Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Suppers - Homemade Spaghetti & Meatballs

Sometimes, you just want a hearty, simple, delicious dinner. Even though I have absolutely ZERO Italian ancestry - this desire often leads me to pasta. Tonight, I decided to do some homemade sauce and meatballs (made with yummy, Wheel-View Farm grass-fed beef!). Since tomatoes aren't exactly in season in New England (ha!), I had to used canned tomatoes for this sauce. But it was just as yummy as the Tomato Basil Slow Cooker Sauce I made last summer with fresh tomatoes. And while it does take all day - most of it is hands off thanks to the slow cooker. Can't beat that!
WARNING: These recipes feed a crowd! I have enough for at least 3 meals for the 2 of us, so it feeds at least 6 (with hearty appetites at that!).

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce
48 oz. (2 big cans) whole tomatoes
8 oz. tomato paste
1/2 c. red wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
Salt & pepper to taste

Pour liquid from canned tomatoes into the crock of your slow cooker. Take the remaining tomatoes and give them a rough chop. Then add to the slow cooker. Stir in tomato paste, wine and garlic.
Set cooker on low for 6 hours.
After 6 hours, add basil, parsley and salt & pepper to taste. Let cook another 1-2 hours (with the meatballs - see below).

Wheel-View Farm Grass-fed Meatballs

1 lb. grass-fed beef
2/3 c. fresh bread crumbs (save up your stale bread ends and them a quick whirl in the food processor)
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg

Combine all ingredients with hands. Roll into 1" balls and place in lightly oiled baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until browned. Add to sauce for 1-2 hours to finish cooking.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Brewing Beer - Part 3: Time to Bottle!

It's been just over a week since stage 2 of beer making, which means it's time to bottle! Mr. ValleyWriter really did all the work on this stage, given my hands and wrists aren't 100% yet.

While I was out doing the groceries, he was at home cleaning and sterlizing bottles and our equipment. He also mixed up a priming syrup with water and corn sugar and added it to the beer to get the bubbles going again. Thanks to the awesome automatic primer that my friend Prof. Kitty let us borrow, we didn't have to refer to the YouTube method I mentioned last week to get the beer siphoning into the bottles. Just a few pumps and look at it flow!

After filling up the bottles, he popped on the caps:
Rinse, lather, repeat and voila - a box of beer!
Now we have to wait 2 weeks for the beer to become carbonated before we can enjoy it. Can't wait to see if all of Mr. VW's hard work paid off! I'll let you know!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Brewin' Beer - Part 2

I told you before there are a lot of steps to making beer and that it was kind of like friendship bread. Guess what? The very next day, someone brought friendship bread starter into work! Crazy, huh? Don't worry - I didn't take it. Something about it creeps me out. Food sitting out on the counter for 2 weeks? No thanks.

Beer on the hand? No problem!! We moved on to stage 2 of the beer making process by siphoning it from the lovely plastic bucket to a much nicer glass carboy (read: big glass container):
Now, you may be wondering how you get that siphon going from the plastic bucket to the carboy (or at least, we were). I suggested one of us (HIM!) suck on the end of the tube - but then Mr. ValleyWriter quickly reminded me that would kind of undo all the santizing we just did (you have to clean out all of the components with a special santizer before you use it so you don't grow happy little bacteria along with your brew...).

So what does one do in a situation like this? To YouTube of course! We found this very helpful video. It took us a few tries at first, but we got it to work and the beer was flowing!

In a few short days, we'll be on to the bottling stage. This time we'll have to siphon again - but into all the separate bottles, rather than 1 big container. Should be interesting... Stay tuned!

(Oh - and due to the fact that today is Valentine's Day - I'm getting a reprieve from the kitchen. No Sunday Suppers tonight! Happy V-Day every one!)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's 5 o'clock somewhere...

That's what I told Mr. ValleyWriter at 10:30 am Sunday morning when he was contemplating having a beer as we started our very first batch of homebrew beer. However, the boys at the local brew shop (Northampton Beer and Winemaking Supplies) had mentioned most home brewing disasters start with consumption of the product, so he decided to heed their warning.

Turns out, there's a lot of steps and instructions to making beer. Good thing we were sober! We had purchased a full starter kit from the brew shop, which comes with 2 sets of instructions. Plus, they've put instructions (with pics!) on their website here. Pretty much, it seems like you can't mess it up unless you're drunk.

Or so I thought until Mr. VW broke the hydrometer. That's the thing that eventually tells you what percentage of alcohol your beer is. Turns out, it has a big lead weight inside, so when you tip the package out on the table, it's prone to smashing all over the place. Oops.

No matter, we soldiered on. Mr. VW was confident we could do it without knowing the alcohol content. Sure, we could end up drinking grain alcohol - but we're New Englanders - we can handle it!!

After that little fiasco, and a mad dash to the local kitchen supply store for a 2 gallon stock pot, we were on our way!
First, we started out making a lovely mash (a bunch of grains that give the beer flavor):

That had to sit for 45 minutes, before we put it in a colander and ran 2 gallons of boiling water through it (hence the need for the 2-gallon stockpot):

We boiled that again for a while, and then added more ingredients (malt, hops, bitters):

Then we had to add a bunch of cold water before adding the yeast:

Finally, our brew was ready to rest in it's basement abode (classy, eh?):

Between boiling, add ingredients, boiling again, adding more ingredients, ad naseum - it took about 4 hours. And that's just the 1st stage! In a day or two, we'll move the brew from it's lovely white bucket to a snazzy glass container (called a "two-stage," I'm informed). Then a week after that, it'll be ready for bottling. Then it still has to sit around for a few weeks before we can drink it. I swear - this is like friendship bread or something - the baking project that never ends!

It's all good, though. We laughed, we (nearly) cried (over the broken hydrometer), we had fun! Stay tuned for more adventures in beermaking!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday Suppers - Spicy Super Bowl Snacks!

In the days leading up to this weekend, I was soo excited for Sunday. Is that because I'm a football fan? Heeellll no! (Well, those tight pants with the padded butts are a fave, but I digress.) It's for the food! I love Super Bowl munchies - chili, wings, nachos, anything deep fried - Bring It ON!!

So, tonight's Sunday Suppers obviously has to be a Super Bowl Edition. Rather than having one real "meal" tonight, we'll be snacking throughout the evening. (And did you know that any football-related food eaten on Super Bowl Sunday doesn't count? That's right! Wing it up! Just stay away from the broccoli alfredo - that still has full fat and calories.)

The 2 best dishes (IMHO) on the menu tonight are the Spicy Black Bean Nachos and the Spicy Sweet Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese Dressing.

Of course, we can't start our Spicy Super Bowl cooking without the appropriate Super Bowl beverage:

Got your tall glass of cold beer? OK - ready to start.

Spicy Black Bean Nachos - Now, there isn't a real recipe for these nachos, per say. I kind of think of nachos as the Tex-Mex version of pizza. You can put just about anything on them and they taste good. With that in mind, I just do a sprinkle of this and a sprinkle of that, until it looks good. The "this and that" for this version involves black beans mixed with some spicy enchilada sauce, salsa, pickled jalapeno peppers and shredded pepper jack cheese. Load that all up over nacho chips, bake at 350 for about 10-15 minutes (or until cheese is melted) and voila!

Next up are the Red Hot Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese Dressing. These involve a little bit more planning - and actual measuring. But they are worth it!

Spicy Sweet Chicken Wings

2 lbs. chicken wings
5 Tbsp. honey
5 Tbsp. Sriracha hot chili sauce
3 Tbsp. pineapple preserves
1 tsp. red pepper flakes

Cut the tips off the wings (discard or reserve for making chicken stock). Then break down into wingettes and drummettes ("flats" and "rounds").
In a non-reactive bowl, combine honey, Sriracha, pineapple preserves and red pepper. Pour 1/2 of the mixture into a large ziplock bag. Add chicken wings and shake to coat. Refrigerate for 4-24 hours.
Cover the remaining sauce and refrigerate for later.
When ready to cook, turn broiler on high. Place marinated chicken pieces in a single layer on a broiler pan. Broil 10 minutes, flip chicken and broil another 10 minutes on the other side, or until chicken is cooked through.
Toss cooked chicken in remaining (un-used) sauce and serve with....

Blue Cheese Dressing

3 oz. blue cheese
2 Tbsp. milk
3 Tbsp. plain yogurt
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
pinch garlic powder

In a small bowl, mix blue cheese and milk with a fork until cheese forms small crumbles. Add yogurt, mayo, vinegar and garlic. Stir to mix. (Add more garlic powder to taste, if desired.) Cover and refrigerate at least an hour before serving.

Now, I said I'm not a football fan (and truly, I'm not), but I will be watching the full game tonight. And I will even be rooting for a certain team. Not because I actually know anything about either team. No, I don't use that kind of logic. My scientific method for picking a team? Who has the snazziest uniform. And I say this year it's a no brainer. The Saints with those gold lamé pants are the clear winners in my book!