Thursday, January 29, 2015

Turkey Meatballs Marinara

Eating meatballs marinara is something of an affair for me.  In recent months, I've been cooking them about once a week because they are absolutely delicious.  I can eat the meatballs straight out of the pot without anything else to accompany them, but give me a bowl of pasta or even some plain rice, and I can have a fantastic dinner.

Over the years I've had long discussions with aunt Marg and my mother-in-law as to how they like to make their meatballs.  After telling them step by step how I make mine, they both agree that it is, indeed, their way.  Mind you, Aunt Marg and my mother-in-law have been making spaghetti & meatballs for decades now, so it’s nice to know that I make them in the same manner.  

Beef or a mix of ground beef & ground pork and/or veal is common if you like making them with those types of meats.  At home, however, I make mine out of ground turkey.  Dark meat or a mix of dark & light is preferable to light turkey meat because it is more succulent and flavorful.  What goes into the meatballs is typical (I don’t add onion to mine) of what you’d find in most recipes and browning them in delicious olive oil before putting them into the marinara is essential for me.  Some cooks will just drop them into the bubbling sauce (or gravy, as some would say) without browning them first, which is completely fine, but I like to give them even more flavor.

The marinara is equally important and it’s not something which should be thought of as time consuming.  You only need a few ingredients to make a rich marinara and with the addition of the meatballs, you will have a sauce that is thick & rich when it’s done.  Worthy of any pasta to be sure.  A weekday dinner or weekend lunch in under an hour is what this dish is all about.  Check your pantry and refrigerator for the ingredients and make some this week.  There won’t be any left, I guarantee it.

Basic Marinara Ingredients
  • Two 28 oz {800 g.} cans whole or chopped, peeled Italian plum tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced in half
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons {30 ml} extra virgin olive oil
  • Optional Ingredient (1 teaspoon dried basil)

Note: I like a spicy marinara (arrabiata) so I add a 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, but you can omit it entirely if you wish.

Something I learned a long time ago by cookbook author, Susan Spungen, is that you should remove the inner sprout of the garlic cloves should you find any.  This is typical of older garlic.  Those sprouts are bitter and you do not want them going into your marinara.  Slice each clove in half and remove the sprouts with the tip of a paring knife. 

  1. In a large dutch oven or sauce pan over medium heat, add the extra virgin olive oil and red pepper flakes.  Get the oil hot!
  2. Add the halved garlic & dried basil (if using) and sauté for 1-2 minutes; don’t let the garlic burn.  While this is sautéing, crush the whole peeled tomatoes with your hands so that you have a chunky tomato sauce.
  3. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pot and bring it up to a simmer over medium-high heat; stir well.  Salt generously and add freshly ground pepper to taste.  When it does come up to a simmer, lower the heat to low and cover the pot with a lid.  I like to let this simmer for about 20 minutes while I'm making the meatballs.

Onto the meatballs!

Turkey Meatball Ingredients
  • 1 lb. {454 g.} ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup {70 g.} plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tablespoons {60 ml.} milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup {20 g.} grated pecorino romano (I use Locatelli)
  • 4 sprigs Italian flat leaf parsely, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
  • salt & pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
Note: I love the sharp taste of Pecorino Romano in my meatballs, but you can use Parmigiano-Reggiano instead if you prefer it.

Yield: approximately 25-26 meatballs or 6 servings

In a large bowl, add all of your ingredients.  Salt well (I add 1 teaspoon of fine sea salt) and pepper to taste.
Mix the ingredients well to distribute them evenly.  

Using a 1 1/2" (1 oz) ice cream scoop, portion out the meatballs and roll them into balls.  I use gloved hands to do this, but if you use bare hands, simply keep them damp so that they don't stick to your palms.  Place the meatballs onto a platter or plate as you go along.

The yield will vary slightly if you have a little more than 1 lb. of turkey or a little less.  

  • [A.] In a large nonstick frying pan (I'm using a 12" one) over medium heat, add about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to cover the pan and add about half of the meatballs--don't crowd them.  Brown them evenly.
  • [B.] Flip the meatballs when they get well browned on one side and continue to give them a nice color.  Meatballs tend to flatten somewhat, so I brown them on 2 sides.
  • [C.] When browned, remove the meatballs onto a clean plate or platter and continue with the ones remaining.
  • [D.] Once they have all browned, add them to the bubbling marinara.  Carefully drop them in and stir them gently with a wooden spoon.  Make sure you cover them well with the marinara.
  • Lower heat and place the lid on the pot.  Simmer the meatballs and marinara for 20 to 30 minutes.  The sauce will thicken considerably and the meatballs will be cooked through and very tender.  

Boil your favorite pasta as these are cooking and bring it all to the table.  Make sure there is plenty of freshly grated cheese to pass around.  Pour the wine and mangia!

Straight out of the marinara, it doesn't get better than this!

Meatballs marinara can be made ahead of time and frozen for up to a month in an airtight container.  If you wish, you can even cut the recipe in half for less servings, but why would you want to if you have a future meal already prepared?  I serve these meatballs with a good spaghetti, but they're also tasty with linguine or some rigatoni.  It's up to you, but you know, the little savories can also be stuffed into a roll to make a meatball hoagie.  Just heat up the bread and add some provolone or fontina to the sandwich (let it melt), and you have a great sandwich.  Treat your family to some healthy meatballs marinara this week.  Absolutely delicious!   

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Favorite Lemons

My favorite lemons of all time come from my father's trees in California.  I eagerly anticipate these winter trips to the west coast not only to see the extended family and good friends, but to partake of the bounty of lemons at mom & dad's.  For dad to climb up a ladder and pick the best lemons for me to take home is all in a day's work, but to me, it really is something special.  It means everything in the world to be able to bring these fruits back to Pennsylvania. 

Although I have to have lemons in my kitchen at all times, with no exceptions, there is nothing like having dad's lemons sitting in one of my bowls or platters. Thin-skinned and very juicy, the lemons get used for both savory and sweet preparations.  

With stems and leaves still attached to some of these fruits, I absolutely love the variety of sizes.  It's not like what one finds in the stores; all the same size, the same color and perfectly waxed until they shine.  These lemons range from tiny kumquat-size to larger-than-an-egg in dimension and have textured skin which may or may not be blemished.  Don't let the small ones fool you, because they too have a lot of juice in them.

I compiled a sort of inspiration board of lemon cakes from online sources.  In the near future I am going to make a lemon cake for a birthday celebration, so I'm gathering ideas.  

Lemon desserts are my all-time favorite.  
As a kid I used to drool at the lemon jelly rolls 
and the lemon meringue pies 
whenever we'd visit one of our local bakeries. 
Nothing has changed!  

Lemon curd will undoubtedly get made with dad's lemons.  Tangy, sweet and infinitely delicious are just some of the strong points of lemon curd.  Rest assured that I will find a way to incorporate it into something very soon.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Having tea in the afternoon is something I do every single day.  I don't make a production of setting a table just for this purpose, but I do admire the 'art of tea'.  Cultures throughout the world have their rules and etiquette practices when it comes to having tea, and if you partake of this daily ritual, then I'm sure you have your own set ways of enjoying a cup or two.  

Mariage Frères, the renowned French purveyor of fine teas and its accoutrements, is a company that elevates the art of tea to a very high level. I've known about this French institution for some time, but it's only recently that I've taken a moment to delve into their ways of proper tea.

While perusing The Food Lover's Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells, I came across the tea salons & restaurants of Mariage Frères in Paris (they also have a location in Japan).  It was here that the golden rules established by this venerable tea importer caught my attention.  These rules make sense and there is nothing pretentious about them.  

As Henri Mariage, founder of Mariage Frères in 1854, stated: "Tea is a noble beverage.  Preparing it is an art that combines skill and tradition."

If you want to learn how to make proper tea, 
follow this easy tutorial by Mariage Frères. 

Black Teas, Matured Teas, Blue Teas, and flavored teas
  • Pre-heat the teapot, after inserting the tea strainer or filter, * by rinsing it with boiling water.
  • Place a teaspoon of tea (roughly 2.5 g) per cup in the warm strainer* and let it stand for a few moments, allowing the steam to begin developing the leaves' aroma.
  • Pour simmering water on the tea so that all the leaves are covered.
  • Let the tea steep (refer to chart)
  • About 2 minutes for fannings
  • About 3 minutes for broken leaf teas
  • About 5 minutes for whole leaf teas
  • Barely 3 minutes do the first flush Darjeeling (slightly increasing the amount of tea to 3.5 g per cup)
  • 7 minutes for blue teas

It is then essential to remove the strainer or filter*containing the leaves. the tea must then be stired (another important step) and finally poured. Teas from great gardens should not be drunk too hot; let them stand a few moments after steeping, so that the palate can better appreciate the most subtle of fragrances.

White and Green Teas 
  • Pre-heat the pot or chung (cup with cover) as above.
  • Place the appropriate amount of tea per person or cup (refer to chart). Let the tea leaves stand for a few moments to allow the steam to begin developing the aroma.
  • Place the appropriate amount of tea per person or cup (refer to chart).
  • Let the tea steep (refer to chart):
  • For green tea, 1 to 3 minutes
  • For the white tea Yin Zhen, 15 minutes
  • For the white teas Pain Mu Tan, 7 minutes
  • Remove the tea leaves, stir and serve.

* Use a cotton tea filter if the teapot is not equipped with a strainer.

I highly encourage you to visit the Mariage Frères website for products, tutorials and other wonderful things from this French company.

Having tea using my Wedgwood drabware and lemons from my father's trees is pure pleasure.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Kristina Closs ~ Original Art and Prints

Art provides us with a glimpse into the artist's soul.  When I come across an artist’s oeuvre that I connect with, it's only natural for me to want to share it with friends.  Several weeks ago, a Pennsylvania artist who is a reader of the blog, contacted me and told me about her etsy store.  As you can imagine, the moment I clicked on the store and looked at the various watercolors that she offers, I knew I had to introduce you to her.  For me, it was the bird paintings that captured my attention.

This is what Kristina says:  "I am a self-taught artist working in watercolor and oil.  My goal is to show the things of day to day life in a new light.  Birds hold a particular fascination because we see them everyday, but they also remain mysterious.  The natural world as a whole is a constant source of inspiration for me and often I will draw from a recent walk, hike or gardening project to create a new painting.  Birds, cabbages and landscapes seem to be constant themes in my work.  I love light and color, and try to fill each subject I paint with both."

Visit her Etsy Store (above) for original artwork.

I absolutely love this painting of bees hovering over a cluster of orchids.  The pale mauve flowers anchor the painting and draw one's attention up to the striped bees.

A still life with a trio of apples blends shapes, textures and colors with such understated beauty.  Nothing is superfluous here.

This mixed media painting is a fine example of Kristina's use of color.  Blending shades of blues and greens, along with the curves and veining of the cabbage leaves, pulls the viewer in for a closer look.  This makes me want to unfurl each leaf to view more colors.

This is the artist at work in her studio creating the painting on wood.

Acorns are one of nature's little miracles.  Beautifully shaped, diminutive in size, yet perfectly nourishing for neighboring fauna, acorns have graced art work since the Renaissance.  What I like about this particular painting is that there is no artifice.  The subject (the beautiful acorn) stands alone, suspended on the canvas like a haiku.

Cardinals are special birds.  It's always a pleasure to view them from our windows because their crimson color cuts through anything in the landscape.  Showy in plumage, these humble birds brighten up any area in which they reside.  It's so wonderful to see them foraging in the landscape with their mate nearby.  They're almost always in pairs.  


Wax Wing Birds are Kristina's favorite feathered creatures during the winter.  With a bright berry between its beak, the artist's brushwork gives this bird a depth and a certain curiosity that would otherwise be devoid in a simple photograph.  

How can you not be captivated by the soulful eyes of this owl?  With the off-centered subject, Kristina gives this feathered-friend an anthropomorphic quality that is simply beautiful.

I think one of the reasons I connected immediately with Kristina's paintings was because of her subject matter.  When I look at her work and take in the color palette of each painting, I feel as if I'm taking a stroll around my own home or am looking all around the landscape, observing what's going on in nature.  Kristina is so adept at capturing the local flora and fauna through her beautiful artwork.  Her impressive oeuvre has a style and soul that is entirely her own. 

Thank You Kristina!

Visit her Etsy Store at: Kristina Closs ~ Woodpigeon