A twenty-something's foray into the domestic arts.
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Category — Cooking

The Most Expensive Tomato Sauce I’ve Ever Eaten

For my birthday, I was a nerd and asked for a Pressure Canner. The hubs delivered. I got the All-American 15 1/2 QT Pressure Cooker/Canner… the thing is a beast. It should be, for $330 marked down to $174.99!

Of course now that I had a new Pressure Canner, I had to make something. I set my sights on tomato sauce. One, because I HATE store bought sauce and two, because I’m afraid of the BPA that leaches into all things canned tomato. Thus, I started on my journey of making the most expensive tomato sauce I’ve ever eaten.

Saturday I hit a farm stand and got myself a whole bushel of tomatoes for $15.00. I’m leaning on that as my “steal” in this whole process. Honestly, that is a TON of tomatoes. I also grabbed some garlic and onions – $5.00 more. The other ingredients I had at home, so I caught a break with a few freebies. (NOTE: Based on this paragraph, you should see how cheap it  actually is to make sauce and how I’m being facetious with my title.)

Once I decided on sauce, I needed a way to easily make it. If you’ve ever canned tomatoes, you know there is nothing worse than standing over a pot of boiling water to help take the skins off then seeding them by hand. No way was I doing that… then cutting them into miniscule pieces to cook down. Therefore, I ordered a food strainer. (Amazon Prime is a dangerous thing to have at my disposal.) The Victorio VKP250 Model 250 Food Strainer and Sauce Maker cost me $47.97 and arrived at my doorstep before I could even borrow one from a friend.

From start to finish, the sauce took over 24 hrs to make. No, I’m not exaggerating. We started on Tuesday night at 7:00 pm with the cleaning, straining, cutting and separating. We strained 3/4 of the bushel and put it in a roaster to simmer and cook down overnight. The other 1/4 I removed the skins and seeds and left them whole so the sauce would have some texture; I threw them in the fridge overnight.

I had the best kitchen helper ever.

The next morning at 8:00 am, I turned the heat up on the roaster to really let it cook. I threw in my whole tomatoes from the fridge. Inevitably, I also took 1/2 of my whole tomato reserve and diced it – giving me a good variety of tomato chunks in difference sizes. Into the roaster, I threw in 2 whole garlic bulbs that I cloved and chopped up and sautéed in olive oil with 2 whole onions that were chopped as well. Seasonings included Italian Seasoning, chicken bouillon, salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Before I jarred it, I also threw in fresh basil from the backyard.

I let the sauce cook down until around 5:00 pm. By that time, it was super chunky and most of the water in the tomatoes had disappeared. I started to can. I come from a family where my mom, best intentions at heart, often strikes illogical fear into you when she deems something even somewhat unsafe. The entire time I was using my pressure cooker, I heard her voice saying “Pressure cookers can explode with no warning and burn your face off.” After reading the safety manual two times through, and processing two white-knuckled batches of tomato sauce, I now find this to be completely false. You have to be a complete idiot incapable of following giant warning labels, operating a terrible canner to have this problem. Anyways, by 9:00 pm the next  night (Wednesday), we had finally finished our sauce making process.

The end result, 11 qts of tomato sauce. (Yes, I was disappointed too – all that lead up for 11 measly jars.) If you add up my costs of the canner, strainer, ingredients, etc… I paid roughly $23 a jar. The husband looked at me when we were all done and said, “Just think, in a few short years we will recoup our costs and be rolling in it from all the money we save on sauce at the store.” He is a positive(ly sarcastic) fellow.

September 20, 2012   No Comments

Vegetable Chicken Stir-Fry Recipe

Vegetable Chicken Stir-Fry

I’ve made this dish twice in the last 4 days, so my house thinks it’s pretty tasty. Don’t be afraid to change out the vegetables; we ran with what we could get locally or from the garden. In fact, I even threw in some veggies we had left over from a party tray. Also, I like to serve this with long grain white rice. The organic brand from Whole Foods is super yummy, and fluffs up perfectly.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
3 garlic cloves, minced
Dash ground ginger
2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided (you can sub in olive oil)
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 zucchini, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 cup carrots, sliced
1/2 large sweet onion, sliced
2 handfuls of fresh green beans, prepared and cut in half (this is how I measure from the garden)

Directions

In a bowl, combine the cornstarch, broth, soy sauce, sugar and chicken bouillon until smooth; set aside. In a large nonstick skillet, stir-fry the chicken, garlic and ginger in hot oil for 4-5 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink. Remove and keep warm.

In a large skillet, stir-fry the vegetables in remaining oil. You can vary adding them into the pan if you like some vegetables crunchier than others. Stir the broth mixture and add it to the pan. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1 minute or until thickened. Add chicken; cook until heated through. Yield: 4-6 servings.

This recipe was based off of the Vegetable Chicken Stir-Fry recipe from Taste of Home.

September 19, 2012   No Comments

Pinterest & Pepperjack Potatoes

A friend and I were talking today about Pinterest and how everyone and their mother is on it now, pinning away like a mad woman. It got me to thinking how many things must end up on people’sboards where they stay forever as just an idea or good intention.

To help combat this, every week I’m going to try and share (yes, I’m starting with the best intentions) solid recipes and projects I’ve found on Pinterest – or I pinned from other sources and were well received with lots of repins. This way, instead of just admiring the pretty pictures, you can feel confident in giving them a whirl yourself.

Tonight, I’m starting with a recipe for Pepperjack Potatoes.

 

I don’t know how you could go wrong with potatoes and cheese of any kind. But, these were divine. They were super easy to make and a new take on a traditional side dish. The original recipe can be found here; below I’m providing my version since I doubled it for a crowd of 7 and used a combo of cream and milk to lighten it up.

Pepperjack Potatoes Recipe

Ingredients:

10 medium sized russet potatoes, cut into 1 inch chunks
8 oz block of pepperjack cheese, shredded
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
Salt

Directions:

Place peeled, cut potatoes into a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. As soon as the water starts boiling, cook for 6 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender enough to put a fork through them. The potatoes should be slightly underdone; if you overcook them you’ll end up with pepperjack mashed potatoes (which would also be yummy per my brother’s opinion).

Drain the potatoes and put them back into the pot. Add in your shredded cheese, heavy cream, and milk. Stir until the cheese is melted. If you prefer it to be creamier, add more cream or milk. If needed, also add salt to taste.  (Every brand of cheese is different, so I like to leave the salting until the final moment).

Transfer to a big bowl and serve immediately to enjoy all of the creamy cheese goodness.

Looking for something to serve with these?

I paired my pepperjack potatoes with Sage and Garlic Crusted Pork Tenderloins and steamed asparagus.

January 22, 2012   No Comments

Burrata – A Trip to Maplebrook Farm


As a follow up to my last post on vacationing to food heaven in Manchester, Vermont, I wanted to make sure I shared my trip to Maplebrook Farm. Maplebrook Farm produces authentic fine cheese in the mountains of Vermont. It is co-owned by a cousin, Mike Scheps, and it makes the best mozzarella cheese I’ve ever tasted… in my life.

Admiring the floating mozzarella cheese balls

While we were there, we were given a tour of the cheese making facility, as well as a personal lesson on how to make several kinds of cheese. It’s amazing how many there are really – handmade mozzarella, machine-made mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, scamorza (hung & dried mozzarella), mozzarella in water – it’s a bit overwhelming. What I found most interesting though was the burrata.

Domenico making a huge scamorza

What is burrata you ask? Burrata is a handmade mozzarella filled with cream and stracciatelli (shreds of mozzarella).  It is an Italian delicacy that was derived to make use of the little scraps of mozzarella that were leftover in the cheese making vat. At Maplebrook Farm, they make it in the old-world manner under the direction of a master craftsman, Domenico Marchitelli. Domenico is from the Region of Puglia in Italy – the high heel of the boot – known for its burrata.

Me, filling the burrata with the help of Domenico

During our visit, Domenico showed us how the burrata, and a variety of other cheese, is made. We also got to participate by making some ourselves. The process is pretty amazing and it was really neat to see how much of making a quality cheese is simply doing it by hand. The burrata was a serious thing to craft, but we got assist the master by dumping the cream and stracciatelli into the middle of the mozzarella “bags” he had carefully hand pulled and then pinched shut.

Turns out my brother has the cheesemaking gene

Burrata can be used in a variety of dishes. However, it’s best to keep it simple to truly enjoy the quality of the cheese. When the burrata is sliced open, the cream flows out. The cheese is rich with a buttery flavor and it retains its fresh milkiness. It goes well with prosciutto, fresh tomatoes with olive oil and cracked black pepper, or a crusty bread and bottle of wine. You can also serve it on top of a salad or pasta.

I managed to snap up a pic before we cut into the burrata one night

Thanks again to everyone at Maplebrook Farm – especially cousin Mike – for opening up your facility to us. We had a blast!!!

You can find Maplebrook Farm cheese at a variety of stores, most notably Whole Foods Markets. For a complete list of places to buy, please see their website here.

August 13, 2011   No Comments

A Vacation to Food Heaven in Manchester, Vermont

This past week I had the pleasure of taking time off to visit family in New Jersey and Vermont. The first half of the week was spent lounging by my aunt’s pool in Ringwood, NJ and channeling my inner environmentalist (more to come on that). The second half I enjoyed stuffing my face with Italian food in Manchester, VT. It was divine.

This was my first trip to Vermont; I had been dying to go after my husband beat me to it on a motorcycle ride last year. The drive through the southern part of the state was beautiful. Following the highway was so unlike flat, field-riddled Ohio; out the window I saw nothing but green mountains. When we finally arrived in the small summer resort town of  Manchester, I melted. The historical New England architecture was beyond words. All of the little inns tucked down main street were incredible; it was like a movie.

A lot of our time in Manchester, VT was spent enjoying the company of family and eating at Al Ducci’s Italian Pantry. The Italian style delicatessen and food market is owned by my dad’s godfather, Al Scheps. You can read the history of the place here on Al Ducci’s website; it features an article titled “Streetwise In Vermont: How Two Italian Entrepreneurs Began Cooking in Pristine Machester” written by Sheryl Julian for The Boston Globe in 2001.  

The food prepared in that store is unbelievable… and I’m not saying that because I’m related to the owner. There was pizza from a wood-fired oven, bread baked daily, handmade mozzarella and hothouse tomatoes,  a selection of salads that were all delicious (the white bean and tomato being my favorite), Italian desserts like rice pudding, tiramisu and sfogliatelle and much more. I ate my way through all 3 days there and even spent time behind the counter for a personal cooking lesson on an Impastata Ricotta Cheesecake.

I would share the cheesecake recipe with you, but then I’d have to kill you. (I think that’s how the saying goes when passing on Italian heirloom recipes to those outside of the family, yes?) So, instead I’ve included a recipe for Al Schep’s Mother’s Rice Pudding. I do believe it trumps my previously posted rice pudding recipe, although both are family hand-me-downs and worthy of sharing.

Al Scheps’s Mother’s Rice Pudding

  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup heavy cream

In a large pan of boiling, salted water, cook the rice, stirring often, for 12 to 15 minutes or until it is just tender. Drain it into a colander.

In a large saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla bean.

Add the cooked rice. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer the rice, stirring often, for 1 hour or until the rice has absorbed almost all the liquid.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the heavy cream. Remove the vanilla bean.

Let the rice cool, then press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the rice until serving. Serves 8.

We also toured Maplebrook Farm while were were in VT… post on that coming soon.

July 27, 2011   3 Comments

No-Knead Bread Dough Recipe

I have a thing with bread. If it’s not good, homemade, local bakery quality… I’m salty about it. Bread (or any carb for that matter) is the highlight of my meal. I prefer white 1,000 times over wheat; the hubs prefers wheat 1,000 times over white. A meal of soup, chili, salad, spaghetti and a variety of others is not complete without good bread.

All that said, I have found myself making a lot of different bread recipes over the last year. If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself – yes? In that time, I’ve learned that bread machines are rubbish. Good yeast is vital. And the best store bought dough is made from Rhodes.

Just recently, however, I cracked the code on this highly complex bread baking thing. Better phrased, I accidently stumbled upon an amazing recipe. If you follow any cooking blogs you’ve probably heard about it. It’s the No-Knead Bread Recipe from The New York Times. This is now my go to for at-home, bakery style bread. The first time I took it out of the oven I couldn’t stop talking about it. That crispy crust and soft airy middle came out of my oven?! It will surprise you everytime.

As the NY Times is a serious publication, I can’t copy and paste the recipe here for you. You have to go to their website to check it out.  It is worth the visit, promise :)

Happy Bread Baking!

February 20, 2011   8 Comments

Soup-In-A-Bowl Sunday

It could be the 6 hours of sleep talking; it could be I’m a linguistic genius. Regardless, that title makes me smile.

I am all about soups these days. They are so easy to whip up on the weekend when I’m home. The big stock pot simmering heats up my whole kitchen for a toasty house on a chilly winter day. I always make too much and invite family and friends over to enjoy it with us.  I have nothing but love for soups of all kinds.

Last night, I made stuffed pepper soup. My mom and I have been obsessed with it since we first had it at the Iron Bridge Inn in Mercer, PA (hands down, one of my favorite restaurants). As it’s a 45 minute hike to get there, we don’t make it out often. Thus, my challenge was to attempt a reproduction.

The recipe for my version of Stuffed Pepper Soup is below. It makes roughly 12 servings. You can feed 6 people on half of this. I made a large batch because the recipe I adapted this from said the leftovers were better than the first time around. Unless you’re feeding a small army, you can get away with cutting this in half.

Stuffed Pepper Soup Recipe

Ingredients:
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 red peppers, chopped
2 cups finely diced onion
2 (28 oz) cans of diced tomatoes
1 (28 oz) can of tomato sauce
1 (30 oz) carton chicken broth
1/2 cup sugar
2 T. Miller’s Chicken Flavored Soup Base
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried sage
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups white rice

Directions:
In a large stock pot, brown meat and garlic. Drain fat (if you have any) and add in the pepper and onion. Cook until the onion is translucent. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken broth, sugar, Miller’s, thyme, sage and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until peppers are tender (30 – 45 minutes). In another saucepan, boil 3 cups of water and add rice. Cook until rice is tender and add to soup before serving.

Go Packers! (…said the girl living an hour from Pittsburgh. Big Ben is garbage.)

February 6, 2011   No Comments

Deep Dish Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

There are some foods I grew up eating that I can taste in my mouth when I think of them. One of those is Marie Callender’s chicken pot pie. Although super delicious, I wouldn’t touch one of those frozen things if my life depended on it today. The nutrition facts are disgusting. Despite that fact, I still crave it every once in awhile – like yesterday.

As with all delightful packaged and processed foods, they can be made at home. Therefore, last night as we settled in for some serious snow, I whipped up a chicken pot pie. I based it on this Chicken Pot Pie IX recipe from AllRecipes.com. My version has a lot more veggies, double the meat, and was prepared in a deep dish bowl so it didn’t explode in the petite pie plate it originally called for. However, it’s basically the same – just bigger and better :)

Deep Dish Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cubed
  • 5 carrots, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1/2 bag frozen peas
  • 1/2 bag frozen beans
  • 1/2 bag frozen corn
  • 3 small/medium potatoes, cooked in microwave
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup onion, chopped
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 (9 inch) unbaked pie crusts (If you aren’t doing it deep dish, you will need 4 crusts to make 2 separate, regular sized pies.)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a saucepan, combine chicken, carrots, celery, peas, beans, and corn. Add water to cover and boil for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender but not completely cooked through. Remove from heat, drain and set aside in a large bowl.
  3. At the same time, cook potatoes in microwave and chop into bite size pieces. Mix with vegetables and meat in large bowl.
  4. In the saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until soft and translucent. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, and seasoned salt. Slowly stir in chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. Combine sauce with meat and vegetables in large both until all ingredients are covered in sauce.
  6. Place bottom crust into deep dish bowl. Pour vegetable and meat mixture on top. Do not overfill.
  7. Cover with top crust, seal edges, and cut away excess dough.
  8. Brush with egg and make several small slits in the top to allow steam to escape.
  9. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

I must say, when this thing came out of the oven I thought blackbirds were going to burst out of the top and sing a song. It’s crazy impressive looking in a big bowl and was equally exciting in my mouth. NOTE: It’s probably not that healthy for you either, but it has to be better than what comes out of your freezer (or so I tell myself).

January 12, 2011   13 Comments

Arancini – A family tradition

Over the years, a wonderful tradition in my family has evolved around the making of rice balls. Rice balls, also known as arancini or arancine in Italian, are a wonderful combination of rice shaped around meatballs, mozzarella, and peas, rolled in egg and breadcrumbs, and deep fried. They are said to have originated in Sicily in the 10th century. We use a recipe passed down from my grandfather on the Italian side, a bit different than what they sell on the streets in Italy or in stores, but super delicious. We also don’t make them tiny like the street vendors do; eat one rice ball from our house and you’re out for the count.

My dad has been making these every year the week or so before Christmas for as long as I can remember. Since my husband joined our family, he has taken up the task as rice ball assistant. Over time, our arancini have become popular with family and friends and useful in bartering for other made-once-a-year treats. Now, we invite a bunch of family and friends over to enjoy the rice balls as they come fresh out of the fryer. Unlike other parties, everyone we invite shows up… no one can resist the arancini.

Here are some pics from our rice ball party held on Saturday. (Does the Coors apron look familiar?)

I’ve been told I’m not allowed to share the secret recipe; guess my dad is still holding on to hopes that one day he’ll be a rice ball mogul. However, it doesn’t matter… I don’t know it anyways. As with any other good family recipe, it’s not written down. Guess I have to rely on the hubs to pass it down to the next generation. He’s not Italian, but I think he’ll do.

Here are some rice ball / arancini recipes I found online. I picked a few different types. They all sound delicious.

Do you have a holiday food tradition in your family?

December 20, 2010   2 Comments

Mom… the MEATLOAF Recipe!

I think meatloaf gets a bad rap. Sure, there are probably some really terrible meatloaf recipes out there. However, my mom’s just isn’t one of them. We grew up eating this dish and now it’s a favorite of my husbands. It’s so cheap and easy to make and absolutely delicious. Thus, I share with you my meatloaf recipe.

Mom… the MEATLOAF Recipe!

Mix meat, eggs, breadcrumbs, onion, and Miller’s together thoroughly. Place in glass bread pan, shaping meat into a loaf and leaving space on sides for soup to cover. Pour can of soup over top and arrange sliced peppers to cover. Bake at 350 degrees for at least 2 hours or until meat is cooked through. Best served with a yummy side of mashed taters.

December 16, 2010   No Comments

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