I make lots of lists.  I make lists of people I need to call and email. I make lists for books I’ve read and books I’d like to read.  I make lists to remind me to do things like buy draino and drop off my dry cleaning.  And I make lists of things I want to cook.  My “to cook” lists reminds that I want to make soft pretzels from scratch, that I have a leftover basil and I should make pesto with it, and that I should make particular dishes before a season ends.  If my OCD side has not yet been revealed to you, then there you have it.

On my list for a few weeks now has been a cream of wild mushroom soup from Smitten Kitchen.  I adore a decadent creamy soup, but am intrigued by any recipe that manages to make a soup rich without including a stick of butter and 2 cups of heavy cream.  Deb seemed to be on the same page in her post, so I was set on making her version.  Though the recipe calls for a cup of cream, with 6+ servings in one pot, I’d say that’s pretty lean.

With all the damp weather we had while I was home this weekend, this soup was the perfect antidote. We served it along side a roast chicken and simple salad.  I always opt to serve soup as the main course with bread and cheese on the side, but the roast chicken just felt so right.  Using the herbs the soup called for in the chicken too brought everything together.  One thing to note though, this soup is approximately 10 times better the next day. If making, I highly recommend making a day in advance and storing covered in the fridge until ready to serve.

I’m becoming more of a tea drinker.  Well, really, a chai drinker.  The past few weekends I’ve been making it on Saturday and Sunday afternoons when we’re just lazing around, reading or watching TV.  I like to make it extra strong, letting it steep for as long as we can stand it and then adding in hot milk and honey.  I’m so into the flavors, I’m toying with the idea of having chai instead coffee in the morning…. more about that later.

In my mind tea and biscotti go hand in hand, so I decided to make some. I think biscotti is best when there aren’t too many competing flavors, so I settled on Joy the Baker’s Cinnamon Sugar Biscotti.* This cookie is the cinnamon sugar toast version of biscotti, hitting all the notes of butter, spice, and sweetness.  It’s divine and pairs perfectly with tea. I’m looking forward to dunking this in my chai all weekend.

*Joy’s recipe directs you to sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture onto the individual biscotti for the second round of baking.  I found my sweet enough already, so I left them as is.

Every year during the weekend following Thanksgiving, my family battles over what we’ll have for Christmas Eve Dinner. Yes, it’s March, and I’m discussing Christmas and Thanksgiving. Christmas Eve dinner is major in our home, more so than Christmas Day.  We’ve had the same family friends to celebrate over dinner for years now, and we always have an epic meal with tons of wine and a gluttonous dessert.  By the end of the night I’ve usually laughed so hard my cheeks hurt.

My brother and I always battle over the meal selection, so when placing my vote this year, I totally expected to be ridiculed and contested.  But oddly enough, everyone was in complete agreement.  We all wanted spaghetti and meatballs.

The Contessa is all about taking simple comfort foods and making them “extraordinary”.  Spaghetti and meatballs is one of those quintessential comfort meals that when made with the best of ingredients, is that much more special.  So that’s what we did at Christmas, and that’s what I did last night.  I had such a hankering for a hearty Italian meal, and with spring somewhat on the horizon, I wanted to whip this one up sooner rather than later.  I highly recommend my recipe, but whichever one you choose, do note that the sauce and meatballs are even better the next day, so this is a great make ahead meal.

Spaghetti and Meatballs adapted from The Pioneer Woman

Serves 8

  • Meatballs:
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup torn bread (no crusts) soaked in milked and squeezed out
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • ¼ cup flat leaf parsley, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cups Olive Oil
  • Sauce:
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 1/2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 28 oz can pureed tomatoes
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • ¼ cup flat leaf parsley, minced
  • 2 pounds spaghetti

Begin the meatballs by sauteing the onions with a little olive oil over medium low heat in a small sauce pan.  Cook for roughly 5 minutes, until soft.  Add in garlic and stir to combine, cooking for just 1-2 more minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile soak 1/4 of a baguette  or 2-3 slices of day old italian bread in milk for 5 minutes (bread should be covered).  While soaking, place the ground meat, eggs, parm, parsley, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Pour in cooked onion mixture.  After bread has soaked, ring it out with your hands, soaking enough bread so that the “wrung out” bread equals one cup.  Add to meatball mixture.  Toss all ingredients well with hands.  Form into 18-20 meatballs, line on a tray, and let rest in the fridge for 10 minutes before cooking.

Set a heavy bottomed large pot to medium heat and coat pan with 1/2 olive oil.  Heat for five minutes until pan is nice and hot.  Cook the meatballs in batches (6-7 at a time, depending on the size of your pot).  You want to brown them on each side, but not cook them completely.  They will finish cooking in the tomato sauce.  To do this allow the meatballs to cook for roughly 4 minutes one side (until nicely browned), then turn and cook for the same time on the remaining side.  Turn them gently, gingerly nudging them with tongs if they tend to stick to the pan.  Set aside on a plate lined with paper towels.

Once all the meatballs are cooked, in the same pot, cook the onions and garlic for the sauce.  Set to medium heat cooking for roughly 5 minutes.  Once cooked add in remaining ingredients and stir to combine.  Let simmer over medium low heat for 15 minutes.

After the sauce has thickened, gently add the meatballs back in and cook for 25 minutes. Set your pasta water to boil. Once boiling drop in your spaghetti and cook for roughly 8 minutes, just til al dente.

Once pasta is cooked, drain and divide among bowls.  Pour sauce and meatballs over the pasta, topping with more parm and a sprinkling of parsley.  Serve immediately with a full bodied red wine and a light salad.

I am a stickler for using most (if not all) of the food in our fridge before we go away, especially produce.  We’re heading out of town for a long weekend Thursday(!), so for the past few days I’ve been making every effort to incorporate everything in our fridge into our meals.

I seem to always have leftover celery from making tuna salad. And I seem to always have leftover carrots- but that’s often because we get lazy about peeling them.  I like a salad every now and then that doesn’t contain lettuce, and it’s rare I make a salad these days that doesn’t contain olives.  In the summer one of my favorite salads is just tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, and kalamata olives. It’s divine. Last night it dawned on me I didn’t really have a winter version. So with what I had on hand, I pulled together this chopped olive salad.  With a salad like this, the longer it sits, the better.  As the vegetables soak up the dressing, they take on a more pickled flavor.  This salad pairs perfectly with pepperoni pizza- true story.

Chopped Olive Salad

Serves 4 as a side dish

4 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 cup mixed olives, chopped

1/4 cup minced red onion

6 sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped

handful flat leaf parsley, chopped

For the Dressing:

1/2 T french mustard

1 tsp honey

1/2 tsp salt

4 grinds black pepper

3 T red or white wine vinegar

1 tsp olive juice (if you have it)

1/3 cup olive oil

Combine all vegetables in a medium size bowl.  Whisk together ingredients for dressing, pour over vegetables, toss well. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Can be store covered in fridge for up to 3 days.

This weekend we celebrated a good friend’s birthday.  I will gladly jump on any opportunity to make cupcakes for a birthday. They are one of my favorite desserts, but I can never justify making them just for myself. This weekend we celebrated a good friend’s birthday.  I will gladly jump on any opportunity to make cupcakes for a birthday. They are one of my favorite desserts, but I can never justify making them just for myself.

I was set on doing on a cupcake with a dulce de leche flavor.  Given the crowd, I knew this ingredient would be a hit.  I also happen to have a personal obsession with this signature Argentinian spread.  I traveled to Buenos Aires with a close friend two years ago, and as my vacations go, our week in this lively South American city was largely focused around food and eating.  Needing to get my fill of dulcet de leche, I made sure to incorporate it into meals multiple times per day, most often with coffee at breakfast and in our daily visits to heladerias (ice cream shops).

Early last week, I began searching for recipes for such a cupcake.  As luck would have it, one of my favorite food bloggers posted this recipe.  It was as if Joy had read my mind.  Given her reputation for amazing baked goods, I promptly ended the search and settled on her recipe.  The cupcakes were a total knockout.  I can’t recommend Joy’s recipes or blog enough, she is a must read.  Her wit and humor is the highlight of my weekday mornings, and as of today, I can say her cupcake recipe totally made my weekend.