As soon as the first cold snap happens, my mom is ready with her ages-old chili recipe for her traditional Monday night cool weather menu favorite.
And with the earlier cold nights and morning frost, any final tomatoes from the garden go right into her extra large chili pot. It's the same pot she's used for as long as I can remember. While growing up, it was the perfect "army ranks size" for her to feed a hungry farm family with five children, all with busy after-school football and basketball practice schedules.
This year, we enjoyed the first batch Monday night. But as readers know, it's the leftover second night chili that ranks best.
After I featured my mom's recipe in my second cookbook, "More From the Farm" in 2007, readers liked my mom's secret of using just the right amount of flour/cornstarch to strike the ideal consistency.
The same is true when fine-tuning pasta sauces.
The husband-and-wife duo of Monica Lowe and Mark Potis are readers from Valparaiso who enjoy spending time in the kitchen. They recently talked to me about their contrasting sauce preferences.
Readers might remember Monica also shared a favorite ham and pasta salad recipe in my column last spring.
While Monica prefers a tangy tomato sauce with a splash of vodka for added zip, her husband is a fan of traditional white and creamy alfredo sauce for pasta.
He uses "Wondra flour," a baby-powder-fine flour used in making gravies, to create his preferred consistency.
Monica's Vodka Sauce
2 large or 3 medium onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup vodka
1 tablespoon minced or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups diced and crushed fresh tomatoes or 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup heavy cream
DIRECTIONS: Saute onions with butter and olive oil in pan over medium heat until onions are medium-dark brown. Stir frequently; the longer the onions cook, the sweeter they will become. When the onions are brown and getting sticky on the bottom of the pan, pour in the vodka and garlic. Cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes; this burns off the vodka and de-glazes the pan. Pour in the tomatoes and cream; stir and simmer for a few minutes. Serve over pasta or chicken. Makes 6 servings.
Mark's Easy Alfredo Sauce
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon Wondra flour
DIRECTIONS: In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add lemon juice and garlic and simmer for several minutes at medium-low heat, stirring often. Increase heat to medium; add cream and heat to a high simmer while continuously stirring with a whisk. Once hot (not boiling), gradually add Parmesan cheese a little at a time until thoroughly melted, stirring constantly so that sauce does not separate. Gradually add flour and continue to stir over medium heat until desired consistency is achieved. Serve over pasta or vegetables.