Tag Archives: tomato puree

Light Chicken Ragu with Shells (serves 6) And a Word on Economy!

Here is a great pasta dish that feeds a crowd without spending a ton of money! Even if you are very well off and budgeting for food is not high on your list, I think there is always room for economy. When it comes to food, I am mindful of every scrap I decide to put into my shopping basket. Someone, somewhere in the world is hungry so buying food is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken lightly by anyone, regardless of their income.

Chicken Ragu with Shells

Light Chicken Ragu with Shells

With a little bit of though, the most lowly ingredients can be made to taste delicious, and this recipe is a prime example of Deliciousness and Economy.

When I sit around with my family over dinner we sometimes play the game of “how much did this dinner cost?” I really think it is important for my kids to have an understanding of how money plays a part in their lives but that it is certainly not the thing that defines their ultimate happiness. And this is not a big philosophical commentary on how money can’t buy you love etc etc. It is a very practical matter to me when it comes to equating quality food with money: I just don’t. 

My CSA Crop share this week!

Fresh Veggies from a local Farmer

My two children love that something can be made from so little and it excites them to think that as a very general rule, most people can afford to choose something good to eat over something mediocre.  How many times have we gone to restaurants and my kids leave saying that they could have had something better at home and not wasted money. To me, buying a nice bottle of wine and eating at home is far more satisfying than eating out.

That’s not to say that when the opportunity arises to eat some place fantastic that we don’t jump at the chance. What I am trying to say is that there is a difference between eating crap (whether bought ready-made crap, or from a crappy restaurant) or making it a rule to eat at home prepared with decent ingredients and eating out when you have chosen some place wonderful (this could be a crab shack on a beach or a fancy place in a city somewhere).

lots of peppers from my garden & from next door!

lots of peppers from my garden & from next door!

There are so many places to find good ingredients for very little. Besides shopping for bargains in the supermarket, there are all sorts of people in the summer and autumn selling produce from their own gardens: vegetables, fresh eggs, even meat. I have the puny-est garden myself but I grow as much as I can in the summer (especially herbs) to add to my meals. I’m not even that good at it but I get no end of pleasure out of whatever appears, however sad it may look!

The savior of last night's dinner (oregano & parsley)

Oregano from my garden (and a modest bit of parsley)

So maybe you might consider cooking a couple of times this week and be smug over how good it tastes and how much you saved!

This dinner cost (not including the fuel cost)

Meat – $4.99

Veggies – (garlic, carrot, onion., spinach – $2.25

Pasta – $0.99

Tomato puree  – $0.75

Broth (I used a bouillon cube & Water) $0.50

Milk – $0.44

Total $9.92 (that’s $1.65 per person)

Rosemary bush in the back garden

My mother’s rosemary Bush in Ireland


You will need:

3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1lb Chicken sausage, removed from casing (I found a sausage seasoned with apple and onion, but there are lots of other ones out there, like a take on an Italian sausage or one with garlic & herbs)

1 med/lrg sweet onion

3 cloves garlic

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped celery, including leaves

1 tbs mixed chopped fresh herbs (use whatever you have on hand)

OR 1 tsp dried herbs (again whatever you have on hand)

1/2 tsp chili flakes (optional)

1/2 tsp sea-salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup tomato puree

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

5 cups chopped spinach or baby spinach leaves

1lb medium pasta shells (I use Barilla brand)


1 – Put big saute pan or saucepan on medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions, garlic, and celery and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn heat up slightly and add the sausage and as it cook, break it up into smaller pieces with your wooden spoon. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Cook veggies, add meat

Cook veggies, add meat

2 – Add the tomato puree, broth, herbs, pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and carrots to the pot and bring everything to a simmer. Cover with lid and simmer for about 25 minutes (the sauce should always have a slight bubble to it while it is cooking). Stir occasionally.

*In the meantime put water on for pasta and cook according to instructions. time the shells to be ready at the same time the sauce is cooked. Scoop out about a 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining and do not rinse shells in cold water.

add liquids

Add liquids

3 – Add the spinach and cover with lid. Cook for another 3 minutes. Turn off heat and stir sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Cook sauce, then add spinach

Cook sauce, then add spinach

4 – When pasta is ready pour the drained pasta directly into the cooked sauce, adding the pasta water if you want a looser consistency.



Divide between 6 warmed plates or bowls and pass some Parmigiano Reggiano to anyone who wants it!

Juicy Lamb With Herbes de Provence (serves 6)

If you have a stocked pantry and meat in the freezer, then making a dinner like this one requires no thinking or trip to the supermarket. I use fresh herbs in my food as much as possible, however I do keep a few dried varieties on hand for those moments when the cupboard is bare or when I want the intensity that is characteristic of certain dried herbs. My favorite is a mixture called Herbes de Provence and one tablespoon can make a big impact.

Juicy Lamb With Herbes de Provence

Juicy Lamb With Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence is a combination of thyme, marjoram, rosemary, basil, fennel, sage and lavender. I think that lavender is one of the key ingredients and gives dishes like the one I made last night a beautiful perfume-y quality that goes so well with strong flavors like lamb.

So if shelf space is meagre in your kitchen, or you are like me and don’t like spending money on a ton of dried herbs that more often than not don’t get used up before they have lost their aroma, stick with the all-in-one Herbes de Provence. It is great in stews, grilled meat, fish and vegetables.


You will need:

2 -3 tbs olive oil

sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

6 lamb shoulder loin chops (about 1 lb each)

2 sweet onions, large dice, or 1/2 moon slices

2 ribs celery, including leaves, sliced

2 carrots, peeled & sliced

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 cup tomato puree

6 cups veggie or chicken stock OR 1 good quality bouillon cube & water

1 tbs Herbes de Provence


Preheat oven 400*

1 – Generously season the lamb with sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put large saute pan on high heat and add 2 tbs of olive oil. When it is very hot, add the chops in an even layer (you will probably need to do this in 2 or 3 batches depending on the size of your pan). Cook on each side until browned, adding more oil as needed. Remove to a heavy casserole or dutch oven.

sear lamb

Sear lamb

2 – Turn heat down to medium and add all of the veggies, as well as the Herbes de Provence. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

saute veggies with seasonings

Saute veggies with seasonings

3 – Add the tomato pure and mix well.

Add tomato puree

Add tomato puree

4 – Add the stock, or bouillon and water, and turn heat up to high. Bring to a boil.

add liquid

Add liquid

5 – Add the chops and place in the oven checking after 1 1/4 hours. If the chops are very tender, remove from the oven. If not, return to the oven for another 15 minutes or until done. Let the pan rest for 10 minutes before serving.

add chops

Add chops

Serve with whatever you like: rice, mashed potatoes, sautéed greens, salad, bread or pasta.



Really Great Turkey & Bacon Ragu (serves 6)

 This was a great mid-week dinner. Wednesday is the day my kids are a little tired of the school week but in the evening are beginning to look forward to the weekend (I know that’s wishing their young lives away, but this is a hard lesson to teach little people who think they will live forever!).

This was a great mid-week treat

This was a great mid-week treat

I put this sauce together the moment I got in the door and that left me free to do all of those other things that needed to be taken care of (science project panic!). I wanted to use a lighter meat for the ragu and I had some turkey that I though would work. It was not ground, but that didn’t bother me (Ragu is made with ground meat but f you don’t have it, don’t worry about it).

I was a little concerned with the meat not having as much flavor as say lamb or pork, so I added some bacon. I think bacon is the secret ingredient that waylays lots of disasters!

It was really lovely and made the hum-drum feeling that Wednesdays can bring fade away.


* This ragu sauce can be made the day before (or in the morning) and reheated slowly on the stove-top while the pasta is cooking*

You will need:

1 tbs olive oil

8 strips bacon (streaky), sliced into 1 inch pieces (approx.)

1 lb turkey cutlets, cut into bite-sized pieces (thin sliced turkey breast – if you can only find whole fillets, slice it yourself)

1 medium onion, cut into large chunks

3 cloves garlic,

1 carrot

2 or 3 tender inner celery ribs, including leaves

1 28 oz can tomato puree (894 grams)

2 tbs tomato paste ( sun-dried or smoky varieties are fine to use)

2 cups water

1 tsp sea-salt

1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tbs cold unsalted butter (optional)

6 cups freshly chopped spinach

1 1/4  lbs rigatoni pasta, or another hearty pasta like bucatini, ribbed penne or shells (I use Barilla brand)

1 1/2 cups Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated (optional)


1 – Put large saute pan on medium heat and add the oil and chopped bacon. Cook until bacon starts to get crispy (anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes).

fry bacon

Fry bacon

2 – Season the turkey with the salt and several grinds of black pepper and add to the pan. You will have to turn up the heat slightly. Cook turkey until it takes on a white color (about 5 to 8 minutes). Stir occasionally.

add turkey

Add turkey

3 – While meat is cooking, prep the veggies: slice carrot, onion and celery into chunks and add to a food processor with the garlic cloves. Pulse until it resembles large rubbly bits.

chop veggies in food processor

Chop veggies in food processor

4 – Add the veggies to the pan and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes (adjusting the heat down slightly).

add veggies

Add veggies

6 – Add the tomato paste, tomato puree, water, and chili flakes. Bring to a boil. When it boils, turn it down, cover and simmer at a bare bubble for about 2 hours. Check every 1/2 hour (or less) and give it a stir. If it gets very thick, add a 1/2 cup of water at a time to adjust consistency. However, it should be very thick.

add liquids adn spices

Add liquids and spices

7 – Add the chopped spinach and stir. (*at this point put the pasta on and cook according to instructions – do not rinse pasta and reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water before draining to add to sauce if necessary*)

add chopped spinach

Add chopped spinach

8 – Cover and cook for a further 12 or so minutes, stirring once during this time. Turn off heat. Taste sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary (salt, and/or pepper). If it is thicker than you would like, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water. Stir butter (if using) into sauce.

cook a little more adn adjust seasonings

Cook a little more and adjust seasonings

Divide pasta between warmed shallow bowls or plates and top each with a helping of Ragu. Pass some grated Parmigiano Reggiano and pepper flakes at the table.

Turkey & Bacon Ragu

Turkey & Bacon Ragu with lots of grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Easy Pork & Chicken in Red Sauce (serves 6)

This turned into something Oh So Good! (which was a relief). I had people over to dinner unexpectedly and I had to make dinner in a hurry out of a mish-mash of ingredients. I know that some people would hate to be put under pressure in the kitchen for a last-minute dinner for six, but I am the opposite, and that probably means I was destined to work in a busy, stressful restaurant kitchen! There is still time for that career, but for now I am content drumming up food for my family each evening, while making sure to have lots of dinner parties and impromptu guests!

Easy Pork & Chicken Dinner

Easy Pork & Chicken Dinner

This was dead simple to put together and the whole things was ready in no time. The addition of the tomatoes in combination with the rosemary made the meat so flavorful and warmed the cockles of each diner’s hungry heart.


You will need:

3 to 4 tbs olive oil

3 chicken breast fillets

2 lbs country-style pork ribs (no bones, just rib meat strips)

coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning meat

2 onions, sliced into 8 wedges each

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 1/2 cups tomato puree

1 cup red wine

1 1/2 cups chicken stock OR 1 bouillon cube and 1 1/2 cups water

2 tbs tomato paste (I used a sun-dried tomato paste)

1 stem of rosemary, cut into 3 or 4 pieces

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (chili flakes)


Preheat oven 400*

1 – Season both the pork and chicken with a sprinkle of sea-salt and black pepper. Put a large saute pan or casserole pot on high heat and add 2 tbs of oil. When the oil is hot, sear the meat in batches in a single until browned on both sides. Try not to disturb the meat as it cooks or it may stick to the pan. Place meat on plate as you go and continue until all of the meat has been browned, adding more oil to the pan as needed.

brown chicken in hot pan..

brown chicken & pork in hot pan.

2 – Turn heat down to medium and add the carrots and onions (if the pan is dry, add more oil). Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the rosemary and pepper flakes and continue to cook for another couple of minutes. Next add the tomato paste, tomato puree and wine, and let the mixture come to a boil.

saute veggies, add seasonngs

saute veggies, add seasonings

3 – Add the stock (or water and bouillon) to the pan, and also add he meat. Bring to a boil and then turn off heat. Cover with lid and place in preheated oven for about 1 hour, or until meat s very tender.

add liquids

add liquids

4 – Remove from the oven and let the dish rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Place in oven

Place in oven

This is great with rice, pasta or fresh bread. Of course you also had better serve something green on the side!

Rich Meaty Ragu In Baked Pasta (serves 12-14)

If you love rich pasta dishes, then this is the dinner for you. It seems to please the biggest to the smallest. I made this several times over the holidays (and again last night!) when crowds of people were dropping by continually, and it was a life-saver. It takes a bit of time (and a very large wooden spoon for wielding all of that meat!) but when it is done, you are off the hook for the whole evening, or for several days if you just cook it for the family for future meals.

This is addictive

This is addictive

I made this with a mixture of beef and lamb for extra flavor, and added special things like sun-dried tomato paste and smoky bacon to give the sauce a complex richness. Once you get the hang of making meat sauces they can be used in so many other things, Bolognese, Shepard’s pie, not to mention how they can be made ahead, frozen in 4 serving sizes to be drawn upon when you are in a hurry or you decide to ask the friend that came over for a quick chat after lunch to stay for dinner! All very handy indeed!

serve with lots of greens for balance (and guilt-free gorging!)

serve with lots of greens for balance (and guilt-free gorging!)

When I write about stuff like this I have to admit to feeling like some overly fastidious housewife and I have to scream out loud (mostly for myself) that it isn’t true!!! I don’t spend my days planning meals, and making mountains of food which get stored in Tupperware containers, neatly labelled with the contents. I only make giant amounts of food when I end up with a pile of something unexpected that needs using up (like 3lbs of ground meat last night).

Parsley, lemons, garlic & wine (great combination flavor)

Parsley, lemons, garlic & wine (great combination flavor)

I do however think about food quite a bit. Food just reminds me of everything that is good about the world: the pleasure of eating in the company of like-minded people, the smells bursting from my kitchen when I zest a lemon or chop fresh basil, the people I get to chat with who are drawn in by the activity and energy in my kitchen, cooking with friends, family and strangers, traveling anywhere and everywhere for that perfect meal, knowing that feeding someone who is down and out that day can change them for the better. It is a simple thing and not the most complicated thing to ponder on as I go through my day, but it is something that I can do everyday and it makes me feel good. You don’t need much to make something pleasing to the heart and soul, it can be as simple as a potato with a little blob of butter and salt – bliss.

Toss potatoes into parsley butter

Potatoes tossed in parsley butter


You will need:

For meat sauce:

1/4 cup olive oil (extra-virgin is fine too)

3 lbs ground meat (beef, lamb or combination of the two – I buy 15% fat content when using beef)

4 or 5 stripes bacon (I used a flavorful smoky variety)

2 large onions, small dice

3 celery ribs, including leaves, diced

3 carrots, diced (I did this in my food processor – much faster!)

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 28oz can (793 grams) tomato puree

1 1/2 cups water

3 tbs tomato paste (or sun-dried tomato paste)

1 tsp sea-salt

1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (optional)

freshly ground black pepper

2 cups white or red wine

For Béchamel sauce:

1 stick butter (4 oz/ 113 grams)

1/3 cup + 1 tbs all-purpose flour

3 1/2 cups milk

1 good quality veggie or chicken bouillon cube (I use Rapunzel Brand)

1/2 tsp sea-salt (I use Maldon sea-salt flakes) – NO salt if your bouillon cube is salty!

freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

3 lb pasta (I recommend any tubular pasta: rigatoni, large penne, ziti)


1 – Prep all veggies for meat sauce and set aside. Put large deep saute pan or large casserole on medium heat and add 2 tbs of the oil. Add the chopped bacon and fry until getting crispy. Pour off some of the bacon fat.

fry bacon

Fry bacon

2 – Next, add the rest of the oil, then the onions, garlic, carrots, celery and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally for about 12 minutes.

add veggies

Add veggies

3 – Add the ground meat and cook until it has all browned. sir and break up meat as much as possible during the cooking. This will take about 12 minutes.

add ground meat

Add ground meat

Cook until browned

Cook until browned

4 – Turn heat up to high and add the wine, water, tomato puree, and tomato paste and stir until everything is well incorporated and starting to bubble.

add liquids

Add liquids

5 – Add the salt, several generous grinds of black pepper and cayenne pepper flakes (if using)

add seasonings

Add seasonings

6 – When the mixture is bubbling, cover with the lid partially off, turn down and cook, stirring occasionally for up to 2 1/2 hours. The sauce will have thickened and become deeply rich.

cook for 2 to 21/2 hours

Cook for 2 to 21/2 hours

7 – While sauce is cooking put big saucepan or saute pan on medium/low heat and add the butter. When it melts, swirl in the stock cube until it dissolves completely. Add the salt and several grinds of freshly ground pepper.

melt butter, add bouillon cube

Melt butter, add bouillon cube

8 – Add the flour and stir with a whisk until it becomes a smooth paste. Add the milk 1 cup at a time, and cook on medium, stirring continually until it the sauce becomes thick. Taste and adjust seasoning. Cover and set side.

Add flour, then milk

Add flour, then milk

Preheat oven to 400*

Boil the pasta noodles right before you want to cook this dish (the rest can be made ahead) Do not rinse with cold water.

9 – Stir Béchamel sauce into meat sauce

add bechamel to cooked meat sauce

Add bechamel to cooked meat sauce

10 – Mix the hot pasta with the ragu. Butter a very large casserole (or several dishes) and pour pasta mixture into baking dish. Top with cheese (if using)

mix with any pasta you like

Mix with any pasta you like

11 – Place in oven until getting crispy on top (start checking after 30 minutes)

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes

Serve with lots of greens, more cheese, pepper flakes and black pepper!

Marvelous Mixed Fish Stew with Friends (serves 6)

I made this when our good friends Shawn and Jo stopped in right before Christmas for an early celebration. They were not going to be around for the big Christmas day feast but I wanted to make something special nonetheless. This luxurious fish stew was it!

Marvelous Mixed Fish Stew with Friends

Marvelous Mixed Fish Stew 

For me, there are a few kinds of special when it comes to cooking; special can be all about cheaper ingredients (cuts of meat, fish, vegetables, spices) which may take more time and love to coax goodness from, or using more expensive ingredients that need little help in the flavor department. This is not always the case, but you know what I’m talking about? It takes a few minutes to cook a piece of filet mignon to perfection, while a piece of beef chuck roast may need hours of cooking to taste just as exquisite.

Smoky grilled peppers

Smoky charred peppers

This particular dish probably fell right between the two with more expensive ingredients being mixed with more reasonably priced ones. I wanted to make a fresh tasting but intensely flavorful fish stew so used cheaper fish like clams and catfish for strong flavor, and cod fish (at $17 per lb!) for girth, sustenance and an air of luxury. This is not a dish I could have made on Christmas as part of a large array of dishes, as it would cost too much, but, for 6 people it was more realistic (this fish dish cost approximately $52)

feast wirth friends

feast with friends

I wanted to talk about how much things cost because it is a very big part of how I choose certain dishes. I don’t believe for 1 minute that you have to spend a fortune to make something unforgettable, but I am also aware that there are times when using items that cost an arm and a leg, like vanilla beans or saffron or truffles, can transform a dish into something very special. People are funny creatures. We cannot help associating pricy with luxury and inexpensive with plain and ordinary. This is true from clothing to food. I think food is the place where the gap can be closed considerably by savvy, smart shopping, and attention to detail when using those purchases. 

One thing is for sure; anything that comes from your kitchen is going to be better than any take-out, frozen dinner and most every restaurant offering. Happy cooking!


* A note to Blood type A diet Followers: Omit the clams and add 1 more pound of fish. Omit the clam juice and use veggie broth or veggie bouillon cube and water. Do not add the tomatoes or peppers. Add more spinach if you like. Believe me, it will still taste fantastic!*

You will Need:

2 lbs firm white fish (I used a mix of cod and cat-fish), rinsed, cut into large chunks

2 lbs clams, scrubbed and rinsed

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 or 4 long green or Anaheim peppers

2 medium sweet onions

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

5 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley

1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro

big bunch fresh spinach – 6 or more cups chopped

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 cup crushed tomatoes or tomato puree

3 cups clam juice (usually found bottled in the tinned fish section of supermarket)

1 cup white wine

1 cup water

4 or more cups cooked warm basmati rice

sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

more chopped fresh cilantro (garnish)


Cook rice and keep warm. If you have leftover rice you want to use, put it into a pot, cover with lid and turn to the lowest setting on your stove top about 15 minutes before serving.

1 – Prep the peppers as follows: place oven rack close to grill and turn grill to high. Place peppers on cookie sheet or baking tray and place in oven. Check every few minutes. When the peppers’ skin chars and turns black, turn the pepper. Do this until the entire pepper is charred (about 10 minutes or more). Place peppers in brown paper or plastic bag and seal. When they have cooled, remove from bag and tear off the charred skin, remove the seeds and stems and dice. Set aside (this can be done ahead of time and stored in the fridge until ready to use)

De-ssed adn chop peppers

De-seed and chop peppers

2 – Put big saute pan or large saucepan or pot on medium heat. Add oil and when it had heated up, add onions, garlic, and several grinds of black pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

saute onions

saute onions

3 – Add the herbs (thyme, parsley, cilantro), pepper flakes and charred, diced peppers. Cook for another 3 minutes.

add herbs and peppers

add herbs and peppers

4 – Add the wine, water, clam juice and tomato puree to your pan and turn heat up. Bring to a simmer and cover. Cook on low for about 3 or so minutes.

add liquid

add liquid

5 – Add the spinach and cover with lid. Bring back to a simmer and continue to simmer until the spinach is very soft and wilted (another 5 minutes). Taste broth for addition of sea-salt. Add according to taste.

add spinach

add spinach

6 – If using clams, add about 3 minutes before the fish and simmer. Add the rest of the fish chunks and cover with lid. Simmer for between 8-10 minutes. Take off heat.

add fish

add fish

To serve, add a big spoonful of warm rice to bottom of shallow bowl and ladle fish stew on top. Add more pepper flakes and black pepper if you like. You can also omit rice and serve with fresh crusty bread (or serve with both, as I did)

serve with rice or crusty toasted bread

serve with rice or crusty toasted bread