Archive for ‘Kitchen Tips’

April 9, 2014

Tips for Homemade Marinara Sauce

by Sandy Pollock

Editor’s note: This guest blog post is written by Jenny Corteza. Jenny Corteza was shopping for a double vanity unit for her house and was surprised at all the different options available. When not fixing up her home, she’s writing articles about food!

3189998806_ab73685609_b.jpgPhoto by:  Bill Holsinger-Robinson

Sophia Petrillo of the Golden Girls once told her daughter Dorothy that her secret to great marinara sauce was singing to it. While it’s worth a try to sing to your marinara sauce, there are other ways to create a zesty, delicious marinara sauce that is sure to give your family something to sing about.

1. Picking tomatoes

Fresh is always best, but when it comes to marinara sauce unless you’re picking them off the vine it may be better to use a canned or jarred tomato. Canned San Marzano and Cento Passata in glass jars are highly recommended brands of store-bought tomatoes to use for marinara sauce. Canned San Marzano and Center Passante tomatoes are picked at peak season from the volcanic soil where they grow in the Campania region of Italy.

Canned San Marzano are the most ubiquitous tomatoes to find at local supermarkets. It is best to use pureed tomatoes. The lower the acidic rate of the tomato, the better. If you have a highly acidic tomato, try adding sugar to the mix to lower the acidity, if you’re watching your sugar consumption, grated carrots can also help lower acidity.

2. Be sure to Puree

Pureed tomatoes help make the best marinara sauce. Pureeing helps bring out the deep flavor of the tomato and grinds up the seed. If you end up buying whole canned tanned tomatoes are use fresh tomatoes be sure to puree first.

3. Spice it up!

Again, fresh is always best. Chopping up fresh basil and garlic really helps to bring out the flavor. It’s best to choose freshly chopped spices over pre-packaged spices.  The best marinara have very few ingredients and the very freshest ingredients.

4. Choose the best ingredients.

In order to make a great marinara, you may include the following ingredients” chopped onion, pepper, oregano, thyme, basil leaves. You may already have many of these ingredients in your pantry. Try growing your own basil leaves, to have fresh basil for all of your Italian dishes, or to make a refreshing mojito after you’ve created the best homemade marinara sauce!

Ingredients for Marinara sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Fresh ground pepper (sprinkle to taste)
  • 1 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes or
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Fresh basil leaves


In a large pot heat olive oil, onions, sea salt and pepper. Sauté these ingredients over low heat until the onions are soft and clear. Add tomatoes, and mix with sautéed ingredients. Be sure to mash the tomatoes, much like mashing potatoes.  Lastly, add the herbs. Simmer all the ingredients, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or until the sauce has thickened. If you’d like to make extra marinara, this recipe is easily stored in the freezer and will remain fresh for up to one year.

Be sure to sing to it a little too, it never hurts!

February 21, 2014

Lessons from Mamaw Maggie: How to properly season and care for your cast iron pan

by Crystal Cook

Pan and Crisco

My Mamaw Maggie passed when I was only six months old. I didn’t get to create my own memories with her, but I felt as though I knew her as everyone I met had a fond memory of her and a story to share. One of the very few items I have of my Mamaw Maggie’s is her cast iron skillet. When I was younger I only really used it when I was feeling nostalgic, and would bake up some cornbread. When I was little my Mom always said cornbread, soup beans and buttermilk was her favorite meal. But as I got older, I began to discover the pan’s varied uses.

If you are not familiar with cast iron pans, they can seem intimidating. All that talk of properly seasoning it, how to wash it (or not wash) it, seems like too much work. But trust me, the benefits of the cast iron pan far out way any care concerns. When seasoned correctly, a cast iron skillet will work better than any non-stick pan in your cupboard. They heat evenly and beautifully, and when properly cared for, they will last a lifetime. In fact, Mamaw Maggie’s pan has lasted several lifetimes!

For Christmas, I received another vintage cast iron skillet from my boyfriend’s family. Since I need to season it, I thought that I would just share with you all the secrets I learned from my Mom – who just happened to learn from her mom- Mamaw Maggie!

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • If you have purchased a brand new pan, chances are it will contain a coating of wax. To remove the wax, you will want to thoroughly wash the inside of your skillet with warm soapy water to remove the coating, and rinse it extremely well. Please note that this will be the ONE and ONLY time that you will ever use soap on your pan. After you season it, you will only want to wash with hot water. Since my pan is vintage, and does not have a wax coating, I am just going to wash the pan under hot water for several minutes. It is imperative that you understand that a cast-iron skillet is not dishwasher safe, nor is it made for soaking. For best results, always rinse the pan with hot water immediately after cooking. If you have some stuck on food, try scrubbing with coarse salt or a nonmetal brush.


  • Be sure to dry your skillet thoroughly with paper towels, or if you want to dedicate a kitchen towel to your pan, you can. The main thing is to get it completely dry immediately. Never let it air dry or it will rust.

dry pan

  • Dampen a paper towel with a vegetable oil such as canola oil, lard, or a shortening such as Crisco, and wipe your skillet thoroughly. I always use Crisco, because that is what my Mamaw always did, and I rub the entire thing down with a nice even layer. Note: You don’t want the grease to pool up, but you will want to create a nice sheen or glisten to the pan.


all sides

  • Place the pan upside down on the top rack of a preheated 350° oven. Set a baking sheet, or spread a piece of heavy aluminum foil on the lower rack to catch any grease drippings.

best stove

  • Let the pan bake for 1 hour.
  • Cast iron skillets get very hot so use caution and oven mitts when removing and place on a safe surface for cooling. (In fact, another awesome present they got me was my Lodge Handle Mitt.  I love it!)  Cool for 30 minutes or more until the pan is cool to the touch.

cool with handle

cool for sotring

  • You will reinforce the nonstick coating every time you heat the Crisco in the skillet, so I like to repeat this process two or three times.
  • Rinse and dry skillet thoroughly like mentioned above (no soap).
  • Before putting your pan away, be sure to give it another light coating of oil or shortening to protect it from rust and corrosion. I also like to cover it with a paper towel to protect it from dust.

store with papertowel

Some other important things to note:

  • After you have seasoned your pan, you should avoid cooking anything acidic the first couple of times. In fact, you should try cooking up some bacon, or some other high-fat food, to help build up the surfaces high gloss.
  • Once you have achieved that ultimate gloss, you can cook up just about anything. The only thing you should never try is to boil water. That will cause your pan to rust.
  • Don’t let the cast iron sit too long without using it, if you do it may become a bit rancid. If this happens, clean and re-season the pan (no soap).
  • Always remember to give the pan a light coat of grease after cleaning the pan and storing.
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