October 28, 2008

So Our Children Can Fly

I heard this on NPR today. I think it's one of the most beautiful pieces of prose to come out of this election:

"Rosa sat so Martin could walk.
Martin walked so Barack could run.
Barack is running so our children can fly."

I hope that all children of every race find inspiration to fly as high as they can.


(For the full link, click here.)

October 24, 2008

My Nephew's Tomato Sauce

Throw away those jars of supermarket tomato sauce right now! I am about to show you a way to make a great marinara sauce that is almost as simple as boiling the pasta. My nephew Ryan recently introduced me to this one. He credits Marcella Hazan but I don't know which book of hers and as far as I'm concerned, it's Ryan's sauce.

The basic recipe is as follows:
2 cans whole San Marzano plum tomatoes *, cut in half, with juices
1 onion, peeled & cut in half
1/2 stick butter
salt & pepper

Put everything in a pot. Cook for a while.
Remove onion.
Serve over pasta with grated parmesan.

Now that was was easy, wasn't it??

*The brand of tomatoes is KEY. Ryan and I both love these:

We buy them at Whole Foods and I think the brand name itself is San Marzano. They are domestically grown tomatoes but they are so flavorful, bright red and firm that I thought for a long time that they were imported. There is probably some provenance-name infringement lawsuit coming their way one day as the San Marzano region in Italy is renowned for their plum tomatoes and may have some sort of copyright thing on the name. But let's not tell anyone in San Marzano, Italy about them because I'd hate to see them disappear off the shelves. If you can't find these tomatoes, then make sure you do use imported San Marzano ones. There really is a difference in taste between those and basic Hunt's or Redpack.

Here are a few other pointers:

You can cut the tomatoes on a cutting board, but I recommend one with grooves on the edges or you end up with tomato juice everywhere. Alternatively, you can use my method, which is to slice them with scissors right into the pot. This also can be messy - watch out for exploding tomato seeds and juice! You should wear an apron and a shirt you don't care about. I dump the whole can into the pot, then fish around with (clean) hands for the tomatoes and cut them underneath the juice so that any exploding seeds stay under the surface.

If you prefer a thick sauce, you can leave out the juice from can but I hate to waste it and usually opt to include it but cook longer (see below).

The sauce is typically cooked at a low simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you have more time, you can keep cooking it for up to 3 hours for an even more yummy sauce. The tomato flavor will concentrate with more cooking as the tomatoes reduce.

I like to smooth out the sauce with my hand-held immersion blender but you can also leave it chunky which is how Ryan likes his.

You can add browned ground beef (or mix of beef & pork); browned sausage, fresh basil, etc. but this sauce is really very good on its own. The butter gives it enough depth that it doesn't need other embellishments, especially over ravioli or another filled pasta. This sauce is especially handy if you are making a lasagna or other multi-ingredient baked pasta as you don't need to spend a lot of time chopping garlic & onions, sauteeing, etc.

Thank you, Ry, for a great easy way to make homemade tomato sauce!

Ryan, October 2008

October 21, 2008

Pumpkin Coconut Curry Muffins (TWD)

I love pumpkin. I love it in a pie, I love it in a cake, I love it in a bread, I love it in a cookie, I love it in a soup, I love it in a risotto. Morning, noon, evening, night - I'll eat a pumpkin treat anytime of day. I love pumpkin so much that we even named one of our kitties after my favorite squash.

(Aw isn't he adorable?)

Pumpkin season (aka October and November) is a big deal in our house. Almost every Saturday, I cart back a pumpkin or two from our farmer's market for roasting and pureeing. Tom knows it's fall when he finds the sink full of pumpkin pulp and seeds all over the kitchen floor (have I mentioned yet that I'm a bit of a messy cook? I clean up later but the in-progress stage is sheer mayhem given how tiny our kitchen is and how ambitious my projects are...but I digress).

So naturally I was thrilled to see that this week's selection for Tuesdays with Dorie was her Pumpkin Muffins, even though I've made them before. Twice. Or maybe 3 times. Because I'm just that way about pumpkin (and about Dorie's recipes!). But this time I decided to make a few changes.

I wanted to come up with a flavor that would remind me of a North African pumpkin curry. I was a little timid about going too far with those flavors, though. So I added about a cup of sweet coconut and 1/4 tsp of curry flavor, omitting the nutmeg and cloves. I thought about substituting coconut milk for the buttermilk but chickened out. I also cut the sugar down by about 1/4 cup and used 1 cup of white whole wheat flour instead of all white flour. The pumpkin and coconut go really well together, though I think I would try adding the coconut milk next time as the coconut was fairly subtle. I also would add double the amount of curry and see how it tastes - I could barely taste any spice at all.

It was so much fun to be back in the TWD groove after 2 weeks off! During those weeks, I was lazy about posting but I hope to be back up to speed in coming weeks.

p.s. I also entered an Apple Pie contest this weekend at a nearby Farmers' Market. I made two pies - Caramel Apple and Honey Lemon Thyme. Unfortunately, my camera battery was dead when I got to the market so I have no photos but you'll just have to believe me on this one. I made the mistake of making them late at night when I was tired, so I don't think they were my best efforts but at least I tried two new versions. The honey thyme was a very intriguing flavor - maybe not for everyone, but definitely interesting. The first and second place pies were quite good but totally straightforward basic apple - the contest rules had encouraged creativity so I thought there would be more interesting winners but I have to admit they were good. Next year, I'll make one that is more classic, and not do it when tired and impatient. I have a year to work on it so I know I can win next year!

October 13, 2008

TWD Mini Break

I am taking a mini break from Tuesdays with Dorie. Unfortunately, all the baking has had a negative impact on waistlines and pocketbooks in our home. I will be back next week for pumpkin muffins but have decided I need to be more discerning about which recipes I make, especially if I don't have a reason to share them with others or they are high-calorie. I'm trying to cut out all desserts during the week and just allow myself to splurge on Saturday or Sunday. If the TWD recipe is one that I can't share or don't feel inspired to make, it's going to have to be skipped. This is a big change for me as I have an insatiable sweet tooth. But it needs to be done...

I will continue to follow the other TWD bakers and try to bake a TWD recipe at least twice a month as the rules require. But I have also joined a new baker-blogger club, "You Want Pies with That?" which is all about my favorite dessert, PIE. I am excited for my first post with them!

I will continue to post about baking & cooking as I can, and will be starting a series of profiles of our kitties in the near future, along with an adoption progress update. So stay tuned!