Monday, March 29, 2010

Game Night Pizza!

While the spring season may have officially sprung, it appears as though it is simply teasing us.  This weekend was cold and gray!  Saturday had me searching through my storage pile for a sweater and cursing that I'd packed up my scarves.  Needless to say, staying indoors playing games and watching funny movies became the theme of the weekend. 

Allow me a moment of gloating: We're playing Trivial Pursuit and I am behind by 3 pies (first thought- I'm toast!).  Ladd came out of the gates ready to play (it didn't hurt that he got the easiest pie questions).  But I managed to pull through and out- scored Ladd by ONE pie in the end.  Woohoo! Champion! Sadly, though, I got my ass kicked in four games of Cribbage.  Each and every one was neck-and-neck but I never seemed to pull off a win.  (sigh)

What goes better with movies and games?  Pizza!  Don't be frightened, though.  I did not order Pizza Hut this time (phew!).  In fact, this pizza was pure snazz all the way.  Slow cooker BBQ chicken, homemade onion marmalade, and crimini mushrooms.  The best part of all?  I didn't spend a dime on making this!  I was poking through the meat cases looking for chicken thighs and a lady approached me asking if I would be willing to take a survey from Purdue Chicken.  I am an EASY TARGET and have a real challenge saying no.  Seriously, there were three other people right near me and she chose me.  But she had a friendly look and I had to imagine that plenty of people turned her down over and over again.  What did I get for being such a push over?  A gift card to Harris Teeter (our grocery store).  Plus- if I answer a few more questions in a week when they call me, I get another gift card for twice as much.  It's like Christmas in March!  However, these kinds of "lucky" situations don't always turn out so good.  Just a month ago I was wooed by an internet ad that offered FREE UGGS (yes, I'd had too much wine).  Two clicks and we were inundated with telemarketing calls for weeks.  Eventually I had to learn to say: please leave us alone.  I just wanted free Uggs! (They were pink... so cute).  I never got the boots, but I got plenty of heavy sighs and cranky looks from my  husband every time the phone rang (and rang, and rang). 

While you may not be as lucky as I was when buying your ingredients, this is truly a budget friendly and flavorful meal.  I buy the refrigerated dough balls in the deli for less than $2.  Chicken thighs are almost always cheaper than breast meat and cook up so nicely in the slow cooker (had I bought them, they would have been under $3 for a little more than a pound).  All together I would have paid less than $15 for this meal.  That's a steal!  It made enough for my husband and I to have dinner and lunch for today. 

There are a couple steps that need to be completed before you're ready to assemble your pizza.

First and foremost, the chicken needs to be slow cooked.  I tossed my package of thighs in the cooker with about 1/4 cup of broth and 1/8 cup of red wine vinegar.  It cooked at 250 degrees for just under 4 hours.  When it's done, it should very easily shred with a fork.  For convenience, I used a bottled BBQ sauce.  I only added about 1/4 cup- just until the chicken was covered. 

While that's cooking, get started on your red onion marmalade.
  • 2 red onions, peeled and cut in half, then sliced thinly
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • couple bay leaves
Add the olive oil to a saute pan and toss in your thinly sliced onions.  Keep on LOW heat for about 15 minutes.  Your onions should begin "wilting" a bit and looking more translucent.  Add the garlic and bay leaves.  Cook about 5 minutes more.  Stir in the vinegar and brown sugar and continue cooking on low for an additional 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes.  If the onions look too dry during that time, add a splash more of vinegar.  Allow the onion mixture to cool and place it in an air tight container in the fridge until you're ready to use it.

To complete the meal...
  • Get your dough ready (whether it's fresh or a Boboli already made pie).  I can never roll out a circular shape.  It's always a lopsided rectangle or parallelogram.  I'm "circle challenged" I guess. 
  • Add 2 tablespoons of red sauce mixed with an equal amount of BBQ sauce and, using the back of a spoon, spread it over your dough leaving about a one inch border.
  • Spread your chicken mixture, onion marmalade and sliced mushrooms all over the pizza.
  • Cover with shredded mozzarella (we used almost a whole bag which is 2 cups). 
  • Place your pizza into a preheated 425 degree oven for 12-15 minutes. 
  • Here's the surprise ingredient: BLUE CHEESE!  Add some crumbles over the top of your cooked pizza and let it melt for a couple minutes before serving.  The sweetness of the other ingredients pair perfectly with the blue cheese. 
Another fantastic thing about this meal, especially if you're on a budget, is that not only does it afford leftovers, but you'll have extra chicken and onion marmalade left over.  Later in the week we're planning to have BBQ chicken sandwiches on toasted buns with melted cheese, topped with the onions.  A cold broccoli and blue cheese salad will pair very nicely with it. 






What's your favorite pizza topping?  We're always looking for new combinations to try on our next rainy day!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

One Last Winter Casserole

Spring brings with it an opportunity to break out of our winter shells, both literally and figuratively.  Put away the goose down coats, roll up the extra blankets and open the windows as mother nature lets out a big yawn and breaks from her winter slumber.  Maybe I should rephrase that... she definitely wasn't sleeping in our neck of the woods given that we spent the better part of the winter buried under snow.  Maybe I should say that Mother Nature breaks out of her cranky winter mood and lightens things up a bit.  In the past 10 days or so of warmer weather and longer days of sunlight, I have even managed to break out of my cranky winter mood.  The sun has never felt so good!  I have also  managed to completely clean out and reorganize my closet.  Oh myDouble oh my.  As I do each year, I try on my clothes and get increasingly excited for tank tops and open toed shoes.  I realize that sounds borderline crazy but it serves a practical purpose (tell me there are others of you out there that do this!).  It helps me determine just how much shopping I need to do this spring.  Turns out I need to do... a lot.  I guess all that time I spent feeding my face this winter caught up to me!  I spent more time lying on my bed tugging up the zipper with all my strength than I did posing in front of my mirror putting together future "cute" outfits.  It appears as though I need to spend more time reading The Healthy Apron to revamp my weekly menu in the coming weeks.  The good news is that spring vegetables aren't as heavy as winter potatoes and squash.  I'm looking forward to the arrival of artichokes and asparagus!

While the logical type of recipe to attach to this post would be a light and healthy something-or-other that I cooked right after realizing I "porked up" this winter, I am ashamed to admit that I am doing just the opposite.  This little piggy (oink, oink) is instead sharing a Bon Appetit recipe from this months issue.  It's my last indulgence of the cold weather season before I pack up the heavy sauces and hearty, aromatic staples of winter cuisine and "spring" into the lighter and brigher.  It seems Bon Appetit was doing a little revamping themselves- taking classic casseroles and giving them a new look and, more than likely, a better taste.  I don't much recall eating tuna casserole in my early days.  It wasn't even something my college roommates and I ate.  The name tuna casserole makes me scrunch up my nose as though it's the most unappealing thing out there.  I love tuna.  I love casseroles.  However, putting them together never did much to turn me on.  Wouldn't you know it, though, Bon Appetit made it seem very appetizing- enough so that we decided to give the recipe a whirl.  Instead of using a can of gelatinous soup and mixing it with chunk light tuna packed in water, this recipe calls for a roux and oil packed tuna.  It even uses fresh herbs!  (Little secret: I am fascinated with making roux.  There's just something about the way it comes together that makes me all smiles).  The final result was actually very tasty.  I especially liked that it was topped with crunchy potato chips!

Tuna Noodle Casserole with Leeks and Fresh Dill (Bon Appetit, March 2010)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 cups thinly sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only; from about 2 large)
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 8 ounces wide egg noodles
  • 1/2 cup coarsely grated Gruyère cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 2 5- to 6-ounce cans albacore tuna (preferably packed in olive oil), drained, broken into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2 cups coarsely crushed salted potato chips (about 2 ounces)
Preparation
Butter 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish. Melt unsalted butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks and celery seeds to saucepan; sprinkle lightly with coarse kosher salt. Cover saucepan and cook until leeks are tender but not brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Add flour; stir 1 minute. Gradually add milk and half and half; simmer until mixture thickens slightly, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Season leek sauce to taste with coarse kosher salt and pepper. Remove sauce from heat.

Meanwhile, cook egg noodles in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, stirring occasionally. Drain noodles, reserving 3/4 cup noodle cooking liquid. Transfer noodles to large bowl. Pour leek sauce over noodles. Add grated Gruyère cheese and dill and stir to blend; add reserved noodle cooking liquid by tablespoons until mixture is moist and creamy (about 8 tablespoons). Fold in tuna. Transfer to prepared baking dish. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover with foil and keep refrigerated.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake noodle casserole, covered with foil, until heated through, about 20 minutes if freshly made or 30 minutes if chilled. Remove foil. Sprinkle crushed potato chips over and continue to bake, uncovered, until top is golden brown and filling bubbles, about 10 minutes longer. Serve hot.

Now bring on the healthy dishes!!  :)


Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Way to My Heart (Feed me)

Ladd and I recently celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary.  Each year we choose not to exchange gifts and instead celebrate through food (are you surprised?).  The days leading up to this years anniversary we poured over online restaurant reviews, searched the food section of the Washington Post, and pestered our friends for worthy recommendations.  After all this research we were finally able to narrow it down to a couple of noteworthy choices: Restaurant Nora and Komi.  We started with Komi by reading a few reviews, all of which said it was by far the "best dining experience" they'd ever had.  The descriptions of this place melted us and we thought for sure that this was the place.  Then we looked at the prices.  YIKES!  It's true that we are madly in love and food, for us, does nothing but magnify our love... but $125 PER person was a little steep and that doesn't include wine. No thank you. Restaurant Nora was the first certified organic restaurant in America.  I've spent countless moments in Kramer books (I may never go to Barnes & Noble again) flipping through her cookbook and always put my hand on my heart when I drive by the quaint little red brick restaurant.  It screams romantic.  The menu focuses on what's in season and the combinations she uses just seem like perfection.  An easy sell, right?  First opening for dinner wasn't until 10 pm.  Yes, we're young.  Yes, this restaurant seemed to have it all.  But I know Ladd and I-  a 10:00 reservation would have left far too much time to sample wine and champagne and would have left us half in the bag by the time dinner rolled around.  I'm just sayin'...

By Friday we still hadn't settled on anything. 

Saturday morning rolled around and we had no clue where we're going.  My palms were sweating and my anxiety was high.  The lead up to this had become so much bigger than originally planned.  It was as if this anniversary would be made or broken based on a dinner!  We live in one of the best cities in the country.  It's full of fabulous eateries.  How is it that we could NOT figure it out?

And then my wonderful husband said something that made me realize why I love him, "Holly, I know where we can find the best restaurant in town.  It's called our kitchen and I'm certain we can get exactly what we want."  My heart is fluttering all over again just typing this.  HULLOOO- of course we should just make our own dinner.  Isn't he brilliant?  When we immediately found a parking spot at the Clarendon Whole Foods, I knew this was going to work out just great.  If you haven't tried to find a parking spot there you may not understand how this can seem like a true stroke of luck.  I've spent 25 minutes circling this lot for a spot in the past.  It isn't pretty.  Gorgeous spring flower bouquets greeted us as we walked in (a bunch easily found its way into my bag) and the vibrant colors of the produce section shouted out, BUY ME!  Our grocery list came together as easily as bread and butter: scallops, clams, shrimp, saffron rice and tomato.  For a starter it was Prosecco (which we toasted with on the beach 4 years ago), a variety of cheeses and crostini and for dessert we settled on a Whole Foods made, Key Lime Pie.  After all, we did get married in Florida and this is the quintessential dessert for Floridians, is it not? 

Cooking dinner together was the perfect way to celebrate our nuptials.  There was no longer the worry of whether or not we'd found the perfect romantic spot.  Our dinner was beautifully created and we were able to spend hours enjoying the flavors and each others company.  I would certainly recommend this entire menu for a night in with someone you love. 
                                                                                                       Menu

First course
Assorted cheeses, local honey & crostini
paired with Italian Prosecco

Second course
Iceburg wedge with tomato, bacon, parsley &
blue cheese vinagrette

Entree
Clams, shrimp, chorizo & seared scallops
served with saffroned rice
paired with a 2007 Catena Malbec

Dessert
Key Lime Pie, coffee and Frangelico


**Any of these courses make your mouth water?  Let me know and I'll be happy to send you the recipe.   

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stuff My Pockets

Each week Ladd and I plan our menu up through Thursday night.  Lately we've taken turns, playfully calling our weeks "his week" and "her week."  Part of this is because it's a bit arduous to carefully plan out a menu days in advance.  Who knows on Sunday what we are going to want on Thursday night?  The other reason we've started alternating our plans is due to style.  Ladd is a comfort guy and often settles into cuisine that's traditional and satisfying.  While it may sound cliche, he is a true meat and potato lover.  I tend to want things like lettuce wraps and vegetarian cuisine.  I am often met with questions like, "what else will we have?" or "where's the meat?"  Additionally, we're both trying to be more mindful of purchasing seasonal ingredients that we can secure from our local farmers, which throws another hurdle into our planning.  Not to mention the pressure that we give each other through the process.  My new ideas can be met with some skepticism- and rightfully so; I've put in some real crazy ideas in the past that have not been celebrated with moans of delight after the first bite.  In all honesty, it's just as important for Ladd to have that "this is delicious" reaction as it is for me to hear the "this is delicious" reaction.  In the past, not hearing such validation has sent me to the bathroom in tears (just ask my sister and her husband).

This week was mine to plan and I was desperate to create meals that satisfied Ladd's need for each of the food groups wrapped up in a "comfort food" bow and my desire for unique meals that didn't fatten me up.  I didn't quite succeed.  On average, Ladd and I are culinary weekend warriors- we enjoy going all out Friday night through Sunday.  Weeknights are reserved for a healthier approach (and, dare I say it, we even curtail the wine and beer).  But something about this week forced me into total food hysteria.  Tuesday night led me into an erratic detour from the regular expectation of a weeknight.  But I swear I recently heard that Tuesday was the new Friday (or maybe that was my personal dream).  When I planned Tuesday night I was suffering from a bizarre craving for a frozen boxed treat.  Sadly I can't even say this craving was a childhood treat- I didn't even try these things until adulthood.  I wanted a Hot Pocket.  But had I actually bought those little suckers, microwaved them, and served them on a plate to my husband no matter how nicely I garnished it, Ladd may have gotten up and left me (forever).  Let's be honest, though- those things aren't half bad.  The idea of meat, cheese and veggies wrapped up in dough is a delightful idea.  The Hot Pocket company just figured out how to make this idea convenient for the lazy American.  I fell for it.  But no longer!  (I'm stepping up to my soap box). We stray from preservatives and convenience items.  We have banished the microwave as a cooking source for our food.  We avoid the middle aisles at our local Harris Teeter and stick to the fresh aisles.  We frequent farmers markets and talk with the people that grow our food and we're reducing our carbon footprint.

All that didn't keep me from wanting a damn HotPocket (sigh).

Of course, when Ladd read on our menu the words, something like a hot pocket, he raised one eye brow and began querying for the deets.  I had to talk him down a little, vehemently insisting that this was going to be a knock out meal.  All the while my internal voice was telling me that I was crazy and simply trying to fulfill something that could easily be done by purchasing the actual item for $2.50 and eating them for lunch.  Since my husband is a stellar guy, though, he let me carry on and made sure that I saw him pull the take out menu from our drawer to let me know he was already planning for backups.  Talk about pressure. 

Now let me toot my own horn... my little pocket turned out even better than I anticipated.  It may have taken the better part of two hours to put together, but it totally satisfied my craving for hand held food and Ladd's passion for comfort.  (Note to self: must stop drinking and talking incessantly while cooking.  May get dinner completed faster if I did).  Since I went all out on the crust and dangerously strayed from our healthy path, I even decided to wash my pocket down with a Sam Adams Noble Pils.  I told you- it was food hysteria. 




Recipe: makes 4-6 pockets (mine got bigger and bigger as I went along so this is a rough estimate)

Crust
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup sour cream

Add the flour and salt to a food processor.  Toss in the butter cubes and pulse until the butter begins to incorporate.  It will look crumbly.  Add the sour cream and pulse again until dough forms into a ball all on its own.  Pat it into a smooth ball and put in the fridge until your ready to fill.

Filling
This is the creative part.  I used a mixture of ground turkey, drained diced tomatoes, olives, cheese and onion.  You can use anything your little heart (or stomach) desires. 

Assembly
Cut the dough in half to make it easier to work with.  Spread some flour onto your cutting board and roll it out to about 1/4 inch thickness.  If you want them to be symmetrical, use a bowl or large cookie cutter to cut out a sections for your pockets.  If you are little more rustic, just cut a section of dough the size you want it.  Place a large spoonful of filling on one side of the dough.  Fold over the top half and crimp the edges to seal. Repeat until you've used all the dough. I crimped each one differently because I couldn't figure out which way I liked best.  Place them on a non-stick baking sheet and put them in a 400 degree oven until golden brown; It took about 35 minutes to be ready.  Serve with a side salad- it will make you feel better about the butter and sour cream dough. 

Since we are lovers of hot sauce, I put out three flavors of Tabasco to add a little punch.  I highly recommend the Chipotle Tabasco if you make the same version I did.  It was a fantastic complement. 


Saturday, March 13, 2010

I heart garlic!

Recently, my old stomping ground of Delray Beach, Florida held its annual Garlic Fest.  My husband and I were disappointed when we realized it would be one of the first years we wouldn't make it to the festival centered around our favorite little flavorful bulb.  You see, garlic and I are tight.  I love its smell (why doesn't Febreze bottle such a scent?), its cute little packaging, and the fact that it fits in the palm of a hand but can be found with names like: elephant garlic.  I also find that it is one of the most flexible ingredients out there.  It's perfect in everything from eggs to salsa, meat rubs to Bloody Mary's (or is it Bloodies Mary?).  You can roast it and spread the sweet result onto fresh bread, or mix it with oil and spices for a dip or glaze on roasted vegetables.  It complements sweet flavors and rocks with savory.  It's a sad day in our household if there isn't at least one clove of garlic on hand.  A little research will show you that along with its flavorful punch, it also packs plenty of medicinal benefits, sometimes being referred to as a "wonder drug."  It has been linked with preventing the common cold and flu (not sure if that includes swine flu or not; I venture to guess NOT because I ended up with it a couple months ago) and was historically used in helping to prevent the Black Death.  And let us not forget its protection from vampires. Even Nostradamus was a fan of garlic... and didn't that guy know everything?  One of my favorite little tid bits about garlic is that it has a "powerful antioxidant effect... [which] can help to protect the body against damaging "free radicals.""  Living in Washington, D.C., any help I can get to prevent damage from free radicals is appreciated. 


While I toss this little herb into almost everything I make, one of our favorite recipes uses garlic in both its whole and chopped state.  The flavors result in both earthy and sweet flavors and the combination with swiss chard and chic peas make this side dish a total winner.  The only caveat for serving this is that everyone needs to eat it.  Otherwise, those that don't eat it will be wincing from the garlicky breath of their partners.  The last time we had this at dinner I tried to talk to my cat and she snapped her head back so fast and shut her eyes as though in pain before running away from me at top speed. So I guess it should be stated that breath mints or a shot of Listerine would be appreciated if serving this at a dinner party.  However, it's a fantastic side for steak or chicken and it's a great departure from the usual potatoes and squash that find their way onto dinner tables during the cold months.  For those of you that only know the chic pea to be served in cold salads, this is a great new way to try them.  I had no idea they could be served warm before this recipe!  Most recently we served this along side chicken topped with goat cheese, cranberries and caramelized onion with parmesan garlic toast.  It was a match made in kitchen heaven. 

This recipe was featured in the January, 2008 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. 

Ingredients
serves: 4

Garbanzo Beans
  • 2 15.5-ounce cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained (about 3 cups)
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 large shallots
  • 3 small bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Chard
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
  • 3 small bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 2 bunches Swiss chard, center stems cut out, leaves coarsely torn
  • 2 cups low-salt chicken broth
Preparation
Garbanzo beans

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine first 5 ingredients in 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour oil over; cover dish with foil. Roast until garlic is tender, about 45 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly, cover, and chill.
Chard


Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, bay leaves, and shallots. Cover; cook until shallots are tender, about 2 minutes. Uncover; add half of chard. Toss until chard wilts and volume is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add remaining chard. Toss until chard wilts, about 2 minutes. Add broth. Cover and cook until chard is tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Season chard with salt and pepper. Transfer chard mixture to large sieve set over bowl and drain. DO AHEAD: Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Drain garbanzos and reserve oil; discard bay leaves. Combine garbanzos and chard in large skillet. Add 2 tablespoons oil reserved from garbanzos. Toss over medium heat until warmed through, moistening with more oil by tablespoonfuls if needed, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tribute to Carlo

Spring, was that you?  Are you here for good?  Bringing me sunshine and daffodils?  Or was this undeniably gorgeous day akin to an appetizer?  Just a taste to whet my overwhelming appetite for greenery and warmer weather?  Either way, I'll take it.  M windows were open, the winter cobwebs vacuumed up, my dog next to me and my husband, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, swept away signs of winter from our porch.  To make this Sunday even better, Ladd took up residence in the kitchen to create one hell of a bolognese sauce.  Yep, this day was a perfect ten in my book. 

The idea to make bolognese started when Ladd and I began reminiscing about our Florida days.  We swapped favorite memories about places we used to frequent, things we used to do and the many people that affected our lives.  This inevitably led us to the topic of our neighbor, Carlo and the time we ate the most amazing bolognese ever.  Carlo and his wife were as Italian as they come: thick accents, warm smiles, and a kitchen that put out some rather tantalizing scents.  Carlo didn't live next door to us full-time; it was simply a vacation home for him.  When he was in town, I practically camped outside his kitchen window just to smell the aromas wafting my way.  Then, one day, as if the culinary gods were answering our prayers, Carlo knocked on our door with a large bowl in his hands.  He and his family were heading out of town again and they had lots of bolognese sauce left over.  Instead of throwing it away he thought he would see if we'd like to have some.  Would we?  It was all Ladd could do to act nonchalant as he accepted this saucy gift. Before they even exchanged good-byes, I had the water boiling for pasta and garlic bread toasting in the oven.  I just knew this sauce was going to be memorable.  Boy was I wrong.  It wasn't just memorable, it was life altering.  It was deep and rich and clung to the pasta in all the right places.  It was so complex that there was no way we could pin point all the ingredients.  We ate it every day for a week.  The next time we saw Carlo we stalked him for an opportunity to ask for the recipe.  I know, ballsy right?  The culinary gods were not generous that day and Carlo simply replied with, "I make my sauce with love."  Ah, love... of course.  Now, which aisle in the grocery store can I find that?

That was in 2006 and we're still talking about it. 

But today Ladd donned his Iron Chef apron, pulled out the red Mario Batali dutch oven and declared a tribute to our old neighbor Carlo.  The Frank Sinatra played, the Chianti uncorked early and the parmesan wedges sliced to snack on while he cooked.  We researched sauces for the better part of an hour.  In the end, we decided to try none other than Iron Chef Batali's real deal bolognese sauce with fresh pasta.  This recipe was intense.  When you look at it, your first inclination will be to feel overwhelmed.  Go ahead and feel this way because that's just what it is- overwhelming.  Ladd stuck with most of the recipe but we decided to go with a good quality beef broth instead of making our own "brodo" (Italian for broth).  He also added tomato paste to thicken it up just a tad.  It cooked for 5 hours (each of which became more and more difficult for me to stay patient).  Mario also recommended making fresh pasta. We purchased this from the store as well since we don't have the right tools to make homemade (the KitchenAid attachment is now on my wish list).  The end result was outstanding.  Not only did I fall in love with the sauce or the fresh pasta (which is waaay better than dried), but I think I fell even more in love with my husband!  He cleans, he does laundry and today he made a sauce that would have made our paisono, Carlo, proud.  How could I not fall head over heels?  I never thought we'd come close to replicating Carlo's sauce but Ladd proved that theory incorrect.  I guess he must have used that special ingredient Carlo talked about almost 4 years ago... love.

Click here for a copy of the Mario Batali's recipe: Tortellini alla Ragu Bolognesi

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Welcome Home!

The following conversation recently took place between me and my husband.

The scene: I pull up to the curb of the airport to pick him from his trip to Florida...

me: "Welcome home!  I'm so glad you're here!"  (hugs and kisses and squeals of delight ensue)
husband: "Thanks!  Florida was great but I sure missed you." (slight exaggeration, but who can remember exact words anyway?)
husband: "Sooo, what's cookin' for dinner, love?"
me: "Yeah, about that...." 
You'd think that after five days of being apart from my husband (and living on different variations of polenta), I would have had some delicious concoction of "hello, I missed you" food.  Nope.  Instead I had a store bought rotisserie chicken getting luke warm in the backseat of my car.  Not only that (yes, there's more), but I have yet to cook for either of us even once this week.  To top it all off, last night we ordered pizza- and not from some snazzy hidden gem of a D.C.pizza parlor, but from... Pizza Hut. Stuffed crust.  That's right, I said it (pause for screams of horror).  And I call myself a food blogger. 

So what's a girl to write about when she's horrified the culinary crowd with her lack of effort?  Ahhh, not to worry, I've got back ups!  As a matter of fact, this is a favorite of ours.  I love it most for the color.  It's like a rainbow on the plate: pineapple, bell pepper, carrots, scallion, and a vibrant sauce all on top of rice with meatballs.  Delicious!  I recommend it as a weeknight meal.  You can even prep the meatballs ahead of time and freeze them to make it that much easier.  In the past I've made my own sweet and sour sauce, but for this I just bought a decent bottle of premade stuff. 

Sweet and Sour Meatballs over Jasmine Rice
serves two, plus leftovers

Meatballs
1 pound ground chicken or turkey
1 tablespoon ground mustard
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 egg, whisked
roughly 1/3 cup of bread crumbs
salt and pepper

Vegetables
1 bell pepper, red and orange work well for color
1 can of pineapple chunks or freshly cut pineapple if in season
4-5 scallions, white and green parts cut on a bias
1 carrot, sliced very thin
Sesame seeds
One bottle of your favorite sweet and sour sauce

Jasmine Rice
cook according to the directions (I would make 4 servings, so you have some left over for lunch)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl.  Add the bread crumbs slowly until the meat mixture isn't super loose.  Take a small amount of meat and roll it around to form a little meat ball.  Place on a sheet pan that's been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Cook in oven about 20 minutes. 

Pour some olive oil into a large pan.  Add the bell pepper and carrot and cook about 10 minutes.  Once the meatballs are cooked, add them to the party.  Put in the pineapple and a bottle of sweet and sour sauce (if you have a large bottle, add enough sauce to coat everything generously).  Sprinkle a decent amount of sesame seeds and mix it all together.  Cook a couple more minutes until pineapple and sauce are heated through.  To serve, add a large scoop of the sweet and sour meatball mixture to a bowl of rice.  Sprinkle generously with scallions. 

Note: must be eaten with chopsticks!