Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fall means Batch Cooking - Part II - Soups and Sauces


Hi there!

So we're back with the second part of my hard-hitting journalistic bombshell piece on... um, batch cooking? Never mind. But here I am back with more hearty Fall-oriented recipes that will warm your cockles and sub-cockles (a nod to Denis Leary). First, we'll look at a couple of pasta sauces that are a little different from your standard bolognese (meat) sauce or "chunky vegetable delight" or whatnot.

3 - Pasta Sauce

As you may well know, I'm a big fan of pasta. It's easy to prepare (as seen from this blog's inaugural posts), easy to eat, and it's good for you (I've recently started running and am enjoying the guilt-free carbs...). Now, a good "aglio e olio" (garlic and oil) style pasta is the height of simple gourmet, but there's something about a thick, rich, tomato-laden sauce that simply screams "comfort food". We all had a mom/grandmom/stepmom whose sauce evokes childhood memories. I'm fortunate enough to have had my mom's vegetarian sauce (but with sausage thrown in!) as well as my step-mom's spicy bolognese, as well as my dad's meatballs to satisfy my culinary memories of the joys of spaghetti.

Now over the years, I've developed a few of my own pasta sauces that bear no resemblance to anything I grew up with. The first was based on a tomato basil sauce that we made at Big Daddy's restaurant in Ottawa. As you'll notice, it's a sweet sauce that doesn't make use of the standard whackload of garlic found in most pasta sauces, which makes for a more delicate flavour that you might find surprisingly enjoyable.

Tomato-Basil-Sausage Pasta Sauce


4 tomatoes – ripe, pureed or chopped very fine
1 can tomato paste
3-4 cloves garlic
1 medium sweet onion, minced fine
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp cracked black pepper pepper
2-3 sausages - sliced (use whatever sausage you see fit;  I originally used mild Italian, but I've tried many different kinds and all usually add something different to the recipe)
1 red pepper – pureed or very finely chopped
½ cup fresh basil, chopped finely


- sauté garlic and onion in olive oil
- combine rest of ingredients, except basil and simmer until desired consistency is reached
- add basil once sauce is ready and is cooling (you do not want to cook the basil or it will taste like compost)

I usually serve this over penne or rigatoni and topped with lots of grated Parmesan (naturally).

Sauce number two is my take on an old standard: Linguine with clam sauce. My original recipe was a bit too fiery, even for me, so I've been working on reducing the spice level without making it too wimpy. So, the spices presented here are purely optional.

Red Clam Sauce for Linguine


2 cans clams
4 ripe tomatoes, puréed or finely chopped (or 2 cans plum tomatoes)
2 red peppers, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 sweet or red onion, minced
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup red wine
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne (or less)
1/2 tsp crushed dry chillies (or less)
2 tsp basil (dry)
1-2 tsp oregano (dry)
olive oil

- Open cans of clams, reserve about 1/4 cup liquid, drain and rinse clams in colander.
- Heat olive oil and sauté garlic and onions for about 5 minutes.
- Add rest of ingredients, stir and simmer at medium low heat for about 90 minutes.
- Serve over or toss with cooked linguine and top generously with Parmesan cheese.

So, those are two of the sauces I frequently like to make. The Tomato Basil is best in early Fall when all the ingredients are freshest. The Clam sauce uses canned clams, so canned tomatoes aren't so bad and because it's spicy, it's a good cold weather warming meal for late October into Winter.

4 - Soup

Nothing says warming goodness like a hot bowl of soup! Chicken Noodle Soup, is, of course, a staple of Fall/Winter cooking as cold and flus abound. I'd offer a recipe or whatnot, but personally, nothing beats Lipton's Chicken Noodle with a whack of hot sauce.

Now soup covers 8 gazillion variations and recipes. There are some standards from across the world that I could provide recipes for, but there are myriad versions across the 'Net. But I do feel like naming a few of them (with a little help from wikipedia):

- Borscht - Ukraine/Russia (beet soup)
- Bouillabaisse - France (fish soup)
- Clam Chowder - Canada/U.S. (thick soup with clams and potatoes and bacon)
- Cock-a-leekie - Scotland (leek, potato and chicken broth)
- Gumbo - Louisiana (spicy seafood and okra soup)
- Minestrone - Italy (vegetable soup)
- Miso - Japan (fish broth and soy)
- Mulligatawny - India (British influenced spiced chicken soup)
- Onion Soup - France (self-explanatory)
- Tom Kha Gai - Thailand (chicken soup with coconut milk)
- Avgolemono - Greece (chicken soup with lemon and egg)

As for soup recipes, I have two I'll be sharing. First, I give you a personalized twist on an old favourite:

Broccoli-Cheddar Soup


- 3 cup vegetable broth (you can get it premade in tetra cartons, or use a powder/cube)
- 1 cup light cream (or full-fat milk)
- 1 head broccoli, cut into small florets and sliced stalks
- 1 small onion, minced
- butter to taste (for sautéeing onions)
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 1 cup grated cheddar (old works best)


- sauté onion in butter until soft and translucent
- add broth, bring to boil
- add broccoli, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15-20 mins. (till broccoli. is soft but not mush)
- add milk, cheese, salt and pepper
- stir until cheese is melted
- let cool for a few minutes and purée using an immersion blender if you have one. Otherwise you can use a regular blender and blend in small batches, just remember not to cover it completely in order to let heat and
pressure escape. Conversely, you could just leave it as is, but it won't be terribly pleasing to the eye (but still quite tasty!).

With the cream and the cheddar, you'll find that this is a very hearty soup and is more than enough to make a meal. Maybe a little bread on the side is all you need.

The next recipe was one my girlfriend provided to me when I was trying to decide to do with some dried mushrooms in my cupboard. It's from the New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. And it's available through Google books!

So I made this a couple of weeks ago and it was deeeeeeelicious! Imagine a bowl of the best mushroom gravy ever with some sour cream goodness as a bonus...

Hungarian Mushroom Soup (I think it's considered Hungarian due to the paprika/sour cream element)


2 tbsp butter
2 cups chopped onions
1.5 to 2 lbs mushrooms, sliced (I used a mix of white, cremini, oyster, shitake and reconstituted porcini)
1 tsp salt
2 to 3 tsp dried dill (or 2 to 3 tbsp freshly minced)
1 tbsp mild paprika
2 tsp lemon juice
3 tbsp flour
2 cups water
1 cup milk - at room temperature
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup sour cream
finely minced fresh parsley, for garnish


1) melt the butter in a kettle or dutch oven (or any large pot).Add onions, and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, salt, dill, and paprika. Stir well and cover. Let cook for about 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in lemon juice.

2) Gradually sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly. Cook and stir another 5 minutes or so over medium-low heat. Add water, cover, and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often.

3) Stir in milk, add black pepper to taste. Check to see if it needs more salt. Whisk in the sour cream, and heat very gently. Don't boil or cook it after this point. Serve hot, topped with freshly minced parsley.

I had this with toast and was totally satisfied. But I think it would be glorious alongside pork chops or schnitzel of some sort... And now I want schnitzel... dammit...

So there you have it, just a few ideas for batch cooking. Have fun with them, get creative! I'll be back soon with more recipes that suit the season.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fall Means Batch Cooking - Part I - Stews (Chili and Curry)

So, it's getting chillier at night, sweaters are coming out of storage and thoughts of warming comfort food are replacing obsessions with grills and smoke.

Now, my favourite type of cooking when not using the BBQ is also pretty much the easiest: Get a big pot, throw ingredients in the pot, cook and stir for a few hours, serve piping hot. Pretty damn simple, right? And the great thing is that if you're a single guy like me, you can feed yourself for almost a week on one batch! That's if you don't mind repeated leftovers... Lord knows I don't.

Batch cooking basically involves three S foods: soups, stews and sauces. A good thick soup makes as satifying a meal as any steak ever could. A hearty stew filled with all kinds of veggies and meat sometimes makes the difference between hiding under blankets all day or hiking in autumnal splendour (or heading out drinking with the boys). And what is life without the occasional heaping plate/bowl of pasta drowning in a rich tomato-based sauce?

Now over the years I've developed some favourite "bunch-of-food-in-a-pot" recipes that I want to share with you. So let's give 'er!

1 - Chili

Let's start with EVERYONE's fall favourite. Who can deny the joy of a hot bowl of chili on a blustery Sunday watching football? With a cold one on the side and some fresh bread, you have an epic afternoon/evening sown up! Let's just hope your lady/gentleman friend aren't averse to gas...

Chili is as personalized as your dental records; no one makes it the same as anyone else. And usually no one makes it the same way twice. I find chili is the ultimate experimental recipe. You can throw all kinds of neat stuff in there and it'll generally still be delicious. There are some basic ingredients you need: kidney beans, meat (unless you're making vegetarian chili), garlic, onions, tomatoes, chili powder, and tomato paste. Everything else is up to you. What I present to you today is the basics of the chili I've been making for years, but I've since made several tweaks. More on that after the recipe...

Nick’s Chili – large order


2 tbsp olive oil
1 kg. medium ground beef (or ½ kg. ground beef & 300-400 g. cubed steak)
5 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 red, & 1 yellow or orange pepper, diced thickly
2 large onions, diced
4-6 ripe tomatoes, pureed
2 cans tomato paste
3 cans red kidney beans (rinse most of the juice from beans, add a small amount to chili)
1-2 cups Creemore lager (or your favourite beer)
1 cup veg. juice (e.g. V-8, if required, for liquid)
chili powder to taste
3 tbsp salt
hot sauce to taste
1-2 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp dry coriander
3 tsp cayenne (more to add desired heat)


- in a large pot, sauté meat and garlic in olive oil
- add some chili powder and cayenne
- after 5 mins., stir in beans, tomato, tomato paste and beer (and veg. juice if needed)
- cook until everything begins to boil together, approx. 15 mins.
- add peppers and onion and rest of spices
- simmer until desired consistency is reached (about 90 mins. – in order to keep veggies slightly crisp, more if you like them mushier), stirring every few minutes.

Now, since I first wrote out this recipe, I've since taken to using a mix of chili powder and berbere spice. Also, I like to add some frozen corn and, if I'm feeling really carnivorous, sliced pieces of sausage (I add the sausage at the beginning with the beef, the corn goes in near the end). Some other tweaks: a tablespoon or so of maple syrup, a few drops of liquid smoke, the juice of half a lime. Maybe try a wild and crazy hot sauce if you really like it hot? Or some chopped jalapeno? It's up to you, dude!

2 - Curry

Indian cooking was never really something that came up growing up at my house, but when I met my ex-fiancée, she declared a strong love of the cuisine and I had the pleasure of trying lots of yummy different curries in restos and through friends. But I didn't give much thought to making it myself.

Fast forward a few years and here I am, single and cooking for one, with a powerful craving for Indian food, but no desire to eat out by myself. With that desperate inspiration, I literally pulled the next recipe out of thin air. This event, not to boast, cemented that I have a knack for cooking, because I pulled it out of thin air and it was delicious on the first go. I must admit that I looked up a couple of recipes for ideas, but mostly it was "Hmmmm, I feel like curry, but not butter chicken. I want beef. What goes with beef? Sweet potatoes!" and a legend was born...

Beef-Sweet Potato Curry

You'll notice a lot of variable ingredient levels with this one. Well, that's because it's a matter of taste. Some of us want the ginger or garlic or cayenne at milder levels, others want to be kicked in the face by them. So, play with your levels as you see fit. When in doubt, use the smaller amount. These are all still very flavourful ingredients and it will by no means be bland.


1 package stewing beef, cubed (around 350 g)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 small red onions, quartered and sliceed (or 1 medium sweet onion)
1-2 medium sized tomato (ripe), diced
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, minced finely
1-2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced finely
4-6 tbsp plain yogurt (it all depends on your spice and/or yogurt tolerance levels)
1/3 - 2/3 cups butter, divided into 3 equal parts (more or less depending on taste)
3 tbsp curry powder (to taste)
2 tsp salt (to taste)
1 tbsp black pepper (to taste)
2 tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala
Juice from 2 lemon wedges
Juice from 1/2 clementine (or ¼ regular orange)


- In a stewing pot, melt 1 part butter on medium heat
- Add beef, sweet potato, garlic, ginger, 1 tbsp curry and cayenne
- Cover pot and cook for about 10-15 mins.
- Add remaining ingredients except yogurt and cilantro
- Reduce heat and simmer for approx. 30 mins.
- Add yogurt and simmer for 10 more mins.
- Stir in cilantro and remove from heat

-- Serve garnished with more fresh cilantro, if you like (I DO!)--
- best served with Basmati rice or naan bread, if you have it –


- add 350-400 g cubed chicken and 1 can chick peas (drained and rinsed) and omit beef, sweet potato and juice from clementine

In the next post, we'll deal with soup and pasta sauce.