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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Week 22: Tomato Sauce Visual Tutorial


This summer has brought a bounty of tomatoes from my garden. In addition to the 3 plants I purchased in April, Butcher Son was given an additional 6 plants from customers and friends. This has yielded an unprecedented (for me) amount of Roma, San Marzano, and several varieties of heirloom tomatoes. We have had our share of bruschetta and caprese salad, I’ve made two batches of sundried tomatoes, and now find myself making tomato sauce every weekend. So I thought I would document the process in pictures, making it easy for you to follow along. Because it really is a simple process. And you don’t even have to drag out the canner. You can just pour the final product into jars or Tupperware and throw them in the freezer for use in the fall or winter when you want a taste of summer!

Step 1: Cut up your tomatoes: I cut my pear-shaped tomatoes in half and large tomatoes into quarters, removing the stem end. I usually fill one large bowl.

Step 2: Cut up your vegetables. Dice one onion and mince 6 cloves of garlic. Heat some olive oil in a large stewpot over medium high heat and sauté for a few minutes until translucent, stirring occasionally.

Step 3: Mince some fresh herbs. I use basil, rosemary and oregano from the garden. Add these and the tomatoes to your stewpot.

Step 4: Add red wine. I add about a cup of red wine to my tomatoes, but feel free to add more or less, depending on your taste and the amount of wine on hand.

Step 5: Add salt. Start with one tablespoon; you can always add more later.

Step 6: Cook your sauce. Put a lid on your stewpot and cook on medium low, stirring occasionally. I usually cook my tomatoes for about an hour.

Step 7. Pick out the skins. Every time I stir the pot, I use tongs to pull out the tomato skins that have separated from the tomato. I find this easier than skinning the tomatoes beforehand. You don’t have to get them all, just the majority.

Step 8: Puree. When the tomatoes have cooked down sufficiently, I use a stick blender to puree the sauce. If you don’t have a stick blender, I highly recommend you buy one, but in lieu of that, you can put batches in a blender and puree. Just don’t fill the blender more than half way or it will blow the lid off and burn you. (Trust me on this.)

Step 9. Cook down your sauce. Oftentimes my sauce is a bit soupy after pureeing. This is due to the type of tomatoes I use at any given time. If your sauce is too runny, just cook on medium with the lid off until the desired consistency is reached.

Voila! You are done. Let the sauce cool and pour into jars or plastic containers and throw in the freezer.

I use this sauce for pasta, adding browned ground meat or Italian sausage, or serve it with meatballs. It’s also great for lasagne, stuffed shells, or just as it is served with a bowl of plain pasta and grated Parmesan.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Week 21: Not Your Mother’s Chicken and Rice


I remember my mother making chicken and rice dishes, mostly casseroles that were heavy on some sort of canned creamed soup. Edible but not terribly flavorful, they were a staple in most households in the 1960s and 1970s. Given my subsequent aversion to casseroles and anything containing a creamed soup, I have avoided such dishes for 30+ years…until now.

In the most recent Sunset magazine, I found a recipe for Chicken Steamed Over Ginger-Garlic Rice. Full of flavor, utilizing only one pot and taking only 30 minutes, the family has determined the recipe a keeper and I can now proudly cook chicken and rice casserole.

Rather boring in color, due to the dual colors of white (rice, chicken) and green (sauce), it is anything but bland. The recipe contains bold flavors—ginger, garlic, cilantro, sesame oil and jalapeno—that give the moist steamed chicken a great kick, although not so spicy that children won’t eat it.

The recipe is low in salt, easy to prepare and a quick and hearty weeknight meal. While the recipe says it yields four servings that would be a huge amount of rice per person. I used 2 pounds of chicken (rather than the 1 1/2 it called for) and it served 5 adults, with enough leftover for one lunch. I have adjusted a few things in the recipe to satisfy our palate, but if you want the original recipe, you can find it here.

Butcher Son and Mr. B added some sriracha to up the heat quotient, our guest tried it with a bit of soy, but Brilliant Daughter and I found it perfect just as it is. Now it’s your turn to debunk the myth that chicken and rice casseroles have to include creamed soups!

Recipe on the next page...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Week 20: 40-Minute Hamburger Buns



I’m sure you are wondering why I have two posts in a row dealing with yeast breads, albeit very easy to make and tasty recipes. Our family loves fresh bread of any kind and there are few things better than warm steamy loaves coming out of the oven and eaten hot with melted butter dripping down your chin, at least in our estimation.

It is also something I am trying to become more comfortable with. Yeast breads can be tricky. I’ve been making cinnamon rolls for years but have rarely ventured out of that niche. Maybe I am trying to channel my husband’s grandmother, who baked a dozen or more loaves a week. All of five-foot-nothing, she had the strongest hands of any woman (and most men) that I had ever met. When she took you into her embrace, there was no squirming out of it until she was good and ready, and when she pinched your cheek, you felt it for hours. She would bake huge batches once or twice a week and deliver them to friends, relatives and would use them to barter with local farmers for produce.

I started making a 5-minute artisan bread back in April of 2012. It is one of those recipes that should delight every suburban cook. It takes very little time (ummm…5 minutes), only 4 basic ingredients and yields a hearty round loaf reminiscent of something you would buy at the bakery, similar in texture to a sourdough boule. I make it once or twice a month, much to the delight of the family. The focaccia recipe from last week has also received rave reviews from friends and family, and I have even talked several into making it themselves. Now they are hooked as well.

As for why I would even attempt hamburger buns, the rationale was twofold. I had initially planned hamburgers for dinner (topped with freshly smoked bacon and some creamy avocado) but had forgotten to buy buns. Yes, I could have driven to one of any number of stores to pick them up, or asked Butcher Son to bring me some home from Robert’s Market, but I got to wondering if I could make them. Secondly, I really am trying to learn to make a lot of what we eat from scratch. I have mastered the jam/jelly thing, pickles, salsa, tomato sauce and marinara, and even BBQ sauce. I have a number of mustards and rib rubs in my repertoire, as well as fruit syrups. I make sausage, bacon, pancetta. And of course, I am proficient with sweet baked goods. So this was just another thing to try.

I found a recipe on Taste of Home for 40-minute hamburger buns. Sure enough, within about 40 minutes I had hamburger buns. The original recipe made 12 buns, but they were only slightly larger than slider buns and not really big enough for my hamburgers, so on a second try I made 8 buns. Better, but I’m thinking that for a big juicy cowboy burger, you should just make 6. Or if the kids want sliders, you could probably get 16 perfect slider buns. The ingredients are basic pantry and fridge items, so no need to get anything fancy. The texture overall is denser than your average hamburger bun, but it doesn’t squish down like Wonder Bread and soaks up any juices that might be leaking from your burger. Overall I was very happy with the result and the recipe got the thumbs up from the family. So now it’s your turn to try.

40-Minute Hamburger Buns
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2+ cups, all purpose flour

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add oil and sugar; let stand for 5 minutes. Add the egg, salt and 3 cups flour to form a soft dough. Pour remaining 1/2 cup flour out onto counter or breadboard. Add dough and knead until smooth and elastic, about 3-5 minutes. You may need to add more flour if the dough become sticky.

Do not let rise. Divide into 8 pieces; shape each into a ball. Place 3 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Bake at 425° for 8-12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.

Yield: 8

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Week 19: 5-Minute Herbed Focaccia



Back in 2012 I did a post on 5-Minute Artisan Bread. I had my disbelievers, but once they made the bread, they were hooked. It really was that simple. This recipe, for Italian focaccia, is even easier and also lends itself to a variety of flavors, depending upon what you have on hand in your garden or pantry.

You don’t need anything special to make this tasty treat, just the basics will do. But I like to dress mine up, usually with fresh herbs from the garden, but I think some kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes would work nicely as well.

The base of the bread is flour, sugar, salt, yeast, egg and butter. It all mixes up easily in a bowl and then you just let it sit for an hour to let the yeast do its magic. Then you knead it a few times, throw it in a greased pan, sprinkle it with some salt and herbs (dry or fresh) and shove it in the oven. I like to chop fresh herbs and use half inside the dough (which I add while kneading) and the rest sprinkled on top with the salt.

This focaccia can be served on its own, piping hot from the oven, with a meal, or let it cool and use it as a base for a sandwich.

It literally takes 5 minutes of your time, with an hour to rise and about 20 minutes to cook. I suggest you double the recipe, because it won’t last long once it comes out of the oven. I even served it with some of the leftover chimichurri sauce from last week’s tri-tip recipe and it was beyond good. A little schmear went a long way.

So what are you waiting for? 

Recipe after the jump

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Week 18: Tri-Tip with Chimichurri



This week for Sunday dinner I rummaged through all the recipes I had torn out of magazines to find something a bit different. The family doesn’t mind being guinea pigs and this week they were more than happy after trying this unusually cooked but flavorful offering.

The recipe, originally published in the June 2013 issue of Sunset magazine, called for either bison or beef tri-tip cooked on a barbeque with a cast-iron pan. While bison is a nice lean meat, it isn’t widely available (although Butcher Son could obtain some if I had so desired), so I tested it with the more standard beef.

The method used to cook the meat is Argentine in origin and is called a la plancha—requiring a cast iron grill pan, skillet or griddle and cooked in a barbeque.  According to the recipe, this method creates an even quick sear that leaves a crusty exterior while staying moist and juicy on the inside.

I found this to be an easy to prepare dish, suitable for weeknight dinners but fancy enough to serve to guests. What puts the dish over the top is the huge amount of flavor garnered from the rosemary-parsley chimichurri sauce. In fact I wanted to ladle to sauce onto the roasted fingerling potatoes as well. Or maybe just drink it with a straw, it was that good, and the family wholeheartedly agreed. A winner recipe that is sure to make its way into our rotation this summer. And there is no reason that I shouldn’t keep a jar of the chimichurri sauce in my refrigerator, as it will be great on most any kind of meat, as well as roasted potatoes and maybe even some select vegetables.

While the recipe called for an overnight marinade, it isn’t strictly necessary. If you remember to do it the night before great; if you have time in the morning before work, that works, too. I only had 4 hours of marinating, but in actuality an hour or two will do the trick, primarily because the sauce is so excellent that any flavor is overwhelmed by it. And if you have no time to marinate….no problem. 

Recipe on next page

Monday, May 19, 2014

Week 17: Summer Cauliflower Salad



I love roasted cauliflower. In actuality, I love pretty much any roasted vegetable. Such an easy dish to make: just cut up the veg, sprinkle with olive oil, and bit of salt and pepper, and roast at 400-450 degrees until done (turning once or twice). Some times I even get creative and add in some sliced onion, maybe chopped fresh herbs from the garden, or small slivers of lemon. Ups the taste quotient and they are all things I have on hand. But with summer coming, serving hot vegetables just doesn’t work. We do a lot of grilling to avoid heating up the house and while you can certainly grill cauliflower in a basket, I was feeling like something a bit different, hence my search for a salad version of roasted cauliflower.

I found a basic recipe on Tori Avey’s site, which I modified slightly. I roasted the cauliflower early in the morning, to avoid heating the kitchen during our mini heatwave. While it roasted I prepped the remaining items, so the process took about 30 minutes and then once the cauliflower was cool, it was a simple toss, put the fridge and it was ready for dinner later that day.

It was a bit disappointing that he family didn’t rave about this recipe. Even after marinating in the dressing all day, the salad was a little flat. Although it was better on the second day, it definitely needs a bit of adjustment.

First, after roasting the cauliflower pieces, I would cut them in half. (Yes, you could just cut them up smaller to begin with, but then they would be cooked before getting properly caramelized, which lends a marvelous flavor.) By cutting the in half, more surface area would be covered by the dressing. Secondly, I think that making slightly more dressing would help in marinating the vegetables, so I have increased the ingredients accordingly. You could also allow it to sit overnight and serve the next day, to allow for more flavor to permeate the cauliflower.

Overall, with adjustments, I think this is a good dish and a way to enjoy cauliflower during the summer months.

Summer Cauliflower Salad

1 large head cauliflower
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1/2 lemon

Dressing
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
16 pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
3 tablespoons capers

Preheat to 425 degrees and set out a rimmed baking or cookie sheet.

Pull the leaves off of the cauliflower base. Cut off the lower part of the stem. Quarter the cauliflower and then slice each quarter into 8-10 pieces. (Flat surfaces are best as they will caramelize better.0 Place the cauliflower in a large bowl and drizzle them with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the minced garlic florets to the bowl. Cut your lemon half into 3 long pieces and then slice them thinly and add to the bowl. Toss the mixture until thoroughly coated with the olive oil.

Spread the mixture out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Place baking sheet into preheated oven and let the cauliflower roast for 10 minutes. Turn the slices and return to the oven for 10-20 minutes, until tender and browned. Remove from oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, prep your salad dressing and ingredients. In small jar, mix 4 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Shake well.

Once cauliflower is cool, add to bowl with the flat leaf parsley, olives and capers and toss gently with dressing. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Chill.

Yield: 6 servings