Sunday, July 7, 2013

Stampede Midway Food Tour 2013

After a great Capital Ex midway food tour with friends in Edmonton a few years ago, I started my own tradition of a midway food tour at the Stampede since moving here. It's one of those great nights where all dietary rationalizations go out the window and gluttony reigns supreme. If you still have a few bucks in your pocket and don't feel like you're going to fall over, then you need to try whatever culinary delicacy is beckoning you. It's always good to travel in a group for an escapade like this... to a certain extent, there is safety in numbers. When you're getting the tray of deep fried Oreos or the bucket of chocolate dipped bacon, it means that you get one Oreo or one strip of bacon or maybe just a bite of something... it's the only thing saving you from a fast free fall into the food coma. This way, you get to "enjoy" a bit more before your need for water and rest overwhelms you and puts a stop to the fun.

The Stampede, like so many other exhibitions now, features the newest and craziest additions to the midway food fare as part of the overall attraction to visit. You can see the new food features here and maybe add something to your midway hit list. (Though, after reviewing it again, it doesn't look like we tasted any of these! That said, there was plenty of indulgence and ridiculousness in our tour.)

The other part of this was that we really wanted to get out and support the Stampede after the recent and very devastating floods in Southern Alberta. The Stampede was hit hard by the floods, donning the slogan "Hell or High Water" in response to their recovery efforts, and the City rallied. The Friday night of Stampede was certainly testing the resilience of attendees as it again doused the grounds, even hailing at points. We certainly stayed and showed our support... come hell or any water.


Now to the food!

Friday, July 5, 2013

wannaGROW: Chives (and Cheddar and Chive Focaccia)

It's a bit amusing to have a wannaGROW on the topic of chives, as most people have such voracious chive plants that they don't want them to grow! I've lucked out with, yet another, discovery in our garden... a lovely and small and reasonable little chive bush.

I read on one garden website that "chives do not thrive on neglect," which I laughed at because I really haven't given my chives much TLC. Partially because I don't want them to spread like crazy but partially because I am still figuring out what I need to do with all of these plants in my garden. 

I've learned that you should harvest the chives by cutting them about two inches above the soil, using scissors, to encourage regrowth. So, unlike the rhubarb where you should absolutely NOT cut, here it is okay to cut. Harvest from the outside edges to the inside. Remove the flowers, as they appear, to keep the plant vegetative and producing.

Monday, July 1, 2013

wannaGROW: Chive Blossoms (and Butter and Vinegar)

I just had a good laugh... at myself. wannaGROW isn't as much about what I can grow as it is about what I can't kill. Rhubarb and chives. What a good starting point!

So, at a certain point, likely around mid-June here, your chives will begin to flower. Those pretty little chive blossoms, with their delicate purple petals, are as edible as the plants that spawned them. 

I've learned that you should harvest the chives by cutting them about two inches above the soil, using scissors, to encourage regrowth. So, unlike the rhubarb where you should absolutely NOT cut, here it is okay to cut. Harvest from the outside edges to the inside. No additional care is required to get from plant to blossoms... it's just part of the life cycle each year.

Now, you can sprinkle the chive blossoms into salads, use them as a beautiful edible garnish, or... you could try something different. Maybe mix some beautiful chive blossoms into creamy white chevre for unique addition to your cheese plate. Or... you could make chive blossom compound butter or a chive blossom infused vinegar!

If you're feeling ambitious, you could make a batch of fresh butter for this little culinary escapade.

Let butter soften and come to room temperature. Add the petals of the chive blossoms to the butter and combine.

2 cups chive blossoms
~4 cups white vinegar (you can always sub in other vinegars here... maybe a champagne vinegar?)

Give your chive blossoms a quick rinse to get rid of any debris or bugs. Put your blossoms in your glass jar, then top with vinegar. Let marinate and infuse for two weeks in a cool, dark place.

Strain vinegar through a fine mesh sieve to remove the blossoms, then decant into a jar or bottle. Now dress your homegrown greens with a beautiful olive oil and your homemade chive blossom vinegar!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

wannaGROW: Rhubarb (and Honeyed Cardamom Rhubarb Compote)

Life with a monster garden means a monster amount of work. It means loads of weeding, digging, pruning, planting, composting, and so on. In the past three years, we've brought our yard from an overgrown disaster to a more intentionally overgrown disaster. hah! We've pulled out some things, figured out what needs to stay, read books, and learned from Mom. We're trying to turn our not-completely-black thumbs into green ones. It's a work in progress. But that seems to be the underlying lesson that I hear from most gardeners... you learn by doing.

So, we're doing and we're doing our best.

One thing that seems to require very little effort in our garden is this lovely little patch of rhubarb in the back corner. The first year, we didn't even know it was there. The second year, we discovered it and that was about it. This third year, we managed to get there early, weed around it (courtesy of Des's elbow grease and contributions) and found ourselves harvesting a great amount of rhubarb!

There are amazing tips on working with rhubarb on Canadian Gardening's site. What I did learn about harvesting was that you DO NOT cut the stalks to harvest them. Rather, you should grasp the stalk at the base, pull gently, and twist. Apparently this will encourage the root to continue to produce, as opposed to cutting which discourages it altogether. I think that little leafy bit (hidden by the big stalk that you just removed) is the whole reason for the harvesting technique. That little leaf will become a big rhubarb leaf and stalk soon enough!

Also, remove the flower stalks as they appear. If you leave these, the plant will put its energy into developing the flowers and become dormant for the season, as opposed to continuing to produce edible stalks for you. Oh, and a BIG no to eating the leaves. This is not the time to add variety to your garden salad. The leaves are toxic but they can be composted safely or turned into a helpful pesticide for your flowers like the one here. Just don't spray it on anything that you'll eat later. The leaves remain toxic even in this form.

I remember rhubarb in many forms when I was a kid. We grew up eating rhubarb fresh from the ground... a stalk rinsed under the garden hose with a tiny container of sugar. I remember my Dad making stewed rhubarb and eating it on anything... ice cream, toast, or just a straight bowlful of it. He loved it. Here's an idea for something slightly different for your rhubarb harvest...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chocolate Espresso Banana Bread

I've been spending a LOT of time lately revisiting my eating and cooking habits. I don't like "light" or "diet" or "non-fat." (Though I do like 1% milk for my cereal.) For me, I think having a small pat of butter is more important than having a mass of a fat-free version. But somewhere along the way, I think I lost sight of portion sizes or maybe it was just a combination of factors. Regardless of the progression, I didn't like that a few favourite pieces of clothing were a bit too snug...

Time to revisit.

So, I've been trying to choose more vegetables than starches... opting for greek yogurts versus mayonnaises... and trying to get a bit more creative. I still enjoy the french fries and gravy every so often but it just can't be every day.

Time to be (a wee bit) healthier. These mini muffins are a great step in that direction... Wheat bran and flax kick up the fibre and omegas, bananas are full of potassium, greek yogurt is a great source of calcium and protein, agave is much sweeter than sugar so I could use less to achieve a similar level of sweetness as using brown sugar. And let's not forget my favourite sweetie-treatie justification... dark chocolate is a source of happy healthful antioxidants. So, I'm feeling pretty good about my little creation here. haha.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Eats & Smiles: Reflections on 2012

It's interesting how quickly things can change in one's world. Times like these seem to leave you less energy or inspiration for other things... like cooking.

It's been a whirlwind.

My December was filled many casual drinks with old friends and a few with some new ones. I managed to have some quality time with friendly and family faces. My world became bigger and smaller in the span of thirty days. The two biggest bits of news... We got engaged! In a completely amusing moment of shock and surprise, I found myself saying "of course" to a pledge of becoming a Mrs. Then, our world became a little bit smaller as our New Year's Day found us in the emergency vet and saying goodbye to our dearest and first furbaby, Wally.

Ironically, I had started the month of December with writing a love letter to the Edmonton Humane Society, thanking them for bringing both Wally and Jack into our lives. It was published this last week...

Tears of joy.

And tears of sorrow.

So, yes, it's been a whirlwind. To put it mildly.

In a wannafoodie world, I definitely chipped away at some of my foodie goals for 2012, which included:
- Mastering the creme brulee
- Making bread and -shocking- making cheese
- More brunch with friends
- Curing and preserving
- More Mexican
- More Soul
- More ice cream
- French cooking
- Infusing
- Donuts

Well, I definitely made some fantastic attempts in some areas and didn't chip away at others. I made a few creme brulees and pot de cremes... some turned out more like runny custard toppings or chocolate fondues. They were all still tasty!

I made many many loaves of sourdough bread and other sweet breads a la Peter Reinhardt. My momma launched her bread company and proved that she is truly a bread master. The "bread touch" is in my genes... somewhere! I'll tap into that even more and figure out if I can master these doughs.

It's so funny to read about making cheesemaking a goal for 2012! When I wrote that, I had absolutely zero idea that Valerie, Ian, Addie, and Deb would be launching Cheesepalooza that August. By August, I had made a few fresh cheeses but the challenge gave me such a framework of both learning but also of support that made this 2012 challenge much more attainable than it may have been on my own.

There were many more brunches with friends but also dinners with friends, drinks with friends, camping with friends, and so on. Food is so much better when you get to enjoy it with others. We even challenged ourselves and made a multi-course meal for New Year's Eve, where we made the meal together, then sat and enjoyed the meal together, complete with some pretty decadent wine pairings for each course. It was infinitely more comfortable, casual, and celebratory than being in a restaurant... having to dress up, pay through the nose, worry about finishing up by a certain time, and -the worst- figuring out how to get home on that very busy evening!

There was no curing, as I had no idea how all-consuming my cheese challenge would become, but there was more preserving this year. We have come to completely hoard our stash of preserves, carefully selecting jars for consumption, and enjoying the fruits of our labours and the bests of the season previous.

There was a bit more Mexican (and an amusing attempt at a campside mole) but no more attempts at Soul. Still some work to do in this area.

There were a few more ice creams and sorbets. I was particularly pleased with a pumpkin pie-chevre faux ice cream. It was little more than pumpkin puree with homemade chevre, pumpkin spiced syrup, and a bit of gelatin (after finding inspiration from my Momofuku cookbook in the use of gelatin).

I succeeded in adding more French cookery to my repertoire! I made dulce de leche filled puffs in Argentina of all places for Brunch with Friends 3... a little Europe meets South America. I read French Kids Eat Everything, which pushed me to think about my own eating habits both in terms of the what but also the when and how. It reminded me that it never hurts to add a bit more ceremony to your daily meals. I took a French Country cooking class, which was fantastic! Then we remade that menu with our own inspiration for a family dinner. I read Julia Child's and Laura Calder's cookbooks... reminding myself to cook ingredients simply and preserve their integrity through elevation and simple sophistication.

I didn't manage to attack any infusions but sure did enjoy some mixology attempts... I now know that my perfect negroni substitutes cinzano for the red vermouth. I will also substitute aperol for campari, if I am feeling like toning down the delightful bitterness.

Oh donuts... donuts... I sure managed to eat them but did not manage to make any. I sure need to get on that bandwagon.

So, all in all, it looks as though I managed to chip away at some of my foodie goals better than others but am so happy with my progress. I definitely feel as though I have a broader repertoire than when I started. I'll continue to work towards achieving more of these goals.

And eating a lot more salads... I do have a wedding coming up now.
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