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 Amazon.ca suggests, especially when you can get it for $12.60 USD on Amazon.com.

The other day I nuked up some IKEA KÖTTBULLAR meatballs while my husband stirred up the ALLEMANSRÄTTEN 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.

Poutine & Cupcakes

Continuing this week’s pre-Canada-150 lead-up, I’d like to start with some iconic Canadian music: The Log Driver’s Waltz. The song became an integral part of art culture in Canada in 1979, when an became the soundtrack of arguably the most popular animated short in the Canada Vignettes series released by the National Film Board. The short, along with the other Vignettes, was aired on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) between programs as filler, so it was very possible to catch this song multiple times a day throughout the 1980’s. There is also a French-language version entitled La valse du maître draveur. The chorus of the English version is as follows:

For he goes birling down and down white water
That’s where the log driver learns to step lightly
Yes, birling down and down white water
The log driver’s waltz pleases girls completely

Birling, by the way, isn’t a word in common parlance even in Canada (at least not anymore), but it according to the the Free Dictionary, it is “a game of skill, especially among lumberjacks, in which two competitors try to balance on a floating log while spinning it with their feet. Also called logrolling.”

The timber trade in general is a huge part of the history of Canada as a whole, and the Ottawa area in particular. The trade blossomed in the early 1800’s, with log rafts and booms being a common sight on the Ottawa River for over a hundred years. Related trades played a large part in the development of the city, with a large number of local trades becoming part of the cultural landscape in the sawmills and their later cousins the pulp and paper mills.


Homemade poutine

The timber industry was dominated by backbreaking labour, what would now be called blue-collar work, and in a similar vein, the famous French-Canadian dish of poutine is considered a very blue-collar dish (although honestly everyone eats it, no matter their level of wealth). Poutine would probably have been appreciated by log drivers, but it didn’t come into being until the 1950’s, when the local trade was on its last legs. Poutine is a mouth-wateringly delicious pub grub combination of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. The one that I made yesterday, pictured above, also had chunks of the ground beef that I used to make the gravy from scratch. I made the fries using the Baked French Fries I recipe on Allrecipies — although I set the oven to 400°F (205°C) instead of the higher temperature in the directions, as per suggestions in the comments. Poutine may look like a hot mess, but it tastes fantastic, and it’s particularly good while/after a few drinks.


Strawberry cupcake with buttercream icing & a maple-leaf-shaped strawberry gummy

Of course, you have to follow a meal of meat and carbs with dessert, right? My family ate these strawberry cupcakes with buttercream frosting following the poutine (I don’t know how they had any room left). The cupcakes were Sprinkles’ Strawberry Cupcakes from Martha Stewart. They came out looking great, but I was a little disappointed in the flavour; I’d hoped they would taste more like the strawberry puree that was in the batter, but mostly what I could taste was vanilla. Originally I had planned to make a maple buttercream frosting, but I don’t know what I did wrong and the frosting separated as soon as I stopped mixing. I was so disappointed! I ended up using store-bought Duncan Hines buttercream frosting (which contains neither butter nor cream), which was a blow to my pride, but at least my friends with milk allergies could eat it. And hey, the cupcakes looked red and white for Canada Day!

New Noodles

I love my noodle dishes, so I’ve been trying to expand my horizons by trying out some of the more interesting types of noodles that I can find. The most recent ones that caught my attention were the King Soba noodles that I stumbled upon at my local Bulk Barn. King Soba specializes in wheat- and gluten-free products, which is luckily not a major concern in our house as none of us have a wheat allergy or celiac disease, but I know that this is of a great deal of concern to some. My greatest concern when it comes to noodles are: a) do they cook up well, and b) do they taste good?


Sesame chicken with soft-boiled eggs and black rice noodles


Sesame chicken with soft-boiled eggs and black rice noodles

The first kind I tried was Organic Black Rice Noodles ($4.29CAD/250g). They weren’t really a true black, but actually a really dark purple, much to my (and my kids’) delight. I followed the package directions, and the noodles cooked up perfectly. They were tasty too, with a slightly nutty flavour. I served them with my take on sesame chicken — basically chopped chicken thighs fried up with a couple of diced cloves of garlic, a drizzle of sesame oil, and a generous sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Of course, I also included some soft-boiled eggs, which are a staple in our household.


Beef and vegetable soup with soft-boiled eggs and brown rice & wakame noodles


Beef and vegetable soup with soft-boiled eggs and brown rice & wakame noodles

The second type I tried was Organic Brown Rice & Wakame Noodles ($3.99CAD/250g). Despite being a darker colour in the package, they cooked up to a very light green. After the fabulous colour of the black rice noodles, the intensity was slightly disappointing. However, they tasted just fine, although the subtlety of the wakame flavour was lost on me. These noodles got a thumbs-up from me and the family anyway. I served them in a beef broth soup flavoured with a dash of Memmi, with a whole bunch of chopped vegetables (carrots, asparagus, bok choy, celery, enoki mushrooms) and a bit of beef thrown in. Oh, and some more soft-boiled eggs, of course.

I think that my only complaint about both of the types of King Soba noodles that I tried was that they really, really wanted to stick together. While this didn’t affect the flavour at all, this made them very difficult to eat, especially for my children, who are not terribly adept with chopsticks yet. Should I buy them again (and I probably will), I will add a drizzle of oil to the cooking water and see if it solves the problem.