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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.

hmmm... I remember it looking more appetizing than this. Guess I'm more of a foodie than a food photographer!

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)
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned and moisture has cooked off.
  4. Add the carrot, oregano, thyme and rosemary and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the carrot is softened.
  5. 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.
  6. Don’t salt and pepper it yet – it will reduce and the flavours will intensify.
  7. 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)
  8. 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.
  9. 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?)
  10. The next day, slowly heat the sauce to simmer (not boil).

Serve with spaghetti and fresh parmesan.

you have wait a day!

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.

~Eva

P.S. Sage, the apron was a sturdy blue jean.  Jim has a matching man-apron in the same fabric.

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[Ed.: The Lovely S. is guest blogging today, after making us proud to admit our dirty secrets on National Fast Food Day. Enjoy!]

The humble brownie made its first appearance at the Columbian Exposition in 1893.  Apparently, according to wikipedia, a chef at the Palmer House Hotel created the confection after Bertha Palmer requested a dessert for ladies attending the fair that would be smaller than a piece of cake, and easily eaten from boxed lunches.

I remember brownies making several appearances in my lunch boxes as a child.  I also remember eating an entire pan (a small pan) of chocolate cream cheese brownies and that was the first time I had ever eaten myself sick.  Not a good feeling, but I didn’t let that stop me.  You hear stories about people eating an entire apple pie, getting sick and then never eating apple pie again.  Not so with me and brownies.  If anything, that little episode only made our relationship stronger.

I grew up with the standard chocolate brownie with icing.  My brother and I would have contests to see who could lift the icing off the brownie entirely intact so we could eat the sugary topping all by itself.  Heaven!  When D. asked me to do today’s entry, I promptly called my mom for her recipe.  She was driving home with my dad from a day of skiing and she easily recited the entire thing over the phone.  Here it is:

1 c. butter (melted)
1c. cocoa
2c. sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1c. walnuts (optional)

Mix together, pour into 13×9 pan, bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  Let cool.  Then for the icing:

5tbsp. butter (melted)
1/4c cocoa

Mix the above.  Add 2 cups icing sugar and then 4-5 tsp. warmed milk.  Spread onto brownies and enjoy!

When I made this yesterday I rediscovered the joy of licking the beaters and just dipping a spoon into the batter and eating freely. Mmmmmm! I made the brownies first and then headed out to run some errands.  When I got home, A. had returned from work, found the brownies and happily helped himself.  Thus, the photo with the (very) large piece missing.

I recommend these brownies for the next get together where you need to bring something sweet and nibbley.  They are delicious comfort food and bring back happy memories of childhood.

[Ed.: Once you’re done trying to reach into the screen to score some of S’s delicious looking brownies, surf over to The Brownie Project where another blogger is making a list of the best brownies she’s ever had. Some sound AMAZING.]

Authentic

A. adj. 1. a. Of authority, authoritative (properly as possessing original or inherent authority, but also as duly authorized); entitled to obedience or respect.

Tradition

4. a. The action of transmitting or ‘handing down’, or fact of being handed down, from one to another, or from generation to generation; transmission of statements, beliefs, rules, customs, or the like, esp. by word of mouth or by practice without writing. Chiefly in phrase by tradition.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that what is “authentic” to each of us, is what we have grown accustomed to; our personal “tradition”, if you will.

According to Mario Batali in his very good cookbook, Molto Italiano,

Chicken “catchatori” seemed to be a subset for every mediocre chicken dish ever served to me at restaurants in the ‘70s and ‘80s: everything with a mushroom or an onion in it qualified for the title.

Hmm.  Traditionally an Italian dish, like many others (spaghetti and meatballs, anyone?) co-opted into North American cuisine by desperate housewives in the 40s and 50s looking for anything with a new flavour.

Mom discovered chicken cacciatore when I was very young.  With four kids, living in a village an hour from the city, Mom and Dad didn’t get out for dinner very often.  Mom was known to very carefully savour and investigate dishes she enjoyed “out”, so she could recreate them at home (I’ve been known to “cheat” this way myself).

Mario would have definitely turned up his nose at the version Mom made.  We loved it in our house, though, and rather than go “fancy” for chicken cacciatore day, I phoned Mom and asked her for her recipe.  I also asked her if I could share it here.

Her answer:

Well, you need onions, garlic, celery, mushrooms, and green pepper.  You sauté that up with some [diced] chicken, some cayenne and some chili flakes.  You could use a fresh hot pepper if you want, I suppose.  I like it spicy but your Dad doesn’t as much.  Salt and pepper.  Then you stir in some tomato sauce, some tomato paste, some paprika.  Did I say salt and pepper?  You need some broad noodles.  Then you layer noodles, chicken, mozzarella in a pan twice, and bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes.  Let it sit for 10 minutes.  I serve mine with salad and garlic bread.

This is the chicken cacciatore I grew up eating.  It is, in my opinion, the most authentic.  It is comfort food, to be eaten on a cold, rainy day, with family.  I serve mine with a salad, some garlic bread, and a good, strong wine.

This is my tradition.

E.

P.S. Apologies: due to unforeseen circumstances (I drank too much wine on Thanksgiving and left my camera at a friend’s place), I have no picture of Mom’s chicken cacciatore to share with you.  But I can tell you it looks absolutely nothing like this.