Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sudden Death Cooking: ...An Instruction Manual?

The reason this cookbook looks like a product manual is because it *is* one.  When I recently upgraded my hand blender, I noticed that the new manual included a number of recipes.  In turn, I was left with a dilemma -- do I store this booklet with all my other product manuals, or alongside the cookbooks?  Let us decide with a test of the recipes!

Hence, the book was amid the Sudden Death Cookbook cadre.  It was chosen randomly via random-number ranking.  As before, the individual recipes are chosen according to systematic random sampling.

The six recipes that were randomly selected are as follows:
  • butternut squash soup
  • guacamole
  • mayonnaise
  • pesto sauce
  • "get up and go" breakfast shake
  • pancakes
I'll admit that at this point, things don't look too promising for the Breville cookbook, insofar as most of these items I have already made using recipes I like just fine.  My suspicion is that the recipes themselves won't be especially different from what I'd done before, but that the methods and tools will be new.

Is this book peddling redundancy, or will it teach this old dog new tricks?  Stay tuned to find out!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sudden Death VI: Grilled Seasoned "Ocean Perch"

Fish and salad?  Sounds great!

I approached this recipe with some trepidation, though, on the grounds that this Prairie girl often overcooks fish.  As in, BRUTALLY overcooks it.  And having married a West Coast fish connoisseur, the pressure is definitely on.

The next issue to contend with is the lack of ocean perch nearby.  I asked the guy at the fish counter for his input on a good substitute, and he suggested I use snapper.

So, below are our ingredients, with snapper.

This recipe has two parts: the fish and the salad dressing.  On the upside, the instructions were precise, and helped me avoid overcooking the fish.  

On the downside, the salad dressing was totally overlooked in the recipe.  Following the directions exactly, I was left with a newly-cooked, rapidly-cooling fish and yet-unmade dressing.  Even then, the result was somewhat underseasoned.

The end result was good, if somewhat unspectacular.  Everyone ate and enjoyed the dish, and adding salt and pepper at the table corrected the underseasoning adequately.  And thanks to the recipe, I even managed to cook the fish perfectly!

The Verdict:  This recipe needs more spices, and I made a note that the dressing needs to be made first.  Otherwise, however, the result was yummy and easy, and I would make this again.  Pass!
The FINAL Score for Healthy Winter Warmers:  With four successes out of six recipes, Healthy Winter Warmers PASSES the test!  In all of its pen-marked, oil-stained glory, this book shall rightfully claim its place upon the cookbook shelf.  Good show, HWW!

So which cookbook will be tested next?  And which recipes will be put to the test?  Stay tuned to find out!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sudden Death V: Hoisin Lamb Chops on Tangy Bean Sprouts

Hoisin?  Lamb?  Yes please!  And while I'm not usually excited about eating bean sprouts (having read one conspiracy theory too many about them), I was nonetheless eager to give this recipe a go.

Once again, the recipe called for specific brand names of products that aren't available in Canada, so I substituted as necessary.  Nonetheless, I doubt that even using the original brand names could have saved this dish from becoming the drippy, salty, fatty mess it became.  

It was eaten nonetheless, but not with much enthusiasm.  This is a recipe I will definitely not be aiming to make again.

The Verdict:  This slimy waste of a good piece of lamb not only fails, it is Healthy Winter Warmer's most spectacular failure yet!

The Score for Healthy Winter Warmers:  Having now failed its second recipe, the score is three passes out of five.  Given that only one more failure will put the book into the give-away pile, the final recipe needs to be a success for HWW to be kept.  The suspense mounts!

The final, deciding recipe is for ocean perch, which I already know I'll need to substitute with snapper.  Not an auspicious start... we shall see what happens!  

The fate of the book rests with that one recipe.  Stay tuned to find out how it went!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sudden Death IV: Strawberry (& Rhubarb) Conserve

We never used to be a household that ate much jam, but that changed ever since I started using a spoonful of it to coax the toddler to eat his toast crusts.  Plus, it's always handy to have a jar handy for impromptu gifts.

On the other hand, I've tried making my own jam before, and ended up with a runny mess.  Between the different recipe, and the different ingredients, would this time be different?  I hope so!

The first modification I introduced was to incorporate the plentiful rhubarb from our garden, thus changing the jam from strawberry-only to strawberry and rhubarb.  Not wanting the tart and powerful rhubarb to overwhelm the strawberries, I opted to use mostly strawberries (approx 3 to 1 ratio by chopped volume).

The next substitution was required for a mystery ingredient, "fruit sugar".  Presumably, that product is a sugar with a pectin component to assist setting; so, I used approximately the same amount of white sugar, with 2 tablespoons of pectin mixed in.  Hopefully, that will do the trick!

In following the rest of the directions exactly, I ended up with four jars (two large, two small) of homemade strawberry rhubarb jam.  It set well, and had a good, jam-like consistency, which I was immensely pleased by.  On the downside, the rhubarb was too docile for my tastes, and in future jams, I will incorporate more of it.  Also, as my preference is for chunkier jams, the berries would benefit from less time in the food processor.

D and the toddler were less picky, and enjoyed the final product.  Our jar has been happily added to the roster of household jams, and holds its own among them.

The Verdict:  Despite needing some guesswork in ingredient substitution, the finished product was both tasty and sufficiently jam-like.  As a result, this recipe PASSES!

The Score for Healthy Winter Warmers:  HWW is showing much stronger now, with 3 wins and only 1 loss.  Two more recipes remain before the final verdict on Healthy Winter Warmers.  Only one more pass is needed for HWW to be declared a good cookbook -- will it make it?  Or will it fumble?  We shall see!

Next up, tarted-up lamb chops!  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sudden Death III: Sesame-Crusted Salmon with Ginger Glaze

(Ok, so as promised, I *did* do a jam next, but I forgot to take pictures!  So that writeup will come later...)

Salmon?  Sesame?  Ginger?  Sign me up!  I was pretty excited to try this recipe out, and was glad when it came up in the random selection.  

This recipe manages to avoid a common pet peeve I have with my (lack of) meal planning -- I pick a recipe and work so hard at it, and when it's finally done, it dawns on me that I have no side dishes!  Ack!  So, for me, any recipe which includes its own sides is automatically cast in a favourable light.  

But, can the recipe live up to expectations?  And surely all those sesame seeds will fall off while I'm cooking, right?  We shall see! 

The instructions were very straightforward, right down to counting out the number of snow peas I should include.  I couldn't find fried rice noodles, so I opted for always-yummy soba noodles instead.  I was also surprised to see balsamic vinegar play such a strong role in this otherwise-Asian dish... would it play nicely with the other ingredients?

The short answer is, yes.  The sauce was a delicious, ginger-infused reduction of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar, and packed a huge punch of flavour to the otherwise-demure sides.  In fact, I liked the taste so much, I found myself munching on the saturated, crystallized ginger chunks I'd simmered in the sauce, which were supposed to be thrown away.   

The dish was a hit with all family members.  D, who can be a bit of a salmon snob, loved that it was cooked perfectly -- for which I credit the recipe's precise cooking instructions.  I enjoyed the complex texture that the sesame crust added, and was surprised that it did, in fact, stay put on the salmon.  Our toddler happily cleaned his plate, and fought me for the last bit of crystallized ginger.  (He won.)

The Verdict: This no-guesswork recipe, which yields a tasty meal complete with its own sides, PASSES!

The Score for Healthy Winter Warmers:  This recent success breaks the tie of wins and losses, and now puts HWW at 2 successes, 1 failure.  A better showing than last time, but there's still a lot for HWW to prove.

Three recipes remain before the final verdict on Healthy Winter Warmers.  The book needs two more successes to pass the test... stay tuned to see how it does!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sudden Death II: Spinach & Feta Muffins

No, I don't think that title sounds too appetizing either.  :-P  But I was making soup for dinner, and I thought that these savoury roles might work well as a side.  And who knows, maybe baked spinach might be taster than expected...?  Maybe?

First, assembling the ingredients...

One of the tricky things about this recipe was that many of the listed ingredients were given in weight, not volume.  Given that I'm not remotely serious enough of a chef to own a kitchen scale, I decided to wing it. It was relatively easy to guess for the cheese -- I'd bought 250g container, so I just eyeballed what 100g would look like.

The 50g of chopped spinach, on the other hand, was more difficult.  Recalling that your average chocolate bar is about 100g, and being thoroughly familiar with the weight of said chocolate bars, I guessed at the equivalent weight of half a chocolate bar.

Lastly, I never realized how difficult it is to chop up DRY sun-dried tomatoes.  That step was such a pain!  It was like trying to work with the evil lovechild of raisins and titanium.  After that experience, I can't run fast enough back to my usual oil-soaked sun-dried tomatoes, added fat and all.

So, I followed the recipe, and the end result was sorely disappointing.  The muffins were dry, and somewhat salty.  Any exposed spinach was hardened into this dusty, flaky wad of bitterness.  The feta had more or less disappeared.

Our toddler ate a muffin without complaint, but keep in mind that he will basically eat any breadlike food offered to him.  D ate two, but was a bit quiet.  When I probed, he expressed having difficulty with the concept of "failing" a recipe, given that he worried that would seem unappreciative of my efforts.  (What a guy!)  :-)  So, I suppose the final verdict falls to me.

 The Verdict: This dry, bitter muffin recipe with uncooperative ingredients and odd measurement methods FAILS.

The score for Healthy Winter Warmers: The first fail means that we now have 1 of 2 attempted recipes succeeding.  50/50 is not a good ratio, so I hope HWW starts pulling its socks up!  ;-)

Next up, I'm going to try making a jam!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sudden Death I: Hearty Tuna Chowder

The first book up to the chopping block is "Healthy Winter Warmers", a cookbook specializing in hearty comfort food.  One might think that such food would not be appetizing in late May; however, given that summer weather has not yet shown itself anywhere near our city, comfort food does not sound bad at all. 

We started the sudden-death recipe judgements with a hearty tuna chowder.  My expectations were not especially high for this recipe, as many Christmas Eves' worth of my in-law's incredible seafood chowder have spoiled me.  But nonetheless, I planned to give this recipe my best shot.

First, I assembled the ingredients. 
Missing from the picture is frozen corn, which I left in the freezer until the very end.

This book was acquired during our time in New Zealand, and as such, it references some products which we don't have access to in Canada.  Some of the substitutions are obvious, and others require some guesswork. So, when this recipe called for a "tin of tuna and beans", I substituted one can of tuna and half a can of red kidney beans.

The recipe itself was straightforward enough, and didn't take too long.  Above is the soup before being fully cooked, and below is the finished product.

...and the presentation!

The soup was hearty, and not difficult to make.  Dave brought it to work for lunch the next day, and found it kept well and was easy to transport.  Our toddler liked being able to grab the larger chunks in the chowder, and the broth was a hit for dipping.

Despite tasting fine, it was a bit bland, even by chowder standards.  It would benefit from garlic, or cilantro, or even some chili, when I make it again. 

The verdict:  Given that I was framing the only downside in terms of "when I make this recipe again", I decided that this recipe passes.

The score for Healthy Winter Warmers: 1 of 1 recipes succeeding!  So far, so good.

Next up, a savoury muffin recipe on the chopping block!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Sudden Death... Cooking!

Dave and I have a book problem.

Throughout the years, we have accumulated too many books of all kinds, including cookbooks.

Having decided that 22 are too many, I have begun the cookbook-culling process.  Any books we use often are safe, as are the ones with gorgeous and inspiring pictures.

Thus, the following 11 books are left to fight for their lives:

But, how to decide whether a book was worthy of being kept?  I decided that 6 randomly-selected recipes from each would give me an adequate picture of each books' reliability.  For a book to be kept, at least 4 of the 6 recipes must give me good results.  Fewer successes than that delivers the book to the donation bin, whereupon a more talented chef might conjure tastier outcomes.

For those of you with an interest in the actual methodology, I'm using a systematic sample with random start point to select pages.  In cases where there is only one recipe per page, the sample thereby selects the recipe to try.  Should there be more than one recipe on the selected page, however, I will haphazardly choose whichever recipe I think has the greatest chance of success.

Also, I'm going by modified NHL-playoff rules -- once a book "loses" 3 times, it's automatically eliminated.

And since it's more fun to share one's scientific findings, I'll be publishing the results -- delicious and catastrophic alike -- for your enjoyment.  There will be pictures, courtesy of my flashy new camera, a short writeup of the cooking process, an appraisal of the food, and lastly, a verdict! 

Are you excited?  'Cause I sure am!  :-)  Stay tuned...

Thursday, February 09, 2012

HelgaHume Wine Tasting Party VII

Just before our newest HelgaHume was born, we hosted our seventh HelgaHume Wine Tasting Party! It was a great night, and I loved having the chance to catch up with our friends before the baby -- and its impact on our social calendar -- arrived. ;-)

The theme of the wines was "Clash of the Titans", referring to the fact that all six wines were very high ranking and/or winners of their respective parties. It was a competition of the best, and I was eager to find out which wine would reign supreme. The pricepoints ranged from $9 to $28, and were a selection of reds.

Unlike previous parties, where I would order the wines from lightest to chewiest, this party's ordering was determined by random number selection. The last wine won (again), which speaks either to tipsy guests being more charitable judges, or that Victoria just loves, loves, LOVES its Shirazes. I daresay that more research is required on this front! ;-)

Here are some other things I learned:
  • While Ottawa's winners included many different types of grapes, Victoria LOVES its Shiraz! Once again, the Shiraz takes first place. Again, it might be due to order (despite having randomly assigned the order of the wines, the "last" wine was still a Shiraz, thus meaning that the tasters were more drunk while rating it...) Agh, the perils of randomization!
  • Planning a party in the Christmas season is not easy, availability-wise. Live and learn. ;-)

  • Maybe it was the knowledge that all the wines were former champions, or maybe it was the smaller sample size, but the winning wine broke the record for highest score ever (78%)! Our previous record holder was Jacob's Creek Shiraz/CabSav at 77%.

  • Some wines actually DO taste wildly different when paired with food, vs. drinking them alone. Sterling is a perennial favourite of ours for host gifts, and it's delicious with food; but by itself, I found it to be kind of awful, actually.

So without further ado, here are the results of HelgaHume Wine Tasting Party VII! Enjoy!

Surprises abound! Happy wine-tasting, all. :-)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Best Films of 2011!

A major hobby of mine is watching movies -- from brainless Hollywood comedy to artsy independent film, I love them all. Well, maybe I don't LOVE them all, but I do give them all a chance, at least. ;-) (For those of you curious about my reviews/ratings for movies, see my Miso account).

Every year I eagerly anticipate the release of the critics' top ten picks of the previous year. Better still, Metacritic.com publishes these lists together, and I go a step further; I compile all those lists into an UBER-list, and rank the movies by the number of lists each one appears on. (Metacritic itself does something similar, but stops after the first 20 or so...)

Granted, each year there's a lot of bloated, overhyped movies of mediocrity to sift through (I'm looking at you, "The Aviator"!), but in these same lists you can find little-sung gems like "Sunshine Cleaning" and "A Home at the End of the World". This year, I vehemently disagree with the #1 spot -- "Tree of Life" has many good parts that deserve to be in a much better movie. Preferably one WITHOUT random sequences featuring morose dinosaurs. (WTF? Exactly.)

Anyhoo, I always try and see as many as possible, especially as they become available to rent. Which lovely surprises lay in store? We shall see! Below is the list, for your viewing pleasure:

Rank Movie Title Votes
1 The Tree of Life 75
2 A Separation 44
3 Drive 44
4 The Artist 43
5 The Descendants 43
6 Hugo 40
7 Melancholia 38
8 Take Shelter 38
9 Moneyball 35
10 Certified Copy 32
11 Martha Marcy May Marlene 29
12 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 29
13 Shame 27
14 Beginners 26
15 Margaret 26
16 Meek's Cutoff 26
17 The Skin I Live In 23
18 Bridesmaids 21
19 We Need to Talk About Kevin 20
20 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives 19
21 Midnight in Paris 17
22 Poetry 17
23 Rise of the Planet of the Apes 16
24 Weekend 16
25 A Dangerous Method 15
26 Mysteries of Lisbon 15
27 The Interrupters 15
28 Margin Call 14
29 Young Adult 14
30 War Horse 13
31 Attack the Block 12
32 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 12
33 Nostalgia for the Light 12
34 Bellflower 11
35 Le Havre 11
36 Le Quattro Volte 11
37 Of Gods and Men 11
38 The Arbor 11
39 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 11
40 50/50 10
41 Cave of Forgotten Dreams 10
42 Rango 10
43 The Trip 10
44 Win Win 10
45 Contagion 9
46 Super 8 9
47 The Future 9
48 Tuesday, After Christmas 8
49 Warrior 8
50 A Brighter Summer Day 7
51 Incendies 7
52 Like Crazy 7
53 Senna 7
54 The Help 7
55 13 Assassins 6
56 Project Nim 6
57 Submarine 6
58 The Adventures of Tintin 6
59 The Muppets 6
60 Another Earth 5
61 City of Life and Death 5
62 Film Socialisme 5
63 Pina 5
64 Bill Cunningham New York 4
65 Buck 4
66 Cold Weather 4
67 Coriolanus 4
68 Hanna 4
69 Into the Abyss 4
70 J. Edgar 4
71 Jane Eyre 4
72 Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol 4
73 Putty Hill 4
74 Tabloid 4
75 The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu 4
76 The Mill and the Cross 4
77 Another Year 3
78 Aurora 3
79 Carnage 3
80 Crazy, Stupid, Love 3
81 El Sicario, Room 164 3
82 Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 3
83 In the Family 3
84 Kill List 3
85 My Joy 3
86 Terri 3
87 The Clock 3
88 The Guard 3
89 The Illusionist 3
90 The Last Circus 3
91 To Die Like a Man 3
92 Tomboy 3
93 We Were Here 3
94 Wuthering Heights 3
95 A Better Life 2
96 Alps 2
97 Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey 2
98 Black Swan 2
99 Blue Valentine 2
100 Captain America: The First Avenger 2
101 Cedar Rapids 2
102 Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame 2
103 Extraordinary Stories 2
104 General Orders No. 9 2
105 Hell and Back Again 2
106 Higher Ground 2
107 How to Die in Oregon 2
108 I Saw the Devil 2
109 Leap Year 2
110 Love Exposure 2
111 My Week With Marilyn 2
112 Petition 2
113 Rampart 2
114 Seeking the Monkey King 2
115 Source Code 2
116 Sucker Punch 2
117 The Adjustment Bureau 2
118 The Kid With A Bike 2
119 The King's Speech 2
120 The Time That Remains 2
121 True Grit 2
122 Tyrannosaur 2
123 Winnie the Pooh 2
124 X-Men: First Class 2
125 3 1
126 50 1
127 A Screaming Man 1
128 A Useful Life 1
129 Abracadabra 1
130 Agrarian Utopia 1
131 Amigo 1
132 And Everything Is Going Fine 1
133 Animal Kingdom 1
134 Anonymous 1
135 Archipelago 1
136 Assassins 1
137 Beautiful Boy 1
138 Biutiful 1
139 Café de Flore 1
140 Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer 1
141 Crime After Crime 1
142 Damsels in Distress 1
143 Dogtooth 1
144 Elena 1
145 Elite Squad: The Enemy Within 1
146 Fast Five 1
147 Final Destination 5 1
148 Foreign Parts 1
149 Four Lions 1
150 Fright Night 1
151 Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life 1
152 Goodbye, First Love 1
153 Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench 1
154 Historias extraordinarias 1
155 Hobo With A Shotgun 1
156 Kaboom 1
157 Kinyarwanda 1
158 Knuckle 1
159 La Pivellina 1
160 Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen 1
161 Limitless 1
162 Love Crime 1
163 Mildred Pierce 1
164 Miss Bala 1
165 My Perestroika 1
166 No Strings Attached 1
167 On the Bowery 1
168 One Day 1
169 Oslo August 31st 1
170 Pariah 1
171 Pink Ribbons, Inc. 1
172 Polytechnique 1
173 Position Among the Stars 1
174 Psychohydrography 1
175 Redland 1
176 Rejoice and Shout 1
177 Road to Nowhere 1
178 Roadie 1
179 Secret Sunshine 1
180 Silver Bullets 1
181 Take This Waltz 1
182 Target 1
183 The Deep Blue Sea 1
184 The Double Hour 1
185 The Elephant in the Living Room 1
186 The Green Hornet 1
187 The Ides of March 1
188 The Inheritors 1
189 The Iron Lady 1
190 The Last Lions 1
191 The Mouth of the Wolf 1
192 The Myth of the American Sleepover 1
193 The Princess of Montpensier 1
194 The Return 1
195 The Strange Case of Angelica 1
196 The Three Musketeers 1
197 The Whistleblower 1
198 The Wise Kids 1
199 This Is Not a Film 1
200 Trollhunter 1
201 Tucker & Dale vs. Evil 1
202 United Red Army 1
203 Vengeance 1
204 Viva Riva! 1
205 Voluptuous Sleep 1
206 We Bought a Zoo 1
207 Wiebo's War 1
208 Wrinkles 1
209 You All Are Captains 1

Which ones of these have you seen? Do you have any recommendations? I'm all ears! :-)