Tomato Basil Heaven.

Disclaimer: After making this sauce, you may never go back to canned spaghetti sauce again.

I warned you, so proceed with caution.

Growing up, my family ate spaghetti at least twice a week. My mom will argue and say it wasn’t that often, but really- it was. By the time I left home for college I had had it with spaghetti and vowed to never make it more than once a month. Fast forward to marriage, first year of teaching, football busyness, and I am now a once a week spaghetti maker.

I’m a big fan of this easy and quick meal for those two reasons- it is easy and quick (oh, and did I mention cheap!)

This sauce is incredible and very easy. When I make it, I usually can portion it into 4 servings. I usually keep one serving in the refrigerator and eat it pretty quickly after making it. The other 3 servings I put in the freezer and bring out when I know it is going to be a quick and easy dinner night.

This recipe may make you a twice a week spaghetti eater. I have also used it on baked penne and chicken parmesan. I also have found myself dipping a piece of bread into it after I run it through the blender. I just can’t wait for pasta to cook!

Tomato Basil Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

8 cups canned tomatoes, diced

1/2 cup tomato paste

10-12 basil leaves

1 teaspoon salt

pepper, salt to taste

*

In a medium sauce pan, warm the olive oil.

Saute the garlic in the oil until light brown, about 3 minutes.

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Stir in the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, and salt. Bring to a simmer and let cook until the tomatoes begin to break down, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After it simmers, take it off the heat until it cools slightly.

Using a blender or a food processor, puree sauce until it is smooth.

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*Sauce will last about 4 days in the refrigerator and about 2 months in the freezer. When rewarming, add about 1 tbsp of olive oil. I usually just dump the entire frozen chunk into a sauce pan and turn on the heat until it is warm and ready to eat.

(oh, and please look at my cute puppy. she loves to be in the kitchen when I am there)

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Lasagna Soup

I know it is summer, and most people don’t like to eat soup during the summer. It is hot, it makes you hot, but let me tell you- lasagna soup is enough to make you change your mind.

I made this the other day for a luncheon we had at school to celebrate another teacher. It was decided that the cuisine was going to be italian. Quickly all of the sides, desserts, and drinks were volunteered for and all that was left was the entrees. I immediately panicked. How was I going to make something italian without it getting cold/not having an oven to warm it up in?

I looked up crock pot pasta dishes and there were a few promising crock pot lasagna recipes, but I have the tendency of trying something new and it failing when I have to bring it somewhere. So as I was looking, I remembered lasagna soup. This is cheesy and flavorful and delicious. The first time I made it, I ate 3 bowls before Nat even got home from football. I am not ashamed. I modified the recipe that I usually use to make it friendly for everyone. I also adjusted it to a crock pot recipe. Anyway, it is delicious and I hope you enjoy it. It is even better on a cold winter night when you need to be warmed from the inside out.

Lasagna Soup

2 tsp. olive oil

1lb Italian sausage

1 chopped onion

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 T. tomato paste

1 28 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes (These tomatoes can add some heat to the recipe, so if you don’t like heat I would just get plain diced tomatoes. That is what I used for the lunch. It is still delicious!)

2 bay leaves

6 cups chicken stock

8 oz pasta (I used bow tie pasta. I definitely would use a sturdier pasta. Macaroni is not going to do well)

1/2 basil leaves

salt and pepper

The best part of this soup is the cheesy deliciousness that you put in the bottom of the bowl and it gets all melty and delicious when you pour the soup over it. Seriously, mouth watering good.

Cheesy Good

8 oz ricotta

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

1/4 tsp salt

ground pepper

2 cups shredded mozz cheese (for the top of the bowl)

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add sausage, breaking up into bite sized pieces, and brown for about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir well to incorporate. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tomato paste turns a rusty brown color.

Add diced tomatoes, bay leaves, and chicken stock. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add uncooked pasta and cook until al dente. Do not over cook or let soup simmer for a long period of time at this point, as the pasta will get mushy and absorb all the soup broth. You may even want to consider cooking the noodles separately, and then adding some to individual bowls before ladling the soup over them. This would be an especially smart move if you are anticipating any leftovers. Right before serving, stir in the basil and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the cheesy yum. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

To serve, place a dollop of the cheesy yum in each soup bowl, sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top and ladle the hot soup over the cheese.

To adjust the recipe for a crock pot: I cooked the sausage/garlic/onions before hand and stirred in the tomato paste. I then dumped that combo + all the other ingredients into the crock pot. I kept it on the low setting until it was time to eat 3-4 hours. I cooked the pasta separately and just had it in a bowl to the side. That let the other lunch guests put as much or as little pasta in their bowl as they would prefer.

The one successful meal of the week.

This has not been the shining week of my life as a wife. I have only cooked dinner twice, and out of those two dinners, only one was yummy.
Nat, bless him, would disagree. I, however, am more honest about my cooking. After my fail of a dinner, we went to Menchie’s and then watched Toy Story 3. I can’t even handle that movie. I sobbed for literally the last 15 minutes of the movie. I don’t think Nat really knew what he got himself into when he suggested watching that movie. Either way, I sobbed- he stared.

Anyway- this meal was our Monday night dinner and it was YUMMY.

I have made something similar to this a few times, but I rolled it up into lasagna noodles instead. Nat and I both agreed that these were superior, and I should repeat this recipe instead. It is easier to eat something stuffed inside of a shell.

This was a pretty easy recipe. It only became slightly annoying to stuff the shells by the end of it. It would be a great recipe to make with another person, so they could help with the stuffing. Be prepared, they are not huge shells, but you should have plenty if you use even half a box of the pasta.

Stuffed shells with ricotta and spinach

1 box jumbo pasta shells, cooked. Rinse with cool water after cooking and pat dry

*I ended up having way more shells than I needed for the amount of stuffing I produced. I would say make 1/2-3/4 of a box

1 jar of pasta sauce. I usually make my own, but I used prego- it was simple!

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup parmesan cheese- I’m not fancy, I use the stuff out of the green can.

1 can diced tomatoes- The original recipe doesn’t call for tomatoes, but I’m on an “eat more vegetables” kick and they were really a nice touch!

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 package (10 oz) frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 teaspoon garlic salt

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375.

Combine spinach, egg, all cheeses, tomatoes, garlic salt, and salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Spoon 1/2 of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 9×9 baking dish. Stuff each shell with a heaping spoonful of the spinach/cheese mixture.

Cover the shells with remaining pasta sauce. I also sprinkled a little shredded cheese on top. Cover pan with aluminum foil. Bake until pasta is cooked through and the sauce is starting to bubble- about 30 minutes.

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Making Mistakes

Today I had a cooking FAIL. I should have taken a picture of the horrendous mess I created, but in the heat (literally) of the moment I forgot.

Anyway, I had the vision today of making tacos. I didn’t want to make regular ground beef tacos with just a seasoning pack- I sort of wanted to make them special. My vision was barbecue chicken tacos with crispy onion straws. The chicken tacos, easy. All I did was shred up a little chicken, toss it in some yummy bbq sauce, and presto- done.

The onion straws however, proved to be a difficult task for me. I followed the Pioneer Woman’s recipe as much as possible. I only had 1/2 an onion and I didn’t have any cayenne pepper,so I used cajun seasoning…just as yummy I think.  Anyway, I started cooking these onions and they were delicious. In my excitement and impatience to have more of the crispy, salty, yummy goodness, I turned the heat up…literally. Here is my tip: never turn the heat up on oil. Once it gets to the right temperature it needs to stay the right temperature. Getting hotter does not make them cook faster…it just burns stuff.

So there I was standing in my kitchen, looking at a black layer of burnt grease, choking on the smoke drifting through my kitchen. What a bummer, my delicious crispy onion straws were ruined. Oh well! I said as I sent Nat outside with the pan of burnt grease to remove the smoke from the apartment.

And I have to tell you, trying again was definitely worth it. These tacos were DELICIOUS. The sweet barbeque sauce with the moist chicken topped with the crunchy, salty onion straw was a textural masterpiece. I thought Nat was going to choke he was eating

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his tacos so fast. That is the ultimate seal of approval.

Chicken Tacos w/ Crispy Onion Straws

 

  • 3 chicken breasts cooked (as usual, when I am cooking chicken to shred, I just boil it. Really simple, but it does what it is supposed to.
  • Tortillas (Nat and I used 5 total)
  • Barbeque sauce of choice
  • Cheese
  • Any other toppings you want
  • Crispy Onion straws

For the tacos, I just cooked the chicken, tossed it in barbeque sauce, and spooned it into tortillas. I topped it with shredded cheddar jack cheese, a little extra bbq sauce, some cilantro, and the onions. You really can add whatever you want!

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Crispy Onion Straws

  • 1 onion
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 cups flower
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cajun seasoning
  • pepper to taste
  •  1 quart canola oil

Now the pioneer woman has a fancy shmancy oil thermometer. I do not (that is probably why I had the mistake mentioned above). Regardless, she says heat oil to 375. I, the second time, turned the burner up to 6 at the highest.

Cut the onion very, very thin. Mine ended up in chunks, but that just proves my knife skills stink.

Soak the onions in the buttermilk for an hour

Mix the dry ingredients together.

After an hour, scoop the onions out of the buttermilk in batches and coat in the flour mixture.

In small batches, after the oil has heated, drop the onions in the oil. Let them cook until brown. They only take a few minutes to cook so don’t walk away to long. I got a little impatient the first time when they didn’t cook as quickly as I wanted them to- don’t make my mistake!

Take the onions out of the oil and put them on a plate with paper towels to soak up the excess oil. Try not to eat them all while waiting for the others to cook!

My sister and vegetables

1W5A0020 copyMeet my sister, Hannah.

Well, let me tell you, it is a blessing to have this woman as my sister. She is my all around best friend. I hate that we live far apart, and I dream of the day we have a craft store/bakery together. I’m so grateful that she and I are close in age and that we have been so bonded. She has helped me in all my big adult transitions. I wish she and her husband could be my next door neighbors so that we could hang out all the time. During our phone calls we always come across the topic of eating healthy/working out. We have the same struggles of not feeling exhausted and being able to get off our butts and go work out. We also have a hard time eating our vegetables. I don’t know what it is, but no matter the amount of vegetables I buy at the grocery store, I just can’t eat my veggies. I really do wish I enjoyed it as much as others do, but I don’t. I regularly pack carrots in my lunch and get through maybe 2 before I give up. The other day we started talking and I said I found a recipe on Pinterest for stuffed peppers. I do LOVE peppers. They are one of my favorite vegetables. I thought this recipe was perfect because it gave me a chance to eat my vegetables without wanting to gag.

So, this recipe is for you Hannah. I found it to be delicious and the combination of crunchy pepper and soft filling to be really satisfying. I tried both yellow and green bell peppers- Nat liked the green peppers, because yellow bell peppers are a little sweeter.

Also- I’m glad I have a husband who is willing to try my experiments in the kitchen. I’m always a little worried when I try something new, but so far he hasn’t complained.

I don’t have exact measurements for my ingredients, I just sort of go for it, but I’ll do my best.

(This serves 2, with leftovers)

3 Bell peppers- I used yellow and green

2 chicken breasts- shredded

1 cup of rice (I didn’t have brown rice, so I just used white- but brown is a healthier alternative) cooked

1 can of black beans, drained

3 tablespoons of salsa

shredded monterey-jack cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Slice the peppers in half and clean out the seeds and membranes.

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I put the peppers in the oven for about ten minutes before adding anything to them just to get them cooking. I did this just to get them cooking early.

Mix the chicken, rice, black beans, and salsa in a dish.

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Spoon the combination into the peppers. Cook for 10 minutes.

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After ten minutes, sprinkle cheese over top of the pepper mixture and turn the broiler on. I just kept the oven door cracked open and pulled the peppers out when the cheese was melty.

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Some may want to replace the chicken with ground turkey- but I like to use what I have in the refrigerator (also, my husband is against ground turkey).