New Cookware

When it comes to garage sale and thrift store shopping, my mother is my role model. Actually, that’s true when it comes to shopping in general. My mom can go into a clothing store and find three pairs of trousers and a shirt, all that fit well, all for 75% off or greater, in less than fifteen minutes. I will go into the same store and come back with maybe one of those pieces. It’s as if she has some kind of supernatural ability to sniff out bargains.

Case in point: my mom bought me some new cookware at garage sales this past month, both for about $2.00 apiece. The first was a pretty vintage 1970’s-ish Dutch oven. I love this style of enameled piece, and although my mom gave me her old one a while back, she was not ashamed to admit that this one was in better shape. As a bonus, it’s also bigger.

Mom also found me this adorable pumpkin pie plate, virtually brand new; it still had the cardboard insert to protect between the top and bottom parts from each other. I doubt it has ever been used. I think it will be perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, when pumpkin pie is often my main contribution to the meal. The temperature at night is telling me that fall isn’t far off, so it won’t be long until I get a chance to use this dish.

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!

Cooking for the Family

I do most of the family cooking, which probably comes as no surprise to anyone. I used to have a weeknight repertoire of about ten dishes, but a while back I got tired of making the same old, same old all the time, and I decided to branch out. I think it has changed our diets for the better, at the very least cutting down on how much red meat we eat and increasing our consumption of fruits and vegetables. From a health perspective, that has to be a good thing. From taste and presentation perspectives, well, there have been some bumps in the road of learning, but we’ve come through mostly unscathed. Here are a few of the family meals I’ve cooked lately:

I decided to take my own advice and whipped up some garlic scape pesto, which I then spread on top of trout fillets and baked. I served the pesto trout alongside mashed potatoes and asparagus. It was a super-easy dinner.

I blame the fact that I broke the over-easy eggs for this breakfast on the fact that I’d been up since 5:00am in order to drive my mother to the airport. The statement, “I am not a morning person” does not even begin to touch how muzzy and uncoordinated I am when it’s early. Even so, I was back in time to see the kids off to school, and to make them up a hot breakfast of fresh-baked Dad’s biscuits, eggs, and fruit salad (bananas, strawberries, apples, and navel oranges). I can count on one hand how often I’ve been up early enough to cook breakfast before I send the kids off to school, and I honestly wish it was zero. They are old enough now to make their own cold cereal, microwave oatmeal, or toast — and I could not be happier.

For last night’s dinner I rifled through my pantry and pulled out some sauces I’d purchased ages ago, but hadn’t yet tried. I marinated the steak for about eight hours in Sempio Kalbi Marinade, then I threw it on the grill. It was delicious! It has an flavour that I recognize from the Asian fusion buffets around here. It also made the beef nice and tender. The mixed vegetables (carrots, sweet potato, snap peas, and garlic scapes) were steamed first, then lightly coated in Heinz Sweet Teriyaki & Ginger Vegetable Sauce, which I have never seen before and can’t even seem to find online. It was fairly good, although I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to buy it again. The kids really liked it, but they are big fans of anything teriyaki anyway.

I think that I need to continue to clean out my pantry and use up all of the “oh, that looks interesting” food purchases that I made and then promptly forgot about. If I’m lucky, all of those meals will be received as well as these three were.

Microwave Oatmeal Wheat Bread

My parents bought their first microwave when I was eight or nine years old, I believe. Possibly later. It was a big investment at the time; microwaves at the time were huge, noisy, and expensive. I know it was probably at least ten years after that that my grandmother finally got one. These days, you can get a serviceable one for under a hundred dollars; back then it was a purchase nearly equivalent of a new stove. But microwaves were being touted as the appliance of the future, and as the time-saving device that every family should have.

To that effect, many microwave cookbooks were published at the time, proclaiming that anything and everything was better made in the microwave; now that they have become ubiquitous, most of us now know that this isn’t the case. My parents had one microwave cookbook when I was growing up, namely Basic Microwaving from the Microwave Cooking library (by Barbara Methven, 1978). I think it may even have come with the purchase of the microwave oven. It is definitely aimed at people who have never used a microwave before, and offers such great tips as:

– A microwave oven is a cooking appliance. It may be faster and easier to use than a conventional appliance, but it still needs a cook to control it. (page 5)
– Room temperature foods cook faster than refrigerated or frozen ones. (page 9)
– Use small strips of foil on thin areas to prevent overcooking. (page 15)

As an aside, do not use metal in a microwave. It could start a fire or damage the appliance. Mental Floss has a great write-up as to why this happens.


Microwave oatmeal wheat bread.

As self-evident or outright wrong some of the advice offered by this book may now seem (it is almost 40 years old after all), some of the recipes are still good, so when I snapped up a copy of this book when I found it at a thrift shop. A staple of my diet in my early teenage years was the Open-Face Bacon, Tomato & Cheese Sandwich (page 100), and I have added just about every technique from their vegetable section (page 106 to 121) to my repertoire, except for those that use tinfoil. But I had never tried to bake anything in the microwave. Well, with summer heat coming on soon, I thought I’d give microwave bread a try with the Oatmeal Wheat Bread on page 128-129.

It didn’t turn out too badly, but I still don’t think I’ll be making this recipe again. As a positive, while it still took standard times to rise, I only had to use the microwave for about 12 minutes, which generated a lot less heat (and took a lot less power) than standard bread baking times in a conventional oven. The flavour of the bread was definitely worth making again. The texture, though, was where baking in the microwave failed me. Have you ever reheated a piece of leftover pizza in the microwave, and had the crust go hard and chewy without ever being crunchy? That was what the texture of this bread was like — although in a few spots where it was thickest it was soft and properly fresh-bread-like. It wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t great. I don’t know how much of this is because of the appliance and how much is the recipe, so I think next time I bake bread I’ll make a loaf of this in the oven as a comparison. Then I’ll know the cause for certain.

Quick Dinners

With ComicCon prep taking over my life, I have been resorting to quick, improvised dinners to feed my family lately. Here are a few of them:

A quick trip to the grocery store yielded a refrigerated rotisserie chicken and cheese-and-spinach-stuffed pasta, both at 50% off. I reheated the chicken in the oven; boiled & drained the pasta and added some cream cheese, sour cream, and cooked spinach; and peeled & chopped a few carrots which I boiled in the microwave. Prep time for this meal was twenty minutes at most, leaving me more time to work on my costumes.


Leftover soup with bok choy and rice.

One of my favourite things to do lately is throw leftover vegetables and/or meat into some home-made broth (of which I have copious amounts in the freezer), add a bit of leftover rice or small pasta, and then boil it all together for a few minutes. With a bit of salt and pepper, this becomes a healthy soup that takes only about ten minutes to prepare.

At the kids’ request, I did make up rice bowls this week, but of a simplified kind. While the rice was cooking, I peeled and nuked the carrots, chopped and microwaved the bok choy, and cooked up some frozen corn. I also grilled the shrimp — I love shrimp when I am short of time because it takes so little time to cook — and scooped out some avocado. No special shopping or all of the burners used this time for a rice bowl meal! I just used whatever I had in the fridge, freezer or pantry. It took about 35 minutes to make this meal, including prep work. Not bad for something so fresh and tasty.

Fish Tacos

With all the prep work for ComicCon that I’m cramming into this week, I’ve had to cut down on the amount of time and effort I spend cooking. But I still want to eat well! So I thought I’d try something I’d never made before: fish tacos. They’re fast, easy, and healthy (so long as you don’t drown them in cheese and sauce).

I used the spice mixture from the Grilled Fish Tacos recipe from Eating Well, but I cooked the fish a frying pan instead of on the grill, since with all the rain lately my yard is a morass of mud. The kids snapped up the tortillas first, so I had my taco on whole-wheat pita instead. I topped mine with leftover avocado tartar sauce (which is perfect with this dish), romaine lettuce, tomato, shredded old cheddar cheese. This was such a simple, delicious, and healthy meal to make that I’ll definitely make it again.

Noodle Soup

I’ve been to Japan twice so far: once in high school on an exchange program, and once in my twenties to tour with a friend. I returned from my trips with an absolute love of Japanese food. Tea ceremonies, sushi, sukiyaki, fast food, vending-machine treats: I tried everything that was put in front of me. Sure, I didn’t like 100% of it, but it was a near thing. I would eat a heck of a lot more Japanese food back here in Canada if it weren’t so expensive — and if a greater variety of dishes would cross the Pacific.


Lunch at a restaurant in Kyoto, Japan: torikatsu (breaded & deep-fried chicken cutlet) or tonkatsu (the same thing, but made with pork cutlet instead) on egg and rice; a bowl of udon soup with seaweed, green onions and kamaboko (fish cake); and two types of pickles.

One of my favourite things about eating in Japan was all of the different types of noodle dishes. My horizons really expanded from the macaroni, spaghetti, and lasagna were more that I was familiar with. In Japan, they fried their noodles, they put them in hot and cold soup, they served them with every kind of topping they could think of. Of course, now there is a lot more variety in how people use noodles in Canada; there’s a Vietnamese pho restaurant in every neighborhood, ramen is making inroads into the culinary scene, and udon is on the menu at most Asian fusion restaurants. Not to mention that you can finally get Asian noodles that aren’t instant ramen at most grocery stores. But before I went to Japan the first time, pasta that wasn’t wheat-based and served Italian- or Italian-American style was rare around here.


Hakata tonkotsu ramen (pork belly, shiitake mushroom, bamboo shoot, scallion, nori, soft-boiled egg, pork broth, ramen noodles) from Ottawa restaurant Ginza. Seriously the best ramen I have had outside of Japan.

Now I make my own noodle soup. It’s Japanese-inspired, but it’s definitely not authentic. I mean, I sometimes use turkey broth, and turkey is a meat that just isn’t used in Japan. I use locally-grown produce and meat when I can, but I also include imported spices, sauces, and canned/preserved goods when I have the opportunity. Asian fusion is the best description I can come up with, although it sounds kind of pretentious for my style of cooking. Hodgepodge, perhaps?


Prepping for noodle soup at my house. Items include frozen udon noodles, dried shrimp, sushi nori, enoki mushrooms, parboiled lotus root, thinly-sliced beef (pour boiling broth on this to cook), soft-boiled eggs, shrimp, beef balls, and baby bok choy. All ingredients have been precooked as necessary.

I don’t so much have a recipe as I have a process. First, I make the broth. Sure, I could use commercially-made broth, but I like to make my own from the bones saved from meat I’ve previously prepared. I store bones in the freezer until I have enough, then I put them (and sometimes cloves of garlic and/or dried mushrooms) in the crock pot. I fill the pot the rest of the way with water, and then I let it simmer for two days, replenishing the water as it goes down. Then I strain out all the solids, then refrigerate the broth so I can skim the fat off of the top. Of course, this makes much more broth than I can use at one sitting, but it freezes well, which means I don’t have to make the broth from scratch every time. Immediately before using the broth, I will season it with a dash of soy sauce and a tiny bit of instant dashi, although since that stuff goes really far, I don’t need much! I can use the unseasoned broth for a greater variety of dishes, so I only season as much broth as I plan to use that day.


Right before eating home-made udon. Thing 1 just couldn’t wait to sit down and dig in. The bowls on the left are smaller for the kids, and a lower noodle to broth ratio.

Then I prepare all of my toppings. I will throw almost anything into a bowl of noodle soup, so long as it’s the kind of thing that stands up well to being boiled. Most vegetables go well, as do most meats. Fruits and squash are generally too fragile. Cleaning out the fridge of leftovers is perfectly fine, since the toppings have to be precooked anyway, and will be warmed up by pouring broth over them.

Once I have all of my toppings cooked (I do a lot of it in the microwave, but in warmer seasons using the barbecue adds a lovely flavour), I bring my broth back up to a boil and separately I cook up the noodles accoring to package directions. I prefer frozen udon, but it can be any kind of long Asian noodle, really. Ramen or vermicelli are great too. Then into each bowl I put a base layer of noodles, then the toppings, and then I pour the broth over top. Last but not least I like to add a square of sushi nori when I have it — this has to be done last minute because it wilts so fast.

Here are some examples of noodle soups that I have cooked over the years. If this inspires you to try to make a noodle soup yourself, do let me know — and show me a photo! I love seeing what other people do with my recipes and tutorials.


Udon soup with beef broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, green onions, rare beef, enoki mushrooms, lotus root, shiitake mushrooms, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with chicken broth, nori, shrimp, dried shrimp, soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with chicken broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, enoki mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, chicken, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with beef broth, hard boiled eggs, dried shrimp, enoki mushrooms, chicken, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with pork broth, nori, rare beef, soft-boiled eggs and furikake.


Late-night-snack udon soup with chicken broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, and green onions.


Udon soup with turkey broth, nori, baby bok choy, shrimp, dried shrimp, soft-boiled eggs, and medium-rare beef.


Udon soup with pork broth, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, green onions, enoki mushrooms, shrimp, celery, and chicken balls.


Udon soup with pork broth, baby bok choy, shrimp, dried shrimp, well-done beef, enoki mushrooms and soft-boiled eggs.


Udon soup with turkey broth, nori, rare beef, soft-boiled eggs, dried shrimp, turkey, enoki mushrooms, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with turkey broth, barbecued tiger shrimp, baby bok choy, hard boiled eggs, masago (seasoned capelin caviar), dried shrimp, pea shoots, enoki mushrooms, and barbecued beef steak.