January 26, 2016

Buffalo Chicken Meatball Sliders

Football isn't a big thing in Italy. Well, Italian football (soccer) definitely is, but I have to rely on my friends back home for updates on the American sport. I'm involved enough to know that the Superbowl is coming up soon. Honestly, I'm only in it for the food. I love the idea of plates and plates of decadent snack foods like jalapeno popperspretzels with cheese dip, and tons of salsa and guacamole. One of the most popular choices are wings, but I find them overly messy and not nearly rewarding enough in terms of amount of meat consumed vs effort involved.

That's why I took all the beloved flavors of buffalo wings and creamy ranch and put them in a portable, poppable bite (it also lets me sneak in more carbs, which is always a plus). Ladies and gentlemen, meet the elegant and classy buffalo chicken meatball slider: a plump and juicy chicken meatball smothered in spicy buffalo sauce, velvety ranch dressing, and crumbles of bleu cheese piled onto buttery little buns.

This certainly isn't your nonna's meatball recipe. I think the little Italian grandmas here would keel over if I tried to convince them to make these instead of their classic meatballs with Sunday gravy. However, the chicken is healthier and provides a much more neutral flavor to go with the sauce. Also, the whole wing-to-slider transition is much easier if you stick to chicken. The low fat content is great for your waistline but not so much for juicy meatballs, so I do have to add some stuff to make them taste good. I throw in some diced onions, minced garlic, an egg to bind them, some parmesan (you can't have good meatballs without that salty bite), panko breadcrumbs, and spices.

As a resident of Wisconsin and now Italy, the two places that love cheese more than anywhere else in the world, I'm constantly looking for ways to put more cheese in everything. Here, I stuff the meatballs with cubes of cheese, either relatively neutral ones like provolone or Monterrey Jack or the classic choice for wings, bleu cheese. When I made these last time I used Monterrey Jack inside the meatballs because it's not as polarizing as bleu cheese; pretty much everyone likes Jack cheese whereas bleu cheese can be hit or miss. You can always toss some bleu cheese on top of the sliders for those who want it.

I roast the meatballs in the oven until completely cooked through; you should never ever ever eat raw chicken. As I learned in my food microbiology class, an alarmingly high percentage of American chicken is contaminated with nasty bugs like Salmonella. Don't worry; I still eat poultry, as does my professor. You just have to be careful about cooking it completely and washing everything properly.

Once the meatballs are cooked, I throw them into some buffalo sauce, which is basically just your favorite hot sauce (Frank's is my go-to) whisked together with some melted butter. I let that simmer away for a few minutes (for a Superbowl party or any other gathering I'd stick the meatballs in the sauce when your guests start to arrive). Once the meatballs soak up all that spicy hot flavor, I scoop them onto buns, douse them in ranch dressing (a Midwestern staple), and let people go crazy.

I decided to make my ranch dressing from scratch since it's incredibly easy and only two ingredients plus spices. You may not know this, but ranch is only buttermilk and mayonnaise. Healthy, right? But it's necessary to cool down the heat of the meatballs. You can use store-bought dressing-especially if you're going for low-fat dressing--or use any other sauce or toppings you like with wings. You can even make a quick crunchy slaw with thinly-sliced carrots and celery. As I said earlier, bleu cheese crumbles are a welcome addition at this step also. Given the relative simplicity and healthiness of this dish (ok, maybe it's not super healthy but it's better than regular wings, especially if you make mini bunless meatballs), I'd make at least a double batch because they'll go flying off your snack table.

1 lb Ground Chicken
1 Small Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Egg
1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan
1/4 Cup Panko
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
4 oz Cubed Monterrey Jack or Provolone Cheese
1 Cup Hot Sauce
3 T Butter, Melted
16 Slider Buns
Ranch Dressing, Optional (see below)
Bleu Cheese, Optional

Heat oven to 400F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

Heat some oil in a skillet. Add the onions and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook until fragrant and translucent, about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Combine the egg, parmesan, panko, garlic powder, and onion powder. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and the onion mixture and mix just until combined.

Roll the chicken mixture into 16 balls. Stuff each with a cheese cube and bake until cooked through, about 14-16 minutes.

Whisk the butter and wing sauce together in a large skillet. Add the meatballs, toss to coat, and heat until hot and bubbly, about 4 minutes.

Serve the meatballs on the slider buns with ranch dressing and/or bleu cheese if desired.

For the ranch dressing, whisk 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup buttermilk, 1 clove minced garlic, a pinch of cayenne, and a pinch of thyme together. Season with salt and pepper.

Makes 16
Recipes Adapted from The American Butter Institute and The Stylist Quo

January 18, 2016

Sausage, Kale, and White Bean Ragu

I apologize for the delay in new recipes, but I've been a little busy exploring the beautiful city of Rome. I'll do my best to post pictures here and on Twitter if you would like to keep up. To summarize, the buildings are beautiful, the monuments are amazing, and the food is even better than I expected. I honestly spent two hours wandering around one of the few supermarkets here in awe of the aisles and aisles of fresh pasta, fresh mozzarella, gorgeous produce, and crackly baked goods. As for eating in restaurants, I've been sticking to the classic local dish pasta all'amatriciana (I still think my recipe is the best) as well as long rectangular pizzas that they cut and weigh to your preference. With all of these delicious carbs and creamy cheeses, it's a little difficult to get in my fruits and vegetables, which is why I try to add them into the sauces and other dishes I cook at home. You can use this same mentality to keep up with your resolutions, especially since after 18 days you can and should treat yourself to some pasta. And if you love this flavor combination, you can cut out the carbs entirely and try it in stew form.

This recipe is essentially a tomato sauce loaded with white beans, kale, sausage, fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, and a splash of red wine. I cook mine mostly in a crockpot since I can leave everything there to bubble away for a few hours without worrying about scorching or overflowing. However, it only needs to cook for less than three hours, so the recipe can also work on the stovetop.

I always start this sauce on the stove anyway since the sausage is so much better when you brown it. Not only does it crisp the sides and add complex flavors through Maillard browning, it oozes out flavorful fat to cook the onions in so the sausage permeates the whole dish. After the sausage is browned, cooled, and sliced, I toss the onions into the same skillet with some garlic and tomato paste to soak up all the fatty goodness. I know this is supposed to be healthy but you would have just wasted it anyway so you might as well use it.

After the sausage and onions are cooked, it's time to break out the crockpot. Or, you know, just use the same big pot (in that case use a pot for the sausage and onions instead of a skillet so you can keep all the crispy browned bits). I combine canned crushed tomatoes, red wine, fresh diced tomatoes, herbs, the sausage, and the onion/garlic/tomato paste mixture. After that all simmers together for a few hours, I stir in the beans, which don't need to cook for the full amount of time or they'll get mushy. After that addition simmers for a while, I stir in the kale, which only needs to cook for about 30 minutes. You could blanch it beforehand to preserve the color, but it all gets mixed into the red sauce anyway and I personally don't think it's worth the effort. By the time you mix it in with some pasta (go for whole wheat or quinoa pasta if you're staying healthy) and grab a fork, you won't even care.

1 Small Yellow Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 T Tomato Paste
2 28oz Cans Crushed Tomatoes
1/2 lb Plum Tomatoes, Diced
1/2 Cup Red Wine
1 Sprig Fresh Rosemary
3 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
1 lb Spicy Italian Sausage
1/2 Bunch Kale, Chopped
1 Can Cannellini Beans, Drained & Rinsed

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Add the sausage and brown on all sides. Remove from the skillet and slice when cool.

Heat the skillet and add the onions. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes.

Pour the crushed tomatoes and red wine into a crockpot. Add the onion mixture, tomatoes, and herbs. Stir in the sausage, season with salt and pepper, and cook on low for 2 hours. Add the beans and cook for 1 hour. Stir in the kale and cook for 30 minutes. Serve over pasta.

Serves 6-8
Recipe Adapted from Half Baked Harvest

January 2, 2016

Southwestern Turkey Skillet

It's always a struggle finding healthy recipes that actually have substance and flavor, especially when you're already about to give up on your new year's resolutions. That's why I love this recipe, which is full of lean protein from the turkey and packed with vegetables. A variety of spices and spicy things don't hurt, either. It's healthy, creative, and is as far from bland as you can get. The combination of fresh and canned vegetables stretch the turkey to an unexpectedly large number of portions, which means you can make a batch and eat it all week. The mix of vegetables also allows you to make this dish all year, since you can always find onions, peppers, sweet potatoes, and decent tomatoes.

I chose turkey because it is one of the leanest meats you can find and it suits this flavor profile well. You can easily use ground chicken, beef, or pork, and substituting sausage for some of the meat would add even more flavor. Of course, that also adds more fat, but a little chorizo won't kill your resolutions entirely. I cook the meat with the spices because it soaks them up best at this point.

I start cooking the vegetables in whatever drippings are left, though don't expect much if you use plain ground turkey. The onions and bell peppers are cooked first with some garlic and some more spices. The sweet potatoes go in next; they need to be diced small enough to cook quickly so the turkey doesn't dry out later. After they are almost tender, I add diced tomatoes (fresh is best but canned can work in a pinch), black beans, corn, and more spices.

After all the vegetables are cooked, I combine them with the turkey, cheese, and even more spices. The mixture is piled into a skillet, covered with more spices if you so desire, and cooked until everything is tender and bubbly and delicious. Heap it on a plate by itself or with some rice or other healthy starch and you have a hearty meal and plenty of leftovers to celebrate the new year.

1 lb Ground Turkey
1 Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Bell Peppers, Diced
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Sweet Potatoes, Peeled & Diced
3 Plum Tomatoes, Diced
1 Can Black Beans, Drained & Rinsed
1 Can Corn, Drained
8 oz Pepperjack Cheese, Shredded
2 T Garlic Powder
2 T Onion Powder
2 T Chili Powder
1 T Cumin
1 T Paprika
1 tsp Cayenne
1 tsp Oregano

Whisk the garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne, and oregano together.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Add the turkey and 2 tsp spice mixture; season with salt and pepper and cook on medium heat until almost cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Cook the onions, peppers, garlic, and 1 tsp spices in the turkey drippings until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the sweet potatoes and 1 tsp spices and cook over medium-low heat until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, black beans, corn, 2 tsp spices, and cook for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat oven to 350F.

Combine the turkey, vegetables, cheese, and 1 tsp spices. Transfer back into the skillet and bake for 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Serves 8-10