Monday, October 18, 2010

Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce (Mommyghetti)

I grew up on this sauce; it was always a family favourite and is now a guaranteed win with the kid. It’s also a great way to cram a ton of vegetables into your diet…and clean them out of your fridge.

Most of the measurements are rough: alter them to your tastes. The quantities below are more than will fit into my 7-quart crock pot (I usually skip a couple of the vegetables). I freeze the extra sauce in small batches (2 to 4 cups) for easy weekday meals.

2 lbs ground beef
½ to 1 tbsp steak seasoning or Montreal steak spice
¼ cup Memories of Kobe sauce (optional)
4 cans (798 mL each) crushed or ground tomatoes
10 oz spinach or other leafy green, fresh or frozen (optional), chopped fine
olive oil for frying
3 large (grapefruit-size) Spanish onions, diced small
6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs mushrooms, cremini or white, sliced or diced small
2 to 4 zucchinis and/or summer squash (optional), diced small
1 eggplant (optional), diced small
a few stalks celery and/or fennel (optional), diced small
3 or 4 sweet red/yellow/orange peppers, peeled (optional), diced small
1 to 3 tbsp dried oregano
1 to 3 tbsp dried basil
1 to 2 tbsp dried Italian seasoning mix
1 to 4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

In a large skillet, brown and crumble ground beef with the steak spice. Near the end of cooking, add the Memories of Kobe sauce. Place in crock pot set on high, along with tomatoes and spinach.

In batches, use the same skillet to lightly brown each of the vegetables in olive oil and a bit of salt, then add them to the crock pot. Don’t skimp on the oil during this stage: the sauce is unsatisfying without it. You only need a tablespoon or so per batch, it adds depth of flavour to the sauce, and in the end it really isn’t that much oil when divide among six or seven quarts.

Once all the vegetables are in, add in some seasoning and give it a good stir. Cook on (preferably) low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. (Sauce can also be simmered for an hour or two on the stovetop over low heat; keep a close eye on it to prevent burning.) About an hour before mealtime, taste the sauce and add more seasoning as desired.

Serve over whatever pasta you like (reserve some pasta water to thin the sauce if desired), or polenta, spaghetti squash, mashed potatoes, rice, whatever!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Baba Ghanouj

This eggplant dip is a Middle Eastern classic; unlike some supermarket versions, you won’t find any mayonnaise here. Serve with pita bread (Arab style, not Greek) or raw veg for dipping.

1 very large or 2 medium eggplants
2 cloves garlic, puréed
cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
¼ – cup tahini*
¼ tsp ground cumin (optional)
salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 425°F. Prick skin of eggplant on all sides, place on a pan pr sheet of foil (to catch drips) and roast, turning occasionally, for 30 – 60 minutes, until very tender. Allow eggplant to cool until safe to handle, peel off skin, rough chop, then set it in a colander to cool completely and drain any excess juices.

Add eggplant and remaining ingredients to food processor and process until very smooth. Taste and adjust salt as necessary. Can be served right away, or refrigerated for several hours to firm it up.

To serve, spread in a shallow dish, drizzle with olive oil and top with finely chopped parsley, plus any (or all, except the pomegranate) of the following:

Pine nuts, toasted
Tomatoes, seeded and diced
Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
Pomegranate seeds

*Tahini is ground sesame seed paste, very similar to natural peanut butter. A staple in many Middle Eastern dishes, it can be found in most supermarkets and bulk food stores, and has an indefinite shelf life. Like natural peanut butter, it separates over time and must be stirred to reincorporate the oil before using.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Orange Pumpkin Loaf

This recipe is an adaptation from an old “Company’s Coming” book. I am not a huge fan of pumpkin—it is easy for me to skip the pie at Thanksgiving—but this loaf brought me around with its combination of pumpkin, orange, dates, and pecans to create a rich, full-flavoured quick bread reminiscent of fruit cake. Enjoy!

½ cup pecans, chopped
cup butter, softened slightly
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
cup water
1 medium navel orange
2 cups AP flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
¾ tsp salt
½ cup dates, chopped (about the size of raisins)

Preheat oven at 350°F. Grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan and line bottom with parchment, if desired.

Toast pecans in a dry pan over medium heat, shaking occasionally, until fragrant. Set aside to cool. (Toasting the pecans can be skipped if you’re pressed for time.)

Cream together butter and sugar well. Beat in eggs until just combined, then stir in pumpkin and water.

Cut orange in half stem-to-bud and remove any seeds from the centre column. Grind up the entire orange in a blender, food processor or grinder. (If you don’t have a grinder, slice the peel thinly and then run your knife through the lot to finely chop.) Stir into pumpkin mixture.

Combine the remaining ingredients together with the cooled pecans and mix well. Stir into wet ingredients until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it out if necessary. Bake for 60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes before removing from pan. Cool completely before slicing.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Date Squares

At some point when I was a teen, my parents accidentally bought a skid of dates at auction. Yes: a skid. I made a lot of date squares that year, which was fine by all of us; they never lasted long. I was a date square machine! (Is that something I should actually be proud of?)

Once I moved out on my own, I never made them since they are atrociously high-calorie. Then, somehow, the recipe was lost. Gasp! Fifteen years of looking and it still hasn’t turned up. But—about five years ago—my mother stumbled on an older version of the original recipe, written out old style: basically a listing of ingredients with virtually no instructions. It’s not quite as good as what I grew up on, but decent all the same. Here is that original recipe, with a few extra notes by me.

1 lb dates, pitted
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup boiling water

Combine in a saucepot and cook well. The dates should be softened and the sauce thick.

2 cups rolled oats
1¾ cups AP flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup butter
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Cut together all ingredients. Press half the oat mixture into an 8 x 8 pan (lined with parchment if desired), then all of the date mixture (wet hands makes spreading the dates easier), then the remainder of the oat mixture. Bake 20 minutes in a moderate oven (350 to 400°F will do the trick). Allow to cool completely before cutting.