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Posts Tagged ‘homemade’

Photo courtesy of Budget Bytes

That was fast.

Just a week after I took up the pursuit of an easy homemade alternative to store-bought pasta sauce, I think I’ve found my go-to recipe.

Over at Budget Bytes, Beth posted a recipe for a slow cooker marinara sauce in November (gotta give kudos to Pinterest for helping me find it). She noted that the long, slow cooking process (eight hours on low) carmelizes the sugar in the crushed tomatoes. Carmelization gives the sauce a depth of flavor that jarred pasta sauce simply cannot replicate. It’s got the hint of sweetness that a good tomato-based sauce should have without the artificial, overpoweringly syrupy sweetness offered by most manufactured sauces these days.

It was a cinch to make, too. I diced an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic the previous night and dumped everything into the 4-quart slow cooker crock the next morning. The husband texted me at lunch to let me know that it smelled delicious.

I browned a little ground beef to make a simple meat sauce and served it over two small servings of penne. (And while I’m talking about pasta, let me recommend that you cook half the recommended serving size listed on the box. The suggested serving sizes are obviously calculated to make you buy more pasta, not maintain a healthy weight.)

I might add some crushed red pepper next time for a more piquant sauce, but other than that, I’m very satisfied with this recipe. Like other tomato-based sauces, it’s going to freeze well, meaning that I’ll now have ready-to-serve pasta sauce in the freezer instead of the pantry.  It’s going to be versatile, too: Besides meat sauce, it’s going to be a great topping for ravioli and a good dipping sauce for the husband’s homemade calzones.

Next goal: A go-to, not-too-salty soup recipe to keep in the freezer.

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I spent nearly 30 minutes Sunday afternoon chopping vegetables. Homemade pico de gallo is a harsh mistress.

Admittedly, it probably should have taken only about half that long. I’m slow and accident-prone.

Still, it gave me a long time to ponder the psychology of food preparation these days.

I grew up in the ’80s, when moms were going to work in droves and the buzzword in cooking was “timesaving.” Jars of spaghetti sauce and boxes of brownie mix became standard pantry supplies.

The divide between male and female roles was never more apparent. Women became fully aware that they were working a second shift after their 9-to-5 job ended, and many resented every minute of it.

Cooking became a chore made easier by letting somebody else do the grunt work. Convenience was our mantra, and we bought into the pursuit of better living through chemistry.

Somewhere along the way, we went too far. There seems to be a couple generations of people who think nothing of buying a week’s worth of meals from the freezer case. There are likely teenagers who think French toast only comes in sticks, and that “homemade” cookies come from rolls of dough in the dairy case. There are 30-somethings who cannot navigate the meat counter, not because they’re vegetarians, but because the only meat they ever buy is pre-seasoned and pre-cooked.

I’m no cooking saint or food snob. There’s a jar of spaghetti sauce in my pantry and a big bag of Costco meatballs in the freezer, and I’m not afraid to use them.

But I’ve also made my own sauce and meatballs from a recipe passed down through my Italian mother-in-law’s family. I’ve melted three different kinds of chocolate to make brownies that would make anybody eschew the boxed stuff forever.

I, ladies and gentlemen, have made a souffle.

While there has been a foodie revolution gaining momentum over the past decade or so, the quality of many American diets seems to have gone down.

For some, it’s an economic issue. You can buy a couple of cheap hamburgers if all you have is $5 in your pocket, but that $5 won’t cover ground beef, buns, condiments and veggies to make a better version.

Note, however, that if I see you with a cart containing a $6 carton of organic milk AND a stack of Lunchables, you’re doing it wrong.

I don’t always have 45 minutes to make my own pico de gallo and fajitas, but I do have a slow cooker and mad planning skills.

All in all, I don’t mind cooking on the second shift (though I must add that the husband makes an excellent calzone and superb oatmeal cookies). I deserve proper nourishment, as does my husband and anybody else I’m feeding. More than that, though, we deserve delicious nourishment, and the way to delicious is sometimes marked with a sharp knife and zen-like concentration.

By choosing what we eat based on convenience, we stand a chance of shortchanging our bodies and our tastebuds. Avoiding that outcome is never a waste of time.

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This week's CSA haul.

This week's CSA haul.

I’m up to my neck in CSA vegetables: Swiss chard, zucchini, cucumbers, poblanos, cherry tomatoes, squash and more. I made tiny souffles (my first ever) on Friday night with a recipe for Poblano and Cheddar Cheese Souffle from the 5 Star Foodie Culinary Adventures blog. I give credit to the Inspired Bites blog for helping me through the pepper-roasting process.

Oddly, I was more scared to roast a poblano pepper than I was to attempt a souffle. Go figure.

Truly, I could not handle this culinary adventure without the world wide web. Thank you, Internets.

You’ll note that there is no photograph of these alleged souffles. That’s because about three-quarters of the way through the 20-minute baking time, I realized that I WAS ACTUALLY MAKING A NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT DISH and I SHOULD BE SCARED and THEN THE TINY SOUFFLES ACTUALLY PUFFED UP and there was no way I was taking the risk that my first-ever homemade souffles would be served all sunken and non-poofy just so I could stop and take pictures.

They looked just like the ones here, and they were delicious. Trust me. I’m a woman who can make souffles.

I leave you with photos from the other half of this weekend’s food experiments: the Dehydration Debacle. Really, it was only half a debacle. Someone at work brought in some freeze-dried snap beans last week, and they turned out to be a crunchy, tasty snack. Having an excess of snap beans AND cucumbers crowding the CSA box, I decided to drag out my old-school stackable-unit dehydrator.

The results: crunchy bean curls that don’t really taste like anything, and thin cucumber chips that I would definitely pay good money for. I put just a slight sprinkle of salt on top of most of the slices before cranking up the dehydrator, and it seems to draw out the cucumber flavor.

Next weekend, I’ll bring out the dehydrator again to take care of all the pesky zucchini and squash taking up room and dealing out guilt in the hallway closet.

Dried snap beans.

Dried snap beans.

Dried cucumber slices.

Dried cucumber slices.

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Remember training wheels? For me, they were the last bastion of bike safety, and they became more of a security blanket than a training tool. I remember being reluctant to let my dad take them off, until one day I realized that they didn’t seem to be touching the ground anymore. Sure enough, I took a short test drive on a neighbor’s non-training-wheeled bike, and I could totally ride on two wheels.

I could also totally crash on two wheels, as evidenced by the latticework of tiny souvenirs on my knees and elbows.

I’m still removing metaphorical training wheels from my life, some 30 years later.

Two weeks ago, we had one very sick cat. Yang was showing signs of kidney failure, a diagnosis that would have fit his age of 13 years.

I spent four days and nights convincing him to eat and drink. I drove to three supermarkets in search of no-sodium-added tuna. I baked him a chicken and made a salt-free stock. I woke up at 2 a.m. every day to check on him. I made sure my phone never left my side so that the vet could give me the results of the blood tests the minute they came in.

Most surprising of all, I made peace with the situation.

I realized that it was the first time I had truly been in charge of an animal’s care. Sure, I had pets as a child and even as a teenager, but my mother was, in the end, the decision-maker, the one who had to decide on treatments, the one who had to decide when to let go.

It’s not a small thing, deciding when to let go.

In the end, the blood tests came back normal and Yang started eating like a lumberjack again. It does appear that he and his brother have permanently added a couple of servings of baked chicken and homemade broth to their daily menu, but that’s a small price to pay for the return of a healthy cat.

I realize I’m not out of the woods on this forever. I have teenage cats, and they won’t live forever. Pets break your heart, every damn time.

I won’t say that the decisions I’ll be faced with one day will get any easier, but I’m on two wheels now, ready to brave the hills.

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