Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day

I’m still working away on that last-minute costume. I got so caught up in the process that I stayed up until almost 2:00am without even realizing it! I had absolutely no intention of staying up too late. When I get into problem-solving mode, I hate to stop when I’m on a roll. If I’d been super-frustrated, I would probably have stopped earlier (although there was a large seam that I “sewed” without realizing that the bobbin had run out).

I couldn’t find my meter stick, so I did end up using a wooden prop sword in order to trace a long, straight line on my fabric. My father pointed out afterward that I could have just called and borrowed his, but the sword was only a few feet away from where I was sewing, and it worked out fine!

November 15th is Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day, so I made a dinner entirely out of what I had around the house. This had nothing to do with the fact that I’ve been so engrossed in costume construction that I haven’t gone out to do groceries, I swear. I went with one of the simplest clean-out-the-fridge dishes: stir fry. I cooked up the veggies I had on hand (celery, zucchini, and frozen peas), scrambled in some egg, threw in some cooked rice and shrimp, and gave it all a good drizzle of sesame oil and soy sauce while I cooked it all together for a few minutes. My husband asked for seconds, which I figure means it wasn’t half bad.

After the kids went to bed, I wanted to treat myself to some banana bread, which is pretty much my favourite quick bread. I even had some bananas I’d frozen before they went bad that I needed to use up, so the timing was perfect. I’d seen a Tasty video for 6 Desserts To Make In Your Microwave, so I thought I’d give their individual microwave banana bread a shot. Sadly, as with the microwave oatmeal bread I made a while back, I was disappointed. The more I try it, the less I think that microwaves can be used for half-decent baking.

First of all, there was a recipe in the YouTube transcription of the recipe. If you watch the video, the ingredients include 3 Tbsp brown sugar and 1/2 tsp baking powder, but the recipe under the video calls for 3 Tbsp brown sugar and then another 1/2 tsp brown sugar, with no baking powder. Luckily I noticed that there was no rising agent before I started cooking, but by then I’d already added the extra 1/2 tsp brown sugar, too.

Once the banana bread was cooked, I found it to be largely tasteless. I found that interesting, because it contains basically the same ingredients as the more traditional banana bread in the Joy of Cooking; what really differentiates the two, other than size, is the cooking method. I think that because the Tasty version is made so quickly in the microwave, instead of cooking for an hour or more in the oven, it doesn’t have a chance to develop its flavour, which probably mostly comes from the crust. Microwave cooking, in general, doesn’t create proper crusts. Also, I found the consistency of the microwave banana bread to be less like a quick bread and more like a sponge or a pudding. I cooked it for an extra 30 seconds over the recommended time and tested it with a cake tester for doneness, so I know it was definitely cooked all the way through. Even so, the consistency was more like microwave scrambled eggs than like bread.

Of course, opinions may vary, and you may like banana bread made this way. I think that I will stick to baking in the oven from now on, except perhaps for the occasional experiment.

Blueberry Bran Muffins Recipe

Recently I came across a copy of The United Churches in Canada: Let’s Break Bread Together — the September 1988 version, though, not the current one. I love cookbooks that are comprised of favourite recipes contributed by members of the organization. I mean, where else can you find quality recipes like this one:

Jokes aside, I have learned how to make some really great dishes from books like these. I have also contributed to a few; off the top of my head I know some of my recipes have ended up in books published by my high school, the local chapter of the Girl Guides of Canada, and my kids’ preschool. Not only are these cookbooks great fundraisers, they’re also a nice way to bring the community together by introducing neighbours to the flavours and dishes that are important to them.

All that being said, these cookbooks are not written — and as importantly, are not edited by — professionals. These days it’s not as bad, what with spell check and the ability to digitally track changes when a document is being sent around for review. But you have to be very, very careful to fully read a recipe from start to finish with pre-2000 cookbooks. Well, I mean, you should probably do that anyway with any recipe, but at least in professional cookbooks they’ll generally include all of the ingredients in the ingredient list, and a general expectation of yield, and have fairly clear instructions.

I’ll use the blueberry bran muffins recipe on page 86 of Let’s Break Bread Together as an example. It specified All-Bran Cereal — but what kind? Right now, in Canada, there’s All-Bran Flakes, All-Bran Buds, All-Bran Multigrain Crunch, and All-Bran Granola. Now, I understand that in some cases with older recipes, there was only one variety of an ingredient even though now the company may have branched out. In this case, though, a quick search of the Internet reveals that in the mid-’80’s there was the equivalent of Flakes and Buds, so it should have been specified.

Also, the blueberries in the muffins, which were so clearly stated in the title, were not in the ingredient list. Instead, the kind and quantity of berry were buried in the baking instructions. As you can see from the recipe above, the formatting of this books is such that the ingredients are supposed to be in bold and indented from the rest of the text; they are most often found at the start of the recipe as well. It can be really confusing when ingredients are not where you expect them to be.

Now, please don’t think I’m angry about all this. I’m really not. This book was put together by volunteers (in this case, the United Church in Meadowood, Winnipeg, Manitoba) in their free time before the general use of the home computer. However, what it does for me is it makes me aware of how important precise instructions are to the ease of success of a recipe. It definitely makes me want to give another go-over of the recipes I’ve written, that’s for sure. And if anyone else uses one of my recipes and notices something that should be changed, please let me know so I can fix it!

Here is my version of the blueberry bran muffins recipe, updated for accuracy and to make it a little bit healthier. I have tried out the changes and it resulted in the delectable muffins seen pictured above.

Blueberry Bran Muffins
Makes 16 muffins

In a large mixing bowl, beat:
2 large eggs
Mix in:
1 cup 2% milk*
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup All-Bran Buds
Let stand 15 minutes for Buds to hydrate.
Preheat oven to 400°F (175°C).
In a separate mixing bowl, combine:
2 cups all-purpose white flour
1 cup white sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring until blended.
Fold into batter:
2 cups fresh blueberries**
Spoon batter into greased muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake 15-18 minutes, until done. You will be able to tell that the muffins are done when the tops turn golden-brown and a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted at the center point comes out clean.
Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the pan, until the tops are just cool enough to touch. Gently, with your fingertips, spin each muffin a quarter turn in the pan. This will dislodge the muffin from the pan and help keep it from sticking. Remove the muffins from the pan and finish cooling them on a wire rack. Once cool, they may be stored in a container for about five days. However, they are best eaten as fresh as possible.

*Alternately, a milk substitute such as almond milk or soy milk may be used. If you do so, reduce the volume of milk substitute by 1 Tbsp, and add 1 Tbsp light vegetable oil such as sunflower or canola.
**Alternately, you may use frozen blueberries. However, before using they should be thawed and the excess liquid drained.

IKEA Market Food

I headed out to IKEA the other day to pick up some cheap picture frames. Of course, I bought the wrong size and now I have to make a return trip, but that’s another story. As I often do, I browsed the “market” on the way out for new foods I have yet to try, and I was not disappointed.

The first thing I found that was new to me was Brödmix Flerkorn multigrain bread baking mix. I had previously made their lemon muffin mix and chocolate muffin mix, which are packaged similarly in a milk-carton-like container. Like the muffins, the bread mix is a “just add water” type, but this time the instructions specify warm water (to activate the yeast). This mix is vegetarian/vegan, which makes sense as it’s easier to keep foods without eggs, dairy, or milk shelf stable.

The bread mix turned into a lovely, heavy loaf that pairs well with cheese, sliced meats, and eggs. The bread is very dense as it is filled with sunflower seeds and contains rye flour and barley malt in addition to wheat flour. This was honestly the easiest bread I have ever baked: just add water, shake, pour into a greased pan, allow to rise, and bake. No kneading! Even if you’ve never baked bread before in your life, you’d be able to make this stuff.

The second item I picked up was Kalles Kaviar, which is a creamed smoked fish roe from Sweden. I’ve seen this in the fridge at IKEA many times, but I’d never gotten around to trying it until now. I like all kinds of fish roe, so I figured that I would like this. And overall it was pretty good, with that lightly fishy taste that I’ve come to expect from fish roe… But it was also really, really salty. Possibly too salty for me.

Not to be deterred by a first experience, I Googled to find the typical way that Kalles is eaten. Apparently the most common way to eat it is with dark rye bread with seeds (which I oh-so-conveniently had just made) and eggs for breakfast. Now, I made my eggs sunny side up instead of soft-boiling them, but I figured the flavour would be pretty similar. And do you know what, just a little bit of the kaviar with a mouthful of toast and eggs is a great combination. It’s still awfully salty, though, so if you’re not used to it, I recommend eating it only in small quantities.

Cottage Bread

While at the cottage, I decided that I should make the bread that everybody would be eating. I started off with a few loaves of crusty white breadmaker bread (yes, I brought the breadmaker to the cottage, we weren’t roughing it by any means). Then I got tired of that and decided to whip up some marbled pesto bread from page 142 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002).

I made this bread a little while back and it was an instant hit, so I had to bake it again. This time I cut back the salt on the topping from 2 tsp to 1/2 tsp, which produced a flavour I much preferred. I also didn’t have an appropriately-sized loaf pan at the cottage, so I had to improvise and use a large roasting pan, which the loaf sat inside with room to spare, never touching the sides. This is how I ended up with a more “cottage loaf” look. It still cooked through properly and tasted great, which is what really matters.

The filling I used this time was nasturtium-leaf pesto, which isn’t quite as oily as garlic scape pesto, and has a slightly peppery kick. It was a different flavoring, but very tasty.

As a treat, I whipped up some banana chocolate chip bread while the pesto bread was rising. I just added a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips to the banana bread cockaigne recipe from the Joy of Cooking app. I baked it in a silicone bundt pan that belongs to the cottage, and though I wasn’t terribly happy with the heat distribution in the pan, it still turned out rather tasty. The kids are it up as fast as I’d let them.

Clean-Out-the-Fridge Food

A coworker of a friend had a rhubarb plant that was trying to take over the world, so my friend was nice enough to claim the excess stalks for me and then meet up with me so I could get them. Since I knew I wasn’t going to have the chance to use up all of the rhubarb before it went bad, I washed it, chopped it, and divvied it up into portions for the freezer. However, I did set a bit of it aside so that I could make up another batch of rhubarb muffins (125 Best Quick Bread Recipes by Donna Washburn & Heather Butt (2002), page 22).

These muffins are a real hit around my house, and most of the batch of twelve was gone before the end of the day. I didn’t have any oranges or orange juice around the house (and I didn’t want to go out), so I omitted the orange zest and juice from the recipe. Instead I put 3 Tbsp lemon juice and 3 Tbsp sugar into a measuring cup, then added enough water to bring the level up to 2/3 cup. This gave me the proper amount of liquid, but with a bit of acidity and sweetness. The recipe is also for a loaf instead of muffins, but I just greased my muffin tin and filled the twelve sections with the batter, and baked it at the recommended temperature for about 25 minutes. Despite all of the changes, this recipe turned out really well!

Then it was time to make dinner. Once again, I didn’t want to hit the grocery store, so it ended up being a “use up the food in the fridge” kind of day. I thawed some chicken broth that I had made previously, chopped up some leftover chicken and peeled some carrots, then brought that all together to become chicken noodle soup. I even had a chance to use up some of my excess Canadian Eh? Shapes Pasta. I served the soup alongside tabbouleh (the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition), page 362), which was made with parsley and mint from my garden. The bread was day-old improvised white bread which has a whole story of its own behind it, but that tale will have to be told another day. All in all, I was very satisfied with this clean-out-the-fridge meal!

Nan’s Strawberry Shortcake Recipe

It’s less than a week until Canada Day (July 1st), and this year it’s a big deal because it’s the country’s sesquicentennial, 150 years since Confederation. It’s a pretty big deal around here. There are all kinds of events planned surrounding the holiday, much more extensive than the usual celebrations. I’m not sure yet what we’re going to take part in, but it’s worth noting that most of the museums are free on Canada Day (especially useful if it’s raining but you still want to do something), and the fireworks are always spectacular.

Until the big day, though I thought I’d cook some typically-Canadian or Canada-themed dishes to start the celebrations. Canadian cuisine is really hard to pin down, as it’s very regional and is strongly influenced by the immigrants that settled in the area. Since I am predominantly of British descent, my idea of Canadian food is British-Canadian, but since I live in an area with a strong French-Canadian presence, that affects my idea of typical Canadian food as well. If you live in a different part of Canada, or come from a different heritage, your idea of typical Canadian food may be totally different — and that’s totally okay. As former PM Joe Clark put it, “Canada has a cuisine of cuisines. Not a stew pot, but a smorgasbord.”


Nan’s strawberry shortcake made with non-dairy whipped topping

The first dish I made to celebrate Canada Day was nice red-and-white strawberry shortcake, according to my Nan’s (my dad’s mom’s) recipe. It’s a fairly simple recipe that can be whipped up quickly. If you’d prefer a no-bake red-and-white dessert recipe, I would suggest The Cat’s Hat Parfaits.

Nan’s Strawberry Shortcake
Yields 10-12 personal-sized shortcakes

Make up a batch of
Dad’s Biscuits
However, replace the 2 tsp of sugar in the recipe for
3 Tbsp sugar
This will make a sweeter biscuit that is more suitable for dessert.
When shaping the biscuits, instead of using the drop-off-a-spoon method used in the photos, roll out the dough onto a floured surface to between 3/4″ and 1″ thick. Use a round cookie cutter or a floured drinking glass with straight sides to cut the biscuits to a uniform size. Follow the rest of the instructions as per the recipe.

While the biscuits are baking, cut up about:
1/2 cup of strawberries per shortcake
Only cut up as much as you’ll need to serve right away, as strawberries tend to go bad more quickly once they’re cut.
In a separate bowl, whip together until fluffy:
one 237mL package whipped cream
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Alternately, you may use spray whipped cream in a can, or non-dairy whipped topping.

When the biscuits are done and cool enough to handle, assemble the shortcakes on small serving plates or in bowls. Start with the bottom half of a biscuit, then a layer of strawberries, then whipped cream, then the top half of the biscuit, more strawberries, and top with whipped cream. Serve.

Alternately, make the biscuits in advance and assemble the shortcakes immediately before serving. Do not assemble them in advance, or they will get soggy.

Morning Glory Pumpkin Muffins

It’s ComicCon costume crunch-time, so I haven’t been spending as much time cooking as I’d like to. Nevertheless, over the weekend I was inspired by the copy of Purely Pumpkin: More Than 100 Seasonal Recipes to Share, Savor, and Warm Your Kitchen by Allison Day (2016) that I have taken out of the library again. I managed to whip up some Morning Glory Pumpkin Muffins (page 81), which were very simple and absolutely delicious. Healthy, too!

For the health-conscious, these muffins are made with spelt flour, bananas, pumpkin puree, apples, pumpkin seeds, raisins, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds. A combination like that is a great way to satisfy hunger cravings and keep you full for a while — perfect to grab when running out the door in the morning. The recipe called for vegetable oil, for which I substituted an equal amount of applesauce, which made the muffins even healthier. These muffins are also very moist and tasty, with just a bit of crunch from the seeds, which is probably why my kids have been noshing on them whenever they get the chance. Would I make this recipe again? Most definitely. Now I’m more eager than ever to try the rest of the recipes in this book!