Simple, Silky Tomato Sauce

marcella

I have often spoken of my deep love for Julia Child, and my girl crush on Nigella Lawson, however there are some others that I have affection for, for example Madeleine Kamman and Marcella Hazan.  Such exotic names aren’t they?  Chef and teacher Ms. Kamman was someone I was also introduced to via public television, I believe as a teenager.  Many years later I bought her large tome, The New Making of a Cook.  Believe me, if you can lay your hands on it, buy it.  It’s truly a lesson in not only French cooking, but in being a true cook.  It taught me about slurry, great pastry crust, and some of the most wonderful sauces.  I highly recommend it.  Marcella Hazan (photo above), who sadly left us in 2013, I became aware of due to the New York Times.  She has a long history of bringing simple traditional Italian food to the American public.

The recipe I am offering today is one of Marcella Hazan’s.  It’s comforting in these days of turmoil. It’s so simple, it’s almost not a recipe, but wow, the end product is seriously delicious! Yes, there is a great deal of butter and no olive oil or garlic, and some onion you don’t eat with your pasta, but believe me, it will be  a new favorite!

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 28 oz can of best quality whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (see my note below)
  • 1/2 onion, peeled
  • Salt (to taste)

Yup, that’s it!

Place the tomatoes, butter and half onion in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  It’s up to you to salt now or at the end, try a pinch or so.  Just remember even though you do not cook this for a long time, it will concentrate, so be careful with the salting.

I’ll be honest with you, even with canned tomatoes, I usually seed them.  All you have to do is cut them in half, wriggle your fingers in them to release the seeds over a fine mesh strainer and bowl.  Then gently press whats in the strainer with a spoon to release any liquid, and add to the pot.  You’ll need the juice, but not the seeds.  Of course that is personal preference, you don’t have to do it, and seeds won’t change the outcome in any way other than texture.

Bring the pot to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, occasionally stirring, and pressing the tomatoes with a spoon to break them up.  Uncover the pot and cook another 15 minutes, still checking and stirring.  Once 45 minutes has passed, check for seasoning, and add salt as needed.  Remove the onion (eat it, cooks treat, it’s delicious), and you’re ready to dress pasta.  And that’s all folks.  Easy as boiling water, but much more tasty.  This will keep for about a week in the fridge, much longer if you freeze it, but I am fairly certain after the first try, there won’t be much left over!

I will admit, I do sometimes puree this, just to make it smooth, with an immersion blender.  Again, just my preference.  If you do this though, put it back on the stove for another 10 minutes at low, pureeing will release a lot of water from the cooked tomatoes.

Butter Note: I am newly re-obsessed with Kerrygold which is an Irish butter, from 100% grass-fed, pastured cows.  I know it from when I was a kid and young adult when we went to Ireland.  It’s delicious and very healthy.  I don’t need to tell you how important fats are for your body, but this is a wonderful and recently more available source.  I don’t know what to suggest if you are vegan, but let me know if you try it and what you used.

Buon Appetito!

 

Easy chocolate cake for the New Year!

Chocolate Fudge Cake
My messy, frosted cake!

Below you will find a seriously good, slightly unusual chocolate cake, and the best buttercream frosting I have been able to figure out how to make!  It’s a little labor intensive, it’s easier to just grab a Betty Crocker box and take the short cut, but it’s SO much better to make your own!  Normally I shy away from buttercream, but I figured out the perfect way to make it light and delicious without the grittiness I usually get!

I did steal this one, but made the adjustments that get the cake to be super silky and very dense.  Check it out below and let me know what you think!

Fudge Cake:

  • 2 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups superfine sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup best-quality unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
  • ½ cup corn oil
  • 1 ¼ cups chilled water

Fudge icing:

  • 6 oz chocolate, melted and at room temperature
  • 18 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
  • 2 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

 

You’ll need 3 mixing bowls for the cake, and a stand mixer or hand held mixer for the cake and icing.  It’s a lot but it’s necessary, I found out the hard way!

Preheat your oven to 350° F.  Grease and flour two 8 inch cake tins, round or square are fine.  In a medium sized bowl combine all the ingredients for the cake up to but not including the eggs.  Use a fork to combine them and set aside.  In a small bowl, or a measuring jug, combine the eggs, sour cream and vanilla extract, combine well and set aside.  (*quick note here, please, please use good extract, and not artificial essence.  That will quickly lose it’s flavor.  To make your own, 2 cups good vodka or bourbon in a Mason jar, and one vanilla pod, pushed down to cover with the alcohol.  Let it stand for a few days, you’ll see the change in color almost immediately.  Keep in a dry cool place and shake every few days.  After about 2 weeks,  you’ll have good extract.  You can keep it forever, and feed it more alcohol as you use it up!)

In the third bowl, if you have a stand mixer, use that bowl, combine the vegetable oil and melted butter and beat them together like mad.  When they look fairly amalgamated, add in the water and again beat like mad.  Turn the mixer to low and add in the flour mixture.  Mix until well combined, then add in the sour cream mixture.  Don’t do it out of order, or skip a step and add all the dry ingredients to the wet, do the two additions of dry then the sour cream, that will make the cake dense and rich.  If you short cut it, you’ll end up with a flat hard cake (my husband said it “hurt” his mouth to eat, but it was still delicious!)  Stir all well to combine and divide up in to the two pans.  Tap the filled pans on the counter lightly to release any air bubbles and put them in the oven.  They will bake for 50 – 55 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Once fully baked, cool the pans on a rack, and when fully cooled, either wrap well with plastic wrap and save until ready to frost, or just start frosting them.  It’s critical they are completely cooled.

For the frosting, you’ll have to do a little forward planning.  Critical step number one is to allow the butter to come fully to room temperature well in advance.  I usually take it out of the fridge the night before I make it and let them wrapped sticks sit overnight and most of the following day.  When you’re ready to make the frosting, plop the butter into the mixing bowl and beat it like mad, for longer than you even think necessary.  Once it’s pretty light and looks whipped, start adding in the confectioners sugar one big spoonful at a time.  This is going to take a while. Critical step number 2, once the sugar is fully incorporated, once again, beat like mad.  In doing so, you’re not only adding air, you’re also allowing the sugar to dissolve more in the liquid in the butter.  It’s not going to curdle, the sugar also acts as a stabilizer, so beat away.  At this stage, I let it sit for a good 20  minutes, beat it again, then add in the vanilla, and then the completely cooled chocolate.  And one more time beat like mad.  Stop occasionally to scrape down the bowl and beater, as you beat it, the color will be come lighter, and the texture will be very fluffy.  Once you’re sure it’s all combined, time to frost!

Find the plate or cake stand you’ll be serving on, and set the cake on strips of wax or parchment paper, like so with the rounded top side down (borrowed from the Betty Crocker site):

Betty Crocker frosting

Dab a tiny bit of the frosting under the cake on the plate to hold it in place. Use about 1/3 of the frosting on the top of the cake, and leave a 1/4 inch border around the edge, for expansion when you put the second layer down.  Next layer should be humped side up. Use the rest of the frosting to ice the remaining cake, including the sides, and once you’re done, remove the paper strips, and you’ll have a clean presentation!

Of course, you can change up all the flavors of the cake by changing the vanilla extract to something else, and also replacing the water in the cake with a fruit juice, or a liqueur.  If you do, just watch the baking time and test slightly earlier than 50 minutes.

Happy New Year all!  Go forth and bake!!

A Traditional Americas Thanksgiving

Hello, dear Readers!  We have had a frenetic past 6 months. They’ve involved a surgery, we’ve moved, we’ve had a sick kitty thrown into that mix, and now we’re unpacking!  As you know, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I am usually running myself pleasurably ragged preparing for dinner on Thursday.  This year thought, Hubby’s cousins are hosting at their house, and so I am off the large hook.  That doesn’t mean I won’t cook, just on a much smaller scale.  I am offering to bring a roasted turkey breast and pumpkin mousse/pudding so they have their favorite dessert, but dairy and soy free to accommodate the dietary needs of one of our newest, tiny family members!

As I look back on many years past, I realized that the American Thanksgiving dinner does still bear some resemblance to what we can see from historical accounts was the first dinner, with the Pilgrims giving thanks, not only for the bounty of a harvest, but also to the Native peoples that helped them get to that harvest. Where on our dinner tables are the squash, beans and corn, traditionally now called “the three sisters” of the past?  It’s more than likely they were on that first Thanksgiving table.  So, when looking for easy to freeze vegetarian entrees, I happened upon this little gem, called Three Sisters empanadas, just in time for Thanksgiving!

The “three sisters” are the trinity of beans, squash (or zucchini) and corn. They’re symbiotic crops, the beans and squash need no trellis for support, because they use the corn for it.  And so you have crops that depend upon each other in the garden.  Quite ingenious of those first Americans! I am calling this post traditional Americas Thanksgiving, because this dish is truly that, something from the Americas, both north and south.  The beauty of this dish is that you can freeze it and the dough and filling for a future feast.

The base is the squash and corn, roasted in a hot oven with oil, salt and a little chili powder.  Then you add green chilies, beans, seasonings, and let it sit.  While that happens, you can either freeze the filling, then make the dough, and freeze that too.  Or, you can shape, fill and bake them for immediate eating, later lunches or snacks, or freeze them for later!  You really can’t get more versatile than that!

On a side note, I am implementing what a lot of food blogs have started to do, which is detailing what you’ve done at this time in years past.  I realized I have blogs that go all the way back to 2007, imagine that?  There is a lot to share, so don’t skip the very bottom of the post!

Three Sisters Empanadas (adapted from The Kitchn)

Preheat the oven to 400 º Farenheit

Ingredients:

For the filling:

1/2 pound zucchini (2 medium), cut into 1/2–inch cubes

2 cup fresh corn kernels (2 medium ears) or 1 small package of frozen kernels

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste1 teaspoon of chili powder

1 small can black, pinto or kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 small can diced green chilis (you can use fresh if you like it hot, but then it’s 2 small chilis, seeded and 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

For the dough:

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

8 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cubed

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 cup ice water, plus more as needed

For the egg wash:

1 large egg, beaten

1 tablespoon water

In a large rimmed sheet pan, lined with foil or parchment, lay the corn and squash in one layer, season generously with salt, pepper and chili powder.  Drizzle the olive oil over the ingredients, and with your hands, toss everything so they’re well covered with oil and seasonings.  Place in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, but after 15 minutes start checking so the corn doesn’t burn.  You want everything browned and a little toasted.  Depending on how fresh it is, it might be drier or full of sugar, which tends to make it burn faster.  If you feel like it, after 20 minutes, if everything isn’t already browned, give the pan a shake to redistribute and allow the other side to brown.  Once it’s done, remove from the oven and allow to cool down.  Check your email, check the mail, clean the bathroom, whatever will take enough time for the ingredients to cool off!  Once it’s cooled, place in a large bowl, and add the beans, green chilis, cumin and chili powder. Mix all together well, taste and adjust to your liking.  Then cover, and set in the fridge to mingle a little.  The mixture should be wet enough to hold together on a spoon, but not watery.

IMG_2399

Meanwhile, make the dough.  I used a food processor, you can use your hands, or a pastry cutter or two forks.  I find the processor is just faster. In the bowl of your processor, place the flours, salt and cumin. Pulse a few times to mix well.  Drop in the butter and begin to pulse until everything looks like lumpy cornmeal.  Then start to pulse while you drizzle in the water a few spoons at a time.  Pulse until the dough starts to cohere and ball up.  If it looks too shaggy/dry to cohere after 1/4 cup, measure out another 1/4 cup and pulse it in, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Once it’s in a ball like stage, dump it all out onto a scantly floured board and knead the dough, until it’s smooth and will hold it’s shape.  Wrap in plastic and put in the fridge to rest, 20 minutes or so.  If you’re freezing it, wrap well in plastic, then put into a freezer bag.  When you’re ready to use it, aloow it to thaw overnight or for 8 – 10 hours in the fridge, then knead until pliable.

When you’re ready to assemble, pat the dough into a log like shape and cut into 12 pieces.  If you like a thick dough, cut into 10 and cook 4 -5 minutes longer.  Roll each piece into a ball with your hands, then flatten out on a cutting board, and with a rolling pin, roll it out into a circle shape.  It should be about 4 – 5 inches in diameter and fairly thin.  This dough is fairly tough, so it can handle thin rolling.

IMG_2398

In the center of your dough spread a tablespoon of the filling. Pull the top of the dough over the filling and press into the bottom half, carefully pushing out any air pockets in the filling.  Then, twist the edges together and press down, crimping as you go.  Mine looked like this:

IMG_2400

You should get 12 out of the batch, but if you only get 10 that’s fine! Use a fork to punch some holes in the dough, so there is somewhere for the steam to go.  In a small bowl, beat together the egg and water, and use a brush to brush all over the exposed parts of the empanadas.  Place in the oven (at 400 degrees) for 20 – 25 minutes.  You’ll know they’re done when they look browner and slightly shiny.

IMG_2401

You can serve these with salsa and sour cream, or just eat them as they are.  They’re so good, and make a fab hand held lunch.  Think of them as home made “Hot Pockets”!

Have a lovely Thanksgiving all, and let me know what you end up cooking!!

 


What Were We Cooking?
1 year ago:

Countdown to Thanksgiving

3 years ago:

Pretzel Bread

5 years ago:

Homemade Pancake mix

I am back! “When Life Gives You Lemons….”

Did you miss me?  I know there have been times where I haven’t posted for a while, and had some legitimate excuses, but folks, this time, we have had some kind of several months.  The day after I published my last real blog post (this one about places in Downtown Detroit) in early July, I was admitted to the hospital for a very unexpected appendectomy.  While in the throes of recovering from that, we had the unexpected death of my father in law’s partner, in the midst of a visit from “the Hungarians”.  Shortly after, in Michigan, and several other states, we had some of the most catastrophic and destructive flooding ever seen.  Since we had moved to a new home, you would think we were immune, but we weren’t.  It wouldn’t have been so bad except that the recovery from that revealed a severe mold issue in the house we were renting.  Flash forward a few weeks and we were moving, to get away from the mold.  And that leaves me where we are now.  In a beautiful house that we plan to call home for a long, long time. (Note here to the Hubby, if I have to pack and unpack this kitchen again in anything less than 3 years, I am throwing it all out and starting over!)

So, you see, when life hands you lemons, sometime there is a gorgeous pitcher of fresh, tasty, icy cold, bright yellow lemonade right around the corner!  I can’t say this past several months were easy, but we are both happier and healthier than we have been in a while!  So, take that life!

I just got the gas line installed for the stove, so there has been sporadic cooking in the last week or so, mostly to keep my father in law from starving, so no cooked posts, but I felt that this past few months might warrant a nice blog post that focuses on some food related things we don’t often think are easy to do.  We’re at the time of year where we start to bundle up and prep for winter, not to mention Thanksgiving, and “our birthday” as my niece likes to call it.  So, I want to talk and post a little about the reason I started this blog.

As the years pass and this blog gets older and older, I have come to realize that I really do have a passion for food, and other people not only appreciate it, but also take inspiration from it. I never could understand why people would look at me and say “Wow, you make your own pasta/pie crust/cheese?  I could never do that, it’s just too hard/time consuming/scary.”  I want to scream at the top of my lungs: It isn’t hard!  There are so many methods it’s used when you cook,  but most of them not are not difficult.  If they were, they would never have survived over the years to still be in use today!  What I mean is, it’s not just the act of providing nutrition for you and your loved ones, it’s an art that anyone with a little bit of time and patience can easily master.  Seriously, as scattered as I am most of the time, I can whip up a batch of just about anything with the right ingredients and enough time (I stop being so benevolent at tripe… I just can not make myself do that.)

For example, think about pickling.  Not the vinegar and heat based kind, which is delicious in and of itself, but the lacto-fermentation kind.  You know, those tantalizingly sour Kosher pickles that you only see in the very best deli’s?  Or in “Crossing Delancey”, for those of you old enough to remember “The Pickle Guy”. Honestly, it only takes a handful of ingredients and some careful sanitation and prep and once it’s done (which takes mere moments) you put it aside and let nature take it’s course.  That’s it!  No more paying $8 for a jar of “Bubbies” pickles (Elizabeth, really?), you can do it too and it’s so simple!  This is why I started and continue this blog!  I want everyone to be as passionate about this stuff as I am, because you CAN do it!

Look at this beautiful jar of deliciousness!  Don’t you want to reach out and take crisp, sour bite?

my mouth is watering just looking at them!
my mouth is watering just looking at them!

I am going to give you the simple rules for making these easy pickles, and I swear, you’ll be a convert in no time!  All you need to remember is that everything must be clean and sterilized…. but having said that, your dishwasher will do that for you.

A few notes before I dive in.  These are the sour “kosher” type pickles, not the vinegar based Vlasic type.  So, once you do all the prep, you simply wait a few weeks, typically three, and you’ll have full soured pickles.  If you want half soured, you go only a week and a half.

How you flavor these is entirely up to your taste.  I added garlic, mustard and coriander seed, along with whole black peppercorns.  If you want to use traditional pickling spice, do that.  The one thing you have to be sure of when doing this, and I can’t stress it enough, is keep everything as clean and dry as possible before it goes into the jar.

After doing this several times, I have come to develop the method below.  These instructions are tried and tested, and I would encourage you not to skimp on them, until you’ve made your own a few times, then you can experiment.

Homemade Lacto-fermented Pickles

  • 5 tablespoons of pickling salt (you can find it in any good supermarket or an Ace/Aco Hardware store)
  • 2 quarts of distilled water (important note below)
  • 8 – 12 pickling cucumbers (Persian or small thin skinned are best)
  • 6 – 8 cloves of garlic peeled and cracked (not minced or sliced)
  • large head of fresh dill, or tablespoon of dried
  • chili flakes, mustard seeds, black pepper corns, cloves or 3 tablespoons commercially produced pickling spice
  • 4 Mason jars, with lid inserts
  • small bowls or flat rock to weigh things down
  • 6 – 8 oak/grape/horseradish leaves (optional)

In a large pourable container, combine the water and salt.  Stir well and allow the salt to dissolve, and set aside.  The reason the water can’t be tap water is that it contains chlorine, along with other additives.  Chlorine is a deterrent to the fermentation process, and so while tap water will work, your results will take at least 4 times longer, and will be less pleasing in its quality.  You may end up with hollow pickles, or pickles that are too soft.  A note about the oak/grape leaves, these are to help the pickles be crunchy and hold their shape, but again, it’s optional, so don’t sweat that detail.

Prepare your jars and lids.  Be sure to remove any stem or end bits from the cucumbers, and be sure they’re bruise and cut free.  Place as many cucumbers in the jars as will fit, allowing a small amount of water to flow between them.  Pop in the garlic cloves and sprinkle in the pickling spice or spices you choose, evenly amongst the jars.  Make sure you have a dark area out in the kitchen that the jars can be stored for a few weeks.  Once the jars are prepped and full of veggies and spices, pour over enough salt water to completely cover them.  They may start to float, but we will fix that shortly.   Once everything is covered, take the grape leaves (1 – 2 per jar) and cover the contents of the jars, tucking in the sides to cover everything.  Over that, place a/several small rocks, or the small bowls with the bowl side up, over the grape leaves, this is to weigh everything down and keep them covered in water, which is critical.  Place the lids and inserts over the jar and tighten well, so the rocks/bowls are pushing it all down into the brine.  Set the jars in a cool dark area of your kitchen or pantry, away from light, and where the temperature is consistent.  Start the wait.

Everything has to be under the liquid so no air is introduced in to the fermentation process, so that is critical.  Keep an eye on the jars, and after 3 days, burp them (open the lids to let any gas out) and check to see that everything is still covered with water.  You can add a little more salt water if they’re not covered but you shouldn’t have to. Going forward check and burp them each day.  As the days go by, you may notice the liquid in the jar bubbling, and the cucumbers changing in color from bright green to a more drab olive.  You can skim off any light mold that might form on the top of the liquid, but if the odor is bad, or there is slime along the top of the jars, discard them and sterilize the jars. you should see a slight foam, or nothing at all on the top.

After 2 weeks, open the jars and take a good smell.  If they smell sour to you, and good, try a small piece to check the fermentation.  At this point, it’s up to you how sour you want them.  If you like them here, remove the bowls/rocks from the jars, tighten them well and put in the fridge.  If not, let them keep going, and check periodically.  Once they reach the peak of your taste, remove the weights and put them in the fridge and eat at your leisure.  A note about pickled garlic, YUM!  It’s amazing what the flavor is like.

Now, once you feel you have mastered this, you can pretty much pickle any veggie with this method.  I find that asparagus is just wonderful, as is cauliflower, peppers and pearl onions, even mushrooms.  And, as mentioned before, you can make these spicy with chile flakes, or play around with the spices, cumin, cinnamon for a more Persian feel.  These also have some great health benefits.  They’re full of beneficial gut bacteria, and are a super way to get some liquid into your diet that isn’t water.

Oh, the possibilities!  Enjoy, and leave your comments below!

Thanksgiving is here (almost)!

Every year the Hubby and I host his family for Thanksgiving.  The attendance numbers fluctuate year to year, but it’s usually no less than 16 people.  In the old house, it was super easy to accommodate the number, but since we have only just moved, we opted out of hosting this year.  We just don’t know how many people we can fit into our little dining room, although I am SURE we will have no problem, once we get settled.

I find myself completely at odds with myself, not having any planning to do, other than making a cake for the gathering we will be attending.  So, I thought I would spend a few days of blogging going over a few of the tried and true recipe’s for what we normally do, and share a few photo’s of the beautiful tables we have set over the years.

Each year, I try to do a completely different table from the previous year, and we do everything real.  Real plates, silverware, glasses, all from a stock I have accumulated over the years.  It was the big tradition of Hubby’s Uncle Henry and Aunt Max to have huge family gatherings at their house for the holiday, and we try to keep that tradition alive.  Henry built basic folding tables, with a T at the top, that would seat over 20 people in their basement.  But they were easily stored for future use, and we did use them last year!

The race to decorate the tables is usually something I really think through carefully.  One year I made my own table runner and loved the material so much, it became the pattern for our wedding announcements and party invites.

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I loved that table, and it got rave reviews!  You can see how long the table was, it went from our dining room all the way into the living room, and I think we had 18 that year for dinner.

Here is a typical menu for our Thanksgiving:

Roasted turkey

Gravy

Mashed potatoes

Sweet potatoes (with Red Hot’s sauce)

Fried or creamed corn

Stuffed celery

Olive puffs

Pickle and olive plate

Roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts

Coleslaw

String bean casserole

Stuffed mushrooms

Dinner rolls

Tofurkey

Cranberry sauce

Pecan pie

Pumpkin pie

Lime Bavarian

Blackberry cobbler

It’s a lot to put on the table, but generally everyone makes one thing, or more, and brings it.  I do the turkey and mashed potatoes every year, along with the pies and the Tofurkey.  Can’t have Thanksgiving with out that for the Hubby!

So, I’ll miss making all that this year, but through you, dear blog readers, I will virtually make a great deal of it for you in this blog this week!

What are some of your family favorites?  Do you have the same group each year, or does it vary?  I used to do a lonely hearts Thanksgiving every year, for people that had no family locally, or just wanted to be somewhere other than with family (you wouldn’t believe how many peeps I had with that reason!) The Hubby’s Aunt Max used to call it her “Mystery Guest”, and I am thrilled that we do keep up with that tradition as well!