Basic Tomato Sauce and Recipes for Using It

>> Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Basic Tomato Sauce
Marinara sauce is a basic Italian tomato sauce.
Jessie, the next Sunday you're at home doing your schoolwork and Erich's watching the hockey game, why not try making some homemade tomato sauce? I promise you it tastes better than any spaghetti sauce in a jar, and it's the basis for a bunch of other tasty recipes. It will also fill your apartment with humidity and mouth-watering aroma in the middle of a cold and dry winter. You can make a big pot of it, freeze the leftovers, and use it for a bunch of the recipes I've listed below.

I think fresh herbs are the best, so come home and get some from my windowsill whenever you want.

By the way, did you know different pasta shapes are best for different sauces? Generally, the lighter and more delicate the sauce, the thinner the pasta. Shapes that are tubes like penne hold really juicy sauces, and ones that have bumpy shapes like farfalle or rotini are good for sauces with a lot of texture and lumps.

Mmm,fresh herbs.


1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
1 small (4-5 oz) can tomato paste
1 1/2 cups beef broth
6 cups chopped fresh Roma tomatoes, or 1 64-oz can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
2 tbsp fresh or dry oregano, minced
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped, or 3 tbsp dry basil
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp salt


Heat the oil in a big pot on medium heat. Add the pepper flakes, onion, and garlic and saute until they are soft. Whisk together the tomato paste and broth until it is well combined, then pour it into the pot. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer for at least an hour, or until the sauce is thick and smooth.

Garden Vegetable Spaghetti Sauce

This is one way I used to slip some extra veggies into your diet when you were younger, and I'm not sorry, either. This might be a good way to get Erich to eat more vegetables.

4 cups Tomato sauce
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup red or green bell peppers, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1 cup beef broth

Mix all the ingredients in a pot and simmer for 1 hour. Serve over pasta.
Serves 4-6.

Basic Lasagne

2 cups Tomato Sauce
6 sheets lasagne noodles
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
2 eggs
2 tbsp oregano
2 cups shredded provolone cheese

Boil the lasagne noodles until soft, then drain them. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8x8 casserole dish with butter spray, then spread 1/2 cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan. 

Stir together the ricotta, eggs, and oregano. Lay down 2 lasagne noodles in the pan, cutting them so that they fit. Spread 1/2 of the ricotta over the noodles, then spread 1/2 cup of the sauce over the ricotta mixture. Lay down 2 more lasagne noodles the opposite way. Spread with the rest of the ricotta and 1 cup of mozzarella. Lay down the last two noodles, then spread the rest of the sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.

Cover the pan with foil and bake about 45 minutes, until the casserole is cooked through and the cheese is melted.
Serves 4-6.

Chicken Parmesan

4 breaded chicken patties
3 cups tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese (we like to buy a wedge of parmesan and grate it at home)
1 tbsp dried oregano

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread half of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 casserole dish. Place the chicken in a single layer on top of the sauce. Pour the rest of the sauce over the chicken, then sprinkle with the mozzarella, parmesan, and oregano. 

Cover the pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Take off the foil and bake until the cheese is slightly browned and the chicken is very hot.

Italian Spaghetti and Meatballs

4 cups tomato sauce
1 cup beef broth
1 egg
1/2 pound uncooked Italian sausage links
1/2 pound lean ground beef (I like the 80% to 93% lean, even though it's more expensive)
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 package spaghetti

Pour the sauce and broth into a pot and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Cut the skin off the sausage and crumble it into a mixing bowl. Crumble the hamburger meat into the bowl, then stir in the rest of the ingredients. 

With your hands, roll about 1 tablespoon of meat into a tight ball, and drop it into the sauce. When you've made all the meatballs and put them in the sauce, put a lid on the pot, turn the heat to low, and let it simmer for 45 to 60 minutes, until the meatballs are done and the sauce is thick.

Boil the spaghetti according to the package directions, and serve the sauce and meatballs over the top of the spaghetti.

Serves 4-6.

Pasta Alla Vodka

3 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup vodka (try pepper vodka!)
2 tsp red pepper flakes or ground cayenne pepper
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup chopped basil leaves, or 2 tbsp dried basil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 package fettucine

In a saucepan, simmer together the tomato sauce, vodka, and red pepper flakes for 20 minutes. Turn the heat to low. Pour in the half-and-half, basil, and parmesan, and warm through for 15 minutes. Make sure it doesn't boil, or the cream might separate and look curdly. It will still taste good, though.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, then toss together the pasta and sauce before serving.

Serves 4-6.


Greek Spinach and Feta Pie (Spanakopita)

>> Monday, February 25, 2013

Greek Spinach and Feta Pie (Spanakopita)

If there is anyplace in the world we'd like to travel to and haven't visited yet, it would be Greece, home of Western civilization. Although Spain would be amazing, too. And Australia. Oh, it's time to pack our suitcases and get on the road. Winter in Chicago makes me long to bake under a hot sun on a blanket by Greece's "wine-dark sea", as Homer called it.

Instead, we are making spanakopita pie and turning up the heat. You've probably seen these as little triangles, too, and bite-sized appetizers. This recipe is from my friend and fantastic chef Talea Bloom. She made this for a Greek friend once, and the friend liked it even better than her Greek mother's recipe! Joe and I added mint, a common Greek seasoning, to the spinach mixture, to give it a little sparkle.

We did NOT make our own phyllo dough, though we do have recipes for it. Take my word for it, it's rather time-consuming to make and there are plenty of good frozen varieties out there. There's such a thing as taking authenticity too far.



1 roll phyllo, at room temperature
4 tbsp melted butter for brushing onto phyllo between layers

Spinach filling: 

2 lbs baby spinach-chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
3 green onions-finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic-finely diced
1 red onion- finely diced
1/4 cup fresh dill - finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh mint - finely chopped
8 -12 oz. feta (you may play with this amount to taste)
1 tbsp hot pepper flakes
½ tsp grated Nutmeg
Zest and juice of half a lemon (1 tbsp lemon juice)
3 eggs – beaten (for mixing in)
1 egg – beaten (for brushing pastry before baking)


Heat pan, add olive oil, green onion, garlic and red onion. Saute over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until translucent and fragrant. Add lemon juice and zest as well as spinach. Stir to combine. Continue sauteing until all spinach has wilted. Pour this mixture into a colander and let drain.

Preheat oven to 375 F. In the meantime combine all other ingredients in a large bowl. 

Brush the bottom of a 9x13 casserole dish or baking pan with plenty of butter. You may also substitute cooking spray for this. Place 1 sheet of phyllo on the bottom, brush with melted butter, add next sheet. Repeat until you have 10 sheets layered in this way.

Next, spread the spinach/cheese mixture evenly over the pastry and repeat layering technique. Brush top layer with beaten egg and bake the pie in a 375 F oven for 45 minutes until the top of pie is golden brown and crispy.

To my surprise this pie paired really well with Malbec.

Serves 4-6.


Pecan-Crusted Fish Fillets

>> Friday, February 22, 2013

The first time we made this recipe from a Weight Watchers-friendly site, we loved it so much that I really never want to eat fish any other way. Yeah, I have mentioned that I am not exactly crazy about fish, but this is mighty, mighty good. It's also quick to make.

One 4-oz fish fillet is 4 points+ in the Weight Watchers system.

If you have any of the pecan coating left, you can freeze it, then toast it in the oven before re-using it.


4 4-oz. thin fish fillets (Tilapia, Snapper, Swai, Whitefish)
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/3 cup bread crumbs
2 tsp jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger root, grated
1 tbsp packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves


Dry the fish fillets on paper towels. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease a large baking pan.

Stir together the rest of the ingredients, and then spin it in a food processor or blender until it is evenly fine in texture. Spread it out on a plate. Press each fish fillet into the pecan mixture to coat it, then turn it over and coat the other side of each fillet. Place the coated fish on the baking pan and spray with cooking oil.

Bake the fish until it is cooked through and slightly flaky, and the crust is golden brown - 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.


Watermelon-Lychee Granita

>> Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Watermelon-Lychee Granita

Last weekend, my delightfully quirky girlfriends got together for a "Young Frankenstein" party. I'm glad that I even know women who enjoy that movie, and we were excited to initiate a couple of the ladies who had never seen it before. The food theme for the party was German, though the movie is set in Transylvania. I brought watermelon-lychee sorbet.

Yes, I know that granita, or sorbet, is not German; it's also not the first type of dessert you might think of during a Chicago winter. But I had a can of lychee fruit I was wanting to use, a couple of limes that I absolutely had to use (soon!), and a recipe for fruit ice that I'd been eager to try. Plus, I needed a light fruit-based companion for the Reuben dip, Bavarian soft pretzels, hot cheese spread, kielbasa, and German meatballs at the party.

So I took my frozen pan of lovely salmon-colored ice to the party, put it in Jo's refrigerator to defrost, and promptly forgot about it. At eleven that night, as we collected our bowls and stowed our leftovers, I remembered my dessert.

It was perfectly thawed, full of crunchy sweet-sour ice crystals, and I scooped some into goblets and pleaded for everyone to have a taste before they left. "It's really healthy!" I exclaimed. "It's mostly just fruit!" I had another whole pan at home; how would Joe and I ever eat all that watermelon ice? Everyone was tired and they just wanted to go home. They were really only humoring me by having a taste, circled around the kitchen island in their coats.

It was one of those moments you live for as a cook. They spooned up every little bite and asked for seconds. We dreamed about other new fruit combinations - watermelon-mint! Apricot-ginger-prosecco! Our minds fast-forwarded to sultry August, when we would lounge on our flowery decks slipping spoonfuls of this frozen nectar between our lips. They begged me to let them take some home, and I thankfully gave it away. Joe and I would not be compelled to eat dessert every night for the next two weeks!

I love when I make something I love, and other people are delighted by it. I hope you like this as much as my friends did.

P. S. They talked about seeing "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" next. And wearing costumes. Hmmm, who would I be?
Young Frankenstein Movie Poster


1 15-oz. can pitted lychee fruit in syrup (reserve the syrup)
1/4 cup superfine sugar
5 limes, or 1/2 cup lime juice (kitchen hint: freeze the lime peels for the next time you need lime zest)
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
6 cups watermelon fruit, de-seeded and cubed


Drain the lychees, reserving the syrup in a small saucepan. Add the lime juice and sugar to the syrup. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.

In a food processor or blender, puree the watermelon, lychee, ginger, and syrup. When it is finely pureed, strain the mixture through a fine sieve, and discard the solids.

Pour into a large shallow metal pan and put into the freezer for two hours. Take out the pan and break up the ice crystals with a fork. Repeat again each hour until the ice is frozen solid.

To serve, allow the granita to thaw enough that it can be served with a spoon or ice cream scoop.

Serves 4-8.

P.S. The original recipe comes from the gorgeously-photographed cook book, "Cooking from Above: Asian".


Farfalle with Arugula and Sun-dried Tomatoes

>> Monday, February 18, 2013

I love the cute little shape and sauce-holding capacity of farfalle (bowtie) pasta. This is one of our favorite light and healthy weeknight dinners, originally from the Weight Watchers site. This meatless dish cooks up quickly and the sun-dried tomatoes and arugula give it a bright, savory flavor.


1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, without oil
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
6 oz uncooked farfalle
1 tsp olive oil
2 cups arugula, chopped
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
16 oz cooked navy, white, or cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste


Put tomatoes in a bowl and cover them with 1 cup boiling water. Let stand until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain and finely chop. Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain.

In a large frying pan, saute the arugula in oil for 2-3 minutes, until just wilted.

Whisk together tomatoes, broth, vinegar and garlic. Pour into the frying pan and add the beans. Heat through, then serve topped with the parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Skip the parmesan cheese if you want a vegan meal.

Serves 4-6.

If you follow Weight Watchers, a 1-cup serving is 4 points+


All About Onions

>> Friday, February 15, 2013

White onion slices
White onion slices
Girls, I realize that I haven't told you enough about onions, one of my favorite food ingredients. When you were growing up, I think I just did a lot of shopping and chopping without telling you why I chose one thing over another. I hope these types of kitchen tips will fill up the gaps in things I didn't get around to telling when you lived at home. So today, here's everything I can think of to share about onions.


There are lots of different onions, but three show up most frequently in recipes and in my kitchen. White onions usually have a lighter, milder taste. Because they have a more delicate taste, they work well raw. Yellow onions are sharper and more onion-y; the smaller a yellow onion is, the stronger it is likely to taste. I like to use yellow onions in cooked dishes because the flavor holds up well but they lose the sharpness. Red onions are similar to yellow, but are a little mellower in flavor; when you cook them for a long time they lose the red color. Sometimes I use red onions specifically for the color they give the dish. 

Red onion
Red onion slices

Some sub-varieties of onions are really sweet, like Vidalias (which are also really big) and Walla Walla onions. They have a higher sugar content and less sulfur, which makes them less pungent. Some people say that you can eat a Walla Walla onion like an apple, but I'm not interested in trying that!

I buy green onions when I want a very mild flavor and the bright green stalk color. I usually use them raw. Some recipes call for scallions, which taste like a mixture of garlic and onion. They are small and much more expensive than onions, so we don't use them very often. 


Yellow onions are usually the cheapest, so when it doesn't matter which type to get, those are the best option. If you buy a bag of onions instead of picking them individually out of a bin, try to get a look at all the onions in the bag. Don't buy onions that have a lot of sprouts, and don't buy ones that have black mildew on the skins, because they will taste bad and are probably old.

Look for firm onions with a good papery skin over them and ones that are not nicked or blemished or have mushy spots. If you're buying a lot of onions and the price is per-pound, try to take off as much of the skins as possible so you're not paying for the part of the onion you're not going to eat. 

If you buy green onions, make sure the tips are not wilted or soggy - they will not last long. It's best to buy green onions when you're going to use them soon, because they don't keep long, anyway. You can keep these in a glass of water in the fridge.

For Cryin' Eye

When you cut into an onion, sulfuric acid is released and will burn your eyes when it drifts upward. If you keep your onions in the fridge, the chemical won't be released so readily. 

It also helps if you wear contact lenses when cutting onions, since the fumes won't reach the surface of your eyes so easily. I know this doesn't help you, Jenn, because you don't wear contacts, but keep your face away from the cutting board and try to cut away from yourself. You can also turn on a fan or the stove's exhaust to pull the fumes away from you. 

White onions are usually the least likely to make you cry.

Cutting Onions

There are a lot of different ways to cut onions. Some people like to cut off the stem end, then cut lengthwise through the whole onion to the root end, then chop it width-wise. The advantage of this is that it holds the onion together during the process, which makes it quicker and less likely to burn your eyes. However, it's harder to peel the onion this way, and the onion tends to roll around the cutting board.

I like to cut off both ends and then cut it down the middle, then lay the cut side down and chop it into the size and shape I need. This is more stable, but of course you can't cut it down the middle if you need whole rings.

Try to keep your fingernails facing the knife, not the pads of your fingers, to minimize cutting yourself along with the food. If you have a good broad kitchen knife, try holding the tip of the knife against the cutting board with one hand while chopping the knife up and down with the other hand. Without lifting the knife tip, pivot the blade around to cut all the pieces. This makes chopping even faster. 

Always get all of the tough papery skin off the onion. This skin will just get tougher if you cook it, and it won't taste good.

Here's how Gordon Ramsay does it, and he's actually being polite about it: Gordon Ramsay How to Chop an Onion. 

Here's how the Reluctant Gourmet says to do it: How to Cut an Onion. This is a great site for other kitchen tips, too.

After you cut the onion, if you don't want such a strong taste, you can put the bits in a strainer and pour boiling water over them. Just let them drain completely before using them. You can also use onion powder when you want a milder onion taste without the actual onion bits. 


If you don't keep your onions in the fridge, keep them in a cool dark place like a bottom cabinet (heat rises, right?). Check on them once in a while to make sure they're not sprouting. If they do, you can still use them, but the flavor will change, and they won't last as long after they start to sprout. If one of your onions goes rotten, wash the other ones so that they don't start rotting, too. They keep best in a paper bag; they will rot or spout more easily in a plastic bag where the moisture is held around them.

If you use only part of an onion, and you want to save the rest, put it in plastic wrap and then in a plastic bag. This will prevent the onion smell from tainting everything in your refrigerator. 

That's all I can think of for now. Of course, you can always get ahold of me if you have questions.


Chili-Chicken Ramen Noodle Soup

>> Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chili-Chicken Ramen Noodle Soup

It's called convergence: when separate things come together at once. For me, a longing for some hot, light but still filling food came right after preparing some hearty, belly-warming meals. At the same time, I got my February 2013 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, with an article on how ramen will take over as the world's next comfort food. Then I went to Penny's Noodle Shop in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago for a cheap and filling BBQ pork ramen lunch. Mmmm. Time to make some at home.

I'm not talking about those little 25-cent packages that we all ate during lean times. There's a whole world of ramen out there, in four basic broth styles: Shoyu, a soy sauce base; Shio, a light seafood broth; Miso, using either a light or medium miso paste; and Tonkotsu, a buttery-thick soup made of simmered pork bones. Authentic ramen soup relies on a composition of the ingredients, added at a certain time to maximize the flavor and crispness of the ingredients, rather than a long simmer together as is done with lots of soups and stews.


This light and spicy version uses ingredients that you can probably find pretty easily. Once the chicken is ready, have all the other ingredients ready to go because you'll want to cook, assemble, and bring the decorated bowls to the table at once. Presentation is very important in Asian cooking.

We're going to tackle Tonkotsu one of these days...I think I'll be handling my first pork trotters (pig feet) to make it! Er, Joe will be handling the trotters, actually. It's in our marriage vows that he handles the raw meat.

Chili-Chicken Ramen Noodle Soup (Shoyu ramen)

Here is the cast of characters for this dish, minus the noodles that I somehow forgot to put into the picture. You can also see my badly defrosted chicken breast. I don't know, I think I've still got flu fever. Chili-garlic paste is supposed to be very good for sickness.


1 large chicken breast
2 tbsp Asian chili-garlic paste
Juice of 1/2 lime
4 cups chicken broth
1 tsp sesame oil
1/3 cup Tamari (sweetened soy sauce) or regular soy sauce
15 oz dry thin wheat noodles, Ramen-style*
4 cups bok choy, coarsely chopped
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 stalks of green onion, sliced


Cut the chicken breast in half. Rub the chili garlic paste on all sides of the meat, then sprinkle the meat with the lime juice. Marinate for 15-20 minutes.

Roast in the oven or on a grill until just done, about 30 minutes. Keep the chicken warm while bringing the broth to a boil in a large pot. Stir in the sesame oil and soy sauce. Reduce to a simmer, and add the noodles. Cook according to package directions.

When the noodles are cooked, stir in the bok choy and bean sprouts and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the bok choy is slightly wilted. Ladle the soup and noodles into bowls. Slice the chicken across the grain into bite-sized pieces, and place on top of the soup. Sprinkle with the green onions before serving.

*Note: Those little packages of Ramen noodles are fried in palm oil, which is why they are high in fat and calories. If you object to that much oil, try to find unfried noodles, or substitute other thin Asian wheat noodles.

Serves 2.


Perfect Prime Rib

>> Monday, February 11, 2013

Perfect Prime Rib

Hey folks, Valentine's Day is coming up! What better way to show someone that you love them than by making this luscious prime rib recipe? Bring out the candles and the special wine, and get a babysitter if you need one.

When Joe lived in Mankato, Minnesota he had a restaurateur friend who used to make a prime rib dinner every Sunday at his restaurant. He'd roast the meat all day until people were nearly mad with the aroma, then serve up generous, dripping slices to the customers until it was all gone. This recipe is a tribute to that wonderful cook.

Rib roasts are often on sale around Christmas or Easter and other special occasions. A wonderful friend gave us an eight-pound roast as a New Years Eve gift, and we cut it into three manageable portions for two people, freezing the portions we didn't eat right away. Scale this up or down for a holiday feast or a cozy dinner for two.


1 8-lb prime rib roast
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp celery seed
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried mint
1/4 tsp bouquet garni


Allow meat to rise to room temperature (about 2 hours). Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Line a roasting pan with foil, then place the meat in the pan and pat dry each side with paper towels.

Stir together the rest of the ingredients, and then coat all the sides of the roast with the flour mixture. Place in the oven and cook at 500 degrees for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 200 degrees and roast, uncovered, until it is the desired degree of done-ness (about 30 minutes per pound for medium-rare). For medium-rare, the meat thermometer should read 120 degrees; for medium, 130 degrees; for well-done, 140 degrees.

Take the roast out of the oven and place it on a carving board. Cover it with foil and let it sit for 10 minutes before slicing, to allow the juices to settle.

Serves 10.


Mardi Gras Jambalaya

>> Friday, February 8, 2013

Mardi Gras Jambalaya

Joe's jambalaya recipe is going to make you feel like you're in N'awlins, I guarantee it! There's so much going on in this recipe it's no wonder this is a celebration meal before the fasting that comes with Lent.

One of Joe's early cooking influences was Emeril Lagasse - someone he'd like to meet in person someday. Joe's also spent some time tasting his way around Louisiana, and like many classic recipes, everyone has their own version. This version suits us.

Jambalaya stew generally has the distinctively-flavored andouille (say on-DWEE) sausage, tomatoes, chicken, shrimp, rice, and okra. Lots of fresh herbs make it complex. This list of ingredients might seem long, but this makes a huge potful of hearty food for a big Tuesday dinner February 12.

While it's simmering, why not transport yourself down to the festivities by visiting the official Louisiana Mardi Gras site at Interesting fact: despite the image of Mardi Gras as a drunken street party, it's also a big family festival and a Catholic holiday - and a legal holiday!


1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
1 lb andouille sausage, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, chopped
2 cups vegetable broth
3 cloves garlic, crushed 
1 teaspoon whole thyme 
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp Creole seasoning
1 cup okra, sliced
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/2 cup hot banana or jalapeno pepper, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cups white rice


Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. In a large stockpot, saute the chicken in oil until white on all sides. Add celery, onion, and carrots, and saute until slightly tender. Add the sausage, tomatoes, broth, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and okra. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour.

Add the shrimp, peppers, salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and rice. Simmer for 20 minutes more, or until rice is tender. Serve immediately.

Note: you can also cook this in a large slow cooker, and let it simmer all day. Add the rice and shrimp about 30 minutes before serving, and turn the crock pot heat to high during the last cooking stage.

Serves 10-12.


Honey Mustard Glazed Chicken

>> Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Honey Mustard Glazed Chicken

My sister Sheryl is a gorgeous woman who is careful about what she eats and runs frequently. In fact, she's in better shape now than she was in high school, and she was pretty awesome then, too. She told me once that she wished she'd never eat another chicken breast again. "They're so bland, so boring...I'd rather eat a big, juicy pub burger." Her voice kind of caressed the last words.

We're hoping these honey mustard-glazed chicken breasts change her mind, just a little. Adjust the horseradish according to the amount of kick you like. And by the way, all Dijon mustard is not created equal. We bought cheap stuff last time, and it just wasn't as tasty. Grey Poupon is much better.


2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup honey
2 tsp dry mustard
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp prepared horseradish (optional, depending on how much "bite" you like)
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ tsp corn starch
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves


Whisk together all sauce ingredients and pour over chicken breasts. Allow to marinate for 15 to 20 minutes (or all day, if you prefer) before setting them in a baking pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until chicken is done and sauce is thickened.

Serves 4.


Norwegian Meatballs (Kjottkaker)

>> Friday, February 1, 2013

Norwegian Meatballs (Kjottkaker)

Joe's Norwegian roots are pretty interesting. The first couple of the family, Jonas and Martha Duea, came to the U.S. in the 1800s, and Jonas was a sergeant in the U.S. Civil War. Along with several other Norwegian families, they moved to Iowa and founded the town of Roland. They were some of the most prominent citizens of the town. When Martha passed away, Jonas brought over an 18-year-old Norwegian girl, Henriette, and raised another generation of children with her.

The Norwegian culture ran deep through these families, right up to Joe's father's generation. Once Joe's father started school, his father told him, "No more Norwegian, only English. We're Americans."

We have only a few Norwegian family recipes, like many children of immigrants who assimilate. This Christmas, our bible study group had its usual Christmas party and white elephant gift exchange. We got the best gift of all - a copy of the book Gudrun's Kitchen, the cookbook and reminiscences of a Norwegian woman who immigrated to Chicago in the 1920s and became a prominent cook. It's fascinating.

We found by comparing a number of recipes for kjottkaker (say KYET-kahker) that the distinctive things about Norwegian meatballs are that they are served in a brown gravy, and they use sweet spice ingredients of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. Use as much or as little as you like.

Norwegian Meatballs (Kjottkaker)

Traditionally, these are served over noodles or mashed potatoes with cranberry or lingonberry sauce on the side.


For the meatballs

1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork (if you like, you can lighten it up by using ground turkey instead)
2 cups crushed crackers or fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup onion, minced
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp marjoram

For the gravy

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tbsp beef bouillon base (Norwegians tend to use Oxo brand, but we like "Better Than Bouillon")
2 1/2 cups boiling water


In a large bowl, stir together all the meatball ingredients. Dig in with your hands and mix until well combined. Form the mixture into 2 inch balls, then flatten them slightly into patties.

In a large frying pan, brown the meatballs on all sides. You may have to cook these in several batches so they're not crowded in the pan. Allow to drain on paper towels.

Melt the butter and oil in the frying pan, then add the flour and sugar. Cook and stir over medium heat until the flour browns. Dissolve the bouillon in the boiling water and then slowly pour the water into the flour, stirring constantly until smooth. Heat to a low boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thickened and reduced, about 20 minutes.

Add the meatballs to the pan and simmer for 20 more minutes.

Serves 6.

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