Topline Trends Tuesday: Men still avoiding aprons

September 8, 2009

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According to this recent Toronto Star article, in the last census, nearly 25% of Canadian women spent 30 hours or more taking care of the home in 2006, compared to 7.7% of men. This US report shows that the trend is the same in that country, too.

What’s interesting for me as a trend tracker is that, while many young men tell me they love food TV shows and want to know how to become chefs like Jamie Oliver and Anthony Bourdain, it’s this same group who do the fewest household chores. In fact, according the US report linked above, teenage boys and young males performed the fewest hours of household work – 8.9 hours per week, compared with 15.9 for young women.

While “chores” aren’t broken down between cooking and cleaning, I have a feeling that this old ad isn’t as quaint as I’d like to think.

What do you think prevents more men from being involved in daily food preparation? Are women too ready to jump in and make a meal or do we make them feel unwelcome in the kitchen?

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Jewelry dilemmas

August 31, 2009

jewelryIf you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know that love has been in the air at our Test Kitchen. Not only did Amy get married on Saturday, but the lovely and capable Sabrina got engaged recently, too.

All this excitement led us to a discussion about our jewelry. While I usually stash my wedding ring in my pocket or next to my computer keyboard while I’m cooking, Sabrina is keeping her gorgeous new Mark Lash ring in a ramekin or on a pastry tip to keep it away from gooey dough.

The folks who inspect commercial and restaurant kitchens for health compliance recommend that no one in the kitchen wear rings, watches, bracelets or even earrings and nose rings that could transfer bacteria to food. For me, taking off my wedding ring when I cook comes not only from my concern about hygiene but also from my desire to keep my ring in good shape and prevent my finger from getting a moisture rash.

Do you take your rings off when you’re cooking? If so, where do you stash them for safekeeping?


BBQ Time: Calibrate your thermometer

April 23, 2009

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Don’t you hate it when you find out that because you weren’t properly informed you wasted money?  I’ve long been a fan of metal probe-style instant read thermometers. As I’ve written before, they help you to cook meat not only safely but also to the perfect level of doneness. I knew these thermometers need to be tested frequently (especially after being dropped) but whenever I found one to be on the fritz, displaying a temperature out of whack with normal  temperature standards, I threw it away.

At an average of $15 each, that means that over the last few years, I’ve thrown out well over $100 worth of instant read thermometers!  That’s money I could have spent on dinner out at a nice restaurant, a facial, bonbons, beer or some other necessity of life. (Or, I guess I could have saved it,  but whatever.). 

Essentially that cash went into my trash can and then into land fill since almost all instant read thermometers can be calibrated. I learned this info when I took a safe food handling course on Sunday and I’ve been mad at myself ever since for not knowing that these tools are easily adjusted.

As I got over the initial embarrassing sting of how I’ve wasted money, I realized that if one person doesn’t know about something, there are likely others who aren’t informed either. So, today, just in time for grilling season, I’m going to teach you how to check your instant read thermometer for accuracy and how to fix it if it fails the test. 

  • Step One – Testing:  Fill a glass with equal parts cold water and ice cubes to make an ice slush mixture. Insert the instant read probe into the centre of the mixture being sure not to touch the sides or bottom of the glass. If the thermometer does not read 0 degrees celsius (or 32 degrees fahrenheit) move on to step two.  Otherwise, clean the probe and put it away.
  • Step Two – Calibrating: Turn the thermometer so that the face is away from you. On the underside of the thermometer, look for the nut that attaches the probe to the casing that holds the face. Use a small adjustable wrench to turn this nut gently. Retest the temperature and readjust the nut until you get the appropriate reading. Note:  Many models have a wrench built right into the same holder that keeps the probe clean and protected!

Did you know how to test and calibrate an instant read thermometer before reading today’s post?  Or, am I the only one who didn’t know how to do this task?

NB: If you need info about how to use an instant read thermometer, check out this post from last spring.


Dana and the black chickens

March 30, 2009

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My job as a food trend tracker keeps me on my toes. If I find references to something new in close proximity to one another, I draw myself up to attention and get researching.  Such was the case last week with Chinese silkie chickens (also called black chickens).  Sunday a chef proudly told me he now could get organic black chickens, then I heard someone talking about Chinese black chicken soup being healthful; on Thursday, one of my favourite online food destinations the Kitchn wrote about these curiously coloured birds. Was a trend taking flight?

The truth is that although I’m a schooled chef, I’d never cooked or eaten a black chicken before. So, I put out a call for info on Twitter and Facebook and I got an almost instant response from people who live both near and far offering suggestions about where to get my hands on these birds and how to prepare them.

I bought two silkies at T&T Supermarket and brought them home. Then I started reading about Chinese chicken soup and  the ingredients just didn’t inspire my appetite. All of the recipes contained ginseng, one of my least favourite flavours.

So, I went to bed with no plan in my mind but to cook those birds the next day. As it turned out, I decided that to be able to judge the flavour fairly, I needed to treat one of the chickens like I would treat a regular bird from my local grocery store. In the end, I decided the best test for a true comparison was to make a traditional chicken broth.

For my second chicken, I decided to treat it like a duck since many of the references I checked said that black chickens have a gamy flavour.  I concocted a recipe (it’s posted below but please be forewarned that I only made it once – it hasn’t been tested) for braising the second chicken in a lemongrass infused broth.

My results:

  • Chicken broth:  the silkie chicken made an incredibly nice chicken broth. In fact, from now on whenever see one in a Chinese market I’m going to pick it up expressly for that purpose. The broth in my freezer now is a lovely golden colour and has a true chicken scent and flavour. It’s excellent!
  • Braised Lemongrass Silkie:  the sauce, if I do say so myself, was excellent and the silkie chicken legs braised in this liquid were tender and quite tasty. The breast meat absorbed the flavour of the aromatics in a very desirable way but the meat was a bit tough and not something I’ll crave. In fact, I think I’ll make this braise again but I’ll use duck or goose legs instead.

As for the look of the meat, although it’s a bit startling at first, we got over that pretty fast while we were eating and I think it will be easier to cut up a black chicken next time I bring one home.

Looking for more info?  Check out these links:

 

Lemongrass Braised Silkie (Black) Chicken

1   silkie chicken

¼ cup (50 mL) dark soy sauce

2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil

1 tbsp (15 mL) minced fresh ginger

2 shallots, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

½ cup (125 mL) mirin (rice wine) or sherry

2 tbsp (30 mL) oyster sauce

1 tbsp (15 mL) dark brown sugar

1 tbsp (15 mL) hoisin sauce

2 whole star anise

2 whole cloves garlic

1 stalk lemongrass, chopped

2 cups (500 mL) chicken broth (approx)

chopped fresh coriander

steamed rice

  • Cut the chicken into leg, thigh and breast portions. Coat all over in the soy sauce and marinate for 30 minutes.
  • Heat half the oil in a Dutch oven or large pot. Add the ginger, garlic, shallots and onion. Stir-fry for 5 minutes. Add the oyster sauce, brown sugar, hoisin, mirin, star anise, garlic and lemongrass. Cook, stirring often for 3 minutes. Add the marinated chicken and enough chicken broth to cover. Bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken and continue to cook for 30 to 40 minutes longer or until the meat is fork tender. Transfer the chicken to a large bowl and cover tightly.  Bring the braising liquid to a boil and reduce for 5 to 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Strain the braising liquid into the bowl containing the chicken. Discard aromatic ingredients. Sprinkle with coriander and serve with steamed rice. 


Mystery in my cold room

February 19, 2009

img_32791People often wonder aloud to me about what it’s like having two professional chefs under one roof. To be honest, it feels pretty normal to me to be one half of our domestic culinary team so I find the question a little difficult to answer.

While I reign supreme 75% of the time in our home kitchen (I’m around more often at meal time), Martin does contribute often by bringing home great ingredients I wouldn’t be able to get in a retail store. Our foodie interests are evident in other parts of our house, too. For instance, these sausages are currently hanging in our cold room; they hang next to two full sized proscuittos Martin’s dry aging. I have no idea how a family of three is going to eat this much cured pork, but I’m sure Martin has something in mind. I’m just going to wait and see!

If you’re in a couple, how do you and your other half divide up the culinary duties? Does one of you cook while the other eats or do you share in the shopping and cooking?


Cooking like it’s 1822

January 12, 2009

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Between my full time job and the demands of family life, most of the year, I don’t find a lot of time for socializing other than going for a brisk walk with my neighbours Anne and Chris a couple of evenings a week. Chalk it up to a holiday habit that became hard to break, but last week was a wonderful exception. On Monday we celebrated my husband Martin’s birthday; on Tuesday I met a friend and her mom for dinner before we went to see the Sound of Music on stage and then Wednesday, I hung out with my Toronto-based IACP friends at Campbell House Museum.

If you don’t know about Campbell House please do read on: this historic home offers a glimpse into how Canadians of a certain class used to live, cook and eat in  pre-Victorian Toronto. Curator Liz Driver was our host extraordinaire. She divided us into groups and we made a full menu including custard in the wood fired oven, baked apple pie in a bake kettle, and cheddar rarebit and fire roasted sirloin steak in the hearth.

The meal was sensational but the company was even better. Although we were assigned recipes in pairs, everyone was sharing stories and techniques. See that pie above?  Those are Norene Gilletz’s hands; she’s showing us how she crimps pastry. If you look closely you’ll see that the pie has several different crimp patterns. That’s because Bonnie Stern and I both demonstrated our techniques, too.

How much of your love of cooking has to do with gadgets and appliances? Is a wood fire, a pot and wooden spoon all you need to enjoy whipping up a meal or is a kitchen equipped with a dishwasher, a convection oven and other modern appliances necessary for you to enjoy cooking?