spaghetti-plate-croppedWhen my great Lord and Master of the house (ha) made condescending remarks about spaghetti and meat balls, did I wisely ignore him and recreate my mother’s masterpiece of Spaghetti a la Francaise or did I wimp out?  You guessed wisely, I never made a pot of that stuff for the first 22 years of our marriage.  After all the great Lord had been traumatized by eating spaghetti daily for a year while living off campus during his college years.

My mother’s spaghetti sauce was a work of art of wines, herbs and tomatoes.  It would sit for hours on top of the stove, simmering away while my mother would baby it by stirring, degreasing and tasting.  Finally it would make it way to our dinner table, a platter of the most heavenly smells.  The only issues I had with this concoction were the meatballs, which I avoided.

Now I’m not a huge ground beef fan, and meatballs was, in my mind, a close cousin to meatloaf, my arch-enemy. Nasty brown dry stuff, and it had legs.  It was in the stuffed  tomatoes, stuffed green peppers, stuffed zucchini; it was everywhere.  I’ll forgive mom for the stuffed veal; that was actually good but her meatballs needed help.  Everyone’s meatballs needed help.  When I’d order a plate of spaghetti and meatballs at the restaurants, I’d usually get this hideous meatball the size of my head on top of the plate of pasta.  Forget it, no more meatballs.

So twenty-two years later I was watching my Tivo’ed cooking shows and saw Ina Garten on the Barefoot Contessa, making meatballs.  To my surprise, they actually looked good; plum, dainty and juicy.  My memory of Mom’s sauce came back to tantalize me. The next day, with the recipe in hand, I went shopping for the ingredients.  Ground veal, ground pork, no way I have the time for that.  And the expense, just forget it.  Quickly I saw that the large breakfast sausage was on sale and so was ground turkey.  It will have to do for now.  Other parts of the recipe got streamlined and there was no way that I’d use a good bottle of wine on this recipe.   Also the recipe had to hold up in a salt-free version (my mother is on a restricted diet), so lots of herbs, not just parsley.  And the results, a family favorite, even from my Lord and Master.

INA GARTENS FABULOUS SPAGHETTI & MEATBALLS – Sorry, Ina for the bastardization.  This recipe takes an active hour to make and an additional ½ hour to simmer.

There are 2 tricks to this recipe.  One is to add ¾ cup of warm water to the meatballs.  This keeps them very moist.  The other is NOT TO SQUEEZE THE MEATBALLS, but gently roll them into shape.

Meatballs:

  • 1 pound of breakfast sausage, like Jimmy Dean
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 4 slices of bread, rough chop (I’ve even used bagels (2) and the recipe works)
  • ¼  cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • ¾ cup of warm water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons salt (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼  teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 extra-large egg, beaten
  • Olive oil or vegetable
  • Herbs from the garden – basil, thyme, oregano

Sauce

  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced  or pressed garlic
  • 1/2 cup of wine – I use good cheap wine – 2 Buck Chuck if you are lucky to have a Trader Joe’s near you.
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, plum tomatoes in puree, chopped or a good marina sauce.  If you have garden fresh tomatoes, that is even better, but they need their peels off (boil them for 1 minute and the skin comes off easily)
  • 1 – 3 tablespoon chopped herbs – parsley, basil, oregano, thyme
  • Several bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

meatball-platterDirections

In a food processor, place herbs, parsley and bread.  Pulse about 10 times until the ingredients are finely chopped.

Place the turkey and sausage, food processor ingredients, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and water in a bowl and combine, using your hands if you’re courageous. With your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs.

Pour oil into a large skillet covering well the bottom. Heat the oil, placing the meatballs in the oil and browning them well on all sides over medium heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes per batch (I usually have 2 batches-it’s a big pan). Don’t crowd the meatballs so that they can cook easily. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels.

saute-onions2In the same pan, add onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, herbs, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve on a bed of good spaghetti – I like Barilla or Trader Joe – and have some freshly grated parmesan cheese available.  Right now Reggiano is too pricy for our budget, but there are other similar hard cheeses available. Costco sells an excellent parmesan cheese that is half the cost of their Reggiano.  And don’t forget a lovely wine at the table (you can afford it, you saved bucks making this meal) and a fresh garden salad with a dressing from SaladSuccess.

little-red-coatIn October, I found myself with my little daughter routing through the racks at Goodwill.  Her mission was to put together a Halloween costume, mine was to keep myself occupied.  Then I saw it, waving to me in all its redness.  Not just a little red coat, but a little red Pendleton stroller coat needing a new home.  Fifteen dollars later and the little red coat was mine.

Halloween came and went and finally during Christmas break, I was able to hem the sleeves of my beautiful coat and give it to the cleaners.  To my surprise, the cleaning bill was larger the cost of my little red coat but still was cheaper than buying it on Ebay (watch out for Ebay, often the prices start high – even for used clothing).  Finally, I brought my little red coat home from the cleaners and now on cold grey windy days, I am rather dashing and smiling wearing my little red coat.

I am always amaze how people can give up classical, beautifully constructed clothing that never show age and are always in style.  But I must remember the old adage, one person’s treasure is another person’s trash.  Thank you whoever you are, for my little red coat.

Now there is no segue to the next subject – Roasted Root Vegetable and Wheat Berry Salad except that it makes a wonderful side dish or meal on wintery days.  I was intrigued by David Lebowitz’s  recipe, tried it out, and have made some very necessary changes.  Most important, you must soften the wheat berry before cooking, either by soaking it overnight, soaking it for two hours in warm water or cooking it forever.  I cooked mine for 1 hour and that did not soften the berries enough.  Secondly, I did not like roasting the beets at 425 – they came out burnt and still uncooked.  My advice on beets, is to chop them, and microwave for 15 – 20 minutes, then add them to the salad.  Lastly, his salad was a bit bland and David used too much salt for my taste – we have a family member on a salt restricted diet. Instead of salt, add a sherry – shallot vinaigrette, some feta or gorgonzola cheese, and if you aren’t a vegetarian, several slices of steak. Presto, a fabulous meal.  And of course, amazingly cheap especially if you buy the wheat berries in the bulk section of the grocery store (I got mine at Whole Foods for $0.99 a pound).

Roasted Root Vegetable and Wheat Berry Salad wheatberry-salad
Six to Eight Servings
The wheat berries will take more salt that you might think, so salt the water generously that you boil them in. If you taste it, it should approximate sea water. And any assortment of firm-fleshed root vegetables will do (or butternut squash), but they should be all about the same size when diced.
This salad is open to lots of variations and interpretations.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cup (300 g) wheat berries or farro
one bay leaf

2 pounds (1kg) assorted root vegetables; carrots, rutabagas, butternut squash, celery root, parsnips, and salsify, peeled and cut into thumbnail-sized cubes
1 large red onion, peeled and diced
1/3 cup (80 ml) plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
10 or so branches of fresh thyme
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 cup (60 g) dried cranberries or cherries, coarsely chopped

DIRCTIONS
Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC).

1. Bring about 2 quarts (2l) of well-salted water to a boil, then add the wheat berries and bay leaf. Cook until tender, but still chewy. Depending on the variety, they’ll take between 40-60 minutes to cook.

2. While the wheat berries are cooking, toss the diced vegetables on a baking sheet with the onion and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and thyme, seasoning with salt and pepper.

3. Roast the vegetables in the bottom third of the oven, stirring once midway during baking, for 20 minutes, or until cooked through and browned on the outside.

4. Once the wheat berries are cooked, drain them well, plucking out the bay leaf. Transfer the wheat berries to a bowl and mix in 1/3 cup (80 ml) of olive oil and the dried fruits, stirring well. Taste, seasoning with more salt if necessary

5. Stir in the root vegetables (I don’t mind the thyme branches in there, but you can remove them if you want) and do a final check for seasoning and add more salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and additional olive oil, if desired.  Add a shallot vinaigrette (3 spoonfuls of olive oil, one spoonful of sherry or balsamic vinegar, ½ spoonful of French Dijon mustard, dash of salt and pepper, one finely chopped clove of garlic, and whisk well)

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Storage: Can be made up to three days in advance, and refrigerated. Let come to room temperature before serving.

Here are some possible additions to add to the finished salad:

Microwaved beets

Toasted and coarsely chopped pecans, hazelnuts, or walnuts

Diced dried apricots in place of the cranberries or cherries

Cubes of feta or bleu cheese strewn over the top

A big squeeze of fresh lemon or tangerine juice, or some zest

Sautéed mushrooms tossed in with the root vegetables

Wilted greens, cooked with garlic, coarsely chopped

A generous handful of spicy arugula or flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Green Scallions

Steak slices

Thanks you David for this recipe – recipe provided courtesy of David Lebovitz

pea-soup-finalThe holiday trimmings are all packed up, the deep fryer is clean and up on the high shelf of the pantry, and any sweet has been devoured.  Things are back to the dull roar of life, and the house seems lighter and breezy.  My wallet is also feeling lighter, but my butt is heavier.  So it is time to put a lid on all unnecessary spending and indulgences.  Fair well, oh luscious garlic mayonnaise, good bye cream puffs, au revoir pommes frites.  Hello 2010 and austerity.

Well, that is not exactly going to work well with me.  The reality is to find economic meals that are “planet-sustainable” (that’s my kids talking) and delicious.  Which brings me to soups: split pea soup in particular.

What I like about thick soups is that they can become an easy meal, especially if you have made the soup ahead of time and have freeze it.   With my split pea soup (which I turn into a concentrate by reducing the liquid) I have had enough soup for 11 -12 servings.  Delicious, filling and low in calories, it is a perfect lunch for me.  And if you don’t think that it, along with fruit and a beverage, will be enough to get you through the day, add a spoonful of oat bran and flaxseed just before serving and mix well.

HEAVENLY SPLIT PEA SOUP

1 ham bone or ham hock

2 packets of dried green peas – approx. 2 lbs.

1 onion sliced finely

3 peeled potatoes,  rough chopped or sliced

3 peeled and chopped carrots

6 cups of water

6 cups of chicken stock, bouillon or broth

Salt and Pepper to taste

Oat Bran and Flax seed optional

DIRECTIONS:  Prep – 10 minutes, Cooking Time 1 ½ hours

In a large pot add water, chicken stock, peas, ham, onions, carrots, and potatoes. Using a medium setting,  cover and boil for ½ hour, then reduce heat to simmer for 1 hour.  Before serving either use a potato masher (easy to clean) or an immersion stick blender just enough to mash up the potatoes, however leaving some texture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If you want more fiber, add 1 teaspoon of oat bran and fax seed. Serve hot with croutons or oyster crackers (unless you’re on a diet, like me).  Give the dog the ham bone or strip the hock of the fat and give Fido the remains.  Woof, woof!

pea-soup-1pea-soup-2

Keep soup on simmer for another hour.  Soap will get very thick.  Cool down and place thicken mixture in plastic container.  Refrigerate or freeze.  To make a bowlful of soup, get approx. 1 – ½ cups of refrigerated split pea mixture and mix in ½ cup (approx) of chicken broth, bouillon or stock.  Microwave for 2 ½ minutes. Again season to taste, and for more fiber, add oatbran and flaxseed.

pork-loinSo after I spent a small fortune on New Year’s Eve Dinner – the lobster tail threw my budget out of whack- I’m back to being a cheap bitch.  This is going to really take the test, since my new year’s resolution is to cut back drastically on grain-fed beef, especially cattle that are fed predominately corn.  My eldest daughter, Suzanne, is particularly stressed to hear that most cattle are feed corn, and need antibiotics to keep them alive since the corn is not part of their natural diet.  Since my blood sugar has been elevated, I figure that keeping corn (you know, that starch-sugar-carb thing) out of my diet might be a good idea.  And I should cut down serving all meats for a healthier life. But when pork loin roll sells for $1.67 a pound (on sale), I’m a sucker.

Sometimes being cheap isn’t intuitive.  To really get me going, I visit Dee Dee’s blog at Every Day Frugal/ Every Day Green.  I’ve known Dee since I was a junior at Princeton High School in New Jersey and even in those days, she knew how to stretch a dollar.  As young women, we would hop in my car and go visit Pennsylvania outlets.  Our best score was the day we found the cashmere sweater outlet.  How we would agonize over which sweater to buy at outlandish price of $17.

Now when it comes to being cheap – oh, excuse me – frugal and thrifty, Dee has me beat.  She turns used cashmere sweaters into wonderful scarves, finds designer dresses at church bazaars for nearly nothing, can make dinner for two on a dime (no, she doesn’t have small children that throw tantrums if there is no steak), is committed to recycling, eating locally grown produce, and keeping a small footprint on the Earth (hers is size 5).  But if you have ever seen her house (pre-revolutionary war), her wardrobe and her life style, you would think that the woman lived the Town and Country dream life.  And she does, only with a lot less money and a lot less waste.

So these next three blogs are a salute to you, Dee.   There is no reason that inexpensive ingredients can’t make a wonderful meal.  The only thing that would make it better is to have you at my dinner table.

Pork Loin Roll with Tarragon, Onion and Fennel:  Prep – 20 minutes, Cooking time – 1 ½ hours

I usually buy a 4 – 6 lb pork roll, and cut it so that I can make at least 4 meals out of it.  I keep one for the night’s dinner and freeze the other 3.  Sometimes for veggies, I might use parsnips and turnips, or even apples.  Other times I just want fennel and onions (no potatoes, carrots or celery) and I would use ½ as much wine and water.

1 to 1 ½ pound of pork roll

2 finely sliced onions

2 sliced fennel bulbs – chop of the tops and cut out the hard center

¼ cup dried herbs – like herbs de Provence

½ cup white wine – I use “2 Buck Chuck ‘ that is found out Trader Joe’s

½ cup of water

4 – 6 potatoes – quartered or sliced – I use yellow or Yukon Golds.  Fingerlings or babies work well too.

4-6 carrots nicely sliced

3 sticks of celery – rough chop

Olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven, pour enough olive oil to cover bottom and when hot, sear all sides of the pork.  Take out the pork from the oven, place it on a cutting board on one of its flat sides (this will make it look tall) and stick a large knife deep into it down the center (don’t go sissy on me, use this to relieve tension).  You probably won’t be able to go all the way to the bottom but try.  Then stuff tarragon and the herbs into the opening.

Saute the onions and fennel in the Dutch oven.  When soft, add the pork roll, wine, water, potatoes, carrots and celery.  Cover and cook at medium temperature.  After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to a low setting.  Cook for another 60 -70 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.