Saturday, September 10, 2016

Simple Summer Tomato Sauce

Why? Because this winter, when it is cold and bleak, you can pull this sauce out of your freezer for a bright taste of summer. 
Warning - once you've had fresh tomato sauce, you will be spoiled, and canned sauce will never taste the same again. 

But it must be so difficult.


You can make it as simple or as intricate as your tastes demand. I've poured through a ton of recipes, and most call for steps that you may choose to add later, but here we will start with a basic simple sauce. Still don't believe me? Here's the summary:

Cut up tomatoes
Cut up onion

No peeling, seeding, straining, sautéing, or anything fancy. The key is to let it simmer low and slow. 

I know...lots of questions, I'm going to put the Q&A at the end for the folks who just want the basics (and to keep you in suspense!)

Here's how it's done:

Simple Summer Tomato Sauce

2 dozen medium-sized ripe tomatoes
1 large red onion
1/4 cup olive oil
Fresh garlic (optional)
Salt to taste

Cut the stem end out of the tomatoes.
Cut the tomatoes in quarters (4 pieces).
Roughly chop the red onion.
Place all ingredients into a large stock pot.
Cover with lid.
Cook over low heat until tomatoes & onions break down, stirring every so often. (Approximately 90 minutes)
Remove lid from pot.
Continue cooking until sauce is "reduced" (thicker & more substantial)
(Approximately 30 minutes).
Use immersion blender to purée to a smooth, velvety sauce (or blend for a shorter time for a chunkier sauce).
Adjust seasoning to taste (remember this is plain tomato sauce).
I like to let this sauce continue to simmer for a while after the purée.  
Place in freezer-safe containers. 

What? No herbs or spices?
When the sauce is this basic, you can use it in a variety of different dishes. It is more versatile this way. Add the spices as you use it in different recipes. didn't peel or seed the tomatoes?
Nope. When it is cooked low & slow like this, the seeds & peel will soften & blend right into the sauce. The immersion blender is great for the purée process and will ensure a smooth consistency.

Could this be cooked faster?
Yes. But it would not taste as rich and would most likely be better if you peeled & seeded the tomatoes first. For a really big batch like this, I let it simmer for hours. The taste is worth it. 

Can I "can" this in jars?
If you'd rather "can" this then freeze it, omit the olive oil from the process.  If for some reason there is any issue with the seal of the jars, the olive oil could become a primary source of botchulism. 

Could I do this in the slow cooker?
Probably so. 

What if I don't have an immersion blender?
Then let it cool for a bit and purée it in a standard blender.  
I didn't think I needed an immersion blender, but I found a very inexpensive one at a local drug store. I found so many uses for it, and it was so convenient for mashing potatoes/cauliflower, making sauces, and so many other things that we finally bought a "nice" one. Do yourself a favor and buy one - you won't regret it. 

What kind of tomatoes should I use?
There are many opinions on this issue, and my best advice is simply this: use the ones that you can get.  
I've used the very end of our garden tomatoes which were a mix of large and small, red and yellow.  
If you have a local farmers market, go andask for "soup tomatoes." These are the tomatoes that are usually a little over ripe and may have some "bad" spots that you have to cut out.  The plus is that you can usually get them for a great price. 

What else could I add?
A bay leaf - for richness (don't forget to remove before the purée).
Chopped carrots - for sweetness, body, and a little extra vegetable.
Red Bell Pepper - for color & spice.
Fresh lemon juice - for brightness (add this at the very end).
A pinch of sugar - for sweetness.

Why a red onion?
Mainly because of preference. You could certainly use a white or yellow one. 
Some varieties of tomatoes have more of an orange color when cooked. The red onion adds to the deep red color of the sauce. 

Do I need to measure the ingredients/follow instructions exactly? 
Nope. That's the joy of cooking. If you like onion, add more. If you want a richer sauce, cook it a little longer. Want a chunkier sauce with no seeds? Seed the tomatoes, shorten cook time, and purée less. Cooking should be fun and a chance to experiment with what makes you and your family happy.  

After the purée, my sauce looks orange instead of red - Yep. Ever wonder why all of the tomato sauce is the same color in the store? Red food coloring. If you want a deeper red sauce, add a few drops of red food coloring. It doesn't affect the taste at all.  

Will my house smell amazing while this is cooking? 
Absolutely. It's one of our favorite perks of a slow-simmered sauce.  

After a day of simmering, we've added a little basil, oregano, red pepper, meatballs  and grated parmesan for a delicious dinner. 
We are so grateful for our local farmers market and the local farmer who made this gorgeous sauce possible!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sweet Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

Sometimes cookies are a great way to say "Thank You". Recently I baked these to say just that for some friends who had done some very lovely favors for us. 
We have a couple of huge Rosemary plants that seem to thrive with little to no attention and this was a great way to use a normally savory ingredient in a sweet treat. I have to say, I was more than a bit skeptical about it, but the results were outrageously great cookies. 
I baked one batch skipping the sugar coating on the edges. Learn from my experience - they were not as good.  Use the coarse sugar on the edges. It makes all the difference. 
Be sure to chop th Rosemary very finely. I found that this was another great place to use the small "drink" sized blender that stays on our counter. 
At the risk of being repetitive, bake them on parchment lined baking sheets. Time and again I have found that parchment is key to getting a more evenly baked cookie that is not overly browned on the bottom. 
Lastly, this dough keeps well in the freezer. Which means, you can mix it ahead of time and bake them when you are ready; when you have surprise visitors, need a quick treat, or need to say "Thank You".  
P.S. Write the baking instructions on the paper wrapped dough, attach a simple card with the recipe & tie up the ends with cute ribbon and it makes a wonderful housewarming gift or a sweet present for new parents! 

Sweet Rosemary Shortbread Cookies
1 cup butter, softened to room temp
3/4 cup sugar
1 Egg
1tsp Vanilla
3/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1T Fresh Rosemary finely chopped
Coarse sugar (for edges) 

Put the butter & sugar in the bowl of a mixer & beat until pale and fluffy. 
Add the egg, salt, & vanilla mix at medium speed until well combined. 
Add the chopped rosemary (the finest chop can be achieved by using a spice grinder or small "drink" blender) 
Mix in approximately 1/3 of the flour until well combined
Scrape sides of the bowl & repeat with the next 1/3 of the flour. 
Add the last 1/3 of the flour & complete the mixing at low speed. The dough should be firm enough to handle. 
Divide the dough into 3 (approximately) equal parts. 
While holding the dough over a sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper form it into a "log" just a bit larger than 1" in diameter (it doesn't have to be perfect here)
Place the "log" onto the paper & roll it up tightly. 
Roll the wrapped dough back & forth on a flat surface until it is a nice "cylinder" shape. (Think about all of the play dough "snakes" you made as a child) 
Now, if you are planning to bake these right away, just twist the ends of the paper and put them in the freezer for 30-45 minutes to firm up. 
The dough keeps nicely in the freezer for up to 30 days. 
If you are planning to bake them in the future, twist the ends of the paper & tie with string before freezing. 
Approximately 10 minutes before you plan to bake them, preheat the oven to 350. 
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper 
Slice dough into 1/4 inch rounds. 
Press the edges of the round into coarse sugar. (I used turbinado because it was what I had on hand, but you can find lighter colored "sanding sugar" in the baking section of your grocery) 
Place on baking sheet about 1" apart. 
Bake at 350 for 8 minutes. 
Remember that they may not look brown even when they are done. By the time they appear brown, they may be a bit over done. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Peanut butter chocolate protein cookies

Awhile back, hubs baked some protein bars and I couldn't believe that there was no flour in them. It turns out, he used the protein powder. The kind that you make protein shakes etc with. So, I am baking regular cookies for something else today and thought I'd bake a batch of protein cookies as well. This might be my favorite recipe so far. 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Protein Cookies

1 cup Peanut Butter (we used organic Valencia peanut natural)
2 scoops vanilla whey powder
2 large eggs
2/3 cup Coconut Palm Sugar 
Nuts, to taste (we used almonds) 
Dark chocolate chips (to taste) 

Heat oven to 325
Cover baking sheet with parchment paper
Mix all ingredients together
Dough is sticky, oil hands with coconut oil and roll about 2 tsp dough into a ball
Flatten slightly & place on baking sheet. 
Bake for about 10 minutes. 
Makes about 3 dozen small cookies. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Reverse Seared Eye of Round Roast

I never knew how much I liked science until I realized how much science is involved in cooking. I heard an interview with J Kenzi Lopez Alt about reverse searing and it was fascinating. WHAT? No searing before roasting? That is blasphemy...or brilliance. 
Turns out...brilliance! 
Better yet, SIMPLE brilliance. 

The first time I tried it was a little scary & I had a backup (dine out) plan in place. It was so beautiful that I decided to do one for dinner with guests. Once again it's perfect magic turns a very plain eye of round roast into a luscious juicy center stage kind of carving roast! 

Eye of round is not the fanciest of cuts, I purchased a 3# roast for $17, but the reverse sear method made it taste like a much more expensive cut.  It is quite lean, so if not cooked right, can be quite tough.  Succulent & juicy, the center was incredibly tender and just the right shade of pink. Having seared it in a hot iron skillet, the brown butter & herb coating made for a gorgeous and aromatic crust. 

Most importantly, it was simplicity at its finest. You will hardly believe how easy this was...

It is ideal but not imperative to let the roast come to room temperature before cooking. 
Preheat oven to 225
Pat the meat dry
Place on a rack on the pan (I had a baking rack and a foil lined sheet pan). 

Roast in 225 oven until meat temperature is 125. (For 3# it was about 2 hours)

On the stovetop I browned about 3 T butter and added my favorite steak seasoning. 

Pour the brown butter mixture over the roast.  

Heat a cast iron skillet or large pan on the stove top and brown the exterior of the roast on all sides. 

Let rest 5-10 minutes or until ready to serve.  

I just got the best horseradish that I've ever had so we mixed it with a tiny bit of mayo & Greek yogurt (equal parts) for a delicious creamed horseradish to compliment the richness of the beef.  

Dinner was over hours ago, but after typing all of this I might need to go "check" on the leftover roast! 

Try this and amaze your family & friends with a gorgeous (and economical) roast beef!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Rotisserie Chicken with Fresh Pesto & Zuchini "Noodles"

I guess it should be said (early & often) that my goals in writing this have nothing to do with being the next "star" level chef or cooking race contestant. 
The inspiration for a good meal comes from so many places; family, friends, fresh markets, and even the occasional "big box" store. My true goal here is to give back and share some of the inspirations that have been shared with me. 
Tonight's dinner is proof that a gorgeous dinner doesn't have to cost a pretty penny. The inspiration came from our little garden that is just on the verge of gifting us some fresh herbs & veggies. The basil plant has gotten ahead of the game and needed to be cut back significantly.  So, what to do with a handful of basil so it doesn't go to waste? Pesto!
Served with Zuchini "noodles" and a carved $5 rotisserie chicken we are having a gourmet dinner for a fast food price! 
Do you have one of those little drink blenders? It makes it so fast & easy, you will never buy pre-made pesto again. Don't have one? Just use your food processor or regular blender. 
For the record, most Pestos use pine nuts, but they have gotten outrageously expensive.  I substituted pecans and it worked out great.  I believe that the best recipes come from what you have on hand. 
Here's how the pesto happened...

Fresh Basil Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves 
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts or pecans
1 large clove garlic
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
Olive oil, enough to emulsify

There is no great secret to the combination here. Put the ingredients in the blender and add olive oil. Blend until emulsified.  I usually start with what I think is enough olive oil and wind up adding an extra tablespoon or two.  

What else can you do with pesto? 
Add a little white wine or balsamic vinegar for a pesto vinegarette salad dressing
Marinate chicken in it, then bake or grill
Toss with your favorite pasta & sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (add fresh veggies for a nice pasta primavera
Make a tomato & fresh Mozzerella plate and drizzle with pesto
Use as a dip for French bread

Store tightly sealed at room temp for a few days or if you need it to last longer, refrigerate (the olive oil will solidify a bit, but let it sit at room temp for a while brfore serving). If you have a bumper crop, and want to make a lot, it freezes very well. Freeze it in ice cube trays them release into freezer bags to have measured amounts. 

Hope you enjoy this beautiful pesto and find lots of ways to add it to your summer menus! 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Chocolate Chip Cookies Thin & Crisp

Everyone has a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and it seems as though there are a million variations. It took me a long time to decide and I thought that soft and chewy cookies were my favorite, until I made these. 
They are thin, light, and crisp, but still have the richness of the butter and the almost caramel taste of the brown sugar. 
I make them small (so I can eat more!) and this recipe yields about 12 dozen. 
Use the mini chips so that you get a nice even dispersal of the chocolate in every bite. 
What do you do with 12 dozen cookies? Well, my best advice is don't be left alone with them because they are too tempting. Today I'm taking a portion of them to several friends who need a little joy. The rest of them will get sealed in freezer bags and frozen to enjoy during our next neighborhood park gathering.  By freezing, they stay fresh and crisp for a month or so. Not that they have ever lasted that long...

Chocolate Chip Cookies Thin & Crisp

4 sticks of butter (room temp)
3 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
4 large eggs
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 package mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 
Using a power mixer, cream together butter & sugar. 
Add eggs and vanilla & mix until well incorporated. 
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Using a wisk or simply a fork stir until well mixed. This helps to make sure they are evenly combined before you add to the wet mixture. Also, it is much the same as sifting as it adds air to the mixture. 
Add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture one cup at time. Mix on low speed in between additions. 
Lastly, add the package of mini chocolate chips and mix on low briefly so that they are dispersed through out the dough. 
On a baking sheet lined with parchment drop by teaspoon full about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8 minutes. 
Cool for about 2 minutes then remove to cooling rack. 

Making them small yields about 12 dozen. If you like them larger, experiment with the size before committing to a large bake. They will spread substantially. 

Why parchment? After a lot of readin, research, cookie baking & cookie eating. It makes a big difference in the final cookies coming out perfectly brown & evenly done. Not that the research wasn't fun, but trust me on this one. 

Reminder, as with most cookies, they will continue to bake even after coming out of the oven. 8 minutes was a consistent bake time in my gas oven. They should be a light golden brown, and will darken as they cool. 

Y'all enjoy and if you bake these, remember to share them with someone special. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Trying to keep carbohydrates at a minimum can be difficult. Finding snacks that fit in the low carb life style can be even harder. These beautiful tiny asparagus are a nice snack to keep on hand. The prep work is not difficult and they will keep in the refrigerator for several days, if they don't all get eaten as soon as you make them! 
When buying asparagus, look for the smallest diameter that you can find. These tend to be more tender and flavorful. Prosciutto can usually be purchased in the deli section of your local grocery. 

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus
Fresh Asparagus

Trim the ends from the asparagus.  (You can snap them off or cut them if you want them to be a uniform length). The reason for this is that the ends tend to be fibrous and tougher than the upper portion. 

"Blanch" the asparagus. 
This can be done by immersing it in boiling water for 1 minute then placing it in a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process. I have found that placing the asparagus in a covered microwave safe dish with 1/4 cup of water and microwaving on high for 2 minutes also works fine. Be sure to uncover the dish as soon as you remove it to let it cool quickly. 

When the asparagus has cooled (takes only a few minutes) wrap each stalk in 1/2 piece of prosciutto. 

Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Asian Chicken Salad with substance!

Like many people, my husband & I are trying to decrease our carbohydrate intake. We have done it before and the benefits are great, but the meals become boring; Meat, vegetables, clean, repeat.  I would often find myself daydreaming about pasta which is inevitably when the plan failed, epically. 
This time, we are making it fun and working together to find new dishes to try and have enjoyed most of them so far. 
Because so many of our friends are doing the "low carb" lifestyle as well, we get lots of requests for menu ideas. This is for those of you who are bored with your normal faire and are looking to spice it up a little. 
Before you give up on the idea of salad, try this one, it truly has substance and will satisfy both your taste buds and your hunger. 

Asian Chicken Salad

1/2 head of cabbage sliced very finely or 1 bag of Angel Hair Coleslaw mix. 
2 Scallions, chopped
Fresh Cilantro (to taste) roughly chopped 
1/2 cucumber, chopped
2 Boneless chicken breasts, pan grilled or sautéed, diced. 
1/2 cup toasted almonds or cashews
Red bell pepper (optional) 
Shredded carrot (optional) 
Ginger Dressing (we used Annie's ligh ginger. 

Chop the ingredients & 
Mix in the bowl. Top with Asian dressing and serve. 

Because the base is cabbage, it is much more filling than a normal lettuce salad. I like to chop the chicken and add to the salad when it is warm.  It warms up the cabbage mix and allows it to soften some.  If you don't want to cook the chicken just buy a rotisserie chicken and use the meat from it.  How easy is that? 

I hope that you & yours enjoy this awesome salad. Looking forward to hearing what other fun additions that you come up with! 

Be well fed...

Monday, February 15, 2016

Low Carb Lasagna

On Valentine's Day, my love woke up and immediately said that he wanted something "meaty, cheesy, and 'casseroly'" for dinner.  We have been eating quite low carb for a while so some of the more tradional options really didn't fit. This Zuchini based lasagna was fun to make, and tasted rich & delicious! 
I'm going to start posting some of the fun low carb recipes that we've come up with because many of you have shared that the struggle for keeping it interesting is quite real. I'd love it if you share your ideas with me as well! We have had a great time meeting the challenge of finding new and fun things to cook that are low carb AND tasty!

Zuchini Lasagna

2 Large Zuchini 
1 container sliced mushrooms
1 onion, chopped
1.5 lb ground beef
Shredded Mozzerella
Shredded Italian Cheese blend
1 jar Marinara sauce (we used Mario Batali "Tomato Basil")
Olive Oil

Slice Zuchini thin and lay on paper towels. 
Sprinkle with salt and let set at room temp to "sweat"
In a large pan, sauté chopped onion in olive oil until translucent, when it's done, set aside in bowl to cool.  
In same pan, sauté mushrooms in olive oil. When done, add to onion bowl to cool. 
In the same pan, brown ground beef (you can mix this with Italian sausage if you wish) breaking it up as it cooks. 
When meat is done, add jar of sauce and cook over medium low heat until bubbly. 
In a 13x9 pan, drizzle some EVOO in the bottom and add about 1/4 cup of sauce. Spread around the bottom of the pan. 

Lay the Zuchini "noodles" in the bottom of the pan, slightly overlapping the edges. 

Sprinkle 1/2 the mushroom/onion mix over the first layer. 
Spread 1/2 of the meat mix over that. 

Sprinkle liberally with cheeses. 

Layer Zuchini noodles over cheese layer just like the first layer
Sprinkle with mushroom/onion mix
Top with remaining meat sauce mix. 
Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes covered (375 degrees)
Bake uncovered for 10 mins until bubbly. 
Just before serving top with generous amount of cheese and bake until cheese melted. 
Putting the cheese on last minute keeps your cheese from getting tough and rubbery.  

Allow to set for about 10 minutes makes it easier to cut.  

Notes on "sweating" the Zuchini - The reason for "sweating" the Zuchini, is to draw the water out of it which makes for a denser "pasta" like texture.  We only let the Zuchini set for about 10 minutes and should have let it sweat for about 30 minutes. By not allowing it to sweat more completely, it made for a bit of a wet consistency to the final dish. 

Want to go "over the top" with your lasagna? You can add in a layer of fresh spinach, Parmesan cheese, shredded carrot, roasted garlic, or even ricotta cheese.
I haven't completed the actual carb count, but know that the biggest concern in this one is the marinara sauce. We used Mario Batali's "Tomato Basil" which was the lowest carb count on the normal grocery. Kudos to Chef Batali for a beautiful sauce that tasted fresh & bright without all of the added sugar & preservatives that tend to corrupt many of the prepared sauces. 
I didn't include a measurement for the amount of cheese that we used, mainly because the best quantification that I have is that it was an "offensive" amount (Haha!) but it made for a lovely Valentines dinner.
Enjoy this amazing lasagna and know that it is also a great one to eat now & freeze in individual servings for later.  The leftovers are delicious after having a little time to "marinate" letting the gorgeous Italian flavors meld.  

Friday, January 15, 2016

Crazy for Mashed Cauliflower

I love carbs. 
I love mashed potatoes. 
Mashed cauliflower has changed my mind & hopefully my waistline!
Tonight's dinner was a low carb feast of Parmesan Chicken, sautéed spinach, mushrooms & onions, over mashed cauliflower. 
Seriously decadent. 
Here's how we did it...

Boil cauliflower in water or chicken stock until soft (I used water and a large chicken boullion cube) 
Drain the liquid off of the cauliflower & add butter, Mayonaise, & Greek Yogurt to taste. 
Here's the key, whip them with an immersion blender until smooth. (If you don't have an immersion blender, they are well worth the purchase! You can use a blender or food processor, but I will promise that your best results are with the immersion blender) 
We have a small cottage kitchen & don't keep any appliances that we don't use regularly, the immersion blender is a favorite for soups, sauces, and definitely mashed cauliflower. I bought my first one from a drugstore for $9 and used it for years, it was a great way to give it a trial run. 
If you are like so many who are looking to cut carbs, this is a recipe that will bring joy to your plate!  Here's how we served it...
This may be my favorite dinner so far! 
Wishing you a happy, healthy new year!