Showing posts with label Main Dish. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Main Dish. Show all posts

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Meatballs in Marinara

Over the course of the last seven years, Italian style meatballs seem to have reinvented themselves. No longer is their presence reliant or co-dependent on a large platter of pasta. No longer are they satisfied with their second billing status. No longer are they relegated to the 'sides' section of a menu. No, meatballs have asserted their independence and taken center stage. Whether served as appetizers or as the main course, one can't help but wonder why it took so long for meatballs to finally take their rightful place on menus and our tables. Regardless of the plausibility of any one of the working theories aimed at trying to explain this long overdue meatball paradigm shift, meatball madness doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. 

These aren't your average bite-sized meatballs. No, they fall into the 'go big or go home' category. 

I have been looking for a new meatball recipe for awhile now. In the process, I discovered there are quite a few myths and mistakes surrounding them. Bon Appetit shared a number of them in an article published six years ago. From salt doesn't matter, to who needs fresh herbs, to eggs are the source of moisture, to mixing with a spoon, to one size fits all meatballs, to rolling them dry, to skipping the sear, I would venture to bet very few of us would agree they should all be universally dispelled. Particularly the 'to sear or not to sear' meatball making method. Spoiler Alert: These meatballs are first browned at high heat in the oven and then braised in marinara sauce.

If you don't yet have a favorite, beloved, to-die-for meatball recipe in your arsenal, then today is your lucky day. 

Honestly I was tempted to use a jarred tomato sauce when making these meatballs. You know, the semi-homemade, how is easy is that approach we have all found ourselves doing at one time or another. But this wasn't going to be one of those times. And the decision to stay on the completely homemade course allowed me to discover the deliciousness of this marinara sauce. Seriously, is there anything easier to make than a marinara? This one comes together in less than hour and delivers big, bold flavors. One the best things about a homemade marinara sauce is that it can be made early in the day or the day before. Enhanced flavor is an added benefit of giving it some rest time. 

Making meatballs is a messy business. But using your hands instead of a spoon or food processor helps to ensure you don't end up with an over mixed paste. So get ready to get your hands dirty! These meatballs are made with the trifecta of ground meats (beef, pork, and veal), fresh bread crumbs, whole milk ricotta, eggs, fresh herbs, spices, kosher salt, and pepper.

Using an ice cream scoop helps to create uniform size meatballs. Using a scoop 2 1/4" in diameter, this recipe makes 20-22 meatballs. Twenty of them fit perfectly in a lightly oiled 9"x13" pan (I threw the other two in the freezer.) In a preheated 425 degree (F) oven, the meatballs first bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned. Before adding the marinara sauce to the pan, it's critical you drain the liquified excess fat. Once drained, pour three cups of the marinara sauce over the meatballs and bake them for approximately one hour at a lowered 325 degree (F) temperature. You might think the meatballs would dry out with such a long baking time, but they don't. The marinara sauces serves as a braising liquid and keeps them moist. An added benefit to the long baking time further is an even deeper flavor to the marinara sauce. Notes: The meatballs can be formed early in day. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Remove from oven for approximately 30 minutes before baking.

There are a number of finishing options for these meatballs. The simplest one is sprinkling them with freshly chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Don't forget the garlic bread and/or garlic bread sticks.

To kick them up a notch, top the meatballs with thinly sliced pieces of fresh mozzarella, return to a hot oven (450 degrees F) for approximately 5 minutes to let the cheese melt. Then finish with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and chopped fresh herbs (parsley and/or basil). Whether you serve them just like this or turn them into meatball sliders, everyone will be swooning over them.

When plating the meatballs, serve with either a side of remaining warmed marinara sauce or set them atop a small pool marinara sauce. Have some garlic bread and/or garlic sticks within reach so everyone can mop up the marinara. Trust me when I say it would be akin to committing a sin to leave any of this mouthwatering marinara sauce on the plate.

Invite some of your family and friends over and make these Meatballs in Marinara. Soon! Open up a couple bottles of a great red wine and make some garlic bread/garlic breadsticks or slice up a dense Italian bread. You will be guaranteed a memorable, fun, 'they will be talking about this for days' evening. Unless, of course, your choice of wine is, well, how shall I put it.....lackluster. 

I will venture to guess these Meatballs in Marinara are destined to become your favorites. However, in case you ever get tired of making THESE meatballs, there are several other meatball recipes on the blog: Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberries; Chile-Cumin Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt and Cucumbers; and Bucatini and Meatballs. Wishing you many happy meatball moments!

Meatballs in Marinara (inspired by Fine Cooking's Spaghetti and Meatballs recipe)
Makes 20-22 very large meatballs

Marinara Sauce
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 cans (26-28 ounce sized) diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound ground beef (80-85%)
1 pound ground pork
12 ounces ground veal
2 cups fresh coarse bread crumbs
1 cup whole milk ricotta
4 large eggs
4 Tablespoons chopped parsley
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons fennel
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper

1. Heat olive oil in heavy duty large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, oregano, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring often until the onion is soft (approximately 6-10 minutes).
2. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until darkened (approximately 3-4 minutes).
3. Add the diced tomatoes and salt. 
4. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce has reduced by about a third (approximately 40-60 minutes).
5. Remove bay leaf and season to taste with additional salt.
6. Transfer sauce to a food processor and puree. Return sauce back to pan, cover, and keep warm.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F). Oil a 9"x13" baking pan with olive oil. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the ground meats, breadcrumbs, ricotta, eggs, parsley, oregano, fennel seed, Aleppo pepper, salt and pepper. Mix gently but thorough with your hands.
3. Using a large ice cream scoop, make 20-22 meatballs 2 1/4" in diameter. Roll the meatballs to make them round. Arrange snugly in the baking pan.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops of the meatballs have lightly browned. Remove from oven, remove and drain the excess fat.
5. Decrease oven temperature to 325 degrees (F).
6. Pour 3 cups of the sauce over the meatballs. Return to oven and continue to bake for 60 minutes.
7. Choose a finishing option. Serve with additional Marinara Sauce and garlic bread sticks or on top of buttered/grilled small rolls to make Meatball Sliders.
8. Wrap any leftover meatballs and marinara sauce and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. They reheat beautifully.

Finishing Options:
1. Sprinkle top of the meatballs with chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmesan Cheese.
2. Place thin slices of fresh mozzarella over the meatballs, place in a 450 degree (F) oven and bake until cheese begins to melt (approximately 5 minutes. Sprinkle top of the meatballs with chopped parsley and/or thinly sliced basil and freshly grated Parmigianno-Regianno Cheese.

Notes: (1) Make your breadcrumbs in a food processor. I like to use ciabatta rolls when making fresh, coarse breadcrumbs. If ciabatta is not available, use another dense bread. (2) The marinara sauce can be made earlier in the day or the day before. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. After removing three cups of the sauce to pour over the meatballs, reheat remaining sauce when ready to serve. (3) If you don't have time to make your own marinara, use your favorite jarred marinara sauce. But don't tell anyone I told you to do this. (4) I used BelGioioso's whole milk ricotta and fresh mozzarella.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs

Schmearing or putting thin slices of a rich, buttery avocado on toast hardly seems worthy of a blog post. Although in my defense, I am not the first one to do so and probably will not be the last. Because when something is healthy, slightly indulgent, simple to make, a significant departure from a traditional breakfast, and beautiful on a plate, it seems justifiable to talk about. There are hundreds of 'recipes' (using the term loosely) out there for avocado toast. In reality they are merely multiple ways of showcasing the current obsession we have with the avocado. One that doesn't seem to have an expiration date.

Some claim we have the Australians to thank for this essentially open faced sandwich. But others aren't so quick to give them full credit for a culinary 'invention' believed to have been around for awhile. Regardless of where the concept of putting avocado on bread came from or where it first appeared on a menu, there is one thing we might all be able to agree on. It's insanely delicious. Making it worthy of all of the hype this no clear end in sight 'food' trend has been receiving.

Given the choice of slathering your toast with butter or "nature's butter", which would you choose? I suppose the answer depends in part on deciding whether your choices are influenced by their nutritional value. Would knowing an avocado has 'twice the potassium of a banana, are packed with fiber, help lower levels of bad cholesterol and have powerful anti-aging properties' sway you one way or other? Until any new nutritional researcher debunks all of these claims,  choosing"nature's butter" seems like one of the easiest choices to make.

Topping the avocado with a poached egg (or over easy egg if that's what you like) makes it feel more like a complete meal, and less like you are eating avocado bruschetta for breakfast.

If you haven't yet jumped on the avocado toast bandwagon, one with a significant social media presence, there is still time. 

Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs 

1 ripe avocado, halved, seed removed, thinly sliced
1 lemon, halved
Everything Bagel Seasoning Blend (from Trader Joe's or make your own)
2 pieces of  rye, pumpernickel, whole grain or sourdough bread, toasted
1 or 2 poached eggs (or over easy eggs)

1. Before removing the sliced avocados from their skin, squeeze half of a lemon over each one. Place on toasted bread.
2. Sprinkle with Everything Bagel Seasoning Blend and top with a poached egg (or over easy eggs).
3. Serve immediately.

Notes: (1) You could also mash up the avocado and spread on the toast. Squeeze the lemon juice into the mashed avocado. Sprinkling with the Everything Bagel Seasoning Blend after the mashed avocado is spread on the toast. (2) If you can't find or don't have a Trader Joe's near you, make your own everything topping. A recipe for one can be found on this Everything Chicken Puffs link.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Pot Roast with Roasted Vegetables

A year ago this week we were in Oahu, a piece of heaven on earth, with friends enjoying the warm weather, ocean breezes, white sandy beaches, blue skies, and exquisite landscapes. If I close my eyes I can still take myself back there. Like some say, what a difference a year makes. It has been snowing for four days here in the midwest. Double digit snow accumulations along with icy, snow packed roads have made for less than desirable driving or running conditions. Getting the long and circular driveways shoveled are exhausting, but not as energizing, as a boot camp workout. Before this snowpocolyse began Thursday evening, I along with hundreds of others, filled a large cart, and waited in the long lines at one of my local grocery stores. This was not a milk and bread mission. Anticipating this hyped winter storm would actually come to fruition, I put together a grocery list containing all of the ingredients needed to make some long over due comfort foods. The Potato Leek Soup and this Pot Roast with Roasted Vegetables were two things I thought would not only get us through the snowy weekend, but would make for some great leftover meals in the upcoming week. Which would mean each time I opened up the refrigerator door I could find myself saying 'Hello Delicious' outloud.

Pot Roast, a timeless combination of melt in your mouth beef, seasoned root vegetables, and a rich, velvety gravy, is quintessentially classic American comfort food. The method of slow cooking meat in a liquid is a century old technique (aka braising), but one not appearing in American cookbooks until the late 19th century. Beef chuck, brisket, short ribs, and pork shoulder, generally considered tougher cuts of meat, have always been considered ideal braising options, as they are rich in marbled fat and connective tissue. Over a long, slow cooking process those qualities convert to gelatin, resulting in swoonworthy, fork tender, pull-apart perfection bites of deliciousness. Many of us grew up with Pot Roasts gracing the Sunday dinner table. When craving the taste of a childhood memory meal, we might find ourselves seeking it out on diner menus. Yet, invariably we never seem to find a Pot Roast to live up to the ones we remembered. Get ready to create new memories.

Cooking options for a Pot Roast are roasting in the oven or cooking in a slow cooker. This one stays with a traditional approach and uses the oven method. Braising liquids used in Pot Roasts include he options of beef stock, red wine, or a combination of the two. This one uses only beef stock. The aromatics used to flavor the beef and subsequently the gravy range from a myriad of fresh herbs (rosemary and thyme being the most common) to dried herbs to fresh vegetables to spices to various combinations of all of the aforementioned. This version relies primarily on spices and fresh garlic, however, beef bouillon powder and Worcestershire sauce are critical flavor components.

Searing the beef is less about retaining moisture and much more about adding flavor. The key to a good sear is the use of a heavy bottomed pan, like a cast iron skillet, in order to prevent the meat from being 'steamed' rather than being 'seared'. Once seared, the beef is transferred to a roasting pan and the meat is studded with garlic cloves. After pouring the braising liquid over the beef, the pan is tightly covered with aluminum foil and inserted in a preheated 425 degree (F) oven for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, top with carrots and parsnips, tightly recover the pan with foil, reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees (F), and then let cook for up to 5 hours or until it is pull apart fork tender. That's it! Sit back, go to yoga, read a book, watch a movie, sit in a hot tub, or shovel snow. Let the oven do all the work of melding the flavors together.

The difference between a too short or just right roasting time is the difference between a tough roast and one melt in your mouth, fork tender. After several hours of roasting, begin to check for doneness. My four and half pound chuck roast was done perfectly after four hours of roasting at 300 degrees (F), not including the thirty minutes of roasting at 425 degrees (F) for thirty minutes. (See Note below for cooking times.)

Between the beef stock you added to the roasting pan and the juices exuding from the beef, you should have somewhere between three and four cups of liquid at the end of the cooking process. This highly flavored liquid creates the most incredible gravy imaginable. Usually when making a gravy, I transfer the liquid to saucepan, combine some flour and milk together to make a paste, add a little of the heated liquid to the flour/milk mixture, pour that mixture into the saucepan, then whisk until the liquid turns to gravy. But the process for making this gravy is different. You begin by creating a roux with melted butter and flour in a saucepan. As soon as the roux takes on a light brown color (approximately 2-3 minutes of cooking time), slowly add in the liquid. Whisking until it reaches your desired state of gravy consistency. I honesty had a moment when I tasted this rich, velvety, deeply flavored gravy. And if gravies could win medals, this one would earn GOLD. I will never make a savory gravy any other way again. Never ever.

I love roasted potatoes but with a Pot Roast I much prefer mashed potatoes. Yukon Golds hand mashed with their skins on is how we roll here. 

The carrots and parsnips were sweet, fork tender, and went perfectly with this Pot Roast. Of course, Ina Garten has been pairing these two root vegetables for years. If you have never had parsnips before, this Pot Roast gives you the perfect opportunity to discover how deliciously sweet they are.

When serving the Pot Roast, ladle some of the gravy over the meat and arrange the roasted vegetables around it. Sprinkle with chopped flat leaf parsley and bring this jaw dropping platter to the table. This Pot Roast is seriously throw down worthy. In my fantasy world, someone invites me and the Pioneer Woman to a Pot Roast throwdown and this one wins! 

Pot Roast with Roasted Vegetables (inspired from multiple sources)
Serves 6-8

3-5 pound chuck roast, trimmed
2 Tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled, quartered
3 cups beef broth
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 Tablespoons dry minced onion
2 Tablespoons beef bouillon powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 fresh bay leaf (could use a dried bay leaf if fresh is not available)
2-3 pounds of carrots, peeled and kept whole
1-2 pounds of parsnips, peeled and kept whole
Optional: Chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

2 cups of the broth/juice from the roast
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

1. Remove chuck roast from the refrigerator at least one hour prior to cooking.
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F).
3. Heat olive oil or vegetable oil over high heat in a cast iron or heavy skillet. Sear meat on all sides until browned (approximately 2-3 minutes per side). Transfer meat to a large roasting pan.
4. Insert garlic clove slivers into the roast.
5. In a large mixing bowl/cup, whisk together the beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, dry minced onion, beef bouillon powder, garlic powder, kosher salt, black pepper, and bay leaf. Pour over the roast.
6. Cover the roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 30 minutes.
7. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees (F). Remove pan from oven, add the carrots and parsnips. Recover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Continue to roast for an additional 4-5 hours. Roast is ready when it is fall apart tender.
8. Remove carrots and parsnips from the roasting pan. Place on a baking sheet and return to the oven to keep warm.
9. Transfer roast to a serving board, cut against the grain in 1/2" slices and place on a large serving platter.  Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm while you make the gravy.
10. Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan. Add in the 1/4 cup flour and whisk to create a roux. Cook for 2-3 minutes, whisking continuously, until the roux is lightly browned.
11. Slowly stir in two cups of the juices/broth from the roasting pan. Simmer until gravy has thickened. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.
12. Arrange carrots and parsnips around the roast. Drizzle some of the gravy over the roast, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve. Put remaining gravy in a gravy boat.

Notes: (1) Recommend serving with homemade mashed potatoes rather than putting the potatoes in with the roast. (2) Roasting time will vary based on the size of the roast. For a 3 pound roast allow 3 to 3 1/2 hours, for a 4 to 5 pound roast, allow for 4 to 5 hours of cooking time. (3) You should have at least 3 to 4 cups of roasting broth/juices which would enable you to make a double batch of the gravy. (3) When cutting the pot roast, cut across the grain. (4) Leftovers reheat beautifully in a low temperature oven or in the microwave. Any leftover pot roast also makes great sandwiches.

Oahu, February 2017

Friday, February 9, 2018

Potato Leek Soup

A little more than a week ago the groundhog saw his shadow, predicting at least six more weeks of winter. A couple of days ago came the first snowmaggedon forecast of the season. With the potential for ten to twelve inches of snow I decided I should go into savory comfort food making mode. The kind of food to warm you up after spending hours shoveling the snow. At the top of the list was soup.

One of my friends shared she had made some Potato Leek Soup last week. As I thought about what soup to make, I kept coming back to Potato Leek Soup. It's simple to make, unapologetically hearty, and creamy. All good things.

A large bowl of velvety Potato Leek Soup paired with a salad would make a perfect lunch or light dinner. It's the kind of soup destined to leave you feeling full, feeling satisfied. Two really good things. 

Leeks have a way of taking the humble potato to a new level of deliciousness. Many recipes for Potato Leek Soup call for either the use of Yukon Gold or Russet Potatoes. More specifically they advise against the use of waxy potatoes as they break down more slowly and can render a glue-like texture to the finished soup. 

In general, most Potato Leek Soup recipes there will be a slightly higher proportion of potatoes to leeks. However, some prefer to have equal amounts of each while others call for a higher ratio of leeks to potatoes. This recipe used two pounds of potatoes (Yukon Gold) and one and a half pounds of leeks. 

Some Potato Leek Soup purists use only leeks and potatoes. This less classic version adds celery, garlic, and shallots to the mix. 

Use only the white and light green part of the leeks. Throw the dark green leafy portion away. After cutting the leeks lengthwise, rinse in water to remove any of the sandy soil lurking between its layers. Slice the leeks crosswise into thin half-moons. 

To bring out the most flavor of the leeks, cook them slowly without letting them brown. Sauté them over a low heat in either vegetable oil or butter along with the chopped celery and shallots for approximately 10-15 minutes or until they are soft. Add in the garlic and sauté for 45-60 seconds, long enough to release it's fragrance.

Add the chicken stock, potatoes, bay leaf, and springs of thyme. Bring first to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are knife tender.

Many Potato Leek Soup recipes call for pureeing it in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender. The use of any of those tools will contribute to a finished soup's gluey texture. To prevent this, remove the potatoes and put them through a ricer. This extra step is definitely worth the time as it will give the finished soup a richer, more velvety texture.

After removing the potatoes, the bay leave and thyme sprigs, process the soup in batches using a food processor, blender or immersion blender (I used a food processor) until it reaches your desired state of creaminess. Transfer the soup puree to a clean pot and add in the riced potatoes. Whisk in the heavy cream, season with salt and pepper, and reheat. The addition of heavy cream enhances the soup's flavor and richness. If  you want a slightly less rich soup, add in milk or additional chicken stock instead. Note: This is a very thick soup, so if you want a thinner soup, add a little more chicken stock.

After ladling the soup into bowls, finish with a drizzle of a good quality olive oil and a garnish some chopped chives. Then sit back, savor its' deliciousness, and enjoy the moment.

If there was ever a soup to warm your soul, especially on a cold, snowy winter day, it would be this utterly satisfying Potato Leek Soup. We loved this soup the day it was made, but we loved it even more the second day as the flavors even further developed. So when either the turns cold or you have a craving for soup, put this Potato Leek Soup on the very top of your list. 

Potato Leek Soup (Several adaptations to the Potato-Leek Soup recipe in the cookbook 'Bon Appetit Y'All' by Virginia Willis.)

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil or unsalted butter
2 stalks celery finely diced
3 leeks (approximately 1 1/2 pounds), white and pale green parts only, well washed, halved, and thinly sliced into half-moons
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 quart (32 ounces) homemade or store bought chicken stock (low-sodium or unsalted)
1 fresh bay leaf
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste (Note: I used black pepper, but if you don't want the specks of pepper to show in the finished soup, use white pepper.)
Optional: Good quality olive oil and/or chopped chives for finishing

1. In a medium-large sized cast-iron Dutch oven or heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat oil or melt butter. Add the celery, shallots, and leeks. Cook until soft,  stirring occasionally, but not browned. Approximately 10-15 minutes. 
2. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (45-60 seconds).
3. Add the potatoes, chicken stock, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer until the potatoes are knife tender (15-20 minutes). 
4. Remove the bay leaf and thyme. Discard.
5. Remove the potatoes and place in a bowl. Put the potatoes through a ricer. Set aside.
6. In a food processor or blender, pour in the remaining soup mixture. Puree until smooth. Approximately 2 minutes. Return soup to a clean pot.
7. Return the riced potatoes to the pureed soup mixture. Whisk in the heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat soup over medium heat until it's temperature ready to serve. Note: If the soup is too thick for your liking, add a little more chicken stock.
8. Ladle soup into bowls. Finish with a drizzle of good quality olive oil and chopped chives.
9. Refrigerate any leftover soup. It will be good several days.

(1) Could use Russet instead of Yukon Gold Potatoes in this soup. (2) If the texture of the soup is too thick for your taste, add a little more chicken stock until it reaches your desired texture. (3) Paired with a salad, you have a perfect lunch and/or light dinner. (4) If you don't have ricer, process the soup mixture in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. The texture of a blender finished soup may have a slightly gluey consistency.

Gray winter morning at Morton Arboretum (February 2018)