Quick Marinara Sauce for Meatball Subs (and dipping)

I love the recipe I have for meatballs and marinara sauce. Sometimes, though, I just don’t want to wait to make my own and/or spend time simmering the sauce. Faster doesn’t mean a jarred sauce with lots of added salt and sugar, though.

I have a pretty easy marinara cheat I make with a can of tomato sauce. This sauce is also great for dipping breadsticks, pizza crusts, mozzarella sticks, etc. It comes together in no time at all and freezes beautifully, too.

Keeping extra meatballs around is just good housekeeping, in my opinion. They’re good for appetizers, with pasta and, of course, for making meatball subs. While I usually make double the meatballs to freeze some, you can find frozen Italian style meatballs at most grocery stores.

To make the meatball sub – While I make the sauce (recipe below), I pull out 3 or 4 meatballs from the freezer. I heat them through in the microwave and then slice them in half. I take slices of provolone cheese and place them on both sides of the hoagie roll and place under the broiler. When the cheese is bubbling, I pull the bread out, dunk the meatball slices in the sauce and then place them on the rolls to cover and pour over more of the sauce.

So quick! So easy! So delicious!

Quick Marinara Sauce for dipping and subs

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoons dried oregano leaves
½ teaspoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Pinch each of salt, pepper and sugar

Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes or until oil is shimmering. Add tomato sauce and seasonings. Stir sauce, bring to a bubble and simmer 5 minutes over low heat. Taste for seasoning and add more, if necessary. Serve.


Raisin Bran Muffins

Regular readers of this blog know my girlfriend is much more health conscious in her eating than I am. Case in point is our cereal shelf – I have a box of Frosted Flakes next to her box of Bran Flakes. I was doing my spring clean-out and saw that her box of Bran Flakes was getting a little old – not quite stale but needing to be used.

To make some good girlfriend points, I decided to make her Bran Muffins. I knew, however, I wouldn’t be able to eat them without also adding raisins and cinnamon so I altered the recipe from my mom’s recipe box.

The muffins are pretty darn tasty for something so good for you! Nice and light with a touch of sweet from the raisins. Enjoy!

Raisin Bran Muffins

24 paper baking cups
2 cups bran flakes cereal, I used Post Bran Flakes
1 ½ cups milk
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup packed brown sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat the oven to 400°F. Place a paper baking cup in each cup of two 12 cup regular-size muffin tins (24 muffins total).

Place cereal in a bowl and use the bottom of glass to crush cereal into fine crumbs. Pour in milk, raisins and vanilla and mix well. Let stand about 5 minutes or until cereal has softened. Beat in the oil and egg with a fork.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together until well mixed. Fold flour mixture into cereal mixture just until no flour streaks remain. The batter will still be lumpy. Spoon the batter into the cups, dividing batter evenly.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Immediately remove from pan to a cooling rack. Serve warm or once cooled.

Muffins can be frozen after they’ve cooled completely.

Cheesy Leftover Chicken Pot Pie

I bought a rotisserie chicken the other day and after dinner, I picked the remaining meat from the bones. Later in the week, once I got home from a busy day of being out and about, I further cut down on prep time by using a seasoning blend and a refrigerated pie crust to have a delicious pot pie on the table in about 90 minutes.

I’m not a pea or carrot fan, so I instead I used fresh broccoli. The broccoli goes well with the cheesy sauce and the cheddar adds enough saltiness that the rest of the dish needs no added salt.

I made two small pies instead of one large and froze the second before baking. When I’m ready to eat that one, all I will need to do is put it in the oven from frozen and add about 15 minutes to the bake time.

The pot pie is very filling and full of comforting flavors. It was so good, I ate the entire half!

Cheesy Leftover Chicken Pot Pie

2 pie crusts (I used 1 package of Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts)
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups seasoning blend (PictSweet) or dice 1 medium onion, 2 stalks of celery and 1 bell pepper
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 large head broccoli, broken into individual florets
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Sauté the veggies until soft, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Whisk in the chicken broth to loosen the flour and remove any lumps. Slowly add the milk and whisk until well combined and the sauce has thickened and just reaching a simmer, around five minutes. Drop in cheese by the handful and stir until melted. Stir in broccoli and chicken. Remove pan from heat.

Place one pie crust in the bottom of a pie pan. Pour in the filling. Place top crust on and pinch and roll the edges together. Cut 4 two inch slices in the top for steam to escape. Place on a rimmed baking sheet to contain any drips

Cook for 45 minutes, rotating pan midway through cooking. Let stand for 15-30 minutes before slicing and eating.

Apple Hand Pies for Pi Day

This year for Pi Day I decided to go for apple pie. But not just one – no, I wanted lots of pie so I went for individual ones using my handy, dandy empanada maker to cut and mold them.

I’ve made Apple Jacks before I didn’t want fried pies this time so I went with baking them instead. With a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar on the top, these are perfect little snacks and are crispy not heavy.

Flakey and overflowing with apple goodness, these allow me to have my pie and eat it anywhere. I ate several hot out of the oven, still more after they cooled and some cold out of the fridge.

Apple Hand Pies

1 recipe of sourdough pie crusts or a package of Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts

1 (6 ounce) packages dried, sliced Granny Smith apples
2 cups water
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon apple pie spice
¼ teaspoon salt

Cover dried apple slices with water and cook on top of the stove over medium heat for about 15 to 20 minutes until water is almost all absorbed by the apples. Add the sugars, butter and spices. Continue cooking another fifteen minutes. Mash the apples until they look like pie filling. Remove and set aside to cool.

Turn out the dough rounds onto a floured surface and roll to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut dough into circles about 5 inches across. Chill dough until filling is room temperature. Fill each circle with about 2 tablespoons of the apple filling. Moisten the edges of the circle with some water on your fingers. Fold over and crimp the edges of the pies together. Place on parchment covered baking sheets.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

While the oven is preheating, freeze the pies (at least 10 minutes) or put in the fridge (at least 30 minutes) before baking. The colder the pies are going into the oven, the better they’ll hold their shape.

Scramble an egg with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the top of each pie with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Cut a slit in the top for venting.

Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. They’re done when the pies are golden brown on top and around the edges. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool until ready to handle.

Serve warm or at room temperature or even cold out of the refrigerator. Baked pies can be frozen. Allow to thaw in the fridge before serving.

Hearty Tortilla Soup

We had a quite a temperature drop overnight and it was cold enough for me to want to make soup. It had to come out of pantry, though, as I wasn’t going anywhere.

My girlfriend had canned tomatoes a couple of years ago and so I used a quart of farmed fresh tomatoes that were put away at the peak of ripeness. If you aren’t so lucky as to have such a handy, crafty gal in your life, use a 32 ounce can of tomatoes. I tossed them in a food processor with a can of Ro-tel to add a little heat and pulsed it a couple of times to make for a smoother soup. Out of the freezer, I got out diced, frozen onion (let the folks at PictSweet Farms do the peeling, chopping and crying) and cubes of frozen garlic and cilantro (I love the Dorot pre-portioned herbs) plus a pint bag of frozen corn. I also opened a can of black beans and hammered away at the bag of tortilla chips until they were well crushed. Also out of the pantry, came a container of chicken stock. Badaboom – after a bit simmering, I had a hearty soup.

I like this soup as it is or you can add 2 cups of cooked chicken after it comes to a simmer. The flavors are complex but very comforting. Exactly what this chilly day called for!

Tortilla Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white onion, diced (1 generous cup of frozen diced onion)
4 garlic cloves, minced (4 cubes of Dorot garlic)
1 teaspoon ground cumin 
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (4 of the frozen Dorot cilantro cubes)
1 quart (32 oz) canned tomatoes
1 can (10 oz) Ro-tel diced tomatoes and green chilies
2 cups frozen corn
1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained
2 cups crushed tortilla chips, plus more to serve
1 quart chicken broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the oil before adding the onion and sauté, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add in the cumin and cilantro. Cook a minute or two to bloom the spices, stirring constantly. Stir in the pureed tomatoes and Ro-tel, corn, black beans, tortilla chips, chicken broth and the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer about 30 minutes. Stir and cook for 30 minutes more, uncovered. Soup will have thickened from the corn tortilla chips.

Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Remember, you’re serving it with more tortilla chips so go easy on the salt. To serve, either use tortilla chips as a spoon or ladle the soup over a pile of chips in the bowl.

One Pot Jambalaya

I made some Tasso ham the other day and set aside a cup of the cubes for this recipe. I also cheated and used a seasoning blend so I didn’t have to chop the onion, celery and bell pepper. I just used two generous cups of the frozen veggies to speed things up. And if you already have a favorite Cajun/Creole Seasoning, use a tablespoon of it to season the chicken. Here is my recipe for a batch to keep on hand.

Everything, including the rice is cooked in the jambalaya making this the perfect one pot meal. Because the Cajuns who developed this meal were a thrifty bunch, this meal stretches with your budget – have shrimp? Toss a handful or two in at the end when returning the chicken to the pot. Only have squirrel or rabbit? Use it in place of the chicken. Vegetarian? Leave out the meats altogether, swap vegetable stock for chicken stock and add red beans to cook with the rice. My version has chicken, ham and sausage so 2 chicken breasts, 1 cup of diced ham and 1 link of sausage add plenty of protein to serve four people while not breaking the bank.

This is a pretty quick recipe and in about an hour you’ll be eating a deliciously, hearty dish that has so many layers of flavors. Fix your plate and we’ll have big fun on the bayou!

One Pot Jambalaya

1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1” pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup diced Tasso Ham
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 cup long-grain rice
3 bay leaves
3 cups chicken stock
1 link andouille sausage, cut into ¼ inch coins

In a small bowl, stir together paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, basil, cayenne and salt and pepper. Or, a tablespoon of already prepared Creole/Cajun seasoning. Place the chicken into a medium bowl and toss in the spice mixture until completely coated with the seasoning.

In a large, Dutch oven, heat half of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and any extra seasoning from the tossing and sauté until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the rest of the olive oil to the same pot, along with the onion, bell pepper, and celery; sauté about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and rice, stirring to coat well. Cook about 2 minutes or until every grain of rice is glistening. Add bay leaves, Tasso ham and chicken stock. Stir well to combine. Bring mixture to a boil then turn the temperature down to just hold a simmer. Cover.

Cook until rice is just tender, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in chicken and andouille sausage. Cook about 10 minutes more with the lid off. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and/or pepper, if needed. Serve.

Tasso Ham Steaks

My sister and her husband came to my place for a weekend of Mardi Gras Carnival parades. When they do this, they usually bring a cooler full of beer and another full of food like two dozen eggs, pork chops, ribeye steaks, plus pounds of cheese, mushrooms, bacon and sausage. Her husband normally makes a big breakfast to fuel everyone for the day and I cook the afternoon/evening meal (as my toleration for crowds is so low I end up leaving early or skipping entirely many parades). This year, we got so busy we didn’t use the ham steaks, so I happily turned them into Tasso ham.

By using ham steaks, I eliminated the need to cure a pork shoulder for three days. Instead, I used the seasoning to coat the already cured ham steaks overnight before smoking low and slow. The result makes a tasty addition to soups, stews and gumbos.

Highly flavorful and I can’t wait to make jambalaya this weekend! To make it easier to add, I store the ham in ziptop bags in one cup amounts in the freezer.

Tasso Ham Steaks

2 – 1/2 inch thick slices of ham steak (about 1.5 lbs each)
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

Mix the seasoning together well. Rub the seasoning into the sliced meat. Place the steaks on a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove the seasoned ham steaks from the fridge, unwrap them and place on a wire rack. Leave to dry on the counter for at least an hour before preparing the smoker. Set the smoker for a low and slow heat – instead of the usual 200 degree, go lower to 175 degrees. I achieve this in my Weber grill by only filling half the chimney starter and placing the lit charcoal over a horseshoe shaped single layer of unlit briquettes. I used hickory chunks for the smoke.

Place the steaks on the other side of the grill from the coals and smoke for 2 hours or until the internal temperature of the steaks reaches 150 degrees F. Cool completely and cut into cubes. Store in airtight bags in the freezer until ready to use.

I used one cup of Tasso ham in making my one pot jambalaya – see recipe here.

Lemon Cream Cheese Sourdough Kolaches

Czech immigrants to Louisiana brought to our shores recipes for filled buns called kolaches. These can be filled with sweet or savory fillings – I’ve had sausage and cheese kolaches in Lafayette and creole cream cheese ones in Metairie. As there are people stoping by on the way to parades on Fat Tuesday, I made mine with a lemon cream cheese filling.

Because I am using my sourdough starter, I started by making the sponge the morning before on Lundi Gras and then let the dough proof overnight before the shaping of the buns and baking in the morning of Mardi Gras.

I divided my cream cheese into two batches, colored them with yellow and blue food coloring and put them in the bun wells in a stripe, symbolizing the Ukrainian national flag. We may be a world apart but I liked the idea of honoring their fight against the Russian invaders. Slava Ukraini! Heroiam slava! (“Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!”)

Tasty with a deliciously tangy bite from the lemon juice. These take a bit of time but were a cool way to use my sourdough starter.

Lemon Cream Cheese Sourdough Kolaches

Take 1 cup from your sourdough starter and feed it with 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of warm water. Mix well and set aside on the counter for eight hours.

3 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup milk
2 egg yolks (reserve the whites)
½ cup of the sourdough sponge
1 ½ cups of filling

Whisk together the dry ingredients (sugar, 3 cups of flour and salt) in a large bowl. Mash the softened butter into the dry ingredients with a fork.

Warm the milk in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds. It should be warm, not hot. Whisk the egg yolks into the warm milk along with the sourdough starter. Stir until well combined.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until no dry pockets remain. Allow the mixture to rest for an hour.

Use the final cup of flour to dust the work surface and your hands. Turn out the dough and form into a ball and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes. Butter a bowl and place the dough inside to proof for eight hours.

Divide the dough into quarters and divide each quarter into three pieces. Roll gently between your hands to form balls. Place on a baking sheets and don’t crowd the pan as they will be doubling in size. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

To fill the kolaches, take your fingers and press an indentation in the center of each risen ball of dough. You are looking to create a deep hollow surrounded by puffy sides of dough. Place about a tablespoon of filling into each depression.

Beat the egg whites and brush them over the exposed dough. Bake for 20 minutes, until the dough is a light golden brown.

Eat them warm from the oven, or let them cool and store them in an airtight container.

Here is the filling recipe that I used. You can also use jam, if you don’t want to make your own.

Lemon Cream Cheese Filling

8 ounces cream cheese left at room temperature for at least 30 minutes
1 large egg separated (reserve egg white to use as egg wash)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Dash salt

Place the cream cheese, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and zest and salt in a medium bowl and beat together with an electric mixer until smooth. Cover and place in the fridge. Pull out to soften slightly ahead of the end of the final proof.