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Tomato Sauce with Mushrooms

9 Feb

I had every intention of making chicken cacciatore in my slow cooker yesterday and then telling you all about it today. But the day got crazy fast and a head cold hit (I’m waiting for the Day Quill to kick in as I type) and the chicken was in the freezer, and before I knew it, lunchtime had passed and thawing and chopping and cooking to done was just too much to think about.

You know those days? It honestly might have been a pizza day except that I had a gorgeous package of sliced mushrooms in my fridge, and I knew they’d be icky if I didn’t cook them.

This all came together in the time it took to boil a pot of pasta. The kids did homework, I made noodles and sauce, and dinner was ready in what felt like no time, with zero real effort. DH deemed the sauce “awesome.” DS ate it without comment, which is a victory in my book. And DD doesn’t like tomato sauce **eye roll** so she had her pasta with butter. We’ll definitely have this again.

To make it, you’ll need:

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 an onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced (I used three frozen Dorot garlic cubes)

8 oz mushrooms, sliced

1/3 cup red wine (cooking wine is fine if that’s what you have)

28 oz crushed tomatoes

2 tbsp sugar

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

pinch each of salt and pepper

16 oz box of pasta, your choice

Boil a large pot of water, cook your pasta to al dente, and drain it.

While that’s happening, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Saute the onion with the salt and pepper until the onion turns translucent and soft–about 3 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and onion and cook about 4 minutes, until the mushrooms have started to brown up a bit.

Stir in the red wine and cook about 3 minutes. Then stir in the tomatoes, sugar, and spices, bring to a boil, and simmer the whole mixture until the pasta is finished. Sprinkle with Parmesan if desired, and enjoy.

Fettuccine with Asparagus and Salmon

24 Jan

It’s nine degrees as I type this. Nine. And it was a very, very cold weekend–DH took our son to a Boy Scout event and the poor kids’ dishwashing water was frozen.

You’d think I’d break out the Crockpot for a steaming bowl of chili or chicken and sausage. I, however, wanted something lighter. Maybe I’m living out some summer fantasies at the dinner table, but when I came across a recipe for a very light pasta, fish, and veggie dinner, I had to try it.

This started out differently–I substituted broth for water, added lemon (and then more lemon), upped the asparagus-to-noodle/fish ratio substantially, and tossed in some fresh basil that wasn’t called for in the original recipe. I also cooked the fish differently than the original recipe called for (they wanted you to nuke plain salmon–um, yuck) and spiced it up a bit.

The result was good. It could use a little something, though. Next time, I’ll toss in a pint of halved cherry tomatoes. I added some more lemon when I reheated this on night 2 and that helped a lot, so I’ve adjusted the recipe accordingly.

We got three dinners out of this, which makes me happy on a weekend. I served it with some steamed broccoli and a glass of red wine. Knowing it’s diet-friendly is our little secret. 😉

This is a great, simple dinner that’s perfect any time of year. I would absolutely serve it to company with a side of hearty garlic bread (adding in those cherry tomatoes). To make it. you’ll need:

1 pound fettuccine

2 pounds asparagus, cut into one-inch pieces

2 tsp olive oil

5 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (these will not make this hot–I promise!!)

1/2 cup hot chicken broth

1/4 tsp salt

2 6-oz salmon fillets, skinless

2 tsp lemon pepper

The juice of 2 lemons

A handful of fresh basil leaves

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle the lemon pepper all over the salmon, coating both sides, and place it into a small casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Bake it for 15 minutes or so, until it’s cooked through. Let cool. (I did this step in the morning and set it in the fridge all day).

Get a large pot of water boiling, salt it liberally, and cook fettuccine until it’s al dente (start on the sauce while this goes). Drain well.

In a large skillet (I used my Calphalon Everyday pan), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and saute about 2 minutes–don’t let the garlic brown! Add asparagus and saute about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add hot chicken broth and salt, cover pan, and let cook about 2 more minutes. Uncover, let it go one more minute, stir in the lemon juice, and remove it from the heat.

Use your fingers to break the salmon apart into chunks. Add to sauce mixture. Return fettuccine to its cooking pot and pour sauce over it. Toss together and serve with a little grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Not Your Mom’s Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

6 Jan

I told you the other day that I’m re-introducing beef into my diet after 13 years. I made cheeseburgers for New Year’s Day and couldn’t think of a better way to use an extra pound of ground beef (I bought one of those big value packs at the grocery store and froze the leftover) than spaghetti and meat sauce. There are days I have the palate of a five-year-old, and what five-year-old doesn’t love pasketti?

That said, this recipe for meat sauce has some grown-up flair. I’ve added some balsamic vinegar to it, which gives it a little sophisticated oomph. This isn’t the sweet sauce you’ll find at your local Italian chain restaurant. It’s a bit cacciatore-ish, and I think that’s a very good thing.

There are a few tricks to this. First, if you have one, use your food processor to pulverize your onions. I learned that trick when I complained to a friend that my husband hated anything with chunks of onion. She had the same issue, and taught me that giving them a spin in the Cuisinart turns them into bits so small that the most onion-hating hater out there won’t know the veggies are in the recipe, but you still get their flavor. In this case, softening them for a few minutes makes them wonderfully sweet.

You’ll see that once the onions and spices and garlic are yummy and soft, you remove them from the pan, crank the heat, salt it a little, and put the meat in. You want the meat really brown. Caramelized. It gives the sauce a wonderful texture–far from mushy or boring–and a heartier taste. Don’t mess with the meat too much. Lay it in the pan, let it brown up, and then simply flip it over and brown the second side. Then break it up and stir.

I made this sauce at lunchtime, sealed it up in a Rubbermaid container, and let it sit in the fridge until dinnertime, and then I made the pasta and combined our servings together. That few hours makes a remarkable difference in the flavor–it mellows and matures in the cold box. Just don’t mix everything together in one shot if you want leftovers–the spaghetti will get mushy by day 2. Put the pasta on plates, top with sauce, and mix together each serving individually, and then store the pasta and sauce separately for the second meal.

Now, just because I’m eating beef again doesn’t mean you have to. If you’re not a cow-ivore, use ground chicken in this recipe. It mimics the texture of beef better than ground turkey and absorbs whatever flavor you cook it with. It’ll taste just about the same as the beef version.

This is both young and mature, comforting and intriguing, and really delicious. My son loved it and had two servings. My daughter doesn’t like spaghetti (freak) so doesn’t count. DH liked it but probably would have preferred a sweeter, more traditional red sauce–that may be my fault for not warning him about the difference before he started eating. I thought it was really good. I hope you’ll try. You’ll need:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium or 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped very fine

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

2 tsp Italian seasoning, divided

3 cloves of garlic, minced


1 pound ground beef

28 oz canned crushed tomatoes

2 tsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, 1 tsp Italian seasoning and the red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook about 1 more minute, stirring constantly.

Remove onion mixture from pan into a bowl. Set aside. Raise heat to medium-high to high, depending on your stove’s power.

Sprinkle the pan with salt. Crumble ground beef into the pan in a single layer and leave it alone for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the bottom side is a deep golden brown. Carefully use a spatula to flip the beef over (you’re not stirring), and let the second side brown.

Break up the beef with your spatula. Stir in onion mixture and second teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, and balsamic. Lower heat to low and simmer about a half-hour, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste. Put in a glass or plastic container and refrigerate until dinner. Serve over hot cooked pasta with grated Parmesan cheese.

I marked this as gluten-free because the sauce itself is–you’d obviously have to use GF pasta to get the whole recipe that way. 🙂

Pasta with Olives and Tomatoes

10 Dec

DH had lunch with a client in Wilmington, Delaware’s Little Italy district. And that may not sound like much, but smaller cities take their Little Italy districts very seriously (Want proof? Go look up the crime stats for Baltimore’s Little Italy and compare it to those for the surrounding city. Little Italy indeed!).

We didn’t sit down to dinner until 8:30 last night, both propping our eyes open with toothpicks. I’d fixed this in the afternoon, chilled it, and popped it into the microwave once things settled down enough for us to eat, not expecting much reaction at that time of night. DH took a bite, looked at me, and said, “Seriously? This is better than what I had for lunch today.”

Love. That.

This started as a recipe from Everyday Food, which is part of the Martha Stewart empire. I’m not a huge Martha fan, but this looked simple and tasty. And it was. The garlic and olive brine infuse the olive oil, making this simple-looking dish pop with flavor. It’s good warm or room temp. And I’m really looking forward to leftovers tonight.

My only caution on this one is to watch the Parmesan. It’s salty, and so are the olives. Taste this before you add more cheese when you put a scoop on your plate. This would be great with some shrimp, diced chicken, or even some sliced smoked salmon, which is what I plan to add in next time.

To make it, you’ll need:

1 pound pasta (I used rotini; Martha recommended penne)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (don’t skimp on the cheaper stuff!)

2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely minced

2/3 pound cherry tomatoes, halved (I used 1 1 /2 pints)

1 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

(Martha wanted parsley in this. I think parsley tastes like old shoes, so we skipped it. Ick.)

Cook and drain pasta.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, just until you start to smell it (don’t let it burn!). Add the tomatoes, oregano, and red pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until you start to see juice in the bottom of the pan–it was about 6 minutes for me.

Add the sauce, olives, and cheese to the pasta, Stir to combine. Enjoy.

Crockpot Meatballs (and Spaghetti)

4 Nov

Somewhere along the line, my kids feel in hard love with meatballs. Which is odd, because DH and I don’t really eat them–I don’t do beef much, and he doesn’t like ground meat mixed with other things and cooked. But the kids begged and the husband went on a business trip, and I started messing around with food, and then shrugged and tossed it all into the slow cooker when time ran out.

Dinnertime came. And you’d have thought I imported Michel Richard to the house for a six-course gourmet meal. There were hugs and high-fives and whoops of joy and lots of “best Mommy ever!”s.

(They were pretty awesome, I have to admit. Tasty and the perfect texture and really comforting).

I mixed up the meat and formed the meatballs on Tuesday night, knowing I had a crazy-busy day Wednesday. My plan was to cook them on the stove the next day. But life intervened–the field trip I chaperoned ran long and a new work project fell from the sky (thank you, sky!) and I remembered ballet class, and realized there would be no time for simmering in a pot. So I did what any harried mom does.

I said a little prayer and tossed them into the crockpot. Raw. With sauce. And then I boiled up some spaghetti and ran around being all crazy until dinnertime.

It worked. It worked really well. It worked so well, in fact, that you’ll never catch me browning meatballs again. Because they were delicious. We had some last night and we’ll have more tonight, and the rest will be frozen in individual portions to be thawed and chucked atop pasta or thrown into rolls on future Hurricane Days.

I used ground turkey and this recipe made three dozen meatballs for me. You can use beef. But since you’re not browning these first, using anything but the very leanest beef you can find will result in an oil slick atop the sauce when all’s said and done. Nobody likes that. So get the least-fat ground beef you can. Because you’re slow cooking these, it won’t matter in the taste and texture departments.

I know these are going to seem heavily-spiced as you’re forming them. The house smells of garlic. Trust me. Slow cooking spices tones them down quite a bit. They will not be strongly flavored when they’re finished, but they will be deliciously Italian.

I hope your family enjoys these as much as mine did–you only get to be best mom ever occasionally, and we all need to hear it every so often. To make these, you’ll need:

1 pound (ish) ground turkey or very lean ground beef (I used 1.33 pounds)

1/2 cup Italian style bread crumbs

2 tbsp dried onion flakes or finely diced fresh onion

1 tsp garlic powder, or 1 clove garlic, finely (FINELY!) diced

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

1 large jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce or a quart or so of homemade

In a large bowl, beat the egg. Dump in the ground meat, breadcrumbs, onion, garlic and salt. With your fingers, gently fold it all together until it’s blended (using a spoon or fork will give you tough meatballs–keep your movements very light and don’t smash the meat together).

Form into meatballs–mine were about ping-pong ball size. Either wrap and store in the fridge overnight, or keep moving along.

Spray your slow cooker with cooking spray or olive oil. Pour enough sauce in the cooker to completely cover the bottom. Layer meatballs with sauce, giving the meatballs a little room to groove so they won’t stick together. Finish with sauce so all the meatballs are covered.

Cook on low 6-8 hours or high 3-4 hours, or some combination of that (each hour on high equals two hours on low). Serve over spaghetti, on rolls, or however you’d like.

Baked Ziti

10 Sep

This is another of those recipes I’ve handed out a billion times, so apologies (again) to those who’ve seen it before. It is my first go-to recipe to take to new moms and sick people and friends who need a dinner in the fridge, and my number-one choice for a simple, cheap recipe my family will gobble down time after time. And I know everybody has a ziti recipe in their arsenals, but I’ve simplified this one to give that wonderful creamy, cheesy texture without needing a counterful of pots and pans and gadgets.

I have no idea where I got the original version of this recipe–it was the first dinner I played with, so it’s been awhile. The original had you layer ziti and sauce with cheese, so you had a layer of pasta, a layer of cheese, a layer of pasta, and a layer of cheese. Lovely. But time-consuming and a pain in the rear, even back before kids and family madness.

I combined the cheese layer and the sauce, so you end up with pasta in a delightful creamy sauce that’s delicious on its own. You ricotta haters (I hear you!), see the photo below. Do you see ricotta? No, you don’t. What you see and taste is yummy. Even if your family howls at soft cheeses, give this one  a go. They’ll never notice it.

If you’re taking this to someone else, you can stop before you bake it up and give it to them “raw” with a note to stick it in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, which is easy enough. They’ll get a fresher-tasting dinner than if you cook it all the way. But you certainly can cook it all the way and give it that way, or cut it up and freeze it, which we frequently do. It’s a great make-ahead freezer meal.

I usually bake this in a Pyrex dish, but foil works just fine (as in the photo above) for days you’re transporting it. Just bake it for less time–keep an eye on it after about 25 minutes so the pasta doesn’t dry out. I like mine browned and crunchy around the edges, but bake it to your desired level of done-ness.

So here you go. I hope you love this. We do.

Baked Ziti

One pound ziti noodles, cooked al dente (they’ll cook more in the oven) and drained.

One 24-oz jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce OR three cups of homemade sauce (purists, relax–it’s all good)

One 15-oz container of ricotta cheese, part-skim works fine

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese

1 – 2 cups shredded Mozzarella or Italian blend cheese, depending how cheesy you want this.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, stir together Ricotta, beaten eggs, and Parmesan. You can add Italian seasoning, garlic, or whatever flavors you like to this mixture if you want.

Using the pot you boiled the pasta in, combine the pasta, sauce, and cheese mixture together until the sauce is uniform. Pour that into a 9 x 13 dish sprayed with olive oil or nonstick spray. Sprinkle Mozzarella cheese on top. Stop here if you want to give this un-baked to someone. Otherwise, Bake for 30 – 40 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

End-Of-Summer Tomato Chicken, and a Sacrificial Foot

2 Sep

So my plan today was to make a chicken and pasta dish inspired by the flavors of bruschetta. You know bruschetta. Tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and a little cheese on toasted bread slices? Yum, right? I got all of my ingredients together and started cooking, and ended up with something that was really tasty and fresh and simple, but not like bruschetta. I’ll keep working on that.

I also hurt my foot. I’ll survive, but want you to know the sacrifice this dinner was, all so I could give my beloved readers this recipe. **cue violins** More on that in a few, just for kicks and giggles.

I didn’t want to use diced tomatoes because I didn’t want them to cook down into a sauce, so I went with cherry tomatoes. They pop open when you cook them in a pan, and their juices mix with whatever else is in the pan and it’s all nummy and good without cooking down.

I also thought I’d start with an onion, and realized I didn’t have one. Weird. I did have a shallot, so I went with that. You can use either, so long as it’s finely diced.

I say to slice the chicken into two thin pieces. That means butterfly it (cut it open like a book, holding your hand on top of the breast while the knife slices through the middle of it underneath your palm, giving you the top and bottom of a breast, not into strips) but cut all the way through. I had whole breasts in the freezer so went with that, but you could also just buy the thin-sliced chicken breasts at the grocery store and skip that step. You want a thin cutlet of chicken for this. Either way works.

The olives are optional. I had them and threw them in on a whim. The lemon juice was also a whim, but I like it–I sprinkled it in after tasting one of the tomatoes in the cooked dish, and it complimented those and the oregano.

We ate this over farfalle noodles (bow tie pasta) with some steamed green beans done quickly in the microwave, and everyone liked it–DH actually raved, “This is excellent.”  I have it marked as a gluten-free recipe; just omit the pasta or use rice pasta to keep it that way. The chicken is tender and with the tomatoes, olives, and other ingredients, pops with a fresh, slightly salt-kissed, and oh-so-subtle lemon that was wonderful. We’re adding it to our regular dinner rotation. I hope you do too.

To make my end-of-summer tomato chicken, you’ll need:

Olive oil

Two boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced through, or four thin-sliced breasts from the butcher

Salt and pepper

One clove of garlic, diced

One large or two small shallots, or half an onion, finely diced

1 1/2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes

1 tbsp fresh oregano (or 1/2 tbsp dried)

2 tbsp fresh basil (or 1 tbsp dried)

1/4 cup sliced olives (I used green, but black would work too)

The juice of 1/2 lemon

Heat a large flat pan over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, coat the bottom with olive oil. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and saute it until it’s lightly brown. Remove it to a plate.

Turn the heat down to medium-low. In the same pan, cook the garlic and shallot or onion for about a minute, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes and cook those until most of them burst, stirring every few minutes and tossing them in the shallot/garlic mixture.

When the tomatoes are about done, nestle the chicken back into the pan. Spoon the tomato mixture on top of the chicken. Cover it and let it cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the olives and herbs, sprinkle with the lemon juice, and serve over pasta with shredded Parmesan cheese.

Ploy for Sympathy: Yes, I had a kitchen accident making this dish. It was late in the day and I remembered an evening interview I had to do for my paying work, and I was flying around the kitchen like a madperson. I plopped the chicken into the pan a bit too enthusiastically, the oil sloshed out, and I paid the price for my bare feet. It’s a lovely burn, red and burny. All for you, dear readers. The sacrifice I make, you see? 😉 So the lesson is to watch the rushing around when hot oil’s concerned, and you might want to wear shoes when you cook if you’re an uncoordinated spaz like me. 🙂

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