Healthy Summer BBQ

We are almost done having a deck installed in our back yard, covering the mud pit that used to be there where the old, rotten deck used to be that we hadn’t had the funds to replace. The new deck was supposed to be done last week, but some of the deck boards in the package that was bought were warped or otherwise damaged, and we’ve been waiting since last Wednesday for Home Depot to deliver the replacements. Two delivery dates have come and gone, and the delivery never showed up… Needless to say, we are not amused.

But most of the deck is done, which means the barbecues are back in place and it’s time to cook outside!

Dinner started with a lovely fruit smoothie: banana, peach, strawberry, mango, and orange juice, with all the fruit other than the banana coming out of a package in the freezer that I really needed to use up. The kids loved it.

Dinner for me was quite filling, although you’d never believe it from the look of it! It was salmon in a honey dijon marinade, which I bought grill-ready from the grocery store, and zucchini cooked with a bit of olive oil and salt. I made it all up on the wood pellet barbecue, which added a lovely smokey overtone to the whole dish.

Of course, the kids wanted — and received — hot dogs made in the microwave. You can’t win them all.

Earth Day

Yesterday I spent most of Earth Day on my bicycle, which I think is appropriate. It was less because it was Earth Day and more because the weather was finally nice (you’d never know we had an ice storm a week before), and I love to cycle.

I cycled with my mother along the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal, taking a break in the middle of the ride for a lovely bite to eat in the Glebe. A good deal of maintenance had been done since the ice storm, so most of the big branches had been pulled off of paths and roads, but the large numbers of smaller sticks and twigs sometimes made it dicey going. Every so often we’d find an area with constant shade, and we’d have to be careful of the ice hidden there. The water was really high on the river (although definitely not as bad as last year’s major flooding), so some of the bike paths that run alongside were a little dicey and sometimes inaccessible. Amusingly, when we traveled alongside the canal we realized that it has yet to be raised back to navigation level and was almost dry at the bottom — the water level is controlled by a series of dams and weirs, and it’s only partially filled in the winter to create ice for the skateway.

While the plants have yet to green up, the bugs were starting to reemerge (I learned that gnats stick to sunscreen) and we saw a plethora of birds. Although there were worries that the robins would starve in the late freezing weather, we did see quite a few of them. Also in large numbers were pigeons, gulls, and Canada geese; although we didn’t see many of them, we did hear songbirds singing in the trees. We even spotted the odd pigeon in the photo above, which caught our eyes because the pigeons around here generally have colouring more like this.

Honestly, it wasn’t the prettiest day. Despite the clear blue sky and the sun shining down, this isn’t the most beautiful time of year to be a tourist. If you wanted to film/photograph something with a post-apocalyptic vibe, this is the time to do it. Just wait a few weeks, though, and it will be beautiful again!

I did do a couple of things that are kind of stereotypically Canadian today, now that it’s warmed up a bit. First, I took my outdoor Christmas lights down. If you live in warmer climes that probably seems quite late, but although I turned mine off on January 1st, by then they were frozen to the ground and under a thick layer of ice and snow. Only now had things melted back enough that I could actually take them down!

Also, today I shoveled the lawn. That probably sounds ridiculous to anyone who doesn’t live where there’s a great deal of snow, so let me explain. At the end of the winter, you’re always left with a few drifts that are the last to melt, usually in areas that don’t get much sun or where you pile snow when you shovel your driveway or paths clear. Well, I have a few spots like that, and I’ve learned over the years that if I want them to melt (and hence dry out) a little faster, I can throw the top layers of snow into the parts of the yard that actually get regular sun. I know it’ll all melt eventually if I just leave it, but by this point in the year I’m impatient for the change of seasons. It probably only takes a couple of days less to melt the snow if I shovel it, but it makes me feel better, gosh darn it!

For our Earth Day dinner, my husband cooked us up some steak and zucchini on the wood pellet grill, which I served with some nice homemade bread. We had actually intended to have hamburgers, but I think everyone else in town had the same idea and we couldn’t find buns for love nor money. I think anyone who could do so fired up the barbecue and cooked outside, if only as an excuse to do something out in the lovely weather. I mean, it went up to 16°C (61°F) for the first time since around October, so I really don’t blame them. Ah well, our dinner was probably healthier than burgers anyway — and it was delicious!

Progress

I had planned on spending all day yesterday working on my costume, but a power outage until after noon made that highly problematic. I couldn’t even cut out pattern or fabric pieces, since that requires a large, flat surface, and the only spot like that in my house was my basement floor — where there was no power for lights.

Luckily, I had a good portion of the rest of the day to work on the costume, and some progress was made. I am happy to say that at least one element of the costume is complete. I did have to take a break to cook and eat dinner, though.

I didn’t want to make something that took hours of prep work, since I should have been spending that time sewing. I still had one enormous zucchini left to cook (my friends, overloaded with their harvest, kept bringing me more), so I made a big batch of baked Panko zucchini sticks. Normally I wouldn’t peel the zucchini, but this time I did because the squash was huge and old, so the skin was very tough. For meat, I chopped up some chicken, coated it in Golden Dragon Thick Teriyaki Sauce, and fried it up on the stove while the zucchini baked. It all turned out quite well, and it was found acceptable by my friend who came over in the evening to work on her own costume. We were up until well past midnight sewing, and we’re not done yet!

Onion Soup Pork Chops & Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks

In an attempt to use up the zucchini I received this weekend, I made another round of Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks for dinner last night. Enough for my entire family only uses up about a quarter of one of those giant summer squash. Of all of the recipes that I have for zucchini, this one uses the most in one go. It may end up being a contest to see which gives out first, my supply of zucchini or my kids’ ability to consume it. To be fair, the girls were really happy to see the zucchini on their plates last night, and that’s two suppers in a row where I didn’t have to fight with them to get them to eat their vegetables.

However, the real star of dinner wasn’t the zucchini sticks, although my kids may argue otherwise. The best part to me was the pork chops that I baked as the entree. I found these 1″ thick slabs of pork on sale for less than the cheap cuts, so I stocked up and planned on a few for dinner. I greased a broiler pan, lay the chops flat on top, and then covered them with a thick coating of dry onion soup mix. Then I baked them at 275°F (135°C) for about two hours. They were a very fatty cut, but the low, slow bake made them moist, tender, and not too greasy. Honestly, they couldn’t have been much easier. Now, if only I’d planned a meal cooked entirely in the oven for a day that wasn’t 30°C (86°F).

I was inspired to cook the meat this way after reading The I Hate To Cook Book (Peg Bracken, 1960). On page 12, the author writes about Sweep Steak, which is “[s]o-called because a couple of seasons ago this recipe swept the country“. Basically, it’s beef coated with dry onion soup mix and roasted in the oven.

Now, this cookbook predates me, but I distinctly remember dry onion soup mix being a staple of the kitchen when I was growing up. It was used to coat steak, to bread pork chops and chicken, and to season meatloaf. In our house, it was most commonly mixed with sour cream to become chip dip — which is referred to as Classic California Dip on page 84 of The I Hate To Cook Book, so I guess this combination predates me as well. I remember doing groceries with my parents and there was a whole assortment of dried soups along an aisle. But when I went to pick up some mix for this dish, the dried soups took up only part of one tiny shelf, most of which was taken up by Cup-A-Soup. There are probably a hundred or more types of canned and tetra-packed soup, not to mention the refrigerated stuff in the deli section, but apparently the dried kind is no longer popular. I guess that’s to be expected with the popularity of fresh ingredients being back on the rise. I certainly hadn’t bought any dried soup mix in years. Still, it came as quite a surprise to me to see the selection so limited.

Autumn Produce & Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks Recipe

A friend came by this past weekend to hang out and chat, and also to gift me with some of the excessive produce from his family’s garden. Apparently zucchini has really liked this year’s rainy summer, and tomatoes weren’t far behind in the production department.


Zucchinis and tomatoes in cardboard boxes from my friend’s garden; tomatoes and cherry tomatoes from my garden in the green bowls.

I didn’t try to grow zucchinis this year, but my tomatoes are ripening up nicely as well, so I ended up with much more fresh garden produce this weekend than we could eat before it went bad. So I’ve found myself spending the majority of the last few days in the kitchen, cooking as much of these fruits and veggies as I can.

Since my freezer is getting pretty full so I wanted something shelf-stable, and my husband (the main salsa consumer in our house) really likes the Blender Salsa from page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014), making another big batch was a no-brainer. Once my hubby had snacked on some of the lovely cherry tomatoes, I cooked up the remainder into about four liters of salsa. That’s not nearly enough to get us through the winter, but there are still more tomatoes on the vine to ripen, after all.

I baked a loaf of Chocolate Zucchini Bread (page 104 of 125 Best Quick Bread Recipes by Donna Washburn & Heather Butt (2002)). This is a heavy, rich bread that is satisfying either as a dessert or as a snack. I opted for semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, which makes this dish almost bitter, since it doesn’t include all that much added sugar. You can also use dark chocolate chips for an even deeper flavour, or switch it up with butterscotch, raspberry, or white chocolate chips. I was a little worried about the texture that the grated zucchini might have created, so I used the same technique as when I rebaked the chocolate fudge zucchini cookies and precooked the zucchini, then ran it through the blender. This added a bit of extra moisture to the bread, so I omitted the vegetable oil entirely. I was quite happy with how it turned out, both in flavour and in texture.

For dinner yesterday I also made baked chicken with my usual sprinkling of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, summer savoury, and salt as topping. As a side I made baked zucchini sticks, which my kids couldn’t get enough of, so I think I’ll be making them a few more times until I use up all of this zucchini (there’s still lots left). Instead of the more common (around here) seasoned bread crumbs, I went with panko, which is a much lighter style of Japanese bread crumb. I also baked the sticks instead of the more traditional deep-frying, for health reasons and because I just don’t particularly enjoy deep-frying. Here’s the very simple recipe that I used:

Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks
Serves 4 as a side dish

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
Wash and slice into thick sticks, leaving peel on:
400g zucchini
In a small mixing bowl, beat:
1 large egg
In a second small mixing bowl, combine:
3/4 cup panko
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
4 Tbsp Kraft 100% Parmesan grated cheese*
Grease a cookie sheet lightly with olive oil or cooking spray.
Dry the zucchini on paper towel, then dip it into the egg until coated, then into the panko mixture until coated. Place the coated zucchini sticks in a single layer on the greased cookie sheet. Sticks will cook most evenly and be most crunchy if they are not touching.
Bake the zucchini sticks for 15-20 minutes, or until topping is golden brown.
Serve plain, or with ranch dressing or marinara sauce as a dipping sauce.

*Parmesan cheese may be omitted, but if so, double the amount of salt.

Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cookies: Rebaked

My kids and I munched our way through my first batch of chocolate fudge zucchini cookies in a matter of days, so I decided to bake some more.

Although I loved the flavour and moist softness of the original recipe, I wasn’t terribly happy with the texture that the grated zucchini gave to the cookies. This time I microwaved the zucchini first, covered, for four minutes, which softened it up nicely. Then I ran the zucchini through my blender until it had the consistency of a smoothie. I followed the rest of the recipe to the letter, and it worked out wonderfully. No stringy bits, just fantastic chocolate flavour and moist texture.

My kids prefer this version too. Thing 1 was quite willing to model the non-stringy inside of the cookie for me so long as she got the broken cookie as payment.

Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cookies

I recently discovered that the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum has a whole list of recipes that it provides free of charge in PDF format. There are a number of what I would consider typical, traditional Canadian dishes on there — but there were also a number I’d never heard of as well. So of course I had to check them out.

I’d been craving sweets, so I decided that the first recipe I’d try from this collection was the Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cookies. Also, although I didn’t grow any myself this year, zucchini is in season and hence is really affordable at the moment. And wow, was I ever happy with how these cookies turned out! They were soft and moist without falling apart, and incredibly rich. The recipe called for the cookies to be dropped by tablespoons onto the baking pans, but although the composition of the dough was too thick for this and each cookie had to be hand-formed, I don’t think that this affected the final product in a negative way.

I think that the only thing I’d change about this recipe is how the zucchini is prepared. The recipe calls for it to be finely shredded, but I found that this still left a few stringy bits in the otherwise-soft texture of the cookie. In the future, I might try peeling the zucchini first, or running it through the blender to change the texture. I wouldn’t want to get rid of it, though, as that’s what makes it so moist!