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Happy-Gourmand

Gizmos, gadgets for foodies

It never ceases to amaze me how many things can be invented that claim to make our lives easier.

The plethora of gadgets you can own is only limited by the space you have. You might never have made smoothies before, but that doesn't mean you don't need a Bullet mixer, right? The guy on TV says it does all kinds of things.

I know you planned to use it to make salad dressing, really you did. Well, this week I'm going to make you feel better about a crazy purchase you bought by showing you some you don't have yet.

I'll inspire you to get another gizmo, or perhaps you'll want to have a garage sale to entice others to join the gadget world :) Either way, we can all learn something.

Top 3 wacky gadgets

When I was a kid, there were ads on TV by K-Tel, the original “as seen on TV" company. Products included the Patti Chef (a tube with a plunger for making a pile of burger patties) and the Veg-o-matic (a hand-powered slicer/dicer/chopper). We joked about their silly ads, but many people still swear by their products.

These more recent inventions range from the simple to the exotic, but I think they can be included in the less-than-essential category, if not the wacky one...

Sage by Heston Blumenthal, the tea maker - at £116 ($220 CAD) this is the most expensive offering. It can make the perfect pot of tea, with 15 settings for variable water temperature and tea strength as well as having a timer.
The Golden Goose - this nifty hand-powered gadget will scramble an egg on the shell, thus providing "golden eggs". It's interesting to note this gadget became a success through crowd funding: "as seen on the Internet.”
Peapod Splitter - just when you thought all the slicing and dicing was taken care of, there is one more veggie to process. Lee Valley Tools has found this one to include in their latest catalog. At $8.50 it's not a big investment, if you are a true lover of shelled peas.

Top 3 practical gizmos

Spurtle - yes, this is a real thing. It comes from Scotland, where it was originally used for stirring Scottish oats for porridge. It works equally as well for any thick stews or sauces, especially in a large pot.
Rasp - not the snake (that's an asp), but rather a fine grater that works well to add citrus zest in a recipe. Once you have one, you'll wonder how you ever cooked without it. (Lee Valley has this in their inventory, too; they call it a Microplane grater.)
Silicone mat - these things are invaluable. Not only will they keep items from sticking on your baking sheets, they save you using oil or butter to grease the pan. You can make crispy delights such as Parmesan crisps and brandy snaps, too - without messy clean up. No need to buy the expensive kind, either; just find one that works with high heat (500F).

Of course, I didn't even start into the various machines you can get - do you want, or already have - a panini maker, a yogurt maker, a Bullet, a margarita machine, a bread machine, a pasta machine...? How often do you use them? Are they still in the box, somewhere in the basement? Maybe it's a good idea to think of a meal in which you could use them in the next few weeks, just for fun.

For a recipe this week, here's a chance to use some of the practical gadgets I mentioned. Don't worry if you don't have them yet as I offer alternatives, but I highly recommend getting yourself one of each.

LIME CHILI SHORTBREAD

This recipe comes from my husband, who is a private chef in the Okanagan. He uses this as an appetizer for the house parties he cooks at in the winter season. It’s wonderful paired with your favourite sparkling wine (I like Prosecco, but choose what works for you.)

  • 1 cup (250 g) butter, cut in small cubes
  • 2 cups (500 g)  flour
  • 250 g Monterey Jack cheese, grated  (if you're adventurous, get one with jalapeños)
  • 50 g powdered Parmesan
  • Grated zest of 1 lime
  • Touch of garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp / 1 mL ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp / 3 mL cayenne powder (optional - you can leave it out of you don't like heat)
  • 1/2 tsp / 3 mL chili powder

Grate cheese and lime for zest. (If you don't have a rasp to finely grate the lime, use the fine grater on your cheese grater ) Combine flour, lime zest and spices in large bowl. Stir in cheeses and butter.

Mix together until you have a dough, a food processor works well, but it can be done by hand.

I make a log on plastic wrap, set in the fridge until solid then cut into cookies, very like sweet shortbread. You can roll it out and cut it into shapes if you wish ( approx. 1/4 inch / 0.5 cm thick). It can be frozen for up to 3 weeks as well.

Bake on baking sheets with silicone mats at 400F (200C) for about 15 minutes or until golden brown on top ( if you don't have a silicone mat, put parchment paper on the baking sheet). Cool slightly and serve.



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Rainy day eats and treats

What is it about the Victoria Day long weekend?! Every year we all get excited, planning a day in the garden or out on the boat, a big camping trip or a family BBQ... and what happens? The clouds roll in, the wind blows and the rain starts. What a bummer, right? Well, a good way to feel better on a rainy day is to eat something, so here are my favourite picks to put some fun back in amongst the grey.

Popcorn is a great snack, and even one that is okay on the healthy scale. So how about a movie? I am a fan of the big screen, so my first choice is to head to the biggest screen you can find that's playing something you like. Superman vs Batman? Or are you more of a Zootopia or Angry Birds fan? I won't hold it against you if you choose to have licorice or M & M's, but I'm a purist - buttered popcorn and a good movie can make me forget even the worst of days. If you happen to be a home movie buff, then I think splurging and dressing up your popcorn is the thing to do - try one of those seasoned salts you can get at many food stores (Amola is a great brand with many options), or drizzle some truffle oil over it. You might even want a glass of Chardonnay!

Making cookies is another great rainy day pastime. In today's busy world I think the best approach is to make a batch that allows for future enjoyment as well, so icebox cookies are my go-to choice. You can still spend time rolling them out and cutting them in shapes if you like; the remainders can be rolled in cylinder shapes and frozen for another rainy day! A recipe I particularly like is Pistachio Cranberry Cookies, found from an app I love called Yummly.  It's easily adapted with different nuts, or chocolate chips instead of nuts or cranberry.

If you want something more healthy, you can make some dip. My husband came up with a wonderfully simple radish dip that works equally well with veggies or crackers or chips. It's perfect sustenance for indoor activities such as board games or jigsaw puzzles as well.

RADISH DIP

  • 250 g cream cheese
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • handful of chives, chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 bunch radishes

Wash and trim radishes and chop finely in a food processor.  Add cream cheese and lemon zest.  Stir in chives. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with sliced veggies and/or chips.

You could always go out for a nosh - why not take advantage of inside time and try out some local fare? In Vernon, I like to treat myself to a piece of pie at Davison Orchard when I want a lift. In Kelowna, a breakfast burrito or club sandwich with fries and house-made blackberry ketchup at Okanagan Street Food are sure to bring a smile. Penticton has the friendly folks at The Bench Market (their Fungi Panini is awesome, and weekend brunch is divine). Summerland has True Grain Bakery and their delicious gingerbread cookies with coffee, or a delectable danish.

Last, but certainly not least, is the option of making indoor s'mores. They can recreate the feeling of being around the campfire, without the risk of being soggy and cold. You can sit around the table and sing Kumbaya, or you can go high tech and play video games if you prefer. Either way, I think eating one of these will help improve your mood. Eating two will make you feel downright euphoric.

However you choose to make the most of a rainy weekend, I wish you all the best. May you find some sunshine in the company of friends and in the taste of good food.

INDOOR S'MORES BARS

  • 1-1/2 cups graham crumbs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1-1/4 cups unsweetened coconut flakes (or medium shredded)
  • 1-1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan.

Mix graham crumbs, brown sugar and flour in a medium bowl. Pour in melted butter and mix well. Press crust in pan. Open can of condensed milk and warm in heating oven (this makes it easier to pour).

Prepare quantities of chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. Pour 2/3 of condensed milk over crust in pan. Sprinkle half of each of the nuts, chocolate chips and coconut over this, then remaining 1/3 milk and the other half of the ingredients.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Let cool, then cut and serve!



Planting & eating a rainbow

If you are like me, this time of year you have an uncontrollable urge to have things growing at your house. We have all kinds of garden space and a little greenhouse so I could be called a bit obsessive about my green hobby, but even if you only plant a few boxes or containers you can still grow edible things and not just pretty flowers. When I work with kids and coach them on eating well, one of the phrases I love is to "eat a rainbow", encouraging them to try all the different foods of various colours in their meals. You can certainly plant a rainbow too; it's an inspiring way to be creative when you cook!

If you are a regular reader, you might remember when I spoke of the history of carrots - they started out as purple and have become orange only in the last hundred and fifty years or so. You can grow purple carrots, or yellow or orange or even white - they are all available, even in rainbow packs.  And if you don't want to mess with changing carrots' colour at your family's dinner table, how about inter-planting them with radishes in a row? This is a useful technique not just for variety in eating; the radishes will ripen first and when you pick them you will naturally thin the row for the carrots to grow bigger. How's that for "working smarter, not harder" ? Who says gardeners can't be a bit lazy?

Another easy variation that works in containers is to plant a "potpourri" of herbs and spices. You can get pre-planted pots at many of the nurseries, often with themes like Italian or French herbs. These plants like being trimmed on a regular basis, which means you can add some fresh flavours to dishes you cook and the plants in turn will continue on, getting even bushier as the season goes on. Some of these planters can even come inside for the winter. Or, if you'd like something simpler, try planting a few different lettuces in a pot. Keep it in a cooler spot so the leaves won't burn once things heat up outside, and make sure there is a saucer under the pot or a self-watering system so it doesn't dry out. Don't pull the plants but rather cut the leaves and you'll get more to snip as the plant renews itself.

If you're feeling confident, grow tomatoes. They take a bit more care and a bit longer to produce but there is nothing like tasting your own fruit in late summer - you might never want a store-bought tomato again! To get the most from your tomato plants, follow these great tips from the folks at West Coast Seeds in Vancouver. They are a great resource, and supply many local garden shops with their rainbow of veggie and flower seeds.

For gardeners who want to make more of a commitment, there are great connections to be made at local farmers' markets.  Folks here grow plants in our region so they can tell you how to get the most from what you choose, whether plants or seeds.  There are the usual suspects - tomatoes, peppers, squash and all kinds of herbs - and lots of flavours and textures to add to your rainbow. They have experience and are happy to share it; use their expertise. I particularly like the team at Sunshine Farms but there are many vendors at the Kelowna Farmers & Crafters Market and also at other markets throughout the Okanagan.

Please don't dismay if you are one of those people who is more of a "consumer" than a "producer", as my husband says. There is nothing wrong with simply enjoying the fruits of the labour, whether it's yours or someone else's. Check out this list of farmers' markets or the vast resources of SoilMate, a website that connects with farmers, restaurants and all kinds of businesses interested in promoting local and sustainable food and drink. Celebrate the growing season by enjoying the local bounty!

 

For a recipe this week, I thought a good idea might be a simple salad dressing. It works well with a salad made of fresh veggies, and it's great to incorporate leftovers too. Remember,  you are only limited by your own creativity. Consider your result the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow :)

CHILI CUMIN DRESSING

This dressing works with salad greens, especially firmer ones like romaine, but it's really good with veggies that have a firmer texture like tomatoes and cucumbers (think Mediterranean or Mexican as a theme). I love it with cubes of leftover beef or chicken added in for that bit of protein, but you can keep it vegetarian by adding cheese if you prefer.

  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (you can use olive, or grape seed if you want something lighter)
  • grated rind of 1/2 orange
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced (to your preference)
  • 1/3 cup / 80 mL red wine vinegar 
  • 1/4 tsp / 1 g cayenne 
  • 1-1/2 tsp / 8 g chili powder
  • 2 tsp / 10 g cumin 
  • 1/2 tsp / 2 g salt
  • 1 tsp / 5 g pepper

 

Whisk egg, if using. Add oil, still blending (a blender or food processor works well for this if you have one).  Add remaining ingredients and blend again. 

Pour over salad ingredients in a large bowl, mix and let sit 10-20 minutes for flavours to mellow and integrate. Enjoy!





Running hot and cold

Mmmmmm, coffee

Perhaps it is my need to stay energetic in this busy early spring, but I have been thinking a lot lately about coffee. With my ever-curious brain and its search for more trivia, it led me to thinking about the psychology that goes with our coffee culture, and why a simple beverage has become a ritual for us, an intrinsic part of everyday life. 

Even people who don’t partake of the stuff know the steps in the ritual, and the places that support such rites are rife with adaptations for these non-believers. No one wants to be left out, after all.

The discovery of coffee gets credited to an Ethiopian shepherd who lost his sheep and later found them dancing around a red cherry bush. The bush was a coffee plant, and when he tried the red cherries (unroasted coffee beans) he began to dance around the bush too. He recounted his story to local  monks who told him that they made a drink from the beans. As you can see, celebration was obviously an early part of the coffee ritual.

The first coffee shop opened in Constantinople in 1475, and in those days, coffee was so important that a woman could legally divorce her husband if he did not provide her with her daily quota of coffee. Wouldn’t that make an interesting Timmy’s commercial? When Pope Clemente VIII was asked to place a ban on coffee drinking, he refused, "This beverage is so delicious it would be a sin to let only misbelievers drink it.”

There is much research and documentation to prove the relationship of coffee to the development of our culture. 

Bach wrote a Coffee Cantata. 

Many a politician and literary personality developed their craft in coffee houses around the world. 

The Boston Tea Party made drinking coffee a very patriotic thing to do in the new United States. 

You can consider yourself in good company the next time you sit and sip your grande non-fat latte.

 

Mmmmmm, ice cream

Some people are not coffee fans, and as the weather warms, a hot drink might not be what you crave. Do not dismay, consider another trend that has created a culture around itself, that all familiar treat – ice cream. It, too, has existed since somewhere in the 2nd century BC, although there is no record of the inventor. 

We do know that Alexander the Great, King Solomon, and Emperor Nero were all fond of iced concoctions reminiscent of today’s treat. Marco Polo is credited with the somewhat modern version of sherbet, then advancements allowed for adaptations with cream. 

It was a delicacy mostly reserved for the rich, however, as storing frozen goods was no mean feat in the days before refrigeration. It was not until the 1800s that insulated ice houses started a new industry in America. Years before, President George Washington spent the tidy sum of two hundred dollars on ice cream consumption in one summer.

During World War II, ice cream was a symbol of America’s prowess – the armed forces took great pride in being able to serve it to the troops, with the piece de resistance being a floating ice cream parlour built by the Navy in the South Pacific. Can’t you imagine Christine Aguilera dancing there in her sailor outfit? When the war was won, Americans celebrated by eating ice cream: They consumed 20 quarts of the stuff per person in 1946.

As with most things today, ice cream has become an expanded concept. It can now include soy or rice milk products. You can have it scooped, or blended with bits of extra stuff. You can even have it in tiny balls that are flash frozen, which apparently seals in more flavour to every mouthful. 

 

High tech wizardry with a touch of retro simplicity

Technology is part of the attraction in today’s food world, and the perfect combination seems to be a bit of high tech wizardry with a touch of retro simplicity. With these elements in balance, you get the blending of new and old worlds. 

That may be the way to bridge the gaps we have in our world, to bring generations and cultures closer together over a cup of half-caff extra hot caramel latte or a cup of Mini Melts. There is long tradition in sharing ideas while taking a break from the hectic pace of everyday life, and we all deserve a break, don’t we? Maybe we won’t solve the problems of the world, but at least we can say we enjoyed ourselves for a moment or two.

There are lots of great coffee shops in Kelowna and surrounding areas. I enjoy GioBean for their handcrafted lattes, and Bean Scene has a delicious chili chocolate cookie that dunks well in a cup of joe. Third Space Cafe, with its communal tables and meeting space, is a great hangout if you plan on social discussion as you sip. 

If you need a cooling break, it's still a bit early for some of the seasonal ice cream joints such as Paynter's Fruit Market on the Westside. However, you can enjoy Mini Melts anytime now at Landmark Extreme cinemas. How’s that for a cool movie experience? Moo Lix offers a convenient detour on a walk near the lake or downtown Kelowna, and GioBean serves gelato as well as coffee, if you want to please everyone in a single stop.

In case you don't feel like leaving home, you can try this recipe for Coffee Crème Brulée. If you put the mixture in an ice cream maker, you get coffee ice cream . . . you’re welcome!

 

Coffee Créme Brulée

Serves 6

Ingredients

1/2 cup milk
1-1/2 cups whipping cream (33% or more)
5 tbsp brewed coffee (espresso is best, but you can use instant if you want)
6 egg yolks
7 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F

Prepare 6 ramekins (approx. 1/2 cup size) or ceramic souffle dish (essentially a large ramekin). NOTE: Do not be tempted to line the dishes with butter or flour - leave them naked!

In medium pot mix milk, cream and coffee. Heat at medium and bring to boil, remove from stove right away. Let mixture rest for a few minutes.

In large bowl, mix together egg yolks, vanilla extract and sugar to a white/yellowish soft texture. Fold in warm cream mixture using rubber spatula.

Pour mixture into ramekins and place in pan of cold water so molds are sitting minimum half way in the water. Cover pan with aluminum foil. Remove foil after 35 minutes.

Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 60 minutes depending on size of your ramekins - until filling is still soft but firm-looking in the middle (it jiggles, but doesn't slosh around like a liquid).

Chill for 30-45 minutes, to serve to guests a bit colder than room temperature. Sprinkle with sugar, and burn top with a blow torch to a nice golden colour. Depending on the oven, broil does not work well enough - don't try it.

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More Happy Gourmand articles

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About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."

 

E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com

 



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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