Meatball Soup for the Sick and Snowed In

This week we’ve had “snow” (ice), and we’ve been sick, so soup seemed like the perfect thing to whip up because you can just throw a few things in a pot and let it cook itself. Meatballs are pretty easy too, especially if you have some frozen already, and with just a little effort you have a delicious meal.

This week I made meatball soup twice, in very different ways.

I don’t use any particular recipe for meatballs, but I do use kind of a base recipe. They should have some sort of ground meat, breadcrumbs to retain moisture, some sort of milky liquid like milk or yogurt, eggs to bind, plus the flavoring, including something fresh tasting, like ginger, mint or cilantro. I know some people don’t use breadcrumbs or eggs, and only minimally combine the ingredients, but I mix them to death, sometimes in the food processor, because I like the smooth texture and they always come out moist and yummy.

For the first meatball/soup combo I made turkey meatballs with panko breadcrumbs, milk (would have used coconut milk if I had some on hand), coconut flakes, cilantro, roasted red pepper, green onion, fish sauce, garlic and ginger. Upon reflection I probably should have used just regular breadcrumbs instead of wasting my panko because it probably didn’t make much of a difference. I rolled them into mini balls and browned them, then finished them in a 400 degree oven while Zoeya and I danced bachata around the kitchen. When placed at the bottom of a bowl and covered with a gingery chicken broth with green onions and shiitake mushrooms they were phenomenal, salty and sweet and delicious.

The second combination I made the day it snowed; snow triggers some sort of tomato soup alert in my brain, so that’s what I made. Also, I had all the ingredients on hand so there was no trip to the store in treacherous conditions. I sauteed a few anchovy fillets with garlic and red pepper flakes, then added chicken broth, grated carrot, crushed tomatoes, fresh thyme, and some finely diced roasted piquillo peppers. Heavenly. For the meatballs, I had some kofte (Pakistani meatballs) frozen, so I just thawed and browned them. They are basically beef, breadcrumbs, yogurt, eggs, onion, garlic, lots of ginger and cilantro, and many spices, rolled medium-sized. I’ll write a detailed recipe eventually, but I don’t even know it myself; the first time I made them they were absolutely amazing, and I’ve been trying to replicate that ever since. Usually I finish cooking them in a spicy gravy, but this time finished them in the oven since they were destined for the soup. I made grilled cheese too, and this turned out to be a wonderful snow meal.

Dinner for One…and a Half

Dining alone does not have to be a dreary ordeal, and thank God for that because I find myself doing it quite frequently the past couple of weeks since Shan’s been travelling for business. I still have little Zoeya for company, and the joy and responsibility of providing her a balanced meal, and although I try to get home and cook so we can eat together, sometimes she just gets oatmeal and I don’t cook anything interesting – or at all – until after she goes to bed.

A big plus to eating alone is that I can cook whatever I want. Shan is extremely picky and his will-not-eat-unless-tricked list includes: seafood, tofu, lamb, mustard, olives, and all but a handful of fruits and vegetables. Another plus is that we differ on our opinions about if a meal is a meal without meat – me: yes; him: no.

This past week, Shan was in exotic Pennsylvania, and by a stroke of good fortune it was also Your Favorite Dinner for One week over at Food52, where they run a themed recipe contest every week. One of these recipes, Grilled Pepper Cheese Sandwiches, caught my eye. It’s basically a grilled cheese sandwich with homemade pimento cheese. It lost the contest, but got my vote for these reasons:

It’s easy. Some people like to cook themselves a fancy, complicated meal, set the table, pour the wine, the whole nine yards. Not my style (except the wine). The only thing mildly difficult about this was making the spread in batches since I have a mini chopper, not a full sized food processor. By the way, this makes way more than you need for one or even two sandwiches, so I would probably half the recipe next time. I ate leftovers on apples (good) and Parle-G biscuits (really good, surprisingly, and addictive).

It’s also weird. The cheese spread does turn out bright, bright orange, and the raw garlic gives it a bite that not everybody’s going to be a fan of. There’s a reference to Sex and the City’s “single food” in the description (grape jelly on Saltines). I have my own versions of single food, things I love but would never imagine serving to anyone, including cherry tomatoes, mayo, and a ton of balsamic vinegar on an English muffin, and a banana mashed with peanut butter and stuck in the microwave for 20 seconds. Yum.

Finally, it’s indulgent. Cheese? Check. Mayo? Check. Butter? On both sides of the bread? Check. I’m sure some ladies are sitting at home juice fasting so they’ll be nice and svelte when their man returns, but it was fun to eat something yummy and curl up with my boyfriend Tivo. (Another SATC reference!)

Zoeya also enjoyed this the next day, the garlic didn’t deter her from exclaiming “mmm…mmm” with every bite.

Goodbye 2009 – My Year in Food

I’ve loved cooking for a long time, but 2009 was a particularly good food year for me. I’ve gotten a little more knowledgeable, a little more adventurous, a little fatter – thank God the holidays are over! It was a year I cooked in a foreign country, a year I learned to cook for a picky baby, and my first full year without bacon (boohoo). Here’s my year in review.

Some things I learned (don’t laugh):

  1. Sugar is a wet ingredient. Makes total sense.
  2. You should NOT overmix your muffin batter or you will end up with little poppyseed hockey pucks.
  3. When cooking meat such as meatballs or chicken breasts, it will form a little crust at the bottom and be easy to flip. I used to panic when I couldn’t move it and think it had burned to the bottom.
  4. I learned how to season a pan. A couple years ago Shan and I had this horrible little pan that I would cook eggs in. It was old and cheap and had even bubbled in the middle, and flipping an egg was almost impossible. He told me to add salt. This helped somewhat but just made saltlick eggs. Now I get the technique which is to rub the pan with oil and salt, then wash. Ta-dah! Seasoned.
  5. Alcohol does not totally evaporate from a dish. We had this debate years ago at a cooking-with-booze themed potluck and we decided it did. Now I realize Gloria (my foodie friend) was right, it does not. I know this because Alton Brown said so.
  6. I’ve also learned some little tricks, how to temper eggs, easily cut a mango (which I’m now allergic to after eating like a whole box this summer), roast pumpkins and red peppers.

This year I learned to cook a lot of Pakistani dishes: I made my first biryani, my first kofte, rolled my first parathas in a kitchen in Pakistan, made my first samosas which are delicious and a dinner party staple now. My husband is happy.

Hosted my first Thanksgiving: and therefore made my first complete Thanksgiving meal. And may I say it would have made the Pilgrims proud.

Cool tools I acquired: Paella pan. I used to make my paellas in a stone casserolle dish but when I put it on a hot eye it cracked, so I used that as an excuse to buy an actual pan. Kitchen scale, now on board with the weight measurements. Mandoline, which was super Walmart cheap and I didn’t think it would work well but it’s amazing, I’ve attacked potatoes, cucumber and beets. Baking mats. Oven mitt (I know. Finally. I was using dish rags).

Cool ingredients I cooked with for the first time: Mascarpone. Almond paste. Fennel. Nigella seeds. Lamb and goat. Calimari.

Food books I read and a couple of the cookbooks I used a lot: More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin (which I loved, the first one is on request from the library), Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser, Jasmine in Her Hair by Huma Siddiqui, Judy Rodger’s The Zuni Café Cookbook which I’ve had for awhile but cooked from quite a bit this year, and of course The Joy of Cooking gets continual use.

Kitchen disasters: I didn’t think of any immediately but I had obviously just selectively forgotten them because upon pondering for a minute they start pouring out like confessions. Pear creme brulee – didn’t want to shell out for the blowtorch so tried to broil it but never quite worked. I’ve never made mayonnaise before, and I still haven’t, because the saffron aioli I was trying to make just made lemony saffron soup. Aforementioned muffins (bah!) Edit: oh wait I’ve got another! I made a sourdough bread starter, and it never really looked right, and got totally abandoned on the counter the weekend I went to Cancun.

So yes, 2009 was a good year in food, especially since the last few months I’ve upped my game a little bit – I’m reading books, blogs, and tweets, watching cooking shows and lovely food movies, even writing now, and most importantly spending lots of time playing around in my kitchen and feeding my friends and family. 2010 looks to be a delicious year.