BBQ Ribs & Potatoes

The other day I had a desire both not to cook in the house and to try something new. Well, new to me in the cooking department, at least. I grabbed a rack of pork ribs from the grocery store, threw them in a pre-made marinade, and chucked them on the grill.

Although the meat was definitely edible, even tasty, I did discover that I had a lot to learn about cooking ribs because they ended up being rather chewy. When I’ve had ribs that other people have made, they always end up being fall-off-the-bone tender. I think I really needed to cook them low and slow to get that desired tenderness. Perhaps in a slow-cooker, or on a low setting on the smoker grill, once we get the auger fixed. Quick and dirty on the gas grill just isn’t going to cut it for the results that I’m looking for.

As a side, I made foil packet potatoes with garlic butter on the barbecue. They don’t look like much, but they were cooked to perfection and were packed with flavour. As a veggie, we had a quick leafy salad.

All in all, I would consider this dinner to be a provisional success. It wasn’t perfect, but everyone came back for seconds, and I learned something. It wasn’t bad for a first attempt, but I’m sure with practice I could do better.

Spelunking

We started Sunday with a hearty brunch eaten out on the porch at my in-laws’ cottage. I had bacon, eggs over easy, an everything bagel, apple slices, and a banana.

With this fuel under our belts, we made the drive out to the Bonnechere Caves, which are caves carved by the Bonnechere River into limestone deep underground. I’d been there once as a child, and again as an adult bringing my eldest along, but this was the first time that both kids had been old enough to partake in the tour. I think that it was an experience that they won’t soon forget!

The tour started outside along the Bonnechere River (you can actually see the natural entrance to the caves on the left).

Then you take a man-made staircase down into the bowels of the caves as part of a guided tour. We’d been to the Lusk Caves a few years ago, where the caves are left au naturel (although there is a trail leading to them) and there is no guide, so this was a very different experience. There is a boardwalk over the naturally jagged stone floors, and the caves are lit.

Despite the somewhat staged air that the man-made additions add, they did allow me to get a much clearer look at the rock formations.

For the last section of the tour, the path runs under the water table, so concrete barriers and pumps are put to use to make the area dry enough to walk through. This lets you see exactly how deep these caverns really go. Although if you’re claustrophobic, I can see how the idea of all of that ground above your head would be difficult to deal with. One lady kept making comparisons to The Cave…

It was a very neat experience. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to take yet another generation of children to explore this enthralling natural formation.

Of course, after all of our spelunking we were ravenous, so we headed back to the cottage for dinner. We chowed down on grilled chicken legs with hot sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, and a salad of mixed greens, red grapes, and ground cherries. What a great way to round out the day!

Glico Curry

One of the foods that I fell in love with in Japan is Japanese curry. It’s very different than any Indian, Thai, or even British curry I have ever tried. It’s generally a lot of rice, a lot of creamy sauce, and a tiny bit of meat — and it doesn’t have to be very spicy at all. It’s the kind of thing that you can find as cheap street food or sold out of tiny little take-out shops. When you make Japanese curry as a homemade dish, it’s a comfort food, and it’s generally prepared with boxes of pre-made sauce cubes with the spices suspended in a kind of solid roux that melts with the addition of heat. It’s really very easy to prepare. There are a number of companies that make this kind of thing in Japan, but the easiest to come by both there and here in Canada is Glico Curry.

We were having my brother-in-law and his friend that helped with the deck, so I wanted to make something that I hadn’t cooked for them before. I also wanted it to be a hearty meal that would satisfy two men who did physical labour for a living as well as our family of four. Given that we only had one guy over instead of two, I may have gone a bit overboard; I used a whole pan of veggies and meat, and the sauce that I made was supposed to serve ten. We ended up with lots of leftovers. Ah well, it reheats well.

It’s always slightly disappointing to me how unappetizing this kind of dish can be once cooked, because it’s so chock full of delicious, healthy ingredients — and it’s really, really tasty. I used potatoes, carrots, baby bok choy, and steak, but it kind of turned out looking like brown glop. Aesthetics aside, everyone ate their share and some came back for seconds, so the flavor must have made up for the looks.

Working on the Yard

I spent the majority of the last two days working on my back yard. First I put in the garden along the fence I’d been wanting for the last few years:

I’d had one there before, and I’m pretty sure the previous owners of the house had one too, since the soil was black and rich instead of being just clay, at least for the first few inches. I hadn’t done anything with that garden since the old fence started to fall down, but this year we have the new one up, so I don’t have to worry about either a pile of wood or contractors squashing my plants. I planted Jerusalem artichokes, pumpkins, Hubbard squash, butternut squash, cucumbers, zucchini, and asparagus, alongside the rather tiny rhubarb plant I planted years ago. I tried putting down landscaping fabric to prohibit the weed growth, but we’ll see how that goes.

I cut back the apple tree, although it’s still pretty huge, all in all. There were a bunch of dead limbs and I ended up losing almost a whole one of the major subsections closest to the house. I really hope that whatever killed those branches doesn’t spread to the rest of the tree, though. One of the reasons I got a deck (instead of a patio like originally planned) is to accommodate the apple tree’s roots. It would really suck if the tree then ended up dying. Also, I just plain old love that tree, especially every second year when it blooms.

In my main veggie garden, I’m happy to report that the potatoes are starting to sprout — alongside a bunch of tiny weeds. I only just weeded that bed, I’m a little annoyed that the weeds are already returning. Hopefully the plants I actually want will grow tall soon and start choking out the plants I don’t.

A friend of mine gave me a black tomato plant to add to my cherry tomatoes, and I’m curious to see how the fruit turns out.

My pear tree is flourishing, despite still being shorter than me. I might get twice last year’s harvest, so… Ten fruits, maybe? I always like how pears grow up while they’re tiny, but then the weight of them drags them down to hang how you’d normally expect over time.

I also had to mow the grass, at which point I discovered that apparently I have wild strawberries growing in my front lawn, which surprised the heck out of me. I don’t care much about my lawn so long as it is green — grass, clover, strawberries, it’s all okay by me, so long as it’s not thistles, which are painful to step on. After a quick Google, I discovered that wild strawberries are perfectly safe to eat, especially if you know that the ground they grow on is pesticide- and herbicide-free, which mine definitely is. They’re not really big enough to make much of a crop, but they are definitely more flavorful than the commercially-grown variety.

I finished the day with a barbecue dinner for my family, my parents, my brother, and his friend. I made salmon on the smoker barbecue — not burned, just a little ashy — with a glaze of maple syrup and a sprinkle of salt. My mom brought over her famous potato salad with bacon, and I grilled up some zucchini and steamed asparagus. I also made some rice to serve on the side, at my kids’ request. All in all, it was a lovely meal, and I’d eat it again in a heartbeat.

Breakfast Bagel

I noticed the other day that there was a Cadman’s Montreal Bagels open now at the intersection of the Vanier Parkway and Montreal Road, so I thought that I’d try it out. Bagels are a staple in our household, whether I make them myself or buy them from a bakery or grocery store. When I was a kid, my parents would take us almost every weekend for breakfast at Bagel Bagel at the corner of Clarence and William in the Byward Market, where I believe the Cornerstone Bar and Grill is now. I’ve also been lucky enough to visit Montreal frequently and try fresh bagels there from a variety of restaurants and bakeries. The signs outside of Cadman’s proclaimed that they were the best Montreal-style bagels in Ottawa, so I was intrigued.

I purchased the All Day Breakfast Bagel Combo for $6.59 (plus tax), with an additional bowl of fresh fruit salad for another couple of bucks. The sandwich is on any of their freshly-baked bagels (I chose pumpernickel) and is topped with an egg, cheddar cheese, and bacon, and comes with a latke and a drink. One of the things that my photo fails to convey is how absolutely huge the portions are. The bagels here are especially massive. I came out of there stuffed after a late breakfast and didn’t need to eat again until dinner.

But are they the best Montreal-style bagels in Ottawa? Personally, I don’t think so. A good Montreal-style bagel is, to me, quite chewy, and these bagels were very soft. They also didn’t have the slightly sour tang that I associate with that kind of bagel. Perhaps they’re not working the dough long enough, boiling them long enough (or at all?), or using a high-enough protein flour. Whatever the reason, these bagels are really light and fluffy. Now, I know that some people prefer theirs that way, and there’s nothing technically wrong with a fluffy bagel. However, to me a Montreal-style bagels should be chewy and dense.

That being said, overall the breakfast was quite tasty, and it was good value for money. It wasn’t the best Montreal-style bagel I’ve had in Ottawa, but it was pretty good in its own right. So I’ll probably be back.

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!

Crunch Time Chicken

Heading into Ottawa ComicCon cosplay crunch time, I’ve been resorting to some of my tried-and-true dinner dishes to feed my family. Last night I made up baked chicken thighs with my favourite spring chicken spice mixture, served with mashed potatoes and a Caesar salad.

I’m looking for new quick and easy meals for the next month or so (it’s one month away! Eek!), but I don’t have time to do my usual leafing through my cookbooks and browsing the Internet for ideas. I do have a few Crock Pot recipes I’ve been wanting to try that might be perfect. At the very least, I’ll try not to resort to Kraft Dinner and instant ramen…