Thing 1’s Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken

Thing 1 is learning how to cook, by which I don’t mean just helping me in the kitchen, but actually planning and preparing entire meals. She’s been able to successfully manage pre-packaged food for a while now, so she wanted to step up her game. I gave her free run of my cookbooks last week, but I suggested that for now she stick with some of the ones meant for beginners that I’d picked up over the years. She really likes Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997), I think at least in part because it’s full of detailed step-by-step photos, but isn’t only targeted at children. She prepared this dish almost entirely by herself, although I remained nearby to field (many, many) questions and to introduce her to some new techniques.

She chose to make Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken (page 88), which is the kind of meal that takes a lot more time to peel and chop than to actually cook. She was only just starting to prepare when she cut open a sweet pepper to find another tiny pepper growing inside! I’d read about this phenomenon before, but hadn’t chanced upon it myself; it’s called parthenocarpy, which is a kind of internal proliferation of a fruit without fertilization. Basically, it’s a tiny natural clone of the larger pepper — and it’s perfectly edible.

Yes, I know the knife in the background shouldn’t have been left blade-up; Thing 1 put it in the dishwasher moments after this photo was taken.

Knife skills are, I think, one of the most essential parts of learning to cook efficiently. I’m no speed demon myself, but I’m reasonably quick I manage not to cut myself most of the time. I find that even a lot of adults are awkward and slow with a knife in the kitchen, so I hope that starting Thing 1 early acquiring this skill will mean it’s easier for her as she grows up.

Another part of learning how to cook is learning how to adapt a recipe to what you have. I, for example, don’t have a good wok any more, so the dish had to be cooked in a large non-stick frying pan, which meant that the instructions had to change a little bit. Also, I couldn’t find the specific kind of noodle that the recipe called for, so a few adaptations had to be made for that.

Thing 1’s final dish was perfectly prepared: the veggies were still a little crunchy, the chicken was moist, and the noodles were al dente. Everyone went back for seconds, and there was still enough for Thing 1 to take as leftovers for lunch the next day — and show off to her friends.

Not Really Sticky Pork Stir-Fry

My brother’s main Christmas gift to me this year was the Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (2017). I don’t know if he picked it because he’d been perusing my blog for gift ideas. Maybe it was because he heard me gushing about Oliver after watching yet another interview with him like this one with Russell Howard, which had me in stitches. At any rate, the first recipe that I wanted to try out (okay, after the Ginger Shakin’ Beef, which I didn’t originally know was from this book) was the Sticky Port Stiry-Fry on page 220.

I used regular old carrots sliced small instead of the mixed-colour baby heirloom carrots specified in the recipe, mainly because none of the grocery stores around here had anything so fancy this time of year. Being a hardy root vegetable, you can get standard orange carrots pretty cheap here all year ’round. However, baby/heirloom carrots are only a summer thing unless you’re willing to pay through the nose for imports. If it doesn’t store well, or there isn’t a high enough demand (or price point) to make it worthwhile to ship it from down south, it can’t be found during the winter. Produce variety suffers greatly in Canada once it gets cold — and it’s a million times worse outside of the cities! And yet the selection and availability is miles better than it used to be, even in my lifetime. I watched a program a while back (Tales from the Green Valley) which recreated a 1600’s British farm: the kind of place where my ancestors would have lived. It really struck me that at one point the narrator says, “After several days, the February snow is finally melting in the valley.” A couple of days of snow. My poor, poor ancestors, who came to Canada after being used to winters like that, with such things as “winter growth” in the fields, and then trying to survive in Canada. It’s a wonder that I am here today, quite honestly.

Back to the recipe: I do have one quibble with it: the portions. The cookbook says that this dish serves 4. Honestly, if I hadn’t prepared any sides (and the recipe doesn’t say “to be served over rice” or anything), my family would have been very, very hungry. I’d say that, by itself, this recipe serves two at most. I ate mine with a side of steamed spinach, but I think that the stir-fry would have gone even better over rice or noodles to stretch it.

Now, here is why I called this entry “Not Really Sticky Pork Stir-Fry”: my husband and I kind of messed it up. Not quantity-wise, that we triple-checked. No, we messed up the sauce. You see, my husband was stirring the food while I was chopping ingredients, and I passed him a bottle and asked him to add what I thought was teriyaki sauce to the dish. Instead, I accidentally gave him the oyster sauce. Assuming that I knew what I was doing, he didn’t read the label on the bottle until after he’d added the sauce to the carrots and pork. In my defense, your honour, the bottles look practically identical, as the above photo shows. Luckily my hubby caught the mistake before we added the honey, which I think would have been disastrous. As it was, the oyster sauce on the pork, carrots, and green onions tasted really good. So if you’re ever looking to change this recipe up, just omit the honey and swap teriyaki for oyster.

Would I make this recipe again? Most definitely yes, with the aforementioned changes: a side dish (or doubling the quantities), and actually using the correct sauce. It was tasty, cheap, easy, and quick, which definitely makes me want to have it again, especially on busy weeknights.

Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day

I’m still working away on that last-minute costume. I got so caught up in the process that I stayed up until almost 2:00am without even realizing it! I had absolutely no intention of staying up too late. When I get into problem-solving mode, I hate to stop when I’m on a roll. If I’d been super-frustrated, I would probably have stopped earlier (although there was a large seam that I “sewed” without realizing that the bobbin had run out).

I couldn’t find my meter stick, so I did end up using a wooden prop sword in order to trace a long, straight line on my fabric. My father pointed out afterward that I could have just called and borrowed his, but the sword was only a few feet away from where I was sewing, and it worked out fine!

November 15th is Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day, so I made a dinner entirely out of what I had around the house. This had nothing to do with the fact that I’ve been so engrossed in costume construction that I haven’t gone out to do groceries, I swear. I went with one of the simplest clean-out-the-fridge dishes: stir fry. I cooked up the veggies I had on hand (celery, zucchini, and frozen peas), scrambled in some egg, threw in some cooked rice and shrimp, and gave it all a good drizzle of sesame oil and soy sauce while I cooked it all together for a few minutes. My husband asked for seconds, which I figure means it wasn’t half bad.

After the kids went to bed, I wanted to treat myself to some banana bread, which is pretty much my favourite quick bread. I even had some bananas I’d frozen before they went bad that I needed to use up, so the timing was perfect. I’d seen a Tasty video for 6 Desserts To Make In Your Microwave, so I thought I’d give their individual microwave banana bread a shot. Sadly, as with the microwave oatmeal bread I made a while back, I was disappointed. The more I try it, the less I think that microwaves can be used for half-decent baking.

First of all, there was a recipe in the YouTube transcription of the recipe. If you watch the video, the ingredients include 3 Tbsp brown sugar and 1/2 tsp baking powder, but the recipe under the video calls for 3 Tbsp brown sugar and then another 1/2 tsp brown sugar, with no baking powder. Luckily I noticed that there was no rising agent before I started cooking, but by then I’d already added the extra 1/2 tsp brown sugar, too.

Once the banana bread was cooked, I found it to be largely tasteless. I found that interesting, because it contains basically the same ingredients as the more traditional banana bread in the Joy of Cooking; what really differentiates the two, other than size, is the cooking method. I think that because the Tasty version is made so quickly in the microwave, instead of cooking for an hour or more in the oven, it doesn’t have a chance to develop its flavour, which probably mostly comes from the crust. Microwave cooking, in general, doesn’t create proper crusts. Also, I found the consistency of the microwave banana bread to be less like a quick bread and more like a sponge or a pudding. I cooked it for an extra 30 seconds over the recommended time and tested it with a cake tester for doneness, so I know it was definitely cooked all the way through. Even so, the consistency was more like microwave scrambled eggs than like bread.

Of course, opinions may vary, and you may like banana bread made this way. I think that I will stick to baking in the oven from now on, except perhaps for the occasional experiment.