Dinner for 10…8…7…5…ok, just dinner

“Know what we should have?” I asked. “Spaghetti, with some good meatballs and fresh bread.”

And those around me were in agreement, mostly (I think) because it meant that I was shaking off a bit of the funk in which I had found myself and actually thinking about cooking something.

My sister picked the day: Saturday. This family being what it is, casual invitations went out to other family members and friends, and suddenly there were ten plates to visualize sitting on the table, awaiting whatever came out of the kitchen.

I’d been making bread this week – cinnamon-raisin bread that while quite tasty according to those actually eating it, wasn’t very pretty to look at, in my opinion. Because my sister had requested a loaf for someone else, and because the bread simply doesn’t last very long, I decided to double up and make four instead of the usual two. The flour may be the problem, since it’s almost acting like bread flour instead of the usual all-purpose flour, but I soldiered on, fiddling with the proportions and trying to figure out just why things were not turning out as prettily as they could be. I made all the dough and took it through the first rises on Friday, then stowed it all away in the fridges, as we had to head to the NOC to set up seven servers that had arrived. I planned to roll out the dough on Saturday, put on the cinnamon and raisins, and then give it the final rise before baking it off in the morning. That turned out to be a workable plan.

For the most part, they turned out much better.

Beyond the flour issue, part of the problem may be that it’s been fairly warm here – as I type this, it’s 82 degrees outside. Since the dough has a fair bit of butter in it, and because it’s a moist dough to start, even the short handling time from the fridge to the loaf pan after it’s been rolled out and rolled up leaves me with tacky dough, and this may contribute to the issue. Unfortunately, I have no way to keep the dough chilled during the rolling process. The loaf at the bottom of the photo was the worst of it, with the dough separating terribly during baking. The others were not quite as bad (looking) this time around. The mini loaf, made from the trimmings of the larger loaves, is mine: no raisins in there. There is something about warm raisins that is unappetizing to me.

While that round of baking was going on, I put together the biga for the Italian loaves that would go with our spaghetti. While you can refrigerate the biga overnight to help build the flavor, the bread can also be made with a much shorter fermentation period. In our case, I let the biga go for about four hours before putting the entire dough together and letting it rise. For this bread, because of the problems I’ve been having with the cinnamon bread, the biga was made with the all-purpose flour, but the rest of the dough was made with bread flour (Kind Arthur unbleached). This dough isn’t quite as moist as the cinnamon bread, of course, but it does have some olive oil in it, and after rising, punching down, forming into batards, rising, slashing, and baking, it turned out to be a very well-behaved dough after all. It is also delicious.

With all that rising was going on, we needed something else to do. So we made sauce. We, in this sense, means my sister, who decided she wanted to make the sauce, but didn’t know how. So we told her: simplicity itself. A few cans of whole, peeled tomatoes, squished, with the liquid. A couple cans of tomato paste. Fresh basil. Salt, pepper, some finely diced onion, a dash of baking soda, a pinch of sugar, a bit of oregano, some parsley. After reducing for about three hours, it was ready.

Since I had suggested meatballs, I got to make them. My sister had called me from the store Friday afternoon, balking at having to buy veal.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to buy veal,” she said.

Now, I knew this was not because they had none at the store. In fact, I’m often amazed that in this area, they carry it at all, but they do. Rather, it was because of late she has been eating no meat at all – although she had no issues picking up the ground beef and ground pork that would also be in the meatballs – and got to thinking about the cute little calves.

I told her to forget about it, and that I’d pick it up, but not only did she bring some to me, she also had to request that they grind some, as they had no ground veal out. Victory for me, progress for her.

Beef, pork, veal, spices + formed and chilled + fried = meatballs.

I generally ask other people to taste test things, because my own sense of taste is rather suspect these days. My brother, whom I asked to taste test a small bit fried up before the final shaping and chilling of the meatballs, said, “it tastes like meat fried in oil.” I had also tried a small bit, and could taste, at the very edges, a hint of basil and black pepper. I adjusted the seasonings, fried a small bit again, and had him taste again. “It tastes the same,” he said. Even with my issues, I could tell that it was not the same. The flavors of the meat blended with garlic, basil, pepper, a pinch of oregano, a touch of onion powder, and a sprinkle of salt? A perfect complement to the sauce.

My sister, not wanting to be left out, wanted tofu “meatballs” as I had made on a previous dinner night. “How do you make them?” she asked. Well, it’s almost the same way you make the real thing, except in the tofu version, I add some parm, too, as this helps keep the things together. She wanted paprika, too, so that went in as well. the last little spoonful of the tofu made the perfect mini-meatball.

These only needed to be warmed through, of course, and we didn’t make as many of these as we did the real thing because most of us are carnivores around here.

With everything done, it was time to make some garlic bread using the loaves I’d made.

Sliced.

Before going under the broiler: butter, garlic, paprika, parm.

After coming out. The butter had soaked its way into each slice, the parm had melted/hardened off nicely, and the garlic was not terribly overpowering. The crust, already fairly crisp from the baking, had a wonderful, crisp snap, and when broken, a small shower of crumbs fell to the plate.

The boys like bread. A lot. They happily eat the cinnamon bread, the italian loaf, the garlic bread.

My sister can’t mix her foods.

After all was said and done, we wound up with three for dinner: myself, my mom, and my sister. We packed some leftovers off to my other (sick) sister and her boyfriend. The rest? Into the fridge or freezer, to be savored on another day.

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