Sunday Gravy in a Crock Pot: Shortcut or Sacrilege?

October 25, 2013 Entrees, Menu, Pasta 2 Comments

A few weeks back I was faced with one of the toughest cooking challenges I’ve ever had to make since starting this blog. It was a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon, and my wife and I had plans to take our kids to meet up with friends at a neighborhood Fall Festival. We also had a huge craving for a nice pot of Sunday gravy, which we haven’t made in a while. When a hankering for Sunday gravy comes along, there is no turning back.

Knowing that we would be out of the house for a good few hours, spending the time needed to tend to a pot of gravy wasn’t an option. But I was still determined to somehow enjoy my favorite Sunday meal, so much so that I already bought the cans of tomatoes, the beef, pork and veal for the meatballs, and the loaf of crusty Italian bread. With my back up to the wall, I made the crucial decision….I was going to attempt to make my Sunday gravy in a crock pot.

Still a bit shaken and nervous about my decision, I reached out to my Facebook friends to get their opinions. My friend Lorraine Rannali, the Gravy Wars queen, thought I was crazy. Even my cousin – my own flesh and blood – was shocked. But I was determined to conquer my fears and figure this one out.

We’ve all used a crock pot to serve up meatballs at a family party. But this wasn’t just a quick reheat…this was building from the ground up. If you step off of the meatball merry-go-round and think about it, you’re only using a different heating element to warm up a pot. Already I was feeling less nervous, and it was time to get cooking.

The first step that I take when making my Sunday gravy is to heat up some oil and garlic, and then add my tomatoes. Knowing that the crock pot wouldn’t produce the heat needed to warm up the oil, I used some common sense and came up with the practical solution – just heat up some oil and garlic in a small pan over the stove and add it to the tomatoes, Now we’re rolling!

I started by adding my cans of tomatoes to the pot, seasoned it up as I normally would, and then added the heated garlic and oil. The house is smelling good already! I already had the meatballs baking in the oven, and once they were done, I plopped them into the tomatoes and in true old-school fashion (I worked every old-school trick I could think of), I added some of the meatball oils to the pot for a little extra flavor.

Now it was time to head out and hope for the best. I set the pot to the low setting, and off we went to paint pumpkins and stuff scarecrows. Three hours later, we returned and I slowly but anxiously opened the front door. We were greeted with the most beautiful, fragrant smell that any Italian and Italian-American home would be proud of…the smell of Sunday gravy.

Yes friends, you can indeed make Sunday gravy in a crock pot. By following your own traditional recipe, and heating up your oil and garlic in a separate pan, you should have no problems and will not taste a difference. You will have to scale back on the amount that you’re making, as crock pots are much smaller than a regular sauce pot. If you’re making Sunday gravy for a large crowd, leaving the house is probably the furthest thing from your mind anyway!

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Apple Bacon Harvest Risotto

October 8, 2013 Entrees, Menu No Comments

A few weeks back, I posted a review of Harpoon Pumpkin Cider (the verdict: not so good). I purchased the cider as a six-pack, so I have since been kicking around ideas on how to put the remaining bottles to good use without simply dumping it all down the drain. One of my favorite dishes that I like to prepare this time of year, particularly on a Sunday spent at home, is a nice pot of risotto featuring seasonal ingredients and flavors. I’ve already put together a Pumpkin Amaretto Risotto, which is one of my favorite recipes on my blog. But this gave me an idea on another seasonal favorite of mine. Since the main ingredient of cider is apples, I though it would be nice to play up on the apple angle. From there, I started thinking of other ingredients that would work well with apples. I immediately thought of  a harvest salad, and quickly came up with smoked bacon, walnuts and gorgonzola cheese. After a bit of research, I found a risotto recipe using apples, bacon and bleu cheese, and white wine and apple cider vinegar as the liquid base. With just a few minor adjustments, particularly using the cider in place of the wine and vinegar, and throwing in some allspice for an extra kick, I put together a dish that I was really happy with. The risotto was very filling and full of wonderful autumn flavors and texture. It’s a perfect recipe for this time of year. If you are a fan of risotto and the fall season, and if you have about 45 minutes of uninterrupted kitchen time available to you, give this one a try. If you don’t have apple cider on hand, I’m sure that the white wine and apple cider vinegar combination would work just as well.

Apple Bacon Harvest Risotto
inspired by a recipe found at betterrecipes.com

4 Strips Thick-cut Bacon, cut into ½” slivers

1 tbsp Olive Oil

2 Golden Delicious Apples, peeled and diced

2 Shallots, peeled and minced

4 cups Low-sodium Chicken Stock

1½ cups Arborio Rice

1 12 oz bottle Hard Apple Cider
(you can substitute cider with 1/2 cup Dry White Wine + 2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar)

¾ tsp Kosher Salt, divided

½ tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper

1 tbsp Thinly Sliced Fresh Sage Plus a Few Leaves, for garnish

3.5 oz Gorgonzola Cheese, crumbled

1 tbspn finely chopped Walnuts

Dash of Allspice (to taste)

 

Place the bacon in a large saute pan and cook over medium heat until golden, rendering most of the fat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon to a paper towel and drain all but one tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add the olive oil to the bacon fat in the pan and saute the shallots and apples over medium-high heat until softened and browned in spots, 5-6 minutes. Season mixture with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Meanwhile, heat the stock over low heat in a small saucepan until it comes to a simmer, then adjust heat to maintain a low simmer.

Add the rice to the saute pan with the apples and shallots and cook, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes, until rice becomes translucent at edges. Add the cider (or wine and vinegar) then cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed by the rice. Season mixture with a second 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add a ladle of simmering stock and cook, stirring frequently, until absorbed. Repeat additions of stock, adjusting the heat to keep the risotto simmering but not at a raging boil, until rice is just tender, about 20 minutes. Season with pepper, then remove from heat, add sage, reserved bacon, the final 1/4 teaspoon salt, goat cheese, walnuts and allspice, then cover for 2-3 minutes. Give a final stir and serve immediately, garnished with sage leaves.

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