Getting Sauced

Getting sauced in the kitchen is one of my favorite things to do (insert wine joke here).  Very much like myself, sauces add flavor, spice, zest, personality and pizzazz to just about any boring dish.  

I’m going to share a few of my favorite sauces with you, and how I use them…but before I do that, I’m going to tell you a saucy story about my wonderful hubby.  Rated PG, of course.
A while back, I told you about pizza night.  Years ago, and sometimes even now when I’m not feeling incredibly lazy, we make our own pizza sauce.  We’d just get the plain, canned tomato sauce, and add our own fresh herbs from our garden, along with a few spices, and some cayenne pepper, because we do like to keep things spicy in the Coke house (wink!).  Normally, I handle the sauce making.  I love my husband, and I appreciate his culinary efforts endlessly, but there are certain kitchen tasks I just cannot completely trust him with yet…and one of those tasks is anything involving cayenne pepper.
One night he insisted on handling the sauce, and I finally caved.  He poured the plain sauce into the pot on the stove, and dug into the spice cabinet, not allowing me to see anything he was adding (he does the same thing with his turkey burgers – “super secret” recipe, no one can know what goes in).  He stooped over the pot, sauce beginning to bubble, and began chopping herbs and shaking jars.  Pretty soon, my stove was covered in oregano and parsley, and Evan was a whirling dervish cloud of garlic powder.  Despite the mess (which is reason number two I prefer to handle tasks involving seasoning and spicing) the sauce was really smelling heavenly, so I let it go.
We sauced the crust, topped it with our cheese and veggies, and popped it into the oven.  A glass and a half of merlot later, the timer buzzed and we were ready to chow down.  And we were hungry.  Ev sliced up the pie, plopped the piping hot, gooey mess onto our plates, and grabbed some silverware.  A quick blessing, and it was time to TCOB (for the few BTO fans who may be reading this).

I cut the perfect bite – the edge of a corner piece, cheese bubbling and slightly browned, veggies cascading down the side, and plenty of sauce, since I’m an “extra sauce” kind of gal (not a surprise, I know).  Chomp!

Oh man, it was hot…boiling hot, lava hot, 100 yard barefoot walk across an asphalt parking lot in Florida in an August heatwave hot.  “Gee,” I thought, “I really should have let this cool down some before taking such a big bite.”  Against my better judgement, I continued chewing.  And the heat did not subside.
Now, instead of having a mouthful of blazing hot asphalt, I thought I may have inadvertently used jalapeno peppers as a topping.  Nope, hotter.  Habanero?  Hotter still.  Scotch Bonnet?!  The heat was causing my eyes to water; I could feel my throat closing up, my sinuses becoming an endless waterfall of snot, and the skin on my lips melting right off of my face.  I looked at Evan, and he looked at me…and for that brief moment we shared the same thought: CHEESE AND CRACKERS, WHAT ARE WE EATING?!
Some of you may have spit the food out, and that’s probably what I should have done, as it would have prevented the six hours of heartburn I suffered through later that night.  But, in an effort to support my husband’s attempt at saucing the pizza, I swallowed.  After swallowing, our shared thought became my very vocal outcry.  I immediately went to the kitchen for a glass of milk.  There was no stinkin’ way I could finish that pizza.
Evan knew it was too hot, and he profusely apologized.  But, lip skin be damned, he soldiered on and ate his pizza.  I distinctly remember him telling me, through huge mouthfuls of pizza and gulps of milk, “It’s not so hot if you just keep eating…you just can’t stop eating it.  Once you stop, the heat comes back.  Just keep chewing.”  No sir.  I value my lip skin; my lips are one of my best features, and I wasn’t going to have them marred by your “Cayenne Pepper SMD” – Sauce of Mass Destruction.
Since the Saucetastrophe of 2005, Evan has toned down his seasoning frenzy.  He likes to season with flare; grand sweeping gestures, sprinkling from high above the pan, just like they do on Food Network.  But, he’s learned that you can accomplish the same thing with a pinch that you can with a hearty shake of the can.  Those hearty shakes are for herbs, not cayenne.  Then, a few years ago, we discovered Barilla’s jarred Arrabiata sauce, and we’ve rarely made our own since then.  Arrabiata is a spicy marinara, and it’s fabulous, with the perfect amount of heat (and my stove top doesn’t even look like someone emptied their lawnmower bag all over it).
Sauces aren’t just Italian, and the aren’t just for pizza or pasta (although I will share my favorite quick Italian sauce for pasta).  A quick note on our recipes: we only use extra virgin olive oil; any sauce using chicken broth was made with fat free reduced sodium broth, and all sauces are made in a large sautee pan (with the exception of the first sauce).
So, without further ado, here are my top five sauces for busy weeknights…
Lemon Yogurt Sauce – Perfect for…fish, chicken, lean pork chops.
Ingredients:
1/3 cup plain yogurt (we prefer Greek)
2 tablespoons honey (we prefer orange blossom)
Juice of one lemon (we prefer yellow…ha, just making sure you’re paying attention!)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste 
Directions: Whisk together in a bowl, then top your meat.  Simple, right?

Raspberry Balsamic Glaze – Perfect for…chicken or lean pork.
Ingredients:
1/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves (you can use with seeds as well, just floss really well after dinner)
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
Sprinkle of thyme
Salt and pepper
Minced red onion, sauteed (optional)
Directions: If using red onion, sautee until tender, approximately 2-3 minutes on medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and add all remaining ingredients, whisking until combined.  Pour over your meat.  You can also cube or slice your meat, and toss it in the sauce.

Fig and Marsala Sauce – Perfect for: pork loin or lean cuts of beef.
Ingredients:
Medium Vidalia onion, sliced
10-12 figs, chopped
Three slices uncooked bacon, diced
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup Marsala wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
Olive oil
Directions: On medium-high heat, sautee the onion, figs, bacon and mushrooms together until onions begin to carmelize.  Add wine, and cook until liquid has reduced to half.  Add broth, continue cooking an additional 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat, add butter.  Pour over meat (include onions, mushrooms and figs – super yummy).  We only get this one a few times a year, when figs are in season.  This is from an Apron’s recipe Publix had a couple years ago, they used a whole pork loin roasted with rosemary – superb!  We’ve found the sauce goes great with other cuts of meat as well.

Creamy Swiss Sauce – Perfect for: chicken, lean pork, or veggies.
Ingredients:
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced Vidalia onion
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup skim or fat free milk
6 oz. Swiss cheese (we buy the block and shred it ourselves)
Splash of dry white wine (optional, but you can always just pour a glass for yourself)
Directions: Heat olive oil on medium heat, add onion and garlic, cook until onion is translucent.  Add flour, whisk until combined.  Add broth, milk and wine, bring to a boil, then remove from heat.  Add your cheese, stir until melted.  If serving over meat, pour.  If serving with veggies, add veggies to pan and stir to combine.  Great with broccoli, cauliflower and baby carrots.  This is from a Skinny Taste recipe for Chicken Divan, but we’ve found the sauce is great on its own or with veggies.

Lazy Pasta Sauce – Perfect for…pasta.  Use it with spaghetti, rotini, or as your lasagna sauce.
Ingredients:
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (we use Tuttorosso – get the green label, it’s the absolute best)
3 garlic cloves, smashed
4-6 plum tomatoes, chopped or sliced
1 pound hot Italian turkey sausage (we use Jennie-O)
16 oz. Ricotta cheese (you can use full fat, we go with part skim, and it’s still delish)
Fresh basil
Directions: Remove sausage from casing, and cook until brown.  Add garlic, cook an additional 2-3 minutes on medium-high heat.  Reduce to medium-low, add chopped tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and ricotta.  Combine well, allow to simmer 5 minutes.  Top with chopped fresh basil.  This is my husband’s all-time fave sauce, and it is beyond easy to throw together on a busy weeknight.  The Jennie-O sausage is so perfectly seasoned, we never have to add a thing to this sauce!
And there you have it…now you’re in on my saucy secrets.  Cheers!
Advertisements

Makin’ a Pizza!

The Cokes are pizza lovers; but, because I’m also super conscious about the food we eat (read: Weight Watchers brainwashed me forever…) we don’t indulge in pizza very often.  Twice a month, always on a Saturday night, we’ll make our own deep dish pizza at home.
I like eating out, but I love eating in.  I love eating in when it’s a meal we’ve spent time perfecting; when we’ve created something that we truly do love because it has our favorite spices, flavors, etc.  And after a few years of experimenting, we have become the Pizza Masters.
It started off as a basic supreme pizza on a hand-tossed crust, and evolved into the deep dish vegetarian monster we have today.  I’m going to share the foundation for our recipe with you, but first, I thought I’d share a funny pizza story.  That’s what you’re really here for anyway, right?
Now, there are two funny pizza stories I could tell you.  The first involves Evan making the sauce, and consequently causing all of our taste buds to melt in a Mount Vesuvius frenzy of cracked red pepper.  The second involves Evan…well…makin’ a pizza.  Because I have a few sauce recipes I’ll be sharing down the road, I think I’ll save the cracked red pepper tale, and go with what’s behind door number two (lifetime supply of Turtle Wax!) 🙂
Evan asked me to marry him in August 2004, and two months later, we went on our first vacation together to Bryson City, NC (a combo engagement-birthday-Kristin is FINALLY 21-trip)…and PS, the “Kristin is FINALLY 21” is also a story to share…maybe I’ll do a wine post one of these days.
I digress.  In this early-ish stage of our relationship, we weren’t living together yet (we became heathens the following year) but we did spend most of our time together, and had started cooking dinner together as well.  One of the meals we’d done was, in fact, pizza.  We get our pizza dough in the Publix bakery…their fresh dough is fabulous, and waaay easier than making it yourself.  Back then, we were still in our “hand-tossed” phase, which meant lots of stretching, pulling, rolling, and yes, tossing the pizza dough into the air.
Back to vacation.  We’d arrived at our cabin after a 12 hour drive.  We were definitely ready for some R&R.  Evan decided to take a shower while I unpacked.  I made a few trips to the truck, bringing in bags and cleaning out the remains of our road trip, and each time I came into the bedroom I could hear Evan talking.  Now, I talk to myself frequently, so I thought nothing of it to hear Ev in there, scrubbing away and yammering on.  I tuned him out.
Finally, I brought the last suitcase to the bedroom, and began putting clothes away in the armoire.  My ears perked up as I heard what I thought was a jolly Italian man – in our bathroom.  I slowly opened the door, and tiptoed inside.  I stood there, staring at the shower curtain, positive the noise I’d heard was coming from that direction.  All of a sudden, the washcloth came flying up into the air above the shower, then sailed back down.  “Well that’s a very strange way to shower”, I thought to myself.  It happened a couple more times in silence, and then, I heard my jolly Italian man…
“I’M-AH MAKIN-AH PIZZA!”  (washcloth up, washcloth down)
Excuse me?  Did you say what I think you said?
“I’M-AH MAKIN-AH PIZZA!!!”  (washcloth up, washcloth down)
Oh yes, he did.  He said exactly what I think he said.
I stood in the bathroom, in awe and disbelief, as my fiancee of two months tossed “pizza dough” into the air while he showered.  I was in love!
From that day forward, every single pizza night in our house has started with the phrase, “I’m-ah makin-ah pizza!”  It’s the kitchen equivalent of, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
I’m sure my husband will be thrilled to know I’ve shared this story with you all.  Coincidentally, it was shared today in the same manner it’s been shared in the past – after two glasses of shiraz. 🙂 And now, because you’ve been so patient, here’s how the Cokes do pizza…
Deeeep Dish Pizza
Ingredients
Pizza dough (no recipe, I’m lazy – go to the Publix bakery)
One jar of Barilla Arrabiata pasta sauce (still lazy – also, sauce story and recipe to follow)
One 16 oz. block of Sorrento whole milk mozzarella
Olive Oil (no measuring)  Hint: I am in l-o-v-e with the Crisco Olive Oil spray (like Pam, but better)
Parmesan Cheese (no measuring)
Italian Seasoning (you get the idea…)
Toppings
Directions
Preheat your oven according to the Publix directions.  Drizzle or spray your olive oil in a 9×9 pan.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning in the bottom of the pan, liberally.  Really liberally.  Then, when you think you have enough…add more parm.  Trust me, the crust will be fab.  Work your dough (punch, knead, stretch, whisper sweet nothings) into the pan, and bake for about 10 minutes.  While the dough is baking, prepare your toppings and shred the entire block of mozzarella cheese.
Once the dough is out (won’t be done, but this helps to ensure it won’t be raw in the middle) pour your sauce on top…all over, there’s no crust, so we don’t need to be polite.  Once the dough is sauced (like me – haha!) sprinkle one third of the cheese on top, then add all your toppings, and finish with the remainder of the cheese.  Sprinkle some parsley on top, and toss that puppy back in the oven for another 20-25 minutes.  You’ll know it’s done when it’s oozing over the side of the pan, sizzling in the bottom of your oven.  We always let our pizza rest about five minutes before slicing.
Vegeterian Monster Toppings
We don’t do sausage, pepperoni, ham, etc. on our pizza (anymore…sorry, Ev!).  We’re a veggie-only household now.  Our faves?  In no particular order…Roma tomatoes, green pepers, Vidalia onion, portabello mushrooms, black olives, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli and cauliflower, along with some fresh basil.  And sometimes, some spinach.  You should see the mess in the bottom of my oven!

Cheers! 🙂

Leftover Peanut Butter and Overripe Bananas

In our open-concept kitchen pantry (read: no doors or cabinets – totally open, and beautifully constructed by my hubby) we have what’s called a “baking basket.”  Let me see if I can find a photo…
There…top left corner, that’s the baking basket!
 Of course I have to show off a little bit more…
 Aaand…done.
Have I mentioned how awesome it is being married to a handyman?  This also reminds me I should update the rest of our remodeling photos, now that the construction is finished.
Anyway, back to the basket.  So this baking basket holds exactly what you’d think: sprinkles, coconut flakes, chocolate chips, brown sugar, pecans…everything I need for holidays, birthdays and special occasions.  It gets used pretty frequently from October through December, then again from March through May.  After that, there comes a lull in baking.  But, in good Southern spirit (and with my mom’s voice in the background reminding me that I should never waste anything) I’ll haul that sucker down and take a peek at what’s inside.  And that, my friends, is how many of my husband’s all-time favorite cookie recipes are born.
Since “Baking Basket Day” began a few years ago, we’ve had some really tasty treats come out of this oven…all in oatmeal cookie form.  So today, I thought I’d share the coveted basic oatmeal cookie recipe that all my BBD wonders are made of…
Basic Oatmeal Cookies
Ingredients
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups rolled oats (aka “quick cooking” oats, in the oatmeal section)
2 cups all-purpose flour (wheat flour works, too)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
Directions: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  In a medium bowl, combine the salt, baking powder, baking soda and flour.  Using a hand mixer in a medium bowl, or a stand mixer, cream together the butter, white and brown sugars, then add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla extract.  Add the sugar mixture to the flour mixture, stir together, then add your quick cooking oats.  Add your favorite baking basket goodies.  Scoop by tablespoon onto a greased baking pan, then bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on whether you like chewy (8ish minutes) or cripsy (12ish minutes) cookies.
So, what can you add to a baking basket oatmeal cookie?  Well, here are the ingredients I’ve added to the basic recipe in the past:
Coco-Choco Oatmeal Cookies: Added the rest of a bag of coconut flakes (I’ll guess a bit more than 3/4 full) along with half a bag of large semi-sweet chocolate chips, and a full bag of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, along with a dash of pumpkin pie spice.  Yes, pumpkin pie spice…it’s a super lazy way to get all my fave spices in one shake!
Triple Chipperdoodles: Decent amount of white chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate and butterscotch chips, two teaspoons of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg and a dash of allspice (note: I am a big fan of allspice).
Graceland Oatmeal Cookie: Two very ripe mashed bananas, half a jar of chunky peanut butter, a bag of jumbo semi-sweet chocolate chips and half a bag of walnuts (crushed) and I’m certain some allspice…just a tad.
You may notice there are no real measurements to the basket ingredients…and that’s because I am literally cleaning out the basket.  So, whatever half-empty bags of chips, flakes, sprinkles, etc., are in there, go into the cookie.  It’s really about feeling the cookie; getting that cookie vibe, knowing whether it needs coconut or peanut butter.  Is it a sweet little butterscotch cookie, or a ticked off ginger cookie?  Dark chocolate, or white chocolate?  Where are my dried cranberries?  And just how many chocolate chips is my husband going to think I didn’t see him eat?!
BBD has taught me which spices I love (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves) and which I hate (okay, none…).  It’s an awesome way to get creative, come up with a recipe of your very own, and really understand how flavors can work together.
If my mom is reading this (as she should be…) she’s probably surprised I shared a recipe.  Normally, I won’t share the true recipe; I always omit something, or change a measurement (I know, I know).  I’m pretty big on keeping family secrets close to the vest; I usually only share the real-deal recipe with the closest friends, and only when asked repeatedly (also, after bargaining for cat-sitting services or bottles of wine).  But this is one recipe I’m happy to share, because it’s really not mine…it’s yours.  Yours to create something utterly decadent, or totally screw up (stay away from dried apricots).  The choice is yours.
Finally, I’ll share one teensy little baking tip that I’ve found makes cookies and breads even more delicious.  If you come across a recipe (such as the basic oatmeal cookie) that calls for both brown and white sugars…take the white sugar amount, and cut it in half.  Now, add that amount to the brown sugar.  That’s it.  It gives the cookies or bread a warm, sweet, molasses taste, without the super sweet, teeth gritting kick you’ll sometimes get from just plain old white sugar.
And now you know my BBD secrets.  The next time you see a cookie post, rest assured that the inspiration truly was, “what am I supposed to do with three bags of Christmas M&M’s in July?!”
Happy baking!