Lobster Tails

I went to the grocery store yesterday to pick up eggs and milk (the two perishable foods we go through the fastest in our household), I popped over to the meat and seafood counters to see if anything tempted me for dinner. As it turned out, they actually had rock lobster tails on for a reasonable price — or at least what I’d consider to be reasonable compared to the ridiculous price that beef has gone up to lately. Lobster in my budget is extremely rare, so I had to pick up enough for dinner.

I followed the instructions from Maine Lobster Now and I was impressed with how quick and easy it was. (Most of the lobster I get these days is the much cheaper frozen claws from T&T to make Carribbean lobster bisque.) The girls were a little intimidated by the shell — they’ve had lobster as often as I could afford to serve it, but I don’t think they’d ever had to deal with cracking their own before. I don’t blame them, since even to me the tail looks a heck of a lot like a giant wood louse! Luckily I’ve been to a fair number of lobster boils in my day and, as per the instructions, the meat actually was very easy to remove once it was cooked.

I served the lobster with steamed asparagus, baby-cut carrots, and baby potatoes, all cooked very easily in the microwave. All in all this meal took me about 25 minutes to make, which is good because I was (as usual) running late. One thing I missed out on was garlic butter to drizzle on the lobster, which I do regret, but it was pretty darned good anyway.

Finger Foods

Yesterday Mother Nature decided to prove, once again, that she reigns supreme by throwing a rare (but not unheard-of) snowstorm at us a good week into April. I feel very lucky that I hadn’t had the snow tires taken off of my car yet — unlike my poor parents. I was so happy the other day when I realized that I could see grass peeking through the snow in the back yard, making progress even from last week when I broke out the barbecue. As of halfway through yesterday afternoon, the view out my back door looked like this:

It did continue snowing throughout the rest of the day, although it was only lightly and hence didn’t accumulate all that much. I feel so much worse for my friends and family in Atlantic Canada who are supposed to get double the snowfall that we did! There’s a reason that we don’t plant our gardens here before the Victoria Day weekend at the end of may, and it isn’t just fear of frost.

In addition to the depressing weather, I still am suffering from a nasty cold, so yesterday’s supper had to be warm, filling, and easy. I thought that some tasty finger foods were in order. Much to my surprise, there was a great deal at one of the nearby grocery stores on zucchini this week, which doesn’t usually happen quite this early. I am left to surmise that places further south that have actually progressed through spring are having a bumper crop this year. So I decided to make some baked Panko zucchini sticks, which the kids love but haven’t had since the end of last summer. I thawed some Costco chicken wings and threw them in the oven, and while the were baking I threw together the zucchini sticks. Since the two dishes are cooked at the same temperature, for the last 15 minutes or so of cooking time I transferred the chicken to the top rack and cooked the zucchini on the bottom. This way both dishes were done at exactly the same time and could be served right away.

I think I’m about done with winter, by the way. It’s only two weeks until Easter; will Santa have to ferry the Easter Bunny to us in his sleigh?

First Barbecue of 2019

It’s a big deal in our household every year when we get to use the barbecue for the first time. This spring it was a little later than usual because of snow accumulation that stubbornly refuses to melt. To access the grills I had to shovel about two feet of snow and ice off of the deck, and then wait another few days for the last of the ice to melt. There are still a few patches in the shade that I chipped away at today to free the tarps and covers.

As you can see, the snow level is still pretty darned high in the yard, higher than our raised deck in a number of places (although the deck is only raised at max two feet off of the ground). It’s all compressed ice and granular snow now, none of the fluffy, powdery snow that makes winter so much fun.

I was kind of hoping to get the wood pellet barbecue out and running yesterday, as it’s definitely the nicer of the two barbecues, but although it has been freed of the ice, its fuel is stored in the shed which is still behind a pretty significant drift. (I’m really looking forward to that area melting because it would also mean regaining access to our bikes.) So I had to use the gas barbecue, although I wasn’t sure how much fuel was left in the tank. Not much, as it turned out, but just enough to cook up a few hot dogs.

Nothing fancy about these hot dogs; they’re just Kirkland weiners on Old Mill buns. On my bun there’s also a squirt of Culinary Treasures Jalapeño Lime Aioli, which I think is the best hot dog and burger topping since ketchup.

Honestly, it was a lot more work to obtain access to the barbecue and test it out than it was to actually cook today’s supper. (Although the kids couldn’t have been happier.) But I don’t mind because hopefully this will lead to a whole lot of other meals cooked outdoors during the warmer months. I’m looking forward to barbecuing pork belly that doesn’t end up like charcoal. But I probably won’t be trying today, though, because it’s supposed to rain all day. Or possibly snow. Or both. Thus is spring.

Lactose-Free Grilled Cheese

I’ve felt 1000% better since cutting lactose out of my diet, but cheese is the thing that I miss the most. I can do with vegan milk substitutes most of the time, and there are a number of recipes where dairy really isn’t necessary at all, but cheese is one place that I haven’t found a good substitute. To that end, I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of lactose-free versions, and surprisingly the store and bargain brands seem to be catering most to my needs, which I didn’t expect because they’re also some of the cheapest.

Since the lactose-free pizza turned out so well, I thought that I should try another dish with the new-to-me PC Lactose Free cheese. This time I chose the Lactose-Free Triple Cheddar Shredded Cheese Blend, which I figured would be tangier than the mozzarella. And I have to say that it turned out perfectly. I don’t know what this brand is doing differently than the other lactose-free cheeses I have tried, but this cheese melts well and stays properly gooey as it cools (I find a lot of them end up with a plastic-like consistency unless they’ve melted just moments before). It was a real pleasure to eat and I know I’ll be back for more. And now I really want to try the triple cheddar in Mom’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese — also using lactose-free milk and margarine instead of butter, of course.

Of course, a good grilled cheese isn’t all about the cheese, although I’d say that it’s more than 50% of the quality of the final product. This grilled cheese was also made on fresh homemade bread — well, bread machine bread, but that still counts! Thing 1 made us some white bread (page 66, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)). We’ve really had to keep close tabs on the bread machine lately because the cold, dry weather has meant that we generally need up to a quarter cup more liquid per loaf. Basically, when the machine sounds like it’s struggling to knead, it’s time to add more liquid! This has meant that we’ve had to pay attention (and not go out) instead of the usual set-it-and-forget-it, but it’s worth it for easy, fresh bread.

Quick & Easy

I needed a quick and easy dinner recently, something that didn’t take a lot of prep because it was a busy weeknight and I was already running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  So I threw some sticky rice in the instant pot, steamed some spinach in the microwave, and fried up a couple of eggs per person.

I topped the steamed spinach with a sprinkle of furikake (which is one of my favourite easy ways to liven up some dull vegetables, by the way), and it was done!  It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was healthy, fast, and cheap.  I’d estimate that it was less than $2.00 per serving — and it could have been much cheaper if I’d gone with the less pricey basmati rice instead of sticky rice.  Sticky rice is probably the most expensive kind of rice available at the grocery stores around here, although I’m sure there are other, more expensive kinds available in specialty stores.

Instant Pot Ground Beef Stroganoff

I was perusing my cookbooks the other day for a quick meal that wouldn’t require a lengthy trip to a grocery store, and I decided on Ground Beef Stroganoff from The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook (Coco Morante, 2018). It’s very different than the stroganoff that I was taught to make way back when (I learned so long ago that I honest can’t remember), but it was still quite nice. The only alteration was that I made the dish using lactose-free sour cream instead of regular sour cream.

I really liked that this was truly a one-pot meal; the sweating of the onions and garlic, the browning of the meat, and the cooking of the noodles are all done in the Instant Pot. This is the kind of situation where the saute function really shines. And I really liked that the short pressure cooking time was just long enough to get the prep mess cleaned up and the table set. What a great meal for a busy weeknight!

A Taste of Lebanon

When I was a kid, my mother liked to tell me the story of how she and my father met some of their friends back in the day. You see, Mom and Dad didn’t go to university directly after finishing high school; Dad earned a college diploma first, and Mom worked for a while. This meant that they were a few years older (and hopefully more mature) than most of their classmates. Not only that, but they had gotten married before they started university as well, which was (and I think still is) extremely unusual. This combination of factors meant that they didn’t really fit in with a lot of their peers. However, there was an extremely small community of international students attending the university at the time, and a lot of them were also older, and few were even married couples. My parents naturally fell in with this group of students and they became great friends. This meant that my parents (who are both white and from not only small towns, but military small towns) learned a lot about a number of international cultures and foods when otherwise they probably wouldn’t have done so.

A number of their friends were from Lebanon, and one of them (or possible a few of them, I may be misremembering) wanted to help publish a Lebanese cookbook to be sold in Canada. It was to include a lot of dishes that were common knowledge in Lebanon, but were considered “unusual” and “exotic” at the time throughout most of Canada. My parents got to be the testers for a lot of these dishes, since the authors were trying to tailor the recipes to a wider audience. Always enthusiastic about trying new foods, my parents were very happy guinea pigs.

Now, I think that A Taste of Lebanon: Cooking Today the Lebanese Way (Mary Salloum, 1983) is the book that this eventually became. My father bought my mother a copy for Christmas the year it first came out. My parents used that book regularly until it was passed down to me a few years ago when I started to show a greater interest in cooking.

Imagine my surprise, then, to stumble upon a brand new copy of this book at the Mid-East Food Centre; I didn’t realize that it was still in print! Not bad, considering it’s been more than 35 years. A quick search online revealed that it’s also available online as well. I would definitely highly recommend getting a copy of this book if you’re interested in Lebanese cooking even a little bit. As a bonus, it is a Canadian publication, so it focuses on ingredients that are actually available here.

Finding this book still for sale prompted me to go back to my own copy and make one of the easiest of the recipes therein: hommous bi tahini, i.e. chick pea dip with sesame seed paste. You can buy a large variety of types of hummus in just about every chain grocery store these days, since it’s considered healthy and trendy now. But when I was a kid my parents had to make it for us. Actually, since it’s a no-cook recipe (all you need is a blender), it makes a lot of sense to make your own hummus if you can.

I based the prices here on the everyday listings found on the Superstore website; you could probably find a lot of these ingredients even cheaper if you shop the sales.

Suraj chick peas @ $0.88 for a 540mL can = $0.88
Alkanater tahina @ $8.58 for 907ml, 60ml used = $0.57
Rooster Garlic @ $0.58 for 3 bulbs with 10 cloves each, 1 clove used = $0.02
Windsor iodized table salt @ $1.28 for 1kg, 2.84g used = $0.004
No Name lemon juice @ $2.48 for 946ml, 60ml used = $0.16

Total cost for 1 batch = $1.634

Now compare that to the pre-made prices, which start at $3.47 for a comparable amount, and go up to about $5.00 for the fancier stuff. That’s a pretty big saving if you make it yourself, and it’ll add up if you’re the kind of person who eats it regularly!

Now, my favourite way to eat hummus is on fresh pita bread — and one of the next recipes on my list is pita bread itself, which is also in this cookbook. But I know a lot of health-conscious people prefer it as a veggie dip, as it’s great with sliced sweet peppers, carrots, or celery. (Of course, it’s vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free too — not that these dietary trends were even on the radar of this classic food.) A Taste of Lebanon recommends that hummus and pita be served with any fish recipe, baked kibbi, tabouli, barbequed chicken, or shish kabob. It is truly one of the most versatile dishes I have ever made.