Fresh Marinara Sauce

Marinara SauceWe always had a garden growing up so my Italian mom and German grandmother spent the end of summer days canning all sorts of vegetables, including tomatoes or tomato sauces.

Later on when large freezers became available to homemakers, mom would blanch and freeze her garden harvest.  
I'm a freezer gal myself, so lately I've been making batches of marinara sauce and freezing in one cup and  pint containers or bags.

I blanch and freeze other homegrown produce or bargains purchased from the farmers market. 
This recipe is close to what my mom made.  I added basil and tomato paste for a deeper taste and because these items are much more economical and readily available than years ago.

Mom always added a splash of lemon juice and tablespoon or two of sugar to her tomato sauce, saying it cuts down on an acid taste and makes the sauce sweeter.  
Marinara sauce can be used on any pasta or on pizza, and served with meatballs or sausage for a classic Italian type dinner.
Marinara Sauce

Fresh Marinara Sauce
2  pounds fresh ripe, red tomatoes, sliced or quartered (I leave peels on)* 
2 Tabs. olive oil
4 - 5 cloves minced garlic
1 cup diced onion
1 diced celery rib with leaves
1/2 cup diced carrot  (optional)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 Tabs lemon juice
1 Tab. sugar
2 Tabs. tomato paste
*Note: if not using fresh tomatoes, use canned tomatoes.
Makes 1 quart of sauce

Marinara SauceIn a large pot, saute garlic, onion, celery, carrots in olive oil for a few minutes.

Add tomatoes, parsley, basil, salt and pepper, lemon juice sugar and tomato paste, stir to blend.  Simmer mixture for about 20-30 minutes or until all ingredients are soft and cooked down. 

For a coarse sauce mash and blend, but for a smoother sauce, puree in a food processor or blend with a soup/sauce immersion wand.

To serve, put some sauce on a large platter, add cooked pasta, sprinkle Parmesan generously, cover with more sauce, then add cooked meat balls or sausage and more cheese, and sauce.

Estimate cost of one quart with homegrown tomatoes: $1.00 or less.  

Pears in Caramel Cream Sauce

Caramelized Pears photo D0DECCBC-3F74-4B79-8468-1248C357A901-4727-0000062B657866FE_zpsa5354d70.jpg
Falls brings lots of fresh fruit - apples, plums and pears. I use uncooked pears in salads, but they're also great as a cooked dessert. A caramel cream sauce would go well on most any fruit, but over pears it's also delightful.

These can be served by themselves, over shortcake, or ice cream.

Canned pears may be used, but because they're already tender, the caramel cream sauce can be made with some pear juice on the stove top, then the pears added and basted.

Pears in Caramel Cream Sauce
6 medium ripe, but firm pears
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups of water mixed with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
Chopped nuts, or whipped cream, optional for garnish
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Caramelized Pears photo 58790D16-CB96-46E8-8E8B-EE8D33E1A8A9-4727-00000625DA926CCF_zps873bf2ef.jpgPeel the pears, split in half lengthwise, and remove cores. Place in in a bowl with lemon juice water to prevent browning and drain. Pour and brush butter in a large flat baking dish then arrange pears flat side down in a layer.  Sprinkle sugar on top; or prepare in individual ramekins.
Bake about 35 minutes. The sugar dissolves in pear juices and cooks into a caramel sauce, as the pears become tender.  If pears seem hard, bake another 5 or 10 minutes. If sugar caramelizes before pears are tender, add 1/2 cup water to prevent caramel from burning during the extra cooking time. 

If pears are cooked before the syrup  caramelizes, remove pears to a plate and continue to reduce the juices until it caramelizes. Add cream to the dish and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, basting the pears every 5 minutes. The sauce should reduce and thicken. Let cool. 
Serve pears cooled at room temperature, in individual dessert dishes with sauce on top, and if desired add additional garnish toppings. Serves 6-8.
Estimated cost. $4.00 or less.

Parmesan Baked Fennel

 photo null_zps48b6f000.jpgFennel offers an anise ( licorice) flavor. It's tasty raw in salads, but mildly sweet when cooked. The tall green stalks have wispy dill-like leaves at the top. Stalks grow from a white onion-like bulb. All parts are edible, although the bulb is mostly used.
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Cut off and discard stalks, unless the dish calls for them. If tender, use in salads, and the wispy leaves (fronds) make a nice herb garnish. 

Trim the bottom of the bulb and peel off any wilted or browning layers from the outside of the bulb. Cut the bulb in half, and cut out the core. Lay halves on their flat side and slice or chop as needed.
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Parmesan Baked Fennel
4 tablespoons olive oil
 photo null_zps7b06b186.jpg4 fennel bulbs, cut horizontally into 1/3-inch thick slices,
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup freshly shredded Parmesan

Lightly oil the bottom of a flat baking dish. Arrange fennel in the dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then grated Parmesan. Drizzle with the oil. Bake at 375 degrees until the fennel is fork-tender and the top is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Garnish with  fronds if desired. 

Serves 4 - 6.

Estimated cost: $3.00 or less if buying a fennel bulb.

Stuffed Pork Chops, for Two

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone AppI serve pork in one shape or form, at least once a week ("the other white meat" as they say) for it's economical, and on top of that often on sale.  

The magic pork sale number for me is $2.00 or less per pound!  A variety ethnic dishes call for pork, so it's handy to have on hand.  

When chops or pork steaks are thin, I bread them, but if thicker (3/4 inch or so) I like to make a slit for a pocket then stuff, sear and finish in the oven.

My favorite stuffing is a combination of spinach, onion, garlic, cheese, and sun dried tomatoes.  It's the same mixture I use for stuffed pork loin roast.  Since cooking mostly for two, my meats are repackaged in twos for the freezer.

This recipe can easily be doubled.  For presentation, you'd be surprised how even a small pork chop can look so huge when stuffed.  I've also used the same mixture for stuffed chicken breasts.

Stuffed Pork Chops, for Two
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App2   3/4 thick pork chops, bone in or not
1 cup drained, chopped frozen spinach
3 - 4  Tabs. diced onion
1 tsp. diced garlic
2 Tabs. diced sun dried tomatoes
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (other cheeses work, too)
salt and pepper
optional: (a few Tabs. of bread crumbs can be used in the stuffing)

Preheat oven to 350.
If desired, trim excess fat from chops, and with a sharp knife carefully make a long slit into pork towards the bone. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl and stuff chops.  Pinch to seal and hold together with toothpicks.  Any leftover stuffing can be placed on top of chops when they're finishing in the oven.

In a skillet, brown chops on medium high heat to sear, about 5 minutes on each side, then finish by putting skillet in preheated oven for 20 - 30 minutes, depending on size and thickness of chops.

Meat thermometer should read 145-150. Let rest 5-10 minutes, before serving.  If desired, gravy can be made from drippings by deglazing the pan.  If not making gravy, I still deglaze the pan and save juices for soup stock.

Estimated cost: $2.00 or less;  $1.00 per serving or less.

Potato Leek Soup (vichyssoise)

 photo null_zpsc9841adf.jpgI discovered this tasty soup years ago as a commercial dry soup mix.  For years that's how I made it, until I discovered how to make it from scratch on a TV show.  I guess I never noticed leeks at the grocery store an they were not a part of my family meals or diet growing up.

It's simple to make, so if seeing leeks at the grocer or farmer's market, I always pick up a few to make soup and also to slice into salads.  They have a mild garlic/onion taste.

They keep well in the refrigerator, and I use them like one would use green onions in a recipe.  Some folks serve this soup cold, but I like it warm and often use a an appetizer soup for meals.

I'm planting leeks this year and hoping  for a steady supply once I get a bed of them started, which will reduce the cost even more.

Using cream does make it richer tasting, but at times I've simply used milk and it's still a great tasting soup.

 photo null_zps54cd347b.jpgPotato & Leek Soup
2 - 3 medium leeks, cleaned and dark green sections removed
3 Tabs. butter
3 - 4 thin slices of bacon cooked and crumbled
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cubed small
3 - 4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half & half
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
1 Tab. snipped chives or green onion for garnish

Trim off dark green portions of the leek, half the white part lengthwise and rinse well under cold running water to wash off any dirt. Slice thinly crosswise and set aside. Cooking time is shortened when leeks are sliced thin rather than chopped.
 photo null_zps05ca155c.jpgIn a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, add bacon and cook until bacon fat renders and pieces are crisp. Remove bacon and set aside.

Add leek slices and cook for 5 minutes. Add potatoes, broth, bay leaf, salt and pepper, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, approximately 30 - 45 minutes.

Turn off heat, cool down a bit then puree mixture with a food processor, blender, or  immersion wand, until smooth. Stir in the cream, half & half. Taste and adjust seasoning. Simmer until all is heated.

Sprinkle with chives and crumbled bacon and serve immediately, or chill and serve cold (vichyssoise) Serves 6-8.

Estimated cost: $5.00 or less with buying leek and cream; .66 cents or less per serving. Using milk lowers the cost per serving.

Tomato Jam Appetizer

 photo null_zps27dad541.jpgI've been making Giada's Tomato Jam Appetizer for about 6 years. It's perfect for parties, and buffet tables, especially during the holidays. 

This recipe serves four to six, or more, but can be easily doubled or tripled. I've also made small jars to give as holiday gifts. It can either be canned or frozen.

It goes well with any cheese or cheese spread and besides crostini, I've used it with assorted breads and crackers. 

Sometimes I assemble with cheese first then top with the jam, or put the jam first then top with cheese.
Tomato Jam Appetizer photo null_zps6838e83d.jpg

Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
1 (8-oz.) jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped,
1 tablespoon tomato oil reserved
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Tomato Jam Appetizer photo null_zps4b94f7a7.jpgPlace a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of the reserved sun-dried tomato oil, olive oil, onion, and garlic. Stir and cook until onions are soft and beginning to brown at the edges, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add sugar, vinegar, water, chicken broth, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered for 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue simmering until most of the liquid is reduced and mixture is the consistency of jam, about 5 to 10 more minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.  Cool then store in refrigerator in jars. Makes about 2 cups.
Tomato Jam Appetizer photo null_zps4e491918.jpg Crostini
1 baguette, cut into 3/4-inch slices
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper
5 oz. goat cheese, room temperature
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Place the baguette slices on the baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the baguette slices with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until lightly toasted, about 8 minutes. Place the soft goat cheese in a small bowl. Stir in the thyme.
To assemble:
Spread crostini or party crackers with Sun-Dried Tomato Jam and top with goat cheese. Sprinkle herbs or chives for garnish.