Look Ma, I Cooked!

What with ComicCon prep taking up 99% of my time, it seems like forever since I’ve been able to spend any time in the kitchen. Well, last night I actually was able to squeeze in a quick meal: nachos.

That’s Tostitos (yes, I know, not very authentic, but this whole dish isn’t, so never mind that) topped with ground beef, green onions, homemade salsa, chopped tomatoes, cheddar cheese, with a large dollop of sour cream on the side. Of course, this being me it had to be lactose-free cheese and sour cream, but it was tasty nonetheless.

Breakfast Bagel

I noticed the other day that there was a Cadman’s Montreal Bagels open now at the intersection of the Vanier Parkway and Montreal Road, so I thought that I’d try it out. Bagels are a staple in our household, whether I make them myself or buy them from a bakery or grocery store. When I was a kid, my parents would take us almost every weekend for breakfast at Bagel Bagel at the corner of Clarence and William in the Byward Market, where I believe the Cornerstone Bar and Grill is now. I’ve also been lucky enough to visit Montreal frequently and try fresh bagels there from a variety of restaurants and bakeries. The signs outside of Cadman’s proclaimed that they were the best Montreal-style bagels in Ottawa, so I was intrigued.

I purchased the All Day Breakfast Bagel Combo for $6.59 (plus tax), with an additional bowl of fresh fruit salad for another couple of bucks. The sandwich is on any of their freshly-baked bagels (I chose pumpernickel) and is topped with an egg, cheddar cheese, and bacon, and comes with a latke and a drink. One of the things that my photo fails to convey is how absolutely huge the portions are. The bagels here are especially massive. I came out of there stuffed after a late breakfast and didn’t need to eat again until dinner.

But are they the best Montreal-style bagels in Ottawa? Personally, I don’t think so. A good Montreal-style bagel is, to me, quite chewy, and these bagels were very soft. They also didn’t have the slightly sour tang that I associate with that kind of bagel. Perhaps they’re not working the dough long enough, boiling them long enough (or at all?), or using a high-enough protein flour. Whatever the reason, these bagels are really light and fluffy. Now, I know that some people prefer theirs that way, and there’s nothing technically wrong with a fluffy bagel. However, to me a Montreal-style bagels should be chewy and dense.

That being said, overall the breakfast was quite tasty, and it was good value for money. It wasn’t the best Montreal-style bagel I’ve had in Ottawa, but it was pretty good in its own right. So I’ll probably be back.

New Stove!

I have a new stove! Well, okay, new to me. A friend of a friend was replacing her perfectly-functional old stove to get a fancy new one. She found out that I was looking for a stove to replace my old one, which was starting to develop… Issues. It was a really fancy-schmancy stove back when it was new like thirty years ago. It had panels on the top you could switch out so that it became a griddle, or a grill, or a special burner for a wok. But the oven was only large enough for a single cookie sheet to make room for the surface-level fan, and the drawer underneath was sacrificed for that as well. The light socket in the oven had something wrong with it, so the oven light bulb would burn out within days every time. And, most importantly, the oven didn’t keep a consistent temperature, which makes it really difficult to bake.

So here’s my new stove! It doesn’t match the rest of my black appliances, but I don’t care. It’s immaculate and runs reliably. The oven runs about 25 degrees F hot, but since it does so consistently I can compensate. And I actually have an oven light now so I can check for doneness without having to open the door!

One of these days I’ll be able to afford an electric, non-glass-top double oven… Maybe I’ll get one when I finally get my dream kitchen (which will probably be only in my dreams). Until then, this stove is fantastic!

Tonight I tested the stove out with a simple dinner of teriyaki salmon with steamed spinach on rice. I bought the salmon in one of those budget $10 freezer packs, and it was… Okay. Not bad, but a little bit dry. I think if I use this kind of salmon again it will be in something like a casserole that disguises the texture a bit better. But for a dinner for three adults and two kids (my brother-in-law was over) for about $13, it wasn’t half bad. Fresher fish would have been better, but this was definitely acceptable.

Leftover Chicken Salad

Last night was leftovers night, the day when I try desperately to finish off the last few odds and sods in the fridge to make space for new ingredients. For some reason, there always seems to be a bit of chicken in there when it comes time for a clean-out, either from rotisserie birds from the store or, more commonly, chicken thighs or breasts roasted at home. While chicken bacon quesadillas are generally an option preferred by my kids, I don’t always have tortillas around, so another thing I like to make is leftover chicken salad.

Honestly, it’s one of the simplest things in the world to make. I wash and cut up the lettuce (or spinach, or greens mix — whatever we’ve got), and I’ll wash, peel if necessary, and chop up whatever veggies haven’t yet turned — that means usually some carrots, cucumber, and some avocado if we’re really lucky. I’ll also chop the leftover chicken into bite-sized pieces, and add some slices of hard-boiled egg on top. If we have cheese that needs to be eaten up, we’ll often grate/crumble a bit and add that too. Then everyone adds whatever dressing they like; we usually have Greek tatziki, bacon ranch, zesty Italian, Ceasar, and a couple of homemade vinaigrettes kicking around the fridge. Of course, Thing 1 for some reason hates the texture of lettuce, and hence ends up with a plate of cut up veggies, chopped chicken, and a hard-boiled egg. It’s nothing fancy, but it is a tasty, healthy meal in a pinch!

Earth Day

Yesterday I spent most of Earth Day on my bicycle, which I think is appropriate. It was less because it was Earth Day and more because the weather was finally nice (you’d never know we had an ice storm a week before), and I love to cycle.

I cycled with my mother along the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal, taking a break in the middle of the ride for a lovely bite to eat in the Glebe. A good deal of maintenance had been done since the ice storm, so most of the big branches had been pulled off of paths and roads, but the large numbers of smaller sticks and twigs sometimes made it dicey going. Every so often we’d find an area with constant shade, and we’d have to be careful of the ice hidden there. The water was really high on the river (although definitely not as bad as last year’s major flooding), so some of the bike paths that run alongside were a little dicey and sometimes inaccessible. Amusingly, when we traveled alongside the canal we realized that it has yet to be raised back to navigation level and was almost dry at the bottom — the water level is controlled by a series of dams and weirs, and it’s only partially filled in the winter to create ice for the skateway.

While the plants have yet to green up, the bugs were starting to reemerge (I learned that gnats stick to sunscreen) and we saw a plethora of birds. Although there were worries that the robins would starve in the late freezing weather, we did see quite a few of them. Also in large numbers were pigeons, gulls, and Canada geese; although we didn’t see many of them, we did hear songbirds singing in the trees. We even spotted the odd pigeon in the photo above, which caught our eyes because the pigeons around here generally have colouring more like this.

Honestly, it wasn’t the prettiest day. Despite the clear blue sky and the sun shining down, this isn’t the most beautiful time of year to be a tourist. If you wanted to film/photograph something with a post-apocalyptic vibe, this is the time to do it. Just wait a few weeks, though, and it will be beautiful again!

I did do a couple of things that are kind of stereotypically Canadian today, now that it’s warmed up a bit. First, I took my outdoor Christmas lights down. If you live in warmer climes that probably seems quite late, but although I turned mine off on January 1st, by then they were frozen to the ground and under a thick layer of ice and snow. Only now had things melted back enough that I could actually take them down!

Also, today I shoveled the lawn. That probably sounds ridiculous to anyone who doesn’t live where there’s a great deal of snow, so let me explain. At the end of the winter, you’re always left with a few drifts that are the last to melt, usually in areas that don’t get much sun or where you pile snow when you shovel your driveway or paths clear. Well, I have a few spots like that, and I’ve learned over the years that if I want them to melt (and hence dry out) a little faster, I can throw the top layers of snow into the parts of the yard that actually get regular sun. I know it’ll all melt eventually if I just leave it, but by this point in the year I’m impatient for the change of seasons. It probably only takes a couple of days less to melt the snow if I shovel it, but it makes me feel better, gosh darn it!

For our Earth Day dinner, my husband cooked us up some steak and zucchini on the wood pellet grill, which I served with some nice homemade bread. We had actually intended to have hamburgers, but I think everyone else in town had the same idea and we couldn’t find buns for love nor money. I think anyone who could do so fired up the barbecue and cooked outside, if only as an excuse to do something out in the lovely weather. I mean, it went up to 16°C (61°F) for the first time since around October, so I really don’t blame them. Ah well, our dinner was probably healthier than burgers anyway — and it was delicious!

Slow Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken

Keeping on the theme of making easy dinners in the crock pot, friends of mine recommended the Slow Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken recipe from AllRecipes.com. They said that they loved it, but I was less than satisfied. I followed the recipe exactly, but the chicken turned out dry and not very flavourful. There wasn’t even much sauce to pour over the meat to relieve the dryness.

I went back over the website to try and figure out where I went wrong. Well, it turns out that it’s totally possible that my friends made a completely different dish than I did! (And if so, no wonder they were raving about it, because the other version looks lovely.) If you watch the video of how to prepare the dish (which I did not), it adds a lot more ingredients that aren’t even mentioned as options in the recipe text. First of all, for spices, it adds onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. Secondly, baby carrots, sliced mushrooms, and frozen peas are added to the crock pot before setting it up to cook. Thirdly, the 1/4 cup water and chicken bouillon is replaced with 1/2 of a cup of white wine and 2 cups of chicken broth. With all of those added flavourings and liquids, of course the dish wouldn’t end up dry and tasteless.

Personally, I think that if you’re going to make a recipe video, you should stick to the recipe that goes along with it. The easy fix to this would be to add the changes to the text of the recipe. When reading a recipe, one shouldn’t have to filter through the comment section or watch a “how to” video in order to get the correct list of ingredients — neither of which are an option in a hard-copy cookbook anyway.

Sadly, I think AllRecipes dropped the ball on this one.

Crock Pot Sloppy Joes

I need to defrost my freezer at some point in the near future, so I’ve been trying to use up the remaining food that I stored there for winter. At the same time, I’m trying to use my slow cooker more often in order to give myself more time to work on ComicCon costumes. A quick Googling for recipes showed me that I had all of the ingredients to make Crock Pot Sloppy Barbecue Beef Sandwiches from The Spruce Eats, or, as my family has always called them, Sloppy Joes — which we’ve always served open-faced, I don’t know why.

Instead of buns, I let my trusty bread machine do most of the work and whipped up some Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread, this time using dried rosemary instead of fresh dill. I found that the robustness of the rosemary went really well with the vinegar tang of the Sloppy Joe sauce. If you like crusty buns for this dish, the ends of the loaf are great. Or you can always use the dough setting on your bread machine, then shape the dough into rolls, proof, and bake them in the oven instead. I went the easy route on this one.

As is my wont, I had to alter the meat sauce’s ingredients a bit. I omitted the sweet peppers because I’m not terribly fond of them, and I didn’t have any celery. However, I liked how the recipe had lots of hidden vegetables, so I upped the number of grated carrots to four. I also used about a cup of chopped frozen, thawed rainbow chard stems left over from last year’s garden crop.

Despite all of the changes, this dish turned out really well. The kids hoovered up their dinners and kept saying how much they liked it. I really think that you could add just about any vegetable to this dish if you want, so long as you cut it up small enough that it blends well with the meat and you give it the appropriate amount of time to cook. I will definitely be making this recipe again and I highly recommend it.