Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Turkey Marinara

It's such a pleasure to make one's own marinara for pasta.  With only a handful of well-chosen ingredients that can be found at just about any grocery store, a most delicious sauce can be made in less than one hour.  Within that time you can make a salad, set the table, pour the wine and have the pasta boiling so that you and your guests can eat well.  

Usually, I make a marinara that's simply garlic, tomatoes and olive oil which is simmered for about half an hour.  If I decide I want to add more flavor I throw in some finely chopped onion, perhaps some basil and some chili flakes for kick.  It all depends on what I'm craving that particular day and who will be eating this tasty sauce.  For an even heartier marinara I add ground turkey and simmer it for a good forty five minutes until it thickens.  Really & truly, anyone can make a good marinara.

All that is left to decide is which type of pasta to use for the sauce.  More often than not I use a form of spaghetti for my marinara, but if I want a tube pasta I reach for a box of penne, ziti or even rigatoni.

Since I don't really measure the ingredients, I'm going to give you approximate amounts.  In addition, I'm going to let you in on what I'm doing differently with my sauce.

The Ingredients
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (approximately 1/2 cup), optional
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 oz. (227 g.) ground turkey (I use dark meat turkey)
  • 26 oz (750 g.) boxed tomatoes, chopped
  • olive oil for sautéing
  • salt & pepper
  • optional ingredients: chili flakes (to taste), fresh or dried basil, oregano, pecorino romano 
Servings: enough for 1 pound of pasta.

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat (add chili flakes now if using) and add the onion.  Cook, stirring often, for about 3-4 minutes so that the onion softens.  If you’re using dried herbs add them now.
  2. Add the garlic and stir for about 1 minute.  Salt & pepper to taste.
  3. Add the ground turkey and break it up.  Stir & brown the meat, breaking it up so that it doesn’t clump.  Salt & pepper generously.
  4. Pour the chopped tomatoes into the pot and stir well.  If you’re using fresh herbs, add a few now.  Bring the sauce up to a simmer, lower the heat and cover with a lid.  
  5. Let the marinara simmer for approximately 30-45 minutes.  You want it to thicken and be flavorful.  Stir it from time to time while it simmers.
  6. Add it to your favorite pasta.

In the summertime you can certainly use your garden's tomatoes to make a fresh marinara.  Trust me, it's delicious, but let's face it, many of us can't wait until summer to enjoy a rich marinara.  Before you reach for a can of plum tomatoes, think twice.

In the past few months I've stopped using canned tomatoes entirely and have now made the switch to aseptic-packed tomatoes.  A good friend of mine (hi Mally!) told me about the BPA, GMOs & preservatives lurking in canned tomatoes.  It then dawned on me that I could easily remove these harmful ingredients from our diet here at home.  I bought a box of these boxed tomatoes to see if I noticed a difference.

There was a BIG difference.

Right away, I noticed a more pronounced tomato flavor without any bitterness.  What's more, these boxed tomatoes were simply that: tomatoes. No acids, preservatives, salts or certainly BPA could be found here.  Quite honestly it came down to two things: getting rid of harmful chemicals for me & my family, and getting great-tasting tomatoes for my marinara.  

I couldn't be happier having this peace of mind now.  Look for them when you're at the supermarket and buy a box.  Try them and see if you notice any difference.

I will never go back to canned tomatoes again.  Ever.

When you make this turkey marinara, have a good red wine for your guests (if you wish) and have lots of grated pecorino romano or parmesan waiting at the table.  It's comfort food at its best.  I guarantee people will be asking for seconds.  


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy Easter!

I want to wish all of you a safe & happy holiday weekend.  
May you and your loved ones enjoy
 a wonderful start to spring & all that it has to offer.  

Happy Easter!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chocolate Chip Biscotti

Biscotti are always welcomed with a cup of strong coffee or a steaming cappuccino no matter the time of day.  If I’m at a cafe I look to see what the selections are, and if there is a biscotti flavor combination I’ve never tried before, I get it.  You would think that a bad biscotti is hard to come by, but believe me, it does happen.  There have been several biscotti from certain bakeries which have left me wondering what went wrong.  Don’t even get me started on the ones from the supermarket!  

Making these at home is so simple and so worth one’s while.  A number of flavor combinations can be made to satisfy a craving and, of course, there is always the question of whether one should slice baked biscotti on the thin or thick side.  What about the cookie’s depth?  I’ve seen biscotti that are well over one inch high and yet, I’ve seen those which barely reach half an inch.  Ultimately those decisions are up to the baker and I have no preference.  As long as one uses good ingredients to begin with I don’t mind if the cookies are short, long, tall, thin or thick.  Make them good!

Yes, biscotti are twice-baked and rather dry, so if you’re the type that likes to dunk then there is no problem.  However, if you don’t like to dunk, these cookies can be rather problematic if they’re twice-baked just short of hard granite.  Herein lies the question of how long to bake them the second time they go into the oven.

Let me make it easy for you: Chocolate Chip Biscotti.  This recipe is simple and very delicious so I want all of you to make some this week.  You're going to love them.


Chocolate Chip Biscotti Ingredients
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup {115 g.} granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup {115 g.} packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon {15 ml.} pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons {57 g.} unsalted butter, melted & cooled
  • 3-1/2 cups {535 g.} all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup or 6 oz. {170 g.} mini chocolate chips
Yield: approximately 3-1/2 dozen biscotti

Center an oven rack 
Preheat to 350° F (177°C)

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, granulated sugar, light brown sugar and vanilla extract on medium speed until thickened, 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add the melted butter and beat until combined.
  3. In a medium-size bowl, whisk to combine, the all-purpose flour, baking powder and fine sea salt.  Add the ingredients to the egg/sugar mixture on low speed.
  4. On low speed, add the chocolate chips and beat just until combined.  Stop the machine.
  5. Divide the dough in half on top of a silpat-lined or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Using a bench scraper, shape each half into a log approximately 10”L x 2-1/2”W.  I use the bench scraper to create a rectangular log.
  6. Pop the baking sheet in the oven & bake for 30-35 minutes.  The logs will feel set and will be golden in color.
  7. Turn your oven off.  Let biscotti logs cool completely on wire racks.  
  8. When ready, preheat oven to 325° F (163°C).  
  9. Slice each log with a serrated knife into 1/2” slices and place cut side down on lined baking sheets.
  10. Bake for approximately 15 minutes to dry out the biscotti.  The cookies should not take on any color.
  11. Let cool completely.
The cookies can be stored in a cookie jar for up to one week.

Delicious with coffee!

Chocolate chip biscotti are a favorite with my mother in law and I love to eat them whenever she bakes any.  If I don’t happen to be at her home near the shore, then I bake my own.  Of course my biscotti will never get anywhere near the caliber of hers, but nevertheless I feel that these are worthy of any cookie jar.  I've been known to have one or two in the morning with my espresso, but invariably, they're nibbled in the afternoon when I have my tea.  

Have fun making them!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Anticipating Spring

As much as I would like to have lush surroundings right now, I have to be a little patient to allow mother nature to come into full bloom.  I've seen hints of buds, flowers, leaves and other activity out in the landscape during my afternoon walks, and I have to say that I'm absolutely ready for some greenery. It's only a matter of time before everything is transformed and I have a dense canopy of trees, lush shrubs, flowering dogwoods, cherry blossoms and the magnolias to enjoy.  Some of our neighbors have magnificent specimens when it comes to trees and I do look for their transition every single year.  On my drives I'm always observing to see if such & such tree on a particular property or street corner is blooming like it did in years past.  Do you do the same?

More often than not I walk around our trails without a camera, but on certain occasions I do take it with me in order to catalog the way our surroundings are at any given moment.  It's time to show you a bit of spring here in eastern Pennsylvania.  Keep in mind that things still seem a little bleak and bare, but nevertheless you can begin to notice where things are budding, where mother nature has decided to awaken from winter's slumber.

I'm just so grateful that our weather has been cool and somewhat mild, because it's allowed me to spend a lot of time outdoors.  I've been enjoying these daily walks.  Even my cat, Lion, has been going out on supervised walks around the house.  In fact he begs at the front door to go out, because he wants to nibble on the blades of grass like our resident groundhog, Henry.  I can't say that I blame him one bit.

Change is on the horizon and I welcome it!

The days are so nice right now that it's such a pleasure to stand on the back porch.  The glade looking out toward the eastern side of the house is always green, yet every single tree has yet to produce one leaf.  Around this area is where I was gathering my Snowdrops just a few weeks ago.

On the western side of the house we have a hill that is bordered with a good amount of forsythia.  These shrubs are just starting to bud; look closely and you'll see hints of yellow.  When the flowers come out it is absolutely stunning because it seems as if the hill is ablaze in yellow.

The trails near the house are great for afternoon walks (weather permitting) and since the terrain varies greatly from spot to spot, one can get quite a work out by walking them.  On the upper right photograph you can see dozens of shoots from daffodils simply ready to burst.  I can't wait to see the area blanketed by color.  

This past winter I wasn't able to walk the trails because we had large amounts of snow, unfavorable icy conditions and a lot of tree damage.  Now that spring is here I am going to profit from the weather and take my walks for a bit of exercise.

Along this trail just behind our house there is a giant maple tree that was uprooted during a storm.  It came crashing down over the creek, knocking down several smaller trees in the process.  You can't really tell from this photograph, but the diameter of that root system has to be at least 10 feet.

Here are a few more photographs of some of the damage I observed during my walk.  The snow and ice storm that crippled our region toward the end of January brought down many trees and branches.  The top left photo shows you that maple I was talking about (the house is visible up the hill from there).  The other photographs show you hemlocks that either snapped in half or came down completely.  

Several years ago I thought these plants were hostas, but I was completely wrong.  The shoots are Eastern skunk cabbage or Symplocarpus foetidus. I've read that this plant loves wetland conditions, so it's no surprise that many can be found along the muddy banks of the creek.  It's fetid scent attracts bees.

Large areas of pachysandra are common here in the woodland.  It seems to thrive wonderfully where nothing else seems to grow.  The spring house is surrounded by it.

Something else I like to keep an eye out for is verdant blankets of moss. These velvety plants grow in clumps along damp areas such as this runoff from the spring house.  I never disturb the moss, because to me, it adds to the age of the woodland and the property.  

The root system of this beautiful beech tree is covered in moss.  I think it's beautiful!

A very narrow part of the trail that runs along the creek always seems like I'm in the middle of nowhere.  

Here is the natural creek that twists, turns and cuts through the bottom of the valley behind our home.  It's so calming to hear the water running when I'm in this area.

Another favorite spot of mine.  During the summer this part of the trail will completely be engulfed by shrubs and leaves.  

Here I am coming out of the small valley and onto the field.  Again, we had a lot of tree damage in this area.  Luckily, the giant walnut tree is still standing along the bend here.  In a matter of weeks I expect it to be full of leaves.

A patch of trail near that walnut was littered (in a good way) with these small pine cones.  A friend of mine said that they were cypress pine cones.  I find them to be so adorable that I plan to make a wreath from them sometime this year.  

Looking back across the field is always breathtaking no matter what time of year it is.  Yes, I'm patiently anticipating spring's glory.

Underneath this old fence is a robin chirping as happily as can be.  When the robins are out you know it's only a matter of time.  

Some of my friends down South have been sharing their photographs of the landscape where they live, and I have to say that I'm rather envious knowing that their cherry blossoms are already blooming and that their crabapple trees & magnolias are full of gorgeous flowers.  

Patiently I await.

The season does promise change and renewal, so I hope you welcome it just as much as I do.  Easter & Passover are right around the corner, then it's Earth Day and Mother's Day!  Without a doubt there is a lot to do.  Keep your eye out for a cookie recipe that I'll be sharing soon; it's been awhile since I've done so and I promise you it will be delicious.

I hope everyone is having a good start to spring!