Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Loafing Around

So, yesterday I got a craving for one of those comfort foods that I grew up with. My Mom made meatloaf (wow! look at all those M's!) in the usual way of the Midwest and it was yummy. I never did remember to ask for her recipe. Now, I tried a few times over the years to make a meatloaf and usually just did that thing with the little packets of onion soup mix and ended up with overly salty onion flavored meat in loaf form. That was likely why I rarely craved meatloaf. Now that I am cooking again, I figured that I'd check out some basic recipes and then go from there with making it my way.

There are about 8 trillion 9 billion four thousand and twenty three meatloaf recipes on the interwebz. I settled on this one from Paula Dean to use as my starting point.

This beautiful Italian Style Meatloaf was the result.

The ingredients as altered by me from the Great PD recipe:

2 pounds excellent organic grass fed super lean ground beef from contented cows
1/2 t fresh cracked black pepper
4 goodly shakes of Tabasco sauce
4 cloves of garlic nicely minced
1 generous t oregano
2 t dried parsley (or some fresh finely chopped)
1/2 cup fresh ground Parmesan
1/2 of a red bell pepper, finely minced
2 Country Hen eggs, beaten a bit
1 can (15 oz) of diced tomatoes with onion - dump in a bowl and use a grabbing motion with your fingers to smush up the tomatoes a bit more
1 cup of oatmeal, regular - do not use steel cut, just regular Quaker Oats.

For the topping, I mixed 1 cup of ketchup (tried out that new Simply Heinz so I could avoid more of that fake food stuff I don't like to consume), 1 T brown sugar, and 2 T of brown mustard.

I love the directions for things like meatballs and meatloaf - put all the loaf ingredients in a bowl and use your fingers to squish it all together real well. Give it a sniff. Even un-cooked it should smell great. If there's not enough garlic or oregano add more. If it looks too dry, you could add a t or so of milk or buttermilk.

Shape into a loaf and put it in a large loaf pan. Mix up the topping and spread it over the loaf, then bake it at 375 for about 1 1/2 hours - you can check to see if it's done with a small slit in the center. If you used a regular pan and the loaf was too thick, it may need more time to cook. If your pan is too small, you may have to drain some juices before it's done, do it carefully so you don't let the topping slide off!

Hold the loaf in the pan with a well positioned spatula and drain off the juices into a container (gravy time!). Allow to sit in the pan for five minutes, then use two spatulas and lift onto a serving platter and set another five minutes. During the sitting time, make some gravy with the juices. Because I use extremely lean beef, I don't have excess fat and just have to heat up the juice with a little water added and put in some of that great Tony Chachere's Instant Roux in it - and voila! Gravy!

This must be served with mashed red potatoes, no arguments please.. There is a little more leeway on the second veggie, but this time we went with that midwest standard - corn.

Enjoy this comforting and very mindful hands-on food soon.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Homemade pasta dough

Every now and then, I've made homemade pasta. My pasta making hands are too useless (thanks to arthritis) to make pasta now, so I have to rely on my son or husband's strength. That doesn't mean you can't learn how to make it. Here's my favorite recipe with a couple variations on the theme - one for wheat pasta and one for spinach!

 Basic Pasta Dough

3 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1/4 t salt
3 eggs
3 tablespoons pure olive oil
6-9 tablespoons water

Put the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine. Form a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs and oil in the center of the well. Using a fork, whisk the liquid and gradually begin to whisk in the flour - this will get harder near the end and your technique will be more of a stir than a whisk! The result will be rather crumbly. Add one tablespoon of water at a time - sprinkle it all around the dough and mix in each tablespoon. Add only enough water so that the dough will form a ball - yet still be a tad crumbly.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and work it with the heel of your hand, pushing the dough away from you. If it's sticky, add more flour to the surface.

Now this is the hardest part. You will need to do this for about 10 minutes or so until you have a smooth very elastic ball of dough. Then invert the mixing bowl over it and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes more.

Now you can separate it into three sections and roll it out and cut it as you prefer. When rolling dough always push in the direction away from the center of the dough and rotate as necessary. The goal is to maintain it's shape and thin it evenly. Make 1/4 turns as you roll - small measured movements are best. Keep the unrolled portion of dough covered by the bowl so it does not dry out.

This will make about 1 1/2 pounds of the noodle of your choice - about 75 beautiful raviolis. If you have a pasta machine, use it to "roll" your dough and cut your pasta. Otherwise, don't worry about making perfect cuts, just tell everyone it's the "rustic" look.

One great idea here is to make 1/3 of a recipe for a practice session the first time. That's likely enough for your family and it will make your next batch a snap!


To make Whole Wheat Pasta Dough, use 1 cup unbleached flour and 2 cups whole wheat.

To make Spinach Dough, add six tablespoons of cooked, pureed, and well-drained spinach to the flour mixture at the same time you add the eggs and oil.

To give your pasta a kick, add 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to the flour!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More Fun with Oxtails and Rich Gravy

"Does she still make that incredible oxtail gravy?!" This question came from friends that nearly 15 years ago had moved to Alaska. I thought that was a pretty nice compliment. Primal Sauces such as this one implant a culinary memory that becomes permanently etched in our psyches. The extremely rich sauce needs a robust pasta so do not put it on thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta.

If the idea of oxtails grosses you out, no worries. Just cook up some Sicilian or Hot Italian sausages instead. The meat needs to be particularly well flavored or it will become lost in the sauce which is not at all mindful. Mangia!

Oxtail Gravy for Pasta, but not Wimpy Pasta, Only Nice Substantial Pasta
nutrition facts

raw ox tail
Ingredients with special notes and all that stuff:

2 T pure olive oil
1 nice sized onion, chopped up nice and fine to hide, from my onion hating son, the fact that an entire onion is in there
2 full heads of garlic, separated, roasted*, and peeled - do not chop the cloves they must be left whole
2 pounds or so of oxtails**
3 pounds or more tomatoes, squished by hand*** (more fun! very mindful) or chopped or from a can
6 oz (or more if necessary) of good imported Italian tomato paste
1 cup of beef stock
1 cup of red wine - now in a perfect world, you have a bottle of port on hand, because let me tell you there is absolutely nothing better in this dish than port. Use red wine if you are subbing sausage for oxtails.
1 Tablespoon or so of brown sugar (more if the tomatoes are particularly acidic. Use less or none at all depending on your tomato source. With homegrown fresh tomatoes, sugar is usually not necessary)
1 bay leaf
2 t dried basil or a whole mess of fresh basil grabbed by the handful rough chopped and dumped in until the flavor and aroma is just right
I do not use salt. If you do, don't tell me.
1/2 t or so of fresh ground black pepper
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t dried crushed rosemary
if you are a true fan of garlic, add a few teaspoons of powdered garlic too. I do and it's delicious.
1 pound of your fave sturdy pasta such as ziti or those lovely little wagon wheels cooked al dente

Methods of various sorts and even more notations as I think of them:

Heat the oil in a nice big heavy pot over medium-high heat. Brown the oxtails well on all sides - best done in small batches so they don't crowd and "steam" instead of brown. The brown adds flavor to the sauce. Seamed meat does not add much extra oomph. Set aside on a plate for a moment while you proceed.

If there's too much oil in the pan, drain some off and if you drained too much then stick in another tablespoon or so of pure olive oil - oh, do not use extra virgin because the smoke point is too low, just regular pure olive oil. Heat the new oil or reheat the old if you left some in there, and add the onion. Saute over medium heat until they start to brown. No need to caramelize them, just brown them.

the sauce with whole wheat penne pasta
Put the oxtail back in the pot. Add the crushed tomatoes (do crush them with your hands, so much fun!). Most people seem to like to use canned tomatoes which means they will already be peeled. If you are using real live actual unprocessed tomatoes, you may want to peel them. I do not peel. I think mainly people peel them because the floating tomato skin bits may not be particularly attractive. They are dratted tasty though and if the sauce is cooked long enough they incorporate well and are not noticeable. If you used canned tomatoes add the liquid from the can. I also do not remove the seeds my tomatoes. I like a lumpy bumpy texture filled sauce.

Add everything else but the pasta and bring to a brief boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about three hours. Yes three hours. Lid on for the first hour. Lid off until the sauce is as thick as you like. You cannot over cook this sauce. It "matures" the longer it cooks. I've let it go for six hours and the results were awesome. Do not minimize time cooked as the oxtail needs to meet with all the nice other ingredients, overcome its natural shyness, become good friends with the seasonings, and tenderize to the point where it is about to fall off the bone.

Stir now and then so it doesn't burn. Sometimes when you cook with oxtails a bit of foamy stuff floats to the top; just skim it off. If the liquid reduces too much, taste first, then add more of whatever you think it could use more of - fresh squished tomato, beef stock, or port. If you add more liquid you may need more spices too, but hold off on more oregano and rosemary, they are just supportive notes and not front and center. Garlic and basil are center stage here.

If the sauce is too thin and dinner is only an hour away, add more paste. I love to use a paste that comes from Italy in a tube. The ingredient list says only tomatoes and salt. Not much salt at that because I could tell if it had a lot. I can detect a grain of salt in a cup of sauce. I'm magical that way.

Taste and adjust the seasonings. If you are a salter, I'll avert my eyes here and sing songs to cover the sound of the grinder. If you want to try what I do when a sauce asks to be salted, add several drops of Tabasco sauce. It does the same accenting of flavors that salt does with less sodium (yes, I know there's salt in there, but there's not that much in a half dozen shakes). Depending on your tomatoes and what you are used to, you may need a pinch more of brown sugar. Italian-Americans often do this to remove the acidic notes of some tomatoes.

Cook the pasta, drain, and put on a platter. Serve with the pot of sauce and let everyone top the oxtails with gravy and select their preferred size of oxtails. Serve with a ton of good fresh made Italian bread so every last drop of the sauce can be mindfully consumed.


*roasting garlic: separate the cloves but do not peel. Place on a small baking sheet - I like to use my toaster oven as there is no need for a large oven for this little bit of garlic. Roast at 375 F for about 20 minutes - or until the papery ends start to brown and curl and the house smells simply divine. Allow to cool and then peel. Yes. You eat them whole and fights will break out over who gets the last ones so make sure you roast a lot.

**we love the small oxtails, but some people prefer the larger pieces. I find those too difficult to extract the meat from. You can just put the small ones in your mouth whole and suck off the meat like you would a rib. If you buy a package already wrapped from the store, it will have both small and large pieces, so if you've not made this before do that and then you can figure out which size you like and then ask the butcher for a special package the next time. It helps to be friendly with your butcher. Likely he's squirreled away a bunch of the lovely small oxtails for himself.

***I do not peel the tomatoes. There's lots of good stuff in the skin, and I like a sauce with texture instead of a smooth liquid. I do not very often use my blender stick for that reason. If you don't like the skin mixed in with the sauce and prefer to peel, then do it. But please put the peel in the compost bin. Then you can salvage some mindfulness. :D

Friday, August 19, 2011

Almond Bread Pudding is Food for the Soul

I don't often have dessert...well, except for the six counted out dark chocolate covered almonds which seem to satisfy me more often than not. But, every now and then.....

Almond Bread Pudding of the Gods 

(for those that are interested in the calories of this sort of thing, click here.)

3 1/2 cups of milk - do not use fat free milk. You can use 2%. I bet it's even more awesome with whole milk.
1/2 cup butter - plus some extra to butter the casserole dish
Enough cubed day old bread to equal about 3 cups unpacked or 2 cups packed. Get a loaf of Italian or French bread and cube about half of it. Don't make this with regular old sandwich bread.
3/4 cups of sugar
3 eggs, beaten - I love Country Hen eggs. They raise happy hens under humane conditions with good non-cannibal food and their yolks are always awesome - big, no I mean huge, and a gorgeous dark orange.
1 overflowing teaspoon of the best vanilla you can afford.
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mace
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup raisins - or you could use currents which are like teensy tiny raisins.
1 cup blanched slivered or chopped almonds

Preheat the oven to 375 and butter up the standard 2 quart casserole dish.

Scald the milk and add the butter. Place the bread in a large bowl and pour the buttery milk all over the bread and allow to soak for a good 7-10 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients. If you have old raisins and they are dry, soak them in a bit of warm water and then drain to plump them a bit. Mix everything well and dump it all into the buttered casserole dish. Place this dish in a large (like 8-11) pan of hot water and then put the double panned deliciousness into the oven for about an hour. Depending on your oven and if you remembered that the water must be hot, it may take a little longer to cook, so use the old timey test of inserting a knife in the center of the pudding. If it comes out clean, it's done. If it comes out with gooey stuff on it, it's not done.

Allow to sit a few minutes and then serve either as is or for an intensely mindful experience, add some of that wonderful Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream and savor each bite - after all, you don't have dessert very often, so when you do, make it a gloriously mindful time. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Barbecued Spareribs with Italian Style!

Italian Style Barbecue Spare Ribs!
Want the most awesome lip smacking, sticky finger licking amazingly meaty ribs ever? Then you have got to try Italian Barbecued Spareribs.

My plan - first make a great Italian BBQ sauce, then apply to ribs and bake. Easy peasy! When making your Italian spareribs, remember that a recipe is nothing but a template, a springboard for you to begin to create something just for you! So taste and change the sauce to suit you and your family. I modified the following recipe from a wonderful recipe by my Aunt-in-law, Mama D! 

Prep the Ribs! (preheat oven to 350)

3 lbs of nice lean spare ribs (whatever kind you like, I used the St. Louis Cut in the photo)
rub with 1/8 cup of pure olive oil.

Mix together 1/2 t fresh cracked black pepper, 1 t oregano, 2 cloves minced garlic or equivalent powdered, and 1 t of dried rosemary and rub all over the ribs.

Place the ribs in a great big economy sized baking pan (I used Pyrex for ease of cleaning later), brown a bit in the oven on both sides and then drain off the grease. I think it took me 20 minutes on one side and another 15 on the other. It will depend on how hot your oven runs.

Top with a few rings of onion slices if you like and then cover with every bit of the delicious Italian Barbecue sauce (below). Then bake in the oven for about another 2 hours or until the ribs are as tender as you like. Baste frequently. The amount of final baking time will depend on the weight of the slab of ribs. Make sure your side dishes are flexible timing-wise in the meal so if it takes a little longer there is no problem. I cooked mine about 45 minutes longer than the 2 hours, but then, it was nearly 4 pounds of glorious ribs!

Italian Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients and a few notes of stuff as I think about it:

1/4 cup pure olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic (all depends on the size and more would not hurt it at all), minced
1 onion, chopped (now Mama D specified two onions chopped, but I have a member of the household that is not the biggest fan of onions so I just used one)
1 29 oz can of tomato puree (or a #2 1/2 depending on where you live your cans are numbered instead of weighed in ounces!)
2 T wine vinegar - get a good one, I used Colavita
2 T packed brown sugar...packed firm and maybe even rounded a bit!
1/2 t fresh ground black pepper
1 t oregano

Sauce Directions:

Heat the oil in a sauce pan, add onion and saute til starting to soften, add garlic and saute another couple minutes to release the glorious garlic aroma! Add the remaining ingredients and stir frequently while simmering for about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings after about 20 minutes of simmering.

It is impossible to not be very mindful indeed when eating these ribs, so enjoy!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Grilling Pizza

Pizza bones, pizza sauce, and fresh mozzarella will be the only constant elements for each grilled pizza. Making an appearance in a unique freestyle configuration will be: fresh whole basil leaves, sun-dried tomatoes and peppers, mushrooms, marinated garlic, jalapenos, and slices of hot Italian sausage. Awesome. A  tiny space on one pizza will be infected with olive slices (their juices had better not even think about intruding into any other place on that particular pizza) and I will not refer to them again in this blog, but I will acknowledge their presence now only to serve as a warning to me to look before I bite.

Because this was a later in the day decision and I don't have any dough in the freezer, I am going with Mama D's bones rather than Benny's luscious crust. Although I do wonder if Benny's recipe might be better over coals and will test drive that one day soon. Will also use my sauce.

How to grill a pizza with special notes on how NOT to grill a pizza

Make a round of your favorite dough and when it's is ready separate into four smaller rounds. This part is one of the greatest things about pizza dough - you can seal all four of these little lovelies in plastic wrap and freeze them. Then whenever you want pizza, just take one out and thaw in the fridge (you should have a nicely thawed bit of dough at dinner time if you take it out in the morning).

Make each crust about the size of a dinner plate. Pressed and rolled them out to a sort of rough circle each about 1/4 inch thick. Do not make a rim like you would usually do with a pizza. The reason for this is that you need the entire pizza crust to cook at the same amount of time because it's going to cook very very fast. Don't get all bent out of shape about dimensions and please do not use any sort of caliper to check measure at regular intervals, just make the dough reasonably even.

If you are making several pizzas, you can stack them well dusted with corn meal between layers of wax paper and keep them in the fridge a short time to stall off more rising (not more then an hour or two or they will rise any old way). This is one reason I make the pizza the size of a dinner plate, please feel free to make yours the size you want it to be.

First special note of caution: The coals needs to be just passed the point where it is the hottest with the coals in a reasonably even distribution. If you put the pizza on when the coals are their hottest you the charring gets, well, a tad out of hand.

When you are ready to grill, bring out the crusts, a bowl of olive oil with minced garlic and a brush, a couple cookie sheet or pizza paddles, with a small bowl of flour or corn meal, and all your topping ingredients prepped and ready to go so you don't have to rush about at a very inconvenient time trying to find more slices of fresh mozzarella or garlic.

Prep the grates with one of those nice sprays they make for grills to minimize sticking. Note of caution: do not spread the grates with olive oil no matter what people say because all it does is create dense clouds of smoke.

Sprinkle some corn meal on the paddle and put one of the pizza crusts on it, the flour should make the crust slide easily onto the grill. Slip it onto the grate, close the lid, and cook for just a couple minutes - then check the bottom to see if it is lightly browned. Yet another cautionary tale: I strongly suggest that you not walk about talking and going in the house to check on the game or go to the bathroom or any other such distracting activity once the pizza is on the grill. Trust me. The result is not particularly pretty nor edible.

Use the pizza paddle to remove the crust from the grill and flip it cooked side up onto another paddle or cookie sheet well dusted with corn meal, and brush the cooked side of the pizza with the garlicky olive oil.

Notes on the excessive use of sauce: With a VERY light hand, apply sauce, toppings, and cheese. Light is especially important for the sauce - remember there is no rim to keep it in! Sauce makes a lot of smoke too. Please note what happens if your sauce is to generously applied in the pic to the (left).

Slide the pizza back onto the grill and close the lid and mostly close the vents to make it more like an oven inside. If you are using an electric grill lower the temp. Cook about three minutes more or until the bottom is starting to char and the cheese bubbly.

Remove, and repeat for as many pizzas as you want! It doesn't matter that the first pizza sits a couple minutes as that's good for making the crust easier to cut anyway.

Now, this is a very special warning. Do remember that these things cook at only a couple minutes on each side. With that thought in mind, imagine how difficult it would be to keep three pizzas going at the same time on two different grills. Now hold onto that picture only make the crusts quite a bit blacker then you would prefer, yes, that is your fate if too many are attempted at one time. In fact, we were thinking of using that rule as a springboard and turn the meal into quite a positive mindful thing by establishing a lengthy pizza grazing tradition - grill, talk nosh, grill talk nosh, grill talk nosh with individually addressed perfect pizzas. Trying to get five of these beauties ready and hot all at the same time did not make for a nice quiet mindful time.

One pizza at a time is a very mindful rule for a wondrously mindful get everyone involved meal. Enjoy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Benny the Chef's Roman Pizza

I am very thankful to Benny for allowing me post this recipe from his newest cookery book, The Art of Cooking According To Me. The book is fast becoming one of my favorites, do check it out!

If you are a novice cook, don't let the long rise time or the two step dough process worry you. This Roman pizza crust is absolutely perfect in taste and texture and remarkably easy to make. Benny recently built a gorgeous Roman Coal Fired Oven and posted a bunch of great pics on FB showing the process and food (like the pizza below) cooking in it, so go Like Benny the Chef! on Facebook and check them out!

Roll the crust out thin, it's the Roman way.

Benny the Chef!

I set the nutrition facts at Calorie Count for four thin pizzas.


2 lbs of flour, "00" or pizza/bread flour
20 fl oz of warm water
1 3/4 oz of yeast


Put 1 lb of flour on a table and make a well. In a small glass bowl put 10 fl oz of warm water, the yeast, and let it dissolve completely. Add it to the well and start to mix. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Make a ball, cover with a towel, and place the dough in the refrigerator. Let it rest for 3 hours.

Now put the rest of the flour on a table and make another well. In  another small glass bowl, put the other 10 fl oz of warm water, add 5 teaspoons of salt, and let it dissolve completely. Add it to the well and start mixing. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Flatten the salty dough a little bit. Place the yeasty dough on it, and mix together. Knead until you get the homogeneous and very elastic dough. Make 4 balls, cover with a towel, and let them rest for 6-9 hours. The dough has to rise far from air-conditioning and heaters. The perfect temperature is between 74F and 78F.

pizza cooking in Benny's Roman Wood Fired Oven
Now roll the dough and make your pizza! Make it with anything you like, but remember the more simple the pizza, the better it will be.

(!): for a perfect Neapolitan style pizza, you should use, as we do in Italy, natural or beer yeast. You have to roll the dough very thin in the middle and leave it a little taller at the boarder. Place it in the oven at 450F and cook for about 10 minutes. If you like a less crispy pizza, place it in the oven at 375F and cook for 15-20 minutes.

(?): Pizza is probably the most eaten food in the world. Originating in Napoli (Naples), soon it became very popular in the cuisines of many different countries. The most famous and delicious pizza is the Margherita: made with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil. This pizza was created in 1889 by the Neapolitan master pizza makers for the visit of Margherita of Savoy, Queen of Italy. The pizza was named Margherita in honor of the queen, and served for resembling the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomato), white (mozzarella), and green (basil).

@: Add two teaspoons of sugar to the warm water for the yeast. It will give more fragrance and a golden color to the Pizza.

As you can see by the pic of my Roman pizza to the left, I made mine thicker than Benny's. It was excellent thick too - light yet chewy in texture, but next time I'll roll it out thinner like Benny does!

Make your first dough after breakfast and the salty dough three hours later, the combined doughs then just sit and rises til almost time for dinner allowing plenty of time for lots of mindful decisions about the toppings.