Cooking

Mini Pizzas and Mini Men

Daniel is becoming such a big boy, and it just shocks me.  He’s not quite 2.5 (December 2), yet he is well over 3 feet.  Add in the extra height from his stool, and he can easily see over the countertops.  We brought his stool into the kitchen recently, and he loves it.  He loves to drag it over to where we are working and watch us and preferably help.  It’s really adorable, and he is so very interested and wants to be a part.  He especially loves to watch us prepare meals.  We are “scrounging” dinner-wise this week in order not to exhaust ourselves for Thanksgiving (we are hosting), and tonight my guys decided to make mini English Muffin pizzas.  Daniel made an awesome sous chef (which he can now say & is also adorable).

Watching daddy put olive oil on the English muffins

Watching daddy put the sauce on the muffins

I can do it! Daniel sprinkling cheese on the pizzas

Ingredients

  • 2 Whole wheat English muffin pizzas halved
  • 1 cup tomato/pizza sauce (we used frozen cubes from our sauce)
  • 1 Cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Oregano

Recipe

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Drizzle olive oil other each muffin half
  • Spoon sauce over each half and spread to the edge
  • Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese
  • Sprinkle with oregano
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes

These little pizzas are ridiculously simple, yet amazingly good.  I feel less guilty about Daniel eating them than pre-packaged pizzas since I know what went into the sauce we made.  And again, so simple!!!  J and I keep saying how we need to get more ingredients (Canadian bacon, olives, artichokes, etc.) and make more “adult” pizzas, but even in this simple form, they are soooooooo good.

I love that Daniel is taking an interest in cooking.  I have always loved to cook (when I was 5, my career goal was to be an artist and a chef – one problem with that is that I have extremely little artistic ability).  In the last few years, J has become very interested in cooking and is a wonderful sous chef.  I like how we are unafraid to tackle making our own sauce, roasting turkeys or making soufflés.  It just feels good to be able to do those things, and I’m glad Daniel is taking an interest.

Do I make mistakes in the kitchen? Oh yes.  Like the omelet I burnt last weekend.  The lamb that was slightly over-cooked a few months ago (still edible and good but a little more well done than it should have been).  Dry cakes.  Ice cream that was not as sweet as it should have been.  I am not a trained chef, but that’s ok.  I like experimenting and am excited that we may be able to do that as a family.

Tell me about your family kitchen.  Do your children take an interest in helping to cook?

Tomato Sauce

A little over a year ago, J and I made our first batch of homemade tomato sauce for pasta. I think we were inspired by hard-core weekend of Food Network watching, but it was something we had talked about doing for a while.  Once we took the first bite of our sauce, we were hooked.  We could not believe how much better and fresher it tasted than jarred sauce.  Every time we have our sauce, I always marvel at how it tastes like I had wandered out that very day to our vegetable garden (which doesn’t exist yet) and picked the tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs we use.  As with all my recipes, our tomato sauce recipe is fairly fluid: the basic components stay the same, but it is easy to modify to suit your individual taste or mood.

It takes around 3-4 hours to prep, cook and blend, but it makes a HUGE amount.  From our most recent batch made last weekend, we had fresh tomato sauce on our pasta that night and still had enough to freeze 8 bags.  Each bag easily feeds the 3 of us and probably could feed a family of 4. J is a huge help with this recipe as he chops all the vegetables and herbs.  He bought a really good set of kitchen knives and few years ago and loves to use them.   This recipe would take a lot longer if he didn’t help with the chopping.

Right now we use canned tomatoes, but we do plan to plant a vegetable garden.  Eventually.  I grew up in a rural area, and my family and my aunts’ families had a garden every summer.  Not being especially athletic or outdoorsy, I hated working in the garden.  It was hot.  There were bugs (like those nasty bugs that like corn) and let’s be honest, there is something primordially scary about rows of tall corn stalks.  My mother would can or freeze the vegetables, and we’d eat on them all winter (geez, sounds like something out of Little House on the Prairie!).  I never thought I would want to have a garden, but the older I become and the scarier the world gets, the more I want one.  Baby steps.  Right now we are growing basil and mint, and we used the basil in the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 cans crushed tomatoes
  • 5 cans stewed tomatoes
  • 4 cans tomato paste
  • 7 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1  1/4 cups of red wine (we use pinot noir, but a rich cabernet could work too.  Any robust red wine will do)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 TB fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 2 TB fresh oregano, finely chopped

Directions

  • Saute the onion, pepper and garlic in oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent and the pepper is soft (about 15 minutes)

    Onions, pepper and garlic sauteeing

  • Add the tomatoes, sugar, red wine, herbs and salt (I use sea salt) and pepper

    A lot of tomatoes

Fresh oregano and basil

 

Everything! Needs a stir and to simmer for a couple of hours

  • Stir well and bring to simmer
  • Cover and reduce heat to medium-low
  • Simmer for at least an hour, stirring every 15 minutes (I like to simmer the sauce for around 2 – 3 hours because the sauce starts to thicken and it adds an extra flavor dimension and texture I can describe only as “plummy.” It’s crucial that you continue to stir so the bottom doesn’t start to burn.  Burnt sauce really sucks.)
  • Once sauce is cool enough, blend in batches (we use our ancient blender, but you could use an immersion blender)
  • Bag up the sauce and pop into the freezer (We use freezer bags which probably isn’t the best thing to use, so if you have better freezer storage options, please let me know!)

    Blended and ready to bag

Enjoy!  This Winter we hope to explore making pasta from scratch to go with our sauce. 

Do you have a favorite tomato sauce recipe?

Pot Roast: A Fall Favorite

This week’s multi-day meal is pot roast, which is perfect since this week is the first full week of Fall.  Pot roast, with its rich broth and hearty vegetables, is an ideal meal for cooler evenings or for those craving a touch of Autumn.  What I really like about this recipe is how versatile it is.  You can change up the sauce, add your favorite vegetables or more or less of the vegetables in the recipe.   I also like that this pot roast is done in the oven.  I don’t know why, but I don’t like roasts cooked on the stove top. It just seems wrong to me.  This recipe takes about 30 minutes to prep (mostly chopping the vegetables) and 2 hours to roast.

Ingredients

  • 5-6 pounds  beef roast (chuck roast, round roast, rump roast, etc.)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into wedges
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 7 Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 can of tomato juice
  • 1 package beefy onion soup mix
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • 3 TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 TBS basil
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  • Heat oil in a large pan
  • Brown the roast(s) on all sides in the pan and then place in roasting pan
  • Combine tomato juice, soup packet, water, Worcestershire sauce, basil, garlic pepper and salt and pepper
  • Pour sauce over meat

Roast covered with sauce and ready for its first sojourn in the oven

  • Cover pan with foil and roast for 1  hour
  • After an hour, add vegetables to the pan
  • Recover pan with foil and roast for another 45-60 minutes (depending on the amount of vegetables you have.  I find that a full 60 minutes works well for my oven)
  • Slice and serve!

That’s it!

Yummy!

What are your favorite pot roast recipes?

Burgundy Chicken Pie

J and I like to cook but after working all day, we find it almost impossible to cook every night. Our solution to this issue is to try to make a multi-day meal each week that will feed us for at least 2 nights, preferably three. It can be a challenge to vary the meals since J is a bit picky and I try to avoid as many carbs as possible, but we have assembled several recipes that work.

Last night I made Burgundy Chicken Pie. Being a native North Carolinian, I love chicken pie. J, however, has an aversion to thick, creamy sauces. This recipe is a good compromise because it has a savory broth that is thickened with flour. And it contains wine! What’s not to love? It’s like Paris meets the South.

Warning: this recipe has several steps and isn’t the quickest meal to put together, but it’s worth it for a multi-day meal. The original recipe had fewer steps, but I never could make it work as written without either burning the puff pastry or drying out the chicken, so I modified it and it works well.

Ingredients

  • 4 cooked, shredded chicken breasts (you could use less, but we like lots of chicken. I also bake the chicken the night before)
  • Half of an onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 5 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 1/4 cup of white wine (I used chardonnay)
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 3/4 cup of hot water
  • 1 package of puff pastry

Directions

  • Cook potatoes and carrots until tender (about 30 minutes) and drain. Set aside
  • Saute onions in 2 Tbls of oil over medium heat until softened
  • Add flour and thyme, stirring until flour is absorbed
  • Add wine and bouillon
  • Allow liquid to come to a simmer.  Simmer for 20 minutes

Sauce simmering

  • Arrange chicken, potatoes and carrots into a deep-dish pan
  • Pour sauce over the chicken, potatoes and carrots

Chicken pie before puff pastry. I add salt, pepper and more thyme

  • Arrange puff pastry over the pan
  • Bake at 350 until puff pastry is golden – around 25 minutes

Voila!

The finished product. One day I'll take more time w/ the puff pastry.

So now you know what we ate last night and will be eating tonight and tomorrow night. What’s on your plate tonight?