Food ritual: Spaghetti & Meatballs

  
I was reading about the importance of rituals in our lives. The comfort that comes from familiar, from routines. Our family has many, but the one that brings me the most joy is Spaghetti & Meatballs. 

It’s not the result of Italian heritage (we’re a mix of stuff, mostly Scandinavian), but is the result of a twofold ritual–carb loading pre-swim meets and birthdays. 

Last week was a birthday for Alec, who’s now 17! I didn’t even need to ask him what he wanted for dinner. As I made it, I took more care than usual to pay attention to measurements so I could post the recipe with some accuracy. Normally I just wing it because it’s like being on autopilot. Happy, comforting. The eating part is great, but the prep ritual is soul restoration for me! Enjoy!

Meatballs

  • 1lb ground beef 
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 slices white bread, crumbled
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/4c parsley chopped
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 sp Ground pepper
  • 1/2c grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Soak bread in milk–it should be moist but not drenched. Saute onion and garlic over low heat in butter until just starting to caramelize, about 10 min. Add herbs and seasonings to onion mixture and remove from heat. This helps the tasty stuff distribute evenly when you mix it into the meat. Squeeze excess milk from bread. Add it to beef and pork, mix along with onion mixture and cheese until just blended, mix in egg to bind. Roll into generous balls. Place on broiler pan lined with tinfoil, bake at 500 degrees for 5 min. Keep meatballs in oven, but lower temp to 350 and cook another 20 min. 

Sauce

  • 2 28oz cans whole Italian plum tomatoes
  • 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 2 lbs spaghetti

Boil water for pasta. Heat olive oil, add garlic, saute 30 sec, add crushed red pepper and salt, then tomatoes. Add basil. Simmer 10 min while pasta cooks. Blend to desired smoothness either with hand blender or in food processor (the boys tolerate “chunks” now that they’re older). You can also simmer meatballs in sauce for extra richness. This tomato sauce is more tart than sweet like most jarred sauces and along with thyme in the meatballs makes it distinctively ours. Of course these portions mean leftovers, which seem to disappear without anyone fessing up to secret eating. 

Local bourbon 

It’s bourbon month for our girls night out and we thought we’d try a new hot spot, Tattersall Distillery, in a converted industrial space in Northeast Minneapolis.

Their bourbon actually starts in Kentucky and is then aged in MN, but close enough! 

This Umeboshi Sour, which features bourbon, sour cherry liquer, simple syrup, lemon, Umeboshi vinegar and black walnut bitters was the highlight of the evening. Smoky yet tart and refreshingly complex.

Their barrel-aged gin and aquavit were quite tasty too. (I was told by the bartender at Spoon & Stable that it’s the topselling aquavit. BTW, add that to your 2016 must try list when in MInneapolis!)

  

Swimmer soup

Pasta pasta pasta.

Make ahead, heat and eat quickly.

Easy.

This isn’t gourmet living, but it works as an easy weeknight meal or on those days when we’re all eating at different times.

Just remember to tell the 16-year-old after swim practice that the container serves 4 (is not his alone!)

Swimmer soup

  • 1 lb ground Italian sausage (we prefer hot)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 28 oz can tomato sauce
  • 28 oz water
  • 2 c chicken broth
  • 1/2 lb pasta shells
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil
  • Salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste

Saute meat until cooked through, drain fat. Add onion and cook 2-3 min, add garlic and cook another minute. Add tomatoes, sauce, water and broth, bring to simmer, add pasta and herbs. Cook 15-20 min on low until noodles are tender. Top with mozzarella or parmesan.

  

Magical meatloaf

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Coming home on a cold winter night to a comfort-food meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas is a well-earned reward for a hard swim/hockey practice. It’s great the first night and easy to heat up as leftovers later in the week.

Three tricks make this meatloaf better:

  1. Saute onion, garlic and herbs to caramelize them.
  2. Adding a glaze to the outside that forms a nice crust, in contrast to the moist interior.
  3. Baking it free-form on a broiler pan instead of in a loaf pan, which adds to the nice texture.

Magical meatloaf

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 3 slices white bread
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup parmesan, grated
  • 2/3 cup ketchup
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • Splash of hot sauce/Tobasco
  • Salt and Pepper

Tear bread into chunks and soak in milk. Set aside. Saute garlic and onions in olive oil until translucent. Add thyme and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze excess milk from bread and mix into beef, eggs, parmesan, onion/garlic mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Shape into loaf (about 9″ by 4″ on a broiler pan. FYI–easy cleanup if you line the bottom pan with foil to catch the fat drippings). Combine ketchup, brown sugar and hot sauce in bowl, brush over loaf. Extra sauce can be used for serving. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour. Allow 10 minutes rest time before slicing.

Healthy Mexican lasagna

For easy weeknight meals, I’m a huge fan of recipes that involve opening cans, yet are healthy and tasty. This one is a nice change from heavy lasagna recipes that quite frankly are a ton of work. There’s a time and place for those, but generally not on Tuesday in our house.  This one is also easy to adjust to your palate–make it spicier (green or chipotle salsa), use different mixes of beans (black, pinto) and cheeses (Mexican blend, cheddar, colbyjack).

Mexican Lasagna

  • 1 package oven-ready lasagna noodles (4 layers of 3 noodles each)
  • 2-8 oz cans tomato sauce
  • 1 15oz can diced tomatoes (I used petite diced)
  • 1 16oz jar salsa
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 cans beans
  • 1 can corn
  • 12 oz cheese
  • Cilantro, green onions

Preheat oven to 350. Coat 13×9 pan (or lasagna pan) with cooking spray. Mix together tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, salsa and cumin. Put 1 cup sauce in bottom of pan. Place first layer of 3 noodles on top of sauce, followed by 1/3 of corn, bean and cheese. Repeat layers 2 more times, followed by one final layer of noodles. Top with sauce and cheese. Cover with foil. Bake 45 minutes. Remove from oven, top with cilantro and green onions.

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The best thing about summer: Tomatoes!

Finally! My tomato plants are producing lovely bite-size red ones, and slightly larger yellow sungellas. Mostly, I just throw them straight into salads, but I also like to do this marinade, which gives them kind of a sauce. It can be eaten as is or thrown over lettuce, pasta or other grains, like farro or quinoa. It captures the best of summer!

Marinated tomatoes

  • 2c mixed small or cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/3c olive oil (I used the VOM FASS orange!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 cup mixed chopped herbs (Basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, tarragon, dill all work)
  • Zest of one lemon & a generous squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into half rounds
  • 1c fresh mozzarella balls (Or feta or skip it)

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And one bonus recipe for those of you looking to use a common CSA vegetable: fennel. Chipotle-marinated pork tenderloin with fennel salad. Served it with dill baby red potatoes and corn on the cob with cayenne/lime juice/feta and of course, butter. The pork was flavorful, but not too spicy, for those of you with Minnesota palates 🙂

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Trio of dill salads

First off, a confession. I committed murder for this week’s recipes. Beet murder.

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My least favorite thing about beets is that they are messy to prep. But fun, if one takes the right attitude! 😉

Quick and easy this week while we were at the lake — and attempting to use up the misc share vegs and some lovely dill. I ended up doing a simple lettuce salad with beets, goat cheese and dill, just some of that fab EVOO and balsamic to dress, carrots (threw into a tinfoil packet on the grill while brats cooked and more dill+butter to finish) and cucumber sour cream salad. This one was the highlight–super easy, fresh and healthy.

Creamy Dill Cucumber Salad

1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
Salt and black pepper
3 medium cucumbers (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Halve each cucumber lengthwise, peel and scoop out seeds. Slice into 1/4-inch rounds. Whisk the sour cream, vinegar, sugar, dill and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Add the cucumbers; toss to coat. Serve chilled. Note: cucumbers have a ton of water in them. Meaning if you don’t like watery salads, you’ll want to sweat the cucumbers first by tossing in salt and letting them sit for an hour or so. Rinse, then toss with sauce. I didn’t find this step necessary since we were eating right away. This salad also called for shaved red onion. No thanks, said the boys.

PS I don’t know about you, but I am itching as my tomatoes start to ripen now….this is the best month of the year!

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