Oven-Roasted (Caramelized) Cauliflower

SO good and SO easy. This roasting technique really brings out the sweetness in the cauliflower.

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Caramelized Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower
3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil
good quality salt, to taste (1/2 tsp?)

Wash the head of cauliflower well and cut in half. Cut each half into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch slices. Toss with the oil, then lay flat in a large baking dish (I used a very large cake pan).
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Cauliflower, before baking.

Bake at 400 until it is lightly browned, about 15 – 20 minutes, stirring or turning once during cooking time (it will brown more on the bottom than it does on the top). Sprinkle with salt, toss gently and pour into a serving dish (it will soften and come apart a little during cooking and break into smaller pieces).

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Cauliflower, after baking.

Fresh Beets with Greens

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Fresh Beets with Greens

2 bunches fresh beets
1 aseptic box chicken (or vegetable) stock – about 4 cups
1 tsp. olive oil
salt to taste

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Cut beet roots away from greens. Scrub beets well and place in medium-sized pot. Pour stock over beets and heat to a simmer, covered, over high heat.

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When beets come to a boil, reduce heat. Keep covered and simmer (15 minutes or so?) until beets are fork-tender.

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The stock will become BRIGHT RED. Watch out for splatters on your clothes.

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While the beets are simmering, cut the greens into bite-sized pieces (as if you were cutting romaine hearts for a salad). Rinse well and dry (in a salad spinner). If the beets are REALLY fresh (from a farm or farmers market), you will be able to use most of the greens. If they’ve been sitting at the grocery store for a while (or in your fridge for a while after you brought them home), you’ll have to trim the leaves of the greens pretty judiciously. It’s much better to buy beets really fresh right before you’re going to cook them (especially if you plan to use the greens).

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Heat a little oil in a medium-sized saute pan. Add washed and dried greens and saute until softened (5 minutes or more – it takes longer than you’d think – you want them to be more than just wilted). Remove from heat and set aside.

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Check beets. If a fork will pierce them easily, they are probably done. You want them to be about the same as potatoes that you are cooking for potato salad – tender to the bite, but not mushy.

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Remove beets from heat. Drain cooking liquid (it may have some grit in it from the beet skins and really shouldn’t be reserved for another use, although it may be tempting to think about using it in borscht).

Let beets sit until they are cool enough to handle. As soon as you can, rub the beets (I use my thumbs) so that the skin comes off. This should happen in one, easy motion, in large pieces. If it doesn’t, the beets may not be done enough. Once skins are removed, cut beets into serving sizes (you can halve or quarter them, or you may even choose to leave them whole, if they are small beets). Place in a serving bowl. Add greens to bowl (sprinkle salt in, if desired) and toss gently. Serve warm.

Here is an additional photo of some (small, golden) beets and greens that I made around February of this year. They were so beautiful that I had to take a photo at the time. My in-laws have a wonderful local organic farm and these beets (and the unusual green cauliflower) were from their place.

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Chicken Marsala

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Chicken Marsala has been one of our favorite meals for a long time, but a friend who is a culinary school graduate taught me this great technique for making the portion sizes smaller and making the pieces cook more evenly. I used to just cook a whole chicken breast for each of us (one for Boy and Girl to share) and then be frustrated when we had so much half-eaten chicken left over. I think that when they are in smaller, flat pieces like this, they’re called a paillard, but I’m not positive about that. Anyway, I love this technique and use it every time I’m frying chicken and even sometimes when I’m marinating it to throw on the grill. Now I can actually feed my whole family (two adults, one 9-yr old and one 11-yr old) with one chicken breast – definitely a much more reasonable portion size!

Chicken Marsala

3 boneless (split) skinless chicken breasts
1 medium sized shallot
1/2 pound white button mushrooms, sliced
1 cup marsala wine (NOT “cooking wine”, which is salty and chemical-y tasting)
2 cups good quality chicken stock
dry, unseasoned bread crumbs (about 2 – 3 cups)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
salt, to taste
pepper (optional) to taste
1 tsp. chopped fresh (or 1/2 tsp. dried) rosemary
1 stick butter (you won’t need it all)
1/2 cup olive oil (you won’t need it all)

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Get everything ready: Put flour, egg/milk (whisked together) and breadcrumbs each in a separate bowl. Preheat oven (to 250 degrees) or warming drawer (medium-high).

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Cut each piece of chicken (with the “grain”) into 3 or 4 “chicken fingers”.

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Gently pound each “finger” with the flat side of a meat tenderizing mallet, until it is a uniform thickness.

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Repeat cutting and pounding for remaining chicken breasts. Gently sprinkle each chicken “paillard” with salt and pepper, if desired.

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Lightly coat each piece of chicken with flour, then dip in egg/milk mixture to coat, then roll in breadcrumbs until completely covered.

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Repeat with remaining pieces of chicken.

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Finely chop the shallot.

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Heat 2 Tbsp. butter and 2 Tbsp. olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until bubbly.

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All shallots and saute until softened.

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Add mushrooms and cook until softened.

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Pour cooked mushrooms and shallots out into a bowl and set aside, reserving as much of the oil/butter in the pan as you can. Add more butter and oil to the pan until you have enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium-high until melted and bubbly.

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Add crumb-coated chicken to skillet and fry, being careful not to crowd the pieces. Adjust heat and add more butter/oil, as necessary. Watch pieces carefully; turn them over and cook the other sides. Remove chicken from pan as pieces are completely cooked and set aside on a large platter.

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Repeat with remaining pieces of chicken until all pieces are cooked through and crumb coating is browned on both sides. Place platter of cooked chicken in heated oven or warming drawer. Lower heat on pan.

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Add marsala slowly and carefully to pan (it may sizzle, bubble and splatter!), stirring gently to scrape browned bits off bottom. Slowly raise hit and simmer until wine has reduced and thickened.

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Slowly add chicken stock, continuing to simmer, stirring, until sauce is thickened.

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When sauce has thickened to ALMOST serving consistency, add mushroom/shallot mixture back to pan, sprinkle in rosemary and stir to combine. Pour over warm chicken on platter and serve.

Pumpkin Waffles with Maple Whipped Cream

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Since we’re having a fairly relaxed holiday weekend around here, we felt like making a luxurious breakfast this morning. I used the same pancake/waffle mix to make the waffles that I used for the pancakes a while back (see previous entry here).

To make the maple whipped cream, I just whipped about 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream until it was fluffly, then blended in about 1 tsp. sugar and 1/2 tsp maple extract. We topped the waffles with syrup/pumpkin butter, etc., then added a little dollop of the whipped cream, then a sprinkle of cinnamon. Mmmmm…..we won’t need to eat again until dinnertime!

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Butternut Squash Bread Pudding

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I made this savory bread pudding to take to our family Thanksgiving dinner. It’s from the new Cooking Light cookbook. The recipe can be found on their website here.

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This is the bread pudding before baking.

Overall, I thought it was a really good recipe and would probably make it again, but for Thanksgiving, it was maybe not the greatest choice, but it was too similar to the stuffing and having both at the same meal was a bit much. I might be tempted, in the future, to add a little chopped, sauteed celery to it and serve this INSTEAD of stuffing, but it’s definitely not necessary to have both. It was yummy, though, and rich. I used a really good parmesan (Reggiano, my favorite), so the cheese flavor really came through. The technique for cubing and then roasting the butternut squash was really handy, too, and I will probably prepare it again that way for adding to salads, veggie sautes, even an omelet or some cooked rice or pasta. The squash that I started with was HUGE, so I roasted all of it and froze what I didn’t need for this recipe, so watch out for butternut squash ravioli or risotto or soup or something on the blog really soon.

I also made a batch of the gnocchi – again – I think that I have them perfected now. They received rave reviews. I also made this salad again – also very well received. I also brought along a batch of the Swedish Spice cookies.

Grandma Louise’s Fudge

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This fudge recipe is SUPER rich and delicious – very sinful. It’s VERY easy to make and makes a great holiday gift. My dad is absolutely powerless to resist this stuff. It was his mother’s recipe, but she passed away 11 years ago, so I make it for him every once in a while now. It can be frozen for surprisingly periods of time without much ill effect. This should not be made on a rainy or very humid day – it won’t “set” properly.

I made this batch without nuts, at the special request of Girl, who is not a fan of most nuts. The nuts are optional, but it’s really much better with pecans in it. If you do add the nuts, though, make SOME effort to secure decent ones – the Planters in the bag from the supermarket will absolutely NOT do. Get good ones, even if you have to special-order them. There are lots of things that I do NOT like about living in Texas, but one of the good things is that we are able to secure really good pecans. My grandparents (on my mom’s side) are my “suppliers” and always seem to know a great local source. Thanks, Granny and Pappaw! I love you!

Grandma Louise’s Fudge

1/3 cup butter
1 can evaporated milk
(The original recipe says a 14 1/2 ounce can, but they don’t make those anymore, so I just use one 12 ounce can, plus a couple of ounces from another can to make 14 1/2 ounces. Any milk that you have left over is really yummy whisked into scrambled eggs before cooking – about 1 Tbsp. per egg.)
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
4 1/2 cups sugar
13 ounces German’s brand sweet baking (green box) chocolate
(Again, 13 ounces is an odd amount. That’s 3 boxes, plus one or two extra squares. The recipe would probable be fine if you just used 12 ounces, but I haven’t tried it myself.)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups chopped pecans (optional, but recommended)
1 cup marshmallow cream (in a jar)

Butter a 13 X 9 inch (preferably glass) baking pan. Combine sugar, salt, butter and milk in a large pan sauce pan. Bring to a boil over low to medium heat and boil for 5 1/2 minutes, adjusting heat if necessary, to keep mixture from scorching. Remove from heat and add all other ingredients, except nuts. Beat/stir until well mixed. Stir in nuts, if desired. Pour into buttered pan. Let cool until solid, then cut into small square (about 1 1/2 inches on a side) pieces. Can be microwaved for a short time in a small container (coffee cup?) until melted to use for hot fudge ice cream sauce, if desired. Mmmmm……

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Swedish Spice Cookies with Sous Pastry Chef Girl

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2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup softened unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line ungreased baking sheets with parchment paper.

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Sift together flour, baking soda, spices and salt; set aside.

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Beat butter and 1 cup of the sugar in large bowl of electric mixer on medium-high speed until light (about 1 minute). Add the egg and molasses; mix well.

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Stop the mixer and add the flour mixture. Mix just until combined.

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Using about 1 Tbsp. of the dough for each, roll the dough into balls.

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We use long iced tea spoons (heaping) to scoop the dough out of the bowl. It’s very important to make them all as close to the same size as possible, so that they will all cook at the same rate.

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Roll in the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar so that they are fully coated. Arrange on baking sheets, spaced about 2 inches apart. If you prefer a thin, crisp cookie, they may be flattened with a glass that has been dipped in sugar.

At our house, we prefer cookies that are crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle, so we do NOT do the glass-flattening step, but place them on the cookie sheets in “balls”. Watch the cookies carefully as they bake – you want them to just be starting to “crust” a little on the outside, but still be a little soft in the middle. It’s a very fine line, for these cookies, between “chewy/delicious” and “tough/scorched”. You want to pull them out of the oven before they start to darken too much. They will spread a bit as they bake and “crack” open on their tops.

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Bake until set (about 11 minutes). I bake two cookie sheets at a time, so I switch the sheets from the bottom oven rack to the top oven rack halfway through the baking time, so that they don’t get too well done on either the bottom or the tops of the cookies. If you bake one tray at a time and don’t do this little “switcheroo”, they will take less time (about 9 – 10 minutes) to bake in total, since the oven won’t be opened and have a chance to cool down.

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Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Makes about 3 dozen. Store in an airtight container and eat them within one week.

These are a great spicy, winter-y cookie, but they are just as delicious in the summer (with lemonade) as they are in the winter (with a frosty glass of milk or hot cup of coffee for dunking). These make a great holiday gift, too.

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Mexican Vanilla Ice Cream

Dr. Agatston, of South Beach Diet fame (see my last post), says that the two WORST diet disasters that you can inflict upon yourself are beer and ice cream, so let me just make it clear right now that Hubby and I will NOT eat this. Well, I won’t eat it anyway. Hubby, however, has absolutely NO willpower when it comes to ice cream, so I bet he’ll have some. I’d feel guilty for tempting him, but he’s lost more weight than I have, so I can sabotage his diet just a little, right? The idea, though, is that this is for the kids. We have a ton of leftover Halloween candy around here and thought it might be fun to “smush” some into ice cream, like at our favorite ice cream place. I like to make my own ice cream, so that I can use organic milk, cream, eggs, etc. Some wonderfully thoughtful friends (Thanks J and D!!!) even brought us back some organic Mexican vanilla (the best in the world – really!) from their trip this summer. Making your own ice cream is MUCH simpler than you might think, it just requires a bit of pre-planning. You need to allow enough time for the custard to cool before freezing and also you need to remember to put your ice cream freezer cylinder in your freezer (most require 24 hours). This is a great dessert to make for a dinner party, though – make the custard ahead of time (morning of the party or even the day before) and have it chilled in the fridge, then just pour it into the ice cream maker. By the time the coffee’s ready, you have ice cream. Your guests will be very impressed!

Mexican Vanilla Ice Cream

1 cup milk
(we use lowfat and it turns out fine – yes, I used to be one of those people that would order a chili cheeseburger, onion rings and a diet Coke)
1/2 cup sugar (see note below)
2 large eggs
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla extract (Mexican, if possible)

Warm the milk over low heat in a medium-sized saucepan. Whisk the sugar and eggs together in a separate medium-sized bowl. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg/sugar mixture, while continuing to whisk.

NOTE: This is VERY important and may require someone else to help pour while you stir. If you pour too quickly, without enough stirring, the warm milk will cook the eggs too quickly and the finished ice cream will taste like scrambled eggs. Blech!

Here is the egg/sugar/milk mixture as it starts to cook:
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Pour the mixture back into the pan and heat it slowly until thickened, stirring constantly (until it looks like very liquid pudding). Do NOT let this come to a boil (see “scrambled egg” warning above).

Here’s the egg/sugar/milk mixture, once it’s reached the right consistency:
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Remove from heat and let the custard cool to room temperature. Stir in the whipping cream and vanilla.

Here’s the custard, after adding the cream and vanilla:
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Pour custard into a Tupperware-type container and chill until thoroughly cooled. Freeze in your ice cream maker, following the manufacturer directions. Top with your favorite crushed candy bar, toasted nuts, etc.

If you happen to feel like getting REALLY fancy (and happen to have an extra $2 or so on hand to buy a vanilla bean), you can cut 1 whole vanilla bean in half, then cut it open (lengthwise) and add it to your custard right before cooking it (after mixing the milk and the eggs/sugar). Let the vanilla bean sit in the custard as it cools. OMIT the vanilla extract if you do this. Right before freezing, remove the vanilla bean and scrape out all of the tiny seeds inside, discarding the outer bean pod afterwards. Then you’ll have “Vanilla Bean” ice cream, with the authentic little vanilla specks. This is Hubby’s favorite.

NOTE on sugar: I like to use organic cane sugar for most recipes. It’s organic, first of all, but it also has a richer, molasses/brown sugar taste, because it’s unrefined. It is darker and does have larger granules, though, so I wouldn’t recommend it for any recipe where the sugar doesn’t really have a chance to be heated/cooked enough to dissolve well. I would NOT use it for things like: meringue, sweetened whipped (Chantilly) cream or rimming a cocktail glass. You need finer, whiter sugar for that. But, I do love the cane sugar flavor for cookies, muffins, custards, adding to hot beverages, etc.

Here’s the ice cream, freezing in the machine:
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Speaking of ice cream makers, have any of you ever used one of these?
I’m thinking of getting one for a friend’s children for Christmas. It looks like it would be really fun, even though it only makes a little bit of ice cream at a time.

Here’s the finished ice cream, in a storage container to finish freezing to serving consistency:
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Here it is, ready for serving, with the candy inside. Boy and Hubby put Reese’s in theirs, Girl chose a Crunch bar. The ice cream was still a little soft, but gets a little “harder” after it has been in the fridge overnight.
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Healthy Veggie Mini-Quiches

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This recipe is adapted from a recipe in The South Beach Diet by Dr. Arthur Agatston. Hubby and I have had much success with this diet. I lost about 20 pounds and Hubby lost 35 or so. I can’t recommend this diet enough. I have issues with low blood sugar/hypoglycemia. I also love to exercise and this diet gives me plenty of energy (plenty of protein). You never feel hungry or deprived and the food is pretty tasty. It’s definitely a diet for someone who loves to cook. In fact, you MUST love to cook to be on this diet, because it pretty much requires you to make three meals a day, at least in the early stages. But, the food is varied and tasty, with lots of flavor from fresh herbs, veggies and nuts. FYI – Girl will eat these, but Boy will not.

Healthy Veggie Mini-Quiches

1 1/2 cups Egg Beaters or other egg substitute
3/4 cup reduced-fat cheese (we like cheddar, but ricotta is good, too)
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, coarsely chopped
(Make these yourself and freeze to be used as needed; do NOT use the oil-packed ones. If you don’t have these on hand, then use fresh bell peppers instead)
1/4 cup chopped red onion, sauteed in a tiny bit olive oil or “no trans fat” margarine (we like Benecol) until soft
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed well to remove excess water
a dash of your favorite hot sauce, if desired
1 Tbsp. of your favorite chopped herb (parsley, basil or tarragon are all good), optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with foil baking cups. Mix all ingredients together and pour (a 1/4 cup measuring cup works great) equal amounts in each muffin cup. Bake for 25 minutes. These can be stored in the fridge for 3 days or frozen for longer. (Remove the foil cup before reheating them in the microwave!) A serving is two quiches.

NOTE: My recipe has more egg substitute and the quiches are a little larger than Dr. Agatston’s, so if you’re following the SB diet very strictly, be aware that this is a slightly larger portion than he suggests. I eat these before working out, so I need a little bit more “fuel” to keep me going.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Volume 2

I made another batch of these gnocchi today. I didn’t cook the sweet potato as long as I did the first time (not intentionally), so when I went to mash it into the dough, it didn’t “mash” as evenly and smoothly as it did the first time and I was left with some small chunks of sweet potato in the dough (see photo below). I’m sure they will end up fine, since they will be boiled before eating and the sweet potato will soften up, but the dough did require quite a bit of flour (3/4 cup?) to roll it out, when it didn’t require ANY the first time. So, if any of you decide to make these, make sure that your sweet potatoes are cooked VERY well – soft enough to mash smoothly without any lumps. It’s only a difference of a minute or two in the microwave, but it will make your life MUCH easier when you go to shape the gnocchi. It also seems to help to chill the dough in the fridge for a while (even overnight) before rolling it out. I did that last time, but did not do it this time. I also skipped the whole fork-rolling thing. It didn’t make any difference in how they tasted or how they cooked, and once they boiled and swelled a bit, you couldn’t see that little detail, anyway. I’ve also discovered that you should just ignore the recommended boiling time. Just boil them until they float to the top of the pan – that is the traditional (non-sweet potato) gnocchi cooking technique. It works fine for these, too, and is much easier than timing. They turn out just right this way. Girl helped me make these. We are freezing some of them and will try to pull them out and cook them tomorrow to see how they hold up to the freezer.

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A tray of gnocchi, ready to go in the freezer. I’m going to freeze them on the tray until they freeze solid, and then will transfer them to a big Ziploc bag. I’m planning to put them right in the boiling water, without thawing them first. Jennifer – I’ll let you know how they turn out!