Sunday, February 28, 2010

Garlic Bread & Tiramisu: Spaghetti Sidekicks

How can you make a perfect meal even more delicious? By sandwiching it between cheesy, buttery garlic bread and incredibly rich tiramisu.

During my visit home last weekend, I attended Spaghetti School (courtesy of Mama B). I should've known that Mama had a few other tricks up her sleeve...after all, she always does! She had all of the ingredients for my favorite Garlic Bread. We followed the recipe then added our own flair by sticking the open-faced halves of bread under the broiler after topping them with parmesan cheese. 

She also had a recipe for Whipped-Up Chocolate Ricotta Tiramisu (we used Kahlua instead of cognac, but otherwise followed the recipe as is). She mixed the creamy ingredients while I prepared the ladyfingers and layered them into pretty glasses.

Out of all the tiramisus I've ever eaten (all of them from restaurants, mind you, none of them homemade), this was the best one. Homemade, easy, and so scrumptious! Petite chocolate morsels suspended in fluffy clouds of mascarpone and ricotta, resting upon coffee-soaked sponginess...heavenly!

It's not very often that the sidekicks are as popular as the hero, but these dishes are delicious enough to save the day on their own. The next time you're in the mood for Italian, give them a try!

Happy Searching!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Best Spaghetti

Everyone has a favorite dish that their mom makes. Since my mom is an amazing cook, it is extremely difficult to pick just one. But if I really had to choose...if I really had to pick just one meal as my all-time favorite, it would have to be my mom's spaghetti and meatballs. It was the meal I ate on my first birthday and I think it's been my favorite ever since. I know I'm a bit biased, but it truly is the most delicious spaghetti I've ever eaten.

Last weekend, I spent a snowy Saturday with my mom in the kitchen while she made her famous sauce (it's actually a ragu because it's of the many things I learned while attending Spaghetti School). I took copious notes down to the finest details, closely observing exactly how she rolled the meatballs and how she grated the garlic. It's one of those recipes Mama B has been making for decades so she doesn't need a recipe--the recipe is in her head. Watching my mom in her element was fantastic. It felt a bit like watching DaVinci paint the Sistine Chapel (or so I can imagine).

What I learned is that the recipe isn't an exact science, but it is a labor of love. I'm not sure I'll be able to create it as well as she does, but I am definitely going to try. One thing I can create is the perfect bite. A harmonious balance between meatball, noodles, sauce, and cheese...mmmmm.

So now--drumroll, please--I present the world premiere of Mama B's Italian Ragu recipe. I highly recommend you try it--you'll find yourself eating some pasta delizioso! Buon appetito!

Mama B's Italian Ragu
Pour approximately 3 TB of olive oil in the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.
Add 1 chopped onion, 4 cloves of chopped or grated garlic, 1 TB of salt and 1/2 TB of pepper. Saute until translucent.
In a separate pan, brown 1 pound of Italian sausage. Drain and cool on a paper towel and set aside.
Add one 12 oz can of Contadina tomato paste. Cook on low for 3-5 minutes, stirring often to avoid burning.
Add 1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley, 1 tsp of dried basil, 1 tsp of dried oregano, and 1 TB of sugar. Cook for 5 minutes, then add 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper, 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan or Pecorino Romano. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often to avoid burning.
Add 3 cans of warm water (using the tomato paste can), stirring between each can to combine. (Mama says, "Don't worry if it's thin--it will thicken!").
Add crumbled sausage and 8 oz sliced mushrooms.
Bring to a boil and then lower heat. Simmer uncovered for approximately 2 hours, depending on the consistency you prefer.
Add meatballs and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese 10 minutes before ready to serve. Meatballs will finish cooking but won't absorb too much sauce.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Enjoy with your preferred noodle (I am a classic spaghetti girl myself, but it's excellent with penne or rigatoni, too).

Mama B's Meat-a-balls
Soak 2-3 slices of white bread in milk, cream, or half-and-half (just enough to cover the bread).
In a large bowl, mix 2 beaten eggs, 1/2 tsp of dried basil, 1/2 tsp of dried oregano, 1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley, 1 large chopped or grated garlic clove, 1/2 cup of shredded parmesan cheese, 1/8 cup grated Pecorino Romano and 1/4 tsp of onion powder.
Add 1 pound of ground beef and 1 pound of ground pork, gently mixing to combine (Overmixing will cause the meatballs to become tough).
Roll into balls, slightly bigger than a golf ball. Bake @ 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes. Meatballs should start to become oozey with cheese, but shouldn't be cooked all the way through--they will finish cooking in the sauce.

*Note: Many recipes call for frying meatballs. I've had these meatballs both ways, and baking them in the oven is much better. Roasting enhances the flavor of the meatballs and keeps them extremely moist. (And they are awesome in a sandwich the next day).

Happy Searching!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Oy-stuhs...Little Oy-stuhs!

During our Valentine's stroll on South Congress, we revisited a restaurant that we discovered a few months ago. Perla's, a new addition to the row of restaurants on Austin's most happenin' avenue, left us a bit disappointed the first time around. The service was just plain lousy but the food was so incredibly delicious that we decided to give Perla's a second chance. (Ryan still talks about their Soft Shell Crab BLT. Read all about our first trip here.) Round Two proved to be similar to Round One: food=delicious, service=non-existent.

So, onto the food! We ordered two schooners of beer and a half dozen Fanny Bay oysters on the half shell (which are from British Columbia and have a reputation for being consistently scrumptious...they were).
Chasing a briny, plump, succulent oyster with an icy-cold beer is one of my all-time most delicious scenarios. The oysters were fantastic, but didn't last long.

It took us 15 minutes to get them...

...and this was literally about 2 minutes later.

I felt a bit like the know, from the old Disney cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland with the story of The Walrus and The Carpenter? The Carpenter spends all of his time preparing for the big oyster feast while the Walrus slurps down one oyster after another and before you know it, the Carpenter is calling out, "Oy-stuhs? Little Oy-stuhs?"

But they'd been eaten...every one!

Ahhh, there are never enough oysters. Or attentive servers. But maybe the third time's the charm...the oysters are so good, we may have to give Perla's another chance. Maybe.

Happy Searching,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Divine Valentine

How glorious was it that Valentine's Day fell on a weekend this year?!? (A long weekend if you had Monday off...bonus!)

We didn't even make huge plans...just spent the three-day weekend enjoying each other's company and some delicious nibbles. Our weekend started Friday night with a concert downtown (The English Beat, a resurfaced 80's band, set the tone for a fun and relaxing weekend with their reggae-punk tunes). Saturday afternoon was filled with leisurely grocery shopping (one of our favorite pastimes), filling our cart with Valentine indulgences like lobster tails and champagne. We ate breakfast in bed Sunday morning and spent some time on South Congress that afternoon. All in all, a lovely weekend...hope yours was deliciously lovely, too!

Pear & Gorgonzola Salad with 
Toasted Walnuts and Champagne Vinaigrette

 Lemon Pepper Pappardelle with 
Lobster & Peas in a White Wine Cream Sauce

Blake Benedict 
(the Blake comes with bacon and heart-shaped toast)

Pomegranate Champagne Cocktails

If you are interested in making some delicious yourself, the tried-and-true recipes are coming soon! Meanwhile...

Happy Searching,

Friday, February 12, 2010

Where there's smoke...

...there's steak. At least when I'm cooking, anyway. I feel like I've acquired a fairly substantial repertoire in the kitchen, but a good steak--which I love to eat--is not included.

Over the weekend, my parents joined Ryan and I for some food and fun. We picked up some gorgeous ribeyes from Costco (which I highly recommend if you haven't tried them before) for an upscale dinner at home. Since we don't have a grill, we are limited to the stove and oven, which didn't concern me since Ryan has made several delicious pan-seared, finished in the oven steaks. Ryan. Not me.

I rubbed the steaks with oil, sprinkled them with S&P for a good crust, and dropped them into a screaming hot pan. Plumes of smoke immediately began to fill our entire apartment and within one minute, I had set off the fire alarm and sent my family into full panic mode (except for my dad, who was committed to beating his high score on Wii Archery). My mom was frantically fanning a blanket to disperse the smoke, Ryan was opening all of the doors and windows, and my dad attempted to disable the smoke-alarm completely.
(Very close reinactment)

Amazingly, we were able to salvage the steaks (which hadn't really burned, just gave us a good scare). I topped them with some sautéed mushrooms and a red wine reduction...not bad for what could've been a major kitchen disaster. Slightly disastrous, pretty delicious.

Happy Searching, 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Superbowl Smorgasbord?

The Super Bowl is a delicious occasion. It's the Thanksgiving of sporting events, usually leaving me stuffed and ready for a nap by halftime. I managed to only doze off for part of the second quarter, but not before partaking in several scrumptious snacks.
Unfortunately, the feeding frenzy was quick and I neglected to take pictures, but the spread included: white queso with green chilis, assorted olives, sliced meats and cheeses, dips (7-Layer, Pimiento Cheese, Garlic Love), homemade French fries, tortilla roll-ups...I'm getting full just thinking about all I ate that day.

Sooo...I'm wondering what you ate. What yummy snacks were on your coffee table/dinner table/countertop on Sunday? Hopefully, you found some delicious...

Happy Searching,

Friday, February 5, 2010

Maybe I'm part Cuban...

No, I haven't started smoking cigars. In celebration of the "Lost" premiere this week, we decided to have some island food. It was an island medley, drawing on influences from all over. Our menu included...

Limeade mojitos...

plantain fritters drizzled with spicy mango sauce...

and the reason I think I might be Cuban...this panini. Ryan roasted pork tenderloin that he had seasoned with coriander, garlic, salt and pepper. The assembly of the Cuban was my contribution: thin sliced pork, two kinds of ham (serrano and smoked), swiss cheese, a homemade relish of sweet hot peppers and dill pickles...pressed between mustard slathered ciabatta bread. Crispy bread, gooey cheese, salty, sweet, and delicious is that? Try it--and you may find your inner Cuban, too.

Happy Searching,

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Eatin' Chicken Soup With Rice

Over the holidays, my friend Andi (who I've known since 2nd grade) surprised me with a walk down memory lane. She made a copy of an album I used to listen to over and over again and as soon as I heard it, I was instantly transported back to my childhood. The album was "Really Rosie", written by Maurice Sendak and put to music by Carole King. As soon as "Chicken Soup With Rice" flowed through the speakers, my heart became flooded with warmth and happiness. Of all the songs on the album, it was probably my favorite and--just like the soup itself--made me feel cozy and childlike all over again.

A few nights ago, my husband Ryan (who I've known since before 2nd grade) surprised me with a heartwarming pot of chicken soup with rice. Now, I've had more noodles than rice with my chicken soup (and have been okay with it...I am Italian, after all). This batch made rice a winner. Roasted chicken, brown rice, carrots, onions and asparagus floated in a slightly creamy broth with a hint of saffron. Mmmmm. Like the song, this soup was cozy, heartwarming, and wonderfully delicious.

Happy Searching,

p.s. I surprised Ryan with the song while we ate...have a spoonful of Chicken Soup With Rice yourself by clicking here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bruschetta Reinvented

Bruschetta has definitely had its much as I love the combination of tomatoes and basil on crispy garlic toast, I felt like the once-popular Italian appetizer's 15 minutes of fame had come and gone.

This bruschetta, however, changed my mind. If this delectable creation was on a menu, I'd order it in a heartbeat! Using one of my favorite sandwiches as inspiration, Ryan made BLT Bruschetta a few weeks ago that I now crave.

The foundation of this masterpiece was undoubtedly the homemade blue cheese dressing upon which the other ingredients rested. Perfectly toasted crostini, crispy bacon, tomatoes, arugula and chives? Yes, please! 

Bruschetta is back in business...and delicious!

Happy Searching,
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