Friday, March 1, 2013

You Still Gotta Eat

I'm not going to get into details here but suffice it to say, I would like to remind an old friend that along with the horrible things that happen in life, there are many joyful things as well.  For me, cooking a good hearty meal for some good hearty friends makes me ridiculously happy.

As I am not there to cook for him today, I'm giving him this to cook for himself in the hope that it is a little bit of blue sky on a very gloomy day.

Karen's Sauce

First you get your big pot.  I have a 5 quart dutch oven which works just great.  Add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil and put it over a medium flame. 

While the oil heats up season six bone in, skin on chicken thighs with salt and pepper.  Put the first three in the pot, skin down and raise the flame to medium high.  When the skin is nice and brown, flip them over and brown the other side.  Once they are nice and brown, repeat this with the other three chicken thighs.  If you can find pork neck bones, brown off about 3/4 lb. of those as well.  I use the lid of the pot to hold all the already browned meat but you can certainly use a plate if you want to.

If you are making a vegetarian version, skip this first paragraph and start with about 1/4 cup of oil in your pot. 

While the meat is browning, chop up about 2 cups of onions.  No need to be exact.  Imperfection is the rule here.  Not too small, not too big.  Just chop away.  Once alll the meat is browned and of the pot, put the onions into the hot chicken fat (yeah, this shiksa cooks with schmaltz).  Give them a good stir and a good pinch of salt and get them sauteeing.

While the onions are cooking, chop up about 2 tablespoons of garlic.  Hard to say how many cloves.  Just chop away until it looks like two tablespoons.  The onions will be nice and golden and have some brown bits on them by now.  Toss in the garlic.  Stir it all up and let the garlic cook for a few minutes until it gets lightly golden.  By now your onions should be pretty soft.

Add about a cup or so of water.  I usually just use a coffee mug.  Turn the heat to high and bring it up to a boil scraping up the bits on the bottom of the pot.  Once it is boiling, turn the heat down to almost low (not quite all the way low) and let it simmer away until it all reduces into a mush that is just starting to stick to the bottom of the pot.  This will take about 15 or 20 minutes.  Stir it every so often.  For some reason, this step is key.  It does something with the fat that was left in the pot and the onions that make them melt once the sauce is ready.  Yum.

Next step--easy peasy.  Add about 1/2 a little can of tomato paste.  Stir it all up until the tomato paste melts into the onions.  Grab your coffee cup that you used for your water and fill it with cheap, fruity red wine (I like Paisano for this).  Pour a little in the pan and deglaze it again.

You're almost done!  You need three cans of tomatoes.  Your choice.  I like smooth sauce so I use one can of crushed and 2 of puree.  If you like it chunky switch out one or both puree for whole peeled tomatoes.  Just break them up with your hands as you put them (and all their juices into the pot).  Now line the three cans up, pour the rest of the wine into the first can, swirl it around and get all the leftovers off the can and then pour it into the second can.  Proceed until you have rinsed all three cans with vino.

Pour the wine into the pot.  Add a small palmful of dried oregano and a small palmful of dried basil.  I always rub the dried herbs between my palms to open up the oils.  Give it some black pepper, stir it all up and put all the meat back in the pot.  Bring the whole thing up to a boil.  Note:  If it seems really thick at this point, add a coffee cup full of water. 

Once it is boiling, turn the heat down to low and put the lid on the pot, slightly askew.  Stir it every so often and keep a nice chunk of Italian bread on the side so you can taste it as you go.  Let it simmer for about three hours.  Once it's done, take the meat out.  Toss the neck bones and shred the chicken.  You can do whatever you want with the chicken.  Sometimes I mix into baked ziti.  Sometimes I make lasagna.  Sometimes I just toss it back in the pot.  The acid from the tomatoes keeps it very moist (at least that's what I think does it) and it doesn't get dry and stringy like most boiled chicken.

Now for the meatballs.

1 1/2 pounds 80% fat chopped meat
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
2 teaspoons dried onions (also called instant minced onions)
1 teaspoon worcestshire sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.  Mix all the ingredients with your hands.  It will be a very wet mixture.  Roll it into the size meatballs you like, put them on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until done.  It depends on the size--they should feel firm when you touch them.  Or just cut one open and eat it.  It should be just barely the other side of pink.

Eat, eat, eat. 



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