First Bake of the Christmas Season

I wanted to spend today working on my last-minute costume, but the weather has started to change for the colder, and that meant that I had to make some changes to my house. The Weather Network is calling for rain, freezing rain, and snow over the weekend, so I had to be prepared. First, I had to put up the Christmas lights, since climbing on a ladder in the ice and snow is not a good idea.

Second, I had to clean the garage. I know it may not look like much, but it took me the rest of the day to get my garage this tidy. I really prefer to park under a roof in the winter; the car starts easier, it takes less time to get out the door because I don’t have brush/scrape off snow/ice, and it’s just generally better for the longevity of the vehicle. In warmer weather, however, my garage becomes my workshop-slash-storage-space, and it becomes cluttered and messy, and there’s no way you can get a car in there for about six months. So every fall I have to give it a good clean, and this year I’d let it get bad enough that it took me most of the day.

We still had to eat, of course, so I kept in the same mind-set as yesterday’s Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day — this having nothing to do with the fact that I still hadn’t gone to the grocery store, of course. I made grilled cheese for the family using yesterday’s Light Rye and Caraway Bread (page 75, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)) and leftover cheese from the cheese-and-crackers tray from the Halloween party, which I think was mostly cheddar and Havarti, possibly Gouda. Sadly, there was just toast for me, since I have yet to find a non-dairy cheese that I actually like. Alongside the sandwiches I served cream of carrot soup that I had made up around Easter and frozen.

This weekend there is an annual fundraiser to send the area Pathfinders on an excursion, for which the younger girls (Sparks, Brownies and Guides) help out. The fundraiser is a holiday tea held at a local church. Parents supply beverages and baked goods, the Pathfinders organize and run the kitchen, the Guides serve the hot drinks, the Brownies serve cold drinks and treats, and the little Sparks just serve treats. The younger girls only work in one-hour shifts and are always given the chance to sit down and have tea and treats afterwards, so they love participating in this fundraiser. Plus, it makes them feel really grown up.

Thing 1 helped me choose and bake the treats we’ll be providing, which after a perusal of my cookbooks Thing 1 proclaimed had to be brownies-without-the-capital-B. She picked the recipe from Cookies: Recipes for Gifting & Sharing (Publications International Ltd., 2016), the classic brownies on page 35. Other than taking longer to bake than the directions specified, they went off without a hitch! Of course, I had to try one of the brownies before I packaged them to drop off tonight, and they’re rich and chocolatey soft, firm on the outside with a soft, moist (but not under-cooked) center. I am definitely pleased with this recipe, and not only because it’s so easy! My only qualm is that it has a bit of dairy inside, so maybe in the future I’ll be able to come up with a non-dairy version.

Winter is Coming

Although I am much better, my kids are still fighting their colds. Last night I decided to go the more traditional route, dinner-wise, in an attempt to help them get well. I don’t know that it actually helped, but it didn’t hurt at any rate, and it was pretty tasty.

I made up a batch of chicken noodle soup based roughly on the recipe on page 125 of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker). I added carrots and rosemary mostly because it’s what I happened to have around the house. I served the soup alongside fresh-baked Poppy Seed Loaf (page 138, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002)) with avocado slices on top. Unlike me, the rest of the family ate their bread with butter and scooped the avocado out of the skins directly with a little bit of salad dressing on top.

Last night ended up involving a lot more food prep than just supper, though. The forecast called for the temperature to drop precipitously overnight to a low of -10°C (14°F) with a windchill of -20°C (-4°F). I had left a few frost-hardy plants in the garden after the main harvest, but I knew that cold this intense would kill them. So I had to bring in two good-sized bunches of celery, which I washed and trimmed the leaves off of, then put in a jug of water in the fridge for use over the next week or so.

I had a whole mess of Swiss chard to bring in — believe it or not, this was all from only two bunches!

I washed it all, then chopped the stems into bite-sized pieces, which I bagged to freeze in single-use packages over the winter in soups, stews, stir-fries and casseroles. The leaves don’t freeze nearly so well, so they’re still drying off in my sink while I figure out what to do with that much chard. A friend suggested a soup, but I don’t have a recipe yet.

My uncarved Halloween pumpkins had to come inside; freezing isn’t terribly hard on them as a general rule, especially if you’re just going to cook them, but a frozen-solid gourd is really difficult to prepare. Heck, it would take an axe or a sledgehammer just to get through it!

I also brought in the last of my summer herbs so they didn’t get frostbitten (along with half a case of Coke that I’d been cooling outdoors since the Halloween party; cool fall temperatures mean that the outdoors makes a great refrigerator for non-perishables). There are two pots of lavender, one of mint, one of rosemary, and one of parsley. Some of them I will eventually dry, others I will preserve (I have an interesting recipe for parsley jelly I want to try). They’d survive just fine in the house all winter, but the pots are quite large and take up my whole patio window. I think I will just plant new herbs in the spring and not deal with the hassle.

Last of the Leftovers

I forgot to post about this year’s Halloween costumes, probably because I didn’t make anything new. Thing 1, Thing 2, and I stuck with our Pokémon Go costumes from ComicCon, because I’ll be darned if I put in all that work for us only to wear the costumes once. That’s the deal that I made with my girls when I started making them Con costumes: their costumes have to be based on something that they like well enough to want to wear again almost half a year later. So given that the majority of Halloween activities happen after dark, the best photos of their costumes were taken back in May.


Photo by Richard Dufault Photography.

For Heroes & Villains, which is an annual geeky Halloween party around here, I reused my Femme Joker costume. I added a hat (which is really more purple than blue), a cane, and I took the makeup from almost-jolly Cesar-Romero-like paint, to something a little more sinister, not quite Heath-Ledger-like but closer.

I think I am almost done the Halloween party leftovers, too, except for the cookies. Last night I made grilled cheese for the family dinner, using Light Rye and Caraway Bread (page 75 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter (2002)) and old Balderson cheddar, with a side of sliced avocado.

For me, since I can’t have the cheese, I made toast out of the bread, and served it alongside Montreal smoked meat and a salad with iceberg lettuce, avocado, and Woolwich Dairy Soft Unripened Goat Cheese Crumbles. It’s a little bit healthier than what we’ve been eating all week, I think! Now if only I can get the temptation of the mini chocolate bars out of the house, things will soon get back to normal.

Warm, Hearty Suppers for Chilly Days

With my backlog of canning to do and a whole lot of events, parties, and decorating happening before Hallowe’en, I haven’t been making too many complicated meals lately. Now that the temperature has finally dropped (last night it dipped below freezing), that means that I’ve been trying to make hearty suppers that don’t take too much advanced preparation.


Sloppy Joes with a side of acorn squash with butter and brown sugar.

Believe it or not, I’d never made Sloppy Joes before. It’s just not something we ever ate as a family. The closest we’d get would be open- or closed-faced sandwiches of chopped up bits of leftover beef, pork, or chicken, smothered in leftover gravy. But I’d taken the Amish Community Cookbook (2017) out of the library, and I wanted to try at least one recipe from it before I had to return it. I didn’t think that Sloppy Joes were a particularly Amish dish, but there was an uncomplicated recipe on page 63, so I gave it a shot. It was really good! I had my parents over for dinner and they liked it too. My mom pointed out that the sauce is actually a lot like the one she uses for slow-cooker pulled pork, and I have to agree (keeping in mind that I love pulled pork too).


Curry butternut soup with Dad’s biscuits.

The other night I needed something I could put together quickly, so I dug through my freezer and thawed out a couple of containers of curry butternut squash soup. I’m pretty sure that my mom made this dish and shared it with me, because I certainly don’t remember making it. The label was dated December 2016, though, so it might just be time making me forget. My husband pointed out that the labels were in his writing and the containers were our own, which indicates that I’d made the soup, but I think it’s just as plausible that I had to return my mom’s original container. Either way, I don’t know what the recipe was for this one (another one of those pre-blog things), but it was perfect for a cold fall evening. The biscuits I served alongside were Dad’s Biscuits, which I whipped up in about the same amount of time it took to thaw the soup on the stove.

Since we already had some steaming fresh biscuits, I cracked open the jar of mirabelle plum jam that my friend made from the fruit of her neighbour’s plum tree. I spread the jam generously on biscuits as dessert. My mouth is watering just thinking about that it. My friend was a little worried about the set, thinking that it would be a little bit too runny, but I thought it was perfect.


Leftover chicken ramen.

Despite the flowers (a hostess gift from my honorary aunt), this dish was anything but fancy. I made up some ramen using turkey broth (made from the bones of the Thanksgiving turkey) flavoured with a dash of Memmi Noodle Soup Base. I topped the noodles with leftover rotisserie chicken, soft-boiled eggs, and steamed carrots. My family added masago (capelin roe) and dried shrimp to their tastes. It was hearty, filling, and good for what ails you — especially if what ails you is the cold that seems to be going around right now. I’ve always found that steamy bowls of soup help clear out the sinuses.

Fish Sandwich & Side Salad

Dinner last night was a fresh and summery breaded cod sandwich served with a spinach and goat cheese salad. I’d love to say that this was due to a fantastic advanced planning, but it was mostly because I had picked up both the fish and the salad ingredients at 50% off because they needed to be eaten soon. Also, I’d been feeling like a fast food fish burger, but I thought I could manage something better at home.

The cod was dipped in egg, then in a combination of dried dill and panko (Japanese bread crumbs), then lightly fried in a bit of olive oil. The bread was the lightly toasted basic white bread on page 14 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999). For a bit of additional flavour, I spread President’s Choice tartar lightly on one half of the bread, and for crunch I added some chopped romaine lettuce. This made for a lovely light sandwich that nonetheless was quite filling.

The salad is based on one that I love to buy pre-made at the grocery store (when it’s on sale, of course), which is really easy to make at home. The base is baby spinach, which it topped with quartered strawberries, drained canned mandarin slices (the kind in pear juice, not syrup), sliced cucumbers, and blanched, sliced almonds. My favourite cheese for this salad is Woolwich Dairy Soft Unripened Goat Cheese Crumbles, which are much milder and creamier than most other goat cheeses I’ve tried. As a bonus, goat cheese doesn’t seem to upset my stomach, so yay for dairy I can actually eat!

Super Rapid Italian Herb Bread

I have been testing out the recipes for my breadmaker recently, because I want to move on from recipes in the instruction manual to the cookbook Canada’s Best Bread Machine Baking Recipes (Donna Washburn & Heather Butt, 1999) that I picked up for a song second-hand. I have a Black & Decker All-In-One Deluxe Horizontal Breadmaker, and I feel it needs to be put through its paces before I start experimenting. To that end, I tried out the recipe for Super-Rapid Basic White bread that can be found on page 21 of the manual.

Physically, it turned out well; it was shaped properly, and it smelled great. However, I wasn’t terribly satisfied with the texture. I found this bread to be very dense, with few pockets created by air bubbles. I think that this is because of the super rapid bake function, which makes a loaf of bread in just over an hour (the regular loaves take about four hours). It just didn’t give the bread the chance to rise and get fluffy like a longer rising period will do. I will have to make a few more of the super rapid bake recipes to see if my theory is correct.

That being said, the bread was definitely edible. It reminded me of the cheap white bread loaves that are available at the grocery store, albeit with more flavour from the herbs. It toasted up nicely and went well in sandwiches and alongside sunny-side-up eggs.

I discovered that the denseness of the bread made for particularly good French toast. It soaked in the eggs without falling apart, which made it much easier to cook up than a lighter loaf. The herbs in the bread also went surprisingly well with butter and syrup, probably because it was only lightly flavoured. I think I would make this recipe again, but only if I had an end dish in mind in which to use the bread, not to eat it on its own. I have a feeling it would also make a lovely grilled cheese.