Tag Archives: Sauce

Pressure cooker tomato sauce

Hello, I’m back! I took another little break from blogging, since life doesn’t seem to slow down these days. In the space of about six months, between the two of us, Sam and I have tackled new health issues, avalanches of work, and some pretty heavy family stuff. Oh, and there’s that wedding we’re planning. (60 days to go. Holy mackerel.)

I may write more about all this at some point–we’re still in the thick of it now. But in the meantime, I have a recipe to share. It combines two things that have recently shaken up how I cook and eat–for better and for worse.

First, the fun one. I have officially become an Instant Pot fanatic. We bought the six-quart model on Black Friday sale, and it’s now a fixture on our kitchen counter. Having an electric pressure cooker has converted me to the religion of the set-it-and-forget-it meal. I can toss a mishmash of ingredients in the Instant Pot, seal it up, and go back about my business. In an hour or so–less if I’m in a hurry, more if I’m not–there’s a piping-hot meal waiting for guests, or a batch of something versatile to portion and freeze.

I love this thing so much. So far I’ve used it for soup, stew, chili, rice, pasta sauce, two or three kinds of broth, and I don’t even know what else. Pressure cookers can safely cook meat even if it’s frozen solid, so I can pull a pack of chicken thighs out of the freezer at 6 PM and be eating them by 7 PM. And for hard-boiled eggs, this machine is basically unbeatable. (My new egg-boiling method, after much experimenting: 1 cup of water, steamer basket, 4 minutes at low pressure, 5 minutes natural release, ice bath. Easiest-peeling, creamiest-yolked eggs I’ve ever had.)

instant pot

Instant Pot, hard at work on my (messy) kitchen counter

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Chocolate syrup

As a home cook, I often fall into the trap of “fancy is better.” Since I’m mostly self-taught–fairly competent, but decidedly amateur–I still have some lingering insecurities about how much more impressive my cooking could be. So I’m always looking for ways to amaze people, to introduce them to new foods, to show off. And somehow, I keep getting it into my head that the more elaborate and complex a recipe is, the more impressive it’ll turn out.

It’s true that sometimes the most elaborate projects are the ones that wow people. I’ll happily make layer cakes and from-scratch burger buns and quiche and paella, even if they take me all day and leave me sweaty and stained. There is enormous satisfaction in tackling some multi-hour, multi-step cooking process and coming out the other end with something ferociously tasty. But it’s shockingly easy to forget that sometimes the most amazing and appealing dishes are also the simplest. Like Irish soda bread. Refrigerator pickles. Eggs, cooked really well. A pot of lentil soup.

So, when I felt a strong urge to do something flashy recently, I decided to go ultra-simple and make a batch of chocolate syrup. It sounds fancy, and tastes incredible–satiny and bittersweet and dark, dark chocolatey, like a fudgy brownie in syrup form. This stuff is seductive and showy, miles away from the little-kiddishness of the stuff in the squeeze bottle. But it’s also one of the quickest kitchen things I’ve ever done–from start to finish, from dry ingredients to gooey sauce, took under 5 minutes. It’s made entirely of pantry staples and water, so it can happen any darn time. There’s no corn syrup, of any variety, so it’s almost virtuous. And did I mention it tastes like a brownie?

In fact, this stuff is so utterly delicious that I have no idea what the shelf life is, because we blew through the entire first batch in less than 24 hours. Acting on a tip I picked up in the blogosphere, I added a touch of baking soda to the syrup, which supposedly keeps the syrup from going gloppy over time. (It also reacted with the cocoa powder and turned the sauce a deeper, sexier shade of brown, which was a plus.) My guess is that this will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks, and at some point I will test that–if my friends and I can keep our hands off it.

chocolate syrup

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Seared lamb salad with basil-mint vinaigrette

Here’s something a little different for St. Paddy’s Day: a winter-to-spring lamb salad with a bright green vinaigrette.

It’s finally getting to that sigh-of-relief point in the year when salads start to seem viable again. Not the light-and-crunchy summer kind of salad, but something a little sturdier, with a good thick dressing. I went to the farmer’s market for the first time in a while on Sunday, and found a gorgeous mix of baby rainbow chard and dinosaur kale and some prickly leaves I couldn’t identify. I’d recently watched a Nigella Express clip about lamb salad, and the combination of warm meat and just-wilted winter greens seemed mighty appealing. (I suspect this would work just as nicely with arugula or spinach or watercress, or in fact any mix of good fresh salad greens.)

The lamb itself was simple. Salt, pepper, hot pan, sear. I tried to do a mustard-crust thing on the chops, but it didn’t turn out well, so I’m going to declare it unnecessary. I’m also not the most competent meat cook, so I ended up pulling the lamb from the pan while it was too raw and having to re-cook it later. That’s a mistake I don’t recommend making. What I do recommend, though, is letting the meat sit in a loose foil packet for a few minutes when it comes out of the pan, to let the juices re-settle throughout the meat. It makes for a much more succulent final product.

For the dressing, I used a recipe I picked up in an online comment forum: a blended basil vinaigrette, thick and tangy and appealingly pesto-like. I’ve made this dressing before, as a pasta sauce, but it was especially welcome against the gamy-sweet lamb and crunchy greens. I used a mix of basil and mint here, but it could easily be done with just basil or just mint. It’s a little more involved than your average vinaigrette: first you blanch the herbs to lock in their bright green color, then blend them with garlic and shallot and vinegar, before streaming in just enough oil to make a thick paste. You could add an egg yolk too, for a richer and more unctuous dressing, almost like a thin Hollandaise. With egg or without, though, this vinaigrette stands on its own: it’s the perfect texture for pasta, and would also make a stellar sauce for simply cooked chicken or fish. Make it for this salad, and then make it again. It will reward you.

Oh, and of course, we ate our salad with Irish soda bread. I am nothing if not consistent.

lamb salad with basil mint dressing

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Bourbon vanilla barbecue sauce

Just in time for Fourth of July, I’ve checked another from-scratch food attempt off the list: barbecue sauce.

I’ve been obsessed for a while with making a barbecue sauce based on bourbon and vanilla bean. I like bourbon in barbecue sauce quite a lot, for the smoky-woody kick it provides. The vanilla is vastly less traditional, but there’s some method to my madness: “bourbon vanilla” is so-called, after all, because it smells an awful lot like bourbon. So I figured that the vanilla would bring out the sweet-and-mellow of the bourbon, and vice versa. If nothing else, it would be an odd little deviation from the barbecue sauce norm.

I also knew I wanted to do a sauce that wasn’t ketchup-based. Nothing against ketchup–a burger’s not a burger without it–but I wanted to play with cleaner, less-processed flavors, the better to show off the flavors of whiskey and vanilla. So I decided to base my sauce on tomato paste instead. I opted for honey over molasses or brown sugar as a sweetener, to keep the flavor profile light and unmuddied. And though I was tempted to toss in a mess of spices, to make up for the complexity lost by not using ketchup, in the end I decided to keep things simple: smoked paprika, cumin, salt.

The result of all this experimentation is a thick, bright, brick-red sauce. This one is more on the sweet-and-tangy side than the smoky-spicy side. I chickened out and only used a little vanilla, so that the flavor got a bit lost in the final sauce; I’ve adjusted the recipe to call for a whole bean. I’ve also been waffling back and forth about whether this sauce is too tomato-y–one taste and it’s fine, the next and it’s a little off. I may play around with that proportion next time.

So for a first try? Not bad. Room for improvement? Yes. Bourbon and vanilla playing well together in barbecue sauce? Seems that way.

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Eggs in spicy minted tomato sauce

There is nothing better than a perfectly cooked egg. Nothing. When the yolk quivers as the plate sets down, when you can dig in with the side of a fork and let loose a sticky marigold gush–not runny, not firm, but oozing like syrup–it’s high on my list of my favorite things. Poach the egg in a fragrant and spicy tomato sauce, and it’s even better.

I got the idea from Daisy, who blogged about this a few weeks ago. In form at least, her dish as well as mine resemble the Israeli dish shakshuka: a spicy, jumbled mess of tomatoes and swirled egg whites, with delicate yolk-peaks nestled on top. When you break into them, the richness of the yolks infuses and tames the tart spiciness of the sauce, mellowing the whole dish into something warm and exotic and primally comforting. It’s glorious.

My version includes mint, which is an ideal partner for tomato and spice. When I want an easy no-effort dinner, I take some storebought tomato soup and spike it with Sriracha and chopped mint leaves–it impresses people like you wouldn’t believe. In fact, you could very easily grab a bottle of tomato sauce, stir in some hot sauce and mint, poach your eggs in it and call it a day. I’ve included a little more of a recipe here, but it’s still not complicated; the mint is what makes it special.

As usual, this is a flexible little dish. I like a smoother sauce, so I left the onion, garlic and jalapeno whole and fished them out; if you want a chunkier sauce, you could dice or mince them and leave them in. You could add cumin or smoked paprika for a smoky backbone, or stir in olives or capers for brininess. You could render some bacon and use the fat to saute the aromatics. You could soft-scramble the eggs in the sauce instead of poaching them. You could crumble fresh feta cheese over the top (note to self: do this next time). And you can serve this over just about anything you like–I used tortellini in the photo, but any other pasta, or rice or couscous or quinoa or crusty toasted bread, would be terrific.

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Raspberry rosé sauce

I can’t believe I let Valentine’s Day go by without posting about this.

The other day, I was digging around in Sam’s fridge, and found a bottle of rosé wine I’d bought ages ago and never used. I opened it and poured myself a glass; it was gently floral, floaty-light, sweet without being syrupy. Then I did some more digging, and found a bag of frozen raspberries in the freezer. Then the wheels started turning…and the result was a delicious and slightly different take on raspberry sauce.

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Broccoli and feta pasta

Happy Halloween!

This year’s spooky day snuck up on me.  I have no holiday-appropriate post.  No candy, no pumpkin, no orange food, nothing at all about putting on costumes and demanding sugary treats from strangers.

What I do have is tonight’s dinner, which accidentally turned out looking like something you might use in a haunted house to imitate human innards:

That’s Halloween-y, right?

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