook and stir over medium to medium-high heat until the zucchini reaches a spreadable consistency, about 15 minutes.

4.    Enjoy!

Makes about 2 cups