Roasted Marinara Sauce

Roasted tomato marinara

So it’s been something of a busy year I’m afraid. All good things. Things like trips to Europe and moving into new apartments and getting a new dog (!). Somewhere in the shuffle I stopped blogging. Oh, I still experimented in the kitchen… but not very often. I still talked about it, still checked on my blog friends. Always bookmarked and brainstormed recipes. I’ve been trying to get back in my groove for a while and never actually took that first step.

I’m not really sure what came over me today. Or this week really. Basically, I’ve been craving baguette and marinara like you wouldn’t believe. I grabbed some bread and jarred sauce on my way home from work one night, but it was disappointing. And just like that, I had to figure out a new marinara recipe. Wasn’t even an option. And clearly I needed to take pictures and share.

I made a small batch because I didn’t know what to expect, or how much it would make. Bottom line, it is so fresh, light and delicious and I could mop it up with bread (or anything) for days. Really. The best part was that it was extremely easy to make.

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Roasted Tomato Marinara Sauce

(recipe makes 18 ounces – roughly 1.5 small mason jars. You may want to consider multiplying for your purposes)

2 lbs ripe tomatoes, cored & cut into halves or thirds
1/2 large onion, chopped in large pieces
7 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup red or white wine
2 Tbsp fresh basil
2 tsp fresh parsley
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp of hot sauce or 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional, include to taste)
2 Tbsp butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

These ingredients can all be tweaked for what you have on hand. For example, I happened to have fresh basil, parsley and thyme growing (more likely slowly dying) on my back deck, so I threw them in. I would recommend you include the basil, as it gave the marinara a distinctive flavor.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Core the tomatoes – insert knife about 1 inch into tomato and make a circular cut around the stem, keeping the point of the knife towards the center. You should be able to pull out a cone shaped portion of the core. Cut the tomatoes in halves or thirds and spread evenly in the bottom of an ungreased 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Distribute the chopped onions and peeled garlic throughout. Drizzle the wine and olive oil over the top, then distribute the butter pats evenly throughout. Frankly the butter and olive oil combination may have been a bit of overkill, but I couldn’t bear to leave one or the other out. Season generously with salt and pepper.

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Roast in the oven for 45 minutes. I ended up turning on my broiler for an additional 10 or 15 minutes because I didn’t feel that the vegetables were getting enough color. At this point, add the fresh herbs, returning to the oven for 10 more minutes.

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Remove from oven and spoon into a food processor (if you want to pour it in, do so at your own risk – this will splatter). Add Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce or red pepper flakes. Pulse in the food processor until the sauce has reached desired consistency. I prefer a smoother sauce so I pulsed several times until the bigger chunks have evened out. Taste and add additional salt and pepper as needed. This is perfect for pastas, pizzas, dipping – you name it. I wouldn’t count on it lasting long though!

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Braised Short Ribs

braised short ribs

I don’t know why, but I’ve long believed that other people have more interesting goings-on than I do.  When I watch, read or hear about the random minutiae that goes on in another person’s life, I feel a sense of envy.  Like someone else who sat on the couch with their roommate, drinking a glass of wine had oh-so-much more fun than I would have, doing the exact same thing.

Likewise, I have a sneaking suspicion that the other people of Chicago are out and about and enjoying the culture of the city more than I am. Whether my hunch be true or not, one of my new years resolutions is to get out and expand my horizons. I don’t have a great track record with keeping resolutions, but the end goal here is only a sense of satisfaction. That’s much harder to measure and therefore much easier to attain.

Speaking of attaining, recently I tried to make short ribs for the first time! I’ve wanted to tackle them for an eternity and I was genuinely surprised at how easy and affordable they were. I cannot recommend this recipe enough.  It takes several hours, but most of the time involved is not work intensive. You can basically forget them in the oven for hours. I think they would be perfect to serve at a dinner party.

Braised Beef Short Ribs  (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ed. note – we wanted leftovers and doubled the recipe

6 large beef short ribs
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
2 Tbsp garlic
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 cups red wine
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
6 cups beef stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

At least an hour before cooking, take out short ribs and season generously with cracked black pepper, salt and thyme. Rub seasoning in and allow ribs to sit out and come to room temperature. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

braised beef short ribs

Heat a large oven safe pot or dutch oven over high heat for several minutes. Add oil, and wait several additional minutes until the oil is dimpling and is very hot. The oil should be almost smoking. Sear each side of the short rib until browned. If you are cooking a small number of ribs, this can be done all at once. In order to get a nice caramelized color, I browned in 3 small batches, turning until all sides were brown. It is important to get a good sear on the meat because it helps to hold in the flavor. I actually think I should have let mine crust more. As the short ribs have browned, remove and set aside on a plate.

Short Ribs

Turn down the heat to medium or medium high, and add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Stir gently until they have begun to caramelize (7-8 minutes).

Mire Poix

Add the wine, balsamic and Worcestershire and make sure to scrape up the crusty bits from the bottom of the pan. They add to the flavor immensely. Bring to a boil (turn up heat to high) and reduce liquid by half. Add the beef stock and bay leaves, and bring liquid back to a boil. Add the ribs to the pot, arranging so they are standing up on end, with the bones sticking out slightly. There should be enough liquid to almost cover the ribs. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and then with a lid, if you have one. I thought the step of covering with aluminum foil before covering with a lid was strange… but I was so glad I did. I think it helped to keep the flavor in, and there was a visible ring on the foil which may have made my lid that much harder to clean.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

Transfer to preheated oven and cook for about 3 hours, or until ribs are tender. The smell will make your entire apartment/house/city block smell absolutely heavenly. After 3 hours, or when the meat is knife tender, remove pot from oven.

Allow to rest in the pot for 10-15 minutes. Remove ribs, and strain the liquid into a saucepan. Simmer to reduce liquid. At this point, the original recipe calls for you to place the short ribs in the oven to brown for 10-15 minutes. I missed this step, whoops.

Braised beef short ribs

Once the sauce has thickened to your liking, spoon the sauce liberally over the meat and serve. These were so incredible. Actually, just typing this makes me want to go out to the grocery store so I can cook them again…. Sigh.

-k

Latkes, 3 ways

Latkes

I know, I know, Hanukkah has come and gone… ahem, weeks ago. Fortunately, latkes, or potato pancakes, can be enjoyed all year round! I am not Jewish, but S is. As a result, we are celebrating the holidays in the grand Christmukkah/Festivus tradition. It’s pretty much awesome. How can you argue with celebrating double holidays?

For the first night of Hanukkah, we drove out to celebrate with one of S’s close friends in the Chicago suburbs. We lit the menorah, and ate traditional latkes. We (S) decided that we needed to try some interesting combinations for some innovative latke ideas. We decided to do a batch of plain latkes, a batch of jalapeno & cheddar latkes, and a batch of kimchi latkes. Don’t ask me where the kimchi inspiration came in – S came up to me clutching a bag of it in the grocery store with a crazed look in his eyes. I wasn’t about to argue with that.

Unfortunately, the kimchi latkes were a complete and utter fail. I think it likely had to do with the high level of liquid in kimchi. The success of crispy latkes depends largely on removing all of the liquid prior to pan frying. Regardless, I took pictures, so you get to see the product. I just wouldn’t recommend tackling them.

Latkes

2 large russet potatoes, peeled and grated
1 small onion, grated or chopped
1 egg
1 tsp garlic powder (or 2 tsp fresh minced garlic)
Salt& Pepper (And weirdly we added a couple of dashes of celery salt. Didn’t actually add flavor. Skip it.)
Several Tbsp vegetable oil (for frying)

optional additions
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese & 3 Tbsp chopped jalapeno
2/3 cup kimchi (nope. don’t.)

Peel  raw potatoes. Cover with water in a large bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Latkes

If you have to take them out after 15 minutes, so be it. Don’t let it get in the way of your latkes. Grate them on a cheese grater. Make sure the middle isn’t rotten, we learned that the hard way. About 3/4 of the way through S realized he was grating rotten potatoes all over the good potatoes, so it was back to square one. Honestly, I’m not sure how to pick a good potato. It was clean, firm, smelled good…. no idea what went wrong. It was definitely rotten to the core.

Squeeze all of the water out. The less moisture, the better. You can use a cheesecloth – I think that is probably the traditional way. However, we used paper towels. Last year S forced all the water out with his bare hands. He just locked his fingers and squeezed. No reason you can’t get creative! Put those potatoes in a colander and push out the moisture with a spoon if you get squeamish. The bottom line is that you need to get all liquid out.

latkes

Once you’ve rid your tots of moisture, season generously with salt and pepper. Add the beaten egg and the onion. (For the jalapeno cheddar latkes, add the jalapeno and cheddar cheese at this point.)

Jalapeno Cheddar Latkes

Combine with a fork, mixing gently. Coat the bottom of a frying pain/saute pan with vegetable oil, and let it heat through. If you sprinkle a few drops of water over the oil, they should dance on top of the oil and eventually steam off.

Spoon as much as you want of the latke mix into the oil. I am personally a big fan of thin, crispy latkes, so I prefer a heaping tablespoon, flattened with tentacle-like edges. Lots of crunchy, flavorful goodness.

Once you can see the bottom turning golden, flip. We (cringe) did not actually time how long that took. We are completely guesstimating at 4 minutes a side. However, don’t leave the stove unattended, unless you want to burn your kitchen down (doubt you do…)

latkes

In between batches,  dry the latkes on paper towels. Layer between each batch.

Latkes

These are lovely with a little sour cream and some chives. Or siracha. You’ll figure out what you like, I”m sure of it!

Fail…….

Kimchi latkes

kimchi latkes

Meh.

-k

Marinated Portobella Mushrooms with Fontina and Fresh Herbs


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About 6 months ago, I stopped in to Trader Joe’s to pick up a couple of groceries. I don’t know if you have Trader Joe’s where you are, but one of the best parts about shopping there is that they always have samples. Good samples. You really can’t stop in without swinging by the sample counter. It’s marketing genius – I think they probably sell a lot of products after people get a chance to taste test. This time they were giving out marinated mushrooms with melted fontina cheese on top. I walked through the store for the next 10 minutes in a state of pure, unadulterated bliss. Immediately I knew I needed to put this idea on my list of recipes to try.

I should have made them sooner.

These are sooooo good. I would eat them daily. That is not an exaggeration. I only made enough for S and I, so if you plan to make these for a group, you will want to multiply the recipe accordingly. Also, the marinade can be modified depending on what you have on hand.

Marinated Mushrooms with Fontina and Fresh Herbs

1 package medium-large Portobello mushrooms
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1 tsp fresh minced garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated fontina cheese
finely chopped parsley
minced chives

Combine all ingredients except the mushrooms, cheese and herbs. Whisk well.

Marinated Mushrooms

Remove the stems from the mushrooms. One at a time, add mushrooms to the marinade, turning to coat each one fully. I also spooned some of the marinade over the top.

Marinated Mushrooms

Cover and refrigerate. I would let marinate for at least an hour, but these can be marinated for longer.

Marinated Mushrooms

Remove mushrooms from the marinade and place on a baking sheet. Fill evenly with fontina cheese and sprinkle herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper on top. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and browned.

Marinated mushrooms

Marinated Mushrooms

These would be great at a barbeque or to serve at a party. Or to eat by yourself in one sitting. Not that I would do that…

-k

How to make pie crust… and Mini Cherry Pies

My distaste of sweets is well known and well documented.  Less documented, my non love of thanksgiving food. Yep, that was the least offensive way I could word it. I know I am one of the few and far between, but thanksgiving food doesn’t really do it for me. I could take or leave turkey, mashed potatoes are just eh and sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top barely earn a flick of my eye.  The only exception to this rule is pie, and specifically, cherry pie. Both of my grandmothers make incredible pie crust and cherry has always been my favorite filling. The obvious answer was to try to make mini pies. Why wouldn’t I?

Below is my Aunt Karen’s pie crust recipe, complete with my mom’s suggestions. I actually had to call her halfway through making the crust to ensure I wasn’t screwing it up. I had heard rumors that pie crust is finicky. It actually wasn’t that bad, but maybe because I had such good suggestions. Also worth noting, I bought a flour sifter specifically for this. I was excited. I can’t imagine I’m going to use it again soon, but you never know when a sifter is going to come in handy.

Pie Crust (recipe courtesy of Aunt Karen, honorable mention to my mom)

2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup milk (plus several additional tablespoons as needed)

Chill all working utensils prior to starting. Mix together sifted flour and salt.

Cut in shortening with 2 sharp knives until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. You can also use a pastry blender. I used 2 steak knives which I pulled across the mixture in an opposite motion.

I think that keeping the knives close to each other while cutting makes it go faster. It might have been my imagination. Either way, I managed to cut the shortening into tiny sizes. Remove 1/3 cup of the flour/shortening mixture. Mix the milk into this separated portion. and beat well until smooth and incorporated.

Mix into the remaining flour/shortening mixture until a dough is formed. This is a rather dry dough. I had to add a few tablespoons of milk (slowly and sparingly) until the dough formed a ball.

Roll half the dough between 2 pieces of waxed paper.

Chill for an additional 15 minutes. Did you figure out that everything has to be cold at all times for this to go smoothly?

My friend Kayla (you’re the best!) sent me a set of biscuit cutters as a housewarming present. They worked perfectly for cutting out crust to put in a muffin pan. I have a feeling these little biscuit cutters are going to get some serious mileage. The pie crust has a high fat content, so you shouldn’t need to grease the pan.

Now here’s where I messed up. I pushed the bottom layer into the muffin tin, and added the cherry pie filling (from the can. I know.)

I then added the pastry tops, and tried to seal the edges. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for around 12-15 minutes or until slightly brown on top.

See where I went wrong? I didn’t seal the edges of the crust together well enough and the pie filling seeped out the side in the oven. Still tasted good though, and that’s all that matters.

Even with the seepage issue I think they’re pretty darn cute. Thanks for the biscuit cutter Kayla!

-k

My New Favorite: Balsamic Vinaigrette


I feel a strange need to prove to people that I actually do love salad, and not that I am trying to be healthy (definitely not the case).  Inevitably I will share an anecdote to lend a little weight to my claim.  Well… I only have one story.  When I was younger and my sister and I were visiting our grandparents for the week, Grandma told me that I could have anything I wanted for breakfast.  Cake, ice cream, anything.  I opted for salad.  She looked at me like I had 2 heads, and promptly pulled the lettuce out of the fridge.  Aren’t grandmas the best?  But there you have it.  I crave salad, and it’s been a longstanding love affair.

This brings up a couple of key questions.  Why is this the first time I’ve attempted homemade salad dressing?  How did I not realize that it was so easy? What have I been waiting for? Then, when I first started researching recipes for balsamic vinaigrette, which has my highest esteem as far as dressings go, I realized I had all of the ingredients at home already. The shame.

Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette (adapted from Chinese Grandma’s recipe)

1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 garlic clove, minced (roughly 1/2 teaspoon)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

That’s a good looking jug of balsamic, isn’t it?

Start by mixing honey, mustard, salt, pepper and garlic. You could definitely do this in a food processor, but I whisked by hand.

Whisk in the balsamic. If your arm is getting tired at this point, you’re in trouble.

Whisk in the olive oil a bit at the time until fully incorporated. The dressing should emulsify and won’t have a watery consistency.  You may have to use some muscle.

I swear that’s thicker than it photographs. Pour into a jar and store in the refrigerator.

You could put this dressing on so much more than salad. Drizzle over your favorite vegetables, put it on some fresh bread, serve with grilled chicken, the possibilities are endless.

p.s. It’s Saturday night. I’m hanging on the couch, watching glee, sipping a glass of wine. Pure bliss.

 

Spinach and Artichoke Phyllo Bites

There’s this website called Pinterest. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s… addicting. Just ask S – he’s all over it right now. I’m not sure if I’m embarrassed or proud. Probably a little of both. Maybe more the former than the latter. I guess that might be the pot calling the kettle black – I get sucked in for hours/days. Just daydreaming about the recipes I want to make and the crafts I’d love to tackle. I am not very good about actually “pinning” things. I like to peruse and then I curse myself when I can never find anything I want. I think that’s more of a personal problem.

When I’m short on inspiration, it’s a great source of ideas. Take these spinach and artichoke bites, for example. I’ve seen them a couple of times – with wonton wrappers. I wanted to try something different. I have been itching to work with phyllo dough for years, and I recently stumbled across it at Trader Joe’s. Kismet, obviously. I thought filling with spinach and artichoke filling was the perfect way to get my feet wet. Full disclosure: I’m not sure I was all that successful…. I might just go with the pre-made phyllo cups next time.

Spinach and Artichoke Bites

1 package phyllo sheets
1 block cream cheese, softened (light works just fine here)
4 ounces artichoke hearts, marinated
1 package frozen spinach, drained
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cups white cheddar cheese
2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes Tabasco or hot sauce
juice of 1/4 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Melted butter

I’m not a big fan of mayonnaise (but it adds a nice creaminess), and I like some kick. I also don’t love huge pieces of artichoke, which is odd. I put the artichokes in a food processor and ground them up. What can I say? I’m weird about texture, and artichoke isn’t my fave.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix in cream cheese, mayonnaise, garlic, Worcestershire, Tabasco, lemon juice, grated cheeses, salt and pepper.

Add drained spinach and mix to combine.

Now the tricky part. Phyllo. I have read multiple articles about how you should cover your phyllo dough with a damp towel when you aren’t working with it to ensure the dough doesn’t be come hard and brittle. I thought that covering the dough with a damp towel made the layers stick together more. Maybe it was too wet… I’m not sure.

I set up a station. Phyllo. Damp towel. Foil for layering the phyllo. Melted butter/brush. Mini muffin tin. Knife for trimming. Layer the phyllo, brushing each sheet with melted butter generously before adding the next. This is what gives the pastry its flaky and toothsome texture. I layered 6 pieces before cutting. I think you could do with fewer layers, but I wanted there to be a definitive crust/crunch to my spinach and artichoke bites.

Cut into 2 square inch pieces (ish- that’s a total guesstimate) and push into greased mini muffin tin to form cups.

I had to trim some pieces. Apparently I’m not very exact. Go figure.

Fill the phyllo cups with rounded tablespoons of filling.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes or until brown. The phyllo edges will brown early, but will keep without burning (in my experience) until the filling is bubbly. Keep an eye on them just in case I’m horribly wrong.

I’m pretty sure you’ll be the hit of every party if you bring these. Almost positive.

Have a fabulous week!

-k