The Ultimate Comfort Food – Beginning With Mirepoix

Do you know what I like about mirepoix (pronounced meer pwa)? Besides the fact that it is fun to say, it’s the basic foundation of many soups, stews and sauces. It’s commonly made up of aromatics such as carrots, celery and onions. I’m adding garlic and green bell peppers to the trio because I find it packs a lot more flavor. It’s the beginning of many layers of flavor I’ll be using today in my hearty homemade tomato sauce which then goes on to the star of the show, American Chop Suey.

Sweat or sauté

The idea of mirepoix is to sweat the vegetables over a low heat for about an hour in a small amount of fat. I like to use a little butter and extra virgin olive oil for an additional layer of flavor. You don’t necessarily want to sauté the veggies because that method cooks the product too quickly and you will get a much different flavor result. Sweating is similar to sautéing, however, at a much lower temperature and for a longer period of time. Sweating softens the veggies, releases water from them without browning. This will draw out their natural sweetness and will be helpful later when we add the tomatoes. The reward for your patience in the slow cooking of the veggies is that the sweetness from the mirepoix will neutralize some of the acid from the tomatoes.

There are many different combinations to make a mirepoix. The possibilities are endless. Most often you will see a basic mirepoix is 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot and 1 part celery. That is an excellent starting point. However, you may want to experiment with the ratios to find different flavors that suit your tastes. I find I like more carrots than onions and that is what I use in this recipe.

As I mentioned, mirepoix is found in many foods. I like to make a big batch of it so I can have it on hand for a quick soup or stew. Depending on the dish you’re making, you might even consider adding some bacon to the mixture for additional flavor. Likewise, ginger adds a lot of flavor and goes well if you use a mirepoix when making a stir fry. For other recipes, which I will share another time, I use different combinations.

The. Ultimate. Comfort. Food.

For now though, get ready for American Chop Suey, the ultimate comfort food. I’ve made this dish countless times for lunches or casual get togethers. People always seem surprised that this dish has mozzarella cheese in it. How could it not? I mean, all of the ingredients are just screaming to be covered in cheese. *Disclaimer* I am a cheese fanatic. If I could find a way to add cheese to my breakfast cereal that isn’t gross, I would totally do it. Stay tuned, you never know what challenges await.

American Chop Suey

A hearty pasta dish packed with a hearty tomato sauce, ground beef and mozzarella cheese.

Course Dinner
Keyword Pasta
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours
Author Lisa

Ingredients

Mirepoix

  • 2 cups carrots shredded or diced
  • 2 cups red and green bell peppers diced
  • 1 cup onion diced
  • 1 cup celery diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic minced
  • drizzle olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • pinch salt

Hearty Tomato Sauce

  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 12 oz can tomato paste (optional - as needed)
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 lbs lean ground beef

American Chop Suey

  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 3-4 cups mozzarella cheese shredded

Instructions

Mirepoix

  1. In a large skillet over low heat, drizzle olive oil  to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the butter until melted.

    Mirepoix ingredients
  2. Shred the carrots, dice the onions, celery and bell peppers, mince the garlic. Add to the skillet. Toss the ingredients until well coated. Add the pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for approximately one hour. (Be sure to keep an eye on the vegetables, you shouldn't hear loud sizzling while it's cooking and your ingredients shouldn't turn brown. If this starts happening, reduce heat.) 

    Mirepoix simmering

Hearty tomato sauce

  1. While the vegetables are sweating, in a separate skillet, over medium heat, brown the ground beef. Add half of the broth, and all of the seasonings. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

    Ground beef for tomato sauce
  2. After the mirepoix has simmered for the hour, add the remaining broth to the mixture and bring to a low boil. 

    Mirepoix plus broth
  3. Combine the mirepoix mixture and the ground beef mixture. Then add the crushed and diced tomatoes. Continue to simmer up to another hour. The sauce will thicken and get sweeter the longer it cooks. If the sauce is too thin for your liking, you can gradually add some of the tomato paste a little at a time until your sauce reaches your desired consistency.

    hearty tomato sauce
  4. Meanwhile, cook one pound of pasta according to the package directions.

    Elbow macaroni

American Chop Suey

  1. When the pasta is cooked to your desired tenderness, gradually add the sauce and mozzarella cheese to the pasta and mix thoroughly. 

    American chop suey assembly2

Mainely Salsa-tional

Salsa ingredients
Salsa ingredients

Pico de gallo or Salsa?

They are both basically salads, but classified as sauces. Salsa is made with tomatoes, onions, and one or more varieties of peppers. Depending on what recipe you follow, there may also be other ingredients, but they’re chopped and mixed together.

The actual definition of salsa is a spicy tomato sauce. Salsa is sometimes cooked, sometimes not, again it depends on the recipe. It will have more liquid and has a thinner, soupier texture than its counterpart. 

Pico de gallo literally translated from Spanish is Rooster’s Beak. It is also known as salsa fresco. Pico de gallo is not cooked, this seems to be a standard rule. The chopped vegetables are clearly visible in the mixture. It’s chunkier and more rustic. It doesn’t require much seasoning other than salt and cilantro.

With all that said, I call my recipe a “Salsa” even though I use all fresh ingredients, don’t cook it and you can clearly see all the vegetables in it. But, I do add seasonings and other non-traditional ingredients which gives it more liquid than a traditional salsa.

Don’t worry, though, by non-traditional, I don’t mean you’ll find any rooster beaks in this recipe; but what you will find, however, is a lot of flavor. You can control the amount of heat, by selecting milder peppers and reducing the amount of ground cayenne. But, if made as the recipe calls, you’ll find a pleasant refreshing, almost sweet-tasting salsa followed a moment later by a little spicy kick.

 

Too Many Players On The Field

This particular recipe is slightly different than my very first version made many years ago. I once had to make an emergency alteration to stretch the recipe.

Has this ever happen to you? You’re only expecting a few people to show up for a gathering, but next thing you know, you have twice as many people than you’re prepared for. What do you do? I mean besides freak out about whether or not you have enough food for everyone. Well, this happened to me once and necessity became the mother of creativity.

I invited some friends over to watch football. I was only expecting 6 people, so I only made a small batch of salsa. It was kind of an unwritten rule that I would strategically put out bowls of salsa and chips within reach so my guests could nibble throughout the game. Next thing I knew I had twice as many people than I expected. I did not have enough salsa to place around for everyone and I couldn’t place a skimpy bowl of salsa in front of my guests.

I scrambled for ideas, I fumbled at the thought of adding the salsa to a big brick of melted cheese and just making a dip instead. But, I recovered and decided to just add some random vegetables from the crisper drawer. That move ended up winning the game..I mean the approval of my guests. They liked it better than the first draft and I still make it that way to this day.

I debated for a long time about sharing this recipe. This is the recipe that was going to make me rich and famous. I made it for an office party once and a few people offered to pay me to make it for them again. At that time I offered to share the recipe, but for one reason or another they thought it was just easier for them to pay me to make it. So, for a while, word got around and I was making gallons of this salsa every week. I brought it to the office, craft fairs, made gifts for friends and it was requested often for parties or just when we were hanging out for no special occasion. 

So, finally, that brings me to the name. Mainely Salsational. I had some very clever co-workers who would be gracious enough to sample my experiments while I was trying to come up with some new varieties. Some of those experiments were successful and others, eh not so much. These clever co-workers used a play on words making salsational out of the salsa is sensational. And, of course, Mainely because we’re from Maine and no one expects salsa from Maine to be a thing. Today I’m just going to share what is now called my “Original” salsa. I’ll share the other successful recipes another time.

Original Salsa

A fresh salsa with a touch of sweetness and a slight kick

Course Snack
Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes seeded and diced
  • 1 cup cucumber seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup red onion diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper seeded and diced
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers (medium size) seeded and minced
  • 2-3 medium cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lime juiced
  • 2 tsp Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • sugar as need optional
  • cilantro optional

Instructions

  1. Set a strainer in a small bowl. Cut the stem end off of each tomato and cut in half. Squeeze the tomato over the strainer to catch the seeds. Reserve the juice to the side. If you have the handy chop wizard kitchen gadget, you can use it to dice the remainder of the tomato and other veggies to get a nice, uniform size. Otherwise dice the tomatoes as usual. Add the diced tomatoes to a large bowl that has a lid.

    Chop Wizard
  2. Peel the cucumbers, cut in quarters lengthwise then cut off and discard the sections of seeds. Dice the remainder of the cucumber then add to the tomatoes.

  3. Remove the seeds from the peppers and discard. Dice the remainder of the peppers then add to the tomato mixture. (NOTE: If you want to add a little heat to the salsa, leave some of the jalapeno seeds and membrane. If you want a milder salsa, be sure to remove all the seeds and the membrane.)

  4. Mince the garlic then add to the tomato mixture.

  5. Add the remaining ingredients (except the sugar) to the reserved tomato juice. Stir well until the dried seasonings are well dissolved.

  6. Pour the mixture over the tomato mixture and stir until all the vegetables are well coated. Cover the salsa and refrigerate. (Trust me, you want to cover this dish. Otherwise everything in your fridge will taste like salsa.)

    Salsa
  7. This salsa will taste even better the next day, so if you have time, I would suggest making it the day before you want to serve it. 

  8. Adding sugar to this recipe is sometimes needed depending on your taste. Sometimes, after the vegetables have had time to infuse with the sauce, it will become a little sweeter. I would recommend not adding the sugar until the next day. And if you do need to add the sugar, start with a 1/2 tsp at a time. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and well blended. Repeat if necessary.

  9. I listed cilantro as optional because I am not really a fan of it and I do not miss it in the salsa when I make it, but others feel that it is needed and have enjoyed it when I’ve made it with the cilantro. So, it is up to you. Use as needed.

Do you prefer your salsa cooked or do you like the freshness of uncooked better? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest for more recipes.

The Jack Of All Herbs Medley – A blend of herbs for soups, salads, sauces and spreads

I love annual harvest festivals.  Farmers and vendors from all over the state gather to sell their goods to people like me who don’t have the magical green thumb required to produce such wonderful produce. They always offer so many specialty items along with the fresh produce, herbs, cheeses and meat products, too. Not to mention that the vendors usually offer samples of their delicious creations. So, while you explore the festival, you can usually sample enough items to make a lunch out of it.

About 6 or 7 years ago I stopped by the local harvest festival and found a vendor selling herbs. I was looking for saffron for a bread I will share with you at a later date. They didn’t have the saffron, but they did have a variety of other herbs on display in cute gift jars. They also had a separate display of their own blend of herbs. They offered pretzels to their visitors to sample the herb blend mixed with cream cheese. Well, I could have stood there all afternoon enjoying that concoction. But, instead, I purchased a large jar for myself and few smaller packets with salad dressing jars to use as holiday gifts then continued my quest for the saffron.

Over the course of the next few months, I found many uses for this blend. It has a bit of an Italian seasoning flair, so it goes great in marinara sauce, added to soups, salad dressings and to butter or cream cheese for delicious spreads. You can add it to some oil and vinegar and drizzle it as a condiment for Italian hoagies…or maybe you call them subs. No matter what you call those delicious sandwiches, this condiment is yummy on them.

So, when I started to run out of the blend from the harvest festival, I became very stingy with the remaining portions and decided to use it sparingly until the next harvest festival, so I could replenish my stock. Well, much to my dismay, none of the vendors at this particular festival sold anything like it. I didn’t keep the bag or the tag from the jar with the company name. I have looked for it everywhere, with no luck. Since I have no idea where to get it now, I had to get inventive and try to re-create the blend.

Well, after many batches of cream cheese and herb spread, I have a version that is similar to what I was trying to re-create. Even though it is still slightly different, this medley adds a little pizzazz to many dishes. It has many uses and is good on many things, hence the name, Jack of all Herbs Medley. The recipe is below along with some of my favorite uses.

Jack Of All Herbs Medley

This medley is a re-creation of a blend I can no longer find to purchase. It's slightly different but is still a nice addition to many dishes.

All of the ingredients used in this recipe are dried; although you could use fresh herbs. Just keep in mind that one teaspoon of dried herbs equal 1 tablespoon of fresh, chopped herbs. 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder is the equivalent of 1 medium clove of garlic. 2 teaspoons of onion powder is approximately 1/2 a medium onion. 

Course Herbs
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp chives
  • 4 tsp parsley
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp orange peel
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp sage

Instructions

  1. Thoroughly mix all ingredients and store in an air tight container or jar.

Now that you have combined all the ingredients, why not try one of these?

Jack of all Herbs Medley and Cream Cheese Dip

This recipe will work as a dip for your favorite chips or pretzels or as a spread for crackers.

Course Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine American
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp Herb Medley
  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese softened
  • 1/4 cup mayonaisse
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients until well blended. Refrigerate for at least one hour. For best results, make one day ahead to give the flavors optimal mingling time.

    Cream cheese and herb dip

Jack of all Herbs Medley Bread Dipping Oil

This herb blend is perfect for adding to olive oil in place of butter for your dinner rolls.

Course Appetizer, Bread, Herbs
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 minute
Total Time 1 minute
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • pinch Herb Medley
  • pinch salt

Instructions

  1. Mix ingredients until well blended.

    Herb medley bread dipping oil

Jack of all Herbs Medley Butter

Excellent substitution for garlic butter for use on Texas Toast or Italian Bread.

Course Appetizer, Bread, Herbs
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 minute
Total Time 1 minute
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup salted butter softened
  • 1 tsp Herb Medley

Instructions

  1. Mix the ingredients until well blended. Serve in place of butter for dinner rolls or in place of garlic butter for garlic bread.
    Herb medley butter

Jack of all Herbs Medley Salad Dressing

A great substitution for Italian dressing. Use as a salad dressing or veggie dip.

Course Dressing
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp herb mix

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients in a jar, seel tightly and shake until well blended. Shake well before each use. 

    Herb medley salad dressing

Hoagies or submarines? What do you call them? Let me know in the comments below along with where you are from.