Monday, February 1, 2016

Meatballs and Veg Sauce

It's winter, and meals like these are super comforting. I typically don't make meatballs too often, but was feeling like it for some reason this week. I was considering the ingredients and process as I meal planned, and was really excited when I sat down to eat this last night.

This delightful vegetable sauce pairs extremely well with the pork-free, gluten-free meatballs. The sauce is rich in flavor, sweet, tangy, and deep. The meatballs are a simple combination of ground meat, with a tender texture and subtle herb flavor. Be sure to garnish with parmesan and lemon zest, with a sprinkle of basil. It makes the dish complete— and perfect.

We haven't been eating pork for a few months now, so I've used chicken sausage with ground beef for this recipe. The combination created the same flavors I was seeking, but whatever your preference, both will still work great. I just use an egg as the binding agent, and nix the crumb component completely. Along with the ingredients, the process is really important too. Partially frying the meatballs before adding them into the sauce, really helps to sear in the moisture and tenderness of the meatball, while giving it a nice exterior texture.

The sauce contains red wine, and a healthy dose of vegetables. I love the taste of the slowly simmered veg, it may have been my favorite part. Tasting this sauce for the first time knocked my socks off. Don't be afraid to taste it though, just to make sure it's hitting the spot for you too. For the noodles, I used brown rice spaghetti noodles, which have a great texture.

All around, this is a great meal that I highly suggest trying out. Definitely doing this meal again, and since I was so swayed, I just had to share it with you too. I hope you enjoy!

Meatballs and Veg Sauce
Time: 1 hr 20 min Serves: 4-5
Pork-Free Gluten-Free
Cook's note: If you have the time to let the sauce simmer for awhile, feel free to do so. It gets more amazing with the longer it can simmer. Stir it occasionally, to make sure it's not sticking to the bottom.

1, 24 oz jar of tomato sauce, I used a garlic flavored one
2/3 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large zucchini, cubed
1/2 cup mushrooms, quartered
1/3 cup red wine, I used a Cabernet Sauvignon

1 package, or about .75 lbs, chicken Italian sausage
1 package, or about 1-1.5 lbs, ground beef, preferably organic
1 egg
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tbsp oregano, dried
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/2 tsp sage, dried
1/4 tsp rosemary, dried
1/3 cup olive oil (for frying)

1 package spaghetti noodles, I used brown rice pasta, follow package instructions to cook. Set aside with a bit of drizzled olive oil to prevent them sticking too much together.
Zest of 1 lemon, divided
1/2 cup parmesan, finely grated
fresh basil for topping

How To:
In a large sauté pan with about 4-5 inch depth, add all sauce ingredients. Heat over medium, to medium-low heat. Stir to incorporate, and cover with a lid. Let sauce simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Stir occasionally, and again right before adding meatballs.

For meatballs, combine all ingredients. Mix with a metal spoon until ingredients are well incorporated. Form meatballs with your hands to about 1/4 cup each. Set on a plate.

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan, over medium heat. Don't allow the oil to smoke, it may take a couple minutes until the oil is hot enough. Add about half of the formed meatballs to the hot oil. Fry in two batches so that they don't touch while cooking. Be careful to not burn yourself. Let meatballs brown on one side without being disturbed, for about five minutes. Using tongs, gently flip over to the other side. Let them cook for about two minutes.

Using tongs, gently add browned meatballs into the sauce pan, evenly distributing them. Turn heat down to low. Cover with a lid, and continue to cook for another 30 minutes up to an hour. Taste sauce, adjust seasoning if needed.

To plate, use tongs to swirl the spaghetti onto the plate. Scoop sauce and meatballs over spaghetti, using care to cover the noodles. Generously dust each plate with parmesan cheese, and a pinch of lemon zest. Tear basil into smaller pieces and sprinkle over dish. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Oma's Nokle Soup

I wanted to feature a heritage soup that originated in Yugoslavia and Austria from my Oma and her mom before her. I'm not sure if it goes back even further, but I feel lucky to get to taste something that has been served to many generations in my family.

My grandma's family were farmers. I think about them working in the fields, and cooking over the fire they built inside the oven. It's a reality so separated from my own, but I still think it should be considered and regarded as important as my own family heritage.

This soup has been served to me and my cousins ever since we can remember. As we got older and were asked what we wanted to eat, we would invariably answer Nokle Soup. It's a dish that is rustic and easy to make.

The recipe utilizes large pieces of everything, so don't cut the ingredients too small. The beauty of it is its rustic quality. The tastes are pure and very soul-satisfying.

Nokles are flour and egg dumplings that are really easy to make. The texture is smooth with a dense interior crumb. The ingredients of this soup are very simple, and you may be tempted to add to it, but the simplicity of the process and the straight-forward taste of each ingredient will really win you over. The broth is very flavorful, yet mild enough for the more delicate palate.

Although this isn't a Christmas dish my family served during the holidays or anything like that, it's one of those recipes I hold close to my heart. As I get older, Christmas is magical for different reasons. It's not so much the gifts we receive but it's about the people we love, past and present.

I hope you have a lovely holiday, and enjoy Christmas with those you love. Also, this soup could be a nice dish to serve after all of those heavy holiday meals— just saying. ;)

Oma's Nokle Soup
Time: 1 hr 15 min Serves: 4-6
Cook's Note: The yield is really easy to increase. If you would like to add a whole parted chicken, it works really great, just make sure to cover with water. Also, you can add more or less veg depending on taste. My Oma says that you can add any type of vegetable you like as well, things like celery or mushrooms.

1 onion, chopped into large pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/4 tsp whole peppercorns
1/2 tsp paprika
2 chicken breasts on bone, or any chicken pieces on bone, preferably use Free-Range, organic
5 carrots, peeled and cut in half (or thirds)
2 - 3 tomatoes, halved
1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into large pieces, preferably use organic
1 tsp Himalayan sea salt, or to taste
4-5 stalks of cilantro (with leaves), optional

Nokle Ingredients:
1 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup water, less or more depending on dough

How To:
In a large stock pot, add about 7-8 cups water, preferably filtered. Put over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, peppercorns, paprika, chicken, carrots, tomatoes, and potato. Bring to a boil, and drop heat down to medium-low. Cover pot, slightly askew to allow steam to escape. Let simmer for about an hour.

Skim off any built up foam, discard. Remove chicken from pot and de-bone. Cut meat into large pieces. Discard bones and fat. Add meat back into pot. At this point, you can break apart the larger pieces of potato a bit, using the back of a wooden spoon.

Add salt and cilantro. Stir to incorporate.

Prepare the nokle dough:
In a medium bowl, sift in flour (or whisk). Add salt. Add eggs to the middle of the flour and stir around with a spoon.

Add about two tablespoons of water, stir. Continue to add a small amount of water until the dough is smooth and still thick. You may need less or more water as is indicated in ingredient list. The goal is to get it smooth and manageable, not too dry; and not too wet (it should be like really soft play dough).

With a spoon, cut into dough, scooping about a tablespoon and a half. It should roughly be in the shape of a crescent. Use another spoon and gently push the dough off of the first spoon into the simmering soup.

Continue this process, gently dropping each dumpling into the soup in all visibly open spots. Don't pile the dumplings on top of each other, but it's okay if they start to touch. Don't stir the soup at this point.

Cover pot with lid and let dumplings cook for 15 minutes undisturbed.

Remove lid after 15 minutes, and the nokles should have puffed up and filled the whole circumference of the pot. At this point you can gently stir the soup with a wooden spoon.

Taste soup for seasoning, adjust if needed. You may remove the whole peppercorns before serving if you wish, or just give a heads up to those you're serving.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Quick Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies

These last few weekends I've felt so satisfied. I've realized personal goals of mine, and after coming to the realization myself, I shared them with Billy as well. I realized in order to feel fulfilled in my personal life, I want to be able to paint as often as possible, as well as bake two or three times a month. 

I had been denying myself these things, because I wanted to make sure my house was clean, and that dinners were perfectly planned. This took up so much of my time during my days off, that when evening came around, I would be too tired to paint or bake. With Billy's help and my determination, I've finally chiseled out some time for myself to do these things. 

It had been bothering me for awhile. I was beginning to think I wouldn't ever find time to do them again on a regular basis. Probably due to inspiration from a class I'm taking, and getting older, realizing life is short (turning 30 next year is really making me think I guess), has really motivated me to make sure I'm expressing the gifts I have been given. The class I'm taking is called Finding Purpose (for designers and artists), just in case you were curious. 

Yesterday I painted and baked! I hadn't even been thinking about baking, but after I was done painting, I thought a chewy cookie would be pretty rad. I looked at the clock, checked on my ingredients, and made it happen. These cookies are my go-to (for the past 6 years). They are hand-mixed, and very quick to make. 

The process of making these cookies is kind of philosophical. It's a form of meditation in a way. I noticed myself getting tense a lot when doing something I love, because I almost feel guilty that I'm enjoying myself. So, I have been consciously slowing down, taking deep breaths, and enjoying the moments when I'm doing something like, for instance, baking. This life change, is really that, a huge life change. Besides my personal story with facing fast-paced culture, I also want to share with you the actual process of making these cookies too. I hope you enjoy. And even if you think I'm a wee bit crazy, at least it can hopefully be a bit entertaining. 

So here goes.

I like to mix my cookie dough by hand, especially when it's for a quick batch that I'm making on a whim. I tried mixing by hand about six years ago, and ever since find it hard to go back to using a mixer. The ingredients are so vibrant, and as you add each item, you can be really in-tune with what each ingredient needs. You can tell if each granule of sugar has been incorporated. You can tell when the egg begins to make the dough shimmer. You can see the baking soda almost give lift to the batter. You can make sure that you're not over mixing the flour, keeping the tough gluten strands away. 

The dough will be light in color as well as texture. When you portion out your dough, it will feel sticky. Don't compress it too hard into the scooper or spoon, but let it be true to its own form. Putting too much stress on the dough, whether by over mixing, or by compressing when forming the balls, will cause the cookies to be dried out and tough. Go easy on it, and on yourself. Cookie making should feel very natural each step of the way. 

I have streamlined this recipe to be a one-bowl job. Also, if you haven't tried it yet, try out my sifting trick I mentioned in my last post. Reminder— put a little amount of the dry ingredients, at a time, into a small metal sieve over your mixing bowl. Tap the side. This method will make your dry ingredients like powder, and will help them to assimilate very smoothly into the wet ingredients. 

Again, remember to not rush it. Just go with the flow, and your cookies will turn out like little clouds of succinct flavor (salty-sweet) with a slightly-resistant texture (chewy!). 

Enjoy! Do you have any cookie tricks you'd like to share?

Quick Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Apartment Therapy Total Time: 30 min Yield: about 12 cookies
Kitchen Tested
Cook's Note: Remember to use a light colored cookie sheet when making baked goods. If a tray is too dark, it will more likely than not, tend to burn your cookies, or cause what's baking to have a darker bottom than desired. Another tip is to let your oven heat for an adequate amount of time. After it indicates that it's at the right temp, don't bake right away. Give it another 15 minutes or so before putting anything in to bake.

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter, softened
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp packed brown sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar, I use organic pure cane
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract, I use organic
1/2 tsp Himalayan pink salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour, I use non-GMO flour
1 cup chocolate chips, I use Ghirardelli 70% dark

How To:
Preheat oven to 375º F. Line a light-colored cookie sheet with parchment paper. 

Cut butter into approximately even chunks or slices. Add it to a large mixing bowl (I use a glass bowl that is narrow on the bottom and wider on the top. This helps incorporate ingredients well).

Add in brown sugar. With a metal spoon (I use a soup spoon), mix together butter and sugar until no more butter streaks are visible. Add in granulated sugar, and mix until there are no visible granules. The mixture will seem like a paste.

Add the egg into the butter-sugar mixture. Stir the egg in, starting with smaller swirls, working up to larger swirls. Continue until incorporated. With a rubber spatula, scrape sides of bowl. Mix again until the batter has a slight shimmer to it (about another minute or so). 

Add vanilla and salt. Mix, scrape sides of bowl, mix again.

Sift dry ingredients over the wet ingredients. Use a sifter, or place a small amount of dry ingredients into small metal sieve placed over the bowl. Tap the side of sieve. Repeat until all dry ingredients have been added to bowl. With the metal spoon, mix the batter in large strokes. Cut into the middle of the dry-wet mix, and incorporate slowly. It will seem really shaggy at first, but in time it will come together. Cut through the mix, do a circular stroke, and repeat. Do this until the mixture doesn't have dry ingredients left at the bottom of the bowl. Scrape the bowl.

Add chocolate chips. Cut through the dough with the spoon, and mix around. Repeat 3 or 4 times. Remember to be gentle with the dough.

The dough will be a light color, as well as very tacky/sticky. 

With a baker's scoop (or small icecream scooper), portion out dough on to prepared tray. Don't pack in dough, but be gentle as you portion it out. Leave about 3-4 inches between each cookie. Bake for about 8-11 minutes. I like to keep my oven light on, so that nearing the end of baking, I can keep a close eye on the cookies to pull them when they're the right amount of golden-brown. Oven temps always vary, so be vigilant! 

Place the remaining batter in fridge while the first batch bakes.

When you remove the tray from the oven, let the cookies sit for one minute, and then remove them to a cooling rack. Cool for 2 hours before placing in an air-tight container, lined with parchment paper. They will keep great at room temperature for two-three days. Enjoy!

I have also done an oatmeal, raisin, chocolate chip version of this cookie. Add 3/4 cup rolled oats, 3/4 cup raisins, and 3/4 chocolate chips. Follow the same directions as above, and add in these ingredients together where it states to add the chocolate chips. Everything else is the same as above. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Pumpkin Carrot Muffins


Fall in the Phoenix area has finally arrived. It's a beautiful time of year to be here. I know some of you are probably already in the chilly time of year, and it's funny to think that we're just entering into the 80s and sometimes 70s. We've been drinking hot tea again, and I've been enjoying baking again as well.

For the past two months I had been wanting to bake something with pumpkin. Last week, I tried a Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Bread, which was delicious, but really more like a Chocolate cake, and really sweet. This week, still craving something pumpkin, I made these perfect little bites. Pumpkin Carrot Muffins. I enjoy the healthier options of using white whole wheat, carrots, and pumpkin. Yes, they probably still could be a bit healthier, but I have to say, they really hit the spot.

The muffins are very moist and packed with flavor. The blend of spices is dynamic and deep, bringing a hint of smokiness to the otherwise bright flavor. You could always add nuts if you'd like, or sprinkle the top of the muffins with Flax seeds for added nutrition. Regular flour would work just fine too if that's what you have on hand. I use white whole wheat, since it still has the nutrition of whole wheat, but it bakes a little lighter.

These are lovely for breakfast, or for an afternoon snack with your favorite tea.

Enjoy! What Pumpkin things have you enjoyed this Fall?

Food for Thought:
I recommend trying this trick. Sift your dry ingredients using a metal sieve over your mixing bowl. I've really noticed a superior texture and proper mix of ingredients doing it this way. Just add a little of the dry ingredient at a time to the sieve, and lightly tap the edge while holding it over your bowl. The result is powdery and light. I started doing this when I realized just whisking wasn't enough (biting into a slice of freshly made Banana Bread and getting a salty bite of baking soda is not what I call a pleasant experience).

Pumpkin Carrot Muffins
Time: 1 hr Yield: 14-16 Medium-Size Muffins

1 cup white whole wheat flour, sifted (I use Non-GMO flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp Himalayan salt
2-3 small-medium carrots, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
2/3 cup sugar, plus a little for sprinking (I use organic Non-GMO pure cane)
3 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

How To:
Preheat oven to 375ºF, with rack adjusted to the middle. Line a muffin pan with liners, or lightly butter.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. (I like to use a small metal sieve to sift pre-measured dry ingredients into a bowl.) Whisk ingredients, and set bowl aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add grated carrots, pumpkin puree, sugar, oil, and vanilla. Mix well with a spoon or spatula. Scraping the sides of the bowl. Add in one egg at a time, and incorporate well after each addition. Add in raisins (if using). 

In two batches, add the flour mix to the wet mix. Gently fold batter and mix until just blended and flour is no longer visible (do not overmix). 

Using a small baker's scoop (or icecream scoop), portion out batter into prepared pan. I fill each with about 1/4 cup batter. (I do it this way because I like smaller portions for my snacks. If you want a full size muffin, fill the cups about 3/4 full.) You may end up having extra batter for round two.

Sprinkle each muffin lightly with a little sugar. Bake for 16 - 20 minutes (oven temps always vary, so keep vigilant). The edges will be golden brown and they will have slightly puffed. Check with a toothpick for doneness.  Let muffins rest in pan for five minutes before removing.

Eat warm with a sliver of butter and a cup of tea. Hope you enjoy!
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