Green Tea Salmon with Coconut Rice & Miso Greens

When I bought the salmon for yesterday’s dinner, I had the option of buying just enough for one meal at a rather high price, or picking up a club pack that would make two meals for only a dollar or two more. Bulk discounts are a really big thing here and, if you can work with it, can save you an awful lot of money. Owning a deep freeze is a great way to buy in bulk without having to eat the same thing for a week. However, most ocean fish that gets to us here is frozen, since we’re about 1,100km away from the Atlantic coast in our country, and 500km away if we drive south to the States. I didn’t want to re-freeze the extra salmon, so we ended up eating it two days in a row. I’d been itching to try out some of the recipes from my new-to-me copy of Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, 2012), and the green tea salmon with coconut rice & miso greens on page 138 looked like it was packed with flavour.

I like how this book gives very specific directions for how to prepare these dishes in the least amount of time. That being said, this dish definitely took more than 15 minutes, mostly because of the rice. The instructions call for basmati rice to cook in light coconut milk for only 10 minutes — but I have never managed to make decent basmati on the stove in less than 25, and I cook it a lot. I tried to shave off a little time by cooking it in the Instant Pot (which didn’t exist when this book was written), but with the preheating, a 12-minute automatic cook time, and 10 minutes of releasing pressure naturally, it was still closer to a 25-minute cooking time. So I had to time my other preparation around the rice so that all of the elements finished at the same time. That actually made things much easier for me, since I’m definitely slower at my knife-work than Jamie.

My other issue with this recipe, and it’s become a big of a pet peeveas I’ve written before, is that the ingredients aren’t measured by something objective like volume or weight. Rather, they were given such measurements as “bunches” or “thumb-sized”. It’s fine to be able to throw in a pinch of this and a dash of that once I know a recipe well, but when I’m trying it for the first time I want it to be as much like the original as possible. Also, a “bunch” can change size from store to store and season to season — and I’m pretty sure that we use slightly different varieties of veggies than over in the UK, so their sizes can vary considerably. This can throw off proportions and potentially ruin a recipe. In this recipe, I threw in a whole bunch of cilantro instead of half a bunch, because the bunches where I was shopping seemed really small. Also, I had to use broccoli instead of broccolini, since my local grocery store didn’t carry the latter at all; luckily that particular bunch also had an approximate weight measurement as well.

Despite my pickiness about the recipe, I was very happy with the final dishes. The salmon with its green tea coating was surprisingly delicious, the coconut rice was lovely (and so easy!), and the veggies were crisp and fresh-tasting. I think the dressing would have been better with a little olive oil added to thin it out, since it had such a strong flavour that you really didn’t need much. The oil probably would have made my poor old blender deal with the whole thing better too, since it didn’t like working with such small quantities or low levels of liquid (my blender is older than I am). I think that making this sauce into a salad dressing for fresh greens would be absolutely lovely — unless I’m making it for someone who finds that cilantro tastes like soap. Luckily, I’m not one of them!

Christmas Breakfast

Yesterday I hosted Christmas breakfast at our house, which is generally a cold meal with a lot of selection. There were a variety of cheeses (including two kinds of Balderson cheddar, a couple that were actually lactose free, and a spreadable goat cheese), smoked salmon, crackers, Nan’s pan rolls, mini banana muffins, Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookies, cold cuts, an assortment of crackers, and Little Shop of Lobsters’ crab and lobster mousses. To drink there was milk or juice, or the more festive apple cider or eggnog.

This meal is generally served buffet-style, everyone munching away while we open gifts in the living room beside the Christmas tree. This meal represents the last of my cooking for about a week, since I’ve gone into overdrive to get everything ready — not just for breakfast, but for my contributions to Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas dinner, festive baking, and Christmas parties the week before. This spread isn’t just meant to feed us for the day; the leftovers will become meals in their own right for the week to come, so we can all relax a bit and play with our new toys.

Boxty

I was browsing through articles recently about interesting things to do with Thanksgiving leftovers — Canadian Thanksgiving was over a month ago, but the American one was just last week, and it seemed like every cooking blog on the Internet was talking about it. One of the websites (and I’m sorry that I can’t remember exactly which one, but there were so many) suggested using leftover mashed potatoes to make boxty, or traditional Irish potato cakes. The IrishCentral recipe looked pretty straightforward, so I had to give it a try.

Although it’s not something we ever ate at home, my mother has been raving about boxty for years because there’s a local restaurant that serves it. Apparently the version she had is served with roast beef that is marinaded for twenty-four hours in some kind of whiskey sauce — which honestly sounds delicious, but I didn’t have the ingredients at home. Other topping suggestions I found online were butter and sugar, jam, fresh berries, sour cream and chives, butter chicken, creme fraiche and caviar, smoked salmon and whipped cream cheese, whiskey and mushroom gravy… The list goes on. Basically, boxty can be eaten plain or can be used as a base for sweet or savoury toppings, much like rice or potatoes or bread can be. Personally, I think I’d like to try it as the base for an open-faced hot roast meat sandwich with gravy made with leftovers after a traditional Sunday dinner.

Sadly, we didn’t have any roast in the fridge today, so I had to make do with ingredients that wouldn’t take me another day’s worth of cooking to prepare. I served the boxty with eggs sunny-side-up and Andouille sausages. When I tried the boxty dipped in the egg, I discovered that I’d definitely tried this flavour combination before; my husband’s family likes to throw leftover roast potatoes (chopped) into an omelette, and of course that tastes like potatoes and egg, much like the boxty dipped in egg. It seems really obvious when I write it out like this, but it took me a moment to realize why the flavour was so darned familiar!

Everyone in the family really liked the boxty and requested that I make it again. I honestly wish I’d tried it before! The kids especially liked theirs dipped in maple syrup much like a regular pancake, which is a very Canadian way to do it. In the future I think I’ll try making some of the other topping variations. There are so many delicious-looking ones, though, that it’ll be hard to decide which one to try first!

Pierogies

We ate a lot of pierogies when I was growing up, not because I am of Central or Eastern European heritage, or at least not recently enough that we have any record of it. Rather, frozen pierogies from the grocery store were cheap, easy, filling, and tasty, and hence made a good family meal.

Last night I boiled up some frozen potato-and-onion pierogies, then I fried them lightly in bacon fat and topped them with freshly chopped bacon bits and fried onion. I served them with (lactose-free) sour cream.

When my kids asked what was for dinner and had no idea what a pierogi is, I realized how long it has been since I had made this dinner for the family. I guess I was just trying to keep the food fresh, or at least homemade. Given the warm reception that this dish received and the speed with which the kids gobbled them down, I think I’ll have to make them again sometime soon.

However, what I’d really like to do is make them myself, perhaps in a large batch to freeze for future use. Homemade pierogies have always been on my list of things to learn how to make, ever since a friend of mine’s mother served me fresh ones at a sleepover when I was a child. They are so good. I guess I have been intimidated by the way that every family seems to have a secret recipe that they proclaim to be the best, and that only proper grandmothers have the real trick of it. My husband’s maternal grandmother was Polish and promised to teach me all kinds of dishes, but she sadly passed away many years ago, before she could teach me — or my children, who had not yet been born. I think I may just have to find friends with the appropriate heritage and beg them for instruction. We could make a day out of it! And once I have got it down, I could pass it on to my children. After all, even though pierogies are not technically a part of my heritage, they are definitely a part of theirs, and it’s very important to have connections to your culinary roots.

Playing Hooky

We played hooky on Monday and spent an extra day at my in-laws’ cottage. This close to the end of the school year, the report cards are already written, so it’s not like the kids were missing any important content. So we explored the lake:

And enjoyed a trail hike:

And Thing 1 and Thing 2 peered into the depths in search of minnows.

Our trip wrapped up with a visit to the Whitewater Brewing Co. Lakeside Brew Pub in Cobden. We’d been to their Riverside Brew Pub some years ago (Thing 2 was just a toddler), and we’d been impressed by their fare, so we wanted to give their newer location a try.

The place definitely has a hipster vibe; for one thing, there are very few plates, with most of the meals served on wooden planks. I know they’re trying to appeal to the white water rafting crowd that dominates those parts in the summer months — young, athletic twenty-somethings out to have a good time while “roughing it”. The food is anything but rough, though, so it kind of sends mixed messages.

Lack of plates and faux-rustic decor aside, though, what I really come to this pub for is the food, and that was exceptional. (I know most people go to pubs for beer, and I’m told that Whitewater’s brews are exceptional… But I don’t drink beer.) The Things and my husband had the Whitewater Burger, which was smokey and juicy and overall delicious. I went for the fish and chips, which I honestly would have been satisfied with at half the size (and I have a big appetite). I guess the intended customer would have been out in the sun all day doing lots of physical activity — which I most definitely did not. The fish was tender inside and crispy outside, the house tartar sauce was full of tangy dill, and the thick-cut fries were lovely. I didn’t even get the chance to try the grilled toast or the mushy peas, I simply ran out of room!

That fullness was due, in part, to having split a Scotch egg with my family. I only had a few bites, but it’s not a light dish! I’d never had one before, but they seemed like the kind of thing that I would like: essentially, it’s breakfast in one deep-fried package. The smoky bacon aioli was a nice touch.

I especially liked the runny egg in the middle, which was soft-boiled to perfection.

Now that I’ve tried a proper Scotch egg, I want to try to make a Pork Belly Onigiri, which Tasty Japan made look so, well, tasty… (You can find the English translation in the video comments.)

Cheater Chicken Bacon Quesadillas

Basic quesadillas aren’t exactly difficult to make in the first place, but some nights I’m looking for an even quicker, easier meal. Not only that, but a meal that the kids can help me prep (although it’s debatable if they speed anything up, honestly). Truthfully, it’s more like a grilled cheese on tortillas than a true quesadilla, but everyone in the family likes it. It whips up nice and quickly while I make up a salad.


The dressing is for the salad, not the quesadilla… Although ranch and chicken and cheese are a proven taste combination.

It doesn’t really have a recipe per se, since it’s mostly made using leftovers. Each quesadilla starts with a tortilla on a baking sheet, then a layer of grated cheese (the kids like sharp cheddar, while my husband prefers mozzarella and cheddar mixed, and I stick with whatever I can get lactose-free). Next is a handful of leftover chicken — often from a store-bought rotisserie bird, but roasted does well too, and sometimes we’ll substitute whatever other leftover meat is in the fridge. If I’m lucky, I’ll already have some bacon made in advance, but most of the time I have to cook it fresh, which is easy enough in the microwave. Then it’s another tortilla on top. I bake it in a preheated oven at 350°F (175°C), checking every couple of minutes, until it is warmed through and the cheese is nice and melted. If we’re feeling particularly fancy, I’ll serve it with sliced avocado and sour cream (lactose-free again for me), and a salad. That’s all there is to it, really!

I know, I know, people who like genuine Mexican food are probably squirming by now. There aren’t even any onions or peppers or anything in this to give it any spice! And I do agree. This is Kraft Dinner to homemade macaroni and cheese, Wonder Bread to a fresh-baked loaf of rye. But it’s quick, it’s easy, it uses up leftovers, it’s not too unhealthy (especially when paired with veggies of some kind), it’s miles better for you than fast food… And some days that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

Sick Day Part 2

I’m at the tail end (hopefully) of recovering from my cold, and unfortunately my kids have caught it too. Well, they might have been the ones to bring it home in the first place, elementary school being the wretched hive of scum and villainy that it is. At any rate, I kept the kids home from school yesterday in an attempt to speed up their recovery.

I gave the kids the option of homemade chicken noodle soup for dinner, since it’s a traditional kind of food to eat when you’re not feeling well. They vetoed this idea, and I was willing to be vetoed, as I hadn’t actually started cooking anything yet. At first they voted for instant mac-and-cheese, which I said no to. I can’t tell you how much it frustrates me that it doesn’t matter how many original and tasty meals I prepare, they’d live off of 99¢ dried pasta with powdered cheese sauce, given half the chance. Next they argued between themselves between bacon and eggs and trout with teriyaki sauce over rice. A quick trip to the grocery store brought the decision firmly down to bacon and eggs, since trout was not on special.

So our family dinner last night was eggs over easy, reduced-salt bacon, freshly baked Light Wholemeal Bread (Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), page 69), and a side of sliced strawberries with a sprinkle of sugar. The girls were even up to hulling and slicing the strawberries. All in all, not a bad dinner for a house full of sickies!