Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Daring Bakers October: French Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
 Sandwiched with chocolate ganache
Yum! Almost-pink macarons with almost-cinnamon plum-flavoured chocolate ganache

When this recipe was revealed a month ago, I had no idea what a macaron really was, other than a fancy cookie that seemed to be pervading the blogs I usually browse. I can't think of anything else I've cooked or baked in the past where I had no idea what the outcome was supposed to taste or feel like.

That being said, it was a pretty successful cookie-making after all! The almond-meringue base was chewy, sweet and nutty, and the chocolate ganache was smooth and not overly sweet.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Snacking on the cheap

I really do like potato chips: salty and crispy Lays, crunchy and vinegary Miss Vickies, home-baked and toothsome sweet potato chips. Satisfying and indulgent for my savoury tastebuds – and they tend to bully the sweet-loving ‘buds into submission.

White Gold
Popcorn as modeled by Bri.

However, as you’re probably aware, chips are just not particularly nutritional, nor particularly cheap. And homemade ones take a lot of effort, even if you have a fancy mandolin to slice ‘em them tantalizingly thin.

Homemade popcorn, on the other hand, is cheap. Compare a $3.50 bag of chips, or a $6 box of microwavable, chemical-laden corn to a simple $2-$3 bag of unadulterated, whole-grain popping corn! Plus, some places (Superstore) sell it in bulk, which is sometimes even cheaper. It shows up on Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating because it’s high in fibre and iron, low in calories and there’s no sodium or sugar at all…until you spice it up!

Here’s my take on stove-top popcorn.

Hot and Tasty Popcorn
Makes 2 perfectly generous servings

  • Generous 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
  • 3 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
  • 1-2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • ¼ - ½ tsp lemon pepper seasoning
  • ¼ - ½ tsp paprika, or cayenne if you like it hot

  1. Set a 2-quart (1.89 L) lidded pot on stove. Add oil and turn heat to med-high. Immediately add popcorn and shake to distribute the kernels across the bottom of pan. Cover lid and gently shake back and forth to roll the kernels in the oil. Don’t lift the lid of the pot as you will let the heat out which could result in your popcorn burning before it can pop, or never getting hot enough to pop. Don't let the pan or oil heat up before adding the popcorn, or you will just burn stuff. I've been there. Repeatedly.
  2. Stop shaking the pot for a couple of minutes, until the popping starts. Then, continue to gently shake the pot, with your hand on the lid if necessary. If you were a bit generous with the popcorn, or if you used a smaller pot, then you may need to dump some of the popcorn into the serving bowl so it doesn’t topple all over the stove.
  3. Dump about half of the popped popcorn into your large bowl. Sprinkle half of the nutritional yeast on top, and repeat with the lemon pepper and paprika or cayenne. Shake your bowl or use a spoon to distribute the seasonings further. Pour the rest of the popped popcorn to fill bowl, and repeat the seasoning process.

Of course, you can skip the nooch if you don’t have any, and just use whatever seasonings you’ve got. Other options from the spice cabinet include: curry powder, mustard powder, dill weed, pepper, sea salt, Tabasco sauce (makes it a bit soggy though).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Grocery Bill

I meant to post this nearly a week ago, but like the saying goes, time makes fools of us all. So this is all about what I bought for groceries a week ago at Superstore.

Today (Wednesday October 14) I did the week’s shopping. While I meant to be responsible about what I bought, I hadn’t taken the time to organize things as well as I should have. Ideally, I would have planned at least a general menu for the week instead of planning my meals as I walked down the aisles.

This resulted in a somewhat surprising bill at checkout. However, I took the following into consideration after lifting my jaw off the dirty grocery store floor:
  1. Some of the purchases were toiletries, etc which should have a separate budget
  2. Some of the purchases were kitchen tools (like parchment paper etc)
  3. Plenty of the larger expenses were things that will last at least 4-6 weeks, and won’t need to be replenished on my next few trips
  4. Brian’s back today! So most of the food cost will be split in half.
(click the read more link below to read on!)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day 7, eating on...well, less than $30/week

Whoops! Left this one hanging for a while. My apologies to anyone who was following my progress, and thank you if you came back to check up on it!

Okay, so I don't actually remember what I ate on day 7... but I know I stayed on budget! I did indulge in a London Fog from the Starbucks at school, as it was a snowy day, which kicked my total food expenditures to a mere $14!

I think my success was based on having a good pantry, making and freezing the soup and chili, and of course those treats from my mum. Also, changing my point of view on leftovers was important. I have a bad habit of throwing the leftovers in the fridge and forgetting about, or ignoring them until they're rotten enough for me not to feel bad about throwing them out. It's honestly quite bizarre and I'm not sure where it started. There's less wasted food around here thanks to Brian, who almost compulsively eats all the leftovers as soon as possible (yet won't take a lunch to work with him unless I'm staring him down in the morning).

But now I've begun to get into the groove and I'm comfortable making soup, preparing at least part of my lunch the night before and using those leftovers for somethin'. My next goal is to plan the week's menu before doing the weekly grocery trip. We'll see when that comes to fruition...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Recipes for Day 6, eating on $30/week

Delicious square foodI was going to use Day 6’s post to share the contents of my pantry with you, in the hopes that you’d get something out of it, or at least find it interesting.

But seeing as I have an exam tomorrow, I feel like I need to put the effort into studying instead.

However I will share two recipes from today to attempt to make up for my poor time-management.

Today was mostly a day of leftovers, supplemented in part by ingenuity. I had my dad over for a Thanksgiving lunch and an hour beforehand I decided that I’d like to make some dressing, seeing as it’s completely delicious.

Thankful for Day 5, eating on $30/week

lovely toast for breakfast
Over time, my family’s Thanksgiving meals have evolved from the old standby equation of turkey + stuffing + potatoes + gravy + something green.

There have been many years where can-shaped cranberry sauce trumped a homemade sauce (the catch with that is that once you make your own cranberry sauce you seriously can’t go backwards). And I remember one exciting year when mum barbecued a couple of turkey breasts – in what was probably pretty chilly October weather. My little brother has almost always been tasked with mashing the potatoes. One year – it may not have been a holiday – I remember making a big deal out of putting together the mashed potatoes, saying I didn’t know how to do it since Steele "always gets to do it."

Of course, the “Great Canadian Chowdown*” is a little different when one or more of your dinner guests doesn’t eat meat. I went vegetarian sometime in November 2007, and I was only going to try it out for a month, but, as you know, I stuck with it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day 4, eating on $30/week

It's damn cold in Calgary right now. Here is a list of things I am interested in doing tomorrow:
  1. making pie
  2. roasting sweet potatoes
  3. eating bread
  4. drinking tea
  5. eating stuffing
  6. drinking wine
Perhaps in that order, but any other order would do as well. Here is a list of things I ought to do tomorrow:
  1. the dishes
  2. the "take-home" portion of my "theory" "midterm" (note the sarcasm-laden quotation marks)
  3. study for another theory midterm
  4. my laundry
  5. sweep the kitchen (I'll probably actually do that one)
We shall see how it all goes. I would probably be less concerned with the weather if I were wearing my slippers

Challah Risingchallah all poofyfresh challah

Friday, October 9, 2009

Day 3, eating on $30/week

Today was an early rise [insert bread joke here] due to an early class. The temptations were staring me in the face, but luckily, I’ve already been staring them down for two days, so what’s one more, really?

After a coffee at home, I knew I’d be in need of a bit more caffeine in our 3-hour long news meeting so I brought a really quite big mug (actually it’s a stein…) and a few bags of jasmine green tea to school with me to stash in the locker. While not as satisfying as a freshly whipped up mocha, it was still nice.

Lunch wasn’t too special, but I was glad to have the leftovers, which were easy to grab in the morning.

The real difference between today and previous days was that I did groceries for the first time of the challenge! I thought I would probably spend almost all of my budget at Safeway, but miraculously, I didn’t!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Day 2, eating on $30/week

Okay, well this post was meant to be another somewhat informative piece so that you could get something out of my semi-struggles. However, it's been a long day, so it will be a little short, again without photos.

The good news: I didn't spend anything on food today.
The bad news: the point isn't not to spend, it's to stay within a budget. I guess technically my week should start on whatever day I do groceries, but whatever, as long as we learn something, right?

First, a couple of links:
An article I wrote on nutrition on a budget. It also mentions that according to a study, the price of food in Calgary is rather inflated.

“Read the food flyers and plan your meals around what is on sale that week,” said nutritionist Elizabeth Christianson. “Make a shopping list and stick to it. Don’t shop for groceries on an empty stomach, and if possible, leave the kids at home. Buying in bulk saves packaging costs and can cost less.”

Things you should not eat on a budget (or ever).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Day 1, eating on $30/week

I was buying boots last winter with my mum and we stopped for a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks stand in the mall. The coffee was mum’s treat, and I think she offered because I was getting so visibly stressed out by the impending expenditure. It was time for me to step into a pair of well-made, totally-not-vegetarian, totally-not-Payless boots.

As I sat fretting and sipping, mum recalled a similar shopping trip years ago, when I was very small, four maybe. I had just spent all of my money – probably $12 – on a new purse, and after paying the cashier I burst out crying.

Since then, I have changed my shopping etiquette slightly.

Financial Times

Around this time every year, when the leaves are yellowing and the flurries are arriving, I realize that it would be really quite wise for me to make a budget.

Financial Crisis

I work at a bar where shifts are cut down by half around Thanksgiving when we shut down our patio. And since I already have a fairly scant availability due to a demanding school schedule, we end up with weeks like this one, when I have a single (lucrative but not sustaining) shift.

I came across a post on one of my new favourite food blogs where the writer was planning her menu for the next week in order to eat on $30 as a way to empathize with Americans who have a tight budget. At first I thought that that didn't sound so hard, but then I took a moment to think about it and do the calculations.

That's about $4.25 a day to spend on food. Of course that would completely negate eating out, or buying a coffee (even a teeny little Timmies one!) It makes me wonder if I could conquer that challenge. It does help that I have an (almost) fully stocked pantry and a slew of condiments and spices at my beck and call already.


Okay, let's do it!

I will report everything that I eat for the next week, and all of my expenditures, and hopefully a few handy tips along the way (take note, fellow students, good cheap food on the way!)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Snapadoo! A Cracker Recipe

I'm sitting in my apartment alone, reading the Joy of Cooking (which was a birthday gift from Brian, who is on the east coast until next week) and drinking leftover Grasshopper from my birthday keg. And then it occurred to me that I had planned to include a couple of recipes from my birthday spread on my humble blog here! The time is riper than $3 pumpkins at Superstore!

I made crackers a couple of weeks ago based on this lavash cracker recipe which was a Daring Bakers  challenge in September of last year.
(My recipe after the jump)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A basic sushi how-to

Well folks, here we are again, many weeks removed from my last post. The truth is, I've been cooking and experimenting all over the place, I just haven't made the time to write.

My birthday just passed so I'll be posting a couple recipes from that delicious spread. In the meantime, I am going to write a little sushi how-to here and I hope you'll be inspired to give it a try sometime based on my experience. This is as much to give me practice of writing good directions as it is to be informative for you so feel free to leave tip if you thought something was confusing, inadequate or if you liked it!

The photos were also a bit experimental and some of them aren't particularly good but I think they get the point across.