Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chicken Tacos with Lime and Avocado

I admire this dish for its natural beauty, I love it for its kindness and I respect it for its intelligence. Pleasantly void of belly-bombastness, it has the good sense to allow simple flavors to shine and be recognized without stepping on any toes. Also, it's pretty.

I (again) use my lazy-ass, stove-top method of cooking chicken (in this case, boneless, skinless breasts): marinate, then cook in the marinade using med-high heat initially, then covering and reducing to a simmer for 15 minutes or so. Once it's cooked through, pull it apart with two forks and let it stew a few minutes on medium heat. If you're absent-minded and you let it go for 20-30 minutes, no sweat; it stews in its marinade and won't dry out too quickly.

Marinate it:
1 lb. chicken
Juice from 3 limes
2 Tbs orange juice
1/4 + cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed or diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Wait an hour, or don't, and cook it like I did (above).

Finish the tacos:
Shredded cabbage, diced avocado, tomato, cilantro and onion.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Less Cooking, More Chopping: Pasta Salad with Asparagus, Feta and Kalamata Olives

100° F for the last 2 months, next 2 months.  This won't keep me from cooking, but it will lessen my use of oven, stove and (due to drought conditions) grill. It's a good time to take advantage of seasonal produce from your local farmers' markets, and though some of it requires cooking, you can often get away with a quick blanch or saute job and have a fully functional meal with minimal cooking. In this case, your total cook time is under 15 minutes and on the stove top.

1/2 lb pasta (fusilli, bowtie, rotini, etc.) cooked according to package
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced (if large tomatoes aren't great, yet, use halved grape or cherry tomatoes)
1/4 cup yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced
Top halves from 1 lb. asparagus, coarsely chopped, blanched or steamed for 3-5 minutes
1-2 Tbs fresh oregano, chopped

1/4 cup red wine and/or balsamic vinegar (I usually combine, about half and half)
1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 Tbs yellow or brown mustard

Drain cooked pasta in a colander and put it in a large bowl. Add half of the dressing and stir it a bit to cool, maybe 5 minutes. Add veggies and stir to coat. Refrigerate for an hour, then add feta and mix. Salt and pepper to taste.

Note: Taste before adding salt, as the olives and feta add quite a bit.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Help Sent, but Keep it Coming

I've received some great hot-weather ideas and recipes, so I'm posting them as they come in.  Here's another picture:

Cottage Lamplight, oil on paper 13"x20" 2006

First, a recipe from good friend and rock star extraordinaire Tom:
Mackerel, arugula and tomato sandwich 
"Halve some ciabatta rolls, toast or grill, spread with fresh roasted garlic all mashed up, top with arugula, red onion, tomato and mackerel. You can usually get the fish in a package, already smoked, in the fish dept."
Here's a Ligurian Tomato Salad from the wonderful Judith Greenwood.

And from fellow RFC foodie Serene:
Chinese Cabbage Salad
"Shredded cabbage and
chopped scallions tossed with a dressing of soy sauce, fruit juice (fresh-squeezed citrus juice or the juice from a can of mandarin
orange slices), sesame oil, a touch of brown sugar, fresh grated
ginger, and rice vinegar). Add optional mandarin orange slices and
optional almond slivers and optional crushed-up ramen noodles. Let sit
in the fridge for at least an hour unless you have no self-control, in
which case go for it unless there's ramen in there."


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Uninspired. Send Help!

Open call for hot weather recipes. You will get writing credit and blogular gratitude. It's 100° here every day, has been for the last few weeks, will be for the next 2+ months. It's dry, dry, dry, so grilling is out, for now. 

I haven't posted in awhile. I haven't cooked anything interesting, so I figured I had nothing to offer. Also, my photographer has been on hiatus, giving me an excuse to slack off. After all, what is a blog post without a picture? Just a bunch of words, that's what. But that's lazy, so I'm adding a picture to justify my plea. Here's a painting:

 Repeat Sign, mixed media on paper, 26"x40" 2006

Friday, June 3, 2011

Easy Thin Crust Pizza

 thin crust pizza with broccoli florets and onion

I've tried several times to make a good, thin-crust pizza and mostly I've failed. This is due to my aversion to baking and my tendency to wing recipes (if I even follow them at all). Baking is different than cooking, for sure, and while there's chemistry in both, I find that I can put together a really nice meal much more easily than I can bake anything from scratch. I'm working on it, though, and I've found a good, thin crust pizza dough recipe that's difficult to screw up. I got the recipe from and it's easy and quick; no rolling pin required, no overnight refrigerating.

I've used this recipe twice, and I think the secret is making sure the crust is thicker around the perimeter so it's nice and thin everywhere else. Also, it seems to be a good idea to pre-bake the crust for 5 (rather than 10) minutes. I haven't tried it without pre-baking, yet.

So far, I've only made veggie pizzas, which can make everything more soggy. My solution? Put down the cheese first, and don't overload it with veggies. A pepperoni pizza will crisp a lot more easily, and I plan to make one of those, soon. Also, I'm going to experiment with the crust a bit and see how it goes.

Saute 1 clove garlic (pressed or diced) in oil, on low heat for 5 minutes. Add a 15oz. can of plain tomato sauce, a few shakes each of dried oregano, basil and crushed red pepper, 1/4 tsp sugar. Cook on low for an hour or more.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pot Stickers

 chicken and vegetable pot stickers

There are variations on what we westerners call "pot stickers," but the one I know best is the Chinese Jiǎozi, which you can find at any swank or dive Chinese restaurant in the U.S. I love this dish, and I now love making it.

Read more about pot stickers here: Jiǎozi

The basics: ground meat, vegetables and seasoning wrapped in a thin dough, then fried or steamed. So, dumplings. I ignored the "ground" part and managed to make some excellent pot stickers.

1 lb chicken
2 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, shredded or grated
2 cups chopped cabbage (green or red)
2 tsp grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, pressed or diced small
1Tbs seseame chili oil
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup cooking oil (I used canola)
1 egg, beaten
1 package wonton wrappers (You can use spring roll wrappers, cut in fourths)
sauce: equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar

This makes 30+ pot stickers, and while it's not a quick dish, it's easy enough and lots of fun. Your first few dumplings may be a little sloppy (depending on your fine motor skills) but you'll get the hang of it and they'll get more consistent. Most importantly, they'll taste great.

Make the filling:
1. Marinate small, skinless, boneless chicken pieces (I used breast tenders) for an hour in wine, oils, garlic, ginger, yellow onion and a little salt and pepper.
2. Meanwhile, chop cabbage, green onion, shred/grate carrot and mix it together in a bowl.
3. Cook chicken in marinade on top of the stove in a skillet with a lid. I turn up the heat to get it bubbling, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, turning once or twice. Essentially, the chicken will be stewed so you can break it apart easily with a fork and knife after cooking.
4. After cooking, put chicken and juice in a large bowl and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
5. Add chopped veggies to the chicken and stir, coating everything with the juice.
6. Cover and refrigerate.

Build the dumplings: (note: this step is best done to music, preferably with a friend)
1. Beat an egg in a small dish.
2. Put wrappers on one dinner plate and have another one handy for the finished (wrapped) dumplings.
3. Place a spoonful of filling in the center of the wrapper, diagonally.
4. Take your fingertips and apply egg along all four edges of the wrapper.
5. Fold the wrapper diagonally over the filling, making a triangle, and pinch the edges shut. If you have excess dough, you can fold the triangle point on itself, making it more compact.
6. Do it again 35 times.

Cook the dumplings:
You can boil, steam or deep-fry these. I chose to steam them because they end up a little crispy without being drenched in oil. To my shame, I used a non-stick skillet for fear of tearing the dumplings, and I winged it. Here's the method I used:
Add equal parts canola oil and water to skillet (about 2 Tbs each per 5-6 dumplings), heat to med-high, then place dumplings in and cover. Let steam for a minute, flip, steam another minute, and then remove lid and finish browning as water evaporates. Remove to plate, add a little more water and oil, and repeat.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Food Books

The other day, I received an unexpected treasure in the mail: a box of great food/cook books, all with copyrights dating from 1960-1964. My wonderful Auntie M sent them to me, and I'm so, so grateful. The one I'm diving into first is "The I Hate To Cook Book" by Peg Bracken (©1960 by Peg Bracken. Harcourt, Brace & Company).

What an amazing writer. I have yet to try a recipe because I'm reading the book for her wit. She's ahead of her time and funny as hell. And while I love to cook, I may not have 50 years ago.

A quote from her introduction:

"Some women, it is said, like to cook. 
 This book is not for them.
 This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking. This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry martini instead of a wet flounder."

Read more about her here: Peg Bracken Bio 

(note for cartoon trivia geeks: she has a famous son-in-law who created a very famous cartoon. Her husband's name was "Homer.")

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dinner on the Grill

Grilled chicken breasts, grilled vegetables with balsamic vinaigrette, fingerling potatoes with olive oil and rosemary

I marinated the chicken breasts for an hour in red wine, olive oil, garlic, tarragon, chives, basil, salt and pepper. Cook 3-4 minutes on direct heat on each side, then move away from hottest coals, cover and cook for 10-12 more minutes. Cooking time varies depending on how hot your grill is and the size of the chicken breasts.

 Veggies on the grill - should have used a red bell pepper (for color)

The vegetables were the star of this dinner, though. One of my favorite flavors is slightly charred broccoli florets doused in balsamic vinaigrette. They're still crunchy, and balsamic vinegar is a perfect complement. Same goes for the bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash. Put rinsed and chopped vegetables into a bowl and add salt and pepper. Add dressing (1part balsamic vinegar to 2 parts olive oil and a squirt or 2 of any mustard) and toss before grilling. They don't need much time on the grill -- maybe 3 minutes each side over the hottest coals -- and they are good at room temperature, so you can cook them first, then throw them back in the bowl with the dressing and toss again.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Mom's Tabbouleh

To this day, my mom's tabbouleh is the best I've ever had. So, to honor my wonderful mother, I made it for Mother's Day.

This is another easy, 1-hour dish, packed with whole ingredients, lots of nutrition and great flavors. 

1 cup bulghur  
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 - 2 cups minced parsley
1/2 cup minced mint leaves
1/3 cup minced onion
1 or 2  tomatoes, chopped
 (or 12 grape tomatoes, halved)
Optional additions:
chopped radishes
chopped cucumber

In a small bowl combine bulghur & hot water. Cover with plate. Let sit 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile make dressing in a small measuring pitcher or bowl:
oil, lemon juice, allspice, garlic, salt, pepper and start chopping parsley and all the rest.

Combine bulghur and remaining ingredients in large bowl. Mix.
Stir dressing and drizzle over bulghur mixture, stirring to coat.
Refrigerate until 1/2 hour before serving.

Serve with Romaine scoops and/or pita bread.

Thanks, Mom!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Braised Pork Tenderloin


I made braised pork tenderloin last night. It's one of my default meat meals because it's easy to cook and hard to screw up. Pork tenderloin is, well, tender, even if you cook it a little too long (as I did last night). You can treat it like a red meat (in red wine and rosemary, for example), or you can season it with restraint, using just white wine and tarragon. It always works.

This time, I coated the pork tenderloin in olive oil, a little salt, pepper and Penzeys Bouquet Garni (a great seasoning resource). I then heated up diced onions in olive oil for a few minutes in a large skillet on low-med heat added the pork, turned up the heat to med-high to brown, turned over the pork and continued to brown (just a few minutes each side). Next I added about 1/3 cup red wine, 2 cloves garlic (crushed or diced), covered and reduced heat to simmer for about 35 minutes. Cooking time will depend upon size of tenderloin, but 30-40 minutes usually covers it.

Remove cover, transfer pork to plate, and cut into medallions while turning up heat in pan to cook down sauce. After 2-3 minutes, add medallions back to pan and coat with sauce for 1 minute. Turn off heat. Great with rice or potatoes and something green.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hummus Shorcut

Hummus isn't complicated to begin with, but I've discovered a shortcut that serves my purposes so well that I almost never make it from scratch. I don't usually buy it from grocery store deli sections because it can be so expensive, and I'm almost always disappointed with how it's seasoned (too much tahini, not enough lemon, fake garlic). I also don't own a food processor (something I'll remedy, one day), so making it from scratch is actually more expensive and labor-intensive than using my shortcut. That said, I have made some really good, lumpy hummus using a potato masher.

There exists a canned hummus that you can season to your liking. It contains chick peas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans), tahini and salt. You get to add lemon, garlic, olive oil, salt, paprika. As much or as little as you want. There is more than one brand, and it usually costs about $1- $1.50 for a 12 oz. can. It's perfect. The work has been done, and all you have to do is season it.

Where do you find it? I first found it at a great little grocery store in South St. Louis. If you have a Greek or Middle Eastern market near you, you can almost surely find it there. I've also begun seeing it in major grocery stores, in aisles marked "ethnic" or "international."

I like a lot of lemon in my hummus, so I add juice from a whole, good lemon, 2 cloves raw garlic, crushed, and salt and pepper to taste. Then I drizzle olive oil and shake a little paprika over the top. The whole thing costs under $2.    

Saturday, April 30, 2011

I've finally added a photo.

I've added a photo to my "basic red sauce" post. I should have a photo for each post, and I'm working on it. Food photography is especially daunting because, if it doesn't look really, really good, it looks terrible. There's no middle ground.

I'm not much of a photographer at all, so, lucky for me I have assistance from the lovely and talented Howard. He took the beautiful shot of ravioli with my basic red sauce. I have a confession to make, though: I wanted to include a fresh basil garnish but I had none. I cut up a piece of romaine lettuce and used that, instead. It needed greenery to look truly great. I consider it a minor and forgivable fraud, one committed for the sake of, if not truth then at least beauty.

More photos to come, possibly some drawings.

A Simple Greek Chicken Dinner

I love how easy and quick this meal is -- an hour from start to finish.

Chicken with lemon and oregano, rice pilaf and Greek salad

1. 1 lb. or so of chicken breast tenders (I usually use already-cut chicken breast tenders, though it's cheaper to buy whole pieces and cut them up, yourself.)
2. juice from 2 lemons
3. generous sprinkling of oregano (dried or chopped fresh)
4. 2-3 cloves garlic
5. 1 small yellow or white onion, diced
6. 1 head romaine lettuce
7. cherry or grape tomatoes (15-20)
8. 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
9. 1/4 cup kalamata olives
10. 1 cup basmati or brown rice
11. 1/4 - 1/3 cup olive oil, maybe a little more for salad dressing. Use your judgment.
12. 2-3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
13. a squirt or 2 of mustard 

14. Salt and pepper to taste

Make it:

Rice first: Saute about 1/2 of the onion in a little olive oil in saucepan on med-low heat for 10 minutes. Add rice, 2 to 2 and a quarter cups water, a generous sprinkling of salt, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring once. Should take about 35 minutes.

Salad second: Rinse lettuce, shake dry, tear and place in salad bowl. Rinse and add tomatoes (I cut them in half so the juice adds to the dressing). Add olives and feta and set aside.

Chicken: Rinse chicken tenders and place in skillet or stove-safe casserole dish. (You'll want a serviceable lid for this.) Add olive oil, juice from 2 lemons, the rest of the diced onion, crushed/diced garlic, oregano and salt and pepper. Mix around to coat the chicken. Set on stove top and turn heat to med-high. It should start bubbling after 2-3 minutes. Turn over chicken, cook another minute or 2, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 10-12 minutes, checking/turning once or twice. Remove lid and turn up heat to brown the chicken a little (just 2 minutes or so). Cut into chicken to make sure it's done, then turn off heat. At this point the rice should be about done. Turn off heat and keep covered.

Salad dressing: Mix equal parts olive oil and red wine vinegar and a little mustard in a jar, shake and dress salad. Toss and serve.

Serve the chicken over rice, drizzling remaining chicken sauce (juice, really) over both.


You can use whole pieces of chicken, but your cooking time will increase. Also, if you use bone-in chicken with skin, you can cut back on the olive oil, as the chicken will provide a bit of fat. Let me know how it goes!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Junk Food Salad

This is my second post about salad. I couldn't include "junk food salad" in my "green salad" post. That would be misleading. Besides, any self-respecting junk food salad is deserving of its own glory, complete with iceberg lettuce, ranch dressing, shredded processed cheese and garlic-powder-laden croutons. It's a whole different animal, and I respect it. As a kid, I would secretly eat this salad, behind my parents' backs, whether during high school lunch or on evenings when I wasn't expected home for dinner. It was sooo good!

You can assemble a junk food salad at any salad bar (including those at the highest end grocery stores), but it gets stupidly expensive, and you're way better off making your own.

Easy Junk Food Salad:
1. Any kind of lettuce
2. Whatever other veggies you want to chop up
3. Lots of cheese, any and all varieties
4. Ranch or blue cheese dressing

Olives, avocado, artichoke hearts, hard-boiled egg, crumbled bacon, chicken breast, garbanzo beans, sprouts, seeds, nuts, croutons, anything you want. It can be as healthy or as junky as you want, but enjoy it!

Green Salad

Hmmmm. Is it worthy of a whole post? Yes, yes it is. It's often the best thing I eat in a day, and along with the obvious health benefits, it lessens macaroni-and-cheese guilt, pizza guilt and even some forms of non-food-related guilt. It's raw, fresh and full of whole ingredients. What's not to like? Well, some people recoil from the preparation, but they need to just get over it. Really. It's plenty easy to rinse and tear some lettuce, chop a few vegetables and mix it around with some oil and vinegar. Five minutes.  

My Everyday Dinner Salad originates from my parents' dinner table:

1. Romaine and/or leaf lettuce, rinsed and torn.
2. Cucumber, sliced.
3. Cherry or grape tomatoes.
4. Diced bell pepper.

Dressing: equal parts red wine or balsamic vinegar and olive oil (maybe slightly less vinegar) and a squirt of whatever mustard you have in the fridge.

Make it interesting:
1. Add feta cheese and kalamata olives.
2. Add parmesan cheese and artichoke hearts.
3. Add gorgonzola (or any kind of blue cheese), pears and walnuts (best with balsamic).

Next post: Junk Food Salad

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Scoopa Beans, Scoopa Yogurt, Taco Sauce and a Tortilla

This isn't a health kick thing, it just happens to be healthy. I had in my fridge a half can of refried beans, a little bit of plain yogurt, green taco sauce and one, almost-cardboard flour tortilla. What did I make? Well, a taco, obviously. And it was fantastic!

1. Reconstitute the tortilla in a skillet with a little oil
2. Heat the beans and taco sauce in saucepan (add chopped onions if you like)
3. Scoop onto warm tortilla
4. Add scoop of plain yogurt

See you tomorrow.

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's Hot Here. I'm Making Gingerade.

Here in Austin, summer leap-frogged (leaped frog?) spring. Hopefully, spring will happen here, if only for a few hours one day, with some strange and miraculous rain. In the meantime, summer has arrived, there's a frightening drought, and it's only going to get hotter and drier.

Feeling powerless, I do that thing people do when they don't know what else to do: I boil water. I have to do something. I make gingerade, or ginger tea. Ginger tea is a staple in many countries, and I first had it in a Korean household. Everything about it is comforting: ginger, lemon, honey. What's not to like? I didn't invent this, of course, and there are many takes on it, but my favorite is this:

Boil water, add ginger, lemon and honey, and let it simmer for an hour or three. Let it cool, and transfer it into pitchers/jars and refrigerate. It's a lovely soft drink that can be as sweet or tart as you want, doesn't have any creepy ingredients, and is cheap and easy to make.

1. Peel and slice fresh ginger (about a thumb-sized chunk)
2. Add to 2 qt. boiling water
3. Add juice from 1-2 lemons
4. Add 1/4 cup honey

Boil for 5 minutes or so, then simmer for an hour, stirring 2 or 3 times. You can add a sprinkle of cayenne for extra bite. A little goes a long way, though.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Artichokes Cellini

Artichoke Dip. Everyone has a recipe for it, tons of restaurants (both indie and chain) offer it, and the flavors are, in order of appearance: salt, oil, garlic powder, onion powder, something you can't identify, and then artichoke hearts. Tasty and instantly gratifying, then a little sickening. Often too much mayo, always too much salt and concentrated seasoning, and the artichoke hearts are either pure mush or pure fiber.

I offer a simple solution to this bummer of artichoke heart mistreatment:  
Artichokes Cellini

I got my Artichokes Cellini recipe from Not Just Pasta, a restaurant where I waited tables in the early '90s. Sadly, the restaurant is no longer there, but some of its recipes live on through many who worked there.

Artichokes Cellini
16 oz. cream cheese
1 (14oz) can artichoke hearts -not marinated 
juice from 1 small lemon
4 Tbs butter
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated or shredded)
1/4 cup green onion, chopped

1. Let cream cheese and butter soften in a mixing bowl at room temperature (1/2 - 1 hour).
2. In the meantime, open and drain can of artichoke hearts, squeezing out the water.
3. Cut off and discard the tough and prickly parts.
4. Add artichoke hearts to cream cheese and butter and mix.
5. Add juice from lemon, and half of the parmesan cheese, continue mixing.
6. Once mixed, transfer to baking dish and top with the rest of the parmesan and green onions.
7. Bake (uncovered) at 350-375F for 20-30 minutes.
8. Cool for 5-10 minutes and serve with french bread, pita chips, or any dip-able, hand-held starch.

You can substitute neufchatel for cream cheese (1/3 less fat) and cut the butter with a healthy spread, but keep some butter, and stay away from fat-free cream cheese. That stuff is just plain wrong.

Where's the garlic? It's not in this recipe, but you can add it. I'd saute just a clove or 2 crushed, in butter, on low heat for a few minutes before adding it to the cream cheese/artichoke mixture. I don't usually add it because the flavors are so nice, already, and I don't want it to step on the dinner that follows. If it's a party food, then go crazy!

Also makes a great quiche.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Onion and Pepper and Garlic

I often start dinner this way:

Saute onion and bell pepper in oil for 10 minutes on low heat, add fresh garlic, either crushed or minced, saute for a few more minutes.

From there, baby, you can go anyplace. I often go to a pasta place. In fact, you could boil some water, cook some pasta, add salt, pepper, and parmesan to taste, and have a simple meal in 15-20 minutes.

The secret to making a dish like this successful is having enough liquid. In this case, the liquid is oil, and you don't need a ton, but enough to coat the pasta and keep it from drying out. A way to cut back on the oil is to add a splash of white wine or lemon juice. You could also use chicken or veggie broth.

Make it more interesting: Add fresh spinach (frozen works, too) and/or diced tomatoes, to the peppers and onions, just before adding the garlic. If you have a lemon--and it's always a good idea to have a lemon--grate a little lemon zest into the sauce to brighten it up.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Word or Two about Herbs and Spices

Fresh Herbs
I don't have a green thumb. My mom gave me a beautiful, thriving rosemary plant, and I managed to kill it in a week and a half. And I love rosemary. I hear that basil is easy to grow, but I haven't tried, yet. I've resided in urban spaces for a lot of years, now, and though it isn't a good excuse, it's mine. If you aren't growing your own herbs, then you can buy them at a grocery store or farmer's market. They are lovely and subtle, and they can be the most important ingredient in many a beautiful dish. When you have them, use them! All other times, dried herbs are great.

Dried Herbs and Spices
I stock a few dried herbs and spices, and since most of my cooking tends toward Mediterranean food, you'll see a theme: bay leaves, basil, oregano, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, dill, tarragon. I've recently added anise, cinnamon and cloves (needed to make pho). I find that I can achieve a lot with these. You can usually find cheap herbs and spices in the bulk section of your grocery store. With the above, you can season various pasta sauces, rice and bean dishes, soups, and meat, fish and poultry. In other words, just about anything you may want for dinner. Many recipes will call for others, but I wanted to begin by sharing my basic seasoning inventory. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Basic Red Sauce

Here's a recipe for a basic red sauce, or marinara. I use canned tomatoes here, because good, fresh ones aren't always available.

2 cloves garlic, crushed or diced
1/2 yellow or white onion, diced
1/2 bell pepper, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/4 cup olive (or cooking) oil - It will still be really good, even if you don't have olive oil.
2 tsp dried basil
1+ Tbs oregano
black pepper to taste
1 14-15oz can diced tomatoes (plain)
1 14-15oz can tomato sauce (plain)

Make it:
Saute onion, bell pepper, carrot, in oil, low-medium heat, for 10 minutes.
Turn heat low and add crushed garlic. Saute for 3 minutes.
Add canned tomatoes, oregano, basil, black pepper.
Stir, cover and let simmer for at least a half hour. An hour or two is even better.

Things I add when I have them are: a splash of red wine, and a shake or two of crushed red pepper for a little extra heat.

You can easily sauce one pound of pasta with this. I toss the cooked pasta with some of the sauce, and then add extra on top to serve. Add a little parmesan, and it's a great bowl of pasta.

For a Meat Sauce
If you want a meat sauce, add ground beef to saute pan and brown before adding garlic. Ground pork, turkey, work fine, too. I stay away from soy-based meat substitutes for this, because the earthy soy flavor seems to step on everything. I generally reserve meat substitutes for burgers. If you want extra texture in your sauce without meat, I'd add olives, artichoke hearts, eggplant, or more bell pepper.


Welcome to my recipe/cooking/food blog. I'm new to this, so I'm just going to start up.

Cooking has long been a love of mine, and though I'm no master chef, I know my way around a kitchen. I'm especially inspired by how the best flavors can come from the simplest ingredients. I grew up in a household that was light on the processed food. This is mainly due to my mom's food knowledge and thoughtfulness and partly due to the fact that both of my parents are really good cooks.  I'm no food saint, though, by any means, and this blog is not a pulpit. 

 My favorite cooking genre is Mediterranean food. My other food passions include: cheap, nutritious, simple and accessible. I'm going to share recipes here that cover those bases and more, and I hope to start up discussions about anything involving food. I think most people have strong opinions about food, reaching far beyond likes and dislikes, and since it's something we can't live without, it's worth discussing (and enjoying!). I welcome your comments and questions.

Here are some basics I keep on-hand: garlic cloves, onions (white or yellow), carrots, celery, olive oil, (cheaper) cooking oil, rice, pasta, beans (legumes), dried herbs and spices, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar. With these ingredients, alone, you have a great dish. Add one or two other things - tomatoes, bell peppers, greens, meat or fish, and you have an amazing meal.

Next post, a basic red sauce.