A Piece of Pie

Recently, my husband and I were playing Borderlands 2 online with another couple who are good friends of ours. At one point I had to take a brief AFK break to take a pie out of the oven, causing our friends to jokingly lament that they didn’t have pie too. At that time, their birthdays were swiftly approaching, so I promised them that I’d make them pies for their birthday. Well, their joint birthday celebration (their birthdays are only a couple of days apart) was this past Friday, so on Thursday night I had to make their pies.

I decided to make two totally different kinds of pies, and I started with a lemon meringue. I used the crust recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), the filling from page 687 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), and Soft Meringue Topping #1 on page 798 of the Joy of Cooking. I’ll confess right now that I had never made lemon meringue pie before, even though I quite like it. I’d only tried a meringue once before and that failed spectacularly. I don’t know what I did, but no matter how hard I whipped it, the meringue never formed peaks at all, it just stayed runny. I was really worried that it wouldn’t turn out right.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

In the end, I’m quite proud of my first lemon meringue pie, even though I singed the topping a bit. I have got to remember that my oven heats unevenly and that I need to check on my baked goods more often. I mean, I set a timer for the minimum time recommended and then checked it with five minutes to go, and it was still a rather dark brown (I was aiming for a toasted gold). If I’d left it in five minutes longer, it would have been burnt. Luckily, the colour was only on the surface, and my friends said it tasted just fine. They served it up to their gaming group when playing D&D on Sunday night, and everyone liked it, even one person who generally doesn’t like lemon meringue. I’m wondering if that’s because I used fresh lemons and lemon zest when I made the filling from scratch, instead of using canned filling.

For the second pie I went with a fruit-filled pie, which something I’ve done successfully a million times before, just in case. I mean, given the disaster with the bitter pumpkin pie at Christmas, experience doesn’t always mean mistake-free. But I’m fairly confident that it will taste fine (especially since you can honestly completely omit sugar in most fruit pies and it’ll still be palatable). For kicks, I rolled the top crust using a laser-engraved rolling pin that I received as a gift a while back. It features the hazard symbols for poison, ionizing radiation, high voltage, and biological hazards. Something tickles me about using this on food.

What with a fruit pie crust never baking flat, it’s hard to see the design, but it is there. I also vented the crust using a 8-Piece Pie Divider for the first time, which was a gift from another friend. It is honestly the weirdest-looking gadget in my kitchen, but it works quite well. The recipe for apple-strawberry pie that I used can actually be found on the back of its packaging box — although I did use the same Purity Pastry crust for both pies, since it’s just easier to whip up one big batch instead of multiple small ones. I used leftovers of that crust, along with some extra fruit from the fridge, to make the fruit tarts that night as well.

Honestly, I’m kind of hoping that this baking-as-a-birthday-gift idea becomes a regular thing. As my friends and I get older, I find it harder to shop for presents, since I know the things that they really want is way out of my budget, and we all have more clutter than we really need. But food is a necessity of life. And just maybe on our birthdays we deserve to be able to elevate a basic need to something a little more special.

A Year Gone By

The one-year anniversary of this blog (blogiversary?) slipped by on February 13th without me really noticing it. Sitting down at the computer to write a blog post before I shut down my computer and crawl into bed has become a part of my daily routine. It has given me a chance to reflect on the things I’ve worked on or that have interested me. On a more practical note, blogging has allowed me to keep track of what I’ve done, where I got the recipe/instructions/pattern, and how it turned out — and in a searchable format. I can’t count the number of times I’ve grabbed my phone and used the search function on this blog as a quick memory aid.


Kirkland Asian Beef Noodle Soup kit with added soft-boiled eggs. It looks reasonably appetizing, but it tastes powdery and somehow more artificial than an instant ramen packet. Thumbs down from me.

Have I learned anything over the last year? Well, I’ve expanded my cooking skills considerably. I no longer rely on the same repertoire of a few reliable recipes day in and day out. I mean, of course I still have some that I go back to over and over again, but that’s interspersed with trying new things. And trying new things has started to help me get over the fear of failure when learning. One of the great things about cooking is that even if you mess it up, it’s only one meal. It may seem like a big deal at the time, especially for the more difficult dishes, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not so bad. The important thing is that I learn from my failures.


Homemade chicken noodle soup with half an avocado filled with ranch dressing, and a Dad’s Biscuit. I may have added a few too many noodles to the soup this time, but it tasted fine.

I’m also enjoying how blogging has pushed me to try new foods and new techniques — and that, by extension, has influenced how my children experience the culinary world. So long as it’s not burned to a crisp, my husband will eat just about anything so long as he doesn’t have to cook it. (That’s not to say that he doesn’t have his preferences, but he’ll still eat stuff he’s not fond of.) But my kids, though, are more resistant to culinary change. They’re not super-picky eaters (and boy, have I heard stories about kids like that), but they tend to complain when a food isn’t one of their favourites. I think that exposing them to new foods so often now has taught them that just because a food is new, that doesn’t mean they won’t like it. There’s still resistance there, but not at the same level as this time last year. And I have to say it’s heartwarming when I overhear my kids brag to their friends about my cooking — and then try to persuade their friends to try something new.


A quick dinner of fried rice using whatever leftovers were in the fridge. Ingredients included roast chicken, roast beef, red onion, green onion, potatoes, corn, peas, mushrooms, garlic, and eggs, cooked together with a bit of soy sauce and miso broth. Tasty.

Where do I want to go from here? Well, I have a whole list of dishes I want to try, and a stack of new cookbooks from Christmas that I’ve barely cracked. My friends bought me a copy of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman (2017), and I am highly intrigued. I also want to dive into How To Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor (2011), which my husband bought me. Although these books are from completely different cultures and corners of the globe, they do share a commonality in that I’ll have to learn where to source some of the ingredients that are less common around here (or common, but only seasonally). I also want to improve my breadmaking skills, and learn to make rum balls and pavlovas.


Fresh fruit tarts made from crust leftover after making full-sized pies. The filling is basically a peeled, chopped apple, strawberries, and blueberries, with a bit of white and brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon.

Mostly, I just want to keep learning. There is so much out there to try! I want to push my personal boundaries when it comes to cooking, and try new techniques when it comes to handicrafts, and start my own small business when it comes to thrifting. I want to challenge myself. I want to expand. I want to grow. And I want to keep writing about it.

Valentine’s Day Sweets

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, which for me meant that the day before was spent in the kitchen baking. Okay, well, not the whole day; some of my time was spent in the kitchen dealing with a leaking dishwasher. That slowed things down immensely. Luckily, the issue was a slightly-clogged drain pipe and dirt in the door seal that kept it from being watertight, and a good cleaning of the machine fixed the leak. If your dishwasher is going to leak, a fix without having to purchase expensive parts is best, really. Also, there wasn’t enough water that came out to cause much damage. The basement ceiling is a drop ceiling and the walls and floor are only half-finished, so there’s not much there for the water to damage anyway.

When I did get to bake, the first thing I tried was a double-batch of White Layer Cake found on page 110 of Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997). I used crab apple jelly that I’d made back in the fall as filling. This recipe was very nicely illustrated and easy to follow. It yielded lovely cupcakes that had a crumbly, buttery texture, which were similar to a good cornmeal muffin on top but with a softer middle. The recipe does call for self-rising flour, which I’ve come to realize is a really common ingredient in British recipes, but isn’t something the average cook would have in the pantry around here. Heck, not all grocery stores carry it. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to make with all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt: directions here.

As I discovered, a single batch only yields about a dozen cupcakes, and I wanted to make 48 (half for Thing 1’s Guide troupe, and half for Thing 2’s Sparks troupe). By the time I’d figured this out, I’d run out of a few ingredients; this recipe takes a lot of eggs. I was getting a bit pressed for time, so I dug out a package each of IKEA Muffinsmix Choklad and Muffinsmix Citron (just-add-water chocolate and lemon cake mix, respectively). Thing 1 got the IKEA cupcakes and Thing 2 got the Mary Berry ones, and I honestly think that Thing 2 got the better end of the deal by a long shot.

Next came the treats for the treats for the girls’ homeroom classes at school. I’d planned on making orange sugar cookies for which I’d found a vintage Bake King recipe sheet tucked into an old cookbook, but those required the dough to be chilled and I had simply run out of time. I fell back on a recipe that I’d used successfully in the past for Fudgy Pumpkin Coffee Brownies (minus the coffee, since the intended audience was children). This recipe can be found on page 222 of Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016). Once again, I substituted whole wheat flour for einkorn or light spelt flour, and even with this change, the brownies turned out great. This recipe invariably yields moist, rich brownies with just the right level of sweetness. As a bonus, I got to use up some of the Halloween pumpkin puree that’s still in my freezer. And none of the brownies came back home, so I figure that at least some of the kids (and/or the teachers) liked them.

Pasta Primavera

So I tried cooking a second recipe from Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997), and sadly, I wasn’t nearly as happy with the recipe as last time. I’ll say up front that I did make a few changes; instead of string beans, I used asparagus stalks cut small, and instead of dried penne I used dried linguini. But I’m pretty sure that’s not where my issues with this dish lie. At any rate, it still holds true to the dish’s basic composition of “the combination of lightly cooked vegetables and pasta”.

To be clear, it’s the dish, not the recipe, that I had problems with. The recipe was quite clear, concise, and yielded exactly the results that it promised. But I’ve had pasta primavera before, and this just didn’t live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. I’d expected the sauce to be creamy, and while it looked like it should be, it really tasted quite dry. That might have been the fault of the cheese that I chose (Chevrai Original Goat Cheese), but it was soft goat cheese as the recipe dictated. Also, the strong flavour of lemon (which my husband insists tasted more like lime, but as you can see from the above photo was definitely a lemon) was off-putting.

It’s too bad, because I like the concept behind this dish, but I don’t think that this recipe is for me. That’s all right, since a quick perusal of my bookshelves yielded three different pasta primavera recipes for me to try: on page 327 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), page 125 of The New Canadian Basics Cookbook (Carol Ferguson, 1999), and page 164 of Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite (Gordon Ramsay, 2008). I figure that, with a bit of experimentation, I’ll find a recipe that my husband, kids, and I like well enough for it to become a family classic.

Muffins & Schnitzel & Faux Alfredo

Yesterday was a busy day for cooking. The first thing Thing 2 did when she returned from school was to request that we make muffins together. I used up the leftover pancake mix from the Pancake Mix & Peach Muffins to whip up a second batch; it turns out that the size of box that they sell at the dollar store will make two batches with a little left over. This time we tried the recipe with the spices (which greatly enhanced the flavour), and added apricots instead of peaches as the fruit. No nuts again this time, since the kids want to take them to school. They turned out quite well!


Pancake mix & apricot muffins.

For dinner I decided to try a few things I hadn’t made before, the first of which was chicken schnitzel. Schnitzel is one of my husband’s favourite foods from his childhood (although he insists that it’s not real schnitzel unless it’s pork). I found pre-tenderized and breaded schnitzel on clearance at the grocery store yesterday, so I figured I’d give it a shot. In all honesty, I did overcook it, but my husband still ate his portion and the kids’ leftovers, so it wasn’t that bad. I think I know where I made my mistakes and I know what to change when I try this dish again in the future.


Chicken schnitzel, linguini with cauliflower Alfredo sauce, and steamed spinach.

The second new dish that I made was linguini with Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce from Just A Pinch. I’d seen this recipe referenced on a few cooking blogs and it was touted as being fantastic. I love creamy sauces, but my digestive system can’t handle much milk, so I thought that this was the perfect solution. My sauce turned out a little more brown than the recipe’s, but that’s because my homemade chicken broth turned out more brown than the commercial kind because of the way the chicken was originally prepared. Taste-wise, I don’t think that affected it much, though.

My main problem with the recipe is that after following all of the instructions to the letter, the sauce ended up being really, really watery. I mean, it was more of a soup than a sauce and would never have stuck to the noodles. I suspect that this was because my cauliflower was smaller than the one from the recipe, which affected the solid-to-liquid ratio; I find that accurately recreating a dish can be difficult if the ingredients aren’t given in a weight or volume-based measure. I also had to use almond milk instead of heavy cream, which probably didn’t help, but there’s only 1/4 cup of that in there in any case. In the end I was able to save the sauce. First I whisked about 4 Tbsp of flour with some water to make a smooth paste, which I then whisked into the sauce. I simmered it all together for a while but I found that it wasn’t thickening fast enough, so I chucked it all into a microwave-safe casserole dish and microwaved it in three-minute increments (stirring after every three minutes) until it reached the desired consistency.

So would I make this recipe again? Probably, when my desire for a creamy alfredo-like sauce resurfaces. You definitely could taste the cauliflower in there, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’d say it’s a reasonable replacement for a proper Alfredo, and it’s still a thousand times better than some of the canned versions that are available around here. Next time I’ll just adjust planned cooking times to accommodate having to thicken it.

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.

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.