the swing


I returned to work this week, just one day after Mira turned 10 weeks old. Mike is home with both kids now, trying to balance his writing projects with wrangling a newborn and an energetic toddler. Monday was rough all around, but each day has gotten a little bit better, and I’m pretty sure that we’ll soon be right back in the swing of things.

We have been helped immensely by parent-friends in our neighborhood, who have dropped off a series of delicious dinners, and also by a bit of planning ahead. I made sure that our fridge and freezer would be stocked with heat-and-eat options to help ease us through this first week post-maternity leave – a chicken and black bean chili I put together a couple of weeks ago, a couple of par-baked frozen pizzas, and the ingredients for this ingenious and really tasty sheet pan supper, which I spotted on Pinterest some recent sleepless night. Right now, easy is essential.

Our kielbasa came from Flying Pigs Farm, and instead of using bell peppers (as in Foodie With Family’s original dish), I added some well-drained sauerkraut to the mix. I also ended up baking it for closer to an hour, cranking the heat up to 500 for the last half of the cooking time to get everything nice and browned and crisp (our crappy apartment oven is likely to blame for that). Since I had started early, timing wasn’t a problem, and I’m never going to complain about the smell of garlicky sausage and onions wafting through the air as they cook. We all loved this dish, and it could not have been easier to assemble, or more fun to eat. This one is definitely going into the rotation.


No-sweat Cooking, Day 22

wrappers of failure

31 dishes, 31 days – I’m cooking my way through Melissa Clark‘s “No-Sweat Cooking” from the August issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray. And to those of you who made your way over here via, welcome!

I had such high hopes for this recipe for Spicy Summer Rolls, but my complete inability to work with the rice paper wrappers made for a rather spectacular failure. They’re an ingredient I haven’t worked with before, and there were no instructions on the package with respect to softening them, so I asked the Internet, settling on a source I trust in these matters, the site.

Dinner: August 19, 2010

The 15 seconds that site recommends ended up being far too long for my particular wrappers, as the first of them disintegrated after a far briefer dip in the water. So I kept working, soaking the papers for a shorter and shorter amount of time, and generally being frustrated at the resulting rolls I came up with. It was late and our stomachs were rumbling, so I eventually gave up, deciding instead to toss the carrots, cress, and pork with softened rice noodles, some slivered hot and sweet peppers, fresh cilantro, and a dressing of Sriracha, fresh lime juice, and a bit of toasted sesame oil. It was a good and satisfying Plan B, though I’m bound and determined to get the original dish right.

Get the Recipe: Spicy Summer Rolls

Fast Fresh Food

Dinner: May 18, 2010

Full disclosure: this was not last night’s dinner. It was actually from a couple of nights ago, the same night my ridiculous commute got me home very late and in a lot of pain. I’ve been trying to regroup from that since, by staying home in bed yesterday and working an abbreviated schedule today, but I keep thinking about how darned good this meal was, how simple and satisfying, and that despite everything I was up against that night, it came together in a flash.

The fussiest part was the prep, and even that wasn’t terribly taxing. I sliced a 1.5 lb. pork tenderloin into 6 relatively equal portions, pounding them thin between sheets of parchment and seasoning them well with kosher salt. I rinsed and spun some arugula dry, whisked up a quick lemon vinaigrette, shaved some radishes on my mandoline (then parked the slices in some ice water until I was ready to toss the salad so they’d stay crunchy), and then I got to work on the breading for my pork medallions.

I combined about a cup of panko with about half a cup each of freshly grated parm and roughly chopped fresh parsley leaves, scooped some AP flour onto a plate, and beat a couple of eggs. I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter with an equal amount of olive oil in our trusty iron skillet, gave the pork medallions a dip in the flour, then the egg, then the panko-parm-and-parsley mixture, then fried them in batches – just a couple of minutes per side, until they were golden brown and cooked to an internal temperature of about 160.

I gave the pork medallions another sprinkle of chopped parsley as they came out of the pan, as well as a scattering of flaky sea salt. I arranged them on our plates (three medallions each), then just before serving I tossed my arugula and shaved radishes (dried well) with the lemon vinaigrette, piling big mounds of the salad on top of the pork and finishing each plate with a few generous grinds of black pepper and some shaved curls of Pecorino Romano.

We loved this particular spin, but I can’t stop thinking that this is one of those dinner templates that is endlessly adaptable, which makes it even more attractive if you’re pressed for time but still want to get a home-cooked, real-food meal on the table in well under an hour. Don’t eat pork? Substitute chicken, turkey, or veal (heck, even slabs of eggplant or meaty portabella caps might work well). Fresh out of arugula? Try mustard, mizuna – any young, peppery greens will do. And young turnips, shaved fennel, or even ribbons of asparagus or carrot would probably make a fine substitute for the radishes. Use your imagination, or what you have on hand. Most importantly, have fun with it.

Slice of Life

kale blossoms

It all started with these – kale blossoms, they’re called, lovely slender green stalks with flowery ends, and the minute I laid eyes on the solitary bunch of them that remained at the NorthStar Farm table at last Saturday’s farmers’ market, I knew I’d be bringing them home. They looked so similar to broccoli rabe that I grabbed a package of sweet Italian sausage from Simmons Farm, too, figuring they would make a good pairing, and when we saw the limited edition “Pizza Mozzarella” at the Narragansett Creamery table, Tuesday night’s dinner was all but set.

Mike made his standard crust and sauce recipes while I was at work, then sauteed the crumbled sausage once I had arrived home. The kale blossoms got a brief saute, too, just a minute with a slick of extra virgin and a pinch of red chile flakes, until the blossoms were bright green but still crisp.

Sauce, cheese, sausage, and kale blossoms were layered on the crust and the assembled pie went onto a hot pizza stone. After a brief bake at 450, we pulled out our pie, added some chopped fresh oregano from Ledge Ends and a shower of finely grated Pecorino Romano, then once the risk of mouth-scorching had passed, we dug in.

Dinner: April 13, 2010

My guy’s got this pizza thing down.

Truly Tender Meatballs, Tweaked

Dinner:  March 13, 2010

You might recall that I recently came up with a meatball recipe that we really love, but in the interest of changing things up a bit, I decided to try a different spin. The “Swedish meatballs” I grew up on were simply meatballs browned and then simmered in canned mushroom soup, and the grey and rainy weather we had this weekend got me craving just that sort of dish.

I haven’t bought canned soup in years, so I’d have to build the mushroom sauce from scratch, and I decided to swap out a few of the seasonings in the meatballs themselves to bring them more in line with a traditional Swedish-style meatball. I rolled them smaller, ending up with 36 orbs rather than the two dozen in my original recipe. I also decided to brown them in the oven rather than on the stovetop, a method that worked really well and a great option for those of you who are averse to frying.

Creamy and comforting, served atop a pile of buttered parsleyed egg noodles, these meatballs were just the thing to chase the chill away on Saturday evening. Held in a crock pot, I’d imagine these or my original red-sauced version would be a great dish to serve at a casual party or potluck.

Truly Tender Meatballs in Creamy Mushroom Sauce

1 cup soft fresh breadcrumbs
¼ to ½ cup milk
½ cup fresh ricotta, drained if very wet
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2-3 teaspoons Kosher salt
½ teaspoon each Colman’s mustard, ground allspice, ground white pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg
1 lb. ground beef
½ lb. ground pork

Preheat oven to 400.

Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl and moisten them with just enough milk to cover them, pressing gently. Remove the breadcrumbs from the milk, squeezing out the excess liquid, and add to a large mixing bowl. Add the egg to the bowl and beat lightly. Add the ricotta, salt, mustard, allspice, white pepper, and nutmeg and mix until well combined. Add the beef and pork and, with clean hands, mix gently until the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

Scoop or pinch off small amounts of the mixture and roll into meatballs, placing them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Creamy Mushroom Sauce

1 oz. dried porcini + 2 cups boiling water
¼ cup unsalted butter
8 oz. fresh crimini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tamari
½ cup each heavy cream + crème fraiche (or sour cream)
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Soak the porcini in the boiling water until very soft. When the mushrooms are soft, remove them from the liquid. Set the liquid aside and chop the mushrooms.

Melt the butter in a wide skillet until foaming, then add the porcini and crimini mushrooms. Season with salt and cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and cook briefly until it no longer has a raw flour smell, then add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, being careful to leave any grit behind. Add the tamari and bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the meatballs to the sauce, stir in the heavy cream and crème fraiche or sour cream, and cook until reduced and thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then add the parsley just before serving, reserving a bit to sprinkle on top.

Love Me Tender

Dinner: January 9, 2010

I’ve been searching for the perfect meatball recipe for what feels like forever, and though I’ve turned out some satisfying versions in the past, none of them have really knocked my socks off – until now. I was recently interviewed for an upcoming piece on easy but romantic dishes for Valentine’s Day, and I kept thinking back to that classic scene in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp: two wide-eyed pups, one big plate of spaghetti and meatballs, a kiss, so sweet. Romantic? Definitely.


This gave me the perfect opportunity to revisit my template meatballs and sauce recipe, and the result was so good Mike and I had to stop “testing” lest we leave nothing for dinner. The meatballs were light and super tender, and the sauce got a depth and sweetness from the port, as well as a bright fruitiness from the wine added near the end. We fell hard for these meatballs – I hope you will, too.

Truly Tender Meatballs
makes about 2 dozen

1 cup soft fresh breadcrumbs
¼ to ½ cup milk
2-3 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup loosely-packed picked fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ cup fresh ricotta, drained if very wet
2-3 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 lb. ground beef
½ lb. ground pork
oil for frying (I use a mixture of ¼ cup olive oil for flavor, plus ¼ cup grapeseed, a neutral oil with a high smoke point)

Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl and moisten them with just enough milk to cover them, pressing gently.

Place the shallots and herbs into the small bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Scrape the mixture out into a large mixing bowl and add the egg. Remove the breadcrumbs from the milk, squeezing out the excess liquid, and add to the bowl. Add the ricotta and salt and mix until well combined. Add the beef and pork and, with clean hands, mix gently until the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

Scoop or pinch off small amounts of the mixture and roll into meatballs, placing them on a plate or platter. Heat the oil in a wide skillet until shimmering, then fry the meatballs in batches, turning them to brown them well on each side, and draining them on paper towels.

Rich Tomato Sauce

1 28 oz. can whole peeled imported Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1 baseball-sized onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste
a pinch of red chile flakes
¼ cup port wine
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme and/or marjoram
¼ cup dry red wine

Place the onion, carrot, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the chopped vegetables and a pinch of salt and stir through, cooking until the vegetables are soft. Clear a spot in the bottom of the pot and add the tomato paste, allowing it to toast briefly before stirring it through the vegetables. Add the chile flakes and port, and cook for a minute or two before adding the herbs and the tomatoes with their juice, breaking the tomatoes up with your fingers or a spoon.

Add the drained meatballs to the simmering tomato sauce, cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce is nicely thickened and reduced (about 30-45 minutes).

Add the red wine and stir through, then simmer for an additional 15 minutes, tasting and adjusting the salt if necessary.

To serve, remove the meatballs and place them in a serving bowl with a bit of sauce still clinging to them. Toss 1 lb. of hot cooked pasta (spaghetti or rigatoni work well) in the sauce to coat it, adding a splash of the starchy pasta water if necessary, and serve the dressed pasta and the meatballs separately, passing additional sauce at the table. Garnish with plenty of freshly grated cheese and a sprinkle of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.