Sunday, November 30, 2014

Zippy Spaghetti Sauce w Sweet Italian Peppers

I have blogged several times about making spaghetti sauce. I like it kind of chunky with bits of diced tomatoes an onion and mushrooms and maybe some squash or spinach thrown in for good measure. Today I had some sweet Italian peppers that I wanted to use, so I diced them up along with the onion and sautéed both in a pan with a dab of olive oil until the vegetables are soft. Then I scooped the pepper and onions into the blender added a can of Hunts spaghetti sauce and gave it a whirl. That incorporated the spiciness of the sweet Italian red peppers right into the sauce. I added another can of diced tomatoes, juice and all, plus a can of tomato paste, a pat of butter, and a scoop of sour cream to give the sauce some richness.
Next, I browned some Italian sausage in the pan, and then added water and let it sauté until the sausage was cooked all the way through. I slice the sausage into little circles and added it to the spaghetti sauce. I wiped out the pan, added a little bit more olive oil, and browned up the mushrooms, which were quartered, and added them to the sauce as well. Now I had a chunky, spicy sauce for our spaghetti tonight. 
I would use this same basic sauce for my lasagne, only I would use ground beef for the meat component. I like to use cottage cheese mixed with parmesan cheese, basil and an egg instead of ricotta cheese, and add a layer of spinach on top of the mozzarella layers. If there is any spaghetti sauce leftover, we are having lasagne tomorrow!

Zippy Spaghetti Sauce

One sweet Italian red pepper, diced
One small yellow onion, diced
Olive oil
One package Italian sausage, mild or spicy
One package Baby Bella mushrooms, quartered
One can Hunts spaghetti sauce, 28 oz
One can diced tomatoes, undrained, 15 oz
One can tomato paste, 8 oz
One teaspoon butter 
One tablespoon sour cream

Sauté red pepper and onion in olive oil in a skillet until soft. Put in blender and purée with the can of spaghetti sauce. Pour mixture into a large saucepan. Add the diced tomatoes and can of tomato paste and stir. Bring to a simmer, add a pat of butter and simmer on low.
Meanwhile, sauté sausage in skillet until it is browned on two sides, then add some water to the pan. Simmer with the lid on for about 10 minutes. Drain off water and slice sausage into 1/4 inch thick slices. Add to simmering spaghetti sauce. In the same skillet, sauté mushrooms in a little olive oil for 2-3 minutes, add to spaghetti sauce mixture. If you want the sauce to be a little creamy, add a tablespoon of sour cream and stir in. Serve over pasta or use for lasagne.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Blue, Sugar Baby pumpkins...soon to be pies

Its pumpkin pie season! Ev'rybody gotta have that pumpkin pie. Its on every list for the Thanksgiving feast. Its on all the Starbucks frappuccino menus. Its on Martha Stewart, the Today Show, Rachel Ray, and Shape magazine. Breweries make their own pumpkin ale. Everybody has their own twist. 

My husband's best friend has an annual gig helping out at a local pumpkin patch down in Santa Barbara. When he and his lovely wife came up to visit us a couple of weeks ago, they brought us some pumpkins: a Sugar Baby, a Blue, several Jack-Be-Littles and some gourds. It was for my Fall table display, they said. I could put little tea lights in the Jack-Be-Littles...maybe. But I am not entertaining this year. Its for dessert, I thought! 

Our roommmate had his eye on the Sugar Baby. He would be making a pie this year for his girlfriend's family. Okay, so I will use the Blue. Never had a blue pumpkin before. I wonder if it will taste any different?

Well, probably. When I cut them in half today to roast them in the oven, the Sugar Baby looked just like a pumpkin inside: a nice orange color with a 2 inch thick pulp and a bunch of seeds. I scooped them out and separated them from the gooey strings. Those seeds could be salted and roasted and eaten as a nice snack. Then I cut open the Blue. The cavity was very small, as the pulp filled up the space, leaving only about a baseball sided inside hole, and a dense bit of stringy stuff where the seeds were attached. looked more like a regular squash, a butternut-type, inside. 

I baked them both together in the oven for one hour, until I could stick a fork in them. Then I took out the pans and let the pumpkins cool on top of the stove for another hour before touching them. I got a large serving spoon and scooped out all of the pulp into two separate bowls. The Sugar Baby was dense and stringy and a little dry in texture, while the Blue was moist, more squishy and not stringy at all. I was tempted to just mix the two together, but I think I will get the roommate's input first. But I am thinking the moistness of the Blue might balance out the dryness of the Sugar Baby very nicely and give them both better texture. From there, we can make two different pies and see who's comes out best! 

Tart Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce should not come out of a can. That is all. Period.

Unless you're my Mom, who appreciated the convenience of canned foods, frozen foods, and ready-made gravy, or at least those little little powdered packets you mix with water. She even used instant potatoes! It wasn't that she didn't know how to make a scratch gravy from pan drippings, it's just that sometimes she was in too big of a hurry to bother. Unless it was Thanksgiving dinner, when Mom pulled out the stops and made gravy from the turkey drippings and got one of us kids to peel a whole 10 pound bag of potatoes for the big feast. She also had to make her pumpkin pies from scratch, using pumpkin pulp that she had boiled down in a big pot. Mom declared that this was the best kind of pumpkin pie there was. As long as she put enough sugar and spice and whipped cream on it, we didn't argue. Anyway, I don't ever remember Mom making cranberry sauce. I do, however, remember puncturing one end of the can of cranberry sauce and removing the entire lid from the other end so the jellied sauce could slide out in one whole cylinder. 

When I first got married and was learning to cook, I vowed to use fresh ingredients whenever possible. I always kept my refrigerator stocked with carrots, celery, broccoli, onions, potatoes, lettuce. I learned how to put together a lot of recipes like enchiladas and spaghetti and lasagna using some fresh ingredients, combined with canned sauces and dried herbs. I did use a lot of those Shilling or McCormick spice packets for gravy and spaghetti sauce and enchilada sauce in the beginning, but over time, mostly after I had accumulated dozens of different spices, I began making my own sauce blends. Eventually I started using fresh cilantro and parsley. Then one day I went outside and cut a few spears of rosemary from the hedge and skewered chicken on it and roasted it. That was a life-changing experience if I ever had one!

Fast-forward many years later when my second husband and I were cooking our first Thanksgiving turkey together. We had both become fans of the Food Network channel and liked trying out new recipes. We wanted to try brining the turkey. Instead of stuffing the turkey with dressing, we filled the cavity with rosemary and onions and lemons for aromatics and made some other side dishes like mashed sweet potatoes with pineapple and maple syrup, roasted green beans with lemon zest, garlic-mashed potatoes and pan gravy. Then we made our own cranberry sauce from fresh, whole berries. I used a recipe that called for maple syrup, orange peel and lime juice. It was the most delicious and memorable cranberry sauce I had ever tasted! The crazy thing was, that it was so easy to make. You just throw all the ingredients into a pot and let it boil. I vowed from then on that I would always make my own cranberry sauce to serve with turkey or fowl, which would also be brined from now on....we couldn't quit picking at that turkey!

For today's version of cranberry sauce, I simply scoured the fridge for what I had on hand. I found a lemon, some pomegranate seeds, and some pineapple tidbits in juice. After I rinsed the fresh cranberries, I dumped them in a pot and poured everything else on top of it, then added about a cup of water and a cup of sugar and brought it to a boil. After my first taste, which was inspiring, I added a dash of salt, a dollop of maple pancake syrup, and about a half a teaspoon of cinnamon. It was tart, tangy, lemony and cinnamony all in one, with just a touch of sweetness...perfect for an aromatic, savory turkey sauce.

It made enough for two pint jars, so I am giving one to my landlord and taking the other to Thanksgiving dinner at my daughter's house next week. It should keep in the fridge just fine for several weeks, but I am kind of afraid it's not gonna last that long! I keep tasting it!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tomato slices in Balsamic vinegar...with Chicken Piccata

My husband got home early last night and texted me to ask if I would like for him to start dinner. He had to ask? He knew I had defrosted chicken breasts. "Sure," I texted back, and suggested Chicken Piccata, a recipe I knew he was familiar with.
My husband is resourceful. He got out his tablet and found a recipe to refer to online somewhere. He opened a bottle of Hearst Ranch chardonnay, using a little splash in his piccata sauce.
When I arrived home, I was treated to a glass of wine and a delictible platter of chicken dripping with butter and capers with buttery penne pasta. All it needed was some greens and a vegetable, so I added some ready-made Spring mix dressed with a lemony viniagrete. Thinking we needed more vegetables, I sliced some Roma tomatoes from our SLO Veg box, drizzled them in Balsamic vinegar and sprinkled them with sea salt. (If I cared to get fancy, I would have put some basil leaves on top). Press the "Easy" button and let's eat!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cauliflower-Potato Mashers, Roasted Asparagus and Peach-glazed Pork Tenderloin

We had a nice, light type of dinner tonight: mashed cauliflower & potatoes with garlic and brown gravy, roasted asparagus spears, and peach-glazed pork tenderloin. It hit on all the right notes without feeling too heavy or rich.
We get our SLO Veg box delivered every other week now, and it works out about right for us most of the time. I have to supplement my vegies from the grocery store somewhat to meet all my needs, like salad greens and more onions, but I try to plan our meals around what comes in the box. I wanted to cook the wonderful fresh asparagus before the tips went mushy, so that was high on tonight's list. Since I had a pork tenderloin to cook, I could also roast the asparagus in the oven. The weather had turned a bit cold lately, so an oven-prepared meal was in perfect order. I coated the pork tenderloin in my homemade rub and drenched it with a peach barbecue glaze. That needed 35 minutes in a 325 degree oven. I put the asparagus in about 10 minutes after to roast alongside. 
Then there was the cauliflower: I had steamed a whole head of beautiful snowy-white cauliflower the other night and had about one-third of it leftover. It wasn't over cooked, still crispy, so I figured with a little more steaming it might be good for mashing. A good cauliflower mash is all the rage now for lightening up the old standby mashed potatoes. There are dozens of mashed cauliflower recipes out there calling for almond milk, ghee, garlic and other add-ins, but I happen to love traditional mashed potatoes with garlic and butter. Maybe a half-and-half version would satisfy? So I halved four small red potatoes and put them into a pot of water to boil. When the 'taters were almost done, and added in the leftover cauliflower to cook it thoroughly. Then I called in the Hub with his big guns to mash it all up. He added roasted garlic, sour cream, salt and pepper, and milk for a creamy, savory mash. I made a light gravy using water and a packaged mix for a non-fat brown gravy topper. 
The cauliflower made the mash slightly lumpy, and I had left the peels on the potatoes, so we had a rustic type of mashers that was pretty good. Our son noticed the texture was different, but he liked it. The asparagus was tender and buttery with a very light crunch.  The pork was so tender and flavorful, it completed this comforting meal with an elevating touch.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Green chili salsa with pork

Do you see those Anaheim chilies in the top center of this photo? Those babies are the basis for a great green chili salsa. I bought some tomatillos and roasted them along with the chilies and an onion to make this sauce.
Anaheim chilies are my favorite chili pepper, right after green or red bell peppers. We got some in our produce box from SLO Veg last week and I knew just what to do with them! Make a chili verde salsa!

This verde salsa is so versatile: It can be served as a dip with tortilla chips, poured on top of eggs, cooked with chicken or pork, or used as a green enchilada sauce. It is light and refreshing with a mild chili flavor. It's also super easy to make. You just roast the vegetables in the oven for about 30 minutes, then blend it with a little liquid in the blender. It will keep in the refrigerator for a week or so, or you can freeze some for later.

My homemade tomatillo chili verde sauce and a pork steak made for a delicious breakfast this morning. I had made the salsa last week from a recipe I found on Pinterest and had one little pint jar lingering in the refrigerator. I had a pork steak left out from a family pack of pork chops I cooked a  few nights ago. I was thinking of doing a stir fry or fried rice with the pork meat, but then this morning I started thinking about a chili verde omelette, and a breakfast bowl was born. 

This morning I seasoned the pork and seared it in a skillet, then sliced it into bite-sized bits. The meat went into back into the skillet and I poured in a pint of tomatillo salsa. Then I pan fried some diced potatoes, scrambled some eggs and mixed in a blend of Mexican cheese, put it all into a pasta bowl and ladled on the verde sauce that had been simmering on the stovetop with the pork meat. Some heated flour tortillas completed the meal.
Here is my chili verde salsa after blending, with a good amount of salt and pepper ready to stir in.
Sharing a recipe from

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa 

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa is full of flavor and generally has a low to medium heat level. Roasting the veggies before blending them together makes the flavor unbelievable!

Author: Aubrey Cota


1 lb. tomatillos
1 pasillo pepper (or other mild green chili)
3 garlic cloves
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 jalapeno pepper
1 to 2 cups cilantro leaves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp cumin
juice of 2 lime


Preheat oven to 475 degrees F
Place tomatillos, peppers, garlic cloves and onion quarters onto a foil lined baking sheet
Place in oven and roast for 30 minutes, or until the skins are charred and insides are steamed
Place peppers and tomatillos into a plastic zip top bag and allow to steam for 5 minutes
Peel skins and place peppers and tomatillos into a blender ( for more mild salsa, remove seeds)
Add in the onion and roasted garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper, cumin, and lime juice and blend until smooth
Pour into a jar and refrigerate until ready to serve

Recipe by Real Housemoms at verde

Mom's Favorite Apple Waldorf Salad

Apples, celery, grapes, walnuts, lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. That's it! and we got most of the ingredients in our box from SLO Veg last week: Pink Lady apples, Autumn Royal Black Grapes, un-titled celery.

This salad was meant to be a simple starter salad or appetizer, and it is credited to a chef in New York City's Waldorf Hotel in 1893. While the original version was simply apples, celery and mayonnaise, later variations added walnuts, grapes, lemon juice, salt and pepper. New-age recipes may also substitute yogurt, and I have made it that way before, but I like the creamy mayonnaise base the best with a little tang from the lemon juice. Besides, that's how my Mom always made it, spooned onto some iceberg lettuce leaves. I know this was one of her favorite salads, and she always said the whole name, "Apple Waldorf Salad", with a bit of reverence, like it was a big deal to serve this classic to us.

The celery and apples certainly compliment each other, and Waldorf salad is a classic for that reason, no matter how you tweak it. It was the perfect accompaniment for our dinner tonight of a decadent macaroni and cheese casserole and oven-baked barbecue spare ribs. 

I used two Pink Lady apples and two ribs of celery in this recipe. It made enough salad for 4 people.

Apple Waldorf Salad

2 apples, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 ribs celery, sliced
10-15 grapes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir into chopped apples, celery and grapes. Stir in walnuts and serve on a bed of lettuce, if desired.

Adventures in Cooking, this Week

I was asked to not be on my cell phone with its bright light glowing in the dark before 4 a.m. this morning. I totally complied. I don't think I was on it until at least 5:30 a.m. I still got the stink-eye, I think. I don't really know, because it was dark...sort of, except for the glow of my cell phone.

The thing is, I have recipes to research! I find stuff on Pinterest and pin it for later. That way I can get a bunch of ideas together, then go back and see what I really want to make. I like researching in the early morning, when its quiet and I have slept a few hours. If I wait until the sun comes up, then I have to put up with people (i.e., the Hubbers) showing me pictures of truck rims and Samurai sword kitchen knife sets and Tardis ornamental string lights...very hard to plan recipes around this stuff. You know I love my husband, but if I could have already finished my recipe research, I could now be giving him and his website gadgets my full attention, instead of blankly nodding and occasionally smiling while I try to reassert my attention onto my blog.

Okay, ready for the adventure part? I am running for my life now!

We get a box of produce delivered every other week from a service called SLO Veg. Basically, they bring the Farmer's Market to us. They put together a box of fresh fruits and vegetables from local growers and deliver it to their customers' doorsteps. They have a website to keep customers informed on what to expect in the box, and also provide recipes featuring that week's produce. I like it because it takes me out of my cooking rut by challenging me to cook things I might not have ever tried before. I have to do a little research sometimes, and that is what I call fun.

So now its time for the refrigerator and pantry review: Right now I have one large pork steak in the frig that would be best used for a quick stir fry for two, or meat in a chili verde stew. Since I still have a pint of my homemade tomatillo salsa, I guess a pork chili verde is in the works, maybe for breakfast.  I also have some bacon, mushrooms and onions that would work perfectly in Pioneer Woman's fancy macaroni and cheese casserole that looked so fantastic on Pinterest. I just bought some elbow mac, and I have cheese on hand, so I am set. I also want to cook those Daikon radish french fries, and I have a ton of oranges to do something with. Hmmm, orange fruit salad, Orange chicken, oranges poached in wine....endless oranges. There is some celery, kale, spinach, carrots, apples, onions, pomegranates, grapes....I already used up the rainbow chard and a few peppers. I still have some asparagus to eat, along with some leftover cauliflower. I think that will either become Buffalo chicken or a cauliflower cream soup.
Fancy mac & cheese, Waldorf salad & BBQ pork ribs

I think I will make that mac and cheese casserole today, when Lee's friend brings our computer home and sets it up for us. We just had to have the operating system reinstalled. Hopefully it will work better now. For the past few months I have been blogging solely on my phone and my tablet. They don't always agree on how to communicate, and I have accidentally bunged up a blog post or two because I didn't "refresh" first when switching back and forth from the tablet to the blog. Photos weren't uploading correctly, either. I don't know if the photo storage had reach a maximum for my blog or what, but I started a new blog today and we'll see how that goes. My followers aren't signed up on my actual blog, anyway, they just read the entries I share on Facebook. Sigh! Someday I will actively pursue getting followers onto my blog page so I can get noticed by some publisher or movie producer and have a movie made of my blogging adventures, like in "Julie and Julia". Someday!