Spag Bol Redux

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I have so many fun and exciting things to show you guys in the near future, but I thought I’d do a little bit of a retrospective today. My very first entry on this here blog, five-plus years and 900-odd posts ago, was a recipe for spaghetti bolognese. I make this spaghetti sauce all the freaking time, so I thought I’d do another post just to show you how things have changed over the years, but they still remain in essence the same. For one, the Pie and I went vegetarian for a month when I made that post so there’s no meat in that sauce. For another, I was way lazier when it came to chopping things up, so my sauces were much chunkier. I like them a bit more uniform these days.

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Some things stay the same, though: I always load it down with diced onions to start. I made a crapton (a metric measurement of course) of this so that I could freeze it so I can’t give you exact measurements. Just lots.

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I always add diced red pepper (I’m allergic to green) and diced mushrooms. You can add whatever you wish, though. Sometimes I chuck in whatever’s in my fridge that needs to be used: avocadoes (they add a nice thickness the sauce), tomatoes, sometimes even carrots.

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And then of course a variety of tomato-based canned items. I used to use jarred spaghetti sauce as my base but I found they were sneaking green peppers into the mix and it wasn’t doing my digestive system any good so I switched to canned crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and canned diced tomatoes.

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First I start by sautéeing up the onions with olive oil and a little butter. I let them go until they’re smelly and soft. Then I pull apart a large hunk of lean or extra lean ground beef. I like to break it up with my fingers to ensure that there are no big chunks in the pot. You can also use ground turkey or pork or whatever works for you. If you’re going the veggie route and using TVP, add that last.

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After the meat is browned to my satisfaction I tip in my vegetables, as well as some minced garlic, salt, pepper, and various spices.

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I like a mix of italian spice plus extra basil.

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I add in all my tomato things as well and give that a grand old stirring.

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Let that simmer for at least half an hour so the flavours can mingle, and feel free to adjust the spices as you see fit. I like to let it simmer as long as I can, but it’s good either way.

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Cool and freeze or serve hot on top of your favourite fresh pasta, baked into a pasta casserole, or glopped on top of bread as a sloppy joe!

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Made-up Macaroni Salad

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Pasta salads are ideal for summer parties.  You can make them ahead of time and you don’t have to worry about heating up the house.  This one came together on the fly, as most of them tend to do.  I stuck with a reddish theme and it worked out.

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Start with a bowl of cooked pasta.  I used cavatappi, or Scoobi-do pasta.

Made-Up Macaroni Salad 1

Chucked in a diced onion, tomatoes, garlic, red peppers, and green olives.

Made-Up Macaroni Salad 3

Then some fresh oregano, chives, and some cubed feta.

Made-Up Macaroni Salad 4

Then I decided to throw in a few bocconcini as well.  I also tossed in some tandoori spice and some Hungarian paprika for kick.

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When you make a pasta salad, make a lot of dressing to go with it, because the pasta will absorb so much extra liquid.  The base of this one was olive oil, maple syrup, Tabasco, and rice vinegar.

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As I said, make a lot.

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Put half in now and then the other half right before you serve it.

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TADA.

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There was enough left over that I added some pasta sauce to it, topped it with cheese, and baked it into a casserole afterwards.  Waste not!

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Mags’ Cheesy Manicotti

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Today is my little sister-in-law Mags’ birthday and I promised her a pasta dish.  Because I’m not around to make it for her in person, perhaps she can persuade Mrs. Nice to whip it up for a birthday treat.  Her brother certainly enjoyed it.  Happy birthday Mags!

The measurements for this are approximate, and I’m going to jump back and forth between metric and Imperial because I’m Canadian and I can.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Plop about 500g thawed frozen spinach in a bowl, together with 500g cottage cheese, 1/2 cup strong-flavoured cheese, grated (I used romano, but parmesan would also be good), and 2 teaspoons dried oregano.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Stir it silly and then season with pepper.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Take a jar of chunky tomato-based pasta sauce and spread 1/3 of it on the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Now take a package of uncooked manicotti shells (usually there are 14 shells in a box) and stuff them with the cottage cheese/spinach mixture. Lay them on top of the sauce in the dish.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

This was my first one, which I tried to stuff with a spoon.  I got a little too enthusiastic and it exploded everywhere.  After that I used my fingers. And I’m still trying to figure out how to get the spinach out of my kitchen stereo speakers.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

And then when I got to the end of my pan I found I had run out of space, so that’s why they are all spastic here.  Plus I dropped in the leftover cottage cheese/spinach mix as well.  Aesthetics are not really my strong suit.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Mix 1/2 cup water with the remainder of your pasta sauce and pour it over the top of the uncooked stuffed noodles.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Bake, uncovered, for an hour, until it is bubbling all the way through.  Then sprinkle with 2 cups grated mozzarella and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Let your lava-like pasta stand for a few minutes before serving.  Not the most attractive photo, but that didn’t stop the Pie from going back for seconds.

Mags' Cheesy Manicotti

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Egg Wonton Lasagna

I pulled this from the Get Cracking website and it just seemed so weird that I had to try it.  Plus I have a million wonton wrappers in my freezer that I bought in anticipation of making more gyoza (which of course I haven’t done).

Egg Wonton Lasagna

First we’re going to roast a few vegetables.  Put your oven on the broil setting.  Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and plop on your veggies.  I have here 2 red peppers and 3 Italian zucchini (or at least that’s what the sign at Costco called them).

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Roast them until the peppers are all charred and black.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Let them cool for a bit, then peel the skins off the red peppers.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Then we’re going to boil ourselves some eggs.  In a medium saucepan, cover 6 eggs with water and bring it to a boil.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

When it’s boiling, remove the pot from the heat, cover it with a lid, and leave that to stand for 20 minutes.  This is a different way to produce hard-boiled eggs than I’m used to, but I figure that the Egg Farmers of Canada know what they’re talking about.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Drain the eggs, run cold water over them to cool them off, then peel and slice them.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

I liked how the cold water looked so much I took two more pictures of it.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Egg Wonton Lasagna

While the eggs are doing their thing, finely chop 1 small onion and add it to another saucepan with a drop of olive oil and 2 cloves minced garlic (or 2 teaspoons minced garlic from a jar).  Sauté until everything is soft and squidgy.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Chuck in a package of baby spinach and stir that around until it’s all wilted.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Pour in a jar/can of pasta sauce and bring that puppy to a boil, then remove it from the heat.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Get all your ingredients ready to go.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

While you’re at it, chop up those roasted vegetables of your’n.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Find yourself an 8″ baking dish (or thereabouts) and ladle about a 1/2 cup of the sauce into the dish.  Line the bottom with some of your wonton wrappers, making sure to overlap them a little bit.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Spread that with some more of the sauce you have left, then some of your eggs.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Plop on a some of your chopped vegetables, then some grated mozzarella cheese (I’m not going to limit you on your cheese — we all have our preferences/weaknesses).

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Do another layer of wontons, sauce, eggs, vegetables, and cheese.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

When you are out of vegetables and eggs you should still have some sauce, cheese, and wontons left.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Any remaining wonton wrappers you’ve got, spread them over the top, then the rest of your sauce, and then some more cheese.  Bake in your 350°F oven for 30 minutes, until you can see the sauce at the centre of the dish bubbling up through the top.  Let it stand for a few minutes before you cut it, just so the rowdiness can calm down.  Serves SIX.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Fettuccine Alfredo with Blue Cheese and Mushrooms

Let’s be honest with ourselves here.

It’s winter.  It’s cold.  It’s dark.  It’s slippery outside.  In short, it’s miserable.

Okay maybe today it’s bright and sunny, but let me assure you that this is rarely the case.  And it’s still cold and slippery.  And winter.Being Canadian, you’d think I’d be used to this nonsense that happens year in, year out.

I prefer to live in denial.

Or hibernate.  And eat lots of carbs.

And cheese.

So that’s what we’re going to do today.  Eat cheese.  And carbs.

This is a twist on the classic fettuccine alfredo recipe, and it’s really not very good for you.  But who cares?  I live in Newfoundland and no one will ever see me in a bathing suit.  If you don’t like blue cheese you can substitute it for something milder.  The key component of an alfredo sauce is that it is parmesan or romano melted in cream, so as long as you have that going for you you’re set.

In a medium frying pan, melt about a tablespoon butter and sauté 3 cups sliced mushrooms until they are brown and tender.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and chuck in enough dry fettuccine pasta for 4 servings.  While your pasta is cooking, melt 1/4 cup butter in a medium saucepan.  Add about 2 tablespoons flour to that and whisk it well.

Add 1 cup whipping cream and 1/2 cup milk and bring to a boil.  Make sure to stir constantly.  I got interrupted so you can see that my butter browned a bit before I added the dairy.  No matter.  It was still good.

Reduce to a simmer and add 1/2 cup fresh oregano (or 2 tablespoons dried), 2 teaspoons minced garlic, and 1 pinch nutmeg.

Add to this about 3/4 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese as well as 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese.

You can add in your cooked mushrooms now.  You want to do this as late as possible so they don’t get soggy or overcooked and tough.

Cook, stirring constantly, until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is nice and thick.

Drain your cooked pasta and add it to the pot, tossing it in the sauce to coat the pasta completely.

Serve immediately, garnished with some more grated parmesan or romano.  Food coma to follow.

Quick and Classic Spaghetti Sauce

It really hurts my brain when people invite me over for dinner and they serve spaghetti with sauce straight out of a can.  Why would you do that when it is so easy to make something a little more special?

My mother has been making spaghetti sauce from scratch for as long as I can remember, and it always, always tastes ten times better than anything I’ve ever gotten at a restaurant – or anywhere else, for that matter.  I learned how to make it myself and have been modifying it ever since.  I’m not a huge measurer when it comes to sauces, so it’s different every time. Feel free to use your own judgment in this.

So now, for the first time ever in print, a classic and easy spaghetti sauce I learned from my mother, who learned it from her mother.  I’ll give you the quick and the slow versions, as well as the non-vegetarian option.

First, you need to prep your vegetables.  Chop, into small chunks:

 

1 large onion (white or yellow work best)

2 bell peppers (we use red because I’m allergic to the green, but I’ve always thought the green added better colour)

10 average-sized mushrooms (whichever kind suit your fancy)

2 jalapeño peppers (optional, but I like a bit of the spice – make sure you’re careful when cutting these, as pepper juice in the eye is excruciating)

My favourite spices
Can you smell that?
This one reminded me of baby food.

In a large pot, sauté the onions in a few teaspoons of olive oil until tender.  Sprinkle in a healthy pinch each (I’m talking three fingers and your thumb, here) of basil and oregano, as well as two or three crushed cloves of garlic.  I’m a pretty lazy cook, and a handy shortcut I discovered is garlic in a jar.  I’m experimenting with brands at the moment, because I can’t get my beloved Mr. Goudas brand here in Newfoundland, but I figure a teaspoonful of minced garlic is a good-sized clove’s worth.

Carnivorous Option: If you were adding meat to your recipe, now would be the time to do it.  I usually add a brick-sized amount of ground beef, turkey, sausage or pork.  Chorizo or other cooked sausage works just as well.  Brown the meat carefully and thoroughly, and then drain any excess fat.  If you use a lean or extra lean ground you won’t have to drain it.

Now add the rest of your vegetables to the pot and allow to soften for a few minutes until their colour is heightened.

When the vegetables’ colour turns bright, they’re ready.

In this next step you have a bunch of options.

Take your pick of available sauces.

For the slow and steady cook, add one large can of diced tomatoes and one of crushed tomatoes.

Pour some water into the empty jar and shake it to get all the saucy goodness.

Instead of a can of crushed tomatoes you can use a jar of commercial spaghetti sauce, which has the benefit of a few extra spices added in.  If the Pie is around I usually don’t put in the diced tomatoes, either, just two jars of spaghetti sauce.  For the particular recipe illustrated here, I used a carton of Trader Joe’s Starter Sauce, and it was a nice balance of tomato for both of us.  I find a little extra liquid is always helpful with this sauce, as it tends to reduce over time, so what I do is pour a splash or two into the empty spaghetti sauce jar, close the lid, and shake it, to get all the saucy goodness out of it and into my pot.

If you are taking the vegetarian option, now you would add your TVP.  The Pie is more of a measurer than I am, and he says he put about a cup of the stuff into this particular sauce.  I like the action shot of it pouring into the pot.  You will find that because TVP absorbs water, you will need a bit more liquid than you would if you used meat, so keep that in mind.

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
TVP Action Shot

Get the sauce to a low simmer, and leave it, stirring occasionally, for about an hour.  The longer you simmer it, the longer the flavours have to mix.  You can also make this recipe in a slow-cooker, moving everything to the crock pot after the meat stage and going from there.

Serve with your choice of pasta and lots of parmesan cheese.  There is enough sauce here for about 8 people.