Recipe Monday: Quick n Easy Meat Sauce from Scratch

March 24, 2009 § 1 Comment


I don’t have a picture of this, but I wanted to throw it out there because for some reason my “completely free of Italian background” sauce is popular with whomever eats it. I’ve never followed a recipe for it because I just use whatever is in the cupboard in an effort to make a quick dinner after I’ve gotten home from work. Ideally, I’d make this in like double the recipe size in a big giant pot and simmer it for HOURS before packaging more than half of it up for a second and third meal. And I love freezing meals because it makes me feel like Ma Ingalls. Oh heck, you know what, since we don’t have a picture of the spaghetti sauce, how about a picture of Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls: Greatest Mom in the History of American Television:

Give it up for Ma

Give it up for Ma

Didn’t you just swoon when they showed her getting ready for bed and her hair was down in one thick braid, hanging over her shoulder “OH CHARLES”.

Anyway, as with all my recipes that aren’t ‘baking’ recipes, feel free to add more, less, additional in terms of veggies and spices and meat and the like.  If I’m making a single batch (which is enough for a family of four with leftovers) I can have dinner ready in forty minutes.


1 lb ground beef or turkey or even bulk italian sausage
1 medium yellow onion diced
1 medium green pepper diced
1 medium carrot peeled, diced
3 fat cloves of garlic chopped up fine
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large can (I think the Contadina can is 32 oz) of Tomato Puree or Crushed Tomatoes (I hate tomatoes, so I have to have them pureed or I throw a fit)
1 small can tomato paste
1/2 cup beef broth
dried oregano
dried basil
crushed red pepper

Heat up the pot over medium high heat for a minute or two before throwing in the meat and browning it.  Here’s the key to this step, don’t keep pushing it around.  Let it brown by staying in one place for a minute or two, THEN pushing it around with tongs or your BIG SPOON.  I also salt and pepper the meat at this point.

Once it’s browned, take it out and put it on the plate to wait a second.  Drain off the majority of the fat, leaving about a tablespoon and any bits of meat.  Add the additional olive oil.   HELPFUL TIP FOR NOT BURNING GARLIC:  Chopped garlic burns like nobody’s business.  But if you hold your pan up at an angle, so the oil all pools on one side and drop your garlic into this little pool, letting it sizzle for about thirty seconds before dropping the pan back down to the heat, you should be good.  Drop your onions, pepper and carrot immediately upon returning the pot to the heat and this will also protect the garlic, but allow it to release its glory.  Saute this little gathering until soft.

Once the veggies are soft, turn the heat down to “Low almost medium” (Ed note: I always thought that when magazines had this in there it actually meant a guy named Ed.  But if you’re going to let this do a longer simmer, turn it to low low).  Add a small palmful of oregano, basil and a pinch or more of crushed red pepper*. Add the meat, the two sauces and the broth, and let that sucker simmer.

If you’re making dinner, this is the point at which you should put your pot of water on to boil.  Don’t watch the pot, because this hinders boiling.  Go put on your ‘after work’ clothes, get a Diet Coke and watch the Simpsons, relax before dinner time.  

TIPS AND TRICKS: If the sauce starts spitting all over tarnation, turn the heat down a touch, give it a stir and swear once or twice.  But I must tell you, making sauce means making a mess.  No two ways about it.  You can do the “half lid” thing where you tilt the lid on the pot at an angle, but you’re not going to get a good reduction that way, and it’ll take longer and not be as nicely blended.  Taste it a couple times to see if you’ve got the right flavor going.  I usually have to add more salt and more oregano.  Your call.  Why carrots?  Why not?  It’s another vegetable, gives a little richness to the color, depth to the flavor and texture to the sauce.


*If you have a bottle of red wine open, feel free to throw about half a cup or so in the pot, especially if you’re letting this sucker simmer for a long time.  The less time you have, the more “fresh wine taste” you’ll get.


Twistin’ Straw

January 12, 2009 § 1 Comment

Of all the Little House books, I’d have to say that The Long Winter is one of my favorites.  It tells the tale of the Ingalls women struggling to make it through a brutal Minnesota winter while Pa is away, getting “the Barrel” from “the city”.  I’m doing all of this from memory, so if my details are sketchy, try to deal with it in an adult manner.  Although it deals with dire conditions of starvation, frostbite and deadly prairie blizzards, it also touches on my favorite subject of shelter, nest and home.  The family is all cooped up inside with NO DIRECTV, no high calorie snacks and no Diet Coke.  As their supplies grow thin, they must take to twisting straw into tight little logs to burn in th wood stove.  All day, all night, one of the girls is always sitting near the hearth, twisting straw.  I was flat out enthralled by this for some reason.  I guess it was mostly by their ability to make do with what they had without whining or pouting or screaming “OMG I’M GOING TO DIE IF I DON’T GET A DECENT PIECE OF BEEF UP IN HERE.”

The point is, Chicago is under a blizzard warning, and while I am fairly terrified of rain storms and tornados, snow storms are when I shine.  For some reason, snow storms bring out my nestiness, my love of ‘living small’, of ‘stocking up’ and ‘hunkering down’.  I went grocery shopping yesterday and made a big roast dinner so we could have left over mashed potatoes and gravy and roasted chicken and stuffing and all that jazz.  But most of all, I went shopping yesterday because I liked the idea of “getting supplies”. I like to pretend that I’m not going to have to get up and leave the house and go to work even if there is a blizzard and that some dream world thing will happen where I get a phone call,

“It’s not a fit day out for man nor beast, stay home Ms. McCartney, stay home and build a fort with your daughter and sew and make cocoa and a warm dinner in a heavy pot.  Don’t come in to the office whatever you do!  Make sure that you’re in front of the window when the sun goes down and the snowy sky turns pink orange with the craggy fingers of trees breaking through it like lightning.  Play a game involving dice!  Snuggle under a blanket!  Take a nap.  And gosh oh golly, you’d better hope the power doesn’t go out, forcing you to use candles all day.”

As the winter started for us, way back in November with a wicked snow, I opined that no one has cozy shelter hunkerdown days anymore.  It’s this damn technology that allows us to blog, that brings movies to our mailbox within a day of asking for them, that shows marathons of Top Chef on Bravo.  When we get snowed in, or rained in or Lazed in, we all separate.  Someone gets the laptop to futz around chat rooms or poker games or keeping up with sporting events, someone watches a t.v. in one room, someone watches t.v. in another, children play with games that talk back to them, that teach them how to read with a robotic voice.  Food is zapped in the microwave, people work from home by ‘dialing in’.  Offices demand to have your cell number, your home number.  There is no escape from the modern world. 

In the midst of my gnashing of teeth for days gone by, I then stumbled into the wormhole of Turkey Feathers and her ‘snowed in day’ where she did everything I dreamed of, right down to the crock pot and the board game.  Well, um, fine, surely she’s an oddity.  Oh no, then Soulemama stabbed me in the heart with her wish for a wintry, cozy weekend. And I sadly realized that people are indeed out there, living the life I have imagined.  It is easy to achieve.  I strongly suspect these families are not settling in with their t.v. trays to catch the Family Guy mini marathon on TBS every Tuesday.  It’s just that simple.  If I want to live small, if i want to feather my nest with handmade quilts and paintings and fill my shelves with scrapbooks and picture frames, I’ve got to unplug.

It won’t be easy.  I am in love with t.v. as if it were my lifeblood.  I love good t.v., I love bad t.v.  I love ‘smart’ t.v., I love the dumbest, dumbed down brainlessest t.v. there is.  I will never be able to shut off completely…but this winter, this 2009 I’m going to try and be cozy to build the home I’ve imagined, to write, to sew, to paint, to sculpt, to read, to snuggle, to twist the proverbial straw.

Who’s with me?

What I meant to say…

November 17, 2008 § 2 Comments

In the months, days, hours and minutes before my sister’s wedding, I was struck by an unusual and uncomfortable feeling of stage fright, having been notified that I would, of course, be giving a speech.  No one thought twice about it, and why should they?  I’m an actress, an improviser, a ham, a goofball, someone who is well practiced in yelling out “HEY LOOK!”, but in hyper emotional situations I tend to turn bright red and nasally, and I cry like a screeching donkeygoose, trying to talk through my outbursts, which results in a gurgling, high pitched stream of consciousness expulsion that sort of resembles letting air out of a balloon while manipulating the stretching opening.  And this was my sister’s wedding.  My only sister, her only wedding, and my only chance to tell 200 or so people at once, how I feel about that gal.

In the end, I decided to just go with my gut, having planned on one story to tell, which is my favorite; the story of Allison coming home from the hospital, her little shock of black Wild Indian Hair erupting from a tightly wrapped blanket.  I wanted to desperately to see her, to hold her, to dress her up in outfits, to play games with her, to feed her. But what I really wanted, was to look good for her.  So I’d chosen carefully, a red, yellow, orange and green striped shirt and green pants.  That’s right everyone:  I went with The Ernie.  This choice would end up being catastrophic and memorable for the rest of my life, because the pants were too small and I ended up pulling them up to cover my underpants all day, while everyone else cooed and ooohed and ahhhed over my new little sister.

Indeed, this is a good story, and the way I wove it in with an expression of love, congratulations,self deprication,nostalgia and weeping, I was told over and over that it was one of the finest wedding toasts ever heard.  Part of this could be the open bar, part could be that I was toasting with a pitcher of coffee creamer since I forgot my glass.

But you know what I really wanted to say?  I wanted to say that looking back over our typical suburban white girls childhood, it’s amazing that Allison even talks to me at this point in our lives.  It’s amazing that she isn’t blogging right now about her completely bizarre and inappropriate big sister who never gave her a single word of advice on boys (because Allison was better at that than me) or on clothes (because Allison was better at that than me) or school (because Allison had too many friends to worry about school, and I was such a massive under achiever it’s amazing I make the effort to breathe every day). 

Allison - A celebration of life and love

Allison - A celebration of life and love

Face it, I was a lonesome nerd, unaware of the standard hierarchy in family relationships, so I was all too happy to spend my days with a girl half my age.  When other thirteen year olds were shoving their little sisters out into the hallway so they could paint their nails and listen to the Top Eight At Eight on WPXY, I was rollerskating with Allison, never ending laps of our unfinished basement, making up stories, listening to A-ha.  One summer we made a conserted effort to bring back the forties.  We tried to learn how to play marbles and jacks and used some old jargon, because we liked the fun that Archie and Pals were having in the comic books.  We consoled each other after playing “too much reality Barbies” with our strange neighbors who watched too many adult television shows.  In the Fall we played Little House On The Prairie in the front yard, and in my one display of big sister jerkiness, I made Allison be Carrie.  Who in the name of God wants to be CARRIE?  THE GIRL WHO WIPES OUT IN THE OPENING CREDITS?  And as Carrie, all she was allowed to do was gather firewood.  We wore our genuine calico bonnets and I sat under the maple trees and pretended to darn socks, make stew, quilt, write a letter to someone in Sleepy Eye, the usual.  And every time Allison toddled up with an armful of tiny sticks, I would take them and say “ok, now go rustle up some firewood for dinner.”  She never complained, never asked for a rewrite, never threw the sticks in my face and said ‘cram it’.   She just wiped her nose on her sleeve and ran off to do my bidding.  She was happy to play along when I told strangers I was training to be a speedskater in the Olympics and Allison was helping me work out.  She let me choreograph the dances and skits that we put on for the family.  She was my poky little puppy when she was little, always wanting to tag along.

And then, it was as if the moment she reached puberty, she surpassed me.  I found myself in college, envious of a fourteen year old and her huge circle of friends, her jam packed social calendar, her prospective gentleman callers lined up around the block.  There was never a day when she wasn’t comfortable with herself, when she wasn’t confident, relaxed. 

She has a sharp and fearless sense of humor.  One of my favorite things she ever did was win an award for creative salesmanship by wearing a coffee filter on her head at the movie theatre where she worked.  Why is that good salesmanship? Because upon seeing the coffee filter, movie goers, unaware that coffee was even available, began to buy it. 

And now here she is today, strong, beautiful, funny, her nose free of yellow crayons and crusted over snots, her hair a long, bronzed ribbon rather than a spiky Indian child from another world.  She’s learned to express her anger with well chosen words rather than digging her fingernails into her opponent’s arm until they cry uncle.  She’s all grown up, she was the world’s most beautiful, calm, put together bride. I love her, I always will.

THAT’S what I wanted to say.

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