Monday, June 29, 2009

Mom's Tomato Sauce....the last sauce you'll ever need

Time to share my mother's sauce recipe! This is my every day go-to sauce. Thanks to mom for giving me permission to share her recipe. I use this sauce for pasta and pizza, and anything else.

The ingredient list is simple: olive oil, onion, garlic, dried basil, tomato puree. The most important thing is purchasing the correct tomato puree. Most tomato purees are actually tomato paste and water. Not good. Make sure you read the label, and the ingredient list says tomatoes, not concentrate. OR, just buy what I do : Pastene brand tomato puree. Be sure not to mistakenly get tomato sauce, or "kitchen-ready" ground tomatoes. You want puree.

Take out your big pot.

Pour in enough olive oil to make a thin coating on the bottom of the pan ( a TBS or two).

Finely chop a medium onion, put in pot, add a big pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent. Do not brown/caramelize the onions, if they start to brown, drop the heat.

Add two fat garlic cloves, minced finely. More or less depending on how into garlic you are.
Add a palmful of dried basil. I know, your palm is different than my palm, but it is probably close to about 1 1/2 TBS to 2 TBS. This isn't science, this is jazz, deal with it.

Stir basil and garlic around in the cooked onions until fragrant. You add the basil now because it is fat-soluble, and you want it to mix around in the oil to release all of the flavors.

Lower the heat so you don't get too many splatters of tomato puree and then pour in a 28 ounce can of tomato puree. Rinse out can with water, and pour in about a half a can of water/rinsed tomato puree.

Bring sauce to a simmer, and allow to simmer, uncovered, over very low heat for about 20-30 minutes, until the consistency is that of sauce. Stir occasionally during simmering.

Pause to enjoy how insanely awesome your house smells.

Use sauce immediately, or let cool and put into small containers. Will keep about a week in the fridge, and it freezes brilliantly. I like to put all of it in the freezer in 1/2 cup containers, so I can take out as much or as little as I need. You'll get a generous 3 and 1/2 cups of sauce from this recipe.

This sauce is good for pasta as well pizza, and pretty much any other application that calls for a simple, classic tomato sauce. In addition to being so versatile, it is also easily replicable. A couple years ago I was the dinner guest of my friend Kathy. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had given Kathy her sauce recipe back when Kathy and my sister were roommates. I sat down to a spaghetti dinner, and could have sworn it was my mother's sauce...just a little different. Kathy let me know that it WAS my mother's sauce, but with a little basil pesto stirred into it before saucing the pasta. A truly excellent idea, Kathy.

If you will be using the sauce for pasta, use as is. If you are putting it on pizza, sprinkle on a little dried oregano. Swirl in olive tapenade or pesto for an extra fun sauce for either pizza or pasta. Sprinkle in a little red pepper flake to make it spicy for pizza or pasta. Use the sauce for baked pasta dishes too. Keep small containers of it in the freezer and heat up in the microwave to dip crusty bread into for a late night snack. The options are endless.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Grape Kabobsicles

A little while ago I saw the idea for these on another food blog. Today was the year-end party for the kids at church, and I wanted to make something summery and sweet, but not a sugar bomb, and preferably healthy. I always loved frozen grapes as a kid, and this seemed to be a user-friendly and quirky way to eat them. I didn't want them too long, so that the littlest ones could manage them, and I needed a way protect the kids from the pointy end of the bamboo skewer.

Not too long was easily solved with the purchase of shorter bamboo skewers. I originally thought to use cork to protect the tip, but I couldn't find the right size in the right quantity anywhere. Then my mother imagined up a great, and inexpensive way. After threading the grapes onto the skewer, push them to the opposite end of the skewer from the point. Next, using sharp scissors, clip off the point of the skewer, and then wrap the end with brightly colored tape.

If you're going to make them, a couple tips. Remove the grapes from the stems first and put them loose in a bowl. This makes threading faster, for you can just grab a grape and not have to pop it off the stem at the same time. Make sure the grapes are VERY dry before putting into the freezer. Put a single layer of the kabobsicles on a baking sheet, and then place in a freezer. In a couple hours, you'll have frozen kabobsicles. At this point you can put them into a plastic bag for easy storage. If you have older kids who can safely thread kabobs without risking injury from the pint, this is a great task to delegate for their own party. The ones I saw in the other food bog had about a dozen grapes to a kabob. With five grapes to a kabob, they all stay frozen as you eat, and you can eat slower. Most were happy with one, although some kids and adults had two kabobsicles. One of the girls today suggested putting pineapple on the kabobsicle as well. I'm not sure what frozen pineapple is like, but I'm going to try that next!

The kabobsicles were a big hit with the kids, and the adults like them too. I'm going to keep some in the freezer for those insanely humid and hot summer days and I want something cool, sweet and refreshing that doesn't ruin my appetite for dinner.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Prosciutto and Cacio di Roma Pizza

So now that I've become accustomed to the brick oven pizza set up....making pizza is once again an exciting and creative endeavor, and I'm having fun inventing new pizzas. This week at Whole Foods, cacio di roma cheese was on sale at a serious discount. If this is a new cheese to you, check it out. It is sheep's milk, creamy and tangy; the cheese is produced traditionally in Lazio, and is considered a "table" cheese since it is ubiquitous in Central and Southern Italy. It is semi-firm like mozzarella, and so good for melting with pasta, on a pizza, but is also good for snacking with jam. The tang is very specific, yet does not offend.

So, a couple ounces of cacio di roma. What else....big onions! Yes I probably overuse these in my panini and pizza...but they are sooooo gooooood. And different every time depending on what beer I use. They make such a good base for a pizze bianche (white pizzas...i.e. no red sauce). The reason they make a good base is not just their tangy taste, but the evaporated beer makes them into almost an onion jam, and they spread so well on the pizza dough, and have just enough juiciness.

Alright...a very present, but not overpowering tangy sheep's milk cheese, sweet and tangy robustly flavored brown ale beer-melized more thing....something salty, soft...

So perhaps this was a cop-out too, but I haven't splurged on prosciutto in awhile (although truly 3 slices is about a $1.50). The thing about prosciutto is that it goes on top of the pizza hot out of the oven. If the prosciutto cooked with the pizza, you'd get prosciutto chips. Not bad, but not the unctuous mouth feel concept I was going for with the onions and cacio di roma atop a crispy chewy pizza crust.

The first photograph is with only two prosciutto slices so you can see what just the cheese and onions looked like, before I put the third slice on. You want to layer on the prosciutto slices while the pizza is still steaming hot, it helps adhere the proscioutto to the rest of the pizza.

I love the detail I get with our new camera yay for 10 mega pixels! I just realized that since the cacio di roma was on sale, this entire pizza, crust and toppings (which fed the two of us for lunch) cost less than $5. Feeling pretty good about that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gorgonzola and Green Grape Chicken Salad

Super delicious quick lunch from leftovers of a roasted chicken.

Stir together in a bowl: 1/3 cup mayonnaise (or combo of greek yogurt and mayo), a couple teaspoons of rice vinegar, and 1/4 cup of Gorgonzola crumbles.

Dice up one large chicken breast and two ribs of celery. Take a couple handfuls of green grapes and slice in half. Mince up a tablespoon of parsley. Combine all ingredients, season with fresh ground black pepper, stir to distribute dressing. Chop up a 1/2 cup of toasted walnuts and sprinkle on top.

Spoon onto a bed of lettuce, and eat lunch!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brick Oven Pizza

Yes, brick oven pizza. Thin-crust, brick oven pizza. In our apartment! In an apartment-sized oven. Results: A perfectly crisp, sturdy crust, slightly blackened on the bottom, nice and chewy within. Back in March I saw a video on making a brick oven in your regular oven for pizza making. Since we are big pizza fans, and there was a touch of "construction" involved, Matt was excited as I was to try this. Fast forward to last month, we went out and purchased firebrick (less than $25), lined the oven, and saw the oven thermometer's needle get buried past 600 degrees, when the oven was technically set to 500 degrees. Three pizza margheritas and one pizza sacrificed to the oven gods later (should have checked the width of the pizza peel before shoving it into the oven...and that boys and girls is how you get pizza burned to the floor of the oven and smoke alarms going off...), I have mastered the new addition to our kitchen.

Matt's friend Roger (the most gracious house guest anyone could ask for) was visiting this week, and having a couple men to cook for created an excuse to make three different types of pizza in the brick oven. To start, we had a classic pizza margherita with red sauce, fresh basil from the pot Matt has going in the windowsill, and fresh mozzarella. Next up was my favorite of the night: green apples, homebrewed Irish Red beer-melized onions, mozzarella and gorgonzola. The final pizza was a favorite with Matt and Roger; it was a perfect combination of red sauce, spicy sopresatta and mozzarella. In the photograph is the sopresatta pizza whole, and the stragglers are one piece of pizza margherita, and two slices of the green apples and beer-melized onion pizza. One perk of the brick oven set-up is that instead of 10-12 minutes for a pizza, you can cook one in about 5-6 minutes. This is great when doing different kinds of pizza, because they come out of the oven in rapid succession, so you can have more than one kind on the table at a time.

Why line your oven with firebrick and crank the oven for an hour before cooking? Because you get a pizza unlike anything you've had at home, even on a pizza stone. When you can't or don't want to go out for brick oven pizza, you can have something almost exactly like it at home, and you know exactly what is in it! The next question is...what kind of amazing bread crusts could I coax from the brick oven with the right bread recipe?

Pizza dough recipe and red sauce recipe are both my mother's, but they'll be a post for another day...need to keep you coming back to read more!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Brew Day Dinner

A couple times a month my kitchen is transformed into Stone Mountain Brewery. Matt labors away for about 7 hours to create wonderful handcrafted beers for us (today he brewed a saison, now that summer is upon us). The man deserves a tasty meal afterwards.

The catch is...I must make that meal with only a little counter space, and without the stove or oven. Naturally, sandwiches or boring salads make frequent appearances. Not tonight!

Last night I made a London Broil, and having leftovers is half the reason to make a London Broil. Slice up the leftover steak and arrange over a bed of lettuce. Add some diced red pepper and celery, and some chopped toasted walnuts (I recently learned that you can toast nuts in the microwave!). Some blue cheese dressing ties everything together (walnuts/celery/steak and blue cheese...all classic pairings).

From now on I think I will always have leftover London Broil on Brew Days!

(the beer in the tulip glass is Matt's aka Stone Mountain Brewery's flagship Brown Ale)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fall Off the Bone Ribs....without a grill.

Someday we will have a house, with a yard, and in that yard will be an awesome grill/smoker where we can do barbecue properly and frequently. However, in the meantime, we have no yard and no deck. I do some "grilling" on my grill pan (although it is most often pressed into service for panini), and of course smoking is out of the question. But Matt really wanted to do ribs. And I wanted the ribs to be as close to properly done ribs as possible.

So, after consulting a gajillion recipes, one satisfactory albeit disappointing attempt and soliciting advice from a couple of Matt's friends (thanks John and Mark)...I have created fall off the bone bbq ribs from our oven. And it is insanely simple.

Equipment needed: foil, rimmed baking sheet, basting brush
Ingredients: one (1 1/2 to 2 pound) rack of ribs (baby or St. Louis, your call), bbq rub, bbq sauce (preferably complementary rub and sauce)

Turn on the oven to 300. Line the baking sheet with foil (I was stupid and did not do this originally, so my awesome fiance was scrubbing the baking sheet all night). Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs (get it started by wiggling your index finger under it and then pull like mad) Liberally rub in bbq rub on both sides of the rack of ribs. Place on foil lined baking sheet. Cover with foil, sealing the edges around the baking sheet, but leaving air around the ribs.

Place in oven for 3 hours. Remove from oven, remove foil tent, and then baste with bbq sauce on both sides. Return to oven, uncovered for about 30 minutes.

Eat them. Maybe with more sauce if you're like Matt.

Don't know what to do for a bbq rub and sauce? Well, if you want a sauce you can get at the grocery store, try either Sweet Baby Ray's or Bone Suckin' Sauce. Buy a bbq rub or make one (the internet is full of suggestions).
We used the most amazing rub and sauce combination from our favorite bbq place down in Anna Maria Island, Florida. The restaurant is called Mr. Bones BBQ and they sell their rub and sauce retail. You can also mail order it from them here. We like the hot version, it is spicy but not overpowering.

Truly you could use any flavor profile on these ribs and make your own rub and sauce. Have fun!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Brie and Black Forest Ham Panini

A new panini has entered the roster. I felt this week at the store that I relied too much on munster and fontina for my panini, in addition to pantry items. Not that I won't continue making my workhorse panini, but change is good! A change with a double-creme cheese is really good! So, I picked up some basic brie and a nitrate-free Black Forest Ham.

A couple slices of Italian Bread, a generous slather of a spicy whole grain mustard (I used Whole Foods 365 brand "German Mustard", a layer of brie slices, and a couple folded slices of glorious Black Forest Ham.

And stay tuned for the Fall-Off-The-Bone oven-cooked ribs!