Crock Pot Sloppy Joes

I need to defrost my freezer at some point in the near future, so I’ve been trying to use up the remaining food that I stored there for winter. At the same time, I’m trying to use my slow cooker more often in order to give myself more time to work on ComicCon costumes. A quick Googling for recipes showed me that I had all of the ingredients to make Crock Pot Sloppy Barbecue Beef Sandwiches from The Spruce Eats, or, as my family has always called them, Sloppy Joes — which we’ve always served open-faced, I don’t know why.

Instead of buns, I let my trusty bread machine do most of the work and whipped up some Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread, this time using dried rosemary instead of fresh dill. I found that the robustness of the rosemary went really well with the vinegar tang of the Sloppy Joe sauce. If you like crusty buns for this dish, the ends of the loaf are great. Or you can always use the dough setting on your bread machine, then shape the dough into rolls, proof, and bake them in the oven instead. I went the easy route on this one.

As is my wont, I had to alter the meat sauce’s ingredients a bit. I omitted the sweet peppers because I’m not terribly fond of them, and I didn’t have any celery. However, I liked how the recipe had lots of hidden vegetables, so I upped the number of grated carrots to four. I also used about a cup of chopped frozen, thawed rainbow chard stems left over from last year’s garden crop.

Despite all of the changes, this dish turned out really well. The kids hoovered up their dinners and kept saying how much they liked it. I really think that you could add just about any vegetable to this dish if you want, so long as you cut it up small enough that it blends well with the meat and you give it the appropriate amount of time to cook. I will definitely be making this recipe again and I highly recommend it.

Crock Pot Pork Loin with Gravy

After complaining in my last entry that I felt like I wouldn’t have time to cook properly until all of my ComicCon costumes are complete, I took a look at the shelf of dusty appliances in the basement and vowed to let them do most of the work for me for the next month or so. I figure that my three crock pots will be getting the most use. (The bread machine never really gets put away because we use it so much anyway.) I’m starting to wish that an Instant Pot was one of the tools that I had at my disposal, but that’s a purchase that will have to wait.


Crock pot pork loin with gravy served with mashed potatoes and steamed carrots.

My friends and family have been sending me their favourite slow cooker recipes to help me along. In my experience, the ones sent to me by the friends who aren’t fond of cooking are the ones that I’ll find take the least effort and are the most foolproof. My mother (not a cooking fan) sent me the link to a Crock Pot Pork Loin with Gravy Recipe from Recipes That Crock. It’s as simple as throwing a few ingredients in a slow cooker and leaving it for about five hours. I actually had my husband do this part, and unfortunately he chose to use my 1970’s crock pot, which runs at a much lower temperature, so the dish took a good hour and a half longer than expected. (For food safety reasons, under-cooked pork is a really bad idea.) Also, he put in too much water, so I had to thicken the gravy afterwards on the stove by boiling it down and adding a little flour. That’s also why the gravy has such a light colour. That being said, this was still a delicious meal, even with the mistakes. Basically, it’s pork chops with mushroom gravy, but with a whole lot less effort. Works for me!

Maple Walnut Pouding Chômeur

Last night I had an urge to make pouding chômeur (“poor man’s pudding”), which is a kind of upside-down maple syrup cake that is baked with its own sauce. I wanted to use some of the lovely dark maple syrup that I picked up from McCannell Craftwork at Russell Flea over the weekend. Sadly, a copy of Anita Stewart’s Canada (2008) wasn’t immediately available at the library, and I haven’t yet bought a copy (although it’s down to $15.00 online so I really should), so I didn’t have access to the first recipe that I used and liked so much. Instead, I grabbed a few cookbooks with their own versions of a pouding chômeur recipe from the library, and then I went home to pick my favourite.

I thought that I had all of the ingredients at home, but it turns out that some of them had spoiled, so I had to improvise a little bit. I ended up combining the recipes from two different books. The final cake ended up being a little bit drier and with a sauce that wasn’t quite as runny as I’d been hoping. It was pretty darned good anyway.

Unfortunately, I found that the walnuts really overpowered the maple flavour, much to my dismay. Although it was a tasty dish all in all, I was really looking forward to that creamy maple syrup sauce dominating. I think I’ll stick to a more simple pouding chômeur recipe next time, whether it be from Anita Stewart’s Canada or another source.

How to Fix Lumpy Gravy

I love gravy and I’ll eat it with just about any meat, steamed vegetable, or starch. It’s to die for on mashed potatoes and it’s fantastic over an open-faced hot turkey sandwich. However, it’s also really easy to get wrong. If it’s too thin, you can always dust in a bit more flour or simmer it for a while to reduce. But if it’s lumpy, it’s absolutely nasty. Those congealed lumps of flour and fat are just… Ew.

I’ve accidentally made lumpy gravy many times over the years — although the stuff pictured above was done on purpose to illustrate the point. I’ve tried pre-mixing the flour with water, I’ve thickened it with a roux instead, I’ve whisked until it feels like my arm is going to fall off. I’ve tried every tip and trick in my cookbooks, but sometimes the gravy still comes up lumpy, and it seems like the only way to salvage it is to strain it (which still can leave some tiny lumps).

When my mother taught me how to make gravy, she insisted that it be perfectly smooth, or it couldn’t be served. Lumps in anything make Mom gag, so potatoes were always mashed or whipped silky smooth, we never ate cream of wheat, and bubble tea was absolutely out. So if I messed up the gravy, we were out of luck even if it was intended to be a part of a major roast meal. Don’t ask me why, but this technique of fixing the problem never came up:

Just run the gravy through the blender. It comes out smooth every time. Not only that, but lumpy gravy tends to get really thick when you finally get it to an even consistency, so this is a great time to thin it out using a bit of the appropriate stock. The one in the photo above was loco moco hamburger gravy, so I thinned it with beef stock. There are probably a bunch of you who were using this technique for years and are agog that I’m thinking it’s revolutionary, but honestly it’s totally new to me. And if my crappy old two-speed General Electric machine from the 70’s with dull blades can do the trick, any blender can.

This works for all kinds of sauces, by the way. White sauce I find is also very prone to lumpiness if you’re not careful, but it does blend nicely. As with blending all hot things, do exert extra care to prevent burns!

The loco moco turned out great, by the way, even if I didn’t have any parsley or tomatoes for garnish. I find that it pairs rather nicely with steamed spinach, since you can combine it with the gravy and meat for a wonderful, rich flavour.

Excellent Potato Bread Recipe

I finally had a chance to try out one of the recipes from the 1877 The Home Cook Book that I was so happy to find on Saint Patrick’s Day! It was a very interesting exercise to try to recreate such an old recipe. Here’s the original text:

EXCELLENT BREAD
Mrs. Geo. W. Pitkin.

Four potatoes mashed fine, four teaspoons of salt, two quarts of lukewarm milk, one-half cake compressed yeast dissolved in one-half cup of warm water, flour enough to make a pliable dough ; mould with hands well greased with lard ; place in pans, and when sufficiently light, it is ready for baking.

You’ll notice that it gives no cooking time or temperature, no approximate yield, no idea the volume of mashed potatoes, how big a cake of yeast measures (and what kind of yeast — the book gives multiple recipes for how to make your own), or how much flour to use. I’m really glad this wasn’t the first loaf of bread I’d ever made! Although I guess part of the point of these recipes is that they assume that all readers will have a certain breadth of knowledge base.

As it turns out, this recipe makes 4-5 loaves, depending on the size of your loaf pan. I honestly didn’t even have a bowl big enough to mix all of the ingredients, so I had to stir everything in shifts. It all turned out quite well, though, so I thought I’d share my interpretation of the recipe. Hopefully it’s a little more easily-repeatable than the original; I’ve also halved the quantities in my version for ease of cooking in a modern kitchen. The end result is a white bread that is still a little heavier and more filling, due to the potatoes. It also stays moist much longer than a straight white loaf.

Excellent Potato Bread
Yields 2 large loaves

In a small bowl, mix together:
2 packages (14g) quick-rise instant yeast
1/4 cup warm water
Wait for yeast to activate; if it foams up, it is good to use.
While waiting for yeast, peel and chop:
2 potatoes
Peeled, this should yield about 265g of uncooked potato.
Place potatoes in a stove-safe pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Alternately, you can cook the potatoes in a microwave-safe casserole: place potatoes in the dish, cover with water, and cook on high until they can be easily pierced by a fork, about 12 minutes. No matter how you prepare the potatoes, drain them once cooked and mash them until they are no longer lumpy. Set aside to cool somewhat.
In a very large bowl, combine:
4 cups warm milk
2 tsp salt
Stir. Add the yeast mixture and the potatoes to the mixture, stir well.
While stirring with a sturdy wooden spoon, gradually add:
8 cups flour
As the end of adding the flour nears, the mixture may become too stiff to stir with a spoon. If it does, it can be stirred with floured hands in the bowl.

Flour a flat surface and hands generously. Turn the dough out of the bowl, scraping if necessary. Knead the bread for about 10 minutes, until it is springy. If the dough is too sticky on the hands or flat surface, add a bit more flour, but add it gradually and only add as much as absolutely necessary. The dough should be moist but not sticky.

Oil or use cooking spray on a large mixing bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp tea towel. Place the bowl in a warm, dry area with no drafts. Allow the dough to rise until double, about 1 hour.

Grease two loaf pans. If you use smaller loaf pans (8.5″x4.5″), they will end up with a “mushroom top” loaf like the one pictured. If you use larger 9.5″x5.5″ pans, the bread will be a more uniform shape.
Divide the dough into two even portions, form each into a loaf shape and put each one into its own loaf pan. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise again in a warm, draft-free area until double, about one hour.

Near the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 350°F (175°F). Bake for about 30 minutes, checking often near the end of that time to make sure that they do not overcook. Verify that the bread is done by removing them from the pan and tapping them on the bottom. When cooked through, the loaf should make a hollow sound. Remove the loaves from the pans immediately and place them on a wire cooling rack.

As with all bread, this kind is best served immediately. To keep it at its freshest, slice it only when it is about to be eaten. This bread will keep for four or five days if wrapped in a clean plastic bag. Make sure it is wrapped up only after totally cool, or it will go soggy.

Chicken Pot Pie Noodles

Last night I wanted to try something new for dinner, but I didn’t want something that would take forever and a day to prepare. The perfect compromise was the Chicken Pot Pie Noodles recipe from Delish that came across my Facebook feed the other day.

It was as easy as promised, although it did take me a bit longer because I had to cook the chicken beforehand — but that was just a matter of throwing some chicken legs and thighs on a roasting pan, seasoning them, and putting them on a roasting pan at 350°F (175°C) for about 45 minutes. This recipe would be much faster if I had precooked chicken, and I think it would be a great way to use up leftovers. I had to make my version dairy-free, so I substituted margarine for butter and coconut milk for heavy cream. I’ve found in the past that these are good replacements, and they worked just as well as expected. There was a slight flavour of coconut to the sauce, which isn’t strongly spiced, but that didn’t bother me. Also, I used macaroni instead of egg noodles, just because that’s what I had in the pantry, and it worked just fine.

Would I make this recipe again? Most definitely! I think it’s a great addition to my weeknight repertoire.

Lemongrass Atsuete Chicken

Last night everyone was finally well enough to actually eat again; nobody had much of an appetite, but at least some solids were staying down. So I decided not to make anything too difficult and used a marinade I’d impulse-bought at Walmart a while back: Pulo Lemongrass Atsuete Marinade. This brand claims to be inspired by the 7000 islands of the Philippines, but since I honestly wouldn’t be able to pick Filipino food out of a lineup, I couldn’t tell you how authentic it is. But I thought I’d give it a go anyway.

I was pleasantly surprised by the marinade! It was light but flavourful; the fresh zing of the lemongrass really shone through. I used it to marinade eight chicken thighs, which was all we needed, but there was enough marinade there for twice as much. (Next time I’ll only use half a bottle.) I baked the chicken in the oven, while on the stove I cooked up some macaroni that I served with a quick cheater sauce of cream of mushroom soup, lactose-free cheddar, a sprinkle of garlic powder, and frozen corn. Since it was such a mild sauce, it went really well with the strong flavour of the chicken. I also brought out a side salad of spinach and romaine lettuce, with a choice of dressings.