April 27, 2009

"Real" Italian - Spaghetti and Meatballs

How tonight's dinner menu came about:

Matt: Do you not like Italian food?
Me: Of course I do.
Matt: Well, you never make it.
Me: Umm, I make pizza a lot.  
Matt: That doesn't count.
Me: I made lasagna last week!
Matt: That doesn't count.
Me: What do you mean, that doesn't count?
Matt: There was no red sauce on it. 
Me: There was a little.  Wait, does that mean you think food has to have red sauce to be Italian food?  Italian is only spaghetti and meatballs?  Why don't I make spaghetti and meatballs tonight?  
Matt: OK.
Me: Want to come to the store with me?
Matt: No thanks.
Me: OK,  you can do the dishes then.
Matt: OK.  (Note: I'm only including this part in case he forgets his promise) 

To clear things up, I have nothing against Italian food.  I really, really like it.  I've just had the privilege of eating some amazing Italian food, and instead of making me want to eat a lot of it, it has made me want to restrict my consumption of it to times when I know it will be awesome.  I think I've just come to terms with the fact that I could never make pasta like they do at Chicago's Spiaggia.  Nor will I ever cook Italian food like the mother of our Italian exchange student does.  Maybe the fact that while we were eating her pasta we were looking out their kitchen window at the Dolomites made it more heavenly.  Oh yeah, and she made my brother and I beef carpaccio as an appetizer one night.  My mom is an awesome cook, but not once has a meal at our house begun with beef carpaccio.  I mean, holy cow!  

So I decided to make some Italian food (read: spaghetti with red sauce) for once.  Instead of improv, I went with a trusted source: The Silver Spoon.  I more or less made their recipe for meatballs with rigatoni, and it was awesome. 

It started with about 1.5lbs of ground beef, parsley, 1 egg, and a clove of garlic.  I bought 93% lean beef thinking I didn't want greasy meatballs/sauce, but in hindsight I should have either bought fattier meat or let the meat brown for a shorter period of time.  It ended up a little on the dry side.  

Combine the meat, a couple tablespoons of parsley (or a spring of fresh parsley), and a chopped garlic clove.  

Mix in a lightly beaten egg, and then season with salt and pepper.  

Form into balls, and dust with flour.  

I made walnut-sized meatballs.  See?  And check out my new apron covered with little ladybugs.  And please don't judge my appearance.  It's the first day of finals.  

Warning: If you ask your boyfriend to turn off a burner because your hands are covered in raw meat, he might turn ON a different burner and then, completely oblivious, walk into the bathroom so you have to wash your hands and do it yourself anyway.  

You've been warned.

Here are the flour-dusted meatballs.  

Don't the look a little like balls of cookie dough?  I kind of wish these were.  And that they were coming out of the oven right now.  

Set the meatballs aside.  Add 1 chopped carrot, 1 chopped celery stalk, and 1 chopped onion with a few tablespoons of olive oil to a pan over low heat.  I actually used 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, and 3/4 of an onion, but the actual recipe calls for the former amounts.  Oh, and add a sprig of rosemary, chopped. 

Cook over low for about 5 minutes.  

Turn the heat up to medium, and add the meatballs to the pan to brown them.  It would be helpful to first push some of the veggies to the sides of the pan so the meat can touch the surface and brown more easily.  I learned that the hard way.  Or I just don't think ahead sometimes, and I should have thought of that earlier.  

Here is the tomato sauce I used.  I don't know if you can tell in this picture, but it's one of the larger sized cans.  28 ounces?  

Once the meatballs have browned a little, add the tomato sauce.  Season with salt.  

Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for a while.  The recipe says 40 minutes, but I only waited about 20 - as long as it took for water to finally boil and for spaghetti to cook.  

This is after 15 or 20 minutes.  The smell was wonderful.  I almost said the "aroma" was wonderful, but it made me uncomfortable.  I don't think I can pull that word off.  

Blurry close-up.  Just what you were looking for, right?

Dinner.  Cena.  Bad picture, good food.  Thanks, Silver Spoon.  

And thanks in advance for the clean dishes, Matt!

Labels: , ,

April 25, 2009

Finals Finals Finals

Hello, readers.  And hello, Newman.  

It's finally finals time, which means it's time for me to cut back on my kitchen time for a couple weeks.  I will be spending considerably more time eating meals like last night's delicious carnitas from Pancho Villa and considerably less time washing dishes.  Last night, unlike the last time we went to PV, we did not run into Al Franken.  However, while should-be senators are not always to be found there, good food is.  

And 2-for-1 margaritas.  All day, every day.  Two of them make me look like this.  

Er, maybe I'm confused.  I guess they just make Matt look like this.    

Getting back to the point of this post, if you find yourself disappointed by the lack of updates, pause for a minute, and be happy you're not spending your Saturday night (and Sunday.  and Monday.  and Tuesday...) in the same way I am.  Sipping a little vinho verde, staring out at the Minneapolis skyline, and studying family law.  

April 23, 2009

Apple & Asparagus Salad

We had a much needed girls' dinner last night, and I was in charge of salad.  I had been running nonstop all day*, so I wanted to use stuff that I already had and spend a minimal amount of time at the grocery store.  I had a couple apples and half a bunch of asparagus, and all I bought was spinach and a little piece of Manchego.  

*Thanks to a tip from my mentor, a friend and I spent all morning at the trial of a 2 live crew member.  One of the "Crew" members had stuck his hand down the pants of some go-go dancer while they were performing at a skeezy bar in a suburb of St. Paul.  His manager told the girl "that's just how we do."  Lovely.  The highlight, by far, was when a girl on the witness stand described seeing the rapper touch the dancer's "vajayay."  Nothing like anatomical slang to up your credibility.    

Moving right along, here's everything I used for the salad (minus salt, pepper, and a little parsley).

Chop the asparagus into 1" pieces.

I got a fairly small piece of Manchego, and I only used about half of it.  Parmesan would probably work for this, too.   

Shave some pieces of cheese, and try to make them about 1" long or less.  

Core the apples.  I think these are galas.  Any crisp variety should work.  

Then thinly slice them there apples.  That's my redneck jedi talk.  May the force be with y'all.   

For the dressing mix equal parts oil and apple cider vinegar, then add more of either one to taste.  Add some salt and pepper and whatever herbs & spices you like.  I was going to use chives, but they didn't look so great so I just used a little parsley.  If only I had a garden and could just clip herbs...

Combine the spinach, apple, asparagus, and cheese.  Drizzle with dressing, mix, and add more dressing as needed.

 I didn't get a picture of everything thrown together, but it was a nice, spring salad that I will be making again.  


April 21, 2009

Spicy Beef Tacos

I have a confession to make.  I joined Twitter today.  I'm not sure how I feel about it, and I'm really, really not sure how it works.  At all.  I just typed in my gmail address, clicked through a few pages, and before I knew it I was following about 15 people.  Matt has tried to explain it to me on several occasions, but I still feel like my grandparents trying to learn how to use a computer.  While I'm not so clueless that I need someone to write down step-by-step directions for me (talking to you, Grandpa!), I still don't really get the concept.  Since my grandpa was finally able to learn how to use a computer and order books from Amazon at the age of 90, though, I am confident that I will someday understand a little more about this Twitter business.  

One thing I was able to do was become a follower (after years in real life, I made it official on Twitter) of Rick Bayless.  After reading his updates all day describing each of several courses he was preparing for his staff to taste I knew I needed a little Mexican for dinner.  He was really tasty.  Hardy har har.  I actually made some spicy beef for tacos and tostadas.  Definitely not to the level of RB, but not bad for a quick, weeknight dinner.  

Start by sautéing half an onion in a little oil for about 3 minutes.  

While the onion is cooking, measure some spices.  For 1.75lbs of meat I used a generous tablespoon of cumin, a generous teaspoon of cayenne (although I would cut that in half and add more at the end as needed), and about a teaspoon of cinnamon.  

Add the spices to the onion and cook for a few more minutes.  

It will start to smell awesome.  

Add ground beef.  Or pork.  Or chicken.  

Once the meat is cooked through add about 3/4 can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce.  You may want to start with less and add more as you go.  If I wouldn't have added enough cayenne to bring tears to my eyes earlier on, I probably would have added the whole can of chiles.  They're mighty tasty.  

Stir to combine and let it cook away for a few minutes so the flavors can meld.  If the heat still brings tears to your eyes, a little mild salsa can be added to mellow it a bit.  

Here are all the additional toppings I threw together.  Nothing too fancy.  

I had been doing a lot of taste testing throughout the cooking process, so I wasn't too hungry when it came time to eat.  I decided to make a tostada for a lighter meal.  It's a perfect way to use up broken hard taco shells.  Just spread on some beans and meat.   

Top that with a bunch of lettuce, tomato, olives, guac, etc.  Did anyone else think of Teen Witch when I said "top that"?  Supersonic, idiotic, disconnecting, not respecting...  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then 1) you are really missing out and 2) you can catch up by clicking here.  

Labels: , , ,

April 20, 2009

Vegetable Lasagna

For my first real cooking experience in my new apartment (not counting last night's BLTs) I made a vegetarian lasagna.  It was a wonderful end to my second to last day of my second to last year of law school.  It was especially enjoyable on a very windy and very cold Minnesota night, but it would have also been enjoyable on a calm, warm Minnesota night that was the norm all last week.  

The basic ingredients:

Lasagna noodles
1 box frozen spinach
1 large can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 tomato
2 zucchini 
1/2 bunch asparagus
Goat cheese (optional)

Boil the lasagna according to the package directions.  I boiled 9 noodles, but I ended up only needing about 6 because of the size of my baking dish.

Boiling bubbles!  OOOOoooOOOOooooOOOoooo

Don't 13-year-olds type things like that?  And my dad.  He's really into texting things like "lol" and "omg."  Then I forward them on to my brothers so they can enjoy his musings as well.  

Cook the noodles until they're pliable, but not totally done.  

I didn't put amounts down on the ingredients list, but here's how much mozzarella I used.  It was about half of one of those cylindrical hunks, if that means anything to you.  It was plenty.  

I had most of a can of diced tomatoes in the freezer from God knows when.  I thawed them out, added a roughly chopped clove of garlic, a couple teaspoons of thyme, and a couple teaspoons of oregano.  It all simmered while I threw everything else together. 

Thaw a box of frozen spinach and squeeze out the excess moisture.  Combine the spinach with a container of ricotta, a tablespoon of thyme, and a tablespoon of oregano.  

Give it a good stir, and set it aside until the assembly begins.

Slice the zucchini into fairly thin slices.

Chop the asparagus into about 1" pieces.

Thinly slice a tomato.  Or thinly slice half of it and somehow end up with considerably thicker slices with the other half like I did.  I would blame it on that glass of wine, but seeing as it's nearly full I don't think that defense works.  

Spoon a small amount of tomato sauce into a casserole dish, and spread it around to coat the bottom.

Place a layer of noodles over the tomato sauce.

Cover the noodles with about 1/3 of the ricotta/spinach mixture.

Pile on some zucchini and asparagus. 

Then add some tomato slices and a little bit of the tomato sauce.  

Sprinkle with a little mozzarella.  

Repeat the layers beginning with noodles and ending with noodles.  I managed to fit 2 complete layers in my dish, and I had a little bit of asparagus remaining.  

Spread the remaining ricotta mixture on top.  

Top with the rest of the tomato sauce and mozzarella.  I also sprinkled on a bit of goat cheese for a little tang.  Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.   

As much as I love mass quantities of cheese, sometimes I need to hold myself back.  Instead of making cheesy, garlicky bread I made some goat cheesy, tomato-y bread.  Thinly slice crusty bread and spread on a thin layer of goat cheese.  

Top with a slice or two of tomato and a sprinkle of oregano, and throw it in the oven while the lasagna bakes.  

Slightly cheesy and majorly delicious.  That should be my life's motto.  

I ended up taking the lasagna out a little earlier than I needed to because we were getting a little impatient.  It could have stayed in there for another 5 to 10 minutes until it was a little more browned, but it was totally fine at this point, too.  

At last, the first dinner in my new apartment.  

Labels: , , ,