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”.)

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!

Bread and Soup

I wasn’t feeling super-adventurous yesterday, so I stuck with a few recipes that I knew generally go well. First was a poppy seed loaf (Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), page 138). Much to my surprise, my husband, who generally doesn’t cook much, actually is getting into this whole breadmaker thing; he whipped up this loaf a couple of times before I tried the recipe myself. This loaf is light and fluffy, but the seeds add a lovely crunch, and the crust is golden and crispy even when cooked on the “light crust” setting.

One thing we’ve learned about cooking from this book is that my bread machine (the Black & Decker All-In-One Deluxe Horizontal Breadmaker) is really a medium-sized machine according to this book, while I had thought it was a large. A medium-sized machine is defined as ones that “make loaves using 450-500g/1lb 2oz/4-4 1/2 cups of flour” (page 7, Bread Machine). Now, you see, I would have known that if I’d been paying enough attention, but for some reason I assumed my machine had a larger capacity than it does, and I directed my husband to make the largest version of the white bread recipe (page 66) for his first try at breadmaker baking. Well, while the bread was rising it expanded so much that it pushed the lid open and the dough started oozing out of the bread machine. My husband punched the dough down and cut some of it out, and that seemed to be the solution until the start of the baking cycle, when the dough pushed the lid open again once the temperature increased. At that point we were worried that the dough might continue to grow and slide down the side of the pan and onto the heating element, possibly resulting in a fire. So my husband rescued the dough and I prepped two small loaf pans, and we finished up the bread in the oven. Because the bread had started to cook a little in the breadmaker, the consistency was a little off, but it was still edible (and a darn sight better than some store-bought bread I have tried). Since this fun episode, we’ve been using the recipe for a medium-sized bread machine and we have yet to have any problems.

Yesterday I also went back to my old standby of udon noodle soup for dinner, which always uses the same technique but ends up slightly different every time. I used homemade chicken broth seasoned with a dash of soy sauce and a tiny bit of dashi granules. The toppings were soft-boiled egg, precooked shrimp, raw enoki mushrooms, steamed bok choy, steamed carrots, nori, seasoned capelin caviar, and raw chopped green onions. The rest of my family also had fish balls in their soup, but I’m not a huge fan.

Indian Coconut Curry

Last night I decided to make coconut curry again, but with a more Indian flavour. The one that I made previously was more of a Thai dish (although certainly not an authentic one), mostly because I used Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry Paste. This time I used Pataks Mild Curry Paste; the company specializes in flavours originating in India.

As is probably evident from the picture, I made a few more changes, based mostly on what was in my fridge and pantry. I replaced the carrots with mushrooms, I switched the shrimp for chopped chicken breast, and I served the dish over rice instead of with noodles. Also notably, I ran out of time to roast the vegetables in the oven (which takes about an hour), so I cooked them up in a frying pan on the stove with the chicken once it was sealed. I also needed to boil down the sauce a bit once I added the curry paste and the light coconut milk because the veggies were more steamed than anything else and hence added a lot of moisture.

So I made a tonne of changes, but the dish still turned out successfully. This all goes to show how much you can mess with this recipe and still have great results! My kids ate all the food on their plates and then came back for seconds, which is how I rate dinner success in our house. Also, they ate all of their veggies without complaining, which is a huge win. Thank you, Brothers Green Eats, for introducing me to this dish!

Ugly Bread

Ever have one of those days where it doesn’t seem to matter what you do, what you’re working on refuses to turn out quite right? Well, I had one of those days the other day. I made German beer Bread from page 19 of World Breads: From Pain de Campagne to Paratha (Paul Gayler, 2006), which I have made (and adored) many times before and, well…

It turned out ugly. I know I didn’t have a loaf pan to bake it in at the in-laws’ cottage, but I didn’t expect it to turn out so unappealing-looking. I mean, the marbled pesto bread turned out just fine. Maybe this kind of bread really needs a mould to keep it from going so weird. Maybe I used too much flour, or the day was too damp. I don’t know. But I have to say that this is the most unattractive bread that I’ve ever baked.

It still smelled heavenly, and it tasted great slathered in butter and served alongside smoked salmon and sautéed veggies for dinner. Looks aren’t everything, after all. If I had to choose between food that looks good or tastes good, I’d take taste any day of the week. But if I’m going to put that much effort into something, I’d also like it to look at least a little appetizing!