She thinks it came from Santa, but I think Claire was most excited about the cookbook she received.
Claire has this little recipe book with very simple sorts of treats. It’s meant to be things that kids can (with a tiny bit of help from a parent, of course) make. She picked smoothies. Wrote out a shopping list. Went to the store and helped buy the ingredients. Then made us smoothies for dinner the other night. Yum!
This is another instalment in my (sixth) Week of Lists: one fun and awesome list posted every day for seven days on a variety of topics.
I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, especially as you’re just wiping the winter dust off your grill and planning the bounty of barbecued delights that await you this summer. We grill nearly every opportunity we get. In fact, we go out to restaurants far less in the summertime than in the wintertime because I love to barbecue, and I can char up an awesome steak to blow away any restaurant slab you order, any day.
Personally, I plan to try out a few new things this barbecue season because — who knows — maybe I’ll find something better than the near-perfection (or some my drooling family would imply) we already seem to have achieved. Thus…
Five Ways to Break the Barbecue Boredom Before it Begins
1 : Perfect a New Burger Recipe
a very burger-experimental-icious summer
I dabble in the occasional dash of new spices, but the basic formula we tend to follow for our grilled burgers is this: ground beef, onion soup and a bit of Worchester Sauce (for flavour), a scoop of oatmeal (for heartiness) and a single egg (as a binder.) Form patty. Grill. Add some cheese and sauce. And add to a bun. Standard. But not only are there a ton of interesting spices (curry is apparently pretty awesome) but any one of those other parts can be mixed and matched: different meats, different binding agents, different sauces, cheese blended in or traded up as a topper. The possibilities revealed by this simple epiphany open a door to a very burger-experimental-icious summer.
2 : Experiment with Home-made Sauces
Not just on burgers, but at multiple grilling opportunities. Grilling sauces tend to follow a basic recipe as I understand them: a base (like tomato sauce), a flavour (like a spice mix or smokey things), and a sweet (like sugar, honey, soda or even beer– but something to caramelize). Everything else is up to your imagination. Spicy. Gooey. Smokey. Rich. Exotic. The possibilities are endless. I’m given to trying to perfect my own secret grilling sauce recipe this summer: should we have a competition?
The problem with falling into a grilling routine tends to be — in my opinion — a narrowing of your grilling focus. Take me for example: I’ll admit I’ve fallen into a bit of a grilling rut. We do burgers (see point 1). We cook steaks (the same way almost every time). We cook chops (just so.) And I’ll throw one of usually only three types of veggies (always wrapped in some foil with the same dash of oil, salt, and spices.) Part of this is my comfort zone grilling, I’ll take that. But part of it is having a fussy six year old living at the house. So… what about straying: yeah, new sauces and new recipes. But this summer maybe I’ll try a beer can chicken (which I’ve never done) or a seafood bake (if you can even do that on a gass grill… I don’t know.) I’m thinking it’s time to open my barbecue field of vision a little wider. How about you?
a zillion awesome grill-able veggies
4 : Go Weird or Wild
Along the same lines, we tend to focus on the same three meats every time we grill: beef, pork, or (occasionally) chicken. Sure, that’s all local-industry meat, but there is a whole range of grill-able fauna and flora that have never graced my ‘cue. The seafood section at our local grocery is pretty good, there is an Asian food market fifteen minutes from my house, we have relatives who hunt, and that doesn’t even take into account just taking a few extra steps and browsing the regular butcher cooler at our own grocery store. I also understand that there are a zillion awesome grill-able veggies to explore, many weird and wonderful, be it your main dish or just an interesting side. The game is on…
5 : Grill the Ungrillable
You can grill that? I don’t know. Maybe not. But (apart from possibly being a bit wasteful when you fail) I think turning your brain on to this particular question as you wander down your grocery aisle this summer… hey… you never know what new family favourite you may invent.
A New Years tradition when I was growing up always seemed to be linked in one way or another to the cooking of some good old fashioned Olliebolen. This is a recipe that came down from my grandmother (and probably further back than that) and my dad used to concoct these little fritter-like doughnut-things for our ringing-in-midnight celebrations. For the last couple New Years I’ve been working on perfecting my own technique with the once-per-year craft, and will be going out to the grocery store this evening sometime to procure the necessary ingredients to make sure that my family and party guests are subject to that same experimentation.
Three things have prompted me to give readers a bit of an update on the banoffee pie saga I wrote about here a little more than a month ago.
First, I’ve noticed that about thirty percent of the traffic that came to this site since I’ve posted that ‘informative’ anecdote has been as a result of people searching for “banoffee pie” in Google. Second, I made a very successful banoffee pie over the holidays — on the 24th of December to be precise — and the family enjoyed it that evening, and; Third, I’ve finally (as in just this past weekend) posted the pictures from the holiday season and thus now have a photograph of the aforementioned banoffee pie for everyone to see (and presumably drool over.)
Behold! Banoffee revealed:
You may notice that this particular recipe is about two-thirds by volume of whipped cream. You may also notice that we skipped the sprinkling of instant coffee that was meant to garnish the top. You may also notice that no one seemed to mind. All in, it was really good. Delicious, I’d argue. (Though, one should always be skeptical when the chef reviews his own cooking!) And, most definitely, one of the highlights of my holidays.
We’ve since been back to the Superstore to buy three more jars of the secret ingredient, thus ensuring a regular hit of banoffee goodness over the coming year. Now THAT’S a happy new year.
Have you ever tried it? I’d give it about a one in twenty chance that you have. I have. And I want another taste.
Way back in 2007 or so, my Brilliant Wife — no, really, she is — who otherwise proudly sports her relatively poor knowledge of popular culture with a disturbing pride, managed to scrape together a hankering to try this very-Londoner dessert. She decided this based on a very obscure and minor movie reference from about 2004. As such, when we visited London a couple years back she (in fact) sourced us a small bit to taste and (maybe only due to the whole wanting-the-unobtainable thing) I’ve been craving banoffee pie ever since.
It is difficult to find in Canada. I’m sure it exists somewhere locally. I had it served at a hotel buffet when I was in Ontario earlier this year. And surely we’re not the only nut cakes who think it’s an awesome bit of sweet.
My interest could also be a direct result of my love of all things banana, a fault (or so I’m often told by the aforementioned Brilliant Wife) that is directly due to a penicillin allergy that spared me any over-exposure to banana-flavored medication in childhood and left intact my relatively fond memories of wafting artificial banana odors. Call me strange if you will. I don’t mind.
Our search has not been fruitless, of course. Numerous banoffee pie recipes are available online. But there has always been a bit of a hitch. One of the main ingredients is a milk-based derivative that has tended to pose a bit of a hurdle: a can of sweetened condensed milk, BUT in fact, but not just any can. The recipe calls for a can of sweetened condensed milk that has been prepared just so: cooked in its own can for a long, slow caramelization and gooed into a thick brown, sweet syrup not entirely unlike — well — caramel.
So? You ask. Big deal. Well, you see the problem is two fold: cooking the can of milk has always involved one of two processes that is either (a) long and time-consuming — I mean hours and hours, here — or (b) destructively explosive. Slowly boiling a can of anything (as oft warns many-a-banoffee pie recipe) has the potential to literally blow up in your face.
That doesn’t mean those plans have been off the table. Just — no pun intended — put on the back burner for a while.
Enter Superstore (TM). I don’t usually shop there, but it’s not because I’m adverse to it. There is just no Superstore (TM) convenient to where I live. But Superstore (TM) — well known locally for their President’s Choice Brand products — have recently introduced a small line of Latin American dessert spreads. In particular they have started selling something called Dulce de Leche Caramel Creme Spread, cited for use as a topping for waffles and toast. Also, and far more importantly, cited (in numerous recipes) for preferred use in banoffee pie as the alternative to the aforementioned exploding milk concoction. In fact, the milk goo is (apparently) the poor man’s substitute in those recipes where no Dulce de Leche is to be found.
And as of two days ago I have enough Dulce de Leche in my pantry to bake two whole banoffee pies. Do I sound excited yet?
Hurdle — if only two-pie temporarily — leaped. And very soon that Brilliant Wife and I will likely be enjoying some homemade banoffee goodness. Ahhh….
I realized this morning as I was taking some time to plan out the week’s recipes in the mealplanit (and yes, two years later we still use that thing!) that while I mentioned cooking on my “planning for two weeks off” post, I didn’t really elaborate on the extent of that.
The benefits of using a meal planning system are that you can prepare quite elaborate meals because, quite frankly, you’ve got the recipes in the computer and generating detailed shopping lists for a week’s worth of elaborate meals is one of the more daunting tasks of cooking. At least I think so. Once you have the ingredients sitting in your kitchen, hey, how much effort does it really take to put them together and cook them? I mean, put on some tunes, crack a bottle of wine, and get it done!
The limitation of a meal planning system is that (at some point in the process) you actually need to do the upfront work of finding recipes you like; this means researching, digging, data entry, and — my favorite part — the “test kitchen” phase. With a week off (or even not, I suppose) the test kitchen phase is an important part of the next year’s eating efforts. I mean (conservatively, leaving room for leftover nights and the potential of eating out) you’ve got four or five solid days where you can try out new recipes and see if you want to expand the menu for the coming months.
That said, I’ve spent the morning and (while also adding my ingredient lists for my gingerbread house) added five new recipes to the mealplanit to send to the “test kitchen” this week. So, as of this morning, the menu for the week looks something like this:
– Greek Pita Pizzas
– Layered Enchilada Bake
– Spinach and Bacon Chicken
– Easy Indian Butter Chicken
– German Spaghettini
– Gingerbread Cookie Dough
– Royal Icing (For Gingerbread)
I’ve tried to cover a variety of ethnic cuisines — though where I’m going to find tandoori masala is beyond me — and it’s shaping up to be a very tasty week. And no, you can’t come for dinner. (Unless you bring dessert, of course!)
Harvest in July?
As the evening pressed on — and looking for something a little less boring than rice to eat with that fresh sockeye we picked up at the grocery store — I chanced to stick my little shovel into one of the potato hills. I fully expected to find some nugget-sized taters, but instead revealed a collection of baseball-sized yukons.
We boiled these suckers and served them up with some butter and fresh — also from the garden — chives. Yes, that’s right: the first of the garden feasts was a success! Looks like we’ll be eating well for the next little while: can anyone say fresh potatos! (Note to self: update meal planning software with plenty’o potato recipes!)
Next time: ravishing radishes, leaf lettuce lunacy, and random raspberry rapture. Stay tuned…
IANACS* but I do have the tinkering gene. Roughly defined a Tinkerer is one who makes unskilled or experimental efforts at repair; one who fiddles. Long ago, tinkerers built things like clocks, wind-up gadgets, or animated brass models of the solar system. You know: stuff with vaguely meandering or, at best, decorative function.
Today, we tinkerers have computers. And what does it mean to be a tinkerer when it comes to software development? Well, simply, it means that one takes code and experimentally “fiddles” with it until it does something — something interesting or something decorative — sometimes even something useful.
This is of course leading up to a real life example. Case-in-point: last night. Last night I was tinkerering with my meal planning software again. For those needing a recap: we (though don’t put too much blame on Karin for this one) built a piece of software (in the loosest defintion of the word) to manage our meal planning. You know: those elaborate dishes that we cook and eat on a somewhat daily basis — someone needs to plan those. The software uses recipes and ingredients for those recipes, in a small database to sort and arrange meal plans on a per-day basis, and also prints out shopping lists.
It’s, specifically, a tinkering-type project.
Thing is: I launched it last night, groovy and cool, and with pretty graphics and a user interface. It’s like my little baby now, sent out into the multiverse to grow and prosper. Sniff. I’m so proud. Someday I might even let others inside to have a peek.
* I Am Not A Computer Scientist
I realized (after the fact) that this was a recovery weekend. No travel. No visitors. No expectations. We spent some quality time with Sparkle. A few hours (and dollars) were spent at West Edmonton Mall where the hoards had reduced to a tolerable level post-holidays. We took the tree down, sad as it was, tossing it (literally) to the curb, and putting the vacuum to good work. And watched a couple odd movies, neither of which were bad, but not worth deeper analysis either.
Geeks as we are, Karin and I implemented the “alpha test” of our new meal planning software this weekend. We decided, for both convenience and monetary reasons, that we needed to spend more time planning meals in advance. A scheme to buy an extra calendar turned into a scheme to build a spreadsheet with codes which turned into a bigger scheme to build a database which (this weekend) turned into a grand scheme to build a piece of open source software using PHP and MySQL. I coded a handful of wierdly cool functions to do neat things like organize recipes, generate shopping lists, and do cost analysis of grocery spending. Ultimately, what started out as a bit of a nerdy project has turned into an ÃƒÂ¼berg33k project that (quite frankly) I should be (socially) ashamed to write about. I’ll keep the progress up to date as we move forward (slowly now) that we have a semi-functioning alpha-product.
Sparkle found the warm spots at our feet during all of this, though I don’t think she is quite aware of the adventure that awaits her over the next few days. I’m still a little chaotic in my own brain about the whole thing. Arg.