Don’t Try Making Your Own Maple Syrup

It was not that long ago that most people had not only never made their own maple syrup, but had never met someone who made their own maple syrup. But for some reason or another, 2018 has seen surge in people making their own maple syrup. Facebook was filled with pictures of people tapping backyard maple trees. Local parks were offering lessons in tapping trees and if you wanted to take part you had to arrive early to get a parking spot. Next year you  probably won’t have to arrive nearly so early as I am predicting a surge of people buying maple syrup in grocery stores in 2019.

I was one of those people who made their own maple syrup this year. I have a good number of mature maple trees around my house and some kids who like maple syrup on their pancakes and waffles, so I bought a tree tapping kit from Amazon and a bunch of 5 gallon buckets and gave it a try. I thought it would be a good activity to show the kids who something they eat is actually made and that we could have a little fun in the process. I was spectacularly wrong on both counts.

It turns out my kids don’t really give a damn where their food comes from or how it is made, just that it tastes good and is on a plate in front of them. It also turns out they are right. When I took them outside to put the taps in it was snowing and windy, and they quickly got cold and bored. They didn’t understand why we needed to stand outside in the cold when you could just pick a bottle of syrup off the shelf in the grocery down the street. I had no counterargument.

When I first tapped the trees I was very excited about how quickly my five gallon buckets started filling up. Then I started boiling the sap. And boiling. And boiling. And then finally arriving at that proud moment when I could pour the homemade maple syrup over my kids’ pancake – only to discover that the syrup was too runny and needed to be boiled off some more.

If you research the making of maple syrup you understand that you will have to boil down the sap to get the syrup, but until you actually go through the process you never really appreciate just how much sap you need to boil down to get a jar of consumable maple syrup. I’ve long since lost track of exactly how much sap I used but I think it is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 800 million gallons of sap to get one 375ml jar of syrup.

I did the initial boiling outside on a grill using firewood that I collected myself. If you had to pay for the propane or electricity to do all of the boiling you would be spending more for a bottle of maple syrup than you would for a bottle of Chateau Latour. If there are any maple syrup producers out there who are concerned about a drop in demand from all the people making their own syrup in 2018 they should just relax and raise their prices about 10% in 2019.

Don’t Tell Me Not to Fully Cook My Pork Chops

Every time I watch a video or TV show of a chef making some kind of pork recipe I’m invariably forced to listen to him or her badger me about how I shouldn’t cook it all the way through, but should instead leave it a little pink in the middle. Their story being that once upon a time it was necessary for safety reasons to cook pork all the way though like chicken, but at some point in recent years there was some vague yet magical development in pig slaughtering so now there is no need to worry about eating half raw pork. Based on their complaints about people continuing to overcook pork it would seem that few home cooks are listening to them so maybe they might want to consider getting over themselves and just letting us fully cook our pork chops.

Chefs love nothing more than to complain about people overcooking food. Tell any chef you prefer your steak well done and he’ll look at you like you told him you prefer your Veuve Clicquot mixed with equal parts 7up. I feel some chefs are particularly vocal about undercooking everything to increase their credibility with other chefs. I suspect the first person to suggest leaving pork pink in the middle was thinking more about his culinary street cred than advances in food safety. Mark it down, it is only a matter of time before you start hearing people tell you that you don’t need to cook chicken all the way through.

In any case, does it really make that much difference to the taste and texture if the middle of a pork chop is not entirely cooked? It’s not like fully cooked pork is like trying to eat shoe leather, and if you want truly tender pork you can easily find a couple thousand slow cooked or smoked recipes to choose from.  If you want to undercook your pork, go right ahead; it probably won’t hurt you. But do it because you like it and not because some TV chef feels the need to tell you what to do.

Why Do People Still Sell Brazil Nuts?

Like every other human being on this planet I hate Brazil nuts. Whenever I buy a can of mixed nuts, I pick out the Brazil nuts and feed them to the crows. They seem to like them, so I will concede that there are at least some creatures on earth that like them, if not any humans. The question is, if nobody actually likes Brazil nuts, why do people insist on making and selling them?

Now some people may protest that I am exaggerating and there are people out there who like them. My only response to such people would be to ask them to show me a can of Brazil nuts. They can’t do it. You can buy cans of peanuts, almonds, cashews, pretty much any nut, but you will never see a can of Brazil nuts for sale. The only way they can be sold, if not eaten, at all is by piggybacking off of other nuts. They are to a can mixed nuts what pretzels are to a bag of Party Mix.

If you know that you can’t sell a can of Brazil nuts, why would you ever get in the Brazil nut business? If you want to grow nuts and you had some business sense, you would pick any other nut but that. I understand that some people might have inherited a Brazil nut business, but over time one would expect those to gradually be sold off for land development or more lucrative crops. Brazil nut producers should have virtually zero leverage in price negotiations with buyers. How can you drive a hard bargain with buyers when sales of cans of mixed nuts would increase if they stopped including Brazil nuts?

Brazil nuts should be in the same category as crab apples. There is no reason to cut the trees down and if there is one growing in your backyard you might even try eating couple just for the hell of it. Teenagers might sneak onto your property and steal them just to say they did. But there is no reason why these terrible tasting nuts should be sabotaging cans of mixed nuts in your grocery store.

The 5 Worst Potato Chips

  1. Ketchup

Ketchup chips are revolting. I get that ketchup and potatoes go together, but whatever vile tomato inspired concoction they put on these chips is a crime against nature. I love potato chips and can eat pretty much any chip if I have to in order to be polite, but I draw the line at ketchup. I’m not a judgemental person by nature but I instantly form strong opinions about a person’s taste and judgement if I find out they like ketchup chips. If I was invited to dinner party hosted by a lover of ketchup chips I would fake sick and cancel.

  1. All Dressed

The enormous popularity of all dressed chips is baffling to me. Based on their prominence on every chip rack in the country there must be all kinds of people who like them, but for the life of me I can’t understand why. The best potato chip flavours are those that naturally pair well with the taste of potato. Roast chicken would be an example of this. Even though I hate ketchup chips, I at least understand what its creators were trying to do. With all dressed it seems like the chip company just gathers up whatever leftover spices and flavours they have lying around and throw them all together. The chip is an incoherent mess.

  1. Salt and Vinegar

I get why some people like this chip. People put salt and vinegar on potatoes so it makes sense to try it on a chip, and unlike ketchup, you can make these chips without a lot of mysterious alchemy; just coat some chips in salt and vinegar. Though vinegar works well with the thick cut French fries, it tends to overwhelm the lighter potato chip and can leave you with a terrible aftertaste, particularly if you eat a bunch of them. The problem is that these chips taste just good enough that you will find yourself snacking on them at a party only to regret it afterwards when you have that vinegary aftertaste in your mouth. There are also few more unpleasant culinary experiences than biting into a chip that you believe to be regular only to find out it is salt and vinegar.

  1. Bar-Be-Que

Is there a sadder flavour of chips than bar-be-que? Though nobody wretches at the thought, there isn’t a person on earth for whom this is their favourite chip. How did this chip get made in the first place? It’s not like people were in the habit of putting bar-be-que sauce on potatoes. Bar-be-que chips are the physical embodiment of mediocracy. They should be the official chip of the St. Louis Blues.

  1. Reduced Salt

Is there anything more disappointing and joyless than eating a reduced salt potato chip? You get all the calories and fat without any of the taste. If I’m looking to eat healthy at a social gathering I’ll just have a strawberry or a carrot. Potato chips are meant to be an indulgence and trying to make them anything other than that just ends up in a depressing lose-lose situation for everyone involved.

Top 5 Potato Chips for Snow Days

  1. Miss Vickie’s Original Recipe

If you want to stay inside on a snow day and binge on chips there is nothing better than plain, salted, kettle cooked chips. They are thick and crunchy and don’t turn to dust in the bottom of the bag, and most importantly, they are not so loaded with artificial flavourings that you will feel (quite so) sick after an afternoon of eating them.

  1. Lays Roast Chicken

Everyone loves roast chicken and chips, so roast chicken flavoured potato chips was the most obvious flavour combination ever. These are heavily salted so you should always have one six pack of beer available per family size bag.

  1. Ruffles Loaded Potato Skins

This is a hidden gem of a potato chip. The only reason this chip isn’t more popular is its poorly designed bag; on first glance they look almost exactly like sour cream and bacon.

  1. Pringles Jalapeño

This is the perfect chip for parents who hate having their small children swipe all the chips on snow days. You can a bowl of these on the table while you shovel the driveway for an hour and you won’t lose a chip. Kids can’t handle the heat of these things until they reach 13 or so, at which point all bets are off.

  1. Dill Pickle

This is the potato chip connoisseur’s chip. If you are picking up chips for a group then you might want to stick with one the selections above, but if you are entertaining those with sophisticated potato chip tastes, this is the way to go. Its intense flavours need to be savoured and eaten in small batches rather than binging.


Gusto is going to kill off the Food Network

I wrote some time ago about the declining quality of the Food Network (the Canadian version) and it has since continued to get worse. It is increasingly overrun with reality shows and the actually instructional cooking shows that you see are not just reruns, but often pre-high definition re-runs from a decade ago. I love Chef Michael Smith, but if you are going to show reruns of his show, do you have to show me the low budget standard definition reruns from 2007? They had a fantastic high definition, well produced version a couple of years ago but that wasn’t picked up and the channel seems strangely reluctant to even show the re-runs. The same goes for Roger Mooking’s show. I was starting to think that it was just me; that everybody with an interest in food would rather watch competitions where people try to make soup without pots rather than an old fashioned cooking shows where someone explained how to cook things. Then this new channel called Gusto appeared on my TV.

To be clear, I am in no way connected to Gusto or anyone involved with the channel. There have several shows which are completely uninteresting, such as one about British people buying or fixing up rural holiday homes or whatever. The Wine Show sounds like it should be great but isn’t at all. But the channel is actually making an effort to provide some shows that are of some practical use for the home cook. All of Jamie Oliver’s shows are on the station, as is Martha Stewart’s, and I think the only show I’ve seen on it that isn’t in high definition is Julia Child’s show. I love that they have thrown this black and white show from the 60s right in the middle of all these high definition shows.

I have a feeling that I am not alone among cooking enthusiasts in being sick of all these cooking reality shows and wanting some old fashioned cooking shows. People who watch reality cooking shows are more fans of reality shows than cooking, and there are much more interesting reality shows out there than what you will find on any cooking channel. The people who actually have a serious interest in cooking, who would be the most coveted audience for advertisers, are going to watch shows that are both entertaining and help them cook better. Someone who likes watching people sabotage each other in a kitchen may not have any interest in any of food related commercials during the show. In year or two I have a feeling that the Food Network will either disappear or start showing more new, practical cooking shows.

I’m Sick of Chefs Talking about How Many Hours They Work

I’ve been watching a lot of cooking documentaries on Netflix lately, many of which focus on a particular chef or restaurant. Without exception, whenever there is an interview with a chef the first thing they talk about is the insane hours that they HAVE to work in order to keep their restaurant going. They have to work all day, every day, and their romantic relationships always fail because they never have any time to spend with their wives of girlfriends. No other professional people in the world, including active duty combat soldiers, make their profession out to be as difficult. This is complete bullshit.

When a chef talks about the hours they work they are often exaggerating or outright lying. I saw one documentary where they guy claimed to work 16 hours a day. He lived in a huge house clearly nowhere near his downtown restaurant, so when you factor in driving and taking time to be interviewed by documentary makers, the person would essentially have not slept for several decades. Though chefs exaggerate, they do work long hours. The reason they work all these hours, in my opinion, is partly because they love being at their restaurant and partly because they aren’t good managers and delegators.

If you watch enough cooking documentaries it is easy to lose sight of the fact that cooking isn’t actually the most difficult thing that human beings do. In fact, there are all kinds of things that are just as difficult, or even more difficult, then running a kitchen. Launching a manned rocket into space for example. Building a hydroelectric dam in a remote area would be another good one. If there is one unifying characteristic of all the most difficult projects undertaken by human beings is that they don’t instantly collapse in failure if someone takes Friday off.

Believe it or not, it is possible for a head chef to hire competent cooks and train them to the extent where you can come into the restaurant in the morning and make sure all the ingredients are in stock and the prep is going smoothly and then go out to a movie with your girlfriend that night and let them handle the dinner service. If a chef can’t manage to do that once a week he is either a compulsive micromanager or is sleeping with the pastry chef.

Don’t Make Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

For some strange reason, the percentage of cookie makers who like putting raisins in their cookies is far higher than the percentage of cookie eaters who like having raisins in their cookies. It is like there is something about raisins that make them more enjoyable for bakers to use than any other ingredient on earth. I suspect this may have something to do with people learning to bake from their grandmothers, who baked back in a time when chocolate chips were not as readily available as raisins.

Thankfully, we all now live in a world where chocolate chips are as readily available and inexpensive as raisins. Since chocolate chips taste objectively far superior to raisins, if you want to serve cookies at a party that most people will really enjoy, you should use chocolate chips instead of raisins.

Curiously, nobody ever puts raisins in plain cookies; it is only ever with oatmeal cookies. It appears that people may be misunderstanding the nature of an oatmeal based cookie and look at it as a health food rather than a treat, but oatmeal cookies taste just as good as regular cookies. If you put out plain oatmeal cookies with regular plain cookies the oatmeal cookies would eaten first. You can tell this is the case because while you can find oatmeal cookies, you will very rarely see a plain cookie for sale; they need chocolate chips in them in order for people to buy them.

Two things you need to realize are that oatmeal cookies taste better than plain cookies, and using raisins will at best make the cookie only slightly healthier than if you used chocolate chips. Adding the oatmeal to a cookie is what really increases the healthiness of the cookie and it does so without making the cookie less appetizing. Raisins are healthier than chocolate chips, but they are high in sugar and calories, which offsets some of its benefits, and when you factor in that most people don’t actually like raisins you are better off sticking with the chocolate chips.

What’s With All These Vacuum Sealer Twitter Accounts?

Since I started my food blog I’ve followed a lot of people on Twitter who write and tweet about food. I’ve seen many different types of Twitter accounts. You have the genuine food blogger who posts links to his or her blog posts and makes the odd food related tweet or retweet. You have the accounts that are only trying to get clicks and traffic by any means possible and send what are likely automated tweets and retweets every hour of every day. And then you have people who are promoting vacuum sealers.

It is amazing the sheer number of Twitter accounts whose sole purpose is to promote the sale of vacuum sealers. I must have seen several hundred of them. You know how many I’ve seen focused on promoting a brand of blender? Zero. Food processors? Zero.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen any account that focuses on promoting a third party product other than vacuum sealers.

This makes absolutely no sense. I mean, I get the concept that some company could offer someone with a few thousand followers on Twitter to promote their product, but it makes no sense that only one food based product would be doing it and have such a wide presence. If that sort of marketing makes sense, then why aren’t I seeing any accounts that promote frying pans or juicers? This type of marketing appears to be solely for vacuum sealers. Perhaps it works on some people, but I would eat my weight in tofu before I would ever consider buying a vacuum sealer I saw on some Twitter account.

Storms Turn Newfoundlanders into Zombies, not Hoarders.

Whenever a storm is on the way in Newfoundland everyone takes the empty shelves and long line-ups at grocery stores as evidence that Newfoundlanders, particularly those in the St. John’s area, overreact to coming inclement weather by stocking up on enough food to survive being snowed in for weeks. The truth though is that is not actually the case. The longer line-ups before storms is not due to irrational hoarding, it is just a matter of everyone who needs to get groceries in the next day or two going to the grocery store because they may not be able to get out of their driveway the next day. If you combine two days of grocery store volume into one you will end up with a very crowded grocery store. Though storms don’t turn Newfoundlanders into hoarders, they do turn them into zombies.

Since I knew I wouldn’t be leaving the house tomorrow, I stopped into the grocery store today to pick up a few things for the weekend. The place was busy, but not overrun with people by any means. The people who were there, however, almost to a person, were all scuffling along in a slow, almost ominous gait.

Normally at the grocery store, most people look like they have somewhere to go after their grocery shopping; they are pushing their carts, around, grabbing items decisively, and scratching items off their lists. Today, as with every time there is an approaching storm, everyone seemed confused. Some were just standing there, staring confusedly at items, unable to process whether to buy three yoghurts to get the multi-savings or just get the one package. Those who were moving were doing so only barely, as if they were unsure exactly why they were in the store or what they were supposed to be doing, but just knew that they weren’t supposed to be standing still. So they moved. Barely.

Multiple times I had to squeeze past a logjam of people with shopping carts pushed by people who weren’t taking anything off the shelves. I excused myself but none of them seemed to notice my presence, even though I was passing inches in front of their faces. I’m not sure if they noticed any of the items in the store. I can only assume that 15 minutes before closing the store staff took all these people by the elbow and lead them to the checkout.

I’m not sure why storms have this effect on people, but I suspect it may have something to do with people going to the grocery store before they were planning to and not preparing a grocery list. I cook a lot and am in a grocery store pretty much every day or two and people generally seem like normal human beings when I’m there, but whenever a storm is on the way easily two thirds of everyone in the store start acting like zombies.