Monday, December 6, 2010

Spaghetti Sunday!

Check out that steaming action!  Straight from the Crock Pot!

I'm BAAACK!  I'm sorry about the unannounced hiatus, some of it was planned (out of town attending a wedding) and some of it unplanned (I lost my camera for a good while), but we're still cooking up a storm here in the Wholesome Household, and this week I'm making a big reveal: The Duke's Crock-Pot Spaghetti!

Shortly after our nuptials, in that blessed time when you're still madly falling in love with someone and learning how to live with them, my Loving Duke and I had a negotiation over how many times a week we could have pasta for dinner.  See, not only can my Loving Duke eat pasta every night of the week without getting bored of it, he could also eat pasta every night of the week without seeing any change in the scales.  Oh, how I envy that genetic trait (and dearly hope that it has been passed on to our children).  Its not one that I possess however, demonstrated by the fact that a mere glance in the direction of pasta causes my scales to climb perilously, so we came to the agreement that together, we would limit spaghetti to one night a week with occasional other pastas thrown in.

But when?  And what kind of Spaghetti to make?  There is Bachelor's Spaghetti, the Duke's personal favorite and self-named easy pasta.  But even people who aren't prone to emotional eating still can get wistful in their food memories, as the Duke has demonstrated.  He has very fond memories of his very Italian grandmother spending a day at a time making red spaghetti sauce, to serve on Sunday nights with a big family.  Having been party to one or two of those dinners myself (and having a special place in my heart for recipes that come from Grandmas) it was decided.  That is how Spaghetti Sunday came to be.

I myself thought I would get bored with Spaghetti every Sunday night.  I was so certain of it that in a very non-supportive way I refused to be a part of developing the recipe.  Undeterred, the Duke spent many Sundays in the kitchen, playing here and there with the different spices/seasonings in the cabinet--garlic powder or garlic salt?  (Both in this recipe, apparently.)  He tried different styles of sauce- bolognese or meat balls (either/or, according to preference).  Different cooking styles-- to brown or not to brown the meat?  (Definitely, to brown!)  Writing them down as he made each one, making revisions the following week, as we sat, week after week taste testing his newest spaghetti creations.  I smile as I think back to how dedicated he was, in the tiny kitchen of our first home, to creating the perfect spaghetti sauce for our weekly family tradition.

And I don't know if its the holidays, during which we spend so much time thinking of family traditions, or the fact that I'm pregnant again, causing the hormones to fly out of control, but lately I've been thinking about how much I love Spaghetti Sunday.  Yes, it makes my life easier every week, because I'm not usually the one cooking, and even if I am, I'm not worrying about the ingredients (we ALWAYS have them in the house).  But its not merely for the simplicity that I love Spaghetti Sunday.  Its not even for the constancy.  Its certainly not for its authenticity (we use canned tomato puree and molasses among other ingredients that would make native Italians faint).  Its the joy our one-year-old takes in sucking his spaghetti like Lady and the Tramp.  Its that everyone we know knows that if they come by on Sunday, they can share in a delicious family-style dinner.  But mostly its that it was a family tradition of my Loving Duke's, one of those warm memories that he will always have of his family, that we made in to ours.

I will always have my family's memories-- those memories we get in recipes and moments that we hold on to, passed down from generation to generation (which I'll continue sharing with you as family law allows-- some recipes are super-secret even still).  But a big family spaghetti dinner wasn't my memory.  It wasn't something I hoped to pass on to my children, it was the Duke's.  In his tenacious way, he made it ours and after almost four years of Spaghetti Sunday I'm still so very grateful that he chose me to share it with.

Because I cannot lay claim to this particular Wholesome Recipe, I've asked him if I could share it with you.  He says recipes are meant to be shared (reason number 3,783 why I love him!).  We are aware that this is a recipe that might make some people cringe-- its done in a crock pot for simplicity's sake and honestly doesn't have a whole lot of fresh ingredients (any, actually).  Feel free to substitute or change as you will/your cabinet allows.  Just don't tell us about it.  As far as we are concerned, this is the Mona Lisa of inexpensive and easy homemade pasta sauce, and we haven't had any complaints from anyone, even people who like only "real Italian food", so we're happy with it!

What I am hoping you will share though, are your acquired family food traditions.  The ones that aren't from YOUR family (at least not the family you were born with), but somehow you've picked up along the way and integrated into your special traditions and memories.  Please post a reply with your thoughts!  It will be a nice way to kick off the Holiday Season Recipes!

**Special Note about preparation: this recipe calls for beef base, which is still only occasionally used by some cooks.  Its much like bullion, but comes in a wet form and is MUCH stronger.  It can be found usually in the soup isle, very near the bullion/dried soups of major grocery stores (we first got ours at a random Greek Restaurant Supply Store).  If you MUST, you can substitute bullion cubes (they're not as good but will do in a pinch), but please, for the love of all delicious food, don't leave the extra beef flavoring out all together.

The Duke's Special Crock-Pot Spaghetti Sauce
This makes enough for two meals with leftovers, so we usually freeze the extra sauce to use the next week.

(2) 29oz cans tomato puree
(1) 12oz can tomato paste
1 lb ground beef (or any kind of ground meat you like)
2 teaspoons beef base
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
1/2 Tablespoon ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons minced onion (fresh or dried, its up to you)
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon garlic salt
1 1/2 teaspoons molasses (or sugar if you need a substitute)
1 lb pasta (we like whole wheat spaghetti, but its up to you)

Preparation Instructions
Brown beef in a frying pan, then turn down to med-low and add paste and beef base to cook briefly.  Pour tomato puree into crock pot set on low, add all spices and beef mixture.  Stir to combine, and let everything come together to get happy at least four hours.  You COULD leave it all day, if you want, that's the beauty of the Crock Pot, but I'd leave it on your absolute lowest setting then ("Keep Warm" or something similar).  Serve over cooked spaghetti, preferably on a Sunday.