Step-by-step spaghetti & meatballs

No one taught me how to cook Italian food. My Italian grandmother died when I was nine, and she was the last great home cook from that side of the family. Over the years, I’ve heard stories of her famous Sunday dinners, an all-day 10-course meal. Pasta was its own course, which boggles my mind. I remember some of her food, especially her stuffed shells, but unfortunately, her recipes didn’t get handed down after she passed.

So I ended up figuring out how to make Marinara sauce on my own. The recipe varies depending on what I have on hand. It’s suited with my favorite flavors, using classic ingredients like tomatoes and garlic, and my own touches, like Worcestershire sauce. Try it out and let me know what you think.

1 ingredients

To begin, I gather my ingredients, as shown above. Four cloves of garlic, a Vidalia onion (I usually use yellow onions but Vidalia was on sale and I couldn’t resist—they’re usually a sweeter onion), can of tomato pasta, four 8-ounce cans of tomato sauce, smoked ground oregano, dried basil, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, a few leftover tomatoes, salt, pepper. Not shown: red wine.

2 garlic

Garlic first. I use a heavy meat cleaver to pound the flavor out of my garlic cloves.

3 smash garlic

Bam! I use my hand to squash it over the side of the knife. Then I cut the onion. I only use about half of the onion because it’s rather large.

4 onions

At medium heat over the stove, I drizzle olive oil and add one tablespoon butter with the chopped onion first. Stir. When fragrant, add garlic. If you add it too soon it will burn.

5 onions tomatoes

I add a handful of chopped tomatoes.

6 onions tomatoes spices

In goes a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, and basil. Smells so good while it sizzles. Stir it around a bit. I like using a wooden spoon. Optional: add half a cup of red wine. Stir for five minutes.

7 tomato paste

Add 32 ounces of tomato sauce (four 8-ounce cans), one cup of water, and one tablespoon of Better than Boullion. Stir. Then add 8 ounces of tomato paste. Pictured above it the pasta going in last. Switch to low heat, cover, and allow it to simmer.

8 meat

Next up, meatballs. Pictured above is nearly everything you need for meatballs. One pound of ground beef (I prefer 80% lean), 1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon basil, 1 tablespoon oregano, and 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce. Not pictured: two eggs. Mix this up with your hands and hand form the meatballs. Usually makes about 12 or 13 golf ball sized meatballs.

9 meatballs

Over medium high heat, sear the meatballs.

10 meatballs cooking

Use tongs to flip them around and make sure the edges stay brown.

11 meatball sauce

Add the meatballs in your sauce. Allow meatballs and sauce to simmer on the lowest heat setting for an hour and a half to two hours.

12 spaghetti

Pour your meatballs and sauce over spaghetti, and you’ve got a tasty homemade meal. Be sure to share!

Another chicken noodle soup recipe to throw in the mix

My favorite thing to do for family and friends getting colds is to make them chicken noodle soup with mega healing powers.

Most chefs and amateur cooks have some sort of chicken noodle soup recipe in their heads. Mine is very basic and hearty. I made it recently for my boyfriend, who is prone to getting sick.

Ingredients:
-a clove of garlic
-3 carrots
-an onion
-a potato
-two stalks of celery
-egg noodles (cooked, drained, sprinkled with cold water)
-chicken broth
-pound of steamed white chicken breast
-salt & pepper
-bay leaf
-thyme
-fresh dill and/or parsley (optional)

Instructions:
1. Dice the potato. Boil the diced parts. Dash of salt in boiling water.
2. In another pot, pore desired amount of chicken broth. This recipe calls for at least two pints. Low simmer. Add bay leaf. Add thyme.
3. Prep work. Dice the carrots, onions and chicken breasts. Chop up the celery stalks. Slice up the garlic. Mince dills/parsley. Dice chicken breast.
4. Throw the onions, garlic and carrots in to the broth pot. Medium heat.
5. Check on the potatoes. Once they’re soft enough to eat, drain them. Then add them to the soup mix.
6. Add the celery at this point. This is one of the last things to be added because the carrots and onions take longer to cook. Add chopped fresh dill and/or parsley if desired.
7. Cover and turn heat to medium low. Allow to simmer for approximately 10-15 minutes.
8. Add diced chicken meat and egg noodles. Ready to serve.

Some say the healing powers of chicken broth is just an old wives’ tale. They’re wrong.

Thai pineapple red curry

My friend Jane provided me the ingredients to cook for our good bye get together for our friend Michael, who will be working in the woods for the next four month. Crazy guy! She was too busy so I took reins of the kitchen.

Her ingredients:

  • One can of Pineapple chunks
  • Minced garlic
  • Chopped onions (maybe two?)
  • Mushrooms (a bag of ’em)
  • Broccoli (two heads)
  • String beans (three handfuls)
  • Bell pepper (we just used one)
  • Two diced potatoes
  • chopped cilantro
  • Thai Kitchen brand of red curry paste
  • Two cans of coconut milk
  • soy sauce
  • fish sauce
  • oil

My instructions:

  1. If you’re cooking in a group, like I did, have everyone cut, mince, chop, etc. All the prep work. Start boiling those potato chunks.
  2. In a hot wok, oil first. Then throw in garlic and onions. Stir for awhile. Pour in the a little juice only from the can of pineapple. Add mushrooms, cilantro, string beans, and bell pepper. Add squirts of fish and soy sauce. Add broccoli. Stir everything very well. Should look like a giant pot of stir fry.
  3. Add two cans of coconut milk and the rest of the pineapple juice. Stir well.
  4. Add two tablespoons of red curry paste and be sure to mix it well into the coconut milk. The milk should be turning a dark orange.
  5. Add the pineapple chunks. Stir.
  6. Change the heat to medium-low.
  7. Whenever the potatoes are done boiling (hopefully salted while be boiled…), drain the water and add those in, too. I find that the smaller the chunks are, the tastier.
  8. Taste test the dish and if it needs more flavor, maybe add a little more curry paste or fish sauce.

Serve with rice.

Side note: my friend likes jalapenos diced and thrown in it too, but I find it an unpleasant hot surprise when I bit into a bit of jalapeno.

Thai food Mother’s day feast + recipe

Instead of spending mother’s day with my own (Thai) mother, who resides in suburban Chicago, I decided to spend it with the Angel family at their home in the upper Rattlesnake neighborhood in Missoula.

The Angel family consists of Ray the father, Amy the mother, Kelsey the 21 year old daughter known for her candor, Sam the high school senior son (who recently broke the world record for the longest tennis match), and Kengo, their eccentric high school Japanese exchange student of the past school year.

Kelsey, to whom I am very close with, had the idea of making me her mother’s mother’s day present. I was quite flattered. Me? A present? I know I’m fun and all but I didn’t think I could be someone’s present! Like most compliments I took it to heart and let it get to my head.

Which I shouldn’t have, because it wasn’t as though the present was for me to sit by her mother and be cute. No. It was for my cooking! I always find it weird when people thinking cooking is a skill because for me it is just an essential part of living. Like showering. Anyway, Kelsey wanted me to surprise her mother with a home cooked Thai meal. Restaurants were very busy on mother’s day and a more intimate meal at home sounded ideal. She said her father could purchase all of the ingredients if I could do all the cooking.

I adore this family. They all love each other very much and from an outsider’s point of view they seem very close knit. I didn’t have anything else to do on mother’s day so I thought sure, why not. Plus, I love cooking!

Our Sunday began with Ray and Kelsey picking me up from my house and the three of us went grocery shopping at 2 in the afternoon. First we went to the Good Food Store. We picked up two pounds of chicken and a bunch of vegetables and pad thai sauce from their Asian aisle. They were out of limes so we went to the Orange Street Food Farm for limes and I came across frozen Pollock fish fillets, which looked good.

After shopping, we went to the Angel house and no one was home except Sam. Kengo had gone shopping with Amy to distract her so she wouldn’t come home while dinner was being prepared.

Ray asked what I would be making and I had a sketched idea in my head. His request was big portions and enough for leftovers so his wife could take some for lunch this week. I came up with this list:

  • Fried pollack fish fillets with lime, cilantro, garlic.
  • Vegetable fried rice
  • Pad thai with diced baked tofu from the Good Food Store
  • Fried tofu
  • Peanut sauce to dip the tofu in
  • Panang curry with chicken and broccoli
  • Tom yum soup
  • Plain, white, jasmine rice

Somehow I managed to cook this all in two hours, aiming to be done by 5:30 that evening. Looking back, I realize I was so concentrated and in the work zone, barking orders at Kelsey to chop things and such, that I didn’t even stop to pee.

Amy and Kengo came home from shopping in the midst of Kelsey and I cooking. Amy wasn’t too surprised. Apparently, no one had been surrepititious enough about getting her out of the house. “Wanna go for a walk at two?” “Wanna play tennis at two?” Wanna go shopping at two?” I think the person that broke it for her unintentional was Kengo. Apparently while they were shopping, Amy offered to pick up food for him for dinner, but he insisted that she didn’t. Kengo never turns down food.

Finally, I finished. Kengo hates cilantro. He cried out in pain the Japanese word for cilantro every time I threw it in a dish. Somehow he reminded me of the Dragonball Z dude. Maybe it’s his haircut. Maybe it’s just because he’s Japanese and funny.

We sat around the kitchen table and ate and had a merry time! I felt like I made the Pollack fish a bit too salty and the peanut sauce a bit too spicy, but no one seemed to notice. Or if they did, they were polite about it. Ray claimed it was in his top five favorite meals of all time. Very nice of him.

Okay, so I usually don’t go by recipes and just like to throw things in. This can be disastorous sometimes, but I feel the best way to learn is to be willing to mess up sometimes. I don’t usually like recipes because I hate measuring things and I’d rather just go by what looks right, but this can be particularly frustrating to people that ask me how to make something. “Uhh, just put in some coconut milk, some fish sauce, some curry paste, some vegetables.” But people always wanna know how much? How long? Annoying questions.

This is the best I can come up with for the Pad Thai “recipe” I used when cooking for the Angel family.

Ingredients:

  • One package of wide rice noodles
  • One jar of pad thai sauce, Thai Kitchen brand found in the Asian aisle of the good food store
  • Green onions
  • Yellow or red onions
  • Eggs
  • Chopped peanuts
  • Cilantro
  • Baked tofu from the Good Food Store’s deli department
  • Vegetable or canola or peanut oil
  • Red Bell Pepper
  • Bean sprouts
  • Garlic
  • Fish sauce
  • lime

Instructions:

  1. Boil the rice noodles. Drain (using a colinder) when soft. Then pour cold water over the noodle to cool them and to make sure they don’t all stick together.
  2. While the noodles are boiling, chop all onions, cilantro and bell pepper. Dice the tofu. Crush the peanuts. Mince the garlic. This is all prep work that I made Kelsey do.
  3. Get a good, big, non-stick skillet or wok on the stove. Keep the heat on high. Drizzle oil in the pan.
  4. Throw in garlic, onions, bell pepper, and on a corner of the pan cook an egg or two. Drizzle fish sauce over this.
  5. Once everything looks cooked enough to eat, throw in two handfuls of rice noodles and Pad Thai sauce. Stir. Add bean sprouts. Squeeze limes.
  6. Serve wiith crushed peanuts and mince baked tofu on top. A side wedge of lime and a garnish of cilanto and you’re set

I repeated this process maybe four times to go through all the rice noodles and have a big serving size plate to serve 6 people plus have left overs.

Thai cuisine has a unique flavor because in a typical dish a combination of salty, sweet, spicy, and sour are usually present. Most likely, for saltiness, soy and/or fish sauce, for sweetness (which is not used as much) a little sugar perhaps, for spiciness obviously some sort of hot peppers (crushed red pepper flakes work), and for sourness usually lime is squeeze over. Once you have a base for it, it’s really not as difficult as it looks to cook Thai food. It’s actually pretty fun once you get the hang of it!