Cassata Cake

My opinion of the "best dessert ever" is always changing. One day it might be Magnolia's red velvet cake, another it might be a boca negra, yet another it might be macarons, of any flavor. The sweet I seem to always come back to, though--without doubt, without pause--is biancomangiare, which you may know as the delicious, creamy filling of cannoli :)

Now, in Italy, cannoli are not traditionally filled with biancomangiare, not as far as I know. I believe they do serve them that way, but it's really an Italian-American tradition, much like how you may find that the "Mexican food" at restaurants in America is not the same as what you'd find in Mexico. Traditionally in Italy, cannoli are filled with a ricotta cream...and I know what you're thinking...EW. Cheese? But like mascarpone cheese (one component of the delicious cream you'll find in tiramisu!), ricotta is mild and can be made creamy and sweet. It's flavored with canela, a type of cinnamon unlike any other you'd commonly know, and, I believe, studded with a maraschino cherry at each end. This is not my favorite way to eat cannoli, though! Not at all...

While the ricotta cream is perfectly decent, and some feel far superior to biancomangiare, it's just not right. I suppose my feelings may be a result of growing up with biancomangiare, which is more like a sweet, silky, cinnamon pudding, but I just think ricotta is too fluffy and rather dry, at least in comparison!

Anyway, this filling is so good...so, so, so, so, so amazingly delectable and addictive...that Italians appear to put it in everything. I couldn't even possibly name all the desserts you can find "cannoli cream" inside, but I assure you there are several. Edise...sfingi...sfogliatelle...pasticiotti...baba...peaches...cannoli...and finally, the best of all...cassata cake.

In my family, a cassata cake is layers of lady fingers covered thickly in biancomangiare. We line the sides and bottom of a springform pan with lady fingers. Then we spread an equally thick layer of biancomangiare. Then more lady fingers, more biancomangiare, and finally some chocolate shavings. It's as easy as that! After refrigerating over night, the sides of the pan are removed and there you have a beautiful, free-standing cassata cake.

At Italian bakeries, the cake is a little different. Instead of lady fingers, it's layers of yellow cake thinly filled with biancomangiare and frosted in stabilized whipped cream. My mother loves this, but in my opinion, it sucks. Honestly! My problem is 1) I don't want whipped cream on my cassata. It takes away from the cream filling--ruins the texture. 2) Those bakers skimp, majorly, on the best part! While our homemade cake might have up to an inch of biancomangiare per layer, theirs have half an inch, at the most, but more like a quarter. I like to say that it's simply "frosted" in cannoli cream...and I don't want a tasteless yellow cake "frosted" in cannoli cream. Sorry!

That's what I consider "enough" cream :)
Another version you'll find in some bakeries, the original from Italy, I believe, is called a Sicilian Cassata cake. This has one layer of cake (I imagine sponge is more traditional than yellow, but I can't promise that), which is soaked in rum, topped with a big fat layer of ricotta cream (instead of biancomangiare), and covered in smooth, green marzipan. There is also usually candied fruit inside/on top. Replace the ricotta with biancomangiare and remove the candied fruit and I'm in! I've actually only eaten Sicilian Cassata once, which was a few months ago at a bakery called Josef's. It's owned by a--get ready--Italian-Canadian-American. Ha! Anyway, he's very traditional and does not sell anything with biancomangiare in his bakery. The cannoli and cassata are made one hundred percent with ricotta. It's not my preference, obviously, but that cake...oh my goodness, that cake. I only had a tiny, individual one, but it was insane. The rum is probably what had me. When I do my version of my family's Cassata, I soak the lady fingers in rum (in the same manner that you soak them in espresso for tiramisu) because I saw it in a recipe from one of Mario Batali's restaurants. It makes a world of difference! I also like to decorate the top with pistachios (to mirror the flavor of chopped pistachios decorating either end of a cannolo), which add another level of flavor that just kicks the amazing up another notch, but that's beside the point.

There are obviously many ways to make cassata and Italians always seem to be very opinionated about what’s “the best.” And, of course, my opinion is that mine is the best ;) A mixture of my grandmother’s lady finger-stacked “cake” with biancomangiare, a traditional Sicilian cassata soaked in rum, and the flavors of pistachio studded cannoli, I think creates the perfect marriage! One day, I’d like to learn to make a really good sponge cake, at which point I may nix the lady fingers, but until that day, they are absolutely perfect!


Homemade Freezer Fare

This past week, I decided to give myself a four-day weekend in order to get my house more in order, spend a better chunk of time with my baby, and cook a mass frenzy of meals to keep in the freezer for easy, no-prep dinners during weeknights in which I just don't have time to cook (sometimes I don't have time to eat!). Of course, I ended up taking a little "me time," which set me back on the organize/cook tasks, but it felt incredible, so I'm going to say that's okay ;)

I wanted to blog about the meal preparation, though. Last year, a friend asked advice about how she could prepare homemade meals when she gets home from work so late that she has no time to cook. Back then, I didn't have what I'd consider the greatest answer. I had a few tips that I'd picked up from some cookbooks, such as batch cooking and freezing, but no definite ideas. Now that I work until 5 pm and have to start my six-month old daughter's bedtime routine by 6:30, during which time I usually fall asleep myself (because it takes two to three hours to get her to fall asleep!) and don't make it back downstairs until 5 am, I find there just isn't time to cook. Because I tend to fall asleep with my daughter, I really don't eat anything unless it's within the hour after I arrive home, but that leaves no prep time and when am I supposed to wind down? I don't.

While there's not much I can do about the lack of relaxation time after a ten-hour work day, I can at least find a way to eat a meal. So, this weekend I set about making as much freezer fare as possible, which is going to be healthier, more delicious, and cheaper than eating store-bought freezer meals! Emphasis on the "more delicious" part. Just this morning (between 7 and 10 am) I made eight servings of my own apple cider chicken (chicken thighs simmered in apple cider with cranberries and onions), and four servings of Gina Neely's "Get Yo' Man Chicken," which is chicken simmered in a tomato sauce with onions and herbs. After breakfast, I made a massive pot of roasted winter vegetable soup (several quarts!) and while I'm probably going to skip the pot of nutty sweet potato soup and the six servings of risotto (I'm exhausted after a late night with the baby and a last-minute mall venture for some much needed makeup to hide my mom face), I still feel like I accomplished a ton in just a day...just a few hours!

Outside of what I cooked today, I have five slices of a potato and Italian sausage torta (like a big, Spanish frittata) from yesterday morning's leftovers, several servings of Bolognese sauce (cooked the exact same way as a pot of chili, which I wish I had in the freezer!), a ton of tomato sauce (all that's missing are the meatballs, which will take 30 minutes of prep), and three servings of Coq au Vin in the freezer just waiting to be defrosted, cooked, and devoured.

What's important about all this is the method behind it. Maybe it's because I had never thought about it before, because the answer is pretty obvious now, but I never realized how to properly make a freeze-ahead meal and have it turn out properly afterward. I always kind of figured that you cook a meal and freeze the leftovers, which would give you overcooked food once you reheat it. I am not a reheat fan. I don't own a microwave, have no plans to ever own a microwave, and though food turns out much much better, still am not a fan of food reheated in the oven/on the stovetop. Everything just ends up overcooked! There is a time recommendation in your recipe for a reason. If chicken thighs are to cook 40 minutes and you do that, then cook them for ten or more minutes a few days later for leftovers, your chicken is now dried out! That's why I either don't keep my leftovers or I use them for cold meals like chicken salad or for soup, in which I'm not really re-cooking my food, but warming it up in a bath of liquid.

Anyway, that's what I thought mass produced, frozen meals were. Fully cooked, frozen, and reheated. Then, when faced with the option of either eating mass produced, frozen meals or starving, I figured out the proper way to prepare them. All it takes is doing all the prep work up until the point of cooking. Then, you portion the meal as needed per your household and freeze it!

To illustrate...Billy and I love Coq au Vin. Love, love, love it! We can't get enough. And Coq au Vin is basically a fricassee, which is a method of cooking in which meat or veggies are simmered in a bath of liquid. That meal always sounded complicated to me, but it's really not--all the more reason to mass produce it for future meals. To make my version of Coq au Vin (which is missing a few ingredients from the traditional), I brown chicken and set it aside. Then I soften onions in the same pot, deglaze with wine, add the chicken back to the pot, pour in stock to cover the chicken, and add some herbs. I bring the liquid to a boil and allow it to cook for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken is ready. Afterward, I remove the chicken, reduce the liquid, add a thickening agent (cornstarch), and then serve it all atop a bed of rice. Simple!

So, for the freezer meals, I did everything up to the point of simmering all of the ingredients. Instead, I took out as many Ziploc freezer bags as necessary, placing two chicken thighs in each (one each for Billy and myself) and evenly dividing the cooking liquid and onions between all of them. Then, I sealed the bags, used a Sharpie to note how long to cook the meal (30 minutes of simmering for bone-in thighs or 10 minutes for boneless, skinless chicken breasts!), and popped them into the freezer. When we decide we'd like Coq au Vin for dinner, all we have to do is take out the bag ahead of time to defrost (or even possibly defrost it in the cooking pot that night, since liquid melts quickly and chicken comes to temperature faster in liquid), drop it in a pot, cook it, and then reduce/thicken the sauce. Oh, and cook some rice (big deal). We could even have rice in the freezer, but I find that unnecessary. So, for maybe twenty minutes of prep, I end up with several future meals that are not reheated leftovers, but freshly cooked dinners! And unlike crock pot meals, I don't have to prep every night in order for my meal to cook all of the following day--I never understood that. "Slow cookers make cooking so much easier!" No. Cooking your food in an electric pot all day long while you're at work is not less work than cooking it for an hour in a pot or the oven once you get home. The cooking isn't the problem--the preparation is. You still have to prep slow cooker food; you don't get to dump a bunch of raw ingredients and expect it to taste great. The solution? Prep a mass amount of the food ahead of time, freeze it, and THEN just dump it in the slow cooker (or a pot on the stove or in the oven) when you want a delicious meal on the fly. That's what takes away time and effort. Sillies... ;)

Anyway, I used the same process for my apple cider chicken (recipe to come one day, hopefully soon!) and the "Get Yo' Man Chicken" as I did for the Coq au Vin. Both are essentially fricassees, so they had similar processes of browning chicken, softening onions, and adding liquid/herbs to simmer. What made the effort even faster for some dishes, though, was the fact that I had certain ingredients prepped with other meals. For instance, I had softened a bunch of sliced onion yesterday for the torta, but didn't use it all, so I popped it in the fridge figuring I'd have it for another meal. Come today, I realized my apple cider chicken needed sliced, softened onions, so I ended up using half the leftovers for that, skipping the entire softening process for that particular meal! Though, it only takes a few minutes. Also, I needed chopped onions for Gina Neely's chicken dish, so I prepared some extra at the same time because I knew I'd need it for risotto later. Those would have been simple things to do last-minute, but it's obviously a process that can be taken further to eliminate steps in cooking processes. So, if you'll have something to use it in later, why not cook a larger amount and save yourself time later? It actually doesn't really take any longer.

In the same vein, if you're cooking a meal anyway, why not prepare more than you need and freeze some of it for later? Two servings usually take the same amount of time as four (or simply add several extra minutes, at the most). Whereas two different nights of prep are always double that of the first. Eight meals in three hours, people...that includes the time it took to clean up after the first meal and dawdle playing around with my daughter. If I had wanted eight servings of just one of those recipes, it would have been done in under an hour. A week of food in under an hour! It's amazing to me how simple.

Now the problem, for moms like me, is finding the time to repeat this regularly when you and your fiance don't usually have a day off at the same time, which means you're taking care of a baby alone and trying to cook at the same time :) We'll see how it goes. At least now I know that, when I do find the time to cook, I should prepare several servings and cook only two for that night, freezing the rest for any time I please :)

FYI, this method will work for many different dishes. For the risotto, I planned to cook it half way, so it only needs to defrost and be finished off in order to retain the proper consistency (this is fully an experiment--I know it works for refrigerating the rice, but I'm not sure about freezing--here's hoping!). For stews, you'd prepare all the ingredients until the point at which you simmer them together for x amount of time. You can bread or marinate meats and only have to defrost/pop them into the oven/on the stove top. You can simply brown meat, deglaze with a little bit of stock, and freeze it all together for quick meals with that extra flavor and no extra step of  browning. You can bake almost anything and freeze it--bread, muffins, cake, scones, cookies (chocolate chip is so tasty straight out of the freezer!). In fact, these things taste fresher, almost like they were just baked, when frozen and defrosted rather than when left to age in the refrigerator! You can pre-cook vegetables for mixing into soups, stews, pot pies, risottos, rice dishes, pasta, whatever, and simply defrost before your meal (it's a great idea for leftovers, especially if you're like me and tend not to eat them). I plan to do this with sweet potato, butternut squash, and cherry tomatoes because I love to throw these things in pasta, risotto, and rice! Why should I regularly make small batches when I could pull a bag out of the freezer and just pop it on the stove to defrost before dropping it in my dish?

I'm really excited and I hope that anybody who reads this and finds themselves under similar circumstances may gain some inspiration themselves!


Ten-Minute Risotto & Five-Minute Cream Soup


Fancy. Time-consuming, Complicated…all words that come to mind. But is it? Risotto is creamy rice. Fancy? I’d say comforting like soup or mashed potatoes! It cooks in twenty minutes; time-consuming? I don’t think so! And complicated? You saute onions, add the rice, and cook for twenty minutes while gradually adding stock and stirring. Oh…my.

Here is what’s so difficult about risotto…the misconception that it’s difficult! Honestly, I will acknowledge fear about getting the texture right and how easy it is to screw up because that almost soup-like creaminess is what makes risotto, not the fact that you used Arborio rice. I mean, I used sushi rice after running out a few times! However…even if your rice ends up thick and softer than it’s supposed to, it will be delicious and so very satisfying! So, I’m here to say, make risotto! Make it plain, make it with tomato sauce, bits of buttercup squash, loads of roasted garlic and fresh herbs. You’ll never look back! And, on top of that, your life will be made easier because, in one batch of risotto, you can end up with the base for ten-minute risotto and some of the creamiest, most flavorful, five-minute soup you can make.

How, you ask? Easily…

First we’ll start with the ten-minute risotto. I found this tip in a book by Jamie Oliver and was so excited! Basically, you cook risotto to the halfway point, which is about ten minutes and four to five ladles of stock. You then pour it out onto a sheet pan, spreading evenly, and immediately put it in the fridge to stop the rice from cooking further. After it has completely cooled, you can transfer it to a container for storage. When you want to cook it later in the week, simply put it in a pan with a ladle of warm stock and gently heat it to temperature, allowing it to mostly absorb that ladleful before finishing it with three to four more! In about ten minutes you have freshly made risotto with the same texture as if you’d never stopped in the first place. This is a great idea if you want to make it for a gathering since risotto must be served immediately lest you chance the rice absorbing every bit of liquid and becoming mushy. Even better, though, busy people, like me, can have a family meal (since risotto is truly a main course!) or side dish finished in ten minutes. What I Iike to do is start a full batch of risotto and refrigerate half of it for later, leaving me with the other half to eat that night. Half a batch is a full meal for two people, so that works perfectly for Billy and I.

What if I don’t save half of it in this manner, though, and end up with a load of leftovers? As flavorful as it is, I don’t really want to eat the equivalent of mashed rice…so what I do is portion it and throw it in the fridge or freezer. Then, whenever I like, I have nearly instant, effortless, creamy soup. I take the risotto and put it in a pot with some stock. Once they’ve warmed up, I puree them together with an immersion blender (you can use a blender or food processor, though) and add more liquid or risotto, if necessary, until I have the consistency I desire. I eyeball the measurements because everybody likes theirs differently.

It’s so easy, though…I come home from work for a half hour break and do this! The mixture heats up (in minutes) while I feed the baby and I need only a minute to puree it before putting it in a thermos and heading back to the office. That’s how simple and fast. And the flavor…It tastes just like the risotto! So, you can have onion soup, roasted vegetable, tomato and basil, sweet potato…your options are endless and all absolutely wonderful. In my opinion, this is as easy as canned soup, but better tasting and worlds healthier, especially if you make risotto as I usually do—sans butter or parmesan. I actually prefer the taste without them; the butter is too rich for me. Plus, I make it several times a week, so it’s just plain healthier!

To get you started on what I can only imagine is a path to addiction…I’ve provided a base recipe with ideas for variation. Enjoy and don’t be daunted! 


Homemade Hash Browns: No Grater, No Flour, No Sticky Mess.

First off, I have to apologize for being so incredibly slow with this blog! I actually have a few unfinished entries, but taking care of a baby uses up a lot of free time! Hopefully, I'll be able to get back on track some time this year, despite also now having to plan my upcoming wedding ;)

Back to the task at hand, though...homemade hash browns! And you all know that when I say homemade...I mean from scratch with fresh potatoes, not from a bag of frozen hash browns, which really is probably what you're eating at the restaurant, wishing you could replicate at home. Since those are frozen and fresh is obviously tastier ;) I promise you that my method creates better hash browns than you've probably gotten anywhere! It's incredibly easy, too, and only takes half an hour!

For hash browns crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside...all you need is a pan, a potato, a knife, some olive oil, and salt and pepper (plus any herbs and/or spices you'd like to enhance the flavors with).

Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium heat in a nonstick pan. While it heats up, cut one large potato into matchsticks. An easy way to do this is to cut off the top, tail, and sides of the potato so that you're left with a big rectangle; then, slice it thinly along the long side and repeat along the short side; you're left with matchstick size pieces (think about an eighth of an inch, no larger). If you're an anti-waster like I am, slice the top, tail, and sides into matchsticks as well.

Toss the potatoes into the hot pan, coating evenly with the oil and stirring constantly for about ten minutes, until softened. Sprinkle in salt, pepper, and any herbs or spices that you like; stir to coat evenly. Then, gently form the potatoes into a patty covering the bottom of the pan; don't press the potatoes into each other, though, just leave them loosely together. Cover with a lid and allow to brown for about ten minutes. When crisp and golden on the bottom, flip the patty (turning it out onto the lid and sliding it back into the pan is an easy way to do this) and repeat, leaving it to brown under the lid for another ten minutes. When crisped and golden on both sides, you're done and ready to serve!

The secret to keeping the potatoes from turning goopy inside is the manner in which they're cut. By slicing them into matchsticks rather than grating them, the starchy liquid stays inside the potatoes rather than oozing out and creating a gluey texture. When you grate them, you have to make up for the starch by squeezing the liquid out of the potatoes with a towel and adding flour. Even then, though, they don't quite turn out right. This method, however, is foolproof :)

Soft yet crisp bits of potato rivaling the best diner fare!


Caramelized Onion Pizza

Growing up, I always remember Saturday nights as 'pizza night' at my parents' house. Just as we went to Big Boy for breakfast Saturday morning and had pancakes Sunday morning, we ordered Little Caesar's pizza for Saturday night dinner...every...week. As a result, I have to admit, I'm not really a big pizza fan! I'm incredibly, incredibly picky. I actually went years without eating it until a trip to Spain my junior year of college.

What's the big difference between Spain's pizza and ours, you ask? A lot, actually. First of all, we didn't order from a chain "pizzeria" like Jet's or Pizza Hut. This came from nice, non-chain restaurants where, I assume, a chef or team of people work hard to establish really great recipes in order to keep their business afloat. Sure, I have a bias against chain restaurants, but you have to admit unique, privately owned establishments tend to have better food! Anyway, these pizzas were thin crust, just as I like them, and made with fresh ingredients, which, in my opinion, bring a new light to pizza...I am not a pepperoni and packaged mozzarella fan (surprise, surprise!). I think, after so many years of regular eating, I just got sick of the generic American pizza. Having it prepared in a different way, though, created something completely new for me, which is exactly what homemade pizza does.

What I like about making pizza yourself is that you can have it exactly as you like it best. I don't usually prefer meat on my pizza, at all...I think we all know I'm not a big meat person, in general...but, on occasion, I do like a nice sprinkling of Italian sausage! The problem is that it's different everywhere you go--sometimes it's large chopped pieces, sometimes little crumbled bits, sometimes hot, sometimes mild! So, to be safe, I usually just don't bother asking for it. At home, though, I can prepare it my favorite way and I can do as many different topping combos on one pizza as I like without paying more, which is another plus! 

The pizza Billy and I made last night actually had three different combinations. Half of it was just pepperoni (Billy's favorite), a quarter was the same with the addition of caramelized onions, and the last quarter was caramelized onions topped with wedges of fresh tomato. For the purposes of this blog, I've simply posted the recipe for the latter portion, since the remaining only requires you buy some cheese and pepperoni or any other toppings you'd like.

Now, I think meals made completely from scratch are almost always the best; you just can't beat something freshly made at home. So, a pizza made with home prepared dough and sauce is exquisite. However, sometimes you haven't given yourself the time to make these things, so I think it's completely acceptable to go out and buy them...though, I must say, the sauce doesn't take but half an hour and truly does make a total difference in the outcome. 

Since I haven't been able to get too much cooking in after finally having the baby (yup, she's here! I know I hadn't announced that in my blog yet), Billy just picked up some pizza dough at a local Italian bakery--you can really find it any number of places, though. Our local produce stores tend to carry them in the freezer aisle and, I assume, some grocery stores may as well. Anyway, Billy picked up the dough for us to make calzones a few nights ago (delicious!), so we just used the leftovers for pizza last night. I did make my own sauce, though, and encourage you to do the same! Then, simply gather together your favorite toppings and go to town :) 


Ribs Guaranteed to Fall off the Bone

One of my favorite aspects of summer is the opportunity to use my grill. I almost don't want to cook inside, at all; it just feels unfortunate not to take advantage of the sun and warmth after spending nearly three quarters of the year without that option. Our grill even has a single burner on one side, so I'll cook everything I possibly can out on my porch; I just fill up a jelly roll pan with all my prepared food and utensils, grab a drink, and park myself outside.

If I can make everything fully on the grill, I'll one hundred percent do it. For some meals, though, that simply isn't an option. Anything that's going to take several hours to cook in order to yield moist, tender meat, I'll cook first in the oven and only finish off on the grill to bring in a smoky flavor. I'm just not confident enough in my grilling skills, yet, to try otherwise. A lot of people look down on that method because it's not "real" barbecue--even just using the grill isn't "real" barbecue--but who cares? I think all that matters is that your meal is delicious and to your liking :) 

The same goes for how your food turns out. There's always a "right way" for something to taste or a "right" texture it should yield, but it's really just a matter of opinion. Do I believe pasta should be cooked al dente? Yes. Do I believe steak and hamburger should be moist, tender, and pink inside? Yes; do I think the meat's been wasted if cooked well done? Certainly! That's just my personal preference, though. Of course, I do partake in judging food that I feel wasn't prepared properly (everybody does, whether they admit it or not)--like lasagna made with browned ground beef rather than mashed up meatballs. But, truly, if that's how you like it best, that's how you should make it and you shouldn't let anyone put that down--not me and not any "expert."

I say all this because I've heard many, many times that rib meat should never be tender enough to fall off the bone; if it is, you've overcooked it. Overcooked?? To me, that means I've cooked something so long, I've rendered it completely unappetizing; for meat, that would mean drying it out. Last summer, I cooked a meal for my boyfriend's family and we accidentally grilled the chicken at too high a temperature for too long, creating something horribly dry that I didn't even want to eat, let alone serve; THAT, to me, is overcooked. Astonishingly delectable, fork-soft meat is not overcooked. If you want to devour pounds and pounds of it, it must be cooked just right ;) So, in my opinion, rib meat so tender it slips right off the bone is cooked just right, and I know loads of you out there agree!

As with pancakes (which I spoke about in a previous entry), I grew up eating only my dad’s ribs, which are cooked first in the oven and then finished on the grill, where he layers on sauce to caramelize. I’ve never ordered ribs in a restaurant because I’m picky about the sauce; it just never lives up to my expectations and I prefer to be safe rather than find myself disappointed while out. So, when it comes to texture, I know only what I’ve had at home, which is almost always tender enough to pull easily off the bone. Until last year, I didn’t know anything more tender than my dad’s ribs.

When my best friend started dating her current fiancé, Steve, though, I got my first taste of someone else’s. I have to say, I was a bit wary because I just find that a lot of people dry out meat and I’d never eaten any of Steve’s food before, so there was no way to know how the meal would turn out. Yet, his ribs soared past my expectations!

Steve’s method for cooking ribs is, actually, nearly identical to my parents’; he also cooks them first in the oven and then finishes them off on the grill. There’s one key difference, though. My parents lay the ribs in a roasting pan covered in foil while Steve lays his in a pan with a layer of plastic wrap covering it before the top layer of foil. By using plastic wrap, a perfect seal is created, allowing the meat to, essentially, steam itself. This method, I swear, is flawless for creating the most supple meat imaginable. With such a low temperature (250 degrees), there’s no worry about the plastic melting, either.

Using Steve’s method, I allow the ribs to cook for about six hours, at which point I could try to lift one side with a pair of tongs and the meat would slip right off the bone. In order to finish it on the grill, I carefully lift the rack with a large, metal grilling spatula and, once on the grill, I don’t move it. My dad will turn the rack over in order to sauce both sides, but that’s too tricky with meat this soft and you can get plenty on the one side. Once it’s to my liking, we’re ready to serve! Billy and I just pull the meat off and eat it with a fork because it’s truly impossible to eat these ribs the traditional way. If you’d prefer that the meat at least stay on the bone, just reduce the cooking time. You’ll still have superbly tender meat, but will at least be able to eat it with your fingers :)

Remember this from last year? Delicious!

So, for guaranteed tender, moist ribs, lay your rack of meat (seasoned with a rub, if that's what you're into) directly in a roasting pan (sans roasting rack), seal the pan completely with plastic wrap and top that with foil. Place it in a 250 degree oven and allow to cook for approximately 4-6 hours, depending on what texture you’re looking for. Don't worry if you have to let the meat go for over six hours, either; Steve had it in the oven for about ten, once, and the meat hadn't dried out! Once it's finished cooking to your liking, carefully lay the rack on the grill to bring in that classic, smoky flavor and to caramelize your sauce (if using). If you don’t finish it on the grill but want caramelized sauce, put your ribs under the broiler and just keep a close eye so that it doesn’t burn.

If you’ve cooked your meat to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, pull out some forks; otherwise, prepare yourself for a most awesomely sticky mess!


Roasted Garlic and Tomato Pasta

I can't deny that I'm a bit of a pasta freak...I suppose, actually, a big pasta freak. It's generally quick, easy, and there are so many flavor and texture options. As a person who has trouble planning meals, pasta is one of my last-minute, go-to meals, along with risotto; I can't tell you how often Billy and I eat these two dishes compared to anything else during the week! This particular pasta, I created years ago, in college. I can't even recall what inspired me, but, up until that point, I really only ever added butter, olive oil, and a bit of garlic powder to my noodles. One evening, though, I got adventurous and created something that, I think, is truly spectacular. 

After having made it on several occasions by now, I've tweaked it a bit...When I first made the pasta, it was dinner for my mother and I while my dad was away on business. For two people, I used a full head of roasted garlic; the flavor was phenomenal. Honestly, I'd continue to use that amount if it weren't for some of the adverse effects that much garlic can have on your body. I'll spare you the details, but if you're not worried about any after-effects, please go ahead and use the ratio of a whole head per two people. Your taste buds, at least, won't be sorry!! Otherwise, I now stick to a much safer half a head per two people; though, I use quite a large head of garlic :) of course

The general preparation is to cook down some fresh, diced tomatoes with chopped, fresh basil; make a thick sauce out of roasted garlic and olive oil; and mix it all together with the ultimately ooey, gooey, stringy wonderfulness of fresh mozzarella. The resulting meal is like a comfort food classic with the sweet tomato playing upon the fragrant garlic while the melty mozzarella softens every bite. Diced, fresh tomatoes are absolutely necessary in order to keep the flavors of garlic and tomato separate; otherwise, you end up with a garlic tomato sauce. Of course, if you know someone who likes to pick around the chunks of tomato (like Billy!), feel free to cut them up much smaller, but don't bring it to the point of a puree. As you can see in the photo above, I chopped the tomato quite finely so it would be impossible for my wonderfully picky boyfriend to avoid it, yet each bit is clearly separate from the garlic-coated noodles.

In the same vein, fresh mozzarella cannot, without a single doubt, be replaced with any other cheese and expected to give the same flavor or texture. The dish is completely transformed without this element; it's still wonderfully delicious, but the strings of gooey mozzarella add that extra something, bringing the pasta to the next level. No matter what, do not replace it with shredded mozzarella from a bag. If you're not going to go the whole way, just grate some Parmesan over the top. In my opinion, once you've experienced melted fresh mozzarella, you'll wish you could easily find a pizza shop that uses that instead of the sad, boring alternative. There's just nothing like it! 

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