Tag Archive: sarahthebaker


I discovered the joy of Indian cuisine about five years ago. Dining with a friend, we wanted to try something new and chose the cute, brand-new Bombay restaurant in town. We began with the veggie sampler: Pakoras and Samosas, and the staple spiced crackers and sweet dipping sauce, before graduating to Curry and Saag Chicken. I wasn’t prepared for my own reaction. It tasted like comfort food, home on a plate, despite never having eaten anything like it before in my life.

Here’s a recipe for an easy tomato curry sauce I make regularly for my family. I hope you love it as much as I do!

Tomato Curry

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp cooking oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, rough chopped

2 16oz cans tomato (I use diced)

2 Tbsp ground cinnamon

1 Tbsp turmeric

1 Tbsp Garam Masala spice (McCormick is good, or make your own)

1 tsp Ground Coriander

1 tsp thyme leaves

¼ tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste, I like a little more heat than average)

½ tsp black pepper (or to taste)

½ tsp salt (or to taste, depending on your Garam Masala mix)

Hardware:

Wide skillet, blender.

The Method:

Heat oil over medium-high in wide skillet (12” or wider). When shimmering, add onion and sauté until softened & translucent (around 6-8 minutes). Add garlic and stir constantly, cooking for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Add tomatoes with juices and stir to ensure onions & garlic don’t stick to bottom. Add spices and stir. Lower heat and simmer briskly for approximately 20-25 minutes, checking to ensure no sticking.

Test for seasonings, adjusting as necessary. Remove from heat and allow to cool somewhat while uncovered.

Carefully transfer curry to a blender. Pulse to puree curry to a creamy sauce.

Advertisements

There will be so much more evil in the world that the love of most […] will grow cold.” (Matt 24:12)

This subject has occupied my mind for the last several years. With recent events (public and private) I finally decided I should write about it. I am loathe to begin this post with this verse, simply for the concern readers will view this topic in a religious light. That’s not my intention. In fact, the issue of cold love is so big, this verse merely serves as anchor to provide context. Usually when the verse is read, it invokes thoughts of religious ardor, cooled by worldly cares. Maybe that’s a part of it, but I hardly think that to be the true message of the text.

It’s no secret that the world around us has grown increasingly violent. I needn’t expand on the recent cases of abuse, torture, murder and mass shootings that have made national headlines. Suffice it to say that events that could not have been conceived of even 20 years ago are now constant fears in the minds of many.

What I do want to address is how this has affected us. Consider the reaction to that terrible day at Columbine High School? The national state of grief and mourning? Compared to several more recent events, our reactions pale in comparison.

It is not to say that we simply do not care. Not by a long shot. We have been toughened. Calloused. The frequency of such awful events have changed our response. Why? It is the high cost of caring, which would bankrupt us emotionally if we were to allow our hearts to bleed for one another.

The reality is that the effects come with a price. What limits our pain also limits our joy. When we cauterize ourselves to tears, we lose the ability to rejoice. If I don’t love you enough to cry with you, I cannot love you enough to enjoy all the moments that make life worth the trouble. The truth is what protects us also imprisons us, cheapening our daily lives. Unchecked, we put ourselves in danger of feeling nothing at all, which may be the deepest depravity.

I write not because I have a solution, or any wisdom on the subject, save to say that I know how easy it is to simply turn the feelings off. In light of all the terrible stuff we see and hear daily, it feels like the better option. My aim is just to encourage you, reader, not to give in to that temptation, at least not as often as it calls to you.

Aside from opposable thumbs, love is one of the few things that separate us from most other creatures on Earth. It costs us something. Don’t give it up that easily.

Tortellini Soup
(Courtesy of Mom)

Since folks are asking, I’m passing along my mom’s excellent Tortellini Soup recipe. 🙂
This makes a lot of soup (which is fantastic). It makes great leftovers and you can freeze and gently heat for later, but you can half the recipe if you don’t need all three-plus quarts. A bonus is that the recipe is easy to make remember, I can usually have it on the table in an hour or less.

Olive oil for pot (2-3 tablespoons as needed)
8-10 ounces Italian sausage rolled into 1-inch meatballs (hot or mild…I’ve even used Jimmy Dean’s sage sausage with great results—very aromatic)
1 large onion, chopped to about ½ inch pieces
2-3 med-large green bell peppers, chopped to approx ¾ inch pieces
(Mom uses chopped carrots as well, but I don’t. Sorry Mom! 🙂 )
2-4 gloves garlic, pressed
12-14 cups beef broth (I use reduced sodium.)
8-12 ounces tomato sauce
Italian seasonings, to taste (approx 1-2 tablespoons)
Cayenne, to taste (approx ¼ teaspoon)
Salt, Pepper
1 “Family size” package of 3 cheese tortellini (Buitoni is good).
1-2 small or medium zucchini, cut into half-moon slices (maybe 3 cups?)

The Extras:
Parmesan cheese for garnish (grated is great, but shaved is even better—it melts more smoothly).
Hearty, crusty bread for dipping

Heat olive oil in large (3.5-4 qt.) soup pot over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add meatballs. Saute, stirring gently to brown evenly. When halfway done, add onions and more oil if needed (this depends on your sausage fat content—I usually need to add a bit more). Add bell peppers, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent.

Add garlic, tomato sauce, beef broth, and Italian seasonings. Stir to combine evenly. Bring to a simmer and maintain for five to ten minutes. Add cayenne, more Italian seasonings, salt and pepper as desired.

Cook for another five minutes. Add tortellini and zucchini. Bring to a low boil and cover. Cook, stirring to cook pasta and zucchini evenly. When tortellini is floats, is soft, and zucchini is soft, remove from heat and taste. If needed, simmer a bit longer until flavors meld.

Cook time: Maybe 40 minutes, give or take.
Prep time: 10-15 minutes

Breaking the Glow Stick

Do you remember the first time you saw a glow stick? One of those skinny, clear tubes that are popular at skating rinks, fairs, and rave parties?

When I got my first one, I was rather underwhelmed. I saw everyone else skating under the black lights with the sticks fastened around their necks and wrists; theirs sizzling shades of electric blue, neon green, and hot pink.

Mine was…kind of a light gray, really. Clearly, mine was defective. Now that I had this unremarkable piece of plastic, what was I supposed to do with it?

But just about that point, a couple of my friends came by with theirs, which they were shaking vigorously.

“Mine doesn’t work.” I complained.
“Well, no duh. You didn’t break yours yet. You gotta break and shake them before they’ll work.”
Oh. Like anyone knows that the first time.
So I (carefully) broke mine and began shaking. It was slow to respond at first; but finally, a brilliant purple flowed through the tube.

Under the darkness and glow of the black lights, I joined the party of swirling glowing streams on the skating rink.

We are like glow sticks. Unless we are properly (and carefully) broken and endure the shaking, we will never glow as we are made to.

I think as we do, we allow ourselves to find unique purpose and beauty, becoming part of something bigger; a stellar choreography. 🙂

Recipe of the Week: Asparagus Lasagna

Don’t be frightened by the title. It sounds weird, and possibly gross to some of you, but this is possibly the best non-original (to me) recipe I’ve ever used. When finished, this tastes like the best parts of lasagna, alfredo, chicken pot pie, and asparagus all at once.

I discovered this several years ago from Sarah Moulton’s (I believe, top chef at Gourmet Magazine) “Sara’s Secrets” show on, yep, The Food Network (I really was not kidding when I said they taught me how to cook). But I made a few changes: instead of goat cheese, I use a hard cheese like Parmesan or Asiago, add chicken, and I flavor my cream with garlic powder.

This recipe may sound complex at first blush, but I just made it again yesterday from memory, and had it in the oven in less than an hour. It really is easy to do.

To begin with, you’ll need:
1.5 – 2lbs fresh, preferrably young/thin asparagus. Ends trimmed, and cut into bite-sized pieces (if thick, 3/4 inch pieces, if thin, 1-1 1/4 inch). Keep tops divided from stalks.
Olive oil.
4-5 cups of chicken broth (preferably homemade, but box is fine)
2-3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 – 1/3 cup white flour
Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder
2-3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1, 8-oz box Barilla no-boil lasagna
2 cups heavy whipping cream
6-8 oz grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese (really a matter of personal taste)

Hardware:
2-3 quart sauce pan
1 or 2 cookie sheets
9 x 13 baking dish
Wisk
Mixing bowl
Spray grease, such as Pam.

Pre-heat your oven to 450*. Place all asparagus pieces on cookie sheet (you may need 2). Remember, tops are in a separate pile. Season and toss with salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil. Place into oven and cook for 5 minutes. Stir, and cook for another 5 minutes, until asparagus is somewhat wilted, but still has a slight crisp (I like to keep an eye on this to make sure it does not over cook. Also, personal taste rules, here.). Remove asparagus from oven and set aside. Reduce oven heat to 400*.

Next, melt butter (and a drizzle of olive oil–helps prevent burning) in sauce pan. When butter bubbles and melts, add 1/4 cup flour. Wisking to prevent clumping (I sometimes use a small mesh strainer here). If needed, add more flour to make a paste. Stir roux, cooking it for a few minute, until it turns a light brown, and bubbles. Add chicken broth, wisking to blend well. Raise heat to high and wisk at intervals. Bring mixture to a boil. Chicken broth should resemble a gravy of medium thickness. If it looks too thick, add a bit of water or broth. If not thick enough, make a slurry to thicken further. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Reduce heat to low and cover.

Next, take your 2 cups of whipping cream in mixing bowl, add 1/4 tsp. garlic powder (or, as much as you’d like), and begin to wisk. Wisk until mixture stiffens into whipped cream. Set aside in refrigerator until ready to use.

Assembly:
Spray 9 x 13 dish lightly with spray grease. Add 1-2 ladles of chicken sauce into bottom of dish, spreading around (this helps to prevent sticking).

Make a layer of no-boil noodles, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle 1/3 or 1/4 of shredded chicken, then asparagus (reserving tips for top layer), then grated cheese. Top with 1-2 ladles of sauce.
Repeat for a total of 3 layers (if you can make four, that’s great). Use asparagus tips for the very top layer, and use all the sauce (you’ll need this for no boil noodles to turn out right). Sprinkle on remaining cheese, as desired. Finally, spread whipped cream on the top. (This helps to insulate during cooking, and melts into the sauce).

Cook for approximately 40-50 minutes, or until cream has dissolved and noodles are tender. Cool for 10 minutes, then serve.

Creme brulee has recently become one of my favorite desserts. It’s easy, inexpensive, and classic; though it’s still considered somewhat “fancy” in my crowd.

So I’d seen this recipe on the defunct Food Network show, Calling All Cooks, maybe 5 years ago. I’ve always wanted to try it, but never had. Until this week…

It’s no more difficult than regular creme brulee (maybe easier since you don’t need to boil the cream), and the apples are a fantastic addition.
I substituted apple cider for the water, which may make it too rich for you, but everyone enjoyed it.
I may serve this for Thanksgiving. 🙂

So here’s the link. If you try it, let me know!
Calling All Cooks: Apple Cinnamon Creme Brulee

Pesto Roast Chicken

I decided to roast a chicken this week. As I placed it into the pan, considering my options, “Do I make the always-loved rosemary-lemon garlic chicken?” Or do I make something new and different?

In a moment of what I believe to be divine intervention, a stroke of heavenly genius, an idea came into my head: Pesto Chicken.

But I had both sun-dried tomato pesto and basil pesto. So I got a little crazy: I did half and half.

The important thing is to put the goo under the chicken skin. It really saturates the meat and keeps it moist. I also kept the dividing membrane between the two breasts intact, so the seasonings stayed on their own side. 😉

Aside from the pesto, I only added a little pepper and a hint of cayenne. The pesto has enough salt by itself.

My husband raved, saying it was the “best chicken ever.” And the secret is, it’s so much easier than the hand-made rosemary goop I’d have usually labored over.

I cooked it on 375′ for a little over two hours, and turned the pan halfway through cooking so it would brown evenly.  Pretty much your average package directions.

If you try this, let me know what you think!

 

 

Recipe of the week: Chocolate Croissants

Remember I said I dislike baking? I really hate to measure while creating “edible art,” so whenever I bake, it’s usually from: 1) a mix, or 2) something I’ve memorized so well it no longer feels like work to make (such as cheesecake).

So, when I became addicted to Panera Bread’s chocolate pastry (aka, pain au chocolate), I knew I had to find a worthy substitute to have at home that didn’t have to spend 3 hours making.

Therefore, I went to the grocery store and bought, yep, Pillsbury crescent rolls.  Not the buttered kind, and not the BIG ones. I used the smaller can of 6.

Then for the chocolate. I just happened to have in my possession Scharffen Berger’s 62% semi-sweet baking chocolate.
Once whittled into smaller chunks, this made for the perfect filling in my croissants.

Just roll them out and space them on your baking sheet, fill with about a tablespoon of chocolate pieces, and trail a little “dust” down the tip, and roll. When finished, roll it down onto the point so it doesn’t fall apart when it bakes.

Bake per the package directions (10-12 minutes), until lightly golden. After a minute or two of cooling, you can enjoy a warm and gooey treat that doesn’t take all day.

I’ve made this recipe twice in the last month, so I figure that I know it well enough now pass it along. 🙂

As many of you know, I don’t really measure anything. I think measuring sucks. It’s why I tend to avoid baking. Ratios are the most important thing, so I do try to be mindful of how much-to-how much I’m actually putting in. All measurements are really guesswork on my part.

Putting pepperoni on top of lasagna is not a stroke of genius I can claim as my own. I actually saw Guy Fieri do that on his show, Guy’s Big Bite. However, the rest of it was something I threw together. Enjoy!

To make this you’ll need
2 lbs ricotta cheese
About 1- 1 & 1/2 cup chopped, drained spinach (look through it for tough stems before using)
8-12 oz shredded mozzarella cheese (Kraft has a kind out now that incorporates a bit of Philly cream cheese. It’s super creamy and delicious)
1/4 lb thinly sliced sandwich pepperoni (the BIG pepperoni)
1 sleeve Jimmy Dean’s sage sausage (I know it may sound weird, but it’s perfect for this. And this is seriously the best all-purpose sausage I’ve seen out there. Of course, you could use Italian instead.)
1 lb lasagna noodles (I don’t use no-bake for this)
3-5 cups quality spaghetti sauce (homemade or good jar brand like Classico)
Garlic powder, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, oregano/Italian seasoning.
Wooden Spoon.
Wide bowl.
10-12″ frying pan.
1 Tbsp. Olive oil.
9x 13 baking dish.

To begin with, start a big pot (I use my largest, maybe 6-8 quart) of water for boiling. Add a good bit of salt (not too much). Set to high and cover. It’ll save time, but it will still take a while to come to a boil.

In a wide bowl, mix the ricotta cheese with about 2-4 ounces of the mozzarella. I like to do this because it gives the ricotta filling a stringy, cheesy texture which my husband likes. It’s kind of “something extra.” Add in the spinach, crumbling it into smaller clumps. Stir to make sure it’s well-incorporated. Add garlic powder, salt, pepper, cayenne, and oregano to taste (and I do mean taste…it’s one of my favorite parts of making lasagna!). Set aside.

In a wide (10-12″) pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add sage sausage (whole sleeve for the whole lasagna pan, or half for just half the pan. I usually do just half because I don’t like meat in my lasagna. My half is veggie.) With a wooden spoon or very stiff spatula, break up the sausage as much as possible during cooking, making the crumbles small so it doesn’t dominate your lasagna layers. Season as you like with garlic, oregano, cayenne, etc. I usually don’t use salt. When sausage is lightly browned and no longer pink, remove from heat and set aside (I just put the pan on a trivet and let it cool. There usually isn’t a lot of fat from this sausage, which is why I add olive oil. It won’t be swimming in grease.)

When water has come to a boil, add lasagna noodles, one at a time, inserting them on a clockwise rotation (12 o’clock, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) to minimize sticking. Cook according to “al dente” package directions (you want it firm—otherwise it will be soggy after oven cooking), stirring VERY gently to insure proper flow and separation. When done, remove from heat and pour off majority of water. Fill pot back up with cold water. Pour off again. Repeat until noodles are cool enough to handle, and remaining water is minimal. I don’t like to use a colander here, as it can damage pasta.

You can transfer pasta from pot to an impeccably clean tea/dish towel to lay flat and dry. Just pat with towel to remove excess water.

This is when I like to preheat my oven to 400 degrees. If you have a convection oven, I’d recommend 375.

In a 9×12 baking dish, add about a cup of sauce to coat the bottom (this prevents tragic noodle stickage.) Add a layer of (patted dry) pasta, overlapping them slightly.
Cover with some of ricotta mixture. Add desired amount of sausage (approx 1/3 – 1/4 of pan). Add approx. 1/2 cup of sauce over pan (not too much or it will be runny. Think “dry.”).

Continue layering, up to 4 layers. Cover remaining layer with pasta, sauce, and remaining mozzarella cheese.

The final step is to layer pepperoni on top of lasagna.

Bake for approx. 35-40 minutes at 400. But if you have a convection oven, start lower and keep an eye on it (pepperoni cooks and curls quickly in convection ovens. Ask me how I know?) 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi Everybody! Happy Friday!

I thought it’d be fun to post one of my favorite recipes each week.  This week, I chose my skillet chicken alfredo.

It’s pretty easy, taking less than an hour from start-to-finish, even less if your chicken is already defrosted.

To make this recipe, you’ll need:

8 oz. medium-sized pasta such as penne, med/large shells, or rotini.
Salt, to taste.
2 Tbsp.  olive oil
1 Tbsp.  butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped.
3 cloves garlic (about 1 Tbsp.), minced.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about a pound), defrosted and cut into 1-2 inch cubes.
Italian seasoning, cayenne pepper (if desired), and poultry seasoning mix, such as Chef Paul Prudhomme’s (my personal fav.) all to taste.
1 jar alfredo sauce, such as Classico or Bertolli.
1.5-2 cups broccoli florets (I use Hanover’s Gold, frozen).

Begin by boiling 3-4 cups water in your preferred sauce pan. Add salt to taste, 1Tbsp. oil,  and choice of pasta. Stir to avoid clumping.

In a deep, wide saute pan, add butter and remaining oil and heat over medium-high heat. When oil and butter sizzle and shimmer, add chicken and season with salt, cayenne (if desired), Italian and poultry seasonings (and any other you like). When chicken is fully cooked and no longer pink, reduce heat and add onion and garlic. If needed, add more oil or butter (but it’ll probably be fine).

When onion and garlic are soft and translucent, add the jar of alfredo sauce. I like to add 1/2 cup of milk into the jar and shake to get the remaining sauce out (it also thins the sauce a bit, which is good here).

Add broccoli and stir to combine, covering the pan with the lid to help steam broccoli.

Add more seasonings as may be desired and cook over medium low until pasta is done (according to package directions).

Toss pasta with sauce and serve! Just don’t burn your mouth…:)