Post 111 – 3 Secrets of Roasting Meat

IMG_0672IMG_0673I wish I could say that this beautiful golden chicken pictured above is one that I cooked. Alas, it is not. Above is a photo of the cookbook recipe I was trying to make. The chicken I made tasted delicious, but it was not the stuff of magazine photo spreads (see below – I started to carve into hence the big slit)

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In continuation of my Cookbook Challenge, I made a roasted pork tenderloin and a whole roasted chicken. Without really noticing, the two dishes had most of the same seasoning and flavors, but then again they both came from Williams-Sonoma cookbooks (I failed to notice that until just now). I made them both anyway and they were delicious. I followed the recipes as instructed, but found that there were a few things I wish the recipes had mentioned. I knew better from previous cooking experience, but decided to follow the recipes nonetheless. Below I will share with you three secrets I use for roasting meat.

1. Start with a hot pan. Whether you are searing the meat for color and flavor or simply jump-starting the cooking process, a hot pan definitely improves the flavor of the dish and can reduce time spent on the dish. The recipe I used for the roasted chicken called for preheating the (oven-safe) pan on the stove on high heat before placing the chicken in the pan and immediately transferring it to the oven. (If you are using a pyrex dish or something not designed for the stove-top, preheat in the oven for 5 minutes.) The pork recipe did not call for preheating, though I have made pork tenderloin much faster and better before by first pan-searing the pork on all sides and finishing it in the oven.

2. Don’t be afraid to use a little fat. Some cuts of meat are leaner than others, but to get a good sear on anything you are going to need at least some fat. Even if the meat has some fat in it, you’ll want to use a little because it won’t release that fat right away. If you’re searing a pork tenderloin start with a quick swirl of oil (1 Tablespoon) in the pan as it’s heating up. Similarly with the chicken, make sure to lightly oil your pan before dropping the chicken in. The chicken will give off some fat later in the cooking process, but once that dry chicken hits a dry pan, it’s a lot more likely to stick and result in the bare, skinless look that I got on top (the chicken was breast side down in the pan to start).

3. Give time and space to brown. When cooking multiple pieces of meat in the same pan (or even vegetables, you have to give them some space in order for them to really caramelize (i.e. brown). If the pieces are too close together, they will create steam instead, which will cook the meat, but not give it the depth of flavor that caramelization brings. You also want to give your meat time. If you put it in the pan and after a minute pick it up to check on it, you won’t see much. Browning takes time. A hot pan, fat, and space will help of course, but without allowing the meat to sit in the hot pan enough, you risk it either sticking (time will help to release it) or not developing that beautiful golden-brown color.

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Tasty pork tenderloin, but without much color to it other than the spice rub. By the way the cover photo is of another dish.

IMG_1383Both of these meats including a delicious spice rub that can either be rubbed on in advance or right before cooking. I hope you’ll put these helpful tips to use. Roasting meat is not that hard and is delicious when hot and fresh from the oven. Give these recipes a try! Bon appetit!

 

Roasted Herb-rubbed Chicken

adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Entertaining

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T. fresh chopped rosemary

1 T. fennel seeds

grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tsp. Kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

3.5-4 lb. chicken

With a spice grinder or mini food processor, pulse the spices together into a coarse paste. Rub all over a whole chicken that has been patted dry and any inner parts removed. Refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.

Remove the chicken from the fridge one hour before roasting. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Heat a heavy cast iron skillet on the stove over high until hot. Put a splash of oil in to keep the chicken from sticking. Turn off the heat. Place the chicken breast side up in the pan and immediately put in the oven. Cook for an hour or until chicken is 170 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest 15 minutes before carving. Add 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth to the hot skillet and heat over medium low heat, scraping the drippings from the chicken to incorporate. Cook until reduced by half and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Taste and adjust as needed. Serve on top or alongside the chicken.

Roasted Herb-rubbed Pork Tenderloin

1 lemon

1.5 T. fennel seeds

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced

1.5 T. olive oil

1 lb. pork tenderloin

Grate 1.5 tsp. of zest and juice 1 T. of the lemon, being careful to avoid the seeds. Lightly crush or chop the fennel seeds. Mix together the lemon juice, zest, and all of the other ingredients except the pork (including the olive oil). Rub all over the pork and let sit 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425. In an oven-safe skillet heat a splash of olive over medium to med-high heat. After a few minutes, add the pork and allow to sear for a good 3 to 5 minutes. Using tongs carefully flip the pork to sear the other side and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. You can sear the skinnier sides too if desired, though this is not necessary. Turn off the heat and transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking the pork. Cook for another 12-15 minutes or until the thickest part registers 145-150. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes before cutting. (Here’s a tip: Put a hot mitt on the handle of the pan you used to cook the pork so that you remember that it is hot from the oven!) Slice on the diagonal into 1/2 slices and serve.

 

 

 

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Post 110 – You are what you cook?

To get the results you want, it all depends what you’re aiming for. The best recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies. The all organic recipe. The natural foods recipe. The healthy recipe. The sustainable recipe. The list goes on and on. There are so many times when choosing a recipe that these are the types of question I face. Do I want my ingredients to convey how “good this cookie is or do I want the taste of my cookie to speak for itself?

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At any one point in time we are trying to define ourselves: a neat freak, a runner, a healthy eater, a minimalist. We do all the research to find out how to be that person, what to buy and what not to buy and how to show ourselves to the world. We convince ourselves that it’s a goal worth pursuing, that it’s the right thing to do, and why haven’t we been doing it all along? A week later, a month later, it’s a different story. Things fall apart, we get out of the habit and it’s back to the self we were before (which isn’t necessarily a bad one). The next week it’s something new that we’ve discovered and we’re off again pursuing the new version of me. That’s how it is for me anyway, especially when it comes to food.

Once-baked biscotti (which means twice-cooked)

Once-baked biscotti (a cookie whose name means twice-cooked)

This month I began the Cookbook Challenge – a self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from every cookbook that I own. I didn’t start off with a lot of written rules, other than stating that the majority of my recipes should come from cookbooks and not the Internet. I also told myself that I had to follow the recipes as closely as possible, only substituting or changing ingredients if I thought it would greatly affect the dish or if I did not have that ingredient on hand. I started this challenge wanting every recipe to be a stunning, new fan favorite, but also to reflect something positive about me as a cook. My cooking persona has taken on the personality of whatever cookbook I choose that day. Sometimes it’s telling me to indulge in coffee-flavored cookies for breakfast and other times it’s telling me that love is its own special ingredient.

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In the past few days I have baked Whole Wheat Bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (delicious fresh from the oven and slathered with butter); “Chicken Limon” from Seasoned with Love (another community cookbook from my aunt in Georgia – the recipe was fairly bland and unlikely to be repeated); and Cranberry Breakfast Biscotti from Maxwell House Coffee Drinks and Desserts Cookbook (crunchy Italian cookies with a slight coffee flavor. Sam enjoyed them, though I wasn’t a big fan, so he took them to work to share).

IMG_1356Unfortunately none of these recipes felt very much like me. But then again who am I?

Since writing this blog, I have oscillated between gourmande and ascetic, baking elaborate desserts just for the joy of making them and giving up whole categories of food just to feel better. I have spent so much time trying to define who I am and trying to show you who I am through my food and yet I still go back and forth in deciding what kind of cook I want to be and the food I want to make.

I love food. I love the tactile feel of it beneath my fingers and the magic of transformation on the stove and in the oven. I love connection. I love sharing a good meal with someone, sharing the experience of eating that first delicious bite, or seeing someone enjoy food that I’ve made. But how do I translate this love for food and love for feeding people into something real? Into something that reflects me? I want to taste all of the flavors, try all the recipes that seduce me with their perfected photographs, and in the end still feel vibrant and healthy and fulfilled. Is that so much to ask?

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In the end, perhaps it is better not to define ourselves by the food that we eat or cook. Anyway, who says we can only be one type of person? More and more lately I have realized the importance of being yourself and accepting yourself as you are (as cliche and unexciting as it sounds). Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project puts it nicely in this article. In it she says that ultimately we must acknowledge who we are, the very essence that makes me Erin, the you-ness that makes you you, and in recognizing ourselves we must also recognize the things that are not us. Maybe I’m not the health guru I want to be or the gourmet baker, but that is okay. I am more than the food that I cook or the food that I eat.

When we try new things (recipes, hobbies, habits) we discover other possibilities for ourselves (or rule them out) and there is no one perfect answer for anyone. It takes time to figure ourselves out and to answer the many questions in our lives. If nothing else, we are asking the questions.

More recipes to come (hopefully ones worth sharing!)

Post 109 – Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage

Following a few days of eating that mac and cheese, which was delicious, I opted for a lighter recipe. This one comes from Nigella Lawson and her seductive book Nigella Bites.

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IMG_1338Though Nigella called for standard cabbage in her recipe, I opted for Napa cabbage as it is lighter in flavor and less densely packed per head. I find that even when I buy the smallest head of cabbage I can find, it balloons into this giant overflowing bowl once I cut it up. That amount of cabbage I will never eat by myself (and Sam hardly helps). With the Napa cabbage it hardly seems to be as big of a problem, or maybe it just depends on the recipe you turn it into.

IMG_1342Nigella also calls for fresh mint though I used cilantro instead. I prefer the flavor of the cilantro and I could not find mint at the store. Along with a few other slight variations, I followed the general flavors of her dish including the lime juice, fish sauce, and rice wine vinegar.

This salad is delicious with or without the chicken and would be particularly good in the summer. Served with the chicken, it makes for a delicious light lunch. Leave the chicken out and it would pair nicely with a hearty meat dish.

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A pepper mustache

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Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad

adapted from Nigella Bites

There are so many delicious recipes I could make from this cookbook – Chocolate Cloud Cake, Sticky Toffee pudding, pigs in blankets, and Deep-fried Candy Bars with Pineapple, but when choosing recipes I want to eat I have to keep some kind of balance and while sweets are delicious, I cannot live on them alone.

1 head napa cabbage

1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded

1/2 a bell pepper, chopped

chopped cilantro (to your tastes)

1 garlic clove, minced

1 T. sugar

1.5 tsp. rice vinegar or rice wine (Mirin)

1.5 T. lime juice

1.5 T. fish sauce

1.5 T. vegetable oil

1 cooked chicken breast, shredded or chopped

Rinse and remove the outer leaves from the cabbage. Shred with a sharp knife or a food processor and transfer to a large bowl. Mix in carrots, bell pepper, and cilantro. In a separate small bowl mix garlic, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and vegetable oil. Stir to dissolve the sugar and toss with cabbage mixture. Toss in cilantro. Mix in chicken or store separately and serve with the coleslaw.

IMG_1348Another cookbook done!

Post 108 – Homemade Mac and Cheese… and what to do with the leftovers

Sunday macaroni and cheese was an unspoken tradition for my family growing up. We came home from church, hungry for lunch (despite the cookies we probably gobbled down at “coffee hour”) and looking for something quick and tasty. My mom cooked plenty of homemade meals when I was young, but for reasons unknown we always had the blue box Kraft Mac n’ Cheese instead of homemade. Perhaps Mom had grown up on it too. Perhaps she wanted something quick and easy. Perhaps her three daughters had tried homemade mac and cheese and turned their noses up at it. Who knows.

IMG_1311We loved it of course and made it pretty much every Sunday. It counted as the main meal, though now and then we’d mix in some cut-up hot dogs while our parents opted for the more adult mix of canned tuna mac.

At some point, however, I learned how to make the basic roux (flour and butter) that started any good bechamel sauce. Mom probably used it at some point to make nacho sauce or homemade mac and cheese, but in general, I remember the Kraft mac and cheese – the familiar blue box, the bright orange powder packet, the black pepper our neighbor and babysitter, Lee, always put on his.

IMG_1314As an adult I have tried making mac and cheese, but always to my disappointment. It’s hard to compare to that bright cheesy flavor and color that I remember from my childhood. The flavor always seems to miss the mark. I’ve made it at work with butternut squash mixed in (that obviously changes the flavor) and for the growing toddlers almost 5-year old twins I cook for who request it every time they see me (not because it’s particularly good, but because it’s a kid-approved favorite). Nonetheless I have yet to find a recipe I’m thrilled about. This one gets me much closer. I’m sure the kind of cheese you use makes all the difference.

IMG_1318In my Cookbook Challenge adventures for this week, I turned to a compilation of recipes from Lamar County in Georgia where my aunt and her family live. She has a love for cooking as I do and has given me several cookbooks throughout the years, including this one. Though I was tempted to make many of the student-submitted recipes for “a saled” with “curumbers” and “geshin” (dressing), I chose this mac and cheese recipe instead. I modified the recipe slightly, making more noodles for the amount of cheese sauce called for, and was very happy with the results. It has a slight mustard-y taste, which I don’t mind so much, but I tried to adjust for it in my version here. I also used my favorite brand of Dijon mustard – Maille – which is particularly pungent. Also, her recipe originally calls for extra sharp cheddar and I only used sharp cheddar. You choose which one you prefer.

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It certainly doesn’t have that bright orange color that Kraft does, but it made for some lip-licking mac and cheese.

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

adapted from A++ Recipes from Lamar County

1/2 lb. elbow pasta

1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk

1/3 cup chicken broth

1 T. butter

2.5 T. all-purpose flour

1/2-1 tsp. Dijon mustard

2.5 T. grated Parmesan

5 oz. shredded sharp cheddar

salt and pepper to taste

Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil. Add a hefty pinch of salt and the elbow noodles. Stir to break up the noodles and cook according to the package directions (5-7 minutes) until al dente. Drain the noodles and spread out on a cookie sheet or large dish to cool so they don’t stick together. In a microwave-safe measuring cup, heat the evaporated milk and chicken broth until hot and steaming, but not boiling (1-2 minutes in the microwave). Meanwhile in the same pot, melt the butter, add the flour and stir. Gradually whisk in the milk mixture, carefully breaking up any clumps if you can. At this point it may look very curdled and chunky, but as long as most of the lumps are out, it will be fine when the dish is finished.

Continue to whisk until the milk mixtures thickens a bit, 3 minutes or so. Whisk in the mustard and Parmesan. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheddar until melted. Add the cooled pasta, stir to incorporate and reheat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with fresh fresh ground black pepper or garlic powder.

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WAIT WAIT WAIT! Don’t go away. This is a two-in-one deal. “What to do with the leftovers?” you say!

Leftover macaroni just doesn’t have the same creamy appeal as the fresh from the stove version, but that doesn’t mean you should let those leftovers go to waste in the fridge. If you’re feeling extra decadent, just waffle it.

What?

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That’s right, waffle it. (Waffle is now a verb). What could be better (and healthier -ha!) than breaded and waffle-fied mac and cheese? Daniel Shumski’s book Will it Waffle? fulfills all your waffle fantasies. I bought this book as an impulse buy at Brookline Booksmith. Shumski himself was there giving out waffled samples and promoting his book. Feeling bold I went over to talk with him (I’d seen the blog) and ended up buying the book (with the intention of giving it to someone for Christmas). My mac and cheese solidified magnificently, making it especially easy for breading. This recipe adds a great crunch and pizzazz to an otherwise stiff leftover dish.

Waffled Mac and Cheese

adapted from Will it Waffle?

Leftover Macaroni and Cheese (see above recipe)

2 eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated hard cheese such as Parmesan

salt and pepper to taste

non-stick cooking spray

Heat your waffle iron to medium if possible (mine only has on or off and it worked well).

Cut the macaroni into slices about 1/2 thick. If it is much thicker, it may not heat all the way through without burning your breading. Set up three shallow bowls – the first with the flour, the second with the eggs and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and the third with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan. If your breadcrumbs are plain you might consider adding a sprinkle of black pepper or garlic powder (as I did to my Panko crumbs).

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Now carefully dredge your macaroni slices, one at a time, in the flour, egg, and breadcrumbs. Put in the middle of a well-sprayed or greased preheated waffle iron. Close the lid and press down gently. Allow to cook for 3 minutes or until nicely browned. Carefully remove with a spatula and/or tongs and enjoy hot! Repeat with remaining macaroni slices.

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Bon appetit! Two more cookbooks checked off my list!

Post 107 – The Cookbook Challenge

I have a lot of cookbooks. Not as many as some people I’m sure, but I still have a plethora. I have old ones, I have new ones. I have thin and thick, tall and small. I used to collect them simply because family and friends knew that buying me a cookbook was an easy Christmas or birthday gift. Eventually I realized this could get out of control and I said, no more cookbooks! Sometimes I still pine for more when flipping through the glossy pages of a new one at Brookline Booksmith – my favorite bookstore.

IMG_1306So what to do with all these cookbooks? After talking with someone this past week who herself was trying to make better use of her collection, I decided that I need to cook from my cookbooks way more often. These days, I tend to go to the internet when I want a new recipe (or when I want to share a recipe – hello blog!) and my poor cookbooks are just taking up space on my bookshelf.

Oatmeal raisin pancakes for breakfast!

Oatmeal raisin pancakes for breakfast with cinnamon sour cream!

So I decided to do a cookbook challenge. I will make at least one recipe out of every cookbook that I own for the next several weeks (months? years?) until I get through every last one. I am still allowed to use the internet for a few recipes here and there, but the majority of my recipes will be from cookbooks that I own. This way I can still expand my recipe repertoire (as many of them have never been used!) and give my collection of cookbooks a little love.

I started my challenge yesterday, making oatmeal raisin pancakes with cinnamon sour cream for breakfast (pictured above). This recipe comes courtesy of Dorie Greenspan from a small book of pancakes I picked up at a used bookstore in Maine while visiting my aunt and uncle’s summer cabin. I altered the recipe slightly and the pancakes and sour cream topping turned out delicious!

Oatmeal Raisin Pancakes with Cinnamon Sour Cream

adapted from Pancakes: Morning to Midnight by Dorie Greenspan

serves 2-3 people generously

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

2 T. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

2 T. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1/2 cup raisins

For the sour cream: Mix 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and 2 tsp. brown sugar and set aside.

For the pancakes: mix all of the dry ingredients (flour through baking soda) in one bowl. Mix all of the wet ingredients (butter through egg) in another. Add the wet to the dry and stir just enough so that all of the dry is moistened. Fold in raisins. Allow the batter to sit and absorb the liquid for 10 minutes. Preheat a pan or griddle to medium-low as you would for pancakes. When the pan is hot, add the batter in 1/4 cup ladles and cook for a few minutes until bubbles form. Flip and cook another minute more. Remove to a plate and serve with cinnamon sour cream. Repeat with remaining batter.

Now don’t think I stopped at one recipe for the day. After all, the day had only begun. For dinner I made Salmon in Phyllo (Filo) from the Better Homes and Gardens 75th anniversary cookbook. I had originally planned to make a steak and ale pie using the phyllo in honor of Pi day, but I ended up changing my mind. To use up the already thawed phyllo, I decided a sort of Salmon en croute would be delicious.

IMG_1297These pretty fillets were topped with rosemary, salt, pepper, and don’t forget BUTTER – whoa nelly! Wrapped up in pretty little packages, I tucked them in the oven to brown.

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Atop a colorful pot holder

The salmon and phyllo were flaky and wonderful, flavored nicely with the dried rosemary. Perhaps because of all the butter, the fish was very filling. I served it with roasted potatoes and as always a green salad.

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Salmon in Phyllo

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens 75th anniversary cookbook

2/3-3/4 lb. salmon fillets

4-6 sheets of phyllo dough

rosemary, salt, pepper

3-4 T. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly butter a medium sized oven-safe dish.

Cut your salmon into two equal size pieces if it isn’t already. Pat dry with paper towels and season with salt, pepper, and fresh or dried rosemary.

On a clean surface, lay out your phyllo dough, one layer at a time, brushing each with butter before adding the next layer. When all layers are done, add your salmon pieces on top, spacing them evenly apart. Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo dough to separate into two pieces for each piece of salmon. Fold two opposite sides over the fish, brushing with more butter as needed and roll or tuck up the ends to make a package. Place in your oven-safe dish and bake for 18-20 minutes depending on the thickness of your fish. If it is an inch thick, 18 minutes is perfect. It is hard to check the doneness of the salmon though since it is wrapped in the pastry. You can cut into it if you are worried about the fish being done. Serve with mustard or a mustard cream sauce (as recommended in the book).

Since we don’t usually like to eat leftover fish, I made one more dish (from yet another cookbook!) for Sam to take for lunch today – Peppered Chicken Stir Fry. This came from a giant cookbook filled with an assortment of recipes from all different cuisines. Chicken is mixed with ketchup and soy sauce and then dredged in crushed peppercorns. It’s pretty peppery, which I knew Sam would love. Serve it with rice for a tasty and well-balanced meal.

IMG_1294(1)I have cooked from three of my cookbooks (out of how many?)

The cookbook challenge has begun!

Peppered Chicken Stir Fry

from 1000 Classic Recipes

1 lb. chicken breast

2 T. ketchup

2 T. soy sauce

2 T. crushed mixed peppercorns (I beat mine contained in a ziploc bag with a meat mallet)

2 bell peppers, your choice of color, sliced

2 handfuls of sugar snap peas

2 T. oyster sauce

Brown rice to serve

Heat up a large skillet or wok over medium heat with a tablespoon of oil.

Thinly slice your chicken breast and mix it with the ketchup and soy sauce. Toss in the crushed peppercorns and mix it all together. When the oil is starting to shimmer, add your chicken breast slices and stir fry for a few minutes until no longer pink on the outside. Add your sliced peppers and snap peas and stir. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the oyster sauce and allow it to cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with brown rice.

Post 106 – Store-bought from scratch

We all get stuck in our habits and routines. Lunch at 12:30 even if you’re not hungry. Stay home on Sunday morning even though there’s a delicious bakery down the street. Buy the same brands, eat the same foods. When you always do something, the habit gets so ingrained that it becomes hard to imagine the other possibilities. If you always buy your granola, why would you consider making it? Store-bought pesto – easy! While these quick grabs can definitely be a time saver, there are some days when you have the time and it’s totally worth it (and even an improvement) to make your own. For some reason this past weekend I was inspired to try making what for me are usually store bought foods – pita bread and marinara sauce. The results: delicious!

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Now you might remember that I’ve gone through some different food experiments while writing this blog. I’ve dealt with acid reflux (still do), I tried an elimination diet, and I tried some low FODMAP recipes. I became frustrated when nothing in particular seemed to make me feel 100% better and I started to wonder: is this a part of getting older? Did I develop some kind of strange allergy or disease? Is this permanent? Was I dealing with some serious pre-wedding stress last year? I didn’t feel stressed. Whatever it was, it has seemed to resolve itself somewhat for the time being and I am thrilled! I’ve focused less on avoiding certain foods and more on enjoying the food I do eat while not eating too much. It’s still a balancing act, but I’m finding my way and in the process I am thrilled to reintroduce myself to many of those foods I avoided before – hello garlic, onions, oranges, and lemons! Who knows how long this will last…

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Lemon and garlic for the chicken shawarma marinade

 

Eating these foods again has greatly expanded my recipe possibilities, which is why I took on the homemade pita and marinara projects. Nothing can beat the smell and warmth of fresh bread from the oven and I figured warm pita would be no different. Having made homemade bread and pizza several times, I figured pita bread was totally do-able. It takes a bit of babysitting to make, but is overall the quickest baking yeast bread that I know of – it bakes in less than 5 minutes. We served the pita bread with chicken shawarma, hummus, and veggies, using the pita as an edible utensil to scoop up all the yummy juices from the chicken.

Dinner spread complete with homemade pita and hummus.

Dinner spread complete with homemade pita and hummus.

As for marinara sauce, we always bought the jars of sauce when I was growing up. Prego, Ragu, Barilla – whatever brand we bought, marinara sauce seemed like one of those canned foods that saved time and wasn’t overly processed. It’s only recently having heard my co-workers talk about making sauce at home that I considered the possibility. I looked up a recipe and was surprised how quick and relatively simple it sounded to make. Sure you start with canned tomatoes, (especially this time of year) but at least you’re simmering the sauce with the flavors and fresh herbs yourself. I’d say it’s a nice step up from buying jars of sauce and the flavor was wonderful. I layered my homemade sauce into a hearty lasagna and served it with a fresh green salad.

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I know how easy it is to just do what you’ve always done, but sometimes you’ll be surprised what a difference it makes to eat your own homemade food whether it’s bread, sauce, or even yogurt. When you have the time to experiment, take a look around and see what you might be able to make yourself. Take a step back and ask yourself, could I make that? Sometimes you just have to see with new eyes.

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Homemade Marinara Sauce

adapted from theKitchn.com

1 T. butter or olive oil (I used butter, but you can use olive oil to make it vegan)

one 28-oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes

one 14-oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes

one 8-oz can pure tomato sauce

1 small onion, diced

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

fresh basil in chiffonade

1/2 tsp. each dried oregano and thyme

salt to taste – 1/4 tsp. to start

a pinch of sugar

 

There are a couple approaches you can take with your tomatoes here. For a chunky sauce, carefully quarter each tomato (being careful not to burst the juices into your face – trust me) and add to the sauce as instructed. For a smoother sauce, pulse your tomatoes in a food processor before adding to your sauce. OR wait until your sauce is done simmering and carefully blend in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Either way I would recommend prepping your tomatoes at least by opening the cans before you get your onions going so that you don’t burn your garlic when the time comes to add the tomatoes. Whatever you do, the sauce will be great.

To start your sauce, in a large skillet melt your butter over medium heat. Add your onion and saute for 5 minutes or until it begins to soften. Stir in the garlic until fragrant, less than a minute and then add your tomatoes, juice and all. Add the tomato sauce, salt, bay leaf, oregano, and thyme. Save the fresh basil for the end. Bring to a simmer and turn down to a low simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring every now and then. Remove the bay leaf and taste your sauce. Adjust flavors as needed – a pinch of sugar, more salt, some black pepper. Add your basil, stir to incorporate and remove from heat. Use for your favorite ravioli, lasagna, or even garlic bread.

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