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Use Those Late Cherry Tomatoes to Make Some Bruschetta

As the chilly fall weather descends upon us, we decided that today was perfect for making “lazy chili”–that is, opening a can of Chili Magic, adding some ground beef and tomatoes, and doctoring it up with peppers and spices to suit our tastes. Not having checked the garden in several days, we were afraid that our tomato season had ended and that we would have to rely on a can of diced tomatoes.  However, covered against the drizzle, Bill managed to pick enough tomatoes and peppers to throw into the mix.

Dieter, our 15-year-old German Shorthair Pointer, is thrilled that we still have some tomatoes hanging in there.  And when you are about a thousand years old in people years, those small joys are to be savored.  Dieter’s arthritis has gotten too bad for him to be able to go for a walk around the neighborhood.  Even if he is feeling particularly spunky, there is a good chance that he will just stop and refuse to move at some point of the walk, forcing us to carry his 55 lb self back home.  Therefore, when he feels like exploring, we’ve taken to allowing him to wander around in the part of the backyard that is usually off-limits to the dogs:  that mysterious area beyond the picket fence where the garden grows.

When he is back there, he can follow the scent of the bunnies and squirrels that are frequent visitors, mark his territory by the fence that separates us from the neighbor’s two dogs, and best of all…get up close and personal with THE MAGIC PLANTS. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, whenever we are in the garden he stands by the picket fence, drooling and waiting for us to pitch him some of his favorite–cherry tomatoes. Due to this, we now seem to have a baby cherry tomato plant growing from a crack in the patio where those tomatoes land and break open.

When Dieter encounters the wonder of the tomato plants himself, I have to watch him closely or he will eat himself sick, greedily pulling tomatoes off of the vine or devouring half-eaten ones that have been discarded on the ground by local critters.  Plus, tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, and dogs should not eat the leaves, stems or green tomatoes. So, I am careful about what goes into his mouth and down his gullet. But, oh, how feisty he gets! Tomatoes are to Dieters like catnip is to cats.  Like crack. So, I let him indulge his obsession for a bit before either gently guiding him away from the plants–or the more likely scenario–giving him an “airplane ride” back to the other side of the picket fence.

If you still have cherry tomatoes ripening in your garden, or even if you have to pick some up at the store, I’d like to suggest using some in this yummy bruschetta (broos-ket-a).  Unlike Dieter, I am not the world’s biggest cherry tomato fan, but I really love them on this.  It is a perfect appetizer or accompaniment to a hearty Italian meal, or served with a bowl of steamy soup for lunch on one of these brisk fall days.  Dieter dog, this one’s for you!

LIGHTLY COOKED CHERRY TOMATO AND RICOTTA BRUSCHETTA: http://www.herbivoracious.com/2011/08/lightly-cooked-cherry-tomato-and-ricotta-bruschetta-recipe.html

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Salsa Chicken is a Simple Choice

It is frustrating at times to be a passive-aggressive indecisive person living with an equally passive-aggressive indecisive person.  Figuring out what to have for dinner often goes something like this:

Bill:  I’m starving.

Me:  Yep.  It’s getting to be about dinner time.

Bill:  It is.  Oh my God.  I’m starving.

Me:  Did we thaw any meat?

Bill:  What kind of meat do we have?

Me:  I’m guessing that’s a “no,” so we’re going to have to go out to eat or pick something up.

Bill:  OK.

Me:  What are you hungry for?

Bill:  (Playing Scrabble on smart phone) I don’t know.  What do you feel like?

Me:  I’m not the one who’s starving.

(Bill becomes re-absorbed in Scrabble and I go off to feed the dogs, who have blissfully eaten the exact same thing for dinner every night of their lives).

Bill:  (20 minutes later) So, what are we going to do for dinner?  I’m starving.

For a while, we thought we had this dilemma solved by inventing the ABC Restaurant Run game.  Starting with the letter A, each time we went out to eat, we would choose a restaurant beginning with the next letter of the alphabet.  Once we hit Z, I made up little pieces of paper with names of restaurants on them, and we would randomly draw one when we couldn’t make a decision.  I think I need to find those papers again…

Why is it so difficult for us to figure out where to get a simple meal?  Because we are JINXED, that’s why.  You see, far too often, when we have a hankering for a certain restaurant and actually make a hard and fast decision, we get thwarted.  To prove this point, within the past couple of weeks, here are some scenarios that we have encountered upon driving to our destination:

Chosen eatery:  Colombo Italia.  We decided to check out this restaurant in downtown Mt. Clemens that we had never tried.  It was pitch black inside–creepy even, with no sign of being inhabited anymore…except maybe by Freddy Krueger.  Which is entirely plausible, knowing what the basements of those old buildings are like.

Chosen eatery:  Firehouse Lounge (on Harper).  We got close and noticed that there were no cars in the parking lot, and there were no lights on.  There was a note on the door, but we didn’t even turn into the parking lot to read it.

Chosen eatery:  Quiznos.  Closed at that location. Forever.

Chosen eatery:  Zack’s Hot Dogs. I was craving a Rachel Dog.  Sadly, they no longer have dinner hours at that location.  Only lunch.

Chosen eatery:  Maya’s Deli.  This little place in downtown Mt. Clemens has some spectacular sandwiches!  Only, apparently, they are not open on the weekends.  So we decided just to get some tacos from Taco Bell.  Simple enough, right? I shit you not, our local Taco Bell, which we pass several times a week, has suddenly been reduced to a pile of rubble.  A pile of rubble! Because it knew we were coming.

This is why I am thankful for easy recipes, such as Salsa Chicken, that can be thrown together in a matter of minutes–even using oven ready tenders if we haven’t thawed anything–thus avoiding the drama of choosing a restaurant that will ultimately be unavailable.   For example, last week, after returning home from a party where we had just nibbled on appetizers, Bill uttered his famous words, “I’m starving.”  I yanked a package of breaded chicken tenders from the freezer, poured some salsa on them, topped them with cheese, and threw the whole thing in the oven.  When it came out, we garnished it with jalapenos and sour cream–and it was the perfect stomach filling, liquor absorbing, post-cocktail dinner.

Salsa Chicken has many variations.  For the meat, you can use boneless chicken breasts, tenders, breaded tenders or just about any other poultry parts that you know how to cook in an oven.  The salsa can be from a jar, the deli department, or homemade–hot, medium or mild.   Cheese?  You know me with cheese…the more, the better!

Here is a link to the base recipe for SALSA CHICKEN that we’ve use for several years now:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/salsa-chicken/detail.aspx

More about the salsa: In the summertime Bill and I make two different kinds, using a base recipe, but throwing in whatever kinds of tomatoes and peppers happen to be ripe in the garden.  The first salsa is good with chips and with the chicken, but because of the beans and corn it can also be eaten as a stand-alone side dish.  The second salsa is a nice fresh pico de gallo.  We adjust the heat by how many jalapeno seeds and membranes that we leave in.   I would give credit to the creator, but I’ve had that one in my recipe book for a while, and did not print the source.

Cilantro, Black Bean and Corn Salsa

CILANTRO, BLACK BEAN AND CORN SALSA

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/heathers-cilantro-black-bean-and-corn-salsa/detail.aspx

Fresh and Chunky Salsa

FRESH AND CHUNKY SALSA

Ingredients

  • 3 large ripe tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp onion, finely chopped
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 hot chile peppers, Serrano or Jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp cilantro, minced
  • 1 1/2 -2 tbsp lime juice
  • salt and pepper

Preparation

1.   Boil enough water to cover tomatoes.  Dunk them in for a minute, take them out and plunge in cold water. Peel, seed and chop.

2.  Put chopped onion and garlic in a strainer; pour 2 cups of boiling water over them, then let drain thoroughly.  Discard water. Cool.

3.  Combine onion and garlic with chopped tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper.

4.  Refrigerate for 2-4 hours to blend flavors.  Makes about 2 cups of salsa.

Click FRESH AND CHUNKY SALSA for a printable PDF of this recipe.

Broccoli and Cheese: A Favorite Combo

As a prelude to today’s recipes, I thought I’d haul out a little bit of fiction that’s been hiding on a CD of my old writing from 2004:

A Detective’s Tale

“Lemme tell you a little story about a dame named Madame Gruyere.  Brianne Gruyere to be exact.  She’s known as Brie to her friends, although I doubt she’d consider me a friend.  She was the main suspect in a case I was working on a couple of months ago.  I was investigating a burglary at the Sargento Cafe.  Made me real upset, cuz it’s my favorite pizza joint.  Anyway, the owners, they claimed a masked lady with a French accent was the perpetrator, so I hauled in one of their regular customers, this Madame Gruyere, for questioning.

I get her into the interrogation room, and give her the once-over. She’s the kind of broad who probably used to be a knockout: long legs, creamy skin, but she’s not aging all that great. She has stringy over-processed yellow hair, and her orange polyester dress is straight out of the 70’s —really cheesy.  I suppose not everyone’s born with good taste.  But there’s something about her–her eyes, I guess–that kinda makes me melt. 

I got a job to do, though, so I try to get her to talk.  Turns out she’s a smart-aleck with a sharp wit, and a grating laugh that makes my blood curdle. She mocks me for being American, and says she doesn’t understand our culture. Her sarcasm is so thick you can slice it with a knife. Finally, she opens up a bit and tells me she’s been feeling blue lately, ever since her boyfriend, Jack, moved across the country to Monterey.  She’s been flying between Philadelphia and there whenever she can afford it, and has also been hanging out at the cottage of a friend in Pinconning, Michigan.  She then proceeds to lay out a pathetic alibi for the night in question, and right away I can tell her story is full of holes.  I mean, it really stinks.

So after I’ve milked everything I can out of her, I do some digging into her affairs.  She’s got a clean record, although she seems to be pretty cozy with the Romano crime family.  And she used to have a rep as quite a whiz-kid.  That genius IQ means this lady should have some smarts —at least enough to make up a stronger alibi.  I manage to convince a judge to give me a warrant to search her house, but that turns out to be a bust.  Nothing suspicious there, except some statements from a Swiss bank account, which I skim though.  Nothing.  She’s already shredded any evidence of the crime, I’m sure of it.

So now it’s part of my cold case files.  And unless I can think of another way to approach this crime, it’ll remain unsolved. Who would want to steal a hundred pounds of mozzarella anyway?”

————————————————

As you may have noticed, there is a bit of a theme running through the entire story.  Can you find all 31 cheese-related references?  Some of them are admittedly a bit of a reach, but they are in there nonetheless.

Oh, how I adore cheese!  When I was little, my mom would drench most vegetables in Cheese Whiz to get my sister and me to eat them.  Even our Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house–to this day–features a broccoli, rice and Cheese Whiz casserole.  As I have gotten older, I still love to enhance my veggies with cheese, although I no longer rely on pasteurized processed cheese-food products.  Rather, I prefer to make a sauce with the real stuff, preferably a nice sharp cheddar. The recipe that’s linked below is a cinch to whip up, and can be poured over broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower…you name it.

Broccoli with Onion Cheese Sauce

BROCCOLI WITH ONION CHEESE SAUCE:  http://www.food.com/recipe/broccoli-with-onion-cheese-sauce-133517

Also, I’ve included a link to a recipe for a Chicken and Broccoli Braid, which I tried out last week in my attempt to use some of the vast amounts of broccoli that I’ve picked from the garden lately.  I cut the recipe in half, since I was just cooking for two and used walnuts for crunch instead of almonds, because that’s what I happened to have.  I also did not have dill, so I used celery salt, as suggested by one reviewer.  Purple peppers from the garden stood in for the red peppers.   Truthfully, the whole thing looked like a toddler’s art project gone wrong before I put it in the oven, because the crescent roll dough was not braiding prettily as I had hoped.  It stretched and broke a lot, so I ended up just pinching it together haphazardly.  But when I took it out of the oven, it was actually appealing to look at–a nice golden brown with a bit of shine from the egg white.  And best of all, it was wonderfully cheesy!

Chicken and Broccoli Braid

CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI BRAID:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-and-broccoli-braid/detail.aspx

30 Minute Chicken Parmesan with Speedy Homemade Tomato Sauce

Chicken Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce

My usual energy level is only slightly greater than your average thee-toed sloth. This is one of the major reasons that, on this eve of the first day of school, I am relieved not to be teaching first grade again.  Having to deal with the thousands of issues that arise in a class of 29 feisty six year olds every day, all day, is the most mentally, physically and emotionally draining job I have ever done.  And I had to teach them on top of it all!  Putting in twelve hours each day in my unrealistic desire to do everything perfectly resulted in my gradual zombification.  I believe that the only thing that I was able to utter in a family or social setting for nine months was, “Uhhhhhh.”  And that happened only when the chronic laryngitis subsided long enough for my damaged vocal cords to produce sound.

To say that the munchkins sapped my energy is an understatement.  Since I had very little to start with,  and conjured incredible amounts for work, I was running on negative when it came to my personal life.  It took me several weeks of summer to begin to recuperate and rise out of my stupor.   Today, as we get ready to start another school year, I had what was–for me–an impressive burst of energy.  My first one in a year.  Here is what I proudly accomplished, in addition to my regular daily routine:

  • Did yoga in my living room
  • Weeded all the vegetable and flower beds
  • Mowed the lawn
  • Made dinner–the whole darn thing–not just a side dish
  • Got a haircut
  • Wrote a blog

The garden beds were in terrible shape.  We have been up north a lot lately, and so our maintenance of them has been less than impressive.  The cucumber vine had withered away to nothing, squash beetles were sucking the last bit of dignity out of the zucchini plants, and the corn is busy turning into the dried-out front porch decorations that they will become next month.   Also, weird shit has started to grow.  Mysterious flowers and plants have sprung up where they have never existed before.  I’m guessing the seeds were dropped via birds, kind of like how we ended up with a tomato plant growing in the dogs’ gravel potty area–unintentionally sown by Dieter, my tomato eating dog.

If you are talented in the identification of plants, could you please help me figure out what these are?

Hibiscus?

The one shown above is growing up under my June-blooming rose-bush.  I think it’s a hibiscus, right?  I honestly thought these only grew in Hawaii.

Mystery flower: Morning glory?

I found this purple one vining its way around my strawberry patch.  Is it a type of morning glory?

Pseudo Corn

I’ve posted a picture of this one before.  It is growing in the gateway to the alley behind the house.  I have been thinking it is corn, but although the stalk and leaves look similar, it is not producing ears, and the tassel on top resembles a squirrel tail.   I am calling it Pseudo Corn until I can figure out what the heck it is.

After I got done gardening and puzzling over mystery plants, I went inside to make dinner.  I mis-timed my yardwork, however, and due to an impending hair appointment, I did not have the 48 minutes of prep time I would need to make what I had originally planned.  So, taking advantage of my continued and unusual energy burst, I decided to improvise:  Chicken Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce and corn on the cob.  And by George, I was going to make it all in 30 minutes (eat your heart out Rachael Ray).  It is this type of overly ambitious thinking that wore me out last year, but tonight it worked for me.

The corn was from a roadside stand, since ours has been done for a while. Here’s my impromptu recipe–portions made 2 servings:

CHICKEN PARMESAN WITH HOMEMADE TOMATO SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • Frozen breaded chicken breast tenders or patties
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 – 6 tomatoes
  • ketchup
  • dried basil and oregano (or Italian seasoning)
  • shredded mozzarella cheese, or blend of Italian cheeses

Directions:

  • Set a pot of water to boil (Cover it to make it boil faster.  I used the same pot and water to cook my corn).
  • Mince garlic.
  • When water boils, drop tomatoes into it for about a minute.  Take them out and put them in a dish of cold water.  Peel off skins, core and run fingers inside of them to expel all the seeds.
  • Bake chicken in oven according to package directions.
  • Roughly chop tomatoes.
  • In a small/medium saucepan, begin to cook garlic in olive oil until fragrant.
  • Add tomatoes, a squirt of ketchup, and a pinch of the dry spices to the garlic and cook over medium heat until bubbly.
  • Take pan off of stove and dump sauce into blender.  Puree for about 8 seconds.
  • When chicken has cooked, pour sauce over it, top with shredded cheese and put under the broiler until cheese melts.

This was so simple and tasty!  I may make more of this sauce and can it for the winter. Click CHICKEN PARMESAN WITH HOMEMADE TOMATO SAUCE for a printable PDF of this recipe.  I posted the directions for my homemade meat sauce earlier, but this is much quicker, with fewer ingredients.

Whew!  Now I only have a few minutes left before bed.  Time to relax and look forward to being a part-time reading support teacher this year.  Oh, and doing educational consulting and sales.  And some volunteering.  And taking classes toward a second master’s degree.   Hope I have enough energy for all that…

Festivals and Zesty Pierogi Galore

Pierogi with Warm and Zesty Slaw

You’ve gotta love it when there are multiple local opportunities to patronize beer tents, sample great food, listen to music, and experience the horror of what some people actually choose to wear out in public.  Yes, the Labor Day weekend festivals have arrived here in Michigan!  The people-watching will undoubtedly be most entertaining early in the weekend, with the steamy temperatures causing sweaty masses of inappropriately clothed folks to take to the streets in search of entertainment.

In our area, we have several events within a reasonable driving distance from our house to choose from, including:

  • Arts, Beats and Eats
  • The Michigan Renaissance Festival
  • The Michigan Peach Festival
  • The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival

Sadly, the Michigan State Fair–a tradition since 1849–no longer exists, having fallen victim to state budget cuts.  So, we will not be able experience the miracle of a piglet being born (or the joy of gazing upon the Butter Cow) and must choose an alternate venue in which to battle aggressive bees and guzzle warm beer/overpriced freshly squeezed lemonade.  This year, Bill and I are going to hang out at  Arts, Beats and Eats.  With over 70 food vendors to choose from, I hope that I am not paralyzed by indecision as to what to eat.  At the other events, the choice is simple:

  • The former State Fair:  Funnel cakes, elephant ears, Pepto Bismol
  • The Michigan Renaissance Festival:  A gigantic turkey/pterodactyl leg
  • The Michigan Peach Festival:  Duh, peach things
  • The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival:  Pierogi

I am partial toward pierogi booths at festivals, if I can find one.  To me, a nice little cardboard boat filled with beer-absorbing potato and cheese filled dumplings is a perfect street snack.  I had some yummy ones at the American Polish Festival in Sterling Heights earlier this summer, accompanied by a unique taste treat, “Polish Nachos.”  However, with so many other choices available at Arts, Beats, and Eats, I will try my best to spend my food tickets on something new and exciting this evening and maybe find an alternate favorite that will not cause too much GI upset.

In honor of my beloved festival pierogi, I shall now struggle into some too-small cutoffs, don a nasty tube top and a cougar cowboy hat, and share with you a magnificent recipe that we make when we harvest a head of cabbage from our garden and the tomatoes are bountiful.  It is called simply, “Pierogies and Cabbage,” but that does not do proper justice to the tangy and slighty sweet deliciousness of the warm slaw that is created here.  I would like to re-dub it “Pierogi with Warm and Zesty Slaw.” Bill made this a couple of weeks ago, and went all out to maximize the taste of both the pierogi and the slaw–he browned the pierogi in real butter, and cooked the cabbage mixture in bacon fat (as called for in the recipe).  By all means, feel free to substitute olive oil if your arteries are clogging just reading that.  We do not cook with full fat too often anymore, but made an exception here–and it was spectacular!  If you are going to be in Hamtramck this weekend, bring home some fresh pierogi and give this dish a try.

NOTES:

  • We increased the amount of white wine vinegar from 2 teaspoons to 3 to give it a bit more zip.
  • Pierogi is actually the plural of the Polish word pierog (I am missing an accent mark over the o, but do not know how to make one in this program). Saying “pierogies” is mis-pluralizing.  Like saying “feets” or “breasteses.”  http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=breasteses
  • What is a cougar cowboy hat?  My definition is: a narrow, woven cowboy hat, curled up on the sides, occasionally seen on cute 19 year olds, but most often sported by cougars with hair extensions and George Hamilton tans who are sipping yard long margaritas with collagen induced trout lips.  Natural habitats include fairs, festivals, concerts and Muscamoot Bay.
  • Never fear: I do not actually own a nasty tube top or cougar cowboy hat, retired my butt-cheek length cut-offs in the same decade as my cheerleading uniform, and do plan to check my outfit from all angles in a mirror before heading out this evening.

PIEROGI WITH WARM AND ZESTY SLAW: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/pierogies-and-cabbage/detail.aspx

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I originally named this blog Grow.Pick.Eat, it referred to gardening and trying out recipes made from the freshly picked berries and veggies.  Now, as summer winds down, I find that it has taken on a whole new meaning:  My ass and waistline have begun to GROW, causing me to PICK out larger sized items from my closet to wear, because all I have done this summer is sit around and EAT the goodies that Bill and I have cooked and baked.

So much for the unintentional–but not unwelcome–fifteen pound weight loss that I experienced last school year.  My feeble immune system was not prepared to fend off  the aggressive and icky germs passed on to me by the six-year-olds in my classroom, so I was sick almost constantly. Also, I have a hard time eating when I am stressed and anxious, and since stress and anxiety were my constant companions for several months, I pretty much subsisted on red wine.  (Admittedly not the healthiest way to lose weight, but it was that kind of year).   Before I knew it, my pants were hanging so low that I felt like a teenage gangsta, which was not a particularly flattering look for a suburban white female who can’t even say the word “gangsta” without sounding ridiculous.  So, I went out and purchased a brand new and much smaller-sized wardrobe–and proudly left all the size tags in.

Now, however, those new clothes are feeling uncomfortably snug.  I am not even sure if I can get into my dress pants (purchased in the Juniors’ section, thank you very much), and with the new school year starting soon, I sure hope I don’t bust a seam when I sit down at our first staff meeting or bend over to tie a little one’s shoe.  And I am afraid to weigh myself on my Wii Fit, because it will yell at me for being a slacker or perhaps make a snide comment about how long it has been since I last exercised.

Therefore, this will be my last post involving baking for a while.  I really need to lay off the carb-saturated baked treats and try to cook more figure friendly dishes until I can button things again.   Tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage are coming in strong right now, and lucky for me, they are not conducive to making breads, cookies and pies.  I will focus upcoming blog posts mostly on those three veggies.  But our shriveled and spent zucchini plant gave us one last monster squash, so I dutifully made up a batch of fluffy and sweet cookies to celebrate the end of its life and the end of summer vacation.    Think I’ll pour myself a glass of red wine and find the recipe for you…

Here it is:

ZUCCHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES:  http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/chocolate-chip-cookies-vi/detail.aspx

Notes:

  • I usually use half brown sugar, half white sugar.
  • Rather than finely chop the zucchini, I shred it.  With my trusty Salad Shooter, of course.
  • 3/4 cup of chocolate chips is not nearly enough.  I put in a whole 6 oz bag of them–at least.
  • This time, I added some Heath toffee pieces, because Bill saw them in the baking aisle and wanted to try them.  Mmmm.

P.S.  I am surprised that my spell check recognizes the word “gangsta.”  That makes me a cringe just a little bit.

Julie’s Homemade “I Can Do It” Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti with my Homemade Meat Sauce

Since this post is about my making my own homemade spaghetti sauce, the context of the experience would be incomplete without the story of how I set water on fire in my early spaghetti making days.  Yes, folks, for years afterward I considered myself such a horrible cook that I could even set water on fire.  This incident happened back when I was in high school, and was one of three major kitchen mishaps of my youth–the other two being The Great Mustard War and the Wall Oven Meatloaf Disaster.  There were also intentionally horrifying culinary creations that originated in my parents’ long ago kitchen, with its turquoise boomerang formica countertops, blond wood cabinets and built-in Carol Brady oven.  Those, however, are stories for another day.

Setting water on fire was particularly mortifying to me because it happened when I was cooking what was supposed to be a romantic dinner for my date.  Also, because my date was the kind who would never let me live it down.  There I was, about sixteen years old, trying to impress my boyfriend with my domesticity.  When he arrived at my house, I had the Ragu-based meat sauce simmering and the salad all ready to go.  All that was left were the noodles.  While waiting for the water to boil, we ate our salads, and I awkwardly tried to be a charming and flirtatious hostess.  I had taken the seat closest to the stove, which meant my date–who sat across from me–was facing it.  All of a sudden, his eyes got huge.  I thought he was either choking or about to lavish praise on the miraculous salad I had bestowed upon him.  Instead, he shouted that the pot on the stove was on fire.

I was relieved that I did not have to perform the Heimlich maneuver, sad that my salad got no props and terrified that I was about to burn the house down.  We both leapt from our chairs, not sure what to do, but fairly certain that “Stop, Drop and Roll” did not apply to this situation.  As quickly as it started, the fire burned itself out, and we cautiously approached the stove to examine the forensic evidence.  My date was baffled by the fact that there was only water in the pot.  I knew that appearances could be deceiving.  You see, I had heard that if you put just  a bit of vegetable oil in the water when cooking pasta, the noodles won’t stick together.  It quickly became apparent that I had filled the pot with too much water, and when it boiled, it overflowed, causing the vegetable oil to ignite on the burner.

If I were to psychoanalyze myself, my lack of desire to cook during the following twenty years of my life could maybe be traced back to this embarrassment, as could the failed marriage to the guy who incessantly mocked me about it for years.  Hmmm…gotta love blogging as therapy.

Back to the present. Now that my self-esteem has mostly recovered from the trauma caused by that formative life experience (except for my lingering fear of fire), I once again enjoy making spaghetti.  I have tried many jarred pasta sauces in the past few years, and have settled on Sockarooni by Newman’s Own.  Not only is it all-natural and tasty, but the name is AWESOME and fun to say (Sockarooni! Sockarooni! Sockarooni!), and all proceeds go to charity.

However, when  tomato season arrives at our house, it seems silly to use tomato sauce from a jar, so last year I boldly did some experimenting and created my own recipe.  And it’s GOOD, if I do say so myself.  🙂  It is a thick and chunky meat sauce that is easily adapted to different tastes.  Leave in more jalapeno seeds if you want a kick or leave them out if you prefer a non-spicy sauce.  Bell peppers and mushrooms can be used or not, depending on your preferences.  I don’t like something that’s in Italian Seasoning, so I just add basil and oregano, but if you’re a fan of Italian Seasoning, go nuts.  Also, I used ketchup, but you could put in tomato paste instead. Use as much of it as you need to make the sauce the consistency you want.  Oh…and I no longer spike the pasta water with oil–go figure. It’s much safer just to toss the cooked noodles with some olive oil to keep them from sticking together.

BTW, if you are looking for something to do with any leftover spaghetti noodles, I highly suggest feeding them one by one to your dog, if you have one.  It is highly entertaining, complete with slurping and teeth gnashing, as you can see in this YouTube video featuring my dogs Dieter, Tigger, and the late Katie.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfWUTW1arGc

JULIE’S HOMEMADE PASTA SAUCE

Note:  All measurements are approximate and may be adjusted to taste. Makes approximately 4 servings.

  • 1 lb ground sirloin
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped onions
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Dried basil, oregano, salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 jalapenos, minced–leave a few seeds in for some spice
  • 5-7 medium-sized tomatoes
  • ½ cup ketchup (a few squirts)
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 1 small can mushroom pieces
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed (this is not necessary, but why not sneak in some healthy Omega 3s)
  • Cornstarch, if needed for thickening

Set a pot of water to boil for peeling tomatoes.  Meanwhile, brown ground sirloin in olive oil with onions and bell peppers.  When meat is almost browned, add garlic, jalapenos and dry seasonings.  Turn off heat when done, to deal with tomatoes.

When water boils, plunge tomatoes in pot for one minute, then remove. When cool enough to handle, core, peel and seed them.  Chop and mix remaining pulp into meat mixture.  Use a turkey baster to drain any excess liquid/grease.

Add ketchup, fresh basil, mushrooms, and flaxseed to meat/tomato mixture. Bring to a boil, and then turn down heat to simmer.   Simmer for 15-20 minutes minimum, longer if possible, until tomatoes and peppers have softened.  If sauce is too watery, cook longer or add a bit of cornstarch to thicken.

Serve over pasta or spaghetti squash with parmesan cheese and a salad and/or garlic bread.  Actually, I found a yummy bruschetta recipe that would make a great appetizer or accompaniment for this dish.  Stay tuned…

Click JULIE’S HOMEMADE PASTA SAUCE for a printable PDF of this recipe.