Wintery Beef Bolognese

There is truly something special about sitting down with friends and family and sharing a meal together. It can be a wonderful time of deepening relationships that can last a lifetime. I enjoy spending time cooking for my wife’s aunt and uncle and their five children. We have made great memories over the years breaking bread together, really getting to know one another. The older kids are now off at college, so we have fewer and fewer meals all together. When we all do get to sit down together, it’s special. With college classes set to start again, we gathered for a send off meal of Beef Bolognese served over pappardelle pasta. Extra wide noodles, perfect for holding on to the thick meaty sauce.

Beef Bolognese is a delicious hearty meal with a touch of tomato, perfect for a cold day. Not a lot of prep time is required and you slow cook the sauce for several hours in a slow cooker. Slow cooking the sauce for 5 to 8 hours brings all of the great flavors together. This is a meal that can be made ahead of time, allowing you to spend more time with your friends and family.

Wintery Beef Bolognese Sauce

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 lb Ground Beef lean
1 lb Ground Pork
1 Cup White Wine
1 Medium Yellow Onion
3 Stalks Celery
3 Cloves Garlic
½ tsp Garlic Powder
½ tsp Onion Powder
1 6oz Can Tomato Paste
2 Cups Chicken Stock
Salt & Pepper
1 lb Pasta (I like pappardelle)
Peccorino romano cheese

In a pot heat your olive oil over medium heat. Once your oil is hot add your onions and celery and cook until translucent, 4 – 5 minutes. Add your garlic and cook 2 – 3 minutes, don’t let it darken or it will become bitter. Add your ground beef and ground pork. With a wooden spoon, break the meat apart. Cook through until no longer pink. Season with 1 Tbs of salt, 1 tsp of pepper and the garlic and onion powder. Once the meat is cooked add the wine and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated. Add the chicken stock and tomato paste. Stir and let come to a simmer.

Remove from heat and transfer to a slow cooker. Cook on low heat for 5 – 8 hours. I like to serve this over pappardelle. If you can’t find it you could use linguini or fettuccine. Serve Bolognese over the pasta and top with about 1 Tbs of Peccorino Romano cheese. The Peccorino adds a very nice salty element that really enhances the dish.

Stuffed Cabbage… It’s Good!

Saturday mornings in our house usually include, a cup of fresh brewed coffee, maybe some music for background noise and a stack of cookbooks to peruse for meal ideas for the upcoming week. My son will usually be tugging on my PJ’s looking to sit in my lap, which always makes me smile.

After evaluating the weeks activities we usually pick a few of our GO TO meals, which we conveniently keep listed in Evernote (I highly recommend it). Evernote is perfect for storing recipes or even just pictures of recipes, and both are searchable.

I like to try at least one new recipe each week. Those new recipes may just turn into GO TO recipes in the future. I also like to keep things new and fresh. Food boredom is for the birds. I will either choose a specific recipe that excites me or search for inspiration. I might look at 2 or 3 recipes for the same dish and pull out what I believe are the best aspects of each, creating a hybrid of sorts.

This weeks “lets try something new dish” turned out to be stuffed cabbage. We have a new Slow Cooker Essentials cookbook by Williams-Sonoma and have found several great recipes in it. I was a little skeptical at first, but  the recipe called for bacon! What’s not to like? It was outstanding! Cabbage isn’t always a family favorite, but the way you slow cook this dish you almost don’t taste the cabbage. Sometimes cabbage dishes can be bitter, not this one! Get out of your comfort zone, take a risk, you won’t regret it!

Stuffed Cabbage – Adapted fromEssentials of Slow Cooking, Williams-Sonoma

Serves 4 to 6
1 Green Cabbage about 2 lbs
1 lb Lean Ground Pork
1/2 cup Cooked Rice (I used brown rice)
1 Egg
3 Green Onions, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
Salt & Pepper
4 Slices Bacon
1 Yellow Onion, Chopped
1 Rib of Celery, Chopped
1 Carrot, Chopped
1 tsp Caraway Seeds
1  28oz  Can Crushed Tomatoes
1 Cup Chicken Broth
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar

Fill a pot with water large enough to boil the cabbage. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees if you are crunched for time and only have an hour and a half for cooking. 200 degrees if you are going to slow cook the stuffed cabbage for several hours. (I slow cooked mine for 4 hours). Chop your vegetables and set aside. Once the water comes to a boil, place the cabbage in the water and boil for 5 minutes. Once cooked, drain and set the cabbage aside to cool. In a Dutch oven (I use a Le Cruset) cook the bacon over medium heat (don’t let it burn). Once the bacon is crispy, remove it from the pan and place it on a plate covered with paper towels. Add your chopped vegetables, the onions, carrots and celery to the Dutch oven and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Remove one or two of the outer leaves from the cooked cabbage and chop, about 1/4 cup. In a bowl add your pork, green onions, rice, nutmeg, 1/2 tsp Salt, 1/4 tsp  Pepper, the 1/4 cup of  chopped cabbage and a beaten egg. Mix all of the ingredients together with your clean hands. As the Barefoot Contessa would say “the two best tools in the kitchen.”

Once the vegetables are soft, add to the Dutch oven the caraway seeds, crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar and the bacon crumbled. Simmer over low heat.

The cabbage should be cool enough to begin peeling the  leaves from the cabbage. Carefully peel off about 12 leaves. depending on how much of the pork mixture you put in each cabbage leaf, you may only yield 8 total. Take a small handful of the pork mixture and gently roll it into a large meatball. Once pealed the cabbage leaf will take the natural form of a bowl, place the pork meatball into the thicker end of the cabbage. Fold in the sides and roll forward. Place the stuffed cabbage into the Dutch oven with the tomato sauce seam down. Repeat until all of the pork is used. Spoon some of the sauce over all of the stuffed cabbage. Cover and place in the oven.

As mentioned above – I cooked mine for about 4 hours at 200 degress, but if you are in more of a hurry you can cook it at 325 for about an hour and a half. If you decide to slow cook the stuffed cabbage for 4 hours, cover the Dutch oven with a sheet of tin foil before placing the lid on it. This will ensure that the liquid does not evaporate. Once the stuffed cabbage has cooked, plate and enjoy!

Hurricane (IKE) Chili

With Hurricane Ike spinning its way towards Houston just hours before making land fall, most Houstonians decided to get out of town. The memory of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans was fresh in people’s minds. Millions of Houstonians packed up their cars and tried to head north. Traffic was so bad that some sat in their cars traveling only 5 miles in a period of 8 hours.

It was easy to make the decision to “hunker down” as they say here in Texas. If we wanted to leave town, we couldn’t. The brunt of the storm was felt by Galveston Island. Our house, sitting south west of Houston was thankfully undamaged. Getting through the storm was one sleepless night, but living without power for a week was a challenge! You quickly realize how much you take electricity for granted. I was constantly flipping light switches on, and for a brief moment wondering “why didn’t that light come on?” We had no power, a freezer of defrosting meats, and little to do. It seemed like a perfect time to make Chili! Local grocery stores where either closed or had a very limited supply of ingredients. We had to make due with what was on hand. It seemed as if everything but the kitchen sink went into our chili. The original version included steak tips, ground beef and even some ground buffalo. (Feel free to add either if you would like). A little of this and a little of that made a crowd of nine say “Wow! This hurricane chili is great!” Hurricane (Ike) Chili – created September 14, 2008.

Hurricane (Ike) Chili
Makes 6 – 8 Servings

2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 medium Yellow Onion – Chopped fine (I use my trusty food processor)
4 Cloves of garlic – Chopped fine
1 ¼ lbs of turkey or ground beef – Your choice
1 Cup Red Wine
¼ tsp Onion Powder
¼ tsp Garlic Powder
¼ chili de arbol powder (if you can’t find chili de arbol powder,  substitute another chili powder)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
1 tsp Cayenne Chili Powder
1 28 oz can of Tomato sauce
1 28oz can of Crushed Tomatoes
1 6oz can of tomato paste
1 15oz can of Pinto Beans (Ranch Style Beans is a brand I like)
1 15oz can of Kidney Beans (Rinsed)
1 Heaping Tbs pureed Chipotles in Adobo (see Notes below)
1 Square Unsweetened Bakers Chocolate
1 Heaping Tbs of Honey

Plus your favorite Chili toppings

The Original List of Ingredients

Heat a large thick bottomed pot (I use a Le Cruset) over medium heat. Add your oil. Chop the onion and garlic fine. Feel free to use a food processor if you have one, but make sure not to puree the onions. You want some small finely chopped pieces not mush! Add your chopped onions to the pot and cook until translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add your chopped garlic to the pan and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until you can smell the garlic aroma. Add ½ tsp of salt to the onions and garlic, add a few pinches of pepper.

Once your onions and garlic (Soffrito) are cooked, add your ground meat and directly season it with 1 tsp of salt. While the meat cooks, in a bowl combine the dried spices. Cook the ground meet until no pink remains. Add the red wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste.

Next you are going to add your beans. If you are using Ranch Style Beans they come in a nice flavorful sauce, don’t rinse them. however rinse the kidney beans and if you use plain pinto beans, rinse those too. Once the beans are added, bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Add your dried spices, pureed chipotles in Adobo, Bakers Chocolate and honey. Stir and let come to a simmer. Remove from the heat and transfer into a slow cooker. Continue to cook in the slow cooker for 3 – 5 hours on low heat. Serve in a bowl topped with your favorite chili fixings – mine are sour cream, cheddar cheese and green onions.

A few Notes –

– Chipotles in Adobo are smoked jalapenos that come in a can and are usually found in the Latin section of the grocery store. Place the entire contents of the can in a food processor and blend until smooth. You will have leftovers after making the chili, which can last up to a month in your fridge. Adding some to mayo will make a great kicked up spread on your next sandwich!

Pureed Chipotles in Adobo

– If you don’t have a slow cooker or don’t want to transfer the chili, you can continue to cook the chili in a dutch oven (I use a Le Cruset) in your oven at around 225 degrees for several hours. Before placing your lid on the dutch oven place a sheet of tin foil over the chili to make sure none of the liquid evaporates.

– Chili is a great party food and Super Bowl parties are right around the corner! Get creative, you can use this chili recipe to make some delicious nacho’s and other fun snacks.

The Food Processor

Watching my wife’s grandmother shred potatoes by hand with a box grater has helped me to appreciate my food processor even more. The potato latkes that she makes are fabulous, but so much time is spent hand grating the potatoes. (Incase you are wondering, I’m working on getting the latke recipe). Sometimes “making it by hand” just makes certain dishes better, but not in this case. There is no difference between shredded potato from a box grater and potato shredded using the shredding attachment on a food processor. When quality  is not compromised, who is not in favor of saving time? There is nothing sexy about the food processor! What is great, is that it will save you LOTS of time in the kitchen. It slices, dices and even makes puree. I’m not sure what I would do without my Cuisinart. It has been a great kitchen companion for over five years. Chopping onions used to make me cry, not when I throw them in the food processor! Garlic is time consuming to chop into little bitty pieces. Throw it in the food processor. I have made pizza dough and dough for pasta. My wife has ground oats and mixed a cake. I’ve made many variations of pesto and to many sauces too count. It is actually pretty amazing all of the uses I have found for my food processor.

There are not many tools in the kitchen that I rely on more. In many of my recipes you will see that I reference the food processor. If you don’t own a food processor, you should consider purchasing one as your next kitchen tool. If you do own one and it’s sitting in a closet, it’s time to pull it out. I’ve owned a Cuisinart for several years, but there are other brands on the market as well. Magi Mix is another good quality brand, although I have no experience with it. Food processors come in several different sizes, ranging from just a few cups to much larger, around 12 to 14 cups. So how big of a food processor should you purchase? How big is your family? Do you ever cook for larger groups? If I was in the market today, I would probably select a mid sized Cuisinart food processor, the 9 cup model. While it’s just me, my wife and son, I do cook for a larger groups often and would like the extra space when needed. A food processor is not just for chopping vegetables. You will be shocked at how easy it will make certain tasks in the kitchen, and how many uses you will find for it. If you are a food processor warrior and are always blending away, I would love to hear about any tips or tricks that you have found along the way. Please leave your feedback in the comments section below.

A tip from the Barefoot Contessa’s new cookbook. Purchase an extra mixing bowl, and you will save time by not having to wash the mixing bowl as often. Some of the newer models come with 2 mixing bowls, one small and one larger.

Mom’s Chicken Marsala

Last week my Mom was raving about a dish she cooked for her and my Dad for dinner, Chicken Marsala. She was going on and on about how great it was. So I thought heck, email me the recipe and I will try it. Growing up, cooking with my Mom we never used a recipe and she rarely wrote anything down, we cooked to taste. The same is true to this day. As you can imagine this causes some major issues when you try to get a recipe from her. How do I make your Chicken Marsala Mom? “You add some of this and a little of that.” Never does she give exact measurements, it’s just not how she cooks. Honestly it’s not really how I cook either, but I’m working on that. Blogging equals sharing, right? My Mom tells stories of cooking with her Grandmother, who didn’t use a recipe or exact measurements either. My great Grandmother would tell my mom to add a pinch or point to the palm of her hand to reference a measurement… Yes real exact. My Mom passed that same style of cooking down to me. A few palms, a few pinches and a list of ingredients, the inspiration for my Mom’s Chicken Marsala recipe. The measurements… left to me to decipher.

What I love about this chicken Marsala recipe is the big meaty mushrooms and the kick you get from the chili powder. The chicken is also just dredged in flour with no heavy batter. I would recommend serving this dish with mashed potatoes.

Mom’s Chicken Marsala –

Serves 4

3 Boneless Chicken Breast Butterflied
2 Cups Chicken Stock
1 ½ Cup Marsala Wine
1 lbs sliced mushrooms
2 Tablespoons Butter
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Chili Powder
Onion Powder
Salt & Pepper

You are going to start by butterflying the chicken, but instead of keeping the butterflied chicken as one piece you are going to cut them into two pieces. What you want is thin pieces of chicken, hence the reason for butterflying the chicken. With your chicken sliced thin you are going to season the chicken with salt & pepper, onion powder, oregano and the chili powder. You want just a light dusting of each of the spices on the chicken. Don’t over do it with the chili powder unless you want a lot of kick!

In a frying pan heat your olive oil and 1 tbs of butter over medium. Drudge the chicken in flour on both sides shaking off the excess. Add your chicken and cook until browned on both side and cooked through. Remove your chicken from the pan and add your 1 lbs of sliced mushrooms. Add a little salt and cook for several minutes until the mushrooms are cooked down. Remove the mushrooms from the pan.

Add the 2 cups of chicken stock to the pan after removing the mushrooms and bring to a boil. Deglaze the pan by using a wooden spoon to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add your Marsala wine and reduce the liquid by half. Once reduced, add the remaining 1 tbsp of butter and check the seasoning. You may need to add salt & pepper (See Chefs Note Below).  Add the chicken and mushrooms back to the pan and toss in the Marsala sauce. Plate and enjoy!

Chefs Note – If the Marsala sauce is not sweet enough you can add a little honey or sugar, whichever you have.

Sunday Night Brownies

On Sunday while watching playoff football my wife said out of the blue “I want brownies.” I thought that would be great, maybe we have a box of brownie mix. No my wife had other plans. We had bakers chocolate – why not just whip up a batch of brownies from scratch? My wife is the best baker I know. I often have to remind her to stop baking such amazing tasty treats or I will weigh 500 pounds!

The way things work around our house is I cook savory dishes and Kate bakes the sweets. Well that’s not entirely true, Kate is defiantly my sous chef always helping to prep for meals. But she also doubles as our pastry chef. I make Rigatoni & Meatballs, Kate makes a flour-less chocolate torte. I cook a delicious stew, she whips up a marzipan cake. We are a great team.

How we cook fits our personalities – I can’t stand details, I like the big picture. Kate on the other hand pays particular attention to the details. I cook, because I don’t have to measure or be exact. Kate bakes, because she has to pay particular attention to the little things, like exactly how many grains of sugar to add to a cake (insert sarcasm). I can’t handle that, but I’m certainly glad she can. This
brownie recipe makes a very rich thick fudge brownie. It’s not cake like at all. It’s the brownie that I compare all other brownies too. It’s delicious!

Sunday Night Brownies –
Perfect as can be from – Kraft Foods

4 Squares BAKER’S Unsweetened Chocolate

¾ Cup butter

2 Cups Sugar

3 Eggs

1 Teaspoon Vanilla

1 Cup Flour

LINE 13×9-inch pan with foil or parchment paper, with ends of foil extending over sides. Spray foil with cooking spray.

Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and nuts; mix well. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with crumbs. (Do not over-bake.) Cool completely. Use foil handles to remove brownies from pan before cutting to serve.

Now that’s a Meatball!

I’m always on the lookout for a great meatball, I call it research. Ground beef formed into a ball (the larger the better!) surrounded in marinara sauce and paired with another one of my favorite foods, pasta. I have tried meatballs at dozens of Italian restaurants and unfortunately it’s rare to find a superb meatball. Sal & Anthony’s in Exeter, New Hampshire made the best meatball I have ever eaten at a restaurant. Then they went out of business…

In high school, I dated a girl who’s mother made some pretty fabulous meatballs. If I caught wind the family was having pasta and meatballs for dinner I would do anything I could to get an invite! Her meatballs were different, instead of traditional breadcrumbs she added corn flakes. This was culinary genius, it made the meatballs lighter and less dense. then… the girlfriend and I broke up. A few times I thought about calling the ex’s mom to ask her for the meatball recipe, but I that would have been awkward.

These events were the beginning years of research into the best meatball recipe.

The research continued. I read cookbooks, yes for fun. Many meatball recipes call for two or three different meats. Some call for beef and pork, others call for beef, pork and veal. For “research purposes” my wife and I took part in true science. We conducted a blind taste test that included 9 participants to discover the truth behind the perfect meat combination. We made two meatballs both recipes were identical, except in one we used beef and pork. In the other we used just beef – The winner… Just the beef! I like to use a ground chuck, an 80/20 blend. It’s less expensive than pork and veal and tastes better alone.

What about eggs? All meatball recipes call for eggs, but how many eggs should you add to your meatballs, one, two or more? Through yes, more research I have concluded that it is all about the egg! We are not creating rubbery tough balls of meat that bounce on the floor when dropped. We want delicious, rich, melt in your mouth meatballs. I use four eggs for every one pound of beef. Yes, two pounds of ground beef equals 8 eggs. That is one of the secrets to top notch meatballs, it really helps them to fluff up and melt in your mouth.

So here you have it, after more than 15 years of research and testing I have perfected the meatball. This is the best meatball I have ever tasted. I have also included a heavenly marinara sauce recipe to go along with the meatballs. A good meatball is nothing without good sauce. I would love to hear your comments and feedback once you make them for yourself. If you have a great meatball recipe, I would love to try it!

This is a really fun meal to prepare and share with a large group. As you can see this recipe will feed a small army making  8 – 10 portions. If you don’t have a small army to feed, feel free to freeze half for a later date. It will last a month or two in a freezer if stored in freezer safe zip lock storage bags.

Makes 16 Large Meatballs – Tennis ball size
The Meatball –

2 lbs Hamburg – Chuck 80/20
½ Cup Pecerino Romano Cheese – Plus more for serving
3 Cloves of Garlic – chopped very fine (in a food processor if you have one)
½ of a Large Yellow Onion – chopped very fine (in a food processor if you have one)
½ Teaspoon of Nutmeg (Fresh is best!)
¾ Cup of Crushed Corn Flakes
½ Cup of Italian Bread Crumbs
8 Large Eggs

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl combine the Pecerino Ramano, the garlic, yellow onion, corn flakes, Italian breadcrumbs and nutmeg. In a separate bowl beat the eggs and then combine with the the other mixture of ingredients. Mix well and then add the hamburg and mix with your hands until all of the ingredients are fully combined. Let the mixture sit for five minutes and then mix one last time before forming meatballs. This will allow time for the egg to be fully absorbed. I like very large meatballs, about the size of tennis balls. If you make smaller meatballs you will need to adjust the cooking time. Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray. Form the meatballs and place them on the sheet pan. place in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until they are firm and not soft. Let the meatballs sit for five minutes and then add them to the marinara sauce making sure to scrape all of the juices into the pot.

The Marinara Sauce –

2 28oz Cans of Tomatoes (San Marzano Tomatoes are best)
2 15oz cans of Tomato Sauce (I like Hunts sauce)
2 6oz Cans of Tomato Paste (Again I like Hunts)
2 Large Yellow Onions – chopped very fine (in a food processor if you have one)
6 Cloves of Garlic – chopped very fine (in a food processor if you have one)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Tablespoons of Dried Oregano
Salt & Pepper

Add olive oil to a large thick bottomed pan and heat over medium. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Do not let the garlic darken or turn brown. Add the oregano to the pan and a pinch of salt & pepper, stir. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Simmer on low heat for 25 – 30 minutes. Season to taste with additional salt & pepper. I like this sauce very smooth and blend it with an immersible blender. If you don’t have one or would prefer the sauce more chunky, use a potato masher to crush the tomatoes. Make sure to blend or crush the tomatoes before adding the meatballs. After you add your meatball continue to simmer for about an hour before serving. I prefer to serve this dish with Rigatoni. I find it stands up well to the large meatballs and sauce. Spaghetti would be great too. So good!