I'm a former teacher and current stay at home mom with an insane passion for food. I love cooking (and eating) good, satisfying food, prepared simply with fresh ingredients. I've been known to talk to my food as I cook it, and I despise those little stickers they put on produce.
As a baby gourmand, I grew up around people who cooked. So I never questioned my ablity to cook, I just did it. With a 1973 set of Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks as my guide, I began experimenting and creating.
I eventually found myself enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in NYC in a program geared towards "serious amateurs". I spent 10 hours a week in my chef's uniform, chopping, mixing, sautéing, and braising. My experience at the institute armed me with a repertoire of skills that impacts the way I approach everything in the kitchen.
Now with a husband, a big dog, and three kids later, I'm sharing my culinary skills with the world.
Originally posted on October 21, 2010
My husband can’t sit down at an Italian restaurant without ordering Spaghetti and Meatballs. It could be the finest Italian restaurant with a menu dripping in tempting options and all he wants is Spaghetti and Meatballs, preferably with garlic bread. It’s truly one of his favorite meals and he craves it the way that I crave a good piece of dark chocolate or wedge of brie with baguette. So, when I decided to make this simple, classic dish for dinner yesterday, I knew he’d be thrilled.
My timing was impeccable. By the time my husband walked through the door, the sauce had been simmering away on the stove for three hours. The meatballs had been baked and added to the sauce. The garlic bread had been prepared. Our house was bursting with the warm, delicious aromas of tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. Upon stepping into the house, out of the chilly autumn air, my husband took one breath before his eyes lit with joy. What are you cooking? I told him to take a guess.Spaghetti and Meatballs??? His reply was dripping with eager anticipation. I nodded. And garlic bread?? Yes, of course. And I could see him physically buzzing with excitement. Such joy from such a simple meal.
And in that moment, as he stood there, still removing his jacket and shoes, with a child-like grin on his face, it occurred to me that I could profit from this glee. Maybe I should ask for something. Perhaps those fuzzy winter boots I’ve had my eye on. Or a Mercedes E320! No, no! A pony! I’ve always wanted a pony. Yes, that’s what I would ask for.
Then, as fast as it arrived, the moment was gone. The kids began climbing his legs while the dog anxiously communicated his desire for a walk in his typical brutish manner. So, no pony for me. Though, my husband’s evident joy was sufficient reward.
During the hot summer months, when tomatoes have reached their glorious peak of flavor perfection, it would be a pity to use canned tomatoes in your sauce. (Click here for my Fresh Tomato Marinara Sauce recipe.) But, right about now, when tomatoes have become mealy and bland, you’d be silly to use anything other than canned tomatoes. Most canned veggies have a justifiably bad rep for being loaded with salt and drained of their nutrition. But, tomatoes may be one of the rare exceptions. I actually read an article once, which claimed that tomatoes may actually benefit in both flavor and nutrition (lycopene content) from the canning process. Just look for tomatoes which don’t contain extra sodium.
Both my sauce and meatball recipes are simple, classic preparations. No fancy ingredients or interesting twists. Just basic, delicious spaghetti and meatballs, cooked the way I remember from my childhood. The sauce is slow cooked for about 3 hours to allow a rich tomato flavor to develop. Onions, garlic, basil, parsley, and crushed red pepper provide just the right amount of seasoning. The meatballs are basic beef meatballs, blended with a bit of cheese and a few seasonings, then bound together with an egg and a touch of bread crumbs. You can use any type of ground beef or other ground meats in your meatballs, but as with hamburgers, the higher the fat content of the meat, the juicier and moister the resulting meatball will be.
Unless otherwise noted, all recipes, photos, and writing on this blog
are the sole property of Amy Deline, The Gourmand Mom.
Originally posted on January 15, 2011
I was suffering from a major case of the lazies yesterday. I could try to blame it on being pregnant, in the same way that I gave myself full permission to wear sweatpants every single day since the day I got that positive test. But, the truth is that sometimes a case of the lazies just strikes out of nowhere and you can either fight it all day or just submit. Thankfully, this particular strain of lazies seems to have been contagious. The boys were equally content to snuggle on the couch with me for a good part of the day, watching an endless marathon of Nick Jr. and Disney programming, which would have been more tolerable if Nick Jr. weren’t airing the video of Big Time Rush’s, Big Night, during every single commercial break. I’ve heard the song so many times now, that it’s become the ongoing soundtrack in my mind and I’m almost convinced I actually like it. DJ, take me away… At one point, I muttered aloud about the song being stuck in my head, to which my three-year-old attempted to manually remove it from my mouth. Kids are so hysterically literal.
But, the family needs to eat, even on lazy days; perhaps, especially, on lazy days. Gathering the motivation to prepare a meal was a challenge, but I had the perfect, sleepy winter-day meal in mind. I’d picked up a tray of stew beef earlier in the week, with only a framework of a plan in mind; some sort of slow cooked beef over hot buttered noodles. Perhaps a stew of sorts? Only, I’m not really a big fan of stews. I love the tender chunks of meat, but can totally skip the thickened broth or the mushy carrots and potatoes which are typically found in a beef stews. Now, braised beef, on the other hand, with its equally tender chunks of meats and rich, comforting sauce, is an idea I can wrap my mouth around.
The actual preparation time for this recipe is minimal. The ingredient list is pleasantly restrained. The technique is simple. Once it’s in the oven, just sit back and let your house fill with the scent of warm, beefy goodness. We’ll start with some chunks of beef. Many grocery stores will sell packages of pre-cut meat labeled simply as Stew Beef. I used a package of lean, no external fat, stew beef. You can use just about any cut of beef, but tougher cuts, such as beef chuck or round work particularly well for braising. The beef is quickly browned on the stovetop, then combined with braising liquids, covered, and slow-cooked in the oven. Towards the end of the cooking time, we’ll throw in a bit of vegetables. I stuck with pearl onions and mushrooms, but you can adapt the recipe to your tastes by adding any variety of vegetables. Potatoes, carrots, green beans, or peas would all work nicely.
The end result is a comforting mix of tender chunks of beef coated in a thick, flavorful sauce served over hot buttered noodles. Perfect, lazy-day comfort food.
Treat your valentine to a day’s worth of mouth-watering meals. Here are three ideas for each meal, from super simple to more elaborate. Click on the links to see the recipes!
You can also check out the Recipes section for more ideas to delight your sweetie.
Super Simple: Strawberry and Nutella Stuffed French Toast
A Bit More Complex: Cinnamon Raisin Donut Bread Pudding
Manageably Elaborate: Eggs Benedict
Super Simple: Sausage, Bean, and Rapini Soup
A Bit More Complex: Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad
Manageably Elaborate: Quiche Lorraine
Super Simple: Penne a la Vodka
A Bit More Complex: Pork Chops with Fontina and Marsala
Manageably Elaborate: Slow-Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs over Creamy Brie Potatoes
Super Simple: World’s Simplest Fudgey Brownies with Raspberry Coulis
Scroll to the bottom of the link
Unless otherwise noted, all recipes, photos, and writing on this blog
are the sole property of Amy Deline, The Gourmand Mom.
Back in the spring, I strong-armed a couple of my friends into taking Irish step dancing lessons with me. (I actually didn’t need to twist their arms too hard.) We three became the unlikeliest bunch of dancers you could imagine. It was a blast. We clobbered away through a few classes, along with an (almost) equally novice classmate, before the weather became too hot to continue in our dance space. At that point, we broke for the summer, with the intention of resuming classes come fall.
Well, fall rolled around and I sent an email to our instructor expressing our eagerness to continue. But we never heard back. After a few months with no reply, we’d become fully convinced that we’d been silently dumped as a result of our utter hopelessness in the field of Irish dancing. We couldn’t really blame her. We truly are a hopeless bunch. But then, just as we were about to pack away our dancing shoes, I received a message explaining an email switch, along with an invitation to resume classes. We accepted, of course.
This time though, there are a few other adults in our class and a second instructor. Apparently, our new classmates danced all throughout their childhood and teen years. They’re just picking up where they left off, which is someplace lightyears ahead of the rest of us. While we practiced basic skips, intently concentrating on not running into each other, one of our new classmates gracefully danced circles around us, quite literally. It feels oddly like being stuck in the ‘guppies’ group, aside out advanced classmates in the ‘shark’ group. They’re reading War and Peace, while we struggle through Ted in a Red Bed. Us four clumsy guppies stick as close together as we can without kicking each other. It’s a level of comfort thing. We huddle close together, executing every drill as a unified group, in a fruitless attempt not to draw too much attention to ourselves.
It’s a ridiculously fun time, swimming in our guppy group. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long while. Graceful, we are not. Skillful, we are not. Coordinated, we most definitely are not. But for all we lack in ability, we more than make up for it with enthusiasm. We will probably never have the graceful, swift-footed skills of our river-dancing role models, but we’re certainly having fun with it. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it??
The added bonus is that our weekly lesson and all the practice in between burns a bucketload of calories. Now, if I were smart, I’d save those burned calories and let them work their magic on a bit of weight loss. Oh, but I love food too much and the dancing leaves me ravenously hungry. So, I choose to ‘spend’ my burned calories on fun food, like this Mexican-inspired huevos rancheros pizza. Truth be told, this pizza is fully inspired by nothing more than my desire to cook a pizza with eggs baked into it. It starts with a cornmeal crust, in place of the corn tortillas which would typically be used in huevos rancheros. The homemade crust is then topped with beans, taco sauce, Mexican cheese, chiles, and tomatoes. Fresh eggs are then carefully cracked on top of the pizza before baking for a stunning and unique twist on pizza.
Today’s Focus on Technique – Cooking with Baker’s Yeast
Baker’s yeast is a single cell organism, commonly used as a leavening agent in many breads, pretzel doughs, and pizza doughs. As the yeast feeds on the sugars in the dough, it releases carbon dioxide, which becomes trapped within the dough, causing it to rise and expand. The most common types of yeast used in baked goods are active dry yeast and rapid rise yeast. Rapid rise yeast is made up of smaller particles, which touch a greater surface area of the dough and typically require half as much time to rise. Many people feel that the long rise time required for active dry yeast recipes results in a more flavorful dough.
Typically, many yeast dough recipes begin by proofing the yeast. Proofing is simply a process of dissolving the yeast in lukewarm water. After a few minutes, the yeast should begin to foam, proving that it is alive and ready to work its leavening magic. If the yeast doesn’t foam, it’s time to buy some new yeast. The magic temperature for proofing yeast is somewhere between 110-115°F. To assure you’ve got the right temperature, it’s helpful to use an instant-read thermometer. I usually stick the thermometer in hot water from the tap, then wait until it reduces to the right range before adding the yeast.
Yeast doughs rise best in a draft-free area, on the warmer side of room temperature (around 70°F). If your house is chillier than that, allow extra time for rising. If time is an issue, I sometimes find it helpful to preheat the oven for a bit, then place the bowl of rising dough on top of or near the oven. You don’t need to keep the oven on throughout the rise time; just long enough to release a little extra heat near the rising dough.
** Lots of other interesting information about yeast can be found HERE.
My Lucas is charismatic, enigmatic, and profusely loving. There’s just something insanely captivating about him. He’s a heart-melter for sure, with his big blue eyes, sweet dimples, and long, dark lashes. And he’s mine. More than anyone or anything in the whole world (except perhaps Ninjago legos), he loves me. Not sure how I got so lucky!
The kid says, “I love you sooooo much,” so many times each day that I’d begun to suspect it was just a filler statement; simply something to say when there was nothing else to be said. He even says it in his sleep, when I sneak in at night to kiss his little head before I tuck myself into bed. “Mommy, I love you so much.”
But I’ve come to realize that his words are so much more than sounds to fill the silence. He recently turned to my husband and began to say, “Daddy, I love…” I’d expected the statement to end with his predictable “…you soooo much.” But it didn’t. It was quite beautifully, “Daddy, I love Mommy soooo much.” He’s my precious little lovebug.
On a recent trip to the grocery store, as we walked hand in hand through the parking lot, he squeezed my hand and expressed his sweet statement of love. I returned the sentiment, then we continued into the store. An older woman, who’d been coming from her car, caught the exchange as we passed. I saw her pause and hold her heart for a moment. We ran into that woman as we made our way through the store and she stopped to comment on my sweet boys. I thanked her and she parted with a friendly, “God bless.” As we began to walk away, she shouted back, “What am I saying? Clearly, He already has.”
He certainly has. I have been so generously blessed in love; a family who cherishes and supports me, a husband I can laugh with, children whose love is more contagious than the flu, and the most beautiful friends, who persistently raise me up. This Valentine’s Day, I will celebrate every bit of that priceless, precious love.
Sweet treats are the perfect way to celebrate the sweetest people in your life, like these absolutely decadent, truffle-like cherry cordial brownie bites. They start with my World’s Simplest Fudgey Brownies, which are then blended with a bit of cream cheese, until rich and smooth. The luscious brownie mixture is then rolled into small balls with a Grand Marnier (or orange juice, for the kiddies) soaked cherry in the center, before being dipped in smooth, melted chocolate. A drizzle of melted pink candy and sprinkles provide the perfect final touches.
Today’s Focus on Technique – Using a Double Boiler
The process of cooking with a double boiler (also called a bain marie) is an ideal technique to use when preparing delicate sauces, such as hollandaise, or when melting chocolates. In a double boiler set-up, the food is placed in a bowl which is suspended above simmering water. The water provides a gentle, consistent, indirect heat which prevents finicky foods from breaking (separating) or burning. It works in a similar manner as using water bath to prepare custards and other delicate egg-based dishes. No special equipment or dedicated ‘double boiler’ is required to utilize a double boiler technique. Simply fill a saucepan with an inch or two of water. Place a stainless steel or glass mixing bowl on top of the pot, so that the bottom of the bowl dips into the pot, but does not touch the water. Place the food you’re preparing in the bowl, bring the water to a simmer, and you’re set to go!
For more useful tips, techniques, and culinary photo guides click HERE.