Happy 3rd Birthday Kitchen Bliss!

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[If you have signed up for Kitchen Bliss updates, you have already seen this. Am sharing here for other visitors who are not yet "on the inside track".]

On February 7, 2015, the KB start-up turned out to be a great way to fight the February blahs, and since then it is the place I go for “Flow”. Kitchen Bliss has given me many hours of pleasure - writing, sharing stories and recipes – not to mention the cooking – and the eating! I have made new friends in the blogosphere and have had a few adventures. 

Interested in some KB Trivia?

  • 142 recipes posted (and more to come) 
  • 44 blog stories – always linked to a great recipe
  • the first recipe I posted was Gulyas Soup
  • the recipe that has had the most number of visits (136!) was added only recently – in January – Hungarian Cabbage Rolls. Not far behind is Rebar Granola and Festive Kale Slaw
  • your favourite blog post was Culture Clash – I guess it was hard to resist me in hot pants – haha. 

I am tickled to the bone when you tell me you have enjoyed a read – even better when you make something from the blog. Unless you tell me, I have no idea who is visiting the site – although a new blog analytics tool shows me the location of visitors. The thought of someone so far away on the planet visiting the site puts a smile on my face. (Unless they are copying the content onto their own site – sadly things like that do happen…) Check out some of my visitors! 

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New on the site is an entire section on Hungarian recipes. In response to a special request, I am planning to add more print-friendly versions of recipes. Do let me know if there’s anything that can improve your enjoyment of KB!

Thank you for joining me on this journey!

Wishing you Bliss in the Kitchen!

PS – we need a recipe to celebrate – makes some Hungarian Cheese Snacks (Sajtos Rúd) with a beverage of your choice (wink!)

PPS - right now that Birthday Cake pictured above - Gingerbread  Layer Cake - is top of the KB list for best cakes!!

A Book and a Bite: The Caliph's House

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This is the first (but not the last) time I’ll blog about a book and it’s links to food and recipes. Hope you like this idea!

The Caliph’s House (non-fiction) by Tahir Shah recounts the author’s move, with his young family, from London to an abandoned (fixer upper) mansion (Dar Khalifa) in Casablanca. Novels with the story arc - “move, buy house, restore/renovate, adjust, adapt, belong” are not uncommon, but this will surprise you with unique twists linked to a culture that may be foreign to some readers.

Indeed, even Shah, with his Afghan-Indian heritage is frequently surprised - sometimes dumb-founded - by the challenges he encounters - most notably “jinns” - aka "genies". In time, Shah learns that resistance is futile and he plays his part in placating the spirits with whom he shares his home. Google - Tahir Shah jinn - and you’ll see that in recent years Shah has uploaded playful(?) videos outlining tips on soothing jinns – for example Jinn in the Kitchen.

Let me hasten to add that this is not a "silly nonsense" novel - and indeed is more philosophical with these bits of (factual) whimsy that no honest observer of life and the living could omit. Now, just before you get all weird about this, keep in mind that some Brits absolutely believe in “fairies”. One survey reports that 44% claim to have seen one. Then there’s the Icelanders who believe in elves. Not long ago, some who were protesting a new road made interesting claims. "...it will displace certain supernatural forces that dwell within the hallowed volcanic rubble, and fear the potentially dark consequences that come with such a disturbance... (they) believe the field is highly populated by elves, huldufolk (hidden people), and dwarves, many of whom... have recently fled the area while the matter is settled." [Source]

Wikipedia describes Tahir Shah as a writer and documentary maker, with a focus on travel, exploration, the Arab World, and cross-cultural studies, but undoubtedly he'd describe himself as a story-teller, with an impressive pedigree, a family of story-tellers.

For a synopsis of the book, I cannot improve on the engaging article from The Guardian or from The Washington Post. If you read this book first, become enchanted with his writing, and continue with the sequel - "In Arabian Nights" - you will undoubtedly be startled, even shocked, to read the first sentence - “The torture room was ready for use.” What!!!??? Yes, he begins with the true story of his 2005 imprisonment in Pakistan along with his documentary crew. He soon returns to his beautiful story-telling, with a focus on his quest – the search for “the story in his heart”.

Casablanca. Marrakech. Tangier. Fez. All cities in Morocco. Centuries - that’s how long Morocco has existed, but when, how, and why does a country (actually, a kingdom) make an impression on someone from the other side of an ocean? How does one develop an awareness of another country and its cuisine? Sure we all knew about Casablanca from the movie made in the 1940s. Then there was the song "Marrakesh Express" - written by Graham Nash when he was a member of The Hollies, but performed by Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1969. He wrote it after his own Moroccan journey - a favoured destination on the so-called Hippy Trail.

I’ve not found a source that precisely traces a global embrace of Moroccan cuisine, although a Moroccan-American cookbook (by Paula Wolfert) was published as early as 1973. On my blog I have a Moroccan Red Bean Dip adapted from a recipe first published in 1994. I suspect that labelling a recipe as “Moroccan” has less to do with authentic cuisine and more to do with the use of so-called Moroccan spices. These include cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, pepper, paprika, coriander, saffron, mace, cloves, fennel, anise, nutmeg, oregano, cayenne pepper, bay laurel, and fenugreek, and “27 spices are combined to form the ‘celebrated’ Moroccan spice mixture ras el hanout. “[Source]

While many other cuisines use some of these spices, there was a time when a few seemed exotic to me, yet now are often used in combination in my kitchen, with delicious results. I jump at any opportunity to use turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, nutmeg in my cooking. Case in point - the recipe for Caramelized Cauliflower. Here are some links from Saveur on Moroccan Cuisine and some more authentic Moroccan recipes. You may also want to follow Nargisse Benkabbou from London, UK who blogs at My Moroccan Food.  She has 35,000 followers on social media which may in part explain why she has a book coming out in May 2018 called "Casablanca".

My last blog post was about Dinner Parties, and one of my often repeated menus is loaded with recipes that are supposedly “Moroccan” - Moroccan Chicken on Quinoa, (chicken enhanced with cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, coriander served on honey / cinnamon quinoa) and Moroccan Carrots (that great veggie made tasty using cumin, paprika, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, currants and pistachio nuts). I do stray and accompany it with the more Greek / Indian Cucumbers in Yogurt. (Tomato & Cucumber might have been more authentic.)

You might be wondering if Tahir Shah has anything to say about food. Of course he does. Listen to him rhapsodize about Moroccan oranges. He offers tips if you are ever invited to dine in a Moroccan home. Can't top his memory of his father's prized Arabian Nights collection - "The volumes were bound in waxy black cloth, with bright gold lettering on the spines... They were so exquisite that I would caress my fingers over them, and stoop down to smell their scent. They smelled like cloves." (p. 14 in Shah's "In Arabian Nights" novel). What happens to those volumes is astounding - but you'll have to read the book to find out! (You can read the sequel first if you prefer.)

Would love to hear your tips about Moroccan food, a recommended cookbook or novel, or a restaurant. Do you have any stories about jinns, fairies, elves? Click on the word "Comments" below. Can't wait to hear from you!

Enjoy the book(s). Hope you enjoyed my first “A Book and A Bite”!

Questions. Answered.

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Research. There was a time I found that to be a scary word, mainly because I was in university and knew that sooner or later they would make me do this thing called research. It sounded terrifying.

In time I realized that research involved asking questions – and trying to find the answers. To this day, I ask questions every single day! Obviously I don’t do applied research, but trying to problem-solve and find answers is totally engaging. 

Turns out, I love research!

So, it should come as no surprise that my recent visit to the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC) was like a play date – my idea of fun!

I joined other FBC bloggers at what was described as an “exclusive, behind-the-scenes ‘Inside the Science’ workshop”. I’m betting you will be astonished to hear about some of what goes on behind those closed doors.

I hasten to add that if you’re interested, those doors are not “locked” to the public. Join their mailing list or follow them on Twitter or Facebook to learn about events, including their annual Open House. They will soon be advertising for new taste testers. And apparently the grounds of their “campus” are often crawling with people taking photos of their cute stone bridge and amazing old trees. And I do mean old… the setting for VRIC is an endowment from Moses F. Rittenhouse dating back to 1906.

Just before getting to the fun stuff, it’s worth sharing their Vision and Mission.

A vibrant, prosperous and sustainable horticulture industry working with innovation to fill our world with fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants… Enriching people’s lives through science and discovery in horticulture.” Their focus is on breeding, not GMO. Their activities linked to horticulture, applied genomics, consumer insights, robotics and automation all happen within the broader context of Canada, our climate, consumers and producers. 

Where there’s science there are usually big words, but VRIC is purposeful about making their work accessible. One of the many questions they ask is “how to best communicate biotechnology to the public / consumers”. What, for example, do we know or think about the term “biocontrol”? Does it sound futuristic? Maybe even “evil”? Turns out it is a fancy term for bugs eating bugs. VRIC offers up a setting and staff that are inviting, and the closest thing I saw to a lab coat was our greenhouse footwear. 

I’m about to share some fascinating info about apples, sweet potatoes, taste testing – oh… and pears. For the full story that includes okra, eggplant and mini-cukes, browse the very readable “Innovation Report” (October 2017). I am having a tough time limiting the number of links I offer for your reading pleasure, and worry they might make you disappear down rabbit holes. I hope your curiosity matches your time available for reading.

Words, words, words. The workshop included participation in variations on Consumer Surveys, and that puts you in front of words, words, words. Yes, central to some of the research are the descriptors used. When rating apples, for example, the survey asked which apple had better taste, which was more flavourful. What’s the difference? Taste is sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Flavour refers to terms such as lemony, chocolate-y, buttery, cheesy. (See more flavour words.) It can take the VRIC team two to three months to develop a lexicon of descriptors for one item. For cider, for example, they identified 22 attributes. In the taste test we did, only 6 terms were used – among them “candy apple, pear, yeasty, barnyard”. I think I’d need more taste tester training! (Read more about taste testers. It's a paying job and they will soon be hiring more.)

Apples. VRIC’s extensive research has produced profiles of what consumers most like/dislike about apples. They use that knowledge to identify the ideal apple to grow – though it has to be a good match to local growing conditions. Funny story. What consumers like may not be what growers like. Turns out that Honey Crisp has fast become a favourite among consumers, but producers balked at the pressure to replant orchards with an apple that was hard to grow. In this case the consumer won, enjoying Honey Crisp taste and texture. By the way, texture often trumps taste in surveys. See! I’m not the only one who loves crunch. (Did you read my blog post on "crunch"?)

Like scouts in sports, VRIC is always on the lookout for plant varieties, which are then tested in our climate, and with luck move on to next step in the pathway to commercialization. That all takes much more time than one might think. VRIC projects 2022 to be the year that a new apple called “Smitten” (TM) will become widely available. According to insiders, “People who think they don’t like apples will love this product.” An early yellow apple is also in the works.

Sweet Potato. During the sweet potato taste test I was struck by the fact that I had never eaten “naked” sweet potatoes. My preference is oven roasted, but that implies some oil and seasonings. Am excited to report, that one of the samples we tasted (and the one I preferred) was the new (not yet named) variety that will show up at markets in 2019. 

Sonia Day, Gardening Columnist for the Toronto Star, sadly reports that it is hard to grow sweet potatoes in our yards, so we are left to producers to satisfy our need. And how that need has exploded! Nutritional benefits – and apparently sweet potato fries – have doubled consumption in the last decade, but so far 85% of the supply is imported.

Of the apples available to consumers, most of us know our favourite. Not so with sweet potatoes – every grocery store has one bin, one choice - although there are hundreds of varieties – one estimate is 6,500 worldwide. Of course, if grown in Canada it needs to be hardy, happy being planted early and harvested late, and must be high yield to make it all worthwhile. And VRIC discovered that consumers want a "bright orange, uniform colour". Eastern Canada (Nova Scotia) has joined the quest to capture a share of the Canadian market. Grab a coffee and read this short but fascinating article. You can read more from the sidebar at this site.

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The Sensory Lab, where we tested tomatoes and cider, was the most high tech. Testers are semi-isolated to avoid being biased by the reactions of other testers. Food emerges from a secret cupboard and a red or green light may mask the product colour. Turns out that colour also biases our food preferences – and can even change our experience of taste.

Roses. As a footnote we also completed surveys about roses being developed at VRIC. Seems I already missed buying these new varieties that can survive winter temperatures of minus 40.

  Canadian Shield and Chinook Sunrise - new roses!

Canadian Shield and Chinook Sunrise - new roses!

  Sweet potato puree – eggplant and mushroom, chicken.

Sweet potato puree – eggplant and mushroom, chicken.

  Cold Snap - all developed with VRIC

Cold Snap - all developed with VRIC

Our workshop ended with great food that used VRIC sweet potatoes, eggplants and apples. 

If that was not a heavenly enough day – mine ended with the acquisition of Cold Snap pears, which also have a connection to VRIC. I first hunted them down in 2015. Did not see them at all in 2016. Eureka! Yummers!

All in all, the day was my idea of a good time!! Any questions?

Or perhaps you agree with Kafka -

"So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being." [Source]