Sunday, March 24, 2024

Joey's Pasta and Tomatoes with Tuna Sauce


  Usually, when you think of tomato gravy, (or sauce as you may say in your family), you think of meatballs, am I right? Or probably at least some sort of long-simmered meat sauce.... mmm you just can't beat a delicious Sunday Gravy that has cooked all day. You may also think of adding hot or mild Italian sausage, sometimes even chicken or crabs. (OMG I LOVE linguine with crab gravy). But have you ever made a tomato sauce with tuna??
 I must say it's not usually my go-to, but I was in a pasta kinda mood, and I was looking in my pantry for something to add to the pan along with my jars of home canned Jersey tomatoes, and then I saw a big can of tuna. I immediately remembered when my sister, Jeanie, made a rigatoni dish with tuna many many years ago, and I thought AHA! This is the answer! 
 Well, of course, I had no recipe.... I just started throwing things into a pan, whatever sounded good, whatever I had on hand. Lo and behold! It turned out great!! Like, much better than I expected, if I'm being honest. The most surprising thing I noticed is how fresh and light it was. Do you know how sometimes you eat a big dish of pasta and you feel like a ton of bricks afterward? That was not the case with this one. I even had seconds, and it was just enough to hit the spot without being to much.
 So then I got to thinking, this is the perfect dish to serve if you like to do Meatless Mondays (yes, thats a thing) or if you religiously choose not to eat meat on Fridays. Serve it with some warm crusty bread and a nice schmear of butter and you'll be living your best life. I promise! Try it!

1 lb box of your favorite shape of cut pasta (I used cavatappi)
several big glugs of good olive oil 
1 small onion, minced
3 or 4 large cloves of garlic (or more to taste), sliced
A dozen or so fresh cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 heaping tbs tomato paste
2 large cans crushed tomatoes (or your home canned tomatoes)
a sprinkle of salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1 large (or 2 small) cans white albacore tuna, drained well
a handful of fresh basil, chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese
  In a large pot of boiling salted water, add your pasta and boil until it's just about but not quite tender. 
Meanwhile, in a large sauce pan or pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Now add the onions, grape tomatoes, and garlic. Saute and stir until everything starts to break down a bit. The onions will soften, the tomatoes will give off their juice, the garlic with soften and sizzle. Now add the tomato paste. Stir well so that it mixes with the oil and starts to become a deeper crimson color. Now it's time for your crushed tomatoes. Add them, juice and all, to your pan. Give it a good stir, add your seasonings and basil. Let it simmer for a few minutes while you drain your can(s) of tuna. Add your tuna to the sauce and give it gentle stir, breaking it up slightly, but not completely. I like to leave a few chunks in tact. 
 Drain your pasta well. If your sauce pan is large enough, drop your pasta into the sauce, and gently toss to combine. If your pan isn't that big, place the pasta in a large serving boil, and pour sauce over it. If you want your pasta to be a little more saucy, just add a little bit of the pasta water to it. 
Top with grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

If you're so inclined, try this recipe with the tuna that is packed in olive oil and imported from Italy. It's a bit softer and a little more expensive, but boy is it good!
Be sure to add enough salt to your pasta boiling water. A little sprinkle isn't gonna cut it. Try an entire handful instead. The water should taste salty like the ocean!
This sauce loves a little extra spice, do you? Add a bit more of the crushed red pepper flakes!
Would you like to stretch this recipe to feed more people? Try adding some sliced zucchini or yellow summer squash with your sauteed grape tomatoes. It goes really well with this sauce and you'll have enough to feed an army!

Monday, March 18, 2024

Joey's Pickled Garlic


    A few weeks ago, my nephew, Dan (aka Daniel Boone), sent me a picture of one of his favorite things... a jar of pickled garlic. I said "oh, I could make that for you, no sweat!" So I went to Amazon and ordered a big bag of already peeled garlic, and when it arrived I started throwing pickling ingredients into a pot. I figured, how hard can it be, right? Pickling anything is just about as easy as it gets! I asked him if he wanted it more on the sweet side or more savory? More savory won the coin toss, and this is where I landed. (I still added just a little bit of sugar, just to balance everything. )
OMG it turned out so good!
 So now, just like pickling anything, the longer you let it stay, the better it tastes. Daniel Boone's birthday is in a few weeks, so it'll be perfect by then!! Boom.
Oh, one other thing... This recipe filled EIGHT pint jars. If you have no need for that much pickled garlic in your life, feel free to cut the recipe down to suit your needs. Great then.

5 lbs peeled whole garlic cloves
4 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbs pickling spice blend
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp dried dill weed
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper corns
3 bay leaves
Wash and rinse 8 pint size mason jars. Fill each jar with whole raw cloves of garlic.
In a medium pot, place all pickling ingredients. Simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes, making sure all the sugar is dissolved. Let cool slightly. Pour vinegar mixture over garlic to fill each jar. 
Place two piece lids on each jar. Store in the fridge for several weeks.
To seal the jars: After pouring the warm vinegar over the garlic, use a skewer or chopstick to get out all the air bubbles, adjust the level of brine to one inch head space, then process the jars in a water bath canner for 20 minutes. Remove to a cloth lined tray or countertop until completely cooled, (several hours or overnight.) Best to leave them to marinate for a few weeks before cracking into them!

If you're not familiar with water bath canning, it's easy to learn. Just watch a few youtube videos. You'll be canning like a pro in no time. 
Feel free to adjust the flavors. If you want it sweeter, add up to another cup of sugar. 
if you want more heat, add a hot pepper to each jar, or add some more crushed red pepper flakes. 
Don't like apple cider vinegar? Use any kind you like! Just be sure that it's 5% acidity if you plan to do the water bath canning. 

Oh wait! I forgot to mention one other thing!
It doesn't happen all the time, but it's very possible that your garlic might turn blue when you pickle it. Yup! It's a thing!  Blue garlic. Like, BRIGHT BLUE. But fear not! This is perfectly natural and perfectly edible!
It's caused by an enzyme in the garlic that reacts with any kind of acid. You might have experienced this in your regular cooking when you add lemon juice to your garlic. Crazy, huh? True story.


Monday, March 4, 2024

Slow Cooker Korean Beef


  This year, the Summer Olympics are being held in Paris, France. So, naturally, I decided to host a party to celebrate! Actually, we used to have parties all the time to celebrate the Olympics Opening Ceremonies, but it's been a while. So I decided to bring it back this year. It's always so exciting to see the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron, and of course The Parade of Nations (Tonga's shirtless flag bearer anyone??)
  So, in addition to having several screens for viewing, my party will also feature a smorgasbord of different international foods. Normally, I would choose just a few things for a cohesive menu, but for this party, all bets are off. It'll be a huge variety of International foods for everyone to sample. I've already decided on a few things.. but I'm still looking for other recipes to include. And that brings me to this one!!!
 OMG... I need to say right off the bat that this is one of my favorite dishes that I've made in quite a long time! It's sweet, it's savory, and it has HUGE flavor. I found it on a website called The Recipe Critic, and it's SUPER easy to throw together. I did tweak it ever so slightly, just because I thought the soy sauce and the brown sugar were just slightly too much, and this is a better balance. But other than that, it's perfect!!!! Seriously, I couldn't stop eating it. So, there we go! I think this wins a place on the Olympic Menu! Hmm.... which other countries to feature? Definitely some Italian and German dishes ... and, of course, France! Maybe I'll make some French pastries for dessert.... Hmm.. So many options! 

1-2 lbs London Broil, Flank, or Skirt Steak
2 tbs baking soda
2 tbs toasted sesame oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/4 cup corn starch
Sesame seeds and sliced scallions for garnish

  Using a very sharp knife, slice the meat against the grain into small bite-sized pieces. Place the slices in a bowl, sprinkle with baking soda. Toss well. Cover and place the bowl in the fridge for about 30 minutes. 
In the meantime, in a slow cooker, stir together the toasted sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce, beef broth, brown sugar, chopped onions, and crushed red pepper flakes.
Remove the beef from the fridge. Rinse the beef very well under cold running water. Use a clean tea towel to pat dry. Now toss the beef strips with cornstarch and add to the slow cooker. Stir until well coated with mixture. Set your slow cooker to low, cook for 5-6 hours.  Serve over rice.
Garnish with sesame seeds and sliced scallions.

-- Be sure to marinate the beef in the baking soda as directed. This technique is called "velvetting" , and it's the key to making melt-in-your-mouth-tender beef.
--After your beef is cooked, if the sauce isn't thickened to your liking, mix a few more tablespoons of cornstarch in some COLD water. Stir it into the sauce, turn your slow cooker to high. It will gradually thicken.


Slow Cooker Leg of Lamb


  Not too long ago, a friend was kind enough to gift me a huge leg of lamb. (Yes, I have pretty awesome friends!) My first thought was "ok.. I've never cooked a leg of lamb before... how am I gonna tackle this?" It sounds a little daunting doesn't it? Seriously, the only lamb dish I've ever made was a stew that I made from cut up pieces of lamb stew meat (which was AMAZING btw) but it wasn't an entire leg roast. 
  But then I thought of the slow cooker. That makes easy work out of a pot roast or a pulled pork, right? How hard can it be? I'm sure it would be the same thing with lamb. So that's exactly what I did! This recipe is the same exact thing as one would do for a beef roast, and it all works perfectly with lamb. Potatoes, carrots, onions, fresh and/or dry herbs, and few seasonings.. that's all there is to it!
  This is the perfect thing for your Easter holiday meal, but it would be equally good for any week night dinner. No muss no fuss! Doesn't seem so daunting now, does it?!
 So the next time a friend gifts you a four-pound leg of lamb, now you know what to do! 
1 4lb leg of lamb 
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 or 5 potatoes, cut into quarters or eighths 
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into chunks (can also use baby carrots)
a few springs fresh thyme or a tsp dried thyme leaves
1 few sprigs fresh rosemary or a big pinch of dried rosemary leaves
a good pinch each of salt and pepper
2 or 3 bay leaves
5 or 6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of chicken broth
a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
1 cup of red wine, or a few splashes of good balsamic vinegar

Place all ingredients in a large slow cooker.
Cover and cook for 8 or 9 hours on low. 
Remove all items from the slow cooker to a large serving platter.
Discard sprigs of herbs and bay leaves.
Slice the meat. It will be fall-apart tender.
Using a ladle, spoon away some of the fat from the liquid in the pot.
Make a slurry of about 1/2 cup COLD water or chicken broth and a couple tbs flour. Vigorously stir the slurry into the liquid and turn the slow cooker to high. Let it thicken for about a half hour or until desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Pour gravy over all and serve.
If you want to, you can brown the lamb on all sides in a hot pan before you add it to the slow cooker. That makes a deeper richer flavor, but it's still delicious even if you don't. I didn't feel like washing a pan this morning, so I just threw everything into the slow cooker, boom, done.
Instead of cooking all day on low, you can cook it on high for 4-5 hours. Personally, I think low and slow is the better way to go. It really takes a while for that meat to break down and fall off the bone.
Use any kind of root vegetables you like. I used carrots and potatoes because I had them on hand, but feel free to use parsnips or turnips, anything you like!
When you make the gravy, be sure to use COLD water or broth to make the slurry. If you use hot water or just throw flour into the hot liquid, the flour will clump and you'll have lumpy gravy. Nope!