A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked me when I learned to cook. I told her “not until I got married, and before that I was awful.” She was stunned by my admission. Truthfully speaking, my mom did most of it growing up, so there was no need for me to even try and when I did, it was awful. I couldn’t even make Kraft mac n’cheese. It would turn out so watery that my brother teased me and called it “water n’cheese.” I couldn’t crack an egg properly and my pancakes always burned. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t love food.
Growing up, I lived in a very unique family setting a la Full House: it was me, my brother, my parents and my late uncle. My late uncle loved to cook, dine at fine restaurants and to entertain. For a long period of time, I was his partner in crime. He took me everywhere and treated me to the finest Windsor had to offer: Erie Street. He was a class act and his passion for food and wine was a great influence on my life. I was always amazed by his love for cooking, entertaining and being social.
Although I didn’t learn how to cook until I was married, it is definitely in my blood: my aunt and uncle run a restaurant in Germany and my late grandfather made an amazing Hungarian goulash. But it was my very own “Uncle Jessie” who made me a foodie from a very young age.
My passion for food grew even larger when I met my husband. His mother is the queen of entertaining and my sister-in-law is an impeccable cook and baker. In my mid-twenties, my husband and I were living in Toronto and we thoroughly enjoyed city life. He had a list of Blog TO’s top 50 restaurants in his wallet, making it his mission for us to visit every one…and was it fun!
It was not until I was on my first maternity leave that I realized my true passion was for cooking. Early mornings feeding the baby introduced me to some of the “gods” on Food Network: Giada De Laurentis, David Rocco, Laura Calder, Michael Smith, to name a few. I was inspired to try different things out, explore different cuisines and cookbooks and basically practiced my way into cooking.
I wouldn’t consider myself a master chef but I am miles away from making that watery Kraft mac n’cheese I did many moons ago. Today, I love cooking and find it very relaxing. I also enjoy entertaining and love having company over a nice meal, some meze and vino.
Being a busy mom, it’s nice to make something that everyone will love, that can last a few days and something you can freeze for another day.
Here is my easy pasta sauce that has taken me a few years to master and perfect. It was influenced partly by how my mother makes bolognese and how my mother-in-law makes it. It’s not a real bolognese in the sense because I don’t add milk to mine and I add a ton of veggies to it to make it more flavourful. Is it authentic? No because I add premade tomato and basil sauce to it. But it works. This recipe has become a hit in my household and is great on top of penne or in-between lasagna sheets.
Natalie’s Easy Pasta Sauce
1. One cooking onion, chopped
2. One large carrot, chopped
3. One celery stalk, chopped
4. One yellow zucchini, chopped
5. One garlic clove, minced
6. 1 small package of lean ground beef and 1 small package of lean ground pork (or: two mixed ground beef, pork and veal packages).
7. 2 jars of tomato and basil sauce (any brand; I usually buy what’s on sale).
8. 1 small can of tomato paste (to thicken it).
9. Salt and pepper; to taste
10. Dash of sugar
11. Olive oil
Optional: Podravka Vegeta (to taste); chilli flakes (to taste)
1. In a large pot, drizzle olive oil to have bottom of the pot evenly covered (about 2 tablespoons) and heat pot on stove to about medium. Add onions, minced garlic, carrots, celery and zucchini and sauté until a nice golden colour.
2. Add your ground beef/pork/veal and cook until brown. I break up the meat with my spatula so it’s not clumpy.
3. Once meat is cooked, add the jars of tomato and basil sauce, dash of sugar (to get rid of the acidity) and bring to a boil.
4. Reduce heat to about medium-low; add tomato paste and salt and pepper to taste. Vegeta and chilli flakes is optional. Let cook for about 30-45 minutes and enjoy on top of your pasta of choice or use for lasagna.
Enjoy! Dobar tek!
***Notes: if you do not want to be your sauce to be “oily,” drain the meat/veggies through a strainer and store all the oil from the meat in a separate container and disregard. Then add your tomato and basil sauce, etc. and continue cooking.
This recipe is great for freezing for another day so my rule-of-thumb is to keep it in the freezer up to one month.