1. Christy requested that, for her birthday, we combine her birthday dinner with family dinner. She submitted her birthday dinner request: Old-Fashioned cocktails, a green salad dressed with the bleu cheese dressing that we have been enjoying for decades in our family, spaghetti and meatballs, and a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Carol went a step beyond and offered us slices of baguette with a variety of vinegars to combine with oil to dip the bread in.
I volunteered to make the Old-Fashioneds and that was easy.
I also volunteered to make the spaghetti and meatballs because I had never cooked meatballs and I enjoy making spaghetti sauces.
The American Test Kitchen book, What Good Cooks Know, features a marinara sauce and meatballs recipe and I decided to give it a try.
To get started, I finely chopped three onions, minced about ten cloves of garlic, chopped up parsley and fresh basil, and I put these ingredients in bowls. I opened four 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes and one 6 oz can of tomato paste. I measured out two different amounts of Parmesan cheese and put this in two bowls, measured out oregano into a small bowl, and measured out a cup of red wine.
I got the sauce started by cooking the finely chopped onion in a quarter cup of olive oil in the Dutch oven until the onion bits were golden, about twenty five minutes, I'd say. Then I added in eight garlic cloves minced and a tablespoon of oregano and cooked it until fragrant, no long. I divided this mixture, one half for the sauce and the other for the meatballs.
Into the onion mix for the sauce, I stirred a can of tomato paste and cooked it for about a minute until fragrant. Then I added the cup of red wine and cooked this mixture for about two minutes. A cup of water came next, followed by the four cans of crushed tomatoes and I simmered all of this for about an hour. At the end of the hour, I added in about a half cup of chopped fresh basil leaves and a half a cup of Parmesan cheese.
2. During the hour that the sauce was simmering, I got going on the meatballs. To start, I tore up five slices of Dave's thin sliced Killer White Bread Done Right into a large bowl and poured 3/4 of a cup of milk over the bread. I got a fork and mashed the bread and milk until it was smooth, creating a panade. To the panade, I added the other half of the onion mixture, about a half a pound of ground sweet sausage, a cup of Parmesan cheese, a half a cup of chopped parsley, 2-3 minced garlic cloves, some salt, and 2 1/2 pounds of ground chuck.
I washed my hands, and, with my clean paws, I mixed all the ingredients together and then made three batches of meatballs. I only have one rimmed baking sheet, so I had to bake each batch separately in a 475 degree oven for twenty minutes. From the baking sheet, the meatballs went into the sauce where they simmered along with the sauce and finished cooking through.
My Dutch oven would not hold all of this sauce and all 33 meatballs, so I divided the sauce into two batches, put one batch in a smaller Dutch oven, and divided the meatballs between the two.
When I volunteered to make the spaghetti sauce, I wanted to make one that would take a lot of time. I like to prepare slow food and I also like to serve and eat it.
3. I packed up three quarts of the sauce, the ingredients for the Old-Fashioneds, and a pound of uncooked spaghetti and headed over to Carol's.
Upon arrival, I put on four quarts of salted water to boil and put on the sauce in a pot on the stove to keep it heated.
I used my muller and crushed a single ice cube in each of the four Old-Fashioned glasses and shook out dashes of orange bitters onto the sugar and added a teaspoon of water to each glass. I stirred this and added, per glass, two ounces of Buffalo Trail Bourbon, put ice in each glass, stirred each drink to make it colder, and garnished each glass with an orange slice.
While the water crept toward boiling and the sauce heated up, I joined the other as we drank our cocktails and ate the baguette pieces Carol put out.
The water began to boil and I cooked the spaghetti, drew a cup of pasta water from the pot, and drained the noodles. With everyone's permission, I served the pasta and sauce all combined in a single large bowl. I began by putting a few spoonfuls of sauce (without meatballs) over the spaghetti, added some pasta water, and then once the consistency was about right, I added more sauce and meatballs to the spaghetti.
It was really good dinner. Carol put out red wine for us and we enjoyed our meal. Carol also had two slender, kind of tall shot glasses made for each of us. Each glass was inscribed with one of Everett's favorite sayings. Carol gave Debbie and me glasses with these famous Everett words, "Did you hear the one one about..." and "The first hundred years are are the toughest."