Simple Marinara Sauce

Whether I’m making eggplant parmigiana, chicken parmigiana, meatball subs, or Alexandra Guaranschelli’s famous pork meatballs, this is the marinara sauce that I always go to.  I don’t really have a hard and fast recipe, so what I’m giving you here are estimates of measurements.  Everything I do is by sight, smell and taste.  If it looks right and smells right, I’ll taste to adjust seasoning.  You have to trust your instincts in the kitchen!

Marinara Sauce

1 yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

salt & pepper to taste

1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)

2 large cans crushed tomatoes

1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon sugar

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until softened and lightly brown on the edges.  Add red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.   Deglaze the bottom of the pan with white wine if desired.  Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano and sugar.  Stir and reduce heat to low.  Simmer at least 30 minutes to let the flavors develop.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Chocolate Peanut Butter CakeToday is my birthday, so yesterday I decided I would bake myself the ultimate birthday cake.  I searched long and hard Saturday to find the perfect recipe until I came upon this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  If you’ve never encountered her blog before, you should go over there now and just hit the “Surprise Me” link on the left hand side of the screen a few times.  I have bookmarked so many of her recipes, she has her own folder in my bookmarks bar!

The cake is dark and moist.  It’s almost too moist to frost, so if you attempt this cake, heed Deb’s advice and put the layers in the freezer for 30 minutes to make them easier to handle.  The frosting is tangy and sweet, just like you would expect a cream cheese, peanut butter frosting to be.  And that chocolate peanut butter glaze is just sinful.  It’s honestly too good to be true.  This cake is so rich that even my chocoholic daughter and I could only eat a teeny sliver each.  I will definitely be making it again in the future.

Here’s the recipe as written by Deb from

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Adapted, only barely, from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.

3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. (Deb note: These cakes are very, very soft. I found them a lot easier to work with after firming them up in the freezer for 30 minutes. They’ll defrost quickly once assembled. You’ll be glad you did this, trust me.)

4. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. (Deb note 1: Making a crumb coat of frosting–a thin layer that binds the dark crumbs to the cake so they don’t show up in the final outer frosting layer–is a great idea for this cake, or any with a dark cake and lighter-colored frosting. Once you “mask” your cake, let it chill for 15 to 30 minutes until firm, then use the remainder of the frosting to create a smooth final coating. Deb note 2: Once the cake is fully frosted, it helps to chill it again and let it firm up. The cooler and more set the peanut butter frosting is, the better drip effect you’ll get from the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze.)

5. To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze, put the cake plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips. Simply pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving.


Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out)

1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.


Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

1. In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.



Chicken Tortilla Soup

Recently, my oldest daughter has discovered that she loves tortilla soup.  She first ordered it in a restaurant while we were on our summer road trip, and loved it.  I said that I’ve made it before, and she said, “NO way!”  “Yeah way!  I’m multi-talented even if I am your mom!”  Anyway, some time passed, and she forgot about it, and honestly, so did I.  Until yesterday.  I had planned to feed my family an extremely wholesome meal of …. sandwiches…. what?  It’s hot here!  110°!  Sandwiches is perfectly reasonable!

Except Caleigh simply isn’t a fan of sandwiches.  Even fancy sub sandwiches with salami, pepperoni and ham.  So she asked if she could have soup… during a heatwave, the child wants soup.  Yeah ok, whatever.  I’ll feed her some soup.  Then she remembered that I claimed to be able to make chicken tortilla soup.  “So uh, Mom.  How about some tortilla soup?!”  I think she was expecting to stump me.  She’s getting to that age where she wants to see just how much of what I say is complete BS, so she tests me.  I lived up to it.  I said, “Sure!  That’s easy,” and truly it is!  Here’s the recipe:

Chicken Tortilla Soup

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

½ teaspoon olive oil

1 cup chopped onions

1 tablespoon lime juice

½ teaspoon minced garlic

½ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

2 (14.5 oz) cans fat free chicken broth

1 cup bottled salsa

1 cup frozen corn kernels (optional)

Tortilla chips

Montereyjack or cheddar cheese

Heat oil on low in a 4.5 quart soup pot.  Cut the chicken into bite size chunks, adding them to the pot as you cut.  Raise the heat to high and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the onions, lime juice, garlic, chili powder and cumin.  Cook 2 minutes.

Add the broth, salsa and corn (if using).  Stir to mix.  Cover the pot and bring the broth to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-high and continue to boil 8 to 10 minutes to develop the flavor.  Meanwhile, crush the tortilla chips lightly.  Place the crushed chips into soup bowls.  Ladle the soup into the bowls.  Sprinkle each portion with cheese and serve.

Last night I did it the lazy way.  I didn’t cook my own chicken.  I picked up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store deli section and shredded half of it.  I also left out the onions, because Caleigh isn’t a fan.  Basically, I just put the stock and salsa into a pot, shredded the chicken into that and warmed it up.  I added the spices, lime juice, and garlic powder instead of fresh garlic and the corn.   I let it simmer for about 15 minutes while I gathered up the sandwich makings.  Then I served the soup with crushed tortilla chips and cheese.

Caleigh was impressed.  She raved about the soup as she ate an entire bowl.  I had the leftovers for lunch this afternoon, and it was amazing.  I will definitely be making this more often!  It would be great for Caleigh to take in her lunch thermos to school this year.



FNCCC – Mario Batali – Pork Chop Milanese, Broccoli sautéed with Wine and Garlic, and Potato Torta

Since I haven’t done the FNCCC in a long time, I decided to go all out this time and do three dishes by Mario.  He is one of my favorite Food Network chefs simply because I love his attitude.  He seems like such a fun loving guy who takes every day and makes the most of it.  Besides, how can you not love a bearded, ponytailed guy wearing orange crocs and shorts??

To get the meal started, I peeled some waxy red potatoes and sliced them about ¼ of an inch thick.  I had Wil from Rez the Weak in the kitchen playing sous chef, so while I did that, I had him manning the food processor to make fresh bread crumbs from some French baguettes, then I asked him to grind up the Pecorino Romano cheese.  Once the potatoes were peeled and sliced, I put a layer of them in the bottom of a square baking dish.  Then I mixed bread crumbs with chopped Italian parsley, Pecorino Romano cheese and some olive oil.  I put a layer of that mixture over the potatoes and continued layering until I was out of potatoes, ending with the bread crumb mixture.  I slid it into the oven and forgot about it for an hour or so.  (Here’s Mario’s full recipe)

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had Pecorino Romano cheese, but if you imagine the smell of parmesan cheese and add the element of dirty wool gym sock, you’ve got the smell of Romano cheese.  I didn’t hold out any hope for the potatoes at this point.   Oh well, moving on to the pork.

Now I’ve made pork Milanese before.  It’s a simple technique that always pleases my family.  I haven’t done it in Mario’s way though.  Instead of dried bread crumbs, Mario uses fresh.  Also, he doesn’t dredge the pork in flour before dipping it in the egg wash.  I was skeptical, but I went with it.  To my surprise, the egg stuck to the pork just fine, and the fresh bread crumbs gave the pork chops a lightness that mine never have.  I’ll definitely be using that method again.   I’ve also never really served the chops with lemon to squeeze over them, but I did this time, and I loved it.  My 11-year old picky eater also loved the lemon squeezed over.  Definitely keeping that one too!  The recipe I used called for an arugula salad with teardrop tomatoes, but I left that out this time because I was doing broccoli instead.

As for the broccoli sauteed in wine and garlic, there are several things I will do differently next time.  Firstly, I had way too much broccoli.  I’ll be cutting the amount in half.  Secondly, I’ll cut it into florets rather than spears.  That’s what everyone prefers anyway.  In fact, I’ll probably just buy the florets rather than the whole stalks of broccoli.  The price difference probably is a wash when you consider the stalk just gets tossed out anyway.  Finally, I’ll likely leave out the wine altogether.  No one was really crazy about the flavor the wine gave the broccoli.  The garlic was fabulous, and the chili flake added a nice bite of “OOoOOoo what’s that?”, but the wine just had an almost kerosene type flavor.  Maybe it was the wine I bought, but I don’t honestly know.  I’d just prefer to leave it out altogether and maybe use some lemon juice as the acid instead of the wine.

I pulled the potatoes out of the oven when they were done, and I was pleasantly surprised.  The cheese wasn’t overly stinky-feety.  I was amazed when everyone asked for a 2nd portion.  Even my extremely picky brother had seconds of it.  Of course he did say, “It’s amazing what you’ll eat when you’re hungry.”  I won’t hold that against him though… at least not for very long.

In all the meal was a success.  We didn’t end up ordering out.  I wish that I had made more of the pork chops, because leftovers would have been amazing.   Oh well, it’s a good excuse to make them again soon!

Hopping John

This year for New Years Day supper, my oldest daughter berated my mom into frying chicken for dinner, so I volunteered to bring the black eyed peas.  It’s a southern tradition to have black eyed peas for lunch or dinner on New Years Day to bring prosperity in the New Year.  Rather than being lazy and just opening a couple of cans, I decided to try something new.  Hoppin’ John just fit the bill.

Hopping John

3 slices bacon, chopped

1 onion chopped

1 red bell pepper chopped

2 cans black eyed peas, slightly drained

Louisiana hot sauce to taste

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup chopped cooked ham

3 cups cooked rice (I used the ready made Uncle Bens that doesn’t require cooking)

In a large saucepan fry the bacon until almost done.  Add the onion and bell pepper to the bacon drippings and cook until translucent.  Add the black eyed peas, Louisiana hot sauce, salt, pepper and ham and let simmer for about 10 minutes.  Stir in the rice and taste for seasoning.  Add more salt, pepper or hot sauce if needed.  Serve.

I was amazed at how good this turned out.  I was afraid that the peas would be too mushy to stand up to the rice, but everything was just right.  My grandmother only got a small spoonful thinking she wouldn’t like it, but she came back for 2nds!  My mom and I nearly made ourselves sick eating this stuff, so we should have a VERY prosperous New Year!  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

Going Pink!!

This blog is going pink for the month of October.  October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  My great aunt, Baba, died after a battle with breast cancer.  In her memory, I’m adding links to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® website along with the American Cancer Society’s website.  Go there for information on breast cancer.  If you have sisters, mothers, grandmothers or aunts, encourage them to get regular mammograms and to do their own self exams.

Virtues of Ground Turkey

For a long time, I was dead-set against using ground turkey.  My hubby and I tried it many years ago in an effort to eat healthier, and it just didn’t take.  We didn’t like the flavor or texture at all.  Lately we’ve been trying to lose some weight and eat healthier again, so I decided to give ground turkey another try.

I don’t know if our palates have matured or if the ground turkey from years ago is different from the stuff I bought over the weekend, but oh my god was it good.  I bought the 100% ground turkey breast which is 99% fat free.  Not the regular ground turkey that has dark meat mixed in.  Maybe that was my mistake those many years ago… who knows.

The first thing I made was tacos.  I browned the meat up in just a little olive oil and added a packet of taco seasoning and a little water according to the package directions.  Served up on some “carb watch” whole wheat tortillas with lettuce, fat free sour cream, and some homemade MiloJargon salsa, these tacos definitely rivaled any ground beef tacos.  The flavor was lighter than the ground beef, but it seemed to really brighten up the taco seasoning spices.

Then tonight I decided to make some turkey spaghetti.  Again, I browned the meat in just a little olive oil, but this time I added some salt, pepper, 3 cloves of minced garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of Italian seasoning.  When the meat was done, I poured in a jar of spaghetti sauce and sprinkled some crushed red pepper over it all.  I let that simmer while I (as usual) waited for the water to boil for the pasta.  The finished product was great.  The picky 11-year-old even loved it!  Amazing.

I think I have officially become a believer in the ground turkey.  I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was, but I’m pleased that it was.  The hubby’s cholesterol level definitely thanks me for giving it another try!

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