AUBURN – Michel Giasson loves to experiment in the kitchen. Having lived in the Boston area for a few years, he and his wife, Toby, developed an appetite for ethnic foods such as Thai and Indian. When they returned to Maine, where there are fewer ethnic restaurants, they opted to create their own favorite dishes. “Sometimes it’s hard to get the ethnic ingredients locally,” Giasson said. “I will shop in specialty stores in Portland when I am there for business.”
Giasson started cooking after he and his first wife divorced and his young daughters, Elise and Reneé, came to live with him full time. “I felt a responsibility to provide healthy meals for them. It was on-the-job training,” he said. His daughters not only ate healthy meals, but found lots of opportunities to cook with their dad.
As an architect with an at-home business, Giasson enjoys eating lunch at home. He and his wife especially like to make stews and soups. “On Saturday evening, we make a huge pot of stew or soup, and we can have it for lunch during the week,” he said.
Giasson also makes a large batch of homemade spaghetti sauce a couple times a year. His recipe makes about nine quarts, which he freezes. “You can save a lot of money,” he pointed out. “And it’s healthier than the jarred, store-bought sauce.”
When Giasson isn’t working on his architectural designs or cooking, he is often playing music. He and his wife perform at local clubs as an acoustical duet group called the Soft Spoken Radicals.
Giasson urges other cooks to have fun with cooking. “If I know I can be creative and have fun with it, then it’s not really work,” he said.
Cuban Black Bean Soup
(modified from “Daily Soup Cookbook”)
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped with leaves
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 habanero chili pepper, seeded and diced (can substitute jalapeno)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound dried black turtle beans (do not presoak)
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, broken up
6 cups water
1 cup chopped scallion
1 tablespoon rice or white vinegar
1½ teaspoon minced fresh garlic
½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce (e.g. Frank’s Red Hot or your favorite)
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 bag of frozen corn, thawed (to add color to soup)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat oil in a large stock pot, which has a heavy bottom and no plastic handles (because it will go into the oven), over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrots and habanero pepper. Cook uncovered for 4-5 minutes, without browning, until tender. (This is called sweating, heating the mixture so the moisture can permeate through). Add cumin, thyme, bay leaves and pepper. Stir to coat vegetables. Add dry beans, tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and place in oven to roast for two hours, until beans are tender. Remove from oven and place pot over low heat. Remove bay leaves. Puree about ¼ of soup in blender or food processor. Return to pot. (This will thicken the soup and give it a fuller body.) Add bag of corn. Heat a few more minutes and then remove from burner. Stir in vinegar, garlic, hot sauce, salt and ½ cup of scallions. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with remaining scallions. Serve with crusty bread and sharp cheese. Also can be served over rice. Makes 12 cups.
Michel’s note: This vegetarian, low-fat dish freezes well, maintaining flavor and texture. Recipe can be easily doubled or tripled.
Michel’s Spaghetti Sauce
(adapted from an old Sun Journal Sunspots recipe)
8 pounds fresh or 8 14-ounce cans (1½ ounce) tomatoes (whole or stewed, low salt is best)
8 6-ounce cans tomato paste
2 cups water (if using canned tomatoes, 4 cups)
6 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried basil (or 6-8 tablespoons, roughly chopped fresh basil)
2 teaspoons dried oregano (or 6-8 tablespoons, roughly chopped fresh oregano)
1 cup olive oil
½ cup of your favorite wine – red for a heartier sauce, or white for a lighter sauce (the alcohol in the wine will evaporate during the long simmer time)
6-8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 cup black olives, drained and broken up into large pieces or roughly chopped (optional)
Place all ingredients in heavy-bottomed soup or stock pot. Bring to boil. Simmer uncovered 6½ hours over very low heat, stirring occasionally. Sauce will thicken. Add water or olive oil if pasty. Remove bay leaves prior to serving.
Makes a ton of sauce! This low-fat vegetarian sauce freezes well in 32-ounce yogurt containers and quart-sized freezer bags. Improves with reheating. Recipe can be easily doubled or tripled.
(adapted from Memere Meservier’s recipe)
3 medium utility potatoes, boiled and mashed dry
3 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
3½ teaspoons ground cloves
1½ teaspoons sage
1 teaspoon allspice
1½ pounds lean ground pork
1½ pounds lean ground turkey
(or 3 pounds ground turkey, no ground pork)
2 large onions, chopped
¼ cup olive oil
2 eggs, or egg beaters
1 raw potato, diced fine (1/4 inch cubes)
3 pie shells
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Boil 3 potatoes in oversized pot. Drain and mash cooked potatoes dry. Leave in pot. Mix all seasonings together in a bowl. Set aside 3 teaspoons of mixed seasonings in smaller bowl. Cook meats and onion together in large skillet with remaining seasoning, until all pink is gone. Drain off fat. Stir in olive oil over heat, until oil is absorbed. Beat eggs and add to cooked potatoes. Fold cooked meat mixture and diced raw potatoes into cooked potatoes.
Place bottom crusts in 3 pie plates, per package instructions. Spoon 1/3 of mixture into each plate. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon reserved seasoning mix over meat in each pie.
Place top crusts on and crimp edges. Pierce top with decorative shape or letters near center, for ventilation. Protect edges with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour, or until crust is golden. Let sit for 20 minutes before serving.
Michel’s note: If you plan to freeze them, bake for only ½ hour, cool and freeze. These pies freeze well (in the plate) in plastic wrap or large freezer bags. To serve, thaw and bake ½ hour more.