It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year!

Nope not Christmas… tomato season!!

This year my “supersonics” just keep on giving and although not quite as big as promised… (I blame that on the gardener not the garden) they are prolific! And the little yellow “pear” tomatoes are happily producing a handful a day at this point!

from the garden

After a while there are only so many BLTs you can eat before you need a chance of pace…

BLT

What? Wait?!!! did I really just write that? I never get tired of a BLT!

But the ugly truth is that when the tomatoes are producing faster than you can make sandwiches, there is only one thing left to do….

MAKE SAUCE!

(or “gravy” as we like to say around Boston.) Here is all you need for a simple sauce…

assembled ingredients

Brown up the meats in a heavy bottom cast enamel pan in some olive oil, turn the heat down a bit and add the finely chopped garlic, dried spices and tomato paste. Let them “bloom” for a couple of minutes and de-glaze the pan with the chopped fresh tomatoes. I like to smooth things out with a tablespoon of sugar and of course don’t forget the salt & pepper. Note that I do coat the pork roast with plenty of salt, pepper and a little bit of onion powder before I brown it to a nice crust on all sides. The sausage is fine as is.

sauce in the making

Sauce in the making!

I like to let the whole thing simmer for at least 4 hours on lowish-medium heat and only serve it when the pork roast is basically fork tender. If you like a smoother sauce, remove the meats for a minute and take an immersion blender to the whole thing until it’s your level of smooth. Also I leave the seeds and skin on my tomatoes but you could easily poach and peel the tomatoes and strain the seeds out if that is your desire.

The finished sauce freezes beautifully and when you take some out around Christmas time it truly will be “the most wonderful time of the year” again!

image

Convenient Calzone

Sometimes you just have to use convenience foods to get it done!

lazy fried peppersAnd this time around I used one of my favorite convenience foods… a jar of “fried peppers” from Mancini packing company. A nice little new England company with another factory in Florida as well – you can read about their history here.

This little jar packs lots of flavor – sweet bell peppers sautéed in olive oil and packed into the jar. An open jar is like arriving at the sausage carts lining Yawkey Way at Fenway. Just add Sausage.

And that is what I did. I managed to work up the effort to cut up a few sweet Italian sausages ( or hot if you prefer) and a white onion and get those into a pan for some browning and precooking.

Actual cooking here folks!

Actual cooking here folks!

Add in the jar of fried peppers and honestly dinner is almost ready! Even if I happen to have some fresh sweet bell peppers in the fridge and was inclined to slice them up, the long cooking time and patience required to get that “fresh from the sausage cart” flavor was more than I had this day.

After the sausage and onions had some brown to them and the peppers were mixed in, I also added a small can of tomato sauce (another favorite convenience item of mine) and a heavy pinch of Italian seasoning with some salt and pepper.

I let the mixture cool a bit while I rolled out some pre-made pizza dough (you see the “convenience” theme here!) and laid half the dough as the bottom on a parchment lined sheet pan. Next I spread the somewhat cooled filling onto the dough – not quite to the edges – and put the top half on, rolling up and crimping the edges.

Feeling slightly more energetic, I sprinkled some shredded Parmesan cheese on top with a little dash of garlic powder to just give some extra zip to the top.

Into a preheated 425 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the dough seems done and not overdone like mine.

20 mins to prep, 20 mins to cook and very little clean up!

20 mins to prep, 20 mins to cook and very little clean up!

This makes about 9-12 large squares on a “half” size sheet pan, depending on how thin you stretch the dough. This cuts better if it is allowed to cool a bit first. (A tricky subject around my house!)

Notes: leave the cheese off the top for dairy-free and use any kind of sausage you want, including turkey or even tofu. I won’t tell, if you don’t tell!

Snow Day Chili

Chili and a blizzard go hand in hand. So that is what I made this past weekend when the “blizzard of 2013” hit our Boston area!

After hours of digging out, (but kudos to the neighbors with snowblowers for doing most of our heavy lifting!!) coming in to chili to warm us from the inside out was perfect!

Chili is such a great thing to eat in general but it is always good on hot dogs, burgers, tortilla chips,salad and my favorite: baked potatoes! I remember when the “Wendy’s” restaurants arrived in New England with their salad bars and baked potatoes. (Yup Wendy’s had salad bars and a good ones too at that time.) My dad and I would sneak down there on the night it was his turn to make dinner and get the salad bar with a cup of chili and the chips. We would crumble up the chips and pile on the cheese. Sometime we got the baked potatoes with the chili and extra fresh chopped raw onion of course! They still offer a “taco salad” and the baked potato with chili but somehow it is just not the same.

My version is fancied up with a little sweet Italian sausage and a can of “Ro*tel” to keep it easy. It is also not crazy spicy (like some of my other chili’s – Holy Mole!) so everybody can enjoy and add their own level of heat with hot sauce of their choice.storm day chili

Production Notes

1 lb sweet Italian sausage, out of casing and crumbled

1 lb ground beef (leaner is nice)

1 onion, chopped small

1 lg garlic clove, minced

1 can (10oz) original “Ro*tel”

1 can (13oz +/-) red beans or black beans or whatever bean you like

2 Tb ground cumin ( less if you don’t love as much as me)

2 Tsp ground chili powder

2 Tsp smoked paprika (sweet not spicy- or spicy if you like it)

2 Tsp ground Ancho Chili powder

salt and pepper to taste

1 Large can (28oz) crushed tomatoes

2 Tb brown sugar (you can omit or cut in half if you don’t want it too sweet)

1/2 a can ( the 28oz one) of water

Brown the meats (no extra oil needed) in a heavy bottomed dutch oven, until done. Scoop meat out and set aside. Pour out about 1/2 the fat. In the remaining fat in the pan add the onions and garlic and saute a few minutes. Add all the dry spices and kinda toast for a minute. Deglaze the pan with the tomatoes and Ro*tel. Add the meat back in, stirring to combine everything. Add the water – you may want less for thicker chili or more for thinner chili – also depends on how long you want to/plan to simmer. Add additional hot sauce at this point – I like a good vinegar based one like Tabasco or Texas Pete but you can use your favorite. Add the beans (drain them first) and simmer on low for anywhere from 1- 4 hours to let flavors develop and deepen.  This could be transferred to a low slow cooker for the day too.  Serve with all the fixin’s! Freeze the extra until the next snow day! It makes a lot!

Even the trash needs shoveling out!

Even the trash needs shoveling out!

Everybody Loves Kale

Well at least my mom and I do. My husband…um… well… he does love spinach, does that count?

But he did admit to liking the incredibly healthy salad that I served at Thanksgiving this year.

(Yes, I am still talking about Thanksgiving recipes – lots of food equals lots of blog post opportunities!)

Roasted asparagus, carrots and parsnips with fresh bosc pear and walnuts on top of chopped raw kale.

Roasted asparagus, carrots and parsnips with fresh Bosc pear and walnuts on top of chopped raw kale. Served with a wedge of Parmesan sage cornbread.

Thank you Giada for that delicious recipe and the salad dressing – so simple and seasonal!

But as soon as the holiday was over I found myself with lots of fresh chopped kale on hand.

So I did what I always do..

“Just add pasta!” And some crumbled sausage and tomato sauce! And of course some cheese on top, because everything is better with cheese.

This turned out to be an easy, healthy, delicious way to get those greens in for a second round. And you can freeze individual portions for lunches later on.

kale pasta sausage bake

Production Notes

Just use your favorite sweet or hot Italian sausage – crumbled and browned in a skillet. You don’t need much as a little goes a long way to flavoring the whole thing. I used about 1/3 of a lb of sausage to a 12oz box of tricolor penne and I mixed in a “big can” can of chopped tomatoes. Mix the kale in while the mixture is hot from the skillet, along with some Italian seasoning.  Throw in a pinch of crushed fennel seed and some red chili flakes to bump up the flavor. Add the cheese on top and bake in a 350 degree oven till hot and toasty. (20 mins+/-) or cool, cover and freeze.

Stuffed – Three Ways!

Inspiration comes in many forms. But for me it is usually roaming the aisles of the grocery store with no plan in mind.

That is when I saw the 40 oz (yup 2 1/2 lbs!) of giant stuffing size mushrooms on sale. I just knew immediately that I wanted to stuff them and not just one way. So I started gathering all the ingredients for stuffing these mushrooms in three different ways.

From left to right:

Ham & Swiss, Creamed Spinach, Italian Sausage & Peppers

Word to the wise… invite some friends over for a party because the 40 oz package was about 32 mushrooms. 32 HUGE mushrooms. You could probably freeze the stuffed, cooked mushrooms but we will just eat them over the next few days instead. Breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Production notes

No real recipe was used. I simply cleaned and de-stemmed the mushrooms, chopping the stems and using them in the stuffing for the sausage and the ham/swiss versions. I oiled them really well (use your favorite oil) and the pan they were baked on. I did whiz up a sleeve of Ritz crackers and that was split between the three mixtures before stuffing. I did freeze the extra stuffing.

Ham & Swiss: I sautéed (almost caramelized) a small amount of diced white onion in butter, added diced stems and ham, sautéed a bit more.  Let it cool, off the heat for a few and stirred in finely shredded swiss cheese. Mix in the Ritz cracker crumb. Salt and pepper to taste and you are ready to stuff.

Sweet Sausage and Pepper: I took some sausage out of its casing, crumbled it and lightly browned it with some diced red, green & yellow sweet peppers , the diced mushroom stems and diced white onions. Turn off the heat and mix in a palm full of finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Mix in the Ritz cracker crumb. Salt and pepper to taste and you are ready to stuff.

Creamed Spinach: Use your favorite recipe – maybe cut it in half if you are not doing so many mushrooms. But mine was basically sautéed onion in butter, add a pinch of nutmeg  and a bigger pinch of granulated garlic. Add some heavy cream and let simmer to reduce and thicken, add lots of finely grated Pecorino Romano and maybe a little of that swiss cheese. Add the fresh, washed, dried and torn up spinach. Cook awhile longer. Turn off the heat and while piping hot,  mix in the Ritz cracker crumb. Salt and pepper to taste. Let cool a bit and you are ready to stuff.

I baked all of them at the same time on a couple of sheet pans in a 400 degree preheated oven for 15-20 mins. I personally think they could have gone a tiny bit longer since these were huge mushrooms. Or maybe even pre-roasting them for a few minutes before stuffing could be an option. A drizzle of oil across the top of the stuffed mushrooms before putting them into bake will also keep things moist.

Do you think this is lucky? Like getting a double yolk egg?