Susan and I just returned from another trip to San Francisco. We babysat our 10 months- and 3 years-old grandsons while Sarah and Evan travelled to Dallas. They were invited to cook with the staff at a hot, new Dallas restaurant, FT33. Sarah and Evan and the local chef alternated dishes for an 8-course tasting menu with wine pairings. The place was sold out, and Sarah got to see Corey and Megan, school friends of our other daughter, along with a fellow member of her crew team at the University of Texas.
My cooking task was more challenging: I was charged with feeding the two little ones. Actually, the 10-month-old was not difficult. He is still drinking a lot of liquids, and he will eat anything else you put in front of him.
The three-year-old was another story. The first morning, he wouldn’t eat his cheerios until I added some milk, so the next morning I anticipated him and poured in the milk. That morning he decided he didn’t want milk, so I had to scrap the first bowl. The next morning I made French toast with maple syrup. He didn’t like it, but the 10-month-old polished it off.
My greatest failure turned out to be lunch. I put together some things for his lunch box for nursery school. My first thought was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What child doesn’t like PB&J? Besides, PB&J is not forbidden at his nursery school as it is in many places. As I was planning my menu, Sarah sent a text message that the toddler doesn’t like peanut butter. I made a quick change of plans and substituted some chèvre that I found in the fridge. Then, I reached for a jar of fig jam when he announced that he didn’t like jelly. For that, I substituted some hummus. I thought a goat cheese and hummus sandwich on whole wheat bread looked pretty tasty, so I packed it with freeze-dried strawberry slices, crispy apple chips, and a stick of string cheese. Imagine my disappointment when the lunch box came home at the end of the day with only the string cheese gone.
We took advantage of the kids being at nursery school by taking a little trip to the Embarcadero and enjoying a good lunch at the well-known Fog City Diner.
The iconic TransAmerica Tower and the classic Fog City Diner
The Star Princess at dockside waiting for a new group of passengers
Pigeons in front of the Exploratorium
Daredevils stabilizing Telegraph Hill.
I was more successful with dinner one night. I found some packaged gnocchi and a cooked chicken breast in the refrigerator along with some mushrooms and colorful “snacking peppers”. I put it all together with some brown butter sauce, and it turned out to be a huge favorite with both kids.
Gnocchi, Chicken, Mushrooms, Peppers, and Beurre Noisette
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- juice of ½ lime
- ½ cooked chicken breast
- 6 white button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 each, red, orange, and yellow snacking peppers, sliced crosswise
- 1 package prepared gnocchi
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup grated Romano cheese
- salt and pepper
- In a small saucepan over low het, melt the butter. Heat gently until the milk solids float to the top and begin to brown. Skim off the solids with a tablespoon. Pour the melted butter into a small bowl, leaving any remaining solids on the bottom of the saucepan behind. Wipe the pan clean, return the clarified butter, and continue to heat over a low flame until it turns a nut-brown color. (hazelnut to be specific) Stir in the lime juice and set aside.
- Shred the cooked chicken with two table forks. Set aside.
- Sauté the sliced mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of the butter sauce over medium heat. Add the remaining butter sauce. Stir in the shredded chicken and pepper slices until heated through.
- In the meantime, boil the gnocchi in a pot of boiling salted water according to package instructions. Drain. Return to the pot, and stir in the butter sauce, mushrooms, chicken, peppers, and grated cheeses. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Every Friday evening, our village market holds a wine tasting which has become a neighborhood gathering. The market owners use the event as an opportunity to introduce new products. One that caught my eye recently was a package of potato gnocchi imported from Italy and made by Del Destino Foods with the advantage that they required no refrigeration and could be stored in the pantry.
I very much like well-made gnocchi, although they are somewhat hard to find, even in good restaurants. They are often too leaden or else disintegrate rather than being the fluffy cloud like pillows that they can be. I’ve tried to make my own, but they take a bit of work and mine have really been no better than others. I was inspired to buy a package of cellophane-wrapped gnocchi for a trial at home. I could have just opted to cook them according to directions and top them with olive oil and grated Parmesan.
Instead, I decided to combine them with lamb in the form of meatballs along with mint pesto. (What’s a better combination than lamb and mint, right?)
To make the meatballs I used a #60 scoop. I didn’t know what that meant, so when I looked up scoops, I learned that they are assigned a number according to size, the number referring to how many scoops it takes to make a quart. So a #60 scoop holds about ½ ounce, level, and more when heaping. In this recipe, you should expect about 30 meatballs.
I liked the way everything turned out, and the gnocchi were good, not great. At least they were not sinkers, they had a good taste, and they were fast. In fact, they were good enough that I will try them again. However, I’ve also made a plan to make my own soon.
Lamb meatballs formed with a No. 60 scoop
Lamb meatballs browned, sautéed and kept warm
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- ½ cup milk
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup finely chopped shallots
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped green bell pepper
- salt and pepper
- Italian seasoning to taste (optional)
- pure olive oil
- In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and milk. Stir to mix thoroughly and set aside.
- In a larger bowl, combine the ground lamb and egg. Stir in the milk-bread crumb mixture, shallots, and pepper. You may need to use your hands to get the meatball mixture well combined.
- Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and, if desired, Italian seasoning.
- Form the meatballs to the size you desire. I think smaller is better.
- In a saucepan over a medium flame, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the meatballs in batches, turning them until they are completely browned. Continue to sauté for an additional 5 minutes until they are cooked through. Keep warm until you are ready to compose the serving bowls.
Mint and parsley for the pesto
- 1 bunch parsley, stems removed
- 1 package mint, stems removed
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and stem and any green shoots removed
- ½ cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup English walnuts
- salt and pepper
- Place the parsley, mint, garlic, and Parmesan cheese in the beaker of a food processor.
- Pulse, gradually adding olive oil and stopping occasionally to push down the sides with a spatula.
- When the pesto has reached the desired consistency, add the walnuts, pulse briefly, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Lamb Meatballs, Mint-Parsley Pesto, Potato Gnocchi
Packaged Del Destino potato gnocchi
When gnocchi rise to the top of the boiling water, they are done
Cooked gnocchi scooped out of the boiling water
Lamb meatballs, mint-parsley pesto, potato gnocchi ready to eat.
- 1 package gnocchi cooked according to instructions
- 1 batch mint-parsley pesto (see above)
- 1 batch lamb meatballs (see above)
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Boil and drain the packaged gnocchi according to instructions. Distribute among 4 pasta bowls
- Top with a desired amount of pesto. You may need to dilute it with a bit of the water reserved from boiling the gnocchi
- Arrange meatballs on top of the pesto. Serve immediately. Pass the grated Parmesan separately.