Building Your Cookbook Library Vol. I

3 Oct

People keep asking which cookbooks they should buy. If you take a look at the photo below, you can see I am as good as person to ask as any! So I decided I would do a few posts about how to practically build your cookbook library.

It should be noted that the photo below was taken after I tossed over 50 cookbooks… and the books are stacked on these shelves two deep… and I am not showing the myriad cookbooks in various bookshelves all over the house… nor the two large drawers under the shelf in the photo that are filled to the brim.

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a small part of my cookbook collection, 2 deep

It’s true, I have a cookbook addiction.

Not only are cookbooks worth buying because, well, you know, you can cook great food from them, the best cookbooks open up different parts of the world. Even better, the best cookbooks are not only about food but about exquisite and passionate writing. There are few things I love to read more than a chef writing vividly about their love for food and their approach to food. Reading cookbooks is a big de-stresser for me. I can get lost in them for hours.

For starters, we need to be semi-practical. I will later do another post about more exotic cookbooks. For this post, I want to recommend the books I return to over and over and over again. Each one has terrific recipes that are for the most part practical and simple, recipes you will make again and again. These books are all terrific references for anything you might need. If you have just these cookbooks I list in this post, and no other, you will enjoy years of amazing food.

FAVORITES

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I’ve written before about a cookbook that changed my life, Patricia Wells at Home In Provence. Read the entire post to find out my experience with both this book and this wonderful woman. Know, however, that the book is filled with easy, glorious dishes that will transform your table and, additionally, your approach to cooking. If you can find a copy of the original book, cover shown above, I highly recommend it as it is a beautiful book. I am including a photo of the original copy of my book, which proves how much I return to it.

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I’ve used this book quite a bit…

Among many favorites in this book, Patricia’s Gratin Dauphinois recipe (potatoes au gratin) is a divine version I make for every holiday meal.

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I also wrote lovingly about Suzanne Goin and her cornbread, the best ever invented. She, too, is a chef that changed how I thought about cooking and food. Her book Sunday Suppers at Lucques is filled with marvelous food I’ve cited many times before on this blog. Two standouts of many, many killer recipes are her Devil’s Chicken Thighs with Braised Leeks (you can simply make the leeks as well, they are great as is and are usually on my holiday table) and her Braised Beef Stew. Check this link for a few more recipes… the 5 recipes in the link are recipes I make all the time. The tart is a go-to I make constantly.

REFERENCE

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Originally self-published in 1932, Joy Of Cooking is an amazing reference book that not only has been on the best seller list since it’s original publication, it was updated yet again in 2006 for a modern diet and kitchen. Filled with recipes of every kind, it is often my ‘go-to’ book when I need to make something I’ve never tried, or want a dependable, tasty recipe for just about anything. The Blue Cheese Dressing recipe , for instance, cannot be beat. Same for the Hunter’s Chicken recipe, a variation on Chicken Cacciatore which my friend Tiffiny makes for me whenever I ask… and I ask often as it has become one of my favorite dishes to eat in all the world. If you need one bible of recipes and cooking tips, Joy Of Cooking is the one to get.

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To make things confusing, another excellent reference is Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, which pretty much sums up the book. While I would choose Joy of Cooking if I could only have one, Bittman’s is another amazing reference and has smart, concise information on all kinds of things.

What I love about these two books is how helpful they are when you are faced with something new. Never poached an egg? No problem, grab one of these books. From basics such the best way to boil pasta to much more advanced techniques, you can cook many wonderful meals with either of these books alone.

DEPENDABLE

There are two chefs/authors I return to over and over because they are so damned dependable: Ina Garten and Jamie Oliver. With my cookbook obsession, I have bought quite a few heralded cookbooks that turned out to be major disappointments. I give a new cookbook about 5 chances.  If I cook 5 recipes from it that don’t turn out so great, something is going wrong with the book. With Ina and Jamie, however, I don’t think I have ever encountered a recipe by either that has been anything less than stellar. Besides being so dependable, they both seem to be smart, lovely people.

What I would give for a day in the kitchen with either!

The only problem is which book of each person to buy as they each have so many great books! While you can’t go wrong whatever you pick up, let me give you the one book by each I grab off the shelf most of all.

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Ina smartly published this book, Back To Basics, in 2008 and I’ve been using it frequently ever since. It contains a little bit of everything and each bit of everything is delicious.

Two favorites from this book: Ina’s Omelet for Two is something I make at least once if not twice a week. The recipe is an excellent base for trying other ingredients and flavor combinations though it is perfect just the way it is. It is baked in the oven, so it is easier than a normal omelet and has a better texture. I also love this Baked Shrimp Scampi, which I’ve started making most every New Year’s Eve as well as other nights during the year.

 

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Simply put, Jamie Oliver is a stud. From his work with disadvantaged youth to his crusading for better food for schoolchildren, he is someone I’ve admired for a long time. His books are a blast as well! Of all the books, I love Jamie At Home the best. Not only are the recipes outstanding, the book is an excellent reference with even sections on planting and growing your own produce.

Two favorites from this book are Jamie’s Proper Chicken Caesar Salad, which my buddy Keith asks for every time he comes to my house (we had it by request yet again last Saturday), and Jamie’s Creamy Rice Pudding with the Quickest Strawberry Jam. I didn’t even know I liked Rice pudding until I tried this, which I made more for the jam part than the pudding part. Wow. It is great!

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a snapshot from Jamie At Home

 

PASSION

Finally, two favorites elevated not only by the brilliance of their food, but the passion of their writing, which is always a joy to read.

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A chef I’ve written about before is Nigel Slater. His writing has become a bit of an obsession for me, I have worked my way through almost all of his books. He is funny, smart, tart… and wow is his food good! The best book to get for your first bit of Slater is Tender, which I wrote about here. This, too, is a reference book, divided alphabetically by vegetable. (It has tons of meat dishes in it, don’t worry.) If you have some cabbage and need an idea, turn to Cabbage. You get a history of the veg, how to grow it, how to store it, and then you get innumerable versions. The section for each vegetable is the same. What a great cookbook! I love this man. 

Two of many recipes I love are his Eggplant Gratin and his Baked Peppers for a Summer Lunch.

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Last but not least is the goddess Nigella Lawson. Hot damn, does this woman know how to write! Her books are filled with humor as delectable as her food. She also writes with a wild passion that fires me up. My favorite, for all these reasons, is  How To Eat.  This is probably my favorite cookbook to simply read. There is much knowledge here, it is a very good reference book. But the writing is a blast. One of my favorite things Ms. Lawson does is encourage the home cook to relax, don’t worry what happens, and she often structures her recipes so you can ‘have a bath and a glass of wine’ while something is cooking. Madame, come on over.

All right! A starter list for even the best home cook. You cannot go wrong with any of these books! I would love to hear from you your favorites. And in a few months, I will be back with more….

Cookbook Night Vol. II

18 Sep

Last year I wrote about Cookbook Night, a day/night when my great friend Tiffiny and I pick a cookbook we’ve not tried, spend all day making many dishes out of the cookbook, then have people over to gorge on the new recipes. We’ve been doing this for a while; it’s a day the two of us can hang out in the kitchen, catch up, laugh a lot and, well, cook up a storm. The actual night is casual. We use paper plates and disposable flatware, for instance…. though somehow we still end up massacring the kitchen. All told, it’s a wonderful time with a lot of great conversation and much food and drink being consumed.

We usually do two of these a year but given my ‘one armed status’ (see here) this is probably our only cookbook night of 2014. (We did have a great canning and preserving day earlier in the summer, when I didn’t look like Robocop. We made homemade worcesterhire sauce, some hellacious pickles and Caramelized Pineapple in Tequila… oh my is that good.) For this particular cookbook night, we chose My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. Lebovitz is a wonderful writer, I highly recommend both the book and his website!

As I am still operating at less than full speed, there will be less writing and more photos in this post (I hear some cheers out there) with links to many of the recipes. Thanks to my buddy Chris for the great photos! Thanks also to the various blogs I am accessing for recipes, including Mr. Lebovitz himself.

 

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 APPETIZERS

We tried a variety of appetizers, served cocktail party style with everyone standing out back. All the apps were terrific.

In the first picture below, along with Tiffiny’s wonderful cheese plate, you see crostini spread with Homemade Goat Cheese, topped with Slow Roasted Tomatoes. This was a favorite of a number of people.  

Next is a Duck Terrine (kind of a pate) that was incredible. I’d never before made a pate and truth be told, my buddy Chris did most of the work. It sits for a few days so we made it a few nights before. It was a lot of work but not difficult work so don’t be scared. Try it sometime! It was delicious, filled with duck and pork and many other wonderful ingredients. Also served on crostini with an excellent mustard, and pickles, this Duck Terrine will impress even the most jaded foodie.

Another highlight of the night was the Artichoke Tapenade. Tapenades are a breeze, btw. You throw olives and whatever else you want into a food processor, chop it up, let it sit, then dive in. If you like olives, learn to make tapenade! 5 easy minutes of your time, max.

Recipes under each photo.

Goat cheese

Crostini with Homemade Herbed Goat Cheese and Slow-roasted Cherry Tomatoes.

 Cherry Tomato Crostini with Herbed Homemade Goat Cheese recipe, click here.

Pate

Duck Terrine

Duck Terrine recipe, click here.

Tapanade

Artichoke Tapenade

Artichoke Tapenade recipe, click here

Oh and this was the aftermath of the cocktail hour. Note the rag on the floor, my way of cleaning the floor. To quote the late, great Joan Rivers, “If God had wanted me to bend over, He’d have put diamonds on the floor.” My version of her joke would I guess be Mac-N-Cheese on the floor.

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yikes!

 

SOUP

Tiffiny made a terrific Gazpacho from the book. I loved this very, very much.

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Gazpacho

 

SALADS and PALATE CLEANSER

We did three salads for the first seated course: Salad with Bacon, Egg and Garlic Toasts; Celery Root Remolaude and a Grated Carrot Salad. The first is a french classic, normally served with frisee, which was nowhere to be found! So Tiffiny did a beautiful adaptation. I myself can’t get enough of Celery Root Remo, as I like to call it, another french classic served everywhere in Paris, so I made Lebovitz’s version. And the carrot salad was a lovely, healthy alternative to many heavy dishes before and after.

As a palate cleaner, I made a weird and wonderful Gin and Tonic Sorbet, a recipe my dear friend Janet sent me, knowing how much I would love it. Props to my best friend Mark who stepped out of his Hamburger Helper comfort zone and prepped the sorbet. I will be making this sorbet often.

Here you see Tiffiny’s gorgeous salad. Recipes below.

Salad

Salad with Bacon and Egg

Frisee Salad recipe, click here.

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Gin and Tonic Sorbet

 Gin and Tonic Sorbet recipe click here.

 

MAIN COURSES and SIDES

We did two mains: Lebovitz’s wonderful Mustard Chicken and a french/asian take on BBQ ribs, Caramelized Pork Ribs. Photos and recipes of both below. The sides were Braised Vegetables served with Salsa Verde (perhaps my favorite, I could bathe in the salsa verde), Lebovitz’s amazing rendition of sautéed green beans and a scalloped potatoes with Blue Cheese and Roasted Garlic! People went nuts over all of them, the ribs in particular. I myself could not get enough of the chicken!

 

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Mustard Chicken and Caramelized Pork Ribs

 

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Mustard Chicken

 For the Mustard Chicken recipe, click here.

For the Caramelized Pork Ribs, click here

Beans potatoes

Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Roasted Garlic; Green Beans with “Snail Butter”

For the potato recipe, click here.

For the wonderful green beans, click here.

 

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Braised Vegetables with Salsa Verde

 Scroll down for the vegetables and salsa verde recipe here.

DESSERTS

Somehow, we never ended up taking pictures of dessert. We made two: Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse, which is as wonderful as it sounds, and an amazing Orange Pound Cake, half of which I think I ate myself. I swiped this photo of the mousse:

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Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse,

Here is the recipe for the mousse. To. Die For.

Finally, a few more random photos. Try these recipes, though, or just get the book! You will be very happy with Sir Lebovitz’s food and writing.

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Tiffiny’s Cheese Plate

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new lights in the back

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“Zach’s Lights”

Bacon

Tiffiny frying bacon for a number of the dishes

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Caramelized Pork Ribs

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cocktail hour

Summer Reading 2014

10 Jul

Time for another yearly post that is always popular: summer book recommendations. I’ve been tearing through a stack of novels the last few weeks and have come across some true finds. Hopefully there will be one or two you might find as enjoyable.

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some of the books I am reading this summer

MICHAEL KORTYA

I have two picks from Michael Kortya, whose two last novels, The Prophet and Those Who Wish Me Dead, are terrific. The Prophet, in fact, is one of the best books I’ve read in years.

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Michael Kortya signing copies of The Prophet

One critic described The Prophet as a cross between Friday Night Lights and In Cold Blood. I could not put it better myself so I’m stealing it here. The novel is a thriller about a killer stalking people in a small town. But the book is really about two estranged brothers, one the popular high school football coach, who warily come together in an attempt to solve the mystery. The book was very, very suspenseful and quite emotional as well. I found myself rather verklempt at the end. The guy can also write one hell of an exciting football game! This is a perfect summer read. It’s a great thriller but it’s much more than that, I found it a deep and emotionally resonant novel that goes way beyond the thriller genre. The Prophet is a great novel, period.

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Kortya’s next novel, the recently released Those Who Wish Me Dead, is an exemplary summer thriller, the kind the cliched phrase ‘Don’t start it unless you have time, you will not be able to put this down!” was made for. It starts off with a bang and never lets up. (I think that also is one of those cliched phrases.) Ignore the bad literary criticism and check this one out, I loved it. 

ORDINARY GRACE

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William Kent Krueger’s latest novel quietly blew me away. If you’ve read Peace Like A River (and if you haven’t, stop everything you are doing right now and read it, you must!) imagine Peace but with a mystery layered into the mix. “All the dying that summer began with the death of a child…” starts the novel and there is indeed a lot of death. Don’t let that deter you, Ordinary Grace is a beautifully written coming of age novel, written from the 1st person perspective of the son of the town pastor. Krueger grapples intelligently with God, faith and, yes, grace, but without a trace of sentimentality. It’s a tough novel but not tough to read, if that makes sense. The mystery keeps it driving forward and the richness of Krueger’s writing is continually surprising. To Kill A Mockingbird also kept coming to mind though here the narrator is a teen, not a child. Ordinary Grace is a wonderful novel that makes me excited for Krueger’s next. Oh and it just won the Edgar Award for Best Novel of the year. It’s that good.

REMEMBER ME LIKE THIS

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And here we have another ‘wow’. The most emotionally devastating novel of the bunch, Remember Me Like This is a gorgeously written, deeply nuanced novel about a family grappling with the disappearance of their teenage son. It’s not what you would anticipate from that pitch-line, however. One of the many twists is that the novel starts four years after the boy disappeared. Rather than watch the family implode when the boy cannot be found, we start well after the implosion: where most novels would end, this one begins as all hell once again breaks loose in a surprising way. Also a mystery of sorts, it’s an extremely involving narrative that keeps wrenching your heart with revelations and conflict. Set in Corpus Christi, Texas, I can heartily affirm the author nailed the milieu perfectly, given I myself grew up on the gulf coast of Texas. Bret Anthony Johnston’s first novel, Remember Me is the announcement of an extraordinary talent.

MR. MERCEDES

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And then there is Stephen King’s latest. I don’t know how the man does it over and over but this novel is so $#%* awesome, just like his last two novels, Sir King is getting his own entire blog post coming up next, The Grand Romances of Stephen King. That’s right, The Grand Romances of Stephen King is the title, I’ve already started it, but feel free to run get this novel as fast as you can. Mr. Mercedes is, ahem, a killer.

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Have you any books you’ve read this summer you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below. As always, thanks for reading!

Food for your 4th… ’14

29 Jun

Last year’s ‘Food for your 4th‘ was such a hit, I figured I might as well give you more choices. Hopefully posting in time to prep for your celebration, here are some favorites that cannot be beat!

DESSERT

*CAFE GRATITUDE’S RAW LEMON CHEESECAKE

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raw lemon cheesecake with berries

This year, let’s start with the sweet. Let me introduce you to a wonderful dessert everyone loves yet it is very healthy! Last year I gave you the recipe for a terrific raw peach cobbler I make and devour all the time. My good friend Theresa “Tee” Elam, who is a marvelous cook, turned me onto Cafe Gratitude‘s Raw Lemon Cheesecake about 6 weeks ago. I have been devouring it ever since. Damn, is it excellent. And, again, it’s healthy! Sometimes life is so good.

Note: I confess, I’ve only done the crust once. The crust is worth making and helps it seem like a ‘real cheesecake’ but I love the filling so much and, you know, I’m such a lazy S.O.B. that I usually just make the filling and eat it with some fruit on top, not that it even needs the fruit! Any of these ingredients can be ordered off Amazon.com if you can’t find them in your local store.

The recipe makes one regular cheesecake, though I usually make individual sizes, as seen in the photos.

Click the link for this recipe and other recipe/suggestions!

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It’s called the Game Of Thrones

15 Jun

Game Of Thrones is like standing behind a mean horse who kicks you in the head, over and over. A friend walks up and says ‘What are you doing?”

KICK.

You say, “I’m standing behind a horse who keeps kicking me in the head.”

KICK.

Your friend asks, “Doesn’t that hurt?”

KICK.

You say, “Are you kidding? It’s brutal. I’m dizzy and I can’t see straight. Watch. He’s going to do it again.”

KICK.

Your friend asks, ‘Why don’t you move???”

KICK.

You say, “Because it’s the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen.”

That’s Game Of Thrones. It pummels you, over and over, with unrelenting harsh brutality yet it is turning out to be the best show that has ever been on TV. You can’t walk away even as it repeatedly kicks you upside the head. It’s filled with amazing beauty and is as grand a narrative as you’ve ever seen.

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NOTE: Spoilers start halfway down, you will be warned before they start. Also, this is written from the perspective of someone who has not read the books. Please, if you have read the books, no forward spoilers in the comments section.

I actually had no desire to watch Game of Thrones.  Season three was over and I still refused. It’s not my genre (snore) nor did any of it sound appealing. I’ve certainly seen enough tits and ass and gratuitous violence over the years to keep the ‘R’ rated factor from being enticing. And dragons? Eh, whatever. Been there, done that as well. I was one of those people who, when fans would go rabid on Facebook, I’d roll my eyes with great patronizing condescension. Then after much bullying one of my best friends, Adam, dared me to watch the pilot. Just one episode and if I didn’t like it, he’d never bug me again.

Honestly, in about 5 minutes I was absolutely transfixed.

ned-beautiful-death What is it about this show? Certainly there is the scope. Nothing on this scale has ever been done on television. Each one hour episode is filled more stunning visuals than just about any summer movie thundering around the cineplex. And, yes, there is the “tits-n-ass and blood-n-guts” factor. The show is incredibly ‘R’ rated, so much so it spawned one of the funniest online videos of the last couple of years:

None of this, however, explains why the show is so popular and why so many of us are saying it might be the best show ever on television. For any narrative to work, the audience has to care about what is happening and George R. R. Martin, along with the creators, writers and actors of the show, have created incredible characters we root for passionately. As another great friend, Chad, remarked tonight after the season 4 finale, ‘I feel like people I know are dying.”

To read more, click the link!

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“Chef”

25 May

Well, this was a no-brainer for On Food And Film. Just released is the best movie about food in many a year, written and directed by Jon Favreau, presently one of Hollywood’s more successful directors. My friend Teresa Lundy encouraged me to see it and I’m glad she did!

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“Chef” is a relaxed and unhurried yet enjoyable movie about a chef who beautifully self destructs after receiving a ghastly review from an important critic, only to find a better version of himself — and his food — as he rebuilds his life. The movie also becomes a heartfelt depiction of his struggle to be a good father to his son, with whom he spends very little time.

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The general story and structure is not very surprising. It’s obvious where the movie is headed from the beginning. Yet it is indeed a pleasurable ride. There are wonderful performances from many well known actors including Scarlet Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Bobby Cannavale, John Leguizamo, Sophia Vergara and a hilarious cameo from Robert Downey, Jr. who gives the movie an amazing shot of electricity at just the right time.

Whatever your feelings about the general story, there is a wonderful reason to see the movie: The Food. Other than Big Night, I haven’t seen a movie that so gloriously depicts food: the prepping of it, the cooking of it, and the final product. Chef is total food porn, which alone is enough to recommend it.

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As one example, early in the film the chef, Carl Casper, makes a bowl of pasta for Molly, who runs the front of the house at the restaurant where he works. I would kill for this pasta, a simple, glorious dish made with thinly sliced garlic in an wondrously lived in carbon steel pan. Damn, that looked good.

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But all the food looks incredible. Favreau, overseen by Roy Choi, does his own dicing, slicing and cooking in the movie. He’s great. As is the food. If you want an enjoyable time at the movies, check out Chef. But schedule a good dinner after, you are going to want to eat some incredible food when this movie is over.

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SIDE NOTE: In Modern Family, the gorgeous Sophia Vergara is paired with Ed O’Neill. In Chef she is paired with Jon Favreau. What gives? She might want to have a serious talk with her agent…

“Never, Ever, Ever…” Vol. III

16 Apr

It’s time again for a little Southern Catholic guilt to encourage (shame) you away from the pre-made and towards something homemade, healthier… and better! It’s Volume III of ‘Never, Ever, Ever…!”

Just what you have been waiting for, I am sure.

As a reminder, Vol. I involved vinaigrette. Vol. II was broth. Today I give you Vol. III…tomato sauce!

It must be evident by now that along with my chicken obsession (here and here), I am also obsessed with tomatoes and tomato sauce. I’ve already had two posts about red sauce. The first detailed my friend David Hendren’s amazing tomato recipes, his homemade tomato sauce and his Habenero Salsa. That post was followed by “A Tale Of Two Spaghettis‘, concerning the ‘dueling sauces’ made by my mom and her dear friend Barbara Doyle.

All three sauces are terrific and I encourage you to try each! Often, however, we need to cook fast, which causes people to reach for something like this:

Prego

Don’t reach for the jar, though! Instead, you want to reach for this:

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In the time it takes you to boil water and pasta, you can have a wonderful homemade marinara, tastier and healthier than anything from a jar. It’s a breeze, particularly if you have your pantry stocked with a few simple ingredients. The recipe also has many variations, depending on your mood.

Click here to continue and find out how! Continue reading

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