Palmer House Ragu

Palmer Ragu
Matt and I first read about homemade ragu in the book, Heat, by Bill Buford.  The section on ragu was about Mario Batali and his story of his own family’s obsession with their homemade bolognese sauce, or, ragu.  He said every Italian family had one, and each family was so fiercely defensive and prideful about their ragu recipe, that some men even seriously considered a woman as marriage material or not, based on the quality of her version.  Though the section was a bit humorous, I really felt that this was a dish with a history and a soul and an identity.  No two people can make the same ragu, and so each person should work on perfecting their own to their own liking!

Matt and I consulted an online recipe years ago when we made ragu the first few times.  This time, Matt said, “Let’s not consult anything.  We know how it goes; let’s do our own.”  So we did!  It was really fun to create our own concoction and add a little of this and a little of that till we thought it tasted “right.”  A pretty good description in Heat of the proper way to cook a ragu is simple:  “Take a liquid and a solid and cook it till it’s neither.”

So I’ll give you our now-official family ragu recipe.  I encourage you to come up with your own as you go!  Make a huge batch and freeze for later – you won’t be sorry. You can thaw it easily in a skillet with a little beef stock.  This stuff is great saucy or thick.  We like ours super chunky and less liquidy, so we let it verge on the dry side.  Matt made potato gnocchi to go with it, but we’ve done every noodle you can imagine, and my personal favorite is a nice, wide fettuccine noodle.  Garnish with shaved Parmesan and serve with a hearty glass of red and you’ll be so good you won’t know what to do with yourself.

potato gnocchi Palmer Ragu Night

Palmer House Ragu

3 tbs butter or olive oil
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced onion*
1 lb ground beef (85%/15%)
1 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground sausage
1 cup white wine
1 cup whole milk
1-28 oz can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp oregano
a few gratings of whole nutmeg
pasta of your choice

*it’s important to try to make all your vegetables the same size dice so that they all cook and break down at the same rate.  We keep everything at about a 1/4″ dice.

In a large stockpot (I adore my Lodge ceramic dutch oven.  Half the cost of Le Creuset and just as good), over medium heat, add the butter and cook until it starts bubbling.  Then, add in the carrots, celery and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften.  Add in the meats and stir well to incorporate with the vegetables.  Cook until most of the pink is gone, but not all.  Add in the wine and bring to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid is gone.  Do the same with the milk.  After the milk is cooked off, add in the diced tomatoes and stir well to incorporate.  Add about a teaspoon of kosher salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper and let that sucker cook all afternoon.  We let ours bubble away for about 3 hours and as it cooks, I randomly come stir it, ladle off the fat that starts to separate so that the finished result won’t be too greasy.  Really, you can’t  cook this too long.  You can cook it too fast, but if it starts to dry out, simply add some water or beef stock and keep stirring.  When you like the look of it, add in the oregano and nutmeg and season again with salt to taste.  Let it cook another 30 min or so to let the flavors develop.  Serve over freshly boiled pasta (long noodles are the best) with shaves of Parmesan and a few shakes of crushed red pepper.  That’s how we roll, anyway.  Enjoy and mix it up however you like!  The secret is in the long cook time.  It’s amazing what a few ingredients will do together, over time!

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Mexican Dark Chocolate Waffles with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Mexican Chocolate Waffles with Cinnamon Cream

As I was drifting off to sleep after our New Year’s Eve party, I suddenly shouted out, “Mexican chocolate waffles!  Wouldn’t that be great?! And served with cinnamon whipped cream!”  “or dulce de leche,” Matt said.  YES! It was one of those ideas I knew would work.  I had some Mexican chocolate in our pantry that I hadn’t used, yet, and I usually like to think of a fun breakfast when we are all home together.  So New Years Day seemed like the perfect morning for a fun breakfast, laced with chocolate.

It worked as good as it did in my dream-like state at 1:30 a.m.  The chunks of Mexican chocolate gave the waffles a chocolate/spice/sugar grit throughout, and the waffles were crispy and as I brushed them with melted butter, I knew we had a winner.  I’d recommend these for any time you want something a little out of the ordinary.  The girls at the grocery store seemed to think me mad for buying Ibarra brand instead of Nestle’s Abuelita.  I really am not well versed in Mexican chocolate, but next time, I’ll avoid the scorn and buy Abuelita brand.  However, for tasty little chunks in a dark chocolate waffle, Ibarra worked just great 🙂

You can serve these with the simple cinnamon vanilla whipped cream, or like Matt suggested, I think some warmed dulce de leche would be amazing.  Or even some simple chocolate syrup.  No matter what you do, these waffles stand delicious on their own!

Mexican Chocolate Waffles

Mexican Dark Chocolate Waffles with Cinnamon Whipped Cream*
makes about 6-8 small waffles, or 4-6 Belgian

3-1/2 oz AP flour (about 1/2-3/4 cup)
1 oz. (1/4 cup) cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 TBS dark cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
6 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 large egg, separated
1 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup Ibarra Mexican chocolate (half a baking bar), chopped fine

Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 TBS cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
1 tsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 200F.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl with a whisk and set aside.  In a separate bowl, combine the milks, oil, egg yolk, sugar and vanilla extract and blend well.  In a separate bowl, whip the egg white with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form.   Set aside.  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry with a few simple stirs, then mix in the chopped chocolate and then gently fold in the egg white until fully incorporated.  Don’t overmix!  The egg white makes these waffles crisp!

Cook the waffles according to your waffle maker directions.  I use a stove-top waffle maker and it takes about 1-2 minutes per side over medium high heat and I use about 1/2 cup waffle batter spread over my waffle iron per batch.

As you bake, place the finished waffles directly on your oven rack to keep crisp and warm until ready to serve.

For the whipped cream: In a tall cup with an immersion blender, or in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, blend the heavy cream, cinnamon, vanilla bean paste and sugar until soft to medium peaks form.  Give a generous dollop per waffle and top with shaved chocolate or cinnamon.  Enjoy!

*base waffle recipe adapted from Fine Cooking

Happy New Year’s Resolutions and a Bowl of Hoppin’ John

Good Luck Peas
New Year’s resolutions are notorious for being too lofty and often unmet.  I’ve resolved to make my resolutions more about matters of the heart this year, rather than focusing on one particular flaw that needs improving.  Because as I’ve learned the hard way over the past few months, external flaws or bad habits are results of a ruined heart.  They are results of being far away from the Creator and instead, closer to the creation.  So instead of losing weight or being more organized or improving my correspondence with friends, or whatever needs improvement, I will instead put these resolutions on my list for 2014, and like the scriptures promise, “all these things will be added to you.”

1. Work for Christ instead of approval of men
2. Speak less frequently and listen more
3. Seek the Kingdom first thing in the morning through prayer, quiet time or reading
4. Look to the needs of others first
5. Treat Matt, Olive and everyone I come in contact with, like Christ would if He were me.

That should keep me quite busy this year.  I know for certain that  a year lived in this way will yield joy, whether good or bad things happen to me externally.  I think I’ll type these out and review them daily.  So many good things fall under these simple rules.  Preparing and serving good food could technically fall under resolutions 1, 4 and 5.  Today, I had the joy of keeping a tradition running in my family and preparing a huge pot of black eyed peas for us to have for lunch, lest we miss out on a year of good luck. Of course I don’t believe in superstition or luck, but I do believe in traditions and I look forward to them and I especially look forward to them if they are served with ham hocks and buttered corn bread.

Growing up, my Mammaw would bring us fresh frozen black eyed peas from her garden and we’d have them buttered with chopped, sweet onions.  Nothing fancy, just your obligatory New Years peas!  A few years ago I made a pot of dried beans with lots of bacon and chicken stock and it was pretty life-changing and so I have stuck to the same recipe, more or less, every year since.

Today, I give you my recipe for New Years black eyed peas, or Hoppin’ John, or whatever else you want to call it.  In true Family Meal style, Matt and I both contributed to this recipe.  I got the beans going, Matt made the cornbread, and Olive kept us entertained with things she found out in the yard as we took down Christmas decor.  I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day – it’s the only January 1, 2014 you’ll ever get,  so by all means, live it well!

Hoppin' John

New Years Day – Hoppin’ John

16oz bag of dried beans (if you use fresh, you’ll get to skip the first step)
1 sweet, medium white onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
3 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cups hot stock – I used beef stock, but chicken or vegetable would work fine, too.
1 large ham hock, or about 8 ounces chopped bacon or ham

1 recipe of really great skillet cornbread

In a large bowl, submerge the peas in water by at least 2 inches and let sit over night or at least 6 hours.

Drain the beans and set aside, picking through to remove any bad ones.  In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, add the butter and olive oil and let it start to bubble.  Add in the chopped vegetables and stir for about 10 minutes until they all begin to soften. Add in the black eyed peas and ham hock and stock and bring to a full boil.

Reduce heat and bring it down to an active simmer and let it cook on the stove, uncovered, for about 3 hours, until the beans are tender.  If you’re using fresh, you’ll probably only need to let it cook for 2, but just check occasionally for doneness.

Serve over cornbread with plenty of dashes of hot sauce and ring in the new year right!