Big Family Cottage Trip: Day 2

Since cooking was off the table the night before, we started Day 2 of the big family trip to the cottage with a hot breakfast even though the temperature and humidity were already starting to get out of hand.

I fried up bacon and eggs over hard while Mom cut up fruit for a salad and toasted up English muffins. The end result was homemade breakfast sandwiches and fruit salad, with whipped cream and/or maple syrup for those who wanted it on the latter.

Then we all jumped — okay, cannonballed — one by one into the lake, being sure to keep away from the dock spider, who was still at her post…

Where, at least until the kids came down and started making the normal kid amount of noise, some of the adults got to swim with the lake’s resident loons.

We stayed in the lake for a good hour, but before we knew it there was thunder in the distance. Not soon after, the storm clouds rolled in…

And then the heavens opened up. This meant that we were cooped up inside for a while (I don’t object to playing in the rain, but I draw the line at thunder and lightning). We played cards and taught the kids the game of “Spoons”. Luckily the downpour also brought down the temperature, or we wouldn’t have had the energy for such a competitive game.

Then there was another cold dinner, which was a combination of cleaning out the fridge before we left and leftovers from the night before. I made myself a spincach, strawberry, and goat cheese salad with sesame dressing…

Followed by more of Mom’s potato salad (sans bacon).

For dessert we absolutely had to finish off the blueberry pie and coconut-based whipped cream substitute that Mom brought. Oh, the hardship.

New Stove!

I have a new stove! Well, okay, new to me. A friend of a friend was replacing her perfectly-functional old stove to get a fancy new one. She found out that I was looking for a stove to replace my old one, which was starting to develop… Issues. It was a really fancy-schmancy stove back when it was new like thirty years ago. It had panels on the top you could switch out so that it became a griddle, or a grill, or a special burner for a wok. But the oven was only large enough for a single cookie sheet to make room for the surface-level fan, and the drawer underneath was sacrificed for that as well. The light socket in the oven had something wrong with it, so the oven light bulb would burn out within days every time. And, most importantly, the oven didn’t keep a consistent temperature, which makes it really difficult to bake.

So here’s my new stove! It doesn’t match the rest of my black appliances, but I don’t care. It’s immaculate and runs reliably. The oven runs about 25 degrees F hot, but since it does so consistently I can compensate. And I actually have an oven light now so I can check for doneness without having to open the door!

One of these days I’ll be able to afford an electric, non-glass-top double oven… Maybe I’ll get one when I finally get my dream kitchen (which will probably be only in my dreams). Until then, this stove is fantastic!

Tonight I tested the stove out with a simple dinner of teriyaki salmon with steamed spinach on rice. I bought the salmon in one of those budget $10 freezer packs, and it was… Okay. Not bad, but a little bit dry. I think if I use this kind of salmon again it will be in something like a casserole that disguises the texture a bit better. But for a dinner for three adults and two kids (my brother-in-law was over) for about $13, it wasn’t half bad. Fresher fish would have been better, but this was definitely acceptable.

Slow Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken

Keeping on the theme of making easy dinners in the crock pot, friends of mine recommended the Slow Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken recipe from AllRecipes.com. They said that they loved it, but I was less than satisfied. I followed the recipe exactly, but the chicken turned out dry and not very flavourful. There wasn’t even much sauce to pour over the meat to relieve the dryness.

I went back over the website to try and figure out where I went wrong. Well, it turns out that it’s totally possible that my friends made a completely different dish than I did! (And if so, no wonder they were raving about it, because the other version looks lovely.) If you watch the video of how to prepare the dish (which I did not), it adds a lot more ingredients that aren’t even mentioned as options in the recipe text. First of all, for spices, it adds onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. Secondly, baby carrots, sliced mushrooms, and frozen peas are added to the crock pot before setting it up to cook. Thirdly, the 1/4 cup water and chicken bouillon is replaced with 1/2 of a cup of white wine and 2 cups of chicken broth. With all of those added flavourings and liquids, of course the dish wouldn’t end up dry and tasteless.

Personally, I think that if you’re going to make a recipe video, you should stick to the recipe that goes along with it. The easy fix to this would be to add the changes to the text of the recipe. When reading a recipe, one shouldn’t have to filter through the comment section or watch a “how to” video in order to get the correct list of ingredients — neither of which are an option in a hard-copy cookbook anyway.

Sadly, I think AllRecipes dropped the ball on this one.

How to Fix Lumpy Gravy

I love gravy and I’ll eat it with just about any meat, steamed vegetable, or starch. It’s to die for on mashed potatoes and it’s fantastic over an open-faced hot turkey sandwich. However, it’s also really easy to get wrong. If it’s too thin, you can always dust in a bit more flour or simmer it for a while to reduce. But if it’s lumpy, it’s absolutely nasty. Those congealed lumps of flour and fat are just… Ew.

I’ve accidentally made lumpy gravy many times over the years — although the stuff pictured above was done on purpose to illustrate the point. I’ve tried pre-mixing the flour with water, I’ve thickened it with a roux instead, I’ve whisked until it feels like my arm is going to fall off. I’ve tried every tip and trick in my cookbooks, but sometimes the gravy still comes up lumpy, and it seems like the only way to salvage it is to strain it (which still can leave some tiny lumps).

When my mother taught me how to make gravy, she insisted that it be perfectly smooth, or it couldn’t be served. Lumps in anything make Mom gag, so potatoes were always mashed or whipped silky smooth, we never ate cream of wheat, and bubble tea was absolutely out. So if I messed up the gravy, we were out of luck even if it was intended to be a part of a major roast meal. Don’t ask me why, but this technique of fixing the problem never came up:

Just run the gravy through the blender. It comes out smooth every time. Not only that, but lumpy gravy tends to get really thick when you finally get it to an even consistency, so this is a great time to thin it out using a bit of the appropriate stock. The one in the photo above was loco moco hamburger gravy, so I thinned it with beef stock. There are probably a bunch of you who were using this technique for years and are agog that I’m thinking it’s revolutionary, but honestly it’s totally new to me. And if my crappy old two-speed General Electric machine from the 70’s with dull blades can do the trick, any blender can.

This works for all kinds of sauces, by the way. White sauce I find is also very prone to lumpiness if you’re not careful, but it does blend nicely. As with blending all hot things, do exert extra care to prevent burns!

The loco moco turned out great, by the way, even if I didn’t have any parsley or tomatoes for garnish. I find that it pairs rather nicely with steamed spinach, since you can combine it with the gravy and meat for a wonderful, rich flavour.

Spinach Stroganoff

Just a quick one today! At the suggestion of a friend of mine, I added a bag of baby spinach to my beef stroganoff, and it turned out great! If you’re not really into spinach, the sauce really covers up the bitterness. Now, I actually like the taste of spinach, but I like that it doesn’t overwhelm the flavour of the rest of the dish.

I’m always looking for ways to make my cooking healthier (as well as tastier), and one of the best way to do this is to add vegetables. I know that I definitely don’t get enough leafy greens in my diet. This is just one way to incorporate them!

Chicken Wings & Salad

Last night’s dinner was a simple one: baked, precooked frozen chicken wings from Costco, and a simple salad of romaine lettuce and baby spinach. The wings were Sun Chef Fully Cooked — Fire Grilled Roasted Chicken Wings with two sauces.

I’d never tried these specific wings before, and they were… Okay. I mean, they weren’t fantastic, but they weren’t bad either. Passable, I guess the word would be. There are better pre-made chicken wings out there, though, even at Costco. There are seasoned, uncooked ones sold in the refrigerated meat section that have much better flavour. I think next time that’s what I’ll buy if I want to have an easy chicken wing meal.

Family Day Chicken Dinner

Yesterday was Family Day, which is neither a religious nor a festival holiday. Rather, it is mostly an excuse to have a day off in February (a month with no other statutory holidays in Ontario) when you are nominally supposed to spend doing fun things with your family. This year I didn’t even get to spend it with my entire household, since my husband was off to Sweden on business, the lucky duck. I’ve never had a job where they flew me halfway around the world to attend meetings, I’ll tell you that right now. So while he was visiting the Arctic Circle…

And driving on ice roads…

And eating smoked moose and visiting fortresses, I am here at home with the kids. I might just be a little bit jealous.

(From his photos, Sweden during the winter looks a heck of a lot like it does here in Canada, so I’m not as jealous as I might be if he were in the Bahamas or something. And to be fair, the only time he had to go explore was the weekend, since he is working. I’m trying to talk my way out of jealousy here, and it’s not working very well.)

I’d hoped to take the kids to Winterlude and possibly skating on the canal, but it’s been unseasonably warm since Sunday and it started pissing down rain about halfway through Monday. So instead we went to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum for the afternoon. The highlight was all of the baby animals — most of whom, like the calf above, didn’t want to stay still long enough for a good picture. But the kids were thrilled to be able to pet the sheep and the goats and the calves, so it was a win. The calves were big favourites, since they were very sociable and leaned right into a good scratch. A few of them made my kids laugh by licking their hands and arms; I’m not sure whether they were looking for food, or tasting salt, or just investigating, but by the time we were out of the cow barn all of our winter coats needed a wash. After raising children and small animals, cow slobber doesn’t bother me that much, but that doesn’t mean I want to be wearing it any longer than I have to!

Given that we were out and about well after I’d usually be starting dinner, I needed something easy to feed the family when we got home. In the oven, I reheated the Costco rotisserie chicken that I’d bought the day before. I pricked a few potatoes with a fork and microwaved them until they were soft for easy “baked” potatoes. And then I steamed some spinach. Not the fanciest meal in my repertoire, but we had all worked up an appetite from our adventures, so it went down well.