About Ann Allchin

I'm a multitalented mother of two who is always looking for a cooking challenge. I live in Toronto, where I am lucky enough to be able to find samples of almost every food in the world within five kilometres of my house. When I'm not with kids, I'm often reading, writing, or enjoying food and wine.

Bee-ing healthy again — Bee Pollen Oat Squares

Well, the airplanes breaking the sound barrier over my house right now tell me that it’s back-to-school time once again. You see, for two weeks each year, Toronto hosts the “Canadian National Exhibition,” also called “The Ex” or the CNE. Closing weekend for the Ex (Labour Day weekend) always includes an air show, so since we live close enough we don’t even have to pay to enjoy it. Fighter jets are cool. As long as you’re not in a war zone, I guess. Or drunk and aggressive on an airplane, as two ladylike women were when they attempted to go to Cuba earlier this week. (there but for the grace of God … ha! Kidding. Fortunately I’ve never been THAT drunk and disorderly.)

But back to the Ex. Some people love it, like me, while others aren’t such big fans. My husband, for example, is always quite happy to see me take the kids on my own. For some reason, the Ex tends to attract a high percentage of people who think that the mullet is a slammin haircut. That front teeth are optional. That the present tense of “to have” is “gots.” That the top of a thong should be flaunted as an alluring fashion accessory. That working from the McDonald’s office (for the WIFI) is appropriate.

Thanks Burger Nerd!http://www.theburgernerd.com/funny-fast-food-pics/

Thanks Burger Nerd!http://www.theburgernerd.com/funny-fast-food-pics/

While I seem to be kindred spirits with these Ex-loving people, my husband is happier to stay home and sip champagne from his Manolo Blahniks. But he’s missing out. Where else would you ever find, all in the same place…

A butter sculpture of Jabba the Hutt

A butter sculpture of Jabba the Hutt

Harrison Ford, still trapped in his metal (the actual prop!)

Harrison Ford, still trapped in his metal (the actual prop!)

A global marketplace of junk from far and wide

A global marketplace of junk from far and wide

And of course, rides, every kind of junk food you could imagine, and farm exhibits.

Tractor riding

And the farm exhibits include the animals themselves. Which brings me to bees.

Thanks aszichild.com

Thanks aszichild.com

Every year I stop by the bee section of the Ex, try to find the queen bee in the live hive they have going, and then pick up some wildflower honey. But this year I grabbed something different. I had just read an article about the benefits of eating bee pollen, so I decided to make it my next dangerous food.

Bee pollen

Apparently it fights respiratory ailments and boosts the immune system, and with a daughter who goes down hard with asthma each September when she returns to her petri dish aka educational institution, I thought that spiking her food with a bit of pollen couldn’t hurt. It also reduces histamine reactions for allergies, and my daughter is a peanut-allergic kid too. Sounded like this might be the miracle cure she needed in her life! (Except for the fertility boosting part, which, let’s hope and pray, her little 7-year-old self could do without for quite some time.)

I decided to meld my bee-utiful experimentation with another back-to-school resolution I have, which is to feed my kids something other than hotdogs or pasta with butter. They have become tough customers over the past few months, and my parenting perseverance has been on vacation too, which doesn’t help the asthma or allergic situation. So here are my…

Putting foot down healthy back-to-school oat quinoa bars, complete with superhero immuno-boosting bee pollen punch-in-the-face

(Based on Lyndsay’s Quinoa Breakfast Bars from the Lean Green Bean, with my nut-free, buzzy bee, and sweet tooth modifications)

  • 1 c whole wheat flour (or chickpea flour to make GF)
  • 2 c cooked quinoa (starting with 1C raw quinoa should be more than enough)
  • 2 c oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ⅔ c Wow Butter
  • ½ c honey
  • 2 eggs
  • ⅔ c rotten bananas (you know it’s true)
  • 2 Tbsp bee pollen
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • ⅔ c craisins
  • sprinkling of brown sugar for the topping, because a spoonful of sugar helps the quinoa go down

Directions: Preheat to 375. Combine bananas, eggs, Wow Butter, vanilla, cinnamon, honey, and bee pollen.

Bee pollen bars

Add other ingredients and press into a greased 9×13 pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar, because if your kids are going through summer candy-floss withdrawal like mine they’ll need to detox slowly. Bake for about 20 minutes, until top is golden-brown.

Quinoa oat bars

Results: 

Quinoa bars

This recipe tastes quite healthy, so my kids did not beg for it. But it is highly guilt-free, and I ate a mess of it. If your kids are more tolerant than mine they’ll love it to death. And I’m going to gobble some right this minute — it’s filling, yet nutritious. Soft rather than crunchy. I’d call its sweetness half-way between a bread and a cookie-bar. Next time I might have to give my kids some added motivation with some maple-syrup dipping sauce. What can I say, I’m whipped. Rating: 3 Yums  The CNE would never sell these bars because they’re too healthy, but brawny men with bee-beards and manly F16 fighter pilots will gots to have them.

A knack for sumac

After a family day of skiing and lazing around at the cottage, my family members had built up quite a thirst.

Waterskiing

(That’s my little guy who’s only four. His board-sport loving dad is overjoyed to see him on skis this year)

Skiing

Cousins

We were out of juice, so I knew that anything with sugar would go over well with the kids. I also knew that anything with vodka would go over well with the dads (skiing was done — water on the water, beer on the pier…).

It was the perfect time to experiment on them … I mean … quench their thirsts … with my sumac juice.

Sumac IMG_6813

As has happened previously on this blog, I was hopeful that I wouldn’t poison anybody. I bought the sumac seeds in the pictures above from my favourite forager-guy at the farmer’s market (he’s hooked me up with lobster mushrooms, spruce tips, and reindeer moss before) and when I did, I asked him why I wouldn’t just pick some from the roadside myself instead of paying him $5, because sumac is all over the place right now. He looked at me and said in a Vincent Price voice, “Well, you could get some yourself, but you would have to make sure you didn’t choose the poisonous variety.” Then he gave me lots of tips about how to tell the difference, but I tuned him out because I had already decided in my head, “Well since you know the difference, if this turns out to be delicious, I’m just going to continue to pay you to keep us all out of hospital.”

I think forager-guy must have known that warning me against the poison variety was securing our continued business relationship (and I admire his corporate-esque protectionism, I must say) because when I got home and read about how to tell the difference between poison sumac and regular, I learned that it’s actually quite easy. Poison sumac is very rare, and the berries look like berries rather than fuzzy fluffy puffs. Poison sumac only grows in very wet areas, and has smooth leaves. The safe stuff’s leaves are usually jagged and it grows all over the place. I was feeling confident enough to go grab some more for myself if I should need it — until I saw this picture of a poison sumac reaction

Thanks poison-sumac.org

Thanks poison-sumac.org

(Do I know how to run an appetizing food blog or what?)

And if you’re getting rid of poison sumac from your property, you never want to burn it because the fumes could be fatal (I’m talkin’ to you here, gentleman homesteader).

I’m joking about staying away from the safe sumac though, actually, because I believe that the risk of finding the sketchy stuff is very low. And it turns out that sumac is a kind of superfood, being a strong antioxidant high in Omega 3s. Plus, the drinks were a hit with my family!

I kept the recipe very simple, pretty-much like a natural iced tea or lemonade, because I wanted to taste the sumac itself. Here’s what I did:

Spiked Sumac-ade

  • 1.5C sumac water (5 sumac buds with water in a 1L container for at least 4 hours on  the counter [longer in the fridge] smashed around with a spoon a few times, then strained)
  • 1C simple syrup (1/2C sugar boiled with 1/2C water, then cooled)
  • Soda water
  • Vodka (1 shot per glass)

Directions: Prepare your sumac water as above, like a cold tea. Not sure the marketers of my jar were intending their statement to mean what it does here, but it still works.

Sumac water IMG_6818

Prepare your simple syrup, and chill it. Make your cocktails by pouring the vodka for each glass over ice (or not) and filling each glass half-full of sweet sumac-ade. Fill the remainder of the glass with soda water.

Results

Sumac drinks IMG_6820

These were a hit with all the skiers, dads and kids alike. Next time I might add mint to make the drinks more mojito-like. As they were, they tasted fruity with a citrus-like tang. Don’t let the fear of boils and growths scare you off — impress your friends with a fancy-pants drink from your own backyard today. Rating: 3 yums

The Egg Award 2014 and My Non-entry, Lavender Creme Brûlée with Matcha Mousse

Did you know that a chef’s hat originally had one hundred pleats in it, supposedly because any self-respecting chef should know how to prepare an egg in one hundred ways? I think my hat would have at least — like — forty-seven pleats, and I’m not even a pro chef. Go ahead, test me. After this contest, I’ll be able to add many more… I’d better get sewing!

Okay, I’m blabbing without even telling you why I’m on about eggs. Back to task. The best contest ever is on again this year. It’s not one of those, “hey, somebody gave me some money so if you follow me in five places I may or may not give you an elastic band organizer,” kinds of contests. It’s a real one, initiated by super-cool Scottish chefs who I met initially when they helped me learn to make haggis, and who later coached me through preparing sea urchin. They’re guid fowk (that’s how you say it in Scottish, anyway, according to my handy translator). And they want to encourage cooking with organic, local eggs, which is the inspiration behind the contest.

A two-Michelin-Star chef from Spain (Dani Garcia) won the Egg Award last year, and can you believe that I came in fourth? I felt honoured that my recipe sat alongside theirs and was judged in other mouths in other countries. Here’s what I won, which still hangs proudly in my kitchen.

Egg award print IMG_6688

It’s a signed print by Ulrika von Sydow, and I love it like crazy. It has now been added to the mental list I keep of things to grab if we should happen to be evacuated from our home due to nearby fire (This has happened twice since we moved in if you can believe it, so the list is highly relevant. My print is the list item right after “the cat”).

So I was all set to enter the contest again when the Egg Award peeps gave me an even higher honour than last year — they asked me to be a judge! I really can’t wait to try out all of the recipes. They’ve also divided the award into categories, so that home chefs, pros, and juniors can all enter and are judged separately. As much as I truly enjoyed bragging about being counted among professional chefs, this may help this year’s entrants feel more confident about kicking the rump roasts of their peers.

Here are the details for the contest if your egg timers are already turning. Mine certainly were before I became a supreme oeuf justice, so I went ahead and cooked what I had planned anyway, which I’ll share below. I wanted to incorporate a few dangerous ingredients as per my usual odd-food theme, so I experimented with…

Lavender 

Lavender

It’s not just for dresser drawers anymore. The flowers, the leaves — all provide pungent floral possibilities for cooking, rumoured to fight anxiety, restlessness, and stomach ailments. I was excited by the idea of a lavender creme brûlée, but Google quickly told me I wasn’t the first to think of such a thing. I decided to add what I hoped would be a complementary ingredient, and went with…

Matcha

Matcha

I imagined a dollop of green tea mousse topping my creme brûlée, but couldn’t figure out how to flavour it with straight tea leaves. I read about this lovely powdered green tea from Japan. It has the same antioxidant properties as regular green tea, but when taken as a powder it’s more potent. I loved the idea of being able to control the amount of flavour with the powder, but nearly laid my own egg when I popped into the health food store and saw the price. Twenty bucks for a teensy can of the stuff! Luckily I went back a few days later and they had tablespoon-sized pouches for $1.50. Unfortunately, I might just be addicted enough to spend the whole twenty bucks tomorrow.

Now. Let me take a brief pause to stress that Egg Award entries don’t need to be this complicated. I cooked with weird ingredients because I dream about odd foods at night. I actually think I might have been penalized in the contest this year for having too much going on in this dish. So follow your eggy hearts and do your own thing. Here’s what it takes to enter:

1. Organic eggs, including where they come from, the producer’s ethos, and a picture of the farm, bird, or eggs. I got my eggs from our farmer’s market — I live in downtown Toronto, so visiting an actual farm is tricky. No worries! The farmers come to me! (I bought my 12 lovelies from these guys who are with Country Meadows in Queensville, Ontario)

Our brand new neighbourhood square

Our brand new neighbourhood square

Thanks Country Meadows!

Thanks Country Meadows!

2. The recipe ingredients, method, and a photo of the finished dish. You don’t even need your own blog — just e-mail your entry to TheEggAward@mail.com by September 30, 2014. For further instructions and contest postings, check the Egg Award 2014′s blog.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

Lavender Creme Brûlée with Matcha Green Tea Mousse

For the Creme Brûlée… 

  • 2C whipping cream (35%)
  • Handful of lavender sprigs (mine wasn’t blooming, so I didn’t use flowers)
  • 3 vanilla pods (you could probably do with fewer — mine were older and so quite dried out)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1/3C granulated sugar
  • 1/2C granulated sugar for topping

Directions: Preheat oven to 325. Bruise lavender in your brand new mortar and pestle

Mortar and pestle

(now I’m bragging, but I always wanted one) but try to keep it mostly whole so that it’s easier to remove later. Add it with the vanilla to a heavy pot with the cream (slit pods and scrape out beans if your pods are fresher than mine as they should be),

Lavender and cream

and heat until just bubbly around the edge.

- Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks with sugar

Yolks

until lighter in colour and frothy and boil a full kettle. Put empty ramekins in a rectangular baking pan with a rim that will allow water half-way up the ramekins.

 

- Pour cream into egg mix slowly, whisking carefully so that the egg doesn’t cook. Stir. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into another bowl, removing the lavender and vanilla pods. Fill ramekins with custard to the tops.

- Add boiled water to the baking pan so that it reaches a level half-way up the ramekins.

Creme brûlée ramekins

Cook in pre-heated oven about 25 minutes, until the centres only jiggle very gently. Cool in the fridge until set

- Sprinkle tops of each custard with about 1 Tbsp of sugar. Torch (or broil) the tops until burnt,

Torching creme brûlée

Creme brûlée tops

cooling in the fridge briefly to harden. I found that more sugar looked uglier but gave a lovely thick crunch.

For the Matcha Mousse… (based on recipe here)

  • 1 Tbsp gelatin powder
  • 2 egg yolk
  • 4Tbsp water
  • 1C milk (1%)
  • 1/2C sugar
  • 1C heavy cream (35%)
  • 3Tbsp warm water
  • 3/4Tbsp matcha green tea powder

Directions: Dissolve gelatin in 4Tbsp water. Mix yolks with sugar. Heat milk over medium heat until bubbly around edge, slowly adding gelatin. Add milk mixture to yolks, whisking carefully so that yolks don’t cook.

- Dissolve matcha in warm water. Add to milk mixture.

- Whip cream. Fold into mix. Cool in an ice bath.

Custard ice bath

Pour into bowls and refrigerate to set. Spoon over creme brûlée. I ended up adding more than a dollop (I probably got over enthusiastic and spooned before it had completely set).

Results

Lavender creme brûlée

(Don’t look too closely at the purple flower. My lavender wasn’t blooming, so it may or may not be a mint flower from our garden)

Matcha mousse

I always love when my kids eat my dangerous creations. Tonight my husband cleaned up my little guy’s last few spoonfuls of the lavender matcha masterpiece and he cried for about 20 minutes. This was a good sign. The matcha worked perfectly — it wasn’t overpowering, but clearly expressed green tea essence. I’d make it on its own. I also loved how the crunch of the creme brûlée topping separated layers of differing creamy consistencies. The creme brûlée could have used more lavender. I might even try processing the leaves and “leaving” them in next time, although I didn’t today because I wanted the custard smooth. Still, I think this was a fun tribute to the Egg Award.

I can’t wait to try your creations. Burger Nerd, I want to see your best egg burger. Midwesternbite and Gentleman Homestead — I can’t think of a contest more up your bird-raising alley. Fudgingahead, bring on that sweet tooth. Purple Fig, get your chickitas on it.

I’m cracking up with eggcitement!! (sorry, but eggs are just SO pun-ny). I was going to sign off by saying na-nu, na-nu because now I’m grasping at anything eggy. I’m getting so old that probably very few of you will even get that reference. I feel like anyone who does will get a little bonus prize, but Google’s collective human consciousness has now ruined the trustworthiness of spontaneous memory. Sigh. (and na-nu, na-nu)

 

Canadian cocktails and Sriracha sauce

Happy Canada Day!

republican-president-candidate-move-canada-day-ecards-someecards previous-assumption-little-bit-canada-day-ecard-someecards please-accept-mildest-excitement-canada-day-ecard-someecards

Oh, and can’t forget

Canadian Girls

(How did a picture of our kids’ Kindergarten teacher get there?)

Anyway. A little while ago, my friend Trish from the Purple Fig Magazine gave me a subscription to the magazine Bon Appetit. Shocker, I really like it (I’m talking Bon Appetit here, but I love The Purple Fig like crazy too! Check out its new look!). I think Trish chose this particular magazine for me because they cook very dangerously in every article and recipe. I can almost guarantee that there will always be at least one ingredient I’ve never heard of, and since never having heard of an ingredient is my speciality, I have to admire their efforts. This month, they turned a filing cabinet into a smoker, which isn’t an ingredient per se, but there’s obviously some seriously dangerous cooking going on around there. I kind of fantasize about working there.

So another article in this month’s issue gave beer cocktail ideas, and I think that we can all agree that beer is a very good theme for a Canada Day post. Except that after a quick Google search, I was disappointed to learn that we’re only #19 in the world in beer consumption. Don’t worry, though — after my initial disappointment I decided to turn a gap into an opportunity. I promise to do my part to bring up our numbers. Let’s call it my Canada Day resolution.

But back to the beer cocktails. I decided to try one they called the “Sriracha-lada.” I bought some Sriracha hot sauce to use as a dangerous ingredient a while ago when I heard that the plant in California was being shut down because residents were bleeding from their eyes and stuff (lightweights). I’m exaggerating about the hemorrhaging, but the fear that there would be Sriracha-hoarding because the townspeople were suffering was true. Here is a super-cute article about the importance of Sriracha hot sauce.

And here is the recipe. I fed it to two very willing Canada Day guinea pigs — my husband Phil and my brother-in-law John — at our cottage. Please ignore the size of my husband’s head in that picture. I had them re-pose, but the improved photo turned out blurry. His head is actually regulation size. For a Canadian.

The Sriracha-lada (courtesy of Bon Appetit magazine, with a few alterations)

  • 1oz lime juice (juice of about 1.5 limes)
  • 1tsp Sriracha hot sauce
  • ice
  • favourite beer
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Lime wheel
  • Worcestershire sauce (called for in original recipe, although I didn’t have any)

Directions: Mix er up. The only part that’s not super obvious is rimming the glass — dip it in lime juice, and then pop it into a plate of coarse salt before adding the other ingredients. Here is a pictorial recipe.

Sriracha and limes

 

This next shot is pretty much the same as the previous one, but John was insistent that he wanted his hand in a picture. So to fulfill his hand-model dreams…

John's hand

Sriracha

Mill Street beer

Sriracha-lada

John and Phil

Results: Meh. These tasted like a light Caesar, but not as good. And yes, I mentioned the Caesar in honour of Canada Day, because that is a good drink, and only Canadians know about it for some reason. We drink it instead of a salad. Who doesn’t want vodka in their salad? I can guarantee that Canada is #1 in clam juice consumption, that’s for sure. Anyway, this cocktail was drinkable, but Phil and John made the suggestions to use a heavy beer and not to skip the Worcestershire. I liked the Sriracha itself — it feels like the normal basic standard that all other hot sauces should be compared to. Some might be better, many are probably worse. Get me? As for the cocktail, I’m going to have to give it a  rating of 1 Gag. If a cocktail has alcohol in it and I didn’t finish mine, it means it wasn’t very good.

Happy Canada Day!!

A bonbon bonanza – soursop ice cream

How well outfitted is your kitchen? My husband would say that my kitchen is kitted out, but I would disagree. Yes, I have a lot of stuff. But I like to cook — if someone liked woodworking, they’d have lots of tools, right? And as far as woodworkers go, I would only have the mid-range saws in my kitchen. You had to read that sentence twice, but you get me, right? Also, I’d be the woodworker using a screwdriver and hammer to gouge a hole out of  my cutting board because I was too lazy and/or cheap to go get a drill.

(I might not be very good at analogies.)

Let me give you a few more examples that might apply in the world of the coherent. I’m not one to cheesecloth anything — it’s going to be a colander wherever required, because I happen to have one. I butter all of my bakeware because cooking spray is just a little too flashy for me. I gave away each of the three salad spinners I received as shower gifts, because I just don’t have the time to spin unless I’m on a bike.

But last week, I suddenly changed my outlook. I was feeling spendy, and I wanted to mess with a Martha ice cream recipe, which called for a few special (yet cheap) kitchen tools that I had never bothered to bother with.  I went to Home Outfitters with the goal of filling in the blanks in my kitchen. I even impulse-bought stuff.

My husband recently mentioned that our credit card bill seemed semi-suspicious and I whistled and looked at the ceiling for a bit.

But now you’re wondering what else I was always lazy about, right?

1. A kitchen scale.

Kitchen scale

This sucka cost me a whole $10, which I probably should have spent years ago, because it can be quite annoying trying to follow American recipes when all of your packaging only shows grams. Or trying to follow a British recipe when all of your kitchen appliances measure in cups and not grams. Oh, Canada (said in a sigh way, not a sing-song way). I’m quite a good kitchen Googler, but I’m getting a bit sick of putting in, “How many cups are 500g of shredded potatoes?”

2. I also bought a cooling rack. Goodbye sweaty, stuck-on cookies! Yes, for years, I’ve been trying to suck it up about the cookie sweat. Cooling racks — the Right Guard of baked goods.

3. Nabbed myself a candy/deep fry thermometer. You guessed it. Before now? “That pan sure looks hot, let’s get er done!” Not always ideal in salmonella situations, but no one has croaked under my watch (yet). And as far as candy goes, I’m pretty sure my kids think that caramel is supposed to taste burnt.

4. I even bought cooking spray, and I’m not gonna lie, cooking spray is awesome. Look out cheesecloth industry, I’m on a roll. 

But now you need to see all of the kitchen tools I used in this recipe, because as I kept pulling them out I became rather impressed with myself. Let’s see if you can count how many I needed.

This recipe was inspired by some cool ice cream (literally, and…) — soursop flavoured.

Soursop ice creamYou might remember that I played around with soursop (custard apples) before. But weird ice cream is always a great excuse for a blog post, no matter what the circumstances. (The lid is crushed because like my cooking, my freezer is dangerous. One of these days I’m going to have to do a post on “guess what oddities my freezer holds.”)

Soursop ice cream bonbons

  • 16oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2Tbsp Crisco
  • 10 mini cookies
  • 10 mini scoops of ice cream (soursop flavour is ideal)
  • 10 tsp of your favourite jam

1. Get your setup ready, standing your brand new cooling rack over a baking sheet

Baking rack

2. Boil water in a double-boiler in a low boil, and melt chocolate and Crisco together until goopy. Let it cool slightly.

3. Set your mini cookies on the rack.

Cookies IMG_6560

Top each cookie with a teaspoonful of jam. I used lemon, because we’re big lemon fans around here.

Lemon curd

4. Use the large size of a melon baller (hint – tool count) to scoop mini ice cream balls on top of cookies.

Ice cream cookies

5. Goop them over with the melted chocolate. I was concerned that the warm chocolate might melt the ice cream, and it did a little bit, but it seemed to work itself out.

Chocolate balls

6. Put in freezer for at least 20 minutes, and then share with willing taste testers.

Ice cream bonbons

Kid chocolate eaters IMG_6571

Results: These weird chocolate balls were a big hit! Easy, and very versatile. You could do big ones with full-sized cookies as dessert for guests, you could change ice cream flavours (chocolate? cookie dough?)… Heck, if I made soursop ones delicious, think of what you could do if you were normal! Rating: 4 Yums. A hit with everyone, and a pleasure to empty my drawers for.

(The soursop ice cream tasted a bit like how I would imagine green coconut would taste, in case you were wondering about that specifically).

Question: What is your kitchen missing? What odd gadget does it have that you are especially proud of? Do you have any Macguyver kitchen techniques you would like to brag about? Bring it on!

Freeform Friday – Watermelon cover blubbers and mini foodies

I’ve always liked watermelon, and I can eat a lot of it. When I was pregnant it was one of my things—in the first trimester with my daughter, I would eat a whole watermelon in a sitting. I blamed the preggo cravings, but truth be told, I might just do the very same thing now. It’s eyeing me from the counter…

We have a shared family cottage, so I’m also cutting watermelon for other people all the time. It’s the perfect snack for when whiney, sun-kissed kids start begging for food, in my opinion. Healthy, yet delicious. I bet I buy 20 watermelons a summer.

Here is something my niece wrote about me last year giving evidence that bringing watermelon is one of my “things.”

Virginia note

Translation: “My hero is my aunty. My aunty saved me from drowning. Loves me, looks after me. Keeps me healthy and gives me a hug. Helps me and cares. Responsible for me. She helps me when I get hurt. And she cuts up watermelon for me.”

I did actually save her from drowning at a barbecue once. I sacrificed my wine glass by smashing it as I ran, even. Very dramatic. That girl owes me. A wine glass (ha ha). I’m still quite proud of this little report she wrote. Moms have to clutch the spontaneous recognition tightly in our little paws, man! There are surprisingly few performance bonuses in our line of work. Be proud of the work you do, moms. Even if you don’t hear it all the time, something as simple as cutting watermelon makes a difference. PS Happy Father’s Day, we’re grateful for you too, guys; blog rant timing is everything, no?

Anyway, back to the watermelon itself. This is the longest lead-in ever to tell you about an invention I just discovered. And I’m not getting paid to drone on about it either—mostly because it seems to be my lot in life not to get paid for much of anything (I enjoy being a SAHM, honest!). But I think everyone who is a watermelon-lover like me needs to know about this invention, so I’m really just sharing it for the good of humanity.

Allow me to introduce you to the Cover Blubber:

Cover Blubber IMG_6554

Found this little gem while browsing at Home Outfitters the other day. It’s basically a fruit prophylactic (and I wonder why they don’t pay me…) that stretches over your watermelon or other awkward fruit to keep it fresh when, unlike me, you aren’t able to finish your watermelon in one sitting. I used it for the first time last week, and when I took it off yesterday expecting to find a dehydrated or mushy mess, the watermelon was as though I had just freshly cut it. Shockingly good. It’s the little things… But don’t use it when it’s wet, because you will end up swearing your watermelon prophylactic up and down and inside out. I learned the hard way.

My other topic for Freeform Friday is Junior Foodies. My seven-year-old daughter had a friend over the other afternoon and they played restaurant, making me a multi-course meal out of “ingredients” found in our garden. I thought their presentation was pretty impressive, so here are some pictures. I think Charly just nominated herself to be in officially in charge of food staging for me from here on in, don’t you think? Happy Friday!

IMG_6545 IMG_6546 IMG_6547 IMG_6549

Chicken jellyfish slaw

Have you ever been overcome with jealousy while at the library? Happened to me just this week. I was sitting at a study table, innocently leafing through my gigantic dictionaries (copyediting course), when I looked across at the next table and saw a woman taking notes from this:

The food of Vietnam cookbook

A hugely gorgeous Vietnamese cookbook. I wasn’t even able to see any of the pages, but I just knew that that cookbook was chock full of deliciously dangerous recipes.

I completely forgot about copyediting and stared that woman down. I psychically (psycho-ly?) tried to connect with her mind, sending her this message: You will not sign out that cookbook and will leave it for me. That is my cookbook, woman! I repeated this message over and over again, and gave her the best stink-eye I could.

And it worked.

Vietnamese cookbook

I exercised my tired ol’ library card and lugged that monster book home (before I made my daughter lug it for the picture) and eagerly flipped through to find something with odd ingredients to cook, which is a different process from usual – generally I find the odd food first, and then figure out how to cook it. But my new process wasn’t disappointing except that I had to journey to a further grocery store to ensure I found my ingredient, which happened to be jellyfish…

Thanks anjimari19.deviantart.com

Thanks anjimari19.deviantart.com

…or “jellies,” as my very particular BC coastal friend calls them. He says that jellyfish is a misnomer. They’re not fish, he says. True. But the name “jellyfish,” is much more melodic and commonplace, in my opinion, so let’s just stick with popular opinion on this one. Sorry, Cam. I’m sure people listen to your other opinions. Like, if I was going to scale a tall building using only my fingers and toes, I’d totally call you.

I had tried jellyfish once before, and I’m not gonna lie, the experience was not a good one. It was probably ten years ago at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, and it appeared as a side dish, almost in place of rice or noodles. I slurped them up, eager to try them, but … they sucked. They were extremely rubbery, greasy, and flavourless. But I had faith in my big fat book. When you catch someone going to the trouble of schlepping themselves to the library so that they can get a hand cramp writing out recipes, it’s a safe bet that they’re on to something.

And that woman was right! Thank goodness my mind meld with her was successful, or I would have continued to believe that jellyfish’s only usefulness is to lure a hot lifeguard to pee on your leg. (Not going to Google for an image of that, although I’ll bet it exists.)

Here’s what I did to prepare Nguyen’s recipe – slightly simpler than how he created it because I couldn’t find all herbs his called for.

Chicken Salad with Jellyfish (why he didn’t call it Jellyfish Slaw I don’t know)

  • 1 single chicken breast, skin removed
  • 500mL chicken stock
  • 2 handfuls salted jellyfish strips

Jellyfish strips

  • 1C finely shredded white cabbage
  • a healthy handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • 1tsp toasted rice powder (pan fry dry glutenous rice grains over med heat 15 mins, then grind w mortar and pestle)
  • 6 cloves garlic turned into chips (heat 1/2C olive oil, then add sliced garlic until browned)
  • 1Tbsp garlic oil (use olive oil from previous bullet point)
  • 1/4 red onion, cut into thin rings
  • 3 or more Tbsp Nuoc mam cham dipping sauce (3Tbsp fish sauce, 3Tbsp rice vinegar, 2Tbsp  sugar, 1tsp chili flakes, 2Tbsp lime juice)
  • small handful of lightly fried chives
  • top with peanuts (but we didn’t due to an allergy)

Directions: Boil chicken breast in chicken stock 15 minutes, then pull apart into strips and allow to cool. Use stock again another day. Rinse salt from jellyfish and then boil for 30 seconds. Soak in a bowl of cold water 30 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients with drained jellyfish.

I served this dish to my camera-shy friend Krishna.

Kish

She’s a very dangerous eater – you may remember meeting her last time she was over, when I served her up some curried goat. Right now you’re thinking, “I’m kind of glad I don’t get invited to dinner parties at yours, Ann,” but honest, she likes trying my stuff. Plus we’ve been friends a long time, so I just threaten I’ll expose her dirt if she doesn’t eat and like what I make for her. That chick has a lot of dirt. (Like, under her fingernails. Okay, so that’s not even true either.)

Results:

Jellyfish salad

We ate the salad with a delectable pork moo shu lettuce wrap main – here’s a hot pic of the thinly sliced pork loin prior to cooking:

Pork loin

We nibbled directly from the bowls long after our first plates were clean. I even ate jellyfish slaw leftovers for lunch today, and it was just as good. My husband ate tons too, and he would have been the first one to say he was ordering pizza if it was blah.

And what did the jellyfish taste like? It was chewy for sure, but it didn’t taste fishy or have much flavour at all, really. My husband said that it took on the flavour of the sauce. I think the salad definitely would have been missing something if it had been cooked without the jellyfish. I’m going to call it an important textural assistant. Rating: 3 Yums. If you live near a coastline and a jellyfish stings you, make sure you teach it a lesson and throw it in a pot after the whole leg-peeing rigamarole.

Freeform Fridays

Okay. So the bloggie friends around me have been doing Throwback Thursdays, or Topic-Changing Thursdays, or Woman Crush Wednesdays  so today a light bulb went on in my head (said like Mr. Gru) and I thought to myself, “Self? Maybe you should do something like that. Sometimes dangerous food takes lots of time which means you’re not blogging as often as you could be.”

So welcome to Freeform Fridays! I was going to make it “Foodie Fact Fridays,” because most of you are foodies, but then I wanted to take pictures, and I thought to myself, “Self? Maybe you could take pictures of stuff other than food! Like, outside!” So all posts will now include photos. Freeform Fotos (That horribly spelled alliteration is my rebellion against  the OCD nature of the copyediting course I’m taking).

So. Here is the first freeform topic I’ll be discussing. It’s a foodie book review. Except that I haven’t finished the book yet. This freeform thing gets better and better.

Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them (Book)

My dad got me this book just because he saw it and thought I might like it. And he was right! Nice work, Dad. The book combines a bunch of great foodie things through dispelling food myths — weird facts, cooking tips, humour, and recipes.

Here are three sample myths and my thoughts:

1. Myth: Mouldy cheese should be thrown out

Thanks mopsa.blogspot.ca

Thanks mopsa.blogspot.ca

The book says that basically, the softer the cheese the less foreign mould you should put up with (pitch it), and to scrape that mess off of the harder cheeses which are still ok. Good to know. My rule before went something like, “if I paid more than $5 for it, let’s just call it penicillin.”

2. Myth: Rice should be rinsed until the water runs clear

Apparently rice used to be packed in talc for transport, which placed high importance on rinsing, but unless you buy mingin’ bargain basement rice, you should be all good without rinsing.

Good to know. Because I’m lazy. If there’s a kitchen corner to be cut, I’m going to slice it with a big dull knife (dull because I’m too lazy to sharpen things).

Thanks dioclese.blogspot.ca

Thanks dioclese.blogspot.ca

3. Myth: Never wash mushrooms

Where did the whole, “Don’t wash mushrooms,” thing come from? You can see the dirt, people! The book reiterates what we all know deep in our hearts — mushrooms grow in fecal matter. So if you don’t want a literal sh*t sandwich…

Awww, sweet little mushroom houses (growing in poo)

Awww, sweet little mushroom houses (growing in poo)

And this ends our preview of the book Lobsters Scream when You Boil Them. It’s a fun book.

And now, on to some pictures I took today in our gardens.

Our lilacs are really peaking right now. Two weeks ago my husband decided we didn’t need a lilac bush so he was going to wield a murderous lilac axe, but my daughter and I literally tree hugged so he moved it to a different corner, and it still bloomed. Charly and I are therefore quite proud of these rescued flowers.

Lilacs

My treatment of this next one in iPhoto makes me laugh. After I did it I thought, Perfect, that will one day be my funeral postcard. Lilacs in memory of Ann – she came, she saw, she cooked weird crap.

LilacsThis next one is a shot of our tranny garden gnome. My kids named “her,” Grace Ella after my cousin’s kids. I’m nearly as proud of her as I am of our lilac.
Grace EllaAnd … a tulip. Tulips are my favourite flowers. The axe wielder got rid of a bunch of those this year too, but he has promised me “tulip alley,” which will make for some great pics next year.

Tulip

And a purple puffball. Just ’cause. Freeform Friday. “Just ’cause,” is the new M.O.

Purple puffball

Question: Are you into Freeform Friday? Can you think of a kitchen myth you’re not sure is true?

The doggone sweetest sweet peppers that ever lived

(Not really, regarding the title of this post).

But I bought my latest dangerous food based on the marketing. Here’s what the package said:

Sweet twister

Sweet twister 2

First of all, any food that touts itself a contender for the top category spot for anything in the world is worthy of being cooked in this here blog space, in my opinion, even though peppers are far from being as odd as most foods I usually try (like kangaroo or fish heads or reindeer moss, just as three random examples). These peppers were different from regular peppers, and different is my specialty. I imagined some kind of Willy Wonka peppers, if they were the sweetest ever. The cotton candy of peppers, maybe.

Second of all, I enjoyed the wording on the packaging. I am currently taking a copyediting course (to make some beer money), which made me appreciate the sentence:

“Maybe the sweetest pepper in the world?”

Why the lack of confidence, pepper people? I’m guessing the bag started out saying, “The sweetest pepper in the world!” and the lawyers made them change it because they didn’t win the pepper Olympics. I say go ahead and name your product the sweetest in the world and use wording like this post’s title to shout it from the rooftops, even though it will make your lawyers and copy editors pee themselves with anxiety. If you’re not giving a lawyer a heart attack on a semi-regular basis, you’re just not pushing the envelope far enough, that’s what I say.

Except that in this case, the peppers were no sweeter than a regular old every-day sweet pepper, so their lawyers were right to tell them to proceed with caution.

But I made them into something good. And my son enjoyed using them for the following silly pepper photo shoot.

Silly peppers IMG_6478 IMG_6481 IMG_6483

I watched his poses with curiosity, wondering when he was going to do the inevitable male long pepper pose. I was so charmed when he didn’t do it, thinking, “Aw, my little four-year-old guy is too sweet to think that way.” Here was his second-last pose:

Belly button pepper

That’s his “belly button pose.” Again, I thought, “Awwww, my sweet little guy.” And then his last pose came, which I won’t post because it might be considered lewd. But let’s just say my angelic image of him was dashed and his gender finally confirmed.

But back to cooking. Barbecue weather is finally here, so I took a page from the Burger Nerd’s site and made sliders using his go-to burger recipe, with roasted sweet pepper mayonnaise to go with them (sort-of). I won’t recount Burger Nerd’s steps myself, but I will point out these important things:

- Chill the patties, then let them get luke a bit on the counter so that they stick together, but don’t stick

- Oil the grill

- Don’t manhandle the meat too much

- Salt the patties just prior to cooking

- Make a divot in the centre of each patty so that they don’t ball up when cooking

Raw sliders

As for the mayo, I tried to make it from scratch using hemp oil, but because you have to chill hemp oil it didn’t emulsify. New lesson for me: room temp oil and eggs work best for mayo, folks!

So I turned to my thighs’ good friend…

Mayo…roasted a sweet pepper (grill it directly, flipping a few times so that it’s black all over, then pop it into a bowl covered with saran which will make the skin easy to peel off).

Roasted pepper

Then whiz it in a food processor with 1/2C mayo, and you’re done!

I accompanied my sweet pepper mayo sliders with onions, pickles, and a greens salad (with the sweetest ever peppers), and voila.

Sliders

Lovely! The burgers were so perfect that my kids devoured a meal I made for once, and the mayo had the added sweetness of the sweetest peppers in the world. Perfect!

Question: Have you ever eaten a food that should be world champion of something?

 

Sweetbreads are neither

Oh how I procrastinate experimenting with innards. As much as it may seem that I’m adventurous with food because of the theme of my blog, I have never been an organs person.

But there’s this new butcher near the end of our street that is highly fancy and expensive, and although I can’t break the bank and shop there all the time, they have some cool stuff. Like pork blood. (What does one do with… don’t worry, I’ll eventually let you know). So for some reason, maybe because it’s pricey and pristine, I feel like I can trust their innards enough that if I cook them it won’t turn me off. I’ve always wanted to give sweetbreads a go because people who actually enjoy eating guts seem to prize them. That’s where their name comes from – “sweet,” as in, “sweeeeeet,” (said like a surfer). The bread part of the name is from the Old English word “broed,” meaning “flesh.” Anyway, I figured that if I could stomach (pun not originally intended) the best of the entrails, I’d look super cool to all of you guys, and you’d think I eat this kind of thing all the time. That I’m truly dangerous.

Not me. Gaga. But oddest example of "dangerous," I could find. Thanks gigwise.com

Not me. Gaga. But oddest example of “dangerous,” I could find. Thanks gigwise.com

So is it working?

Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of a calf or lamb or young pig – they degrade in older animals, so you have to get ‘em young. I don’t love the idea of eating the young’uns, but I figure they’re likely not axing them for the thymus, so it’s really just taking advantage of what might otherwise be thrown out (plus my conscience clears quickly if something tastes really good). The thymus is responsible for T-cells which are the immune system’s army, so although I didn’t read this anywhere, I’m going to put my pseudoscience hat on (everybody’s doin it) and say that it’s good for you.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Where are all the jokes, Ann? This post is a little too educational for me.” Well since you asked… If sweetbreads are ripe for the cooking, apparently they should feel like a firm, young breast (Odd Bits says that Chef Daniel says so).

Sweetbreads

Sadly, this knowledge made me defensive of my own bosom. ie. “But I’m sure that mine are just as good as any thymus gland…” No volunteers for verification, please, this isn’t that kind of blog. But hopefully neither your sweetbreads nor your breasts feel like Lady Gaga’s in the picture above. If your glands feel like guns, please ask your butcher and your plastic surgeon for a refund.

Let’s move on. This whole recipe went down in a rather complicated way, so I’ll try to abbreviate it.

1. I bought my frozen sweetbreads, deciding to thaw them while my husband was away so that I wouldn’t get complaints after answering “Hey, what’s for dinner?” Sometimes I get complaints if the answer is “fish,” so somehow I knew that “glands,” wouldn’t be warmly received.

2. I sorted through recipes, reading that most traditionally, sweetbreads are done in a mushroom cream sauce. Score. If I was going to eat these suckers, the more decadent the surroundings the better. It’s hard to hate fat.

3. I found some odd dried mushrooms at the farmer’s market called matsutakes. As we all know, Odd is great. I’ve been wanting to learn to rehydrate mushrooms for the ‘ol blog, so that was a double score. Unfortunately for me, they are a highly prized mushroom by the Japanese and are hard to find, so they were $15 for a wee little baggie, and I was too embarrassed to say no when we were exchanging money. The same forager-market-guy had also just gotten his hands on some wild leeks which were cheaper, apparently collected by First Nations people. This recipe was getting better and better. As long as the sweetbreads didn’t suck. And as long as my husband didn’t find out I spent $20 on dried mushrooms and a handful of leeks. Don’t worry, I paid cash (untraceable).

IMG_6392 IMG_6394 IMG_6398

4. I started soaking stuff. The mushroom instructions ($3 per word) said to soak in cold water for 5-40 minutes, but even at the end of 40 I found that some were stiff in the middle. I waited. At the same time, I soaked the sweetbreads, which need to be in salt water for 4-6 hours, changing the water a few times.

IMG_6399 IMG_6401

5. I put the kids to bed. Now it was dark, which sucks for food pictures, but even more importantly, the dark brings out the raccoons. I hate raccoons, and I planned to grill. I knew I’d end up arm wrestling them for the sweetbreads. I survived only by using my wily evasion tactics (tongs carefully brandished as a potential jabbing and/or smacking weapon) and I accomplished my mission.

6. Here is the rest of the recipe.

Wild mushroom and leek cream sauce

  • 1Tbsp butter
  • Handful of wild leeks, using whites and light greens only. Chop.
  • 2C chicken stock
  • Mushrooms soaked in cold chicken stock 1 hour, and then chopped (soaking in hot will leave them chewy) **Reserve mushroom liquid
  • 1/2C dry white wine
  • 3/4C 18% cream
  • Pepper

Directions: Melt butter in skillet over med heat. Sautee leeks, 2 mins. Add drained, chopped mushrooms. Sautee until fragrant, 3 mins. Add wine and simmer until nearly gone. Add cream and pepper and reduce briefly to desired consistency.

Grilled Sweetbreads

  • Sweetbreads to serve 2 people, soaked in 2C water with 2tsp salt, 4-6 hours, changing water a few times
  • Mushroom liquids from earlier soak
  • 3Tbsp butter, melted for basting

Directions: Remove membrane from sweetbreads as best you can (it’s a bit like the membrane on the back of ribs, but more delicate, and so annoying). Bring mushroom liquids to a boil and add sweetbreads. Turn a few times until slightly more solid and opaque, about 3 minutes. Remove and brush with liquid butter. Grill until more firm, about 5 minutes per side, basting once if you choose to taunt the raccoons with your presence. Top sweetbreads with mushroom cream sauce.

IMG_6408

Results: Apologies for the picture – no natural light when I finally finished this recipe at 10. But yum! I expected to be disappointed, but I ate the entire bag of $15 mushrooms in the sauce. The leeks were extra special too, so be sure to find or grow some. This was a very simple, quick sauce to make with limited ingredients. I also ate a lot of the sweetbreads, which tasted like meaty scallops. I would order them at a restaurant, and might even cook them again. Who knew? Rating: A very surprised 3 yums

Question: Which gut meats would you dare to try?