Birthday Dinner

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, and the tradition at our house is that you get to eat whatever you want (within reason) on your birthday. This often involves going out to a restaurant, but this year my husband asked me to make his dinner instead. His choice of dinner necessitated a special trip to T&T Supermarket for ingredients, which was, as usual, an event in itself. Every time we go, we have a meal in the cafeteria, and then the kids have to check out all of the samples and go watch the live fish and seafood in their tanks. We also have to peruse the produce and packaged goods sections for food we’ve never tried before, and for ingredients for new recipes we’d like to try. There is no such thing as a quick trip to T&T with my family.

The main meal that my husband requested was California Ramen from page 86 of Simply Ramen (Amy Kimoto-Khan of easypeasyjapanesey.com, 2016). My copy of the book was actually a birthday gift to me from my husband a few months back, and I feel this may have been a not-so-subtle hint on his part. This dish is based California roll sushi, with toppings of avocado, cucumber, and crab. The recipe recommends fresh Dungeness crab, but I had never cooked live crab before, and I have to admit that I chickened out and used frozen crab instead. I distributed one package of frozen crab meat out around our family of four, but I admit that I probably could have used half as much crab and been just as happy. I also ended up using soft-boiled eggs instead of the marinated half-cooked eggs recommended, mostly because I misread the directions and didn’t realize they had to start marinading two days before the dish was to be made. Whoops.

The standout flavour of this dish, though, was the shoyu base broth. I’d never made it before, but it was both delicious and very simple. It packed a huge amount of flavour and tasty aroma into what I would have thought is just another slow-cooker broth. The recipe calls for dashi granules and soy sauce (both of which are high in sodium) and salt, but I had to take into account my family’s tastes. I left the salt out, and I am glad I did. The broth was just fine without it. In addition to the broth, I ended up with a lovely cooked chicken and melt-in-your-mouth oxtail (both of which are supposed to be discarded after being strained out of the base), so that’s two meals in one, really. All in all, it was a 10/10 recipe, and I will definitely make it again after I use up the leftovers that I froze! Now I want to try all of the bases in this book, especially the tonkotsu — my absolute favourite when I go to a ramen restaurant.

Of course, no birthday in our house is complete without dessert, and as my husband is not a big fan of sweet dishes, I made him up a fresh reduced-sugar blueberry pie. I cut down the sugar from the recipe by a third, but the blueberries were so sweet by themselves that I could probably have reduced it by a half or more. Once again, I used the Purity Pastry crust from page 73 of the Purity Cookbook (2001 edition), and the fresh fruit pie filling formula on page 228 of The Canadian Living Cookbook by Carol Ferguson (1987). I made a latticework crust, which turned out pretty well considering that a) it was only my second time making one, and b) Thing 2 somehow managed to step on the edge of uncooked pie while I was showing it to her, and I had to totally reassemble it. If you’re pondering the logistics of that, be aware that there was a stool involved so she could see what I was working on at the counter, and that the pie’s innards all fell out onto a clean baking sheet.

As many of my pies do, the blueberry one did not stand up well to a serving knife… It kind of crumbled and fell apart. I figure that’s not so bad because that means that the crust is nice and flaky. And yes, I did keep thinking of The Frantics’ A Piece of Pie while I was making this dessert. “Great big blueberries!”

Campfire

The formula for a perfect night at the cottage is as follows:

One small campfire, plus:

Jumbo sparklers lit in the campfire, plus:

Perfectly toasted marshmallows on green sticks, plus:

S’mores!

(For those not in the know, that’s a toasted marshmallow and a square of chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers, called “s’mores” because you always want “some more”.)

Stormy Supper

The other day we had a couple of friends over for dinner at the cottage that my parents are renting, which is always a lovely way to spend an evening. I feared that our plans may have been dashed when a harsh wind blew in from the west, raising whitecaps on the lake, and causing the power to flicker. I was afraid that I wouldn’t get the chance to finish cooking dinner before the incoming storm knocked the power out entirely, and we might have to serve our guests peanut butter and banana sandwiches and leftover salad.

Luckily, although the power went down for a few seconds here and there, it was on for long enough to prepare a decent meal — even though we kept candles lit and flashlights on hand anyway just in case. We had a plethora of leftover salads to choose from: potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw, kale and cabbage salad, and some spinach & fruit & goat cheese salad like I’d had a few days previous. I picked the spinach and macaroni salads for myself, along with a sweet mustard baked sausage, and some boiled baby potatoes.

Once the storm blew in, the wind let up a little bit, with torrential rain, lightning, and thunder taking the center stage. My photos are exposed so that it’s possible to actually see what was going on outside, but to the naked eye it was as if dusk had arrived hours early.

I felt truly lucky to be indoors watching the weather under a good, stout roof — even a roof with gutters plugged with pine needles so that the water cascaded over them instead of flowing down the pipes. Instead of enjoying a lovely dinner at the cottage watching nature’s show, we could have been on a family camping trip.

Breakfast Visitor

Breakfast at the cottage this week (well, more like brunch) consisted of pancakes with fresh fruit. The pancakes weren’t from scratch; when traveling and cooking, commercial mixes mean that you have to bring along about half as many bulky containers. My favourite pancake mix since childhood is Aunt Jemima Complete Buttermilk Pancake — the kind where you just add water. We used to use this mix all the time when my family went camping when I was a kid, so the flavour and texture are very homey to me.

The fruit mix was grapes, apples, oranges, strawberries, and there might have been a peach there too. Of course, we had to serve it with real maple syrup. That’s Canadian cottaging/camping for you: the pancakes may be an instant mix, but the syrup has to be real.

We also had a visitor for breakfast this morning. A great blue heron stopped on the cottage’s dock, which we could see from the dining room. This large wading bird fished off of the dock calmly for a few minutes, courteously allowing me enough time to grab my camera and change my lens to a telephoto so I could snap a few pictures.

Patience exhausted (or possibly just not finding any fish nearby), the heron took off to make its rounds of the lake to hunt its own breakfast.

Summer Supper

Yesterday’s supper was very simple and was also completely based on what I found on sale at the grocery store over the weekend. A decent steak was on sale for less than the going rate for ground beef, so we had steak. Corn on the cob was only $0.15 per ear, so we had corn. Peaches and strawberries are in season and I had a few too many in my fridge, so I made pie for dessert.

Since I was busy making the pies indoors, my husband cooked the steaks (with a sprinkle of Montreal steak spice) and the corn (still in its husk) on the barbecue. The steak was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the corn, while not the sweetest, was still tasty. In retrospect, the steaks were a little large. Okay, they were huge. I cut off about a third of mine to give to Thing 1, and my husband shared his with Thing 2, and we still were stuffed before we got to the corn. That’s okay, we had the corn as a night snack, along with some pie.

If you’re wondering what the brown lumps are at the end of my corn cobs, they are corn holders shaped like beavers eating corn. I thought that they were cute in the store, but they aren’t dishwasher safe so I wasn’t going to buy them. Surprisingly, it was my husband who fell in love with them and insisted that we bring them home (on my condition that he can hand-wash them if he likes them so much).

The pie was peach and strawberry with streusel topping, which was still warm and gooey from the oven when we cut into it. As usual, I used the Purity Pastry crust from page 73 of the Purity Cookbook (2001 edition), which remains my favourite. For the filling, I used the fresh fruit pie formula on page 228 of The Canadian Living Cookbook by Carol Ferguson (1987), and the streusel topping recipe on page 226. I cut the sugar back by a third, since I like the flavour of my pies to have a stronger emphasis on the the fruit flavour instead of the sweetness. To be honest, what I’d really wanted to make was plain peach streusel pie, as it is recommended in the meal planning section of the book as part of a typical Ontario country-style feast. However, I didn’t quite have enough peaches, and I did have some strawberries that needed eating, so I improvised.

Fish Sandwich & Side Salad

Dinner last night was a fresh and summery breaded cod sandwich served with a spinach and goat cheese salad. I’d love to say that this was due to a fantastic advanced planning, but it was mostly because I had picked up both the fish and the salad ingredients at 50% off because they needed to be eaten soon. Also, I’d been feeling like a fast food fish burger, but I thought I could manage something better at home.

The cod was dipped in egg, then in a combination of dried dill and panko (Japanese bread crumbs), then lightly fried in a bit of olive oil. The bread was the lightly toasted basic white bread on page 14 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999). For a bit of additional flavour, I spread President’s Choice tartar lightly on one half of the bread, and for crunch I added some chopped romaine lettuce. This made for a lovely light sandwich that nonetheless was quite filling.

The salad is based on one that I love to buy pre-made at the grocery store (when it’s on sale, of course), which is really easy to make at home. The base is baby spinach, which it topped with quartered strawberries, drained canned mandarin slices (the kind in pear juice, not syrup), sliced cucumbers, and blanched, sliced almonds. My favourite cheese for this salad is Woolwich Dairy Soft Unripened Goat Cheese Crumbles, which are much milder and creamier than most other goat cheeses I’ve tried. As a bonus, goat cheese doesn’t seem to upset my stomach, so yay for dairy I can actually eat!

Thai Chicken Coconut Curry

Last night I wanted to make a healthy and easy meal, so I went back to the Thai Coconut Curry Recipe and worked with what I had in the fridge and pantry. I used Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry Paste again, since I still had about 2/3 of a jar left in the fridge. As protein, I used chicken thighs, which I had bought in quantity a few days before due to a fantastic deal at the grocery store. For the veggies I used yellow zucchini, green zucchini, and garlic scapes, all of which are in season locally. Like with my Indian coconut curry (which in retrospect this version of the dish looks an awful lot like), I was running short on time, so I cooked the veggies on the stove. I also served it on rice.

The dish was very tasty, and my whole family ate it, which satisfies my most stringent criteria when it comes to cooking. Also, anything with that many veggies incorporated into it is better for both the health and the digestion. However, I think if I want a more attractively-coloured final product, I’ll have to make the time to roast the veggies. They seem to keep their original colour much better when roasted. Also, chicken and rice aren’t nearly as visually appealing on a plate as shrimp and egg noodles. Even so, this meal remains very versatile and super-easy to make, so I’ll probably keep making it regularly — with infinite variations, of course.