Crestview, Fl
So, my husband and I decided we were going to have a romantic night out on the town. After trying one over-crowded restaurant, we decided to walk down the boardwalk and go to an Italian place there. DJ was excited to try something new. Gnocchi. Neither of us had it before and since we always share new things, I was looking forward to trying it as well. So we were both a bit disappointed when he ordered and were told that they were all out. Cut to a week later and I am pleasantly surprised to see our Daring Cooks challenge. Todd from A Cooking Dad really challenged us this month. His weapon of choice? Gnocchi!

What is gnocchi you ask? They are thick, soft, pasta like dumplings made with a variety of things. They are often a first course in place of soup or pasta. This month we are tackling potato gnocchi. Since I have been on a low carb, healthier diet, I decided to do sweet potato gnocchi and use the chimichurri sauce that I had left over from steak tacos the night before.
For the Gnocchi:
2 pounds sweet potatoes
2/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour for the work surface

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

1. Pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork and bake them until tender and fully cooked, between 40 to 55 minutes depending on size. 
2. Cool slightly and then cut them in half and scoop the flesh into a large bowl.

3. Mash the sweet potatoes and transfer them to a large measuring cup. Make sure the sweet potatoes measure about 2 cups. 
4. Transfer the mashed sweet potatoes back to the bowl. 
5. Add the ricotta cheese, salt, cinnamon, and pepper and blend until well mixed. 

6. Add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time until a soft dough starts to form. 
7. Lightly flour a work surface and place the dough in a ball on the work surface. 

8. Divide the dough into 6 equal balls. 
9. Roll out each ball into a 1-inch wide rope. Cut each rope into 1-inch pieces. Roll the gnocchi over the tines of a fork or press your thumb into them and make little bowls. (This helps hold the sauce onto the gnocchi.)
10. Repeat step 9 with the remaining gnocchi.

(I actually only used half the dough and froze the other half to use the following week. So good!!!)

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the gnocchi in 3 batches and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 6 minutes. Drain the gnocchi using a slotted spoon onto a baking sheet. Tent with foil to keep warm and continue with the remaining gnocchi.
  • Chimichurri Sauce:
  • 5 cloves of garlic 
  • Juice of 1 or 2 limes depending on how acidic you want 
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • Salt and B. pepper to taste 
  • 4-5 dried Guajillo peppers that I soaked in water until they were pliable (though I would steep them longer next time) Leave out the seeds and stem. Probably about 2 or 3 of each 
  • 1/2 c chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 c chopped  parsley
  • a small-medium chopped onion 
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs brown sugar

  • 1. Cut the stems off of the peppers
  • 2. Cut a slit down the side and remove all of the seeds
  • 3. Roast them and the garlic for 3-4 minutes on the stove or on a griddle.
  • 4. Put the garlic to the side
  • 5. Steep the peppers in hot water for 20-30 minutes, occasionally pushing them down if they float too much 
  • 6. Meanwhile, Saute the onions and get a nice caramelization on them. Set them aside to cool
  • 7. Dice the peppers when they are soft enough
  • 8. Throw everything but the brown sugar and butter in a blender and grind it up. 
  • 9. Use the olive oil to reach the consistency you want.

10. While the gnocchi are cooking melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. 
11. When the butter has melted add 2 tbs chimichurri sauce. 
12. Stir in the brown sugar and let it bubble. 
13. Gently stir the mixture. 
14. Toss the cooked gnocchi in the sauce. 
15. Transfer the gnocchi to a serving dish and serve immediately.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we did! It was absolutely delicious. The perfect blend of sweet and spicy! Serve it beside a nice chimichurri steak or as a dish all it's own. 
Pie Oh My! Is there anything better than a slice of warm apple pie? The flaky crust, the soft apples, and the sweet cinnamon brown sugar. Mmmm mmm good. It has long since been one of my absolute favorite types of pie. Want to know a secret? I have never made my own crust! I know, I know! Shame on me. Honestly, until the past year or so, the thought of making anything dough related frightened me. Pizza, pastry, even from scratch cakes. The key to being comfortable with them...trial and error! I finally found recipes I like and that work for me. Let's get started on this yummy pie!
So first, let's get started on that flaky crust! (I made a small 6in instead of 9 so I halved the ingredients below.)

To make a 9in double crusted pie:
2/3 cup salted butter
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon sugar
3-8 tablespoons cold water

1. Measure out the butter and freeze it for at least 30 minutes. 

2. Sift the flour and sugar into a large bowl.

3. Using a grater, grate the frozen butter directly over the flour in the bowl. Do this as quickly as possible so that you don't warm the butter. 

4. Using a table fork, toss the grated butter in the flour until it's all coated.

5. Put 3 tablespoons  of cold water over the mixture and mix together with your fork. Add more water, tbs by tbs, if needed. The finished dough should be moist and starting to come together, but not wet. 

5. Using your hands, quickly bring the dough together into a ball. Be careful not to knead the dough. just press it all together.

6. Wrap dough in plastic and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Are you as excited as me that you just finished that??!!!

Now the sweet apple filling! The perfect balance of tart and sweet!

2¼ to 3-1/3 pounds of apples (depending on the depth of your pie dish)
1 cup  light brown sugar, lightly packed (more or less to taste)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves, nutmeg and/or ginger (optional)
1 - 2 teaspoons white sugar for sprinkling (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a deep 9" ceramic pie dish. 

2. Peel, quarter, core and slice the apples and place in a bowl. I prefer chunks so I cut them up into chunks. Do it how you want it. 

3. Sprinkle the brown sugar and spice(s) over the apples and toss them well to coat.

4. Take 2/3 of the pastry dough (I weighed my dough and 2/3 was about 12oz/340g) and roll out to fit pie dish, right up to the rim. Line the pie dish with it, prick all over the bottom with a fork and set aside.

5. Pack the apples tightly into the lined pie dish. It's ok if the filling comes up above the rim of the dish into a mound. **Tip- If there are any apples left over, how about some fried apples?

6. Roll out the remaining pastry dough.

7. Dip your finger in water and run it along the edge of the pastry in the dish. Place the dough on the pie and press the edges together. Trim the edges as necessary and crimp the seam closed with your fingers or the back of a fork.

8. With a pair of kitchen scissors, cut three vents in the top of the dough. You can either cut leaf-shaped vents and use the pieces you removed to fashion decorative leaves, or you can cut straight vents and use any pastry trimmings to fashion decorations as desired. Moisten the back of the decorations with a wet finger and gently press onto the top of the pie.

9. Glaze the top of the pie with 1 tbs of milk, then sprinkle the top with a little white sugar.

10. Place pie dish on a baking sheet and put it into the center of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to moderate 350°F and bake for a further 30 minutes. The top should be light golden brown.

11. Enjoy the fruits of your labor hot, warm or cold. Personally, I love it hot with a little homemade rum whip cream on top while the hubs ate his with American cheese on top. 

This month  Shelley from C Mom Cook and Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to try meatballs. The only requirement: to create a meal based on the meatball. Any culture. Any recipe. I chose Swedish Meatballs. 

My husband and I just recently started P90X, so of course my first goal was to make these meatballs as healthy as possible. I adapted a recipe from Cooking with Mel. The woman did magical things with these meatballs. They were full of flavor. I was pretty happy with the end result since I have never done wet method meatballs before. Here is how I did it. 

For the meatballs:
2 slices of wheat bread, torn or cut into small pieces
¼ cup almond milk
2 pounds ground beef (I actually stuck with the beef but you can use 50/50 turkey/beef)
1 tablespoon margarine 
½ cup finely diced onion
1/3 c egg whites
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

For the gravy:
2 tablespoons margarine
¼ cup all-purpose flour (wheat if you have it)
3 cups  beef broth
¼ cup Greek yogurt 

1.    Preheat the oven to 200°F
2.    In a small bowl, tear the bread into little pieces and pour the milk over it, allowing it to soak
3.    Meanwhile, heat the butter in a pan over medium heat, saute the onions, along with a pinch of salt, and allow the onions to become soften.
4.    Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside, allowing the onions
5.    Combine the meat, bread, egg whites, salt, pepper garlic powder and sautéed onions. Mix it well to combine fully without overworking or the mix will become very gummy. 
6.    Roll the meatballs (I made them about 1-1.5 in, just make sure they all similar in size)
7.    Heat the 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium-low to medium heat then cook the meatballs in batches until browned evenly on all sides, approximately 7-10 minutes per batch. (Make sure not to overcrowd the pan or they will not cook evenly. I did 6 at a 12 in a cast iron.)
8.    As each batch is done cooking, remove the meatballs to an oven-safe dish and keep them in the warm 200°F oven to stay warm.
9.    Once all of the meatballs are done cooking and are in the oven staying warm, lower the temperature on your pan and whisk in the flour for 1-2 minutes.
10. Gradually whisk in the broth until everything thickens up
11. Raise heat to medium
12. Add in the yogurt and continue to whisk until the gravy reaches the consistency you prefer.
13. Remove the meatballs from the oven and serve, smothered in gravy.
14. Proceed to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Mmmm Mmmm good!

I made these with a sweet potato mash with vanilla, yougurt, and cinnamon. Healthy and delicious!

My first Daring Challenge...en croute! (Anything wrapped in puff pastry dough!) The Daring Kitchen gave us a few different options and left us to decide what to do. Once I saw Beef Wellington, there were no other options to consider. 
I am a big Gordon Ramsay fan and one of his famous dishes is Beef Wellington. I tried making it once, everyone loved it, but I suppose I am my own worse critic, I was not feeling the tenderloin love. So this was my chance to try again!

I started out with the liver pate'. I will just say, it was NOT for me. My husband liked it, but he likes chicken liver and was quite happy to fry up what I had not used. My tastes center on texture first and this was just too soft to be considered meat. If you like liver, forge ahead, if not, skip this step. This recipe is from I made it the day before I made the wellington.
Liver Pate
4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted; more for the ramekins 
9 oz. chicken livers (about 1 cup) 
2 medium shallots, chopped (1/4 cup) 
1 medium clove garlic, chopped 
3 sprigs fresh thyme 
2-1/2 Tbs. Madeira 
2-1/2 Tbs. brandy 
2 large eggs 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F. Butter two 8-oz. ramekins.

Inspect the chicken livers; trim and discard any green-yellow patches. Cut each liver in half.

Put the shallots, garlic, thyme, Madeira, and brandy in a small pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer, checking frequently, until reduced to about 1?Tbs. of liquid, 2 to 3 minutes. Strain and reserve the liquid.

Put the chicken livers in a food processor. Add the eggs, the reserved liquid, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds, gradually pouring in the melted butter while the motor is running. Strain the mixture into the ramekins.

Put the ramekins in a 9x13-inch baking dish and pour in enough hot water to come about 1 inch up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until puffed, golden-brown, and set, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and cool completely. If not using immediately, cover tightly with plastic wrap once the pâté is cool, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Then I made the mushroom duxelles. (Also the day before) These were delicious. 
For the mushroom duxelles
2 tablespoons  unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon vegetable or sunflower oil
1/4 cup  finely chopped shallots
1-1/2 cups  finely chopped Portobello mushrooms (from 4 large caps; remove the stems and gills before chopping, preferably in a food processor)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


1. Heat the butter and oil in a 10-inch (25 cm) skillet over low heat.
2. Add the shallots and cook, stirring often, until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms, stir well, and raise the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have cooked down to a thick, almost black mixture, about 15 minutes. 
4. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
5. Stir in the parsley; then transfer to a small bowl and cool completely. (The duxelles can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Now for the crepes. I love crepes. They are light, fluffy pancakes. I have always wanted to make them but they intimidate me in the same way pancakes do. This is why the hubby always makes pancakes. But this was my challenge and I was ready to tackle it! These go great with a drizzle of honey or some syrup. Yum!!
For the crêpes
1/2 cup  unbleached all-purpose (plain) flour
1/8 teaspoons kosher salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup  whole milk
2 tablespoons  unsalted butter

1. In a large bowl, whisk the flour and salt. Make a well in the center, break in the eggs, and add 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the milk.
2. Gently whisk the eggs and milk, gradually incorporating the flour.
3. Slowly whisk in the remaining milk to make a smooth batter. (The batter can be covered and set aside for up to an hour at this point.)
Melt the butter in a 10-inch (25 cm) skillet over medium-low heat. Swirl the pan to coat with the butter; pour the excess butter out into a small bowl.
4. Whisk 1 tablespoon (15 ml) (½ oz) (15 gm) of the melted butter into the batter. Reserve the rest for greasing the pan between crêpes.

5. Increase the heat to medium high and pour 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the batter into the skillet. Swirl so the batter thinly and evenly coats the base of the pan.
6. Cook until the crêpe is spotted with brown on the underside, about 1 minute, then flip and cook the other side until lightly browned, 30 seconds to 1 minute more.
7. Repeat with the remaining batter, greasing the pan off the heat as necessary.
8. Transfer the crêpes to a plate, separating them with sheets of parchment, and cool. You’ll need about 4 crêpes

Now, we get to the good stuff. I don't know if you have ever had beef tenderloin, but it is amazing stuff. Meat that dreams are made of. It is one of the most tender cuts of meat I have ever had. Absolutely worth every penny. 
Four 5 oz center-cut beef tenderloin steaks , trimmed, side muscle removedKosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon  vegetable  oil
2/3 cup  chicken liver pâté (you can buy this if you want)
1 pound puff pastry, I bought mine, feel free to make your own, thawed overnight in the refrigerator if frozen
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon unsalted butter, softened
1. Remove the beef from the refrigerator about an hour ahead so it has time to come to room temp. Pat the beef dry and season all over with salt and pepper.
2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until very hot. Sear the beef until it is evenly browned all over (don’t worry about the ends), 2 to 3 minutes per side.
3. Transfer the beef to a baking sheet and cool.
4. In a medium bowl, mash the pâté and the duxelles with a fork until they form a soft paste. (I did this for my husband's and just used the duxelles for mine)
5. Lay 1 crêpe on a clean work surface. Dot the pâté mixture over the crêpes, then use a spatula to spread it evenly across the crêpes’ surface.
6. Place the tenderloin in the center of the crêpes and carefully wrap them around the filet, pressing and molding them into place. Trim off any excess crêpe at the ends. (Depending on the size of your tenderloin steaks, you may need to use 2 crepes, if so, just overlap them before spreading on the pate and duxelles)

7. Lay out the puff pastry. Cut it in half. (should be enough to cover the whole tenderloin steak)
8. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to a 13x16-inch (33x40 cm) rectangle (for store-bought puff, roll in the direction of the seam).
9. Transfer the wrapped beef to the center of the pastry and tuck any crêpes that have come loose back into place. Bring the pastry up around the beef, smoothing out any air pockets.
10. Brush some of the beaten egg along the bottom edge of the seam and then press gently to seal; trim off any excess. Seal the pastry similarly at the ends.
11. Lightly grease a large baking sheet with the butter. Lift the Wellington onto the sheet, seam side down. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and up to 3 hours. (If refrigerating longer than 1 hour, let the Wellington sit at room temperature for 1 hour before baking.)

12. At least 20 minutes before baking, heat the oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9 and position a rack in the center of the oven. Brush the Wellington with the remaining beaten egg.
13. Using a sharp knife, score the surface of the pastry with diagonal lines, being careful not to cut all the way through the pastry.
14. Put the Wellington in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to hot 425°F. Roast for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to moderately hot 400°F and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the Wellington registers 135°F/57°C for medium rare, 5 minutes.
15. Transfer to a carving board and let the Wellington rest for 10 minutes.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did! The crusty puff pastry and the soft delicateness of the beef are a perfect pair. A real must try! I can't wait until I can show you my Daring Bakers challenge! Stay tuned on the 27th for a yummy treat!
Does anyone else love cooking and baking as much as I do? It is a real passion of mine. An almost zen like feeling. At least when things are going right that it!! I am always looking for ways to challenge myself. Most of the time this is by not saying no when customers ask if I can do something and trying whatever it is. I have also tried MANY a Pinterest recipe. Some turned out great, some are family favorites, and others...welllllll...we don't talk about those. I wanted something a bit more so I set out on an internet search for bakers and cooks challenging each other online every month. What did I find? Daring Kitchen!

Every month on the 17th they give me a cooking challenge. Last month it was de-boning a chicken. Unfortunately I signed up too late to participate in that one. I am not allowed to blog about it until the 14th of the following month, essentially giving me a month to complete the challenge. They also have a bakers addition that will start on the 1st of each month. You don't have to have a blog to do it. It seems likes such a great way for me to expand my culinary horizons. I have already completed my first challenge and can't wait to share it with you all! 

Brandy Cakes