Archive | April, 2012

It’s All in the Sauce (and that ain’t no joke!)

23 Apr

One of the things that I have figured out how to make is meat sauce.  Not just any meat sauce but a good meat sauce.  One with lots of flavor, a thick consistency, and very delicious.  Now a few years ago if you asked me what kind of sauce I used when we ate pasta, I would have replied “whatever is on sale”.  Mostly because I could never find one that we all agreed that we liked.  At that time, the Hubs was taking a nutrition class.  He had to analyse his diet for a week.  It turns out we eat pretty good.  The one thing that was high was his salt intake.  We found that odd because we don’t use a lot of salt.  When he took a closer look, it was the jarred sauce that was throwing his numbers off.  

The idea of not eating meat sauce was never an option.  Spaghetti and meat sauce is staple meal in our house.  It is a meal that can easily be deconstructed to meet everyone’s needs.  It can be served in separate piles to the Ninja Hooligan to keep his foods separate.  If I keep the meat chunky, the Princess Hooligan will actually pick the meat out, wipe the sauce off of it, and then eat it.  The Hubs could have is more meat and less noodle and, well, I could do the opposite.

We decided to make this a challenge.  How could we still eat spaghetti & meat sauce on a regular basis and decrease the salt?  I have to say that we have come up with a pretty good homemade version.  Now, it is truly an art not a science.  We have no formal measurements and it never actually turns out the same way twice, but we love it and if fun to make.  

Our Meat Sauce Process:

In a skillet, add some olive oil and sweat some garlic (I like 5 cloves, the Hubs likes 1, we settled on 3) some onion, and any other veggies we have in the fridge (peppers, carrots, squash, zuchinni) and mash it up really good with a potato masher. —Thank you Jessica Seinfeld & Jamie Oliver for this idea!

Next add the ground meat.  We use beef.  I will post on another day what cuts we use and how we get our beef.  We choose not to use turkey because it typically has the same amount of fat if not more than beef.  Cook until brown.  Again, I use my potato masher on about half of it to get it nice and fine.  I leave the rest chunky so somebody will have pieces to pick out and wipe off before consuming.  Drain any residual fat.

I then mix in to the skillet a large can of crushed tomatoes, a can of tomato sauce, and a liberal amount of Italian seasoning, black pepper, and a dash of sea salt.   If I have any white wine or stock I also add it hear to give it some additional flavors.   I think Rachel Ray calls this adding depth?

I then let it simmer uncovered and wait for it to thicken up.  Tasting frequently for quality assurance, of course.

Over the years we have also created a list of things I am not allowed to add to the sauce:

  • ketchup- just because Alton Brown does it doesn’t mean it is actually a good idea
  • red wine- it makes a nasty color and the hooligans won’t eat it
  • mushrooms- makes it watery

I am sure there will be more things I will end up adding to the list, especially if other in the family realize how much veg I am adding to the sauce.  I have also seen or read quite a few recipes that involve simmering the sauce first and then adding the browned meat.  I have a hard enough time keeping up with the dishes as it is so I try to use as few pots and pans as possible for a meal.

Do you make your own sauce?  If so, please share your recipes and idea.  I am always looking for ways to alter it.

My undying love for all things frozen

17 Apr

I love the frozen food section of the grocery store!

There, I said it.

I know it is not the healthiest place to shop and that it is full of food filled with salt water and other stuff but I love it.  I can think of about 3 reasons why.

  1.  My mom discovered Costco (known as Price Club back then) around the same time she went back to work full time and I decided to be a vegetarian.  My mom would cook steaks and other dishes for my meat loving family so I would microwave myself an Enchilada Suiza from Lean Cuisine before heading off to work.  Lesson Learned:  The freezer section accommodates my whims.
  2. When I left for college, my grandmother sent me off with an ice chest full of single servings of my favorite meals.  My cooking skills-or lack there of- were already famous infamous in our family and I think she was afraid I was going to starve.  I managed to make an ice chest of eggplant parmigiana, tetrazzini, cheese lasagna, and other dishes last the entire year. Lesson Learned: Love can be frozen, then reheated at a later date and be just as warm and cuddly.
  3. I can operate a microwave and toaster oven pretty proficiently.  Lesson Learned: stick with what you are good at!

So yes, I am that parent that feeds her family many frozen dishes.  The hooligans actually prefer Eggo brand waffles and pancakes over anything I make.  Chicken strips can always be found in our freezer along with a stash of old bananas just in case I ever decide to attempt making banana bread.

There are times when I wish I wasn’t as reliant on the freezer, that more of what I made was homemade.  Then the rest of my life happens and I realize that it if weren’t for the freezer we would be eating cereal for dinner.   Reminder to self: it is all about balance.  That includes balancing homemade meals with prepackaged frozen items.

So if you ever loose me in the grocery store, check the freezer section first.

Not everything I touch is a disaster

13 Apr

I do have some successes, every once in a while.   I actually had one today.  You see, one of my favorite sandwiches is from a bakery about two hours away.  My job requires me to commute to one of our other offices about once or twice a month.  I had to make the trip and fight the Bay Area traffic earlier this week.  I also got a chance to have a PB and Stuff sandwich from Specialty’s.   It is a unique sandwich- chunky peanut butter, bananas, green apples and cranberry sauce on their amazing bread.  I think it makes the commute worthwhile.  Well- not really, but it does take the sting out.

This brings us to today.  I asked the hooligans what they wanted for lunch and got the standard answer of PB&J from both of them.  Just to let you know, they eat PB&J’s just about everyday.  It is a horrible day in our house if we run out of any of the ingredients.  As I was drudging off to the kitchen to make their standard lunch trying to figure out what I was going to eat, it hit me.  I have ALL the ingredients to make a super duper cool PB&J for me to eat!

I proceeded to slice my Granny Smith apple very thinly, slice my nana into long slices, and spread my all natural PB on my gluten-free bread.  I did have to substitute grape jelly for the cranberry sauce.    After putting it together, the ninja hooligan actually requested that I add the apple and banana to his sammy.  The princess hooligan turned her nose up at it and refused to eat at the same table.

I was actually pretty impressed by the results.  It wasn’t exactly the same but it was pretty darn close.  The crunchy tang of the apple and the smoothness of the banana both complement each other and the peanut butter.  I just wished I had good chunky peanut butter, not the weird stuff the hubs grinds up in the natural foods section of the grocery store, and cranberry sauce.

Image

My version of the best sandwich in the world!

I am actually really excited about this success, it means I can have yummy sandwiches on a regular basis not just my long commute days.

My first kitchen disaster

9 Apr

Well, I really wasn’t cooking.  There were no pots and pans involved.  No stove or oven.  But it was the first time I mixed ingredients together and it did not turn out well.

A friend of mine and I were playing with Play-doh in the kitchen area of my mom’s apartment.  We decided to mix the Play-doh with Lemonade Kool Aid.  Do you know what happens when you do this?  It turns to a nasty mush.  So gross that it actually ran off of our plastic mat and into the carpet (really who puts carpet in a kitchen).

What I can remember from this event is:

  1. I got in a lot of trouble that day
  2. wet Play-doh & lemonade is hard to get out of carpet
  3. the above listed wet mess will eventually dry into a large crusty mess that isn’t any easier to get out of carpet

From that day forward we had a purplish-grey hard spot in the kitchen carpet.  This should have been an early warning that I shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen. EVER!

Am I really a Home Ec Reject?

9 Apr

The answer is “No”.  You see, I never actually took Home Economics.  I had the opportunity during Junior High but opted to take Metal Shop for a few weeks before transferring into student government.  I have to say this was one of my more stupid decisions in life.  1) because I did not go into politics or government and knowing Robert’s Rules of Order really hasn’t taken my places & 2) If I had stayed in Metal Shop I would have at least come out knowing how to make transistor radio.

Why didn’t I take Home Ec?  That is an easy answer- My mom wanted me to take it so I didn’t.   Yep, my ‘tween age rebellious self has ruined me.   Note to self:  when daughter has the opportunity to enroll in Home Ec I will strongly encourage all the other choices so she doesn’t end up like me.

It really wasn’t a problem until about seven years ago.  I could do basic cooking (kinda- I still have trouble boiling an egg) and sewing (straight seams, button repairs… easy stuff).  But then I had a family!  A family that doesn’t consider cereal to be a satisfactory dinner.  One that doesn’t want to rotate eating spaghetti and bean burritos for dinner nightly.  And children!  Children who only eat foods that are beige and can’t buy clothes “off the rack”.

I have spent the past few years kicking myself for my foolish decision some 20+ years ago.  Thankfully YouTube exists and I have taught myself how to do quite a few things.  I am also becoming quite the cook book critic.  We are a tough crowd at my house so if the book includes more than one recipe that involves lamb, asparagus, veal, those little cabbage thingys or kale  it is a waste of space to add it to our shelf.  There will be much more regarding the dilemma of cooking for an exceptionally picky family- especially when you are missing most of the basics.

Welcome all, watch out for the mess.

9 Apr

Hello there and welcome to my blog.   I have been wanting to start a blog for a while but have been stuck on where to put the focus.  Should it be about my family and our adventures, or about something specific or another niche.

Most of my friends have blogs related to their special Martha Stewart like skills or they use it as a place to rant.  I wanted something a bit different.  I am definitely not the Martha Stewart type.  Instead I usually try not to cook because, frankly I am not very good at it.    And then it hit me… this is my niche.  There are a dime a dozen fancy pants foodie and family sites.  But I sure have a hard time finding a site about those of us whose skills are not domestic.

I do try to keep up with my fancy pants domestic goddess friends.  But I try to cheat, you will find quite a few of my “halfway homemade” attempts on here.  I also frequently have major disasters happen when trying to cook, sew, clean or do other home & family related projects.  I will spins some yarns about past epic failures and current tales from the trashcan.  Every once in a great while, I actually succeed.  I will be logging my winning attempts too.  Lastly, I will include general things of interest and other items I find amusing for the good of the group.

Thanks for reading and please leave lots of comments.

 

PS- Part of my real job is writing.  In the past I have had to do tons of  “technical & clinical” writing so the blog is also an exercise for me to practice writing in a more conversational and storytelling tone.

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