Before I Forget

Did everyone have a thoroughly enjoyable weekend? Did you have an easter egg scavenger hunt? Or eat a lot of chocolate bunnies? Cadbury creme eggs (man, I could tear one of those down right now, never mind the fact that I just shoved a piece of cake into my face…)? Did you wear really lame-looking pastel-colored outfits with bow ties and Mary Janes? Or did you force those sort of cute things on your kids, instead?!

Get this: I didn’t do any of those things. Except, of course, I did have an enjoyable weekend. Duh.

We spent all day Saturday at Tomales Bay Oyster Farm again, because going this long without an oyster retreat was just silly. The weather was brilliantly sunny, speckled with a  few appearances by the clouds and the wind, and we had plenty of awesome food to choose from, which meant we pretty much ate from 11 AM to 5 PM, and there was nothing wrong with that in the slightest. We finished up the day with some Walking Dead episodes, since Judy and Jared can’t seem to get their act together to watch the rest of this season on their own. Dang non-cable-havers.

Sunday started off with an hour and a half of constant sweating at Bikram yoga (I’m still not sure why I’m torturing myself in these classes, but I think I sorta like them…) and a nice lunch with friends followed by a few hours of pinning, blogging, photo-editing, and grocery-planning. Jealous? I get that all the time :). What won’t make you jealous, I’m sure, is that doing laundry was also part of the fun.

So before I forget, I wanted to slip in the recipe I mentioned a few weeks back – the fennel & manchego shortbread cookies that were part of the co-winning Iron Chef dish at the last battle. I’m not sure why shortbread cookies are named as they are – they are neither short nor bready, but what they are is extremely tasty. Butter-laden, they are always perfect cookies to have around tea, or coffee, or in this case, ice cream. And caramel. But I ate a few by themselves and they were just fine too.

Now don’t let these cookies surprise you – they are a touch sweet, and they definitely live up to the definition of shortbread, which essentially requires that they are loaded with fat, ahem, butter, and that they are crumby and biscuit-ish, but what they also do is this – they also lean more to the savory side of things, which some people find weird for cookies. For one, they have a healthy amount of cheese baked into them, which once out of the oven they possess a gorgeous orangey-brown speck here and there, like the cheese in a cheddar biscuit, perhaps (and yes, now I am dying to demolish a biscuit. with or without cheddar. preferably with.).

For two, they are showered in fennel seeds, which I promise you only makes them better. You could nix the fennel if you wanted to, and add say, sesame seeds or lavender or orange zest or whatever, but I swear to you the fennel and Manchego cheese are meant to be in this cookie. I promise you, your mouth will thank you.

 

Manchego Shortbread with Fennel & Sea Salt
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2012; makes ~24

printable version

time commitment: 3 hours (1 hour active; 2 hours chilling dough)

ingredients
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 t freshly ground black pepper
3/4 t kosher salt
2 c all-purpose flour plus a little more for rolling out the dough
1 c finely grated Manchego cheese (about 2 ounces)
1 T fennel seeds
1 t sea salt
2 T extra-virgin olive oil

instructions
Using an electric mixer, beat butter in a medium bowl on low speed until smooth, 1–2 minutes. Add powdered sugar, pepper, and kosher salt. Reduce speed to medium and beat, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until light and fluffy, 4–5 minutes. Add flour and cheese. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat mixture just until dough comes together.

Wrap dough in plastic and flatten into a rectangle. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours. You can do this up to a few days in advance if you want. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before continuing.

Pulse fennel seeds in a spice grinder (aka coffee grinder) until coarsely crushed (or close them up in a Ziploc bag and crush with something like a rolling pin). Transfer to a small bowl; stir in sea salt. Set fennel salt aside.

Arrange a rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove plastic wrap from dough. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10×8-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Cut in thirds crosswise, then cut each third crosswise into 6 rectangles. Arrange cookies on prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Brush cookies generously with oil, then sprinkle with fennel salt. If you have extra dough, you can always roll that out and re-cut. I did this with my dough to make even more cookies, just make sure the dough doesn’t get to warm or else the cookies will flatten when they’re baking.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until cookies are golden brown (flecks of cheese will be slightly darker), ~20 minutes. Let cool on sheets for at least 10 minutes. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days.

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A Marriage of the Minds = Music + Meatballs

Pearl Jam set


We are getting ready to head out to Napa for a 4 day weekend. Tomorrow will center around finishing up some things at work amidst a day full of seeing patients and talking about genetic testing, grabbing some last minute goods at the shops such as new sunglasses (we haven’t seen too much sun here in Chicago so they haven’t been a necessity yet as they probably/hopefully will be for Napa) and picking tunes for the drives up and down highways 29 and 128. Then packing. Packing sucks. I dread it immensely and without fail will forget something. Luckily I haven’t forgotten PJ’s in a long time, but that’s about due.


One of Chris’ responsibilities, which he would consider it more of a leisurely activity than a chore, is picking out our music. A chore is something like taking out the trash, holding the mail, cleaning the litter box – all things he is very skilled and adept at completing. We’ll be driving around a decent amount (unless I can talk him into a hot air balloon ride which is practically out of the question giving his relentless fear of heights, or perhaps a bike trip. That might happen. Keep your fingers crossed for me), and since we’ll be in the car, we absolutely can NOT enjoy the silence and quietly breathe in the fresh open air of the valleys and wineries beyond, perhaps the ocean. We can NOT enjoy each others voices, at least we can NOT enjoy our voices unless we are screaming above some new music such as the Decemberists or some old music such as Pearl Jam’s Ten Collectors’ Edition. Not that I’m complaining. I love music. Just not quite as much as he does. But on the same token, he doesn’t love cooking, reading about food, and eating food quite as much as I do. So we meet in the middle. And it works. It works quite well.


more Pearl Jam set


Let me use tonight’s experience as my example. Following a full work day for the both of us, I was looking forward to a glass of Pinot and a fettucine & meatball recipe I’d pulled out of my recipe stack. He was looking forward to coming home and slowly perusing his new Pearl Jam vinyl, which is a collectors’ version of their first album, Ten. Now, PJ is one of my absolute favorite bands. Hands down. Next to the Chili Peppers. I too have been looking forward to this purchase. I’m sure he has tracked the shipping since it left Amazon. It arrived today. He took his lunch break to begin the process. Once he arrived home, he was saddened by my inability to meet his excitement – which wasn’t because I was truly not excited, but because I was right smack in the middle of browning meatballs in my favorite Dutch oven. Meatballs that were being stubborn and sticking because I didn’t dump enough oil into the pot. He decided to start the first side of the vinyl and enjoy the music, and he’d wait until I had a “break” from cooking to share the other goodies with me. How nice of him – he IS a doll. Most of the time 🙂

So, he sat and listened. And I browned meatballs. Every now and then, he’d point out some differences in the new-and-improved album. I’d agree. And I’d return to browning. By this point I was making the sofrito (onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes – similar to the French mirepoix). He’d meandered over to the kitchen with some of the goodies. Which meant he was getting antsy and wanting to share his new treasure. I had a break and had just turned the heat to low to let the sauce slowly simmer its way to a thick aromatic consistency. And I can prepare pasta with my eyes closed, so I was practically finished.


sticky balls


So together, we delved (he re-delved) into this work of art. If you are a Pearl Jam fan, you should consider this purchase. What is cooler than a re-release of one of the best albums, if not THE BEST album, of the early 90’s?! A re-make two years in the making, packaged in a cloth-bound vinyl shaped box with CD’s, vinyls, memorabilia, concert posters, and a cassette tape of Vedder’s first audition to be a part of this wonderful band. Can’t get much better.


sauce making


And as if the Pearl Jam box o’ wonders wasn’t good enough, we still hadn’t eaten dinner! oh my! So I did have to get back to the stove and finish the meal. It was definitely a recipe worth being on my waitlist. Full of flavor. Smoky. Spicy. Meaty. Yummy. And similar to the PJ album, it was a reinvention of an old standby, spaghetti and meatballs. This time with fuller flavor but with all the old charm. If you can’t stomach the small fortune the PJ remake costs, this meal will for sure fit the bill. I think the most expensive ingredient was the ham – but if you buy extra you’ll have some yummy samiches for a later day.


smoky meatballs in serrano ham sauce


Smoky Meatballs in Serrano Ham Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine; serves 4


ingredients
 
  • 1 (1 1/2-ounce) slice white bread
  • 1 pound 92% lean ground beef
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 ounces serrano ham, finely chopped
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1 (28-ounce) can no-salt-added whole peeled tomatoes, undrained and chopped
  • 4 cups hot cooked fettuccine (about 8 ounces uncooked pasta)
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely shredded aged Manchego cheese
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

instructions

 

1. Place bread in a food processor; pulse 12 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1/2 cup. Combine breadcrumbs, beef, and next 7 ingredients (through egg) in a bowl. Using wet hands, shape mixture into 20 (about 2 tablespoons each) meatballs. Set aside.

 

2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add ham to pan, and cook for 3 minutes or until well browned, stirring frequently. Transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add meatballs; cook for 5 minutes or until browned, turning often. Add meatballs to ham in bowl. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring often. Add sherry; cook for 3 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add tomatoes and meatball mixture; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened. Remove from heat, and keep warm.

 

3. Place 1 cup pasta in each of 4 shallow bowls; top each serving with 5 meatballs, 3/4 cup sauce, and 1 tablespoon shredded Manchego cheese. Garnish with additional parsley, if desired.

all mixed up