Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nanaimo Bars and "Are Food Bloggers Faking it?"

There's an interesting discussion underway in the food blogging community today. Are food bloggers "faking it"? Is the surge of hundreds of thousands, actually more likely millions, of food blogs out there "dumbing down" the culinary industry?

You're reading this blog, and probably several others, so I'm going to guess you probably don't agree with either sentiment.

However, a food journalist put forth an opinion piece, "Faking It", on the IACP web site this week, that puts those ideas out there.

The premise is basically this: Major companies in the food industry are paying food bloggers to create recipes with their products, however, there are some food bloggers that do not test the recipes over and over, so therefore, the recipe/creation they put out to the world is an inferior product.

The writer also refers to many food bloggers as "hobbyists" or "stay-at-home-moms" with too much time on their hands.

Umm, do any of you actually know a stay-at-home-parent (because honestly people, there are stay-at-home-dads too, so get over your sexist stereotypes) that actually has "too much time on their hands"?

Also, isn't cooking about experimentation? It's about messing around with a recipe until it's where you want it to be? Does it have to be tested seven which ways to make it "publish-worthy" on the internet?

I don't think so.

Without food bloggers, you wouldn't have that perfect yellow cake recipe that came from someone's grandmother, instead of the dry, complex one that may have come out of the pages and test kitchens of some high-gloss food publications.

Food is NOT reserved for hoity-toity publications, that's where the culinary industry has gone wrong.

There is a place for high cuisine. I truly believe it's an art form and it's beautiful, and it should be left to the people who know how to make it happen with grace and style.

Most of the food bloggers I know or read, aren't aspiring to high-gloss covers, or high-cuisine. They're focusing on bringing good food back to the tables of whatever country they may be in. They're sharing time-tested family recipes, creations that worked in their kitchens, and information that has made cooking accessible again in their households.

Food blogging is not "dumbing down" the culinary industry. Instead, this movement is making cooking "real", "down-to-earth", and bringing people back into the fold of things like from-scratch baking, canning, and preserving.

You all know, I don't write this blog for money. I do get compensated from time to time for certain posts. This isn't my career, it's a love I have for food and sharing it with others. In the end, that's how almost all food blogs begin, with a love for cooking or baking.

Let's all celebrate that cooking and baking is making a comeback among the masses again, instead of tearing down the people that are working so hard to get it there.

Discuss amongst yourselves, while I offer up some nanaimo bars while you chat. Yes, they've been all over the internet already. No, they're not my own creation, but a mish-mash of other people's creations.

Honestly, I never even knew what they were until I first visited the man who would become my husband in Vancouver. His family had made them for years, and it was love at first bite. I now make them whenever possible. Enjoy.

Nanaimo Bars
Sources: City of Nanaimo and the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook

Note - traditionally you add a 1/2 cup of chopped almonds or nuts to the bottom layer, I do not, feel free to add, however.


Bottom Layer:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (about one sleeve of full graham crackers)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut

Second Layer:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons milk or cream (whatever you have is fine)
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla custard or pudding powder (custard is traditional, but can be hard to find)
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Third layer:
  • 4 (1-oz) squares semi sweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Take an 8x8 square baking pan, line with parchment (or wax) paper, leaving plenty of overhang so you can lift the bars out of the pan later.

Bottom Layer:
Melt 1/2 cup butter, sugar, and cocoa in a double boiler.
Add egg and stir until mixture thickens (also making sure the egg doesn't cook either), then add vanilla extract.
Remove from heat and fold in crumbs, coconut (and nuts if using, see header above).
Press into your lined baking pan and place in fridge to cool while you make the second layer.

Second Layer:
Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, cream together 1/2 cup of butter, your milk, pudding powder, and icing sugar until light and fluffy.
Spread over the bottom layer of the bars and place back in the fridge.

Third Layer:
Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler until melted together.
Allow to cool a touch, but when it's still liquid, pour over other layers, and then place in the fridge to chill until the top layer is hardened.

Lift parchment out of baking pan, and cut into small squares and enjoy!

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Market Day

 The simple things make me happy. I woke up this Sunday morning, groggy, sleepy, ready to throw the covers back over my head and sleep half the day away.

I'm so happy I didn't.

Today was the opening day of the summer portion of the Newburyport Farmers' Market. It's my home market. It's the market that reminds me that when I get lazy, fall off the "local" wagon for a bit, I suffer. My creativity suffers, my heart suffers, my support for the people in the community I live in, it suffers.

That may sound extreme, I'm serious here.

I don't have to tell any of you that life is busy. I help run a busy and large newsroom in a major U.S. city. I'm familiar with crazy busy. It's what is usually going on when I'm silent on this blog. It's my passion, my career, it can also be all-consuming.

Market and farm days are what slow me down, remind me to breathe. I'm lucky, the Newburyport Farmers' Market runs all year round, however it's just every other week in the winter. Frankly, at some point, winter greens and root vegetables make you want to scream. The opening of the summer market this weekend reminds me that tantalizing offerings such as asparagus, corn, and *gasp* tomatoes are on their way. The berries will soon fill the tables, it's truly the best time of of year.

So, I believe it's the right time to begin again. This blog started its rebirth from Sundays, and a simple list of what I picked up in my travels, and what I plan to do with it. It's time to begin that again to give everyone out there ideas of how to work local food into your weekly schedules. Remember that when you plan meals more locally, it's best to shop first, and meal plan afterwards. This way, you can see what looks best, and is affordable and in-season at market, instead of filling your bag with pricey substitutes.

What I picked up Sunday, May 6th:

Potatoes, spinach from Heron Pond Farm (NH) - $7
Olive Bread from When Pigs Fly - $6
Chai (my favorite) from White Heron Tea (NH) $3

I then popped over to Tendercrop Farm in Newbury, Ma for more ($20):

Romaine Lettuce (their own)
Steak tips (their own)
English Muffins (baked on site)
Eggs (their own)

I'm lucky to also have on hand from Shady Oaks Organics an amazing variety of mushrooms from oyster varietals to shitakes.

Meal Plans:
As a disclaimer and reminder, I also will head to the traditional grocery store this week as well for ingredients not listed above.

Sunday: Grilled steak tips with sauteed mushrooms, mashed potatoes, and grilled romaine (with the Olive Bread as a side)
Monday: Spinach Quiche
Tuesday: Spaghetti and homemade fresh tomato sauce (from the freezer stash) with mushrooms tossed in.

That's about as far as I've gotten. Since there's just the two of us, the end of the week usually ends up being a mish-mash of leftovers and quick meals. I'll most likely pick up chicken from Tendercrop Farm mid-week, and some pizza-making supplies for another meal. Pin It