Friday Update: Where In The Blogosphere is PhillyFoodie85 (or When The Chips Are Down)?

It’s been sixteen days since my last post, which, yes, goes against my promise for more frequent posts, but I don’t like to rush my work.

It’s been a pretty interesting week for me. After being put off for a week, I started my city’s COOK Master’s program (http://audreyclairecook.com/cook-masters-program), which is now catering to food writers looking for work along with chefs and cooks doing the same. I met more food bloggers looking to hit the big time than actual cooks, so, for the first time since my creative writing class in high school, I felt at ease at where I was.

The food writing lesson was good, in that it inspired me to always look for new ways to approach my food essays so it doesn’t feel like I’m in a grind (and not a good one, like for coffee and pepper) and to always edit, revise, build vocabulary, never stop learning, and even go out on a limb and make the news as well as report it (meaning that, if I stage at a restaurant or work at a farmer’s market, then I can report on it here). The speakers (Rick Nichols and Drew Lazor of Foobooz) didn’t exactly touch on where I can submit my work, but, hey, that’s why the Internet was made.

Tuesday the 21st’s Health and Nutrition class was canceled and rescheduled for February 25th after a heavy snowstorm plowed through the East Coast, a lesson learned when I arrived in Center City and was buffeted with snow for at least an hour until the program managers told me that there was no need for me to be here since the class was canceled. And it’s not like I was notified earlier about it and went blindly into the winter white. The program managers don’t get in until 11:15 am and, despite claims that they called me to inform me of this on my cell phone number, I didn’t get the message (it did, however, go to my home number). It was all a case of crossed wires and I can’t really blame anyone (except for myself, who should have taken the hint that there would be no class when the snow started to get heavy). This coming Monday and Tuesday, I have Butchery and Wine 101, and the weather isn’t going to be too bad, so I’m pumped and studying all I can.

The rest of the week was pretty much drafting and devising new ideas for this blog, as well as aimless Internet surfing, which brought me to this contest:

https://www.dousaflavor.com/#!/

Lays Potato Chips started this two years ago, where lucky contestants get to enter in what new potato chip flavor they want to see. The finalists last time were Sriracha (a spicy, Asian, ketchup-like sauce that seems to be all the rage with hipsters, geeks, and white kids who want to be Asian. I didn’t taste this nor did I see it at any of the markets where I live), Chicken and Waffles (I did see this, and taste it. The combination of maple syrup and potatoes made up for the fact that I couldn’t taste the chicken), and Cheesy Garlic Bread (I saw this one too and tasted it. I was disappointed that I couldn’t identify the garlic nor the cheese taste. And this one won, which was more disappointing, given how good the chicken and waffles chips were and the potential of sriracha-flavored chips).

Now, you’re probably wondering, “PhillyFoodie [or Canais], why didn’t you enter the contest? You must have a lot of flavor ideas and combos whirling in your head from your two years as a Job Corps culinary student and your time in California, where you pretty much ate from organic gardens, professional kitchens, community kitchens, and farmers’ markets, and one could net you $1 million and some minor fame.” I did think about entering when the contest was fresh and new, but I was too busy. Now that I’m not, I’ve been pouring through The Flavor Bible and devising ideas.

My best ones so far include: Caprese (Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella), Philly Cheesesteak, Chili Cheese Fries, Parmesan and Walnut, Apple Cheddar (with and without bacon), Mac and Cheese (as a promise to my sister), and, my original idea, General Tso’s Chicken. I’m sure I have more, but I forgot.

Next time, I’ll touch on how to reinvent your kitchen into something more professional.

Good night, and happy eating!

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First World Food Problems: Smooth Like Velveeta (or Process Cheesed Off)

As I was searching the Internet for future food topics on this blog, I came across a story that just screams, “First World problems” (or, if you want to get technical “#firstworldproblems”). Apparently, Kraft Foods announced that, because of high demand (especially around this time, where people are making cheesy, fattening snacks for the BCS [college football] and the Super Bowl), Velveeta may be in short supply. As per usual with a lot of news stories in this day and age, it’s been blown out of porportion. How blown out? It’s been dubbed “The Cheesepocalypse” on Twitter (which I use to get fans for this site, whether or not they actually know me). Don’t believe me. Check it out here:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/101316810

Now what does this mean to me? Absolutely nothing. I don’t like processed cheese at all. There was a time when I did, but that was because the lunchladies at school only had processed American cheese for their burgers, and I nor my mother thought to bring in provolone or mozzarella or write a note to the school, saying I’m allergic to American cheese. Hey, if they can do it for kids who have allergies to peanuts, soy, wheat, fish, walnuts, pecans, shellfish, eggs, and some of the less common foods a person can be allergic to, like strawberries, bananas, pineapples, chocolate — yes, chocolate allergies are a thing and I feel bad for people who will never know the simple joy of a Godiva truffle on Valentine’s Day (or Singles Appreciation Day, if you’re lonely and/or bitter), chocolate coins on Christmas or Hanukkah, Reese’s egg-shaped cups on Easter, or a Halloween jack-o’-lantern bag filled to bursting with the best Hershey’s has to offer — any artificial dyes or preservatives, or, in the case of one girl I knew at my basic Job Corps center in Kentucky, anything that wasn’t steamed chicken, buttered noodles, and steamed vegetables (I’m not kidding. Her food allergies were so bad that that was all she could eat), then my mother could do it for me. But that’s the past.

So why am I reporting on this? Two reasons: one, I find it a bit melodramatic that they’re treating this like it’s going to be an impending famine. This has NOTHING on Ireland’s potato famine between 1845 and 1852. That famine meant tremendous human suffering (the actual death toll isn’t clear, but it’s safe to say that around a million bit the big one due to disease and not, as you would believe, starvation), forever shaped  the cultural and political landscape of Ireland and the United Kingdom, gave considerable impetus to the shift from Irish (Gaelic) to English as the language of the majority since the potato famine affected poor Irish districts and led to the formation of the Gaelic League which works to promote Ireland’s mother tongue, added fuel to the fire of tension between the Irish and the British, and drove many Irish people to emigrate to other countries (most of them did end up in the United States. And if you think Mexicans are treated unfairly because of their emigrating to the United States, look up how the Irish were treated. And, yes, it does explain why, in old cartoons, police officers had red hair and/or Irish accents), and two: it gives me an opportunity to dispense options for those who just can’t live without their processed cheese.

I’ll never understand how eat something that’s made of milk, water, milkfat, whey, milk protein concentrate, whey protein concentrate, sodium phosphate; contains less than 2% of: salt, calcium phosphate, lactic acid, sorbic acid as a preservative, sodium alginate, sodium citrate, enzymes, apocarotenal (color), annatto (color), and cheese culture (which, to me, is more of a relic from my junior year chemistry class rather than food), but “Take Back the Kitchen” isn’t about judging you on the foods you eat; it’s about offering healthier options.

“Healthier options for Velveeta?” you scoff, “That’s just a myth, like The Tooth Fairy or a balanced budget.”

“Well,” I retort, “it’s true. You can make Velveeta by hand and it will taste better and be slightly better for you, as my idol,  American Test Kitchen, will show you with this recipe.”

Homemade Velveeta

1 tablespoon water
1½ teaspoons powdered gelatin
12 ounces Colby cheese, shredded
12 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded
12 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon whole milk powder (now, this ingredient is going to be a pain in the butt to find in typical grocery stores. Try a gourmet kitchen store that specializes in rare and bizarre ingredients, or look online)
1 teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk

1. Line 5-by 4-inch disposable aluminum loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing excess to hang over sides.

2. Place water in small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over top, and let mixture sit for 5 minutes. Pulse cheese, milk powder, salt, and cream of tartar in food processor until combined, about 3 pulses.

3. Meanwhile, bring milk to boil in small saucepan. Off heat, stir in softened gelatin until dissolved, and transfer mixture to 1-cup liquid measuring cup. With processor running, slowly add hot milk mixture to cheese mixture until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down bowl as needed.

4. Immediately transfer cheese mixture to prepared pan, pressing to compact. Wrap tightly and chill at least 3 hours, or overnight.

If you want something more homemade, you can just cut cubes of Colby, Cheddar, and Swiss (now, why these three? Because that’s what the ingredients allegedly are of the actual product, according to a 1980s commercial jingle. I’m too young to remember that, since I was born in 1985 and came of age in the 1990s and the 2000s), add some Gruyère, some flour (or cornstarch if you’re going gluten-free), garlic clove, white wine, cherry brandy (called “kirsch” in Swiss German) [or omit both if you don’t want alcohol], lemon juice, nutmeg, and dry mustard in a fondue pot (or, more realistically, a four quart pot that could pass for a fondue pot if it’s fancy enough), cook until melted and creamy (being super careful not to let it boil. Boiling it will cause a mess and burn it), serve with French bread, raw vegetables, ham cubes, and some fruits that taste great with cheese (the mild, autumn fruits, like apples and pears. Apple slices with melted cheddar and ham makes a great sandwich, especially if the apple is anything but a Red Delicious, as Red Deliciouses are better off being eaten raw out of hand, turned into apple juice, used in reenactments of the Adam and Eve story [even though the Bible doesn’t specifically mention that an apple is “the forbidden fruit” from the Tree of Knowledge], or given to teachers in a transparent attempt to ingratiate yourself to them. When cooked, they taste too mushy), et voilà! You have a classy take on melted queso. A little heavy cream and roux turns it into a cheese sauce that can be served over steamed broccoli or loaded nachos or baked potatoes (which can also be served loaded).

It’s always a concern when your favorite food is in short supply or is about to be discontinued or affected in some way, but in an age where you can find alternate ways and substitutes for it, these doom and gloom stories about it shouldn’t impact this many people (unless it’s especially dire, like with water and certain fruits and vegetables).

Thank you, and happy eating!

Copycat Recipes: Cuckoo For Cocoa Bombs

This is episode one in a new “Take Back the Kitchen” segment centered on making your favorite restaurant meals and pantry/refrigerator staples from scratch.

Welcome back, readers! It’s January 3, 2014, and, where I live, it’s an ass-biting 14ºF and is going to hit 5º by nightfall (and feel like 14 below). It’s times like this I wish I were back in San Francisco, where their winter weather is no different than what it’s like in early spring (mild and a little rainy).

But, this blog isn’t about the weather or where I’d rather be. It’s about food…and, in this case, drink.

In weather like this, hot drinks are the way to go, be it tea, coffee, cider, toddies, or cocoa. Nestlé, Swiss Miss, Ghiradelli Premium, Trader Joe’s, some Save-a-Lot no-brand — whatever your taste (and your budget), there’s nothing like a hot mug of hot cocoa (especially with marshmallows, but I’m not a marshmallow person, unless it’s roasted over a fire and sandwiched between a chocolate bar and some graham crackers or melted down and used to make Rice Krispie treats). But what if I told you that you can actually make hot cocoa mix and save yourself the time and money? Initially, you’d give me an incredulous look or dismiss me as being crazy, and, prior to that, I’d agree with you, but, yes, it is just as possible to make hot cocoa mix just as it is to make herbed crackers, egg foo young, or Fruit Roll-Ups (which I will touch on in later installments of “Copycat Recipes”). And this take on hot cocoa mix won’t leave a gritty, powdery aftertaste, which is one of the things I don’t like about hot cocoa.

The first thing you’ll notice about this is that it’s not a powdered mix, more like melting chocolate, then chilling it and turning it into pseudo-truffles or an edible fizzing bath bomb. That’s to reduce the mess you get with powders and to put you in control of how you want it flavored. What if you want some mint hot cocoa, or nutmeg, or cinnamon or Mexican-style (with dried, ground chiles)? Yes, you can flavor the powder with spices or add a flavored syrup, but it won’t mix well. Here, you get a better blend of chocolate plus whatever you’re flavoring it with (and, yes, you can use your favorite dessert liqueur, like Remy Martin, Kahlùa, Bailey’s Irish Cream or crème de mènthe if you want to make your hot cocoa adults only).

Instant Cocoa Bombs
(adapted from American Test Kitchen’s recipe)

Ingredients

12 oz (1 bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips*
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt
Optional flavorings (mint extract, vanilla extract, crushed peppermint candy, smoked sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin spice, dried ground chiles, your dessert liqueur of choice, ground coffee, etc)

1) Combine the chips, heavy cream, whatever flavoring you’re using (if any), and salt in a microwaveable glass bowl (I swear by Pyrex).
2) Microwave for 2 minutes (your microwave time may vary). If you don’t have a microwave, then melt the chocolate in either a double boiler or place the bowl with the mixture in it over a boiling pot of water (or the flame on your gas oven if you’re feeling ambitious). Either way, you’ll want to stir your melting mixture until it’s smooth. If you’re flavoring it, taste it to see if the flavored chocolate is where you want it to be.
3) Wrap the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (or use a shower cap and some rubber bands) and refrigerate for two hours or until firm.
4) After the mixture has hardened, take the bowl out of the refrigerator and unwrap.
5) With a tablespoon or a small disher scoop (Disher scoop is what laymen call “an ice cream scoop”. In restaurant supply stores, their sizes range from #6 to #100. A #6 or #8 [which is small and used for cookies] is ideal for this recipe), scoop the mixture into balls.
6) If you’re not going to use the cocoa bombs right away, wrap them in plastic and put them in a resealable freezer bag (or just put them in a freezer bag if you don’t have plastic wrap). They’ll keep anywhere from five days (refrigerator) or two months (freezer)
7) To use the cocoa bombs (either right away or later), place a cocoa bomb in a microwaveable mug (material doesn’t matter. It just has to be able to handle microwave temperatures), add milk (doesn’t matter if it’s cow, goat, soy, or lactose-free), and place in the microwave for 2 minutes (again, your microwave cooking time may vary). Stir until the cocoa bomb melts into the milk. Enjoy either with marshmallows, by itself, with whipped cream, or with a warm pastry, cookie, or brownie of some kind.

*You don’t have to use semi-sweet chcolate. Experiment with milk chocolate chips and white chocolate chips, or use Nutella (or any type of chocolate-hazelnut spread, whether store-bought or homemade)

As an added bonus, I’d like to include this video of how to make homemade marshmallows, along with the video illustrating how to make the cocoa bombs. The marshmallows take a bit more time to make, so you are better off getting store-bought, but, if you hate store-bought or have the time and energy to make homemade, then give this a try:

Instant Cocoa Bombs Video:

Homemade Marshmallows Video:

Happy New Year and happy eating!

Happy New Year’s Chicken Tamales

Happy New Year’s everyone! Because most of you are either exhausted or hungover, you’re probably not going to stick around and read new material. By the end of this week, I should be back to blogging. In the meantime, enjoy this entry from “Rantings of An Amateur Chef,” another one of my inspirations for this blog.

Rantings of an Amateur Chef

Many cultures have special foods for the New Year.

Growing up, our New Years food could be whatever we could eat while spending the day watching college football. Others, however, have more specific requests:

  • Argentina – Beans
  • Austria – Suckling pig
  • France – Goose or turkey, oysters and champagne
  • Germany – Pfannkuchens (jelly filled doughnuts)
  • Italy – A savory pork sausage and lentils
  • Japan – Buckwheat noodles
  • Mexico and Spain – Grapes
  • Phillippines – Round foods

Even within the United States there are traditions:

  • South – Greens and black-eyed peas
  • Midwest – Pork and sauerkraut
  • Southwest – Tamales

Photo Dec 31, 12 04 17 PM copy - Featured Size

This year I decided to make tamales. I made them on 12/31 and we had a few just so I could get this post up for the new year.

Photo Dec 31, 8 03 13 AM

Make sure you get masa harina and not just regular corn meal. I had red salsa in the picture but found the…

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