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Creamy Chicken, Bacon, and Mushrooms

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Happy Cinco de Mayo!! Time to dress in your best sombrero and put your basic level Spanish to good use! Dos cervezas, por favor, should suffice. Celebrate the day with some delicious, spicy Mexican food and a frosty margarita! Heck, have one for me while you’re at it; perhaps something frozen and mango flavored, no salt please…

Had I been thinking ahead, I would have prepared some delectable Mexican dish to celebrate this festive occasion; perhaps some spicy chorizo tacos or tender carne asada or maybe some sweet, cinnamon-coated churros… But, thinking ahead has not been my strong suit of late. We’re in full baby-waiting mode around here, completely preoccupied with last minute preparations and eager anticipation. Soon enough though, soon enough…

In the mean time, you might say that cooking has taken a place on the back burner. Pun fully intended.

But the family still needs to eat, so our kitchen remains semi-operational; just keeping things quick and simple. And recently, one of my younger readers contacted me with a request, which provided the perfect inspiration for a super easy, delicious weeknight meal. Her request was simple; something involving chicken and bacon. I admit that I’m guilty of neglecting chicken recipes. It just rarely occurs to me to cook chicken. Now, bacon, on the other hand, is a completely different story. When am I ever not thinking about cooking with bacon??

So, in answer to my young reader’s chicken and bacon request, here is a delightfully simple, creamy and flavorful meal. It’s hard to go wrong with a dish involving bacon and cream, which is served over hot buttered noodles!

Enjoy!

Creamy Chicken, Bacon, and Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces bacon, chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, chopped into chunks
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hot, buttered egg noodles

Directions

Cook bacon in a pan over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving the bacon grease in the pan. Season the chunks of chicken with salt and pepper. Then, toss with the flour until evenly coated. Add the chicken to the bacon grease in the pan and cook over medium heat for a few minutes on each side, until mostly cooked through. (The chicken will finish cooking in the simmering sauce.) Add the chicken broth, cream, and mushrooms to the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. (This would be the perfect time to cook the noodles.) The sauce should thicken as it simmers. Return the cooked bacon to the pan. Stir in the parsley. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired.

Mac & Chitos, Anyone??

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I love macaroni and cheese; any type of cheese, baked or creamy, imaginative or traditional, fresh or frozen. It barely matters. I love them all. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a macaroni and cheese I haven’t enjoyed for one reason or another. But, I do have my favorites; some for the combination of cheese, some for the addition of interesting ingredients, and some for purely sentimental reasons.

One of my favorite macaroni and cheeses in the whole world is easily my Grandma’s. It is the macaroni and cheese I grew to know and love as a child. I’d know it blindfolded by its smell, taste, and texture. It’s a spoonful of perfect comfort. My grandma, (or Bunger, as she’s lovingly known within the family) uses a familiar combination of Cheez Whiz, cheddar, and American cheese. Crunchy corn flakes complete the comforting dish.

The secret might be in the Cheez Whiz, but I suspect otherwise. Though she didn’t mention it when I called for the recipe, I’m pretty sure the secret ingredient is a hefty dose of love! So, don’t forget to throw some in!

It should be noted that when I called my grandma for the recipe, she couldn’t give me any exact measurements. Like many familiar family favorites, she cooks the dish by instinct; a little of this, a little of that, and a little more of this until it’s right. And you just know it’s right when it is. The recipe which follows is my attempt at putting precise measurements to my grandma’s recipe. It may not be exactly like hers, but it’s pretty close!

Bunger’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds elbow macaroni
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 15-ounce jar Cheez Whiz or other cheese dip/sauce
  • 1 8-ounce package shredded mild cheddar or 2 cups shredded Velveeta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Pepper
  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), divided
  • 2 cups cornflakes, crushed
  • 12 slices American cheese or Velveeta cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Strain, toss with two tablespoons of butter, and set aside.

In a separate pot, bring the milk and one tablespoon of the butter to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low to maintain a gentle simmer. Slightly warm the Cheez Whiz for a few seconds in the microwave. Add the Cheese Whiz and shredded cheese to the simmering milk. Stir until melted and well combined. Crack the two eggs into the Cheez Whiz jar. Close the jar and shake vigorously to whip the eggs. (I’m pretty sure there’s a little magic in this step!) Slowly pour the whipped eggs into the milk and cheese mixture. Stir to combine. Add the garlic powder and pepper. Cook for a few minutes over low/medium-low heat.

Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni and toss to combine. Divide the cheesy macaroni between two large (13×9 inch) baking dishes. Cover the top of the macaroni with the American cheese slices and the crushed corn flakes. Melt the remaining five tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the top of the cornflakes.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes until hot and bubbly around the edges.

Makes 2 Large Baking Dishes…one for dinner, one for the freezer!*

*Freeze the extra dish prior to baking. Defrost and bake before serving.

After making this dish, you’ll probably find yourself with a bit of leftovers. And I’ve got the best way to use them! Recently, an old friend of mine from college posted a picture of her newest culinary creation; a macaroni and cheese burrito! I’ve always thought that Sara was one of the funniest people I know. I’m now convinced that she is also one of the smartest! A burrito filled with macaroni and cheese and crispy fried onions for crunch; a Mac & Chito, if you will! Pure genius!

To prepare yourself a gourmet Mac & Chito, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place a slice of American cheese in the center of a burrito-sized flour tortilla. Place a scoop of warmed macaroni and cheese on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with a generous quantity of fried onion pieces, such as French’s French Fried Onions. Wrap the tortilla burrito style (fold the top and bottom over the macaroni, then roll). Partially wrap the burrito in foil and bake for about 10 minutes, until thoroughly heated.

Fusilli with Braised Beef and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

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The closer I get to my due date, the slower all of my movements become. I’m normally quick and efficient at most tasks. I am now painfully slow and awkward. My every movement is choreographed to a soundtrack of grunts and other sounds of physical exertion.

Ok…thankfully it’s not quite that bad, though I’m definitely better suited to sitting on my couch writing this little post than bopping around the kitchen preparing meals these days. I suspect we’ll be enjoying a lot of takeout during these next few weeks.

With my due date rapidly approaching, I just don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to deal with lengthy ingredient lists and complicated cooking steps. As I waddle my very pregnant body around the kitchen, with two active toddlers running circles around me, simplicity is essential. Heck…I’ve got a low tolerance for lengthy, complicated recipes even on my best days!

Thankfully, mouthwatering dishes with fantastic depth of flavor don’t require long, complicated ingredient lists or intricate culinary techniques. A few well-chosen ingredients and a simple slow-cooked technique can produce an extremely satisfying meal with intense flavors.

Fusilli with Braised Beef and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 package fusilli pasta (or other pasta)

For the Beef:

  • 2 pounds beef short ribs (about 4-6 ribs)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups beef stock
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper

For the Tomatoes:

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley, for garnish
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a large oven-safe pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Place the short ribs in the hot oil and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side until lightly browned. Add the beef stock, tomato paste and garlic to the pot. Stir to combine. Cover and place the pot on the middle rack of the oven. Allow to cook, covered, for 1 1/2 hours. Then, partially uncover a corner of the pot and cook for 30 minutes more.
  • For the tomatoes, toss in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in the oven for the last 35-45 minutes of the beef’s cooking time.
  • Once the beef has cooked, remove the pot from the oven. Remove the short ribs from the sauce and set aside to cool slightly. Pour the sauce into a large measuring cup. (You should have about a cup or so of sauce.) Allow the sauce to settle for a few minutes. The excess oil and fat will rise to the top. Pour off the excess fat or use a spoon to skim away the excess fat. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired.
  • When the beef is cool enough to handle, cut off any excess fat or cartilage. Then, use your fingers or a fork to pull the meat apart.
  • To serve, cook the pasta al dente, according to package directions. Toss the pasta with the sauce. Place some of the shredded meat and several roasted tomatoes on top of the pasta. Garnish with parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

Serves 2-4


Kids Cook Monday – Brought to you by the letter P!

Today’s recipe is brought to you by the letter P. This meal started out with a general plan for Pasta in a Parmesan cream sauce with Prosciutto. Inspired by the natural alliteration in this simple dinner idea, I figured we may as well make it Penne Pasta and throw in a few Portabella mushrooms and Peas for good measure. Dinner by the letter P.

This easy weeknight meal comes together in a Pinch! But, it’s not without opportunities for getting kids involved. Young children may not be ready to participate with the stovetop cooking involved in making this dish, but they make fantastic prep chefs, measuring level cups of cheese and peas, pouring the cream, and taste-testing the mushrooms and prosciutto.

And while the sauce simmered on the stove, the kids set to work artfully decorating large cutouts of the letter P, while giggling their ways through chanting Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers… Even when the meal preparation is simple, there are easy ways to get everyone involved and build authentic, memorable learning experiences into the process!

Penne Pasta in Parmesan Cream Sauce with Prosciutto, Portabellas, and Peas

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Penne Pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 1/2 cups Light Cream
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
  • 1 1/2 cups Baby Portabella Mushrooms (Cremini mushrooms), sliced
  • 1/2 cup Prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 cup Frozen Peas, defrosted
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Prepare pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. Combine cream and 1/2 of the parmesan cheese in a saucepan. Add the mushrooms. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the cream has thickened and the mushrooms are tender. Add the remaining cheese, prosciutto, and peas. Simmer for another 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Toss the cooked pasta in the sauce and serve immediately.

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

It’s been a week since my last post and life hasn’t slowed down for even a moment since. My family is still in recovery from a series of vicious little winter viruses, our dog is still sick with a mysterious ailment, my laptop made a sudden decision to take a permanent vacation and we currently have a houseful of visiting family, brought together by the loss of a loved one.

These are the days which scream for comfort food. And does it get any more comforting than a big dish of spaghetti and meatballs with a crusty piece of buttery garlic bread? I’d like to argue that it does…if you stuff your meatballs with a nice chunk of melty mozzarella cheese!

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds Ground Beef
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3/4 cup Bread Crumbs
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 teaspoons Garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley
  • Crushed Red Pepper, as desired
  • 1 (8 ounce) ball Fresh Mozzarella, cut into 24 chunks
  • Olive Oil for baking dish

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the mozzarella and olive oil. Knead together until well combined. Drizzle a bit of olive oil in two large baking dishes or baking sheets. Roll the meat into balls of about about 1 1/2 – 2 inches diameter. Create a pocket in the center of each ball, insert a chunk of the mozzarella cheese and wrap the meat closed around it. Place the meatballs in the baking dish and cook for about 30 minutes.

Serve over spaghetti with your favorite pasta sauce. Click here for my recipe for a basic homemade tomato sauce.

Makes 24 Meatballs

Super Simple Side Dish – Mediterranean CousCous

Life has left little time for blogging these past few days. Between normal day-to-day business, specialist visits for our ill dog, normal prenatal exams, and a fierce stomach bug which put myself and my family under siege, we’ve been scrambling just to keep up with the basics around here.

I’ve got a few new recipes lined up to post once things settle down for a moment, but for today we’re keeping it extra simple. I’ve got a super quick side dish, with a great amount of flavor and appeal. We decided to roast a few sausages for dinner last night. Is it weird that after a day of consuming nothing but peanut butter toast and ginger tea, all I was craving was spicy Italian sausage?? Perhaps not the wisest first dinner post-stomach bug, but the pregnancy brain is stubborn. I needed a quick, easy side dish to go along with the sausage. Pulling a few items out of the pantry and fridge, I came up with this Mediterranean-inspired couscous. Simple, delicious, and ready-to-eat in under 10 minutes.

Mediterranean Couscous

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Plain Couscous, prepared according to package directions in lightly salted water
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic or White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Feta Cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup Greek Olives, Kalamata or oil-cured
  • 1/8 cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the cooked couscous. Stir until well combined. Stir in the feta cheese crumbles, olives, tomatoes, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4

(Uncle) Jackaroni and Cheese

When it comes to food, my Uncle Jack has, what you may call, refined tastes. Though he enjoys reading this blog, he’d be the first to admit that most of my dishes are not his cup of tea. Where I like my grilled cheese sandwiches with brie on ciabatta, he’s more of an American cheese on white bread kind of guy. Where I’d chose a lamb burger with tzatziki sauce, he’d order the hot dog with ketchup. Where I drool over steak smothered in bordelaise sauce with caramelized onions, he’d pick a meatloaf and mashed potatoes any day!

So, after seeing my Uncle Jack this past weekend, I decided to make a basic macaroni and cheese in his honor; a Jackaroni and Cheese, if you will. It would need to be simple, uncomplicated, and free of fancy embellishments; just a basic, delicious mac and cheese. This left me to carefully ponder my cheese selection; perhaps classic American cheese or even melty Velveeta. And then, as I was walking towards the cheese section of my grocery store, I encountered a display which settled the matter; a display for a Wisconsin cheddar cheese called Jack’s Favorite. Seriously?? Could the answer have been any more clear?? A classic Wisconsin cheddar it would be!

Once I’d settled on a cheddar cheese sauce, the rest of the dish quickly fell into place. I’d add a little chopped ham for a classic Ham and Cheese Sandwich kind of feel. A bit of cream cheese adds a nice smooth texture to any mac and cheese. Finally, I’d top the ‘ronis with good ole American cheese and a bit of bread crumbs for crunch. I used Panko bread crumbs, since it’s what I had on hand. But, something tells me that my Uncle Jack might like it with crumbled corn flakes too!

This recipe is another simple little twist on my other macaroni and cheese recipes. (Check out my Spicy Bacon Mac and Cheese or my Italian Mac and Cheese.) The recipe starts with 2 cups of milk, thickened with a roux made up 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons flour. Then, we simply mix in our desired cheeses and seasonings and combine with our pasta of choice. Easy as that.

The main differences in this recipe are due to the baking step. It’s been my experience that when you add hot macaroni to hot sauce, the macaroni will drink up the sauce during the baking time, leaving you with a tasty, but sauceless, mac and cheese. I like a creamy macaroni and cheese. Allowing the pasta and sauce to cool slightly, before combining and baking, seems to be the key to maintaining a creamy sauce.

Jackaroni and Cheese

Baked Ham and Cheese ‘Ronis

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 3 Tablespoons Butter
  • 3 Tablespoons Flour
  • 2 cups Milk (skim would be fine)
  • 1/2 bar (4 ounces) Cream Cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup Ham, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 6 slices American Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Bread Crumbs or Crumbled Corn Flakes

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Strain, rinse with cool water and set aside to cool. In a saucepan, combine butter and flour over medium heat. Cook for a couple minutes, until it forms a thin paste-like consistency. Add the milk and whisk to combine. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook for a few minutes until the milk thickens. Turn the heat down to low and add the cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in the ham. Allow the sauce to cool slightly, whisking occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. Pour the pasta into the sauce and toss to combine. Pour the mixture into a 13×9 inch baking dish. Top with the slices of American cheese. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes until heated through and the top is golden brown.

Serves 6-8


Home and Macaroni Beef Supper

I spent the week of Thanksgiving in my childhood home. It’s been a very long time since I spent that much time at home. My family and I slept in my childhood room, which no longer resembles my childhood room. Twenty or so years ago, I never would have imagined that someday I’d be a guest in that room, along with a husband, a dog, and two little kids, with another on the way. It seems like yesterday that I was sitting on my bright pink carpet playing with Barbies and negotiating self-serving Barbie clothes trades with my sisters. It’s funny how quickly time passes and life changes.

I am fortunate to have grown up in a beautiful, wooded area, steps away from a New York State Park and the Long Island Sound. As a child, my siblings and I spent endless hours biking through the park, walking along the boardwalk, collecting rocks and shells on the beach, and precariously frolicking on the jetty. As a teen, the park provided a quiet refuge, when I needed a break from life. A hour or so on the swings or a peaceful walk on the beach would set me right as rain. I loved growing up by that park and the beach.

Fortunately, a wave of unseasonably warm weather swept through Long Island earlier in the week, creating the perfect opportunity to spend a little time in the park with the boys. We played in the playground, watched ducks swim between the reeds, and gazed at the peaceful Long Island Sound. Our afternoon at the park gave me one more thing to add to my long list of things I’m thankful for.

During our week at home, we ate like we ate when I was a child. My family rarely ate food which could be called fancy or gourmet, by any stretch of the imagination. But it was always fresh, delicious, and comforting; spaghetti and meatballs, grilled steaks with baked potatoes, baked pasta dishes, and roasted meats.

During one of our nights at home, my dad made one of his favorite weeknight meals. It’s not a recipe which I remember from my childhood, but rather a newer recipe he’s discovered since I’ve been gone. Ironically, this new recipe comes from a 1972 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens ground meat cookbook. It’s hard to beat the classics!

I’ve never had Hamburger Helper, but I’d imagine that this dish is similar, except it’s completely homemade, without all of the preservatives and excess sodium in the boxed stuff. And though I’ve never made Hamburger Helper, I can’t imagine that it would be any simpler to make than this dish is. So, when you’re looking to make a quick meal out of that ground beef you’ve got in the freezer, make this instead. It’s called Macaroni Beef Supper. You’ve got to love a dish that calls itself a supper. I know I sure do!

Macaroni Beef Supper

Adapted from the Better Homes and Garden recipe for Macaroni Beef Supper

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds Ground Beef
  • 1 Onion, finely chopped (Click here for my photo guide on How to Chop an Onion)
  • 1 clove Garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 2 8-ounce cans Tomato Sauce
  • 1 6-ounce can Sliced Mushrooms, drained (or substitute 2 cups Fresh Mushrooms, sliced)
  • 1 pound Pasta, cooked and drained*
  • 1 Tablespoon Vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Chili Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Worchestershire Sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups American Cheese, chopped

*Slightly undercook the pasta, since it will have time to finish cooking with the other ingredients.

Directions

Cook the beef for a few minutes in a skillet over medium heat, using a spoon to break up the pieces. Add the onion and garlic. Continue cooking until the beef is fully cooked and the onion is tender.

Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the cheese.

Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese, until melted.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and serve.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Primavera

Roasted vegetables are winter’s answer to grilled vegetables. In some parts of the country, the flowers are blooming and flip-flops are still appropriate footwear. But up here, we awoke to a world coated in white. Winter has arrived. And when the weather gets cold and the grill has been packed away for the season, it’s time to fire up the oven for some sweet roasted vegetables. The best part about roasting veggies is that it has the ability to coax some fantastic flavor out of some normally lackluster winter produce.

I love roasted vegetables on ciabatta bread with fresh mozzarella and pesto, toasted in the oven. Yum! It’s one of my favorite sandwiches in the world. But today we’re adding our delicious roasted veggies to a pesto pasta dish for a cold weather version of Pasta Primavera.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Primavera

Ingredients

  • 1 Squash, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into half-moons
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, cut in half, seeds and ribs removed
  • 1 1/2 cups Grape Tomatoes, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups small Mushrooms, rinsed
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 pound Pasta

For the Pesto:

  • 1 big bunch of basil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup parmesan (or parmesan cheese blend)
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 6 Tbps+ olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the vegetables in olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet. Place the pepper halves cut side down. Cook for 20-35 minutes. The squash will probably be ready in about 20-25 minutes. The remaining veggies will take longer. Remove the veggies from the oven. Place the pepper halves in a ziploc bag to help the skin to pucker as it cools. Season the remaining veggies in a bit of salt and pepper. When the pepper has cooled, remove from the ziploc and peel away the skin. Cut the pepper into small pieces.

Cook the pasta according the package directions. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the pesto. Pull the basil leaves off of the stem.  Place in a food processor and pulse slightly, giving the leaves a course chop. Add all other ingredients, except the oil, and mix until well blended. Gradually incorporate the oil until you reach your desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings.

When the pasta has finished cooking, strain and return to the pot. Toss the pasta with some of the pesto and the roasted veggies. Serve hot with grated parmesan cheese.

Serves about 6


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

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