Lobster Tails

I went to the grocery store yesterday to pick up eggs and milk (the two perishable foods we go through the fastest in our household), I popped over to the meat and seafood counters to see if anything tempted me for dinner. As it turned out, they actually had rock lobster tails on for a reasonable price — or at least what I’d consider to be reasonable compared to the ridiculous price that beef has gone up to lately. Lobster in my budget is extremely rare, so I had to pick up enough for dinner.

I followed the instructions from Maine Lobster Now and I was impressed with how quick and easy it was. (Most of the lobster I get these days is the much cheaper frozen claws from T&T to make Carribbean lobster bisque.) The girls were a little intimidated by the shell — they’ve had lobster as often as I could afford to serve it, but I don’t think they’d ever had to deal with cracking their own before. I don’t blame them, since even to me the tail looks a heck of a lot like a giant wood louse! Luckily I’ve been to a fair number of lobster boils in my day and, as per the instructions, the meat actually was very easy to remove once it was cooked.

I served the lobster with steamed asparagus, baby-cut carrots, and baby potatoes, all cooked very easily in the microwave. All in all this meal took me about 25 minutes to make, which is good because I was (as usual) running late. One thing I missed out on was garlic butter to drizzle on the lobster, which I do regret, but it was pretty darned good anyway.

Instant Pot Pork Chops & Mushroom Gravy

It’s been chilly for spring lately, even here; over the weekend we got what will hopefully be the season’s last bout of snow and freezing rain. To me, cold weather makes me crave solid, hearty meals — although I have to admit they’re not always the prettiest.

Covered in gravy like that it doesn’t look all that appetizing, I know, but it really hit the spot.

I actually cooked these pork chops & mushroom gravy in the Instant Pot, although with having to boil down the gravy to a decent consistency afterwards I don’t think it actually saved me any time. The flavour itself was pretty much identical, too. Although there was nothing actually wrong with cooking them in the pressure cooker, I don’t think I’ll be making them this way again, since it was neither easier nor quicker. Well, unless my stove goes on the fritz or something, or it’s a really hot day and I want to cook outside (although by then I’d hope that I’d have the barbecue up and running).

I made the mashed (well, technically whipped, I find them smoother that way) potatoes the traditional way, on the stove. Perhaps if I wanted to switch the roles around I could do the potatoes in the Instant Pot and the pork chops on the stove. It really makes cooking them a breeze, and that way I don’t have to worry about the pot on the stove boiling over — again. And I could possibly cook the potatoes and the carrots at the same time, like I did with the pot roast. That might be worth trying.

Vegetable Flowers

Last night’s dinner was pretty simple: bulgogi beef (using Sempio Bulgogi Sauce as a marinade) on basmati rice (made in the Instant Pot), with sides of carrots and zucchini. It was simple and satisfying and didn’t require a whole lot of tending, although I did actually have to remember to chop up the beef and put it in the marinade the night before.

However, I took Thing 1’s suggestion the other day and turned the carrots and zucchini into flowers using the “carrot sharpener”, and the kids loved it. I have to say that it was quite pretty, but their enthusiasm level was quite a bit higher than I had predicted. And they ate all of their veggies without complaint. I’m going to have to use this technique again in the future.

Instant Pot Pulled Pork

My pulled pork method (so simple it’s not even really a recipe) is a personal favourite, but it’s also a slow cooker meal, which means that if you’ve not planned it in advance, you’re not eating it for dinner. I had a kilo of boneless bargain pork chops to use up and no plans for the evening meal, so I thought I’d give it a shot in the Instant Pot. My online research puts pork at about 40min per kilo to pressure cook, so that’s the timing I used. I just dumped the pork chops, barbecue sauce, and 1/4 cup water in the pot, stirred it, and set it to pressure cook on normal (medium) pressure. I let the pot stay on “Keep Warm” for an additional 10 minutes, then released the pressure and removed the lid. I set the pot to sautĂ© and pulled apart the pork with forks in the pot while I let the sauce reduce for about ten minutes, bringing it down from watery to thick and sticky.

All told, the process took me about an hour, which is a far cry from the four plus hours it would have taken in a slow cooker. And honestly, the final result tasted nigh on identical. Now, if I wanted to set up a dish to cook at lunch and and then not worry about it until dinner, I would use the slow cooker method. But the pressure cooker was perfect when I hadn’t thought that far ahead.

As a bonus, the kids and I had fun with the vegetables with this dinner. I’d picked up a carrot curler (essentially a carrot sharpener) in a grab-bag of second-hand kitchen stuff a while back, and I thought it might be fun to use with the last carrots in the fridge. I just piled my shavings haphazardly on my plate, but Thing 1 arranged hers into a rather beautiful carrot flower, much like in the device’s promo photos (although she hadn’t seen them). I think she’s inherently better at food presentation than I am, taking after her paternal grandfather as she does. Perhaps in time I should get her to arrange all of my dishes.

Glico Curry

One of the foods that I fell in love with in Japan is Japanese curry. It’s very different than any Indian, Thai, or even British curry I have ever tried. It’s generally a lot of rice, a lot of creamy sauce, and a tiny bit of meat — and it doesn’t have to be very spicy at all. It’s the kind of thing that you can find as cheap street food or sold out of tiny little take-out shops. When you make Japanese curry as a homemade dish, it’s a comfort food, and it’s generally prepared with boxes of pre-made sauce cubes with the spices suspended in a kind of solid roux that melts with the addition of heat. It’s really very easy to prepare. There are a number of companies that make this kind of thing in Japan, but the easiest to come by both there and here in Canada is Glico Curry.

We were having my brother-in-law and his friend that helped with the deck, so I wanted to make something that I hadn’t cooked for them before. I also wanted it to be a hearty meal that would satisfy two men who did physical labour for a living as well as our family of four. Given that we only had one guy over instead of two, I may have gone a bit overboard; I used a whole pan of veggies and meat, and the sauce that I made was supposed to serve ten. We ended up with lots of leftovers. Ah well, it reheats well.

It’s always slightly disappointing to me how unappetizing this kind of dish can be once cooked, because it’s so chock full of delicious, healthy ingredients — and it’s really, really tasty. I used potatoes, carrots, baby bok choy, and steak, but it kind of turned out looking like brown glop. Aesthetics aside, everyone ate their share and some came back for seconds, so the flavor must have made up for the looks.

Not Really Sticky Pork Stir-Fry

My brother’s main Christmas gift to me this year was the Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (2017). I don’t know if he picked it because he’d been perusing my blog for gift ideas. Maybe it was because he heard me gushing about Oliver after watching yet another interview with him like this one with Russell Howard, which had me in stitches. At any rate, the first recipe that I wanted to try out (okay, after the Ginger Shakin’ Beef, which I didn’t originally know was from this book) was the Sticky Port Stiry-Fry on page 220.

I used regular old carrots sliced small instead of the mixed-colour baby heirloom carrots specified in the recipe, mainly because none of the grocery stores around here had anything so fancy this time of year. Being a hardy root vegetable, you can get standard orange carrots pretty cheap here all year ’round. However, baby/heirloom carrots are only a summer thing unless you’re willing to pay through the nose for imports. If it doesn’t store well, or there isn’t a high enough demand (or price point) to make it worthwhile to ship it from down south, it can’t be found during the winter. Produce variety suffers greatly in Canada once it gets cold — and it’s a million times worse outside of the cities! And yet the selection and availability is miles better than it used to be, even in my lifetime. I watched a program a while back (Tales from the Green Valley) which recreated a 1600’s British farm: the kind of place where my ancestors would have lived. It really struck me that at one point the narrator says, “After several days, the February snow is finally melting in the valley.” A couple of days of snow. My poor, poor ancestors, who came to Canada after being used to winters like that, with such things as “winter growth” in the fields, and then trying to survive in Canada. It’s a wonder that I am here today, quite honestly.

Back to the recipe: I do have one quibble with it: the portions. The cookbook says that this dish serves 4. Honestly, if I hadn’t prepared any sides (and the recipe doesn’t say “to be served over rice” or anything), my family would have been very, very hungry. I’d say that, by itself, this recipe serves two at most. I ate mine with a side of steamed spinach, but I think that the stir-fry would have gone even better over rice or noodles to stretch it.

Now, here is why I called this entry “Not Really Sticky Pork Stir-Fry”: my husband and I kind of messed it up. Not quantity-wise, that we triple-checked. No, we messed up the sauce. You see, my husband was stirring the food while I was chopping ingredients, and I passed him a bottle and asked him to add what I thought was teriyaki sauce to the dish. Instead, I accidentally gave him the oyster sauce. Assuming that I knew what I was doing, he didn’t read the label on the bottle until after he’d added the sauce to the carrots and pork. In my defense, your honour, the bottles look practically identical, as the above photo shows. Luckily my hubby caught the mistake before we added the honey, which I think would have been disastrous. As it was, the oyster sauce on the pork, carrots, and green onions tasted really good. So if you’re ever looking to change this recipe up, just omit the honey and swap teriyaki for oyster.

Would I make this recipe again? Most definitely yes, with the aforementioned changes: a side dish (or doubling the quantities), and actually using the correct sauce. It was tasty, cheap, easy, and quick, which definitely makes me want to have it again, especially on busy weeknights.

Carrot Jam

I’ve been looking for creative ways to preserve the carrots from my garden, since there are only so many carrot-based dishes that I can eat in a row. Yes, I could freeze some of them, but my freezer is getting awfully full of soups and sauces and broths (this happens every autumn), so something shelf-stable is what the doctor ordered. I also wanted a recipe that disguised the unusual shapes of my homegrown carrots (which I combined with store-bought orange ones for a bit of visual interest), since I know that ugly food tends to be eaten less enthusiastically than pretty food, even if it tastes identical.

So I browsed through my cookbooks and found a recipe for Carrot Jam on page 206 of Preserving by Pat Crocker (2011). I had never heard of carrot jam before, but there’s a similar recipe for Carrot Orange Marmalade on page 142 of Prizewinning Preserves by Yvonne Tremblay (2001), which apparently earned a red ribbon for best marmalade at the 2000 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. I guess it can’t be that unheard of. However, the Prizewinning Preserves marmalade was missing the intriguing spices of Preserving‘s carrot jam, which cinched my decision to make the latter recipe.

Preserving suggests letting the jars sit for a few weeks before opening for best flavour, but the cooking jam smelled so darned good that I opened up my first jar the very next day. I am so glad that I did. I baked up a quick batch of Dad’s Biscuits upon which to spread the jam, and then I was in seventh heaven. If these preserves get even better with age, I can’t imagine how delicious they will be. Suggested uses for this jam are as follows (Preserves, page 207):

Carrot jam can be used as any other fruit jam, but I particularly like it on quick bread nut loaves and with savoury meat pies or wraps. Use it as a glaze for cooked vegetables: toss grilled or steamed vegetables in up to 1 cup (250mL) of the jam while hot, just before serving. This is also a flavourful topping for fresh yogurt, or you can add a couple of tablespoons (25mL) to a Vinaigrette Dressing or Salsa Verde.

I can’t wait to try carrot jam in all of these ways! I think it would also make a lovely glaze for roast pork or chicken. I love this recipe so much that I think I will grow carrots again next year specifically to make them into this jam. Maybe I’ll even grow those red and/or purple heirloom carrots just so that the jam is even more visually interesting.