Roasted Marinara Sauce

Roasted tomato marinara

So it’s been something of a busy year I’m afraid. All good things. Things like trips to Europe and moving into new apartments and getting a new dog (!). Somewhere in the shuffle I stopped blogging. Oh, I still experimented in the kitchen… but not very often. I still talked about it, still checked on my blog friends. Always bookmarked and brainstormed recipes. I’ve been trying to get back in my groove for a while and never actually took that first step.

I’m not really sure what came over me today. Or this week really. Basically, I’ve been craving baguette and marinara like you wouldn’t believe. I grabbed some bread and jarred sauce on my way home from work one night, but it was disappointing. And just like that, I had to figure out a new marinara recipe. Wasn’t even an option. And clearly I needed to take pictures and share.

I made a small batch because I didn’t know what to expect, or how much it would make. Bottom line, it is so fresh, light and delicious and I could mop it up with bread (or anything) for days. Really. The best part was that it was extremely easy to make.

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Roasted Tomato Marinara Sauce

(recipe makes 18 ounces – roughly 1.5 small mason jars. You may want to consider multiplying for your purposes)

2 lbs ripe tomatoes, cored & cut into halves or thirds
1/2 large onion, chopped in large pieces
7 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup red or white wine
2 Tbsp fresh basil
2 tsp fresh parsley
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp of hot sauce or 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional, include to taste)
2 Tbsp butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

These ingredients can all be tweaked for what you have on hand. For example, I happened to have fresh basil, parsley and thyme growing (more likely slowly dying) on my back deck, so I threw them in. I would recommend you include the basil, as it gave the marinara a distinctive flavor.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Core the tomatoes – insert knife about 1 inch into tomato and make a circular cut around the stem, keeping the point of the knife towards the center. You should be able to pull out a cone shaped portion of the core. Cut the tomatoes in halves or thirds and spread evenly in the bottom of an ungreased 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Distribute the chopped onions and peeled garlic throughout. Drizzle the wine and olive oil over the top, then distribute the butter pats evenly throughout. Frankly the butter and olive oil combination may have been a bit of overkill, but I couldn’t bear to leave one or the other out. Season generously with salt and pepper.

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Roast in the oven for 45 minutes. I ended up turning on my broiler for an additional 10 or 15 minutes because I didn’t feel that the vegetables were getting enough color. At this point, add the fresh herbs, returning to the oven for 10 more minutes.

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Remove from oven and spoon into a food processor (if you want to pour it in, do so at your own risk – this will splatter). Add Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce or red pepper flakes. Pulse in the food processor until the sauce has reached desired consistency. I prefer a smoother sauce so I pulsed several times until the bigger chunks have evened out. Taste and add additional salt and pepper as needed. This is perfect for pastas, pizzas, dipping – you name it. I wouldn’t count on it lasting long though!

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Braised Short Ribs

braised short ribs

I don’t know why, but I’ve long believed that other people have more interesting goings-on than I do.  When I watch, read or hear about the random minutiae that goes on in another person’s life, I feel a sense of envy.  Like someone else who sat on the couch with their roommate, drinking a glass of wine had oh-so-much more fun than I would have, doing the exact same thing.

Likewise, I have a sneaking suspicion that the other people of Chicago are out and about and enjoying the culture of the city more than I am. Whether my hunch be true or not, one of my new years resolutions is to get out and expand my horizons. I don’t have a great track record with keeping resolutions, but the end goal here is only a sense of satisfaction. That’s much harder to measure and therefore much easier to attain.

Speaking of attaining, recently I tried to make short ribs for the first time! I’ve wanted to tackle them for an eternity and I was genuinely surprised at how easy and affordable they were. I cannot recommend this recipe enough.  It takes several hours, but most of the time involved is not work intensive. You can basically forget them in the oven for hours. I think they would be perfect to serve at a dinner party.

Braised Beef Short Ribs  (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ed. note – we wanted leftovers and doubled the recipe

6 large beef short ribs
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
2 Tbsp garlic
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 cups red wine
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
6 cups beef stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

At least an hour before cooking, take out short ribs and season generously with cracked black pepper, salt and thyme. Rub seasoning in and allow ribs to sit out and come to room temperature. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

braised beef short ribs

Heat a large oven safe pot or dutch oven over high heat for several minutes. Add oil, and wait several additional minutes until the oil is dimpling and is very hot. The oil should be almost smoking. Sear each side of the short rib until browned. If you are cooking a small number of ribs, this can be done all at once. In order to get a nice caramelized color, I browned in 3 small batches, turning until all sides were brown. It is important to get a good sear on the meat because it helps to hold in the flavor. I actually think I should have let mine crust more. As the short ribs have browned, remove and set aside on a plate.

Short Ribs

Turn down the heat to medium or medium high, and add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Stir gently until they have begun to caramelize (7-8 minutes).

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Add the wine, balsamic and Worcestershire and make sure to scrape up the crusty bits from the bottom of the pan. They add to the flavor immensely. Bring to a boil (turn up heat to high) and reduce liquid by half. Add the beef stock and bay leaves, and bring liquid back to a boil. Add the ribs to the pot, arranging so they are standing up on end, with the bones sticking out slightly. There should be enough liquid to almost cover the ribs. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and then with a lid, if you have one. I thought the step of covering with aluminum foil before covering with a lid was strange… but I was so glad I did. I think it helped to keep the flavor in, and there was a visible ring on the foil which may have made my lid that much harder to clean.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

Transfer to preheated oven and cook for about 3 hours, or until ribs are tender. The smell will make your entire apartment/house/city block smell absolutely heavenly. After 3 hours, or when the meat is knife tender, remove pot from oven.

Allow to rest in the pot for 10-15 minutes. Remove ribs, and strain the liquid into a saucepan. Simmer to reduce liquid. At this point, the original recipe calls for you to place the short ribs in the oven to brown for 10-15 minutes. I missed this step, whoops.

Braised beef short ribs

Once the sauce has thickened to your liking, spoon the sauce liberally over the meat and serve. These were so incredible. Actually, just typing this makes me want to go out to the grocery store so I can cook them again…. Sigh.

-k

My New Favorite: Balsamic Vinaigrette


I feel a strange need to prove to people that I actually do love salad, and not that I am trying to be healthy (definitely not the case).  Inevitably I will share an anecdote to lend a little weight to my claim.  Well… I only have one story.  When I was younger and my sister and I were visiting our grandparents for the week, Grandma told me that I could have anything I wanted for breakfast.  Cake, ice cream, anything.  I opted for salad.  She looked at me like I had 2 heads, and promptly pulled the lettuce out of the fridge.  Aren’t grandmas the best?  But there you have it.  I crave salad, and it’s been a longstanding love affair.

This brings up a couple of key questions.  Why is this the first time I’ve attempted homemade salad dressing?  How did I not realize that it was so easy? What have I been waiting for? Then, when I first started researching recipes for balsamic vinaigrette, which has my highest esteem as far as dressings go, I realized I had all of the ingredients at home already. The shame.

Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette (adapted from Chinese Grandma’s recipe)

1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 garlic clove, minced (roughly 1/2 teaspoon)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

That’s a good looking jug of balsamic, isn’t it?

Start by mixing honey, mustard, salt, pepper and garlic. You could definitely do this in a food processor, but I whisked by hand.

Whisk in the balsamic. If your arm is getting tired at this point, you’re in trouble.

Whisk in the olive oil a bit at the time until fully incorporated. The dressing should emulsify and won’t have a watery consistency.  You may have to use some muscle.

I swear that’s thicker than it photographs. Pour into a jar and store in the refrigerator.

You could put this dressing on so much more than salad. Drizzle over your favorite vegetables, put it on some fresh bread, serve with grilled chicken, the possibilities are endless.

p.s. It’s Saturday night. I’m hanging on the couch, watching glee, sipping a glass of wine. Pure bliss.

 

Spinach and Artichoke Phyllo Bites

There’s this website called Pinterest. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s… addicting. Just ask S – he’s all over it right now. I’m not sure if I’m embarrassed or proud. Probably a little of both. Maybe more the former than the latter. I guess that might be the pot calling the kettle black – I get sucked in for hours/days. Just daydreaming about the recipes I want to make and the crafts I’d love to tackle. I am not very good about actually “pinning” things. I like to peruse and then I curse myself when I can never find anything I want. I think that’s more of a personal problem.

When I’m short on inspiration, it’s a great source of ideas. Take these spinach and artichoke bites, for example. I’ve seen them a couple of times – with wonton wrappers. I wanted to try something different. I have been itching to work with phyllo dough for years, and I recently stumbled across it at Trader Joe’s. Kismet, obviously. I thought filling with spinach and artichoke filling was the perfect way to get my feet wet. Full disclosure: I’m not sure I was all that successful…. I might just go with the pre-made phyllo cups next time.

Spinach and Artichoke Bites

1 package phyllo sheets
1 block cream cheese, softened (light works just fine here)
4 ounces artichoke hearts, marinated
1 package frozen spinach, drained
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cups white cheddar cheese
2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes Tabasco or hot sauce
juice of 1/4 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Melted butter

I’m not a big fan of mayonnaise (but it adds a nice creaminess), and I like some kick. I also don’t love huge pieces of artichoke, which is odd. I put the artichokes in a food processor and ground them up. What can I say? I’m weird about texture, and artichoke isn’t my fave.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix in cream cheese, mayonnaise, garlic, Worcestershire, Tabasco, lemon juice, grated cheeses, salt and pepper.

Add drained spinach and mix to combine.

Now the tricky part. Phyllo. I have read multiple articles about how you should cover your phyllo dough with a damp towel when you aren’t working with it to ensure the dough doesn’t be come hard and brittle. I thought that covering the dough with a damp towel made the layers stick together more. Maybe it was too wet… I’m not sure.

I set up a station. Phyllo. Damp towel. Foil for layering the phyllo. Melted butter/brush. Mini muffin tin. Knife for trimming. Layer the phyllo, brushing each sheet with melted butter generously before adding the next. This is what gives the pastry its flaky and toothsome texture. I layered 6 pieces before cutting. I think you could do with fewer layers, but I wanted there to be a definitive crust/crunch to my spinach and artichoke bites.

Cut into 2 square inch pieces (ish- that’s a total guesstimate) and push into greased mini muffin tin to form cups.

I had to trim some pieces. Apparently I’m not very exact. Go figure.

Fill the phyllo cups with rounded tablespoons of filling.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes or until brown. The phyllo edges will brown early, but will keep without burning (in my experience) until the filling is bubbly. Keep an eye on them just in case I’m horribly wrong.

I’m pretty sure you’ll be the hit of every party if you bring these. Almost positive.

Have a fabulous week!

-k

Chorizo Empanadas

Hi. It’s me. I didn’t fall off the face of the earth. I was living in a whirlwind. I haven’t cooked much in the last several months – I haven’t had the time. Or the energy for that matter. I’m hopeful that life will slow down now that travel/summer/wedding season is over. Or maybe I’ll get a week’s rest and then hurtle into the holiday season. Yep, that’s more likely.

Do you like chorizo? I love it. I wish I had discovered it sooner. I didn’t sample chorizo for the first time until a couple of years ago when I finally started trying new things. My mistake.

These chorizo empanadas, or hand pies, are easy to make, and the ingredient list is neither long, nor complicated. I could eat them for days.

Chorizo Empanadas

1 package puff pastry dough
1 package chorizo
mexican cheese
1/2 onion, diced
1 egg

First, saute the onion until translucent.

Add the chorizo and cook on high heat until cooked through. This will timing might vary. I waited until it was crispy and until most of the oil had cooked off, around 8 minutes.

While the chorizo is browning, you can grate your cheese. This was more of a crumble due to the cheese consistency. You know what I mean.

 Add the cheese, and stir until melted and incorporated.

 

 Using a glass, circular cookie cutter or biscuit cutter, cut your puff pastry into rounds. Guess which method I used – definitely the glass. I really need to invest in a biscuit cutter one of these days.

Place a spoonful of the chorizo/cheese mixture into the center of the dough. 

 Fold over the edges and use beaten egg to seal.

 I tried to make my edges look pretty but then you couldn’t even tell when they came out of the oven. So that might have been a waste of time. Brush the tops with the remaining egg wash. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.

 I’ve missed you guys.

-k

Greek (ish) Egg Rolls with Spinach and Mushrooms

We are officially 2/3 done with our month long move. Yep, you read that correctly. 3 separate moves will occur before we reach our final destination. It is a true miracle that one of us hasn’t murdered the other. There’s been some evil eye, under-breath grumbling and general grumpiness, but that’s about it. I think that’s pretty normal when you are in various stages of packing/loading/disorganization for about 30 days. Feels like forever. Also, when did I get so much freaking stuff? I’ve been living in a studio with no storage space so logically it would follow that I don’t have that much to move. However, I  admittedly suffer from “but I might need this [fill blank with a clothing item or something ridiculous] at some point” syndrome. And the sheer number of boxes labeled kitchen was staggering. Maybe because I stored all of my pots and gadgets in my clothes closet… Out of sight, out of mind definitely applies here.

This recipe has been languishing in my queue for a long time, and as a result, I don’t completely remember the exact amounts of each ingredient. I’ll blame general laziness on my part. I do, however, recall that these were delicious. I think egg rolls are the perfect casing for any number of fillings. I’m plotting out  future recipe ideas; the wheels are cranking like crazy over here. This will not be the last egg roll you see from me, I promise. While I’m brainstorming, I should probably come up with some more creative recipe titles, huh?

Greek(ish) Egg Rolls with Spinach and Mushrooms

1 package egg roll wrappers
2 large handfuls fresh spinach
1 small package mushrooms – chopped (I usually portobello, but any will do)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 white onion, diced
1 package crumbled feta cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 egg
lemon juice (about 3/4 Tbsp or a big squeeze of a lemon – technical term, I know)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Chop the mushrooms and onions.

Heat oil in a large frying pan on medium heat. Add chopped onions and saute for 2 minutes. Add garlic and continue to stir for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook until tender. At this point, you could add the spinach and continue to cook until wilted. I chose to pull of my mushrooms and cook the spinach separately because I wanted them to retain a little bit of bite.

 

 In a bowl, mix the mushrooms, spinach and feta. Add salt and pepper – a pinch of each and the lemon juice. Stir well to incorporate. In a separate bowl, beat the egg. This is how you will seal the egg roll.

 When I made the italian egg rolls, I tried to describe how to roll an egg roll. This time I remembered to take pictures! It’s the little things that make me beam with pride. As anyone that knows me can attest, my memory is terrible. I impressed myself.

Using the egg wash as a binder on each edge (you can apply with either a brush or your fingertip), fold the egg rolls as follows:

Fold up the bottom to the top (don’t forget to egg wash all of that action)

Fold in one side.

Fold in the other side.

Fold down the top, secure with egg, and you have a lovely envelope-esque egg roll!

Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, line up the egg rolls, and mist the tops with cooking spray. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until brown. You can turn halfway through for more even cooking – I forgot that step.

We served ours with tomato sauce for dipping, but these are great on their own too!

You could add a little cream cheese if you’re looking for a creamier filling. I think they’re delicious without though.

Over and out… for now.

-k

 

America is beautiful…Buffalo Chicken Bites, even more so.

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S wanted this title to be “Uncle Sam wants… buffalo chicken bites”. Do you see how patriotic we are over here? Happy Fourth of July!

Oh hi. Hi there. Hello. How’s it going? I sheepishly admit that I somewhat fell off the face of the earth. As ever, I have reasons… *ahem*… yep, they’re excuses. I started that new/old job. It’s going great, but I’m walking into a workload that is crazy behind. On top of that, our leases are up and S and I have been frantically figuring out what the living situation will be. It will be… interesting. We’re subletting a studio apartment for 3 weeks so we can move into an AWESOME place come mid-august. That’s right – I will have counter space, natural light, a dishwasher (swoon), a garbage disposal (double swoon) and a WINE FRIDGE. I will feel so fancy! 

In the meantime, not much cooking has been going on. We’ve been trolling craigslist hourly trying to find sublets,  which was really stressful. We didn’t think it was going to be that hard to find a good place (or even a shitty place) to stay. Option after option fell through. As it ended up, the first person who actually stayed in close email contact with us was a super sweet girl who agreed to have us as her subletters on the first visit! Phew. Always a relief to know you aren’t going to be homeless.

Now I feel like the worst of the anxiety is past. Hopefully I can share a little bit of the new studio, and then a lot a bit of the new apartment. There is a deck. A deck for grilling. And I’ll be able to fulfill my lifelong fantasy of having an outdoor couch. 

But in the meantime, let me share with you this recipe for buffalo chicken bites. I’m sure you’ve seen that recipe for buffalo chicken cups rolling around pinterest. This is similar, but slightly different. But oh so good. I’m bringing these guys to every party for the next while. They aren’t very labor intensive, and you can absolutely make them ahead of time and then bake for 10 minutes pre-party. Plus, they travel well.

Buffalo Chicken Bites (makes about 24)

3-4 chicken breasts (boneless/skinless)
1 package wonton wrappers (found in refrigerator section of your grocery store)
1 Tbsp paprika (easily omitted)
1/2 cup cayenne or buffalo sauce
1/3 cup sour cream
2 oz cream cheese (about 1/4 package)
1/3 cup ranch
1 1/2 cup cheddar/pepper-jack cheese (you could substitute 1/2 cup blue cheese)
 
Sprinkle the paprika over the chicken breasts, covering both sides. Pan fry on medium – medium/high heat for about 4 minutes on each side. The cook time will depend on the thickness of the chicken, but there should be no pink in the middle. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

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While the chicken is cooking, put the wonton wrappers in your mini muffin tin. I sprayed mine with cooking spray, even though it’s a nonstick pan. I know that it’s really not necessary, and yes, I know that it’s bad for the pan. Sorry. I get worried things are going to stick.

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Once the chicken is fully cooked, shred or chop into small pieces. In a large bowl, combine sour cream and cream cheese. Mix well, and then add the ranch, buffalo sauce, chicken and shredded cheese (minus some for topping).

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Fill each cup about 3/4 full of the buffalo mixture.

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Now fold the corners and upright parts of the wonton wrappers in to the middle.

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They’re pretty cute, right? Pop in the oven for 4 minutes. Take out, and top with the remaining cheese. Image

Return to the oven for another 4 minutes, and then place under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly on top. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, take out of the muffin pan and serve. Top with finely chopped green onion or chives for garnish if desired.

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They are sooooo incredibly good. Very chicken-y, which I appreciated. And a nice mix of textures. Next time I’m definitely making with blue cheese. Let’s be honest, I assume I’ll be making these every week for the rest of the year.

Happy 4th! 

-k