Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mr. Mavis Makes Meatballs

From Mr. Mavis Makes Meatballs

I wanted to share one of my favorite non-pie related recipes that I have ever eaten. Once again, this post is incredibly late, my husband made these meatballs early in December while I was enjoying fantastic Christmas music, dancing goofily, and decorating for the holidays. In our home, the perfect night involves picking a soundtrack, opening a bottle of wine, prepping and cooking dinner together. This process always manages to completely erase the stresses of the day, and results in a fantastic meal. Sometimes though, nothing can make you feel more beloved than having someone make a meal from start to finish just for you. So, if possible, I recommend falling in love with someone who will buy you wonderful cookbooks, and then make you meals from those books.

This is a fairly standard meatball recipe from a great cookbook, Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook. The meatballs have fairly basic ingredients, and are browned in a skillet, but what makes this a recipe I crave is the 5 to 6 hour simmering time in a tomato-wine sauce in a crock pot. Our whole house smelled fantastic, I cranked the heat and listened to Sufjan Stevens and Los Straitjackets Christmas albums. Cold, miserable times like this just beg for slow simmered or braised recipes full of meat and carbs. These meatballs don't disappoint, especially if you manage to have a light enough touch shaping them, they are tender, delicious, and the wine and long cooking time add a nice depth of flavor to the sauce. Also, if your meatballs fall apart, you're left with a wonderful meat sauce, so it's a no lose situation. We always skip the spaghetti and go for shorter, chunky pasta like penne or campanelle (our personal favorite), which was the cookbook's suggestion, and saves me the embarrassment of spilling sauce all over myself.

Meatballs in Tomato-Wine Sauce (From Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook)
2 T. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 c. dry red wine (note: we find the amounts of wine to be a bit strong, and usually only use a 1/4 to 1/2 c.)
28 oz. can diced tomatoes with their juice
6 oz. can tomato paste
1 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1 T. fresh basil, minced
1 t. dried oregano
1/4 t. allspice
1 bay leaf
2 T. fresh parsley, minced

1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 c. plain dry bread crumbs
2 large eggs
3 T. freshly grated Parmesan
1 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
3/4 t. fresh basil, minced
1/4 t. dried oregano
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
Dash of allspice
1 1/2 T. olive oil
1/4 c. red wine

To start the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat, add onion and garlic and cook until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, boil for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to the slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, bail, oregano, parsley, allspice, and bay leave to slow cooker, stir to combine, cover and cook on high while you prepare the meatballs. For the meatballs, put the ground beef in a large bowl and break it up a bit, add the bread crumbs, eggs, Parmesan, salt, pepper, basil, oregano, parsley, and allspice. Gently blend with your fingers, and shape into 12 meatballs, each a bit bigger than a golf ball. Heat olive oil in the skillet over medium high heat, brown meatballs on all slides, and then transfer to the sauce. Pour the fat off of the skillet, return to the stove, and add the wine, cover over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping up any brown bits, and pour over the meatballs. Reduce the slow cooker to low, and cook covered for 5 to 6 hours. Remove bay leaf and serve over pasta.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mavis Makes A Chocolate Banana Cream Pie

So I don't know how your holidays were, but I know mine passed so quickly, I can't really remember where I spent all of my time, which is no excuse for a two month hiatus in posting. I baked the following pie for my husband's birthday, which was the week before Thanksgiving, if that tells you anything about my prolific laziness. On the upside, I have two more sets of photos saved in my camera, and I am desperate to make more pie. My intent is to post more often, as a mere justification to make more pie.

The Dough:

I tried yet another pie dough, this time, a pat in the pan dough. This should really be the go-to dough for anyone who is pastry phobic. I saw it demonstrated on Cook's Country (I know, you would think I got paid for this kind of adoration, but I really just like their recipes) and could not wait to try it. When I saw the America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Cookbook at Costco for an attractively low price, I brought it home with me and promptly tried this recipe. It was exceptionally easy to mix, and had the consistency of play dough when I shaped it into the pie plate. The only warning I would give everyone is to make sure you get the dough fully up the sides of the pan, for some reason, I stopped somewhat short, and you can see that in the photos. The taste was great, the texture was more crumbly than flaky, but it really holds up to the filling, and had a nice, slightly salty contrast to the chocolate cream.

The Filling:

One of my husband's favorite pies is banana cream (possibly second to pumpkin), and thus, it was his request on his birthday. I have to admit I'm not the biggest cream pie fan, but I love me some French Silk every now and then. When I proposed mixing the classic banana filling with a chocolate base, my husband was game. I am only half-heartedly transcribing the filling recipe below, because the result was only so-so. I thought the chocolate filling was a little too pudding-like and sickly sweet, unlike the silky, rich, and subtly sweet chocolate of my dreams. If I were to try this again, I would look for a darker chocolate and use less sugar. That being said, the bananas paired with the chocolate offered a cool refreshing reprieve in every bite.

The Final Verdict:

This dough will become a staple in my kitchen, especially for bringing pies to events, because it truly is no fail. My husband adored the pie, and we finished every slice, but while perusing the Internet, I saw a recipe for banana cream pie that involved sauteing them in liquor, almost like a Bananas Foster pie, which I think I would prefer to try instead of tinkering with this recipe. If I do, you know it will end up on Umble Pie.

Easiest Ever Press-In Single-Crust Pie Dough
(From The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book)
1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
2 T. sugar
1/8 t. salt
8 T. unsalted butter (softened)
2 oz. cream cheese (softened)

Grease a 9 inch pie plate. Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until completely combined, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and beat in the flour mixture until it resembles course crumbs, then increase speed and beat until dough forms large clumps. Transfer 3 T. of dough to a small bowl and turn remaining dough clumps onto a lightly floured counter, gather into a ball, flatten into 6 inch disk and transfer to the pie plate. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and work up the sides of the pie plate. (Note, if you are using a glass pie plate, it's handy to hold the plate up to the light to see if the dough is unevenly distributed and even the dough out.) Roll each of the reserved tablespoons of dough into an 8 inch rope, arrange on the edge of the pie plate leaving about an inch gap between each rope, squeeze the ropes into the crust to make the edge, and shape as desired. (This was the most fun I've had with pie dough ever, just like making snakes out of play dough.) Cover loosely with plastic wrap and freeze for about 30 minutes until dough is fully chilled and firm. Heat oven to 375 degrees, cover dough with foil and fill with pie weights, bake for 25 to 30 minutes, then remove weights and foil and cook until crust is golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Let crust cool to room temperature before filling.

Chocolate Banana Cream Filling
(Adapted from three recipes in The Joy of Cooking)

3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch
1/4 t. salt
2 1/2 c. whole milk
5 large egg yolks
2 T. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 t. vanilla
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 ripe, firm bananas, peeled and thinly sliced.

Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan until blended, whisk in milk and bring to a simmer, melt chocolate in hot milk mixture, then add the egg yolks. Stir constantly over medium heat, bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, and whisk until smooth. Return to heat, bring to a simmer and cook for one minute. Off of the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. (Note, much of the recipe for the cream pie confused me, mostly, I tinkered with stirring on and off heat, and then not stirring on and off heat, until the whole mixture was smooth, thickened, and combined, the filling was actually ok, just underwhelming for my taste, but I'm sure my technique left much to be desired.) Spoon one third of the slightly cooled cream mixture into the baked, cooled crust, layer over one half of the bananas, add the second third of the cream mixture, then the rest of the bananas, and finally, the rest of the cream. Chill the pie until the filling sets, about three hours. (My pie crust was almost overflowing, but after chilling, it was solid and held its shape.)