Slow Cooker Meat Sauce

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Well the supposedly long weekend came and left in a blink of an eye.

Why does time have the pesky habit of doing that? Or maybe it’s an indication that we should slow down and catch up with its pace instead. Regardless, I can’t seem to have enough lazy Sundays on the couch with Mark while he watches action films or plays video games or his guitar. One of the above.

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I celebrated Valentines Day for the first time in 23 years this year. I had been jokingly pestering Mark about his plans for me since it would be the first I actually had somebody to celebrate it but I knew I would be happy just having quiet time with him at home. But about a week before the 14th, he came home to tell me that we wouldn’t be gone the entire weekend for Valentines but he wouldn’t tell me where.

So on the morning of Valentines, I crept out of bed before he woke up and plastered the bathroom mirror with love notes written on yellow Post-Its and left a bag of chocolates right beside his razor. He brushed his teeth, shaved and came back into the room with a thank you. I knew I couldn’t go wrong with chocolates.

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We jumped into my car and was on the road almost as soon as he got off that evening. He said we had a four hour drive ahead of us, so we loaded the iPod with an audio version of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and a satirical encyclopedia by The Onion. Before I knew it, our drive had come to an end and I was greeted with a beautiful view of a resort in the Outer Banks and the salty taste of ocean air.

The next two nights were spent comfortably in a spacious hotel room that featured a king-sized bed and patio. We laughed, sang, drank wine and slow danced in the middle of our room to cheesy love songs. We also shared a bonfire with other couples, went for a morning run, indulged in a full-body massage and ate at a quaint local restaurant downtown.

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I couldn’t help but feel immensely grateful and happy for this love. In so many ways, it’s been the one I’ve been waiting for all my life. I’ve never really known what it’s like to have a partner, somebody to share every single aspect of my life with. Some days it’s daunting but mostly, it’s comforting.

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It’s a little embarrassing to say, but this meal was inspired by our empty pantry upon coming home. All I had was some ground beef, lots of canned tomatoes and some spaghetti noodles, so I decided to throw everything into a crockpot and see what happened.

The result was a rich, extremely flavorful sauce that I would make over again. Plus, it’s freezer-friendly!

Slow Cooker Meat Sauce

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced, or petite diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
*4 ounces cream cheese

Directions:

Brown beef, onion and garlic in a pan. Drain grease and transfer into slow cooker. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and seasoning. Cook on high for 3 hours and turn heat down to low for 2 hours after that. Stir in cream cheese until it melts and is mixed evenly with sauce.

Serve over buttered noodles and garnish with fresh basil and parmesan reggiano if preferred.

*You can substitute cream cheese with 1 cup of whole milk if you like. I used cheese because that was all I had on hand! 

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Classic Chili

I decided to make dinner in my pajamas today. Not because I was lazy and had been wearing them all day, but because I chose to slip into them right after my shower because they were so warm. And comfy. Primarily comfy.

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Winter is definitely upon us now, even here by the beach and today was another snowy day. Well more like a rain and snow mix kind of day, which is really gross and super dangerous to drive in. I chose to stay home all day with Mark and took the time to get out of bed (as usual). Eventually, I wandered downstairs to find him and we lazed on the couch before making lunch together.

Cold days often mean lazy days for me. I thought this was also true for Mark as I found him comfortably falling back asleep on the couch right after lunch. Honestly, I cannot wait for spring and the luscious vegetation it will bring, especially in our region. I’m anticipating a lot of colorful produce in my kitchen for the next couple of months and can’t wait to try recipes with it.

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I’ve been spending less time on the Internet now, which I think is a bit healthier and instead finding more time for myself. Currently, I’m reading a book by author Kazuo Ishiguro, titled Never Let Me Go, that is part of my reading list. The first couple of pages were a little difficult to get through, just because I hadn’t read a book in a while but now I can’t seem to put it down. I’m hoping it will be a good read.

Since it’s cold again today, we decided to turn to comfort food for dinner and nothing spells w-a-rmth like a good bowl of chili. I’ve alwaaays liked chili because it’s so hearty and you get all your necessary food groups in one bowl. Carb, protein, fiber, vitamins… Not to mention it’s absolutely delicious and just bursting with flavor.

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Chili’s also one of those dishes that you can make to suit your taste. I found this easy recipe while browsing one day and decided to make it again because it was so good. I think you could easily customize and add to or subtract from it as you please.

Classic Chili
Recipe adapted from The Turqoise Home

Ingredients:
1 lb ground beef (or meat of choice)
1 can Pinto beans
1 can diced or petite diced tomatoes
1 onion
1 green pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

In pot, saute garlic, onions and green pepper until onions turn translucent. Brown beef and drain grease. Stir mixture back to pot and add cumin, chili powder and Worcestershire sauce. Cover with water and simmer on low heat for 1 hour.

Add can of tomatoes and salt and pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Add beans and heat to the pot.Serve with cheese, sour cream, corn chips and garnish with cilantro if you like.

Udon Noodles with Meat Sauce and Green Onions

Sometimes the heart loves hating and sometimes the heart hates loving, but more than anything, the heart just wants to feel. 

The past couple of weeks have involved numerous road trips, which meant long hours in the car, on interstates that seem to go on forever and favorite songs on the car player that eventually became background noise.

Driving always makes me think. For some reason, I get lost in my own thoughts and they wander. My drive home after spending a couple of days in Washington D.C. was exhausting. The bitter cold didn’t help and the fact that I was missing home and Mark made it worse.

But there was always something so comforting about stepping through my front door and into his arms. It’s all I could think about as I drove across state lines and past every exit and some days I still wonder how we wound up here. I caught myself thinking about it out loud as we were waiting on a couple of friends to head out for dinner last night.

At one point, I glanced to look at Mark who was right beside me, took a deep breath and contently accepted that this was my life now.

Sometimes it is so easy for me to cower away and doubt all that we share. Sometimes I beg for honest conversations with him, wanting to hear him tell me me that love can be concrete and not flailing only because I’ve never had the privilege of experiencing something as beautiful as this.

I remember falling asleep on the couch that Friday night while he stayed up watching movies on Netflix. Every so often, I’d awake only to sleepily catch him watching me. It surprised me. I think it still scares me to the core to be in love and to love somebody like this.

Meeting my best friend from home who bravely battled the cold in the Northeast just to spend some time with me was exciting. One, we haven’t seen each other in nearly three years and if anybody knows anything living abroad, you’d agree that trying to keep in touch all the time is sometimes easier said than done.

But getting the chance to see her and catch up was nice. It felt as if no time has passed but we’ve both grown up a little bit more. She was thoughtful enough to bring me some snacks from home and I was elated. We drank wine, exchanged stories and gave each other advice.

Watching her cross the doors into the airport at the terminal made me wish I was the one going home for once. Just for a little while.

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So while I am still homesick, I naturally gravitate towards anything that would come close to remind me of home and one of my favorite things from home is the abundance and variety of noodles. Even if you didn’t like noodles, you would end up finding something you like.

I made this super easy meat sauce with green onions and udon noodles a couple of weeks ago. It’s so yummy, I think I could eat it every day. If you have vegetables like zucchini, cucumbers, carrots or anything at all lying around, feel free to add to it for texture and color.

I think I’m about to go make some right now!

Udon Noodles with Meat Sauce and Green Onions 

Ingredients:
Udon noodles
1/2 pound ground beef (any type of ground meat would be fine)
3 stalks green onion, chopped
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (adjust to heat preference)
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Bring water to boil and cook udon noodles

Brown meat in a pan and drain grease. Add sauces to pan and mix well. Add a little bit of water if you want a saucier consistency.

Pour sauce over cooked noodles and garnish with chopped green onions. Mix noodles with noodles until even coated.

Italian Meatballs

Temperatures decided to climb a little bit more today and upon looking at the forecast for the rest of the week, it showed temperatures up to the 70s by the weekend.

Still, I am sympathetic towards my friends and people all over the Midwest and Northeastern part of the country. Especially my brother living in Minneapolis right now. It cannot be comfortable. They are calling it the polar vortex and just the phrase itself sounds chilling. Brrr…

I had gotten an early morning text from a friend who I had met from going to yoga class. She asked me if I was up for a pilates workout this morning but I wasn’t. The covers had gotten the best of me. Again.

Instead we made plans to go on a hike. I liked that idea a lot better since it meant I got to laze around a little more. Or I mean, complete some household chores before leaving… I met up with her at about 1 o’clock and we went to explore a couple of hiking trails near the area. She brought along her 3-year-old German Shephard/Labrador mix by the name of Eli. He had a wild time running around the woods, chasing squirrels and relishing in the vast openness.

Quite honestly, I had a great time being in the sun and outside too. It was nice hearing the crunch of leaves under my shoes and having good company. We trekked along for about an hour before deciding that we should turn around on the trail, just in case we got lost.

I had forgotten to eat lunch before leaving on the hike, so I came home absolutely famished. I had nearly gone through an entire box of strawberries before I realized that Mark would be home in about an hour, which meant I had to have something lined up for dinner.

Still a little tired from the hike, I just sat on the couch to catch up on Downton Abbey. It wasn’t until Mark came home and said he was going to order pizza that I pulled myself up to the kitchen to fix something quick.

We had gotten frozen meatballs once from the grocery store and I honestly hated the way it tasted. Not so much the flavor, just the texture. There’s something about frozen foods that tastes so…processed. Seeing that I had 3 pounds of ground beef in the refrigerator, I decided I would make my own meatballs to add to spaghetti, which is to date the easiest dinner for me to whip up.

I really thought I would have leftovers for subs tomorrow but I guess they turned out pretty good because we didn’t leave any at all! I decided to forego adding bread or breadcrumbs to my batch of meatballs because I’m carb-conscious like that. I’m not sure if that’s even a real word… If it’s not, can I just make a thing now?

Italian Meatballs 

Ingredients: 
1 lb ground beef
1 egg
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp black pepper
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 medium-sized onion

Directions: 

Pre-heat oven to 375 F.

In a bowl, beat egg. Combine all ingredients together and mix well, until everything is blended together. Pinch portions of the mixture out and form into medium-sized meatballs by rolling the meat between the palm of your hands. Continue until all the meat has been formed into well-sized balls.

Heat some olive oil in a pan. Place meatballs in pan and cook until the outsides are brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer meatballs onto baking sheet and bake in the oven until done, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Place meatballs in marinara or pasta sauce and let simmer for another 10 minutes so the flavors blend.

Serve with cooked pasta of choice or on a hoagie as a meatball sub.

Recipe yields about 16 meatballs.