Monday, July 4, 2016

Mom's short-cut spaghetti sauce

In my youth, mom's spaghetti sauce was made with home-grown giant, pear-shaped, heirloom tomatoes that she canned, and basil my dad grew, as well.  Her sauce would start by browning pork neck bones (which everyone loved to chew on after they came out), hamburger, which would simmer all day, along with a full bulb of chopped garlic.  She always made big batches, and froze some.

In her later years, when she no longer had the homegrown tomatoes, and canning was more work than she could handle, she tried various brands of tomato sauces, and settled on Classico's Tomato Basil.  She insisted, it was the closest to her home-canned.  She also traded in the pork neck-bones for Rinaldi brand Italian Sausage with Fennel, found locally.   We never knew how much flavor the fennel added until we used plain Italian sausage and felt something was missing.

Spaghetti sauces are as varied as there are people on earth who make it.  Some are sweet sauces, some not sweet.  Some kick it up with hot spices, while others prefer various herbs.

Here is the recipe as mom made it in her later years, and which I followed suit with, since I don't have all day to simmer those neck bones.

Ingredients for about 4-5 quarts of complete sauce.  

Mom always made a hearty meat sauce that used one pound of beef per jar of sauce added, and she always used a full package of links (usually 5) to that pot. But, I myself have had to reduce fat, and meat, because of high cholesterol and uric acid, and it comes out fine.  So, I'll often make this with 1.5 to 2 pounds of hamburger, to 3 jars, and even just two links of sausage.

  • 2 Tbsp of olive oil (the kind for sautéing and baking)
  • Rinaldi Italian Sausage with Fennel (3-5 links)
  • 2-3 pounds of hamburger (choose leanest you can afford since there is fat in the sausage)
  • 3 jars of Classico Traditional Tomato Basil
  • One large cooking onion, chopped
  • One full bulb of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp of dried basil, or a good handful of fresh, minced. 
  • 1.5 Tbsp of dried parsley, or small handful of fresh, minced.
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp of black pepper

When I don't have Italian Sausage with Fennel, I crush a heaping Tbsp of fennel seeds and toss in the pot when the hamburger is browning.

No salt is shown in the list, but can be added.  Mom never added salt to the pot because the canned tomatoes have plenty of salt, as does the parmesan cheese, and sausage.

Making the sauce 

  1. Use an over-sized pot (at least 5 quarts). On medium heat, brown the sausage in the olive oil.  This doesn't need to cook thru, but just brown enough to flavor it, and the pot.  Remove from the pot, and onto a plate, mindful, the pork is still raw along with any juices.
  2. Add the hamburger to the pot, and as it is browning, chop the onion and add it.  Mom used to let all the juices dry out and wait for the pot to get brown so she could de-glaze that flavor with the tomatoes when added, but sometimes there is insufficient time.  It's best if most of the liquid has evaporated for when the chopped garlic is added.  
  3. Move the beef from out of the center and drop in the chopped garlic, adding a little olive oil if dry.  DO NOT BURN THE GARLIC, or the sauce is ruined.  The garlic only needs to saute for about two minutes, constantly stirring. This turns it from bitter to sweet. Sometimes, I saute it in a separate small pan and add to the pot. 
  4. Begin adding the 3 jars of sauce.  As each bottle is opened and dumped in, added water to about 1/4 jar full, and shake with the lid to get all the sauce out, and into the pot.  This helps the sauce simmer, by not being too thick. 
  5. Keep at medium until it comes to a slow bubble and reduce to simmer.  Stir with a spatula or other flat utensil to release flavor from bottom of pot. This will need to be done every 10 minutes or so, while the sauce
  6. Add sausage back in whole, and let it cook by simmering. It will release flavor. 
  7. Add in sugar, basil, parsley, pepper. 
  8. Simmer for at least 45 minutes, stirring with flat utensil at least every 10 minutes so it doesn't stick to the pot, but longer will draw more flavor.  Gently fold in the parmesan cheese in the final 15 minutes.  
Sauce is done.  Shut it off, and let it cool on the stove for about an hour, stirring occasionally.  I often do not freeze any until the next day, when it has thickened in the fridge and won't cause steam inside of freezer containers. 

Some images of a past pot of sauce.  In this case, I sautéed a whole bulb of garlic, chopped, in another pan, then added to the hamburger mixture.  Want to know how to peel a whole bulb of garlic in 10 seconds? Watch this short video.

This one was made with no Italian Sausage, so one pound of beef and one pound of ground pork, with sautéed garlic being folded in.  I did not brown the meat for very long so I put the garlic in early.  Scorched garlic will give sauce a really bitter taste.   

Sugar, parmesan cheese, and parsley, waiting to go in.

This is a hearty handful of fresh basil, which is best chopped finely. Grocery stores often have it in the fresh produce section in just the right amount. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fusion Brands Egg Poaching Pods

I've never been one to poach eggs straight in water. I can't get past the vinegar needed in the water. When I saw these pods for poaching, I thought I'd give them a try.   I happen to be on a gluten-free diet at the moment, so I'm now eating these sans bread (and with much less pepper).

Put some water on to boil - about 2 inches.  You will need a lid, or it won't work right (unless you like really runny or really rubbery, overcooked eggs).

1) Spray the inside of the egg pods
2) Crack an egg into each pod (they sit quite well on the counter)
3) Add any spices, if you desire to do this before they are done.
4) Once the water is boiling good, dial it back to a soft boil.
5) Gently place each pod into the water and cover with the lid (careful and slow, lest they tip and submerge)
6) For large eggs, what you see in the picture is about 6 minutes, 30 seconds
7) Use a slotted spoon to pull them out.  Careful not to let them slide out, I tip them to drain the little water that accumulates from steaming.  I actually pinch two ends somewhat closed so it cannot slide out.

If you like the yoke more, or less, hard, experiment with the time by 30 seconds. Just keep in mind, if you get a different size egg, you will want to compensate.

I'm surprised how many videos on YouTube show the eggs cooking, without a lid. This is wrong.  You have to understand the science behind it.  The eggs cook from the bottom and sides while in the water, but the top is steamed when the cover is on.  This allowed for even cooking from all sides.  Without the lid, you could wait 15 minutes or more to get the desired results, and the whites will be like rubber.

Here is one of the few, short videos I was able to find that got it right.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Simple, Quick Stovetop Tuna Casserole

This is an old family favorite.  It may not even qualify as semi-homemade since all ingredients come from a can.  But, that is what makes it so quick and easy to make, especially on a Friday in Lent. 

I have to watch my sodium, carbs and fat.  I am going to provide the recipe as my mother use to make it (with one addition - the can of mushrooms), but know that you can substitute most of these with lower fat and lower sodium or no-salt added versions. 

For the tuna, I have found that there is more flavor in the recipe when using tuna packed in oil (drained, of course). But, if you have to really watch your fat, use the tuna packed in water.  I like to add a small can of mushrooms for more bulk, and in the recipe pictured above, I did not have canned peas, so I used canned green beans.  It changed the flavor as the peas added a slightly sweet twist.  However, green beans beef up the volume and are a good substitute for those watching their carbs. 

I am fortunate to be able to still control my diabetes with diet.  With regards to sugar levels, it means watching my carbs whether they come from table sugar or bread (plain white bread and other white, starchy items with little or no fiber are converted to sugar almost as fast as table sugar).  Diabetics and others who count carbs can subtract the grams of fiber from the total carb count and these kinds of noodles are more friendly on blood sugar levels.  The fiber prevents rapid swings and makes for more smooth rises and drops in blood glucose. I have a preference for Barilla Plus elbow noodles in this recipe, but didn't have any so I used the Barilla Whole Wheat shells.  Even if I didn't have to eat these kinds of fiber-rich noodles, I prefer the texture which is more chewy.  I suppose if you wanted to get creative, you could use some of the noodle substitute ideas here for even fewer carbs.

This recipe does not involve baking and it can be made in about 30 minutes. It is whipped up on the stove top and can easily feed a family of four.   In the picture shown, I used 1/3 less noodles from the box to get a creamier mix. 

  • 1 - 10 3/4 oz. can of Cream of Mushroom soup [using empty soup can], add 1/2 can of milk to help thin it - using more or less as desired)
  • 1 - 6 oz. can of tuna fish
  • 1 - small can of mushrooms
  • 1 - 14.5 oz. can of peas
  • 1 - approx  13-16 oz of noodles, cooked.
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Put the water on to boil for the noodles.  Add salt to taste.

In a large skillet or pan, begin to simmer the mushroom soup and milk.  This can scald easily so keep stirring it with a soft spatula and use very low heat. 

Once the soup is nice and fluid, add the tuna after draining.  Fold that in and let it simmer just a few minutes to infuse flavor.  Then fold in the peas and mushrooms. 

Let this simmer as the noodles cook.  Add more milk if it gets too thick.  Let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  If noodles are not yet done, you can remove the mushroom soup mixture from the burner until the noodles are within a minute or two of being done.  Drain the noodles, then fold them into the recipe while hot.

It's ready to serve!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Diane's Meatless Quick Bean Soup

The meatless bean soup after it was finished!

My idea of quick when it comes to bean soup is something that can be finished in about 2-2.5 hours max, as opposed to letting it cook for half the day. Let's get one thing straight, I don't do 15 minute soups out of a package!

As a Catholic, I not only abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, as is required of all Catholics, but throughout the year because we are to observe some kind of sacrifice, act of charity, or act of piety on Fridays. After mixing it up on Fridays between these things, I found it easier just to give up meat unless there is something special happening that would make this difficult, at which time I opt for giving up something else. According to Catholic apologist, Jimmy Akin, we can use soups made from meat, but I wanted to see if I could make this soup reasonably tasty with vegetable broth.

I was pleasantly surprised with how well this soup came out. I am a meat eater and I most especially like recipes with smoked meat. Rather than use dried beans and my slow cooker, I used canned beans which are already cooked.

Here are the ingredients:

½ stick of butter or substitute
1 medium onion
3 celery hearts
3 medium carrots
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 – 32oz carton Kitchen Basics Vegetable broth
1 20 oz can mixed beans
2 15.5 oz can Westbrae Natural Vegetarian Organic Soup Beans
1 can Butter Beans
4-5 small red potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 Bay Leaf
2 Tbsp dried Thyme
1 Tbsp McCormick Italian Seasoning
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt & Pepper to taste (optional)

The variety of beans are seen in this photo, with the large butter beans - my favorite - standing out

Use organic, low-sodium canned beans which are fully cooked.

Substitute with other canned beans. The Westbrae soup beans are a mix of beans, barley and lentils in water and sea salt. I drained them somewhat, but may not next time.

Chop onions and celery finely, or to desired size. Saute on medium heat in the butter until onions are somewhat transparent. Slice carrots and continue to sauté another 3-5 minutes (careful not to burn). Create a place in the pan where the garlic can be sautéed and add. Let it cook for 1-2 minutes.

Add vegetable broth, all beans, bay leaf, cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and let it cook at a low to medium boil for 1 hour, uncovered. Add potatoes, thyme and Italian seasoning. Continue to simmer and taste broth about 15 minutes after herbs go in. Add salt and pepper to taste. Soup is done when potatoes can be pierced easily with a fork, but do not fall apart (about another 10-15 minutes).

Thickness of soup is controlled by evaporation. If after 1 hour it is still really watery, then let it continue cooking for another 20-30 minutes before adding potatoes and herbs. The herbs (thyme and Italian seasoning) give the soup the most flavor if they go in towards the end (20-30 minutes remaining).

Remove bay leaf before serving. Freezes well.

It makes about 3.5 – 4 quarts, depending on evaporation.


I had one bowl with about 1/4 tsp of hickory simmered in and it was pretty good. Mesquite is better paired with things like baked beans, imho.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Chicken Barley Soup

Photo of my Chicken Barley Soup made this afternoon.
Click on the pic to see the "flavor buds" on top.

This is an extra long post because it contains many of my thoughts on the basics of chicken soup. I will refer back to this post in other chicken soup recipes so I don't repeat the same things.

While this first recipe includes barley, don't let that fool you. If you are not a fan of barley and prefer noodles, just don't add the barley! It's the fiber in the barley that makes this soup more diabetic friendly than ordinary white starch noodles. What's more, is that barley gives soup a sweetness. Using it in chicken soup, as opposed to in beef soup, is often neglected.

First, a word about the chicken - I use Amish chicken or Perdue brand. I'm sorry to say that I'm not a fan of Tyson chicken. Perdue chickens, are robust and healthy looking.

Cuts of Chicken for Homemade Soup

For smaller pots of chicken soup (3-4 qt), I like to use 3 chicken thighs or a large chicken leg with the thigh attached. You can really use any part of the chicken, or the whole bird for that matter. However, I never use split chicken breasts unless I plan to strain the soup, preferring to use the whole breast, uncut when I do use breast meat (usually along with other cuts). After the soup has been simmering and the meat gets fully cooked, it falls apart easy and the small bones in the back can get into the soup. This can happen with a whole chicken too which is why you have to carefully remove it so the back is intact.

You might ask about using boneless breast. I have tried it, and I can tell you that there isn't much flavor. However, I have added a boneless breast for the white meat which I break up later.

For maximum flavor, leave the skin on. Those oily circles floating on top - they are what my dad called, "the flavor buds". Fat can be skimmed and some fat is what is needed for taste, but if you break down how much fat there truly is per bowl, with the skin on, it is not that much. If you are sensitive to the fat, or want to make it lower fat, pull the skin off of all the thighs for example and trim what fat you see. My mother will leave the skin on one out of the three thighs for this 4 qt pot of soup.

Also, make sure you rinse the chicken with cool, running water (don't ask about what happens when it is packaged, just wash it!). Use proper sanitary techniques as with any poultry. Watch what you touch with "chicken hands" and wipe it down later. Don't reuse utensils from raw chicken or poultry for other things.

A Word about Soup Base

I have tried to avoid soup base many times, but just don't get the same taste as when I kick it up with just a little bit of Minors Chicken Soup Base - a quality paste that is lower in sodium and high in flavor in contrast to any powder or cubes you can find. Economically, it is more expensive than powder or cube, but the taste makes up for it.

In the metro-Detroit area, Gordon Food Service carries it, as does Vince & Joes, Nino Salvaggio and probably some other sources. However, make sure you buy it from the refigerated section. If you enter a store where it is stored on the shelf, that grocer is not following manufacturer instructions to keep refrigerated. We found this out the hard way when encountering a quality problem and calling them.

Notice that no salt is used in this recipe. That is because soup base has enough salt in it and packs in flavor with the salt. In Minors Chicken Soup Base, there is 560 mg of sodium for an 8 oz serving prepared (1 tsp to 8 oz water). There are 4 cups in a quart. So, if there are three teaspoons per tablespoon, we will have a maximum of 9 teaspoons or 560 x 9 = 5040. To figure out how much sodium there is per 8 oz serving, we just divide the 5040 by 16 cups, which is 315. Compare that to any soup made with powder or boullion cubes. In fact, just look at how much sodium is in the average canned soup, with 2.5 servings per can. It's around 700-1100 mg and that's not even for 8oz.

Minors is lower sodium, yet packed with flavor!

To use a lid or to not use a lid?
During winter, when added humidity is good for the respiratory tract, and the wood in the house, I leave the lid off, and keep adding water to keep my pot to it's original filling point. During the summer, I leave the lid on!


4 Qts of water
3 chicken thighs (or other substitute)
2-3 level Tbsp of Minor's Chicken Base
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large, or 2 small stalks of celery chopped finely
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1/4 tsp of fresh ground multi-color pepper or ordinary ground pepper (optional)
1 Tbsp of fresh chopped or dried parsley (optional)
2/3 cup of Quick Barley


Using a minimum 5.5 qt stockpot, add 4 qts of water and the prepared chicken. Initially, I set it to high until it gets boiling and I don't leave the room. Then, I drop it to simmer and go about business for about 30 minutes. Check back on it and you will see a foam developing on the surface. Use a large spoon to skim this off the surface and discard it into a bowl.

Add the onion, celery and pepper and let it all simmer for a couple hours until the meat is ready to fall off the bone. Remove the chicken to a small bowl to cool, then break up the chicken by hand and add it back into the soup.

Add the carrots and let simmer for 30 minutes.

When you are getting close to serving, turn up the soup so it is in a slow boil and add the barley and parsley. By waiting until the end to add the parsley, the flavor does not boil away. While the barley claims to cook in 10 minutes, it actually takes longer. It won't hurt to let it cook for about 20-30 minutes.


  • Strain the soup before you put the chicken back in if you prefer not to have chunks of onion and celery.
  • Rather than strain the soup, put the veggies whole and remove them. Just cut the ends of the onion bulb and drop it in.
  • Use thyme instead of parsley, especially when congested.
  • Add a whole potato or two in the final 30-40 minutes (peeled red potatoe won't fall apart like an Idaho will). You can cut it up after it is cooked. Do this when not using barley.
  • Add 1/4 cup of crushed tomato with onion and celery.
  • If you have a fever or flu, you will not want to use barley. The high fiber content will lay like led on your stomach. But, even the broth without noodles is great for sipping on when sick. And, the onions are helpful.

As I stated earlier, don't put barley in if you want to use noodles. However, don't take the easy way out and boil them in the soup. This makes the soup starchy, the noodles eventually mushy, and limits how long you can keep it (which should only be 2-3 days, but noodles continue to absorb moisture and expand). Boil them separate, using a little oil in the water so they don't stick. Rinse them in cool water to stop the cooking and after they drain, put them in a container. Add as desired for each bowl!

Reduced Fat Tip

To remove some of the grease, you can use a ladle and gently drop it evenly down to pull the oil off the top. This should take place after the soup has stopped cooking when oil fully floats to the top. In the end, little fat ends up in each serving if the soup is stirred adequately with each ladle-full.

If you really need to get the fat off of your soup without losing too much flavor, make your soup the day before or early, let it cool, refigerate, and after a couple hours, it will form a grease-crust which can be lifted off. Otherwise, use a fat-separator.

Introductory Post for The Old Country Kitchen

I've been involved in Catholic blogging now for two years and have found that it can be an excellent archiving system, while at the same time permitting a way to share things with others.

What better thing to share than home-cooked recipes from a family like mine, where cooking goes way back.

Why should I type these out and store them on my computer as opposed to putting them in the public domain where you can try them, and perhaps innovate.

One way I like to innovate is to take older recipes that are very high in fat, and try to make them as tasty with less fat and better types of fat. Since, as Emeril Lagasse says, pork fat rules, there will be some recipes we wouldn't dare tamper with. These will be carry a label of "Heart-Attack Special". In other words, it would not be wise to eat these on a regular basis, but it's silly to not enjoy them during special occasions or holidays.

Another way I now like to innovate is to find diabetic freindly ways to make the older recipes since I have now also taken on this baton. However, here too, sometimes you just can't mess with a good, old country recipe. And, just because I can't have it, doesn't mean I won't make it for the family.

What is meant by old country? Well, Mom is of Croatian and Polish descent, and I'm told there is some German on her mother's side. Her Father was born in Croatia back in the early 1900's and he brought with him, the family BBQ. With the purchase of my first ever, cheap, lump hardwood coal smoker, I'm finding simple ways to get that great wood-smoked flavor into some of that old country meat, like Lamb.

I can't post often as I am too busy, but I'm going to try to begin archiving my family recipes and innovations here. I hope you enjoy them.

One word of warning: If you are looking for quick and easy, there will probably be fewer of those, than the time consumming, good wholesome cooking - things you can do while you are home for the day and can babysit the pot or kettle.

My cooking words of wisdom for today: You can't cook without the onion or the garlic because it makes your eyes water or because it stinks. If you've ever tried stuffed cabbage, you know it makes the house smell like that of a dirty baby diaper, but tastes, oh, so good!