Somehow coming back from the Kaua’i vacation just didn’t turn on my cooking button and creative juices.  I’ve been plodding away at cooking without anything grabbing my imagination.  But that will change soon.  Strawberries are out in the local markets, and I just bought a 6 pint box from my local veggie stand.  This weekend the organic stand may have some of their delicious berries for sale and we’ll be elbow deep in strawberries.

I just love those red berries and they are great for snacking and munching – low in calories, high in fiber.  It is time for strawberry-rhubarb pie, fruit crumbles, and jam.  But most important, fresh spring fruit snacking.  Mix cut-up berries in your yogurt with a little flaxseed and oat bran and you have a wonderful dessert/breakfast that will hold through to lunch time.

As for the cheating heart bit, you’ve probably noticed that pizza prices are now starting to head toward the $30 level.  Sorry, but that is too expensive for dough, cheese and tomato sauce.  We have found an economic alternative.  Buy pre-made dough and put in your own toppings.

I am truly uncoordinated when shaping the pizza dough.  Trader Joe’s makes a good dough but my pizzas are always weird looking when I have to form my own pie.  So now, I go do Safeway and buy their large Safeway Select fresh pizza.  Those pizzas are usually found on the end isle, are about 42 ounces, come with sauce and several types of topping which suck.  I get their 5 cheese pie and use my own toppings.  Sunday, we were in the mood for a Greek Pizza and it was excellent. Eat this with  steam spring asparagus and a green salad (don’t forget your SaladSuccess shaker to make the dressing).

Greek Pizza Topping

6 ounces baked and cut up (I use scissors) bacon or pancetta

20 Kalamata olives halved and pitted

Feta Cheese

½ can artichokes – I get them from Trader Joe’s

Pesto

1 Italian sausage – get it from the Butcher’s section of the grocery store – take off the skin

1 cup grated fresh Mozzarella cheese – don’t use that rubbery crap but try to find a softer cheese.  Trader Joe makes an excellent Mozzerella cheese.

DIRECTIONS

Spread ingredients evenly over pie.  Bake for 23  minutes in an oven set at 425 degrees.

Now SaladSuccess is not only providing the best salads and dressings to make with our SaladSuccess shaker, but now will provide the measurements if you only want to make enough dressing for one salad.

The bones of this recipe are from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa with changes to the proportions.  I love this combination on a bed of lettuce since there are so many calories in a single avocado.  Most grocery stores sell very unripe (hard as rock) avocados – I’m lucky that my local farmers market carries avocados.  Unless you have a specialty shop, often Costco avocados are ripe or will ripen in the next few days.

Ingredients for the SaladSuccess Shaker

  • Freshly squeezed lemon to the 1/3 orange line of SaladSuccess Shaker
  • Olive oil to the top orange line of SaladSuccess Shaker
  • 1 large spoonful of  Dijon mustard
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Ingredients for a single salad dressing

  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Ingredients for the Salad

  • 4 ripe avocados
  • 2 large red grapefruits
  • Mesclun lettuce or arugula

Just before serving, cut the avocados in quarters, remove the seeds, and peel off the skin. Cut each quarter into 2-3 slices. Whisk all the vinaigrette ingredients and oss the avocado slices in the vinaigrette to prevent them from turning brown. Peel off the grapefruits slices (removing all the white pith), then strip the membranes to release the grapefruit sections.

Arrange the avocado slices around the edge of a large platter lined with mesclun lettuce or arugula. Arrange the grapefruit segments in the center. Spoon the remaining vinaigrette on top and serve.

Courtesy of Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa.

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.

Fran Gage is a wonderful food writer for Saveur and other publications.  Just recently I had the pleasure meeting her at the Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College near Santa Cruz, CA.  Fran has just come out with a wonderful book called The New American Olive Oil which contains history, advice on choosing oils, profiles on the producers, and yes, wonderful recipes.  This vinaigrette recipe is from her book and has been adapted to the SaladSuccess shaker.  She suggests a salad of romaine hearts, apples or sliced pears, and chopped toasted pecans.  I personally like it using butter lettuce and walnuts.

INGREDIENTS

Extra-virgin olive oil

White wine or white balsamic vinegar

3 large spoonfuls of crumbled blue cheese

1 large spoonful of water

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Olive Oil to the 3/4 blue marks on the SaladSuccess Shaker

Vinegar to the top of the blue vinegar line

Add blue cheese to shaker and mash with a fork to break down the crumbles

Shake vigorously in the SaladSuccess shaker

Add water

Shake vigorously again in the SaladSuccess shaker

Add salt and pepper to taste

Adapted from The New American Olive Oil by Fran Gage