Homemade Pizza Sauce

Nobody at the dinner table noticed I made my own pizza sauce tonight, but that’s because they thought it was just like the kind we usually buy. And I actually count that as a win.

The recipe is easy, but for me, these are the best reasons to make this sauce:

  1. It’s thrifty — the ingredients were about $1.
  2. It’s healthy — two main ingredients, plus seasonings, and no sugar.
  3. It just feels good to make it from scratch!

It simmers on the stove while you get your pizza ingredients ready. If you like a thick sauce, cook it for longer. It makes enough for two 12-inch pizzas.

1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
A couple of teaspoons of dried oregano
Garlic powder to taste*
Salt, if you think it needs some

In a pot, mix the tomato sauce and tomato paste and bring to a simmer. Add the seasonings, cover, and continue at a low simmer until it’s at the desired thickness.

*Tip for the garlic powder: If you want extra flavor, leave the garlic powder out of the sauce, and sprinkle it over the sauce after you’ve spread it on the pizza.

Apple Praline Ice Cream

This ice cream has the deliciously distinct taste of apple pie. It’s made with applesauce, which gives it a fruity taste, but it’s also creamy. You make it with chopped pecan pralines or candied pecans, though you could also substitute plain ones.

The original recipe came from a UK newspaper years ago, hence the metric measurements that I have converted, but I have altered it since.

Makes 4 servings

125 ml (about 1/2 cup) heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
2 egg yolks
100g (3.5 oz) sugar
125g (just under 4.5 oz.) sour cream
175g (just above 6 oz.) unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup roughly chopped pecan pralines

Make sure your ice cream maker’s freezer bowl is frozen. (I always need a reminder for this step!)

In a saucepan, combine cream, vanilla, and cinnamon and bring to a boil.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. Pour in the cream and mix until blended, then pour the mixture into the saucepan and cook gently, stirring continuously, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and strain through a sieve. Let cool.

Stir in the sour cream and applesauce and churn. Add the nuts to the ice cream maker toward the end of mixing, or layer them in when you pour the ice cream into a freezer container.

Gingerbread Men Cookies

These are so much fun to make and decorate, and the smell and taste of the spices is wonderful, especially during the holidays. The recipe doesn’t take much skill, either — just some patience while the dough chills so the cookies can better hold their shape. And after the cookies are baked comes the next fun part — decorating! My favorite royal icing recipe is below.

I made these for Christmas this year and gave some as presents. Of course, these can be made in any shape you like — try huge snowflakes, circles as Christmas ornaments, or triangles for Christmas trees (if you don’t have a tree cookie cutter). I had leftover dough, so I improvised the shape of a house with a paring knife.

Yield: A whole lot of cookies (depends on the size of your cookie cutters!)

6 cups sifted all-purpose (plain) flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 tsp. ground ginger
4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. white pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 cup molasses (unsulfured)
Royal icing (see recipe below)

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses. Add flour mixture and combine on low speed.

Divide dough into thirds and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour.

After the dough has chilled, on a floured surface, roll out one of the dough portions until 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes and transfer to ungreased cookie sheets. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 350F/175C degrees.

Bake the cookies until crisp but not darkened, 8-10 minutes. Transfer them to a baking rack to cool and repeat the process with the rest of the dough. When cookies are cool, decorate as desired.

I used flat sprinkles for the buttons. Mini M&Ms would be nice, too.


ROYAL ICING

2 cups confectioner’s (icing) sugar
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp. light corn syrup
2 1/2 Tbsp. hot water, more if needed
Piping bag with narrow tip, or plastic bag

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with electric hand mixer on medium speed until well blended.

The icing should not be watery, so be careful when the water and only add a DROP or two until it’s the right consistency (a drop of water goes a long way when making icing). You want it to be stiff enough to go through a piping bag. Use a narrow tip on the piping bag or snip off a very small corner of a plastic bag. Scoop the icing inside the bag and enjoy the decorating!

(Icing recipe from a 1998 Christmas cookie recipe booklet from Williams-Sonoma.)

Striped Jell-O

This is a fun dessert made with three layers of Jell-O, one of them creamy, and you can change the colors and flavors any way you like. I found this on a subreddit for old recipes, where the user said an Italian grandma gave him the recipe with the colors of the Italian flag. That’s how I made it the first time. You’ll see I’ve used different colors this time — grape and cherry — as picked by my children!

Because you have to wait several hours between layers to allow them to set, you shouldn’t plan to serve this the same day you make it. Cut through it gently with a sharp knife and lift out the pieces with a sharp spatula — otherwise you’ll lose part of the bottom layer.

Makes 16 pieces.

2 large (6-oz.) boxes of Jell-O, any flavor
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 envelopes gelatin dissolved in 1/2 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla

Dissolve the first box of Jell-O in 2 cups boiling water. Pour into a 13×9-inch pan and let set in refrigerator for several hours.

Boil heavy cream, sour cream, sugar, gelatin, and vanilla. Allow to cool and pour over first layer. Let set in refrigerator for several hours.

Dissolve the second box of Jell-O in 2 cups boiling water. Let cool and pour over the second layer. Let set in refrigerator, then cut and enjoy.

Banana Berry Oatmeal

Easy to make, yummy, and healthy. This will make a big single bowl of oatmeal that is filling and fueling for the morning. And it’s dairy-free with no milk in the recipe.

1 banana
1/3 cup quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup water
Dash of cinnamon
Handful of frozen mixed berries

In your breakfast bowl, mash the banana well with a fork. Add the oats and water and mix, then stir in the cinnamon and berries. Microwave until the berries are warm, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Halloween Cupcakes

Halloween is a great holiday for fun treats and desserts, with so many creative possibilities. (I made these Eyeball Cupcakes a few years ago.) This year, I decided to make a whole bunch of Halloween cupcakes all at once — I’ve had pictures of these in my binder for a long time and I just wanted to finally make them. Here are the designs and instructions. Note: You may find it easiest to use a cake mix for the cupcakes, because the decorations are the focus. Chocolate cupcakes made from a devil’s food cake mix hold up well.

MUMMY CUPCAKES

You will need:
Chocolate cupcakes
White fondant (use a gourmet brand for the best taste)
Something for the eyes (I used mini chocolate morsels. Mini brown M&Ms would be good, or you could use candy eyeballs.)

Roll out the fondant until about 1/8 thick. Best to do this on a surface covered in confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar). Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut thin ribbons, then lay pieces of the ribbon across the cupcake. Attach the eyes. They won’t stick very well on their own, so use a dab of water or even frosting to fix them in place.

PUMPKIN CUPCAKES

You will need:
Vanilla cupcakes
Buttercream frosting
Orange food coloring
Orange sanding sugar
Pretzel sticks

After coloring the frosting, spread a nicely shaped mound of it on top of the cupcake. Cover with sanding sugar and press it lightly so it adheres. With the tip of a knife, draw lines extending from the center. Insert a pretzel stick into the middle.

WITCHES’ CAULDRONS

You will need:
Chocolate cupcakes
Chocolate frosting
Vanilla pudding
Green food coloring
A mix of Halloween sprinkles
Pretzel sticks

Scoop out a portion in the middle of each cupcake. Don’t go too far down. Put the chocolate frosting around the hole and put a dab of it at the bottom of the hole (to help keep the pudding in place).

Make the vanilla pudding and color it green. Scoop it into the cupcake holes, then top with sprinkles. Insert a pretzel stick at an angle into the pudding. (If you’re not going to eat these right away, insert the pretzel sticks shortly before serving — otherwise they will get soggy.)

WHITE GHOST CUPCAKES

You will need:
Chocolate cupcakes
Chocolate frosting
White chocolate
Mini chocolate morsels

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Snip off a tiny corner of a plastic sandwich bag.

Melt white chocolate in the microwave (remove it as soon as it’s melted, or it will become too thick). Spoon it into the sandwich bag and pipe the outline of a ghost on the parchment, making one corner of the bottom of the ghost very long and narrow — this is what you will use to insert into the cupcakes. Fill in the outline with chocolate and smooth it out ever so gently with your finger or a knife. Quickly place two morsels on for eyes, then refrigerate until solid. Insert into frosted cupcakes.

M&M MONSTERS

You will need:
Any kind of cupcakes
Buttercream frosting
A variety of food coloring — try green, purple, and orange
Brown, green, and orange M&Ms
Candy eyeballs

Color the frosting in a variety of colors and spread on the cupcakes. Decorate with M&Ms and candy eyeballs. You can see I did random designs as well as faces.

Note: You should store these at room temperature or make them just before serving, as the M&Ms will get a frosty look after spending time in the refrigerator.

The main thing with all of these cupcakes is to HAVE FUN and be creative.

Happy Halloween!

Lemon Blueberry Frozen Yogurt Sandwiches

These are very easy to make and even easier to devour. Just stir everything in a small bowl and freeze overnight, then cut into bars, sandwiched between graham crackers. With the fat-free yogurt and large dose of fruit, these could be a healthy snack, a healthy dessert, or even a treat at breakfast. You can skip the graham crackers and eat the bars on their own, too — though your fingers will get cold and you won’t get the fun crunch of the crackers.

I adapted the recipe from this one at WW. I used a larger pan, because it made for thinner pieces that were easier to bite into. I added the graham crackers on a whim.

Makes 6 sandwiches

1 lemon
1 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt (I have used both Greek yogurt and a mixture of Greek with regular yogurt)
1 Tbsp. agave syrup
1 cup fresh blueberries
13-14 graham cracker rectangles

Line an 8×8-inch pan with parchment paper that hangs off the sides, so you can easily lift the yogurt out later.

Zest and juice the lemon. You need 1/2 tsp. of zest and 1/2 tsp. of juice. Mix the zest and juice into the yogurt with the agave syrup and blueberries.

Crush 1-2 graham cracker rectangles (amount depends on your preference). Spread half the crumbs onto the parchment, then spread the yogurt mixture evenly on top. Scatter the rest of the crumbs over the yogurt, pressing down gently, if possible, to make sure it all adheres.

Freeze overnight. When ready, lift it out of the pan and cut into six bars. Sandwich each bar between two graham cracker rectangles. Enjoy.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

The bit of crunch from the cucumbers and pine nuts combines with the flavorful fresh ingredients to make a wonderful salad or side dish. Definitely use fresh lemon juice and herbs — there is no substitute in this dish. The quinoa provides protein and a nice texture.

I don’t remember where I got this recipe, but it must have been while living in London because of the metric measurements. The equivalents are listed below.

Serves 4 as a main course salad; 6 as a side dish

250g (8 3/4 oz.) dried quinoa
3 red tomatoes, chopped
1 small cucumber, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Handful of pine nuts or roughly chopped walnuts
Bunch of mint, chopped
Bunch of parsley, chopped
Lots of salt and pepper
Sprinkling of cinnamon

Put quinoa in a pot with 500 ml (2 cups) water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed.

Mix the quinoa with the rest of the ingredients, then place in the refrigerator. Serve cold.

Black Bean Salad with Ginger Tamarind Dressing

A very easy, healthy, and filling salad full of flavor. This keeps well in the fridge, so it’s perfect for lunch over several days. It would also be nice as a side dish at a cookout or pot luck.

3 15-oz. cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
3 stalks celery, diced
1 cup corn
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger
1 Tbsp rice wine (mirin)
1 Tbsp. lime juice
2 tsp. tamarind paste
1 tsp. sesame oil

In a large bowl, mix the beans, celery, corn, and shallot. Put the rest of the ingredients in a small jar and shake until blended. Pour over the beans, mix, and serve.

More on tamarind paste:
Tamarind paste comes from the fruit of the tamarind tree and has a subtle, citrusy, sour flavor. It is used around the world but is especially popular in Asian cooking. I use it in this recipe for Malaysian Rendang Curry.

The consistency of tamarind paste can vary widely depending on the brand. Some are runny and others are thick (my curry recipe actually calls for tamarind “pulp,” which simply means a thick tamarind paste). Don’t worry too much about the consistency, however — if it’s too thick, you can always thin it in water; too thin, and you can just use more.

In a recipe like the black bean salad, the amounts are entirely up to you. Change the amounts or even the ingredients based on what you have or can find.

Tamarind paste is available at Asian grocery stores and farmer’s markets, online, and even in the international section of some grocery stores. If you can’t find it, you can substitute lime juice mixed with brown sugar.

Simple Bruschetta

A wonderful summer appetizer or side dish that really only requires red, flavorsome tomatoes, garlic, and a good-quality rustic Italian bread or French baguette.

The slices should be toasted first, whether in the toaster or on the grill, so the juice of the tomatoes can sink in and the bread will hold up. Rub the toast with a cut clove of garlic or the cut side of a tomato before putting the mixture on top.

You’ll find many variations online, and more classic versions may include capers, grated Pecorino or Parmesan, olives, or even prosciutto. Add whatever you like, whatever you have fresh. This basic version is delicious on its own.

4-6 servings

4 ripe medium red tomatoes, diced
3 garlic cloves — one cut in half to rub on the toasts, the other two minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil, chopped, in any amount (start with a few sprigs if you’re not sure)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (be liberal!)
1 loaf of Italian bread or French baguette, sliced and toasted just until golden

Toss all ingredients except the cut garlic clove and the bread in a bowl and let sit at room temperature for at least half an hour. Rub the toast with the cut clove of garlic (or a cut tomato, if you have some left over). Spoon the mixture on top and serve immediately.