First Barbecue of the Year

Around the start of March, the weather begins to get warmer, but it’s still below freezing most nights and we’ll likely get a few more good snowfalls in. The weather has been quite mild recently, and is predicted to remain so for a while. We’ve managed to avoid Winter Storm Riley, which is hitting south and east of here. Canadian winters being what they are, we’d be prepared for the kind of snow that Europe is getting right now, but that weather system is much too far away. Instead, what we’re getting right now is the first hint of spring.

The photo above is a really old one of Thing 1 at the start of March, playing in the back yard while we cooked dinner on the barbecue. I love it because it shows the weird accommodations we have to make for the weather this time of year. (I also love it because I think Thing 1 is adorable, but I am somewhat biased.) It takes quite a while of above-zero temperatures for all of the snow to melt, and after that for the ground to thaw enough so that the water doesn’t just sit on the surface in a coating of mud and puddles. But it’s warm enough out that anything with good sun — or that sticks out of the snow covering — gets well dried out, and for the most part we get away with lighter clothing because it seems so much warmer than the frigid winter was. If you have kids in school, you send them in all bundled up for the morning temperatures (which are often below freezing), and they come home in the afternoon with 99% of their outerwear in hand or in their backpacks because it’s just much too warm. I’m pretty sure that this time of year is when the most stuff gets turned in to the school lost-and-found, to be honest.

One of the perks of this time of year is that our barbecues can be started up again, since they stick out of the ground a fair way and aren’t in areas prone to drifts. Technically, they can be used year-round, but we would have to dig them out after every snowfall, and missing just a bit of ice means that the covers end up frozen to the ground until the next big thaw. Actually, the gas barbecue’s cover is still quite encased in ice, but the cover for the Black Olive (an insulated wood pellet grill) is shorter and hence could be freed sooner. This device was handed down to us at the end of last fall, so we never really got the chance to test it out. Yesterday, my husband fired it up for the first time this year and we had our first hamburgers of the season — a sure sign that spring will soon be here. I had my burger with lactose-free cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, avocado, and lettuce. And dill pickles, of course.

Beef Stroganoff Recipe

I’ve been making beef stroganoff for fifteen years or so, but I hadn’t had any since a consultation with a dietician who suggested that I may be lactose intolerant. It’s been about a year since I started avoiding lactose, and my gut is much happier for it. I’m not touting this as something that everyone should try, since I know that there are a whole lot of people that tolerate lactose just fine — but sadly, I’m no longer one of them.

Lately I’ve been quite happy to discover that, in addition to the vegetarian/vegan options to milk that are out there, a few dairy companies have started to sell lactose-free versions of their products. I’ve found PC lactose-free old and marble cheddars in my local grocery store, and, for the first time just this week, Gay Lea’s lactose-free sour cream. As soon as I saw the sour cream on the shelf, I knew that I had to make some stroganoff this week.

Now, I’m not vouching for the authenticity of my stroganoff or anything. I can’t even remember where I first learned how to make it; it certainly wasn’t from someone who taught me in person. My version is the combination of a number of recipes over the years that have created what I’d consider to be a good meal for when you have a little bit of time to cook, but you still have other plans for the evening. It’s full of mushrooms and onions, but I recommend serving it with steamed veggies or a side salad to round it out. At the very least, this will add a splash of colour, since stroganoff is such a beige dish!

Beef Stroganoff
Serves 4-6 adults

In a large, deep frying pan, heat at medium-high:
2 Tbsp canola or sunflower oil
Into the heated oil, place:
1 yellow onion, chopped (about 120g before peeling & chopping)
Cook the onion gently until slightly browned, then add:
1 package of cremini mushrooms (227g)*
Cook until mushrooms begin to soften, then add:
450g steak or chopped roast chopped into bite-sized pieces with the fat trimmed off
Stir it all together, then sprinkle over the mixture:
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
Cook until the meat is browned on the outside and medium (pink, but not bloody) in the middle. While the meat is cooking, cook according to package directions:
2 cups of dried pasta
Traditionally stroganoff is made with broad egg noodles, but in our house we usually use penne. Rotini, fusilli, farfalle, and even elbow macaroni (pictured) also work well. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and set it aside.
Once the meat is cooked, add to the pan:
1 cup sour cream (14% or greater) (regular or lactose-free)
Optionally, you can add:
1/4 cup cream cheese (optional)**
Stir the sour cream and cheese in until they are evenly distributed and have created a sauce; the sauce will have picked up some of the browning and spice and will have turned a nice light brown.
Add the drained pasta to the pan, and stir it all together until coated. Serve!

*You can add more mushrooms (up to double as much if you like), but this is the amount that my family prefers.
**I used to make my stroganoff with cream cheese every time, since I find it’s much creamier this way, but I have yet to find a lactose-free version. So for now I make it without.

Bulgogi Beef Bowl

Yesterday Thing 2 was home from school with a cold, and Thing 1 returned from school at the end of the day complaining of a sore throat. Since my day was primarily taken up with caring for the both of them, I needed to make an easy dinner, one that didn’t take a lot of supervision. I also needed to make dinner from what I had in the house, because if taking the kids to the store can be a chore, it’s a thousand times worse when they’re sick. And let’s be honest, nobody else at the store appreciates me bringing my little disease vectors along.

I rooted through my pantry and found a bottle of Sempio Bulgogi Marinade, which to be honest I had completely forgotten about. I’d tried their Kalbi sauce a while back and really liked it, so I had high hopes for this marinade. It was a bit more liquid than I’d expected, but otherwise it was lovely. I half-thawed some beef from the freezer, sliced it thin, then marinaded it (and thawed it the rest of the way) over the course of an hour. Then I boiled up a pot of rice (basmati, which I know is more of an Indian thing than Korean, but it’s what I had on hand), steamed bok choy in the microwave, and then layered them in a bowl with the beef on top. If I’d thought about it I would have topped it with toasted sesame seeds, which I do have in my spice cupboard, but I forgot they were there! I had a little extra marinade at the bottom of the pan, which I poured over the bowl. This drizzled through the beef slices and onto the bok choy and rice, making both very tasty.

Things don’t bode much better for the kids being well tomorrow, so I’ll have to think of another pantry-friendly, healthy, hopefully-tasty meal for tomorrow…

Bacon-Wrapped Prime Rib

So Einfach Tasty (the German version of Tasty) got my attention again with their video for how to make Bacon-Wrapped Prime Rib (English version here), which looked so delicious that I just had to try it. Generally, I suck at roasts; they’re either completely tasteless, or dry, or both, no matter how many techniques I try to fix it. But I figured that with a combination of butter, spices, and bacon rubbed all over the outside of the roast, I shouldn’t have too many problems with this recipe. Also, I bought a meat thermometer. So that helped too.

I only made two changes to the recipe. The first was that I used the circular bacon that I had left over in the freezer, so I couldn’t exactly weave it. I ended up draping it over the roast instead, which worked just fine. The top piece curled up when cooking and singed a bit because it was nearer to the heating element, but I just removed it before serving.


The second was that I used an inferior cut of meat, and you can see this especially in the lines of gristle through the center of the slice. So long as I ate around these unpalatable pieces, it was just fine, though!

I really did like how this roast turned out. It was probably the best one I've made yet (although there really isn't much competition for that title). I served it with boiled baby potatoes and steamed carrots. The kids ate their servings and asked for seconds, but I'm pretty sure they would have been happier if I'd only served them bacon without the beef. I wish I'd had a chance to try the gravy, but unfortunately all of my drippings burned solid to the bottom of the pan, so I didn't get to use them. Ah, well.

Of Pastry Blenders and Biscuits

My house is all topsy-turvy at the moment because I’m doing work on the kitchen. (On the kitchen, as well as in, since I seem to work in the kitchen pretty much every day.) I managed to obtain some additional, second-hand cupboards, which means I’ll soon have new cupboard and counter space eventually. In the short term, this means that half of the contents of my kitchen are currently in the dining room, so we have to eat in the family room, and the day-to-day mess of the family room is pushed into other rooms… I can’t wait to have this mini-reno completed, not just so I can use the expanded kitchen space, but so order is once again returned to my house!

I’ve been trying not to cook anything super-involved, since prep space is currently at a bare minimum, and to me that means making Dad’s Biscuits. My mom picked me up what I think is a Perfect Pie Blender, although it’s branded with the President’s Choice logo, so it may be a knock-off. Or maybe PC has a deal with Kitchen Innovations, I don’t know. I can guarantee you that my mother didn’t pay $40 for it, though. Knowing Mom, she probably found it on clearance for $5 or less.

At any rate, the Perfect Pie Blender is far cry in shape and style from the traditional style of pastry blender that I grew up using. The company claims that it will make perfect pastry in sixty seconds, which is an exaggeration if you ask me, but it is definitely faster than my old method. One reason for this is that the blades are sturdier and the updated shape means that I’m not constantly cleaning food out from between the wires. It’s generally a more ergonomic design, too. Given that I’d been making pie using the old style blender since I was a kid, I thought I’d have a harder time getting used to a new tool, but I’m surprisingly quite happy with the new blender. I’d recommend it — although I definitely wouldn’t recommend spending $40.00 CAD on it like suggests, especially when you can get it for $12.60 USD on

The other day I nuked up some IKEA KĂ–TTBULLAR meatballs while my husband stirred up the ALLEMANSRĂ„TTEN cream sauce. We’re very sophisticated people, don’t you know. The original plan was to throw on some oven-baked french fries, but I miscalculated the amount we had left in the freezer, so only the kids got fries. My husband and I ate our meatballs with biscuits instead. I added an apple to our meals because there has to be some kind of fruit or veg with every meal, doesn’t there?

Yesterday the kitchen mini-reno had continued apace and we couldn’t even see the dining room table any more, let alone eat at it, so we dined on TV trays in the family room. I made Guinness beef stew based very, very loosely on this recipe, but it was more improvised than not to help me use up what was in the fridge. I still have a surplus of parsnips and celery, which remain fresh and crisp in my fridge, as well as potatoes from my garden, so they had to go in there. To my kids’ delight, I served the stew with biscuits for a nice, hearty dinner. I didn’t even have to argue with the girls to eat their vegetables even though the stew was more veggies than anything else. That’s always a nice change.

Steak Ramen

Last night I was searching for something to make for dinner, something that wouldn’t require a special trip to the grocery store. I did finally go get groceries on Monday, so now both the freezer and the fridge are full and I figure that I shouldn’t have to go out again every day for ingredients. At my husband’s request, since he’s fighting off a cold, I decided to make soup.

In the freezer I had some beef broth made with garlic and wild mushrooms, which I thawed as the base for the soup. I boiled up some ramen noodles and topped them with steamed spinach, carrot matchsticks, and soft-boiled eggs. The crowning glory of this particular dish was the steak. It didn’t brown up as nicely as I’d like, to my dismay, but it was very tender. To enhance the flavour, I used a marinade from page 65 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016). Now, technically the recipe was for Kobe Beef Tsukemen, but I’ll be 100% honest and tell you that there’s no way I can afford Kobe beef. Instead, I thought I’d just use the marinade on a (much) cheaper steak. The marinade contains lemon juice, soy sauce, sake, and mirin (sweet rice wine), which combined is somewhat salty-sweet with an acidic punch to start breaking down the meat. Also, as per the recipe, I fried up the steak in melted beef suet instead of oil, which I think helped to enhance the flavour. Once I removed the meat from the pan, I added the juices to the soup broth to add extra punch. I was very satisfied with how it all turned out, especially since it made a lower-quality cut of beef quite palatable. Even if I never get the chance to cook Kobe beef, I think that I will definitely revisit this recipe in the future when I have all of the other ingredients on hand to try the dish in full.

Cottage Supper

Supper at the cottage is always an informal affair. We often come to the table in bathing suits (if we’re not freezing after coming out of the lake), or wrapped up in sweaters and woolly socks when the evening turns chilly.

Food is often served directly from the stove, but this day we were feeling especially fancy, so we placed on the table in the dishes they were cooked in.

The main part of this dinner was an easy dish that my family has always tongue-in-cheek called “slop”. Basically, you fry up some onions and garlic (or in this case, garlic scapes), add ground beef (or a ground beef/ground chicken/ground turkey mixture, depending on what we have on hand), frying until browned. Drain off the grease, add a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a can of water. Optionally, you may add cooked frozen vegetables to the mixture at this point. Boil down the soup mixture until it has the consistency of a thick gravy. Serve the meat mixture over mashed potatoes or rice.

This time we served slop with a number of vegetables on the side; I had cherry tomatoes with basil, topped with goat cheese, as well as steamed spinach. We also served Brussels sprouts and broccoli, both steamed.