Back on the wagon…

Well, I certainly haven’t been here as much as I like to be…and I haven’t been in the kitchen as much as I need to be, either!  The summer has  been lots of fun so far…I’m enjoying a lighter work schedule and the occasional day to sleep in (shhhhhh, don’t tell anyone) BUT I’ve really struggled with meal planning and cooking this summer. And anyone who has ever tried to maintain the whole Paleo-thing for any amount of time knows that the devil is in the details (of meal planning.) I finally got fed up with too-much-junk in the house last week and decided that my little vacation from the kitchen was over. And, in case you didn’t know it already, blogging here helps keep me accountable…so, here I am!

I spent a little time creating a week’s worth of meals so I could participate in this awesome project (there’s still room to join in, by the way) and then decided to go ahead and jump back on the wagon this week.

I’m going to be gone several nights this week, so I knew I would have to cook some stuff ahead – I got started on those this afternoon. This first one is a crockpot meal that is a big hit around here… Balsamic Roast

Spices for Balsamic RoastYou start with a spice rub that includes salt, pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder and garlic powder.

Spices and meat for Balsamic RoastYou place the top round roast of your choice in a crockpot (on top of some onion slices) and then rub the spices into it.

Ready to get happy for 6-8 hours, Balsamic RoastThen you pour in a tomato paste-balsamic vinegar mixture, a little white wine and cover and let the magic happen for 6-8 hours (or until the meat is sufficiently falling apart.) It has a nice tangy flavor and, like most roasts, is just as good the next day or two, so it’s perfect to make ahead or use for lunches. (pictured here with my favorite broccoli salad)

I also made some spaghetti squash that I’ll need for two other recipes this week. I don’t know if you have made friends yet with spaghetti squash, but seriously, this stuff is a hero to me. And with certain meals, I actually prefer it to pasta. (Don’t get me wrong, spaghetti squash doesn’t taste like pasta…but it has a very similar texture and you can swirl it around your fork and sauces can cling to it…it’s a very happy stand-in.)

I know that you can microwave it and I have done that when in a pinch but, trust me when I tell you that the texture is much, much better if you have the time to roast it. It’s not as mushy, closer to al dente, if you can swing the 35 minutes in the oven.

Spaghetti Squash in halfCut a whole squash in half lengthwise…

Spaghetti Squash, cleaned…scrape out the pulp and seeds (and put in your garden for the birds, if so inclined…that’s where these were going.)

Spaghetti Squash ready for ovenLine a baking sheet with parchment paper, place squash cut-side down and sprinkle the paper with about 3TB of water before placing in a 375° oven for 35 minutes.

Spaghetti Squash, ready to shredWhen they are finished, allow them to cool on a rack until you are able to handle them. (Or, if you are cooking them ahead of time like I was, just let them cool completely.)

Spaghetti Squash all doneOnce cooled, use a fork to separate the strands of squash and scrape out the “spaghetti.” Since I’m not using mine until Tuesday/Thursday, I put it in some Tupperware and stored it in the fridge. This is going to go under some Chicken Marsala and as a side for Chocolate Chili later this week.

Then finally, what we were having for dinner tonight: Meatballs and a Radicchio Salad

This recipe is from Sarah Fragoso’s new book Everyday Paleo Around the World: Italian Cuisine. I just got it recently and am very excited to have some of the results of her Italian adventure on the menu for this week. Meatballs are an easy homerun in this house and I have several recipes I like, so it’s always fun to try a new one.

Meatball ingredients ready  The ingredients all ready to go…Meatballs ready to mix … grass-fed beef, pastured eggs, organic spinach, sage, garlic, salt and pepper

Meatballs ready for the stove …mixed, formed and ready for the skillet. My oldest came into the kitchen while I was working on these and asked if they had grass in them.  (It wilts quite a bit while cooking, so it won’t always look like grass!)

Meatballs finished in a sauce  They cook relatively quickly in a large skillet on the stove top and stay nice and juicy.

Meatballs finished They are nestled in a paleo-fied “Béchamel sauce” that is made with white sweet potatoes (instead of flour) and coconut creme (instead of heavy cream.) It was a yummy sauce, but the coconut flavor came through a little too much for me to feel like I was eating a French-mother sauce. Very good, but I think I will still tweak it a bit…or just use it as a coconut sauce. I kept thinking about shrimp or even a nice white fish in it – that would have been perfect!

Lastly was a radicchio salad that I very much enjoyed in spite of how bitter I usually think it is.

radicchio salad This was very easy to make. A small head of radicchio shredded and spread out on a plate. Shallots, pancetta and garlic sautéed in butter and then whisked, while still warm, with olive oil, white wine vinegar and oregano get drizzled over the whole plate. Season with salt and pepper and voilà! I also think this dressing would be divine on spinach or maybe a combination of the two – especially if you want something in there to cut a little bit of the radicchio bitterness – but overall, it was delish!

The Balsamic Roast recipe is below…and for more of Sarah’s meatballs, check out her site here. And, as for me, I’m back on the wagon so I’ll be back with the rest of the menus this week!  Happy Summer everyone…

Balsamic Roast

Prep: 15min

Cook: 6-8hours

2 pounds top round beef (or your roast of choice)

1 TB salt

1 TB smoked paprika

1 TB garlic powder

1 TB onion powder

1 TB black pepper

2 TB coconut oil

1 large sweet onion, sliced

½ cup balsamic vinegar

8 oz tomato sauce

½ cup water

2 TB white wine

Mix spices in a small bowl and season roast generously on all sides.

Heat coconut oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Sear each side of the roast for 3-4 minutes. Place the sliced onions in the bottom of a crockpot and put seared roast on top of the onions. (I have made this plenty of times when I skipped the searing part and just put the spice-rubbed meat straight into the crockpot. I do think you lose a little bit of flavor but if you are really in hurry, doesn’t hurt to skip it.)

Combine vinegar and tomato sauce, mix well, and pour over the roast. Add the water and white wine to the pan to deglaze (gather up the brown bits of flavor) and pour this mixture in the crock pot as well.

Cover. Set to low for 7-8 hours.

Advertisements

The kitchen is overrun…and Father’s Day!

Each year at about this time I have one of my favorite “problems.”  Remember this? Well this year we have the bounty of our CSA share, a generous co-worker and my in-laws’ incredible garden (they have tomato plants growing “wild” in their compost pile that are producing more tomatoes than any plants in my garden ever have – true story.) I feel kind of fortunate, actually, that my garden is full of weeds at the moment – we never made the time to get anything in it before it got too hot…you know, back in February – because I don’t know what I’d do with any more vegetables!

Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, basil , squash, and more tomatoes. I’ve made zucchini cakes and zucchini bread…two kinds of pickles…squash casserole and even pickled some peppers. But we’re not talking about any of that today. Tomatoes are what we are talking about today. I’m not a huge fan of canning, though I wish I were. But I do like to make big batches of things and freeze them. Like tomato sauce.

I read a bunch of different recipes for tomato sauce and settled on a combination of two, with some adjustments for my own laziness. I’m not going to peel tomatoes. I’m just not going to do it. And I sort of seeded them…if you count cutting them in half and quickly squeezing them over the sink as “seeding.” What can I say? I like to cook, but come on, I also have a million other things I must get to before midnight.

So with those exceptions, I generally followed the recipes and wound up with a tomato sauce that my husband said was one of the best he’s ever tasted – and that included all those trips to Italy…I was sure to clarify that.  He made sure I kept my notes. And also wanted to know how much of a stash was going in the freezer. Oh, and could he please have this for Father’s Day over gnocchi followed by blueberry pie?

This sauce is not unlike the Bolognese sauce…but without the meat. And I only reduced twice instead of three times.  Oh, another thing the recipe does not call for is the blender. I added that part to make up for the fact that I did not peel them.  And also because I think it looks prettier when it’s all smooth like that.

I think it clings to the pasta and meatballs better when it’s smooth like this… divine!

And so went Father’s Day dinner…and the boys liked it as much as he did, so that’s a bonus.  (I didn’t tell them about all the other vegetables that were in there!)

Followed up by blueberry pie with “yuck” cream (as we call it in our house thanks to my younger brother’s honesty at a semi-fancy restaurant one time when we were little. The chef asked him how he liked it just as my brother skimmed a big spoonful of real whipped cream, sans sugar, off the top of his dessert…disappointed and confused that it didn’t taste like CoolWhip as he’d expected, he looked up and said, “It’s YUCK.” Cue: my mother’s mortification. My brother has never lived it down. However, that chef would be pleased to know that CoolWhip has rarely, if ever, been in my house, I just can’t eat the stuff, and I happily whip fresh cream when we need it…with a little bit of sugar and vanilla, just in case my brother shows up.)

A perfect pie for the Fourth of July, if you are so inclined.  The recipe can be found here.

And finally, tomato sauce…

Tomato Sauce

6-8 pounds of fresh tomatoes

2 TB olive oil

2 TB butter

8-10 cloves of garlic, minced

1 large onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

4-6 carrots, chopped

2 cups vegetable stock

2 bay leaves

2 cups red wine

1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (depending on taste)

Cut tomatoes in halves or quarters and squeeze out as many seeds as you can. Coarsely chop tomatoes and set aside.

In a large stock pot over medium heat, melt butter and add olive oil. Add garlic, onions, bell pepper and carrots and cook until they start to soften, 5-8 minutes. Add tomatoes, vegetable stock and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and let reduce for at least 90 minutes. (Watch for the lines on the inside of the pot to tell how much liquid has cooked off – it should be at least an inch, two is better.)  Repeat with the wine and reduce for 2 hours. Add chopped basil for the last 10 minutes and remove bay leaves. Allow to cool enough to go into a blender (or use an immersion blender in the pot) and process until smooth.

If freezing, be sure to cool completely before placing in bags for freezer.  Also, I made this the following week with the next batch of tomatoes and I omitted the peppers and carrots…simpler flavor, but just as yummy.

Whew! We did it.

It’s Friday.

And I stuck to the meal plan. I did. Can you believe it?

We’ll see what happens next week…

There were a couple of things on the plan that I haven’t ever shared before, so I thought I’d add them.

This is one of my husband’s favorite dinners: pot roast. Lucky for me it’s pretty simple.

Because it is still 1000° here in Texas, I can’t bring myself to turn on the oven. So this pot roast was done on the stovetop in a 12″ skillet, which is just as good as tossing it in the oven for several hours.

The veggies get browned a little to start. Then the roast. Then everything gets put back in, herbs and beef stock get added. Cover and let it get happy for 3 hours or so. That’s it.

The meat will fall apart when you put it on a platter…surround with carrots and onions, drench in pan juices…set it in the middle of the table and enjoy the mmmmmmms and aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhs.  We had left over mashed potatoes from the garlic chicken night, so I didn’t even have to cook potatoes to go with it. Which, I’m pretty sure, is required.

The other dishes…coming soon.

Pot Roast, on the stovetop

adapted from The Pioneer Woman

olive oil

salt/pepper

2 medium onions, in sections halved or quartered

6-8 medium carrots, roughly cut into 2-3″ sections

3-pound chuck roast

a few springs of fresh rosemary and thyme

2 cups beef stock

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat (this should be a large pot or skillet with a lid. You can also start this on the stovetop and move it to the oven… if turning on your oven doesn’t make you break out into hives.) Add the onions and carrots and cook until they just take on a little color  – several minutes. Remove veggies from pan and set aside. Let the oil reheat – add a little more if needed. Season the roast generously with salt and pepper. Brown the roast – a minute or two on each side. Remove to plate as well. Do you see all the little brown bits in the pan? You want those. Add about a 1/2 cup of the stock to the pan, on high heat, and deglaze with a whisk or spoon.  Add the roast back to the pan, then the carrots, then the onions, then the fresh herbs, the rest of the beef stock. Bring the stock to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to a slow, easy simmer for 3 hours…or until the meat is falling all over the place. Be sure to use the pan juices when you serve it…lots of great flavor there.

 

Sunday Gravy

Stop whatever you are doing.

We need to have a little conversation about marriage counseling. Sort of.

In case you missed it on Facebook, here’s the note my husband posted on my wall yesterday:

“Dearest Jennifer, I have the most amazing upwelling of love for you right now. You are the most wonderful woman, truly a gift from God Himself to me and our young children. Your superior intelligence, your bewildering beauty, your otherworldly ability to excel at every thing you do – Just three of the myriad of things that make me the luckiest man in the world to have you as my wife. I love you…. (Brought to you by Day 2 of Sunday Gravy, The Leftovers)”

Let me assure you that every word of that little love note was due to the creation of a certain dish known as Sunday Gravy.

My apologies for the photos...it was late/dark...we had company...I was kind of in a rush...work with me here.

If you aren’t familiar with Sunday Gravy you can Google it…or watch The Sopranos. But basically it is braised meats in a red sauce served over pasta.

Doesn’t that sound simple?

Two weeks ago our air conditioner stopped working. And if you know anything about the weather here, you know what an emergency that was. My silver-tongued husband was conveniently out of town. Lucky for me our neighbor has a long history of air-conditioner repair under his belt and came to the rescue.

I told him I would make him dinner as a thank you.

He mentioned comfort food…and Italian. And so this weekend we had him over.

Dinner party with the neighbor!

The other great thing about this dish is that it is a product of my recipe box raid.  And I’m so glad I have a photo of the actual recipe I took from my friend Christy. It was one of the reasons I was excited to make it…the page is all messy and smeared…good signs that it has been well-used.

Check it out:

Of course there were some adjustments, because I’m incapable of following a recipe to a tee…but not too many. I mean, seriously, who wants to mess with an Italian recipe from a guy named Rinaldo Monteferrante?

I used beef short ribs, sweet and hot Italian sausage and fresh meatballs…I doubled the garlic, because I always double the garlic…all fresh herbs…a blend of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino cheeses…and I highly recommend the San Marzano tomatoes – I really think they make the best sauce.

Add some garlic bread and a simple Caesar salad…and dinner was delicious! My favorite salad is chopped Romaine lettuce, shaved Parmesan (use a vegetable peeler to get those cool curls) crunchy croutons, black olives and a great Caesar dressing, splashed with lemon juice. Yum.

I plated the braised meats with the pasta and served the rest of the sauce on the side so everyone could just add however much they wanted. (Also Christy told me that the leftover gravy freezes really well.)

Gravy on the side

I also made an Orange-Vanilla Crème Brûlée for dessert that was my favorite so far. I’ve made a lot of those little ramekins of heaven over the years and I think this one is the best. Well, it’s in the top 5 at least. I’ll post about it soon.

Make this dish on your next available Sunday and see what shows up on your Facebook wall…you might save a ton in marriage therapy expenses. You can send your thank you cards to Rinaldo…I wonder if he knows that he’s saving relationships all over the world?

SUNDAY GRAVY

adapted from Rinaldo Monteferrante, by way of Christy Nielson

Beef short ribs (about 1 per person)

Italian sausage (I used both hot and sweet links) 1.5-2lbs

Meatballs – about a dozen (I used a recipe close to this one) a blend of turkey and pork, minus the sauce and without the oven part (of course you could also just buy the pre-made meatballs if you wanted to make this even simpler.)

2 – 28oz cans of whole, peeled tomatoes, the San Marzano variety

12 oz tomato paste

6 (or 12) garlic cloves, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

3 TB Italian parsley, chopped

2 TB fresh oregano, chopped

2 TB fresh sweet basil, chopped

1 Bay leaf

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt/pepper  1TB/1teaspoon

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 lbs linguine (DeCecco or Delverde)

Parmigiano Reggiano – a nice big hunk of it, grated

Pecorino – half of a hunk of it, grated

Heat the olive oil in a large pot ( at least a 5qt.) Brown garlic and onion. Brown the meat until seared on the outside. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, red pepper and about 1.5 cups of water. Simmer for at least 2 hours, stirring frequently. Add fresh herbs for the last 20-30 minutes of simmering.

Cook linguine al dente, drain and pour into large bowl. Remove meat from sauce to a large platter. Mix pasta with sauce, if desired, and sprinkle generously with grated cheese. (Or serve sauce on the side…whatever makes you happy.)

As indicated by my husband’s note, this is better the next day so, when possible, make the sauce the day before you actually want to serve it. And consider that 2-hour simmer time a minimum…I would say 4 is better.

St. Patrick’s Day Feast

I’ve never made corned beef before…what better excuse than March 17?

Of course, I intended to buy a plain brisket and do the 10 days of curing myself. But let’s all remember for a moment what a tremendously gifted procrastinator I am. Right. So that means instead of curing a brisket for the past 10 days I was out this morning going from store to store to find one that someone else had brined for me. And luck was with me!

A corned beef brisket, rubbed with spices and simmering in broth

So for those of you who have also never made one of these delights, the corned beef comes brined or cured in a solution, but uncooked. I added spices and seasoned the broth and then it was submerged and simmered in the mixture for several hours. I’ll admit that this Texas girl hesitated a moment before dropping that pretty brisket down into a pot of liquid to be boiled…but I managed. And I’m glad I was able to overcome.

Here it is, resting, after being removed from the broth

I threw some vegetables in the broth after it was finished cooking…carrots, potatoes, turnips. I know, I know, what about the cabbage? Don’t worry, there was cabbage; but I could NOT bring myself to throw it into a pot of liquid to be boiled. It got its own special treatment.

Anyway, back to that corned beef. Huge hit with the boys, for sure.

My delightful mother was over for the afternoon and stayed for dinner. In fact, if it hadn’t been for her help with the kiddos, dinner probably still wouldn’t be ready. Anyway, she tries to not eat too much red meat, so I wanted to make sure she could fully join in our St Patty’s celebration. After all, it’s her mother’s family who brings the Irish into our line. So there was also Shepherd’s Pie (with turkey instead of beef.)

I think my favorite part of dinner was the beer bread. Mmmmmmm. And I don’t even like beer.

It was that perfect almost-crunchy on the outside and wonderfully soft on the inside. And it was a mix. As in, it came in a bag and I poured it in a bowl and dumped in one bottle of beer and stuck it in the oven…and an hour later the house was full of this smell:

An "action shot!" My mom doing the slicing...and keeping my 5-year-old from eating the entire loaf.

All in all, it was a pretty good nod to some Irish culinary traditions…and it was an even better evening with family around the table.

Oh right – the cabbage. I almost forgot. Sautéed in butter until it is nice and tender and just a touch sweet. Perfect. I just can’t boil it – I have awful flashbacks to the cabbage soup diet fad.

So there it is with all its browned-butter goodness

My five-year-old was pretty stoked about the beef…and the bread…but he’s so weird about potatoes. He doesn’t like them. So he was less than thrilled with the Shepherd’s Pie…and don’t even mention the cabbage. Mostly he was excited about the hats.

And the light-up shamrock earrings that I was wearing. No, there’s not going to be a photo of those.

Last, but not least, there was a cake. A falling-apart cake. Good thing it was yummy since it was broken. A broken Irish Spice Cake.

It didn’t start out broken. It started out boiling on the stove top.

Then a bunch of flour got added. It was all poured into a pan and baked for almost an hour. Then I set it on the counter to cool. It was still in the pan. Then I left. I went to T-Mobile to see if I could get another phone because mine died today. None of the buttons would work. It was beeping at me all day – telling me every time I got an email or a text message – but it wouldn’t let me look at them. All day. My phone was taunting me. So I went and got another one. But I should have taken the cake out of the pan first.

By the time I got home, the top part had cooled way more than the rest of the cake and shrunk a little. So when it got turned upside down it split apart.

Don’t be like me. Don’t let technology ruin a perfectly good spice cake.

OK, maybe “ruin” is a little strong. Because, of course, we still ate it. And it was awfully good.

I mean, really, once it was all sliced up you could hardly tell. I was wishing I had thought to make some Irish coffee to go with it, though. That would have been a good idea.

Here’s a bunch of information that we read through today so I could answer my son’s questions – he asks a lot of questions – about why he was wearing green and why we were searching for corned beef and why Daddy brought home silly hats.

And here are some other links of potential interest:

The Shepherd’s Pie recipe that was a guideline for ours.

The Corned Beef and Vegetables recipe that was a guideline for ours.

The Broken Irish Spice Cake recipe.

And the Beer Bread Mix. Highly recommended. In fact, I think my mother was successful in keeping  my oldest out of it after his third piece…which means there must still be some in the kitchen somewhere. I think I have to go.

Hope you had a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day!!

Lasagna: Two Ways

For years I’ve been saying that I was supposed to be Italian. And I really, really mean it. I was totally born on the wrong continent.

Cinque Terre in Italy

That’s one of the villages in Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. I wish I lived there. And here’s another village in that same region:

(Photo from 321forms.com)

Of course there’s always the countryside of Tuscany – really, who wouldn’t want to run away to this place? It seems the sunshine there is always golden like that. Gorgeous.

(Photo from physictourism.com)

If I ever just “disappear,” chances are good that I’ve found myself a little hideaway somewhere in all this beauty. Oh, and I can’t forget Florence.

(Photo from localyte.com)

Florence and Kiev have always been neck-and-neck at the top of my most-captivating-cities-I’ve-ever-visited list. Florence overwhelms me. In a good way.

Look at this gorgeous shot from thesassysteelmagnolia.com

I’m about to pack my bags right now…and I haven’t even started thinking about the food! The food!

I’m working on another food blog project right now – just doing the behind-the-scenes prep work at the moment for something I hope to launch this year (isn’t that a tease?) Anyway, some of the books I’m reading through as research claim to have lists of the “best dishes in the world” or “a global culinary canon” and on these lists there are 80 – 100 different dishes presented. Guess where most of them come from? In fact, on one list nearly one quarter of the entire list was from two places…Italy and France. The French, of course. (Not that I have anything against France…as long-time readers will remember from my French phase…and it’s probably safe to assume that my “French phase” is more of a culinary stand-by than a phase anyway.)  Those French – they’ve got the whole kitchen thing down.

Anyway…back to Italy.

Well, no, not exactly. I’m not in Italy. That’s the problem. I’m never in Italy. (insert sad-pouty face here)

So, that leaves me the food. And in our house, we’re more than happy to oblige.

Lasagna.

Let’s talk about it.

It can be an all-day event. Or not. It can be tomato or Béchamel. With meat or not. With spinach or not. The variations are many.

I could live on lasagna. It’s one of the very few things I have in common with Garfield. Breakfast, lunch, dinner – it seems appropriate. I think I’ve made approximately 213 different versions of lasagna. Don’t worry, I’m only going to talk about two of them right now. One that will take you most of a day. And one that will not.

Let’s start with the longer version.

Second only maybe to Hollandaise, I would say this sauce is my husband’s favorite. He gets a little gleam in his eye when I say I’m going to make it. Bolognese…this is the beginning of the all-day lasagna.

Commonly known as “aromatics” and the base to many, many stocks, soups, stews and sauces, the combination of onions, celery and carrots make up what the French call “mirepoix” (pronounced meer-PWAH.) Creole cooking calls it the “holy trinity” and in Italian it is “soffritto.”

The vegetables are cooked down for a few minutes in a combination of butter and olive oil. The the meats are added and cooked. Then the happy begins.

This sauce gets reduced three times. Yes. You read that correctly. Three. Which means three times the yumminess. And it also means it takes a good part of the afternoon. And makes your house smell scrumptious.

First a quart of milk. Reduce gently for nearly an hour. Then you do the same with red wine and the third time is beef stock.

After the three or so hours of reducing, it will look something like this:

A nice rich color and you can see the reduction on the side of the pot. At this point you should feel free to grab a spoon and just eat it right off the stove top. No one would judge you.

Or you can let it cool and use it to make lasagna. Or drench some pasta with it. And I usually divide it up and freeze some for another time. It freezes beautifully. But whatever you do with it, when you serve it you should immediately feel like that tiny little Italian grandmother who is perpetually in an apron and always seems to make the most wonderful things appear from her kitchen.

Now let’s talk about a lasagna that doesn’t require you to channel “Nonna” or stand near the stove for half the day.

Yes – that’s a crockpot.

I didn’t follow a recipe for this lasagna, so I’ll just show you what I did. The meat sauce is about a pound and a half of ground beef or turkey, browned, and then mixed with one of those packets of spaghetti sauce. You know, the kind you mix with a small can of tomato paste and some oil and water? And I also added some sliced mushrooms. The noodles are the pre-semi-cooked kind.

The cheese mixture is ricotta, parmesan and mozzerella. Then I added in some basil and some Italian seasoning. I have also used that herb-seasoned cheese spread mixture in place of the ricotta before – also yummy. You can see it here all mixed:

Then the parts all get layered into the crock pot.

A little sauce in the bottom, then noodles, then cheese mixture. Repeat. Repeat. You know how lasagna works.

After the last layer of sauce, cover with mozzarella. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours. (You will have to experiment with the time in your own crockpot…depending on its size and how many layers you put in…it could take more or less time.)

It’s very easy to have the sauce and the cheese mixture in your fridge and it only takes about 10 minutes to assemble it. The last time I made it, I threw it together when I was cleaning up the kitchen from lunch. The boys and I headed out for the park and to run some errands…we got home about the same time as their dad got home from work…I put a quick salad together and dinner was ready.

It’s not Italy. I know.

But it kind of smells like it. Or at least a kitchen in Italy.

And, if you close your eyes while eating that Bolognese sauce, you just might be able to transport yourself to this place:

Bologna Countryside (cscaduta)

It’s worth a try.

Bolognese Sauce

adapted from Martha Stewart, 2003

3 TB unsalted butter

3 TB extra-virgin olive oil

2 onions, ¼ inch dice

3 stalks celery, ¼ inch dice

3 carrots, ¼ inch dice

2 pounds ground sirloin

2 pounds ground pork

1 quart whole milk

2 1/2 cups dry red wine

1 quart beef stock (2 14.5 oz cans)

1 cup tomato paste

1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt

¾ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

In a large cast-iron or enamel pot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions, cook until they soften (5 minutes.)  Add celery and carrots, cook until vegetables are tender (8-10 minutes.)  Add ground sirloin and pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is no longer pink.  Add milk, cook at a gentle simmer, skimming fat from surface until liquid has reduced by half (about an hour.)  Add wine, simmer until liquid is reduced by half again (about 45 minutes.)  Add beef stock, tomato paste, salt, pepper and simmer gently until sauce thickens (about an hour.) Makes about 3 quarts.

New Year Traditions

OK. So, I still haven’t posted the traditional dish my in-laws have on New Year’s Day – cabbage rolls. I can’t seem to sit at the computer long enough to get it finished.

I sorta made this resolution about getting more organized.

It might have included something about making sure all the “chores” were done before I sat down to Facebook/Twitter/blog about something.

It also might have included mandatory laundry nights. Which are really cutting into my cooking/photography/blogging time.

But everyone has clean underwear. This might or might not be a reasonable trade off. I’m still undecided.

So here’s my compromise. The cabbage roll recipe (which was in the family recipe collection I made for my mother-in-law last month) will be in this post…but the photos are not mine. They look like the ones we make…but they are not. Full disclosure.

This photo of black-eyed peas, however, is mine…because you simply can’t go through a New Year’s Day in the south without some. Can I get an “amen?”

Cabbage Rolls and Black-Eyed Peas.

I just read something on this great blog about how the black-eyed pea tradition came to be. I have not researched it. I have no idea if it is true. But it makes for a good story…poverty to prosperity. I like it.

Since I am an extraordinary procrastinator, the stores were out of the quick-fix canned black-eyed peas by the time I went looking for them. Which was roughly 45 minutes before I wanted to eat them. (See resolution about being more organized.) So I had to get the dry ones in the bulk section – which I think are tastier, but did not fit into the 45-minute timeline I had in mind. Time to improvise a little.

Instead of the overnight soak method I would typically use, I threw the peas in a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes. Then heat off, cover on, I let them stand for about 30 minutes. An hour might be better if you aren’t as impatient as I am…although these particular peas (which were on the small side) were nice and soft after just 30 minutes. So it worked out. Which is why I never learn the lesson about not procrastinating.

Then I drained them and added them to a pan of sautéed onions and garlic and a nice ham bone. Chopped bacon would work, too. (I just happened to have a ham bone in the freezer. I like to keep spare pig pieces there.) Then I stirred in chicken broth to the consistency I liked. You’ll need to salt and pepper generously and let simmer for 15 minutes. Or, in my case, until everything was warm enough to at least pass as completely cooked.

We had them with the cabbage rolls over rice. Yum.

When my in-laws make cabbage rolls they are usually doing it with a huge group of people for a New Year’s Day party. They fill up one of those giant electric roasters. You certainly don’t have to make that many…but they do freeze really well. So…maybe not such a bad idea!

Not my photo. I was doing laundry instead of taking photos. This is from alloccasioncatering.org
STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS

5 pounds ground beef
5 pounds ground pork
1 3/4 pounds bacon – ground up and mixed with other meats
6 eggs
5 cups rice
Salt and pepper
Mix above ingredients together to create stuffing.
3-4 cans crushed tomatoes
3-4 cans sauerkraut
3 heads cabbage
3-4 onions, sliced
Water
Blanch the large cabbage leaves so they are flexible enough to roll. Fill and roll cabbage leaves with meat and rice stuffing. Use the left over cabbage leaves to line the bottom of the roaster/large pan. Stack cabbage rolls in the pan, layered with sauerkraut, and pour the canned tomatoes throughout. Fill roaster a little more than halfway with water and place the sliced onions on the top. Cover and cook at a very low temperature for 10-12 hours. Check top rolls to see if rice is soft. Makes enough cabbage rolls to feed a huge New Year’s Day crowd.

Obviously you can adjust these numbers down to make a smaller batch. Also, they cook well in a Dutch oven on the stove or in the oven (at low-medium heat.) I’ve also put them in a single layer in a casserole dish, covered, in the oven. That worked nicely.

Another little tip we’ve discovered is that if you roll them too too tightly, it is harder for the rice to get steamed/cooked. So while you want the rolls tight enough to stay together, don’t get crazy. Leave them a little loose.

Alright. I must go.

Several “chores” have cropped up since I started this. I can’t toss out the resolutions yet…we’re only on Day Four.

But you can still hang out on your computer. So why don’t you write to me and tell me about your New Year’s traditions…or resolutions. Unless one of your resolutions was to spend less time on the computer. Then you should probably scoot.

I’ll be folding laundry.