31 March 2006

Off for a fun foodie weekend

Hello all

Migraines and truckloads of work, that's what not-so-little girls are made of this week.

Oh well...heading off for some fun foodieness for the weekend, including meeting up with some Toronto-area food bloggers. Yes, I plan on a post or three...


Food Network Canada recently aired a Good Eats episode on vanilla, entitled "My Pod." Here's the recipe link for those of you who want more vanilla-y goodness this month.


Before the nonsense: 44 cups; 3 free coffees, 1 free doughnut
Now: 21 cups, 4 free coffees

27 March 2006

The penguin made me buy it

I am a mark for marketers.

I am a sucker for SWAG.

The other week I went into the LCBO, looking for some Guinness for the
half-pint cupcakes and a steak and mushroom stew (recipe to be posted later) when my eyes were spied by another set of eyes.

A poor Little Penguin in bondage.

I've had a thing for the flightless birds since I saw
March of the Penguins. And, according to The Fussy Eater, I am part penguin (pronounced peng-oo-in)--when I waddle in the snow in my tangerine coat, my little wings sort of bounce along side of me (I, of course, deny this)...plus...sometimes it's just easier to slide off a chesterfield than to get up and step away (this I don't deny because it simply makes sense).

Anyway...I couldn't just leave the poor little thing in the store...so I bought a bottle...I am my own Penguin Liberation Front. I'd buy them all if I could...and release the little spongy, penguiny dollies into the wild...or at least my kitchen.

Now the thing is, I know absolutely nothing about wine...so I know nothing about this bottle...if it's perfect or plonk...or perfect plonk. The cashier told me that a lot of people purchased a bottle because of the doll...and not to worry it's a very drinkable wine. Yeah, I'll believe her.

I just think the penguin is just so cute.


Timmys count:
Before the nonsense: 44 cups; 3 free coffees, 1 free doughnut
Now: 18 cups, 3 free coffees

23 March 2006

Cuppycakes galore

Is there a discernable difference between Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian vanilla when whipping up a big cake or little cupcakes?

Oh gawd...I can't believe I actually wrote that. Wonder what Pete Wells would think of that...no wait I know ... and I agree :)

I’m not going to kid you…most other people don’t stay up worrying about this stuff and, quite honestly, neither do I.

This month’s vanilla post is just a good excuse to make and eat iced fairy cakes …


I mean, this moment in time presents me an excellent opportunity to compare the phenolic qualities of vanilla varietals in extract form.

Yeah right.

I wouldn’t dare call this a scientific study. It’s more of a “what’s yummy?” question with “yummy” loosely defined.

As luck would have it, the taste-test was also an exercise in “will a six-year old girl resist the lure of pink cupcakes when presented with yellow and blue ones?” (the answer is no—she chose pink as both her answers).

Using vanilla beans (instead of extracts) in cakes and biscuits provides a much better vanilla-y flavour. Heat, of course, evaporates alcohol and whatever flavour it carries. Seeds will continue to emit their flavours for days, increasing the treat’s deliciousness.

I made some vanilla-bean cuppycakes as a general “how great is the difference in flavour intensity between bean and extract”…but (and I’m embarrassed to admit this) I forgot about them after I baked them (crazy, scary, hectic time). When I rediscovered them, they were really quite stale.

But trust me... a cake made with a vanilla pod’s seeds is more flavourful than one made with one dessertspoon of extract. If you can afford to buy beans whenever you bake, then do so. My “everyday” cakes are made with extract and vanilla sugar—not quite as intense as with a pod’s black gold, but much more affordable.

I didn’t screw up testing cupcakes and icings made with extracts. Really.

Here’s what I did
I mixed one batch of vanilla-less batter. I divided it (by weight) into thirds and added one teaspoon of extract per batch. After they were baked and cooled, I colour-matched the icing flavours to the cases—same block of butter, same packet of icing sugar, same milk container, so the only flavour difference should be the extract. Mexican vanilla cuppycakes were in yellow cases, Tahitian were in blue and Madagascar in pink; they all baked in the same 12-cup tin.

The testers: me, the exbf, The Fussy Eater, Kim and her daughter Isabel…two adult males, two adult females and one pink-obsessed girl…three are bakers and home-cooks (Kim, the exbf and me) all five love cakes...

The testers were asked to let me know what colour of cake and what colour of icing they preferred. I was the only one who knew the colour coding.

Here are the results:

Madagascar -1
Mexican - 0
Tahitian – 0
No difference: 4

Madagascar – 1
Mexican – 2
Tahitian – 2

So…what does this prove? Not much. In heated preparations, there really doesn’t seem to be a flavour difference; Mexican and Tahitian vanillas were preferred in cold preparations (okay, ‘bel liked the Madagascar varietal…but it was, well…pink). I must admit that I was half-expecting things to work out like this.

But that’s okay…because I was able to nibble on cuppycakes for a good cause.

Here’s my standard vanilla cupcake recipe—it started life out as Nigella Lawson’s Fairy Cake recipe on p40 of How to Be a Domestic Goddess.

125g ap flour
2tsp baking powder
pinch of vanilla salt
125g butter

125g vanilla sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
60ml milk

Putting it together
Preheat oven to 400F and paper a twelve-bowl muffin tin.

Sift together dry ingredients and set aside.

In separate bowl, cream together butter, sugar and vanilla. Add eggs and mix well. Mix in sifted ingredients. Add in enough milk for a soft, luscious consistency. Quite honestly, at this point I always find it a shame to actually bake the cake…the raw batter on its own is so wonderful.

Divide out the batter between the muffin bowls. Give the tray a tap and then bake for 15-20 minutes or until done. Cool in tin for about five or ten minutes and then remove to a rack.

Eat them plain or tart them up as you will.


Timmys count:
Before the nonsense: 44 cups; 3 free coffees, 1 free doughnut

Now: 11 cups, 0 winnings

20 March 2006

A plate full of half-pints

Busy busy busy. I was hoping to have the next vanilla post up today, but school and work and work and school...

But given St. Patrick's Day is a mere memory (and for some, a fuzzy one at that), here's my food contribution: half-pint cupcakes--my favourite chocolate-Guinness cake recipe (as previously posted), made up as cupcakes, with the flattening "head" of cream cheese frosting (a little too much cream in the mix).

Will do my best to post the next installment of my vanilla-ific adventures this week.



Timmys count:

Before the nonsense: 44 cups; 3 free coffees, 1 free doughnut
Now: 7 cups, 0 winnings

18 March 2006

Can anyone else smell spin?

I asked Tim Hortons why medium-sized playing cups are given out regardless of the size purchased for travel mugs. Medium cups are the least likeliest to garner any sort of win. Here's the reply:

Thank you for contacting us once again in regards to our Roll Up the Rim

When a customer purchases a travel mug refill during this
promotion, a medium cup is offered. Since our small size cup is not available in
a contest cup, our medium contest cup is offered as it would have less of an
environmental impact than our larger sizes.

I hope I was able to address your concern. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to call us at 1-888-601-1616.

I know she's only repeating what she was told...

re: "the once again" -- I originally emailed then about my regular Tims charging some people extra to get a player cup.

So...let me get this straight... giving out playing pieces that favour in all likelihood favour TDL's bottom line (via cup cost and lower giveaway odds) is more environmentally friendly than giving customers a player cup that gives them a fair shake at a prize based on the beverage volume purchased. And if Tim Hortons could get away with giving Canadians the small cup (which reasons even worse odds of winning an $0.80 doughnut)...they would.

That's so nice of them.

So, here's my next question, since that poor CSR obviously wants nothing more to do with me:

Dear Mr. Tim Hortons Spin Doctor,

If environmental responsibility is the key reason Tim Hortons/TDL gives customers using travel mugs medium-sized player cups (even though they are charged for a large or extra-large beverage), then why is Rrroll Up The Rim promotion's grand prize an SUV?

Please feel free to post your reply here.


Timmys count:
Before the nonsense: 44 cups; 3 free coffees, 1 free doughnut
Now: 5 cups, 0 winnings

17 March 2006

Oh Timmy, my Timmy

apologies--I wanted to fix something after-the-fact, but Blogger was down for several hours (didn't realize until about 30 minutes into the session which included test posts and deletions). Here's the fixed post:

Why have you forsaken me?

I had a few readers draw my attention to this article on cbc.ca .

And here I thought I was just being unlucky...as were my friends and colleagues...and everyone else I spoke with in Ontario.

But we weren't unlucky. We are victims of being in a comparatively densely-populated area where there really isn't any doughnut competition (yeah, I have a Coffee Time around the corner, but the only people who frequent it are the *most interesting sort*). And because we have enough of a population to support a Tims at every other corner, we don't get the same odds as someone in Quebec or British Columbia who's playing Rrroll up the rim.

Harrumph...this is so like the political debates we endure (EEE Senate, equalization payments, have-provinces vs. have-nots).

But this is more important than that. It's about spoiling coffees of every Ontarian in this part of the province who plays the game.

Some of us honestly believed we had a one in nine shot of winning something--if you've been following my counts, at times its nowhere close. Personally, I'm happy winning coffees and doughnuts--the RAV would be fine, but I'm not that greedy...but, gosh darnit...when the odds of winning the lotto are mentioned in conjunction with getting the car (in this neck of the woods)...it's well...disheartening.

Then when you add the goings ons at my usual Tims -- charging certain people extra for a cup with a playing piece (they've been caught and have been stopped--in Ontario it's illegal to make people pay for a contest piece--it turns it into a lottery) and and now when someone brings in their own cup, they are given a medium cup as their playing piece regardless of the size they actually bought (med, large, x-large). Why? They told us they were under orders to because the mediums (small in the US) have the lowest chance of winning anything.

I've emailed Tim's CSRs about the situation and am waiting for a reply. Here's the addy to send complaint about the way Tim Hortons has manipulated prize distribution: customer_service@timhortons.com.

I am really put off of this year's contest. It used to be fun...yes...I know, it used to be fun when I was winning things...and when my friends are winning things...and not reading how people in areas that have higher odds of winning things are throwing out grand-prize winning cups. Here's a tip...if you don't want to play, ask for the coffee in a normal cup and let someone else who wants to try their luck get a player cup...

I added an extra cup to my work day as part of the fun. As of today, I'm back to my normal two cups a day during work days and one cup on the weekend. The change isn't much, by TDL standards (EVIL TDL), but it's the equivalent of losing one hour's pay for a part-timer at Tim's every week.

I'm sure Tim Horton is rolling in his grave.


Timmys count:
Before the nonsense: 44 cups; 3 free coffees, 1 free doughnut
Now: 2 cups, 0 winnings

15 March 2006

It's Christmas in March!

What a week! First Monkey Gland's Frying Pan Alley print showed up and now my brand new cutting board! The board is a Christmas prezzie from my dear friend Kim (lots of issues getting it done, including waiting a month for a part to come in from the UK): custom made from end-cut maple. It's big and heavy...such a shame to scar its beautiful surface...Oh well...looking for things that need mincing and slicing and dicing and chopping and...


Timmys count: 44 coffees; 3 free coffees, 1 free doughnut

13 March 2006

I've been scalped!

I did a bit of ego-Googling--all good, all expected--then I checked for my little blog. I recognized most of it--people who link to me, people who've mentioned this blog in theirs, but there was one entry that didn't look familiar.

Being a curious sort, I clicked on it.

My Vanilla Primer (parts
one and two) along with the photo I took were on a retail site (won't be named here).

Apparently they liked my words and piccie well enough to use them as a customer info-lure. But apparently they didn't like my words or piccie well enough to contact me for something as courteous as a heads up nor as necessary as a permission to help them make money. They didn't even have a hot link to my blog.

You know what else they didn't have? The next post in my vanilla series --
how to make your own extracts, sugar, salt, etc etc...gee. I wonder why...could it be because if people knew how easy it was to make good-quality flavourings, they wouldn't buy pre-made stuff? Yes, I know, I'm being all mean and horrible for not allowing these people to make a living off the unaware.

I quickly checked my CC license...they broke all three terms: improper attribution, they were using my creations for their profit AND they posted derivatives of my posts (yup, they took out the preambles). I contacted a few writer friends (novelists, journalists and communicator types) and someone who knows Canadian copyright law backwards and forwards. Yup...my copyright was infringed upon (but I knew that already).

I shot off a very polite email letting the scalper know that all original material on my blog was copyright as per the Creative Commons deed and to contact me ASAP. I mean the CC logo is right on my blog...easy to accidentally miss, I suppose, but even easier to purposefully miss.

I received a note the next day saying that the posts and images were removed.

No apology.

No "Oops! We didn't realize...."

No "Uh-oh...do we owe you any money from stealing 1000 words and a picture?"

Not even an "Oh geez, here's some cumin to make up for it."

Don't even think about "We like the way you write, can we contract you to write a series for us?"

You know...I was even prepared for a metablog-like rebuttal...but nope.

I confirmed my materials' removal in case whomever replied was a lying-lyee-lie-face--I have no reason to trust them. My stuff's no longer there...but there are other posts lifted from company websites and magazines. I didn't recognize anything by any blogger I read, but I'll be heading back with a cup of tea to see if any of my friends or people I like to read have been equally violated.

Yes, violated. I feel violated.

Posting is risky. You don't know who's reading, who's thieving and who's scheming. I like to think that people who return to read my ramblings are, on the whole, good people, but sometimes mistakes are made.

Blogging, the Internet and the Web are strange new worlds for many and some niceties have been lost or never existed. I know I'm learning things all the time about netiquette's evolution on a regular basis. If I know I've done something wrong, I apologize and try and fix it with as little fuss as possible. Sometimes people have to tell me what I've done wrong, sometimes I figure things out on my own. I try to be reasonable about it all...unfortunately there are scavengers and predators around.

I'm not going to get all egotistical and say that it will happen again, but there's a chance that the next time I Google my blog I might find my words or picture on another store's site. I'm more ready for it next time.

Because I have copyright...hear me roar.


Timmys count: 38 coffees; 2 free coffees, 1 free doughnut

11 March 2006


Scandinavia holds an allure...Maybe it's photographs of fjords and inlets, maybe it's the bluer than blue skies, maybe it's the men. I don't know, but for several years Sweden, Finland and Norway have made it to the top of my travel list.

Unfortunately time and money are issues, so I've made do with culinary travels. PBS has a lovely cooking series called New Scandinavian Cooking--I try and catch it when I can. Several months ago I found the companion cookbook, Kitchen of Light, in one of our large and schlock-filled national bookshop and picked it up.

All it did was make me want to travel even more.

Oh well.

The book is filled with wonderful recipes--soups, lamb, mackerel, various berries and of course, certain libations. Apart from aquavit, there's a section on snaps--flavoured vodkas--which traditionally blurred the lines between medicine and alcohol. Medicine/drink...within appropriate dosages, it's a very yummy thing.

Making your own snaps is probably the easiest thing you can do. The trick it so get a good and neutral-flavoured vodka and infuse it with with flowers, herbs, spices or citrus that you like. The alcohol draws out their flavour and occasionally colour. Sample it every day or two until it's ready by your palate and then, if you wish, you can remove the flavouring agents or just keep them in the bottle.

This recipe is taken from Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad. All you have to do is leave the spices in the bottle for as long as you wish.

Snaps with Cinnamon and Cardamom

1L bottle of good, neutrally flavoured grain vodka
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods.



Timmys count: 31 coffees; 2 free coffees

07 March 2006

For Linda in Milan

For Linda and any other Canuck missing a taste of home:

On a related note...our men and women in Kandahar are getting their very own Tim Horton's:




Timmys count: 22 coffees; 1 free coffee

05 March 2006

Meme: You are what you eat

Mixed Masala tagged me for the You Are What You Eat meme a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, the tag must have been intercepted by Canada Post because I totally missed it; I found a mention on her very beautiful site last week when I was snooping about.

And before someone pipes up with "
I thought you said you weren't doing memes anymore"--you're sorta right: I'm only doing food-related memes (when my sched allows).

Narrowing down my favourite food selections to a mere 10 is much harder than I thought. Do I pick 10 foods I love to prepare? What about 10 ingredients that lure me to a menu selection? How about 10 things I'd miss most if they were suddenly absent from the planet? Then of course, there are the 10 things made with chocolate that make me melt.

Oi...decisions, decisions. No matter which way I tried to do it, I had trouble narrowing down my selections to less than 15. I know this isn't my ultimate, laminated top 10, but it does incorporate elements from the above factors. The great thing about this meme is that the answers will change over time...ask me this question in a couple of years, and I might give you a different list.

In alpha order:

Streaky, back, peameal, pancetta, tofu (yes, I like tofu), bacon adds a wonderfully salty smokeyness to foods and sauces. And, of course, I'm totally convinced that a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a toasted cheese bagel (topped with lettuce, onions and chillis) is probably the most glorious sandwich known to mankind.

Baked Fruit desserts:
By this I don't mean those pies made with tinned, goopy fillings. Ripe, fruit with a sprinkling of brown sugar, baked in a hot oven...mmmm. Pictured left is my blueberry-peach tarte.

Those of you who know me in RL know am part mouse. Cheeses--those "edible" oil products available in those weird little plastic envelopes DON'T count--are absolutely amazing. The number of varieties and flavours must be in the thousands. I don't have a favourite cheese, but if I spy blue veining, like the Stilton pictured to the left, I will probably make a bee-line directly towards it. And yes, I ate that piece after I took it's picture.

Creamy desserts:
In one of my many list iterations, I noted pannacotta, flan, properly prepared cheesecake and premium ice cream. The common element was that totally amazing mouthfeel that rich and creamy desserts possess. I'm currently in the eight month of my pannacotta obsession and have just tried making my first one (pictured left).

I know a lot of people dislike lamb's flavour, but I love it. I love the way the Greeks prepare it, I love the way the English make it, and I love Indian lamb curries. Chances are if I see it on a menu, that's what I'll have for supper. I'm lucky in that one of my favourite lunch haunts does an amazing lamb burger with chevre and mint sauce. What you see to the left is tomorrow's supper: lambchops.

The Fussy Eater and I are often in fork wars in at the dinner table, as we spear each other's fungi. I knew someone who didn't like mushrooms, but then, he only had those little white buttony things. Oyster mushrooms, cremini (pictured left), shitaki...yummy, yummy, yummy.

Portuguese Olives:
I'll eat every olive, but I prefer the mild, olivey flavour of what my preferred gourmet grocer calls "Portuguese olives" to kalamata and other offerings. They aren't as salty, nor are they as acrid as many other brined or cured fruit. I also love their abyss-like blackness. I usually have a small container of them in the fridge for the occasional nibble, but I'll also use them in sauces, pizza and with chicken and fish.

Roasted or grilled veg:
When I first discovered roasted veg I wondered why more people and restaurants didn't do it around here. Most places still boil veg within an inch of their lives--not a tasty side dish. For me, a simple dish of roasted veg is the best home-made supper I can make when I'm stressed and busy. Pictured left is my version of oven-roasted ratatouille.

Basically, if it lives in the water, I'll eat it (except for salmon--I love it, but I've developed an intolerance for it). Poached, baked, fried, in soup or steamed--it's absolutely delicious. I'll also happily gobble sushi and sashimi (spicey tuna roll is probably my favourite). Pictured left is today's lunch: crabcakes. Mmmm....

No, I didn't succumb to all those Popeye cartoons when I was little. A spinach salad with pears and blue cheese, spanikopita, spinach sauteed with bacon, garlic and onions, spinach curry and even creamed spinach are wonderful options for this very healthy green. A Florentine-anything catches my attention, especially Eggs Florentine for brunch.

Okay...those are my top 10, but there are three others that deserve a special mention. I call them three things I can't live without:

Their versatility and nutritional value are underestimated by many. Baked, boiled, fried, poached, scrambled, made into fritattas, omelettes and quiches, incorporated into sauces and batters...I try and keep two to three dozen eggs on hand. Last year I was forced into a vegan diet (so the foods wouldn't interfere with my sinus meds); I missed eggs the most.

Herbs and spices.
What you see here is what I call my holy trinity: onions, garlic and chilli peppers. They go into almost every savoury dish I make. Herbs and spices make foods so wonderful. Swap one herb for another and you have a totally differently-tasting dish.


'nuff said.

Okay...not quite. Pictured left are my favourite offerings from my favourite local chocolatier. The snail-shaped one is garlic and the one that looks like a leaf is red pepper jelly. Both (of course) are enrobed in dark chocolate.

Now...to pass this meme on. I've seen it on a few blogs, so if I've tagged someone who's already done it, I apologize:

Greg at
Frankly Phobic
Ivonne at
Cream Puffs in Venice
Jenny at
de Arte Coquinaria
Strawberry at
Scream for Sour Cream Timbits
Tania at
Candied Quince

Of course if anyone else wants to do this meme, please do and let me know--would love to know what your list is :)


Timmys count: 16 coffees; 1 free coffee

02 March 2006

Canadian Caramilk eggs recalled

Cadbury Adams, home to the Cadbury Easter Bunny, announced a voluntary recall of some of their very popular chocolate eggs because they may contain pieces of hard plastic.

Specifically, these are the effected eggs (all 39g weight):

Caramilk UPC 0 615712 4
Caramilk Maple UPC 0 615882 2
Caramilk Café UPC 0 615892 9
3 Eggs Caramilk (3 x 39g) UPC 0 61200 05431 6
6 Eggs Multi pack (6 x 39g) UPC 0 61200 00581 3
12 Eggs Multi pack (12 x 39g) UPC 0 61200 21134 4

According to this
Toronto Star article, the problem is some of the plastic used to mould the egg chipped and got into the candy. Here's a link to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency release.

Hopefully things will be sorted out soon and no one will get hurt.



Timmys count: 10 coffees; 1 free coffee

01 March 2006

Cursed blueberries and blood oranges

I love eating pancakes for supper.

Since I had too many other things to do, the only part of Pancake Tuesday supper made was (what else) pancakes. No bacon. No sausages. No scrambled eggs. No fried mushrooms. Jut a plate of yummy, fluffy pancakes. Pancakes with cursed blueberries.

Don't get me wrong--I really, really like the juicey blue orbs, but I seem to have picked up a cursed container of frozen blueberries.

The first time I dug into the tub, visions of tender-crumbed muffins danced in my head...in reality, I wound up with light but hollow little cakes--hollow like a Yorkshire pud. The second time I dug into the tub, I was baking a banana-blueberry loaf...umm...I wound up baking a banana-blueberry brick. This time (the last time I'll delve into the container because there aren't any more berries) the batter turned to glue--yummy glue, but glue nonetheless. When cooked they were fine, but getting them cooked was a bit of an ordeal. I've made these pancakes for a few years and have never had a problem before...it must have been the berries.

So I have all these weird pancakes, but no syrup...well, that's not quite true. I have some maple syrup, but not alot --enough to flavor some whipped cream or some icing, but not enough for a a couple of servings of pancakes.

Enter the blood oranges I picked up the other day. I haven't had them in a while and wanted to experiment...so I did what any good little foodblogger would do and juiced them, added some water and sugar an then boiled it down to a thick syrup.

It worked really well--a nice sweet, orangey, flowery, sticky syrup, poured over some hot, buttered pancakes. There's only one word to describe it: yum.


Timmys count: 7 cups; 0 prizes