Another Day of Cottage Cooking

Another day at the cottage meant more adventures and more cottage cooking! I started the day by making a family brunch of pancakes smothered in fresh fruit salad and maple syrup.

I have no problem admitting that I used boxed pancake mix; that’s a family tradition when cottaging or camping. No point in buying that “add milk and eggs” kind, either. I mean, if you’re doing that you’re essentially buying a pre-made mix of flour, baking soda, and maybe a bit of sugar and salt. I can buy those ingredients (and even pre-mix them) separately for much cheaper overall — and it’s just as non-perishable. No, we buy the “just add water” type, which is perfect for camping and cottaging. It’s not fancy, but it’s easy to transport and it’s really hard to make it go bad. Even the cheapest, non-brand-name kind usually works just as well.

The weather was beautiful and sunny, hot enough to enjoy swimming but not too hot. We did have a bit of a problem with deer flies when out of the water and horse flies when we were in the water. It was a bit of a pain in the patoot, but we had a good time hopping in and out of the water anyway.

My dad took the girls fishing, and while they caught a bunch of little rock bass (max 6″ long), Dad caught three good-sized smallmouth bass. Pictured above was the smallest of them. Dad had had very little luck previously with artificial bait, but taking the kids out with simple spinners and real worms to go after little fish netted him three big ones. He really wasn’t expecting it, and since he only had a rod intended for small fish and a six-pound test, his rod was bent double and one of the fish snapped his line and swam away with his bobber and lure. Thing 1 managed to rescue the bobber with her net, since it floated away, but the lure was gone.

Sadly, I haven’t the slightest idea how to fillet a fish, so all of Dad’s catches were released back into the lake. One of these days I hope that I’ll be able to find someone who can teach me how to make a proper meal with one of Dad’s catches. Or one of my own (although I don’t fish nearly as often as Dad, so the likelihood of me catching anything big enough to bother cooking is pretty darned low).

Instead of fresh fish, for dinner we used up the remainder of the food we’d brought to the cottage for that stay. I used up the majority of the bread I’d made the day prior (White Bread from page 596 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition)) to make grilled cheese — with lactose-free cheese for me and goat cheddar for Dad, as usual. On the side we had the rest of the morning’s fruit salad with a bit of maple syrup, and the last slices of summer sausage from the farmer’s market.

Then it was time to pack everything back into the car and drive back into town, away from the peace of the lake but back to the convenience of WiFi and cell phone service.

Bacon Goes With Everything

Last night I ransacked my freezer and pantry in order to continue the trend of preparing meals that don’t require long cooking times indoors, which would heat the house up unduly. I came up with a box of spaghettini noodles, a small container of last year’s basil pesto, a package of sole fillets, and almost a pound of reduced-salt bacon.

What that turned into was essentially a meal where there was bacon on everything. I boiled up the spaghettini, drained it, and coated it in pesto. Then I dredged the sole in flour mixed with a bit of garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and then I pan fried it. (Whenever I cook my fish like this, I can’t help but think of lightly fried fish fillets, though.) I cooked up all of the bacon in the microwave, chopped it into bits, and sprinkled it on darned near everything.

My family couldn’t have been happier.

Playing Hooky

We played hooky on Monday and spent an extra day at my in-laws’ cottage. This close to the end of the school year, the report cards are already written, so it’s not like the kids were missing any important content. So we explored the lake:

And enjoyed a trail hike:

And Thing 1 and Thing 2 peered into the depths in search of minnows.

Our trip wrapped up with a visit to the Whitewater Brewing Co. Lakeside Brew Pub in Cobden. We’d been to their Riverside Brew Pub some years ago (Thing 2 was just a toddler), and we’d been impressed by their fare, so we wanted to give their newer location a try.

The place definitely has a hipster vibe; for one thing, there are very few plates, with most of the meals served on wooden planks. I know they’re trying to appeal to the white water rafting crowd that dominates those parts in the summer months — young, athletic twenty-somethings out to have a good time while “roughing it”. The food is anything but rough, though, so it kind of sends mixed messages.

Lack of plates and faux-rustic decor aside, though, what I really come to this pub for is the food, and that was exceptional. (I know most people go to pubs for beer, and I’m told that Whitewater’s brews are exceptional… But I don’t drink beer.) The Things and my husband had the Whitewater Burger, which was smokey and juicy and overall delicious. I went for the fish and chips, which I honestly would have been satisfied with at half the size (and I have a big appetite). I guess the intended customer would have been out in the sun all day doing lots of physical activity — which I most definitely did not. The fish was tender inside and crispy outside, the house tartar sauce was full of tangy dill, and the thick-cut fries were lovely. I didn’t even get the chance to try the grilled toast or the mushy peas, I simply ran out of room!

That fullness was due, in part, to having split a Scotch egg with my family. I only had a few bites, but it’s not a light dish! I’d never had one before, but they seemed like the kind of thing that I would like: essentially, it’s breakfast in one deep-fried package. The smoky bacon aioli was a nice touch.

I especially liked the runny egg in the middle, which was soft-boiled to perfection.

Now that I’ve tried a proper Scotch egg, I want to try to make a Pork Belly Onigiri, which Tasty Japan made look so, well, tasty… (You can find the English translation in the video comments.)

Herb-Crusted Fish

Today I was lucky enough to find a copy of Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997) for $1.25 at a local charity shop. I’ve just started watching Mary Berry on YouTube, which makes it seem like I’m way behind the curve since she has written more than seventy cookbooks, but honestly she’s not as big of a name here as she is in the UK! I mean, only seven of her books are available in hard copy via Chapters, and in brick-and-mortar stores she’s even harder to spot. It’s a tragedy, actually. My introduction to Mary Berry was via old episodes of The Great British Bake Off where she was the judge.


Preparing the ingredients.

So I was thrilled to find a copy of one of her out-of-print books today. A quick perusal of the recipes within while I waited for the kids to get home made me realize that I had almost all of the ingredients for Herb-Crusted Fish (page 134). (My choice of dinner recipe had absolutely nothing to do with having pulled a muscle in my back when I shoveled the ice berm at the bottom of the driveway the day before, and hence wanting nothing to do with lifting heavy bags of flour or potatoes.) I thought that a quick trip to the grocery store would be all that I needed. Ha! Does it ever work that way? First of all, I couldn’t find bread crumbs that didn’t already have cheese or seasoning mixed in, so I had to go with Panko. Then the store was out of non-frozen haddock (what grocery store runs out of haddock?), so I substituted basa fillets. Then I went on to looks for chervil, which apparently is really hard to get around here, so I bought curly parsley instead, which an Internet search suggested as a reasonable substitution. (The other herbs, tarragon and dill, I already had in the fridge.)


Frying the fish.

I mean, none of that was the recipe’s fault. The book is really intended for a British audience, so it’s not unheard of that some of the ingredients can’t be easily found this side of the pond. I’ve run into this problem with international cookbooks before. It is a frustrating, though.


Herb-crusted basa fillet with sliced avocado and romaine lettuce with Greek dressing.

When all was said and done, I was really happy with the final product. The substitutions worked really well. I mean, I have no idea if it tasted anything like what Mary Berry intended, but it did taste good! The whole family ate theirs and asked me to make it again sometime. The recipe’s instructions were clear and easy to follow, which is exactly what I was looking for in a book with “basics” and “new cook” in the title. The step-by-step photos throughout were great as well. I hope that I’m past the “new cook” stage by now, but it never hurts to brush up. It’s also great to have an illustrated guide when the instructions are from another country, because the terminology sometimes changes. All in all, I look forward to preparing recipes from this book again. I also hope to use it to help my kids learn to cook.

Dollar Store Challenge: Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe

One of the culinary challenges I’ve heard people talking about is to make a meal out of ingredients bought entirely from somewhere that doesn’t specialize in food. Gas stations, convenience stores, discount stores, that kind of thing. Here is the rules that I’ve seen:

1) Ingredients must all come from a single location. Exceptions can be made for water, small amounts of salt, pepper, oil, and commonly-available, inexpensive dried spices.
2) Ingredients purchased must come in under a certain budget (I chose $10.00 before tax).
3) The meal should feed at least four adults.
4) There must be some actual cooking involved. You may combine ingredients from instant meals or canned goods, but they can’t be served as-is with no changes.
5) The meal should be as healthy as possible; it should not be able to be mistaken for a dessert.

There is a lot of food available at the local Dollarama, but most of it is junk food. Chips, candy, chocolate, soft drinks, that kind of thing. There is a small section near the back of regular food, but nothing is perishable. I wanted to include some fruit and/or veggies in the meal, and preferably a bit of meat if possible, so that narrowed my choices even further. I was tempted to make spaghetti with tomato sauce (there was both pre-made spaghetti sauce and canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and Italian spice mix), or canned soup/stew with Bisquick dumplings, or pancakes with canned fruit (there was pancake mix, coconut milk to replace cow’s milk, canola oil and applesauce to replace the eggs, and a couple of kinds of canned fruit as the topping). However, I finally decided on a tuna noodle casserole.

My ingredients were:

2 x Pacific Pride Flaked Light Tuna in Water 130g @ $1.00/ea
1 x Fruitropic Coconut Milk 398mL @ $1.25/ea
2 x Aylmer Vacuum-Packed Whole-Kernel Corn 341mL @ $1.00/ea
2 x Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup 284mL @ $1.00/ea
1 x Buongusto Macaroni 900g @ $1.00/ea
1 x Old Dutch Original Potato Chips 40g @ $0.50/ea

Subtotal: $8.75 + tax
Total with tax: $8.82

(Only the chips were taxable.)

I was very happy with the end result, which I based on the Campbell’s® Tuna Noodle Casserole from Allrecipes.com. Of course, I had to make changes for the available ingredients, but I had to start somewhere. For example, I replaced milk with coconut milk, frozen peas with canned corn, egg noodles with macaroni, and the dry bread crumb and butter topping with plain crushed potato chips. Even so, it worked really well! I think that I will probably make this recipe again, but not in challenge-mode, so that I can use frozen corn instead of canned since I greatly prefer the taste of frozen.

As a bonus, it’s a great meal for camping (cooked in a pot instead of baked), cottaging, or when trying to clean out the pantry, since all of the ingredients are non-perishable. And at $2.21 a head (assuming it serves the minimum four people), it’s pretty darned affordable. Out of challenge mode, with a bit of bargain shopping at the supermarket, it could be made even cheaper. Around here, I know that cans of cream of mushroom soup often go on sale for $0.50 each, coconut milk is about $0.98, a big bag of frozen corn often costs about $2.00, and dried noodles sometimes go on sale for less than $1.00 a bag. This is all assuming you don’t buy the big name-brand version stuff, of course.

So here’s the recipe:

Dollar Store Tuna Noodle Casserole
Serves 4-6 adults

Fill a medium-sized pot three-quarters of the way with water. Add:
a pinch of salt
Bring the water to the boil on the stove on high heat. Add:
2 1/4 cups dried macaroni
Turn the burner down to medium-high. Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).
In a casserole dish that holds at least 2 quarts (1.9L), add:
2 cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup canned coconut milk*
2 x 341mL cans of whole-kernel corn, drained and rinsed OR 2 cups frozen corn
2 x 130g cans of tuna packed in water, drained and broken up with a fork
Mix well. Add the drained pasta to the sauce mixture, stirring well to evenly distribute the ingredients. Put casserole into the oven uncovered. Bake for 30 minutes or until warmed through**.
Remove casserole from the oven. Open and crush in the bag:
1 40g bag of plain potato chips
Stir the casserole. Sprinkle the crushed chips onto the top of the casserole and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.

*Canned coconut milk tends to separate, so stir it well before measuring.
**If you are cooking this on the stove, heat mixture gently in a pot until it is warmed through and sauce is slightly thickened. Skip the next baking step, and instead garnish each individual serving with a sprinkling of crushed potato chips.

Christmas Prep

We’re right smack dab in the middle of Christmas prep around here, dashing from hither to yon to prep for school spirit days, family events, and hosting over the holidays. Of necessity, suppers have been quick and easy; I think tomorrow I will be breaking out the slow cooker just to make dinner that much easier.

Last night, though, I rummaged through the freezer and turned up with some rather nice basa fillets. I dredged them in flour, sprinkled them with a bit of garlic powder and salt, and lightly fried them in a glug of olive oil in a non-stick pan. (As an aside, when making this kind of dish, does anyone else think about that lightly fried fish fillets meme?) I topped the fried fish with crumbled bacon and served it alongside boiled baby potatoes and steamed carrots.

I still wasn’t feeling spectacularly well last night, so I didn’t get as much prep work done as I wanted to, but the hectic pace around the holidays is one of the reasons I start canning way back in the summer. As planned, I plunged into my shelves of homemade preserves to get gifts together for my kids’ teachers.

As with Guiders, I consider teachers to be especially important to my children and, as such, they are deserving of some nice things around Christmas to show my appreciation. Teachers put in long hours in a job that I, to be completely frank, am vastly temperamentally unsuited to do. Before my children were born, I seriously considered home-schooling, but as time went on I realized that teaching is definitely not one of my gifts. I have the utmost appreciation for those people who can do so, especially while both funding and support are slowly withdrawn from the public school system over the years.

This year, my kids’ teachers are getting amaretto cherries, spiced pear jam with pineapple, handmade cloths, and a box of Girl Guide cookies. (I considered giving the cookies to the Guiders too, but I thought they could probably use a break from this fundraiser by this point.) I hope that the teachers will be able to enjoy these foods over the winter break — or any time after, really, as they’ll last about a year unopened.

Low-Prep Suppers

I kind of have my kitchen back again… Okay, not the whole thing, but the counters and table are clear again, so I can cook properly. I made shepherd’s pie for dinner (but without the cheese topping, to reduce the amount of dairy and make it better for my gut). However, the meal was running late and we dug into it much too fast for me to take pictures. Instead, I have photos of the bread that was cooking while we were eating dinner:

That’s Beer Bacon Bread found on page 44 of Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook (Betty Crocker, 1999). I used a flat Guinness beer, a package of crumbled circular bacon, and chives from my window garden instead of green onion because that’s what I had on hand. It’s only the second time that I tried out any recipes for this book, and so far so good! There’s a Cottage Dill Loaf on page 152 and Brandied Pumpkin Bread on page 104 that I can’t wait to try.

Earlier in the week I had to make a few easy and quick meals that required little in the way of prep space, so I whipped up a loaf of Sally Lunn bread (page 25, also from Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook), which I think called for an unreasonable amount of butter in the dough (6 Tbsp!), but I have to admit tasted quite nice. I used it to make grilled cheese sandwiches for the girls, with sides of sliced apples.

Of course I have issues with dairy (and at any rate I’d run out of cheddar), so I fried up a couple of eggs each for my hubby and I, and served it with the Sally Lunn, sliced apples, and mandarin oranges.

Earlier this week I went with a less bread-based meal and baked up some trout with in teriyaki sauce, which I served over rice with a side of asparagus.

I’m really looking forward to having this mini-reno complete so that I can try some new recipes! This hasn’t been nearly as time-consuming an affair as a full gutting of the kitchen (much as I’d love to be able to afford a 100% fresh new kitchen), but it’s still rather disruptive. At least it’s cheap!