Learning Project 2.0 – Recap and Reflections

This semester in ECMP 455 I chose to tackle the Learning Project for my major assignment. The purpose of the infamous Learning Project is to learn a skill that is significant and complex using online sources (i.e. videos, text resources, podcasts, etc.) and to document and share learning progression openly in an online space. I had the opportunity to do a Learning Project when I took ECMP 355 last year in the spring semester, and I enjoyed the assignment so much that I decided to do it again. For my ECMP 455 Learning Project (or Learning Project 2.0), I learned how to cook. Here’s a quick recap of my Learning Project experience this semester:

Learning Project Recap

Blog Post #1: Learning Project 2.0

  • Introduction and rationale for my Learning Project
  • Factors to consider: cost and nutrition
  • Goals for the end

Blog Post #2: Cost-Effective Cooking

Blog Post #3: Perfecting Pasta

  • Recipes:
  • Saving money by buying in bulk
  • Starting to realize the cost of living on my own  — going to need to put money into stocking up on basic, everyday ingredients and spices
  • Pictures showing progress

Blog Post #4: Beef, Broccoli, and Bananas

Blog Post #5: A Healthy Twist on Spaghetti and Meatballs

  • Recipe:
  • Working with new ingredients
  • Critiquing resources: written vs. tutorial videos
  • Learning to be more adventurous in the kitchen — cooking becoming less of a chore
  • Pictures showing progress

Blog Post #6: The Breakfast Casserole That Took a Hundred Hours

Blog Post #7: Boomerang and Buttermilk Waffles

Blog Post #8: Crock-Pot Chicken Noodle Soup

  • Recipe:
  • Trying new appliances: crock-pot
  • Saving money by cooking in large quantities
  • Boomerang videos showing progress

Reflections on my Learning Project Experience

Going into my Learning Project, I didn’t really have a specific end goal in mind. All I wanted was to simply increase my cooking skills so that, by the end, I could make more than just pasta. Over the course of the semester, I feel as though I have learned a lot. I went from having quite limited cooking skills to mastering a ton of new recipes, working with new ingredients, trying new kitchen appliances, and learning how to cook on a budget — a skill that will be very useful to me once I move out and have to start being conscious of how much money I am spending on things like food.

If I were to do this project again, I would narrow it down, for example, to just learning how to cook different dinners or different lunches, just one type of cuisine, or just crock-pot recipes. One of the challenges that I continuously encountered in my Learning Project was the fact that there are literally thousands of cooking resources available online. This wasn’t necessarily always a good thing — it was overwhelming, and it made choosing what to cook each week very difficult. Even though I feel like I learned a lot from this Learning Project, I think I could have learned more, specific skills had I narrowed my project down. This would be something to consider for next time.

I also recognize that it was a privilege to be able to do a project like this. Even though budgeting was a factor that I considered throughout my Learning Project, I realize that my $25/meal budget was still quite a bit of money, especially when I was doing it week after week. I recognize that a lot of people cannot afford the luxury of buying fresh produce and that canned/boxed food is a reality for many people.

It may have not always been a smooth learning experience, but I can definitely see the benefits of learning a skill online and sharing about progress openly in an online space. Through my Learning Project, I was able to learn from and critically analyze a  variety of online resources, I was able to share my learning progress openly through my blog and through Twitter, and I was able to receive feedback and support from my classmates. Overall, I’m glad that I had this experience again. Thanks for following my learn-to-cook journey!

Social Justice in Online Spaces: Why It’s Important to Speak Out

“It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act.” – The Dalai Lama

 

I chose to do a video response for this week’s blog topic because, for me, it’s easier to talk about social justice aloud, in person, then it is to do so in writing. I feel as though the conversations are more authentic that way, and I think that when we are talking about topics like social justice that it’s important that those conversations be authentic.

 

 

 

 

ECMP 455 – Summary of Learning

Here it is: the Summary of Learning project that Sarah and I created for ECMP 455, and the last project of my Education degree — yay!

A little bit about how this project came to be:

For our final project, Sarah and I wanted to do something that showcased our learning in a fun and creative, yet meaningful, way. We also wanted to do something that challenged us in our tech skills. Together, we came up with the idea to summarize what we learned throughout the course through parody videos of different types of YouTube content. Each video we chose was inspired by something that we learned this semester in ECMP 455 that stood out to us.

Here’s a list of the videos we parodied and a brief description of how they relate to the course:

  1. Click-bait video (0:23) — We wanted to introduce our Summary of Learning in a humorous, engaging way. We also wanted to poke some fun at our prof, Alec
  2. Let’s Play video (2:42) — In this video we discussed online communities and the culture of connected-ness that the internet creates. Sarah also really just wanted to play The Witness.
  3. Tutorial video (11:37) — In this video we discussed the idea of teachers (and students) moving away from being content delivers (and consumers) and moving towards becoming owners of their own content. 
  4. Taste Test video (19:30) — Both mine and Sarah’s Learning Projects were food-based, and we wanted to discuss what it’s like to learn a skill online. 
  5. Fake News video (28:09) — In this video we discussed the importance of providing students with the necessary skills to be able to navigate this digital world we live in. 
  6. Social Justice video (33:16) — We chose not to do a parody video for this topic, as it is a more serious topic that deserves a serious conversation. In our conversation we address what we think it means to teach about social justice in online spaces and why it is important. 

The video is really long, we know. We went a little overboard. But we couldn’t cut it down. We feel as though each piece of the video is valid and portrays a key aspect of our learning. To cut it down would mean that we would have to cut meaningful content, and we didn’t want to minimize our learning.

We created our video using Corel, Educreations, Screencastify, Sarah’s PS4, and our own lovely acting skills. A lot of hard work and laughter went into making this video. We’re pretty proud of it. We hope you enjoy it!

Crock-Pot Chicken Noodle Soup

To finish off my Learning Project, I decided to try out both a new recipe and a new kitchen appliance — I made homemade crock-pot chicken noodle soup.

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Pinterest had literally hundreds of different crock-pot chicken noodle soup recipes, which was handy, but also a bit daunting — it was difficult deciding which recipe to pick. I ended up choosing a recipe that was originally posted on the food blog Family Fresh Meals. This is a food blog that I have not used yet during my Learning Project, so I thought I would try it out. You can check out the recipe here. I did make a few changes. First, instead of using uncooked chicken breasts, I bought a pre-cooked whole chicken and shredded the meat ahead of time. This is a little trick that my mom taught me as a way to reduce the amount of work later on. Another change that I made was that I added some red pepper flakes to the soup to give it some spice.. I did this because I bought unsalted chicken broth which my mom told me tends to be a little bland. I also altered the cook time of the recipe. The recipe says to cook the coup on low for 6-7 hours. However, I don’t have 6-7 hours to wait for my soup to cook because I am a student nearing the end of my degree and I have about a million papers and projects to do still. I found a handy slow-cooker conversion chart helped me figure out that if I wanted the soup to be done sooner then I needed to it on high for 2-3 hours instead.

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I have never used a crock-pot before, so this was a fun adventure. Using the crock-pot made the cooking process extremely easy. The prep work, which was basically chopping up vegetables, took about 10 minutes. Then all I had to do was plug in the crock-pot, put on the lid, and turn it on. That was the extent of the work that I had to do for three hours — I was able to let the soup cook while I did homework and I didn’t have to worry about checking on it. After three hours, I lifted the lid, poured in the noodles, cooked the soup for an additional 10 minutes, and voilà — my soup was done. Super simple.

The soup was delicious. And as a bonus, it was relatively inexpensive to make. For just over $20, the recipe made a enough soup to fill a 4L ice-cream pail — roughly a week’s worth of lunches for two people. Here’s the breakdown of how much I spend on ingredients:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Chicken – $8.97 for 1 whole chicken
  • Carrots –  $1.88
  • Celery – $1.47
  • Yellow onion – $0.98
  • Bay leaves – $1.99 for a package
  • Garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Parsley – $0 (had at home)
  • Thyme – $0 (had at home)
  • Chicken broth – $3.96 for 2 cartons
  • Noodles – $2.47 for a box
  • Salt – $0 (had at home)
  • Pepper – $0 (had at home)
  • Olive oil – $0 (had at home)

Total Cost = $21.72

Working with a crock-pot was cool. I can see it being beneficial when I am a teacher because I would be able to put the ingredients in the crock-pot in the morning before I left for school and come home to a fully-preparing meal at the end of the day. I am looking forward to exploring more crock-pot recipes — let me know if you have any favourites!

 

Boomerang and Buttermilk Waffles

After the breakfast casserole fiasco last week, this week I decided to follow through with my original plan which was to also learn how to make homemade waffles using my mom’s new waffle iron.

A few weeks ago I found a recipe for homemade buttermilk waffles on Pinterest. The recipe was originally posted to the food blog Sprinkle Some Sugar, which you can check out here. If you already have a waffle iron at home, then this recipe is rather inexpensive. There are only eight ingredients — most of which are basic, everyday items that you usually have lying around at home. Following this recipe, I was able to make four large waffles, which was perfect for my family of three. However, if you were cooking for a larger group, I would recommend doubling the recipe. Here’s a breakdown of how much I spent on the ingredients:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • All-purpose flour – $0 (had at home)
  • Baking powder – $3.12 for a 225 g container
  • Granulated sugar – $0 (had at home)
  • Salt – $0 (had at home)
  • Vanilla extract – $0 (had at home)
  • Butter – $0 (had at home)
  • Eggs – $4.82 for a carton of 18
  • Buttermilk – $4.53 for 2 L

Total = $12.47

This was my first time using the new waffle iron, so it took a few tries to produce a really good-looking waffle like the one in the picture above. For example, the recipe that I followed said to use about ½ – ¾ cup of batter per waffle, but because the waffle iron that I used is so large, that wasn’t enough batter to cover the entire iron. As a result, the first couple waffles came out slightly deformed. After some experimenting though, I found that 1 cup of batter per waffle was the best ratio to use with my waffle iron.

 

Aside from a few weird-looking waffles, this recipe was awesome — one that I would definitely make again. The waffles were light and fluffy but had a rich, buttery flavour. They were a big hit with my family. If anything, I would add a splash more vanilla to the waffle batter to make it a touch sweeter, but that’s just me being picky. There was also very little prep involved, so the recipe was super simple to make.

 

 

Lately, I’ve been trying to find new ways to demonstrate and document my Learning Project progress. Last week I used iMovie to create a Tasty-like tutorial video for the breakfast casserole that I made. While iMovie was quite easy to navigate, the whole experience of video editing was a disaster (you can read more here) — worrying about recording my Learning Project took the fun out of cooking. This week, I tried out Boomerang. Boomerang is a free app that shoots a burst of 10 photos and turns them into a mini video that loops back and forth. What I like about Boomerang is that it provides a simple but unique and creative way to document events and experiences. All of the videos that are included in this post I shot using Boomerang. You can check out all of the Boomerang videos that I made for this recipe on Twitter!

 

Going Against the Grain: Why I Think There Is Some Legitimacy in Teaching Google-Able Content

One of the great things about technology, I think, is that it provides us with an unlimited access to knowledge—we can find information on almost anything and everything in a matter of seconds by doing a quick Google search. What is antimatter? Google it. How does the moon affect the ocean? Google it. Why are women underrepresented in science? Google it.

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Photo Credit: Milena Dimitrova

These are some of my recent Google searches. Some of them are school related, some of them were out of my own pure curiosity. My point is, all of this content and more is readily available at our fingertips, which I think is pretty neat.

When it comes to education, however, this unrestricted access to information has raised some questions about the way that students learn and the way that teachers teach. In our ECMP 455 class this week, we discussed the powers and perils of technology in regards to education. One of the questions that was brought up was: With content being so readily available, is there a point in teaching something that students can Google?

I think the ‘correct’ answer would be to say no, we shouldn’t be teaching content that can be Googled because it prevents students from being independent, critical thinkers—Google is an easy way out of having to think for yourself. However, I have thought a lot about this question over the past week, and I think that the argument is a little more complex than that. I realize that my opinion may be unpopular, but yes, I believe that there is a point in teaching content that can be Googled. Now, before I go any further, I want to clarify: I believe that Google has definitely changed the way that students think and learn, and not necessarily for the better. Terry Heick from TeachThought has written a lot about this topic, and he makes some excellent points in this article. I believe that teachers have some added responsibilities in teaching students in this Google generation, which I will get to later. I am simply arguing that there is some legitimacy in teaching content that can be Googled.

Literally everything is Google-able. In this sense, to say that we shouldn’t be teaching content that can be found on Google is to say that we should be removing every single subject from the curriculum, and I have an issue with that. For one, just because information is available online does not mean that students will have the drive to access and explore it on their own. In fact, students may not even know that the content exists. I wouldn’t have become a chemistry teacher if I wasn’t exposed to the subject in high school—that’s where I discovered my passion for science. Sure, pretty much everything that I learned in my 20 and 30-level chemistry classes is Google-able, but I wouldn’t have sought out that information on my own, or gone on to pursue it in post-secondary, if it wasn’t taught to me.

Furthermore, if it is left up to us to choose what to Google and what to learn about then we might miss out on valuable information and skills. For instance, my least favourite subject in school was Practical and Applied Arts. Would I have researched the content on my own? No way. But did I learn valuable skills and information in my PAA class? Yes way. In the home economics rotations of my PAA class, I learned how to budget—a skill that has clearly come in handy as the whole point of my Learning Project has been to learn how to make cost-effective meals. I think this goes for any subject. For example, a student might not be interested in math, but is math still an important and valuable subject to learn about? Of course. Math helps us to explain the physical world around us, and math skills are vital to our everyday lives for even the most basic of tasks such as cooking and baking, banking and financial planning, etc.

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Photo Credit: Meme Generator

Another reason why I think that we need to teach content that can be Googled is because you can’t trust everything that you read on Google. I recently read an article that discussed how Google has affected the way that students learn. One of the points that is brought up in the article is that Google gives students a false sense of security—that is, students think that they understand something fully because they Googled it. I think this is all the more reason to teach content that can be Googled, so that we can provide students with accurate, reliable information. I think this is especially important in this era of fake news we are living in where websites are deliberately publishing disinformation to try and mislead readers, often for financial or political gain. If we don’t expose students to Google-able content, then I think we run the risk of students obtaining inaccurate or false information and taking it as fact.

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Photo Credit: Akane Joseph

So, how do we go about teaching students in this Google generation? With an unlimited access to information available right at their fingertips, students may not be motivated to participate in school—they may rely on Google to teach them the content later, using the internet as crutch. I think this puts an added responsibility on teachers to provide students with a level of learning that Google does not offer. This means creating and facilitating engaging lessons that foster vital life skills such as creativity, imagination, and critical thinking.

In addition, I think teachers also have a responsibility to develop info literacy skills in their students.  A recent study from Stanford shows that students have a dismaying ability to assess the quality of information online—they can’t distinguish real news from fake news. Part of our job then becomes to teach students how to be critical consumers of news, information, and media and how to evaluate its legitimacy. My classmate Alex shared with me this neat resource that students can use to critically analyze the validity of websites on Google. This is one place to start. I also found this short TED-Ed video that describes how fake news spreads, which is another useful resource to share with students:

“But our desire for quick answers may overpower the desire to be certain of their validity. And when this bias can be multiplied by billions of people around the world almost instantaneously, more caution is in order.” – Noah Tavlin

To end off, I’d like to make one more point—perhaps the most important point of this whole blog post. In a way, I feel as though this debate about whether we should teach content that can be Googled is offensive to teachers, as it suggests that teachers are nothing more than deliverers of content.  I like to think that my role as a teacher is more complex and more important than that, and I hope that society, and my students, view my role differently, too.

(New) Twitter Thoughts 

Twitter has kind of become ‘my thing’. The other day, my ECMP 455 classmates deemed me a Twitter champ, which is a title that I will gladly accept but really do not deserve. I wasn’t always so comfortable using Twitter, though. My first experience with Twitter was two years ago in ECS 300 when my professor at the time, Katia, forced us to take part in #saskedchat — a Twitter chat for educators across the province. It was a trial-by-fire experience, and long story short, I had a few meltdowns.

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After that scarring experience, I started to explore Twitter more, and now, almost two years later, it has become one of my favourite tools. I‘ve written about my thoughts on Twitter before, so for the purposes of this post, I thought I would review my thoughts, discussing how they maybe have changed, as well as any new thoughts that I have.

I still think that Twitter is an awesome professional development tool — that’s one of my thoughts that has not changed. One way that I use Twitter for professional development is by following hashtags that interest me as an educator.  For instance, as a chemistry major, I like to follow the hashtags #scichat and #chemchat.  These hashtags allow me to see other science teachers are sharing or doing in their classrooms, which in turn allows me to collect ideas for my own future classroom. For instance, this past spring, someone tweeted about this super cool Periodic Table Battleship game to the #chemchat hashtag. I ended up saving the link, and in the fall during my internship, I actually used the activity in my Science 10 classroom.

Something that I have recently come to learn is that hashtags are also a great way to follow live professional development events. For example, last weekend, UR S.T.A.R.S., the on-campus group that I am a part of, collaborated with UR Pride and Camp fYrefly to host GSD Camp — an Edcamp that focused on teaching and learning about gender and sexual diversity. During the event, people were live-tweeting to the hashtag #GSDCamp from the sessions they were attending. Not only did this allow participants to see what was going on in other sessions, but it allowed people who could not attend to follow the event.

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Aside from using it as a professional development tool, I have recently expanded on the ways that I use Twitter. For instance, during my internship, I used Twitter as a way to document and share about what was going on in my classes:

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By sharing about the learning that was going on in my classroom, it added a level of transparency to my teaching. It also allowed me to share ideas of different learning activities with others on Twitter. I have also come to use Twitter as a platform to share about, and speak out against, social and political issues. Lately I’ve noticed a trend. Many of my peers are hesitant to post about personal, social, political, and controversial topics because they don’t want it to impact their careers — they want to remain ‘neutral’. However, the way I see it, when it comes to social justice issues and oppression, if we stay silent in order to protect our image (or whatever the reason), our silence can be deemed as complicity or approval. I think advocacy is important, and Twitter is a tool that allows me to do that.

In some ways, my thoughts about Twitter have changed since my last post. For example, I used to think that Twitter would be a great tool to use in the classroom with my students. Not so much anymore. I still think that there are a lot of cool ways that students can use Twitter for educational purposes, but as my classmate Sarah points out in her blog post, it’s not a platform commonly used by teenagers these days — it’s outdated to them. I think it’s important to try to incorporate students’ interests, and frankly Twitter is not something students are interested in. At least my students during internship weren’t. In fact, my Physical Science 20 class called me “old” when I told them that I’m on Twitter. So, my question is: should we be pushing tools on students that they aren’t interested in?

How do you use Twitter as a tool for teaching and learning? What do you think are some of the benefits/drawbacks of Twitter? Share your thoughts with me in the comments — I’d love to hear from you!

The Breakfast Casserole That Took A Hundred Hours

The theme of my Learning Project this week: breakfast.

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Photo credit: Riverside 

So far in my Learning Project, I have mainly learned how to make different main course meals like shepherd’s pie, vegetarian lasagna, beef and broccoli stir-fry, and spaghetti squash and turkey meatballs. I’ve also done a bit of baking. However, after Shania commented on one of my blog posts, I thought I’d branch out and learn how to make different breakfast foods. I wanted to try two different recipes this week, but I only ended up making one (but more on that later). The breakfast recipe that I did make was a sausage, egg, and hash-brown breakfast casserole. The recipe that I used I found on Pinterest, but it was originally posted on Gimme Some Oven — a food blog created by Ali Ebright. You can check it out here.

This casserole was delicious — it combines the yummy breakfasts foods that we all love into one, warm, cheesy dish. How can you go wrong? Both my brother and my mom said that it was my best dish so far. It was also quite inexpensive to make. I was able to make a 11×7 casserole dish for only $12.64 — under my $25/meal budget, plus we had leftovers! Here’s the breakdown of how much I spend on the ingredients:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Italian sausage, hot – $5.99 for 1 lb
  • White onion – $0.98 for 1
  • Minced garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Red bell pepper – $2.10 for 1
  • Eggs – $1.60 (I bought a carton of 18 for $4.82 and I used 6)
  • Milk – $0 (had at home)
  • Hash-browns – $1.97 for a bag
  • Shredded cheese – $0 (had at home)
  • Black pepper – $0 (had at home)

Total = $12.64

This week, I also decided to demonstrate my learning in a new way — rather than taking before and after pictures, I created a video that shows the process of me actually making the breakfast casserole.  I tried to model my video after the Tasty videos made by BuzzFeed. I’m not an expert videographer by any means, but I’m pretty proud of how the video turned out:

 

Here’s the thing: although the recipe was fantastic, the process was a nightmare. This recipe should have taken 50 minutes — 15 minutes for prep, and 35 minutes of cooking time. However, it took me over 3 hours to make this dish because of the videotaping! Like I said, I’m not an expert videographer. Because I was modelling it after the Tasty videos, I had to pause before and after each individual step to take a video so that I could piece them afterwards. I also often had to retake the videos because I messed up a step, or because someone coughed in the background, or because my cat decided that he wanted to make an appearance in the frame. It was very frustrating, and it took the fun out of cooking .

After I finally finished making the casserole and had shot all of the videos, I had to figure out a way to piece it all together to make one, complete video. This was also a disaster. I should clarify — I have never created a video on my own before using a video editing tool/app. We had talked about different video editing programs in class, so I first decided to try YouTube Editor. That was a mistake. First, I had to download all of the videos from my phone onto my laptop which took almost 45 minutes in itself. Then, sadly, I discovered that you have to upload every video individually to YouTube first before you can use YouTube Editor. Needless to say, I quickly nixed that idea and instead decided to try iMovie. I don’t have the program on my laptop, but my mom has it on her iPad. So, I had to send all of the videos from my phone to my mom’s iPad, save all the videos individually to her iPad, and finally, two hours later, I could begin the editing process.  iMovie was actually quite easy to figure out and use once I got the hang of it (and thanks to a few tutorial videos like this one). I’m sure it would have been easier on a computer, but I think the final product turned out well considering. My only criticism is the size and shape of the video — I took all of the videos while my phone was vertical, not realize how it would impact the final product. This is something that I can fix next time, though.

My plan was to also learn how to make homemade buttermilk waffles, but after this video-making gong show, I decided to save that for another week. Does anyone have experience making videos using video editing programs like YouTube Editor or iMovie? Do you have any tips/suggestions? I’d like to try making more videos, but I want to simplify the process.

A Healthy Twist on Spaghetti and Meatballs

Over the weekend, on kind of a whim, I learned how to make spaghetti squash and turkey meatballs — a healthy twist on a classic pasta dish. Up until this point, the meals and snacks that I have learned how to make I have planned out in detail ahead of time: first, I decide on what I want to make that week, then I spend quite a bit of time researching, trying to find a quality, but easy-to-follow recipe. Then, before I go shopping, I look through my fridge and cupboards, making a list of all the ingredients that I need. And finally, once I have all the ingredients, I start cooking. This meal, however, was very spur-of-the-moment. I was in the middle of grocery shopping with my mom when I across a Tasty video for spaghetti squash and turkey meatballs. I showed my mom the video and her response was “That looks delicious, you should try it!” So, we bought the ingredients, we went home, and I started cooking. That was that.

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Spaghetti squash – $4.13
  • Olive oil – $0 (had at home)
  • Salt – $0 (had at home)
  • Pepper – $0 (had at home)
  • Marinara sauce – $1.47 for one jar
  • Ground turkey – $12.00 for 2 lbs
  • Parsley – $3.00
  • Onion – $1.97 for a bag (I used one)
  • Garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Parmesan – $0 (had at home)

Total = $22.57

Overall, this meal was rather inexpensive (and under my $25/meal budget) compared to some other dishes that I have tried during my Learning Project. I did spend a little more than the $19 that the recipe says it will cost, but that’s because I ended up buying and using 2 lbs of ground turkey instead of 1 lbs. There are a few reasons why  decided to double the amount of turkey:

  1. There was a sale on ground turkey at the grocery store — 2 lbs for $12 as opposed to $7.50 per pound.
  2. My family is very busy during the week with work, school, sports, activities, etc. As a result, we often do a lot of cooking on the weekends so that we have lots of leftovers to eat during the week instead of having to worry about cooking every night.
  3. My brother loves meatballs — they’re one of his favourite foods. So, I knew that if I was going to make meatballs, I should make a lot of them.

I should note that I did not double the amount of spaghetti squash, only ground turkey (and in turn, some of the spices used to make the meatballs). Instead, I also made a pot of rice so that when the spaghetti squash was gone, we could eat the leftover meatballs with rice. By doubling the ground turkey, it made enough for dinner for my mom, my brother, and I, plus leftovers. If you were going to make the original recipe with the proper amounts of ingredients, I would say that it would be enough to feed two people.

Preparing this meal presented a few challenges/learning opportunities. First, spaghetti squash is an ingredient that I had never cook with before. It was a bit of a learning curve learning how to gut it and cook it, but it actually ended up being super simple to prepare.  Second, trying to follow a Tasty video to make this recipe was not easy. For those who don’t know about Tasty, it is a cooking video channel made by BuzzFeed. The thing is, there aren’t people talking in the videos, explaining how to make the recipe. There are actually no words at all — just a time-lapsed, sped up video of someone working through the recipe. Seeing as how I first learned about this meal through the video, I wanted to challenge myself by only following the video when making the recipe.  You can check out the video that I used here.

However, after re-starting the video about a hundred times because it was going so fast and I couldn’t keep up, I finally turned to the written recipe that accompanied the video. As a new chef, I’m still not completely comfortable in the working in the kitchen, and the video just stressed me out even more. I found it so much easier to use the written recipe because I was able to work at my own pace instead of having to rush to keep up with the video. Here is how the meal turned out:

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Overall, I thought the recipe was mediocre — I found it a bit underwhelming. The meatballs weren’t my favourite. It’s not that they were bad, they were just lacking something, although I’m not sure what that something is. It could have been that there were discrepancies between the recipe in the video and the written recipe; the written recipe that I followed didn’t call for paprika like the video did, so that could explain why the meatballs were a bit bland. I really enjoyed the spaghetti squash though. I was nervous at first about how it would turn out because the uncooked spaghetti squash smelled kind of like pumpkins, so I was worried that I would be eating pumpkin-flavoured pasta, but it actually tasted really good. And, once it was covered in the pasta sauce, you could barely taste the spaghetti squash at all. Has anyone made turkey meatballs before? If so, what do you add to them to give them flavour? I’d love to give them another try.

I’m noticing that at this point in my Learning Project, I’m starting to have fun when I’m cooking, and I’m feeling more adventurous in the kitchen. At first, cooking felt like a chore. This week though, I decided to try this recipe on a whim, unsure of how it would turn out, and I ended up having a lot of fun making it, probably because it wasn’t so planned and structured like all of my other meals. We’re almost half-way through the semester now. I’m hoping that over the next few weeks I can continue to grow as a cook and improve my cooking skills. Stay tuned!

Beef, Broccoli, and Bananas

Yesterday was Family Day, a statutory holiday here in Saskatchewan, and in honour of Family Day, I wanted to make dinner for my family. For supper, I ended up making a beef & broccoli ramen stir-fry (I also did some baking, but more on that later).

I have been looking for a good beef & broccoli stir-fry recipe for awhile now. Beef & broccoli is a dish that I knew I wanted to learn how to make at some point during my Learning Project because it is one of my favourite Asian take-out dishes and I thought it would be neat to learn how to make a homemade version. It just so happened that I came across a recipe for a beef & broccoli ramen stir-fry on Twitter a few days prior to Family Day. The recipe was posted by Chungah Rhee, author of the food blog Damn Delicious. I decided on this recipe in particular for two reasons:

  1. I have used Chungah’s blog as a resource before when I was learning how to make pasta (and I connected with her on Twitter afterwards). I find that her recipes are always clear, simple, and easy to follow, which I appreciate as an amateur chef.
  2. Most of the beef & broccoli recipes that I looked at used rice. This recipe, however, called for ramen noodles. I have never worked with ramen noodles in a dish before (other than the instant Mr. Noodle bowls), so I thought it would present a challenge having to work with a new, unfamiliar ingredient.

Shopping for the ingredients for this recipe was very frustrating — I had a hard time finding some of the ingredients. For example, the recipe calls for refrigerated Yakisoba noodles, which are basically just a brand of ramen noodles. I checked three separate grocery stores and had no luck. I even tried a local Asian grocery store (which was a little out of my comfort zone, and it made me uncomfortable that I was uncomfortable, so I had to evaluate my privilege) where they finally told me that refrigerated Yakisoba noodles do not exist in Regina. Great. So, I ended up buying no-name instant ramen noodles instead, having no idea how they would work in the recipe.

Shopping for the ingredients was also frustrating because it ended up being very expensive. Up until now, I’ve lucked out with my recipes because my mom has had a lot of the basic ingredients that I’ve needed at home. However,  this recipe calls for a lot of oils and sauces which I didn’t already have at home like rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and Sriracha. We also ran out of honey, so I had to buy a jar, which I discovered is like a bazillion dollars (okay, $8, but still). Here is the breakdown of how much I spent on this meal:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Ramen noodles – $1.20 (I bought a box of 24 packages for $4.80 and used 6 packages)
  • Olive oil – $0 (had at home)
  • Beef – $16.38 for 2 lbs
  • Broccoli florets – $3.99 (I bought a bag for $7.98 and used roughly 1/2)
  • Sesame seeds – $0 (had at home)
  • Rice wine vinegar – $4.18
  • Sriracha – $2.98
  • Sesame oil – $3.28
  • Soy sauce – $1.88
  • Honey – $7.97
  • Beef broth – $0 (had at home)
  • Brown sugar – $0 (had at home)
  • Minced garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Cornstarch – $0 (had at home)
  • Ginger – $0 (had at home)

Total = $41.86

Aside from the cost and my shopping frustrations, I have to say, this meal turned out great!

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The finished product — complete with sesame seeds.

My mom and brother collectively rated it a 9.75/10. Their only critique was that there was not enough broccoli, and I agree. I ended up doubling the amount of beef and noodles because I wanted to ensure that I had a lot of leftovers for the week, but I had trouble estimating the amount of broccoli that I needed. I used roughly 1/3 of the bag, which seemed like a lot when I was washing it, but compared to the beef and noodles, the broccoli ratio was definitely off. This was a quick fix though. To make sure there was enough broccoli with the leftovers, I simply stir-fried more broccoli in a separate pan and then added it to the beef and noodle mixture after it was done. I also made a slight modification to the recipe. I’m still not good at predicting how a certain ingredient is going to affect the overall taste of a dish, but my mom informed me that one tablespoon of ginger seemed like a lot, so I halved it, which I think was a good call because you could still taste the ginger but it wasn’t overpowering.

Overall, this is a recipe that I would definitely cook for my family again because of how easy it was. Plus, now that I have most of the basic ingredients, it won’t cost me nearly as much to make next time.

16807217_10154326871237393_2912163514471367280_nI also attempted some baking on Family Day. We had some overripe bananas in the house, and since I’m all about saving money in this project, my mom suggested that I try to find a recipe where I could use the bananas so they wouldn’t go to waste.  In the end, I actually found and tried three different recipes using the bananas. And, the best part: since I had all of the ingredients at home already, it cost me absolutely nothing to make these three recipes! This kind of made up for the fact that I was almost $20 over-budget with the beef & broccoli recipe.

First, I made two different types of banana bread — a regular banana bread and a double-chocolate banana bread. I found the recipe for the regular banana bread on a food blog called Eating on a Dime, which is another blog that I have already used in my Learning Project. The other recipe I found on Pinterest, which was originally posted to a blog called Just So Tasty. Both recipes said to bake at 350, so I tried to be efficient by baking both banana breads at the same time.

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Prior to going in the oven.

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This made the timing a little tricky — one recipe said to bake for an hour and the other recipe said to bake for 45-55 minutes. As a compromise, I baked the breads for 50 minutes and did a toothpick test to check for done-ness. For my first attempt at baking, I’m very proud of how the banana breads turned out; they looked delicious and tasted even better! In fact, my brother asked if I could start baking all the time (no offence, mom).

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The finished products. 

While the banana breads were in the oven, I started prepping for my third recipe: baked banana oatmeal cups. I found the recipe on a baking blog called The Merchant Baker. This recipe appealed to me because it’s a quick, convenient breakfast idea, and I often don’t have enough time in the mornings to eat before I leave the house which is a) not healthy, and b) dumb because then I’m starving at school. In addition, aside from the sprinkling of chocolate chips on top, the recipe is quite healthy which also appealed to me.

This recipe has very few ingredients and very few steps, so the prep work was extremely easy. I was a little worried about how the recipe would turn out as the batter was quite liquid-y after I combined the milk mixture and the oat mixture. However, the recipe assured me that this was normal, and sure enough, the oatmeal cups turned out just fine.

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The finished product. 

If I was going to make these again, I would add a touch more vanilla or cinnamon — something to give the oatmeal cups a bit more flavour. They were good, but a little bland I thought. Also, something that I noticed was that, depending on the size of the muffin tin, the cooking time varied. I used two different sizes of muffin tins, and the batter in the larger, deeper tin took a few extra minutes to cook fully.

In total, it took me about three and a half hours to make all four recipes.  One thing that I think I need to improve on as a cook is balancing my time in the kitchen — I’m not good at multitasking. According to New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman, there are four stages of teaching yourself to cook, and I am very much so in stage one: following recipes slavishly. For example, while making the beef & broccoli stir-fry, I followed each individual step one at a time — I started by making the sauce, then boiling the noodles, then cooking the beef, and finally combining all the ingredients and cooking everything together. Looking back, I realize that I could have saved time by doing multiple steps at once. I’m also really cautious in the kitchen because I don’t want to screw anything up — at one point while I was making the banana breads my mom laughed at how slow I was going because I was following the recipes so exactly. I wonder if I will get better at this with more time and experience in the kitchen?