My Food is Problematic

So the thunderstorms that they were predicting throughout the day yesterday never happened. Instead, we had drizzle all day that just upped the humidity so that when the sun finally came out, your clothes stuck to your skin and your face became greasy with sweat almost instantaneously. Well, at least the heat and humidity were predicted correctly, and I had planned a meal that could cook out in the garage where it wouldn’t heat up the house: pulled pork in the slow cooker, fresh white bread in the bread machine (simply the herb bread recipe minus, well, the herbs), a few slices of lactose-free cheese, and a grocery store salad. Easy peasy.

Except that at about 4:40pm, right before the bread was scheduled to start its baking cycle and near the end of the pulled pork’s cooking time, the power went out. Blips being what they are, that didn’t concern me too much until 45 minutes had passed, at which point I realized that it wasn’t going to come on again any time soon.

We looked into multiple options, such as borrowing a neighbour’s power (that wouldn’t work, the coverage on this outage was pretty large and affected 1,000+ people), cooking on the barbecue (with nothing thawed and nothing that I had started being barbecue-friendly), and going out for dinner (just like the other 1,000+ people who suddenly couldn’t cook dinner). Eventually we settled on driving over to my parents’ place and finishing cooking dinner there. Of course, to do that I had to wait until my husband got home so we could all go together, which added to the wait. By the time we arrived, the capacitor or backup battery in the bread machine had flattened and it couldn’t be re-started from the same point in the cycle. I mean, at least it hadn’t started baking, since it’s more or less impossible to finish cooking a half-baked loaf over an hour later… So I had to bake the bread in the oven, which was totally opposite of the point of using the bread machine in the first place! And I had to finish the crock pot meal inside my parents’ house, when the whole plan was to cook outside to avoid the heat. Not only that, but in all the hooferah I forgot to pick up the salad!

In the end, almost two hours late, the dinner was the pathetic-looking thing pictured above: bland and boring and entirely without even the semblance of vegetables or fruit.

My string of bad cooking luck definitely needs to end soon. I am becoming disheartened.

On the bright side, at least the power was back on for us by 8:00pm or so, when they’d predicted it wouldn’t be up before 1:30am Friday. But I understand that at least half of the 1,000+ customers affected by the outage didn’t get their power back until the wee hours of the morning, so it could have been much worse.

Preparing for the Storm

We’ve been getting dire warnings from the Weather Network over the past week that yesterday and today will be all about thunderbolts and lightning, and then the storm will pull in a massive heat wave behind it. I’ve been trying to plan my cooking to keep that in mind, but nothing seems to be going quite right.

On the hottest days, I try very hard not to cook indoors or, if that can’t be arranged, at least I try not to use the oven. So I figured that on Wednesday night I’d make the last “comfort food” for a while and throw on some pork loin, mushroom gravy, Dad’s biscuits, and steamed carrots. This is a meal that I’ve made a million times, so you’d think it would be easy, no?

Well, everything going well until I tried to get the biscuits on. That’s when I realized that I’d left my bag of all-purpose flour at my in-laws’ cottage; I’d intended to bake bread on the day that was predicted to be really rainy, but the weather never got bad enough to totally pin us inside. All I had left at home were the dregs left in one storage jar. I ended up combining those dregs with some multigrain bread flour that had been languishing in my cupboard for quite some time. (I’d bought it to make a specific kind of bread, and the package contained way more than I’d needed.) The multigrain flour actually worked out okay in that the biscuits rose and baked properly, but it did mean that they had a whole different texture than I was used to. Usually these biscuits are soft and fluffy, but the multigrain flour has crunchy bits and doesn’t rise as well.

Then last night it was supposed to be hot and humid, so I wanted to cook the majority of the meal outside. (It actually didn’t end up being that bad, with the storm pushing the cold air in front of it so that it actually cooled down around dinnertime, but I didn’t know that was going to happen.) Actually, “cook” is probably stretching it a bit, more “prepare”. I had bought a rotisserie chicken at Costco earlier in the day, which I’d just planned on reheating on the wood pellet grill. So I turned on the machine, preheated it, put on the chicken, and waited… And waited… And waited… But it didn’t seem to be heating up. It turned out that wood dust had clogged the auger that feeds the fuel pellets, so no fuel was burning. My husband took the grill halfway apart to figure that out, and he was still cleaning it out when it started to rain. He threw the cover over the grill and promised to finish cleaning it at a later date.

But that still left us without dinner. And a pre-cooked chicken is supposed to be easy, right? Not so far, not this time. We also have a propane grill, which I then tried to start, but nothing happened at first. Turns out the hose had somehow become loose and the fuel wasn’t getting to the grill. (This seems to be a theme.) A quick tightening did the job on that one, and I’m happy about that because I first assumed that the tank was empty — which would have delayed the meal even further.

Finally, I was able to reheat my chicken (and crisp up the skin — throwing a rotisserie chicken on the grill or in the oven is good for that). While it warmed up, I cooked up some penne and coated the noodles with basil pesto that I’d made and frozen last summer. At least that part was easy. By the time supper was finally complete, we were easily an hour and a half past our normal dinner time, so I didn’t even get a chance to take a picture with my good camera before the food was devoured — I had to use my phone, which I almost always have on hand.

Hopefully my cooking over the next few days will go a bit more smoothly.

First Day of Spring Fail

Yesterday was the first day of spring, which despite clear skies brought with it a morning temperature of -20°C (-4°F) with the wind chill. Even though it felt like the warmer weather had started to arrive a few weeks ago and we even broke out the grill, after teasing us a bit the temperatures dropped back down again. It’s unseasonably cold here, even for this part of Canada! Usually by the end of March Break we’re looking at some bare grass, at least. Six years ago, it was -25°C (77°F) on this very same day, which I will grant you broke a bunch of records… But the average is usually somewhere in between.


Yep, this snowman is over 1 story high — and he’s still decked out for Saint Patrick’s Day.

I guess I wouldn’t be so down about the weather (freezing temperatures mean no bugs, after all) if the rest of the day had gone better. Right before supper, Thing 1 knocked my camera off of the kitchen table and busted the motor on my primary lens. I am lucky that I have a backup salvaged from an old camera of mine, but I still have to do some testing to make sure the camera body is okay. I didn’t find out that I had a replacement until after we ate, though, so please excuse the cell phone camera pictures.

Honestly, though, I don’t think that a better camera would have made this meal look yummy. I used my new-to-me air fryer machine (a T-Fal Actifry) to make sweet potato fries using this recipe that I followed to the letter. The fries turned out tough and chewy and not at all fry-like. Not only that, but as soon as the sweet potato touched air, it turned all kinds of unappetizing colours. Usually I’d use an orange sweet potato, but the white-fleshed kind was the only one that they had at the grocery store today. Maybe the orange kind would be better — or even the purple kind? Or maybe I’m using the machine wrong, or it’s busted? It will take further experimentation to find out.

At least the burgers turned out tasty, if not what I’d intended. I made up the burgers using a bit of onion soup mix, and I topped them with a fried egg, which was actually pretty good. I’d wanted to top them with thin slices of avocado as well, but every single avocado in the package I bought just today was rotten inside. So that put the kaibosh on that.

All in all, I ended up with a barely palatable meal that Gordon Ramsay would not hesitate to roast. I was so disappointed. And it all took almost two hours to make from scratch.

Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Spectacularly Ugly Gnocchi

I’ve been getting a lot of my kitchen inspiration from Tasty lately, probably because they’re constantly showing up on my Facebook dash. In an effort to widen my online cooking exposure, I subscribed to a few other feeds today; if anybody has any in particular that they’d recommend, do drop me a line!

Anyway, the one that I tried over the weekend was Easy Homemade Gnocci. I have to say, this dish was anything but easy. It was disaster after disaster, really. I don’t know how much of that was the fault of the recipe and how much of it was my own, but nothing seemed to go right.

First of all, I prepared the potatoes exactly the same way as the video showed, but my mashed potatoes ended up being a gluey mess. They were either too moist to start or I should have prepared them differently; they definitely weren’t overcooked, since the center of the larger ones were still a little raw (I discarded those pieces). After perusing the video comments, I learned that some people bake their potatoes instead of boiling them to prevent excess moisture. Also, many people recommend a potato ricer instead of a masher, as it keeps the potatoes from turning gluey. As a bonus, if you cut the unpeeled potato in half and press it through the ricer, you don’t even have to peel anything — it kind of works like a giant garlic press or a modified of food mill.


My homemade gnocci served with baked herbed chicken thighs and corn.

I’m pretty sure that the potatoes were too moist, but I think they were also too large. The recipe calls for 3 to 4 small or medium russet potatoes, but that’s very subjective. Since vegetables can come in all different sizes, I much prefer a measurement by weight or at least by volume, as I’ve talked about before. Due to the moisture, I had to use twice as much flour as the recipe calls for just to get the dough even close to firm enough — and I think I really could have used more. I’d read online that too much flour can make the gnocci heavy and stodgy, and I was trying to avoid that… I don’t think I succeeded. The gnocci that I made did not hold their shape for long after forming and were much too floppy for the fork method to work at all. I made the mistake of letting the noodles touch before boiling them and they just congealed back into a large mass of dough, so I had to form them again. The dough was so stretchy that they didn’t keep their shape in the water.

In the end, I liked the flavour of the gnocci fried up in butter and sage, even if the pasta was misshapen and stodgy. I think I’d like to try this recipe again with modifications until I get it right. For that reason, I don’t think that this recipe is an easy beginner dish — I think that the original article misrepresented it as such. But it could eventually be quite nice, with practice. Perhaps I can find an Italian nonna who is willing to teach me the finer points of this dish, if only to keep me from massacring a tradition so badly next time.