Miami Beach Botanical Garden: A Tranquil Oasis

Panama Queen Miami Beach Botanical Garden

Panama Queen  or Coral Aphelandra (Aphelandra sinclairiana)

A couple weeks ago, Corey and I fled Chicago to Miami for some much-needed sunshine. Two of the things we miss most about living in Florida are the close proximity of nature and the relative ease of escaping into it.

Miami Beach Botanical Garden is a tranquil oasis, away from the party culture and entertainment tourism typical of South Beach. It’s a small park, but manages to showcase a wide a variety of plants—both local and exotic—and contains meandering paths, a Japanese garden, small ponds, a softly flowing fountain, and a hidden gazebo.

Here are some pictures of the beautiful plants we saw while visiting Miami Beach Botanical Garden:

Blue Sky Vine or Bengal Clock Vine Miami Beach Botanical Garden

Blue Sky Vine or Bengal Clock Vine (Thunbergia grandiflora)

Pink flowering stalk Miami Beach Botanical Garden

This is another pretty plant. I’m unsure of the name; if you know, please tell me in the comments.

a light pink orchid Miami Beach Botanical Garden

A Beautiful Light Pink Orchid

A Gorgeous Red and White Orchid Miami Beach Botanical Garden

A Gorgeous Red-and-White Orchid

orange shrimp plant Miami Beach Botanical Garden

What Corey and I Refer to as the Shrimp Plant

Aechmea sp. Miami Beach Botanical Garden

Aechmea sp.

Pendent Heliconia Miami Beach Botanical Garden

Pendent Heliconia (Heliconia pendula)

This reminds us of parrot beaks. A true stunner!

Pretty flowers Miami Beach Botanical  Garden

More Pretty Flowers

Cactus Patch Miami Beach Botanical Garden

Amidst the beauty lurked a rather dangerous cactus patch—parents be warned.

girl with bamboo staff

I found a handy pile of pruned bamboo staffs.

In addition to its colorful plant life, the Miami Beach Botanical Garden offers cultural and family events. We stumbled upon a Japanese Taiko drumming performance by Fushu Daiko. The movement and style of the performers was elegant, disciplined, and reminiscent of martial arts. The sound and choreography were mesmerizing.

Here are some photos of the event:

Taiko Drumming Fushu Daiko

Fushu Diako Taiko Drum Playing

More Taiko Drumming

Info about visiting Miami Beach Botanical Garden:

Address:

2000 Convention Center Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Phone: 305-673-7256

Website: http://mbgarden.org/

Hours: 9 AM to 5 PM, Tuesday through Sunday

Cost: Free

Miami Beach Botanical Garden is an excellent place for a picnic, reading, or painting (an artist was actually painting the Japanese bridge while we were there). We thoroughly enjoyed it and welcomed the change in scenery from Chicago. I hope you do too!

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are some that contrast with those above, showing what winter was like in Chicago. This winter was brutal, and complete with a string of extreme weather phenomenons—including thunder snow (yes, it’s a real thing), polar vortexes with -40F temperatures, and record snowfall (it was the 3rd snowiest winter on the books).

Ice Bike

Ice Bike

Ice Bush

Ice Bush

These photos were taken behind our apartment. While the snow and ice have a unique beauty, they don’t make for a hospitable environment.

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Japanese Pork and Potatoes (Nikujaga)

Japanese Pork and Potatoes (Nikujaga)

Japanese Pork and Potatoes (Nikujaga)

Nikujaga is a traditional Japanese dish of meat and potatoes simmered in a soy, mirin, and sugar broth. In eastern Japan pork is commonly used, while in western Japan beef is preferred. As the meat and potatoes cook, the broth is reduced and the ingredients absorb its flavor. The finished dish–a hearty stew–is sweet, savory, and utterly comforting.

Japanese pork and potatoes is easy to prepare, and doesn’t even require a trip to an Asian market. Soy sauce and mirin—the only speciality ingredients—can be found in the Asian section of most grocery stores. This dish is great for beginners experimenting with Japanese cuisine. It’s a one-pot meal that requires minimal attention after the initial prep.

A few notes about cooking Japanese pork and potatoes:

* It’s important to soak the potatoes in cold water before boiling them; this removes the excess starch and helps prevent the potatoes from disintegrating.

* Though this dish is a “meat and potato” dish, less meat is used than in a typical American dish; it acts more as a flavoring agent. The potatoes are the prominent ingredient.

* Mirin is a sweet cooking wine commonly used in Japanese cuisine.

* The green beans brighten the dish and provide a nice contrast to the stewed ingredients. If it feels silly to only boil 2 green beans, you can make a whole batch and serve them as a side dish or just skip them altogether.

Try this Japanese pork and potatoes recipe today and learn just how easy and delicious Japanese food is to prepare. Skip the restaurant and head to your kitchen!

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Japanese Pork and Potatoes (Nikujaga)

Serves 4
Region Japanese
From book slightly adapted from Authentic Japanese Cuisine for Beginners: A Step-By-Step Guide
Japanese pork and potatoes is an easy dish to prepare. Japanese pork and potatoes is a one-pot meal that requires minimal attention after the initial prep.

Ingredients

  • 4 Large potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1-2 " carrot
  • 7 Ounces thinly sliced pork
  • 3 Cups water
  • 5 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce

Optional

  • 2 green beans (boiled)

Directions

Step 1
Peel and quarter the potatoes. Soak the quartered potatoes in cold water.
Step 2
While the potatoes are soaking, thinly slice the onion and julienne the carrot.
Step 3
Drain the potatoes. Bring the potatoes, water, sugar, mirin, and soy sauce to a boil.
Step 4
Once boiling, add the pork. Spoon off any foam that forms on the surface. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender and soy-sauce colored. Stir in the onion and cook 2-3 minutes.
Step 5
Add the carrot, stir briefly, and remove from heat. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with chopped boiled green beans. Serve.

DrunkSkull Bloody Mary + A Giveaway

DrunkSkull Bloody Mary

DrunkSkull Bloody Marys with Celery and Jalapeño Garnish

I discovered these bloody marys after talking with Hosho McCreesh, author of A Deep and Gorgeous Thirst—a magnum opus of “drunken poetry” from Artistically Declined Press. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this book on The Next Best Book Club, an online book club that frequently features author-reader discussions. It’s a very cool way to light upon new works and authors.

A Deep and Gorgeous Thirst Cover

A Deep and Gorgeous Thirst by Hosho McCreesh

I really enjoyed reading this collection of poetry. It’s like sitting and reminiscing about the past with an old friend. Though these poems share the theme of drinking, they’re more about the connections made with others through–or in spite of–booze. Some poems are laugh-out-loud funny; others are touching and heartfelt.  

Interestingly, A Deep and Gorgeous Thirst employs the second-person perspective. This really throws you into the story, making you an active participant in the events that unfold—whether it’s “smell[ing] your ancestral home on the cool wind of some crazy astral plane” or “having the world you once knew . . . snuffed out in a brutal whiff,” you’re along for the ride. A crazy, wonderful ride of emotions and spirits.

DrunkSkull Bloody Mary

So Let’s Talk about These Bloody Marys . . .

After a few of these babies, the world might begin to glow. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Check out this video tutorial on how to make the Official DrunkSkull Bloody Mary:

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And here’s the recipe, courtesy of Hosho McCreesh:

The Official DrunkSkull Blood Mary Recipe:
Spicy V-8, Worchestershire, horseradish, minced garlic, fresh chopped basil, cracked black pepper, cajun spice blend, Old Bay, a squirt of Sriracha, squeeze a lime wedge or 2.
Vodka: Your choice — Kettle One, Skyy, Stoli, Absolut, Dark Eyes (just kidding) — I wouldn’t even include Grey Goose, and definitely not Chopin — Chopin (my favorite vodka) is a sippin’ vodka…not a mixer!
Salt the rim using lime juice with celery salt + old Bay + cajun spice blend
Garnish with celery stalk, pickled green beans, a jalapeno if you’ve got it.

Now, go enjoy a bloody mary–you know you deserve it!

Giveaway Time

Blog Tour Banner

As part of the Making Connections Blog Tour, I’m pleased to announce the DrunkSkull  Survival Kit Giveaway ($50 worth of fabulous prizes!).

DrunkSkull Survival Kit

The Kit will include:

- a signed copy of the book

- a recycled wine-bottle glass with the DrunkSkull logo on it

- a jar of Fiery Gardens Artisan Jams & Jellies

- a drunk skull fridge magnet

- some stickers

- temporary tattoos

- a coaster

- a patch

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Kimchi Fried Rice (Kimchi-Bokkeumbap)

Kimchi Fried Rice (Kimchi-Bokkeumbap)

Kimchi Fried Rice (Kimchi-Bokkeumbap)

When it comes to Korean food, living in Chicago has really spoiled me. One of my favorite haunts is the King Spa and Sauna—a Korean spa that’s pretty much paradise on earth. On top of their spa amenities, they have a food court that features authentic Korean dishes, including eggs cooked in the hottest sauna at the spa! Despite, or I guess because of, the extreme heat, it’s my favorite sauna.

Right next to the King Spa is one of the best Asian grocery stores I’ve seen: H-Mart. It’s an Asian (primarily Korean) grocer the size of a big-box retailer, and its tremendous selection always spurs me to experiment with Korean cooking at home. Out of these experiments have emerged several favorites, one of those being kimchi fried rice.

I never grow tired of kimchi! In fact, it’s a rare day when we don’t have a container of kimchi in the fridge. Its unique flavor profile—salty, sour, tangy, and sweet—makes it a great addition to many dishes. And it’s healthy to boot: Kimchi is high in vitamins and minerals, as well as probiotics.

Kimchi Fried rice with Sesame Seeds, Nori, and Scalllions

Kimchi Fried Rice Topped with Sesame Seeds, Roasted Seaweed, and Scallions 

Today I want to talk about kimchi fried rice and why it’s my latest obsession. Kimchi fried rice is super easy, economical, and flavorful. The red pepper paste and red kimchi juice impart the rice with a rich color and taste.

SONY DSC

From the left: Red Pepper Past, Cut Kimchi, Sesame Oil, Sesame Seeds, and Roasted Seaweed

Here’s a little about the ingredients:

Read about kimchi in this post.

Cooked rice: It’s best to use steamed rice that is a day old. This allows the excess moisture to leave the rice and ensures that the dish has the right consistency and texture.

Kimchi juice: the red liquid that accumulates inside the kimchi container. Hold the kimchi down and drain off some of this fermenting liquid.

Red pepper paste (go-chu-jang): this fermented red pepper paste is a staple in Korean kitchens. It consists of sweet rice, red chiles, soybeans, garlic, salt, and corn syrup/sugar. It’s similar in consistency to tomato paste, but a much deeper red and, of course, a much different taste. It’s spicy but subtly sweet, and is often sold in red plastic tubs.

How to toast sesame seeds: heat a skillet over medium heat, add the sesame seeds to skillet, and toast for 3 to 5 minutes, until you hear popping sounds.

Roasted Seaweed: this can have different names depending on the store and brand, kim or gim (Korean) or more commonly sold in the US, as nori (Japanese). It’s a dried seaweed commonly used when making sushi.

You can buy these ingredients in Asian grocery stores, and some of them can be found in your local grocery store in the ethnic food aisle. The kimchi will be sold in the refrigerated section; all the other ingredients will be located with dried goods.

Now that you know the ingredients in kimchi fried rice, it’s time to get cooking!

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Kimchi Fried Rice (Kimchi-Bokkeumbap)

Website Slightly adapted from Maangchi
Kimchi fried rice is super easy, economical, and flavorful. The red pepper paste and red kimchi juice impart the rice with a rich color and taste. Spicy and delicious!

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped kimchi
  • 3 Cups steamed rice (preferably day old rice)
  • 1/4 cup kimchi juice (the red liquid that accumulates inside the kimchi container)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons red pepper paste (go-chu-jang)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

Optional

  • 1 scallion (thinly sliced)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (toasted)
  • 1 sheet roasted seaweed (such as nori or kim)

Note

For an in-depth look at the ingredients, refer to blog post.

To present the rice nicely, pack the kimchi fried rice into a bowl and invert it onto a plate.

Directions

Step 1
Heat a wok or large skillet with vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the kimchi and stir-fry 1 minute. Add the rice, kimchi juice, water, and red pepper paste. Cook for about 7 minutes, stirring constantly.
Step 2
Add the sesame oil and remove from heat. Top with scallions, sesame seeds, and sliced roasted seaweed (I usually use kitchen shears to slice the seaweed).

Lobster Thermidor

lobster thermidor

Lobster Thermidor Atop Baby Spinach Leaves with Lemon Slices

The last two weeks have been rife with activity, good news, and celebrations. Among our festivities, Corey and I  celebrated Valentine’s Day and our 2nd anniversary as a married couple. And it wouldn’t be a celebration in our house, if it didn’t include good food and this lobster thermidor fit the bill perfectly.

Lobster thermidor is an elegant meal for a truly special occasion. Cooked lobster meat is mixed with butter, melted cheese, and sherry, which is then placed into empty lobster tails. The mixture is topped with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese and then broiled. The result is  creamy, cheesy lobster meat  that is absolutely sinful. The lobster is served atop a bed of mixed greens, alongside fresh lemon slices. The lemon adds a nice acidity to the dish.

This recipe comes from Classic Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals cookbook and while Corey and I sometimes joke that her meals sometimes take longer than 30 minutes to prepare, at least for us anyways, this lobster thermidor is faster and easier than most recipes I’ve seen and is a highly enjoyable rendition of the French classic.

This is the perfect meal for company, a romantic date, or a celebration. It is one of our favorites; we love the way the dish looks—the bright orange lobster tail stuffed with cheesy deliciousness atop bright green spinach leaves. A truly stunning dish! It’s a great way to transform traditional lobster into something new and exciting. And the taste, the taste will surely satisfy even the toughest critic. Bon appétit!

Do you have a favorite French dish or favorite way to prepare lobster? Let me know in the comments.

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Lobster Thermidor

Region French

Ingredients

  • 2 whole lobsters
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 small white onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • A splash of dry white wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 2 Cups baby greens
  • 1 lemon

Note

Sources: Boiling and removing the lobster meat, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook; lobster thermidor recipe slightly adapted from Classic Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals.

Directions

boiling the lobster
Step 1
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt for each quart of water used. Bring to a roiling boil and put the lobsters in the pot. The cooking time will depend on the size of the lobster. Allow 10-12 minutes for 1 pound lobsters, 15-20 minutes for 1 1/2 pound lobsters, and as much as 25 minutes for larger lobsters.
removing the meat
Step 2
Drain and shock the lobsters under cold water to cool. Twist off the claws; crack the claws with a nutcracker so the meat is easily removed. Chop the claw meat and set aside. Use kitchen scissors to cut away the soft underside of the tails. Save the tail shells , arranging them in a shallow casserole dish. Remove the meat from the tails and chop it into chunks. Mix the tail meat with the claw meat.
Step 3
Preheat the broiler to high.
Step 4
Heat a small saucepan and a medium skillet over medium heat. In the small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add onion and cook until very soft, 3 to 5 minutes. To the skillet, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. When the butter has melted, add the chopped lobster meat and sauté.
Step 5
Add flour to the saucepan with the onions and cook together 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in wine or sherry, then milk. Remove sauce from heat and stir in the cheddar cheese and paprika. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over lobster meat and stir to combine.
Step 6
Pour lobster meat into and over the shells in a casserole dish and top with Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Broil on high until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve each tail, spilling over with lobster bits in sauce, on a bed of baby greens. Serve with lemon slices.

Brandy Snaps with Cream

Brandy Snaps with Cream

Brandy Snaps with Cream

Corey and I recently had afternoon tea with our neighbors, and these brandy snaps with cream were a big hit. Their shells reminded us of the crispy layer of crème brûlée. In fact, I’m playing with the idea of creating these again and using a crème brûlée filling.

Brandy snaps with whipped cream

A Cannoli Meets Crème Brûlée

These brandy snaps are rich, creamy, sweet, and crispy . . . what more could you want in a dessert? Consider whipping them up for Valentine’s day, afternoon tea, or any festive occasion. Their appearance is also striking and elegant.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Brandy Snaps with Cream

Brandy snap mixture

Brandy Snap Mixture

Put 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup superfine (caster) sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn (golden) syrup in a saucepan set over low heat. Stir until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Remove the pan from heat. Sift in 1/2 cup all-purpose (plain) flour and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger and stir into the mixture. Add 1 teaspoon brandy.

snap mixture before bakedBrandy Snap Mixture Before Baking

Line 3 baking sheets with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Using a tablespoon, drop mixture onto the baking sheets (4 per sheet) about 4 inches apart to allow for spreading. Put into hot oven (350°F) and bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until bubbling and golden.

Cooked brandy snaps

Cooked Brandy Snaps

The first time I made these I cooked 6 per sheet, which didn’t allow enough room for spreading–I used a pizza cutter to separate them. It worked, but gave some an abrupt edge. The next time, I cooked 4 per sheet and it came out beautifully, with no overlap.

Forming the brandy snaps

Forming the Brandy Snaps

Allow the brandy snaps to cool 2 minutes, then loosen with a spatula and quickly roll them around wooden spoon handles or the like. I found a pestle to be perfect for this. The wafers will set quickly. Let them set 1 minute before sliding off the handles and cooling on a wire rack.

Brandy snap shells

Brandy Snap Shells Ready to Be Filled

filling brandy snaps with cream

Filling Brandy Snaps with Cream

Just before serving, fill the brandy snaps with whipped cream, creating one delicious dessert! If you want more afternoon tea recipes, check out these two posts. Do you have favorite teas or afternoon tea treats?

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Brandy Snaps with Cream

Serves 10
Region British
From book Slightly adapted from The Perfect Afternoon Tea Recipe Book
Brandy snaps with cream: imagine a cannoli meets crème brûlée and you get these delicious brandy snaps. Perfect for afternoon tea or a festive occasion.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup superfine (caster) sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons light corn (golden) syrup
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon brandy
  • 1 1/3 Cups heavy (double) whipping cream

Directions

Step 1
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Step 2
Put butter, sugar, and corn syrup in a saucepan set over low heat. Stir until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Remove the pan from heat. Sift the flour and ground ginger and stir into the mixture. Add 1 teaspoon brandy.
Step 3
Using a tablespoon, drop mixture onto the baking sheets (4 per sheet) about 4 inches apart to allow for spreading. Put into hot oven (350°F) and bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until bubbling and golden.
Step 4
Allow the brandy snaps to cool 2 minutes, then loosen with a spatula and quickly roll them around wooden spoon handles or the like. I found a pestle to be perfect for this. The wafers will set quickly. Let them set 1 minute before sliding off the handles and cooling on a wire rack.
Step 5
Just before serving, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Spoon into a pastry bag and fill the brandy snaps with whipped cream.

Crock Pot Cuban Black Beans and Rice

Crock Pot Cuban Black Beans and Rice

Crock Pot Cuban Black Beans and Rice

I love Cuban food: sandwiches hot off the press, sweet fried plantains, black beans and rice, and cold, refreshing mojitos! I’m sure my appreciation of this cuisine will only continue to grow as I live in Miami this summer. Dreaming of Miami beaches and sunshine is helping me weather the endless, extreme winter here in Chicago. It’s snowed so much this winter that there is talk of a road salt shortage in the Chicago area. This Cuban black beans and rice recipe is amazing; not only does it taste fantastic, but it’s incredibly easy to make!

Cuban Beans and Rice with Toppings

Cuban Black Beans and Rice with Sour Cream, Lime Slices, and Hot Sauce

Crock pot meals save time and effort–they’re perfect for long days when you just want to go home, relax, and have dinner waiting on you. Slow-cooking really infuses the flavors of the ham hock, chorizo, and slab bacon into the beans, creating the perfect combination of salty, smoky, and fatty.

Another great thing about using the crock pot to cook your beans is that no soaking is required. Just pour in dried beans, add the broth and other ingredients, and let the crock pot do the work! This is pretty awesome if, like me, you often forget to begin the soaking process the night before.

One can serve an infinite variety of toppings alongside Cuban black beans and rice: sour cream, lime slices, hot sauce, cheese, scallions, cilantro, diced onions, avocados, black olives, and more. That said, the dish is plenty flavorful by itself. I hope you enjoy this recipe for Cuban black beans and rice as much as I do!

Do you like using the crock pot? Do you have a favorite Cuban dish? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear.

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Crock Pot Cuban Black Beans and Rice

Serves 8
From book slightly adapted from All Around the World Cookbook
This crock pot Cuban black beans and rice dish is perfect for long days when you just want to go home, relax, and have dinner waiting on you.

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound dried black beans
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 Ounces slab bacon (cut into 1/2 inch slices)
  • 1 large onion (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 large tomato (chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 Cups chicken broth (or water)
  • 4 Ounces chorizo sausages
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • cooked rice

Optional

  • toppings: lime slices, black olive, hot sauce, diced onions, cilantro, shredded cheese, sour cream, and/or scallions

Directions

Step 1
Add dried beans to the crockpot.
Step 2
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook until fat is rendered, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and tomato. Cook another 10 minutes to wilt the vegetables. Transfer contents to the crockpot using a rubber spatula.
Step 3
Add the cumin, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, chicken broth, chorizo, ham hock, and brown sugar. Place lid on crock pot and turn to high setting and cook for 4-5 hours or turn to low setting and cook for 8-10 hours.
Step 4
Remove the ham hock and let stand until cool enough to handle. Shred any meat from the bone and return the meat to the beans.
Step 5
Before serving, stir in the lime juice. Serve the beans over rice and serve with desired toppings. Enjoy!

Homemade Italian Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs

Homemade Italian Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs

Homemade Italian Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs

It’s important to stop and enjoy the simple pleasures of life: a glass of good wine, a homemade meal with family, an evening cooking with friends, a romantic candlelit dinner, fresh herbs from the garden, a girl’s night out. Sometimes our busy lives distract us from what matters most. A home-cooked meal is a great way to bring people together, and this homemade Italian spaghetti sauce with meatballs will do just that.

Spaghetti and meatballs is a classic comfort dish–even more so when everything is made from scratch! This recipe takes a few hours, but yields a truly remarkable meal, with robust meatballs and a delicious tomato sauce replete with garlic and herbs. You won’t be going back to the pre-prepared stuff any time soon.

Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs

Homemade Meatballs and Tomato Sauce over Fresh Pasta

The meatballs consist of ground beef, ground pork, and veal. The variety of meats gives these meatballs a complex flavor. Torn bread soaked in whole milk is used for added richness, along with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Sautéed garlic and onion impart a sweet mellowness to the meatballs.

This recipe yields 6 to 8 servings, and the sauce and meatballs easily reheat, so there’s no reason not to double it and freeze the leftovers. This makes the time spent on this meal a worthy investment. If you’re looking for an appetizer to accompany it, consider this fried sage appetizer or this asparagus velvet soup–both Italian classics.

Serve your family and friends robust meatballs atop a piping-hot plate of spaghetti slathered in a delicious tomato sauce. They’ll love it!

Spaghetti and Meatballs with Parmesan Cheese Container

Spaghetti and Meatballs with Italian Air Force-Issue Cruet Set and Parmesan Holder

Italians know how to eat, and they appreciate freshly made pasta, shaved Parmesan, high-quality olive oil, and a carafe of good wine. So much so, that they issue olive oil, cheese, and wine accoutrements to their military! The Parmesan container and cruet set in the picture above are Italian Air Force military surplus. If you look closely on the bottom of the Parmesan holder, you’ll see their insignia engraved in the metal.

Italian Military Surplus Olive Oil Canteen

Italian Military Surplus Olive Oil Canteen + My Messy Kitchen after Making Pasta

And for olive oil resupply closer to the front lines, there’s the canteen above (rightmost)–it holds up to 5 liters of olive oil.

Homemade Italian Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs

Serves 6-8
Region Italian
From magazine Slightly adapted from Gourmet January 2009
Spaghetti and meatballs is a classic comfort dish--even more so when everything is made from scratch! Learn how to make homemade Italian spaghetti sauce with meatballs.

Ingredients

Spaghetti sauce

  • 3 (28 oz) cans whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 medium onion (chopped)
  • 3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

Meatballs

  • 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
  • 1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
  • 1 1/2 Cups torn day-old Italian bread
  • 1 1/2 Cups whole milk
  • 3 Large eggs
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 Pound ground veal
  • 3/4 Pound ground pork
  • 3/4 Pound ground beef (not lean)
  • 1 cup olive or vegetable oil

pasta

  • 1 Pound dried spaghetti

Accompaniment (Optional)

  • grated Parmesan (for serving)

Note

* Meatballs can be made and simmered in sauce 5 days ahead and chilled (cover once cool).

* Meatballs with sauce can be frozen in an airtight container or heavy-duty sealable bags up to 3 months

Directions

Spaghetti sauce
Step 1
Drain tomatoes, reserving juice in large bowl. Crush tomatoes with your hands and add to juice.
Step 2
Cook onion in oil in pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes with their juice, basil, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season with salt.
Meatballs
Step 3
While the sauce simmers, make the meatballs: Cook onion in olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.
Step 4
Soak bread in milk in another bowl until soft, about 5 minutes. Firmly squeeze bread to remove excess milk, discarding milk.
Step 5
Stir together cooled onion mixture, bread, eggs, parmesan, parsley, oregano, lemon zest, 2 3/4 teaspoons salt, 3/4 teaspoon pepper until combined. Add meats to bread mixture, gently mix with your hands until just combined (do not overmix).
Step 6
Form meat mixture into about 35 (1 1/2 inch) balls with dampened hands, arranging meatballs on a large baking sheet or shallow baking dish.
Step 7
Heat olive or vegetable oil (1 cup) in a large skillet or Dutch oven (the Dutch oven helps prevent oil from splattering) over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown meatballs in batches (without crowding), turning frequently, about 5 minutes per batch. Return to baking sheet.
Sauce and Meatballs
Step 8
Add meatballs to sauce and gently simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until cooked through , 20 to 30 minutes.
Pasta
Step 9
Cook spaghetti in boiling salted water until just al dente, drain. Toss pasta with some of the sauce in a large serving dish.
Serve
Step 10
Serve with meatballs, remaining sauce, and grated cheese.

Butterfly Cupcakes

Butterfly Cupcake

After being invited to my first baby shower, I decided to bring a striking, elegant dessert. I thought about making these fondant cherry cupcakes, but ultimately opted for something new. I discovered these beautiful butterfly cupcakes on Annie’s Eats and instantly fell in love.

The butterflies look quite realistic, and their outspread wings give them dimension and the illusion of flight. They’re gorgeous perched atop the colored buttercream icing. Even better, the butterflies are pure, delicious chocolate!

Black and white Buttrefly Cupcake

Butterfly Cupcakes

Since my friend is having a baby boy, I chose traditional colors–blue and green.

How to make the butterfly decorations:

Butterfly Cupcake Template

First, draw a template for the wings on a piece of printer paper. Trace over the design with a dark marker, so it can easily be seen through wax paper, which you’ll lay atop it. Cut out squares of wax paper that are slightly larger than the template (1 square per cupcake). Tape the template to a flat work surface.

Fill a Ziploc bag with ½ cup of dark chocolate candy melts, and another Ziploc bag with ½ cup colored candy melts. Microwave in 10-second intervals, unsealed, massaging the candy melts in between, until the candy is completely melted and no lumps remain. Don’t use intervals longer than 10 seconds, because you can burn holes through the plastic bag otherwise. Once the chocolate is completely melted, remove excess air and seal the bag. Cut a very tiny hole in the corner of the bag. The smaller the hole, the easier it will be to precisely pipe the chocolate.

Making butterfly wings with candy melts

Place a square of wax paper over the template. I forgot to do this the first time, and had to redraw my template.

piping the chocolate butterfly wings

Gently trace the outline with piped chocolate.

Filling the butterfly wings

Squeeze a small amount of the colored chocolate into the outline. Gently pick up the wax paper and tap it lightly against a flat surface to fill the wings. You can also tilt it to spread the melted chocolate into the corners. Just do so gradually to avoid overspill.

Chocolate Butterfly Wings

Use a toothpick to create swirls in the wings.

Adding swirls to the butterfly wings

chocolate butterfly wings with swirls

Add white nonpareils to the tips of each wing. The texture and color of the nonpareils contrasted nicely with the dark green chocolate.

Butterfly wings with nonpariels

Let the wings set completely. Repeat this process until you have enough wings for your cupcakes. The chocolate will begin to harden after a while, making it difficult to pipe. When this happens, just reheat (in 10-second intervals) until it’s smooth once again.

Draw the template for the antennas on a piece of printer paper using a dark marker. Tear off a large sheet of wax paper, then place the template underneath. Trace with the melted dark chocolate. Slide the template over and trace again.

antennae template for butterfly cupcakes

Repeat this process until you have roughly double the number of antennas you actually need. These delicate antennas sometimes break when touched, so it’s best to have extras.

SONY DSC

Tint the buttercream icing with the color of your choice. I used Wilton Kelly Green and Sky Blue.

tinting buttercream icing Frost your cupcakes. I used a piping bag with a star tip. Make a small line in the middle of the cupcake with your finger. This is where the butterfly body will be piped.

Icing a cupcake

Place two chocolate chips at a forty-five degree angle on either side of the line. These will support the butterfly wings.

buttercream icing cupcakes

Stick the butterfly wings into the cupcake atop the chocolate chips.

Butterfly cupcake wings

butterfly wings on cupcakePlace chocolate frosting (not candy melts) into a bag and pipe the body of the butterfly onto the cupcakes.

butterfly cupcakesPlace antennas into the cupcakes at the top of the butterfly.

Now you know how to make these butterfly cupcakes. Kids and adults alike will marvel at their beauty!

Blue Butterfly Cupcakes

Much thanks to my friend Annie for helping me make these cupcakes in time for my friend’s baby shower!

Butterfly Cupcakes

Website slightly adapted from Annie's Eats
These butterfly cupcakes are striking and elegant. The butterflies are made entirely with chocolate and taste delicious.

Ingredients

  • wax paper
  • Ziplock bags
  • dark cocoa candy melts
  • colored candy melts (whatever color you want the wings to be)
  • toothpicks
  • white nonpareils
  • cupcakes
  • buttercream icing
  • color tints (whatever color you want the icing to be)
  • chocolate chips
  • can chocolate frosting

Optional

  • piping bags (number depends on how many icing colors you use)
  • large star tip (number depends on how many icing colors you use)
  • couplers (number depends on how many icing colors you use)

Note

The amount of chocolate you need really depends on the number of colors you want to use and the quantity of cupcakes you're going to make. I made 24 cupcakes and used about 1/2 a bag of dark cocoa candy melts, and about 1/2 a bag of blue and green candy melts.

Directions

Step 1
Butterfly Cupcake Template
First, draw a template for the wings on a piece of printer paper. Trace over the design with a dark marker, so it can easily be seen through wax paper, which you'll lay atop it. Cut out squares of wax paper that are slightly larger than the template (1 square per cupcake). Tape the template to a flat work surface.
Step 2
Making butterfly wings with candy melts
Fill a Ziploc bag with ½ cup of dark chocolate candy melts, and another Ziploc bag with ½ cup colored candy melts. Microwave in 10-second intervals, unsealed, massaging the candy melts in between, until the candy is completely melted and no lumps remain. Once the chocolate is completely melted, remove excess air and seal the bag. Cut a very tiny hole in the corner of the bag. The smaller the hole, the easier it will be to precisely pipe the chocolate. Place a square of wax paper over the template.
Step 3
piping the chocolate butterfly wings
Gently trace the outline with piped chocolate.
Step 4
Filling the butterfly wings
Squeeze a small amount of the colored chocolate into the outline. Gently pick up the wax paper and tap it lightly against a flat surface to fill the wings. You can also tilt it to spread the melted chocolate into the corners. Just do so gradually to avoid overspill.
Step 5
Adding swirls to the butterfly wings
Use a toothpick to create swirls in the wings.
Step 6
Butterfly wings with nonpariels
Add white nonpareils to the tips of each wing.
Step 7
Let the wings set completely. Repeat this process until you have enough wings for your cupcakes. The chocolate will begin to harden after a while, making it difficult to pipe. When this happens, just reheat (in 10-second intervals) until it's smooth once again.
Step 8
antennae template for butterfly cupcakes
Draw the template for the antennas on a piece of printer paper using a dark marker. Tear off a large sheet of wax paper, then place the template underneath. Trace with the melted dark chocolate. Slide the template over and trace again. Repeat this process until you have roughly double the number of antennas you actually need. These delicate antennas sometimes break when touched, so it's best to have extras.
Step 9
Icing a cupcake
Tint the buttercream icing with the color of your choice. Frost your cupcakes. Make a small line in the middle of the cupcake with your finger. This is where the butterfly body will be piped.
Step 10
buttercream icing cupcakes
Place two chocolate chips at a forty-five degree angle on either side of the line. These will support the butterfly wings.
Step 11
Butterfly cupcake wings
Stick the butterfly wings into the cupcake atop the chocolate chips.
Step 12
butterfly cupcakes
Place chocolate frosting (not candy melts) into a bag and pipe the body of the butterfly onto the cupcakes.
Step 13
Place antennas into the cupcakes at the top of the butterfly.

 

Spicy Pork and Mustard Green Soup

Spicy Pork and Mustard Green Soup

Spicy Pork and Mustard Green Soup

With the recent arctic blast and below-zero temperatures here in Chicago, I wanted a comforting, nutritious soup. Bon Appétit’s most recent cover recipe fit the bill: Rice Noodle Soup with Spicy Pork and Mustard Greens.

When I’m trying out a new recipe I tend to follow it almost exactly, so that I can properly decide what, if anything, needs to change. The first time around, I did reduce the amount of crushed red pepper flakes from 3/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon, as I had a friend over who doesn’t care for spicy foods.

Spicy pork soup with mustard greens

Spice up the New Year with this healthy dish!

I loved the flavor of the broth! The crushed peppercorns and red pepper flakes provided some heat, but not enough to detract from the other ingredients in the dish; rather, they gave an inherent sharpness to the broth. The garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and fish sauce rounded out the broth, providing depth. I also liked the mustard greens; most of the time, I use mustard greens as a side dish, preferring spinach or kale for main courses. However, the mustard greens were a welcome change, and paired well with this spicy soup.

While the spicy pork and mustard green soup was superbly delicious, the ratio of broth to noodles was inadequate in the original recipe—the broth didn’t even cover the noodles in the bowl! Also, the rice noodles lacked in substance, making the soup feel less hearty and satisfying.

But I knew this soup had potential. It was good, but I wanted to take it to the next level. So I experimented with the following changes: I doubled the amount of pork and broth. I used a mixture of dark and regular soy sauce (instead of just regular) to enhance the richness of the soup. Finally, I replaced the rice noodles with knife-cut noodles (Korean wheat noodles) that I had on hand. These changes made the soup more robust and satisfying. If you can’t find knife-cut noodles, I would try fettuccine instead.

These modifications made for a stellar soup—perfect for a winter night, where all you want to do is hide away from the elements! This dish will be one of my go-to comfort foods this winter, and is a great way to eat more greens. If you want a healthy dish for the New Year, try out this spicy pork and mustard green soup.

Spicy Pork Soup

Spicy Pork and Mustard Green Soup

Serves 4
From magazine Adapted from Bon Appétit
Spicy pork and mustard green soup is a perfect for a winter night and is a great way to eat more greens !Spice up the New Year with this healthy dish!

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound ground pork
  • 4 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
  • 4 Teaspoons ginger (peeled and finely chopped)
  • 2 Teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns (crushed)
  • 1-1 1/2 Teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you want the dish to be)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (coarsely chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 Cups chicken broth
  • 1 Bunch (about 4 cups) mustard greens (remove and discard ribs, the tear greens)
  • 8 scallions (thinly sliced)
  • 4 Tablespoons soy sauce (I used 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce and 3 tablespoons regular)
  • 2 Teaspoons fish sauce
  • 8 Ounces knife-cut noodles (fettuccine or wide rice noodles also work)

Directions

Step 1
Mix pork, garlic, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, red pepper flakes, and cumin in a medium bowl. Heat oil over a large pot over medium heat. Add pork mixture; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring and breaking up with a spoon, until browned and cooked through, 8-10 minutes.
Step 2
Add broth and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until flavors meld, 8-10 minutes. Add mustard greens, scallions, soy sauce, and fish sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender, 5-8 minutes; season with salt and black pepper.
Step 3
Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions; drain.
Step 4
Divide noodles among bowls and ladle soup over.