Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ma's famous baked beans

Just like the tortiere recipe, this recipe is a holiday favourite in my family. The story about the recipe is actually kind of funny. My sister and I always thought that our mother used an ancient, secret family recipe to make her signature beans at Christmas. There was always a big deal about making them, with much fuss and bother.

Then one year we convened our Christmas celebrations in Ottawa at my sister's instead of at our mother's in Montreal. So, Ma had to make the beans in public -- where we could observe and learn. We were horrified to discover that the recipe is actually taken from the recipe book that came with the family pressure cooker. Our illusions were shattered.

Anyways, my sister is now the keeper-of-the-recipe-book and this recipe is based on observing her preparing the beans for this year's Christmas Eve celebration. She used both my mother's notes and the Presto pressure cooker instruction manual.


  1. Approx. 2 cups navy beans
  2. 4 or 5 fairly thick slices of cooked ham, preferably left over from a recent meal
  3. 1/2 pound bacon, cooked, excess fat discarded
  4. 3 tbsp brown sugar
  5. 3 tbsp molasses
  6. 1 tsp salt
  7. 1/4 tsp dried mustard
  8. 1 medium onion, diced
  9. 2 tbsp ketchup
  10. water


  1. Soak the beans in water overnight. Drain and reserve soaking water.
  2. Sear bacon in cooker, discard excess fat.
  3. Add beans, sugar, molasses, salt, mustard, onion, ketchup and enough soaking water to cover the beans well
  4. Close cover securely and pressure cook for 45 with regulator rocking slowly. Let pressure drop of it's own accord.
  5. In a bean pot, put a layer of cooked ham. Put in approx. 1/3 of the bean mixture and continue to layer beans and ham, finishing with beans.
  6. Put bean pot in the oven at 350 for 1 - 1.5 hours for all the flavours to meld.

Note from sister:

Often referred to in John's blog as "my sister," no doubt readers are doubtful of my existence. John is kind to not record our misadvertures this year - the second year without my mother's guidance on all things Christmas has proved to be interesting. In any case, we are about to eat and things have turned out ok. My name, by the way, is Michele. Happy holidays!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Quick pasta sauce

Making a good pasta sauce can be an all-day affair, with many steps and incredibly drawn out rituals. I have to say that kind of process doesn't really appeal to me that much. I want to get something on the table pretty quick, something that's also tasty and reasonably healthy. The trick is to get that all-day flavour in a short period of time. This recipe was inspired by some quite extensive poking around in various books and websites, to the point where I'm no longer certain what the main source is. Anyways, try this one out. I can usually get it on the table in about 60-75 minutes from start to finish.

The secret to getting the all-day flavour is using sausage meat instead of ground beef. The spices already in the meat will really give the sauce a great flavour. By the same token, it's best to use an italian sausage that you really like, as it's going to have a disproportionate effect on the final outcome. Get the best you can lay your hands on, preferably from a good butcher.

Pasta wise, anything works well: spagetti, penne, rigatoni, whatever. However, I really prefer using fresh pasta as it can really add something to the flavour.
Quick pasta sauce.

Makes 8 main course servings, with leftovers.

1 lb of italian sausage (usually 4 sausages), removed from the casings
2 onions, chopped
4-6 cloves minced garlic
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 zucchinis, chopped
2 28 oz cans of tomatoes (1 whole, 1 crushed)
1 small can tomato paste
1 tsp italian spice
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, brown the sausages on both sides in some olive oil, about 3 minutes per side until just cooked all the way through. Don't break them up, brown them whole. Reserve. If there's any excess fat or oil in the pot, you can pour it off. Leave enough to saute the veggies.

2. Start sauteing the onions in the pot, add the garlic after a minute or two. After another minute or two, add the rest of the veggies to the pot and sauted the whole bunch for another 5 or 8 minutes until the carrots start to soften a bit. During the process, add about 1/2 the italian spice and red pepper flakes.

3. While the veggies are cooking, chop up the browned sausages into small pieces.

4. Add the meat and tomatoes into the pot as well as the rest of the spices. Let simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.

5. Serve on some nice pasta with salad or chopped veggies and crusty bread.

This recipe is always well received, and it makes enough for at least two meals. As with most pasta sauces, it freezes very well. There are also lots of opportunities for customization and improvization. For example, I often make it with red or green pepper instead of zucchini.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pasta with fresh lemon

I tried this one a few days ago and it was pretty well received. It's based on a reciped from On Top of Spagetti by Johanne Killeen and George German, Morrow 2006. I kicked up the lemon flavour quite a bit from what the recipe said, maybe about 50% more juice and lemon. I find the use of butter a bit excessive in the recipes in this book and while I used only a bit less than recommended in this case, I can easily see myself going with 50/50 butter/olive oil next time.

Pasta wise, this recipe really needs the best fresh pasta you can lay your hands on -- the sauce is delicate & flavourful but really needs the best pasta to show it off. I would recommend fusili or penne as the best shapes for the sauce to cling to.
Pasta with Fresh Lemon
8 side dishes or 4 main course.

1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp of lemon rind
juice of 1 1/2 to 2 lemons
1 lb fresh pasta
1 - 1 1/2 grated parmigiano-reggiano
pinch of salt

1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water. Drain & reserve 1 cup of the pasta water

2. Melt the butter, salt & lemon zest in a saute pan over low heat

3. Add the lemon juice to the butter & zest combination & combine well.

4. Add the pasta to the saute pan and toss to coat the pasta. Add the cheese at this point. If it seems a bit dry, add a bit of the pasta water.

We had it as a main course, served with a nice salad which really complimented the lemoniness. Bread would be good too, a baguette or maybe an Italian bread.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ma's famous tourtiere

Now this recipe is really famous! My mother Gisele (Brossoit) Dupuis has always been a great cook and tourtiere, or French Canadian meat pie, has always been one of my favourites of the things she makes. So this year on Christmas Eve she supervised us in the ritual pie-making while we recorded the process for posterity. My son Daniel took the notes as well as doing most of the work on the pastry. I did most of the work on the filling. It was a great family moment to be treasured.

Makes two pies


3/4 lb ground veal
3/4 lb ground pork
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 onion, chopped finely
1/2 large carrot, diced finely
1 stalk celery, diced finely
1 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 tsp savory
1/2 tsp sage
1 tblsp olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
Optional: 1/2 cup bread crumbs *or* 3/4 cup mashed potatoes

1. Saute vegetables until a little soft, starting with carrots, then celery, then onions & garlic

2. Start browning the meat with the vegetables. Start with the pork, then add the veal, then the beef. Once the meat is browned and everything is well combined, add the savory and sage.

3. While browning, make sure the mixture doesn't get too dry and crumbly. You can add some bread crumbs or mashed potatoes at this point to act as a binder.

4. Let cool completely before putting in crust.

Crust & final prep

1 lb vegetable shortening (ie. Crisco)
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup (approx) of ice water
egg wash (1 egg beaten with a splash of water)

1. In a large bowl, using a pastry cutter, gradually add the shortening to the flour & salt about an eighth at a time.

2. Make a well in the middle and slowly add the water, mixing quickly with a spoon.

3. Using your hands, combine & knead the dough.

4. Roll out the dough into the tops and bottoms.

5. Put the bottoms in 9" pie plates, add 1/2 the filling to each, to the top of the plate.

6. Carefully put the tops on the pies & trim excess. Using a sharp knife, cut some vents in the pies for steam to escape.

7. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush egg wash on the tops. This will help them get a nice golden brown.

8. Put the pies into a 450 degree oven. Immediately reduce the temperature to 350. Bake for 50 minutes or so, until the pies are a golden brown.

As usual, it was great, a true recipe to savour as part of our family heritage. The tortieres freeze extremely well, so making one for now and one for later is a great way to take advantage of the two pies this recipe makes.

You'll also have a fair bit of pastry left over. What we did was make a bunch of pinwheels -- flatten out a one inch ball of pastry & spread 2 tblsp of a brown sugar/pinch-of-cinnamon mixture and roll them up into a cigar-shaped roll. We ended up with about 10, my son Sam doing most of the work here. Put them in a few pie plates and egg wash them. Put them in with the pies -- they take about 25-30 minutes to get golden brown.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dad's famous chili

If I have one signature dish, this is it. It was one of the first things I started making when I took to cooking a couple of years ago and it's also one of the things most requested by the family. So, it has a special place in my heart.

Chilis are great in that they are also really great canvases for experimentation -- I've never made the darn thing the same way twice. You can always add something, drop something, increase, decrease, spice up, tone down. Get a couple of chili cookbooks and just wade in, try a few recipes until you find what works for you. And it can't be a bad thing to have a few chili recipes in the repertoire.

Makes a large pot of chili, at least 8-10 main course servings
Serve on its own or over rice

Core Ingrediants

1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
2-3 bell peppers, chopped, various colours: green, red, orange, yellow
5 stalks celery, chopped
2 spanish onions, 1 diced, 1 chopped
5-6 cloves garlic
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
2 cans tomatoes, 1 ground, 1 diced
2 cans beans, drained, choose from white kidney, red kidney, black beans
1 can niblets corn
splash of red wine
olive oil
1 tsp sugar

This is quite a large number of ingredients, but obviously none of them is really cast in stone. You can use more meat is you like, and many use cubed chuck instead of ground. You can also try ground turkey if you like, as that is quite good too. For onions, I pretty well use a different kind every time I make chili; sometimes I just use two to three diced yellow onions and leave it at that. On the topic of vegetables, there's a lot of pro and con for using vegies in chili and I'm definately on the pro. I used to use carrots too, but I've mostly settled on peppers and celery. Tomatoes and beans are up to you. I like using black beans exclusively but the last time I made chili I only had red kidney beans around the house so I just used those. I like using one can of diced and one can of ground tomatoes to both give a bit of body and a bit of chunkyness. Using two cans of ground would also be great.

Spice Mix

3 tsp cummin powder
1 tsp papkrika
1 tsp chili poweder
1/2 tsp
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

The spice mix is one of the most fun things to experiment with, trying different things and different proportions. This mix alone will give flavourful yet still pretty mild chili. I don't use a lot of salt here for the simple reason that the beans usually have a lot of salt in them, as do the canned tomatoes, so I don't feel the need to add much more in the mix. My son Daniel and I have mostly worked on perfecting the mix.


2-3 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded, stemmed, diced


2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce from a can, seeded, stemmed, diced
1-2 tsp of the adobo sauce from the can


1-2 tsp hot sauce of your choice

Heat is a very personal choice, especially if you're preparing chili for a family with smallish kids. You can just leave any of these items out, mix them together or pump up the volume using additional chilis or hot sauce. I like using the chipotle myself.

1. Brown diced onions, garlic and meat with a little olive oil in a skillet. Sprinkle about 1/4 of the spice mix over the meat as you are browning. Reserve.

2. In a large dutch oven, saute in a little olive the rest of the vegetables that you are using: celery, peppers, chopped onion. Saute until a little soft, 5-8 minutes. Add another 1/4 of the spice mixture as you saute.

3. Add meat mixute to vegetables & combine well. Deglaze the meat pan with a the red wine & add as well. Add canned tomatoes & beans. Add 1/4 of spice mixture & sugar (sugar is to counteract the acidity of tomatoes, you may not feel you need it).

4. Add heat ingredients at this point.

5. Bring to a boil & let simmer until you're ready to eat.

6. About 20 minutes before you serve, add cilantro & corn. Adjust seasoning. Add as much of the spice mixture as you think is necessary.

Chili is a blank canvas -- I never make it the same way twice. This recipe is mostly patterned after the last time I made it, but all bets are off the next time. So much is dependant on mood, season and what's lying around the kitchen. Enjoy the recipe, but mostly make it your own, make it you signiture dish.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Chicken Peanut Curry

This Chicken Peanut Curry is another one from Simply Recipes, my favourite recipe blog. Their recipes are usually simple and tasty, with that little extra something that catches your eye to make you want to give it a try.

I love curries but have generally not made them too often. Indian cooking seems like it has to be hard and long and complicated, so I was happy that this recipe seemed to be pretty easy to make. As usual, the recipe below is slightly modified from the original to reflect how I actually made it.
Chicken Peanut Curry

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken pieces, cut into 1 1/2 inch wide chunks or strips
1/2 cup flour
4 Tbsp curry powder
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
2 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, de-veined, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
8 green onions, chopped, greens included
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 limes cut into wedges

1 Rinse chicken and pat dry. In a small sturdy freezer bag, combine the flour, curry powder, salt and pepper. Shake well. Add the chicken pieces and shake to coat well.

2 Heat oil in a large saucepan on medium high heat. Add chicken pieces. Cook 5-10 minutes (depending on size of chicken pieces) tossing occasionally to cook chicken evenly. Add the ginger, garlic, chili pepper and 1/2 cup of the chicken broth to the saucepan. Cook for 3 minutes, scraping the pan with a spatula and stirring to combine everything well.

3 Add the peanut butter, stirring quickly to incorporate it with the chicken. Add the remaining 3 1/2 cups of broth slowly, stirring continuously to maintain an even texture. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Right before serving, add the coriander and green onions. Salt & pepper to taste.

4 Serve with basmati rice. Top each serving with fresh cilantro. Squeeze a little lime juice over it as well.
Elise suggests 2 serrano pepppers, but those aren't easy to find here; also, I only used 1 jalapeno so as not to make the recipe too spicy. As well, she suggests garnishing with mint and cilantro, but I didn't have any mint handy.

So, how did this one go over with the troops? Although I thought it was just fine, the rest of the gang felt it was "missing something" in the depth of flavour category. I think since I considerably reduced the heat factor by using 1 jalapeno instead of 2 serranos (or even 4 jalapenos like Elise also mentions trying), it may not have been as flavourful as they were hoping. When I reheated for leftovers the next night I added a teaspoon of some curry masala spice mix I had lying around in the fridge as well as about a 1/4 cup of raisins and let it simmer with that a bit. It made it a bit spicier (and sweeter) but the peanut gallery was decidedly happier with the results. How much of that was just due to the leftovers-always-better-the-next-day factor? Who knows.

In any case, next time I'm definately going to use 2 jalapenos, a bit more peanut butter, raisins and a bit more curry powder directly into the pot. I'd also consider adding some veggies to the mix, like a green pepper or two or some zucchini.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Macaroni and meat sauce

This is one of the iconic meals of my youth, something my mother made quite often. And I just loved it. It was probably the second favourite thing that she made, right after shepherd's pie. Unfortunately, in recent years she's mostly forgotten how to make this recipe -- the last couple of times she's made it it wasn't quite right, if you know what I mean. So I set about the hugely significant task of recreating the recipe from memory, from my taste impressions over the years. And you know what? After about 3 tries I think I've got it. I made this last night and it was a huge hit, with lots of enthusiasm for even better tasting leftovers tonight.
Macaroni and meat sauce
makes 6 - 8 main course servings

1 lb dried elbow macaroni
1.5 lbs lean ground beef
1 very large onion (I use the biggest Spanish onion I can find)
4-6 stalks celery
1 jar (3-4 cups) tomato pasta sauce
4-6 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp italian spice
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

1. Saute the onions, garlic & celery in some olive oil until they start to get a bit soft, about 8 minutes or so. After a few minutes, add about 1/2 the italian spice and red pepper flakes. Set aside in a bowl.

2. Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water according to the directions on the box.

3. Brown the meat with some olive oil, add the rest of the italian spices and red pepper flakes. About 5-8 minutes.

4. When the meat is brown, add it the veggies and the tomato sauce. Make sure you don't add too much sauce, as the mixture needs to be quite thick and meaty. Let simmer for a few minutes while the pasta finishes cooking. Check the seasoning and add whatever seems necessary.

5. Drain the pasta. Combine the pasta and sauce in the biggest of the pots you used. Mix it all up very well. If you need to add a bit more sauce, this is the point to do it.

6. Serve with salad or chopped veggies and some nice bread.
The sauce I used this time was Ragu Old World Stlye Traditional Pasta Sauce and it worked out very well, but whatever you have will be fine, as long as it's a simple tomato based sauce. This dish needs to be very thick and the veggies a bit crunchy to give it's full impact.