Monday, December 31, 2012

So This Is New Year's

I've been taking a photo a day for all of December, and today will be the last one.  "Fun."  I'm thinking of stacking some board games that we're going to play with the kids later.  Though I could take a picture of my new camera.  Teehee!

Traditionally I suppose a New Year's Eve blog post should be a reflection on the blog year past.  But this blog has been very quiet of late.  I do apologize.  I guess my inner foodie had more to say than I thought.  Though to be fair, I've only got just over a dozen posts on My Edible Journey so far.  But it's only been going since July.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Free To Be Inspired

I've been reading the September Homeschool Horizons magazine, and have been inspired by the poetry in it.  The kids and I just sat on the couch as I recited a couple of poems to them.  Then I searched to see if there was more to the first one, and there is.  I love it.

October's Party

by George Cooper 

courtesy of

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came-
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.

The Chestnuts came in yellow,

The Oaks in crimson dressed;
The lovely Misses Maple
In scarlet looked their best;
All balanced to their partners,
And gaily fluttered by;
The sight was like a rainbow
New fallen from the sky.

Then, in the rustic hollow,

At hide-and-seek they played,
The party closed at sundown,
And everybody stayed.
Professor Wind played louder;
They flew along the ground;
And then the party ended
In jolly "hands around."

Isn't that wonderful? I've always loved poetry, and the imagery in this one just makes me smile.  I love that I can share my enjoyment of poems with my kids in a way that doesn't kill the spirit of the words.  

I can remember in school having to dissect each and every line, being asked questions like, "What did the poet mean when he said ______?"  It was frustrating to really get into a poem, only to be told that the way it moved me wasn't what the book said the answer was, and therefore I'd obviously read it wrong.  How high school English didn't kill my love of poetry is beyond me.  It sure tried.

That's what I love about homeschooling (among other things).  We don't grade the work the kids do.  There is no pass or fail.  No A or F.  Poetry can simply inspire.  Books can expand the imagination without having to fit into an answer sheet.  Our kids are free to be inspired by a story without being told how to feel or think about it.  They can enjoy autumn poetry just because.

Autumn is a second season when every leaf is a flower. ~ Albert Camus

Monday, July 23, 2012

What's next?

So, what's next for this currently disjointed blog?  Slowly I'll start filling it out with life: homeschooling/unschooling, faith, family... I'm on a journey of self discovery, and I think this space will suit some of what I'm processing.  It may not be any less disjointed, but the intense food focus will have it's own space.

Right now we're celebrating rain.  It's been a long, dry summer so far.  Yesterday we unexpectedly got enough rain to satisfy the parched ground, revitalize struggling plants and give our water bill a reprieve.  I imagine (if it weren't so horribly sticky and humid out) I could hear the plants growing if I stood outside today.

On the home front, it's been summer.  Outings to playgrounds and parks and the zoo, soccer, relaxing... Nights have been a bit later, workbooks have been laid aside, and we've been enjoying the season as best we can (still not a fan of summer).

There has been controversy on blogs I follow (largely the result of punitive minded prominent Christians saying misogynistic and/or abusive things).  But today I am in no mood for controversy.  Today I want to relax.  Maybe because the introvert in me has to spend time with a very lovely, but very extroverted person, whose communication style clashes with mine in a big way.  Say it with me - "Serenity now."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Edible Journey

Well, it's come to this.  My inner foodie and my inner everything else have agreed to part ways.  It's an amicable split.  The foodie wants her space and everything else wants her space back.  So the foodie has been given a brand new blog, and slowly this one will be reclaimed by Mama B, the homeschool mom who is so much more.

So without further ado, I'd like to present My Edible Journey.  I'll be revisiting recipes that I've posted here on this blog (often with pictures!) as well as giving my inner culinary tourist a place to come out and play.  I'm planning a short series on a recent trip to Toronto.  For now though, I've gone back 2 years to a recipe about veggie dip, tweaked it, photographed it and posted it.  Check it out.  See you there.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Recipe? Yeah not so much.

Chef Michael Smith has encouraged people to cook "without a recipe" (and has cookbooks to back that up.... wait, what?).  He really is wonderful, and has helped many people look at cooking through a different lens.  A lens I grew up with.  My mother seldom pulled out a recipe, unless she was baking.  She either whipped up tried and true meals, or made things up as she went along.  Those things didn't always turn out, mind you (charred grilled chicken glazed with soy and dried oregano comes to mind).  But that's how she cooked.  And as I taught myself to cook, I let recipes guide me, but not necessarily dictate the end result.  I love reading cookbooks, and have watched cooking shows for as long as I can remember (Celebrity Cooks with Bruno Gerussi, anyone?), and I've always had a passion for food.

So when my husband and I tried a smokey onion dip at a local barbecue restaurant, I knew I had to recreate it (and not just because my husband gave me that look of "You're making this when?" after his first bite).  I googled and found a recipe on the Food Network site from Diners Drive Ins and Dives that looked promising, but when it came down to it, I didn't have the time to smoke onions.  So I ditched the recipe and struck out on my own.  The result was an ever so slightly sweet, deeply smokey dip with a savoury edge and a little texture that would make an amazing burger topping.  People raved and asked for the recipe.  I'll do my best to make this somewhat easy to follow, since I have no exact measurements for anything.

I started by slicing up a monster Spanish onion and caramelizing it in butter in a stainless pan (non-stick pans just don't give you that sticky, brown goodness).  I sprinkled it with a little sugar and a smoked salt that I have, but I'm sure that regular salt would be fine.

As the onion cooked, I grabbed a bowl and combined roughly equal parts mayonnaise and Greek yogurt (maybe a cup and a half of each?).  To that, I added about a teaspoon of garlic powder, a generous squirt of brown sauce (A1 or HP, take your pick), a good splash of Worcestershire, about a teaspoon of smoked paprika (easy to find - even WalMart carries it) and a very generous couple of teaspoons of liquid smoke (check the condiment isle - I use the Hickory).  That went into the fridge.

Once the onions were lovely, brown and pretty soft (but not mush), and the bottom of the pan was covered in that beautiful brown fond, I added another teaspoon or so of smoked paprika, and deglazed the whole thing with some beef broth.  Honestly the liquid doesn't matter too much.  It could have been chicken stock, beer or just water.  I used just enough to get all of the bits scraped up from the bottom of the pan.  Then I scraped it into my food processor and pulsed it until no large pieces of onion were left, but there was still some texture.

After chilling the onion paste in the fridge, I stirred it into the creamy mixture that I'd set aside and tasted it.  At that point I played with the salt and smoke.  Go with your own preference.  Add more garlic powder if you like.  Or some cayenne (or chipotle, for extra smokiness).  Stir in some crumbled Feta or Bleu cheese if you think it would be good.  Once you're happy with it, you're done.  It will mellow in the fridge, so if you're making it in advance, taste it before you serve it.

I served it with wedges of whole wheat pita, but as I said, it would be equally great on a burger.  My husband used it as the creamy component to some chicken salad.

I'd insert a picture here, but my 4 year old just polished off the last of it.  So here's a flashing chicken.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Niagara Wine and Food Expo

I began looking forward to this weekend last year, as I walked out the doors of the first Food and Wine Expo this area has hosted.  It was incredible.  So much truly great food!  My husband and I ate our way through row after row of delicacies and treats.  The most incredible sliders, amazing Asian dumplings, grilled pineapple in cinnamon syrup, Kobe style beef, fresh lobster (which I tried for the first time), as well as a myriad of wine choices and an almost equally dizzying array of beers.  We'd budgeted for a spendy date night, and indulged accordingly.  I'm sure there were things we never did get to, but by the end of the night we were full.

This year my middle sister came with us.  I tried to not build up the show too much.  We've been to a variety of events which, for one reason or another were spectacular the first year, and disappointing the next.  My husband had just come back from a trade show where he experienced that very thing.  Sophomore slump?  Maybe.  I was hoping that wasn't going to be the case this time.

I want to say straight away that I was encouraged to see new vendors.  My dear friends, Roger and Joyce of Mr. Vinegar, were there.  I met them ages ago at a craft show, and their products are truly one of a kind.  There were also a few gadgets, and more than a couple olive oil purveyors.  There were also a lot of chocolate vendors, it seemed.  But there also seemed to be less variety in the savoury foods.  A lot of pulled pork.  I guess it's cheap and easy to keep warm.  No Kobe style beef, no amazing sliders (one booth had some burgers, but "amazing" did not describe their grey appearance).  There were many wineries represented, several of them smaller, which I loved to see.  There wasn't as much beer, and my husband was disappointed that he couldn't get a beer float again this year.  LOL  It was a bit of a highlight for him the last time, though he did enjoy a Mocha Porter this time around.  I briefly contemplated testing my culinary bravery again this year, tackling another never before eaten food - oysters.  But I couldn't bring myself to do it.  I tried lobster and scallops last year, and crossed them off of my list, but the oysters proved to be too much of a challenge.  Maybe another time.

Lots of pineapple for $1, courtesy of a friendly gaucho at the end of the night

We tasted some great cheese at a free seminar, but the seminar itself was a bit like "Cheese for Dummies," so we ate ours and continued to wander the floor.  Some vendors were offering a lot of food for a dollar (one ticket).  Like a thick slab of peameal bacon on a bun, or a mixed plate of tasty bites.  Others offered a tiny morsel for two or more tickets, as though the goal was to make a profit.  Some favourites were there again.  Namely Brasa and their delectable pineapple.  Sliced with a piece of their salty sausage and piled on one of the cheese buns they were serving (all for a single ticket), it was a perfect bite that would have made a great breakfast sandwich!  And there were the exquisite chocolates from Nighs.  Such creative flavour combinations (milk chocolate with fig and almond, dark chocolate with dried cherry and Merlot salt).  We went back to that booth a couple of times.  We were hoping for some Vietnamese nibbles too, but every time we walked by, they were sold out.  Good for them!  We also enjoyed a giant strawberry on a stick, dipped in chocolate and covered in Skor bits.  Simple, but still so tasty. 

All in all, had I not experienced the fabulousness that was last year's Food and Wine Expo, I probably would have enjoyed this one much more.  We were hard pressed to spend all 20 of our tickets, whereas last year we used a lot more.  I'll go next year, with the hope that some of last year's vendors return (Syndicate and Seneca Casino come to mind), and that there is a greater variety again.  Judging by the crowd, it seemed like a success again, but time will tell, I suppose.

And now to climb on my soapbox... I can't close this entry without touching on a pet peeve when it comes to food events.  If you follow me on Twitter, you know I've gone off about this before.  I cannot stand watching people handle food and money with the same hand.  Even if that "money" is just tickets, it's still something that has been handled, perhaps by unwashed bathroom hands, maybe dropped on the floor... I saw one vendor handling food with no gloves at all, and also handling tickets with the same hand.  She did not wash her hands between customers.  We declined their offerings.  And at one booth where I really wanted to try the food, I asked the girl to change her gloves after watching her not only handle tickets and food for multiple customers in a row, but also wipe sweat from her brow (and then plunge her hand into a container of shredded cheese - I didn't get cheese on my dish).  She didn't seem put out by the request, but she didn't seem thrilled to have to break stride either.  I understand that when things are busy there's a rhythm that develops, but there should be one person handling the currency if changing gloves or washing hands after every customer is an issue.  /soapbox

Monday, May 21, 2012

Happy Victoria Day!

What an insanely gorgeous long weekend.  Here in Canada, Victoria Day is the official kickoff of summer.  It's not always as summery as it is this year, mind you.  This weekend has been downright hot compared to many years.  And consistently so.  Temps in the mid 20's all weekend, with nary a cloud in the sky.  There's a huge Food Truck event happening nearby, as well as a carnival, and I imagine both are benefiting tremendously from the amazing weather.

Here at home it's been great.  Hubby has been off since Friday, and is still off tomorrow.  We bought a spinning composter, lots of good manure, and 9 tomato plants from Tree And Twig Heirloom Veggie Farm.  Save for 2, they're all cherry varieties (yard snacks) and are all going into pots. The garden space is reserved for cucumbers, melons, beans (LOTS of beans) and root veggies this year.  We've been sharing our raspberry canes with friends, in an attempt to thwart any plans the thorny plants have for neighbourhood domination, and I've harvested a few purple radishes already.  The peas that we planted during an unseasonable warm spell in March are a few feet high already, and our late season planting of horseradish is really looking good.  We have yet to buy any flowers to pretty up the front yard.  Priorities and all that.  LOL

It's a bit of a lazy afternoon here.  The yard is in full sun now, with the morning shade long gone and the evening shade many hours away.  Hubby is playing with his audio gear in the basement and the kids are glued to a Phineas and Ferb marathon.  I've been blogging, prepping and cooking/smoking a chicken.  We're breaking in the rotisserie tonight.  So I soaked the bird in a mixture of 1C kosher salt, 1C sugar and about 16C of water.  Then I took it out, rinsed it and let it dry well on a rack in the fridge. 

Resting before the big spin

Given the salt in the brine, I didn't salt my seasoning mix very much, or add sugar to it like I would for a normal barbecue rub.  Instead, I eyeballed a blend of garlic powder, onion powder, sage, allspice and paprika, and added just a pinch of salt.  The allspice may sound unusual, but I've found that it is really nice on grilled poultry (and also amazing with pork).  I rubbed the chicken with olive oil and sprinkled it with the seasoning mix.  Then I set foil packets of dry and soaked wood chips on the outer two burners on my grill and once they began smoking, we got the rotisserie turning.  Later the bird will get a basting of honey, white wine vinegar and a dash of bitters.  It should take 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  I can't wait.  I can smell the smoke as I sit here in my kitchen.

From this...

To this...

To this gorgeously lacquered bird that we will be eating in a few minutes.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Homemade Yogurt - Take One

I've been meaning to try my hand at homemade yogurt for a while.  I'd hesitated because of the whole "incubation period" thing.  I don't have an electric hot pad or other such device, nor do I wish to shell out money for a yogurt maker.  So when I read about yogurt made in a crockpot, my interest was piqued.

I did a little research, checking out blog posts at Macheesemo, One Good Thing By Jillee and another blog that I cannot for the life of me remember or find again.  #annoyed

Anyway, the basics were all pretty much the same.  And after a little digging and discovering that the step to heat the milk to the 180 degree range can be skipped without risking death (scalding the milk first was primarily done when the milk was used in its raw state, rather than already pasteurized), I was ready to begin.  Well, after my husband came home with more milk.  *Note to self - check your inventory before jumping into a project.

I poured 2L of 1% milk into my crockpot, popped on the lid and set it on low for an hour.  Then I checked the temp every 15 minutes or so after that, until the milk reached about 110F.  I took 1/2C of plain Greek yogurt, mixed it with a little of the warm milk and stirred it all back into the pot.  Then  turned it off, covered it and wrapped the whole thing in a thick bath towel.  And there it sat for about 6 hours.  Once done, I ladled it into a cheesecloth lined strainer over a large measuring cup and left it overnight.

What did I learn?  A few things...

  • Six hours isn't long enough to get a nice, tangy yogurt.  I'll go for eight the next time.
  • Straining it overnight creates something more like cream cheese than Greek yogurt.
  • It's all but impossible to incorporate the whey back into the yogurt once it's gotten that solid.  The texture is like slightly milky cottage cheese.  I may take my stick blender to it. 
Based on all of that, I think I'll invert my timing the next time, making the yogurt before bed and straining it for a couple of hours in the morning.  Over all making it, even with the loss of volume that comes from straining it, seems worth it.  The least expensive Greek yogurt is still about $4 for 500ml.  And if I can get the flavour and texture right, the kids will happily eat it.  The bonus is the whey, which I can use in bread dough, pizza crusts, smoothies, marinades....

Source: via Mama on Pinterest

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pin Mining - Rhubarb Edition

Some could argue that Spring has been here since Autumn left us.  We really didn't have much of a Winter in Southern Ontario.  A scant dusting of snow a few times, and I think there was enough to shovel a couple of times.  The kids were both thrilled that the grass was finally covered enough to go sledding and bummed that it only happened once.

This past Easter weekend is the first I can recall where I saw dandelions, Magnolias, the last of the Forsythia blossoms (they've been out for weeks) and fruit trees in bloom.  We've gone looking for fruit blossoms on Mother's Day and been too early.  At this rate, there will be Lilacs by the first of May!

Our own garden is coming to life as well.  The peas and radishes the kids and I planted last month are doing nicely under some protective plastic.  My kitchen window is bursting with beans and cucumbers and melons.  The only thing missing is a patch of rhubarb. 

Ah rhubarb.  I fondly remember my cousin and I sitting on our grandmother's glider swing, under the big tree, reading first edition X-Men and Richie Rich comics and eating stalks of rhubarb, fresh from the garden, dipped in little dishes of white sugar.  How much of her patch did we go through each year?  And whatever happened to those bags of comics anyway?

My grandmother's meringue topped rhubarb custard was another treat I fondly remember.  Made in a deep dish pan, the fruit was tangy and stringy, tempered by the custard-y filling and topped with mounds of fluffy, golden meringue.  My mother has the recipe.  I must get it, even if I may be the only one to eat it.

So as my thoughts have turned to rhubarb, I thought I'd go digging through Pinterest for some Spring inspiration.  There are plenty of recipes for rhubarb/strawberry desserts, rhubarb/raspberry creations and even a few that look like my Nana's pie.  But here are three that are new to me and look like they're worth a try.

Rhubarb Baklava

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

Rhubarb Iced Tea

Monday, April 2, 2012

Food Bucket List

I've been thinking lately about things I'd love to make but for one reason or another have yet to attempt, or succeed at.  Fried chicken is one such creature.  I don't remember the last time I've made an actual attempt at proper fried chicken.  It's been.... many years.  To be fair, I don't really like to fry in the house, and often use the side burner on the barbecue for such things. However it's hard to control the temperature well when there's a stiff breeze (or it's snowing).  And temperature control kind of matters.

I have, however, watched Nigella Lawson boil her chicken in her buttermilk marinade before finishing it off in hot oil, seen Alton Brown's 147 step process for fried chicken perfection, heard arguments for and against both shallow frying and deep frying, read that the best fried chicken has a thin crust, a thick crust, a double dipped crust, a breading, a coating, a dredge, a batter....  I'm starting to understand why I have yet to achieve any success with this beast.

Another item I've been thinking of lately that I would like to make myself is pita bread.  I've made naan on the barbecue with wonderful results.  But I have yet to pull out (find) my pizza stone and attempt homemade pitas.

I made ricotta once.  It was for a cheesecake recipe.  I decided that I'd make the cheese instead of buying it.  But since I wasn't all that familiar with ricotta, I wasn't sure that my finished product was right (it was, apparently).  I ended up dumping it and making a dash to the store.  That was... disappointing.  But I learned.

Speaking of cheese, I'd like to make my own mozzarella, too.  I saw a recipe recently for it that looked relatively easy, if I can find rennet.  I'd like to make yogurt, too.  Yeah, yeah, I know it's supposed to be easy.  I've seen Alton Brown do it, but I think I'll try it anyway (I need to stop watching him turn simple recipes into enough steps to fill half hour long shows).

Some day I hope to smoke my own meat.  Making my own sausage is another aspiration.  I will own a smoker, eventually.  One that can do both hot and cold smoking.  I'll smoke cheese, and vegetables, and salt....  Yum!

And some day I'll make duck confit.  I know I can buy it, and I don't even do that, but for some reason it beckons me to attempt it.

Then there are the things I want to perfect.  Ribs, pulled pork, those thin burgers that are smashed down and cooked over insanely high heat on a griddle so that they develop a nice crust.... 

Friday, March 9, 2012

My poor, neglected blog

As I type this, I have an adorable 4 year old girl and a sweet 7 year old boy coughing on either side of me.  The Boy fell to the sick last Saturday.  By Sunday he was feverish.  Little Miss followed suit by Monday.  While the fevers are gone, a lingering cough has made both miserable and sleep elusive.  I'm not one to go to the doctor for a sniffle, but this was getting to be too much.  For all of us.  So last night we saw a doctor, got some puffers, and hopefully set the kids on the road to recovery.

In the meantime life has been all but paused.  The house is... messy.  The dishes, however (by the grace of my amazing husband) are mostly caught up (not that we're using a lot - the kids haven't eaten much and I haven't cooked a full meal in nearly a week).  Social commitments are on hold.  And my poor blog has been on the back burner for quite a while. 

I don't exactly have a recipe to share right now anyway.  Though with a bit more dedicated time I may put together a fantasy post of foods I'm itching to try.  I can offer a book review though.

I ordered a book late last week and was eagerly awaiting its arrival.  Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It: And Other Kitchen Projects, by Karen Solomon.  I have been getting into preserving more and more, and I'd heard some buzz about this book and it piqued my interest.

I probably should have paid more heed to the reviews.  While many are great, some seem to come from people like myself, looking for something more relevant to actual preserving.  I don't need recipes for pretzels, bagels and curry powder, nor are they what I was expecting.  It's a great book, but just not for me.  I think I want something more "hippie-ish" as my husband calls it.  Something with more actual preserving information, not just interesting recipes for making store bought items at home.

I'm taking recommendations.  And watch this space for a fantasy food post.  Coming.... whenever my spare time isn't occupied by trying to cram in sleep to make up for what I'm not getting through the night.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Loving Greek yogurt

My kids have always enjoyed yogurt, but I was never terribly keen on the junk in so much of what's out there.  I did my best to buy stuff without extra stabilizers and curious new breakthrough gimmicks ingredients designed to get people to spend more so they could look good while wearing green.  I longed for Greek yogurt to become more readily available.

So you can imagine how happy I am with all of the choices available in stores now.  My kids aren't eating as much yogurt as they used to, ironically.  Greek yogurt is spendy, but I'm fine paying for quality.  And I love using it in recipes where I'd otherwise use sour cream, or have to strain conventional yogurt overnight to achieve the right texture (Tzatziki comes to mind).

Speaking of recipes, I saw on Twitter this morning that Oikos is giving away free yogurt to people who blog about their product (yeah, I'm about as subtle as purple panties under white pants).  It's a good product and we like it.  So why not?  I can repost one of their recipes, tweak one or post one of my own, which is what I'll do.

My husband and I enjoy the quiet after the kids are in bed.  Some nights we skip supper so that we can relax later with a drink and this dip.  It's best served with tortilla chips, and the inspiration comes from the overpriced nacho dips in the cold section of the produce area at a local grocery chain.  I often have a homemade "taco spice" blend on hand, but when I don't I just use the spices listed below, tweaking the final flavour before spreading it all in a dish.  And sometimes I like a dash of smoked paprika in it, too.  I love that this can be played with to suit any taste.

Nacho Dip

1 8oz block light cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 C Oikos plain Greek yogurt
1t ground cumin
1-2 T chili powder
1 t garlic powder
Pinch of salt
2 T minced red onion

2 T chopped pickled jalapeno, or to taste
1/4 C salsa
1/2 C shredded cheese

In a large bowl or stand mixer, whip together the cream cheese, yogurt, spices and salt.  Fold in the onion and jalapeno.  Spread into a shallow, small baking dish and smooth the top.  Spread the salsa over it and cover with the shredded cheese.  Let sit in the fridge for a few hours for the flavours to mix.  Serve with tortillas.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chinese New Year

Chinese Food Sign by fab4chiky, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
  by  fab4chiky 

I have a near lifelong friend with whom I share my passion for food and food culture.  Before we had kids we spent a lot of time exploring Chinatown in Toronto, and the Pacific Mall in Markham.  We were told off by an old Chinese man for daring to ask what a Dragonfruit was.  We marveled at the array of amazing edibles in boxes along busy sidewalks, and old grandmothers sitting quietly with bunches of fresh garlic at their feet, waiting to sell to whomever needed garlic right there.  We stood, dazed by the choices for lunch in the food court of the largest indoor Chinese mall in North America.  We also discovered that if you're going to need a washroom and are afraid of creepy basement corridors with bare bulbs hanging between dusty pipes, go before heading to Chinatown along Spadina Avenue.

Over the years we've celebrated our love of Chinese food (and Asian food in general) in many ways, including a few Chinese New Year inspired feasts that we've both shared with friends and had the pleasure of catering for others.  Now that we have children, we're passing along our passion for these flavours to them.

Yesterday I spent a good part of the afternoon prepping a relatively simple meal of Char Siu (Chinese barbecue pork - in this case tenderloin), Chow Mein (stir fried noodles and veggies), and scallion pancakes.  Not authentic, but as Chef Michael Smith once said (paraphrase alert), "When playing culinary tourist, my goal isn't to be authentic.  My goal is to make dinner."  So while we didn't enjoy any whole steamed fish or lotus bean tarts, we enjoyed some new flavours and dishes.  Okay, so the pancakes weren't as good as I remember, and the kids didn't care for them either, but the pork was a hit, and the noodles were so good that hubby found our son eating leftovers off of Dad's plate after we'd all finished.

And that was the goal for me.  To find some new foods and flavours that we can incorporate into our menu.  Hoisin sauce isn't some weird, foreign flavour now.  Noodles can replace rice (without calls for pasta sauce on them).  "Chinese food" doesn't sound strange.

I think I'd like to continue this through the year, as more culinary festivities come up around the world.  This means I get to research food traditions and play culinary tourist, the kids get to learn about the world around them through food, I get to recreate global dishes using local ingredients whenever possible, and hubby... he gets to enjoy it all.  LOL  Though I think I may skip the Haggis for Robbie Burns day on Wednesday.  Perhaps a nice bowl of Cock-a-Leekie soup instead?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I love vinegar

I am a sour freak.  I love sour things.  Always have.  When I was pregnant with my kids, one of my cravings was for sour things.  Especially gummy candy doused in citric acid.  As a kid I loved those 5 cent sour soothers (or sour keys as we called them) and their penny candy cousins (they're probably all a quarter each at least now).  Don't give me "Sour Patch Kids."  They aren't sour enough.  When I want sour, I don't want to mess around with sweetness that takes over after a few moments.  I want face puckering, tongue twitching sourness that may even bring a tear to the eye.

So it's no surprise that I love vinegar.  And a few years ago I happened upon a lovely couple who would rock my world.  I was at a Thanksgiving craft show, perusing the gourmet food tent.  There were so many vendors with so many lovely things to try.  Spreads and jams and sauces and chocolate and cookies and... vinegar.  Not your average flavour enhanced vinegars that are everywhere (shouldn't raspberry vinegar actually be made from raspberries?).  This was the real deal.  Small batch, home made, properly fermented vinegar.  I was drawn to one called Ale and Rum, if I remember correctly.  It was apparently made with Smithwick's Ale, and it was like the punchiest malt vinegar you've ever tasted.  My taste buds exploded.  Wow, was it amazing!  I was hooked.  I forget what else was offered that day, as the varieties have changed and evolved over the years, but from that day nearly 10 years ago, I have been a loyal customer of Mr. Vinegar - aka Roger Lambert and his wonderful wife Joyce.

If you go to their website ( you'll see Roger and Joyce's smiling faces first.  Then you'll read a bit about what makes their vinegar special.  Words like "small batches" and "static fermentation" share space with "premium" and "international awards."  But this isn't a huge corporation.  It's a cottage business, run by a couple with a passion for quality and innovation.  From their original offerings, they've played with ingredients and created some amazing varieties of vinegar.  Among my favourites are the "Rapture of Raspberry" and Peach Chardonnay.  The "Barley Wine," which is their malt vinegar is the best thing fish and chips ever met, and while pricey (you have to inquire about the price and availability), Roger's Maple Syrup Vinegar is a sweet/tart offering that is out of this world and worth every penny.  It is a showstopper on a salad of mixed greens, dried cherries or cranberries, toasted nuts and Feta cheese!

Why am I writing this?  Because I am passionate about food, and about local food.  And Mr. Vinegar is a local (Hamilton) producer of top quality vinegar.  It is a company that I am proud to support and promote. 

They used to be full....

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cookies and Cameras

Those of you who have read this blog for a while (or even just skimmed it and noticed the pictures) know that I have never claimed to be a photo blogger.  I don't imagine I will ever post recipes in photo by photo detail, with ingredients neatly displayed on my counter and dozens of images of each step along the way.  I don't even really enjoy reading posts like that, so it's doubtful that I'd ever adopt that style.  I'm more of a "give me the money shot and get to the recipe already" kind of person.

That said, I got thinking about my humble blog as the new year began.  I don't think I want to be a mega-blogger, with deadlines and sponsors and thousands of readers.  Not right now.  I like being a small time blogger in a big pool of talent.  It affords me the time to be inspired and learn from that inspiration.  So it is with photography.  I looked up the manual for my little Nikon 8mp camera the other day and discovered that I can do things with it.  Like use a setting called "macro" to take better close up shots.  And play with light levels so that not everything I take a picture of in natural light looks like it's glowing.

There is a lot to read, and I have much practice before I can claim that I'm doing well, but I played a bit today and I think I got an image or two hat I can say are better than they would have been before I was inspired to learn more.

And on the plus side, having cookies to photograph means that we have cookies to eat.  These were inspired by Chef Michael Smith's chocolate chip cookies.

Marbled Cocoa Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

In a large bowl (or stand mixer) cream the butter and sugars together until smooth.  Add the corn syrup, egg, vanilla and salt and beat until totally blended. Scrape down the bowl, sprinkle over the baking powder and add the flour, mixing just until combined (yeah, I don't follow standard cookie protocol). Stir in the cocoa and chocolate chips until just marbled.  Streaks of cocoa should still be visible (it may be best to do this by hand, as I overmixed it a bit in my stand mixer).

Working with a teaspoon, scoop up some dough and roll it between your hands and flatten it lightly on a greased or or lined cookie tray. Leave space for the cookies room to expand.

Bake for 12 minutes (15 if you like them crisper), and let cool on a wire rack.

I got 2 dozen from this.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Evolution of Dinner

I woke up this morning with no clue what tonight's dinner would be.  There's soup in the fridge, but the kids won't touch it (just because it's black bean and cabbage... what's so bad about that?).  There's pork cutlets that I browned the other day because they'd come out of the freezer and had to be cooked.  The freezer holds meatballs, various frozen appetizers that hubby and I keep on hand for in house "date nights," and some larger cuts of meat that would not freeze in enough time to enjoy tonight.

By this afternoon I was no further ahead.  I got thinking of the meatballs and the pork cutlets.  I didn't want to do pasta and tomato sauce.  What about gravy?   Ooh, there's time to caramelize some onions.  How about onion gravy?  How about onion gravy with cranberry sauce, finished with sour cream?  Yeah, that's what I want.  I love onion gravy, and my 7 year old loves meatballs with cranberry sauce in the gravy.  But... the pork cutlets need to be used up first.  So we're having those instead.

The gravy goes like this (no real recipe)...
* Caramelize some onions (4 small in this case) in some oil and butter over low heat until lovely and sticky and brown.
* Deglaze with booze.  I had a little whiskey on hand.  I let it all cook off.
* Sprinkle with flour (generously heaped dessert spoon).
* Add beef broth (a couple of cups?) and bring to a boil to thicken. 
*Add a little cranberry sauce (I made up a small batch - 1/4 C water, 1/4C sugar, 1C cranberries, simmered 10 minutes)
* Add meat and simmer for a while.
* Adjust seasonings to taste.  Add sour cream (I hope I don't forget that step).

I'd serve it over mashed potatoes, but the kids don't like them, so I'll do something more like home fries.  I'll serve it all with pickles and some cucumbers in vinegar in lieu of a salad.

So that's it.  From nothing to a spark to a craving for yummy gravy to supper.  In the middle of the afternoon.