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Monday, November 22, 2010

It's November? Jeez...

I know, I know...I've been away for awhile. It just happens that late September, all of October and early November are busy, busy crazy months for me. You would think (as most people would) that November and December are everybody's "busiest months"...but, alas...it is not for me. But I don't mind a bit!! And now I should be back here on a somewhat consistent basis.

We went to drop off some things at our friend's house (Steven, who has been in Serbia for just about a whole year, but is coming home tonight!) last weekend. I know I have mentioned how much we love Steven's Mom, Vinka, before and have sung her praises many times.  I called her (1) to make sure she was home and not busy or getting ready to go somewhere, (2) to make sure we could bring a boatload of stuff that Steven has kept here, and (3) to let her know we are just dropping the stuff off and have to come back home (we were in the center of a nasty cleaning typhoon and need to finish)...

We arrive with a carload of stuff to unload and do our hellos, how've-you-beens, and such. Before we can say "Where would you like us to put all this stuff?", this incredible smell wafts outs from the kitchen and calls us closer. 

True to her form, Vinka's got a HUGE dish of pasta and sauce waiting for us on the counter.  She knows how to get to me. This smell was incredible.  But I don't like "spaghetti sauce"!! My personal heartburn from hell comes from this evil, evil mixture of tomatoes and herbs and I avoid it like the plague. Uh oh.

You don't tell this woman "No" without hurting her feelings. Especially when it comes to food. I can relate, because I do get hurt when someone won't at least try something I've made. In my circumstance (and defense), making and serving something really good is about the only thing I'm truly good at and can contribute to society, so yeah...I may get pissy if you stick your nose up at it from the get-go and won't even try something. You are certainly free (even encouraged!) to tell me if you don't like it (by all means! I will file that info away for future reference) or what you think it may need to be better. I'm okay with that...just at least try it before you make puke noises or hold your nose, crush your eyes shut and run away.

I could do an entire post about that subject; but I digress...

So I take a plate and cross my fingers that the Heartburn Monster won't find me. It tasted wonderful. The pasta wasn't watery, the sauce clung to the pasta like a frightened two year-old to their Momma's legs. It was delicious. This coming from someone who does not like pasta and sauce*. So...I had another helping.

Guess what? The Heartburn Monster never did find me.

Wicked Chef - 1         Heartburn Monster - 0

This inspired me! I asked her how she did it, and Vinka kinda-sorta clued me in to her recipe. It's not that her recipes or methods are a closely guarded family secret. It's that she just cooks on the fly.  She's made certain things millions of times that she just doesn't think about it when she makes them; she just throws ingredients into a pot or pan and gets on with it. I can relate to that. Armed with basic ingredients, some low acid sauce research on the internet and her suggestions, I made this:

*Honestly, the term 'pasta and sauce' to me has always meant boxed pasta and jarred sauce. That is the other reason (aside from the heartburn it inflicts) that I don't like it. To me, Ragu is over-watered, corn-syrupy crap in a bottle. Prego isn't much different to me, either. They both really taste like watery, sweetened ketchup to me. But hey, I understand the whole feed-a-family-for-not-a-lot-of-cash ideal, so I can't say as I have never bought the stuff and eaten it anyway. I'm just sayin'....

Here's how I did it:

Heat about 1/2 cup of olive oil in a large pot, Dutch oven or skillet over medium heat. Grate about 2 large carrots and a large red onion and add to oil.  Let this cook for a few minutes. Make a well in the center of the mixture, and then add in one pound of ground beef and one pound of ground veal or lamb (I happened to have veal).  Cook until brown, gradually stirring it into the carrot mixture. Toss in 2 tablespoons each of oregano and basil - fresh if you have it and dried if you don't.

Make another well in the center of the pot. Add the contents of a 6 ounce can of tomato paste and let it heat. Add 4 to 6 cloves of minced garlic (depending on your love of garlic) and stir to combine. Add 2 cups of red wine. Stir together. Add 2 tablespoons Worcestershire and stir. Add 2 28 ounce cans of whole tomatoes. Finally, stir in 1 cup of half and half. Keep the heat on medium until it comes to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer for about an hour and keep it uncovered. Serve with your favorite type of pasta and a big sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

The verdict?  Eh.  I thought it was just okay, which was the unanimous vote around the table. I think I just don't like tomato sauce, period. Or spaghetti. Or the Heartburn Monster...because he found me about 15 minutes after I ate this.

Oh well...

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