Breadmaker

Yesterday was a hot one, and today is predicted to be much akin to it, with the addition of thunderstorms. That’s par for the course in the summer in Ottawa: first we get a stiflingly hot, humid day, followed by an impressive deluge and light show, often in the evening of the same day.

Of course, I had run out of bread, but I didn’t want to fire up the oven on such a hot day. I would like to continue making my own throughout the summer, so I dug out my breadmaker, which I’d never used before. Over the winter I purchased a Black & Decker All-In-One Deluxe Horizontal Breadmaker at Value Village for $9.99. There were (and always are) a few on the shelf, so I picked the one that showed the least wear and tear. I also Googled to make sure I could get a user manual.


100% Whole Wheat Bread in the breadmaker.

We didn’t have air conditioning when I was growing up, and one of the best lessons that my parents taught me was to keep the house cool, cook outside whenever possible. The most obvious example of this is barbecuing or grilling, but most countertop appliances work perfectly well outdoors. Breadmakers, toaster ovens, even toasters or kettles fit the bill, and it’s especially convenient to use them if you have a deck/patio or a balcony. They’re not intended for outdoor use, so you have to be very sure that they never get wet and are set on a surface that can’t be damaged by heat, like a concrete step or a glass-top table. If you’re uncomfortable leaving them out in the open, they can be left under a parking shelter or in a garage. Also, you have to make sure that any plugs or extension cords are up to the challenge (I recommend heavy-duty appliance extension cords just in case, you don’t want to start a fire).

So I made a loaf of 100% Whole Wheat Bread (page 24 in the user manual) in the breadmaker, and it turned out deliciously! It was really easy, and although I kind of missed kneading the bread and I don’t like the inflexibility of the recipes that go along with mechanization. But the results were delicious, and I can see why people will set breadmakers on timers so they have fresh bread first thing in the morning. Since I’m used to oven loaves, the bread looked kind of misshapen to me, much too tall and thin. The looks didn’t mar the flavour at all, though. My family devoured the entire loaf in a day (granted, we had grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner). I will have to make another loaf asap.

Microwave Oatmeal Wheat Bread

My parents bought their first microwave when I was eight or nine years old, I believe. Possibly later. It was a big investment at the time; microwaves at the time were huge, noisy, and expensive. I know it was probably at least ten years after that that my grandmother finally got one. These days, you can get a serviceable one for under a hundred dollars; back then it was a purchase nearly equivalent of a new stove. But microwaves were being touted as the appliance of the future, and as the time-saving device that every family should have.

To that effect, many microwave cookbooks were published at the time, proclaiming that anything and everything was better made in the microwave; now that they have become ubiquitous, most of us now know that this isn’t the case. My parents had one microwave cookbook when I was growing up, namely Basic Microwaving from the Microwave Cooking library (by Barbara Methven, 1978). I think it may even have come with the purchase of the microwave oven. It is definitely aimed at people who have never used a microwave before, and offers such great tips as:

– A microwave oven is a cooking appliance. It may be faster and easier to use than a conventional appliance, but it still needs a cook to control it. (page 5)
– Room temperature foods cook faster than refrigerated or frozen ones. (page 9)
– Use small strips of foil on thin areas to prevent overcooking. (page 15)

As an aside, do not use metal in a microwave. It could start a fire or damage the appliance. Mental Floss has a great write-up as to why this happens.


Microwave oatmeal wheat bread.

As self-evident or outright wrong some of the advice offered by this book may now seem (it is almost 40 years old after all), some of the recipes are still good, so when I snapped up a copy of this book when I found it at a thrift shop. A staple of my diet in my early teenage years was the Open-Face Bacon, Tomato & Cheese Sandwich (page 100), and I have added just about every technique from their vegetable section (page 106 to 121) to my repertoire, except for those that use tinfoil. But I had never tried to bake anything in the microwave. Well, with summer heat coming on soon, I thought I’d give microwave bread a try with the Oatmeal Wheat Bread on page 128-129.

It didn’t turn out too badly, but I still don’t think I’ll be making this recipe again. As a positive, while it still took standard times to rise, I only had to use the microwave for about 12 minutes, which generated a lot less heat (and took a lot less power) than standard bread baking times in a conventional oven. The flavour of the bread was definitely worth making again. The texture, though, was where baking in the microwave failed me. Have you ever reheated a piece of leftover pizza in the microwave, and had the crust go hard and chewy without ever being crunchy? That was what the texture of this bread was like — although in a few spots where it was thickest it was soft and properly fresh-bread-like. It wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t great. I don’t know how much of this is because of the appliance and how much is the recipe, so I think next time I bake bread I’ll make a loaf of this in the oven as a comparison. Then I’ll know the cause for certain.

Quick Dinners

With ComicCon prep taking over my life, I have been resorting to quick, improvised dinners to feed my family lately. Here are a few of them:

A quick trip to the grocery store yielded a refrigerated rotisserie chicken and cheese-and-spinach-stuffed pasta, both at 50% off. I reheated the chicken in the oven; boiled & drained the pasta and added some cream cheese, sour cream, and cooked spinach; and peeled & chopped a few carrots which I boiled in the microwave. Prep time for this meal was twenty minutes at most, leaving me more time to work on my costumes.


Leftover soup with bok choy and rice.

One of my favourite things to do lately is throw leftover vegetables and/or meat into some home-made broth (of which I have copious amounts in the freezer), add a bit of leftover rice or small pasta, and then boil it all together for a few minutes. With a bit of salt and pepper, this becomes a healthy soup that takes only about ten minutes to prepare.

At the kids’ request, I did make up rice bowls this week, but of a simplified kind. While the rice was cooking, I peeled and nuked the carrots, chopped and microwaved the bok choy, and cooked up some frozen corn. I also grilled the shrimp — I love shrimp when I am short of time because it takes so little time to cook — and scooped out some avocado. No special shopping or all of the burners used this time for a rice bowl meal! I just used whatever I had in the fridge, freezer or pantry. It took about 35 minutes to make this meal, including prep work. Not bad for something so fresh and tasty.

Fish Tacos

With all the prep work for ComicCon that I’m cramming into this week, I’ve had to cut down on the amount of time and effort I spend cooking. But I still want to eat well! So I thought I’d try something I’d never made before: fish tacos. They’re fast, easy, and healthy (so long as you don’t drown them in cheese and sauce).

I used the spice mixture from the Grilled Fish Tacos recipe from Eating Well, but I cooked the fish a frying pan instead of on the grill, since with all the rain lately my yard is a morass of mud. The kids snapped up the tortillas first, so I had my taco on whole-wheat pita instead. I topped mine with leftover avocado tartar sauce (which is perfect with this dish), romaine lettuce, tomato, shredded old cheddar cheese. This was such a simple, delicious, and healthy meal to make that I’ll definitely make it again.

Pumpkin-Seed & Chili-Crusted Fish Fillets with Avocado Tartar Sauce

For non-Ontarians, the idea of an LCBO may seem a little bit strange. The acronym stands for Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which is a provincially-owned retail store that sells beer, wine and spirits — and, importantly, it’s the only place where you can buy all three. The Beer Store carries beer (obviously), and a few places like the Wine Rack carry wine, and as of April 13th the Government of Ontario announced that beer will be allowed to be sold in some grocery stores… But you can’t get spirits anywhere else.

All that being said, the LCBO has gone to great lengths to follow a retail business model instead of a government one. The stores are well-kept, even fancy in some places. If a small location doesn’t carry the drink you’re looking for, you can order it online and have it shipped to your home for a fee or to your closest branch for free with a minimum purchase. Like many retail stores, they also have their own free in-house magazine: Food & Drink. These magazines (and now their website) have a great reputation for delicious recipes — and of course suggestions for the proper drinks to serve with said recipes. The magazines are stuffed with full-page glossy photographs of mouth-watering concoctions. Let’s be honest here, it’s food porn, plain and simple.


Pumpkin-seed & chili-crusted basa fillets, served with basmati rice and steamed spinach. Avocado tartar sauce not pictured.

I have been collecting Food & Drink magazines for years, but I never actually used any of their recipes. I’d ogle the photos for a bit, and then the magazine would go up on a shelf, never to be looked at again. Two years ago I just recycled the lot of them, tired of them taking up space on my bookshelf to no purpose. But the next time I went to the LCBO, I picked up the latest edition anyway.

So it’s with a great feeling of achievement that I can now say that I’ve actually made one of the Food & Drink recipes! I grabbed a copy of the magazine last week and actually cooked the food on the cover of the Early Summer 2017 edition within days. I used the Pumpkin-Seed & Chili-Crusted Fish Fillets with Avocado Tartar Sauce recipe. Of course, my version didn’t turn out nearly as pretty, but I just snapped a shot of it before we sat down to eat. But it was delicious! Pretty easy, too. I used the cheap basa fillets that I had in the freezer, which were much thinner than the recipe called for. I stacked one fillet on top of another and then crusted the stack, and that worked pretty well. I omitted the jalapeno peppers from the avocado tartar sauce because of my kids’ low tolerance for spicy foods; it was still delicious and everyone came back for seconds.

After this success, I’m thinking that I’ll browse Food & Drink next time I’m at a loss for dinner inspiration. Maybe eventually I’ll even do a second dish from there!

A Healthier Burger Recipe

Last night I took advantage of the gap between spring rain storms to make up some burgers on the barbecue for the family dinner. My family absolutely adores burgers, so I’ve been looking for a way to make them healthier. Sure, tonnes of grease tastes good once in a while, but it’s not something that we should be eating regularly. Moderation in all things, including moderation. So I came up with a tasty recipe that combines lean ground beef (for flavour) with ground turkey or chicken (to reduce the fat). I also use oatmeal instead of the more traditional bread crumbs to bulk up the burgers and absorb moisture; oatmeal is full of healthy fiber and, as a bonus, has an incredibly long shelf-life. This means that these burgers are wheat and gluten free, so long as you pick the appropriate brand of sauce.

To add a bit of extra healthiness, I made the buns from scratch using the whole wheat variant of Nan’s Pan Rolls Recipe. To make hamburger buns, shape the buns individually and place them with lots of room between them on greased baking sheets between the first and second rise. The recipe makes about 24 hamburger buns.

Now, even a healthier burger isn’t a hundred percent healthy. If you really want a healthy burger dinner, you’ll have to serve it with a salad.


A healthier burger with ketchup, mayonnaise, shredded cheddar cheese, and romaine lettuce.

A Healthier Burger
Makes 10-12 small burgers

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together with your hands:
500g (1.1lb) lean ground beef
500g (1.1lb) ground turkey OR chicken
1 egg
3/4 cup plain uncooked oatmeal (not instant)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce OR barbecue sauce of choice
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Divide the mixture into 10-12 portions*. Roll each portion into a ball, then shape the portion into a patty shape with your hands.
Preheat your grill** to about 400°F (204°C). Cook until browned evenly on both sides (with a bit of char) and until center of burger is no longer pink. (Do not serve these burgers rare because they contain poultry.)
Serve on whole wheat hamburger buns with your choice of toppings such as ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise, pickles, cheese, or avocado.

*Larger burgers may be made, but cooking times should be adjusted.
**Burgers may be fried on a flat top or in a frying pan, but they taste best on a grill.

Noodle Soup

I’ve been to Japan twice so far: once in high school on an exchange program, and once in my twenties to tour with a friend. I returned from my trips with an absolute love of Japanese food. Tea ceremonies, sushi, sukiyaki, fast food, vending-machine treats: I tried everything that was put in front of me. Sure, I didn’t like 100% of it, but it was a near thing. I would eat a heck of a lot more Japanese food back here in Canada if it weren’t so expensive — and if a greater variety of dishes would cross the Pacific.


Lunch at a restaurant in Kyoto, Japan: torikatsu (breaded & deep-fried chicken cutlet) or tonkatsu (the same thing, but made with pork cutlet instead) on egg and rice; a bowl of udon soup with seaweed, green onions and kamaboko (fish cake); and two types of pickles.

One of my favourite things about eating in Japan was all of the different types of noodle dishes. My horizons really expanded from the macaroni, spaghetti, and lasagna were more that I was familiar with. In Japan, they fried their noodles, they put them in hot and cold soup, they served them with every kind of topping they could think of. Of course, now there is a lot more variety in how people use noodles in Canada; there’s a Vietnamese pho restaurant in every neighborhood, ramen is making inroads into the culinary scene, and udon is on the menu at most Asian fusion restaurants. Not to mention that you can finally get Asian noodles that aren’t instant ramen at most grocery stores. But before I went to Japan the first time, pasta that wasn’t wheat-based and served Italian- or Italian-American style was rare around here.


Hakata tonkotsu ramen (pork belly, shiitake mushroom, bamboo shoot, scallion, nori, soft-boiled egg, pork broth, ramen noodles) from Ottawa restaurant Ginza. Seriously the best ramen I have had outside of Japan.

Now I make my own noodle soup. It’s Japanese-inspired, but it’s definitely not authentic. I mean, I sometimes use turkey broth, and turkey is a meat that just isn’t used in Japan. I use locally-grown produce and meat when I can, but I also include imported spices, sauces, and canned/preserved goods when I have the opportunity. Asian fusion is the best description I can come up with, although it sounds kind of pretentious for my style of cooking. Hodgepodge, perhaps?


Prepping for noodle soup at my house. Items include frozen udon noodles, dried shrimp, sushi nori, enoki mushrooms, parboiled lotus root, thinly-sliced beef (pour boiling broth on this to cook), soft-boiled eggs, shrimp, beef balls, and baby bok choy. All ingredients have been precooked as necessary.

I don’t so much have a recipe as I have a process. First, I make the broth. Sure, I could use commercially-made broth, but I like to make my own from the bones saved from meat I’ve previously prepared. I store bones in the freezer until I have enough, then I put them (and sometimes cloves of garlic and/or dried mushrooms) in the crock pot. I fill the pot the rest of the way with water, and then I let it simmer for two days, replenishing the water as it goes down. Then I strain out all the solids, then refrigerate the broth so I can skim the fat off of the top. Of course, this makes much more broth than I can use at one sitting, but it freezes well, which means I don’t have to make the broth from scratch every time. Immediately before using the broth, I will season it with a dash of soy sauce and a tiny bit of instant dashi, although since that stuff goes really far, I don’t need much! I can use the unseasoned broth for a greater variety of dishes, so I only season as much broth as I plan to use that day.


Right before eating home-made udon. Thing 1 just couldn’t wait to sit down and dig in. The bowls on the left are smaller for the kids, and a lower noodle to broth ratio.

Then I prepare all of my toppings. I will throw almost anything into a bowl of noodle soup, so long as it’s the kind of thing that stands up well to being boiled. Most vegetables go well, as do most meats. Fruits and squash are generally too fragile. Cleaning out the fridge of leftovers is perfectly fine, since the toppings have to be precooked anyway, and will be warmed up by pouring broth over them.

Once I have all of my toppings cooked (I do a lot of it in the microwave, but in warmer seasons using the barbecue adds a lovely flavour), I bring my broth back up to a boil and separately I cook up the noodles accoring to package directions. I prefer frozen udon, but it can be any kind of long Asian noodle, really. Ramen or vermicelli are great too. Then into each bowl I put a base layer of noodles, then the toppings, and then I pour the broth over top. Last but not least I like to add a square of sushi nori when I have it — this has to be done last minute because it wilts so fast.

Here are some examples of noodle soups that I have cooked over the years. If this inspires you to try to make a noodle soup yourself, do let me know — and show me a photo! I love seeing what other people do with my recipes and tutorials.


Udon soup with beef broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, green onions, rare beef, enoki mushrooms, lotus root, shiitake mushrooms, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with chicken broth, nori, shrimp, dried shrimp, soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with chicken broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, enoki mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, chicken, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with beef broth, hard boiled eggs, dried shrimp, enoki mushrooms, chicken, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with pork broth, nori, rare beef, soft-boiled eggs and furikake.


Late-night-snack udon soup with chicken broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, and green onions.


Udon soup with turkey broth, nori, baby bok choy, shrimp, dried shrimp, soft-boiled eggs, and medium-rare beef.


Udon soup with pork broth, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, green onions, enoki mushrooms, shrimp, celery, and chicken balls.


Udon soup with pork broth, baby bok choy, shrimp, dried shrimp, well-done beef, enoki mushrooms and soft-boiled eggs.


Udon soup with turkey broth, nori, rare beef, soft-boiled eggs, dried shrimp, turkey, enoki mushrooms, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with turkey broth, barbecued tiger shrimp, baby bok choy, hard boiled eggs, masago (seasoned capelin caviar), dried shrimp, pea shoots, enoki mushrooms, and barbecued beef steak.