Posts Tagged ‘comfort food’

Not Your Mother’s (or Grandmother’s) Meatballs

January 8, 2009
Spaghetti and Meatballs

Ultimate Comfort Food: Spaghetti and Meatballs

One of my favorite meals is spaghetti and meatballs. Spaghetti and meatballs, similar to a perfectly roasted chicken, is my ultimate comfort food. Interestingly, spaghetti and meatballs is not one of my favorite comfort foods because I grew up eating the dish, or because I have a special memory of a family member laboring over making meatballs. I have grown to love the meal on my own and find that I am quickly transported to a gastronomic euphoria by the smells of meatballs bubbling in homemade sauce on the stove.

I once said in a previous blog that a meatball is like a souffle: if it isn’t perfect, it just isn’t. With that, meatballs, for me, are little gastronomic gifts that can vary in significance based on the quality of the meatball. A store-bought meatball, or one that is made in haste with the minimum ingredients, is not very significant. It is like a $10 pedicure – a quick fix for the craving but doesn’t come with much pleasure. Conversely, a homemade meatball that is moist and has layered flavors from a trifecta of meats and fresh seasonings, one in which you can almost taste the labor that went into making it, is a very significant culinary gift. This latter meatball is a kin to the signature pedicure at a very nice day spa – completely satisfying and completely comforting.

A homemade meatball that is made exactly to my liking doesn’t come with ease or frequency. Actually, I tend to make them as often as I treat myself to a pedicure at a fancy day spa. But, after salivating over the cover of this month’s Gourmet magazine, the special Italian-American issue featuring a very appetizing bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, I was hungry for homemade, traditionally prepared, meatballs. Also, knowing that we had some house guests arriving after Christmas, spaghetti and meatballs seemed like the perfect meal for post-holiday gluttony. Here is a link to the recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Spaghetti-and-Meatballs-351190

Using the recipe featured in Gourmet as a guide (I wanted to improvise a bit), I spent an entire morning making approximately 3 dozen meatballs – I wanted more than enough to freeze for later meals! The Gourmet recipe seemed rather traditional and called for using the three meats (veal, beef and pork), homemade breadcrumbs and lots of onions and fresh spices. I took the recipe’s advice and used a medley of meats; I agree that a blend of ground meat makes a much better meatball – they are more moist and flavorful than a straight beef meatball, for example. I did, however, cheat a bit and used store-bought breadcrumbs rather than making my own. I also cooked the meatballs a bit differently than the recipe advised. I browned the meatballs in a large skillet as directed, but rather than cooking the meatballs through in my sauce, I baked the meatballs until they were completely cooked. I found that this allowed the meatballs to maintain the delicious crispy texture they get when they are browned and also allowed me to easily freeze them completely cooked.

I’ll allow the pictures below to tell the step-by-step preparation story, but these meatballs were not your mother’s (or your grandmother’s) meatballs. There was something about the combination of ingredients – maybe the fresh oregano, or perhaps it was that I baked the meatballs; a technique that I believe may have locked in all of their freshness and created a sort of a molten chocolate cake effect – flavors gushing out with a slice of a fork – but whatever the reason, these meatballs seemed a bit new-age and hip, despite the traditional labor that went into making them. They were moist, earthy, light, and most importantly, completely satisfying and comforting…much like that signature pedicure at a nice day spa.

Until next time…

Sauteed Onions and Garlic with Fresh Parsley

Sauteed Onions and Garlic with Fresh Parsley

Uncooked Meatballs - Just Rolled and Ready to Cook!

Uncooked Meatballs - Just Rolled and Ready to Cook!

Browning the Meatballs in Olive Oil

Browning the Meatballs in Olive Oil

Baking the Meatballs - So Deliecious!!

Baking the Meatballs - So Deliecious!!

A Sauce-Smothered Meatball - Yum Yum Yummy!!

A Sauce-Smothered Meatball - Yum Yum Yummy!!

Advertisements

The Comforts of a Roast Chicken

November 8, 2008

The Magical Roast Chicken - With Oranges!

The Magical Roast Chicken - With Oranges!

I have said this before, but there is something quite special about a roast chicken (see also, The Magical Roast Chicken, 10/2006 archive, http://www.chefs-in-the-city.blogspot.com).  A roast chicken can be as simple or as decadent as you wish, but one thing is for sure, you can never take away its humility. It seems funny calling a chicken humble, or at least calling its traditional method of preparation humble, but a roast chicken is my ultimate comfort food. A roast chicken has a way of calming me; fond memories are resurrected with its smells and flavors, and it often seems like a bad day can be turned into a good day with a simple bite into its crispy herbed skin.

So much can be written about the magical roast chicken – most of which I will save for other postings. I do want to mention that Julia Child praised a good roast chicken and now that I am living in her birthplace of Pasadena, I find it difficult to not think about her young life here, especially as her grandparents’ path to Pasadena was much like my ancestors journey across this country to California. I want to devote a lot of this blog to her, of course many others have, but I find the irony remarkable that our lives while generations apart have someone crossed paths.

But, alas, the humble roast chicken! Even though my husband and I have had so many good changes happen so quickly in our lives recently, it is easy to get sidetracked by some of the difficulties we now face. I was a bit bummed out the other day, mostly because I am still unemployed, and decided that we needed a comforting dinner, one that would take my mind off of life’s stresses. Turning to the dish that comforts me the most, I roasted a chicken – a citrusy chicken because after all, from apples to oranges…

The inspiration for my orange-infused roast chicken came easily. If lemon and chicken pair together so well, why wouldn’t oranges and chicken? With that, I began by thoroughly washing a whole chicken and patting it dry with a paper towel. I placed the whole chicken in a greased roasting plan, along with some nice roasting vegetables of carrots and onions. I then thinly sliced a few pieces of orange and slid the slices under the chicken’s skin. I wanted the oranges to not only infuse flavor into the chicken, but also keep the meat moist. I then rubbed butter over the top of my chicken, seasoned it with salt, pepper and thyme, and then juiced half of an orange over my chicken. I cut the remaining orange into wedges, placed a few of the wedges in the chicken’s cavity, and left the other wedges to roast in the pan with the carrots and onions. I did add a bit of white wine so there was some liquid in my roasting pan.

While the chicken was roasting (25 minutes a pound on a 325 degree oven), I basted the chicken with melted butter – not too much, but enough to brown the skin and make it crispy! When the chicken was done, it was time to make the gravy, because after all, what’s a roast chicken without the gravy? Keeping within my theme of orange-infused chicken, the base of my gravy was the orange juice and wine that remained in the pan. I added a bit of chicken stock and thickened it with flour. The gravy was light and flavorful and coupled with the orange-flavored meat, the roast chicken smelled and tasted like California. With my first bite, hints of citrus and thyme brought happiness to my mouth and comfort to my day. So while the flavors of my roast chicken may have reflected our new home, its special comfort certainly brought me back to what is home.

Until next time..