Three Sauces To Step Up Your Food Game

 

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!

Broccoli Pesto 

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**

 Tomato Sauce

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! 😉✨

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baked Rigatoni with Meat Sauce

Greetings, Mystic Meows!

Pasta, pasta, pasta! Sometimes I just get in the mood for a dish that reminds me of some of the Italian restaurants we used to go to when I was growing up in The Bronx. This is one of them. It just gives me all the feels every time I make a baked pasta dish like this. The sauce and other components are the same, although I do change up the pasta shape I use depending on how I feel or what I have in the pantry.

This time around I chose rigatoni. Ziti or penne also works for this too, but I haven’t cooked rigatoni in quite a while and knew it would turn out really nice and hearty. The overall flavor inspiration comes from a place called Mike’s Pizzeria that used to be on Bedford Park Blvd in my old neighborhood in The Bronx. I swear they had the best red sauce and meatballs! I’ve spent years trying to master that meatball recipe based on pure flavor memories.

This comes pretty flippin close, meows… It feeds a crowd and is very delicious and satisfying. Now their recipe was a bit simpler than what I decided to replicate because I had a lot of different types of cheeses on hand that I needed to make use of. That’s why I love the name Mystic Meals. Cooking is pure culinary alchemy. Sorcery. A little of this… a pinch of that, and voila! Plus over 23 years of professional cooking experience comes in handy 😉✨ Ok. Enough tooting my own horn. Back to pasta love!

Here’s the meatball recipe that I always use and any brand of your favorite pasta sauce in a jar will work just fine. However, if you make your own, even better. Just make sure you have plenty of it so the pasta isn’t too dry. AND please, please! When you’re boiling your pasta, A. Salt the water well, B., slightly undercook the pasta by a few minutes since it will continue to cook in the oven, and C., before you drain the pasta, reserve at least 2 cups of the pasta water to add to your sauce. The starch and salt from the cooked pasta water adds flavor and balances things out in case the sauce ends up on the thick side.

Mystic Meatballs

1 pound ground beef

1 large clove of garlic, minced

1 Tbls fresh chopped parsley

1/2 cup Italian style breadcrumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3/4 cup of milk

A pinch of red chili flakes

1 teas. Italian seasoning

1 Tbls salt

1 teas. ground black pepper

1. In a large bowl, mix everything together until well combined, and the meat has absorbed the milk and breadcrumbs.

2. In a small skillet, add a drizzle of oil over medium heat and grab about a tablespoon of the meatball mix. Shape into a small patty, like a little burger, and cook thoroughly. Once it’s fully cooked, taste and adjust the seasonings in the raw meatball mixture if need be. Keep in mind that you’ll be layering flavors. The sauce has salt, the cheeses are salty, so you don’t want the meat to be blandsville, but you also don’t want it to be too salty. You can always add more salt, but you can’t take it out. Make sense? 😉✨

3. In a large skillet over medium heat add about 2 Tbls of olive oil or oil of preference. You can either shape the meat mixture into meatballs and cook them that way and break them up later, or I just take the meat mix and drop it into the pan by spoonfuls and cook it a bit more like loose meat. I like the pieces to be broken up so there’s a bit of meat in every bite.

4. Once the meatball mix is cooked, deglaze the pan with about a cup of the reserved pasta water, stir to grab all those yummy bits of love, and add in your tomato sauce. Lower the heat and simmer altogether for about 10 minutes. Add the remaining pasta water to the sauce and adjust the seasonings.

Notice that I did not drain the fat from the pan. For me, fat is flavor unless there’s an excessive amount depending on what you’re cooking. In this case, there really isn’t a lot swimming around and what’s there just becomes part of the sauce and again, adds flavor and body to the end result.

Now you’re ready to add the meat sauce love fest to your pasta. I use a 1 pound ratio of dry pasta. It makes enough to feed four to six meows and remember that the pasta will continue to cook, expand and absorb all those flavors, so don’t worry if the sauce is a tad on the watery side. It will thicken up as it bakes. I layer it on similar to making lasagna. Sauce, then pasta, then cheese, and so on. For this I used fresh mozzarella, fontina, fresh Romano, whole milk ricotta, and Parmesan cheeses.

I emphasize fresh because it really does make a difference, and I’m bougie like that! But seriously, whatever you like to use will be fine. I baked the rigatoni at 350 degrees for 50 minutes covered with foil, and another 15 minutes uncovered. Once baked I let it rest for about 20 minutes before serving.

Serve it with some garlic bread and there you have it! Another mystic meal full of , well… lots of things but most importantly, love. It’ll come through in every bite! Thanks for stopping by, dear reader! Until we eat again… Happy Cooking!

Cheers, hugs, and meows!

Xo Nikki 💕✨

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