Just a quick one today! At the suggestion of a friend of mine, I added a bag of baby spinach to my beef stroganoff, and it turned out great! If you’re not really into spinach, the sauce really covers up the bitterness. Now, I actually like the taste of spinach, but I like that it doesn’t overwhelm the flavour of the rest of the dish.
I’m always looking for ways to make my cooking healthier (as well as tastier), and one of the best way to do this is to add vegetables. I know that I definitely don’t get enough leafy greens in my diet. This is just one way to incorporate them!
So I tried cooking a second recipe from Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997), and sadly, I wasn’t nearly as happy with the recipe as last time. I’ll say up front that I did make a few changes; instead of string beans, I used asparagus stalks cut small, and instead of dried penne I used dried linguini. But I’m pretty sure that’s not where my issues with this dish lie. At any rate, it still holds true to the dish’s basic composition of “the combination of lightly cooked vegetables and pasta”.
To be clear, it’s the dish, not the recipe, that I had problems with. The recipe was quite clear, concise, and yielded exactly the results that it promised. But I’ve had pasta primavera before, and this just didn’t live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. I’d expected the sauce to be creamy, and while it looked like it should be, it really tasted quite dry. That might have been the fault of the cheese that I chose (Chevrai Original Goat Cheese), but it was soft goat cheese as the recipe dictated. Also, the strong flavour of lemon (which my husband insists tasted more like lime, but as you can see from the above photo was definitely a lemon) was off-putting.
It’s too bad, because I like the concept behind this dish, but I don’t think that this recipe is for me. That’s all right, since a quick perusal of my bookshelves yielded three different pasta primavera recipes for me to try: on page 327 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), page 125 of The New Canadian Basics Cookbook (Carol Ferguson, 1999), and page 164 of Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite (Gordon Ramsay, 2008). I figure that, with a bit of experimentation, I’ll find a recipe that my husband, kids, and I like well enough for it to become a family classic.
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.
I’ve really been enjoying trying out the dishes from the Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (2017). My go-to breakfast for the last week or so has come from this book: Asparagus, Eggs & French Dressing (page 164). The recipe serves two, but it’s easy enough to halve the ingredients to make a single serving for myself. (Hubby is a cereal-for-breakfast kind of guy, and the kids turn up their noses at vegetables for breakfast.)
If you prepare the dressing in advance (the recipe makes enough for a week’s worth of breakfasts for one person), this dish only takes about ten minutes to make. I don’t have a metal colander to put over the eggs in which to steam the asparagus, so I cook it in the microwave using a steamer dish. I also discovered that it takes a little longer than 5 1/2 minutes to make soft-boiled eggs around here; as the above photo attests, my first try was a bit underdone. It’s more like 6 1/2 minutes.
Things I discovered about myself when making this recipe: I’m not a big fan of raw tarragon (it tastes a bit like black licorice to me, which I despise), and I have a limited tolerance for raw red onions in the morning. I just started skipping the tarragon entirely, but I wonder if this dish might be good with a bit of basil instead? And although I like the red onion flavour in the dressing, I had to stop eating it as a garnish. Otherwise, I could taste it on my breath all day, even after brushing my teeth.
A NTD Taste Life video for Ginger Shakin’ Beef came across my Facebook feed recently, and the recipe looked both simple and delicious. A bit of digging for the actual recipe (which wasn’t posted with the video) made me realize that the original source was Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food (2017). The recipe itself is available on Jamie Oliver‘s website. I’ve been meaning to pick up a copy of this book, but it’s a recent addition to my list of cookbooks I’d like, and anyway, it’s not a great idea to buy things for yourself before Christmas.
My plating sadly never looks as good as that found in Jamie Oliver’s books, but the taste of the dish was lovely. My kids had their meat over rice instead of bok choy since they’re not a huge fan of this veggie (although I did make them have a bit on the side). I loved the combination of the miso and the honey to make a simple sauce. It was delicious! However, I wasn’t too sold on the ginger and beef fat. I found that the fat, despite frying until crispy, really didn’t have much flavour and didn’t add much to the dish. The ginger, while it looked pretty, was very strong — my kids just picked all of theirs out. I think it would have been better mixed in with the main meat and sauce, maybe lessened in quantity a bit and chopped fine to mix throughout the dish. All that being said, I will definitely make this dinner again in the future (albeit with some slight variations to adjust for my family’s palate). It was both easy and tasty, and it is great for school nights when time is at a premium, so that’s a win in my book.
I forgot to post about this year’s Halloween costumes, probably because I didn’t make anything new. Thing 1, Thing 2, and I stuck with our Pokémon Go costumes from ComicCon, because I’ll be darned if I put in all that work for us only to wear the costumes once. That’s the deal that I made with my girls when I started making them Con costumes: their costumes have to be based on something that they like well enough to want to wear again almost half a year later. So given that the majority of Halloween activities happen after dark, the best photos of their costumes were taken back in May.
Photo by Richard Dufault Photography.
For Heroes & Villains, which is an annual geeky Halloween party around here, I reused my Femme Joker costume. I added a hat (which is really more purple than blue), a cane, and I took the makeup from almost-jolly Cesar-Romero-like paint, to something a little more sinister, not quite Heath-Ledger-like but closer.
I think I am almost done the Halloween party leftovers, too, except for the cookies. Last night I made grilled cheese for the family dinner, using Light Rye and Caraway Bread (page 75 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter (2002)) and old Balderson cheddar, with a side of sliced avocado.
For me, since I can’t have the cheese, I made toast out of the bread, and served it alongside Montreal smoked meat and a salad with iceberg lettuce, avocado, and Woolwich Dairy Soft Unripened Goat Cheese Crumbles. It’s a little bit healthier than what we’ve been eating all week, I think! Now if only I can get the temptation of the mini chocolate bars out of the house, things will soon get back to normal.
I am happy to report that the Furikake Salmon Ramen (page 82 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016), or online here) is nearly as delicious as a leftover as it was freshly made for dinner.
In an attempt to cook as little as possible the other night, I served the salmon on some steamed rice topped with eggs sunny-side-up and sliced avocado. Of course, the apple pie and brownies from Mom’s birthday dinner are long gone, devoured by voracious children. Okay, I might have had some too. But the kids are the main culprits, I swear.