Tag Archives: special occasions

Spaghetti Bolognese (Bolognaise) for the Busy Mom

A classic dish, Spaghetti Bolognese was difficult to categorize in this article, because its origin is arguable.  While the concept of this meat sauce originated in Northern Italy in the “Bologna” region, the French would often take food influences from bordering countries and adopt their own recipes, still naming the dish by its inspirational region.  While it’s not exactly “quick”, it’s definitely easy, and much of the time is simmering.

Clearly, the idea of saturating food in wine is French.  I could spend more time and research to ascertain which came first – Bolognaise, the French spelling, or Bolognese, the Italian spelling – but this is a cooking site and not a history blog.  So, to make everyone happy, I’ve put it both categories. And now, on with our favorite family recipe!

This version of a classic recipe began with my mom-in-law, a French native and a fabulous cook.  Made traditionally, it simply was not palatable for my American kids.   I don’t give up easily, and want them to be exposed to all tastes – so they can grow up to be foodie aficionados. 🙂  Here, I’ve reduced the amount of wine and chopped up the veggies finely enough to appeal to the kids, but have not lost the integrity of the sauce.

The most important element of this recipe is that the meat is added AFTER the sauce is almost done – this is the family secret I am sharing with you – and the results are over the top.  Don’t be afraid of not browning the meat first – it will be completely cooked in the sauce.  You will note by the photo, there is no problem getting those kiddos to eat this company-worthy spaghetti recipe.  And if you own an awesome Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus that you can get at my store,  (I use it almost every day!) you can have all your veggies chopped in a minute and have this sauce prepped in no time.  After you have poured yourself a glass of wine to begin cooking, do the following to serve 4-6 people:

GATHER THIS:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed, finely chopped
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (plus more for thinning, if needed)
  • 1 cup medium-bodied quality red wine, such as a Cabernet sauvignon
  • 1 15-oz can tomato puree, or diced tomatoes run through the processor
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • 1-1/2 pounds good-quality ground beef (preferably organic, but at least sirloin)
  • coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
  • White shredded cheese of your choice to serve: French like Swiss for this dish, Italians like Parm – you decide!

DO THIS:

In a large sauce pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots and garlic to the pot; saute for a few minutes until softened.  Add the mushrooms; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, about 4-5 minutes.  Add a little salt and pepper.  Stir in the tomato paste.  Add the stock, wine, tomato puree, seasoning, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, follow the directions on the pasta package for cooking the noodles.   I prefer my noodles a minute or two after al dente, as usually recommended – just do them how you like – people are funny about texture.

While the pasta is cooking, begin crumbling tiny pieces of the ground beef into the sauce with your fingers.  Don’t worry about making anything symmetrical; the pieces of beef will shrink with cooking and just be tiny bits of meaty goodness.  Avoid large chunks of meat. This will take a couple of minutes, and will be done about the same time as your pasta, so it works out well.  Stir all the meat into the sauce until it’s incorporated.  Cover the pot; simmer another 10 minutes.  Longer is not necessary and will toughen the meat; thereby defeating the purpose of adding it at the end.

Drain your pasta, and return it to its pan.  Spoon one ladleful of sauce into the noodles. Toss to coat.  To serve, pile noodles into bowls.  Top with additional ladles-full of sauce; top with shredded cheese and minced parsley.  I like it with crusty bread and olive oil for dipping, a green salad, and an abundance of red wine!

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Filed under Budget Friendly, French Recipes, From My Own Kitchen, Italian-inspired, Kids Favorites

Steve’s Off-the-Hook Seafood Linguine Alfredo

photo courtesy of T o n y at flickr.com

Need a comfort dish that’s gourmet enough for friends?  Look no further!  Make it as written by my foodie friend Steve, or with a few lightened-up modifications I suggest. You won’t be disappointed by either, and the best part? With all your seafood prepped, throw it together in 12 minutes!

Steve and I have known each other since high school and recently re-connected on Facebook.  He and his wife have a great appreciation for good food and wine – something, of course, near and dear to mine and my husband’s hearts.  While we still haven’t seen each other in person, we talk virtually about cooking; and about dishes that make our mutual network friends salivate.  When he posted about his “artery-clogging” comfort dish of Seafood Linguine Alfredo that he is famous for with family and guests,  I knew we would be foodie friends for a long time!

Steve was kind enough to share this recipe with me, knowing full well I would be reviewing it.  Now, readers… we all know that anything dubbed “alfredo” is not exactly in the diet books.  I figured it wasn’t going to be heart-healthy.  I saved making this one for my birthday treat, because I had plans to go back on to the South Beach Diet soon after making it.   What I wasn’t prepared for, was the proportion of the forbidden foods in his recipe (cream, butter, cheese).  Here is the original recipe, as he shared with me.

GATHER THIS:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Heavy cream (see below)
  • Butter (see below)
  • 1 lb uncooked, peeled & deveined shrimp
  • 1 lb bay scallops
  • 8 oz quality crab meat (no imitation)
  • 8 oz each Parmesan , Romano & Asiago cheeses
  • Salt, pepper, basil, oregano to taste
  • 1 lb. linguine noodles

DO THIS:

Cook the linguine noodles per package instructions and to your desired tenderness.  As your noodles are boiling,  cook your shrimp over medium heat in a stick of butter (he uses a wok for this – brilliant!) and 2-3 tbsp of olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, basil, and oregano.  When just about cooked, remove shrimp with slotted spoon into a medium bowl; set aside. Add again more butter, olive oil and seasonings.

Cook the bay scallops; when done, remove with slotted spoon and add to the bowl with the shrimp.  To pan or skillet –  again add another stick of butter, more olive oil and seasonings. Drain noodles.  Return noodles to pot, add in the cooked shrimp and scallops from the bowl.  Pour in the butter mixture, pour in the crab meat, pour in the heavy cream ( half a pint or so ).  Then, pour in all three grated cheeses, stir; add milk or cream until you have the right consistency. Serve immediately.

Steve and reader friends… this is a recipe for a bona fide food coma! While I have a true appreciation for all great food, wine, and the glory of  butter and cream – (remember, I’m married to a Frenchman) – I simply could not handle this recipe exactly the way in which he intended – others might.   The recipe itself is fantastic.  I just needed to lighten it up a bit to accommodate our own tastes.

I really wanted to remain loyal to the integrity of the recipe, to honor Steve’s claims that it is the best of the best.  So, I kept an open mind, even as I was preparing it.  I thought, “if I can fathom that an extra stick of butter will make this better, I will keep it in”.   For me, it just wasn’t necessary.  This recipe was decadent, even with a significant reduction in the amount of butter and cream.

My proportions were almost the same, with the exception of the butter and oil: I simply reduced the amount of each stick of butter by two-thirds (using approximately 3-4 tablespoons of butter in each panful), and only 1/2 tbsp of olive oil.  I also eliminated the “or so..” option of the heavy cream.  I used exactly one half-pint (small container) of heavy cream, and thinned with chicken stock a bit to acquire the desired saucy consistency.   The only other thing to note, is that since he didn’t specify the amount of (assumed) dried herbs to use, I used about 1/4 teaspoon of Italian seasoning blend for each batch of seafood that I sautéed.  Steve, if I did not get this right – I can edit!  The beauty of blogging.

So what’s the rating? This dish was delicious, no question.   Will I make it again?  Most definitely.  Especially because of the ease with which it came together.   Will I change anything? Yes, as follows:

  1. Reduce butter amounts as suggested above.
  2. Incorporate 1/4 cup white wine or 2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice  into last step of tossing ingredients together to add a little brightness and thin the heaviness a bit.  Then I would garnish with a few thinly sliced lemons – it needs some color.  That being said, the general rule in presenting is that you shouldn’t garnish with an ingredient that hasn’t been used in the dish.
  3. Use sea scallops,  cartilage removed, cut into quarters or halves.  Sea scallops are more tender, sweeter – in general, a finer shellfish (albiet, more expensive). If you’re going to go all out with butter and cream, you may as well get the sea scallops…
  4. Reduce the amount of dried herbs used and add 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped basil in the last step. Garnish at the end with a sprig of basil for color.
  5. Use whole-wheat linguine pasta.  It is just as delicious, especially with this kind of recipe; and it will offset the less healthy ingredients giving you some nutritional value.
  6. Add some fresh chopped spinach to the last step – (Steve does this too) – the pasta will be hot enough to wilt the spinach and you will get a great nutritional addition to your meal.

All of my own personal recommendations aside,  Steve knows a good recipe – and that quality seafood is what it’s all about.  Regardless of how much cream or butter you use, the key to a great recipe is fresh ingredients. If you plan on going all out on a wonderful recipe such as this, don’t skimp by using imitation crabmeat or pre-cooked shrimp (the ultimate sin)!  Enjoy this with a nice, light mesclun salad of greens with a light vinaigrette and you won’t feel quite as guilty…  and to drink? I like a nice citrusy chardonnay or a young red pinot noir with this.

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Filed under Italian-inspired, Quick & Easy

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta & Lime

Think you don’t like brussel sprouts?  Think again!  These are made so differently, you’ll think you’ve been missing out after all these years.  A great side dish for St. Pat’s or Easter – finally, something other than the old standbys.  Easy, bright and flavorful – this serves about four.  My husband is a brussel-sprout convert because of this recipe!  The texture of the shredded brussel sprouts makes all the difference.

Gather This:

  • 4 slices of  bacon, cut crosswise  into 1/4 inch strips, or 4 slices of pancetta, cut in half and then into strips
  • 15-18 brussel sprouts, rinsed, bottoms trimmed, and sliced thin lengthwise
  • Juice of 1 small lime (about 2 Tablespoons)
  • coarse salt and fresh black pepper to taste

Do This:

In a large, non-stick skillet, saute the bacon over medium heat until crisp.  If you are using especially lean bacon and it appears to be dry and sticking, you can add a teaspoon of olive oil.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.

In the same skillet with the bacon fat, cook the brussel sprouts; about 3-4 minutes, or until bright green, and softened but still slightly firm to the bite.  Stir in the lime juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately, with the bacon crumbled over the top.

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Filed under Budget Friendly, From My Own Kitchen, Healthy Recipes, Quick & Easy

Romantic Interlude: A Menu with Butternut Squash, Scallops, Asparagus, & Truffle

Romance was in the air, and we had a beautiful 1999 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne,  given to us in November by dear friends of ours, that needed to be made good use of.  My husband and I have had two failed attempts to go out for Valentine’s Day, due to sick kiddos and shortage of babysitters.  Alas, we resolved ourselves to celebrating at home, until such time as I am lucky enough to be served by someone else.

So, I surfed my usual recipe pages for something elegant and sophisticated, yet not to hard on the budget or difficult.  Scallops are a favorite shellfish for both of us; so I stumbled upon this recipe at the food network site:

Scallop and Truffle Mille-Feuille with Meyer Lemon Creme Fraiche and Truffle Vinaigrette

Names never scare me.  I knew that anything Emeril doctored up that I could barely pronounce had potential.  Sure, it called for truffles – and a couple of years ago I would have made the trip to Whole Foods to spend the $25.00 for the jar.  But I had some truffle oil in the cabinet which would do just fine for these tight-wad times of 2010.

For those of you unfamiliar, a truffle is a  delectable mushroom that is difficult to harvest, is grown in only a few places in the world, (mainly France) and therefore, costs about your monthly payment to your IRA.  Not to be confused with a chocolate truffle – which is a chocolatiers’ delicious sweet knockoff of the real thing.

This dish was superb. I changed quite a few things though, to make it easier, less expensive, and less time-consuming.

This is what I did differently:

1. I used regular lemons instead of Meyer lemons, because that’s all my store had.

2. I didn’t use any truffles. Instead, I very thinly sliced a few fresh baby portobellos (cremini mushrooms) for the presentation. Then, I used my black truffle oil to make the dressing and drizzled a little extra over the whole thing at the end.

3.  I didn’t buy puff pastry.  Instead, I happened to have some leftover phyllo dough sheets in my refrigerator from a recipe I had done over New Year’s.  Using a heart-shaped large cookie cutter, cut out a few stacks of heart-shaped dough, about 6 inches in diameter.  Then I quickly separated the heart phyllo sheets into stacks of two or three sheets on the baking sheet as per Emeril’s directions.   I brushed the tops of the hearts with a little butter melted in the microwave.  Then I baked them only for about 5 minutes or so. It’s a good thing I checked the baking hearts then, because phyllo is much thinner than puff pastry and I hadn’t accounted for that.  Lucky!  They were just golden and crispy.

4. I used tin foil in place of parchment paper for baking the heart stacks.

5.  I went on a wild goose chase to find Enoki mushrooms.  Normally, I would have prepared ahead of time, and found them easily at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  But this was a whim, so after visits to three major grocery stores within a square mile in twenty minutes – I finally found them at the fourth , a stinky Vietnamese market.  The shrooms were fresh. That’s all that mattered.  And it was the one ingredient I wasn’t willing to sacrifice – because it made the presentation.

6. No creme fraiche available at my local stores.  Instead, whole greek-style, plain yogurt was an equally delicious and a healthier substitute.

7. For the dressing, I used some of the fabulous champagne and white vinegar instead of store-bought champagne vinegar.  about a 2:1 ratio. You could use a dry white wine with good results.

Butternut Squash Soup with Fontina Cheese Crostini

We wanted a light dinner, but the scallop recipe just seemed a little too light – and while I was inspired by the dish’s sophistication,  I decided to do a soup for a first course so we wouldn’t be hungry afterward -as sometimes happens after a light and sophisticated meal.   In keeping with new commitment to health during Lent, I opted for a butternut squash soup from Giada DeLaurentis; she rarely lets me down, and I thought the texture would be creamy enough to satisfy my fat craving.

It originally was written to serve six as a first course, so I figured I could cut it in half and maybe still have a cup left for the kids to try the next day.  Besides, I was going the lazy way at the store – didn’t want an extra 15 minutes prep time cutting up squash –  and more than two bags of pre-cut butternut squash was just too expensive. When I got to the store, the only pre-cut squash was with a cinnamon sauce – but I could see from the bag, that  it was just a chunk of brown sugar that would melt upon heating.  So I just opened the bags and discarded the chunks of  cinnamon sugar and voila – I had pre-cut, unseasoned butternut squash for my recipe.

Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter – which is unusual for me, and it was PERFECT.  I’m not kidding you.   My husband said it was so fine, smooth, and velvety, and assumed it took a long time to make (it didn’t).   It was healthy and creamy, without an ounce of cream.  Unbelievable.  I was surprised by the ease with which this came together.    And, it could easily be a light supper, all on its own – perhaps even vegetarian, if vegetable stock were used instead of chicken stock.

A quick, traditional, French appetizer

Whenever I do a fancy dinner at home for the two of us, I like to do a very light appetizer or an amuse-bouche. We are lucky enough to have a new, authentic French (Basque-style) deli nearby, so we happened to have a wonderful country-style pate in the fridge. Then remembering that my mom had given me some small, vintage aspic cutters a long time ago, I was inspired to again incorporate the Valentine’s day theme.

I carmelized a few onions and added a little brown sugar to them to garnish the appetizer, and served the pate in the traditional way with some grainy Dijon mustard and toast points.

To round out the meal, my husband had also bought – in honor of our late celebration – some fabulous chocolate mousse and fresh pear pastries from the French guy at the deli.  It’s a good thing, because while I love to cook, I’m not one for making desserts.

When it was all said and done, this was a fabulous Valentine’s day celebration.  I wish I had taken photos of the beautiful dessert that DH had brought home for us, but I had been preparing our dinner for two hours, blogging simultaneously, and it was 9:30 pm by the time we got to dessert… so you’ll just have to imagine how pretty it was.

Here were the courses that I prepared, finished:

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Filed under Culinary Chit Chat, Healthy Recipes

Premier Recipe: Julia’s BOEUF BOURGUIGNON

The first thing I think of whenever I see this recipe is “how did they manage to put so many vowels in those words?”, and I usually have to look at it to type it or I’ll spell it wrong. This recipe is not for the faint of heart – there is an ample amount of animal fat, oil, and butter. DH and I are intending to begin a new regime this week, so we figured we may as well get the last culinary “hurrah” before we have to lay off the fat stuff for a while.

I’ll preface today’s post by saying that the majority of recipes I intend to blog about won’t be nearly as rich and complicated, primarily because I just won’t have time for long posts like this on a regular basis – and, because most of us don’t have time to make recipes like this frequently – I suspect I’d lose you. But since the inspiration for me began with the story of the blogger taking a culinary journey with Julia – it seems only appropriate to begin our journey with the famed French recipe for Beef Stewed in Wine.  It’s not difficult. It’s just got a few steps, and takes a little time. Save it for the weekend, when you can be doing laundry or playing with kids between steps.

For the recipe, I’m paraphrasing here from Julia Child’s version in the “French Chef Cookbook” (her version is a little wordy). I simplified it a bit but tried not to lose any of the integrity of the real deal.

GATHER THIS:

• 3 lbs. stew meat, or a chuck roast cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
• 6 oz. of lean salt pork, pork belly, or fresh (not smoked) bacon, cut into 1×1/4 inch pieces. If you must, you can substitute thick-sliced smoked bacon, cut up.
• Vegetable oil
• A few tablespoons of butter, we’ll divide it up as we go
• 3 cups of a good tasting Pinot Noir (doesn’t have to be expensive
• 1-2 tbl. Of tomato paste
• 3 cloves smashed garlic
• ½ teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 lb. fresh mushroom, quartered and stems trimmed
• 18 white pearl onions, peeled (or a 10-oz. box of frozen pearl onions, already peeled – much easier!)

DO THIS:The Big Finish

Once all you have your ingredients ready in one spot, preheat your oven to 325F. Over medium-high heat, fry the lardons (bacon pieces) in a large skillet (I like non-stick for this) until browned. Remove the pieces with a slotted spoon, and set aside. Then add about a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the skillet so you’ve got a good covering of fats on the bottom. In two batches, brown the meat on all sides a couple of minutes. Then place each batch of browned meat into an ovenproof casserole dish, ideally one that has a cover (or you can use foil).

When the meat is browned and transferred to your casserole, drain the excess fat from the skillet but don’t wipe it – leave the brown bits at the bottom. Put the pan back on the heat and pour in the wine, scraping up any bits and goodness at the bottom. Pour the wine from the skillet into the casserole, and add enough beef stock to almost cover the meat. Then add your tomato paste, mashed garlic, thyme, bay leaf. It didn’t say exactly whether or not to mix it in, so I just gently loosened up the paste in the broth and moved it and the thyme around the liquid a bit. Save the skillet for the next step.  Bring the stew to a simmer on the stovetop. Then cover the casserole, and put it in the preheated oven for at least 2-1/2 hours. I did mine for 3-1/4, but I like it falling apart.

While the stew is cooking, sauté mushrooms in a tablespoon each of butter and vegetable oil. Season with salt, then transfer to a small bowl and set aside. In the same skillet, add one more tablespoon of butter, the peeled onions, and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover the skillet, and cook the onions until nice and soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

Now, I could go on with another couple of steps that were in the original recipe, but in my estimation, it would have taken twice as long for the same result. I’m sure a French culinary authenticist would argue, but I have a family, and extra steps for the sake of tradition are just not in my schedule. So, here’s what I did to finish the dish and the sauce:

About 15 minutes before you are ready to serve, add the prepared onions and mushrooms to the casserole. Gently mix them into the cooking juices and return the casserole to the oven until they are just heated through, about 5-10 minutes. Then, pour the cooking liquid from the casserole into a gravy separator, if you have one. Add enough stock to make 2-1/4 full cups of liquid. Spoon off excess fat or let it stay in the separator when you add the rest to the sauce.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add 3 tablespoons of flour, whisk and cook until blended about 1-2 minutes. Then, slowly whisking, gradually add the de-fatted cooking liquid, a few tablespoons at a time, until all is incorporated. Bring to just a boil until beginning to thicken, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Season well with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper, and taste. Since you haven’t added any salt and pepper to the stew yet, the sauce will serve as the seasoning.

When the sauce is done, make sure the rest of the fat has been drained out of the casserole, and then add the sauce to the cooked stew. Mix around gently and heat on the stove top for a minute or two. Taste again and adjust seasonings. Keep warm until serving. IT’S DONE!

MY REVIEW:

Was it worth it?

Definitely!  Actually, I was surprised. Any kind of beef stew is not really my favorite meal. This was absolutely spectacular.  I wouldn’t have done anything differently, than what I mentioned above.     According to my French husband,  I passed the test of authenticity test, spot on. Yay for me!  I’ll be honest, though. It will probably be another year before I make it again, and I would invite company to appreciate it for all the time it took.  Oh, and did I mention, the dish has romance written all over it, especially if your guy is a “meat and potatoes” man.  So, if you’re looking to hook one in, this might be a contender…

I’ve always exposed my kids to everything I cook, so they can tolerate more flavor than most kids that are accustomed to a weekly mac and cheese diet.  They still didn’t gobble it up – so this will not get a ‘kid-friendly’ recipe tag.  My husband and I, however, had no problem. I served it with parsley buttered boiled potatoes, and a green salad and crusty artisan bread – traditional as told to me by both the book and my husband.

What I would change:

First, you should know that DH and I had ordered part of a cow this year for our supply of red meat, (the most delicious I’ve ever tasted!) so I used a chuck roast – trimmed the meat off the bone as close as I could, and then cut it into large stew chunks. I kept used the smaller bone pieces to retain the flavor from them and discarded the longest one because it didn’t fit nicely in the pan. If you don’t know this, the marrow from the bone of the cow is succulent (some gourmet restaurants even serve it as a dish). So don’t throw the bones away until after you cooked the stew with it!

I thought I was lucky to find pork bellies in my grocery store – which is the original ingredient used in place of bacon.  But, it turned into a lot of wasted time. I found it to be difficult to cut up – ended up using kitchen shears, and mid-way through frying them, I realized they needed to be smaller in order to brown, so I frantically was cutting them smaller while they were in the pan.   I would stick to ready-made fresh bacon, if you can find it, that isn’t smoked – or use regular bacon and simmer it for a few minutes immersed in water to get the smoky flavor out (as recommended by Julia).  Then dry it with a few paper towels, and fry it up as you would.  If you are just not up for the extra step – I’ve used smoked before in other recipes for this with fine results – it’s just not as traditional, and truly, the flavor is not as completely delicious.

I had already begun this recipe before I realized the only wine left in the house was a simple Columbia Crest drinking merlot, not the finer pinot noir (or burgundy) that it calls for.  But, unless I wanted dinner to be served at 9pm – I had to proceed, and at least it was a younger red.   So in went the merlot and after the casserole was already in the oven I had DH run out and get a proper wine to at least drink with the dinner.

Another thing I changed is to reduce the wine to 2 cups, and replace it with another cup of stock, which by the way, I only had chicken stock in the house too.  This toned down the wine flavor just enough so that the kids would taste it without making a face – because 3 cups really is a lot of wine flavor, even for me, and I have a very high threshold for wine consumption 😉 .  The chicken stock was perfect –  a bit lighter and allowed the flavor of the true beef to come out instead of being masked with the heavy taste of beef stock. Perhaps were I not using top quality beef from a butcher, it would have needed the extra beef flavor.

Rating with Recipe Reviewer’s Changes: 5 Stars

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Filed under French Recipes, Low & Slow