Breaded Chicken Thighs with Baby Potatoes & Miso Greens

I’ve been trying to cut down on food waste in my house, and one of the things that goes to waste a lot of the time is the heels and mis-cuts of my homemade bread. You’d think it would get eaten up since it’s fresh and honestly tastes the same as the rest of the loaf, but the kids especially tend to leave it to go stale or even moldy. What I’ve started to do is take the stale ends and whizz it through the food processor to make bread crumbs, which was suggested by Jamie Oliver in this video. (I know it’s an ad, but it had some good tips!) This go around the crumbs were mostly from a loaf of rosemary Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread, which is a great herb to combine with chicken.

To add a bit more flavour, I broke out the Ikea FALKSALT sampler that my husband got for Christmas. I can’t seem to find a listing for it online, but it comes with four blends of sea salt: natural, wild garlic, oak smoked, and wild garlic. I chose the oak smoked for this dish, so I ground up a bit and added it to the bread crumbs. I dipped the chicken thighs in flour, then beaten eggs, and then bread crumbs. Then I baked it all for about half an hour, until the meat was cooked all the way through but still juicy.

To finish the meal, I also boiled up some baby potatoes that I bought over a month ago and had forgotten about in the fridge, and the leftover miso greens from the night before. Truly, this meal was all about avoiding food waste — but it was also delicious! Simple, too.

Green Tea Salmon with Coconut Rice & Miso Greens

When I bought the salmon for yesterday’s dinner, I had the option of buying just enough for one meal at a rather high price, or picking up a club pack that would make two meals for only a dollar or two more. Bulk discounts are a really big thing here and, if you can work with it, can save you an awful lot of money. Owning a deep freeze is a great way to buy in bulk without having to eat the same thing for a week. However, most ocean fish that gets to us here is frozen, since we’re about 1,100km away from the Atlantic coast in our country, and 500km away if we drive south to the States. I didn’t want to re-freeze the extra salmon, so we ended up eating it two days in a row. I’d been itching to try out some of the recipes from my new-to-me copy of Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, 2012), and the green tea salmon with coconut rice & miso greens on page 138 looked like it was packed with flavour.

I like how this book gives very specific directions for how to prepare these dishes in the least amount of time. That being said, this dish definitely took more than 15 minutes, mostly because of the rice. The instructions call for basmati rice to cook in light coconut milk for only 10 minutes — but I have never managed to make decent basmati on the stove in less than 25, and I cook it a lot. I tried to shave off a little time by cooking it in the Instant Pot (which didn’t exist when this book was written), but with the preheating, a 12-minute automatic cook time, and 10 minutes of releasing pressure naturally, it was still closer to a 25-minute cooking time. So I had to time my other preparation around the rice so that all of the elements finished at the same time. That actually made things much easier for me, since I’m definitely slower at my knife-work than Jamie.

My other issue with this recipe, and it’s become a big of a pet peeveas I’ve written before, is that the ingredients aren’t measured by something objective like volume or weight. Rather, they were given such measurements as “bunches” or “thumb-sized”. It’s fine to be able to throw in a pinch of this and a dash of that once I know a recipe well, but when I’m trying it for the first time I want it to be as much like the original as possible. Also, a “bunch” can change size from store to store and season to season — and I’m pretty sure that we use slightly different varieties of veggies than over in the UK, so their sizes can vary considerably. This can throw off proportions and potentially ruin a recipe. In this recipe, I threw in a whole bunch of cilantro instead of half a bunch, because the bunches where I was shopping seemed really small. Also, I had to use broccoli instead of broccolini, since my local grocery store didn’t carry the latter at all; luckily that particular bunch also had an approximate weight measurement as well.

Despite my pickiness about the recipe, I was very happy with the final dishes. The salmon with its green tea coating was surprisingly delicious, the coconut rice was lovely (and so easy!), and the veggies were crisp and fresh-tasting. I think the dressing would have been better with a little olive oil added to thin it out, since it had such a strong flavour that you really didn’t need much. The oil probably would have made my poor old blender deal with the whole thing better too, since it didn’t like working with such small quantities or low levels of liquid (my blender is older than I am). I think that making this sauce into a salad dressing for fresh greens would be absolutely lovely — unless I’m making it for someone who finds that cilantro tastes like soap. Luckily, I’m not one of them!

Yuan-Style Salmon & Spinach with Bonito Flakes

After all of the work (and many hours of ingredient hunting) over the weekend for Sunday’s dinner, I thought I’d keep things a bit more simple on Monday night. I’d been meaning to try out some of the recipes from Ten-Minute Bento (Megumi Fuji, 2007), since they all looked delicious and relatively simple. I went through my cupboards to determine what I already had, prepped my shopping list, and then went out for the day. Easy peasy, right? Except that halfway through the day my eldest called from school to tell me she was feeling sick, and could I come and pick her up. So much for picking up the missing ingredients with the girls after school, then. Instead of the leisurely dinner prep I had been hoping for, I chucked the rice in the Instant Pot right before my husband came home, made a mad dash for the grocery store once he arrived, and returned home as quickly as possible. I know, I could have changed my dinner plans entirely, but at this point it would probably have taken longer to find another recipe, scrounge the house for ingredients, and likely defrost something from the freezer.

Luckily the recipes in this book are as simple as described, if not necessarily as quick. (It’s not a ten-minute bento if you have to cook the rice, marinade the fish for ten minutes, and then grill each side of the fish for 4 minutes per side. Just saying.) I upped the portions to make the bento on page 21 for four people, and we all greatly enjoyed our yuan-style salmon & spinach with bonito flakes. I would definitely make this recipe again. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for circumstances delaying me from getting the ingredients earlier, it would have been a snap! As a bonus, making the sticky rice in the Instant Pot was super easy and came out perfectly.

Rogan Ghosh & Rotis

Last night I wanted to do something a little different for Sunday dinner, but I still wanted it to be warm and hearty. The temperatures on the weekend had dipped below -30°C (-22°F), which calls for solid comfort food in my opinion. On Saturday afternoon I delved into my new Christmas-gift-card acquisition, The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook: 130 Traditional & Modern Recipes (Chandra Ram, 2018) and picked rogan ghosh, aka lamb stew (page 2019) and rotis from the plethora of recipes that I wanted to try. It was the first time I ever attempted to cook an Indian dish from scratch, although I’ve used pre-packaged sauces and curry pastes many times.

It’s a good thing that I started prepping on Saturday, because I had a really hard time finding some of the ingredients! I discovered quickly that most chain supermarkets around here don’t carry lamb shoulder, and as it turns out some of the more specialty stores like theMid-East Food Centre, where I’ve had great luck in the past, had been shorted on their order that week. I hit at least six stores before I ended up at George’s Meat Shop, which luckily had the lamb in stock. Neither they nor any of the other places I visited carried serrano chilies, nor did the next three, at which point I admit that I just gave up and asked Google for a good substitution. Apparently jalapeno peppers are similar in taste but not nearly as hot, so I went with those and simply doubled the amount of peppers. Luckily that worked out okay. But if anyone has any suggestions as to where in the Ottawa area carries serrano chilies, please let me know!

I chopped up my meat and slathered it with marinade on Saturday night, leaving the prepping of the spices and the vegetables until Sunday. What with the speed of the Instant Pot, all of that chopping took significantly longer than the actual cook time of the dish. The finished product was definitely worth it, though. My whole family loved it, and it wasn’t too spicy for anyone (always something I have to take into account with our rather over-sensitive tongues). I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be too spicy, though, given that we all eat lots of jalapenos my homemade salsa. I think that the only mediocre part of this meal (although not at all horrible) was my rotis, which in retrospect I didn’t roll nearly thin enough. I loved their flavour, but I need a lot more practice to make rotis I’m actually proud of.

After some Googling, I’ve learned that apparently you can make the stew using mutton, goat, or even beef. I really liked the rich flavour of the lamb, so I can’t see using beef instead unless it’s out of budgetary consideration, but I like the gaminess of mutton and goat, so I might eventually give them a go. I assume that these would have a longer cook time because the meat is tougher, though.

Maple Syrup Gone Bad

I threw a couple of waffles in the toaster the other day (they’re a special treat around here), at which point I realized that the kids had finished the last of the jar of maple syrup that had been in the fridge. So I went into the cupboard to refill the smaller fridge container, and I found this:

It looks a little dodgy, with that ring of residue around the side, doesn’t it? But I shrugged it off, thinking that some of the top level had crystallized, since it has happened before. But when I opened the jug there was a puff of released gas and a distinct smell of alcohol. It had started to ferment.

I have never in my life had this happen before. I have kept open maple syrup both in the fridge and in the cupboard for years, and the worst thing that has ever happened is that it has crystallized. I honestly thought that it was like honey. I think that this is the combination of having left it in the cupboard and buying it from a farmer’s market*. Don’t get me wrong, I love farmer’s market food! But most of the time there isn’t the same quality control from batch to batch, and this batch could have been bottled too soon. If the temperature didn’t get high enough and/or the ratio of water to syrup was too high, bacteria could survive and the syrup would spoil faster. In a commercial setting, such factors are much more highly regulated.

After discovering this I did some reading and realized that maple syrup can intentionally be fermented to create maple mead, but this is usually done by introducing a specific kind of bacteria (yeast). Since I had no idea what kind of bacteria were in this bottle — and were now creating slow-moving bubbles, once the cap was open — I had to rinse it all down the drain.

I’m kicking myself especially hard about this one because there was so much left in the jug (well over a liter), and because it is Canada. In winter. I could have just left the stupid thing in our uninsulated garage and it would probably have been fine. But I ran out of space in the fridge over the Christmas holidays and left the biggest bottle in the cupboard instead.

Ah, well. I’ll just have to buy some more come spring.

*This was bought from an out-of-town market, and I won’t name the source because heck, this could have been entirely the fault of my food safety practices. But I would like to note for the record that I have never, ever, had any of our local producers’ syrup go bad. Actually, no syrup of any kind has ever gone bad on me before this — which is why it surprised me so much!

Leveling Up the Mac and Cheese

Believe it or not, I’m still trying to use up the Christmas leftovers, although at this point I’m left with the stuff that keeps well like cold cuts and hard cheeses. Last night I decided to continue using up some of those leftovers by making a batch of Mom’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese.

Now, it may look a bit anemic because I didn’t use a cheddar that was dyed orange, but taste-wise it was anything but! The cheese was one of my personal favourites, Balderson Royal Canadian (2 Year) Cheddar. This brand has the added bonus of being relatively local; their original factory was in Lanark County, although they’re now owned by Parmalat. Although this mac and cheese can be made with just about any cheddar or other sharp, hard cheese (and I think I’ve used them all over the years), including cheap store brands, it really shines with something with a bit more flavour. Despite making an entire batch, after last night’s meal there were no survivors leftovers, which is the ultimate compliment to the cook.

As an addendum, I’ve discovered that there is lactose-free milk and lactose-free cheddar, so if you’re like me and are lactose-intolerant, you can still make this dish. Unfortunately, so far as I know Balderson doesn’t make an official lactose-free cheese yet. However, according to Life Hacker, grocery chain Wegman’s says:

An easy way to check for lactose in cheese is to look at the Nutrition Facts under “Sugar”. Since the sugar in cheese is lactose, you can easily see how much lactose the cheese contains. If the sugar is listed as zero, then the cheese contains no more than half a gram of lactose per ounce. Compare to 12 grams of lactose in an 8 ounce glass of milk.

According to the Balderson Royal Canadian (2 Year) Cheddar official nutritional information, the sugar content is 0g, so if a lactose-intolerant person is going to treat themselves to cheese, this would be a good choice. So, like me, you could combine lactose-free milk and this delicious sharp cheddar (although you may be a bit paranoid and want to take some Lactaid in advance just in case).

Nori Cheese Tamagoyaki & Rice

Since the stew the night before took a while to prepare — not so much the cooking, but all of the chopping and cutting — I thought that last night I would make something a bit more simple. I wanted to continue testing out (okay, playing with) my new Instant Pot, so I used it to make a batch of basmati rice. I used the instructions for rice that I found on page 51 of The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook (Coco Morante, 2018). I’ve made basmati rice about a million times on the stove and I’ve got it pretty much down to a science, but I wanted to see how the new cooker would compare. I don’t think it takes any less time once you take into account the preheating and the recommended-for-best-results ten minutes on Keep Warm after cooking, but it is pretty darned easy. Unlike the stove top version, I can more or less just set it and forget it, so I can see why a lot of people like this feature. I think I need to test it with some of the trickier varieties, like wild rice or sticky rice, before I am 100% convinced.

The topping for the rice was another attempt at Nori Cheese Tamagoyaki (video here). While this dish invariably comes out tasting excellent, I’m still working on the technique. I find that rolling the nori and egg are fine, but the cheese makes it tricky and it wants so badly to fall apart. Ah well, practice makes perfect. This time I topped it with Japanese mayo and masago (seasoned capelin caviar), as per the recipe, and I think that this transforms the omelette flavour-wise from a breakfast to a supper dish. Given the family’s rave reviews, this is definitely going to be a regular part of our diet, so I think that I’ll get all the practice I need!