20 December 2010

Suffering From An Irrational Fear of Cooking? 204

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from CPD (Culinary Performance Dysfunction)? What is CPD? It is the aversion to cooking, in a kitchen, anything besides microwave burritos or jarred spaghetti.

Photo Courtesy of  gregpphoto © All Rights Reserved.

People who have CPD have an irrational fear that they can't use culinary techniques to crank out a fabulous tasting meal. People with CPD, when faced with cooking, in the kitchen, conjure up horrible disasters that will unfurl if they attempt a recipe. 

Ingredient experimentation is a extreme anxiety trigger for people suffering CPD. It is far worse that attempting to follow a recipe.

If this sounds like you, or someone you know, there is help. As Shakespeare mused:  "Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt." The mind is a powerful tool, which can be both helpful and damning. But CPD sufferers can overcome their aversion to the culinary world. Exposure is the key.

In a recent article published by Globe and Mail (see "Cooking as Therapy"), Julia Belluz, delves into the emotional and psychological healing aspects that cooking affords those who are open to the subtle nuances found in participating in the simple acts of prepping, creating and presenting their food.

A wonderful cookbook that I feel can bridge the gap between "aspiring" to be successful in the kitchen, but fearing it,  and actually being successful, is Entertain Like a Gentleman, by David Harap. 

This cookbook while geared for the testosterone set (i.e men), can be a nice addition to any cooking library. David presents the recipes and contents of  this cookbook in a very logical manner.

David Harap gently eases the reader into entertaining and cooking, with the first section entitled "Entertaining 101", which gives tips on stress-free entertaining, tools, metric conversions, and even talks about the 10 assumptions of all recipes.

The next 15 sections are devoted to assembling, cooking and creating a mood in 15 different entertaining scenarios:

  • Scotch Tasting Affair
  • Super-bowl / March Madness
  • Cheese and Wine Party
  • The Initial Flame (grilling)
  • Pool Party
  • Tailgating in Style
  • Oktoberfest
  • Cooking With Kiddos
  • Double Date Night
  • Romantic Dinner (Spring/Summer)
  • Romantic Dinner Another Night (Fall/Winter)
  • Breakfast in Bed
  • Brunch with the In-laws
  • Cocktail Party Finger Food
  • Poker Night With The Boys
Each of the 15 sections include tasty, innovative recipes which include appetizers, entrées with complimenting sides, and a delicious dessert to complete the themed experience. 

The recipes are written in an easy to understand fashion, intended to help aid in a less-stressful entertaining experience.  Included in the book are shopping and equipment lists, with blank pages  after every section to allow you to jot down thoughts or notes - making Entertain Like a Gentleman perfect for the cooking inept or the seasoned culinary traveler.

So hopefully when you are looking to find gifts this season, think of those who suffer from CPD, and try to  enable them, into the culinary world, which they fear so well. Encourage them, and give them the tools to inspire confidence. But over all, be supportive.

The view expressed here are mine & mone alone. I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Parent Reviewers. I received a "proof copy" of Entertain Like a Gentleman, so that I could provide my honest feedback. Please read more about Renaissance Culinaire's Disclosure Policy.

06 December 2010

I'm Famished - Takes On New Meaning During 2010 96

The United States to outside eyes is one of the most extravagant, wasteful , "media-hore"- loving cultures in the world. But in reality what the media hugely magnifies and the general public readily eats up (mainly in a desperate need to placate humane curiosity or escape the mundane.), is a very small example , say a micro-percentage of what the other large percentage of regular people in the US really surmounts to.

However there is a problem creeping into the general population, American culture, which is fueled by the media. It is a shift, mainly a obtuse growth of false entitlement that leaves the act of daily, common courtesy let alone  important humanitarian causes, fall slowly to the wayside. Every generation now seems to edge toward a self-centered existence who feels a constant need for digital gratification.

Being a blogger I cannot help but get swept up in this culture cult. With the growing competition to set myself apart by showcasing my creativity through visual images (enter the digital camera and better tools for editing and special effects) and  social media being a driving force in the success of a blog or website (enter the smart phones to keep up with different sites), it seems that I am apart of this reality regardless of whether I choose to or not . But isn't that the clincher - technology offers society the tools to allow for further advancement in so many areas.

 I struggle sometimes to not over analyse food blogging  - there is quite a disparity between the opulence and indulgent manor that some popular food bloggers tout as food culture and the real problems that American's are facing - having to choose between groceries to feed their families, or, paying their utilities or rent to keep their families sheltered.

In 2006, 25 million Americans, including 9 million children1 were being fed annually through the help of  Feeding America's network of Food Banks. Fast forward 4 years  to 2010 - present day America, and that number has grown 46 percent1 ! Can you believe 37 million Americans, including 14 million children1 are utilizing their local food banks across the US?  These aren't just homeless individuals, these are average people, maybe your neighbors. In fact 37 percent of this total have a full-time wage earner in their household1.

If you live in the United States,  use the widget below, you can enter in your zip code and you will be taken to a page which give you statistics regarding your state on how Food Bank resources are utilized, and will give you the contact info for local food banks in your area.

As a food blogger I think it is important to get the word out about organizations that help to feed people in our neighborhoods. The is a non-profit doing just that - Share Our Strength.  They have been a driving force behind the hunger movement for 25 years. They have launched a campaign called No Kid Hungry, which has a goal to end childhood hunger by 2015. They have partnered with many food corporations that have pledged to give a percentage of their profits to the campaign.  When you are shopping this holiday season, I hope you will considered purchasing from corporations that are dedicated to helping end hunger.

On that note I wanted to review one of these companies' products - Hickory Farms, which is committed to donating $5 of every purchase of their Party Planner Gift Box to the No Kid Hungry campaign. Alternatively they encourage customers who aren't purchasing the above product,  to donate $1.00 of their order to the campaign, through 1/31/2011.

The product I received to review was the Home For The Holidays Gift Box.


  • 2 - 10 oz. Our Signature Beef Summer Sausages
  • 1 - 10 oz. Italian Recipe Beef Summer Sausage
  • 1 -  8 oz. Big Barn Cheddar®
  • 1 -  7 oz. Cheddar & Havarti Blend
  • 1 -  4 oz. Three Cheese & Onion Wedge
  • 1 -  4 oz. Smooth N Sharp Wedge
  • 1 -  2.25 oz. Sweet Hot Mustard
  • 1 -  2.5 oz. Honey Pineapple Mustard
  • 2 -  Boxes of  .5 oz. Cracked Wheat Crackers, "Sesame, Caraway & Sea Salt"
  • 4 - Strawberry Candies 

The gift box arrived in a standard cardboard sheath. There was nothing between it and The gift box. The contents were positioned on a natural shredded paper filling in a heavy weight attractive cardboard box. This packaging gets a eco-friendly thumbs up. I was soo happy not to see excessive over packaging - no peanuts or plastic wrapping. You can even reuse the filling and box if needed.

At $50.00 per Box, I would say this is a good idea if you have the budget to purchase this. I used some of the meats and cheeses to create a holiday tray, over Thanksgiving, to bring to a family members. People were nibbling pretty frequently and it didn't survive the whole evening. I still had meat and cheese that I hadn't cut up in the fridge. There is allot here to work with.

  • Sesame, Caraway and Sea Salt  Crackers: I must be honest, I am not a huge crackers-with-caraway fan, most crackers are so over powered with this potent spice that it is off-putting. I was leery of trying these crackers. But after some thought, I wanted to offer my opinion, so I moved out of my comfort zone. These crackers were great! They have a great cracker texture that holds up and doesn't crumble under the weight of cheese - they have snap. They are slightly buttery and the sesame gives a nice nutty after taste. The sea salt rounds out the flavor and the caraway adds a very distant earthy note. I especially enjoyed them with the Three Cheese & Onion Wedge,  and Smooth N Sharp Wedge.
  • Beef Summer Sausages:  The Signature Beef Summer Sausages were full of hickory smokiness. There are notes of white wine vinegar and the peppercorns really accentuated the overall flavor. They have a nice mouth feel.  
  • Italian Recipe Beef Summer Sausage,  To my surprise, however, I really enjoyed this. The flavor reminded me of my grandmother's meatballs. You take a bite and flavor notes of an Italian deli meat explodes in your mouth. Whites pepper gives it a kick on your tongue. It also reminded me of the whiff I took smelling my Great-Grand parents icebox , who would cure their own meats such as Cappacuolo. Very nice and pleasing to the palate.
  • Sweet Hot Mustard - You can only go so far with mustard and honey. This mustard is a cross between the Chinese mustard you get with BBQ pork at restaurants and the horseradish condiment you would receive at a steak house with your prime rib. 
  • Honey Pineapple Mustard: This mustard tasted to me like someone mixed mustard, honey and not yet solidified Jello Brand Orange Jello, I couldn't get past that jello after taste. Not my cup of tea.
  • Three Cheese & Onion Wedge - This cheese had  a nice onion flavor. It reminded me of French onion soup. The onion notes were not of a spicy onion, more like one that has been roasted to release it's milder taste. There were bits of green onion throughout that added a freshness to the overall flavor.
  • Big Barn Cheddar® - This cheese is what you would expect from a standard cheddar. Mild flavor, smooth texture.
  • Cheddar & Havarti Blend - This cheese was really mild in flavor. It lacked the intensity that aged Havarti could have given it. White cheddar generally has a nice bite, but this cheese didn't have any of that. It was a bland cheese.
  • Smooth N Sharp Wedge: The paprika gives this a nice tang. Out of all the cheddars in this box, I enjoyed this the most. The taste was reminiscent of a Cheese Ball .
If you are looking for a gift that is varied from a company that supports a good cause and that has limited packaging, the Home For The Holiday Gift Box has something for everyone. Although the mustards weren't spectacular, the majority of the contents were pretty tasty.

1Hunger in America 2010 National Report. Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

The views expressed here are mine & mone alone. I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of  Hickory Farms. I received a "Home for the Holidays Gift Box" in exchange for providing my honest feedback. Please read more about Renaissance Culinaire's Disclosure Policy.

10 August 2010

Baking is Poetry 402

What is Baking mean to You? Here is a poem I just jotted down in an effort to get back to food blogging again.  I want to hear from my readers --- is baking a smell, a sight or sound? A memory?


It is patience
It is understanding 
 Of ingredients
Of Environmental factors 

It is flirting
with formulations
to achieve
the ultimate
in taste combination -
that result achieved
quite complicated.

Baking is 
the warmth of a stack oven
Of the freshly
de-panned product.

Baking is
 the satisfaction
Of creation.
 Of the tears 
well in their eyes
when a taste, a smell
of home,
Of a loved one
passed on.

Baking is
the alcoholic fumes
from a container
your starter -
your poolish -
your biga -
your mix.

Baking is intoxication.
 Amber ©2010. All Rights Reserved

I also experimented with a new add-on  for GIMP called "Polar Inversion" - so I used it on the pic below. I think it encapsulates production quite well, you know, the total process seems full circle.

22 March 2010

You Voted Best Entertaining Tip - Entertaining Guru Announced 366

I have had an overwhelming response to my previous "You Be The Judge -Who Wins Best entertaining Tip", the current comment count is 155, but I have about 212 comments that await moderation.

I would like to thank everyone who voted, or who noted their choices and especially to those of you who added your own entertaining tips. This was a pretty successful contest, and I plan to do more like this.

As a recap I wanted to give you a snippet of the original post that spurned this contest.
The most successful host & hostesses have an arsenal of tricks they have tucked away in their little entertaining hats. Cabinets and pantries stand at attention year-round, stocked with dinnerware, decorations and edibles. These entertaining geniuses can layout their hospitable spreads within moments of a surprise pop-in or short notice dinner party.

If you are one of these people - lucky you, you have mastered the art of snatching a mini quiche from the masters' hand IMDB. For those of you who aren't entertaining gurus - you have much to learn, and remain the grasshoppers W of social hospitality. - Dec. 11 2009
That was really the spirit behind this contest -  with 12 bloggers inputting a total of 16 entertaining tips, I asked readers to vote for their favorite tip. The tip that stood out among the rest  for readers was YESIamblond's second contribution.

"Buy Fortune Cookies. Have each guest read fortune out loud to group adding "in bed" at the end of reading their fortune, as in "You will find much prosperity...in bed". Makes for a funny gut-busting mixer, really gets the party rolling."

YESIamblond has won a coupon for a  free Nancy's Frozen Appetizer. Congratulations & thanks so much for participating in the "Entertaining Guru" contest!

The view expressed here are mine & mone alone.Please read more about Renaissance Culinaire's Disclosure Policy

07 January 2010

You Be The Judge - Who Wins "Best Entertaining Tip"? 322

On the first week of December 2009, I had written a review on Nancy's Appetizers and challenged readers to add their best entertaining tips in the comments.  If they posted correctly, I promised I would publish their tips including a link to their site, and create a poll that you the readers would vote on, to chose the best entertaining tip from those submitted. The Best Tipper will win a free Nancy's Appetizers product.

The most successful host & hostesses have an arsenal of tricks they have tucked away in their little entertaining hats. Cabinets and pantries stand at attention year-round, stocked with dinnerware, decorations and edibles. These entertaining geniuses can layout their hospitable spreads within moments of a surprise pop-in or short notice dinner party.

If you are one of these people - lucky you, you have mastered the art of snatching a mini quiche from the masters' hand IMDB. For those of you who aren't entertaining gurus - you have much to learn, and remain the grasshoppers W of social hospitality. - Dec. 11 2009

                                                                Photo credit azrainman

Here are what the self-titled  entertaining gurus recommend:

"Buy Fortune Cookies. Have each guest read fortune out loud to group adding "in bed" at the end of reading their fortune, as in "You will find much prosperity...in bed". Makes for a funny gut-busting mixer, really gets the party rolling."

"Mini Olympics. Take whatever games you have ping-pong, Foosball, Wii, gameboys, darts, etc. and set up a mini Olympics for a party. Tell people that they must have a different partner for each game and that they must try to play against different teams each time. Give them a tally sheet to record game played, Won or Lost, and score. Tally up who won and award a girl and guy prize. Excellent way to get people mixing!"  -YESIamblond

"Once a year I have Wild Women Day. Each friend brings a friend, a food that begins with the same letter as her first name(ie Julie brings Jello) and we bring new and gently used children books that I donate to a Detoit Public School." -Diane Baum

"I always pick one signature cocktail so as not to become a bartender for the evening. I also have white & red wines available."

"I hate to run out of appetizers, so I always have extra put away in the freezer. If I see I am running low, I can just pop them in the oven." - DEBIJOT
"A 15 ounce an of refried beans, a cup of shredded, sharp cheddar cheese, a tablespoons of hot sauce, and 1/4 cup of milk can be combined and heated to make a quick and popular dip."-Belinda

"Soft music is always nice to have playing as there may be lolls in conversations by the guests and the silence will have been broken"

"Always have finger foods readily available and in convenient places to take along with napkins and small plates" - electricisland

"Download a whole selection of music onto your mp3 player specifically selected for your theme or your particular guests. Then play it during the party. Mix it up and be eclectic, go from slow ballads to instrumentals to dance music to keep your party moods changing and bubbling." - heaventrees

"Some cut up velvetta and a can of chili beans (drained) heated up in the microwave makes a fast and easy dip. Doesn't taste that bad either. Adding meat makes it better but that also adds to the time to prepare."- Barb

"I think it's fun when there's a theme. For instance for a Superbowl party you could have everyone dress in the colors of the team they're rooting for, make a cheese ball shaped like a football, give the foods football names (touchdown tacos, half time ham, field goal fajitas, kickoff kabobs, etc). You can even play a game where everyone guesses the final score! Of course there's lots of other themes, too!"- Pamela S.

 "Have a fun potluck dinner with friends. Put the names of dishes in a hat and then have each guest pick what they will bring. You can have main dish, dessert, side dishes, drinks etc." - Gianna

"On a counter in my kitchen is a three tiered stack of plates and silverware. Next to it is a wine holder that holds On one counter in my kitchen we have set up year roun2 bottles of wine and glasses. I keep appetizers made up in freezer. We can have an impromptu party in a hurry."
"I also have a drawer with different kinds of fun napkins" - rosannepm

"When I throw a party I always have music on in the background and candles lit in the main rooms. If it's cold outside I'll have the fire lit.If it's hot outside I'll make sure the house has fans on in each room,(we don't have AC)! Nancy's quiches are part of the menu every party,so simple and delicious!" - grapegoddess

"I wouldn't say this is entertaining, but sure it's fun: when my friends and I are in the mood for something sweet we have a "blender party"; we blend all kinds of fruits with all kinds of ice creams and drinks, and some of the mixtures are really good.:)" - cary

Below you will find a poll  widget - please scroll through the quotes and chose which tip you feel is the best entertaining tip. The deadline to vote is 12 a.m Pacific Time Jan. 14th 2010. Once all the votes are tabulated I will announce the winner via post and get the winner's address info to mail their prize. Please - one vote per person!

This Poll is Closed

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