It’s Joanna’s virtual shower! And a bunch of dangerous baby foods!

Today’s post is an extra special one. You see, my Internet friends, Joanna and her husband Mike from way on over there at http://midwesternbite.com/, are expecting a baby. So sweetheart Aly from way on over there at fudgingahead.wordpress.com (also expecting a baby) suggested we throw Joanna a virtual baby shower. Fun! And this way, we don’t even have to have a bunch of old women yelling, “Save the bows, save the bows, bikini time!” Score. So welcome to your shower Joanna!!!

I’m new to virtual baby showers, but from what I gather, everyone surprises Joanna with their posts at the same time, usually with a recipe or something special and baby related. Since my blog rep is to try out weird, creative foods, I made a special trip over to the weird food Mecca, T&T, on a hunt for some interesting foods that were baby sized. Or actual babies. I wouldn’t put it past T&T. Anyone ever read Jonathan Swift, circa 1729? Anyone, anyone? Bueller…

“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”

Right now everyone reading is thinking, “Who invited her.” No worries, there will never be any actual cannibalism on this blog.

But I did find lots of interesting foods that were babyish. Baby-sized, mostly. Let’s start with the fruits. First up, we have a picture of my cat Rudy lounging with a baby watermelon. Rudy is not impressed, if you couldn’t tell, but his needs have kind of taken a back seat in recent years. Joanna, this watermelon will be about the size of the baby you are about to give birth to, if you’re lucky. I birthed two watermelons, each with no drugs. My kids are not nearly grateful enough. I’ll be including a watermelon recipe at the end of my gripping commentary, so hang tight.

Baby watermelon

Next, some baby honey mandarins. They taste pretty much like regular mandarins, but they’re cuter. Cut them into quarters for kids and they gobble them up. The mandarins are pictured with one of my two ungrateful watermelons.

Baby mandarins

The watermelons are cute, though, no?

Next up, some baby bananas. You see, when a mommy and daddy banana love each other…

Baby bananas

And now let’s move on to more dangerous baby foods (although I wouldn’t suggest feeding them to actual babies unless pureed). I haven’t cooked many of them yet – feel free to suggest recipes. My next number of posts will grow from this one, highlighting a few of the following.

Here are some baby dried shrimp. I’ve always seen these in China town and wanted to experiment with them. They’re small enough to be water bugs. Sea monkeys, if you will.

Small dried shrimp

Next, some lotus rootlets. I had never heard the word “rootlet,” but as soon as I did I was sold.

Lotus rootlets

And now for two things that I might actually bring to a shower. I did once bring biltong to my cousin’s baby shower, but I sheepishly snuck it back out again from the pinkified pinkness without a reveal. Anyway, I grabbed these cute red bean bunny buns. My kids never would have gone for a red bean bun, but they gobbled the red bean bunny buns. Easy – steam for 15 minutes.

Red bean buns

Just be careful how you plate them…

red bean bunny buns

And I also got some short ribs. You might argue with me that “short” is not exactly babyish, but have you ever seen a tall baby? I think not.

Short ribs

I decided to marinade the ribs to prep for dinner tomorrow, and chose a recipe from “Weber’s Real Grilling,” which I just mentioned on Joanna’s most recent post where she discussed her cookbook obsession and asked for our favourite cookbooks. Funny story. I went to one of my three cookbook shelves hunting for Real Grilling, and I started to get panicky because it seemed to be missing.

Cookbooks

I hunted for it for a while, only to find out that I had taken it off the shelf two minutes prior to when I lost it, and that it was on the counter in front of me. Cooking with wine when there isn’t any wine in your cooking has its drawbacks, people.

Funnier story. Looking at that picture made me realize how many Jamie Oliver cookbooks I have. I like Jamie Oliver. I mean, I really like Jamie Oliver. Go ahead and judge, but who else am I going to go for, Emeril? Although secretly I do think he’s kind of cute too. Anyway, once I had a steamy dream with Jamie Oliver. Right when the dream started to get interesting, I stopped Jamie Oliver and said, “Hey, if you’re cooking with hot peppers, do you throw the seeds in too?” We all have our priorities.

Who invited her??

I’ll finish with the Weber recipe for the short rib marinade, as well as a simple recipe for watermelon mint salad. But before I do, I want to say a hearty congratulations to Joanna and Mike. As I’m sure you’ve learned from Sweetie Petey, kids are amazing. I wish you both the greatest happiness with your family, and you, Joanna, the best of luck with welcoming your watermelon into the world. From our family to yours, here is a picture of some pizza love we had for dinner tonight that we’ll send your way (the love, not the pizza, unfortunately). I value your long distance friendship, and look forward to hearing about your kid adventures!

And for anyone else reading this, please comment with some cute parenting advice for Joanna. 

pizza love

Mint watermelon salad with feta (serves 4)

  • 1 baby watermelon, cubed
  • 1 English cucumber, diced
  • Good hunk of feta cheese
  • Handful of mint
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Pepper

Prepare everything, adding mint and feta just before serving.

Bourbon marinade

Combine the following ingredients. Makes about 1 cup.

  • 1/2C bourbon
  • 1/4C ketchup
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Who knows? A giveaway!

So here’s a first.

My loyal fans know I cook weird stuff. I find it, slay it (or at least charge it, usually with the “tap,” if you must know), research it, cook it, and then feed it to some lucky victim … I mean … friend or family member.

There’s a certain part of this process that gives me great joy, besides watching the terrified faces of my victims when trying an odd food creation. The grocery checker part, prior to the tap, is always lots of fun. You see, weird foods aren’t often labelled well. For some reason, they don’t have stickers. They’re usually all jumbled up in the same section as all the other weird foods, so even when they do happen to have a header card thingy, you can never be sure what is labelling what. Most times I take a picture of the name sitting above the weird food display for two reasons. 1. I’m pretty sure the memory section of my brain is the size of mulberry, so if the label is right I’ll be needing it when I get home  2. The grocery checker often says, “Um, what is this?” and because my memory is the size of a mulberry as already mentioned, I show them what I think the weird food is and then I don’t have to store the odd probable-name in the mulberry.

Ninety percent of the time, the checker person says, “Um, no, it’s not that. Don’t you know what it is? You’re buying it, right?”

Then I greatly enjoy saying, “No, I don’t know what it is. I like buying foods when I have no clue what they are.”

Then checker person says something along the lines of, “Vern to cash four please. Vern,” into their microphone, and that store’s inventory expert food nerd, who I have just anointed, “Vern,” shows up and says, very matter-of-factly, “It’s a blah blah blah.”

Checker person does a dance of joy because they can take my tap and chug ahead with their line, I make a note of the chosen name in my phone (mulberry), and the rest of the weird food order of business can proceed.

Until the other day, when there was a first. I nabbed two of these:

Mysterious food

Weird food 1-IMG_6006

To my great delight, the Vern was called in, and he/she said, “That’s a lotus root.”

I Googled lotus roots, and here’s what the insides look like:

Thanks justhungry.com

Thanks justhungry.com

And here’s what the insides of my veggie and/or fruit looks like:

Odd foodAnd folks, coincidentally, for this, my one hundredth blog post, for the first time, I’ve come across a food that I can’t figure out what it is. I’ve Googled until my Google finger was sore. I’ve sorted through pictures. I’ve searched, “Kind of like an artichoke,” because it peels like one, and “tropical edible tree fruit” and “common South Asian edibles,” and everything else I can think of. And I’m coming up empty.

So I cooked it up anyway. Butter and garlic, can’t go wrong with butter and garlic. And I ate it. I tried some raw, and some cooked. And then I left some leftovers on a plate on the table in case I dropped dead at my son’s swimming lesson and Dr. House’s people had to break in and do an investigation (those guys are smart, but I don’t think they’d know what it was either).

And I created a contest and giveaway, in honour of my one hundredth blog post, and also in honour of a really sweet review and giveaway my blog friends at Midwesternbite.com are doing for my YA romantic comedy novel. I’m really taken aback by the support they’ve given me. So here is how this contest is going to go:

1. You need to follow @midwesternbite on Twitter or subscribe to www.midwesternbite.com to be eligible. As per the really great support they’ve provided to me. While you’re at it, if you’re a chick, go subscribe to www.thepurplefig.com too – more BFFs, and you’ll love the stories. Hey, and don’t forget about me either! That’s a lot of subscribing, but I know you can do it.

2. You need to take a guess at what the heck this weird food is and tell me in the comments. I’ll give further observations to help with your research after I finish the contest rules.

3. If the weird food has already been guessed in the comments by someone else, you need to provide one serving suggestion in the comments. The first person to guess what the food is will get TWO ballots to win, and everyone else who follows the rules will get one.

4. Sorry, but you’re only eligible if you live in North America. I still love you if you live across an ocean or way down south, but it’s expensive to mail crap to you.

And as for the crap that’s getting mailed… (Kidding, this is one of my favourite cookbooks, obviously)…

odd_bits_cover_l

And now for the further details about this odd fruit or vegetable:

1. Apparently I’m not allergic to it, nor is it lethal, neither cooked, nor uncooked.

2. Its protective leaves are kind of like corn husks. Which might make them husks and not leaves. You tell me.

3. I think it’s some kind of super food, because I’m still awake and it’s after 10pm.

4. Its inner leaves are soft and downy, like a monkey’s paw. Or a kitten’s paw. Or a kangaroo’s paw. (I Googled each of these and it’s not that either, FYI)

5. It goes well with beer. And wine. This, I can say for sure.

6. It kind of tastes like a cross between an almond and an artichoke heart. I Googled almondichoke, but no dice.

7. It helps with virility. Wanna know how I know? Ha ha, not really, but I’ve been waiting all day to make that joke.

 

So that’s it!! Best of luck! And if it’s something really silly, like a carrot, you may never see this post again (and it won’t just be the memory part of my brain that’s the mulberry). Oh, and the contest closes March 1, 2014.

Apres School, and the Sapodilla

Know what I’m not any good at? Skiing. But it’s not for lack of trying.

Okay, maybe it actually is for lack of trying. When I was in high school, my friend decided to teach me how to ski. We went on a bus trip to a hill, she taught me to do some turns, and then she got bored on the little hills and decided I was ready to graduate (you could argue that all hills in Ontario are little, and you would most definitely do this if you are reading this from the West coast, but they weren’t little to me). I went with her, but each time I lined up for the lift, I thought to myself, “Hm, I wonder if I’ll die this time.” I wasn’t good enough to keep up with the turns and I quickly picked up speed, so my strategy was just to lock my knees and yell at people to get out of the way. Thankfully, it worked that day, but I swore to be grateful that I had walked away with a pristine neck and never to try that again.

Years later, I took a few lessons, and by a few I mean five. I found this cold, and not particularly enjoyable. They never granted me the privilege of poles.

And then I married a snow bunny.

Thanks blog.lakechamplainchocolates.com

Thanks blog.lakechamplainchocolates.com

That wasn’t him (but it might as well have been).

Thanks swoonworthy.net

Thanks swoonworthy.net

That wasn’t him either. Sorry about that, went on a bit of a Googling tangent. I’m back now. And you’re welcome, ladies.

Anyway, my point is that although my husband would love for me to be good at skiing, it does not happen to be one of my strengths. He is still encouraging me to learn, but I find it at waste of time and money at this point, and also it completely stresses me out. So although I love learning new things, as far as skiing goes, I’ve drawn a line in the snow and said that I have no need to learn to hurtle my body down a hill at high speeds. There are days this makes me feel like a quitter, and a jerk for not being more optimistic and team-player-ish. And I know there will be great numbers of ski trips in my future, because my kids are already becoming great little snow bunnikins. But now we’re finally coming around to my dangerous food point.

I am very adept at apres ski.

Sapodilla

That’s my friend Jackie. We did zero skiing the day she posed with these, but it was frigid cold out, so my sapodilla smoothies with brandy went down just as nicely as if we had tamed some Alpine slopes (is that the lingo? I wouldn’t know). As with apres ski, I am also very good at apres school. You don’t need to actually go to school to do apres school. In general, I think there should be more “apres” activities where you don’t take part in the activity. Life is too short not to celebrate not taking part in something.

Anyway. Sapodilla fruit.

Sapodilla

Thanks tropicalfruitnursery.com

Thanks tropicalfruitnursery.com

They taste a lot like a brown sugar coated pear, and their sap was the original source of chewing gum. I highly recommend them for snacking on straight up after every activity you’re not participating in. But even better, you can take this website’s advice and make brandy smoothies on a blistery cold winter’s day. (Or you could try a brandy smoothie with another soft sweet fruit, like a peach or even ripe persimmon if for some odd reason you can’t find sapodilla).

Brandy sapodilla smoothie (serves two)

1 cup milk

1 Tbsp honey

1/2C brandy (I increased the brandy from the pitiful 1Tbsp the original recipe called for)

1 cup sapodilla pulp

4 cups ice

Place the ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.

Results: A great winter warm-up (although it’s mostly cold). This is tropical snow in a drink. I would buy sapodilla if I came across them again. Rating: 2 Yums

I’ll close with another picture of Jackie where I messed up depth of field (I played with some effects with it too). See Cinnamon, I really need to practice this month’s Snaptoit photo challenge on depth of field. Thanks for answering my question!!

Wait, instead I’ll close with a question for everyone else (it’s my blog and I’ll pivot on a whim if I want to). Make me feel better – name one thing in your life that you have given up on learning to do, but that you think to yourself, “I’m actually fine and dandy not to know that, thanks.” This is like the anti-New-Year’s-Resolution.

Cheers to winter!Jackie2

The Bison Saskatoon Burger-wich

Oh, the burger nerd is going to be maaaaad at me.

You see, the burger nerd is into burgers. I mean, really into burgers. We’re talking blog posts about McDonald’s developments and burger horoscopes and zombie and cat burgers. Oh, and a gajillion creative burger recipes. So when some ground bison smiled (snarled?) at me from behind the butcher’s counter I knew he was the perfect person to bring in as backup.

He moved his burger to his non-typing hand and replied promptly to my tweet asking for bison burger ideas. I took him up on his very first suggestion, which was to develop a theme around First Nations foods. He suggested a burger on bannock bread with Saskatoon berry mayo and dandelion greens. Amazing. I had obviously gone to the right guy.

I was determined to find Saskatoon berries – not just because Saskatoon is such a rockin place, known for its… wow, I can’t even find a claim to fame for Saskatoon. The best I can do is that they are leaders in potash, which sounds a lot more interesting than it is. Please, someone reply and tell me what’s awesome about Saskatoon. But I was determined to find them because I had never tried them and that’s my thing. Turns out they’re high in antioxidants and other anti-aging stuff. Saskatoon berries will be my Christmas gift to my wrinkles. For my 10th anniversary with them they’re getting botox shhhhh.

Anyway, I Googled to find Saskatoon berries forever and was about to pay four times their price in shipping (because I LOVE a dangerous food quest, and this is not sarcasm), only to find out that a vendor at the market at the end of my street sells a compote they make with them.

Saskatoon berry compote

Plus, that vendor is extremely chatty and an expert at foraging, so I walked away with two other dangerous foods. Things were getting better and better.

Until tonight, when I tried to make the burgers. I thought I had time to pull it all together but then I was reminded that it was hockey night for my guinea pig, I mean, husband. So I started the bannock, but ended up having to use plain ol’ bread, which I thought would technically make it a “sandwich” rather than a “burger,” but burger nerd says the only criteria for a burger are ground meat and a patty shape. I don’t know, man. Check out my picture and tell me that doesn’t look like a sandwich.

Bison burger

Don’t get me wrong, it was a great sandwich. Burger nerd is going to be PO’d though, because I’m sure this picture will make him have to edit his post and add some carb criteria.

Also I couldn’t find dandelion, which was odd, but seemed to align with the rest of the karma for this burger project. So I used kale, because I had some. Also I later found out that the bannock I made (but didn’t use) is the Scottish bannock, which is like a crumpet, rather than the First Nations fried bread type bannock.

But the good news in all this is that I ate an insane quantity of bison sandwich, and it was delicious. And my little guy ate a ton too (but without the sauce). Thanks burger nerd! It didn’t exactly work out as we first pictured but happy tummies means a job well done in my books. (The guinea pig liked his too, from what I could tell in the 20 seconds it took him to scarf it down).

So here’s how to do it.

First Nations inspired bison burger

  • Bread. Or Scottish bannock. Or First Nations bannock, which I’ll try another day, maybe over a campfire
  • Ground bison, enough to make patties to serve your party
  • Seasoning, made of 1Tbsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder (per Burger Nerd’s advice)
  • 2 Tbsp mayo (I didn’t make mine from scratch)
  • 1 tsp Saskatoon berry compote
  • Kale or dandelion greens
  • Olive oil

Directions: Heat the barbecue to high heat. It’s cold here, so I let ours rip for at least 15 minutes. Brush grill with olive oil.

Form balls of meat.

Balls of meat

Put them on the grill, squish them flat with a spatula, then sprinkle with seasoning. Flip when cooked and season the other side.

Mix mayo with compote. Rescue burgers from grill when finished, and dress them with mayo, kale, and pitiful bread.

Enjoy!

Results: 4 Yums. This was a super enjoyable burger for me. If you can’t get hold of Saskatoon berries, make sure to flavour your mayo with another jam, or cranberry sauce. Why haven’t I always been flavouring my mayo? This post just upped my game in that department forever after. And I loved Saskatoon berries. Think redder blueberries.

Question: What is your favourite burger?

Fried green tomatoes

I’ve been kind of procrastinating this post, so let me explain why it’s tardy. Weeks ago, I went to The Royal Winter Fair and found a dangerous food there. The Fair is pretty cool – basically small town Canada comes to the T.dot with their animals and there are contests and races and butter sculptures…

Thanks royalfair.org

Thanks royalfair.org

…and it’s a rural good time in the city. It’s called “The Royal” Winter Fair because King George the 5th called it that in 1920. When I was little I went with my aunt and I was kind of shy, but I quietly said to her, “Some day I might want to milk a cow.” My aunt was and is very unshy, so she went and grabbed a farmer there and said, “THIS GIRL WANTS TO MILK A COW.” I was mortified, of course. The cow had its milking machine on, so the farmer let me pat its udder, but I still haven’t done the legit milkmaid thing with the teats, even though my husband’s family runs a dairy farm in Northern Ireland with almost 100 cows that I’ve visited at least twice. Maybe next time I should bring my aunt to speak up for me. Milking bucket lists.

Anyway. Neither butter nor milk were my dangerous foods from the fair. While I was wandering around I saw this, and said to the guy manning the produce booth, “Hey, I need to have that.”

Fried green tomatoes

We don’t really eat green tomatoes around here, so I thought that would be the perfect dangerous food – such a clever idea making them into a kit. “The guy,” turned out to be Peter Quiring, the CEO of Nature Fresh Farms, a 67 acre greenhouse complex where they grow 7 million kilos of peppers and tomatoes and probably other fruit/veg every year, recycling their waste water and doing other amazing cool stuff. Here’s an article about them in The Canadian Business Journal. Feels like I met a famous person. Shouldn’t farmers be famous? Most important job, no? So I asked him if I could buy a box, and he said they weren’t really selling them, but when I said it was for my dangerous food blog, he was happy to give them and also threw in these

Hot peppers

A pretty little hot pepper assortment that were a little too pretty – I told my little guy not to touch them, but for some reason he couldn’t resist and took a chomp out of one which resulted in an hour long crying fit. Was it mean of me to photograph his frustrated agony?

Hot tongue

That’s what you get when you don’t listen to mama. A scalding hot tongue.

But back to the fried green tomatoes. I procrastinated blogging about them because I expected to Google and find “Southern delicacy, blah blah,” and that didn’t seem like a very interesting post to me. But it turns out that there’s big debate about whether eating green tomatoes is even Southern. The movie that we all remember (but that I never saw) resulted in bushels still being fried up by the Irondale/Whistlestop Cafe, but the “delicacy” may have originated elsewhere to make use of unripe tomatoes that were useless after vines died. The passion about their history is kind of interesting, and Robert F. Moss has already blogged about it better than I could ever do. Don’t skip the comments.

I just cared that they were tasty. This won’t be an overly complex recipe, because all I did with the kit was “add water.” But generally fried green tomatoes are made with a cornmeal batter and fried only half-submerged in oil. Google for your fav recipe if you’d like to give it a try and can’t find a Nature Fresh kit. The results taste kind of crisp and tart, almost vinegary. I served them with pickled red onions that I learned about in The Purple Fig Mag, which I highly recommend keeping in your fridge to sprinkle on anything that needs a kick.

Green tomato

Sliced green tomatoes

Frying tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes and onions

And while at first I thought I didn’t have much to say about tomatoes, now I just can’t stop blabbing. Nature Fresh Farms is in Leamington, the tomato capital of North America, where Heinz gets much of its tomato mojo. They have a tomato festival every year, that I actually attended once. Gotta love agricultural festivals. Let’s hope not all ketchup is made like this by the tomato princesses.

Thanks leamingtonpost.blogspot.com

Thanks leamingtonpost.blogspot.com

And did you know that ketchup is the only condiment that the human palate agrees on? There are hundreds of mustards, tomato sauces, hot sauces. But with Heinz, there are no other kinds. Here is a very interesting food marketing article about ketchup for you.

And because I just can’t stop talking today, I’ll leave you with Uma Thurman’s joke from Pulp Fiction:

Three tomatoes are walkin’ down the street.
Papa Tomato, Mama Tomato and Baby Tomato.
Baby Tomato starts lagging behind, and Papa Tomato gets really angry.
Goes back and squishes him and says….

UPDATE: Aw MAN! When I told my husband about this post (he only reads my stuff if he is figured prominently or something) he asked if I had heard that Heinz was closing its Leamington plant. ROTTEN tomatoes all around. Here is an article describing that decision and touching on its impact.

How do ya like them grapples?

Let me tell you a little story. When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much… And the mommy looks like this

Grapple

And the daddy looks like this

Thanks ihomeremedy.net

Thanks ihomeremedy.net

After a little bit of magic and nine months of waiting and wishing and dreaming, this is born:

Grapples

Whoa, grapple quadruplets! That’s right, these may look like apples, but they’re actually “grapples,” – apples that are flavoured like grapes. When I picked them up I thought they were some kind of GMO masterpiece, but I bought them anyway, because avoiding a cool frankenfood would be kind of hypocritical since I don’t insist on organic all the time anyway. Yes, sometimes I wake up screaming in the middle of the night worried about frankenfoods attacking my insides, but what can you do. (Except pay twice the price for your food which I don’t.)

But it turns out that grapples are just regular apples infused with grape flavouring, so not even GMO. Tallyho!! (Needed something celebratory that rhymed, don’t judge). We took some fun pictures of them for my next Snaptoit photo challenge submission, and then gobbled most straight up.

William Tell 1-IMG_5429 1-IMG_5430 1-IMG_5432

The kids and my husband loved the grapples. They smell like deliciously floral grapes, and taste much the same, but of course the crunch and juiciness of the apples are unchanged. They disappeared so quickly that I considered just telling you about them rather than trying them in a recipe, but I did manage to hide a couple and make this…

Grapple Cake in a Brown Sugar Glaze

I modified a recipe originally printed in “Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations by Nancie McDermot” but found here. You can substitute apples for grapples if for some odd reason you can’t find them near you. :)

Makes one 9×13 slab cake

Ingredients:

  • 2C wheat flour
  • 1C all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2C butter, melted
  • 1/2C olive oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2C sugar
  • About 3 grapples, chopped, to make 3 cups

For brown sugar topping:

  • 1C packed brown sugar
  • 6 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 350. Grease your 9×13 pan. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl (flours, salt, baking soda, cinnamon). In a separate bowl, mix eggs with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, butter, oil, and sugar. Mix well. Add flour until just blended in. Fold in grapples.

Apple cake batter

Pour batter into pan and spread to edges.

Grapple batter

Appease any kids who are milling about looking hopeful with a taste of the batter. Mine call it “the yumminess,” as in, “Hey mom, is it time for the yumminess yet?”

The yumminess

Bake for about 40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Before the cake has cooled, prepare the topping by combining the ingredients in a small saucepan over med-high heat, stirring while it comes to a boil. Boil for about 3 minutes, then pour over the top of the cake.

Brown sugar topping

Allow it to cool completely, and then enjoy!

Apple cake

Results: Would you believe that the grapples still tasted grapey even after they’d been baked? And the cake recipe was lovely – very light, with a super sweet buttery topping. You really can’t lose if you cook something with butter and sugar, can you? Rating: 3 Yums. I’d make the cake again, and my little guy has already turned his nose up at regular apples, saying he only eats grapples now. He also often specifies that he only eats quail or duck eggs. Is my weird food blog going to be the source of the stories he’ll tell about how odd his childhood was? At least it will be oddly delicious!

And on Snaptoit, the amazing Cinnamon’s photo challenge. This month, she educated us about lenses, and asked that we submit a photo using our favourite. I shot all the pictures above using my fav, which is a 50mm 1:1.8. I find it does wonders for food shots, giving that dreamy delicious look quite easily, and also that it illuminates faces very nicely. Hop on over and submit to her challenges yourself!

A dangerous triple play – Amchur, mulberries and a gargantuan avocado. Salad.

Forgive me if you sense some pent up frustration behind this post today. Phil is away, so I’ve been single parenting. No biggie there, but when that’s going on, I have to reward myself with a tad more end-of-day relaxation. My kids go to bed pretty late, so when I’m solo and 9:15 rolls around and I’m finally free, I have my little performance bonuses all ready to go. Glass of wine. Check. PJs. Check. Popcorn. Good to go. Movie or series on Netflix… Where’s the Apple TV remote? Where the @#$#*& is the Apple remote?

My sweet little daughter hid it, that’s where the Apple remote is. You see, today’s 6-year-olds are tech savvy, but only, like, 64% tech savvy. So she knows how to manhandle the remote like a pro, but she doesn’t completely understand when you can pause TV and when it’s live and what happens when the TV turns off. Because, like, doesn’t every show just come on whenever you want it? Soon. But she’s learned that that’s not exactly the case in every circumstance. So she figures if she hides the remote no one will touch her show and she can pick up where she left off.

Yes, I tried to wake her up to ask her, but she wasn’t having any of it, and if this makes me a bad mother so be it. I needed to watch the next episode of Homeland, even though I’m not that far into it and still wondering whether or not I like the main couple and whether or not the show stereotypes and fearmongers in a big way. But I need to watch it to decide these things.

So I’m blogging in a disgruntled way instead. Lucky you!

And now for another quick story, this time about the dangerous food I tried tonight. Yesterday I visited The Spice Trader, a new shop that just opened in my awesome hood. When I saw the sign go up I wondered what spicy joys it could bring me that I couldn’t find at The Bulk Barn. Love the Bulk Barn. But one quick visit showed me what was different – these chicks know their spices, and their cooking (and they have an insane variety of grainy goodnesses).  I explained that I blog weird food, and the owner immediately waltzed me from tin to tin explaining about rare or odd flavourings and what they could be used for. I chose two tins, and they didn’t even charge me for them, which, like a drug dealer giving a freebee on a gateway drug, will obviously have me hooked on her place for life. They do mail orders. Just sayin.

So I’ll keep one spice I chose a secret for a future post, but the other is called “Amchur,” (also Amchoor) and is made by drying and grinding green mangoes.

AmchurIt adds an acidic taste, and so can be used in recipes instead of lime, which is fabulous, because lime is a common ingredient and I don’t always have one on hand.  It worked like a dream in the salad dressing below.

I’ve been overdosing (keeping with the drug theme, for some unknown reason) on buying odd foods lately, so you may be seeing a lot more posts and I’ll be seeing a lot less Homeland. Yesterday just a few doors down from The Spice Trader, I found some dried mulberries. Yet another delicious superfood…

Round and round the mulberry bush

Round and round the mulberry bush

And today while I wasted time at a sketchy Chinese grocery store during the remote control thief’s gymnastics class, I found an enormous avocado.

Avocado

And these things.

Stick food

If you can tell me what those saber branches are I’ll send you a prize. No, seriously, I don’t know what they are either and I’m hoping you can help out before I start gnawing on them.

So here’s what I did with the amchur, hulk avocado, and mulberries. I’ll save the stick food for a day I’m feeling panda-ish.

Shrimp, Avocado, Mango salad with Curry Cream Dressing and Mulberries

(all portions, except for dressing, are according to personal taste. My mom always asks measures of components for salads I’ve made, and my answer is “no idea! Just go with your hungry gut”)

  • Shrimp, defrosted and peeled
  • 2Tbsp olive oil (for frying the shrimp)
  • sprinkle of powdered ginger, or 1Tbsp peeled, finely diced ginger root
  • Lettuce – I used romaine because I happened to have some
  • Avocado, sliced
  • Mango, peeled, pitted, and sliced
  • Dried mulberries (substitute with dried cranberries or other small dried fruit)

Curry Cream Dressing (should serve 2 entree salads very comfortably)

  • 2Tbsp light mayonnaise
  • 4Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 4Tbsp cream
  • 2Tbsp curry powder (This gave strong curry flavour, which I enjoyed. Consider reducing to 1Tbsp if you prefer a more muted taste)
  • 1/2 tsp amchur powder

Directions: Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil and fry shrimp with ginger a few minutes until pink. Assemble salad ingredients over lettuce, including shrimp. Whisk dressing ingredients together and pour over.

Results

Mango shrimp salad in curry cream

This salad was completely delicious. There’s nothing I hate more than a boring salad – unless, of course, I’m paying $15 for a boring salad – and this one would definitely be worth some coinage. My kids liked snacking on the mulberries, which tasted sweet and floral. The avocado was surprisingly sweet too (for an avocado). My expectations for the hulk-cado were low, because generally with food, the smaller versions are tastier (peaches, strawberries, lambs) but king kong cados must be the exception.

The curry cream dressing was by far my favourite part of the salad, though. Make it using lime if you can’t be bothered to contact The Spice Trader for the amchur (just do it!), but make it and serve it often. It was tart and acidic while still comforting and spicy. It would go very well with a chicken salad too, or to jazz up a boring sandwich. Rating: 4 Yums

Question: In your house, is it called a clicker, remote, converter, or channel changer? And how crazy does it make you to lose it?

Feeling crabby? How to cook crabapples

Yay! I found crab apples at our local mini market this week! Love when a dangerous food’s name gives me the opportunity to go off on a tangent.

Crabapples

 

Here is a shortlist of a fraction of the things that can make me feel crabby, followed by a recipe for some sweet-tempered crab apple butter, originally borrowed from some Mennonites (tweaked version below). Please contribute to my list of crabbiness catalysts with your own in the comments.

Things that can make Ann crabby

1. Horseflies, and/or Deerflies. Mosquitoes also make Ann crabby, but in a one-to-one bug cage match, a horsefly or deerfly would win hands down. Unfortunately, mosquitoes rarely travel alone, so let’s just leave this bullet point at “bugs in general, especially those that bite.”

2. Taxes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite socialist, I just hate submitting my tax return. I don’t even prepare it myself. But I hate preparing it for the preparer. I might just be a nightmare to my friends and family for the whole month of April as a result. Are taxes due after April? I may have repressed the month of April.

3. 3:00-5:30am. At first I was going to say, “When my cat wakes me up in the night, because if it’s not kids waking me up I’m crabby extreme,” but then I realized that even if my kids wake me up I’m pretty crabby extreme, so basically it’s just those hours on the clock, generally. If I’m awake then, I’m crabby, no matter what the circumstances.

4. Overcooked meat.

5. My kids say I’m crabby when I have a ponytail in. I actually wear a ponytail quite a bit. Maybe it’s because I was awake between 3-5:30 and so in the true morning I’m too tired to blow dry my hair. My kids might have a point.

6. A shopping trip to Sephora. I feel like all those eensy weensy jars of eye creams for $100 come from the same huge vat of sour cream in the back room, and the pretty little chicks pushing 5 of them on me drives me nuts. But don’t worry. I’ve been boycotting cosmetics for years, socking the cash away so that when they come up with a way to buy a brand new face I’ll be first in line.

Thanks rapgenius.com

Thanks rapgenius.com

And… now we’re getting into too much info territory. Here’s a tasty early fall recipe for you, using the very dangerous crabapple (in saying “dangerous,” here, I’m referring to my theme rather than actual danger, except for the whole cyanide in the seeds thing. Just don’t eat too many of those. And keep the crab apples away from pets, mm kay?)

Crab apple

Mennonite Crab Apple Butter (serves 6)

  • About 30-40 crab apples
  • 1.5C sugar
  • 1C water
  • 1Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2tsp allspice
  • 1/4tsp ground cloves

Directions: Boil apples in a pot of water, 45 minutes. Squash them (using sieve, if you like) and throw out any hard bits left – there will be a hard seed pod in each mushy apple. Here’s where I stray from the Mennonites. Throw all that good pulp and those skins into your slow cooker and add the remaining ingredients, making sure there’s enough water (about a cup) so that the slop is mobile and won’t stick to the bottom. Turn slow cooker on high and let it go for a few more hours, finally boiling off any excess water on the stove if you’re looking for a thicker butter.

Boiling butter

(Know why I used a slow cooker? Because house fires also make me crabby, and I’m not Mennonite enough to watch the pot for hours).

Results: I served the crab apple butter over pork chops,

Crab apple butter and porkand while it was like a sweet apple butter, it also had a bite to it that got into your cheeks, a bit like tannins in red wine. Pretty cool. If I had a crab apple tree, you could be sure I’d make this a tradition for every fall, and I might even learn how to can it. Smells up the whole house, in a good way. Rating: 3 Yums

Question: Let’s hear it! What makes you crabby? 

 

Luscious lychees

Great title, if I do say so myself, except that this recipe did not include a single solitary little lychee.

But let’s start on a note of congratulations! For me! I won fourth prize in The Egg Award! Yay!

My Scottish foodie friends at http://justlovefoodleith.wordpress.com/ encouraged me to enter, and I’ve had tons of fun since the day I did (here’s the recipe in case you missed it). Congrats to Vivienne Aldred, Tony Singh, and Dani Garcia – I’ll make it my mission to try all of your recipes. Did I mention my husband has always been called “The egg man?” Legend has it when he was a kid he would only eat eggs and hotdogs. He’ll be the perfect customer for my recreations of these contestants’ eggspertise, anyway. Hey, and thanks judges and organizers! It completely freaks me out that real professionals tried my recipe and liked it! I’m already looking forward to next year’s contest.

But now, on to today’s non-lychee post. I bought a big bag of lychees

Thanks thaifood.about.com

Thanks thaifood.about.com

to experiment with a few weeks ago. We sampled a few, but then I got busy with life and had to toss them before I could figure out what to do with them. The same thing had happened a few months before, with “dragon eyes,” or longan.

Thanks bestofmalaysia.50webs.com

Thanks bestofmalaysia.50webs.com

Because learning how to prep strange foods can take a few minutes of research, procrastination can needle its way in, and then you’re not quite sure if you might poison people with your strange food because you don’t know what it looks like when it’s bad, so… there are occasional casualties. I’m sure I did great things with the time I used to procrastinate, though, don’t worry. Anyone into Downton Abbey?

I had tasted the raw longan and lychees before they met our compost bin, so I quickly learned they were similar. Longan(s?) are slightly ickier, in my opinion – more perfumy? Both kind of gave me the creeps for some reason. Too pungent. I couldn’t go beyond eating one or two. Then along came rambutans.

IMG_4815Oh, my sweet hairy redheaded Thai strangers.

IMG_4817

Rambutans are slightly larger than lychees and longans, but they’re all related – they all taste sweet with the consistency of a grape, encased in a kind of pod shell.

IMG_4818The rambutans were easiest to snack on, in my opinion, having somehow shaken any kind of aftertaste. If you manage to find them, totally go for it. Gingers are rare, so you have to snap them up while you have the chance (whaaa? Apologies, it just worked for my hairy fruit joke and is not autobiographical in any way).

On the advice of this blog, I turned my rambutans into a tropical pancake sauce, because it looked yummy, seemed kid-friendly, and allows me to get on my soap box about making your own pancakes instead of using Aunt Jemima mix. Ever read those unpronounceable ingredients? I bet you always have flour, eggs and the like kicking around, and it really doesn’t take any more time to throw those together than it does to pour mix out of a box. The pain with pancakes is the heating and flipping, and you have to do that anyway. Just sayin.

Coconut mango rambutan “Tropical Pancake Sauce”

(Substitute lychee or dragon eyes for rambutan if needed – you can often find canned lychee)

  • 5-8 rambutans (about 1.5-2 handfuls of rambutan/lychee/dragon eye fruit)
  • 1/2 mango, ripe, in pieces
  • 1/2 can coconut milk
  • Simple syrup, if desired (1/2C sugar mixed with 1/2C water, boiled to mix, then cooled)

1. Prepare fruit, peeling rambutans away from hairy casings and pits. Try to remove brown almond-like skin from white flesh of the rambutan if you can – this came through in my puree, which wasn’t evil, but would have been smoother without. Peel mango and cut into coarse pieces. I only added 1/2 mango because I wanted to taste the rambutan, but use your discretion.

2. Prepare simple syrup

3. Add fruit to blender or processor with coconut milk and syrup.

IMG_4819Blend until smooth

4. Make pancakes. Here is my go-to recipe

Easy Pancakes (serves 2-3)

  • 1C whole wheat flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4C milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2Tbsp oil, with extra for pan
  • Add blueberries or chocolate chips to the batter if you’re not a purist

1. Mix dry ingredients. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the milk, egg and oil, then mix. Results should be bubbly and goopy – if runny, add a bit more flour, or if unpourable, add a bit more milk.

2. Heat pan on burner over med-high heat. Heat oil or butter. Pour small dollops of mix into pan – if you are daring, you can make shapes like my dad does for my kids. Wait until you see bubbles through the middle of the pancake, and flip. Second side will take less time than first.

3. Serve pancakes with tropical sauce, and garnish with fruit.

IMG_4822

Results: Yum! I should really have called these “Pina colada pancakes,” except that they have no pineapple in them. Next time. My kids liked them too. Rambutans aren’t just for gingers anymore. Rating: 3 Yums 

Gooseberry cheesecake – only slightly hairy

My husband is not very hairy. He has a good sense of humour, though, so as a result, other man friends will sometimes tease him about his hairlessness.

I have no idea why furriness should be something to be proud of, but certain guys definitely seem to hang it over Phil’s head (he does have hair there, just to give an accurate picture). I mean, I know my mom always lusted after Magnum PI,

magnumpibut I’m not sure that a fluffy chest should automatically translate into male sexual machismo. Hairy guys definitely seem to take bear-chested pride in it, though.

This brings me to my next dangerous food. While we were in Ireland earlier this spring, we hung out with Phil’s Uncle Dick, who is a big supercool 80-year-old deadpan jokester with an accent so thick you can only understand half of what he’s saying. When Phil is on vacation he enjoys also taking a vacation from shaving. So after a week of doing this and seeing Uncle Dick for the first time, he took one look at Phil and said, “There’s more hair on a gooseberry, boy.”

So when I saw gooseberries for sale on our street…

IMG_4207-001

I had to determine their hairiness for myself. I discovered quickly that Uncle Dick was actually accurate in his description of my husband’s hairiness – I had thought he was calling him a gooseberry because gooseberries were hairless and he was saying Phil had less, trying to exaggerate. But no, each gooseberry does have a tiny ponytail of hair. Not that Phil has a ponytail.

IMG_4201-001

IMG_4200-001

I had heard of gooseberry jam, but I don’t make jam because that always seems like so much work, and plus I don’t like to poison people with my cooking if I should happen to cut corners, and I’ve heard this is kind of easy to do with jams. So I browsed recipes and found this one for gooseberry cheesecake. Disclaimer – this may be the most unhealthy food I’ve ever cooked on this blog, but it was tasty, as unhealthy things often are. And it takes a while to go through cooling stages, so make it on a rainy day when you can do other things and check in on it.

Gooseberry, ginger and creme fraiche cheesecake

  • Butter, for greasing
  • 500g full-fat cream cheese (two boxes)
  • 225g caster sugar (1 cup and 2Tbsp of fast-dissolving sugar)
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 5 tbsp ginger cordial (I used ginger syrup because I happened to have some, don’t ask. Do your best to improvise)
  • 350g gooseberries, topped and tailed (slightly more than half a pint)
  • 200g tub crème fraîche (about a cup)
  • For the base
  • 75g butter (5Tbsp)
  • 100g ginger snap biscuits (check the package at the back and it will say “3 cookies equals 25g portion size” or similar)
  • 100g digestive biscuits (same portion size instructions as previous)
  • 2 tbsp demerara sugar (brown sugar)

Directions: 

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/fan130°C/gas 2/300F. Lightly grease and base line a 23cm/9″ springform tin with baking paper.

2. Make the base. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Put all the biscuits into a plastic bag and, using a rolling pin, crush until they are fine crumbs. Alternatively, you can whizz them in a food processor. Tip into the pan with the melted butter, add the demerara sugar and mix together well. Using the back of a spoon, press evenly into the base of the tin. Set aside.

3. Beat the cream cheese and 150g caster sugar together in a bowl until smooth. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, followed by the cornflour and 3 tablespoons ginger cordial. Pour the mixture into the tin

IMG_4208and bake in the oven for about 55 minutes, until set with just the slightest hint of a wobble in the centre. Turn off the oven and leave to cool inside – this is what prevents a baked cheesecake from cracking.

4. Meanwhile, put the gooseberries, 25g caster sugar and the remaining ginger cordial into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for 5 minutes until they are just soft but still holding their shape.

IMG_4209-001Tip into a sieve set over a bowl and leave to drain. Tip the syrup back into the pan and boil rapidly until reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Tip the gooseberries into the bowl and stir in the syrup. Leave to cool.

5. When the cheesecake has cooled (it doesn’t need to be completely cold), remove it from the oven. Re-set the oven temperature to 150°C/fan130°C/gas 2/300F. Spread the cooked gooseberries evenly over the top of the cheesecake. Mix the crème fraîche with the remaining 50g caster sugar and spread over the top of the gooseberries to cover completely. Return the cheesecake to the oven and cook for a further 15-20 minutes.

Again, turn off the oven and leave it to go cold inside. Cover with cling film, then transfer to the fridge for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight, until the crème fraîche has set.

6. Just before serving, carefully remove the cheesecake from the tin and transfer it to a serving plate or board.

IMG_4214-001

Results: How can you go wrong with cheesecake? Gooseberries taste kind of like tart grapes, so if you like to balance your sweets with a tarty nip then this dessert is for you. The cake is kind of ugly, I’m not going to lie, but I don’t think guests who like cheesecake would complain. Rating: 3 Yums

You will enjoy this hairless gooseberry cake.

Question: Pearce Brosnan Bond, or Daniel Craig?