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!

So many changes

My, my, how times have changed. It’s been a few years since I’ve written for Susan Eats the World, and I think it’s time to resurrect this blog because 1) I miss writing about food, 2) I have lots of food adventures to document, and 3) this blog is hella fun!

A few things that happened since my last post 3 years ago:

  • I worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in the Bakken.
  • I got surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.
  • I made friends with a Mexican family who owned the best taco truck ever.
  • I fell in love with a beautiful man.
  • I got pregnant and moved into an old Tudor house in Omaha that is pretty and NOT haunted.
  • I discovered pregnancy discrimination is a real thing and the fight for gender equality is far from over.
  • I gave birth to a boy who everyone always says is “so chill” in a surprised tone.
  • I joined a bacon club and published a feature on it.
  • I attended a food writers conference in Iowa City.
  • I ate lots and lots of great food in Omaha and discovered this little Midwestern city has a lot of diversity and some great restaurants. There’s a decent sized Thai community here, and we just celebrated Songkran (Thai new year).
  • I gained weight.

That last one has been a struggle. With more time at home with a baby, I find myself cooking a lot more. To me, food is life. I love to cook food, I love to eat it, smell it, taste it, feel it, knead dough with my hands, blow a spoonful of hot soup, mix spices, grill steaks, dip lobster in lemon and butter, get a bountiful supply of veggies at my farmers market, visit the Thai grocery store and make curry and tom yum…

Speaking of good Thai food, I made Thai chicken noodle soup this week, called “gua theywa” in Thai.

We had a tornado warning earlier this week. My baby and I sat under a desk under the basement and waited it out. We heard tornado sirens and wind outside. After all was clear, we went back upstair and upon seeing how gray and cool it was out, I decided it was the perfect time for a big, warm bowl of chicken soup.

I pulled out our dutch oven, filled it almost all the way with water, a large tablespoon full of Better than Boullion, 3 rib bones out of a gallon sized zip lock I keep in the freezer, drizzles of soy sauce and fish sauce, sliced fresh ginger, 3 smashed garlic cloves and 2 onions, chopped. I let that boil while I pulled a family sized package of chicken legs and defrosted it in the microwave. Once the chicken legs were defrosted enough to pull apart from each other, I placed them in the dutch oven and boiled for 15 minutes, then left it on low for about an hour. Makes the whole house smell soooo good, and it’s so easy to make.

When it was closer to suppertime, I prepared some rice noodles (boiled them separately, then rinsed with cold water), chopped up some fresh green onion, cilantro, and lime wedges.

Next, I pulled out a few chicken legs from the pot and chopped up the meat.

chicken2
Chopping chicken on the veggie side.

I pulled out my soup bowl and fill half of it with rice noodles, pour my onion-y broth over it, a handful of chopped chicken, cilantro, squeeze of lime, squirt of sriracha, and voila!

soup2
Homemade Thai chicken noodle soup.

One of my favorite soups of all time. The Thai grocery store by my house sells fried garlic in huge containers, so of course I keep that in the pantry handy to sprinkle over this soup. Why not? It adds texture and flavor, mmm!

Soup I’ll never pho get

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Located downtown Wheaton on Main Street, Luong Loi Restaurant looks like a dingey hole-in-the-wall type of  place with its white blinds and plain decor. 

This weekend, I walked in and an old Vietnamese grandpa was sitting on a crooked chair, his head bent down towards his chest, snoring. There was maybe one other table seated. Outside it was sunny. Inside I’m not even sure if the lights were turned on. Just little sun rays seeping through the blinds.

A typical person may have been irritated that there was no hostess to greet us. They may have called that grandpa lazy for sleeping on the job. They may have said that everything looks dirty and the dingy lighting needs to be fix. They may have thought, maybe we should go somewhere where the staff is actually awake.

Not I. 

See, when I saw that sleeping grandpa, I knew it wasn’t laziness. Instead, I saw hard work.

Luong Loi is like the best place to get pho in all of Chicagoland, and making real pho is no easy task. It takes several days to make the broth from scratch, waiting for all the marrow to seep out of beef bones, gradually adding the right amount of spices (Saigon cinnamon and star anise anyone?!), and stirring that shit up real good. 

You need good arm muscles to continuously stir real pho beef broth. That grandpa was probably so worn out from making so much pho that he couldn’t help doozing off a few minutes. I’d rather go somewhere where the staff is tired and the broth is real than somewhere where the staff is perky and the broth comes from bouillon cubes. (The thought of someone using bouillon cubes to make pho makes me seriously sad.)

Order the number 18, the Pho Dac Biet. It comes with the special traditional broth that that grandpa slaved over, rice noodles, cilantro, sliced cooked beef brisket, and think sliced broiled beef. On the side you’ll get a plate of fresh bean sprouts, limes, sliced spicy peppers, and Thai basil leaves. 

I like to rip up the basil with my hands before throwing into my pho. It seems so fresh and appetizing that way. I squeeze the lime, throw in the peppers, add some siracha and hoisin sauce, and I’m good to go.

Luong Loi is the standard of which all other pho places in the U.S. should try to measure itself up to. Like, one time I went to this pho place in Seattle and they gave me NO LIME. As if I’d ever pho get that!

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90 Miles Cuban Cafe is bold, fun and authentic

When is comes to eating meat, there are two things that make me a very happy woman. 

One is when you’ve got a great hunk of meat marinated and on low heat for ten hours. How could that not make anybody happy? There simply is NOTHING like the scent of dripping fat and spices permeating the kitchen all day long. It’s what makes home and holidays so great. A giant turkey cooking for six hours on Thanksgiving. A chunk of ham roasting in the oven on Christmas. Even if the day is mediocre, the knowledge that a juicy, dripping, tender, soft, chewy, pink piece of meat is sitting and working and just waiting all day for you to take a bit out of it is absolute bliss.
 
Shoot, I got so caught up in thinking about how much I love slow roast meat that I can’t remember what the second thing was.
 
Umm…
 
Uhh…
 
…..
 
…..
 
…..
 
…..
 
Well, whatever.
 
The point is this: if you’re a lover of meat, spice, and garlic, there is a great Cuban place in Chicago you’ve gotta check out. It’s called 90 Miles Cuban Cafe. They’ve got two locations–I went to the one on Armitage and Milwaukee.
 
Atmosphere
 
It felt as though I were back in Key West again. The Cuban presence at this place is legit and way fun. They had good windows and lighting. Water is served in glass jars and there are quirky antiques everywhere to decorate the dining room, include a wall piano. A large TV screen had I Love Lucy playing with the volume on mute. It’s colorful, bright, and happy without being overwhelming or too noisy. Tropical Cuban music could be heard throughout the cafe. I think Ernest Hemingway would have approved, though it might be just a tad too cute for him. (But definitely not too cute for me.) I half expected to see one of his six toed cats to stroll in. (Did not happen.)
 
Also the bathroom was one of those bathrooms where everyone writes all over the walls and all over the stalls. This can make a place look dirty depending on how it’s executed. At 90 Miles, it fortunately did not look dirty at all. Just made it more fun and customize!
 
Food
On my the server’s recommendation, I ordered the Churrasco. This consists of “marinated, tender, skirt steak served with parsley garlic sauce, yellow rice, and boiled yuca with mojo de ajo.” The garlic sauce is very strong, like pure chunks of nearly raw garlic. It will seep in your pores for days, but the savory, unique bold flavor is worth it.
 
Drinks
 
I went there for lunch with my teenaged sister, so being the responsible adult I did have have any alcoholic drinks. Although it should be noted that they have great looking sangria and mojitos! I imagine it would be the perfect place to host a summer birthday dinner. (Hint hint to all my friends.)
 
Service
 
Our server was very experienced. He told me he’d been at 90 Miles for four years now. He was very knowledgeable about every menu item and happy to give further descriptions and recommendations. You could tell he had a lot of tables but he did his best to manage his time and check up on everyone and be attentive and all that.
 
They give you a little brown paper bag to put your money in at the end of the meal, which I’ve never seen done before at a restaurant.
 
Overall, 4.5 out of 5 stars!

The meat infatuation is over!

The other day, I was on the phone with my friend Saara talking about–you guessed it–food.

Saara is rather particular about her food. She has a sensitive digestive system and is lactose intolerant. Also, she is passionate about environmentalism and sustainable agriculture, so discussing good food is not so weird to do with her.

Saara told me about a wonderful, balanced, organic, romantic, tasty meal she shared with her boyfriend, and in turn, I lamented over the food I’m stuck eating on this island of limited cuisine. That’s what Mackinac Island should really be called: Island of Limited Cuisine. ILC for short.

I described to Saara a cheeseburger I ate that day at my work cafeteria. The meat was terribly process and overcooked and rubbery, as if someone had dunked the patty in a bucket of gray paint. I ate the entire burger out of hunger, but the rest of the day I spent feeling like I needed to puke it up, the same way I feel if I drink too much (which is like, one beer, as I am quite the light weight).

That burger was like poison in my body and I suddenly wished I knew how to make myself throw up, (more…)

Chicago’s food cart dilemma

During the quiet, wee hours of the morning, a late night crowd often gathers and smokes just outside of The Owl bar in Logan Square. Amidst the cigarette fumes, beer breath, and chilly Chicago air, beholds an entity seldom seen in this city: a food cart.
The cart is white with a logo depicting a pig’s face with two X’s over the eyes and a fork and knife crisscrossed behind it. The words “Carnal Swine” are underneath the image. Hot steam rises from the cart and the scent of barbeque sauce permeates the air.
Behind the cart stands a bald, tattooed man who sells pulled pork sandwiches for five dollars. His name is Scotty, and he never grants interviews but agreed to talk to me after I explained that this blog has approximately three hits a month.
Scotty’s pulled pork has a strange, yet lovely mixture of spices, and is topped with sweet coleslaw made from a recipe his grandma gave him.
“There are twenty-three spices in Dr. Pepper and it mixes well in my food,” said Scotty.
Food carts aren’t exactly illegal in Chicago, but there are limitations. Food carts aren’t allowed out past 10 p.m. and never within 200 feet of a restaurant.
Scotty explained that there are several restaurants in the city who lobby against food carts because they don’t want the business competition.
In contrast with those lobbyists, there are some restaurants Chicago restaurants that take the side of the food carts because they have carts or trucks themselves. Among them are Lucky Star in Wicker Park and Bucktown’s popular Lillie Q’s, which has trucks out of use.
A few Chicago groups advocate for food carts to have more operating privileges. Most prominently, Chicago Food Carts is an organization with a mission to “start the mobile food revolution in Chicago that other great cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco have had for decades.”
Next week, on July 25, the Chicago City Council will vote on a food truck ordinance introduced by Major Rahm Emanuel which proposed longer operational hours.
Scotty hopes this ordinance will pass.
“When food carts aren’t allowed so much, there’s just some thing missing in Chicago streets,” said Scotty.

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.

Vegetarians are evil

I don’t really think vegetarians are evil. I just think that they’re silly, that’s all. How is it not silly to turn down delicious food?

My boyfriend showed me a site called Vegetarians are Evil, which humorously attempts to prove that vegetarians are evil. My favorite is the section “Vegetarianism is child abuse!” which includes a photo of a crying child along with the caption, “Mommy, why can’t I have a cheeseburger?” There are articles that accompany that section on the nutrients one misses when not eating meat. Aw, I feel bad for the poor crying baby in the picture. If I ever have children, I would never deprive them of a delicious, nutritious cheeseburger.
The article on Adolph Hitler is pretty funny, too. (Apparently, he was a possible vegetarian.) 
One fair point the website makes is its criticisms of PETA’s over the top propaganda. If I recall correctly, it was watching PETA videos that partly contributed to me turning into a vegetarian five years ago, back when I was an impressionable seventeen year old. PETA has some pretty graphic videos, and it scared me into vegetarianism. (Which seems to be what they want to happen.)

The Red Bird

     Man oh man. I sit at my kitchen table, staring in admiration of my Italian deli purchases from the Good Food Store. Beef pastrami, hard dry salami, provolone. It’s fun to say those words in an exaggerated Italian accent. Pastraaaami, Salaaaami, Provolooonee. Oh Italians.
     What inspired my Italian deli meat purchases? This past weekend I took a trip to the The Red Bird in Missoula and ate a sandwich that made me moan embarrassingly loud in public.

     The wine bar menu is the only menu I’ve ordered off of that place; it’s pretty pricey otherwise. My friends and I dined in the lobby of the Florence building, an unofficial dining area.
     (One of the waiters initially told us we’d have to come into the restaurant for service, but we wanted to play scrabble on a lobby couch so they made an exception.)
     Glancing through the menu, I skipped past the salads section (I’ve started calling all vegetables “rabbit food,” something that always annoyed me back in that dark time when I was a vegetarian) and onto the “Artisan Sandwiches” section. I contemplated getting a cheeseburger but decided that I’ve consumed too many cheeseburgers in the past couple of weeks.
     But alas, my meat craving could not be contained. I was torn between the roast beef sandwich and the Italian sandwich. I told the waiter the Italian sandwich. But then I really wanted beef so I said, “Actually, can I change that to the roast beef?” and he said, “sure, of course, ma’am.” (It is odd to be called ma’am at age twenty-two.) I love good sauces and the roast beef was dipped in Jus so it had to be yummy, right?
     But then I got crazy thinking about how I’ve really overdone it with red meat lately, so as the waiter was walking away from our table after taking all our orders, I said, “WAIT!” and he came back. “Um, I’ll just stick with the Italian… if that’s cool… sorry to change my mind so much.”
     He just smiled and said, “Not a problem, ma’am. I hope it’s alright that it comes with potato salad.”
     To be honest, I detest potato salads. But I had already changed my mind three times and I didn’t want to be more annoying than I already was. So I told him that was fine.
     I am most impatient when waiting for food. We played scrabble but all I thought about was meat.
     Finally, my sandwich came. It was completely worth the wait (which was only about ten minutes; I’m just crazy). The sight of the sandwich took my breath away. It was enormous and beautiful. And most definitely the best sandwich I’ve had in a long time: piles of genoa salami, capacolo, provolone, roasted red peppers, onions marinated in olive oil and vinegar and herbs (oregano perhaps?) on top of fresh Italian bread. Oh my lord, yes.
     It is difficult to keep my manners in the presence of delectable food. I gobbled as much as I could, but could only manage to eat a third of it, which was fine. It made a superb lunch the following day.
     I think what made the sandwich better than most (I’ve tried to recreate it since) was the olive oil, vinegar, and herb mix they drizzle over the sandwich, along with those marinated onions. I’d love to know what exactly they put in that.
     And the potato salad wasn’t too bad. But man, there is just something about potato salad that irks me. Even at a nice restaurant like the Red Bird, potato salad just seems kind cheap. Potatoes, to me, are merely lumps of bland nothing, usually salted on the outside. They don’t soak in flavors the way tofu does. When potatoes are served, it always feels like filler food. (With the exception of tator tots and mashed potatoes with gravy.)
     My friend ordered their Citrus Trifle off the dessert menu, which consists of poppy seed sponge cake, berries, cashew, coconut sherbet, and grapefruit. She allowed me a few bits, and I must say it was absolutely delicious! The mix of textures and flavors made it, particularly the juxtaposition of sponge cake and cashews.
     In spite of the potato salad, I was very satisfied with my ten dollar meal. The Red Bird bar menu gets 4.5 out of 5 stars in my book.
     Now I’m off to make myself a sandwich with my pastraaaaami and salaaaami. Mmm!