Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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New Foods I Made in 2014

Another item from my goals for 2014 list that I figured deserved its own posting was make 14 new food items that I’ve never made before1. And this goal I not only achieved, but I actually surpassed!

This year, I made:

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Salad rolls that I made with my friend Kim

Homemade Spinach Pasta

Homemade pasta that I made with my friend Linda. Topped with pesto and feta!

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BBQ chicken, corn-on-the-cob, roasted potatoes, and grilled zucchini

I also made guacamole devilled eggs a couple of times this year and I think the first time I made them was in 2014, but I’m not 100% sure I didn’t make them the previous year, so I’m not going to count them just in case. As well, I made *5* new drinks that I’d never made before – The Suffering Bastard, The Leveraged Synergy, and the Value Added Leveraged Synergy (all at my “I’m finished my MBA” party!) and the Mortgage Margarita and strawberry lemonade (for my housewarming party) – but I’m not counting those since the goal stated “food items”, but not beverages. But I don’t need to since, as you can see from the list, I actually made *19* food items this year! Hopefully I won’t regret using up extra new ideas this year when it comes time to try to come up with 15 new food and/or drink items to make in 2015!

  1. I see now that I look at the goals that I said that all the items “must be blogged about”. And while I didn’t blog about them all at the time I did them, I did keep track and now I’m blogging about them, so that totally counts! []
  2. This one has a back story. I was having a bunch of friends over for dinner and decided that I would try my hand at Baked Alaska. When I told Kalev, he got upset, saying “What are the vegetarians supposed to eat??” And I was confused and said, “What’s not vegetarian about ice cream and meringue?” It turned out, he was thinking of Beef Wellington, not Baked Alaska! So another time when he was coming over for dinner, I decided to make a vegetarian version of Beef Wellington, which turned out to be quite delicious! []
  3. I’ve made lasagna before, but not with tofu in place of ricotta cheese. It actually was quite tasty! []
  4. I wasn’t too big a fan of these myself. []
  5. I had a bunch of limes leftover from margarita making, so I tried this recipe, but it turned out that I much prefer the honey mustard dressing that I first tried making earlier and which is now my staple. []

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A Spicy Situation

As I wrote my goals update post last week, I realized that though I’d long ago come up with a solution to my spice situation (item #14 on my list of goals for 2014) and I had promised Stacy that I would blog about it, I have been delinquent in actually writing said blog posting. But better late than never, right?

To give you a little background, I own about eleventy billion types of spices because spices are awesome. What was not awesome was that I had spices in all sorts of different containers – some were in bags, some in jars/bottles – of all different sizes and I basically just had them all thrown haphazardly into plastic bins that I kept in my cupboard, which meant that whenever I wanted a certain spice, I had to pull all the plastic bins out of the cupboards and dig through them all to find what I wanted. Not very efficient and rather annoying when you are trying to enjoy some cooking! Hence, why I decided I needed to figure out a useful way of organizing the damn spices.

My first step was taken care of, as I long ago had made a test tube spice rack out of surplus lab equipment1. I don’t have enough room for all elevently billion spices, but I was able to put the 13 spices I use the most often (or which just look really cool) into test tubes, labelled them, and now they sit on the counter, within easy reach while I’m cooking.

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For the eleventy billion minus thirteen other spices, I decided to use a drawer to store them, rather than the cupboard, because I’m short and I need a step stool to reach things in my cupboards. True story. For any spices that were already in a jar/bottle, I just laid those down with the label facing up. For all the ones that were in bags, I went out and bought a bunch of little jars and labeled them. Hence, I now have this drawer full of well-labeled spices:

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The metal thing on the right is a grater that I use to grate nutmeg. Because my sister taught me the joy of freshly ground nutmeg.

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I have no idea why I inconsistently capitalized the spice names on the labels. I only just noticed it when I looked at this photo. Omg, that’s going to drive me crazy.

So there you have it – my spice storage solution!

  1. There used to be a lab equipment thrift shop at UBC, where you could buy cast off lab supplies. They even had an electron microscope in their inventory at one point! So I got a test tube rack, which was actual white plastic (which is the kind we usually used in the lab), but I painted it metallic silver to make it look cooler). []

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Pasta Perfection

A long, long time ago in a galaxy that is right here, my friend Linda noticed that “make homemade pasta” was item #43 on my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days and was all “I have pasta making attachments for my KitchenAid mixer. We should totally get together and make some pasta”. And I was all, “Totally!” And then for a long long time we were both all, “Hey we should really pick a date to make some pasta” and “Yeah, we totally should” and repeat. At some point we finally got our act together and set today as the big pasta making day!

We decided to make some spinach fettuccine, mostly because many of the other recipes called for semolina flour, whereas the spin-fet called for all purpose flour and we figured we didn’t want to go and buy special flour in case we discovered that we hated making pasta and then we’d have a useless bag of flour sitting around.

As it turns out, pasta making is not nearly as complicated and scary as I thought it would be. We basically just blended up some spinach, mixed in eggs, water, and flour, kneaded the dough for a bit and then, in small batches, ran it through the pasta roller attachment several times, making it into successively thinner and thinner sheets:

Homemade Spinach Pasta

Linda rolling the dough!

Once you have a sheet of your desired thickness, you run it through the cutting attachment1:

Homemade Spinach Pasta

Linda displaying her freshly cut pasta!

And viola!, you have homemade pasta:

Homemade Spinach Pasta

We learned a few things from this our first pasta making adventure, the first of which basically can be summed up as “Follow the instructions!” Lesson #1: You should probably let the pasta dry while laid out flat. We were planning to cook all the pasta once we had it all cut, so we sort of just piled it up on a couple of plates. At the time we put it on the plates, the noodles seemed to be holding their shape and not sticking together, but by the time we got all the batches done, we discovered that the noodles on the bottom of the pile were rather smushed together, just from the weight of the pile and the amount of time that they sat together. (In our defence, the instructions did say you could make the pasta into little “nests” for freezing, but upon closer reading of said instructions, we realized it said that you can do that *after* you dry it and also it said “little” nests, not giant pile o’pasta.)

From the above, we learned lesson #2: This dough is very forgiving. Given the smushedness2 of the remaining pasta, we decided to re-roll and re-cut the noodles. The dough seemed rather dry and stiff at first, but Linda managed to work a bit more water into the dough and after much kneading and re-rolling, it returned to its fantastic pliable yet sturdy consistency that allowed us to cut more noodles, which we cooked immediately so as to not allow them any opportunity to re-smush together.

Lesson #3 was more of an idea for next time rather than a “lesson” per se. While making the pasta, we would roll out a few sheets and then switch from the roller attachment to the cutter attachment and then back again when we were done cutting and ready to roll the next few batches. We realized that it would be way better if we had two mixers, one with the roller attachment on and one with the cutting attachment on and not have to do all the switching back and forth. Given that both Linda and I own this type of mixer, that’s totally doable3.

Because we wanted to be able to taste the pasta, we opted to serve it with a bit of olive oil, artichokes, sundried tomatoes, and feta:

Homemade Spinach Pasta

Homemade Spinach Pasta

Verdict: Not only did this taste amazing, it was really quite simple to do. I think that you should probably buy me a present and it should be this.

  1. Linda had one for fettuccine and one for spaghetti. You could also just use the sheets to make lasagna or stuffed pastas, like ravioli or cannelloni []
  2. Is so a word. []
  3. There may or may not be a pasta party in the works now. []

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10 Meals

Clearly, I’m on a roll of blogging about my goals for 2013, so now let’s look at this one: Make 10 meals that I’ve never made before.

This one I made a concerted effort to achieve, with a spreadsheet to track ideas of things to make and then to track when I made them.

Cornish hen 6-Jan-2013
Ham & cheese crepes 12-Feb-2013
Lamb shoulder chop 10-May-2013
Bison stew 12-May-2013
Caesar salad 5-Jun-2013
Clam chowder 24-Jun-2013
Marinated tuna steaks 1-Sep-2013
Ribs 14-Oct-2013
Eggplant parmasen 9-Oct-2013
Pork tenderloin 21-Nov-2013

The eggplant parm was only decent, but it also knocked an item off my 101 list, so it was like killing two birds with one stone. I wasn’t thrilled with the ham and cheese crepes (probably because I’m not really a big fan of ham!). The rest were pretty excellent, if I do say so myself. I think the Cornish hen was the best new dish I tried, but the lamb shoulder chop was a close second. The marinated tuna steaks were delicious and I’ve made them a few times since.

Also, I have a few items on my list of ideas that I never got around to trying, so I think I’ll make a 2014 goal of making 10 new things I’ve never made before. For the record, those ideas are:

  • pheasant
  • pulled pork
  • paella
  • roast beef
  • kangaroo

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Gravy Is My Moby Dick

Speaking of best laid plans, our Christmas plans got a little bit turned around this year. We were originally going to do a Christmas turkey dinner at my brother-in-common-law’s cousin’s place last Sunday and then have a light but fancy dinner today, but then, because the whole Greater Toronto Area iced over, we couldn’t go there. So instead we had to make our Christmas dinner here. My mom and sister, unlike me, are very experienced in the making of turkey with all the trimmings. Including my old nemesis: gravy1.

So I asked my sister to teach me her gravy making ways. And now I’m writing down her advice so that the next time I try to make gravy, I’ll remember what she said!

Christmas Eve dinner

Turkey gravy.

Gravy Making Tips

  • Save the drippings from the turkey.
  • Heat the turkey drippings in a pot.
  • Put a few spoonfuls of flour in a bowl and add a bit of turkey drippings to make a slurry.
  • Add the slurry to the pot of drippings and mix it very fast (apparently this helps you avoid lumps).
  • Voila – gravy!
Christmas Eve dinner

Mushroom gravy.

  1. Actually, when I said that gravy is my Moby Dick, my mom said, “me too!” I didn’t know that – I always remember her making gravy. []

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And speaking of my 101 list…

In addition to the epic road trip I told you about yesterday, there are a few other things that I’ve knocked off my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days.

52. cook a decent tasting Eggplant Parmesan

Thank goodness I said “decent” tasting and not “outstanding.” Because I finally gave Eggplant Parm a try and I think it turned out solidly in the “decent” realm, but I’ve had better. But it’s done and it gives me a baseline to compare when I try out other recipes!

Draining water from the eggplant:

Eggplant Parmesan

Coating the eggplant in breadcrumbs:

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After frying1:

Eggplant Parmesan

 

Layering – layers of fried eggplant with homemade tomato sauce and various cheeses. How can you go wrong?

Eggplant Parmesan

 

The finished product:

Eggplant Parmesan

81. participate in five research projects

  1. I joined the BC Generations Project
  2. I completed the “Experiences of Exercise” study (three-part survey; Nov 18, 2012; Jan 10, 2013)
  3. Participated in the Equity Lens in Public Health project (12 Sept 2013)
  4. Mindfulness & Authentic Leadership study (13 Sept 13);
  5. participant in a project that is researching researchers with a particular type of research grant (2011-13)]

I’m also on the verge of signing up for a super cool studying on running, but that will be worth its own blog posting (or 7) if I end up joining (and as I participate in it – it’s 13 weeks long, so I figure that’s gotta be worth a few blog postings at least!).

100. print eight photos and put them in the photo frame that I bought ages ago that has been handing on my wall with the stock photos in it, because that really looks quite ridiculous the way it is

I’m particularly proud of having done this, since it was so ridiculous that I’d not done it for so long!

8 pictures in an 8-picture frame.Photos: Top row from left to right: My dad; Me, my mom, my Aunt Lynn, and my Aunt Eileen near a Tim Horton’s sign at a Spar gas station in Ireland; My niece holding my nephew on the day he was born; Nancy, Jeff, me, and Dan doing the CN Tower Edgewalk. Bottom row from left to right: Me and Dan about to embark on the Grouse Grind; My niece and I in Portland; My mom, Nancy, and me at the Empress Hotel in Victoria; My niece and nephew in Portland. 

For the record, this means I’ve now knocked 12 items off my 101 list in 2013. And you may recall that my goal for the year was to knock 13 items off my list, so I’m 12/13ths of the way there, and it’s only 5/6ths of the way through the year! Go me!

 

  1. This picture makes me think of this clip from the Simpsons. []

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#mayhealth

Where the hell did April go1? It seems that tomorrow is the last day of the fourth month of the year. Which means that we are just one day away from the May Health Challenge!

As you may recall2, last year some fine Guelphites put out a challenge to anyone who is awesome enough to take up said challenge. And that challenge is to set a small, but challenging, health-related goal for the month of May. And then tell people about it – because research shows that publicly stating your goals makes it more likely that you’ll stick to them. Last year, my challenges were to (a) eat breakfast every day3 and (b) do some kind of exercise every day4, as those were two things I’d found I’d fallen out of the habit of doing when I turned my life all topsy-turvy by taking on a part-time MBA program in addition to my full-time job. I’m happy to report that those habits seem to have stuck with me, as I am in a routine of eating breakfast most days and am actually on day 121 of consecutive days of doing some kind of physical activity5!.

For this year’s May Health Challenge, I decided to again look at what bad habits I’ve fallen into lately – and thus come up with an area where I can work on re-establishing a healthy routine6 and one thing immediately came to mind: I haven’t been making dinners at home very much recently. And when I do, they have more often than not been of the quick – and not quite as healthy – variety. In fact, reading Mark’s7 blog posting about his May Health Challenge, I saw this statement which pretty much sums up my dining of late:

I eat out because of convenience (laziness), a perceived lack of time (poor planning), or as a social event (I have good friends).

The thing is – I actually love to cook! I love to take fresh ingredients, chop them, mix them, season them, and make them into a feast of deliciousness! I like to put on some music and dance around the kitchen as I do so. On occasion, I even do so with a nice glass of wine. But lately I’ve just not been that organized, so even if I do feel like cooking something, I don’t have any of the things I need to cook something wonderful – and that is if I can come up with an idea of what I want to cook. When I’m busy – as I have been at work and school for more months now than I can even count – I tend to feel overwhelmed by end of the day that making even the smallest choice seems impossible. What should I have for dinner? I have no idea. I’ve already made 100,000 decisions today and I’m all out of decision-making capacity!

Happily, I know exactly the fix for this problem of mine: meal planning. If I actually sit down on, say, Sunday evening, and plan out my meals for the week, I can then (a) not have to make last minute dinner decisions and (b) plan out my grocery shopping accordingly, so I have everything I need when I need it, thus resulting in a less stressed out and more healthily fed Dr. Beth.

Here’s my plan for this week – since May 1 is Wednesday, I figured I’d get a head start and include this whole week:

Meal planning - Week of 29 April 2013

Friday I’ve marked in a “school night”, since I have class on Friday and will go out for dinner with classmates8. My challenge isn’t that I have to cook for myself every day, just that I have to have planned my meals. I think that even just being more thoughtful about making a conscious decision about what I’m doing for my meals will help me be a little more aware of what I’m eating, rather than just kind of going along not paying much attention and suddenly realizing I’ve eaten at restaurants more than half the days in a month.

You’ve probably also noticed that I haven’t made a plan for Sunday just yet. I actually just sat down and planned out the other nights tonight, in preparation for this blog posting, and kind of ran out of steam. I’m taking suggestions if anyone has any good ideas!

For my second May Health Challenge, I’m going to do something that doesn’t, at first glance, sound like it has anything to do with health. I’m going to pick my outfits for the week on Sunday night, when I do my meal planning. “But what could this possibly have to do with health?” you ask? For me, it’s about my mental health. I find that on weeks when I pick out my outfits for the week and line them up in my closet so that each morning I can just grab an outfit and put it on, I feel so much better than weeks when every day I get up in the morning, am completely indecisive about what I want to wear, scramble around to find a shirt that goes with the skirt I finally picked, then am not able to find the sweater that goes with that outfit9, and on it goes. When I can just grab and outfit and go, I find I get to work feeling more relaxed/less frazzled and ready to take on the day!

So there you have it – my May Health Challenges! What are you going to challenge yourself to do this May?

  1. Not to mention January through March. []
  2. “May” recall! Get it?? I slay me! []
  3. Which I accomplished. []
  4. Which I managed to do 26 out of the 30 days of the challenge – as the 31st was reserved for celebrating! []
  5. As part of 101 things to do list to do some kind of physical activity every day for a year! []
  6. This is actually a good time to set up a new routine, as I recently broke up with boyfriend, so all my routines that I’d established over the last ~a year we’d been living together are gone anyway. Yeah, I just revealed my breakup in a footnote. I’m a heartless bastard. Or one who doesn’t like talking about this stuff on my blog. The jury is still out. []
  7. Mark being one of the aforementioned Guelphites. []
  8. Going out for meals on class weekends is actually something that I really enjoy – it’s a chance to socialize with my classmates. And in an intense program like ours, the support and camaraderie really does help you get through. []
  9. My office is freezing, so I always have to have a sweater. []

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Cornish Hen

One of my goals for this year is to “make 10 meals that I’ve never made before.” First up on the list, which I made last night, was the Cornish hen. I’d bought it awhile ago at the farmer’s market and have had in my freezer ever since. Cornish hen is not only something that I’ve never made before, it’s something that I’ve never even eaten before!

I found a recipe online, that I tweaked a bit – it was basically putting a mix of lemon rind, rosemary, salt & pepper under the skin of the breast, putting a couple of lemon wedges inside the hen, and then brushing the whole thing with butter. Cooking pro tip: you can never go wrong with “brushing the whole thing with butter.”

Here’s the result:

Cornish hen

It was tender and lemony. Verdict: success!

The meal also included some lemon roasted potatoes and the peaches for dessert. There was supposed to be a veg with the meal, but somebody forgot to pick up some veg and then, to my horror, I discovered we are completely out of canned peas and corn, which are my fall back for days when I don’t have any fresh veg to cook and when it is icky and rainy out and we don’t want to run out to the store. I found some edamame in the back of the freezer, which totally don’t go with Cornish hens, but which I steamed anyway. Sadly, they turned out to be freezer burned beyond all redemption, so the meal was vegetable-less. Hence the peaches for dessert.

So that’s one new meal that I’ve never made before down, 9 to go. Some ideas I’ve had of things I’d like to trymaking include:

  • eggplant parmesan
  • ribs
  • pulled pork
  • roast beef

Any other recommendations of things I might want to try?

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Irish Stew

On Sunday, we made some Irish stew. In related news, I think I’m developing a taste for Guinness.

A few weeks ago, I picked up some stewing beef at the New West Farmer’s Market. That was back in the heady days of summer1, when the sun was shining 26 hours a day and everyone was thinking about eating ice cream and drinking mojitoes and no one was thinking of such things as stew. But I knew that the rains would come eventually and would make us crave hearty foods. Also, our crockpot had been feeling neglected.

We basically followed this recipe2, but we used regular onions and included red pepper instead of parsnip, because that’s what we had one hand. We also included worcestershire sauce in with the Guinness and the red wine vinegar, because, hello?, worcestershire suce! And we left out the chocolate chips because OMGWTF?

Here’s the stewing beef being dredged through the flour:

Irish Stew - dredging the stewing beef in flour

And here it is being browned after said dredging:

Irish Stew - browning the beef

And here’s the Guinness being poured into the crockpot with all the other yummy ingredients:

Irish Stew - action shot of pouring of the Guinnes

Action shot!

Here the stew is stewing:

Irish Stew is stewing

At the end, we discovered that we needed twice as much cornstarch as it called for to actually thicken, but once we did that it was ohsofreaking delicious!

Irish Stew

While discussing stew after my hockey game that evening, a fellow New Westie on my hockey team told me about 2 obscurely located butcher shops to check out in my neighbourhood. One is a tiny shop in the middle of a residential area that’s been in business for more than 100 years and the other is in some industrial area, around the back and down some steps and no freaking wonder I’ve been having trouble finding butcher shops! They are all apparently located where one would never find them without a treasure map. I’ll be sure to check them both out and report back on my butcher shop adventures!

  1. Note: “summer” in the Lower Mainland lasted until Oct 7 this year. []
  2. My adaptation can be found here. []

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Dinner

Now that I’m in an organization-y type of mood, I’ve been thinking about meal planning. After a long day of work, we rarely have the mental energy to decide on something so complicated as what to have for dinner. As well, when you actually plan your meals, you make can then make sure that you actually have the ingredients you need to make said dinner, thus avoiding many last-minute trips to the grocery store when you are hunger or the “Meh! I don’t have what I need to make what I want, so let’s cook whatever happens to be in the freezer.”

Whenever Devon and I do make a new meal, though, if we like it, we’ll jokingly say, “That’s going into the rotation!” And while we don’t have an actual rotation, we do have a few go-to meals, but I feel like we’ve been relying on them a little too much (see aforementioned indecisiveness), resulting in a lot less variety – and much fewer veggies – than I’d like.

In no particular order, our usual suspects tend to be:

  • roast chicken1 or chicken stuffed with cheese & brocoli2, usually with mashed potatoes and a veg3.
  • tuna melts4 or grilled cheese sandwiches
  • nachoes with black beans, salsa, guacamole
  • spanokopita5 with Greek salad
  • chili
  • pasta6
  • salmon with mashed potatoes and a veg
  • chicken burgers and fries

Things that I know how to make but haven’t made in a while:

  • stuffed green peppers
  • tacos
  • burgers
  • burritos with spinach/cilantro rice
  • quesadillas
  • homemade pizza
  • chicken pot pie
  • pork chops
  • homemade oven fries
  • quinoa7
  • cabbage casserole
  • risotto – or risotto torte
  • quiche
  • dal/curry

Things I want to learn how to make:

  • eggplant parmesan
  • lamb roast
  • cornish hen8

OK, now it’s your turn. What meals should I add to my rotation?

  1. Safeway makes a tasty roast chicken. The ones from Costco are usually plumper and more tender, but the Safeway ones have better spices on them. []
  2. From Costco. []
  3. Steamed asparagus, when it isn’t insanely expensive, or green beans or corn-on-the-cob when its in season. []
  4. Devon’s specialty. []
  5. From Costco. It’s delicious. []
  6. I know this will come as a surprise, but Costco sells a delicious tortellini that we like. []
  7. My friend Kim gave me a great recipe for quinoa with chick peas and tomatoes. []
  8. Not like for an everyday thing. But its something I’ve always wanted to try making. []