Monday, November 30, 2009

Next Food Network Star's African Meatballs

I figured this would be a great recipe to share after Thanksgiving - since it is the opposite of Turkey and poultry seasoning.....

Like most of you I suppose, I spend a good deal of my personal time thinking about food.  Frankly, if I am not currently eating a meal, I am likely thinking about my next meal.  This means that food factors in as a topic of entertainment for me.  I read books, magazines, and newspaper articles devoted to food.  And, I am an avid fan of such food programming as Top Chef, Hells Kitchen, Anything on Food Network, and of course, the Next Food Network Star.

Now, to be honest, this was the first year that I had watched an entire season of NFNS in full.  And I must admit that it was for research more than anything else.  That is because I actually tried out for the show.  There, I've admitted it to the entire blog-reading world. 

The contestants on Next Food Network Star tend to be a little more amateur than Top Chef.  Not all are even trained in professional cooking.  I immediately decided that I liked Melissa D'Arabian, mostly because she was a home cook like me (I love an underdog) and as shrill as she can be, was probably the least annoying of the other contestants.

I watched and cheered Melissa until the bitter end - and that was tough because I liked that Jeffrey guy too. I even watched the premiere of Melissa's own show!  Of course, then I lost interest and haven't watch her since...I know, I'm so fickle!

I loved the first episode.  Melissa made North African Meatballs, which I think was a great way to introduce some more exotic spices into a fairly familiar dish.  Instead of the usual tomato-basil sauce, these meatballs incorporated cinnamon, brown sugar, and olives into the mix.  Even a hater of olives like myself really appreciated the brininess that they lent to the sauce (just chop them really small - they really work into the dish).  If I were to do this again - I would make double the sauce, because I felt like there wasn't enough to go around for all the meatballs.

Although Melissa also included a couscous recipe, and some carrots, I decided to pair my meatballs with some ingredients I already had on-hand: brown rice and sauteed kale.

You can find the recipe on the Food Network page- and it is also copied below.
North African Meatballs recipe


For the North African Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1/2 cup pitted and chopped briny olives
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock or broth
  • 1 (14-ounce) can crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Meatballs:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 1/3 cup finely ground rolled oats or fine bread crumbs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, for cooking
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves


To make the North African Sauce:
In a large saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat and saute the onion and garlic until soft but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the lemon zest and olives and cook for 1 more minute. Add the white wine, deglaze the pan, and let it reduce for a 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the stock, canned tomatoes, sugar, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon, and simmer to blend flavors, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
To make the Meatballs: In a medium bowl, add the egg and tomato paste and stir until smooth. Add the cilantro, ginger, cumin, and cinnamon and mix until well blended. Stir in the ground beef and oats, season with salt and pepper, to taste, and combine gently after each addition. Do not overmix. Rolling with your hands, make about 32 meatballs, about 1-inch in diameter.
In a large saute pan, heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium heat, and brown the meatballs in batches until golden on all sides. Add more oil, as needed. Transfer the meatballs to the pan with the sauce and let simmer for 20 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings

Have you ever made a recipe a with weird-sounding combination of ingredients?  How did it turn out?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Sitting here in my parents' home, the house I grew up in, I'm suddenly very aware of all of the wonderful things in my life.  Today is a fantastic opportunity to reflect on your past year and all the people and things that make your life enjoyable. 

Today I am very grateful for my family, friends and Rafe, the roof over my head, the food on my plate, my health, and my jobs - both my day job and my blog 'hobby-job'....and that is just the short list.

I hope everyone has a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vegetarian Bean Burgers

The day after our Preliminary Turkey Day I felt a bit gluttonous and remorseful about all the food and drink I had imbibed the day before....well, not that remorseful - I would do it again in a second...
But, as a result of all the rich food, I thought I should probably prepare a dinner on Sunday that was a little more plant-based.  I decided I wanted to try my hand at making my own veggie burgers!

These were incredibly simple and provided me with dinner on Sunday night, and lunch for the entire work-week.  I also had 2 extra that I was able to put in the freezer for a quick lunch or dinner in the future....I might be inclined to pull these out to eat next week...After all of the gluttony of the REAL Thanksgiving weekend starting tomorrow!
I adapted this recipe from Mark Bittman's 'How to Cook Everything'.  I want to continue to work with it  before I provide my adapted recipe.  I think that with the relatively mild flavor of the beans, that there is a lot of room to experiment with different flavors and additions.

Though I am not ready to post the exact recipe yet, I can give you the basic idea...Dump a can of beans, some aromatics, seasonings and a little veggie broth and a binder into the food processor.

Mix everything on pulse until just combined, but still a little chunky...Let it rest for a few minutes.

Form into patties, then rest again.  Here is the part I am still working on - I need to make them stick together just a little bit better - more oatmeal or breadcrumbs in the mixture.  It was just a LITTLE too wet.

I pan fried the patties in just a little bit of oil, in a nonstick pan.  They are very delicate, so flipping them is a little difficult, but I managed not to break any!

I added some sharp cheddar to one patty, and put it on an arnold sandwich thin to act as the bun.  I made it a meal with a salad and some roasted delicata squash.

I topped the burger with ketchup and red-hot.  It was moist and flavorful, but the outside of the burger had a slight crunch from the breading and pan frying.  The bean burgers kept pretty well in the fridge, and provided me with yummy lunches throughout the week.  For lunch I warmed the burger in the microwave, then put it on an Arnold sandwich thin with some mashed avocado and red hot.  YUM!  Can't wait to try this again with some different seasonings!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

RedPlum - My Frugalicious Holiday

What a fabulous way to spend a Thursday night.  On Thursday 11/12 I attended the RedPlum event: My Frugalicious Holiday at the Liberty Hotel in Boston.  Along for the ride were Carissa from Starving Artist and Neha from Simply.

(photo by Carissa DiCenzo)

The event was held on the balcony that ran along the fourth floor, and looked down into the beautiful lobby. - The setting was extraordinary!

We checked in and received our name tags - which identified our blogs.  I was really excited to go to an event and represent my blog officially! 

There were official RedPlum cocktails offered as we entered - but I immediately spied the representatives from the Wine Connextion in North Andover MA, so we passed on the cocktails and headed over to the table.  They were sampling champagne (one of my absolute favorites - such a treat), as well as Chardonnay, Cotes D'Rhone, and a Cabernet Sauvignon.  The champagne and the Cabernet were both delicious and inexpensive.  I didn't try the Chardonnay, but Neha seemed happy with her glass.  Sam Messina, the wine director at the store was a delight to speak with.  He was exuding so much energy - and you could tell that he was very passionate about his work!  I love wine - I've been to Napa and Sonoma a couple times - but still know very little about wines, and pairing.  Sam was very easy to talk to and gave suggestions for wine pairing - and some information on the qualities to look for in a good wine.  If you live in the North Shore area I suggest you check out the wine connection - if the other employees are anything like Sam, you will be steered in the right direction if you need help with your choices!

(RedPlum photo)
After our wine tasting we made our way over to the table-scape set up by Ikea.  They used some really creative tricks to set a beautiful table - such as using curtains as table runners, and using Christmas tree balls as place markers - names were written on the balls in metallic marker!

(RedPlum photo)

My second favorite part (2nd to the wine tasting- yum!) was the table with all the gifts under $30.  They had lots of great gift ideas for every type of person. My coworker is pregnant with her first child to I was immediately drawn to the onesies and pacifiers!

(RedPlum photo)

(RedPlum photo)
As we left the event, we were given gift bags which included a bottle of wine and some of the gifts that we had seen.

I had a ton of fun - and all the other Boston area bloggers seemed to have a great time as well.  RedPlum is traveling to many major cities over the holiday season - If there is one in your area I suggest you attend!  It was a lot of fun - and a great showcase of holiday ideas - from food, to decorating, to gift-giving!

If you can't make one of the events - check out the RedPlum list of Great Gifts under $30!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kaitlins Chocolate Cookies

As I mentioned in my last post - I am following my preliminary turkey day post with some recipes!

Kaitlin has been kind enough to share her recipe for chocolate cookies....They sound super simple - and although I haven't tried to make them yet - I have eaten them.  They are delicious!

1 12 oz bag of chocolate chips
1 stick of butter
6 tablespoons of sugar (more or less depending on how sweet you want them, I usually do a little more)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 cup flour

  1. melt butter and chocolate chips, stir
  2. add sugar, vanilla and sweetened condensed milk, mix until fully blended
  3. add flour, if batter seems to thin add a little more
  4. bake at 350 8-10 minutes
I also promised my stuffing recipe.  The truth is, the stuffing is not belongs to the one and only TV chef who I love to hate....Giada De Laurentiis.  I have to be honest - that the only reasons I love to hate Giada is because her recipes are delicious and rich, and I've never had one fail - but they are so good that I don't understand how she stays so tiny, she has a succesful cooking/television career, and her husband is a designer for Anthropologie - so that is where her gorgeous clothes come from...sigh.  Some girls have all the luck.


My mother has made this recipe several times.  From our taste-tests we decided that the chestnuts are not we omit them.  They don't really bring anything special to the dish in our opinion.  Also, the bakery at Shaw's doesn't stock cornbread, and I really didn't have any spare time to bake my own, so I used the dried cornbread stuffing mix from the good people at pepperidge farm.

Thanks for sharing your recipe Kaitlin!!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Preliminary Turkey Day

Without question my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.  It's all about the food.  No presents, decorations are not required; it's about sharing a special meal with your family, and if you're lucky, great friends.  I count myself doubly lucky because not only do I get to share Thanksgiving with my family - but my friends have a 3 year tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving a few weeks early.

Everyone brings a dish (or 2, or 3...) that is the presumably one of the best at their family gatherings....Beyond the traditional turkey and trimmings we have a full fleet of appetizers and some amazing desserts.

We start every year with a football game.  The male guests play football at the elementary school next door, while the women watch (we would play - and we're completely allowed to participate - In fact Sara played last year, and did very well) but I subscribe to the same ideas about this that Abby expressed a few years back....
"Sure its all fun and games until it starts getting competitive.  Then someone starts calling you by your last name and telling you to hustle"

This year's PTD took place on Saturday.  Once we got a little bored with the football game we headed back inside and start drinking wine, chatting, and munching on appetizers.  We made sure to get our fill before the boys came in and polished off the food. 

The appetizers were delicious and included:
Cheese platter from Marcia complete with baked brie and raspberry jam.  If you've never tried this combo, please do so right now!! I parked myself right in front of it...I'm pretty sure I ate 1/3 of the wheel

This isn't my best photography - but trust me - this was amazing.  Delicious crab dip from Sara.  This was served on top of cocktail bread - rye and pumpernickel.  

Abby made one of my favorite appetizers in her repertoire.  Kielbasa wrapped in crescent dough.  The photo on the left is her handiwork, stretching the dough across the sausage....on the right is the finish product.  Served with spicy brown mustard for dipping!

Featured, but not pictured were the buffalo chicken dip and crab cakes from Molly (girl was a rock-star with her many delicious contributions) and Rafe's famous guacamole.

After the appetizers were done - we started to finalize the main course. I was tasked with the turkey the past two years - but now that Rafe no longer lives at the party site it would be impossible to handle the bird.  I can't say that I'm not happy to give up the responsibility (I had a mini breakdown the first year when the turkey was done an hour early and I thought I ruined the holiday.)

This year, the two turkey breasts were roasted by Abby and Molly - and they were deliciously seasoned and moist.  Kudos girls - I know what a headache it can be to be responsible for the main event - and you two knocked it out of the park!

In addition to turkey and gravy we had some amazing side dishes, like the obligatory mashed potatoes by Marcia.
John's delicious macaroni and cheese made an appearance and was studded with grape tomatoes!  (Sorry for the blurry photo...I was shaking with starvation :)

 Molly made asparagus for a veggie side

Marcia made this salad that was Rafe's brainchild - mixed greens, dried cranberries, goat cheese and toasted pecans.

This is Sara's sweet potato gratin....I need to get this recipe.  I seriously look forward to this dish EVERY year.  YUM!  Can't get better than some cheezy sweet potatoes.

There was also corn and crescent rolls from Marcia...not pictured...but I'm sure you know what both those things look like.  Ty brought the cranberry sauce as usual.
Here is a picture of Rafe's plate.  Also featured on the bottom right quadrant is my sausage, apple, cranberry cornbread stuffing.  (Detailed instructions and link to recipe to follow.)

After dinner we hung out for a little while and digested before dessert.  We wanted to make room in our bellies for the delicious sweet treats!

Maggie made pumpkin cheesecake.  She promised this was a Paula Deen recipe so I braced myself for an onslaught of heavy, butter-filled cheesecake - but I was pleasantly surprised by how light and flavorful it was.  It was a nice change from the usual pumpkin custard pie. 

Kaitlin is a baking master and made these chocolate-chocolate chip cookies that absolutely blew my mind....Can you make these for my birthday and put some candles in them?  February 12th.  Thanks!  She also made Ghiradelli Brownies, not pictured.  Likely because we ate them all.  I'll be posting the recipe for this in a follow-up as well!


Molly also made an apple crisp.  Did I tell you she was a rock-star?  Sorry its blurry Molly - it was yummy though!

Preliminary Turkey Day was an amazing feast as usual...and lots of fun.  I feel very very lucky to get 2 Thanksgivings a year - and clearly - a lot of good friends and good food to be thankful for.  I'm off to hit the gym for the next week or so to work off all the treats.

Hat's off to everyone in attendance!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Boston Organics week of 11/2

Got my organics delivery from Boston Organics yesterday....this post is suplemented with photos from google image.  My camera battery arrived, but after my produce delivery so I didn't get to photograph my haul.

$29 2/3 vegetable
2 Anjou Pears (WA)
0.75 lbs Empire Apples (VT)
1.5 lbs Fair Trade Bananas (Ecuador)
2 Navel Oranges (FL)
1 head Cauliflower (NY)
1 Celery Root (MA)
1.5 lbs Delicata Squash (MA)
1 head Green Leaf Lettuce (MA)
1 bunch Kale (MA)
1 4oz Mixed Sprouts (MA)
0.75 lbs Mixed Summer Squash (FL)
1 lbs Purple Top Turnips (MA) 

I also added on some cranberries so I can make cranberry oat bars, and some brussel sprouts, because we all know how I feel about those...YUM!

The names of the products I've never actually cooked before are listed in bold.  The celery root is downright scary looking.

The brussels have already been eaten, roasted, of course...and I wanted oven fries too - but didn't have any potatoes.  So I pretended one of the turnips was a potato and roasted that too. 
The celery root is being planned for use in a soup, thanks to a lovely parsnip donation from Carissa at Starving Artist.  (Carissa, you can lay claim to anything left in my delivery!  Whatever you want!)

I've never use a delicata squash before -but I think its so pretty.  I almost feel bad eating it.  But not too bad, because I LOVE squash.  I'm not totally certain what I'll do with this, so any suggestions are appreciated!

The only thing I'm at a loss with is the mixed sprouts.  They aren't the kind of sprouts that you find in sandwiches...they're very big and crunchy looking...

Not sure what I'm going to do with these...maybe use them as a garnish in a salad or the celery root soup?  Anyone with suggestions please leave a comment!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to see it ....

Ok, so the title is clumsy, but the sentiment is similar.  My real question is, if you make a recipe, and don't have a camera to document it....can you still post it?

I'm going to give it a whirl, because damnit if I didn't make one tasty Acorn Squash Pasta...

Thursday night after dinner I decided to roast up my acorn squash from Boston Organics.  It was a preplanning move...  I was going to CT for the weekend.  When I return to Boston on Sunday nights I like to be able to whip something up quickly for dinner so I can get into my 'before a workday' routine.  I was also expecting a Boston Organics delivery the following week - so I wanted to use up my produce before it all went bad.  I roasted the squash and then stored it in a tupperware in the fridge.

Upon returning home on Sunday, I looked in the fridge to find my squash, and some already cooked pasta in a neighboring tupperware.  I wanted to clean out the fridge so I decided to combine them.

I put a tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium.  Once the butter had melted then started to bubble I added 2 cloves of chopped garlic.  To the garlic butter, I added about 1/4 (1/2 of a regular acorn squash - mine was enormous!) of cooked squash cut up into cubes.  I seasoned it with salt, pepper, a little more garlic, and some dried sage.  I tasted it and decided it needed a little I added a little maple syrup...about a teaspoon.  Upon a second tasting, realized it needed a little acid.  I added about a 1/8th - 1/4 cup of white wine and let it reduce.

I added the cooked pasta to the skillet - tossed it to warm through, then added it to a bowl with some dried cranberries and parmesan cheese on top.

It was absolutely delicious - and I can't stop thinking about it!  I'll definitely have to make it again and take its picture for you all!