Short Rib Ragu Over Pappardelle

If you haven’t heard, humble cuts of meat are in. Once unpopular, these tough, fairly inexpensive cuts are now on the rise, making frequent appearances on restaurant menus and dinner tables everywhere.

Short ribs, cut from the rib and plate primals of the steer, are a favorite in my house. Braising breaks down the tissues and tenderizes the beef, resulting in rich, meaty flavor. In my book, braising and wine go hand-in-hand, so I decided to pair some short ribs with a robust bottle of Zinfandel. The outcome was insanely delicious. Shred the beef and serve over pasta for a meal guaranteed to impress.

Short Rib Ragu Over Pappardelle

Serves Four

What You’ll Need:

5 lbs bone-in short ribs
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-Virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bottle (750 ml) red Zinfindel wine
3 cups low-sodium beef stock (approximate)
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional)
1 lb pappardelle (or other flat pasta)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pat the ribs dry and season liberally with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown the ribs on all sides, in batches, if necessary. If the olive oil gets soaked up between batches, add some more before searing the next batch of ribs. Once browned, remove the ribs to a plate.

Add the onions to the pot and cook till tender, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Pour in some of the wine and scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. Pour in the remainder of the bottle of wine, then add the porcini mushrooms. Return the short ribs to the pot. Add enough beef stock to completely cover the ribs. Add the rosemary and thyme, then bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the ribs are tender and falling off the bone, about 2.5 to 3 hours.

Remove the ribs from the pot and set aside to cool. Using an immersion blender, blend the juices and vegetable until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Bring the sauce to a simmer and reduce until thick, about 20 to 30 minutes.

When the short ribs are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred. Return the beef to the pot with the reduced sauce. At this point, the ragu can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for the following day. This will allow the flavors to fully develop. This is a great make-ahead dish!

When you’re ready to put the meal together, re-heat the ragu. Fill a large pot with water and season generously with salt. Bring to a boil. Stir in pasta and cook until al dente. Drain pasta and combine with short rib ragu. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley. Enjoy!

Spicy Chicken Soup

I have a confession to make…I don’t like chicken soup. I find it dull and a bit depressing. There, I said it. Sometimes I feel a bit strange admitting I’m not a fan of chicken soup. People look at me strangely, give me that what’s wrong with you? glance. My husband, on the other hand, loves it. Homemade, from a can, in a restaurant, with noodles, with rice — he’ll eat them all. Recently, I decided to challenge myself and try to create a chicken soup we both could enjoy. Not an easy feat, I know. First, I knew that it had to be spicy. John’s family is from Mexico, and he definitely loves heat. I wanted to create layers of bold, rich flavor. Using ancho chiles, onions, fresh corn, tomatoes and shredded chicken thighs, I was able to do just that. One spoonful of this soup and I knew I created a keeper. When John tasted it, he thoroughly agreed. This soup is perfect for chilly days like the ones we have now, when you want to warm your body from the inside out.

Spicy Chicken Soup

Makes 6 to 8 servings

What You’ll Need:

3 lbs chicken thighs, poached, skin removed and shredded
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 ears of fresh corn, kernels removed
1 large onion, chopped
1 serrano pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large ancho chiles, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, seeded, stemmed and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1-28 oz can of diced or crushed tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 handfuls cilantro, roughly chopped
2 limes
avocado, sliced
sour cream, for garnish

In a large pot, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Saute the corn kernels for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, garlic and serrano pepper. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and smoked paprika. Let saute for an additional 5 minutes.

In a small food processor, puree the ancho chile with some of the chicken stock until smooth. Add the ancho, tomatoes and remainder of the chicken stock to the pot. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low. Let simmer for 10 minutes, allowing flavors to combine.

Using an immersion blender, puree about half of the soup. The goal is to thicken it just a bit, but still have some pieces of onion, tomato and corn throughout. Add the shredded chicken and let simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the juice of one lime and mix in half of the chopped cilantro. Ladle the soup into bowls. Place a few slices of avocado on top, then add a dollop of sour cream. Sprinkle with cilantro, then squeeze some fresh lime over everything. Enjoy!

Engagement Chicken

Glamour Magazine folklore tells the tale of a magical chicken, a chicken so delicious, so irresistible, men fall into a spell and begin to think of marriage. The story of this magical chicken dates back nearly 30 years, when then-Glamour fashion editor Kim Bonnell gave the recipe to her assistant, who made it for her boyfriend. A month later, they were engaged. The recipe got passed along to other women, three of which later became engaged. This magical recipe was promptly dubbed “Engagement Chicken.” In 2004, the recipe was published in Glamour Magazine. Since then, over 60 readers have become engaged after making this chicken for their loved one. Even Beth Ostrosky, Howard Stern’s wife, admits to making this dish not long before she and Howard became engaged.

Six years ago, I came across the Engagement Chicken recipe and decided to make it for my then-boyfriend. When I placed the roasted chicken on the table, my boyfriend gawked. Never before had I made such a beautiful chicken, roasted to a perfect golden brown. One bite and he was hooked. He marveled at the juiciness of the bird, the hint of lemon, the crispness of the skin. When he looked at me, I could see stars in his eyes. Three weeks later, my boyfriend proposed.

Seriously? No! Until recently, I had never heard of Engagement Chicken. I found the tale quite intriguing, though. I mean, a chicken so delicious that it made men think of marriage? It sounded extremely far fetched. Regardless, I decided to give it a try. For years, I had been searching for the “perfect” roast chicken recipe. You know, the kind of recipe you always go back to, because it’s simple yet delicious. Well, my search is over. This is the perfect roast chicken recipe.

On a side note, I apologize for the not-so-good photo of this amazingly delicious chicken! It didn’t occur to me until after I carved the chicken that I should have taken a picture of it breast-side up!

Engagement Chicken

Tweaked from Glamour Magazine

What You’ll Need:

1 (3 to 4 lb) chicken
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup fresh lemon juice, plus 2 additional lemons, cut into quarters
10 cloves garlic, smashed
2 onions, thickly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon flour
Extra Virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the giblets from the chicken, wash the chicken inside and out with cold water, then let drain for about 2 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels. Place the chicken, breast side down, in a medium roasting pan. Pour the lemon juice all over the chicken, inside and out. Place the smashed garlic cloves inside the cavity of the chicken, along with six of the lemon quarters. Brush the outside of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Place the sliced onions and remaining lemon quarters around the chicken in the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the wine and chicken stock into the bottom of the pan.

Put the chicken in the oven, lower the temperature to 375 degrees, and roast for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the juices run clear. If the skin begins to darken too much, tent lightly with aluminum foil while roasting. Once done, remove the chicken and place on a platter. Cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare the sauce.

Place a small saucepan on the stove, over medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of the chicken juices, then sprinkle in the flour. Stir constantly, until it thickens. Add the remaining juices from the roasting pan, including the onions. Let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sauce reduces. Carve the chicken and serve with the warm sauce and onions. Wait for a proposal.

Roasted Picnic Shoulder with Fingerling Potatoes

Although it’s mid-May, there’s still enough of a chill in the air to turn on the oven without making the kitchen uncomfortably hot. Knowing there would be few opportunities left to make a roast, at least until next Fall, I had my little brother, Stephen the Butcher, bone out a beautiful picnic shoulder of pork. I fantasized about smothering the pork in herbs, drooling before I even brought it home to actually season it.

Picnic shoulder comes from the lower part of the pig’s shoulder. It can be a fatty piece of pork, so be sure to have it trimmed. Picnic shoulder is an inexpensive cut of meat and is extremely versatile. It can be barbecued, braised, roasted, used in stews or kabobs. This is the cut most commonly used for one of my favorite dishes, barbecued pulled pork. Picnic shoulder is also used to make smoked hams and ground pork. In many Spanish-speaking countries, especially those in the Caribbean, picnic shoulder is extremely popular during the holidays and special occasions, used to make pernil, a slow-cooked roast richly seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, a splash of bitter orange, and lots of garlic.

When I first thought about bringing home a picnic shoulder, I immediately thought about making pernil. I could almost taste the succulent pork, which would have tasted even better dipped in mojo. I quickly dismissed that idea, deciding to think outside the box, using some flavors I had never tried before with pork. I came across a recipe for an easier, American-ized version of porchetta, and decided that rosemary and sage were the way to go. It proved to be a fantastic decision.

Roasted Picnic Shoulder with Fingerling Potatoes

Roasting the pork shoulder on a bed of fingerlings results in tender, flavorful potatoes that require almost no work!

Boneless Picnic Shoulder

If you’re uncomfortable boning out a pork shoulder, or any cut of meat for that matter, just ask your butcher. They’ll be more than happy to help!

Prepare to get your hands dirty! You’ll want to rub the seasoning into every nook and cranny of the pork!

Stuffed with goodness, this pork smells delicious before it even goes in the oven!

Pork Crackling is Gooooooood!

Don’t be afraid of roasting this baby at high heat. Keeping the skin on protects the rest of the meat, leaving it juicy and flavorful. The added bonus is the pork crackling, a delicious treat!

Roasted Picnic Shoulder of Pork with Fingerling Potatoes

Adapted from Anne Burrell

What You’ll Need:

For the Pork:
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped
1 bunch fresh sage, leaves finely chopped
20 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 picnic shoulder of pork with the skin, bone removed
Kosher salt
black pepper
 
For the Potatoes:
10 garlic cloves, smashed
2 pounds fingerling potatoes, cut lengthwise
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
Kosher salt
1 bundle fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the rosemary, sage, garlic and crushed red pepper in a small bowl. Mix with enough olive oil until a paste has formed. Cut the sides of the pork so it opens and lies flat on your cutting board. Rub the paste all over the inside of the pork shoulder, then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roll the pork and tie tightly with butcher’s twine.

Place the potatoes at the bottom of a large roasting pan. Season with salt, then toss in the bundle of thyme. Rest the pork roast on top of the bed of fingerling potatoes, making sure the pork skin faces up. Rub the top of the pork with a bit of oil and put in the oven. Roast for about 30 minutes. By this time, the skin should start to become a gorgeous brown color. Don’t be afraid of browned pork skin – it’s tasty!

Add the wine and chicken stock to the roasting pan. Roast for another 2 to 2 ½ hours, basting the skin occasionally with the pan juices. Tent the roast with aluminum foil if you feel the skin is becoming too dark, but be sure to remove the foil during the last half hour of cooking.

Once the roast is done, remove from the pan, cut the string, and let the pork rest for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the skin and cut into large squares. Slice the pork and arrange on a platter with the fingerling potatoes, making sure to spoon lots of the the pan juices on top. Garnish with pork crackling and serve. Prepare to chow down!

Mango, Ginger, and Habanero Pulled Pork

Despite the use of “habanero” in its title, this deliciously sweet pulled pork isn’t overwhelmingly spicy. The habanero that simmers slowly along with the pork gives a spicy hint to this addictive dish.

I have to admit, I purposely waited until the husband was away at work to make this dish. Usually, he’ll eat almost anything, but this slow-cooked pork is not one of those things. John is a firm believer that two things should not be sweet — vegetables and meat. I, on the other hand, absolutely love this pulled pork. Even better are the leftovers, which make great sandwiches. Yum.

I usually cook this dish in my Crockpot, but it can very easily be made in a Dutch oven or large pot. I used a boneless pork shoulder for this dish. The sauce is extremely versatile and can be used on chicken or even fish.

Sweet and Spicy Deliciousness

Mango, Ginger, and Habanero Pulled Pork

Adapted from Aarti Sequeira

What You’ll Need:
1 boneless pork shoulder, about 3 pounds, excess fat removed
 
Rub:
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Sauce:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 onion, finely minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 habanero pepper, sliced down the center, top half together, stem intact
Kosher salt
2 ripe mangoes, pureed
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
 

Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl and massage it into the pork, then set aside. This can be done and refrigerated up to a day in advance.

In a large saucepan (or Dutch oven if you plan on cooking the pork on your stovetop), warm the oil over low heat until hot. Add the cumin and fennel seeds. Keep a lid or shield handy – they’ll splutter upon contact and try to pop out! Once they settle down, add the onions, ginger and habanero pepper. Sauté until softened. Add a bit of salt, to taste. Add the remaining sauce ingredients, then simmer for about 5 minutes.

If using a Crockpot, transfer the ingredients into the pot and add the pork shoulder, making sure to coat it with the sauce. If you’re cooking your pulled pork on the stovetop, add the pork shoulder to your Dutch oven or pot, cover with a lid and gently simmer for about three hours, until the pork starts to fall apart.

Once its done cooking, remove the pork from the pot and shred it. You can use forks or your fingers, it’s up to you! Put the shredded pork on a bun and spoon some of the sweet sauce on top, or eat this deliciousness alongside one of my favorites, Indian Spiced Potatoes. Enjoy!

Mustard Braised Pork Belly

Ever heard of or seen pork belly and wonder, “What the heck is that?” Yeah, me too.

At work, I go through dozens and dozens of invoices each week, looking over the product sent to us by wholesale distributors. We go through hundreds of boxes of pork belly each month and I always used to wonder, “What do people use this for?” It wasn’t until fairly recently that I discovered most of the restaurants and cuchifritos we supply cut the pork belly into small chunks and deep fry. Talk about a coronary on a plate!

Picture Courtesy of Wikipedia

Pork belly is exactly what it sounds like — the meat from the belly of the pig. It’s very fatty and definitely not diet food. Besides being commonly used in cuchifritos, I discovered that pork belly is extremely popular in Korean and Chinese cuisine. Hmmm, I guess I’ll have to check for that the next time we order from Oriental House!

When I saw Anne Burrell braise a piece of pork belly on Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, I said to myself, “Hey, I’ve seen pork belly! I know what that is!” My inner foodie jumped at the chance to make it. This is definitely not part of a low calorie, low fat diet. Don’t check your Weight Watcher’s Points Calculator, unless you want to pass out. This is a delicious, once-in-a-while, “wow, I made that?” dish. Start it in the morning and let it braise while you do a few loads of laundry, mow the lawn, whatever. The result will be a succulent piece of pork that falls apart in your mouth. Yum.

Mustard Braised Pork Belly

Mustard Braised Pork Belly

Adapted from Anne Burrell

Dry rub:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons dry mustard powder
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon sugar
zest of one lemon
2 sprigs rosemary, picked and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3 pounds pork belly, skin removed
Pork belly:
extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
kosher salt
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
2 cups chicken stock
fresh thyme bundle
3 bay leaves

Combine all the dry rub ingredients in a bowl. Massage the rub all over the pork belly, then cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Coat a large, high-sided pan with olive oil and put over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic. Season the vegetables with the crushed red pepper and salt, to taste. Cook the vegetables until they start to soften, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the wine and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the mustard and chicken stock. Add the pork belly, then toss in the thyme and bay leaves. Cover and put in the preheated oven. Braise the belly for 6 hours, checking occasionally and rotating the pan half way through the cooking process.

After the 6 hours, remove the lid and set the oven to broil. Broil the pork belly for a few minutes, until it gets a nice golden color. Transfer the pork belly to a cutting board and cut into portions. Arrange the pork on a platter, or serve onto plates and pour some of the braising liquid on top. This goes nicely with mashed potatoes or rice, and some wilted greens, such as kale or mustard greens.

Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri

What a gorgeous day. After a winter of record-breaking snowfall, and a recent torrent of rain, we were finally blessed with a weekend filled with sun and 50 degree weather. The huge block of ice on our back porch thawed to reveal a neglected Kenmore grill. When I realized the propane tank was nearly full, I could almost taste grilled steak in the near future.

I can still remember the first time I ate skirt steak. I was in my mid-teens, and Papi the Butcher had brought home the strange-looking cut of beef for dinner. If you’ve never seen skirt steak before, it’s a long, flat cut of beef. When I asked what it was, he replied, “Skirt steak.” At first, I thought he was joking. I mean, why would someone name a cut of beef after an item of clothing? He explained that skirt steak is the diaphragm muscle of the cow, which is attached to the ribs. It tends to be tough, but is extremely flavorful when cooked properly. Skirt steak is the cut of beef traditionally used for fajitas and is commonly called arrachera or churrasco. Many people commonly confuse skirt steak with flank steak, but they are actually two different cuts.

Years ago, skirt steak was one of the cheaper cuts of beef. Nowadays, it averages about $4 a pound, which is on the pricey side. Many people discovered that despite it’s toughness, when grilled or pan-seared, skirt steak can be tender and delicious. It’s also a great steak to braise or marinade.

For weeks, I’ve been anxious for the opportunity to make my own chimichurri. Chimichurri is an Argentinian sauce used as a marinade or condiment for meat. It’s most commonly made with parsley, garlic, oil, and other seasonings. From what I’ve heard, Argentinian’s use chimichurri like Americans use ketchup.

When I heard the weather forecast for a gorgeous weekend ahead, I brought home some skirt steak and went to work on making my sauce. When you make this chimichurri, you’ll want to lick the spoon.

When you buy skirt steak, be sure to have your butcher remove the membrane and trim a good portion of the fat, unless you’re feeling adventurous and want to attempt that at home. Before grilling, I seasoned my skirt steak simply with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. No fancy pants here. The star of the show is the chimichurri.

Chimichurri

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
8 cloves garlic
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bay leaf

Toss the parsley in a small food processor with the vinegar, water, garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and olive oil, then give it a whirl. Add the bay leaf, then let the sauce stand, at room temperature, for at least an hour. This will allow the flavors to come together.

If you don’t have a food processor, be sure to finely chop your parsley and garlic by hand. Stir together the vinegar, water, garlic, bay leaf, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until combined, then whisk in the finely chopped parsley. Be sure to discard the bay leaf before serving. Serve this sauce alongside grilled beef, chicken, shrimp, chorizo, or whatever your heart desires. Enjoy!

Game Day Chili

Chili can be a very debatable subject among aficionados. Beef or pork? Beans or bean-less? Green or red? I know several people who claim theirs is the best. I certainly don’t claim to make the best, but I sure do make some darn good chili!

Chili originated in the late 1800’s in San Antonio, Texas. Hispanic women would gather in public places and sell bowls of chili to passersby. Cattle were cheap and plentiful in San Antonio, so chili was often made with beef. As the years went by, chili parlors opened up throughout Texas. Soon, the craze expanded to nearby states. Since beef wasn’t as abundant or inexpensive in other regions of the United States, people started adding beans to their chili, to act as a “filler.” So, as it turns out, the original chili did NOT include beans. Well, I have nothing against beans, so they make an appearance in my chili. More fiber, right?

For this recipe, I use a blend of ground beef and pork. I asked my brother, a butcher, to grind some chuck. I prefer chuck because it has a great balance of meat and fat. Fat is essential for lots of flavor. For ground pork, I use boneless pork loin. The combination of beef and pork, along with some smoky bacon, makes for a hearty, satisfying chili.

Game Day Chili

The Butcher’s Daughter original recipe

 

What You’ll Need:

olive oil
½ pound bacon, diced
1 pound ground pork (recommended: pork loin)
1 pound ground beef (recommended: chuck)
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups water
¼ cup brewed coffee
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
grated cheddar cheese, for serving

Cook bacon in a 6 to 8 quart heavy pot over medium to high heat, until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon from pot and set aside. Leave the bacon fat in the pot! This is valuable stuff!

Add the diced onion and green pepper to the pot, using the bacon fat to cook the vegetables until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the vegetables and set aside. If the vegetables have absorbed all the bacon fat, add some olive oil to the bottom of the pot. Add the ground pork and beef and sauté until brown. Return the onion and bell pepper to the pot. Add garlic, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika. Cook for about a minute. Return the bacon to the pot. Add the tomato paste to the mixture, making sure to blend it well throughout the meat. Add the crushed tomatoes, coffee, and water, and bring to a simmer. Stir in the kidney beans. Cook the chili for about 2 to 2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. Ladle chili into bowls and top with shredded cheddar cheese before serving. Enjoy!

An Italian Feast: Spaghetti Bolognese, Roasted Asparagus with Poached Egg, and Garlic Bread

I didn’t know what “bolognese” was until fairly recently. Sure, I had heard the term plenty of times, but I never knew “bolognese” was just a fancy name for a meat-based sauce for pasta. Turns out, I had spaghetti bolognese quite often as a kid. Well, kind of. It was more like, “let me open this jar of Ragu over some pasta so I can say I cooked you kids some dinner.” Not a big difference, right?

Usually, I don’t go for recipes that involve me slaving in the kitchen for hours at a time. Sure, I like a bit of a challenge, but I don’t want a backache to overshadow the victory of my latest kitchen adventure. When I came across Anne Burrell’s Pasta Bolognese recipe, the first thing I noticed was the four and a half hours of cooking time. Despite that craziness, I still went forward with making it. Hey, at least I could say I’ve made bolognese sauce from scratch. And, because the idea of cooking a meat sauce for almost five hours wasn’t daunting enough, I decided on a side of roasted asparagus with poached egg, and garlic bread. From scratch. Oh, and did I mention I had never made Italian bread before?

Spaghetti Bolognese

Tweaked from Anne Burrell

 

1 large onion, cut into 1-inch dice
2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
4 cloves garlic
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds ground chuck
1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
3 cups red wine
water
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (you can certainly use Parmigiano Reggiano, if preferred)

In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed vegetables and season with salt. Cook the vegetables until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Have some patience! Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt and pepper. Brown the beef and let cook about 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. If your sauce reduces too much, add some water. Don’t be afraid to add water, you can always cook it out. As your sauce simmers, be sure to taste it and season it accordingly.

During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the spaghetti. Remember to salt the water! When the water is at a rolling boil add the spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the meat sauce from the pot and set aside.

Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining meat sauce. Stir the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat grate some Pecorino Romano over the entire pot of pasta. Toss vigorously. Serve the pasta and top each dish with some more Pecorino Romano. Serve immediately.

Roasted Asparagus with Poached Egg

Adapted from Anne Burrell

 

What You’ll Need:

3 tablespoons white vinegar
12 spears asparagus
Extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Fill a large saucepan two-thirds of the way with water. Add the white vinegar and bring to a boil.

Holding the tip and stem of each asparagus spear, snap the asparagus where it will naturally break. Discard the ends. Toss the asparagus with some olive oil and sprinkle some salt over them. Place the asparagus in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

Reduce the heat on the water until the bubbles in the water have subsided. Gently crack and drop the eggs into the water. Cook the eggs for 3 to 4 minutes. When done, the whites will be cooked through and the yolks will be warm but still liquid. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the eggs from the saucepan and blot the bottom of the spoon on a paper towel before plating the egg. Remove the asparagus from the oven. Divide the roasted asparagus spears on plates and top each set of asparagus with a poached egg. Sprinkle with the grated Parmigiano and a bit of pepper. Serve with some soft Italian bread, to sop up the yolk.

Italian Bread (to later transform into Garlic Bread)

What You’ll Need:

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 1/3 cups warm water (90 to 110 degrees F)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 package (2 ½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons cornmeal

Place the water and yeast into the bowl of an electric mixer and allow the yeast to bloom for about 5 minutes. Add the flour and sugar to the water and mix until a dough begins to form. Drizzle the oil and salt into the dough and continue to mix for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until a smooth, firm dough is formed. Wrap the bowl in plastic wrap and let the dough sit until doubled in size, about an hour and a half.

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Form dough into two loaves. Place the loaves on a cutting board generously sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover the loaves with a damp cloth and let rise, until doubled in volume about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, beat together egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush the risen loaves with the egg mixture. Make a single long, quick cut down the center of the loaves with a sharp knife. Gently shake the cutting board to make sure that the loaves are not sticking. If they stick, use a spatula or pastry knife to loosen. Slide the loaves onto a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Once the bread cool enough for you to handle, feel free to turn this into some garlic bread…

Garlic Bread

What You’ll Need:

Italian Bread (see above)
6 tablespoons room temperature butter
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Mozzarella cheese (if desired)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Add the garlic and seasonings to the softened butter and blend well. Slice the bread in half, horizontally. Spread the butter mixture on each half. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired. Place the bread on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Enjoy!

After serving up this meal, I feel like I’ve conquered a culinary mountain. Ok, maybe a large hill. Still, this felt greatly rewarding and satisfying. John proclaimed it an “amazing” meal and served himself a second helping. Even Logan, my super-picky three year old, proclaimed that he LOVES mommy’s bread. Not bad, eh?

Braised Country-Style Pork Ribs

You don’t see country-style ribs often on restaurant menus. Well, at least I don’t. I’m not sure why, since they are a lot meatier than your traditional beef or pork ribs. Country-style ribs are cut from the sirloin or rib end of the pork loin. Since they’re perfect for those of us who want to use a knife and fork, I often use this cut for braising or cooking with Spanish-style rice. Today, I’ve decided to braise them with some onion, celery, and carrots. Deglazing the pot with apple cider vinegar results in a tangy sauce that’s great to sop up with some crusty bread.

Braised Country-Style Pork Ribs

Adapted from Melissa d’Arabian

What You’ll Need:

3 pounds bone-in country-style pork ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
2 1/2 cups chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Pat the ribs dry and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and brown the ribs on all sides. Remove the ribs and set aside. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the Dutch oven and reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions, carrots, celery, salt, and pepper and cook until soft, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and cook an additional 3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the apple cider vinegar, then add the red pepper flakes and bay leaves.

Add the ribs back to the pan and add enough stock to reach halfway up the sides of the ribs. Bring the pan to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven. Braise until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. During the last half hour, uncover to allow the liquid to reduce. Remove the bay leaves. Plate the ribs and spoon the sauce and vegetables over them. Enjoy!