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).

 

 

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.

Homemade Baked Chicken Alfredo

When it comes to sauces, I’m a bit of an alfredo sauce junkie.  Maybe it’s the garlic.  Or the parmesan.  Or the fact that it’s a cream sauce.  Quite possibly though, it’s all of the above…and that’s just fine with me.  I’ve been searching for a really good homemade sauce that I can make in my own kitchen, and a successful experiment was conducted in my kitchen here recently.  Although that last batch was served with ravioli  instead of regular pasta, it was absolutely delicious.  My ultimate little taste testing toddler daughter loved her dinner, and told me several times, “Mommy, this is yummy in the tummy!”  That, ladies and gentlemen, is when you know something tastes good.

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This time though, it was served as a baked alfredo dish.  Lately I’ve been experimenting with freezer meals.  If you’re not familiar with freezer meals, they’re absolutely wonderful…homemade meals that are made ahead of time, stored in the freezer, defrosted the day before and popped in the oven for 30 minutes.  This is especially wonderful if you want home cooked meals for your family, but don’t have time to make them every single day.  Making it in a larger batch, spooning half of it into a foil pan and sealing it up actually creates TWO meals, and that’s how this recipe is prepared.  So, you can either make this dish as two meals and save one for later, or make one really big dish.  Directions follow below.

Chicken:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil in skillet on medium heat.  Cook chicken until almost a light golden brown, then sprinkle pepper and add garlic.  Continue cooking until a light golden brown and cooked all the way through.

Alfredo Sauce:

4 cups heavy cream

4 sticks butter

8 teaspoons minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Heat butter in large sauce pan on stove at medium heat.  Once melted, add garlic and cook for one minute.  Add cream.  Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens.  This could take anywhere from 20-40 minutes, depending on cooking temperature.  When sauce reaches desired consistency, stir in parmesan and pepper, continue cooking on low heat for 2 minutes, or until parmesan is melted.

Topping:

2 cups grated mozzarella

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook penne or rotini pasta according to package (add salt to the water and make sure the water is boiling BEFORE adding the pasta, this helps ensure a good texture during the cooking process).  After pasta, sauce, and chicken are cooked, combine in a large bowl and stir together until mixed well.  Spoon into a 9×13 inch baking dish and bake for 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Take a short cut!!  Don’t have time to make the alfredo sauce from scratch?  No problem!  Use 3 jars of storebought alfredo sauce!

Make a Freezer Meal!!  Evenly distribute between two 8 inch foil pans or one 9×13 inch foil pan, sprinkle half of cheeses on top of each pan.  Wrap with plastic wrap, place plastic lid on top.  Store in freezer.  The night before you want to eat the meal, place in the refrigerator to defrost.  Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Enjoy!

Homemade Lasagna

Over the weekend, my daughter and I took a trip to visit my parents.  My cousins were also visiting with their kids…so we had a total of 6 children between the ages of 1-8 all weekend.  It was…eventful, to say the least.  My favorite part of the weekend was just watching all of the kids play together, and it took me back to my days as a young spring chicken, running around with all of my cousins.  Climbing trees, throwing the football, chasing each other around the yard, and of course, fighting.  My daughter and my cousin’s daughter are literally three months apart in age, and they already have a love/hate relationship.  They get SO excited to see each other and have so much fun together…but they also fight and get mad at each other.  Ahhh, to be a kid again.

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For Sunday lunch, I volunteered to cook a big meal for everyone.  I know, it’s crazy…but all these years of my grandmother cooking lunch for everyone, I insisted that she relax and just eat.  So, I put together an Italian feast.  The menu consisted of garlic bread, chicken alfredo, lasagna, Caesar salad, and a tiramisu trifle.  The night before, I went to the store to get ingredients to make the lasagna and trifle.  As I’m slowly moving through the grocery store and mentally going over my list, it hit me that I still had to put together the lasagna, trifle, AND put my little girl to bed.  And honestly, all I wanted to do when I got back to the house was sit my happy butt on the couch and drink a glass of wine.  So, I compromised.  Grammy put little pumpkin to bed while I put together the trifle, and the storebought lasagna thawed in the fridge while I enjoyed that delightful glass of wine.  Everybody wins.  The day after I got home though, the fleeting thought of making a lasagna was still floating around in my head, so that was what made it on the dinner table the following night.  With this batch though, instead of making it in a 9×13 inch dish, I split the ingredients up and made two 8×8 inch pans of lasagna, and one went in the freezer for later use.  Perfect!  Next time I don’t feel like putting together dinner, all I have to do is thaw that baby out and pop it in the oven.  Shoot, we still had leftovers from this smaller version…and it was just as delicious.

Lasagna Recipe:

9 lasagna noodles, uncooked

1 lb. ground hamburger or sausage

1/4 cup minced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 (24 oz.) jars spaghetti sauce

3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan, divided

16 oz. large curd cottage cheese

1 pound mozzarella cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Boil lasagna noodles in water according to package directions.  Cook ground meat in skillet until browned and fully cooked, add garlic and onions and cook for a few minutes until onions are tender.  Remove from heat, stir together with 1 jar of spaghetti sauce.  Spread 1/3 of remaining jar of spaghetti sauce on bottom of 9×13 inch baking dish.  Place three noodles along bottom on top of sauce.  Spoon half of cottage cheese on top of noodles, followed by half of meat mixture.  Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, then 1 cup of mozzarella.  Repeat layering one more time.  For top layer, add remaining three noodles, remaining spaghetti sauce, and cheeses.  Bake in oven for 1 hour, let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Make a Freezer Meal!!  Prepare ingredients evenly between two 8 inch foil pans or one 9×13 inch foil pan.  Wrap with plastic wrap, place plastic lid on top.  Store in freezer.  The night before you want to eat the meal, place in the refrigerator to defrost.  Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour, let stand for 10 minutes..  Enjoy!

Chicken and Mushroom Marsala

Chicken marsala is a popular Italian dish, and it’s actually a LOT easier to make than you would think.  My sister-in-law serves her marsala with rotini pasta and mixes the sauce and noodles together in a bowl before serving, and personally I like it that way.  The sauce is evenly distributed with the noodles, chicken and mushrooms.  So, that’s how I have started serving my marsala as well.  I guess that makes me a copycat.  Or just annoying…but hey, that’s what family is for, right?

One very important thing that I have learned with making this recipe is this…make sure to mix the cornstarch in with the liquid ingredients BEFORE adding to the pan with the other ingredients.  Very important!  I learned the hard way.  When I just plopped the cornstarch in the pan with all of the ingredients and tried to stir it together, the cornstarch wouldn’t dissolve, and ended up just being big chunks of it in the pan that eventually had to be picked out, and the sauce was extremely thin.  Definitely won’t be doing that again.  I also like for my mushrooms to be chopped up into smaller pieces than just the regular sliced mushrooms, it seems that you get more bang for your bug this way when serving.  This amount serves 4 people, and I usually sautee some zucchini and onions as a side dish.  Absolutely Dee Lish!

Chicken and Mushroom Marsala Recipe:

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 pound chicken breast, cubed

8 oz. whole white mushrooms

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2/3 cup marsala cooking wine

1 1/3 cup chicken broth

Boil 8 oz. corkscrew pasta according to directions.  Cook chicken in olive oil in pan until cooked through, add pepper.   Remove stems from mushrooms, cut into 1/4 inch slices.  Add mushrooms and garlic, continue cooking until mushrooms are tender.  Put liquid ingredients in measuring cup, add cornstarch and use a whisk, beating well until cornstarch is completely dissolved.  Add to pan, continue cooking until bubbly.  Pour over cooked pasta in large bowl, stir to evenly distribute sauce and noodles.  Serve warm.

Make it vegetarian!  Omit chicken and double the mushrooms, use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.