January 11, 2011

Snowed In

There are times when living in a small town a fair ways from where one works is not very convenient, and the last two days has been one of those times.   When the weather is bad, a snowstorm that means what might be simply a slow drive home for someone in the city can be treacherous for someone who lives nearly an hour from the city and who has to rely on county roads which, often as not, don't get plowed very well.

This winter hasn't been nearly as bad as the last one, but winter weather can still be a bit of a pain.  Juli and I left work early yesterday in order to get  home before the roads got dreadfully bad.  We weren't sure what things would be like today, but when we woke up, we found that while the roads were merely listed as 100% snow and ice covered, there was also a towing ban in effect, and the nearby school districts had all called off classes for the day.  We also found that we were completely snowed in.   In addition to several inches (I'm guessing about seven) on the ground, it was still snowing, and the street crews had plowed a few feet of snow and slush - which had frozen  to ice - at each end of our driveway.  

We weighed whether or not to struggle through that and brave the drive into work, as the Highway Patrol had not downgraded the road conditions to "travel not recommended,", but the TV news said that while the snow was supposed to taper off by midday or so, the wind was supposed to pick up, likely causing blowing and drifting snow.   There hadn't been much wind to that point, which is the main factor that had kept the weather from being as bad as it could have been, but since that looked likely to change - possibly stranding us in town or making for a very treacherous drive home, assuming we made it in without mishap - we decided to just use some of our vacation time for a snow day today.

On the positive side, that gave me a chance to do some cooking.    We hadn't done any significant amount of "getting ready to ride the storm out" shopping, but a quick check of the fridge, freezer and cupboards told me there were lots of things I might make with what we had on hand.

The first thing I did today was make a batch of Cook's Illustrated's Best Blueberry Muffins, which I've made and written about before.   Once again, they turned out flavorful, moist and just plain wonderful.  One of our neighbors came by as I was just putting them in the oven.  This gentleman makes a practice of bringing his snow blower around and clearing off people's walks, and in thanks for his being a good samaritan, we sent him home with four of the muffins, still warm from the oven, for him and his wife.

For lunch, I made up a batch of my Chunky Marinara Sauce and mixed it in with some meatballs and pasta.  I had several boxes of pasta containing just a few ounces apiece, so I cooked up three of them - campanelle, cellentani and farfalle (bells, spiral macaroni and bowtie pasta) - mixed together in the same pot.   The mix of pastas cooked up fine, with none over- or under-cooked, and the sauce turned out just as good this time as it has in the past.

When I started making the sauce, though, I realized there was a typo in the version of the recipe I originally published.  It's a somewhat obvious one - I listed 1/4 tablespoon of grated sharp cheddar cheese as an ingredient, when it should have said 1/4 cup - but in case anyone was confused, I've corrected the original, and I reprint it below as well. 

For dinner, I'm planning to make a mild lamb curry.  Right now it appears the weather will have died down sufficiently by the evening that road crews should be able to get things cleared up pretty well overnight, so we probably won't have any real problem getting in to work tomorrow morning.   That's good, but for today we mostly got to stay in, take it easy and make - and eat - some great food.   All in all, that's not a bad way to be snowed in.

Pasta with Chunky Marinara Sauce

yield = 6-8 servings

1        28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1        15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
5        quarts water + 1/2 cup
2        teaspoons table salt, divided
24      frozen meatballs (optional)
2        tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1        large onion, minced
2        teaspoons minced garlic
2        teaspoons dried oregano
1        6-ounce can tomato paste
1/2     cup red wine
1        teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1        teaspoon sugar
1/8     teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4     pound uncooked pasta
1/4    cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
2        tablespoons freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
          + extra for serving
2        teaspoons dried basil

Heat the crushed tomato and diced tomatoes in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook until it has thickened significantly.  Add 5 quarts water and 1 teaspoon table salt to a large pot over high heat and bring to a boil.  (If you are making the dish with meatballs, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and arrange the meatballs on a wire baking rack set over a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Place in the oven and cook for approximately 1/2 hour, or until done.)

Meanwhile, add the oil to a Dutch oven over medium heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it starts to brown.  Stir in the garlic and oregano and cook for about 1 minute, then stir in the tomato paste and cook another minute.  Add red wine and water and cook for 1-2 minutes, then stir in the sugar, black pepper, salt and red pepper flakes.

By that point, the tomato mixture should have cooked down enough.  Add the thickened tomato mixture to the Dutch oven, stir thoroughly, reduce heat and cook at a low simmer.

When the water in the large pot has come to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to directions.  At the same time, add the cheddar cheese, two tablespoons Parmesan cheese and basil to the Dutch oven and stir in.  (If you are making the dish with meatballs, stir them into the sauce at this time as well.)

Drain the pasta and serve topped with the sauce (and meatballs, if desired) and with grated Parmesan cheese, or mix the cooked pasta with the sauce (and meatballs, if desired) and serve.

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