Low-Prep Suppers

I kind of have my kitchen back again… Okay, not the whole thing, but the counters and table are clear again, so I can cook properly. I made shepherd’s pie for dinner (but without the cheese topping, to reduce the amount of dairy and make it better for my gut). However, the meal was running late and we dug into it much too fast for me to take pictures. Instead, I have photos of the bread that was cooking while we were eating dinner:

That’s Beer Bacon Bread found on page 44 of Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook (Betty Crocker, 1999). I used a flat Guinness beer, a package of crumbled circular bacon, and chives from my window garden instead of green onion because that’s what I had on hand. It’s only the second time that I tried out any recipes for this book, and so far so good! There’s a Cottage Dill Loaf on page 152 and Brandied Pumpkin Bread on page 104 that I can’t wait to try.

Earlier in the week I had to make a few easy and quick meals that required little in the way of prep space, so I whipped up a loaf of Sally Lunn bread (page 25, also from Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook), which I think called for an unreasonable amount of butter in the dough (6 Tbsp!), but I have to admit tasted quite nice. I used it to make grilled cheese sandwiches for the girls, with sides of sliced apples.

Of course I have issues with dairy (and at any rate I’d run out of cheddar), so I fried up a couple of eggs each for my hubby and I, and served it with the Sally Lunn, sliced apples, and mandarin oranges.

Earlier this week I went with a less bread-based meal and baked up some trout with in teriyaki sauce, which I served over rice with a side of asparagus.

I’m really looking forward to having this mini-reno complete so that I can try some new recipes! This hasn’t been nearly as time-consuming an affair as a full gutting of the kitchen (much as I’d love to be able to afford a 100% fresh new kitchen), but it’s still rather disruptive. At least it’s cheap!

Circular Bacon?

I’m trying my darndest to get the costume photos from this weekend edited, but it’s taking much longer than I had hoped, although I do acknowledge that this is mostly because I’m really picky. It would have been much too easy to just crop the photos to size. So it may be another day or two before I have it all done.

In the meantime, I did have to cook dinner last night, which had to be quick because I had to get the kids to extracurricular activities. Thing 2 requested bacon and eggs, which I thought was a perfectly acceptable solution. Earlier in the day I’d put some Milk Loaf (page 65, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)) on to cook in my bread machine. I just microwaved some bacon (my preferred low-mess way to cook it), scooped out some honeydew melon, fried up some eggs, and buttered some fresh bread for a quick dinner.

You might note that the bacon in the above photo are shaped unusually. It’s not an illusion, the slices are actually more or less circular! They’re actually Presiden’t Choice Naturally Smoked Bacon Rounds, which are described as follows:

A real game changer when it comes to whipping up burgers, breakfast sandwiches and BLTs, bacon rounds make things so much easier. Cut from the pork belly, they’re everything you love about traditional bacon – only rolled prior to smoking and slicing. Not only are they the perfect fit for buns and English muffins, the edges curl up a little while cooking, creating a “cup” for toppings.

Well, my slices didn’t curl up on the edges, but maybe they do so when fried. I have to admit, I’ve never had any problem whatsoever fitting traditionally-sliced bacon into a sandwich or burger, so I think that these bacon rounds have been created to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist. I mean, if your bacon is too big for your bread, it can be broken if crispy or cut if soft. The rounds are more expensive than the same brand’s regularly-sliced bacon, too ($1.60/100g vs. $1.20/100g). I have a feeling that other shoppers agree, since I found my supply in the clearance section at the local grocery store and I haven’t seen them there since. I paid only $0.99 per package (so $0.26/100g if I did my math right), and at that price it was definitely worth it since the rounds taste exactly the same as regular bacon. Without another comparable sale, I can’t see myself buying these again though.

First Bake of the Christmas Season

I wanted to spend today working on my last-minute costume, but the weather has started to change for the colder, and that meant that I had to make some changes to my house. The Weather Network is calling for rain, freezing rain, and snow over the weekend, so I had to be prepared. First, I had to put up the Christmas lights, since climbing on a ladder in the ice and snow is not a good idea.

Second, I had to clean the garage. I know it may not look like much, but it took me the rest of the day to get my garage this tidy. I really prefer to park under a roof in the winter; the car starts easier, it takes less time to get out the door because I don’t have brush/scrape off snow/ice, and it’s just generally better for the longevity of the vehicle. In warmer weather, however, my garage becomes my workshop-slash-storage-space, and it becomes cluttered and messy, and there’s no way you can get a car in there for about six months. So every fall I have to give it a good clean, and this year I’d let it get bad enough that it took me most of the day.

We still had to eat, of course, so I kept in the same mind-set as yesterday’s Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day — this having nothing to do with the fact that I still hadn’t gone to the grocery store, of course. I made grilled cheese for the family using yesterday’s Light Rye and Caraway Bread (page 75, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)) and leftover cheese from the cheese-and-crackers tray from the Halloween party, which I think was mostly cheddar and Havarti, possibly Gouda. Sadly, there was just toast for me, since I have yet to find a non-dairy cheese that I actually like. Alongside the sandwiches I served cream of carrot soup that I had made up around Easter and frozen.

This weekend there is an annual fundraiser to send the area Pathfinders on an excursion, for which the younger girls (Sparks, Brownies and Guides) help out. The fundraiser is a holiday tea held at a local church. Parents supply beverages and baked goods, the Pathfinders organize and run the kitchen, the Guides serve the hot drinks, the Brownies serve cold drinks and treats, and the little Sparks just serve treats. The younger girls only work in one-hour shifts and are always given the chance to sit down and have tea and treats afterwards, so they love participating in this fundraiser. Plus, it makes them feel really grown up.

Thing 1 helped me choose and bake the treats we’ll be providing, which after a perusal of my cookbooks Thing 1 proclaimed had to be brownies-without-the-capital-B. She picked the recipe from Cookies: Recipes for Gifting & Sharing (Publications International Ltd., 2016), the classic brownies on page 35. Other than taking longer to bake than the directions specified, they went off without a hitch! Of course, I had to try one of the brownies before I packaged them to drop off tonight, and they’re rich and chocolatey soft, firm on the outside with a soft, moist (but not under-cooked) center. I am definitely pleased with this recipe, and not only because it’s so easy! My only qualm is that it has a bit of dairy inside, so maybe in the future I’ll be able to come up with a non-dairy version.

Sick Day Part 2

I’m at the tail end (hopefully) of recovering from my cold, and unfortunately my kids have caught it too. Well, they might have been the ones to bring it home in the first place, elementary school being the wretched hive of scum and villainy that it is. At any rate, I kept the kids home from school yesterday in an attempt to speed up their recovery.

I gave the kids the option of homemade chicken noodle soup for dinner, since it’s a traditional kind of food to eat when you’re not feeling well. They vetoed this idea, and I was willing to be vetoed, as I hadn’t actually started cooking anything yet. At first they voted for instant mac-and-cheese, which I said no to. I can’t tell you how much it frustrates me that it doesn’t matter how many original and tasty meals I prepare, they’d live off of 99¢ dried pasta with powdered cheese sauce, given half the chance. Next they argued between themselves between bacon and eggs and trout with teriyaki sauce over rice. A quick trip to the grocery store brought the decision firmly down to bacon and eggs, since trout was not on special.

So our family dinner last night was eggs over easy, reduced-salt bacon, freshly baked Light Wholemeal Bread (Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), page 69), and a side of sliced strawberries with a sprinkle of sugar. The girls were even up to hulling and slicing the strawberries. All in all, not a bad dinner for a house full of sickies!

Halloween Party Leftovers

After about a week of junk food and candy, I thought it was about time to start making some healthy food again. I needed (and still need) to use up some leftover food from the Halloween party on the weekend before it goes bad, so dinner planning for the last few days has been centered on that.

On Monday night I improvised some sushi bowls, which contained garlic shrimp (from my freezer), smoked salmon (leftover), lumpfish caviar (which I had meant to put on the deviled eggs and then completely forgot about), avocado slices, and steamed Swiss chard (from my garden) in a drizzle of teriyaki sauce. I was looking for a better way to serve Swiss chard that my kids might actually eat, and although this wasn’t horrible, I don’t think it was all that great either. I need to experiment more.

Last night’s dinner was French toast and apple slices. I think that French toast looks absolutely hilarious when it’s made with Voodoo Bread. I mean, it tasted just like normal Nan’s Pan Rolls bread dipped in eggs and fried, but the colours definitely made it much more fun. My kids are really into this “rainbow bread”, as they call it. Perhaps I could make it in different colours for other holidays, even if I can’t quite get it into the proper swirl.

Halloween Party Food

I hosted our family’s annual Halloween party this past Saturday, and of course that meant lots of food. I put out bowls of chips, Cheetos (the “Bag of Bones” kind that are shaped like dismembered skeletons), pretzels, cheese & crackers, a shrimp ring, a meat tray, a veggie tray, and fruit. And then I added the food that I’d actually cooked.

Salsa and guacamole served with black corn chips are a perennial favourite, but I had fun with the presentation this year. I got the idea to use the “puking” pumpkin from a BuzzFeed 7 Terrifying Halloween Food Ideas video. The guacamole was store-bought, but the salsa was the Blender Salsa (page 92, Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014)) that I’d canned earlier this season. I did want to try the “Rotten Deviled Eggs” from the same BuzzFeed video, but I ran out of time and just ended up making normal deviled eggs instead. They went over well anyway, and disappeared quickly.

I did a huge amount (at least for me) of baking in the days leading up to the party so that I could serve a wide variety of sweets. I made Applesauce Cake (page 720, Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer et al, 2006 edition) into cupcakes, which I iced with Quick Brown Butter Icing (page 794, Joy of Cooking). When I was preparing the batter for the cupcakes, I put the margarine (which I had substituted for butter) in the microwave to soften it… And then I forgot about it. I didn’t realize I’d left it out of the batter until the cupcakes were already baking in the oven. They turned out okay anyway, but they were a little drier than I’d have liked.

I made pumpkin pie tarts using the Purity Pastry crust (page 73, The All New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001)) and Pumpkin or Squash Pie filling (page 686, Joy of Cooking). To make the pie dairy-free, I used canned coconut milk instead of heavy cream or evaporated milk. I wasn’t the only person who was going to be at the party who has issues with dairy, so I tried to avoid it whenever possible when cooking this time.

I forgot to include this find when I wrote about thrifting a while back, but I did find a cookie press for about $4.00. I’ve always loved spritz cookies; they were a favourite when I went to bake sales and bazaars, but I couldn’t make them at home since I didn’t have the appropriate tools.

I guess most people would associate this kind of cookie with Christmas rather than Halloween, but there’s nothing saying they can’t be eaten any time, really. I used the Spritz Cookies recipe from page 248 of The Canadian Living Cookbook (Carol Ferguson, 1987), which calls for butter, but I substituted margarine. Not surprisingly, the cookies weren’t as buttery as they could have been, but they were still pretty darned good.

Some time ago I asked one of my friends for her all-time favourite cookie recipe, and she said it was Elevator Lady Spice Cookies on page 99 of The I hate to Cook Book (1966 edition). I’d been looking for an excuse to try them out. Given the powdered cloves and ginger in the recipe, these cookies remind me a bit of a ginger snap in flavour, but with a less brittle texture. As a bonus, this recipe doesn’t contain any dairy in the first place, so I didn’t have to make any substitutions (like many older recipes it uses lard instead of butter as the fat, since it is cheaper).

Pumpkin Cookies//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I made these soft, moist cookies using the Pumpkin Cookies recipe from the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum. To make them dairy-free, I substituted margarine for butter and almond milk for cow’s milk. These were a big hit and a number of my friends asked if they could take a few home with them!

I splurged at the dollar store and bought some mini muffin tins so that I could make some miniature Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins. Since there is milk in the chocolate chips and these wouldn’t be the same without them, I didn’t even try to make this recipe dairy-free. They’re still a fan favourite; out of three dozen mini muffins, I only had three left over after the party, which all mysteriously disappeared first thing the next morning.

At my friends’ request, I made up another loaf of Voodoo Bread. I learned from my mistakes and used gloves when I kneaded the bread this time. I still didn’t get the well-defined swirl that I was looking for, but it was still a really cool-looking bread.

Not pictured because I forgot, I also had three bread machines going at the same time and made three different kinds of bread, all from Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002):

– Egg-Enriched White Loaf (page 67), where I substituted equal amounts of olive oil for the butter in the original recipe.
– Light Rye and Caraway Bread (page 75), where I substituted canola oil for sunflower oil (I have a friend who is violently allergic to sunflowers), and I omitted skimmed milk powder, simply adding 1 Tbsp water.
– Golden Pumpkin Bread (page 167), where I made a lot of changes because I was missing a bunch of the ingredients called for in the recipe. I substituted whole wheat flour for cornmeal, maple syrup for golden syrup, almond milk for buttermilk, and I omitted the pumpkin seeds. Despite all of the changes, it still turned out great!

Last but not least, I made up a batch of Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookie Dough, which is a favourite recipe of mine since my childhood. I used margarine instead of butter, but the recipe calls for either, so it still tastes nigh on identical to what I remember. With my parents’ help, my kids rolled out the dough, cut it out, and then painted it with a glaze made of egg whites/yolks (depending on the colour) mixed with food colouring. Even with all of the different dishes that I put out for this party, the Cookie Monster Cookies were my favourite. All of the other food was good, but you can’t beat nostalgia.

Another dish I would like to try, but I ran out of time, was Tasty’s Peek-A-Boo Pound Cake. Perhaps I could make something similar for Christmas with a different shape inside?

Halloween Bread Trials

A friend who knows me really, really well recently sent me a link to the Necro Nom Nom Nomicon — more specifically, to the instructions for how to make Brimstone Bread. This is totally up my alley, especially this time of year. The photos are spectacular, and the instructions seemed pretty clear, so I knew I had to at least try this recipe for my upcoming Halloween party. That being said, I also thought it would be the better part of valour to give the recipe a try before I depended on it on the day of the party. That’s never a good time to experiment with new dishes.

I was really happy with how the finished rolls looked! I didn’t have any instant bread mix, so I whipped up some of the dough for Nan’s Pan Rolls, which I have baked so many times now that I find them extremely simple. I only made up half of the recipe, since this was just a test, and then I divided the dough in half again to try the Brimstone Bread alongside a second recipe. I found the bread tasted pretty good (not surprising since I rather like Nan’s Pan Rolls), but I wasn’t terribly fond of the taste of the blackened crust. I’m wondering if it would taste better as a sweet roll, like an apple cinnamon roll with a sweeter, spiced topping. I think I need to experiment more on this one for the flavour, but the technique is sound.

The kids loved this roll, and were thrilled to see that the colour was part of the bread and not just an icing or some such. I will probably be making this bread again for the party if only for this reason.

My husband pointed out to me that the dough, when thoroughly saturated with food colouring, strongly resembles PlayDoh. I have to say that I agree. However, PlayDoh doesn’t rise, and it’s a lot easier to shape than a well-kneaded bread. The latter likes to snap back to its original shape.

Another thing to keep in mind when working with high concentrations of food colouring is that it will stain your hands and nails. Most of the colouring wore off within a day or so, but if you have to make a first impression after making these breads, wear gloves. The black dye is especially potent — this photo was taken after thoroughly scrubbing my hands. To protect your clothes, I’d suggest wearing an apron as well, or just wearing clothes that you don’t care if they get stained.

On the other hand, once the dye is worked into the dough and baked, it doesn’t rub off onto everything and stain. This is the complete opposite of coloured icing. It’s a great argument for serving dyed bread at a party when it can be pretty much guaranteed that one of the guests will spill something somewhere, usually on the one surface that you can’t easily clean and yet will show every stain.

The second half of Nan’s Pan Rolls dough went into making a miniature loaf of Voodoo Bread. I was a little worried that the crust might end up being too tough after changing the formula a bit with the dye, but it just ended up being a tiny bit more crispy.

I think I really should have made a full-sized loaf of this one, actually, to show off the internal swirls. There just wasn’t enough dough to do a proper roll. Even so, I am very satisfied with this recipe and I plan to make it for the party. My youngest is even more enthused with the Voodoo Bread than the Brimstone Bread, partly, I think, because she calls it Rainbow Bread. I think that I might try making this bread in different colours for special occasions once I have mastered the swirl technique. Also, I think I’ll use a lighter purple dye for the Halloween party loaf.