Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A look back at family recipes

Since I've been working so much lately, I haven't had much time to cook (which then stresses me out even more...it's a whole cycle thing). So today I thought I'd share one of my favorite posts from my now-defunct original food blog, written back in 2008. I love that certain foods and recipes can hold so much meaning to families, so much so that they're carried on forever - and this is a classic example. Do you have family food traditions? I'd love to hear them!

The most important day of my life
There comes a day in the life of every young woman of Italian heritage...a day filled with equal parts dread, excitement, and chaos. A day on which the rest of her future depends. On this day, she is put to the ultimate test...and her true colors (hopefully red, white and green) are revealed. You know what I'm talking about.
Making "The Sauce."

Sunday, August 17, 2008: My first attempt at making The Sauce - the pasta sauce recipe that has been in my family for generations.

I received the recipe for Christmas last year, in a homemade recipe book filled with Nonni's recipes (Thanks to Nonni and Aunt Susan for putting it together!). This is the sauce that I grew up on, eating it at Nonni's and at my own house for the last 23 years, usually accompanied by homemade meat and cheese ravioli or pasta.

At this point, I'd like to take a moment of silence to honor those less fortunate than myself...you know, those who aren't Italian.

Nonni gave the recipe to my mother - a gasp non-Italian - when she married my dad, so he could continue eating it for the rest of his life. If I had to name the ONE food which best characterizes the Italian family, it would be The Sauce. Each family has their own version, their own history and tradition...but each one savors it, treasures it, and NEVER wastes it. To this day, I've never seen anyone leave a drop of The Sauce on his/her plate.
So, there I was, standing nervously over the recipe in the kitchen Sunday morning. The Sauce takes 2-3 hours, and I wanted to follow every single step as closely as possible, to maximize the probability that it would turn out just like Nonni's. I gathered my ingredients on the counter before me, surveyed each one carefully, re-read the recipe, and embarked on the culinary endeavor of my lifetime.

I started with the meatballs, then worked carefully through The Sauce. Even though it has very few ingredients, I took my time and worked methodically. Then, before I knew it, the recipe was complete. There was nothing left to do...but wait.

For obvious reasons, I cannot share the recipe with you here. I'm sure you understand (however, if you are male and between the ages of 22-28 and end up marrying me, you've got a chance).

I am blissfully happy to report that after frequently and nervously watching my simmering pot for 2.5 hours, a not-so-blind taste test revealed that, while lacking some of the love of Nonni's original, my first attempt at The Sauce was surprisingly...great!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sometimes, you just need to COOK

Have I told you about my job? I don't think I have. WELL...I love my job. I work for a market research company and manage several accounts - we do things like test ads before they go on air to see how they perform, track brands in the market to see how people feel about them, etc - and I've really enjoyed it for most of the two and a half years I've been there. HOWEVER......we all have our days, right? Sometimes weeks? Things get nuts, projects and deadlines hit all at once despite all the planning in the world, clients call with crazy requests. The past few weeks have been like that for me, and I've gotta tell ya - I'm weary! Last night I came home and knew that only one thing could help me zone out and relax.

Chop, chop, chop. There's something so calming about preparing ingredients! I love a silent kitchen, a silent apartment - all but for the sound of my sharp knife on the cutting board, the sizzle of food as it hits hot oil in a pan. My stress starts melting away the second I get in the kitchen, and last night I forgot all about work with the first bite of my hearty vegetarian enchiladas - sweet potato, red bell pepper, and crumbled up veggie burgers sauteed with some cumin, coriander and a little cayenne, rolled up in whole wheat tortillas then baked off with a topping of tomatillo salsa and cheddar cheese.

My roommate Jenn introduced me to tomatillos in a dish she made last summer, and now every so often I get a craving for this simple salsa. What do I love most about it? It's a tie between the taste (lime-y and fresh) and the ease (NO chopping required like my other favorite, pico de gallo). 

The Simplest Salsa Ever

1 can tomatillos
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
juice from 1 lime
1 jalepeno, ribs and seeds removed (I only like mild spice, so I used about 1/3 of it)

Open the can. Dump its contents into a food processor. Add the cilantro, lime juice, and jalepeno. Process until it's salsa (about 30 seconds).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Faux au vin

I don't know why I'm just discovering this, but chicken leg quarters are CHEAP! Even not on sale, they're about $.79 a pound at my local grocery store. "Chicken leg quarters" contain the leg, thigh, and part of the back of the chicken - and are so cheap because they require less processing than other cuts sold to consumers. True, they do come with a lot of fat and a fair amount of extra bits...but I have a pretty high 'ick factor' tolerance, and I'm never one to shy away from a challenge - especially if saving money is involved!

Wondering what to do with my $3.00 worth of chicken leg quarters, I quickly discovered several recipes for coq au vin and decided to give it a try. Coq au vin ("rooster in wine") is a classic French dish - essentially, a comforting yet luxurious chicken stew. The leg quarters didn't fail me - in fact, it seems like they were built for this recipe. However, for the time and energy involved (a good 2-3 hours total), the specific recipe I used was good - but not great. I imagine, though, that like pot roast or beef stew, it'll take some trial and error before I find a recipe with the perfect combo of flavors for my tastes.

If you have a great coq au vin or other chicken stew recipe, I'd love to hear it! Anyone else out there discovered the awesome cheapness of chicken leg quarters?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mediterranean Turkey Meatloaf

Don't you love it when a little kitchen experimenting turns into something awesome? I had a craving for Mediterranean ingredients like feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, so this turkey meatloaf was born! There's a stereotype out there that things made with turkey instead of beef (like burgers, meatloaf and meatballs) are automatically dry - but I haven't found this to be true. In fact, this meatloaf was incredibly moist and PACKED with flavor! Definitely give this one a try - its quick cooking time and easy cleanup (just 1 bowl and 1 fork) make it perfect even for a weeknight.

It's hard to make meatloaf look attractive...but with prosciutto on top, what's not to love?

Mediterranean Turkey Meatloaf

1 egg
1 lb ground turkey (not ground turkey breast)
1/4 c breadcrumbs
5 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
8 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 small red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c feta cheese, chopped
salt and pepper
2 t fresh oregano, chopped
2 t fresh basil, chopped
2 thin slices prosciutto

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Crack the egg into a medium-sized bowl, and beat with a fork. Add the turkey, breadcrumbs, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, red onion, garlic, cheese, salt, pepper, and herbs to the bowl. Using the fork, fold all the ingredients into the turkey until well-combined - but don't overmix. Turn the mixture into a cooking-sprayed 5"x9" loaf pan (a muffin tin can also be used for individual portions) and smooth the top, then place the two slices of prosciutto on the top of the meatloaf. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until internal temperature has reached 165 degrees.

Note: Feel free to adjust the amounts of the 'add-ins' to your taste. Capers, lemon zest and goat cheese would also be terrific in this!