Nov 30, 2013 / 5:00 am
In today's busy world, meals have sometimes become a challenge to fit in the schedule. Drive-throughs are busy on nights that include hockey practice or Girl Guides because no one has time to spend in the kitchen preparing a meal, or everyone is there at a different time. One way to ease that problem has been using a slow cooker. You just throw everything into the pot in the morning and leave it on low to simmer away until you're ready. Sounds like a darn fine invention, don't you think?
You're probably going to laugh when I tell you that the slow cooker was invented by a fellow who was inspired by the cooking of his Jewish grandmother. Irving Naxon apparently came up with the "Naxon Beanery All-Purpose Cooker" after hearing his Gramma talk about a traditional stew she made in Lithuania that cooked in the oven all day. Naxon's business was bought by another company in the 1970's and they rebranded his invention as the "Crock Pot", making the stoneware insert removable for easier cleaning. Their timing was perfect, as many working women loved the idea of being able to manage dinner while away from home. It seems we have finally remembered that was a great idea.
Slow cooking is also a great method for giving flavour to cheaper ingredients. You can use an inexpensive cut of meat in a slow cooker because it will be tender with the long cooking time in liquid at a low temperature. Flavours can be added with spices or even prepared sauces for more simple preparation. It can be a lazy person's secret to cooking at home.
If you're just going to "throw in some stuff", then remember you need to consider how the cooker works. There is not much evaporation, so you don't need too much liquid, but there has to be some or the food will dry out. It's hard to burn food at a low temperature, but overcooking it will mean it loses much of its texture, and possibly even its flavour (especially with vegetables).
I have a number of recipes and blog links on my Happy Gourmand blog - check out my latest post, Are you a slow cooker? or is that just a crock If you would like to share any of your own tips or recipes, please do so on the Happy Gourmand Facebook page.
Nov 23, 2013 / 5:00 am
When I was a kid, lunch was something most kids brought in a brown bag from home, and it was a simple affair. There were no pre-packaged cheese and crackers or pre-mixed tuna salad in those days unless Mom put it in a Tupperware for you herself. Usually Mom would just put a straight-forward sandwich and a piece of fruit in the bag. Maybe there was a cookie in there as well if you had done your homework. But it has been a long time since I was a kid, so when I saw an article about a survey on what is in the lunch bags of kids around the world my curiosity was definitely piqued.
Did you know that 55% of American kids and 46% of British kids have chips in their lunchbox? But if you are a kid in Germany or the Netherlands you almost never get chips - only 1-2% of parents there include chips with lunch. I loved the information from Ireland the best though - a surprisingly low 5% of Irish parents put chips in their children's lunches, but "in Ireland schools take a much more active role in the policing of lunchbox contents." That's an interesting concept, don't you think? (If you want to see the full infographic, click here).
This study also asked parents how concerned they were about obesity and whether they thought health food was interesting enough to feed their kids. What they found was that Spanish parents were most concerned among countries surveyed, but that they also thought health food was boring. Not boring enough to put junk food in lunchboxes though; only 4% of Spanish kids get chips, but 62% of them have fruit.
They didn't include Canada in the survey, so that made me wonder where we sit in the scale. And even if a high percentage of kids do get chips in their lunch, does that mean those kids are doomed to lead unhealthy lives? I also read the story of the Mom in Manitoba who was fined by her kids' school when the lunches she packed didn't include a serving of grains as per the Canada Food Guide and school policy. (She sent her kids with leftovers: roast beef, potatoes and carrots with an orange and milk. As per policy, the school supplemented the lunches... with Ritz crackers. I have to tell you, the only thing I worried about when I read this story was if the kids could heat up the potatoes :)
I was lucky as a kid - my Mom had time to make lunch and she was keen to make interesting meals for me to eat. My Dad helped out too when I was in middle school, and between the two of them they fed me some pretty good meals. I was embarrassed at the time when I got pistachio pudding (its green colour was a bit unnerving to my lunchroom neighbours). The notes on my napkins ("Love you! Have a great day Princess.") reaffirmed my status as a nerd but I'm happy for those memories now.
These days most kids can't take a peanut butter sandwich to school. It's a different world. I'm not sure what they are taking; I only hope it has some nutritional value and balance, and that they know it's made with love. That's something not listed in the Food Guide but it's equally important for nourishing young souls.
Nov 16, 2013 / 5:00 am
Isn’t it funny how things work out? When I was a kid I never would have guessed that I would become a Foodie – we ate simple food, I thought, and my parents told me more than once that we were not rich so I knew I was not destined for a life of caviar and champagne. We did spend a lot of time around the dining room table, so I suppose that should have been a clue; but then, we spent a lot of time together as a family. I remember a family friend saying once that if you looked at the Peturson family photos, you would think all we did was give presents and hug! There certainly was much celebrating…
It’s funny too, where life takes you and how convoluted the route can be when you look back. I just got off the phone with that family friend. I had not chatted with him in a long while and yet the sound of his voice was just like one of Mom’s home-cooked meals: comforting and warm in its familiarity. I was so glad that he called, and it warmed my heart to know the connection was strengthened anew. The irony in this was not lost however; it was the passing of my Dad that brought us back together. It made me sad to know that he will not share in this reunion, but then I smiled when I thought that it was he who made it happen. He would have appreciated the poetic element, I think.
In thinking about it, I realize it is the poetic nature of a meal that makes me a Foodie. I love the drama of how the different ingredients come together, and the harmony of a great meal is not just in the dishes but in even the accompaniments. The memory of a meal is based on not the food but the environment in which the food was eaten – who was there and what the ambience was. The ultimate joy of food memories is that you can have so many of them, as meals are a part of the rhythm of life. I can wrap myself in a blanket of just-baked cookies, birthday dinners, family picnics and barbecue parties and remember the love of many friends and family.
One note of caution is worth making: do not overlook mundane everyday things. Something as inconsequential as a routine cup of coffee or an impulsive stop for a snack can turn into a memorable occasion, so be prepared to seize the moment. If you need help in making this happen, here's a suggestion: how about a pizza-making party? Martin has some great suggestions and a dough recipe on his Chef Instead website.
I hope this week hasn’t seemed too much like rambling, as I did have a point to make. I remember a favourite film of mine as a kid, about a boy and his dog and how they discovered through their adventures that everything (and everybody) had a Point. Every meal has a Point too, and every memory – so hold them all dear to your heart.
Nov 9, 2013 / 5:00 am
I have been working on the road for the last couple of weeks and as a result I have been on the hunt for a small dose of comfort food to replace the comfort of home. I didn't want to eat meatloaf and mac & cheese for two weeks but having a nice hot drink on a cold morning with a wee nibble of something homemade to start my day seemed like a fair compromise.
You might think I am going to regale you with tales of artisan delights and custom blends of tea and coffee because of my status as a foodie (some would say food snob, even). I suppose that is true; I already told you about the cool goodies in Nelson and I could mention Clansey's in Rossland with their perfect cappuccinos and out-of-this world muffins and cookies. I'm not trying to be a snob about these experiences, I really do like to support the underdog. I am not the kind of person to search for a Timmy's or a Starbucks when I'm away. I will go there if there isn't a local haunt around, but I prefer to give a chance to the usually less popular independent business. And as much as I appreciate the standards upheld by chain businesses, I do find a "one-shot" experience from an independent place is often more memorable.
Are you the kind of person who prefers the kind of time where you know what to expect, with no surprises or variations? Or do you thrive on adventure and uncertainty? Maybe you're someone who flip-flops, changing your mind on a whim?? Should how you decide have any significance, or does it not really matter in the grand scheme of things?
We talk in the summer about supporting local farmers and producers. Does it make sense to support local coffee shops in winter? After all, the local Tim Horton's employs local community members on its staff. And as much as we might talk about how visible the chain businesses are - they're everywhere! - current data says that 7 out of 10 food and drink establishments are independent in Canada, and 97% of businesses have fewer than 50 employees. Smaller businesses are the ones that bring new trends to life, as they are quicker to adapt than bigger chain organizations with more hierarchy and policies.
Maybe it's important to have both the chains and the artisans, so we can have the freedom to fall back on old standards or step outside the box, depending on which way the wind is blowing. In our part of the world, it is largely up to us as customers to decide who will be successful. After all, if we don't drink the coffee, they don't pay the bills.
As a writer, I don't need to tell you if I stopped at Timmy's or Starbucks - you already know what that is like. So, let me close out this week by saying if you're ever in Cranbrook, stop by the Rocky Mountain Redneck Cafe for your morning joe and homemade jam on your toast (their Big Bubba Breakfast Sandwich on a cheese bun hits the spot too). If you end up a bit further north, there is a cool local favourite called the Quality Bakery in Invermere that has big pots of coffee on early in the morning, and they have savoury and sweet goodies to sample. I enjoyed a good old fashioned jam buster with my coffee. The Florentine I bought as a treat with tea was all sticky with candied orange amidst the almonds and decadent in its dark chocolate coating. It was the perfect end to my week. Stay tuned for my northern adventures in another two weeks :)
Read more Happy Gourmand articles
- All by myself Nov 2
- Fun out with friends Oct 26
- Fairytale season Oct 12
- A sense of place Oct 5
- Learning S'more about ourselves Sep 21
- Peaches and pears and plums - oh my! Sep 7
- Ah, the simple life Aug 31
- A good, old fashioned picnic Aug 17
- Summer vacation Aug 10
- Treats for my best friend Aug 3
- Sunshine in a jar Jul 27
- The Yukons are coming! Jul 20
(Click for RSS instructions.)