Friday, October 30, 2015

friday tips: quick tomato sauce

I've mentioned the tradition growing up with Sunday sauce: starting it early in the morning with the smell of sizzling garlic wafting through the halls and the sauce bubbling for hours, stirring often.

Is that the best way to do it? Probably. It tastes delicious and has that deep, slow cooked flavor. But-do you always have all day? Or perhaps you have a sudden craving at 4pm for pasta. What to do then?

I have a few tricks that will help give a quick sauce that all day simmering flavor. And by quick, I mean it can be ready in the time it takes to boil pasta, so use this as a weeknight meal too.

I used canned tomatoes here (and prefer San Marzano, but use what you like/have.) I also like to make a sauce out of fresh tomatoes every so often, but bear in mind that this will extend the prep time as you will have to boil, peel and de-seed the tomatoes.

So here we go...

First of all: save those parmiggiano reggiano rinds. When you have finished the block of cheese, DO NOT THROW THEM AWAY. They are basically sauce, soup and stew gold and you will be so grateful to have them once you taste the difference they make.

I slice them into about 2 inch pieces and save them in a bag in the fridge and pop them into my sauces. The benefit of them, especially in a quick sauce, is that they give you an earthy depth of flavor and lots of richness.

I also turn to wine (shocking, I know) for a quick flavor boost. A few glugs (technical term) into the sauce at the beginning of cooking time gives the wine time to boil and cook through with the tomatoes and provides some body to the sauce. It lends that "cooked all day" flavor even if its only been simmering for 20 minutes. Use a bottle you would drink (and finish the bottle with dinner.)

Lastly, it's no secret I'm a huge fan of fresh herbs and for a dish like this it's no exception. Basil is great, but use whatever you have, which for me is always parsley. It brightens up the sauce and I add half of the herbs during cooking, and the rest on top for a burst of flavor.

Here's my full recipe below:

20 minute tomato sauce
1 can of tomatoes (either diced or peeled, I don't like the pureed)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
red wine (about 1/8 cup, but just two two generous pours over the sauce)
1 two inch parm rind cube
fresh herbs (optional/highly encouraged): parsley, basil-about a handful of each, roughly chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (skip if you don't like the heat)
1/4 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
  • put pasta water up to boil
  • sauté garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat. once it starts to soften, add tomatoes and stir through
  • raise heat to medium-high and add remaining ingredients, save for half the herbs
  • cover and increase heat to high, let sauce bubble for 10 minutes and thicken
  • lower heat to medium, let simmer, stirring frequently
  • taste for seasonings/adjust as necessary, then toss in remaining herbs and serve with pasta, a few dollops of ricotta and some grated parm

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

veggie cheddar soup

No matter what the temperature is, if I find myself at Panera I am getting broccoli cheddar soup and scooping it up with their delicious sourdough bread. Its a delicious & creamy indulgence I can't pass up. I have also made the copycat recipe at home and whoaaa does it call for a lot of heavy cream. I get it, thats the case in many cream-based soups, but...maybe ignorance is bliss. When I make it for myself, I don't want to know how much butter goes into it.

So I decided to make my own, slightly lightened up version. Caution: it still contains butter. And cream. But just like 3 tablespoons instead of a whole stick. And a half cup of cream. I call this balance.

veggie cheddar soup
1 head of broccoli, ends trimmed and chopped into bite sized pieces (I kept mine rather large so you could still see them)
3 carrots, peels and diced (again, in bite sized but still bigger pieces)
2 celery stalks, diced
5 mini red potatoes (or 1 medium-large), peeled and diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups of shredded cheddar
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bay leaf
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper for seasoning

  • preheat pot on medium-high heat and add olive oil
  • once warm, lower to medium heat and add carrots and celery and let saute until soft (about 10 mins) turning often
  • fill another pot with water, diced potatoes and a few pinches of salt and bring to a boil
  • let boil for approx 3 mins then drain and set aside
  • remove veggies and set aside
  • add butter and flour and whisk together in pan, still on medium heat, until a paste is formed
  • slowly add cream, whisk together, then vegetable stock and let simmer and thicken, about 5-7 mins
  • add nutmeg, bay leaf, and a pinch of salt and pepper, cook for another 8 mins on medium-low heat
  • remove bay leaf, add cheese and stir together
  • let cheese melt into the sauce and then add broccoli, simmer for 5 mins then add remaining veggies set aside
  • stir together, taste and adjust for seasoning and cook for another 5-7 minutes

serve with some sort of bread-I chose naan because we had it on hand-and enjoy!

Monday, October 26, 2015

lamb, feta and yogurt meatballs

I've been doing a lot of experimenting with Mediterranean flavors and spices lately; blame my new obsession with greek yogurt (seriously-what can you not do with it?!?) and this dish is the latest installment.

This meal is courtesy of a stroll through the supermarket with leftover eggplant in the fridge at home on my mind and a faraway memory of these turkey and feta burgers one of my college roommates used to make.

lamb, feta and yogurt meatballs
1/2 lb ground lamb
3/4 cup 0% greek yogurt
1 egg
half of spice blend (mixture below)
4 oz feta, cubed
2 cups breadcrumbs
olive oil

  • preheat oven to 375
  • combine all ingredients (except half of the breadcrumbs) in a bowl-if they feel a bit too wet to form into a ball, add a bit more breadcrumbs, a tablespoon at a time
  • form meatballs-I made about 6 with these, which were really big. you can make them smaller and adjust cooking time
  • roll meatballs in remaining breadcrumbs for a crispy exterior
  • preheat an oven safe pan on the stovetop with olive oil on medium heat
  • place meatballs in hot pan and let cook about 3 mins on each side, until browned
  • brown on 4 sides then transfer to the oven for 15-20 minutes (10 minutes for smaller meatballs), turning once halfway through
  • let cool and place a fork into one to check doneness-it should be only slightly pink but mostly cooked through (oven temps could vary-return to oven for a few more minutes if not cooked through)

pearl couscous with eggplant and peppers
pearl couscous package (also known as israeli couscous)
1 pepper, diced
1 small eggplant, diced
half of spice blend, below

  • sauté eggplant and peppers with spice blend, set aside
  • follow directions on pearl couscous package
  • once couscous is done, add veggies and cover

sweet and sour fig sauce
1/2 cup dried figs, sliced
2 tbsp fig jam
1/4 cup of chicken or vegetable stock; if you don't have it use water
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

  • combine all ingredients except lemon juice on medium heat on stovetop and come to a low boil to thicken
  • once all have combined and the sauce has a syrupy texture, stir in lemon juice and spoon over meatballs

spice blend
(use on both meatballs and couscous)
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp basil

Once ready to serve, spoon pearl couscous at the bottom of the bowl, top with meatballs and fig sauce, slice pita bread for the side

Friday, October 23, 2015

friday tips: a peek into how I organize my kitchen

I catch a lot of heat for it, but having order in my life is essential. Two years ago when planning thanksgiving, I created an entire spreadsheet with each dish, ingredient, when it would be made and who was responsible for cooking it. Needless to say my friends and Mike teased me mercilessly.

The same approach is applied in my kitchen: everything has a spot and I want it to be easily accessible and thoughtful. I keep extra plastic bags in an empty paper towel roll to keep them from flying around everywhere. I store recycle bags in a basket under the kitchen sink. My dry ingredients are kept in airtight jars with chalkboard labels and measuring scoops inside to easily grab a bit of flour for pizza or baking. 

I wanted to share the tips that work best for me- and share yours with me too!

  • cutting boards, pryex pans and pot lids stored vertically on a desk file sorter-you don't have to move all of them to get to one!

  • salt in pinch bowls stored with pepper, cooking spray, honey, etc on a small lazy susan in the spice rack & lids of each spice labeled on the top with the name, and on the base with a piece of tape with that date opened
  • cute and functional: small jars on the counter with k-cups and sugar with a small teaspoon. I keep it next to the keurig for easy coffee making

  • snacks and pasta stored in mesh/stackable wire bins in the pantry 

  • smaller kitchen utensils in mesh drawers--I like to store my kitchenaid accessories in them

  • the aforementioned flour jars, labeled and stored in the pantry

  • tupperware lids contained in a large bowl

  • a shelf to keep frying pans separate and easy to access

Keeping the kitchen in order makes cooking so much easier and finding a system that worked for me was a huge relief. Most of the pieces I have I found on amazon or from browsing homegoods/tj maxx. It's definitely a process that takes time and you have to find what works for you and your style, but shoot me questions if you have them!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

pulled pork tacos with chimichuri and lime cream sauce

Remember that chimichuri I mentioned a while back? Well, I made it and can say that 1: a little goes a long way and 2: it's got a LOT of parsley in it, just to prepare you.

Having never made it before, I found this epicurious recipe and made one small tweak: I roasted the garlic wrapped in tinfoil at 350 for about 30 minutes. I tend to prefer the taste of roasted to raw garlic, and this helps mask the garlicky flavor for my garlic-hating bf.

Here comes the easiest make ahead meal: both sauces can be prepped and stored for up to three days and the pork is done in the crock pot. I served it with some sautéed potatoes and peppers-just a little planning and you can make this for taco Tuesday!

slow cooker pulled pork
(generously serves 4)
1/2 lb pork shoulder
enough liquid to cover the meat (about 2-3 cups) - we used stock, but you can use water and then season more liberally
salt & pepper coated on the meat before added to slow cooker

  • season the pork with salt & pepper and let sit for about 15 minutes
  • add pork and liquid to slow cooker and set to low; let cook for 5-6 hours
  • remove and let cool slightly, shred with two forks

lime cream sauce
1/3 cup greek yogurt
zest of two limes
juice of one lime
pinch of cayenne, cumin, salt & pepper to taste
minced cilantro (optional)

  • stir all ingredients together and spoon over pork
  • to turn up the heat, add a few extra shakes of cayenne and an extra squeeze of lime to balance it out

By the way: we had tons of leftovers so I repurposed the rest of the pork into BBQ pork grilled cheese. Just in case you needed another reason to make this insanely easy meal.

Friday, October 2, 2015

friday tips: eggs

Couldn't get enough of talking about I am back today with a few friday egg tips

First of all, a request: how to easily peel hard boiled eggs?!

I looked into this a bit because I have had some success and some serious difficulty in this area. The "roll the egg on the counter to crack the shells trick"? Total fail. I have tried it at least 10 times and every time my egg whites are a disaster and I am beyond frustrated.

The best thing I have found is to make sure the eggs are cooled off. After boiling them, rinse them in cold water and the fridge, or an ice bath if you can't refrigerate for a few hours. Then tap the wider end with a spoon and peel--that should reveal a little pocket and you can peel from there. It's still not a seamless peel, but its the cleanest one I have found.

You can see my #instacookingvideo here, and below is an example of the rolling method versus the cooling and peeling method:

A few other things that have worked for me:
  • boiling the eggs in a splash of vinegar
  • using eggs up to a week old as opposed to fresh
Other recommendations(that I have not personally tried): 
  • baking soda in the water when boiling
  • place eggs not in cold water, but in already boiling water
What about other egg cooking techniques?
  • Get a crispy edge on your fried egg by sprinkling some grated cheese on the edges while frying
  • Solidify your egg whites when frying by placing a lid on after the yolk starts to set. This helps them cook fully without overcooking the yolk. You get a still runny yolk and solid whites!
  • Not directly related to eggs, but I do like to use butter while still trying to be healthy...I use a small amount, like a half teaspoon, and use a brush to spread it around the pan. I find that I have always used too much butter just to get it to cover the pan and this does the trick, with less butter!
Send me requests or suggestions for what you want to see next!