Toad in the Hole

I’ve been wanting to try to make toad in the hole for ages. I have vague memories of my Nan serving it, or at least something similar, although I couldn’t remember the name… I Googled “pigs in a blanket” and “bubble and squeak” before I finally figured out what the name was of the dish that I remembered. Basically, toad in the hole is sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding batter — with regional and temporal variations, of course. Although the photos I’ve found online use thick sausages for the most part, I distinctly remember the version from my childhood containing smaller breakfast sausages, so that’s what I was determined to make.

The first time I tried it, I wasn’t very happy with the results. I used the Yorkshire pudding recipe from the Joy of Cooking (page 637, 2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), which was recommended by my father. I doubled the recipe and doubled the size of the pan, which I thought would work just fine, but the sausages were just too small to compensate for all that batter. Also, although the edges of the casserole rose and puffed up quite nicely, it didn’t cook evenly through the center, leaving it a stodgy mess. I mean, the texture was firm enough to be edible, but it wasn’t very appetizing.

I tried to learn from my mistakes the second time around. This time I whipped up only a single batch of the batter, which greatly improved the ratio of batter to meat, at least for sausages this small. I cooked it all in a pan that was half the size, which allowed it to rise more thoroughly. Also, I used a metal pan instead of a glass one, which I find in general allows for a crispier edge to baked dishes.

I was really happy with how it turned out. The pudding rose beautifully, so fluffy in the middle that in many spots it was completely hollow. The crust was nice and crisp without being hard. The sausages were perfectly done. Now, if only I’d remembered to grease the pan, since to serve it I almost had to destroy it. You’d think I’d know better by now.

I served my toad in the hole with a side Ceasar salad and some sliced avocado, which my Nan would never have done (she’d have paired it with boiled or baked veggies). But I thought we needed some fresh greens with a main dish that doesn’t contain a single vegetable. The family ate it all up and asked me to make it again soon, which tells me that it was a success.

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.

Fish Tacos

With all the prep work for ComicCon that I’m cramming into this week, I’ve had to cut down on the amount of time and effort I spend cooking. But I still want to eat well! So I thought I’d try something I’d never made before: fish tacos. They’re fast, easy, and healthy (so long as you don’t drown them in cheese and sauce).

I used the spice mixture from the Grilled Fish Tacos recipe from Eating Well, but I cooked the fish a frying pan instead of on the grill, since with all the rain lately my yard is a morass of mud. The kids snapped up the tortillas first, so I had my taco on whole-wheat pita instead. I topped mine with leftover avocado tartar sauce (which is perfect with this dish), romaine lettuce, tomato, shredded old cheddar cheese. This was such a simple, delicious, and healthy meal to make that I’ll definitely make it again.

A Healthier Burger Recipe

Last night I took advantage of the gap between spring rain storms to make up some burgers on the barbecue for the family dinner. My family absolutely adores burgers, so I’ve been looking for a way to make them healthier. Sure, tonnes of grease tastes good once in a while, but it’s not something that we should be eating regularly. Moderation in all things, including moderation. So I came up with a tasty recipe that combines lean ground beef (for flavour) with ground turkey or chicken (to reduce the fat). I also use oatmeal instead of the more traditional bread crumbs to bulk up the burgers and absorb moisture; oatmeal is full of healthy fiber and, as a bonus, has an incredibly long shelf-life. This means that these burgers are wheat and gluten free, so long as you pick the appropriate brand of sauce.

To add a bit of extra healthiness, I made the buns from scratch using the whole wheat variant of Nan’s Pan Rolls Recipe. To make hamburger buns, shape the buns individually and place them with lots of room between them on greased baking sheets between the first and second rise. The recipe makes about 24 hamburger buns.

Now, even a healthier burger isn’t a hundred percent healthy. If you really want a healthy burger dinner, you’ll have to serve it with a salad.

A healthier burger with ketchup, mayonnaise, shredded cheddar cheese, and romaine lettuce.

A Healthier Burger
Makes 10-12 small burgers

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together with your hands:
500g (1.1lb) lean ground beef
500g (1.1lb) ground turkey OR chicken
1 egg
3/4 cup plain uncooked oatmeal (not instant)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce OR barbecue sauce of choice
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Divide the mixture into 10-12 portions*. Roll each portion into a ball, then shape the portion into a patty shape with your hands.
Preheat your grill** to about 400°F (204°C). Cook until browned evenly on both sides (with a bit of char) and until center of burger is no longer pink. (Do not serve these burgers rare because they contain poultry.)
Serve on whole wheat hamburger buns with your choice of toppings such as ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise, pickles, cheese, or avocado.

*Larger burgers may be made, but cooking times should be adjusted.
**Burgers may be fried on a flat top or in a frying pan, but they taste best on a grill.

Noodle Soup

I’ve been to Japan twice so far: once in high school on an exchange program, and once in my twenties to tour with a friend. I returned from my trips with an absolute love of Japanese food. Tea ceremonies, sushi, sukiyaki, fast food, vending-machine treats: I tried everything that was put in front of me. Sure, I didn’t like 100% of it, but it was a near thing. I would eat a heck of a lot more Japanese food back here in Canada if it weren’t so expensive — and if a greater variety of dishes would cross the Pacific.

Lunch at a restaurant in Kyoto, Japan: torikatsu (breaded & deep-fried chicken cutlet) or tonkatsu (the same thing, but made with pork cutlet instead) on egg and rice; a bowl of udon soup with seaweed, green onions and kamaboko (fish cake); and two types of pickles.

One of my favourite things about eating in Japan was all of the different types of noodle dishes. My horizons really expanded from the macaroni, spaghetti, and lasagna were more that I was familiar with. In Japan, they fried their noodles, they put them in hot and cold soup, they served them with every kind of topping they could think of. Of course, now there is a lot more variety in how people use noodles in Canada; there’s a Vietnamese pho restaurant in every neighborhood, ramen is making inroads into the culinary scene, and udon is on the menu at most Asian fusion restaurants. Not to mention that you can finally get Asian noodles that aren’t instant ramen at most grocery stores. But before I went to Japan the first time, pasta that wasn’t wheat-based and served Italian- or Italian-American style was rare around here.

Hakata tonkotsu ramen (pork belly, shiitake mushroom, bamboo shoot, scallion, nori, soft-boiled egg, pork broth, ramen noodles) from Ottawa restaurant Ginza. Seriously the best ramen I have had outside of Japan.

Now I make my own noodle soup. It’s Japanese-inspired, but it’s definitely not authentic. I mean, I sometimes use turkey broth, and turkey is a meat that just isn’t used in Japan. I use locally-grown produce and meat when I can, but I also include imported spices, sauces, and canned/preserved goods when I have the opportunity. Asian fusion is the best description I can come up with, although it sounds kind of pretentious for my style of cooking. Hodgepodge, perhaps?

Prepping for noodle soup at my house. Items include frozen udon noodles, dried shrimp, sushi nori, enoki mushrooms, parboiled lotus root, thinly-sliced beef (pour boiling broth on this to cook), soft-boiled eggs, shrimp, beef balls, and baby bok choy. All ingredients have been precooked as necessary.

I don’t so much have a recipe as I have a process. First, I make the broth. Sure, I could use commercially-made broth, but I like to make my own from the bones saved from meat I’ve previously prepared. I store bones in the freezer until I have enough, then I put them (and sometimes cloves of garlic and/or dried mushrooms) in the crock pot. I fill the pot the rest of the way with water, and then I let it simmer for two days, replenishing the water as it goes down. Then I strain out all the solids, then refrigerate the broth so I can skim the fat off of the top. Of course, this makes much more broth than I can use at one sitting, but it freezes well, which means I don’t have to make the broth from scratch every time. Immediately before using the broth, I will season it with a dash of soy sauce and a tiny bit of instant dashi, although since that stuff goes really far, I don’t need much! I can use the unseasoned broth for a greater variety of dishes, so I only season as much broth as I plan to use that day.

Right before eating home-made udon. Thing 1 just couldn’t wait to sit down and dig in. The bowls on the left are smaller for the kids, and a lower noodle to broth ratio.

Then I prepare all of my toppings. I will throw almost anything into a bowl of noodle soup, so long as it’s the kind of thing that stands up well to being boiled. Most vegetables go well, as do most meats. Fruits and squash are generally too fragile. Cleaning out the fridge of leftovers is perfectly fine, since the toppings have to be precooked anyway, and will be warmed up by pouring broth over them.

Once I have all of my toppings cooked (I do a lot of it in the microwave, but in warmer seasons using the barbecue adds a lovely flavour), I bring my broth back up to a boil and separately I cook up the noodles accoring to package directions. I prefer frozen udon, but it can be any kind of long Asian noodle, really. Ramen or vermicelli are great too. Then into each bowl I put a base layer of noodles, then the toppings, and then I pour the broth over top. Last but not least I like to add a square of sushi nori when I have it — this has to be done last minute because it wilts so fast.

Here are some examples of noodle soups that I have cooked over the years. If this inspires you to try to make a noodle soup yourself, do let me know — and show me a photo! I love seeing what other people do with my recipes and tutorials.

Udon soup with beef broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, green onions, rare beef, enoki mushrooms, lotus root, shiitake mushrooms, and baby bok choy.

Udon soup with chicken broth, nori, shrimp, dried shrimp, soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms and baby bok choy.

Udon soup with chicken broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, enoki mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, chicken, and baby bok choy.

Udon soup with beef broth, hard boiled eggs, dried shrimp, enoki mushrooms, chicken, and baby bok choy.

Udon soup with pork broth, nori, rare beef, soft-boiled eggs and furikake.

Late-night-snack udon soup with chicken broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, and green onions.

Udon soup with turkey broth, nori, baby bok choy, shrimp, dried shrimp, soft-boiled eggs, and medium-rare beef.

Udon soup with pork broth, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, green onions, enoki mushrooms, shrimp, celery, and chicken balls.

Udon soup with pork broth, baby bok choy, shrimp, dried shrimp, well-done beef, enoki mushrooms and soft-boiled eggs.

Udon soup with turkey broth, nori, rare beef, soft-boiled eggs, dried shrimp, turkey, enoki mushrooms, and baby bok choy.

Udon soup with turkey broth, barbecued tiger shrimp, baby bok choy, hard boiled eggs, masago (seasoned capelin caviar), dried shrimp, pea shoots, enoki mushrooms, and barbecued beef steak.

Shish Taouk Spice Mix

The grocery stores around here mark some of their stock down by 50% (occasionally more) when it’s being discontinued, or they’ve bought too much, or when it’s coming up on its expiration date, or when they’re just not stocking it any more. That’s how I ended up with a bottle of Arz Fine Foods Shish Taouk (Chicken Kebab) Spices. 50% off is the best way to try foods you’ve never cooked before, because if you don’t end up liking it, well, it’s not a great financial loss.

I love just about every type of kebab; I definitely ate more than enough meat on skewers while in Istanbul a number of years back. But I’ve never actually cooked a proper kebab — I mean yeah, I’ve stuck meat and veggies on a bamboo skewer and grilled it on the barbecue, but the spices weren’t right. So I figured I’d give this a go.

For my first attempt, I didn’t actually cook the chicken up on skewers; it was one of those days when I was running late on dinner prep, and making kebabs takes time. So I just roughly chopped up some chicken and fried it with the spice mix sprinkled on top, and served it with a side of rice and a side of steamed greens. Let me tell you, it worked like a charm. Sure, it would have been better on the grill with a bit of char, but I really loved the flavour. I hope to have the chance to make proper kebabs in the near future.

Loco Moco Redux

Yesterday I spent the day with my friends working on costumes; long crafting sessions are much much more fun with company. We took a pause around dinner time to feed the ravening hordes before we went out to hit a few shops for more supplies. For the second time ever, I whipped up some Loco Moco.

The first time I made Loco Moco using Guy Fieri’s recipe, I followed it to the letter. This time I altered it a bit to accommodate the tastes of the people I was feeding. First of all, I reduced the portion size. The recipe calls for two cups of cooked rice, two quarter-pound hamburgers, and two fried eggs per person, and I think that is just way too much food. Secondly, instead of forming hamburgers, I kept the ground beef loose, which I find much easier to eat on top of rice. Thirdly, because one of my guests does not like the texture of mushrooms (but has no problem with the flavour), I ran the gravy through the blender before serving. All in all, the changes I made affected the flavour a little, but I think they made it a more appropriately-sized and easy-to-eat meal for my family. I know that may not be true loco moco for the purists, but you can’t please everyone. At least this pleased my family and guests.

Maple Mustard Glazed Salmon & Maple Barbecue Sauce

Because maple syrup is, well, a syrup, most people think of it first in sweet dishes like candy or fudge or cookies. However, it does add a fantastic note to savoury dishes as well.

One of the simplest recipes of which I have eaten a great deal — first prepared by my mother, later by me — is Maple Mustard Glazed Salmon from Jo Cooks. It’s basically four ingredients mixed together and poured over salmon, then baked. It’s delicious enough to serve at a dinner party, but quick enough to whip up as a busy evening meal. Maple goes well with mustard; not too surprising, really, given that honey mustard has a similar flavour profile and has been a grocery store standard for years.

Yesterday I served the salmon with one of my favourite last-minute dishes: fresh linguine (although you can use any kind of pasta, fresh or dried) with cooked spinach, cream cheese, and a little salt and pepper. I also added half an avocado on the side; my kids will eat avocado by preference over just about any other fruit or vegetable.

Maple is also great as part of a barbecue sauce. Lots of commercial sauces, such as Diana Sauce (a Kraft product) and President’s Choice, come in a maple variant. But it’s really easy to whip up one of your own! There are many recipes available online, but I am particularly fond of the no-cook Maple Barbecue Sauce on page 238 of The New Canadian Basics Cookbook (1999). It’s tangy, sweet, and just acidic enough to tenderize a tough steak if left to marinade. I wanted to fire up the grill and use this sauce yesterday, but the chilly downpours and the snow still freezing the barbecue cover to the ground made this inadvisable. I am sure that my jar of sauce will get a good workout over the coming months.

Mr. Ubbink’s Crepes Recipe

Crepes are one of the first thing that I learned how to cook without the need for parental supervision. I used to go visit my elementary school best friend almost every second weekend (she’d be over at my house if I wasn’t over at hers), and her father taught us his technique. Crepes do take a bit of practice, and you do have to read the recipe properly — there was one memorable occasion when we read “1/4 teaspoon salt” as “1/4 cup salt”, creating an end product that was highly inedible.

Replica crepes in a Montreal shop window (2005)

By the time I hit high school, it became a tradition to make crepes in the morning whenever I hosted sleepovers. I would make crepes up in bulk when I had a birthday party in order to feed all of my guests breakfast. My friends came to expect it; it was now a tradition!

I still use Mr. Ubbink’s recipe whenever I make crepes, which isn’t as often as when I was a kid, although I do still break them out for special occasions. The recipe is both dependable and flexible, although as with most crepes, flipping them takes a bit of practice. Don’t be discouraged if you make “scrambled” crepes the first few times, since they taste just fine so long as you cook them thoroughly, and they can still be topped as you wish.

Savoury crepe filled with cheddar cheese, Monterrey Jack cheese, and summer sausage; topped with a sunny side up egg and chopped chives

Mr. Ubbink’s Crepes
Yields 4-5 large crepes

In a large bowl, mix together:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
Add to bowl:
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla
Mix all ingredients together with a whisk or a hand mixer. Blend until batter is smooth.

Apply a small amount of cooking spray, butter, or margarine to a large non-stick frying pan. Preheat the pan to medium-high. Pour 1 large ladle-full of crepe mixture into the pan, tilting to spread the batter into a circle that covers the bottom of the pan. Fry until the crepe has darkened in colour and is just starting to show spots of golden brown. Carefully flip the crepe and fry the other side until spots of golden start to appear on that side as well. Repeat until all the batter is gone. This type of crepe is best rolled into a tube, sometimes with fillings such as fresh fruit inside the tube.

If you are making a crepe inside of which you wish to have a melted ingredient such as cheese or chocolate chips, the technique is slightly different (it’s actually a lot like cooking and omelet). Cook the first side, flip, and then add the filling to half of the cooked side. Fold the crepe in half over the filling. Cook until the bottom is slightly golden, flip carefully so that the filling doesn’t fall out, and cook the last side until it is starting to turn golden and the filling has melted. You may need to turn the burner down so that the filled crepe can cook more slowly, allowing the filling to melt without burning the batter.

Sweet crepe filled with fruit salad (Asian pears, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, and grapes) and maple syrup, topped with whipped cream.

Suggested toppings/fillings:

berries, fresh cut fruit, drained canned fruit, jam, chocolate chips, syrup, whipped cream, ice cream, nut butter, fruit butter, icing/brown/granulated sugar, marshmallows and chocolate chips, caramel sauce, custard, chopped nuts, apples and cinnamon sugar

deli meat, cooked chopped roast meat, fish, plain steamed vegetables, steamed vegetables with a cream sauce, asparagus and cream cheese, salmon and cream cheese and capers, shredded cheese, bacon and eggs, poached eggs and salsa, spinach and feta, avocado and fried mushrooms, canned tuna and mayonnaise and lettuce

Basically, just about anything you could bake into a cookie or put in a sandwich is good in/on a crepe! (They can also be a great vehicle for using up leftovers.)

Hasenpfeffer, Hamburger Kasserolle, and Zucherkuchen

My quest to learn how to successfully prepare at least a few German dishes continues. It has been… Interesting. Lately I’ve met with more failure than success.

Hasenpfeffer served with mashed potatoes and acorn squash with butter and brown sugar.

Over March Break I made Hasenpfeffer (rabbit in wine gravy) from the recipe on page 60 of ‘Round the World Cooking Library: German Cooking by Arne Krüger (1973). It’s a fiddly dish, made all the more so by the fact that I’d never cooked rabbit before. I had eaten rabbit, but I distinctly remember it being gamier. Perhaps the one that I had before was wild-caught, where as the one I used was farm-reared? Whatever the reason, I was expecting more flavour from the meat. However, it was fall-off-the-bone tender and the sauce was quite nice. My only complaint was the saltiness: I double- and triple-checked the recipe, and it called for two tablespoons of salt. I know that when you follow a recipe for the first time you should follow it to the letter, but I should have let my good sense prevail and halved or quartered the salt.

Would I make it again? Only if the rabbit was on sale — it’s really expensive around here, and you don’t get much meat off of one animal. I think the red wine gravy (with less salt) might be nice on chicken or beef, though. It would definitely be worth trying.

Hamburger Kasserolle

This weekend I tried Hamburger Kasserolle (‘Round the World Cooking Library: German Cooking, page 35), which did not go so well. Someone like me who doesn’t speak German may assume that this is a casserole with ground beef in it, but the “Hamburger” in this case means “from Hamburg” — so the protein is actually seafood. First of all, this is a 1970’s book, so like many from the era it calls for frozen or canned versions of at least half of the ingredients, and then adds some rice and a can of cream of mushroom soup. I chose to go with an equivalent amount of fresh ingredients (I really can’t stand canned mushrooms, for example), and I think that went well. This casserole also calls for a rather large amount of seafood, which was nice, but pretty pricey.

I think that the reason I really didn’t like the end product was the artichoke hearts. The recipe calls for them frozen, but I couldn’t find them frozen or canned at any of my local grocery stores. I opted to buy them fresh, but despite pre-cooking them in the microwave and then baking them for half an hour, the artichoke hearts were rubbery and gross. They squeaked between my teeth when I chewed. Not pleasant.

Would I make this one again, even if I got rid of the artichokes? Probably not. I can think of much better ways to prepare seafood, even frozen stuff, than by baking it in cream of mushroom soup.


Last but not least, on Sunday I gave a shot at what I think was my first ever German sweet: Zuckerkuchen (sugar cake) from page 81 of Classic German Baking (2016). I took this book out of the library, but I’m starting to think that I may have to buy a copy of it for myself. Zucherkuchen is a yeasted cake, which is something I’ve never made before — every other cake I’ve made has been leavened with baking powder or soda. It’s a cake that is rich with butter and sugar, but not much else, so I can see how it would appeal to even the pickiest eaters, i.e. most children. It’s denser than most of the cakes I’ve had, somewhere between a cake and a square I think, and it’s cohesive enough that slices can be picked up and eaten with the hands. I was worried that I might not have got it right, but from the writeup in the book and descriptions online, I think I’m actually pretty close.

So would I make this recipe again? Most definitely. And I think my kids would want me to as well.