Memory….Wednesday?

So, I haven’t done a Memory Monday in a very long time.  I haven’t actually blogged in a long time.  I guess being pregnant keeps you just a busy as the actual baby.  What have I been doing?  Nesting.  Nesting at work and nesting at home.  My classroom is officially set up for my maternity leave.  Lessons are planned, worksheets are copied, IEPs are written.  Very little left to do and if it didn’t all get done…no one would know but me.  Nesting at home…eh.  Laundry is done.  We had two BEAUTIFUL showers hosted by our families.  So many generous gifts…so much to organize.

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MEMORY MONDAY: surprise

I know. I know.  It’s not Monday.  But the week was a busy one and it pretty much feels like Monday.

My mom was a sucker for a casserole.  It stretched a buck and hid a variety of veggies even the pickiest of eaters could enjoy.  Better yet, it was easy to add rice or pasta so that even if one of the neighbor kids stayed for dinner, there would be plenty to go around.  

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Pre-Wedding Swedish Meatballs

Is there a meal that just transports you to another time? Another place? A meal that has strong memories you cannot help but think of them upon first taste? For me, one of those meals would be my mom’s Swedish Meatballs. It is such a ridiculously easy recipe I have a difficult time even calling it a recipe. There really isn’t any cooking involved–just some assembling. I can see the appeal to a busy mom of 6 kids!! Every time I make this meal, I cannot help but remember the night before my sister’s wedding. I have no really memories of this dinner or after that night. I know it was always a dish I enjoyed but I don’t exactly know how it became my sister’s favorite meal.

April 10, 2003, was the night before my little sister’s wedding. She had been dating her guy since they were kids…seriously. They met early on in high school and started dating somewhere around age 14. They have been together for longer than they have ever been apart. They now have 3 of the most adorable children, rivaled only by my other nephews. Anywho…that night, Colleen wanted to have a special meal. She asked my mom to make the dinner she just LOVED. Swedish Meatballs…and for some reason she wanted them accompanied by party potatoes. Strange bedfellows no doubt. I remember the three of us eating in that third floor condo together–probably watching Friends or Will & Grace followed by Golden Girls as we often did.  Forever, Swedish Meatballs and the night before my sister wed will be connected…paired memories never to be separated.

That’s exactly why I told this story just yesterday.  A friend of mine wanted to learn to make something new.  I made a few suggestions and she settled on my mom’s Swedish Meatballs.  As we assembled the unbelievably easy dish, I told her about that night just over 11 years ago.  A smile crept onto my face as I remembered that happy day.  I recalled that yummy meal, my sister’s anticipation, and singing the Golden Girls song.  I couldn’t help but call my sister on the way home.  Thank you for being my friend.

 

Swedish Meatballs–Mom’s Version
1 package egg noodles
4 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 beef bouillon cubes
12 ounces
1 package (11 servings) frozen Swedish Meatballs (I can find them at Jewel, Food for Less, or Ikea)
In a large frying pan (with a lid), mix together the soup and bouillon cubes.
Allow the cubes to melt into the sauce.
Add the meatballs and let heat through.
Make the noodles according to the directions.
Just before serving, stir the sour cream into the sauce.
Layer egg noodles with the sauce and meatballs.
Swedish Meatballs–lightened up
1 package egg noodles–No Yolk or Whole Wheat
3 cans reduced fat Cream of Mushroom Soup
1-2 beef bouillon cubes (mind the salt)
12 ounces non-fat plain Greek yogurt
8 servings frozen turkey meatballs–about 36 meatballs (my favorite brand are the Kroger brand at Food 4 Less)
In a large frying pan (with a lid), mix together the soup and bouillon cubes.
Allow the cubes to melt into the sauce.
Add the meatballs and let heat through.
Make the noodles according to the directions.
Just before serving, stir the Greek yogurt into the sauce.
Layer egg noodles with the sauce and meatballs.
This recipe yields about 1 cup of noodles, 8 meatballs and sauce to coat for about 10 WW points plus.

MONDAY MEMORY: I Rolled ‘Em Myself

It was our fourth date, the first meal I ever made for my new beau.  I slaved all day Thursday making my mom’s spaghetti and meatballs.  Everyone loved her sauce and I was certain that by making it, he was going to fall in love with me!  The night before, as I was finishing up cooling the big pot, I casually asked him while chatting on the phone what he had for dinner.  Imagine my heart sinking when he told me spaghetti.  I was devastated.  It was one of the few dishes in my repertoire that I was confident I could get right.  I had to go to plan B–lemon chicken.  It turned out delicious but didn’t have the impact I’m sure the spaghetti would have had.

Flash forward several months when I made spaghetti and meatballs again.  It was a HIT.  My guy declared it better than his grandma’s–SORRY GRAM!  He asked me if the meatballs were homemade because they were really, rEALLY good. I looked him dead in the eye and said, “I rolled ’em myself!”  See…this was my mom’s secret recipe.  I’m not sure if it was passed down over generations, but I can tell you my sisters and I all make the meatballs the exact same way.  And now, I’ll share that secret with you:  2 pounds of S&T meatball mix…then roll ’em yourself and toss into the sauce.  The cat’s out of the bag.  We don’t actually MIX the meatballs–we just roll them.  The premixed, spiced and seasoned meat makes the perfect addition to your red sauce.  This stuff is seriously amazing.  My sister and I have even talked about forming into burgers and serving it on garlic toast.  They are really THAT good.

It wasn’t until about 4 or 5 months ago that I finally came clean to my now hubby.  I’m sure he always wondered why I could ONLY buy my meat for meatballs at S&T. I could never make the recipe without planning WAY ahead to go to the old neighborhood to grab the beloved meatball mix.  I told him it was just something about the way they ground the beef/pork mixture.  I didn’t exactly lie…but I did omit the part where they did all the hard work!

After mom passed away, spaghetti and meatballs would be the first meal we ate together as a family.  My sister prepared the sauce and rolled the meatballs herself.  It was just as we had all remembered.  Mom never wrote the recipe down.  And as I’ve talked to my sisters, she may have made it a tiny bit differently each time…so I’m sure our recipes differ just a little. But Mom and I made it together many times over the almost year my husband and I lived there.  This is the recipe I remember.  The taste is perfection.  It’s a sweeter sauce, thinner than some others you may have had.  It takes only about 10-15 minutes to toss together.  The longer it simmers the more delicious it gets.  I’ve been known to make it the day before then add the raw meatballs and sauce to the crockpot the morning of.  It’s an extremely cost effective meal to serve to a large family–which is why I’m sure we had it so often.

It will forever be the first family recipe I remember learning.  It’s the taste of my childhood.  Just the smell of onions and garlic bring me back to the house on Ridgeway–walking in after school to discover our favorite meal was being served: homemade spaghetti and meatballs–where the McKenna women roll ’em themselves.

 

Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce

 

2 medium or 3 small onions finely chopped

3-4 cloves garlic pressed or chopped

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1-15 ounce can tomato puree

1-29 ounce can tomato paste

¾ paste can of water

1-29 ounce puree can of water

1 tablespoon salt

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons dried basil

2-3 dry bay leaf

2 pounds S&T meatball mix

 

  1. Heat oil on medium-high heat.

  2. Add onion and garlic.

  3. Sauté until onion is translucent but not burned (if garlic has burned you must start over).

  4. Add the tomato paste and mix it into the onions and garlic until fragrant (about a minute or so).

  5. Add ¾ of the paste can filled with water and stir until well combined.

  6. Add tomato puree and a tomato puree can of full of water.

  7. Add sugar, salt, basil, and bay.

  8. Allow to simmer as long as possible on LOW stirring to avoid burning.

  9. Adjust seasonings (salt, sugar, and basil).

  10. Serve over pasta.

  11. If you want to add meatballs, roll 2 pounds of S&T Meatball Mix and add to the sauce raw.

  12. Allow to simmer until cooked through—at least an hour.

MONDAY MEMORY: 35th Birthday REDO

Monday was my husband’s birthday.  Last year, just a few days before, the house flooded.  You can read about that day HERE.  We spent his special day emptying the house of all our personal belongings.  We sang Happy Birthday over a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s.  His gift was delivered to a house that was torn into pieces.  It was his 35th birthday.  By the way…it was a fantastic HD projector with a TEN FOOT screen for watching movies in the backyard.  The screen is in my brother’s garage the and projector is still in the box.

 

So this year I wanted to do something a special as a 35th birthday REDO.  Yesterday I wrote about the meal we had at Drury Lane to celebrate our first Valentine’s Day, our first anniversary, and my birthday.  It was an eventful weekend for sure!  The dish both of us sometimes still drool over was delicious braised short ribs in a mushroom ragu.  That’s what my dear hubby wanted for his birthday.  How on earth was I supposed to recreate THAT?!?  I scoured the internet and couldn’t find a single recipe that hit all the same flavor notes.  I did find something to work with though…THAT is why I love cooking and detest baking!  I used this recipe from Bobby Flay as a base.  After reading through it, I was certain that this would be the most complex flavor profile I had yet created.  What bubbled away on the stovetop was a rich, layered dish full of bold flavors and tender short ribs.  Do not let the ingredient list or number of steps deter you.  It was not nearly as difficult as I anticipated.  The work was well worth it!!  Of course, for dessert, we enjoyed cheesecake–my husband’s all time favorite treat.  As a non-baker, I purchased the cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory.  Someday I will tackle the baker’s pantry.  Just not today!

 

BRAISED SHORT RIBS WITH MUSHROOM RAGU OVER GNOCCHI

Total Time:
4 hr 15 min
Prep:  30 min
Cook:  3 hr 45 min
Yield: 6-8 servings

A rich deeply flavored sauce over fluffy potato pasta pillows--the perfect birthday dinner comfort food for a cool rainy night

a rich, deeply-flavored braised short rib ragu full of earthy mushrooms over fluffy potato pasta pillows–the perfect birthday dinner comfort food for a cool rainy night

Ingredients
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
3 1/2 to 4 pounds short ribs, each about 2-inches long
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 package dry porcini  mushrooms
10 ounce Baby Bella mushrooms chopped
2 dried bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary chopped
5 sprigs fresh thyme chopped
2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley chopped
4 small carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 small onions, diced
2 medium shallots, diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bottle red wine, such as cabernet
1/2 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and chopped
3 1/2 cups beef stock (I used boxed)
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 lbs gnocchi
2 tablespoons butter.
grated Pecorino Romano, for garnish
Directions
Heat oven to 325*
  1. In a medium sauce pan–reconstitute dried mushrooms in broth along with bouillon cubes until tender. 
  2. Remove mushrooms with slotted spoon and roughly chop reserving broth.
  3. Over medium heat, add oil a 5-quart casserole or Dutch oven until almost smoking.
  4. Season short ribs generously with salt and pepper and brown on both sides.
  5. Remove ribs from casserole, and transfer to a large bowl–set aside.
  6. Add carrots, celery, onion, fresh and reconstituted mushrooms, and shallots to oil in the casserole, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and golden, about 10 minutes.
  7. Add flour and tomato paste to the casserole, and stir to combine. 
  8. Add 1 cup of wine; stir with wooden spoon until all browned bits have been scraped from the pan and the bottom of the casserole is clean. 
  9. Add remainder of red wine, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. 
  10. Add garlic, beef-mushroom stock, chopped herbs, bay leaves, browned ribs to the casserole and bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat. 
  11. Cover the casserole, and place it in the oven for 3 hours or until ribs are very tender.
  12. Remove the cooked ribs from the casserole. 
  13. Set the casserole on the stove top over medium heat, and simmer to thicken sauce just slightly. 
  14. As soon as the short ribs are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, and shred into small pieces. 
  15. Degrease the sauce and discard the bay leaved. 
  16. Return shredded meat to casserole and simmer until thickened.  
  17. Prepare the gnocchi according to package directions–being sure to add plenty of salt.
  18. After drained, add a couple pats of butter to the pan–allowing to melt completely.
  19. Add the drained gnocchi to the butter and saute until lightly golden brown.
  20. Add just a little ragu to the gnocchi to coat.
  21. Portion out and add additional ragu and cheese to the top.
  22. Serve with crusty bread.