Onion Soup Pork Chops & Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks

In an attempt to use up the zucchini I received this weekend, I made another round of Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks for dinner last night. Enough for my entire family only uses up about a quarter of one of those giant summer squash. Of all of the recipes that I have for zucchini, this one uses the most in one go. It may end up being a contest to see which gives out first, my supply of zucchini or my kids’ ability to consume it. To be fair, the girls were really happy to see the zucchini on their plates last night, and that’s two suppers in a row where I didn’t have to fight with them to get them to eat their vegetables.

However, the real star of dinner wasn’t the zucchini sticks, although my kids may argue otherwise. The best part to me was the pork chops that I baked as the entree. I found these 1″ thick slabs of pork on sale for less than the cheap cuts, so I stocked up and planned on a few for dinner. I greased a broiler pan, lay the chops flat on top, and then covered them with a thick coating of dry onion soup mix. Then I baked them at 275°F (135°C) for about two hours. They were a very fatty cut, but the low, slow bake made them moist, tender, and not too greasy. Honestly, they couldn’t have been much easier. Now, if only I’d planned a meal cooked entirely in the oven for a day that wasn’t 30°C (86°F).

I was inspired to cook the meat this way after reading The I Hate To Cook Book (Peg Bracken, 1960). On page 12, the author writes about Sweep Steak, which is “[s]o-called because a couple of seasons ago this recipe swept the country“. Basically, it’s beef coated with dry onion soup mix and roasted in the oven.

Now, this cookbook predates me, but I distinctly remember dry onion soup mix being a staple of the kitchen when I was growing up. It was used to coat steak, to bread pork chops and chicken, and to season meatloaf. In our house, it was most commonly mixed with sour cream to become chip dip — which is referred to as Classic California Dip on page 84 of The I Hate To Cook Book, so I guess this combination predates me as well. I remember doing groceries with my parents and there was a whole assortment of dried soups along an aisle. But when I went to pick up some mix for this dish, the dried soups took up only part of one tiny shelf, most of which was taken up by Cup-A-Soup. There are probably a hundred or more types of canned and tetra-packed soup, not to mention the refrigerated stuff in the deli section, but apparently the dried kind is no longer popular. I guess that’s to be expected with the popularity of fresh ingredients being back on the rise. I certainly hadn’t bought any dried soup mix in years. Still, it came as quite a surprise to me to see the selection so limited.

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 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.

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.

Shepherd’s Pie Recipe

There is a lot of contention out there as to what makes a good shepherd’s pie. I distinctly remember an episode of Kitchen Nightmares where Gordon Ramsay laid into the chef because the restaurant’s shepherd’s pie contained beef instead of lamb. I didn’t actually discover that this dish is supposed to have lamb in it until about five years ago. Apparently “cottage pie” is what you call it when it’s made with beef. The dish that we called shepherd’s pie that I grew up with was always made with beef because my mother prefers it that way. I never thought to question it.

As the vegetable part of this casserole, I use corn (sweet corn, not maize), although I understand it is more traditional to use peas. I never made this dish for my British Nan, but at one time she refused to eat corn as it was “cattle feed” and believed it to be beneath her. Now, Nan lived more of her life in Canada than she did in England, so she may have relaxed her point of view somewhat, but I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by her visiting relatives. I don’t know if this is a wide-spread belief or one restricted to my family. At any rate, corn is not traditionally part of this dish.

Lastly, I structure my dish more as a casserole and less as an actual pie. Traditionally, the “crust” of the pie is supposed to be the mashed potatoes, but a quick Googling shows me that I’m not alone in putting the potatoes on top.


When the dish is served, you should be able to see the strata of meat & gravy, veggies, potato, and cheese.

Shepherd’s Pie
Serves 6-8

Peel and cut into large chunks:
8-10 (about 1Kg (2.2lbs)) medium white-fleshed potatoes*
Place the potatoes into a large cooking pot. Fill pot with water until there is an inch covering the potatoes. Bring the pot to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Cook potatoes until they can easily be pierced with a fork.
While the potatoes are cooking, in a non-stick frying pan heat:
1 Tbsp olive oil
Add to the oil:
1 small yellow onion (yields about 100g (3.5oz))
2 cloves garlic**
Cook on medium heat until onions are translucent with light brown edges.
To the onion mixture, add:
700g ground lamb***
Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook the lamb until it is lightly browned, regularly draining the grease.
To the meat mixture, add:
1 can of cream of mushroom soup****
1 can of water
Stir until soup is smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer gently until soup has almost reduced back to its original canned consistency.
While the meat and gravy are simmering, drain the potatoes. To the potatoes add:
2 Tbsp butter or margarine
2 Tbsp 2% milk
Whip or mash the potatoes until smooth.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C)
Spread the meat and gravy mixture evenly on the bottom of a casserole dish. On top of this, pour evenly:
2 cups frozen corn
Spread the mashed potatoes evenly on top of the frozen corn. On top of the potatoes, sprinkle:
1 to 1 1/2 cups loosely-packed grated cheddar cheese
Bake casserole at 350°F (175°C) for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and sauce bubbles up around the edges of the potatoes.
Serve with a side of steamed vegetables, if desired.


It’s difficult to scoop portions that don’t fall apart if you bake this dish in a round casserole. If you want perfectly rectangular servings, bake it in a rectangular dish and serve in slices.

*This dish works really well with leftover mashed potatoes, so if you have enough left over from a previous meal, skip the potato preparation steps. If the potatoes are cold, a slightly longer cooking time may be in order.
**1 tsp garlic powder may be substituted for garlic cloves; however, the powder should be sprinkled over the ground meat instead of cooked with the onions.
***Meat may instead be 50%/50% ground lamb/ground beef, ground lamb/ground chicken, ground lamb/ground turkey, or any one of these meats by itself. Keep in mind that without any lamb, the flavour will not be nearly as strong.
****I like Campbell’s Cream of Cremini & Shiitake Mushroom, but any cream of mushroom soup will do. If you are averse to the texture of mushrooms in your food, run the cream of mushroom soup and water through a blender until smooth before adding them to the meat.

Simple Suppers

With ComicCon deadlines looming, I’ve been spending every spare moment working on costumes. That means that I have been making meals that can be thrown together out of what is in my fridge, freezer, and pantry. There just isn’t time to run back and forth to different grocery stores and specialty shops! I’ve also been picking meals with a short prep/cook time.


Thing 1 and Thing 2 showing off the mini loaves that they helped me make.

On Saturday I ran out of bread, so I had to make more. Now that I have the hang of the basics, I don’t find that baking bread takes much time at all. I mean, it takes time to proof, but that’s time I can spend on other things. This bread was supposed to be loaves of Nan’s pan rolls, but after I started mixing I discovered that I was at the very end of my all-purpose white flour. No problem, I’ll use half whole wheat, I thought! No luck, I was down to the last dregs of that as well. So I just combined what I had left of both of those flours with some multigrain flour, and promised myself that I’d make a grocery run soon.

I’m happy to say that they bread turned out quite nicely despite my improvisations; it was nice and fluffy, but also quite healthy due to being predominantly whole wheat and multigrain flour. The kids were very pleased with the mini loaves that they shaped in tiny pans that I found at the dollar store. Of course, those were the first bits of bread from this batch that were eaten.

Saturday dinner incorporated that fresh-made bread into a breakfast for dinner kind of meal. Eggs over hard (they were supposed to be over easy, but the cook usually ends up eating the mistakes), pork breakfast sausages, navel orange pieces, and a strawberry banana smoothie.

Last night’s dinner also used the bread, which by this time was a couple of days old, but still toasted up well. I made plain grilled cheese and served it with some quickly-thrown-together soup of turkey broth, carrots, and rice, all served with a side of (slightly-massacred) orange.

Looking back at these dishes, I realize that I need to find an additional go-to fruit or veggie to pair with quick dinners, or my family will soon become heartily sick of oranges.

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.