March Break Idea: Cooking with Kids!
Easy Pasta and Meat Sauce
It can certainly be a challenge to come up with ideas for activities with your kids. Try cooking with the little ones with this easy-peasy spaghetti with meat sauce recipe. Made with only a few ingredients, your kids and you will be happy cooking and eating this dish together! We carry the fennel pollen at our Kensington shop, but it is optional here, as is the bufala mozzarella.
Note: I realize this is a stove-top dish, and not all kids (or parents) are comfortable with that yet. In my experience if you warn the kids of the danger of heat, they will be careful. There are no knives in this recipe, so at least you can avoid cuts 😉!
Serves four to six
1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling on mozzarella (if using)
1 lb ground beef
2 mild Italian sausages, casings removed
1 pinch fennel pollen (optional)
1 jar Sanagan’s Classic Tomato Sauce
salt and pepper to taste
400 gr pasta of your choice (I like spaghetti with this)
4 tbsp grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Optional: ½ ball of bufala mozzarella per person – this is pure indulgence and worth it
Fill a large pot with water, place on a high heat and bring to a boil. Salt the water to make it taste salty (about 1 handful of salt for a large (6-8 L) pot). Kids can throw the salt in here.
Place a medium sized sauce pot on a medium heat, and add 1 tbsp of olive oil (kid friendly move). Now add the ground beef and sausage meat, and stir with a wooden spoon (also kid friendly – just make sure you’re teaching them to avoid the element).
Once the meat is browned, add the fennel pollen (if using) and pour the tomato sauce in the pot (big time kid friendly move). Stir everything together and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.
Cook your pasta in the boiling water as per the package directions. Drain, and quickly put back into the empty pasta cooking pot. There should be a bit of water in the pot from the pasta not being totally drained. You want this as it helps round out the sauce.
Taste the meat sauce for seasonings, and adjust to taste. Then pour the sauce over the pasta, and stir well to combine (kid move – but it is a bit hot so be careful).
Divide the pasta and sauce into bowls. If using, place a half ball of bufala mozzarella on top and drizzle with olive oil. If not using, grate some Parmigiano Reggiano on top and serve.
Family Day Pot Roast
By: Peter Sanagan
If I had to choose one dish that reminded me of family meals of my childhood, it could very well be a pot roast. Think of it: a reasonably priced hunk of tough meat that is rendered tender and succulent after a few hours bathing in stock in a hot oven. The house smells lovely and is warm; a sharp contrast to the cracks of branches outside in the February grey sky.
Sometimes, in the dead of winter, nothing warms your bones like a slow-cooked piece of beef. A pot roast is a braise, and it works well with any tough cut of beef. The braising liquid in this recipe can double as a delicious sauce for pasta! In fact, I like to serve this dish with plain buttered noodles. This recipe is taken from Cooking Meat, my cookbook all about…well…you know.
4 lbs blade roast, trimmed of silverskin and excess fat, tied
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 slices bacon, diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 cup rutabaga, peeled and roughly chopped
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup red wine
4 rosemary sprigs
4 thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
3 cups Beef (or Chicken) Stock
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Have your roasting pan ready. [I like to use a pan with an elevated roasting rack, which allows hot air to circulate around the meat and cook it more evenly.] Cut a length of kitchen twine.
- Season the beef well with salt and pepper, then rub it with the olive oil. Place the beef on a roasting rack, set the roasting pan in the oven, and roast for 30 minutes, until the beef is golden brown all over.
- While the beef is browning, place the onions and bacon in a large ovenproof pot over medium heat, stir well, then cover the pot for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, and rutabaga, stir, and cover again, sweating all of the vegetables until fragrant and softened—about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir well, then deglaze the pot with the red wine.
- Tie the herbs together with the twine, then drop them in the pot. Season the contents of the pot with salt and pepper. Add the browned beef to the pot and turn down the oven to 300°F.
- Add the stock to the pot and bring it to a simmer over medium heat, ladling off and discarding any scum as it rises to the surface of the stock. When it is simmering, cover the pot and place in the oven for 1 hour.
- Lift the lid, turn the beef over in the pot, and return to the oven for another 1½ hours, or until fork-tender. Carefully transfer the meat to cutting board and tent it loosely with aluminum foil to keep it warm. Discard the bundle of herbs.
- Bring the braising liquid back to a simmer over medium heat. Season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Remove from the heat and use an immersion blender to purée the contents of the saucepan (if you don’t have an immersion blender, use a countertop blender, working in batches, strain the contents of the pot through a fine-mesh sieve, pushing the solids through with the back of a ladle). Return the sauce to medium heat and simmer until reduced to a sauce consistency.
- To serve, slice the beef and arrange it on a serving platter. Drizzle with some of the sauce and pour the rest into a sauceboat to serve alongside.
Roasting On An Open Fire
Not all Christmases are full of Joy, as Graham has had to learn the hard way. He wanted to share his stories with you all this year, when we're all feeling a little less than jolly due to the pandemic, and getting used to the idea of smaller gatherings. It's a good reminder that, in the face of great adversity, life still goes on. Life has a fun way of toying with us, we just have to be okay with rolling with it.
by Graham Duncan
Christmas 2020 is probably going to be a bummer. I should know. I’m an expert on difficult Christmases. Don’t believe me? Feel free to join me on a bumpy ride down my broken candy cane memory lane of Recent Christmases Past. It ain’t pretty. But here’s a holiday thought for you; when you get a lot of coal in your stocking — light it up and watch it burn.
Ice Storm Christmas 2013
Toronto freezes up and there’s a blackout. I venture out into the wilds of Eastern Scarborough to care for my aging father who lives in a 9th floor apartment. It’s flashlights, blankets and a lot of stairs. After cooking meals on the balcony on a camp stove and sleeping on the floor, on Christmas Eve day, Emergency Services carry him all the way down. We retreat to my West End apartment which now has power. He immediately falls on the floor. Then on Christmas Day, stressed and exhausted, when I tell my brother that it is physically impossible to get my dad to the family Christmas dinner, a giant argument ensues. But at least we had a Sanagan’s Tourtiere in the freezer.
Stroke Christmas 2014
My brother — recurring theme alert — has had a stroke and is temporarily residing at Bridgepoint rehab centre. So, we transport the entire family Christmas — there’s nine of us, many brandishing canes or walkers — to the facility. I guess it sounds kind of heart-warming but, as the person in charge of cooking and transporting the entire Christmas dinner, it feels more like Operation Giblet Storm. And Bridgepoint had all the festive atmosphere of a Cold War bunker.
Stroke Christmas Part 2 2015
To the canes and walkers, now add a wheelchair. The only place that is accessible to all of us is my brother’s industrial workshop where he builds synthesizers. Nothing says Christmas like a rack of diodes. Also, my wife is out of town caring for her ailing mother. And then when dinner is all over I have to drive my dad back to Scarborough through a blizzard. Boxing Day, it’s me and the cat. Put a little eggnog in that rum.
Cancer Christmas 2017
After having my cancerous kidney removed in November, I remember almost nothing of this holiday season except I managed to go back to work just before the Holidays, gingerly hefting turkeys and inflicting scar viewings on my unsuspecting co-workers.
Care Home Christmas 2018
We’ve now unloaded dad into institutional care. The care home workers, bless them, provide some touching hospitality but there’s no avoiding the fact that the turkey is pressed, dad’s has been in the blender and we’re all in a “special” room, made festive with institutional fluorescent lighting and the loud hum of an adjacent transformer.
As I write this, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is laying it on with a trowel: Santa’s in lockdown but Walmart isn’t; I’m awaiting a date for my third cancer surgery; and we all wear masks all day at work. But you know what? Peter and company now feel so sorry for me, they’re giving me Christmas week off. Thank you Santa-gan’s!
The funny thing is, after all of this, I still look forward to Christmas morning. So remember, just when it looks like it’s going to be All Grinch and no Cindy Lou Who, keep on Christmasing and Happy Holidays.
Hot Drink Plan-demic
photos and words by Graham Duncan
This holiday season, if you’re planning on visiting people, most likely those visits will be occurring outside. The last thing you’ll want is a frosty beer. For al fresco revellers, hot booze is good news. I’ve been knocking back the Hot Toddies since October and they’re a lifesaver.
Here’s a practical list of easy-to-make, yummy, cockle-warmers that will see you through the holidays and beyond.
Practical note — ditch the glassware. Mugs keep things warm, including your hands, and they will not crack due to extreme temperatures. Small mugs are best; this is no time for dilution! (See photo.) Pre-heating the mugs with a little hot water extends their precious life-giving warmth.
For all recipes, feel free to substitute one brown liquor for another (i.e. substitute brandy for whisky, rum for brandy etc.). Scotch in any of these recipes contributes a likeable peaty element. For “hot water” please use freshly boiled water from the kettle. All recipes make one cocktail, except for Kingsley Amis’ Hot Wine Punch, which makes enough for a longer outdoor hangout session.
Hot Buttered Rum (Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts)
scant tsp sugar
1 tbsp butter
2 oz amber or dark rum
as required hot water
pinch ground spices: nutmeg, clove, and/or cinnamon
- Dissolve sugar with a tbsp of hot water in mug.
- Add butter and rum.
- Fill mug with hot water and stir.
- Dust with ground spices.
Irish Coffee (Mr. Boston Guide)
1 1/2oz Irish whiskey
as required hot coffee
to taste sugar
one serving whipped cream
- Combine whiskey, coffee and sugar in mug.
- Top with dollop of whipped cream
Rum Flip (Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts)
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 oz amber or dark rum
- Beat together egg and sugar.
- Combine with rum in small saucepan and heat, stirring constantly. Do not boil.
- If you wish to obtain a frothy texture, like an old-time flip heated and stirred with a hot poker, pour your mixture back and forth from mug to mug until frothy.
- Dust with nutmeg.
Hot Toddy (Pierre Burton’s Centennial Food Guide)
2 oz brown liquor (whisky, brandy, rum)
1 tsp maple syrup or honey
1 tsp butter (very optional)
as required hot water
pinch mixed ground spices: nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and/or ginger
- Combine ingredients in mug with tbsp of hot water and stir together.
- Fill with hot water and stir.
- Dust with ground spices.
Hot Wine Punch (Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking)
750ml low-priced red wine
5 or 6 oz brown liquor, preferably brandy
to taste (optional) sugar
1 tbsp mixed ground spice; nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and/or ginger
as required hot water
- Slice fruit into sections.
- Heat all ingredients in saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the mix steams but does not boil.
- Transfer punch to any heat-proof vessel with a pouring spout. Fill mugs 2/3 full of punch and top with 1/3 of hot water.
The Old Nouvelle
By Graham Duncan
Photos by Graham Duncan
Does anyone remember Nouvelle Cuisine? Originating with a number of chefs in 1970’s France, it influenced restaurants throughout the industry. Nouvelle Cuisine emphasized fresh, quality ingredients, ornate presentation and lighter fare. It made for clean, distinct flavours, al dente vegetables, and occasionally finishing your dinner in need of a snack.
I asked Peter about Nouvelle Cuisine and he was, not surprisingly, well-versed. He brought in a massive stack of cookbooks and we decided I should get my Nouvelle on.
Nouvelle Quest Guided By Inspiring But Sometimes Vague Cookbook
From Peter’s library, Michel Bras’ Essential Cuisine seemed the most Nouvelle-y and ambitious. While published in 2002, it embodies many of the movement’s themes and exacting imperatives, as to be expected of a Three-Star chef. I decided to attempt two recipes from Essential Cuisine which combined the weird and the familiar.
Rump Roast Pan-fried with Crispy Fatback, Buckwheat Jus and Swiss Chard
The Rump Roast
The recipe describes a rump roast cut up into servings. We call these top sirloin steaks. If I’m going to cook a fancy steak dinner, admirable as a top sirloin may be, I’d opt for a more deluxe cut, like an Artisan Farms AAA strip loin (cut into two servings). And the pan-frying part? The grill was already going to be hot (see onions), so I cooked the steaks there as well. Hard to go wrong.
The Crispy Fatback
Steak — no problem. Crispy fatback, as portrayed in the cookbook photo, looked like playing cards, “standing on end so they catch the light”? I followed Bras’ scant instructions and ended up with delicious, stumpy pieces of crackling that were no more going to “catch the light” than they were going to catch a pop fly in centre field. I ate most of them while preparing the rest of dinner.
The Buckwheat Jus
This is a sauce to accompany the steak. In the recipe photo it appears as a luminous drizzle. After simmering the buckwheat, you sieve it, presumably to eliminate husks, resulting in a smooth base. Have you ever sieved porridge? This is why kitchens have apprentices. Combined with stock, onions and garlic, it tasted like health food stores smell. Even after trying to enliven it with concentrated stock it was about as luminous as burlap. Jus can’t always get what you want.
The Swiss Chard
Other than: separating the leaves from the stems; removing the fibres; splitting the stems; cooking them separately; chilling in ice water; and sautéing, again separately, with butter and shallots, this was a breeze. And delicious! But that may have had something to do with the rather un-Nouvelle-like half pound of butter.
The Swiss chard was delectable. The fatback can probably be mastered but the buckwheat jus and I will never see eye to eye. Oh, and the steak was excellent. Whadya expect? It’s from Sanagan’s.
Roasted Sweet Onions with “Licorice Powder” and Vinaigrette au Jus
You’re supposed to roast the onions nestled in a pan of rock salt but that’s a lot of rock salt for just one dish. So, I slow roasted our beautiful Cookstown organic sweet onions on the gas grill; a successful adaptation.
Dry black olives overnight in the oven. Chop into a powder. Combine with demerara sugar and almond powder and you’ve got a wonderful licorice-y garnish. Dusted over top of the roasted onions, this is the sort of infatuating culinary alchemy I was hoping for.
Vinaigrette Au Jus
Red wine vinegar, grape seed oil (exceedingly clean and mild) and “short pigeon jus”. What is short pigeon jus, you may ask? A short jus is a concentrated, almost demi-glace-like reduction of regular stock a.k.a. long jus. Now, the long and short of it is, that even at Sanagan’s we don’t have that much pigeon carcass laying around for stock. So, at Peter’s suggestion, I made 2 litres of long duck jus, which was enriched and reduced into less than a cup of short duck jus, two tablespoons of which were added to the vinaigrette. Crazy! But the result was worth it. You know when you’re at some great restaurant and you say, happily, “We’d never have this at home”? That’s where we were with the vinaigrette au jus.
The disappointments of the fatback and the buckwheat jus were overcome by this dish. It’s definitely the most original thing I’ve cooked and one of the most delicious.
The Nouvelle Takeaway
You stand up, you walk, you fall, you stand up and walk again. My Nouvelle adventure taught me a few new tricks and re-awakened my appetite for experimenting in the kitchen. Now, if you see me out in Bellevue Park with a net, you’ll know that I’m working on my short pigeon jus.
A Hopefully Not Too Dry Article About Dry Aged Beef
By: Graham Duncan
Not long ago my wife and I shared a Sanagan’s cote de boeuf. We were on our own at an 100-year-old cottage in Muskoka. There was red wine, there was salad and there was that majestic slab of 50-day dry aged rib steak. It was an absolutely simple and memorable dinner, as a meal can be when it features ingredients of the highest standard.
So the question is, what makes dry aged beef such a significant culinary experience?
Dry aging has been part of carnivorism for as long as humans have understood that changes occur to an animal’s flesh after it dies, the most obvious example being rigor mortis. For centuries beef and game have benefitted from various forms of controlled aging. While modern processing techniques sidestepped the procedure, nothing can replicate the flavours and textures resulting from the painstaking tradition of professionally dry aged beef.
Sanagan’s dry aging fridge is a funky place indeed. In this low temperature, moderate humidity environment sub primals (bulk cuts) of bone-in rib and strip loin sections bide their time, slowly growing crusty exteriors that will later be trimmed away. During this period our friends, the enzymes go to work .
Enzymes are molecules that accelerate chemical reactions in cells. With beef, enzyme actions enhance flavour by converting: proteins into savoury amino acids; glycogen into sweet glucose; and fat and fat-like membranes into aromatic fatty acids. At the same time, they’re working their magic on tenderness too, breaking down collagen fibres.
But what age is the perfect age? 28-days is the steakhouse standard (or that’s when your steak turns into a zombie). Some establishments probe the outer reaches of aging with 120-day-old rib steaks, all gnarled up like Yoda. Assistant head butcher Christopher Spencer, who’s been overseeing the Sanagan’s dry aging program since 2018 explains our process: “We experimented; just a lot of testing. Anything more than 60 to 70 days gets very cheesy. We found that 40 to 50 days achieves a good balance of accessible aged flavour”.
And just what is that aged flavour? I think the only way to describe it is steak-ier. Those elements of savoury juicy succulence that makes your mouth water when you think of a steak are all refined in a dry age steak. There’s oxidized fat lending aromatic depth, all the gelatinized protein (enzymes!) creating that melt-in-your-mouth thing, the absolutely indescribable flavours of age; you know like wine, like cheese. If you’re familiar with the concept of umami, that gives you an idea. But really, words don’t do the trick. You’ve got to try it for yourself. But you’ll have to find your own cottage.
Pig Out. The Rise and Fall of Hogtown.
Before Drake proclaimed that we all live in The Six, Toronto’s original alias was Hogtown. A number versus a pig; The Big Apple we ain’t. But we sure used to slaughter a lot of pigs.
Sanagan’s currently carries pork from three Southern Ontario family farms. Like all Sanagan’s suppliers, our pork farmers value small scale, humane animal husbandry. The pigs are processed at low volume facilities located near the farms. By contrast the abattoirs that inspired the name Hogtown were anything but small scale. So, while Sanagan’s embraces a different approach to the life and death of the pig, we’re proud to be selling great pork in Hogtown and thought you might be interested to know how the name came to be.
Sanagan’s heritage pork raised on Murray’s Farm
If the name Hogtown can be attributed to one person, it would be William Davies whose ascent from a single St. Lawrence Market stall in the 1850’s to the establishment of Canada Packers (now Maple Leaf Foods) firmly implanted the pig’s footprint on Toronto’s identity. Along the way the William Davies Corporation became the largest supplier of bacon to England, shipping out of North America’s second largest pork processing plant, located in the Don Valley at Front Street. Davies is credited with popularizing peameal bacon, making him the Godfather of Toronto’s signature sandwich. Eventually the animal world tired of Mr. Davies attentions. He died as a result of injuries suffered after being butted by a goat.
It’s not difficult to witness a herd mentality at Keele and St. Clair as shoppers descend upon Home Depot and Canadian Tire, but this area used to support actual herds of cattle, pork, and horses. The Stockyards, a 300-acre network of rail sidings, loading platforms, stock pens, and processors, including Maple Leaf and Swifts, was once North America’s largest livestock facility. The fortunes of the Stockyards rose and fell with the railroad. By the time trucking eclipsed rail as the most efficient form of livestock transport, and combined with the pressures of Toronto’s ravenous real estate market, the demise of the Stockyards was inevitable. The majority of processors moved from Toronto to Cookstown in 1994 but not after doing its share to consolidate our nickname as Hogtown.
Up until its closure in 2014, for many Torontonians the name Hogtown was embodied by Quality Meat Packers on Tecumseth Street near Fort York. Even if you never saw the abattoir there’s a good chance you saw the trucks, loaded with pigs, driving towards it. I remember working at Fort York in my early 20’s. You either got the industrial beer smell of the Molson’s brewery or the raunchy not quite bacon smell of Quality Meats. Grimly, it felt historically accurate. There had been a packing plant on the site since 1914 in the form of the Toronto Municipal Slaughterhouse. This facility was bought in 1960 by Quality Meats. At its height, Quality processed one third of Ontario’s pork. While it defied animal rights protests and condo-mania it was eventually brought down by the cruel variables of the free market. The last straw was the piglet-killing virus of 2014. Thankfully for Sanagan’s, and the pigs, our small-scale pork farmers were unaffected by the outbreak.
The original site of Quality Meat Packers
Things change. The hogs have left Hogtown. Toronto’s de-industrialization has been rapid. But high quality, locally raised, family-farmed pork will never leave Sanagan’s and Sanagan’s, finger’s crossed, will never leave The Six.
Photos: Graham Duncan and Toronto Archives