Pink Sauce

Originally published in the Herald Sun September 2011.

So, The Kid came home a few days ago, finished with six months of summer internship and first-time completely independent living. Petey and I filled the fridge with childhood favorites like Clementines and RC Cola, and counted the hours.
I made a big pot of childhood’s favorite guilty pleasure; pink sauce.
Despite being the child of an Italian girl from Jersey, I have never liked red sauce (called Sunday gravy by my mom and her sisters). Consequently, I never made it. If Petey or The Kid wanted spaghetti and meatballs, they had to leave home, and get their fix on the streets.
Because I wanted to make some kind of spaghetti for the family, but mainly because I’m always looking for something thick and yummy to ladle onto carbs, I came up with this coral-colored, indulgent concoction.
I invented this recipe before I could really cook, and The Kid has loved it for years. This sauce is not for the faint of heart. It should be no more than an occasional treat if you want to fit into your jeans or look your doctor in the eye. Fat is flavor, and can be the culinary equivilant of false eyelashes and push-up bra for the novice cook.
A big pot of this bubbling velvet starts the day before the finished dish. I make a batch of meatballs. My walnut-sized offerings are made with a mixture of ground veal and pork. Before the meat even comes out of the fridge, I make a panade. A panade is a bread ripped into tiny pieces and soaked until saturated.
My soak is egg, cream, shredded Parm, finely chopped garlic, chiffonade of basil, a splash of both olive oil and marsala wine, and salt and pepper. When the bread and the soak are one, I break the ground meat into small pieces and lightly mix, almost fold the mixture together. If you go nuts and mix your meatballs too much, they will be rubbery and dry.
I can’t fry a spherical meatball to save my life. So, I bake them, on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet, at 350 for twelve minutes, and a few minutes minutes under the broiler, flipped once. This gives them some color that translates to flavor in the finished product.
To get them uniform in size, I use a smallish cookie/portion scoop. I roll them into balls, sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and a little bit of freshly ground nutmeg. About eighteen or so go in the sauce, and any extra go in the freezer for future use.
The sauce itself is pretty simple. I brown 10-12 Italian sausages that I’ve cut into one inch slices. I remove them from the pot and carmelize about 1 1/2 pounds of sliced mushrooms, a small onion chopped, and five or six chopped cloves of garlic. Then I add back the sausage and a can of tomato paste. When the paste has cooked to a deep burgundy, I deglaze with a cup of marsala. When the wine is almost gone, I dump in a quart of chicken stock and 2 cups of cream. Into it I put a couple of tablespoons of sundried tomatoes, 1/2 cup shredded Parm, a tablespoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of chopped basil, a drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
When it comes to a boil I thicken it slightly with a peanut butter colored roux and add the meatballs. It then slowly cooks for hours on the stove top.
When we’re ready to eat, I toss in another handful of chopped basil for fresh flavor.
I serve it on spaghetti, bake it into ziti, and use it on a ton of other things. The Kid is convinced it would be tasty on an old tennis shoe. Tonight we’re having leftover sauce on rice, my personal favorite.
Thanks for your time.

Sneaky Pilaf

Here’s my wish for you:

I hope that after more than thirty years together, you and your SO (significant other) are still capable of surprising the heck out of each other.

By now, Petey and I know each other pretty well.

He knows I consider frosting a necessary food group.  That Roger Moore was the best Bond.  And to never bring up how many shoes I own.

I’ve come to accept that when he is holding the remote, we will never watch a program all the way through from start to finish.  And it’s futile to try and get him out of what The Kid calls the Canadian tuxedo; jeans and a jean jacket, with a t-shirt in the summer, or a flannel shirt in the colder months.

But lately, when it comes to food, he has shocked me to the core.

A couple of years ago, I found out that coconut cake is one of his favorite desserts.  Then after making many, many batches of my green pork chili, he confessed that he’s not a fan (at the time of this revelation I had a gallon bagged up in the freezer, which The Kid generously offered to take off my hands).

In a quest to eat healthier, I bought a ten pound bag of brown rice at Costco; with Petey’s full knowledge and cooperation.

But a month or so ago, he sheepishly informed me that he doesn’t really like it.

I told him that we would have to eat it up, but I would alternate brown rice dinners with the white stuff.  I may have told him that, but I hate serving him food that he doesn’t enjoy, so it wasn’t really being used.

He does love pilafs.  When we go out to eat, if there is pilaf on the menu, he orders it, even over things like creamy mashed, or loaded baked potatoes.

The other night I decided to make a pilaf.  One thing I love about them is that they’re a great opportunity to use up any vegetables in the fridge that are past their prime.

I always use stock in my pilaf, so the cooked rice isn’t snow white.  So I would use this stock camouflage to substitute brown rice in my recipe, hoping that the flavor, and chewy characteristics of the wild rice I planned on adding would disguise my deceit.

It worked.  Petey had no idea he was eating brown rice.  And when I told him, he liked it so much, he didn’t even slow down the chowing down.

Brown and wild rice pilaf

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

2 cups mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms

1 cup celery, chopped

3 large carrots, chopped

1 teaspoon each dried thyme

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/3 cups brown rice

2/3 cup wild rice

1/2 cup white wine

1 teaspoon porcini powder (available at Lowes Foods)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3 3/4 cups chicken or mushroom stock or some combination of both

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375. Put 2 cups salted water in a saucepan and bring to boil.  Drop in clean dried mushrooms, and let boil for 3 minutes.  Drain, using cheesecloth or paper towels to catch any dirt and reserve stock for pilaf.  Slice mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.

In a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Sauté fresh and dried mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions and herbs, until lightly browned; about 8-10 minutes. Add both rices and garlic, then stir until the grains are toasted and well coated, about 3 minutes.

Deglaze with wine.  When’s it’s absorbed, stir in the stock, add porcini powder and Worcestershire. Taste liquid for seasoning, and adjust if needed.  Bring to a simmer, stir and cover.

Transfer the pot to oven and bake until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, 65-75 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Serves 8 to 10.

     The recent spousal revelations have, at times, sent me reeling.  I’m afraid that one of these days I’ll find out I’m married to an opera lover who hates scrambled eggs, and loves cats.

Thanks for your time.

Cheap Eats

From a Herald-Sun column published 5/16/2012
Mario Battali, an iron chef and successful restauranteur, is participating in an interesting, touching experiment. For one week, he, his family, and others in the food community are eating on $31.00. The amount is the maximum of one person’s food stamps.
That’s $1.48 per meal.
The object of the exercise is to illustrate how tough this can be. And, to persuade the government to stop cutting food aid in this very precarious economy.
This started me thinking about trying to put meals on the table for practically pennies.
It ain’t easy.
Free-range, organic, hormone-free? Forget it. That stuff automatically adds about 50% to the price. Frozen meals, pre-fab boxes, and prepared food is also out.
Think simple, think from scratch. Think starch.
Pasta, rice, and potatoes. They’re cheap and filling. But, as far as nutrition goes, they’re lacking.
So, that leaves meat and vegetables for vitamins and minerals. But generally, meat, dairy, and veg are the most expensive things in your cart. So, what to do?
You have to shop the bargains. Cheap cuts of meat, store brands of dairy, and look for sales.
As for vegetables, canned will be the bulk of them. Occasionally stores will have sales in the produce section, but not often. An eagle-eye and some luck will score fresh veggies, but it’s an uncommon occurrence.
All of this made me think about some dishes that I make which are inexpensive. Things that can stretch to feed extra mouths. Filling satisfying meals that don’t cost much.
Starches are great for bulking up a dish. Use meat more as an accent, rather than the main food of the meal. Or buy a cheap cut, say a pork butt, and it can be eaten for days, in different dishes.
One dish that I make, is cheap, and stretchable. My mom’s version is called porcupine meatballs. But I can’t cook a meatball that stays round and pretty. So I make the same thing into patties, and we call it “roadkill”. It’s actually one of our family’s favorite dishes. We all look forward to roadkill day.

Roadkill
1 pound ground beef (or turkey)
1 1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 egg
1 head garlic
1 can tomato sauce
2 cups beef stock (or water)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons cooking oil
salt and pepper

Roast the garlic: cut the head in half, and put both pieces into a piece of tin foil. Drizzle with a bit of oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a little thyme. Close tightly, and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool, still in the foil.
In a large bowl, put rice, the roasted garlic cloves, hamburger, the egg, a tablespoon of oil, the herbs, salt and pepper and a tablespoon or so of the tomato sauce, reserving the rest. Mix well, and form into patties about the size of a hamburger patty.
Heat a large heavy pot with the rest of the oil. Brown the roadkill on both sides and remove to a plate.
Into the hot pot, pour in the rest of the tomato sauce, and the beef stock or water. Replace the burgers, and when it comes to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and cook on medium low for about an hour. The rice takes longer to cook than the meat, so when the rice is cooked all the way, the roadkill is done.

The great thing about this dish, other than the flavor, is you can add more rice if you need to. I usually use about half of the amount of rice to meat. But you can change the proportions depending on cash and diners.
As cheap as this dish is, it would still probably be a treat on a food stamp budget. And the people that have to rely on food assistance are your neighbors and co-workers, not some mythical “welfare queen”.
The next time you go grocery shopping, try to imagine feeding your family on $1.48 a piece. Frankly, I don’t know how it’s done.
I talk a lot about being broke. But, I am spoiled. I don’t really know what it’s like to be broke or look into my hungry child’s eyes, and have nothing in the cupboard.
So take a moment, and realize just lucky you are. Because for most of us, it could be a lot harder.
Thank for your time.