Saturday, September 25, 2010

Inspired Recipe: Spaghetti...Family Favorite


Although my husband thinks I am a little crazy for feeling this way, I long for fall in the middle of summer. Fall is my season. I'm not ashamed to shout out a big, "Woo hoo!" when the weather starts turning. Summer is beautiful and full of all things wonderful, but fall holds a very special place in my heart.  Fall gives me the warm fuzzies for so many reasons...the chill in the air, the warm cozy nights in by the fire, the candles burning, the beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows, the return to coats and scarves, the holidays, the family gatherings, and gosh darn it...the yummy, comforting food!  I thought I'd share one of my all time favorites that is perfect for fall...and all year through!

I'd have to say, hands down, one of my favorite meals to prepare (and eat of course) is Spaghetti and Caesar salad.  I mean really, who doesn't love spaghetti?!  There's just something about it that feels like home, and for a large family gathering, it seems to hit the spot for everyone. Actually, it is one of my very favorite "beginner" meals, as I vividly remember standing in the kitchen with Brian, married a little over a year, and preparing to have our entire families over for dinner in honor of my 25th birthday.  I was still arthritic, so our every day was not your average newly wed's life.  My body didn't do well with standing for long periods of time, and I had no stamina.  I had recently discovered a desire to cook that I didn't know I had after watching hours of The Food Network (while immobile on the couch).  With this inspiration, we wanted to cook something fun and family friendly for everyone to enjoy.  I was not quite as experienced then, and boy was it a learning experience.


I don't think the Mr. would be thrilled that I'm sharing this picture, but it is too priceless.

We started chopping, and all of a sudden Brian ran upstairs.  What was he doing?  Well it turns out he thought it was a good idea to bust out some ski goggles to protect his eyes, as the onions were making our eyes water like crazy.  I laughed so hard, I nearly peed my pants.  It was a genius move though...totally helped.  We were new at this, what can I say?  (In the years since, I have found that if I run the faucet with cold water and stick my face right next to the cold running water, the tearing up is a bit relieved, as it is if I walk over to my sliding glass door and stick my head out for a moment.  What is your favorite way to avoid crying onion eyes?)

Anyhow, we were finishing just as folks started coming in the door...so rushed...and not the way I wanted to welcome them into our home!  In hindsight, I can now vouch for the luxury of planning ahead and making certain elements of a meal prior to the day you're serving it.  Who knew?  Ahhh well, you definitely live and learn, and hindsight is definitely 20/20.  Fun to look back on.  I assure you,I've we've gotten better!

Being that I was not able to last long while standing (boy did my arthritic feet hurt), Brian helped with a lot of the prep and cooking. We shared a lot of giggles, and it was only just the beginning.  Good times!

Below are the recipes for Spaghetti Sauce (my own tweaked version) and Mini Turkey Meatballs  inspired by Giada De Laurentiis.  I sure hope you love these recipes as much as we do.  Definitely family staples.
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Spaghetti Sauce

*I usually double this recipe to have enough extra to freeze for a few more dinners down the road!  Love to see bags of this stuff in the freezer!  Quick and easy dinner for...one of those days...you know...the kind where you look in the freezer and say, "Hallelujah!" when it's time for dinner.

1/4 - 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 sweet yellow onion, chopped
2 - 4 cloves garlic, chopped (Just depends on your garlic preference here.  I use 4, and it is not overpowering.)
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped (I use regular long carrots...I noticed baby carrots have a difference in flavor.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 - 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes in rich puree (plain or with Italian seasoning)
1 - 14 oz. can of tomatoes (diced, crushed, fire roasted, or Italian seasoning)
*When I double the recipe, I usually use 5 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes and/or diced tomatoes, a mixture of plain and Italian flavored. 
2 dried bay leaves
4 - 6 fresh basil leaves (Tastes great without too...so it just depends on if I have it in the fridge or a basil plant that is alive...oy!  I also add dried basil in a pinch.)
2 - 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a large pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft and translucent. Add celery and carrots, season with salt and pepper, and stir well.  Continue sauteing until vegetables are soft.  Add in tomatoes, bay leaves, and basil.  Simmer partially covered (to avoid the splatters!) on low heat for about 1 hour or so. Remove bay leaves and check for seasoning. If sauce still tastes acidic, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time to round out the flavors.

Cuisinart CSB-76BC SmartStick 200-Watt Immersion Hand Blender, Brushed Chrome

Use a handheld blender to blend this sauce until smooth.  I use THIS nifty handheld blender right in the pot, and it is magical.  Before I got this blender as a gift, we would blend the sauce in the food processor.  I will NEVER do that again!!!  Can I hear a HALLELUJAH for handheld mixers?!

If you are not using all the sauce, allow it to cool completely and pour portions into plastic freezer bags. I try to freeze in portions that would be about the amount we would need for a dinner and a little leftover.  This will freeze up to 6 months.
I serve this sauce over spaghetti or linguine, as they stand up nicely to this thick and luscious sauce!  It's also delicious over tortellini and ravioli and as a dipping sauce for breadsticks and the like.  Accompanying the spaghetti is often a side of Ceasar Salad with Homemade Croutons...or little flavor bombs as my husband likes to call them.  Yum!


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If you'd prefer some meat in your sauce, here is what I do.

Although the meatball recipe below is scrumptious, sometimes I'm not in the meatball making 
mood.  So, I combine all the ingredients for the meatballs below in a mixing bowl, excluding the 
olive oil and Simple Tomato Sauce), and brown it in a pan.  Then I add this meat mixture to 
the sauce I am using for the evening.  Once added, I let it cook for about 15 more minutes 
to ensure all the flavors marry.  One batch of meatball meat is enough for one batch of sauce.


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Mini Turkey Meatballs
Recipe inspired by Giada De Laurentiis
(Tweaked by Yours Truly :)

*I eyeball a lot of this measuring...after making it enough times, I just don't take the time to measure it all perfectly!

1 small onion, grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound ground dark turkey meat
*I use ground turkey breast.
3 tablespoons olive oil
26 ounces Simple Tomato Sauce, recipe follows, or store-bought marinara sauce

Add the onion, garlic, egg, bread crumbs, ketchup, parsley, Parmesan, Pecorino, salt and pepper to a large bowl and blend. Mix in the turkey.

Shape the turkey mixture into 1 1/4-inch-diameter meatballs. Place on a large plate or baking sheet. 
Heat the oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and saute until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Transfer the meatballs to a plate. Pour off any excess oil. Add the marinara sauce, about 3 cups. Return all the meatballs to the pan. Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly and the flavors blend, 15 to 20 minutes. Season the sauce, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Transfer the meatball mixture to a serving bowl. Serve with toothpicks.


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Hope you give it a try.  Set aside a couple hours, and have fun. 
Linking to a party at... The Idea Room and Under the Table and Dreaming

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