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Let’s wrap this up, shall we. Do I have all the essentials handy? Coffee, check. Music, check (streaming Xploding Plastix). Cosmo snoring right by my feet, check. Leftover pieces of chicken from our Organic Chicken Cook-out, check!

When I began this mini series, ORGANIC FOR PENNIES, a few days ago, in PART 1 I suggested breaking an entire chicken into several useful elements, all to be later utilized in separate dinner meals. We started with making the ORGANIC CHICKEN STOCK, that was later transformed into this luscious ENGLISH ONION SOUP a’la Jamie Oliver. Moreover, all the meaty parts of the bird–the boobies and legs–got a ROASTING TREATMENT for that extra tan and flavor. Today, I want you to take all the meat you scraped off the chicken carcass, wings, and its neck after cooking them in your stock, and make a brand new dish from the same $12 chicken.

There’s plenty you could do. Mix it with cooked rice, spice it up and use as a filling for STUFFED CABBAGE, or yummy CROQUETTES, or simply mix with your MARINARA SAUCE and serve over a bowl of pasta.

Or not. Want something Asian accented? Here are a few tricks I’ve been using following the idea: FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT. I make a somewhat cheated version of PINEAPPLE CHICKEN FRIED RICE.

Cook yourself a pot of rice, whatever amount makes you happy, but use common sense when building your dish later on. Set a large skillet on the stove, heat about 1 tbsp of coconut oil, add 2-4 dried chili peppers (just tear them with your fingers over the skillet), 3-4 garlic cloves (finely chopped), and stir together for 30 seconds. Add the rice and toss it with the flavors in your pan. Give it a few minutes, and empty a can of pineapple (chunks) along with its juices into the same skillet. Season with soy sauce. Stir about allowing all the flavors to get marry. Let it cook  for another 5 minutes or so, until all juices are absorbed by the rice. If you’re feeling shrimp, too, toss a bunch onto the pile. Be my guest. Finish the dish with a handful of chopped green onions and fresh cilantro. That’s All Folks! Easy, right?

I made this dish for one of my clients, when catering LUNCH to all his employees, and it was a hit. I served it to my friends another time, and they were asking for seconds. Jason puts in his request for this entree for dinner on a semi-regular basis. It’s all about the comfort of this rice and chicken combo, where sweet mixes with salty, followed by a mild heating sensation in the back of your throat.

Me likey.

In conclusion, eating ORGANIC FOR PENNIES is doable. We spent about 12 smackers on the bird, plus an extra $10 on veggies for the stock and the soup, and maybe 2 more bucks for the bag of rice that accompanied two other dinner meals. Each time, we were able to feed at least 4 people, or serve the dish more than once in a week. Over all, for about $25 total we fed an army for a week, we ate organic, and we LOVED IT!

Go ahead, be inspired to eat better, live better, and feel the power of CREATION!

Bye, bye, Year 2009. You have brought us many changes, moments of overwhelming joy … and sheer terror. (Remember the Mashed Rutabaga with Cauliflower?) I have discovered my pyromaniacal tendencies and started to play with fire in the kitchen on a regular basis. Knives excite me just as much.  Bring it on, Angelina! Who knew? All that led to turning our house into a science lab of food making. There have been plenty of experiments (steaks from a toaster oven is just one example), and so far Jason hasn’t complained.

We have serious reason to be concerned about the future of our kids on this planet (Koyaanisqatsi), but there’s still hope with the growing trend of getting fresh produce from local farmers (Feeling Peachy) and turning to alternative energy sources. We can get healthier with every bite of real food we put in our mouths and what we feed to our offspring. Preparing hearty meals with a variety of vegetables is not that difficult, and never boring. Every time I look at the photos of the Butternut Squash Risotto I made for dinner one night, or my Brussels sprouts on a Bed of Quinoa with a layer of Caramelized Onions, I experience such intense drooling that Jason is inclined to run for a stack of towels to cover the floor around me.

Do you want to hear about the best part? I lost about 15 lbs over the last year WITHOUT DEPRIVING myself of any food. There’s no diet plan, no counting calories, NO STRESS! Sometimes I may overindulge a tad, but who wouldn’t when served those scrumptious Veggie Balls over a bowl of Spaghetti Marinara? Duh! I eat whatever the hell I am in the mood for, and whenever my tummy screams HUNGRY. I hate fast foods with a passion. I avoid processed food products like the plague. However, I am on good terms with a bit of butter here and there. Cream poses no threat to me either. There are no sweets lying around the house, but it doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally get in the car and drive to the bakery for a piece of crunchy pastry when the craving strikes.

What I wish for myself, and for every single one of you, in 2010 is to live more in balance with Nature, stress less, laugh louder, breath lighter, and to age slower. Also, let’s not forget to bring the inner monkey out to play more often.

May all of us see a major shift in the collective consciousness and finally learn how to live symbiotically with Mother Earth so our kids and future generations get to experience the joy and innocence we were granted when growing up.

Thank you for being a part of my 2009. I hope we’ll be able to share and interact more in the upcoming year, and beyond.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!

Earlier today I was driving, blinded by the hammering rain, and as wipers ran frantically across the windshield, and I slid along the highway, I slipped into a contemplative mood. Then I thought to myself…as a child, after you’d learnt of the Earth’s rotation, did you ever think that it rained when the planet was upside-down? As if the seas and oceans poured out of their reservoirs? Yeah, me neither.

And then I remembered last night’s dinner… Now, can we please talk about that STEAK?! Or – in other words – the ULTIMATE COOKING TEST that I passed less then 24 hours ago …thank-you-very-much? Yes, let’s talk about that.

If you’ve followed me around for the last couple of months (or even a few days but managed to go through most of the articles) you must have noticed that I write a lot about chicken and not so much about other meats. There are reasons for that. Primo, there’s still plenty of time to cover all sorts of omnivores’ dilemmas. Secundo, I not only talk chicken but also cook chicken on most occasions. Each week, we interweave poultry with fish and vegetarian meals to keep our dinners versatile, healthy, and clean. Maybe it’s the fact that I lived my life vegan style for so many years before, that it took me so long to even open my eyes in the presence of red meat, not to mention putting IT in my mouth. I do not know.

However, last weekend Jason and I went to Whole Foods and he sweet-talked me into buying some fresh, organic beef fillets. We spent almost 30 smackers on two nuggets of cow meat, each about 2” thick. Having close to zero experience with beef, and intimidated by the price tag, you can only imagine the stress level I was under when prepping the dinner last night.

I knew there was no fooking around when it comes to raw meat. I also knew I needed to consult the best. So I turn on the TV and scroll down the recordings on our Tivo hoping to find one useful cooking show amongst the dozens I saved. YES! There she is! Ina Garten herself stands right there, in front of my eyes, ready to walk me through roasting a sirloin beef fillet “Barefoot Contessa” style.

One leads to another…

Eagerly following her guidelines, I mix about a tablespoon of room temperature butter with a tablespoon of Aioli Garlic Mustard Sauce (she asked for Dijon Mustard). I wash my two beef nuggets and pat them dry with a paper towel. Ina says: preheat an oven to 500˚. I turn on our toaster oven. It’s a fancy little box – highly dexterous and able to multitask at that. Not only does it toast our toast, it irons our shirts, gives foot massages, bakes, bikes, and then heats up to a breathtaking 500˚ and serves as a broiler.

Given the choice between a big spacious oven that takes time to heat up, thus sucking proportionally more energy, and a compact and eco-friendly toaster oven, which does Agi take? Of course I go for the latter. But first, I rub the mustard-butter mixture all over my steaks, sprinkle evenly with salt and crushed black pepper (as Ina told me to), and shove both into the fancy toaster oven-slash-foot massager.

Here comes the tricky part, and the most crucial one when it comes to cooking meat period. The question of …HOW LONG? When Ina dances in front of the camera with her block of premium cow cut, she makes the task look as simple as putting your foot on a gas pedal and pushing. Easy, right? But what will she tell all the flustered cooks at home who have not only hit the dining room wall, but also drove through it and into the neighbor’s stack of hay? Hey, what will you say then, Ina?

You see, everything looks perfect on the TV screen, but I’m stuck at home with those two shits of red meat, the very expensive kind, all battered up and ready to dance in the fire. Ina says to give it 20-25 minutes in the oven until the fillet reaches 120˚. Then to wrap it with aluminum foil and let it rest for another quarter of an hour before you make the first cut. She then slices it and makes Roast Beef Sandwiches with Horseradish Sauce and Arugula.

Are you kidding me?

Here’s what Agi does. I let both chunks of meat, generously coated and well seasoned, broil away in the scorching hot toaster. I walk on eggshells pacing around the box. I peek through the little smudgy window, but the darkness within prevents me from getting any feedback. I mumble a few prayers in Polish that I remember from my early days, retrieve a flashlight from our goodie-drawer in the bedroom and shine a light on the sweaty guys.

Steaks in the Oven

I check the clock as if my life depends on it. I do the math in my crazy head and figure it should take less time for my small baby fillets in that little toaster oven. Hence, 13 minutes into this melodrama, I’m on the verge of pulling my hair and spitting all my teeth out into a handkerchief. I can’t take it any longer and pull out the tray with the toddlers. I stick a thermometer into one of them and let my eyeballs follow the mercury rise up to 120, wait, 130, oh no! it keeps going up to 140˚. Suddenly it stops, takes a breath, and picks up again before settling at 143 degrees Fahrenheit! What did Ina say?? One hundred twenty degrees was all it was supposed to reach. Damn it! And I tried so hard… I’m devastated. My hope that stood breathless in the corner for all this time now burst and evaporated along with the aroma of freshly roasted meat.

With my shoulders hanging down by my hips, and my mouth curved upside down in sadness and utter disappointment, I continue assembling the dinner for Jason who should arrive home any minute now. With a tear lingering in the corner of my eye, I cook a little pasta and make a quick Marinara Sauce. In another pot, Brussels sprouts steam themselves for the heck of it. The meat just hangs out in the cooling toaster, very confused and unsure of its future.

When my honey walks in through the kitchen door, I finish plating our meal and walk him straight to the dining room with an ambivalent expression on my face. He reads me like an open book:

-       It didn’t work out? Don’t worry, baby. You don’t even like red meat. I don’t have to have a steak. And if I crave it one day, I’ll just go out. It’s really not a big deal. And you know I love everything else that you make. I guess red meat is just not your thing. And THAT’S OK!

-       Booo-hooo …! – is all I have in me in response.

We sit down and with obvious hesitation take the first bite. Hmmm… Without uttering a single word, Jason hums and moans, wiggles his rear end in the chair, throws his eyebrows up and down, and as he swallows the rest of the bite he exclaims:

-       This is FANTASTIC! This is what I call a STEAK. This is perfect! Baby, I have no words… You are an amazing COOK.

-       This thing really IS good. Wow. I can’t believe it. I have just lost my flower. I’m no longer a STEAK VIRGIN! – I reply dumbfounded.

With each bite, I fall deeper and deeper in love with the golden nugget of steak I brought to life with my very hands. It’s a medium rare perfection with the smoky flavor of mustard, and as soft and juicy as the melted butter it was cooked in. The crazy part? It was broiled inside our smart, GREEN, multifunctional toaster oven!!!

Who knew?

Steak Dinner

Sometimes a craving hits me in between meals, and I am not one to ignore that angry stomping and loud cussing in my tummy. I swear, sometimes I’m convinced that inside there must live one vicious little Belly Brat who jabs tiny spoons into the membrane of my stomach screaming at the top of his lungs: “FEED ME! FEED ME! FEED ME!”

Just like NOW.

What is Agi to do? I can’t focus on a single thought. I stare at a computer screen, but in fact, with my mind’s eye I’m scanning the inside of our refrigerator. On the top shelf rests an almost empty jug of Aloe Vera Juice (Jason puffs at me: “You don’t love me!” every time I hand him a glass with a 4 oz shot of the swill. “Yeah, I know baby, it’s pretty nasty, but SO GOOD for you!”). On it’s right, the last drops of almond milk in a carton box. One floor below, I see a bowl of raw chicken that’s been leisurely marinating itself for tonight’s dinner. Right beneath the chick rests a large container with a green lid – those are my herbs. Three lazy lemons keep them company. I pull the door wide open and on its inside shelves I find two eggs and jars full of all kinds of things: pickles, low fat mayo, Dijon mustard, capers, sun dried tomatoes, sesame oil, flax seed oil, and almond butter. Downtown, the veggie compartment is almost empty, and there are certainly no baby carrots to be found to save my life.

The fridge is sadly vacant and void of any possible snack-worthy objects, which reminds me that it’s time for grocery shopping. What do you know? It’s Friday. The Belly Brat, on the other hand, doesn’t give three flying mosquitoes what day of the week it is, and keeps yapping and moshing about at the bottom of my esophagus as if he was rocking out at a Metallica concert. I’ve had it! At this point I’m desperate to find something, ANYTHING, so I can shove it into his little brash mouth so he shuts up and keeps quiet! …at least till dinner-time, so I CAN FINALLY WRITE!

Wait. Did I say ALMOND BUTTER? Instantly, a bright, energy-saving eco bulb lights inside my skull: FOOD. I unplug my head from the refrigerator’s chamber, crane my neck around, and… realize in wonder that it’s been 20 minutes and I’m still sitting at my desk staring bluntly at the tabula rasa hoping to become my next article for the blog. Wow. …

… What was I saying? Oh, yes, the Almond Butter. FOOD! Please, god, make sure we have at least one green apple on the counter, because desperate or not, I am NOT going to patch my mouth-hole with spoonfuls of a NUT PASTE. Ain’t happening.

I cut corners hustling to the kitchen, air whistling in my ears, and arrive at the fruit bowl, a pearl of sweat sliding down my chin. Alleluia! On the platter there are three Granny Smith apples. One is most likely inedible – judging from the wrinkles, grey hair, and a hump. The other two look perfectly perky, firm and juicy – not unlike the sensual orbs flitting about within the mind of any healthy 16-year old boy or the day dreams of a woman after having breastfed three babies.

With no further ado, I proceed to core one of the apples and cut it into wedges. I catch myself squeaking in excitement. Impatiently, I place the pieces on a flat plate around a small bowl filled with my Almond Butter “dip”. With the first bite I can hear – loud and clear – church’s bells ring!

Green Apples with Almond Butter

I feel I should amend my Spaghetti Marinara story to paint a complete picture. I’m warning you, however, it may slightly affect your viewpoint and perspective of the event. And most importantly, I HOPE you’ll revise a possible judgment you may have formed about yours truly.

Do you remember the giant plate with the enormous amount of pasta on it, all drowned in Marinara Sauce, topped with rolling stones of veggie balls? Remember how I then placed it all in my mouth, bite by bite, to finally have it disappear entirely into my cow’s stomach? And what did you think just then, ha? Now, let me explain one thing – the act of devouring the monstrous serving of Spaghetti Marinara was directly preceded by an intense 2-hour training session at the gym under the strict supervision of my no-bullshit-when-it-comes-down-to-working-out boyfriend. I was STARVING!

Spaghetti Marinara 2

To further plead for your sympathy, I will now attempt to bribe you with the recipe for the infamous Marinara Sauce.

MARINARA SAUCE with AGI’s TWIST

First, arrange for the following:

- half of a large onion

- 3 cloves of garlic

- 1 tbsp of good olive oil

- 30 oz can of crushed tomatoes, or tomato sauce

- 1/2 cup of red wine (the kind you would drink, a good one) or low sodium chicken stock

- 1/3 cup of Mascarpone (not mandatory)

- bay leaf

- 1 tbsp of dry oregano

- 1 tsp of red paprika powder

- 1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg

- kosher salt + fresh ground pepper to taste

- fresh flat leaf parsley & basil, 1/4 of a cup of each

Heat the oil in a large and deep skillet. Throw in chopped onions, sprinkle with a dash of salt and pepper, and sauté for about 5-7 minutes over medium-low heat. Add minced garlic, stir and cook for another minute or two. Now pour in the wine (or chicken stock, what have you) and continue cooking over medium-low heat, until it reduces a little. Next, empty the can of tomatoes into the skillet, then add oregano, paprika, nutmeg and more salt and black pepper. If you want it extra creamy, now is the time for the Mascarpone. Mix it all well using a wooden spoon, let the cheese melt and incorporate into the sauce. Cook for about 3 more minutes and add freshly chopped parsley and julienned basil. Stir once again, taste, ad more salt and pepper if needed, and turn off the heat. Remove the bay leaf – it is NOT edible.

Your sauce is DONE. It should be of a beautiful, deeply red color (or pinkish if you went the cheesy route). You’ll smell all the spices, and the fresh basil will give your dish a whole new dimension.

Happy cooking!

I am a cow. Or at least I have four stomachs like one. There must lie a hidden explanation somewhere in between those two possibilities that is responsible for the phenomena I actively participated in at the dawn of this evening.

I am genuinely embarrassed to admit in public how much food I deposited into my system a few quarters of an hour ago. But I will… in the effort to apply self-punishment. A plate the size of our dining table, and we have a dinning table of astronomical dimensions mind you, was placed before me (by yours truly, to be quite frank) filled with a scrumptious meal I humbly put together. The goods were shaped into a monumental cone, oozing a fragrant ruby red sauce and topped with a mist of fresh minced herbs. I wasted no time and sank a hungry fork into the mountain of food in front of my eyes.

The minute I tasted the first bite, a blissful quiet came over my entire being. The second gnaw only confirmed that state of mind. “I am so happy right now!” – I exhaled amid a series of hurried nibbles.

Once I finished committing the crime of stuffing my guts with this delicious meal, I sat at the table for circa half an hour and moaned. I moaned quietly for the lack of room for oxygen in my lungs. Those spongy bags, filled with life-affirming air, got progressively smashed against my ever-expanding stomach, like the face of a person walking into an impeccably clean glass door they didn’t notice, their steps observed in slow motion. Droplets of sweat scattered my forehead while I sniffled and grasped for air.

In the middle of the 37th moan (approximately!) I heard my blackberry vibrate ecstatically on a nearby coffee table, and its red eye winked at me flirtatiously. “You’ve got mail” – in my mind I heard it announce in the ancient voice of AOL, now as dead as Latin. My natural curiosity, so characteristic to that part of the human population born with a pair of X chromosomes, overruled the brain, and propelled my body forward. However powerful, the curiosity must stand down in the presence of the laws of physics. My body, unable to lift itself under the weight of its overflowing stomach, plunged right under the table with uncanny force. BAM! The pain from the fall pinched my butt, but who could possibly care when the phone was still blinking! From my vantage point beneath the table it now seemed silly close, yet still out of reach of my outstretched fingers. Damn it! I gauged the distance, calculated the effort, then curled into a fetal position and rolled myself over to the edge of the couch. From there it was EASY. One impetuous swing of my arm and the phone was mine again. PHEW!

A few minutes later the euphoria descended and adrenaline levels dropped, and I realized the inhuman amount of pressure I had applied upon my precious insides. Instantly I panicked, and a terrorizing thought crossed my mind – INTERNAL BLEEDING!!! I froze. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. One minute passed. Tick-tock. Tick-tock…3, then 9 minutes crawled by. I was still breathing. Another 15 minutes of that intensely silent lingering and the outcome was confirmed – I WAS ALIVE!

I then issued a long and echoing baritone of a burp that further released some space among the four chambers of my cow stomach, and I was able to breathe at last. Now, by no means do I intend to gross you out with this detailed report. All I hope for, truly, is that you understand the enormous relief I was granted by that simple, and oh so natural, digestive explosion. Only now was I able to extricate myself from the floor underneath the coffee table and beside the green couch, and somewhat steadily relocate to the writing desk in our bedroom. The events of the evening must be logged and archived for future generations to draw examples of behaviors less desired!

A vivid blush floods my face when I realize all that drama was stirred around my … balls. More precisely, meatballs sans the meat. Voluptuous boulders of ambrosial veggie balls rested randomly on the sides of the mountain of spaghetti, all bathed in a creamy and rich marinara sauce. Ah, the memory… !

Beet Soup It all started with the soup season in our house. My poor Jason has recently suffered from a minor and yet annoying physical condition (details of which I shall keep to myself) that forced him to rethink his diet. After thorough research and analysis of various dietary options he committed to soups exclusively. Luckily, I had learned a few tricks in that department, and so I was able to entertain him with a different lunch and dinner menu over a period of a couple of weeks.

soup Such monotony, however, forced me to exercise my creative muscle in order to keep it fresh and interesting each day. One morning, while peeling carrots for another vegetable soup, I reckoned that I might mix things up a little. I pulled out a food processor, purèed some of the veggies, and cooked the rest in big chunks in the ocean of soup. On that sunny morning my Cauliflower Soup, which nota bene is absolutely phenomenal, was brought to life.

It’s not the soup, however, that the tale is about. The purè of cooked vegetables, which are a staple in all my soups, turned out to be so flavorful and comforting on its own that I decided to translate it into an entirely new dish. As of today, I tested, tasted, and – dare I say it – perfected the recipe of Agi’s Veggie Balls.

Agi's Balls

I will now reveal the secret, and share it… with you… because I am such a giver… and I care about your well-being. And hell I am proud of myself, too!

Start with the following ingredients:

- 4 medium carrots

- 2 medium parsnips

- 4 celery stalks

- large leek

- large onion

- 4-5 cloves of garlic (peeled + smashed)

- 2 dry bay leaves

- 4-5 peppercorns

- 3-4 strings of fresh thyme

- 1 cup of water

- 1 tbsp of coconut oil (unrefined)

- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan, and add peeled and diced onion. Sautè for 5-10 minutes, and toss in the garlic. Now add into the pan the rest of the vegetables, previously cleaned, peeled, and roughly chopped. Throw in bay leaves and peppercorns with thyme, add water, and season with salt and pepper. Cook all until aldente. You do not want your veggies soggy and mushy. Turn the heat off. Discard the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Drain all liquid.

Now prepare the following ingredients:

- 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans

- 2 eggs

- 2 tbsp of grated ginger

- 1/2 cup of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

- 1/2 cup of chopped fresh dill

- 1 cup of organic bread crumbs

- 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

- 1/3 cup of grated Fontina cheese

- 1 tbsp of olive oil

- 2 tsp of red paprika powder

- 2 tsp of cumin

- 1 tsp of turmeric

- 1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg

- 1 tbsp of dry marjoram.

Place your cooked vegetables in a food processor along with drained and rinsed garbanzo beans and pulse into a coarse mass. Scoop it all out and into a large bowl, then add all the remaining ingredients except for the eggs and cheese. Mix well using a spatula. Now break in the eggs and stir everything well. Throw in grated Parmesan and Fontina and combine with the rest of the party in the bowl.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Coat your sheet pan with a layer of non-stick spray, add a sheet of wax paper, and treat it with the spray again. Using a teaspoon, scoop a small amount of the veggie mixture and place it into your clean hands. Now roll it into a small ball and set on the sheet pan. Continue until all mixture is formed into an army of veggie nuggets. Brush each ball with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent it from burning. Place into the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on the size of your, ahem… balls).

Baked Veggie Balls

Serve immediately with whole wheat, organic Spaghetti Marinara, sprinkled with a handful of fresh parsley and dill. I BEG YOU, however, to pace yourself! Definitely use caution when plating your meal. The aroma that will fill your house may intoxicate your reasoning, and all sense of proportions might get lost. Be wary! And learn from my mistakes.

Agi's Balls

Bon Appetit Everyone!

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