Before having kids, I really enjoyed daily dinner prep. Both my husband and I are fairly adventurous eaters, so I had fun scouring the internet and cookbooks finding new dishes and techniques to try, or riffing on our fridge contents to create interesting meals.
Nowadays, I still enjoy making dinner but my methods and priorities have definitely shifted. Speed and “will the kids eat it?” are of the essence; new recipes and unusual flavors are typically saved for the weekends or side dishes. While both my kids like to eat, we do experience the typical toddler pickiness that often changes from meal to meal. So finding meals that are palatable for both three-year-olds and thirty-somethings can sometimes be a challenge.
One thing I can always count on my kids being willing to try is anything that involves dipping. So when I was flipping through Jane Hornby’s new cookbook Simple and Classic this breaded fish and tartar sauce recipe caught my eye.
Homemade fish sticks might sound a bit fussy and labor intensive, but these actually come together fairly quickly — totally doable for a busy weeknight. And — more importantly — they are delicious! Using a firm white fish means the fish sticks are mild enough for the little people, and the flavorful crust and punchy dip makes it interesting enough for the older ones. This definitely earned a spot in the regular dinner rotation!
I’m looking forward to trying some of the other dishes in Hornby’s book — it’s packed full of straightforward, easy-to-follow recipes that are simply photographed with step-by-step shots. There’s a nice blend of familiar dishes — such as Sticky BBQ Chicken, Chocolate Profiteroles, and Cheese and Onion Tart — interspersed with more adventurous ones — say, Raspberry & Passion Fruit Mallow Meringue, Lemon Basil Gnudi with Fava Beans, and Shrimp and Mushroom Laksa. Thanks very much to Phaidon Books for sending it along!
A couple of notes:
Instead of using day-old white bread, I used panko (about 175g to account for the discarded bread crusts). I just mixed all the coating ingredients together in a bowl instead of using a food processor.
This recipe makes quite a bit of coating; I had a bit leftover. I recommend just putting some of it on a plate to coat the fish and refilling as necessary. Extras can be frozen; in fact, Hornby suggests making a double batch and freezing the remainder for the future.
4 thick slices white bread (day-old bread is best), about 7 oz. (200g)
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp mild olive oil
2 oz (50g) Parmesan cheese (2/3 c grated)
1 3/4 lb (800g) sustainably sourced thick white fish fillet, such as cod, haddock, or pollack
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 large egg
2 tsp capers
1 large or 5 small pickles (gherkins)
1/2 c (100g) good-quality mayonnaise (swap half for sour cream, if desired)
salt and pepper
salad greens or peas, to serve
Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Cut the crusts from the bread and discard. Put the bread into a food processor with half of the parsley — stems (stalks) too — and all of the oil.
Blend everything together to make oily, herbed bread crumbs. Finely grate the Parmesan and the lemon zest, then mix into the crumbs with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl.
Cut the fish into chunky sticks about 1 1/4″ x 1 1/4″ x 4 inches ( 3 x 3 x 10 cm).
Put the flour onto a plate and season it generously with salt and pepper. Break the egg into a bowl, add salt and pepper to this, too, then beat it with a fork. Dust a piece of fish with the flour, then dip it into the egg. Let the excess egg drip off into the bowl below, then roll and pat the fish in the crumbs until covered in an even layer.
Place it onto a nonstick baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the fish. Rinse and dry your hands every now and again, because they can get sticky.
Bake the fish for 12-15 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Meanwhile, make the tartar sauce. Cut the lemon in half, squeeze one half, and cut the other into wedges. Finely chop the remaining parsley leaves, the capers, and pickles (gherkins), and put into a bowl. Add the mayonnaise and 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Serve the fish with the tartar sauce, lemon wedges, and some salad leaves or just-cooked peas.
This post was created in partnership with Spice it Up Foods, whose Veggie Pakoras are now available at select Costco stores in Eastern Canada. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.
We’re approaching two months with two kids. The transition to becoming a family of four has gone as smoothly as I could have hoped (thank God for grandparents!). But even so, some days it’s…shall we say, challenging getting dinner on the table.
Spice it Up’s vegan and all-natural Veggie Pakoras are perfect for those days when I need a little help whipping up a quick and healthy meal. These crisp and well-spiced baked fritters make tasty snacks on their own, but here I’ve turned them into a light meal with a brussels sprout slaw and a spiced yogurt dressing/dip. The pakoras take about 15 minutes to bake, which conveniently is about as much time as you’ll need to make the salad and dressing!
Veggie Pakoras with Brussels Sprout Slaw and Yogurt Dressing
As I near the halfway point with pregnancy #2, I’ve been trying to imagine how I’ll do certain things with two little ones in tow. No joke — at each store I’ll try to figure out where I’d park and if I’d put one kid in the cart and carry one, or stick the carseat in the cart, or if Marcus would maybe be responsible enough to walk quietly beside me (one can dream!). Sometimes I feel a little panicky, but then I remember my mom had five kids under 9 at one point. We may not have gone out much but we weren’t hermits. Just like toting one kid around was an adjustment, two will be too — but with God’s grace we’ll get there.
One of the concerns I had when I was pregnant the first time around was if I’d have time to cook and bake. I’ve always enjoyed preparing dinner and considered it a relaxing part of the day. To be honest, it’s taken me longer to “figure out” how to cook with a kid than it has to bake with one (because I usually just wait until my husband is home before I attempt any involved baking). And by “figure out” I mean that I haven’t really. As soon as I think I’ve got a schedule down, something changes — first it was Marcus not napping at that time, then it was him starting to climb on things whenever I was in the other room. You get the idea. If I’ve learned anything in the past 18ish months it’s that parenthood requires constant adjustment. No matter how many kids we end up having I’ll never have it “figured out,” and that’s ok. As my mom told me early on, when I was voicing my frustrations about not having enough hands: “Oh, you know, sometimes the house just won’t be clean. You do the best you can.”
Hopefully I haven’t painted this bleak picture where it sounds impossible to get things done with a kid! It’s just different, and I’m still learning. Some of the adjustments I’ve made since having a kid:
Divide meal prep into 15 minute increments. Chop vegetables during naptime; prepare marinades/sauces while the kid is eating; etc.
I don’t freeze a lot of cooked meals, but if I cook a batch of beans I’ll make a triple portion and freeze extras for quick additions to soups and stews.
Make batches of hard boiled eggs and granola at the start of the week for quick meals.
Always have frozen dumplings on hand.
Have a recipe base of quick meals that you can easily customize with whatever ingredients you have on hand. (Notice how many times the word “quick” has shown up? Lol.)
Curry is one of those quick meals that shows up in some variation on our dinner table every couple of weeks or so. We live right next to a little Japanese grocery store, so we always have a box of Japanese curry roux in the pantry. Most of the time we eat it over rice, but the other week I decided to switch it up and make it with udon noodles (another constant pantry item). It. Was. So. Good! The preparation was slightly different, but about as quick as how I make curry over rice. For the udon version I use less curry roux but dashi stock instead of water — this makes for a slightly thinner but still flavorful sauce that easily coats the noodles.
3 cups dashi stock (homemade, or using dashi powder)
1 Tbsp. oil
1 onion, sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
About 1/2 in. ginger, peeled, sliced, and minced
1-2 c sliced vegetables of choice (my favorites are carrot, celery, and mushroom)
3/4 lb your choice of meat/seafood, sliced if needed (I usually use chicken or a package of fish/beef balls)
1 Tbsp. mirin
2 pieces/blocks of Japanese curry roux
1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce (or to taste)
Salt, sugar, and white pepper to taste
1 green onion, chopped, for garnish (optional)
3 packages udon noodles (about 600 grams)
Prepare your dashi stock.
In a large frying pan or saucepan, heat oil on medium high. Add garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant. Add onion and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add remaining vegetables, season lightly with salt and sugar, and saute another 3-4 minutes. If you’re using an uncooked protein, add it at this point and increase the heat to high. Saute until the meat/seafood is almost cooked through.
Add the dashi and mirin and bring to a boil. (If I’m using beef/fish balls, I add them once the stock has come to a boil.) Skim off any fat or scum that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the curry roux. Once the curry has dissolved, put the pan back on medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened to your liking. Stir occasionally to make sure the curry doesn’t stick to the bottom.
Taste and add soy sauce, salt, and white pepper if desired.
Prepare your udon noodles according to the package instructions. Serve curry sauce over the udon noodles and garnish with green onion, if desired.
When it comes to pies, I’ve definitely been more on team sweet than team savory. But after watching Great British Bake Off and seeing those hand-raised hot water crusts, picnic pies, and pasties, I was itching to make some kind of savory pie. We ended up having a family Thanksmas dinner a bit early this year because a few of us are traveling over the holidays, so a fridge full of turkey leftovers presented the perfect opportunity for some pie-experimenting.
Pie fillings are quite adaptable; I think as long as you have the right consistency and amount, you can play around with the ingredients and flavorings. I really wanted to make a pot pie filling that didn’t contain milk or cream sort-of-not-really for health reasons (I’m lactose intolerant; I can handle butter and small amounts of dairy, but cream sauces generally don’t go over well). Originally I was going to use some leftover mashed potatoes for thickener, but someone ate them…so pureed squash it was! My family enjoyed this gravy, but if you prefer something more traditional you can sub some of the stock for whole milk or cream. Also, I know peas usually show up in these sort of pies but I am NOT a peas fan so none here! If you don’t have such aversions, feel free to stir some in with the sage at the very end.
I used this sourdough crust adapted from Maurizio (subbing buttermilk for the vinegar and omitting the sugar; I also added a few healthy grinds of black pepper and the leaves of one thyme sprig), and it was perfect for this — sturdy yet flaky and packed with flavor! If you’ve got starter on hand I definitely recommend this route, but if you don’t your favorite pie crust recipe will do nicely. I added a couple of turns to the pastry which gives it extra flake and makes it easier to roll out, IMO — also totally optional. The filling is the perfect amount for my deep-ish pie dish; if you use a normal pie plate you’ll probably have some leftover for a baby pie or to eat over rice.
I think the trick to avoiding a soggy bottom crust is starting with chilled pastry AND filling. If you add the filling when it’s still warm, you’ll melt the butter in the bottom crust and likely end up with goop. I also baked the pie on a preheated stone in the lower third of the oven the entire time. If you don’t have a stone, preheat a sheet pan in your oven and bake your pie on that.
A few weeks ago I made a small batch of apple jelly and have been using it as a secret flavor ingredient in stews and marinades — I love it! That being said, I know it’s not a common ingredient to have around; so you could probably substitute 1/4 c of apple juice or cider for stock for a similar effect.
Turkey and Sage Pot Pie
Makes one deepish 9-inch pie
1 recipe of your favorite double pie crust
3 cups cooked turkey, shredded or diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 c mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c flour
1/4 c butter
1 1/2 c turkey or chicken stock (I used low-sodium)
1/2 c squash puree
1 bay leaf
1 T apple jelly (optional, see notes above)
1/2 c leftover gravy
2 T finely minced fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water or milk, for egg wash
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until slightly softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the carrots and celery, season with salt and pepper, and saute until carrots are slightly softened but not mushy, about 5-7 minutes. Remove vegetables from saucepan and set aside.
In the same saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour all at once, stirring constantly, and cook for 1-2 minutes until a golden paste forms. Slowly pour in the stock, stirring constantly to avoid clumping. When the gravy is slightly thickened, stir in the leftover gravy, squash, and optional jelly, followed by the bay leaf and mushrooms. Turn down to medium low and simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until the mushrooms are mostly cooked. Add the reserved vegetables and turkey. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the turkey is heated through, then remove from the heat and stir in the sage. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then cover and refrigerate until cooled completely (about an hour).
Preheat your oven to 400F with a rack (and baking stone, if you have one) in the bottom third of the oven.
While the filling is cooling, prepare the pie crusts. Roll out your bottom crust and transfer it to a greased pie plate. Trim crust so you have an overhang of about 1 inch. Cover with plastic and refrigerate while you roll out your top crust. Cut into strips for a lattice, if desired, or keep whole. Transfer to a sheet pan and refrigerate until ready to assemble.
When your filling is chilled and oven is ready, spoon the filling evenly into the bottom crust (remove the bay leaf). Top as desired (with a lattice or not), and crimp the edges to seal. Refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes, or until the pastry is firm.
When ready to bake your pie, gently brush the egg wash over the top, being careful not to drag the filling onto the crust. Cut a few steam vents in the top if baking a non-lattice pie. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F and bake for another 30-45 minutes, rotating halfway through for even baking. The filling should be bubbling and the pastry golden brown. (Note: if your pastry is browning too quickly, tent with foil.) Allow to cool slightly before serving.
When it comes to baking, I’m a bit of a control freak. I weigh my ingredients, temper my ingredients, mise en place as best as possible, etc. But when it comes to cooking, it’s a different story. Recipes are rough guidelines. “Seasoned to taste” is how I like to roll (i.e. the name of this blog, “cook til delicious”), with many meals being inspired by the contents of the fridge.
This galette is baked, but was definitely created by my “cooking” self. Originally I had planned to make a fig frangipane galette, but decided last minute to go more savory because, ahem, I didn’t have anything planned for dinner. To be honest, I didn’t precisely measure anything when I made this. (I wasn’t planning on blogging it until an Instagram photo of it sort of exploded, and multiple people asked for the recipe, haha.) This whole thing was definitely fridge-inspired. I had half a pie crust left over from this galette, plus a carton of figs hanging out. My labnehobsession is still going strong so labneh was the easy choice here; but I’m sure ricotta or even bleu cheese would be excellent as well — or even a bit of yogurt and sour cream mixed together. So consider the following “recipe inspiration” — honestly, with fresh figs and pie crust you can’t go too wrong.
Fig, Onion, & Labneh Galette
Makes one medium galette | Serves 4-6
A batch of your favorite single crust pie dough (I used this one)
1/3 cup labneh
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 scallion, sliced
A dozen medium fresh figs, some halved and some quartered
Leaves from 1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme
Olive oil / butter, for the onions
Balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper
1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water or milk, for egg wash
Balsamic syrup* for drizzling, optional
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out your pie crust to about 1/4″ thick in whatever shape you want. Trim the edges if you prefer, or leave them a bit ragged for a more rustic look. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
Caramelize your onions. Over medium heat, warm some olive oil / butter in a medium non-stick pan. Add the onions, a pinch of salt and sugar, and turn heat to low. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until caramelized (20-30 minutes). Add some balsamic vinegar towards the end of cooking, if desired. Set aside.
Mix labneh with the white parts of the scallion (reserving the green for garnish) and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove chilled pie crust from the refrigerator. Spread the labneh over the crust, leaving a 1.5-2″ border on all edges. Scatter the caramelized onions evenly over the labneh. Arrange the figs, cut side up, over the onions (I put the halved ones around the edges and the quartered ones in the middle). Scatter the thyme leaves over the figs. Fold the edges of the pastry over the filling, and crimp to seal. Return to the fridge to chill until pastry is firm, at least 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400F with a rack in the middle. Prepare egg wash. When ready to bake, brush edges of pastry with the egg wash. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown. Cool slightly. Garnish with reserved scallion, some flaky sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and a drizzle of balsamic syrup. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.
*For the balsamic syrup, I put about 1/2 a cup of balsamic vinegar plus a couple spoonfuls of sugar in a small saucepan and boiled it down until it reduced by half, stirring occasionally.
Earlier this week, I had a hankering for Pad Thai. It’s one of those dishes I’ll occasionally order out, but had never bothered to try making myself. My method for attempting new dishes usually consists of reading at least a half dozen recipes, noting the ingredient and method similarities, and then adapting to personal taste and what is in the fridge. For example: pad thai typically contains firm tofu (which I love), but I had a smidgen of ground pork that had to be cooked. So that went in. I also had a bunch of mint and cilantro from some other dinners we’d eaten earlier in the week, so that got added. Finally, I am a firm believer in pre-seasoning proteins (in this case, shrimp and pork), so that step was added as well.
One ingredient I didn’t substitute was the tamarind (some recipes call for lime juice, but I don’t think it’s an adequate substitute). I’ve never worked with tamarind before, and the only tamarind the local Asian market had was the whole pods. I used the instructions here to turn it into a pulp. It was a fairly messy process, but the flavor was definitely worth it.
6 stalks Chinese chives or 4 scallions, green part only,cut into 2″ pieces
1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 lime, quartered
1/4 c mint leaves, chopped
1/2 c cilantro, chopped
At least 1 hour before cooking, marinate shrimp with 1/2 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, and a pinch of white pepper. Marinate ground pork with 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, and a pinch of white pepper. Cover and refrigerate.
Dissolve tamarind pulp in 1 cup hot water in a small bowl, then strain through a sieve into a medium bowl, pressing on pulp with the back of a spoon to push most of it through. Discard seeds. Stir sugar, fish sauce, vinegar, and chili garlic sauce into tamarind liquid and set sauce aside.
Soak noodles in a large bowl of hot water until pliable, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Cook shrimp until pink but not completely cooked through, about 1 minute. Remove and set aside.
Add remaining 3 tbsp oil to hot skillet. Add onion and garlic and stir-fry until soft, about 10 seconds. Add ground pork and saute until mostly cooked, about 1 minute. Move ingredients over to the one side of the pot and add the lightly beaten eggs. allowing to set slightly and then stirring to scramble. When eggs are about halfway cooked, add dried shrimp, chives, half the bean sprouts, half the peanuts, the noodles, the sliced omelette, and the reserved sauce and stir-fry, tossing constantly, until noodles absorb most of the sauce and sauce thickens, 2-3 minutes. Garnish each serving with the remaining bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, and peanuts and serve with limes and sriracha.
This is one of those simple, homey dishes that is a snap to put together when you don’t have much time to cook / feel like spending a lot of time in the kitchen. While the taste is best if you can marinate the chicken ahead of time, you’ll still get good results if you do it even just 1/2 an hour before cooking. Serve with plenty of rice and some variety of Asian veggies, and you’ve got yourself a Hong Kong cafe-style meal.
Creamed Corn Chicken
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices ginger
1 can cream style corn
1 T soy sauce
1 T oil
Salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
White pepper, to taste
1 egg, beaten
1 T soy sauce
1 1/2 t sugar
1 1/2 t shaoxing wine
Dash of white pepper
Dash of garlic powder
1 t cornstarch
At least an hour before cooking (or overnight), combine chicken pieces with marinade ingredients. Cover and refrigerate.
Heat oil in medium sized pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger, stirring frequently, and season with salt, sugar, and white pepper.
When ginger and garlic become aromatic (~2-3 minutes), add chicken. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all sides are browned and chicken is nearly cooked through (~4-5 minutes).
Add cream style corn and soy sauce. Lower heat to medium low, and let simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Remove from heat. While stirring constantly in one direction, add beaten egg. Adjust seasonings to taste. Remove ginger slices. Serve over rice.