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It’s National Noodle Ring Day.
I’m all about comfort food. It’s just that the food that comforts me is wild mushroom risotto with sherry and truffle oil; or the upcoming (watch for it) oysters, duck and champagne dinner Della and I have planned for Boxing Day.
There are recipes all over the internet for baked noodle rings with cheese sauce (it’s apparently a German recipe). I thought I’d spruce it up a bit by making an authentic baked macaroni and cheese (in a ring, of course). Perhaps drizzle in some truffle oil (that would definitely comfort me). But I couldn’t do it. It’s too close to Christmas. I tend toward a certain “curviness” as it is, and as I have only a few precious Christmas calories to spend, I prefer to spend mine on eggnog. Vats of it. I could go on and on about eggnog. Deanna will be blogging about eggnog on Christmas Eve, and I eagerly anticipate her recipe.
So instead (shameless cheater that I am), I made a ring with whole-wheat spaghetti and my Mom’s spaghetti sauce (with a few adjustments of my own). Less calories than mac-n-cheese, leaving room for those vats of eggnog.
Spaghetti Sauce is the “Betty” to Bolognese’s “Veronica”. It’s the girl next door of pasta sauce: uncomplicated and friendly, it will give you a hug at the end of a long day and listen to you complain about your life with love in its eyes. This sauce is the height of simplicity. It was often a birthday dinner in our house (who doesn’t love spaghetti?).
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
A note on the dried herbs: you will recall that I grew up on the prairies. When I was growing up, you couldn’t buy fresh herbs in the grocery store year-round. Also, I’m surprised to discover that fresh herbs can become bitter in a sauce that’s simmered over several hours. I like to use the dried and then finish with fresh just before the end.
- 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large or 2 medium onions, small dice
- 3 stalks celery, small dice
- 6-8 cloves garlic
- 2 lbs extra-lean ground chicken or turkey
- 3 C sliced mushrooms
- 1 large carrot, peeled & grated (feel free to add other diced vegetables as desired)
- 2 T dried oregano
- 1 T dried basil
- 1 T dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled
- 1 bay leaf
- 3, 16-oz cans whole plum tomatoes, with juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2-3 T fresh herbs (oregano, basil, thyme or a combination)
- tomato paste (if required)
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the onions and celery and sauté until the onions are translucent and starting to brown (5-7 minutes).
- Add the garlic and chicken or turkey. Sauté until lightly browned, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break apart the chicken into small chunks.
- Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned and moisture has cooked off.
- Add the carrot, oregano, thyme and rosemary and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the carrot is softened.
- Add the tomatoes, using your wooden spoon or spatula to break them up a bit (don’t worry, they’ll have lots of time to soften up). Add the bay leaf.
- Don’t salt and pepper it yet – it will reduce and the flavours will intensify.
- Simmer gently (do not boil the hell out of it) for 3-5 hours with the lid off. (This way you’ll thicken the sauce to the point that you shouldn’t need tomato paste)
- When thickened (or when you give up), add the fresh herbs and cook for another hour with the lid on. If your sauce is watery, add some tomato paste to thicken. Taste your sauce and add salt and pepper as required.
- Then… put it in the fridge overnight. (Yes, that’s right. The best spaghetti sauce has had some beauty rest before the big show. Come on, do you think Betty would try to seduce Archie after a long, tiring day?)
- The next day, slowly heat the sauce to simmer (not boil).
Serve with spaghetti and fresh parmesan.
If you want to make the recipe more “Mom-thentic” (for all of you shameless bacon-eaters out there):
- skip the olive oil. Instead, dice -8 slices of good bacon and sautee until browned.
- add the rest of the ingredients as above, but
- use ground beef instead of chicken.
P.S. Sage, the apron was a sturdy blue jean. Jim has a matching man-apron in the same fabric.
I didn’t have nachos tonight in preparation for National Nacho Day. I had pizza. Crappy pizza too. Stupid excessively overpriced crappy pizza. This is what happened…
The past two nights, G has stayed up late and has been energetic and lots of fun so I planned on that tonight. I planned on picking him up from daycare and we would go shopping to pick up the stuff for the Best Nachos Ever and it would be loads of fun. Like this!
I forgot though. Yesterday we went to one of the mass inoculation clinics and he got shot up with seasonal flu vaccine and H1N1 vaccine … and then he woke up at 5 this morning with a fever and cranky. So when I picked him up from daycare, it was a lot more like this …
Suffice to say, we did not make it to the grocery store and I did not make nachos. Instead, I ordered this crappy-ass pizza from this crazy place that charged me $3.00 to put less than an ounce of feta on my small pizza! But I digress …
Since my child has yet again prevented me from being able to provide you with delicious photographs of delicious food, the least I can do is provide you with my Philosophy of Nachos and some delicious recipes.
Here’s my Philosophy of Nachos:
Nachos are all about the layers, the cheese and the salsa. Well, nachos ARE cheese on top of tortilla chips. Otherwise, they’re just tortilla chips. So really, the tortilla chips are conduits. Conduits for yummy ooey gooey melted cheese and tart juicy salsa. Of course, you should also put other toppings on your nachos to make it really spectacular which is what I almost always do. But the key is the layers. To build a really good plate of nachos, you have to layer your nachos, cheese, toppings like you are building a really complex lasagna, or playing Tetris or something like that.
You start with a nice deep casserole dish, or even better, a deep cast iron frying pan. Spread a two chip thick layer of tortilla chips across the bottom. Use good chips. You’re making nachos here – there is no “diet-friendly” here – nachos are about excess! Skip the baked tortilla chips and go straight to the good ol’deep-fried corn tortilla chips. Don’t buy unsalted chips either. You’d just be cheating yourself.
Evenly sprinkle a layer (silly aside here – I just accidentally typed “lawyer” not “layer” – I have work on the brain) of grated “cheese” (explained below) and a layer of “toppings” (also explained below), followed by another two chip thick layer of chips, another layer of cheese, another layer of toppings and so on until you have filled the casserole dish. Finish by topping the last layer of toppings with a layer of cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven until all the cheese is thoroughly melted. It can’t be a little bit melted. It has to be bubbling-boiling-oil-separating-from-the-milk solids melted. Take it out of the oven and then eat your nachos by dipping them in a variety of “delicious dips” (explained below) and sour cream before carefully putting them in your mouth trying not to burn your tongue on the melted cheese. Drink beer with your nachos. Or maybe a Margarita if you want to pretend you are on a tropical holiday somewhere lounging on the beach …
“Cheese” – should be a mixture of cheese. Not just any old cheese. Mix monterey jack (preferably with jalapenos or habaneros in it) and extra old cheddar. That’s the best combo.
“Toppings” – this is where things can get crazy. Skip the canned black olives (eeewwwww!!!) and go for any combination (or all) of the following:
1. The Fresh Veggie Topping: Finely chopped bell peppers of every hue (red, green, yellow, orange), tomatoes (use Romas – they’re less juicy so they won’t make your chips soggy), sweet onion (stay away from yellow and purple – too strong!).
2. The Taco Sunday Veggie Topping: Saute onions, mushrooms and diced red peppers until tender but still crunchy. Add black beans, corn and spices. “Spices?” Spices. Specifically, toasted ground cumin, chili powder, toasted ground coriander, cayenne, salt and lime juice. Yes, I consider citrus a spice. Cook long enough to meld all the flavours, but remember that your veggies will be cooking in the oven while the cheese is melting so don’t go overboard or you’ll end up with mush.
3. The Taco Sunday Meat Topping: Brown extra lean ground beef or bison meat. Properly lean meat will actually require some oil in the pan and there won’t be anything to drain off. Add spices and a slurry. Spices are pretty much the same as for the Veggie Topping, but don’t put lime in it unless you really, really like citrus. Make a slurry with some corn starch and some water, or if you want to stick with our family’s Taco Sunday tradition, use beer. Mix the spices with the slurry, slop it onto the meat and cook on med-low heat until it thickens. You can do the same thing with chicken instead but it’s best to rub spices on the chicken, grill it, shred it and then simmer it in the spicy slurry. If you use chicken, definitely use the lime.
4. The Taco Sunday Extra Best Special Topping: Chorizo and lime. That’s it. Just chorizo (really good quality of course) sauteed with some fresh lime juice squeezed on it.
5. The Gotta Have Something Pickled Topping: pickled jalapenos, banana pepper rings, green chiles, olives (again, let me reiterate, not the canned ones! eeeeeewwwwww!), etc.
“Delicious Dips” – there’s a variety here. It’s all about salsa fresca – which just means “fresh sauce” which doesn’t really tell you much about what you’re eating except that it’s “fresh”. No, that doesn’t mean it’s going to pinch you in the butt when you walk by. It means fresh raw ingredients. The best salsa is made with the best produce, so if you’re gonna make it, splurge on the high quality produce and buy local whenever you can – it almost always tastes better.
Because I am blessed to live in the heart of farm market country, I rarely eat store bought salsa. Salsa fresca is easy to make and delicious to eat so why would I? First, make your base. What you do is you finely mince a mid-size clove of garlic and put it in a bowl. Add about a quarter of a sweet onion finely diced, a couple of handfuls of fresh cilantro leaves, a pinch of cayenne and some fresh squeezed citrus (you pick lemon or lime – depends on what else you’re putting in the salsa). Amounts are not specific (if you have a problem with that, please go re-read my profile – you can’t say you weren’t warned). Point is to have a light touch with the onion, heavy touch with the cilantro, cayenne to taste. I almost always include a fresh hot pepper, like a jalapeno or serrano or habanero, in my base, but it’s optional. Not everyone likes the really spicy stuff.
For tomato salsa, add to the base some fresh finely diced tomatoes. Use good flavorful tomatoes like Super Sweets or Romas. Not cardboardy flavourless beefsteaks. You might as well buy something in a jar if you’re gonna do that.
For tomatillo salsa, skip the citrus and add a bunch of finely diced tomatillos and some avocado. Tomatillos are very acidic so you don’t need citrus, unless you feel like having a perma-pucker while you eat.
For fruit salsa, add a finely diced fruit, like a papaya, mango or pineapple (or all of them mixed together). These are tropical fruits which is a deviation from the fresh local produce refrain. It’s the exception to the rule. You could, in fact, make a salsa using fruits local to BC and it would still be delicious. Peach salsa, for instance. Or apples. Or … you get the point.
That’s about it for salsa fresca. I am not going to talk about guacamole here. Why? Because I know there is a guacamole day coming up someday and I wouldn’t want to steal it’s thunder. Plus, I think this is my longest post yet and I’m concerned I have lost your attention by now.
I am SO going to make nachos this weekend!
I’m going to skip the historical jaunt through the history of the sandwich* and launch right into my Personal Sandwich Olympics!
Open Faced, tomato, cheese, huge slab of toasted bread.
Consumed happily on a stop at the Anjou Bakery in the middle of an orchard in Washington State.
I think Schmoo’s face says it all.
Silver Medal: Ireland
Brie and Mashed Potatoes on brown.
Colorful, no. Tasty to two girls walking the Cliff’s of Mohr, and subsequently having a picnic cliff-side with our backs to the warm rocks and our faces to the ocean breezes? Heck ya.
Besides, we were in Ireland, you put potatoes in everything.
[For the record, this photo is of Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay]
Gold Medal: CANADA (WOOT!)
In September 2003 Schmoo and I set out to make the perfect sandwich, something which would be worthy of nice bottle of red that RC had given to me for my birthday six months previous, and jealously hoarded since.
We bought a round of sourdough at the Italian Bakery, picked fresh cherry tomatoes from my yard, crisped the bacon, slathered on the mayo, and topped with brie. Sadly no photos exist, but I do have an email to RC from the next morning where I report that I was “lovely, warm, comfy and appeased” by the wine and sandwich night. A gold medal sandwich indeed.
Tonight’s sandwich is a homage to the gold medal winner: roasted-garlic bread (toasted), goat brie, thick sliced bacon, tomato, polski ogorki pickles and salt and pepper.
It was really really good.
So I made and ate another.
*Other than to clear this up: an 18th century aristocrat did NOT invent the sandwich. Come on people, it’s meat and cheese between bread… did you really think that nobody thought of that before?