02
Jan
09

New Website!

I want to thank everyone who has visited my blog. It has been a real learning experience.

After much consideration, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and start a site that isn’t hosted by wordpress. This will hopefully allow me to have more control over how I run the blog, as well as allow me to start fresh on a new domain.

I plan on running a much tighter ship at the new site, keeping my focus more centered on baking and pastry. I may actually retain some of my more popular articles from here and post them there for posterity sake.

I hope you’ll join me at www.improveyourbaking.com

Sincerely,

Jeremy

27
Oct
08

Earliest Food Memories

One of my earliest and fondest food related memories comes from my early childhood, when my Grandma used to babysit me. I would have been about three years old.

 Every morning we’d walk to the post office and get the mail. We would also pick up the mail for one of her elderly neighbours, “Ms. F-.” 

Ms. F- was always very good about paying her postman. I’d hand her the mail, and she would disappear into her back kitchen, only to return with an old cookie tin. The tin was always lined with wax paper, and always contained homemade chocolate covered raisin clusters. I’ll never forget the smell when she removed the lid, or the taste of those clusters.

To this day, I like chocolate covered raisins, but the individually coated ones you get in stores now are a pale comparison to the ones I ate in Ms. F-‘s sun porch as a 3yr old mailman.

The closest I’ve ever come to tasting those wonderful little clusters again came unexpectedly about a week ago. I had a Toblerone fruit and nut bar that almost had the ratio of chocolate-to-raisin mouth feel dead on. But alas, it didn’t include the old cookie tin that smelled like heaven. Maybe one day I’ll have the good fortune of coming across that Pandora’s box at a yard sale.

I’m sure everyone has similar memories of a favorite food from when they were little and the world was big. So, what’s your favorite food memory?

06
Sep
08

Lysteria and Safe Food Handling Practices

I don’t think it’s possible to overemphasize the importance of safe food handling practices.

Far too often we rush through meal preparation without considering what types of bacteria we may be transferring to our bodies from our food.

Listeriosis monocytogenes found in meat products from a processing plant in Toronto has recently been linked to several deaths and illnesses in Canada.

Listeriosis monocytogenes is a bacterium found in food which mainly affects the elderly, newborns, people with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women. It is mainly found in water and soil.

There are systems and regulations in place in food production facilities to ensure that bacterium like Lysteriosis don’t make it into the food supply chain. Those systems are what keep your food safe to eat. They are not foolproof.

Maple Leaf Foods, Canada, recalled all products made at the Toronto plant since January 2008. ( http://www.mapleleaf.ca/ ). They also shut down the plant.

I think this incident underlines why we need to be our body’s last line of defence when it comes to food-borne illnesses. There are things we can do on an individual level to prevent illness.

Here are some preventative measures as listed on the center for disease control and prevention website: ( http://www.cdc.gov/ )

“General recommendations:

  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry.
  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk.
  • Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.
  • Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible

Recommendations for persons at high risk, such as pregnant women and persons with weakened immune systems, in addition to the recommendations listed above:

  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
  • Avoid getting fluid from hot dog packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela, unless they have labels that clearly state they are made from pasteurized milk.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pâtés and meat spreads may be eaten.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna or mackerel, is most often labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” The fish is found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens. Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood may be eaten. “
02
Sep
08

Roast Potatoes and Baby Shoes

I just wrapped up a beautiful evening with my family.

My daughter spent the afternoon in her jolly jumper, stomping in her new shoes.

Its hard to take a clear shot of fast-moving munchkin feet.

It's hard to take a clear shot of fast-moving munchkin feet.

We also had my parents and in-laws over for dinner on the deck.

My Mom brought two salads and a rhubarb cake, my Father-in-law brought honey garlic spareribs he’d done in the slow cooker. We made some homemade bread and roasted potatoes with tomatoes picked fresh from the garden.

The deck hangs out over the river, and we’re surrounded by trees. While we ate a Heron landed out in the water. It slowly walked up the river, stalking fish.

I love eating outside when the sky starts to go from late afternoon to dusk. I think it makes things taste better. Especially if you’re eating with friends and loved ones.

Wine also helps.

We had a red wine from California (Robert Mondavi, Pinot Noir, 2006) , and a white from South Africa (Two Oceans, Sauvignon Blanc, 2007). The Mondavi worked wonderfully with the starchiness of the potatoes and the meatiness of the ribs. I honestly didn’t get a chance to try the white, but was assured that it was good. 

My daughter, who is teething, even got in on the action. We let her gum a clean rib bone. It kept her entertained while the rest of us ate.

My Roasted Potatoes

This recipe doesn’t require any exactness. Do it to suit your own taste (then it won’t be “My roasted potatoes”, it’ll be your own creation and you can name it what ever you want.

Small, multicoloured potatoes

Ripe tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, the fresher the better

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Feta cheese

     This is one of those recipes where the quality of the ingredients really affects the outcome, but it’s super easy to whip up a batch in under an hour with minimal effort.

     Preheat oven to 400F (200C).

     Rinse the potatoes, then cut them, skin on, into quarters. I use baby sized red, yellow, and blue potatoes to enhance the wow factor.

     Place them in a shallow baking dish. Splash on some olive oil. You don’t want to have them floating in it, but a nice coating allows the other ingredients to stick to the potato, and keeps the potato from burning to the dish.

     Add salt and pepper to taste. Slide the baking dish into the oven and cook for 20min. before adding the tomatoes. If using cherry tomatoes, just halve or quarter them, depending on size. Whole tomatoes can be diced and added. Try to get tomatoes that are compact and just ripened. You don’t want to deal with a lot of juice while cutting.

     Put the dish back in for an additional 20 minutes or so. Test the potatoes by tasting to see if they are fully cooked and if they need additional salt and pepper.

     Serve with the crumbled feta added at the last minute, or as a condiment (my Mom doesn’t like feta, so we had a small dish of it set aside as an accompaniment). 

     You can modify this dish any way you want. Increase or decrease any ingredient to suit your taste and feel free to add herbs or other ingredients. If you come up with a tasty variation, I’d love to hear about it.

31
Aug
08

Orange Chiffon Cake

I recently had a request to do an orange chiffon cake for a friend who’s Grandmother used to make it all the time, but she hasn’t had it since her grandmother passed away.

I had never made an orange chiffon before, but have a soft spot for the Grandmother-baking connection, so I agreed to give it a go.

It turned out great. The friend said she and her sister finished the 10″ cake in an evening.

I made three individual sized cakes with leftover batter so I could test the finished product before passing the big cake along. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the big one.

Orange Chiffon Cake

2 1/4 Cups cake flour

1 1/2 Cup sugar

1 tbsp. double acting baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 Cup vegetable oil

7 large egg yolks

3/4 Cup fresh orange juice

2 tbsp. orange zest

2 tsp. vanilla

9 large egg whites

1 tsp. cream of tartar

     In a large bowl, sift together flour, 3/4 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt. In a bowl whisk together the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Whisk wet mixture into flour mixture until batter is smooth.

     In a stand mixer, whisk egg whites and salt until foamy, then add cream of tartar and beat until whites hold stiff peaks. Add remaining 3/4 cup of sugar a little at a time until glossy peaks form.

     Stir 1/3 of the whites into the batter to lighten it, then fold in remaining whites thoroughly. Spoon into an ungreased 10″ tube pan, 4″ deep.

     Bake in a 325F oven for 1 hour, until tester comes out clean. Invert pan immediatly on rack and let cool completely in the pan upside down on a rack. Run a long, thin knife around edge to dislodge from pan. Turn out on a rack.

This is basically a variation on an angel food cake, so serve accordingly. Whipped cream and fresh fruit would make an ideal accompaniment. The individual sized cakes I just dusted in icing sugar and garnished with orange segments. I used an orange flavoured sugar syrup to moisten the cake. Grand-marnier would also work well.

31
Aug
08

Three Cakes, One Day

So I worked as a pastry chef for a good chunk of my cooking career, and although I love pastry, I no longer do it professionally.

I currently cook for a major corporation and am attempting to further my education in food science. (I’m refraining from naming my employer because I’m not exactly sure of the legalities and implications that could be involved if I ever write an article about a topic closely related to what we do, and I’ve signed confidentiality agreements with some of our major corporate customers. In other words I wouldn’t want to lose my job or get sued.)

Needless to say, I don’t get the chance to flex my pastry muscles all that often anymore. However, I have been known to take on the occasional pet project for friends and acquaintances.

A few weekends ago a co-worker requested that I do a birthday cake for her niece. I figured little girl’s birthday cake, no problem.

Well, one cake turned into three, and a quick Saturday afternoon of baking became a late Friday night (2:30am) of prepping the cakes followed by an entire Saturday of finishing. Oh, and everything had to be done in rolled fondant. Oh, and only two specific colours per cake. Oh, and they each want a different flavour. Oh, and… you get the idea.

I’m pretty used to that, though. I think that sums up rather nicely the life of a pastry chef. Long hours and little creative input. Fortunately I’m fairly well set up at home to be able to accommodate these requests.

Anyway, here’s the result:

 

The cakes turned out great, but the pictures were taken in a bit of a rush, so I’m not so thrilled about their quality.

The most satisfying part is knowing that three little girls got exactly the cakes they wanted for their birthday.

Well, that and the nice cold beer I had on the deck when I was finished.

08
Jul
08

Starbucks closes 600 stores

The Starbucks sign is seen outside one of its stores in New York July 3, 2008. REUTERS/Chip East

It’s fascinating how one dimensional the media can portray a piece of news. Today on Yahoo! there was an article entitled “Some coffee fans get grim delight in Starbucks woes.”

The article briefly mentions that the company is planning to close 600 under performing U.S. stores. It then quickly states that this “is evoking glee and little sympathy from aficionados who say they resent the coffee shop giant and favor small independent cafes.”

The bulk of the article contains interviews with people mainly in favour of seeing the demise of the coffee chain.

I have a problem with this.

Before I get into my reasons, and get a lot of hate mail,  I want to state for the record that I am not a loyal Starbucks customer. I haven’t set foot in one in over a year.

I have no personal feelings or money invested in the company in question, nor do I work for an independant coffee company. I therefore consider myself generally unbiased.

Where my concern with this article comes from is in the way that it glosses over the reasons why a company like Starbucks has to close 600 stores in the first place.

Think of it this way. Starbucks is massive. It is able to utilise economies of scale to keep it’s costs down. It is also able to afford marketing experts and PR people that small independent coffee companies don’t have access to in order to keep the public interested.

One of the few truths of the article was this:

“Starbucks has really created a coffee culture, raising awareness of good coffee, which is good for independents,” said Carol Watson, owner of the Milk and Honey coffee shop in Chicago. “But on the other hand, they’re on practically every corner, and that makes it tough on the little guy too.”

Frankly, I think independent companies should be worried. 600 stores represents approximately 10% of all Starbucks stores worldwide. How many small companies can afford a 10% total loss (or more) and thrive?

In my opinion, a lot of the aggression towards Starbucks comes from jealousy. How many of those small companies are trying very hard to be the big dog? Business is and always has been competitive. Don’t like the fact that another business is doing better than yours? Improve or fail. In the end it’s the consumer who will determine the winner. 

The customer is always right.

At this point, the customer is broke.

That’s the real story behind Starbucks closing 600 stores. People can barely afford to fill up their cars and get groceries, let alone spend several dollars on a coffee.

600 stores are closing. Thousands of jobs will be terminated. I guarantee that 600 independent coffee shops will not pop up to replace the stores being closed. So why is this a victory for anyone involved?

The truth of the matter is that big buisness doesn’t just create jobs and offer cheap products, it also offers a place for small business to sell their products too.

A car plant recently closed in a city several hours north of where I live. People lost their jobs in that city. The trickle down of that plant closing is that a lot of places that had contracts with that particular company are now having to scale down their operations and lay off employees.

Nobody wins when big business closes up shop. We can’t all work at local coffee shops and in turn patronize local coffee shops. The economy just doesn’t work that way.




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