Category Archives: reference

Random Thoughts, and Trends

I was scanning the news this morning and thinking foodie thoughts in a rather stream-of-consciousness fashion. Nothing seemed to stick, it was all random. My brain went with that theme and suddenly I was humming the Arlo Guthrie tune about a pickle…

 

That was my inspiration today. My commentary on some of the new cooking and eating trends is entirely random, and without any expertise other than my own tastebuds. It’s fun to be adventurous and think outside the box, but when I threw so many random trends together it made me wonder if we aren’t trying too hard to be unusual. But then, comfort food and retro recipes are other popular trends. Anything is possible.

  1. Brinner – when you miss breakfast, you can have it for dinner! Some of this trend is centered around the concept of putting a poached egg on top of a dish, but there’s something to be said for making more meals acceptable for all those wonderful Sunday brunch dishes 🙂
  2. Gyros – it’s cooler when your wrap has an ethnic name, isn’t it? The Greek flatbread with flavourful fillings is the new wrapped sandwich craze. Portable food is always cool in today’s world. If only there was an app that would allow telepathic texting while you eat…
  3. Donuts – what else can you put in them? It’s frankly scary the range of fillings available in fried pastry, and then consider the variations of stuffed food similar to a donut – like kolaches (great with plum jam but now possible with candied jalapenos and smoked beef, just because).
  4. “I dare you” food – ever tried beef tongue? How about fresh grated horseradish? Foraged greens? Moss? It’s all out there for the adventurous. Chefs love shock value too sometimes.
  5. New twists on beverages – craft beer pubs are passé; look for beer bars with odd themes (think different glassware or decor and innovative beer styles). Wine is okay, but mead is more fun. And cocktails can come with any kind of garnish now, even scented feathers!
  6. Salt cod – no really, you have to try it! Andrew Knowlton, the editor of Bon Appetit magazine, said it looks like “a last-resort snack for those beyond the wall in Game of Thrones”, but treated properly it is delectable.
  7. Nitro coffee – because life just keeps getting more Fast & Furious. Seriously, why have just caffeine when you can have it injected with nitrogen and served from a tap? It has a creamy texture not unlike a pint of Guinness. Or you can just have cold brewed coffee, the minimalist version.
  8. restaurant names like never before – in an effort to be new and inventive, owners are picking terms like “luncheonette” and “provisions” to sound unique. Couple this with some wacky ingredient or animal name (think anise hyssop or blue oyster) and you’re all set. Only trouble is everyone else is using the same kind of formula – go figure. It sounds like the new Facebook quiz – “What would your name be if you were a restaurant?”
  9. Lithuanian and South African cuisine – it sounds like someone spun a globe and said “quick, what countries have we not featured on menus recently?” But there are some interesting foods to try – a Lithuanian stuffed potato dumpling called a cepelinai sounds delicious, and I love bobotie, a sort of South African shepherd’s pie.
  10. Pickles – you thought I was going to leave you hanging, didn’t you? Don’t you agree, what with kimchi everywhere now and pickled mushrooms as garnish and pickled fruit on cheese boards… the recession wasn’t that bad we need to preserve everything! I love a crunchy dill pickle like the next person, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

How trendy are you? Does any of this stuff even pique your interest, or are you more of a Meatless Monday, Tuna Casserole Tuesday kind of person? Does your family enjoy trying new things? I’d love to hear your comments.

What You Eat Can Make You Smarter

I was catching up on my foodie reading today and I came across an interesting theme… research that studies the correlation between what foods are in our diet and how that affects not only our physical health but our brain capacity as well. Can what we eat really make us smarter?

As a small child, I was a big fan of fruit. I didn’t eat a lot of meat early on, but fruit was always popular with me, and still is. So of course I was interested to read more about an article that said primates who ate fruit had bigger brains.  If monkeys of similar social groups developed larger brains just because they ate fruit instead of leaves, I should go to the head of the class.

In case you don’t want to read the entire article, the gist is this: searching for hard-to-find fruit over leaves that were abundant and closer to ground level meant fruit eaters were more innovative and critical thinking than their lazier leaf eating neighbours. It made perfect sense when I thought about it.

The bad news is that eating more fruit doesn’t do you or I much good as this kind of development takes evolutionary time to realize the effects. Generations of fruit-eating progeny are required before we would see results. Maybe your great great great great grandchildren would be smarter, but you’re just not getting scurvy.

There is good news, though. The other research article I read was about healthy snacks versus nibbles that had less nutritional value. Did you know that if we have to wait for our food we choose to eat more healthy? Perhaps that is the real reason fast food is mostly junk – if it took longer we would be eating a salad. The researchers called it a time tax on less healthy food choices. They used vending machines at a university, with a 25 second delay on less healthy items and no delay on healthy ones.

Since the experiment did show a positive result, there is talk of extrapolating the concept for more food activities. One suggestion was that grocery store shoppers who chose more healthy options could be streamlined to a faster checkout than those with less healthy items in their cart.

Is this discrimination? Should we be allowed to be unhealthy if we choose? We know people don’t like taxes on “undesirable behaviour” (such as the taxes on alcohol and tobacco). Perhaps positive reinforcement is a less offensive option to encourage our society to “do the right thing”. I guess the catch is, who decides what the right thing is? Today we’re talking about being healthy. Tomorrow what will be the encouraged choice?

What is so mesmerizing about melting cheese?

Have you ever noticed how your Facebook friends keep posting recipes on their news feed, all of them containing cheese? There is always a slow-motion video with a forkful of food and a string of melting cheese or an oozing blob of cheese onto a plate…

I love cheese but those videos are truly over the top. I feel like the next thing on my feed will be a promotion on defibrillators.

Comfort food often involves rich ingredients, and it never seems to be served in small portions. Is that a first world necessity – do we need to show that we can afford to have more on the plate than is advisable, much less required? Where did the idea “more is better” come from?

Okay, bear with me: I looked it up and “more is better” relates to economic theory and indifference curves.  I won’t bore you with the details or the math but suffice it to say that when thinking of things you prefer, your first reaction is usually that more of that preferred thing is better. (I know, the only part that stuck in your head is the idea that somehow economics relates to melting cheese. You’re thinking, “why didn’t my first year Economics prof say THAT?!”)

The problem is, once you reflect on this principle you also realize that at a certain point you are working harder to get something that is giving you less at the end of the day. That’s called “diminishing returns”. With melted cheese, diminishing returns occur when your waistline grows faster than your ability to appreciate a new recipe. (If you want to know the best cheese to use for melting, this link is a quick study. )

The simple truth is, not many people get excited about salad videos. I have worked with kids on the topic of “edible education” and the best competing concept I can offer is to eat a rainbow.   It’s fun to make skewers of fruit or veggies in all colours, and talk about all the different nutrients and tastes they offer. But the kids only really go crazy for cookies or ice cream. (Cheese becomes a fixation when you’re older, apparently.)

I’m not espousing a dairy-free diet. I for one am not giving up cheese anytime soon. I do hope that we can all live healthy enough lives to enjoy more cheese over time. Mostly, I just wanted to share a few random thoughts. Does anyone else wonder about this stuff?

Maybe we should just work to make food more artful. Can you imagine mid-week dinners looking like this?

 

 

 

Food for Foolish Times

April Fool’s Day is coming up this week, and so I thought I would use that as inspiration to be a bit goofy. It could be cabin fever – the delayed arrival of spring has made me a bit stir-crazy. I don’t know about you, but I just feel that a little bit of whimsy is the best way to weather the storm.

Hopefully you will forgive the lack of nutritional value in this week’s recipes and take pleasure in knowing this topic give you water cooler fodder for the week to come!

Did you know that a real seasonal spring food is Peeps? They are a traditional sweet made by a company called Just Born, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; they come most commonly in the form of baby chicks. If you have never seen or heard of Peeps, check the Easter section of the larger grocery stores. If you’d like to see how Peeps are made, you can check out this factory video:

Peeps have a very loyal following, with some people taking their appreciation to quite imaginative heights! There are even such Peep pastimes as Peep Jousts (arm your Peep with a toothpick under his wing for a lance, then put him in the microwave with another combatant and after placing your wagers on the winner, push the ON button. The winner is the one that expands enough to engulf his unwitting enemy.) I could have posted a video on this, but I prefer that you imagine the fun…

There is Peep art – patterns of the charming little fellows glued on canvas that sell for hundreds of dollars. (Peeps do come in an array of colours, allowing for numerous permutations in design, so it’s not as silly as you might think.)

 

Simple indulgence in Peeps is ample goofiness, and you needn’t feel guilty eating them. They are only 32 calories each, and there are 350 million of them made each year, so they are certainly not endangered.

I suppose if you prefer natural foods, you could just stick to regular marshmallows. Did you know they have been around for 200 years and that originally the root of the marshmallow plant was what made them sticky and gooey? This plant was also used to soothe sore throats. I don’t know if you could attest to a marshmallow doing that but it arguably does make you feel better when you eat one.

Whether you like them pre-stuck to Rice Krispies in a square or roasted over an open flame will not diminish the smile that seems to get stuck on your face after eating them.

I have a few final notes for you if you choose to let whimsy strike and indulge in the spongy confection…

  1. Beware anyone brandishing a roasted marshmallow – flaming and sticky is not a very safe combination in the air.
  2. If you do get melted (or manhandled) marshmallow stuck somewhere it shouldn’t be, remember to remove it as soon as possible or it will become like Super Glue.
  3. The best remedy for unsticking marshmallow bits seems to be licking them off, so try to aim for something or someone you like. (If you use peanut butter, be sure to ask about nut allergies first.)

If you like your marshmallow inside something else, here’s a recipe that includes the other seasonal sweet – chocolate.

Chocolate-Marshmallow Brownies

3/4 cup Callebaut chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups white sugar
5 large eggs

Zest of 1 full orange, grated on a “microplane” (fine grater)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups small Callebaut chocolate chunks (or chocolate chips)
2 cups miniature marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Heat chocolate and butter in a pan slowly while stirring, until melted. Stir in sugar until melted and well blended. Cool the mixture 10 to 15 minutes.

Add eggs, orange zest and vanilla and stir until blended. Add flour, salt, and mix again. Add chocolate chunks and marshmallows, and pour into your pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until brownies spring back when touched in the centre of the pan. Let cool on a wire rack. Cut and serve at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar if you want to dress them up.

Happy April Fools’ Day 🙂 And if you’re saving yourself, Happy Easter!

My Moment of Zen

In a world where things move at 4G (or is it 5G now, I can’t remember) and there is a lot of non-stop noise, it’s nice to enjoy a slow and quiet moment. One of my favourite reasons for walking the dog is to have those kind of moments. Another way I take a deep breath is to spend time in my garden. The first method I discovered for stepping back from the fray was reading.

Today I stopped at the local Chapters to stock up on reading material. I do have books at home, but I was looking for inspiration, new information to broaden my horizons. I also have to manage my time and focus on priorities. I don’t know about you, but if I have a good book I have been known to disappear inside it for lengths of time. I can only allow shorter intervals right now, so having something that was of shorter duration was more practical. A few food magazines was just enough to do the trick.

Just buying the magazines put me in a state of euphoria. Choosing publications that offered something unique was important; I don’t need to read about 15 different variations on brownies or omelettes. I wanted something outside the box.

Scooping up the last few issues of Lucky Peach was important; if you haven’t heard of this periodical yet, unfortunately it’s almost too late. The offbeat and ingenious effort from Momofuku’s David Chang and Peter Meehan will be shutting down later this year. (I invite you to at least check out their website for brilliantly written pieces.)

I am a fan of foodie travel, and my current favourite on that front is Saveur. There used to be a similar magazine called Intermezzo which I loved, but I can’t find it anymore. (You have to roll with the punches.) I have learned of cuisines in faraway places, and ingredients I never knew existed. I have added places to my bucket list and filled my kitchen with aromas that had me transported across the world.

As a treat, I picked up a special edition on California wine, as we are travelling there in the fall. Not only will I have some new pairing ideas, I might find a few pit stops. After all, travelling is thirsty work.

Hiding in the back shelves was a title I hadn’t seen before, so I splurged and picked it up too. I love to know how things work and Milk Street is all about the how’s and why’s of a dish. It’s a new publication; I’ll let you know how I like it.

I suppose you could call this literary gluttony a guilty pleasure. There are many websites with foodie information, and articles galore on every topic imaginable. But there is something comforting in putting my feet up and flipping those glossy pages, pondering the delectable food photos as I sip my tea. I consider this akin to meditation, a time for my mind to wander at leisure with no agenda. As much as my workouts are important to stay in shape and my recipe testing helps with my writing, a bit of mental free time helps me find my ways to new ideas. Sometimes, like a walk with Ella where I let her decide the route, my mind will wander down its own path and find a solution to a challenge that doesn’t even involve food.

I read an article today about Paula Wolfert, a renowned cookbook author and icon in the world of food and restaurants. She has Alzheimer’s disease, and so not only does she not remember how to cook many recipes anymore – she also has lost much of her sense of taste. And yet, she is still working with food and with people who want to learn from her. (I can’t wait to read the biography of her that is coming out soon. If you’d like to read the article, it’s on my Facebook page. ) 

Reading Ms. Wolfert’s story reminded me that every moment counts. Even with a life rich in memories, we need to make every effort to live our best life in every moment.  There is a zen saying:

Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.

I’d like my soul’s vocabulary to improve.

 

 

 

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