Chef Ricardo Larrivée cooks up Meals for Every Occasion

Chef Ricardo Larrivée is serving up some cooking solutions. In his new book, Meals for Every Occasion, the TV host and food writer has selected his favourite recipes to solve some of the most difficult culinary dilemmas. Whether your guests are late, they decide to sleep over or even if you're having your boss over for dinner, Larrivée is revealing some of his secret recipes.

Larrivée talks about what makes his new book different, how he is encouraging guys to get more involved in the kitchen, as well as his take on making leftovers.

Q: Where did the idea for Meals for Every Occasion originate?

A: It started off when [my family and I] were having dinner with friends and a lot of us were complaining that there's always somebody that's late. We started laughing, because we shouldn't complain. We are there because we enjoy each other's company and it's fun. It's funny because all of this is in the book. These things we say, "someone who's late," "someone staying over," we thought these tales would make a great book. We all have a friend who's always late. People are going to recognize themselves in the chapters in the book. If they go to these areas in the book, they will find the answers to whatever the problem is. It's not going to be a problem now. If they are always late, there are tons of recipes to propose and it's going to make your life easier. You won't have to complain as soon as your guests arrive.

Q: The recipes are heavily focused on ideas for when you have guests coming over, could you tell me about those recipes?

A: When we have guests from overseas, they have this weird image of the country. They have no knowledge about who we are really. They have these dreams about the wild country of Canada. I thought it would be nice to laugh about it. I thought about what I could cook that would represent who we are. Things they don't have, simple things like corn-on-the-cob doesn't exist in Europe. It's really a North American thing, especially in Ontario and Quebec. I know I have friends who aren't looking for things that are very expensive. They're looking to discover things they don't know. I worked it around the things we have and are special to our country. Things like chocolate pudding, the Jerusalem artichokes. They know it but they don't cook it as much as we do here.

Q: You've also tried to make cooking simple for guys in the "Guys Don't Read Recipes" section.

A: I don't think of balancing the meals, I just put in foods that we'll love to eat with our fingers. Now, it's not only poker night where guys eat pizza. Most of the guys I know also like to drink wine. It's about the relaxation of having a meal together. The food is now part of the party.

Q: But some of the recipes in this chapter still seem kind of elaborate, don't they? What makes them easier than the traditional recipe?

A: You're right. I tried to put in recipes that would please everyone. If you have a bit more knowledge, there's something for you and if not, there will also be something. That's another problem with many guys, they don't read the recipe to the end of it. They start to read the recipe and they create the rest. It works sometimes when it's a savoury dish but if you do a dessert, you can't improvise a part of it. It's like chemistry, you have to follow the recipe. I thought I would put in something for everyone. I tried to be extremely precise. I counted the amount of ingredients, if you get around seven or eight ingredients, it can be a big mess. But if you look at the recipes, many of the things in the recipes, you will have at home. you won't need to go throughout the city to get the ingredients. I try to go to my local supermarket to buy the ingredients, I don't go to fancy markets. Of course, in Montreal or Toronto, you'll be able to buy anything you want. But I'm cooking for the average person who lives wherever it is in the country. I want them to enjoy it and be able to do it easily. I have two kids so I ask myself, would I have the energy to do it? Or is it a nice picture and a recipe that nobody is going to do? I think most of these are not too complicated.

Q: What is your take on leftovers?

A: I think they're great, we need to make them. We're lucky in Canada where contrarily to the United States, it's cheaper to make a meal for four than to order a pizza. It will take you less time to do it than waiting for a pizza. That, to me has to be protected in the country. It will convince people to cook. When you cook any meal, you usually just roast a chicken or boil it. You cover it with water, onions, celery, carrots, salt and pepper and a bay leaf and you forget about it for 45 minutes to an hour. You will have soup, chicken to make sandwiches and whatever else you want to make. It costs about $8 to make, for the chicken and you will have leftovers. People don't want to eat the same thing all of the time. They want different things, especially children. Most of the recipes in books, mine included, are for four. If you're a couple, you can't make a big cake and a big roast. You will be stuck with it for days. Try to balance it. I'm a big fan of soups because they're inexpensive, you can freeze them and the result is always perfect. I've even tried to make a couple of recipes out of leftovers in the book. One of them is the stuffed cabbage with layers of potatoes with cheese. You bake it in the oven and you cut it like a piece of cake.

Q: What about doggy bags?

A: Sometimes it's easier to make doggy bags than leftovers. It can be a nice gift, especially [the guests] liked the dinner. You won't feel guilty because you'll know the food will be useful for someone. I do that often for desserts, if we're leaving in two days for a cabin or business trip. Normally, I wouldn't make a cake because I don't want to lose it. But, if I invite someone, I can give the leftovers. It's nice to think about the recipe you'll make with the leftovers before you make the actual recipe. Recipes that are good to be reheated in the microwave are the best. Things that aren't going to dry out. Everything that's with a sauce is perfect. You can reheat it in the microwave or gently in the oven. It's like a dessert, you want to give them something to remind them of something happy. Soups, things with sauce, cakes that aren't going to dry out. Roasted chicken isn't a good idea. The skin isn't going to be crisp anymore, it doesn't look really good. When I give a leftover, I like when the portion looks really good. That way, the person is going to open it and it won't be thrown away. I love risotto for leftovers. Even though It doesn't look too good when it's cold, as soon as it's reheated, it's going to be very good.

Q: I noticed there is quite a bit of foie gras in the book. PETA has announced a competition to create a vegetarian alternative to foie gras. What are your thoughts on that?

A: My thought on foie gras is quite simple. There's a lot of hypocrisy to this. If we saw how they killed a pig or how veal is raised, it's just the way it is. Out of all of the animals, the ducks that are raised for foie gras are probably the luckiest ones. They have an entire life free and for the last three weeks, they will be fed with [corn]. I've done some shootings for some friends and for French TV and surprisingly enough, the birds are running to the men when they see them. They want to be fed with that corn. It's a very interesting topic. If we only look in the perspecitve of foie gras, it's as if we felt better about the animals. The reality is, it's bad with most of the animals we eat. If we talk about foie gras, we should talk about all of the other animals and how they're raised, how they're killed and if they have a decent life as an animal. But I think it's a great challenge. I would have to study it because there's so many things about the texture but the flavour you can balance. I think it's interesting.

Q: What are some must-have recipes from this book that are good for all occasions?

A: There's one that I want you to try called Spinach Polpetti. It's not made with many things. It's Italian, I discovered it about three years ago. I'm surprised because it can be reheated as much as you want. My kids go crazy over it because they couldn't figure out what it was. It's like pasta, it has the texture of gnocchi. You first make a very simple tomato sauce. You blend together spinach, garlic, ricotta cheese, a bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano, eggs and a bit of flour and it will make a kind of dough. You poach them in boiling water, put them on the sauce, wrap them and put them in the oven. It's a bit time consuming but people go crazy over it. People feel like they're in Italy. When you tell people you made them yourself, you'll look like the Italian King or Queen but there's nothing to it. This with a salad and a glass of wine, it looks like a restaurant. It's a nice way to eat spinach and kids love it. But if you want to have friends over and you're tired, roasted chicken legs with honey and rosemary, make a nice vanilla puree to go with it and it will be like, "wow, how long have you been in the kitchen?" But actually, you'll be in the kitchen for 15 minutes [to prepare it].

Meals for Every Occasion by chef Ricardo Larrivée hits store shelves this May. 

Ricardo Larrivée is the host of Ricardo and Friends, Sunday mornings at 11:30 a.m. on the Food Network. Photo by Marcos Townsend / Canwest News Service]

By Veronica Boodhan