Happy New Year, people! So far, it seems that 2014 is only about one thing: the cold.
Seriously, there’s something called a polar vortex screwing up all the weather across the US. The South is cold, the Northeast is freezing, the Midwest is like the Arctic. So, when it’s this cold out, I can think of only one thing to really warm me up: some hot – and fast – comfort food.
But first, let’s talk about meatballs.
I know. Everyone has their favorite meatball recipe. Grandma Whatever used to make them with so-and-so ingredient, and that means they’re the best meatballs on the planet. Sure, sure. We’re all entitled to our favorite meatball recipe. But sometimes you don’t have the time to let your meatballs slow-cook away all day in a pot of sauce. Sometimes you just want to stuff your face with meatballs before your nose falls off from frostbite. True story.
So when that happens to you, put Grandma Whatever’s recipe away, and whip up these bad boys instead. And in no time you’ll be enjoying heavenly little sausage meatballs, cooked (quickly) in a flavorful sauce.
Shortcut Sausage Meatballs
1 lb of Italian sausage (I used hot)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
½ bunch of scallions, diced
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Your favorite pasta (I used spaghetti)
Grated Parmesan, for garnish
Start by removing the sausage from the casings. Place into a medium bowl and gently mix together. Roll cherry tomato-sized meatballs and place on piece of wax paper.
In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook until they’re brown on all sides. Add the scallions and oregano, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Next add the crushed tomatoes, ½ can of water and the bay leaves, and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until the sauce slightly thickens and the meatballs are cooked through.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of salted water until al dente. Then drain.
Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (Remember to remove the bay leaves before serving.) Plate the pasta, top with a few meatballs and spoonfuls of sauce, garnish with some grated Parmesan, and eat.
These appetizers will have people thinking you’ve spent all day crafting miniature tart shells and a laboring over a special sauce. Well, the sauce is special but super easy. Romesco is a bit like a red (pepper-y) version of pesto, since it has nuts and olive oil, and is made entirely in a food processor. I couldn’t decide which cheese to use, so I bought some mild gouda and this Catamount Hills cheese from Cabot Creamery, which is an Italian cheese that’s like a cross between Swiss and Parmesan. I think I prefered the “bite” of the Catamount Hills, but any cheese that melts nicely would work really well. You’ll definitely have some romesco sauce left, which would make a nice dip for crackers or breadsticks.
Mini Romesco Tarts
1 cup of roasted red peppers, drained
2 cloves of garlic
⅓ cup of toasted almonds
⅓ cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar
Pinch of red pepper flakes
24 mini phyllo tarts, defrosted
½ lb of cheese, cut into cubes
Start by making the romesco sauce: Place the roasted red peppers, garlic cloves, almonds, olive oil, red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
Heat your oven to 425º.
Place the mini phyllo tarts on a baking sheet. Spoon a little bit of sauce into each tart and then add a cube of cheese. Bake for about 8 minutes or until the cheese melts. Sprinkle dried oregano over the tarts and serve warm.
There shouldn’t be any mystery to why I love this recipe. My chicken obsession gets stronger every week, and now Brussels sprouts are gaining a similar (healthy?) fixation. Here both are covered in a flavorful mustard sauce – a sauce so good you’ll want to eat it with a spoon.
Quick story: One of my favorite movies as a kid was Clue, that madcap adaptation of the board game. Even now if I stumble upon it on cable, I have to watch it. It’s so silly and yet so clever. I’ve dreamed of hosting my own dinner party with Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum, Miss Peacock and the rest. (Well, without all the murder and dead bodies.)
So, a dinner party like that probably isn’t in my future. But now I can wholeheartedly say that Colonel Mustard did it. In the kitchen. With the knife. Oops, I mean a skillet.
Chicken and Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Sauce
– 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
– 2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard
– ¼ cup of low-sodium chicken stock
– 1 tablespoon of butter
– 12 oz of Brussels sprouts, trimmed & halved
– 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
– Salt and pepper
– Olive oil
Heat your oven to 450º.
Season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of oil in large oven-proof skillet over high heat. Add the chicken and brown on both sides, about 6 minutes. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
Heat another tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and sauté for about 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. Add the vinegar, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until crisp-tender.
Remove the chicken breasts from the skillet and keep warm. Heat the skillet with the pan drippings over medium-high heat. Stir in the mustard and chicken stock, scraping any brown bits from the bottom, and bring to a boil. Next add the butter and simmer until the sauce thickens. (Note: The skillet will be hot directly from the oven. Use a potholder for the handle. Seriously!)
Plate chicken breasts and Brussels sprouts, top with a few spoonfuls of sauce, and then eat.
A few close-ups. It was hard to pick a favorite side of my plate.
And: if you’re looking for some Clue, here’s a link to one of my favorite scenes.
Mac and cheese is something we all know and love. I’m all for making the traditional stuff, when I have the time. But I’m also okay with the stuff from a box, usually because it’s quick and easy, and I got home late from work and I’m starving and just want to eat already. But there are other options that are just as fast. Like making a simple sauce from roasted red peppers and goat cheese, then tossing it with fettuccine. It’s got the lets-eat-already quickness that I need with the rich, homemade taste that I want.
Fettuccine with Creamy Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Sauce
– 1 small yellow onion
– 3 cloves of garlic
– 1 7oz jar of roasted red peppers, drained & chopped
– ½ teaspoon of Italian seasoning
– ¼ cup of low-sodium chicken (or veggie) stock
– ¾ cup of crumbled goat cheese (or feta)
– ½ lb of fettuccine
– Salt and pepper
– Olive oil
– Small handful of parsley, roughly chopped
– Sliced grilled chicken (optional)
Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the red peppers, Italian seasoning and pepper to taste, and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Place the mixture into a food processor along with the chicken stock and goat cheese. Process until combined and smooth, about 30 seconds. Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine according to the directions. Drain and then toss with the sauce. Stir in the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Plate, add a few slices of grilled chicken and eat.