Tuna Steak

A while back I picked up a four-pack of frozen tuna steaks at Food Basics for about $10.00, which is a really reasonable price around here. Now, I know that frozen fish can be hit or miss, but around here a lot of the stuff you find at the fish counter is previously frozen anyway (it’s usually noted only in the tiniest of print), so I figured I’d give it a shot. I followed Jamie Oliver’s tutorial for How to Cook Tuna Steak, which I’ve had great success with before. I figured it would be a good idea to keep the methodology the same if I wanted to test a different product, only changing the one variable and all that. See, teachers, I did learn something in science class!

I am happy to report that it turned out really well! I’d say it was easily as good as the tuna steaks I’ve previously bought from the fish counter. Now, the stuff from the counter probably doesn’t compare favorably to fresh, but unless I want to spend an exorbitant sum to get stuff flown in from the ocean, it’s probably the best I’m going to get. After all, we are landlocked here — the closest ocean (the Atlantic) is almost 500km away! (And that’s if you go to Maine — it’s more than double that to stay in Canada.)

The rub on the tuna is salt, pepper, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds, all ground together with a mortar and pestle. I served the fish over sticky rice, along with garlic shrimp, steamed asparagus, and steamed edamame. Overall it was a lovely, fresh-tasting dinner, and I look forward to having it again.

Yarn Dolls Tutorial

Yarn dolls are something that I used to make all the time as a kid; once again, I believe I learned how to make them in Girl Guides. I realized that I hadn’t made any with my own children yet when Thing 1 came home from Guides the other night with the beginnings of her own yarn doll in the works. Thing 2 hadn’t had a chance to make them yet, so I thought I’d dig out my solid-colour yarns left over from previous projects and let them get at creating.

If you’re not the kind of person who’d have yarn scraps around the house, don’t despair! There are lots of very cheap yarns available, even from the dollar store. But before you head there I might recommend hitting the local thrift shop. There you can usually find orphaned balls of yarn for a fraction of the price of buying new, and it keeps a previously-loved item from going to a landfill.

Yarn Dolls

Materials:

– yarn
– OPTIONAL: googly eyes, beads, buttons, scrap fabric, etc.

Supplies Needed:

– book, binder, folder, or piece of stiff cardboard
– scissors
– OPTIONAL: glue, needle, thread

1. Get your yarn, book, and a pair of scissors. I chose a stack of file folders for 8″x10″ pages because they were about the right size for the size of doll that I wanted to make. However, you can really use any size of book or even a piece of cardboard. Since it’s just going to hold the yarn, you don’t have to worry about damaging it.

2. Wrap the yarn around the book until you have created a thick hank. How much yarn you use depends entirely on how big you want the doll to be and what size of book you use. Feel free to experiment! There really isn’t any “right way” to do it. Then cut the yarn off of the ball.

3. Cut a piece of yarn that is a little bit more than twice as long as the book. Thread the piece of yarn under the hank and tie it tightly with a double knot.

4. Slide the hank off of the book. Pass the piece of yarn that you used in step 3 through the center of the hank again and tie another double knot for reinforcement. Turn the hank inside-out so that the knots are on the inside. Smooth the piece of yarn so that it is now part of the hank.

5. Cut another piece of yarn that is a little bit more than twice as long as the book. Wrap this yarn tightly around where you will want the neck of the doll to be, then tie it tightly with a double knot. Wrap the yarn around one more time and tie it again for reinforcement. Smooth the yarn into the hank.

6. Holding the yarn taut, snip the loops at the bottom of the hank (opposite from the head you have created). Trim the excess yarn so that it is roughly the same length.

7. Separate roughly a third of the yarn to create the arms (1/6 of the yarn per arm). For thicker arms, separate a little bit more.

8. Cut another piece of yarn that is a little bit more than twice as long as the book. Tie that yarn to create the waist, using the same technique as at the neck.

9. Braid the arms, double-tying the wrists tightly with scraps of yarn. Divide the bottom of section of yarn in half and braid it to create the legs. Double-tie the yarn tightly around the ankles.

10. Trim off the excess yarn on the hands and feet.

At this point your yarn doll is technically done, but if you feel that it is too plain, that’s where the optional decorations come in! You can:

– add googly eyes or beads or buttons for eyes,
– tie on more yarn as hair,
– sew scrap fabric for clothing,
– tie on artificial butterfly or dragonfly wings to create fairies
– twist a pipe cleaner into a halo and tie on a big lace bow as “wings” to make an angel
– make tiny yarn dolls to hang from earrings or necklaces
– make small yarn dolls in festive colours to use as Christmas ornaments

Exercise your creativity!

There are a couple of basic variations on this kind of doll that are useful to know. The first is the “dress” version, which basically omits braiding the legs to create a skirt. You may note that the arms of this doll are tied instead of braided, which is a much quicker way to do it; this is great for younger children who may have limited patience or braiding skill. It should be noted that this version requires a shorter length of yarn (i.e. a smaller book) due to the lack of braiding.

Also, for a simple snowman, use white yarn and tie it all together at the bottom to create a “snowball” instead of legs.

A great Halloween version of a yarn doll stops at Step 6, and requires only the addition of googly eyes to become a ghost. This is probably the simplest version possible, which is perfect if you want to make a bunch of them and hang them as decorations.

Have fun!

Quick & Easy

I needed a quick and easy dinner recently, something that didn’t take a lot of prep because it was a busy weeknight and I was already running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  So I threw some sticky rice in the instant pot, steamed some spinach in the microwave, and fried up a couple of eggs per person.

I topped the steamed spinach with a sprinkle of furikake (which is one of my favourite easy ways to liven up some dull vegetables, by the way), and it was done!  It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was healthy, fast, and cheap.  I’d estimate that it was less than $2.00 per serving — and it could have been much cheaper if I’d gone with the less pricey basmati rice instead of sticky rice.  Sticky rice is probably the most expensive kind of rice available at the grocery stores around here, although I’m sure there are other, more expensive kinds available in specialty stores.

The Nightmare Before Christmas Garage

Halloween is all over but for the consumption of vast quantities of candy. Due to rainy weather, we didn’t get as many trick-or-treaters as I thought we would this year, so we have boxes of full-sized candy bars on top of what the kids accumulated. I think I’m going to have to Google “things to make with leftover Halloween candy”.

Of course, after Halloween there’s also lots of cleaning up and packing away to do, but before I get to that I’d like to share my favourite part of this year’s decorations: the Nightmare Before Christmas garage.

You see, this year marks the 25th anniversary of one of my favourite movies (and Thing 2’s all-time fave so far), The Nightmare Before Christmas. I thought that part of my outdoor decor should definitely reflect this fact. I purchased the little Jack Skellington inflatable on the right, and the larger one on the left was a generous gift from a friend. I made the Oogie Boogie “moon” light cover out of a plastic platter, a black Bristol board cut-out, and a yellow light bulb. The “hill” on the garage door was just more Bristol board taped on and cut out in the desired shape, with breaks and slight overlaps between the panels so I could still open and close the door. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly difficult, but I was really happy with it all in all.

As for actual costumes the day of, I wore my Robin Hood: Men in Tights costume during the day, and my Discworld Death to take my kids trick-or-treating at night. Death was very well received by most, although he did frighten a few little ones (he’s enormous, after all). I really did enjoy chasing the teenagers. The kids wore their Borderlands 2 costumes, and they were thrilled when a few people even knew who they were supposed to be.

I’d say that it was a pretty great Halloween.

Tie Dyed Pillow Cases

Tie dyeing with the kids is really something that I prefer to do in the summer when I can throw the kids outside in their bathing suits (which are synthetic and don’t absorb dye) to minimize the mess indoors. This time of year, with temperatures hovering around freezing and snow still covering the ground, that’s not exactly an option. Instead, the girls worked in their bathing suits and socks (warm feet are important) in the kitchen, over the metal sink, and we hoped for the best.

In the spirit of keeping things as cheap as possible, we used fabric we already had — four old, plain cotton pillow cases. We also bought the dye at the dollar store. So far, this are the cheapest kits I’ve found locally, with even Walmart’s selection starting at about $11.00 for a two-colour Tulip-brand kit that only makes three items. For six colours, you’re looking at upwards of $25.00. At Dollarama, they sell their own Crafts brand three-colour kits for $4.00 apiece, and we bought two in different colours. But would these kits work as well as the more expensive ones we’d tried?

When it comes to the supplies included in the kit, I found that they were more or less the same as other brands. They contained everything we needed except the water and the plastic to wrap the fabric as it sat, which is standard. Slightly higher quality gloves would have been appreciated, since they did leak and now the kids have splotches on their hands in places, but that seems to be standard too (just like the ones that come with hair dye). The instructions were clear and concise, and even had a brief photo tutorial for how to make different kinds of designs. We used the spiral (left) and bullseye (center and right) techniques on the kids’ pillowcases. (If you need more information about how to tie dye there are a million sites out there, but the Tulip site has some great tutorials that will work with any brand of dye.)

The kit did contain soda ash, which is necessary to pre-treat the fabric to retain vibrant colours. However, the directions did say that the dyes could be used without pre-treatment, but they would come out more pastel. I let the kids choose between waiting a bit longer to dye so they could have bright colours, or to do it right away and have lighter colours, and not surprisingly they chose to go with the route that required the least amount of patience. Despite the dire warnings of the packaging and articles online, after the first rinse the colours remained vibrant (above).

After a run through the washer and dryer, the colours did fade a bit, and I expect that they will continue to do so throughout their lifetime, but I remain happy with the final product. The kids are thrilled (according to Thing 1, the pillow cases are “Awesome!”), and since the project was for them, I say it was a success. (Bottom left and top right were done in the spiral techniques, top left and bottom right were done using bullseye — more techniques here.)

I will say one thing, though: each package of three colours claims that it contains enough dye for up to eight T-shirts. I guess that could technically be true, if you were to use very small shirts, and if you didn’t want a lot of colour saturation or variation in your design. Two packs, for us, did four very saturated single-bed-sized pillow cases (which I would say are about the same size as a small adult T-shirt), with enough left over to do maybe one more. That’s five items out of two packs of dye, when it claims we could make sixteen items. So keep that in mind when you decide how many items to prep. Even so, that’s five items in six colours for $8.00, compared to Walmart’s three items in two colours for $11.00, so Dollarama remains the cheapest place in town to buy supplies for tie dye crafts.

Dollar Store Challenge: Pancake Mix & Peach Muffins Recipe

When I was doing the Dollar Store Challenge last week, I had the chance to get a good look at the non-junk-food ingredients that the store had to offer. I was inspired to try to make another meal from the ingredients, this time a to-go, prep-ahead breakfast or lunch. I was inspired by some of the pancake mix muffins I’d seen on the Internet, but of course I had to make some serious adaptations to adjust for what’s available at the Dollar Store. As a bonus, it’s also vegetarian (although not vegan), and can be made nut-free.

What I bought was:

1 x Aunt Jemima Original Pancake Mix @ $2.50/ea
1 x Fruitropic Peach Halves 398mL @ $1.00/ea
1 x Fruitropic Coconut Milk 398mL @ $1.25/ea
1 x Unsweetened Apple Snack Fruit Combo Applesauce 452g @ $1.25/ea

Subtotal: $6.00 + tax
Total with tax: $6.00

(None of these food items were taxable.)

When budgeting for this meal, keep in mind that there will be leftover pancake mix, coconut milk, and applesauce that can be used in additional recipes.

After having made the muffins, next time I would probably add a spices for inexpensive added flavour and some chopped walnuts for crunch and weight. I didn’t see either of these ingredients at my local Dollar Store, so it wouldn’t strictly conform to the challenge, but you could easily stay under the $10-to-serve-four-people mandate by buying small quantities of both at the grocery store or Bulk Barn. Of course, if you’re allergic to nuts or you want to send the muffins to a nut-free environment like an elementary school, just skip them!

Here’s the recipe:


I didn’t use spices in this batch, so if you follow the recipe, the colour of your final product will be slightly darker.

Pancake Mix & Peach Muffins
Makes 14-16 muffins

Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).
In a large mixing bowl, combine:
2 1/2 cups pancake mix
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup canned coconut milk*
113g single-serve cup of applesauce
Open a:
398mL can of peach halves**
Drain the syrup from the peaches into a measuring cup. Top up the syrup with water until the combined liquid measures 1 cup. Add the liquid to the mixing bowl. Mix until batter is smooth.

Chop the peaches roughly and fold them into the batter. Also fold in:
2/3 cup chopped walnuts***

Grease a muffin pan or spray with baking spray. Ladle batter into cups about 2/3 full.

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into one of the muffins comes out clean. Turn them out of the pan immediately and place them right-side-up to cool on a wire rack. Muffins may be eaten right away or cooled completely and then stored in a sealed container at room temperature.

*Canned coconut milk tends to separate, so stir it well before measuring.
**Other types of canned fruit or fruit mixes may be substituted, so long as they are in a light syrup.
***Walnuts are optional.

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.