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.

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.

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.

Meatballs!

A week or so ago one of my dearest friends, Erica, called me in need of a good turkey meatball recipe.  Now, when Erica says she needs a good recipe, she’s serious.  She’s a kitchen experimenter extraordinaire.  And she can be relentless about it…trying different methods and doing recipes over and over until they are just right.  No surprise she’s one of my most favorite people on the planet.  Not to mention she’s got a super cool dog and two of the most adorable boys you’ve ever, ever seen.  (And her husband’s pretty great, too – I shouldn’t leave him out!)

Seattle Aquarium 2008
Here's Erica with Adorable Son #1, in blue, and my son at the Seattle Aquarium last year.
Here's the coolest dog ever, Denali, after a particularly exhausting New Year's party.
The coolest dog, Denali, after a particularly exhausting New Year's party.
Seattle 2008
And Adorable Son #2 after a particularly exhausting day with my son (in grey.)

Erica and I have conspired on a number of kitchen concoctions and my favorite wine tastings ever were hosted by her.  So I was immediately on board with the quest for a really great turkey meatball.  She was starting with a recipe from Giada and improvising from there.

First things first, she doubled the cheese.  Erica always doubles the cheese.

Then she was planning to caramelize some onions before adding them to mixture…puréed to add moisture…genius.  We discussed bread crumbs and eggs and options for cooking technique.  She promised to send me her final  trial recipe if it turned out.

I made them last night.  You should make them tonight.  YUM.

Meatballs
Meatballs formed and waiting to get a little sear on the outside

I made only slight deviations from her final version: I didn’t completely purée the onions, rather just gave them a super chop after they were caramelized, and I pan-seared them in bacon grease.  I am from the South, after all.

Meatballs II
Meatballs getting happy in bacon fat

I wish I had a photo of them finished and on a plate…but everyone ate them too fast.  My three-year-old had SIX of them!  And I thought I’d made enough to have left overs for lunch today…but they were all gone last night. Impressive.

I served them over rice with a brown, mushroom gravy with corn and a green salad on the side.  But I can’t wait to try them in a tomato sauce on a bed of pasta. Or with egg noodles and a stroganoff-type sauce.

And the next time I make them I’m going to double or triple the batch so I can always have some handy in the freezer.  Thanks to my dear Seattle pal, I present, a fantastic turkey meatball:

Turkey Meatballs

adapted from Erica who adapted from Giada

1 large sweet onion – chopped, caramelized and puréed (or adequately mashed)

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 large egg

1/4 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

3 TB ketchup  (I’m also thinking about doing half tomato paste and half pesto here…if you try that, let me know!)

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/4 cup Asiago, grated

1/4 cup Parmesan, grated

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 pound ground turkey meat

3 TB olive oil – or bacon grease 🙂

Add all ingredients (expect turkey and oil) to a large bowl and blend well.  Mix in turkey until evenly blended.  Shape turkey into 1 1/4 inch balls.  (I use one of those scoopers for cookie dough to help keep them semi-uniform.) Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Brown meatballs, in batches if necessary, until browned on all sides, but not cooked through – about 5 minutes.  Transfer the meatballs to a baking sheet and bake at 400 for 15-18 minutes.  Let rest for a few minutes before serving.  Makes roughly 24 meatballs.