Sunday, January 31, 2010

Meatball Christmas

Each year at Christmas, it's become a tradition for our family to honor a piece of our heritage with the menu. Typically that means collaboratively preparing either Italian or Mexican dishes. Occassionaly, however, we venture out as my family did on Christmas Eve this year with a Polish feast. Complete with handmade sausage, perogies, saurkrat, etc. I (sadly) did not attend this affair, but Shawnie could probably capture the food experience perfectly (hint, hint, Shawnie!). ;)

This year was our Meatball Christmas! It was complete with baked pasta, eggplant parmesan (pictured above), Gram's famous sauce, fresh sausage with peppers and salad that makes you melt. Since there were so many recipes to choose from and I am far from perfecting Gram's sauce (although I try regularly!) I thought I'd use this post to talk about salad. Wait, don't go check your email yet! I promise this "recipe" will deliver.

OK, glad you stayed with me (mom).

Salad...for many people this simple dish wouldn't begin a dialogue (or a monologue in this instance), but for our family it's a daily staple that is loved by many. My sisters and I are frequently asked to bring the salad when attending dinner parties and it's all my mother's fault. ;)

Mom taught us the key to a great salad is using fresh ingredients (of course!) and salt. I know, it sounds strange, but if you are not using salt and pepper in your salad today - I woulld start tomorrow. It turns on the flavors of the lettuces and veggies and brightens the sweet flavors you add.

My Grandma made our daily salad extrordinary for holidays by adding stinky cheese (like provolone or stinkier), olives and pepperoni.

So here is a loose interpretation of our family salad "recipe":

Lettuces = a mixture of whatever floats your boat (we use a TON of romane, and add spinach and arugla)

Veggies = tomatoes are a must, onion, and then whatever stray veggies you have in your fridge (my faves are brocolli, carrots, and snow peas)

Fruit = my mom regulary added apples (probably those apples that rolled around my dad's lunch box day after day...he favors donuts over apples). I also like grapes, strawberries or any dried fruit on hand.

Nuts = pecans, walnuts, whatever

Salt & Pepper = sprinkle liberally and give it a little toss before you dress for success

Ok, if you are still reading you deserve a prize...and so I present the piece de resistance...


I swear, I do not work for Kraft foods. When I say that my family buys this stuff by the box full...I'm not lying. OK - not this exact kind. I like the basil, but my mom likes the Italian. Whichever way you slice it. this is the BEST DRESSING IN THE WORLD if you don't want to make your own. ;)

You make it fresh, you make it best...

Mangia ~ Lora

Garlic-Ricotta Smothered Chicken and Turnip

I intended on making fancy stuffed chicken breasts tonight but alas time did not cooperate. So I just piled the ingredients on top! The extra effort would not have been worth it, this was better.

I also cheated on the turnip. I found it already diced in these perfect little cubes in the freezer section. My Gramps, Chef de Cuisine, is notorious for his perfectly chopped ingredients, especially turnip. It's uncanny how he can make each piece a copy of the previous one. And somehow it just makes his soups and recipes taste so savory. I think it is partly due to knowing that he puts so much loving effort into each chop.

Oh, and I stole the idea of the turnip from Lora. She made a similar version for Thanksgiving a couple of years back. Yum. O.

I had 3 large pieces
Sear on stovetop with salt and pepper just until both sides are golden
Top with ricotta mixture:
(12 oz ricotta, salt, pepper, dry sweet basil, 3 large cloves garlic diced finely, bit of parmesan)
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 min or until cooked through and cheese is melty

Mix raw turnip with 1 large diced onion and 1 small garlic clove and then add to heated saute pan and little olive oil.
Add salt, pepper, and dash of sage.
Cook until turnip and onion are tender, about 15 min.

Mangia~ Tracey

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pork fried couscous and salad bowl

We never went without hearty, healthy meals in my mom's house. Even on nights when she was working late or we had softball or soccer. In minutes something like this dish was thrown together. And we ate it together.

Some of her favorite staples are rice and tomato sauces mixed with meat and veggies. My brave dad would pitch in sometimes and challenge mom's one pan wonders. We called his version "babyfood". It usually tasted great. The name referred to the mush factor. :) Love you Meatball Taster.

This is a quick mix of cooked tricolor couscous and pan fried pork with rosemary. Throw it in a bowl with a little salad or veggies and olive oil dressing. And then you can get onto the next task for the day. Which in my parent's house is the dishes. In mine, well, usually anything else.

~Mangia~ Tracey

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mex Mac n' Cheese

Orange powder = super powers. Or so we thought growing up!

All we wanted was to get our grubby little hands on some florescent mac n' cheese...instead, our Mom insisted on spending TIME and MONEY on making us the HOMEMADE stuff, and we complained all the way through dinner.

Mom persevered and it took a few years until we eventually came around. Now we understand my mother's form of torture. Scratch mac n' cheese is soooo yummy...gooey...and cheesy. It really is the ultimate comfort food (next to mashed potatoes & lasagna). How could we ever crave that nasty processed stuff again!?! (OK - I make it once in a while and enjoy every bite...shhhhh.)

This is probably not too far off from the Master Chef's (see sidebar) recipe. I made this version "Mex" by using queso blanco and oaxaca cheese, in addition to cheddar.

Mangia ~ Lora

One medium onion, chopped
Drizzle of olive oil
Until soft

4 tbs. unsalted butter
4 tbs. flour
Cook a few minutes

Whisk in:
an eyeball amount of milk - 3-4 cups maybe?
Just until a thick cream sauce forms
Sprinkle of chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper (taste - if you like it then move on)

Turn off heat and add:
1 tbs spicy mustard
Shredded/crumbled cheese - enough that the sauce is still thick and gooey, but not gloppy. Does that make sense? I probably used a total of around 3 cups of cheese.

Stir in:
3/4 lb of our favorite cooked pasta (mine is Barilla's campanelle - sooooo good)
Chopped Cilantro

BTW - I was in a purist mood when I made this, but you could certainly spice it up a bit (and boost the nutritional power) if you like. Here are some things I might have thrown in on a different day: minced red pepper, roasted peppers, black beans, chopped fresh tomatoes, canned diced tomatoes - drained, green chilies, and sometimes I do the whole top-it-with-breadcrumbs-and/or-cheese-and-bake-it thing. I use panko, some melted butter and some dry, crumbly cheese like parm.

P.S. - I was lucky to be visiting Tracey and Scott when they made the salmon below. If you want to convert a salmon nay-sayer...this recipe will do it. I stole a chunk off Tracey's plate when she wasn't looking.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Seasoned Salmon Filet, Spinach Saute, and Cornbread

In my house, we try to force fish into our diet as much as possible. We have even made a fish convert out of one person. Well, at least he'll eat salmon and tuna. Scott (husband) and Abel (son) are hugely into this salmon and Scott has been perfecting his seasoning on this fish for months. It's terrific, give it a whirl!

Both apprentices (see side bar) worked hard on the cornbread and helped with the spinach. And afterwards they gave the meal two thumbs up!

When I was young, my favorite meals were the ones my mom made with simple ingredients. Steak, salad, and baked potatoes. We had salad 6 out of 7 nights growing up and the odd night out was reserved for some other veggie. I always swore I would not make salad when we ordered pizza in MY house. Guess what.

Mangia~ Tracey

4-6 oz filets
Egg wash (sometimes we add honey)
Flour, sage, parsley, and Adobo seasoning for breading
Pan fry in a little butter and olive oil until cooked through or your preferred doneness

1 med onion
3-4 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
Saute in a little butter and season with either salt and pepper or Adobo

Jiffy mix all the way! Love that stuff and you can throw in any extra ingredients on hand- corn, cheese, cream cheese, onions, black beans, banana peppers, or do like we do and drizzle some honey on top and add an extra egg.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Creamy Chicken Tomato Basil Linguini

Our philosophy is cook what you have and what you know. I know that the flavor combo of tomato and basil is hard to beat and a favorite of many! Fresh basil is a summer-time treat but with the garden buried under snow a produce aisle replacement works just as well. And let us be honest, anything mixed with pasta and cheese makes us drool.

Oh, and this dish earned me a "Mom, I love when you cook. It always tastes so good!" Shucks.

When my Grandma, Excutive Chef Millie, makes pasta she breaks out the "pasta platter". This plate is not for the wimpy. Friends have stared at amazement as its brought to the table. Sometimes 5 pounds of perfection piled high interlaced with her super-sublime red sauce and meatballs (in a post to come!). And every time Master Meatball Taster says "Oh, that is WAY too much!" And every time my family and friends prove him wrong.

Mangia~ Tracey

Saute with a little olive oil:
3 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 chopped onion
1 med sweet banana pepper chopped

Make a roux:
2.5 tbls unsalted butter
3 tbls flour

Wisk into cream sauce over medium heat:
2.5 cups milk
3 oz sliced sharp cheddar
1/2 c cream cheese
Splash of cream
Salt & pepper
3 c Shredded chicken

Add just before leaving the stove:
Pint of grape tomatoes halved
Fresh basil
1/2 lb cooked linguine