In Memory of Summer: Strawberry Summer Flan and Chili Cheese Dogs

When my brother and I were kids, my mom would make us this simple sponge cake topped with fresh strawberries and strawberry jello to set them onto the cake, in the summer. We loved it. Sometimes she’d make sweetened whipped cream to dress it up. I made a very fancy version which I posted here.

However, with the arrival of the cool fall weather, I was struck by nostalgia for the taste of summer which is one of the reasons why I gave this the title above.

Cake, jello, strawberries and whipping cream

Or just the jello and strawberries

Hot dogs aren’t just for summer barbecues. Transform regular or jumbo dogs cooked in the oven into chili dogs.

Your younger kids may be full with just the chili dog and a few fries, but throw in some raw broccoli and ranch dip for the teens and adults.

The jumbo dog above was served in the last regular hot dog bun I had but I used a bakery subway bun below.

Broccoli and Danish Blue Cheese Souffle

I hate wasting food, but for some reason, I seem to be discarding broccoli stems. Just one stem and a few florettes and you have a delicious addition to a plain cheese souffle. This is a variation of my basic cheese souffle recipe for two. Over the years, I’ve made it with leftover shredded salmon, spinach, sauteed mushrooms and various cheeses.

Lovely moist interior

Unlike the usual souffle recipe, in which the eggs are separated and the eggs whites are beaten until stiff and then folded into the souffle mixture, whole, beaten eggs are added in this version. The souffle won’t rise as much as the regular method, and will fall quicker, but you can make the souffles, bake one and refrigerate the second one for the next day.

If you don’t like the strong taste of blue cheese, replace the 2 oz of blue cheese with 1 oz grated Parmesan and 1 oz crumbled blue cheese. I used a generous pinch of dried thyme instead of the chives.

Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry with Noodles

Broccoli is a great price these days, so I bought a bundle and paired it with chicken for a Chinese stir fry with noodles.

I winged this dish so writing up the recipe below was as accurate as I could make it, a few hours after the fact. If anything doesn’t make sense, please let me know.

Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry with Noodles – serves 2-3

200 gm dry spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

1 large chicken breast, skinless and boneless
3 tbsp soy sauce, divided
1 tbsp and 1 tsp cornstarch, divided
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp mirin
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced (may be replaced with 1/4 tsp dry garlic)
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1-2 stalks green onion, finely sliced
1 stalk broccoli, cut into 2-2 1/2 inch long florettes, peeled stalk cut into 1/4 inch thick planks about the same length
1/2 tsp salt
water as needed

Cut the chicken breast into 1/2 inch slices and dice into 1 inch cubes.

In a bowl, add diced chicken, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp cornstarch, hoisin, mirin, sugar, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, half the ginger and half the garlic, white pepper and the white part of the green onion. Mix together and refrigerate overnight or for about 15-20 minutes at room temperature.

Cook pasta, drain and keep warm.

In a large saute pan, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat, add the remaining ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes, broccoli and salt and saute for a few minutes. Add 1/4 cup water, cover and steam for 2 minutes until broccoli is still green and slightly crunchy. Transfer the broccoli, ginger and garlic to a bowl and reserve.

Drain the marinaded chicken and reserve the liquid. Add the drained chicken to the hot saute pan and saute for a few minutes until it’s no longer pink. Stir often so the chicken doesn’t stick.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining tablespoon of cornstarch with 1/4 cup of water and reserve.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the reserved marinade, the remaining tablespoon of soy sauce, the broccoli and the cornstarch mixture above. Stir through and cook until the sauce thickens and coats the meat and broccoli.

Add the hot, drained noodles and the green part of the onion and stir through to coat the noodles.

Taste for salt level. If needed, add some soy sauce and serve.

Pork Chops alla Pizzaiola

I’m not posting a recipe with amounts below but more of a guideline. For a more detailed recipe, try Giada or Rachel Ray.

Boneless or bone-in, pork chops make for a fast and tasty meal.

I got tired of my regular ways of cooking them – panfried with gravy or without, ‘shake and bake’, breaded (using Italian seasoned or panko breadcrumbs) and then fried or baked…

… so, with some leftover pizza sauce with mushrooms as an inspiration, I made this flavourful dish which can be served over pasta, mashed potatoes, polenta or rice. A comfort dish with some red pepper flakes to give it a bite. I didn’t have any wine to slosh into the sauce but if YOU do, go for it.

Pork Chops alla Pizzaiola

“Pork chops alla pizzaiola” includes the items that the wife of a pizza maker (pizzaiolo) would have available to her in her kitchen or her husband’s shop … tomatoes, olives, olive oil, dried red pepper flakes, anchovies, onions, garlic, capers and oregano. Maybe a bit of red wine from a jug sitting on a shelf.

As for the meat, a little goes a long way as is often necessary in a modest household … a thin cut sirloin steak, a piece of fish. Or, in this case, a couple of pork chops from a tray of various cuts purchased on sale in my local budget grocery store. If you don’t like olives or anchovies, leave them out, but if you DO, saute them in your olive oil along with your garlic until the anchovies melt and give an amazing subtle flavour to your sauce. The same with the capers. If you don’t have them, that’s fine, but if you DO, their salty flavour will add something special to your sauce.

Seeded, peeled and diced whole tomatoes, or halved cherry tomatoes, from your garden are great. Diced canned tomatoes are good too, but I was cooking for one and the leftover pizza sauce in my fridge was a perfect amount.

The cooking time depends on your meat. The steak and fish just need a quick sear (30 seconds on each side for the steak) on medium high heat in the hot oil, while the timing for your pork chops depends on their thickness. Use a large saute pan so your ingredients have room to move around. Remove the meat when it’s seared. Transfer it to a plate and cover to keep warm. Remember, you can finish cooking it in the sauce for as long as needed.

Saute your thinly sliced onions, finely minced garlic, anchovies, capers, finely minced olives, red pepper flakes and tomatoes, and then simmer covered, until the tomatoes have broken down into a wonderful sauce. You may need to add some water depending on how juicy your tomatoes end up being. Add your wine before adding the tomatoes so that it will help pick up the great browned bits from the pork chops and cook off.

Add your browned pork chops, and any liquid that has drained off while standing, to the sauce, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavour to permeate into the pork chops. Serve with whatever starch you like.

Sweet Pickled Cottage Roll Dinner

I’ve never cooked one of these packaged boned, rolled and brined pork shoulders before but the technique is quite simple. It’s all written on the package.

After 2 hours of braising the cottage roll in 2 cups of water along with 1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns, a smashed, peeled clove of garlic and a couple of bay leaves in a covered dutch oven, at 325 deg Fahrenheit, the netting is removed, the thin fat cap is scored and the roll is transferred to a baking sheet for another 15-20 minutes (at 350 deg F) to brown the top. A drizzle of maple syrup or a tablespoon of brown sugar may also be added to the top and caramelized under the broiler.

For additional flavour, I took half a large onion and cubed it and then added it, along with a couple of peeled carrots cut into large chunks, and half a dozen whole, washed, new potatoes under the roll . The potatoes and carrots cooked in that first 2 hour baking period and then were kept warm in the dutch oven while the meat was finished off.

The result is a cross between a New England boiled dinner and corned beef and cabbage, without the cabbage. And with pork instead of beef.

If you like cabbage, you can shred half a cabbage and place it in the strained broth (discard garlic, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns) in the dutch oven. Transfer the potatoes and carrots to a medium bowl and keep warm. Cook the cabbage in the 350 deg F oven with the roll while it’s browning until the cabbage is tender.

Verdict: The meat is very tasty, tender and moist. However it’s a very fatty cut so you may want to limit your intake.

I used some uneven pieces to make a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches. You can also fry leftover slices of the ham and serve it for breakfast along with eggs and home fried potatoes.

Another Mennonite Dessert … Butter Tart Squares with Raisins

The great thing about Mennonite/Amish desserts is that they rarely require more than very basic ingredients you’re likely to already have on hand. No fancy cooking gadgets or techniques are needed, either.

If you love butter tarts but don’t want to make pastry and then roll out and cut little circles for the base, these squares can be whipped together in no time at all. They’re not gooey like butter tarts but they taste similar.

Butter Tart Squares with Raisins – makes 16 squares

Base

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter

Topping

1 cup raisins
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 deg Fahrenheit.

Making the base

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour and brown sugar and then cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Pat into an 8 inch by 8 inch baking pan. You don’t need to butter the pan but you may if you wish.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until the base is set and just barely coloured.

Making the filling

In a small bowl cover the raisins with boiling water and let soak until the raisins are soft, 5-15 minutes depending on how old your raisins are. Drain the raisins and gently squeeze out any extra water.

Rinse out the bowl used to make the base and use it to make the filling. Whisk together the eggs and sugar until smooth. Add the corn syrup, salt, vanilla and the flour and whisk well. Stir in the raisins and pour over the baked base.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is golden.

Cool the baking pan on a rack and then cut into bars or squares.

Odds and End Meals

When cooking for one, you end up with a lot of leftovers especially if, like me, you make big pots of some dishes. When my freezer fills up to a certain point, I stop cooking and start putting together the odds and ends and come up with meals.

I try not to have too many desserts in my freezer, cause I snack when I’m bored, so I give away as much as I can of the more successful results. But this means I get stuck with some things that aren’t suitable for gifting. Like a tray of peach crumble bars that were mostly crumble and very little peach. A while back, I bought a clamshell of mostly bruised and tasteless peaches that I had to throw away. So I ended up with a lot less fruit than I needed … which I didn’t realize until I was in the middle of baking with nothing else to add in to make up the shortage. A bit of apricot jam (ran out of ice cream) is making the bars a bit more palatable, at least.

Right now, I’m adding soup as often as I can to my meals. Biscuits or bread are a good filler.

Of course, I DO make new dishes. I snagged a double package of sausage filled tortellini on sale and cooked one up in a blush sauce. On its own, the pasta dish isn’t very filling, and I didn’t have any greens for salad in the house, so I served it with a savoury plate of polenta.

The rest of the polenta was patted out into a buttered 8″ by 8″ glass dish and refrigerated, prior to being fried up as a base for a jarred spaghetti-pesto sauce.

Chicken drumsticks are often found on sale. A bit of Italian seasoning sprinkled on top and unattended baking time and you’ve got the start of a great meal.

A bit of barbecue sauce and a different starch, and you’ve got a new meal.

Things get a bit tight just before payday or in the case of supply teachers, with no paycheques for 3 months, so a tuna macaroni salad with pasta and canned tuna bought on sale is filling and tasty too. I’d usually throw some diced celery into my salad but in this case, diced raw carrots made for a nice, crunchy bite and a bit of colour too.

Whenever I have coleslaw in the house, I’m tempted to make okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake. Another inexpensive and filling dish.

Soft and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I’ve got lots of food in the freezer so I didn’t need to do any cooking this weekend. However, I saw some oatmeal raisin cookies on a FB group I belong to and was suddenly struck with the NEED to make them.

I was going to go net surfing for a recipe then decided to use one of my cookbooks. I chose to make the oatmeal drop cookie recipe that would give me chewy cookies found in Edna Staebler‘s “Cookies and Squares with Schmecks Appeal”.

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Drop Cookies – makes 4 dozen

1/2 cup lard
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 water (replaced with 1 egg and enough water to equal 1/4 cups)
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda

Prepare baking sheets by greasing or lining with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sift together the flour and baking soda.

Cream together the lard and sugar in a large bowl. Stir in the water and salt. Mix in the oats and raisins and then the flour and baking soda.

Spoon cookies by rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. Spread them out so you get a dozen cookies per sheet. (If you prefer you can shape the cookies into 1 inch diameter balls to make sure they’re regular in size.) Flatten each cookie with a fork as you don’t want them thick to start with.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. The cookies will still be soft. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for about 10 minutes then transfer, using a thin metal spatula onto cooling racks until completely cool.

Black-Bottom Cupcakes

These cupcakes are a tasty cross between a chocolate cake and chocolate chip cheesecake in one convenient and portable form.

I first mentioned these cupcakes EIGHT YEARS ago. I’m pretty sure I’ve made them once or twice in the interim but I wouldn’t bet on it. I have a new stove (which runs cool) and had to bake them longer but the original time should work for most people.

Black Bottom (aka Chocolate Chip Cheesecake) Cupcakes – makes 12 large cupcakes

NOTE: The paper liners end up VERY full once they’ve baked so you can probably make 14-16

Cupcake

1/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Cream Cheese Filling

1 x 8 oz package of cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg, room temperature
1 x 6 oz package chocolate chips **(reduce to 4 ounces if you wish)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cupcakes

In a large bowl combine cocoa, flour, oil, baking soda, salt, vanilla, water, and sugar until smooth. You can use a whisk or stir gently with a wooden spoon.

Cream Cheese Filling

In a smaller bowl, cream together the cream cheese, sugar, salt until you get a smooth mixture. Stir in the egg and make sure it’s well blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

Line a 12 cup cupcake pan with large size paper liners. Pour equal amounts of chocolate mixture into each cup. This will be a bit more than half the liner if you use the large size liners.

Top with equal amounts of cream cheese mixture (a heaping tablespoon).

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the cakey part (not the cream cheese part) of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cherry Variation

Instead of adding mini-chocolate chips to the cheesecake layer, chop up maraschino cherries and stir them in.

To the cupcake batter, add 1 tsp liquid from jar of maraschino cherries (or vanilla extract if you’re using fresh cherries)

Cream Cheese Filling

1 x 8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 oz chopped dark chocolate
14-16 maraschino cherries (or fresh if preferred)

Optional garnish

14-16 additional whole cherries for topping the cupcakes

Prepare the filling for the cupcakes by thoroughly mixing the cream cheese, salt, egg, and sugar. When these ingredients are well combined, fold in the chocolate and cherries.

Drop about two tablespoons of the filling into the center of each of the already batter filled cups. It will sink slightly into the batter. Once each of the cups has both batter and filling, add the decorative whole cherries and then bake them for 20-25 minutes. Allow the cupcakes to cool slightly before serving or storing in an airtight container.