I make plenty of mistakes, especially cooking mistakes. I go in ruts – so much so that sometimes I feel if Shakespeare were alive today he would seriously consider rewriting “A Comedy of Errors” as “A Kitchen of Errors” starring moi. I know I’m not a trained chef, unfortunately, and that blunders are bound to happen, but all the same I really wish I go through a long period of blindingly successful dishes. If for nothing else, it would keep my culinary spirits up and keep me cooking through those parched days of wanting nothing more than toast and jam or tomato soup.
Alas, those lean periods do occur, hence the gap in posts here from time to time. But hey, it happens to everybody in the blogging and home-cooking world, so I can accept that. What does bug me, however, are recipes that go really awry when they shouldn’t have.
Usually when I try a new recipe, I research the techniques involved and scour nearly a dozen variations to get a grasp of it all. For my throwdowns with Renee, this method is especially helpful; when we baked vanilla pound cakes, for example, I learned the importance of beating the butter and then the entire batter for up to 8 minutes each to turn it into velvety ribbons of rich goodness. Or, when we made tiramisu, I had to learn how to make a zabaglione. This is not only fun for me because I geniunely enjoy cooking, but also because I love to learn (nerd alert! nerd alert!). Overall, I just want to become a better cook.
Now, where was my mistake with the sweet potato gnocchi, you ask? Well, I was sorely tempted by a recipe for the little cuties in my October 2009 issue of Food & Wine, so – judging them to be a credible source of recipes, even though this will be my third straight failed meal of theirs, and short on additional time for preparation – I took a leap of faith. I’ve never made gnocchi before and have only eaten it twice, yet didn’t bother to do any research on the concept at all, short of skimming Garrett McCord’s recipe for sweet potato gnocchi over at Vanilla Garlic a week prior.
So, you can understand my frustration, in retrospect, when the gnocchi turned out to be a near disaster. If I had bothered to check even one other recipe with any degree of depth, I would have immediately spotted how ridiculous this Food & Wine version was. I won’t give the recipe here (for obvious reasons), but I will give the ratios. So, this is how NOT to make gnocchi:
- Bake 2 pounds of sweet potatoes (~4) for an hour at 400F, then scoop out and mash the flesh.
- Mix in two egg yolks and a teaspoon of salt.
- Add in 1/2 a cup (just 1/2 of a cup!) of all-purpose flour.
- Attempt to knead the dough … then attempt to roll it into four ropes …
- Resist the urge to throw a temper tantrum.
- Get your wits about you and devise an alternate plan so as not to waste the dough (“dough”): form canelles with two spoons and drop into boiling water … remove to a parchment-lined baking sheet two minutes after the “gnocchi” float to the surface.
Aaaaand, that’s about how my dinner went. Now, I really, really wanted to end up with the traditional and cute fork tine-formed gnocchi, but the dough was just way to sticky to be able to form any kind of shape except the spooned canelles I ended up with. Obviously, they didn’t have enough flour! I wish I’d had enough gnocchi-making experience to recognize this; since then, every recipe I’ve looked at calls for around 1 1/2 cups of flour for 2 pounds of potatoes – big difference! At least these did taste good, although they were so soft they barely held their form when I lightly sautéed them in butter with scallions and crumbled bacon. The texture was almost what it was supposed to be, once I got through the mushy, almost slimy exterior … not really what you want to bite into!
At least there was bacon to salvage my effort … and the side salad that turned out great. It had fennel, so of course it was fine! I’m really into eating fennel and coleslaw lately (since unexpectedly biting into some tucked into a turkey wrap I gobbled at one of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s cafés, then later as a side at The Waterwheel restaurant in Doylestown, PA, this summer), so here is yet another recipe for fennel and cabbage slaw. I can’t resist. This recipe is a keeper.
The gnocchi recipe? It’s crumbled up in my garbage can, where it belongs. Oh well – lesson learned!
Cabbage slaw with fennel and orange
- 1 bulb fennel, cut into quarters and thinly sliced (as thin as you can make it – 1/8″?)
- 1/2 to 1 bag cabbage mix (with carrots if you like, as I do), ratio to your taste
- 2 Tbsp chopped fennel fronds
- juice of 1/4 orange
- zest of 1 orange
- 3 Tbsp walnut oil
- 1 tsp white balsamic vinegar
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mix the fennel slices and cabbage together in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the orange juice, oil, and vinegar in until fairly well emulsified. Whisk in the orange zest, fennel fronds, salt, and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the fennel/cabbage and toss until the vegetables are evenly coated. Let the slaw rest for at least half an hour so the fennel and cabbage can soften.