Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lemon Rosemary Chicken and Potatoes

This is one of those quick-prep meals that uses simple and inexpensive ingredients, but when you put them together, they are MAGIC.  How can you go wrong with garlic and lemon and onion and rosemary and olive oil and chicken and potatoes?

The cousin to this meal is Chicken Oregano.  But it simply cannot be made until summer, when my garden is producing heaps of fresh oregano and lovely red plum tomatoes.  So stay tuned, about late July or early August.

Alas, this dish is best with Yukon Gold potatoes, but Sassy had russets, so Sassy used russets.  You can use any piece of chicken you like - thighs, legs, breasts, or a whole cut-up chicken.  The key is 8 pieces (for 4 hungry people or a family of 8 who will also fill up on bread and salad).  And please, please do not use boneless and skinless.  You need crispy brown skin and the flavor it gives to the whole dish.  Plus, the b.s. chicken (tee hee) would dry up and be shoe leather.  Ish.

Lemon Rosemary Chicken and Potatoes

5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 - 3 pounds Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes, skin on, cut into 1 inch pieces
8 chicken thighs (or other pieces), bone-in and skin-on
2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crumbled in your hand
salt and pepper to taste (probably 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
zest and juice of 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large baking dish (I used an 11 x 15 glass Pyrex pan), toss in the garlic, onion, potatoes and chicken pieces.  Add the rosemary, salt and pepper, olive oil and lemon zest and juice.  Using your hands (c'mon!), toss it all around to distribute the goodness, and then arrange the potatoes on the bottom and the chicken pieces, skin-side up, on top of everything.

Bake at 400 for about 45 minutes, or until the chicken is golden and juices run clear, and the potatoes are tender.

Serves 4 -8 people, depending upon what else you're serving. 

 Ready for the oven.

 Ready to eat!

Yummy closeup :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Allium Family - Onions, Garlic and Leeks - oh my!

When do you think the last time you made a lunch or dinner without the basic flavors of onion and garlic.  Really now - think of fresh and dried.  Think of prepared foods, frozen pizza, pasta sauce, sausage, etc. 

It might seem rather silly to blog about such humble and basic flavors that we consume every day, but I have a need to pay homage to one of my favorite groups of vegetables.  You all know them, you all love them, but do you know ALL of them?  And do you love ALL of them?  Do you know what they look like, how they taste, and how to use them?

These are the FLAVOR MAKERS!  These siblings make food taste good, and can elevate a simple dish to simply amazing.  Use them fresh whenever you can.  Don't be afraid of their smell or strong taste, they mellow with cooking.  And for heaven's sake, hush about garlic breath.  If you and your family (or sweetie, or date) are eating the same food, you'll smell the same, right?

I've praised shallots and leeks on here before.  I'll guess there are a lot of people that still haven't tried using them in everyday cooking.  Hopefully, that will change.  I never knew what they were until about 10 years ago, either!  Maybe I'd heard of them, but surely didn't buy or use them.

I grew up with garlic salt and garlic powder, the same in onion form, and dried onion flakes.  Hey, it was the 70's!  I remember buying my first raw onion and whole head of garlic in wonder and great anticipation of how I would use them. 

So here's a tiny dissertation on the Allium Family - garlic, onion, leeks, shallots, scallions and chives.  I even have photos!  And a little recipe at the end.  What I don't have is chives.  I have a gigantic plant in my garden, but hey!  it's February in Minnesota and we're hunkering down for a lovely heavy dumping of snow tomorrow.  I eagerly anticipate the first chives of spring :)

One at a time then, shall we?

The humble onion.  My preference is yellow.  Red is nice in some instances, and there's white, also.  Yellow has a sweet flavor and is the most multi-purpose, in my book.  I buy a 5 pound bag of regular yellow onions.  You can sub-divide the color into Vidalia, Walla-Walla, and more, but plain old plain old works great.

I've seen the professional chefs on the tele slice and chop these in a very poetic fashion.  Me?  I cut the ends off, cut the onion in half, peel off the top layer of skin, and then slice and chop.  Works fine for me.  I love the scene in "Julie & Julia" where Julia Child chops a mountain of onions in her French cooking class.  She was FEARless.

Here's the yellow onion, ready to slice and dice.

So now what do you do with it?  Put it in everything!  Truly, for the most part, onion goes in so many dishes.  Soups, stews, chowders, chilis, tacos, casseroles (hotdish, anyone?), roasts, meatballs and meatloaf.  Minced fine into pasta salad.  And sliced and slow cooked for a very long time, it becomes the beginning of a blissful pot of French Onion Soup.  One little note:  I do not put onion in my Red Sauce.  That includes spaghetti, lasagna and pizza sauce.  Nope.  You can, though :)

Our next, very familiar member of the family, garlic!

This is a HEAD or BULB of garlic.  It is not a CLOVE.  Can you do anything with a whole head?  Oh, yes indeed!  Cut off the top 1/3 of the head (not the root end, the stem end) to expose all the cloves inside.  Keep the papery outer layer intact for the most part.  Sprinkle the exposed cloves with salt and pepper, a tiny drizzle of olive oil, then put in a small baking dish, cover tightly with foil and bake at 375 for about 40 minutes.  It should be golden and soft.  When it cools, squeeze the cloves out of their papery skins.  From here, you have lots of options.  Mash them up in your potatoes for the best garlic mashed potatoes ever.  Add them to softened butter or some olive oil and use as a spread on bread or toast.  Add them to a soup you plan to puree.  Roasted garlic is sweet and mellow and complex and really, really good.

Here's a clove, separated from the head (bulb) and sitting by my little clay "garlic pot" that I've had for years.  Great for storing unpeeled cloves.

And here he is, peeled, ends removed, and ready to smash and chop:

Put down the garlic press, please.  It's a rare day I use one.  When you crush a garlic clove in a press, you're releasing the most garlic oil possible, and that's not always what you want when flavoring a dish.  If you need your garlic to be really fine and smooth, something that can't be done with a knife and board, then use the press.  Otherwise, lay the clove under the flat side of your big chef's knife, and smash down with the heel of your hand.  Now that it won't slip and slide on the board, proceed to chop or mince as your many recipes dictate.  (Home remedy tip:  if you feel a cold or bug coming on, take that chopped clove, pop it in your mouth and wash it down with water.  Great anti-bacterial, anti-viral properties.  If you're a wimp, put it in a tablespoon of honey first.)

Scallion.  Green onion.  Spring onion.  Essentially the same thing.  I grow onions in my garden in two ways - sets and seeds.  Sets are tiny little yellow onions that you stick in the dirt, green stems grow up and the bulb gets bigger.  Seeds grow into green onions, and if allowed to grow long enough, will develop large bulbs as well.  But I pick these green and use them fresh and raw.

From the grocery store:

And ready to chop:

So go ahead and trim off any soggy or wilty green parts, plus the very tiny bit of root end, and then use the whole thing from there!  Rinse them off under cold water, first, and dry.  These are best raw, as they have a fresh and delicate flavor.  Use them to top baked potatoes with sour cream, or on top of tacos or burritos.  Great on top of chili, with cheese and sour cream.  They make a fine pizza topping, either before or after the pizza is baked.  Add them to green lettuce salads and pasta salads.  They make a great sprinkling garnish for many finished dishes.  A good rule of thumb is, if you like onion flavor and want some fresh and subtle taste, scallions are your friend.  One last tasty treat - brush the whole, unchopped scallions with olive oil and add to the grill with your fish or steak or burgers - only a minute or two per side to soften and mark them.  Sweet and tender and delicious!

On March 17th, pretend you're Irish and add some green onions to your potatoes before mashing.  Mash it all up together (they'll stay mostly intact), and call it Champ, and enjoy!  Great under a thick serving of Beef and Guinness Stew.

Leeks.  Sigh.  They are so good.  Ever bought one?

It looks like a grandpa green onion, doesn't it?  Here's what you do:

Do NOT throw away the dark green top part!  Clean them off well between the layers and drop into a freezer bag.  The next time you make chicken or beef or vegetable broth, put them in the pot.  Lots of flavor you don't want to waste there.  Recipes call for the "white and light green parts" and that's what you now have.

Leeks are often dirty things.  It's a reason why some people don't use them.  Scuse me, vegetables grow in the DIRT.  Dirt isn't gross.  But it does get between the layers of the leeks and will leave grit in your dish, so you'll want to wash these well.  The amount of dirt can vary from leek to leek.

Slice the leeks this way:

And then slice the other direction into "half moons."  Drop these into a bowl of cold water and swirl them around, making sure the layers separate and all the dirt gets dislodged.  It'll sink to the bottom, and you can scoop the leeks out (they float).  Dry them off, and they are ready to use!

How?  Start with potato leek soup.  Look under my soup recipe tab.  French vegetable soup is great with leeks, too.  They can be used in the place of onions in many recipes, but soups and stews are the best.  Put a bed of sliced leeks into the bottom of your pot for roast - just lay the roast on top of the leeks - there's your flavor. 

Rather than slicing the leeks into rounds, leave them in long pieces, rinse under cold water, and oven roast them with other vegetables like carrots and potatoes.  They also grill perfectly, as I mentioned above with scallions, but they take a bit longer.  Like all members of their family, they mellow and sweeten with cooking.

And now for the shallot.  Here it is!

Sometimes they come stuck together like above.  Two or three buddies, not wanting to part just yet.  Here's just one, which is what you'll usually need:

And here he is, peeled and ready to mince, just like an onion:

It should be sort of pinky-purple.

The best way to describe the flavor of a shallot?  It's like a yellow onion and a garlic got together and made a baby.  A sweet little baby!  It has a delicate onion-garlic flavor and as such, can be used in any dish you'd use both onion and garlic, or one or the other. 

Raw?  Mince it fine and add it to a basic vinaigrette salad dressing.  Toss it in your tuna salad.  Use it in pasta salad.  Stir it into some cooked rice or polenta.

Cooked?  There's no limit.  I would not waste the fine flavor in a chili or spaghetti sauce that has a lot of other strong, competing flavors.  But a chicken-mushroom-cream type of dish, a gravy, a light soup, or stir fry are all places that shallots can shine. 

There it is.  The Allium Family.  A very happy family indeed.  And here's the little recipe I promised.  I had all these things washed and trimmed and chopped and ready to go, and I couldn't waste them, right?

Allium Soup

1 yellow onion, chopped
1 large leek, white and light green parts, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
8 green onions, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup white wine
1 quart beef broth

In a soup pot, saute the onion, leek, garlic, shallot and green onions, seasoned with salt, pepper, sugar and thyme, very slowly over medium-low heat, until very soft and tender, about 30 minutes.  You don't want the vegetables to brown, but you want to them to be soft and almost "melted."  Increase the heat to medium and add the wine.  Simmer 3 or 4 minutes.  Add the beef broth and simmer for another few minutes.  Taste for seasoning.  Remove from heat, cool slightly, and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

Makes a lovely first course, simple lunch with crackers, or can be topped with a round of bread and some cheese and put under the broiler a la French Onion Soup.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cardamom Bread

I have this really sweet and adorable friend named Jen who lives on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Did you know that people who live up there are called Yoopers?  U.P. = Yoop = Yoopers!

She's Finnish, which is close enough to Swedish and Norwegian to call it good.  And like all good Scandinavians, she and I share a love of cardamom.  Do you know cardamom?  It's found in Indian cooking, too.  But oh! we Scandies love our cardamom.  It's a pod, that when crushed, releases a fragrant and floral spice that is sorta-kinda like cinnamon or nutmeg or allspice.  But altogether different.

Back to Jen.  When we had a visit last year, she gave me a little cookbook full of recipes from the U.P.  It's called "Yooper Recipes" and let me just tell you that if you've never had a pasty, get on it, will ya?  They are delicious pocket-turnover-hand-pie filled with meat and potato and rutabaga and other good things.  There's also a great mushroom soup recipe.  And then there's Cardamom Bread.

I've been using cardamom for a while.  And I've baked braided breads for a while, sort of like the Jewish Challah.  I'm also no stranger to sweet yeasty doughs (see the entry for Nana Rolls here).  So when I saw this recipe in the book, I just had had had to make it.  It's become a favorite here at the Sassy house.

Yes, it takes a bit of time to mix and knead the dough, let it rise once, punch down and portion and braid the loaves, rise again and then bake.  Yet I promise you that you will never regret the process nor the result.

The recipe says it makes three loaves.  I just make two, and they're a little bigger, but two fit better in my oven.  If for some odd reason there's any leftover a day or two after you bake it, it does make the most delicious french toast.  For an extra bit of tastiness, add a splash of almond extract to your french toast batter.  Almond and cardamom are very happy to be together.

You can surely use all white flour as the recipe calls for, but I generally do about half whole wheat and half white.  It doesn't change a thing except make it more nutritious.  I've changed a bit of the amounts from the Yooper cookbook, decreasing the sugar slightly and using whole milk instead of half and half.  The following recipe is mine.

Cardamom Bread

2 packages dry yeast (or one tablespoon if you use bulk)
1/4 cup lukewarm water (100-110 degrees) with 2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups whole milk, warmed
1 stick butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ground cardamom
7-8 cups flour (all white, or half white and half whole wheat)
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk
sugar, for sprinkling

Add yeast to water/sugar and let sit for a few minutes until it's foamy.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, salt, cardamom, milk, butter, yeast mixture and 4 cups flour, until smooth.  Gradually add the remaining flour until a workable dough is formed.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead, about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  (At the Sassy house, we call it "Baby's Butt" and it should be just as smooth and nice and not at all sticky!)

  (That's what I mean by baby's butt)

Clean out the bowl you mixed the dough in, dry it, and grease it with butter.  Put the dough into the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rise in a warm and draft-free place until doubled, about 60-90 minutes.

Punch dough down and divide into 2 portions.  Divide each portion into 3 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into an 18 inch rope. 

(It's like making snakes with play-dough)

Braid the ropes and press and tuck under the ends.  Repeat with the other portion of dough.  Place each loaf on parchment-lined baking sheets, cover with the damp towel, and let rise again until doubled, about an hour.

(Braided and ready to rise)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Brush egg-milk mixture onto each loaf and sprinkle with the sugar.  Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, rotate loaves in oven, reduce heat to 325 and bake for 30 minutes more until the loaves are golden and sound hollow on the bottoms when tapped.

Cool on wire racks as long as you can stand it, then slice and spread with butter.  Yep.

Highly recommend serving with hot cocoa after outside play!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Indian" Beef

Once again, I'm taking liberties with food and culture and tradition.  But aren't we supposed to take recipes and ideas and make them our own?

Chances are, most practicing Hindu Indians would not be cooking beef.  Goat?  Sure.  Lamb?  Of course!  But I have a lot of ground beef, and usually do, so that's what I use.  I also have no idea if tomatoes and peas would be found in a dish like this, but they look pretty and taste good, so why not?

This recipe came to me from a friend, and she called it "Indian Lamb and Garlic."  My friend raises sheep on her farmette and they have plenty of ground lamb in their freezer.  Me?  Not so much.  I'd sure love some, though.

So at the Sassy house, we use beef.  I've upped the amounts of many of the spices because they are so good!    I added a few more, along with more of this and less of that, and there it is - my recipe!

We serve this with some sort of middle-eastern flat bread, such as pita, naan or lavash.  There's a great bakery in our area that makes all of the above, and I can get most of them at my store any old time I want.  Another essential component of this meal is chutney!  Now that's Indian, for sure.  You can buy many different kinds of chutney at the grocery store, but I like the traditional mango type.  Major Grey is just fine.  Spicy or mild, whatever suits you.  Of course you can make your own chutney, and I have, and it's easy as can be.  There are plenty of good recipes on the web, or you could make the cranberry chutney I make at Thanksgiving.  Tangy, sweet, spicy, piquant - those are the flavors you're looking for.

Then there's raita.  That's the cucumber yogurt sauce found in India, and in other parts of the Middle East or Mediterranean it might be known at tzaziki.  I decided I liked flavors from both, so my final product is hybrid of the two.  It's a typical cooling sauce to offset the spice and heat found in Indian cooking.

This is not a traditional "curry" but most of the curry spices are found in the recipe.  Please, please, PLEASE taste this as you cook and decide which flavors you like more of, and then ADD THEM!  I personally don't like too much cinnamon, but prefer more turmeric and chili powder.  You decide :)

Tell your kids "no forks tonight" and enjoy eating this meal with your hands.  Use the bread to scoop and mop and sop, lick your fingers and then lick your plate.

And if you're like me and about half of the country right now, you may find some relief from your head cold or flu or sinus infection as you hunker over a plate of this delicious, nutritious and fragrant food.  This recipe makes plenty of food for 6-8 people (if some of them are kids!).

Indian Beef

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 very large or 2 regular yellow onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon each of the following spices (and this is just a starting point in terms of amounts):
ginger, ground
cumin, ground
chili powder
black pepper
mustard seed
coriander seed
cumin seed
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup frozen peas

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat butter and oil.  Add onion and garlic and cook until starting to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add ALL the spices and let them toast and heat for a few minutes.  Add the beef and cook, breaking up and allowing to brown all the way.  Drain off some of the fat if you must, but it surely isn't necessary.

Add the lemon juice and tomatoes.  Simmer for a few minutes and taste for seasoning.  Now is the time to add more heat or salt or whatever you feel it needs.  Add the peas and stir to heat through, just a minute or two.

Serve with flatbread, raita (recipe below) and chutney.


2 cups whole milk yogurt
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
large pinch of salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
several mint leaves, chopped

Stir all ingredients together.  Taste and add more salt if needed.  Allow to sit, covered, in the refrigerator for a couple hours before serving if you can.

 The raita

 I like when they do this on cooking shows!

All done and ready to serve.

My plate.  MINE!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chicken Marsala

For the life of me, I cannot imagine why I haven't made this meal in a very long time.  Remember me waxing poetic about chicken-mushrooms-cream?  Yep, this is another variation thereof.  Only the wine has changed.

Do you know Marsala wine?  It's so yummy!  It's an Italian sherry, a tiny bit on the sweet side, with plenty of depth of flavor.  It's a perfect partner to mushrooms and chicken.  You can find a fairly small bottle at your liquor store, it keeps for a long time in the refrigerator, it's fine to sip, and if you want to go crazy some night, you can use it to make a really great Italian dessert custard called Zabaglione.

This dish takes almost no time to make.  In fact, if you pasta isn't nearly cooked and ready to go by the time you're finishing the sauce, you'll be sorry.  Perfect timing is to dump the pasta into the pot to start cooking just when you start the chicken cooking.  10 minutes, start to finish.  Not bad for something that tastes "gourmet" but is really far from it.  Add in a few minutes at the beginning to mince shallots and slice mushrooms, and it's a quick and delicious weeknight meal.

Serve it with a green vegetable if you like, such as green beans or broccoli, and a simple salad.  Sometimes I like bread with a pasta meal, but really - do we need two carbs?

Later in the evening, when you're watching a movie or sitting n the bath or winding down, drink a tiny glass of the Marsala you used in this dish.  It's worth tasting.  If you like, sip a bit while you're cooking.  I'm a firm believer in using wine in cooking that you would actually drink.  Surely you know this by now!

In case you care, our weatherman is saying the nicest things about the next several days.  I'm thinking steaks on the grill for Valentine's dinner.  Here in the North, anything above 30 degrees is grilling weather.

Have a great weekend with your family - cook something special and serve it with love!

Chicken Marsala

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 - 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons minced shallots (or onion)
8 - 12 ounces sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
a bit of the cooking liquid from the pasta
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
1 pound fettucine or similar pasta
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

If your chicken breasts are not uniform, pound them to an even thickness using a mallet, between two sheets of wax paper.  I like to cut them into strips because it's easier to serve a small portion to little kids. 

Make sure your big pot of water is boiling for your pasta to cook!  Add the fettuccine to the boiling water during the early part of the chicken cooking.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil and butter over medium high heat.  Put flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper.  Lightly roll the chicken it the flour mixture and add to the hot skillet.  Brown on each side for 3 or 4 minutes, remove to a plate (they will finish cooking later).  Add an additional tablespoon of butter to the pan and add shallots.  Reduce heat to medium low and cook for a few minutes. Add mushrooms, another pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until shallots are soft and mushrooms are tender, about 4 or 5 minutes.

Add Marsala to the pan and increase heat slightly.  Scrape the pan well to loosen all those good brown bits!  Simmer for a minute.  Add the chicken back to the pan, turning it to coat in the sauce.  Simmer for a few minutes, adding a half cup or so of the pasta water, plus the cream or half and half.  Turn the chicken again and the sauce is done.  Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

Drain the pasta, pour it into a large pasta bowl.  Pour the chicken and sauce on top and sprinkle with the parsley.

(Using 5 chicken breasts cut into strips and 1 - 1/2 pounds of pasta, this served my family of 8)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chocolate Cobbler

"Mom, this doesn't taste like you.  Did someone else bring it?" 

Spoken by my 12 year old son.  As he devoured a huge, gooey pile of this chocolate cobbler with home made vanilla ice cream.

I've been thinking about his comment this morning and had to ask Mr. Sassy what he thought it meant.  We agreed together that I don't make "gooey."  Which might have to change, apparently. 

We had 17 people here for dinner last night, and I served the Bolognese Sauce with Baked Herb Polenta.  It was made and in the freezer already, so I had time to make a new dessert.

My dear pal Em, who lives waaaaaay south of the Mason-Dixon line, came through with this recipe.  You'll have to visit her blog to get to know her, she's as cute as a bug's ear.  Here's the link:

And here's her recipe.  Vanilla ice cream has to share the plate.  HAS to.

Chocolate Cobbler

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 1/2 sticks butter
2 cups self-rising flour (per cup of regular flour, remove 2 tsp and replace with 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 TBS unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Melt butter in 9x13 baking dish while oven preheats. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth. Pour this over melted butter.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups boiling water

Stir together the remaining sugar and cocoa powder, and sprinkle this over the batter in the baking dish. Slowly pour boiling water over the top of the mixture.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes until mostly set.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bolognese Sauce on Baked Herb Polenta

February 1st.  Cold outside, feet of snow, major lack of sunlight, you get the picture, right?

Since about 2/3 of the country is being slammed by a major winter storm just now, you can all hunker down over the next few days and make a really big pot of this delicious, hearty, complex-tasting, simple-to-make classic meat sauce.  Go ahead and serve it on some extra wide pasta ribbons, but just once I recommend trying baked polenta.

I've made Bolognese sauce many times, and I've never once made it the truly authentic way they do in Bologna, Italy.  But that's ok, because tonight my seven year old daughter announced that she wants to live somewhere that they cook "Italy-ish" food.  Great!  She can go there and report back on the whole authenticity deal.

Bolognese is supposed to have pancetta in it.  Well, Sassy didn't have any pancetta in the house and I was not about to swagger into town on this frigid day for a couple of ounces of expensive Italian bacon.  But wouldn't it have been nice?  You can add it to your sauce - just dice it up and cook it with the first vegetables.

I love this sauce for many reasons.  I have every single ingredient in my pantry, refrigerator and freezer at any given time.  You probably do, too!  It gets sweetness from the carrot-onion-celery dice, richness from Parmesan and cream, acidity from white wine and tomatoes, and heartiness from all that good ground beef.  Some day I'd like to try it with a combination of ground beef, pork and veal, but straight ground beef is just terrific.

Giada says she likes this over polenta.  Sure, why not?  Her Bolognese recipe is very simple and quick, so I combined what I knew from her along with a few different recipes found on the web.  I had a full afternoon to let the sauce simmer.  And since she contributed the polenta idea, I'm going to trust her Italy-ish-ness on this whole thing.

Polenta is just cornmeal mush, chilled, sliced and baked.  It's nice served creamy and hot straight from the pan, but when you chill it in a buttered loaf pan, it firms up and slices beautifully, then bakes on a sheet pan to a lovely, golden crispiness.  I can think of a dozen different things to do with all the leftover slices I have - first up will be fried in butter tomorrow morning next to my fried egg.  Oh, yes.

The Bolognese sauce takes about two hours to "cook" but only a few minutes to prep and fuss over.  The polenta cooks the night before, chills for several hours, and then bakes up in just 20 minutes.

Turn on your music for this one.  Frank and the boys are aching to croon for you.

(Note:  I made a huge amount of sauce.  There are almost 3 quarts in my freezer, plus there was enough for tonight's dinner.  Reduce quantities to your liking.)

Bolognese Sauce

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely diced carrot
1 cup finely diced celery
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
3 pounds of ground meat (beef, veal, pork)
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
2 - 28 ounce cans of plum tomatoes with juice
1 teaspoon each dried thyme, parsley and basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half

In a large Dutch oven, heat oil and butter over medium-low heat.  Add carrot, celery, onion and garlic, plus a big pinch of salt and pepper, and saute until softened, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from pot to a bowl and set aside.  Increase heat to medium and add meat and another pinch of salt to pot.  Cook until meat is no longer pink.  If your meat was very high in fat, drain off a bit of it.  Add the vegetables back into the pot, along with the wine, broth, tomatoes, herbs and another pinch of salt and pepper.  Simmer on low, uncovered, for at least one hour until the sauce has thickened.  Taste for seasoning.  Before serving, stir cheese and cream into the simmering sauce, and remove from heat immediately.

Baked Herb Polenta

6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups polenta (cornmeal)
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
more salt to taste

In a large sauce pot, bring water and salt to a boil.  Slowly add polenta, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently to prevent burning, for about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in butter, cheese, and seasonings.

Butter a 9 inch loaf pan.  Pour polenta into the pan and smooth top.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn polenta onto a cutting board.  Slice 1/4 or 3/8 inch thick.  Cut each slice into two triangles.  Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until the edges are crisp and golden.

Polenta, ready for the chillin'

Pretty dicey, about to get soft.

 That's a LOT of meat!

Simmering glory (make sure you have some bread around for dip-tasting).

Crispy from the oven.

Ready to dig in :)

Crockpot Asian Beef Roast

Credit is due, and here it is - I absolutely LOVE the blog "A Year of Slow Cooking!"

You gotta go there.  A very funny, creative and clever mom used her crockpot every day for a full year.  By the time she got cranked up, she had more than one going per day.  Recipes poured in, she willingly tried them.  Darn it all if she didn't end up on the tele, and getting a book deal, and such.  Way to go!  Her blog inspired me to start mine, among a few others.

This is her recipe.  The ONLY thing I changed was I served this shredded beef over rice, and I added broccoli at the end of the cooking time.  The sauce is divine.  Divine.

My friend who lives in Singapore teases me when I talk about cooking Asian.  Ok, fine, there's no bugs or eels or dog in my food.  So sue me.  I just happen to love the flavors of soy-ginger-garlic in many different variations and combinations.

I thought of tagging this on to my entry about crockpot roasts, but it's so good I determined it needed an entry all on its own.  Here you go!

Crockpot Asian Beef Roast

One four pound beef roast (I used rump, chuck would be nice, too)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup prepared hoisin sauce
6 tablespoons ketchup
6 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder (gotta have this, it's so good!)
6-8 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound broccoli, trimmed and broken into spears*

Mix the sauce ingredients in a bowl.  Place the roast in the crockpot, pour the sauce over it all.  Cook on low for 7 hours.  Remove meat from pot, shred it up and return to the pot.  Place broccoli on top of meat and continue to cook on low for an hour.  Serve it right out of the pot on a bed of white or brown rice.

*NOTE:  You could easily substitute sliced carrots for the broccoli if it suits your family better.  Or any veggie for that matter.  Add some chopped bok choy at the end!  Pea pods would be so good, just a bit less cooking time than the broccoli or carrots.