Mar 31

Life is sweet, sugar! What’s the alternative, Honey?

 High fructose corn syrup and its substitutesA few days ago we were lamenting the fact that high fructose corn syrup was being added to the list of ‘bad for you’ stuff. It really seems that everything that makes food taste good is going harm us in some way or other. Rather than get too bent out of shape about it, we thought it would be better simply to suggest some reasonable alternatives that you can use in your cooking. I would also point out that if we consumers can do it, manufacturers could also do the same thing. Unfortunately, this won’t happen until we start boycotting those products that are made with garbage ingredients as well as voicing our displeasure in all other ways possible.

So, you can imagine how pleased we were to see recently that Canadian maple syrup is not just not bad for you, it turns out that it has some antioxidants and minerals that actually can do you some good. Don’t forget too, that you are not obligated to always put the amount of sweetener in any recipe that it originally called for. In most of our cooking, we usually reduce the amount of both sugar and shortening (oil, margarine or butter) by at least 25%.

Some people do not like the very distinctive flavour of maple syrup. This can be somewhat mitigated by using the light or amber varieties. In general, the lighter the colour, the less strong the flavour. However, you need not be limited to maple syrup as a natural sweetener alternative. Honey is another of those underrated superfoods. Depending on the variety that you use, its flavour can also be distinctive or mild.There is a plethora of information on the purported health benefits of the product of the beehive.

Finally, we offer for your culinary and gastronomical pleasure our final sugar substitute: Molasses. A little research shows us that molasses also has potential health benefits. Molasses has an advantage or drawback in that it adds a distinctive colour as well as flavour to any recipe. In many breads we find this desirable and most of the time, it is our sweetener of choice in our trusty bread machine.

There is one word of warning to add here. If you are substituting one liquid for another in your cooking, there is no problem. However, if you replace granulated sugar with any of the healthier alternatives above, you will need to reduce some other liquid ingredient accordingly.
If you absolutely must use sugar in your baking, you should consider whether you might substitute raw brown sugar rather than add the refined bleached stuff. It is basically white sugar before the molasses has been removed. You will have to experiment to see whether you find the results acceptable. In our house, I don’t believe that anyone has ever noticed that the substitution has been made!

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Mar 28

Blueberry Cinnamon Oatmeal, looks like mud but tastes sublime!

Blueberry Cinnamon Oatmeal

Are you tired of the same old, same old for breakfast? Now I know that this looks like purple frogspawn floating in regurgitated rice pudding but it has become our regular Saturday morning breakfast treat. There are very few dishes that I can claim to be totally of my own invention, but this would be one of them. I originally got the idea when I saw an ad for a frozen product from President’s Choice. You can make this for your loved ones in five minutes and they will be amazed at your culinary prowess. It’s dead simple to prepare and it’s nutritious and healthy. It’s also easy to remember the proportions of  the main ingredients so you really don’t need a recipe.

For each serving, you need 1/3 cup of rolled oats, 2/3 cups of milk and 1/3 cup of frozen or fresh blueberries 1/4 tsp cinnamon, a dash of allspice and a small dab of butter. Prepare the oatmeal, milk, butter and spices according to the directions on the package, carefully stirring in the blueberries only once it is fully cooked. If you use frozen berries, I recommend defrosting them before adding since they will cool the oatmeal significantly.  If you like your oatmeal piping hot, you may wish to leave on low heat till the berries are thoroughly heated but be careful not to overheat or the bottom of your pan will be hard to clean. Before serving add maple syrup according to taste but taking care not to oversweeten. That’s it. Enjoy and think of me when you savour this tasty treat….

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Mar 27

You don’t need a tie to eat Thai at T’Basil

T'Basil Thai Restaurant Orleans

Another Friday night dining out and yet another decision to make about where to go in Ottawa for our weekly family supper on the town. This week, we are up one adult but missing one child, so our usual group of seven is once again six. Nobody had any strong feelings this week  and my stomach suddenly sent me a subliminal message that it felt like Thai food.  We have a few Thai restaurants on our ‘regular’ list but since we are Eastenders by both geography and habit, so we opted for T’Basil on St. Joseph Blvd in Orleans.


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In many east end Ottawa restaurants, it can be hard to get seating without a reservation on a Friday evening. This is even more so the case with a group of seven. However, we were fairly sure of being safe in this case and although the parking lot was far from empty when we pulled up, we were immediately shown to a table upon entry. Don’t be deceived by our poor photography. The restaurant’s decor is bright and cheery. There was a pleasant buzz from those already seated. One advantage to our group being a mixture of ebony and ivory, old and young, tall and short, is that we are invariably recognized when revisiting old haunts. We are not always the easiest to please but are rarely obnoxious either and our waitress at least pretended to be happy to see us again.


It must be said that the three young ladies who normally accompany us, in addition to being well-behaved, are not normally overly fussy. Nevertheless, it can sometimes be challenging for them to find something that they know they like in ethnic restaurants. Amber, the eldest is usually very adventurous and rarely dislikes whatever she chooses. Lara, the middle child will often make the attempt but is a little harder to please. Fayth, the youngest at almost five, prefers French fries and ketchup. As a result, we have tested the French fries in a large percentage of Ottawa eating establishments over the last couple of years.


Moving on to the menu, T’Basil features a relatively good selection of Thai and Vietnamese dishes. For those worrying about excessively hot (spicy) dishes need not be concerned. In addition to the level of hotness being clearly indicated on the menu, you can also express a preference when ordering. Two of our group invariably request no visible onion in their selection as was the case this evening. Dorothy and I shared an order of Summer Rolls as a starter, and although I had not ordered what I really intended, we were not disappointed. What we received were unfried spring rolls filled with diced shrimp and cooked rice with mint leaves. They were served with a small dish of peanut sauce. Delicious.


For the main course, the two girls selected junior chicken fried rice (Lara) and chicken fingers with fries (Fayth). Both were happy with their selections and ate accordingly. For the adults, two selected Crispy Noodles with Chicken and Shrimp, one Butter Chicken Stir-Fry and one Pad Thai. Not a single one of us was unhappy with their choice. The portions were neither too big nor too small, food was served promptly and hot. Iced water was served to all without prompting and glasses were replenished automatically as needed.


Their were only two slight negatives to note. Firstly, we were not, to my personal knowledge at least, asked whether we would like anything from the bar. Often, we will order a pot of chinese (green) tea, since adults and children alike are partial to this. Unfortunately only individual servings were offered. Secondly, we were not offered dessert and when we inquired, the only option was deep-fried battered banana with ice-cream. After two of us hesitantly ordered this, we were told that it would take an additional 15 minutes to prepare. We subsequently declined.


The Bottom Line:


  • Positives: Food was well above average, service was friendly and efficient, prices were easy on the wallet.
  • Negatives: Poor desert selection, no beverages offered to children or adults alike.
  • Summary: Overall, a very pleasant dining experience. T’Basil goes on our list as one to be revisited.
 Category Rating  Explanation
Food Quality **** Good 
Price $$$ Moderate 
Decor *** Acceptable 
Service **** Good 
Overall Rating ****  Above Average 




Viet Thai on Urbanspoon 

Frivolous Foodie Facts

It is illegal in Thailand, to leave your house if you are not wearing underwear

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Mar 26

Change is Good! Cream of Wheat? Not so much…

Oatbran Bread

Oats are not JUST for horses!

Since this is our first of many posts that will be about bread, we had better start with some ground rules. The UnChef is also the Lazy Chef. Making bread was never on our radar until the invention of the bread machine. We got our first one about 20 years ago. It was a Citizen and did us fairly well. The main problem was that its loaves were small and were also round, resulting in awkward slices. Nevertheless, off and on, we used it in fits and starts and enjoyed its results.

 Black & Decker Bread MachineAbout a year ago, on a whim (and because it was on special), we bought a new machine (pictured at left). It allows three different sizes and results in a traditionally shaped loaf. Although cycle times are longer, the product is far superior and consistent than with our previous machine. Unless otherwise noted, all breads discussed on these pages will be for this or similar machines. With both machines, we have found that with a little jiggling, any recipe both conventional and bread-machine can be adapted to fit your own machine. From our personal experience, the most critical factor is the amount of liquid. In most recipes, we find ourselves slightly increasing the amount of liquid called for. Once the dough has been thoroughly mixed in the machine before the first rising, the outside of the dough should be slightly sticky to the touch. If insufficient liquid is present, the dough will not rise as much and may not cook thoroughly throughout. Your own results may differ. There is no substitute for experience.

Today’s Recipe – Cream of Wheat Bread

Small Medium Large
milk 2/3 cup 1 cup 1 1/3 cups
marg/butter 2 1/2 tbs 1/4 cup 5 tbs
eggs 1/2 1 1 1/2
sugar 1 1/3 tbs 2 tbs 2 2/3 tbs
salt 1 1/4 tsp 2 tsp 2 1/2 tsp
gluten, optional 1 tbs 1 1/2 tbs 2 tbs
bread flour 1 1/3 cups 2 cups 2 2/3 cups
cream of wheat 2/3 cup 1 cup 1 1/3 cups
yeast 1 tsp 1 1/2 tsp 2 1/2 tsp

As you will soon learn, if you begin to follow this blog regularly, I am a huge fan of substitution. There are some that are virtually standard for me. In most of my breads, I substitute molasses or honey for sugar. In brown breads I usually add molasses and in white breads I use honey. Normally, I use grapeseed oil instead of margarine or butter. Here I used half oil, half butter, simply because I had a small piece of butter to use up. Not having cream of wheat in the cupboard, I used oat bran which we did have. I almost always add the optional gluten because it lends a better consistency. Finally, I also add a couple of tablespoons of ground flax seed for good measure. The resulting loaf is shown in the picture above.

Mar 23

Here’s my beef: Where’s the pizza?

Pizza Hut restaurant

Pizza Hut @ Industrial & St. Laurent Ottawa

 

This week our usual Friday night jaunt took us to Pizza Hut at Industrial and St. Laurent in Ottawa. Our selection is usually made in a relatively democratic way. We take an impromptu vote and the majority normally prevails. This was our third trip within the last six months and it will be our last for a while! 

Although our penultimate visit turned out to be reasonable, our first visit was so bad that after a showdown with the manager, our meal was given to us free. For some unknown reason, that did not deter us from making a second and then subsequently a third foray. Perhaps our second trip had lulled us into a false sense of security! The main impetus for this visit was that we had learned that Pizza Hut was introducing an evening buffet. A few years back, we often frequented the lunch buffet at the now defunct Pizza Hut on Montreal Road at Shefford. We had good memories of it and thus wanted to give this evening buffet the once over. 

 

Our party, as is usual on Friday evenings, included three young ladies ranging from five to twelve years of age. The absence of wait times is a huge plus for this demographic! In the normal run of things, buffets are a great boon to adults with hungry, impatient kids in tow.

 

As we pulled up to the restaurant, Amber, the eldest of the three girls, noticed that the buffet only went to 8PM and it was already 7:20. She shot like a rocket in through the door and pushsed right to the desk to get a table. The rest of the group ambled in at a more leisurely pace all the while being urged on by Amber. Upon being assigned a booth, the waitress somewhat sheepishly informed us that they had run out of cutlery and she would be back with some in short order. That seemed strange enough, after all, the restaurant was, at best, only one third full. 

The main dish on Pizza Huts Buffet
The Emperor’s Pizza to match his new clothes!

 Pictured above is the main dish of the buffet! At least it was most of the time that we were there. To be fair, there were a couple of salads and some garlic bread but most of the time we were there, we had to constantly wait for a new pizza to arrive from the kitchen and then it was pounced upon like hyenas on a wildebeest’s carcass. Apparently, on offer were four different types of pizza. Not surprisingly, the one that was most often available (read: least popular) was the Veggie Lovers. Hawaiian, Meat Lovers and Pepperoni rounded out the listing. Eventually, we did actually get to try all four but the waiting definitely detracted from the experience.

 

  • Positives: Pizzas were hot, tasty  and well endowed with both toppings and cheese. Desert pizza with spiced apples or cherries with icing drizzle were a nice ending!
  • Negatives: Waiting for food, Slow service, general lack of cleanliness.
  • Summary: I could not recommend this restaurant. Next time we feel like Pizza Hut Pizza, we will drive a little farther and check out St. Joseph in Orleans.

 

 

 
 Category Rating  Explanation
Food Quality ??? Good
Price $$ Inexpensive
Decor ** Shabby
Service ** Poor
Overall Rating ** Not Recommended 

Pizza Hut on Urbanspoon

Frivolous Foodie Facts
Pizza is one of the most popular foods in your grocers’ freezer case.
Frozen pizza accounts for 7.4 percent of total frozen food sales.