Roasted Marinara, thick and tasty

Canning season is here, so get Peter Piper’s Pickles picked and go to work. Well, we like pickles but not that much. What we do love is a great tomato sauce.

A great tomato sauce? Yes a sauce for all occasions, with a tomato flavor to knock your socks off. The only way that’s going to happen, is to use farm fresh tomatoes, and make it yourself.

We purchased our tomatoes, yes purchased. Our little garden consists of 10 tomato plants that get half the sunlight they need, great for our table use, some drying and a little canning, but not enough for the pantry.

We went to Wilco, a local farm hardware and supply for their once a year canning sale. We purchased 40 pounds of tomatoes, 20 pounds of onions, and a case of apples for Francene’s applesauce.

The preparation is pretty straight forward, but does take most of the day.

Pick your weapon of choice. I would love to tell you which one, but everyone has their preference and hand size. I opted for the Nakiri and a paring knife, and a 10″ chef’s knife for the onions. Francene used her 5″ Petite Santoku.

Half or quarter, depending on tomato size and remove most of the seeds. Also, do a very rough or large chop of as many onions as you would care to have in your Marinara sauce, same with bell peppers. We did probably 8 pounds of onions and 6 large peppers.

Now start the roasting, I use a little sea salt and some of our garden herb mix.  Place on cooling racks on baking sheets and roast for 30 minutes at 425° . Remove from oven and transfer to a container large enough to hold everything. Continue for the next several hours. If you know you will be seasoning towards a Latin flavor or Italian flavor you might as well have an appropriate drink or two along the way.

After everything has been roasted, transfer the roasted tomatoes, onions and peppers with a large slotted spoon leaving the liquid behind.

We now ran the batch through a food processor to achieve a coarse consistency. Then we brought everything up to a simmer on the stove top, seasoned to taste remembering that the final use hadn’t been decided. In other words, allow for a re-seasoning appropriate for the dish it will be used in.

Follow the canning instructions for your canning equipment. We show both the large pot and the pressure cooker. We use the pressure cooker as a second large pot.

We ended up with 12 quarts of marinara.  With that great hindsight most of us have, we should have gone for 24 pints of a very rich and thick marinara sauce. Probably about 1/3  of the way between a normal marinara and paste.

This allows us to use full thickness, or thin with water or use either stock or wine as a thinner.

I must add that I always just cooked my tomatoes, seasoned them and canned them. But my friend, Kris Horn, told me how she likes to roast the marinara ingredients and also adds what ever strikes her fancy at the time. You could add most anything like carrots, artichoke hearts etc. to end up with YOUR sauce..

I tried roasting and then freezing two years ago, cooking and canning last year, and this year roasting and canning. I think this will be the preferable way from now on.


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Fishmonger, do you have one?

A fishmonger is someone who sells raw and fresh fish and seafood. Oh you have one, at the meat counter of your local supermarket. Technically you are correct, but ask them for some raw squid, or fresh Spanish mackerel. Now you get it?

Some of you are blessed with Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, or live on the coast, any coast. For the rest of us, good luck.

Now I’m not saying you can’t get good, fresh fish from Safeway or Publix. You can and I do. I also buy fresh wild caught Salmon and Halibut from my favorite mega box, Costco. But when you need something different, where do you go?

My local fishmonger,  Northwest Fresh Seafood,  is located behind a church, hidden away. It first opened to supply restaurants, and then remodeled to offer wines, etc. to a local clientele.

What made me stop, and really look around was the Cioppino I was going to make my wife, Francene, for her birthday.  We were also having her friend, Priscilla, over, but she is allergic to shell fish and a Vegan on top of that.

Good-bye shrimp, lobster etc. Hello clams, muscles, squid, firm white fish, etc.. On top of that I might as well start with a good fish stock. NOT that box of salty water they call fish stock, not a bottle of clam juice, but fish stock. If you look at their menu, at the bottom, you will see fish bones and crab shells.

Remembering Priscilla, I passed on the crab shells and got a huge Salmon head and a Halibut carcass. Not something I was going to find at the Supermarket. Now I am not a huge seafood lover but that fish stock was to die for. I still have four more frozen quarts waiting for the right dish. One was used in my last Gumbo.

Anyway, this is about finding a local fishmonger, if you can’t find them yourself, ask the Supermarket fish counter, as they are there to help you, not just sell what’s in the cabinet. I live in a very small town and have one fishmonger. Chances are you have one as well.

On a final thought, I posted their menu with prices. This picture was taken September 2018. Fish is labeled fresh, previously frozen or frozen. They have a high rate of sales so the product hasn’t been sitting around


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Paella, a peasant dish for Royalty

The weather is changing. Hot days and hotter nights are now growing bearable. Slowly motoring down a dusty road in the community of Cantabria, headed for the Basque region, we slowly discuss what would be a pleasant dinner, Ah Paella!

Horns honking rudely, Shaken from my daydream, I realize I am really going to Bed Bath and Beyond to replace the coffee maker. Bummer, I’m not in Spain, but Newberg, Oregon and it looks like rain.

But Paella still sounds good. I’ll stop at the fish monger, on the way home, yes, little Newberg has a fish monger. Originally to supply restaurants in the area, they expanded their little shop for the public. Their selection is great, They even have fish bones available so you can build your own fish stock, but that’s another tale.

Paella, the classic Spanish dish, traditionally cooked over an outside fire, with the best part being the crust formed on the bottom of the pan from high heat and caramelized rice. Paella really only has a couple of never changing elements, rice, sofrito and saffron. Everything else is up to the chef of the night.

Sofrito is like the Creole Holy Trinity, a flavor base that has been sauteed, and then added to the rice. In this instance it consisted of tomato, onion, bell pepper, garlic and pork.

For our Paella we chose chicken, a good smoked sausage, we used our Andouille but a nice chorizo would have gone well. Shrimp, squid tentacles and sliced tube (What is tube?) and a few steamer clams. Paella may be cooked on top of the range, or baked in an oven. I have cooked it both ways, and make my decision according to the weather, I haven’t tried cooking it over an open grill or fire yet.

The rice called for is plain long grain white. You can substitute brown but this will radically change the cooking times. White rice takes 30 minutes, brown rice, an hour for the liquid to be absorbed.

One of the cardinal rules, is never stir your Paella once it has been built. BUT, if you’re going to use brown rice, I suggest you go stove top. Cook the rice and sofrito for 30 minutes, then layer on the rest to prevent over cooking the chicken, shrimp, clams etc., and cook till the liquid has been absorbed. In the oven, you will be taking a chance on over cooking and drying out the goodies.

The first time you make a Paella, it will seem to be a lot of steps, but is rather simple when you read through the instructions a couple of times, and realize you are just preparing sides to be layered.

You may have noticed we changed skillets after the sausage. The chicken etc should be cooked over a high flame, and high temperature cooking will ruin a ceramic coated pan, so I grabbed my trusty 12″ cast iron skillet to finish the prep work.

The Sangria looked interesting but could never stand up against a good homemade pitcher of the good stuff.

Now to an actual recipe of sorts.

First thing, 1/4 teaspoon of saffron, mashed with a mortar or ground. Put it in a small glass and add 1/4 cup of hot water. Saffron purchased in the supermarket is about a billion dollars per thread. Excellent, and much fresher saffron can be purchased by the gram on Amazon, both Spanish and Indian. Read the reviews.

Then 1/2 pound of sausage, cooked in a high heat skillet; I like cast iron, with 1/4 cup olive oil. I like to have the skillet and oil hot enough to actually sear the sausage.  I believe the sear adds another flavor to the dish.

Remove sausage, cut into 1/4 rounds and place in a large bowl.

Add a 1 1/2 pound chicken, cut up and cook till toasty brown. Salt and pepper the chicken. When brown (remember chicken, rabbit, etc will cook some more during the Paella cooking period), remove and place chicken in the same bowl.

Wipe out remaining oil and add 1/4 fresh olive oil. Add the sofrito mix and saute till translucent and soft. The Sofrito should be 1 medium sized onion, chopped medium to fine. 1 large tomato de-seeded and chopped, 1 medium bell pepper, any color. Red bell peppers are sweeter than yellow, which are sweeter than green. And add a few ounces of pork chopped or cut into 1/4 squares.

If looking at my pictures, i used a larger portion of pork as a filler.

Lobster goes great but it doesn’t really ring our chimes, so we use more shrimp and add squid. Remove the shells and devein a pound of shrimp leaving the tails on. Clean the clams or mussels, about a dozen or so, and rinse the squid.

One of our favorite toppings are large scallops. If used, I will do a very fast high heat saute to just brown the sides in butter or ghee, but NOT cook them. If precooked they will be tough when the paella is finished. You might even hold them back, and put on top about the half way mark.

Get out your favorite 14 inch Paella pan; you don’t have a paella pan? Then use a heavy roaster, this works best in the oven as the surface size and shape doesn’t lend itself to stove top burners, but would over an open fire.

Put 3 cups of long grain rice into the center, spread the sofrito on top, and add 5 3/4 cups of boiling water plus the 1/4 cup water and saffron. Stir the mix, and bring to a boil. Once a boil has been reached, remove from the heat.

Now is the time to check your seasoning. Remember the sausage and chicken will be adding the spices that are inside (sausage) or cooked with, chicken, salt and pepper.

Don’t feel the need to over season dishes from other countries. It’s not the seasonings, as much as its the local ingredients, and the way they are cooked that make them special.

Now layer your meats, sausage first, then chicken and seafood last. Place evenly, this dish should look as good as it tastes. Sprinkle 1/2 pound peas on top, this adds both flavor as well as color. You could use artichoke hearts, etc.

Place on the bottom of a 400° oven and bake for 30 minutes, or place on a hot grill and cook over a medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the water has been absorbed by the rice.

When done, let rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then dig in.


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Season to taste, who’s taste are we talking about?

Just who’s taste are we seasoning to? What do they really mean by ‘Season to taste’?

I read an article sometime back about this subject. They stated that if you gave 10 cooks the same simple recipe, you might get two that were the same tasting dish.

How can this be? First lets start with the very basics, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Well, what kind of salt. Kosher, Sea, Himalayan Pink, That Himalayan black (the stuff that tastes and smells like sulfur). What? I am being a nit picker. Okay, how about Morton’s table salt. Fine, you happy now? Well how about Morton’s with and without iodine? Point is, every salt mentioned tastes different.

Next we will go to that 1/2 teaspoon. Did you really measure it, or was it a double pinch. Measured it. Okay did you level the top?

Now that we have covered salt, what brand spices do you use? Are they fresh or are they the same bottles that came with the spice rack wedding present 15 years ago? And if in a bottle, probably not fresh anyway.

We grow herbs in our garden. Even dried they only retain the optimum flavor for maybe six months. What we grow is way to much for our normal use, but we have found at first harvest we dump all the old stuff ( usually in the tomato pots). Better than the garbage disposal , or even worse, the dump.

After our tins are full of fresh goodness, we put together one or two mixes (really just everything else grown that season and mixed together). Great for sauce bases or a good starting point. At this point I can promise you that a can of Hunts tomato sauce with 1/2 teaspoon each of herb 1, 2 and 3 will taste differently if made in different homes. Same tomato sauce, same herbs, right?

If you have been following what I have said, then I don’t need to answer that.

When buying herbs, we like to go to the bulk department and buy what we want. Oh, the bulk spices in supermarket A are probably from a different vendor than Supermarket B. Or go to a specialty store like Penzie’s we haven’t ever been disappointed and they carry variations of the same theme. Do you have any idea how many different curries there are?

So, back to ‘Season to taste’, that’s just what it means. Add a little more of this, that one is just fine. I would like a bit more salt, but the doctor says no. Please do NOT rely on the recipes list of condiments as gospel. Get started with what they suggest, a little more of what you like and a little less of what you don’t. Always taste the dish before serving.

Always remember that you can add little bit more, but it’s very difficult to take a little bit out. Also spicy does not mean hot.

If you love to play with spices and very flavor-able dishes, then buy a tagine and give Indian food a try. One of the best lessons you can learn about taste and spice is to learn about curry. One size does not fit all.

I will let you go with one more thought, who wrote the recipe and who was their audience? Betty Crocker? Some great starting points, but seasoned for the masses, their version of a shrimp curry dish is not at all like a shrimp curry dish from an Indian ethnic cookbook.

But when done, remember to season to taste.


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Perfect poached eggs

The coffee has brewed, the mugs are full and you’re a little bit hungry. A couple of poached eggs sound pretty darn good.

They also sound kinda boring. So lets get our skillet out, the one with a lid. Good start. Now didn’t Francene say something about a pound of chorizo she picked up, probably hiding in the refrigerator. So far this sounds like a good start.

Back from the pantry with a quart of last years tomato sauce and a can of chopped and stewed tomatoes. A plan has been made.

Break up the uncased sausage and start a slow cook, add the tomato sauce and stewed chunks, a little salt, a little pepper and cover. Simmer on low for 20 minutes to get all those flavors doing a happy dance. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing sticks

Time for those eggs, carefully break and slide onto the sauce and put cover back on for a couple of minutes for the eggs to poach.

Whites are still semi soft, yoke looks perfect. Carefully spoon eggs and sauce into bowl and serve with a couple of warm tortillas.

So this is my take on eggs ranchero or Huevos Rancheros.

Sure sounds and looks better than a couple of runny eggs on a piece of toast to me.


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When that first sip of coffee touches your soul

Coffee, Java, Caffe and the list goes on.

I’m not one for sitting in line waiting to order some new creation from a trained barista and then pay a ransom for it. For me, a mug of dark roast served black and bitter makes my morning. Surprisingly the darker roasts are less bitter than the lighter and medium roasts.

If you have followed any of my ramblings, you may have noticed that I like a lot of different things. I may make a recipe twice if I really like it, but more than likely I will mix things up. I think I am good at a little of this and a little of that.

Well I like to try different things so when Francene stomped on my idea to build a still I pouted for a while, then decided that if I couldn’t make vodka, I would roast my own coffee. What does coffee have to do with a still? depends on if you like Black Russians or The 44 Cordial (homemade orange and coffee liquor).

After doing my due-diligence on the web, reading a ton of articles, and comparing every roaster out there, I narrowed the field to the Behmor 5400/1600 and the Gene Cafe CBR-101 roasters.

The Behmor is designed for the coffee drinker that wants total repeat-ability and being able to continually develop ‘their’ blend.  You can program  developed profiles making your roast more consistent.

The Gen Cafe on the other hand is just a robust roaster.  It doesn’t look like like a toaster oven and will generate interesting conversations. It will smell great on the patio. Yes, the patio, you don’t want it smoking in the house, worse than a cigar.

So the roaster showed up with lots of little bags of green coffee. After trying to keep perfect notes and never reading them again I realized what I really wanted was a good mug of Java, strong, black and bitter, and Francene likes hers just the same. So I roast two to three 1/2 pound roasts a week and now we have something different every morning.

Now the notes are just a list of what we don’t care for. So far, nothing is on the list.

So one week it might be

* Burundi Shembati Fully Washed 15+ Lot 38
* El Salvador Santa Leticia Las Ninfas Pacamara Full Natural

Next week it might be

* Ethiopian Washed Yirgacheffe Gr. 2 Dumerso Surafel Birhanu
* Costa Rican Tarrazu La Pastora
* Dominican Org. Ramirez Estate

I can’t enunciate them either, but it does look more impressive then ‘Bill’s morning blend’

If we find one roast a bit bitter and another too chocolaty we might blend them for a pot or two. Such fun, and we appreciate our morning coffee much more than we did when we had a 3 pound bag from Costco to go through

On a final note, the roaster can also be a multi-tasker, I have roasted almonds and pine nuts in it as well as coffee

After you have roasted your beans they should have at least 24 hours to degass. Like most foods light and air are not friends of your coffee beans after they have been roasted. I use the Mixpresso canisters as they have dials on the top to set a roast date and one way valves for letting carbon dioxide escape. Depending on the roast and the bean, degassing can take from 1 to 12 days.

Never grind or mill the coffee ahead of time as this also negatively affects the flavor we have worked so hard for. A fine grind will allow too much degassing too quickly as well as exposing the coffee to oxygen for too long, giving a stale flavor to your freshly roasted beans.

One of our desires is to use smaller trash containers and recycle more. We also have a small garden because our yard is small.

The used coffee grounds are acidic and are collected in a stainless steel kitchen compost bin and then spread around our roses, hydrangeas and rhododendrons. Our egg shells are crushed and spread around the tomatoes, as the calcium prevents bloom rot.


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Canning Apple Sauce with an Indian Flair

We do applesauce every year and we love East Indian cuisine.

I’m not going to tell you how peal and core an apple, or how to cook it or do the canning. What I am going to suggest is that you try replacing your own spice mix with a little Garam Masala.

This Indian spice mix is regional and chef specif. Different brands will be just that, different.

I like to buy bulk spices and this give you the opportunity to smell what is being offered. Garam masala generally is a mix of, or will include coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In other variations on garam masala, ingredients may include turmeric, saffron, fennel seeds, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, mace, star anise, tamarind, fenugreek, bay leaves or Malabar leaves.

The mix is wonderful and we found makes the applesauce a welcome side. Try adding a little and taste. Keep adding until a big smile appears on your face.

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Knives out of sight and less clutter

I have never liked having a knife block on the counter. Between hogging space to never having the correct slots I needed to come up with a solution. After a lot of internet searches and image looking,  I saw what would work for me. Then I built it.

Now before you go and say something like “I don’t have a woodworking shop” you should know that I don’t either. I make do with a cluttered garage and just move stuff around as needed. As can be seen, my workbench is an old card table and when I needed the varnish or polyurethane finish to dry I turned my sauna into a multi-tasker.

I didn’t have any plans, so I purchased the hardware, the drop down springs first . Then I mocked up a cardboard tray and started measuring front to back as well as drop till I know how to cut my plywood boards. Did a rough assemble and check everything for fit. I know most commercially built cabinets like mine are a standard size but I wanted to build the largest tray that would fit.

The knives are held in place with magnetic strips designed to hold knives against the wall, readily available on Amazon. At first I had a single magnet to hold the tray up but added a second one (now one at each end) for added safety. Quite scary when the shelf drops unexpectedly.

What I really like is that I can change knives as the need arises.   I built two more shelves and one is at the end of the counter and holds stuff plus a couple of knives I want handy but do not use on a weekly basis.

I felt so proud of myself I installed the third shelf under that clutter collector of a kitchen desk. This one is used to hold all those rechargeable devices, the tablets, phones etc.


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Gumbo with tomatoes, what did you say? Tomatoes?

I’m an adventurous soul and I enjoy good food. The one thing that doesn’t really appeal to me is to eat the same thing over and over.

The exception; now and again I will find a meal that just rings my chimes, but I didn’t write the recipe down, I’ll remember it. Ya, right. I made a cioppino that was to die for, a vegetation roasted lasagna so good the guests wanted to keep the leftovers. Not a problem my iron clad memory, and the fact that I got my inspiration from an internet recipe would ensure total recall, ya, for 10 minutes if I’m lucky.

And why can’t we ever find the internet recipe again, I typed in Roasted Vegetarian Lasagna the first time, or did I? Maybe I typed in lasagna with vegetables, or maybe I didn’t even type in lasagna, I probably typed in spaghetti with meatballs and the search engine found me the roasted vegetable lasagna instead. I’ll never know anything for sure, except it’s never been found again.

I digress, as this is about Gumbo, and the fact that there is only one way to make it, and that’s without tomatoes.  I should know this, I am married to a Cajun after all. I sat the bowl in front of her and noticing the tomatoes, she said ‘Tomatoes?’ I answered ‘Yes, tomatoes’ she started texting the question ‘Tomatoes in Gumbo?’  The replies from all those in the know ‘sacrilege’ . Goes to show what a group of western Cajuns know.

Now, if they had ever traveled east of Iberia they would have replied ‘Yes, tomatoes’. Point is that there are so many ways to make Gumbo you should never make it the same way twice. Like oysters?  Put oysters in it. If you are on a budget, keep it to Andouille and chicken, but if you need a stretcher, slice hard boiled egg into it. The only two things that you can’t do is burn the roux and not start over, and pass judgement before tasting.

Gumbo is technically a soup, although sometimes it’s thickened to a consistency of a stew. It’s always served with rice.

My tomato gumbo started with a cup of my prepared roux, heated until the oil was at hot, and then I added a package of my pre-made Holy Trinity and stirred till the aroma was heavenly. At the same time the chicken was sauteed along with a foot-long, homemade, Andouille sausage.

I then combined 1 quart of water and 1 quart of our homemade fish stock. What? You don’t have homemade fish stock? Then add a bottle of clam juice or just chicken stock to 2 quarts.

Now I experimented, as I found 2 cans of roasted tomatoes in the pantry as well as a can opener, and could feel Francene’s eyes boring into me. In they went. The eyes and the tomatoes.

Up to this point I haven’t added any seasoning because the Trinity was salt and peppered as well as adding garlic, making it really a foursome. I also had added the Andouille sausage that was loaded with our Louisiana seasoning mix and wine. To have added seasoning early on would have been dangerous. It’s hard to take out.

When the Gumbo was almost finished I added two pounds of shrimp and let it simmer a few more minutes. Here is where you would finally season to taste. We found it was already just right.

How was the Gumbo with tomatoes, well it’s all gone, so something must have worked. The Cajun, well she found a lot of Gumbo recipes that included tomatoes. She hasn’t apologized for doubting me though.

If you’re a Gumbo connoisseur then go to the World Championship Gumbo Cookoff in Iberia Louisiana every October.


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The Magic of a Good Meatball

This is pretty short and sweet. The misunderstood meatball, those semi-soggy, oddly-flavored things of meat we sometimes find floating in a store bought marinara sauce or dripping with a gravy of sorts.

Really sounds appetizing, doesn’t it. Well, it can be, even if you do use that store bought marinara sauce. The secret is in the meat. Good meat has good flavor on its own. Why try to disguise it with some brown stuff or bury it under the spaghetti. ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner’ according to Patrick Swayze.  Your meatballs shouldn’t sit in shame either.

We try to grind most of the meat ourselves, but depending on what we are working with concessions can be made. Our meatballs are made with a blend of good beef, pork and elk, sometimes a little lamb finds it way into the mix. Generally a 2 part beef, 1 part pork and 1 part elk. Mix it up and add just the right amount of salt, we also add pepper.

I left you hanging with the just the right amount statement, but it depends on taste and volume. Taste, WHAT you want me to taste this bowl of ground, raw meat. Yes I do, but first make some very little patties, just one or two and fry them. Then taste them before you adjust your seasoning. These are little 1 inch patties.


We then make a couple of hundred 1 inch meatballs, bake them till just barely done. 10 to 15 minutes in a 350° oven. We also cook them on cooling racks so the fat will drip away.

After cooling we vacuum freeze them 18 to a bag. We like the meatballs to be on the small side, this allows them to participate in many dishes, especially soups. With good quality and mix of meats they can proudly stand on their own .

What we have now are meatballs that add another delicious layer to the dish they are added to. We use them in dishes from spaghetti to lemon grass soup.



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