Homemade Meatballs and Fettuccine

Classic Meatballs

Among our recent Pinterest recipes to try project was a meatball recipe from Saveur.  Despite loving Italian food and making quite a bit of it over the years, I never really got the hang of making meatballs. When I saw the recipe from Saveur, I decided it was time to try again, and I am glad I did because they came out great. They were a bit of work and somewhat time consuming but certainly worth the effort.

Because I was just cooking for the two of us, I cut the recipe in half. We picked up 5 ounces each of ground beef and ground pork from Di Bruno Bros. We also got a few slices of prosciutto and a couple of slices of garlic bacon from 1732 Meats. Although there was only and ounce each of the prosciutto and bacon, they gave the meatballs a little extra something special.

I followed the recipe pretty closely. The two exceptions involved the bread crumbs and the eggs. The recipe calls for bread crumbs from 7 slices of bread. We keep a container of dried bread cubes handy for whenever we need bread crumbs, so I couldn’t really measure them by the slices. I went by instinct and ended up using just shy of 1/2 cup which seemed to work out well.

The recipe calls for 3 eggs, which is tough to halve, so I used 1 egg and 1 yolk.

The spice mix (parsley leaves, dried oregano, fennel seeds, crushed red chile flakes, ground cumin and ground allspice) is probably more adventurous than people are used to in Italian meatballs but for us it was a welcome variation.

Homemade Meatballs and Fettuccine

This recipe was ideal for the chilly Sunday when I made them. The meatballs need to chill for an hour,  be browned for 10 minutes and then baked with red wine,  tomato purée, and beef stock for 1 1/2 hours. Although some of the liquid cooks off, there was enough to be able to serve the meatballs over fettuccine and, of course, with a bottle of red wine. They were absolutely worth the time and effort. This makes the move from Recipes to Try to Recipe Success.

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Moroccan Chicken Tagine

We’ve only recently discovered the blog Closet Cooking, but so far everything we’ve tried from Kevin has been really good. This recipe for Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons is one of our favorites. It also gives us an opportunity to use our homemade preserved meyer lemons and homemade harissa.

As with most chicken recipes we blog about, we use 2 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks, equivalent to 4 pieces) from our local farmers’ market, though the recipe calls for a whole chicken (8 pieces). We did not reduce the proportions of the remaining ingredients, and it still came out great.

The recipe begins with a delightful spice rub: 1 tsp paprika (I used smoked paprika), 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 pinch of saffron, and salt and pepper to taste. We rubbed the chicken pieces thoroughly with all the spice.

Next, we heated 1 tbsp olive oil on medium-high heat and browned the chicken on both sides (we use a dutch oven). In my opinion, it’s very important at this point to brown the chicken as long as you can, in order to ensure that by the end of the recipe, the chicken is cooked all the way through.

After browning thoroughly, per the recipe, we removed the chicken from the dutch oven and set it aside. We added 1 sliced onion and sauteed for several minutes, then added 2 chopped garlic cloves and 1 tsp minced ginger.  Next we added 1/2 cup chicken stock and scooped up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, then added the rest of the ingredients: 1 preserved lemon (pith removed, peel rinsed and sliced or chopped), 1 cup olives, 1 tbsp harissa, and 1 tbsp local honey. We used a mix of Greek olives from the olive bar at Di Bruno Bros.

Then we added the chicken back to the pot, covered, and simmered for 30 minutes. We found that it was very important not to exceed the 30 minute cooking time. The first time we tried making this recipe, the chicken wasn’t quite cooked through after 30 minutes, so we continued cooking another 5 minutes, and most of the onions and lemons got burnt. 30 minutes turned out to be just perfect for the onions to be deliciously caramelized. We recommend that if you’re concerned about the chicken being thoroughly cooked, you make sure to pre-brown the chicken as much as possible, as we mentioned above. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

The end result is fantastic. The olives and preserved lemon add a fantastic character to the sauce, and the mix of spices is incredible. We’ve served this with couscous, farro, or with a loaf of crusty bread.

We moved this from Recipes to Try to Recipe Success!

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Homemade Harissa Paste

About a year ago, I took my first stab at making homemade Harissa paste, using this recipe from The Kitchn. Now that I’m making a few more Moroccan dishes, it was time to make a new batch, and I can confirm, this recipe is great!

The recipes calls for 4 oz of dried chiles, which can be any kind depending on your desired outcome. The first time, I used a mix of ancho, chipotle, and arbol, which resulted in  a dark color and a smoky flavor. The second time, I used a mix of red New Mexico chiles, guajillo, chipotle, and arbol, which resulted in a much brighter red color. I bought most of the chiles from Los Chileros.

First, you soften the chiles by placing them in a heat-proof container, covering with boiling water, and soaking for about 30 minutes. Once they are soft, you stem and de-seed them, reserving some of the chile water in case you need it to thin out the paste later.  The recipe advises to use gloves while handling the chiles; I usually forget to and then always regret it later! Gloves are definitely a good idea.

Meanwhile, you toast 1 tsp dried caraway seeds, 1 tsp dried cumin seeds, and 1 tsp dried coriander seeds, then grind them (I used a mortar and pestle).

Next, combine the chiles, spices, 3-4 garlic cloves, and 1 tsp salt. Slowly blend with 2 tbsp olive oil to make a paste. I used a stick immersion blender, but the recipe calls for a food processor or mortar and pestle. If the paste is too thick, add some of the reserved chile water.

Transfer the paste to an airtight jar and top with a thin layer of olive oil, then store in the refrigerator. Each time you use the paste, add a fresh layer of olive oil to the top.

So far, I’ve enjoyed using harissa paste for a few different recipes, including:

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Charred Beef Tenderloin With Cacio e Pepe Toasted Barley and Parsley Pesto

In the latest of our Pinterest adventures, I tried a recipe for Charred Beef Tenderloin With Cacio e Pepe Toasted Barley from Serious Eats. We rarely cook beef at home, but it seemed doable, and the idea of cooking barley “cacio e pepe” style was intriguing.

We picked up a 3/4 lb. (12 oz.) cut of beef tenderloin from Di Bruno Bros. Not buying beef very often, I didn’t know it would be so expensive. I have to say, though, the quality was outstanding. I took the beef out of the refrigerator about an hour before starting cooking, to bring it up to room temperature.

I followed the recipe pretty much exactly, except I made a parsley and pine nut pesto instead of a watercress and walnut pesto, since that’s what I had around, plus I love parsley with beef.

The 2/3 cup barley took nearly an hour to cook, so that definitely needs to be started beforehand. While the barley was cooking, I prepared the parsley pesto, using about 1 cup chopped parsley, 3 tablespoons pine nuts, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon grated parmesan, and salt & pepper to taste.

I didn’t start the beef until the barley was done and the pesto was prepared, as I didn’t want any distractions. Per the recipe, I rubbed the beef with olive oil and salt and pepper. Cooking over high heat is a challenge with the electric stove in our apartment. The temperature I cooked at was more of a medium-high than high, in order to avoid excessive smoke and burning. I cooked the tenderloin exactly 10 minutes, flipping every 1 minute. I like my beef “rare plus” or medium rare, so this came out perfect for me, but in order to achieve closer to medium, it probably needed a few more minutes.

The beef needed about 10 minutes to rest, so at this point I toasted the cooked barley with 2 tsp ground pepper and 2 tsp butter (I used butter instead of olive oil), for about 7 minutes per the recipe. The recipe calls for adding 2 tablespoon of grated pecorino at the end (I used parmesan). If I make this recipe again (oh, I think I will!) I would add more cheese to make it more comparable to cacio e pepe.

When everything was ready, I sliced the beef and served it on top of a bed of the barley and topped with the parsley pesto. It was certainly the best beef dish I ever made! For the two of us, we actually probably only needed a 8 oz filet instead of 12 oz, and I’m not sure we would splurge on such an expensive cut, but that is part of what made it so delicious. The barley was very peppery and tasty, but as mentioned above, I would have liked more cheese.

I would definitely make this again, so we moved it from Recipes to Try to Recipe Success.

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Blood Orange Liqueur

I got the idea for making an orange liqueur when Autumn Makes posted a link on Instagram to a tasty-looking triple sec recipe from What Julia Ate. We enjoy a few cocktails that require an orange liqueur, including the Seelbach, so we thought we’d take advantage of citrus season and try it out. I happened to have picked up some blood oranges without any plans for them, and we were intrigued by the color we might get from a blood orange liqueur.

I read about 4 different recipes and synthesized them to come up with my own variation, which is closest to a recipe from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen:

  • 3-4 blood oranges (enough for 1/2 cup juice)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup neutral grain spirits
  • 1 tsp dried bitter orange peels (I keep these around for bitters recipes; I ordered them online from Dandelion Botanicals)
  • 1 dash orange blossom water
  • 2 cloves

I juiced the blood oranges and set the juice (about 1/2 cup) aside. I peeled the blood oranges with a citrus peeler (avoiding the pith) and put all the peels in a mason jar, along with the dried bitter orange peels. I heated the sugar and water in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolved, then added the blood orange juice and simmered about 5 minutes to make a blood orange syrup. Once the syrup was cool, I added it to the mason jar, then added 1 cup of alcohol, and 1 dash orange blossom water. I let this sit for about 1 month, adding 2 cloves a few days before it was done.

Blood orange liqueur in progress

The results? Really good. My first impression was it was too sweet (though it is supposed to be sweet), but it finishes very, very tart, enough so that the sweetness is offset. It also has a noticeable bitter component thanks to the bitter orange peels. So far we’ve tried it in a few cocktails: a Seelbach, a Pegu Club, and a classic Margarita. The Pegu was probably the best version of the drink I’ve ever had, I think due entirely to the fact that our orange liqueur is not as sweet as commercial versions. The margarita was also excellent, giving the drink a bright pink color (using a good reposado didn’t hurt, either) . The orange liqueur was good in the Seelbach, too, but not as noticeable because that drink is all about the bitters (we used our homemade citrus and aromatic bitters).

Homemade Pegu Club

The orange blossom water and cloves didn’t really come through. I think it could use another dash of the former, and the cloves could have been in a little longer. I’m also curious to what the result would have been had the blood orange peels been dried/baked instead of fresh.

I am interested in trying a different version closer to the What Julia Made version that involves baking the oranges and using brandy instead of neutral grain spirits (NGS). I did it the way I did mostly because I wanted to take advantage of the red juice/flesh of the blood oranges as much as possible – if it had been some other kind of orange I would have cared more about the peel than the flesh – and I used NGS because I had it handy, rather than having to buy brandy. The other thing I find intriguing about Julia’s version is adding the sugar at the end, so you have more control over the desired sweetness.

Overall, it’s really convenient that we now have homemade orange liqueur as an available ingredient, as it increases the number of cocktails we can make at home by quite a few. As always, we are comforted knowing the ingredients of something we make ourselves, and in our case it was probably cheaper to DIY instead of buy.

Holly and Tom Eating and Drinking in Philadelphia