Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kat's Italian Ragu

 Kat grew up eating her Nana's tomato gravy on lucky weekends.  Everyone in the family swears this stuff was the thing of joy.  Interestingly, Nana was totally devoid of Italian blood.  Nana was the daughter of a Native American lady and a Frenchman.  And true, it was joy none the less.

Kat has made great red sauces in the past, but never one that took a swing at a traditional Italian version:  The version where she makes "her" sauce - her style, her taste - but focuses on pasta and sauce as a first course and then serving a platter full of meltingly-tender meats of varying species and body part as a second course.  The original version is beef meatballs and chicken sausages but she's just turned back to eating pork so she took a trip to the grocery for inspiration.

She hit the Harris Teeter and came back with a meat maven's mash-up of hot pork sausage, beef short ribs, lamb stew meat and a pork tenderloin.  That's a lot of fatty meat with the exception of the tenderloin. Deciding to gild that particular lilly, the tenderloin,  just a bit we butterflied it, pounded it flat and sprinkled in salt, pepper, shaved garlic, torn basil, re-hydrated raisins and toasted pine nuts.  That was rolled and tied as best I could.  I am terrible at trussing - no patience, all spaz.

The meats - lamb, pork rollatini and short ribs - were seasoned and seared off with the sausage in a big aluminum pot with a generous portion of olive oil.  Each side bronzed, removed and set aside.  Kat left the fond and rendered fat in the pot for step two.

The second layer of flavor came from aromatics: onion and garlic.  These were browned simultaneously and, when cooked, Kat added oregano, pepper, italian seasoning, basil, tomato paste and secrets.  This was cooked together, formed a deeper, darker fond which was deglazed with red wine.  This simmered down until the alcohol aroma disappeared from the steam.

Three cans of tomatoes - 1 crushed and 2 pureed - were added to the pot and the whole mess was stirred.  The meat was added back in and the temperature was turned to high.  Once the pot's contents came to a messy, enthusiastic bubble, the heat was turned down to medium low and we walked away knowing that all we could do now was screw it up with unneeded attention.

6 Hours later the bright-red oil was skimmed from the sauce and we pulled the meat from the gently bubbling pot and let it sit on a plate in a warm place on the stove.  The meat from lamb pieces and beef ribs had mainly fallen off the bone and these remnants were stirred, disintegrating, into the sauce.

Spaghetti was boiled and bread was toasted.  The sauce was ladled over the pasta which was heaped high on plates. The flavor was big and bold and meaty.  The sauce was velvety and with all the different fats it coated the spaghetti really nicely.

I hope Kat makes this again.  Every Sunday.  Forever.

Pork All Broken Down

Friday, July 29, 2011

Here's a Crushed, Toasted BBQ Chicken Sandwich

Crushed, toasted BBQ chicken sandwich with avacado, sprouts, tomato, lettuce and garlic/caper mayo was dinner tonight.

The chicken was marinated in BBQ sauce during work, seared on the grill for 6ish minutes (2-3 minutes a side) and then left to bake in a closed grill for 10 minutes then cool for 4.

Rolls were toasting to a crisp on the top shelf of the grill while the chicken baked.

BBQ chicken,  avocado, sprouts, salted tomato, lettuce and garlic/caper mayo were layered on.  The sandwich was closed and crushed then handed to those in attendance.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

101: Refrigerator Soup

Timid home cooks take note: You can’t screw up refrigerator soup.*

Even in the heat, Kat and I have been turning to refrigerator soup because it can be light on calories and still pack crazy flavor thanks to flavorful meats and fresh summertime veggies. It can be super simple or you can spice it up with seasonings and aromatics like onions, garlic, cilantro, chiles or lemongrass to take it wherever in the flavor-spectrum that you want to go.

It’s called refrigerator soup because it’s great for cleaning out wide swathes of the edible contents of your fridge.

The work time is 15 minutes. Cook time is an hour and the recipe is simple: oil, low-sodium broth or water, seasonings and aromatics you like to taste; and things you like to eat.

It’s easy to get more specific, but the idea is to make what you like. It really is that straightforward.

Tonight, we used:
Olive oil
Dry Seasonings: salt, pepper, old bay seasoning, dried Italian seasonings, bay leaves, thyme
Wet seasonings: Pickapeppa sauce, Worcestershire sauce, canned diced tomatoes
Things we like to eat: Onion, Carrot, Celery, Cabbage, Green beans, Zucchini, Andouille chicken sausage

Prep: Get out a pot and put it on the stove. Chop up the things you like into edible sizes.


1. Put about 3 tbsp of oil in a big pot (6-8qts) and heat on high
2. If you’re using raw meat, season and brown that on all sides and remove it for later
3. Add dry seasonings you like to taste and let them saute in the remaining oil
4. Stir occasionally for 2 minutes until the smell fills the kitchen
5. Add aromatics and cook
6. Add the rest of the things you like to eat
7. Wait 4-5 minutes then stir so the hot what you like to eat is on top
8. Wait 4-5 minutes, add salt and stir thoroughly, scraping the bottom of the pot
9. Add the wet seasonings, stir and cook for 3 minutes
10. Return browned meat to the pot or add pre-cooked meat now
11. Cover with broth or water (2-3 quarts) and bring to a boil
12. Reduce to simmer and cook for 30 minutes
13. Stir, taste and adjust seasonings if needed
14. Continue simmering until things you like to eat are tender
15. Portion, serve, eat.

That’s it.

It’s so easy that you have to try. What will yours have in it?

* It's almost impossible to mess this up. All that can really go wrong is that you make too much. This happens when you’ve added too much salty, sweet, spicy or acidic flavor and you end up having to balance the taste and then add extra broth or water until it’s edible. Avoid this by using restraint at first and then adding more seasoning once the soup has been simmering for at least 30 minutes. Then fix it up right if you have to.