back to basics: strawberry sauce

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I know it’s not strawberry season, but for some reason when I walked through Whole Foods this weekend and saw the cartons of strawberries, I couldn’t help but grab one right away.  It’s probably the fact that the weather has been so spectacular lately.  Today is March 1st, a time of the year when it is often still frigid and snowing, yet for the past couple weeks, the northeast has been blessed with beautiful sunny days in the 50s and up.  I even turned my A/C on in the car this weekend!  And walked outside with a long sleeve shirt on!  So when I saw those bright red strawberries, I immediately started thinking about what I could do with them.  I knew that I had to bake a cake during the weekend, so a lightbulb went off instantly – I would make a vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting and fresh strawberry filling.

I love being able to make a basic sauce like this strawberry sauce because the possibilities with it are endless.  And we all know how much I love a versatile ingredient.  Sure, I used this sauce as a cake filling.  But this sauce also works great as a filling in a cupcake, as a sauce to incorporate into (or top) your vanilla ice cream, or even as a filling in doughnuts!  Mmmmmm.  Now excuse me while I go wipe the drool off my face!

Give this recipe a try and let me know what you use it for in the comments below.

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Strawberry Sauce
(Makes 2 cups)

2 1/2 cups cubed fresh strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch

In a small saucepan, combine the strawberries and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Add the cornstarch and continue to stir.  Let boil for 2 minutes and remove from heat.  The sauce will thicken and go from translucent to opaque.  Allow to cool completely before using.

– sauce on,
Sharon

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back to basics: vanilla bean ice cream

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I think I am in denial that summer is truly over, fall is flying by, and any day now winter will be here in full force.  The North Face jacket, and even the winter coat is back out from the closet.  As much as I love the frigid winters of the northeast because it’s all I’ve ever known, the first week of those 40 degree mornings is the worst!  And even though those 40 degree mornings have begun, I’m still pretending it’s summer and making some amazing homemade ice cream.

If you’ve never made ice cream at home before, now’s the time to start.  Four ingredients.  That’s it!  Vanilla beans, sugar, milk, and cream!  A few minutes on the stovetop, a couple hours in the refrigerator, and 20 minutes in the ice cream maker, and you have the most delicious and creamiest dessert possible.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
(Makes 1 quart)

1 cup whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups granulated  sugar
1 vanilla bean, scored down the middle

Combine all the ingredients and slowly bring to a boil.  Turn the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds.  Add the seeds to the cream mixture.

Let the mixture cool down to room temperature, then refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until the mixture is very cold.

Pour the cold mixture into an ice cream maker bowl and prepare according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

– dessert on,
Sharon

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back to basics: hummus

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With the Jewish New Year having just passed, I’ve been thinking a lot about home.  Growing up along the Mediterranean Sea, hummus and pita was almost always a part of every meal.  Authentic hummus and freshly out of the oven pita is one of the simplest, yet most delicious meals you could ever have.  So since moving to the US, our standards for both have been very high.  Over time, we’ve found that there’s really nothing better than homemade.  There’s just no comparison.

Today we’ll start with the hummus.  Because the truth is, when hummus is this good, you could literally eat it with a spoon.  No cracker, chip, pita, carrot, or bread required (although all will be just fine along with it).  The prep time may seem daunting, but I assure you, the patience will be so worth it once you take that first taste.

Hummus
(Makes 8 cups)

2 cups dry chick peas
1 teaspoon baking soda
5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup raw tahini
Juice from 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the chick peas in water for 8 hours (or overnight) in a large pot.  Drain.  Add water once again to cover, plus 1 inch, as well as the baking soda.  Mix well.  Cook the chick pea and water mixture on low heat.  Skim off any foam with a spoon.  Continue to cook over low heat for 60 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Drain the water, being sure to reserve the liquid.

In a food processor, combine the drained chick peas with the garlic, and process to a uniform mixture.  Add the tahini and lemon juice and continue to process.  The mixture will become thicker over time.  If you feel that the mixture becomes too thick, add some of the reserved liquid.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with fresh parsley, olive oil, za’atar, and/or pine nuts.  Serve chilled with pita bread, vegetables, pita chips, or crackers!

food on,
Sharon

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Back to Basics: Home Made Pasta

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Guys. I discovered something last weekend.  Homemade pasta.  It’s easy. It’s fresh.  It’s quick.  And sooo worth it.  Just trust me and give it a try.  With the exception of the pasta maker, you even have all the ingredients on hand at home. Unless its groceries day.  Maybe.

I decided I was going to make pasta a few days beforehand, no recipe or pasta maker on hand.  Enter Amazon Free 2 day shipping, and I had a cheap and functional pasta maker in no time.  If you are looking for a pasta maker, my advice is to read some reviews on the internet, don’t be afraid to spend a few extra dollars, and remember that you can always go higher end as your skills require.  I have a KitchenAid mixer and opted to buy a separate pasta maker at first, I may upgrade in the future.  I didn’t go with the cheapest option, but definitely didn’t spend too much money and am very happy with what I got.

I made the dough in my KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook, not a necessity but definitely made the process easier.

pasta dough

After the dough is formed, there are soooo many possibilities!  I had my eyes set on some ravioli, so I made that first.  With the extra dough I made pasta sheets for lasagna a couple days later!  Next, I am planning on making some linguini since it’s my favorite.  Sharon has already challenged me to add some dye to the pasta to step it up a notch – imagine spinach or tomato colored/flavored pasta!

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Homemade Pasta Dough
(makes 3-4 servings of pasta)

1/4 cup semolina flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a KitchenAid using the dough hook on a medium setting.  One by one, add the eggs and then the olive oil.  Mix until a uniform dough is formed.  Add flour, if needed if the dough is too sticky.

Remove dough from bowl and place on a dusted flat service.  Knead the dough for approximately 5-10 minutes, adding flour if necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow dough to rest for approximately 30 minutes.  If you want to store for longer, up to 2-3 days, place in the refrigerator.

When ready to use dough, cut dough into 4 equal sized pieces so it is easier to pass through the pasta machine.  Roll the dough until it is thin enough for the largest setting on the pasta maker.  Be cognoscente of how wide you roll the dough – try to keep it thinner than the width of your pasta maker – it will make rolling through the machine easier.  Sprinkle both sides of the dough and carefully pass it through the machine.  Continue to increase the settings on the machine, 1 or 2 notches at a time and sprinkle the dough with flour every 2-3 passes.  Work until the dough is at a setting of 6 or 7 –  go thinner than you think as the dough will expand when cooking.

Home made pasta can then be cut into any shape, filled with filling, etc.  Once it is ready to cook, boil a pot of water, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt to the water.  Once the water has come to a rolling boil, add the pasta, stirring to ensure it is not sticking to each other, and cook for approximately 3-4 minutes.

Food on
-shirley

back to basics: pizza!

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We grew up eating home made pizza.  My mom made it so often (usually on sundays, especially for football games), that eating pizza out was definitely rare.  The stance at my house is why pay more when its cheaper, tastier, and if planned ahead, not time consuming. So, this was one of the recipes that my mom wrote up for me when I left the house and it has become almost a weekly menu item at our house.  While I love thinking through creative (and convinient) sauces and toppings, that’s the easy part – this post is all about the basics of making and baking the dough.

There are a few other important tools and ingredients to make the pizza making process easy.  First, get yourself a high quality pizza stone.  It will probably cost about $50 but its definitely a worthwhile investment. The stone is made out of ceramic which is a good conductor of heat, so it gets, and stays, very hot.  That is exactly what we want with pizza because it bakes the crust from underneath and leaves you with a cooked/crispy bottom pizza.

The most important thing about making pizza is that the stone is super hot when the pizza dough is placed on it.  Honestly, the easiest thing is just to leave it in the oven.  I think aside from wiping mine down if something dripped on it, it has lived in the oven since I got it.

The next half of the pizza making process is how to get the dough onto the stone.  For that, they have pizza paddles (or spatulas).  The most helpful thing I’ve found with these is to coat them with some semolina flour prior to placing the dough on them.  The grains of the semolina aren’t as fine as flour, so it creates traction and the dough rolls right off the paddle onto the pizza stone.

First, the basic pizza dough recipe
(makes 1 large pizza)

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbs olive oil
1 cup warm water
1 packet yeast

Set oven to 375 degrees F.  Mix the yeast into the water, allow to sit for a few minutes.  Mix together the flours, sugar and salt.  Add the olive oil and yeast mixture to the flours and mix with your hands until a dough forms.  If needed, add more flour so that the dough isn’t too sticky and can be formed into a ball.  Cover the bowl containing the dough with a towel and allow dough to rise for about 1 hour.

Once the dough is beautifully risen, spread some flour on a clean counter, and roll the dough out with a rolling pin.  Roll it to the desired size (keep in mind the size of your spatula and stone).  Ensure your spatula is covered with 1/4 cup of semolina flour, fold the dough into quarters, place onto spatula and unfold the dough so that it covers the entire spatula.  If I have time, I let the pizza dough sit for about 15-30 minutes like this, since it will rise a little more.

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Add sauce onto the dough and put into the oven.  You want to have a thin layer, but ensure that the entire area (leave about 1 inch wide edge) is covered.  The pizza will need to bake for approximately 12-14 minutes.  The dough and sauce should bake the entire time (duh!), but toppings can cook for less, maybe 6 minutes, and the cheese even less than that, 3 minutes max.  So I put the pizza in the oven, add toppings about 6 minutes later and a few minutes later add the cheese.  Keep in mind that the oven is HOT!

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Like I said before, the possibilities are endless!  I love making pizza with just what I have on hand – sauce, toppings, cheese, and all.  Be on the lookout in the next few weeks for lots of fun pizza recipes!

bake on,
– Shirley

back to basics: pickles

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As I mentioned here, I was incredibly excited to see pickling cucumbers in my csa share a couple months back.  I have a ton of great memories from time spent with my grandparents.  Since my love for my food is only second to the love of those around me, it’s no surprise that many of my memories have to do with food.  The giant salads my grandfather used to make (as a kid, it was the only salad I would eat), the pitas with chocolate spread I could eat at their house (because my parents tried their best to keep us eating healthy when we were at home), and of course, my grandmother’s pickles.  She spoiled me rotten by making pickles from scratch.  There was always a jar of pickles in the fridge for me to pick at when we went to their house.

Since I finally had pickles that were up to par at home, I eat them as a snack, serve them as a side to sandwiches or burgers, and even added to a salad to give it a bit of a kick.

Pickles
(Makes 2 jars)

3 pickling cucumbers, cut into slices or long strips (quarters)
4-5 sprigs dill
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tbs red pepper flakes
2 tbs salt
2 cups white vinegar
3 cups water

Boil the water and set in the fridge to cool.  In 2 mason jars, place cucumbers and 1 sprig of dill each.  Chop the rest of the dill finely.  Once the water has cooled, mix together the vinegar, water, salt, garlic, dill and red pepper flakes.  Pour the mixture into the mason jars.  Close the jars tightly and place in the refrigerator.  Allow pickles to sit for approximately a week before using.

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– food on,
Shirley

back to basics: tomato sauce

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Tomato sauce.  Such a simple ingredient in a recipe when you think about it.  But it has such an effect on the outcome of a meal.  Shirley and I grew up making and eating homemade tomato sauce.  One thing that you need to know about tomato sauce, is that cooking it is 10 times better than actually eating it.  There isn’t much else better than smelling garlic cooking in a pan.  Or sticking your nose so close to the simmering tomato sauce that you think you might get some on your nose.  Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for my mom’s homemade tomato sauce.

This sauce is incredibly easy to make.  It can be done with tomatoes, or my quick favorite, ground peeled canned tomatoes.  It’s an easy way to eat healthy, skip all the unnecessary ingredients in store-bought tomato sauce, and save some money while you’re at it.  This sauce can be frozen in glass jars or freezer bags for up to 6 months, so feel free to spend a couple days a year making a boat-load of sauce that will last you an entire year!  Or be like K and I and go through an entire supply in 3 weeks…

Be on the look-out for a BUNCH of new recipes with tomato sauce as an ingredient!

Tomato Sauce
(Makes 6 cups, yet easily doubled or quadrupled)

1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 shallots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 28-oz can of ground peeled tomatoes
1 14.5-oz can of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
1 teaspoon fresh (or dried) thyme
1 teaspoon fresh (or dried) oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

In a large pot at medium heat, add the olive oil and shallots.  After about 2-3 minutes, add the garlic.  Cook for only a minute more, being sure not to burn the garlic or shallots.  Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot, leaving a small opening to allow steam to escape.  Simmer all the ingredients for 45 minutes.  Let cool.  Separate the sauce into a few glass containers.

The sauce can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator, or it can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.  To defrost, stick the container in a hot pot of water, being sure that it is not fully immersed.  After about 5 minutes, the sauce should be defrosted enough that you can pour it into a pan and let it defrost and heat up completely.

– sauce on,
Sharon

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