Leveling Up the Mac and Cheese

Believe it or not, I’m still trying to use up the Christmas leftovers, although at this point I’m left with the stuff that keeps well like cold cuts and hard cheeses. Last night I decided to continue using up some of those leftovers by making a batch of Mom’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese.

Now, it may look a bit anemic because I didn’t use a cheddar that was dyed orange, but taste-wise it was anything but! The cheese was one of my personal favourites, Balderson Royal Canadian (2 Year) Cheddar. This brand has the added bonus of being relatively local; their original factory was in Lanark County, although they’re now owned by Parmalat. Although this mac and cheese can be made with just about any cheddar or other sharp, hard cheese (and I think I’ve used them all over the years), including cheap store brands, it really shines with something with a bit more flavour. Despite making an entire batch, after last night’s meal there were no survivors leftovers, which is the ultimate compliment to the cook.

As an addendum, I’ve discovered that there is lactose-free milk and lactose-free cheddar, so if you’re like me and are lactose-intolerant, you can still make this dish. Unfortunately, so far as I know Balderson doesn’t make an official lactose-free cheese yet. However, according to Life Hacker, grocery chain Wegman’s says:

An easy way to check for lactose in cheese is to look at the Nutrition Facts under “Sugar”. Since the sugar in cheese is lactose, you can easily see how much lactose the cheese contains. If the sugar is listed as zero, then the cheese contains no more than half a gram of lactose per ounce. Compare to 12 grams of lactose in an 8 ounce glass of milk.

According to the Balderson Royal Canadian (2 Year) Cheddar official nutritional information, the sugar content is 0g, so if a lactose-intolerant person is going to treat themselves to cheese, this would be a good choice. So, like me, you could combine lactose-free milk and this delicious sharp cheddar (although you may be a bit paranoid and want to take some Lactaid in advance just in case).

Handmade Noodles With Beet Pesto

I cooked up all of my beets and served them cold, chopped up with a bit of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise. But there was all kinds of beet juice left behind, so I thought I’d freeze it for use later. If it’ll stain anything, it should make a good colouring, right?

So I bought some 00 flour for my next pasta attempt, and I added my four eggs, and then a couple of cubes worth of beet juice. The problem was, that added more liquid, which meant I then had to add a bunch more flour in order to make the noodles the proper consistency. In the end, the colour didn’t change all that much. I was hoping for a vibrant beet red, but what I got was a kind of light peachy orange. I think that either I need to omit the eggs and use just beet juice (which will probably affect the flavour of the pasta), or boil the beet juice down an awful lot so that it’s very concentrated and doesn’t add much liquid with the colour.

To keep the pasta from sticking to itself, I made an improvised drying rack by putting wooden spoons or long cooking chopsticks under dishes in the cupboards with the long end sticking out. As silly as it looks, it worked! The noodles didn’t stick to each other at all. I think, though, if I’m going to do this a lot in the future, I’ll have to invest in a proper drying rack.

The pasta ended up being a fantastic shade of pinky red, though, because I used the jar of beet pesto. I also ran the pasta through the absolute thinnest setting this time and the consistency was just right! I’ve already learned so much after just two times working with pasta. I’m really looking forward to learning more!

Garlicky Pasta Primavera

Last night I was inspired by Delish to make their Bowtie Primavera recipe. It was originally posted back in 2016, but the video popped up again on my Facebook feed, and, well, I had lots of cherry tomatoes that needed eating, so I figured it was timely.

This dish features a lovely rainbow of vegetables: asparagus, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms. I find it funny that it’s advertised as a “spring pasta” because really the only spring part is the asparagus; the zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and most mushrooms are late summer/early fall produce. I actually couldn’t find fresh asparagus at the grocery store right now and so had to use frozen, but that works just fine cooked in a sauce anyway.

My cherry tomatoes were really juicy and released a lot of that juice when cooking, so I found that 1 cup of reserved pasta water was excessive. I ended up having to boil down the sauce in order for it not to be, well, soup. Additionally, I used lactose-free sour cream, which I don’t think make a huge difference to the consistency but it did mean that I could actually eat it. (I would assume that, to make this dish vegan, a cream cheese substitute could be used effectively.) I also didn’t garnish with chopped basil because, to be completely honest, I forgot to buy any.

All that being said, I was really happy with the end result. This dish was creamy but not cloying, came together quickly (although not as quickly as the recipe indicated), and was both healthy and tasty. I will definitely be making it again.

Handmade Pasta: First Attempt

I was lucky enough to stumble upon a fantastic deal at my local thrift shop the other day: a hand-cranked pasta machine still in its box, for only $7.99! Given that the absolute cheapest pasta machine reatails at WalMart is $43 or so, this was one heck of a deal. Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ll have heard me go on and on about how hard it is to find good ramen noodles around here, and how I really need to give it a go on my own. Here is my opportunity! Well, eventually. First, I need to master this machine — or at least become reasonably competent, anyway.

From the packaging and the printing inside the instruction manual, I’d estimate that it is from the 1970’s.

Honestly, it looks as if it’s never been used — or at least was very well taken care of. Maybe it was originally an ill-chosen wedding gift?

I followed the most basic of pasta recipes: 400g flour, four eggs, and a bit of salt. I kneaded it all together by hand, but my first go wasn’t terribly dough-like.

However, running it through the sheet setting of the pasta machine a few times helped even out the consistency.

Then Thing 2 helped me roll all the dough out into sheets — she really enjoyed herself, I think because it’s a lot like a Play-Doh machine. I know that the sheets aren’t perfect like the pictures in the cookbooks, but I thought they weren’t bad for a first attempt.

Then I ran each sheet, once again with Thing 2’s help, through the larger of the cutting wheels.

It all made enough noodles for a family dinner — although in retrospect, I think I should have rolled the sheets quite a bit thinner before slicing.

I served the homemade noodles with the last jar of basil pesto that I froze last summer, alongside a few tiny lamb chops with rosemary. Sadly, I let my attention be taken up almost entirely by making the pasta, and I overcooked the lamb quite a bit. It was still very tasty, but a bit chewy.

So lessons learned for next time: give myself more time/attention to make the pasta, and roll it out as think as possible without it falling apart. But otherwise, I think I made a passable first attempt! There weren’t any leftovers, what with the family all going back for seconds.

Scallop and Bacon Pesto Pasta

Thing 1 told me last week that she’d just realized that she’d never tried scallops before, and that she really wanted to know what they tasted like. Well, this week the little frozen scallops went on sale at the grocery store, and I saw a great chance to let Thing 1 try them without spending a fortune.

I whipped up a quick pasta dish where the scallops took center stage. The green noodles were Catelli SuperGreens Spaghetti, and I tossed them in the last of the basil pesto that I froze last summer. At the same time, I fried the scallops up in a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of garlic powder. To serve, I laid down the pasta first, then a sprinkle of bacon bits, then the scallops, and then a few sliced grape tomatoes.

And the verdict is: Thing 1 absolutely loved the scallops! Next step, I think, is to invest in some of the larger, pricier scallops and serve them wrapped in bacon. Grilled, maybe? Or in a chowder? There are so many possibilities!

Algonquin Park Camping: Day 2

Day 2 of camping at at the Achray Campground on Grand Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park dawned rainy, but the precipitation quickly moved on. This left us with clouds in the morning, a brief rainstorm in the afternoon, and a mix of sun and clouds for the afternoon and evening. Unfortunately, there was never much of a breeze, so nothing we brought with us really dried out, but we had fun anyway.

The day began with cooking bacon, eggs, and toast (with bread machine bread baked in advance of our trip) on the old Coleman camp stove. I am particularly fond of the camp toaster, which was always my favourite part of the setup as a child.

It was a hearty and delicious way to start the day!

After cleanup we headed out to the lake, which is where we spent the majority of our day.

The shallow, sandy beaches meant that the kids were quite content to play and explore for hours.

We found teeny tiny catfish (at most an inch and a half long) in the weedy shallows, where they were industriously cleaning the lake bed.

There were also tonnes of tadpoles in every stage of becoming frogs — some had no legs, some had two, some had four, and some were basically frogs with tails — alongside full-grown frogs. A few swam by us while we were swimming, while others stuck to the weedier or rockier areas.

I honestly think that our favourite part of the day was all of the tiny minnows that swam around our feet and nibbled on our toes while we waded in the shallows. Video of that will have to wait until I can get it off of my other camera, but I think it’ll be what the kids remember the most from this trip.

When we headed away from the water we found wild raspberries, which was an unexpected and tasty treat.

I cooked dinner over the single-burner backpacking stove, since the old Coleman decided to act up for a bit. I basically made tuna noodle casserole, but with frozen corn instead of canned, and canned salmon instead of tuna. Also, having no oven, I couldn’t bake the dish.

I don’t think that my alterations improved the dish any; without the potato chips topping and baking to combine the flavours, it was pretty bland. I should at least have grated some cheese on top, but I didn’t think of it. But it was warm and filling and we were sitting somewhere dry, which sometimes is all you can ask for when camping. As a bonus, the only perishable ingredient was the frozen corn, which in its turn helped keep the other food cold.

Also, did I mention that there were butterflies? Well, there were a lot of butterflies. The monarchs in the area really like the milkweed blossoms, which were just coming out of bloom, and milkweed was everywhere. Apparently these monarchs are endangered, but you’d never know it from how plentiful they were around our little corner of the park.

Bacon Goes With Everything

Last night I ransacked my freezer and pantry in order to continue the trend of preparing meals that don’t require long cooking times indoors, which would heat the house up unduly. I came up with a box of spaghettini noodles, a small container of last year’s basil pesto, a package of sole fillets, and almost a pound of reduced-salt bacon.

What that turned into was essentially a meal where there was bacon on everything. I boiled up the spaghettini, drained it, and coated it in pesto. Then I dredged the sole in flour mixed with a bit of garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and then I pan fried it. (Whenever I cook my fish like this, I can’t help but think of lightly fried fish fillets, though.) I cooked up all of the bacon in the microwave, chopped it into bits, and sprinkled it on darned near everything.

My family couldn’t have been happier.