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Several years ago I found this amazing tomato sauce recipe that was so simple it was deceiving how good it was. The woman and chef behind this amazing sauce was quite a character in the culinary world. She was the chain-smoking, opinionated, Italian alternative during Julia Child’s skyrocketing fame and she was amazing. The more I find about about her the more enamored I become of her, her cooking, and her approach to food. Marcella Hazan passed away just last year but she had such an effect on how Americans cook and eat Italian food; even if you’d never heard of her, you probably cook things a certain way because of her. Here’s a great NY Times article, written shortly after her death.

Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce is the most requested item in our house and one of the most versatile sauces I’ve ever encountered.  I call it 3 ingredient sauce and it’s beautiful. It’s so simple in it’s makings but the purest, most delicious, perfect tomato flavor. When I made it for my husband while we were dating he began requesting it and soon we had it at least once a week. I wouldn’t go so far as to credit this 3 ingredient sauce for our marriage but it certainly helped.:)

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Homemade margherita pizza with 3 Ingredient Sauce

This sauce makes for a really easy dinner too. As the sauce cooks you can saute chicken or veggies and cook the pasta. When that’s all done, the sauce will be ready. I’ve also made big batches of this sauce and frozen it for later.

Surprisingly, I can’t find photos of me cooking the sauce but it’s such an easy sauce I really don’t think you need a play by play. I prepare it a little differently than the recipe I found on a blog called SteamyKitchen.com. The original recipe instructs you to halve an onion and when the sauce is done cooking, to remove it. I like to thinly slice the onion and leave it in the sauce. It makes for a chunkier, heartier sauce. I also use unsalted butter so I can control my salt intake. So, technically it’s a 4 ingredient tomato sauce but if you were to use salted butter, it would be 3.

I do however have pics of what I’ve use the sauce for. I bowl of pasta with this sauce is super comforting but I’ve also put it on pizzas, zucchini pasta, used in in lasagna, simmered shrimp in it, poached eggs in it and eaten it with just scraps of bread when I’ve run out of pasta. It’s that good.

shrimp and 3 ing sauce

Old Bay dusted shrimp with 3 Ingredient sauce over zucchini noodles

So without further adieu, Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce:

1 28 oz. can of whole or diced tomatoes with juices (San Marzano tomatoes are best for this recipe)

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, peeled and halved (I like a chunkier sauce so I thinly slice my onion)

Salt

Combine the tomatoes and juices, butter and onion in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.

Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, uncovered for 45 mins. Stir occasionally and use the back of a wooden spoon to smash any large pieces of tomato. Taste and add salt as needed.

When the sauce is done cooking, you can discard the onion if you halved it. This recipe makes enough sauce for 1 lb. of pasta.

Sooooooooo gooooooood.

 

 

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I’ve been told I’m weird about food. There’s a long list involved here but one specific way is that I’m a little too enthusiastic about things at the “wrong temperature” or the “wrong time of day” or the “wrong season” or whatever. So, I don’t mind a warm coke or spaghetti for breakfast and I really do enjoy a bowl of soup in the middle of summer. I’m such a rebel! I regret nothing!

It probably had to a lot to do with my upbringing. Chinese food, aside from dim sum, doesn’t really have rules about when and where and how things are eaten. Things are eaten whenever you’re hungry. There may be special dishes served at certain events, like long beans, fish and noodles on Chinese New Year but the day to day was very open to interpretation in my family. Couple that with two immigrant parents trying to navigate American processed foods for the first time (cereal at any hour is awesome) and you get me.

A few weeks ago on a Sunday, my hubby and I indulged in some pho. Even though the temps were creeping upward and the farmer’s market nearby was in full swing with their summer vegetables, that spicy, steaming bowl of soup was bliss. My hubby and I were sweating and sniffing from the chili sauce and steam was enveloping our faces as we happily slurped away.

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Summer brunch of Champions! Pho and a Vietnamese iced coffee.

Another thing I love about soup in the summer are all of the recipes that are packed with vegetables and can be served both warm and cold. They are also great fridge cleaners. I’m a huge fan of fridge cleaning recipes. I go a little nuts at farmer’s markets and I don’t want my precious produce to go to waste, so once I’m down to scraps of this and that, I make a nice soup to finish them off. And to make room for my next shopping outing :). I found this recipe while hunting online for a soup that does the job perfectly. And it’s such a flexible recipe, you can add pretty much whatever you’ve got on hand. Plus, it was delicious and nutritious!

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This soup has a ton of great vegetables and includes cannelini beans for protein. I’m sure you can substitute whatever you have in your pantry, kidney, pinto, or black beans would be delicious in this. I also like that the recipe says to smash half the beans before adding it to the soup. This is a great way to get a thicker, creamier texture in your soup without adding cream. Great for me because despite my love for dairy products, they really don’t love me back. It’s tragic.

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I made a few changes to the recipe. I used fresh diced tomatoes instead of canned because I found these beautiful ripened on the vine tomatoes. And after making several dishes highlighting these ruby gems, I had just enough left for this soup. I also added whole baby spinach leaves as well. I bought a huge bag that I’m still working on but at least a huge chunk of it was used in this soup. That’s right, two birds – nutrition and fridge cleaning- with one soup. Come to think of it, small pasta like macaroni or shells would work really well in this soup too….

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As promised, this soup is really delicious chilled as well. I ate this the next day for lunch straight out of the fridge with a little side salad. It actually helped me beat the heat outside. I even made extra to put in the freezer for later.

So, maybe I’m a little weird with my food. I don’t really adhere to the food rules of appropriateness, but with a soup like this it’s easy to break the rules. Long live Soup Season!

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Tuscan Vegetable Soup

adapted from Ellie Krieger

makes 6 – 8 servings

1 15 oz can of cannellini beans (or pinto, kidney, or black beans)

1 small onion, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1 small zucchini, diced

2 ripe medium tomatoes, diced

2 generous handfuls of baby spinach leaves

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

4 cups water or vegetable broth

Salt and Pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

Drain and rinse the beans under cold water. Put half the beans in a bowl, you can leave the rest in the can and mash them with a fork or a potato masher, set aside.

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots and onions. Since these take a little longer to cook, let them sweat for a minute or two but no more. Add celery, zucchini. minced garlic and herbs to the pot. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until the veggies are tender. Approx. 5 mins.

Add the water or broth, and the diced tomatoes, let simmer for a minute or two. Bring the pot to a boil and add the beans both mashed and whole. Add the baby spinach and cook until spinach is wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with parmesan cheese on top or in a bowl on the side for people to add what they want.

 

I initially wanted title this post ” I did a stint as a vegetarian once…” but that made being a vegetarian some sort of punishment, like community service or latrine duty. But I was a sort of part-time vegetarian for several years and it turned out to be some of the best eating of my life. It was pretty easy to cut out a lot of meat from my meals, especially if you ate a lot of Asian food at home.

Many food enthusiasts know the magical benefits of your local Asian market, and to vegetarians and vegans, this is even more fantasmic. The Asian market holds so many treasures for meat alternatives as well as spices and accoutrements to turn that somewhat bland meat substitute into the stuff of unicorns. Also, many products tend to be so much cheaper at the Asian market because they can’t mark the cost up based on exoticness (is that a word?). One of my favorite non-meat proteins is tofu. I was actually raised eating tofu with my meat. My family didn’t view tofu as a meat alternative, it was just another protein to throw into our best sauces and consumed at the same time. Being raised with tofu also makes me very comfortable with the texture. Texture seems to be the numero uno reason sited by most for why they don’t like tofu. To that I say, get over it. Texture is part of the experience, some tastes have to be a certain texture. Take gummi candy for example, there’s nothing like really good gummi candy.

Now, I know what the numero dos reason sited by most for why they don’t like tofu is the blandness. Tofu doesn’t taste like anything. To that I say, I have a solution for both. My baked tofu “recipe”. I use quotes here because I feel a bit sheepish about calling it a recipe. It’s really just a hodge podge of other people’s tofu recipes, flavors I tend to like, and loose interpretations of things I’ve seen my mom do. There aren’t really measurements and I couldn’t give you an exact baking time. And the ingredients and composition of said ingredients tends to change, depending on my my mood and what I’m out of. Yeah… I’m in a pretty off-the-cuff mood this evening.

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This recipe solves the problem of texture and taste because the baking of tofu dries out some of the moisture and firms up the tofu. So, instead of mushy, crumbliness, the tofu becomes denser and more substantial – al dente but not chewy. The marinade is so flavorful the tofu soaks it all up and becomes so tasty I often end up eating a lot of it without anything else and straight from the cookie sheet. I also curse myself a little for doing that because it’s still too hot and I end up burning my tongue or involuntarily ejecting it from my mouth onto the kitchen floor…

The main trick to getting that bland cube to become a flavor bomb is to press the tofu…

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This can be done between 2 plates lined with several layers of paper towels. I just put a can of beans on top and let it press for 30 mins or so. Just be very careful with the tofu brick, they crumble and fall apart easily. Once you press the excess moisture from the tofu, there’s room for it to soak up some of your magical marinade.

After a good pressing, I cut the big cube into smaller cubes and add it to the marinade. Some recipes will just slice the cube into rectangular planks for a “meatier” look but it’s still tofu. I like the cubes because I like incorporating them into recipes like stir-fries and bowls of noodle soup. These little tofu cubes are amaze-balls in a bowl of cheap ramen.

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My marinade is usually a combo of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, ginger powder, and sesame oil. I have also used teriyaki sauces, orange juice and orange zest in my marinade. You can get pretty creative with your recipe. I will generally make 2 packages of tofu at a time, it goes surprisingly fast at my house. The recipe that follows will be for 2 packages of tofu.

I let the tofu marinate for at least an hour. This amount of time has generally yielded the best result. There have been a few times I’ve been rushed and didn’t let it marinate as long and tried to baste it while it baked. It just didn’t taste as good. After marinating, I line up the cubes on cookie sheets and bake them in the oven at 350 degrees F for 40 mins., turning half way through. But you can bake it longer or for less time depending on how you like the texture. If you like a little jiggle, cook it for less, more bite, bake longer.

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What you get at the end is a beautiful, little, golden cube of goodness. You can do so much with these lovelies. I throw them into stir-fries, on top of rice, over noodles, into bowls of soup, and just by themselves like chips – meaty, proteiny, umami basted, delicious chips… Below is a bowl of baked tofu tossed in a veggie stir-fry over quinoa pilaf.

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Baked Tofu

2 packages of Firm tofu

4 Tbsp soy sauce

4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp sesame oil

1 Tbsp garlic powder

1 Tbsp ginger powder

Get 2 plates dinner plates (not too big, the smaller the plate, the easier to balance the can on top), line one plate with layers of paper towels. I usually fold 2 paper towels into quarters and they are just slightly bigger than the tofu cube. Drain the tofu over the sink and place the cube on top of the paper towel lined plate. Add another layer of paper towels on top of the tofu cube. Place the other plate on top of the tofu and paper towels, balance a can of soup or beans or whatever, on top of the plate. Don’t put too much weight on top of the tofu, it can cause it to break. Press tofu for 20-30 mins.

While the tofu is pressing, mix up your marinade. Put soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, garlic powder, and ginger powder into a bowl and whisk to combine.

When the tofu is done pressing, place tofu cubes onto a cutting board and discard the wet paper towels. Cut the tofu into cubes or planks, keep in mind that they will shrink a bit during baking. Place the tofu in a flat bottomed dish and pour the marinade over it. You can also baste the tofu with the marinade to make sure you get all the sides. Let marinade 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place tofu cubes on cookie sheets (you can grease them if you like but I generally don’t). Bake in the oven for 40 mins. Turn over with tongs about halfway through. Remove from oven and let cool (crucial, often neglected step) 5 mins. before serving.

There seems to be a lull going on right now. I can’t really put my finger on it. Things are calm right now, slow and mild but I can feel that it is temporary. Something is on the horizon, life just seems like its on the cusp of inaction and action. I wouldn’t say I feel anxious but there is this creeping sense of anticipation nagging at me. It may be the seasons changing, the anticipation of fall. We’re having some pretty warm weather for this time of year and I am ready for the cooler days and big bowl of soup weather to come.  Maybe that’s what’s nagging me. Hopefully I can exhale once the leaves turn. I’m not necessarily excited to see summer go, its just time for scarves, sweaters, boots and that crisp morning smell of autumn leaves, wet grass and dew. Okay, maybe I am a little excited.

One thing that was great about this summer was the massive garden project that developed in my boyfriend’s backyard and in his family’s backyard. The yards were a stones throw away from each other so you could say it was just one big garden compound. My boyfriend’s sister and brother-in-law were the green thumb geniuses. They planted several tomato varieties, squash of all kinds, beans, herbs, gourds, greens – we pretty much had our own produce section this summer. I did a lot of cooking but didn’t take a lot of pictures. I’ve mentioned a certain distraction that I’ve had over the last few months, it applies here as well.

I’ve been meaning to post recipes for weeks now. I’ll cook something and midway through eating it, I remember the little red camera sitting unused on the desk in the office. I have resorted to leaving the camera in the kitchen to remind myself to take photos for recipe posts. I talked about restarting the engine and – by George, I am going to do it!

I found a recipe online for a roasted zucchini. I love roasting vegetables, it makes them so sweet, tender and delicious! I added squash to the recipe, made some modifications and used fresh herbs from the compound garden. You can use dried herbs as well but just remember that dried herbs are more concentrated so, use sparingly. There are still plenty of zucchini and squash in the garden still so, this may be a side for dinner again soon.

Roasted & Herbed Zucchini & Squash

2 medium zucchini

2 medium crookneck, summer or yellow squash

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 sprig fresh rosemay (1/8 tsp dried rosemary)

2 sprigs fresh thyme (1/4 tsp dried thyme)

2 sprigs fresh marjoram (1/8 tsp dried marjoram)

Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 F

Slice zucchinis and squash in half length wise, remove seeds. Cut up into 2 inch pieces. Strip herb leaves off stems and finely chop. In a large bowl toss zucchini, sqaush, herbs, garlic and olive oil together. Pour mixture on to a large baking sheet or baking pan. You don’t want to crowd the veggies or they will steam instead of roast. Place baking sheet on top rack of oven and let roast for 5 to 7 mins. Check to see if edges are browning. If they are not, add 2 or 3 mins. and check again. Remove once edges have browned and crisped and place in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

Origin date: January 5, 2010

I have been psyching myself out for this entry. I have been trying to prepare myself for all of the stuff I want to include on this entry. It’s going to be recipe heavy and light on the photos. Fewer photos because I am such a bad photographer and heavy on the recipes because this is a whole MEAL we are talking about folks!

I’ve been entertaining a new companion currently and as a special event, such as New Years was quickly approaching, I felt that some meager flexing of my cooking skills was in order. Okay, so I am making this a bigger deal than it was. The meal is not even close to the most complicated stuff that I’ve made but the feature is one of my most favorite comfort food dishes. Roasted eggplant tossed with pasta, tomato sauce and fresh basil. *sigh*. And for the protein freak in me, I cooked up some spicy Italian chicken sausage to serve over the top.

I made this dish all summer long thanks to a scrappy little eggplant plant that flourished in my humble little garden. It was small, but boy did it sprout an amazing amount of vegetables! I also had a basil plant that, surprisingly, has survived in my cave of an apartment and was a welcome addition to the meal. So, without further delay, the final meal of 2009.

We also had a whole bulb of roasted garlic that served as butter for our tuscan bread. A really great salad with baby greens, spinach, dried cranberries, bell peppers, sunflower kernels and some homemade balsamic vinaigrette. The Best Broccoli of your life, and one of my favorite Italian red wines.

It was a really great meal and the company wasn’t that bad either….

So, I want to share the recipes of the evening and I hope they are as delicious, satisfying and comforting for you as they are to me. Definitely share this meal with others, as it will win you praise, garner you new friendships and secure connections. Well, it should at least get you a hug or two!

Roasted Eggplant Pasta

I used my favorite jarred pasta sauce because the sauce that I had made with my own tomatoes over the summer ended up with freezer burn. 😦

1 large eggplant, cut into large cubes

3 Tbsp good olive oil

1/2 lb. fettuccine or linguine pasta

Salt and Pepper

Your favorite jarred pasta sauce

1-2 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, torn

Olive oil for tossing pasta in

Preheat oven to 375 F

Toss eggplant with olive oil, salt and pepper, roast in oven until edges begin to crisp. About 30 mins.

10 minutes before eggplant is done, toss pasta into well-salted, boiling water to cook. Heat your pasta sauce in a saucepan just before serving.

Drain pasta, toss pasta with a little good olive oil. Add roasted eggplant, pasta sauce, toss and serve with freshly shaved parmesan cheese.

Just too easy and way too good!

Roasted Garlic Bulb

1 to 3 whole bulbs of garlic

Good Olive oil

Aluminum Foil

Preheat oven to 375 F

Cut off the top , maybe, 1/3 or 1/4 of the bulb so that you can see the individual cloves. Place bulb on a square of foil, cut side up. Drizzle with good olive oil. Wrap up bulb securely. Repeat with additional bulbs. Place on a cookie sheet or in an oven proof dish. Roast in oven for 45 mins. to an hour.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Carefully unwrap each bulb. Be careful because these little bundles are angry pockets of steam on the inside!

The garlic cloves will be soft and fragrant. You can just pop out a few cloves and toss them with your pasta or spread it over bread like butter.

It’s betta than butta, baby!

Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1/2 cup good olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste.

Put all ingredients into a tightly seal-able container, shake, shake, shake. Taste and adjust flavor as desired. Store in refrigerator for up to a month.

The recipe for “The Best Broccoli of your Life” can be found here.

Hopefully this dinner will do all the things that I promised and more! Happy New Year!