The Best Bolognese

The story:

For our second trip to Italy, we decided to go to city where the Italians go to eat. Bologna. Italians call this city La Dotta, La Grassa, La Rossa.

La Dotta  – “The Learned” (home to the oldest university in the Western World – University of Bologna, or as the locals call it, UniBo. If you were a student in the late 15th century, you could’ve sat next to Copernicus in Astronomy 101.

La Grassa – “The Fat” (The food here is nothing short of amazing. The food from this region of Italy – Emilia Romagna,is iconic Italian- parmesean, tortellini, balsamic vinegar, bolognese.

La Rossa – “The Red” (The abundance of brick buildings).

It was in a little alley in Bologna that I had the best bolognese of my life.

Tagliatelle al Rag, Serghei, Bologna

Tagliatelle al Rag, Serghei, Bologna (It’s just called Ragu in Bologna)

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Up to this point, most meat sauces I had eaten looked something like this:

Sicilia-Meat-Sauce

(Ground beef + jarred marinara + seasonings) over pasta

Don’t get me wrong, this is yummy, delicious and an incredible weeknight meal. However this is NOT bolognese. Once I tasted it I closed my eyes and let out a deep sigh. A sigh so deep it was like my body said “this pasta is so good, it must be my last meal. I am ready to meet Jesus.” This dish ruined me for many many moons because I didn’t know how to recreate this at home. That is until I found a Bon Appétit recipe that comes pretty darn close.

Good for when:

  • You find yourself having to cook for Italian Italians
  • You wonder what you should do for a couple hours before dinner
  • You have leftover pancetta

Not ideal if:

  • You are hangry
  • You are avoiding pork, dairy or wheat

The Method:

Copied from this recipe

We first tried to do the lasagna but found that we didn’t care for the béchamel and just wanted to eat the meat sauce by itself. From then on we only used the sauce and would pair it with a flat noodle to maximize flavor absorption.

Bolognese Sauce 

  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled, coarsely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef chuck
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 4 oz. pancetta (Italian bacon), finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine (I like a Pinot Grigio for this. I wish I could tell you that broth is a decent substitute… but that would be disingenuous and downright mean to sabotage your bolognese.)
  • 1 cup whole milk (Milk is really important! Don’t skip!)
  • 1 14.5-oz. can crushed tomatoes (I have used non San Marzano tomatoes and it did not turn out so well. Definitely splurge and get the San Marzanos)
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided (We almost always use store bought stock.)

  • Pulse onion, carrot, and celery in a food processor until finely chopped. (Yes, definitely use a food processor)
  • Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add beef, pork, pancetta, and vegetables; cook, breaking up meat with a spoon, until moisture is almost completely evaporated and meat is well browned, 25–30 minutes; season with salt and pepper.
  • Add wine to pot and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, about 2 minutes. Add milk; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until moisture is almost completely evaporated, 8–10 minutes. Add tomatoes and 2 cups broth; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, adding water by ½-cupfuls if sauce looks dry, until flavors meld and sauce thickens, 2½–3 hours.
  • Let sauce cool, then cover and chill at least 12 hours or up to 2 days. (Letting the sauce sit will give it a deeper, richer flavor.)

Cooking life lesson I’m still learning … when the ingredients are simple and few… you have to get the best because there’s not much for them to hide behind. Imagine dancing in a room of 10 people vs. 1000. If you are in the former, you better be incredible.

Leave a comment if you give this recipe a try! I would love to hear what you think! If you are too lazy to make this but want to try it, leave a comment too 🙂 I’ll have you over for some ragu!

 

Quarter Cow FAQ

Tim was kind enough to let me interview him for this post. His responses are in quotes.

What farm did you use?

Magruder Ranch. They cater to fantastic restaurants like Chez Panisse.”

What was the process like?

“I emailed Magruder Ranch to reserve a quarter cow. I was put on the wait-list and when the cow was ready I got an email. I ordered in May and it was ready for pickup at the end of July. The butcher received the cow, dry aged it for two weeks, cut it up according to the standard cut the ranch does, wrap it in freezer paper, butcher paper and then flash freeze.”

Which part of the cow did you get? 

In short, we get all of it! Well a quarter of all it. A little bit of chuck, a little roast, some ribs, some steaks and LOTS of ground beef. 

How much is it to buy a cow?

$4.25/pound. (This is the weight of the whole animal – not the individually packaged meats) Example: Cow steps on the scale and comes in at 1000 pounds. You would pay $4,250 for the whole cow. However after the butchering and aging process, you may end up with 750 pounds of meat. The adjusted price for how much meat we got came out to about $5.60/pound.

Did you get to pick the cow? Did you see a picture?

(laughs) No.

What did you get in your haul?

Here’s a picture of our haul! (Take note of their spelling of our last name) 

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Are you seriously going to eat all of that?

“Yes. All of it.”

When are you having the Feng’s over for dinner?

“Whenever they want to come! How does next weekend work for you guys?”

What’s the thinking behind getting so much meat? isn’t fresh better than frozen/defrosted?

“It was cheaper for organic grass-fed beef.” (Clicking on phone to pull up an article.) “Grocery store meats are aged 5-7 days. Locally sourced meats are aged 14-21 days. The ground beef comes from one cow which means it has a lower risk of contamination. You also get to support local businesses like the rancher and the butcher. It also means it’s less trips to the grocery store.”

Up next – the first meal I made! 

Holy cow.

For those of you who know my husband, you know that he is extremeWhen he pursues something, there is no stopping him. A few notable examples:

  1. When Tim was learning how to cook, his first cookbook was The Ad Hoc Cookbook. There was a recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich in there which in any other cookbook would be an innocuous recipe. Well… Chef Tim Sohn Keller made a brioche loaf to make his grilled cheese. It was a 2 day ordeal.
  2. Crossfit. Tim ruptured his Achilles tendon doing box jumps. He underwent surgery and stayed away for a couple weeks… but decided to go back to crossfit after a month (while he was still on crutches) because I quote, “My upper body feels fine!!!!!”
  3. Photography. Tim got a DSLR and started playing around with taking pictures. Six months later, in the last year of his PhD, while writing his thesis, he decides to intern for a wedding photography studio and start his own business.

Well Timtensity has struck again. He (or we I guess) bought a quarter of a cow from a farm.

cow(This is not the actual cow. I just found an image to drive the point home)

This is what a quarter of a cow looks like after it is butchered, aged and frozen:

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 11.06.39 PMAt the top right corner of this picture you can see our deep freezer. This deep freezer was supposed to be for Wes. Well Wes’ milk. I was planning on hoarding my milk to prepare for my return to work. Well since that’s not happening, Tim suggested we repurpose our deep freezer for other noble causes.

Needless to say, this is a lot of meat and we’re pretty much good for the next oh… 2+ years. I decided I start a cooking series on based on cooking through 145 pounds of beef. I’m still thinking of a fun name for this series. Hopefully I can think of something better than Hella Beef.

There have been lots of questions surrounding this endeavor that have been brought up.

  • What farm did you use?
  • Which part of the cow did you get?
  • How much is it to buy a cow?
  • Did you get to pick the cow? Did you see a picture?
  • What did you get in your haul?
  • Are you seriously going to eat all of that?

If there are any other questions you’d like us to answer, leave a comment on fb or below! We’ll get back to you on our next post.

Beef. It’s what’s for dinner. And lunch. And breakfast.

The best way to cut a watermelon

A couple of weeks ago, Tim and I hosted some friends for brunch and I wanted to make a watermelon salad with mint (which is fabulous by the way if you want to make an easy side that isn’t heavy, but don’t feel like really eating rabbit food). I always wanted to cut melons in a perfect cube but never figured out how to not end up with with lots of triangles with round bottoms. I chalked it up as a guarded culinary school secret (not unlike the many secrets that inhabit the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizzardry).

Thank God for YouTube because seeing this video  changed my watermelon cutting life. I wanted to call every one of my friends and ask them if they knew about this! If you knew about this and kept it to yourself this whole time, shame on you. Tell someone. Tell anyone. You will forever change their life.

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First you must cut off the ends and using a big sharp knife, “peel” the watermelon.

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I don’t know why this picture seems inappropriate to me, but here it is, a naked watermelon! Notice how very little red flesh ended up on the rind.

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This is the best part. Start making graph paper with your watermelon.

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Perfectly cubed watermelon!

I ended up with too much watermelon and not enough tupperware space so I dumped it in a pitcher and added water.

I ended up with too much watermelon and not enough tupperware space so I dumped it in a pitcher and added water.

Channeling my inner Ina Garten: Part 1 – The Shopping

I love Ina Garten! She is an amazing cook and I love her simple, understated and elegant style. (Oh to be from the Hamptons!) I love that on the show, she’s always cooking for her husband Jeffrey. She always says things like “Jeffrey just LOVES these marcona almonds.” or “I think Jeffrey will really enjoy this roasted lemon chicken” or “I just can’t wait until Jeffrey comes home and tries chocolate pudding!” I think that is so sweet and honestly, a lot of the reason why I enjoy cooking is because I am married to a guy that appreciates my cooking so much regardless of what I put in front of him.

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Usually Mondays I spend the morning meal-planning by looking through my favorite cookbooks, blogs and magazines and planning out a menu for the week. Here are a few of my recent favorites:

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And my favorite cooking blogs:

  • The Pioneer Woman http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/ (I just love her personality and how yummy her food is)
  • Nom Nom Paleo http://nomnompaleo.com/ (This woman made me think that maybe, just maybe I can eat Paleo. Many paleo blogs had recipes that seriously looked GROSS. Sometimes it seemed like eating like a caveman necessitates that you have a palate like a caveman. I like that she is a MAJOR foodie. I think that gives her recipes a lot of credibility.

After I am sufficiently starving from looking at food for an hour, I grab my bags and do something that I swear only a person who has nothing to do every day can do: I hit up the San Antonio and El Camino corner go to four grocery stores. Here’s the order I hit them up in:

  1. The Milk Pail (Loves: Cheese, herb bundles for $1, produce on the CHEAP; Gripes: This can’t be your one-stop-shop because the meat section is pitiful, the produce has usually started their sunset season in life and must be consumed PRONTO)
  2. Trader Joe’s (Loves: Frozen fruit selection (I dont’ know where else I can get frozen pineapples for under $2 and frozen mangos for under $3), hummus, bananas, emergency entertaining foods, milk, butter, cheese, pantry staples: chicken broth, prewashed and bagged kale/spinach, spaghetti sauce, sparkling water, Orangina; Gripes: Though better than the Milk Pail, the meat selection leaves me wanting, produce is hit/miss, EVERYTHING is packaged (lots of waste)
  3. Whole Foods (Loves: The MEAT, coconut water selection, hot food bar, yogurt selection, one-stop-shopness of it, variety of produce; Gripes: $$$$$$$)
  4. Sprouts (Loves: the bulk bins!!!, nuts, consistently good and cheap produce, bulk spices; Gripes: the meat)
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This was my Milk Pail loot from a couple weeks ago. All of this came out to $7.

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But I quickly undid the awesomeness of the Milk Pail by hopping to Whole Foods. This loot cost me $51.42. #stupidmeat

Up next: my favorite recipes of the summer!

Cronut Quest 2013

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Me and my precious.

I wish I could say that I have been in the know about Cronuts since their NYC debut in May 2013. The first time I heard about them – correction. The first time I read about them was peeking over my husband’s shoulder as he chatted with his sister on the flight from Phoenix to Newark. She asked us ever so nonchalantly if we were going to try to get a Cronut. Being the uncool older siblings we were, we had no idea what the heck a Cronut was. I was scared to even google it because I was afraid it had an urban dictionary meaning (if you know what I mean) and I didn’t want a dirty picture to pop up on the iPad with a stranger sitting next to me. (I have been said stranger sitting next to someone who frantically tried to close their browser window when a NSFW picture popped up! To say it was an awkward flight would be a gross understatement.) Imagine the joy I felt when I discovered Cronuts were pastries!

Here are some facts I learned about the famous Cronut:

  • It derives its name from Croissants + Doughnuts (also known as Doughssants or Cronots by some knockoffs)
  • Dominique Ansel took 2 months to create it. Each Cronut takes 3 days to make.
  • There is only one flavor that you can get. May: Rose Vanilla; June: Lemon Maple; July: Blackberry
  • Cronuts must be eaten soon after being purchased. They must not be refrigerated lest they become soggy and yucky.
  • People wait in line for hours for this thing.

At first I was totally blasé about this Cronut. How good could it be? I couldn’t even imagine the love child of a croissant and donut. It seemed like upon frying, any hint of buttery croissantness would soon be gone. We started vetting our NY friends about waiting in line for the Cronut. As we chatted my interest started to grow. I found out about the black market for Cronuts, white glove delivery services and scalpers. My curiosity was piqued. I decided I had to experience this for myself. I’m doing it.

Tim and I decided that I would go alone because God knows Tim is NOT a morning person. On a prior trip that necessitated a 5 am airport arrival, I didn’t talk to Tim for hours on the plane because I interpreted his non-morningness as anger toward me. The whole flight I was convinced he was mad at me and giving me the silent treatment. Here I was racking my brain as to what thing I could’ve done that miffed my husband so badly when he was just grumpy from waking up before the sun rose. There was NO way Tim was getting up at the equivalent of 2:30am PST to wait in line.

I took the subway to SoHo and walked the 0.4 miles to Dominique Ansel when the line already around the corner. I got there just before 7am and the bakery opens at 9am. People brought beach chairs, blankets, monopoly deal and kindles ready to endure the infamous wait. When they first opened, Cronuts were $3.50 and you could buy six at a time! Now they are $5 a piece and you are only allowed two per person. Experts say that they make about 300 a day so you better hope that you are in the first 150 in line.

I saw an Asian family of four in front of me. Kids were visibly miserable on their iPhones poking the screen, probably crushing candy, parents were jabbing away about Cronut lore… I felt like I saw a glimpse of my future – Tim and I dragging our kids out of bed at the crack of dawn to get Cronuts just so we could use their bodies to procure more than our share.

The first hour I started Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and then suddenly around 8am, the guy behind me left! This was so shocking that the guy behind him and I put down our respective devices and hypothesized about what could have happened in his life that he would leave the line. As the hour passed we shared favorite haunts in the city and held each other’s spots in line so we could walk around… we even talked about doing a house swap because he’s always wanted to spend a week or two in California. Having a line buddy makes all the difference. They can help you get coffee, let you pee, stretch, walk and keep you company. I highly recommend getting one if you find yourself in line. Bonus points if you don’t know them that well that way you can spend time asking the fun get to know you questions that your spouse may or may not have the patience for.

Here are some pictures from my adventure (sorry for the redundancy if you followed my Cronut saga on fb on Sunday).

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This was my line buddy. He was really smart to bring a chair.

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All the people that got up before me.

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Striped Shirt Girl conveniently came at 8:00 to join her friends. If you are going to get a Cronut, do not do what she did. She wasn’t the only one, there were several people that crept in line around 8:15 am. Prepare to get judging looks from everyone around you and end up on a blog.

I went into the store around 9:30 am. At around 9:45, I handed the cashier my credit card and she gave me a box of two Cronuts and I had to try the DKA – Dominique Kouign Amann ($5.50) since this was their signature pastry before the Cronut.

Here was my first bite:

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“Please be worth it. Please be worth it.”

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Tim makes food looks even better than they actually look.

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The Midsagittal Plane. Compare this to what it’s supposed to look like below.

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Umm, mine did not come with flakey layers.

The Cronut I had tasted like a slightly stale Morning Bun. I am no pastry chef, but the dough reminded me of the layers inside a donut more than a croissant. There was very little air pockets. The part that I liked the most was the sugar it was rolled around in. The frosting was a little tart (I’m guessing that was supposed to be the blackberry part) but lacking flavor. My chemoreceptors in my tongue told me it was sour but other than that, if I were blind folded, I couldn’t tell you what flavor it was supposed to be. Tim said it best. This pastry from a deep identity crisis. Not unlike a teenager who doesn’t quite know who they are, the Cronut can be described as an unbuttery filled croissant, dense doughnut, stale morning bun or a sugared cream puff. Honestly I had planned on eating one by myself and maybe saving a bite for a friend I was going to meet up with for church (glutton confessions)… but Tim and I struggled to finish one. We kept each eating bite hoping maybe we missed something and that we’d discover something delightful. It never happened. I had no struggle giving away my 2nd Cronut. After that, all I could think about was Doughnut Plant Doughnuts (another post another day)!

Though the Cronut’s flavor was disappointing, I had so much fun. Some of my best memories of NY happened in that line. For example, when I was walking up the line counting people to see where I was in line people yelled POO! POO! POO! I was confused. Why were they calling me poo? Someone explained that I had almost stepped on DOG POO. Bless these strangers. These strangers also clapped, cheered and congratulated me as I walked past them with Cronuts.

Would I do it again? Possibly. Next time I would bring a beach chair and sunscreen and buy two Cronuts (so I can give it away to the person who was #151 in line) and four DKA’s (the real star of the morning).