Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Pure Comfort Spaghetti Sauce

One of the amusing things about being an adult, is noting how utterly juvenile things many labelled "adult" are. As CS Lewis noted in On Stories, people who are adults don't have to worry about whether or not the things they like are labelled as adult; only children are overly concerned with whether something is "adult" enough for them to be acting and doing.

Truly adult entertainment, in my world, doesn't involve watching strangers strut their sexiness; it involves finding a way to cook dinner for six without having to change out of my PJ's (until just before everyone arrives), and thus have dinner ready without having to deal with strangers or non-family people at all, all day! Score! (Yes, I am an introvert.)

This dinner was a bit of a challenge, because some folks are low-carbing and others are not, and more importantly, I hadn't been to the grocery store in over a week (and the last time I went, I didn't get much, because I was going on a road trip to family Thanksgiving.) So when everyone around me is straining to finish their leftovers, I have a pretty barren fridge.

Thus, the "spaghetti" that this sauce went on was actually one packet of pasta shaped like grape clusters (I bought it at 501 Winery), a packet of mini-shells from the depths of the pantry (I don't even remember where that came from), and, in a separate bowl, one large spaghetti squash (not large enough for 6 people, though).

By the way, all that nonsense about cutting the raw spaghetti squash in half and scooping out the seeds, then baking for 45 minutes? Pffft! Stab the thing with a knife a few times, like you do with a fork and potato but scaled up, then stick the whole thing in the microwave for at least 10 minutes. This monster took 18, small 2-person squashes might be done at 8, just cook until it's clearly done. Then let it sit in the microwave and cool off a while, and finally take it out with oven gloves (I have great silicone ones), and cut it in half so the superheated steam that didn't escape can now do so. The seeds and pith are easy to scoop out, and you can hold the thing with one paw in an oven glove and just scoop the flesh in its spaghetti-like strands into the bowl with the other. Ready to serve in half the time, and no trying to hack a tough raw squash in half!!

Anyway, the sauce was a minor challenge, as I have no jarred spaghetti sauce. I may need to put that on the shopping list.

Comfort spaghetti sauce

2.5 pounds sausage, cooked at least until firm enough to slice, sliced diagonally
2 Tablespoons ghee (or olive oil, whatever you have for sauteing)
1.5 onions (half a leftover red onion + 1 yellow onion)
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup sliced sage leaves (from the back yard)
4 sprigs thyme (from the back yard)
1/4 cup red wine (open a bottle that'll go well with the meal & pour some for the cook, too!)
1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (from a jar in the fridge)
1 can tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes, flame roasted
1 can diced tomatoes, plain
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda (to cut acidity)
1 teaspoon italian herbs (I actually used "breakfast sausage mix" from Amarillo Grape & Olive)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (I actually used a saffron paella mix from Rumi spice)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (to taste)

So, 2.5 pounds sausage is 10 links, which is what I had in the deep freezer. That doesn't divide well for 6 people, so I stuck them in a pan with about a cup of water, and simmered said water until the sausages were nice and firm. Mine were still pink in the middle, but that didn't matter, given they'd be further cooked in the sauce. (feel free to cook yours thoroughly.)
While they were cooking, I located the inevitable half an onion*, and a full one, and sliced them, rough chop about 1/2" square on the biggest pieces. I also went in the backyard and cut off some thyme sprigs, stripped the leaves from them, and got a handful of sage leaves and chopped them small.
Transferring sausages to a paper plate to cool for ease of slicing, I added oil (in my case, ghee) to the empty pan, and dumped in the onions, thyme, and sage, and salt.**  While they're cooking, chop the sausages.
Once the onions were translucent, I added the garlic, let it all saute about a minute longer, then deglazed with a splash of red wine.
Once deglazed, I added in the chopped sundried tomatoes, and dumped in the cans of diced tomatoes & tomato paste, and more red wine. It still looked too thick, so I added some water.
Then I added the herbs, spices, and roughly a teaspoon of baking soda, and stirred it all in until the foam subsided.

Baking soda, upon contact with acid, creates a salt and a water. It has a very foamy reaction while doing this, as we remember from science fair volcanoes. In the case of tomato-based dishes, we're adding a lot of acid ingredients together, and we can either try to smooth the acidity by adding lots of sugar (ketchup, commercial tomato sauces), or by removing it - thus a tiny bit of baking soda. Not too much, because tomato sauce just doesn't taste right without some acid.

Once the dish wasn't foaming, I added the sausages, stirred so everything was combined, and put the lid on. Once it achieve a beginning of a boil, I stirred it again, reduced heat to simmer, and let it simmer to itself for about an hour.

No, you don't have to do an entire hour. But spaghetti sauce, like chili, tastes better the longer you let the flavours meld. About ten minutes before serving, I had my husband taste to see if any of the flavours needed adjusting. (I had a mouthful of red wine at that point, so I asked him.) He declared it perfect, so I turned off the heat to let the sauce cool  for serving, and started the pasta.

Oh, and dessert? Boxed brownies. I could have made them from scratch, yes, but looking through the pantry for anything pasta-like turned up a box of Ghiradelli double-chocolate brownie mix. I just followed directions, no extra additions, and popped it in the oven. People were happy, and I now have one less carbalicious temptation in my pantry calling to me.

*There's always half an onion left over from something, right? It's not just me?

**Important Note: please note my spice mixes are salt free. Because there's salt in canned tomatoes, and in sausages, and baking soda + acid produces water + salt, the only salt I intentionally add is at the beginning, to help the onions cook down. If your herb or spice mixes have salt, cut the salt with the onions.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Sometimes I strike out

The downside to trying new dishes and recipes is, sometime the results aren't that great. Oh, not just the smoking mess that leaves everyone having a great time... at the Mexican restaurant. No, there are the dishes that are okay, but not great. Or not to some folk's taste.

For example, I made a tagine with beef, oranges, beets, orange blossom water, and pistachios. Involved thing, took plenty of work. And the results? Really don't care for it. At all. Some of the guests liked it, some didn't. Scratch that one off the do-again menu.

Since I couldn't find beets that were just the roots, I had a grocery bag full of beet greens. So I pulled out the Indian Home Cooking recipe book, and made saag paneer from scratch.

Peter liked it. As for me, well, I took about three bites, and found it too highly spiced.

Not spicy, not too hot, just... look, the dish called for frying 7 whole cloves, 7 green cardamom pods, and a bunch of cumin and fennel seeds, along with dried red peppers, in ghee before adding the greens. And when I bit into the greens, my stomach said "This is too high a density of spice to digest. Go get something bland, or you're really going to regret this in a few hours."

...then again, Peter grew up with Indian cooking. I did not. *sigh*

So, no recipe this week, either.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Unplugged

My love and I both spend too much time staring at computer screens. whether it's with his blogging and writing, or my Day Job, much less any writing, blog reading, or other. So this afternoon, we went for a date that involved views more than a thousand yards out.

Horseshoe Bend Cellars is a very new winery just outside Wichita Falls, TX, and they're making mostly sweet wines, a few dry wines, a couple meads, and two chocolate wine sauces (milk and dark chocolate). They bill the vineyard & tasting room as a great date-night destination, and I have to agree, in good weather it really is. We tried a tasting menu (two, actually, so at 4 samples each, we could cover all the wines we were interested in), and then purchased two bottles of wine, a bottle of chocolate wine sauce, and a very nice meat and cheese plate. They gave us two glasses and a pouring spout for the bottle, and brought the meat and cheese tray after we'd settled in on the deck.

Then we sat upstairs on the deck, and watched the sunset turn all the land golden to match the changing colours of the mesquite in fall. The deck has comfortable chairs and a couch, nice low tables, and is high enough that even the most ambitious mosquitoes didn't bother to come that high. (There were a number of flies, which is why they provide a wire serving dome for your meat & cheese tray) The sky and land were truly beautiful, the silence golden, and broken only by the "pew! pew!" of one neighbor shooting a .22. Okay, and the lowing muh-ooooooo! of bovine commentary upon life, the universe, and where's my food.

Very Texas winery experience. 

And then we crashed the rest of the gang finishing dinner at a Tiny Town eatery, and had appetizers and chatted until it was time to part ways well after full dark had fallen.

Life is good!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Yeah, they've been there...

Today, OldNFO and LawDog conspired with my husband to move my brand-new-to-me couch from its last owner into the house. (Yay for friends!)

I thought, how can I thank them for this? If you think my answer involved food, well, you may know a thing or two about me. I pulled out my tagines & couscous recipe book, and went on an ingredient acquisition run.

Knowing all three gentlemen have spent time in various souks, I figured a lovely warm Moroccan dish that's well out of the ordinary for North Texas was in order, and made a spicy chicken tagine with apricots, rosemary, and ginger.

The one major change: I substituted "Two red chiles, seeded and diced" with one poblano, seeded and diced, and a diced red bell pepper (for the right colour.) I know what pain "two red chiles" can bring, and I'm eating this dish, too!

In retrospect, I think I could have kicked it up to a jalapeno from a poblano, because the honey in the dish does cut the fire quite a bit. On the other hand, nobody was complaining about how mild it was.

Commentary included "I haven't had this dish in years... and hey, I can identify the meat this time!" and horror stories about being in a souk with neither peptobismol nor tums, and eating fish coated with harissa paste anyway.

Then I made what might have been a tactical error - I showed the guys the recipe book, with my bookmarks for "things I want to try" still in. One tagine I had put off for later, due to the amount of work involved, is a beef tagine with beets and oranges. Apparently it's very tasty, nobody can remember the in-country, non-translated name, but they can all point at the photo and go "That one! Delicious! Great winter food!"

...well, then, guess I know what I need to make for group dinner as it turns colder!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Paella spiced fish bake

My dear darling man speaks something like 7 languages. None of them are Spanish. After seeing the word "paella" written down, he hasn't been able to pronounce it since. However, he agrees that the dish itself is very tasty!

As for what goes in a paella, well, mi mama taught me that the answer is "Whatever meat you've got." She was very used to lots of seafood, but when she made it for us several hundred miles from the nearest ocean, it was chicken (Although she explained rabbit would be perfectly in keeping with the dish, but we neither kept domestic rabbits nor were great and mighty hunters. I think the cats got more rabbits than us kids did!)

Mom also made a virtue of necessity, and spiced her paellas with the closest spices she could get her hands - so I grew up thinking that all paellas were made with turmeric. Turns out that if you can get it where you live, and can afford it, you use saffron instead. These days, Amazon has made the world much smaller, and much tastier, and I can get Rumi's paella spice mix shipped to the odds and ends of North Texas... and decades of improvement in food preparation and transport mean I can get decent frozen fish here, too!

However, I'm supposed to be supporting my darling man and low-carbing, so today I made a paella-spiced fish bake with no rice that was warming, tasty, filling, and still made me fondly remember cooking with mom.

Paella Spiced Fish Bake

4 seafish fillets (I used 3 sea bass and a cod fillet, because I was finishing a pack in the freezer)
3 Tbsp ghee/olive oil
2 Tbsp Rumi Paella Spice

2 onions, diced (or 1 big one)
3 cloves garlic, minced (Or a heaped spoonful out of the minced garlic jar)
1 bag frozen bell pepper strips (lots cheaper and easier than getting them and cutting them in strips)
1 can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles, lime & cilantro, drained (or rotel, if you don't have the rotel w/ lime & cilantro)
2 Tbsp white wine (okay, maybe I used 3?)
1 Tsp salt (maybe I used 2?)
1 Tbsp lime juice
parsley to garnish ( I grabbed a handful out of the back garden)
1 bag frozen riced cauliflower

Thaw the fish fillets & put in the bottom of a casserole dish. Add the plain diced tomatoes on top.

Preheat oven to 325F.

Chop the onions.

In a large pan on the stove, heat the oil, add the onions, mushrooms, salt, and paella spice. When onions are translucent, add the minced garlic. When that's starting to brown, add the frozen bell pepper strips, white wine, and second can of (flavored) diced tomatoes. Let heat up until bubbling. Turn off stove, pour evenly over fish. Squirt lime juice over everything.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes.

5 minutes out, put the riced cauliflower in a microwaveable bowl. Chop the parsley, and add the chopped stems and some parsley leaf to the cauliflower. Microwave until finished.

Pull the casserole dish out of the oven, the riced cauliflower out of the microwave, and everything is ready to serve.

Serves 4 (judging by the amount of leftovers.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Drywall repairs

You know, working on airplanes really doesn't have much in the way of transferable skills to drywall repair.

Except the important bits: learning how to prep for a project, and clean up as you go along. Gracious, but drywall is messy!

Anyway, I still had the best two fallbacks: youtube videos, and calling my Dad for a sanity check. There was also a quick discussion with OldNFO & LawDog, who agreed with Dad - instead of screwing a backer board behind the repair, the wiser thing to do was to enlarge the hole until I found a stud, and screw the drywall patch into the stud. I still find it a little strange that the repair process starts with "Make a much bigger hole", but it makes sense!

Patches are now cut out, put in, taped, mudded, and awaiting on the mud to cure. It's rather rough, but I am reminded that I"m starting at the very bottom of the drywall repair learning curve, after many years without doing any at all. My first welds, rivets, and brazing were really ugly, too. (In fact, they were less functional than this drywall patch. Drywall definitely has an easier learning curve than riveting.)

And there's still sanding and a coat of paint to clean it all up and make it pretty. If it still looks rough but functional, then when I get better at it, I can do it again!


Monday, October 15, 2018

You've been all over, and it's been all over you

My darling husband has chronicled the adventures of the last few weeks. Me, I was along for the ride. Not that I didn't enjoy it, but the tightness in my chest starts about Amarillo, and the altitude sickness kicks in early in the mountains. Along the way, I caught something, so what I took for just the terrible exhaustion of altitude sickness and difficulty breathing... has lingered for days after we came back down.

Doctor seen, shot in the butt received. Sigh. I am not a fan of shots in the butt. (Yes, I consoled myself with tea and chocolate. It fell under the doc's orders to push fluids!)

And the blood draw for lab panels had the gauze pad secured with bright pink vet wrap. I may have spent my morning being distracted by vet wrap on the paw and shaking it while giving the world a look of bewildered hurt and injured dignity... before remembering that unlike that cat who has to do that for days, I have opposable thumbs and can just remove the stuff.

It's the little things you forget when it hurts to breathe...