Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mom's Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

September has been a brutal month. No dates and barely enough time for any fun cooking projects or lavish meals. Such is the end of a quarter for a political fundraiser.

Naturally, I have managed to developed a cold and a minor stress related disorder. What better to soothe the nerves and enjoy my bundled up couch time than to make up a pot of my favorite meal - my mothers' spaghetti and meat sauce. This is a rich, simple meat marinara dish that is hearty and comforting. I pull out my le creusette pot about once a month and make a huge batch.

It took me until I entered college to realize my mom made hers with a spice packet from McCormicks - a minorly depressing realization. I use fresh and/or dried herbs that I regulate in my version of this meal. Mom also makes hers much more saucy than i normally choose to, although I vary mine depending on the noodle I am pairing it with. Sometimes mine is pretty close to chili!
  • 1 large onion (I vary the type i use and the cut of the onion. I think my favorite is a very small dice on a yellon onion)
  • 1 green pepper (finely diced)
  • Mushrooms, about two large handfuls- optional. I typically use your typical run of the mill mushrooms and chop them up coursely.
  • 1-2 cloves garlic - pressed or finely chopped
  • 1 pound (or a little less depending on your preference for chunky-ness) ground sirloin. I try to find the 90% lean/10%fat one as its a little richer. (my mom uses Ground Chuck or Ground Round, but i can't bring myself to use it ... i must say her sauce is a lot richer than mine and i'm pretty sure this is the reason)
  • 1 and 1/2 can tomato sauce
  • Aprox 1/2 to 1 cup heavy red wine (zinfindel or cabernet)
  • 1 tbs butter
  • Red chili flakes if you want a little heat
  • Fresh or dried Basil, Oregano and Bay Leaf
  • Fresh Parsley - chopped for taste and garnish
  • 1 package spaghetti noodles (or other substantial noodles of your choice. Note that this sauce needs something more substantial than capellini or angel hair)
I use a le crusette pot because i like to simmer the sauce for a good long time and the cast iron heats it thoroughly. Really any large sauce pan will work though.

  1. Cook Pasta - reserve a little of the pasta water. Cook ground sirloin on medium-high heat, constantly stirring and separating so you get nice crumbles. Cook until you don't see anymore pink meat and immediately take off the stove. Remove meat from pot and set aside.
  2. In the same pot (keep drippings) add butter and melt. Add pressed garlic and cook, stirring, for a minute. Add chopped onions and green peppers and cook over moderately high heat until the peppers start to look a little opaque. About 7 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms and cook down until they have released their juices and look pretty thoroughly cooked. About 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add in red wine and stir so the vegies are saturated. Return meat to the pot.
  5. Stir in tomato sauce. Add more red wine or some of the pasta water if you would like a more saucy sauce. Add the bay leaf.
  6. Season with basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for just about as long as you want it. the longer it cooks the richer it will be. My suggestion is an hour. Stir frequently.
Serve with fresh parmesan and chopped parsley.

Mmmmm comfort food.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Black Salt

Labor day came around very quickly this year. I am not really prepared for September's political onslaught - although thrilled for the emergence of fall. Since I know September will be a brutal month, I try to have a relaxing sun and food filled Labor Day weekend.

One of my girlfriends from college escaped New York and returned to visit those of us who never left. This friend grew up in northern-ish Jersey and always dreamed of moving to The City (for me "the city" means San Francisco and i somewhat resent that everyone on the east coast has conceded that NYC is the end all be all of cities. Whenever i visit the city the girls take me out to nice restaurants that they claim I will love because (flip wrist in that faux disdain sort of way) I live in DC where there couldn't possibly be restaurants that can rival those in the city. So when the girls return to DC it is the perfect excuse for me to take them out to a splurge restaurant and remind them the district can absolutely rival the city.

Black Salt has been on my list for years now. It moved into the neighborhood I lived in during college but it was quite out of my price range at the time. An employer of mine a few years ago suggested that we go for Restaurant Week (since she employed me and clearly knew I couldn't afford it on my meager salary) but getting a reservation on a normal Saturday was hard enough let alone get a RW res (and this year they did not participate). I'm pretty sure the only reason I could get a good reservation was because it was empty in DC during the holiday weekend ... so thank you all for leaving (even if you were defecting to the city)!

The city girl was blown away. We originally planned to have the three course tasting menu and a bottle of wine.... The price for the tasting menus is about $10 more than the website reports, but still a great deal. As we perused through the menu, we ended up deciding to order al la carte. (Click here for dinner menu... it changes all the time)

I choose a relatively inexpensive ($37) bottle
of Pino Noir from Burgundy from their fairly varied list which was delightful... especially after a glass of champagne. We shared the Thai Muscles and the Heirloom Tomato Salad. These two dishes didn't actually go together so well but both were incredible. Three tomatoes, red, yellow and orange, were incredibly fresh and sweet. I really couldn't resist in-season tomatoes even if they were not seafood oriented. The Thai Muscles came next. Quite spicy... try to add a shallot to each bite of meat. I choose the Bouillabaisse and I (heart) NYC ordered the Bangkok Seafood Stew. Her meal was assorted seafood in a coconut thai style broth over udon style noodles. It matched the Thai Muscles perfectly. My dish, the Bouillabaisse, needed a bit more seasoning but everything was cooked to perfection... the scallops being the absolute highlight.

Desert could have easily sent me over the edge. After the meal, there was very little reason to continue eating except that we spied a neighboring table devouring a creme brulee dish which I had to have. It was a trio of creme brulee ... Chocolate hazelnut with a piece of chocolate on top, coffee with a truffle and this hardened sugar contraption ... and vanilla-mandarin orange topped with a fresh mandarin orange. I have started to salivate and get hungry just thinking about this desert ... and its 10am two days later. Definitely save room for desert.

In short... suck it NYC... I've eaten better here in my city than I do in the city. **

** With the exception of Cafe Habana in Soho ... best cojhita and chipolte grilled corn in the world.