Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tomato Pasta Sauce - Homemade is BEST

It's been a while since I've posted.  No, I have not abandoned this blog.  Life just took me on a detour and now I'm back.  About a year or so ago, I purchased a pressure cooker/canner.  Please, don't be afraid of them, and don't be afraid of anybody thinking you're cooking up drug crack just because they see you buying one.  My mother was TERRIFIED of pressure cookers and never used one.  My paternal grandmother (my inspiration and first teacher for cooking) had one and used it all the time.  It's like the ultimate tool in the kitchen  -- much like a chain saw for outdoors; a great but potentially dangerous tool, so handle with care and common sense.  My point is, don't be afraid of the pressure cooker.  Follow directions and don't be careless.  There are plenty of show-me-how videos on YouTube. 

Which brings me to tomato sauce.  My sister-in-law bequeathed me several large bags of large, beautiful, home-grown tomatoes that rival pumpkins in size.  Now what.  OK.  I can make a HUGE batch of my tomato pasta sauce, and with that make a couple pans of lasagne to keep in the freezer for the company I am expecting over the holidays.  I can then preserve any left over sauce by canning it in my pressure cooker. 

The secret to my tomato pasta sauce tasting sweet as candy is that when I'm making it I let is simmer on a super low setting on the stove for HOURS  uncovered.  The water evaporates intensifying the flavors.  The other thing I want to free you of is thinking that cooking is EXACT.  It's not.  Play with it.  What's the worst thing that could happen?  You make something that's not great?  GREAT.  Learn from that for next time.  Some of my biggest cooking epiphanies came to me when I messed up.  IT'S OK TO FAIL.   Not everything you make is going to be a raging success.  Get over it.  Trial and error is the best teacher ever. 

Here's my tomato pasta sauce for those of you who have friends and neighbors dump loads of tomatoes on your doorstep like a baby in a basket.  Feel free to delete anything that is not to your taste buds and add whatever floats your boat.  This is only a base, my friends. 

First, you need to prep your tomatoes to get them ready to be that sweet sauce you will love.  You will need to get that outer layer of skin off and other stuff you don't want in your sauce.  The easiest way to do that is:

1.  Get a large pot of water to boiling temp;
2.  Get a large bowl of ice water ready;
3.  Put the tomatoes in (about 3-4 of them at a time if they are large) and boil for about 1 minute or so until the skin splits;
4.  Put in the ice water to shock them;
5.   When cool enough to handle, the skins should easily slide off.  Discard the area around the stem by cutting it out with a knife.  Cut out and discard of any yucky tough spots.  That does not make good sauce.  Give gentle squeezes to release the water inside the tomato.  Put the tomato into yet another large pot (or bowl) and squish it up with your fingers. 
6.  Repeat with all tomatoes.  You will end up with a full pot of squished up tomatoes.  Use your hands.  It's OK.  Mush 'em all up.  YEAH.  Squeeze and mush.  I know you know to do this with clean hands so I don't need to nag you to do so.
7.  Now you should have a large pot of mushed up tomatoes.

Now for the magic of the sauce.

1.   Put about 1/4 cup of olive oil in the bottom of a LARGE pot and heat up;
2.  Cut up about 1 large onion (about 3 cups) and add to olive oil in pot.  Add about 1 tablespoon salt and sweat the onion for about 5 minutes or so;
3.  Add about 2-3 chopped garlic cloves and mix with onions for 1 minute or so;
4.  Put in all the mushed up tomatoes and mix;
5.  Add about 3/4 cup of red RED wine;
6.  Add a can of tomato paste if you have it on hand for extra thickness and texture.  If not, it's not the end of the world. 
7.  Add Italian herb seasonings to taste whether in dried or fresh form - no wrong answer here.  It's YOUR taste buds we're pleasing - not ours.  I use about 5 Tablespoons of dried Italian Seasoning if my herb garden is done for the summer.  If my garden is still in tact, I just chop up fresh basil, a little rosemary, and some oregano and throw it in there;
9.  Add a little Parmesan cheese rind to the pot if you have it (just remember to remove it before serving or canning);
8.  Bring the tomato sauce mixture to a boil.  Stir.  Turn down to super low to simmer uncovered for 8-10 hours or so.  Stir occasionally.  You want the water to evaporate off making your sauce flavor intense and flavorful. 
9.  Remove any Parmesan rinds or any other things you put into the sauce mix to flavor that can't handle the immersion blender (like herb pouches encased in cheese cloth or whatever);
10.  Give the sauce a good whirl with the immersion blender.  If you don't have one - GET ONE.  Otherwise, if you prefer your sauce chunky go for it.  Again, no wrong answer here.  It's all about YOU and what YOU like.  Or, you can use a traditional blender to smooth the sauce out for consuming.  I love my immersion blender.   It smooths the sauce out ever so nicely and gets rid of any clumps or bumps that might be there. 

Use your sauce to make whatever it is you're making:  spaghetti, lasagne, gnocchi, etc.  Use your pressure cooker to preserve jars for future use.  You will love having your homemade sauce ready in a snap to pour over pasta on a busy work night or whenever you just don't feel like cooking.   

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Really Yummy Chicken Wings: Crispy Baked Wings

I must credit the cooking website Fifteen Spatulas for this wonderful idea of making crispy chicken wings that are baked and NOT fried in oil. 

I love food.  I love good food that is simple to make.  I love junk food recipe alternatives that satisfy the craving but harbor less calories and fat.  These wings are guaranteed to please.  The secret to crispy wings without frying?  Par boil them first in salt water for about 7-10 minutes. 

Crispy Oven Fried Chicken Wings

  • about 2 pounds of wings (tips discarded and pieces cut into wingette and drumette);
  • about 2 tablespoons of melted butter;
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce;
  • about 3 tablespoons of Topatia hot sauce (or whatever hot sauce you like);
  • salt;
  • pinch of cayenne to taste.
Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add about two tablespoons of salt to water.  Add wing pieces and boil for about 7-9 minutes.  Remove wing pieces and place on paper towels and dry thoroughly.  Moisture is the ENEMY of crispiness. 

Preheat oven to 450*.  In the meantime melt butter, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and cayenne (if desired) together in small saucepan.  

Place dry wings directly on cookie sheet (do NOT use foil or non-stick spray as they don't crisp up as well) and bake for about 25-30 minutes.  Flip wings over and bake for about another 5 minutes. 

Remove wings from oven and toss together with the warm sauce and serve.  Voila!  Fried wings without frying;)

I have yet to bring these wings anywhere and have leftovers.  I am always asked for the recipe. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Morning Madness

How I became the matriarch of the in-law clan is beyond me.  I'm not even the eldest female.  I guess it's because I'm a decent cook and people feel at home here.  Still, Christmas morning is the ultimate honor and responsibility of family tradition.  Just what are they going to do without me;)

If you host Christmas morning, I have a couple of little short cuts for you to employ to leave you more relaxed and able to enjoy your company.

If you are cooking a huge, traditional breakfast with bacon and sausage, bake the bacon and sausage in the oven at 400* for about 20 minutes (or until nicely browned) on cookie sheets a day or so ahead of time and store in refridgerator.  Use aluminum foil on cooke sheets for easy clean up.  On Christmas morning put your bacon and sausage in separate 9x13 baking dishes and warm in the oven at about 275* until ready to use. 

You will be amazed how that one step will save you stress and mess Christmas morning.  

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cheater Chicken Wings

Want to bring something delicious to a function without any effort on your part? I do have a favorite chicken wing recipe, but it's not without some effort. This recipe requires no effort at all.

Ready??? Here goes.. This is what you will need....

1 bag of Safeway frozen chicken wings
bbq sauce, or terriaki sauce

Preheat oven to 425*
Line a large cookie sheet with tin foil.
Spray with non-stick cooking spray

Place frozen chicken wings on cookie sheet and baste with sauce.
Bake for 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and baste again with sauce. Put back in oven and bake another 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and flip chicken wings over. Baste with sauce and bake another 15 minutes.

Flip wings over again and bake another 5 minutes or so or until there is a nice, thick, brownish coating.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Function Overload: Brownies to the Rescue

This time of year there is an endless stream of parties. Between the graduations, promotions, end-of-school-year parties, bbq's, and end-of-season sport functions, I'm TIRED. We have been on the go for two weeks straight.

I always get called to bring a food something to a function. I really don't mind cooking, but my friend taught me a new trick for when I'm just too tired to really put any effort into cooking.

My friend is a really good cook. She knows some terrific short cuts. She told me that when I'm called to bring something, offer to bring brownies. Why? Because she goes to Safeway (one of the main grocery stores around here) and buys about 20 boxes of the brownie mix when it's on sale for about $1.25 a box. That's a very good deal.

To whip up a box of brownies is NO EFFORT AT ALL. If you can crack two eggs, measure out 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, and mix it up, you're in.

What my friend does to give them special appeal is that she sprinkles chocolate chips on top of the brownies before they go into the oven.

Yummmm....... chewy, rich, home-made tasting brownies with no fuss. All in 30 minutes or less. I'm not joking.

I brought these brownies to a function recently and they all disappeared despite other brownies present. I take that as the highest of all compliments:)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Salame Roll-Ups

It's Christmas party season, and we have been invited to several of them. Lately there has been an overabundant appearance of variations of bean dips on the buffet table. I have a bean dip recipe I use as a go-to for parties. Walking in with my bean dip seeing 6 of them already there made me realize I needed to change gears. I have an easy go-to appetizer using salame and cream cheese to bring and share and it is always a hit. Most of the time I solicit the help of one of the kids to do it for me.

Salame/Cream Cheese Roll-Ups:
Good quality salame (about 3/4 pound or so)
1-2 eight oz. packages of cream cheese softened to room temperature
about 3 pickles sliced match stick style.

Smear a thin layer of cream cheese on salame, place a pickle match stick on it, and roll up. That's as complicated as it gets, folks.

I know posting this so close to Christmas seems useless, but think of the next wave of parties you could bring this to like New Year's parties, and also Super Bowl parties.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Turkey

Yummmmm..... Turkey cooked just right is delicious! However, I know many of you have been turned off by dry, chalky, over-cooked turkey. I know because it happened to our family this year. My sister-in-law hosted Thanksgiving, and the turkey was dry despite the fact that she went out and bought the most expensive turkey she could find. The rest of the extended family knows I'm a fairly decent cook, and I was given the "please cook us turkey tomorrow so we can have a good meal" look at the dinner table.

So, I obliged them...

Over the years I have tried and tested several methods. This one has yet to fail me:

In the bottom of a deep roasting pan place:
2 quartered onions
about 3 celery stalks cut into 2" pieces
a couple of carrots cut into 2" pieces
2 bay leaves
about 1 and 1/2 cup of dry white wine

Rinse your turkey and remove giblets and other assorted body organs. Remove the plastic thing near the butt. Pat turkey dry inside and out with paper towels.

Rub the turkey with a mixture of:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons sage
1 teaspoon thyme

Loosely place a quartered onion and a cut up celery stalk inside the turkey cavity. Place turkey UPSIDE DOWN (breast side down) in the roaster and loosely crimp foil to cover. Bake at 325* for about 4-5 hours (depending on turkey size).

During the last hour or so of baking, carefully flip turkey over breast-side up and baste. Continue baking uncovered until done. This will brown the breast and get the skin crisp.

Do not put stuffing inside the turkey during the baking process. It absorbs all of the moisture and leaves your turkey dry and baking is uneven. You will have a burned outside and raw inside. I always bake my stuffing in a separate baking pan basted with the juices from the roasting turkey to give the stuffing a nice brown crunch on the top and flavor.