Lady and the Tramp, Anyone?

I love Disney. Even with its subliminal messages and not so subliminal ones.

I love the simpleness of its romances. I cannot see spaghetti and meat balls without thinking of Lady and the Tramp. Of course, no real person, or dog, would slurp a strand of spaghetti without chewing through and breaking it. That makes the scene all more romantic. I like the film even though I honestly can’t remember anything else about it besides that scene, but I thought about it today while I thought, planned, and made dinner.

Simple spaghetti and meatballs.

Okay, maybe not that simple. I did use whole wheat spaghetti and ground flax after all. I know, I can’t leave anything well enough alone. But regardless of all my efforts at health-isizing this dish, it retained its heartiness. A true comfort food through and through.

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and dig into the meat with your fingers. This helps to distribute the spices without overworking the meat and produces the most tender meatballs. Be sure to give the meatballs a deep golden brown, this contributes greatly to flavour.

The ground flax is not really noticeable in the meatballs, but you’ll that it’s there to give your meal fibre and Omega 3 fatty acids. I also used prepared pasta sauce to speed up the process, and also because I didn’t have any tomatoes. Feel free to substitute your favorite recipe for tomato sauce.

Cat’s Spaghetti and Meatballs (Be comforted in knowing that this comfort food is somewhat good for you)
makes 4-6 servings

3/4 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
salt
1/2 c. dried bread crumbs
a few dashes Worchestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley
scant 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
3/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/3 c. minced onion
2 Tbsp. ground flax, optional
1 tsp. olive oil
1 24-oz jar of prepared pasta sauce (I used garden vegetable)
1 lb. spaghetti, whole wheat

  1. Place the ground meat, Worcestershire, herbs, pepper, onion, garlic powder, flax seed, and bread crumbs in a large bowl. Salt generously.
  2. Plunge all ten fingers into the meat and mix thoroughly. Shape into 24 meatballs. Wash your hands well afterwards.
  3. Heat the oil in a large sauce pan and brown the meatballs in batches, until well browned.
  4. Pour the pasta sauce into the pan and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Toss with the sauce. Serve piping hot and twirl away.

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Penne with Sausage and Tomato Sauce

We had this for lunch yesterday. It was very easy, relatively quick, and pretty darn tasty. Italian sausage is simmered with crushed tomatoes with basil, onion, and a bit of butter. Then tossed with whole wheat penne. Good stuff.

One thing about tomato sauces. I used to be a super herby kind of girl. I tossed herbs of every kind into my tomato sauces. Of course everything do not always taste good together. That saying something along the lines of “if you use a lot of good tasting ingredients, you can’t end up with something other than good tasting food,” unfortunately, isn’t always true.

Since then I’ve abandoned the herbs approach when it comes to tomato sauces. I became more of a purist. I tried the three-ingredient tomato sauce from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking. I became a believer. That simple sauce is unbelievably good for something that takes next to zero effort to put together. Heck, my kitchen un-savvy boyfriend can make it. All it takes is butter, onion, and tomatoes! You don’t even need to chop the onion! Seriously, if you’ve never tried it, you simply have to.

One 28 oz can tomatoes.

Half a stick of unsalted butter.

Half an onion.

Don’t chop anything. Don’t brown anything. Toss everything in a large sauce pan. Simmer for about half an hour, or until the tomatoes break down and your kitchen smells heavenly. I eat the sauce with spoon. And the onion with my fingers.

This recipe is inspired from that. With a couple of changes.

Penne with Sausage and Tomato Sauce
serves about 4 for lunch

1/2 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes with basil (don’t worry about the basil part, use plain crushed tomatoes if you like)
2 Italian sausages (I used sweet, but use hot if you like the heat)
1 Tbsp. butter, unsalted
1/4 medium onion
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz. whole wheat penne, cooked al dente

Remove the sausages from their casings. Heat a medium saucepan on medium high heat. Brown the sausage, breaking them up into small pieces. Do this until the meat is no longer pink. Drain the pan. Add the onion, unchopped, the butter, and the half can of tomatoes. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for half an hour. Stir and check every 10 minutes or so.

Toss the pasta into the sauces, season to taste. Serve with a tossed salad and some good bread.

Mac n’ Cheese

With the exception of my mom, pretty much everyone else likes mac and cheese. Unless you don’t like pasta. Or cheese. Otherwise, for all you pasta and cheese lover people out there, here is a simple and easy mac n’ cheese recipe that I whipped up for lunch. It contains onions and garlic, so I guess it isn’t “pure” in cheesy creamy goodness. But I love both of those things, so there they are.

Serve with a fresh salad, just for kicks, or to balance all that fat and carbs.

Cat’s Mac n’ Cheese
makes enough for 4 servings

8 oz. dried elbow macaroni pasta
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 c. milk, warmed in the microwave
2 c. grated sharp cheddar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Fill a pasta pot or a large pot half full with water and bring to a boil. In the mean time, melt butter in a saucepan. Toss in the onion and garlic and let them sweat on medium heat. Season with salt and pepper and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 6-8 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for a few more minutes. Add the milk and quickly whisk until smooth. Add the nutmeg and mustard. Heat until bubbly and thick. Turn off the heat and add the cheese. Eat some sauce with a spoon. Season again with salt and pepper. Do not under salt.

Cook the pasta until al dente, following the directions on the package. Drain well and toss in the cheese sauce. Serve hot and happy.

And oh yes, it is worth mentioning here too that my laptop has died. And strangely enough, it chose the precise moment when I sat down in front of it to leave this earth. Like it wanted me to watch its demise. The poor thing probably hated me right till the bitter end.

Comfort Food…Chinese Dumplings

One of the strongest memories I have, is of my mother’s floury hands. How she swiftly kneads dough, rolls dough, fills dough, taking care to pinch the little wrappers together. Sometimes she added a pretty border on some of them, to my delight. I would always eat those dumplings first.

This is my childhood.

Ever since I was nine, I’d begged my mother to let me help her make the dumplings. I’d like to say she was patient, but after several rounds of “no, you’ll ruin the dough” she gave me a wrapper of my own with a little spoon to scoop up the filling. Then I would imitate her and gingerly pinch the wrapper around the filling. It wasn’t pretty. Flat. Lopsided. Wrinkly. Oozing. Sometimes it looked like a dead fish.

But I got better. Now I’m proud of my dumplings. Now my mother no longer worked alone. Now I have my own floury hands.

I wish I could give you the “family recipe.” But truth be told. There is none. Meat is vigorously stirred. Vegetables vehemently chopped. Soy sauce generously added. Sesame oil delicately sprinkled. It’s different every time. All depends on what’s in the fridge and judgment on what’s “enough.” No recipes involved. It’s an art form.

I never get homesick. I like living on my own. But sometimes I crave my mother’s dumplings. I know the “art” well enough now that I can make my own. Mine never taste just like hers though. Good but never hers. Everyone who has had my family’s dumplings claim it’s amongst the best they’re ever had. My father claims, each time we make dumplings, that this time it’s the “best ever.”

I always have to agree.