May 23rd, 2024


By Lethbridge Herald on October 24, 2020.

Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald
What’s on the menu? It’s a question I asked myself daily during the six months I was off work thanks to the COVID pandemic.
Needless to say, I had a lot of time on my hands. I wanted to be positive and try to keep productive during my time off. But being a constant worrier, I couldn’t focus enough to sit at a computer and write a blog, which would have been a natural thing to do. I tried to learn electric guitar, but while reading sheet music is easy and memorizing the chords was manageable, I do not have the dexterity to play guitar. I also tried wrapping my hand around the slimmer neck of my dad’s banjo. Same problem.
So I focused on cooking and baking. Early in the pandemic, trying to find yeast was virtually impossible. When I did, it felt like winning the lottery.
I found myself rather adept in the kitchen, baking breads and dinner rolls and even making homemade soft pretzels. I did cornmeal muffins and cakes.
While I learned I’m decent at cooking, I excel at making a mess. Show me a cup of flour and I’ll show you a trail that leads from one end of the house to the other, to the basement and even to the dogs. Yes, I’m that bad. But my baking was good, I have to admit.
In April, I broke the hand mixer and promptly hid it back in the closet where I found it while grabbing a towel to clean up after I dumped flour on the floor. I didn’t even know we had one so I didn’t think it would be missed. Fast forward to earlier this month and sure enough I needed to make a quick emergency evening trip to Home Hardware to replace it. Busted! No, I have zero idea why it won’t work. Well, actually I do — one batch of dough was way to thick to mix with it and I wrecked it.
While my breads were edible and my cottage cheese perogies filling, I’m especially happy with my first-ever pecan pies which were just sinfully delicious. I could bake those every day.
My deep-fried dessert wontons were another matter. The ones I filled with apple pie filling and then dusted with icing sugar were heavenly and a huge hit at home.
Wontons I filled with pumpkin pie filling on the other hand were, well, remember what your kids’ diapers looked like sometimes? Yeah, that was the look and the texture. The dogs wouldn’t even touch them and they’ll eat anything.
I also failed to do a decent brisket on my Bradley smoker. I tried a few times with chunks of brisket the family gave me for Father’s Day but the toughness was awful. I did brine a piece, though, and crafted one fantastic piece of pastrami. That was a huge success and I’m proud of it.
My homemade corned beef, though, was another epic fail. It looked like corned beef, smelled like it but lacked the right texture even after hours simmering low and slow on the stovetop. Thankfully, the dogs liked it.
The smoker, however, did turn out a great turkey and some decent smoked chickens. After some experimenting, I decided cherry is my favourite wood for smoking; it’s lighter in flavour and lets the taste of the meat stand out. When I bring the smoker out of storage next year, it will be my go-to wood.
Probably my biggest success was homemade smoked bacon which was way better than store-bought. Bacon is so easy to make: drop pork bellies into a brine of curing salt, sea salt, brown sugar, water and some spices and let it soak in the fridge for a few days before firing up the smoker.
I basted my pork bellies with Canadian maple syrup during the smoking process and the result was pure bliss. Pork bellies are easy to find at butcher shops and are really a versatile piece of meat. If smoking is too much work, then just plaster on a nice dry rub, heat up the oven to about 425F and roast the pork until the meat is tender and the skin is crispy. Then cut into chunks for a nice appetizer with a dipping sauce. It’s absolutely mouth-watering.
While cleaning the basement storage room, I found a wok that was still in its box along with my hockey bag that had a full can of beer stuffed into an elbow pad. I haven’t seen Crest Lager for years; I forgot I even drank it.
Along with an air fryer — and the dishwasher of course, the wok has become my favourite kitchen appliance. You can do virtually anything with it, including deep-frying those wontons, except the ones filled with pumpkin which can ooze out of the wrappers in a way that is sickening to see.
Some experiments just aren’t worth trying. Trust me on that one — until the next great idea hits. Maybe maple-candied, chocolate-covered bacon chunks? Hmmm. . . .
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