Monday, September 27, 2010

Hunkering Down for Winter Part 2: Your Very Own Tomato Sauce

Ok, so since it never stops raining in Ottawa these days, and since there's no denying that its officially Fall (check the calendar and then come and find me - we'll pout together) it's time for another installment of Hunkering Down for Winter.

So my man-friend was away this past weekend which left me with wondering what to do with all of my newly discovered free time. Of course, I turned to my good friend the kitchen.

Tomato sauce is honestly and sincerely way easier to make than you think it is. Way easier. Also, the ingredient list is very short too. This is certainly something you can whip up right when you want it, no need to prepare it ahead of time. I just like to have a few cups on hand in the freezer.

Your Very Own Tomato Sauce
2 cans (28oz) of stewed, diced or crushed tomatoes (San Marzano are yummy, but whatevers cheapest works too)
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, roughly diced
2-3 tsp of honey (or more or less to taste)
2 tbsp olive oil
s&p to taste
chili flakes (optional)

1. Heat a dutch oven over medium heat, and add the oil and chili flakes.
2. Throw in your onions, and let them sweat for 3-5 minutes.
3. Add in the celery, carrots and garlic. Let this work for another 5-7 minutes.
4. Add in your tomatoes and mix everything up well. If you used stewed tomatoes, or diced tomatoes crush them against the side of the pot with your wooden spoon. Do not break your spoon like I did (RIP favourite wooden spoon, RIP).  Don't get bent out of shape if you can't get the consistency you want, you're going to buzz it in the blender after anyways.

5. Let all of this bubble for at least 5 minutes, or if you're preparing it ahead of time let it simmer as long as you have.
6. Once its done simmering, buzz it in the blender. 


If you're eating it now, add any other herbs or spices you might want (oregano, or basil are nice). If you're squirreling it away, let it cool completely divide it up in to 2 cup portions and put it in the freezer.

This is the base to any number of recipes: spaghetti sauce, meatballs and sauce, chili, tomato soup, stew.

If you want to make lots, this recipe doubles well.

Happy Eating!


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fall Dinner (and left overs) for Two: A Fall Stirfry

As evidenced by the cooler weather, and seemingly unending rain, fall is most definately upon us. I don't know about you, but I'm enjoying it. Its nice to get back in to a routine, after weekend upon weekend of activity that was the Summer this year.

Today, I've got a yummy fall weeknight dinner for you. It comes together in about half an hour, and its pretty friendly on your pocket book too.

Fall Stirfry
1 small onion, chopped
2 carrots, washed and sliced 
2 potatoes, washed and sliced (you can use sweet potatoes if you want, I’ve used one of each) 
2 apples, washed and chopped
2 ribs celery, washed and sliced
½ blub fennel, washed and sliced (If you've never eaten it before, you should, its delicious!)
1 package of dinner sausages (honey garlic, bratwurst or Oktoberfest work nicely – maple flavoured breakfast sausages would also be nice)
½ c. apple juice or apple cider
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
½ tsp. Rosemary
½ tsp. Thyme
½ tsp. Fennel Seed, crushed
1 inch knob of ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan, or electric frying pan, sauté the sausages over medium heat until they’re cooked through. Set them aside.

Have a look at your pan and decide if there are enough drippings to cook up your vegetables, or no. If not, add a bit of butter or canola oil. Then throw in your vegetables, and stir them around to make sure they all get a bit of drippings / butter / oil love. Add the rosemary, thyme, fennel seed, ginger and garlic at this time too. Let cook covered, for about 10 minutes, or until things start to get tender. In the meantime, slice up your sausages.

Once your vegetables are about ¾ of the way cooked, add your sausage back to the pan. Deglaze the pan with your vinegar (it will help lift all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan – the brown bits are the extra tasty parts, and you want them incorporated in the dish – really you do). This will steam a fair bit. Make sure you get your hand out of the way. Next, add in your apple juice and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan again, and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

It should be done now. Check the taste and add a bit more salt and pepper if necessary. This is delicious with some bread and butter.

This dinner will cost you between $7 and $10 depending on where you source your ingredients, and if you get them on sale like I did. For two people, that's between $3.50 and $5 a serving. This will probably feed 4 for dinner, at $10 for the meal, thats an average of $2.50 a person. Not too shabby if you ask me!

Leftovers are good for lunch. This is the type of dish that gets better as it sits as the ingredients soak up the juices.

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hunkering Down for Winter Part One - Meatball-o-rama!

It’s the last week of Summer. Well, maybe not officially, I guess fall doesn’t officially start until somewhere around the 20th, but we’re already September, and Labour Day is behind us , and for me that's the first loud signal of fall. I might be well past my school years, but I think I’m still running on that calendar. The past weekend was Labour Day weeknd, the last long weekend of Summer and while most people were escaping the city for one more day at the beach, or one more weekend at the cottage, we used the weekend to unpack the last of the boxes (urrrmmm, we moved last October...) and to start thinking about how we can use the long weekend to stock the freezer for the fall and winter months ahead. Some people may think I’m crazy but I really prefer the fall and winter, and I like to get ready for them by stocking my freezer so that I’m prepared for whatever may come.

On my list so far are meatballs, tomato sauce (not to be confused with spaghetti sauce), and chicken stock. I’ll make these over the next few weeks, and I’ll probably take another weekend later this fall and make Chili, Spaghetti Sauce and maybe stew. Today’s post is about meatballs.

As a kid, I hated hamburger. Just ask my mom - picture this, toddler Erin (who incidentally looks exactly like adult Erin, but just smaller), sitting in her highchair, eating spaghetti or maybe lasagna, but spitting out the crumbled hamburger...true story. Another true story - I didn’t willingly eat a hamburger until I was probably 17. It’s still not my favorite meat, but it is versatile, inexpensive, and when prepared well, it has the potential to be quite tasty. For most recipes calling for ground meat, I use ground turkey. I really prefer it, it makes meals lighter and easily takes on the flavour of whatever you’re cooking it in. However, meatballs are another story. Meatballs need beef.

Meatballs aren’t just for eating with spaghetti either. Although, meatballs and spaghetti is a delicious meal. At our house we use these little nuggets of yumminess as the basis for a number of meals: meatballs with Diana Sauce and fried rice, meatball casserole, meatballs and tomato sauce with garlic bread, meatball subs, etc. No need to worry, these recipes will make appearances over the winter.

So here it is, my recipe for:

Copious Amounts of Meatballs...
2/3 Club Pack of Lean Ground Beef (you can use the other 1/3 for a lasagna like I did), or two to three regular sized packages
2c. Breadcrumbs*
2 large Carrots
2 medium Onions
3 ribs of Celery
1/2 green pepper
4 Cloves Garlic
4 Eggs
1/2 shot glass Worcestershire sauce (I really used a shot glass)
1 tbsp honey mustard
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. chili flakes

*But Erin, I don’t have any bread crumbs, you say? Well - do you have bread? Yes? Then you can have bread crumbs in a few minutes. Take a few pieces of bread (doesn’t matter if its white, brown, multigrain or rye - all are good, but a stronger bread will alter the flavour of your dish a bit), the crustier, the better, and pop it in the oven at 250F for about 5 minutes, just to dry it out a bit. Tear it up, and buzz it in a food processor or blender until it is the consistency you want. For this recipe, you will want them very fine.

1. Buzz all of veg (carrots, onion, celery, green pepper, garlic) in a mini or regular sized food processor. If you don’t have one, you should get one, they’re very useful and will only run you about $25. If you don’t have either of those things, but you do have a blender I suppose you could try that. If all else fails, chop everything very, very finely.

Ingredients, all measured out in a super big bowl.
2. Preheat your oven to 375F.

3. Mix all ingredients together in a very large bowl. Use your hands. Its the only way to ensure that the ingredients get mixed all of the way through. If the meat mixture is overly crumbly (as in, you’re not sure if its going to hold together) then add another egg. If its too wet, add some more bread crumbs. Don’t over mix, this will make your meatballs tough. You just want your veg to be evenly distributed. I use lean hamburger, its lower in fat than medium, or regular, but still has enough fat in it that your meatballs won’t be dry. If you prefer a different type of hamburger, knock yourself out, you’ll just need to adjust your liquids (eggs) accordingly, and be prepared for either a drier, or greasier meatball.

2/3 of a club pack of ground beef - in case you were wondering what it looked like.
4. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper or tin foil. Parchment paper is better, as your food won’t stick to it. Leaving about a centimetre and a half between meatballs, roll them out and place them on the trays. I like to make mine about 2-3 cm around.

Meatballs ready for the oven.
5. Bake them, two trays at a time if you can for 20-30 minutes, until they’re cooked through (i.e. not pink on the inside anymore, you’ll have to sacrifice one...)

6. Set them aside to cool. Once they’re fully cooled, put them in a freezer bag and throw them in the deep freeze for a week night in the future, when you’re too tired to do anything but open up the bag of meatballs, and heat them in a sauce of some kind. Really, since you’ve already cooked them through, all you need to do is heat them up! It’s important to use a freezer bag, and not tupperwear, because they will become freezer burnt in the tupperwear!

On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese!
I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed!
Happy Eating!