Mashed Potatoes

I have never made mashed potatoes before.  Which is a part of the reason we’re doing ‘Mashed Potatoes’ this month, instead of something a little more complicated.  Also it’s November, which means Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving, and obviously mashed potatoes are pretty central to that.

At some point last year (I think when we were prepping for Friendsgiving 2016 which Lisa hosted and was not featured on the blog) Lisa signed up for American’s Test Kitchen, and being the good friend that she is, she shared her login.  This is an online recipe resource that I trust. I also like watching the show on Saturday mornings on PBS.  I typed in mashed potatoes and returned tons of recipes.  Including the ‘Master Recipe for Mashed Potatoes:’

  • 2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup half-and-half, warmed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • pepper to taste

Place potatoes in large saucepan and cover with 1 inch water. Bring to boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender (a paring knife can be slipped into and out of center of potatoes with very little resistance), 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.

Set food mill or ricer over now empty but still warm saucepan. Spear potato with dinner fork, then peel back skin with paring knife. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Working in batches, cut peeled potatoes into rough chunks and drop into hopper of food mill or ricer. Process or rice potatoes into saucepan.

Stir in butter with wooden spoon until incorporated; gently whisk in half-and-half, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve immediately

The America’s Test Kitchen recipes tend to have a few more steps than I’m accustomed to. The flavors always check out, and it’s great that they provide reasoning for why you take certain steps.

Cheap potatoes!

Potatoes post-boil. I’ll def take the skins off pre-boil next time as this was really hot and difficult. I’m also not 100% sure why the recipe included this step. Anyone have insights?

Mashing away! I picked up a grocery store masher, instead of a food ricer. This was a decent workout!

Finished! They were delicious! I might not make them regularly, but I’m so glad I’ve done it once!

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Pork Chops!

Guys!! I’ve had success! I’ve always avoided making pork, especially pork chops. I wasn’t super excited about this month’s challenge at all. After this attempt, my attitude has changed.

I received the Cooks Illustrated Cookbook recently and thought this was the perfect time to try it out.

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Dry the pork chops with paper towels.

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Heat the pan while you season the pork chops with salt, pepper, and sugar.

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Place the pork chops in the pan, sugar side down. Cook for 8 minutes.

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Flip over and cook for 4 minutes.

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Guys! Success. I’m still seriously so impressed with myself. Not that I did much. But I’ll definitely be making pork chops again using this recipe!

 

Apple Cider Pork Chops

I planned this recipe before I made my “no more internet recipes” proclamation, so I promise I’m not too much of a hypocrite.  Thought this one comes from Pislbury.com, so it’s hopefully one they’ve tested?  If you can’t trust that weird little dough-person in a chef’s hat, well, who can you trust?

Our friend Matt hosted his annual Cidermaking party, and we went down to crush some apples and get some yummy cider.  Lisa couldn’t make it again this year :(.

I brought home some Cider and was looking for a fun way to make use of it, and pork chops always seemed to be paired with some kind of fruit: apricot, pineapple, etc. Lisa scrounged up this recipe for me!

This recipe was super easy!  I still had thin pork chops and made sure to pay attention to the time.  The recipe didn’t specify, and I had both dark and light brown sugar, so I went with dark.

I liked using the one skillet method, and the drippings from cooking the pork chops were a nice addition to the sauce, but it took a little longer.  I wish I’d cooked the sauce on a higher heat from the beginning, and made sure to watch it.  The pork chops ended up getting a little cool before I could cook them.

The sauce was a sharp sweet from the apple with a touch of vinegar from the mustard.

This won’t be added to my go-to recipes, but I might keep it in mind for the next time I’ve got leftover cider.

 

Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops

Lisa and I have been in the blogging game for a little over two years now (with a 6 month break in the middle). I think we’ve both learned a lot about cooking and blogging.  I have a massive and unwieldy spice collection, I know not to touch certain peppers with my bare hands, and I know how to do some really interesting cooking techniques.

Apparently, though, we haven’t learned not to trust recipe/food blogs.

There’s that assumption that if it’s posted on Pinterest with an artfully stages photograph and a nice graphic, then it’s a good recipe. Or those well-shot recipe videos on Facebook are as easy and delicious as they look.

Now, I will readily admit that a lot of cooking mistakes can be blamed on individual user error, but there’s a reason that cookbook authors test, and re-test, and re-test their recipes.  And that there are entire websites dedicated to ‘Pinterest Fails’

I definitely learned my lesson this time. Instead of linking I’ll just copy and paste it here:

  • 4 boneless pork chops
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2-3 TB Italian breadcrumbs (dried)
  • ⅛ tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. pepper

Mix Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, paprika, parsley and garlic powder and place on a plate.

Dip pork chops in the mixture (making sure mixture sticks) and sear in a pan of olive oil on medium-high heat. Sautee for 5 minutes on each side.

Place pork chops in a glass baking dish and cook according to thickness. Ours were an inch thick and we cooked for an hour at 300. If yours are regular thickness, cook at 350 for half hour.

It seems pretty straight forward. And then you notice that it doesn’t call for an egg to help the dried mixture stick. So I ended up with chunks of cheese cooking to the pan. That may have been my choice to use shredded instead of grated cheese, but this is the better ingredient choice, to me.

Or the cooking and baking times. In hindsight I went back and read through the comments and a large portion of commenters automatically reduced the baking time based on their own experience. I messed up when I bought my pork chops and got 4 thin cut chops so I already planned to keep times short. Had I relied on the blog I might have started a fire

In the end, they tasted fine, but weren’t anything special. I’d try it again, maybe with the egg to get the dry ingredients to stick. The strongest flavor was the smoked paprika, which was de-lish.

When we started “Lisa and Janine Try to Cook” our main goal was accountability.  If we were going to cook for 52 weeks, having a recipe we needed to cook and a blog we needed to update every week, would help us rise to the challenge.

We don’t really consider ourselves food or recipe bloggers, who are developing a new recipe or meal to share.  We’re taking you on the ride as we start our kitchens on fire, de-seed pomegranates, and find that roasting whole chickens is not for the faint of heart.

The most important part of this, for me, has been cooking and learning. I’d love to develop the knowledge on how to throw together something for dinner with the ingredients on-hand or know what I need just walking through the grocery store. No recipe needed.

The internet is an awesome resource, but I think I’m going to ban myself from using random internet blogs and posts if I’m trying to learn. I’ll stick to the websites I trust, cookbooks, and friends’ recommendations. Relying on poorly written recipe blogs is not going to help me accomplish my goals and hone my instincts.

If you’ve got any blogs or recipe sources you absolutely rely on and trust, or another resource you can point me to, please leave a comment!

Brown Sugar Pork Chops

I tried to convince Janine to make the October month Chili, but she said no. Well, and Peggy pointed out that pork chops are a good meat to make for only one or two people (as opposed to…chili…which you have to eat for days afterward). This made sense to me and I probs should learn to be good at cooking a meat other than chicken. So I turned to Pinterest.

I made this recipe for Brown Sugar Pork Chops. It looked good and easy and hard to mess up. It also seems like sweet + pork = a thing. So I tried it:

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Pork chops from HyVee. I shopped online, so I wasn’t real sure what I was going to get.

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This is what I got. Are you supposed to trim the fat? I did not.

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Anyway, you combine 1/3 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons salt (it seemed like a lot, so I only added 1 teaspoon) and 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper (I only have a grinder so I just ground some into the brown sugar). And then put it on the pork chops.

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It’s important to note that the pork chops are on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

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So then you cook them for 35 minutes. I could go into a thing about the temperature of the meat, but to be honest, I don’t have a working meat thermometer.

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Are you seeing why the parchment paper was necessary though?

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They turned out okay. The recipe said to put them under the broiler for a crispy crust. I put them under the broiler but did not get a crust. Maybe I didn’t do it long enough?

Final Verdict: They were fine. I won’t make them again. I really just shouldn’t make recipes from random blogs on Pinterest anymore. I’m so rarely satisfied with the end result.

A ‘crock ton’ of tomato soup

When we were kids, my Mom made tomato soup from a can (this was because of her own bad childhood encounter with tomato soup).  It was the Campbell’s tomato soup, and it never, ever tasted good.  As a result, all tomato soup was repulsive to me.

I don’t know when I changed my mind on it.  It was probably some event or dinner, where tomato soup was served, and I kind of had to eat it to not look ridiculous.  Whenever it was, I realized that tomato soup that’s not from a can is actually kind of amazing.

Lisa gave me this recipe for Slow Cooker Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup which combines some of my most favorite foods: tomatoes, cheese . . . well that’s it.  Lisa warned me that it makes a ‘crock ton.’ (haha) And it really does.

Like all crock pot soups, it’s a lot of ‘toss in the pot & cook.’


Diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, onion, basil, garlic, salt, and pepper.  The recipe called for 1 tablespoon of salt and Lisa warned me that it was way too salty, especially when you add a salty cheese like Parmesan.  I am not a salt person at all, so I dropped it down to 1 teaspoon.

Chad, my regular taste-tester, adds salt to everything, and he said the salt level was juuust right.

Cook for 2 hours.  Then I got to use my handy new blender.  I also need a ladle, because transferring the soup to the blender was a bit of a hassle.  Then I whipped up a roux.  I grabbed the wrong measuring cup and added 1/2 a cup of flour instead of 1/4.  I don’t think it caused any real problems.  Finally I tossed in the cheese, which I didn’t measure, so there was probably a little too much. Though, I mean, you can’t really have too much cheese.

On to the grilled cheese.  I’ve never made it before (gasp!) which is a little ridiculous, I know.  For whatever reason it always seemed way too simple to just butter the bread, but it on the pan, add some cheese & flip. I did a whole bunch of googling and decided to just go for some sourdough bread some American cheese slices – don’t judge, it’s the best melting cheese.  Something I read said go for mayo instead of butter so I gave it a whirl – I burns a lot more quickly than regular cheese, but the taste is still amazing.


There was a crock ton so Mom & Dad got some (Mom said it was good!), so did Chad, and I brought some in for another co-worker.

I will absolutely make this soup again, and of course I’ll be living off of grilled cheese from now on.

 

Guest Post: Grilled Cheese, Tomato Soup

First, I need to begin by thanking Lisa for inviting me to be a guest blogger this month. For those that do not know me, I am Jason Teiken. I am another attorney here in Mankato.

This blog is excellent for many reasons. We are currently living through a home cooking revival. Services like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Hy Vee Thyme meals etc., make it real simple, but we also need to be challenged. We need to constantly expand our skill set as cooks and our repertoire as diners. Blogs like this one give us new things to try, to learn, and to master. Even if it’s something “easy” as soup and sandwiches, it is sometimes the “easy” dishes that we take for granted. Making them or looking at different preparations of the “easy” dishes breaks the spell to a certain extent, teaches us new skills, but also helps us appreciate the work that goes into even the simplest dishes in restaurants and homes.

Cooking as with other skills are learned by doing. Even with the home cooking revival of late, it is still too easy to go out, take out, or even have our food sent to us on apps. You can even have your food delivered by a former Gopher Quarterback This blog provides the kind of accountability we all need to get us to do the cooking.

So proud to be writing this. Keep cooking, keep blogging.

But now, a recipe for grilled cheese and tomato soup so delicious, you wish you had a cold. I highly recommend this recipe when you are congested.

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The Grilled Cheese.

Need to give credit where credit is due. This grilled cheese recipe is from the great Anthony Bourdain. His cookbook, “Appetites” where he catalogues his favorite dishes to cook for his family is a must buy. If you haven’t yet read “Kitchen Confidential” I highly recommend the audiobook read by Bourdain or if you have not seen “Parts Unknown”, seriously drop everything and binge it.

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Bourdain’s recipe is a grilled cheese with caramelized onions. It is simple, but is exquisitely delicious and elevates the flavours of your hot bread and cheese quite nicely.

I am not going to go through the entire recipe in excruciating detail. Here is what you need:

  • Bread – I recommend a special loaf from a local bakery. Do not do Bimbo White. Go to your local bakery and see what they have. I found a tomato basil loaf. Perfect for the soup. Cheesy loaf? Make sure the flavours go well with the cheese you will melt on it. Or a nice baguette. Obviously, do not get a nutty grain or something with a lot of nuts on it. You will need to spread things on this bread and flip it).
  • Cheese – Now scoff if you must, but Hy-Vee has a brilliant cheese section. Ask for a good cheese that will melt. Yes believe it, not every cheese reacts the way you want to the heat. Cheddar is a classic. I highly recommend the Port Salut (pictured above), which you can also find at the St. Peter Co-op.
  • Onions – This is key to the Bourdain recipe. You need to take two whole onions, chop them. Throw them in a pan with hot butter (2 tablespoons). You put the onions and butter on low heat for an hour. Stir occasionally and make sure every strand gets nice and brown.

And as it turns out . . .

I am one of those people who cry when they chop onions.

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I’m not crying . . . you’re crying . . .

  • Mayonnaise – This is another distinction from your usual grilled cheese. Instead of butter, use mayo. It reacts to the heat differently and saturates the bread.

Now here is the thing with grilled cheese. I can go through exact times, but with the grilled cheese, you need to watch it and flip it to your preference. Light brown, crisp, or burnt. It is up to you.

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Make sure to have a good distribution of cheese and onions. As with any sandwich, it is a matter of construction.

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The Tomato Basil Soup

This is my mother-in-law’s recipe. She was actually visiting this past weekend and we made it together.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium carrot, chopped (optional)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 can (49 ounces) chicken broth or 6 cups vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 can (29 ounces) tomato puree
  •  5 leaves of fresh basil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper or to taste
  • 12 ounces of half and half or heavy cream
  • Sour cream or crème fraise for garnish

Directions

In a Dutch oven, cook carrots, basil and onion in butter over medium-low heat for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

In a blender, place 1/2 broth and the cooled vegetables; cover and process until blended. Return to the Dutch oven. Stir in the tomato puree, sugar, salt, pepper and remaining broth.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low.

Gradually stir in half and half; heat through (do not boil). Yield: 6 servings (2-1/4 quarts).  Garnish as desired before serving.

Carrots? Yes, carrots. While they cook in the Dutch oven they release their natural sugars and create a sweet flavor that nicely blends with the basil and onions.

Here are a few pictures of the finished products:

Bon Appétit.

 

Herbed Tomato Soup

I love tomato soup, but it’s a pretty recent discovery. It would have been a good recipe to use for last year’s post on Ingredient You Hated as a Kid. I’ve made it a few times before and have two tried and true recipes. One is for the crock pot and the other takes a least an hour. Both are delicious.

Obvi the point of the blog is to try new recipes. The recipe I used this time came from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook:

  • 1/2 cup sliced onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups chopped, peeled tomatoes or one 14 1/2-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes, cut up
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon snipped basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon snipped thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • Dash pepper

In a large saucepan, cook onion in butter until tender but not brown. Add fresh tomatoes or undrained canned tomatoes, broth, tomato sauce, basil, thyme, and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Cool slightly. Press mixture through a food mill or put in a blender/food processor until smooth. Return mixture to saucepan; heat through. Makes 4 side-dish servings.

This recipe was super easy, but I’m not sure I’ll be making it again. It was fine. It was like basic tomato soup. There wasn’t anything special about it. I did, however, love using the tomatoes fresh from my garden.

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To do that, I had to blanch the tomatoes. You just put them in a pot of boiling water until the skin breaks and then into a bowl of ice cold water.

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That way, you have no skin on the tomatoes and can chop them up for the soup.

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I was also able to use my fresh thyme and basil! (Thanks, Mom!)

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September is not just tomato soup month…it’s also grilled cheese month! Thad and I found inspiration for these grilled cheese sandwiches last weekend in Wisconsin. The sandwich on the right uses Wild Rice bread we found locally made in Grantsburg, WI.

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We also used this cheese from Burnett Dairy in Grantsburg. It is so good!! We added pepperoni to the grilled cheese too. Seriously so good.

Let me know if there are any must try recipes for this month!

15 Minute Tomato Sauce

Guys. 5 minutes apparently makes all the difference. Jk, kind of.

As I’m preparing to move, I found a Cooks Illustrated magazine and flipped through to see if there were any recipes I needed to try before throwing it out. Turns out, I kept it for a reason! There was a recipe for 15 minute tomato sauce. Make sure you keep reading, because this was the best sauce ever. Seriously.

Anyway, the last recipe I tried was called 10 Minute Tomato Sauce. I picked it because I really don’t see myself spending more than 10 or 20 minutes making tomato sauce on a regular basis. I wanted to try the Cooks Illustrated recipe for the same reason. Plus I had almost all ingredients on hand. Win win.

After making it, I thought Janine had to try it too. Both of our comments are below the recipe.

Recipe:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup grated onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Table Salt
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes (the article recommends using Tuttorosso or Muir Glen brands)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Ground Black Pepper

Instructions:

  1. Heat butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until melted.
  2. Add onion, oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Stir in tomatoes and sugar, increase heat to high and bring to simmer.
  5. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
  6. Off heat, stir in basil and oil; season with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve

Lisa’s Comments:

For this recipe, I used one of the onions from my garden and just finely chopped it, instead of grating it as the recipe suggested. My grater is packed away and I can’t imagine it made much of a difference.

Also pictured are other veggies from my garden that I had to do a quick brag about…

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This is the brand of tomatoes I used. It was the most expensive I could find. Although honestly, I only went to one store.

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Ok, now time to brag about my parent’s neighbor’s garden. They have SO much basil. I was luckily able to use theirs. My plant wasn’t great this year.

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I followed the directions almost exactly. I had a little problem browning the onion. It said to cook it in the butter about 5 minutes until the moisture was gone and the onion was golden brown. I couldn’t get the moisture to evaporate and the onion was almost burning, so I just added the garlic after about 5 minutes.

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You guys. It was SO good. Like, probably the best recipe to come from this blog. I mean, it was easy, it was delicious, and the clean-up was fast. I will 100% be making this recipe again. Frequently.

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I was thinking out-loud in the car with my mom today, wondering how I was going to get fresh basil in the winter. Sure, you can get it at the store, but it’s expensive. She suggested freezing it in ice cube trays with water. I’m going to take it one step further…on Pinterest I’ve seen that you can freeze herbs with olive oil in ice cube trays. HOW PERFECT will it be if I chop the two tablespoons of fresh basil in each cube slot and then fill with one tablespoon of olive oil? That way I can just add a cube at the end of the recipe.

Make a point to have spaghetti sometime soon and try this recipe. You won’t regret it.

Janine’s Comments:

I think this is a first for the blog, Lisa and I are collaborating on one post!

August has been super crazy for both of us, and I’ve been out of town.  But we’ve been discussing if I would have time to make another batch of red sauce.  The only other recipe that struck my interest takes 7 hours, and is just not doable this month!

So on Tuesday evening I get these Snapchats from Lisa, she’s going to make another batch of quick tomato sauce for dinner.  She starts absolutely raving about this recipe. Claiming its the best thing on the blog (though . . . she never tried the Mole I made back in the beginning).  We decide that I should try it out, too!

I was lacking in the picture department today, so sorry!

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I did grate the onion with the largest slot on my grater.  For one thing, this made it much easier for me when prepping the onion.  Usually, by the time an onion is ready to be cooked, my eyes are burning and I can’t see.  I’ve tried running the knife under cold water, same with the onion, sticking a spoon in my mouth . . . most of the time I just make someone else do it.  I would definitely try the grater again.

Lisa and I had the same issue with browning the onion.  You’re supposed to let it cook on medium heat until the moisture is gone and the onion is browned, about 5 minutes.  Both of our onion browned, almost scorched, but there was still moisture.  I think I’d turn down the heat about 3 minutes in and let it cook slower for longer.

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Yum!

I really liked this recipe, though I wish it had a little more flavor. It may be that my oregano was old.  Or it needed salt.  I also think I forgot to add the pepper at the end.  I will definitely be using this one again!

Rustic Marinara, I guess?

I grew up on Prego. I’m sure my mom made homemade sauce at some point,  but I’m not sure what her go-to recipe was. I don’t have a go-to recipe either. When I make pasta at home, I go for low maintenance and quick.

This recipe was pretty low maintenance and quick, and pretty boring, too. This came from a Martha Stewart Food magazine from about 5 years ago.  I have a binder full of ‘found’ recipes that I turn to on occasion, or when I can’t find another option.  I probably should have done some more searching for this one.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 – 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes, crushed
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Heat up the oil, get the garlic and red pepper flakes fragrant.

I forgot to crush the tomatoes before I poured them in. I’ve also, apparently, misplaced the power half of my immersion blender.

I made do with this black tool and my hand crank egg beater.  That tool, by the way, is super useful when you’re browning ground meat and other random things.  Useful for this, too. It’s Pampered Chef and it’s apparently called a ‘Mix ‘n Chop.’

Heat it on a fast simmer for 15 minutes.

The sauce was super bland. I definitely need to spice it up. This made 4 cups so I’ve got about 3 more in the freezer that I can improve upon later.   (Not pictured: the cheese that was necessary to make this yummy).

Anyone have any tips or great recipes for marinara, please pass them my way!!   I’ve found a good one on Cooking Light that takes 7 hours instead of 15 minutes. I’m super intrigued!