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.

Quick Dinners

With ComicCon prep taking over my life, I have been resorting to quick, improvised dinners to feed my family lately. Here are a few of them:

A quick trip to the grocery store yielded a refrigerated rotisserie chicken and cheese-and-spinach-stuffed pasta, both at 50% off. I reheated the chicken in the oven; boiled & drained the pasta and added some cream cheese, sour cream, and cooked spinach; and peeled & chopped a few carrots which I boiled in the microwave. Prep time for this meal was twenty minutes at most, leaving me more time to work on my costumes.


Leftover soup with bok choy and rice.

One of my favourite things to do lately is throw leftover vegetables and/or meat into some home-made broth (of which I have copious amounts in the freezer), add a bit of leftover rice or small pasta, and then boil it all together for a few minutes. With a bit of salt and pepper, this becomes a healthy soup that takes only about ten minutes to prepare.

At the kids’ request, I did make up rice bowls this week, but of a simplified kind. While the rice was cooking, I peeled and nuked the carrots, chopped and microwaved the bok choy, and cooked up some frozen corn. I also grilled the shrimp — I love shrimp when I am short of time because it takes so little time to cook — and scooped out some avocado. No special shopping or all of the burners used this time for a rice bowl meal! I just used whatever I had in the fridge, freezer or pantry. It took about 35 minutes to make this meal, including prep work. Not bad for something so fresh and tasty.

Noodle Soup

I’ve been to Japan twice so far: once in high school on an exchange program, and once in my twenties to tour with a friend. I returned from my trips with an absolute love of Japanese food. Tea ceremonies, sushi, sukiyaki, fast food, vending-machine treats: I tried everything that was put in front of me. Sure, I didn’t like 100% of it, but it was a near thing. I would eat a heck of a lot more Japanese food back here in Canada if it weren’t so expensive — and if a greater variety of dishes would cross the Pacific.


Lunch at a restaurant in Kyoto, Japan: torikatsu (breaded & deep-fried chicken cutlet) or tonkatsu (the same thing, but made with pork cutlet instead) on egg and rice; a bowl of udon soup with seaweed, green onions and kamaboko (fish cake); and two types of pickles.

One of my favourite things about eating in Japan was all of the different types of noodle dishes. My horizons really expanded from the macaroni, spaghetti, and lasagna were more that I was familiar with. In Japan, they fried their noodles, they put them in hot and cold soup, they served them with every kind of topping they could think of. Of course, now there is a lot more variety in how people use noodles in Canada; there’s a Vietnamese pho restaurant in every neighborhood, ramen is making inroads into the culinary scene, and udon is on the menu at most Asian fusion restaurants. Not to mention that you can finally get Asian noodles that aren’t instant ramen at most grocery stores. But before I went to Japan the first time, pasta that wasn’t wheat-based and served Italian- or Italian-American style was rare around here.


Hakata tonkotsu ramen (pork belly, shiitake mushroom, bamboo shoot, scallion, nori, soft-boiled egg, pork broth, ramen noodles) from Ottawa restaurant Ginza. Seriously the best ramen I have had outside of Japan.

Now I make my own noodle soup. It’s Japanese-inspired, but it’s definitely not authentic. I mean, I sometimes use turkey broth, and turkey is a meat that just isn’t used in Japan. I use locally-grown produce and meat when I can, but I also include imported spices, sauces, and canned/preserved goods when I have the opportunity. Asian fusion is the best description I can come up with, although it sounds kind of pretentious for my style of cooking. Hodgepodge, perhaps?


Prepping for noodle soup at my house. Items include frozen udon noodles, dried shrimp, sushi nori, enoki mushrooms, parboiled lotus root, thinly-sliced beef (pour boiling broth on this to cook), soft-boiled eggs, shrimp, beef balls, and baby bok choy. All ingredients have been precooked as necessary.

I don’t so much have a recipe as I have a process. First, I make the broth. Sure, I could use commercially-made broth, but I like to make my own from the bones saved from meat I’ve previously prepared. I store bones in the freezer until I have enough, then I put them (and sometimes cloves of garlic and/or dried mushrooms) in the crock pot. I fill the pot the rest of the way with water, and then I let it simmer for two days, replenishing the water as it goes down. Then I strain out all the solids, then refrigerate the broth so I can skim the fat off of the top. Of course, this makes much more broth than I can use at one sitting, but it freezes well, which means I don’t have to make the broth from scratch every time. Immediately before using the broth, I will season it with a dash of soy sauce and a tiny bit of instant dashi, although since that stuff goes really far, I don’t need much! I can use the unseasoned broth for a greater variety of dishes, so I only season as much broth as I plan to use that day.


Right before eating home-made udon. Thing 1 just couldn’t wait to sit down and dig in. The bowls on the left are smaller for the kids, and a lower noodle to broth ratio.

Then I prepare all of my toppings. I will throw almost anything into a bowl of noodle soup, so long as it’s the kind of thing that stands up well to being boiled. Most vegetables go well, as do most meats. Fruits and squash are generally too fragile. Cleaning out the fridge of leftovers is perfectly fine, since the toppings have to be precooked anyway, and will be warmed up by pouring broth over them.

Once I have all of my toppings cooked (I do a lot of it in the microwave, but in warmer seasons using the barbecue adds a lovely flavour), I bring my broth back up to a boil and separately I cook up the noodles accoring to package directions. I prefer frozen udon, but it can be any kind of long Asian noodle, really. Ramen or vermicelli are great too. Then into each bowl I put a base layer of noodles, then the toppings, and then I pour the broth over top. Last but not least I like to add a square of sushi nori when I have it — this has to be done last minute because it wilts so fast.

Here are some examples of noodle soups that I have cooked over the years. If this inspires you to try to make a noodle soup yourself, do let me know — and show me a photo! I love seeing what other people do with my recipes and tutorials.


Udon soup with beef broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, green onions, rare beef, enoki mushrooms, lotus root, shiitake mushrooms, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with chicken broth, nori, shrimp, dried shrimp, soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with chicken broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, enoki mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, chicken, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with beef broth, hard boiled eggs, dried shrimp, enoki mushrooms, chicken, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with pork broth, nori, rare beef, soft-boiled eggs and furikake.


Late-night-snack udon soup with chicken broth, nori, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, and green onions.


Udon soup with turkey broth, nori, baby bok choy, shrimp, dried shrimp, soft-boiled eggs, and medium-rare beef.


Udon soup with pork broth, soft-boiled eggs, lotus root, green onions, enoki mushrooms, shrimp, celery, and chicken balls.


Udon soup with pork broth, baby bok choy, shrimp, dried shrimp, well-done beef, enoki mushrooms and soft-boiled eggs.


Udon soup with turkey broth, nori, rare beef, soft-boiled eggs, dried shrimp, turkey, enoki mushrooms, and baby bok choy.


Udon soup with turkey broth, barbecued tiger shrimp, baby bok choy, hard boiled eggs, masago (seasoned capelin caviar), dried shrimp, pea shoots, enoki mushrooms, and barbecued beef steak.

Simple Suppers

With ComicCon deadlines looming, I’ve been spending every spare moment working on costumes. That means that I have been making meals that can be thrown together out of what is in my fridge, freezer, and pantry. There just isn’t time to run back and forth to different grocery stores and specialty shops! I’ve also been picking meals with a short prep/cook time.


Thing 1 and Thing 2 showing off the mini loaves that they helped me make.

On Saturday I ran out of bread, so I had to make more. Now that I have the hang of the basics, I don’t find that baking bread takes much time at all. I mean, it takes time to proof, but that’s time I can spend on other things. This bread was supposed to be loaves of Nan’s pan rolls, but after I started mixing I discovered that I was at the very end of my all-purpose white flour. No problem, I’ll use half whole wheat, I thought! No luck, I was down to the last dregs of that as well. So I just combined what I had left of both of those flours with some multigrain flour, and promised myself that I’d make a grocery run soon.

I’m happy to say that they bread turned out quite nicely despite my improvisations; it was nice and fluffy, but also quite healthy due to being predominantly whole wheat and multigrain flour. The kids were very pleased with the mini loaves that they shaped in tiny pans that I found at the dollar store. Of course, those were the first bits of bread from this batch that were eaten.

Saturday dinner incorporated that fresh-made bread into a breakfast for dinner kind of meal. Eggs over hard (they were supposed to be over easy, but the cook usually ends up eating the mistakes), pork breakfast sausages, navel orange pieces, and a strawberry banana smoothie.

Last night’s dinner also used the bread, which by this time was a couple of days old, but still toasted up well. I made plain grilled cheese and served it with some quickly-thrown-together soup of turkey broth, carrots, and rice, all served with a side of (slightly-massacred) orange.

Looking back at these dishes, I realize that I need to find an additional go-to fruit or veggie to pair with quick dinners, or my family will soon become heartily sick of oranges.

Cream of Carrot Soup Recipe

I took a cooking class back in high school. It wasn’t Home Economics or Family Studies; it was a week-long course at the local college that was meant to teach us the most basic techniques of the professional chef. It was most likely offered in the hopes that the course would catch the attention of at least a few of us, and that we would return after graduation for the culinary program. We learned how to make fresh pasta, French vanilla ice cream, chocolate truffles… I have very fond memories of that class, and not just because I got to spend a week away from home.

One of the things the chef was insistent about was that we learn how to use knives properly. Well, one knife. The chef worked almost exclusively with what seemed to me to be an intimidatingly huge chef’s knife. He insisted that we learn the proper techniques of handling this knife (which I totally approve of), and then we spent the rest of one day of a five-day program chopping different kinds of vegetables. I know how important knife work is to a chef, but when the majority of a group of sixteen-year-olds aren’t likely to ever step into another professional kitchen, chopping veggies all day may not be the best way to hold their attention. However, by the end of the course I did learn to be slightly less afraid of the large knife. (Until then, I usually used a paring knife at home.)

At the end of the knife-work day, the dish that we were expected to prepare the chef’s version of cream of carrot soup. I really love the recipe, so I kept my copy and have been tweaking it ever since. So long as you skip the optional ingredients, my version is dairy-free, tree-nut and peanut free, gluten-free, and can be made vegetarian/vegan if vegetable stock is used instead of chicken stock. It’s also extremely healthy! It’s also slightly sweet, and not from adding sugar but from sweating the vegetables before boiling them — perfect for serving to picky eaters.

I make my cream of carrot soup in large quantities because it freezes really well, but if you prefer your soup fresh, I’d recommend halving or quartering the recipe. As written, it can be made using a 2.27kg (5lb) bag of carrots, which results in about 1.5kg after peeling and slicing. I like using Naturally Imperfect carrots, which are cheaper because they’re not visually perfect, but they taste just as good. Honestly, it’s all going through the blender anyway.

Cream of Carrot Soup
Yields about 7 litres
All weights indicated are measured after peeling and chopping.

Peel and dice (or slice in a food processor):
1.5kg carrots
Peel and dice:
350g yellow onions
Into a deep, heavy-bottomed stock pot pour:
1 cup olive oil
Heat the oil slowly on medium-low heat. Add the carrots and onions to the oil. Sweat the vegetables until the onions are translucent and the carrots are about half-cooked. Stir often. Do not let the vegetables brown.
Peel and dice:
600g potatoes (white- or yellow-fleshed)
Add the potatoes to the pot, and then add:
4.5L reduced-sodium chicken broth*
Bring contents of pot to a boil. Simmer until all vegetables are tender.
Puree the soup in batches using a blender or food processor. Exercise extra caution when pureeing as the soup will be hot! Fill the jar/bowl at most 2/3 full, as the soup will fly up and may dislodge the lid of the blender/food processor. As an extra precaution, you may drape a dish towel over the top of the machine and hold the lid down gently with one hand. (Do not press down too forcefully or the center section of a blender may fall into the jar — especially if the blender has a flexible lid.)
Once all of the soup has been pureed, return it to the stock pot. Gently bring the soup back to a simmer.
Season to taste with:
salt
white pepper
Serve in a bowl or soup dish.
Optionally, at serving time finish each bowl with:
2 Tbsp hot cream or 1 Tbsp cold sour cream
Garnish each bowl with:
1 sprig of parsley or 1 small basil leaf

*Chicken broth may be replaced an equal amount of vegetable broth, or homemade chicken broth, or a mix of 2.25L water and 2.25L stock made from chicken bouillon.

Saint Patrick’s Day Dinner

This past Friday was Saint Patrick‚Äôs Day, and although I baked Guinness Yeast Bread to celebrate, I also needed to plan something for dinner. I thought a hearty Irish stew might be nice. I went through my cookbooks for something appropriate, but I didn’t find anything quite right. I searched the Internet and found a great recipe: Beef and Guinness Stew by Chef John at Allrecipes.com.

It didn’t have nearly as much broth as the stews I’m used to; it was really more like meat and gravy than a stew. That being said, it was absolutely delicious, and went well served atop mashed potatoes. Everyone in my house finished theirs down to the last drop, which is quite the compliment. (Trying to find something that everyone in this house likes is quite challenging.) I mean, it starts with bacon, and the next step is to fry the beef in the bacon fat. There’s your flavour right there. I would definitely make this stew again, probably next time beef roasts go on sale.

I also figured that a special occasion dinner required dessert. I made the cinnamon roll variation of my Dad’s Biscuits recipe. They’re not really Irish, I guess (from what I’ve read, cinnamon rolls were invented in Sweden), but at least the base of the recipe is baking soda biscuits, which is kind of like soda bread… Right? Ah well, there’s no rule that says I have to stick to a theme. Because of the extra sugar in the cinnamon rolls, they brown up very quickly, so don’t expect them to be as light-coloured as the original biscuits. They’re delicious warm from the oven, spread with a dollop of butter or margarine. If you can’t get them fresh, zap them in the microwave for 15 seconds or so to warm them, then butter.