Pancake Tuesday

Mardi Gras isn’t really a thing around here, although I’d love to head down to New Orleans some day to celebrate it. However, my family does have British history, and hence strong cultural ties to the Anglican church. As such, when I was growing up we honoured Shrove Tuesday, which immediately precedes Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) — although perhaps “honoured” is stretching things a bit. We never sought out the church in order to obtain absolution for our sins on Shrove Tuesday, and we didn’t give up certain foods for Lent. What we did do was make a point of serving pancakes on Pancake Tuesday. As you can see, the celebration for us, such as it is, was much more secular than religious. It’s kind of like how many people celebrate Christmas without ever going to church.

I’ve decided to keep the tradition alive with my children by cooking pancakes for dinner every year on this day (when I remember). It’s not like this is the only time we have pancakes, after all. This year I served it covered in a mound of freshly-prepared fruit salad that included green grapes, blueberries, honeycrisp apples, oranges, bananas, and strawberries. As winter drags on, these pops of colour and flavour are welcome additions to our diet. That being said, every single one of these items is an import (except maybe the apples, which store well), so the fruit commands a premium price.

I used my Spiced Pancake Recipe for the pancakes themselves, since they’ve become quite a hit in my household of late. There were all kinds of sweet toppings available: whipped cream and non-dairy whipped cream substitute, black currant syrup, elderberry syrup, maple syrup, caramel syrup, and icing sugar. I had mine with elderberry syrup and non-dairy whipped cream substitute. It was delicious! I made a bit extra for the kids to reheat in the morning for breakfast, too, which makes our morning that much easier — and tastier.

Toad in the Hole

I’ve been wanting to try to make toad in the hole for ages. I have vague memories of my Nan serving it, or at least something similar, although I couldn’t remember the name… I Googled “pigs in a blanket” and “bubble and squeak” before I finally figured out what the name was of the dish that I remembered. Basically, toad in the hole is sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding batter — with regional and temporal variations, of course. Although the photos I’ve found online use thick sausages for the most part, I distinctly remember the version from my childhood containing smaller breakfast sausages, so that’s what I was determined to make.

The first time I tried it, I wasn’t very happy with the results. I used the Yorkshire pudding recipe from the Joy of Cooking (page 637, 2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), which was recommended by my father. I doubled the recipe and doubled the size of the pan, which I thought would work just fine, but the sausages were just too small to compensate for all that batter. Also, although the edges of the casserole rose and puffed up quite nicely, it didn’t cook evenly through the center, leaving it a stodgy mess. I mean, the texture was firm enough to be edible, but it wasn’t very appetizing.

I tried to learn from my mistakes the second time around. This time I whipped up only a single batch of the batter, which greatly improved the ratio of batter to meat, at least for sausages this small. I cooked it all in a pan that was half the size, which allowed it to rise more thoroughly. Also, I used a metal pan instead of a glass one, which I find in general allows for a crispier edge to baked dishes.

I was really happy with how it turned out. The pudding rose beautifully, so fluffy in the middle that in many spots it was completely hollow. The crust was nice and crisp without being hard. The sausages were perfectly done. Now, if only I’d remembered to grease the pan, since to serve it I almost had to destroy it. You’d think I’d know better by now.

I served my toad in the hole with a side Ceasar salad and some sliced avocado, which my Nan would never have done (she’d have paired it with boiled or baked veggies). But I thought we needed some fresh greens with a main dish that doesn’t contain a single vegetable. The family ate it all up and asked me to make it again soon, which tells me that it was a success.

Christmas Eve Dinner

The last few days before Christmas were a flurry of cooking activity. On the 22nd, I baked tortière, pumpkin pie, chocolate pumpkin brownies (this time without the coffee), while my husband made bread machine corn bread.


Baking pumpkin pie.

On the 23rd I made my first attempt at German stollen, banana nut muffins, and the ill-fated pumpkin pie; my husband baked corn meal muffins. Of course, we cooked dinner both days as well.


Tortière, corn bread, chocolate pumpkin brownies, and pumpkin pie.

Then, on the 24th, I made Nan’s pan rolls, rosemary bread in the breadmaker, and deviled eggs. I’d planned to make orange-glazed carrots & parsnips, but we forgot to buy carrots and there was no way I was facing the stores on Christmas Eve, so that got written out.

Then we hosted Christmas Eve dinner for our little family, plus my in-laws and my brother-in-law. Usually this dinner is hosted by my husband’s parents, but they are currently between homes, having sold their house in October but with their new condo not being complete until the start of February. So this year it was up to us to make this family tradition happen. This dinner is traditionally consists of (and no one can tell me why) cabbage rolls, which my mother-in-law made this year, and tortière, which I made. I also added the pan rolls, rosemary bread, and deviled eggs with lumpfish caviar.

I tried to honour my mother-in-law’s German heritage by also serving stollen, for which I used the Taste of Home Almond-Filled Stollen recipe and The Spruce’s Easy Almond Paste recipe, since I couldn’t find almond paste in any of the local shops. Sadly, the dish went down like a lead balloon. I mean, I overbaked one loaf (the recipe makes three), but I didn’t serve that one. Even so, only two slices were even eaten with or after Christmas Eve dinner. The bread rose nicely and had a good texture, although I can’t be much of a judge of the flavour because I don’t really like candied fruits (I don’t like fruitcake either for that very same reason). I think I’ll just forego making this bread next year if we host this dinner again. It was a lot of work and nobody seemed to like it. Maybe I’ll just make gingerbread instead; at least that I’ll eat if nobody else does!

Not Feeling Well

Much to my dismay, I feel like death warmed over today. So I’m going to go curl up in bed around a bottle of Pepto Bismol and try desperately not to even think about food. For those not laid low by illness, I would highly recommend the Gastro Obscura (the food section of Atlas Obscura), which I have been greatly enjoying perusing lately. For example, there’s a great article on narutomaki, which is a type of Japanese fishcake that you may have seen floating on top of the last soup in my fast food ramen entry.

For today, please enjoy this photo of our Elf on the Shelf Candy Cane perched atop my kitchen cupboards, “helping” me cook. Hopefully I will be well enough to write properly tomorrow.

Chicken Bones

Over the weekend I hit one of the local bulk food stores, and while I was there my attention was drawn to what I thought were real Chicken Bones. Okay, not real chicken bones, but the candy named after them. Chicken Bones follow in the grand tradition of naming confections after the parts of animals that they superficially resemble, just like Beaver Tails and bear claws. At any rate, I thought I was getting the Ganong original chicken bone candy, but in retrospect I may have been getting an imitation.

Here’s a video by Ganong about how the real thing is made:

Real or fake, Chicken Bones were an essential flavour of my childhood holidays. Unlike the ubiquitous mint of candy canes, Chicken Bones are a strong cinnamon candy with a touch of dark chocolate at the center. Now, I wouldn’t have known to make this comparison as a kid, but as an adult I can definitely say that they remind me of Fireball whisky.

Chicken Bones are a really Maritime thing, although they’ve made their way to the rest of Canada somewhat sparsely over time. That isn’t to say that they’re universally loved out East; I know a fair number of people who can’t stand them, but they are definitely ubiquitous. My Nan, who was from Britain but lived almost sixty years of her life in small-town New Brunswick, used to buy Chicken Bones around the holidays, along with After Eights and liquorice allsorts. Chicken Bones have a flavour and smell that I most strongly associate with her. Now that she has passed away nobody else around here seems to serve them. So when I saw them at the bulk food store, even if they were imitations, I had to pick up a few. I do miss my Nan around Christmas, since I spent so many of these holidays in her company. But sometimes keeping the little traditions alive helps to bring her back just a little bit, which is especially important this time of year, I think.

Busy Night

I had a billion and one things to accomplish yesterday evening, most of which I can’t even write about because they had to do with Christmas gifts for people that I know read this blog. One thing I can mention is that I did get the chance to put the last finishing touches on the Frankensteined gaming PC (made with excess parts graciously donated by our friends) that my husband and I are giving Thing 1 for Christmas. She doesn’t have Internet access yet, so here I can sigh with relief here about having at least one major gift out of the way.

Dinner was a quick one, since I can only do so many things at once, and for a change the kitchen was not calling me. I wanted to eat at least somewhat healthily, so I made up some soft tacos with a pre-packaged spice mix. Well, I say “made up”, but mostly I just prepped all of the ingredients and set them out on the table so that everyone could fill their own tacos. I fixed mine up with spiced ground beef, avocado, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and lactose-free cheddar. Also available on the table were sour cream (which I prefer over mayo, but can’t eat), homemade blender salsa canned earlier this year, and shredded cheddar cheese.

Dinner out of the way, I went on to work on some Christmas crafts. I whipped up my first-ever circle skirt for Thing 1 — which is even easier for a kid than for an adult since there aren’t any seams! A friend of mine recommended the following resources to me, which were invaluable:

Make a circle skirt without a pattern by Costuming Diary
Circle Skirt (and a follow-up instructional video by Made Everyday
The Best Way to Sew Bias Tape by Positively Splendid

I combined the techniques because I wasn’t working with a serger, and because I wanted a finished waistband edge but I also wanted the cute red elastic to show. This skirt will be worn later in the week when the girls go get their pictures taken with Santa. I still have to make a second, smaller one for Thing 2. Hopefully I can make the time tomorrow.

In every spare minute, I’m knitting away on cloths to be given as gifts. I think of this colourway as “Evil Minion“. This is either the last or second-last one, depending on how much yarn I am left with. After that, it’s time to start on knitted owls for my girls’ Guiding leaders.

As we do every year, we have had a guest in our house starting December 1st. Candy Cane will stay until December 25th, at which point she will be whisked back to the North Pole where she will stay until next holiday season. Here she is unpacking all of her copious outfits. I know some people find The Elf on the Shelf kind of creepy, but my kids really love her and look forward to her annual arrival. We’ve never made a big deal of the “reporting back to Santa” aspect of the Elves at our house, so my kids just see her as another piece of Christmas magic.

Childhood Family Dinner

Yesterday I had a million and one things to do in order to prep for the party on Saturday, so I really needed to make a dinner that I could probably have cooked in my sleep. This was the kind of dinner that I had regularly as a kid and was one of the staples of how I learned how to cook, way back when. A few small things have changed here and there, but it basically tastes the same.

I baked chicken thighs that were sprinkled with powdered onion soup mix. When I was a kid, boned and skinned meat was way too expensive for everyday meals, so it would have been whole chicken legs (drumstick and thigh), bone-in, skin-on. I served it with whipped potatoes; as a kid, that would simply have been mashed, no fancy schmancy electronics like a hand mixer. The corn was exactly what I grew up with: boiled from frozen, generally in the microwave.

We ate all kinds of other food, of course. My mom used to hang out with a Lebanese couple, and they exchanged recipes and techniques, so Mom made great Lebanese food. We ate all kinds of pasta and roasts and fancy Sunday dinners. But when push came to shove and we had something going on on a weekday evening (and with both my brother and I in hockey and Guiding/Scouting, that was most evenings), this was our fast, easy, everybody-likes-it kind of meal. To me, this kind of dish is a comfort food, because it brings back fond memories of family togetherness. And as a bonus, now that I’m a parent myself, there’s nothing in a supper like this that I have to fight to get my kids to eat!

Oh, and if you think that my parents wouldn’t have served supper on a plate with a skull and bones on it, on top of a skeleton-print tablecloth, you probably haven’t met my parents. Trust me, if they’d had those things, they would have used them in a heartbeat.