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.

Mushroom-Free Loco Moco

I’m still trying to get back into cooking proper meals, instead of fast food or whatever I can throw together in a pinch as I was during con crunch. Tonight I made Loco Moco, but my own version which basically uses ground beef instead of hamburger patties, but keeps the rest of the recipe more or less the same. I just find that it’s easier to eat that way — and, more importantly, that my kids make less of a mess if they don’t have to cut up the burger.

My brother-in-law was over for dinner, and he vehemently abhors mushrooms, so I had to make further changes to Guy Fieri’s recipe in order to make it palatable to everyone. Basically, I just skipped the mushrooms, and it was all good (if not as flavourful). I also wanted to make it a bit healthier by adding more veggies in the form of additional tomatoes and stalks of asparagus — it’s much easier to persuade my kids to eat their greens if they’re covered in sauce of some sort.

Crock Pot Pork Loin with Gravy

After complaining in my last entry that I felt like I wouldn’t have time to cook properly until all of my ComicCon costumes are complete, I took a look at the shelf of dusty appliances in the basement and vowed to let them do most of the work for me for the next month or so. I figure that my three crock pots will be getting the most use. (The bread machine never really gets put away because we use it so much anyway.) I’m starting to wish that an Instant Pot was one of the tools that I had at my disposal, but that’s a purchase that will have to wait.


Crock pot pork loin with gravy served with mashed potatoes and steamed carrots.

My friends and family have been sending me their favourite slow cooker recipes to help me along. In my experience, the ones sent to me by the friends who aren’t fond of cooking are the ones that I’ll find take the least effort and are the most foolproof. My mother (not a cooking fan) sent me the link to a Crock Pot Pork Loin with Gravy Recipe from Recipes That Crock. It’s as simple as throwing a few ingredients in a slow cooker and leaving it for about five hours. I actually had my husband do this part, and unfortunately he chose to use my 1970’s crock pot, which runs at a much lower temperature, so the dish took a good hour and a half longer than expected. (For food safety reasons, under-cooked pork is a really bad idea.) Also, he put in too much water, so I had to thicken the gravy afterwards on the stove by boiling it down and adding a little flour. That’s also why the gravy has such a light colour. That being said, this was still a delicious meal, even with the mistakes. Basically, it’s pork chops with mushroom gravy, but with a whole lot less effort. Works for me!

How to Fix Lumpy Gravy

I love gravy and I’ll eat it with just about any meat, steamed vegetable, or starch. It’s to die for on mashed potatoes and it’s fantastic over an open-faced hot turkey sandwich. However, it’s also really easy to get wrong. If it’s too thin, you can always dust in a bit more flour or simmer it for a while to reduce. But if it’s lumpy, it’s absolutely nasty. Those congealed lumps of flour and fat are just… Ew.

I’ve accidentally made lumpy gravy many times over the years — although the stuff pictured above was done on purpose to illustrate the point. I’ve tried pre-mixing the flour with water, I’ve thickened it with a roux instead, I’ve whisked until it feels like my arm is going to fall off. I’ve tried every tip and trick in my cookbooks, but sometimes the gravy still comes up lumpy, and it seems like the only way to salvage it is to strain it (which still can leave some tiny lumps).

When my mother taught me how to make gravy, she insisted that it be perfectly smooth, or it couldn’t be served. Lumps in anything make Mom gag, so potatoes were always mashed or whipped silky smooth, we never ate cream of wheat, and bubble tea was absolutely out. So if I messed up the gravy, we were out of luck even if it was intended to be a part of a major roast meal. Don’t ask me why, but this technique of fixing the problem never came up:

Just run the gravy through the blender. It comes out smooth every time. Not only that, but lumpy gravy tends to get really thick when you finally get it to an even consistency, so this is a great time to thin it out using a bit of the appropriate stock. The one in the photo above was loco moco hamburger gravy, so I thinned it with beef stock. There are probably a bunch of you who were using this technique for years and are agog that I’m thinking it’s revolutionary, but honestly it’s totally new to me. And if my crappy old two-speed General Electric machine from the 70’s with dull blades can do the trick, any blender can.

This works for all kinds of sauces, by the way. White sauce I find is also very prone to lumpiness if you’re not careful, but it does blend nicely. As with blending all hot things, do exert extra care to prevent burns!

The loco moco turned out great, by the way, even if I didn’t have any parsley or tomatoes for garnish. I find that it pairs rather nicely with steamed spinach, since you can combine it with the gravy and meat for a wonderful, rich flavour.

Cottage Supper

Supper at the cottage is always an informal affair. We often come to the table in bathing suits (if we’re not freezing after coming out of the lake), or wrapped up in sweaters and woolly socks when the evening turns chilly.

Food is often served directly from the stove, but this day we were feeling especially fancy, so we placed on the table in the dishes they were cooked in.

The main part of this dinner was an easy dish that my family has always tongue-in-cheek called “slop”. Basically, you fry up some onions and garlic (or in this case, garlic scapes), add ground beef (or a ground beef/ground chicken/ground turkey mixture, depending on what we have on hand), frying until browned. Drain off the grease, add a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a can of water. Optionally, you may add cooked frozen vegetables to the mixture at this point. Boil down the soup mixture until it has the consistency of a thick gravy. Serve the meat mixture over mashed potatoes or rice.

This time we served slop with a number of vegetables on the side; I had cherry tomatoes with basil, topped with goat cheese, as well as steamed spinach. We also served Brussels sprouts and broccoli, both steamed.