Monthly Archives: September 2013

Title_Image_TomatoSauce

I recently found myself in between jobs and with 12 whole days off of work. I hadn’t had that much time off since I was unemployed almost 4 years ago, and I was determined to do it right. Daily workouts, long walks, sun-tanning on the roof, busting out my juicer again – you get the idea. That kept me going until about the third day, before the darker forces set in – sleeping late, starting Breaking Bad, not putting on pants, watching more Breaking Bad. Finding myself with suddenly only a few precious days left of funemployment for who knows how long, I finally remembered that I really should have been cooking all week. I tried to think of the countless recipes I’ve looked at and thought “oh, that’s the kind of thing you do when your only job is to cook and blog about it.” Hmm…

That got me going. I headed down to the farmer’s market and, finding an impressive end-of-summer bounty, bought 3 pounds of early girl tomatoes . At $1 per pound, these guys are for nothing but a fresh pasta sauce, and this is exactly the time to do it. The tomatoes are extra delicious and on sale, and it’s about to be time for stick-to-your-ribs food.  So tomato sauce it was.  Well, two days later, because a) there was a lot more Breaking Bad to watch and it felt like a lot of work, and b) I tend to get really domestic when I’m nervous about something coming up. Whether it’s the need to creatively use up everything in the fridge before a big trip, or cleaning my room at the very moment things feel the most disorganized. That’s how I found myself spending all night making fresh pasta sauce on the eve of starting a new job where I knew I’d be fed three meals a day. But in addition to being some kind of cathartic exercise, this was a really delicious and fun challenge.

This sauce is truly from scratch – no place to cut corners here. You have to blanch the tomatoes, peel them, then cut and seed them. You have to cook down some finely diced onions, carrots, and celery, and then simmer it all for a good hour. Then you have to  run the whole thing through the immersion blender. But by going on this journey, you reach what Smitten Kitchen calls “tomato sauce nirvana.” The good thing about this recipe is that it’s effort-intensive in a blunt kind of way. It’s pretty hard to mess up. It’s also really basic, meant to be a base for any number of future recipes, from simple pasta to something baked and cheesy to eggs. Making extra and freezing it obviously a must.

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Fresh Tomato Sauce
Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

3 pounds of early girl tomatoes (if you can find San Marzanos, I’m sure that will be amazing too)
A glug of red wine (yes, that’s the technical term)
1/4 cup olive oil
Small onion
2 to 3 small cloves of garlic
1/2 medium carrot
1/2 stalk of celery
1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
A cup of chopped fresh basil

The tomatoes: Bring a pot of water to boil. Cut a small X at the bottom of each tomato. Blanche the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds, then either rinse under cold water or shock in an ice water bath. Now peel the tomatoes. Net,  halve your tomatoes, or quarter them if they’re on the bigger side. Squeeze the seeds out over a strainer over a bowl and reserve the juices. Coarsely chop the tomatoes.

The vegetables: Finally chop the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic.

The sauce: Heat your olive oil in a large pot over meduim. Cook your onions, carrots, celery and garlic, if you’re using them, for at least 10 minutes (I did this while I was finishing up with the tomatoes, and it was more like 20). Add your tomatoes, tomato juice, and wine, and bring to a simmer, lowering the heat to medium-low. Let simmer for at least 45 minutes. If the sauce still looks a little chunky, which mine did, throw the immersion blender in it or gently blend in batches. Add in your fresh basil once the heat is off and season with salt.

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Let them eat…

Title_Image_1Although I definitely have a complicated relationship with my own birthday, I am totally down with O.P.B. [YEAH YOU KNOW ME] For those of you who don’t appreciate the Naughty by Nature reference, I think we can all agree that the beauty of celebrating Other People’s Birthdays is that we are all able to partake in the merriment without the burden of the spotlight. (Unless you’re into that sort of thing, weirdos)

BirthdayCake_1

For my fellow introverts, I’m sure you appreciate the following:

  1. The sadistic enjoyment of watching the Birthday Boy/Girl’s comfort level plummet as he/she is obnoxiously sung to and clapped at before receiving a mediocre, but hopefully comped dessert. Usually in the form of: a) “Molten” Lava Cake (Chili’s), b) créme brulée (Upscale Chili’s), or c) ice cream scoop with candle (Japanese restaurant).
  2. Reveling in the continuity of your own youth while family members or co-workers around the water cooler repeatedly ask the Birthday Boy/Girl “So, HOW old are you NOW??”
  3. Cashing in on the comp’d lunch and cake at work while the Birthday Boy/Girl wishes they were a million other places.
  4. The Pay-it-Forward feeling when signing that “Hope all your wishes come true! XOXO” card.

Cheesecake

Ultimately, we get to sing off-key, stay “x” years young, eat cake, and revel in the celebrations at the expense of the celebratee. Bystanders’ win. Of course we don’t get presents or anything, which kind of rock, but cake! We get cake!

BirthdayCake_2

And on that note, a chocolate cake and a cheesecake: 

Fudgy Chocolate Cake:
(Adapted from Emandal Farm Celebration cookbook)

Cake:
1.5 C sugar
1.25 C Flour
.75 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1.5 tsp baking powder
1.5 tsp salt
1 C buttermilk
3 eggs
2.5 tsp vanilla
6 tsp butter
1 C hot coffee

Filling:
.75 C half and half
dash of salt
2/3 C sugar
.25 C butter
1 egg
1tsp vanilla
1 1/3 unsweetened coconut
.5 C walnuts or pecans (chopped)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 3 8″ round cake pans.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Whisk buttermilk, eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl. Melt butter in the hot coffee in another small bowl.

Beat half of the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients. Beat in half of the coffee mixture. Scrape the batter down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the remaining buttermilk and coffee mixtures.

Evenly pour batter into the prepared pans and bake for 25-30 mins, or until the cakes spring back when lightly pressed. Allow to cool in the pans for 10 mins. Cool completely (or freeze) before frosting.

To make filling, combine all ingredients (except vanilla, coconut and walnuts) in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until thick and bubbly – about 12 mins. Cool lightly and add the rest of the ingredients. Let cool completely before spreading on cake.

Cheesecake
Courtesy of the Miette Cookbook. Buy it- you’ll thank me later. (Thanks Sam!!)