Good & Strange

On a recent visit to my favorite 5000 square foot Italian market/restaurant empire I picked up a few new things to try. Some were good, some were strange, and one was actually strangely good.

just strange So these were just strange. I had high hopes for them but no. They literally are just corn flour dried into these long shapes. A snack to to crunch on or use to dip into things. They were scarily crisp (as in break your teeth crisp) and really didn’t taste like anything. I think you could find a better vehicle to get that onion dip into your mouth.

 

 

 

 

always good

 

This was just good. Afterall I was just following directions. “Winemaker notes: best enjoyed with fruit and cheese.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

strangly good

This one was strangley good. These crunchy little nuggets promote themselves as a snack to “sharpen the appetite.” They have 2 kinds of wine in them – red and white! To me they have a flavor that completely reminds me of stuffing. (Like thanksgiving stuffing!)  Strangley addictive too.  According to the manufactuer I should be sipping a glass of “Agricola del Sole Jazzorosso” wine while I snack on these. Maybe next time.

 

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Middle-Aged Pasta

Nope I am not referencing my age – just acknowledging the fact that Lasagna noodles were invented by the Greeks but perfected into the dish we know and love by the Italians as early as the middle ages!

That’s a lot of lasagna over the years!

For some, lasagna is a special dish prepared only on holidays and possibly at Sunday dinners. At my house lasagna is a weeknight treat too! Yup you read that right – weeknight lasagna and I promise it doesn’t take all night!

The key is use the “no-boil” noodles (they are pretty good these days!) and convenience items like jarred sauce, already roasted veggies and pre-cooked meats.

the parts

Pick up precooked meatballs from the deli/prepared foods counter and slice thin for an easy layer of meat. Check out the deli/salad bar for items like roasted mushrooms and caramelized onions. A jar of your favorite red sauce works perfectly. Be sure to pick up a container of grated cheese and some fresh parsley to add to the container of ricotta. (you will also need an egg for the ricotta mixture.)

The key to the no-boil noodle is a generous amount of sauce and a tight foil cover for most of the cooking time. Take the cover off for the last 10-15 mins. The box of no-boil noodles has a good basic recipe you can follow, just use layers of things you want to eat.

I skipped the heavy cheese layers and did 2 layers of the mushroom/onion and 2 layers of the sliced meatball, topping it only with grated cheese since my husband doesn’t love all the gooey cheese like I do. And my waistline thanked me too. I made mine in a very manageable 8×8 dish that fed 2 people with plenty of leftovers for lunch or could feed 4 with a salad on the side.

Not fond of meat? Use a layer of sliced eggplant or zucchini instead of meatballs! As a bonus you can sometimes find sliced zucchini in the salad bar or veggie aisle.

the best part

 

Plain & Fancy

Can you guess who ate what?

Your choices are:

Boston Irish-american guy: plain or fancy?

New Hampshire raised country girl: plain or fancy?

Boston Irish guy = plain & New Hampshire country girl = fancy

Did you guess right?

I am always trying to encourage new things at dinner time but this was just a little too exotic…

fancy sauce

I picked up this fancy little can of sauce at the new, fancy “not-so-little” Italian grocery store/food emporium that recently opened at the Prudential mall in Boston. I am sure you know the one I mean. Google it.

Without giving it a direct plug I will say that I could go there everyday for a year and still not try everything they have stocked in the 55,000 square feet of Italian goodness!

Maybe next time I will get the plain stuff for Mr. fancy Boston guy!

 

 

 

Living Simply

I had to take a long break from Cabinet Stew recently to attend to my mother who was ill and recently passed away. I have returned from this sad hiatus with a renewed respect for my time left on this earth and an appreciation for living more simply.

My mother was a 40 year vegetarian and a general health enthusiast. She never felt the need to “clutter” her plate with complicated ingredients, bold spices or fancy preparations. She felt nature was best left untouched as much as possible. At the same time she never passed up the chance to try something new, leading us as a family, to one “off the beaten path” bakery to another. By ten years of age I already knew where to get the best spanakopita (greek spinach pie) in my hometown.

My father in contrast was a man who appreciated a sausage as another might appreciate a vintage car or rare wine. He was a connassuier of hot dog carts, hash browns and strangely, fresh radishes. (which he ate like candy from a bowl in front of the TV)

Having observed both of them my whole life, I shaped my own eating habits around a combination of them. I love bold flavors and never pass up a good hot dog. I think nostalgically of my father when I eat radishes. However I don’t think twice about having a meal that doesn’t contain meat – in fact I don’t even recognize it as a “vegetarian” meal – its just simply a meal. I never met a vegetable or fruit I don’t like. And of course I have to seek out the most obscure local joints to try something new.

Today I salute my mother and her simple tastes.

simple-breakfast

Toast spread with Ricotta di Pecora (raw sheep milk ricotta) – topped with maple syrup and Honey Dew melon.

 

 

 

 

Farm Days

August in New England is simply the best there is. Warm days, somewhat cooler nights and full, ripe tomatoes

– life doesn’t get any better than that.

fancy lady

fancy lady

 

Recently I spent a day at the New Hampshire Farm Museum listening to music, learning about daily farming activities before technology made everything easier and visiting some animals. My favorite was a beautifully marked chicken.

Down the street is Mckenzie’s Farm – a glorious operation with amazing produce, still-warm-from-the-fryer cider donuts and pick-ur-own everything – including tomatoes!

Nothing is fresher then a tomato you picked yourself!

farmstand purchases

The day’s bounty!  Homemade pickles, spaghetti squash, just picked blueberries, 2 kinds of garlic, tomatoes I picked myself, summer squash, zucchini and a cuke!

I came home with more tomatoes than this picture – about 10 lbs more!  A “sauce” was in the works!

When I got home I washed, cored and roughly cut the tomatoes. ( I don’t blanch, peel and all that jazz – too much work – and I don’t mind the peels, seeds, etc)

I simply added all the tomatoes to my slow-cooker along with one whole head of fresh garlic and a generous handful of basil leaves from my back yard pot. A little salt and pepper and that was it. I really wanted a “fresh” sauce. I let it cook on high for the day (about 6-8 hours) and stirred it once. The tomatoes were so fresh and sweet that nothing else was needed!

crockpot sauce

After all that time cooking, I used my immersion blender to get the sauce to the smooth consistency I was looking for. I blended the basil and whole garlic cloves right in. Tasted for seasoning (salt & pepper) and let it cook for another hour with the lid half off just to thicken things up a little. I cooled and packed some into the freezer for a taste of summer sometime next January. I used some right away as a sauce for an Italian style turkey meatloaf. It would also make an amazing base for a tomato soup and frankly it was just good enough to drink straight!

Meatloaf mix ( pre-turkey meat) consisted of diced yellow bell peppers, onions, garlic, basil, toasted cheese bread crumbs and

Meatloaf mix (pre-turkey meat) consisted of one finely chopped, spicy Andoullie sausage, a finely diced yellow bell pepper, onions, garlic, basil, toasted cheese bread crumbs, olive oil and an egg to hold it all together.

Italian seasoned turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and fresh tomato sauce. Parmesan cheese on top.

Italian seasoned turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and fresh tomato sauce. Parmesan cheese on top.

Stuffed!

I am not sure what inspired this. I think I saw a layered meatloaf somewhere out there in the world and thought “I can make that!”

As usual I had to put an Italian twist on things and make my stuffed meatloaf with fresh spinach, basil and mozzarella. The meat is simply a blend of ground beef, Italian sausage, 1 egg plus one egg white, Italian seasoning and S/P. No bread crumbs, no milk-soaked bread slices – just pure meat. Continuing the Italian twist I even added some Italian seasoning to the otherwise fairly traditional glaze of ketchup and corn syrup. (you can also use brown sugar but it burns easy and the corn syrup keeps the glaze glossy – a little won’t hurt you!)

This is a large and heavy meatloaf best served with a nap and some mashed potatoes!

Production Notes:

I happen to have some leftover ground beef from a big pack so not sure on the actual amounts, but if I had to guess, there was at least 1 1/2 lbs. I took two Italian sausage out of their casing and combined them with the ground beef. I added the seasonings and a dash of Worcestershire sauce (my secret ingredient for everything beef!)

Glaze the loaf initially and bake it in a hot (425 degree) oven for about 40 mins. Glaze again and bake until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees (F)

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year!

Nope not Christmas… tomato season!!

This year my “supersonics” just keep on giving and although not quite as big as promised… (I blame that on the gardener not the garden) they are prolific! And the little yellow “pear” tomatoes are happily producing a handful a day at this point!

from the garden

After a while there are only so many BLTs you can eat before you need a chance of pace…

BLT

What? Wait?!!! did I really just write that? I never get tired of a BLT!

But the ugly truth is that when the tomatoes are producing faster than you can make sandwiches, there is only one thing left to do….

MAKE SAUCE!

(or “gravy” as we like to say around Boston.) Here is all you need for a simple sauce…

assembled ingredients

Brown up the meats in a heavy bottom cast enamel pan in some olive oil, turn the heat down a bit and add the finely chopped garlic, dried spices and tomato paste. Let them “bloom” for a couple of minutes and de-glaze the pan with the chopped fresh tomatoes. I like to smooth things out with a tablespoon of sugar and of course don’t forget the salt & pepper. Note that I do coat the pork roast with plenty of salt, pepper and a little bit of onion powder before I brown it to a nice crust on all sides. The sausage is fine as is.

sauce in the making

Sauce in the making!

I like to let the whole thing simmer for at least 4 hours on lowish-medium heat and only serve it when the pork roast is basically fork tender. If you like a smoother sauce, remove the meats for a minute and take an immersion blender to the whole thing until it’s your level of smooth. Also I leave the seeds and skin on my tomatoes but you could easily poach and peel the tomatoes and strain the seeds out if that is your desire.

The finished sauce freezes beautifully and when you take some out around Christmas time it truly will be “the most wonderful time of the year” again!

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