Chicken parmesan meatballs

I look very happy to be making meatballs here. My sister was far less happy I was handling that much raw chicken.
I look very happy to be making meatballs here. My sister was far less happy I was handling that much raw chicken.

Digging some drafts out of the archives for this one – because comfort food knows no season, in life or in weather.

Here are some things about me. 1. I love Italian food. 2. I love cooking like an Italian mama. 3. I love feeding people for a festive reason. 4. I like things that are tasty, relatively easy (I realize ease for some is not the same for others) and sure to please a lot of people. These meatballs are 1. super affordable (no really, have you LOOKED at the price of boneless, skinless chicken breast compared to beef?) and 2. go. on. EVERYTHING. Pasta? Check. Pizza? Absolutely. Sub or sliders? You bet. Spaghetti squash? Veggies never had it so good. Alone as an appetizer? Fugetaboutit.

Also, you’ll use your food processor in a way you’ve probably never thought before. Do you make your own sausage? Yeah, me either. But I’ll be darned if my food processor didn’t do a great job “grinding” this meat, which was far cheaper than buying ground chicken. (Also, far more disgusting. I thought my sister was going to boycott the whole event after she saw that.)

If raw chicken doesn’t bother you, though, this actually comes together pretty quickly. I made a HUGE batch for sliders for NYE a few years ago and reused them in every single way listed above. They freeze well, reheat well (though may dry out a bit, FYI), and are super easy to make gluten free. (Or dairy free – you pull the parmesan out but still get a tasty meatball.) This recipe, inspired and adapted only slightly from Annie’s Eats, is all kinds of good. Serve it with your favorite marinara (even if it comes from a jar) or vodka sauce. Or baked goat cheese in marinara. Cause that’s well…awesome.

You’ll need:

  • 1/2 – 3/4 c panko, breadcrumbs or GF crackers
  • 1/3 c onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 t thyme
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1/2 t Rosemary
  • 1 t basil
  • 3/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1½ lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts (or already ground chicken)
  • 2 T olive oil

Get cooking:

  1. If you’re grinding your own chicken, chop those chicken breasts into large chunks, then add to your food processor. I start by pulsing, and then maybe running on low, until everything is ground.
  2. Add your chicken to a bowl with the other ingredients. Mix by hand (gross maybe, but so much easier) until the meat sticks together. You may need to add more bread/oil depending on how dry your chicken is. This is where it’s nice to have a helper, s you don’t have to keep washing your hands.
  3. Form into balls and (if you’re really feeling sassy) roll in more cheese. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake at 400 20-25 minutes, or until internal temp is 170 (knowing they’ll rest and come to 180.)
  4. Serve in all the ways I state above and any other you can think of.

 

David’s favorite – Fettuccine Alfredo

Everyone grows up having that one “dish” they love. I have a few – my dad’s roast, my mom’s carbonara. My dad’s steak is so good we call it “daddy steak,” and I refused to order restaurant steak until I was well into my 20s (and still only do about once a year.) David’s was his mom’s “beef paprika” – basically a spin on beef stroganoff that uses a tomato-based sauce. I tried to make it at least 3 or 4 times – now understand, I know my way around a kitchen and this is not a complicated recipe – but I could not get it right! It wouldn’t thicken up right, or the flavor would be off – so very odd. So I did what any self-respecting cook does – I stopped cooking it and went to work creating a new favorite dish for him. Not to replace his mom’s, but so that he could at least have one awesome thing he loved that I could actually make him. Not only did I succeed, but this is one of the easiest dishes I make. On the nights I really want to wow him, I make homemade pasta – but the stuff from the box makes this a super fast meal choice.

You’ll need:

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T butter
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, diced (ahem, or more. You know, whatever bakes your cookies.)
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced (optional)
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 2 heads broccoli (optional)
  • 1 pound pasta
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 T basil
  • 1 t thyme

Get cooking:

  1. Boil pasta according to your tastes (I like a good bite in mine, David prefers a little less al dente.) About two minutes before pasta is done, add broccoli to steam in pasta water. Drain pasta/broccoli and add to sauce.
  2. For the sauce, saute garlic, onion and chicken (if using) in butter/olive oil over medium to medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
  3. Deglaze with wine and let reduce for 1-2 minutes, then add cream.
  4. Once it comes to a boil, add Parmesan cheese and let melt. Add pasta/broccoli to sauce, heat through another minute and add seasoning. Serve it up on a huge plate with extra cheese for the top.

Marvelous Marinara Sauce

Everyone has those nights – you’ve worked a super long day, you want to come home and eat a comforting, warm, home cooked meal….but you have absolutely no patience to actually cook. Spaghetti (or more accurately, any kind of pasta) in a marinara sauce is probably my go to “comfort food meal,” and while I could just buy jarred pasta sauce…I can actually make a homemade marinara in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Which means I get the exact flavor I want, I know what I’m putting into it, and best of all – I get out my daily aggression by chopping.

This sauce is really versatile, depending on what you’re feeling like that night. The recipe below is just the base sauce, but I’ve been known to add diced chicken (for a faster, lighter version of chicken Parmesan), ground beef or turkey, and a variety of vegetables (bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes) as it sounded good.

You’ll need:

  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (I just like the texture better, but you can use tomato sauce here if you’d prefer.)
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, chopped (I’ve been known to use a whole head and no, I’m not ashamed.)
  • 1 onion (Small, medium or large depends on how much you – or the people you’re cooking for – like onion.)
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup – ¾ cup red wine
  • 2 T basil
  • 1 T thyme
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1 t rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 T brown sugar (Optional, if you like a sweeter pasta sauce.)
  • 1 pound of your favorite pasta

Get cooking:

  1. Get water on to boil and boil pasta according to package instructions/to your preference.
  2. Heat large skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil.
  3. Once oil is warm, add onion (and meat/veggies, if using) and saute about 5 minutes, until onions are softened.
  4. Add garlic and saute 1-2 minutes more, or until meat is done (if using.)
  5. Add wine and scrape bottom of pan with wooden spoon/flat whisk (the fancy name for this is ‘deglaze”) and reduce by about half.
  6. Add tomato sauce and spices. Bring to boil, then let simmer until pasta is done.
  7. I always throw my pasta in the pan with my sauce and let them cook together for a minute or two, but that is totally up to you. Either way, dinner’s served! Don’t forget to top with Parmesan cheese.

Lamb bolognese and Spaghetti squash

So here I was, all set to shoot you an enchilada recipe, and I got distracted by one of the best things to ever come out of my kitchen. Not kidding – it was not the day to decide to cut down my portion sizes in order to combat the 5 pounds that have mysteriously appeared on my stomach.

And can I just digress for a second? Ok so I eat petty well – half a plate of veggies, small plates, etc. I’m not perfect – we all know I have a bread obsession – but to combat that, I’m also at the gym 4 times a week for an average of 45 minutes. I have not changed a thing in a while, but all of a sudden, this five pounds seems to think it has a new home, and I’m all “Listen buddy, I have a trip to San Diego in 3 weeks and I WILL be in my bikini because it WILL BE at least 75 the whole time I’m there and I don’t want to look like a fool.” So I decided to go “low carb” – which is probably a normal amount for everyone else, but you know – and I freaking made the BEST THING EVER. AND it’s low carb. I know. I was shocked as all get out too.

So this dish sprung from an EPIC weekend of funness a couple of weeks ago where I 1. saw TWO movies in the THEATER. They tell me this is normal for most people but up until last weekend kids, I hadn’t been to one in almost a year. Why spend the money when I can sit at home in my jammies with a glass of wine and the pause button? When I can see Christina Aguilera shake her booty and Bruce Willis blow crap up for a mere $4 on the big screen, that’s when. So we’re out with friends Saturday and they mention making spaghetti squash. Now I had heard rumblings about this particular varietal, but was never convinced because people actually dared call it a pasta “substitute.” That business is just blasphemy and should go straight down under, do not pass go, do not collect 5 lbs on your belly. But they said “No really, we kind of had to do it in the beginning, but it’s really good and has effectively 0 calories and cooks AL DENTE.” Magic words friends, because I like a bite on everything – pasta, veggies, men…So I thought, what the hey.

Saturday night, we are out dancing with yet more friends and did dinner first at my FAVORITE place downtown, Bistro Bella Vita. I had a great gnocchi app (well, it was a mini meal, let’s not kid) with a beef short rib, almost bolognese, sauce. Tucked away as delicious UNTIL…

Sunday. Cammie and Jay and sweet Andy come over for roasted leg of lamb. Which I prepared when we got home from the club at 1:30 and roasted while we were sleeping, a feat of EPIC brilliance on my part since the leg wouldn’t fit in a crock pot. We had a TON of leftovers. If you’ve ever dined at my house, you know this is like saying the sky is blue.

So in my grocery shopping, I buy said squash, thinking I’ll whip up a fast marinara to go with. I get home from the gym Monday night – ok, scratch that, I’m thinking about dinner while AT the gym, trying to get through the workout – and I remember the lamb. And that I have carrots. And an entire PRODUCE DRAWER full of bell peppers (1.99 a pound and YES I will buy as many as I can stuff in my fridge – do you know what they normally charge for those things? Highway robbery.) And I think – bolognese. Let’s really give this squash a test drive. I figured it would be screaming and begging for mercy under the weight of the sauce, but at this point, didn’t care. And friends? WRONG I was. I underestimated that poor squash.

Now here’s the thing – it is NOT a pasta “substitute.” It IS a nice, light alternative to pasta in certain dishes. It takes on the flavor of sauce well, does in fact cook up al dente and while the flavor is different from pasta, it’s also nice. The sauce – seriously guys, the SAUCE – is SUPER rich. For this, I actually prefer the squash because it does a great job of cutting the richness. Pasta would almost be too heavy. The sauce was great, because the lamb was shredded – which means it soaked up all the sauceness of the wine and tomato sauce and was SUPER thick and rich.

So. Run out and make this as fast as possible. Also, you could totally sub in shredded beef or venison if lamb’s not your gig.What I made served 8, but I cut the squash in what I give you below, so 4-6.

You’ll need:

1 spaghetti squash (I used 2. You do not need 2 unless you want to eat this for the rest of the week.)

EVOO

Salt and pepper (to taste)

4 T Italian seasoning (2 for the squash and 2 for the sauce)

1 diced onion

5 cloves chopped garlic

4 carrots, peeled and diced into half-inch chunks

1 red bell pepper, diced into half-inch chunks

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

2 cups shredded lamb (or beef, or venison)

Goat cheese, for garnish

Crusty bread to dip if you aren’t doing this for the low carb bennies

The squash is easy – cut in half and scrape out the seeds. (Which is not easy, so much as simple. Make sure you have a really sharp knife and be really careful, because those suckers are HARD.) Put on a baking sheet cut side up, drizzle with some EVOO, 2 T of the seasoning, salt and pepper and bake at 400 for about 35-40 minutes, or until fork tender.

Meanwhile, saute onions, carrots and red pepper on medium high heat in EVOO (2 T or so) until tender – probably 15 minutes or so. I would chop the carrots first and get them going, then add the bell pepper and onion as you get it done, because they will take less time to cook.

Add garlic and shredded meat and cook about 2 more minutes, until you can smell it.

Deglaze the pan with the red wine. Aka, dump in the wine, and while it’s bubbling, scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to pick up all the yummy bottom bits.

Add in the tomatoes, seasoning and salt and pepper. Let simmer until squash is done.

Once the squash is done, just run your fork along it and you’ll see how it separates like spaghetti. Serve topped with as much sauce as you want and goat cheese for garnish, if you like. I recommend it because the sharpness and acidity from the cheese combats the richness of the sauce nicely, but your call.

Die a death of immense pleasure. Go back for more. Lick the pan when done. But make sure it’s cooled first.

Pasta Puttenesca

This is a great go to recipe when it’s summer…or fall…or winter…or really whenever. It hits the same notes (and is just as easy) as spaghetti, but it’s not quite as heavy. First introduced to me by Rachael Ray, I’ve seen this made a million different ways since. According to legend, puttenesca is the Italian word for “ladies of the night.” Apparently the spicy smell attracted men from the docks. The fact that I love it…not sure what that says about me. Moving on…
This is a great dish – a few specialty ingredients, but honestly, don’t sweat if you can find stuff or don’t like it. Just leave it out. I keep all of these items on hand, and the hubs LOVES this dish. Plus, I can make the sauce in the time it takes the pasta to cook, which is always a plus. This dish is really fast and easy – kind of like our ladies. Without the scare of STDs. That’s always nice.

You’ll need:

1 pound pasta, any cut (I use long cuts, but it would be good with whatever)
2-3 T Olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced (or, if your me, 5-6. I love garlic!)
1/2 large onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced (optional), or 1 lb of shrimp, defrosted
1/2 – 3/4 cup white wine
1-2 T anchovy paste (You can leave this out if it freaks you out. Honestly, the flavor is awesome and with paste, you just don’t have to think about it. It dissolves anyway.)
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1-2 cans artichoke hearts (2 if you’re cooking for the hubs – he loves them)
10 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1-2 handfuls kalamata olives, chopped (Again, if you don’t like them, leave them out. Could also sub in green olives here. I hate black olives, but I suppose they would also work.)
2 T capers
1 T basil
1 T Thyme
1 T oregeno
Red pepper flakes (To taste, depending on how spicy you want it.)
Salt and pepper to taste (Go easy on the salt – the olives, capers and anchovy paste should give you enough.)

Get your water on to boil the pasta.

While that’s going, heat a large skillet on medium high heat and add your olive oil.

Chop your garlic, onion and red pepper, and saute in the oil 3-4 minutes. If you are using chicken, throw that in and cook until it’s about done, 5-6 minutes.

Throw in your white wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to pick up any of the bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. This is called deglazing. It rocks.

Somewhere in here, your water will boil, so add the pasta. Cook until just about done (it will cook in the sauce for a minute or so, so undercook by that much) and drain. Don’t rinse!

Add the rest of the ingredients to the sauce. If using pre-cooked shrimp, add now as well.

Stir.

When the pasta is done, add and stir again. Let cook for 1-2 minutes.

That’s it. No lie. Top with some cheese if you want and eat up.