Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Sauce day

Not everything we eat around here is sweet or contains flour.  Approximately three times a day, every day, we all sit down to a meal.  We eat together at our house.  The exceptions are, of course, when you are at school or work.  Otherwise, we do all eat together.  It's just not optional.  Everyone helps out to set the table and clear it.  The rules are that you stay at the table, in / on your chair.  You don't have to eat but you can't leave until we're done.  You'd think that would be simple enough and it worked really well when there was just one kid, but with two toddlers in the house, that's hard to insist on.  The baby still gets strapped into her highchair so she doesn't wander yet.

Every once in a while, I have a sauce day!  Usually this takes place the day of or the day after a big grocery run to the local farm market for fresh veggies.  I come home with my treasures and I love to take the time right then and there to chop many of the veggies up to prep for the week's menu.  While I'm at it, I make SAUCE. 

Here is the pot with the first round of hardy vegetables in it to soften.

Just about anything goes into it and I use it to make spaghetti sauce, chili and lasagna.  We eat one meal right away and just about everything else gets frozen for future meals.

I'll try to get a recipe here, but this is the only thing I make that I don't use a recipe for!  I follow a recipe religiously, very little variation, once I find something that works.  But for sauce, there just aren't any rules!  It's different every time and we always love it - it's even better the next day.

This is not such a pretty picture, but you see the browned beef and black beans on top of the vegetables.

Here goes!  My apologies for the vagueness of the quantities, that's how this recipe rolls.

Spaghetti sauce for a small army (or to freeze)
a few onions, small dice
a head of garlic, crushed a roughly chopped
about a pound of carrots, peeled and small dice
a couple of parsnips, peeled and small dice
a sweet potato, peeled and small dice
half a bunch of celery, very small dice
one bunch of broccoli, small dice including the stalk
one red, one green, one orange or yellow pepper, small dice
one zucchini, small dice
a few mushrooms, very small dice (to hide them)
whatever else you have in the fridge, freezer, pantry (spinach)
- soften the first few, tougher veggies in a pot with a spot of oil and a little water for a few minutes.
- add all the veggies and stir a bit, I salt and pepper (S&P) here
- in another pot, I have browned 1 pound of ground beef and added 1 19 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed and slightly mashed (I may also add a pkg of firm tofu broken up real small if I have any in the house, it lends itself nicely to sauce taking on all the flavours and adding a high quality protein, calcium and iron and is relatively inexpensive for its nutritional value).
- dump in any italian seasoning mix you like, store-bought or made by your Nanny.  Taste.  Season.

I had to move into a bigger pot!

Now I add all my tomatoey stuff.  Cans of crushed tomotoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste (taste and add a tablespoon of sugar if you need to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.)

Simmer for a couple of hours and serve this as spaghetti sauce.  Freeze a meal or two worth for another day.

NEXT STEP, take about 3+ cups of it and set it aside for a lasagna.

TO THE SAUCE remaining in the pot, add some cumin (how much depends on how much sauce is left and how much your family likes cumin), dump in some frozen corn and a can or two of beans, drained and rinsed.  Traditionally, you would add red kidney beans but did you know white kidney beans have more iron in them than red?  Go ahead, check the side of the can.  Huh!  Voilà, CHILI!  Fridge or freezer for another meal!  Serve this with a side of cornbread and a salad or in tortillas.


NOW FOR THE LASAGNA!  Have at the ready a 9 x 13 (or whatever size pan you want) lined with tin foil and sprayed with oil.  I use ready-to-bake noodles for convenience, read the box that you have and prepare your noodles if you have to. 

I make my own ricotta but you can buy some if you like.  I add an egg and a squirt of prepared basil to 2 cups ricotta.  I also like to add a can or frozen (and thawed) package of spinach to this layer.  S&P.  Mix it up, set aside.

Grate about 2 cups of cheese, mozza or cheddar or mix them.  We're weak in our house and don't go beyond a medium cheddar, but feel free to experiment here to your taste.  Set aside.

Assembly, 3/4 c sauce in pan, spread it out thin.
Ricotta layer.  1/2 your grated cheese.
Repeat until sauce is used up, noodles are used up or you run out of room in your pan.
End with grated cheese.

Freeze unbaked (then bake frozen at 375 for at least an hour covered until centre is hot, uncover about 15 minutes to brown cheese) or bake now 375 for 30-45 minutes covered until centre is hot, uncover about 15 minutes to brown cheese.  Make up some garlic bread and a salad and holy moly invite some friends over for supper!  Tell them to bring the wine or dessert!

Finished lasagna before baking.

This is quite an afternoon of chopping and doing dishes.  It cannot be accomplished in my house with my family around so I normally as The Man to take the kids away for a few hours.  Frankly, I don't care too much where they go, just go.  I do miss them but this gives me more time with them the days I don't have to cook so it's worth it for me.  I am nowhere near Once A Month Cooking (OAMC) and don't strive to, but there are some great ideas for freezer meals to explore. (I wanted to put a link here but all I could find quickly were people wanting to sell you OAMC menus and such and I didn't want to push that on you.  Geez, I'll get a link here soon for you though, I've seen some great ideas for free.)

Do you have any ideas for me for big batch cooking?


  1. Your sauce sounds delicious. I don't put that many vegetables in mine but I am going to start. I had parsnips for the first time last month and we loved them.

    I was giving your big batch cooking some thought...I always have prepared foods in the freezer...one is Turkey pot pie (usually without the crust). I just thaw it and then add a crust or a biscuit topping and cook it. We aren't big roast turkey fans so always have lots of turkey left over to make a huge batch of pot pie filling.

    I also do mini meat loaves and freeze them. Not long ago Canadian Tire had their silicone mini bread pans on sale and I got 16. I love them for lots of things, meat loaf being one. I also usually have homemade soup in the freezer. One really nutritious soup, cheap and delicious is Ham and Pea Soup. Leave lots of ham on the bone so if you like lots of meat in it. I also make pea soup without the ham and just add extra liquid smoke to it.

    I've done hamburger patties in gravy and frozen them in ziploc bags. They are easy to thaw and heat for a quick supper. I usually have more energy in the mornings so do my batch cooking then.

    Yesterday I made, for the first time, a baked eggplant parmesan. It was delicious and is definitely going in my meatless meals section of my cookbook. We both had seconds!


    1. Thank you for more ideas! We do eat lots of soup here, as well, and there is usually a few containers in the freezer waiting for us. The family likes red lentil soup and moroccan red lentil soup. C loves chowders and pea soup. The best time for me to try to accomplish anything in my day is between 7:30 and 10:30. I don't get all three hours, but if there's anything to be done, that's the best time for the kids moods. Then, after they're in bed, I can blog and / or fold clothes.

  2. That's a really great idea to just do it all at once and freeze. I make sweet nd sour meatballs in big batches. I buy ground beef at Costco, add in stale bread and lots of grated veggies (or not, whatever's on hand) and freeze with yummy. I just learned that you can line the baking dish with press and seal and then freeze, pop it out and then you're not freezing your dishes. Totally awesome, works great.

    1. Meatballs, I have absolutely not made them often enough, maybe just a couple of times. They are so popular and everyone gets so excited when they hear we are eating them or see them on their plate, you'd think I'd make them more often. Thanks for sharing the freezeing idea too!

  3. This is so timely...just yesterday I was getting together a list of stuff I want to make for the freezer. Here is my list:

    spaghetti sauce
    sweet and sour meat balls with brown rice
    soups (4 or 5 kinds and always minestrone and pea soup)
    tuna noodle casserole
    meat loaf
    meat balls
    stuffing for meatless tacos...this is delicious!

    That's all I came up with for meals. I also fill my freezer with homemade hamburger and hot dog buns, tortillas, english muffins, scones, biscuits, bagels etc. That saves me so much money instead of buying it as I can get my flour cheap at Costco. They have a course whole wheat that I really like.

    How do you make ricotta cheese?


    1. What a great list, thanks for sharing Aunt Maureen!

      Here is where I go to when I make ricotta cheese http://goop.com/journal/make/102/brunch-with-the-barefoot-contessa