Steak and Bannock

We’ve been having some real problems with power outages in our area lately. It seems like whenever we have a storm or a particularly hot day, the part of the grid that I live in goes down, often for hours. It’s particularly frustrating because a few streets over, who have infrastructure that was put in at the same time as where I live, there won’t even be a glitch.

Such was the case last night when I came home from a grocery run with the kiddos after school. There was a thunder and lightning storm, but there were no issues at the store, so I didn’t think anything of it. Lo and behold, when I returned home we had no power, and apparently we hadn’t for at least an hour. Well, that changed my dinner plans drastically! I’d been planning on making pasta with homemade pesto, but without a burner upon which to boil the water, that was out. (Honestly, I’m starting to think that our next barbecue should be the kind with a burner on the side, since this happens so often.) So I rummaged through the day’s purchases and found something that could easily be cooked on the gas barbecue (I couldn’t use the wood pellet one since the auger is electrically driven).

Luckily I’d picked up a pack of steaks that I’d planned to marinade for the next day’s meal. There was a really good special, and the inch-thick steaks were cheaper by the pound than medium ground beef. So I threw them on the grill with a dusting of Montreal steak spice, and cooked them low and slow (about 300 to 320F) for about an hour, so they’d be done all the way through without burning.

But what to do for a side dish? I had no bread made; I was out of potatoes and corn; rice and pasta were right out because I couldn’t use the stove. But suddenly my Girl Guide training popped into my head: what about bannock? Granted, we’d always made bannock by twisting the dough around a stick and cooking it over the campfire, but traditionally it was made on a griddle or a flat stone. A cast iron pan on a gas barbecue isn’t that much different, right?

It turns out that I was absolutely correct! A perfectly decent bannock can be made this way, and honestly it’s not very difficult. I used the recipe I’d learned years ago from The Golden Book of Camping and Camp Crafts (1959), which was my father’s book before me and was one of my favourite resources for techniques as a Girl Guide. (This recipe just so happens to be vegan/vegetarian so long as you use a vegetable oil such as canola oil as your fat, which I admit wasn’t a huge factor when pairing with steak, but it would have been useful if I’d had a vegan guest.) I preheated my grill to 325F, since I was cooking the steak in there anyway. I basically treated the bannock like a big, slow pancake: cook for 10min or so with the lid closed, open the lid and flip the dough, and then close the lid to cook for another 10min or so. I stayed outside with the bannock and checked on it often because I really wasn’t sure how long it would take — except when it started to rain again. The heat wasn’t terribly consistent, especially with the rain cooling the whole thing down at one point, but it still turned out quite well. Basically, it was just a giant biscuit that I didn’t have to run the oven to make — which makes me think I’ll be making it on future hot days where I don’t want to have to cook indoors.

The steak was done to perfection, by the way. It was melt-in-your mouth. Not too shabby for an improvised meal cooked without electricity!

Crock Pot Sloppy Joes

I need to defrost my freezer at some point in the near future, so I’ve been trying to use up the remaining food that I stored there for winter. At the same time, I’m trying to use my slow cooker more often in order to give myself more time to work on ComicCon costumes. A quick Googling for recipes showed me that I had all of the ingredients to make Crock Pot Sloppy Barbecue Beef Sandwiches from The Spruce Eats, or, as my family has always called them, Sloppy Joes — which we’ve always served open-faced, I don’t know why.

Instead of buns, I let my trusty bread machine do most of the work and whipped up some Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread, this time using dried rosemary instead of fresh dill. I found that the robustness of the rosemary went really well with the vinegar tang of the Sloppy Joe sauce. If you like crusty buns for this dish, the ends of the loaf are great. Or you can always use the dough setting on your bread machine, then shape the dough into rolls, proof, and bake them in the oven instead. I went the easy route on this one.

As is my wont, I had to alter the meat sauce’s ingredients a bit. I omitted the sweet peppers because I’m not terribly fond of them, and I didn’t have any celery. However, I liked how the recipe had lots of hidden vegetables, so I upped the number of grated carrots to four. I also used about a cup of chopped frozen, thawed rainbow chard stems left over from last year’s garden crop.

Despite all of the changes, this dish turned out really well. The kids hoovered up their dinners and kept saying how much they liked it. I really think that you could add just about any vegetable to this dish if you want, so long as you cut it up small enough that it blends well with the meat and you give it the appropriate amount of time to cook. I will definitely be making this recipe again and I highly recommend it.

Crock Pot Pork Loin with Gravy

After complaining in my last entry that I felt like I wouldn’t have time to cook properly until all of my ComicCon costumes are complete, I took a look at the shelf of dusty appliances in the basement and vowed to let them do most of the work for me for the next month or so. I figure that my three crock pots will be getting the most use. (The bread machine never really gets put away because we use it so much anyway.) I’m starting to wish that an Instant Pot was one of the tools that I had at my disposal, but that’s a purchase that will have to wait.


Crock pot pork loin with gravy served with mashed potatoes and steamed carrots.

My friends and family have been sending me their favourite slow cooker recipes to help me along. In my experience, the ones sent to me by the friends who aren’t fond of cooking are the ones that I’ll find take the least effort and are the most foolproof. My mother (not a cooking fan) sent me the link to a Crock Pot Pork Loin with Gravy Recipe from Recipes That Crock. It’s as simple as throwing a few ingredients in a slow cooker and leaving it for about five hours. I actually had my husband do this part, and unfortunately he chose to use my 1970’s crock pot, which runs at a much lower temperature, so the dish took a good hour and a half longer than expected. (For food safety reasons, under-cooked pork is a really bad idea.) Also, he put in too much water, so I had to thicken the gravy afterwards on the stove by boiling it down and adding a little flour. That’s also why the gravy has such a light colour. That being said, this was still a delicious meal, even with the mistakes. Basically, it’s pork chops with mushroom gravy, but with a whole lot less effort. Works for me!

Pork Belly Ramen

Earlier this week I accidentally bought two packages of pork riblets. I was distracted by the fact that each package was less than $2.00 and didn’t read the label very well; I thought that what was inside the package was solid meat instead of mostly bone. When I went to cook it I was highly disappointed! So I threw the bones into a crock pot and simmered them for two days in order to get a passable broth.

On that same shopping trip I bought some pork belly slices for about 75% off, with which I was much less disappointed. I haven’t had much luck cooking pork belly in the past (one time I over-salted, another I cooked them for much too long and they were tough). I went to the Internet and found that one way to cook them for soup is to simmer them. I used:

– 1 tsp ginger
– 3 Tbsp sugar
– 4 Tbsp soy sauce
– 4 Tbsp sake
– 2 green onions, roughly chopped
– 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
– 1 1/2 cups water

When the meat was done, I set it aside and added the remaining simmering liquid (with the large particulate strained out), plus 1 tsp instant dashi granules and a drizzle of mirin, to a pot of the pork bone broth I’d made. The broth turned out nice and flavourful, but the pork belly still needs a bit of work; perhaps if I marinaded the pork belly in the liquid first, simmered it, then grilled it briefly to get some browning? I definitely need some more practice before I get it 100% right.

In my ongoing quest for a better noodle, I served the pork and broth over a base of Kumai Japanese Style Handmade Ramen noodles by Chewy International Foods Ltd.. They’re still nothing close to fresh handmade noodles, but they have been the best pre-packaged noodles I’ve tried so far. You only have to cook them for 30 seconds in boiling water, which I think really helped them stay nice and chewy.

I served the ramen with shredded Napa cabbage, soft-boiled eggs, and green onions, in addition to the pork belly and broth I’d made. It wasn’t perfect, but it was quite tasty, and I enjoyed it. Too bad Thing 1 is down with a cold again and couldn’t really enjoy it, since it’s generally the kind of dish she prefers. At least the warm soup felt good on her sore throat.

Personal Pizza

I’ve been craving pizza lately, which is pretty much a no-no because of the issues that my digestive tract has with dairy. However, to my everlasting joy, I’ve discovered that I can eat lactose-free cheese so long as I don’t go overboard, since cheese is also quite greasy, especially when melted. Since none of the pizzerias around here carry lactose-free cheese as an option, I thought that a “make your own pizza” evening was in order.

It didn’t look spectacular because I put the toppings under the cheese, but it tasted great! I started with the dough from the Two-Cheese Pizza recipe on page 170 of Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook (1999). This made enough for one 12″ pizza or four 4″ or so thin-crust-ish pizzas. (Next time I do this, I’m doubling the recipe.) You can’t actually cook pizzas in the bread machine, so I rolled out the dough into individual crusts and everyone topped their own. I used Healthy Veggie Tomato Sauce that I had in the freezer as the sauce, although I did simmer it a little to reduce it a little bit. I topped my pizza with ground beef and crumbled bacon, along with a few cremini mushroom slices. The rest of the family had theirs with more traditional mozzarella, but since cheddar was the only kind I could get lactose-free, I went with that.

I’ve tried Jamie Oliver’s Quick Family Pizza in the past, and although the kids liked it, one of the things I discovered about myself is that I’m not a big fan of the taste of self-rising flour. I think it’s just a little too salty for me. At any rate, I like the yeast dough a great deal more, and it’s just as easy as the quick bread version if I use the bread machine. So I think I’ll stick with this kind of dough for future pizza iterations.

Not Really Sticky Pork Stir-Fry

My brother’s main Christmas gift to me this year was the Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (2017). I don’t know if he picked it because he’d been perusing my blog for gift ideas. Maybe it was because he heard me gushing about Oliver after watching yet another interview with him like this one with Russell Howard, which had me in stitches. At any rate, the first recipe that I wanted to try out (okay, after the Ginger Shakin’ Beef, which I didn’t originally know was from this book) was the Sticky Port Stiry-Fry on page 220.

I used regular old carrots sliced small instead of the mixed-colour baby heirloom carrots specified in the recipe, mainly because none of the grocery stores around here had anything so fancy this time of year. Being a hardy root vegetable, you can get standard orange carrots pretty cheap here all year ’round. However, baby/heirloom carrots are only a summer thing unless you’re willing to pay through the nose for imports. If it doesn’t store well, or there isn’t a high enough demand (or price point) to make it worthwhile to ship it from down south, it can’t be found during the winter. Produce variety suffers greatly in Canada once it gets cold — and it’s a million times worse outside of the cities! And yet the selection and availability is miles better than it used to be, even in my lifetime. I watched a program a while back (Tales from the Green Valley) which recreated a 1600’s British farm: the kind of place where my ancestors would have lived. It really struck me that at one point the narrator says, “After several days, the February snow is finally melting in the valley.” A couple of days of snow. My poor, poor ancestors, who came to Canada after being used to winters like that, with such things as “winter growth” in the fields, and then trying to survive in Canada. It’s a wonder that I am here today, quite honestly.

Back to the recipe: I do have one quibble with it: the portions. The cookbook says that this dish serves 4. Honestly, if I hadn’t prepared any sides (and the recipe doesn’t say “to be served over rice” or anything), my family would have been very, very hungry. I’d say that, by itself, this recipe serves two at most. I ate mine with a side of steamed spinach, but I think that the stir-fry would have gone even better over rice or noodles to stretch it.

Now, here is why I called this entry “Not Really Sticky Pork Stir-Fry”: my husband and I kind of messed it up. Not quantity-wise, that we triple-checked. No, we messed up the sauce. You see, my husband was stirring the food while I was chopping ingredients, and I passed him a bottle and asked him to add what I thought was teriyaki sauce to the dish. Instead, I accidentally gave him the oyster sauce. Assuming that I knew what I was doing, he didn’t read the label on the bottle until after he’d added the sauce to the carrots and pork. In my defense, your honour, the bottles look practically identical, as the above photo shows. Luckily my hubby caught the mistake before we added the honey, which I think would have been disastrous. As it was, the oyster sauce on the pork, carrots, and green onions tasted really good. So if you’re ever looking to change this recipe up, just omit the honey and swap teriyaki for oyster.

Would I make this recipe again? Most definitely yes, with the aforementioned changes: a side dish (or doubling the quantities), and actually using the correct sauce. It was tasty, cheap, easy, and quick, which definitely makes me want to have it again, especially on busy weeknights.

Christmas Breakfast

Christmas breakfast was a big thing at my house when I was a kid. Mom and Dad pulled out all of the stops and bought all kinds of awesome food that we pretty much never had any other time of the year. I associated these foods so strongly with the holidays that it came as a great revelation to me when I moved out that I could buy Havarti cheese with dill or caraway seeds, or Babybel miniature cheeses, or Stoned Wheat Thins all year long.

We’ve been hosting Christmas breakfast at our house since the year that Thing 1 was born. Given that she would have needed to be fed and then probably put down for a nap sometime during the festivities, it just made sense for us to stay home and have the rest of my family come to us. Breakfast is generally served buffet-style, so that everyone can have a little bit of everything and then head over to the Christmas tree to open gifts, often while still munching.

This year I served (working roughly from left to right):

Nan’s pan rolls* with butter
– red grapes
– rosemary bread from the bread machine**
– homemade dill pickles
– Chevrai Original Goat Cheese
– Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin cheese
Chicken Bones
– Daiya Plain Cream Cheeze Style Spread
– Crème Oka cheese
– Laughing Cow cheese
– my husband’s homemade cornmeal muffins
– homemade pickled beets
– coffee & tea with sugar & milk
– chocolate toffees
– meat platter with Hungarian salami, Montreal smoked meat, roast beef, and Black Forest ham
– shrimp ring with cocktail sauce
– Christmas Cookie Monster’s Shape Cookies (made, for the most part, by Thing 1 and Thing 2)
– cold hard-boiled eggs
– Babybel miniature cheeses
– cracker plate with Stoned Wheat Thins, Ritz, Vegetable Thins, and Rosemary & Olive Oil Triscuits
– pepperettes (all-beef by my hubby’s preference and European style for mine)
– Oka and Havarti cheeses
Fudgy Pumpkin Brownies (this time with no coffee)
– bananas
– strawberries
– clementines
– blueberries

In case you’re worried, no, the seven of us did not eat this all in one sitting. This much could have easily fed twice that amount of people, with food to spare! The point of this kind of meal (which only happens once a year) is that everyone can have as much as they like, and then it all gets packed away to become lunches and dinners for the next week or so. There were still a few leftovers as of New Year’s Day, but that was of the kind of thing that takes forever to go bad, like crackers. Some of it will probably even make its way into the kids’ lunches in the new year.

*I discovered that these rolls can be left to do their second rise overnight in the refrigerator, and then just popped into the oven to serve fresh-baked for breakfast. If you’re going to do so, make sure that the pan you use is metal and not glass, as it takes the glass longer to heat up and can make the bottom of the rolls take a little too long to cook. Also, if the top is browning but the bottom isn’t quite done yet, cover the top of the rolls with aluminum foil to prevent them going from “browned” to “burnt”.

**Classic White Bread, found on page 24 of Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook (1999) — but with half the sugar, olive oil instead of margarine, and about 1/4 cup fresh chopped rosemary added.