Archive for the ‘dinner’ Category

Sicilian Style Meatballs

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I make meatballs different than everyone else.  This is something I didn’t realize until watching a few cooking shows and reading recipes about how meatballs are made.  Apparently, the traditional way to cook meatballs is in the oven – you bake them.

Bake them? Really? That confused me.  Never in my life have I had a home-made baked meatball. It simply isn’t done in my family.  We ball those little suckers up and throw them in pot of bubbling,from-scratch red sauce.  That way the  the gorgeous juices, spices and extra meaty bits give the sauce an extra layer of flavor.

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On my mother’s side I come from a strong Sicilian background.  My great-grandparents immigrated from Sicily to Brooklyn, New York.  They were very traditional and my great-grandmother  loved to cook.  She passed down a lot of her recipes to my grandmother who passed them to my mother who passed them down to me…well kind of.

More, my mother was a great cook when she had time to fire up the burners in the kitchen.  As my sisters and I got older and had our own kids we started asking about how to make certain family dishes. I have taken many of those recipes and made them my own including these (not baked but boiled in sauce) meatballs.

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This hearty recipe is really very simple and packs a lot of bold taste.  I would recommend making a pot of red sauce from scratch if you have the time.  However, in a pinch you can use a bottle or two of the store-bought stuff.  Keep it simple –no fancy frills.  A vegetable-based spaghetti sauce will do the trick (e.g. basil/tomato, mushroom, tomato/onion, etc.)

This recipes makes a lot of meatballs.  Feel free to freeze half of them and use them at a later date.  They do hold up quite nicely.  Or you can cook them all in a double batch of sauce and make meatball subs with the left overs.  Or sprinkle some cheese on them and eat them by themselves in the sauce. They are that good.

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Sicilian Style Meatballs

I eyeball my ingredients.  So, these are rough estimates.  Use more or use less if you feel it’s right.  Make this recipe yours…and as always, let me know how it goes.

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground pork

2 eggs

1 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup ground Parmesan cheese

a handful of freshly chopped Italian parsley

3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

a tsp of an Italian herb blend (no salt)

a dash of salt (remember the Parmesan is salty so don’t add too much)

a dash of red pepper

1/2 to 1 cup water or broth

Scratch Red Sauce or 2 bottles of store-bought

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Make sure your red sauce is in a big pot simmering on a low heat.  The pot should only be about halfway filled since the meatballs are going to take up the rest of the room.

Throw all the ingredients in a big bowl. If you aren’t squeamish wash your hands and then squish all the ingredients together. Or if you don’t want to get messy do the best you can with a mixing instrument.  Go ahead and add more cheese, parsley, or spices if you need to.  Just make sure everything is well blended.

Once your meat and ingredients are thoroughly mixed, wash your hands again.  Then take a small amount of the meat mixture and ball it up between your palms.  They should be about the size of a golf ball.  Remember when you cook them they are going to shrink a little bit.

 Place your uncooked meatball on a flat surface like a cookie tray.  Or put down some parchment on your counter top and place them there.  Continue to roll meatballs between your palms until all the meat mixture is gone.  Then gently drop the meatballs in your red sauce, one at a time.  (As you can see from my picture I am messy.  I got sauce all over the back of my stove. lol.)

Make sure that all of your meatballs are covered with sauce.  If your meatballs aren’t fully covered then add some water or broth until they are.  It shouldn’t be more than a 1/2 of liquid as you don’t want thin out your sauce too much.

Cover the sauce and meatballs and let simmer for about an hour.  Watch your meatballs and stir the sauce very gently (you don’t want your meatballs to break up) 2-3 times to make sure that they are cooking evenly. At the half way point you can add a little bit of water or broth to your sauce if it gets too thick.  However, it shouldn’t if it’s on low heat and simmering.

Enjoy!

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Boxed Sourdough Bread vs. Scratch Artisan Bread

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I have never made bread before because it seemed like a daunting task.  It seemed like something that took a lot of time and skill.  I am an intuitive cook.  Everything comes together based on my mood and what I happen to have in the kitchen.  Part of the fun of cooking is finding out what the end result will look like.  Making   bread seemed like the opposite of that. There was planning that needed to happen and a lot of watching and kneading and steps and processes.  This is why, even though they are lovely, I have never tackled baking macarons.  Lovely in theory but beyond my ADD-emotionally-laced skill set.

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Then I found a few recipes like this one and this one that looked doable.  There were pictures and step-by-step instructions.  There were down times where I could walk away and do something else.  And best of all the times weren’t  precise.  If the bread rose for 2.5 hours instead of 2, oh well. It didn’t kill the bread or turn it into something inedible.  I decided to be brave, go buy some yeast, and try my hand at this artisan bread-making-business.

In the baking aisle, Krusteaz has these no-knead artisan breads in a box.  I looked at the directions on the back and they were pretty close to the straight-forward from scratch version.  The other half said it would be a cool idea to make a boxed loaf and then make a scratch version and see what the difference was, if any.  I decided to buy the sourdough version to see how different in taste it would be.

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The first picture above is obviously the sour dough bread from the box. It makes one loaf.  The bread in the plastic orange bowl is the scratch version. The recipe makes three loavess.  Other than that, the directions were the same.

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Mix ingredients together in a bowl until it’s an ugly, wet mess.  Cover and leave in a warm place for at least two hours or until the mixture has tripled its size.  Grease your hands.  Put some flour down on a flat surface.  Form a ball with the dough.  Let it sit for another 40 minutes to let it rise and flatten out a bit.  Grease the pan that you are going to cook the bread in and put the bread in it. Preheat your oven to 450 F.  Cut three 1/4″ slashes across the top of the bread.    Fill a pan full of water and put it on the rack that is below the one you are going to put the bread on.  Place the bread on a rack that is higher than the one holding the water.  Cook for about 35-40 minutes or until the bread has a dark brown hard crust.

Pretty easy, right?  A little bit step-intensive but overall easy to follow and understand.

I followed both bread recipes to the letter.  My bread did rise and baked very nicely.  However, it wasn’t as pretty as the ones I saw on the recipe pages.

Here is the sourdough one. The stuff on top is baked flour.  The recipe called for a sprinkling of flour over the top before you baked it.

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Overall, it was a lovely, tangy bread. It was light and springy.  However, it didn’t have that awesome tough crust that make artisan bread so yummy.  You have the hard crunchy bits and then the soft, fluffy insides. That’s how I like my bread. Yummers.

Even though it didn’t have that hard/soft texture it still was really good bread.  It was gone in a day because everyone kept eating it.

This is the from-scratch version.  It didn’t rise as much but it was hands-down the crowd favorite. Even though I did score both breads with my knife three times like the directions called for they didn’t show up on the final product.

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The scratch bread didn’t have a tang to it. However, there was that crunchy/soft texture that the sourdough bread didn’t have.  Everyone seemed to love that more.  As far as bread goes, though. Both loaves pretty much disappeared the same day I made it.  Actually, I made four loaves and within two days I had no bread.  So, even though the from-scratch won the taste test. It didn’t stop anyone from eating the sourdough version.

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If you are looking at what bread is more financial conscious the scratch bread wins hands down.  The boxed bread was around $3.50.  The scratch bread costs about $3.50 for three loaves which is way cheaper.

A few days later, I went grocery shopping and bought more yeast. I got adventurous and decided to try out my own recipe of artisan bread.  It was the basic no-knead artisan bread recipe except that I added fresh, chopped, rosemary, sage, thyme, some julienne sun-dried tomatoes and some grated Parmesan cheese.

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I found a bread pan and decided to use it so that the bread would come out more like a loaf than a round blob.  This was mostly so that I didn’t have to spend as much time trying to make it look pretty.  Instead, the bread pan would do it for me.  Also, I made two loaves instead of three.  It was the bread pan.  It’s just bigger and I went with it.

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The other thing I changed was by accident. I forgot to put the water in the oven to steam the bread.  The loaf  just got pushed into the oven and cooked until it was a beautiful golden brown with a hard crust.

Overall, I like the look of the bread pan over the round pan.  It’s just an aesthetic thing but I love the rustic look of the loaf when it comes out looking like a real loaf of bread.  The herb artisan bread was wonderful. We ate it with homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs over fried polenta.

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Even with the extra herbs and making two loaves instead of three, the herb artisan bread was still cheaper than the sourdough bread.  Tallied out, the herb bread was about $2.50 a loaf.  Pretty cheap for wonderful, warm bread straight from the oven and slathered with butter.  A piece of perfection with a crusty outside and a soft, fluffy inside.

Yesterday, I went to the grocery store again to get some more yeast.  This weekend I am going to mess around with some bread recipes.  I am going to use my own method of doing two loaves instead of three and no steaming the bread.  I didn’t taste any difference without the water.

The other half likes the basic bread recipe all by itself.  He says the bread doesn’t need anything but butter.  My nephew who lives with us doesn’t care what kind of bread I make as long as I make some.  So, I think I am going to make one plain and then one with some fun ingredients.  I haven’t decided yet but part of the fun is making a recipe on the spot.

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If you get brave and decide you wanted to make bread try out this no-knead recipe here — It’s really straight-forward and has lots of pictures.  You will be pleased at how easy it is and how much you are going to love it. Once you get the hang of it the sky is really the limit.  Have fun with it! And make sure to pat yourself on the back for being so creative and awesome. 🙂

 

 

Hearty Ham and Bean Soup

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It’s been cold outside.  It actually snowed here in the desert.  SNOW!!!   At my house it melted before it actually hit the ground.  However, it was lovely to watch the white flakes drift through the air.

There is nothing like a hearty bowl of ham and bean soup to warm up the insides.  The smell of it wafting through the house was incredible.  I love a  pot of bubbling soup on the stove to make the house feel all warm and cozy.

This is a very simple recipe with lot of flavor.  You can change it up however you want — add a couple of cloves of garlic and some jalapeno to make it spicier or smoke it up with some paprika.  It’s really up to you.  You can use whatever veggies you have in the fridge too.

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Here is what I did — I had some leftover ham, some colorful mini pepper, some carrots and an onion.  Usually, I use celery in my soups  but I figured the sweetness of the carrots and peppers would be a nice compliment to the salty taste of the ham.  So, I omitted it.  Beans are a pantry staple in my house.  I love to make refried beans, or chili or split pea soup or curried lentils…yum.  Pinto beans were chosen because I had a lot of them and I love their smooth texture

The ham, veggies, beans and tomato sauce were thrown into a pot. Then I added enough water to cover the beans –  around 2-3 inches.  The key to make a good pot of soup is layers of flavor.  The way I do it is I season when I first start cooking the soup.  Then at the end, when I turned off the heat, I re-season to taste.  The other trick is to wait…

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Yes wait…Put the soup on low heat and let it simmer.  Let the smell of ham and beans permeate the house.  Give your soup at least two or three hours to turn into a hearty, flavorful meal.  Serve with warm cornbread or sprinkle some cheese on top and dollop with sour cream if you want to be a little bit decadent. Enjoy!

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Hearty Ham and Bean Soup

(This is a base recipe. Feel free to add any vegetables or seasonings you want.)

1 lb of pinto beans, rinsed and drained

5-6 mini peppers, sliced

1 medium onion, chopped

2 carrots, sliced

1 8 oz can of tomato sauce

leftover ham, chopped  (add as much or as little as you like)

2-3 bay leaves

vegetable seasoning (to taste)

garlic powder (to taste)

ground pepper (to taste)

Throw all ingredients into a pot.  Add enough water so that the beans are at least 2-3 inches covered.  Set your stove to low heat  and season the water to your taste.  Put a lid on the  pot and let soup simmer.  Stir the beans every 20-30 minutes.  Add more water if the soup thickens to much.  Repeat this process until the beans are soft and tender.  Turn off the stove.  Season the soup again to your taste.   Enjoy!

Grilled Steak with a Mushroom, Onion and Bleu Cheese Sauce

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The other half and my nephew don’t like bleu cheese.  They think it’s stinky and tastes funny.  They also dislike horseradish.  These are two of my favorite things especially slathered on a steak and accompanied by a drizzling of steak sauce.  The marriage of pungent, spicy and smoky-sweet make my taste buds tingle.

When I saw this Grilled Rib Eye with Onion Bleu Cheese Sauce  recipe my mouth started to water and I knew instantly that I wanted to try it.  However, there were two obstacles in my path.  The first being that the other people in the house don’t like bleu cheese.  The second being that I am not on a rib eye budget at the moment.

Still, I can afford sirloin.  So, I figured if I tweaked the recipe a little bit and made it more friendly to the the bleu cheese loathers in my way I could, essentially, have my steak and eat it too.

Everyone in the house loves mushrooms.  In the past I have used a mushroom-based sauce for a contemporary Salisbury steak that everyone enjoyed.  So, the idea was to take something familiar and tang it up with a little bit of bleu cheese.  Kind of trick the family into trying something new by putting it into something they have already tested and approved.

Here is my adaption of the recipe.  And by the way, everyone loved it and said they would eat it again.  Even my brother ate it.  He asked what the tang was in the sauce and guessed it was lemon. When I told him it was bleu cheese he looked at me funny because he apparently dislikes the stuff, too.  That didn’t stop him from licking the plate, though.

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Grilled Steak with a Mushroom, Onion and Bleu Cheese Sauce

4-6 small sirloin steaks (about 5 ounces each.) Or you can use whatever you have on hand.  If they are bigger steaks just cut them in half.

1 can Progresso Creamy Portabella Mushroom Recipe Starter

1 cup milk

1 package mushrooms, sliced

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup bleu cheese

1 stick butter (4 Tbsp)

2 Tbsp bacon bits or real crumbled bacon

McCormick garlic pepper seasoning grinder (or any garlic pepper seasoning to taste)

McCormick steak house seasoning  grinder (or any steak house seasoning to taste)

pinch of red pepper (about 1/4 tsp)

 

In a pan on medium heat, add the butter and let melt down, then add the mushrooms and onions.  Saute the mushrooms and onions until they are soft.

While the onions and mushrooms are cooking in the pan.  Grill your steaks.  I used our Foreman grill but you can easily use a grill pan or a cast iron pan.  Season your meat to taste.  Let rest for five minutes.

While the steak is resting, add the milk to the sauce and stir everything together.  Lower the heat.  Add bacon bits.  Add garlic pepper and steak house seasonings to taste.  Then stir in the bleu cheese until it melts into the sauce.  Next, add the can of mushroom sauce and pinch of red pepper.  Stir the sauce letting everything meld together.  Add more seasoning if needed.

Put the steak on a plate and spoon liberal amounts of sauce over the top. Enjoy!