I didn’t dare…

August 31, 2008

Although this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge was to make one of my favourite pastries, time and life conspired to prevent me from rising to the challenge.

I’ll be back in triple double dare shape for next month, but in the meantime, I’ll be enjoying the handy work of other intrepid bakers. I hope you’ll sample their virtual wares, too: Daring Bakers Blogroll.


Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: forming a tomato support group

August 29, 2008

 Occasionally, we all need a little help to stand straight (especially after tequila!) and it turns out tomatoes are just like us.

I’ve learned a lot with my big gardening adventure experiment. One of my recent lessons is that tomato cages aren’t strong enough to support a healthy tomato plant. Stakes, I’ve learned, are the way to go.

When I planted my tomato seedlings in late May they were less than 6 inches tall and the cages I found at the local garden centre seemed more than adequate support for the mature plants I envisioned they would grow into; however, as you can see above, I was wrong. So very, very wrong. This picture was taken right after I got home from holiday two weeks ago. While I was away in the Yukon, my poor tomato plants had fallen and couldn’t get up!

It’s so hard for me to believe that in April these bushes, now waist high and laden with heavy fruit, were but mere tomato seeds. Their growth is really astonishing!

I made an emergency run to the garden centre and picked up some lightweight but stiff metal stakes and some stretchy garden tape. After working the stakes into the soil near where the plants are rooted, I carefully untangled the arms of each plant and did my best to tether them to the stakes. So far my bindings are holding and within the next day or so I’ll be eating tomatoes!


Mmm… cocktails

August 28, 2008

To heck with running away and joining the circus. If I go missing, look for me in New Orleans. I won’t be whooping it up on Bourbon Street but “soaking” up culture at the newly opened Museum of the American Cocktail.

Now that I read about their seminars and tasting events, I wonder how the world coped without a destination like this one before now? Can you imagine how great their gift shop must be?

Although most of us likely won’t finish this blog post and head for the airport to experience this museum today, I thought I’d share a cocktail inspiration that you can use at home right now.

Floral flavours and accents such as rose and hibiscus are hot beverage trends right now so I suggest that you pick up some Australian wild hibiscus flowers in syrup (available from the Designer Cocktail Company) and use them to make stylish cocktails like this hibiscus sour to create a stylish, museum quality cocktail experience!

Hibiscus Sour*

2 oz Whiskey
1oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz Pressed Pineapple Juice
3/4 oz Hibiscus Syrup
1/2 oz Pasteurized Egg White
Hibiscus Flower

Shake whiskey, lime juice, pineapple juice, hibiscus flower syrup and egg white vigorously in an ice filled cocktail shaker for 20 to 30 seconds then strain over cracked ice into an old fashioned glass. Garnish with a skewered Hibiscus Flower.

What was your signature drink this summer?

*Recipe and image courtesy of Designer Cocktail Company


Perfectionistas anonymous

August 27, 2008

My name is Dana McCauley and I am no longer a perfectionist.

After a couple of weeks away from home and work, I realized that I make a big deal of too many things. Take entertaining for example: I’ve been known to obsess over every detail before a party, staying up to all hours to get my house, the food and the table ready for a get-together. Last winter, I worked for two days to get ready for my Christmas Eve cocktail party and then stayed up until the wee hours of Christmas morning cleaning up. Was the party a wonderful success? Absolutely. Did my guests ooh and ahh over the food and the table? Certainly. Did I enjoy Christmas day? Not really. In fact, I had a pounding headache and a crick in my back that hurt when I stood or sat.

Refreshed from my holiday, I have a new outlook and attitude and I’m going to do my best to keep it up. See that table above? That level of detail was the old me. The new me eschews such finery! From now on guests will get what they get:
• If I have time to make something fabulous, it will be served. If I don’t, I’ll buy something.
• If my linen napkins are ironed and folded, we’ll use them. If not, paper will do.
• If someone offers to help with the clean up, I’ll gladly accept his or her help.
• And, from now on my larger parties are going to include a new budget line; I’m going to hire someone to help serve and clean up so that I can have my party, a good time and a clean house, too.

Do any of you dread entertaining because of all the schlepping and cleaning? If so, maybe you should join my new club.

If not, what strategies have you developed to help you enjoy your parties from the planning stages to unloading the dishwasher the morning after?


Ice follies

August 26, 2008

Photo credit: Martin Kouprie

This picture features a glass of iceberg-cooled scotch my husband drank earlier this summer in Newfoundland. While Martin loved this drink experience, I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that it never crossed his mind to have iceberg chunks shipped to our home in Ontario. That would be crazy, right?

After reading a few recent articles, I’m not so sure everyone reading my blog will agree. If the recent news about ice cube aficionadoism is the tip of a trend iceberg, then harvesting and selling glacial and ice floe ice may not be such a far-fetched idea after all.

Early last spring I wrote in my Topline Trends newsletter about ice aficionados who covet the disc-shaped ice chips available at quick service restaurants in the US such as Sonic and Taco Time. At these restaurants a glass of tap water is free of charge but a cup of ice cubes will cost $1 or more.

I thought this was pretty silly stuff but now I learn from a recent NY Times article that the ice snobbery trend is accelerating. From bottled ice to consumer awareness of branded cube makers such as Kold-Draft ice makers (which produces ice in three unique forms) and Hoshizaki machine (which can flake or cube ice in various sizes).

As result, ice is now a product that, at least for a select and privileged few, has gained an element of connoisseurship.

When I received a sample of Ice Rocks almost two years ago, I thought this product would be pretty much impossible to sell except as a novelty but now, I wonder if I was wrong.

What about you? Do you have strong ice preferences? Do you go for cubed or crushed? Do you chew it, suck it or let it melt in your drink? Go ahead, take the plunge and reveal your frozen water secrets.


Worth replacing: gas range

August 25, 2008

For years I endured an electric range and oven (and yes, before you say it out loud, I will admit habitually overstating my misfortunes!). Since statistically few Canadian homes had gas, I couldn’t indulge my chef’s preference for this kind of appliance and still develop recipes for cookbooks, magazines and major corporations and be able to say that the cooking times would work for most people. I was sad in a stoic, noble way.

Thankfully, today many more Canadian (and American for that matter) households are installing gas stoves so I can have one again, too. (Although readers should know that I often do a final test of recipes I develop on an electric stove if I have any doubts about timing.)

When choosing my gas range I went for one with heavy-duty cast iron burner racks and pilot lights with automatic starters. Although I didn’t realize it until my range was installed and in use, another benefit of the model I chose is that it has a very low simmer setting. I use this ultra low setting often for braising since it makes slow cooking very efficient and allows me to coax the maximum tenderness out of tough cuts of meat such as brisket and shanks. Likewise, it makes regulating the temperature for poaching very easy, too. Interestingly, a friend of mine who purchased a very high-end gas cook top found that her flame could never be tamed adequately to use these two cooking methods. In fact, she had to use a slow cooker for all braising because her stove was just too hot on its lowest setting.

Whether I move one day or live long enough to wear this unit out, I’d replace it in a heartbeat. I love my gas range!

What kind of a stovetop do you prefer? Although all comments are welcome, I’d love to hear from any of you that have chosen the new induction models. I’m very curious to hear how home cooks like this technology.


Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: garden gone wild

August 22, 2008

If you’ve ever wondered how backyard gardeners deal when summertime travel and harvest season coincide, then this post is for you!

As it turns out, being away for over two weeks in August and leaving your garden to cope for itself is not the end of the world when you’re in the midst of the wettest summer on record. Not only was there no need to worry about my plants dehydrating, I came back to find that the garden was almost too moist in the low spots.

The side effect of this kind of moisture is that the weeds bolted as did water dense veggies like my cucumbers. As you can see from the picture above, my pickling cucumbers range from Chernobyl Betty-sized to the normal lovely pickle size I was hoping to grow. Although quite a few of my cukes are past the point of use, there are still blossoms and I found a number of smaller-sized specimens to cut up, sprinkle with cider vinegar and salt and serve to Oliver (one of his favorite TV time snacks!).

Besides putting them in the compost heap, does anyone have any ideas for things one can do with an overgrown cucumber? And, yes, since your mind went ‘there’ I will ask you to limit your suggestions to culinary uses only!