Originally Published in March 2011. This is a fun post because it was the first one I wrote when I decided to begin a food blog, mostly out of the necessity of needing a place to track my progression from an uneducated novice with a passion into the role of a skilled cook, and to record what I’m learning. This meal really compelled me to write a blog—not a blog with glossy pictures and perfect recipes and stories of dishes that always seem to turn out delicious and perfectly presented…I look forward to addressing my failures just as much as the successes. Thats how I learn. Maybe I’ll get some feedback here that will really push me to the next level as a cook.
I’m glad I took a risk and attempted these, not only for learning the basic process, but also to remind myself (lest I ever give the impression I’m a better cook than I am) how susceptible I am to failure, and how much I have left to learn. These gnocchi were a great reminder to go back to the basics some, to really build a strong, resilient foundation for my later work. Simple food done perfectly is always ultimately better than fancy food not quite mastered.
That said, does anyone have any tips for how to make a perfect gnocchi?
Post Title: Well, Tonight’s Dinner Was A Bust.
I realize that statement is an atypical way of starting a cooking blog, but it’s true, and I might as well come out and say it. The dinner consisted of a yummy-sounding Orange-Maple Chicken (recipe here), Roasted broccoli (tossed with olive oil, minced garlic, a sprinkle of lemon juice, and some herbes de provence), and sweet potato gnocchi.
I thought the broccoli was excellent; it was a nice change from the boring steamed method. It wasn’t even bitter like I fearfully anticipated it might be, but tasted fresh and crisp. yum. I’ll definitely be roasting my broccoli more often.
The chicken had a lot of potential. The flavor of the maple and orange wasn’t overbearing, the meat was tender and juicy. Most importantly it was fast, easy, and used common kitchen ingredients. Unfortunately, I neglected it a little bit too long on the stove, and the sauce burned. Thankfully the chicken itself escaped unharmed, but it was coated with a sticky layer of black gunk, that was as unappetizing as it was disappointing. I blotted it off as best I could, and learned my lesson (for the umpteenth time!) to be more attentive while I’m cooking.
The thing I love most about cooking is the anticipation and the excitement of creating a dish, and then the elated feelings of success and pride when I hit on something fantastic. Unfortunately, I just didn’t feel that today. The broccoli was good and the chicken was promising, but the gnocchi was heartbreaking. It’s amazing how one poor dish can bring such a sense of utter failure when you have poured your heart into creating it. I knew from the start I was taking a risk…I eyed the sweet potatoes on my counter for 3 days trying to decide whether it was worth it or not. I compared gnocchi recipes, I took notes, I deliberated over spices to add, I made a plan of action. Then, this afternoon, I dove in. From start to finish, cooking the potatoes, mixing them into a dough, and forming it into those cute little dumpling shapes took almost three hours.
Even after all that time and effort, the finished product was bland, gummy, and a little heavy…not the lightly sweet, spicy, fluffy little pillows i hoped for. I can only assume I must have added a little bit too much flour to the mix, despite my best attempt to only use the bare minimum necessary. Sweet Potatoes don’t have all the natural starch that regular potatoes have, and tend to be very sticky, so the tendency to overload flour was strong. Even when salvaged by a sauce of butter, rosemary and sage, the gnocchi fell short, and I found myself wishing I’d just left the perfectly-good-as-they-were sweet potatoes alone..
I’m starting to learn that the best recipes are usually not always the most complex, or the most challenging. They aren’t the ones with the most ingredients or the most steps, or the prettiest display. Sometimes, like in the case of the humble broccoli roasted with garlic and olive oil, its just the result of natural, clean flavors being complemented and celebrated. I’m glad I took a chance and tried this recipe, and maybe at their best, the gnocchi are worth the effort…but I realize I need a little bit more guidance to prepare them well.
My challenge for this blog is not to create exciting new and daring recipes, to test the limits of cooking (although I know I will challenge myself), or to find the most inventive application for some herb or spice. No, I simply want to learn to consistently produce dishes that are pleasing. Dishes that bring joy through their creation, and in their completion. I want to build the basic skills and knowledge that will give me a jumping-off point to be successful next time I try the gnocchi. I doubt I’m going to come up with anything new or ground-breaking here, I just want to cook quality food, share it, and to be satisfied.
I hope you will join me for the ride.