Monday, January 23, 2012

NYR 2011 Recap

I've referenced a few times my 2011 New Year's Resolution, which was to cook at least one new recipe each week in 2011.  Well I think I followed through rather well, at least when I had access to cooking supplies*.  So I thought I'd post about some of the successes.

I was given a rating, on a scale from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent), for each dish.  We often came to an agreement on the rating, but as a disclaimer, I will remind you I live with a strict judge who's strongly against grade inflation.

*Our cross-country move meant our cooking supplies (skillets, ingredients, etc.) were in storage for about 10 weeks.

The stats:
64: the number of new recipes attempted in 2011
4: the greatest number of new recipes made in one single week
40: number of weeks I tried at least one new recipe
8: number of recipes that the Judge rated a 5!!
12: number of recipes that scored 4.5.  Not bad.
0: number of recipes the Judge rated a 1.  (One recipe almost got this grade, but I saved it at the last minute)

Now for the hits:
Tequila-Lime Chicken

Sticky Bun Pull-Apart Bread
Fish Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Crema
Buffalo Chicken Dip
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls
Peach Cobbler
Mini-Pretzel Bites
Prosciutto-stuffed Chicken
Buffalo Chicken Pizza 
Flourless Chocolate Torte with Raspberry Sauce

If there's interest (I'm talking to you, sisters, since you're 50% of my readership), I can post links to the recipes that received the winning scores.

Edited to add: I added links to my inspiration recipes above (for the ones online). Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gnocchi with Tomato Cream Sauce

Tonight we had some extra time to experiment in the kitchen, and after our walk through North Beach to visit Coit Tower, something Italian sounded good.

We decided on gnocchi in a creamy tomato basil sauce, in part because we had just enjoyed this dish at one of the North Beach restaurants a couple weeks back.

After looking at a few gnocchi recipes, we ended up combining a few and coming up with our own combination.  Our sauce is modeled after the Pioneer Woman's, which my good friend made for us a while back.  It was a huge hit then, so that selection was an easy one.

I wouldn't say gnocchi is particularly hard, but it is time-consuming.  It's also impressive!

Ingredients for Gnocchi:
3 russet potatoes
1 egg
salt, pepper
1.5 cups flour

Gnocchi Instructions:
Clean and peel the potatoes, dice in quarters, and boil until a fork pierces them easily.

Drain the water and mash the potatoes, adding the egg, salt, and pepper.

Transfer the mashed potatoes to a cutting board or the counter and slowly work in the flour as you mix it with the potatoes.  It will soon turn into a soft dough (softer than if you were making regular pasta.)  Do not over-knead.

Cut the dough into workable sizes and roll into a long log, less than an inch in diameter.  Cut the log into gnocchi-size pieces and sprinkle with a bit of flour to prevent sticking.  (Keep in mind the gnocchi will get larger during the boiling process, so you can make them a little smaller than your desired final size.)  Using the tines of the back of the fork, roll each piece to create the indentations that will later let them grab onto the sauce.*

To cook, add the gnocchi to boiling, salted water.  After about a minute, they should rise to the surface.  Once on the surface, set the timer for 4 minutes and remove them with a slotted spoon into the sauce you've prepared.

For the sauce, I recommend following this recipe.  We used a large shallot instead of the onion and half-and-half instead of cream, since it's what we had on hand.

After the gnocchi has fully cooked, transfer the pieces into the skillet with the sauce.  Spoon onto a plate, top with parmesan cheese, and serve.

This was SOOOO good!
*Before boiling the gnocchi, I transferred half of the pieces to a small cutting board and froze them.  I have read they will taste just as good defrosted later.  We also reserved half of the sauce and froze this as well.  So half of this recipe served 3 people.  We're excited to defrost the other half sometime soon for a quick and yummy meal!

Into the freezer until hard, then store in a plastic bag and freeze for another day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Coit Tower

One of the more easily-recognized towers in San Francisco's skyline is Coit Tower.  This past weekend we spent the afternoon walking over to North Beach (the "Little-Italy" part of the city), so that we could hike to the top and get a closer look.

The hike was not tough, but it provided some really nice views as we descended Nob Hill and ascended Telegraph Hill.

We passed St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church along the way...

And a cute Ligurian Bakery that sells only focaccia and closes each day when they sell out.  (They were closed this day.)

And some painted dogs...
And some ridiculous tourists on Segways.  One of them crashed trying to go up Telegraph Hill.

The tower was built with money left by Lillie Hitchcock Coit.  It stands 210 feet tall and resembles the tip of a fire hose nozzle.  Apparently that is just coincidental, despite the fact that Ms. Coit volunteered with the fire brigade throughout her lifetime.

The inside of the monument is covered in murals.  The murals have a working-man feel, which makes sense: the monument and murals were erected during the depression to create jobs.

Does anyone see Lucy in the back?
Making wine and dried apricots: two of my favorite things.
It was really windy up on Telegraph Hill, though clear enough to allow for some nice views.  The statue below is of Christopher Columbus, and Angel Island is in the background.

And after all that culture...we stopped at Rogue Brewery for a beer :)  The end.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Point Reyes

Today was the second Monday holiday of the month, and I realize I could seriously get used to a four-day work-week.  With our extra weekend day, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and ventured into Point Reyes, about an hour and a half north of the city.  Our destination was the Point Reyes Lighthouse and the elephant seal overlook.

After grabbing sandwiches at the trusty corner market, we opted for the longer, scenic route to Point Reyes.  This took us through cattle pastures and along Stinson Beach.

How funny is it that this many people want to sit on the beach, wearing ski coats and warm hats!?
We also saw elk, deer, and two calves that were probably born within the past 24 hours.
Once we reached Point Reyes State Park, a shuttle bus transported us between the sights.  First up was the Lighthouse, where we spent at least an hour watching for whales.  Grey whales are migrating South for the winter right now, and we were able to catch sight of a pod of six or so off Point Reyes.  According to the docent, they travel further from land when they are heading South and a bit closer to the point when migrating back north in April or May.  It's good to know our American grey whales travel on the "correct" side of the road.

Point Reyes Lighthouse
A couple juvenile whales have been spotted hanging out a bit closer to the point in the past few days, and we were able to catch several glimpses of one as it swam in the more protected waters directly south of the lighthouse.  The water was clear enough that you could see its body approaching even before the spout of water broke the surface.  Very pretty.

After admiring how far signaling technology has come in the past few centuries (these days they have one light bulb and a fog horn instead of utilizing the lighthouse!), we took the shuttle over to Chimney Rock.  There we hiked the short distance to the elephant seal overlook.

An Elephant Seal model in the Visitor Center
 In late December, the males come to the Northern California breeding grounds and engage in pecking-order battles.  By January, the females have come to land to give birth to the pups they've been carrying for the past year.  The pups nurse for less than a month before the females mate again and head back into the water until next winter.

The most exciting activities to watch are the battles for alpha-male status, and today we got a sneak peak at some of the fighting: males do the worm do their best to launch themselves at the other males that are encroaching on their ladies, emitting loud bellows to declare their dominance.  The pups also had a distinct, much higher-pitched, noise that added to the odd song coming from the elephant seal beach.

This male's got something to say...
These moms are tuckered out.  They just lie there while the pups nurse.

As the sun began to set, we headed home.

Back to work tomorrow!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Exploring the Neighborhoods

The past two weekends, we've spent some time exploring the different neighborhoods in the city.

Last week we walked down the Mission for a burrito lunch and ice cream.

The Mexican food at El Farolito was good, but the ice cream at BiRite Creamery hit the spot.

Coffee Toffee Flavor for me, Snickerdoodle and Brown Sugar for him, which we enjoyed while relaxing in Dolores Park.  It was sunny and relatively warm.  I keep finding myself surprised how pleasant the weather is, even in January.  I love it.

This past weekend was spent exploring North Beach, both restaurants and bars with one of our good friends.
After finding out that our first choice, Tony's, had a 2 hour 15 minute wait (what?!?!), we ended up at Firenze by Night for dinner, which was a great alternative.  Two bars and a late night slice of pizza (ironically, at Tony's pizza-by-the-slice next door to their crowded restaurant), we stumbled back home, proud of how many places we were able to hit in one night.

View of downtown a few evenings ago

The Italian food and fun cocktails inspired me to try to recreate some of those recipes at home, so stay tuned :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Long Winter Months

At this point last year, I was sick of winter already and ready for spring to arrive.  Probably because we had had a couple months of cold weather already, complete with dead plants in our front planters and winter housework that wasn't the most fun.  I was anxious for any sign or warmth or growth.

Even though our Christmas tree came down today, I don't yet feel sick of the winter season, and I attribute that to the more mild weather and the fact that I don't have to deal with winter home maintenance anymore!

Sunsets like these also make me appreciate winter on the west coast--they tend to be more brilliant when the temperatures are a bit cooler, and the clouds provide extra surfaces to reflect the colors.

These photos are from a New Year's Day hike to Lands End, the same trail we explored a few weeks back.  The bonus this time was that my entire family took the hike together...on New Year's Day, no less.

What a great way to begin 2012!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Apron Sewing Project

It has taken me a while to unpack my sewing machine after our move.  On a recent visit to my parents' house, I brought my machine along, hoping to have some motivation and extra time to get my feet wet again.

I have had fabric to make an apron for quite a while, and I even made my first pattern by myself, using measurements I had taken.

These two fabrics seemed cheery to me, and I thought an over-the-top ruffly apron would be kind of fun to wear.

Here's how it was looking after each of the steps:

And the final product:

Now I need to host a dinner party!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!  

May 2012 be a great year filled with close friends, good food, and exciting adventures!