Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Meatballs 5.0

After trying Molly's recipe for lamb meatballs, I decided to make the meatballs that Michael Amster-Burton suggested on their episode devoted to meatballs. Meatballs can be cooked in a variety of ways, most falling into one of two categories - 1. sear and cook the meatballs on the stove top (or finish them in the oven) or 2. slow cook them in a sauce on the stove top (no browning of the meat). These meatballs classically fall into category number two and I admit I was slightly hesitant as to how "good" they were going to turn out minus the sear. Never doubt the versatility of a meatball and particularly, the one you are about to feast your eyes on.

These decadent beauties are something else.  Somehow this recipe conjures up my inner Italian grandmother and the result is mouthwatering. Comfort food taken to a whole other level, these are some of the most flavorful meatballs I have ever made and tasted.  With Cafe Lago as your guide, it seems there's nothing you can conquer in the Italian kitchen of your dreams. Unlike the recipe's suggestion, I spooned this simple sauce and a few meatballs over baked spaghetti squash and a little elbow macaroni. Add this to your fall repertoire and break some hearts.

SPAGHETTI WITH CAFE LAGO MEATBALLS (featured by Michael Amster-Burton on Spilled Milk)

For sauce:
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, finely chopped, with their juices
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, halved and peeled
1/2 tsp. table salt

For meatballs:
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup whole milk, or more if needed
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 tsp. table salt
5 grinds black pepper
2 large eggs
2 large cloves garlic, pressed

To serve:
1 lb. dried spaghetti

To make the sauce, combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter, onion halves, and salt in a large, wide pan, such as 5-quart Dutch oven. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a slow but steady simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free from the tomato. Taste for seasoning. Remove and discard the onion (or eat them, if desired). Using an immersion blender, process briefly to break up any chunks of tomato. (Alternatively, the back of a wooden spoon works, too.) The sauce will not be perfectly smooth, but its texture should be even.

While the sauce cooks, make the meatballs. Put the breadcrumbs and milk in a small bowl, and stir to moisten the crumbs evenly. Set aside for 10 minutes, or until the crumbs are swollen and thoroughly saturated.

Put the ground meats in a large bowl. Break them up into chunks. Add the Parmigiano Reggiano, parsley, salt, and pepper.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs well with a fork. Add the garlic, and beat to mix. Pour into the bowl with the meat.

Using your hands, squeeze the milk from the bread crumbs, reserving the milk. Add the bread crumbs to the bowl with the meat.

Holding your hand in a claw shape (fingers separated, tensed, and slightly bent) and moving in a strong, quick stirring motion, mix the meats and their seasonings. When the mixture looks well combined, pick it up and turn it over in the bowl, and then mix some more. (Turning it over helps to ensure that no ingredient settles to the bottom and clumps there.) This stirring process should be fairly brief; do not work the meat until it smears on the side of the bowl. Chill until the sauce is ready.

When the sauce is ready, remove it from the heat, and keep it close at hand. Remove the meatball mixture from the refrigerator. Moisten your hands with the reserved milk, and then pinch off bits of the mixture and gently roll them into golf ball-size meatballs. Place the meatball in the pan of sauce. Repeat, arranging the meatballs in a single layer in the pan of sauce. Return the pan to the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through and no longer pink inside.

Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water. Drain, and transfer to a serving bowl. Spoon desired amount of sauce onto the pasta, leaving the meatballs in the pan, and toss well. Divide among plates, and top with meatballs and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Note: If possible, make the meatballs and sauce a day ahead, or even a few hours ahead, and chill until ready to use. Reheat gently on the stove top.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Cafe Lago is an Italian cafe in Seattle - their tag line is "pasta handmade each morning, pizza baked by apple wood fire each night". Sounds like my kinda place. Next time I'm in the Seattle area, I intend to check this place out!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A love letter to fall, Part II.

I'm putting this recipe for pumpkin walnut bread on repeat, like a classic jazz record. I liken it to enjoying the sweet wails of Billie Holiday. Eat your heart out. It's that delicious, moist and quintessentially autumn. You may start to get sick of me and my fantasy island of fall, but work with me people, it's still 90 degrees where I live. I must recreate this beautiful season and the only way I know how to do so is to bake like a banshee. I actually posted this recipe in 2008, but I've adapted it slightly this time around and let's face it, you probably forgot about it anyhow. The only change I made was the sugar - I optend to go half brown sugar and half blond cane sugar. Oh I skipped the parchman paper, I hae pretty kick ass loaf pans, but if yours have seen better days, I recommend sticking with the parchment paper. Thank God for repeats.

Pumpkin Walnut Bread
by Cindy Mushet and Sur La Table

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup (2 3/4 ounces) water
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 cup (9 ounces) canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup neutral-flavor vegetable oil (such as canola)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (4 ounces) chopped toasted walnuts

9 by 5-inch Loaf Pan, Parchment Paper, Large Bowl, Whisk, Medium Bowl, SIlicone or Rubber Spatula, Cooling Rack, Serrated Knife

Preheat the oven to 350°F and position an oven rack in the center. Lightly coat the loaf pan with melted butter or high-heat canola-oil spray and line it with a piece of parchment paper that extends 1 inch beyond the edge of both sides of the pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, and salt until thoroughly blended. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and water. Add the sugar and blend well. Add the pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract and blend well.

Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until blended and smooth. Add the walnuts and stir until they are evenly distributed. Use a spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and level the top.

Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until the bread is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. To serve, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices by sawing gently with a serrated knife. Any leftovers should be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Getting ahead Pumpkin Walnut Bread freezes beautifully for up to 8 weeks when double-wrapped in plastic and placed inside a resealable plastic freezer bag. Defrost, still wrapped in plastic to avoid condensation on the cake, for at least 2 hours before serving.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A love letter to fall.

I equate fall with baking, it's just that simple. Lately I find myself choosing to spend more time indoors lately - nesting, reading, puttering and even better, nesting in my kitchen.  I have written a couple love letters to fall, this one in particular, is a keeper. Like the last post, this recipe for pumpkin pie bars was something I repinned on Pinterest and baked over the weekend for friends.

After popping this into the oven, I recognized that I have held "bars" (as in dessert bars) at arms-length.  Not squite sure why, but I think that I subconsciously filed "dessert bars" in my "do not attempt" dessert category. Boy, I  have been missing out. To every season, turn, turn.....it all comes full circle and now I'm obsessively looking through recipes and cookbooks in collection that include more dessert bar recipes.

These pumpkin pie bars are easy to make (in fact, I think this would be a fun one to make with kids) and they are effortless.  Most of these ingredients are staples in your pantry and I'm stocking up on canned pumpkin this fall (it will be on sale closer to Thanksgiving) as I know I will be making these again and again.

Pumpkin Pie Bars

Crust Ingredients:
1 1/3 c. unbleached white flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. chopped pecans

Filling Ingredients:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. pumpkin puree
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. vanilla 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a food processor, combine crust ingredients and pulse two or three times until mixture is crumbly. Reserve 2/3 cup of the mixture for topping. Press remaining mixture evenly into the bottom of an 8x11 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Cool slightly.  

In a medium bowl, combine filling ingredients. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, blend until mixture is smooth. Pour mixture over baked crust. Sprinkle with remaining crust topping. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes or until firm.