Why this blog?

"If you are careful," Garp wrote, "if you use good ingredients, and you don't take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day; what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane."
from John Irving's novel, The World According to Garp

Monday, January 17, 2011


When I was a little kid, my mom's spaghetti was my favorite food - no question, no wavering; if you asked me what my favorite food was, I said spaghetti.  It was what Mama cooked for me on my birthday or when I was sick; it was what I begged my grandmother in Virginia to make for us every Saturday night when we'd make our monthly weekend visit.  Over the years, we've refined the recipe - one of my gorgeous sisters found the genius finishing touch when she started adding the fresh bell pepper, I think.  But the basic outline has remained the same my whole life, and I still love it.  Foodies and Italian cooking purists will faint, no doubt, but they're welcome to pour their al dente whole grain orecchiette back into their extra virgin olive oil and organic basil pesto and eat it without me. 

This past Saturday night, the Thunder from Down Under and I realized we are broke beyond bearing, so broke we couldn't afford to go out to eat.  But by damn, we had the stuff to make spaghetti.  I called up Gorgeous Sister #1 (Gorgeous Sister #2 being somewhat more solvent and eating out with friends) and told her to bring her hubby and her kid over for spaghetti night. 

I found two foil-wrapped lumps in the freezer that together made between 1.5 and two pounds of ground beef. (Side note:  Why can't the grocery store package ground beef in two pound packages instead of 1.34 lbs or 1.79 lbs or whatever?  I always have to either have too little or buy two and have too much and end up with all these little frozen meat wads.) I browned the meat over high heat with a generous sprinkling of dried minced onion (between 1 and 2 tablespoons, I'd say; a small onion's worth) and about a teaspoon of minced garlic bottled in olive oil.  (I keep a jar in the fridge at all times because life is too short to smash garlic just to have spaghetti, but dried garlic powder makes God cry.)  I drained the fat from the meat and put it back in the pot with a can of Hunt's spaghetti sauce, 'flavored with meat,' over medium heat.  This is the cheapest non-store-brand sauce you can buy, usually about a dollar a can, and I swear to you it makes the best spaghetti sauce base, better than any of the brands in jars.  Trust me just one time, and I promise you'll never spend five bucks on a jar of sauce again.  I added two small cans of tomato sauce, half a teaspoon of Italian seasoning, a half a teaspoon of dried basil, two shakes of dried red pepper flake, and a generous pinch of sugar.  After this was all stirred together, I beheaded and gutted a green bell pepper, sliced it in quarters, and laid it on top.  I turned the heat up to high, brought the sauce to a boil, then knocked it back down to a simmer and left it alone for half an hour, stirring every ten minutes or so. 

I cooked a two pound box of regular spagetti in my humongous pasta pot - let your salted water come to a full rolling boil before you put in your pasta, then cook for exactly 11 minutes.  I have a love/hate relationship with that pot.  It's the only one I have big enough to cook pasta or soup, but it's so big, it's hell on earth to wash it.  I have tried every possible angle and configuration to fit it in the dishwasher, but it just will not go. 

For the bread, I cheated and used a perfectly yummy frozen product with what they claim is five different cheeses on it.  But if you want to make my grandmother's classic garlic bread, it's easy - slice most of the way through a loaf of 'French' or 'Italian' bread from the deli section of the grocery store, making slices that are barely held together at the bottom.  Slather butter in all of the cracks and sprinkle in garlic salt (not garlic powder, garlic salt - God still cries, but only for your high blood pressure). 

Usually I would make a tossed salad with this or at least open up a bag of pre-washed salad and dump it in a bowl.  But Saturday night, we lived dangerously and saved room for ice cream instead. 

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