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.

Shoyu Ramen

As I have said before, I am a huge fan of ramen. Not the instant stuff (although in a pinch, that stuff’s not half bad), but the fresh kind with real toppings. I fell in love with it in Japan, and I get out to Ginza Ramen whenever I can. But ever since my husband’s birthday dinner, now that I’ve learned how to make the good stuff at home, I probably eat it way more than I should. Not that my family minds, they’re just as big into it as I am.

I started off by using up the Shoyu base (page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016)). The recipe is also available for free on the author’s website at easypeasyjapanesey.com. I have since made a couple of batches of this broth and I still love how easy it is to make and how packed with flavour the broth turns out. If you’re like me and you like making things that you can just throw in the slow cooker for eleven hours, then you’ll love this recipe. I also like that this recipe makes up enough broth for eight or so servings, so I can freeze the excess for an easy meal later on.

As with many of my noodle soups, the toppings were less a pre-planned dish and more whatever we had in the fridge/freezer at the time. I included soft-boiled eggs, garlic shrimp, masago (capelin roe), and mussels cooked in white wine and garlic butter. The mussels were the kind that come in a vacuum-pack with the sauce and are meant to be cooked in the microwave or by dumping the whole pack in a pot of boiling water. I’m fully aware that this isn’t terribly classy, but it was delicious.

My second shoyu ramen was topped with soft-boiled eggs and garlic shrimp; these two ingredients are pretty common in the food I prepare because there are almost always eggs in the fridge and shrimp in the freezer. This time I also included baby bok choy and squares of nori (dried seaweed sheets).

I topped my third ramen with soft-boiled eggs, carrots, bok choy, and teriyaki chicken breast. I had never thought to combine teriyaki and ramen until I went to Umi Sushi Express in the food court of Rideau Center a while back, and I was pleasantly surprised when I ordered this dish. I mean, Umi Sushi is still fast food, and it’s nothing compared to the fantastic variety of ramen available in Japan, but it’s probably the best thing in the food court. Now if I can only find out what kind of hot sauce they used.

Birthday Dinner

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, and the tradition at our house is that you get to eat whatever you want (within reason) on your birthday. This often involves going out to a restaurant, but this year my husband asked me to make his dinner instead. His choice of dinner necessitated a special trip to T&T Supermarket for ingredients, which was, as usual, an event in itself. Every time we go, we have a meal in the cafeteria, and then the kids have to check out all of the samples and go watch the live fish and seafood in their tanks. We also have to peruse the produce and packaged goods sections for food we’ve never tried before, and for ingredients for new recipes we’d like to try. There is no such thing as a quick trip to T&T with my family.

The main meal that my husband requested was California Ramen from page 86 of Simply Ramen (Amy Kimoto-Khan of easypeasyjapanesey.com, 2016). My copy of the book was actually a birthday gift to me from my husband a few months back, and I feel this may have been a not-so-subtle hint on his part. This dish is based California roll sushi, with toppings of avocado, cucumber, and crab. The recipe recommends fresh Dungeness crab, but I had never cooked live crab before, and I have to admit that I chickened out and used frozen crab instead. I distributed one package of frozen crab meat out around our family of four, but I admit that I probably could have used half as much crab and been just as happy. I also ended up using soft-boiled eggs instead of the marinated half-cooked eggs recommended, mostly because I misread the directions and didn’t realize they had to start marinading two days before the dish was to be made. Whoops.

The standout flavour of this dish, though, was the shoyu base broth. I’d never made it before, but it was both delicious and very simple. It packed a huge amount of flavour and tasty aroma into what I would have thought is just another slow-cooker broth. The recipe calls for dashi granules and soy sauce (both of which are high in sodium) and salt, but I had to take into account my family’s tastes. I left the salt out, and I am glad I did. The broth was just fine without it. In addition to the broth, I ended up with a lovely cooked chicken and melt-in-your-mouth oxtail (both of which are supposed to be discarded after being strained out of the base), so that’s two meals in one, really. All in all, it was a 10/10 recipe, and I will definitely make it again after I use up the leftovers that I froze! Now I want to try all of the bases in this book, especially the tonkotsu — my absolute favourite when I go to a ramen restaurant.

Of course, no birthday in our house is complete without dessert, and as my husband is not a big fan of sweet dishes, I made him up a fresh reduced-sugar blueberry pie. I cut down the sugar from the recipe by a third, but the blueberries were so sweet by themselves that I could probably have reduced it by a half or more. Once again, I used the Purity Pastry crust from page 73 of the Purity Cookbook (2001 edition), and the fresh fruit pie filling formula on page 228 of The Canadian Living Cookbook by Carol Ferguson (1987). I made a latticework crust, which turned out pretty well considering that a) it was only my second time making one, and b) Thing 2 somehow managed to step on the edge of uncooked pie while I was showing it to her, and I had to totally reassemble it. If you’re pondering the logistics of that, be aware that there was a stool involved so she could see what I was working on at the counter, and that the pie’s innards all fell out onto a clean baking sheet.

As many of my pies do, the blueberry one did not stand up well to a serving knife… It kind of crumbled and fell apart. I figure that’s not so bad because that means that the crust is nice and flaky. And yes, I did keep thinking of The Frantics’ A Piece of Pie while I was making this dessert. “Great big blueberries!”

Bread and Soup

I wasn’t feeling super-adventurous yesterday, so I stuck with a few recipes that I knew generally go well. First was a poppy seed loaf (Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), page 138). Much to my surprise, my husband, who generally doesn’t cook much, actually is getting into this whole breadmaker thing; he whipped up this loaf a couple of times before I tried the recipe myself. This loaf is light and fluffy, but the seeds add a lovely crunch, and the crust is golden and crispy even when cooked on the “light crust” setting.

One thing we’ve learned about cooking from this book is that my bread machine (the Black & Decker All-In-One Deluxe Horizontal Breadmaker) is really a medium-sized machine according to this book, while I had thought it was a large. A medium-sized machine is defined as ones that “make loaves using 450-500g/1lb 2oz/4-4 1/2 cups of flour” (page 7, Bread Machine). Now, you see, I would have known that if I’d been paying enough attention, but for some reason I assumed my machine had a larger capacity than it does, and I directed my husband to make the largest version of the white bread recipe (page 66) for his first try at breadmaker baking. Well, while the bread was rising it expanded so much that it pushed the lid open and the dough started oozing out of the bread machine. My husband punched the dough down and cut some of it out, and that seemed to be the solution until the start of the baking cycle, when the dough pushed the lid open again once the temperature increased. At that point we were worried that the dough might continue to grow and slide down the side of the pan and onto the heating element, possibly resulting in a fire. So my husband rescued the dough and I prepped two small loaf pans, and we finished up the bread in the oven. Because the bread had started to cook a little in the breadmaker, the consistency was a little off, but it was still edible (and a darn sight better than some store-bought bread I have tried). Since this fun episode, we’ve been using the recipe for a medium-sized bread machine and we have yet to have any problems.

Yesterday I also went back to my old standby of udon noodle soup for dinner, which always uses the same technique but ends up slightly different every time. I used homemade chicken broth seasoned with a dash of soy sauce and a tiny bit of dashi granules. The toppings were soft-boiled egg, precooked shrimp, raw enoki mushrooms, steamed bok choy, steamed carrots, nori, seasoned capelin caviar, and raw chopped green onions. The rest of my family also had fish balls in their soup, but I’m not a huge fan.

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!

New Noodles

I love my noodle dishes, so I’ve been trying to expand my horizons by trying out some of the more interesting types of noodles that I can find. The most recent ones that caught my attention were the King Soba noodles that I stumbled upon at my local Bulk Barn. King Soba specializes in wheat- and gluten-free products, which is luckily not a major concern in our house as none of us have a wheat allergy or celiac disease, but I know that this is of a great deal of concern to some. My greatest concern when it comes to noodles are: a) do they cook up well, and b) do they taste good?


Sesame chicken with soft-boiled eggs and black rice noodles


Sesame chicken with soft-boiled eggs and black rice noodles

The first kind I tried was Organic Black Rice Noodles ($4.29CAD/250g). They weren’t really a true black, but actually a really dark purple, much to my (and my kids’) delight. I followed the package directions, and the noodles cooked up perfectly. They were tasty too, with a slightly nutty flavour. I served them with my take on sesame chicken — basically chopped chicken thighs fried up with a couple of diced cloves of garlic, a drizzle of sesame oil, and a generous sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Of course, I also included some soft-boiled eggs, which are a staple in our household.


Beef and vegetable soup with soft-boiled eggs and brown rice & wakame noodles


Beef and vegetable soup with soft-boiled eggs and brown rice & wakame noodles

The second type I tried was Organic Brown Rice & Wakame Noodles ($3.99CAD/250g). Despite being a darker colour in the package, they cooked up to a very light green. After the fabulous colour of the black rice noodles, the intensity was slightly disappointing. However, they tasted just fine, although the subtlety of the wakame flavour was lost on me. These noodles got a thumbs-up from me and the family anyway. I served them in a beef broth soup flavoured with a dash of Memmi, with a whole bunch of chopped vegetables (carrots, asparagus, bok choy, celery, enoki mushrooms) and a bit of beef thrown in. Oh, and some more soft-boiled eggs, of course.

I think that my only complaint about both of the types of King Soba noodles that I tried was that they really, really wanted to stick together. While this didn’t affect the flavour at all, this made them very difficult to eat, especially for my children, who are not terribly adept with chopsticks yet. Should I buy them again (and I probably will), I will add a drizzle of oil to the cooking water and see if it solves the problem.

Slow Cooker Clam Chowder Recipe with Dairy-Free Options

I’m taking a break today from ComicCon recap to post a recipe that a few people have asked for: my slow cooker clam chowder. I developed this recipe for two reasons: 1) I love dairy, but it doesn’t love me back, so if I want clam chowder I have to make it for myself with a dairy substitute, and 2) I had packages of frozen clams in my freezer that I’d bought on sale and I had no idea what I wanted to do with them. I Googled for ideas, and for the most part the consensus seemed to be that frozen clams are gross and tough, so don’t buy them in the first place. Well, in the past I’ve learned that simmering tough cuts of meat in liquid for a really long time can make just about anything palatable, and that technique works well with cheap frozen clams. As a bonus, all of the ingredients can be prepped the night before, and then most of them are thrown into the slow cooker as you get ready for work. This chowder really only needs attention in the last hour or so, and even then not much.

A note regarding dietary requirements: I make my clam chowder dairy-free using almond milk, and nobody can tell the difference. If you’re allergic to nuts, try soy milk or rice milk instead. If you prefer dairy, use 2% milk. Also, clam chowder can’t really be made vegetarian or vegan — all you’d be left with is potato soup (which can be good, but is no longer clam chowder). However, if you don’t eat pork, turkey bacon may be substituted, although it will change the flavour somewhat.


Slow cooker clam chowder, served here with microwave oatmeal wheat bread and corn on the cob.

Slow Cooker Clam Chowder (Dairy-Free)
Serves 8-10
Total cooking time: 8 hours

Thaw as per package directions:
2 packages of frozen clams (340g each)
In a frying pan, cook until crispy:
1 package reduced-salt bacon (375g package)
Place cooked bacon on a plate that is covered with a few pieces of paper towel; dab the bacon lightly to remove excess grease.
In the frying pan, reserve:
1 Tbsp bacon grease
Discard any additional bacon grease. In pan in which the bacon was cooked, in reserved grease, fry gently until soft and lightly browned:
2 yellow onions (approx 175g)
While onions are frying, chop into bite-sized pieces:
bacon cooked in previous steps
2 cups celery (approx 225g)
Peel and chop into bite-sized pieces:
6 cups white-fleshed potatoes (approx 1100g)
Peel and mince:
1 clove garlic
When onions are done cooking, add them and all previous ingredients to slow cooker. In addition, add:
6 bottles clam juice (236mL each)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh thyme*
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp dried parsley
Cook in slow cooker for 7hrs on high, until potatoes are tender**.
In a large measuring cup or mixing bowl, whisk together:
4 cups almond OR soy OR rice OR 2% milk
4 Tbsp corn starch
Stir in the milk and corn starch into the mixture in the slow cooker. Cook until it reaches the desired thickness, about 1 additional hour.
I serve this soup immediately and freeze the leftovers; it also refrigerates well. If you are planning on serving this at a gathering, it can be prepared in advance and reheated immediately prior to serving.

*1/2 tsp dried thyme may be substituted for fresh.
**If you have an older slow cooker, you may need to adjust cooking times, as older slow cookers (pre-1980 or so) do not get as hot. If you’ve cooked it for the required time and the potatoes still aren’t tender, the recipe may be finished on the stove, being careful not to boil or scald the liquid.