Sunday, August 26, 2012

Roasted Garlic and Basil Pasta Sauce

This is a very flexible sauce. I've included a vegetarian variation for you within the recipe and a few carnivorous suggestions at the end. Use fresh tomatoes whenever possible. If none are available, I like a brand of tomatoes that come in a box from Italy. Beautiful and just the right consistency without any of the BPA you would get in cans. BPA is still not one of my preferred seasonings. 

If you grow tomatoes, you can save them for the sauce by rinsing, coring, chopping, and putting them into freezer bags. Measure 1 - 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes into each bag and you won't need to buy canned tomatoes.

Roasted Garlic and Basil Pasta Sauce


2 full heads of garlic, separated, roasted*, and peeled - do not chop the cloves they must be left whole
3 1/2 pounds tomatoes
1 T pure olive oil
1 onion
A good cup or more of fresh basil, rinsed and torn
6 oz (or more if necessary) of good imported Italian tomato paste
1 cup of beef stock (**vegetarian variation below)
1 cup of good red wine
1 bay leaf
I do not use salt. If you do, don't tell me.
1/2 t or so of fresh ground black pepper
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t dried crushed rosemary
if you are a true fan of garlic, add a few teaspoons of powdered garlic too. I do and it's delicious. Granulated garlic has a distinctly different flavor from fresh whole roasted cloves and add a terrific depth to the flavors.
1 Tablespoon or so of brown sugar (depends on the acidity of your tomatoes, you may not need any sugar)

What to do:

*roast the garlic on a pan in the oven (a toaster oven is fantastic for this). 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 12-15 minutes. Let them roast until the papery part starts to brown and they feel softened when you poke them. Allow to cool naturally on the pan while you start the rest of the sauce. I find it easiest for my arthritic hands to peel them if I chop off one end. This is another of my favorite rather messy jobs that make the house and your hands smell simply wonderful!

Rinse, core, and rough chop the tomatoes (see Note). Put them in a bowl and dig in with your hands and squish them a bit.

Note: If you like your sauce smooth, you will want to peel the tomatoes. Unfortunately, if you do that you pitch a great lot of vitamins and fiber, which is not very mindful. This sauce will take a couple hours to cook and much of the peel will break down. I prefer a rather “lumpy bumpy” sauce instead of smooth and love the peel. Give it a try, you may be like me and never peel again!

Rough chop the onion and put it in a bowl. Rinse, pat dry, and tear the basil into pieces; place in a bowl. Measure the stock and wine. Measure and place all seasonings in a bowl.

**you can skip the beef stock if you are a vegetarian. Replace the cup of stock with more tomato and wine in the proportion you prefer.

How to cook the sauce:

In a very large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer and dance, add the chopped onion. Sauté until the onion has softened. You can brown the onions or not. Browned onions add a wonderful savory element to the sauce, but it is not absolutely required by law.

Add all the remaining ingredients to the pot and bring to a nice simmer. The sauce will be a bit thin. That’s ok. Let it simmer at least two hours to reduce a bit. If at that time it is not thick enough for you, add a few more squishes of tomato paste (I love the tomato paste that comes from Italy and is in a tube just like toothpaste!). Stir frequently. As you near the two hour point, taste and adjust the seasonings. When the sauce is as thick as you like cover it with a lid and keep it simmering on low until the pasta is ready. I usually cook this sauce at least three hours, but it has also gone on a simmering quite a bit longer.

You may “need” to check the taste a few times. A nice piece of chewy bread is good for dipping into the sauce…. as often as you like. A cook cannot be too sure, after all, your reputation is on the line…


If you are a meat eater, this is a wonderful sauce for adding ribs, meatballs, or your favorite sausage. Make sure you brown the meats well first. Depending on the meat, you may want to extend the cookery time another hour or so. Meatballs will be fine with an hour or two of cookery, but ribs will enjoy a longer simmer until they are tender.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Corn and Hatch Chili Quesadilla

I went to the HEB the other day and was greeted with the awesome aroma of roasting Hatch chili peppers. What can you do? You buy them, of course and make as many things as possible with them.

Last night I mixed up a nice pyrex container of corn, Hatch chilis and parsley. The plan, to stuff it all inside tortillas and make quesadillas!

Corn and Hatch Chili Quesadilla
nutrition facts, Serves six


1 1/2 cup whole kernel corn - your choice of thawed from frozen or fresh scraped from the cob
1/2 cup roasted and peeled Hatch chilis (hot or mild as you prefer), rough chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 t smokey paprika
8 oz Monterrey Jack Cheese
6 large flour tortillas
1 can fat free black bean frijoles
1 1/2 cups salsa
non-stick spray


Measure and chop the corn, chilis, and cilantro. Mix in a Pyrex dish if you want or the bowl of your preference.

Put the black bean frijoles in a small casserole with a lid (you can use regular frijoles if you like).

Assemble all the other ingredients on the counter.

Lay out three of the tortillas on a work surface (I used two cutting boards).

Sprinkle half the cheese on the tortillas. Divide the chili mixture among the tortillas spreading the filling out to about half an inch from the edges.

Sprinkle the other half of the cheese on top of the chilis mix.

Top each with paprika and then place the remaining three tortillas on top sandwich style.

Heat a large non-stick skillet to medium. Hover your hand over it and when it is very hot, remove from the burner and give a spritz with the non-stick spray. Carefully lift one of the quesadillas and place in the pan.

This is a good time to nuke the frijoles.

Use a spatula and press the quesadilla while it cooks. Not all the time, just every now and then. When the cheese starts to melt you will be able to tell by how it feels when you press. This is a good time to check the bottom of the tortilla to see if it is getting nicely browned.

When it is brown on the bottom, spray the top tortilla with non-stick spray and flip it over. Continue to cook until that tortilla is browned. Remove to a plate and cover to keep warm while you cook the remaining two quesadillas.

Divide the frijoles over the top of each quesadilla and top with salsa and, if you like, more cheese.

Slice in half to serve. Only my 23 year old son can eat an entire quesadilla and I do not suggest that the rest of you even try. Half is good. Enjoy it with a large side salad.

Taco Salad

When you want some great Tex-Mex food but you don't want all the calories of a tortilla, just put all the insides together on your plate in salad form!

Taco Salad
nutrition facts, serves four

Excellent Ingredients:

1 pound ground turkey, extra lean
1/2 t olive oil
1 T chili powder
1 t cumin
1 1/2 C Salsa 
1 1/2 C black beans, canned
6 C lettuce, torn
15 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 C onion, chopped

1 avocado, diced
1 lime, juiced
Optional: Cheese, sweet red pepper, jalapenos, serranos, Hatch chilis, more Salsa, or Tabasco

What to do:

Drain and rinse the black beans. Prepare the lettuce, tomatoes, and onion. Dice the avocado and squish the lime over the pieces.  Prep the optional ingredients of your choice.

Put the olive oil in a large skillet or pan. Heat over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add the turkey, stir and cook until the turkey is fully cooked. Drain any excess oil and broth from the turkey.

Return pan with turkey to the stove and stir in the chili powder and cumin. Saute about a minute - do you notice a change in the fragrance of the seasonings? Delicious.

Add the salsa - do not pre-measure the salsa and dump it all in at once. Add a little at a time until you get to the point where the turkey is well sauced but not excessively so. You want to be able to push the meat to one side and not have rivers of juice running all over. If that happens you may want to add a tablespoon of tomato paste to thicken it up a bit. Allow to simmer on low while you start the salad.

Divide the lettuce among four dinner plates. If it looks skimpy on the lettuce, feel free to add more. Lettuce has so few calories you should eat as much as you want.

After the meat has simmered 10 minutes, divide the mixture on top of the lettuce, mounding it in the center of the plate. Leave plenty of lettuce around the edge, this is where you will put most of the other ingredients.

Divide the tomatoes, onion, and avocado around the mounds of meat. If you are using peppers, arrange them over the entire plate, including the meat mountain. Top with cheese, but remember there's a lot of fat and calories in there so be very mindful as to the amount. If your day has room for a little cheese, you can use either Monterrey Jack or Sharp Cheddar... or a mix. If you love Queso Fresco, cut a few chunks and spread them around. 

If you would like to eat the salad with chips, arrange them in a pattern on the lettuce or stick one in the meat as if it were a sail on a boat.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fragrant Fungi

oyster mushrooms, aren't they pretty!
If you love mushrooms, you are probably familiar with button, crimini, and portobello mushrooms. The big three mushrooms are easy to find, inexpensive, and a snap to prepare.

It's time to step up your fungus appreciation and try something new. In this recipe, you will learn to cook with dried porcini, oyster, and shitake mushrooms.

Fragrant Fungi
nutrition facts


1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (see pic)
soaking water
1/4 cup olive oil
8 oz crimini mushrooms
4 oz oyster mushrooms (see pic)
4 oz shitake mushrooms (see pic)
dried porcini mushrooms

4 garlic cloves
1 t cumin seeds
fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh cilantro

What to do:

Place the porcini in a bowl and cover with water. Allow to soak for about 20-30 minutes. Drain on paper towel and set aside.

Either rinse or brush the crimini, oyster, and shitake mushrooms. I'm a rinser, but if you brush that's ok, just make sure you get all the crud. Slice the crimini in half and cut the oyster and shitake into pieces of approximately the same size as the cremini.

Mince the garlic. In separate bowls, measure the cumin and black pepper. (Hint, the amount of cumin is on the low side for those that are not familiar with it. If you love it already, measure two teaspoons instead of one)
shitake mushrooms

Rinse and rough chop the cilantro.

In a large pot that has a good tight fitting lid, heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic. Stir for a minute or two until the garlic releases its wonderful aroma throughout the kitchen. Raise the heat to medium high and add the cumin seeds. Let them cook until they start to pop and bounce. It's rather fun. Like popcorn.

Add the porcini, crimini, oyster, and shitake mushrooms and stir. Cover with the lid and allow to cook for another five minutes.

Ad the black pepper and stir. The mushrooms will have exuded a bit of liquid. Simmer and stir for another five minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates. Gently stir in the chopped cilantro and serve.

Excellent topped with a bit of dried hot red pepper flakes. Wonderful served as part of a vegetarian or carnivorous meal.


If you don't have cumin seeds and just have ground cumin, that is fine to use. It's just not as fun.

Mindful Mushroom Saute

These mushrooms are happy anywhere on your plate. They make a terrific side dish, a wonderful accompaniment to grilled steak, or a terrific addition to rice or quinoa as part of a Vegetarian meal. Enjoy the goodness made by you.

Mindful Mushroom Saute


1 T canola oil*
2 T butter
1/4 cup onion, sliced
5 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz white Button mushrooms
8 oz Crimini mushrooms
3 T breadcrumbs**
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
1 lemon juiced
Dash of Tabasco Sauce
6-8 twists of the pepper grinder
drizzle of olive oil - approximately 1 teaspoon

What do do:

Slice the onion and mince the garlic. Set them aside in separate bowls. Rinse well - yes, I rinse as I don't trust brushing mushrooms - the mushrooms and pat dry with paper towels. If they are small or medium in size, leave them whole. If they are very large, cut in half. Place these in a bowl. Chop the parsley and add to a small bowl with the breadcrumbs. Juice your lemon and set the juice next to the breadcrumb parsley bowl. Set your Tabasco and pepper grinder next to that.

Put it all together:

In a large skillet (I like one with a bit of a side), melt the butter and heat the oil over medium high heat. 

Saute the onion for a few minutes, or until softened (not browned). Add the mushrooms and continue to saute over medium-high heat until they cook and exude their juices (approximately 5 minutes). When the mushrooms are cooked, add the parsley and breadcrumbs to the mushrooms. Stir well. Then add a few dashes (totally to taste and can be skipped if you hate heat) and the fresh cracked black pepper. Stir well. Remove from heat, drizzle with olive oil and toss. Serve immediately.


* Use canola oil instead of olive oil as it has a higher heat threshold. A high heat saute changes the taste of the olive oil and makes it likely to smoke. You could skip the butter, but I don't recommend that for this dish unless you are Vegan. Butter is used here as a seasoning in addition to a adding fat.

**it is possible to overdo the breadcrumbs in this recipe, so don't go overboard. Rounded Tablespoons is fine, but no matter how tempting don't dump in more. It changes the texture too much and not for the good. Experience talking here.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Artisan Treats and Petit Amuse: a Review

There's a new way to taste and buy gourmet deliciousness via the internet!

Petit Amuse explores interesting little shops around the world on a never ending quest to find and eat only the best small batch artisan treats - the kind you won't find at most groceries. You eat right along with them for a low monthly membership fee ($10) when a collection of treats arrives at your home all wrapped up in a little surprise box of deliciousness. Although you are not obligated to buy anything at all, you might find yourself very tempted to do just that.

How can one say no to the request to eat and review good food? My box came in the mail the other day.

This is was what I found inside: a jar of Ice Wine Jelly, one Garukabar, one Cha-Chas, one Salted Rosemary Shortbread, and a bag of Sun Dried Tomato & Parmesan Popcorn made by a company named Oogie's.

I assembled my most experienced Tasting Team (Husband, Son, and Daughter), set up the scientifically precise dessert plates with glasses of cold filtered water for cleansing the palate between tastes, and positioned paper and pencil in anticipation of making learned and quotable comments.

Menu Card

I very much liked the thoughtfully designed menu card.

The reverse side of the card detailed the ingredient list for each item in nice reasonably sized print.

No squinting and peering at tiny little labels required. No reading glasses needed. Nicely done.

Ice Wine Jelly

Yes, jelly made with Eiswein, the dessert wine that is made when a freeze occurs before the grapes are harvested... and before they rot on the vine. Freezing intensifies the grape's naturally sweet flavor and makes for some pretty dratted awesome wine.

If you like sweet spreads (and this was very sweet), this jelly will rock your socks. The jelly clearly tastes of wine and was delicious spread over a piece of bread.

Salted Rosemary Shortbread

This was a major hit with all four of our tasters, even the more dubious member of my staff ("Shortbread and rosemary???!!!"). The savory rosemary and salt were perfectly balanced by the not too sweet shortbread.

Well done, this is one treat we would buy.


Oh, how I wanted to add an extra Cha on to the name.

This looked so awesomely dark chocolatey that we could not wait to try it. The flavors were superb. Unfortunately, the texture did not match the standard set by the flavor or the anticipation. It was a little dry and hard, and all tasters agreed that was disappointing.

One nice thing about sampling this cookie via Petit Amuse is that we did not waste money on an entire package purchased at a store.


If nothing else, the names of these treats were great fun.

For this bar, think backpacking in Colorado Rocky Mountain National Park. You've stopped to sit on a large flat rock and enjoy the sights and sounds of rushing white water cascading over a particularly gorgeous collection of fallen boulders. You sip from your Earth friendly refillable water bottle and open a chewy Garukabar. The bar's recyclable brown paper wrapper encloses an amazing amount of hiker health with its natural grains, seeds, dried fruit, honey, and brown rices. Fortunately you also brought along a small handkerchief which you dip into the icy cold river and use to dab off the sticky gooey goodness from your fingers after carefully stowing the wrapper in your backpack so as to leave the view as you found it - unsullied by man.

Oogies, Sun Dried Tomato and Parmesan Popcorn

The was definitely the hit of the day. We finished every little kernel of the perfectly seasoned non-GMO popcorn. What's not to love here?

Would we buy more? Absolutely. Hopefully it is available in very large containers so we can stock up.

Is a monthly membership worth the cost?

Tasting Team members huddled and compared notes, debated and wrote copiously as they analyzed each experimental morsel. We then correlated value with epicurean delight in an abundance of colorful pie charts. Does Petit Amuse have what it takes? Does it deliver what it says - good value and a fun foodie experience? Absolutely. Excellent premise, reasonable price, with fun and deliciousness delivered right to your door.