Spaghetti and Meatballs and Squash (oh, my!)

Although this is where I usually list my “inspiration,” this meal was one of our traditional meals from America’s Test Kitchen, adapted to the ingredients we had on hand (mostly including leftovers).  I really enjoyed it, so I hope you give it a try!

Ingredients:

  • 1 acorn squash
  • olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled & put through a garlic press (divided)
  • 3 shallots, minced (divided)
  • approximately 4 cups whole peeled tomatoes canned in their own juice (see notes)
  • chopped fresh basil to taste
  • approximately 4 ounces lean ground beef
  • 1 slice sandwich bread, crusts removed (we used whole wheat and flax because it’s what we had on hand, but I usually use a high-quality sandwich bread or a couple of slices from a french loaf if I’m making garlic bread with the meal).
  • milk
  • shredded parmesan cheese
  • dried spaghetti

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Slice squash in half and remove seeds.  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil into each half of the squash and spread oil over the entire squash (both skin and flesh sides) with your hands.  Bake squash on parchment-lined cookie sheet until tender.  The squash is done when a fork or skewer slides into the flesh with minimal resistance. (Can be baked up to two days ahead and stored, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator).
  2. Meanwhile, rip bread into approximately 4 pieces and place in small mixing bowl with a splash of milk.  With a dinner fork, mash the bread until it forms a paste with the milk.  You can add more milk as needed until you get a smushy consistency.  Add half the garlic and shallots along with all of the beef to the bread mixture and mix with hands to combine.
  3. Form smallish (1″ diameter) meatballs and place on an additional cookie sheet.  Bake meatballs in the same oven as the squash until browned and sizzling.  Since these are made with a panade (the bread/milk combo), it’s really hard to overcook them, so don’t be afraid to give them a little longer than you normally would.  They’ll also be reheated in the sauce, so it’s pretty difficult to under-cook them.
  4. Puree the canned tomatoes in a food processor until smooth.
  5. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large fry pan over medium heat.  Add shallots and sauté until soft, approximately 2 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, 30 seconds or so.  Add pureed tomatoes and heat through.
  6. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
  7. Add basil to the tomato mixture and continue to cook for a few more minutes.  Once the squash has finished cooking, scoop the flesh directly into the tomato sauce.  If you are cooking the entire recipe in one night, use caution while handling the hot squash.  Add Parmesan cheese to taste.
  8. Add meatballs to the sauce and heat through.
  9. Cook spaghetti according to package directions and serve topped with sauce.  You can top with additional Parmesan if you desire.

Note:

  • We only used whole canned tomatoes and pureed them because we had leftovers from another recipe.  I would normally make this recipe with either canned diced or crushed tomatoes, and skip step 4.

The Verdict:

We love spaghetti and meatballs, and we got our original meatball recipe from America’s Test Kitchen New Best Recipe.  These meatballs are not quite as tasty as theirs, but since we had so many parts going on with this meal already, we skipped the step where you brown the meatballs in oil.  I can only handle so many dirty pots & pans from one meal!

The sauce ended up really flavorful and thick because of the squash.  Although there was not any specifically squash flavor that I could tell (which sort of disappointed me, because I do like my squash), there was a heartiness and an oranginess that I liked.  I think this would be a really good recipe for someone to try that has squash to use but is either sick of the flavor or isn’t sure they like squash.  I had originally baked the squash a few days before, to use in a different recipe that I never got around to, so using the one we had this way seemed like a good idea.

All-in-all, this was a delicious rendition of one of our standbys and we’d likely try it again under similar circumstances.  In the future, I do however want to experiment with other pasta & squash recipes that really highlight the squash flavor.

Decadent Hot Chocolate

Hubby & I went to our friends’ house Christmas Evening and brought the makings for the decadent hot chocolate recipe I found in the The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.  Since the cookbook is 3-ring binder style, I took the hot chocolate page out in preparation to bring it with me, but I apparently set it down as I picked up the grocery bag.  So I knew the ingredients, and I’d glanced at the recipe.  Rather than walking 4 blocks back home to retrieve the recipe, I just went for it.  Here’s what I did:

Ingredients:

  •  3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoons Hershey’s Dutch-processed/dark chocolate powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • more cream, sugar & vanilla for whipped cream
  • Irish Cream

Directions:

  1. Combine milk, cream, chocolate powder, sugar, & vanilla in a saucepan and heat to boiling on the stove top
  2. After the milk mixture is hot, remove from heat & stir in chocolate chips.  Whisk until melted.
  3. Meanwhile, have one of your friends that you’re hanging out with whip some of the cream for topping.  After the cream forms soft peaks, add sugar and vanilla to taste.
  4. Spoon the hot chocolate into individual mugs and add Irish Cream to your hearts’ content.  Stir and top with whipped cream.  Enjoy!

In the original recipe, the vanilla was added off heat along with the chocolate chips and there was more chocolate powder (2 tablespoons instead of 1).  I’m not sure how much difference it might have made, but I will say that our cocoa was delicious.  It’s definitely a special treat (whole milk and heavy cream = rich cocoa!).  I think I’ll be adding this hot chocolate recipe to my traditional holiday list.  Now I just need to get some Sweet Demitasse Cups and Saucers to serve this in so we don’t all get coronaries!

Broccoli, Red Pepper, and Cheddar Chowder

So far, I make this recipe exactly as I found it at Epicurious, but I’ll update here if I come up with any significant changes.  For me, it just tastes exactly like Broccoli Cheddar soup should, but made with decent ingredients I have in my home.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small head broccoli (½ pound)
  • 1 large boiling potato (½ pound)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 6 oz sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated (1½ cups)

Preparation:

  1. Discard tough lower third of broccoli stem. Peel remaining stem and finely chop. Cut remaining broccoli into very small (1-inch) florets. Cook florets in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking, then drain. Reserve 3 cups cooking water for chowder.
  2. Peel potato and cut into ½-inch cubes. Cook potato, onion, bell pepper, broccoli stems, and garlic in butter in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add cumin, salt, pepper, and mustard and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add reserved cooking water and simmer (partially covered), stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream and cheese and cook, stirring, until cheese is melted, then season with salt and pepper.
  3. Purée about 2 cups of chowder in a food processor or blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids) and return to pot. Add florets and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 2 minutes.

The Verdict:

Delightful.  Hubby said that it was good broccoli cheddar soup, we didn’t have a lump of cheese in the bottom of the pot (like we found in some recipes I could mention), and it was everything I like in a winter soup: filling, thick, and full of fattening things like butter and cheese and cream!  For the dairy, I used an Australian cheese that I found at the local discount grocery store (where I was looking for inexpensive, interesting Christmas presents).  It was a lovely meal, and I’m adding it to our list of recipes to repeat.  Shockingly, I didn’t change a thing from the recipe as written.  I may try to add a bit of spice next time, but I thoroughly enjoyed it this way.

Winter Squash Mash

I found the original Winter Squash Mash Recipe at Epicurious, and made a few tweaks as I was cooking.  I love winter squash, and I’m always happy to have another preparation for it!

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • One  2¾- to 3-pound kabocha squash, halved crosswise, seeded
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil inside each kabocha squash half and brush to coat. Place squash halves, cut side down, on prepared baking sheet. Roast until squash is very tender when pierced with knife, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool slightly. Scoop out squash flesh into bowl and mash until almost smooth.
  2. Melt butter in skillet over medium-high heat until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and stir 5 minutes or until the garlic begins to caramelize. Smoosh the garlic cloves with your spatula and break it up into relatively small pieces.  Add butter mixture to squash and mash until smooth. Season generously with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Add more broth if desired and rewarm in microwave before continuing.)

The Verdict:

This meal was actually scheduled for Friday night.  I arrived home Friday to find a take-and-bake pizza sitting on the counter, and roasted squash sitting on the stove top.  Hubby had followed the directions faithfully until it was time to take the squash out of the oven.  Then he thought that he’d messed something up, because the squash was collapsed on the cookie sheet.  He’d only seen the photos of ½ squashes still firmly keeping their shapes, so he was sure it was ruined.  Since the pizza was ready to go, we went ahead and ate that for dinner on Friday.  But the squash was fine, so we scraped it into a storage container to wait for another day, which ended up being Sunday.

After the trauma on Saturday, I wasn’t up to cleaning the kitchen this weekend.  What with the busy schedule we had this week, everything was pretty much dirty, which is why I didn’t mince or press the garlic cloves.  Yes, I am admitting on the internets that my kitchen was dirty enough that I didn’t have any clean utensils capable of mincing garlic. And I still cooked in it.  That’s how I am (sometimes).  So I figured the mincing was really just to get the garlic into edible pieces, and cooking it to the smashing point and spreading it out would probably work fine.

I really liked the taste of the kabocha even before the butter and garlic were added – it is probably my favorite of all the winter squashes we’ve tried.  The CSA folks are planning a bulk sale, and here’s hoping there’s a kabocha option!  At any rate, I enjoyed my modified version of this recipe, and I can see how it might need the broth if you started with a less-moist squash, but I would recommend adding it slowly, bit by bit, and testing for texture along the way.  You wouldn’t want to end up with a winter squash puddle instead of a winter squash mash, after all!

Creamed Spinach

I never ate cooked greens when I was growing up.  My mother didn’t like them, so I never got exposed to them.  Until I was a vegetarian, visiting a boyfriend who was attending law school at NYU.  I dated him for two years of his law school career, and visited every chance I got.  He made it a point to take me to each of the 4-star restaurants that were then housed in New York, and I presented my vegetarian requirements at each. I found a new love for sautéed mushrooms, creamed spinach, and even some forms of polenta during this time, and will always be glad that 4-star chefs are willing to create a meal for picky 20-somethings!

Anyway, I was looking at the bag of mixed greens that came in this week’s share and thought, I wonder what it would be like to make creamed spinach-and-mustard-greens-and-whatever-else-might-be-in-there?  So I thought we’d give it a try tonight, based roughly on this recipe at Epicurious.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb baby spinach and other braising greens
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • dash freshly grated nutmeg

 Preparation:

  1. Cook spinach/greens in 2 batches in 1 inch of boiling salted water in a large soup pot, stirring constantly, until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water until cool. Squeeze small handfuls of spinach greens to remove as much moisture as possible, then coarsely chop.
  2. Heat milk and cream in a small saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until warm. Meanwhile, cook onion in butter in a 2½-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add warm milk mixture in a fast stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, and simmer, whisking, until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in nutmeg, spinach greens, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until heated through.

Notes:

Cook’s note: Creamed spinach can be made 1 day ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Reheat over moderately low heat until hot.

The Verdict:

Creamed greens are delicious.  My father commented that he probably would have put about 3 cloves of garlic in them, and my friend let him know that there were like 6 cloves in there.  I didn’t adjust my measurements quite accurately, so the cream mixture was pretty thick, but I love it that way, so I wasn’t worried, and it got good reviews from all my tasters. 

Corn & Potato Chowder

I found the original version of this potato chowder recipe at Epicurious, and made a few changes to it.

Ingredients:

  • 4 bacon slices, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups (or more) whole milk
  • 1 15-ounce can creamed corn
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

Preparation:

  1. Cook bacon in large saucepan over medium heat until fat is rendered, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add onion and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add potato and bell pepper and sauté 1 minute.
  4. Add 2 cups milk and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender and soup thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
  5. Add creamed corn, corn kernels and 1 tablespoon thyme to soup and simmer until heated through.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. If preparing ahead, cover and refrigerate at this point. Rewarm over low heat, stirring frequently and thinning with more milk if too thick.) Sprinkle with thyme and serve.

The Verdict:

Hubby: “We could make this soup again.  More bacon though.”

Housewife: “I already doubled the bacon.”

Hubby: “Oh.  More bacon anyway.”

The fact that he actually took the time to say that he likes the soup enough to have it again makes me think that he really enjoyed it.  Of course, what’s not to love about bacon, potatoes, and corn in chowder?  I mean, what’s not to love aside from fat & cholesterol…

I did also love how quickly it came together, since this was done with virtually no prep work (we chopped the bacon & onion before leaving for ballet, and the rest I did while he cooked the bacon). This is something that I’ll keep in the rotation for busy days, since there’s no excuse not to make something this easy, this pantry/freezer friendly, and this tasty. This is one more recipe that’s going to keep us away from pizza and fast food when we’re tired & starving at night! And yes, next time we’ll try it with more bacon. Maybe as crumbles for a garnish?