Cake

June was “cake month”. It was a great because it was my dad’s birthday on June 7th and Owen’s birthday on June 11th. They gave me some excuses to do some baking!

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(Fun Fact: Owen didn’t want cake or cupcakes for his birthday. Instead he wanted banana bread muffins. I loved it.)

First, I tried a white cake with vanilla buttercream frosting.

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It actually turned out really well. I’m not a big fan of white cake (why waste calories on something that isn’t chocolate??) but relied on Thad’s rave review. It was relatively quick and easy to make, too.

The frosting was SO good. I only used about half of the recipe for the cake and it was hard not to eat the leftovers with the spoon.

Instead, I decided to try chocolate cake to use up the rest of the frosting:

This recipe was also from Cooks Illustrated. It involved melting bittersweet chocolate (I only had semi sweet and used that instead) with coffee (I was thankful for the Keurig at this point!). It also used Dutch-processed cocoa. TBH, I’ve never really understood why I can’t just use the cocoa I find in the store…pretty sure neither Toll House or Hershey brands are “Dutch processed”…or at least it doesn’t specifically say that on the box.

Anyway, the chocolate cupcakes were SO GOOD + buttercream frosting…it took everything I had to only eat one.

One last cake: Cheesecake.

Thad and I had a weak moment at the grocery store a few weeks ago and thought we should try the Oreo O’s cereal that we remembered being so delicious when we were kids. Turns out they weren’t so delicious. Thad suggested making a cheesecake with the leftover cereal crumbles.

Then I found a basic cheesecake recipe online to fill it.

It was a delicious way to end cake month.

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Biscuits

When I think of biscuits, I think of three different things: strawberry short cake, biscuits & gravy, and Red Lobster biscuits. It turns out, there are two main types of biscuits: rolled or dropped.

I kind of dropped the ball in May (as you can see, this post wasn’t done until June 3) and only had one day of baking. I did try three different recipes, but they were all of the dropped biscuit kind…

First, Short Cake.  This comes from the Chesley Family Favorites cookbook. My sister made these for Christmas gifts one year and has added on to it as necessary. It was such a great gift!

As far as I know, these biscuits are only made for one purpose: strawberry shortcake.

So first you add in all the dry ingredients and then add the wet ingredients. And then divide the dough into four different parts. I did double the recipe.

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They were great and strawberry shortcake is one of my favorite summer desserts!

Second, cream biscuits. I got this recipe from Cooks Illustrated (obviously). They are called “Quick and Easy Cream Biscuits” so it was an obvious choice.

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Whisk 2 C flour, 2 t sugar, 2 t baking powder, and 1/2 t salt.

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Add in 1 1/2 C heavy cream to the dry ingredients and mix with wooden spoon until dough forms (30 sec).

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Turn dough out onto lightly floured counter and knead dough briefly until smooth. Shape it into a 3/4 inch circle.

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Cut dough into rounds with 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter or wedges on baking sheet with parchment paper.

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Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees.

Finally, buttermilk drop biscuits, also from the Cooks Illustrated.

This recipe used buttermilk and butter instead of cream. We used them for biscuits & gravy.

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I had a little helper for my day of baking.

So, that was biscuits. I determined that I need a biscuit cutter. I also want to try the next recipe in my Cooks Illustrated Cookbook, “Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits”. There is a add on for parmesan cheese. I think they would be great as a side dish for dinner.

Cookies Galore

I’ve made so many cookies this month. I’ve made snickerdoodles, double chocolate, and chocolate chip cookies.

I even had a good helper at one point!

The snickerdoodle recipe came from the Cooks Illustrated cookbook. They were good. They were easy. I hadn’t made them before, and I’m not sure when I’ll make them again. But I think it’s important to have a variety of good cookie recipes up your sleeve.

The double chocolate cookies were a request from my husband. I was super surprised for a recipe that was chocolate based, but I was more than happy to make these for him. Until he made an additional request…that I make them using chocolate cake mix…You should have seen my face. I generally don’t use mixes and he knows that. So I went to the store, bought a mix that was on sale, and set out to make these cookies. They were quick, easy, and … delicious. They weren’t my favorite right out of the oven, but the next day they were so good. I’ll definitely be making them again.

Finally, I’ve set out to find my favorite chocolate chip recipe. Growing up, I loved my mom’s chocolate chip cookies. They are a Betty Crocker recipe. Her cookies are the best, and all of my friends and family agree. I’ve never had a go-to recipe, and honestly, I’ve never been really good at making chocolate chip cookies. I’ve always just let my mom do it 🙂

So for this challenge, I tried four, yes, four different recipes. See below:

  • Cooks Illustrated: This cookbook always (literally) steers me in the right direction, so it was a natural starting point. I made them for our family’s Easter gathering and people ate them, but I was disappointed. They were more cakey than I like.
  • Hannah Jones Secret Cookie Recipe: One of my bridal showers was a recipe shower, where each guest brought one of their “tried and true” recipes. My favorite cousin, Hannah, brought a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. These had a lot of potential, actually. They were super easy and had a good consistency, but I thought they had too much sugar. In the future, I might go back and try it again, but cutting down the sugar.
  • Betty Crocker: I asked my mom to send me her recipe. I KNEW this would be the winner. It was not. Similar to the Cooks Illustrated recipe, they were too cakey. Again, disappointment. I’m not sure what happened. My theory is that good cookies are based on more than just a recipe. You still have to have some skill and practice (obvi). I’m wondering if I did something a little off, like mixing too much or too little or something like that.
  • Nestle Toll House: Well, I figured I better try the standard recipe. These were my favorite. They were crispy but soft. They were exactly the standard basic chocolate chip cookie. They were not extraordinary or something people will rave about, but they will work. They will not last long at my house.

I did learn one thing–to use regular size chocolate chips. For one of the recipes, I just used mini chocolate chips and some chocolate chunks. The chocolate chunks were great, but the mini chocolate chips didn’t provide enough chocolate in each bite.

I really, really want a recipe like my moms, where everybody thinks my cookies are the best. But I’ve kind of given up. I can have the best of something else, right? There are like 11 more months of this baking challenge.

Fettuccini Alfredo

I’ve been loving my new Cooks Illustrated cookbook. It’s literally the first place I turn for all recipes. Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo was no different.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 C heavy cream
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • Salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • 9 ounces fresh fettuccine
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 t nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Simmer butter and 1 C heavy cream. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently until mixture measures 2/3 C., about 12-15 min. Off heat, stir in remaining 1/2 C cream, 1/2 t salt, and 1/2 t pepper.
  2. While cream is reducing, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 T salt. Cook until almost al dente. Reserve 1/4 C water and drain pasta.
  3. Return cream mixture to simmer. Reduce heat to low and add pasta, Parm, and nutmeg. Stir to combine, until cheese is melted, 1-2 minutes. Add reserved cooking water as needed to adjust consistency; sauce will look thin but will gradually thicken.
  4. Serve immediately

The cookbook mentioned that leftover Fettuccine Alfredo isn’t great, so I called my parents to come over for dinner. I figured they wouldn’t judge me if it didn’t turn out great. It turns out, this is kind of a great meal to make for an impromptu dinner (provided you have the ingredients or can stop at the store quick). It’s a little last minute, because you have to serve it warm. But it doesn’t take long, it’s easy, and it looks nice.

I followed the recipe almost exactly, except I forgot to reserve some pasta water before draining the noodles. I didn’t really need it though, as the sauce was a perfect consistency (I think)

The recipe didn’t talk about any meat, so I just cooked some chicken on the side and we individually added it to the noodles.

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The cookbook did mention that freshly grated cheese is best, but I was having problems at the grocery store and just couldn’t find a block of Parm cheese. The pre-shredded cheese seemed to workout just fine for me.

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The recipe also called for fresh noodles. Next time, I’m going to find a recipe that doesn’t call for fresh noodles to see how they compare. These only had a cooking time of 2 minutes, which was a big plus.

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Overall, the recipe was great and I’ll definitely use it again. My next attempt will be with dry (instead of fresh) noodles.

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!

 

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.

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!

10 Minute Tomato Sauce

I’ve been looking forward to this challenge. I think tomato sauce can be an easy thing to make instead of buy. It’s probably less expensive and tastes better than what you can buy. It’s so easy, though, to buy that jar of sauce for a quick weeknight meal. This was the perfect excuse to get out of my comfort zone.

The circumstances surrounding the first attempt were kind of perfect. Thad and I were planning to be gone for a long weekend and wanted to use up the food we had instead of going grocery shopping. We had an open box of pasta and half a jar of sauce. It wasn’t enough, but I had some tomatoes in the cupboard and remembered that I needed to try a recipe for sauce. Perfect, right?

I quick looked up a recipe for tomato sauce. I was a little worried that it would take a while, but I found Food.com’s recipe for 10 Minute Tomato Sauce. I knew it would take longer than that, but it didn’t require a lengthy simmer and it had good reviews.

First, you saute some onion and add spices and add garlic.

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Then, add crushed tomatoes and sugar. I only had these whole tomatoes, but figured they would work.

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Then, simmer for 10 minutes (see how it totally took longer than 10 minutes?). During that time, I had to help the whole tomatoes turn into crushed tomatoes. This hand blender is one of my favorite appliances. IMG_3846

Then you stir in olive oil and a few more spices.

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It turned out really good! Thad and I found some pepperonis and a ton of cheese, so we decided to turn regular spaghetti into what Thad calls…spaghetti pizza. Spaghetti Pizza was also featured in Week 35 (Italian) of the blog last year.

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Verdict: Homemade spaghetti sauce really can be fast and easy and cheap. For me, it will be especially easy because I almost always have the necessary ingredients on hand.