Today we welcome back frequent visitor Judy Alter. Judy writes three different mystery series as well as historical fiction based on the lives of women in the nineteenth century American West. She’s recently written a cookbook and is here today to tell us about it. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website.
A New Cookbook…and an Old Spaghetti Sauce Recipe
A little more than two years ago I moved from a 2,000-square-foot house, where I’d lived for twenty-five years, into a 600-square-foot cottage (a remodeled garage/guest house) on the same property. It meant downsizing big time. My daughter and I were ruthless about clothes, books, even my beloved but appalling recipe collection. And kitchen utensils.
Size dictated that my kitchen be the size of a postage stamp, so it is way short on counter space. A bigger complication: local zoning laws forbid more than one full kitchen on a property. That means I cannot have built-in appliances such as a stove or dishwasher. Anything you plug in is okay, so I have a large refrigerator, toaster oven, magnetic hot plate, and coffee maker. I do not have a microwave, an Instant Pot, an air fryer, or a crock pot.
My cooking changed dramatically. My magnetic hot plate became the center of my cooking. I learned to do all kinds of things on it. I also learned that it cooks hot and fast—and you have to push the start button. That was a biggie. The first time I used it, I set the temperature I wanted and waited for the pan to heat. My daughter was with me. We put a lamb chop in the pan. Nothing. No sizzle. She held her hand out to feel heat, put her ear down, poked the meat. Nothing. Then we saw the start button.
The hot plate requires special pots and pans, which of course you buy from the company that sold you the hot plate. Gone, with regret, are the days of cooking in a cast-iron skillet. These new pots and pans will scorch food if you turn your back, but they are super easy to clean, and I have one large pot in which I can simmer a pot of soup all day.
But with one hot plate, you cannot, for instance, cook pasta and sauce at the same time. If I use the hot plate and the toaster oven, I blow a fuse. So I developed a new technique. If the pasta must sit a bit while I fix the sauce, I stir just a bit of olive oil in to keep it from clumping. Then I give it a quick re-heat before adding the sauce.
Gradually, as I learned new techniques, the idea for a cookbook formed. A friend suggested the title, Gourmet on a Hot Plate, and I began collecting recipes for the things I cooked—some new experiments, many old familiar dishes adapted to my new situation. Believe me, there were some disasters. I regularly burned things, even in the toaster, which set off the smoke alarm more than once. The smoke alarm hurts my dog’s ears, and she associates it with the toaster, so Sophie now begins barking when she sees me with a slice of bread in my hands. But Gourmet on a Hot Plate includes lots of cooking tips along with some tasty recipes.
Gourmet on a Hot Plate will be available as an e-book and in print November 15, perfect for holiday gift giving. It’s currently available for pre-order. Meantime, here’s a spaghetti sauce recipe a good friend contributed. Her mom got it from a woman in Rome in 1950. When I made it, even twelve-year-old Jacob said it was good, really good—and such praise is hard to come by.
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 lb. lean ground beef
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz. can tomato puree
1/2 tsp. each sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, savory, marjoram, and basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the onions and garlic in olive oil until onions are slightly softened. Add spices and mix thoroughly.
Add tomato paste, puree and diced tomatoes, and stir well. Simmer on low heat for about three hours or in a slow cooker for six hours.
Serve with your favorite pasta and fresh grated Parmesan.
Gourmet on a Hot Plate
Without formal culinary training, Judy Alter has cooked her way through life, feeding family and friends at everything from casual dinners al fresco to elaborate meals for twenty. An award-winning author and publisher, she jokes she’ll come back in another life as a chef.
Today Alter finds herself cooking in a four-by-six kitchen where zoning laws forbid built-ins but allow anything that plugs in. So she cooks with a hot plate, a toaster oven, and a large refrigerator/freezer. Given these limitations, she has developed a new approach to food, one that she says lets her get in touch with the food itself. By choice, she does not have an Instant Pot, an air-fryer, or a microwave. Her menu choices are dictated by her cooking facilities—and she loves it. She shares her tiny kitchen tips and recipes, developed over the past couple of years, in Gourmet on a Hot Plate.
Buy Link (now available for pre-order)