Homemade Slow Cooker Spicy Marinara and Artisan Bread

One of my favorite things to come home to is a delicious supper that has been in the slow cooker all day. I decided to make Slow Cooker Spicy Marinara so I didn’t really go all out on this one, but I must say, it was one of the best marinara sauces I’ve had in a while (sorry Auntie)!  I did my own little take on this recipe from Life Currents blog, but added some crushed red pepper and a nice glug of red wine because, well…  um do you know me? I’m a firm believer in red wine really bringing out the vibrancy in a tomato sauce – and I think slow cooking the sauce for over 8 hours really allowed the flavors to develop beautifully. I’ve made a lot of pasta sauces for Nick, but I think this one was his favorite. I made a whole ton of this stuff because you can freeze it and it keeps FOREVER.

I also thought about grabbing an Italian loaf to make some homemade garlic bread – but it isn’t really totally homemade unless you make the bread too, right? It dawned on me that I had just added a 5-minute Artisan bread recipe to my Pepperplate account so I decided to try it out. I failed to get a picture of the bread itself, but in the picture below, you can see the final product – Herb and Cheese Garlic Bread (obviously not vegan, but can easily be made vegan with shredded Daiya cheese). I made a VERY small loaf so I only let it rise about an hour before tossing it in the oven and still came out delicious and golden-brown in color. I made a ton of more dough, so expect to see a picture of one these beauties in the near future.

I put together this little Italian dish for the two of us:

 

Slow Cooker Spicy Marinara

Ingredients:

Makes 13 (½ cup) servings

  • 8 cups crushed tomatoes or 2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • ½ tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • dash of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt, if desired
  • freshly ground pepper

The Method:

  1. Place all ingredients in the slow cooker. Stir well to combine. Secure the lid on your slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 6 hours. Stir the sauce and remove the bay leaves. Taste for seasonings, adding more salt and some freshly ground pepper as desired.

5 Minute Artisan Bread

Makes (4) 1lb. loaves

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt or 1 1/2 tablespoons other coarse salt
  • 6 1/2 cups flour, unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose (not strong)

The Method:

Preparing Dough for Storage:

  1. Warm the water slightly. It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature. Warm water will rise the dough to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. With cold water it will need 3-4 hours.
  2. Add the yeast to the water in a 5 quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.
  3. Mix in the flour and salt – kneading is unnecessary. Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping up the flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula. Don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement. Mix with a wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor (14 cups or larger) fitted with the dough attachment, or a heavy duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until the mixture is uniform. If you’re hand mixing and it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead, it isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. It takes a few minutes, and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.
  4. Allow to rise. Cover with lid (not airtight or it could explode the lid off). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approx 2 hours, depending on room temperature, and initial water temperature Longer rising times, up to 5 hours, won’t harm the result.
  5. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and easier to work with than dough at room temperature.

Ready to bake? Follow the instructions below:

  1. Prepare your loaf tin, tray, or whatever you’re baking it in/on. Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with four. Pull up and cut of a grapefruit-size piece of dough (c 1 lb), using a serrated knife.
  2. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all 4 sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off – that’s fine, it isn’t meant to be incorporated. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will sort itself out during resting and baking.
  3. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30 – 60 seconds.
  4. Rest the loaf and let it rise in the form, on the tray/pizza peel, for about 40 minutes Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period. That’s fine, more rising will occur during baking.
  5. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450°F Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread.
  6. Dust and Slash. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Slash a quarter inch deep cross, diagonal lines, or tic-tac-toe pattern on top using a serrated knife.
  7. After a 20 min preheat you’re ready to bake, even though the oven thermometer won’t be at full temperature yet. Put your loaf in the oven. Pour about 1 cup of hot water (from the tap) into the broiler tray and close the oven to trap the steam.
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch.
  9. Store the rest of the dough in the fridge in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days. The flavour and texture improves, becoming like sourdough. Even 24 hours of storage improves the flavour.

Summer Skillet Pasta

So, I’m not a huge fan of zucchini. There’s something about its vibrant color that makes you think you’re biting into a veggie that’s packed full of flavor. It’s actually the same way I feel about eggplant. However, the Whole Foods by my work had the most beautiful zucchini arrangement last week and I couldn’t help but buy one and hope that I that I find a yummy recipe to put it in. Turns out, I did.

I introduce to you, Summer Skillet Pasta. I took this recipe from one on of my favorite blogs, Iowa Girl Eats. Her recipe calls for chicken sausage, but since I am a vegetarian, I decided not to use that ingredient (obvi). I know that there is some yummy vegetarian sausage at every grocery store, and I’m going to be honest with you ­– I was too lazy to get it. In my opinion, omitting that spicy sausage flavor didn’t take away from the dish at all.

This skillet took about 20 minutes to make, so it was perfect. (Did I mention how lazy I was feeling that day?)

Summer Skillet Pasta:

Ingredients:

8 oz penne, dry (or any pasta)
1/2lb spicy chicken sausage
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 shallot, sliced
1 zucchini, halved and sliced
salt & pepper
10oz cherry tomatoes
fresh basil
Romano or parmesan cheese, if desired

The Method:

1. Heat the skillet over medium and add extra virgin olive oil to the skillet. Add garlic slices and shallots and cook until they start to turn golden brown, about 1 minute. Add zucchini, season with salt and pepper, then saute until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add cherry tomatoes then place a lid on top of the skillet and allow tomatoes to get hot and tender, about 3 minutes, stirring once or twice.

2. Meanwhile, cook penne in a large pot of salted boiling water. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water before draining.

3.. Add some of the pasta cooking water to create a sauce and make sure pasta isn’t sticking together Serve topped with torn fresh basil, and grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Green Goddess Grilled Cheese

 

I had a late start getting to the gym yesterday, so I needed something quick – and delicious, of course. I opted to make the Green Goddess Grilled Cheese to satisfy my taste buds. If you have ten minutes, then you have time to make this yummy gourmet-esque sandwich.

With a hearty helping of avocado and cheddar, this recipe was exactly what I needed after my run. I hadn’t been to the gym in over a week due to our Mexico vacation so the treadmill was definitely my worst enemy. The lesson I learned: When training for a 5K, NEVER go longer than three days without running or you will face a brutal attack that will possibly trigger tears to run down your face. In public.

Okay, enough of the sob story and back to the food. I highly recommend this recipe whether you’re crunched for time or not. I was very short on time and used store-bought pesto, but you should try making your own if time allows. Enjoy!

Green Goddess Grilled Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices bread (I used 12-grain, but sourdough would be delish)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons pesto
  • 2 slices cheddar cheese
  • handful fresh baby spinach
  • 1/4 avocado, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

The Method:

  1. Spread about 1 tablespoon of pesto onto each slice of bread.
  2. On one slice of bread, add 1 slice of cheese, sliced avocado, parm, spinach, second slice of cheese, then top it with second slice of bread. Press together gently.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan over medium low heat. Add the sandwich to the oil and cook until bread is golden brown. (I like mine extra crispy so I left it on a tad longer than usual)

Farmer’s Market Fried Rice

 

Last night, I was a lone-diner. No complaints over here though – while Nick was having a love affair with his last Groupon steak, I was whipping up a unique version of fried rice. I stumbled upon this low-cal veggie packed phenomenon while looking for Farmer’s Market recipes. It only has 397 calories per serving! The amount you see on that plate was the perfect amount for dinner last night.

Originally posted by Eating Well, I decided to not mess with the recipe at all. And since my new job has a Whole Foods located right across the street, it was really easy to find all the ingredients it called for.  The thing I like best about Whole Foods is that it’s sort of set up like an outdoor Farmer’s Market in the produce section. Meaning, you can pick up the exact amount of produce that a single recipe calls for. For instance, this recipe called for only four Brussels sprouts, so I wasn’t forced to buy an entire bag sprouts that would eventually spoil. This may not be the same for all grocery stores in the US, but in AZ, it’s really hard to certain veggies, such as carrots, Brussels sprouts, green beans, etc. unbagged.

I had wanted to make this recipe for a while and I’m sad that Nick didn’t get to try it because it’s probably one of my favorite dishes that I have made. Ever.

For those of you with omnivorous significant others and family members, this dish could easily be paired with any type of meat. Steak, chicken, pork, even shrimp. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil, divided
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1 cup 1/4-inch diced, peeled and cored parsnips
  • 4 medium Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 cups cold cooked brown rice
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

 The Method:

  1. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 2 teaspoons oil, coating the bottom completely. Add beaten eggs and cook, tilting to cover the surface as thinly as possible to make an egg pancake. When the pancake is just set, 30 seconds to 1 minute, flip using a metal spatula and allow it to set for about 5 seconds. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut into bite-size pieces.
  2. Swirl 1 tablespoon oil into the wok, add garlic and shallots and stir-fry, using a metal spatula, until fragrant, 10 seconds. Add parsnips and Brussels sprouts, reduce the heat to medium-high and stir-fry until the vegetables are nearly cooked through, about 2 minutes. Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, add rice, tomatoes and soy sauce and stir-fry, breaking up the rice, until heated through, 2 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro, salt and pepper; add the egg pieces and toss to combine.

Grilled Buffalo Tofu Steaks

Well, it’s been summer for quite some time now – especially in Arizona – we’ve been hitting over 100 since May! The sweltering heat gets us in the mood for grilling on the patio. I had some tofu steaks on hand and Nick had just picked up his meat selection from some Groupon deal he bought awhile ago. Even though I don’t eat meat, I must say his steak choices were gorgeous and had perfect marbling. So perfect, that he didn’t even mess with it before putting it on the grill – just a dash of salt and pepper and he was good to go.

I had a hankering for something spicy and tangy – I think you see where I’m heading. Frank’s Red Hot “Buffalo” style sauce. The great thing about tofu is that it can pick up marinade flavors really well and in a very short amount of time. I just marinated the tofu for about 20 minutes, tossed it on the grill with Nick’s steak and let the grill do it’s thing. I served my tofu with a quick Garlicky-Lime Aioli; it was a nice cooling element with the spiciness.

Here’s a a picture of Nick with his prized steak:

Here is my recipe:

Buffalo Tofu Steaks

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-ounce block of extra-firm tofu
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Sauce
  • 1/8 cup Earth Balance Soy-Free Butter, melted

The Method:

  1. In a bowl, combine the oil, salt,  paprika, hot sauce and melted butter.
  2. Cut the tofu into steaks and gently toss to coat with the mixture. Let the steaks sit in the mixture for 20 minutes before grilling.
  3. Place each tofu steak in a single layer on the grill. Grill for 5 minutes on each side. (Nick’s steak needed to be cooked for 6 minutes on each side, so we timed it accordingly)

Garlicky-Lime Aioli:

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime rind
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • pinch of paprika
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of pepper

The Method:

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mix and serve.

It was so yummy that even my well-mannered pit bull, Eleanor was begging for table scraps:

Tutorial: Heavy Cream Substitute

As a person who doesn’t really drink milk or use it for anything other than baking – I rarely have heavy cream or half and half in the house. When I did drink coffee (I’ve been off the stuff for 8 days and counting!) I drank it black and my roommates usually buy flavored creamers (mmmm hazelnut)  for their java – making it inevitable for an extra grocery trip just to buy some cream.

Since I’m kinda lazy and I like to save money, I’ve become particularly fond of substitutes when a recipe calls for the not-so-common ingredient. I introduce to you, a recipe to substitute heavy cream. I hope your ready for this – you may want to take notes…

What you’ll need: 

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup butter

What to do:

  1. Melt the butter.
  2. Pour melted butter into milk and stir.
  3. Use in place of one cup heavy cream.

See? Now isn’t that a hell of a lot easier and convenient than making an EXTRA grocery trip? Try it out and let me know what you think!

Creamy Caprese Pasta

There is something about the flexibility of the word “caprese” the sparks my immediate interest whenever I’m looking through recipes. I’ve made caprese skewers, caprese pizza and of course, the world-famous caprese salad. My roommate and her father can vouch for my overwhelming love for plump tomatoes. Her dad grows them himself and they are so perfectly ripe that I MUST cook with them.

 

After receiving my latest batch of tomatoes, I stumbled across yet ANOTHER version of caprese – Creamy Caprese Pasta. The flavors of the plump tomatoes, fresh basil and ooey-gooey mozzarella complement each other so well – not to mention, it was really easy to make and cheap too AND it’s carnivore approved – right Nick? I’m a mean girlfriend and didn’t pair any meat with this dish, but I think it was rich enough to satisfy the taste-buds of a hungry bear boyfriend J.

 

If I can offer one more tip, make a HUGE batch of this stuff. It keeps well and is perfect as lunch the next day or even for dinner with a fresh salad. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound whole wheat pasta (noodles such as penne work best)
  • 1 cup of your favorite pasta/tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese + more for garnish
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes
  • 1 pint of grape tomatoes (I cut some in half and left some whole)
  • 1 bunch of fresh basil leaves

The Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Boil water and cook pasta according to directions.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat tomato sauce over low heat in a large saucepan. Once warm, stir in heavy cream and grated parmesan.
  3. Once pasta is done cooking, drain and dump into the sauce, mixing to coat and turning off heat.
  4. Fold in mozzarella cubes and tomatoes, then chop 3-4 fresh basil leaves and add them in too.
  5. Once combined, spray a baking dish with non-stick spray and pour the entire pasta mixture into the dish. Top with fresh mozzarella rounds.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes, or until cheese is golden and bubbly.
  7. Top with additional fresh basil and grated cheese.