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.