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.

Carrot Jam

I’ve been looking for creative ways to preserve the carrots from my garden, since there are only so many carrot-based dishes that I can eat in a row. Yes, I could freeze some of them, but my freezer is getting awfully full of soups and sauces and broths (this happens every autumn), so something shelf-stable is what the doctor ordered. I also wanted a recipe that disguised the unusual shapes of my homegrown carrots (which I combined with store-bought orange ones for a bit of visual interest), since I know that ugly food tends to be eaten less enthusiastically than pretty food, even if it tastes identical.

So I browsed through my cookbooks and found a recipe for Carrot Jam on page 206 of Preserving by Pat Crocker (2011). I had never heard of carrot jam before, but there’s a similar recipe for Carrot Orange Marmalade on page 142 of Prizewinning Preserves by Yvonne Tremblay (2001), which apparently earned a red ribbon for best marmalade at the 2000 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. I guess it can’t be that unheard of. However, the Prizewinning Preserves marmalade was missing the intriguing spices of Preserving‘s carrot jam, which cinched my decision to make the latter recipe.

Preserving suggests letting the jars sit for a few weeks before opening for best flavour, but the cooking jam smelled so darned good that I opened up my first jar the very next day. I am so glad that I did. I baked up a quick batch of Dad’s Biscuits upon which to spread the jam, and then I was in seventh heaven. If these preserves get even better with age, I can’t imagine how delicious they will be. Suggested uses for this jam are as follows (Preserves, page 207):

Carrot jam can be used as any other fruit jam, but I particularly like it on quick bread nut loaves and with savoury meat pies or wraps. Use it as a glaze for cooked vegetables: toss grilled or steamed vegetables in up to 1 cup (250mL) of the jam while hot, just before serving. This is also a flavourful topping for fresh yogurt, or you can add a couple of tablespoons (25mL) to a Vinaigrette Dressing or Salsa Verde.

I can’t wait to try carrot jam in all of these ways! I think it would also make a lovely glaze for roast pork or chicken. I love this recipe so much that I think I will grow carrots again next year specifically to make them into this jam. Maybe I’ll even grow those red and/or purple heirloom carrots just so that the jam is even more visually interesting.

Harvest Garden Bread Recipe

Last week Thing 1 and I tried our hands at making Confetti Bread (page 67 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999)). While in general I really like this book and I have found its recipes to be quite reliable, this loaf did not turn out as planned. It looked like this:


Failed Confetti Bread

The poor, sad thing just didn’t rise. The loaf was much too dense and wasn’t even baked the whole way through. The cookbook even warns that you might have to add additional flour to the dough after the first knead (which I did), and it still fell flat. I think that this is because a bread machine recipe just can’t predict the moisture content of the vegetables, and bread machines need very precise measurements because they just can’t compensate for change on the fly.

However, the loaf smelled absolutely delicious when it was baking, and the flavour of the bread backed up that smell. Well, except for the red pepper part, but that’s probably just my preference (I’m not a real fan of sweet peppers). I was inspired to try to create a similar loaf by hand to get all of those flavours that I liked, but I wanted it to be a nice fluffy loaf with a crisp crust. As a bonus, this recipe includes both zucchini and carrots, which many gardeners have an overabundance of this time of year. (If you don’t garden, these veggies are also cheap in stores in the fall.) I was very happy with the result.


Successful Harvest Garden Bread

So here’s the recipe:

Harvest Garden Bread
Yields one loaf

Line two small bowls with paper towel or clean dish towels.
Grate separately:
3/4 cups carrots
2/3 cups zucchini
Place the carrots into one bowl and the zucchini into the other. Leave them in the bowls so that the towels absorb excess moisture while you perform the next steps.
In a large bowl, mix together:
1 cup warm water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup finely sliced green onions OR chives
In another large bowl, mix together:
4 cups all-purpose white flour
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp dried thyme OR 2 1/4 tsp minced fresh thyme
2 tsp quick-rise instant yeast
Squeeze the zucchini and the carrots in their towels to remove excess moisture. Add the vegetables to the bowl containing the liquids and stir.
Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. When mixture becomes too difficult to stir with a spoon, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and continue to incorporate the ingredients by kneading.

Once all ingredients have been kneaded in, the dough may be too moist, sticking to both your hands and the kneading surface. If so, you may need to gradually add:
up to 1/2 cup all-purpose white flour
This additional flour will compensate for the moisture of your vegetables. If the dough is still too sticky once the additional flour has been kneaded in, continue to add flour one tablespoonful at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Oil 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 2 hours.

Punch down the dough. Grease a 9.5″ X 5.5″ loaf pan. (A slightly smaller loaf pan may be used, but you will end up with a more mushroom-shaped loaf.) Shape the dough into a loaf to fit the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan with a clean, damp tea towel and allow to rise again until double, about 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 400ºF (204ºC).
While oven is preheating, mix together:
1 egg white
1 Tbsp cold water
Brush the top of the dough evenly with the egg & water mixture to create a glaze.
Bake loaf for 30 to 40 minutes, until top of loaf is lightly browned and the loaf sounds hollow when removed from the pan and tapped on the bottom.

If you try out this recipe, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment and let me know what you think! And if you make any changes or if you find any errors, I’d love to know that too.

Dealing With the Autumn Harvest

Yesterday I spent most of the day and well into the evening trying to use up some of the produce from my garden before it went bad. This time of year can be a real challenge when everything needs to be harvested, cleaned, prepared, and often canned or frozen all at once. And I haven’t even started dealing with my root vegetables, which are starting to pop out of the soil they’re getting so big!

I harvested the four pears that were growing on my tiny little pear tree. The three on the left were of one type, and the one on the right is another. The tree has four different kinds of pears grafted onto the main trunk, but I stupidly removed the labels and now I can’t remember what varieties there were. I’m pretty sure the odd one out on the right is a Bartlett, though. I considered trying to bake something with the pears, but my kids claimed them for their lunches.

My black sweet pepper plants only yielded one black pepper; unfortunately, the others all died or turned out to be green peppers. I really only grew these as an experiment anyway, since I’m not a huge pepper fan, so I gave them to my mother.

My apple tree is starting to drop its fruit; sadly, the poor tree suffers from a nasty case of apple scab despite my care, and a lot of the fruit aren’t good to eat. Apple scab itself is safe (although it’s ugly), but it does mean that the fruit often ends up cracked and rotting on the tree, or creates areas where it’s easier for pests to crawl inside. Even so, I have lots of apples to use up in recipes — this variety is very tart, so it’s best cooked.

I’m still harvesting a lot of tomatoes; although I feared frost a few weeks ago, this past week has been one of summer-like heat, so my tomatoes are actually still flowering! What fruit is on the vine is ripening nicely, so I may not have too many green tomatoes to deal with this year (even though I have a few great recipes for those too). Last night I made up another batch of Blender Salsa from page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014), since my husband likes that version so much. The above photo was taken immediately after removing the jars from the hot water canner.

The basil plant in my mom’s garden needed to be cut back for the season, so she let me have all of the leaves in exchange for some of the pesto I made with them. Pesto is one of my favourite sauces to make because it’s so darned easy and can be made with so many leafy greens. I’ve made pesto before out of beet leaves, nasturtium leaves, and garlic scapes. The one that I made last night was the most common type: basil, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

Before I made the salsa and the pesto, I set aside two large tomatoes and a tablespoon of basil so that I could bake Fresh Tomato and Basil Loaf. The recipe is found on page 156 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002). This bread is started in the bread machine, which mixes, kneads, and proofs the dough. Then the dough is removed from the machine and additional ingredients are kneaded in by hand, the dough is left to rise in a loaf pan, and then the bread is baked in the oven. The addition of the tomatoes made this dough really sticky and unpleasant to knead, and I made an enormous mess, but it was totally worth it since this bread is delicious. I will definitely be using this recipe again.

Mom’s Birthday Dinner

We celebrated my mother’s birthday this past Saturday. At her request, I hosted dinner at my house and made her up some of my ramen — which somehow she had never tried before. The version that I chose to make was Furikake Salmon Ramen (page 82 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016)); the recipe is also available online here. This recipe uses a shoyu base (page 8, or online at easypeasyjapanesey.com), which I made up in advance in my slow cooker. I remain rather enamored of this base recipe, but every time I make it I remind myself that sometime I really need to try the tonkotsu base, which is my favourite but appears much more difficult. I used soft-boiled eggs instead of marinated half-cooked eggs, mostly due to time constraints. I also used packaged noodles; one of these days I will make my own, but that really requires a pasta maker, which I don’t own. I didn’t use the kind from the instant soup packages, as I find they get soggy much too quickly, but instead a package of dried noodles on their own for which I unfortunately can’t read most of the label.

The real star of this dish is the salmon. I was lucky enough to find it on special at the grocery store, pre-portioned and ready to go. The furikake topping was delicious even though I used North American mayonnaise instead of Japanese-style. There were some leftovers and I really look forward to having them served over rice in the next few days. I think that this topping is going to become part of my regular dinner roster; it would probably be good on other pink, oily fish like sea trout.

In our family, there’s always dessert with a birthday dinner, even if you’re stuffed from the meal itself — that just means that you take a breather and have the treat later in the evening. This year I made apple pie using fruit that I’d grown on my own tree in the back yard. For the chocolate lovers, Dad made brownies with chocolate icing, which were delicious and, if you know my dad, a very special treat, since he rarely bakes. We served it all up with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream (and dairy-free alternatives thereto). Oh, and candles! I was thrilled to find that it’s possible to get the candles that burn with coloured flame at the dollar store these days. I used to have to go downtown to a specialty store to buy them.

So happy birthday to my mom! Love always to the woman who helped shape me into the person that I am (whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of opinion).

Onion Soup Pork Chops & Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks

In an attempt to use up the zucchini I received this weekend, I made another round of Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks for dinner last night. Enough for my entire family only uses up about a quarter of one of those giant summer squash. Of all of the recipes that I have for zucchini, this one uses the most in one go. It may end up being a contest to see which gives out first, my supply of zucchini or my kids’ ability to consume it. To be fair, the girls were really happy to see the zucchini on their plates last night, and that’s two suppers in a row where I didn’t have to fight with them to get them to eat their vegetables.

However, the real star of dinner wasn’t the zucchini sticks, although my kids may argue otherwise. The best part to me was the pork chops that I baked as the entree. I found these 1″ thick slabs of pork on sale for less than the cheap cuts, so I stocked up and planned on a few for dinner. I greased a broiler pan, lay the chops flat on top, and then covered them with a thick coating of dry onion soup mix. Then I baked them at 275°F (135°C) for about two hours. They were a very fatty cut, but the low, slow bake made them moist, tender, and not too greasy. Honestly, they couldn’t have been much easier. Now, if only I’d planned a meal cooked entirely in the oven for a day that wasn’t 30°C (86°F).

I was inspired to cook the meat this way after reading The I Hate To Cook Book (Peg Bracken, 1960). On page 12, the author writes about Sweep Steak, which is “[s]o-called because a couple of seasons ago this recipe swept the country“. Basically, it’s beef coated with dry onion soup mix and roasted in the oven.

Now, this cookbook predates me, but I distinctly remember dry onion soup mix being a staple of the kitchen when I was growing up. It was used to coat steak, to bread pork chops and chicken, and to season meatloaf. In our house, it was most commonly mixed with sour cream to become chip dip — which is referred to as Classic California Dip on page 84 of The I Hate To Cook Book, so I guess this combination predates me as well. I remember doing groceries with my parents and there was a whole assortment of dried soups along an aisle. But when I went to pick up some mix for this dish, the dried soups took up only part of one tiny shelf, most of which was taken up by Cup-A-Soup. There are probably a hundred or more types of canned and tetra-packed soup, not to mention the refrigerated stuff in the deli section, but apparently the dried kind is no longer popular. I guess that’s to be expected with the popularity of fresh ingredients being back on the rise. I certainly hadn’t bought any dried soup mix in years. Still, it came as quite a surprise to me to see the selection so limited.

Autumn Produce & Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks Recipe

A friend came by this past weekend to hang out and chat, and also to gift me with some of the excessive produce from his family’s garden. Apparently zucchini has really liked this year’s rainy summer, and tomatoes weren’t far behind in the production department.


Zucchinis and tomatoes in cardboard boxes from my friend’s garden; tomatoes and cherry tomatoes from my garden in the green bowls.

I didn’t try to grow zucchinis this year, but my tomatoes are ripening up nicely as well, so I ended up with much more fresh garden produce this weekend than we could eat before it went bad. So I’ve found myself spending the majority of the last few days in the kitchen, cooking as much of these fruits and veggies as I can.

Since my freezer is getting pretty full so I wanted something shelf-stable, and my husband (the main salsa consumer in our house) really likes the Blender Salsa from page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014), making another big batch was a no-brainer. Once my hubby had snacked on some of the lovely cherry tomatoes, I cooked up the remainder into about four liters of salsa. That’s not nearly enough to get us through the winter, but there are still more tomatoes on the vine to ripen, after all.

I baked a loaf of Chocolate Zucchini Bread (page 104 of 125 Best Quick Bread Recipes by Donna Washburn & Heather Butt (2002)). This is a heavy, rich bread that is satisfying either as a dessert or as a snack. I opted for semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, which makes this dish almost bitter, since it doesn’t include all that much added sugar. You can also use dark chocolate chips for an even deeper flavour, or switch it up with butterscotch, raspberry, or white chocolate chips. I was a little worried about the texture that the grated zucchini might have created, so I used the same technique as when I rebaked the chocolate fudge zucchini cookies and precooked the zucchini, then ran it through the blender. This added a bit of extra moisture to the bread, so I omitted the vegetable oil entirely. I was quite happy with how it turned out, both in flavour and in texture.

For dinner yesterday I also made baked chicken with my usual sprinkling of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, summer savoury, and salt as topping. As a side I made baked zucchini sticks, which my kids couldn’t get enough of, so I think I’ll be making them a few more times until I use up all of this zucchini (there’s still lots left). Instead of the more common (around here) seasoned bread crumbs, I went with panko, which is a much lighter style of Japanese bread crumb. I also baked the sticks instead of the more traditional deep-frying, for health reasons and because I just don’t particularly enjoy deep-frying. Here’s the very simple recipe that I used:

Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks
Serves 4 as a side dish

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
Wash and slice into thick sticks, leaving peel on:
400g zucchini
In a small mixing bowl, beat:
1 large egg
In a second small mixing bowl, combine:
3/4 cup panko
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
4 Tbsp Kraft 100% Parmesan grated cheese*
Grease a cookie sheet lightly with olive oil or cooking spray.
Dry the zucchini on paper towel, then dip it into the egg until coated, then into the panko mixture until coated. Place the coated zucchini sticks in a single layer on the greased cookie sheet. Sticks will cook most evenly and be most crunchy if they are not touching.
Bake the zucchini sticks for 15-20 minutes, or until topping is golden brown.
Serve plain, or with ranch dressing or marinara sauce as a dipping sauce.

*Parmesan cheese may be omitted, but if so, double the amount of salt.