Monthly Archives: December 2012

Marinara Made Easy

Although I’m often mistaken for one, I am not a nice Italian girl.

MME

Well, I am nice…sometimes…and while I might not be of Italian heritage, I might as well make marinara like I am. I have been cooking for years now, but I never attempted to make my own spaghetti sauce until recently. I think I was intimidated by it, assuming you’d have to be of Italian descent to get good “gravy.”

Well, I proved myself wrong because this sauce is legit. It’s a cinch to throw together and it’s so much cheaper than buying the jarred stuff at the store. As with anything else you make yourself, you can control exactly what you’re putting into it. Control freaks of the world, unite!

Onions

Like all good recipes, this one starts with a diced onion sauteed in some extra virgin olive oil. The original recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of oil, but I think that’s a bit excessive. I eyeball the oil, but can confidently say it’s somewhere around 2 tablespoons – tops. All you really need is just enough to coat the bottom of your pan.

GarlicLOGarlic2LO

Remember how I told you that roasted garlic has a way of wiggling into recipes? Well, I wasn’t kidding. You could certainly use a clove or two of raw garlic and simply saute it with the onion, but go ahead and treat yourself to the roasted stuff if you have the time.

Don’t be like me though – make sure you take an “after” picture of your garlic when it comes out of the oven. Or just include a link to a roasted garlic picture from a different post here 🙂

PasteLOTomatoesLO
Here are the stars of the show! Get yourself a can of tomato paste – open it up and dump the whole thing into the pot along with a giant can of crushed tomatoes.

PS – am I the only person out there who hates when a recipe calls for, like, a 1/4 teaspoon of tomato paste!? Or am I just a cheapskate because I refuse to buy a tube of tomato paste?

Basil

I’ll tell ya where I’d rather spend my money…on big, beautiful leaves of fresh basil. I have no problem using dried herbs with reckless abandon, but basil is so much better when it’s fresh.

Plus, when working with fresh basil, you get to do fancy things like chiffonade! All right…ya got me. Chiffonade only sounds fancy…probably because it’s French. Upon translation, you’ll realize all you’re required to do is stack the leaves, roll ’em up and run your knife through them to get little basil ribbons.

Parlez-vous français?

Yeah, me neither…but I can chiffonade…and you can too.

Herbs

Besides tasting better, fresh basil brightens everything up. Literally. Even after everything’s cooked, you’ll have little bits of bright green running through your sauce.

Note to self: work on more appetizing ways to describe recipes. “Little green bits” doesn’t quite cut it.

BrownSugar

I always add a heaping tablespoon of dark brown sugar to my sauce. I wish I could tell you the exactly where I learned this trick, but I can’t. I can only kinda/sorta definitively tell you it came from one of a bajillion cooking shows I’ve sat through in recent years. Way to retain information, Brie!

Try the brown sugar – it cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and adds a depth of flavor I really enjoy.

Plus, it’s not a party unless brown sugar is invited.

Broth

Before we let this beautiful mess of marinara bubble away, we’ve got to add a little chicken broth, which will loosen things up a bit and afford us a little liquid evaporation later on. The original recipe calls for wine, but I never have any on hand since I’m not a big drinker.

I’d rather eat my calories, thank you very much!

Marinara Made Easy

adapted from All Recipes
Yield: 4 cups
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time:
45-60 minutes

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small Vidalia onion, diced
1 bulb roasted garlic
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 heaping tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
a handful of fresh basil leaves cut into ribbons (aka chiffonade)
1 tablespoon dark or light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth

Directions:
In a large skillet over medium heat saute the finely chopped onion in olive oil for 2 minutes. Squeeze roasted garlic from the bulb and stir it around to evenly distribute. Add your tomatoes, herbs and spices and chicken broth. Stir to once again incorporate everything.

Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.Bubble

I could eat this straight from the stove with a really big spoon…and a smile.

Mangia!

Hearty Chicken Chili

This will fill you up without weighing you down. In other words…it’s my kind of comfort food.
HCC copy

On one hand, I don’t want to eat something that makes stretch pants my only option. On the other hand, I do want something that will warm me up during these cold winter months. This dish gives me everything I want and nothing I don’t. I think I could live off it until spring.

It’s either Hearty Chicken Chili or hibernation.

Since I found this recipe a couple months ago, I’ve made it a handful of times – for many people – to rave reviews all around. I’ve departed from the original recipe here and there, trying different variations on what was supposed to be a vegan theme.

Yep. I have de-veganized this chili.

Onion

To get yourself going, you’ll need to dice up a big ol’ Vidalia onion. Because I’m a baby and onions make me cry, I tend to give it just slightly more than a rough chop. I also don’t mind larger chunks of onion throughout my chili – but if you prefer your onion pieces to be on the smaller side, either suck it up and do them by hand or throw a quartered onion in the food processor and pulse it a couple times.

GreenPeppers

Another ingredient you’re going to need are peppers. I buy bell peppers based solely on price, which means I always go green. Sure, the red ones are a little sweeter, but they’re also about double the price up by me. Added bonus? The green peppers have got something the red ones don’t – they add great contrast – in color, not flavor.

I can’t help it. Color comes into consideration when I cook…because I am constantly haunted by my Fine Art background…even in the kitchen.

Thanks to all the cooking I do though, I don’t think this artist will never starve.

Garlic

One of the main reasons I think this dish is so delish is the fact that it has not one, but two whole heads of garlic. Don’t worry – I’m not trying to ward off vampires. We’re roasting our garlic.

Garlic2LOGarlic3LO

Check out how the color of the garlic cloves totally changes once they’re roasted. The flavor also completely transforms from sharp and pungent to something velvety smooth and sweet. It mellows out and is nothing at all like raw garlic. If you’ve never roasted garlic, try it today and don’t be surprised when you start sneaking it into everything you make. It is so good it just has a way of wiggling into recipes.

Chicken

Here’s where I went meat eater. By all means, you can keep your chili vegan by adding in another can of beans instead of the chicken breasts. It’s still scrumptious. Trust me – I’ve enjoyed many a vegan bowl of this stuff!

Beans2

Or if you’re looking to go carnivore, but aren’t digging chicken, you could brown up some ground beef or turkey and add it to the mix. Italian pork or turkey sausage wouldn’t suck either. I’m telling you though, chicken’s the way to go. I’m partial to leftover buttermilk roast chicken, but if you don’t have any on hand, you could poach up a couple breasts or even use a ready-made rotisserie chicken.

Spices

Before serving, you’re going to simmer your chili with a wide array of exciting spices. No, that pile of cocoa powder isn’t on the plate by mistake…it’s supposed to be there…and don’t you dare leave it out 😉

There’s no point in lying to you…this recipe had me at cocoa powder…Jerry Maguiar style.

Hearty Chicken Chili

adapted from How Sweet Eats
Serves: 8
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time:
45-60 minutes

Ingredients:
1 Vidalia onion, diced
2 green bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 bulbs roasted garlic
1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium or 3 small chicken breasts (roasted or poached)
2 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste (or ketchup)
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
hot sauce, to taste

Optional toppings: scallions, Greek yogurt (or sour cream), cheddar, etc.

Directions:
To prep, roast 2 garlic bulbs and roast or poach a couple chicken breasts. This can be done a day or two ahead of time!

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil along with onions and peppers with a sprinkle of salt. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Squeeze out roasted garlic cloves into the pot, and stir well to combine with a large spoon, breaking them apart and evenly distributing the garlic paste. Add in beans, cubed chicken breasts, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, stirring well. Add in spices and hot sauce then let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Taste and season additionally if desired. At this point, you can serve or simmer your chili for however long you would like to develop the flavor.

Chili

Top off your bowl of chili with some shredded cheddar, a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of scallions…or…lots of all of the above.

Go ahead…you still won’t need stretch pants.

Classic Greek Salad

Can I see a show of hands of who could use a nice, light meal right about now? Yeah, me too.

CGS

The holiday season is officially over – so it’s suddenly socially unacceptable to wash your turkey and stuffing down with eggnog. Now that I just typed that out, I realize doing so should probably be outlawed. Good thing it’s not though because I’d be in the clink big time…I’m talkin’ locked up for life.

Let’s face it – diets are doomed from the end of October through December. I don’t mean diet in the traditional – or fad – sense of the word. I just mean the way we normally eat on the day to day. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my everyday eating, I’d just rather not be plagued by eater’s remorse. So it’s simple enough – I eat well most of the time. Sure, I do things like take a swig of naughty nog every now and again, but by the time I’m done indulging, I look forward to getting back in line.

Maybe it kind of goes along with the whole no diet thing, but I’m not a huge salad person. I’m just kind of “meh” about them since they usually leave something to be desired. That being said, I consider this salad the exception to the rule.

Lettuce
The base of any good Greek Salad begins with romaine lettuce. Not baby spinach, not iceberg, not those humungo bags of salad greens that have fancy frisée…good old romaine. Cut off the bottom and then slice every inch or so to get bite sized pieces. Add these to a bowl into which you’ll pile everything else.

Cuc

Next up: cucumbers. I use the European kind because they’re seedless and you don’t have to peel them. You’ll only need a half of one, but munch on the other half as a snack…or just make another big bowl of this salad.

PepperLO

CeleryLO

I love green peppers in my Greek Salad, so I always slice a sweet Italian cubanelle into rings or strips. I also had some celery on hand that was in a use or lose situation, so I chopped up a couple stalks. Happy accident here – extra freshness and crunch!

Tomato

This was an all green salad up until this point, but we’re about to spice it up with some color! Chop up a couple fresh tomatoes – I like to keep them in pretty large chunks, but shape and size is entirely up to you.

RedOnion

Then, slice half of a small red onion suuuuper thin. I personally love the flavor this adds, but I know some of you are opposed to onions, so I won’t judge if you leave them out. On the fence? Slice up just a little bit of onion and toss it with the rest of the salad. You can pick them out if you don’t want to eat the actual pieces and you’ll still get some of the flavor they provide, which I think is a good compromise.

ChickpeasHere’s a curve ball for ya – chickpeas. I hate olives…all kinds of olives. They’re a staple in Greek Salad, but they’re forbidden from mine. Chickpeas are a good substitution size wise and they don’t add any unnecessary salt. We’ll get enough sodium from all the feta we’re about to add.

Feta

While I hate the saltiness of olives, I adore salt factor of feta. Can someone please solve this mystery for me? If you’re like me and love feta cheese, go above and beyond the amount called for. A little extra cheese isn’t gonna wreck this recipe.

Dressing1LODressing2LO

Honestly, above everything else – the dressing makes this recipe. It’s a little sweet from the sugar and a lot tart from the vinegar and lemon juice. I sprinkle in some dried herbs, all of which are essentials in Greek cuisine – basil, parsley and oregano. Good stuff!

Bowl

I’m likin’ the way those layers look…they won’t last long though. We gotta get everything good and mixed up so that each and every bite ends up with a coating of that delicious dressing.

Classic Greek Salad

adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Serves: 8
Prep Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:
1 head Romaine Lettuce, Chopped
2 whole Ripe Tomatoes, Cut Into Six Wedges Each, Then Each Wedge Cut In Half
2 celery stalks, diced
1 cubanelle pepper, sliced into rings
1/2 European Cucumber, Peeled, Cut Into Fourths Lengthwise, And Diced Into Large Chunks
1/2 whole Red Onion, Sliced Very Thin
1/2 cup chickpeas, rinsed & drained
6 ounces, weight Crumbled Feta Cheese
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 1/4 teaspoons Sugar
1 clove Garlic, Minced
1/4 teaspoon Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Dried oregano, parsley and basil, to taste

Directions:
Add chopped lettuce, tomato wedges, cucumber chunks, onion slices, chickpeas and the feta to a large bowl.

Combine olive oil, vinegar, sugar, garlic, salt, pepper, and dried herbs in a bowl. Whisk together until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings according to your personal preference.

Pour dressing over salad ingredients. Toss with tongs or clean hands. Just before serving, top with additional feta. Note: pepperoncinis and artichoke hearts are delicious additions! If you’d like to truly make this a traditional Greek salad, go ahead and add olives.

Tossed

Does it gross you out that I’m talking about food so soon after the holidays? Should I have taken a hiatus? How do you feel about the fact that I’m not even going to pretend that I’m still full from all the food I ate over the last couple of days?

Listen – the world won’t stop turning – and stomachs will growl surprisingly soon. When yours does, make this salad. You won’t be sorry 🙂

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