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Recipe Testing – you win some, you lose some

recipe box

So I decided to try some recipes that I saw in my surfing this week… I must admit, I still do more surfing in good old-fashioned print than I do online, but nonetheless there is lots to sift through. I have taken to pulling pages from magazines to minimize the stock in my recipe bookcase, as after 25 years of surfing I would be suffocated otherwise 🙂

Fall always makes me want to cook, with all the goodness of harvest overflowing at the market stands. This last week I found a few fall dessert recipes and I got to making 3 of them. Two were a hit, one was a miss. I am posting the links to both here, and would love to hear comments – have you tried them,, or similar recipes? Did you like them? Do you read recipe reviews? Do you believe them? Do you trust recipes in print more than online, or vice versa?? When I started gathering recipes they were the ones I had tasted or had come from cooks I knew (my Mom, my Aunts, my best friend… you know how it used to work). One of the recipes I made was supposedly from a restaurant chef, and yet it was a total fail. How do I know in today’s remote world what to trust? Help!!

The first recipe I made came from a blog that is hosted through a shop I love in Seattle, World Spice Merchants. They have the most complete selection of spices and herbs I have ever seen under one roof, and their staff are extremely knowledgeable. Cardamom and Olive Oil Cake was the title. I was interested by the uniqueness of the recipe, and how it offered an “outside the box” combination of ingredients. I have posted on the blog asking if I made some error in the recipe preparation but I have not heard back.  (I printed the page and followed the listed directions explicitly, using the noted weights and not measurements in hopes of being the most accurate).  I’m still interested to try the recipe if there is something I missed, but the way it came out it’s not my cup of tea. I suppose I should have taken a picture but it was so sad – only 1 cm (1/2 inch) high, and pale and oily. Not nice.

The second recipe I made was a much more mainstream item but it looked good.  Apple Cake with caramel sauce It came out of a Walmart magazine if you can believe it 🙂 Apple Coffee Cake. We live in the Okanagan and it’s harvest season so an apple cake seemed like just the thing. Full disclosure: I did tweak this one a bit by adding dried cranberries along with the apple. It’s not racy, but it works, even if you want to go more healthy and omit the caramel topping. (We almost always have homemade caramel sauce on hand so I used that for a few pieces and we ate the rest plain.)

buttermilkThe third recipe I also found online, through a search based on an ingredient.  We had a litre of buttermilk in the fridge that was nearing its expiry and so I thought it would be good to make some muffins using buttermilk. This recipe from Williams Sonoma looked to be the best reviewed of the ones I found. I tweaked this one too at the last minute, adding a few spoonsful of mixed peel just for fun. These were tasty – great breakfast muffins. banana buttermilk muffins

It’s coming up on Thanksgiving and I’m thankful I’m not testing recipes on my guests for the holiday. I’d hate to have something “not nice” come out of the oven and have to make excuses for friends and family. Having a husband as a chef that is a cardinal rule in our house – we test things at home and might use each other as guinea pigs, but people we invite get treated to tried and true recipes we know and love.

Do you have any cooking disappointments? What’s your philosophy on cooking a new recipe for guests? At the end of the day I suppose the most important thing is gathering people together around the table, so even if it’s to decide as a group that pizza needs to be ordered, well that’s OK too.

Happy Thanksgiving. May your kitchen be full of good smells and good company.

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An apple a day

Ambrosia apples are well-named; they make a great midday snack.

I had a funny conversation recently with a foodie friend and there were a number of well-known expressions and sentiments we used that  use food terms. That reaffirmed yet again for me just how much food is a part of our everyday lives – in ways we don’t even consider. Dare I say this is food for thought, or should I rather say you would do well to take this column with a grain of salt? (I think by now you see where I am going with this… ) 

I entitled this week’s column using that age-old phrase that has become the poster child for healthy living – and did you know that in Ancient Greece throwing an apple to a woman was a way to propose marriage? (If she caught it, it meant yes. That is one way you become the apple of someone’s eye…) When the expression about keeping doctors away became popular in the 19th century, they had no scientific way of knowing that apples were healthy but they saw the proof in the pudding. (Would that have been apple pudding, I wonder??) Bad apples made their way into expressions too, and I suppose you could argue that might have been due to Eve’s unfortunate experience but a more modern version is perhaps the more obvious truth – spoiling a good effort only takes one small token, whether it is one apple in a barrel or one party pooper in a bunch of folks.

The apple expressions are ones that we use all the time, but with the approach of the holiday season the phrase “nuttier than a fruitcake” also came to mind, which of course then brought on all sorts of derogatory comments about fruitcake. I thought the phrase was meant to ridicule the person, and since I am one of the very few people in the world who publicly claim to enjoy fruitcake, I took offense. Fruitcake does not even have that many nuts – maybe that is why we don’t call it nutcake! Just because something is not your cup of tea doesn’t mean it’s a recipe for disaster. Mind you, perhaps there was a crazy Christmas baker in history, for in the UK they have mincemeat, which is similar to fruitcake in its taste and ingredients and there if you say that someone is “as thick as mince” it also means they are not altogether there. (Or perhaps it was just partaking of the rum and/or brandy that the fruit soaked in that made them a bit out to lunch.)

Many idioms so seem to have a logical history to them, but there are others that seem even more elusive. Why would we care who brought home the bacon – wouldn’t we rather know who was bringing home the pork roast? (It comes from a small town in England that offered a side of bacon to any man who hadn’t quarreled with his wife for a year and a day. Even then, that was something to appreciate!) And when was the last time you tried to cut mustard? Well, if you had ever tried to cut down mustard stalks you would know how difficult it is, but if you have ever “cut” dried mustard with vinegar or water then you know too that there is a standard for getting a good final product. Aren’t you glad you know those things now?

mustard fields in Saskatchewan – definitely a full day’s work to cut!

In keeping with the fall season and the resurgence of comfort foods, I will finish with a phrase I found particularly intriguing: “Fine words butter no parsnips”. I looked up the background to this one and found that it dates back to 1639 when people often ate parsnips instead of potatoes. If you have tasted them before, you know that parsnips are a food that needs to be buttered (or otherwise glazed – alone, they are quite bitter). The phrase may contain the root of a broader idiom – “to butter someone up” – in that it means words are not the same as actions. You can butter someone up, but it does not necessarily mean you will convince them; only the real thing will do.

I hope this week’s column has allowed you to “go to bed less stupid” as Martin says; or to give you one more expression, you can now tell people that you didn’t just fall off a turnip truck!

thanks to the folks at Nashvilleforfree.com who took this photo to advertise the Turnip Truck food store in Gulch

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