Pasta Bolognese

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A couple months ago, I was fortunate enough to wander into a tiny osteria (just 6 tables) in the lovely village of Cernobbio on Lake Como in Italy. We were the last to sit for lunch and by the time we were finished eating, the only ones left in the place. The owner/chef/waiter sat and chatted with us for a good half hour, during which the subject of a correct Bolognese came up. He had a pretty string opinion about what Bolognese is and is not; a meat sauce, not a tomato sauce. He shook his finger at me and said, “Only add enough, er, tomato, er”, (insert many gestures of trying to squash something between your hands here) “paste,” says I, “tomato paste!”. “Yes, yes, tomato paste. Only enough to make the color pleasing; all the meat makes it gray. Not pretty to look at.”
So, based on the tip and a few others, here is my most delicious take on a Bolognese ragu.
In a large stockpot, Soften 1 cup chopped onions, 1 large carrot, chopped finely, 3 cloves of garlic and 1/2 cup of celery and 2 bay leaves in 2 T olive oil and 2 T butter.
Meanwhile, cook until just crisp 3/4 lb. of thick cut bacon (use pancetta if you like, I had bacon on hand) that has been cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Drain the fat and add to the veggies.
Brown 1 lb. stew beef and add to the large pot. Brown 1 lb spicy Italian sausage and 1 lb. ground venison and add to the pot.
Add 3 T tomato paste, 1 C beef broth, 1/2 C red wine, stir well and bring to a bare simmer. Add 1 C milk, I used low fat, but any sort will do. Add salt and pepper to taste and just a couple light sprinkles of ground cloves. Trust me on this, it adds some great depth of flavor. Simmer very gently until the meat is tender, about 90 minutes, maybe two hours. A crockpot will work for this if you prefer, just cook on low for 4 to 6 hours.
Serve over fresh pappardelle with some freshly shaved parmesan.

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Holiday Dinner at Home

For many years, I hosted large family gatherings for most holidays throughout the year. With my own  family of 5, my parents, my 6 sisters and their spouses, then the growing horde of children that now numbers 23 or more, and often, my in-laws, it was quite a production. No more. It was just too much. The parties were fun, sure, but just so much work that I really didn’t have time to spend with people.

When I got divorced, I took Christmas Eve with my kids and their father got Christmas day. Though they are grown and have homes of their own, we still get together on Christmas Eve for our much smaller family celebrations. Just my sweetheart, my three children, their SO’s and until this year, one sweet little grandson, Aiden. This year he will be joined by his new baby sister, Arya.
We have a meal and a signature cocktail each year and share gifts and laughs and love. This year I will be particularly grateful to have my family around me. Not just because little Arya, but also my son, who sustained a terrible head injury last Spring and has made a nearly complete recovery. We are blessed.

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Anyway, on to the food. I’ve been quite inspired by my trip to Italy in October and decided to have an Italian theme for dinner this year. Not the traditional fish-and-seafood Italian Christmas Eve; just what I felt like making. So  here’s the plan.

This year’s cocktail: Hot Buttered Rum

And for dinner:
Lasagna
Homemade Papardelle
Bolognese and Alfredo Sauces
Sauteed Escarole
Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Chestnuts and Pancetta
Freshly Baked Bread

Much of this can be done ahead, so the Bolognese is on the stove (recipe to follow), the lasagna will be assembled tonight and the veggies put together in the morning. Bread goes in the oven in the afternoon while I make the pasta dough and the Alfredo will be the only last minute item. I plan on delegating that task to one daughter or the other. Sounds like a plan, hmmm?

And my sweetheart says I always overdo it. Pah! It’s Christmas.

Off My Game

I’ve made three mediocre meals in a row. They weren’t toss-in-the-trash-and-order-Chinese bad, just, “meh”.
I’m not accustomed to “meh”.  I expect more of myself.

Maybe it just need to scrupulously follow recipes for a week or so. Or eat out. Even better.

Meh.

Turkey White Bean Chili

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This was my first attempt at a white chili, and I must say we were quite pleased with the results!
Even Mr. I-don’t-like-turkey, who made “that face” when I told him what was for dinner loved it.
The aroma from the crock pot made me crazy for most of the afternoon. Working from home is a double edged sword; you get to start dinner, but then you have to smell it.
While I knew this was going to be lean and full of fiber, it wouldn’t have the usual compliment of veggie matter (fewer tomatoes and peppers) and so I made some simple greens to go with.

Greens
15 C fresh chopped escarole (1 grocery store produce dept bag)
3 cloves fresh minced garlic
1/4 C toasted breadcrumbs
1/2 oz. grated parmesan

Saute the garlic in a bit of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Before it browns, add the greens, as much as you can in the pan at once, adding the rest as it cooks down. Sprinkle with salt to taste.
Cook, stirring, until wilted. Cook five minutes more on medium heat.
Add grated cheese and breadcrumbs, stirring until well mixed.

Turkey White Bean Chili
1 lb ground turkey
2 15 oz cans Cannelini beans
1/2 C chopped onion
1 can Ro-Tel (chopped chilies and tomatoes)
1 C cubed, roasted butternut squash (roasting loads of veggies on the weekend leaves me with lots of choices to add them to meals during the week)
1 T tomato paste
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t black pepper
salt to taste
1 dried chipotle pepper, soaked in boiling water for 15 min.

Brown the meat, add it and all other ingredients to slow cooker.
Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Remove the chili before serving. You really don’t want someone biting into that!

Could it be any easier?

Beef Roast with Roasted Veggie Blend

winter meal

It  was a day for a Winter meal. Rainy, gray, temps in the low 40’s, I needed something cozy and hearty. This fit the bill.

I use my grandmother’s method for cooking a beef roast. I used a top round that weighed a couple pounds, but this works for any size.
Crank up the oven to 400 degrees and while it’s heating, put the meat in a roasting pan and season it.
I used black pepper, garlic powder and onion powder, along with a dried herb blend of thyme and rosemary and a couple other things.
When the oven is hot, slide the roast in. Don’t put it in before the oven is up to temp; the goal is to quickly seal in the juices. Leave it for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200 degrees. Roast until the internal temp reaches 140.
Remove to a serving platter and cover with foil so the juices stay put. Let it rest for 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, pour about 1/2 cup of water, wine or bullion in the roasting pan and scrape up all the tasty bits. If you’ve used a metal roasting pan, just leave everything in it and put it on the stove to boil. I used glass, and so transferred things to a saucepan. Add another 1/2 cup of beef broth and boil until it is reduced to about 3/4 cup.  Season to your taste; I used some black pepper and dried thyme.
Mix 2t cornstarch with 2 t cold water and add to the pot to thicken up the gravy.

Slice the meat across the grain and thinly and you’re ready to eat!
One of my favorite childhood memories is watching my grandfather approach the roast to slice it. He would turn it this way and that, looking for just the right angle, then, with knife and fork poised, he would hesitate, turn the wooden cutting board just a smidge, maybe three or four times, and slowly begin to slice off thin leaves of rare beef. He was a man of precision. The best part was that he would push the brown, caramelized outer bits over close to me, where I would snatch them quickly and pop them in my mouth. He’d pretend to fuss and sometimes even feint  toward my fingers with the carving knife, smiling all the while. Happy times. Rest in peace, Grandpa.

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Tonight’s roasted veggie recipe comes from Simply Recipes.

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It’s a blend of butternut squash, radicchio and onion. I forgot to add the pignoli (after making my man trek up and down a number of aisles in the grocery for for them. oops!), but it was still delish, and a perfect compliment to the roast. The bitterness of the radicchio is offset by the sweetness of the onion (I used a large Mayan one for their sweetness) and the squash. Great combination.

I rounded things out with roasted potato wedges. I didn’t think about adding them to the meal until everything else was almost finished, so I popped two fairly large red potatoes in the microwave for 8 minutes, then sliced them each into four wedges, sprayed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and added them to the veggies roasting in the hot oven until they were browned and crispy.

If only someone had brought an apple pie over for dessert……….

The Most Easy, Most Tasty Bread Ever

bread

I can’t tell you any more than these folks can:

http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/

Just know, it really is that easy.

Best bread you will ever make. No kneading, no shaping, no fuss at all.Try it.

Pork and Veggie Stir Fry

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Before we begin, let me tell you about the ginger root. I bought a large piece just a couple days ago, it was all still firm and fresh looking, but when I cut a knob off, there was a blue-green ring around the outer edge, just under the skin, but the center was the normal ginger color. It didn’t feel slimy, or smell oddly, but it sure looked like mold to me. I chopped off a couple more sections, and, sure enough, it was present through the entire piece.

blue ring ginger

My sweetheart was sitting nearby, laptop in hand, and as I was bemoaning the spoiled ginger, did a little googling. Hawaiian Blue Ring Ginger. Yup, normal, apparently a cream-of-the-crop variety. Dinner was saved. Learn something new every day.

So, on to the rest of the stir fry.

 

Pork and Veggie Stir Fry
1 T oyster sauce
1 T soy sauce
1T peanut oil
2 T corn starch
1/2 t white pepper
1/2 t ground coriander
1T lime juice
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
12 oz lean pork, slivered. I used 2 boneless center cut chops
4 C chopped bok choy
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1 C onion, sliced thinly
3 cloves of garlic
1 C chopped mushrooms, and variety will do. Use an exotic mix for  more varied flavor
3 T freshly minced ginger root
1 C broth, chicken or veggie
3 T creamy peanut butter

Mix the first 8 ingredients in a large bowl and add the meat, stirring to coat it well. Marinate while you slice and dice the veggies.

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veggies

Pour a glass of wine; you deserve it.

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Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large wok. Add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the pepper and mushroom and cook 3 more minutes.

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Remove veggies to bowl. Add a bit more oil and after it heats up, stir fry the meat until cooked through.

 

Add the broth and the peanut butter, stir until the peanut butter is melted, add the veggies back in, then the bok choy.P1010426P1010427

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Stir fry until the greens start to wilt and the sauce is reduced to a happy thickness. Serve over hot steamed rice. Makes 4 servings at 8 WW points per (not including rice)