Beef Bolognese with Orecchiette

Hello there!  Remember us?  Well one of our New Year’s resolutions here in the shoebox is to get our blogging frequency back up to a respectable level.  It will be tough (even as I type this, our seven month old is trying to dive head first into the keyboard), but we are determined!

So now that January is here and we’ve had enough turkey and beef tenderloin to last us for a while, we thought this weekend that we’d turn to a different kind of comfort food.  Thanks to the inspiration of our cousins in St. Louis, Paul and Emily, we’ve grown to really like a good bolognese sauce.  The particular bolognese sauce they prepared for us was so complex and diverse in flavors, contained four different types of meat including pork belly, and was – in a word – unforgettable.  They gave us a copy of the cookbook from which the recipe was taken (Frank Stitt’s Bottega Favorita, a beautiful book which we have only begun to sink our teeth into), and my dad and I made it over the Christmas holidays in Augusta.  It was a labor of love, indeed, but completely worth it.

But we wanted something a little less involved on a lazy Saturday night, so Ina’s voice called from our pile of cookbooks to answer our craving.

Beef Bolognese with Orecchiette (from Ina Garten’s How Easy Is That?, with slight modifications)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for pasta
  • 1.5 pounds lean ground beef (Ina calls for just 1 pound, but we wanted our sauce meatier – this is where you can get creative and mix up your meats – adding pork is always a good choice)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups dry red wine
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for pasta
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 cinnamon stick, halved (this is not in Ina’s recipe, but was in our cousins’ bolognese, and we just love the subtle complexity this adds)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped and divided into two equal portions (this is twice as much as Ina uses, but we like to stir another handful of basil in just before plating)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 1 pound oreccheitte (or small shells, or fettucini)

Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add the ground beef and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, until meat has started to brown.  Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for another minute.  Pour 1 cup of the wine into the pan and stir to scrape up any browned bits.  Add the tomatoes, paste, salt, and pepper, stirring until combined.  Bring to a boil then lower the heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, go ahead and starting bringing your water for the pasta to a boil in a large pot.  Be sure to add a tablespoon of salt and splash of olive oil to the water.

After the sauce has simmered for about 10 minutes, add the nutmeg, cinnamon, half the basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup of wine to the sauce.  Simmer 15 – 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened.  You’ll want to start cooking your pasta when you’re  sauce is just about to your desired thickness.  Cook the pasta until al dente.

Fully drain your pasta and then stir all of it into your sauce, along with the 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan and remaining basil.  We like to grate large slices of Parmesan on the top after plating.

This dish is stick-to-your-ribs meets gourmet Italian.  Translation: comfort food that will make you raise your eyebrows.

The spice combinations in this sauce are just spectacular.  The heartiness of the beef is brought to life by the slight sweetness of the tomatoes, the complexity of the wine (we used cabernet), the tiny kick from the pepper, and the almost Fall-like notes from the cinnamon and nutmeg that play quietly but noticeably in the background.  As Anne said, “It would make a good dinner party entree: interesting enough for the women, but hearty enough for the men.”  As much as I wanted to be insulted by this statement, I couldn’t help but agree.

Thanks, Ina.  And thanks, Paul and Emily, for introducing us to another page in the book of fine Italian dining.

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Pumpkin Butterscotch Cookies

Ah, pumpkin.  We just can’t get enough.

Add in some butterscotch, oatmeal, walnuts, and chocolate chips, and you end up with cookies that present you with the same dilemma: you just can’t get enough.

What we really liked about this recipe, found over on the Blue-Eyed Bakers blog, is that you actually cut the butterscotch chips into the flour.  Genius!

So if you’re looking for another way to pay homage to the great pumpkin, and you like butterscotch (who doesn’t?), you’ll want to give these rich and chunky cookies a try.

Pumpkin Butterscotch Cookies (ever-so-slightly adapted from Blue-Eyed Bakers)

  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup turbinado sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (Blue-Eyed Baker uses white chocolate chips)
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped and lightly toasted

Chop up the walnuts, spread them on a cookie sheet, and lightly toast them in the oven.  Under the broiler they are usually done in under three minutes – so watch them closely, and stir them around every 30 seconds or so.  You just want to bring those oils out.  Set the toasted walnuts aside to cool.

In a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and butterscotch chips.  Pulse until the chips have been pulverized into a powder – you can tell this has been accomplished by the smooth hum of the blade, indicating that it has eliminated all the larger chunks.  Set aside the dry mixture.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars, then mix in the egg and pumpkin until well combined.  Now, with the mixer on low, slowly add the dry mixture to the wet, mixing just until the dry ingredients are combined (don’t overmix!).  Finally, add the oats, walnuts, and chocolate chips and mix on low just until combined.

Chill the dough for at least an hour, overnight is better.  Use an ice cream scoop to place lumps of dough on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 – 14 minutes, or until golden brown.

Oh man, these are good.  The butterscotch flavor is dominant, accompanied by the occasional gooey chocolate, with shadows of oatmeal and pumpkin playing in the background.  The walnuts add a great chunky texture, making this a hearty cookie.

Did we mention that they were rich?  You’ll want to have a glass of whole milk close by!

And, they’re baby approved*, so give them a try!

* Editor’s Note to the Grandparents: This picture was staged.  We did not actually feed cookies to our 4 month old.  

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Pumpkin Doughnuts

We just love the Fall, and – like so many food lovers – we tend to go pumpkin crazy.  I mean, obsessively so.  Last year when there was the purported “great pumpkin shortage of 2010,” we went to several grocery stores buying as many cans of pumpkin as they would allow us to.  Jason was at Home Depot the other day picking up, you know, Home Depot type stuff, but noticing the huge piles of pumpkins out front, he of course came home with three.  We just can’t get enough.

We’ve already made our favorite pumpkin bread twice since the temperature first dropped below 60 degrees a couple weeks ago.  We thought about making some yummy pumpkin scones, but it was time for a new blog post, so time for a new pumpkin recipe.

With so many sweet pumpkin treats out there, we resolved to make a savory pumpkin recipe.

So, naturally, we picked doughnuts.  Ooops.

Don’t even think twice, just make these doughnuts.  They are incredible.  They will change your life, well, at least your night.  You will eat three of them while sitting on the floor photographing the rest.  You will decide that it’s a good idea to take a picture of one that has been bitten into, so you will bite into another one, then you will go ahead and finish it off as well.

By the way, you can also make these in a muffin pan, but if you want to join the fun, buy a doughnut pan.  Then get started!

Pumpkin Doughnuts (from Blue-Eyed Bakers website)

For doughnuts:

  • 1 3/4 cup AP flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

For coating:

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Spray your doughnut pan with Pam or butter liberally.

In one bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.

In a second, larger bowl, whisk together the oil, brown sugar, vanilla extract, pumpkin, and milk until well mixed.  Gradually whisk the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined.

Transfer the batter to a ziplock bag and cut off the corner, then fill each doughnut cup almost fully, but not to overflowing.  Smooth out the batter with a skinny spatula if needed.

Bake for 14 – 17 minutes, or until the doughnuts spring back when pressed gently.  Carefully turn each doughnut in the pan to free it, then transfer the doughnuts to a wire rack to cool.

While the doughnuts are cooling, melt the stick of butter in one bowl and whisk together the cinnamon and sugar in another.  Dip each doughnut in the butter, then coat with the sugar/cinnamon mixture.  Consume immediately!

You’ll never want to eat another fried doughnut after devouring a few of these.  They are puffy and cakey, and wow, the pumpkin flavor comes through so perfectly.

So, maybe next time we’ll make something savory with pumpkin.  Maybe.  There is a pumpkin cookie recipe, though, that’s calling our name . . .

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Chocolate & Baileys Gelato

Okay, we promise this is the last post we’ll do for a while that involves an ice cream maker.

Oh, who are we kidding?  It’s summer in Atlanta.  One is given liberty to enjoy one too many frozen treats.

We do promise, though, to do a post soon about some kind of healthy summer salad with bean sprouts and beets and radishes and . . . heck, we may even do something with quinoa!

But for now, it’s gelato.

We’ve been really excited since we discovered that cornstarch, in lieu of egg yolks, gives a texture much closer to gelato – that is to say, the gelato we both remember eating in Italy.  From what we understand, Sicilian (or, more generally, Southern Italy) gelato is frequently thickened with cornstarch, whereas you might find gelato in Rome that contains egg yolks.  In that case, the denseness is due to the special machines used, which don’t incorporate as much air during the churning process.

But we don’t have those special machines, so we now use cornstarch when we want to make gelato.  And, let us tell you, IT WORKS!

In addition to our obsession with anything chocolate and/or churned in the ice cream maker, Jason has a particular affinity for Baileys Irish Cream.  Ever since Anne’s grandmother poured a generous amount over a bowl of vanilla ice cream which she offered to him during his first visit in her home (thanks, Grie!), he has just really been smitten with this rich liqueur.

So it just seemed obvious that the next concoction to take a spin in the magical mystery machine of summer would be:

Chocolate & Baileys Gelato (adapted from

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup Baileys Irish Cream (oh yeah)
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt

Before you get started, make an ice bath by placing ice cubes in a large mixing bowl, adding water, then placing another smaller mixing bowl into the bath.  The smaller mixing bowl should be able to hold about 6 cups of liquid.

Measure out your liquids.  Use every pyrex measuring cup you have.

Measure out your sugar and cocoa powder, as well as your corn starch.

In a mixing bowl, pour your whole milk, salt, corn starch, and cocoa powder.  Whisk vigorously to combine and dissolve the solids as much as possible.  Make sure there is no dry cocoa left floating in the mixture.  Set aside.

Bring the two creams and sugar to a hard simmer in a medium heavy bottom saucepan, whisking frequently.  Remove from heat and add the whole milk mixture.  Whisk to mix thoroughly, then return to heat and bring back to a hard simmer, whisking constantly.  Once simmering, continue to whisk and cook the mixture for another 5 minutes, or until you feel the mixture thickening (much like making a pudding).

Transfer the chocolatey amazingness to your ice bath bowl and continue to whisk until you see no more steam coming from the amazingness.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cooled completely, about 4 hours or overnight (when we’re really impatient we sneak it into the freezer for about an hour).

Churn the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the instructions, usually about 20 minutes.

Transfer to a chilled container (we like using ceramic loaf pans – they are the perfect size and their shape allows for easier scooping) and place in the freezer overnight (if you can wait).

Oh my.  We ate the last of this gelato the other night.  We miss it so.

This gelato has been described as “dangerous” and “wicked” by those guests on whom we’ve tried it out.  You see, here’s the thing . . .






Once you’ve made this gelato, this is the second saddest sight you’ll behold.

This is the saddest sight you’ll behold.

Yes, it goes fast.  This creamy, dense gelato is perfectly sweetened.  The intense chocolate flavor is cradled so perfectly by the pronounced essence of sweet Irish Cream.  And the texture – wow – it’s that dense chewiness reminiscent of the decadent treats that refreshed you during those midday walks along the coast of the Mediterranean.

Just go for it.  You can eat quinoa tomorrow. 🙂

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Pineapple Banana Sorbet

A couple of weeks ago we made a fleur de lait using pineapple sage, and we couldn’t get enough of that little hint of pineapple.

Fortunately the Atlanta heat gives you plenty of excuses to use your ice cream maker, so we decided to make a sorbet using actual pineapple.

There is nothing quite like the bracing aroma of freshly cut, perfectly ripe pineapple.  Can you imagine having a pineapple tree in your backyard?  How awesome would that be?

Anyway, our strategy was simply to use the same type of ingredient base we would use to make a smoothie, and dump that in the ice cream maker.  (In fact, one of these days we may have to try turning the Shoebox Signature Smoothie into a sorbet.)

A lot of sorbet recipes we looked at added water, but we thought that the ripe pineapple was flush with water already, so we didn’t add any liquid.  The idea here was to try to avoid the overly icy sorbet.

In addition to one whole pineapple (peeled and cored, of course) we also threw in a couple of ripe bananas, because 1) pineapple and banana kind of go together, right? (they both come from trees that you wish you had growing in your backyard), and 2) bananas always add a nice frothiness to smoothies, and we thought that characteristic might steer us even further away from the dreaded super icy texture of many fruit-based sorbets.

We also added about a half cup of greek yogurt, again because we like to put it in smoothies, but also we figured this would help make the texture creamier.

We sweetened the pot with four tablespoons of honey.  No, it won’t be too sweet – trust us.

Blend everything up really well, and you have a really tasty smoothie (albeit not chilled).

Or, better yet, pour that tasty concoction into the magical mystery machine of summer and let it churn for 20 minutes.

This sorbet deserves a better word than just “refreshing.”  That fresh fruit, chilled to perfection, hits you in the mouth like a glass of ice cold lemonade after 18 holes of golf in August.  The bananas ended up taking front stage in this sorbet, with the pineapple serving as a not-so-shy best supporting actor.  But we decided that we liked that casting really well.

And yes, this sorbet was just creamy enough – not too icy.  It is best consumed straight out of the ice cream machine or within 5 days of churning.

If you’re tired of this summer heat, well, sorry, it’s only the second week in July.  But at least you can whip up a tasty cool treat and pretend that you don’t care that simply walking down the driveway to check the mail causes you to break into a full sweat.

In case you didn’t catch it, here’s the recipe:

Pineapple Banana Sorbet

  • 1 whole ripe pineapple, peeled and cored
  • 2 ripe bananas (we also recommend peeling these)
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons honey

Blend everything really well in your blender, chill in the fridge for a few hours, then churn in your ice cream maker for about 20 minutes.  Scoop into a container and store – covered – in the freezer overnight to harden further.

Prepare to be refreshed reinvigorated rejuvenated happy.

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Your Inspiration for the Day: BLT Heaven

Sometimes we forget how delicious something so simple can be.  Pictured above is our PC BLT.  No, we don’t mean “Politically Correct.”  Nor do we mean “Pretty Cute,” although it does photograph rather well.

What’s the best way to jazz up the traditional BLT sandwich?  Add Pimento Cheese, of course.

Oh, and of course you’re going to roast those tomatoes in the oven with a drizzling of olive oil and a little bit of fresh thyme until they’re wrinkly and juicy and slightly tart and delicious, right? (thanks, notwithoutsalt, for the idea)

And fresh, fresh, fresh and crisp, crisp, crisp romaine lettuce?

And you’re going to use thick cut bacon, right . . . maybe apple-wood-smoked from your local farmer’s market?

Or maybe you don’t fancy pimento cheese, so you’re going to find some ginormously hearty and aromatic basil (this stuff came straight from our garden – wait, that’s a lie – it came from the Peachtree Road Farmer’s Market), chop it up into a paste in your food processor, then mix it with mayonnaise to make a deliciously bright spread (again, notwithoutsalt gets some props)

And you’re going to put everything on some fresh baked ciabatta?

If you haven’t made a BLT in a while, do it!  Get crazy!  Use the freshest ingredients . . . really good bread, ripe tomatoes (heirloom if you can find them), the best bacon you can find (often much less expensive at a local market), and then make a creative spread.

Inspired?  Now head to the market!

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Pineapple Sage & Coconut Fleur de Lait

Since we moved into our new home we have been wanting to put an herb “garden” on our back deck.  We just love cooking with fresh herbs, and there’s just something about walking out your back door to gather them.

You see now why we put garden in quotation marks above.  Hey, it’s a start, right?  We’re not sure how green our thumbs are, so we went the safe way and started with potted herbs.  Pictured above are pineapple sage and rosemary.  We also have sweet basil, spicy globe basil, german thyme, lemon thyme, and peppermint.  It’s a lot of fun tending to the herbs – granted, Jason obsesses a bit (checks on them about every three hours).

If you’ve read our blog from the beginning, you may recall this post in which we recapped the dining adventure that was our honeymoon.  During our favorite meal in Maine (pictured above), we tasted some pineapple sage sorbet that was served as a palate cleanser between courses.  It was so extraordinary – we just couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Did they mix chunks of pineapple and sage leaves?  Who knew?

Then we got home and discovered that pineapple sage is actually an herb all by itself.  So when we found it for sale in the garden section of Home Depot a couple of weeks ago, you can imagine how quickly we put two little pots of it into our cart.

So, we guess you could say that this little Test Kitchen experiment was inspired by that little taste of heaven from our honeymoon, coupled with David Lebovitz’s recipe for Fleur de Lait, which can be found in The Perfect Scoop.

Wait.  What is fleur de lait?  How did we go from sorbet to something so pretentious sounding as fleur de lait?

We’re not sure.  Jason stumbled upon this recipe in Lebovitz’s book and quickly became intrigued.  Fleur de lait, which literally translates as “flower of milk,” is closer to a Sicilian gelato than ice cream (and in no way resembles a traditional sorbet).  It is typically made with no flavorings (not even eggs – corn starch is used to thicken it instead), so what you are tasting is simply creamy, frozen milk.

So, we thought, why not use this pure simplicity as the backdrop for a flavor as delicate as pineapple sage?

Then Jason decided to add coconut.  Why?  It seemed to go with pineapple (sage).

So, without further ado, here is our first crack at:

Pineapple Sage & Coconut Fleur de Lait (adapted from Lebovitz’s Fleur de Lait)

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons (approx.) pineapple sage leaves, chopped
  • 1 coconut, cracked open (but not on your dining room table or hearth – oops), pulp removed and shredded

Go ahead and shred your coconut and chop up your pineapple sage leaves.  

We’re not going to show you the process we used to end up with these coconut shavings.  Just take our word for it: it wasn’t pretty.  Perhaps we should have read some online tutorials first.

Now that you’ve done the hard part, warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan, whisking until the sugar dissolves.  Whisk the cornstarch into the cold heavy cream until dissolved, then whisk the cornstarch/cream mixture into the warmed milk.  Also throw in your pineapple sage and coconut at this time.

Heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until it begins to bubble, then reduce to a simmer for a couple of minutes, continuing to whisk.  Strain the mixture into a bowl and place into the fridge until chilled completely.  (Yes, you are straining out all of the coconut and pineapple sage – we were hoping that the steeping would transfer enough flavor because we didn’t want our finished product to have chunks and bits in it.)

Whisk the chilled mixture one last time before dumping it into your ice cream maker.  Churn until frozen, then transfer to a chilled container and place into the freezer to harder further.  (This fleur de lait will harden more than ice cream, so you may want to set it out for about 5 minutes before scooping).

We were a bit skeptical when we tasted the still warm pudding stage of this concoction, but the frozen version won us over completely.  The best word that came to mind when trying to describe the flavor is “exotic.”  Pineapple sage just tastes like nothing else – sure, it does have the essence of actual pineapple, but there’s a more complex (earthy?) background to it.

Then, if you really pay attention, there is another layer of flavor there – ever so subtle – and that’s the coconut.  But we’re not sure you would ever guess that if you didn’t know there was coconut in there.  In fact, we may leave out the coconut the second time around.

Oh, and the texture – we must talk about the texture.  It definitely more closely resembles gelato than any egg-based gelato we have attempted.  It’s almost, well, chewy.  And thick.  In other words, heavier than an ice cream, but in a very pleasing way.

We loved this fleur de lait served on top of oatmeal cookies.

It was also very delicious in a waffle cone.

If you can find pineapple sage, give this a try.  At a minimum, try to make a fleur de lait, especially if you like gelato.

And since it’s summer after all, you might also want to check out some other shoebox ice creams here, here, and here.

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