Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Power of Pot Roast: The Recipe That Needs No Recipe

So I've decided: if there were to be a king of the slow cooking world, it would be Pot Roast.

Pot Roast comes from humble beginnings, and so he understands the ways of those who don't have much.  He was born, after all, in the home of a peasant.  True, his fame is known world over (with varying degrees of acceptance), but despite his frequent appearance in magazines and television, he has remained true to his roots and the belief that simple and slow is best.

Yesterday, Pot Roast ruled in my kitchen.

Before I headed out to run errands all day, out came my trusty old Crock-Pot and in went the following:

the ingredients for pot roast

  • random beef cuts (I will blog about that later...) to feed 2 people, seared on both sides with a bit of olive oil and kosher salt
  • 2 giant carrots from the farmers market, halved lengthwise and chunked
  • 1/2 a large yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • about 15 small cherry tomatoes

I placed all my ingredients in layers in the Crock-Pot (tomatoes on the bottom to burst first and create a pool of juice), then sprinkled it all with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and a bit of Italian seasoning (and a random quarter of a lemon I had leftover from last night's Sidecars), turned the C-P on to low, and walked out of the house for the rest of the day.

ingredients for pot roast layered in the Crock Pot

When I walked back in the door after picking up Captain Reiton from the airport, I took several deep whiffs of deliciousness before making a quick batch of "fauxtatoes."  

To do this, I cut large florets from half a head of cauliflower, placed them in a pot filled with about 1 inch of water, added a garlic clove and some kosher salt, then covered the pot and set it on the stove over medium-high heat to steam for about 10 minutes.  When I could easily stab through the largest floret with a knife, I strained the florets and garlic clove and dumped it all in the food processor with half a stick of butter and some salt and pepper and pureed away until everything was super smooth.  These "fauxtatoes" (they taste better than potatoes, I swear) became the bed for King Pot Roast.  

pot roast on pureed caulifulower

(I didn't have any parsley to garnish.  Sorry.)

Now.  Here's what I love about Pot Roast.  The next time I make this? The meat will be a totally different cut.  I might not even sear it because I don't have the time.  I might decide to add in some mushrooms.  Or use real potatoes in the pot instead of making a bed of fauxtatoes.  Or nix the tomatoes and use more garlic instead.  Or use a bunch of fresh herbs instead of the dried mix.  I might even skip the Crock-Pot and decide to dump everything in a Dutch oven and put it in my oven instead at 250°.

POT ROAST DOESN'T CARE.  Whatever you feel like throwing in there, throw in there! Use the cooking method you like the most (or have available).  The miracle of pot roast is that it all promises to taste goooooooooood no matter what you use or how you do it.  Just remember: low heat, a bit of salt, and a long period of time are powers in the kitchen that can't be denied.

Hail to the king!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Delicate Delicata Squash: Learning to Prepare It in 3-2-1!

Do you remember the days when you went grocery shopping and your fresh veggie options were beets, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and zucchini?

Now not only do we find brussels sprouts on the stalk, kohlrabi, and kale in stores, but we have farmers markets popping up in every town, big and small, on the map, providing us with a huge variety of some rather random vegetables, some of which I've never heard of.

One of those random varieties that I have read about in my food magazines for awhile now but have never been able to find in any of my stores is the delicata squash...and lo, and behold! What does Inge give me as we were leaving her home/our short term boarding house but some delicata squash! Imagine!

So, the other night I followed her directions on how to cook it:

1) Take a fork and stab the squash, Psycho-style, repeatedly, all over:

delicata squash

2) Put the whole squash on a plate in the microwave and microwave for 5-6 minutes:

Microwave delicata squash.

3) Let the squash rest and cool for a couple minutes, then slice it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, slather on the butter, salt and pepper, and enjoy!

delicata squash with butter, salt and pepper

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.  Winter squashes tend to scare me a little.  They usually are so much work and require whacking with cleavers/mallets/other implements of squash destruction... It makes me nervous.

But this guy? Easy peasy to prepare! And the flavor? Wonderfully mild.  Slightly sweet and with the texture of a very fine spaghetti squash.  You could eat it with a spoon.  You can even eat the skin, unlike other hard squashes.  How's that for a winter squash that breaks all the rules?

All good reasons to call it the delicat(e)-a...  Give it a try! And let me know if you come up with any creative ways to use it...

Monday, September 28, 2015

Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Zucchini Lasagna Speaks: "Don't Judge Me. Just Eat Me."

No matter how hard I try, when it comes to capturing the deliciousness of lasagna on's nearly impossible.  Some of it may be my photography skills, but I think the true reason it can't be done is this: photographed melted cheese is just GROSS.  Your lasagna can be straight-out-of-the-oven, lava-hot—and it looks God awful:

zucchini lasagna plated

Let it rest for just a few minutes to set, and it looks like the rubber from an old pair of tennis shoes:

zucchini lasagna

There just seems to be no way to visually appreciate the culinary wonder that is lasagna.  

You just have to eat it.

I did some experimenting the other night with making a pasta-free lasagna.  I think it was one of the best lasagnas I have ever made.  Instead of using lasagna noodles, Chef Reiton sliced zucchinis lengthwise on the mandoline, the blade set at the thinnest setting.  Out came "noodles" that we layered raw in the pan.  (He only sliced about halfway through each zucchini to avoid any accidents with the mandoline blade.  We saved the leftover halves to use for another "pasta" meal a few days later).

I made the mistake of forgetting to salt the zucchini noodles before using them, so the lasagna came out a bit wet.  Salting zucchini after you cut or slice it helps to draw out their water (sprinkle zucchini with some kosher salt and let them sit for a good 20 minutes, then rinse and pat dry).  Other than that goof, we were very happy with the flavors.  Robust, cheesy, and a bit spicy.

Here are the items that I layered into our small lasagna pan for 2-4 people:
  • 3 small-to-medium sized zucchinis, about 1 1/2 to 2-in. in diameter, ends trimmed, then sliced LENGTHWISE on a mandoline set at the thinnest setting (salt the slices while you are sautéing up your 'shrooms and onions, then rinse and pat them dry)
  • 1/2 lb. chopped and sauteed baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 small onion, very thinly sliced on the mandoline into rings, then lightly caramelized on medium-low heat
  • 2 links of hot Italian sausage, crumbled and browned
  • whole milk ricotta cheese (forget lowfat, people! Full fat is better for you and tastes 100% better!)
  • provolone slices (not smoked)
  • mozzarella slices (not fresh)
  • homemade tomato sauce (recipe below)
  • Parmesan to grate on top

Lasagna is an as-you-like-it meal, so change the ingredients, layering tactics, and quantities to suit your own tastes.  

As for the sauce, it is quick and easy.  I figured the Italians keep things simple, so I did, too.  You ready?

Dump in the bowl of a food processor:
  • a 28-oz. can of peeled whole tomatoes (yes, Marzanos if you can do them), juice included
  • 2 peeled garlic cloves, cut into quarters
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 heavy drizzle extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 heavy drizzle balsamic vinegar
  • the leaves of one large sprig of basil
Puree until everything looks smooth.  You can use the sauce straight from the bowl or simmer it to allow it to thicken and the flavors marry, if you have the time.

That's it.  Our lasagna got baked at 350° for a good half hour.  Just make sure the whole thing is bubbly, not just the edges.  

And if it looks U.G.L.Y. when you plate it? Don't judge.  Just eat.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

San Marzano Meatballs: A Recipe of Comfort

Despite our move-in day last Friday being pretty dang hot, the past few days have been fallish-ly cool.  Cool = cozy, in my brain (I admit it: I’m already getting the holiday itch), and this translates in the kitchen to cooking up some serious comfort food.  I’m dreaming of gloriously herbed and roasted meats and veggies, slowly simmered stews and soups, the occasional heaven of warm, yeasty sourdough bread or the buttery crust of pot pie.  Anything that compliments my desire to revel in the warmth and slowness of life is bound to find its way onto my dining room table.

That being said, it is only natural that Chef Reiton’s and my first home-cooked meal in our new little house fell into the comfort category. I found Marzano tomatoes for a great price at our little local grocery, so I used them to make a meal I am calling Marzano Meatballs (and, yes, everything about this town is little).

San Marzano tomato sauce with meatballs, parmesan and basil

While this meal isn’t necessarily fast in cooking time, it is very quick to get on the stove and is pretty hands-off and easy.  If you can smash, stir, and sprinkle, you’re good.  I've included the recipe below.  If you can’t find Marzano tomatoes in the canned tomato section of your grocery store (or you can but they are so fricking expensive in your area that you just can't do it), you can use any other canned whole peeled tomato—not the end of the world.  And BTW, now that we have an organized house and are back to cooking again, we are back to eating our mostly grain-free diet, so we ate these "plain."  They could be served over zucchini noodles or a pasta of your choice.

These quantities (as well as small green salads) nicely served 2 people.

Equipment needed: medium bowl, 10-in. skillet or larger (cast iron is best), slotted spatula, paper-towel lined plate, vegetable peeler

Nice, if you have it: 1 1/2-in. ice cream scoop (#40)

  • 1/4 lb.-ish ground beef
  • 1/4 lb.-ish ground pork or lamb
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed or finely minced

  • big glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 28-oz. can of whole Marzano peeled tomatoes
  • half a medium yellow or sweet onion (the root end is best, to keep the pieces all together), cut into two quarters (don't cut off the roots)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and broken open with the heel of your palm
  • a big drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • a big drizzle of balsamic vinegar

  • a big sprig of fresh basil, medium and large leaves removed, stacked, then slivered
  • a hunk of Parmesan cheese
  • baby/torn basil leaves from the above sprig for garnish/extra flavor

Here’s what you do:

Place the meats, salt, fennel, pepper, egg, and crushed garlic into the medium bowl.  Using your hands (or a wooden spoon if you don’t like to get dirty), gently mix and knead the ingredients together until well blended.

Wash your hands.

Heat up the skillet over medium heat.  Pour in a big glug of olive oil, then let it get hot and shimmery but not smoky (about 30 seconds).  

Using the ice cream scoop or your hands, make about 10 small 1 1/2-in. meatballs, dropping them into the pan one at a time as you make them.  Roll the balls around every couple minutes and brown as many of the sides as you can.  (The meatballs do not need to cook the whole way through.  They will be simmering in tomatoes shortly and will finish cooking then.) 

When a meatball is browned all over, take it out of the skillet and place it on the paper-towel lined plate to drain.  When all the meatballs are finished, pour the hot fat from the skillet into an old glass jar or tin can, but don’t wipe out or clean the skillet.  You want to use those residual brown bits and a smidge of meaty fat to help flavor the sauce.

Put the skillet back on the stove over medium heat, then add your can of tomatoes, juice and all.  Taking the edge of your spatula, gently cut each of the tomatoes in half (watch for shooting tomato guts!), then cut each of the halves in half.

Now take the meatballs and nestle them into the tomatoes.  Sprinkle everything with a pinch or two of kosher salt.  Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar into the tomatoes.  Next toss in the two quarters of onion and two smashed garlic cloves.  Gently give everything a good mix, using the edge of your spatula to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and mixing them into the sauce.  When everything is well coated with tomato juices, turn the heat down to medium-low, go pour yourself a glass of wine, and wait.  

meatballs simmering with San Marzano tomatoes and onions

Time is of the essence here.  The longer this simmers, the better it tastes/the more the tomatoes break down/the thicker the sauce will be/etc., etc., really enjoy that wine, set the table, and make a nice salad.  Stir everything occasionally to keep the parts all blended.  If you are in a rush, 20 minutes of simmering will suffice.  

When you are about ready to serve, sprinkle in the basil slivers and give the saucy balls one final good mix.  Scoop everything into one large bowl or individual serving bowls.  Take your hunk of Parm and your vegetable peeler and gently peel/shave Parmesan cheese into a mound on top of the whole mess.  Sprinkle everything with the baby basil leaves, and you're done.

Serve your masterpiece immediately and get ready to make some yummy noises!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hello, Strangers! CAF is Back and in Boston!

I'm not sure how you feel, but, boy, you have been missed! What a whirlwind of a month this has been! There were times when I felt the light at the end of the tunnel would never appear, but here I am, sitting in my old green chair, drinking my coffee, and once again writing to you.  I could not be happier.

Where have I been, you ask? Well, let's start with the day we packed up Michael in Wisconsin and drove him two days across the country to Rhode Island to start school, then drove back to Wisconsin to meet my parents who had already started the big wrap-up of our dear old house.  The following day we filled with the final packing up, then we spent another day loading the moving van.  That night we spent at the local Holiday Inn Express, then we got up the next morning, closed on the WI house, then hit the road headed for the East Coast.  Woohoo!

All this time we were waiting on our Boston closing date, waiting but hearing nothing.  With our fingers crossed and feeling a bit homeless, we schlepped our little caravan of stuff (the largest U-haul you can rent with a trailer attached, my parents' minivan packed to the gills, and my Fit containing myself and the Big Dog) to Angola, IN, for the night.  The next day of travel took us to Henrietta, NY, and still no news.  My mother called her best friend out in MA and did what only the best of friends can do: she asked if we could stay at their house while we waited to close.

I don't know your opinion about it, but I think one has to have a seriously large heart to take in not just one couple but two AND accommodate a very big, stinky, stressed dog AND one extra large U-haul truck with a trailer attached, a minivan, and a car.  I mean, really--who does that?

Inge and Roger, that's who.  And they fed and entertained us to boot!

For one day.  (No word on closing.)

Two days.  (No word--except that tomorrow we were up to the deadline and the buyer was pissed.  Don't blame her.  Started thinking we might lose the house and should start madly looking for an apartment and a place to store all our stuff.  And live out of a duffle bag for a few more weeks...).

Three days.  (A request for more paperwork comes through.  And Derrick gets sick. Really sick.  We spend the afternoon in the Boston Medical Center ER.  Let's just say that the little Fort Hospital ER looks like heaven compared to BMC's...).

Four days.  (We made the deadline, but still no closing date. Maybe Friday.  We all lay low and wait.)

Five days.  (Derrick still rests, trying to recoup.  In the afternoon a call comes in from our fab realtor, Fran.  Can we come down and do a final walk-through? Hell, yes! We jump in the car for a drive downtown when Fran calls again: make that walk-through fast because we needed to close THAT DAY by 4:15! Hallelujah!!!!)

Six days.  Can you believe that Inge and Roger were actually sad to see us go??? I think I would have been jumping up and down at the end of the driveway, waving goodbye with gusto, if that was me.  But no.  They even took the time to come down two days later to see the new house and to go out to dinner with us.  Geez, what friends!

And while we are talking about the generosity of friends, can we look at my parents?

They drove up to WI from PA, moved box after heavy box out of the house to the garage while we were still driving home from RI, helped Derrick and I move out the furniture and load the truck, drove with us the whole way from WI to MA, supported us with advice and encouragement the whole time we waited on tender-hooks regarding the closing, helped us unload all of our stuff into our tiny new house (along with my dear U.F. and rocking cousin, Jen) which required maneuvering a lot of stairs, then spent two more days with us, helping us rearrange furniture and unpack about half our boxes to start making this house look and feel like home.  Holy.  CRAP.

Did I mention that my parents are 73? I mean, that's not old, but it's old-er, that's for sure.  I apparently have some great genes.

How is that for a month? A month surrounded by rockstars.  Generosity rockstars.



Now that I am feeling the beginnings of being settled, I hope that we can reacquaint ourselves.  Strangers no more! Let's get cooking!

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