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.

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.