Hearty Hamburger Soup

The plague, aka the nasty cold with a sore throat and a cough that has been going around, hit our house hard this week. While I am desperately trying to fend it off, Thing 2 and my husband have succumbed, and Thing 1 is starting to show symptoms. It’s also been ridiculously (if seasonally) cold the last few days, averaging about -35°C (-31°F) at night with the wind chill. All of this together means that the best thing for everyone to eat is a nice, hearty soup.

So last night I made Hearty Hamburger Soup in my Instant Pot. It’s actually a stove top recipe, but it’s easy enough to adapt; I just did all the sautéing in the cooker, drained off the fat, added the rest of the ingredients and then pressure cooked for 30min. This is a dish that I’ve been meaning to make for years, and the ingredients are generally the kind of thing I have stocked in my pantry and freezer. I’m told that my aunt makes a killer version of this dish, but I haven’t been able to wheedle her recipe away from her. The Allrecipes version was quite nice, though. I made the accompanying bread earlier that day in the bread machine; it was Egg-Enriched White Loaf on page 67 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter (2002).

A Taste of Lebanon

When I was a kid, my mother liked to tell me the story of how she and my father met some of their friends back in the day. You see, Mom and Dad didn’t go to university directly after finishing high school; Dad earned a college diploma first, and Mom worked for a while. This meant that they were a few years older (and hopefully more mature) than most of their classmates. Not only that, but they had gotten married before they started university as well, which was (and I think still is) extremely unusual. This combination of factors meant that they didn’t really fit in with a lot of their peers. However, there was an extremely small community of international students attending the university at the time, and a lot of them were also older, and few were even married couples. My parents naturally fell in with this group of students and they became great friends. This meant that my parents (who are both white and from not only small towns, but military small towns) learned a lot about a number of international cultures and foods when otherwise they probably wouldn’t have done so.

A number of their friends were from Lebanon, and one of them (or possible a few of them, I may be misremembering) wanted to help publish a Lebanese cookbook to be sold in Canada. It was to include a lot of dishes that were common knowledge in Lebanon, but were considered “unusual” and “exotic” at the time throughout most of Canada. My parents got to be the testers for a lot of these dishes, since the authors were trying to tailor the recipes to a wider audience. Always enthusiastic about trying new foods, my parents were very happy guinea pigs.

Now, I think that A Taste of Lebanon: Cooking Today the Lebanese Way (Mary Salloum, 1983) is the book that this eventually became. My father bought my mother a copy for Christmas the year it first came out. My parents used that book regularly until it was passed down to me a few years ago when I started to show a greater interest in cooking.

Imagine my surprise, then, to stumble upon a brand new copy of this book at the Mid-East Food Centre; I didn’t realize that it was still in print! Not bad, considering it’s been more than 35 years. A quick search online revealed that it’s also available online as well. I would definitely highly recommend getting a copy of this book if you’re interested in Lebanese cooking even a little bit. As a bonus, it is a Canadian publication, so it focuses on ingredients that are actually available here.

Finding this book still for sale prompted me to go back to my own copy and make one of the easiest of the recipes therein: hommous bi tahini, i.e. chick pea dip with sesame seed paste. You can buy a large variety of types of hummus in just about every chain grocery store these days, since it’s considered healthy and trendy now. But when I was a kid my parents had to make it for us. Actually, since it’s a no-cook recipe (all you need is a blender), it makes a lot of sense to make your own hummus if you can.

I based the prices here on the everyday listings found on the Superstore website; you could probably find a lot of these ingredients even cheaper if you shop the sales.

Suraj chick peas @ $0.88 for a 540mL can = $0.88
Alkanater tahina @ $8.58 for 907ml, 60ml used = $0.57
Rooster Garlic @ $0.58 for 3 bulbs with 10 cloves each, 1 clove used = $0.02
Windsor iodized table salt @ $1.28 for 1kg, 2.84g used = $0.004
No Name lemon juice @ $2.48 for 946ml, 60ml used = $0.16

Total cost for 1 batch = $1.634

Now compare that to the pre-made prices, which start at $3.47 for a comparable amount, and go up to about $5.00 for the fancier stuff. That’s a pretty big saving if you make it yourself, and it’ll add up if you’re the kind of person who eats it regularly!

Now, my favourite way to eat hummus is on fresh pita bread — and one of the next recipes on my list is pita bread itself, which is also in this cookbook. But I know a lot of health-conscious people prefer it as a veggie dip, as it’s great with sliced sweet peppers, carrots, or celery. (Of course, it’s vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free too — not that these dietary trends were even on the radar of this classic food.) A Taste of Lebanon recommends that hummus and pita be served with any fish recipe, baked kibbi, tabouli, barbequed chicken, or shish kabob. It is truly one of the most versatile dishes I have ever made.

Breaded Chicken Thighs with Baby Potatoes & Miso Greens

I’ve been trying to cut down on food waste in my house, and one of the things that goes to waste a lot of the time is the heels and mis-cuts of my homemade bread. You’d think it would get eaten up since it’s fresh and honestly tastes the same as the rest of the loaf, but the kids especially tend to leave it to go stale or even moldy. What I’ve started to do is take the stale ends and whizz it through the food processor to make bread crumbs, which was suggested by Jamie Oliver in this video. (I know it’s an ad, but it had some good tips!) This go around the crumbs were mostly from a loaf of rosemary Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread, which is a great herb to combine with chicken.

To add a bit more flavour, I broke out the Ikea FALKSALT sampler that my husband got for Christmas. I can’t seem to find a listing for it online, but it comes with four blends of sea salt: natural, wild garlic, oak smoked, and wild garlic. I chose the oak smoked for this dish, so I ground up a bit and added it to the bread crumbs. I dipped the chicken thighs in flour, then beaten eggs, and then bread crumbs. Then I baked it all for about half an hour, until the meat was cooked all the way through but still juicy.

To finish the meal, I also boiled up some baby potatoes that I bought over a month ago and had forgotten about in the fridge, and the leftover miso greens from the night before. Truly, this meal was all about avoiding food waste — but it was also delicious! Simple, too.

Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon

Yesterday I decided I wanted to try to make something a bit more complicated with my new Instant Pot (or, as my husband puts it, I wanted to play with my new toys). Since I had some red wine left over from Christmas that needed to be used up, and nobody in our household drinks wine, I Googled and found a nice recipe for Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon from Instant Pot Eats. I dug a couple of large chunks of beef out of the freezer the night before to thaw, and I had most of the other ingredients already at home. I did have to send the hubby out for tinned tomatoes and fresh carrots, and somehow we had run out of tomatoes.

I’d never made this dish before, but for all that I’ve heard that beef bourguignon is a complicated dish, I discovered that it’s really just a fancy kind of stew — and I’ve made many stews over the years. Making it in the Instant Pot really sped things up, but I could have done something very similar in the slow cooker, so long as I planned ahead. I really appreciated that I could saute the ingredients and pressure cook them all in the same device, though, since that saved me quite a bit of effort and clean-up time. Actually, I overestimated how long it would all take me, so I took advantage of the “keep warm” function as well.

I don’t exactly have a base for comparison, but I would deem it a definite success! The recipe’s serving suggestions are either with mashed potatoes, fresh bread, pasta, parsley dumplings, steamed vegetables, cauliflower rice, or cabbage with butter and pepper. I took advantage of my bread machine and served it with slices of freshly-baked white bread (page 66, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter, 2002). While this combination was lovely, I think I’d like to try it over mashed potatoes next time, in the same style Beef and Guinness Stew. And yes, there will be a next time, judging by the family appreciation of this dish! The meat was tender, the sauce flavourful, and it was nice and filling on a cold winter’s day. My husband ate so much that he was groaning afterwards about how full his stomach was, and yet he regretted nothing.

Kitchen Gifts

Of course, because my friends and family know that I enjoy spending time in the kitchen, a lot of my Christmas gifts this year centered around that.

One of my friends gifted me with some delicious Chex Party Mix and a lovely loaf of Makivnyk (a Ukrainian style poppy seed tea roll) from the Black Walnut Bakery. Oh, and Thing 1 gave me the Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix In A Jar that she’d made, thus ensuring that she would get to eat some of them too.

I also acquired a number of cookbooks over the holidays, some as gifts, others from thrift stores or as bargain books.

The Perfect Pie Book by Anne Marshall, 1984 (thrifted)
Hershey’s 1934 Cookbook, Hershey Chocolate Company, 1971 (thrifted)
Anita Stewart’s Canada by Anita Stewart, 2008 (thrifted — and I’ve wanted my own copy for quite a while)
Bread! Simple and Satisfying Recipes for Your Bread Machine by Kathrun Hawkins, 2006 ($4.00 at Dollarama)
Pumpkin Butternut & Squash by Elsa Petersen-Schepelern, 2000 (gift)

My parents gave me an Instant Pot and a handmade apron, my brother gave me a copy of Jamie Cooks Italy (since I’m a huge Jamie Oliver fan), and a friend gave me a Paderno tamagoyaki pan.

I can’t wait to try out all of my new toys!

Bread Experiments

Today we found Candy Cane trying to fit in with the Christmas nesting dolls:

Last week I picked up a “new” (thrifted) bread machine for $7.99 at Value Village. It was exactly the same as my old Black & Decker All-In-One Horizontal Breadmaker, which I had loved so much that I wore it out. I’ve had a couple of second-hand replacements since then, some of which I’ve also worn out and some that I simply haven’t liked. However, none of them had the preheat function, which I didn’t realize I’d miss so much.

You see, the preheat function warms up your ingredients before it begins kneading the dough, which means the bread ends up being lighter and fluffier. The reason for this is that yeast is much more active at warmer temperatures (but not actual hot temperatures, which actually kills it off). Since “yeast farts” (the carbon dioxide emitted when the yeast eats sugar) are what causes bread to rise, warmer temperatures mean fluffier bread. I find that this is especially important when baking in the winter.

I tested out my new-to-me machine with a loaf of pumpernickel bread (page 21, Better Homes and Gardens: The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking, 1999). I’d forgotten that this particular recipe usually requires a little extra water (I really should read my own notes), so at first I thought that the motor was struggling. Nope, the dough was just too thick! About an extra 1/3 of a cup of water, added in a drizzle at a time, and it was right as rain.

Another recipe I’ve been trying to perfect is a hard apple cider bread. There are a lot of great ciders around here, and although I’m not a fan of them to drink, I thought they would make for an interesting flavour in a bread. (That’s more or less how I feel about beer, too.) My first attempt in my old bread machine didn’t rise much at all, but tasted quite nice. I put the lack of rising down to the ingredients being too cold, since the yeast is obviously still alive since it’s from the same package as the pumpernickel bread. The second time, I pre-warmed the liquids and used the “new” bread machine with the preheat option, which did help a lot. As you can see from the pulling apart of the crust in the above photo, it definitely did rise. But it’s still not as light and fluffy as I would like, especially in comparison to my beer bread recipe. Perhaps I just need more yeast? I generally only use 2tsp in a loaf this size, but it’s possible that the higher alcohol content of the cider is killing some of my yeast off.

It kneaded together well, though, which makes me think the wet-to-dry ingredient ratio is correct. Also, the crust is a little too brown in spots, which makes me think that there is too much sugar. Cider by its very nature has natural sugars in it, so I may not need any added sugar at all. So this recipe definitely isn’t ready to post yet, but I will do so as soon as I have a satisfactory, repeatable result. Stay tuned!

Grilled Cheese & Orange Slices

I’ve been so busy prepping for my biggest market event of the season that I haven’t been able to set aside the time to cook anything fancy. But we’ve all still gotta eat!

Dinner last night was grilled cheese on homemade bread (my usual go-to of bread machine herb bread without the herbs) and orange slices. Of course, the ones I made for me were with lactose-free cheese; instead of the usual cheddar I had a rather nice Gouda, which was a nice change.

I’m looking forward to the holiday market season being over so I can spend more time cooking — especially cooking for Christmas!