Food, recipe, wine

Simple Bolognese Sauce

We aren’t Italian but my Mom loved to cook all sorts of cuisines, not just curry. And one distinct food memory I have is making sauce with her. She called it a sugo and it always started with a “trilogy.” My job was to stir. And stir. And stir. And stir. Once I mastered stirring I was allowed to chop and dice. But then straight back to stirring (and tasting). Now this simple Bolognese is a go to recipe for me. I also usually have all the ingredients, except the meat, already in my fridge and pantry so this involves very little planning. But let’s start with my Mom’s “trilogy.”

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What she called a “trilogy” is more commonly know as a cooking holy trinity, the French term for this mix is a mirepoix, in Italian it would be a Soffritto. The essential goal is to slow cook, not brown or sauté, diced vegetables, and occasionally herbs. Depending on the cuisine your vegetable medley will change accordingly. For instance, a Cajun or Creole holy trinity is onions, celery, and bell peppers. Today we are sticking with carrots, celery and onions. You generally want the onions to be roughly equal  to the carrots and celery combined. I ended up chopping half a red onion as well to get the correct balance.

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The key here is to let them cook on a gentle heat, you don’t want these to burn, sauté or cook to quickly. This usually takes about ten to fifteen minutes depending on how thick your pan is, how low your heat is, and the size of your dice. With practice you will begin to have a feel for how long it will take in your kitchen and not have to hover over your pan so much. Just before they would start to caramelize it’s time to add in your carrots. Let these cook for another 10-15 minutes and then add in your celery and let them cook for an additional 10-15 minutes. If you notice that anything is beginning to stick a splash of chicken stock will deglaze your pan. I also throw in a pat of butter before I add my meat. This will help balance out the acidity of the tomatoes at the end.

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While your vegetables are cooking you don’t want to forget to season. You want to add salt and pepper every time you add a new item into your pot. If you are into garlic, like I am, then you should also add a sprinkle of garlic powder. If you are into a nice round heat than a sprinkle of crushed red peppers won’t do you wrong either. But the real pièce de résistance is the Italian Seasoning you chose to use. I have made this sauce with fresh herbs before and it just didn’t work. The long stewing caused the herbs to leave a bitter aftertaste in your mouth. I’ve made it with cheap seasoning and it took the whole bottle and the flavor was never quite right. A good spice blend is worth the investment. When I don’t make my own I use Penzeys Spices. We are lucky to have one in RVA and they have a great online store as well! This Italian herb mix came in their Soul Box.

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Since this is a meat sauce it’s important to buy the right meat. I like to use a combination of pork and chicken sausage. I’ve made this with beef before and just found it overwhelmingly oily despite how assiduously I drained and skimmed the fat off. And with plain ground turkey or chicken it doesn’t quite hit that requisite richness you are looking for.

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I uncase the sausage and throw it right into my pan and incorporate the cooked vegetables and spices into the meat as it cooks. You could mix the two meats together in a bowl and then transfer it into the pan. But this is an extra step and dish that can be avoided. Make things easier on yourself!

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It actually is quite easy to smooth into one homogenous mix. Although if Lloyd is loitering I usually ask him to do this part by complaining that it makes my wrist hurt. But it really is important to get everything well mixed.

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The meat takes a while to cook, but it needs to be moved around enough to make sure it cooks evenly and doesn’t burn. Also, moving it around breaks up the meat. But don’t fret too much about breaking it down into even pieces because we are going to blitz this all up at the end.

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The next essential ingredient to a tomato sauce are the tomatoes! Canned are best. I once chopped about a dozen tomatoes to make a tomato sauce “from scratch” and it was just not nearly the same. The tomato flavor fell flat and was watery no matter how long I cooked it. I never got that rich, robust flavor that I look for when I make this sauce. I try and find canned tomatoes without excess salt because why let someone else season your food?

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You can add the diced tomatoes into your pan as they come because we are going to be blitzing everything together. Or you can be pedantic like me and blend them up before hand. Either way, into the pan they go.

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Next comes the tomato paste. I used to be so stingy with my tomato paste. I can’t explain why I was afraid to add tomato flavor to my tomato sauce but I would only add in about a tablespoon and then fret that my sauce wasn’t right. Now I scrape every last bit of paste out of that can and relish in the richness of the flavor at the end.

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Once you stir the paste in you will see that classic red, richness that one associates with a good tomato sauce. That was another problem with fresh tomatoes, they were never “red” enough.

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Now for the most important, the most transcendent step… the wine! My rule is that if I won’t drink it I won’t cook with it. Every now and then Lloyd and I don’t finish a bottle of wine and this is usually a good impetus for me to cooking something that calls for wine in the next day or two. Or I open a bottle of what we are going to drink with our meal and use that. Today I had a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the night before and just poured whatever was left into the pan, you usually need about a cup.

 

Once I reach this point we are very close to the simmer phase so I add in some whole garlic cloves. I don’t want to add them in too early because overcooking them can cause them to loose a lot of flavor. Today I used roasted garlic cloves because that was what I had and Lloyd loves them. I didn’t worry about dicing these guys up because I knew I was going to blitz later.

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Don’t feel that you have to blend this up. I like a smooth sauce and have an immersion blender which makes it very easy to blend in the pan. I would never even think about transferring this to a stand blender, it would be way too messy. So you do you! Whatever you decide it’s still going to taste great and stick to whatever you decide to smother with this sauce. But here is a side by side look at chunky vs smooth for your edification.

 

The last and final step it to let is simmer, covered, on low for hours. The longer it simmers the better it tastes. I swing by the pan and give it a good mix about every 45 minutes to an hour. You also want to taste each time. This gives you a good sense of how the flavors are marrying and you can adjust anything if you need to. Sometimes you’ll notice that your sauce has an acidic taste you can’t quite shake. Don’t worry a pat of butter will smooth that right out. Just pop it into your sauce, let it melt and come back in 30 minutes to taste! But there you have it! A simple bolognese that will surely become a kitchen staple.

***I usually make a big pan of this sauce, enough to make at least two lasagnes or casserole. I tend to use half and freeze half***

Ingredients:

  1. 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  2. 1 large onion
  3. 4 stalk celery
  4. 2 medium carrots
  5. 1 box of unsalted chicken stock
  6. 1-2 pats of butter
  7. 1 Lb chicken sausage
  8. 1 Lb pork sausage
  9. 1 14 oz can diced or crushed tomatoes
  10. 1 6 oz can of tomato paste
  11. 1-1.5 cups red wine
  12. 4-5 roasted or raw garlic cloves (or too taste)
  13. Salt, pepper, garlic powder, crushed red peppers and Italian seasoning to taste (a pinch or two of each every time you add an ingredient is a good rule of thumb)

Recipe:

  1. Dice onions, celery and carrots. 1 part onion to 1 part carrot/celery.
  2. Heat a thick bottomed pan with a good size slug of olive oil and slowly cook your onions with a sprinkling of spices.
  3. Add in your carrots, followed by celery, seasoning as you go. Deglaze as needed with chicken stock.
  4. Add in 1 pat of butter once your vegetables are cooked, reserve the second if needed at the end.
  5. Uncase sausage and add to pan.
  6. Mix thoroughly together, completely incorporating the vegetables.
  7. Once meat is mostly cooked through add in crushed or diced tomatoes, stir to mix.
  8. Add in entire can of tomato paste and stir to mix completely.
  9. Throw in garlic cloves.
  10. Add wine.
  11. Blend using immersion blender.
  12. Let simmer for at least three hours.

Serving:

This is a fairly versatile sauce. It works great just on plain pasta with a dusting of cheese. It’s also great for a chicken or eggplant parmesan. But my go to is usually a very hearty lasagne. However, we are going low carb these days so I tried out a Chicken and Vegetable Bolognese Bake instead. It totally satisfied my lasagne craving.

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Food, recipe

Meatloaf Stuffed Mushroom “Sliders” with Shoestring Beet and Squash “Fries”

Lloyd and I were at a restaurant called Matchbox with a group of friends and being the health conscious 30 somethings that we are we all ordered low carb, gluten free, vegetarian options. But at the table next to us came out a platter of sliders piled a mile high with shoestring fries. I have been wanting something like that ever since I saw them. So I created these mushroom and chicken meatloaf to replicate the sliders and baked spiralized beets and butternut squash into a semblance of shoestring fries. I have to say it really did hit the spot and I didn’t feel nearly as guilty as I would have had I eaten the sliders and fries at Matchbox.

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To start I prepped my spiralized beets and butternut squash. Claire gave me a veggeti last year for my birthday and it is a stellar addition to my kitchen. I had spiralized the squash and beets earlier in the week and failed to get a picture. But here is what happens when the vegetti takes on a zucchini.

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But back to my butternut squash and beets! The first thing I had to do was get the excess moisture off of them so that they would crisp up in the oven. I spread them out on some paper towels and sprinkled them with salt. I love how pretty and colorful they were.

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Next I need to ready my mushrooms. Kroger has bins of mushrooms where you can pick out the ones that you want. I tried to find ones that were evenly sized and would be easy to stuff. I de-stemmed them and diced the stems up into small chunks to use later.

The last real prepping step was getting the meatloaf mix together. I cheated a bit and started off with some chicken Italian sausage. I removed the casings and then added in my own seasonings to amp up the tastiness of this!

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I felt that should I mix in things to amp up the Italian seasonings already present in the sausage. So I chopped up some basil, scallions and sun-dried tomatoes as well as some garlic. I added in some shredded mozzarella and about half of those mushroom stems. I used an egg as a binder but no bread crumbs because of the low carb effort. I didn’t add in any extra salt, pepper or other spices because I’ve had these sausages before and they are pretty well balanced. But if you are using plain ground turkey then you would definitely need some.

I stuffed all the mushrooms with a heaping spoonful of the mix trying to spread it out evenly and then turned my attention back to the beets and squash. I wanted to wring the excess water out of the veggies so I placed another paper towel on top of them and tightly rolled them up. Then I spread them on a baking sheet and popped them in the oven before my stuffed mushrooms.

Everything came out of the oven and I plated them with “fries” piled on top of my “sliders.” It was definitely more colorful than the restaurant version. And I have to believe it’s a lot healthier. It also really satisfied my burger and fries craving which was the goal all along!

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Ingredients:

  1. 12 mushroom caps
  2. 1 package of Italian chicken sausage
  3. 1 egg
  4. 1 heaping Tbsp minced garlic
  5. 4 oz chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  6. 1/4 cup chopped basil leaves
  7. 1/4 cup sliced scallions
  8. 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella
  9. Salt, pepper and other seasonings to taste
  10. 1/2 cup spiralized beets
  11. 1/2 cup spiralized butternut squash

Recipe:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Spread out squash and beets on paper towels or cheese cloth and sprinkle liberally with salt.
  3. Wipe mushrooms clean and pull stems off. Chop stems and set aside.
  4. Place mushrooms on a baking tray.
  5. Mix together meat, egg, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, scallions, cheese and seasonings.
  6. Scoop meat mixture into mushroom caps.
  7. Wring out squash and beets and pat dry.
  8. Place squash and beets on baking tray and place in oven on top rack for ten to fifteen minutes.
  9. Move veggies down to lower rack and stir gently to avoid breaking up strings.
  10. Place mushrooms in oven on top rack and cook everything for an additional 30-40 minutes.
  11. Plate with shoestring squash and beets piled on top of your meatloaf stuffed mushrooms.
Food

Crisper Raid Quiche

Do you hate having to throw away food that you bought and never got around to using before it hit the expiration date or just got plain gross? Me too! I usually end up pulling everything that’s about to go bad out of the fridge and staring at it until I come with a way to throw it all together. Today I was slightly more prepared though and had a couple of pie shells in the freezer so I could make quiche with whatever was left in the crisper. And because pie shells come in pairs I made a second quiche that I could freeze and eat next weekend.

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After today’s crisper raid I had half a red onion, a smallish red bell pepper and a box of sliced mushrooms. Plus some assorted herbs that were on their very last leg; basil, chive, and parsley. I chopped everything up and added it to the pan starting with the onions. I then added the bell pepper, mushrooms, some mince garlic and the herbs. And of course I added the mandatory trifecta of salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Once things were cooked down I added in some chicken sausage that I recently discovered. I like this one because it isn’t maple flavored or apple flavored or some other sweet nonsense. It’s actually a pretty nice replacement to the fattier pork country sausage.

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I chopped up the sausage and added it to the pan and gave it good stir to coat everything and then added it to the waiting pie shells.

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It actually looks pretty good right now. My fiancé, Lloyd, would probably love it if I just turned it into a massive empanada instead of adding the eggs. Except he loves eggs. Lloyd is basically Gaston and eats five dozen eggs everyday and is roughly the size of a barge. Speaking of eggs, I made a quick egg mixture with about 8 eggs, a splash of cream, salt and pepper. My secret ingredient is about a tablespoon of corn starch. It makes the eggs extra light and fluffy when they bake.

The next step is the all important cheese and decorating step. I had a little bit of jack cheese left in the fridge and I mixed that into the filling before I added the eggs and then topped with some cheddar and sliced cherry tomatoes. It made for a pretty pre-bake picture. And an even prettier post-bake shot.

 

Serves: 1-10. Who is to say you can’t eat two whole quiches all by yourself? You do you. I will not shame you with suggested portion sizes.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Ingredients ***the veggies and herbs I used are just a suggestion, feel free to use whatever is in your fridge***

  1. Onion
  2. Bell pepper
  3. Mushrooms
  4. Herbs (chives, parsley, basil)
  5. Minced garlic
  6. Salt, pepper, garlic powder
  7. 8 Eggs
  8. 1 Tbsp Cream (optional)
  9. 1 Tbsp Cornstarch (optional)
  10. Cheese
  11. Cherry tomatoes
  12. Frozen pie shells

Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
  2. Dice veggies and chop herbs.
  3. Sautee your veggies starting with hardest and ending with softest. I did onions, bell peppers and then mushrooms.
  4. Add in your garlic, herbs and seasonings. Don’t overcook your veggies mix because it’s going to cook some more in the oven and you don’t want a big soggy mess.
  5. Chop up and add in your sausage if you are going for a non-veg quiche. I used the chicken sausage I mentioned above but you could put in whatever you happen to have in your fridge, including lunch meat you need to use up.
  6. While your veggies/sausage are cooking down you can whip your eggs. Add them to a large bowl and fold in the salt/pepper and your optional cream and cornstarch.
  7. Scoop your mixture into your pie shells and stir in some cheese.
  8. Cover your veggies/sausage with your egg mix and then top with more cheese. I added on the sliced cherry tomatoes for some color.
  9. Bake your pies on a baking sheet for about 45 minutes or until the center doesn’t jiggle and the top has gotten a nice golden brown coloration.