comfort food

More Adventures in Slow Cooking: Swedish Meatballs

by Lisa

Tuesday night I have a plan: Swedish Meatballs. I take the pork and beef out of the freezer just fine.

Wednesday morning: I realize I have no onion, no potatoes.  Kids say they will boycott Swedish meatballs if mashed potatoes aren’t involved. I have no plan B. Resolve to go to store.

Later Wednesday morning: Put off trip to store for onions and potatoes.

Wednesday afternoon: Forget to go to store entirely.

Late Wednesday after, 20 minutes before school pick-up. Rush to store. Buy pre-chopped onion and pre-made mashed potatoes for the first time in my life.

School pickup time: T-1o. Soak bread in milk, dump in egg, meats, salt, nutmeg. No time to sautee onions, dump them in raw. What’s the worst that can happen?  Mix ingredients. Cover bowl. Wash hands.

Pick up kids. On time! Drive straight home.

35 minutes before first run to soccer field.  Begin making 20-something meatballs. Ten minutes later, our sitter arrives. Turn on slow cooker to “brown/sautee” for the first time.  Butter melts.  Meatballs brown evenly and quickly in less than 15 minutes. I begin to breathe again.

With help from sitter, kids have found themselves a snack, filled water bottles. Soccer uniforms are on. No one is yelling.

I melt another tablespoon of butter, stir flour, cook for two minutes, then whisk in chicken broth. Gravy comes to a simmer. Meatballs go back in.  Slow cooker gets turned to “HIGH” and programmed for 30 minutes, after which time, I hope it kicks back to “warm” setting. I stare at it for a minute, willing it not to let me down.

Leave for soccer with child #1.  Child #2 stays home with sitter to do homework and make scarves for her Scandanavian doll, who is largely responsible for the Swedish meatball phase.   We are on time for soccer. No one is crying.

It’s my turn to stay at the field, so an hour later, sitter arrives with child #2, takes home child #1.  By all reports the cooker is doing what it is supposed to . My sitter has heated up the potatoes and cooked the broccoli romanesco (she really is amazing).

An hour and half later, it is very dark and very cold.   I am shivering and can barely feel my extremities.  We drive home. The house is bright. And warm.  It smells like Sweden, or at least the pleasant afterglow of a long, successful trip to IKEA, before you’ve begun to assemble anything. My son has eaten something like ten meatballs.  My daughter tries to match him, meatball for meatball.  I salvage a few for the grownups.

Slow Cooker Swedish Meatballs

  • 2 slices white bread
  • heavy cream/milk (enough to moisten white bread)
  • small onion, diced
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash nutmeg, cardamom, white pepper
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 T flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  1. In a medium sized bowl, pour enough cream or milk over the bread to completely moisten both slices.
  2. Dice onion and add to bowl along with meats, egg, salt, and spices.  Mix gently until all ingredients are evenly distributed.
  3. Shape mixture into small balls.
  4. With slow cooker on Brown/Sautee setting, fry meatballs in 2T butter until brown on all sides. Remove using a slotted spoon and set aside.
  5. Whisk flour into pan drippings. If need be, add another 1-2 tablespoons butter.
  6. Whisk in broth and simmer until gravy is thick.
  7. Turn slow cooker to “HIGH” and return meatballs to gravy. Cook on for 30 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through.

Pasta Factory

By Lisa

Some people eat long noodles, other families eat blackeyed peas, but we have a pasta-making tradition on New Years Day.   Actually, the tradition has been that I make the pasta and everyone else eats it.  Mostly, I don’t mind. Mostly, I love making pasta the way other people love meditating, or running, or taking a nap.  There are few other tasks in the kitchen that I find more therapeutic, and even fewer that have a better reward.  But this year, I just didn’t want to make all that pasta only to have it disappear a few hours later, nor did I want  to make the extra batches all by myself.  Plus, there’s no kitchen gadget my kids love more than the pasta roller. So I decided: It was about time the kids and Kory learned how to make pasta.

First, you clear the table and dump 2 1/4 cups “OO” type flour into a small hill at each work space.

Next: you make a pit in the center of your flour mountain, volcano style.  Crack 3 eggs into your crater.

(Even Finn could do this–mostly.)

With a fork, puncture the yolks, then scrambled the eggs.  Slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs.

When the dough begins to comes together, you drop the fork and begin to knead, incorporating flour bit by bit until the dough is no longer sticky. Eventually, it will be smooth and elastic and will spring back when you poke it.

It’s messy teaching kids how to knead, so I couldn’t take pictures. But you’ll trust me when I say we ended up with 4 beautiful batches of pasta.

3 batches were packed away, unrolled and uncut in ziplock bags and stored in the freezer for another day.

The last batch, we rolled into fettucine.  Actually, Ella and Finn rolled it,with some help, then cut it on their own. Teamwork. We don’t have it every day, nor did we even have it all day on New Years Day, but we had it in this moment.  This is one of my goals for this year: remembering that harmony, in small ways, matters.

Homemade Ramen Noodles

by Caroline

At some point this summer, I picked up the inaugural issue of David Chang’s new food magazine, Lucky Peach, and then, overwhelmed by work on this book, I let it drop to the bottom of my reading pile. Because this is not the kind of food magazine you flip through, tearing out recipes, and then toss in the recycling; it’s a reading magazine, and I was doing enough reading about food — in the amazing essays by our contributors — that I really couldn’t handle any more.

But this weekend (having submitted the manuscript; hurray!), I pulled it out and read it. I read the journal of David Chang and Peter Meehan’s trip to Japan, I read the story about the New Yorker, Ivan Orkin, who’s opened a ramen shop in Tokyo, I read about the invention of instant ramen and I studied the map of regional ramens. I read Ruth Reichl’s instant ramen taste test (she spent $80 on ramen noodles, so you know it’s thorough) and laughed at the recipes, like Instant Ramen Cacio e Pepe, which reminded me of the Instant Ramen Stroganoff or the Instant Ramen Primavera my college housemate and I used to make. And finally I read Harold McGee’s fascinating piece on alkalinity and alkaline noodles and I learned what gives ramen noodles that slippery feel in your mouth: alkaline! And I discovered that it’s really not too hard to make homemade ramen noodles. So I did.

I probably wouldn’t have been so drawn to the recipe if I weren’t living with a couple of young scientists who are fascinated by the chemistry of food and cooking, and who had just recently asked me why acids get so much more play in the kitchen than alkalines. I won’t go into the science of it all here — just go find a copy of Lucky Peach and read Harold McGee’s piece — but any recipe where you start by baking a pan of baking soda is kind of fascinating, don’t you think? After that, though, it’s not so different from making pasta:

rolling out noodles

mise en place

dinner

Slurp

Igloo Meatloaf

By Lisa

Last week, when I made this chive meatloaf, I made double.  I rolled and froze the second batch, and took it out last night for a quick dinner. I baked it in our convection oven on the self-timer early in the day, around 3 pm.

But I also had mashed potatoes left over, and so when the meatloaf had cooked and cooled, I molded the potatoe into a little igloo over the loaf. I used my hands. Then, I suddenly remembered something from my childhood. Cheese in mashed potatoes ? Cheese on twice-baked potatoes?  I quickly dumped some grated cheddar and monterey jack all over the potatoes, then baked everything at 350 degrees for 2-25 minutes.

The cheese crust turned golden and slightly crispy, and the kids were a little baffled, but then they tasted it and thought it was one of the best things ever.  Finn ate two helpings and Ella just kept saying, “These potatoes are so good.” And she’s not much of a potato eater. Really, it’s the definition of comfort food, and it made for a very happy, easy dinner.  In fact, the only thing more fun for the kids than this, which they thought was a totally new meal, was playing Finn’s new game, “Who Am I?” while they ate.

In this case, he is most definitely not what he is eating.

Fall Food

By Lisa

And just like that, summer is over. We knew it was coming, but that definitive moment, when you look at a tomato and think, I’ve had enough had not yet come. But it always comes.  At the height of summer, I think I can never get enough tomatoes, and then one day, I have.  It has something to do with a turn in the weather, being saturated by a particular food, and the fact that all food has a peak time for eating.

On Sunday night, I served the kids gazpacho, the soup they could not get enough of all summer long, and they took one slurp, made that face, and rejected it. It didn’t taste right, they said. And they were right. Though still abundant, the tomatoes are no longer at their peak, and there’s something less satisfying about facing them on a cool fall night.   There is no longer harmony between the things of summer and our table.  Then, yesterday, there was the matter of the peaches, which were still in the market on Sunday, and I sampled them, but the ones I brought home, though ripe, were dry. I tried to bake them with amaretti cookies, brown sugar, and butter, but even then, the texture was mealy.

Yesterday, it rained, soccer was canceled, and while the kids built things, I roasted: tomatoes (to freeze) , squash, carrots, fennel, raddichio, a pork tenderloin.  Today it’s sunny; tomorrow it will rain again. Bracketed by this damp weather, I’m thinking about transition food.  It’s the food that takes us into the heart of winter. It’s warm and comforting, but is just shy of the roasts and stews and gravys that we eat when it’s really cold (okay, cold for me). I’m thinking warm and colorful; earthy but not too bright; satisfying but not too heavy.  In other words, not unlike my fall sweaters.

To wit, I have on hand apples and sausages, beef for the likely return of picadillo, a bin full of leafy greens to sautee and cream, carrots, fennel, chops, makings for quiche, roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers, winter squash, fixings for warm soups, and pastas.

Tonight I plan to pull out the rest of the pork tenderloin (which was marinated in mustard, red wine vinegar, honey, and fennel), chop it roughly and serve it in warm flatbread, maybe with some roasted peppers, kale crisps, and butternut squash on the side.

In other words, we’re getting ready. But since I generally find transitions unsettling, I’d love to know: What are your favorite fall dishes, and how do you welcome the cool weather to your table?