Fifty Shades Of Pasta


Yes, that’s it… gently with the linguine…. it must be al dente for it to be just right…. oooh yeah….

More baby more!

Now the thick spaghetti, you know how I like it thick…. I’ll stuff your bucatini fulla loooove….

And the safety word is gemelli.

Someone asked me for some Italian recipes, so I thought of pasta. Now that I’m going easer on the whole low-carb thing I can make it far more often.

If only I had a penne for every time I made pasta.

Okay, now that you’ve barfed & made some room, here are some ideas. And to be specific, they’re really ideas on what to have WITH pasta – they’re not recipes for making your own homemade pasta (which is pretty easy, actually: 1 cup flour to 1 egg/2 tbs water/1/8 cup olive oil ratio for each portion. Mix up, knead a bit, wrap in plastic like Laura Palmer for at least a half hour, then roll out & cut using machine or a rolling pin).

Real men like meat with their pasta. At least that’s what I’ve been told over cups of herbal tea in our circular discussions of Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Wait, now I’M barfing.

Anyway, just like the construction worker inquired as you walked on by, if you like Italian sausage, I’ve got something good for you. Take the sausage (hot or sweet, whatever you like & also depending on the construction worker’s personality) and cut it open, raw, squeezing the meat out into a bowl (unless of course the construction worker yells “gemelli!”). Add some wine, red or white, and mix up. Brown this up in a saute pan with some olive oil and use a wooden or plastic spoon to break it up into decent sized chunks, not too big, not too small. Then simply add some basic marinara to it. The meat is already seasoned and spiced, so this is basically pasta & sausage without pieces of sausage but instead with more of a ragout angle.

I posted a recipe for meatballs elsewhere on this blog, but lately I’ve been doing it a little differently: I still use ground turkey, but I start with a piece of white or Italian bread, minus the crust, torn into tiny shreds by hand & then soaked with red wine. I mash this with a fork into a red paste of sorts, maybe about 1/4 cup worth for the 1/3 pound of ground turkey I’m using. Then I add salt, pepper (ground black or red pepper flakes, whatever you like), garlic powder, parmesan cheese, dried basil and maybe a tablespoon of olive oil to it all, mix it up until the consistency is uniform & then make 6-8 meatballs with it. These go on a pyrex pie plate & into the microwave on high for 3-4 minutes. I’ll finish cooking them in a saute pan with a little olive oil, browning them on a few sides, and then adding marinara & simmering it all for 15-20 minutes before dressing pasta with it.

Low-Carb variation: In either of these cases, I added sun dried tomatoes during the cooking of the sauce & mozzarella cheese at the end to thicken, giving me more of a thick meaty stew. I’d increase the meat portion (something else the construction worker suggested), eat it in a bowl along with a salad & some wine.

I tried a new trick with a mushroom marinara the other day as well – I sliced up the mushrooms & sweated them down in a saute pan with some olive oil and a pinch of salt, but this time once they browned & shrunk, I didn’t add the marinara right off. Instead, I added about 1/4 of port wine and cooked it down until the wine remnant was syrupy, where you could see a trail when you dragged the spoon through it, and THEN added the marinara. I used to throw some port into my marinara to give the illusion of fresher/sweeter tomatoes, and by infusing the ‘shooms with it, this had the same effect, only more noticeable in the end. And this can easily be accomplished with the run-of-the-mill cheap twisty cap supermarket port – you don’t have to use that 1963 bottle of tawny that ran you several hundred dollars. Unless you want to…. but the only way I’d ever spend that kind of money is if I’d forgotten the safety word.


In Search Of The Best Banana Bread

zaiusIt ought to have been an episode of the old Leonard Nimoy TV show. I think I’ve tried at least a half a dozen variations on banana bread recipes over the years. They’ve ranged from decent to very good, but never to SWOON, which is what I always look for whenever picking whatever will be the version to be put into permanent rotation.

And speaking of Nimoy, I’d like to see this in heavy rotation. Or not.

 Banana Bread Version 1 is the more traditional recipe and prep, and it’s sort of the “baseline” I work with whenever trying a new one.

Dry: Mix 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt (not kosher salt) in a bowl.

Wet: Mash up 3-4 overripe bananas in another bowl. Add 1/4 cup of plain yogurt or sour cream (I like to use greek yogurt), 2 beaten eggs, 6 tbs butter that’s been melted & cooled, and 1 tsp of vanilla.

Fold the wet into the dry until combined.

At this point, you can fold in some chopped walnuts or (my preference) 1 1/4 cups of dark chocolate chips that have been lightly dusted in flour (that keeps ’em from sinking during the baking)

Pour the batter into a lightly greased or buttered 5×9 loaf pan. One hour in a 350 degree oven, test with a toothpick, you know the drill. Then let cool.

Banana Bread Version 2 is a little more complex, but it came out pretty decently. I saw it on America’s Test Kitchen, probably my favorite cooking show out there. I might play around with it a little to increase the sweetness.

Dry: 1 3/4 cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda & 1/2 tsp salt (not kosher) in a bowl

Wet:  Prepare the bananas: 4-5 overripe bananas put into a microwave bowl, cover with plastic, poke a few holes in the plastic to allow steam to escape. Microwave for 4-5 minutes. Strain the cooked bananas, stir them around to get all the liquid out & reserve the liquid. Reduce the liquid over a low-medium flame in a saucepan until it’s down to under 1/4 cup, almost syrupy. Add back to the bananas. Mash up with a potato masher.

Then whisk in 8 tbs (a whole stick) of melted/cooled butter, 2 beaten eggs, 1 tsp vanilla and 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar. Mix until combined.

Add wet to dry, fold in until combined.  Fold in walnuts or chocolate, same as the other recipe. Pour into the same greased or buttered loaf pan.

Now, on the Test Kitchen, they sliced up one more banana, shingled the top of the thing (avoiding the center where it rises) and sprinkled 2 tsp of sugar on top. I did not do this and probably will try it next time since it will add more flavor & sweetness. I had thought it would be overkill, but the unshingled version I did do hardly differed from version 1 in taste, only in color due to the brown sugar.  I also thought that adding the white sugar to the mix might increase sweetness and also provide some chewiness by mixing with the brown sugar. We’ll see about that next time. But their trick of microwaving the bananas & reducing the resulting flavor-packed liquid to a near syrup added sweetness and maintained moistness without overdoing the balance (hence dropping the yogurt – you’re basically subbing more banana for it in version 2.)

So the experimentation will go on…. vprice


Clear As (Borosilicate versus Soda Lime) Glass

Vincent-cooking-3I learn all sorts of odd things via my geeky students and former students. This time it’s what chemical mix goes into glass bakeware. I’d never really thought about it.

This weekend I went to a nearby estate sale where grandma’s house was getting sold. Hardly any books, next to no tools in the garage, mostly little figurines and far too much sewing material, but I figured as long as I was there, I’d comb the place from top to bottom.

After I got past the slightly tempting stack of Ice Capades programs dating back to 1972 (Good God, I’m old enough to remember Jo Jo Starbuck), I checked out the cluttered kitchen. Denied my usual estate sale entertainment of people trying to sell various canned pantry contents with 1990s expiration dates, I noticed a TON of bakeware, all of which was immaculately clean.

And some of it immaculately CHEAP, my favorite. I grabbed four purple-tinted (!) baking dishes – 2 were Pyrex, 2 were Anchor Hocking –  maybe $100-125 retail altogether, for $10. (Also a nice deal on a sweeper broom that I used to FINALLY sweep out my garage, but that’s another story).

The purple tint told me the stuff had to be 20-30 years old, but it’s all immaculate – unlike the stuff I already have, not a baked on greasy spot in the bunch.

And then a former student told me on Facebook that since it’s so old, it must be the old school Pyrex made with borosilicate glass – the same kind of glass used in labs, the kind that can stand extreme heat and not shatter when heated and cooled rapidly. Evidently when Pyrex got sold off in 1998, their new owners switched to soda lime glass (the kind used by Anchor Hocking for 2 of my purchases). Turns out soda lime glass handles oven heat as well, but can break easier when temperatures switch too quickly.

This happened to me once – I took a hot glass pie plate and ran it under water in the sink to clean it, and the difference in temperature shattered the damn thing in my hands.

I’m not sure I’ll really notice the difference the same way I notice the difference between using cheaper stovetop material versus upper end stainless or my beloved All-Clad nonstick, but I found it interesting to consider the chemistry in something I hadn’t given second thought to.

I’m too busy thinking about the purple color. I’m thinking it’ll go great if I remodel the kitchen with some avocado green appliances, bright red countertops and some screamin’ monkey-puke yellow colored cabinetry so the place can look like something out of The Brady Bunch. I’d like to think of Alice cooking a lasagna in one of the baking dishes, though I’d rather think of sharing spaghetti with Marcia Lady & The Tramp style, until I leaned in too quickly and broke her nose.

I knew I should have cooked for Adrienne Barbeau instead.

How I Lost Weight & Improved My Health, Until I Get Hit By A Bus


A bus falling out of the sky, too. It’s just how my life works.

A few months back, I got bored waiting at a supermarket pharmacy counter, so I sat in one of those free blood pressure measuring chairs to see where my numbers would land.

I’ve always had relatively low blood pressure, anywhere from 110-120 over 60, never gave it much thought compared to other health related issues nearer & dearer to my experience.

Such as my genetically from dad ulcer-vulnerable stomach. Or the lurking fear that I’d wake up one morning and find a note pinned to my pillow from my penis after it had finally abandoned me for greener pastures.

So when this thing gave me a readout of 155/85, I wondered WTF? I hadn’t been overly stressed lately. I don’t smoke. I hardly ever drink coffee. And I hadn’t eaten a fifty pound bag of rock salt for lunch.

I figured it was a faulty machine, at least hoped it was a faulty machine. On my way home, I stopped at a different supermarket that had a pharmacy and a blood pressure video chair. Rolled up my sleeve & sat in it…. and 155/85 again.

A real kick in the ass – I’d been meaning to drop some weight and had never made a real commitment, but this put me into a small panic as I envisioned my post-stroke self, drooling in a wheelchair, thinking of endless dick jokes and unable to speak ANY of them. Truly a fate worse than death.

Getting more exercise was easy – that simply meant going back to my old habit of taking long walks after dinner. And there’s certainly a variety of walking routes & paths where I live. So, it was a 2-3 mile walk nearly every night, maybe anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour of brisk walking, some uphill, some flat, some downhill.

But you want to know how I lost somewhere between 15-17 pounds in 2 months, right?

It’s the practically-no-carb diet. It really works. Practically no carbs, no sugar, and all the meats, cheeses, veggies, nuts, etc. as you want. The more protein, the better for not feeling hungry. For a couple of months, I cut out as many carbs as I possibly could – no rice or bread or starchy sides with my dinners. No more potatoes or mac ‘n’ cheese. I made larger salads with more veggies and often added hard boiled egg white for protein. I cut out all pasta – this was the toughest thing to do, considering I would normally make it 2-3 times a week – did I mention I’m a gourmet cook and specialize in Italian food?


One way around the pasta-less diet was to prepare some of the same sauces for pasta and have them only with the meatballs, sausage or seafood. I’d up the amount of meat and add sun dried tomatoes and/or mozzarella to thicken the sauce. Eventually I cut back on cheese since I wanted to avoid cholesterol.

I read labels studiously and figured I probably cut my carbs by 90% or so – I’d have a fiber-loaded cereal bar in the morning or a banana, but that was about it. No desserts except for small amounts of dark chocolate now and then.  Plain yogurt with actual fruit instead of the flavored kind. The other helpful thing has been a high protein shake I’d get at costco that, along with almonds or peanuts, would pretty much be lunch. Dinner would consist of some meat with spices, sauces, veggies and a salad. No beer, but wine was okay, also the occasional Jack Daniels and water with a touch of lemon. Can’t have a good meal without a drink.

Oh, and lots of beans. Not only are they low carb and high fiber and help lower blood pressure, but evidently living with all my farts has added years to my life, according to a new study.


Made a lot of varied en papillote recipes – basically, I’d spice up some beans or lentils (spices, chopped tomatoes, etc) and use them as a bed for seasoned/herbed medallions of boneless chicken or fish, drizzle with olive oil (that keeps it all moist), and seal in a foil pouch in a 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes (chicken) and 20-30 minutes (white fish). This & a salad made a solid dinner.

I watched my weight come down, slowly but steadily, after an initial faster clip (not sure why that happened, there’s probably some medical explanation for it). Lost 7 pounds in the first two weeks, and then about 5 pounds a month for the 2 months following. Then I started to ease carbs back in, even pasta, only in smaller portions than before. I’ve been maintaining the weight.

I cut back on salt for the blood pressure, but I’ve never been a huge salt consumer, and a blood test showed normal sodium levels.  I upped the amount of potassium in my diet by eating more bananas (despite the carbs in ’em) and spinach.  I’ve been taking two different supplements that supposedly lower blood pressure – turmeric (also from costco) and COQ10. I take small amounts of each with my usual vitamin in the morning. I have NO idea if they’ve been having an effect along with the diet & exercise, but I have no side effects from them and feel fine. The turmeric supplement mimics eating a lot of Indian food I guess, and COQ10 is produced by your body anyway, usually boosted by meat eating. 200 mgs every morning is all I take.

Quite fine, in fact. A month after I started this, my blood pressure was 135/75. A couple of weeks later, it was 125/70.

And the other day, I weighed in at 17 pounds lighter with a bp of 115/65. SCORE!!!!

Though if it drops below 90/50 and Hawkeye starts pounding my chest while screaming “Don’t let the bastard win!” I guess I’ll alter my routine.

Why am I posting this? Well, I figure I must have readers who want to knock their own numbers down. This worked well for me, it might work for others. This required a consistent discipline, but once I got used to the dietary change after a few days, it wasn’t that big a deal to alter my grocery shopping slightly and to get more creative with some recipes. I knew once I hit my target weight I’d have my beer and pasta back, but I’d have to be mindful of them and moderate. I’ll have to keep the discipline as far as the exercise goes, but I don’t see how that’s a bad thing – I like going for walks.

All without meds. Hopefully it will stay that way.

Your mileage may vary – but good luck with this – it worked for me, and I’m not selling or endorsing anything for a royalty (DAMMIT!!!! I want that MONEY!!!!)

Best. Latkes. Ever.


No, not THAT Latka.

Whenever a Jew holiday rolls around, I inevitably think of potato latkes.

The magical taste of fried potato, and not just the lightly-French-Fried variety… no… this is deep brown crispy golden serious kettle cooked potato chip type frying. It’s what makes it all so so much better.

I’ve tried a few different recipes, but when I thought about the subtleties of what separates the good latke from the great, it all came down to some very simple stuff. Great latkes were bigger & spongier, basically, offering a better interior texture than something that felt more like deep fried mashed potatoes.

So the secret is…. hand shred the potatoes using a box grater. Do NOT use a food processor. I don’t care how much easier it might sound. DO NOT DO IT.

Here’s the Wagstaff method:

  1. I use decent sized Russet baking potatoes, with a ratio of 1 potato to 1 beaten egg in mixing the batter. I’ll get 2-3 large latkes out of each potato, maybe 3 inches in diameter.
  2. Hand shred those peeled russets with a box grater. If you like the latkes with a sweet addition like applesauce, mixing in a small amount (maybe at a 1:4 ratio) of hand shredded sweet potato works well.
  3. Take those potato shreds, throw ’em in a tea towel, and wring the ever lovin’ CRAP out of them to dry them out. You want to remove as much water as you can.
  4. Mix the dried potato shreds in a bowl with the following ratios per potato: 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of flour, a pinch or two of salt & pepper, and 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion.
  5. And here’s the trick to getting the inner consistency right: Add 1/2 tsp of baking powder & 1 tsp of white vinegar to the mix. If you usually have the latkes with sour cream like me, I substitute 1 tsp of a vinegar-based hot sauce like Cholula for the vinegar, and cut down a little on the black pepper.
  6. Mix to form a batter, form patties with your hands similar to hamburger patties, and then fry in a wide pan (in batches if you’re doing a lot) in enough olive oil so that the oil will come up the sides of the pancakes slightly, maybe 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch. The pancakes as they cook will absorb the oil.
  7. Fry about 5 minutes a side on medium heat, and then turn repeatedly until you get the level of brown you want.
  8. Drain on paper towels, keep warm on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven if necessary.

The baking powder/hot sauce or vinegar combo will give you some rising action when you cook them, the interweaving shreds of hand-chopped potato & slightly translucent onion cooked inside give you a great inner texture – you get a smooth & creamy potato flavor, but with some bite…. I guess you could call it “al dente.” And you get the wonderful dark brown crispy fried potato goodness on the outside.

And for me, the hint of hot pepper flavor in ’em with the Cholula combined with the sour cream & onion makes it all very very nice indeed.

And am I the only one out here who thinks that giving chocolate coins to Jewish kids on Hanukkah only confirms a Jewish stereotype? Back when I was a kid, I far preferred the Milton Bradley “Control The Media” board game, myself.

I think the Maccabees did, too. Now eat, bubelah, eat!

Mamma Mia! That’s A Spicy (Turkey) Meatball!

Purists have sneered at yours truly for substituting ground turkey for beef/pork mixture in making meatballs for spaghetti. I did it partially for health reasons, although as you’ll see in the recipe that follows, I’ve sorta destroyed a lot of that aspect to get the flavor & texture I like.

Whatever. I’m downing a near bottle of wine every time I make this, and that’s good for me, right?


Even if it isn’t, who the hell cares, right?

Damn right.

Anyway, I recommend giving this one a try – it’s easy & quick, and is authentic enough for my tastes. I don’t think Clemenza would scoff & refuse any, never mind strangling me with piano wire.

  1. I start with 1/3 pound of regular ground turkey, the 7% fat version. This will make 8 medium sized meatballs for 1 big appetite like mine.
  2. It goes into a mixing bowl with the following rough measurements of things I generally eyeball: 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or to taste, 1/2 tbs dried basil, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp olive oil, 1 tbsp of grated parmesean cheese, and most importantly of all…. 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs saturated to mushiness with a medium bodied red wine, like malbec, sangiovese, tempranillo, or chianti. The crumbs should be like a wet sponge without a film of wine left over.
  3. Mix all that together, and then divide up into 8 meatballs. Don’t overmix or the meat gets stringy. Just enough to evenly distribute everything.
  4. I put the meatballs on a pyrex pie plate, put a paper towel on top, and start them in the (EGAD!) microwave for 3 minutes on high.
  5. Have a pan, preferebly non-stick ready with a minimal coating of olive oil, on medum. Remove the 80% cooked meatballs from puddle of liquid fat in the pie plate – this removes most of the fat & leaves the olive oil/breadcrumbs/cheese behind as the moisture holder – and brown them ever so gently on a couple of sides in the pan, to get “edges” on them. This only takes a couple of minutes.
  6. Add a good basic tomato sauce to the pan – I have a recipe for one on this blog linked here – bring to a simmer, cover and let cook for 15 minutes or so. That’s all the time you really need, with a stir or two. Then dress your favorite pasta with it.

That’s it! It takes very little time & makes great sorta-healthy meatballs.

And the more wine you drink with ’em, the healthier they are. Isn’t that convenient?

Southwestern-Style Chicken For The Lazy

Feeling tired tonight after a long stressful week, and I wasn’t quite sure how to cook the boneless chicken I’d thawed. So after paging through some of the cookbooks in the vast Wagstaff archives, I landed on the often overlooked & tragically underrated Joy Of Cooking.

The older edition of this pretty much handles every sort of food concoction you can think of, from the basic to the complex yet familiar. And the updated edition adds all sorts of ethnic goodies more in line with the modern American palate. It’s all just basic good cooking, really, useful for the novice and the (ahem) expert.

I found an interesting recipe for a parchment baked southwestern chicken, and altered it slightly to fit what I had sitting around. This is what I came up with:

1. Opened a can of black beans, drained ’em, and divided them in half. I put half in the fridge for another night & used the rest.

2. Mixed the following into the beans: cayenne to taste (1/2 tsp or so), 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp red wine vinegar & 1 tbsp olive oil. You can also mix chopped onion in if you want.

3. Took the half a chicken breast, salt/peppered both sides.

4. Put the chicken on a piece of foil, covered it with the seasoned beans, sprinkled 1/2 tsp of paprika on top, and wrapped the whole thing up tight in foil to sit on a baking dish. (You can also use parchment).

5. 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

Opened it carefully to avoid the steam, and then dumped the entirety of it over some white rice I’d cooked in some chicken broth. This made one portion. Want more? Do the math & wrap each portion individually.

Good stuff – super easy, the chicken comes out wonderfully juicy with a good texture, basically over ready-made rice and black beans. Clean up is also practically nil – basically just throwing out the foil and a light wash of the baking dish it sat in.

It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder why some people claim they can’t cook for themselves. Seriously… what could be simpler?

Some Cheap Wine Reviews

So, what do you when you want to branch out from that two-buck Chuck? Well, you try some slightly more expensive (still less than 5 bucks a bottle) varieties, telling yourself that the wine glut caused by a generation of UC Davis agronomists increasing the grape yield all over the map has driven down the price of drinkable wine and the odds of a five buck or less bottle going just fine with a meal are pretty damn good.

And for the most part, the following wines are all okay. I haven’t dumped any of them down the sink, left them out for a few weeks to become home made salad vinegar or consigned them to the “cooking wine” dungeon (especially since I’d rather cook with a wine I’d drink).

Let’s start with a couple of cheapos from Fresh & Easy market, repackaged & relabeled to hide their non-vintage (grapes from different years) origins or simply just inexpensive – three bucks a bottle! The first was “Big Kahuna” Tempranillo. While slightly thinner than the other cheap Tempranillo I’ve been buying lately from Trader Joe’s (La Granja), it wasn’t bad and paired nicely with some red sauced pasta. And both of them are the non-corked capped bottles, which isn’t as much of a black mark as it once was, especially considering that I’m not cellaring any of this stuff – it’s pretty much being finished off in one or two sittings. Another passable variety is Recoleta Malbec/Bonarda, another lighter red that goes well with my Italian cusine. While the Trader Joe’s cheap Malbec, La Finca, is also very good, this one will certainly be worth picking up whenever I’m in Fresh & Easy restocking on whatever they might have on sale.

The Sprouts health market seems to be the only locale to find another cheap brand that I had some good luck with, Gato Negro Malbec. Their other cheap label, Crane Lake, wasn’t quite as good – tried the Pinot Grigio, and I think I’ll stick to the Villa Borghetti or Gaetano D’Aquino Pinto Grigio I get regularly at Trader Joes.

I’m certainly no wine connoisseur – although when I’ve gone to tastings, it seems I actually do prefer the more expensive stuff. I’ve tried to convince myself that I therefore must have expertise, but since I’m drinking this cheap mass-market stuff along with my (ahem) wonderful cooking, I doubt I’d care all that much in the difference between a decent five buck wine versus a supposedly wonderful twenty dollar one. It’s all cleaning out my cholesterol, ain’t it?

Inauthentic (But Very Good) Kung Pao Chicken

I know the following concoction isn’t traditional in a number of ways, but it’s really easy and comes out great.

NOTE: All ingredient amounts are for 1/2 of a boneless chicken breast & 1 serving of vegetables. If you’re less antisocial than I am, then the math is up to you.

First, cut up some boneless breast (or thigh meat) into 1 inch pieces. Marinate in 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp cornstarch and 1 tsp of peanut oil. Mix it up with your hand for best results (Yeah, I know, “That’s what she said”). Marinate in the ‘fridge for a half hour.

I cut up some broccoli florets, carrot & white onion the last time I did this. I’ve also included peanuts, snow peas, bok choi, and red bell pepper. Any/all of those in whatever combo you like works fine.

Sauce: In a mug or small bowl combine: 1 tsp cornstarch, 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp white vinegar, 4 tsp soy sauce, 2 tsp sherry wine, 1 tsp (or more if you like it spicy like me, I use a heaping teaspoon) hot pepper paste (I like this kind) and 2 tsp of dark sesame oil. Mix it all up to dissolve the sugar and set aside.

Aromatics: Mince a good sized garlic clove with about 1 tsp of fresh ginger, and put in a small cup with a tsp or so of sherry wine.

To Cook: Use a smokin’ hot wok or a frying pan over high heat. First, add a little peanut oil and chow up the vegetables to how you like them – I usually like them a little crisp, but with the edges slightly blackened. Remove from the pan.

Re-oil the pan (a little if it’s a well-seasoned wok) and add the marinated chicken. Cook the chicken until slightly browned on the outside and done on the inside (use the stirring spoon to test for firmness, and yes, she also said that). You can either remove the chicken from the wok for the next step, or simply clear a space in the middle, and add the aromatics with the sherry. The sherry will boil off very quickly, stir the garlic/ginger until fragrant (it’ll also deglaze the pot a little) and then stir the chicken back in with it until it’s well mixed. Add the cooked vegetables. Then add the sauce & stir until well mixed & the sauce thickens and coats everything, which should take no more than a minute or so.

Serve it on up! Sprinkle some chopped green onion on top, why dontcha. Goes well with rice (duh) as well as noodles or even a nice piece of crusty bread.

It’s hot stuff too, so have plenty of beer and water on hand.

The Marinara Variations

I haven’t had sauce from a jar in more than twenty years, and in that twenty plus, I’ve constantly experimented with slight differences in the recipe for my homemade pasta sauce.

I make a mother sauce to keep around & add stuff to (sausage, mushrooms, clams, ground turkey) as I dole out portions from the batch in the ‘fridge, so what I’m interested in, mostly, is how to bring out the flavors of the tomatoes, the balance of the garlic, and whatever other spices I’m throwing in.

I posted my basic sauce recipe a while ago, but to recap: 1 chopped carrot + 1 cup chopped onion sauteed in 1/4 cup of olive oil until translucent, add 4-5 garlic cloves, minced until fragrant. Then, a 28 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, mashed & 1/4 cup of wine. Bring to a rolling boil, cover, reduce to simmer for a half hour. Then, add 1 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp pepper & 1 tbsp of dried basil. Ba-da-bing!

Now, I’ve played with this recipe in numerous ways. I’ve dropped the onion and replaced it with about a teaspoon of sugar. I’ve added the wine to the carrot/onion/garlic mash and cooked it down to a near syrup before adding the tomato. I’ve fried half of the tomatoes to bring out their sugars before adding the rest. I’ve added chicken broth instead of, or combined with the wine. I’ve dropped the pepper in favor of some garlic powder and dried mustard. Thyme is nice instead of basil. All the results have been good, although different.

Generally, the better the quality of tomato, the less “stuff” I like to add to the sauce. I’d rather have the flavor of pure sweet tomato, so when I spring for real imported San Marzanos, I’ll usually go light on the additions. Cheaper canned tomato, like the Trader Joe’s version, can be easily dressed up with the additions above. But with the top of the line, I usually only go with carrot, garlic & the chicken broth/wine combo before adding salt & pepper to taste at the end.


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