Topline Trends Tuesday: Ramen

November 24, 2009

Photo credit: http://www.japundit.com/tag/robots

For most North Americans the word ramen is synonymous with super salty, MSG-laced cups of noodles eaten in funky smelling dorm rooms, but that perception is changing.

In cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, ramen restaurants that treat these convenient noodles with care and respect are becoming popular; meanwhile, in Japan, ramen joints are so popular that ramen-making robots are tirelessly employed producing bowls of noodles all day long (that’s a ramen robot pictured above in fact.)

According to National Post restaurant reviewer Gina Mallet (who wrote about Toronto’s Liberty Noodle in her column last week), ramen is a big part of Japanese culture today with “5000 ramen shops in Tokyo alone, small places mostly, where you buy a ticket and stand to eat.” She elaborates that “when the Japanese are not scoffing instant ramen in a Styrofoam cup, they are watching ramen shows on TV, ramen award shows, or they’re scouring the neighbourhood for the newest rave. Japanese are ruthless gourmands.”

I admit to having eaten my fair share of low rent ramen when I was younger. What’s your experience? Have you had ramen in a restaurant? And, if you eat the instant ramen, is it a guilty pleasure or a proud pop-culture statement?

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Arils. My new food word

November 23, 2009

pomegranate

One of the things I love best about being in a food-focused profession is that there’s always something new to learn. But new food terms – unless they’re from other cultures – aren’t that plentiful at this point in my career.

And, even if I don’t know a particular term, chances that Amy or Sabrina will know it are very high. So, last week when I encountered the word arils for the first time, I was super surprised when it was new to my two smarty pants colleagues as well.

So, what the heck is an aril? Aril (arilles, en francais) is the name for the juicy, garnet-coloured, flesh-covered seeds inside a pomegranate.

Now, be honest, did you know the word ‘arils’ before reading this post?


Weekend Party Trick: 60-second appetizer

November 20, 2009

brie1

The challenge: make a great looking appetizer that tastes fantastic in less time than it takes to wiggle into your party clothes.

The solution: Fruit and Nut topped Camembert

1 wheel Camembert or Brie cheese
Liquid honey
1 handful Back to Nature Raisins, Almonds, Pumpkin Seeds, Pecans and Apricots blend

Place the cheese on a platter and drizzle with some honey. Mound some of the trail mix on top. Drizzle with a bit more honey and serve with grapes, apple slices and crackers.

Need a wine match? Try an off-dry Riesling for white drinkers or a light, fruity pinot noir for a red choice. Can’t decide between red or white? Prosecco is a great match, too!

Now that you’ve seen my favourite party trick, tell me about yours!


French onion soup

November 19, 2009

Fr onion soup

Every where I turned last week I ran into French onion soup: commercials, blogs, cookbooks. It almost seemed surreal but certainly not bad.

For me, French onion soup has a retro appeal that’s hard to beat. When made well, it’s a rich, full-flavoured broth that begs tender, sweet onions to bask and linger. Instead of covering it with a heavy, greasy layer of cheese, I prefer to make a Gruyere-topped crostini that you can either float on top of the soup or stand up on one side of the bowl.

Regardless of how you position the cheese and bread, be sure to choose good quality Gruyere cheese. I think it’s much yummier than regular Swiss cheese. Given a choice, I buy Gruyere that has been aged for 10 to 12 months since it has a rich, nutty flavor. Gruyere also has a medium fat content so that complements the flavour of the onions without overwhelming their zesty taste.

French onion soup

3 tbsp (30 mL) butter
2 Spanish or 3 medium cooking onions, peeled
and sliced
2 clove garlic, minced
11/2 tsp (7 mL) dried thyme
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each salt and pepper
1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) sherry
1 tsp (5 mL) Worcestershire sauce
6 cups (1.5 L) beef broth
6 slices, thick baguette
1 cup (250 mL) shredded Gruyere or other Swiss cheese*
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Melt butter in a Dutch oven set over medium-low heat. Add onions, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes or until onions are translucent and very soft. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onions are just beginning to brown. Sprinkle in sugar and continue to cook, stirring often, until very brown but not scorched.

Add sherry and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to scrape up any brown bits. Add the broth and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

Preheat the broiler to high. Toast the baguette slices on a baking sheet until golden on each side. Sprinkle cheese and parsley (if using) even over the toasts. Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden. Ladle an equal amount of soup into each bowl. Top with a cheese crouton and serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

* This recipe appeared in Dana’s Top Ten Table.


Judgmental

November 18, 2009

Peanut ButterI’ve always thought of myself as an open minded person but obviously, the rest of the world doesn’t see me that way.  Somehow, I’ve become known as as judgemental. In the last month I’ve been asked to judge everything from cookies and cooking to beer pouring.

First I participated as a judge along with Elizabeth Baird and Stephanie Pick at the Gay Lea Shortbread Contest. The winning recipe was not only delicious but technically interesting as well. (The recipe is below if you’d like to try it.)

Then, I was off to New York to be a judge at the international Stella Artois Draught Master challenge where the world’s best draftmaster was crowned. And, lastly I joined the chefs from the Delta Grandview Hotel as a judge in an Iron Chef style competition between 8 teams of Kraft employees.

I’m both full and exhausted! Seriously, it’s much harder work to judge other people than I anticipated. It’s been a true test of my attention span.

Fortunately, the next contest that I’m involved with requires me to be a host and not a judge. On January 22nd, I’ll preside over the first ever Canadian Pillsbury Baking Challenge ! There’s still time to vote on your favourite recipes so make sure you visit the contest website to find out more details!

Have you ever entered a food or beverage competition? If so, was it fun or frightening?

Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread Bars

Shortbread:
1 cup unsalted Gay Lea Butter, softened 250 mL
1 cup granulated sugar 250 mL
1 egg yolk 1
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional) 2 mL
2 cups all purpose flour 500 mL
1 tsp baking powder 5 mL
1/4 tsp salt 1 mL

Filling:
3/4 cup blueberry jam 175 mL
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter 125 mL
1/2 cup icing sugar 125 mL
2 tbsp unsalted Gay Lea Butter, softened 30 mL

Instructions:

In a large bowl, beat the butter with the sugar and egg yolk, using an electric mixer, for 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl blend together flour, baking powder and salt until well combined.

Divide the dough into two equal portions and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for 1 to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a 9 x 13-inch (3 L) baking dish with parchment paper; reserve. Remove dough from fridge. Shred dough using a coarse grater or food processor, fitted with a metal shredding blade; replace one portion of shredded dough to the fridge.

Arrange remaining dough in an even layer in the prepared baking dish; lightly pat the dough down. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges; cool for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend the jam with the icing sugar and butter until smooth and well combined. Spread the peanut butter over the shortbread base in an even layer. Drop spoonfuls of the jam mixture over the peanut butter and gently spread in an even layer.

Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and scatter over the jam layer. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is set and lightly golden brown. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool completely; cut into bars.

Makes 24 bars.

Tip: Try grape jelly or strawberry jam in place of the blueberry jam for a fun twist.


Topline Trends Tuesday: Is tea cooling down?

November 17, 2009

TA3

Curious about what’s happening with the tea trend? So am I. So, I asked tea aficionado and graphic design expert Adrian Doran to attend a tea event in Toronto and report back to us.

His findings are interesting. While reports show that consumers are as curious as ever about the health benefits of tea, it seems that food service professionals still haven’t realized how to incorporate tea successfully into their commercial concepts:


Tea Report 2009

 

By Adrian Doran

Ever consulted a wine sommelier at your favourite restaurant? What about their tea sommelier? Do they even have one? More importantly, ever wondered why a meal of exceptional quality and service ends with a tea bag?

At the recent launch of Jeff Fuchs book The Ancient Tea Horse Road, Bill Kamula, instructor at George Brown College Chef School and Louise Roberge, President of the Tea Association of Canada, spoke about the traditions of tea and it’s future – the first batch of graduates from the College’s Tea Sommelier course.

“Tea is where wine was 20 years ago” said Roberge. “Then it was, red or white? Now, we’re aware of region, vintage, so on.” She believes the course will produce the generation of food service professionals that will lead the education of the public.

The tea industry seems to be waiting for a breakthrough. Tea consumption has grown hugely but it’s coming from far behind. A tea-equivalent of Starbucks isn’t even on the horizon and attempts to promote new tea drinks and introduce new customers to classic varieties can feel gimmicky – milk-infused oolong, anyone? There’s even some resistance from the foodservice industry – wine sommeliers seem curious enough about tea to expand their knowledge but not enough to fully commit to a 44 week course.

Kamula admits that the first dozen graduates included few foodservice professionals. “Some are from the distribution side, some are buyers. We had one lady who plans to open a bed-and-breakfast, with afternoon tea, even some Starbucks middle-management but few who plan to go into the restaurant industry.” So, if the market isn’t knowledgeable enough to drive the decisions about tea, it’s going to take a while.

At the end of an exceptional restaurant meal, do you even want to decide between early and late harvest oolongs or are you happy with a bag of Tetley’s?


Smoke signals

November 16, 2009

grilling eggplant

A lot has changed since I was a kid. Today, apparently, it’s a tragic embarrassment to have your mom call across the street that it’s time to come in from playing street hockey to eat your dinner. I’ve been instructed to text my son that his dinner is ready. Apparently, he’ll still be able to claim me as his mother if I follow such instructions. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that I’ll be sent into exile.

Not so when I was 12 going on 13. In those days the only texts I knew about were the books in my school bag and I certainly didn’t take those outside to play or want to spend any extra time with them!

One way to get attention from the ball hockey players, basket shooters or skateboarders on the street is to grill something delicious that gets them coming to you. But grilling in cool weather presents some challenges you don’t face in summer time. So, in order to produce smoke signals that create enticing foods night after crisp, autumn night, follow these cooler weather grilling tips (not be confused with my winter grilling tips.

• Cook even small foods covered to retain heat
• Likewise, don’t leave the lid open too long when turning or basting food
• Increase the setting by one notch if the air is 10 degrees Celsius or more cooler than room temperature
• If cooking over indirect heat, rotate the food more frequently than usual.
• Bring larger foods (such as roasts and whole chickens) to room temperature before grilling in cold weather
• Take foods inside as soon as they are cooked so that they don’t cool down too quickly

This  Grilled Honey Spiced Eggplant (pictured above) is perfect for autumn grilling.