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Let’s chat about marinara.

Let’s chat about saucicus marinaricus.
My folks know it by its common table name, spaghetti sauce.
Others affectionately call it red gravy.

Whatever we call it, I think we should ask why we are buying this basic recipe starter premade and hauled across the country in heavy glass jars.
I started asking myself that question after often enjoying my friend’s homemade sauce.
Once upon a time, I took it upon myself and our budget to buy the “premium label sauce” made with olive oil. When couponing failures and budget demands picked for me a cheaper sauce, I turned to ‘ole stand-by: Kroger Traditional Spaghetti Sauce. It has all the tomato, soy oil and cornsyrup a gal could ever want poured on her $1.00 a bag rotini.

But I had tasted another way, and I was determined to follow it.

For our family, I’ve been making a batch that yields a little more than 3 1/2 quarts.  I use it right away for pasta sauce and save some to use for pizza sauce on our every-Friday-pizza-night.  The rest can be happily frozen and used next week.

The original inspiration came from Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe.  The following is my spicier and smoother textured version.

Chop 3 carrots, 3 stalks celery, a couple of onions and 3-4 cloves of garlic.  I aim for roughly 2 cups each of the carrots, celery and onion, but I am not going to take the time to measure if I went over by 1/4 c. of carrots.

Saute veggies in 1/2 c. olive oil until tender; you can put on the pot lid, leaving it just a bit askew and the vegetables will steam up.  I love how this method of cooking brings out the sweetness of the carrot and onion.

Now pour in three big 28oz. cans of crushed tomatoes.  Over the past months I’ve experimented with 3 different brands:  Walmart Crushed Tomatoes (too watery),  premium Cento tomatoes from Italy (the taste didn’t justify the expense and the sauce was so thick it would explode tomato bubble bombs all over the stove–adding a cup or more of water helped hold down the explosions) and Kroger Crushed Tomatoes (great consistency.)

If you have them, toss in a few bay leaves.  Also add salt (about a tsp of coarse salt works for us) and 1/4 tsp of crushed red pepper.   Tonight, though, I am out of red pepper, so I squeezed in some Harissa paste, a gift from my friends sojourning in North Africa.

Simmer.  How long?

I don’t know.  Honestly, I just let it go until the whole house smells like marinara or people start crying for supper.

Last step:  puree with my handy-dandy stick blender, which I think is the best electric kitchen appliance I own.

This sauce is great on pasta.  It’s great for pizza.

The cost:

At the most expensive price, I pay $1.39/can for Kroger tomatoes.  That adds up to $4.17.  I use 1/2 c. olive oil (.76), let’s guess about 12 oz of carrots (.56), 4 oz celery (.44), onion (.99) and garlic (.25).  Spices? Let’s not dicker over pennies here.  At the MOST expensive, I think my sauce costs about $2.04 for a quart jar.

That is, in fact, more expensive than paying $1 for Kroger sauce on Super Sale. Of course, there’s also my time and the gas for the stove.

But now that we’ve tasted and enjoyed our own sauce, now that I can make our own sauce without soybean oil, corn syrup and “natural flavorings,” I’m quite happy to pay a bit more and spend a bit more time at the stove.

I would love to hear your thoughts on homemade sauce.  Would you try it?  What’s your recipe?

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Butternut Squash: No, I won’t make you eat it because I’m happy to have it all for myself.

Do you know what grows well in Kansas?
Squash.
acorn, butternut, yellow, spaghetti……..
Oh squash, how I love you, but there is something here, in the ground, in the air of Arkansas that does not love you. How can I grow you on this north-facing, rocky, forested, sled-sliding hill I call a yard?
Can we ever find a way to get together on reasonable financial terms?
Are there people out there trying to get rid of you?
Please, please, come to me…
I will eat you. With butter.

The basics.

I have not written to you all in a while. We have mourned, are mourning, the loss of my infant niece in August.

In this sadness, love has comforted us in meeting our most basic needs–companionship and food.

On the first day when the news was still raw and fearful, I found myself going to the grocery store.  I starting sobbing at the checkout counter and got a hug from a cashier I’ve now come to know as a friend. In a day cut off from physical contact with any other dear friends, her hug helped me so much.

When we drug ourselves back to Little Rock from the long funeral journey, waiting at home for us in the fridge was a meal from friends. Sometimes love is a quiche. And love is most certainly a quiche with homemade butter crust.

There isn’t any magic potion to cure the hurt.

But if people are going to live, to heal, to thrive, they need love and they need food.  What a comfort when love and food are gently combined in a medium sized mixing bowl.

Mapleine. She deserves her very own song.

There are three ways to avoid dependence on high-fructose-corn-syrup-pancake syrup.

1) Enjoy expensive, tapped from the tree maple syrup, naturally fortified with iron and other vitamins.

2) Top pancakes with applesauce and peanut butter instead.

3) Put on your apron and pearls and take a two-step back in time to….

A few times I remember my mother making Mapleine pancake syrup.  She’d say, “We’re out of syrup, so I’ll just make some.”  I thought she was just amazing, stirring up syrup out of nothing.   I think I can also picture a bottle very much like this one up in my Grandmother Helen’s spice cabinet, right next to the milk glass, red metal lid spice jars.  Perhaps it’s the nostalgia that’s flavoring my Mapleine, but nonetheless, I wanted to share the wonder of it with you.

Mapleine is inexpensive.  I bought this bottle at a Walmart for just over $2.38.  Following the instructions printed on the label, I can make 3 gallons of syrup.  The end cost will be lower than purchasing even the lowest cost HFCS pancake syrup.  Plus, if I can make my own syrup right there at home, I don’t have to say, “Sorry, kids, no pancakes this morning because we’re out of syrup.”

And this is a child, herself, making the syrup.

Mapeleine doesn’t taste like real maple syrup.  Mapeleine doesn’t taste like Kroger corn-syrup-pancake-syrup-with-imitation-butter-flavor.  Mapleine is Mapleine.  You’ll have to try it to see.  Let me know if you do, and what you think of it.

Whole wheat pancakes, every Saturday morning

If you’ve ever visited our house on Saturday morning, chances are you’ve eaten pancakes with us. We like this whole wheat version very much. I began trying out whole wheat recipes 15 years ago as we weaned ourselves away from Bisquick dependence. My husband, Ed, though has become the true pancake master and this recipe is his creation. I’m offering it to you again, this time with a small improvement in the amount of leavening. Too much baking powder will give off a metallic taste, not enough and the pancakes will be flat.

Two things now, about syrup: Why not top your pancakes with unsweetened applesauce, instead? Applesauce is really quite tasty on pancakes. It is sweet, but not crazy sweet. It’s also much, much better for you.

Of course, special occasions call for special sweetness. Maple syrup is pricey, but nothing, nothing compares with maple syrup.   It is very thin and even sweeter per measure than corn-syrup-pancake-syrup.  As we tell the kids, “A little goes a long way!” The stores I go to generally sell Grade A syrup, but foodies will tell you that Grade B syrup actually has more flavor; it’s also a bit cheaper. Go for Grade B if you can get it.

But enough about that. Here is the pancake recipe.

1 cup white flour

1 cup wheat flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 T. baking powder

1 T. sugar (optional.  Ed puts in it.  I leave it out.)

2 eggs

5 T. yogurt (or melted butter or oil)

2 c. milk plus 1 T. vinegar

First step: measure out your milk and add the vinegar.  Let stand.  The acid in the vinegar will work on the milk a bit to make a hurry-up buttermilk.  Stir together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add in milk mixture, eggs and yogurt (or butter or oil).  Stir.

Pour batter onto a heated, buttered griddle.  Cook and flip.  Flip and eat.

Have a great morning!

 

P.S.  Here is the link to the pancake recipe we shared a couple years back.

There are two sides to this pancake.

I highly value having an organized spice cabinet.

Your eyes tell you it’s true: she has acquired matching, stackable plastic containers to organize her spices. These are restaurant take out dishes, so either the family has had a lot of coleslaw lately, or she’s got a friend at Terry Lynn’s Delicatessen down the road.  She hasn’t alphabetized them (please, no) but you know she’s about to tell you where to get the best prices on the spices.

I think you must be getting to know me.

Buy spices in bulk if you possibly can. If you live in the city, you can find great prices at Whole Foods. If you live in rural Kansas, drive by Glenn’s Bulk Foods smack dab in the middle of nowhere Reno county.  There you will find bulk spices, health foods and large bags of Lucky Charms marshmallows–all sitting cozily and neighborly next to one another in the two-aisle Mennonite shop.  You can also find good deals on spices in the ethnic food aisle at some big Walmarts.

Despite my love for keeping ducks in a row, I find the random part of the concrete-randomness of me taking over.

 Here is my spice cabinet, today.

And here am I.

And THAT is the part of me that should be doing Latin and working out the equation for photosynthesis, reading “The Red Badge of Courage” and planning how to occupy the four year old during homeschool so that she isn’t trying to jimmy the locks on the stationwagon with bobbypins…again; but instead is writing to fellow consumers of affordable food.

Well, it can’t be all beans and games around here, so I am headed back to studies.

See you soon,

Andrea

Coming home to home cooking.

We traveled to the homeland to enjoy time with family.  We ate tender braised beef that had been raised right there on the ranch.  We ate sweet corn grown by my aunt–and just about the only area sweet corn that has managed to survive the drought.  We ate party foods–pizza, potato chips, and cotton candy and sno-cones from the Sheridan County Fair.  We ate, ate, ate and ate

It was all good food.

And when we came home, my 11 year old cooked us a supper of boring lentils and boring cornbread.  It was quiet around the table except for passing the salt and honey butter.   Somebody piped up, “I’m so glad we’re home and eating lentils.”

Me, too.

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