Weekend cooking and reading plans

My weekend plans were originally rather busy and I’d been planning to treat myself to lunch somewhere while I was out and about.

Then all my appointments got moved (not my idea) and initially I was very woe about my lack of excuses to treat myself to nummy food. Thankfully I’ve found an excuse: I need to take my PVR into the store for my cable company at the mall because they’re upgrading something in their system and my current box won’t work after April 1st. As I need to see Once Upon a Time and Grey’s Anatomy (don’t judge me!), I’m taking the box in to get it swapped for the spiffy new one that I need.

And so I have an excuse to get some sushi for supper on the way home, which is one of my favourite food treats ever. I think that I’ll also watch Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers tomorrow evening, as I seem to be on a bit of a LotR rewatch kick. It will be perfect.

There will still be some cooking tomorrow. Project Freezer Restock needs to continue so I’ll make a big pot of chili. I’ll also make and freeze some cheese and lentil loaves as a quick veggie option. Finally I need to make some granola because I’m distressingly short and I need my granola. Need it, I tell you. Muesli breakfast day is all kinds of awesome, but I need my granola days.

Hopefully I’ll find some time for some reading because I’ve got a lot to pack in over the next week. I want to finish The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells because it’s my current Kindle book and I need to finish it before I read the final two Hunger Games books, which are also on my Kindle. I’ve got a week to read those because I’m seeing the movie with my movie buddy next weekend.

Do you like the way that I’ve logic-ed myself an entire week of gleeful Hunger Games reading?

Recipe review: Penne and zucchini carbonara

Verdict: Delicious

Do again: Definitely

I kind of followed this recipe, but not particularly faithfully. It was really more of a case of taking the basic idea (replace some of the pasta in carbonara with zucchini) and using it in my usual carbonara.

I usually cook 2oz of pasta, so for this I only cooked 1oz and replaced the rest with a large zucchini, sliced into short sticks. I added the zucchini to the pasta pot around 3 minutes before the penne was cooked and used my usual egg/cheese/pepper combo for the carbonara sauce.

One thing that I did change is that I usually use some diced maple cured bacon and for this one, I used a small amount of pancetta. This is not something that I usually use and I was able to get just a tiny bit from the deli. The stuff is a lot saltier than my usual bacon so I didn’t add any more salt to anything. It’s definitely a “little goes a long way” thing as far as flavour is concerned!

I definitely like this option to healthify one of my favourite pasta dishes. The zucchini makes it a bigger, more satisfying portion while reducing calories and increasing the healthy-stuff content. It’s tasty and I’m now wondering what other pasta dishes I could do this with.

Recipe review: slow-cooker chicken tikka masala

Verdict: Amazing!

Do again?: Definitely

I saw this recipe for chicken tikka masala in the slow cooker a couple of weeks ago and immediately knew that I needed to make it. I only eat meat three or four times a week, but for the main part it is beef and pork with chicken only rarely and, when I eat chicken, usually a prepared chicken something from my butcher.

So I know that I should be switching some of my red meat out for chicken or turkey, but I’m not actually that keen on either. It’s usually too dry and tasteless and most recipes start with breast meat, which is my least favourite part of poultry.

This recipe uses boneless skinless chicken thighs, which I hadn’t even known existed before. They are (for me) a much tastier cut and co-incidentally around half the price of breast. The high price of chicken in Canada compared to beef was the other factor putting me off using it more, so it looks like these lovely chicken thighs will be my go-to chicken cut from now on.

The recipe is delicious. You can vary the heat levels (I carefully only pricked my jalapeno lightly so mine was not hot at all), the meat is fall-apart tender and the taste is amazing. It’s also remarkably healthy and low fat!

I ate one portion with rice and put another six me-sized portions into the freezer. I froze it before adding the final couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt just in case the yoghurt didn’t freeze well – I’ll do that final step when I re-heat it. I’m very happy with this recipe and will definitely be repeating it if it freezes well.

Weekend plans

Busy weekend coming up! Most importantly, it’s the final weekend of the Six Nations (rugby, my major sporting love next to cycling) and all three matches promise to be great because there are things to fight for in each one.

Then there is the kitchen stuff. I need to start re-stocking the freezer so I’ll be trying out a new recipe for slow-cooker chicken tikka masala. Not being a big chicken fan, I’m always looking for interesting ways to prepare and serve it and this also means that there will be minimal time needed in the kitchen in order to create supper.ย  Very important when there is much rugby to be watched. Win-win type thing!

Then there needs to be a pot of soup made for next week’s lunches. Another nice easy thing to do because apart from around twenty minutes of veg prep, soup is mainly about simmering, occasionally stirring, and adding ingredients at appropriate moments. It’s something that can happen in the background of other things, like having a nice cup of tea and a sit down.

I’m not even going to think about making any kind of muffin or bread: I’ll be getting a nice loaf of something from the rather nice bakery this evening. And I have rhubarb muffins in the freezer so no need to bake any breakfast treats.

If I’ve got the energy, time and inclination then I may bake some cupcakes. If I haven’t, I’ve got three types of cookie dough in the freezer (what? you don’t do that too?) so I can just chuck some balls of dough on a tray and shove it in the oven. I love instant cookies ๐Ÿ˜€

I’d mutter something about finishing The Hunger Games, but I mainlined the entire thing in two evenings this week…

So my big dilemma is do I go for the next in that trilogy or go back to Mr. Martin?

I’ve also got a couple of films in mind from Netflix if I want something tonight or Sunday night (I’m trying to watch all the recent Marvel films in preparation for The Avengers) and Sunday’s episode of Once Upon a Time promises to be brilliant.

So, if nothing goes wrong, my weekend is looking to be fantastic ๐Ÿ˜€

Recipe review: cornbread muffins with goats cheese and green onions

Verdict: Om nom gorgeous!

Repeat: Definitely.

I found the recipe for cornbread muffins with goats cheese and green onions a couple of weeks ago and immediately started plotting when I could use it. I’ve also been trying to figure out some things to speed up and jazz up my lunch preparation.

Cooking these muffins to serve with a bowl of spicy bean and lentil soup (my own recipe, I may post it if anyone is interested) seemed like the perfect solution to both dilemmas.

These muffins worked beautifully. I needed to give them the full 20 minutes (I might even give them 22 next time) to get them cooked through and I used yellow cornmeal so they were only just starting to get a hint of darker colour on top when I took them out. The cornbread taste is quite mild so the cheese and onions really stand out. They were a particularly good contrast with the soup, if I may say.

I’ve kept a few in an airtight container so I’ll see how they fare. I’ll probably warm them a little in the microwave when I’m eating them at work during the week. The rest are in the freezer and I’ll see how they defrost and reheat later in the week. Great recipe and the instructions are spot-on. It took me perhaps 10 minutes to mix them up making them a great quick prep item.

Recipe review: rhubard muffins

Verdict: Delicious!

Repeat: Definitely.

Additional notes: see the end of the review for notes on what I would change/had to change.

I had a big weekend of baking and the first thing on my list (because I wanted to eat them for breakfast) was the rhubard streusel muffins from smitten kitchen.

The muffin itself is not very sweet so most of the sweetness comes from the streusel on top. That allows the rhubarb to come through nicely. Mine were quite sweet (for rhubarb) so there wasn’t the kind of mouth-puckering sourness that I’d half expected. The muffin is very moist and I’ll be interested to see how the keep because the areas adjacent to rhubarb chunks were almost wet.

They’re delicious warm and I think that I’ll be warming them in the microwave for a few seconds on future mornings. A number have been packed away in the freezer so I’ll see how those ones fare versus the ones in an airtight box in the cupboard.

It’s worth noting that I needed to cook them for around 25 minutes to get them completely cooked. Also, next time I’d mix together the dry ingredients for the streusel but I wouldn’t pour the butter on and mix it up until the moment before I need it. The stuff clumped into large, hard lumps that needed breaking up because it took me around half an hour to get from making the streusel to folding it in and topping off the muffins.

ETA: Warming in the microwave works very nicely, but a couple of minutes in the toaster oven probably works even better. The micro makes the streusel soften. Heating in the toast oven may be a weekend treat ๐Ÿ˜€

Weekend kitchen plans!

I’ve got another big weekend in the kitchen planned. I’ve also got a lot of Six Nations rugby to watch, so I’ll be on a tight schedule here. It’s hard not to get over ambitious when I’m having a big cooking itch and have other stuff to do so that I can’t Bake All The Things!

Anyway, this is the current plan:

Goat’s cheese and chive corn bread muffins. I saw this recipe a couple of weeks ago and immediately wanted to make it. The description sounds delicious, it’s not too unhealthy and it would make a nice change from my toast/fancy cheese/salad/apple sauce lunch. However, cornbread requires an accompaniment so I’ll also be constructing…

Bean and lentil soup. No recipe because I’ll be making it up as I go. Probably some carrots and an onion,ย  definitely red lentils, crushed tomatoes, low sodium vegetable stock and water, plus whatever beans look intriguing to try when I’m doing my shopping this weekend. There will probably also be a bay leaf and some spices of some kind as well. It’s rare for me to actually follow a recipe for soup.

Rhubarb season is just starting here and I want a new way to eat rhubarb beyond the usual stewing, crisps and crumbles. Not that these are bad ways to eat rhubarb but it’s nice to change things up a bit. Luckily I spotted rhubarb streusel muffins on smitten kitchen last week and immediately needed to have them. I think these may be a nice change in my breakfast routine – a muffin with a ramekin (i.e. very small serving) of homemade granola and yoghurt. My love for homemade granola knows no bounds (I’ve been known to eat it for supper sometimes on extremely lazy Friday nights) but (wo)man cannot live on granola alone. Or something.

A friend discussed fish pie this week and now I need to make one. I’ve got this little individual lasagne dish that I haven’t actually used yet (I keep making too much lasagne for it) so I plan to christen it with a single portion of fish pie. This is something that I normally regard as way too fiddly to do for one portion (and it doesn’t freeze well), but when a girl’s got a craving…

On Sunday I’m totally planning to have a pre-prepared something from the butcher (stuffed chicken breast or beef rouladen both sound good) that can just be stuck in an over for a while. It’s lazy, but I suspect Saturday will exhaust me.

I took an inventory of my freezer last night and I’m down to the last portion or two of most things. It’s my way of having tasty, homecooked ready meals through the week. So starting next weekend, there’s going to be some serious batch cooking and freezing happening for a few weeks. Current candidates are some old favourites (chili, shepherd’s pie, slow-cooker beef stroganoff), a new recipe (slow-cooker chicken tikka masala) and a veggie option or two (dhal, cheese and lentil loaf or lentil shepherd’s pie all are favourites).

Recipe report!

So, there was a lot of cooking that happened over the weekend. I got kitchen-itchy.

I can safely report that the Caramelised Apple, Honey and Frangipane Tart is delicious. And also that there is a good reason for the 2cm crust that is recommended – any less and you risk major frangipane overflow. Not that this is terrible, but it does make for a slightly less beautiful tart. I halved the recipe, which meant that I got the fun of weighing and dividing an egg in half, but I’m glad I made that call because it’s rich and I couldn’t have eaten the full recipe before it went bad.

I also made Spicy Roasted Chickpeas to have around as a snack. These didn’t go quite as well, although it was no fault of the recipe. The spice level is just right and the ones that crisped up are gorgeous. However, I definitely need to make sure that the chickpeas are patted very dry before putting them into the spice/oil mix because they don’t crisp up much if they’re too soggy. At least I know that now.

Finally, I made a two-serving tuna lasagne and put the unused half of the filling (the filling recipe makes 4 portions) into the freezer. In a couple of weeks I’ll see how that worked.

I’m already planning next week’s little marathon…

England, I am going to be in you!

Despite yesterday’s sadness at no conventions for 2012, there is a big trip scheduled for this year.


Um, yes, this is my native land and thus the excitement may seem a little odd. Let me explain why I am getting so darned excited about this, via bullet points:

  • Almost every trip last year, barring my England trip for Redemption, had to be cancelled due to illness
  • Almost every day out last year had to be cancelled due to illness or bad weather
  • Apart from the convention and one supervised trip to London, I spent last year’s England trip recuperating in my parent’s house
  • My Christmas 2009/2010 England visit was spent largely trapped in my parent’s house by snow
  • I have got some truly epic plans for the trip that will counter-act all of these disappointments

I am currently in remission from the ulcerative colitis. Unless I’m supremely unlucky, this should hold. The trip is carefully planned to be well outside the radius of snow on either side of the Atlantic so weather cannot disrupt my plans. And what plans!

My itinerary so far:

May 19th: Arrive at Heathrow, return to parents’ house for napping and pottering around

May 20th: Visit Mum’s family

May 21st: TBD

May 22nd/23rd: Hay-on-Wye! Where all the second hand bookshops live!

May 24th: TBD

May 25th: My first time on the London Eye followed by afternoon tea at Brown’s (the inspiration for the location in At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie)

May 26th-29th: TBD

May 30th: Into London for the matinee of Matilda the Musical

May 31st-June 1st: TBD

June 2nd: Fly back to Canada

There are quite a few TBD periods in there and I’m informed that at least one day in each week must be a quiet, restful day so that I don’t overtire myself and get sick again. However, I also need to pack in a visit with my father’s family, lunch with a friend in London (with maybe worship in the halls of Foyle’s and Picadilly Waterstones), supper with another friend, an afternoon in the lovely local second hand bookshop,ย  and visits to a few of my favourite England eateries.

Er, yes, the trip does seem to be largely centred around books and food. Is that a bad thing? I’m cream tea deprived over here so I’m hoping for at least one cream tea in addition to my afternoon tea in the posh hotel. London is featuring a lot and I’m insisting on stopping for cake in Patisserie Valerie at least once. There is also the Chinese restaurant near my parents’ house that served the best duck pancakes and lemon chicken I’ve ever eaten and of course I need fish and chips from a proper chippie as well.

Good thing it looks like there will be a lot of walking during my trip. My waist-line will need it!

Cooking plans and foodblogs

This weekend I’m doing a bit of cooking and, as one of the recipes is from a foodblog and I had the link stored in Delicious, I have been doing a bit of spring cleaning in my Delicious account. Er, I may have added a lot of recipes…

Anyway, something that I’ve never played with before in Delicious is stacks. I’ve been using Delicious to store my recipe links because the ability to tag links with all the potential ingredients that I might want to search by is awesome and I like being able to add comments if there are particular things that I need to remember a recipe for. Being able to find all the recipes that call for buttermilk, for example, makes it so much easier to figure out how to use up all the leftover buttermilk I end up with because the stores sell it in such ridiculous sized cartons.

It’s a problem, I won’t deny. There is a reason that my freezer was, at one stage, groaning with buttermilk biscuits.

Stacks are quite neat because they allow me to group some of my links together in a new way, almost like a mini webpage. So I had some fun and created a stack for the recipes that I’ve tried and loved (see here) and another stack for recipes that I’m planning to try imminently (see here). I was even able to put them into the order I’m thinking about them in.

So if you take a peek at the recipe planning stack, you’ll be able to see the caramelized apple tart that I’m planning to make this weekend. No Braeburns were in the store yesterday (possibly the first time I’ve not been able to find them!) so I’ll be substituting a Honey Crisp. I know from experience that those caramelize nicely when I use them to bake with pork, so I have high hopes. Next weekend I’ve got some goastcheese and chive cornbread muffins earmarked, which may be a nice option as part of my lunches for work. I’m also going to take advantage of the rhubarb that’s appearing to make some rhubarb struesel muffins. The spicy roasted chickpeas have me intrigued and I’m always looking for something to snack on that’s good for protein but not too high in fat.

My other plan for this weekend is tuna lasagne. I love lasagne and I’ve been making a tuna one for years, but it’s the kind of thing that’s too fiddly to really be fun regularly. I may happily re-heat a portion to eat on a second evening, but that’s my limit (I’m not a fan of repeat meals) and it doesn’t freeze well. So my plan is to make the filling tomorrow and split it in two. Half will go into a two portion lasagne and the other half will go into the freezer. I’m quite happy to make a cheese sauce and slap filling in a dish with lasagne sheets, but making the filling each time when it’s just for me…er, no. I’m lazy and love being able to pull things out of the freezer to reheat or quickly assemble.

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