Thursday, November 29, 2012

Aunt Roe's Bolognese Sauce

Our family said goodbye to an amazing woman a couple of weeks ago. My Great Aunt Roe passed away on November 11th.

Saying goodbye is always hard, though the time we spent with the family allowed everyone to reflect on all the good times -- the laughs, the stories, the visits, the food.

When my sister and I were in middle school, we would spend a lot of time during our summer vacations at "Camp Rosemary." This was a very exclusive summer camp that involved days with Aunt Roe doing puzzles, making crafts from Michael's, watching the Game Show Network and playing around with her Italian Greyhound, Stella.

Aunt Roe loved entertaining and being around others and welcoming friends and family into her home. She always thought to put others before herself--what a gracious woman!

Whenever we visited Aunt Roe, we knew there was going to be some delicious food involved. First, there were her infamous Chicken Cutlets. She would pound out the chicken so thin, and they would be cooked to fried crispy perfection. I will NEVER be able to make chicken cutlets like her--they were addicting! She also made the BEST peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I don't know what her secret was...perfectly toasted bread, an even distribution of peanut butter and jelly, some extra love sprinkled in.

As I started cooking more, she bestowed upon me one of her best recipes...Bolognese Sauce. This sauce is just delicious. A creamy tomato sauce with ground pork and beef, simmered on low until it reaches perfection. I cannot begin to count how many bowls of pasta I have enjoyed that were topped with this sauce and a healthy amount of parmesan cheese.

Cory and I wanted to honor Aunt Roe by cooking up a batch of her bolognese sauce this week. It is warm and loving, just like Aunt Roe. Enjoy it with family and friends, share laughs and good stories, just enjoy each other! Next time you need a pick me up, this is your solution.

Now, before you make this, there are some things we need to set straight.

First, it needs to be topped with a generous helping of FRESHLY GRATED parmesan cheese. None of that powdery bottled stuff. It elevates everything to a level of cheesey Italian euphoria.

Second, none of that whole wheat pasta. Fresh pasta would be best, but otherwise try it with a short cut roni of some kind. Rotini and cavatappi are some of our favorites.

Third, don't try and go all lean here. What I'm saying is, this dish does not want to be made with ground turkey or chicken (it told me so!). Pork and beef. The only options. Got it? Good.

Fourth, warm and toasty bread should be served on the side with a smear of butter. I know what you're thinking...pasta AND bread? SO MANY CARBS. That's OK. We are just going to pause our diet for one night and eat this meal the way it was supposed to be eaten.

The recipe below is enough sauce for 2 pounds (2 boxes) of pasta. That will serve about 6 people very hearty portions. If you are cooking for a smaller crowd, still make the full batch and freeze the second half. These measurements are impossibly annoying to cut in half, and besides, this freezes VERY well. Just defrost all day in the refrigerator when you are ready to use it again.

From my family, to yours. Here it is: Aunt Roe's Bolognese Sauce

Here's what you need:

1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
6 tablespoons of butter (not a typo...6, no more no less)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove chopped garlic
1 medium onion, diced
1 14.5 ounce can tomato sauce
1 14.5 ounce can beef broth
1 10.5 ounce can tomato paste
1/3 cup or more half and half

Here's what you do:

In a large, deep skillet, add the olive oil and sautee the garlic for no more than 1 minute. Melt in the butter over medium heat.

Add in the onions and cook until slightly browned and softened.
Add in the meat. Crumble and cook until browned.
 In a bowl, mix the paste and most of the beef broth.
Reduce heat to low and stir in the beef broth mixture. Add in the tomato sauce gradually, using the remaining beef broth to clean out as much of the sauce and paste from the cans as possible (personal tip from Aunt Roe that she wanted written explicitly in the recipe!).

Cook on low for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the sauce cooks and all the flavors marry together, cook pasta to al dente in a generously salted pot of water.

Just before serving, stir in the half and half. Start with 1/3 of a cup and add more depending on your creaminess desires. I usually don't even measure it. Just pour and stir, pour and stir, in small batches until desired thickness.

For serving, as I always enjoyed it at Aunt Roe's, I like to add this sauce individually to each plate rather than combining all the pasta and sauce together in one pot or mixing bowl. Serve 3 to 4 serving-spoonfuls of pasta and top with 2 to 3 generous spoonfuls of bolognese sauce. Allow everyone to add their own parmesan cheese (but encourage them to go overboard. Just this once).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Cranberry Baked Brie Bites

Well, Thanksgiving came and Thanksgiving went.

We all ate a little too much turkey, a little too much gravy, way too many slices of pie, and more scoops of mashed potatoes than we care to count.

Despite all of this overeating, one thing is always certain...

No matter how fast Thanksgiving comes and goes, the leftovers are here to stay.

Most leftovers are pretty easy to tackle. Turkey can be made into yummy soups and stews and sandwiches. Mashed potatoes and vegetables make a great base for lunch.

But what about that pesky cranberry sauce?? Is it an easy part of the meal to throw away? Sure. But I say, waste not!

Let's put that cranberry sauce to new use. Let's grab a couple of sheets of frozen puff pastry. Let's put brie and cranberry sauce/chutney/preserves inside. Let's call it---Baked Brie Bites.

I was originally inspired by this Joy the Baker recipe. I'm pretty sure my mouth started watering as I read through the description. I don't tend to have too much jelly/jam/marmalade on hand, but thanks to Thanksgiving (how punny!)--I did have plenty of Cranberry Apple Chutney leftover!

I absolutely recommend serving these hot out of the oven--they make a great appetizer. I have also been enjoying a few of them for breakfast each morning alongside scrambled eggs (it's like an adult bite-sized Pop Tart! Rejoice!).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes for Kitty!

 One year ago today, I fell in love.

One year ago today, I think I became a cat lady. I was NOT a cat lady ever before. I was more of a dog lover (sidenote: I still love dogs).

One year ago today, the boyfriend and I took a little trip to the MSPCA Angell animal shelter around the corner. We just wanted to "check out the place," see what the shelter had to offer, see what the process was to adopt. We were foolish.

One year ago today, this darling face stared up at me, cradled in my arms in the cat room. His eyes said "please take me home with you."

One year ago today, we signed some papers and we took him home.

I think pets are such an important part of our lives. They offer a kind of love that's different from human love but just as endearing. They don't care what you wear or what you say or where you live. They just want to be near you.

Our cat, Dot, is funny, handsome, mischievous, and just a bundle of joy. He's ALWAYS hungry (like mother, like feline).

Sometimes he makes me really mad. Like the 3 times he has ripped holes in our new windowshades because there was a moth taunting him. Or that one time when I was sound asleep and he dumped an entire glass of water on my head. Or the way he knocks over any decoration or cup or vase simply because it's there. Or all the holes he has made in the screens when he tries to get at the birds flitting around outside. For shame, kitty cat.

But when he isn't making me mad, he makes me laugh. Like when he yawns these big giant yawns (because staying home sleeping all day and then resting afterwards is hard work), or when he literally watches what's playing on the tv, or when he begs for chicken even though I'm cutting up carrots, or when he chases around his own furballs because he thinks it's a mouse, or when he jumps in the dryer.

So one year ago today we welcomed this handsome boy into our home and we couldn't be happier. And I thought the occassion called for something special. Cupcakes are always special. And since it's Thanksgiving (tomorrow!!) pumpkin cupcakes seemed like a logical choice.

Special pumpkin cupcakes for Dot's one year adopt-iversary and 2nd birthday!

You can mock me, but just this once.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Crispy Sweet Potato Ravioli

Thanksgiving is pretty much here.

Let that sink in for a second.

This past weekend, we decided to host a “Friendsgiving” at our place. The holidays can be really crazy, so it was great to have everyone together!

Either because I am crazy or because I just love food that much, I thought it would be seriously adorable to do Thanksgiving dinner-themed appetizers. So, this wasn’t your typical dinner party. But it paid homage to turkey day. That’s all that matters.

What was on the menu you ask!? Well, obviously there was the bird. AKA, Turkey sliders topped with brie cheese and my Cranberry Apple Chutney. I added whole wheat breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, an egg, and chopped rosemary along with salt and pepper to the ground turkey and formed them into small burgers. So tart and savory and bite-sized cuteness!

Then there was the starch. And on Thanksgiving, that starch had better be sweet potatoes (in my humble opinion). I made crispy sweet potato ravioli. These were a HIT. The recipe is a secret below for your holiday appetizer pleasures!

We also had a veggie. And it was green beans. In particular, it was the traditional Cambell’s soup/French’s crunchy onion green bean casserole. Everyone knows it. Everyone loves it.

Our friends were also generous enough to provide other apps and desserts and they are all amazing! We love them!

Oh, and how could I forget. The holiday cocktail! Spiked hot apple cider. That is, one gallon of apple cider, 2 cups of dark rum, 1 orange (sliced in half) and 3 cinnamon sticks simmering away all day in the crock pot. A total winner! You can simmer it on low for 4 hours or on high for 2 or so, then leave it on the “warm” setting while serving! Cinnamon and sugar rims are a totally necessary addition that everyone will be bubbling about.

I think I’m finally getting into the holiday spirit. Christmas shopping, and eating sweet potatoes until I can’t get off the couch, and drinking hot cider or peppermint mocha lattes. We can’t fight it, let’s just accept it! If the holiday spirit still eludes you, try a batch of these Crispy Sweet Potato Raviolis—Fall has never tasted so good!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cranberry Apple Chutney

There is something about the combination of savory and sweet that makes me want to do a little food dance. The dance would serve two purposes: it would first express, where words fail, how much I LOVE sweet and savory; and second, it would burn a few calories that I most likely consumed while enjoying something sweet and savory.

I think it is this combination that makes Thanksgiving turkey bearable for me. What I mean is, I don't want super dry turkey unless I have some kind of cranberry sauce to dip it in. Turkey, savory. Cranberry, sweet and tart.

I have to say, I am not completely appalled by cranberry sauce in a can. First of all, it's HILARIOUS to me to see a mold in the unbecoming shape of a can just sitting amongst all the other delicious Thanksgiving dinner dishes like it belongs there. Seriously, the sight makes me want to laugh out loud.

I saw cranberries in the grocery store recently and realized that it would be wrong of me to let the Thanksgiving season come and go without trying out my hand with those pretty little berries. And I wanted to make a Thanksgiving Turkey slider for a party I'm hosting this weekend. And so I thought...turkey slider, topped with homemade cranberry chutney. Thanksgiving in one bite!

This chutney would be great in a variety of ways. First, of course, it would be most delicious on a turkey burger or a leftover turkey sandwich. Shake it up with some olive oil and make a sweet salad dressing out of it. Serve it with some crackers and brie for a very sophisticated cheese plate! The opportunities are endless for this tart and flavorful chutney!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cheesy Corn Chowder

In the early days of Gas Stove Girl, I shared a "lightened up" and super simple creamy corn chowder. It had all the basics that a great corn chowder should have -- bacon, cream-style corn, whole corn kernels, condensed potato soup, cubed potatoes. It's a delicious soup and I make it regularly.

Now that it is getting SUPER chilly in Boston (possibly SNOW FLURRIES in the forecast?! Say it isn't so!) I find myself frequently craving the warmth of a big bowl of soup.

And because I love cheddar cheese, I find myself frequently craving cheddar cheese.

...There is so much wrong with me. Just go with it. There is a cheesey soup recipe at the end of this musing.

The punchline: I decided to dizzy up my original corn chowder recipe by adding in some shredded cheddar cheese and playing around with some other measurements.

It's still not COMPLETELY sinful, considering how rich this soup turned out to be. So if comfort is your name, this Cheesy Creamy Corn Chowder is most certainly going to be your game (is that a saying? It sounds like it might be. Or some variation on a colloquialism?)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Greek Meatballs with Tzatziki Sauce

I think appetizers are one of the most fun things to cook. Taking inspirations and putting them into bite-sized treats allows the imagination to run wild!

I also love football Sunday. I am a tried and true New York Giants fan (sorry to my New England followers...) and it is always a big day when the game is aired up here in Boston.

Since I am finally done with my fall exam, I decided that this football Sunday needed to be special and fun (let's just not discuss the final score of the game...)

Instead of making a full meal, I cooked up two different apps to enjoy all throughout gametime. First, I made a batch of Buffalo Chicken Dip from Skinnytaste. This stuff is SERIOUSLY good and more guilt-free than a traditional buffalo chicken dip. It's also incredibly simple to put together.

I baked 3 chicken breasts when I woke up that morning and let them cool completely. Then I used two forks and shredded the chicken into dip-friendly strips.

 I replaced the white wine vinegar with apple cider vinegar because that's what I had on hand. I don't think there would be any difference, so feel free to use whatever is in your fridge! The end result was creamy, spicy, hearty, amazing dip. This will definitely be an appetizer staple in my house.

I decided that just eating buffalo chicken dip was probably not entirely acceptable for two people. So to counter the spicy richness of the dip, I made a batch of Greek Meatballs with Tzatziki sauce.

These meatballs are SO GOOD. They have all kinds of great Greek flavors in them (one of my FAVORITE cuisines) and we gobbled these up real quick.

And the tzatziki sauce for dipping? An added and totally necessary bonus.