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Italian Meatballs & Cavatappi


With record-breaking snowstorms back east, and some 35ºF mornings here…I’ve been in the mood for comfort food.  Spaghetti and meatballs has not been a go-to meal for me…probably because I don’t like spaghetti.  This, in and of itself seems silly…since pasta is pasta…but shapes make a rather large difference.

My problems with spaghetti start with the messy factor…I would like the sauce in my mouth and not splattered on my chin.  Also…I think the pasta shape should mirror the shape of whatever else is in the dish…and meatballs do not look like spaghetti.  Then there’s the fork issue…it seems like eating spaghetti with a fork should come with instructions like using chopsticks in a japanese restaurant – step 1: take a deep breath and prepare to stab your fork into the pile of innocent long thin noodles; step 2: Twist fork in circles with tines braced against the bottom of the dish until an appropriate bite-size amount of noodles are twirled around; step 3: Lift fork without noodles sliding, falling or unraveling off of the fork and insert into mouth; step 4: chew spaghetti and meatball bite and savor each delicious morsel…oh wait…you forgot the meatball.  See?  It’s complicated.

Let me simplify.  Don’t use spaghetti when you are making spaghetti and meatballs!

I based this recipe loosely on Ina Garten’s Real Meatballs & Spaghetti from her Family Style cookbook.  I halved the recipe for the meatballs as I only had 1 lb. of ground beef in the house, but made the full recipe for the sauce.  I deem it a very successful recipe and know that it will become a favorite!  (just my humble opinion)  :)

Italian Meatballs & Cavatappi

Makes 10 golf-ball-size meatballs

For the meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs
1 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1½-2 tbsp of whole milk
¼ cup of minced onion
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 heavy tsp. of ketchup
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup of warm water
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
1 large shallot, chopped
1½ tsp. minced garlic
½ cup good red wine, such as Chianti
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
1 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. of dried Italian herbs (like Penzey’s)
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsps. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Put the beef, breadcrumbs, parsley, parmesan, onion, garlic, ketchup into a bowl together.  Beat the egg and add the 1/4 cup of water and beat together a bit more.

Pour the egg/water mixture over the top of the beef et al., and mix together with your hands.  Mix gently and not for very long.  Overworking the mixture will cause the meatballs to be tough.  Once I get a sense of the consistency of the meat mixture, here’s where I decide how much of the milk I will add.  I used about 2 tablespoons of whole milk.  It’s a judgement call…not enough moisture or fat…and the meatballs will be dry…too much and they can fall apart or end up spongy.  Roll the mixture into balls…size is up to you…I went with golf-ball size…assuming two meatballs per person for portion size.

Heat olive and vegetable oil together in a pan on the stove top and place the meatballs in gently, making sure to not crowd them.  It’s better to cook them in batches than to squeeze them all in.  You want the meatballs to brown, not to steam.

Place the pan in the 400° oven for 25 minutes (less if they are smaller).  After 25 minutes, pull them out and give each meatball a turn, turn the oven up to 450° and then put them back in to brown a bit more for about 5 minutes.

Once browned, remove them from the pan and set aside.  Place the pan back on a burner…being highly aware that the pan is hotter than the sun…so don’t touch the handle!  I like to rest a hotpad on the handle as a reminder since I have a (small) history of burning myself when I ought to know better!

Now that you’ve got your pan back on the heat, pour in the tablespoon of olive oil and heat a bit before adding the chopped shallot and onion.  Cook until the onion and shallot are translucent, probably about 5 minutes.

Add in the minced garlic and cook for another minute or so.  While the onions were sautéing, I prepped my tomatoes.  I had a can of whole peeled tomatoes and I wanted them chopped…so I pull them out, gave them a rough chop, making sure not to lose any of their juice and put them back in the can, ready for use.

Next pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape up all the delicious bits stuck on the pan from the meatballs and the onions.

Now it’s time to add the tomatoes and all of their liquid.

And it’s also time to add in the parsley, italian seasoning, salt and pepper and the dash of Worcestershire sauce.

Let the sauce come together for 10 minutes or so, before adding the meatballs back in and cooking for another 10-20 minutes.  The timing really depends on how quickly you want dinner on the table…as long as the meatballs are cooked through and warmed back up…you are good to go!

Serve over freshly cooked al dente cavatappi (we used De Cecco brand) and top with a sprinkling of fresh grated parmesan and some minced parsley.  This goes amazingly well with a buttery slice of garlic bread! Just saying!

Buon Appetito!

(but seriously…am I alone in my lack of love for spaghetti…?)

2011 Meals in Review | part two


as promised…

2011 Meals in Review | part two

July

Gorgonzola Chicken Pasta Salad (a la D’Amico & Sons)

German Potato Salad

Summer Tomato Caprese Stacks

Bastille Day & a Little Liberté with Scallion and Chive Smoked Salmon Spread

 

August

Sour Cream Verde Enchiladas

 

September

Heirloom Tomatoes Bread Salad with Burratta

Zucchini, Summer Squash and Brown Rice Casserole

 

October

Tomato and Gruyere Tart

served with a little salad

Fresh Linguine with Mizithra Cheese and Lightly Dressed Arugula

Traditional Beef Empanadas (made mini!)

A little sampling of delicious items…cheese, olives, toasts, etc.

Niçoise Salad

 

November

Pumpkin Pecan Biscotti

Brioche French Toast

No-Knead Bread

Gougeres

Red Tea, Beef & Sweet Potato Stew

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

Excuse the phone photo…but that’s what’s left of a scrumptious braised rabbit with pappardelle from this place.

Chestnut Pancetta Stuffing for Thanksgiving

My Thanksgiving plate…and no I didn’t overdo it!

Couldn’t be complete without a slice of pecan pie!

The morning after was no let-down with Pheasant and Waffles topped with a Fried Egg and Mushroom Thyme Gravy!!!

 

December

A weekend trip up north found us eating at the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant in St. Helena.  The Tasting included 5 delectable bites to whet our appetites.

The polenta sitting under the magnificently cooked piece of beef was quite possibly the best thing on the table.

Duck Confit with a Poached Egg and Frisee

Krumkake Christmas Cookies

Christmas Eve bites including Cremenelli Salami – a little hometown pride!

Christmas Dinner – Tenderloin of Beef, Creamy Dill Carrots and Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

Turkey Tetrazzini

The BEST use of leftover beef ever…sliced beef tenderloin topped with a cold Bernaise sauce

And last but not least, Short Ribs Italiano served over Pappardelle!

 

We’re making some artichoke dip and about to head over to friends to ring in the new year!  Tonight is for looking back and tomorrow, we start fresh.

A Whole New Year!

Happy New Year!

2011 Meals in Review | part one


As I’m a bit behind these days, I noticed while perusing my photos from the past year in search of a couple photos for a new year’s card to send out, how many delicious moments we had in 2011.  What follows is not only what we made, but what we enjoyed! 

The delicious moments of 2011…


January

Rosemary Sea Salt Dinner Rolls (recipe credit: Pioneer Woman)

Creamy Pheasant and Wild Rice Soup

Orechiette with Pheasant, Bacon and Spinach

Butternut Squash, Shallot and Goat Cheese Pizza

Pot Roast…good the first time, better the second…

Cumin-scented Butternut Squash with Onions and Wild Rice

Pot Roast Ravioli

Homemade Fettuccini

Boboli’s done right…!  (yes, you are correct…that is an egg cracked on top peeking out from underneath the arugula and parm!

 

February

yummm…pancakes

Delicate Scrambled Eggs with Truffle Salt

A Birthday dinner at Bouchon

Cod Brandade with Tomato Confit and Fried Sage Leaves

Frisée aux Lardons et Oeuf Poché

Croque Madame

Back at home…Cheese Soufflé

Lump Crab Cakes

Valentine’s Day Cheese Fondue

Tempura and Cold Soba Noodles

Baby Artichoke Gratin (recipe credit: latimes.com)

 

March

Fancied-Up Burgers

Seared Scallops with Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Welsh Rarebit

 

April

April brought with it a trip to Vienna for Woody’s work…

Käsekrainer – near perfect street food

Beef Tartare with all the appropriate accoutrements

Veal Medallions

Finally in the homeland…a full plate of spätzle just for me!

A celebratory meal at Meinl am Graben began with a Veal Carpaccio for Woody

Tortellini with Consommé and Crisped Prosciutto

Honestly…I can hardly remember what exactly this course entailed…but I DO remember that it  was incredibly amazing!

The third course of our prix fixe…again…perfection!

Although I can’t say the name of the place…the fare was delicious

A trip to Vienna without Viennese coffee would be a crime!

Back at home…Pacific Spiny Lobster with Fava Beans and Meyer Lemon

Grilled Cheese Invitational…who says no to that…?

Burrata with Cherry Tomatoes…there were plenty more sandwiches and a lot more cheese, but most disappeared before I could get a shot!

And of course, an annual batch of Deviled Eggs for Easter!

 

May

Fried Chicken Salad with Goat Cheese

Onion & Bacon Tart

Minted English Pea & Lemony Feta Crostini

Another birthday was cause for a trip to the Los Olivos region, some wine tasting and of course a meal or two…

Bistro Burger

Spring Vegetable Pot Roast

Ebelskivers

Savory Lentil Salad

House guests meant a trip to the Original LA Farmer’s Market and an Oyster Po’ Boy

June

Chicken Garlic Sausage & Swiss Chard Flatbread

Potato Salad – Two Ways

Poppyseed Cake with Strawberries and Mascarpone Frosting

Part two coming soon…

Beef, Olive & Raisin Empanadas (+ a veggie option!)


My love for savory fillings bound by a crispy flaky crust knows no bounds!

Empanadas…a South American calzone/pasty/meat pie.  In other words, a perfect bundle!  Recently we had reason to celebrate…Woody was named a Packard Fellow and while this is huge for his science…for me, it was an excuse to cook up something wonderful for a dinner in his honor at a colleague’s home.  Empanadas fit the bill…finger food, great warm or room temperature, no-plate-necessary and dipping-sauce-optional – good choice for a crowd and easily transportable!

There are many empanada dough recipe’s available on the interwebs, and to be honest, even pre-made pie crusts from the grocery store work very well for this recipe.  We made two separate fillings as there were a few vegetarians who attended the celebration; beef with olives, raisins and eggs and black bean, corn and raisin.

Beef Empanadas
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen | Beef Empanadas

Makes 4 dozen mini-empanadas

2 hard-boiled large eggs, chopped into bits
3/4 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
dash of cayenne
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives
1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained, reserving 2 tablespoons juice, and chopped
1 recipe of your favorite savory tart dough…or if you’re in a time crunch – 2 packages of pre-packaged pie crust dough

1 egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water for egg wash

To start, hard boil at least 2 eggs. I made a double batch for the party so I needed 4 eggs for the recipe and it never hurts to have a few in the fridge to make egg salad in a pinch for lunch.  We use Henrietta (the chicken) for cooking our eggs.

She tends to do a decent job and is relatively no hassle.  There are plenty of egg cookers out there…but you can get the same results via a multitude of methods.  For something different, check out Alton Brown’s baked hard-boiled-eggs.  Cool the eggs in an ice-water bath and set aside.

Heat a large skillet on medium high and add the olive oil to the pan.  Once hot, add the onions and sweat.  There is no need to brown the onions as there is plenty of sweetness in the filling that comes from the raisins.  Add the garlic, and once the onions have released a bit of their moisture, turn the heat to high and add the ground beef to brown.

One of my standard practices is to season with salt and pepper at every stage…this will give you the best chance that the finished dish is properly seasoned.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add the diced canned tomatoes.

Golden raisins may seem an odd addition, but they are a quintessential ingredient for an authentic empanada!

If I made the mini-empanadas again, I would give the raisins a rough chop first as they plump up with the moisture and can overwhelm the flavor a bit.

I happen to LOVE green olives.  When I was a tiny person, black olives were one of my absolute favorite vegetables…and although it took me some time to warm up to the green versions…they are now my absolute favorite.  I can think of no better pizza topping than chopped green olives!

Add the chopped olives and raisins to the pan and toss them around.  Deb at Smitten Kitchen mentioned that the flavor was a bit flat, so I added a few things to enliven the mixture.  I started with some smoked paprika.

Add the paprika, cumin, dried oregano, chili powder and a dash of cayenne – while this simmers a bit, peel the hard-boiled eggs.

The egg slicer is another one of our kitchen tools that I love as it makes quick work of dicing the eggs on 3 different planes.

Add the eggs to the beef mixture, and after gauging the moisture content, add some of the reserved tomato liquid.

While that is coming together, roll out your dough (empanada dough, tart dough or pie crust).  I rolled it a bit thinner for the mini-empanadas to make sure that the crust didn’t overwhelm the filling.  Heat the oven to 400° F.

I cut rounds with the largest round cookie cutter I have and then rolled each round out again to get it to the right size.  The beef mixture needs to cool quite a bit before you can scoop it onto the dough rounds.

When making mini’s of anything, efficiency es muy importante!  Unless of course you don’t mind pinching empanadas for hours and hours.  I snagged a dumpling press (shown below) just before making Pierogies, and I could not have been happier to have it for this project as well.

(image credit: BagelHot)

For the press, place the dough on the open mold, spoon in a teaspoon or so of the filling and then fold to press the edges together.  I was a little ambitious with the amount of filling I tried to pack in there, hence the torn spots and seeping edges.

Place on a sheet pan and just before baking, brush with egg wash.

Bake in oven for 15 to 20 minutes depending on size, remove once they are golden brown and delicious!

Black Bean, Corn & Raisin Empanadas
Adapted from this Recipe.

Makes 2 dozen mini-empanadas

1/2 cup golden raisins
1 small onion, chopped fine
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons adobo seasoning
5-6 scallions, chopped fine
1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained
1 cup frozen corn kernels
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tbsp. green taco sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Sauté onions in a pan with oil and then add black beans, corn, and all seasonings and heat through.  Add the raisins and half of the green onions and cook for another 5 minutes.  Check the seasoning and then let the mixture cool.  Fill the empanadas and bake them in the same manner as described above.

After baking, let cool just enough and serve immediately, or go ahead and let them cool completely and serve room temperature.

Voilá!  Empanadas!

Dinner a few weeks ago…Goat Cheese Mushroom Burgers with Roasted Cauliflower


Burgers with mushroom duxelle and goat cheese crumbles served with roasted cauliflower, wilted spinach and quick roasted cherry tomatoes.

Delicious, filling, and used up a whole bunch of leftovers and veggies we had lying around!

Pot Roast Ravioli with Pea Shoots


Day 1

Step one – make pot roast.

A lot of the flavor comes from all the little brown bits stuck to the pan after you sear the meat, known as the fond.  I season the roast well, and dust with flour and sear in a dutch oven on very high heat.

Next, toss in all the chunked up vegetables, I used onions, carrots, celery and parsnips. Give ‘em a little time on the heat just to get them going.  Depending on how much fat is in the pan, I might drizzle a little olive oil over the top.  Next, add in a few tablespoons of tomato paste, and one can of chopped tomatoes.  And, of course, don’t forget to season the vegetables as well.

Add the meat back into the pot along with your broth of choice.  Bring to a boil, cover the pot and put it in the oven at 350° F for at least 2½ hours…the longer the better.  Once it is done, I pull the meat out and let it rest for a bit covered with a piece of foil.  Then I remove about half of the vegetables and cooking liquid and purée it.  I like to use an immersion blender to save on dishes and hassle.  Add the purée back in with the rest of the vegetables and keep warm.  For the meat, I like to tear it apart a bit, while still leaving some big chunks.

Step two – enjoy pot roast with your starch of choice – it is as good over pasta as it is with creamy mashed potatoes.

Step three – put leftovers away in the fridge – very important step…pot roast just gets better and better as it sits.

Step four - reinvent the leftovers into a whole new meal!

Day two

Step one – make pasta (Recipe is from Jamie Oliver, and you can find it here)

Yet another reason I love my kitchenaid…the pasta attachment.  I have never made homemade ravioli before and was not totally sure how thin the pasta should be.  When rolling pasta, there are a few important things to remember – first, the dough should not be sticky, err on the dry side, and flour liberally if it begins to stick.  Second, try not to ruin a good thing, don’t get carried away with putting the dough through the roller.  I know.  It’s very satisfying…but important to know when to stop.  Third, make sure to begin with an oval shape and pass it through the thickest setting a couple of times, then fold in thirds, rotate 90º and pass through the thickest setting again, and then crank the setting down one notch at a time until you reach the desired thickness.

Although it held together, I think the pasta was a little thin.  I laid out the sheet of pasta and started plopping down small dollops of shredded pot roast mixed with a little of the puréed vegetables on half of the sheet.

With the filling in place, I folded the other half of the pasta back over the filling, but only after giving the pasta a spritz of water with a spray bottle.  *This is important.*  Why deal with moistening the border of each ravioli with a brush or your fingertip, when, in one fell swoop, you could use a spray bottle and moisten the entire sheet!  I chose spray bottle of course…and was quite pleased with the short cut.  I’ll try to remember it next time I make wontons or egg rolls!

Once the sheet is folded, carefully press down around the filling of each ravioli to make sure it is well sealed.  You’ll also want to see if you can squeeze out any air pockets, which can lead to exploded ravioli in your pot of water.  I cut the ravioli with a fluted cutter-wheel…kinda like a mini-pizza slicer.

Once sealed, I sprinkled a little semolina flour on them to prevent sticking.  Toss them into salted boiling water for 3-5 minutes.  While they are cooking, melt some salted butter in a sauté pan, and add in some sliced shallots to soften.  When the ravioli’s are just about done, toss is fresh pea shoots (so pleased to find these at Trader Joe’s!) and season with salt and pepper.  Add in the ravioli straight from the pot as well as a little bit of the pasta water.  Toss to coat, then plate them up and serve immediately.

Our ravioli were a little large and probably would have looked a little more elegant on a larger plate…but regardless, the end result was delicious.

Woody’s Weeknight Hamburger Casserole


aka – gourmet homemade hamburger helper!

Dinner Last Week

Woody knows all the details…cause this was all him.  Here’s the cast of characters:

  • free range ground beef
  • onion
  • campanelle pasta
  • mascarpone
  • tomato sauce
  • and a little parmesan and mozzarella

Perfectly delicious, simple and homey! (note the melty stringy cheese – I’m telling you…it’s exactly what you want on a chilly night mid-winter!

 

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