Herb-Crusted Fish

Today I was lucky enough to find a copy of Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997) for $1.25 at a local charity shop. I’ve just started watching Mary Berry on YouTube, which makes it seem like I’m way behind the curve since she has written more than seventy cookbooks, but honestly she’s not as big of a name here as she is in the UK! I mean, only seven of her books are available in hard copy via Chapters, and in brick-and-mortar stores she’s even harder to spot. It’s a tragedy, actually. My introduction to Mary Berry was via old episodes of The Great British Bake Off where she was the judge.


Preparing the ingredients.

So I was thrilled to find a copy of one of her out-of-print books today. A quick perusal of the recipes within while I waited for the kids to get home made me realize that I had almost all of the ingredients for Herb-Crusted Fish (page 134). (My choice of dinner recipe had absolutely nothing to do with having pulled a muscle in my back when I shoveled the ice berm at the bottom of the driveway the day before, and hence wanting nothing to do with lifting heavy bags of flour or potatoes.) I thought that a quick trip to the grocery store would be all that I needed. Ha! Does it ever work that way? First of all, I couldn’t find bread crumbs that didn’t already have cheese or seasoning mixed in, so I had to go with Panko. Then the store was out of non-frozen haddock (what grocery store runs out of haddock?), so I substituted basa fillets. Then I went on to looks for chervil, which apparently is really hard to get around here, so I bought curly parsley instead, which an Internet search suggested as a reasonable substitution. (The other herbs, tarragon and dill, I already had in the fridge.)


Frying the fish.

I mean, none of that was the recipe’s fault. The book is really intended for a British audience, so it’s not unheard of that some of the ingredients can’t be easily found this side of the pond. I’ve run into this problem with international cookbooks before. It is a frustrating, though.


Herb-crusted basa fillet with sliced avocado and romaine lettuce with Greek dressing.

When all was said and done, I was really happy with the final product. The substitutions worked really well. I mean, I have no idea if it tasted anything like what Mary Berry intended, but it did taste good! The whole family ate theirs and asked me to make it again sometime. The recipe’s instructions were clear and easy to follow, which is exactly what I was looking for in a book with “basics” and “new cook” in the title. The step-by-step photos throughout were great as well. I hope that I’m past the “new cook” stage by now, but it never hurts to brush up. It’s also great to have an illustrated guide when the instructions are from another country, because the terminology sometimes changes. All in all, I look forward to preparing recipes from this book again. I also hope to use it to help my kids learn to cook.

Asparagus, Eggs & French Dressing

I’ve really been enjoying trying out the dishes from the Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (2017). My go-to breakfast for the last week or so has come from this book: Asparagus, Eggs & French Dressing (page 164). The recipe serves two, but it’s easy enough to halve the ingredients to make a single serving for myself. (Hubby is a cereal-for-breakfast kind of guy, and the kids turn up their noses at vegetables for breakfast.)

If you prepare the dressing in advance (the recipe makes enough for a week’s worth of breakfasts for one person), this dish only takes about ten minutes to make. I don’t have a metal colander to put over the eggs in which to steam the asparagus, so I cook it in the microwave using a steamer dish. I also discovered that it takes a little longer than 5 1/2 minutes to make soft-boiled eggs around here; as the above photo attests, my first try was a bit underdone. It’s more like 6 1/2 minutes.

Things I discovered about myself when making this recipe: I’m not a big fan of raw tarragon (it tastes a bit like black licorice to me, which I despise), and I have a limited tolerance for raw red onions in the morning. I just started skipping the tarragon entirely, but I wonder if this dish might be good with a bit of basil instead? And although I like the red onion flavour in the dressing, I had to stop eating it as a garnish. Otherwise, I could taste it on my breath all day, even after brushing my teeth.

Christmas Gifts

I received some absolutely lovely Christmas gifts this year from friends, family, and Santa Claus. Some of the gifts would likely be of interest to other crafty- and foodie-types. My brother gave me one of those fantastic crocheted knight helmet hats and the previously-mentioned Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (Jamie Oliver, 2017). My husband gave me a copy of How to Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor (2011). Santa brought me some lovely worsted-weight variegated yarn, which I am currently turning into a hat. My parents bought me a funny (and very accurate) Procrasti-knitter T-shirt from White Owl Crochet.

But I do have a weakness for handmade items that combine practicality with beauty, and this year my parents picked out some absolutely lovely pieces for me. The first is a pair of wine tumbler/tea bowls from Greig Pottery. The one on the right is patterned with lupins, which is a flower that I first fell in love with on a trip to Newfoundland with my mom about eight years back. In shape and size, these vessels remind me of Japanese teacups, although they are intended for both hot and cold beverages (so far as I know, you’d never have a cold beverage in this kind of cup in Japan). They fit comfortably in my hand and the little indents — one on either side — are perfectly placed for my thumb and forefinger. As a bonus, they’re both microwave and dishwasher safe. I can’t wait to use them, possibly for some rum and eggnog before the season is over.

Mom and Dad also gave me this gorgeous two-tone rosewood & mango wood yarn bowl from Knitpicks. They actually gave me two hand-potted yarn bowls (in different sizes, for different-sized balls of yarn) last year for Christmas, but my kids managed to smash both of them on the same day. Needless to say, I was not amused, as the bowls sat on the table in the living room where the kids aren’t supposed to be playing in the first place. I was very vocal (possibly too vocal) about how much I missed the old bowls, so Mom actually hopped onto the Internet and ordered me a new one — one that, it should be noted, should be much more difficult to smash. Touch wood. I love the glassy-smooth finish of the wood; when I got the bowl, I couldn’t stop running my hands over it. I was especially proud of my mother for ordering it for me, since she had never before shopped online on her own, usually getting my brother or I to order things for her. I don’t see an Amazon Prime account in her future, but I like that Mom is now able to put aside her worries about online shopping, at least for items that she can’t get in town.

I want to take this opportunity to say a sincere thank-you for all of my gifts this holiday season. Although, as Garfield points out in the Christmas special that we watch every year, it’s not the giving, it’s not the getting, it’s the loving.

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.

Book Fair

This past weekend was a busy one, and it would have been even busier if I hadn’t been sick on Sunday. It started off in grand fashion with a trip to the Rockcliffe Park Book Fair. They advertised that they had over 30,000 used books, CDs, DVDs and records… And I think they delivered.

To be totally honest, a sale like this is a little slice of heaven for me. I’ve been a bookworm ever since I can remember; it was one of the things that I was teased the most for as a kid. That didn’t slow me down, though, and now I wear the label with pride. All of these books piled high in a gym brings me right back to the happiest days of my childhood, when the Scholastic Book Fair would come to my school. I would bring the money my parents gave me, plus all of my saved allowance money, so that I could bring a stack of books home with me to keep. (Libraries are like a second home to me, but having books I didn’t have to give back was an extra-special treat.) Of course, now that I’m an adult I can drive out to a bookstore any time, but the prices at a used book fair are so much more affordable — and it’s somewhere that I can pick up vintage and out-of-print books as well as new releases.

I came home with two big bags of books, mostly novels and a few Christmas gifts. (Yes, I do buy some of my gifts second-hand; there’s a lot of stuff that is just as good that should be reused instead of going to the dump, and some things just aren’t available any more.) I did find a few cookbooks that I just had to have, though.

Julia Child’s Menu Cookbook (Julia Child, 1991) — This one is a reprint of Julia child & Company and Julia Child & More Company. It’s hard to believe, but this is the first Julia Child cookbook that I have ever owned.
The Ontario Harvest Cookbook: An Exploration of Fests and Flavours (Julia Aitken & Anita Stewart, 1996)
Incredible Edibles: 43 Fun Things to Grow in the City (Sonia Day, 2010) — Okay, not technically a cookbook, but it’ll lead to more cooking in the end.
A Modern Kitchen Guide: A complete Book of Up-to-Date Recipes and Household Hints (Farmer’s Advocate and Canadian Countryman, 1946) — This is the book with the blank red spine. It’s one’s old enough that I haven’t found it online, which makes it all the more interesting to me.
A Little Canadian Cookbook (Faustina Gilbey, 1994) — This one is autographed by the illustrator!
Totally Bread Cookbook (Helene Siegel & Karen Gillingham, 1999)

What a great haul! And what a lovely way to spend a few hours for a bookworm like me!

Preparing for Halloween

This coming Saturday I’ll be hosting my annual family Halloween party, and I am currently in full-on party-prep-panic mode. Half of the interior decorations aren’t even up, the house is in a desperate need of a cleaning, and I still have all kinds of food to make. However, I recently treated myself to a few new cookbooks, which happily arrived in the mail just in time to make some of the dishes for the party.

Those books are Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016), and The Pumpkin Cookbook by Deedee Stovel (2017). I’ve been taking Purely Pumpkin out of the library on a regular basis ever since it was published, so I figured that it was high time that I actually go out and get my own copy. I’ll admit that The Pumpkin Cookbook was one of those, “people who liked this book also liked” kind of suggestions, and I thought that yes, I would probably like this one too. Even if I don’t use these books for party food, I know I’ll need them next week after Halloween when I’ll have a bunch of big Jack-o’-lanterns to turn into food before they rot.

I also took a few minutes out of my hectic day to make a few fairy skeletons. There’s a great tutorial for a Fairy Skeleton Candle over on Epbot, but when I tried to stick my fairy onto an artificial candle, it just wouldn’t stay. Serves me right for buying one of those fake candles that’s supposed to look real because it has real wax on the outside; in retrospect, I should have known that glue wouldn’t stick. I still like the skeleton fairies (I made three), though, and I’ve used them to help decorate my house. They were super-easy to make and my kids thought that they were great. Honestly, it took longer to source the tiny skeletons for a reasonable price (no way was I paying $5.00 apiece like they wanted at one shop — I got these ones at Dollarama, originally attached to a plastic chain) and to find faux butterfly wings (Dollar Tree) than it did to make the actual craft. Total cost for three fairy skeletons: $2.50 plus tax. Not bad!

Thrifting

I absolutely love going thrifting, i.e. going to second-hand shops, antique stores, flea markets, and giveaways in search of treasure. I mean, it’s the kind of treasure that is other peoples’ trash, but that’s totally okay by me. Treasure is in the eye of the beholder, really. Also, this is treasure I can actually afford.


613flea at Aberdeen Pavilion (Lansdowne Park).


The Original Fabric Flea Market at the Glebe Community Center.


The Ottawa Antique Market on Bank Street.

I did find some great treasures lately, like this stack of fabric from the Original Fabric Flea Market. I arrived with only an hour left of the market, and I really regret not showing up for the opening. I still scored some cute vintage prints, a bit of Halloween fabric, and a good chunk of grey faux fur (always in demand for costumes).

I also found two vintage tablecloths and two vintage-style (but brand new) aprons. The aprons are especially useful because I’ve found myself relying on them more and more to save my clothes when cooking — and they get dirty pretty fast, so it’s essential for me to have a small stash of them.

Recently there was a 50% off all books sale at Value Village, and the Salvation Army is currently running a coupon special that if you buy 3 or more books they’re all 50% off. (The coupon is valid until October 31st and is available here, for my fellow thrifters.) My girls are voracious readers, so I picked up dozens of new-to-them books that I will dole out over the coming months. For myself, I picked up the above-pictured Halloween books:

– I Can Decorate: Pumpkin Fun from Practico Media (2007)
Halloween Recipes & Crafts by Christine Savage (2003)
A Zombie Ate My Cupcake by Lily Vanilli (2016)

Books I’d like to go through with the kids:

Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers & Eaters by Jane Yolen (2009)
Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking by Sarah Elton (2014)

A bunch of cookbooks, which are disproportionately from Canadian Living because most of the other ones I was interested in that were available, I already had:

The Canadian Living Entertaining Cookbook by Carol Ferguson (1990)
The Canadian Living Christmas Book from the Canadian Living Magazine (1993)
– Canadian Living’s Family Cookbook from the Canadian Living Magazine (1995)
Canadian Living’s Country Cooking by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Vegetables by Elizabeth Baird (1995)
Canadian Living’s Best Soups and Stews by Elizabeth Baird (1997)
Canadian Living’s Best One-Dish Meals by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Light Cooking by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Breads And Pizzas by Elizabeth Baird (1998)
Betty Crocker’s Bread Machine Cookbook from Betty Crocker (1995)
– Restaurant Recipe: Ottawa’s Best Recipes from Loeb (2000)
How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson (2003)

Tucked away in one of these cookbooks was a clipping from a newspaper, which reads (translated roughly from French):

FOUR HAPPY YOUNG LADIES made their Brownie promise at the Notre-Dame d’Aylmer convent last Sunday. They are Dominique Robert, Elaine Davis, Analisa Lemieux, and in the back, Lyne Bisaillon.

As an aside, if anyone in this photo wants the original copy or a high-res scan, I’d be happy to send it to them.

To satisfy my knitting curiosity, I snatched up:

2-at-a-time Socks by Melissa Morgan-Oakes (2007)

I also thought that these old drop spindles were interesting. I’ve made a few attempts at spinning my own yarn in the past; perhaps it’s time to give it another go?

Some of my favourite finds of the last little while were two Pyrex England casserole dishes. The one on the left was originally my mother’s (although probably not the original lid) and it came to her as a wedding gift; the ones on the right I found last weekend. I believe that I mentioned in my Mom’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese recipe write-up that this is, to me, the proper dish for my mother’s casseroles. Mom taking this dish out of the cupboard meant that I was about to have one of my all-time favourite meals. I still feel happy just looking at these dishes. It’s probably silly, but I bet everyone has a simple object with emotional connections to their childhood like this.

I’d have to say that my absolute favourite find was a copy of The New Purity Cook Book by Anna Lee (1967). This cookbook was a mainstay in my mother’s kitchen, which is why when I moved out I made sure to buy the reprint The All New Purity Cookbook. And you know, I probably would have been quite satisfied with that, except they made one crucial error to my mind: instead of organizing the index alphabetically like in the original, it was organized by category. This means that’s it’s impossible to quickly search for dishes with one main ingredient. It also leaves me trying to figure out which category some dishes fit into (it can be subjective). So it’s not just for nostalgia, but for practical reasons that I’m so happy I found a copy of the original book, and not only because they’re over $50 each on Amazon (I paid thrift store prices for mine). Not only that, but it’s in near-mint condition — much better than my mom’s well-loved copy!

There are a bunch of flea and Christmas markets coming up soon, which I’m looking forward to even though I’m not even ready to think about the holiday season yet. Heck, I haven’t even gotten through Halloween yet! What I’m looking forward to soonest is Ottawa Give Away Weekend, when people put items they don’t want on the side of the road for anyone to pick up for free if they are so inclined. I’ve found some lovely treasures on this weekend in previous years, including the beautiful antique mirror that hangs in my front hall. You might call it trash picking, but I call it recycling. Why should I buy all new things when there is such a huge variety of awesome second-hand items out there? Newer doesn’t always mean better — and it almost always means more expensive.