Terri’s Sauce

Terri's Sauce

Anyone with even a remote association to Italian ancestry more than likely has a mother with a tomato sauce recipe. And all of them will tell you that their mom’s is the best. Lucky for me (and for you), my mom’s is actually the best. Since the family has been steering away from carbohydrates (lord knows pasta is the last thing any of us need), it’s been literally years since I last had Terri’s sauce. I mean, what does one have with tomato sauce other than pasta….or ravioli…? So when asked what I wanted when I was home for this trip, you can bet I said sauce.

Terri has two secrets. The first: Pastene Kitchen Ready Tomatoes. The flavor is incomparable. Why? I have no idea. Give it a shot and tell me what you think. The second: in lieu of sugar, baking soda. Tomatoes are incredibly acidic and many people add sugar to counteract all that acid. In fact, many of the name brand jarred sauces like Ragu and Prego add so much sugar it’s the same as eating an Oreo cookie – no joke. The jury is still out for me as to whether adding sugar (a small amount) is a good practice, but my family is certainly adamantly against it. Terri adds just a teaspoon of baking soda to her sauce, sometimes two, and it works wonderfully.

For this batch we did a cliche: spaghetti and meatballs (and sausage). If I haven’t had sauce in years, I haven’t had meatballs in longer. Some are in the school of putting their meat into the sauce raw and letting them cook completely in the sauce, which has its merits. Terri and I are in the school of searing them off first and then letting them finish in the sauce. For me, the flavor one gets from browning is always desirable, so I think searing is the way to go. Terri actually bakes her meatballs, which I think is easier than trying to fry them in a pan, particularly when you’re making them in large quantities. And it still gets that brown color! We also seared sausages and some riblets. Topped with pepato Romano (that’s Romano cheese with black pepper), I’m brought back to our kitchen table in Pembroke where I grew up. So simple, and yet nothing quite compares.

What foods take you back?

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Pecan Pesto

I love pesto. But never from a store bought container – no no. Pesto is way too easy and way too fresh to shell out for some chemical-filled processed crap you find in the grocery store. But I’ve noticed that everyone seems to be obsessed with putting roasted pine nuts in their pesto… pine nuts… I’m sorry, pine nuts are really expensive. And I would have no use for them other than pesto, so why would I want to invest in such an item? Most of the time when I make pesto I don’t use any nuts. For me, all I need is basil, garlic, salt, pepper, and cheese. Tastes good to me!

But while I may never be a purveyor of pine nuts, I nearly always have pecans in my cabinet (my absolute favorite nut). So as I was making this batch of pesto, I thought what the hell, let’s toast some pecans and throw them in here. And you know what? It was friggin delicious.

Now I have to tell you, I never measure anything. But here is the approximate recipe:

  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1 large container fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans
  • 1/2 cup fresh parmesan or romano cheese
  • big pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper
  • olive oil

All I do is throw the garlic into the food processor and get it chopped up really good. Then I cram everything else into food processor (except the olive oil), turn it on, get it good and ground up, then I stream in olive oil until it reaches the smooth consistency you desire. I like mine a little on the thick side, as you can see.

If you’re not going to use this right away, be sure you store it in the fridge in a container with plastic wrap pressed against the top to help prevent browning. Air = browning.

Stay tuned for a PHENOMENAL recipe to use this with.

Shiitake Mushroom Gravy with Chia Seed

In addition to my fresh lavender, I got a tremendous bargain at the farmers’ market on Sunday via a tent selling paper bags full of baby shiitake mushrooms. I had only two dollars left in my wallet and spotted the bag of mushrooms marked $3. One of the biggest secrets to going to a farmers’ market is to go towards the end when the vendors are trying to get rid of whatever they were unable to sell. It’s much easier to barter and you are likely to get a really great deal.  Case and point, this bag of mushrooms. I asked if she would take $2. Not only did she agree, she proceeded to fill the bag with some leftover shiitakes in a bulk bin that she considered “deformed” and therefore wouldn’t sell them. Tremendous deal.

In a situation like this, with such fresh and lovely mushrooms, simplicity is best. I decided I wanted to make a gravy using the mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and vegetable stock for an easy and satisfying dinner. I wanted to get the gravy thick, but I didn’t want to have to use flour as I’ve been trying hard to avoid it whenever possible. One of my favorite things to do is browse the “New Item” section at Trader Joe’s – there are always such fun new things to play with like coconut cream, honey roasted almond slices, coconut flakes, etc, etc. Recently I discovered Chia Seeds, which I later learned act as an outstanding thickener when they are ground. And they happen to have much the same digestive benefits as psyllium fiber (Metamucil). Who knew?

So here’s what I did. Got a large heavy or cast iron skillet nice and hot. Added butter and just enough oil to coat the bottom and tossed in the mushrooms, about 3 three cups of fresh shiitake. I sauteed them until they began to brown, then added 1 finely minced shallot, 1 clove finely minced garlic, kosher salt, and black pepper. Once fragrant, I added in 1 tablespoon of ground chia seeds, sauteed for an additional minute, then added two cups of vegetable stock. I then let it simmer until it thickened – happens very quickly. Once thick I killed the heat, added in one tablespoon of chopped fresh sage, and bam, a delicious mushroom gravy that I ate over brown rice. This would also be great with steamed vegetables or as a topping for grilled chicken or steak. Yum.

Hope everyone is enjoying the fall! More coming from me over the weekend!

Fresh Cherry Sauce over Frozen Pudding

Earlier this week I found that Trader Joe’s had a very good deal on fresh red cherries – $2.99 for a pound. So grabbed them, not entirely sure what I would do with them. As I was home later that evening I decided I was in the mood to make a cherry sauce and put it over vanilla ice cream… mmmm… of course I didn’t have any vanilla ice cream… But, I did have a box of Jell-O instant banana pudding mix (no idea why). I flashed back to my childhood when my grandmother would freeze pudding into popsicles for us during the summer. It was such a treat – I loved the texture. Creamier than a fruit popsicle but a little more sturdy than ice cream. Since I had milk in my fridge to make my banana pudding for the 4th of July, I thought, what the hell, I’ll make a separate batch for this dessert.

For the sauce, I stemmed and pitted 1 pound of fresh red cherries. I highly recommend getting a cherry pitter since I don’t have one. By the time I was finished there was cherry juice everywhere and my hands looked like I had murdered someone. Anyway, I placed the pitted cherries into a medium sauce pan, added 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 a vanilla been (scrape the insides and put the whole pod in), 1 cinnamon stick, and a little bit of fresh grated nutmeg. I put it over medium high heat and let it rip until the cherries cooked down and a thick sauce was formed, about 15-20 minutes. I killed the heat and let it cool before placing it over my frozen pudding, which, by the way, I made according to the package directions, placed in a cup-sized container lined with plastic wrap, and put it in the freezer until solid, at least 2 hours. When ready I just pulled out the plastic wrap, turned the pudding over onto a plate, peeled the plastic wrap off, and it was ready for my warm cherry sauce. The warmth softens the pudding a bit, which I love. I like my cherry sauce chunky, but you can definitely puree it with a stick blender until nice and smooth. Either way it’s a tasty summery treat for less than $6.

Now, you’ve heard me say things like this before, but do NOT go out and buy a vanilla bean just to make this recipe. They are expensive, like $10 for 2. I threw it in because I happened to have it on my shelf. If you don’t have one, simply stir in some vanilla extract at the end of cooking. And don’t even buy a cinnamon stick for that matter – put a few pinches of ground in or just leave it out. Also if you happen to have some red wine laying around, you could use that instead of water for some real depth of flavor. And of course you can use any flavor and/or brand of pudding you like. Or you can just use vanilla ice cream. Or perhaps some biscuits and whipped cream. Mmm! Enjoy!

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat Sauce

Tonight I was poking through the depths of my fridge and pantry (and by pantry I mean the cabinet above the sink) to decide what to do with the rest of the beef-less ground beef I bought for yesterday’s Sloppy Trader Joe recipe. To my surprise I came across a jar of marinara sauce I had bought for my Christmas party. As you may have guessed, I never do jarred tomato sauce since it is so easy to make your own, however it can be just the thing when you’re in a jam and need something quick. Seeing the jar of red made me think of meat sauce, something I haven’t had in ages… hmmm. As much as the idea pleased me, if I’m going to use a jarred tomato sauce, I sure as hell better find something to dress it up with lest I incur the disdain of my family. I went to the fridge and discovered two zucchini and half an onion, all left over from my Simple Springtime Orzo – perfect. I diced the veggies and sauteed them in olive oil, salt, pepper, about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flake. Once nearly cooked I added the beef-less ground beef and let it brown up a bit. At the very end I added in one minced clove of garlic, then poured over about 3/4 of the jar of  marinara sauce, let it heat through, and prest0 – “meat” sauce.

I was feeling exceptionally good this evening so I ate the sauce just as is with a little grated cheese. The zucchini are substantial enough that they make it a hearty meal without the calories and empty carbs of pasta or rice. Cheap, hearty, satisfying, AND healthy – that is what the starving artist likes. Having said that you could most certainly serve this over elbow macaroni, penne, or even white rice (I promise I won’t tell). My roommate sampled the sauce and was utterly impressed by the flavor and texture of the meatless ground beef – she was shocked to hear it wasn’t real. For even more ideas you should check out my Weeknight Tomato Sauce.

Now I realize some of you are probably reading this saying, “really? you opened a jar of tomato sauce and dumped it over sauteed vegetables. Astonishing”.  But that’s exactly the point: I didn’t just crack open the jar and heat up the sauce. I dug around and found ingredients laying around my kitchen that transformed an ordinary jar sauce into a satisfying, versatile meal.  When times are tight and paychecks are scarce, this is exactly the kind of thinking and resourcefulness that can get you through crunch times without  sacrificing flavor, style, or self respect. You starving artists know what I’m talking about ;-)