How my mother managed to cook dinner every single night, maintain a pristine household and take care of three kids while casually managing a simmering pot of pasta sauce on the stove, I will never know. It is now 6 pm and I have been cooking since noon, something I’ve seen her do a million times. So how come my feet ache, I have flour splattered all over my Lulu yoga pants and the kitchen smoke alarm is now dangling by its wires?
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m not an amazing cook; I just love doing it. But I don’t think I’m a terrible cook, either. At least I didn’t think I was before today. Don’t get me wrong—the tomato sauce I made turned out great, as did the batch of Armenian pizzas I whipped up (more on that in an upcoming post). But through trial and many an error this afternoon I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for women before my generation who slaved away in a hot kitchen for hours on end, day after day, to feed their families. Thankless job, indeed!
I decided to start simple with my family cookbook quest, and homemade tomato sauce fit the bill nicely. The family cookbook lists several variations made by different relatives, but I chose my mom’s recipe because it is the most familiar to me. Plus, it’s quite simple and straightforward. I won’t divulge the specifics here (it’s a family secret, after all), but all it called for was some chopped vegetables, canned tomatoes, herbs and spices and a browned pork chop for added flavour. Easy enough, right?
Wrong. The problem wasn’t the sauce recipe but the fact that I was trying so hard to make the most of my Saturday that I took on too many things at once—two, to be exact. Number one: make sauce. Number two: while sauce is simmering, make Armenian pizzas.
I started by heating some olive oil in the biggest pot I own, only to have it reach its smoke point by the time I could unwrap the pork chop. Now that I think of it, I should’ve chopped the vegetables and opened the tomato cans before turning on the stove. Rookie mistake.
I browned the pork chop while fumbling with my camera to get a nice shot of the hot crackling oil. Bad idea: I was forced to take a brief time out to clean the oil spatter off my lens before I could move on to the next step.
In the only large bowl I could find I combined the vegetables with one tin of tomatoes and pulverized them with my immersion blender. What a great invention, by the way—no muss, no fuss! However, things did get a little messy when I attempted to flip the pork chop with my one free hand while blending the sauce at the same time. My kitchen tiles were now speckled with red.
No matter. I added another can of tomatoes, then another, and continued mixing until the bowl couldn’t hold any more. I poured the mixture over the sizzling pork chop and reduced the heat to low. It was only then that I realized I forgot to add the spices! Good thing I thought of it when I did—that would have been one bland sauce.
Once the sauce was safely simmering I switched gears and starting making my Armenian pizzas. About fifty minutes into the process—yup, that’s how long it took me to roll out store-bought dough into mini pizzas—I noticed that the sauce wasn’t bubbling as much as mom’s always did. Should the temperature be higher or something? My guess was yes, so I turned up the heat to medium-low. After several minutes it no longer tasted tomato-y and overly acidic. Much better!
I let the sauce work for about two hours, stirring it with my wooden spoon every once in a while. And by every once in a while I mean in between rolling out balls of dough and fanning the smoke alarm with a tea towel. Why one little blackened drop of Armenian pizza mixture sets off every single smoke alarm in my house is beyond me.
In the end I managed to cook a large batch of delicious tomato sauce which I froze in small containers for later use. Even though I had a couple of mishaps along the way, I’m glad I made the effort to cook one of my family’s favourite recipes. After all, what’s gnocchi without the sauce?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading upstairs for a hot bath. Real cooking is hard work!