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Homemade Tomato Sauce
If you've watched Bravo's Chef Academy - then you've seen how this wonderful sauce is made. I tried it at home to see if it was easy enough to add to my catering recipes and, you know what - it was - and it's one of the best sauces I've ever tried. I can't wait until summertime to use home grown tomatoes! Don't let the cook time scare you off. You can leave this on the stove and take care of other things around the house without worrying about it burning up.
For a family of five:
3 ½ # Heirloom Tomatoes
2 Star Anise (I used Anise Extract but plan to order the Stars online for my next batch)
½ Vanilla Pod (again, I used the extract this time but will use a pod next batch)
Sea salt & Cracked Pepper, to season
White Sugar
1 Spring Fresh Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
Fresh Garlic
Fresh Basil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Place a heavy cast iron pan on the stove top to heat up (do not add oil). Core and then halve the tomatoes. Put them into the hot pan and season with salt and pepper. Add just a touch of sugar. Add the anise and vanilla.
As the tomatoes heat up and start to soften, mush them with a masher to release their juice. Add the bay leaf and thyme. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1-2 hours.
The online recipe doesn’t tell you much, but if you watch the video Chef Novelli explains that you are trying to remove all the juice from the tomatoes. Cook them until you have a tomato paste.
Once you have a paste, remove the bay leaf and sprig of thyme. Crack the garlic with the flat side of a knife. Don’t slice or mince – you want large pieces. Add this, along with whole basil leaves, to the paste. Simmer for about 20 minutes more. Add olive oil to achieve desired consistency of sauce.
I put my sauce on a plain chicken breast on a bed of rice pilaf. It was amazing! Online recipe says you can freeze this sauce up to 3 months, but do not add the infusion until ready to serve.
If you are looking for a conversation starter - I have a great recipe that is an attention getter. Mention "pickled watermelon rind"  and I promise you will get a sneer or at least a raised eyebrow -
but I guarantee your guests will be pleasantly surprised how great these apps really are! 
Pickled Watermelon Rind Pops
1 Jar Pickled Watermelon Rind
6 Slice Bacon, cut in 1/2
Parchment Paper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Use a baking sheet that has a lip on it (watermelon rind is a little juicy and will drip if you don't) and line it with parchment paper for easy clean up. Drain the rind WELL. Roll each piece in the 1/2 slice of bacon and place on cookie pan with the seam UP. 
View the slideshow for instruction photos
Bake until golden brown. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Transfer the pops on a tray and watch your guests try them out!
Note: I have found that each jar of rind is different. Some will only have 8-10 large pieces of rind while others can hold 20 pieces or more. If you are planning a party using the "bites per person" method, you may have trouble figuring how many jars to buy. I suggest planning on each jar holding 12 pieces so it will average out. many stores won't carry but a handful of jars at a time so I buy these throughout the year and keep them on hand for when I have a large party and need them.
Sausage Swirls
Start the slideshow for recipe
Stuffed Jumbo Mushrooms
Start the Slideshow for instructions
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