Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti is such an easy meal, in so many ways.  It’s very popular, it’s easy to heat up some sauce and to boil some noodles, and of course throwing some garlic bread in the oven.  I honestly don’t remember ever hearing someone say “Eww!” when they heard they were having spaghetti for dinner.  Shoot, the two meals that my brother is able to cook includes spaghetti and hamburger helper…and spaghetti is always a winner!  One thing I have noticed about the jar of spaghetti sauce you buy at the store tends to have a watery texture to it.  Some more so than others, but it’s still there from the jar sauces I’ve had.  That was one of the several differences that I noticed about this sauce…no watery texture!

Although the jar of spaghetti sauce is super easy and convenient to make, I still wanted to make my own sauce from scratch (less preservatives, and I knew exactly what herbs and flavors were going in).  But, I also didn’t want to have to spend an hour preparing the sauce every time I make it, so making a batch and then freezing it in individual freezer safe mason jars was the way to go.  Since the jars at the store are typically 24 oz, that’s the size I decided to store this sauce in.  Of course, you always have the option to store your sauce in larger or smaller containers.  These jars come with the metal lids, but I also got the plastic lids for easier access, and just because I prefer them.  This batch fills up about 2 1/2 of the 24 oz. jars.  Typically, I like to double the batch and fill up 5 jars, just so I have to make the sauce a little less often.  Just make sure you have a big pot for it!  When I distribute the sauce in the jars, I let them sit out on the counter (uncovered), to cool for about 1-2 hours before putting the lid on and sticking them in the fridge.  After they’ve gotten cold in the fridge, I decide how many to put in the freezer to use at a later time.  Don’t forget to put sticker labels on your jars so you’re not scratching your head, trying to figure out if they’re still good to eat or not!

spaghetti sauce jars

You can store the prepared sauce in your refrigerator for up to 7 days, and up to 6 months in your freezer.  When you decide to take a jar out of the freezer to thaw, just make sure you do this the night before, and let it thaw in the refrigerator.  What’s great about the prepared sauce is that you can use it for more than just spaghetti…you can also use it for baked ziti and lasagna.  If using for spaghetti, just reheat in a pot.  My cousin loves to throw extra meatballs in her sauce for her family, and I’m a huge fan of that as well.  With frozen meatballs, you can microwave them according to the package directions before putting them in, or let them cook in the sauce for at least 30 minutes.  Personally, I just throw mine in the microwave to make the process a little faster, but that’s totally up to you.  you can also add some extra parmesan to your sauce…because you can’t go wrong with cheese.

spaghetti sauce

If you want to make a vegetarian version of this sauce, just replace the ground beef with 1 lb. of chopped vegetables of your choice (typically in this kind of sauce, I think of onions, green bell peppers and mushrooms).  If you do this, just make sure you add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook the veggies first, before adding the sauce.

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipe:

1 lb. ground beef

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

16 oz. can tomato sauce

6 oz. can tomato paste

2 oz. tomato juice

2 tablespoons onion powder

1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

Cook the beef in a large sauté pan or other pot (I use a stock pot when doubling this recipe).  When beef is fully cooked and browned, add all of remaining ingredients.  Cover and cook on low/medium heat, and stir occasionally for about 1 hour.  Serve immediately, or store in individual containers in refrigerator (for up to 7 days) or freezer (for up to 6 months).

 

 

Homemade Hamburger Helper

Growing up in our family, we were big fans of Hamburger Helper.  It was quick, easy, and delicious.  My mom could whip up a batch of this and serve it with some corn and green beans, and we’d have a complete meal.  Within the past couple of years, I’ve learned a little too much about preservatives and processed food…and have been doing whatever I can in order to limit the amount of consumption when it comes to processed foods in our family.  Plus, my husband isn’t a big fan of Hamburger Helper for some odd reason, so I started looking around.  Pampered Chef has this recipe put together for their new product, the RockCrok.  But don’t panic…if you don’t have a RockCrok, you can use a large skillet or pot instead.

homemade hamburger helper

There are a few adjustments to this recipe that I made, but only minor.  I loved the idea of using less preservatives in this delicious one-pot meal.  Serve this up with some steamed veggies and/or dinner rolls and salad?  Sign me up!  The first time I made this was at my parents’ house, and I was unable to get a picture of it before it was all gone.  No, I’m not kidding.  But, that just gave me an excuse to make some more, so it all worked out.  And another great thing about this dish is that it’s kid friendly!  🙂  It’s also great as leftovers, just add a little bit of water (for moisture) and pop in the microwave until hot.

Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe:

1 lb. ground beef

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

14 oz. can of beef broth

14 oz. can of diced tomatoes

3 cups wide egg noodles

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat olive oil in RockCrok or large skillet on medium heat.  Add onions and garlic, cook for a few minutes, until tender.  Add ground beef, and cook until browned and fully cooked.  Stir in beef broth, and you can either add the can of tomatoes as is, or puree them in a food processor or blender (I puree them).  Stir together, add noodles.  Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until noodles are soft.  Add salt, pepper, and cheeses, stir together well.  Remove from heat and cover, let sit until cheese is melted.

Chicken and Corn Chowder

I have a confession to make…  Growing up, I ate canned soup.  As in, I think that may have been the ONLY kind of soup I ate.  Once my brothers and I got set in our ways when it came to food and we found something we liked, there was no straying from that.  In fact, we still get picked on for eating bean and bacon soup.  My oldest brother still eats it to this day, and his old roommate’s wife still talks about how he used to make it all the time.  One time though, my mom pureed the bean soup, and I loved it even more.  The thickened soup with all those flavors, minus the chunks of beans?  Dee.  Lish.

chicken corn chowder

A few years ago (before I really got into cooking), my husband found a recipe for chicken and corn chowder, and made it for us.  Oh…my…gosh.  I asked him when he was making it again, because I absolutely could not get enough of it.  After taking the Stocks, Sauces, and Soups class in culinary school last month, the thought of making some of those amazing soups we had has been lingering in my brain…so I made this.  My husband couldn’t find the original recipe that he made, so I put this together.  I ate this for lunch and dinner yesterday, and although my belly was full, my brain wanted more.

Chicken and Corn Chowder Recipe:

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup onion, minced

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 medium potato, peeled and diced

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups heavy cream

1 lb. frozen corn, thawed

2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (I used a cooked rotisserie chicken for convenience)

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onion, cook until soft.  Stir in the flour, and cook for about 3 minutes.  Slowly whisk in the chicken broth, making sure everything dissolves together.  Add potatoes, cook for 15-20 minutes (or until potatoes are tender).  When potatoes are done cooking, add heavy cream, corn, and chicken.  Cook until heated through, add parmesan, salt, basil, and pepper.  Continue cooking until cheese is melted and soup is hot. Garnish with freshly grated cheddar, bacon bits and green onions.

Mushroom Risotto

I started culinary school last week, and our instructor was talking about a restaurant that he went to in Houston a while back.  When he was looking at the menu and was in the mood for risotto, he asked the waiter about a couple of different flavors.  When the waiter asked him what flavors he wanted, or what he was in the mood for, my instructor said, “Play with me.”  Well, in the culinary world, when you have some crazy creative chefs and very open-minded and appreciative customers, that’s like recess for them.  The waiter smiled sadistically and walked away…only to come back with a large plate of risotto for him.  Apparently, he had used some pan drippings from another meat they used for another dish, along with some other incredible ingredients and flavors.  Our instructor was so impressed, that he was joking about how he told this guy to make sure he reproduces so the world can have more people like him.  Ha!

mushroom risotto

Well, after hearing that story, I started looking for risotto recipes, and came across one. Mushrooms, butter, wine, garlic, and parmesan?!  YES!!!  Well, actually I threw in the garlic, because I personally love how garlic, mushrooms and onions all go together.  It’s a trio of incredible flavors that mix together so well.  I made some chicken parmesan as the main dish with this recipe, and it was a heavenly Italian meal.  But, the next time I make this for my mom and mother-in-law (they were both wanting to try this), I’ll make the parmesan chicken the same way, but with a garlic parmesan cream sauce on top, rather than the traditional tomato sauce.  Oh boy, now I’m already getting excited to make this again.  Geez.

Mushroom Risotto Recipe:

4 cups chicken broth, divided

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound white mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 small onion, diced

1 1/2 cups arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.  Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute.  Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.  Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet, and stir in the pnions. Cook 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper.  When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, and stir in mushrooms with their liquid, butter, chives, and parmesan.

Pineapple Coconut Rum Cake

In college, I lived with my two best friends from high school.  We loved to throw parties and gatherings on a regular basis…and let’s face it.  We lived in Myrtle Beach and were in college…so pretty much all of our social gatherings included alcohol.  Okay fine, so ALL of them included alcohol.  Moving on.  Well, one of our absolute favorite kinds of alcohol was coconut rum, so we always had a bottle of Parrot Bay or Malibu in our liquor cabinet.  Several years later while we were spending time together, one of our other friends made me a cocktail.  It was Parrot Bay with some pineapple juice.  I practically guzzled it down because it was so delicious and refreshing…and I’m a sucker for tropical flavored drinks, especially when you can’t really taste the alcohol all that much (which actually can get you into trouble if you’re not careful).  And yeah, I ended up having two more of those same cocktails, until I polished off her pineapple juice.

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When I started thinking about this cake, it was right before I had lunch with our biggest Parrot Bay fan of the group.  After I walked out of the liquor store from picking up a fresh bottle of Parrot Bay, I texted her to let her know what I was making.  I really think she wanted to leave work early to come try this sucker out.  One thing I have learned about making rum cakes is the glaze.  Putting the glaze on the cake is by far the most important step, because this is where your alcohol flavor, the moistness of the cake, and your very slight buzz after eating a big slice (if you’re a lightweight like me) comes from.  When I first made a rum cake and was putting this glaze on it, I only used half because it seemed like it was too much.  Trust me, it isn’t.  Every bit of that incredible glaze will sink into the warm cake.  If you only use half of the glaze, only half of the cake will experience the full effects of this glorious glaze, so please slop this entire batch into the warm cake until it’s all gone.  You won’t be disappointed.  😉

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I made this cake during the day, and hadn’t cut into it before going to bed.  While saying goodnight to my hubster, he made the comment that he was hungry.  I told him that the cake was downstairs if he wanted a snack, and off to bed I went.  In the morning when I was going to get my coffee, I noticed there was a big chunk of the cake missing…and an empty plate with a few crumbs sitting in the sink.  I smiled.  When he got up and was heading out for work, he said, “That cake was awesome.  I had one piece, then went back for another.  It was really moist.”  Again, success.

For the cake:

1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix

1 can crushed pineapple

3 eggs

1/4 cup oil

1/4 cup pineapple juice

1 teaspoon baking soda

Drain juice out of can of pineapple, reserve 1/4 cup for the baking process.  Puree pineapple, eggs, oil, and pineapple juice in blender or food processor.  Mix together all ingredients in bowl and beat at medium speed for 2-4 minutes with electric mixer, spoon into greased and floured bundt pan.  Bake at 350 degrees until toothpick comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.  Cool in pan for 10-15 minutes, brush 1/3 of glaze on top of cake before turning out of pan.  Cover with remaining glaze while cake is still warm, so the rum seeps into the cake.

For the glaze:

1 stick butter

1/4 cup water

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup coconut rum

In a saucepan, combine butter, 1/4 cup water and 1 cup sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat and continue to boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup rum.  Brush glaze over top and sides. Allow cake to absorb glaze and repeat until all glaze is used.

*Rum cakes usually taste better 1/2 days after they’re made, since it allows more time for the glaze to seep into the cake.

Sopapilla Cheesecake Pie

When our family goes out to our favorite Mexican restaurant in town, one of my favorite parts of dinner is at the end, when they bring out a little plate of sopapillas…one for each person.  Since my hubby is usually too full to eat anything else at this point, our daughter and I usually end up splitting his.  So, I couldn’t help but to wonder if I could make them at home, and the researching began.  I was looking for actual sopapilla recipes, but came across this one.  The combination of a sopapilla mixed with cheesecake?  Oh, snap!  As I started reading through the ingredients and the process, it became clear that this was easy to make, and was sure to be a big hit.  As I was putting it together, my husband asked what I was making, so I told him.  “What in the heck is that?” he asked.  After explaining the layers, he chuckled and said, “Sounds healthy.”  Well, let’s not try to break this down nutritionally, because you may not want to think about that…  Plus, when you take a bite of one of these bad boys, your concern for the nutritional value could possibly fly out the window.

sopapilla cheesecake pie

After this was pulled out of the oven and cooling on the counter, I hear the ole hubster downstairs call out, “Can I go ahead and eat this?”  Couldn’t help but to giggle.  I cut him a good sized piece and had it on a plate for him when he came back into the kitchen a minute later after taking the dogs outside.  As he inhaled it, I heard, “Mmm, this thing is awesome!”  The next day when I pulled all of the pieces out of the original container and put it back in the fridge, all he saw was the leftover container…empty.  “You didn’t give it ALL away, did you?!”  Of course not.  He has enjoyed a couple more pieces today, along with my daughter’s teachers.

Sopapilla Cheesecake Pie Recipe

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened

1 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 (8 oz) cans refrigerated crescent rolls

3/4 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 stick of butter, melted

1/4 cup honey

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Prepare a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.  Beat the cream cheese with 1 cup of sugar and the vanilla extract in a bowl until smooth.  Unroll the cans of crescent roll dough, and use a rolling pin to shape each piece into 9×13 inch rectangles. Press one piece into the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Evenly spread the cream cheese mixture into the baking dish, then cover with the remaining piece of crescent dough. Stir together 3/4 cup of sugar and cinnamon. Pour the melted butter over the top layer of crescent rolls, then sprinkle the cinnamon/sugar mixture on top.  Bake in the preheated oven until the crescent dough has puffed and turned golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle with honey. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into squares.  Store in refrigerator.

Dark Chocolate Chocolate Coconut Pie

When I started experimenting with some Hawaiian style meals and desserts, I was so excited to try this recipe out.  It’s a little different than the original recipe that I found and made, but the end result was much better than expected.

chocolate coconut pie 1

This pie was actually a second try.  The first time I made it, it was two layers instead of just one.  The bottom layer was the chocolate coconut, and the top layer was the coconut.  I took it over to my brother’s house where my mom was babysitting her grandbabies, because she wanted to try it.  When her, my niece and nephew cut a slice for themselves, I noticed that all three of them picked away the top coconut layer and gobbled down the chocolate layer.  My mom said, “The bottom layer was absolutely delicious, but the top layer didn’t have a whole lot of flavor to it.”  And she was right, because I thought the same thing when I had a couple bites earlier in the day.

chocolate coconut pie 2

Back to the drawing  board, and here we are with the finished product.  I added more chocolate chips to the melting process, and just made the whole pie one layer.  Success!  The flaked coconut on top was an added garnish, just in case there is any confusion on what kind of pie this is.  Can’t miss that coconut!

Dark Chocolate Coconut Pie Recipe:

1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

1 cup milk

1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1 cup water

1/2 cup cornstarch

1 bag dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake crust for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.  In a medium saucepan, whisk together milk, coconut milk and sugar. In a separate bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in water. Bring coconut mixture to a boil. Reduce to simmer and slowly whisk in the cornstarch. Continue stirring mixture over low heat until thickened, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted, then pour mixture into pie crust.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, until pie is set.  Sprinkle with flaked coconut on top of the pie as a garnish.