Friday, September 25, 2015

Canadian Candy Bars

About a year ago I was in Toronto with some journalists, including one from Germany. He had been to the US many times but it was his first trip to Canada. He remarked that he thought Canada would look different somehow. The truth is, when you travel to Canada from the United States, it doesn’t always look very different. Especially on the surface. The U.S. has a lot in common with Canada, but there are some subtle (and not so subtle) differences. One difference? Candy bars! 

The candy bars in question are made by Nestle and Cadbury, but they are not the same as candy bars in other parts of the world, and none of the ones I brought back from my last trip across the border are available in the US, not that I know of anyway. I’m not much of a candy bar fan, and these are everyday, available-in-the-supermarket candy bars, but I still think it's fun to try something different now and again. 

So what are they like?

The Coffee Crisp is my favorite. It’s light and crunchy, a bit like a Kit Kat bar but with a distinct coffee flavor. It's made in Canada and has layers of vanilla wafers and a coffee filling. There was actually a campaign to bring this bar to the U.S.  

The Wunderbar was recommended to me by another traveling companion and pal, the Global Gumshoe. It has many of the flavors of a Snickers bar and the texture of a Butterfingers bar. It has a light crispy crunch, and mild peanut flavor but no crunchy nuts. It is very thick and chewy with caramel. 

Mr.Big is a bit like a lighter version of the Wunderbar, cararmel, peanuts, crisp vanilla wafer and rice crisps, but much more delicate. And well, bigger. 

The Crunchie is another top pick, a bit like a Violet Crumble it’s a honeycomb toffee bar, though the chocolate coating is milk chocolate and very sweet. The airy texture and richer flavor are very appealing.

What candy bars do you like to bring home to the US? Or from the US if you live abroad? Let me know in the comments.

Curious about my trip to Canada? Check out this terrific video of Nova Scotia from the Global Gumshoe --and see if you can spot me!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Wine Folly Book Review

Because I used to develop recipes to pair with wines (for a now defunct online wine retailer) I have quite a collection of wine books. The book I probably use the most these days just to learn about wine is The Wine Bible, by Karen McNeil. I am eagerly anticipating the next edition, due out next month. However another book came across my desk recently that I am really enjoying. While by no means comprehensive, it does really get at the important stuff, especially when it comes to enjoying wine, not just geeking out on it. 

Wine Folly, The Essential Guide to Wine is just that, a book that includes the fundamentals of wine—such as how wine is made, how to read a wine lablel, a glossary, how to taste, pair and serve wine, profiles of popular and under the radar wine varietals, regional maps and and more. It uses lots of infographics, data visualization, icons and imagery to help simplify the information. I particularly appreciate that is goes beyond the standard oft repeated information. For example in the pairing section there are pages on vegetable, herb and spice pairings not just the typical how to pair wines with meat or cheeeses. 

Because the book focuses on the big picture, it does miss some details, particularly in terms of soils. For example the listing for Soave includes the flavor profile of the wine, dominant and possible flavors as well as the main grape type, common styles, where it grows, how to serve, store and pair it.  However I was just at a seminar about Soave where I learned that the two main styles of Soave vary by the region and soil type—when produced in the South West the soil is limestone the wines are citrus, linear and floral. When produced in the Eastern and Central part of the region the soil is volcanic and the wines are richer and oilier in texture. Is that an important detail to know? It all depends on you. 

In particular I find the tips on where to find value, terrific wine region maps and color icons of wine flavors really make this book a keeper and are guaranteed to deepen your appreciation and enjoyment of wine. Check out the popular blog from Wine Folly to get more of a sense of the style of the book. 

Disclaimer: Wine Folly was provided to me for review purposes. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post. This post does include Amazon affiliate links. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Do You Need a Kitchen Scale?

I never understand when people say they can’t cook. If you can follow a recipe, you can cook. Although not every recipe yields great results. One problem is accuracy. In creating recipes for clients I generally measure and weigh ingredients. Weighing is always more accurate. So it makes sense that when following recipes with weights, that readers should use weights too.

Of course not all recipes are written with weights, but that's changing. Some prominent cookbook authors, especially bakers, are using weights in their recipes and in particular the metric system. I talked to once such baker and cookbook author, Alice Medrich. She collects James Beard awards for practically every book she writes and approaches recipe testing much like a scientist. Her latest books are Flavor Flours and Seriously Bittersweet, Here’s what she had to say about using scales. 

1. When did you start using grams in your recipes? 

I got used to grams in Europe in the 1970's. I  didn't switch from ounces to grams in my books until just a few years ago because I began to see that people were warming up to using scales and while they were at it, I thought, why not get them onto grams? I also saw that some of the celeb chefs were publishing in grams, so I though that would help too.

2. Why grams versus ounces?

If you want to increase or decrease a recipe by any percentage, the math is so much easier to do in grams.

If you make small changes in a recipe by increasing certain ingredients by small amounts, it's easier to capture that amount in grams than fractions of ounces.

Grams are universal around the world (except for in the US), so you can reach a wider audience and you can also use recipes from books around the world without worrying about the "translation."

Grams are such small units that you rarely need to use fractions which you do have to do with ounces.  This means that grams look cleaner on the page. 

With grams its easer to see relationships and ratios between amounts of ingredients.

3. What do you look for in a scale?

It should have a switch that goes from ounces to grams.  

It should have a tare button (so you can reset to zero) to compensate for any kind of container.  

It should be able to register amounts at least as small as 5 grams (though I like a scale that reads 1 or 2 grams) and at least as high a 2 kilos (though more is better).

I DO NOT LIKE any scale that proposes to translate from volume to weight (first because I don't trust the weights used for equivalences and second because I think we are grown ups and can learn to use a scale without training wheels) I often say that a decent scale can be had for less than the price of 10 there is really no excuse not to have one, especially if you like to bake.

Thanks Alice!

I’ve reviewed various scales over the years. My current model? Smart Weigh.

Here are the features:

Sleek flat design, stores easily

A backlit LCD screen

A tare button

A capacity of 11 pounds/5 kg and registers as little as 5 grams

Uses 4 AAA batteries

Switches from ounces to grams, pounds to kilos

A wide and flat surface, which makes reading the screen very easy even when you are weighting something large

It looks a lot more expensive than it is--black or white models are $24.99

Disclaimer: I received the Smart Weigh for review purposes. This post includes Amazon affiliate links. I was not monetarily compensated for this review or any other post.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Goat Cheese Giveaway!

Credit: The Original Chèvre
The first time I went to Paris I discovered a tiny little cheese shop that I swear was dedicated 100% to goat cheese. There were goat cheeses of all sizes and shapes, some with rinds others covered in ash and others wrapped in leaves. It was like a whole new universe of cheese. A delicious one.

Fortunately these days there is a wide range of goat cheese, both domestic and international available in the US. There are fresh soft fluffy cheeses, gooey triple creme style cheeses and drier aged goat cheeses. To learn more about goat cheese as well as great pairings, head over to Culture Cheese magazine. Today you'll find my post with two recipes--one for Scallop Selles-sur-Cher Crostini and another for a dead simple Five Spice Fig Compote with just 5 ingredients.


I am giving away 5 French goat cheeses so you can test, taste and create your own recipes. You will also receive a package of tried and true recipes for inspiration and trivia cards so you can learn a little bit of history on French goat cheeses and temporary tattoos to wear your love for Original Chèvre.

Leave me a comment about how you most enjoy eating or serving goat cheese and what kinds of recipes you'd like to explore. You must have a US mailing address to win. You MUST leave your email address in the field where it is requested, it will not be visible to the public only to me. DO NOT leave your email address in the body of your comment. I will choose a winner on October 1.

Disclaimer: My thanks to Culture Cheese magazine and Goat Cheeses of France for sending me goat cheese samples and providing me the opportunity to participate in this promotion, I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post on the blog.