Merry Thanksmas!

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I elbowed my sailor awake at 8:00 Sunday morning.

“Wake up!” I hissed. “You have to soak your turkey!”

His eyes popped open. Being a sailor, he assumed soak your turkey was a euphemism for something fun.

It wasn’t.

He had to soak his frozen turkey to defrost it for roasting. Sunday was to be our family’s Thanksmas celebration–an amalgamation of Thanksgiving and Christmas, the two turkey roasting opportunities he’d missed.

His initial disappointment aside, my sailor performed admirably, putting together a complicated turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade stuffing, two different vegetables and cranberry sauce. (Okay, the cranberry sauce came from a can, but he did transfer that gelatinous mass into a pretty serving dish.)

He was in the kitchen for hours, chopping, boiling, mashing, stuffing and all manner of other cooking verbs.

Afterward, I loaded the dishwasher, but he dealt with the grosser aspects of clean-up–disposing of the stripped carcass and scrubbing the roasting tin.

In short, he performed like a kitchen champion.

And he thanked me for providing the opportunity to work his fingers to bone for me.

I love Thanksmas!

I’ve Lost the Christmas Chocolate!

008Home for less than a month and my sailor is already gone again.

This time not to war–huge sigh of relief. His mother has some medical issues so he’s returned to Powell River to help her out. Although I’m glad he’s caring enough to support his mom when she needs it, I’m also feeling a big grumpy. (Yes, I realize this is not my finest moment.)

He’s been away almost a week of his month-long post-deployment leave with no firm return date. Best case scenario, he could be home by mid-week. Worst case–this could drag on for most of his time off.

Is he an exemplary son?–you bet! He spent most of his pre-deployment leave with his mom, too. His caring and compassion are qualities I love. I’m just disappointed his leave is ticking away and we’re not together.

What’s a girl to do on a lonely Friday night when she finds herself without her sailor, you ask.

My first choice is the standard: Chardonnay. Unfortunately there was only about half a glass left. (Who runs out of wine??? I can’t believe I let this happen!)

Right then, on to plan B: chocolate. If only I could remember where I put it. All the half-price Boxing Day chocolate has disappeared. I’ve looked in all my usual hiding places, but to no avail. My boy assures me he didn’t eat it and I believe him. I’m the one with the voracious sweet tooth, not him.

When all else fails there’s always custard. One of the classic comfort foods of my childhood. I always have Bird’s Custard powder, milk and sugar. Custard is an easy peasy sweet treat. A monkey could make it if he had opposable thumbs. It’s never failed me–until tonight. Instead of a warm silky pudding, I ended up with a bright yellow mass the texture of loose scrambled eggs.

And I ate it anyway!

Ugh–it’s going to be a long weekend.

Normal Baking Has Now Been Resumed or Chocolate Chip Cookies Circa 2014

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With the holidays well and truly behind us, it’s time to put away the molasses, nutmeg and cinnamon and get back to regular baking–chocolate chip cookies!

New year, new recipe. This one was on the back of the Chipits bag. It’s a bit unusual because it uses only brown sugar (almost as much sugar as flour) instead of a mixture of brown and white. I figured this would add moisture and a deeper, caramel flavour so I went with it.

This recipe excited me because it starts with melted butter. I don’t have an electric mixture so I must use brute force to cream softened butter with sugar. Starting with melted butter takes the heavy work out of baking.

I added a splash of vanilla even though it wasn’t in the recipe because vanilla equals flavour. I also love its scent and feel particularly baker-ly when I cook with it.

The verdict: heavy dense cookies with very little flavour (thank goodness I added vanilla–they’d have been like lumps of plaster without it.)

I’m not giving up on the idea of melted butter for baking, but I’m going to tweak some other things.

Pfeffernusse

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Pfeffernusse are soft, molasses ginger cookies. The recipe comes from my mother-in-law’s family. They farmed in rural Ontario and my sailor has fond memories of childhood holidays at his grandma’s farm.

Pfeffernusse may be German, or it may be a long-standing typo from generations ago.

Whatever their origins, these little cookies are delicious.

My sailor grew up enjoying them at Christmas time. I’m pro family traditions so I thought I’d whip up a batch for my boy, who has come to expect homemade cookies. (I don’t want to think about the disappointed looks he gave me when I admitted we had to make do with cookies from a box last week because I didn’t have the energy for baking.)

The batter is pretty easy to throw together and I kind of enjoyed rolling the dough balls in my hands. The butter and spices made my palms soft and fragrant, an unexpected benefit of this tradition! As soon as they come out of the oven, the cookies are rolled in sugar, which is supposed to melt slightly to form a glaze-like coating. Mine just caked on top like dandruff, but they still tasted good if a little drier than they should be.

Alghough passable, they’re not the gold standard of pfeffernusse–ones my sailor makes every Christmas. (Yes, on top of all his other talents, he’s a competent baker!)

But guess what–it doesn’t matter if my pfeffernusse is dry and crusty because I’ll be enjoying some genuine sailor-quality baked goods before too long!

A BBQ in my Crock Pot

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I’m not much of a meat eater, but my sailor, our boy and of course our little Mexican friend are all blood-thirsty carnivores. Pulled pork is a particular favourite with the boys (and the canine).

Pulled pork has become very popular and it’s usually my boy’s choice whenever we eat out. Although he’s a purist and prefers it in its classic form, mounded on a crusty roll, I’ve seen pulled pork eggs Benedict, chowder, pasta, soup, wraps… It seems the only thing this versatile meat dish can’t do is dessert.

When I saw small pork roasts on special recently, I decided to give it a try. I have a slow cooker, I’m fairly bright and the directions are pretty simple. Mix up the sauce, pour it over the meat, cook for eight hours and shred with two forks. How hard can it be?

Both the boy and the dog spent a good part of the day sniffing around the kitchen eagerly awaiting the appearance of slow cooked pulled pork. When it was shredded, it looked just like the product served at so many family restaurants.

“How is it?” I asked my boy as he dug into the meaty goodness.

“Not quite up to restaurant standards.” He took another bite and chewed thoughtfully. “There’s a sharp background flavour that shouldn’t be there, but it’s okay.”

D’oh–I knew I should have washed the pork before popping it in the crock pot. I bought a pre-seasoned roast at Walmart because they were on special. It was prettily covered in rosemary boughs, parsley flakes and all manner of other seasonings that have no business on pulled pork with its smoky faux Barbeque sauce.

Finally–Some Good News!

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After going for a gentle afternoon jog, I popped a rice pudding in the oven before popping myself into a frothy bubble bath. As I scrubbed and exfoliated, the house slowly filled with a warm milky scent that brought back yummy childhood memories.

For those not following the saga of my quest for perfect rice pudding, this is attempt number three, and it worked! Well–almost. It was a little runny and I did lose some rice down the sink during the initial rinsing stage. (For some reason, this step remains challenging.) Oh, and the crust on top, delicate and wispy on my mom’s rice pudding, was dark and thick as roast turkey skin on mine. But progress is being made.

The cause of my (near) success: Italian Arborio rice! I had no idea they grew rice in “the hilly regions of northern Italy.” I thought it all came from Asia. My advice for anyone else looking for specialty ingredients like short grain rice: try an actual grocery store instead of the food aisle at Walmart.

Now that I’ve (sort of) mastered rice pudding, I may attempt another sweet favourite–creme brulee.

I think I have everything I need excpet a blow torch to burn the sugar on top and I KNOW I can get that at Walmart.

Rice Pudding, Part Deux

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In my never-ending quest to rediscover the yummy baked rice pudding of my childhood, I tried a different recipe.

This one is from ladyredspecs at Please Pass the Recipe. It’s quite simple, apparently transcribed from someone’s grandmother’s 1907 edition of Mrs. Beeton’s.

I followed this recipe to the letter–almost. I seem to have a pathological need to change recipes. Occasionally my alterations result in genius (well, maybe not genius–who am I kidding.) Most of the time, I learn the hard way why not everyone is cut out to write their own recipes. In this case, I used a mixture of canned and fresh milk, added a splash of vanilla extract and, because I still hadn’t bought short grain rice, long grain it was.

Today’s effort is getting closer to my dear old mom’s version. Except for the long grain rice. It looked like plump juicy maggots in the bowl–not the most appealing image. (There’s a reason all the good cooks recommend short grain.)

Although my boy honestly declared it wasn’t quite up to Kosy Shack standards and he carefully picked off each sliver of leathery skin from the top, he did go back for seconds.

If he ate it, I can assume I’m making progress on the rice pudding front.

My goal: perfect rice pudding by the time my sailor returns from Afghanistan. Raised by a Canadian mother, the homemade treats of his childhood include pumpkin pie and Rice Crispies treats, but everyone needs a bit of Wales in their kitchen.

The Proof is in the Pudding

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My mother wasn’t much of a cook. (I was fifteen before I realized lasagne didn’t come in a box from the freezer), but she did have a couple of fabulous signature dishes–a killer steak and potato pie that caused me to give up my vegetarian tendencies every time she made it and smooth, dreamy rice pudding that filled the house with a heavenly milky scent while it baked.

British Blokes Cooking were kind enough to post a recipe for traditional baked rice pudding.

Theirs was rich, velvety and undoubtedly delicious, like the rice pudding I so enjoyed throughout my childhood.

Sadly, mine was more solid than creamy. (My boy said, “Where’s the pudding? I only got rice!” when I served him a slab.)

The recipe called for short grain rice, but all I could find in Wal Mart was long grain. Rice is rice, I thought tossing a bag into my cart.

Apparently not. I learned today that size does indeed matter.

Trouble started at step one when I rinsed the starch off the rice prior to cooking. I discovered the holes in my colander are bigger than grains of rice. (This was actually a lucky break–if I hadn’t lost so much rice down the sink, my pudding would have been too dense to cut with a steak knife.)

Things continued to go down hill when I converted the baking temperature from Celsius to Farenheit. It seemed far too low to cook anything properly so I added about fifteen degrees because nobody likes raw, crunchy rice. Note to all inexperienced home cooks: the baking temperature given in a recipe isn’t merely a suggestion.

Other than rice size and baking temperature, I followed the recipe to the letter, well, except for not adding quite enough milk because Canadian cans of evaporated milk are smaller than British ones. Instead of adding extra regular milk to make up the difference, I added less because I wanted to preserve the ratio of canned to fresh milk. Yes, I know, thinking about it now, it doesn’t make any sense to me, either.

But the experience wasn’t a complete failure.

I have a rice pudding starting point now, and that’s gold. After years in the rice pudding desert, I can see the oasis of creamy, mild comfort food on the horizon. All I have to do is get the right kind of rice, use enough milk and cook it at the proper temperature. It’s easy peasy!

Winner, Winner–Chicken Dinner!

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A quiet weekend, but that’s about all I have the energy for these days.

Lots of time in the kitchen, but I enjoy cooking when it’s not the weeknight dinner scramble.

We ran out of cookies and my boy requested a new batch, so baking was first on the agenda. This time instead of chocolate chips (which I adore), I used Reese Peanut Butter chips in my go to Martha Stewart recipe. My boy loves anything peanut butter flavoured, but I’m not wild about these chips. Hopefully this means I won’t end up eating all his cookies. In the total absence of self-restraint, I have to bake treats I don’t like too much.

The highlight of my kitchen adventures? A roast chicken with parmesan potatoes and baby carrots for Sunday dinner. Nothing makes the house feel as cosy on a rainy afternoon as the scent of some unfortunate creature roasting slowly in the oven. As usual, the dog parked herself in front of the stove, sniffing and drooling. I think she expects the ill-fated hen to stage a break out. It hasn’t happened yet, and I’ve tripped over the dog more times than I can remember, but I don’t have the heart to shoo her away and destroy her dream of meat that’s as big as she is.

With any luck, I’ve generated enough leftovers that I won’t have to do any major cooking until Wednesday or Thursday. If that happens, I’m the real chicken dinner winner.

Crock Pot

004Barring a strike by support workers, school starts next week.

It’s already starting to get dark earlier and the weather has changed. Our ten month stretch of liquid sunshine (rain for those not on the Wet Coast) has started with a mighty splish splash.

While the onset of fall sends many moms to Wal-Mart hunting for notebooks, pencils and cute school outfits, it inspires me to dig out the Crock Pot and start a hearty stoup–not quite soup and not exactly stew. It’s an obviously homemade creation that’s the best of both.

I don’t use the Crock Pot during the scorching days of summer because it warms up the house too much. It’s psychological heat rather than an actual increase in temperature, but the scent of chicken and vegetables simmering all day is off putting when it’s in the high 20’s outside. When it’s cool and rainy?–Nothing could be better!

Today’s meal is a sloppy tomato, herb and chicken mess. It’s the kind of thing my fussy eater normally wouldn’t touch, but my years of motherhood have taught me a few tricks. I first served it when my boy had a friend over–the youngest of five with two crazy busy parents. This little guy is the kind of kid who’s learned to eat whatever’s put in front of him because no one’s going to cook something special for him if he doesn’t like the first choice.

Our guest dug into my tomato chicken mess with gusto and even asked for seconds. My boy, too embarrassed to order peanut butter toast or spaghetti with butter in front of his friend, actually ate what I cooked and (wonder of wonders!) he liked it!

This brings us to the Sailor’s Woman parenting tip of the day: introduce new foods in front of a peer, preferably one of those delightful children who has been conditioned to eat whatever’s put in front of him because he comes from a big, busy family. Seeing his friend dig into what you’ve so lovingly prepared is often enough to shame your picky eater into eating it, too. It’s the upside to peer pressure.

It may be raining kittens and Chihuahuas outside and I may be missing my sailor, but at least I only had to make one dinner tonight!