Friday, January 11, 2013

Mia Cooks - Bolognese Sauce

If you didn't get a chance to watch me live-tweet my cooking adventure tonight, you can easily catch up on my twitter handle.

Here's my promised blog post!

I intended to make butternut squash soup tonight. I have all the ingredients sitting around and I love having the soup for lunch at work or as a quick snack after a workout. But I love cooking for Chadd and he needs more than soup for dinner and frankly, after a 95% fruit and vegetable set-up for my meals today, I was DYING for some meat. I find that when I'm really craving something (no, french fries don't count), I usually need it.

I made bolognese sauce tonight. Chadd still eats a lot of grains but I'm on a reduced grain diet (diet being lifestyle, not DIET). When I make things that usually go with pasta, I substitute spaghetti squash for my dish. The first time I tried it, I liked it, but I didn't love it. After several incidents with it, I've grown to like it MORE than pasta. Who knew.

I'll show how to make spaghetti squash another day, but I had some leftovers laying around.

I decided to double the recipe and make some modifications from the recipe that was shown in Practical Paleo. I should note that I almost never make a recipe out of a cook book exactly as listed - but that doesn't mean you can't. I just get bored and "want to see what will happen" - most of the time this works out...some of the time, it does not. But tonight! It worked!

1 pound pork sausage
1 pound ground beef
8 strips bacon (optional, but really good)
2 onions
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
2 cloves garlic
6 oz. tomato paste
1 c. coconut milk
1 c. white wine (optional, but highly recommended)
2 TBSP butter
Seasonings (sage, fennel, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper)

If you are just beginning to learn how to cook, the best advice I can give you about cooking is to have everything prepped beforehand. Chop, peel, thaw, and measure everything before you start. Pretend you're on a cooking show. It does mean more dishes, but it makes timing everything so much easier.

Want to see how to chop an onion? Here ya go:

1. MELT THE BUTTER. I melted 2 TBSP of butter over a medium heat (half of what was recommended) in a BIG skillet. I probably could have done with even less than that, but whatever. If you're making half this recipe, you don't need a HUGE skillet, but make sure it's deep so you can stir without spilling. If you want, go ahead and grab a big soup or pasta pot.

2. ADD THE VEGGIES. I threw all of the veggies that I'd chopped into a billion pieces into the butter and stirred around. When you're sauteeing veggies, just use a spatula to toss them around now and then so they don't burn or get soggy. Every 30 seconds is fine.

2 small onions (I prefer yellow onions), 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, diced

3. ADD THE GARLIC. After a couple minutes (maybe 3?) check the onions. If they are becoming translucent, it's time to add the garlic - make sure it's chopping up pretty finely. You can use the same technique I showed on the onion above for tiny pieces. Just two cloves will do. Stir around, then let sit for a minute until you start to smell the garlic. And trust me, you will.


That's 1 pound of beef, 1 pound of pork sausage, 8 strips of chopped bacon (I cooked the bacon earlier last week and drained off the extra fat). I stirred this every few minutes to make sure nothing burned. I broke up the meat as much as possible until it was browned (this means there isn't red left in the meat. Pink is ok.)

A note on the meat here. I tend to cook the meat first and drain off the extra fat, but since this is a sauce, some of that fat is a key component for keeping the sauce thick and delicious. And frankly, we all get too scared about FATOMGFATFATFAT. Fat is good for you. Calm down.

Browned meat

4. STIR IN THE LIQUIDS. Once the meat was browned, I added the coconut milk, tomato paste, and wine. The wine is optional, but I find that it adds a depth of flavor. Don't worry, the alcohol cooks out! 

Essentially, the tomato paste takes a while to incorporate - but I put it in the center, then use the back of my spoon to even it out. Instead of stirring around the pan (splashing happens a lot this way), I did more of an up and down stirring. Scoop some meat/veggies from the side of the pan and put into the middle, then push down with the spoon. Take your time. Another attractive option would have been to mix the coconut milk, paste, and wine ahead of time so the paste wasn't difficult to incorporate. 

5. SEASON AND SIMMER. Once everything is incorporated, add seasonings and simmer. 

I added salt, pepper, a smidgen of sage, oregano, parsley, some garlic powder and some onion powder, as well as some fennel. I highly recommend the fennel - that was a last minute addition. The recipe doesn't call for any seasonings other than salt and pepper, but I found it was a bit sweet for my liking.

That looks super gross, I'm sure, but it's awesome so far. Let it hang out on low-medium for 20 minutes or so. Stir every couple of minutes so it doesn't stick (I checked in ever 3-4 minutes). If it starts super bubbling (you know, BUBBLE BUBBLE SPLAT POP), turn it down. 

After twenty minutes, the sauce should be thick without a ton of liquid. The alcohol will have cooked off by this time as well. 

6. EAT. Now it's time to EAT. When the simmering started, I put water on the stove in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Add pasta. Cook.

When I was just about to finish up the pasta and the sauce, I threw my spaghetti squash in the microwave for a minute or so.

Here's how it turned out:
For Chadd - over pasta with some parmesan cheese

Over spaghetti squash!

Reheats well for lunch!

Looking back:
- I'd probably double the amount of carrots and celery in the sauce
- I'd mix the liquids and tomato paste before pouring into the sauce

Mia's Review:
I don't like a lot of meat in my foods anymore, but when I want it - I WANT it and this delivered (see: 3 types of meat). I'm glad I doubled the recipe because I feel like it will be a solid "go-to" for the next few days and also freeze well for future "oh crap I forgot to make dinner" meals. Put it on pasta, eat it straight, mix with veggies, add greens...the versatility is hard to beat.

Mia's Score: 90/100

Chadd's Review:
It had good flavor and was very satisfying and filling while avoiding the heaviness that characterizes many sauces of this kind.

I told him that was very formal and he said: "Fine. I liked it, would make it again, good flavor, light."

I disagree on the "light" description, but if he means light on grease and other heavier factors, then he's right. It eats clean to me.

Chadd's Score: 87/88 out of 100

I'll upload the videos tonight and I'll have another cook along (or possibly a lot of cook alongs) coming in the near future. After all, I did promise butternut squash soup.


  1. "I don't like a lot of meat...anymore, but when I want it - I WANT it and this delivered"

    That is all.

    1. Oh I know. I re-read this and went #TWSS