Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day!

How are you celebrating today?

I’m headed to a picnic with my extended family today. I’m making a large batch of Nana’s potato salad to contribute to the potluck dinner. Looking forward to a fun day of catching up with family, playing cards, swimming, good food, and, of course, fireworks!

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Second Blogiversary

Ack! I missed my blog’s Second Blogiversary. So, I’ll celebrate it a bit late. June 4, 2013 was the second blogiversary of The Cook’s Sister. For my first blogiversary, I shared my favourite blog posts.

What’s changed since then? A lot! The biggest difference, I hope, is my blogging style. I’ve become more comfortable with the blog format and with sharing my personal stories to accompany each recipe. In fact, back in April my blogging mentor, Jeanette from This Dusty House left me this wonderful and inspiring comment on my Nana’s Macaroni and Cheese recipe:

“I think this is my favourite of all your posts so far. A wonderful walk down your memory lane!”

Through blogging, I find that we have more meals at home because I’m excited to cook, photograph, and share my creations. While the food isn’t always healthy, there is a good balance. And while my goal is to be frugal, I’ve learned that splurging on a few items that seem pricier doesn’t always break the bank (and if it is just flat-out expensive, it’s usually cooked for an occasion, in which case staying home for an “expensive” meal is generally still more affordable than eating out).

While I haven’t met all of my goals — one of which is to keep up a regular blogging schedule — I’ve accomplished so many of my blogging goals. I’ve written guest posts (for Ginger Bakes and Lady Behind the Curtain) and received a guest post from Ginger Bakes. I also found time to read and review a cookbook: Kitchenability 101: The College Student’s Guide to Easy, Healthy and Delicious Food, by Nisa Burns.

I’ve learned not to be too hard on myself when I don’t have time to accomplish everything I want to on this blog. It is, after all, my hobby. It should be enjoyable!

Here are my favourite posts from the last year!

Arctic Char Meunière from Relish Cooking Studio

Hanger Steak with Homemade Steak Sauce

No Bake Cherry Cheesecake

Green Chile Pepper and Tomato Soup

Spaghetti with Shrimp and Roasted Vegetables

Venison Stew

Piparkakut (Finnish Gingerbread) Cookies

Lobster and Egg Served Over a Potato Pancake

Nana’s Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

Bryan’s Step-Father’s Red Chile Enchilada Casserole

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Nana’s Potato Salad

Over the weekend, we celebrated my dad’s birthday. We tend to spend our family occasions at home and cook a nice meal. On the odd occasion, we order take out Chinese food (which was always my birthday request growing up). I’ve learned to plan the meal ahead. I’ve got better at timing the things I’m cooking. Each time, the meal seems to come out a little bit better.

Dad’s birthday request was for steak. I got to choose the side dishes. So, I picked up some gorgeous sirloin steaks from The Bauer Butcher, fresh Ontario asparagus from Vincenzo’s (asparagus season is coming to an end soon, so I’m eating as much of this delicious vegetable as possible), and some potatoes for a potato salad. To top it all off, Nana made an amazing confetti cake (dad’s favourite).

BBQ Sirloin Steaks

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Now, would you be surprised if I told you that the highlight of the meal is the potato salad?

You see, it’s my nana’s recipe and a family favourite. Nana has made her family-famous potato salad ever since I can remember… and ever since dad can remember. I have fond memories of spending weekends with Nana as a child and there always being an amazing array of delicious home cooked food. And her potato salad is among my favourites (also check out some of her other recipes that I’ve deconstructed and posted, including Macaroni and Cheese Casserole and Asparagus Soup). As a child I flat out refused to eat potato salad. I claimed I didn’t like it. I especially didn’t like the pre-made potato salads from the grocery store and fast food restaurants (I still don’t really like most of them). However, Nana’s potato salad was the exception. Not only did I eat it, I would go back for seconds.

Steamed Asparagus

The “recipe” is another one that I’ve had to watch time after time to document. The vague directions call for potatoes (it doesn’t say how many), the oil and vinegar dressing is the only thing that is really precise. And that’s as long as you know that the recipe is for 5 servings.

This weekend, I made the salad under Nana’s supervision. The salad was very well received by my family! No complaints. No comparisons. No suggestions for next time. It was just like Nana’s. Hooray! Now I need to make it again without supervision to really put my take on the potato salad to the test.

What makes her salad so much better? So one, she serves it warm. I don’t know why, but this makes a difference in the flavour. Her salad is good as leftovers but is definitely best served and consumed fresh. Like, within an hour of making the salad. It has great sweet and sour flavours in the dressing. It’s smooth with delicious crunch pieces of fresh vegetables. It doesn’t take too much time or effort to make. It just tastes better. (And I don’t think it’s nostalgia making me say this!)

Don’t believe me? Try it out for yourself and let me know what you think!

Nana’s Potato Salad

Adapted from her sister’s recipe

Ingredients

  • 5 large potatoes (about 2 1/2 cups when cubed) – approximate cost $1.75
  • 2 teaspoons sugar – approximate cost $0.10
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar – approximate cost $0.10
  • 2 tablespoons salad oil (canola or olive oil works well) – approximate cost $0.10
  • 3/4 cup celery, chopped – approximate cost $0.50
  • 1/4 cup green pepper, diced – approximate cost $0.25
  • 2 tablespoons green onion, sliced thinly – approximate cost $0.15
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper – approximate cost $0.05
  • 1/2 (slightly heaping) cup mayonnaise – approximate cost $1.00

Method

  1. Boil and drain the potatoes.
  2. Allow them to cool until they can be handled.
  3. Peel the potato skin.
    1. If you like the potato skins, skip this step. For my own salad, I would leave the potato skin on. Nana prefers the potato skins removed.
  4. Cut potato into bite-sized pieces.
  5. Combine sugar and vinegar, stirring constantly until dissolved.
  6. Add salad oil to the vinegar and sugar mix.
  7. Pour oil and vinegar mix over hot potatoes.
  8. Allow the potatoes to cool until lukewarm, about room temperature.
  9. Add celery, green pepper, and green onion pieces.
  10. Mix well.
  11. Add pepper and mayonnaise.
  12. Mix thoroughly.
  13. Serve and enjoy!

Makes 5 servings (approximate cost: $0.80 per serving).

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Belated (American) Thanksgiving Recap

Thanks for following along! Today I’m going to give a quick recap of my belated post of our (American) Thanksgiving meal! (With links to the previous posts in case you missed one)

Deviled Eggs

Delicious, but not for everyone. We had quite a few leftovers that we very much enjoyed the next few days.

Makes 24 servings (approximate cost: $0.17 per serving).

Roasted Potatoes with Fresh Thyme

Lesson learned: Potatoes oxidize. Don’t slice them the day before, they’ll look terrible when you finally get around to cooking them. Leave yourself enough time to slice and cook them while you’re cooking.

Makes 3 servings (approximate cost: $0.72 per serving).

Spicy Green Beans with Garlic

One of our favourite side dishes. Works great with fresh or frozen beans.

Makes 3 servings (approximate cost: $0.88 per serving).

Duck Breast with Port Reduction

Makes 3 servings (approximate cost: $11.60 per serving).

Overall

Though the meal wasn’t traditional for a Thanksgiving meal, it was enjoyed by all. Canadian Thanksgiving is about a month earlier, and a whole turkey is too much for three people, so we very much enjoyed our smaller meal. There were very few leftovers (a few deviled eggs and a taste of each potatoes and green beans).

Total cost: $43.68 (approximately)

Per person: $14.56 (approximately)

Main Dish: Duck Breast with Port Reduction

And now for the main attraction! (Sorry to my readers who don’t eat meat, I don’t have any alternative suggestions for you today)

I’ve made duck a handful of times, using the same recipe time-after-time. Why? Because it’s delicious, savory, and not too complicated. I’ll admit, it’s not exactly pretty. But it tastes wonderful.

The first time I was going to make duck at home (about 4 years ago when I was still living with roommates), I went through hundreds of recipes online, looking for just the right one. My Nana had suggested duck l’orange, immediately afterwards reminiscing on how the duck was oily and she only made it the one time, never revisiting the recipe. I was determined not to make the duck using this recipe for fear of a similar lackluster experience.

Instead, the recipe I’m sharing today came about by researching like crazy then making something entirely different. I wish I could recall which recipes are mashed-up to create this dish, but it’s changed so often over the years that the recipe has since become my own.

Have you recently made a dish that started as a found recipe but has, over time, become your own?

Duck Breast

Ingredients

  • 3 duck breasts – approximate cost $30.00
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt – approximate cost $0.15
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper – approximate cost $0.10
  • 3 teaspoons grapeseed oil – approximate cost $0.30

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Score the skin on each duck breast.
  3. Season each piece with sea salt and black pepper.
  4. Heat 1 teaspoon of grapeseed oil in a frying pan on medium-low heat.
  5. Place the duck breast, skin side down, in the frying pan.
  6. Cook until the layer of fat under the skin begins to reduce and the skin is browned.
  7. Turn and cook until the flesh is browned.
  8. Remove to a baking dish.
  9. Pour any remaining oil/fat into a separate pot.
  10. Repeat for the remaining duck breasts.
  11. Move baking dish with duck breasts to the oven.
  12. Bake until the juices run clear (about 15-20 minutes).
  13. Allow duck breasts to rest at room teamperature for 5 minutes before serving.

Port Reduction

Ingredients

  • Leftover duck fat/grapeseed oil from cooking
  • 2 cups chicken stock – approximate cost $2.00
  • 3/4 cup port wine – approximate cost $2.00
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme – approximate cost $0.25

Method

  1. Combine chicken stock, fat/oil, port, and thyme in a pot.
  2. Bring to a boil then reduce to medium heat.
  3. Cook for about 30-45 minutes (or until reduced by about half), there should be about 1 1/4 cups of liquid
  4. Strain thyme from mixture.
  5. Drizzle over duck breasts and pour remaining sauce into a bowl for serving.

Makes 3 servings (approximate cost: $11.60 per serving).

Monday Link Parties

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Side Dish: Spicy Green Beans with Garlic

Again keeping with my theme of things I can make quickly, our other side dish is another staple around here. Spicy green beans! The beans are not too spicy, just a bit of heat to make this dish more interesting!

The green beans were the least stressful part of the entire meal! Again, this is a side dish that I make regularly and knew would turn out well. Usually, I’ll use frozen green beans for this recipe. But, because it was a special occasion, I opted for fresh green beans.

The night before, I trimmed the beans and put them in a bowl of cold water. In a separate container was the butter and chopped garlic. And the spices were on the counter, ready to add on a moment’s notice. It was that easy. Best of all, everyone enjoyed them!

Spicy Green Beans with Garlic

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh green beans – approximate cost $2.00
  • 2 tablespoons butter – approximate cost $0.20
  • 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil – approximate cost $0.10
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced – approximate cost $0.20
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt – approximate cost $0.05
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper – approximate cost $0.10

Method

  1. Trim the green beans.
  2. Heat the butter and grapeseed oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
  3. Add the minced garlic when the butter is melted.
  4. Cook garlic until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  5. Add the green beans, sea salt and cayenne pepper.
  6. Cook until beans are bright green but still crispy.

Makes 3 servings (approximate cost: $0.88 per serving).

Monday Link Parties

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Side Dish: Roasted Potatoes with Fresh Thyme

I tried to keep our Thanksgiving dinner relatively simple, prepping some everyday foods, like these roasted potatoes, with a few fancier items.

The majority of the dinner was prepped the night before so I could simply put the food in the oven when I got home from work and entertain instead.

Last week, I shared the Deviled Eggs appetizer (which was all prepped the evening before, and the yolk mix was piped into the eggs moments before serving). Delicious, but our guest was not a fan. Not a complete disaster though, because Bryan loved these deviled eggs and was more than happy to eat the leftovers as a snack for the next few days. And there was still more than enough food, No one would go home hungry.

This week, I’m sharing another dish that was a near disaster… the roasted potatoes. I make roasted potatoes at least once a week. I change up the herbs and spices frequently. However, it’s safe to say that roasted potatoes are a staple around here. How could I mess up something that I make so often you ask? Well… it was my need to prepare everything the day before that almost made me panic (ok, I panicked, but only briefly).

When I pulled my prepped potatoes out of the fridge to pop into the oven, they had turned a bluish-black colour! They looked terrible and I was sure that they had somehow gone rotten in the time since I sliced them to the time I wanted to cook them. I didn’t have any extra potatoes left in the fridge and our guest had already arrived. I thought I was going to have to toss out this side dish. I wanted to cry. Instead, I searched the Internet to see if I could salvage my side dish. Good thing I looked around for an answer because sites such as e-How let me know that this happens, how to avoid it, that it’s still safe to eat the potatoes, and that the unappetizing colour will fade with cooking. Phew! Disaster avoided.

While everything turned out alright, I wouldn’t repeat this time-saver. Slicing potatoes doesn’t take all that long and the black colour didn’t fade from all of the potatoes, so in the future I won’t prep roasted potatoes ahead of time, I’ll slice them and toss them in the oven immediately. I wasted much more time looking for answers on the Internet about the potato situation than I had saved by prepping the dish.

Roasted Potatoes with Fresh Thyme

Ingredients

  • 9 small red potatoes – approximate cost $1.50
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme – approximate cost $0.40
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt – approximate cost $0.05
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper – approximate cost $0.10
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil – approximate cost $0.10

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Wash the potatoes.
  3. Cut the potatoes into quarters (or bite-sized pieces).
  4. Mince the fresh thyme.
  5. Combine the potato slices, thyme, sea salt, black pepper, and grapeseed oil in a baking dish.
  6. Toss the potatoes until well coated in the oil and spices.
  7. Bake for about 40 minutes (or until tender when pierced with a fork), turning occasionally so all sides are crispy.

Makes 3 servings (approximate cost: $0.72 per serving).

Monday Link Parties

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2012 In Review

Happy New Year!

In 2012 I set goals to help me work on my blog a bit more. While it seemed to stick for most of the year, I found it difficult at some points to keep up with my own expectations. I reached some goals. I revised others to be more realistic with my time commitments. What a year! I’m happy with the blogging I was able to accomplish and excited to reach some of my bigger goals on the side.

I hosted my first guest post by, Mel from Ginger Bakes who shared Chocolate Drizzled Mocha Cookies, wrote a cookbook review of Kitchenability 101: The College Student’s Guide to Easy, Healthy and Delicious Food, by Nisa Burns, guest posted on This Dusty House (Chicken, Lentil, and Tomato Soup) and Ginger Bakes (Banana Bread), participated in the Improv Challenge (hosted by Kristen from Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker) and much more!

What’s made this year the most special though, is the relationships I’ve made with many of my readers! Thank you to everyone who reads and to those to make time to leave comments. I love your feedback!

To celebrate 2012, I’m posting a link to the 2012 annual report for this blog (prepared by WordPress.com). Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

My blogging goal for the coming year? I’m going to try to post once per week, the continue participating in blog hops and the monthly Improv Challenge. I’d like to write a few more guest posts and host a few more guest posters. And, I’d like to continue cooking delicious and healthy food (that is budget friendly) to share with you!

The Appetizer: Deviled Eggs

For the appetizer, I stuck to something simple: Deviled Eggs! I remember this being one of my favourite snacks at holiday parties but hadn’t made them myself since I was a child. Even then, I don’t recall how much mom allowed me to “help.” I decided to make them based off of what I remembered of mom’s recipe and adding anything that seemed like it might go well.

In retrospect, I should have made a test batch. I really didn’t know what I was doing (despite this being a quick and easy appetizer). I got lucky that the appetizer turned out well. It probably could have been a bit prettier with a bit more practice. But all in all, it turned out well.

Bryan and I loved it. Our guest, as I found out, is not a fan of deviled eggs. I had sent out an email ahead of time asking about allergies, but had forgot to address preferences. Oops! I felt a bit bad that W could not partake in the appetizer, but knew there was plenty of food coming and worked as quickly as possible to get the rest of dinner ready. He was very polite about the situation and we were happy to keep the leftovers as snacks over the next few days.

Have you ever hosted a party where you accidentally make a dish your guests don’t like? How did you handle the situation?

Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

  • 12 eggs – approximate cost $3.00
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard – approximate cost $0.20
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise – approximate cost $0.50
  • 2 green onions, sliced – approximate cost $0.20
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt – approximate cost $0.05
  • 1 teaspoon paprika – approximate cost $0.10
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar – approximate cost $0.05

Method

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Add vinegar.
  3. Add eggs, gently, one at a time.
  4. Boil eggs until cooked through (about 12-15 minutes).
  5. Remove eggs from water and allow to cool.
  6. Crack and peel the egg shells, discard.
  7. Slice the eggs in half lengthwise.
  8. Scoop out the yolk and place in a mixing bowl.
  9. Add dijon mustard, mayonnaise, green onion slices, and sea salt to the mixing bowl.
  10. Use a fork to mix the ingredients until smooth.
  11. Move yolk mixture to a plastic zip-bag.
  12. Cut a small piece from the corner of the bag.
  13. Pipe the yolk mixture into the hallow egg white pieces.
  14. Arrange on a platter.
  15. Sprinkle with paprika.
  16. Serve and enjoy!

Makes 24 servings (approximate cost: $0.17 per serving).

Monday Link Parties

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Very Belated (American) Thanksgiving

Back in November, when I was taking a break to focus on school, we hosted a small dinner party to celebrate American Thanksgiving. Even though it is now just after Christmas, I’d still like to share this meal with you. Why? Because it was delicious and I feel like it was generic enough to serve for any special occasion.

Last year, our American Thanksgiving dinner was much more traditional.

The Appetizer: Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and Lemon Juice

The Side Dish: Accordion Potatoes

The Other Side Dish: Spaghetti Squash with Lemon

The Main Course: Turkey with Lemon and Rosemary

The Sauce: Cranberry Raspberry Sauce

The Dessert: Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Crust

This year, we decided to change things up for a number of reasons… a whole turkey is just too much for 3-4 people (we got sick of the leftovers) and I worked until 7 pm and needed something that could be prepared quickly.

So this year, the menu consisted of things I could (mostly) prepare the night before and cook quickly when I arrived home.

The menu:

  • Appetizer: Deviled eggs
  • Main dish: Duck breast with a port reduction
  • Side dish: Roasted potatoes with fresh thyme
  • Side dish: Spicy green beans with garlic

Our dear friend W brought home-made treats made by his mother. They were a fantastic way to finish off the meal!

Over the next few posts, I’ll share each of the recipes!

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