Friday, November 07, 2008

Comforting Dinner on a Rainy Boston Night

I remember when my mother would make me Guggle Muggle. Only on the rare occasion when I would be home sick from school, the scents of warm milk and honey filled our home. It was a comforting, sweet drink that she learned from her father and something I will recreate to comfort my own children.

The final taste and amount of each ingredients is up to the cook, depending on your preference of sweetness. Just combine milk, salted butter, honey and brandy in a cast-iron pot and warm it over low heat. Be careful with the milk, as it can boil over quickly if you take your eye off of it.

When we need comfort, we often look for the culinary dishes that correspond to a warm blanket, the touch of your mother's hand on your forehead, or a kiss from your grandfather. We crave something to remind us of our childhood, when we felt the safest and the most protected.

We all have memories of different comfort foods from our childhood. Macaroni and cheese, tomato soup and grilled cheese, chicken noodle soup and finally spaghetti and meatballs.

On a rainy Boston evening, I decided to make the later and put a twist on the traditional. By using ground turkey and chipotle peppers, our dinners still meet our need for comfort but also had a little heat to celebrate the coming of the weekend.

To begin, I pureed some of the chipotle peppers (smoked and dried jalapeno peppers). At the store, the smallest can often seems too big. There are always peppers left because with chipotles, a little goes a long way. So if you purchase the can, think of some other ways to use the rest of the peppers so you don't waste them all (tacos, chili, sauces, vinaigrettes, soups, etc.). And do not store the leftover peppers in the aluminum can--for that matter, do not store anything in an aluminum can once it's been opened.

In a medium bowl, I added all of the ingredients of the meatballs: ground turkey, pureed peppers, fresh parsley, panko (Japanese bread crumbs), sweated onions, one egg, and salt and pepper. If you're afraid or grossed out by touching raw meats, there are two solutions: 1) get over it or 2) use gloves. I'm over it but I also use gloves. It's best to use your hands to combine the ingredients, but don't over work the mixture. You want to meatballs to be light, not dense.

Heat a medium skillet with a little oil and test a small portion of the mixture to check for flavors. You may need more salt, pepper, or heat. It depends on your personal preference. Just create a small pancake of the mixture. If you make a meatball, it will not cook all the way through.

Once you've adjusted the seasonings, add some more oil to the pan and start forming the meatballs. Once the oil is hot and you hear the meatballs sizzle when they hit the pan, you're ready to sear them. Keep the heat on medium and BE PATIENT. Don't touch the meat. You want to create a nice crust on the outside. Also, do not overcrowd the pan; otherwise, the meatballs will steam somewhat and it will be hard to develop the outside crust.

Have some paper towels lined next to the pan and once you've seared all the sides of each meatballs, transfer them to the paper towels to soak up the excess oil. When you're finished, it's time to make the tomato sauce to finish cooking the meatballs.

I try to stay clear of store-bought tomato sauces. They are often very acidic and lack any depth of flavor.

For the quick sauce I made last night, I started with some grape tomatoes and stewed them with some oil, salt and peppers. Once they softened, I added some white wine and let that reduce. For the quick sauce I made last night, I started with some grape tomatoes and stewed them with some oil, salt and peppers. Once they softened, I added some white wine and let that reduce.

Canned tomatoes and chicken stock was added and once the sauce came to a simmer, I added the meatballs and let them finish cooking.

In the meantime, I cooked the pasta and popped open a bottle of wine. After draining the pasta and combining it with the sauce, dinner was served.

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