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.

STEAK

By July I thought my meat craze would fizzle out, but tonight I realized that I was mistaken.

Last night I was working at Iza when I saw our head chef, Stacy Jo, make two amazing red meat dishes, both off of our menu.

The first dish was the Flank Steak Salad ($12). I was drawn to the delightful pinkish color in the middle and how beautiful it looked sliced on top of a healthy salad. This was ordered by one of the musicians playing in the restaurant tonight.

The second dish definitely topped the first. It’s called the Singapore Ginger Beef ($16). Oh. My. God. I was speechless. I think I had walked in the kitchen looking for my co-worker and just happened to stumble upon dear Stacy Jo slicing up this one onto a plate for a customer. From the pan her ginger sauce pour all over the juicy, tender meat. It’s hard to stay professional and contain excitement when you see such a sight.

In witnessing my jaw dropping enthusiasm, Stacy Jo kindly cut off a sample for me. The description on the menu for this dish reads as so:

Thinly sliced beef wok seared with garlic, ginger, peanuts, scallion, black pepper, hoisin, and lemongrass.

So, so, so delicious. Sometimes it seems like samples always taste better than an entire dish, though. I think it’s because with samples it’s small and you eat slower and are just seeing if you like it, as opposed to a meal, in which most people are just trying to fuel themselves.

Immediately after work I stopped by the grocery store and bought two giants steaks. I went home and marinated them with everything I thought would taste good: garlic, soy sauce, a little barbeque sauce, ginger, lime, lemon, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar,  rosemary and basil. It sounded like too much, but I am a strong believer in taking risks when cooking. Failing is a step to success.

One great thing about marinating meat is the next day, when you pull it out of the fridge it it smells good and it’s been soaking in all the good flavors for so long and it’s ready for you, baby. Oh yeah.

I grilled in my backyard and had some friends over to help eat it. The complete meal ended up being:

Ginger Garlic Steak

So tender and juicy.

Lime Cilantro Rice

A simple side dish that complimented the meat pretty well. Jasmine rice buttered with lime squeezed all over plus chopped cilantro mixed in.

Sauteed onions

No explanation needed for this one.

Grilled pineapple

Pineapple provides a sweetness that contrasts well with the savory steak.

Cucumber salad

It’s always good to have a cold, refreshing side dish when serving a hot meal.

Yam Cutlets

Yams diced, salted, and baked in olive oil.

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!

Cheap sushi night

If I had to describe my Missoula friends and I in a very general sense, I would say we are monetarily poor and college educated (either graduated or in the process of obtaining a degree, most likely a liberal arts degree). We may come from middle class homes and none of us live with our parents. We also thrift shop, we live in relatively cheap but totally hip housing, we may work jobs that don’t require our education to bide time in our college town before transition into full adulthood (whatever that means), and we enjoy eating delicious food.

Tonight we had a sushi party, our cheap (but still fun) alternative to going out. It’s cheap because everyone contributes an ingredient or two. We all have a bottle of beer or a glass of wine while we sit around the kitchen table chit chatting and cutting ingredients and rolling sushi.

For our cheap sushi night, our ingredients included:

  • cucumbers
  • carrots
  • avocado
  • cream cheese
  • raw rainbow trout that was salmon colored (not sushi grade but still delicious, locally caught and purchased from the Good Food Store)
  • smoked canned oysters
  • a package of seaweed wraps
  • a big pot of sushi rice (which has rice vinegar and a little salt and sugar mixed in)

We also had jarred ginger and soy sauce for dipping. And one of my friends likes to mix mayonnaise and spicy Sriracha sauce together in a little bowl, which is simple and tastes delicious to dip your sushi in. I absolutely love good dipping sauces in any meal.

Our sushi night is not authentically Japanese, but honestly, I don’t care. We turn it into our own thing and it’s fun that way.

A few Susan tips for rolling sushi:

  1. Use a minimal amount of rice.
  2. Use a roller
  3. Pack it tight
  4. Use a little bit of water on your fingers, if needed
  5. Have fun!

Easter breakfast

This morning, a group of my girlfriends and I got together. We read aloud from Cosmo, painted our nails, listened to jazzy morning music (I played Al Green’s Let Stay Together three times), did pore cleansing mint julep facial masks, and most importantly, we ate a big breakfast! It included:

  • Redneck brand breakfast sausage (made in Montana)
  • French toast made from a Le Petit baguette
  • Eggs scrabbled with onion, tomatoes, shredded pepper jack cheese, salt and pepper
  • Fruit salad: strawberries, bananas, grapes, and kiwi lathered in honey and lemon juice
  • A savory cheesecake that tasted like quiche and included breaded tomatoes on top. Made by my friend, Bonnie Molasses (she used a recipe from The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook)
The highlight was definitely the fruit salad. As with many things in life, sometimes less is more. Sometimes one slow, savored bite tastes better than several bites chowed down quickly. And sometimes, the fewer ingredients, the better. The fruit salad was simple and a refreshing flavor on my plate compared to all the savory, heavier foods we were eating.

Usually we make crepes, which is also a good idea for group breakfasts. All the toppings you could eat with that! Lemon juice and sugar, nutella and bananas, eggs and bacon, etc. I bet that fruit salad we had today would be a great crepe filler, as well.

Happy Easter, and happy eating!

My renewed omnivorism

Eating meat after approximately five years of vegetarianism feels similar to losing your virginity.

Suddenly, a whole new world of delightful, pleasurable possibilities is open to your senses. There are numerous new scents to sniff, new textures in your mouth, and delectable new flavors to be discovered. Reintroducing an omnivorous diet adds a refreshing, exquisite dimension to your life that feels sinfully divine.

I popped my meat eating cherry a few weeks ago. Redneck sausage from Montana did the job, although not in its phallic form. My housemate cut up the sausage and threw it on some homemade pizza for dinner, along with some caramelized onions and sauteed mushroom. She encouraged me to eat it, and on an impulse, I thought, why the hell not. I ate soy sausage. It couldn’t be that much different. Just this once.

The next day I woke up with one thought: meat. I felt like a dog with a one track mind. Catch the stick. Meat. Meat. Meat.

As I rushed that morning to make toast for breakfast, I thought, bacon would be nice with this, if only I had some. I ate a slice of pepperoni pizza for lunch. During a break, I biked off campus over to Five Guys and had my first real burger (as real as you can get for fast food) for an afternoon snack. I even got desperate enough in my meat binge to grab a $1 cheesy beef burrito from Taco Bell for dinner. (I do not plan on doing that ever again. Grossest meat ever. I bet dog food meat is better than that garbage.)I could have anything! No limits! I was free! Free at last! Free at last! Thank god almighty, I was free at last! (Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice rung through my head.)

No more skimming through menus at restaurants and sometimes just settling for salad. I could have spaghetti with MEATBALLS! Gyros with LAMB! Pho soup with BEEF! Burgers with RED MEAT! Alfredo with CHICKEN! Pancakes with BACON! And all of the Montana game meat I had deprived myself from. ELK! ANTELOPE! DEER! Oh my god, yes! Praise the lord hallelujah! It felt so good to let go; it felt so alive.

Later on during that first week of fine omnivorous living, I went to a friend’s family’s house for dinner. They were serving elk burgers, shot by my friend’s father’s co-worker. Typical Montana game meat that I had been missing out on. My mouth salivated at the sight of freshly hunted meat being grilled.

I lamented over my former, silly vegetarian ways while we sat at the kitchen table. My friend’s father was so excitedly proud that I had crossed over into the meat eating world that after I finished my elk burger he hurriedly made me a side of meatballs. How supportive!

Another night, I was at a potluck party and someone had made a pizza with pepperoni AND sausage. A girl I didn’t know was cutting up the pizza.

My eyes got big(ger). “Wow, that looks glorious!” I said.

The girl cutting the pizza said, “You think?”

“Oh my god, yes. Can I have a piece?”

“Sure. Hey, aren’t you that girl that just stopped being a vegetarian?”

“Yeah! It was so stupid being vegetarian.” I took a slice of the meat pizza.

The girl looked sheepish. “Actually, I’m vegetarian…”

I bit into my pizza. “I’m sorry,” I said, and then I walked away. And really, I was. I was sorry for her. That pizza was delicious.

Why did I do it? Why be vegetarian? Who knows. I’m sure I had my reasons when I was seventeen. Animal rights. Health. The politics of the meat industry in America. Partly just to see if I could do it.

This past weekend I tried to remember why I was a vegetarian, as I bit into my raw looking, slow roasted, salty, tender, juicy, medium rare filet mignon. Oh yeah.