Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook

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Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce with Gnocchi

Dinner, Comfort Food, Italian, Recipe, Sauces, Winter, Pasta, VegetarianLeannda Cavalier4 Comments

A rich, creamy pasta sauce with sweet onions, savory tomatoes, peppery seasonings and sharp parmesan. This sauce is versatile and easy to throw together with things you probably already have. 

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

My belly is growling. Jump to the recipe, please!

Have you ever noticed how much colder it feels when it's already been warm and the temperature dips back down? I've been walking around for weeks without needing a coat, and it's SNOWING today! My body is reacting like it's sub-zero in my nearly 70º house. I'm dealing. 

So on a shivery, grey day what better to warm up with than a hearty plate of gnocchi?

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I got the idea for this recipe while shopping at one of my favorite health food stores after a long day out in Knoxville. I was so tired, but I really wanted to eat well that night. Knowing I had a good hour-long drive home, I was looking for convenience food, but like, good convenience food. Something I would feel good about eating and re-eating for lunch the next day.

I settled on a few different kinds of frozen ravioli you can buy in bulk—red pepper eggplant, spinach ricotta, one with sausage, I think—and some vegetables. So I just needed a sauce.

I wandered over to the refrigerated section where they have fresh sauces I always want to try, and saw this incredible-looking vidalia onion sauce that REALLY pulled me in. I could smell it. I could taste it. I was ready to drink it. But it was too expensive for me to justify at that moment.

Listen, I’m not above spending nearly $8 on a little jar of sauce I want to try, but I was already almost over my grocery budget and the ravioli was reasonable, but not exactly cheap. Plus, I knew I could make it at home. I mentally noted the color and texture of the sauce, glanced at the description on the jar and made a plan. 

The best part? I already had all the ingredients. In fact I always have these ingredients, and if you cook often, you likely do too. 

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This sauce goes great with gnocchi texturally because while it’s thick, it’s pretty smooth. It wraps around the ravioli like the edible manifestation of a bear hug. Beyond that soft, pillowy gnocchi makes a tasty canvas for the sweet and savory flavor of this Roasted Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce.

This Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce is super easy to make, and it comes together pretty quickly. It's going to be really great for you if you aren't a fan of doing a lot of chopping, or if you're just too tired to do a bunch of that tonight—which I totally get. It's the reason I thought about buying the sauce in the first place!

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The plan I made in the store was pretty simple, and I was pretty sure I could knock it out in about half an hour. I just needed to roast some sweet onions until they were a little caramelly, and incorporate them into a simple tomato sauce. 

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Like I said, I was pretty worn out, and besides, roasting the onions whole seemed like the way to go. So what to do? Bring out the blender. It honestly made things go so quickly. I just simmered the tomatoes while the onions were in the oven, added everything to the blender, and voila! 

Beautiful sauce that tasted like a lot more work went into it.

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Now for some salt, fat, acid and heat action. A little honey, red pepper flakes, white wine vinegar, basil parmesan cheese and cream go in to build a sauce that tastes like it came from a restaurant (or an $8 jar at a health food store). 

Whirrrrrrr it up.

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I’ve also tried the sauce with pork loin (amazing) and I’m sure it would go with chicken or steak. Probably even with some seafoods like mussels or scallops. It would work well with long noodles such as spaghetti or linguine, with ravioli or other stuffed pastas—really with just about any pasta.

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I have mixed feelings on the “rules” of pasta. I get the point. Pesto goes will with pastas it can stick to rather than pool in. Pastas with hollow shapes are going to go well with sauces they can scoop up like tasty little spoons. The thing is, some people have hard and fast rules just for authenticity’s sake.

I think authenticity has a time and a place, and I can appreciate it. On the other hand, if I want bolognese sauce and only have angel hair on hand, I’m not going to the store just for authenticity’s sake. Besides, why shut down creativity or experimentation? 

Personally, I think it’s worth knowing the rules—if only so you can break them mindfully. 

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There's something so satisfying about knowing you made it yourself, right? 

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Oh, hey, and it's Lenten Friday friendly! I swear I didn't intend to post a chicken recipe on a Friday last time. 

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Until then I'll be here trying to warm up, and hoping all our flowers still bloom and plums and grapes still come in, unlike last year after a 75º February and a bunch of cold snaps. Give me something to look forward to here. 

Let's get roasting!

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Nutrition Facts for Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce (without Gnocchi and Kale)

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Nutrition Facts for Gnocchi with Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce and Kale

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Sheet Pan Sweet Spiced Chicken Thighs and Vegetables

Dinner, Make-ahead, Recipe, Sheet Pan, Meal PrepLeannda Cavalier3 Comments

A simple sheet pan meal with tender chicken thighs and crunchy vegetables coated in sweet spice and umami flavors. Perfect for a big family meal, or meal planning for the week. 

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

Cool blog post, but I'm hungry. Skip to the recipe, please!

Do you ever come home at the end of a long day and feel like you'd rather walk into a lion's den than cook (at least you'd get in one blissful pet)?

HA. Hilarous question right?

I'm pretty sure EVERYONE has this feeling sometimes. I do more than I'd like to admit, especially during busy periods. I even feel it sometimes when I'm on a roll with food blogging work, which is a little bit of a head-scratcher. I really don't think anyone is immune. 

And you know what? Sometimes it's okay to give in to that feeling. Maybe you go out or pick up some general tso's. Maybe you decide grazing is enough. Maybe you've already prepared for this and have some pre-made meals in the refrigerator or freezer—

Hold up, you prepared? That's great! Then this recipe for sheet pan sweet spiced chicken thighs and vegetables is PERFECT FOR YOU. But wait. There's something else.  

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The thing about not feeling like cooking (and yes, I know some people don't want or need to cook) is that if you give in too much, it becomes a habit. I give in my fair share, but I know when I don't I usually end up enjoying cooking by the time I start chopping and slicing.

Every task I complete is another box checked, another obstacle I've overcome. Sounds dramatic, but sometimes it's the little things. It is a lot for me, anyway.

One of the ways I push through is to pick something that doesn't require a lot of cleanup, and something that I can do without spending a ton of time prepping things. Bonus points if it makes more than one meal so I can skip tomorrow without ordering out again.

This. Is. That. Recipe.

And again, just for the record. Takeout is great! But doesn't it feel more special when it's a once-in-a-while thing? Doesn't that make your wallet happy? And doesn't it feel good to know you're eating healthy things you made yourself? You don't have to care about those things, but in my heart...

Five spice, so nice

The main flavoring in sheet pan sweet spiced chicken thighs and vegetables is Chinese five spice powder, which I have been on a real kick with lately. I don't use a lot of spice mixes unless I make them myself, but this is a notable exception along with garam masala, shwarma spices, za'atar and ras el hanout. Here convenience wins out most days, and it adds such a punch of flavor that I don't regret it.

Five spice powders are not all created equal, as they can include any variation of cinnamon, star anise, cloves, sichaun pepper, fennel, ginger, orange peel, licorice, turmeric and the list goes on. If you're a flavor savant, you might get the flavor profile going here regardless of which mix goes in the jar... sweet and spicy (like my current favorite tea!). 

Sweet and spicy goes really well with fattier meats like ribs, duck and yup, chicken thighs.

The mix I have right now isn't particularly spicy as it uses cinnamon, anise, fennel, ginger, clove, and licorice root. HEY, THAT'S SIX. Oh well, still nums. Anyway, that's why I added paprika to the recipe. You can add some chili paste or red pepper flakes too if you're really feeling spicy, you firecracker, you. 

Point is, you may want to look at the mix before you go out and buy a jar. Check to see if you might need more spicy or sweet to your taste, and if you're like me you probably want to avoid any extra ingredients like salt or MSG since you'll already be using salt and soy sauce in the recipe. 

It's all up to you, my friend. 

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Trimming the fat

When you're prepping the chicken, you may choose to trim excess fat off of the thighs. Don't stress about this too much, because it's easy and you might not even need to with good quality chicken. The fat is one of the draws of chicken thighs, and contrary to popular belief, eating fat doesn't make you fat.

So how do you trim the fat? All you need to do is pick up the chicken by the fat so the chicken is just touching the counter, and gently scrape it off of the pink flesh with a sharp knife. Alternatively, if it's a neat little seam on the edge, you can lay the chicken against the cutting board and slice it off just like sandwich crusts. Just try not to cut through too much of the meat itself. 

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One way you can cut way down or even eliminate the need to trim fat is to buy organic or even better, free range chicken. The better treatment chickens get, the better the quality of meat.

Sorry if that sounds preachy, but it's true. Eating better, having the space to walk around, and being raised without hormones and antibiotics all naturally reduce the amount of fat and filler in your chicken.

Seriously, just compare a package of organic free range chicken to one of the bigger brands next time you're at the store to see for yourself. 

Plus, if you're like me it might give you a little piece of mind to support businesses (often local or at least regional) that treat their animals well, often against the odds. I've bought meat a lot more mindfully ever since I moved to a farming area where I see a lot of chicken transport trucks. Don't look that up before eating or going to bed, because it's nightmarish. 

Okay, off my soapbox. 

Just don't let the idea of trimming off the fat scare you, okay? First, you don't have to do it—some people like fat, and a little of it isn't the end of the world. Worst case scenario? If you "mess up" and hack a thigh to pieces, you can still eat it. Still nums.

Messing up is called practice, and it's no biggie. Especially if you still get a meal out of it.

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Choose your own vegetables to customize or save a trip to the store

This is one of those recipes I love because it's so adaptable. You can go through your fridge and use vegetables left over from other meals, or ones you bought on sale with good intentions, but a week later you have to use them or lose them.

One thing I will say is that I would use bigger vegetables you can chop up and that cook fairly quickly such as broccoli florets, peppers, thin strips of carrot, onions, and soft squash like zucchini. Something hard, dry and starchy like potatoes wouldn’t cook through in five minutes.

I like to use a chopped red bell pepper, a yellow onion cut into wedges and an Eat Smart bagged stir fry mix with broccoli, carrots, red cabbage and snow peas. Simple, quick and nutrish-on-trish-on-trish.

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My rule of thumb? Stick to veggies you’re used to seeing in stir fry. If you’re really nervous, go ahead and stick to the recipe to get comfortable. Once you feel good with that, maybe you can branch out and experiment. That's what cooking's all about, friend-o. 

Choose your own base

Brown Rice: I really like to use short-grain brown rice in this recipe. It's a little fluffier than long-grain and I think it's a little more tender without losing all of it's al dente bite. Plus the big benefit: it's a complex carb and thus better for you than white rice.

White Rice: Always a good bet flavor-wise if that's what you have on hand, and it's not the end of your waistline if you eat it once in a while. Sticky short-grain Chinese-style rice is a good choice, but there's nothing wrong with some jasmine or basmati rice!

Noodles: You can always go a little outside the box and serve this over some noodles. I would probably go with thicker styles like ramen or soba noodles. You may want to toss them with pan drippings or a little oil and soy sauce to keep them slick and flavorful, especially if you use udon noodles, which don't have a lot of flavor on their own.

Zoodles: If you try to keep refined carbs to a minimum, avoid gluten or you just want something light and fresh, you could always serve over some zucchini or other spiralized noodles. I'm sure cauliflower rice would work just as well. Both of these options add a little extra work though, so you have to really want it. 

In the nude: Feeling a minimalist vibe? Just eat the chicken and veggies. Let me know if the world ends or anything like that. 

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Why cook the chicken on a rack?

You could probably cook the chicken right on the vegetables instead of the rack if you don't have one, but I tend to like them that way so they don't get so mushy on the bottom, and so they don't cook with vegetable imprints at the end. If the difference between you cooking this and getting pizza for the third time this week is not wanting to clean a rack, SKIP IT PLEASE. Not a big deal at all.

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A bit of truth about sheet pan recipes

They're technically one-pan, but most of them actually aren't. I know, ugh. As with this recipe, you may have to marinate or coat things in different seasoning. But hey, that's not so bad!

There are still some big advantages, like the fact that everything cooks at once. That's great for beginners because you don't have to worry about juggling a bunch of cook times. It's still pretty great for me because everything cooks at once. Know what that means? Once it's out of the oven, I can eat everything at once.

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Also, I'm lucky enough to have a dishwasher, so I can throw everything but the sheet pan and the rack in when I'm done, unlike if I was using a bunch of pots and pans. 

I only mention this because I don't want to be misleading. Sheet pan meals definitely have advantages, I just think they're a little over-promising sometimes. You'll have some dishes, but the mess is pretty well contained, so if you have a dishwasher you're made in the shade. If you don't, you still cut down on scrubbing you might have to do heating a bunch of food in a bunch of pans. 

Here's the pan pre-broiler. Technically done, but I'll do you one better.

Here's the pan pre-broiler. Technically done, but I'll do you one better.

BOOM! Two minutes under the broiler gives you those nice, crispy edges. 

BOOM! Two minutes under the broiler gives you those nice, crispy edges. 

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So let's get roasting!

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Did you make this? Take a picture and let me know! You can always tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (links below), or use the tried it feature on Pinterest.

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THE poblano green chicken chili

Mexican, Dinner, Recipe, Slow Food, Soup, WinterLeannda CavalierComment

This comforting chili is packed with layer after layer of flavor. Smoky roasted peppers and garlic mingle with rich tomatillos, silky beans and tender chicken for a complex but familiar flavor. Poblano peppers, known best for chiles rellenos, lead the way with soft, savory heat. 

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Listen. To my stomach audibly growl. Give. Me. THE. Recipe. 

This recipe is not just chili. This is THE Chili.

This is The Chili people will ask after year-round, and long after that. 

The reason this chili is soooooo-so-so-so-so-so good is because it has so many layers of flavor. We’re not just throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot and hoping they turn into something good. We’re using techniques to make sure we get extra flavor packed in at every step.

This is a fairly complex recipe in terms of flavor, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult! It just means it takes some time and patience. It’s not fancy, it’s made with love.

And it's unbelievably good.

Chili, as you likely know, is a Mexican dish. But, in terms of technique, it can technically be considered a ragout. Makes sense since both are known as slow-simmering, legendary, magnum opuses in countless households. Ritualized and handed down. These dishes aren't just dinner; they're events in and of themselves.  

Truly painful to watch. TEARS.

Truly painful to watch. TEARS.

Both chili and ragout originated as a way to turn tough cuts of meat and other abundant ingredients into something people would actually want to eat, or more accurately, something people beg for. It's evolved quite a bit over time and space, and there's so much variation. I personally use four separate recipes for different moods, occasions and time constraints. 

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Good chili comes down to a feeling for me. 

When I take a bite—no matter where I actually am—I want to feel like I'm sitting by a fire, under a blanket, surrounded by my favorite people. I want it to be warming and smoky. Thick and rich. Complex and comforting. I want tangy pieces of vegetables, savory-smooth bites of beans and soft, tender bits of meat.

We've smelled this labor of love cooking for hours, mouths watering, and we've earned it. With our patience if nothing else. 

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So what makes this chili embody that feeling? 

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  • Tomatillos and chili peppers are both rich in pectin (the thing that makes jams jiggle), so they make for a thick, gravy-like sauce. That’s one of the things that makes this chili so rich and comforting.
  • We take advantage of the maillard browning reaction that happens when you sear things, both on the chicken itself and in the bottom of the pan. The chicken also cooks in the simmering pot, so the inside stays tender and falls apart further after we chop it. 
  • ROASTED PEPPERS. As I've said in my tutorial on roasting peppers, roasting adds a smoky touch from the charred skin, enhances sweetness, both the flavor and the texture get richer, and while the flavor intensifies, the piquancy softens. Oh, and this goes double for green peppers, which aren't ripe. 
  • Roasted GARLIC. Ditto. Ditto
  • White and light red kidney beans are like turning silk pillows in a bite of chili. You're still warm and cozy, but you need smooth, cool respite. 
  • India Pale Ale adds a pleasantly hoppy punch that balances out the savory-sweet flavors and heat we've built. It's bitter in a fruity way, like grapefruit. Trust me, you want it there. 

Get ready. I'm about to walk into a fire much hotter than roasted poblanos. 

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As with most beloved things, people have some opinions on chili.

Some keywords here: authenticity, purist, genuine, classic, never, always, must... you get the idea.

Depending on who you ask, chili with tomatoes isn't chili. Chili should NEVER have beans. Chili isn't made with ground beef. I'm honestly not sure where they stand on chicken chili or chili verde (which is what this is, for the record).  

Personally, I don't care as long as it tastes good. 

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Don't get me wrong. I appreciate authenticity for what it is. It's fun to try foods as they originated, and to compare them to what they've evolved into, or how it's translated into a different region/culture/family/etc. I admire people who resist the temptation to complicate things or change to please a broader audience. I'll travel for that experience (or at the very least, turn on the Food Network). 

That said, I think it sucks when people turn their nose up at other versions of food just because it's not the original. If we stuck to the original on everything, every time, food would get real boring, real fast. If an iteration strays too far, we'll just name it accordingly.

This chili is not authentic. It has beans. White ones. The base is made of roasted tomatillos. I didn't travel to Mexico and get a recipe from somebody's great-grandmother (and if I did I would credit it to her!). This was just me deciding one day I was going to try making green chicken chili instead of red, picking ingredients I thought would be good, and coaxing them into giving me all the qualities I want in my bowl. 

Feel free to decide this isn't chili if that's your thing. But you should probably try it anyway. Let me know if you have suggestions for what to call my not chili. I won't use them, but you're welcome to.

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Warning!

If you’re sitting in the grocery store parking lot looking for something for dinner tonight—so hungry you could eat a moose—this is not the recipe for today. Seriously! Bookmark it for a day when you have plenty of time, and move on to something simpler for tonight. How about some nice chicken paillard instead?

One more time for the people in the back! Don't rush this one. Set aside an afternoon.

It’s so worth it. I promise. 

Another important note: this calls for roasted peppers and roasted garlic. I linked to the methods for those in both here and ingredient list. Please be certain to check that out for two reasons:

1. So you don’t underestimate the time you’ll spend making this.

2. So you don’t spend half an hour in the grocery store looking for pre-roasted peppers and garlic. For the record, you can buy roasted red peppers, but they are usually in brine or oil, which changes the texture and taste, and that doesn’t really work in this recipe. 

Remember, patience is a virtue.

What's your favorite chili ever? Is it a family recipe? From a chili-fest? Comment and let me know! I'm open to chili of all kinds (I think...).

As always, I want to hear from you! Got a question or something you're struggling with in the kitchen? I'd love to help you out if I can, but I won't know until you ask.

If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me!

Let's get this chili simmering already!

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If this recipe seems like it has too many moving parts to pull off, I get it. But if it sounds good to you, I'd really love to see you try it! I may be able to help you out with that. 

The WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place is a workbook I put together to show you a method to the madness of cooking. I think every beginning cook should start out on the right foot, and I show you how to do exactly that here. 

Just click below for a free download, and let me know how you like it. 

Spiced pork tenderloin with tomato peach sauce

Dinner, Recipe, SaucesLeannda CavalierComment

This main dish features tender, juicy pork tenderloin spiced with cinnamon and other Moroccan-inspired flavors. Tomato-peach sauce sweetens the deal with a tangy twist in this unexpected, but well-balanced pairing.

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend. I only recommend products I believe in. That means I've used it myself in most cases, and at the very least I've researched it thoroughly and find the company trustworthy—I would never recommend anything I wouldn't buy and use myself. Please reach out if you have any questions. 

Listen, I'm in a time crunch. Just give me the recipe.

It's the first week of fall! Sweaters. Soups. Sweltering Saturdays... hold up. What?

Them's the breaks living in the South. September is mostly an unforgiving sweatbox, made worse by the fact that I just want to burn pumpkin-reminiscent candles and drink hot tea, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Call me basic. Do it. 

That's what I thought. 

That's what I thought. 

You know what's a nice perk though? Peaches. Big, juicy peaches. They're technically still in season here. A fall staple? Not quite. But for me, this time of year is generally a scramble to get them fresh while I can. Same with sun-ripened tomatoes, which are getting harder to come by, but still around.

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If you know me well, you know a good number of my favorite foods feature fruit and savory foods mixed. Pulled pork with blueberry adobo sauce (coming soon), steak tacos with pickled blackberries, and—quite possibly one of my favorite foods—tomato peach sauce with spiced pork tenderloin.

I've actually been making this sauce for years, while the pork tenderloin recipe is a little over a year old. I originally created the sauce to put on top of brie pasta. I had lots of peaches and tomatoes on hand, fresh basil and sage in the garden, and a bunch of free time.

Thus the sauce of a lifetime was born. 

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I put this on pork, chicken, cheesy pasta, plain pasta... It's pretty hard to go wrong. But there's something special about it with this spiced pork tenderloin. Tomatoes, peaches, basil, cinnamon, cumin, pork... not things often listed together, but I'm pretty sure it was destiny. 

I personally use the Ninja Master Prep Professional system to blend the sauce, but you can use any large food processor or blender. I love the Ninja system because a) it has sizes for everything I need, b) I can use multiple processors at the same time and it's not a pain because the power pod is small and light, and c) I can just throw the plastic parts in the dishwasher when I'm finished. 

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When pork browns, it starts to develop caramel-y notes that beg for sweetness to solidify the connection. Both sweet and savory need a little acid to lighten things up, which is where the tomatoes and a bit of vinegar come in. We turn up the heat with Moroccan-inspired spices, and basil and sage keep things fresh. 

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What's funny about this is that it actually ends up aligning with the fall vibes I'm craving. Fruit and meat is a classic pairing for fall. Ever heard of pork chops and applesauce? 

Yeah, I said it. 

Yeah, I said it. 

Honestly though, it's a real thing. Apple-stuffed pork tenderloin is a Pinterest classic. Pears are all over my early fall menu, from salads (more on that soon, I could write a book) to dessert.

In the end, it all works out. I'll have my sweater weather soon enough. 

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How do you feel about pairing fruit with savory foods? Do you have a favorite combo? Comment and let me know! I'm always looking to add something new to my ever-expanding list. 

As always, I want to hear from you! Got a question or something you're struggling with in the kitchen? I'd love to help you out if I can, but I won't know until you ask.

If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me!

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Anyway, let's get searing!

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Does the idea of cooking sauce and pork tenderloin at the same time freak you out? If you're still a little nervous in the kitchen, I've got something for you. 

The WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place is a workbook I put together to show you a method to the madness of cooking. I think every beginning cook should start out on the right foot, and I show you how to do exactly that here. 

Just click below for a free download, and let me know how you like it!