Foie gras to hot dogs

April 30, 2008

I’ve been called a food snob. What with my $22 bottles of balsamic vinegar, penchant for foie gras and routine indulgence of Lanson champagne; although I do love all of these things, I’m anything but a snob.

I also love many humble, everyday foods. In fact, hot dogs are one of my favourite summertime treats. I like a good quality hot dog and it needs to be grilled until it’s just ready to burst so that the skin is crunchy and the hot dog is super juicy. During the 90’s Martin and I lived next door to Maple Leaf Gardens; there was an excellent hot dog cart downstairs at the corner of Carlton and Yonge. Their hot dogs were so good that sometimes I zipped 26 floors down the elevator just to pick up one of these stellar hot dogs for lunch or supper.

Hot dogs, I’m pleased to see, are being rediscovered and given TLC by a few savvy restaurateurs. When I was in Vancouver recently I noticed a Gourmet Hot Dog place on a trendy downtown street and here in Toronto there is a newish place called Buddha Dog that I’m hoping to try out sometime soon.

Until I can get to one of these venues that respects the hot dog for the pleasure it truly is, I’ll be buying Kwinter’s hot dogs, the best I’ve found at my local grocery store, to cook on my home grill.

Hungry for more? Check out these blogs that celebrate the hot dog:

FortiFido makes me say BLERGH!

April 29, 2008

I make a conscious effort to use this forum not as a place to rant but as an opportunity to highlight beneficial news and tips. But this announcement that functional beverages will soon be available for pets begs to be ridiculed. Seriously, this launch must be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

With stats about the global human food crisis as bleak as can be, this kind of product just irks me to no end. Please, if you feel compelled to buy one of these drinks for Fido, stop yourself and make a donation to Unicef or another charity that helps hungry people instead.

Daring Bakers challenge: cheesecake lollies

April 27, 2008

April has been a crazy month for me. I’ve been in Vancouver, Edmonton and New Orleans as well as carried a full workload of creative projects at work. As a result, I really didn’t feel like heading into the kitchen for the Daring Baker’s Challenge this time around.

Don’t get me wrong, I had nothing against the recipe or the group but I just didn’t feel like doing anything extra with my one free Saturday at home this month. But, since being part of a group occasionally requires effort and compromise, I pulled out my mixer, found my sprinkles and got baking. After all, the recipe for cheesecake pops, chosen by Elle and Deborah, is simple and well written by Jill O’Connor. (Regular readers will recognize Jill’s name as one of the authors I showcased in December during Book Week and this month’s DB recipe is from her book Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey that I recommended in that post.)

So, I entered the kitchen feeling optimistic that things would go well. Unfortunately, when I unwrapped my room temperature cream cheese, one of the bricks was strange: curdy and sour smelling. Definitely not worthy of use. So, I tossed the bad brick into the compost bucket, got out my calculator and scaled the recipe down by 20%. To compensate for using a smaller volume of batter, I used a 9-inch (23-cm) cake pan (one of the same ones I used for last month’s challenge). I was a little worried that my math might not lead to a usable cheesecake but fortunately my calculations worked out and it all turned out well.

To compound my good luck, an hour after I finished making the lollies and was wondering what in the world I would do with them (we aren’t big on cheesecake at our house), the phone rang. It was a friend who I was able to persuade to come over the next day with her husband and sweet tooth daughter for a casual Sunday meal. My young friend loved the lollies so much that she took home the leftovers to share with her grandmother and asked for the recipe so that she can make them for her own birthday party. Perfecto!

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure – week four of the tomato experiment

April 25, 2008

As part of my Big Gardening Adventure where I’m going to reduce my food miles for produce to 0 as often as possible, I’ve chosen three kinds of heirloom tomato seeds to start from seed and then grow using organic means:

• Brandywines
• Aunt Ruby’s German Green’s
• Cherokee Purple

All three of these varieties are supposed to mature within 70 to 75 days so if all goes well, I should have a pretty abundant crop of colourful tomatoes to share by the end of July (the line up starts from the left!).

In the past I’ve written that you should start tomato seedlings indoors no more than 6 weeks prior to transplanting the tomato plants to the garden, but I started mine earlier this year due to the crazy extended winter weather. The general concern with starting seeds too soon is that the young plants can become leggy and weak. To prevent that problem, I’m going to transplant my seedlings into larger pots in enough peat moss to help support the bases. We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, here are my tips for successfully transplanting and growing tomato seedlings. Print this page or bookmark it so that you can come back to this info later in the spring and summer when you need it.

I’ll be testing my theories as the season progresses. Then, I’ll report back on how things worked out when I followed my own advice (wish me luck and, if humiliation ensues, please be kind):

• Before planting tomato seedlings, work a spadeful of compost into each hole. This should be enough fertilizer to feed the plant for the entire season.

• To help new tomato plants to establish themselves in cool spring temperatures, protect the seedlings by cutting the bases from 2L soda bottles. Place a bottle over each seedling until temperatures become warmer.

• Since hot summer weather can lead to dry soil conditions, be prepared to water tomatoes often during hot spells. Ideally the water used to water tomato plants should be ambient temperature (this is where my rain barrel will come in handy!) since cold water may prevent the roots from developing. Likewise, it’s better to water tomatoes at the base of the stem with a watering can than to use a hose that drenches the whole plant.

• When mature, tomatoes ripen to optimum flavor when grown at temperatures between 13°C and 27°C. As a result, tomatoes must be planted so that the fruit will mature when this temperature range is common in your area.

Amy Snider: not your typical Becky Homecky

April 24, 2008

Amy Snider is the fresh face of fibre and one of my closest colleagues. She devotes a considerable amount of her spare time to working hard to make sure that she and other professional home economists get the respect they deserve. Today she tells us why we all need to revise our opinions about Home Ec.

DM: So, what the heck is a home economist?

AS: A Professional Home Economist has graduated from a degree program related to home economics (in my case a BSc. Human Ecology, Foods and Nutrition) and is registered with the provincial governing body of the Ontario Home Economics Association. (There are also associations in New Brunswick, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba).

As professionals, we can generalize or specialize in many areas such as advertising and marketing, recipe development, food styling, product research, public health, media relations, teaching and textile design.

DM: So you don’t spend all day long making ponchos and teaching kids to macramé?

AS: Very funny, Dana. As you know from hanging out with me on a daily basis, my role in the office is to oversee our recipe development practice. I am also the office authority on nutrition-related issues that come up with our clients’ recipe programs, nutrient analysis, copy writing, product development and current trends and innovations.

DM: Describe your typical workday.

AS: I don’t have a typical work day – some days I spend time at my desk researching nutrition topics, running nutrient analysis or writing and editing recipes. Other days, I’m out of the kitchen doing spokesperson work, meeting with clients, leading recipe tastings or going to trade shows to research innovations in food… There are lots of days where find myself having so much fun that I say to myself – ‘I can’t believe this is part of my work day’ – I love it!

DM: What’s the difference between a home economist and a dietitian?

AS: A dietitian often has the same undergraduate degree (BSc. in Foods and Nutrition or Applied Nutrition) but has also completed a yearlong internship (most commonly in a hospital setting) under the authority of the Dietitians of Canada. After completion they register with the Dietitians of Canada.

DM: Can you tell me three reasons why home economists shouldn’t be the punch line of my jokes?

AS: Just three?
1. We are a vibrant group of professionals who are knowledgeable in our chosen fields.
2. Look at the popularity of programming on the Life Channel, the W Network, The Food Network, TLC and HGTV as key examples of society’s interest in all things domestic. Teaching these basic life skills of nutritious food preparation, household management, budgeting, etc. are at the core of the home economics profession.
3. At the end of the day, a Professional Home Economist has the Canadian consumer at heart.

My paint by number portrait of a sommelier

April 23, 2008

Many people imagine that being a sommelier is a dream job; after all, who wouldn’t like to taste wine for a living and match chef prepared foods to their perfect drinks?

Turns out, it’s a numbers game like most other jobs. Up and coming sommelier Jonathon Gonsenhauser gave me an inside view of his work life when we chatted on the phone the other day. (FYI: Jonathon is the sommelier at my husband Martin Kouprie’s restaurant. I chose to talk to him about his profession not only because I have easy access to him — unlike other people who can avoid me, Jonathon could get fired for not returning my calls — but also because he’s been distinguished by the Ontario Hostelry Association as one of the Top 30 young performers in the hospitality industry under 30 years of age.) He told me what it takes to be a top-notch sommelier and I’ve attempted to encapsulate our conversation with the following numeric list.

24 — Jonathon’s age.
19 — Age he started to study wine.
3 — Level (out of four) of sommelier status he’s attained.
640+ — Number of wines on Pangaea’s list.
75 to 80 — Percentage of those 640+ wines he has personally tasted.
3 — Number of days per week he meets outside work hours with his wine study group.
9 — The number of hours per week this group spends together.
6 — Number of bottles of wine made from one grape varietal that he and his study mates taste blind each Sunday.
2 to 3 — How many of those 6 bottles he and his study mates usually need to taste before someone correctly identifies the grape.
7.5 — Number of other hours Jonathon spends reading about wine on his own.
2 — Number of years before he hopes to attain master sommelier status.
17 — Number of candidates (out of 55) who usually pass the master sommelier exam on the first try.
167 — Number of master sommeliers in the world.
96 — Number of master sommeliers in North America.

A photographer and salt sensualist

April 22, 2008

Around our house we use the term ‘imaginary friend’ for anyone I know on the internet but have never met in person or talked to on the phone (yes, I do realize that needing a term for this category of people is a modern dilemma!). By that definition, Clint McLean is my newest imaginary friend. Although not primarily making his living in the food industry, Clint has taken some of the most interesting pictures of salt in its native areas that I’ve ever seen.

I asked him via email how he came to take such wonderful pictures of salt; I was too lazy to send Clint actual interview questions but he didn’t need much prompting to tell a wonderful story. Here’s what Clint had to say:

“I fell into my salt obsession; I got interested in salt after reading a book by Mark Kurlansky on the world history of salt. It’s a fascinating book and it planted a seed. (Note from DM: I read this book myself a couple of years ago and it is, indeed, a very good book.)

A few months after reading Kurlansky’s book I was in Peru visiting small remote villages in the Andes. On my way to Machu Picchu I visited Cusco where I heard about Maras, an area where there are salt terraces. I went to check them out. I got to the terraces late and didn’t have very easy light to work with for shooting but managed to get a roll or so shot.

I brought salt home from Maras, too. It’s this gorgeous clump of earth with a salt crust. I’ve since begun to collect salt souvenirs from all the salt areas I visit.

Though that trip marked the beginning of my salt odyssey as a photographer, the first salt I saw in its natural setting was near Siwa in Egypt. I was in a donkey cart driven by this 8- or 9-year-old kid and his little brother who was sleeping beside him, heading to a spring from this oasis town. The sun was half-set and the sky was beautiful as we passed what looked like little ice ponds that turned out to be salt ponds. Since then, I’ve found salt in every location I’ve visited to be equally magical. In June I’ll head out for another 6 weeks to shoot some more salt and I can’t wait to see what I find.

I don’t know that I can list what I’ve learned from these trips. I find it more about experiences than facts. Certainly I’ve learned how they harvest salt in Uyuni and how they harvest it in Taoudenni, but the trip is more about just being there. Whether I’m on my way to the salt or watching people drag salt laden boats to shore, it’s really about being in the moment. Salt is a good catalyst and focus for my travels but if it wasn’t salt it would be something else… or nothing else but capturing the moment would still be my purpose.”

Spoken like a true artist! I strongly recommend that you visit Clint McLean’s site to see his salt photos and other excellent work. Here are links to some of my favorite images on his site:

And finally, here’s a portrait of me that Clint took: