Comfort Food for a Sick Family

The cold/flu that flattened our family for a good three weeks seemed to have gone away, but over the last few days it reared its nasty head again, albeit in a more subdued form. Thing 1 ended up home with a fever, while at the same time Thing 2 has a nasty, chesty cough. I am not immune, and still have sinus congestion and pressure issues. This means that, on our least-energetic days, we all want comfort food, and I haven’t felt up to cooking anything complicated.

This is where chicken noodle soup came in the other day. I didn’t even have to go out to get the ingredients! I had homemade broth in the freezer (I try to always keep it stocked), along with some chicken thighs that I baked. Then I boiled up some ditali noodles, threw them in a pot with half of the broth and half of the chicken, and there was chicken noodle soup for the family. Earlier in the day I also managed to throw on a loaf of herb-free Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread (it’s become my go-to loaf for a nice, light white bread), so we had fresh bread to go with the soup.

Now, you may have noticed that I only used half of the broth and chicken, and that was so that I would have leftovers. Chicken noodle soup doesn’t generally refrigerate well because the noodles swell up and absorb most/all of the liquid over time. Instead, I refrigerated the ingredients separately, and last night I threw them all in a pot with a half of a cup of rice and simmered it all together until the rice was cooked (about 20 minutes).

It’s nothing fancy, but culturally our first go-to around here is chicken noodle soup when we’re not feeling well. If chicken noodle soup isn’t available, something bland, nutritious, and warm is the next option on the list. It seems to have worked this time, because the girls are already getting their energy back. I hope this means we’ve managed to kick this thing for good — knock on wood!

Soup & Bread

I’m still trying to keep the energy consumption around the house as low as possible post-tornado, in an attempt to do my part to keep demand on the grid low until the Merivale power station is repaired. So tonight’s dinner was as simple as possible:

That’s Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque that I had made back in August in bulk, so all I had to do was thaw it in the microwave and serve with the last of my ciabatta buns! Super easy. Make-ahead meals are perfect for times like this when it’s just not possible or practical to make a complicated homemade meal. Sadly, this marks the last of the bisque I had in the freezer, so I’ll have to make some more the next time I find lobster on sale — after all of the repairs to the grid are made.

Late Night Ramen

Ever have one of those nights where you just forget to have dinner? I did that the other day. I had a late lunch, which threw off my internal schedule, and then I wasn’t at home for dinner. It didn’t even occur to me until something like eleven o’clock at night that I should probably eat something. Of course, by then most things are closed, so going out to pick up some ingredients was problematic at best. Normally my late-night food runs toward sandwiches or cold cereal, but the girls had polished off the bread and all that was left in the cereal bag was dust. So I had to get creative.

I rummaged through the freezer and found some ramen noodles and sauce packets — originally from two different meals and hence likely by two different brands, but they were missing their original packaging. I did have a few eggs, the remnants of a frozen naruto fish cake stick, some frozen masago, and a few frozen dried shrimp. Aside from the green onions, which I grabbed from the garden, it was a little short on the veggies, but the fridge was bare! I grabbed an apple on the side to make up for the lack.

It wasn’t a difficult meal to make, but it’s definitely more effort than I usually put into food right before bed.

Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque Recipe

About four years ago I had the opportunity to try PC Jammin’ Jamaican Lobster Bisque, which is a frozen entree that was created by Winslow Taylor of Mississauga, Ontario for the PC Recipe to Riches contest. I loved it! It was creamy and filling with just the right amount of bite. Sadly, this frozen dinner didn’t stay on the shelves long, and it has been years since it’s been in production, I think. So a I did some research and some testing, and I came up with what I consider to be a really nice non-dairy Caribbean-style lobster bisque that you can make in a slow cooker. I originally posted this recipe in my old blog a few years back, but I’ve had the chance to refine it somewhat since then. Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque

In a frying pan, gently heat:
1 Tbsp olive oil
To the oil, add:
1 white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Saute until the onions are clear. Stir often so that they do not brown. Put sauteed items in slow cooker.
Add to slow cooker:
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 cups pumpkin* puree**
6 Roma tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded & chopped
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt***
1 tsp paprika****
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 tsp Scotch Bonnet hot pepper sauce*****
With a large sharp knife, cut off the fan part at the bottom of:
4 lobster tails****** (totaling 400g or more)
Reserve the remaining meaty parts of the lobster tails for later.
Add the fan part of the lobster tails to the crock pot. Stir. Cover and cook in the slow cooker for 6 hours on low.
Remove and discard lobster tail ends & thyme. Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup until it has an even, creamy consistency. Put the soup back in the slow cooker, and add the reserved meaty parts of the lobster tail. Stir, cover, and cook for about 45min to 1hr, or until lobster shells are pink and meat is cooked through. Remove remaining lobster from the slow cooker and let it cool until it is comfortable to handle.
While the lobster is cooling, stir into the slow cooker:
1 can (400mL) coconut milk
Remove lobster flesh from the shells. Discard shells. Chop lobster flesh into small bite-sized pieces and add to the slow cooker. Stir.
Optionally, garnish each serving with:
a sprinkle of fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped

This bisque is delicious as an appetizer or as a lunch. It freezes well; I like to freeze it in single-sized portions so that I can take it along with me for work lunches. It goes well with crusty bread and strong cheese.

Notes:
* Equal quantities of winter squash puree such as butternut, calabaza, or Hubbard squash may be substituted.
** When I can my own squash, it comes out much more watery than the commercial canned versions. If you are using a thicker canned squash, add enough water to the mixture in the slow cooker so that it has the consistency of a thinner cream soup. This amount will vary depending on the consistency of the puree.
*** If you use regular chicken broth instead of the reduced-sodium version called for in this recipe, omit the salt. If you use homemade chicken broth with no salt at all, add an extra 1 tsp salt.
**** If you can get it, smoked paprika adds an extra layer of flavour to this recipe. Otherwise, regular paprika will do.
***** I used the Scotch Bonnet hot pepper sauce made by Grace (which is available at most grocery stores around here), but you can use the one of your choice. My original recipe called for 4 tsp of this sauce, but it ended up too hot for anyone in my family except me. If you like your food spicy, add a little more than 2 tsp. If you aren’t that fond of spice, cut it down to 1 tsp for a tiny bit of a bite. If you don’t like spice at all, you can omit the sauce altogether for a mild bisque redolent with coconut – although if you do this, I’d recommend adding more thyme.
****** I have used lobster tails to make this soup, I have also done it with satisfactory results with other (cheaper) parts of the crustacean, like the claws. Just set aside the bigger, meatier parts for the last step of cooking, and use the smaller, mostly-shell parts for the slow-cooking stage to add flavour. Remember to take any parts with shell out before you blend!

The Continuing Quest for Great Ramen

I’m still working on getting the best ramen — especially the best tonkotsu ramen — possible in this neck of the woods. It frustrates me so that you can get decent, if not downright good, ramen on just about every street in Japan, and cheaply, too! It’s generally not considered fancy food. But here it’s practically gourmet fare, hard to find, and expensive.

So I’m still trying to make my own passable version. Overall, the best ramen broth I’ve made was shoyu ramen from page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016) (or her website easypeasyjapanesey.com. But my favourite type of broth is still tonkotsu, and to be frank it’s more than a little intimidating because there are so many steps that must be gotten just right. I’ve been trying to skip the cooking step on this one and just find a pre-made alternative, but I haven’t had a lot of luck.

Last night I made another attempt at using a pre-packaged soup base. I couldn’t even read anything on the package except “tonkotsu ramen” (what can I say, it’s been twenty years since I took Japanese lessons), and I am still kicking myself for not taking a picture of the packaging. The base came in what was essentially a bag, and was fully liquid. As with many other such things, I bought it at T&T.

The broth was okay I guess, but nothing spectacular. It was better than any of the dried kinds I’ve tried, but still not as good as the fast food places that I know for a fact use instant broth (I’ve watched them cook it). So yeah, nothing to write home about.

The noodles, were a bit soggy and floury. I’ve used this brand before (Nissin Frozen Ramen Noodles), and at this point I’m just using up what’s in my freezer. I don’t plan on buying them again.

The toppings, though, were really tasty. I made pork belly with soy sauce, a dash of sake, and a little bit of sugar. I think I could have gone a little bit lighter on the soy sauce (it was a little salty), but otherwise I liked this pork belly much better than the kind I have made in the past. I think what helped was that I browned it first, then added the liquids and let it simmer for a while. It really enhanced the flavour.

The other toppings included soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms, thinly sliced carrot (made easy by using a veggie peeler instead of a knife), narutomaki (fish cake), green onion, and tobiko (flying fish roe). The toppings were tasty, complimentary, and easy to prepare.

It’s getting to the point now where I think I had best just start making tonkotsu broth and ramen noodles from scratch in order to meet my own standards. I’ve wasted so much time trying to find decent pre-made ingredients when I’m starting to think that they’re just not available this side of the pond. I think the next step is investing in a pasta machine. At the very least, I think I’ll be waiting for autumn to start making my own broth — since it takes so long and so much boiling, it doesn’t seem wise to start cooking broth during the dog days of summer if I can avoid it.

Chicken Katsudon

Thirteen years ago, I went to Japan for a month-long visit. For most of that time, I was with my friend Michelle, who is a childhood friend from Canada who was teaching there. Together we traveled by train from Saga in the southwest along the coast to Tokyo over the course of three weeks, stopping many times along the way. One of our stops was to visit a young woman named Ayako Koyama and her family. Ayako had stayed with me back in high school as part of an exchange program; she’d also come to visit me as an adult about a year before. On this trip, I had the opportunity to meet her family and to get to know the home and the region where she had grown up.


Ayako, Mrs. Koyama, Mr. Koyama, Ayako’s grandfather, Ayako’s grandmother, and Michelle. Ayako’s brother must have been at work that night.

One evening, Ayako’s mother brought Michelle and I into her kitchen to teach us how to make katsu for dinner. I honestly can’t remember if it was chicken (torikatsu) or pork (tonkatsu) that we breaded and deep-fried, but I do remember the process! I was rummaging through my old photos yesterday and realized that I actually had a photo of us all eating the dinner we’d made (above). It was a lot of fun, although it’s always awkward to cook in someone else’s kitchen — even when there isn’t a language barrier! It remains one of my fondest memories of visiting with Ayako and her family. My one regret is that I wasn’t really into cooking at the time, so I didn’t take the opportunity to learn more from a Japanese home cook firsthand. Such a valuable resource wasted! I guess I’ll just have to go back to Japan someday and learn more.

These memories resurfaced recently when I saw a show on the Food Network that had a segment on some restaurant that makes a chicken katsu burger. I really had developed a liking for it in Japan (you can see one of the commercial meals that I had that included it in my Noodle Soup entry). It’s a real comfort food. Suddenly, I was craving chicken katsudon again. Although I’d made the meat part before and could pretty much remember how to do it without help, I had to Google for how to make the eggs correctly, since they’re not simply scrambled eggs. I used the Chicken Katsudon recipe from Just One Cookbook, and in an attempt to make it a little bit healthier I made Baked Katsudon instead of fried. I was pretty happy with how it turned out, although I know where I made some mistakes. I was running out of time at the end (I had to get the kids fed and out the door to Guiding), so I skipped cooking the chicken in the egg mixture and instead just put it on top, which made it a little bit dry. I think I cooked the egg a bit too long; when I had it in Japan it was just a little bit runny, more like a sauce than a scrambled egg. I also didn’t have any parsley, which would really have made it pop a bit more visually. Also, although I did manage to make up some miso soup, I ran out of time to make a salad, and a meal like this really needs some kind of veggie, even if it’s just a quick pickle. But given that it’s been thirteen years since I’ve attempted this dish, I don’t think it turned out too badly. It did get positive reviews from the family just how it was, so I am encouraged enough to try it again.

Wonton Soup

Last night the girls were off to Guiding, so I needed to make a quick and easy dinner. It was still wet and rainy, so I thought that it would be a nice idea to have some soup. I’ve been making a point of turning my frozen stockpile of bones (left over from roasts and rotisserie meals) into broth, so I used some of my recently-made chicken broth to make up some wonton soup.

There wasn’t really a recipe as such. I threw some of the leftover chicken from Family Day, some baby bok choy, and a generous sprinkle of salt into the broth while I brought it to a boil. Then I added a couple of handfuls of fully-cooked chicken & cilantro mini wontons (bought at Costco) and cooked them for about two minutes. The broth didn’t need much seasoning because the wontons themselves are bursting with flavour — a very cilantro-based flavour, so I’m really lucky that none of us have that gene that makes cilantro taste like soap. And that was that!