Greetings, Mystic Meows!
Cooking a meal can be a bit daunting at times, huh? It’s tough to find inspiration and the motivation to be creative in the kitchen, and come up with something new or different to eat, especially when we’ve had a busy day or have a ton going on and just don’t want to think about it! As a Chef, there have been many occasions when making family meal (food for the kitchen staff) where you often times don’t have much on hand to work with and are forced to think outside the box and literally make something out of nothing. Kitchen Sink cookery, if you will. Out of those food challenges, one of the things I’ve learned is how to make various types of sauces, and their magical powers of transforming something ordinary, into something extraordinary. A good sauce can change everything.
Over the next few months I’ll be writing about lots of different sauces, marinades, and other easy ingredients that are sure fire ways to help inspire the kitchen gods to be ever on your side in those times of wanting a delicious meal without having to spend hours cooking like a maniac. Unless you want to, that is… These 3 sauce recipes are my go to’s for those times when I want something that I know is tried and true, can be easily made ahead of time, are versatile, and can be used as bases for other creations. A sauce can go from being an accompaniment such as a dipping sauce, to taking center stage and binding all the elements together. So lets get to the sauces and see what yumminess we can come up with!
Spicy Peanut Sauce
3 T. creamy Peanut Butter
2 T. Soy Sauce
2 T. Brown Sugar
1 t. Sambal Oelek
1 t. Sriracha
1/4 cup water
Lime, Lemon juice, Cider vinegar or rice vinegar to taste.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk all of the ingredients together until smooth. At first it’ll seem like it doesn’t want to combine, but keep whisking. It’ll come together. Everything can be adjusted, from the thickness by adding more water or peanut butter, the sweetness of the brown sugar, to the spiciness and acidity. Personally, I prefer more of a sweet heat and not too much acid. But that’s just me. I use this sauce :
As a dipping sauce for spring rolls and raw veggies
As a salad dressing with lettuces, chicken or shrimp
As a sauce for various kinds of noodles, like rice noodles, soba noodles, vermicelli, Lo mein, and even spaghetti works just fine if you don’t have the others.
As a sauce for chicken or beef
Next up is Pesto. Most meows think of a pesto sauce being primarily made from basil, but these days there are so many different “greens” you can use to create interesting and delicious variations of it. One of my favorite ways to make it is by using broccoli, in particularly the broccoli greens or leaves, which most meows throw away. I love eating them and incorporating them into my dishes. As with most recipes, certain things can be adjusted to suit your tastes. If you have a nut allergy, just omit it. If you’re vegan, don’t use cheese, or use a vegan friendly substitute. Here we go!
10 oz. of blanched and chopped broccoli (leaves too!)
4oz fresh romano cheese, roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 cup of pine nuts, walnuts, almonds or your favorite type of nuts (optional)
1/2 olive oil
1 t. chili flakes
salt and pepper to taste
In a food processor, blender or nutri bullet, pulse all the ingredients together in batches if need be, adjusting and stirring until you have sort of a chunky paste, with no large pieces of cheese, garlic or nuts if using them. I use this sauce :
As a pasta sauce and sometimes add cream to it for a creamy pesto
As a base or add in for soups
A dipping sauce for vegetables
As a spread for sliced crostini with goat cheese, toasted bagels, sandwiches, and of course as a base sauce for pizza and flatbreads!
As a topper or stuffing for baked chicken breast, pork, or fish
Last, but certainly not least… Tomato sauce. I cannot stress enough how important I feel it is for everyone on this crazy planet to know how to make some type of tomato sauce. It is one of the five Mother Sauces of cooking for a reason, and is way less complicated to make than you might think. All it consists of at its core is onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Then you just cook this down by reducing it to concentrate the flavors and create thickness. That’s it. Anything else you add to it is up to you in terms of herbs and spices. I keep mine fairly neutral since I almost always use it as a base for something else. Here are 2 variations of it, The first is a quick and easy pan tomato sauce using fresh, ripe tomatoes, and the second is using canned tomatoes with a longer cooking time. Both of these are terrific make ahead recipes that keep well in the freezer and thaw out pretty fast. Boom!
Quick Pan Tomato Sauce
1 pound of red RIPE roma, cherry, grape, or any variety of tomato. If using cherry or grape, keep them whole, otherwise cut larger tomatoes into pieces.
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 large cloves of garlic, sliced thin if you want the flavor but don’t want to actually eat it or minced if you wanna get your garlic on
1/4 cup of olive oil
salt, pepper, and herbs of choice to taste
In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and onions and cook all together until the cherry/grape tomatoes start to burst or your regular tomatoes start to break down. About 10 to 15 minutes. Crush them down with a fork or spoon to start to create the pan sauce. If making pasta, add a touch of pasta water or plain water, season lightly and begin to reduce. The whole process takes about 20 to 30 minutes. **Remember to season as you go since you’re reducing and concentrating flavors. If you add too much salt right away, it will just become saltier as it cooks down, so do your final seasoning at the end**
1 35 ounce can of tomatoes (San Marzano tomatoes are the best, but use whatever you find or like)
6 large cloves of garlic, sliced or minced
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of small diced yellow onion
A sprinkle of chili flake
8 fresh basil leaves (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, add the olive oil, onions and garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the contents of the canned tomatoes, juice and all, reduce the heat to a simmer, lightly season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes, and continue to stir and break up the tomatoes, cooking for 30 to 45 minutes. You should have a thick and chunky sauce. Cook longer the sauce is still too thin, but keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn. Right before it’s done, adjust the seasoning and if using fresh basil, add it in and turn off the heat. Stir, serve or cool and freeze in portions. I use this sauce :
As a base for pasta dishes like spaghetti with meat sauce, ziti, farfalle, and basically any pasta shape your little heart desires… and you can add cream and vodka to it to make a yummy vodka sauce.
As a sauce for pizza and flatbread
As an add in for soups and stews
As a base for chicken cacciatore, a topper for grilled or roasted fish and seafood
As a spread for sandwiches and wraps
A base for creole inspired dishes like jambalaya and gumbo
A base for cooking red beans, lentils, or pinto beans
The possibilities are endless with these three sauces and it’s up to you what you create with them. I hope these help give you some ideas for your next mystic meal, and please let me know what you come up with! I’d love to hear about the creative recipes you make using them! Until we eat again, dear reader… Happy Cooking!
Xo, Nikki 💕✨
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All photos courtesy of google images and all recipes by meow! 😉✨