If I had one dollar

November 26, 2009

Shredded Money Taco Too

I just love Twitter. I know it sounds lame and I used to scoff at it, but seriously, it’s turning into such a useful tool.

Just the other day, @jambutter tweeted about how many calories a US dollar could buy. I tweeted back and asked for source info and he passed on a note that the stats came from a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This “research” took about 45 seconds.

I did a little further digging and I found this Time Magazine article that summarized the source data well but I’ve put it in my own format:

$1US = 1200 calories of potato chips
$1US = 875 calories of soda
$1US = 250 calories of vegetables
$1US = 170 calories of fresh fruit.

Now, the obvious point is that potato chips and soda drinks are more calorie dense than fruit and veggies so you get more calories for your dollar; however, they are not more nutrient dense and that means you eat more of them to feel satisfied.

To put these stats into perspective, I turned to my colleague professional home economist Amy Snider-Whitson who always has something to say about nutrition:

“This is why we have an epidemic of obesity and people suffering from chronic diseases that healthy diets could help to prevent (…and, no wonder people can’t grasp portion control when you buy a cheap snack and end up eating half a day’s calories!).

Unfortunately, the way we produce food today makes the nutritious choice often much more expensive. So, people choose calories over content. While many, many people consume too many calories on a daily basis, not one of us can say that we are getting too many essential nutrients. One consolation is that if we invest today in choosing nutrient dense foods, we might save health care dollars in the future.”

When you’re shopping, do you consciously plan how much of your budget is spent on nutrient dense foods? Or do the ‘chips’ (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!) fall where they may?

Topline Trends Tuesday: Truckin’ and Eatin’

May 26, 2009

Mexicanfoodtruck Would you buy a taco from this man?  Yeah, so would I.

In American cities such as LA, New York and many points in between, the grungy coffee truck has been reinvented as a hip and happening way to deliver quality food experiences to busy people.

Celebrated vendors like the Treats Truck roam Manhattan streets making bakery deliveries and selling their sugary wares (such as raspberry brownies and cran-almond rice crispy bars) to passersby.

While the concept may seem retro (think about ice cream trucks), the application is modern with interesting food concepts and unique marketing approaches that use  twitter and blogs to make these free range eateries a success.

While Vancouver seems to be catching on to this trend, here in Toronto, the street food scene remains dull and duller. While most of our so-called ‘coffee trucks’ are fronts for drug dealers and not legitimate lunch purveyors, our efforts to pepper interesting ethnic food vendors amongst our copious hot dog carts have been thwarted by bureaucracy so that heartburn is more common among fans of this initiative than satisfied appetites.

What’s it like in your town? Is your street food culture vibrant or dormant? If it’s vibrant, how often do you buy food from a mobile vender?

Return of the casserole

April 15, 2009

tunaFrom Adage to Gourmet, casseroles have been highlighted as a resurging trend. Given the current economy, it’s not a surprising prediction. After all, casseroles almost always fall under the comfort cooking and budget cooking categories (unless you make the yummy scallop casserole from the Canadian Living Entertaining Cookbook which costs a lot to make but is worth every bite).

I grew up in a casserole-free zone. My dad didn’t like even the idea of casseroles one bit and my mother didn’t see any reason to rock the dining table over such a small bias. As a result, I didn’t make (or taste!) my first tuna casserole until I started writing my last book. I know it sounds weird but they just didn’t teach us about tuna casserole in chef school!

After a bit of trial and error, I discovered that adding a tomato-crumb topping cuts the richness of classic tuna casserole and makes the finished dish look tempting, too. I’ve shared samples of my recipe with tuna casserole devotees and they have all given this recipe two forks up!

Have you been making more casseroles in 2009?

Homey Tuna-Tomato Casserole*

3 cups (750 mL) short pasta such as penne, rotini or gemelli
1 tbsp (15 mL) butter
3 green onions, chopped
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
½ tsp (2 mL) each dried thyme and salt
¼ tsp (1 mL) pepper
2 cans (each 61/2 oz/184 g) chunk light tuna, drained
1 cup (250 mL) regular or light mayonnaise
¼ cup (50 mL) sour cream
2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard
1 tomato, sliced thinly
½ cup (250 mL) whole wheat bread crumbs
1 clove garlic, minced
¾ cup (175 mL) shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Boil the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain well and reserve.

Meanwhile, melt the butter n a small skillet set over medium heat. Add the green onions, celery, thyme, salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes or until softened.

In a large bowl, flake the tuna using a fork. Add the mayonnaise, sour cream and mustard and blend until combined. Mix in the onion mixture. Stir in the noodles and transfer to a buttered 8 cup (2L) casserole dish.

Topping: spread the sliced tomatoes evenly over the top of the casserole. Toss the crumbs with the garlic until evenly combined. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Sprinkle evenly over the tomatoes.

Bake the casserole for 30 minutes or until bubbly and very hot. Makes 4 servings.

Makeahead: Cover casserole and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Extend cooking time to 45 minutes if cooking from cold.

*(Recipe excerpted from Dana’s Top Ten Table (Harper Collins 2009)

Heart attacks to go

February 18, 2009


I thought Cosplay restaurants pushed the boundaries of sensible foodservice conceptualization – after all, what could be more offensive than eating noodles out of a toilet shaped bowl? But, then I heard about the Heart Attack Grill.

It’s hard to believe that this restaurant actually exists. To be honest it seems more like something you’d see in a satirical show like South Park or The Simpsons rather than a business that someone would actually put their time and money into developing.

From Flatliner Fries to Quadruple Bypass Burgers (2 lbs of meat, 4 layers of cheese and 12 slices of bacon!) to waitresses dressed as naughty nurses who will push you to your car in a wheelchair after your meal, this place is crass on almost every level; in fact, the menu even includes lung searing unfiltered cigarettes!

The kicker: According to this article in the Nation’s Restaurant News, Heart Attack Grill is a thriving restaurant. Go figure.

What do you think about this concept? Do you find it a fun idea or offensive? And, if you find HAG offensive, what upsets you: the objectification of women, the insensitivity toward serious illness… something else entirely?

I have to say that for me, this restaurant is like a circus sideshow. I know it’s horrible to want to look at it, but I can’t help but be fascinated and horrified by the idea at the same time.

$19.95 – The surprisingly low price of good advice

October 21, 2008

Despite the fact that I’m a bit of a misanthrope, my cranky disposition doesn’t prevent me from being  contacted frequently by people who want to ask me about how to get involved in the food business. Most of these people have little interest in becoming a chef or working in a restaurant and wonder how one can become a food stylist, a cookbook author or a restaurant reviewer.

My own academic advisers woefully let me down in this department. In high school when I told my guidance counselor that I wanted to go to chef school he simply told me I was too smart to go to college (in those days colleges in Ontario were geared for people who couldn’t cope in the academic stream of University). He didn’t mention that I could channel my interest in food into a career as a Home Economist or a dietitian or that there were excellent university level chef programs offered in the United States. As far as he was concerned, I just needed to change my focus to something more appropriate. So, I did.

After getting a B.A.H in English Lit, I eventually did follow my dreams and go to chef school; however, the program was so narrowly focused that I graduated not knowing what a food stylist was. Once again I’d been given only partial insight into my career options.

Needless to say, as I met people with exciting and diverse jobs in the food industry, I realized how poorly informed my advisers had been and made a vow to try to help other people make more informed career choices if I could.

After repeating my career story and the lessons it holds to many people over the last decade and a half, I was thrilled to see Irena Chalmer’s new book, Food Jobs, arrive in the post the other day. While certainly not exhaustive, this book does showcase 150 jobs that people interested in culinary arts careers can consider. Likewise, Irena does a good job of providing info for next steps so that if you find one of the jobs she describes intriguing you can learn about how to get the appropriate training.

I have a copy of Food Jobs on my desk and will recommend it to people who come to me for career advice. I considered sending a copy to my old guidance counselor but I have a feeling he’s likely (and hopefully!) retired.

Brown bagging trends up

October 16, 2008

As would be expected, when the economy tightens up, frugality becomes a big trend. Not only has the canned meat product Spam seen a huge sales spike since the mortgage crash in the US, but carrying your lunch has become more popular, too as the economies on both sides of the border have suffered. Even Ivanka Trump is joining the brown bag brigade.

Recent research shows that 93% of people who take their lunch do so to save money while 68% make the choice for health and nutrition reasons. I fall into that second category; however, an added incentive for me is that the food I make myself is usually much more delicious than the stuff I can buy easily.

This brown bag survey (conducted by market research group NPD) also found that the top three items in lunch boxes were reported to be sandwiches, frozen entrées and yogurt. Although I keep Green Giant Essentials in the freezer at work for emergency afternoon snacks, I would never even think of packing a frozen entrée for my lunch. But, then again, I don’t buy frozen entrées generally. My own lunch is most often veggies (cooked or a salad), often with tuna salad or hummus on top. Some days it’s a simpler salad with a yogurt and an apple (like yesterday’s lunch pictured above).

How often do you pack a lunch and what makes it into your lunch bag? Is your menu typical or do you pack a lunch bag full of fresh ideas?

Pantry raiders unite

August 5, 2008

For a food writer, I have a perverse love of empty pantry shelves and wide open spaces in my refrigerator. Our test kitchen develops about 600 recipes a year for our various editorial and corporate clients so we have a huge pantry management issue. (In fact, we have a team member whose business card title is Pantry Manager).

A side effect of having to cope with so much food is that I’ve developed this weird desire to have an empty refrigerator. I just love to open the fridge and see an empty shelf. It’s become synonymous with having no work to do. Weird, but true.

Perhaps that’s why I liked this post about saving money by using up your pantry supplies. Saving money, earning money – just two sides of the same cookie, right?

Keep up with Bread Chick’s pantry management experiment by following her Pantry Plan tags each week.