Cheater Chicken Bacon Quesadillas

Basic quesadillas aren’t exactly difficult to make in the first place, but some nights I’m looking for an even quicker, easier meal. Not only that, but a meal that the kids can help me prep (although it’s debatable if they speed anything up, honestly). Truthfully, it’s more like a grilled cheese on tortillas than a true quesadilla, but everyone in the family likes it. It whips up nice and quickly while I make up a salad.


The dressing is for the salad, not the quesadilla… Although ranch and chicken and cheese are a proven taste combination.

It doesn’t really have a recipe per se, since it’s mostly made using leftovers. Each quesadilla starts with a tortilla on a baking sheet, then a layer of grated cheese (the kids like sharp cheddar, while my husband prefers mozzarella and cheddar mixed, and I stick with whatever I can get lactose-free). Next is a handful of leftover chicken — often from a store-bought rotisserie bird, but roasted does well too, and sometimes we’ll substitute whatever other leftover meat is in the fridge. If I’m lucky, I’ll already have some bacon made in advance, but most of the time I have to cook it fresh, which is easy enough in the microwave. Then it’s another tortilla on top. I bake it in a preheated oven at 350°F (175°C), checking every couple of minutes, until it is warmed through and the cheese is nice and melted. If we’re feeling particularly fancy, I’ll serve it with sliced avocado and sour cream (lactose-free again for me), and a salad. That’s all there is to it, really!

I know, I know, people who like genuine Mexican food are probably squirming by now. There aren’t even any onions or peppers or anything in this to give it any spice! And I do agree. This is Kraft Dinner to homemade macaroni and cheese, Wonder Bread to a fresh-baked loaf of rye. But it’s quick, it’s easy, it uses up leftovers, it’s not too unhealthy (especially when paired with veggies of some kind), it’s miles better for you than fast food… And some days that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

Child’s Rocking Bench Refinished

I’ve always liked fixing things and restoring them to their original condition — or better. My father is a great handyman and tried to pass at least some of his knowledge down to my brother and I, on the theory that even if we didn’t end up with a passion for working with our hands, at least we’d be able to do budget-friendly repairs when necessary. I agree with Dad that it’s always a good skill to have in your arsenal.

My interest lies predominantly in refinishing, refurbishing, upcycleing, and building small furniture. I’ve been doing it since I was about fourteen years old, when I sanded down and repainted a bedside table for my grandmother. Ever since I could remember, Nan had always had an old wooden chair beside her bed where she sat her books and alarm clock, and I thought that she needed something prettier. I painted the table cream and stenciled it with flowers on the top. She used it in her bedroom until the day she passed away, and then it came back to me, about twenty years later. The little table was a little worse for wear and covered in circular rings where Nan had set her nightly cup of tea, which to me meant it had been used often, and had served its purpose well.

Now, when I saw this old, broken children’s bench rocker (or should it be called a double rocking chair?), I knew I had to work on it. I think it was handmade, or at least assembled from a kit. It bore no maker’s mark and showed the telltale signs of being finished in a slap-dash fashion (although that could mean that it was refinished once already). The paint had been put on very thickly and ran in globs in places. The faux-leather blue upholstery looked to have been replaced at some point. And, of course, one of the rockers was broken.

But it was made of solid pine underneath, and it looked to be of solid construction. It couldn’t be that hard to sand the paint down and then repaint it, right? Oh, I should know better than to think that any refinishing job will be simple. The paint was polyurethane, I think, and it melted from the friction of sanding instead of coming off properly. And, of course, the paint was on really, really thickly. It seemed to take forever (multiple sanding sessions, for sure) to get the darned stuff to the point I could paint over it. I probably would have been better off trying to use a heat gun instead of a sander, but mine was shoved in the back of a cupboard and I honestly forgot that I had it until well after the fact. There was also other damage to be repaired. Luckily, the bench was constructed so solidly that I could just take the center rocker right off, so that was easy at least.

It took way longer than I had planned, but many coats of primer/sealer and paint later, I love how it turned out! I reupholstered the seat with extra-thick padding for a very plush finish. It’s super comfortable, and strong enough to even hold an adult and a child side-by-side — although most adults will have their knees bent up to their chin. I used exterior paint and outdoor-rated fabric, so it should have a washable, tough finish that will be kid-resistant.

Now to find it a home!

Spinach Stroganoff

Just a quick one today! At the suggestion of a friend of mine, I added a bag of baby spinach to my beef stroganoff, and it turned out great! If you’re not really into spinach, the sauce really covers up the bitterness. Now, I actually like the taste of spinach, but I like that it doesn’t overwhelm the flavour of the rest of the dish.

I’m always looking for ways to make my cooking healthier (as well as tastier), and one of the best way to do this is to add vegetables. I know that I definitely don’t get enough leafy greens in my diet. This is just one way to incorporate them!

Seasonal School Snacks

I mentioned in my last post that since it’s in season, I wanted to do more cooking with maple syrup over the next little while. Well, after reading a book about kids learning to cook, Thing 1 has been bugging me to make fruit leather with her. Since fruit leather is just pureed fruit that has been dried, I figured why not? Also, it’s a great way to use up an overabundance of fresh fruit (not really a problem here in the spring) or the fruit that you’d forgotten about in the freezer (more of an issue of mine right now).

My parents actually used to make fruit leather and dried fruit for my brother and I when we were kids. This was the era of the Fruit Roll-Up, but my brother’s sensitivity to corn (and hence corn syrup) made most versions of this store-bought snack inadvisable. Actually, the dehydrator that I’m using now is exactly the same one we used when I was a kid; my parents let me have it when they realized they hadn’t used it since my brother and I moved out.

The instructions for the dehydrator recommend that if you’re going to use a sweetener when making fruit leather, you should “use corn syrup, honey or fruit juice instead of granulated sugar which tends to crystallize”. We’ve discovered that maple syrup actually makes a great, all-natural sweetener for fruit leather that does not crystallize — and it adds a lovely flavour as well.

As an aside, if you don’t have a dehydrator, you can make fruit leather in the oven by drying it out at 200°F (93°C) for eight hours or so… But a dehydrator is a much smaller machine and uses a lot less electricity, so if you’re going to make fruit leather often, I’d recommend buying a purpose-built machine.

This is also the week leading up to Easter, which in our family means at the very minimum it’s time to dye some eggs! The kids like to take hard-boiled eggs to school in their lunches, so I made up a dozen for the week.

I used food colouring to dye the eggs vibrant, food-safe colours. There are all kinds of kits out there for dyeing and decorating Easter eggs, but a lot of them aren’t intended for consumption afterwards, so I like to stick with food colouring. The kids may decorate more eggs over the long weekend, though, and those will probably be with paint and glitter. They might be old enough to blow out the eggs to create permanent ornaments this year. Well, I know that Thing 1 is, but Thing 2 is not always as gentle as her big sister… And empty eggshells are mighty easy to smash.

The nice thing about blowing out eggs for decorating is that you can save the yolks and whites and make lovely scrambled eggs, or breakfast burritos, or tamagoyaki (either by itself or in sushi), or egg drop soup. This way, no part of the egg would be wasted. I have to admit, wasting food is a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but all efforts should be made not to, you know?

Weekend Recap

Manning my first stall at Russell Flea was a lot of fun, and it was definitely a learning experience! I learned that the lights that I bought (from Dollarama, since a lot of people have asked) don’t fit through the bottom slats of all of the display crates, so I’ll have to widen a spot for them. I learned that it takes a really long time to pack and unpack a table’s worth of glass and stoneware when you have to unwrap and wrap every single item to prevent damage in transit. I learned that paper is great for wrapping delicate items if you only need to do so once or twice, but it disintegrates really fast (you’re better off using old fabric — blankets and towels are best — if you’re going to do it repeatedly). I learned that an apron with a lot of change in the pockets which ties around your neck can make your neck really sore if you wear it all day. I learned that people have really fond memories of old Tupperware and Pyrex.

Oh yeah, and I learned that I should be careful not to cram all of my tablecloths as tightly as possible into one bag, so that they effectively have the wrinkles pressed into them by the time I arrive at the venue. Whoops.

But I did have a good time. I got to chat with some friends who stopped by, and meet the vendors around me with a great deal more experience than I. I may even have met someone who can teach me how to spin if I ever manage to get my spinning wheel repaired.

One of the nice things about working for myself is that I can knit and mind a stall at the same time, once it’s all set up. That’s not something you’re generally allowed to do in a traditional retail setup. I find that it’s a great conversation starter. I managed to get about a third of a sock done that day.

Since I was away all day working, my husband did have to make dinner which was, at the request of the kiddos, pancakes! Hubby had never actually made pancakes before, although I was sure that that was a basic thing that everyone around here knows how to make if they cook at all. My husband is an unenthusiastic cook at best, but he has learned the necessary skills. His pancakes turned out really lovely! Fluffy and delicious, and smothered with fruit and maple syrup.

Speaking of syrup, apparently the sap has been running since that weird warm spell back in February, so the local tree farms should be getting a great harvest this year. Note to self: I need to pick up some more local maple syrup when I’m at Russell Flea again two weeks from now. I’m pretty sure it’s McCannell Craftwork was the farm that brought the syrup on Saturday, and I hope they’ll be back again.

My First Market!

Tomorrow will be my first ever flea market as a vendor, and I am so excited! It doesn’t matter that I’ve worked retail off and on since I was old enough to get a job, or that I’ve worked in a second-hand shop, or that I’ve put together what seems like dozens of successful garage sales. This is the first time I’ve run what is essentially my own little shop. I’m both excited and nervous, as if I’m prepping for a really important job interview. I really, really hope I don’t mess it up!

I’ve set up a trial run of my booth in my half-finished basement so that I can be sure that I have everything together that I’ll need. At the same time, I have to make sure I don’t take more than I need (although I’ll need a bit of overstock to replenish the table as the day goes on), since I have to cram everything in my little hatchback. It’s really a balancing act.

My first market is at Russell Flea, which runs this Saturday, March 24th from 9:00am to 3:00pm at Russell High School (982 N Russell Rd, Russell, ON). I’ll be in the atrium this week, straight down the hall from the main entrance, on the right (in an classy spot directly across from the bathrooms).

Basically, I’ll be taking my passion for found, free, and flea, and turning it on its head to work behind the counter. I’ll even be bringing a few upcycled creations of my own to put on the floor. (No pics of those yet, since they’re small furniture and I don’t have an appropriately large area to photograph them at home free at the moment.) So please wish me luck!

Excellent Potato Bread Recipe

I finally had a chance to try out one of the recipes from the 1877 The Home Cook Book that I was so happy to find on Saint Patrick’s Day! It was a very interesting exercise to try to recreate such an old recipe. Here’s the original text:

EXCELLENT BREAD
Mrs. Geo. W. Pitkin.

Four potatoes mashed fine, four teaspoons of salt, two quarts of lukewarm milk, one-half cake compressed yeast dissolved in one-half cup of warm water, flour enough to make a pliable dough ; mould with hands well greased with lard ; place in pans, and when sufficiently light, it is ready for baking.

You’ll notice that it gives no cooking time or temperature, no approximate yield, no idea the volume of mashed potatoes, how big a cake of yeast measures (and what kind of yeast — the book gives multiple recipes for how to make your own), or how much flour to use. I’m really glad this wasn’t the first loaf of bread I’d ever made! Although I guess part of the point of these recipes is that they assume that all readers will have a certain breadth of knowledge base.

As it turns out, this recipe makes 4-5 loaves, depending on the size of your loaf pan. I honestly didn’t even have a bowl big enough to mix all of the ingredients, so I had to stir everything in shifts. It all turned out quite well, though, so I thought I’d share my interpretation of the recipe. Hopefully it’s a little more easily-repeatable than the original; I’ve also halved the quantities in my version for ease of cooking in a modern kitchen. The end result is a white bread that is still a little heavier and more filling, due to the potatoes. It also stays moist much longer than a straight white loaf.

Excellent Potato Bread
Yields 2 large loaves

In a small bowl, mix together:
2 packages (14g) quick-rise instant yeast
1/4 cup warm water
Wait for yeast to activate; if it foams up, it is good to use.
While waiting for yeast, peel and chop:
2 potatoes
Peeled, this should yield about 265g of uncooked potato.
Place potatoes in a stove-safe pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Alternately, you can cook the potatoes in a microwave-safe casserole: place potatoes in the dish, cover with water, and cook on high until they can be easily pierced by a fork, about 12 minutes. No matter how you prepare the potatoes, drain them once cooked and mash them until they are no longer lumpy. Set aside to cool somewhat.
In a very large bowl, combine:
4 cups warm milk
2 tsp salt
Stir. Add the yeast mixture and the potatoes to the mixture, stir well.
While stirring with a sturdy wooden spoon, gradually add:
8 cups flour
As the end of adding the flour nears, the mixture may become too stiff to stir with a spoon. If it does, it can be stirred with floured hands in the bowl.

Flour a flat surface and hands generously. Turn the dough out of the bowl, scraping if necessary. Knead the bread for about 10 minutes, until it is springy. If the dough is too sticky on the hands or flat surface, add a bit more flour, but add it gradually and only add as much as absolutely necessary. The dough should be moist but not sticky.

Oil or use cooking spray on a large mixing bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp tea towel. Place the bowl in a warm, dry area with no drafts. Allow the dough to rise until double, about 1 hour.

Grease two loaf pans. If you use smaller loaf pans (8.5″x4.5″), they will end up with a “mushroom top” loaf like the one pictured. If you use larger 9.5″x5.5″ pans, the bread will be a more uniform shape.
Divide the dough into two even portions, form each into a loaf shape and put each one into its own loaf pan. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise again in a warm, draft-free area until double, about one hour.

Near the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 350°F (175°F). Bake for about 30 minutes, checking often near the end of that time to make sure that they do not overcook. Verify that the bread is done by removing them from the pan and tapping them on the bottom. When cooked through, the loaf should make a hollow sound. Remove the loaves from the pans immediately and place them on a wire cooling rack.

As with all bread, this kind is best served immediately. To keep it at its freshest, slice it only when it is about to be eaten. This bread will keep for four or five days if wrapped in a clean plastic bag. Make sure it is wrapped up only after totally cool, or it will go soggy.