Tag Archives: marinara sauce

Budget Eats: Well, Stew Me Some Chili And Call Me Your Dinner

4 Oct

Image sourced from thepioneerwoman.com. Nommy nom nom.

This week’s Budget Eats entry is one of my favorites, mostly for the sheer ease of it all. If you’re looking to save some serious cash, get adventurous, and have yourself a tasty meal for days to come, give this idea a shot:

Cook a huge batch of soup, stew, or chili and divide it into individual portions.

Win! Here’s what I mean, in a bit more detail:

Keep reading

Budget Eats: Doctoring Store-Bought Ingredients

25 Sep

In the spirit of Sandra “Semi-Homemade” Lee, this “Budget Eats” entry focuses on taking things you can easily find in a grocery store (dry mixes, spice packs, sauces, and even pre-cooked meat products like chicken sausage) and turning them into something totally dynamite. Can you do it? Can it be done on a budget? Heck yes.

I’ve constructed this post with 3 categories: Mixes & doughs, meat products, and sauces. Each has its own tips and ideas for how to use those products in a pinch for dinners, desserts, snacks & more. Please (seriously!) feel free to leave comments with other ideas — this is a place to share what we’ve all learned, especially the shortcuts that keep us sane on a hungry weeknight!


  • Take a standard mix — Bisquick, Jiffy mixes, etc — and play around with their use. Bisquick, in a pinch, is a killer ingredient in a single-breaded or double-breaded chicken dinner. And Jiffy mix? Jiffy is a whole nother ballgame of multipurpose cooking. My favorite use for Jiffy mix is Savory Corn Muffins — Prepare Jiffy mix as noted on box; add garlic powder, frozen corn kernels (up to 3/4 cup), chopped fresh chives & freshly grated black pepper; bake as usual and serve with chili, tacos or other Tex-Mex cuisine. See the above picture, or this one:

  • Biscuit dough — like Pillsbury Grands — is incredibly versatile. For example, you can make Easy-Peasy Cinnamon Donuts with a tube of Grands biscuits: Separate and lay biscuits out on a baking sheet; Using a shot glass or medicine cup, cut circles out of the center of each biscuit; either bake as directed or deep-fry in vegetable oil until browned; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. NOM NOM! Here’s a great recipe (with actual measurements) from Make and Takes.

Image sourced from Makeandtakes.com. Amazing, right? And so easy!

  • Pizza dough — either Pillsbury or a store brand — can be used for its obvious purpose (pizza, kiddies), or for calzones, strombolis, or even mini-pizzas. Or, try these Holiday Hors d’OeuvresCut the pizza dough into 1″ X 1″ squares; top with pesto, chopped roasted red peppers, and feta cheese crumbles; bake as directed for pizza dough. (These also make a great light supper.)
  • Got Spice Cake Mix and a jar of pumpkin? (Of course you do, lovely GKG readers — you wouldn’t go anywhere without your trusty can of pumpkin!) Combine the two, bake according to the cake mix package’s directions, and poof. Instant Pumpkin Cupcakes. Top with store-bought cream cheese frosting with a splash of maple syrup mixed in, and WOWZA.


Image sourced from baltimorecrab.com. This may or may not currently be in my freezer …

  • Those bags of frozen Tilapia filets? Seriously your best friend. Use them to create Single Serving Foil Packs — stuff a packet of tinfoil with Tilapia, a splash of cooking liquid (broth, oil, butter or white wine), sliced veggies & spices to your liking; bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, or until fish and veggies are cooked through. Win! This method also works for chicken and beef equally well.
  • Got frozen chicken nuggets? How about turning them into Chicken Parm Bites? Top individual nuggets with tomato sauce and dried basil, baking according to package directions; then, add shredded mozzarella cheese on each nugget and return to the oven for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted, bubbly and brown. Mmm!

Image sourced from seriouseats.com. So much tasty!

  • Pre-cooked chicken sausage is incredibly versatile. Use brands like Al Fresco to whip up a Healthy Pita Pizza: Top individual Greek-style pitas with pesto or tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, sliced chicken sausage, and shredded kale (thawed and formerly frozen is great!); Broil for 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and sausage is heated through. Mmm!


The players in Operation: Sauce Doctoring — fresh or dried herbs work well here.

  • Got jarred tomato sauce? Doctor up that boring blend with a few extras that you may have hiding in your pantry or spice cabinet: dried basil, dried oregano, dried parsley and a bay leaf. Add sauteed chopped mushrooms and peppers to create an instant Cacciatore sauce for chicken and spaghetti. Or, stir a little store-bought pesto into a jarred tomato sauce. Serious good eats. (I even used this method on my chicken parm! Shhh. Don’t tell the aunts and grandparents! 🙂
  • I’m counting mayonnaise as a “sauce” here, because it’s one of the most versatile condiments on the planet. Add some Sriracha for Spicy Mayo; stir in some pesto for a dee-licious Pesto Mayo on your panini; or crushed cloves of garlic (use a sprinkle of salt and a fork to turn garlic into a mushy, incredible paste) and a drizzle of olive oil to DIY your own aioli. Mmmskies.
  • If we count cake frosting as a “sauce,” too, then your possibilities are pretty much endless. As I mentioned above, add a drizzle of maple syrup (and a dash or two of cinnamon) to frost fall desserts. Or, try stirring mashed strawberries or raspberries into a whipped vanilla frosting for a light, fruity flavor to top your cakes and cupcakes. I’m also experimenting with adding — you guessed it, lovelies — some jarred pumpkin. I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out.

Here’s to getting creative! Using some pre-made, store-bought ingredients can save you time, energy and money. Wallet-friendly and fun? Sign me up! What are your favorite ways to add to what you’ve already found at the grocery store?

Viva Italia: Healthful Chicken Parmigiana

23 Sep

When the History Teacher mentioned a craving for Chicken Parm recently, he and I both took a peek or two at various recipes in our collections. (Cookbooks, magazines, Pinterest — which is slowly becoming a recipe book-sized collection in itself!) Each recipe we found, it seemed, called for lots of oil, gobs of cheese, and a few more calories than either of us might need in one meal. Or an entire day.

I decided to tackle the beast that was one of Italian-American cuisine’s most iconic dishes, but in a healthier way. Could it be done? Would it be a fruitless effort, like whoever decided to try manufacturing fat-free ice cream? (Oxymoronic at best, nasty at worst. Oif.) Would I end up with a chicken-tasting hockey puck of low-fat grossness? Time would tell.

But, lo and behold, I came up with this beauty:

Nommy nom nom goodness.

The recipe’s low-fat, easy-prep secrets? (I’ll let you in, faithful GKG readers, because you’re lovely and awesome.)

  1. Pound the chicken breasts to tenderize the meat.
  2. Double-Bread the chicken (directions below) to seal in moisture and create a crispy crust
  3. Downplay the cheese by only adding enough for flavor, rather than letting the chicken drown in fromaggio.
  4. If you have it, use whole-wheat pasta, which has a nuttier flavor and a hefty “bite” when cooked al dente.

Now, some of you may be raising a red flag at the mention of lowering the recipe’s cheese content. After all, what’s Chicken Parm without gobs upon gobs of melted mozzarella? Here’s my reasoning: If the chef uses less, but makes the cheese available to her guests and patrons, then they can add as much cheese as they see fit. And, thus, their future heart attacks are not on the chef’s conscience. Plus, I like a lighter layer of cheese with the whole-wheat or whole-grain pastas. Something about their nutty, wholesome flavor screams “Please don’t drown me in dairy!”

And so, friends, here’s my recipe for an easy and surprisingly healthful Chicken Parmigiana. It’s really the meat-pounding-and-double-breading that makes this recipe special, and the techniques are so simple that they can be easily applied to any cut of meat that you choose. Try it with pork chops, chicken thighs, or even a thin steak if you’re feeling particularly Southern. Happy eating!

Surprisingly Healthful Chicken Parm — Serves 4 (easily reduced to 2 or doubled)

You’ll need:

  • 4 medium-sized or two large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (regular, Italian-seasoned or panko are all fine)
  • A hefty sprinkle of Parmesan, plus more for serving (approx 1 tbsp)
  • 1-2 tsp Dried or fresh basil, parsley and oregano, crushed (if dried) or finely chopped (if fresh)
  • Salt & pepper to season
  • 1 recipe homemade tomato sauce (or 1 jar of your favorite marinara)
  • 1 lb whole-grain or whole-wheat spaghetti (or 1 lb regular spaghetti. Your carbs are your prerogatives, my dears.)

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, set a pot of water (with a pinch of salt) to boil on high heat.
  • In a small saucepan, heat 2-3 cups pasta sauce.
  • Place your chicken breasts on a cutting board between two layers of wax paper or plastic wrap. (If you used 2 large breasts, cut ’em into evenly-sized portions). Using a meat tenderizer or whatever heavy, blunt object you don’t mind getting slightly covered in chicken guts (I used the bottom of a jar), pound out the breasts until they are at least 1/2 of their original thickness. They should end up about 1/2 to 1 inch thick. (The recipe can handle a little variation.)
  • Arrange 3 bowls or serving dishes. In the first, add the flour, some salt & pepper, and 1/2 of the herbs. In the 2nd, add the beaten egg (with an optional pinch of garlic salt). In the third, add the breadcrumbs, Parmesan and the rest of the herbs. Dredge the pounded breasts first in flour (shaking off the excess), then in egg, and finally in the breadcrumb and Parmesan mixture. Set aside on a serving dish.
  • Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. (Optional: Add 1/2 tsp butter to the pan for additional flavor. Add the chicken breasts (2 at a time) and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until well browned. When browned, transfer to a lightly sprayed baking sheet. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until completely cooked through.

“Hissssss.” — Breadcrumb coating meets olive oil.

  • Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse lightly, and transfer to serving bowl / dish. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and a little remaining pasta water to keep pasta from sticking together until chicken is done.

Lonely pasta, just waiting for some friends.

  • To serve, top pasta with chicken breasts. Spoon sauce over breasts and pasta until well-covered. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese to garnish, and top with additional dried or fresh herbs. Serve to the hungry hordes!

Almost ready! Check out that sweet crumb-coating.

Oh yeah. Sauce & cheese take that chicken to the next level.

A few final points, my dears:

First, if you’re serving this for dinner, a simple salad and crusty loaf of bread are the perfect side dishes. Secondly, you can up the veggie quantity by using a veggie-filled sauce, adding sauteed veggies to your premade sauce, or even using peeled eggplant slices / squash slices instead of chicken breasts. And if you’re really craving that cheesy goodness, assemble the dish in an oven-safe, deep-sided pan, top with mozzarella, and broil for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is gooey, bubbly and browned to your liking. (“All things in moderation, including moderation.” — some wise, awesome person.)

Lastly, what really makes the dish is that double-breading. It creates a crisp coating that locks in moisture, leaving your chicken breasts juicy and the outsides browned, crunchy and delicious. You really can’t go wrong!

Are you guys fans of this Italian-American classic? Have you ever double-breaded chicken breasts before? What are your favorite techniques for recreating this dish at home?

Easy-Peasy Homemade Pizza

18 Jul

I’ve been on something of a chemical-free kick lately, food-wise. (I still put Lord-knows-what’s-in-it volumizing spray in my hair before I blow dry, but I’m using organic conditioner and wash my clothes with biodegradable detergent! Baby steps.) While I’m not making any groundbreaking changes in my diet, beyond the basic healthy choices I’ve adopted over the years, the whole “farm-to-table,” hormone-free dialogue just makes me think. A lot.

Image sourced from organicgardening.com. What does “sustainable” really mean in day to day life?

It also leaves me with questions. How many chemicals, preservatives, dyes and additives are in foods I eat every day? What’s their impact on my health? And how difficult will it be for me to channel my inner Alice Waters / Barbara Kingsolver / Michael Pollan on a teacher’s budget?

Image sourced from floridata.com. Should this be my guidepost?

The easiest way to start, as someone who’s a long way from either being a master chef or growing her own animal, vegetable or miracle, is to try making what you can from scratch. A friend once told me that she stuck to the “outer rim” of the grocery store — produce, lean protein, etc. — and I find that the more “whole foods” I buy, and the more things I make on my own, the better I feel. And, frankly, the better my conscience feels, both in terms of my own health and in terms of my impact (or lack thereof) on the earth. I could buy the premade pizza dough and tomato sauce, manufactured hundreds of miles away, stuffed into non-biodegradable containers and chock-full of preservatives and chemicals, or I could make my own.

Granted, I’m not in an episode of “Portlandia” here — no one made homemade parmesan cheese in an organic bucket with locally sourced rennet, and I’m not exactly raising my own chickens on an urban homestead. Nor am I looking down on those who don’t make their own pizza crust, sauce or the like. Life’s too short to judge how “green” someone else’s diet is. But the baby steps are the building blocks of real lifestyle change. Why not try and make some little adjustments, if the overall benefit is to your health and the joy of your taste buds?

Image sourced from eater.com. Just substitute “pickle that” for “make that from scratch with loads of pretension!” No thanks.

And oh, is it worth it! There’s something so lovely about taking that kind of ownership over your food. Cutting through a crust you’ve kneaded. Spooning on a sauce you’ve cooked yourself. Slicing market-fresh vegetables and sprinkling them with cheese. Serving that hot, steaming pie to people you love. As Martha would say, it’s a good thing. (Then again, Martha also went to prison for insider trading. Again, nobody’s perfect.)

Image sourced from usmagazine.com. Well, I guess if Martha’s making pizza with Gwyneth Paltrow, then all’s right with the world again.

Easy Peasy Homemade Pizza — serves 4 – 8

You’ll need:

For the dough — makes enough for 2 pizzas. [courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens]

  • 2 cups lukewarm water (105° to 115°, to get technical; just make sure it’s not too hot, or you’ll kill your yeast.)
  • 2 packets active dry yeast (or 4 and 1/2 tsps)
  • 6 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose (OR 5 cups all-purpose, 1 cup whole wheat)
  • 2 tsps sea salt

For the sauce — makes enough for 2 pizzas.

One recipe Homemade Pasta Sauce, minus the tomato paste and carrots

You’ll also need …

  • 1 small bag shredded mozzarella cheese (1-2 cups)
  • Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling
  • Romano cheese, for sprinkling
  • Various dried Italian herbs
  • Toppings of your choice — I love fresh bell peppers, tomatoes, and cooked chicken. (Especially shredded Rotisserie Chicken!)

Here’s what you do:

  1. Mix your water and yeast in a large bowl; allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes, or until slightly bubbly.
  2. Add flour and salt, mixing to combine. The pre-kneaded dough may seem pretty dry.
  3. Knead the dough on a floured surface (I used my tabletop) for 6-8 minutes, or until elastic in texture. (I.e. when you poke it, it bounces back a bit.) Form into a ball.
  4. Grease a large bowl; place the dough in the bowl, turning over once or twice until it’s coated in oil or spray. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled in size, or 1-2 hours.
  5. Meanwhile, cook up your sauce; allow it to simmer on low, covered, as the dough’s rising.
  6. When the dough is fully risen, cut off half to use for another pizza. [Freeze the dough, tightly wrapped in saran wrapped and bagged in a Ziplock, for up to 3 months. (According to BHG. Have yet to test this theory.)]  Roll out the dough on a floured surface and place on a cornmeal-covered pizza stone or baking sheet. Brush with a small amount of olive oil and bake in a 450° oven for 10 minutes.
  7. After 10 minutes, remove the crust from the oven. Ladle on your sauce, spreading over the hot crust. Add cheeses, herbs and toppings in amounts to your liking. Return to 450° oven and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and brown.

What are your favorite pizza recipes? How have you gone “farm to table” in your own apartment kitchens?

Viva Italia: Basic Homemade Marinara Sauce

30 Jun

Amici miei, if there’s one thing you need to know about me, it’s that I am Italian. Not Italian and French, not Italian and Greek, not Italian and a-little-bit-of-something-else-European: my people, both maternal and paternal, hail from The Boot and The Boot alone. (Well, unless you could Sicily, the Soccer Ball Being Kicked Around By Said Boot, as a separate entity. Then I’m 50/50.)

Note: I hail from regions with good food. #proudlineage.

And as such, I’ve made it a point to slowly but surely learn my mother’s and grandmothers’ cadre of southern Italian specialties. Hopefully in that totally Zen, made-from-scratch-without-actual-measurements kind of way.

Which means, thankfully, that I can share these recipes with you! (Minus Pop Pop’s cannoli. My aunts are taking that one to the grave.) The first is known by many names: “gravy” in New Jersey, red sauce, or my favorite, a Basic Marinara. The beauty of this sauce is that you can easily adapt it into a Bolognese, a chunkier Pomodoro, or any other slew of tomato-based pasta and pizza sauces. I’ll even use this sauce in its simplest form as a pizza base. Fresh, easy, and delicious: killer combo, indeed.

Basic Marinara (serves 4-6 over pasta, or fewer with leftovers)

You’ll need:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 whole carrot, or 3-5 baby carrots, diced (optional)
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 32-oz cans of crushed tomatoes
  • optional: 1 small can tomato paste

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the olive oil and butter over medium-low heat until bubbly. Add the onion, carrot, and garlic cloves, stirring regularly and cooking until the onions are translucent. (The carrots will take longer.)

Ooh, steamy.

  • When the onions are translucent, add your herbs, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Sautée a few minutes longer, or until the sauce base is aromatic and the carrots seem mostly cooked through.

Mixin de veggies, mixin de veggies. (And yes, my hands are covered in flour. Oops!)

  • Add your cans of crushed tomatoes (and tomato paste if using; the paste adds a great “cooked all day” flavor, but I prefer it in pasta sauces over pizza sauce. Depends on how you’re using your marinara) to the pot, mixing thoroughly. Lower the heat slightly (around 2 or 3 on your stovetop dial), cover, and let it sit for a good 2-5 hours. Stir occasionally. If you’re in a pinch time-wise, it’s usually pretty tasty after an hour, but the longer it stews, the richer and more flavorful your sauce will become.

Mmmmm. ‘Nuff said.

  • Note: Remove the bay leaf before serving! While it imparts a great flavor, unless you’re playing “Whoever Finds the Inedible Bay Leaf Gets an Extra Meatball,” you should scoop that bad boy outta there.
  • Pour over cooked pasta when you’re ready to eat. If you’re making meatballs (recipe pending), add these after about 2 hours of cooking time, letting them stew with the sauce until you’re ready to eat.

As Neil Simon once (allegedly) said, “There are two laws in the universe: the law of gravity, and everyone loves Italian food.” Mangia mangia, indeed.

Are any of you lovely folks of the Italian persuasion? Or just great big fans of Italian cuisine? What are your basic marinara recipes? Or are you pesto people? Happy Eating!