Thursday, February 12, 2009

Polpette al sugo (aka meatballs)

I had two good reasons to make meatballs: 1.) Byron is trying to learn more about cooking right now and this seemed like a fun lesson 2.)I have 6 pounds of ground veal in my freezer. It's not like I'm stockpiling veal or anything, it's that I have a new co-worker who brings me odds-n-ends from her husband's business and this time it just happened to be 6 pounds of ground veal. Good polpette are usually made with a mixture of meats--beef, pork and veal. They usually appear as a second course, but in the US this has morphed into the familiar combination of pasta with meatballs and sauce. You must have a light hand with polpette--mine are nothing like the beauties turned out by my grandparents and aunts and uncles. They aren't even as good as my mothers, nowhere near. But maybe in a few years, especially if I made them more often. Maybe I should start stockpiling veal...We used 2 pounds each of beef, veal and pork, making 6 pounds of ground meats total. I figured this way we'd all have leftovers to freeze or whatever. You can divide it all in half for more reasonable amopunts. I mixed 1 cup of bread crumbs with 1 cup milk and let it soak for about 15 minutes. They got a little too pasty because they were the really fine breadcrumbs from DeKalb Farmer's Market. It's better if you make it with your own fresh breadcrumbs but I guess I was lazy. After the bread crumbs are soaked, add them to your ground meat along with 1/2 cup minced parsley, 6 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon salt and 4 beaten eggs.I ended up doing my mixing right on the counter--it's easier just to use your hands and I didn't have a big enough bowl for my doubled recipe anyway. Do yourself a solid though and try to roll your sleeves up before you start mixing...Byron added lots of ground pepper as I mixed...Michelle was on cheese duty. Use about 1/2 - 3/4 cup grated parmesan (or half pecorino and half parmesan would be good too). After you have integrated all your ingredients, get as many willing hands as you can and gently shape your polpette into small ovals. It's about a handful worth of meat mixture. I'm not sure if Melanie grabbed any of the raw meat but I know Jeremy did...doctors aren't squeamish.Brown them in batches in a neutral, inexpensive oil (veg or canola is fine) for about 5 minutes per batch. They do not need to be done all the way through because they will finish up in the sauce.Sauce? What sauce? I make a basic tomato sauce while all this is going on. Mine is pretty basic, so feel free to substitute your own favorite technique here. I usually just mince one small onion and sauté in olive oil until golden, add 2 cloves minced garlic, sauté another 1 minute, then add in a 28 ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes. Add salt and pepper, mash up the tomatoes and let it all simmer for at least 10 minutes. If I have tomato paste on hand, which I believe I did this time, I add 1 tablespoon to the onion/garlic mixture and stir it around for 1 minute before adding the rest of the tomatoes. If I have fresh basil, I always put that in, or a drizzle of the red wine in my glass. Anyway. You add the polpette to your red sauce and let them simmer in there for about 15 minutes. As they are finishing in sauce, boil your pasta (any wide, long pasta is good here), then drain and toss with a little of the sauce. Top with your finished polpette and enjoy.As a bonus picture--here's my mother's version which she made when I was at home last week. Hers are far superior, smooth and wonderful. You'll have to come over sometime and try them.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Nik's birthday cake 2009

This is a chocolate-buttermilk layer cake with chocolate pudding frosting and maraschino cherries. More importantly, this is a version of the cake that Nik invented for his birthday when he was five years old. Apparently, tradition calls for it to be made and consumed once a year--no more, no less. Little five year old Nik thought that the most delicious cake combination possible would be chocolate on chocolate with maraschino cherries and so the annual cake has henceforth been composed of these elements. I volunteered to take a crack at it this year--it looked sort of weird, especially as it was studded with those neon red cherries, but you know what? Little Nik was no fool. It tasted like 5 year old heaven.

In a big bowl, combine 2 cups flour with 2 cups sugar. This is no time for hippie sugar. Go ahead and use the white granulated kind. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda and mix the dry ingredients together well. Meanwhile, combine 2 sticks butter (all together now, "2 sticks of butter...2 sticks of butter") with 5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder. Melt these together in a pan over low heat, stirring it well. After these are integrated, add in 1 cup boiling water and bring it all back up to a boil together, then remove from heat. Measure out 1/2 cup buttermilk and mix it with 2 beaten eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix the buttermilk/egg business into the chocolate. Add this chocolately mixture to the dry ingredients in your big bowl and stir to combine. Mix the batter until all is well integrated together, then divide evenly between two round layer cake pans. A word about these pans--I buttered and floured the sides and bottom of the pans, then lined them with parchment paper (traced the outline with a pencil then mooshed them in to fit). This made it a lot easier for when it came time to remove the cake from the pans so I highly recommend it as a strategy. Divide the batter among the pans, making sure to smooth the tops. Pop them into a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, you can make some frosting!

In a saucepan mix together 1 cup sugar, 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, a pinch of salt, and 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder. Whisk in 1 cup boiling water and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Let this simmer (still whisking! don't stop whisking!)for 2 minutes, then beat in 1 tablespoon whiskey or bourbon and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Take it off the heat and transfer into a small metal bowl. Now start beating in 3 tablespoons worth of cut-up pieces of butter with an electric mixer, until the butter is thoroughly incorporated. It will get really thick and shiny. Here's the fun part. Or the complicated part, depending on your definition of fun. Get you a big metal bowl and put a bunch of ice in it. I had half a Kroger ice bag in my freezer so this worked out awesome for me. By the way, when you have big icebergs like this, what else should you do?
1.) Give some to a dog. 2.) Make you a drink. Anyway, set the littler bowl with the chocolate mixture into the ice-filled bowl......and beat it until it is light and holds soft peaks. The ice will do magic.By now 25 minutes may have elapsed and your cake should be done. Hopefully you have a kitchen timer. Haul them out and let cool in the pans on a rack for a good 10 minutes, then loosen the sides with a butter knife. Thanks to your parchment paper, the cakes should flip out easily. Peel off the paper and allow them to cool on the rack for at least another 15-20 minutes. This is the part that I was flying blind on--frosting a cake! There is almost certainly a better way to do this so maybe you should consult an expert of some kind, but I just slapped some frosting on one half, then sandwiched the other half over it. I frosted it all around and decorated with maraschino cherries. By the way, an impromptu consumer ratings test arose from these cherries: I bought some from Kroger on my way home, not remembering that I already had a jar of maraschino cherries from Publix in the fridge. Well, I am here to tell you that the Kroger maraschino cherries pale in comparison to Publix. They are like pathetic, withery little raisins in the company of the mighty Publix collusions of red dye #40 and high fructose corn syrup. Anyway, the cake turned out well, if slightly goofy looking. Happy birthday Nik!