The Gleeful Gourmand: January 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011

Easiest Spaghetti Sauce Ever!

And now it's time for a little confession, although if you read the last post, you probably already know it: Before about 4 months ago, I had never made my own spaghetti sauce. I'll wait for the gasping to subside. In truth, it was always so much easier to get a jar of my favorite organic mushroom sauce and dump it in a saucepan. Then one day I was reading an interesting article in Bon Appétit (of course) about making your own meatballs (also something I've never done). Tacked onto the article and the lengthy recipe for the meatballs was this recipe for spaghetti sauce. It was so stupidly simple that I knew I had to try it.

That was the best decision I've made in a long time as far as food is concerned! I was rewarded with a fantastic tomato taste with tons of flavor, and a certain richness without having to use cream. The sauce does end up a little "watery" or "soupy", so if that's not your style, I would encourage you to skip the step with the immersion blender. I use a potato masher and give it a very quick, rough mash. I also use Promise butter instead of real butter to cut down on the calories and unhealthy fats, but you can use whatever you like.

Spaghetti Sauce

2 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes in juice, drained, juice reserved, tomatoes finely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 medium onions, peeled, halved through root end
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine tomatoes with juice, butter, onions, and salt in a large wide pot. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard onions. Using an immersion blender (or masher), process sauce briefly to break up any large pieces of tomato (texture should be even but not completely smooth). Season sauce with more salt and freshly ground black pepper.

One more note - I also find that it needs no more salt than what's listed above - especially since most canned tomatoes already have salt added in. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Shortcuts in the Kitchen - Or, How Chopping Garlic Changed my Life

The first thing I think of when it comes to shortcuts in the kitchen is Sandra Lee. If you’ve ever caught her show, you pretty much know her shtick: Her food is “semi-homemade” which means she uses about 70% packaged products, and 30% fresh products in her dishes. I tried to like Lee at first, but her dishes turned out to be idiotically simple, and not very appealing (If you want to laugh and be horrified all at the same time, see this video of her making a Kwanzaa Cake). Plus, she spends an inordinate amount of time each show making cocktails and working on her tablescapes. Now, if you’re actually someone who enjoys her, I say good for you! I wouldn’t go as far as Anthony Bourdain and call her the spawn of Satan, but she just doesn’t float my boat.

On the other hand, I completely understand the draw to Lee’s show. If you’re a working mom, or a mom with a gaggle of kids, or maybe someone just starting out in the kitchen and you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, her types of dishes can be a real lifesaver. Lord knows when I started out cooking in our married kitchen I was far from awesome at it. I grew up with a mom who really knew how to cook, and I learned a tremendous amount from her. But during my single days when I was working and living with a roommate, it was so much easier to pop a Healthy Choice meal in the microwave than to cook for myself. I didn’t see the merit in it at all.

Then I married a man who actually knew how to cook quite well, though as he tells it, most nights on his own he was eating some salmon over a bowl of rice, or sardines over rice. Gah. To my amazement, he actually knew how to use fresh garlic, not the stuff that already came pre-chopped in the glass jar, which is what my mother used as one of her shortcuts. Get ready to laugh: I thought dicing garlic cloves was the most intimidating thing ever. In fact, well into that first year of making meals I went out of my way to use the stuff in the jar; even if a perfectly fresh good garlic bulb was sitting right there in my kitchen.

Well, eventually I bit the bullet and learned how to use fresh garlic. And as ludicrous as it sounds, learning to do that was the catalyst to my becoming more adventurous in the kitchen, and trying more and more difficult recipes. It was simply the act of doing it once or twice that made me stand back and wonder what in the world I was afraid of in the first place.

I started looking at other areas where I used shortcuts and began to re-examine, like Parmesan cheese. Now, I knew that Parmesan cheese of course did not really belong in a green can, but it was so efficient to just pop the lid and shake. And then one day I bought a real wedge of Parmesan. It rocked my world. Grating it myself into fluffy, airy mounds of salty goodness while stealing slivers to snack on was suddenly so worth it. The green can went in the trash for good, and I’ve never looked back – especially when I realized that one good wedge could last me two and a half weeks, and at the end I could throw the rind into a soup or sauce for extra flavor.

Another dish I no longer cut corners on is garlic bread. Out with the frozen, butter-slathered mess that I was used to. Once I realized how ridiculously simple it was to make your own (I use the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe for Herb Garlic Bread), there was no looking back. One good loaf of crusty bread, some herbs, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil and it only takes 10 minutes start to finish. Literally. In my opinion, it just tastes better.

The same goes for salad dressings and vinaigrettes, and now, spaghetti sauce. Up until this past year, I always used organic spaghetti sauce from a jar. Then I found a recipe so simple, yet so delicious that there was no contest. (The secret is the butter)

Now, lest we get carried away here and you start to think that I always make my own stock, and make my own bread, here’s where I do use shortcuts:

• I buy my bread at the store.
• I get my chicken stock from Mrs. Swanson
• Even though I make them both ways, I prefer brownie mix from a box.
• I sometimes use canned produce even when the recipe calls for fresh. But it is always organic.
• I use a special contraption to hard-boil eggs instead of in a pot. Because I’m a nerd.
• I use pre-made piecrusts. But I do want to start making my own. I’m just scared.
• I made my own baby food for all of a week. Then I promptly switched back to Gerber and didn’t feel guilty at all.

I know there are more, but I can't think of any at the moment. Do you have any time-saving shortcuts you're not willing to part with? Share them in the comments!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pregnancy Cravings, Double the Trouble

A lot of friends have been wondering what my pregnancy food cravings have been like this time around since I'm carrying twins. I was pretty lucky with Liam - I didn't crave a lot of unusual things, I was just very hungry. Nachos was one of the junk foods I couldn't seem to quench, but I also had a huge craving for apples (which I crave again now), and water-based fruits like watermelon and cantaloupe.

Now that the first trimester is over, and the morning sickness (or all-day sickness as was sometimes the case) has abated, I've definitely entered the period of extreme hunger. This is different kind of pregnancy hunger. This is an all-the-time type of hunger. It's an I could easily eat my own hand if I needed to type of hunger.

For instance: The other night I made a big dinner of my homemade meat loaf (made from a 1940s recipe that I switch up by using ground bison meat), sweet potatoes roasted with sea salt and pepper, green beans, and even brownies. Afterwards I felt sufficiently full and satisfied. Cut to one and a half hours later, and I felt like I hadn't eaten in three days! So I was good, I had myself a nice, crisp Bosc pear. That didn't do jack for me. A little while later I had a few handfuls of unsalted cashews, thinking that nuts were a good way to fill up. They actually made me hungrier. Then I had a glass of chocolate soy milk. When that failed to quench the unbearable hunger, I threw in the towel and went to bed to sleep it off.

And the cravings have started to run to more junk food type stuff, like tater tots and chicken wings. But the main one is Mexican food. I could literally eat Mexican food for every meal and be pretty happy. So this weekend ended up being a sort of craving-indulgence bonanza for me. Friday night we went to our favorite Mexican place, Plaza Guadalajara and it was spectacular. It was everything I wanted, and more. Saturday night I suggested Chinese, which I had also been craving (thanks to having recently re-read some of my favorite Amy Tan books), but the food was less than thrilling. My Moo-Shu-Pork had been heavily filled with cabbage to cut corners. Very little else was in there, in fact, besides the cabbage. Now, I like cabbage, but Moo-Shu-Pork is all about how the savory pork mingles with all the different vegetables in a delightful sauce. They should have renamed it Raw-Cabbage- and-a-Pinch-of-Pork. Sunday I made tater tots to watch the football game, and then we got some dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, where I had a few chicken wings, and a fajita-type wrap.

Neither were very satisfying, and the tater tots made me feel kind of empty inside. So that being said, my cravings for now seemed to have been quenched by the mere fact that I ate what I wanted and it failed to live up to what I had envisioned in my mind. It's back to the healthy stuff, and indulging in the cravings that I know will satisfy, like good Mexican food. Anybody care to share their wackiest cravings? Or, if you had a snack trick up your sleeve that always tasted good and satisfied? That's what I'm on the hunt for now.

P.S. - As a pregnant woman, I currently can't stand reading celebrity interviews where they talk about how they ate really healthy during their pregnancies but of course, indulged when they wanted. By having a mini powdered doughnut, once. Give. Me. A. Break.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

The title is something my Dad used to say all the time. And boy, was he right. It may not look like much in this photo. It is not spectacular. At least not to the naked eye. It didn't cost us an arm and a leg. It would be laughed at if it sat in Ina Garten's kitchen. But gosh darn it, it's new, it's shiny, it has an oven light, and more importantly - it's mine, all mine!

That's right, the new stove has finally arrived. And after a debacle involving gas lines in which it had to sit in our garage, and the old stove was suddenly sitting smack in the middle of our kitchen (and which I swore to my husband looked like it was trying to inch closer and closer to me so as to tether itself to my leg in order to stay), it's in place and working like a dream.

And guess what? It does not burn my hands every time I use the oven and range at the same time. This was a true marvel to me, as I kept grabbing the dials and placing my bare hand on the top while baking brownies - without being burned.

So like I said, it's not the most spectacular stove in the world, but it's finally here. And it is glorious.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Christmas Dinner in Pictures (and words)

Christmas dinner was a complete success! The Prime Rib came out perfectly, and this time we did not toss the au jus inadvertently down the drain! I think what makes this entrée so great is that you don't have to save it for something as big as Christmas dinner. I mean, I wouldn't serve it during a weekday, but if you were having company over, you could easily make this and have a winner on your hands. My sister-in-law made a side of delicious roasted fingerling potatoes with loads of garlic, and a spinach salad with cranberries, goat cheese and a citrus vinaigrette, which was the perfect light dish to go along with the strong flavors of the prime rib. We also had my mother's traditional cranberry bread, and my Sugar-and-Spice cake for dessert.

I wish I could figure out blogger and get the pictures above to do what I want them to - you know, using captions, etc. But for some reason the box that should pop up to allow me to do that, well, doesn't. So anyway, here are some pictures of Buck making the au jus (with brandy, yum!), slicing the prime rib, and the cake I made.

What did everyone do for Christmas dinner this year? Leave them in the comments!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Out of Commission - But Only Briefly

I haven't posted since Christmas, but I promise more new posts are coming soon! The holidays were wonderful, but right around Christmas Liam and I got hit with this terrible cold that's going around, complete with a hacking cough that hangs on for weeks. Then, while recovering from that cold, I got hit last week with yet another virus, and was down and out again. Not much fun during our time off! Luckily I have a wonderful husband who got Liam out of the house a bunch so I could just rest and recover.

And boy, did I need it! Because in addition to recovering from being ill, we also found out over the Christmas break that we are expecting twins at the end of July! We are very excited, and I'm sure you can see why being doubly sick on top of being doubly pregnant kind of knocked me out for a couple of weeks.

Regardless, I've got some new stuff coming, including the pictures from Christmas, and a post about shortcuts in the kitchen. Stay tuned!