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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chicken Meatball Sub with Gobs of Fresh Mozzarella

Before we go too far, let me just say that when my husband first tasted this dish, he exclaimed: "Oh my gosh, this is good." And he's right.

It was Sunday night. We'd just finished a relaxing, refreshing week off work, and were looking for a comforting meal to ease us back into the real world. You know how that goes.

Chicken Meatball Sub with Gobs of Fresh Mozzarella fit the bill. This creamy, toasty sandwich delivers layer upon layer of assertive flavor and texture, elevating the meatball sub to something substantially more sophisticated.

I tested this recipe, created by apartmentcooker, a recent culinary grad, as an Editors' Pick for food52. While I typically follow these recipes to the letter, this time I subbed ground turkey, used an Italian seasoning blend with rosemary, sage, marjoram, oregano and basil instead of plain dried oregano, and deglazed the meatball pan with white wine and added the bits to the tomato sauce. I did all this because it was what I had, or could easily find, and because my tomato sauces usually taste bland (yes, I know, I'm Italian, but apparently I didn't inherit THAT gene).

I also altered the method slightly, using a great trick from Giada DeLaurentiis, which is to mix all the meatball ingredients thoroughly before adding the meat, which helps assure the end result is tender and soft.

No matter, this recipe would be terrific as written. The meatballs are intensely flavorful, the sauce turned out perfectly and the fresh mozzarella adds a silky, luxurious touch.

This isn't a quick cooking meal, but it won't take you all afternoon, either. And, it's versatile -- my daughter ate the leftover meatballs and sauce for dinner the next night. I think it's a great dish for casual entertaining -- say, a football party, or a group of teens, especially since you can make the meatballs and sauce in advance.

I've become a fan of apartmentcooker's style. I recently tested her amazing Leek, Prosciutto and Egg pizza, and find she has a knack for taking seemingly simple comfort food and making it shine. Check her out and give her recipes a try.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Cake Post: Double Chocolate Cake for T. And me.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to be a serious home cook, it’s time to learn to bake. It's time to become a person who can bake a nice, comforting loaf of bread, a batch of great cookies, or a birthday cake.

But here’s the thing: I don’t bake. I flip past the breads and desserts in cookbooks and cooking magazines. I didn’t even have an Easy-Bake oven as a girl. This is one life skill I haven't yet mastered.

So, I bought an excellent cookbook on breadmaking, made homemade pizza dough, and –drum roll– bought a Kitchen-Aid mixer. I’m quite sure this is a rite of passage that I missed along the way, because no other single act has made me feel more like an adult in the kitchen.

In another rite of passage, my stepson T. turned 13 last weekend. I couldn’t think of a better occasion to bake a cake – a genuine made-with-love-from-scratch cake. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a whole lot of time for such endeavors at that moment. Or that I’ve been fighting excruciating back pain for the last month (much better now, thanks for asking).

And, between you and me, T. really isn’t even a huge fan of cake. He’d rather have a cookie or some ice cream. But, I was not to be stopped. It was the principle of the thing, and it was time to bake.

Choosing the recipe was simple. I’ve had my eye on
Kelsey The Naptime Chef’s award-winning Chocolate Bundt Cake. And I paired it with the frosting from Chocolate Dump-it Cake, by Amanda Hesser’s mother.

I stocked up on fresh baking powder and soda, bought gourmet cocoa powder and put out two eggs to come to room temperature (this much I know). Then, at the last second, we ran out to buy a bundt pan, because as a non-baker, of course I didn’t have one. Next, Wes brewed some coffee – decaf, for the recipe, and we poured a glass of wine for ourselves. And set out to make some cake.

I sifted the dry ingredients into a bowl, then added the sour milk (one cup of room-temperature whole milk mixed with one teaspoon white vinegar; allow to sit for 10 minutes), the coffee and the other wet ingredients into the Kitchen-Aid. So far so good. I combined the dry ingredients slowly into the mixer, like all the recipes recommend, enjoying the hum of the machine, watching for it to turn into a smooth, glossy batter.

It worked! Yes, it took me 40 minutes to get the batter in the oven – twice as long as it should have, and, yes, I was completely wiped out when we were done, but that’s not the point. I wondered what took me so long.

The next day, we threw a little surprise party for T, and my little guy, who stole my heart from day one – was suitably surprised.

The cake? Sophisticated, dense and deeply chocolately, with a soft blanket of tangy, sweet icing. Pretty sure it was a hit. Try it yourself and tell me what you think.

So now, the boy is a teenager. And I’m on my way to becoming a baker.