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Happy-Gourmand

Fun foods from A to Z

I have been reading a book by one of my favourite authors, and it inspired me to think of this week’s column.

I love being a foodie these days, as it has become a cool thing to be, but not in a snobbish way. People are enamoured with Julia Child and her love of food and cooking; blogs abound about all things food and drink; millions are “twitter-pated” and follow celebrity chefs around to see what they are doing.

 I loved Tom Robbins' book, B is for Beer, advertised as “a kid’s book for grown ups and a grown-up book for kids."

It seems food and drink always have those two sides of whimsy and responsibility – you can get caught up in the sheer enjoyment of them, but you must always remember the consequences of decadent consumption.

In honour of all this preoccupation with something so everyday as food, I present my Foodie’s Alphabet. It might not make good soup, but I hope it makes for an interesting read … food should be fun, possibly funky and never boring.

A is for apricots, a fruit that has the delightful combination of perfume and flavour. It was known as “the golden egg of the Sun” by the Ancient Greeks. Did you know your apricot jam will taste better if you include a few of the edible kernels contained inside the stone?

B is for bananas – as in, banana boats over the campfire (rolled in tinfoil with pieces of chocolate and marshmallow). And have you seen that e-mail about how many ways they are good for you?

C could be for cinnamon, chocolate or coffee – this is the toughest letter to choose. (The interesting thing is that all three of these ingredients could be put together and they would be dazzling!) Cinnamon has that exotic flair, chocolate has the silky decadence that every foodie adores and coffee has the intense aroma that awakens the other senses.

D is for duck, if you are my hubby (or would it be donut? That is a tough call…) It is also for double cream (one of Julia’s favourite ingredients) and for dim sum, that fantastic experience of Chinese brunch with so many dumplings and pastries and fried goodies you don’t know where to start … or finish.

E is for eggplant. Even if you are not interested in tasting it, how can you not be impressed with a purple food?

F is for “frites” – not French fries, because we have turned those into another animal altogether. But those wonderful crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside morsels are a real treat. (And yes, I do eat mine with mayonnaise.)

G is for gougères, one of my first food adventures in Europe years ago. To call them a cheese cream puff is to not nearly do them justice. These little pillows of taste are a much better thing than sliced bread at a wine tasting!

H is for hollandaise sauce, the thing that takes asparagus to the level of Cinderella at the ball, and for halibut and haddock, two of the nicest fish in the sea. It is also for honey, which the Greeks wisely decided was delicious drizzled over yogurt with nuts.

I is for ice cream, but it’s also for “ile flottante” (floating island) that mesmerizing dessert of meringue islands floating in a sea of caramel that I saw in Foquets’ window on the Champs Elysees on my first trip as a foodie.

J is for jelly-roll, one of the first things l learned to make, and succeeding without having the filling squirt out the ends gave me the confidence to continue in the kitchen after the age of 10. (it’s good with any kind of filling, but I do like lemon the best.)

K is for kumquats, kiwis and one of my favourite breakfast treats, kugelhopf – an Alsatian sort of yeast bread that is a cross between a bundt cake and an angel food cake, with raisins or currants in the dough.

L is for lobster, possibly the symbol of decadence in the savoury world. Also the symbol for sexy food, if you ever saw the movie, “Flashdance”. Now there is an experience in grown up food!

M is for mussels, mushrooms (especially the wild ones), mustard, morbier cheese with that lovely stripe of ash through the middle, Mirabelle plums, meringue, mango, maple syrup, Macadamia nuts… M is a good letter.

N is for nougat, that sticky meringue/ toffee-like substance that is a specialty in Montélimar. (Doesn’t that just sound cool, to be from there? It’s in the southeast part of France.) It reminds me of some fancy dessert all rolled into a bar – portable decadence.

O is for olives, something I learned to love early (although when I was a kid they only came in a jar, with a piece of pimento in the middle.) It was my Gramps who got me to try them, along with many other food wonders (see the entry for W, below).

P is for pancakes, which can be as simple as those piled high on a Sunday morning with syrup and butter, or as fancy as the crepes that my parents used to fill with curried shrimp (when they discovered such exotic dishes way back in the 80’s).

Q is for quince, another fuzzy and unique fruit. It has a very hard flesh, which is bitter when raw but delicious when cooked. In France, quinces often sit atop the kitchen cupboards in the fall where they perfume the room as they ripen. Some people say the quince may be the oldest tree, old enough to possibly be in the Garden of Eden.

R is for rice krispie squares. Not so much the cereal by itself, but the mixture of marshmallows and those little puffed kernels and then maybe a secret ingredient or two (Mars Bars, or chocolate chips) – that is really a unique kind of treat. It’s also fun to mould – we have done sculptures for dinner parties that were a lot of fun.

S could certainly be for “sauce” in general, for every food experience moves to a new level when adorned with another set of flavours. But if I had to pick one thing, I can safely say “spätzle," a delightful specialty to Alsace which consists of tiny dumplings served in a bit of cream sauce or butter.

T is for tuna casserole, because you just can’t go through life without comfort food. And if you wanted to jazz it up, then T could be for tarragon, a very cool herb that sits under most people’s radar.

U is for unsalted butter (who knew it tasted so different than salted butter on a slice of bread?) It is also for ugli fruit (no really, it does exist – it is a hybrid from a tangerine, grapefruit and an orange. At least they didn’t call it “homely fruit").

V could be for veal or venison, but I think better suited is vanilla, that ubiquitous flavour without which so much of our baking would lie flat (see the reference above mentioning food not being boring) Although many see vanilla as a boring flavour compared to others, it is one that we would certainly miss if it had not been discovered.

W is for watermelon, one of the first treats I remember as a kid. My grandfather told me when he was little, living in Manitoba, he never saw a watermelon. They didn’t have them because they only grew way down south. That was the first time I understood the concept of the 100 Mile Diet.

X is for Xavier (you thought this one would stump me, didn’t you? Good old Larousse…) Xavier is a cream soup, but no ordinary soup this: “ …garnished with diced chicken Royale. It may also be flavoured with Madeira, garnished with small savoury pancakes or serves with threads of egg white cooked in the soup." It sounds like pretty good food for a rainy day!

Y is for Yorkshire pudding, that British specialty without which roast beef cannot (or at least should not)  be served. I remember once having to call long distance to my aunt to get the recipe when my Mom’s cookbook could not be found.

Z is for zabaglione, a fitting end to the alphabet with its razz-a-ma-tazz name. It is one of those “a-la-minute” dishes, made by whisking egg yolks, wine and sugar over gentle heat. It is one of those delicacies that disappears inside your mouth, transporting you with it to another world all in the act of a mere swallow.

Here’s to enjoying every bite, of all the food you eat and life in general!



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Branded-food nostalgia

When I was a kid, there were lots of foods that you couldn’t get everywhere.

I am not just talking about persimmons and star fruit; there were famous foods you couldn’t get, too. Does food taste better if it’s exclusive?

I only tasted Dr. Pepper and Babe Ruth chocolate bars when I attended basketball camp in Washington state across the border. I know that the world is getting smaller and smaller, but when it was a big place, there was a sense of wonder about taking a bite out of another piece of it.

Is it better that we can have our cake by ordering it online from Amazon in any flavour we want? Does a treat stay special if it becomes “viral” and is available everywhere?

Kellogg’s Pop Tarts were a popular snack when I was a kid, but they fell out of favour as many more options hit the market.

Other frozen pastry companies offered a plethora of choices and Pop Tarts went to the bottom shelf.

They saw a revival recently though, when Kellogg’s opened a pop-up store in Times Square (pun intended there). Complete with strobe lights and limited edition flavours, this store flaunted one of the original breakfast junk foods.

The New York Pop Tarts store is no more, but did you know that Walmart says their No. 1 item to restock when hurricanes strike the southern U.S. is strawberry Pop Tarts?

Nostalgia does wonders in promoting food. Old-fashioned junk food has the added value of sentimentality than something new and everyday, and forbidden fruit always tastes more delectable.

I remember getting a care package from my parents when I was living in France. (This was decades ago, long before there was an internet or Amazon.com)

I got a wonderful letter from home, and a box of Oreos and two bags of Cheezies. I squealed with delight and savoured every single crumb.

Cheezies have never tasted as good as they did in my little boarding room in Nancy. I hankered for a taste of home and that taste wasn’t always Mom’s cooking.

It was much more common to eat homemade snacks when I was a kid, but we did have cool candies, too. Does anyone out there remember Pop Rocks? I don’t see those in stores anymore.

And we had bubble gum galore, and Lick-a-Stick (you could use Jello powder from home, but then it was a dead give-away when your finger changed colour from double-dipping).

Summer lends itself to portable snacks with all the time we spend outside on the go.

Branded foods will fill the memories of many generations of children to come. Even branded concepts are popular, like the good old s’mores. With a campfire ban on in B.C., we can’t toast our marshmallows, so I thought I’d close with an indoor recipe for this vacation favourite.

My S’mores Bars recipe works well to satisfy that desire for a bit of gooey goodness. Splurge and add a few marshmallows on top just five minutes before the end of baking time, and you might even feel like you invented the next Pop Tart.



Old dogs, new biscuits?

Can you teach an old dog to like a new biscuit?

I saw an article this week revealing the release of a new version of an old classic, and I was conflicted.

I know I’m getting older and less tolerant of change, but isn’t it OK if some things stay consistent? Why must I feel the pressure to try a new version of an old favourite just to keep up with the times?

In case you’re wondering, this newfangled treat is a peanut butter and jelly Oreo cookie.

Just in time for the kids to put them in their lunch boxes, Mr. Christie has come up with a vanilla Oreo filled with a swirl of peanut butter and jelly frostings. Apparently, this will mimic the look and taste you get when you put the two classic spreads between two slices of bread.

I am a self-confessed foodie. I am all about the discovery of new foods, new tastes, new combinations and presentations. But some things don’t need improving. The good, old-fashioned chocolate Oreo with a single dose of vanilla filling is just fine by me.

Limited releases of chocolate coated Oreos or vanilla Oreos were cute, but my childhood summers hinged on packages of classic Oreos. They were some of the only store-bought cookies I had as a small child. (Please don’t hate me; I grew up lucky enough to have a mom at home who baked cookies.) 

The dictionary definition of “comfort food” is food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.

That fits in with how I feel about Oreos. It makes me uncomfortable to know my good feelings from childhood could be upset by messing with my cookies. 

Maybe I have some old-school guilt about an actual sandwich turned into a treat … peanut butter and jelly are already sweet, but making them frosting is overkill, isn’t it?

Then again, I tried a peanut butter and jelly donut at Lucky’s Doughnuts in Vancouver last week. Hubby and I had to share it, as the richness was overwhelming; a few bites were more than sufficient to get my fill, as tasty as it was.

This seemed to be more of an innovation however; jelly in a doughnut was already a thing, so the added peanut butter has a reason to be there. Or, I could just be overreacting. After all, it’s only a cookie.

Do you have any hard and fast rules about your food? There are lots of quirks I’ve heard over the years. Undoubtedly you’ve met someone who swears hotdogs should only have ketchup? (or mustard, take your pick. It seems relish is the only condiment that doesn’t have loyal followers.)

Black licorice used to be the only kind you could get, but now many people prefer red licorice (which really isn’t licorice, it’s just the same shape and texture – but that’s splitting hairs, or should I say pulling licorice strings?)

Even if I stick with peanut butter, I could ask the age-old question: crunchy or smooth? What would happen if any of these now standard options disappeared and we all had to re-evaluate our choices? 

I need to prepare myself for the future.

I suppose this is a lesson in life. You can’t have light without dark, good without evil, classic cookies without weird variations. If munching on a peanut butter and jelly Oreo puts a smile on someone’s face, who am I to question that?

An expert on cookies from my childhood put it best:

“Today, we will live in the moment unless it is unpleasant, in which case we will eat a cookie.” – The Cookie Monster

Time for me to sign off; I need to stock up on classic Oreos.





Gad-zukes!

As I sat on the deck the other night savouring another hot summer evening, I reflected on the high points of the summer so far.

This year has been bit a shorter summer frought with more challenges than our usual spectacular season in the Okanagan. For a place where the norm is being spoiled, that means we feel we are being gypped – doesn’t it?

I didn’t want to spend my time with you griping, so I was trying to think of the positive things from the season so far… then it occurred to me. The thing I could tell you has performed according to all tradition and exceeded expectations - as always – is my zucchini patch.

I have papaya squash the size of footballs and zucchinis that look more like baseball bats than squash.

Apparently, this is due to how much the bumble bees like my garden too, as huge production in every sense depends on them pollinating the female flowers.

Aside from the compliment that the bees pay me, I am also grateful that the squash stay tender so we can still cook with them – all of them (well, the ones I don’t give away).

When the “squash fairy” is not visiting my friends and neighbours by leaving a present on their doorstep, she is trying to come up with new ways to enjoy this garden bounty. After all, you can only eat so much zucchini cake and sautéed or grilled zucchini.

One encouraging fact about zucchini consumption: the average zucchini contains 19 per cent of the recommended daily intake of manganese, which helps activate fat-burning enzymes (according to Wikipedia).

I wonder, does that mean if you ate five zucchinis a day, you could burn all the fat you ate?

Of all the recipes I can pass on, I think the one that is best suited to my usual style is one I got from my father after his once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy. This recipe typifies a special traveling memory, and it also makes the most of the situation. The recipe is Fiore di Zucca.

You see, this recipe involves using the flowers of the zucchini plant – something you would only do with a plant that had prolific flowers, and I think only in a culture that has a reverence for food and its rituals.

There are many ways to cook them, and according to my Dad they are all worth trying, especially if you can do it in a small trattoria in Florence or Rome. For those of us who can’t get there this week, perhaps this will help transport us in spirit…

FRIED ZUCCHINI BLOSSOMS

  • Zucchini blossoms (or as many as you can find – multiply the recipe and invite friends over)
  • 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of baking soda
  • ½ cup olive oil for frying (grape seed oil works well, too)
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 12-ounce can of beer, preferably at room temperature (you can substitute water if you prefer – the beer makes a lighter, fluffier batter)
  • Optional: stuffing mixture of fresh ricotta cheese with freshly chopped herbs, or anchovy fillets

Make the batter by beating the eggs and then stirring in the flour gradually. Add the beer to make a smooth batter and set aside.

Wash the blossoms well, but carefully. Heat oil for frying and prepare paper towels to put the fried blossoms on after they are cooked.

If you are stuffing the blossoms, place a spoonful or two of the mixture in the blossom. Then dip in the batter and fry until golden brown.

Drain; season with salt if desired and serve warm.

As the Italians say, “Salute!”



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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