Pasta Bolognese

Pasta BologneseFive afternoons a week, I walk to an apartment building on the western edge of Brooklyn Heights and make dinner for a family of four. When I took this job last April, I didn’t know what to expect. The family has fourteen year-old twin boys and while they have pretty adventurous palates, they are still children. I knew I wasn’t going to be making anything terribly avant garde for them, but I certainly didn’t want to cook boring food–anything but that.

Luckily the boys let me kind of do my thing, occasionally asking for something specific, but otherwise just letting me make what I want. In the last ten months, they’ve become particularly fond of my spicy turkey tacos, chicken nuggets, and the Asian-style chicken wings from Foodie with Family (make those for the Super Bowl!). Their favorite dinner though, is my Pasta Bolognese. The twins ask for it nearly every week. If I have the time and/or am feeling particularly kind that day, I oblige.

Pasta BologneseYou see, Pasta Bolognese is no small undertaking. It takes a minimum of three hours start-to-finish, and there are many steps. But the resulting sauce is so delicious–meaty, rich, and comforting–that it’s worth the effort. If it weren’t, I’d skip the whole process and just brown some meat and toss it with a jar of marinara.

Y’all, if you’ve never made Bolognese from scratch, you might be missing out. Sure, there are a lot of steps to the recipe, but all of them are really easy. And seriously, homemade sauce beats the pants off anything you can buy in a store.

Pasta BologneseMy Bolognese is not quite traditional, but it’s damn good. The sauce starts with browning a pound each of ground beef and sweet Italian sausage. You don’t just want it cooked through. This is the base flavor for the sauce–get the meat brown.

Next up, more browning. Like my Lamb Ragù, browning everything is really important here. Take ten ounces of mushrooms and pulverize them in the food processor before browning them. Mushrooms are not traditional in Bolognese, but I love using them here for two reasons:

  1. Their meaty umami flavor means that we can use them in place of some of the traditional ground beef. Even if you have an anti-mushroom contingent in your family, they’ll still like this sauce. The twins would flip their lids if they knew my “secret” ingredient, but they are blissfully unaware and have been eating their least favorite vegetable for nearly a year. This brings me to my next point…
  2. The mushrooms add a little nutrition to a very rich dish. Where many Bolognese recipes are almost too heavy to enjoy, this one is a bit lighter than normal. Rest assured, all the flavor is there. I’ve just given you a reason to have seconds. You’re welcome.

Watch the mushrooms carefully during the browning process. They are in teeny tiny pieces and burn without warning. I’ve burned them twice in the last six months, and there is very little worse than having to stop mid-recipe to clean the pot and go buy more ingredients. Trust me.

Pasta BologneseOnce your mushrooms are done, brown a mixture of carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Add the mushrooms and sausage back to the pot before stirring in a veritable ton of tomato paste. Let that start to caramelize before adding bay leaves, thyme, red pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar, beef stock, and water. Bring it all to a boil before simmering for about two hours.

At this point, you can rest a bit. The major work is done, and all that’s left to do is stir the sauce occasionally and add some water. Do the dishes, watch some bad TV, drink some coffee–do whatever you want, as long as you can go check on the sauce every now and again. Once the Bolognese is thick and beautiful, toss half of it with a pound of cooked spaghetti and top it with some Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

Pasta BologneseOh, y’all. Look at that. It’s the stuff my dreams are made of. This Pasta Bolognese is seriously delicious, and just as good for any day as it is for a dinner party. This rich, meaty meal is a great recipe to make on the weekend–nobody will have an issue eating the leftover sauce! In fact, the flavor just gets better as it sits. Love that.Pasta Bolognese

Pasta Bolognese
makes 8 servings

Bolognese:
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
10 ounces white button mushrooms
4 medium carrots, cleaned
4 stalks celery
1 large white onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 12-ounce can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
pinch of crushed red pepper flake (optional)
4 cups low sodium beef stock
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
6 cups water, divided

For Assembly:
water, for pasta
salt, for pasta
1 pound dried spaghetti
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and sausage and break it up with a wooden spoon. Brown meat, continuing to break it up as necessary, for 15-20 minutes, until deeply browned. Transfer meat to a large bowl, reserving fat in the pot. Reduce heat to medium.

Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel. Place them in a food processor and pulse 15 times, or until pulverized. If there are less than 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushrooms to pot and cook, stirring frequently, until brown (about 15 minutes). Remove mushrooms to the bowl with the meat.

Add carrots, celery, onion, and garlic to the bowl of the food processor and process until pulverized (but not soupy). Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and bring the heat back up to medium-high. Add vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until browned (about 20 minutes). 

Add meat and mushrooms back to the pot. Stir in tomato paste. Cook mixture, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste starts to darken. Add bay leaves, thyme, optional red pepper flake. Pour in beef stock, balsamic vinegar, and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil before reducing heat to medium-low. Allow sauce to simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When liquid reduces by half, add 4 cups water and continue to simmer until time is up. Remove sauce from heat. Remove bay leaves and dispose of them. Taste the sauce and adjust the salt to your liking.

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Before draining it, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Return drained pasta back to its cooking pot. Add about half the Bolognese, tossing everything together with tongs. Add pasta cooking water in small increments until the sauce coats the pasta to your liking.

Serve Pasta Bolognese in shallow bowls. Top with grated Parmagiano Reggiano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. It may also be frozen for up to two months.

Pasta Bolognese

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Roasted Cauliflower SoupHave you ever suddenly had a craving for something you’ve never liked? Weird question, but it happened to me.

If you’ve been coming around here for a while, you know that I am not much for liquid dairy. I like yogurt with my granola and cream cheese on a bagel, but with few exceptions, I simply do not like milk, cream, half & half or anything similar.

Roasted Cauliflower SoupI am here to tell you that I’ve had a breakthrough. While I was ill a couple of weeks ago, all I wanted were vegetables. Being sick though, I wasn’t exactly up for serious cooking. I basically lived on roasted sweet potatoes, avocado, and cilantro-lime vinaigrette for a week. When I finally started to feel like myself again, I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen. I hadn’t cooked since the second week of my vacation, so deciding what to make was more complicated than it normally would be. I thought about lamb ragù, chicken noodle soup, and posole, but it all sounded too heavy. For some reason unknown to me, I started thinking about some roasted cauliflower I had five years ago at a now-defunct restaurant in DUMBO. Roasted cauliflower isn’t anything revolutionary, but I remember this restaurant’s version being startlingly delicious. I couldn’t get it off my mind. And so, I set out to the grocery store.

Roasted Cauliflower SoupNow, I normally would have just grabbed my cauliflower and some sausages or a chicken, but again, I had just had a cold for a week. Meat simply did not appeal. I wandered the grocery store for more than half an hour trying to figure out what to do with this cauliflower. I love roasted vegetables, but they need something else to make a meal. I went to grab some butter (because hi, I’m a baker), when I spotted some half & half, and it hit me–Roasted Cauliflower Soup. Something I have literally never wanted in my life until that moment.

Roasted Cauliflower SoupI trekked home and put the soup together in just over an hour. I roasted the cauliflower. I sautéed an onion and some garlic. I simmered everything in vegetable stock, added some mustard, and blitzed it all together in the blender. I did the unthinkable and added half & half. And then, I fell head over hideous Birkenstocks for this amazing soup. I ate the whole batch in two days, and then I went and made more because it’s just that good.

And that, dear readers, is the very long story of how a creamy soup came to appear on this blog. Mark the date–it may never happen again.Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
makes 4-6 servings

8 cups cauliflower florets (about 2 heads cauliflower)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, divided
1 medium white onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 cups vegetable stock
3 cups water, divided
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1/2 cup half & half
chopped parsley, for serving
toasted baguette slices, for serving

Preheat oven to 400F. Place cauliflower florets on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper. Toss together with clean hands. Roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring at the 20 minute mark. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add cauliflower, vegetable stock, and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add mustard.

Using an immersion blender (or regular blender, in batches), purée vegetables and stock. Stir in water and let cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Remove from heat. Stir in half & half. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Serve soup in shallow bowls. Garnish with parsley and serve with toasted baguette slices.

Soup will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Chorizo Refried Beans & Tex-Mex Rice

Chorizo Refried Beans & Tex-Mex RiceNew York City is an amazing place to live. Beyond the incredible architecture, the millions of bright and driven people, and the general “OMG I live here” of it all, there’s the fact that you can get a bagel with cream cheese a literally any hour. I know you’re jealous.

As I’ve lamented many times though, New York is lacking in one area: there is not one true Tex-Mex restaurant that is worth a damn. Not one. Sure, you can get decent tacos all over the city and I am particularly fond of the mushroom enchiladas at Alma, but those alone simply won’t cut it. And don’t even get me started on the salsa situation.

Chorizo Refried Beans & Tex-Mex RiceI’ve already put a few salsa recipes on here, along with guacamole, Enchiladas Suizas, and this week’s Caramelized Mushroom Tostada recipe, but my recipe index has been lacking in terms of Tex-Mex sides…until today.

Chorizo Refried Beans & Tex-Mex RiceThese Chorizo Refried Beans & Tex-Mex Rice are staples of mine. They’re spectacular by themselves or with a side salad, but they really sing when they’re next to an enchilada or two. The recipes are delightfully easy and come together in about 40 minutes total. I know that making sides can be less than appealing after you’ve already put together a main course, but when they taste this much like home, they’re worth the effort.Chorizo Refried Beans & Tex-Mex Rice

Chorizo Refried Beans
makes 4-6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces raw chorizo, removed from casings
1 large white onion, diced small
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 15 ounce cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/3 cup chicken stock
Kosher or sea salt to taste, optional
1-2 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Warm olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Brown chorizo, breaking it up with a spatula or wooden spoon. Remove meat to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving fat. Set aside.

Reduce heat to medium. Sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in beans and cumin. Add chicken stock and return heat to medium-high heat. Let stock simmer 5-7 minutes, until slightly reduced. Remove pan from heat. Use a potato masher or two forks to mash ingredients together. Fold in browned chorizo.

Remove beans to a serving dish and top with shredded cheese. Serve immediately. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.

Tex-Mex Rice
recipe from Homesick Texan
makes 4-6 servings

1 cup long-grain white rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, diced small
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime

Place rice, chicken stock, and butter in a small pot (one that has a lid). Bring uncovered pot to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Let cook 15-20 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Let sit 10 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

In a large skillet, warm olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste and salt. Remove pan from heat. Stir in cooked rice until everything is evenly coated. Fold in chopped cilantro and lime juice.

Serve rice immediately. Leftover rice will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.

Caramelized Mushroom Tostadas

Caramelized Mushroom TostadasWhile I was in Texas over the holidays, I did a lot more than celebrate and spoil my parents’ miniature schnauzer. The second week of vacation wasn’t vacation at all, really. I hosted a pop-up sale in my parents’ dining room and catered my friend/reader Robyn’s birthday party!

Together with my sous chef/little sister, Eliot, I made a full Tex-Mex dinner for Robyn’s 30 guests. There were pans and pans of Enchiladas Suizas, chorizo refried beans, and Mexican rice (side dish recipes coming later this week!), and a Mexican Vanilla Cake with Cinnamon Buttercream. Robyn let me use her amazing Mexican vanilla for the cake, and even gave me a bottle! Talk about a good hostess 😊

Caramelized Mushroom TostadasI was super happy with all the food, but the biggest hit of the party was the appetizer: Caramelized Mushroom Tostadas. And who wouldn’t love them? Crispy fried tortillas layered with guacamole, sweet and savory mushrooms, pickled red onion, and cotija cheese–they’re an unbelievable combination of flavors and textures! Crispy, crunchy, creamy, earthy, sweet, salty, and tangy–that’s a lot to pack into a two-bite canapé.

While these Caramelized Mushroom Tostadas make a great appetizer (just use a 2 1/2″ round cutter to make tiny tostada shells), they’re also a great main course. There are a few steps in putting them together, but they’re not difficult to make at all! This batch came together in an hour, including making the guacamole and frying the tostada shells. Sure, you could use purchased guac and shells, but the homemade versions are super simple to make and far more delicious than anything you can find in stores.

Caramelized Mushroom TostadasStart by quick-pickling some red onion. I know pickling can sound daunting, but this method is so simple, it’s ridiculous. Just whisk together vinegar, sugar, and salt, and pour it over some thinly-sliced red onion. Let that sit at room temperature for an hour. That’s literally it–easy. You can make these pickles up to two weeks in advance. Just keep them in the brine in the fridge.

Caramelized Mushroom TostadasWhile your red onions are pickling, caramelize some mushrooms. Well, a lot of mushrooms–this recipe requires a full pound of them! When they’re all sliced up, it will look like you way over-prepared, but mushrooms shrink down dramatically while cooking. Once all is said and done, you’ll be left with about two cups.

What makes these mushrooms caramelized? Two things. First, they’re cooked over pretty high heat until nice and brown. Second, they’re seasoned with sugar in addition to salt, cumin, and cayenne. Sweetened mushrooms might sound a little odd, but along with the salt and spices, they are super delicious.

Caramelized Mushroom TostadasThe most daunting step of the whole tostada-making process is definitely making the shells, but really, there’s nothing to fear. I know a lot of people are intimidated by frying, but they shouldn’t be. Yes, there’s hot oil and that can burn you, but if you take the proper precautions, you’ll be fine. Fill a clean, dry pan with 1/2-inch of oil. When the oil is nice and hot, take a couple of corn tortillas and gently place them in the pan. They’ll bubble up quickly and dramatically. After about 45 seconds, they’ll start turning golden at the edges. Flip the tortillas and cook for another 30 seconds or so. Transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle them with salt. Voila! You just made tostada shells and you and your kitchen are still intact 😊

Caramelized Mushroom TostadasOnce the tortillas are crispy, it’s time to assemble the tostadas. Spread guacamole over each tostada shell. Scatter the beautiful brown caramelized mushrooms over the guac, and then top them with a few of the pickled red onions. Sprinkle on some cotija cheese and dig in!Caramelized Mushroom Tostadas

Caramelized Mushroom Tostadas
makes 5-6 six-inch tostadas

Quick-Pickled Red Onion:
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Caramelized Mushrooms:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced (I use a combination of white button and cremini)
1 1/2 tablespoons (4 1/2 teaspoons) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Tostada Shells:
neutral-flavored oil (I used canola)
6 corn tortillas
Kosher salt

For Assembly:
1-1 1/2 cups guacamole
2 tablespoons grated cotija cheese

Pickle the red onion. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, sugar, and salt. Allow sugar and salt to dissolve. Place sliced red onion in a jar. Pour vinegar mixture over the top and cover. Let sit for one hour.

Caramelize the mushrooms. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add approximately 1/3 of the sliced mushrooms. Stir occasionally until starting to brown. Move cooked mushrooms to the edge of the pan, and add another 1/3 of the mushrooms. When those are cooked, move them to the side. Brown the last 1/3 of the mushrooms. Sprinkle mushrooms with sugar, salt, cumin, and cayenne. Stir and continue to cook just until sugar melts. Set aside.

Make the tostada shells. Line a plate with a double layer of paper towels. Set aside.

Heat 1/2-inch of canola oil in a medium-large skillet over medium-high heat. Let oil get very hot (mine reached 350F). Working in batches, fry tortillas for 45 seconds-1 minute, until turning golden at the edges. Use tongs to flip tortillas, and let fry for an additional 30-45 seconds, until crisp. Remove to paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Assemble tostadas. Spread 2-3 tablespoons of guacamole over each tostada shell, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Top guacamole with 2-3 tablespoons of caramelized mushrooms. Add a few pieces of pickled red onion. Sprinkle with cotija cheese.

Serve tostadas immediately. Leftover assembled tostadas do not keep well.

Caramelized Mushroom Tostadas

Almond Joy Granola

Almond Joy GranolaWell, I said I was going to do savory recipes for the rest of January, but I just can’t help myself.

After weeks of eating pastry for breakfast (kolaches, y’all), I practically leapt at getting back to my usual yogurt and granola last week. It might sound a tad boring, but I adore granola. Well, I adore homemade granola. The prepared stuff tends to be overly sweet and full of ingredients I can’t pronounce and, with little exception, all tastes the same to me. Homemade granola though? It’s just sweet enough, I know exactly what’s in it, and I can make any flavor I want: see exhibits A, B, and C.

Almond Joy GranolaReturning home from three weeks away, I didn’t have any idea what kind of mix-ins I’d find in my cabinets. The holiday season was a blur for this baker–I went through so many chocolate chips and pecans and pounds of sugar that I honestly wasn’t sure what I had left. When I went into my kitchen to investigate, I found a 1/2 jar of almond butter leftover from a cookie order, 1/4 of a Trader Joe’s Pound Plus dark chocolate bar, about 10 half-bags of nuts, and 24 ounces (!) of unsweetened coconut. Seeing all those ingredients piled on the counter, I knew exactly what kind of granola I’d be having: Almond Joy, y’all!

Almond Joy GranolaAlmond Joy GranolaWhile it’s certainly not like eating a candy bar for breakfast, this Almond Joy Granola is decadent and delicious–there’s chocolate in there after all. It’s full of toasted almond flavor, scented with coconut, and littered with chunks of dark chocolate. Stirred into some plain yogurt or milk, it’s a delightful way to start the day. And did I mention that it’s good for you? While granola is generally pretty calorie dense, it packs a nutritional punch. The protein and good fats in the oats, almonds, and almond butter, the all-around goodness of coconut oil, and the antioxidants in dark chocolate are an excellent combination. Well, I may be exaggerating about the chocolate, but who cares–I just gave you an excuse to eat chocolate for breakfast.Almond Joy Granola

Almond Joy Granola
makes about 2 quarts

1/4 cup creamy almond butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup roughly-chopped raw almonds
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together almond butter, maple syrup, olive oil, light brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold the oats, coconut, and chopped almonds into the mixture.

Spread mixture in an even layer on the prepared pan. Bake for 40 minutes, stirring every fifteen minutes. Cool granola in the pan on a rack. Scatter chopped chocolate over the cooled granola and stir together with a spatula.

Transfer granola to an airtight container. It will keep well at room temperature for up to three weeks.