A Fast & Easy Recipe for a Busy Weekend

Things continue to be hectic around here.  We are closing on our first house next week, and we plan to do some renovations right away.  So you can bet this weekend is going to be a whirlwind of getting things ready for the closing, shopping around for things like tile and bathroom vanities, and researching things like wood floor refinishing… all the while trying not to freak out.  This kind of crazy weekend calls for a speedy, simple recipe idea.  Also, when things are busy, I like the idea of making a component that can be used in many ways to jazz up otherwise simple dishes.  Fortunately, I’ve come up with something that fits the bill.

I really like Pinterest, a lot.  I’ve created a bunch of boards for recipes (of course), but also decorating , gardening, entertaining, personal style, and travel ideas/inspiration.  Recently I came across this pin for “taco pickles” – the photo of brightly colored veggies grabbed my attention immediately, and reminded me of all the fresh veggies I’ve been eyeing up at Farmers @ Firehouse.  I had to make these!  They’re a great addition to a taco or taco-salad, and also would be great on burgers or a sandwich, as a garnish for grilled fish, or just for a little snack.

My version is a twist on the original recipe, with the addition of scallions, lime, and garlic – some other veggies that you could experiment with would be bell pepper, crisp fresh peas in their shells, onion, zucchini, or red cabbage.  Any sort of fresh, crunchy veggie would be great – get some inspiration from your garden or local Farmers’ Market!

Here’s the recipe I used, which filled two pint jars.

Quick Taco Pickles

1 bunch of radishes
3 carrots, peeled
1 jalapeño (or more if you’d like more heat), seeds and stem removed
3 scallions
1 clove garlic
1/2 lime
A handful of chopped cilantro
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar

1.  Thinly slice all of the vegetables and lime.  I used a mandoline to make sure everything was evenly sliced.  (This is the one I have – it’s inexpensive, but it does a great job.)

Taco Pickle Vegetables

2.  Bring the sugar and vinegars to a slow boil and whisk until all the sugar is dissolve.  Place in the fridge to cool it to room temperature.

3.  Combine the radishes, carrots, jalapeño, scallions, garlic, lime slices, and cilantro.  Pour the cooled pickling liquid over them.  Store in the fridge in jars or any sealeable container.  Let them sit for at least an hour before digging in.  The original recipe said they would keep for a couple weeks, but I found they were best within the first week.

Taco Pickles

Click here for a printable PDF of this recipe.


Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I passed by a display of those popular taco-kits.  I remember these from when I was kid.  It was fun – you’d buy the kit that had everything you need in it, just add some ground beef, and voila!  Taco night!  …If you’ve been following my blog, you may recall I recently posted a Cinco de Mayo recipe for goat tacos.  So when I walked by the display, I was curious, what is in this premade mix?  It seems to me that most things in the kit could be purchased separately in any standard grocery store, except for that very necessary seasoning mix.  Well, in addition to the spices you might expect there were also things like (depending on the brand) maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, silicon dioxide, ethoxyquin, autolyzed yeast extract, artificial color, and sulfites.  What are these things?  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that it is super easy to make your own delicious and flavorful taco seasoning mix, without any chemicals that are difficult to pronounce.  Head to Penzey’s Spices and you’ll find everything to make your own blend, and you’ll have to ability to customize it to your taste.  Want a little more heat?  Maybe add some garlic flavor?  A little less salt?  No problem.  This seasoning would work very well with ground beef, pork, shredded chicken, or with beans for vegetarian tacos.

Penzeys SpicesHere’s what I put in my Mexican taco seasoning – feel free to adjust this basic recipe to your own taste.

2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika (pimenton)
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Taco Seasoning

Taco Seasoning

Place all of the ingredients in a sealable container, jar, or bag.  Shake until everything is  evenly combined and store until ready to use.

Taco Seasoning

Taco Seasoning

Click here to download a printable PDF of this recipe.

Ramp Pesto

Ramp Pesto

For months, I have been anticipating the return of the Farmers at the Firehouse, as well as the fresh, seasonal produce at the Pittsburgh Public Market.  I love warm and hearty winter foods, but by now I am more than ready for local asparagus, lettuce, and peaches!  The Farmers at the Firehouse returns tomorrow, but I just couldn’t wait to share a super-springtime recipe with you… I jumped the gun and headed to the Pittsburgh Public Market last weekend in hopes of finding a vendor selling some early-springtime treats.  Thankfully, Mushrooms for Life granted my wish, selling fresh ramps and morel mushrooms.  (The morels will be featured in an upcoming post – stay tuned!)  They will be at the Farmers at the Firehouse this weekend selling more of their tasty treats.

Also sometimes called spring onions, wild leeks, wood leeks, or wild garlic – ramps are foraged in the early springtime and have a particularly spicy, garlicky flavor which I thought would be fantastic in a pesto.  I’ve found pesto to be a very easy and versatile sauce to make: The basic ingredients I include in any pesto are herbs, nuts, hard cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper.  You can use this recipe as a basis for your own unique variations using other herbs, nuts, and cheeses.

In addition to the ramps, I purchased parsley, lemon and almonds from Marty’s Market.  And the pecorino romano came from, of course, the famous cheese counter at Pennsylvania Macaroni.

This recipe will create about one generous cup of pesto.

1 bunch (about 12) ramps
1 handful fresh parsley
1 handful of almonds
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more if needed

Ramp Pesto

1.  Be sure to thoroughly wash the ramps.  Trim of the stringy roots.  Also trim off the white bulbs and save them for another use.  (You can pickle them, chop them up and use them in a stir fry, roast them and toss them with other veggies or pasta.)

2.  Toast the almonds in a small pan, being careful not to burn them.  Let them cool before placing them in the food processor with the other ingredients.

3.  If all of your ingredients don’t fit into your food processor at once, you can puree them in steps, as shown in these photos.

Ramp Pesto

Ramp Pesto

4.  You can use this pesto in pasta, on chicken or fish, add it to soup, or spread it on toasted bread.  If you do decide to use it as a spread, I would quickly blanch the ramp leaves at the beginning before pureeing them, or the onion-y flavor might be a tad overpowering.

Ramp Pesto

Click here to download a printable PDF of this recipe.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Of course there are places in the Strip where you can buy wonderful, quality tomato sauces – but I like the ability to customize my own sauce, and it’s less expensive than buying specialty sauces from the store.  Also, I know that by making my own sauce, it won’t have any of the preservatives or other strange ingredients that sometimes make their way into the usual grocery-store brands.

When I saw the display of enormous canned goods in Sunseri’s, I could not help but buy a big can of tomatoes to make a very large batch of tomato sauce.  This tomato sauce is extremely easy to make and uses basic ingredients you could find anywhere – you can get the fresh produce and herbs for this recipe at Marty’sStan’s, or Wholey’s, – I was shopping early in the day so I purchased all of my fresh ingredients and PennMac.  When shopping for canned tomatoes, I like to look at the ingredients on the label to find one that contains only tomatoes, or maybe just tomatoes and salt.

It’s impossible for me and my husband to eat all of this sauce before it goes bad, so I like to divide it up into jars or small containers that I can keep in the freezer and pull out to defrost whenever I need them.  If you have the equipment, you could also can it.  I use this sauce in pasta dishes, soups, on pizza – it’s so versatile!

Tomato Sauce Ingredients

1 very large (6 lb 9 oz) canned crushed tomatoes
2 large onions, chopped
2 carrots, finely shredded
1 stalk celery, chopped
8 cloves of garlic
1 bunch fresh thyme, stems removed
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Canned Tomato


Shredded Carrot

Sliced Garlic


Chopped Parsley

1.  In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery and garlic, and season with a little salt and pepper.  (Be sparing in your use of salt if your canned tomatoes already contain salt.) Cook until they’re soft and just starting to brown.  Add the carrot and herbs, cook until the carrot is soft and starting to brown.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

2.  Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer for one hour.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

3.  Taste the sauce, and add a bit more salt or pepper if you like.  If you prefer a chunkier sauce, go ahead and divide the sauce into small containers to freeze.  I prefer a slightly smoother sauce, so I like to allow the sauce to cool in the refrigerator before pureeing in a blender.  Do this in batches so as not to overfill the blender.  Then place the pureed sauce into small containers for freezing.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Feel free to use this recipe as a basis for your own personalized sauce – for example you could use different herbs, add a little bell pepper, or maybe add some red pepper flakes for a little extra kick.  🙂