French lessons

July 31, 2008

Even if you can’t afford the time or the expense of a Paris vacation this summer, you can still tour the city’s top bakery destinations with this extensive virtual tour test kitchen intern Shirley Walsh and I created earlier this summer.

Best of all: you can visit all of these bakeries using my online tour and never gain an ounce!

Paris Boulangerie and Pâtisserie Guide

Boulangerie Poilâne
Pierre Hermé Paris
Pâtisserie Arnaud Larher
Mariage Frères (Maison de Thé)
Maison Kayser
Christian Constant (Chocolatier)
La Maison du Chocolat
Dalloyau
Lenôtre
Pâtisserie Mulot
Fauchon
Ladurée
Le Boulangerie de Monge
Pâtisserie Stohrer
Berthillon (ice cream)
Breizh Café (creperie)

Have a place you think should be on my list? Please share the URL below. Or, if you’re the kind of smarty pants who actually goes to places instead of just sitting around in your pajamas surfing the internet like me, you can just tell me about your real life excursion instead.


A virtual friend with cupcakes

July 30, 2008

“A friend in need is a friend indeed. A friend with cupcakes is better.”

I’m considering making this my epitaph. It’s kind of a twist on “Let them eat cake” but still all my own, don’t you think?

Regardless, those words remind me of one of my favourite blogs: Cakespy, where baking history and facts, butter cream, bakeshop tours and whimsical art come together in a happy little confection.

Check out these favourite Cakespy offerings:

Faceoff: Cupcakes Vs. Muffins
Donut Speak: Sweet talk about the iconic treat’s name
Cake walk in Victoria, BC.

PS: Today is the day that the Daring Bakers (Cakespy and I both belong!) will be posting their latest challenge. I’ve opted out this month for obvious vacation-related reasons but I hope you’ll visit the Daring Baker’s Blogroll and check out the wares produced by the hundreds of other Daring Bakers who are participating.


The best of the New Yorker’s food articles

July 29, 2008

From lowbrow to highbrow in just 24h hours! (It’s hard to fathom how I can shift gears so fast, isn’t it?)

If you’re hungry for some great food writing to sustain you on your summer vacation do check out the New Yorker’s food article archive. It’s a literal treasure trove of great writing. Among my favourite articles are:

Slippery Business
Red, White and Bleu
Paradise Sold

Do you have a favourite New Yorker article to share?


Food party!

July 28, 2008

When I attended the IACP conference in New Orleans this spring, all the food bloggers were buzzing about adding video to their sites. Since then I’ve been trying to form my own opinion about the necessity for video on a food blog which means that I’ve been checking out popular food video blogs. While I’ve found some great online resources that were entertaining, fun and worth watching, the Food Party video blog has left me confused.

I’m literally not sure if I love Food Party or hate it. (I mean there’s a Donut Tree and that’s good but then there’s also a lot of silly costumes and juvenile music and that’s bad…) Do you have to be high or a genius to watch this show? You tell me.

PS: If you happen to be either high or a genius, you may want to know that Food Party videos are now available on DVD. No, really. I’m telling the truth.


Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: floral frenzy

July 25, 2008

Although I didn’t attend personally, I’ve heard from three different sources that floral flavours were abundant at the 2008 Summer Fancy Food Show held in New York City earlier this month. While rose continues to be strong player in the floral flavour scene and hibiscus is the new floral to flaunt at fashionable parties, lavender is holding steady.

Growing lavender is notoriously difficult; I tried a few years ago and failed miserably. In March of that year I started a dozen or so cells of lavender. I watered them judiciously and kept the planters covered with a plastic greenhouse top; unfortunately, after six weeks nary a sprig of green had emerged.

Slightly abashed but not yet beaten, I headed out to the nursery and bought some seedlings. I planted them in a compost rich planter that I moved from sunny patch to sunny patch and watered daily to ensure that they would flourish. At first I was encouraged; the seedlings grew bushy and taller but then, around the end of June, they stopped changing. No buds appeared, no branches changed. Nothing.

By mid summer I still didn’t have lavender blossoms and started looking for clues as to where I’d gone wrong. What I learned is that not only can it take a very long time for lavender seeds to germinate (some experts recommend sowing them in fall to sprout in the spring), but that it isn’t unusual for only 25% of planted seeds to germinate in Canada’s Northern climate.

I gave up on growing lavender and decided to buy it instead. Yet, buying culinary grade lavender isn’t always as simple as buying bay leaves. I bought the great quality culinary lavender shown above at Bonnie Stern’s online shop and recommend it if your lavender thumb is as black as mine but you still want to cook with this floral herb.

Or, you can zip over to Charmian Christie’s Blog to learn her lavender growing secrets. She seems to have it all figured out!

Lavender Orange Winetail

I featured this wine based cocktail on a number of TV shows such as Breakfast Television, CH Morning Live and the Weather Network earlier this summer.

1 tbsp (15 mL) Cointreau or other orange liqueur
1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried culinary lavender or 1 tsp (5 mL) chopped fresh lavender flowers
1/2 tsp (2 mL) liquid honey
1/2 cup (4 oz) Riesling or other off-dry white wine
1 orange, washed

• Combine the liqueur, lavender and honey in glass and muddle in a cocktail shaker. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the lavender mixture and wine. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass.

• Holding the orange over the glass, peel a long strip of orange peel from the orange and drop into the cocktail. Serve immediately. Makes 1 drink.


Switchin’ to stainless steel

July 24, 2008

Although the American and Canadian governments can’t agree about whether polycarbonate bottles are bad for us, the fact that there is discussion at all makes me nervous enough to minimize my use of plastic in the kitchen. So nervous, in fact, that I’ve thrown out our refillable plastic water bottles and replaced them with stainless steel versions like the one here.

Results of Health Canada testing reveal that bisphenol A, the chemical that makes plastic bottles pliable, disrupts the body’s hormones and could be toxic even at low levels. Their scientists felt so strongly about these findings that they issued a ban on polycarbonate baby bottles.

I’m not the only one to extrapolate that what’s bad for babies is likely bad for kids and adults, too. In fact, stores like Mountain Equipment Co-op and Sport Check have discontinued selling Nalgene water bottles, a popular polycarbonate product, since this news was issued last winter.

Not sure if your plastic bottles contain bisphenol A? The following helpful screening info is excerpted from the American National Wildlife Federation Website.

How to identify plastic products containing BPA:
• Plastic containing BPA polymers carries the recycling symbol #7, which can also indicate other kinds of mixed plastics. The plastic may be called polycarbonate, lexan or polysulfone and is generally a clear, hard plastic, though it may be tinted different colours.
• Clear plastic baby bottles and children’s training cups are likely to be made of polycarbonate.
• If in doubt, contact the manufacturer to ask if the bottle or cup is polycarbonate.”

What do you drink water from when you’re not at home? Do you worry about the long-term effects of plastic water bottles?


Sugar is good

July 23, 2008

News that there will be a new stevia based sweetener called Truvia on the market got me thinking about how much I despise every artificial sweetener I’ve tried. They truly ruin the taste of otherwise delicious foods.

Worst of all is the taste of aspartame. It makes me want to kick puppies. Seriously, I hate the after taste it leaves behind that much.

So keep your diet coke, your sugar-free vanilla lattes and the like to yourself. I’ll treat myself to a little sugar once in a while instead.

Are you a sugar lover, too? If so, check out the Canadian Sugar Institute website where you can find out about different kinds of sugar, study the health issues surrounding this controversial food and even take a Sugar IQ test. (I got an 80% score in case you’re wondering.)