Homemade Spaghetti Sauce from Scratch

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce From ScratchThere are probably as many homemade spaghetti sauce recipes as there are those who are eating it. I’m not going to be an Italian Snob (though I am one), and tell you that there is only one right way to make it. There are obviously a few hundred thousand of us Italians or so whom have had  handed down to us homemade spaghetti sauce recipes from our great Grandmas from Italy. Over the generations, perhaps we have experimented with them, tweaked them a tad or mated them with the recipes of other Italian relatives.  The recipe is a still a homemade spaghetti sauce from scratch, isn’t it? There are probably thousands, if not over a million spaghetti sauce recipes – more than there were Italian families in the old country at one time! Since this is a review website, why not share my own one-in-a-million homemade spaghetti sauce recipes.

Making Homemade Spaghetti Sauce From Scratch

A purist might say that nothing from scratch comes in a can, including tomato sauce. I find that a bit too restrictive. The key to a good homemade spaghetti sauce is that it is cooked and simmered with savory meat for several hours. To me, from scratch means that we are not using any other pre-cooked sauces, frozen meatballs, etc.. We do the seasoning and cooking ourselves. Now, if you want to take a few dozen tomatoes and crush them into a sauce all by yourself, be my guest. To me, a homemade spaghetti sauce starts with a couple of big, 28oz cans of Tomato Sauce/Puree; one can tomato paste and one can crushed tomato. Obviously, you’ll want to adjust this quantity for number of people. The three large cans of sauce with one small can of tomato paste should serve about 6-8 people (or 3 hungry Italians).  I mix all the sauce together with a cup and half of wine and 1 and 1/2 of the large cans filled with water. It may seem thin and runny at first, but remember – we’re going to cook it all day long so it has plenty of time to thicken. Don’t freak out over how runny or thick the sauce is – use your own judgment. Remember, that the sauce can be thinned with more water or wine or thickened simply by continuing to simmer it with the lid off.  I may not insist on fresh tomatoes, but I do love fresh garlic. Put about 6 fresh, garlic cloves into the sauce and don’t worry about chopping them up, the cooking will take care of extracting their flavor. The non essential seasonings can be added according to personal taste. I add about a tablespoon of basil, two tablespoons of parsley a half teaspoon of oregano and a Bay Leaf. But whose to say if I’m going to always do it that exact same way every time? You can also Salt and pepper the sauce to taste, but you’ll want it to cook for a couple of hours before you begin tasting it.  Now, that you’ve got your sauce started on the stove, it’s time to add the essential ingredients: Meat. I don’t care if you use, Stew Meat, Italian Sausage, German Sausage or Meatballs, after cooking in the sauce all day, it will taste great! I highly recommend Meatballs and Italian sausage, both, for starters.

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Meatballs Recipe

Making homemade meatballs for spaghetti sauce is messy, but fun – and the result is the best aroma and smell in the world. Remember, Italian meatballs, should taste like Italian meatballs, not hamburger meat, so you need some fillers. For about a 1lb of hamburger meat, I use 1 cup of roman cheese and 1 cup bread crumbs. For seasoning, I add about a tablespoon of black pepper, 1 tablespoon of basil, 1 teaspoon oregano; 1 tablespoon garlic power, a little paprika and one minced, yellow or white onion. Mix up all of the dry ingredients together in a big mixing bowl. Beat 2 eggs in a glass with a tablespoon of milk, tablespoon of wine, teaspoon of olive oil. Optional: Add about a teaspoon of anchovy paste to the egg mixture for added salt and flavor. Now, simply add the hamburger meat, onions and egg-mixture to the bowl and thoroughly mix it all in with your “clean” hands. When the meat is thoroughly mixed, you can begin to make meatballs with your cupped hands. The size of the meatball is optional, but homemade Italian spaghetti sauce usually means large meatballs. Use your own discretion and adjust for number of people being served. Once the meatballs are made, brown them in a pan of olive oil. Important: Be careful – the meatballs will be very delicate until they are browned on all sides. When the meatballs are browned on all sides, add them to the sauce, then add your Italian Sauce and/or Stew Meat; brown them then add them to the sauce.

Finishing Your Homemade Italian Spaghetti Sauce

Here is a special tip: Don’t dump out the drippings. Add a half cup of wine, vodka or both along with a couple of ladles full of the tomato sauce to the drippings and let the heat of the pan turn it into a nice brown gravy; then add to sauce.  To finish making homemade spaghetti sauce from scratch, you need only one more thing: Time. A good homemade spaghetti sauce requires a minimum of 4 hours cooking time. For best results get the sauce started by 10AM for a 7PM dinner. Make sure the sauce simmers gently as to not burn the meat to the bottom of the pan. Stainless steel cookware is notorious for burning sauce and meatballs, so keep an eye on the sauce; stir gently and frequently; use or remove lid depending on how thick you want the sauce. I know that some people like a really thick sauce like a gravy, but I think most Italians prefer the sauce to be a little juicier. Remember, when the sauce is juicy, it is doing a better job of cooking and extracting the flavors of the meat. However you like it will be handed down as another one in a million scratch homemade sauce recipes.

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Starbucks Tassimo

I Love Starbucks Tassimo
Verona T Discs

I love Starbucks coffee and I won’t apologize for admitting it. I am also not too proud to say their T-Discs are the best. Sadly, I won’t be saying that much longer since Starbucks has abandoned their relationship with the Tassimo Single Cup Brewing system several months ago.  This is a huge loss for Tassimo and fans of Starbucks coffee who own Tassimo Single-Cup Brewers. Drinking a cup of Starbucks Tassimo coffee at home is every bit as good as getting one of those piping hot cups of black coffee handed over the counter to you from your local Starbucks store, minus the heat sleeve. Countless times, I have tried other coffee roasts hoping to find a cheaper alternative to Starbucks and countless times I found myself going back to the Starbucks coffee shops and buying the big 2lb bags of Starbucks roasted coffee at my local Costco store. Nothing else measures up to Starbucks, so it is no surprise that nothing else measures up to my love for their Tassimo, either.

When I tried to convince myself that life without Starbucks Tassimo would work out okay, I was in for a rude awakening. The Tassimo marketing folks have really dropped the ball, here. There just isn’t a suitable replacement for their brewers that tastes even remotely as good as Starbucks T Discs. Unfortunately, there are so few choices at the local retailers. Tassimo searches in Google pull up gobs of information and sales on Gevalia Tassimo T Discs which about as bland and flavorless as the gourmet coffee I used to drink prior to my love affair with Starbucks. Maxwell House is okay – maybe even better than Gevalia, but doesn’t come close to Starbucks. There are some other T discs which cannot be found in retailers and are even a bit of a challenge to find online such as Carte Noire and Kenco. Hopefully, I will get the chance to try them and review them and compare them to Starbucks at a later time. For now, I love Starbucks and want to buy up as much of the remaining inventory that I can get my coffee stained hands on.

Where to Buy

Starbucks Tassimo T DIscKnowing that JC Penneys at one time carried Starbucks for Tassimo. I went to my local mall which is being demolished. (except for Sears and Penneys). Much to my pleasant surprise there was an assortment of Starbucks Tassimo Coffee which was marked down from $16.99 to $10.99 for 12 Pack T Discs. There were even three varieties: Melange Maison, Columbia and Verona.  I grabbed as many packages of Starbucks T-Discs that would fit into my arms and feeling like I still didn’t get enough. How long do Tassimo T Discs last, I wondered?  I explained to the cashier why I was buying so many: “I love these T-discs and they don’t make them anymore”, I told her.  She was no fool and mentioned that she regretted buying a Keurig when she tasted how good the Starbucks for the Tassimo tasted. Then she said with a teasing little smirk that she no longer has to regret that decision. There an infinite number of Keurig Coffee flavors at the retailers and though they aren’t as good as Starbucks Coffee, they are significantly better than Gevalia and Maxwell House. I came home and immediately brewed a cup of the Melange Maison which I had never tried before. It was delicious, but so was the Verona and Columbia that I had this morning. Of all my favorites, I think I love the Starbucks Tassimo Columbia flavor the best. There is also a very popular, highly rated Tassimo T Disc flavor that can only be found online, called African Kitamu which I have never tried. If you’re looking for Tassimo Starbuck T-Discs online, there is still time to find all of these different flavors – and none of them will disappoint.

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Belvedere Vodka

Belvedere Vodka
– A Review

Belvedere Vodka
Belvedere

Is Belvedere Vodka worth all the hoopla? I’ve been hearing about how great this Polish Vodka is for the last 4-5 years, then it dawned on me: The only thing I knew about Belevedere Vodka was from the radio advertisements which of course, insist that this is a premium vodka worth a hefty price tag that puts it in the range of Grey Goose. Make no mistake about it, Belvedere is considered a top shelf vodka and has the price tag to back it up. Belvedere was made to compete with expensive Russian vodkas – this one is distilled from Dankowskie Gold Rye and bills itself as an uncompromising alternative choice to those expensive Russian brands. Well, if you’ve seen my review on Ruskova, Russian vodka brands aren’t all that expensive. Belvedere better have something going for it in order to back up its asking price: $30.00 for a 1 Liter and about $45.00 for a 1.75 Liter. How does Belvedere do in our vodka ratings and how does it compare to grey goose vodka?

Belvedere Vodka Taste Test

The first shot of Belvedere will give you plenty of vanilla and crystal smooth sweetness. The first bite is smooth and creamy; which gives you the great anticipation of wanting more. Unfortunately, that’s about where the excitement ends. The bitterness of the vodka sticks in the middle and back of your throat like an unwelcome house guest. It is certainly not the best vodka I’ve ever tried. Furthermore, I didn’t get some of the pepper and additional complexities one would expect from a Russian or Polish vodka in this price range. About the best I can say about Belvedere vodka is that it’s priced a tad under the much over-rated Grey Goose and is at least as good.

Cheaper Alternatives

For less than half the price of one, 1.75L bottle of Belvedere Vodka, you can pick up a 1.75L bottle of Russian Shot vodka. Having run low on my last bottle of Ruskova, I decided to pay about $5.00 more for the Russian Shot vodka which was given a 93 rating by the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago. At $18.99, the Russian Shot Vodka is about $37.00 cheaper than the 1.75L of Belvedere…and it’s about twice as good. No kidding…the Russian Shot Vodka has the vanilla-cream sweetness of the Belvedere, but without the long-burn and aftertaste that sticks to the middle and back of the throat. Russian Shot Vodka is instantly likeable -and proves that you don’t have to pay a premium to enjoy a good vodka martini. But wait…there is one thing missing with the Russian Shot Vodka…the bottle isn’t nearly as fancy. If you good tasting vodka at a cheap price, go with Svedka, Ruskova or Russian Shot Vodka. If you want a fancy bottle; have lots of money and don’t mind the bitter aftertaste, then by all means go for the Grey Goose or Belvedere.

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Snapea Crisps

Snapea Crisps
Calbee

Snapea Crisps are yet another attempt at taking a supposed healthy, green vegetable and making it into a delicious and crispy snack. Most people agreed with me that Veggie Straws were a great tasting snack, but not everyone agreed on the health and nutrition part of my review. I immediately though of Veggie Straws when I first opened a bag of them by Calbee. For some reason, I am a sucker for these kinds of snacks. I enjoy the texture of crunchy, salty, crispy, tasty and unusual snacks and as long as they are not chalk full of transfats, they’re healthy enough for me. But what about a snack that really goes the extra mile and is made from real vegetables? Can it actually taste good and be healthy, too? Let’s face it, we don’t all agree on what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy, but can’t we be a bit more lenient with our snacks and at least get some reasonable sense of the difference between junk food and real food? Perhaps, not as my readers of the veggie straw article might point out. So, let’s begin by examining Snapea Crisps solely from their taste and then we shall examine the ingredients and leave the healthy part up for debate.   Let’s start by reviewing the taste of these Crispy snacks by Calbee.

Snappea Crisps (Snap Pea Crisps) look, feel and smell exactly as their name implies: They are indeed exactly how you would imagine Snap Pea Crisps to be; light, airy, crispy and from first appearance are exactly like snap peas. They are also pretty much the very same size and shape as snap peas and even have a bit of an embossed texture where you imagine the peas might be located. There is nothing better than eating a snack that looks like a crispy, airy and light version of the real thing, right? Calbee Snapea Crisps do not disappoint the look-and-feel test, so how do they taste? Delicious and I by that I mean snapea crisps are really, really good. Even if you are not a Snap Pea lover (which I am not), don’t sell them short. They have enough of the flavor of real snap peas without the overpowering bitterness and tough texture. Snapea Crisps, like veggie straws, are light, crisp and airy, but they taste better. They are very lightly salted – just enough, but not too much. But don’t take my word for it – there are dozens of user popular opinions; ranging from 4 to 5 stars. Making Snap Peas crisp are a matter of good taste and Calbee has done them just right. Now, shall we talk about how healthy they are? Well, okay – if we must.

Are they Healthy?

If you believe Snap peas are healthy than you’ve gotta believe they are pretty nutritious. The number one ingredient is Snap Peas. One ingredient that some might find slightly offensive is the corn oil. I can’t see how anyone could be too critical of the health value of this delicious snack. After all, it is a snack and not part of one’s daily nutrition allowance.  Snapea Crisps are one of the tastiest and most innovative snacks I’ve ever tried. I’ll be buying another bag and soon which brings up the next question: Where do you buy these crispy critters?

Where to Buy

Many standard grocers carry Snapea Crisps. The health stores almost always carry them and you can always find them online. Check your grocery store today.

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Mityvac 7400 Engine Oil Extractor

mityvac 7400
mityvac 7400

A Review on the Mityvac 7400

Engine Oil Extractor Method of changing Oil

If you’ve googled the term, fluid extractor, you’ve probably discovered the Mityvac 7400 Engine Oil Extractor. The Mityvac 7400 is the most often used and reviewed car engine oil extractor on the internet.  But the Mityvac 7400 is more than just a car oil extractor. This product comes in real handy if you want to change a variety of fluids in your car without having to get under the vehicle and get your Sunday clothes dirty. You can use the Mityvac to change your transmission fluid, differential fluid, power steering, brake fluid, coolant and just about any other fluids that you would otherwise have a hard time getting underneath your car to drain.  The Mityvac 7400 makes it easy, but  is removing fluids this way really as convenient as changing your oil the old fashioned way?

Is it easier than an Old Fashioned Oil Change?

Using the Mityvac for Changing Oil

In my case, I tried the Mityvac for the first time for removing oil from a 2003 Volkswagen Jetta which had a non-standard diameter; and very tightly fastened drain plug. I didn’t want to jeopardize the lock-tight seal on the drain plug and risk the future oil leaks associated with old, used cars. Knowing that there were products made for these situations, and knowing that I have the same drain plug problem with my 1997 5-Series BMW, I thought it would be useful to have one for all of the other fluids changes that I’m hesitant to perform on these used cars. My research led me to the Mityvac product which had many positive, 4-star reviews by satisfied users and owners of a variety of different car manufacturers and models. As positive as these reviews were overall, there were some complaints too, as there always are.

How to use the Mityvac 7400

Using the Mityvac 7400 fluid extractor for oil changes is almost as easy as pumping up your basketball tires. Make sure your engine is warm, but not hot. Connect the plastic tubing to the pump; remove your dipstick and insert the tube all of the down the inside of the dipstick gauge until you feel it touching the bottom of your oil pan. Begin pumping the handle up and down just like a bicycle pump. In a matter of seconds, you’ll notice oil flowing up from the tube and down into the cylinder-shaped canister. It took me about 10 minutes to extract the 4 quarts of oil from the 2003 Jetta. Sounds good so far, right? Hang on.

What’s not to like about Changing your Oil this Way?

Removing the oil was the easy part. What’s left to do was the messy part. As with any oil change, the oil filter is usually dripping with oil. When I removed the oil filter, gobs of dirty oil dripped inside the floor of the engine shield. I could not reach it without elevating the car. I was forced to back up and use the ramps to clean the mess that was made. Then, I had these messy tubes full of old engine oil. I didn’t feel good about leaving the oil in them, so I pumped water through the system a few times to clean the tubes and cylinder. When all was said and done, the Mityvac 7400 did not save me any time with my oil change. On the other hand, the product did allow me to change the oil without loosening a plug and risking damage or leaks from the oil pan. It’s also nice knowing that I can change other fluids without having to reach hard-to-get places, bolts and plugs. Don’t buy any fluid extractor thinking it’s a mess-free, easier and quicker way to change your oil. Do buy it if you want to avoid the hassle and risks associated with stripped oil drain plugs or other fluids with difficult to reach drains. In those cases, the Mityvac engine oil extractor represents a useful way to safely change your car fluids.

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