Inner Pieces

Figuring out my life, one piece at a time

Serious Eats for One Month- Bye Bye Baked Pasta

Oops, I forgot to blog last night.  Send the NaBloPoMo police.  I got caught up in things and I had a headache.  My migraine concoction was used and it worked, but I’ll tell you about that another time.

Do you like plays?  Musicals?  I’m thrilled that I raised three play-lovers.  Working in the heart of midtown Manhattan, I can walk through Times Square at lunch and happily point out plays I’ve seen or ones we need to see.  Instead of giving the girls more crap they really don’t need on their birthdays and Christmas, we give them play tickets.  Utah and her Kevin went to see The Lion King (again) for her birthday.  I sent all three of the girls in to see Aladdin for Christmas last year.  Beena and John want to see Matilda for Christmas.  If you recall, the girls gave me tickets to see Rock of Ages on my 50th and I turned around and gave the same thing to Utah for her birthday that year.

MR gave me my long-awaited for tickets to Kinkyboots for our anniversary.  And I didn’t even have to take him! lol!

It’s not only Broadway shows we love to see.  We haven’t missed a middle/high school production in about six years.  We will go to a church play is we see one.  We passed a High School in another neighborhood, saw they were putting on Seussical the Musical, bought tickets and loved it.  That was a talented bunch of kids.

Tonight the Middle School put on Bye Bye Birdie, and Zombiegirl didn’t even have to ask if I wanted to go- it was understood.  This play holds a special place in my heart because it was MY high school play, I think when I was a freshman.  I didn’t remember who I played until Kim McAfee and her best friend Ursula sang together. Bam! It all came back to me…I was Ursula.  I recited the lines right along with the (very talented) middle-schooler.  Yet I can’t remember to take the damn chicken out of the fridge in the morning.

All this is leading somewhere, promise.

I get home at 6 every night and the play started at 7.  I’ve been slacking in the cooking department so I enlisted MR’s help and made Crispy Baked Pasta with Mushrooms and Sausage in Creamy Parmesan Sauce.  They promised it would only take a half hour.

More or less.

Crispy Baked Pasta with Mushrooms, Sausage, and Parmesan Cream Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Panko-style bread crumbs
  • 6 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
  • 2 small shallots, finely minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces Italian sausage (mild or hot), removed from casings
  • 1 pound mixed mushrooms (such as portobello, shiitake, and oyster), cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces fresh or 8 ounces dried ridged pasta such as rotini or campanelle

Procedures

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and keep at a bare simmer. Combine bread crumbs, 2 ounces cheese, half of parsley, half of chives, 1/4 of shallots, 1/4 of garlic, and olive oil in a medium bowl and massage with hands until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (I really need to read through a recipe first.  I added all the cheese.  It’s okay, we like cheese.  I also didn’t use my hands- I was on my way out.)

Melt butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until foaming. Add sausage and cook, mashing it with a potato masher or a wooden spoon until broken up and well browned, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer sausage to a small bowl, leaving fat behind. (MR’s job.  He’s meticulous.)

Increase heat to high, add mushrooms to skillet, and cook, stirring frequently, until moisture has evaporated and mushrooms are well-browned, about 10 minutes. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add soy sauce and lemon juice and stir to combine. (Okay, we deviated big time here.  No one in this household likes mushrooms.  They’re poison.  Like the floor is lava.  I like a grilled Portabello sandwhich, but that’s about it.)

Add flour and cook, stirring, until a thin film begins to form on the bottom of the pan, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in chicken broth followed by heavy cream. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in remaining grated cheese until melted. Stir in remaining parsley and chives. Stir in sausage. Season to taste with salt and lots of black pepper. (Somehow, I forgot the cream, which pissed me off because I actually HAD cream from the Fettucine Alfredo.  I added a little more cheese because…it said to.)

Adjust rack to 10 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions, removing it when still just shy of al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Return to pot. Add mushroom mixture and stir to combine, adding liquid to adjust consistency. Pasta should be very loose but not soupy. Return to cast iron skillet and top with bread crumbs. Broil until golden brown, rotating pan as necessary, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately (I didn’t cook this in my cast iron pan because I have yet to season it from the last time I used it.  I didn’t want everything to taste like rust.  MR threw this in the oven and Z-girl and I ran out to the play.)

I sat through all the squeaky singing, bad acting, wonderful acrobatics (go Monster and Jamie!) and cute tap-dancer (Yay, Grace!) thinking about dinner.  It didn’t distract me enough not to hum the tunes under my breath, however.  They did a great job but damn, we needed to get home and eat.

This dish was really good.  I’m kind of glad the cream was forgotten- it was creamy enough without it.  I would have added more sausage and maybe a little less parmesan, it had a bite to it.  MR ate two helpings but Zombiegirl wouldn’t eat it…two things she hates, pasta and sausage.  And she’s 1/4 Italian.

What’s the story, Morninglory?  What’s the tale, Nightingale?

This one’s a keeper.

 

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The Sweet Things In Life

The stars just didn’t line up today.  Messages weren’t received in time and traffic was too dense so I didn’t get to cook today.  It was quick, crappy pizza and I’m left feeling disconcerted from the lousy dinner and the lousy day.

I should have had the Fettucine from last night.  It really was comforting and delicious.

So no post about my cooking adventures but I do want to talk about food.  Maple syrup to be exact.  And how it changed my life.

MR’s sister and her husband bought a “farm” upstate close to Cooperstown.  When they first moved in, it wasn’t much of a farm- it had land, a lake, a cornfield and tapped maple trees, the latter two both rented out to other people to harvest.  In four years, they’ve fixed up the house, built a barn, adopted chickens, turkeys, goats and a pig.  Most importantly, they took over the tapped maple trees and built a state-of-the-art wood-burning organically certified sap house.

It’s an amazing process.  The pumps suck the sap into the huge vat, which feeds into the boiler.  When it reaches a certain temperature, it pours into the barrel.  It can then be bottled or dried into maple sugar.  When you enter the huge house, it’s warm and smells delicious.  You have to raise your voice to be heard over the pumps and the oven and the boiling.

I am simplifying everything, of course.  Except for it smelling delicious.

When we go up, we help out.  At the grand opening last year I made pancakes, sterilized bottles, poured and capped, checked the lines, folded t-shirts and hauled wood.  It’s a great experience and it was all worth it when a customer stopped in the store and bought freshly bottled syrup.  Their sap house was on a “trail” of maple syrup business in New York State so people were stopping by to see the process and taste the syrup.  We never experienced anything like this.

I wanted to do something similar.  MR and I were so impressed we talked all the way home the last time, trying to figure out what we could do that would be as awesome as what Ray and Paula have with Elk Creek.  We obviously can’t tap maple trees on Long Island- all of the trees on our property are oak.  We can’t farm- the aforementioned oak trees are too damned tall and we get very little direct sun.  Besides, our property is a whopping .092 acres- can’t do a whole lot with that.  I’d love to have chickens but we have too many predators.  What crazy scheme could did we come up with?

Bees.  The honey kind.

I have all my bee adventures written out for when we purchase a proper storefront/blog, so I’ll make this long story short to post here.

I took an eight-hour class to learn how to be a beekeeper.  The instructor (aka My Bee Guy) while knowledgeable wasn’t a very good teacher.  I think he’s been doing this a long time and I got the feeling he expected us to know a lot before we even got to the class.  However, he was available via a Yahoo group so if we had any questions we could ask.  We bought two hives from him as well as our NUC (nucleus) of about 10,000 bees and a queen.  We successfully installed them into their new hive on a warm spring day and we were one of the few new owners who didn’t have a swarm in the following weeks.  They stayed put and prospered so well we split them into the second hive.

Fast forward through a bout of infesting beetles, three stings (me, of course), a fierce yellow jacket/honey bee battle to the death in our backyard, countless internet hours of research and the discovery that my neighbor four doors down has been a bee keeper for 30 years for the neighboring farm.  Four months later we get to honey production.  Said neighbor loaned us his spinning extractor and showed us how to uncap the comb and spin the honey out.  The process of spinning the frames and bottling the honey took me right back to Elk Creek Sap house and I was happy.  We have 25,000 employees working their hearts out for us and yes, we totally appreciate it.  Each drop of honey is precious to us because we now know how intensive the procedure is.

And delicious. Just like maple syrup.

Follow us on Facebook/hive 451!

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Serious Eats for One Month- Fettuccine George

Did you ever have one of those days where you wanted to rip someone’s head off and hurl it through the window?  When the injustices were stacked so high against you that you felt you couldn’t take a breath because you might scream?  When the stupidity level was so far off the charts you needed to go into the next room to see them?

Every time I meet with my team, I feel this way.

We just finished up an auditing project, one to raise the accuracy of our database and our floor plans.  My grade was better than I thought- my plans needed a little cleaning up since I’ve been so busy this past year- but it was a good exercise in standardization and mastery.  Yes, I do my needlepoint and Christmas cards and plan bridal showers and weddings at my job, but I never shirk my responsibility and my work never suffers for it.  I’m good at what I do, I know how to budget my time and I know how much I can get away with.

Some of my teammates don’t understand that.  If one gets a grade of “F” (fail) on practically every aspect of the audit, do not have the audacity to tell us (US!) that you’re too busy to do your walkthroughs.  We see you on the internet watching soccer, reading the paper and ordering parts for your hot dog truck business.  Do not tell us (US!) that you can’t get your reports done on time (they’re due on the 15th of every month, it’s been that way for years) because you’re “in love”.  Don’t try to baffle us (US!) with your bullshit.  It may work on your business managers, your move managers and your project managers, but We. Know. Better.

What we don’t know if what you have over your boss.  The same boss that will joke about you being on the internet (or phone…or late…or just not there).  The same boss who, when learns about your failing grade will take certain aspects of your responsibilities away and make someone else responsible for them.  The same boss that gives your day to day work to someone else to “save her job”.  You know something about this person, you must.  Why else are you still employed?

So when you have a day like this, seven hours of banging your head on the table and drawing “stupid” buttons to press whenever the stoopid gets too thick, you need to go home and either a) drink heavily, b) break every dish in a fit of rage c) eat all the Halloween candy or d) make comfort food.

I chose “d”.

It was quick, it was easy and it was delicious.  It was the Lighter Fettuccine Alfredo recipe that didn’t taste light.

Lighter Fettuccine Alfredo

Ingredients:

  • 5 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound fresh fettuccine, or 12 ounces dried fettuccine
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 medium clove)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Minced fresh parsley or chives

Procedure:

Combine cheese, heavy cream, egg, cornstarch, olive oil, and lemon zest (if using) in a large bowl. Season lightly with salt and heavily with black pepper and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, bring 2 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until cooked but still very firm (not quite al dente), about 45 seconds for fresh pasta or 1 minute less than package directions for dried pasta. Drain pasta into a colander set over a large bowl. Transfer 2 cups of cooking water to a liquid measuring cup and discard the rest. Transfer pasta to the now-empty bowl. Add the garlic and butter and toss to coat.

Whisking constantly, slowly add 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water to the bowl with the cheese mixture. Transfer the cheese mixture to the now-empty pasta cooking pot, scraping the bottom to make sure you get everything. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, about 45 seconds. Season sauce to taste with more salt and pepper as desired. Transfer pasta to sauce mixture and turn to coat. Just before serving, stir in more pasta water to thin the sauce out as necessary. Serve immediately, sprinkled with minced herbs, black pepper, and cheese, and drizzled with additional olive oil.

I followed the recipe exactly and it was delicious.  Redemption from the enchilada escapade.

Now to have a beer, smash a dish and eat a Kit Kat. Because I have to do this all again tomorrow.

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Laser Tag

Busy day with the family so no cooking today. I’m just going to leave this picture here.

I love them so much.

image

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Catharsis

There wasn’t any cooking today. Today was a day of purging and expulsion.  Of cleaning and scouring. Of cleansing.

Ever since I saw my first episode of Tiny House Nation, I’ve been obsessed with minimizing my life (and building a tiny house).   Around the same time Beena expressed an interest in having a yard sale.  Perfect timing.  I started going through drawers, closets and attics.  If it had never been used or if there were duplicates of any one thing, it went into a box.  If it didn’t fit AT THIS TIME or, being realistic, I was never planning on fixing or making it, it went into a box.  If I felt I could reasonably live without it, it went into a box.

I was ruthless.  Out went six pairs of nail clippers.  Out went eight tote bags.  Out went a full set of Margarita glasses.  I practically halved my personal stuff and gained tons of space in my closets and drawers.  It felt wonderful.

Unfortunately, the weather the past several weeks prevented us from having that yard sale.  Now all this stuff is sitting in my basement, waiting for the spring.  I got depressed every time I went into the basement, which has its own special kind of crap crammed in.  Now it had a multitude of boxes to add to the messy mix.

The girls pitched in today and helped me pack and stack the boxes in a tidy corner of the basement.  They cleaned out the game cabinet and convinced me to get rid of some stuff I was hanging on to “just in case”.  Even though the crap was still in the house, it was neat and boxed up, ready to be sold.  It felt good.

I dropped a bag off at the church- a ton of baskets for the shut-ins, some angels my mom made years ago and some flower pins we once sold on Mother’s Day as well as floor plans of the various projects I worked on for the parsonage, the church office and the church itself.  Giving these little things away was more therapeutic than culling the clothes from my closet.  Knowing my time with this church has completed left me feeling light and clear-headed.  The anger has dissipated and I’m ready to merge onto the next spiritual highway and see where that takes me.

Seeing me run up and down two flights of stairs all day must have made MR take pity on me because he offered to take me out for dinner.  And honestly, that burger didn’t taste half as good as some of the things I cooked this week.

(Why would anyone have seven pairs of nail clippers?)

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Serious Eats for One Month- My First Failure

Tonight we had the Sweet Potato and Chicken Enchiladas that I made last night.  No one was happy with it.  MR fed the last of his to Lola.

On second thought, Lola was pretty happy with it.

It started with the dried chilis I couldn’t find. I couldn’t make the chili sauce as per the recipe because I used a couple of jalapenos from Mr. Murphy’s garden and the only dried chilis I did find- which were probably hotter than what was in the recipe.  The chili sauce was so hot, I couldn’t use it on the enchiladas, resulting in dried tubes of meat.  Both Zombiegirl and MR said the enchiladas would have been better with good old-fashioned taco-like meat.  Z-girl just shook her head when I told her there were sweet potatoes in it.  Then she immediately didn’t like it.

So now I know HOW to make enchiladas, just won’t make it this way.  Lesson learned.

Sweet Potato and Chicken Enchiladas

Ingredients

  • 3 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 3 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, halved and sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, divided
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated with a box grater or the shredder plate of a food processor
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 small)
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Sour cream

Procedures

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the chiles and toast them about 2 minutes on each side, just until they are fragrant and beginning to darken (do this in batches if you can’t fit all six at once). Set the sauté pan aside.

Put the water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add the toasted chiles, half of the sliced onions, and 3 cloves of garlic cut in half. Partially cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

While the chiles simmer, add the vegetable oil to the sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining sliced onion and the grated sweet potato. Sauté for about 10 minutes until the onions and potatoes are very soft. Mince the remaining cloves of garlic and add to the onions and potatoes, stirring for about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside. If a crust formed on the bottom of the sauté pan while the potatoes cooked, deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of the chile liquid.

After the chiles have simmered for 30 minutes, transfer them, along with the onions and garlic, to a blender or food processor along with 1/2 cup of the liquid (reserve the rest in the pot). Puree until very smooth and then push the puree through a mesh strainer into a small bowl. Discard any solids that remain in the strainer. Stir in the cider vinegar and the salt and then set the chile sauce aside.

Return the pot and the remaining liquid to medium-low heat and bring to a bare simmer. Add the chicken, cover the pot and poach the chicken for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. Remove the chicken from the liquid to cool slightly and then shred it with a fork. Stir the shredded chicken into the potatoes and onions and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Assemble the enchiladas. Lightly oil the bottom of a medium baking dish. Divide a few tablespoons of the chicken mixture among the 12 corn tortillas and roll them up into cigar-shapes about 1-inch in diameter. Arrange them, seam-side down, close together in the baking dish. Spread the chile sauce on top of the enchiladas and then top with the grated cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 30 minutes.

Top the hot enchiladas with the green onions and cilantro and serve with sour cream on the side.

***

What’s up otherwise?

  • The Dutch Oven I ordered came today- it’s a beauty!  I can’t wait to cook in it.
  • I’m trying VERY hard not to resurrect F*CK You Fridays here on the blog.
  • Crying at my Indian fast food place at lunch today was not cool.  The guy behind the counter confirmed I was a regular (he asked me if I didn’t want green sauce- he remembered) and I’ll never eat there again since it’s too far to walk from my new location on the West Side. So many things I’m going to miss.
  • I started Christmas shopping online with eBates.com.  How have I not know about this before?  I’ve already built up a nice little account!  I’m going to order anyway, why not get something out of it?
  • I’m in love with the Kilchers from Alaska: The Last Frontier.  I want a homestead.
  • Why can’t I make a sourdough starter?  I’ve killed the last three I’ve started.  More research I guess is in the cards.
  • I’m excited about week two of Serious Eats for One Month.
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Serious Eats for One Month- I Am Tired

I’m pooped.

I got home late last night from seeing KINKYBOOTS with April. If you get a chance to see it, go! We quoted the movie lines along with the actors, we cheered for for the beautiful Angels, we cried at Simon’s secrets. Lauren, the co-worker was hysterical, I could have watched her all night. Going out with April is always a good time. At any moment, even in the restaurant, she would scream “KINKYBOOTS” and scare the crap out if me. She compared going to see this (long-waited-for) play to a kid waiting on line for Santa. With sprinkles. And candy canes. And hot elves.

Dinner was our usual Thai, at Pongsri on West 48th Street. We had almost three hours to kill before the show started. Appetizers, beer, Pink Valentines and curry dishes were a nice change of pace to the frantic pace of cooking I’ve been doing this week.

It’s also been crazy at work this week. We are vacating 299 Park Avenue, my home for the last five or so years. I’ve been packing and cleaning for the move tomorrow- how have I accumulated so much shit in five years? Granted, my line of work comes with a lot of baggage (plotters, rolls of paper of plans, cutters, binders and rulers) but all the personal crap- where did all this come from? I guess it’s time to throw all those ketchup packets away.

Tonight MR and I went to the local ethnic food store specifically for dried Ancho chilis, tortillas and dried guajillo peppers. We got the tortillas, but go figure, the Spanish store didn’t have the peppers. I started cooking as soon as I got home, but I literally ran out of steam. I stopped halfway through frying up the peppers and asked if we could finish up the Pot Pie we had at the beginning of the week.  I heated up the other half (that thing provided two dinners and one lunch) for MR, Zombiegirl and myself.  When Utah came home, she ate some of the pizza from Tuesday that I had cut and frozen.  Four meals cooked, five nights  of dinners.  And four lunches.  If I weren’t so tired right now, I’d calculate how much this cost me per meal.

Sorry, I think I just zonked out for a minute there.

I went back after dinner and finished up tomorrow’s meal so it’s all ready to pop into the oven before MR picks me up at the train station. I had to make a few changes on this one- i don’t know if it’s because I’m out of it or what-I couldn’t follow this recipe at all.

I did end up with a killer hot sauce.  More on that tomorrow.

Rambling, disjointed post.  Just like old times, right?  Doesn’t matter, take one thing away from this post- go see Kinkyboots at the Al Hirschfield Theater.  Ask for Lola.

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Serious Eats for One Month- Keep Calm and Meatball On.

My husband is a meticulous man.  I guess that’s why he loves watches- all the gears, the movements, the jewels- they all work in meticulous harmony in a little teeny tiny case to keep accurate time.

He’s meticulous to a fault sometimes.  He will research and draw plans and measure a billion times before he even thinks of starting a project.  That’s the point where his confidence says, “you know how to do this, you are prepared but if you even think of starting you will fuck this up.”  I’d like to kick his wimpy little confidence in the teeth sometimes.  I KNOW he’s capable of marvelous things but that self-doubt holds him back a lot.  He’s one of the smartest and talented persons I know but I can’t get him to do crap around the house until he’s damn good and ready.

Same thing with cooking.  He never used to help in the kitchen unless it was making tuna sandwhiches.  He makes a DAMN good tuna sammich, and I tell him that every time.  I don’t remember when it was that I asked him to make chicken cutlets (breaded and fried) but he mastered that, too.  Practically everyone loves MR’s chicken cutlets.  And venison cutlets.  Don’t ask me to do the venison.  Whatever I do is not to his standards, so I don’t even try (much).  Fine by me if he has specialties.  Less time at the stove for me.

Meatballs were a natural progression from cutlets.  He researched online, grilled his mom on how she makes hers and experimented until he perfected his meatballs to his and everyone else’s liking.  They’re moist, garlicky and actually the star of our spaghetti and meatball dinners because as you recall, my sauce is shit.  Well, it was.

When I asked him to make meatballs following a Serious Eats recipe for the sake of our experiment, he was dubious.  “Send me the recipe and I’ll look at it.”  I sent it to his office and a few minutes later he came out to the living room and declared these meatballs will not be good.  No garlic, no cheese, no oregano.  What the heck is Adobo, he asks me?  I hesitated before I told him it was a Spanish seasoning.  He turned and walked away muttering to himself.

But he made them, and they were good, they were just not the meatballs we love.  He makes them with love, and you can tell.  We will love them and continue to let him make them his way.

Super Simple Friday Night Meatballs

Ingredients:

  • For the Sauce:
  • 2 (28 ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 to 8 cloves minced garlic (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • For the Meatballs:
  • 4 slices bread, crusts removed
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons adobo seasoning (such as Goya), see note above
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil for frying
  • Pasta and grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Procedures:

Tear bread into rough chunks and pulse in the food processor until reduced to fine crumbs. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the eggs and mix with your hands until combined. Add beef, adobo seasoning, and half of the parsley. Combine mixture with your hands, working the bread crumbs into the meat until meat mixture can form a ball that holds together when tossed back into the bowl. Do not over mix.

Place a small amount of mixture on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high until cooked, about 20 seconds. Taste and add salt and/or pepper to mixture to taste. Using wet hands, form the mixture into balls roughly 2 tablespoons each, about 1 1/2- to 2-inches across. Place the balls on a large parchment or wax paper-lined tray as you work.

Add enough oil to a large cast iron or stainless steel sauté pan to form a thin layer across the bottom. Heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add as many meatballs as will fit in a single layer and cook until well browned on first side. Gently turn balls with tongs or a thin metal spatula and continue cooking and turning until well browned on all sides. As the meatballs finish browning, add them to the pot of sauce and replace them with raw meatballs. Continue, adding more oil as necessary, until all meatballs are browned and in the sauce. (MR baked the meatballs because the sauce was not done yet.  I personally like baked meatballs over fried anyway.)

And btw- I ordered a Lodge Enamel Dutch Oven from Target yesterday.  It was only $57.99, free shipping!  It’s freaking orange, my favorite color!  I went through Ebates and got $1.43 back- woot woot!

KINKYBOOTS!

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Serious Eats- Pizza, Pizza

The last week of every month, I try to put a meal plan together for the upcoming month, just something to give me a guideline of what I need to buy and how to budget my time.  I have a few rules- Meatless Mondays, usually a pasta dish or eggs.  I’m slowly trying to get the family (what’s left of us) to eat more veggies but to have a vegetarian Monday is way far off.  So I’m usually down for anything without meat in it.  I don’t have an alliterative title for Tuesdays, I just try to have chicken.  Wednesdays are pizza nights, either homemade or the local pizzeria (WE MISS PEPPINO’S!).  Thursdays is either beef or pork and Fridays are leftovers.  On Saturday I try to plan something that needs a little more prep and MR requested we do a “Sunday Supper” on Sundays, maybe eating a little early with family and/or friends.

Yeah, that’s the plan.  Pfft.

Our favorites are repeated every 5-6 weeks automatically so there is some shifting around but it’s nice to have a base.  When I sit down I usually ask what everyone wants so I can fit it in.  Nine times out of 10 everyone says, “I don’t care.”  So it’s left up to my imagination and my 3,000 pins on Pinterest.

It’s a crap shoot what we’re going to get.

Tonight I switched out Pizza Night because 1) MR and Zombiegirl have an hour and a half of soccer practice so whatever I make can’t be heavy or Z-girl won’t run.  2) It has to be quick because there’s only an hour and a half between the time I get home and the time they leave.  I have literally handed them plates on the way out to eat in the car.  Maybe that’s why my dishes are disappearing.

The BEST reason I switched out Pizza Night is KINKYBOOTS tomorrow!  MR got two tickets to the Broadway play for our Anniversary which means I can bring a friend instead of him.  He’s just not a musical kind of guy, even though his cousin (Cyndi Lauper) did the score.  April and I have been planning to see this play since it came out and since we discovered we were each the only other person we knew that saw (and loved) the movie.  If you haven’t seen it, find it…it’s charming and touching and funny.  The play should be better because…well…musical!

Anyhoo, back to pizza.  Usually when we have pizza I try to make the crust so this was nice and quick.  I followed the recipe exactly- actually, I doubled it because I thought Nathalia was staying again and Utah would be home.

Yeah, that was the plan.  Pfft, now I have a whole Italian bread pizza sitting in the freezer. More lunch options.

(side note: while looking for the recipe on Serious Eats, I just came across their pumpkin pizza.  Oooh. Yes.)

The Best French Bread Pizza: (comments to follow)

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley or basil leaves, or a mix
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 large loaf French or Italian bread (see note above), about 18 inches long and 4 inches wide, split half lengthwise and crosswise
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 8 ounces freshly grated whole milk mozzarella cheese
  • 2 ounces grated Parmigiano-reggiano

Procedures

Adjust oven rack to upper position and preheat oven to 425°F. Heat butter and 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until butter is melted. Add garlic, pepper flakes, and oregano and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is softened but not browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in half of parsley/basil and a big pinch of salt. Remove from heat.

Place bread cut-side-up on a clean work surface. Using a rimmed baking sheet, press down on bread evenly until compressed to about 2/3rds of its original height. Place bread on top of rimmed baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush half of garlic/butter/oil mixture evenly over cut surfaces of bread, making sure to get plenty of bits of garlic and aromatics. Set aside.

Add tomatoes to remaining garlic/butter/oil mixture in pan, stir to combine, increase heat to medium, bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until rich and reduced, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

While sauce cooks, spread 1/4 of mozzarella evenly over surface of bread and transfer to oven. Cook until cheese is barely melted, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until sauce is cooked.

Spread sauce evenly over bread, then spread remaining mozzarella on top of sauce. Transfer to oven and bake until cheese is melted and just starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with Parmigiano-reggiano, remaining parsley/basil, and remaining tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Allow to cool slightly and serve.

I liked the layers of garlic oil, cheese and sauce with the oil and basil on top.  I thought it was tasty, easy and crunchy.  The ONLY thing I would have changed (on my part) would have been to buy a narrower loaf of Italian.  The wide flat loaf when cooked was soft in the middle and crunchy on the ends.  I would have liked a bit of crunch throughout the pizza.  MR said it was great, it had a lot of taste (which our local pizzeria lacks- did I mention that I MISS PEPPINO’S?)  Zombiegirl thought the sauce was too sweet and had too many chunks (she’s not a saucy kid.  Well, she’s saucy, but just in her attitude.)  Utah declared it delicious.

This one’s a keeper too.  I’m going to try the layers on one of my homemade crusts and see if I can ramp up the awesomeness of our usual Pizza Night.

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Serious Eats for One Month- Pumpkin Everything

Like everyone at this time of year, I look forward to pumpkin everything…beer, lattes, cookies, muffins, trips pumpkin picking, carving jack o’lanterns and roasting seeds.  I’ve developed an appreciation for fresh pumpkin in my pies, so I’ve been cooking up cheese pumpkins, pureeing and freezing for future recipes.

And since it’s Meatless Monday in our house and I didn’t feel like making our standard Mac and Cheese from a box (I told you my cooking skills were deteriorating) I thought this would be the perfect fall recipe to try.  Zombiegirl declared last week that she liked butternut squash soup and Utah once told me she liked brown butter and sage ravioli, so hey, they were bound to like Serious Eats Extra Creamy Squash Lasagna, right?

I took an extra “normal” lasagna out of the freezer last night.  Just. In. Case.y eternal clock is not on daylight savings time yet, so at 5 am I got up to make dinner.

And because my eternal clock is not in sync with Daylight Savings Time, I got up at 5 am to make dinner.

The Best Squash Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 1 large kabocha squash or sugar pumpkin (about 2 1/2 pounds), quartered, seeds discarded
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, divided
  • 2 crisp baking apples such as Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves, plus 1/4 cup roughly torn leaves, divided
  • 1 package no-boil lasagna noodles (15 noodles)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 12 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese

Procedure:

Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 325°F. Toss three squash quarters with 1 tablespoon olive oil and coat thoroughly using your hands. Season with salt and pepper. Place in a cast iron skillet or on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and roast until a knife meets no resistance when poked into the flesh around the stem, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Increase oven temperature to 400°F. ( I already had cheese pumpkin puree on hand so I figured a 2-1/2 pound pumpkin equals 2-1/2 cups of puree. That amount worked out fine. )

Scrape roasted squash flesh out into the work bowl of a food processor. Add egg, cream cheese, 2 tablespoons butter, maple syrup, cinnamon, and half of nutmeg. Process until a completely smooth purée is formed. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside. (I’m coming to realize that maybe my skill level in the kitchen is not completely my fault.  If I had a kitchen and equipment like Rachel Ray [and her stupid garbage bowl], would I be a better cook? Would it matter if I processed stuff in stages in my tiny food processor instead of all in one go? Maybe, maybe not.  Anyways, I used my immersion blender to puree this mixture.  I tried to quietly blend since the rest of the house was asleep.  Nearly impossible…)

While squashes are roasting in step 1, cut remaining squash quarter into 1/2-inch dice. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter in a large skillet over high heat, swirling until foaming subsides. Add diced squash and apple and cook, tossing and stirring frequently until tender and browned on most sides, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add minced sage. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. (Since I had pureed all my pumpkin, I didn’t have any to dice, so I double the amount of apples.  I also ran out in my pajamas to my lawn garden to snip sage.  Thankfully, it was dark.  This step was my favorite.  I was worried that the delicious smell of apples in butter would wake everyone up.)

Place lasagna noodles in a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish and cover with cold water. Set aside, agitating the noodles occasionally to make sure they aren’t sticking.  (I didn’t do this step.  Ronzoni no-bake noodles worked just fine.)

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until butter has melted and garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until flour starts to smell nutty and is pale blond, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk in a thin, steady stream. Once milk is fully incorporated, bring to a boil, whisk vigorously, then remove from heat. Add 8 ounces of Gruyère cheese and whisk until completely smooth. If any lumps remain, blend with a hand blender or in a standing blender until smooth. Add remaining 1/8th teaspoon nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.  (I think another one of my problems is I don’t prep beforehand.  I should be getting everything out, measured, chopped and shredded before I even turn on the stove.  I use a ton of dishes when I cook, so I would probably use twice as many if I prepared all the ingredients first.  My dishwasher would quit on me if I did.  So when it was time to shred the Gruyere, I didn’t anticipate the huge mess this soft cheese would make in my shredder.  Should’ve prepped, could’ve burned everything if I didn’t chop it up quick.)

Remove lasagna noodles from baking dish and transfer to clean dish towels to blot excess moisture. (See, this would have ended up with another dirty dish.  Nope.)

Spread 1/6th of the white sauce over the bottom of the baking dish and top with three lasagna noodles. Add 1/5 of squash puree and 1/4 of sautéed squash and apple mixture. Top with 1/6th of white sauce. Repeat with 3 more layers of noodles, squash puree, cooked squash mixture, and white sauce. At this stage, you should have used up all of the sautéed squash and still have 1/6th of the white sauce and 1/5th of the squash purée remaining. Place the final three noodles on top of the lasagna, top with the remaining purée, the remaining 4 ounces of shredded Gruyère, and drizzle with the remaining white sauce. Cover with aluminum foil, and transfer to the oven. (This all worked out well- it went together as stated and I didn’t end up with extra anything.  I went back to bed for 20 minutes.)

Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until browned and bubbly, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven, let rest for 5 minutes, slice, and serve (Zombiegirl threw all the lasagnas in the oven before I got home, so it was nice to have everything ready when I walk through the door.  I took a Lactaid [did you see how much dairy is in this thing?] and we tried it.  That was the deal- everyone had to try a small piece before they ate the “normal” lasagna.  Zombiegirl’s friend Nathalia was eating over so we had another potential opinion.  The kids were all a no, but MR had two helpings.  I had mine and everyone else’s. No wonder I’m fat.)

It was good.  I’m not a big fan of Gruyere- it has a funny aftertaste to me but the pumpkin mixture with the apples and noodles was really delicious.  A nice fall treat.

Good thing I liked it, I’m going to be eating it for lunch the next six weeks.

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