March 2009


Food26 Mar 2009 09:14 pm

ms paula deen

Perhaps you are not familiar with the lady above.

This, my friends, is Ms. Paula Deen. She’s a celebrity chef…of sorts.., specializing in Southern American comfort food. Read: fatty, cheesy, caloric overloaded food mostly made with pre-made ingredients. The lady loves butter.

I personally find her to have a grating voice and, um, rustic cooking style. She’s not my cuppa tea is basically what I’m saying.

However, the lady is hugely popular. I remember being at the Mall of America in Minneapolis once and there being an enormous crowd there to attend her book signing.

Now, I’m not being a food snob. While I have definitely tried to avoid using precooked, frozen and canned ingredients in my cooking as much as possible, I’m not against it to save some time. But Paula really revels in it. She’s kind of like Rachel Ray’s crazier, older aunt.

rachel ray tattoo

Why yes, that IS a tattoo of Rachel Ray on some woman’s back.

But, the point of this post is not to bitch about Paula or even Rachel “Yummo” Ray. It is to point you to Michele Humes (previously and currently of Fine Furious Life) and her new blog: Georgia on my Thighs.

Michele is a French-trained chef who also happens to write about (and photograph) food very well. She is attempting to cook (and snark and think, she says) her way through Paula Deen’s The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook. The cookbook is based on Deen’s restaurant which, according to their site, features a Sunday buffet which includes sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf and fried chicken.

Worlds colliding!

Michele’s first post is amazing. She begun with a recipe that she says “takes her out of her comfort zone.” I look forward to future experimentation.

Maybe I’ll even be able to add condensed soup to my cupboard at some point.

work (kinda)25 Mar 2009 11:49 pm

1960s telephone switchboard

…He had only this source’s last name, a nickname, the general area of his suspected whereabouts (north and east of Toronto), and a warning: this was a sinister character. An hour after sharing that seemingly inadequate information with the switchboard, the operators had a full name and phone number. “They can take those stressful calls,” says [crime reporter Peter] Edwards. “They don’t get skittish or nervous. In 18 years, I’ve never heard, ‘Give me a break; we can’t get that.'”

According to Barbara Barker, an operator in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the switchboard operators often used Bell Canada for basic searches. They called pay phones to find sources in public areas because, according to Turner, “no one can resist answering a ringing pay phone.”

These are quotes from a piece on the switchboard at the Toronto Star. The ladies of the board knew everything, everyone – and could get them on the phone. They didn’t just answer the phone, they did research and dug for answers.

The article is four years old, but it’s amazing to hear the tales of the days before the internet in journalism. If you can even imagine that.

Smooth Operators [via Ryerson Review of Journalism]

Food25 Mar 2009 01:18 am

meat madness' pork selections

Forget March Madness. Hook up with Meat Madness.

SoGoodBlog is running a “tournament” of everyone’s favourite meats, in four brackets: red meat, poultry, pork and seafood. I encourage you to vote and vote often. Everyday is a new matchup until the tourney wraps up on April 10. I think in the end, bacon may reign supreme.

Pork is going to prove to be an upsetting field, overall. A potential match up of pulled pork vs. bacon? Oh the humanity!

General22 Mar 2009 11:20 pm

I especially love the FailWhale.

via Current

Food and Food: Home Cookin'20 Mar 2009 07:04 am

Macarons are the new cupcake, haven’t you heard? Well, actually according the the New York Times, whoopie pies are the new cupcake. But I stand by my macarons. They are experiencing a renaissance, showing up in pâtisseries and bakeries as well as at weddings as favours. Now that Edmonton has finally opened a few cupcake shoppes, it signalled the end to that trend.

First: let’s get one thing straight. Not macaroons. Macarons.

Cheap macaroons

Although macaroons are not without their charms. I used to buy the Neilson brand for $0.97 a box at Zellers during summers in Thunder Bay. It’s funny the things that thrill you as a child.

Macaroons are coconut based chocolate-covered candies or cookies, available at your local dollar store. Macarons are originally from France, and are meringuey light sandwiched cookies, with fillings. A world of difference.

Although I had never tried a macaron until this February at Bouchon in Las Vegas, I had long been interested in them. They’re just so damned pretty! And the flavours are insane. Earl grey, caramel fleur de sel, filled with jam, ganache, buttercream; even ketchup (yes you read correctly)…they are a baker’s dream of customization.

Then I started to research them, and I realized what kind of a baking challenge they were. I put off baking them for months out of fear of failure, which is a common reaction judging by all the blogs I have read about macarons. Some people report six or seven attempts to get something close to edible.The problems never end: too fresh of egg whites, under beating, over beating, under and over folding, humidity, wrong pans… Macarons are all technique, unlike many cookie recipes.

anatomy of a macaron

Macarons should be chewy, sweet, airy and with a bit of a crunch when you bite in.

Macarons gone wrong on other blogs:

badmac badmac1

I will not shame the bakers of these for they were brave enough to post their mistakes, but see what I mean? These suckers are a challenge!

However, I am happy to say, they were not as frightful as I had feared. While they are a bit advanced, I think anyone with a decent oven, electric beater/stand mixer, scale, piping bag and a bit of patience can make these.

I pulled my recipe from a number of sources. There are a few versions floating around the web, and I found the most successful recipes required weighing. I went to my parents house, where they have a convection oven, numerous baking pans, kitchen scales and most importantly: counter space and a KitchenAid stand mixer.

I started a day previous by aging my egg whites on a counter at room temperature. Some people age their whites up to three days. Why is this? According to Harold McGee in “On Food and Cooking“, it is complicated. Basically, the fresher the egg the easier to separate from the yolk. However, it can also be harder to get them to foam and stiffen, hence the artificial aging. One day on a counter at room temperature is equal to four days aging in the fridge.

McGee does say a stand mixer will whip even the freshest eggs, however. So the forced aging does have a reason and is not superstition, as many bloggers believe. The funniest thing about macarons is that everyone has their ‘trick.’ Some beat eggs for a certain number of minutes. Others dry roast their ground almonds, or add powdered egg whites to unaged fresh whites. Yet others let the piped cookies stand for over an hour to form a skin on top, then pray for the best.

Basic Macaron Recipe:

(# of sandwiches made depends on the size of your cookies. I got about 24 2″ cookies, to make 12 macarons)

  • 225 grams icing sugar
  • 125 grams ground almonds
  • 110 grams egg whites (about 4), aged overnight at room temperature
  • 25 grams granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Weigh the icing sugar and almonds, and sift into a small bowl. Weigh the granulated sugar and set aside. Finally, weigh the egg whites.

In a clean dry mixing bowl, use a hand mixer or stand mixer on medium to beat the egg whites. Add a pinch of salt before you beat. The eggs should quickly become frothy.

At this point, slowly add the granulated sugar, and speed up the mixer slightly. The mix will become opaque and stiffen. Continue beating until peaks form and hold, and the surface becomes shiny. The whites should stick to the bowl and hold a well defined edge.

Gently fold in the almond/icing sugar mix with a spatula. I did mine in three portions. Here’s the tricky bit: “fold until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not over fold.”  Some say you should get something like lava: a gentle crust on top, with liquid motion, and peaks that flatten.

When I filled my piping gun, the mix seemed so thick! I was certain I had failed, to be honest. I piped 1.5″ circles onto parchment paper, smoothing any nipples on top with a moistened finger. I put the macarons into a preheated 350°F oven for 11 minutes.

7 minutes into baking, I saw feet popping up on my little macarons so I was feeling pretty proud. I did have some cracking (mostly in the second batch) but overall, success! I think I might let the macarons sit before baking a little bit longer next time. I think it might stop the quick spreading, and cracking, in the oven. If you have trouble with your macarons, try the Italian meringue method. Some have better luck with that.

The stages of the eggs:

eggs1

At the start.

eggs2

Getting foamy now, almost ready for sugar….

eggs3

Sugar added, and whipping into stiffer foam.

eggs4

Finally, success!

Piping the macaron batter:

macs1

almost ready to eat macarons

Look at those damn near perfect feet!

It’s citrus season and while I love RioStar grapefruit and naval oranges, I have a special spot reserved for blood oranges. They’re really spectacular. I decided to make blood orange curd for the middle of my macarons.

My initial curd recipe was a DISASTER and so I have this FAILcurd:

fail

It looks like a prop in a horror movie. 🙁

One redo later, and I had something much better.

Blood Orange Curd

(makes 1 1/2 cups)

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon fine orange zest (TIP: zest before you juice the oranges, it is easier)
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (I might use less next time)
  • 4 tablespoon cubed room temperature butter

In a small saucepan, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and juice until blended. Cook, stirring constantly (to prevent it from curdling), until the mixture becomes thick (like sour cream or a hollandaise sauce), about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter pieces. Add the zest and let cool. When cool, cover and put in fridge.

Next time I will include less sugar. Lemon curd demands a high amount of sugar to tone down the tartness, but blood oranges are so sweet they do not need the help. The leftover curd is great on toast.

blood orange macarons

My sources for my successful macaron making:

Also, how wrong is it that making these macarons made me long for a new camera and a kitchen with natural lighting?

Food19 Mar 2009 04:12 pm

I have a new addition to my “things not to do on my next visit to Vegas” list. Previous items include the all you eat all day buffet at the Excalibur, seeing Carrot Top and the men of “Thunder Down Under.”  This is made easier by never visiting that corner of the Strip.

And now, the Burrito Bomb at the NASCAR Cafe at the Sahara. Cost: $19.95. It’s free if you finish it, naturally. Additionally, you get two free passes to their “Speed” rollercoaster and a tee-shirt. No word on if a barf bag is included. Easy, right?

Sahara's burrito bomb

The six-pound, two-foot-long beauty sells for $19.95.

via VegasRex

I mean, I’ve been a glutton when in Nevada, but this is a whole other level. Someone alert the This is Why You’re Fat people.

Food15 Mar 2009 07:25 pm

Year of Salads

Credit: Jenny at Simple Life Love

If you work downtown, perhaps you are familiar with the salad bar at Sunterra. It’s pretty awesome; throw in your greens (three kinds), various proteins (chicken, tuna, beans), veggies, fruits and dressings, then weigh it and check out. My co-worker has been on a salad kick for a number of months and I cannot remember the last time he did not eat salad for lunch. He goes through stages like that. I asked him when he thought he might fall off the wagon, but he said he wasn’t sure; one day he might wake up and be really into pasta for lunch.

I found out today that a woman, Jenny, has been doing this since 2009 began and has been taking photos of her salads each day and blogging about it. The way my co-worker does it can get quite expensive (he does stock his own sunflower seeds and olive oil at work, however), and doing it at home is pretty easy if you just think ahead for the week. So much room for variation, too! When I do it, I normally poach a few chicken breasts Friday night (my work week is Saturday through Tuesday) and toss in whatever I’m into that day or what is in the fridge; roasted red peppers, black beans, pickles, baby corn, grape tomatoes. No rhyme or reason, and it tastes pretty good. I find it helps that I have a dedicated super size reusable container for salad use only.

Jenny also has some hints for keeping a well stocked fridge for salad making. Costco plays a major role, I am happy to see. Their produce section is pretty solid.

Food and Food: Home Cookin'13 Mar 2009 12:28 pm

Eating Popcorn

Okay, so this is mostly a midnight snack, not an afternoon one. I have shifted to working some late nights at work and getting home after 11pm leaves me feeling a bit nibbly. Since I discovered a pan my mom got me was perfect for making stove top popcorn, I’ve been making it a few times a week.

Add a sprinkle of fleur de sel, crack of pepper and a bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese if it’s around. Mike likes his with olive oil and sometimes Ethiopian berbere spice, but I prefer mine oil and butter-free. (Tip: add the salt/seasoning before you add butter or oil, it actually sticks to the popcorn better. A chef friend shared this with Mike and it does make a difference!)

I recommend the yellow popcorn kernels if you have a choice. The white are supposedly ‘gourmet’ because they are lighter and more delicate, but I found them smaller, harder and less satisfying. The yellow kernels puff up better and are more substantial.

Stovetop popcorn

The key is to making good poppo is finding a good pan. The one I use is shallow enough to contain the heat and steam necessary to pop the kernels, and large enough in surface area to keep the kernels in a single layer in the oil while they cook.

Bowl of popcorn

Can you see the different popcorn kernels? To use up the leftover white popcorn, I mixed it in with some yellow.

Other afternoon snacks I have enjoyed:

General12 Mar 2009 02:33 pm

My parents are both in warm countries right now and tell me via phone calls and emails how hot things are. As we crawl out of the depths of winter here in Edmonton – in MARCH! – I decided some daffodils would raise my spirits.

However, as I look at them blooming a little more everyday, they only remind me golf season is still weeks, nay, months away.

Daffodils

Food11 Mar 2009 08:22 pm

… I’m not looking for a three-star experience every time I eat out, merely some evidence of attentiveness.

Michele, from the (fabulous) Fine Furious Life.

Amen.

Food and work (kinda)11 Mar 2009 11:40 am

Journal food writer Liane Faulder finally launched her blog today. It’s naturally about food and eating in the area – and beyond – if the post I spied yesterday while helping her is any indication! I’ve been eagerly awaiting this moment for some weeks.

Any Edmonton or Albertan food blog fans might like to go check it out: Eat My Words. The alpaca meatloaf she describes in her first post sounds outstanding. I’m off to scout some!

Crafts etc11 Mar 2009 08:50 am

I have seen many craft/stationery blogs use silhouettes lately. They’re nothing new, but seem to be popular right now.

I decided to make my own. I won’t bore you with the process, but Photoshop made quick work of the project. I printed out the headshots, traced them onto some thin craft balsa wood and then simply cut the silhouettes out.

Painted and:

Silhouettes

I think I will get some new frames and backing paper, but they seemed to have turned out pretty well.

For something more impressive, check out Jenny Lee Fowler’s silhouettes shaped from leaves on Etsy. Yeah, I know. Go now! Also, here are some instructions for a way to do it if you do not have Photoshop.

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