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.

Pasta Primavera

So I tried cooking a second recipe from Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997), and sadly, I wasn’t nearly as happy with the recipe as last time. I’ll say up front that I did make a few changes; instead of string beans, I used asparagus stalks cut small, and instead of dried penne I used dried linguini. But I’m pretty sure that’s not where my issues with this dish lie. At any rate, it still holds true to the dish’s basic composition of “the combination of lightly cooked vegetables and pasta”.

To be clear, it’s the dish, not the recipe, that I had problems with. The recipe was quite clear, concise, and yielded exactly the results that it promised. But I’ve had pasta primavera before, and this just didn’t live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. I’d expected the sauce to be creamy, and while it looked like it should be, it really tasted quite dry. That might have been the fault of the cheese that I chose (Chevrai Original Goat Cheese), but it was soft goat cheese as the recipe dictated. Also, the strong flavour of lemon (which my husband insists tasted more like lime, but as you can see from the above photo was definitely a lemon) was off-putting.

It’s too bad, because I like the concept behind this dish, but I don’t think that this recipe is for me. That’s all right, since a quick perusal of my bookshelves yielded three different pasta primavera recipes for me to try: on page 327 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), page 125 of The New Canadian Basics Cookbook (Carol Ferguson, 1999), and page 164 of Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite (Gordon Ramsay, 2008). I figure that, with a bit of experimentation, I’ll find a recipe that my husband, kids, and I like well enough for it to become a family classic.

Muffins & Schnitzel & Faux Alfredo

Yesterday was a busy day for cooking. The first thing Thing 2 did when she returned from school was to request that we make muffins together. I used up the leftover pancake mix from the Pancake Mix & Peach Muffins to whip up a second batch; it turns out that the size of box that they sell at the dollar store will make two batches with a little left over. This time we tried the recipe with the spices (which greatly enhanced the flavour), and added apricots instead of peaches as the fruit. No nuts again this time, since the kids want to take them to school. They turned out quite well!


Pancake mix & apricot muffins.

For dinner I decided to try a few things I hadn’t made before, the first of which was chicken schnitzel. Schnitzel is one of my husband’s favourite foods from his childhood (although he insists that it’s not real schnitzel unless it’s pork). I found pre-tenderized and breaded schnitzel on clearance at the grocery store yesterday, so I figured I’d give it a shot. In all honesty, I did overcook it, but my husband still ate his portion and the kids’ leftovers, so it wasn’t that bad. I think I know where I made my mistakes and I know what to change when I try this dish again in the future.


Chicken schnitzel, linguini with cauliflower Alfredo sauce, and steamed spinach.

The second new dish that I made was linguini with Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce from Just A Pinch. I’d seen this recipe referenced on a few cooking blogs and it was touted as being fantastic. I love creamy sauces, but my digestive system can’t handle much milk, so I thought that this was the perfect solution. My sauce turned out a little more brown than the recipe’s, but that’s because my homemade chicken broth turned out more brown than the commercial kind because of the way the chicken was originally prepared. Taste-wise, I don’t think that affected it much, though.

My main problem with the recipe is that after following all of the instructions to the letter, the sauce ended up being really, really watery. I mean, it was more of a soup than a sauce and would never have stuck to the noodles. I suspect that this was because my cauliflower was smaller than the one from the recipe, which affected the solid-to-liquid ratio; I find that accurately recreating a dish can be difficult if the ingredients aren’t given in a weight or volume-based measure. I also had to use almond milk instead of heavy cream, which probably didn’t help, but there’s only 1/4 cup of that in there in any case. In the end I was able to save the sauce. First I whisked about 4 Tbsp of flour with some water to make a smooth paste, which I then whisked into the sauce. I simmered it all together for a while but I found that it wasn’t thickening fast enough, so I chucked it all into a microwave-safe casserole dish and microwaved it in three-minute increments (stirring after every three minutes) until it reached the desired consistency.

So would I make this recipe again? Probably, when my desire for a creamy alfredo-like sauce resurfaces. You definitely could taste the cauliflower in there, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’d say it’s a reasonable replacement for a proper Alfredo, and it’s still a thousand times better than some of the canned versions that are available around here. Next time I’ll just adjust planned cooking times to accommodate having to thicken it.

Pork Belly Ramen

Earlier this week I accidentally bought two packages of pork riblets. I was distracted by the fact that each package was less than $2.00 and didn’t read the label very well; I thought that what was inside the package was solid meat instead of mostly bone. When I went to cook it I was highly disappointed! So I threw the bones into a crock pot and simmered them for two days in order to get a passable broth.

On that same shopping trip I bought some pork belly slices for about 75% off, with which I was much less disappointed. I haven’t had much luck cooking pork belly in the past (one time I over-salted, another I cooked them for much too long and they were tough). I went to the Internet and found that one way to cook them for soup is to simmer them. I used:

– 1 tsp ginger
– 3 Tbsp sugar
– 4 Tbsp soy sauce
– 4 Tbsp sake
– 2 green onions, roughly chopped
– 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
– 1 1/2 cups water

When the meat was done, I set it aside and added the remaining simmering liquid (with the large particulate strained out), plus 1 tsp instant dashi granules and a drizzle of mirin, to a pot of the pork bone broth I’d made. The broth turned out nice and flavourful, but the pork belly still needs a bit of work; perhaps if I marinaded the pork belly in the liquid first, simmered it, then grilled it briefly to get some browning? I definitely need some more practice before I get it 100% right.

In my ongoing quest for a better noodle, I served the pork and broth over a base of Kumai Japanese Style Handmade Ramen noodles by Chewy International Foods Ltd.. They’re still nothing close to fresh handmade noodles, but they have been the best pre-packaged noodles I’ve tried so far. You only have to cook them for 30 seconds in boiling water, which I think really helped them stay nice and chewy.

I served the ramen with shredded Napa cabbage, soft-boiled eggs, and green onions, in addition to the pork belly and broth I’d made. It wasn’t perfect, but it was quite tasty, and I enjoyed it. Too bad Thing 1 is down with a cold again and couldn’t really enjoy it, since it’s generally the kind of dish she prefers. At least the warm soup felt good on her sore throat.

Bulgogi Beef Bowl

Yesterday Thing 2 was home from school with a cold, and Thing 1 returned from school at the end of the day complaining of a sore throat. Since my day was primarily taken up with caring for the both of them, I needed to make an easy dinner, one that didn’t take a lot of supervision. I also needed to make dinner from what I had in the house, because if taking the kids to the store can be a chore, it’s a thousand times worse when they’re sick. And let’s be honest, nobody else at the store appreciates me bringing my little disease vectors along.

I rooted through my pantry and found a bottle of Sempio Bulgogi Marinade, which to be honest I had completely forgotten about. I’d tried their Kalbi sauce a while back and really liked it, so I had high hopes for this marinade. It was a bit more liquid than I’d expected, but otherwise it was lovely. I half-thawed some beef from the freezer, sliced it thin, then marinaded it (and thawed it the rest of the way) over the course of an hour. Then I boiled up a pot of rice (basmati, which I know is more of an Indian thing than Korean, but it’s what I had on hand), steamed bok choy in the microwave, and then layered them in a bowl with the beef on top. If I’d thought about it I would have topped it with toasted sesame seeds, which I do have in my spice cupboard, but I forgot they were there! I had a little extra marinade at the bottom of the pan, which I poured over the bowl. This drizzled through the beef slices and onto the bok choy and rice, making both very tasty.

Things don’t bode much better for the kids being well tomorrow, so I’ll have to think of another pantry-friendly, healthy, hopefully-tasty meal for tomorrow…

Personal Pizza

I’ve been craving pizza lately, which is pretty much a no-no because of the issues that my digestive tract has with dairy. However, to my everlasting joy, I’ve discovered that I can eat lactose-free cheese so long as I don’t go overboard, since cheese is also quite greasy, especially when melted. Since none of the pizzerias around here carry lactose-free cheese as an option, I thought that a “make your own pizza” evening was in order.

It didn’t look spectacular because I put the toppings under the cheese, but it tasted great! I started with the dough from the Two-Cheese Pizza recipe on page 170 of Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook (1999). This made enough for one 12″ pizza or four 4″ or so thin-crust-ish pizzas. (Next time I do this, I’m doubling the recipe.) You can’t actually cook pizzas in the bread machine, so I rolled out the dough into individual crusts and everyone topped their own. I used Healthy Veggie Tomato Sauce that I had in the freezer as the sauce, although I did simmer it a little to reduce it a little bit. I topped my pizza with ground beef and crumbled bacon, along with a few cremini mushroom slices. The rest of the family had theirs with more traditional mozzarella, but since cheddar was the only kind I could get lactose-free, I went with that.

I’ve tried Jamie Oliver’s Quick Family Pizza in the past, and although the kids liked it, one of the things I discovered about myself is that I’m not a big fan of the taste of self-rising flour. I think it’s just a little too salty for me. At any rate, I like the yeast dough a great deal more, and it’s just as easy as the quick bread version if I use the bread machine. So I think I’ll stick with this kind of dough for future pizza iterations.

Asparagus, Eggs & French Dressing

I’ve really been enjoying trying out the dishes from the Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (2017). My go-to breakfast for the last week or so has come from this book: Asparagus, Eggs & French Dressing (page 164). The recipe serves two, but it’s easy enough to halve the ingredients to make a single serving for myself. (Hubby is a cereal-for-breakfast kind of guy, and the kids turn up their noses at vegetables for breakfast.)

If you prepare the dressing in advance (the recipe makes enough for a week’s worth of breakfasts for one person), this dish only takes about ten minutes to make. I don’t have a metal colander to put over the eggs in which to steam the asparagus, so I cook it in the microwave using a steamer dish. I also discovered that it takes a little longer than 5 1/2 minutes to make soft-boiled eggs around here; as the above photo attests, my first try was a bit underdone. It’s more like 6 1/2 minutes.

Things I discovered about myself when making this recipe: I’m not a big fan of raw tarragon (it tastes a bit like black licorice to me, which I despise), and I have a limited tolerance for raw red onions in the morning. I just started skipping the tarragon entirely, but I wonder if this dish might be good with a bit of basil instead? And although I like the red onion flavour in the dressing, I had to stop eating it as a garnish. Otherwise, I could taste it on my breath all day, even after brushing my teeth.