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Sunday, January 29, 2006

IMBB #22 (Using My Noodle) - Weeknight Tomato Sauce

I love noodles, in just about any form. They are definitely one of my favorite comfort foods. I have branched out from the spaghetti-and-meatballs and mac cheese/mac salad of my childhood into all sorts of international noodle territory and I don't think I've met one I haven't liked. So I was glad when I learned of Amy's theme for IMBB #22.

I had grand visions of whipping up some Pad Thai, but in the end went back to what for me has become a weeknight favorite when I am in need of comfort and sustenance: my weeknight tomato sauce, courtesy of the fabulous guide to getting dinner on the table day in and day out,How to Cook without a Book.

It was cold and wet here in Northern California, I was tired after a heavy week at work, and I had some red bell peppers (left over from the hummus I had made for my class) and some Calabrese sausage from The Fatted Calf. Within the hour (given some time for netsurfing) I had an extremely satisfying dinner.

comfort food

The key to having tomato sauce without simmering for hours is to keep a good brand of crushed tomatoes in your pantry. Saute an aromatic (onion or garlic), add an ingredient (bell peppers, hydrated dried mushrooms, ...) or two, season to taste, put the tomatoes in and simmer it down a little bit.

pantry staple

(Progresso is a good brand of tomatoes as well.)

Weeknight Tomato Sauce with Bell Peppers, Olives, and Sausage

1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 links (about 8 oz) spicy Italian sausage, cut into rounds
3 red bell peppers, cut in strips
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
Fresh oregano
1/2 cup mixed pitted olives

Your favorite kind of noodles, cooked to taste - I am a big fan of rotelle and farfalle. I ignore the guides that suggest 2-3 oz per serving; four oz. uncooked is more my usual portion.

Parmesan cheese for serving

1. Heat a little oil in a Dutch oven and saute the onions and sausage together. Add the peppers 5 minutes later (this is a good point to start the water for dried pasta). Saute for about 10 min total.

2. Add the garlic and heat for 1 minute more.

3. Add the tomatoes, oregano, and olives.

4. Simmer this down for about 20 minutes or until it looks the right consistency.

5. Serve over the cooked noodles, with Parmesan. This makes enough for four hearty servings.

I'm looking forward to a different sort of noodly goodness this coming week - a vendor at the market had both green pea and porcini mushroom pasta, which I couldn't resist. I'll probably eat them my favorite way - with butter and parmesan only.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Lemony Goodness

I've used my new rectangular springform pan (from King Arthur Flour) twice already to make lemon bars. I'm always on the search for a better lemon bar, and Alison from Bake Sale Betty told me that her stunningly good ones were based on a recipe of Alice Medrich, in the book "Cookies and Brownies". The book seems to be OP, but I had given my mother a copy of it a while back - it's the source of Robert's Chocolate Cookies - and got the recipe when I was up there. These are great and very, very easy to make because of the way the crust is constructed. I cut the sugar back last time because I had Meyers and they are sweeter.

Alice Medrich's Lemon Bars

Makes an 8" square pan. I usually double it for 13" by 9".

Line an 8" square pan with foil and preheat the oven to 350 F.


8 TBS unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teasp vanilla
1/8 teasp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour


1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar (you may want to start with 1 cup, or less if you have Meyers)
3 TBS all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teasp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup strained lemon juice

note on zesting: I just add all the zest from the lemons I juice. I zest them into the sugar used for the filling and then halve and juice the lemons. If you are zest-free (I'm thinking ahead to when I make limoncello), you can try a little lemon oil.

Powdered sugar for dusting

Melt butter in a suitable container (I use my 8 cup Pyrex). If you use the stove, use a medium saucepan and medium heat. Remove from heat and add sugar, vanilla, and salt and stir well. Add the flour and mix till just incorporated. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake 25-30 min, or until the crust is well browned at the edges and lightly browned in the center.

Make the topping while the crust bakes: Stir together the sugar and flour in a medium bowl until well mixed. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. When the crust is ready, lower the oven to 300 F and slide the rack out without removing the pan. Pour the filling over the hot crust.

Bake 20-25 minutes, till the topping is puffed at the edges and the center no longer jiggles when pan is tapped.

Set on a rack to cool completely. Lift ends of the foil liner (or carefully use a spatula around the edges of your springform), and cut into bars. A plastic knife like KAF sells is great. Store, airtight, in the fridge. Sift powdered sugar over bars before serving.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Improvisation A La Carte

We ran into a little problem with our monthly Feeding the Multitudes exercise.

Shortly after New Year's, a lot of plaster fell dramatically from the ceiling in the parish hall, where we set up and serve. It could have been all the *#$% rain, it could have been sheer old age - that part of the building dates from 1914.

In any case, the room was declared by management to be Unfit for Occupation. No chance of getting it fixed before today, either. (Although it should be done by next month.)

We had a bit of discussion about this. One coordinator was in favor of cancelling entirely. But the two actually in charge this month put their heads together and came up with the idea of a one-bowl meal, plus extra sack lunches. (We normally make 100, for people who can't get the 120 tickets we hand out.)

Dinner was prepared in the parish hall kitchen (which has the utensils and the industrial stove) and wheeled down in the elevator to the courtyard. We had a small contingient of terrific volunteers (mother-daughter teams from a wonderful organization that always sends volunteers) make what turned out to be 175 sandwiches in our smaller social hall, which had no ceiling issues.

We had chili and garlic bread ... and ham/baloney/cheese sammiches in the sack lunches. It was all gone by about 5:40.

I felt we were flying by the seat of our pants, but we got done and it went well. I don't think the church at large noticed that over 100 people had been eating in the courtyard except for some eggshells. We picked up as well as we could in the dark. I was home shortly after six.

(During a slack period, the head honchita taught me about the organization's finances ... an eye opener, as I thought the parish was funding it. It isn't. We're all about donations.)

And thanks be to God that it was dry and mild for the people lining up and eating.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Cook the Chook!

I had the day off today, so managed to eat a dinner that was not completely or substantially pre-prepared. I made roast chicken and potatoes. I used the "Cook the Chook!" spice rub my pal Tammy gave to me after Christmas. That felt good.

In other food news, I swung by Bakesale Betty today after I took Maggie to the vet (the verdict: "thriving") and picked up my prescription. Betty is now open 7-7 for our yummy baked goods pleasure. She comped me a cup of coffee too, which was a welcome afternoon pick-me-up with the lemon bar.

Gordon Atkinson aka Real Live Preacher tipped us off to his friend Milton's new blog, Don't Eat Alone. Milton is a part time chef and part-time pastor, which is right up my alley.

Slowly returning to normalcy ... hope to be as thriving as Maggie-cat soon. Will do a lemon count after I seperate out the ones-likely-to-survive for my lucky raffle winner and decide if I want to do limoncello or marmalade. I made a double batch of curd yesterday, although I have determined that I really only should do one at a time in my pan.

More soon, I hope!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

When Life Gives you Lemons, Part N

Lawrence Bliss is the happy winner of the L&C raffle prize in the Menu for Hope II raffle. He will not be recieving curd, as he lives in Maine. But here's a picture anyway of a jar I made New Year's Day:

tag here

I will be sending some Sacramento County Meyer lemons, some Berkeley-manufactured Scharffen Berger, and some gizmos and recipes as soon as The Cold From Hell subsides enough so that I have the energy to go to Bay Street some evening.

I will say that anyone who hasn't read the BunRab's new Metro Menu for the SF Ferry Building should do so Right. Now. It's brilliant.

Not much has been happening on the cooking front here, as I have had remarkably little energy. The CfH has gotten to the point where I have "good hours" and "bad hours" the same day, and sleep a lot. I've been living on Progresso soup (which is pretty good for canned) and toast. The only thing resembling cooking that I did was during a "good time" this morning, when I made Barb's Brownies and tried out Alice Medrich's lemon bars (as featured kinda sorta at Bake Sale Betty).

The bars are definite winners. Next time I make them with Meyers I will cut the sugar some (more), as they were powerfully sweet (and I don't think it's just because I'm avoiding sugar again because of the cold). But I will be making them again. I got to break in the rectangular springform pan I got for Christmas (lucky me).

I also used some of the Meyers in Leila's hummus that I made for this evening's feeding the multitudes event at the church. Yum.

I am at home, instead of beavering away in the church kitchen, because I wanted to conserve my energy for work. I am considering making another batch of the hummus just for me, but I definitely think I will use some of the lemons and make myself a hot toddy, and so to bed. Maybe by next weekend I will be well enough to go into Production Mode on curd, limoncello, and marmalade.