Archive | January, 2013

Old-Fashioned Meat Sauce

31 Jan

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Know what’s weird? If you go to a restaurant and order spaghetti with meat sauce, the sauce is red. Buy it in a store? Red. I’ll even wager a guess that if your mom made meat sauce at home back in the day, it was red too. The meat sauce we all love (well, that I love, anyway) is red and tomato-y and comforting and the epitome of what Americanized Italian food is all about.

But. If you go online or to a cookbook and look up “meat sauce,” you’ll get a recipe for something that’s brown. Something that tastes more like seasoned beef than what we all know as spaghetti sauce. Bolognese, they say. It’s lovely, if what you’re looking for is a rich sauce that’s mostly meat. But in my house, we call that “smashed hamburger,” and it does not belong atop pasta.

We’re sophisticated like that.

So the other night, I cannibalized a few brown meat sauce recipes and came up with a red one that tastes like it should. It’s full of tomato and garlic and oregano and meat, and makes my Americanized palate very happy.

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This is not a fast recipe, but it is mostly hands-off. Make it on a day you have a few hours it can simmer on a very low burner. Totally worth it. This also makes a lot of sauce–the four of us had it for dinner twice, and I still have another dinner’s worth stashed in my freezer. It’s long, but it’s very simple. And it’s red. Which is good.

You need:

Olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef (use ground chicken if you don’t eat beef–it mimics the texture of beef much better than turkey does)

2 tbsp oregano

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup evaporated milk (I used low-fat. You could also use cream or half and half)

1 28 oz can or box crushed tomatoes

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

3 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup basil leaves, pretty finely chopped (you don’t want big chunks o’ leaf in your sauce)

Heat a large pan or pot over medium heat. Coat the bottom with olive oil, throw in your onions, and cook them until they’re soft and golden (not brown). Once that happens, stir in your garlic and let it cook about 1 minute, keeping it moving in the pan so it doesn’t brown.

Crumble in the ground beef and cook until it’s browned. Add the oregano and hot pepper flakes. Stir in the evaporated milk and let that cook for about 15 minutes, stirring every so often, until the milk has mostly evaporated.

When you don’t see the milk in the pan anymore, add in the tomatoes, sauce, tomato paste, and wine. Stir everything together, reduce the heat to low, put a cover on your pan, and let the sauce simmer gently for a long time–I let mine go four hours–giving it a stir every once in awhile so the meat doesn’t start to stick to the pan.

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About a half-hour before you want to eat, uncover the pan and let it keep simmering. Just before serving, stir in the basil and adjust your seasoning. Serve over pasta with grated Parmesan cheese.

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De-Vegetarianized Three-Bean Chili

22 Jan

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It is flippin’ freezing here in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. My handy-dandy LL Bean thermometer tells me it’s currently 18.2 degrees outside my back door, and the wind is whipping like Harrison Ford in a pit of snakes. (AND the Ravens are going to the Superbowl! Yahoooo!!!) Which means, of course, that it’s a fantastic week for chili.

This is a recipe I cannibalized modified from Cooking Light. Theirs originally had squash in it. Nobody in my house likes squash (yes, we’ve tried. Many ways. Many varieties. Not happening. Sorry.). I tried it with chunks of sweet potato. I loved it; nobody else did (*sigh*). So I did what any red-blooded American mom did when she wants a mostly healthy meal on the table that nobody will complain about, and added bacon.

You heard me. Bacon. To the bean chili. Which is decidedly no longer vegetarian, but is super delicious and very easy to make.

(If you don’t have or don’t want bacon in your dish, get yourself a bottle of smoked chipotle Tabasco sauce and add about a half-teaspoon to the chili instead to give it a similar smokey flavor.)

I made a big pot tonight and am saving it for tomorrow, because this is one of those recipes that gets better the longer it hangs out in the refrigerator. It has joined my list of go-to meals to share with people who could use a home-cooked dinner dropped at their door. Everybody Most of my family loves it (nine-year-olds are impossible to please and I am not taking it personally). And it’s mostly healthy.

One quick note: I am going to tell you how to make roasted red peppers. It is super easy and they’re fun to peel when they’re all crunchy and black, and they’ve become something of an obsession with me lately. If you would prefer not to share my joy in this particular department, go ahead and buy yourself a jar of roasted red peppers and chop a half-cup or so for your chili. I won’t tell.

I hope your house is cozy and warm, and I hope you’ll try this yummy chili, even though it’s not at all what I’m sure the good editors at Cooking Light intended when they came up with the first version. You need:

2 red peppers (or a jar of roasted red peppers already done)

3 slices of bacon, chopped up

1/2 an onion, chopped (I use Vidalia, but any yellow onion is great)

2 tsp ground cumin (roasted if you can find it–McCormick makes one)

1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (smoked chipotle if your market has them)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp chili powder

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 cups chicken broth

1 28-oz can or box chopped tomatoes

1 15-oz can red kidney beans

1 15-oz can cannellini beans

1 15-oz can black beans

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat and spray it with olive oil. Toss your chopped bacon in there and let it crisp up.

While that happens, slice your red peppers into four slices each. Cover a baking sheet with foil, spray it with oil, lay the pepper strips skin side up on the foil, and stick that under the broiler for about 5 to 10 minutes, until they’re all black. Remove them with tongs from your baking sheet, seal them up in a plastic zip-top bag, and let them hang out in their own steam for about 15 minutes.

Once your bacon is all crunchy, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon, set it aside for later, and drain most of the bacon grease from the pot. Then, dump in your onion, stir it around, and let it get all soft–about 10 minutes.

After your onion is all cooked, add in the spices and garlic and stir for about 2 minutes. Stir in the broth, being sure to scrape up the yummy brown stuff from the bottom of the pan while you stir it in, and then your tomatoes.

By now, your peppers have worked their magic. Carefully remove them from the bag, lay them on a cutting board, and peel the black skin off with your fingers (chuck it). Chop up the roasted pepper that’s left, stir it into the pot, cover, and let that mixture simmer for 15 minutes or so.

Rinse your beans well, and then stir them into the pot along with whatever bacon you didn’t eat already. Cover again, let cook for about 15 minutes, shut off the heat, and either eat right away or stow in a covered container overnight (I highly recommend letting it sit overnight for best flavor). Enjoy.

Accidental Chicken

16 Jan

**peeks around corner**

**clears throat**

Happy New Year!!

Yes, I’m still here. No, I’ve not been ignoring you all on purpose. Again. Life has intervened, interrupting both my creative and kitchen mojos. But the fog seems to be lifting, I’m cooking again, and we’re going to give this another shot if you’ll still have me (please say yes!).

So. Let’s talk chicken.

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Let’s talk about buying a chicken and happily setting it out on the counter to roast on a night your husband is away (because you love, love, love roast chicken and he pretty much hates it) and then remembering that you’d cleaned out the frig and freezer recently and had none of the lovely things you normally stuff inside and set around a bird before it goes into the oven. You have, of course, two choices: sadly put the chicken into the freezer for another time and have cereal for dinner, or improvise.

I chose #2. Because I really had my heart set on roast chicken that particular night. Improvising won, and I rummaged around and put my chicken in the oven with the stuff I had in the house, and he cooked up and cooled off and I carved him up, and guess what?

Best. Chicken. Ever. Seriously–I am in love with the way he got all moist and aromatic and delicious and perfect, and the fact that this was way less work than the usual way I cook a whole chicken, and Accidental Chicken is now my go-to recipe for nights the roast-chicken-hating spouse (freak) isn’t home for dinner.

So now, I’m going to stop rambling on and tell you how to make amazing chicken with a minimum of ingredients or fuss, and I hope you’ll give this a try. OK? Cool. You need:

1 chicken, giblets and guts removed (Thou Shalt Not Cook the Plastic Packet o’ Yuck Inside)

1 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp salt

2 small oranges (or 1 large orange, or 1 orange and 1 lemon–whatever floats your boat)

4-5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

1 onion, sliced into 1/2-inch thick slices

1/2 cup white wine

1/4 cup (ish) water

About 1 tbsp of butter

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Spray a large roasting pan or casserole dish (I use a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish) with your nonstick goodness of choice. Pour your wine and water into the dish so it covers the bottom (add more water if you need it). In the middle of the dish, lay your onion slices and garlic cloves–this will be the rack your chicken sits on.

Rub the inside of your chicken with the salt and thyme. Cut your citrus into quarters and shove it all down in there. Gently rub the outside of the bird with the butter, and lay it on top of the onion and garlic, breast-side down. Like this:

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Stick your meat thermometer into Mr. Chicken’s thigh and pop him into the oven, being very careful not to slosh your wine/water out all over the place. Let him roast for about an hour or until that thermometer says his thigh is 165 degrees. Take him out of the oven (careful!) and let him cool for 15-20 minutes before you carve him up. You can also enjoy those onions and garlic down in the pan, which I think are God’s own vegetables, if you want.

 

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