Monday, August 28, 2006

Recipe - Perfect Tomato sauce just like Nonna used to make

Tara and I hit the St. Jacobs farmers market on Saturday after taking care of the horses. We were kinda late (10:30ish) so a lot of the good veggies were picked over, but we still scored some goods: sweet leeks, massive shallots, beautiful corn (peaches and cream), a nice sugar baby, onions, and garlic. Oh ya – and half a bushel of roma tomatoes. Perfect for a batch of tomato (marinara) sauce.

If you have never had homemade tomato sauce you have missed out on one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s nothing like you buy in the stores – that stuff can be sickly sweet or an unnatural colour of red and it often tastes nothing like tomatoes. Making homemade sauce is a day long event but even if you got one meal out of it, it would be worth it.

OK, so find a day where you are going to be around the house and then go pick up the following at your local farmers market / grocery store:
  • ½ bushel Roma Tomatoes
  • ½ cup Olive Oil
  • 4 medium Cooking Onions
  • 1 large Head of Garlic
  • 1 glass White Wine
  • ¼ cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 handfuls of Basil
  • ¼ cup Savory
  • Salt + pepper
  • 1-2 Carrots, shredded (if tomatoes aren’t quite ripe)

Step 1: Peel and Seed Tomatoes
This is the most intensive step of the whole thing. Once you finish this step, the rest is easy.
a. Dump the tomatoes in a sink full of water and rinse off the big clumps of dirt. Pick out any under ripe ones (don’t worry about skin blemishes – the skin is coming off).
b. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water
c. In batches of 5 or 6 tomatoes, cut a small x at one end of the tomatoes and throw them into the water for about 30 seconds. Then take them out and throw them into the cold water until you can handle them. Peel off the skin. (Instead of a small X, you make a circumventive cut around the tomato and twist off the skin)
d. Cut the tomatoes in half and squish (yes, the correct term) the guts of the tomatoes out into a bowl. Throw the tomato ‘shells’ in the stock pot you’ll use to cook the sauce.
e. Repeat until you are done all tomatoes.
f. Reserve about 1 C of the tomato gut juice with the seeds strained out.
This took me almost 2 hours to process the half bushel. At the end the counter was a mess, and my back and arms were sore. But the hard part was over.

Step 2: Aromatics!!
If my Nonna was around, she’d scold me for using both onions and garlic. Italians use one or the other - not both. But Nonna’s not and I like both, so both go in!
a. Dice up the onions
b. Dice up the garlic
c. Chop up the savory
d. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat and throw the onions, garlic and savory into it. Sweat it for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
e. Dump the wine into the pot, stir and dump the mixture over the tomatoes

Step 3: Cook – long and slow
Now just let the magic of the heat do the rest.
a. Heat the tomatoes over medium heat until you hear the wine boiling. You’ll have to get your ear right up to the pot.
b. Dump the tomato gut juice into the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low.
c. Stir the pot until the liquid in the bottom is boiling. Turn the heat down low so the mixture is barely boiling. Stir the pot every 5 minutes or so for the first 30 minutes and then once every 30 minutes. The tomatoes will cook down.
d. After the mixture has been cooking for 3 hours or so, dump the basil and the balsamic vinegar in. (Yes, I know we are trying to reduce the acidity, but the vinegar adds a depth the sauce. Its acidity will be cooked off)
e. Cook for another hour or so and then take a taste. Add salt and pepper as needed. If the sauce isn’t sweetening up, add a shredded carrot or two.
f. Cook for another 3-6 hours. At this point the sauce should taste like wonderful wonderful tomatoes.

Step 4: Blend, Cool, Bag
I like smooth sauce. If you don’t, skip the blending part.
a. With an immersion blender, blend the sauce until it is the smoothness you like. If you want to use a real blender BE CAREFUL and cover the top with a couple of old tea towels (otherwise you’ll be burnt and you’ll have a big mess to clean).
b. Take the sauce off the heat and put the pot in the sink. Fill the sink with cold water and stir the sauce to cool it off.
c. Once it is cooled, put it in bags / containers and freeze the part you can’t use in the next few days.

That it’s! This sauce is good over pasta (hmmm – spaghetti and meatballs) or in pasta (hmmm – lasagna). It’s good as a pizza sauce as well. I’m going to use my over stuffed ravioli I think. Homemade if I have time next weekend…

We’ve got a bunch of vegetarian family, friends and co-workers who might be eating this, so I omitted a nice ingredient – lardoons. If you want, through in ¾ cup pancetta or bacon in step 2d and heat until it is cooked– it’ll add another component to the sauce…

Any questions? Leave them in the comments section.

Confession time – I don’t have a Nonna [with a last name like Siemens, that shouldn’t surprise you]. But if I did, she’d make sauce just like this (at least I think she would). I don’t know if my Grandmas made tomato sauce - anyone know?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Vacation Event 3 – A Day at the Richards

Our last day of vacation took us to Tara’s folks. There we went from ultra relaxed, laissez-faire to “lets see how much we can pack into 24 hours”.

After a quick shower and shave, we headed to Joan and Fritz’s for the afternoon. Joan’s kin from England were there for their vacation and we had a lovely chat (although there were no cucumber sandwiches). We just finished the tour of Fritz’s garden (you should plant some basil Fritz) when Chuck and Shirley showed up with some monster zucchini. It was a grand ol’ time!

Richard, Linda and a horseWe then headed back to the house only to find the group (Linda, Laura and Tim B) heading out to pick blackberries on the side of the road (ie in the ditches). For those of you who didn't grow up in the wilderness, this is apparently an acceptable practice. You just need to make sure they berries are well washed, the horses don't nip your butt and the you stay out of the farmers fields with the bulls. :)

Hmmmm - BlackberriesWe all joined in and there are many snapshots of bums in the air (which I have graciously chosen not to post). We ended up with about 8 cups of blackberries (from about 75 minutes of picking). We also ended up with several grass cuts, thorn pricks and a couple of hornet scares). A good time was had by all.

After the picking, we had diner with Dave and then put the new boat into the lake for a quick tour around the bay (Callander Bay – home of the Dionne Quints). We had to do this so Dave could start racking up the 15 hours on the boat before he can fully open up the throttle.

Nice boat! Nice sunset

When we got back, some of us had the bright idea to lay down outside and watch the Perseids meteor shower. It was fun, but a bit chilly. We saw a number of meteors, but not as much as we could have if we stayed up to the wee hours of the morning.

We were out on the boat early-ish next morning for one final stab at catching some fish. We ended up with nothing; not exactly true I guess – I caught and released a perch that was keepable (but small) and Dave had some real excitement when he brought something large near the boat (probably a pickerel). The fish jumped off the hook at the last second, never to be seen again.

Perch - such tasty things! Tara Dave and Laura happily fishing

It was then to the in-laws for a lazy lunch of crepes and blackberries. Hmmmm. Finally we tore ourselves away from Callandar and headed back to reality.

Sigh. Why did we wait so long to have a vacation?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Vacation Event 2 - The Cottage

After the excitement of the Mimosa Cup, we took a day off to re-coup and get ready for the staying at "the cottage".

"The cottage" is owned by Tara's folks (hi Dave and Linda) who are most gracious in letting their children make use of it. It is situated on the shores of beautiful lake Memesagamesing. The lake is due north of the quaint little town of Loring and due south of the French River (aside- one of these days I'm going to canoe from the cottage to the French River)

The cottage has running and heated non-potable water, but no indoor plumbing (ie a toilet). There are 3 bedrooms and a great kitchen (for a cottage anyways). You can sit at the table and look through the trees out to the lake. It is very nice.

When we go to the cottage we really only do a few things: sleep, eat, fish, read and sit by the fire. That's it.

For reading, we brought a number of books and magzines, but the majority of the time was spent swapping a single copy of the book Dune (by Frank Herbert). It is a great book, worthy of a read by both SF fans and non-SF fans. It is hard to share a single book between a couple of people, especially when they have different reading speeds; so as Tara was reading it, I read through 3 or 4 Gourmet magazines that were at the cottage (back issues, from 2001 or so - they are a little prissy/snotty, but I copied out several interesting recipes).

Cottages are perfect for reading - I can't think of a place where I would rather read. No distractions, but stuff to do when you have had your fill or reading. I polished off The Professional Chef last time I was there for an extended period of time.

And as for fish, well it's best to keep in mind that fishing is about the experiance, not the end result right? We spent 16+ hours out on the lake with nothing to show for it. Nothing. We fished with worms, leeches (a first for me) and with crayfish. We fished with Meps and Rapelas and pickerel rigs. We fished early in the morning, during mid day and at dusk. We fish from the port, bow, starboard, and stern. We used the engine and the paddles. We fished in Memesagamesing Lake, Portage Lake, and Stinkum Lake. Nothing but sunfish, baby bass, a nice tan and these pictures:

The weather was really nice at the cottage: highs of 25, lows in the mid teens. Perfect for an evening campfire by the lake. I burnt the cutting board that I brought back from China - it had split down the middle. It burnt so well I'm surpised China has all burnt down by now.

And of course, you can't have a fire without marshmellows, smores and jiffy pop. Jiffy pop on a fire is tricky, but we managed to pop most of it and not burn any of it. Neighbours from the next cottage over popped over for the fire. It was a great evening.

About a month ago, a big storm passed through the area. There was damage all over the area and a number of large trees were felled by it. The trees up there get pretty big, which is a little surprising, as the soil isn't deep in a lot of areas.

Alas, relaxation must come to an end. Saturday we packed up and headed to Tara's folks for a quick tour on their boat before heading home on Sunday. But that's another entry...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Vacation Event 1 - the Mimosa Cup

Tara and I just came back from a short but sweet summer vacation. With my trip to China and the moving and everything, it was desperately needed. We had a blast.It started out with Tara going to a horse event on Sunday. She participated in the Mimosa Cup put on by the Eglinton and Caledon Hunt. Tara participated in only two events but she had an amazingly good time.

(For those of you who don't know what a Hunt is (like me, before last Sunday), it's a club of horse enthusiasts and hound enthusiasts that go on real or simulated fox hunts. The hounds pick up the pre-placed scent of a fox and they chase after it in the woods. The people on horseback chase after the hounds to find the fox. I guess it originated in England way back when they wanted to kill foxes, but now it's just for fun.)

The day began, as all horse days do, with a wake-up call at 5:30. This let us get to the barn by 6:45. We loaded up the three horses and off we went to Mimosa Farm in Belwood, Ontario.

Tara and King (the horse) entered in the pairs hunter pace (where you and one or two friends ride around a course with 20-30 jumps and try to go from start to finish in the proper amount of time). She went with our good friends Dave and Cindy (riding Lyra and Emma respectively) She also was in the singles cross country course (where you go around the same course, by yourself and the quickest person wins). She was exhausted by the end of they day. I guess riding a horse as fast as you can for 20 minutes will do that to you...

Tara and King checking out the route and the rules

Dave, Tara and Cindy, ready for they turn at the Hunter Pace

Tara (and King) making it cleanly over jump 18

For the lunch time entertainment they had a Birds of Prey and Falconry presentation. The presenter brought 5 large birds with him; a baby barn owl, a adult barn owl, a great horned owl, a turkey vulture, a red-tailed hawk and a falcon. The presentation was simply amazing. The bird man walked through the ground and the birds would fly from his arm to a couple of perches and back.

First he brought out the baby barn own. It looked more like a vulture than anything. When you see an owl, you might think they are as large as they look - they aren't, they just have a lot of feathers.
Aw - what a cute little thing

Then he brought out barn owl. It was only about 10" tall (I thought they grew bigger). It was beautiful; it looked white from a distance, but when you go up close, you noticed a lot of brown in it's feathers. The bird man said they were good birds to have in your barn because they eat a lot of rodents. If I ever get a barn, I'll see about getting one of these birds.

Yes - that is a chicken leg he is eating...

After the barn owl, he brought out a turkey vulture. I have always wanted to see a turkey vulture (ever since Monty Brigham recounted stories about them on canoe trips when I was a wee lad). The bird large and ugly looking but in a majestic sort of way. Turkey vultures are one of the only large birds that can walk reasonably well, we found out

Next came the great horned owl. It wasn't full grown yet, but it was already 2 feet tall. Out of all the birds, it was the most menacing. It had amazing yellow eyes.

Last came the falcon (a Peregine, I believe). This bird would fly around and land on all sorts of things; the tent behind us, a tree, the perches that were set up. These falcons hunt on groups which is unusual for birds. Near the end of his presentation, the bird man let volunteers in the audience put on the glove and hold up food. Tara was one of the lucky volunteers he picked! The falcon came down, perched on her arm and ate the food like he did it every day.

Light as a feather...

At the end of the day, we were all exhausted. Tara, Cindy and Dave were as happy as horse riders get, even though they didn't win any prizes. But the aim for two thirds of the people at the cup wasn't to win, it was to play with their horses.

More about our time at the cottage later this week...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Back from Vacation

We are back from vacation, but I'm too relaxed to make a proper entry about our last week and a bit. Needless-to-say Tara and I have had a great vacation and we aren't quite ready to go back to work.

Here are a couple of teaser pictures from the past week. I'll write more later...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


We've been looking at furniture for our new place. Over the weekend we saw a bench like this at Bowring:

I whipped up this plan in Google Sketchup (it's a great, free tool). Right now the plan is to build it out of 2x2s entirely with with mortise and tennon joints (that'll be a first time for me). After it is done, we'll get some leather or nice fabric and make a seat for it.

I'm going to prototype it in pine. If it works out and we can stain it a nice colour I'll leave it at that. If not then I'll modify the desgin and perhaps go with a differnt species; cherry, mahogony, maple, or maybe even hemlock.

I'm hoping this project will be more succesfull then my other current woodworking project: a cherry canoe paddle. That's been a 5 year endevor with no end in sight. I need to bite the bullet and get on that one as well...