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Braised Short Ribs with Creamy Parmesan and Sun-Dried Tomato Polenta

Last weekend, I received a recipe request from my uncle. We were seated around a table at the Venus Restaurant, a little diner where my grandmother has breakfast each and every morning. Each day, my grandmother is joined by at least one, and sometimes many, of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Whenever my family travels to Long Island, we’ve made it a routine to join the group at breakfast before we hit the road for home. I get the corned beef hash and eggs every time; eggs cooked over-hard, rye toast, and fries.

Well, this past weekend, as I was eating my corned beef  hash and eggs, my family was discussing some of their favorite recipes from this very blog. It thrills me to know that the people I love are enjoying my little work of culinary joy. We talked of gravies, soups, and macaroni and cheese. And then my Uncle Gene asked if I take requests. I absolutely take requests!! In fact, I love requests. His request was clear and precise; braised short ribs with polenta. My mouth watered at the thought. It didn’t take me more than a minute to formulate a plan.

Braising is a wonderfully simple technique which produces extraordinary results. During braising, meat is typically seared over high heat and then cooked slowly in a bit of liquid at a lower temperature. The slow cooking process breaks down the connective tissues of tougher cuts of meat, resulting in a very tender and flavorful result. As the meat cooks, the braising liquid reduces and thickens into a ready made sauce for your completed dish. Combine whatever liquids and seasonings strike your fancy. For the braising liquid in this dish, I chose to use a simple combination of beef stock and red wine, combined with accents of tomato paste, garlic, and onion. Perfection in simplicity.

My uncle requested polenta to accompany the braised short ribs. Polenta is, quite simply, boiled cornmeal. A basic polenta is made from yellow cornmeal, simmered in boiling water or stock until it’s smooth and thickened. To add a bit of rich creaminess to our polenta, I incorporated butter and cream at the end. The addition of parmesan cheese and sun-dried tomatoes makes this polenta the perfect partner to our tomato accented short rib sauce.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

Ingredients

  • 6 Beef Short Ribs
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1/2 Onion, finely diced
  • 2 cups Beef Stock
  • 1 cup Red Wine
  • 1/4 cup Tomato Paste
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large oven-safe pan over medium/medium-high heat. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Add the short ribs to the pan and cook for a minute or two on each side until nicely browned. Remove the short ribs from the pan and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the onion is soft and golden. Add the red wine, beef stock and tomato paste. Whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer and allow the mixture cook for about 3-5 minutes. Place the short ribs in the liquid. (They will not be fully submerged.) Cover the pan and place it in the oven. Cook for about 2 hours.

After two hours, remove the pan from the oven. The meat will have pulled away from the bones. Remove the short ribs from the liquid and set aside. Discard any bones which have fallen away from the meat. Strain the sauce. Allow the sauce to sit for a couple minutes so that the excess fat will rise to the surface. Skim the excess fat off of the sauce. Taste and season with salt and pepper. If you desire a thicker sauce, pour the sauce into an uncovered saucepan and simmer until the sauce has reduced to your desired consistency.

Serves 2-3


Creamy Parmesan and Sun-Dried Tomato Polenta

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Water, divided
  • 1/2 cup Coarse-Ground Yellow Corn Meal
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • 1/3 cup Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup Light Cream
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the remaining water, corn meal, and salt. Once the water is simmering, slowly stir in the cornmeal mixture until smooth. Continue stirring and cooking over low heat for a couple minutes until the mixture thickens. Cover and allow to cook over low heat for 5 more minutes. Stir in the butter, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and cream. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Serves 2-4

Buffalo Chicken Lasagna

Today’s recipe is sponsored by my clumsiness. I’m a terribly uncoordinated person. I prematurely turn around corners and frequently catch my little toe on the edge of doorways. I drop things, I spill, I trip over my own feet.  I miss my mouth when I drink and often pour beverages down my chin. Motor skills are clearly not my strength.

So, yesterday, it was no big surprise when I knocked an unopened bottle of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce off of my food shelves as I was rummaging for something else. The bottle of tasty hot sauce crashed to the floor. Miraculously, the glass remained intact and most of the sauce remained in the bottle. But, the crash had shattered the cap, rendering it completely unusable.

As I held the now permanently-open bottle of hot sauce in my hands, I quickly reworked my dinner plan. Last night was supposed to be braised short ribs. It would now be something containing Frank’s Red Hot; my favorite sauce for Buffalo chicken wings. I contemplated a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich or Buffalo Chicken Pizza, but I’ve made those recently. We’ve also already made Chicken Wing Dip and I had no interest in frying wings last night. What other variation on Buffalo chicken could I create? That’s when the idea of a Buffalo Chicken Lasagna popped into my head.

 

I waited to begin drafting this post until after my husband had a chance to taste my new twist on chicken wings and lasagna. He is my reliable, brutally honest, taste tester. He’s got no problem with telling me when a dish is a flop. I appreciate that about him. I held my breath as he brought the fork to his mouth. A moment later, he exclaimed, This is really good! Clearly, even he was surprised my how much he liked the dish.

 

And so, with hubby’s seal of approval, I present to you, yet another way to satisfy your Buffalo chicken wing cravings…

Buffalo Chicken Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups blue cheese dressing*
  • 1/2 cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (or other hot sauce)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 package no-boil lasagna noodles

*I recommend Marie’s Super Bleu Cheese Dressing.

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine blue cheesing dressing and hot sauce in a bowl. Set aside. In another bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, egg, and pinch of salt. Set aside. Combine the chopped chicken and celery in another bowl. To compose the lasagna, coat the bottom of a small baking dish* with a thin layer of the dressing/hot sauce mixture. Place two lasagna noodles side by side over the sauce. Spread 1/3 of the ricotta/egg mixture over the noodles. Scatter 1/3 of the chicken and celery over the ricotta. Drizzle 1/4 of the blue cheese/hot sauce mixture over the chicken. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese over the sauce. Top with 2 more lasagna noodles. Repeat the layering process until you’ve used all of the chicken, celery, and ricotta. Top the final lasagna noodles with the remaining sauce and cheese. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for 10 additional minutes to allow the cheese to brown. (Or stick the uncovered pan under the broiler for a couple minutes. Watch closely to avoid burning.) Cool for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Serves 4

*This recipe is perfect for a small (9×7) baking dish. Double the recipe for a 13×9 baking dish.

 

Roasted Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

You’ve probably heard of those pregnant women who find themselves craving odd combinations of foods like dill pickles with peanut butter. Or the ones who squirm at the scent of onions or eggs. And then there are those who strangely crave non-foods, like dirt or chalk. I am none of these women while pregnant. For me, pregnancy only serves to heighten my already existing cravings. I have no food aversions and morning sickness is something I’ve only read about in books. My pregnancy diet is simply my normal diet, in overdrive.

Take spicy food for example. I’ve always loved spicy food. This is nothing new. But while pregnant, my desire for spicy food hits new highs. I order my burgers with pepperjack cheese, hot sauce and jalapeños. (Add some extra hot sauce on the side for dipping my fries.) I accidentally forget crucial ingredients for Saturday’s dinner so that I can have my Indian food takeout one night early. I make omelets for lunch so I have something to dip in tabasco. My desire for spicy foods is boundless.

So, on a day, which I’d spent baking and decorating dozens of turkey-shaped Lemon-Ginger Sugar Cookies (recipe coming soon), I needed a quick fix for my spicy food obsession. I turned to one of my favorite easy weeknight  meals; Roasted Sausage, Peppers, and Onions. This recipe hardly even qualifies as a recipe. It’s just a few simple ingredients joined together in perfect flavor harmony. As a child, huge trays of sausage, peppers, and onions were a staple of family party buffets. Served over rice or wrapped in a loaf of Italian bread with provolone cheese, this dish makes a simple, satisfying meal, any night of the week.

As you may imagine, I like to prepare this dish using spicy Italian sausages, but sweet Italian sausages work just as well! By cutting the sausages part way through the cooking time, we allow some of the tasty juices to escape in order to mix and mingle with the peppers and onions. The resulting dish simply oozes with delicious Italian flavors.

Roasted Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

Ingredients

  • 6 Italian Pork Sausages (spicy or sweet)
  • 3 Green Bell Peppers, thinly sliced
  • 2 Onions, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss the peppers and onions in the olive oil. Place in a baking dish. Arrange sausages on top of the peppers and onions. Cook for 20 minutes. Then, remove the baking dish from the oven, cut the sausages in half and place them back with the peppers and onions. Toss to combine the sausage halves with the peppers and onions. Continue cooking for another 30-40 minutes, occasionally tossing the mixture for even cooking. Serve over rice or create sandwiches on Italian bread with provolone cheese.

Serves about 4

Spaghetti and Meatballs in Homemade Tomato Sauce

My husband can’t sit down at an Italian restaurant without ordering Spaghetti and Meatballs. It could be the finest Italian restaurant with a menu dripping in tempting options and all he wants is Spaghetti and Meatballs, preferably with garlic bread. It’s truly one of his favorite meals and he craves it the way that I crave a good piece of dark chocolate or wedge of brie with baguette. So, when I decided to make this simple, classic dish for dinner yesterday, I knew he’d be thrilled.

My timing was impeccable. By the time my husband walked through the door, the sauce had been simmering away on the stove for three hours. The meatballs had been baked and added to the sauce. The garlic bread had been prepared. Our house was bursting with the warm, delicious aromas of tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. Upon stepping into the house, out of the chilly autumn air, my husband took one breath before his eyes lit with joy. What are you cooking? I told him to take a guess. Spaghetti and Meatballs??? His reply was dripping with eager anticipation. I nodded. And garlic bread?? Yes, of course. And I could see him physically buzzing with excitement. Such joy from such a simple meal.

And in that moment, as he stood there, still removing his jacket and shoes, with a child-like grin on his face, it occurred to me that I could profit from this glee. Maybe I should ask for something. Perhaps those fuzzy winter boots I’ve had my eye on. Or a Mercedes E320! No, no! A pony! I’ve always wanted a pony. Yes, that’s what I would ask for.

Then, as fast as it arrived, the moment was gone. The kids began climbing his legs while the dog anxiously communicated his desire for a walk in his typical brutish manner. So, no pony for me. Though, my husband’s evident joy was sufficient reward.

During the hot summer months, when tomatoes have reached their glorious peak of flavor perfection, it would be a pity to use canned tomatoes in your sauce. (Click here for my Fresh Tomato Marinara Sauce recipe.) But, right about now, when tomatoes have become mealy and bland, you’d be silly to use anything other than canned tomatoes. Most canned veggies have a justifiably bad rep for being loaded with salt and drained of their nutrition. But, tomatoes may be one of the rare exceptions. I actually read an article once, which claimed that tomatoes may actually benefit in both flavor and nutrition (lycopene content) from the canning process. Just look for tomatoes which don’t contain extra sodium.

Both my sauce and meatball recipes are simple, classic preparations. No fancy ingredients or interesting twists. Just basic, delicious spaghetti and meatballs, cooked the way I remember from my childhood. The sauce is slow cooked for about 3 hours to allow a rich tomato flavor to develop. Onions, garlic, basil, parsley, and crushed red pepper provide just the right amount of seasoning. The meatballs are basic beef meatballs, blended with a bit of cheese and a few seasonings, then bound together with an egg and a touch of bread crumbs. You can use any type of ground beef or other ground meats in your meatballs, but as with hamburgers, the higher the fat content of the meat, the juicier and moister the resulting meatball will be.

Classic Slow-Cooked Pasta Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 Onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves Garlic, smashed
  • 3-4 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 3 28-ounce cans Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 6-ounce can Tomato Paste
  • 1 6-ounce can Water
  • 5-6 sprigs Fresh Parsley, leaves only
  • 6-8 Basil Leaves, chiffonade
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • Salt and Crushed Red Pepper, as desired

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and smashed garlic cloves. Cook for a few minutes until the onions are tender and translucent. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Fill the tomato paste can with water and add to the saucepan. Stir in the fresh parsley leaves, basil, and bay leaves. Cook over low heat, partially covered, for about three hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and season with crushed red pepper and salt, as desired.

*This recipe makes a great big batch of sauce, perfect for leftovers or freezing!

Classic Baked Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds Ground Beef
  • 1/2 cup Bread Crumbs
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/2 tsp Onion Powder
  • 1 tsp Garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Dried Parsley
  • 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place all ingredients in a bowl. Use your hands to blend, until all ingredients are evenly combined. Using your hands, roll 12-15 meatballs with about 1 1/2″ diameter each. Place the meatballs in a baking dish and bake for 20-25 minutes until fully cooked. Set aside or add to the sauce as it cooks.

Makes 12-15 Meatballs

Eggplant Parmigiana

Winter comes on fast here in Syracuse. It seems like one week you’re sweating in 90 degrees weather at the fair and the next week you’re rummaging through the house trying to figure out where you stashed your scarf when winter finally ended in June. It’s a long, cold, snowy winter ’round here, predominated by gloomy, gray skies and frostbitten noses.

But, there’s a short period of time between the summer and winter, where the sun is still shining, but the air carries just a touch of chill; sweater weather. The leaves turn a beautiful rainbow of rusty reds, burnt oranges, and golden yellows. Apples are ripe for picking. It’s perfectly autumn.

And though I don’t particularly care for the long periods of Syracuse winter gloom, I feel a buzz of excitement on the day I wake up to that perfectly autumn weather. To me, the first cool day in September is shouting one thing, loud and clear… Welcome to Comfort Food Season!

Comfort food season. It’s the time for spending a little longer in the kitchen. Time for heating up the oven and letting the warm aromas permeate the house. Time for hot, cheesy dishes, casseroles, and slow-cooked meats with roasted potatoes. Time for forgiving stretchy pants and bulky sweaters. Comfort food season makes this Gourmand Mom a very happy girl.

So, in honor of comfort food season, I’m making one of my childhood comfort food favorites. You see, I’m Irish, Scottish, and Armenian by heritage, but a good part of my family is Italian. I was raised on Italian food. There may not be a drop of Italian blood in me, but there’s the heart of an Italian cook hiding in there. And, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to comfort food, it doesn’t get much better than Eggplant Parmigiana. Breaded and fried eggplant, layered with cheese and tomato sauce, then baked until perfectly hot and delicious.

My recipe is based on the recipe I was raised with. The secret comes from the combination of three different cheeses between each layer of eggplant; parmigiano-reggiano, mozzarella, and ricotta. The ricotta’s the real key, if you ask me. You can use any kind of tomato sauce in the dish. Homemade marinara or a high-quality store-bought sauce would be fine. I’m using a jar of Bertolli’s spicy Arrabbiata Sauce, which I received in the welcome gift bag over the weekend.

My process for making eggplant parmigiana begins with salting the eggplants. If you’re using freshly picked or baby eggplants, you can probably skip this step. For larger eggplants, which have been off the plant for a few days, salting serves a dual purpose. The salt draws out the bitter liquids which can accumulate in older eggplants, leaving you with a better flavor. Also, as a result of removing some of the liquid, you’ll have a firmer eggplant which will absorb less oil during the frying process.

The entire process of composing the eggplant parmigiana is a little time-consuming, but not complicated. The great part is that is can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen until you’re ready to eat. If baking from refrigerated or frozen, be sure to add some additional cooking time to ensure that the dish gets thoroughly heated through.

Eggplant Parmigiana

Ingredients*

  • 2 medium/large Eggplants, sliced into approximately 1/3″ slices
  • Salt
  • 1 cup Flour
  • 3 Eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups Bread Crumbs
  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil
  • 2 cups Tomato Sauce
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups Ricotta Cheese

* All measurements are approximate. Adjust according to the size of your eggplants and your preferences.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange the eggplant slices on a baking sheet. Generously sprinkle the slices with salt. Allow the salted eggplant to rest for 15-20 minutes. You will begin to see droplets of liquid forming on the eggplant. Rinse the eggplant slices and pat dry.

Then, set up a dish of flour, bowl of the beaten eggs, and a dish of bread crumbs. Press both sides of each slice into the flour, dip in the beaten eggs, then press into the bread crumbs to thoroughly coat. Repeat this process with all eggplant slices.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Places slices of eggplant in a single layer in the pan. Cook for about two minutes, then flip and cook on the other side for two minutes. Both sides should be a golden brown. Place the slices on layers of paper towels to drain. Continue this process, adding more oil as necessary, until all of the eggplant has been cooked. If the bread crumbs remaining  in the pan between batches begin to burn, wipe out the pan and replace with fresh oil before beginning the next batch.

Pour a small amount of sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. To compose the eggplant parmigiana, spread a spoonful of ricotta onto a slice of eggplant. Place the slice on top of the sauce in the baking dish. Sprinkle with parmigiano-reggiano and mozzarella. Then drizzle a small spoonful of tomato sauce on top. Repeat with additional eggplant, cheese, and sauce to create layered towers of eggplant, cheese, and sauce, each without about four eggplant slices. After placing the final slice of eggplant on the tower, top with sauce, then parmigiano-reggiano and a generous amount of mozzarella.

Bake for about 30-35 minutes. For a firmer cheese crust, leave the baking dish uncovered. For a meltier, gooey cheese topping, cover the baking dish with foil for the first 25 minutes or so.

Serve over spaghetti with extra sauce and cheese.


The World’s Greatest Penne ala Vodka

Posted on

This, dear friends, is your lucky day. I am about to share a recipe for the best Vodka Sauce you’ve ever tasted. Seriously…this stuff is a. maze. ing. This recipe comes from a lovely friend, Erin, who acquired it from her uncle, whose friend, Charlie, came up with it. Follow all that? The first time I had the pleasure of this sauce was during college, when Erin whipped it up to the great delight of everyone in our sorority house. We were all hooked. Our biggest problem after that, was figuring out who was old enough to buy the vodka, so we could make it again.

This is a rich sauce; not exactly what you would call diet-friendly. But, all things in moderation. It’s worth it! Just hold your breath while you pour in the quart of cream and drop in the stick of butter. It’s gonna be a long run for me tonight!

Mise En Place

A little note about Mise En Place – The French phrase, Mise en Place, pronounced MEEZ-on-plahs, roughly translates to “everything in its place”. In the culinary field, this refers to the practice of gathering, preparing, and organizing ingredients prior to beginning the cooking process. I’ve mentioned this all before, but I say it again because I truly believe that mise en place is the #1 thing you can do to make cooking a successful, enjoyable experience. Now, my mise en place isn’t always nicely arranged on a tray.  That just makes a pretty picture.  But, I do prepare my mise en place almost every time I cook. Sometimes I do it just prior to cooking.  Other times, I gather, measure, and prepare things whenever I have a moment over the course of the day. This way, when dinner time rolls around, I’m ready to cook! The practice of preparing your mise en place will save you many headaches and a lot of frustration. It will save you from burning the soup, while you’re searching for a spoon or from overcooking the green beans while you’re chopping the garlic. You’ll be just like those chefs on TV, skillfully whipping up delicious meals with ease.

But, enough about mise en place. Let’s get cooking!

Penne ala Vodka

World’s Greatest Vodka Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 shots vodka
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 pound prosciutto (optional, but recommended)
  • 1 can whole plum tomatoes
  • 2 small cans tomato paste
  • 1 qt heavy cream (or you can use a combination of light and heavy cream)
  • 1 small bunch of fresh basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Directions

  • Chop onion and garlic and cook in olive oil until soft.
  • Add prosciutto and cook for a few minutes.
  • Form mixture into a circle with a hole in the middle, pour vodka in the center of the circle and allow to cook off (about 5 minutes). **Pour vodka into a shot glass or other wide-rimmed container before pouring into the pot.  Never pour alcohol directly from a bottle into a hot pan. It is flammable and there is a chance that flames could find there way into the bottle and cause it to explode.
  • Rinse plum tomatoes under water and rinse out all the seeds. (Seeds make the sauce bitter.)
  • Cut into quarters or eighths and add tomato pieces to mixture.
  • Add cream and tomato paste, stir until combined and hot.
  • Chop approximately 5 basil leaves and add to the sauce. (Save additional basil leaves for garnish.)
  • Add cheese and butter and simmer over low heat for approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste. About 1-2 tsp of each should be good.

Serve over penne pasta. This dish pairs nicely with steamed asparagus or peas.

The sauce will keep for a few days in the refrigerator if you don’t put it on the pasta. (Pasta with the sauce already on it does not reheat well.)

Italian Bread with Roasted Garlic Butter

Remember that garlic we roasted last week?  (Click here for a reminder.) Combine 1 head of roasted garlic with 1 stick of softened butter. Cut a loaf of Italian bread in half lengthwise. Spread the roasted garlic butter on both halves. Put the halves back together.  Wrap the loaf in foil.  Bake in a 350 degrees oven for 20-25 minutes. Cut into slices and serve with the Penne ala Vodka.

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