Worth Replacing: A good chef’s knife

September 22, 2008

It seems obvious to me, a trained chef, that to cook efficiently and without frustration you need a good knife. Yet, so often when I visit friends’ homes, I see them struggling with terrible cutting tools. I don’t understand why. Sure knives are expensive but buy a good one when you’re 25 and it will still be in ready to cut through a squash when you’re too old to chew solid food.

I started my cooking career with a 12-inch (30-cm) Henckel chef’s knife with a black lacquer handle that sandwiched an inner core of steel. I used that knife all day long, every workday for about 10 years. It was a great knife during that time and it still gets used daily in our test kitchen. These days I use the Kasumi knife pictured above to prepare meals at home. It was a gift from my man with a pan and I love it. Smaller than my Henckel, it’s super lightweight and holds its edge well after being steeled.

I’ve written about knives here before and you can read my cutting edge advice (sorry, couldn’t resist!) advice by checking back a few months to this post.

I also recommend you address knife questions to Peter Hertzmann. He wrote the authoritative book Knife Skills Illustrated. To say he knows about knives is like saying that Britney Spears knows about bad press.

FYI: the latest issue of my quarterly online newsletter Topline Trends is now live and ready for your eager eyes. If you haven’t already, subscribe to Topline Trends so that you never miss an issue!

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: A tomato rescue

September 18, 2008

When I heard this morning that our temperature had dipped to a lowly 8 degrees celsius last night I had a bit of a panic attack. My heirloom tomato plants (brandywines, cherokee purples) and my two big boy tomato plants have produced a plentiful but late-to-ripen crop.

So, today I staged a tomato rescue. I’ve spread this bounty out now on parchment-lined baking sheets to ripen. I’ll report back to you about whether these potentially delicious orbs ripen or atrophy. Keep your fingers crossed!

Cracking up

September 18, 2008

A proliferation of crackers makes me wonder just how much cheese people are eating. Truly, it seems that every day I find a new cracker in the store or in the arms of a PR package-carrying courier.

According to the American Dietetic Association, 75 percent of men and women snack at least once a day. Moreover, information I found from a 2007 e-newsletter published by Food In Canada magazine showed that cracker volume sales were up 4% over 2006 sales. Seems like the cracker business is hot!

But with so much new choice and prices as high as $7 a box, it’s more difficult than ever to make choices in the cracker aisle. With the holiday entertaining season just around the corner, the stress in that part of the grocery store is palpable! (Okay, so I exaggerate. Get over it!).

In my typically altruistic fashion, I’ve done some sampling and share with you now some of my top cracker finds:

Lesley Stowe Raincoast Crisps Fig and Olive
Ace Bakery Cranberry and Raisin Artisan Crisps
Stacy’s Pita Chips
Petite Maison Pain Rustique Rosemary & Sea Salt

Proudly below average

September 17, 2008

A couple of weeks ago when I wrote about how I was a couple of pounds heavier than the average Canadian woman, I was a bit chagrinned with myself since last winter I had been thin, trim and happily below average. Just like every autumn of my adult life, I had gained weight.

Well, today I’m happy to say that I am once again below average! It’s been a couple of weeks of sacrifice and quite a few laps around my neighbourhood’s park trails but I’m now more than three pounds below average weight and still six inches taller than average. As a result I’m both above and below average at the same time. It’s a happy paradox!

While I’d love to celebrate with a donut, I’m smart enough to know that moderation will be my key to long-term victory. Or, it would be if I got a new job that didn’t require me to eat all day long, to develop 30+ holiday baking recipes each May, etc.. But, I digress.

What are my slimming food secrets? They aren’t rocket science, but here are three superhero snacks that I’ve found helpful as I’ve whittled my ass down to fit back into my skinny jeans:

• Green Giant Essentials Fibre (blend with pearl barley) makes a great lunch
• Soup at Hand Garden Tomato is my afternoon snack choice when I crave a mocha mid afternoon.
• Summer Fresh Salads Snackn’ Go Hummus is just the right amount of highly flavoured protein to make salad a satisfying lunch.
• Do you have any superhero skinny snacks you can recommend?

French fry holder

September 16, 2008

It’s been boring around our house in the evenings the last week or so. There is nothing on TV (next week is premier week – yeah!) and I’ve been dieting so baking cookies and coming up with creative snacks has been off my roster. How have I filled the time? Getting caught up on my reading. And look at the kind of stuff I missed while I spent the summer getting pudgy! A cup holder adapter for holding fast food French fries was invented! Amazing, isn’t it?

Despite soaring gas prices and greater awareness of how gas emissions harm the environment, we haven’t abandoned our cars. Instead, commuters who fled to the hills when faced with sky-high urban housing prices overburden our roads. Because these people spend many hours a week in their cars, the way we use our cars has changed, too.

Entertainment systems, massaging heated seats and cup holders galore are now pretty standard in most new passenger vehicles while some luxury cars now come with air chilled glove boxes and console coffee makers for people too lazy to even go through a drive through.

I personally prefer to eat at a table but I suppose it’s nice to know that if I ever become fused to the seat of my car that French fry consumption has been figured out for me.

What about you: do you eat in the car often? And, if you do, do you like it or endure it as a necessary evil?

Worth Replacing: Papparadelle noodles

September 15, 2008

I know it seems a bit odd to be featuring a pantry item as part of my worth replacing series but you know, I do replace these wonderful egg-y noodles as soon as I place an empty package into the recycle box.

Although I only feast on them occasionally myself, my son Oliver eats this pasta as often as I’ll cook it. He loves papparadelle simply prepared with butter, salt and lots of cracked pepper; in homemade chicken broth studded with carrot coins and bits of celery; or – and this is when I always join him – under a cloak of my homemade Bolognese sauce.

Pasta was one of the 10 chapters in my last book Dana’s Top Ten Table, because it is, year-after-year, one of the 10 favourite things that research shows people choose to make for dinner. In fact, if I were to look back over the last 10 years, pasta would likely be in the top 5 (maybe even the top 3) every time. This popularity wasn’t always the case for pasta. In fact, until the 1960’s, pasta was lucky to play second fiddle to the long established Canadian concertmaster of meal time, the potato.

What changed? We did. Immigration brought people from all over to Canada and many of our newcomers were Italian born. In fact, until 1981, Italy was the #2 birthplace for new Canadians. Even now that immigration patterns have shifted, Italian remains the second most often spoken unofficial language in this country (Chinese is first). This influx brought with it many good cooks and offered all of us an opportunity to meet and fall in love with Italian foods including pasta, pizza and risotto: the holy trinity of Italian starch.

Now that I’ve turned your thoughts to Italian food, I hope you’ll jot over to Charmian Christie’s blog where she’ll be celebrating this much loved cuisine with recipes and words all week long. Today I believe she may even be posting my very popular Stromboli recipe; but, if you prefer to have papparadelle tonight, I offer here my Bolognese recipe as well.

Rich and Meaty Bolognese Sauce*

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour & 30 minutes

Authentic Bolognese sauce is a zesty, full-bodied meat and tomato concoction that is the backbone of Northern Italian home cooking. The secret ingredient to a true and satisfying Bolognese sauce is milk. Added in such a small amount that it is not perceptible as a flavouring ingredient, the milk mellows and helps to blend the stronger flavours such as white wine, garlic and tomatoes.

Another of the key ingredients in a successful Bolognese sauce is bacon. Added in a small amount, the bacon helps to deepen and extend the flavour of the veal (or beef) and adds richness that helps to emulsify the sauce.

Once you try this authentic Bolognese sauce recipe, tossing spaghetti with jarred pasta sauce will definitely feel like settling for a half measure. So, since you’ll want to use this sauce often, I’ve written it as a big batch and recommend that you freeze family meal size portions. Having this frozen asset on hand will make many weeknight crunches easier to endure and more delicious, too!

2 each peeled onions, carrots and celery stalks, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves
1/4 cup (50 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) salt
3/4 tsp (4 mL) pepper
1 tsp (5 mL) each dried basil, oregano and thyme leaves
1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped bacon
1 1/2 lb (750 g) ground veal or beef
1 cup (250 mL) dry white wine
1/4 cup (50 mL) tomato paste
1 can (28 oz/796 mL) crushed or pureed tomatoes
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk

Place onions, carrots, celery and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Place vegetables and oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Stir in salt, pepper, basil, oregano and thyme leaves. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add bacon and veal. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring and breaking up lumps until no longer pink, about 6 minutes. Stir in wine, tomato paste, tomato puree and milk. Reduce heat to low and simmer, gently for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Makes about 8 cups.

Tip: Sauce may be made ahead. Cool, uncovered, before chilling, covered. Freeze sauce in batches of 2 cups (500 mL) each, enough to cover 8 cups of pasta.

*Recipe from Dana’s Top Ten Table: 200 Fresh Takes on Family-Favourite Meals. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Copyright (c) 2007 by Dana McCauley. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: Bringing beans back from the beyond

September 12, 2008


When I got home from vacation, my green beans had passed their prime. The pods had changed from vibrant green to a dull, tired shade and the beans inside these protective sheaths were no longer tender and yielding but large and a little bit starchy.

I pulled one of these pods apart and decided to resurrect the beans. If time had beaten me to the beans, I’d devote more time to getting them back.

In the end, resurrecting my bean crop was a successful and satisfying project but one I’ll never repeat. It was just too labour intensive. The first required task was to cut open each bean pod and collect the beans. Then I blanched the beans and discovered that they had a tough, waxy outer skin that had to be removed by hand.

Eventually I had a small bowl of beans that I dressed with sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, ginger and a bit of garlic. They tasted delicious but could easily have been replaced by a handful of frozen edamame. In other words, in less than a minute I could have had the same final result.

The lesson: sometimes trying not to waste produce can be a real waste of time.


Check out this article for more info on the subject of cooking mature green beans.