Sunday, May 22, 2011

All Purpose Marinara Sauce & a photo show of gnocchi making

Growing up there was only one type of sauce, my mother made it almost every Sunday after frying up a few dozen meatballs and some spicy Italian sausage. This was just how things were...we didn't know any vegetarians and so there was no reason to make a sauce that didn't start with the rich meaty flavors that came from using the left over bits of meatball stuck in the bottom of the biggest pan we had in the house. But now that I am living a few hundred miles away and have friends that follow every diet under the sun, I rarely make meat sauce because pasta is one of the only meals that most of us can eat long as the sauce is vegetarian friendly (and we ignore those gluten-free people!). When I first moved down here, I would still make my mothers classic meat sauce and use jarred sauce for those friends who didn't eat meat. But when I made things like lasagna where the sauce was already mixed in, we ran into problems. The fix was easy - learn to make a marinara sauce that would rival the deep flavors of any meat sauce.

When I looked on the internet for example recipes (usually I like to look at 4 or 5 different versions then decide which ingredients and methods I will go with), I wasn't happy seeing additions of sugar, powdered spices and other ingredients that my mother (never mind my grandmother!) would never have put in sauce. I decide to make up my own version and over the past year or so I feel that it is really a great substitute. Nothing will compare to a meat sauce and those nicely browned up bits of meaty surprise that are well incorporated into the sauce lending it flavors that are uniquely carnivorous. But this sauce avoids some of the most common pitfalls of vegetarian sauces, too many vegetables (don't get me wrong I love my veggies but this is pasta sauce not minestrone soup!), too thin and watery (I simmer low and slow just like a meat based sauce), too much "raw" tomato taste (the addition of carrots seems to add enough sweetness to balance the acidity of the tomatoes) and with a rich base that gives this flavor to spare (onion, garlic and a splash of red wine).

But first some pics of our gnocchi making session... 3 girls, 15 lbs of potatoes and 3 4  hours of work. Somehow things always seem to take a lot longer than they should but at least when you are making dinner there is a great reward for you at the end!

  Jess and Tova ricing the potatoes
Me trying my hand at the ricer 
Pouring beaten eggs into the potato
Making the ridges in the fresh gnocchi
 A close up of the finished goods!

Keep reading for the marinara recipe

Monday, May 16, 2011

Easter Dinner - Roasted Leg of Lamb and Turkey Breast

I never pass up a holiday that I can cook for and Easter with the traditional foods that I grew up with is no exceptions. Although I have to admit I don't know if I follow many of our recipes too closely. I'd like to think that I have come up with a good version of my mother and grandmothers cooking but with my own set of ingredients. I have so much respect for my elders when I host a holiday dinner. There was always so much at our holiday spreads and it was always homemade! My easter was a bit smaller - only four of us turned out - but the spread was pretty impressive. One of the best parts of the dinner was the "drunk" girl roasted potatoes that my good friend Jema provided! Not only were they delicious but I loved the story.

This year I decided that I would butterfly my lamb roast and stuff it with a mint chimichurri - it was easy to assemble because my lamb roast had one of those elastic mesh "girdles" on it. I served it with bacon wrapped asparagus which is a decedent twist on the spring time classic. The turkey breast was obtained for free (yay!) due to some smart shopping and a great holiday special at Shoprite. Turkey breasts are such a great option for holidays - they take much less time than a whole turkey and still have all of the deliciously tender white meat that most people enjoy.

As always I brined my turkey, I find it hard to eat poultry prepared any other way recently as brining is just so easy and delicious (though it does take a bit of advance planning)

keep reading for the recipe for the turkey breast

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cinco de Mayo Swordfish Taco

This year it seemed that more and more people were complaining that Cinco de Mayo has turn into a holiday much like St.Patrick's Day - a day of drinking that really has less to do with its roots and more with its alcohol brand sponsorship. However, I love "taco stand" style tacos and I can't pass up a fresh taco with some delicious ingredients so why skip over a good excuse to eat and drink. Traditionally you see often pork carnitas tacos and fish tacos in this style with just a bit of cabbage slaw, some salsa, cilantro, lime and usually a radish slice. These tacos are different than the tacos that are found at tex-mex type places which often are filled with sour cream and guacamole. This makes them a bit lighter so you really don't need an excuse to make them.

I decided to skip the radish slice and went with a "meaty" slice of grilled swordfish instead of a fried fish. This meal was fresh and so fast! I mean from fridge to table in about 15 min total...and anyone can make this.

click through for the recipes!