Sunday, February 2, 2014

Baked Italian-Seasoned Meatballs Make Great Sliders

Whether you're cooking for a crowd or stocking your freezer, this is a great recipe to have on hand. These Italian-seasoned meatballs are easy to assemble and bake. When you're done, you'll be ready to turn out pasta, meatball sandwiches or party-pleasing meatball sliders in a flash.

I used an ice-cream scoop to portion out the meat, then shaped each into a slightly flattened ball so the cooked meatballs wouldn't roll off the buns. If you'd rather have meatloaf sliders, ratchet up the seasonings a bit, pat the meat mixture into a 1-inch-thick rectangle, and cut into squares. Cook the squares as you would the meatballs, reducing the time as needed. Serve with ketchup or your choice of condiments.

If you've never baked meatballs on a broiler pan, give my method a try. The fat drips into the bottom of the pan, making the meatballs more healthful. In addition, they require little attention while they bake, unlike pan-frying.

If you have time and a favorite recipe, make your own sauce. I took a shortcut, enhancing a good-quality marinara with a tablespoon or so of tomato paste.

Yield: 24

3 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 medium onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 2/3 pounds ground beef (85 percent lean)
About 56 ounces marinara sauce (purchased or homemade)
24 small sandwich buns
Sliced provolone cheese, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir in egg, mixing well. Crumble in beef; using your hands, mix lightly but well.

If desired, check the seasonings by making a small patty and cooking in a small skillet, about 5 minutes. (These meatballs are lightly seasoned because they also get flavor from the sauce. Add more seasonings to taste.)

For easy cleanup, line the bottom of a large two-part broiler pan with foil. Coat the top portion with nonstick cooking spray.

Form the meat mixture into 24 balls, using about 1/3 cup for each. If desired, flatten the meatballs slightly (so they won't roll off the sandwich buns). Arrange on the broiler pan.

Bake until meatballs reach 160 degrees, about 25 minutes. 

Heat sauce in a large skillet. Add meatballs, discarding any fat that clings to the bottom of the meatballs. Simmer gently until meatballs are heated through and have absorbed some of the flavor from the sauce, at least 10 to 15 minutes. (To serve at a party, keep sauce and meatballs warm in a slow cooker.) Serve meatballs and a little sauce on sandwich buns, adding  cheese if desired.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cuban picadillo inspires recipe for slow cooker pork chops

I've heard picadillo referred to as Cuban sloppy Joes, but that doesn't begin to do the dish justice. It's a delicious sweet-sour-spicy-savory ground meat mixture, sweetened slightly with raisins and studded with green olives, traditionally served over white rice.

I was trying to decide how to cook a couple of pounds of bone-in pork chops when picadillo popped into my mind. I borrowed many of picadillo's classic ingredients, combined them  in a slow cooker, and came up with this this simple recipe that's a riff on a Cuban classic.


Yield: about 8 servings

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
2 pounds 3/4-inch thick pork chops (about 8; see note)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 large bay leaf
1 tablespoon tomato paste 
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons raisins
1/4 cup pimento-stuffed whole green olives, drained
1 to 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar 
Salt, optional
Hot cooked rice, for serving

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the in slow-cooker insert (if it's safe on the stove) or in a large nonstick skillet. Pat chops dry with paper towels. Working in batches, brown the chops on each side. Remove to a plate; set aside.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the hot insert or skillet. Add onion; cook, stirring, until soft and starting to brown. Stir in bell pepper; sprinkle with paprika. Add bay leaf, tomato paste, tomatoes and their juice, chicken stock and raisins. Stir well. If using a skillet, transfer to the slow cooker. Add pork and any juices, nestling the pork into the liquid and spooning some of the vegetables over the top. Cover and cook until tender, about 4 to 5 hours on high or 6 to 8 hours on low.

Just before serving, stir in olives and vinegar and salt to taste. Serve over hot cooked rice.

Note: You can use thicker chops; increase cooking time if necessary.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Semi-virtuous, totally delicious recipe for Double Chocolate-Cherry Muffins

New Year's resolutions aside, cold weather makes me want to bake. That's why these sweetly satisfying muffins are semi-virtuous. After all, we're not even a month into the New Year, too early to abandon my good intentions.

When stirring up this recipe, I reached for more healthful versions of many ingredients -- white whole-wheat flour, which has all the nutrition of regular whole-wheat but is lighter in color and texture, plus nonfat milk and coconut oil, which is one of the more healthful oils. Cherries add flavor, moisture, vitamins and fiber. And chocolate is practically a health food, right? Even if it isn't, cocoa powder adds loads of chocolate flavor with a minimum of fat.

Yield: 12 muffins

1 1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process or 1/4 cup Dutch process and 1/4 cup natural cocoa powder)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup nonfat or low-fat milk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pitted fresh or frozen cherries or jarred cherries, well drained (don't use cherry pie filling)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Coarse sugar, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.

Melt coconut oil; let cool. In a large bowl, gently whisk together milk, egg and vanilla. Add cooled (but still liquid) oil; whisk until slightly frothy. Add dry ingredients; fold together just until well combined. Add cherries and chocolate chips; mix lightly but well.

Divide batter among muffin cups. (An ice-cream scoop coated with nonstick cooking spray works well.) If desired, sprinkle lightly with coarse sugar. Bake for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out without any clinging crumbs. Let cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Freeze any leftovers; warm slightly before serving.)

Each muffin contains 269 calories; 15g fat (11g saturated fat); 18mg cholesterol; 214mg sodium; 36g carbohydrate (4g fiber, 22g sugars), 5g protein.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Beef, Mushroom, and Barley Soup Recipe Warms Up A Cold Snap

I've been snowed in for two days, but I'm not complaining. That's because we have about everything we need -- a warm house, good books, internet access, and a well-stocked pantry, fridge and freezer.

As soon as the temperature started to plummet and the snow began to fall, I plotted what to make for dinner. I settled on soup, pulling dried mushrooms and barley out of the pantry, beef stew meat out of the freezer and baby bella mushrooms out of the refrigerator produce drawer. I also reached for my pressure cooker, which speeds soup-making considerably. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can make this soup in a large pot. Simmer until the barley is done, the meat is tender and the flavors blend, probably an hour and a half or two hours.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

About 1 ounce dried mushrooms (such as a combination of porcini, shiitake, black and oyster mushrooms)
2 slices bacon, chopped
Canola or olive oil, if needed
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 ribs celery, chopped
8 ounces fresh baby bella mushrooms, chopped
8 ounces beef stew meat, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
6 cups reduced-sodium beef stock or broth
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup barley
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped 1/2 inch thick
1 tablespoons tamari sauce or soy sauce

Place dried mushrooms in a strainer; rinse with lukewarm water. Transfer to a bowl and cover with 1 cup hot tap water. Let sit until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving soaking liquid. If necessary, strain liquid to remove any grit. Cut large mushrooms into bite-size pieces.

Place chopped bacon in a pressure cooker. Place over high heat. Cook, stirring as necessary, until bacon renders its fat. Remove bacon from fat. If necessary, add a teaspoon or so of  oil. Add onion and celery; cook over medium-high heat until they begin to soften. Add fresh mushrooms; cook until softened. Stir in stew meat; cook until it begins to brown.

Add beef stock, water, mushroom soaking liquid, softened dried mushrooms, thyme, pepper, barley and carrots. Put the lid on the cooker. Bring to high pressure over high heat. Reduce heat as necessary and cook at high pressure for 20 minutes. Remove from heat; let pressure reduce naturally for 10 minutes. Quickly reduce remaining pressure (use the valve if your cooker has one or run cold water over the closed cooker). Remove the lid and stir in tamari sauce.