I don’t like blueberry bagels, and other arbitrary food musings

This post was originally published on Geek Force Network, December 5, 2014.


A lovely picture from Think Fooditude.

When I was in grad school, one of my professors once said, “There are only three kinds of bagels in this world: plain, poppy seed, and sesame.” Well… two out of three ain’t bad. But my dislike of poppy seed bagels (too many damn seeds to get stuck in your teeth!) reaches nowhere near the height of my abhorrence for blueberry bagels. Oh, I’ve tried to quell my hatred – just the other week I purposefully added two blueberry bagels to my grocery store stash just to see if my opinion had softened. Nope. They were still yucky. I think it has to do with the fact that they don’t taste at all like blueberries. In fact, I really don’t care for any baked goods that contain blueberries – muffins, scones, cookies, cakes, pies, even pancakes. Not only is the blueberry flavor never all that pronounced in these items, but it seems that they end up extra sweet to make up for that lack of taste. Plus, when you cook blueberries, they tend to disintegrate into mush. When I want blueberries, I want that extra-fresh *pop* of flavor that only comes from them being fresh. I can handle fresh blueberries in salad or on top of cereal or oatmeal. But in a bagel? Never.

The exact opposite is true of raisins. The thought of eating raisins straight out of the box is perfectly vile. The chewy/gritty texture is one thing, but their heady, sweet n’ sour taste makes my stomach churn. Cook them however, and they become magical. In fact, I l-o-v-e- cinnamon raisin bagels. Yep. Had one just this morning with cream cheese, and it was perfect. Cinnamon raisin bagels aren’t nearly as sweet as blueberry bagels (if you have to go with fruit bagels, that is), and the taste pairs really well with a nice, slightly bitter cream cheese. See, most of the time, raisins rehydrate slightly when they are cooked. So you’re not left with complete mush (like blueberries) or hard, inedible bits (like, well, raisins) when you add them to cookies, bread, pies, etc. They become plump and moist and lovely-tasting. The same kind of goes for yogurt-covered raisins. At least covered they stay more moist than usual.

I was on the hunt for yogurt-covered raisins at the store the other day. Didn’t find any, and I ended up bringing home yogurt-covered cranberries and yogurt-covered peanuts, just because. I’m not sure what fool enjoys eating dried cranberries straight, but I’ve never been so silly. They are solely for making pumpkin-cranberry bread in my house. Covering them in yogurt makes for an okay snack, but they are oddly sweeter than yogurt covered raisins, and are also extremely tart. Like a Sweet Tart covered in yogurt. Hmm…no thanks on that front. As for the peanuts…icky and insipid. I was hoping they’d fall in the sweet n’ salty realm, but no. They taste just like you’d expect plain peanuts covered in a slightly sweet yogurt shell would taste. And that taste would be bland.

Speaking of bland, as a vegetarian, some people think that I live in a world of free from flavor. That because I’m not cooking everything in bacon fat and chicken grease, I’m stuck with boring vanilla vegetables and cardboard-y fake meats. Well…I can’t really deny that latter because some vegetarian “meat” is pretty rank. (And this after many advances in the science of creating said fake meats, which must be a college major by now.) But some of it is very edible and even delicious! I’d offer you some of my fake bacon, but I won’t because I like to too much. Also, you’ll hate it. So, win-win! But going back to the bland factor, I have a cupboard full of spices, which are quite easy to obtain. Want to punch up your broccoli? Add a couple dashes of garlic powder. Hate cooked carrots? Go with some dried sage or curry powder to spruce things up a bit. Wish that your coleslaw tasted like anything other than cabbage? Then you need a good palmful of celery seeds. There’s absolutely no end to the flavor combinations that can turn any boring foodstuffs from bland to brilliant! I’m fully aware of the flavors that I’m missing by not cooking my black-eyed peas in bacon or making my split-pea soup without ham hocks. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make black-eyes peas or split-pea soup. I can, and I do, and it’s all just as flavorful.

Around this time of year (i.e. the “holidays”), one family member or another will always ask me if I miss meat. I really don’t. Except…for one thing. My mom’s sausage and peppers. Boy oh boy…if I think about it long enough, I can start to smell it. The sweet and hot Italian sausage cooking away in a crock pot with a glorious array of bell peppers, all in a hearty tomato sauce. At dinner time, warm up some hoagie rolls (Amoroso‘s, please) and spoon out the delectable mix of meat and veggies. Mmmm, mmm, good! Though it’s been 20+ years, the thought of that meal makes me smile.

*****

Care to share any favorite food musings/memories so I don’t feel like such a dork here?


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

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Shhh…it’s a secret!

baking-ingredients-FotografiaBasica

In gaming, there’s nothing like a good secret, or seven. Sometimes, you stumble across a secret — a path you never saw before, an item that gives you special powers, or a new place to visit. Other times, secrets are revealed for the benefit of masses or handed down between generations. It’s often the same in cooking. Maybe you carry a centuries-old secret family recipe, or maybe you figured something new out last week when you attempted to spice up your boring macaroni and cheese. In this post, I’m sharing a few of my favorite food-related secrets, some that I’ve discovered through trial and error, others that came through word-of-mouth (or the Internet).

For the best lightly-sweetened, mashed sweet potatoes, try some honey.
Somewhere in the past, I stumbled across the world’s simplest recipe – honey butter sweet potatoes. Simply cook and mash sweet potatoes (or yams) and stir in a couple tablespoons each of honey and butter. But one time with this recipe, during a crazy “I must eat healthy!” moment, I eliminated the butter and used only honey. The results were surprisingly tasty! I was a little worried that the potatoes would turn out gooey or sticky, but instead they took on a silkier texture, kind of like the effect of adding cream to mashed white potatoes. But what was really great was that the honey sweetened up the potatoes just enough to really bring out their flavor. With a couple pinches of salt, they were perfect. I now always make my honey sweet potatoes around the holidays when everything else on the table is already rich and laden with calories.

Tired of bland stir-fry? Infuse your soy sauce with brown sugar and ginger.
A few weeks back, I posted a stir-fry recipe that’s in my regular meal repertoire. Well, it contains a big secret; one that I only recently discovered! Prior to making my own stir-fry sauce, I had been using the bottled “teriyaki” sauces from the grocery store. While not bad, they were always too salty and overpowering for my taste. Then a friend told me about her homemade stir-fry sauce, the main components of which were soy sauce, brown sugar, and ginger. Well, I took that idea straight to the kitchen and haven’t looked back at bottled sauces. Adding brown sugar and (ground) ginger to soy sauce gives it a great flavor that, when cooked, is reminiscent of your favorite Chinese take-out. The versatile sauce can be used over noodles and rice, vegetables and meat. And you can add all sorts of other flavors to it — garlic, onion, pepper, vinegar — depending on your taste buds. And if you think it’s too thin, a little bit of cornstarch will thicken things right up.

If you aim to make thin, chewy cookies, only use one egg in the mix. 
Despite having a decent, hands-on knowledge of cooking science, this one took me awhile to latch onto. As most of you know, eggs are a staple in baking and cooking. Not only to they add flavor and richness, but they also act as binders and as leavening agents. That last bit is important when it comes to flour-based baked goods like cookies and cakes — eggs work to help the batter rise properly as it cooks. So, generally speaking, when you make a traditional cookie recipe that uses two eggs, the cookies turn out light, puffy, and have a cakey, crumbly texture. If you eliminate one egg, thereby eliminating a leavening agent, the cookies generally turn out a little thinner, chewier, and crispier around the edges – almost like those “freshly-baked” cookies you see on TV! Of course, a lot depends on the freshness of the eggs, the temperature regulation of your oven, the batter itself, and so on, so a little experimentation may be required to get things to your liking.

What’s my powerhouse ingredient when it comes to seasoning homemade soup? Oregano!
I’d long held the notion that oregano was only for spaghetti sauce and pizza until I started making my own soup. I followed several recipes but soon ventured out on my own, particularly when it came to bean soup, a perennial favorite. The main issue I had when it came to bean soup was getting the seasoning right. While beans offer up unique flavors, just cooking them in broth wouldn’t do. Plenty of the soup recipes that I worked with included oregano as a component, but never as the main spice. Well, one day, being low on spices and with a ready pot of bean soup, I added in a good amount of dried oregano, some salt, a couple bay leaves, and some garlic powder, and let things simmer away. The results? Fantastic! The oregano gave the soup a hearty and bright aroma and lent the beans a nicely herbed flavor. I now keep loads of oregano round during the winter just for soup-making! (P. S. This goes mainly for broth-based soups, though I’m sure oregano has it’s place in cream-based soups as well.)

Want to punch up those chocolate brownies/cookies/cake pops? A little coffee goes a long way.
This is one of my favorite it’s-not-really-a-secret secrets. And I say this not just because I adore coffee, but because coffee and chocolate are simply a baking match made in heaven! Ever since discovering years ago a chocolate brownie recipe that used finely-ground coffee in the mix, I’ve been hooked on adding coffee grounds to any recipe that calls for baking cocoa. (And coffee in liquid form has it’s place too. 🙂 ) But the real secret behind using coffee in baking is getting it as finely ground as possible. Some coffee grinders do a suitable job of this — I think a mortar and pestle works even better. But however you grind up the coffee, the particulates need to be super-duper tiny in order to extract all the tasty deliciousness. And using it doesn’t make your chocolate dessert taste like coffee, it just makes it taste even more rich and chocolately!

*****

Do you have any favorite (and shareable) cooking or baking secrets?


Let’s see just how many blogs Cary can put on her roster before going mad! While you’ll find her here on occasion, you’ll more likely to catch her over on United We Game or Geek Force Network; or better yet, working on her own blog about gaming and nostalgia and such, Recollections of Play.

 

 

 

I Ate This: Melt Organic

The debate between butter and margarine is as old as the pyramids. (Really! It’s in all those hierogly…okay, no it’s not.) Personally, I always have both on hand: butter for cooking and baking and margarine for spreading on toast, pancakes, waffles, and other baked delights. Both are so ubiquitous in my house that it’s hard to imagine what I’d do without them.

Only then, I had to do without them when a portion of my extended family announced they were (temporarily) giving up dairy. It took me a while to wrap my head around this very foreign concept. Making things doubly confusing was that this announcement came right before a family get-together for which I was supposed to bring dessert.

I’m willing to bet that those of us without food allergies and severe dietary restrictions probably don’t pay much attention to what’s in our food. Outside of checking packages for meat and its byproducts, I had never given any thought to just how much of what’s in the grocery store comes from or contains milk. Well, after my family’s “dairy-free age” began, I had to take notice. Lots of things immediately went off the table, such as cake and brownie mixes, chocolate chips and the like, some glazes and other confections, cream cheese, and, of course, butter and margarine. My search for non-dairy butter substitutes brought me to Melt Organic.

melt

Now, let me first say that Melt Organic is not, not, NOT milk-free. During a stressful round of shopping I basically went for all the “top shelf” non-dairy products in the dairy section, picked several things, and hoped for the best. Once I got everything home, I read the labels more carefully, and good thing too, because I discovered that I couldn’t use Melt. I ended up going with something else I had bought and the Melt just sat in the fridge.

But it didn’t go to waste. After completing everything I needed to for my special non-dairy dessert (whoopie pies, of all things, which were delicious and the recipe for which I’ll share at some point), I decided to start using Melt Organic as my regular margarine. It’s quite good but…different.

Melt Organic (the original “flavor” as it also comes in honey and chocolate), boasts the use of good fats (Omega-3’s and -6’s) from fruits and plants: coconut, palm, flaxseed, canola, and sunflower. And everything’s non-GMO, organic, makes the rainforests happy, etc., etc. On the outside it looks like it’s all good environmentally-speaking. On the inside is a mixture that’s very light, creamy, and spreadable. Its consistency is somewhere between glossy margarine and whipped butter that isn’t fooling anyone about being “smooth.” Not only is it easy to retrieve from the container, but it glides easily over everything from tough toast to delicate and delicious pancakes. So chalk one up to Melt’s consistency – it’s pretty darn good.

Those pancakes...d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s.

Those pancakes…d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s.

But how does it taste? Well, that’s where the “different” comes in, because it tastes like coconut. No flourishes or fanfare, just coconut. Or, that’s the most prominent flavor I get from it anyway. And I’m not talking coconut like a Mounds bar or those furry “coconut”-covered Sno-Balls. I’m talking about a subtle coconut taste that becomes quite noticeable on food without overwhelming flavors, again like toast or pancakes. On those things, plain things, sweet things, it’s delicious. But then again, I like coconut, and I think the taste pairs well with syrups, jams, and honey. The problem comes when using it for something savory. For instance, I used it to make three things for which I regularly use butter and/or margarine: garlic bread, grilled cheese sandwiches, and scrambled eggs. Each turned to be infused with hints of the flavor of coconut, with the most pronounced being the coconut-tinged garlic bread. Again, it didn’t taste like garlic bread topped with coconut shavings, it just had an odd, sweet, and nutty palette that didn’t mix well with the garlic. Not exactly what you want with your spaghetti. I’ve not yet baked with Melt, but I’m not really inclined to as I simply prefer to use real butter when baking.

So Melt Organic in my house wins with sweet but loses with savory. Because of this limitation, it’s probably not something I’d buy again as I’d rather just stick with my all-purpose margarine. Though, cost-wise, it definitely wins out over real non-dairy spreads – a 13-ounce tub me cost $2 on sale [with a coupon], with true non-dairy things costing upwards of $4-$5 for similarly-sized containers. Plus, it does have some health benefits, which is appealing when you start to look at what’s really in margarine. If you fancy trying a unique, healthy (I guess), non-butter spread and you don’t mind the taste of coconut with your marmalade, you might want to give Melt Organic a try (if you can find it on sale, maybe).


Let’s see just how many blogs Cary can put on her roster before going mad! While you’ll find her here on occasion, you’ll more likely to catch her over on United We Game or Geek Force Network; or better yet, working on her own blog about gaming and nostalgia and such, Recollections of Play.

J’s Philosophy of Food and Cooking

Heya everybody!

A big thank you to Liore for the invitation to this blog where food and games meet.

If there’s something food and games have in common, it’s a great way for global barriers to drop. I remember being extremely impressed in my online games to discover one person was from such-and-such country, and yet another from somewhere across the globe.

The topic of food is another such unifier.

So who is Jeromai?

A long-winded wall-of-texter when it comes to all things games, and as you’ll soon find out, of food, and practically everything else.

I hail from Singapore, and if there’s one thing you should know about my country, besides the well known “facts” that it’s “very clean” (I guess?) and that it’s got something to do with China (it’s not, it’s nowhere in China, it’s a tiny little speck of an island on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, its population is predominantly Chinese, yes, but there’s a good mix of Malays, Indians and other ethnicities… much of whose food culture has ended up borrowing from each other making us fairly multicultural…)

…it’s that we’re all obsessed with food.

Every person you ask will have their own opinions on the best places to eat, and what the best rendition of a particular dish is, in an island a mere 50 kilometers (or 31 miles) across.

The sheer density of restaurants and food stalls is quite stunning.

This does, of course, have an effect on the average waistline and the preponderance of obesity in the country.

This is especially obvious when one hears about low-carb diets and goes around staring at every stall in the usual hangout of the typical Singaporean – the hawker centre – to realize that every meal comes loaded with a big bowl of rice, or noodles, or rice noodles, or bread, or fries, or some other starchy variant thereof.

Bah.

I’ve kinda slipped off that wagon lately, and gained some kilos as a result, but one thing I do try to do when I cook at home is to skew towards healthy cooking and eating.

  • Good quality, raw ingredients.
  • Not too much refined carbohydrates, though I’m no stickler and probably follow a more moderate carb sort of eating style when all is said and done.
  • A focus on cramming in more vegetables and fruits whenever possible. because if left to my old habits of eating out all the time, I simply don’t ingest enough.
  • Meat-wise, I know unprocessed is best, but it’s so much more of a pain to prepare and ham and sausages are so… nommy. (Still working on changing lifestyle on this point.)

I’m a big fan of the science of cooking – books by Harold McGee and Alton Brown dot my shelves, and Serious Eats’ Food Lab is on my Feedly.

I try to prepare simple stuff most of the time, because I’m lazy / don’t like to wash up 50 pots and pans and plates just for one meal / I’m not likely to cook and eat it on a regular basis if it takes too dang long, which defeats the purpose of healthy-ish home-cooking and all of that takes time away from game time.

However, I do cook like a traditional Asian grandmother… in that I tend to wing it and eyeball my ingredients and adjust to taste.

Measuring is not really my thing. I will no doubt make a lousy baker.

It’s a good thing I like savoury foods more.

My theory is simple. Understand the WHY of cooking, read a bunch of recipes and figure out the similarities between them and what the approximate ratios are, and you can pretty much cook it and then later, if you’re so inclined, add your own unique spin to it.

You do get the occasional accidents with this method, where you over-salt something because your estimations sucked or something turns inedible (so don’t try it when you’ve got other hungry mouths on the line waiting for it) but these things generally only happen once because, dang, do you learn from it. :/

But what you get in return is a lot of flexibility and confidence in producing something passably edible from whatever is left in your refrigerator or pantry, and every now and then, a beautiful conjunction of flavors that make you close your eyes in ecstasy when eating and marvel why chefs in gourmet restaurants haven’t figured this blend of ingredients out yet.

Without further ado, let’s get cooking.

In the next post – A Newbie’s Guide to DIY Vinaigrette and Lazy Person’s Salad.