Beet Pesto Pasta & Scallops & Bacon

Thing 1 had been pestering me to make scallops again, but I can really only afford to buy them on sale. Luckily there was a good deal at a local supermarket recently, albeit on the teeny tiny ones. Even so, I think I was able to put together a pretty tasty meal.

I boiled up some store-bought penne rigate, drained it, and added a jar of the beet pesto that I’d frozen in the fall. I still find the colour that it turns the noodles completely fabulous! (Although I think I needed a higher pesto to pasta ratio in this particular case for the best results; I’d forgotten that beet greens have a much more subtle flavour than basil.) I cooked up some bacon in the microwave and chopped it into bite-sized pieces. While that was cooking I lightly fried the scallops in a dollop of butter and a sprinkle of salt. Then I served the pasta with the scallops and bacon on top. Thing 1 couldn’t have been happier!

However, I think next time I’d fry the bacon on the stove and cook the scallops in a bit of the grease for added flavour. I guess I just wanted to cook with a low-spatter method, but nothing beats the sheer level of taste of cooking in bacon grease. Back when I was a kid, Mom and Dad (I think mostly Dad in this case) would fry up bacon, cook the eggs in some of the grease, and then use the remaining grease to make fried bread. It was so bad for you (and these days my stomach probably would rebel), but it was so incredibly good… The grease-fest that I loved so much is probably way more than I need at this stage of my life, but perhaps I can apply a bit of the technique to obtain better overall results in my cooking.

Lactose-Free Pizza

A friend of mine who also has to avoid lactose told me that she’d found a great new product from President’s Choice: Lactose-Free Pizza Mozzarella Shredded Cheese (and they also have a cheddar blend). I was able to find it at a nearby store, too! Then the other day a different friend reminded me that I could use my bread machine to make pizza dough, so I figured that the world was conspiring to have me make some pizza.

Since I’d already tried the Betty Crocker pizza dough recipe, I thought I’d try something different to compare it to. This time I went with the dough from Tomato and Prosciutto Pizza on page 108 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), and I think I like this one better. It’s more of a thick crust and it definitely makes a greater quantity. I’d run out of homemade sauce, so I picked up a jar of Classico Traditional Pizza Sauce, which I had also never tried before and ended up quite liking. Not only did it taste much better than the canned kinds, it also was enough for two pizzas with some left over. I topped the pizza with bacon and ground beef, at Thing 1’s request. And I really liked how it all turned out! I was especially impressed with the lactose-free mozzarella, which remained gooey and stringy even as it cooled. I find that a lot of lactose-free cheeses melt just fine, but they start turning a disturbing plastic-like consistency very quickly. But not this one! This is definitely a dish I’m going to be making again, especially since my pizza dough tossing technique needs a lot of practice.

English Muffins Take 2

My husband has been bugging me to make homemade English muffins again since I last made them about a year ago. But my new stove meant that I didn’t have the griddle attachment anymore, and I hadn’t bought a stand-alone version in the meantime. I also hadn’t found a local source for proper silicone English muffin rings, which is what I thought would have really helped create a better muffin than last time.

However, I had found a Flippin’ Fantastic pancake maker at a thrift store, so after a good wash I thought I’d give it a try instead. I discovered that if you want perfectly-round English muffins, this really isn’t the right tool. It’s great when they’re first starting out, but the rings need to be deeper, so once they started to rise they ended up being irregularly-shaped anyway. Not only that, but despite a good coating of non-stick spray, the batter stuck really badly to the silicone, making for a messy clean-up.

I also tried to use the flipper for the eggs that were going to go in the muffin sandwiches, and that was an unmitigated disaster. Eggs are a lot more liquid than English muffin batter, and they just leaked out the bottom of the flipper to create a single, solid mass of egg that I then had to break up with a spatula. Online reviews point out that this exactly the same thing that happens with pancake batter, so I don’t think that this product works as advertised. What a shame.

All that being said, the flavour and texture of the English muffins themselves was great despite the flipper not working out. I used Alton Brown’s English Muffin Recipe, which turned out lighter than my other attempt. I discovered that while this mixture is too liquid to mold like a bun, it can just be spooned out onto a pan without rings at all. The resulting muffins will be lopsided, but they will taste just as good! This time I served the muffins as sandwiches with bacon, egg, and cheddar cheese (lactose-free for me), with slices of navel oranges on the side. It was a hit!

Pierogies

We ate a lot of pierogies when I was growing up, not because I am of Central or Eastern European heritage, or at least not recently enough that we have any record of it. Rather, frozen pierogies from the grocery store were cheap, easy, filling, and tasty, and hence made a good family meal.

Last night I boiled up some frozen potato-and-onion pierogies, then I fried them lightly in bacon fat and topped them with freshly chopped bacon bits and fried onion. I served them with (lactose-free) sour cream.

When my kids asked what was for dinner and had no idea what a pierogi is, I realized how long it has been since I had made this dinner for the family. I guess I was just trying to keep the food fresh, or at least homemade. Given the warm reception that this dish received and the speed with which the kids gobbled them down, I think I’ll have to make them again sometime soon.

However, what I’d really like to do is make them myself, perhaps in a large batch to freeze for future use. Homemade pierogies have always been on my list of things to learn how to make, ever since a friend of mine’s mother served me fresh ones at a sleepover when I was a child. They are so good. I guess I have been intimidated by the way that every family seems to have a secret recipe that they proclaim to be the best, and that only proper grandmothers have the real trick of it. My husband’s maternal grandmother was Polish and promised to teach me all kinds of dishes, but she sadly passed away many years ago, before she could teach me — or my children, who had not yet been born. I think I may just have to find friends with the appropriate heritage and beg them for instruction. We could make a day out of it! And once I have got it down, I could pass it on to my children. After all, even though pierogies are not technically a part of my heritage, they are definitely a part of theirs, and it’s very important to have connections to your culinary roots.

Last Harvest of the Fall

Yesterday I spent a number of hours out in the back yard bringing in the last of the harvest from my garden. My mother popped by and was nice enough to help out for the low, low payment of some cherry tomatoes. Canadian Thanksgiving happens this coming weekend, which is usually a good marker for when the harvest should be in. Also, we’ve had one light frost already, and I didn’t want to leave the tomatoes out in that. The root vegetables would have been fine, but frost can totally ruin a tomato crop.

I filled one half of my double kitchen sink with tomatoes — mostly green or otherwise unripe ones, true. (The black tomatoes ripen from green, to green and black, and finally to red and black or all black, so they’re often hard and unripe event though they may be mostly darkly-coloured.) It took me ages to wash all of them, but it was worth it! The ripe ones will become the last batch of salsa, while I have a few recipes for the green tomatoes, which include green tomato chutney.

I also harvested a whole bunch of potatoes, enough that when they were washed and stacked they barely fit into my potato bin. I planted two different kinds of potatoes this year — a purple-skinned variety, and a white-skinned variety — but heaven forbid that I wrote down their exact names. Record-keeping was one of the things that this blog was supposed to help me accomplish, but I guess it doesn’t always work out.

I also harvested four good-sized eggplants (not bad considering I only had a few plants), as well as two plants-worth of Jerusalem artichoke tubers. I’ve never eaten these tubers before, so I’ll just have to see if they are any good — and if they agree with my stomach!

Taking advantage of the day’s harvest, last night I made everyone bacon, cheese (cheddar for the others, lactose-free Edam for me), and tomato sandwiches. It would have been much nicer if I’d actually thought of this for dinner earlier in the day, in which case I would have had time to make some fresh bread. But given that bread takes a minimum of three hours to make, I had to send my husband out to the grocery store instead. I asked him to pick up “a loaf of nice bread”, which he interpreted as “a loaf of whole-wheat Dempsters”. I’d say his idea and mine of “nice bread” differ quite strongly…

Bacon-N-Egg Bagels & Spinach Salad

What with the tornado over the weekend, and the resulting damage and power outages affecting hundreds of thousands of people across the city, my focus hasn’t exactly been on cooking for this last little while. Not only that, but the city has asked that we stay off the roads as much as possible to allow priority use for emergency and Hydro vehicles, and to use as little electricity as possible so as not to overload what’s left of the grid. Luckily it hasn’t been so hot that we’ve needed air conditioning, which is a huge power suck, and it hasn’t been super cold — although to take the edge off the temperature in the evenings, I’ve smelled a lot of fireplaces in the area being fired up earlier in the season than usual.

Not wanting to use a lot of electricity means that I’m not doing a lot of cooking that has long cooking times. That means no canning (which requires hours and hours of time with the stove running), or slow-cooked dishes that can run 24 hours or more to make. Bacon and eggs is honestly one of the quickest hot meals that I know how to make, so that’s what I went for. Fry up a package of bacon, make up four eggs over easy, and toast four bagels. Add the condiments of your choice and you’ve got a lovely sandwich that’s as good for supper as for breakfast. To make it a bit healthier, I added a nice salad made with baby spinach, avocado, and tomatoes from my garden. And that’s dinner in a flash!

Last Visit to the Cottage for the Summer

(I’ve been sick this past week, so I haven’t been up to writing much. Not only that but we’ve had a bunch of power outages, which has forced me to be away from my computer and even cut me off mid-try! So now I’m trying to fill in the gaps of the past week’s posts. So if you’re wondering why you’re just seeing stuff now from earlier in the week, especially if you follow via email or Facebook, well, that’s why!)

This past week I was lucky enough to spend a last few days of summer vacation at the cottage that my parents are renting. We did take a day trip while we were there (which I will write about at a later date), but the rest of the time was spent relaxing.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 discovered the joys of toaster waffles. I honestly don’t think I’d ever bought them for them before. I tried to make mine just a little more healthy by adding fruit salad (oranges, bananas, grapes, and strawberries). But I may have negated that healthiness by slathering it in maple syrup.

The weather was beautiful and sunny, with only a few fluffy clouds in the sky. Despite the lovely sun, it wasn’t terribly warm, so we didn’t really feel like swimming.

I spent most of my free time relaxing on the Adirondack chairs by the lake.

The kids, on the other hand, buzzed around like mayflies, alternating between crafting in the cottage and fishing with Gramps. Gramps caught a decent-sized perch and a rock bass, while Thing 2 caught two rock bass.

Dinner was baked sausages (bangers, I think), and Mom’s famous potato salad with bacon.

What a lovely way to end this summer’s lazy days at the cottage!