Monday Meals: Italian Wedding Soup

I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of this until I found a recipe while FoodGawking one day. When I expressed my utter joy in having discovered such a fantastic food, everyone laughed at me like I’d just discovered Google or something.

Perhaps your mom/grandma/Aunt Gus makes this, or maybe that café on the corner serves it for Tuesday lunch and you’ve already been there, done that.

But if you haven’t! Oh my. Give this a try. The key here is to layer the flavors, so be sure and take enough time between each step for the tastes to meld. I’ve simplified the recipe quite a bit, so if you’d like to make it more authentic, use your favorite meatball recipe.

Italian Wedding Soup

16 oz frozen Italian-style meatballs
2 tablespoons EVOO
1 cup minced onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
8 cups chicken stock (can use Better than Bouillon to make this)
1 cup orzo
10 oz ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Sauté the onion, carrots and celery until the onion is transparent.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and meatballs, return to a boil, and cook until the pasta is soft, about ten minutes. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning to your liking with salt and pepper. Add the spinach and simmer for a couple of minutes more.

Serve with Parmesan, if desired.

Sweet smoky rack of pork and $25 Costco cash giveaway

On Monday I shared with you my desire to dethrone my uncle as the head of the family smokehouse, and gave you a sneak peak into my plan. With the help of a gorgeous rack of pork from Costco and a little advice from my friends, I think I might have a chance.

I also promised an opportunity to win some Costco cash, and we’ll get to that in a bit. But first, let’s talk turkey about pork.

For everyday dinners, a pork tenderloin is a great idea. When you’re looking for an impressive presentation though, a rack of pork is hard to beat. Even better, if you can find one large enough to “crown,” you’ve got even more options.

The rack I purchased was right at five pounds and a little too short to crown, so I decided to focus on a sweet flavor and smoke it instead of roast it.

First, we brined it.

Brine:
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp black peppercorns

Warm over medium heat until salt and sugar are dissolved. Cool. Soak pork for 12-24 hours. Rinse, pat dry.

Then we gave it a rub.

Rub:
2 cups brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg

Combine ingredients, making sure there are no clumps. Press into meat, completely covering it.

Then we smoked it!

Smoke:
We used an upright Brinkman smoker. After creating a hot ring of coals at the bottom, we placed well-soaked chips of applewood inside the ring. We smoked the rack at 250 for five hours, occasionally basting with a mixture of apple juice and melted butter, then finished it in the oven at 265 for one hour. Be sure to let your meat rest for 15-20 minutes.

We ended up with a seriously juicy cut of meat that was quite tender. Served with mashed potatoes, asparagus and a spinach salad, it was a beautiful meal that would have been perfect for a holiday dinner party.

It was suggested by a semi-professional carnivore (our friend Todd, who is well-versed in the art of smoked meats) that some extra time and heavier smoke would be appreciated. If you’re a smoke newbie, you’ll probably be ok with an hour per pound. If you’re a little more experienced, you’ll most likely appreciate a little darker end result. Increase your time to 90 minutes per pound to start, and play it by ear.

Remember, the USDA reduced the temperature guideline for pork loins, chops and roasts from 160 to 145 degrees F, with a three-minute rest. This will yield a juicy, flavorful product that may be pinker in color than most of us home cooks are used to. Ground pork, like all ground meat, should still be cooked to 160 degrees.

As far as party ideas for the season – since I went with a sweet, apple-based flavor for this rack, I would choose an apple stuffing and a harvest décor, and maybe even tuck nametags into cinnamon sticks for place holders.

For a warmer season, I might go with a spicy mustard rub and serve potato salad and beans on a checkered tablecloth.

Pork is a great template for all kinds of flavor themes, and I encourage you to be adventurous once in awhile and see where your imagination takes you. It’s always a fun surprise when something new turns out to be a family favorite.

To bolster your confidence in the kitchen (or on the patio) a bit, I’d like to offer you a chance to win $25 in Costco cash in the form of a Costco gift card. To enter, please leave a comment telling me something new you’d like to try in the kitchen for the holidays.

Please be sure your email address is entered in the correct box before you comment.

Entries will be accepted until Thursday, November third at noon CST. The randomly chosen winner will be contacted by email.

UPDATE: The winner of the $25 Costco cash card is…

#19, Kimberly!

Thank you all for your participation!

I was selected by The National Pork Board and Costco to participate in this sponsored recipe program through The Motherhood. While I have been compensated for my time and expenses, all opinions are my own. As if you doubted that.

Monday Meals: Be inspired!

One of the best things about visiting my family is the food. There’s some serious culinary talent in my genes, from my uncle’s gift in the smokehouse to my aunt’s fancy ways with dessert. My mama can cook a mean gumbo, my grandmother makes a shrimp and rice dish that is always requested at parties and my sister does this thing with black eyed peas that often sends me to the fridge late at night hoping for leftovers.

But my favorite meal – the one I have to eat every time I head down south – is pork roast, rice and gravy. Just about every woman in my family (and even some of the men) can make a mean pork roast. Juicy, flavorful and always tender, it’s easy to get from fridge to table and a perpetual pleaser.

Sometimes, though, we’d like to clean up and set a fancier table. You know, push the paper plates to the back of the cabinet and break out the good Chinet. Maybe all sit around the table instead of running by it at mach speed in an effort to snag the good chair in the living room.

At previous family holiday parties, we’ve roasted some lamb, braised some beef and grilled some shrimp. Usually it’s an older family member who expertly prepares the main course, and it’s all been fantastic, but this year?

This year I’m going to brine and smoke a gorgeous rack of pork.

That’s right. I’m gonna soak it overnight in a sweet and salty brine, smoke it all morning over applewood chips and look for the glint of jealousy in my uncle’s eye.

You’re not the only Brown progeny that can smoke a chunk of meat sir. Oh no. Baby girl has paid attention. See my brisket breakthrough. Be ready.

But of course I’m going to need a practice run before I go for the gold, and thanks to the folks at Costco, I’ve got a gorgeous rack of pork sitting in the fridge.

All month long, in honor of National Pork Month, Costco has offered deals of different cuts of pork to customers who want to be inspired. This week, October 24 through October 31, you can get $2.50 off a rack of pork.

I spent some time researching here about what I could do with this particular cut of meat, and I also learned that the USDA reduced the temperature guideline for pork loins, chops and roasts from 160 to 145 degrees F, with a three-minute rest. (Ground pork, like all ground meat, should be cooked to 160 degrees.)

I think I’m ready for my trial run and later this week I’ll share my recipe with you as well as offer you a chance to win $25 in Costco cash!

If you’re inspired and want to learn more in the meantime, check out the Pork Be Inspired site or search the hashtag #CostcoPork on Twitter for great ideas and tips.

This compensated post was written as part of a blogger campaign with Costco, the National Pork Board and The Motherhood. All opinions expressed are my own. Like you doubted that.

Monday Meals: Stuffed Bell Peppers

I don’t like to run out of things.

At this moment, there is a back up/replacement product for just about anything in my pantry, medicine cabinet and baby supply closet.

Just used the last cup of flour? No problem. Check the third shelf, behind the spaghetti noodles.

Took the last two Immodium Tuesday after that unfortunate undercooked chicken sandwich incident? There’s some at the back of the cabinet next to the year’s worth of deodorant.

Wipes? Hell, I’ve got enough wipes to clean up after a zombie invasion. Brrrraaaaiiiins are no match for the cases of Pampers Sensitive I’ve got stacked in my son’s closet.

No matter how well I plan, though, I always seem to run out of “the good meat” and am occasionally left to choose between a UMO (unidentified meaty object) and a pound of ground beef when I open the deep freeze looking for dinner.

The UMO will likely remain in the freezer forever because I’m just not brave enough to defrost it, so I end up with ground beef.

And sure, I could make tacos, or burgers or spaghetti. Again. But sometimes, I’ve got bell peppers in the crisper.

Those are always good days.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

3 large green bell peppers, halved and seeded
1 lb ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes and chilis
1 cup cooked rice
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp seasoning salt (Lawry’s, or I use Tony Chachere’s)
¾ cup water
1 cube beef bouillon or 1 tsp Better Than Bouillon
½ cup breadcrumbs (I like panko, but you can use whatever you have)
Optional: Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brown ground beef, then add onion and garlic and cook until onion starts to become transparent. Drain well. Add rice

Combine tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Season with pepper and seasoning salt. Pour half of the mixture over the meat and rice and mix well.

Mix water and bouillon and pour into the bottom of a casserole dish.

Stuff each pepper half with the meat mixture and place in the water. (You may parboil the peppers beforehand if you would like them to turn out softer.)

Spoon out more tomato mixture on top of each pepper and sprinkle them liberally with breadcrumbs.

Bake for 25-30 minutes.

*If you’d like, top with grated or sliced cheese during the last five minutes of cooking time.

Monday Meals: This is why fractions are important

Every year on or around the first of October my husband ventures into the kitchen to bake the one thing he knows how to make: his grandmother’s pumpkin bread.

He doesn’t just make one or two loaves though.

No, after a morning full of flour spills and fished-out eggshells, every inch of our countertops are covered with little brown rectangles. Our friends are ok with this, or at least they pretend to be, because they always smile and take the bread so lovingly offered.

So this morning I heard hubs banging around in the kitchen and at first I think he’s going to bring me coffee. I’m thrilled.

Soon, though, the questions begin.

“Where’s the mixer thingie?”

“Is pumpkin a dry measure or wet measure? Which cup do I use?”

“Where are the measuring cups?”

Damn, dude. Bring me some coffee first.

Then he really runs into a problem. He brings me the can of pumpkin.

“I need two cups of pumpkin. How much do you think this can holds?”

Really?

After we have a short tutorial on how to read labels, he’s back at work, trying to convert the whole recipe to fit the amount of pumpkin he has.

Finally, I tell him to simplify it and scoop out ½ cup of pumpkin to make it easier. A light bulb, in all its incandescent glory, suddenly appears above his fuzzy blonde head.

For all the teasing I gave him, I have to admit, that was the best damn pumpkin bread ever.

I don’t think we’ll share with anyone this year. But you can make your own – here’s the recipe.

Pumpkin Bread

3 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp soda
2 tsp nutmeg
4 eggs
2 cups pumpkin
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp cinnamon
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cups water
1 tsp ginger

Mix eggs, oil, water, and pumpkin. Mix dry ingredients and add gradually to other mixture. Grease and flour three loaf pans, add mixture, and bake one hour at 350 degrees.