Monday, April 27, 2009

Mom's Tomato Gravy

Ok, I know there are some of you that might say that this is SAUCE not GRAVY, but growing up in our house, it was gravy. Some people say "Gravy's BROWN!". Well, no, not all gravy is brown. You can have biscuits and gravy. Not brown. How about chicken or turkey gravy? Also not brown. So that settles that. It's gravy.
When I first moved out of my parents' house, I always called Mom to ask her for help whenever I was cooking something. This was the first thing I asked her how to make. I still make it almost exactly as she described to me, but I've made a few tiny changes. It still tastes just like hers and it always reminds me of coming home from school and smelling the pot of gravy cooking.
Hopefully some of my family's next generation will give this a try. It's definitely one of those really important "pass it down" family recipes.
I hope you'll try it too. Thanx Mom!

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 or 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 6oz can tomato paste
2 29oz cans tomato puree
1 29oz can crushed tomatoes
dried basil
dried oregano
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan cheese
couple pinches of sugar

sweet Italian sausage
Homemade Meatballs

Generously pour a few glugs of olive oil into a large pot, enough to almost cover the bottom. Heat the oil over medium heat, just until it begins to shimmer. Add onions and garlic. Slowly saute until they become soft. Add tomato paste. Stir with onions and garlic for a few minutes until the paste begins to darken slightly. Add puree and crushed tomatoes. After emptying the crushed tomatoes and the puree into the pot, fill each can 3/4 full with water. Swirl the water to rinse the inside of the can, then add the water to the pot. Next, add the herbs and spices, the sugar and the grated cheese. These amounts were never specific. I just shake a good amount of the basil, oregano, salt, and pepper across the top of the gravy, just as Mom always did. When I asked her how much cheese to add, she said "about a handful". Basically, it's all to taste. "Do you like a lot? Add a lot." Reduce heat to the low setting.
Now it's time to add the meat.
Cut the Italian sausage into 2" or 3" pieces. Place them in a hot skillet with a drizzle of olive oil. Brown sausage on all sides, (no need to cook all the way through), then add to the pot of gravy. While the sausage is cooking, make the meatballs. In the same skillet, saute the meatballs on all sides. Remove from the pan and add to the pot. When all the meatballs have been removed from the pan, pour off the excess grease and add about a cup of water to the hot pan. Placed it back on the heat and use a wooden spoon to scrape all the fond from the bottom of the pan. (that's all the browned bits that are stuck to surface of the pan). Add it to the pot. Let the pot simmer for a few hours. Give it a stir every so often. Be sure to stir all the way to the bottom so it doesn't begin to burn. Let it simmer until it reaches the desired thickness.

The key to this recipe is the meat. I've never made it without making meatballs to go along with it, and the sausage seasons the gravy as well. Another key step is deglazing the pan and adding the browned bits. I made it once without doing that and it just didn't taste right.
Instead of chopping the onions, Mom always cut an onion in half, and then added the two halves to the sauce. This gives good onion flavor without having the onion bits throughout the gravy.
I usually hold back a little on the salt when I'm first adding the seasonings. The sauce thickens and reduces as it cooks, and adding what seems like the right amount of salt in the beginning might turn out to be too much salt at the end. I just add a little in the beginning, then add more if it needs it when it's finished simmering.
I like a really thick gravy, so I always let it simmer all day.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Homemade Meatballs

Here's my Mom's recipe for meatballs and I love it so much that I've never had any reason to change it or look for another. They're flavorful, moist and delicious! And as is often the case with my Mom's recipes, there aren't very many specific amounts listed. This is another one of those recipes she described to me over the phone. I used to call her all the time and ask how to make this or that. When I asked her how much basil and oregano to add, she simply said to "Just throw some in." Um, ok, got it. It's amazing how they always turn out, no matter how much you "just throw in". I guess the best way to describe how much to add is to just shake some across the mixing bowl, kind of like the way you shake salt and pepper onto your plate of dinner. Not too little, not too much. Know what I mean?
It's the same story with the cheese and the bread crumbs. You add some "until it's enough". Add the bread crumbs until it's no longer too wet, but not dry either.
Got it? Alrighty then!

2 lbs ground meat (beef, pork, veal, chicken, turkey, or any combination)
2 eggs
dried basil
dried oregano
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan cheese
chopped parsley
bread crumbs

Place all ingredients into a large bowl. Using your impeccably clean hands, squish everything together until it's well combined. Form into balls. Saute on all sides in a large skillet with a little drizzle of olive oil. You can also place the meatballs on a large baking tray, brush with a little olive oil and bake them at 350F until cooked through. Serve with your favorite gravy or sauce. Top with more Parmesan cheese.

I like to serve very large meatballs, so I usually do about 8 meatballs per pound. It you're making them for appetizers, then make them much smaller, and glaze them with any sweet and smoky BBQ sauce. If I'm making my Mom's Tomato Gravy, I always saute them on all sides in the skillet, then let them finish cooking in the gravy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Joey's Favorite Breakfast Potatoes

Here's another one of those things that doesn't really have a recipe, but every time I make them for friends, everyone asks for the recipe. There's really nothing to it. You basically just throw some potatoes in a skillet! Simple! And come to think of it, it's a great way to use up leftover potatoes. My Dad used to always ask my Mom if we had any "boilies", referring to the boiled potatoes leftover from dinner the night before. She'd brown them up in a skillet and they were always perfect with a big breakfast. They're also just as fabulous with a roast beast as they are with bacon and eggs. DELISH!

Raw or leftover boiled potatoes
salt and pepper

Slice the potatoes into thick slices, then cut the slices into bite sized pieces. Add some oil to a large nonstick skillet and saute the potatoes over medium heat. Be patient and let them cook until they begin to brown. Give them a stir every now and then, just to be sure you're browning them evenly. In the meantime, slice or chop the onion and add it to the skillet. (Do you like a lot of onions? Add a lot of onions!) Add a pat or two of butter and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to saute until the onions and potatoes are tender and golden.

I like to use red potatoes because they're waxy and they hold up well in the skillet. You can really use any kind of potatoes, though.
If you're using raw potatoes, you can either partially cook them in the microwave for a few minutes, or just let them cook in the skillet for a while longer. Just be sure you don't add the onions until the potatoes are almost done because the onions don't need very much time to cook.
If you'd like to vary them, try using different seasoned salts such as Old Bay, or add some freshly chopped garlic with the onions.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Scalloped Ham and Potato Casserole

So, you cooked a huge ham for your festive dinner and now you have tons leftover. Am I right? This happens all the time, especially if you only have 4 or 5 people at your holiday table. What do you do? You find other ham recipes, of course, that's what you do! My Mom used to say that ham is perfect because you can have it at any meal: breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can have ham steaks and eggs for breakfast, you can make ham sandwiches for lunch, and you can serve it with Pineapple Stuffing and a green vegetable for dinner. You can also do ham salad, add it to a Breakfast Casserole, or fill an omelet with diced ham and some shredded cheddar cheese. The possibilities are endless. Another great thing to make is soup. Ham and Bean Soup is one of my faves, and if you have a ham bone, then CLEARLY you should make my Mom's Vegetable Soup.
Here's a hearty casserole that's yummy and simple. It's SO warm and comforting. Not only that, you can adjust the amounts depending on how much leftover ham you have.

6-8 medium potatoes
3 tbs. butter
3 tbs. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 1/2 c. milk
1 onion, chopped
1 tbs. butter
1-1 1/2 lb. cubed ham

Heat oven to 350F.
Wash and peel (optional) potatoes and cut into enough thin slices to measure about 4 cups. Heat 3 tablespoons butter/butter in saucepan over low heat until melted; stir in flour, salt and pepper. Cover over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat; stir in milk. Heat to boiling again, stirring constantly; boil and stir about 1 minute.
Arrange potatoes in greased 2 quart casserole in layers, topping each layer with desired amount of onion, white sauce and cubed ham. Dot top layer with 1 tablespoon butter. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for about 45 minutes longer or until the potatoes are tender. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

You could easily add your favorite cheese to the casserole, if you like. Either add it to the milk mixture (which would make a cheese sauce), or sprinkle some across the top just before baking.
If you're pressed for time, partially cook the potatoes for a few minutes in the microwave before slicing and layering them in the casserole.

Sausage Gravy with Biscuits

This dish SCREAMS southern comfort food. It's a cozy "stick to your ribs" kind of breakfast and it'll satisfy the heartiest appetite. It's one of many dishes in my recipe archive that uses a basic white sauce as a base and the sausage makes it spicy and satisfying. I've seen recipes that just pour some heavy cream over sausage, but I like a thick sausage gravy, so this is how I do it. Oh, and did I mention that it's simple and quick too? Try it!

1 lb bulk sausage
3 tbs flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste

In a large heavy skillet, break up the sausage and saute over medium heat until browned. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat. Continue to saute a few minutes longer, then add the milk. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pan and stir frequently until the gravy thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with your favorite biscuits or potatoes.

If the sausage doesn't render very much fat, add a tablespoon of oil or butter before adding the flour.
If you can't find bulk sausage, then just use sausage links and remove the casing.
If the gravy becomes too thick, just add an extra splash of milk to thin it down a bit.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pineapple Stuffing

Here's a recipe for Cait, because she loves pineapples so much. It's as simple as it is delicious. You just throw it all together and pop it in the oven. It just doesn't get any easier than that! It's absolutely the quintessential side dish for a holiday ham and it's perfect for any occasion! If you're not a fan of ham, try it with chicken or pork! It goes well with everything! It's seriously one of my all time favorite dishes in the whole wide world. If you've never tried it, you simply MUST!
Hope you like it, Cait!!!!

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups white sugar
8 eggs
2 (20 ounce) cans crushed pineapple, drained
10 slices white bread, cubed

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9x13 baking pan.
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Using a large spoon, fold in the pineapple and bread cubes. Pour into prepared pan and place it in the oven. Bake for one hour. Let sit a few minutes to firm up before serving.

- You can cut the amount of sugar by half if you'd prefer a stuffing that isn't quite as sweet. It'll still be delicious.
- For a little extra spice, add a sprinkling of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice over the top before baking.
- You can easily substitute pineapple chunks for half or all of the crushed pineapple.
- To avoid excessive browning, cover the casserole with foil for the first half hour, then remove the foil and bake it uncovered for the remaining half hour.
- This recipe serves 8-10, but the amounts can easily be cut in half if you're serving a smaller group of people. The baking directions remain the same.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Coconut Cream or Peanut Butter Eggs

This is one of those simple recipes that impresses EVERYONE. The usual response is "You made these yourself?" They're really not difficult to make, they just take a little time and patience, that's all. It just wouldn't be Easter without them! Cathy is the one who's famous for making them in my family. She makes them every year and this is possibly the most Martha-esque thing I've ever seen her do. Not only does she make PERFECTLY shaped eggs that are PERFECTLY coated, but she also gives them as gifts. She places several eggs neatly in small gift boxes with a sheet of waxed paper in between the layers and then ties it up with a ribbon. You'd swear it came from a high-end candy shoppe! How PERFECT is that?
Thanx Sis!

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
2 boxes confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 large bag flaked coconut (I think it's a 12 oz. bag)

Dipping chocolate - You want dark chocolate, not milk chocolate. Depending on the brand, it's sold in different sized bags. Probably about 2 lbs. will be enough for one recipe of coconut cream eggs.

Cream together butter and cream cheese. Add confectioners sugar. Blend well. Add salt, vanilla and coconut and mix well.

Refrigerate filling about 1/2 hour to 1 hour or more. You can do this in steps. I usually make the filling one night (which takes no time at all), roll the eggs the next night (which takes a while), and dip all the eggs the 3rd night (which takes the most time). But that's just me.

Scoop about 1 heaping tsp filling per egg. If you have one of those cookie dough scoopers, that works well. Roll each ball of filling into an egg shape and place onto cookie sheet. Refrigerate until firm.

Melt dipping chocolate in double boiler or in a glass or metal bowl over a pot with about an inch of water in it. Microwaving doesn't work as well b/c the temperature of the chocolate doesn't stay at dipping consistency.

Drop the "eggs" one at a time into dipping chocolate. Use a fork to lift the egg out of the chocolate and tap against the side of the double-boiler to let some of the excess chocolate drip off. Place egg back onto cookie sheet. (It's a good idea to line the cookie sheets w/ parchment or waxed paper.) Once all the eggs are dipped, place the cookie sheet back into fridge until chocolate hardens. Then you can move the eggs into an airtight container with waxed paper in between layers of eggs.

For Peanut Butter Cream Eggs:
Substitute 1 1/2 cups peanut butter instead of the coconut. Everything else remains the same.

For Butter Cream Eggs:
Simply omit the peanut butter or coconut.

Cathy's Tips:
Dipping chocolate is different because it dries quickly into a hard coating. (It doesn't actually say "dipping chocolate" on the bag, but it is used specifically for candy-making. You can get candy-making chocolate in places like A.C. Moore too, but the brand I use is called Mercken's, and it's delicious.) You can use Hershey's but it doesn't harden well enough and gets messy when you're eating the finished product. Back in the day, we used to melt chocolate chips and add paraffin wax, but we haven't done that in a long time, and I must admit I didn't like melting wax into chocolate - just didn't seem right. One box of confectioner's sugar would be the 1 lb. box, so of course you can use one 32 oz. bag instead or 2 boxes.

Note from Joey - Yes, the dark chocolate is definitely the way to go with the coconut eggs, but I used milk chocolate with the peanut butter eggs and they were INCREDIBLE!. Just ask CJ! And I quote "Cadbury WHO????"