Tag Archives: tomatoes

It’s All Gravy … Tomato and Duck

My mom only made one kind of gravy.

It started with bacon fat.

About once a month, my dad would slice up slab bacon with the thick rind on it, like in “the old country”, for the two of them. It took forever to render down enough of the fat to get any bacon grease but the results were worth it. (My brother and I liked the regular kind of bacon – thin slices, plumped up with water so it didn’t have a lot of flavour – but it crisped up quickly and the drippings were SO tasty.)

After frying up a pound or so of the bacon in her old cast iron frying pan, my mom would drain off most of the fat, leaving a few tablespoons in the pan, and add about the same amount of flour. She’d whisk the flour into the fat and cook the mixture (roux) for a while. The flavouring was about half a small can of Unico brand tomato paste. And then she’d add water and cook it up until it got nice and thick.

A bit of salt, and, at the end … well, each of us would add some of that tomato sauce or gravy to a soup bowl and dip in chunks of Italian bread and a few strips of bacon for a simple but filling brunch washed down with a cup of hot coffee.

Since she never measured anything, sometimes there’d end up being a lot of smooth, tangy and tasty tomato gravy. And sometimes, it would be lumpy and the flavour would be just slightly flat. Still, I never remember there being any leftovers.

Weekend Brunch – I didn’t have any bacon to fry up but I boiled up a smoked picnic shoulder ham and sliced off some of the uneven pieces and served it with tomato gravy and slices of home made French baguette to dip into it.

Over the years, I’ve learned to make different kinds of gravy. Turkey, breakfast sausage, pork chop pan gravy and buttermilk gravy. Sometimes the flavour is just slightly flat, sometimes it’s not as smooth as I’d like especially if I’m in a hurry or distracted with other things.

Recently, I ran across a treasure in the freezer. A container of duck drippings and fat. I thawed it, lifted off the layer of hard duck fat on top, and guess-timated how much flour I’d need to add for my roux. I ended up with about a cup of duck juices, jellied and dark and flavourful. A bit of chicken stock to extend the contents and this was the result. A delicious bowl of duck gravy.

Basic Gravy – 2 tbsp oil/butter/fat, 2 tbsp flour and 2 cups of liquid/drippings and meat juices. It’s just that simple.

Tomato Gravy – 1 tbsp bacon fat, 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 1 cup tomato juice, additional water as needed, salt and pepper to taste.

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Beef Duo – Curry and Individual Pot Pies

NOTE: I made the curry and the duck fat pastry as directed by the recipes in the links … ok, I used water instead of vodka in the pastry cause I didn’t want to waste the vodka. The filling for the pot pies started with the recipe on Allrecipes but I made some changes as briefly noted below.

I made the mistake of freezing an entire tray (2.6 lbs) of stewing beef when I brought it home so I wanted to get creative when I cooked it.

I recently saw an intriguing recipe for Punjabi Beef and Spinach curry which I wanted to make. It’s not a pretty dish when done, but the combination of herbs and spices sounded like they’d make a flavourful dish. I browned all the beef and set aside 1 pound for the second dish, a pot pie.

Beef pot pies are a great way of stretching your meat to serve more people and getting some veggies into your diet at the same time. I chose to do individual pies so I could freeze away the extras for future meals without worrying about the filling oozing out and making a mess or drying out.

Inside the pot pie … I think I need to make a bit more gravy but just adding some more broth which would make the gravy thinner should solve the issue.

I used a beef pot pie recipe that I found on Allrecipes though I made some adjustments to the technique including making a roux based gravy, with the liquid used to simmer the beef (~1/2 cup), to which I added a rounded tablespoon of dried French onion soup mix and about a cup of chicken stock.

And, instead of a frozen pie crust, I made a flavourful pastry with some duck fat instead of using all butter.

Simple Spaghetti Sauce/ Sunday Gravy

A while ago I bought a big (100 fl oz) can of peeled, whole San Marzano tomatoes with the intention of making Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with onion and butter. But you know what they say about ‘intentions’.

And then, a couple of days ago I was brainstorming an idea for a “Sunday sauce”, a pasta sauce that varies with the household making it. I was going to throw in some ground beef, a couple of pork chops, even a chicken breast, all of which transform a simple pasta sauce into a ‘gravy’. Then I realized that that pound of ground beef that I had in my freezer … wasn’t there after all. And I didn’t want to just use the chops and breast.

So I went to the market and ended up with five pounds of medium ground beef. At which point, I was faced with a variety of culinary possibilities. Three pounds were immediately portioned into freezer bags of one pound each and stored away for the future. I browned off the other two pounds and made a quick spicy beef burrito filling with half.

The second pound of cooked ground beef was drained well and frozen as well.

And now back to that can of tomatoes … I took out my dutch oven and sauteed a finely diced onion and a large clove of garlic slowly, over medium heat, in 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tbsp of unsalted butter until they were soft but not coloured at all. Then, I added about a teaspoon of dried basil (as I didn’t have any fresh), a half teaspoon of salt and a heaping teaspoon of sugar, and half the can of the tomatoes, crushed by hand and roughly seeded, along with their liquid. I had a bit of Parmesan cheese rind so I threw that in as well. After simmering the tomatoes, covered, for an hour …

… I pureed them with a hand blender and then simmered the sauce for another hour. Taste for seasoning. You might want to add another pinch or two of sugar if the sauce is too acidic.

The result was amazing.

Serve the sauce over pasta or polenta, as a dip for bread or pizza rolls/bites, dress a meatball sub or chicken parmigiana or use as an ingredient in a decadent pan of lasagna.

Pork Chops alla Pizzaiola

I’m not posting a recipe with amounts below but more of a guideline. For a more detailed recipe, try Giada or Rachel Ray.

Boneless or bone-in, pork chops make for a fast and tasty meal.

I got tired of my regular ways of cooking them – panfried with gravy or without, ‘shake and bake’, breaded (using Italian seasoned or panko breadcrumbs) and then fried or baked…

… so, with some leftover pizza sauce with mushrooms as an inspiration, I made this flavourful dish which can be served over pasta, mashed potatoes, polenta or rice. A comfort dish with some red pepper flakes to give it a bite. I didn’t have any wine to slosh into the sauce but if YOU do, go for it.

Pork Chops alla Pizzaiola

“Pork chops alla pizzaiola” includes the items that the wife of a pizza maker (pizzaiolo) would have available to her in her kitchen or her husband’s shop … tomatoes, olives, olive oil, dried red pepper flakes, anchovies, onions, garlic, capers and oregano. Maybe a bit of red wine from a jug sitting on a shelf.

As for the meat, a little goes a long way as is often necessary in a modest household … a thin cut sirloin steak, a piece of fish. Or, in this case, a couple of pork chops from a tray of various cuts purchased on sale in my local budget grocery store. If you don’t like olives or anchovies, leave them out, but if you DO, saute them in your olive oil along with your garlic until the anchovies melt and give an amazing subtle flavour to your sauce. The same with the capers. If you don’t have them, that’s fine, but if you DO, their salty flavour will add something special to your sauce.

Seeded, peeled and diced whole tomatoes, or halved cherry tomatoes, from your garden are great. Diced canned tomatoes are good too, but I was cooking for one and the leftover pizza sauce in my fridge was a perfect amount.

The cooking time depends on your meat. The steak and fish just need a quick sear (30 seconds on each side for the steak) on medium high heat in the hot oil, while the timing for your pork chops depends on their thickness. Use a large saute pan so your ingredients have room to move around. Remove the meat when it’s seared. Transfer it to a plate and cover to keep warm. Remember, you can finish cooking it in the sauce for as long as needed.

Saute your thinly sliced onions, finely minced garlic, anchovies, capers, finely minced olives, red pepper flakes and tomatoes, and then simmer covered, until the tomatoes have broken down into a wonderful sauce. You may need to add some water depending on how juicy your tomatoes end up being. Add your wine before adding the tomatoes so that it will help pick up the great browned bits from the pork chops and cook off.

Add your browned pork chops, and any liquid that has drained off while standing, to the sauce, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavour to permeate into the pork chops. Serve with whatever starch you like.

Odds and End Meals

When cooking for one, you end up with a lot of leftovers especially if, like me, you make big pots of some dishes. When my freezer fills up to a certain point, I stop cooking and start putting together the odds and ends and come up with meals.

I try not to have too many desserts in my freezer, cause I snack when I’m bored, so I give away as much as I can of the more successful results. But this means I get stuck with some things that aren’t suitable for gifting. Like a tray of peach crumble bars that were mostly crumble and very little peach. A while back, I bought a clamshell of mostly bruised and tasteless peaches that I had to throw away. So I ended up with a lot less fruit than I needed … which I didn’t realize until I was in the middle of baking with nothing else to add in to make up the shortage. A bit of apricot jam (ran out of ice cream) is making the bars a bit more palatable, at least.

Right now, I’m adding soup as often as I can to my meals. Biscuits or bread are a good filler.

Of course, I DO make new dishes. I snagged a double package of sausage filled tortellini on sale and cooked one up in a blush sauce. On its own, the pasta dish isn’t very filling, and I didn’t have any greens for salad in the house, so I served it with a savoury plate of polenta.

The rest of the polenta was patted out into a buttered 8″ by 8″ glass dish and refrigerated, prior to being fried up as a base for a jarred spaghetti-pesto sauce.

Chicken drumsticks are often found on sale. A bit of Italian seasoning sprinkled on top and unattended baking time and you’ve got the start of a great meal.

A bit of barbecue sauce and a different starch, and you’ve got a new meal.

Things get a bit tight just before payday or in the case of supply teachers, with no paycheques for 3 months, so a tuna macaroni salad with pasta and canned tuna bought on sale is filling and tasty too. I’d usually throw some diced celery into my salad but in this case, diced raw carrots made for a nice, crunchy bite and a bit of colour too.

Whenever I have coleslaw in the house, I’m tempted to make okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake. Another inexpensive and filling dish.

Sourdough Baking … AGAIN (Chocolate, Nutella and Pecan Babka and Savoury Boule)

To paraphrase the words of the immortal Sheldon Lee Cooper … “Bread bakers be crazy!

I joined a sourdough baking group on FB … cause I’m a glutton for punishment and not wasting enough time on FB already. As a result I developed a case of baker’s envy and revived my sourdough starter. And, not only did I revive the last of a sample from the freezer, but some of the dried starter from the pantry as well. Which meant I was feeding TWO jars.

Because I had started with a very young starter when I stored it away, it took longer to re-establish than I though it would. As a result, my first bake (a 1-2-3 formula using some ground bulgur flour for texture in place of the spelt, along with all purpose, and found on friend’s blog) was a miserable failure. And I had such high hopes for it too. I ended up tossing the loaf in the garbage in disgust. I weep for that lovely blue cheese and pecans.

Luckily, I had suspected things were NOT going well so I made a batch of hybrid dough (sourdough starter and dry yeast), enriched it with eggs, butter and milk and shaped it into two babkas, which I filled with chocolate chips, Nutella (yes, I finally bought a jar) and chopped pecans. I tried two different shaping methods, one of which didn’t turn out as nicely as I had hoped. It was supposed to be a crumb topping but, between using powdered sugar and the warmth of the kitchen, which effectively ended up making a paste of the flour, sugar and butter, the top wasn’t very pretty. So the ugly duckling second method, ended up being the beautiful swan.

Chocolate, Nutella and Pecan Babka

Next time, if there IS a next time, I make a babka, I’ll try basting the finished loaf with a honey/sugar syrup as some recipes show. I’ve included a recipe for the syrup in the babka recipe below. I baked my babkas in a large roasting pan which had been buttered generously and separated into two ‘pans’ with a dam of aluminum foil, folded several times for rigidity and buttered.

Hybrid Chocolate, Nutella and Pecan Babka – 2 1/2 lbs dough, makes 2 loaves

Based on a sourdough cinnamon roll recipe I’ve used before but I increased the eggs in this enriched version to two.

Dough

1 cup active starter or discard
1 1/4 tsp dry yeast (1 tsp instant yeast)
3/4 cup warm milk
1/3 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 – 3 3/4 cup AP flour, divided
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature

Filling – for each babka

1/2 cup Nutella
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips **

Syrup (optional)

1/2 cup (100g) sugar
1/2 cup (125m) water
1 tbsp honey

Egg wash – 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp cold water

** Use chopped chocolate next time as it melts better.

In a small bowl, activate the yeast by dissolving 1 tsp of the sugar in the warm milk, sprinkling in the yeast and waiting for about 5-10 min until the yeast gets foamy.

In a large mixing bowl, add 2 cups of flour, salt, rest of the sugar and mix well.

Make a well in the center, add the yeast mixture, eggs, starter and butter and with a wooden spoon beat together until you get a smooth batter. Gradually stir in about a cup of the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until you get a shaggy dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured working surface and knead, using only as much flour as needed to get a soft but not sticky dough, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball and cover with your mixing bowl. Let rest covered for 5 minutes. Knead for another 5 minutes, using as little flour as possible.

Sprinkle some flour in a clean area, place the ball of dough on the flour, cover with the mixing bowl and let rest for 30 minutes.

Roll out, fill and shape.

Let rest in two 9″ x 5″ greased loaf pans, in a warm place, for about 45 min to an hour, until doubled. Brush on egg wash.

Shaping version 1

Shaping version 2

While the dough is rising, make the syrup (if using) by bringing the water, sugar, and honey to a boil in a small saucepan. Let boil for 4 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface with a spoon. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F.

After the dough was allowed to rise, the egg wash was brushed on and the crumb topping was applied. The baked result is seen below.

Bake for 55 minutes. After 25 minutes you might want to cover the loaves with a sheet of aluminum foil as the tops will get very dark.

Let cool in loaf pans for about 5-10 minutes then remove from pans and let cool thoroughly on rack. The syrup, if used, may be brushed on after a few minutes of cooling.

Savoury Italian Boule

A couple of days later, I made a hybrid savoury bread based on the babka recipe I used above but with an Italian theme – a mixture of Italian herbs (~1 tsp) , garlic powder (1/2 tsp),  and sun dried tomatoes (1-2 tbsp).

Pictorial Boule Recipe

Boule proofed with the seam side up for 1-2 hrs until doubled then flipped over, with the aid of a baking pan, onto a parchment paper sling for scoring and transfer into the hot dutch oven.

Other changes: Substitute water for the milk used above and 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil in place of the butter. No eggs were used in this recipe. I also reduced the amount of sugar to 1 1/2 tsp, just enough to activate/proof the dry yeast. After proofing, the boule was baked in a dutch oven which had been preheated to 450 deg F, 35 minutes with the lid on and 10 minutes with the lid off. I covered the dutch oven lightly with a sheet of aluminum foil because I had concerns about it possibly burning.

It turned out beautifully as well especially the crumb.

PS: I have now tossed the dry sourdough starter cause, really, who kneads the added temptation? (Freudian slip? You judge.) I’ll continue with the current single jar of starter and refrigerate it once it’s well established.

‘Spicy’ Chili and Sweet Cornbread

When I’m happy … I want sushi.

When I’m sad … I want sushi.

When I’m bored … I want… I think you can pretty much figure out where this is going.

BUT, sushi is pricey, so I go digging through the pantry and the freezer for inspiration, and then I come up with dishes that will fill my tummy and not empty out my wallet.

I haven’t made chili in a while and a recent exchange with “The Frugal Hausfrau” about chili and the obsession of some people over what makes the perfect chili came to mind.

So, I decided to make chili and NOT use any commercial chili powder. Instead, I soaked and pureed the last mulato chile in my pantry, and combined it with some frozen chipotle in adobo sauce, ground cumin, minced garlic, and Mexican oregano. All ingredients in the commercial chili powder in some form or other.

‘Spicy’ Chili – makes about 8 servings

1 pound red kidney beans, soaked and cooked until tender
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2-1 cup finely diced onion
1-2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 mulato chile, stemmed and seeded, soaked in about 1 cup hot water then pureed in ~1/4 cup of soaking liquid
1 tsp chipotle in adobo sauce (or more if desired)
1 tsp ground cumin powder
1 tsp Mexican oregano, stems and flowers removed and roughly rubbed between palms
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tsp salt to start, more as needed

Mulato puree and Mexican oregano

In a large dutch oven, over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add half (or all) of the mulato chile puree, chipotle, cumin and oregano and fry for a few minutes.

Add the crumbled ground beef and salt and brown, breaking up as you do so.

Add the drained, cooked beans and tomatoes with all their liquid. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat so the contents simmer. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes or until the chili is the consistency you prefer. Taste and add more salt if needed.

You may choose to add hot sauce to the pot or to individual servings.

Garnish with diced avocados, grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese or sour cream and serve with cornbread.

PS: My definition of spicy is ‘flavourful’ NOT ‘hot’. If you want heat, a few splashes of your favourite hot sauce will do the job.

And what bowl of chili is complete without a square or two of sweet cornbread? No jalapeno peppers, whole kernel corn or grated cheese to doctor it up. Just a bit of honey in place of the sugar and I was in chili nirvana. Martha Stewart’s cornbread recipe is almost identical to the one I used but I’ll post it if anyone is curious.

Plain Corn Bread – 16 2-inch squares

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
2-4 tbsp sugar (depending on how sweet you like it to be)**
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk or buttermilk**
1/4 cup cooking oil or melted butter, margarine or shortening

** I used 1/4 cup wildflower honey this time cause I wanted it sweet and buttermilk cause I had some available.

Stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat together eggs, milk and oil. Add to flour mixture and stir just until batter is moistened, no more.

Pour into greased 9″ round cast iron skillet (or an 8 inch by 8 inch baking pan, but really, the cast iron makes it taste better) and bake in a pre-heated oven at 425 deg F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Even better … I now have several containers of chili to stash in my freezer. And a tub of cornbread.

Basic Marinara Sauce and Seafood Medley Marinara over Fettuccine

If you’re fortunate enough to have the freezer space, make a batch of marinara sauce, portion it out in 1 or 2 cup amounts and you’ll have the start of many great meals at your fingertips. Need ideas? This Food Network web site has 50 of them to start you off.

There are as many marinara sauce recipes as there are households in Italy, as far as I can tell.

The recipe below is an adaptation of Giada de Laurentiis’ though I’ve made several additions, as well as greatly reducing the amount of extra virgin olive oil she uses (1/2 cup!!).

Pureed and more rustic versions of the marinara sauce

I decided to combine 1 1/2 cups of the marinara sauce posted below with some chicken stock to thin it down, 300 grams of a frozen seafood medley (shrimp, octopus, clams and squid) and 250 grams of cooked pasta for a fast meal for 3. I threw in 4 oz of diced cremini mushrooms left over from shopping for another dish though it wasn’t really necessary.

All that seafood looks delicious, doesn’t it?

The finished dish

Basic Marinara Sauce – makes 9 cups of sauce

1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup onions, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
2 cups ground tomatoes
1 tbsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves
sugar, as needed

In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the celery, carrots, garlic, and the salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, dried basil and dried oregano, and simmer partially covered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.

Remove and discard the bay leafs. Taste and if too acidic or bitter, add 1/2 tsp sugar, stir through and taste again, adding more if needed.

Season the tomato sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste.

If you like a bit of spice, you can add some dried red pepper flakes to the individual containers depending on the recipe you use the marinara for.

Cool, then cover and refrigerate. (The sauce can be made 1 day ahead.) Rewarm over medium heat before using.

NOTE: You may choose to puree the sauce when cooled a bit for a more refined sauce. I did so with half the batch but kept the remainder more ‘rustic’ in texture.