Not-So-Silent Night

Last night was one of those nights where it seemed like all I did was run from pillar to post and back again. It started as soon as the kids got home from school. There was snacks, then showers, then finding all of the parts of their Guiding uniforms (or, in Thing 1’s case, a matching set of PJ’s for her unit’s holiday pajama party), then the kids making their lunches while I whipped up dinner…

Dinner was what I think might very charitably be called deconstructed shepherd’s pie. I had taken the meat out earlier in the day to thaw, but by the time dinner prep time came around I knew I’d never have time to bake it as a casserole. So I prepped the meat as I would for my usual shepherd’s pie (with a few extra mushrooms thrown in because that’s what I had in the fridge), boiled up some baby potatoes, and microwaved some corn. Instead of layering it into a casserole, I just served it as is. The kids ate all of theirs without complaint, and I found it almost as tasty (if not as creamy) as the real thing, so it worked out okay.

Then I had to wrap Christmas thank-you gifts for my girls’ Guiders. Guide leaders are volunteers, and I think it’s important that they know how much my children and I appreciate all of their hard work. Without Guiders, there would be no Girl Guides. I couldn’t do what they do (despite having two children that I adore, my patience levels with children is not great), which is why I try to support them in other ways.

Although the bags look slightly different, that’s mostly because I ran out of white tissue paper near the end. They’re all identical inside, containing Amaretto Cherries and Cinnamon-Scented Parsnip Pear Jam. I am very quick at gift wrapping, having worked the wrapping station in a number of retail jobs over the years, which comes in handy when I have ten gift bags that I’ve forgotten to put together until the last minute. I could have sworn Thing 1 and Thing 2 had one more meeting before the holiday break, but obviously I was mistaken.

Then I had to rush out the door to drive the kids through a snowstorm to their respective Guiding activities for the evening — Thing 1 to her pajama party and Thing 2 to sing Christmas carols at a retirement home. Of course, I got stuck spinning my tires on a patch of ice as I left my driveway, and luckily my husband arrived home just in time to help push the car. Then it was a very slow, cautious drive to the girls’ activities, then another slow and cautious drive to my parents’ place to help them put up their Christmas tree, then back to pick up the girls and get them home and in bed for the night, despite the huge amounts of sugar they had consumed.

When all that was over, I had to relax a bit. I poured myself a lovely glass of rum and eggnog (okay, Earth’s Own Almond SoFresh Almond Nogg, which isn’t a half-bad substitute for the lactose intolerant). I had a real tree twinkling with lights in the living room. And, at least for a few hours, I tried to ignore the fact that I had less than two weeks to go to get everything done before Christmas.

Pumpkin & Sage Pasta Recipe

I did manage to finish Thing 2’s skirt last night, as well as doing a bit of Christmas shopping. That being said, Candy Cane reminded me today of another task that I really have to complete.

It says something about your ability to procrastinate when your Christmas elf can sit on your Halloween pumpkins. The squash are still in good shape because they haven’t been cut, and they have been set on holders off of the ground so that air flow underneath keeps them from rotting. They’re actually more likely to dry out than decompose at this point. I started by cooking the first of the first of my four pumpkins today. I used the same technique described on Elana’s Pantry, but the pumpkin was so large that each half took about an hour and a half to cook. Then I scooped out the roasted pumpkin flesh and blended it smooth it in the food processor. These pumpkins are going to yield a lot of pumpkin puree, but that’s fine by me! It freezes well, and I still have two cookbooks worth of pumpkin recipes to try.

Having all that pumpkin puree on hand meant that I really wanted to incorporate it into dinner. I went with my tried-and-true Pumpkin and Sage Pasta Sauce, which I have modified many times over the years to accommodate both food preferences and allergies/sensitivities. I’m very happy with the latest iteration, as is my family. The sauce tastes more of sage, garlic, and onion than it does of pumpkin (which itself has a rather mild flavour). Instead, the pumpkin is what creates the creamy texture without using any actual cream. These days I make a non-dairy version, but if you prefer it can be made with milk and topped off with a bit of sour cream. Also, if fresh pumpkin puree isn’t available, canned is perfectly fine.

Pumpkin & Sage Pasta
Serves 4 adults

Into a deep saucepan or heavy-bottomed pot, pour:
2 Tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oil, then add:
1 medium white onion (100g peeled), diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
On medium heat, sweat the onions and garlic in the olive oil, being careful not to let them brown.
Turn up the heat to medium-high and add:
200g ground pork
200g lean ground beef
Fry the meat until it is browned, breaking it up as it cooks so that there are no large lumps. Drain the excess fat/oil.
Add:
2 cups pumpkin puree
250mL chicken broth
60mL 2% milk, almond milk, or soy milk
1 tsp ground sage or 3 tsp fresh sage, chopped fine
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp fresh parley, minced
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Stir together and simmer gently to reduce slightly for about 10min. While the sauce is simmering, cook as per package instructions:
400g fettuccine*
Drain the pasta, then return it to its cooking pot. ** Pour the sauce over the noodles and stir to mix. Serve, optionally sprinkled with:
grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, to taste

*I’ve found that an equal amount of penne works as well.
**If you want to add sour cream to the sauce, stir it in at this point. You will need anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup, depending on your personal taste. I recommending starting with 1/4 cup and seeing how you like it, then adding more if necessary.

Simmered Boiled Meat Sauce Pasta

I follow Tasty Japan on Facebook, and this video popped up yesterday:

I thought it looked like a good weeknight meal, so long as I started it as soon as the kids got home (it requires simmering on low heat for two hours). I ran it through Google Translate and used the recipe for, as it called it, “simmered boiled meat pasta”. I had to laugh at how bad bad Internet translations can be — among other things, this one instructed me to “add red wine to strengthen the fire, fry for 2-3 minutes and fly alcohol”. Granted, the whole reason I used the program is because my paltry Japanese skills aren’t up to translating a recipe, so who am I to judge? I managed to make a really delicious dinner anyway.

If you don’t have the patience Google Translate, check out the original recipe for Ragu Bolognese over on the English version of Tasty, which was posted back in May. Of course I found that version only after I’d made my dinner, but somehow I didn’t manage to mess it up. It has been pointed out online that this recipe is almost identical to Gennaro Contaldo’s Classic Italian Ragu Bolognese, and after watching both videos I have to agree. Although now that I’ve Googled “how to make a bolognese ragu”, all of the recipes are very similar, which stands to reason. I think it’s just because it’s a very classic, well-known dish.

As usual, I had to make a few changes/adjustments to make it work with what I had on hand. My carrot ended up being about 225g, so I used that much celery as well, since some of my homegrown celery stalks were a bit spindly. I also used equal weights of bacon instead of pancetta, since I had bacon on hand and they are very similar anyway. I also used fettuccine instead of tagliatelle, since the grocery store I was shopping at didn’t have tagliatelle. All that being said, I do think that I will be making this recipe again in the future!

Low-Prep Suppers

I kind of have my kitchen back again… Okay, not the whole thing, but the counters and table are clear again, so I can cook properly. I made shepherd’s pie for dinner (but without the cheese topping, to reduce the amount of dairy and make it better for my gut). However, the meal was running late and we dug into it much too fast for me to take pictures. Instead, I have photos of the bread that was cooking while we were eating dinner:

That’s Beer Bacon Bread found on page 44 of Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook (Betty Crocker, 1999). I used a flat Guinness beer, a package of crumbled circular bacon, and chives from my window garden instead of green onion because that’s what I had on hand. It’s only the second time that I tried out any recipes for this book, and so far so good! There’s a Cottage Dill Loaf on page 152 and Brandied Pumpkin Bread on page 104 that I can’t wait to try.

Earlier in the week I had to make a few easy and quick meals that required little in the way of prep space, so I whipped up a loaf of Sally Lunn bread (page 25, also from Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook), which I think called for an unreasonable amount of butter in the dough (6 Tbsp!), but I have to admit tasted quite nice. I used it to make grilled cheese sandwiches for the girls, with sides of sliced apples.

Of course I have issues with dairy (and at any rate I’d run out of cheddar), so I fried up a couple of eggs each for my hubby and I, and served it with the Sally Lunn, sliced apples, and mandarin oranges.

Earlier this week I went with a less bread-based meal and baked up some trout with in teriyaki sauce, which I served over rice with a side of asparagus.

I’m really looking forward to having this mini-reno complete so that I can try some new recipes! This hasn’t been nearly as time-consuming an affair as a full gutting of the kitchen (much as I’d love to be able to afford a 100% fresh new kitchen), but it’s still rather disruptive. At least it’s cheap!

Of Pastry Blenders and Biscuits

My house is all topsy-turvy at the moment because I’m doing work on the kitchen. (On the kitchen, as well as in, since I seem to work in the kitchen pretty much every day.) I managed to obtain some additional, second-hand cupboards, which means I’ll soon have new cupboard and counter space eventually. In the short term, this means that half of the contents of my kitchen are currently in the dining room, so we have to eat in the family room, and the day-to-day mess of the family room is pushed into other rooms… I can’t wait to have this mini-reno completed, not just so I can use the expanded kitchen space, but so order is once again returned to my house!

I’ve been trying not to cook anything super-involved, since prep space is currently at a bare minimum, and to me that means making Dad’s Biscuits. My mom picked me up what I think is a Perfect Pie Blender, although it’s branded with the President’s Choice logo, so it may be a knock-off. Or maybe PC has a deal with Kitchen Innovations, I don’t know. I can guarantee you that my mother didn’t pay $40 for it, though. Knowing Mom, she probably found it on clearance for $5 or less.

At any rate, the Perfect Pie Blender is far cry in shape and style from the traditional style of pastry blender that I grew up using. The company claims that it will make perfect pastry in sixty seconds, which is an exaggeration if you ask me, but it is definitely faster than my old method. One reason for this is that the blades are sturdier and the updated shape means that I’m not constantly cleaning food out from between the wires. It’s generally a more ergonomic design, too. Given that I’d been making pie using the old style blender since I was a kid, I thought I’d have a harder time getting used to a new tool, but I’m surprisingly quite happy with the new blender. I’d recommend it — although I definitely wouldn’t recommend spending $40.00 CAD on it like Amazon.ca suggests, especially when you can get it for $12.60 USD on Amazon.com.

The other day I nuked up some IKEA KÖTTBULLAR meatballs while my husband stirred up the ALLEMANSRÄTTEN cream sauce. We’re very sophisticated people, don’t you know. The original plan was to throw on some oven-baked french fries, but I miscalculated the amount we had left in the freezer, so only the kids got fries. My husband and I ate our meatballs with biscuits instead. I added an apple to our meals because there has to be some kind of fruit or veg with every meal, doesn’t there?

Yesterday the kitchen mini-reno had continued apace and we couldn’t even see the dining room table any more, let alone eat at it, so we dined on TV trays in the family room. I made Guinness beef stew based very, very loosely on this recipe, but it was more improvised than not to help me use up what was in the fridge. I still have a surplus of parsnips and celery, which remain fresh and crisp in my fridge, as well as potatoes from my garden, so they had to go in there. To my kids’ delight, I served the stew with biscuits for a nice, hearty dinner. I didn’t even have to argue with the girls to eat their vegetables even though the stew was more veggies than anything else. That’s always a nice change.

Steak Ramen

Last night I was searching for something to make for dinner, something that wouldn’t require a special trip to the grocery store. I did finally go get groceries on Monday, so now both the freezer and the fridge are full and I figure that I shouldn’t have to go out again every day for ingredients. At my husband’s request, since he’s fighting off a cold, I decided to make soup.

In the freezer I had some beef broth made with garlic and wild mushrooms, which I thawed as the base for the soup. I boiled up some ramen noodles and topped them with steamed spinach, carrot matchsticks, and soft-boiled eggs. The crowning glory of this particular dish was the steak. It didn’t brown up as nicely as I’d like, to my dismay, but it was very tender. To enhance the flavour, I used a marinade from page 65 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016). Now, technically the recipe was for Kobe Beef Tsukemen, but I’ll be 100% honest and tell you that there’s no way I can afford Kobe beef. Instead, I thought I’d just use the marinade on a (much) cheaper steak. The marinade contains lemon juice, soy sauce, sake, and mirin (sweet rice wine), which combined is somewhat salty-sweet with an acidic punch to start breaking down the meat. Also, as per the recipe, I fried up the steak in melted beef suet instead of oil, which I think helped to enhance the flavour. Once I removed the meat from the pan, I added the juices to the soup broth to add extra punch. I was very satisfied with how it all turned out, especially since it made a lower-quality cut of beef quite palatable. Even if I never get the chance to cook Kobe beef, I think that I will definitely revisit this recipe in the future when I have all of the other ingredients on hand to try the dish in full.

Circular Bacon?

I’m trying my darndest to get the costume photos from this weekend edited, but it’s taking much longer than I had hoped, although I do acknowledge that this is mostly because I’m really picky. It would have been much too easy to just crop the photos to size. So it may be another day or two before I have it all done.

In the meantime, I did have to cook dinner last night, which had to be quick because I had to get the kids to extracurricular activities. Thing 2 requested bacon and eggs, which I thought was a perfectly acceptable solution. Earlier in the day I’d put some Milk Loaf (page 65, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)) on to cook in my bread machine. I just microwaved some bacon (my preferred low-mess way to cook it), scooped out some honeydew melon, fried up some eggs, and buttered some fresh bread for a quick dinner.

You might note that the bacon in the above photo are shaped unusually. It’s not an illusion, the slices are actually more or less circular! They’re actually Presiden’t Choice Naturally Smoked Bacon Rounds, which are described as follows:

A real game changer when it comes to whipping up burgers, breakfast sandwiches and BLTs, bacon rounds make things so much easier. Cut from the pork belly, they’re everything you love about traditional bacon – only rolled prior to smoking and slicing. Not only are they the perfect fit for buns and English muffins, the edges curl up a little while cooking, creating a “cup” for toppings.

Well, my slices didn’t curl up on the edges, but maybe they do so when fried. I have to admit, I’ve never had any problem whatsoever fitting traditionally-sliced bacon into a sandwich or burger, so I think that these bacon rounds have been created to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist. I mean, if your bacon is too big for your bread, it can be broken if crispy or cut if soft. The rounds are more expensive than the same brand’s regularly-sliced bacon, too ($1.60/100g vs. $1.20/100g). I have a feeling that other shoppers agree, since I found my supply in the clearance section at the local grocery store and I haven’t seen them there since. I paid only $0.99 per package (so $0.26/100g if I did my math right), and at that price it was definitely worth it since the rounds taste exactly the same as regular bacon. Without another comparable sale, I can’t see myself buying these again though.