Back with Spaghetti and Meatballs

Hey there. I’m still here. I’m so tired of talking about why that’s a feat worth celebrating for all of us anymore. If you are reading this, you are still here, and I am still here, and we are sharing this space, some days more successfully than others. I have found comfort in routine and consistency. Things like regular morning Peloton bike rides via FaceTime with a friend, Zoom knitting dates, baking days with a friend, knowing exactly what shows we have to watch when we sit down on the couch at night, and meal planning

Yes, we are successfully meal planning every week, and have been for awhile now. We started when Karl started classes at Metro State University in August to help save money and frustration at having to figure out dinner and go to the store at the end of a long day of work and classes. It’s honestly become one of my favorite parts of the weekend. I love sitting down with our meal planning pad, wrangling Karl (he loves having meals ready to go every night, but does not like the planning part), and flipping through cookbooks and online recipes together. Then I go to the store and cruise through the aisles with an organized list. It feels so satisfying. Every week we pick one or two new recipes, one or two super easy and semi-prepared meals, and one or two tried and true favorites.

Spaghetti and meatballs is one recipe that is in our regular rotation. I’ve kind of smashed a couple of recipes and techniques together with a few of my own additions. This meal always makes me think of having spaghetti and meatballs at my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. We would have dinner at their house frequently, maybe weekly on a Sunday or something like that. I would feel so fancy because we ate in the dining room, and they had a cook who made the most amazing food. On nights that we would have spaghetti and meatballs, my brother Ian and I would slurp our noodles, as kids are inclined to do, which I remember driving our grandmother Mimi crazy, because it wasn’t polite. I’m still over here slurping my spaghetti though. A little aside – I wonder if that memory is a real one or one I’ve exaggerated or reworked in my head over 25 years. Did Ian and I really slurp our spaghetti, and was Mimi really that annoyed with us? I’m unsure, but real or only based on true events, the memory makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Tomato sauce with cooked ground beef mixed in at the end

So here’s the spaghetti and meatballs as it’s become over time. The sauce is one that I can make now without looking at the recipe, and is one that I often forget to season with salt at the end until we take a bite, and Karl gets up to get the salt. By itself with pasta, the sauce is a quick and mostly hands-off meal. Sometimes I cook some ground beef separately and add it into the sauce at the very end for a meat sauce situation. If I plan this meal for a night when I’ll have a little more time to dedicate to cooking, I’ll add in the meatballs. The sauce recipe is basically Marcella Hazan’s very internet famous tomato, onion, and butter sauce. The meatballs are tweaked from this recipe (NYT Cooking subscription required for that link). I know that to really get good flavor in the meatballs you should let them simmer away in the sauce for awhile, but I haven’t gotten my cooking steps in order enough to do that yet. (When do I put the meatballs in if I need to blend the sauce to make it smooth but don’t want the sauce to cook too long and get too thick? Is it even possible cook tomato sauce too long? I really don’t know.)

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Ingredients
Sauce

28-ounce can of tomatoes and their juice (i.e. San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, but also sometimes the store brand whole peeled tomatoes because they’re cheaper)
5 tablespoons butter
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
Salt

Meatballs
6 ounces ground beef
6 ounces ground pork
1 cup or 60 grams Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup of parsley, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
Salt
Pepper
Italian seasoning

A box of your favorite pasta

What you do

Put the tomatoes, butter, onion, and garlic cloves into a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then lower the heat to very low so the sauce continues to gently simmer for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, crushing up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400°, and get out a sheet pan. Mix all of the meatball ingredients together until just combined. I prefer to do this with my hands. Don’t over mix the mixture; this may lead to dense and tough meatballs, which nobody likes.

Heat a skillet over medium to medium high heat. You’re going to make a tiny test meatball to check the seasoning. Shape a small bit of meatball mixture into a patty, and put it in the skillet. Cook it through, flipping, and taste it for salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Do this until you’ve got the perfect taste.

Shape the meatball mixture into meatball shapes, and put them on the sheet pan, spaced out evenly. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature of 160°. (That’s the done temp for ground beef, which is higher than the done temp for ground pork, so I go with it to be safe.)

Once the meatballs go in the oven, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. I like to cook spaghetti in my dutch oven because it’s big. For a 12-ounce box of spaghetti, I typically use 7-8 cups of water and a heaping tablespoon of kosher salt. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Drain it, and set aside.

This next step is applicable only if you like your tomato sauce smooth. If you like it a little chunkier, skip ahead. After the sauce has been simmering for about 30 minutes, pull out the onion, but don’t throw it away. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until smooth. You could also transfer the sauce to a regular blender or food processor, go to town, and return it to the pot. Put the onion back into the sauce. Add salt to taste.

When the meatballs finish cooking in the oven, drop them into the tomato sauce. I usually let them simmer in there for five or so minutes, or as long as we can wait to eat.

When you’re ready to eat, remove the onion, and throw it away. Divvy up the pasta, and top it with sauce, meatballs, and, if you’d like, a little more Parmesan cheese.

Note: If you want to make this a meat sauce, cook the tomato sauce as directed above. While it simmers, cook a pound of ground meat in a skillet. Drain the fat from the skillet. Add the cooked ground meat to the sauce after you blend it.


Of robes and pastas

I remember one Christmas Ian and I asked my mom what she wanted from us, what was on her wish list. She told us she would love a new robe. A new robe? As a kid I could hardly comprehend wanting that kind of a gift. It sounded so freaking sensible! I always thought of Christmas, Chanukah, and birthday gifts as things you wanted not needed, and a robe sounded suspiciously like something you’d need. You wanted things like a new Barbie, a dress for your American Girl doll, a Breyer horse, a barn for your herd of already 30 Breyer horses to live in, a new dress, or the newest books in the Thoroughbred series. Not a robe.

Tonight I stood in the bathroom putting freshly washed towels into the linen closet (wow, I already sound way older, don’t I? Putting laundry away in the linen closet on a Sunday night?) and, as I hung up my faded, pink terry cloth robe, I thought, Wow, I would love nothing more than a new robe. But we all know I’m not about to splurge on buying myself one! And that’s when I realized that the things I used to see as necessities have moved over to the “want” column. I’m getting dangerously close to halfway to 27-years-old guys.

The horse and the barn are still in the want column, by the way. They’re just a little bigger now.

I have a recipe for you, too! OK, I actually have three. Two of them involve baking as the only way I think of to cheer someone up, so I hold those til tomorrow maybe.

This one is a bright spring pasta dish, pasta with tomatoes, shrimp, and favas. I made it tonight for my parents, who came over for dinner for Father’s Day It’s not the kind of pasta that you can throw together in 15 minutes. (Those are my favorite kind. Saute some veggies with some spices, boil some pasta, toss ’em together, BAM, a meal.) This one does take a bit more time, but it’s not overwhelming by any means. And it’s so good! I think you could easily switch out the fava beans for peas. Fava beans are a little time consuming to shell and whatnot, but I like them because they’re different. The recipe as it is on Smitten Kitchen where I found it uses sausage instead of shrimp, but I find the sausage makes the whole dish too greasy. I always end up with a stomach ache after. If you want to go vegetarian, maybe substitute some mushrooms for the shrimp. Also, the original recipe says to cook the meat in the sauce. I opted for grilling the shrimp and setting them on top of the pasta. I’ll note where you add them to the sauce though.

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Gotta Get Me Going

I’ve made it to another Friday! In a short nine hours I will be in Chicago with some of my favorite girls in the world. I cannot wait!! Sushi, Indian food, Olympics, girl time.

I haven’t cooked much this week. Last weekend was spent chiefly in the kitchen (much to my happiness I’ll add). Instead I’ve been trying to find the perfect morning pump up music. Driving to work is a chore, despite the cup of coffee I’ve already downed by then. I need good music to get me going for the day. Something that I can turn up, sing along to, or just listen to and feel motivated. Sometimes I just scream loudly, but that makes my throat hurt. So far, I’ve found these bands to be successful.

Guster. Always Guster. Playing Lost and Gone Forever makes me feel home. It’s hard for me to recommend this band to you for any concrete reason other than they are awesome because they’ve just been my favorite for so long (10 years to be exact). I love how goofy they are, I love the drums, particularly the bongos of their earlier years, and how they’ve evolved with each album but not so much that they lose who they are. Here we have “Happier” from Lost and Gone Forever.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have also been good pump me up music. Karen O is their singer. She’s awesome. They played at Lollapalooza last summer (a last minute sub for the Beastie Boys) and I fell in love. I might put that show in my top five. Very high energy, and of course being in downtown Chicago on a gorgeous summer night never hurts either 🙂 I love Karen O’s voice – powerful without getting out of tune. That girl can scream. Two songs here.

“Maps” on Fever to Tell

“Zero” on It’s Blitz!

So what gets you pumped up when you need a lift? I’m always looking for recommendations to add to my morning playlist.

I’m also going to mention the Broderick, a band from dear Bloomington. Four dudes singing solid rock. Check them out, they’re up and coming.

Now onto food! Last Thursday I made a black and white cappuccino cheesecake for our cheesecake competition at work. It was very tasty and made my stomach scream out in protest of too much cream cheese. Cheesecake is a lot of work though, and I think only appropriate for special occasions. So I’m going to give you a better and easier sweets recipe: Meyer lemon bars, which I made Friday night. Meyer lemons are smaller than regular lemons and sweeter, which I like because normal lemon bars can be a bit too tart for me. Between the lemon bars and the leftover cheesecake Adam and I had good Valentine’s dessert. We also had magical dinners. Sunday we made au gratin potatoes, the recipe for which I’ll have to post sometime, Dover sole two ways, and snow peas (mmm I love snow peas for their crunchy sweetness). Saturday night was the real star though in my opinion.

lasagna mmmmm

Lasagna. In a Dutch oven no less. I think you should ideally use a large and deep casserole dish of some kind, but I don’t have one. The Dutch oven worked just fine. The lasagna was flavorful, filling, and cheeeeesy!

OK, so what follows, in case you missed it from all that rambling, is Meyer lemon bars and lasagna.

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It’s All in the Family

Heeiiy! If you read this post, this blog, my word vomit, would you mind commenting on this one? I’d like to know if anyone other than my dear mother and my brother come around. Muchas gracias!

Mira and I have a new neighbor. Well two to be accurate. We have a new neighbor in the apartment across the hall. We also have a new neighbor living somewhere near one of our favorite trees in the yard. At night I let Mira out just quickly in the yard outside our building. She usually walks directly to this one tree, pees near it, and inside we go. About a month ago, out we walked as usual around 11 p.m, right over to that tree. I was hardly paying attention, bracing myself against the frigid night air. Mira had her eyes on the ground as she sniffed for the perfect spot. Somehow both of us managed to miss the GIANT MOTHER EFFING POSSUM sitting by our favorite tree, frozen/”playing dead” (like we were stupid enough to think it was dead, it was standing up on its hind legs!), and staring right at us with its beady little eyes and tiny pink nose. I’m pretty sure I screamed, I dragged Mira in the other direction, and then continued to scream and curse loudly as Mira found a new spot to water. We hurried upstairs and, from the safety of my apartment, I peeked out the kitchen window. The offender was still by the tree, only it’d unfrozen and was starting to waddle around now that the coast was clear. Possums are seriously ugly, seriously gross, and even worse when you suddenly find yourself standing three feet from them. Trust me.

OK, so no more possum sightings until last week. Our confidence in the favorite tree had been renewed, our fears lulled into a stupor. Thankfully this time I happened to be looking up and spotted the possum by the tree about six feet away this time, again frozen and staring at us. I diverted Mira, who had also spotted the beast. Apparently they’re known to viciously attack dogs. Come on, how could you attack this sweet face?

Especially when that sweet face does this?!

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist…) Anyway, I think the possum has officially taken up residence somewhere near our tree. I’ll be on guard from now on.
In kitchen news, I have two family recipes for you. The first is Oma Macaroni. My grandmother (we call her Oma) always made this when we would visit her and Opa in Holland. It’s one of those foods that will always have memories attached to it of sitting in their kitchen, which somehow never seemed brightly lit, eating at the long table, my grandfather at the head, Ian, Oma, and I on the long side, and Mom at the other end, two casserole dishes of macaroni on the table. Ian, picky eater that he was, required a small casserole dish all to himself with only the pasta and tomato paste baked up together. I like making this in the winter because it’s nice and warm, and really pretty flavorful. The second recipe is for my dad’s banana bread with a few additions. Pappy made this always and I could eat slices upon slices in one day. When I was a junior in college and finally figured out that I had a kitchen, I asked him for the recipe. I added the chocolate chips and cranberries two goes ago, and with those additions, I prefer this in muffin form. As just straight banana bread, I like it in a loaf pan. Fair warning: the batter is seriously tasty, and the bread itself can be consumed within hours if you’re not paying attention.