Monday, May 11, 2009

I Have A New Home!

Check out my new site ... I have upgraded to my own personal URL.

I'll be venting over there from now on ... check it out!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tony's Soon to Be World Famous Red Sauce


This post is dedicated to Tony, a great cook and even better friend who shared his mother's recipe and methods with me.

Sauce, Gravy, Spaghetti Sauce, Red Sauce, Marinara call it anything you want, just please don't buy it in a jar. In fact, please join the Society For the Elimination of Sauce in a Jar on Facebook

Does the idea of potted meat gross you out as much as it does me? (it should!) Do you watch the "gourmet" cat food commercial and at the end think "you aren't fooling me, that's garbage meat with salt, chemicals and a couple peas thrown in." If so, you are right! If not, this may be the wrong blog for you. Things that come pre-cooked in jars are made with the cheapest ingredients available, including vegetables you would throw away. Then because the color isn't right (because the vegetables weren't good) they add dye. Next they add things to make it taste like sauce, but not herbs and spices; instead they use inexpensive chemicals and sugar. Now here's the fun part -- they charge you MORE for that jar of inferior sauce than you'd ever pay for making it yourself.

I can hear your thoughts. I can see the rigid posture, the wary stare you are giving me. "Fine, it tastes better and it may be a little less expensive, but how long is this going to take and is it really that good?" YES it's that much better and it won't take long. Sauce is my Sunday morning activity. It took me 17 minutes to get the ingredients into the pot and walk away. Then another 15 minutes tasting (oh such hard work) and dishing it up for storage. It simmered for 2 hours and made my house smell like heaven in a way no air freshener could. (Is it hard to believe I was the fat kid :)

Please; make the sauce. You'll be happy, your family will be happy, the sun will shine, birds will sing all will be right with the world.

A word about tomatoes. All tomatoes are not created equal. If you are lucky enough to have a garden where your tomatoes actually taste like tomatoes then making sauce is even more fun and you get to use a food mill! For the rest of us, skip the produce aisle. The tasteless "fresh" tomatoes available in the supermarket are picked green, gassed and allowed to turn red in a warehouse (I can't call that "ripening") In this case canned tomatoes are superior.

Not all canned tomatoes are created equal. Tomatoes need sun, dry climate and volcanic ash in order to taste good. The one place you find this trifecta of goodness is in Italy. Buy Italian tomatoes, preferably San Marzano. Don't buy "Italian Style" tomatoes, you are not getting what you pay for in flavor or quality. More of the manipulation by the food marketers ... but I digress. In my Publix, Cento Italian Plum tomatoes are available for about $2.60 per 28oz can. Other tomatoes are about $2.00 per 28oz can so we aren't talking about a huge extra expense by any stretch of the imagination. Recently at Costco, I was able to purchase 100oz cans of Nina brand San Marzano Tomatoes for $3.60 per can (making them less per ounce than the garbage tomatoes in the supermarket).

Italian tomatoes typically come with basil in the can. I went a little nutty in a quest to find them without the basil because I like to season my own sauce. In the end (read one year and two prescriptions later) I determined that a little basil in a large can is not like buying the diced tomatoes that are mixed with peppers or garlic (which are always over seasoned) There's very little basil flavor imparted in the sauce. I remove the gross basil when I open the can and add fresh from my garden.

Olive oil to coat the pan
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 large white onion, sliced
4 carrots, peeled and chopped to 1/2 inch
8 - 10 whole cloves garlic *See Note
4T dried oregano
2 280z cans Italian Tomatoes
1/2 jar roasted red peppers (optional)
6T fresh chopped Italian parsley
6T fresh chopped basil
Generous dash Worcestershire sauce (measuring I'm going to say 4T but I don't measure)
Kosher salt to taste (at least 3T)
Fresh ground black pepper

Heat the pan over medium high. Put the pepper flakes into the cold oil. When they start to "dance" in the pan you know your oil is hot. Add the onions and carrots. Cook until the onions are getting some color and the carrots start to soften; -- about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and oregeno. Cook 3 - 4 minutes longer taking care to soften but not burn the garlic.

Add tomatoes and remaining ingredients to the pan. Bring to a simmer and let cook for at least 20 minutes cooking
longer won't hurt. Taste for seasoning. Stir to break down the tomatoes, you are just breaking them up, this isn't about consistency.

Let it simmer 20 minutes longer and taste it. At this point nobody knows what I'll do, sometimes I decide we need a splash of wine, sometimes I put some beef broth in, sometimes hot sauce. It's always hard to know, but exercise caution here. The Culinary Institute of America would likely cringe to hear me say this, but this is a "mother sauce." Make it taste good, but don't over flavor the sauce or it will lose its versatility -- more about that later.

Now that you are happy with the taste; here comes the fun part! You need to blend the sauce. For this volume, a stick blender doesn't work well (if you make a double batch a stick blender will work great and you won't have to transfer the sauce). You'll likely have to blend in batches, I filled the blender twice. After the first batch pour the pureed sauce into a bowl and add the remaining sauce from the pot. Then put it all back in the pot and stir and taste for seasoning again.

Now let it simmer another 20 - 40 minutes until it's at the thickness you want. Allow the sauce to cool and transfer to storage containers. I use 32oz containers that our local Chinese take-out place uses, I just wash and reuse them. This sauce freezes really well. I can't tell you how long it will last in the freezer because I think our record is 3 weeks. All you have to do is take it out of the freezer in the morning and warm it.

*Note on garlic. I was feeling a little lazy so I bought the pre- peeled garlic in a jar. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's not as potent as fresh garlic. I typically double the amount of garlic I'm adding to a recipe if it's the pre-peeled kind. If you put that much fresh garlic into the sauce you would absolutely not have any vampires around!

Mother Sauce - I use this sauce as a base. Reheat and add a splash of vodka and cream -- Penne alla Vodka. Brown some pork and beef, add a dash of cream at the end, Bologanese sauce, heat on the stove top and reduce it a bit -- pizza sauce. Add some croutons, maybe a splash of broth or cream, you'll have fantastic tomato basil soup.

This recipe is a framework. If you like the flavored sauces at the store you can add those flavorings in the intensity you like. I never make this with roasted red peppers, but I had some around so I put them in. I liked it so much it may become a regular feature of the sauce. Try roasting the garlic before you add it to the sauce. (Just take a head of garlic, cut the top off, drizzle olive oil, wrap it in foil and put it in the oven when you are baking something else. It needs aobut 45 minutes at 350) I wouldn't put mushrooms in the base, if you like mushrooms in your sauce, sautee them, then add the sauce and reheat but they won't freeze very well. Mushrooms have such a high water content that freezing them changes the texture.

Tell me how you like this recipe! We like this best with plain old red table wine. The food is so good that we don't even try to be fancy with the wine. Cloud Line Pinot Noir is our "Fancy" choice, about $20 per bottle.

The Whineaux!

Go Wine in the kitchen! You can cook and wine and eat like royalty without paying the restaurant!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pork Chops with Leeks in Mustard Sauce

Last night I made this recipe, which is in this month's Bon Appetit, for Bill and I for dinner and it was amazing. It had the texture of having a lot more richness (meaning fat feel) than was really in the recipe. I think this is because the creme fraiche (I used Sour Cream) goes in at the last second so there's no opportunity for it to break down.

Instead of bacon I used pancetta and I added some white mushrooms to the sauce. I think next time I would cut the Sage by about a third, it was a little stronger than the other flavors. We had it with creamy instant polenta on the side and a nice mild (and inexpensive Merlot)

If you've never cooked with Leeks before, they are a great spring time treat. You'll want to trim the dark green tops off trim the roots and then cut them in half. Starting from what was the top run water through the inside. Leeks grow in sand and if you don't rinse them you'll end up with very gritty food. I usually rinse, cut and put them on a paper towel, or you can put them in a large bowl of water (after cutting them), agitate the water then let them rest and float to the top. Then put them in a salad spinner.

Try this recipe -- you'll love it!

Pork Chops with Leeks in Mustard Sauce

Monday, April 13, 2009

Antipasto Salad

Antipasto Salad

Spring is upon us and Easter typically kicks off the "Potluck" season for me and my friends. Potluck season can be great fun, and also great competition and exhausting. I'm always looking for ideas for something different.

For our friends, Italian food reigns supreme. And I love a good red sauce (in fact some of my home made sauce is thawing on the counter right now getting ready for meat and perhaps a baked ziti with the fresh mozzarella I just made (yeah, I'm bragging, I made cheese!)

As much as I love red sauce I need alternatives. We fall into the antipasto, salad, meatballs and sauce rut too easily. Even though all of these items are hand made with recipes from the old country and taste amazing, I sometimes want change.

As it's often hot in Florida I also was looking for a cold dish, so I came up with an Antipasto Salad. The key to this salad is dressing the noodles as soon as they are drained, they won't stick together and they'll absorb the flavor even more.

Antipasto Salad
1 pound pasta shells
1 cup olive oil
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2T minced garlic (use the jarred garlic packed in oil)
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1 Cup Olives *see note
1 jar giardino mix (sold near the pickles, it typically has peppers, carrots, cauliflower and celery)
1/2 pound diced ham
1/2 pound diced salami
1/2 pound diced provolone
1/2 pound diced mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup diced flat leaf parsley

Cook pasta according to directions and drain, while pasta is cooking whisk together olive oil, vinegar, garlic and pepper for dressing. Note, I intentionally omitted salt from this recipe, be sure to salt the pasta when cooking, but the olives, meats and cheese are all salty flavors adding salt to the dressing would likely be too much.

As soon as the pasta is drained, transfer to a large bowl and stir in the dressing.

Add remaining ingredients and toss, cover and refrigerate overnight.

For the olives, I always have open jars of olives around, there's no "wrong" olive to use, but I suggest a mix of green and dark olives like a queen, pimento stuffed Spanish olives, Kalamata olives. Make sure they are pitted, nobody wants to be surprised with an olive pit!

You can also switch the cheeses if you have others on hand or the meats.

Because of the dressing this will last about a week refrigerated. Due to the meats, don't leave this unrefrigerated for long.

Happy Pot-lucking!

Until next time, keep the wine glass close and the whiners at arms length!

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Shh, I want to share a secret with you. This dinner is so easy you can teach the kids to do it and get a free night! They are going to love it and it impresses guests. Then again, you may want to keep this as our secret, then you can continue to be the rock star after spending roughly 15 minutes in the kitchen!

Last week we had a friend over for dinner when I asked if there was anything special they favored and they said Mexican, I nearly fell of my chair with glee. I'm in Florida by way of California. I LOVE Mexican food. What's not to love, amazing flavors, hearty food. YUM.

This time, I made the Chilaquiles with red sauce, it's also amazing with green sauce. This is typical Mexican style family food, simple, great flavors and people will come back for more. Best of all, it's cheap!

Chilaquiles recipes have been around since the late 1800's, the name of the dish has been translated roughly as broken sombrero. It's often served as breakfast with scrambled eggs (which is what we did with the leftovers mmmmm) and considered by many to be a hangover cure. There are regional variations that are based on green (tomatillo) salsa, red salsa or even a white sauce. So anyway you want to change up this recipe -- it's all yours.

2 links uncooked chorizo casing removed
1/2 white onion (you can also use red)
4 cups shredded cheese (go for the cheddar/Monterrey jack blend)
4 cups red enchilada sauce (best if you make it, but fine to buy a jar of sauce -- if you buy the sauce and chips this is a 10 minute meal)
24 corn tortillas cut into wedges and fried
1 1/2 pounds skinless chicken thighs, on the bone.

Black olives for garnish
Green onions sliced for garnish
Sour cream for garnish

Day ahead or earlier in the morning, bake the chicken and allow it to cool. shred it into a bowl and set aside until you are ready to assemble the Chilaquiles.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
Break up chorizo and place in a medium skillet to render the fat out. Set aside and drain, saute the onions in the chorizo fat (or if you wish vegetable oil, but I hate to waste the chorizo flavor)

put a layer of tortilla chips on the bottom of the pan and pat them down, add half of the shredded chicken, sprinkle half the chorizo, 2 cups sauce and 2 cups shredded cheese.

Repeat with another layer of chips, chorizo, chicken, sauce and cheese. Top with black olives and bake until bubbly -- about 30 minutes. Everything in the casserole is already cooked so much like the Shepherds pie recipe you are just heating it through.

Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes to cool and allow the sauce to absorb into the casserole.

Serve with sliced green onion, sour cream and if you want cilantro. This dish is often accompanied by refried beans, we had it with a salad and were more than satisfied. It was one of those nights when everyone at way too much!

I'd like to give you a wine recommendation to go with this meal, but I think it's best accompanied by a very crisp, very cold beer, Stella Artois is my choice.

Let me know if this recipe works for you!

Until next time, remember, don't whine, wine!

The Whineaux