Thursday, September 27, 2012

Something From Nothing #2: Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce

This has been a very busy blogging month for me.  As you probably know, I am smack dab in the  middle of a series of three posts for the Muy Bueno Cookbook Spotlight.  In addition to Muy Bueno, I have also been trying to work in a second post for my own "Something From Nothing" series which I just started last month; so I hope you don't mind switching gears for just a little bit so I can work in one great little recipe.

A couple of month's ago I was over at a friend's house flipping through her cookbooks when I came across an Italian family style cookbook by author Marcella Hazan.  Recognized as being a foremost authority on Italian cookery by chefs and fellow food writers, Hazan has authored numerous award winning books over the years.

Out of all of the beautiful recipes in this book I just kept coming back to one that I loved because of its simple genius; just 4 ingredients and one pot.  The promise of canned tomatoes, butter, onion and salt slowly simmered making the perfect tomato sauce had me hooked.

The next day I assembled the ingredients and threw them in a pan.  I mean this recipe is so simple that you just cut the onion in half pole to pole and throw it in the pot, no chopping or dicing.  It was super hard for me but I totally resisted the temptation to put anything else in the pot.  No garlic, no basil, no nothing.  Oh sure, this is a great base to add anything you want, but try it plain first and then decide what else you want to throw in.

I have since made it several times and it comes out the same each and every time . . . just delicious.  I have since extolled the virtues of this recipe to everyone who will listen.  Upon Googling it I found that this recipe has already swept through the blogging world to raves (where the hell was I?) and normally this might just put me off as being an overused recipe, but not this time.

So, next time you find yourself hungry with nothing but a can of tomatoes, half a stick of butter, an onion, some salt and a maybe some dried pasta, you can now assemble a beautiful supper.   This sauce is now my go to sauce for homemade pizzas and chicken Parmesan too.  It is spectacular.  I can't encourage you enough to give it a try.

Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce

2 pounds fresh tomatoes (skinned) or 2 cups ( I use 1 - 28 ounce can chopped tomatoes which is really about 3 cups, but that way I have lots of leftovers)
5 tablespoons butter (you can reduce the butter just a bit or increase the tomatoes like I do if you want to cut the fat some)
1 small onion, cut in half pole to pole
Salt to taste

Place ingredients in a medium size sauce pan set uncovered over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, reduce to medium low and cook slow and steady until the butter pools on top and marbles the sauce, approximately 45 minutes.  During cooking stir occasionally, mashing tomato pieces with the back of a spoon.

Before serving remove onion and salt to taste. 

Even though Marcella's recipe calls to discard the onion, I just can't bring myself to do that.  I love to slice it and eat it.  Serve immediately.

*Depending on the tomatoes that you use and your own personal preference, you can puree or blend the tomatoes for a smooth texture.

Easily serves 4


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Muy Bueno Cookbook Spotlight #2: Brisket Tacos with Homemade Flour Tortillas

For our second post of the Muy Bueno Cookbook Spotlight, participating bloggers were asked to choose any recipe from the cookbook, prepare it and write a post about it.  Even though this was the post I was really looking forward to doing, when it came down to it I really had a hard time deciding which one to choose.  There are so many wonderful looking recipes, narrowing it down to one proved to be really difficult.

Since our first recipe was one that was credited to Yvette, I decided that I wanted to make one of Veronica's or Vangie's to spread the love around a bit.  I flipped through the book so many times the pages started to become dog-eared before finally deciding on Veronica's brisket tacos. I knew that this recipe would probably be a real treat for both my brisket loving family and me, especially since using the slow cooker just so happens to be one of my favorite methods of cooking.

As with Yvette's salsa recipe I scaled this one back just a bit to feed my smaller family.  Really the only adjustments I made was to use a brisket that was slightly under 2 pounds instead of the 2 - 4 pounder Veronica called for, and then adjusted the liquid smoke per her directions.  I threw everything in the slow cooker and forgot about it until suppertime.

Seeing that I had a little extra time on my hands, I decided to make some homemade tortillas to go with the brisket.  Originally I wanted to make corn tortillas, but after reading that you really need a tortilla press for these (this is honestly the only kitchen gadget that I do not own), I turned to the recipe for flour tortillas and I am so glad that I did.

After discovering this easy recipe I may never buy tortillas again.  The few simple ingredients and the quick prep really made this recipe something that I will definitely repeat.  I just hope to improve on my rolling technique a bit because even though my tortillas were delicious, most of them turned out to be shaped like the state of Texas.

Ignoring the fact that my tortillas' shapes were the butt of several jokes, my family's verdict on this dish was an enthusiastic thumbs up with a side of, "Mom be sure and do this again!" Need I say more?  I think this would also be perfect for tailgating or football parties this fall.  The only thing that just might have been missing was a big spoonful of Yvette's mushroom, jalapeno and cilantro salsa on top.

Brisket Tacos

I love the ease of taco night.  I usually just pull all of my toppings out of the fridge, set them out on the Lazy Susan and let everyone create their own dream taco.  This meal will put a smile on anyone's face.

2 to 4 pounds beef brisket, flat trimmed
2 ounces liquid smoke per pound of meat
2 bay leaves
12 ounces beer
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
12 to 24 corn tortillas

Place the brisket, liquid smoke, bay leaves, and beer in a slow cooker.  Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. 

Remove the brisket and shred the meat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Warm the tortillas.  Place shredded brisket in tortillas and add your favorite toppings.

Topping Options

Shredded cheese
Sour cream
Chopped cilantro
Chopped white onions
Avocados, pitted peeled and sliced
Salsa of choice

Makes 12 to 24 tacos

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Don't worry if you don't own a comal (similar to a heavy bottom crepe pan) as you can always use a cast iron skillet or any other flat bottom skillet that you have.  Just be sure that you preheat it and it is good and hot when you start cooking your tortillas (this is why I prefer cast iron).  A really hot pan is essential because cooking them in too cool of a skillet will cause them to be hard and dry.  Like making pancakes, I scrapped the first one writing it off as the test pancake, so don't worry if this happens to you too.

4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 - 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon lard or shortening
1 - 1/4 cups warm water

*Place a comal (griddle or cast-iron skillet) over medium heat and allow it to heat up.

In a bowl combine all the dry ingredients.  Add the lard or shortening and combine until you have the consistency of small crumbs.

Add the warm water and mix will with your hand. The mixture may be a little sticky.  Knead on a cutting board or smooth counter until dough is pliable and springy.  Sprinkle with flour if dough is too sticky.

Form 2 - 2 -1/2 inch dough balls.  With a rolling pin, roll out the dough balls to form 7 - 8 inch disks.  If dough is sticky, sprinkle board and rolling pin with flour to make it easier to roll out the dough.

I roll out my tortillas as thin as I can get them without breaking them.  Since they contain baking powder they will still puff to a nice thickness.

As you roll out each disk, place on the hot comal to cook, it will take 1 minute or less on each side.  After cooking the first side, turn tortilla over and let it cook on the opposite side; when tortilla starts to form air pockets press down gently on it with a wooden tortilla press or  rolled up kitchen towel (like Grandma did) to release the air.  Don't press too much, or it will make tough tortillas.

Keep the tortillas warm in a tortilla warmer or under a clean dish towel while you make the rest.  Leftover tortillas can be refrigerated in a plastic bag.

Makes 13 to 14 (7 to 8 inch) tortillas

*I find that I like to cook my tortillas in a really hot pan so I cook mine over a medium high heat.

**This post is part of the Muy Bueno Cookbook Spotlight & Cook-Off sponsored by Hippocrene and hosted at girlichef.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Muy Bueno Cookbook Celebration: Mushroom, Jalapeno and Cilantro Salsa

I have a very talented blogger friend named Yvette who has been working and cooking on a collaborative cookbook with her mother and sister for as long as I have known her  .  This cookbook will soon be hitting the shelves and I was fortunate enough to be chosen along with 15 other food bloggers to do a series of posts to get the word out about it.

Muy Bueno, Three Generations of Authentic Mexican Flavor, is a compilation of recipes and stories from family matriarch, Evangelina (Vangie) Soza and her two daughters, Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack and Veronica Gonzalez-Smith. 

Rich in history and family tradition, Vangie’s recipes are mostly credited to her own mother, Jesusita whose traditional old-world northern Mexican recipes come alive through both Vangie’s descriptions and the beautiful photographs in the book.

Complimenting Vangie and Jesusita’s traditional recipes are the more contemporary Latin fusion dishes created by Yvette and Veronica.  From Veronica’s Beef Brisket Tacos and Blood Orange Mezcal Margaritas, to Yvette’s Spicy Mushroom Torta with Cheese and Tres Leches Pumpkin Flan, this cookbook is truly a colorful family patchwork.  

For my first post in this series of three, our coordinator Heather over at Girlichef chose two recipes from the book and asked that the participating bloggers choose one to feature.  I decided on Yvette’s Mushroom, Jalapeno and Cilantro Salsa partly because I already had the pleasure of tasting Yvette’s delicious Mexican Bread Pudding (Capirotada) about a year ago at a blogger get together.  Even though I loved the Capirotata, I really wanted to try something different, and honestly the main reason for choosing the salsa, was because I was attracted to its simplicity of preparation and interesting combination of flavors.

Now I must admit from the get go that I am not a raw mushroom person, but I really wanted to step out of the box and give something new a try.  I love sautéed mushrooms, but always give the fresh ones a pass on the salad bar.  Yvette calls for the mushrooms in her recipe to be marinated in lime juice, and since I’ve eaten fish given the same treatment in ceviche I decided that this might give them the cooked texture that I prefer. So, armed with an open mind I got cooking.

Since there are only four of us in my family and only two of us eat mushrooms, I thankfully found it easy to cut Yvette's recipe in half.   Even after reducing it, it still made what I thought to be enough for four people as an appetizer with chips, or a topping for grilled steaks or chicken breasts.

The recipe was super simple to assemble, and following Yvette’s directions, I made mine well ahead of our evening meal and let it marinate for a couple of hours.  The results were very good even for those who are not raw mushroom lovers like me.  The mushrooms did indeed turn soft and moist and the flavors married nicely producing a simple earthy flavor which complemented our grilled steaks very well.

Mushroom, Jalapeno and Cilantro Salsa

This recipe is Yvette's original which yields 3 cups.  I easily cut this recipe in half and found it to still be enough to easily feed four as an appetizer or a light side dish.

1 pound fresh white mushrooms, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed and finely chopped
Handful cilantro, chopped
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt to taste

In a bowl combine the mushrooms, onion, jalapeno and cilantro.  Add the lime juice and olive oil and toss gently.  Salt to taste.

Let sit for a couple of hours allowing the flavors to meld.  This salsa is best served at room temperature. 

Serve as a topping for fish, chicken, grilled steak, or as an appetizer with a basket of your favorite tortilla chips.

Makes 3 cups.

*This post is part of the Muy Bueno Cookbook Spotlight and Cook-Off sponsored by Hippocrene and hosted at girlichef*

Friday, September 14, 2012

1st Anniversary Cocktail Party for Creative Culinary's Friday Cocktail and a 1980's Flashback: The B-52 Shooter

When Barb of Creative Culinary asked me if I would like to help her celebrate the first anniversary of her Friday Happy Hour posts how could I say no?  Far be it from me to miss out on a great cocktail party, virtual or real.

I don't advertise it here, but I spent a little time behind the bar mixing drinks before I got married and settled down.  I'll even admit that I spent quite a bit of time on the other side of the bar drinking a cocktail or two during this time. At risk of ruining my wet blanket, kill joy, Debbie Downer reputation with my kids, I have to say that I was pretty darned fun.

Ok, where am I going with this? Well I felt like I had to give you a little background to explain the mixture that I have chosen to help Barb celebrate, because my chosen cocktail is a real 1980s, in my heyday favorite, the B-52.

Back in the day if my friends and I had something to celebrate, we often celebrated with a round of these little 3 layered drunken candy bars in a shot glass.   Everything from new jobs to someone finally dumping their no good cretin of a boyfriend was toasted with one or two (ok, maybe even three) of these babies, and we weren't the only ones.  While behind the bar I must have layered hundreds of them.

This tasty little shot starts off with a layer of Kahula, followed by a layer of Bailey's Irish Cream and finally, a layer of Grand Marnier.  I even like the B-51 which substitutes the Grand Marnier with Frangelico. So to heck with champagne or sparkling wine for this party.  No sir, no frilly, girly chick drinks here on my site today.  For this anniversary we're gonna party like it's 1985.


Named after the  B-52 Bomber, this drink with its high concentration of alcohol and sugar will make you feel like someone dropped a bomb on your head the next day if you get carried away.  As good as they are it is quite easy to do, so drink your third at your own risk.

1/3 Kahlua
1/3 Bailey's Irish Cream
1/3 Grand Marnier

Pour Kahlua into the bottom of a shot glass.  Holding a spoon upside down inside the glass touching the side and slightly above the surface of the Kahlua, gently pour the Bailey's over the curve of the spoon so that it gently trickles down on top of the Kahlua.  Repeat the same process with the Grand Marnier.  You can even throw all the ingredients in a blender with a scoop of ice cream and make a frozen B-52, but personally I love the layers.

I have seen these lit to heat up the Grand Marnier but to be quite honest, after preparing Julia Child's Coq Au Vin, I'm giving the whole food on fire thing a rest for awhile.

Want to see what other bloggers are shaking up for Barb's party?  Click here to visit Creative Culinary for more great cocktail recipes and to enter her anniversary giveaways.  You can also follow the party on Twitter at @fridaycocktail.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Nice Addition to Any Late Summer BBQ: Mango Cucumber Slaw

In an effort to reinvent barbeque sides I have given you what I deem to be several really great recipes as substitutes for the same old baked beans and potato salad.  As a matter of fact, I've even given my favorite recipes for those too.  Summer is winding down and like white shoes after Labor Day, barbeque posts will soon be out of fashion, so I'm going to try to sneak one more under the wire. 

Back in 2006 I competed in the Southern Living Cook-Off.  As in every cook-off I have competed in, I was fortunate to have met some really talented home cooks, many of whom I have known on-line for years either by reputation or as friends on Facebook. 

As you can probably imagine, Southern Living Magazine really put on one great cook-off hosting 15 finalists and their guests to three memorable days in Charleston, South Carolina.  I feel so fortunate to have been chosen especially since the cook-off was held for only one more year after I was there.  I continue to keep my fingers crossed that they'll decided to start it back up one day.

One of the cooks involved in this particular cook-off was Edwina Gadsby.  I had known of her and her husband Bob by their sterling reputation for recipe development for a couple of years at this point.  They are both big winners in the contesting world and deservedly so.  I haven't seen a recipe of theirs yet that I wouldn't want to make over and over.

Her simple recipe for Grilled Sweet Chili Chicken with Mango-Cucumber Slaw in the Healthy and Good For You category, was a real stand out for its fresh and easy preparation.  True to form, it won its category and the $10,000 prize that went along with it. 

I am happy to say that my entry in the Southern Desserts Category for Baby Sweet Potato Cakes won my category as well, but still fell short of the $100,000 grand prize.  That prize went to a pan of Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls that I must admit I have still not made, but I plan to someday. By the way, I secretly believe deep down that the judges got their sweet potato recipes mixed up and really meant to crown me the big winner.  Maybe next time.

Oh yeah, back to my point.  I have been making Edwina's slaw recipe for all these years now and everytime I make it I am always delighted at how great it seems to go with everything.  I love pairing it with fresh grilled corn on the cob, or if I am cooking for a hungry group I think that old Jiffy Cornbread Cheesy Spoonbread or deep fried mac and cheese are killer additions to tone that healthy thing down a bit.

So if you are still grilling up fresh and easy meals for these beautiful late summer nights, I really encourage you to give this recipe a try.  If you would like to try it with its perfect pairing, please click here for Edwina's grilled chicken recipe.  Thanks for another great one Edwina!

Mango-Cucumber Slaw

Edwina's original recipe is the best, but when time is of the essence I often buy a large bag of pre-shredded cole slaw mix to speed things up a bit.  I don't think she'll mind.

3 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into thin strips
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into thin strips
1/2 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/2 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl.

Whisk together vinegar and next 5 ingredients until sugar dissolves.  Pour over cabbage mixture, and toss to coat.

Cover and chill 1 hour. 

Makes 7 cups

Oh, and by the way, another one of my contesting friends at this cook-off was Lorie over at Mississippi Kitchen.  If you would like to see some beautiful photos and delicious recipes you really should stop by her blog and feast your eyes.