I used to look for recipes to make that would take just a short time, maybe 20 to 30 minutes, from start to finish. Quick preparation, quick cook time, as few pots as possible – those were my criteria. Well, that plus a glossy magazine photo of the fabulous finished dish.
Of course, those recipe selection criteria existed in the Before I Learned To Cook era. Those were the days when the George Foreman grill reigned supreme, and every meal seemed to be comprised of grilled chicken. Grilled chicken on a salad. Grilled chicken over rice. Grilled chicken over beans and rice. Grilled chicken with steamed broccoli.
We don’t eat a lot of chicken now. I’m sure you understand why.
But this is a different era. My confidence in my ability to cook, though still lacking, is much better than it was. I’ve made dishes and meals that I’m proud of. Heck, I’ve put them on display here. In public! For you to judge!
And you all have been so very kind, by the way. I love you for that.
The point is, I’m no longer intimidated by a recipe that calls for more than 30 minutes, from the first chop of the knife until cooked food is on the plate. In fact, I often crave a lengthy time in the kitchen, wearing my red apron and my flip flops, moving between sink and stove and oven to prepare something amazing (hopefully) for my family to eat. And maybe it’s selfish, but a three or four hour cook time means I’m stuck at home, with nothing to do except stir a pot, flip through a magazine, read a book with Madeline, or catch up on Twitter.
I love this at-home time, with no need to go anywhere – a Stay At Home Day, as my 5 year old son calls it.
This Bolognese sauce provided me with a fantastic Stay At Home Day on Sunday. For close to four hours, I stirred this pot of deliciousness. I began sampling little spoonfuls after the first hour, and with each hour of simmering, the flavors intensified and became more rich and robust. Though not a traditional choice, I served the sauce with bucatini, mostly because I like the slipperiness and smooth roundness of the pasta. Bucatini is a pasta made for slurping. It’s fun for kids, which means that it’s also fun for me. Plus, I love saying bucatini. Boo-ka-teeeeny.
I couldn’t go anywhere on Sunday afternoon, and then I was rewarded with bucatini with Bolognese sauce for dinner. It was pretty much heaven.
Serve this meat sauce over the pasta of your choice - the classic is tagliatelle, but truthfully, nearly any pasta will work - and with a hefty grating of fresh Parmesan cheese on top.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Vidalia or other sweet onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
3/4 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons Italian herb seasoning
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cans (26- to 28-ounces each) tomato puree
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrot, and cook vegetables until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more, or until garlic is fragrant. Add beef, pork, and a big pinch of salt; cook, stirring with a wooden spoon and breaking up any clumps, until meat is browned and none of it is pink. Add milk and Italian seasoning, and cook, stirring often until the milk has evaporated almost completely, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add white wine; cook, stirring often, until the wine has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato puree; when the mixture begins to bubble, turn the heat down to low. Simmer for at least 2 hours (and up to 4 if you have the time). Salt and pepper to taste.
Have you ever wondered whether organic eggs taste better than conventional eggs from the supermarket? I have. I’ve read varying accounts over the past couple of years, and after reading different opinions, I’m still not sure if the taste truly differs. But one thing is certain. I feel better eating an egg from a chicken that was raised humanely and with as little human-mucking-around as possible.
I’m pretty sure that a happy chicken will lay a happy, good-tasting egg. But what I’m certain of is that I’ll feel better about eating that particular egg from that particular chicken.
Which brings us to Sunday night.
Some months ago, I read about a unique event that has taken place at farms across the country, and I was intrigued. The concept is a farm dinner, and the mission of Outstanding in the Field is to bring people closer to the source of their food. Most of the events were initially in California, where the chef-owner lives, but over the last several years, OITF has brought their dinner events to farms all across the country – and even to Europe.
A dinner was held this past Sunday night at Lake Meadow Naturals farm in Orlando. Lake Meadows Naturals is a farm that produces cage-free poultry, with grassy pastures filled with chickens of different breeds, geese, ducks, guinea fowl, and turkeys. And, although they aren’t renowned for their non-poultry animals, there were even a couple of cows, a handful of goats, and several bunnies on hand, destined for someone’s dinner table in the months to come.
We had the pleasure of attending this dinner. Under the winter central Florida sky, my husband and I dined on local proteins and vegetables, while Lake Meadow Naturals’ chickens clucked in the background, and the native wood ducks swooped in at sunset to steal their feed.
It was glorious.
And while I’ll never answer the organic versus conventional chicken egg question, I can tell you this…eating dinner on the farm where the proteins were raised?
Nothing quite compares to that.
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[The photos below are linked to my Flickr account. Click through them for more information about each photo. ]
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Outstanding in the Field was founded by California chef and artist, Jim Denevan. If you ever have the opportunity to attend an OTIF event, I highly recommend it.
Lake Meadow Naturals is in Ocoee, Florida – right outside of Orlando proper. If it were not 2 hours away, I’d drive there weekly for fresh eggs and the occasional roasting chicken. In fact, when they open their u-pick egg coops, I plan on bringing the kids down to pick their own farm-fresh eggs.
So, I lied.
I told you I was going to stay away for 2 weeks, and I just couldn’t. I missed this space, and as soon as I wrote that I was taking a break, it began calling to me.
Mostly, though, I missed sharing my words — and my food — with you.
Toward the end of December – heck, for the past three months – I was having a hard time with the writing process. More times than I can count, I sat at my computer, fingers in proper position on the keyboard, ready for the words to come…and then nothing happened. Other times, I managed to get a few sentences out, but this was most commonly followed by rapid backspacing, deleting everything I had just written.
I started to dread sitting down to write. Which is silly and unfortunate.
Taking a break from the blog was a wonderful idea, I thought. Two whole weeks to not think about writing, to rest and simply enjoy whatever life brings each day. What I didn’t expect was that forcing myself to NOT write would actually make writing something of an obsession this past week.
I talked about writing and I read about writing. I re-read parts of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and I spent quality time with another one of my favorite book on the process of writing, Stephen King’s On Writing. Some of my favorite food writers have written about their experiences or thoughts on writing, and I devoured their words, nodding to myself as I read. I researched writing classes – because certainly I can fit something else into my schedule, right? – and I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for one.
And finally I decided that I’d better come back to the blog before I spent any more money on writing books or classes. So here I am, with my mind rejuvenated and fingers warmed up after only one week away.
The first recipe that I plan to share with you, in this first post of the year 2012, is a sweet one. I have several savory dishes coming your way, but I baked these rolls today, and the recipe is just too good to keep to myself for very long.
This recipe in Saveur caught my eye in the recent issue. I adapted the recipe to suit my own tastes, adding some pecans and golden raisins to the filling and using cream cheese in the icing. I prepared the dough last night, letting it rise while we ate dinner and put the kids to bed. I finished it up before I went to bed myself, storing the unbaked pan of rolls and the icing in the refrigerator overnight.
By 8:30 this morning, the kids and I were eating the orange sweet rolls, warm from the oven, sticky and gooey from the filling that oozed out of the crevices and the cream cheese icing dripping down the sides. By 8:40, my kids nominated me for a mother of the year award and then suggested I compete in a cooking competition.
I’m not sure I qualify for the Mom of the Year award, but this recipe is definitely a winner, folks. Make it for your family. Heck, make it for yourself.
1-1/4 cups milk, heated to 115°
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 16 tablespoons, softened
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 cups (512 grams) all-purpose flour
Filling & Icing:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
Orange zest from 4 oranges
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/8 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
Make the dough: Combine milk and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a hook; let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in granulated sugar, melted butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and egg; add flour. Mix on low speed until dough forms. Increase speed to medium-high; knead until smooth, about 8 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap; let sit until dough doubles in size, about 1-1/2 hours.
Make filling: Beat softened butter, brown sugar, and orange zest in a bowl on high speed of a mixer until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, confectioners sugar, and vanilla extract; beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer 1/4 cup filling to a small bowl and set aside. In remaining filling, add chopped pecans and raisins, beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds.
Make icing: In the 1/4 cup of filling that was set aside, add orange juice and cream cheese; whisk until smooth.
Transfer dough to a lightly-floured work surface; using a rolling pin, roll dough into an 18 inch by 10 inch rectangle. Spread filling evenly over dough. Lift up bottom edge of dough and roll it into a log; trim ends and cut log into 12 rounds. Transfer rounds, cut side up, to a greased 9 inch × 13 inch baking dish; cover with plastic wrap. Chill 6 hours or overnight.
Heat oven to 375°F. Uncover rolls and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Drizzle icing over rolls before serving.