Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dear John: Spaghetti with Meatballs and Sausage, and Grandma B's Amazing Sauce

Background: John Tyree has come home to Wilmington, North Carolina on furlough after three years of active duty in the Army. He's been spending his days on Wrightsville Beach surfing. One day he meets Savannah, who has come to Wrightsville for a month with a group of college students, who are building a house with Habitat for Humanity. For the next couple of weeks, until it's time for John to return to Germany where he is stationed, John and Savannah spend most of their time together when Savannah isn't working on the Habitat house. After John returns to active duty, they write to each other almost constantly, and count the days until they will see each other again.

John's father lives alone in the modest house in Wilmington where John grew up. John barely remembers his mother; she had left him and his father when John was very young. The two have never had a close relationship, however; John's father has always been quiet and reserved; often spending hours at a time with his extensive coin collection. John had been quite rebellious as a teenager, and joining the Army was a way for him to get away from his father.

The night John came home on leave, his father brought him to the house and cooked spaghetti, as he had done every Friday night of John's life. It was comforting in a way for John to come home to find things pretty much the same at home as they had always been, right down to the daily eggs, bacon, and toast every morning and the spaghetti every Friday night. John's father looked older and more tired, however, and even though the two hadn't seen each other in three years, they couldn't seem to find much to talk about. That was how it always had been.

Now, if I were cooking spaghetti on a Friday night, I would open up a jar of Ragu', maybe brown up a little meat, and call it done. But since this blog is for the most part a weekend project, I decided that the day after Hurricane Irene (a Sunday) was a great day to make my mother-in-law's special pasta sauce. Or "gravy," as she calls it.


First, make the meatballs.

When Grandma makes them, she soaks some bread in milk, and then mixes it with a couple of pounds ground beef along with some chopped fresh parsley, an egg, some salt and pepper. Since mine need to be gluten, dairy, and egg-free, I put about a cup Organ All-Purpose Rice Crumbs in a bowl with a little rice milk to moisten it; then I mixed it in with the ground beef, along with approx. 2 T each of chopped parsley and thyme, and a heaping half tablespoon (which is just about a whole tablespoon, really) of Ener-G Egg Replacer mixed with two tablespoons of water. The meatballs should be about an inch and a half in diameter.

My dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free supplies

For the sauce:

1 to 2 lbs meatballs

1 to 2 lbs Italian sausage links (hot or mild. Grandma uses a mixture of both, and cuts the hot ones in half so folks can tell the difference. Me? I go for all hot.)

1 medium onion, diced

2 to 3 cloves finely chopped garlic (For the record, I almost always double or triple the number of garlic cloves my recipe calls for. But you can do whatever you want.)

1 small (6-oz) can tomato paste

1 large (28-oz) can tomato puree

2 large (28-oz) cans tomato sauce

red wine

basil leaves (if fresh, says Grandma. But a dried bay leaf or two will do in a pinch.)

Brown sausage in a large saucepot; remove and set aside. Brown meatballs and remove; drain off most of the fat. (I don't necessarily cook the meat all the way through, because later it will cook in the sauce for several hours.) In the same saucepot, sautee onions and garlic over medium heat until they begin to soften; add the tomato paste and cook for about a minute, stirring frequently. DO NOT BURN.

I use so much meat, I need to brown it in two pots. Here's my local free-range hot Italian sausage.

Don't worry about the browned bits that stick to the bottom of the pot.

Fill the tomato paste can with wine; add to the pot and cook for another minute, stirring frequently. Ad puree and bring to a simmer; add sauce and bring to a simmer again. Add salt and pepper to taste; add basil (or bay leaves) if available. Bring to a simmer. Add sausage and meatballs to sauce; bring to a simmer. Cover and turn heat to very low. Keep covered on very low heat for 2 to 3 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. It is VERY IMPORTANT to stir the sauce every half hour so that it doesn't burn.

I had some red wine from the Finger Lakes that was a little bit too sweet for our taste, but it's perfect in Grandma's sauce.

(Onions, garlic, tomato paste, and wine)

Fortunately I had some fresh basil on my deck. It really does make a difference.

This makes A LOT of sauce. When I make this I'll divide it in two and freeze half of it; the rest we'll have for several nights of dinners. (Spaghetti...lasagna...eggplant parmesan...meatball/sausage subs...even pizza.)

When the sauce is done, I put the sausage and meatballs in a separate dish for serving.

John and his father ate their spaghetti with a glass of milk. We opted for mojitos instead. (This was Joe's plate. My gluten free pasta of choice for this meal: Mrs. Leeper's corn spaghetti.)

During their brief time together, Savannah meets John's father and visits him several times. Savannah sees something in Mr. Tyree that John has never considered before, and this revelation ultimately helps John to better appreciate and accept his father's awkward quirkiness.

There's also a guy named Tim in this story (maybe we have a little bit of a love triangle?), an autistic boy named Alan, a hotshot named Randy, some horses, and the full moon.

I'll tell you more when I share my recipe for teriyaki grilled chicken!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bonus: Peach ice cream, and an Irene update

Now that summer is pretty much over, and fresh peaches will soon be a thing of the past, I want to share the peach ice cream that I made--twice--more than a month ago now in my new ice cream maker.

I found this recipe at Barbra's (aka scmom) at "Bless Us O Lord" blog:

5 large ripe peaches
3/4 cup sugar, divided
large pinch kosher salt
1/2 t. lemon juice
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk

Peel, pit, and chop the peaches. (The first time, I chopped them; the second time I puree'd them as well. Details below.) Place them in a medium saucepan with 1/2 cup sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until jamlike in consistency, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, combine cream, milk, and remaining sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until liquid begins to bubble around the edges, stirring occasionally.

Transfer to a bowl and add peaches and sauce. Place bowl in a bowl of ice water and let sit for about 30 minutes or until room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.

Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instruction. Freeze until scoopable to your preference.


You can dice your peaches as big or as small as you want, depending on what you like.

We had to lock it in the laundry room for this part so our dog wouldn't eat it.


All finished and ready to eat! (That's gluten free granola on mine.)

The only complaint I got from Joe and the boys was that the chunks of peach in the ice cream were frozen and were cold on their teeth. (I liked it this way, though.) I made it again a few days later, and this time after cooking, I put the peaches in the blender and puree'd them before adding them to the milk and cream mixture.

Not as chunky, but just as delicious!

Not long ago, I tried making peppermint ice cream; soon I'll share with you how that turned out!


I guess I kind of left everyone in suspense in my last post, and maybe you're wondering how everyone fared in the midst of Hurricane Irene.

Nick had this to say on Twitter on the days following the storm (I'm combining the 140-character-or-less tweets into somewhat of a paragraph):

My family is safe, the house is fine. Just a little water in the yard. Other parts of New Bern weren't so lucky. Many -- hundreds -- of houses in New Bern flooded, lots of downed power lines, power off to thousands of homes, many fallen trees. 9 out of 10 people in New Bern without power. Might take time to get it restored. Flooding in town ranged from nothing at all to up to 8 feet in some places. We have a generator, so we're okay. It might take a week for power to be restored. Internet and phone is spotty ...Downed power lines everywhere ... The problem is that even the stores have no power so have to leave town to buy things like milk and bread. Thank you to all the utility crews that have come to Eastern North Carolina to clean up after Hurricane Irene.
Now he's back to publishing tweets like this:

"When life hands you melons, you know you're dyslexic..."

"Do we STILL not know who let the dogs out?"

(Check out Nicholas Sparks' official Twitter page for more cheesy jokes.)

In my neck of the woods, we got a healthy dose of wind and rain from Irene, but not nearly the amount of flooding and damage as other parts of the East Coast. We didn't even lose power, which was the best part! (Nick hasn't said anything about Lee; I expect they're getting quite a bit of rain from that one like we are.)

Coming up next: Spaghetti with meatballs and sausage, and my mother-in-law's amazing pasta sauce. I promise.