Progress

I had planned on spending all day yesterday working on my costume, but a power outage until after noon made that highly problematic. I couldn’t even cut out pattern or fabric pieces, since that requires a large, flat surface, and the only spot like that in my house was my basement floor — where there was no power for lights.

Luckily, I had a good portion of the rest of the day to work on the costume, and some progress was made. I am happy to say that at least one element of the costume is complete. I did have to take a break to cook and eat dinner, though.

I didn’t want to make something that took hours of prep work, since I should have been spending that time sewing. I still had one enormous zucchini left to cook (my friends, overloaded with their harvest, kept bringing me more), so I made a big batch of baked Panko zucchini sticks. Normally I wouldn’t peel the zucchini, but this time I did because the squash was huge and old, so the skin was very tough. For meat, I chopped up some chicken, coated it in Golden Dragon Thick Teriyaki Sauce, and fried it up on the stove while the zucchini baked. It all turned out quite well, and it was found acceptable by my friend who came over in the evening to work on her own costume. We were up until well past midnight sewing, and we’re not done yet!

Childhood Family Dinner

Yesterday I had a million and one things to do in order to prep for the party on Saturday, so I really needed to make a dinner that I could probably have cooked in my sleep. This was the kind of dinner that I had regularly as a kid and was one of the staples of how I learned how to cook, way back when. A few small things have changed here and there, but it basically tastes the same.

I baked chicken thighs that were sprinkled with powdered onion soup mix. When I was a kid, boned and skinned meat was way too expensive for everyday meals, so it would have been whole chicken legs (drumstick and thigh), bone-in, skin-on. I served it with whipped potatoes; as a kid, that would simply have been mashed, no fancy schmancy electronics like a hand mixer. The corn was exactly what I grew up with: boiled from frozen, generally in the microwave.

We ate all kinds of other food, of course. My mom used to hang out with a Lebanese couple, and they exchanged recipes and techniques, so Mom made great Lebanese food. We ate all kinds of pasta and roasts and fancy Sunday dinners. But when push came to shove and we had something going on on a weekday evening (and with both my brother and I in hockey and Guiding/Scouting, that was most evenings), this was our fast, easy, everybody-likes-it kind of meal. To me, this kind of dish is a comfort food, because it brings back fond memories of family togetherness. And as a bonus, now that I’m a parent myself, there’s nothing in a supper like this that I have to fight to get my kids to eat!

Oh, and if you think that my parents wouldn’t have served supper on a plate with a skull and bones on it, on top of a skeleton-print tablecloth, you probably haven’t met my parents. Trust me, if they’d had those things, they would have used them in a heartbeat.

Chichen & Roast Vegetables Curry for Family Guests

Last night I had family guests over for dinner. I find that my guests can be divided into two basic categories: formal and family. Formal visitors are generally people I don’t know very well and with whom I am still trying to make a good impression. When they visit, I stress that my house is not neat and tidy enough, that my decor is not fancy enough, that my food is not tasty enough, and that my children are too noisy (unless they bring their own children along, which mitigates this factor). I spend hours or days making everything as perfectly prepped as possible before they come over, and I still worry that it is not enough.

Family guests include actual family and friends that I’ve known for long enough that they might as well be family. They have seen me at my best and at my worst, and they know that for the most part I am somewhere in between these two extremes. They are the people that would I welcome into my home without advance notice; in fact, I welcome them to drop by any time. So while I may not have a three course meal prepped for them and my house will be cluttered with the day-to-day mess of living, we do end up seeing much more of each other. Formal visitors can transition into family guests over time. It’s part of the process of friendship to me.

Last night’s dinner was one for family guests. The people visiting me were my parents, with whom I have a very close relationship, and a friend of the family who is an honorary aunt. She’s in no way related to me by blood or marriage, but she’s actually closer to me than a number of my actual relatives. This woman has known me since the day I was born; actually, she posed as my mother’s sister in order to visit us in the maternity ward and actually met me before my grandparents did. She changed my diapers and rocked me to sleep when I was colicky as an infant. At six years old, I was literally the only child allowed at her wedding. The idea of being formal with her is kind of absurd.

The seven of us crowded around my kitchen table (which doesn’t seem small when it’s just the four of us, but I am quickly reminded of the true size of my dining area when we have guests). I served a hearty, healthy meal based predominantly on my Thai Coconut Curry recipe, but as usual I changed things up a bit. I didn’t have any bok choy, so that got left out. I traded shrimp for chopped chicken thighs, added chopped garlic, and I served it over rice instead of noodles. Most notably for the flavour, I didn’t use curry paste, I just sprinkled in mild curry powder to taste. My parents don’t have the taste for any spice whatsoever, so the mildest way to go was the best in this situation. So I guess it wasn’t really all that similar to the original recipe, but the technique I used was the same.

I served the curry with some bread machine Whole Wheat Bread (page 15, The Complete Guide to Bread Mahcine Baking, Better Homes and Gardens (1999)). We sat around the kitchen table, stuffed our faces, caught up with the things we’d done since we’d last met, and regaled each other with stories of days gone by. It was a lovely way to spend an evening.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

Yesterday ended up being hot and humid, so I wanted to make a dinner that didn’t require heating up the kitchen all that much. Community Table’s recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala had come across my feed recently, so I thought I’d give it a try. How does cooking something for eight hours not heat up my house? Well, I put the slow cooker out on a table in the garage.


I wish I owned the pretty dishes that they use to serve it in the video.

I had high hopes for this recipe, because a) true to my heritage, I like making easy food where you just put everything in a pot and we boil it for seventeen and a half hours straight, as Denis Leary put it; and b) this dish smelled absolutely fabulous while it was cooking. My garage has never smelled better, to be honest, and sometimes I use my bread maker in there. But when I actually took a bit, the flavour just didn’t live up to the hype. It was just… Bland. There was no depth.

Now, I’m no expert when it comes to Indian cuisine, but if I ever try this recipe again I would change a few things. Instead of just throwing everything in the pot raw, I would first toast the spices, then brown the onions and the garlic in a bit of olive oil, and then brown the chicken. This would pre-cook some of the ingredients, so it probably wouldn’t be necessary to have it in the slow cooker for as long, maybe 4 hours. Instead of chicken breasts, which have a tendency to be dry (even in sauce), I’d use chicken thighs. I’d use fresh tomatoes run through a blender instead of canned tomato sauce for a fresher taste. I’d add a few more veggies chopped up bite-sized; sweet peppers and mushrooms go well in this kind of dish (cooked first on the stove as well in bit of olive oil), but I could probably throw in anything on hand. It’s not like I’m going for authenticity here.

If nothing else, this recipe is in desperate need of salt, which enhances flavour. I added salt after I served the dish and it really did help, but I think it would be so much better if it was done during the cooking process. However, I’m not sure exactly how much salt is required for the whole potful (which feeds my family twice over, by the way). Salting to taste unsafe to do when the chicken is raw, so I’d really have no choice but to pre-cook the chicken anyway, and if I’m doing that I might as well make use of all of the previously mentioned techniques as well.

Honey Curry Chicken

Sometimes the food that I make can take hours, even days, to prepare. Other times I have to make a rushed meal between activities. This dinner was definitely one of the latter.

I made the Honey Curry Chicken from page 126 of The United Churches in Canada: Let’s Break Bread Together (September 1988 edition). The flavour of the final dish reminded me of nothing so much as dipping McDonald’s chicken nuggets into honey, which is incredibly low-brow but recalls happy childhood memories. At least this is nominally healthier, since the chicken isn’t breaded and there are actually vegetables!

The honey curry sauce is very quick to make and can be as mild or as spicy as suits your tastes, depending on the kind of curry powder that you choose to use. I used Irresistibles Mild Curry powder which adds flavour but absolutely no heat, which is exactly what I’m looking for when cooking for my children or my parents. (My husband and I prefer more spice.) Instead of baking the chicken in the oven, as the recipe called for, I went the quicker route of chopping it small and frying it in its own juices on the stove top. I didn’t use raisins in the sauce (they were optional anyway and didn’t really seem to go). As the recipe dictated, I served it over fluffy rice (Suraj Basmati). I served it with peas as we didn’t have any beans, and no toasted slivered almonds as a topping since we didn’t have any of those either. Despite all of the changes, it turned out absolutely lovely and I will definitely make this dish again.

Thai Chicken Coconut Curry

Last night I wanted to make a healthy and easy meal, so I went back to the Thai Coconut Curry Recipe and worked with what I had in the fridge and pantry. I used Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry Paste again, since I still had about 2/3 of a jar left in the fridge. As protein, I used chicken thighs, which I had bought in quantity a few days before due to a fantastic deal at the grocery store. For the veggies I used yellow zucchini, green zucchini, and garlic scapes, all of which are in season locally. Like with my Indian coconut curry (which in retrospect this version of the dish looks an awful lot like), I was running short on time, so I cooked the veggies on the stove. I also served it on rice.

The dish was very tasty, and my whole family ate it, which satisfies my most stringent criteria when it comes to cooking. Also, anything with that many veggies incorporated into it is better for both the health and the digestion. However, I think if I want a more attractively-coloured final product, I’ll have to make the time to roast the veggies. They seem to keep their original colour much better when roasted. Also, chicken and rice aren’t nearly as visually appealing on a plate as shrimp and egg noodles. Even so, this meal remains very versatile and super-easy to make, so I’ll probably keep making it regularly — with infinite variations, of course.

Indian Coconut Curry

Last night I decided to make coconut curry again, but with a more Indian flavour. The one that I made previously was more of a Thai dish (although certainly not an authentic one), mostly because I used Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry Paste. This time I used Pataks Mild Curry Paste; the company specializes in flavours originating in India.

As is probably evident from the picture, I made a few more changes, based mostly on what was in my fridge and pantry. I replaced the carrots with mushrooms, I switched the shrimp for chopped chicken breast, and I served the dish over rice instead of with noodles. Also notably, I ran out of time to roast the vegetables in the oven (which takes about an hour), so I cooked them up in a frying pan on the stove with the chicken once it was sealed. I also needed to boil down the sauce a bit once I added the curry paste and the light coconut milk because the veggies were more steamed than anything else and hence added a lot of moisture.

So I made a tonne of changes, but the dish still turned out successfully. This all goes to show how much you can mess with this recipe and still have great results! My kids ate all the food on their plates and then came back for seconds, which is how I rate dinner success in our house. Also, they ate all of their veggies without complaining, which is a huge win. Thank you, Brothers Green Eats, for introducing me to this dish!