Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Noodles & meatballs!!

The title of this post is exactly what my daughters both scream whenever I ask them what they want to eat for dinner. I have to say, I owe a lot of my sanity to noodles and meatballs. It's not the most creative meal in the world, but it's something that my whole family likes, and it fills everybody up so that nobody's nosing through the snack shelf an hour after dinner ends.

Over the last few months, I have started making my own meatballs from scratch. First, it allows me to ensure that they are dairy-free (many store bought and restaurant meatballs contain parmesan cheese). Second, I like using high quality ground beef in my meatballs since my girls eat them so often and so voraciously. Third, I find it to be kind of satisfying. It just feels good to contribute something rustic and homemade to this standby pantry meal.

My earliest attempts at meatball-making were not 100% successful. Sometimes they were too dry, sometimes too mushy, sometimes bland, sometimes overly salty. But, having recently produced two deliciously tasty, perfectly textured batches of meatballs in a row, I feel like I've mastered the process. Here's how I make them:

Alyssa's Delicious Meatballs 


1 lb of ground beef
2 eggs
a few spoonfuls of pesto (I use a dairy-free pesto, but any pesto will work fine)
a few generous dashes of salt
a few generous dashes of oregano
just enough breadcrumbs so that you can form the mixture into a ball and it stays that way
1-2 jars of marinara sauce

Cooking process:

Using your hands, mush everything together until it's well-mixed. I liked to start with a small amount of breadcrumbs, and then keep adding until the consistency is just right. You can always add more breadcrumbs, but you can't take them away if you put in too much.

Form the meat mixture into balls as small or large as you want. I've had the best luck with balls about 1.5 inches in diameter. Drizzle some oil in a large skillet until it thinly coats the bottom. Once the oil is starting to get hot, place the meatballs in the skillet, leaving some room between them. (Even if you have a really big skillet, you will probably need to cook these in two batches.) After a few minutes, turn the meatballs with some tongs. Keep flipping/turning them around until they are browned all over.

Transfer all of the meatballs to a pot. Pour the marinara sauce over the meatballs and simmer until the meatballs are cooked all the way through. Serve over the noodles of your choice. For us, that's usually macaroni (girls) and cappellini (adults).

And if you don't have any dairy issues, this recipe can always enhanced by a generous handful of parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Processed with love

Over the last few years, I've done a pretty good job of cutting down on processed and pre-prepared foods. I can proudly say I haven't had a Lean Pocket in probably three years (I used to eat one for lunch almost every day), and I no longer buy "crack snacks" (Doritos, Cheez-its, Pringles, and the like).

But while it sounds lovely to eat only whole foods and make everything from scratch, I am not cut out for that. Sometimes I don't have time to cook; sometimes I don't have proper ingredients to cook with; and sometimes I just don't feel like cooking. So, I've struck a compromise with myself - I try to seek out prepared foods that are made with excellent, natural ingredients and infused with love. Yes, I do believe processed foods can be made with love.

Take "Full of Life" Flatbread Pizza for example. I discovered these little gems in the frozen pizza section of Whole Foods. There was something about the picture on the front that just drew me in. Then I started reading all the verbiage on the box. I mean, there are words covering the front, sides and back of this box. And the print is small. I finally just threw the thing into my cart and decided to read the rest at home, so that it didn't melt while I stood there reading.

I saved my little individual-sized pizza for a night when my husband wasn't home. I waited until the kids were in bed, poured a nice glass of Cabernet, and commenced my reading while the pizza cooked in the oven. Here are just a few of the things printed on this lovely little box:

"Handcrafted using locally sourced ingredients"

"Each week we shop at farmers markets and talk with growers, farmers, ranchers, and artisan food producers, so that we can offer diners the freshest seasonal ingredients possible."

"All of our Flatbread Pizzas are produced by hand in small batches."

"When people deeply care for what they are doing a nourishing environment exists that benefits us all."

The list of ingredients reads like a recipe, with no artificial substances in sight. They even list the source of many ingredients, such as "Santa Barbara County Red Wine," and "Los Alamos Extra Virgin Olive Oil."

And then there's my favorite part. On the back of the box is an entire paragraph dedicated to McFadden Farm, the farm that grows the organic herbs used on all of their flatbread pizzas. Guinness McFadden is the name of the man who runs this farm, which is described as a "quiet, pastoral place...a feast for the senses and soul." According to the box, Guinness started the farm after ten years as a Naval officer and a stint at Stanford business school. So now I know more about the man who grew the herbs on my pizza than I know about the moms I encounter during preschool drop-off three times a week.

My Full of Life flatbread pizza was not only delicious (I bought the mushroom with caramelized onions & tomatoes), it was healthy. As I ate my pizza, I wasn't thinking about what a slacker I was for making a frozen pizza for dinner. I was savoring each bite of the crispy vita-grain flour crust and Three Sisters Serena Cheese. And wondering what ole' Guinness was up to. Perhaps he was milling through his fields, pausing now and then to sample a bit of marjoram or oregano. I kind of want to hang out with that guy. How can you not want to hang out with someone named Guinness McFadden?

I sometimes get bitter about the greed and corruption of food industry. There are so many companies out there making a fortune off of disgusting "food products," trying to convince us that we're better off eating a bright pink fluffy thing because it's been injected with some omega-3 acids than eating an apple. But then I discover these little companies out there who are doing the right thing in terms of ingredients and preparation, AND producing delicious food in the process. And I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I will leave you with one more quote from Full of Life:

"This Flatbread Pizza is the direct result of a great desire to feed, nourish, and share the good will, pride, integrity of all of the many people who make baking these breads possible...  ...from our hearth to your table, this Flatbread Pizza is our small reflection that to eat good food is to be Full of Life!"

Now that's love.

Monday, September 13, 2010

One dish fish

You've gotta love one-dish meals. First, clean-up is easy. Second, it's easy on the brain since you're not required to think up a complete meal with complimentary side dishes. Third, you don't have to perfectly time the different components of the meal (how annoying is it when your meat is steaming hot and ready to serve, but the potatoes are still hard as rocks?).

The problem I have with most one-dish recipes is that they almost always contain cheese or cream of some sort, which means I can't serve them to my whole family. And in this same vein, many one-dish meals are also supremely unhealthy (like the zillion casserole recipes that call for "cream of something" soup).

So I thought it was too good to be true when I saw *this* recipe for Tilapia with Hash Browns in my Food Network Magazine. It had the yum factor (hash browns), the healthy factor (fish & veggies), AND it was dairy-free!

I followed the recipe exactly, except for two things. I didn't add the garlic to the hash browns, since I was going to serve it to my semi-garlic-averse kids. And I only used a little bit of chopped olives because I pretty much hate olives. Get this - I really wish I had used more olives because the olives were my favorite part about the dish! I used manzanillo olives, and they were fantastic - they added a nice briny freshness to the dish, and as I was eating it I kept cursing myself for not putting in the full amount. So next time I'll know...

My girls ate at least 1/2 to 3/4 of the serving I gave them, which was more than I was banking on. I don't know if I would label it as kid-friendly for the 4 and under set, but older children should like it for sure. I mean, it has hash browns in it! And I recommend over-browning the hash browns a little bit to make them extra crispy.