like IKEA but better


One of the great pleasures of homeownership has been having an excuse to go to IKEA regularly over the years. As our friend Joe used to say, they pump some sort of gas into those places that makes you have hallucinations of wealth (“Two ninety-nine for a set of six toilet brushes! I’ll take ten of them!”) but the experience as a whole is ridiculously fun. Sometimes we’ll sit on the Ektorp sofas or the Poäng chairs for hours, watching the people shove their way through with lists and screaming children and anxious expressions. Now that’s entertainment.

The key component of a day trip to IKEA is, of course, the cafeteria and the Swedish meatballs. There are other foods available there, but at least one person in the shopping party has to get the meatballs. Sometimes we get one of the big meatball platters to share. It comes with boiled potatoes, lots of gravy, and lingonberry sauce, and you can get a glass of sparkling lingonberry juice as well. Eaten at little plastic McDonald’s-style tables, it’s still a tasty and filling meal, and makes you feel like you’ve been somewhere different. Continue reading

an old recipe new again

meatballs with bowties and eggplant sauce

A million years ago (give or take a bit) I spent a few months in Italy as part of a geology course I was taking. We stayed in a tiny village in the Marche region, with occasional field trips elsewhere. We did most of our own cooking, under the supervision of our professors (one Italian and one American), and our diet was pretty repetitive: fresh rolls from the bakery down the road for breakfast, spread with chestnut jam; also cornflakes stirred into blueberry yogurt. Sandwiches for lunch, made from very hard rolls and very ripe pecorino (we referred to it as the Stinky Feet Cheese). Dinner was always, always pasta, but fortunately there was some variation in the toppings, many of which were really delicious. Some of my classmates put together a small recipe book, and I continued to make many of my pasta sauces from this collection for many years afterwards.

One of these sauces that was in my regular rotation was made up of sauteed eggplant mixed with sun dried tomatoes, chopped nuts and mascarpone cheese. It had a great nutty, savory taste and was a nice change from the endless red sauce/pesto rotation. As J and I started to phase out high glycemic foods from our diet I stopped making pasta for dinner as a regular thing, and the eggplant sauce disappeared from the repertoire.

Last week, though, as we were staring vacantly at grocery store produce with very little inspiration, we saw some eggplants that looked halfway decent, and J said, “What about that eggplant walnut sauce you used to make? What if we did it with meatballs?” And so we did. Continue reading

kebab b'il karaz

lamb meatballs with sour cherry sauce and spinach

I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather for various reasons (hence the much less regular posting – sorry), but I’m finally managing to get back gradually to real food and wine. The other night J decided to break out one of our new cookbooks, Street Food by Tom Kime, and make Turkish lamb meatballs with sour cherry sauce, called kebab b’il karaz.

We had ground lamb in the freezer and plenty of dried tart cherries on hand, but we did not have any pomegranate molasses, which forms the basis of the sauce. After calling around to local specialty stores, none of whom had even heard of pomegranate molasses, J decided to make his own by boiling down pomegranate juice into syrup. It worked great!

The original recipe suggested serving the kebabs as one of many dishes, with lots of flatbread. J made chapatis, and we put the hot meatballs and sauce on a bed of fresh spinach, which went beautifully with the cherry sauce. The flavor is very rich, dark, sweet and spicy, so it’s good to have something to contrast. Couscous would be good, too.

Continue reading

Meatballs with arrabbiata sauce

chopping garlic
One of our tried-and-true, easy to make, yummy weeknight dinners. Both the meatballs and the sauce are inspired by recipes out of Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and are basically just vehicles for garlic. And an excuse to drink red wine.

J almost always makes the meatballs in this house – here’s how he did these. He started with two pounds of ground beef, almost the last of our local half-a-cow that we bought last year. The beef was mixed with 1/2 cup each of bread crumbs and milk, two eggs, salt and pepper, and a head (yes, a head!) of chopped garlic. The original Bittman recipe called for onion, but the first time J made it we were out. He substituted garlic (which we grow ourselves), and we liked it so much it stuck. The meatballs get baked for about 20 minutes in a 375° oven. We generally use parchment paper, it helps tremendously for cleanup. Continue reading