29 January 2006

What's in a name?

Earlier this month I was wondering around the blogosphere, minding my own business (okay, I was strewing the occasional comment hither and yon) , and I happened upon Jamfaced (one of my favourite food blogs)...and a short, but sweet, post caught my big brown eyes:

"It's competition time. Come up and with the best explanation (by best I don't mean accurate, I mean funny, clever or just plain dumb) for this street name and you win. You'll win a nice print of this street sign. Simple."

A funny explanation?
A clever explanation?
A just plain dumb explanation?
A funny, clever or just plain dumb explanation?
And the prize is a picture from my favourite city on the planet?

Tappatappatappa go my little fingers.

Monkey Gland emailed me yesterday to let me know that I won! Yay!

I've been given the go-ahead to link to the piccie--so here it is and here's my winning entry (typos, grammatical errors et al)...

Much like empty fields that attract runaway, cart-napped, old, feeble and/or abandoned shopping carts, this alley is where analogous frying pans traditionally congregate.

Its origins are disputed amongst kitchenalia anthropologists. The majority of pot-bound PhDs trace Frying Pan Alley’s (FPA) naissance to the Dark Ages’ ever-popular religious pilgrimages—upon their return from the various cathedrals and grottos, many humans gave up their trusty pans as part of a religious re-awakening and simply allowed their cookware to roam free (or worse, melted down into trivets and door handles); many pans who escaped this fate gravitated towards what became known as “Ye Olde Potte Field”( now known as FPA), looking for others who survived the “the purge of the pots and pans.”

Please note, this group of researchers also believes the reason that era was so, well, dark is because since the pans accompanied (were enslaved to?) people trotting about England, France and wherever else looking relics, there really was no need to keep hearths lit, which decreased the amount of light available (NB: any argument that the decreased amounts of soot spewed during this time should have counterbalanced the decreased number of fires lit is immediately discounted).

Also worthy of note is a small, yet growing number of scientists who believe FPA is the burial grounds for vessels used during Druidic ceremonies, belief held by many pots and pans today. Apparently many (mostly frying pans) treat the area as a shrine or temple: when I asked my cookware about this, all the stovetop pieces knew about it and my frying pans (non-stick *and* cast iron) replied “Well, yeah—it is every pan’s dream to one day visit the Holy Grounds.” My ovenware dismissed it as being a load of hooey “because everyone knows that the real spiritual centre is just off a fjord near Sweden.” Who knew such spiritual differences lay within my cupboards?

In the 17th century the area fell into some disrepute with rapidly propagating discount pan shops. Unfortunately, the many pans weren’t well constructed and unhappy cooks took to flinging them through shop windows…and in turn the shop owners would pitch them in their back yards (it is hard to sell a dented pan). Archaeologists have spent the greater part of the past four years in a 10’x15’ plot where it’s surmised the most disreputable cookware salesman set up shot between 1652-1657; as best as anyone can tell, the actual name (FPA) came into existence about eight years later in 1665.

The area has had its ups and downs (in the mid-late 19th century it was quite a chic area, with anyone who wanted to be seen stepping on its cobbles). More recently, in reaction to the unappetizing path the area had taken in the 1980s, city government implemented a scouring program to clean up the area. As a result, it is now a popular place for visiting cookware (being *the* holiday hotspot for sauciers, Dutch ovens and tagines) to go and have their pictures taken.



27 January 2006

Feast: Churrascaria dining

We've got a new dining experience in town -- a churrascaria (Brazilian grill house).

Quite cool.

Essentially it's in an all-you-can-eat format in two buffets--the first is a self-serve buffet, dominated by fish dishes with some rices and green salads.

The second part has these really lovely young men come round with skewers of roasted meats, which they will slice to order. They also brought 'round some roasted pineapple--very nice.

A little pricey to become a regular dining haunt for my budget, but as a once-in-a-while place it's just fine (provided you aren't in the mood for veg). It would be excellent for large groups...especially girls' nights out (dashing gauchos catering to carnivorous whims--I'm not complaining).

The dining club paid them a visit -- here are some piccies.

A couple of interior shots:

The first buffet:

Skewer upon skewer of meat--sorry for the blur:

And a slice of pineapple, being claimed by The Fussy Eater (yeah, he blurs well).

bom appetit!


25 January 2006

Primer: Vanilla Part Two

Oi...it's been a week.

- About half an hour after I got home from voting on Monday night, an ambulance came up for my elderly neighbour. Because she doesn't speak English (she lives with her daughter who speaks a heavily accented, broken English) went out to make sure things were as okay as possible -- the v. cute EMT said everything was fine and they didn't need the granddaughter's number. I visited last night -- the grandmother slipped and fell, she may have injured a tooth (I couldn't understand very well), but the entire right side of her head is very, very swollen. Poor thing...I think I'll buy her some grippy socks so she can shuffle around in a safer manner.

- Election results...we've got a new party in power and if history has anything to teach us, Canadian minority governments last an average of 18 months.

- Spent six hours in emergency with The Fussy Eater--he had a little accident at home; won't go into details, but he's okay and will probably spend the day sleeping. I'm checking in on him every so often (no concussion, otherwise I'd poking him with a stick every hour)... Didn't get into my little bed until 5:30 this morning. I have a very wonderful manager who understands and is letting me take the whole day off to recuperate.

Oi...it's been a week. and it's only early Wednesday afternoon.

Right...back to the primer. My last post briefly (well, not so briefly) addressed vanilla's history and the curing process. This one looks at varietals, buying and keeping, usage and subsitutions...and it's another long post...

Bourbon/Madagascar Vanilla:
The generic term for V.planifolia that’s grown in Indian Ocean islands, “Bourbon,” comes from Ile de Bourbon, (Reunion’s former name) and not from a type of whiskey. Seventy-five per cent of the world’s Bourbon/Madagascar vanilla supply comes from Madagascar and Reunion. Its flavours are rich and balanced and it has a robust aroma. Because it’s the preferred type for extracts, its *this* flavour most of us think of when we think of vanilla ice cream or cakes. It can be used in both cold and cooked preparations.

Indonesian Vanilla:
Because some farmers harvest pods before their phenolic flavour profile has developed, vanilla from this area varies in quality: it can range from deep and full-bodied to light and woody. Some Indonesian farmers also use a short-term curing process that imparts a harsh, smoky flavour. Indonesian vanilla is often blended with synthetic or Bourbon vanilla. It is best used in cooked preparations.

Mexican Vanilla (V. planifolia, V. fragrans):
Its flavour is smooth, creamy and spicy with delicate top notes and its aroma is distinctive, fruity and winy aromas. It can be used in hot dishes, but it is really good in cold preparations or those that need a short cooking time.

West Indian Vanilla:
West Indian vanilla is a lower grade than the Bourbon/Madagascar or Mexican beans and has a naturally low vanillin content. Since its taste is too poor for culinary uses, its mostly used to make perfumes. Some extracts using West Indian or Mexican vanilla also use coumarin (derived from the tonka tree, both Canadian and US officials classify it as a toxic substance).

Tahitian Vanilla (V. tahitensis):
Tahitian vanilla is the product of V. planifolia stock that was crossbred with V. pompona (a variety that is normally used in the perfume industry) during the early 1880s. It doesn’t have as much natural vanillin as Bourbon, but flavour comes from heliotropin (anis aldehyde), giving it a sweeter and fruitier taste, reminiscent of cherries or raisins. It has a lovely, sweet floral scent. Even though its pod is fatter than Bourbon vanilla's, it doesn’t hold as many seeds. It is best used in cooked foods such as sauces, compotes and desserts; it also works well with meats.

Finding and keeping
Whole vanilla beans:
When you buy whole vanilla beans, they should be very dark brown to black in colour, moist, pliable and fragrant. Store them in an air-tight package, protected from extreme heat, light and humidity. Stored properly, vanilla beans can keep for up to 18 months.

An alcohol-water mixture is passed over pieces of chopped, cured vanilla beans for several days before the solution is then aged to develop flavours. Because vanillin and other flavour components are more soluble in alcohol than in water, a lot of alcohol is needed to carry flavour content; US law states that vanilla extracts must have at least 35 per cent alcohol. Good quality extracts are low in sugar, have a rich, perfumed smell and are amber-coloured; when storing them, they should be kept in a dark place.

Two types of extracts are available: natural and artificial—read the label carefully to get what you want. Artificial extract can be made from, among other things, coal tar extracts and remnants from the paper industry (no wonder it tastes so awful). About 90 per cent of vanilla flavouring used in the US is artificial while about 50 percent of vanilla flavouring used in France is artificial. Please be aware that colourless extracts are most likely artificial.

Vanilla essence:
Vanilla essence is the distilled or concentrated natural vanilla extract or an artificial facsimile; it is much stronger in flavour than regular extracts.

Natural vanilla powder:
This is can be made from several sources, including powdered vanilla extract, mixed with starch and sugars; givre or finely ground dried vanilla beans. Natural vanilla powder can be bought from specialty cake decorating supply shops and gourmet markets. Keep vanilla powder in a dark cupboard, away from heat.

Vanilla Salt:
Vanilla salt is a blend of French Fleur de Sel with vanilla bean pieces. It can be used in sweet and savoury dishes. Like all salts, it’s probably best to keep this in a cool, dry place.

Flavour group: sweet
Weight: whole, average bean: 25 cm/3-4 g
Suggested quantity for 500g white meat: 1 bean; 500g carbohydrates 1bean 1-1/2 tsp extract

Plays well with: allspice, crystallized angelica, cardamom, cinnamon, cassia, cloves, ginger, lavender, lemon verbena, lemon myrtle, liquorice, mint, nutmeg, pandan leaf, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, wattle seeds.

Complements: ice cream, dessert cream, cakes, biscuits (cookies), sweets, liqueurs, seafood such as lobster, scallops or mussels, chicken, pork, root vegetables.

Whole beans are used to flavour creams, custards and ice creams. A cut bean that has been infused in syrup or cream can be rinsed, dried and reused. Cut beans can be laid over fruit to be baked.

Using Vanilla
It’s important to remember that vanilla’s flavour resides in two different parts of the bean: the sticky substance in which the seeds are embedded and the pod’s wall. You can scrape out the seeds and use them directly in your cooking, but the pod must be soaked for some time to extract its flavour; soaking the pod in a solution containing alcohol will help you get more of the flavour out. Extracts are best used at the end of cooking since any period of high heat can cause some aroma loss. As such, it’s probably best to use vanilla beans or vanilla powder for dishes requiring long cooking or exposure to high heat.

One 25cm bean:
2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract (added at the end of cooking)
1 dessertspoon vanilla powder (better for baking)
8-12 drops vanilla essence
1.5-2 tablespoons imitation vanilla extract
3 tablespoons vanilla liqueur

Vanilla essence (not what the British refer to as "essence")-2 drops:
2.5 cm vanilla bean (split with beans scraped from the pod; add early to allow more flavour to be extracted)
0.5 teaspoon vanilla extract
o.5 teaspoon vanilla powder (better for baking)
0.75 teaspoon imitation vanilla extract

Pure vanilla extract/British vanilla essence-1 teaspoon
7.5cm vanilla bean
1-1.5 teaspoon homemade vanilla extact
3-5 drops vanilla essence
0.75-1teaspoon vanilla powder
1.5 teaspoon imitation vanilla
1 tablespoon vanilla liqueur

Vanilla liqueur (generic term for a sweetened, vanilla-flavoured French spirit)- 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons crème de vanilla
2 tablespons vanilla vodka
2 tablespoons Tuoca
2 tablespoons Licor 43

Vanilla powder 1 teaspoon
1-1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 dessertspoon imitation vanilla extract
4-6 drops vanilla essence

Vanilla salt 1 teaspoon
1/8 tsp vanilla powder + a couple of pinches of sea salt

Vanilla sugar: 1 c (200g)
1cup (200g) sugar + 0.5 teaspoon vanilla extract

Selected reference list for Vanilla Parts One and Two:

Davidson, Allan. The Penguin Companion to Food. London: Penguin, 2003.

Joachim, David. The Food Substitutions Bible. Toronto: Robert Rose, 2005.

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking (Revised Edition). New York City: Scribner, 2004

Norman, Jill. Herbs and Spices: The cook's reference. London: DK Publishing, 2002.

Rain, Patricia. Vanilla: The cultural history of the world's favourite flavour and fragrance. New York City: Tarcher/Penguin, 2004.


Related post:
Primer: Vanilla Part One

23 January 2006

Primer: Vanilla Part One


I wasn't expecting these notes from people about this little project of mine--if at any point you think I'm ignoring something, or something doesn't make sense please send me an email and I'll do my best to answer questions or figure things out...

As with everything else, let's start at the very beginning...a very good place to start (as The Fussy Eater can attest: everything is a song cue).

I think that the most logical place to start is in research--what is vanilla, where did it come from, how it's processed etc etc etc.

I have to write the following caveat: I went to several sources and in some areas they didn't agree, so I've done my best to digest and synthesize info...

Origin and History
Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia or Vanilla fragrens) is a tropical climbing orchid indigenous to the New World and is the only member of its genus that serves any real culinary use. No one seems to know when it was discovered, but we do know that the Totonac Natives, who lived along the Mexican coast, were the first to use it; it’s assumed they introduced it to the Aztecs. For those of you interested in a more romantic story, here’s a link to Patricia Rain’s translation of an origin myth.

Spaniards were the first Europeans to note vanilla’s use, observing it in Montezuma’s chocolaty beverage “tlilxochitl“ and for sale in Aztec markets. Vanilla exportation was in full force by the late 1500s when Spanish chocolate manufacturing factories were established; the spice quickly developed a reputation as both a nerve stimulant and an aphrodisiac. The word “vanilla” is an Anglicism of the Spanish word “vainilla,” meaning little sheath or little husk. England's Elizabeth I’s apothecary, Hugh Morgan, is credited for using vanilla as a flavouring in its own right.

What stumped many botanists for centuries was vanilla pollination. Many plants taken to Europe didn’t reproduce: the diminutive flower has a small membrane that prevents its stamen and stigma from touching. Natural vanilla pollination only occurs in Mexico (via tiny little bees). Albius, a former slave in Reunion, developed a practical, artificial pollinating method in the 1800s, making commercial crop cultivation possible.

Processing Vanilla
After saffron, vanilla is the world’s most expensive spice for three primary reasons: it’s very labour-intensive (hand pollination and curing), there are few regions that grow it and farmers do not harvest large crops. The beans are extremely valuable, forcing many farmers to brand pods to protect their crops from “vanilla rustlers.” For each kilo of cured beans produced, three to five kilos of green bean-like pods are used.

These pods are produced approximately six weeks after a successful pollination. Roughly four to eight months later, a slight yellowish tinge appears at the pod’s tips (“canary tails”), signalling harvest’s beginning.

After the pods are picked, they are laid out in boxes and cured with high heat exposure (through hot water, steam, a kiln or the sun). Curing time varies by type, ranging from a few weeks to several months. The crop then spends several days alternating between exposed to the sun and being wrapped in a cloth to sweat from residual heat. The final vanilla preparation stage involves smoothening and straightening the beans before drying for several weeks, when its flavours develop.

Prior to sale, the beans are graded and bundled in groups of 60 to 100. The final, cured bean has turned a dark brown or black and its length averages from 18 to 20 cm, and has a shrivelled appearance with many longitudinal, ridges and indentations. It’s as flexible as liquorice rope and its surface is covered in givre (glucose and vanillin crystals). When split lengthwise, the spice has a black sticky mass of millions of minute seeds. Its aroma is sweet and fragrant and floral and its flavour is rich and appealing.

A brief and hopefully not-too-garbled science paragraph

The pod contains thousands of teeny black seeds embedded within a complex mixture of sugars, fats, amino acids and phenolic compounds. Closer to its walls are concentrations of enzymes that release aromatic phenolics. The act of curing kills the pod, making it unable to its sugars and amino acids and frees vanillin and other related phenolic molecules “from their bondage to sugar molecules.” Heat and sunlight evaporate some moisture, discourage microbial growth and generate pigments and complex aromas via browning reactions and amino acids.

…yeah, that was garbled.

I'll be back in a couple of days to post the second part of this.


related post: Primer: Vanilla Part Two

tags :

22 January 2006

Speak up when everyone is listening

I'll be up front with you on this one--this post is pretty much aimed at Canadians of voting age...

Tomorrow is election day.

Go vote.

It's important.


20 January 2006

I declare...

I briefly mentioned each year I decide to teach myself a little more about a certain food. 2005 was The Year of The Tart and I improved my pie-making skills quite nicely. Okay...my pie crusts still aren't the greatest thing I do, but they are much, much more edible. Previous years had me baking breads, immersed in soups, rediscovering Indian food, recreating meals from my Italian adventure and chilling out with ice cream.

Deciding what I was going to do this year wasn't as difficult as I originally expected (yes, I start thinking of these things in the summer).

I was extremely stressed this autumn (to which The Fussy Eater Can attest). I didn't want to resort to pharmaceuticals (the occasional pint or gin, yes...or pint of gin, BIG YES). Yoga was good, but it needed a bit more. Then I remembered about the calming effects of vanilla.

I used to have some vanilla products from The Body Shop and I associated the smell with warmth, peace and relaxation. I bought some vanilla-scented perfume oil and after I started wearing it, I began to feel better...and smell like fairycakes....mmm....fairycakes. That last part threw some of my colleagues for a loop "You smell like candy" was one of the comments (I would have replied, "But you always knew I was sweet" but I'm sure that would have landed me in soup or something).

Anyway, I felt a lot better. And happier. M
ind you, who amongst us wouldn't feel happier if they are constantly reminded of nummy things like fairycakes and ice cream and panna cotta and creamy, cooked custard? Plus, it's linked with chocolate...mmm chocolate.

It was easy figuring out what magic ingredient I'd be playing with in 2006. But I want to do more than just bake. I want to use it in ways I've not used it before, and learn how to do "the same olds" better.

So here goes:

I officially declare 2006 "Not-so Vanilla."

Hmm...I expected a trumpeted fanfare or something..Oh yeah, I gave them the night off...

This week I'll post a two-part primer and throughout the year I'll write about my trials and tribulations...along with victories and discoveries while working with this ubiquitous yet special spice.


18 January 2006

Please answer me this

If I didn't know Beanie, I'd almost believe that he was starving.

He chases the other cats away from the wet food and he screams when someone's in the kitchen and he screams when chicken is brought in the house...same with turkey...and beef...and lamb...and pork...and bacon...and oatmeal...and McDonald's fries... He starts lobbying to be fed at two in the afternoon (they have dry food all day long, but the tinned stuff is opened at six in the evening).

If I feed him and then the exbf shows up, he does his best "I've not been fed yet" whine and sometimes the dear man believes him and feeds him again (the cats don't come out for The Fussy Eater...and if they did, TFE wouldn't feed them).

When the tinned stuff is glopped into the dish, Beanie's literally dancing and jumping for it...he'll also bonk his head on the wall so hard that he shakes it afterwards (you can actually see the little Tweety birds flying around his head). After the bowl is put down, and I'm off doing something else, he will pull mats or sheets of plastic or Kleenex over the dish so as to "hide" it from the others, so they won't know there's wet food to be had. I'm serious. Really. I'm serious.

But this is something new...

I noticed that the bowl was totally clean, apart from a few specks of meat. Fine. They're eating--Hagia has stopped sulking and Zeus probably is able to get some meat. I was *almost* considering feeding them more wet food and then...I stepped in it..

No...not in the bowl.

No...not kittybarf.

No...not a "present."

I stepped in a Beanie-mouthful-sized-ball of wet food...that was cleverly hidden away from the bowl.

The cat is hiding mouthfuls of tinned food around the place.

Is he saving then for later? Has he decided that he'd rather use them as balls than food? Is protesting against me re-organizing things so he can't cover the dish?

So here's my question: Does this look like a cat that needs to worry about where his next meal is coming from?

And yes, that is the cardboard carton for 12 1.5L bottles of water...and yes...he is spilling over...and yes, the sides are bowed...and before you ask, he weighs 25 lbs.


17 January 2006

Baby, it's slippy outside

Things you don't want to know as you are teetering to your car in the middle of freezing rain:

1. Your winter shoes (the ones with the thick rubber souls and really deep tread) have a teeny little hole on the bottom where the rubber cracked, leaving your stocking foot cold and wet.

2. The salt you thought they put down on the parking deck is non-existent (or at least is safely encased in ice)

3. Because you were running late this morning you didn't get a parking spot in the covered deck...which means you have four or five hours of ice accumulation has coated your car in a thick-enough sheet of ice that you need to spend about 15 minutes chipping out your car.

4. Because you were running late this morning you didn't get a chance to put a precautionary layer of salt on the steps or driveway, which means both areas are as as slick as a rink.


Freezing rain. I hate it, but I can't do anything about it. I'm safe now...laundry is in its final rinse, supper is finished and all that's left is dessert before starting on homework. Tonight it's spiked hot cocoa. No special recipe--Godiva's dark truffle cocoa made with milk and a four-count of Bailey's Irish Cream...mmm chocolate and Bailey's...so comforting and yummy.

I guess I should have done my homework before opening the B's.

Oh well...



16 January 2006

Feast: First dim sum of 2006

Without going all sentimental and preachy, I really believe that a meal regardless of size, grandeur or content is, on its own, a feast. I'm also quick to admit that some are more significant than others--it's all dependent upon perspective--the cook, the host, the diners, the servers--people can have very differing views on an event's importance.

That said, there is a tradition amongst a certain group of friends of mine to go out for dim sum for most holidays (usually secular, sometimes sacred). Well...for one reason or another, our New Year's Day dim sum was pushed to the 15th. 'Twas a good and lively nonet that included a five-year old and a two-year old--even The Fussy Eater made it out. one I think it's pretty safe to say by meal's end we were all sated thanks to one of our local dimsumeries.

Here are some piccies I snapped...I thought it rather odd that all images of grown-ups were blurred while most of the kids were clear.

A study in contrasts: a two year-old with chopsticks and the plate of a certain darling dearest...who is much older than two:


14 January 2006

Another meme: Too much information

Paul at Kipblog just tagged me for this one.
Ten interesting things about me that people may or may not know...but then interesting is in the eye of the reader...
  1. I died my hair plum to match my formal gown (high school prom dress).
  2. Many moons ago I had the direct telephone numbers for a former UN Secretary General and a former Canadian PM.
  3. In secondary school, I submitted a letter to our local paper questioning the Director of Education's spending (a year later the police charged him (essentially misappropriation of funds), the court found him guilty but didn't commit him to jail time because he got a spiffy new job out of the country...where he was also charged with the exact same thing).
  4. I'm allergic to salmon and rum.
  5. My hair used to be almost down to my ankles.
  6. I hate the sound of whistling.
  7. I have an Art History degree.
  8. I have taken lessons in the following instruments: flute, harp, piano, violin and voice, but I cannot sight-sing to save my life even though I could sight-read for the other instruments.
  9. I'm the reason why James Nicoll's blog has its title.
  10. At one point or another I could speak five languages.
Okay...as for tagging others--I'll pick two because I know they like these...I have no idea if they've done this one yet.

Rorie at Milk and Honey
Jaay at Culinarily Obsessed

This will probably be my last meme for a while...and I'll likely stick to foodish ones in future.


12 January 2006

Masala Chai

Every once in a while I need a kick in the pants to get me going and Heather at Eating for One gave me the proverbial boot I needed. I am, of course writing about using cardamom in cooking.

I mean, the title of this blog is "Confessions of a Cardamom Addict"...so it only makes sense that I'd be writing about it in one way or another. My big problem is I get distracted and food is such a nice distraction.

Anyway, I'm going to try and be a good girl and start posting cardamom recipes...I'll even go out on a limb and commit to pixels one recipe or one article a month (I say this now, but let's see if I can keep it up). I'm planning to restart my primers, and I hope to have one on cardamom in the spring when I'lll be between classes and might be able to take some time off work.

Anyway, as Heather pointed out, McCormicks listed masala chai spices as a 2006 flavour trend...and of course, cardamom is one of those spices.

Every Indian home has a different variation of masala tea--Mum's is different than mine, my various Aunties have different blends as well. To tell you the truth, my blend keeps changing depending upon my mood. If you've never made masala tea before, try this one (my current variant) and then change it to suit your palate.

Get a good black tea that you like to drink on its own (with milk and sugar): if you don't have any looseleaf on hand, use one sachet per person. If you are making this for more than two people, use one rounded teaspoon's worth of tea per person and adjust the spices accordingly.

This recipe is made with two per cent milk. If you favour skim or one per cent, you may want to decrease the amount of water used and use more milk; conversely if you use homo (full-fat) milk you might want to use less milk and more water. If you only have pre-ground spices, you can use those, but be aware that they may not have the potency or pungency of whole spice.

Masala Chai
180ml milk
180ml water
2 whole cardamom pods
5cm cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
1 star anise
1 thinnish slice fresh ginger
2 whole black peppercorns
2 rounded tsp black tea

Lightly crush together the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and peppercorns.

Tip the contents into a small saucepan and add the remaining ingredients (milk, water, ginger and black tea). Bring to a boil and allow to steep to desired strength.

Strain through a very fine mesh seive into a pot or directly in to cups/mugs. Sweeten to taste with honey, sugar or vanilla sugar.

This amount is enough for my favourite mug (about it holds the equivalent of a large Timmy's (medium coffee in the US)), but will do for two dainty cups.

Spices pictured above: clockwise, starting at the top: fresh gingerroot, black peppercorns, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks and star anise; centre: whole cardamom pods.



11 January 2006


Got tagged by both Rorie at Milk & Honey and Jaay at Culinarily Obsessed with the "Seven meme" -- here goes--with absolutely, positively no help from the cats:

7 Things To Do Before I Die
1. Travel to the continents I haven’t visited yet (Antarctica, Australia, South America)
2. Read all the unread books in my study (approx 200)
3. Buy a house
4. Finish writing my novel
5. Live in London, England
6. Find someone to spend the rest of my life with (if I haven’t already)
7. Learn to watercolour

7 Things I Cannot Do
1. Grow to 5’3”
2. Vote for the evil party or any of its evil incarnations
3. Watch any of the Star Wars movies
4. Watch daytime talk shows (Oprah, Dr. Phil etc) or any other type of “reality TV”
5. Stop singing
6. Diet
7. Stop reading

7 Things That Attract Me To Blogging
1. It’s a different kind of writing than what I do day-to-day
2. It forces me to record my kitchen experiments
3. Learning about things from people with similar interests to me
4. Far less stressful than keeping up my website (now defunct)
5. Watching my hit counter go tickatickaticka
6. I love the soapbox it affords me
7. It’s an outlet to express myself in words, pictures and food.

7 Things I Say Most Often
1. Coffee-Coffee?
2. Beanie, it’s not time to eat yet.
3. Ummm…yah…you go do that.
4. But why?
5. Moo.
6. Ummm… I asked for a wedge of lime, not lemon.
7. C’est la vie, c’est la guerre, c’est une pomme de terre.

7 Books I Love
1. Possession by AS Byatt
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. The Business by Iain Banks
4. The Liar by Stephen Fry
5. The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber
6. Sandy MacKenzie, Why Look So Glum by Gordon Henderson
7. Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre

7 Movies/DVDs I Watch Over & Over Again
1. Pride and Prejudice (BBC TV production with Colin Firth)
2. Peter’s Friends
3. Hear My Song
4. French & Saunders
5. LOTR Trilogy (Peter Jackson)
6. MI-5
7. Anything with a Muppet or Aardman animation

7 Tags
1. Tania at
The Candied Quince
2. Rachel at
Coconut and Lime
3. Paz at The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz
4. Janet at Janet’s LJ presence
5. Lynne at
Mixed Masala
6. Sarah Lou at One Whole Clove
7. Velochicdunord at Trawna Diaries


10 January 2006

Predicting tummy rumbles

I’ve been reading up on 2006 food trends. I thought it a bit puzzling that writers seemed to come up with different lists (many had similar themes, but the lists themselves were quite different), as I just assumed (bad Jasmine, should never assume anything) food trends were decided by some sort of not-so-secret guild of the foodie elite (chefs, restaurateurs, large-scale producers and manufacturers), akin to the Colour Marketing Group for colours (this article by Teresa Nielsen Hayden discusses the process -- mind you, I’ve done the “picking colours by committee” … ‘taint fun).

I found
this article on Slashfood which nicely explains how a food goes from trend to table. As you can see, food trends seems to be much more haphazard an event than colour selection (it’s like being famous: you need to be at the right place at the right time, noticed by the right people).

Anyway, from what I can see, here are the main trends the pundits are predicting--I don't list all of them, but ones that I saw several people addressing):

No more Atkins (and other fad diets).
Carbs aren’t the enemy (the enemy is what people do to and with them). Thank gawd.

Comfort food: Maybe it’s a reaction to Atkins (many comfort foods are high in carbohydrates)…maybe it’s a sign of our communal stress, but with many destressing activities, simplicity is key.

Edible, balanced portions made up of healthy and quality ingredients: I’m pretty happy about this one: quality over quantity in manageable portions.

Asian and South American cuisines: I’ve seen several references to Japanese and Indian dishes along with Argentinean and Brazilian foods.

Adventure eating: Bland is boring, flavour is favoured.

Punt the pre-brined pork in favour of the real thing: Since it’s the only option at certain grocers (grr), some consumers have decided to live (and eat) without it and some are going to proper butchers to fill their needs, which for some include Berkshire pork (kurobuta pork).

Chocolate. Dark Chocolate. Need I say more?

Bread: Breads made from great ingredients, including whole grains.

Food Blogs: according to Lucy Waverman, there are 1.5 million food blogs in existence.

McCormicks 2006 flavour forcast's highlights include: anise, caraway, “chai blend” (cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, white pepper), marjoram, paprika, saffron and sesame.

Okay, anyone who knows me—what I cook, what I eat, and what food and life advice I give will say “yeah, you’ve just written up your own rules and claiming them to be trends. Well…ironically enough many of these points mimic my constant babblings. It’s either a happy coincidence or people have finally started listening to me…I know which theory I’m voting for .

Okay, for those of you who want to do some of your own reading, here’s a bunch of links (usual caveats re: subscriptions):

Here are four food trends that the Test Kitchen tried in 2005 and think will be big in 2006 (Canadian Living)

2006 flavour trends forecast (foodprocessing.com)

The foodie forecast 2006: fish, fat and fun (Globe and Mail)

Kraft Canada

Top chefs in Ottawa offer their take on what's hot -- or not -- for the new year (Ottawa Citizen)

20 picks for 2006 (phillymagazine.com)

A survey of culinary trends just around the bend. (qsrmagazine.com)


08 January 2006

It turned out I didn't need the song

A few days before Christmas I parodied Santa, Baby, filling verses with references to kitchenware and some pricey ingredients.

Well...it turns out that I didn't need the song. The Fussy Eater bestowed upon me lovely kitchen things--including Nigella's measuring spoons and cups and my own copy of The Silver Spoon (the shop was out of stock so my copy didn't arrive until this week).

Oh yeah, and within the gift giving and receiving frenzy was a very Audrey II-like "Feed me" vibe eminating from my darling dearest...hmmm...okay :)


06 January 2006

Changing tradition...sort of

Today is 6 January, and for those who follow, it is Epiphany--the day the three wisemen from the East visited the Baby in a manger.

As with other religious observances, there are specific foods that are served. In this case, spicy foods and cakes are made and eaten; the spices represent gifts from the East. Some people also bake a cake, decorating it with yellow icing and adorning it with candied fruit making it reminiscent of a bejewelled golden crown.

Last night I was cruising around some of my favourite foodish blogs and found
these on The Candied Quince. Aren't they absolutely beautiful? I think Tania did a great job with them. If you are thinking of marking today-and don't feel like baking a cake or a curry--think about making (and eating!) some of these gems.

Photocredit: Tania/The Candied Quince



05 January 2006

The Zen of baking tins

Losing most of your bakeware is a cleansing experience.

Yes, I know it sounds weird, but it’s true. With an empty cupboard (apart from one quiche pan) on my hands, deciding whether or not to replace everything involves a certain amount of soul-searching: certain bits were bought because “everyone’s got one or two;” other bits were extras passed on, and I have no idea where the last bits came from…which is fair because I have no idea where any of it went to. Let me clarify something: because the Madeleine, cupcake, muffin, teeny tarts and loaf pans are kept in different cupboards, I don’t need to replace everything...just most of everything.

So the great soul searching exercise began—what is it I really need? What is it I really want? (Okay,
Christopher Eccleston, but although he was very tasty as the good Doctor, I have no idea if he could bake a cake…wait a minute, am I turning down Christopher Eccleston in favour of a couple of nine-inch rounds? Nah…must be a figment or a delusion or low choccie levels or something...umm, yeah, I'd also happily take CE's successor David Tennant...yeah there's a reason The Fussy Eater isn't necessarily pleased that I willingly watch Doctor Who with him)

Okay…let’s start with the needs:
Springforms—three sizes: yeah, I know some people hate them but I am in mourning for my darling, perfect springforms—never leaked once—how many people can say that?...Large-sized baking sheets: I’m not sure if I want to bake more biscuits or if I just want to finish a round of baking sooner than with the normal-sized ones I had… a square pan: yes, I have a square Pyrex dish, but if truth be told, I hate baking in glass ovenware--wait, make that two square pan in case I want to do a layer cake (does that fit into needs or wants? Wants…I have something that will do and getting metal tins is really an extra….ditto with a rectangular tin).

Two square tins (see above)…a rectangular tin: (see above)…a pie dish: I have disposables, but “real” ones would save money in the long run…Pretty, fluted tart pans: I could easily do with the disposable pie plates, but I’m sure fluted tarts taste better than smoother-sided tarts…a cathedral bundt pan: sometimes I just want a pretty-looking cake without messing around with icing and sprinkles and piping bags…nine-inch rounds: two so I can do a layer cake—yes I know I could just slice through the middle of a thick cake, but I’m really bad at it and the crumbs get everywhere and I’m inherently lazy when it comes to doing fussy cake things…

So, with lists in hand, I started researching things online
Blah…it was really easy finding decently compiled consumer reviews for digital cameras, but finding something comparable to bakeware was kinda like buying eggnog in February—I’m sure it’ll be there, but do you really want to drink it?

Given the ubiquitous book-and-tchotcky-o-rama was having their Boxing Day sale, I found a copy of
Alton Brown’s Gear for Your Kitchen at a discounted price. Nicely laid out, funnily written and starts with a reference to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey …what more do I want? There’s breakdown of metal configurations along with interesting side notes and covers topics such as pots, pans, knives, things with plugs and things without plugs. There are also rants: it's like reading a Good Eats script. If you pick it up, realise that a lot of it is personal opinion and preferences—he’s not shy about it—but it contains useful nuggets. The most important ones: “…the right tools are not necessarily the prettiest, the best or the most expensive ones—but they are the tools that you enjoy using. Each cook needs to find his or her own right tools…” Oh the other bonus with this book? The Fussy Eater read a few pages and almost didn’t give it back to me…given he has this weird aversion regarding anything kitchen-related (except food…and only certain types of foods) it must be a good book (if you are interested in pan metals, The Toronto Star published an article yesterday about it—here’s the link).

I suppose the other good thing is this is the best time of year to lose bakeware: Boxing Day sales. I bought everything in my needs list and some of my wants plus a couple of extras at good prices (I’d have paid an extra 30-50% more if this happened at another time). To make things even better, I found a bakeware line with smartly-designed handles—ones that don’t force my oven mitts to dent the cakes and loaves).

Unfortunately, this unforeseen expense means I won’t be able to afford a new set of knives for a little while. Oh well…I guess I’ll have to eat cake.



03 January 2006

Silicon pan update

Well...my parents decided that they didn't have enough room to pack the pans (what! they pack flat and it's not that much room...wait...they saw the cake...and they know what my cakes normally look like)...but the exbf is willing to buy them off of me. Not as good as knowing they're on another continent, but at least I'll get my money back and they'll be out of my sight.

Now... I know there are people who are big fans of this stuff and good for you if it works. I will say that I have tried some other silicon tools (basters etc) and I do like them. I just wrote about cake tins (are they tins if they aren't metal?) that are within my budget.

I'm sure expensive brands behave differently (read: work), but the fact is, I refuse to spend that sort of money on what is (to me) an unproven item...I don't care if a certain ex-con says "it's a good thing" or who the paid spokesperson is.


01 January 2006

Ummm...has anyone seen my baking tins?


I'm serious.

I wanted to bake a cake yesterday and the only one I could find was my quiche pan. All my springforms and metal pans have disappeared. I can only assume the cats have started their own bakery to keep them in enough cash so they can get the "good cat food" (read: people food).

Wound up running out in not fun weather to buy a couple of nine-inch tins and the only pair I could find were silicone ones...I figured since I've been hearing about them from friends, colleagues and magazines I'd try them out.

Ew. Absolutely hate them. The cakes looked weird and broke when I tried to unmould them. The only positive things I can say about them are: they are a pretty-ish blue, I can fold them up and they will soon be out of the country (gave them to my parents to take to India, in case they want to make cakes in their microwave).

Tomorrow's to do list: buy new pans...make sure said pans are made from metal instead of silicone.