Microwave safety assured

June 30, 2008

Photo courtesy of http://www.plasticsinfo.org

One of the by-products of being a food writer is that people often ask me to confirm or deny food and cooking stories and rumours. Such was the case recently when my mother’s boyfriend John asked me if I’d heard that if you consistently open a microwave before it stops beeping that you could be exposed to unhealthy levels of radiation. I hadn’t heard this bit of info but it concerned me so I sent an e-mail to a couple of PR folks I know who handle appliance accounts asking for an interview with a microwave expert.

I eventually secured an interview with Jimmy Chang, the Director of Marketing for Panasonic Canada who put my fears to rest.

“Microwave ovens emit less radiation than a cell phone,” Chang pointed out.

Health Canada stipulates that no microwave oven sold in Canada can emit more than 2 milliwatts of radiation per square centimetre and Panasonic microwaves, Chang says, aren’t sold if they emit more than 1 milliwatt.

To ensure your microwave operates as safely today as the day you took it out of the box, Chang advises that you keep the seal on the microwave door in tip-top condition. One of his top tips is to clean inside the unit but also around the seal that aligns with the microwave door with soapy water to prevent food from getting stuck in the seal. Food build up can create gaps in the seal which can allow the emission of more radiation than is considered safe.

If my comments above now have you worried about your cell phone, I can tell you that although I know very little about how cell phone radiation works, I do know that this infamous Youtube video that shows cell phones emitting enough energy to pop corn is 100% a hoax.

PS: since we’re on the subject of microwaves and food safety, I recommend you take all of your plastic-related microwave oven questions to:


Do you have a food safety or cooking question you’d like answered? Jot them below and I’ll do my best to point you in the direction of answers.

Daring Bakers

June 29, 2008

It would have been so easy to take a pass on the June Daring Baker’s Challenge. I’ve been baking at work for weeks to complete a big fall recipe project that will appear in the October issue of Homemakers so my sweet tooth was more than satisfied. In fact, as the calendar changed from May to June, I was leaning toward making this a DB-free month.

Then everything changed. I saw that the challenge was to make a Danish Braid and I was in! I’ve made puff pastry millions of times and when I was 14 or 15 I perfected my recipe for a quick bread version of Danish Braid that became the cornerstone of my brother’s hockey team’s bake sale fundraisers. But, after more than 30 years of baking, I had never attempted the true Danish pastry that combines bread making and puff pastry techniques.

The recipe we were to use was selected and presented by Kelly of Sass and Veracity and Ben of What’s Cooking. Please visit their sites to get this terrific recipe. This is a large dough recipe so I froze half (I plan to use my left over pastry later in the season to make custard and Niagara peach filled Danishes.) but you can simply cut the ingredients in half and make less. Once I finish this dough, I likely will make another batch. It’s really that good!

As you can see from the picture above, my Danish Braid turned out a bit dark; however, the texture and flavour were excellent. I found the Danish to be a little under-sweetened, so after this picture was taken I added a drizzle made by blending icing sugar, a gob of butter, and whipping cream together to make a fluid consistency. (This mixture is just a slightly thicker version of the glaze I use for my homemade doughnuts, btw). I transferred this glaze mixture to a plastic bag, nipped off one corner and then drizzled the gooey goodness over the pastry in a zigzag pattern.

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: Dana considers professional help

June 27, 2008

I‘ve learned a lot so far on my big gardening adventure. For instance, bugs eat leaves and seed tape sucks (look to the left). In fact, I think I’ve learned just enough about food gardening to realize how much I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m pretty thrilled to be learning so much about the complicated process of growing food!

I’ve already got a lot of plans about how to improve my techniques for next year. I’ll write more specifically about what I’ve learned not to do later in the year when I’m sure I know what I know (I hope that sentence made sense to you. It seemed pretty eloquent until I wrote it down!).

In the meantime I’m going to do more research of both the hands on and reading variety. I’d love to seek out professional help but I don’t think my schedule or pocketbook can afford the luxury. However, if you’re in a different situation, you might like to spend part of your summer on Mary Jane’s Farm. Although it sounds like a pot plot, it turns out that Mary Jane teaches people like me who want to garden organically how to get great results. It’s like a summer camp for green thumbs!

If you can’t go in person, check out their forums, magazines and books for armchair inspiration.

Gourmet cupcakes in a jar

June 26, 2008

I love cupcakes. Not only is that not news, it doesn’t prove me to be original or unusual either. I’ve discovered that cupcakes are truly a defining icon of our present day society. From the little cakes themselves to whimsical art that animates the cupcake with human characteristics to snazzy t-shirts that let you have your cupcake and be stylin’, too, cupcakes are universally popular.

And just when it seemed like my cupcake love couldn’t deepen, I discover yet another way to enjoy these beguiling little treats: in a jar. “But why?” you ask? Forgive me but I counter with “why not?”

Not only are cupcakes in a jar less messy to eat, they’re portable and they make people smile! Although you can easily make your own (like we did at the Test Kitchen – that’s our handy work above), you also can buy these yummies ready-made.

• In Canada, contact Milsean bakery in Abbotsford, B.C. (I hear their buttercrunch candy is great, too); their birthday cakes, Irish apple cakes and figgy puddings are baked in jars. They’ve been unavailable for the last 6 months due to jar supply issues but are back!

• In the US, Fat Daddy Bakery in Illinois is widely acknowledged as the originator of the cupcake in a jar concept. I haven’t tried their product but the buzz I hear is all good.

Would you eat a cupcake from a jar? Or, perhaps a better question is how many cupcakes in a jar do you think you could eat before you needed to be a person on a couch?

Bespoke food

June 25, 2008

Photo credit: www.pangaearestaurant.com

As methodical and thorough as I am in my research, the truth is, I sometimes stumble across emerging trends in a haphazard way. Such is the case with my discovery that the word ‘bespoke’ is now being used as a food word.

Fashionistas reading this post will know that ‘bespoke’ is a word used in the garment trade to describe truly custom made clothes. Think Saville Row style tailoring where suits and shirts are not just made to measure but created from original patterns drawn especially to suit the purchaser’s physique.

When applied to food, bespoke means that you’re ordering off the menu. It describes food that is made just for you. The way I see it, bespoke describes the already well-developed concept of customization that has made Starbucks and Craft successful foodservice endeavours.

My first tweak that bespoke was being used in reference to food came when I was visiting Summer Fresh Salads to discuss the Mezze trend that is, like bespoke, hot in London. Company president Susan Niczowski brought bespoke food to my attention. Later that week, I noticed this term being used by President’s Choice in an ad promoting Father’s Day burgers. Their concept was that each dad is unique and deserves a signature burger all his own.

So, now if you see bespoke on a menu or in advertising copy, you won’t have to crinkle your forehead in confusion. It just means that you can have it your way…. wait, didn’t Burger King say that same thing in plainer terms 25 years ago? I guess everything old truly is new again.


June 24, 2008

Photo credit: www.dichosonline.com

Fortune cookies are an American-Chinese restaurant icon. Even if you don’t eat fortune cookies, chances are you like them well enough to crack one open after you tuck into a plate of chicken balls or egg foo yung. It doesn’t really matter that the fortunes are banal truisms. Fortune cookies make us smile and are part of the Chinese food ritual.

Realizing these facts and understanding that Hispanic cuisine is growing ever more popular, an Arizona couple are trying to duplicate the fortune cookie’s success.

Their invention is a taco shaped cookie that contains proverbs called Dichos, Mexican proverbs. These words of wisdom and inspiration are typed in both English and Spanish before being added to the Dichos before packaging. These entrepreneurs are selling their wares to Mexican restaurants in the US as an end of meal novelty and hope to branch out to Canada and other destinations if things go well.

At $12.50 for a case of 250 cookies, they’ve got an idea that restaurateurs can afford, but will the idea fly? Will people really enjoy cracking open a dicho enough that it will bring them back to a restaurant again? Who knows?

For now, I’m placing Dichos on my trend tracking radar screen. I’ll let you know in an upcoming newsletter if I see this concept going anywhere. In the meantime, you can help by letting me know if you’ve seen or heard of Dichos before today. Thanks!

Real breakfasts

June 23, 2008

We’ve all heard and acknowledge as correct that a good breakfast should be the way we start our day. In fact, a new study shows that women who eat a big breakfast lose more weight than other dieters. But, how many of us eat a morning meal that nutrition experts would classify as balanced and appropriate?

New York Magazine recently polled 60 people to see what real people were eating for breakfast. The results ranged from the expected bagels and oatmeal or coffee and Danishes to more peculiar choices. For instance, one man had a bloody Mary for his morning meal while another admitted to indulging in a gut wrenching protein binge that included four hard boiled eggs, two fried eggs and a ham and cheese sandwich washed down with orange juice. I need to lie down just after reading that menu!

What interested me was how many of the respondents had savoury food such as salads, pizza, Moroccan cous cous with grilled chicken and hummus, and chicken melt on rye.

Curious to know if New Yorkers are a breed unto themselves or a North American barometer, I held my own poll. I asked my 300 or so facebook friends what they ate for breakfast and almost 25 people replied. It turns out my friends stick to more traditional breakfast fare. Below are the results of my poll. Although I’ve excluded names, I’ve used bold text on the responses shared by people who have jobs as food industry professionals. Can you guess which entry is mine?

1. Nature Valley Instant Oatmeal (flax flavour).
2. Starbucks breakfast sandwich.
3. Flax seed bagel with greaves peach jam, almond butter and local maple butter, half each an apple and pear, glass of cranberry blueberry juice and a big cup of home roasted Ethiopian Yirgachaffe.
4. Strawberries and a glass of water.
5. Eggos with fresh strawberries and syrup, toast with peanut butter and chocolate milk.
6. Farm fresh eggs with fresh smoked bacon made the night before at Harvest Restaurant, sour dough toast fresh baked at Harvest with blackberry jelly from Prince Edward county.
7. A slice of homemade no-knead bread, toasted, with peanut butter and kawfee made from instant espresso.
8. Toasted light rye with peanut butter.
9. English muffin with bacon and tomato.
10. Homemade muesli with organic yogurt, raspberries, black berries, walnuts, grated apple and oats, dash of cinnamon and a drop of pure vanilla extract.
11. Oatmeal with 2 tbsp soy protein, 3 tbsp cottage cheese, 1 tsp non-hydrogenated margarine, 3 tbsp brown sugar and 2 cups of coffee.
12. 2 starbucks double tall, non-fat, bone dry cappuccinos and a spinach breakfast sandwich that was found sadly lacking in spinach.
13. Raisin bran and decaf coffee.
14. Coffee.
15. Slice of deli roast beef, the cold heel of my child’s abandoned, toasted buttered, whole-wheat bagel.
16. Shake made with whey protein, greens+, almond milk, sesame seeds, frozen wild blueberries and plain yogurt.
17. Toasted cashews.
18. 2 slices white toast with a bit of butter and coffee.
19. Apple and glass of water.
20. Toasted whole wheat bagel and peanut butter.
21. Whole grain toast and peanut butter.
22. Homemade muesli, 1/3 cup bran buds, ground flax, unsweetened soymilk, 1/2 cup yogurt (Dana’s note, this respondent reports losing weight since she made this her daily breakfast!).
23. A healthy bowl of cereal and a chic dark chocolate cupcake.
24. Raisin toast and earl grey tea with milk.

As you can see, my facebook friends stick pretty close to the expected breakfast menu even when they make less than stellar choices. What about you? Are you more like the New Yorkers or like my pals? Tell us what you had for breakfast today.