English Muffins Take 2

My husband has been bugging me to make homemade English muffins again since I last made them about a year ago. But my new stove meant that I didn’t have the griddle attachment anymore, and I hadn’t bought a stand-alone version in the meantime. I also hadn’t found a local source for proper silicone English muffin rings, which is what I thought would have really helped create a better muffin than last time.

However, I had found a Flippin’ Fantastic pancake maker at a thrift store, so after a good wash I thought I’d give it a try instead. I discovered that if you want perfectly-round English muffins, this really isn’t the right tool. It’s great when they’re first starting out, but the rings need to be deeper, so once they started to rise they ended up being irregularly-shaped anyway. Not only that, but despite a good coating of non-stick spray, the batter stuck really badly to the silicone, making for a messy clean-up.

I also tried to use the flipper for the eggs that were going to go in the muffin sandwiches, and that was an unmitigated disaster. Eggs are a lot more liquid than English muffin batter, and they just leaked out the bottom of the flipper to create a single, solid mass of egg that I then had to break up with a spatula. Online reviews point out that this exactly the same thing that happens with pancake batter, so I don’t think that this product works as advertised. What a shame.

All that being said, the flavour and texture of the English muffins themselves was great despite the flipper not working out. I used Alton Brown’s English Muffin Recipe, which turned out lighter than my other attempt. I discovered that while this mixture is too liquid to mold like a bun, it can just be spooned out onto a pan without rings at all. The resulting muffins will be lopsided, but they will taste just as good! This time I served the muffins as sandwiches with bacon, egg, and cheddar cheese (lactose-free for me), with slices of navel oranges on the side. It was a hit!

Salmon Cheese Tamagoyaki & Rice

This past Saturday I had what seemed like a houseful of people over for dinner. Okay, there were seven people in comparison to our normal four, not exactly a party, but still more than usual. I didn’t have anything taken out of the freezer, I decided to make everyone tamagoyaki on rice. Ever since I got my Japanese omelet pan for Christmas, they’ve become a go-to meal when I want something relatively simple and healthy.

This time I had smoked salmon in the fridge, so I added ingredients between each layer of egg: nori, cheese, and smoked salmon. The kind of salmon that I had automatically comes sliced in very thin, flexible sheets, so it’s perfect for this kind of thing. I really liked this addition and I think I will do it again in the future! I served the omelets with slices of naruto fish cake and cucumbers on the side, and a squirt of Japanese mayonnaise on top (if the diners wanted these additions).

Should I do this again, though, I’ll have to plan at least a little bit better. I didn’t make enough rice the first time so I had to make a second batch, and I realized that I was short of eggs about halfway through and had to send my brother-in-law out to get some. And if I’m planning on making this many tamagoyaki in a row again, I’m definitely going to have to pick up a second pan!

Sansotei Ramen

Over time, I hope to try every ramen restaurant in Ottawa. What with ramen becoming more popular, this process has become more difficult, but I think I’ll manage! Recently I had the chance to check out the Sansotei Ramen location at 1537 Merivale Rd.

A few things you should know before I even talk about the food: they’re closed Mondays, they don’t take reservations, and they’re really popular right now due to positive reviews in the paper. The last two factors mean that even if you arrive shortly after opening for dinner, as we did, there’s going to be a wait. The line only gets longer as you progress further in to the dinner hour, with people squashed into the tiny vestibule awaiting their turn, and then a line going out the outer door and down the sidewalk. Although turnover was fairly quick (ramen is generally supposed to be a quick meal), the entrance looked like the above the entire time we were there — although to be fair, it was a Saturday.

Now to the food. I tried the tonkotsu ramen black (i.e. pork bone broth with black garlic oil) with chashu pork, which is one of my favourite dishes. It’s also one of the more complicated ones to make, so I find that it’s a pretty good test of a restaurant. I was very happy with my soup! The broth was rich without being too fatty, and bursting with flavour. The pork was melt-in-your-mouth. The noodles had just the right amount of chewiness. I have to admit that my favourite ramen place in Ottawa is still Koichi Ramen (formerly Ginza Ramen) in Chinatown, but Sansotei is definitely giving them a run for their money. I would definitely recommend this restaurant; it’s well worth the wait in line.

Quick & Easy

I needed a quick and easy dinner recently, something that didn’t take a lot of prep because it was a busy weeknight and I was already running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  So I threw some sticky rice in the instant pot, steamed some spinach in the microwave, and fried up a couple of eggs per person.

I topped the steamed spinach with a sprinkle of furikake (which is one of my favourite easy ways to liven up some dull vegetables, by the way), and it was done!  It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was healthy, fast, and cheap.  I’d estimate that it was less than $2.00 per serving — and it could have been much cheaper if I’d gone with the less pricey basmati rice instead of sticky rice.  Sticky rice is probably the most expensive kind of rice available at the grocery stores around here, although I’m sure there are other, more expensive kinds available in specialty stores.

Eggs

I thought that yesterday would be a good time to start trying out Christmas presents, and I used up almost a dozen eggs doing so.

First I had to try out my tamagoyaki pan. I used the fillings from Tasty’s Nori Cheese Tamagoyaki recipe (video here), but I wanted to see how it would taste without the mayonnaise and tobiko toppings. I only ended up using one sheet each of nori and dairy-free havarti cheese because I was having a hard enough time rolling it as it was. I think I made each layer too thick, so I’ll try it with less egg per layer next time. Despite the loose, messy look of the omelet, my husband and children thought it was delicious! I rather liked it as well. As you can see in the picture, the cheese inside was nice and gooey, which I think was a big selling point. I think I’ll have to make it as a proper meal in the near future. I’ll need to practice with a basic, filling-free tamagoyaki for sushi as well.

Next I broke out the Instant Pot, first to read the instruction manual, and then to give it an initial test run as per the instructions. I was a little nervous to use it at first, since it is indeed a pressure cooker, and as I’ve stated before I find them a bit intimidating. It’s that evil sound of steam hissing out of them at velocity, I think, and photos like this one of what happens when a pressure cooker doesn’t vent properly. I found that the Instant Pot is much quieter and less scary than my traditional pressure cooker, which is enormous and I generally only use for canning things anyway.

I did take a tip from BuzzFeed and popped a half dozen eggs into the pot while I was doing the initial test run. With a two minute cook time (plus preheat) and a quick pressure release once the timer was done, the eggs turned out perfectly cooked! So this tip is definitely confirmed. Now, my usual method is directly from the Joy of Cooking: put large eggs in a pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, then remove the pot from the heat and let it sit covered for 17 minutes. While this has unfailingly yielded perfect hard-boiled eggs, the Instant Pot is definitely faster, even with preheating time. I am pretty darned impressed.

I guess I need to make a proper meal using my Instant Pot soon then, don’t I?

Boxty

I was browsing through articles recently about interesting things to do with Thanksgiving leftovers — Canadian Thanksgiving was over a month ago, but the American one was just last week, and it seemed like every cooking blog on the Internet was talking about it. One of the websites (and I’m sorry that I can’t remember exactly which one, but there were so many) suggested using leftover mashed potatoes to make boxty, or traditional Irish potato cakes. The IrishCentral recipe looked pretty straightforward, so I had to give it a try.

Although it’s not something we ever ate at home, my mother has been raving about boxty for years because there’s a local restaurant that serves it. Apparently the version she had is served with roast beef that is marinaded for twenty-four hours in some kind of whiskey sauce — which honestly sounds delicious, but I didn’t have the ingredients at home. Other topping suggestions I found online were butter and sugar, jam, fresh berries, sour cream and chives, butter chicken, creme fraiche and caviar, smoked salmon and whipped cream cheese, whiskey and mushroom gravy… The list goes on. Basically, boxty can be eaten plain or can be used as a base for sweet or savoury toppings, much like rice or potatoes or bread can be. Personally, I think I’d like to try it as the base for an open-faced hot roast meat sandwich with gravy made with leftovers after a traditional Sunday dinner.

Sadly, we didn’t have any roast in the fridge today, so I had to make do with ingredients that wouldn’t take me another day’s worth of cooking to prepare. I served the boxty with eggs sunny-side-up and Andouille sausages. When I tried the boxty dipped in the egg, I discovered that I’d definitely tried this flavour combination before; my husband’s family likes to throw leftover roast potatoes (chopped) into an omelette, and of course that tastes like potatoes and egg, much like the boxty dipped in egg. It seems really obvious when I write it out like this, but it took me a moment to realize why the flavour was so darned familiar!

Everyone in the family really liked the boxty and requested that I make it again. I honestly wish I’d tried it before! The kids especially liked theirs dipped in maple syrup much like a regular pancake, which is a very Canadian way to do it. In the future I think I’ll try making some of the other topping variations. There are so many delicious-looking ones, though, that it’ll be hard to decide which one to try first!

Family Sushi Night

One thing we share as a family is that every single one of us loves sushi. However, we do differ as to which one is our favourite — the best bribe ever to use on Thing 1 is salmon nigiri, while Thing 2 is a big fan of a California roll or any maki with shrimp tempura in it, my husband prefers hand rolls (temaki), while I actually like sashimi (just the fish/seafood), possibly with a bowl of rice on the side to fill me up.

That being said, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before now to make sushi at home. I used to do it all the time in high school and as a young adult; I actually hosted a few dinner parties where we all rolled our own sushi. However, it is very time consuming for one person to make a family’s worth, and I guess I just set it aside until I thought the kids were old enough to help me out. But the kids are both old enough now to assemble their own soft tacos or burritos, and sushi uses many of roughly the same techniques, so I thought it was time to give it a go.

Last night I made up a big pot of sushi rice and cut up all kinds of toppings: smoked salmon, cooked shrimp, scrambled egg with a bit of mirin mixed in, cucumber, carrots, and avocado. Then I dug out one rolling mat per person and let everyone assemble their own sushi.

The nice thing about making sushi this way is that everyone can have it just how they like it, although probably not as pretty as they’d like it, that comes with a heck of a lot of practice. I find it surprising that a lot of people around here still assume that sushi automatically equals raw fish, when it’s really all about the vinegared rice. You can top it or roll it with just about anything you’d like. You can even avoid fish or even all animal products altogether, although the purists may take objection to that. But let’s be honest, purists aren’t going to be rolling sushi at home with their six-year-old, they’re going to be paying a very skilled professional chef to create the perfect mouthfuls.

I really liked the combination of the saltiness of the smoked salmon with the sweet egg and the crunch of cucumber.

The egg-and-shrimp roll I made could have used a little more punch; perhaps I should pick up some spicy Japanese mayo for next time?

My husband’s rolls generally turned out nicer-looking than mine, except, of course, when I went to take a picture. His egg, cucumber, and shrimp roll tasted pretty good, though.

After a couple of messy (if tasty) attempts at maki sushi rolls, the girls tried their hands at hand rolls, which are the closest in assembly to a taco, which is where there experience lies.

We had a really good time making and eating this dinner, and I’m starting to think I should have introduced homemade sushi long before now. I loved watching the kids’ faces light up when I told them that we could actually make sushi at home. Not only that, but it’s a pretty healthy meal that’s infinitely customizable. We are definitely going to do this again, and soon. It needs to become a regular thing in my house again.