27 February 2006

Increasing my Timmys intake

Some people look for a crocus.

Some people wait for
Wiarton Willie.

Others wait for maple syrup festivals.

But I know the true first sign pointing to the end of a Canadian winter.

Wee hee! It's back--
Tim Horton's Rrroll Up the Rim to Win--that special time of year when I trebel my caffeine intake so I can get, what else? MORE COFFEE!...Oh yeah, there are doughnuts and biscuits and muffins along with other things like a barbeque, $1000 and a SUV, but it's the free coffee that keeps me going.

Tee hee--okay, so far I've not won anything this year with my three coffees (it's early--only the first day), but maybe I'll win something tomorrow :) and yes, I know I could do the decaf thing (WHY?) or I could get their tea (but not their steeped tea--that stuff is just WRONG, I don't care how much they spent to convince me that an xth-generation tea master told them that *that* was how tea was supposed to taste--I'm not the only one who has a problem with it, there's an online petition), but if I'm doing a winter drink, it has to be their coffee..hmm...I wonder if I can get a cup if I buy and iced cap--must ask the gals at my office Tims about that...oh..and if I did win the Toyota SUV (as environmentally unfriendly as it is), I'd take it (and probably sell it for something a bit better on gas)...unlike the Aztek they offered a few years ago--that was like a LeMans on steroids and twice as ugly...

Ummm...why are my hands shaking like this?


25 February 2006


It happens at the same times each year--I get too busy (work, school, life) and I desperately need to retreat to a comfy chair with a newspaper, a good cd and a hot cup of tea.

Tea is my restorative. It takes me away from everything else and lets me decompress and become more like me.

But all too soon life screams blessed murder at me and I have to tend to things, people and the more than occasional fire.

Monkey Gland posted a great piece about tea this week, which was the catalyst for my very short post. At some point I'll return to the subject of tea, but until then, I'll just finish my mug and get on to the next fire.


22 February 2006

For Sara Moulton Fans

The show that first hooked me onto Food TV was Cooking Live with Sara Moulton. I loved the concept -- a chef, cooking real food, in real time while conducting a Q&A session with viewers who were also cooking the same meal at the same time. I thought her later-night show was better: similar concept, but she seemed more relaxed.

Then Alliance Atlantis developed a Canadian version of the channel and Sara was dropped. I mourned the loss.

I just found out through eGullet that Sara was dropped from the American parent and found a new home on PBS. I hope that the Buffalo affiliate will pick up the show (if they haven't already, and I've just missed it) so I can see what she's up to. Here's the

Her departure doesn't sound like a happy one. With a new focus on the 15-35 year-old male demographic, it no longer appears that FoodTV (I think that's what the US network is called) no longer cares for the rest of us (really? I'm shocked! You mean the really bad camera angles, short cuts, blurred focus, pumped up soundtrack and skinnyminnies who look as if they spend more time throwing up their food than cooking it, weren't meant for me?)...okay...I'm in Canada...US programmers really don't care about me/us...you know.

Food Network Canada's 2005 producer guidelines list the demographic as 25-54 year-old adults (60% female) . I just hope that our programmers retain some sense and realize that path the US parent is going down is hard to swallow.



20 February 2006

The vanillafication of my kitchen

I suppose it couldn’t have been helped. Being so immersed in vanilla caused everything within my short distance to smell like the prized bean…even Bean is smelling a little sweeter and less cat-like. I’m finding seeds everywhere and I know vanilla sugar and salt have found their ways into my camera case and laptop.

Things good be worse…I could be obsessed with durian.

Anyway, this month’s vanilla post centres on how to make your own vanilla flavourings and condiments. I’m not making all of these right now--I usually have some home-made vanilla sugar and extract on hand but I found some recipes for other vanillafications. The salt is my own experiment--I made some a little more than a month ago and have started using it--I'm quite happy with it.

There are couple of points to keep in mind when making your own flavourings. The beans should be pliable—if you can’t bend the pods easily, they probably won't work as well or as quickly as fresher beans. The other point is to only use glass bottles or containers made from non-reactive materials: plastic is far too porous and will allow other scents and flavours to seep into the contents and change the flavour. You can easily double or trebel the quanitities listed--it all depends upon how much you use and how much room there is in your pantry.

Vanilla Extract
To be on the safe side, I purchased one bottle each of Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian extracts to compare flavours and aromas, so I don’t have any home-made extracts on hand. Making your own extract is quite easy. I prefer using vodka because its neutral flavour, but you can use rum, brandy, cognac or any other spirit you wish.

250mL vodka
2 25cm vanilla beans

Split the beans so the seeds are exposed, but the tips of the pods are in tact (the best visual I can think of is that of a canoe). Place the beans in a dark-coloured glass bottle that has a tight-fitting lid. Pour in the vodka, close the bottle and store in a cool place for about a month. Every once in a while, give the bottle a swirl to mix its contents. As you use the extract, replace the liquid with more vodka. The beans will keep imparting their flavour for months, so if the extract starts tasting “weaker” simply replace the beans.

Vanilla Honey
Vanilla honey is an alternative to plain sugar—just remember that honey is about six times sweeter than regular sugar, so you should use less honey in your recipes. Mildly-flavoured honey such as clover is preferable to a heavier-flavoured type such as buckwheat.

500mL honey
1 25cm vanilla bean.

Remove the vanilla seeds by splitting the bean lengthwise. Stir the seeds into the sticky goo. Cut the pod into two pieces and then add to the honey. Close up the jar and let sit for at least one week.

Vanilla Oil
You need a very lightly-flavoured oil for this to work well. Forego the EVOO and reach for grapeseed or safflower oil.

500mL bottle of safflower oil
1 25 cm vanilla bean

Simply split the bean and put into the bottle. The oil will be ready to use in a week. Leave the bean in the bottle as it will continue imparting its flavours for about a year.

Vanilla Salt
Vanilla salt is great in savoury dishes made with seafood, pork or chicken; I like using it when I bake cakes. You can, of course, always use it as a finishing salt.

200g unadulterated sea salt
1 25cm vanilla bean

Tip in the salt into a very dry, non-reactive, airtight container. You can either add a split bean or cut the bean into two, finely grind one piece and mix it into the salt and then put in the other half, or just put the bean in as-is. Seal the bottle and place in a cupboard for a month before using, stirring up the contents every so often. Replace with more sea salt as necessary.

Vanilla Syrup

All of a sudden I’m craving a vanilla soda…

400g granulated sugar
500ml water
1 25cm vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Put everything into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and light the hob to medium to medium-high. Stir until sugar dissolves. Let mixture come to a boil for about two minutes, then reduce the heat and let simmer until the syrup’s volume has reduced to about one cup. Turn off heat and then let the syrup—including bean—cool before pouring into a container. You can use it immediately, store unused portion in refrigerator.

Vanilla Sugar
I love vanilla sugar stirred into my afternoon tea. Adding it to vanilla cakes or other sweets, will add an extra vanilla dimension to your treats. I’ve seen some complicated procedures including lightly toasting the beans and grinding up the pods, but I believe simpler is better.

200g granulated sugar
1 25cm vanilla bean

Tip in the sugar into a non-reactive, airtight container and then simply put in the bean. You can split it to expose the seeds if you wish, but I never do. Close up the bottle and then give it a good shake. Place the bottle in a cupboard for a month, stirring up the contents every so often. Replace with plain sugar as necessary. If you use whole beans in baking or in custards, simply rinse off the cooked bean, let dry and put into the sugar jar.

Vanilla Vinegar
Vanilla vinegars can be used in vinaigrettes or as finish to steamed veg. Your base vinegar should be mild, so consider white wine, cider or fruit vinegar.

500mL white wine vinegar
1 25 cm vanilla bean

Split the vanilla bean to expose the seeds and place into a bottle. Pour in the vinegar, close it up, give it a shake and let sit for a week. Leave the bean in the bottle as it will continue flavouring the vinegar for a year.

above: (top) vanilla sugar; (bottom) vanilla salt



18 February 2006

Newish recipe site: CookbookWiki

The good people at Wiki recently launched CookbookWiki, a project whose mission is to "document every culinary tradition in the world."

And I thought my mission to document my kitchen experiments was daunting.

I've toodled around and even though it's still shiny new and waiting for people to fill in the blanks, I like what I'm seeing. For example, here's the braising link, which came up when looking up boeuf bourguignon.

They've posted their development plan. As with all Wiki projects, they are looking for contributors; take a look if you're interested in donating time, words and recipes.


15 February 2006

Feast: Sweets for my sweet

Yesterday was lovely (no pun intended) :)

Here's a pictoral of my St. Valentine's Day baking:

Heart-shaped cranberry scones. I first saw them on a blog and thought what a great idea. I totally forgot about cutting scones into shapes until a colleague asked me about cutting out brownies.

I thought these sugar cookies were rather nice unadorned...but I decided to play on those sweet-heart candies with messages on them:

I have since learned that I will never be a frilly cake decorator...I could barely get the gel nozzle thingie to work right :)

I had to do something that was a bit OTT in rosey sweetness: gaudy pink fairycakes--one fore every month The Fussy Eater and I have been together (more cakes than pictured here).

And a recipe-in-progress: Dense Blondes (the working title)--a very dense white chocolate cake that tastes very caramel-like. When I get it to a shareable point, I'll post the recipe.


12 February 2006

Prepping for Tuesday

I've been in a baking and cooking frenzy for the past couple of days--not an easy thing to do when in the midst of a series of cluster headaches -- I'm sure the fine dusting of sugar all over everything isn't helping much (sugar can be a trigger for me).

Anyway, all of this is for Valentine's Day. Those of you who know me well are probably wondering if the painkillers have gotten to me.

I'm usually pretty cynical about this Hallmark holiday.

It probably stems from the couple of years I spent working in a stationary store in secondary school: big foofy hearts and people trying to convince their mates once a year about how loved/appreciated/lusted after they are. I come from the school of thought that if you are in a relationship, you should show your love/appreciation/lust more than on the 14th of February...I don't know, I'm just funny that way.

The other thing is I have spent most of my dating career without someone on Valentine's Day. All those sappy love song requests on the radio, the fuzzy red hearts held by fuzzier red bears, the marked price hike in flowers just got on my nerves. Tie that to the number of people I knew who fit the scenario mentioned in the last para, and the soppiest of days was just that, soppy.

So now that The Fussy Eater and I are sharing our second hearts-and-flowers day together have my feelings changed about the day?

I've mellowed about it--I still find the songs annoying, but the part about making your sweetie feel loved (etc) all year still holds. I'm lucky: I know he loves me and truly wants to be around me all year 'round (and I feel the same way about him), so Tuesday will be special, but it won't be big production marketing departments want it to be.

With all of that said, I hope the food-related bits turn out well. I've started some of the sweets and a couple of the savouries. I've been snapping piccies of things so hopefully I'll get a good post or two out of this...

In the meantime, I'll take another painkiller and call it a night soon.


10 February 2006

SHF #16: Winter White Cheesecake

Another Sugar High Friday (#16) and the theme this time around is “Recipe for Love”—so apropos, given Valentine’s Day is only a few days away. Thanks to Jennifer of Taste
Everything Once
for building a theme around aphrodisiacs.

Legend has it that a Persian ruler once had a handsome and excellent war-horse. The beast was considered to be fearless and fiery, except for one thing: when the stallion detected the scent of cardamom his fieriness turned from war to amour. The king decided to end such behaviours and have the grooms neuter the horse. The queen found out about this and suggested the grooms simply follow the king’s lead in such matters and drink 20 cups of coffee a day…

Coffee is not an aphrodisiac. Check.

...but cardamom is. BIG check.

In the Near East, many believe those tiny little seeds have potent, amorous effects on people…perhaps this is why cardamom is so often paired with coffee. But not today…not for today’s sweet theme.

I’ll admit to first thinking of chocolate (well, I always think of chocolate), but something slightly out of the norm. And then I remembered a much-requested dessert—my winter white cheesecake: a sinfully wondrous sweet—a white chocolate cheesecake with a hint of cardamom.

My starting point came from The Dessert Lover’s Cookbook. During the past I-don’t-know-how-many years I’ve tinkered and toyed with it and eventually came up with some thing I’m happy to call my own (or at least my variant)—a pie (yes, I subscribe to cheesecakes being pies and not cakes) that’s decadent, with an off-white, creamy and lusciously soft filling topped by a slightly boozy, oozy white chocolate topping. I added cardamom for one purely selfish reason: I don’t really like white chocolate: the spice’s astringency cut through white chocolate’s sweet richness, adding a lovely scent and flavour.

So, is this dish an aphrodisiac? Certain elements fit, but it's up to the eater to experience, isn't it? One could argue that an eight-inch dessert might be a bit much, but it just means there's more fun to be had.

Winter White Cheesecake
175g graham wafer crumbs
60ml melted butter
2t vanilla sugar

Filling (all at room temp)
200g white chocolate shards
80ml double cream
300g marscapone cheese, at room temperature
3 large eggs, separated
4t vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
4 cardamom pods’ worth of seeds, ground finely

100g white chocolate shards
40ml double cream
2T crème de cacao

Putting it together:
Prepare one 8” diameter, 2” high springform pan

Combine all crust ingredients together and press firmly into springform, leaving about ¼” of the side’s top uncrumbed. Then preheat oven to 325F.

For the filling:
Melt white chocolate in a bowl on top of a pot of boiling water, then add cream and stir until smooth; set aside to cool slightly.

Beat egg whites into soft peaks. In a separate bowl, beat marscapone with vanilla, cardamom and salt until soft and fluffy. Then add one yolk at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in white chocolate until fully incorporated. With a spatula, carefully fold in the egg whites so as to not lose their airiness—it doesn’t have to be fully, fully incorporated—a little bit of streaky white is okay.

Pour filling into springform pan and bake until the sides have set and the top is slightly jiggly—somewhere between 45 and 75 minutes. I usually start checking at the 45 minute point and decide how much longer it needs—usually it’s done in about 55-60 minutes, but a couple of times it did take longer.

Turn off the heat and let the cheesecake sit in the oven for an hour. The cake will rise and then fall.

Remove from oven and let cool in a draft-free place until it gets to room temperature. If you are making this in advance, you can tightly wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge until you are ready to pour on the topping—the cheesecake can keep like this for a couple of days.

For the Topping
Melt white chocolate in a bowl on top of a pot of boiling water, then add cream and liqueur and stir until smooth. Pour overtop the cheesecake and let set in fridge for several hours.

Before serving, let stand at room temp for about an hour.



08 February 2006

Ooh! I wonder if these will show up in Canada

It looks as if Ben&Jerry's has licensed Pepsi to make dairy drinks (milkshakes to be exact).


mmm...B&J milkshakes...

I tried to find out more info on it, but I couldn't find any media releases about it, nor anything more than this
AP story in Miami. I hope this isn't an early April's Fool joke. I also hope they show up in Canada...need to increase my dairy intake...more specifically, I need to increase this sort of dairy intake :)

Oh...and for those of you who missed it the first time, here are links to
The Fussy Eater's and my ice cream personalities :)



06 February 2006

From my desk journal...

I've got a two-page/day desk journal filled with New Yorker Magazine cartoons and funny newspaper snippets. The latter is usually in the form of misused words, grammatical errors and typos.

This is today's entry: a recipe from The Times; the italicized bit is the calendar editor's comment:

Hollow out inside of tomatoes--sprinkle with salt and invert on toes.
--then wiggle them!


05 February 2006

Is nothing sacred?


That's what I say.

Somebody had the audacity to invade what little privacy I have in my cubicle and stole my mug.

It's not as if mugs are rare things in this existence: Have a birthday--get a mug. The company celebrates a milestone--get a mug. A supplier tries to curry favour--get a mug. Buy some gas--get a mug. Someone breaks a mug--get another mug. As for a golf tourney prize--get a mug. And even if none of these scenarios apply to you, you can go to the dollar store and get a mug for a dollar (my local dollar store is having a sale, so you can get one for $0.87).

My beautiful red mug is gone.

I loved its shape and cherry colour -- a rounded bottom and upturned lip. It took two hands to hold it.* The handle was perfectly fashioned so when it was full, it didn't feel heavy or lose it's balance. Hot liquids didn't cool off too quickly. It was ergonomically perfect for me. I loved that mug. I have another one, but I don't want that horrid little thief to build a set, so I'll use it at home.

My officemates are perplexed.

We all thought such mundane items were beyond theivery. No one leaves anything of monetary value out as things have a tendency of walking. As best as we can figure out, it happened during Christmas--I was in a tea-making frenzy and it was in constant use; afterwards, I wasn't in the mood to make my own bevvies so I went to the Timmy's each morning for coffee and moved it to the corner of my space, but within easy reach of a sudden desire for something warm.

I've been in mourning for days. My most wonderful manager even offered me one of his mugs that he's collected over the years, to help me through my loss. The Fussy Eater has allowed me full run of his cupboards to find something I'll like.

I went back to the store where it was purchased a couple of years ago (I happened to see others there at Christmas)...the line has been phased out and, even though I can can buy the same shape, I can't get the same colour...all they have is white. Bah. I don't want a white mug. I want one with colour...one that makes me smile...one that is identifiable as mine.

I bought another mug, but I don't like it. Nice colour, okay shape, but too heavy when filled with liquid--I'll probably give it to my mum or something. She'll like it. I I found another mug this weekend -- nice colour, good handle, okay shape, but doesn't hold the volume I want...it was cheap, so I bought it. I'll try it out for a while...

My only hope and wish is that I had some sort of communicable disease when it was stolen and the new owner suffered some uncomfortable and lingering discomfort.

Yeah, I'm vindictive like that.


* Yeah, there may be some resemblance between me and the mug...

03 February 2006

01 February 2006

Enter the year of the fire dog

Chinese New Year came this weekend and we are now in the year of the Fire Dog. I checked things out online and according to The Toronto Star's guest columnist, I'm supposed to have a pretty okay year...but The Fussy Eater has to watch out for accidents...hmmm....

Anyway, last month I posted about the First Dim Sum of 2006. I love dim sum, but like tapas, I think of it as far too fussy to make a full meal at home. I mean, the sheer joy of wonderful little samplings of food is so lovely, but because of the sheer number of things I like to have, it would be quite a feat. (yes, I know, I could limit myself to a few dishes, but what's the fun in that?)

That said, I will be inspired by my far too irregular feasting of "heart's delight" when I'm left to my own devices...which is how I came up with this pork and pea dumpling. It's super easy...and easily freezable...

Pork and Pea Dumplings

300g minced pork
100g frozen peas
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1T minced ginger
2 lightly beaten eggs
2T soy sauce
.5t chilli oil
.5t sesame oil
.5t olive oil
40 -50 wonton wrappers

Putting it together:
1. Mix together ginger, spring onions, soy and oils and let sit for about 20 minutes.
2. In a bowl, combine eggs, pork and peas; pour in the soy and mix well. Let sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
3. Lay out a wrapper and place a small teaspoon's worth (5ml- measure) of the pork mixture in the centre. Wet the edges of the wrapper with water and seal them together to form a pyramid-like shape. Repeat this step until you run out of wrappers or filling.

To cook:
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a heavy frypan. Add the dumplings to the hot oil (no more than 10-12 at a time. Cook for two to three minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Add about a half cup of water to the pan, cover with a lid and cook until the water has absorbed.

To freeze:
Take raw dumplings and put them on a lined cookie sheet, so they aren't touching one another. Cover with cling film and put into freezer for about 30-45 minutes. You don't want the wrappers to be sticky or soft. When they've chilled, portion them out into little freezer bags and keep the freezer until the morning you want to use them. Thaw them in the fridge and cook as above.

Serve with a dipping sauce made of 2T soy sauce, 1t ricewine vinegar (or any other type of acid), and 1t hoisin sauce, and as many crushed chilli flakes as you like...

gung hay fat choy!