Browsing Tag

dinner

book review, recipe

Standard Devation + Spaghetti Marinara and Garlic Bread

One day, Katherine Heiny’s novel Standard Deviation appeared in my library queue, ready to pick up. As I mentioned in January’s SUYB post, I can’t even remember how I heard about, but I must’ve added it to my library list right away so I wouldn’t forget about it. However it stumbled into my life, I’m glad it did; it wasn’t a life-changing novel by any means, but it was entertaining and enjoyable all the same – a bit like an indie rom-com.

Standard Deviation is about Graham, who lives in an apartment in New York City with his second wife Audra and their young son. While Graham seems to prefer to observe, his wife Audra talks constantly and makes friends wherever she goes, leading to a barrage of house guests who always seem to be underfoot.

A lesser storyteller could’ve easily painted Graham as an exasperated husband sick of his wife’s antics and Audra as a selfish busybody, and though they occasionally exhibit those qualities, on the whole they’re much more than that, and quite likeable. One of the more endearing (and amusing) storylines within the novel revolves around their son Matthew and his love of origami. Though it’s never explicitly said (that I can recall), it appears he has Asperger’s, and their dedication to his passion is an excellent example of selfless parenting.

Like me, Graham loves good food and cooking at home, both for his family and their frequent guests. Also like me, he finds cooking less enjoyable when he’s forced to plan a meal around picky eaters. Unfortunately for Graham, he often found himself in such a situation, and it was in one of those moments that I drew my inspiration for today’s recipe:

Spaghetti marinara with garlic bread was his all-purpose crowd-pleasing picky-eater dinner. Spaghetti marinara was like taking a girl on a first date, actually: nothing fancy, no surprises, best foot forward.

I personally prefer meat sauce on my spaghetti, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I took the recipe my family usually uses for spaghetti sauce and omitted the meat to make a marinara sauce. This recipe is really easy, but it’s flavorful and thick so it sticks to spaghetti really well.

To start, I added about a half cup of chopped onion to olive oil already heated in a sauce pot and cooked them until they were translucent. To the onions, I added a large can of crushed tomatoes and small cans of tomato sauce and tomato paste. Then I added salt and pepper, dried basil, dried oregano, some sugar and Parmesan cheese and gave it all a good stir.

Once the ingredients are combined, bring it up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Like most tomato sauce, it can get messy real quick if it starts to bubble up and pop, so I like to keep a lid offset on top to let some of the air and steam escape but keep the sauce from getting all over the stovetop. You can let it simmer for as little as long as you like, stirring occasionally, but it’s best after at least 20 minutes. Of course, it’s even better the second day.

While the sauce simmered, I boiled the water for my spaghetti and started on the garlic bread. Because I was just making dinner for Scott and myself, I adjusted the recipe down and only used about a third of the Italian bread loaf. I partially melted some butter in a small bowl, added the garlic powder and dried parsley, and then melted the mixture the rest of the way. With a basting brush, I applied the butter-garlic mixture generously to each slice.

I baked the bread in the oven for about 10 minutes, covered each slice with shredded mozzarella and put the pan back in the oven for about 7 more minutes until it was melted. At this point, the spaghetti pasta was cooked al dente and the sauce was ready to go.

I need to perfect my spaghetti swirl for future fancy plating, but the taste more than makes up for the lack of finesse in that area. These crowd-pleasing recipes are as perfect for the discerning foodies in your life as they are the picky-eaters. It’s wonderful bonus that they’re easy too. Hope you enjoy!

Marinara Sauce

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 8-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon dried basil
  • ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. In a large sauce pot, preheat a bit of olive oil (about 1 Tablespoon) and add onion. Cook until translucent.
  2. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Add remaining ingredients and stir.
  3. Bring to a boil then simmer. (Use a lid; it will splatter.)
  4. Serve over spaghetti or your favorite pasta.

Adapted from a family recipe

Recipe Notes: To make a meat sauce, simply add 1-lb ground beef or turkey, browning with the onion in step one.


Cheesy Garlic Bread

  • Servings: 6-8
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Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1½ tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 (1 pound) loaf Italian bread, cut into ½ -inch slices
  • 8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat (or the microwave), melt butter and mix with garlic powder and dried parsley.
  3. Place Italian bread on a medium baking sheet. Using a basting brush, brush generously with the butter mixture.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven approximately 10 minutes, until lightly toasted. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and any remaining butter mixture. Return to oven approximately 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bread is lightly browned.

From: Noelle C on Allrecipes.com

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book review, recipe

In the Midst of Winter + Chilean Cazuela Stew

Isabel Allende’s most recent novel In the Midst of Winter really just begs to be read at this time of year. Though it was published in October last year, I wasn’t able to get a copy from the library until December, which seemed like perfect timing to me. I started it just as an early snowstorm hit Michigan…and I was catching a plane to south Florida. As I sat in the warmth of a rare perfect weather weekend, reading Allende’s vivid descriptions of bitter cold, blustery wind and mounds of snow, I was grateful to have escaped – if just for a little bit.

Like the only other Allende book I’ve read, The House of the Spirits, this novel features strong Latin American women and shines a spotlight on the unique issues they face. Lucia is a university lecturer from Chili, currently living in the bottom floor apartment of Richard, a standoffish professor at the same university. As a snowstorm overtakes Brooklyn, Richard gets in a fender bender, setting off a chain of events no one saw coming. When the other driver, Evelyn, later shows up on his doorstep and refuses to leave, he enlists Lucia’s help.

Evelyn, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, is working as a nanny and is terrified to return to her employers with a damaged car. After hearing her out, Lucia is determined to help the girl and a reluctant Richard is brought along for the ride. Winter couldn’t be more timely with its portrayal of immigrants – both legal and illegal – as it highlights their heartbreaking stories with compassion and humanity.

When Richard goes to Lucia to request her help, she is desperately trying to stay warm in her underheated apartment. She describes a delicious, comforting Chilean stew called cazuela – full of beef, corn, potatoes and pumpkin – that she often makes to warm up. She brings it upstairs to Richard’s.

As I looked for a cazuela recipe like Lucia’s, I kept coming across ones that included chicken. While cazuela may be made with any kind of meat really, beef is used in the traditional Chilean recipe. To get exactly what I was looking for, I combined two different recipes, one from Que Rica Vida and one from Taste of Home. In the end, I included beef, corn and potatoes, like Lucia, and substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin since I already had that on-hand.

I was unable to find a small 1-pound beef brisket at my grocery store because apparently they only offer them in slabs greater than 10 pounds (at least when I was shopping). I opted for corned beef brisket instead, because they were available much closer to the weight that I needed, but I would still recommend trying to find a small cut of brisket or other non-corned beef to use. While still alright, the corned beef ended up being a bit tough and may have affected the flavor a bit.

Anyway, I cut my roughly 1-pound brisket into 6 chunks, as the recipe directed, and set it aside. Then, I cut up my onion, butternut squash, potatoes and carrots into similarly large chunks, as evenly as I could manage.

To the oil already heated in my Dutch oven, I added the meat and cooked it for about 2-3 minutes on each side, about 10 minutes total. Then, I added the onions, oregano, cumin and salt and pepper, mixing and allowing to cook for another 5 minutes or so.

To the pot, I added the rest of my prepared veggies – carrots, potatoes and squash – and covered everything with a combination of vegetable broth and boiling water, about 6 cups total. I let it come to a boil and then simmered it, uncovered, for about 15 minutes before adding the frozen ears of corn.

When the stew was almost finished, I added a handful of frozen green beans and let it continue to simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

To serve, I put a bit of already cooked rice (about ⅓ – ½ cup) in the bottom of a bowl. I plucked out a piece of beef, corn, potato and squash, along with some carrots, onions and green beans and placed them on top of the rice, covering everything with a few generous ladlefuls of broth.

This warm, vegetable-filled soup certainly made for a comforting winter dinner and I’d be interested in trying it again sometime.  

Chilean Cazuela with Beef

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • 1 lb. beef brisket
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4-6 pieces of fresh or frozen corn on the cob (2 inches each)
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 6 small red potatoes, peeled (or medium potatoes cut in half)
  • 6 small pieces of butternut squash
  • 1 handful of frozen green beans
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hot cooked rice (about 3 cups)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley, to taste

Directions

  1. Cut the meat into six portions. Preheat the vegetable oil in a large pot. Cook the meat for approximately 3 minutes on each side.
  2. Add the onion, cumin and oregano. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. When ready, place the potatoes, carrots and butternut squash in the pot. Completely cover the contents with the vegetable broth and boiling water, approximately 6 cups. Bring to a boil and simmer for 25 minutes, or until meat is cook and vegetables are tender.
  4. Add corn after approximately 15 minutes. Add frozen green beans within last 5 minutes.
  5. Sample and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve stew over rice in a shallow soup bowl, ensuring that each person receives one piece of meat, one potato, one piece of butternut squash and a portion of corn. Serve with hot pepper sauce, salt, pepper and cilantro or parsley as desired.

Adapted from: Que Rica Vida and Taste of Home

Recipe Notes: Chilean cazuela is a very flexible homemade stew – you can use lamb, chicken or pork in the recipe, but the classic version is made with beef. Butternut squash can be swapped for pumpkin, if desired.


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book review, recipe

A Homemade Life + Turkey Meatballs

Though I read this last book about a month ago, I thought it would make the perfect post to kickoff the new year. If you love food as much as you love books, like I do, Molly Wizenberg’s food memoir – which I gushed about during the Thanksgiving Readathon – is an absolute treasure. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table is full of so many mouth-watering recipes that I had an extremely hard time deciding what to make for this post.

I became familiar with Molly through a funny food podcast called Spilled Milk, which she co-hosts with fellow foodie Matthew Amster-Burton. Little did I know, she also writes a well-loved blog, Orangette, which she started in a moment of self-discovery because “whatever [she] did, it had to involve food and writing.” We’re somewhat kindred spirits in that way. Not to give away any spoilers, but one of my favorite parts of the book was discovering that Molly actually met her husband through her blog. (I met mine well before creating my blog, but I’m lucky that he has always been extremely supportive of my efforts.) Since the book is mostly food, coupled with lovely personal stories of course, let’s get right to meat of it.

I snuck Molly’s father’s French toast recipe into a blog post late last year, partially because I didn’t think one recipe did this collection justice and partially because I’m indecisive. But, as I combed back through the pages, the perfect recipe for this post jumped out at me. I decided to choose the Mediterranean-style turkey meatballs from her friend Doron because they were one of the first recipes Molly wrote about on her new blog in 2005.

The ingredient list is a bit intimidating – I didn’t have pine nuts or golden raisins on-hand – but because it’s meatballs, the grocery shopping is really the hardest part.

To start, I made the yogurt dipping sauce because in the book she recommends leaving it at room temperature while you do the rest so the flavors can develop (here, the blog version of the recipe varies). I combined all of the ingredients – plain yogurt (I used Greek, full fat), lemon juice, minced garlic, ground cumin and salt – in a small bowl with a whisk. I set it aside while I made the meatballs.

To make the meatballs, I combined the majority of the ingredients in a large bowl – minced yellow onion, fresh cilantro leaves, pine nuts, golden raisins, bread crumbs, an egg and salt, cumin and freshly ground black pepper.

To that, I added the pound of ground turkey and used my hands to gently incorporate all of the ingredients, taking care not to overwork the meat.

Then, I rolled the meatballs, doing my best to keep them somewhat uniform in size – about 1½ inches round.

I heated a couple Tablespoons of oil in my skillet and added about half of the meatballs to begin cooking. Now, obviously it’s important to make sure poultry is cooked through and I’ll admit that the cooking part of the process gave me a touch of anxiety because it felt like it was taking forever. (Molly offered no rough time estimate in her recipe or notes.) That being said, I cooked each batch for approximately 20 minutes, checking for doneness as I went.

They turned out to be really delicious – no surprise there – and the yogurt sauce was the perfect complement.

The only thing left to do is to try more of Molly’s recipes, and see if I can work them into other future blog posts 😉 Have you read A Homemade Life? Do you have a favorite recipe I should try? Let me know in the comments!

Doron’s Turkey Meatballs with Pine Nuts, Cilantro and Golden Raisins

  • Servings: about 4
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Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 small) yellow onion, minced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • ½ cup chopped pine nuts
  • ½ cup golden raisins (halved or coarsely chopped if large)
  • ½ cup fine bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ⅛ tsp ground cumin
  • ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. ground turkey, chicken or lamb (see notes)
  • about 4 TBS olive oil
  • yogurt sauce, for serving (recipe below)

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients combine onion through black pepper in a large bowl.
  2. Add the ground meat, and using your hands, break it up into small chunks. Then massage and gently knead the meat to incorporate the ingredients. Mix until combined, but do not overmix; meat gets tough easily.
  3. With damp hands, gently pinch of hunks of the mixture and roll into 1½-inch balls. Set aside on a large plate.
  4. Warm 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add about half the meatballs, taking care not to crowd them. As they begin to color, turn them regularly so that they are golden on all sides. They should be done when they are evenly browned and feel medium firm—but not hard—to the touch.
  5. Transfer the finished meatballs to a plate lined with a paper towel. If the skillet looks dry, add the remaining 2 Tablespoons oil. Cook the remaining meatballs.
  6. Serve hot, warm, or cold with yogurt sauce.

From: A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, pages 168-169; an earlier version can also be found on Molly’s blog Orangette

Notes: Particularly if using chicken or turkey, make sure the meatballs are fully cooked before serving. You can cut one or two of them in half, if you like, to make sure they’re cooked through. Each batch of mine (using ground turkey) cooked for approximately 20 minutes.


Lemon and Cumin Yogurt Sauce

  • Servings: about 4
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain yogurt (not low fat or nonfat)
  • 3 TBS lemon juice (or the juice from 1 lemon)
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp salt

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk to combine. Set aside at room temperature to let the flavors develop while you make the meatballs.

From: A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, pages 168-169

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book review, recipe

Little Fires Everywhere + Blackened Chicken

Celeste Ng’s latest novel Little Fires Everywhere has been one of the hottest reads of the year (pun intended). As a big fan of her previous novel, Everything I Never Told You, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about when my hold recently came through at the library. Ng immerses us in the planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, a town she herself grew up in, and shines some light on the not-so-perfect lives of those that live there.

The story revolves primarily around the Richardsons, an exemplary Shaker Heights family, and Mia and Pearl Warren, a single mother and daughter who become their tenants. All four Richardson children – two girls and two boys, as varied as you could possibly imagine – are drawn to Pearl and her mother, who is an artist and a bit of a mystery. When the Richardsons’ family friend attempts to adopt a Chinese-American baby, who was found abandoned, it divides the town and pits Mia against Elena, the Richardson matriarch, threatening to topple the precarious status quo.

Little Fires Everywhere is full of the quiet drama of everyday life but also tackles something bigger. As Elena digs deep into Mia’s past and the Richardson children exist with little oversight, we’re along for the ride, discovering secrets and taking sides along with the rest of them.

Today’s recipe is inspired not only by the novel’s title but this quote, which stood out to me as I read: “Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground and start over. After the burning, the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.” I decided to make a blackened chicken, traditionally covered heavily in spices and cooked on high heat on the stove top until the seasoning becomes dark.

I debated between two recipes, one from Pop Culture, a more classically prepared blackened chicken, and one from Gal on a Mission, which is baked. Though a baked version doesn’t get quite as “black” as one cooked on the stovetop, I ultimately went with that option. It’s just as flavorful and the fact that it’s hands-off made it appealing when I was cooking it after work the other day. Additionally, I was easily able to roast some small potatoes and broccoli alongside it, completing the meal in 30 minutes, with minimal prep.

To start, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees F, and combined all of my spices in a small bowl. This recipe uses a lot of spices – salt, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, paprika, black pepper, onion powder, dried oregano and dried thyme – but thankfully, none of them are obscure; I already had them all in my cupboard.

I covered each chicken breast with generously with the spices, making sure each was thickly coated. If you’re using 3 large breasts or 6 small breasts, you shouldn’t have any of the spice mixture left. (I only used 2 breasts but still used most of it.)

Then, I put the chicken in an 8×8 glass baking dish and popped them in the oven for 23 minutes. For the last 5 minutes of the bake time, cover the dish with foil and allow to continue baking while covered. My chicken breasts were definitely larger than average and needed to bake for an additional 10 minutes before they reached 165 degrees F.  

While these pictures probably aren’t my best, the chicken was delicious, very flavorful and moist (thanks to the foil cover). To top it off, it’s easy and hands-off, almost impossible to mess up.

Baked Cajun Chicken Breasts

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red peppers
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 large chicken breasts or 6 small chicken breasts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease an 8×8 baking sheet or dish. Set aside.
  2. Mix together the salt, cayenne pepper, crushed red peppers, garlic powder, paprika, pepper, onion powder, dried oregano, and dried thyme in a small bowl.
  3. Rub the spice mix onto the chicken breasts.
  4. Bake for 18 minutes. Remove the chicken breasts from the oven and cover with aluminum foil and bake for another 5 minutes.
  5. Once cooked through, allow the chicken to rest for 3-5 minutes before slicing to serve.

From: Gal on a Mission

Notes: Check the temperature of your chicken to ensure it’s cooked all the way through, particularly if you’re using large breasts. Mine had to bake for an additional 10 minutes to reach 165 degrees F.


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book review, recipe

Turtles All the Way Down + Spiral Mac ‘n’ Cheese

John Green has written many young adult novels, including one of my favorites, The Fault in Our Stars. He has a unique way of tackling both the everyday and the unexpected parts of the lives of teenagers. His latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, is no exception. Like other teenagers, Aza tries her best in school, has an understanding best friend, and doesn’t know exactly what to do when she finds herself in a relationship. Aza also lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder and an often crippling level of anxiety, much of which was drawn from Green’s own experiences.

Because of that, Turtles tells an excellent, unique story. Admittedly, some of the scenes where Aza is having obsessive thoughts were hard to read. It almost felt like I was in her head, and in those moments, I read as if hiding behind split fingers – not wanting to go on but wanting to know what happened all the same. I admire Green’s willingness to not only discuss his own mental health issues but to write about them too, in a way that’s real.

Stories like these help to make mental health something that’s okay to talk about. The existence of a likeable character that readers can connect to and empathize with can help teenagers (and adults) realize that mental illness is not something to be embarrassed or ashamed of. In Green’s own words, “it’s important for people to hear from [those] who have good fulfilling lives and manage chronic mental illness as part of those good fulfilling lives.” And because of that, it is absolutely a book worth picking up – even if you aren’t familiar with John Green, even if you don’t usually read YA.

Honestly, the first thing I thought of when I looked at this book’s cover was spiral macaroni and cheese. I think they eat it once over the course of the story, but in the end, I couldn’t get it out of my head and no other foods really stood out to me. So, no surprise, that’s what I decided to make. I found an easy recipe from Famished Fish and set to work for a quick, easy dinner one night.

To start, I brought my water to a boil and cooked my noodles according to the package instructions. The original recipe called for rotini, but I also think cavatappi would work great here.

While the noodles cooked, I made the sauce. I melted butter in a pan and then added flour to create a roux. To that, I added the dried mustard and paprika, slowly stirring in 1 cup of milk, so that it could fully incorporate with the roux and remain thick.

Then, I added in the remaining 2 cups of milk slowly, along with the salt and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I continued cooking the sauce, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes more or so, until it thickened. I stirred in three-quarters of the cheese so it melted and became incorporated.

I drained the finished noodles and poured the cheese sauce on top, stirring until the noodles were fully covered. To serve, I spooned the mac ‘n’ cheese into bowls and topped each with a sprinkling of shredded cheese.

It was delicious! And so easy that I’ll definitely be adding it to my repertoire.

Creamy Spiral Mac 'n' Cheese

  • Servings: 4-6
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Ingredients

  • 16 oz uncooked spiral noodles (rotini or cavatappi)
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ tsp mustard
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cups milk, divided
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, divided

Directions

  1. Add uncooked pasta to a large pot of boiling water. Cook 9-11 minutes, according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. When butter has melted, stir in flour to create a roux.
  3. Slowly stir in 1 cup of milk along with the mustard and paprika. Stir and cook until the mixture thickens. Add the remaining 2 cups of milk and the salt and Worcestershire sauce. Cook and stir 5 minutes until has thickened.
  4. Stir in 1½ cups of the sharp cheddar cheese. Stir the sauce until the cheese has melted.
  5. Drain the pasta and return to large pot. Carefully pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta. Stir gently to combine the cheese sauce and pasta.
  6. Ladle the macaroni and cheese spirals into a large serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of sharp cheddar cheese.
  7. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Famished Fish

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.