Archive for the 'leftovers' Category

Home Again

My post from the plane, which I didn’t manage to put up last night, getting home late and opting to spend my pre-passing out hour hugging and kissing W:

Today I spent 22 hours on the road to get from Parma, Italy back to Calgary, Alberta. The day started far too abruptly when after getting to bed at 2 and barely sleeping, knowing my alarm was going off at 5, it didn’t. A couple of us were to meet the driver in the hotel lobby at 6 and I jolted awake at 6:12, going instantly from fast asleep to not even remotely awake yet flying around the room in a mad packing panic, throwing on clothes without a shower after having spent an epically sweaty day yesterday walking around the city. No shower, no coffee, and a 22 hour trek ahead – starting with a 2 hour drive from Parma to Milan, then flights from Milan-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Toronto, Toronto-Calgary, with transfers and customs in between.

Italy collage 1 585x349 Home Again

I’m grateful and exhausted, finally into the final two hours of my last flight, and it’s the first opportunity to open my laptop – poor row positions and folks in front of me choosing to recline their seats have kyboshed my best intentions to spin all my tales of Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma and real balsamic and wine, which I’ll still do of course, but at this point my brain cells are snoozing.

I didn’t sleep much this week – partly because we left the hotel early and came home late, and partly I’m sure due to jet lag, but mostly I think from sheer excitement and adrenaline from being in Italy. I was with a small group, and getting in as much as we could put us behind schedule most days, so that by the time we got back to the hotel, usually after 6, we’d have an hour at most to peel off sweaty clothes and check our emails before going back out again for dinner, which we walked to, and which generally wrapped up around midnight. There was a heat wave in Parma this week – every day it was between 35 and 40 with high humidity, which was exhausting, and any time in between excursions was generally spent trying to cool down and de-sweat ourselves (and our clothes).

Italy Collage 2 Home Again

Yes, my plan was to come back to the hotel each night and write and upload and post pictures, but with only five days in Italy I had a hard time not soaking up as much of it as I could. I rationalized that when I get home there will be a very noticeable lack of kitchen, so rather than recount the toast we make in the dining room and myriad takeout and charitable dinner donations, I could recount the previous week in Parma properly.

I have so much to tell you! And will start tonight, once W is in bed, after a big pot of pasta and some good bread – something that was surprisingly difficult to find in Italy. It’s true – despite everything you hear, not all the food in Italy is fantastic.

That didn’t stop me from gaining 6 pounds.

button print gry20 Home Again

June 15 2014 | leftovers | 9 Comments »

Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

thermomix biscuits Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

It’s probably no secret that my favourite room to be in is the kitchen. I spend most of my time here, and yet I’m not the kitchen gadgety type – my small appliances are limited to an ancient food processor, a blender, stand mixer and waffle iron. And slow cooker. And hand beaters – although I don’t use them for anything other than whipping cream anymore. And a hand-held immersion blender I couldn’t do without. ( Wait. I have more gadgets than I thought I did.) I really don’t need (or want) anything else – I’ve never even used a rice cooker, although many insist they are life-changing – but when I was asked to take a Thermomix for a spin I agreed, intrigued by its functionality. (Also? My blender – one with a good brand name – has always refused to blend anything unless I open the lid and coax the ingredients down with a spatula approximately elevenhundred times per smoothie. It isn’t good for much else, except the occasional margarita with chunks of ice that prevent it being sipped through a straw.)

Thermomix 1 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

And so one arrived by courier. I unpacked it, curious that the machine has been around for 15 years, and yet still so unknown even I made the common mistake of confusing it with a Vitamix – those high performance blenders I’ve been tempted to invest in for years, since everyone who owns one seems to be unable to live without it. Turns out a Thermomix is more than just a blender – it can do practically everything in the kitchen, including warm things, cook things, knead things, pulverize things and make ice cream (whoops – I have an ice cream machine too), which is perhaps why it sat on my countertop untouched for over a month.

I avoided eye contact with it, working around it and its accessories until I realized I had to either send it packing or spend some time getting to know it better.

thermomix manual Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

So here’s the thing: the Thermomix is a very Jetsons-esque machine that looks like no other kitchen appliance I’m familiar with. It has a stainless steel canister in the middle that’s sized halfway between a blender and food processor, a bunch of buttons, and a few attachments that don’t at all resemble the usual slicing and grating blades that come with your average food processor. There’s a spaceship looking thing that can sit on top if you want it to, and another round mixing bowl looking thing with straight sides, and a fancy paddle beater and spatula. It comes with its own cookbook, instruction manual and DVD, and when you buy one – it is a bit of an investment – you get a one on one tutorial to walk you through how it works. (Which is a great idea – I’m sure I’m not the only one who ignores instruction manuals.) I did this by Skype, from my laptop set on the kitchen counter beside the machine, and after learning how to take the pieces on and off, lock and unlock the lid and all that stuff, I made fresh lemonade, focaccia dough, soup and raspberry sorbet in under half an hour.

Strawberry rhubarb Lemonade Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

The way it makes lemonade is very cool: you quarter whole lemons, add them to the machine with powdered sugar (it dissolves more quickly) and berries or rhubarb or watermelon or fresh mint if you want a more exotic lemonade, then blitz the lot and pour it through its strainer lid into a pitcher full of ice. Done. I like my lemonade tart, and the zest adds so much more flavour than the juice alone – you’re left with this little basket of pulp you can dump in the compost bin. This thing must be killer at cocktails. It blasted W’s smoothie into oblivion in approximately 8 seconds, without requiring me to pulse it repeatedly to eliminate any evidence of kale among the banana and berries. (When you use the turbo button – and it’s kind of cool to have a blender with turbo functionality – it runs at over 10,000 rotations per minute – 250 km/h – faster than a sports car.)

I started out just using it as a blender/food processor, to puree things like hummus and batter for crepes and puffed pancakes. Just the familiars. And I made a batch of real vanilla sugar, in which you blitz dried-out vanilla beans right into sugar, rather than tuck a bean into a jar to infuse it. You wind up with a far more intense flavour in pale ash-coloured sugar with little black bits. (You can do this in the food processor, but I had to put mine through a sieve afterward – it didn’t pulverize the vanilla beans very well.) It’s vanilla sugar extreme!

thermomix vanilla sugar Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

But: among the very cool things about it is the fact that it cooks. I didn’t quite get this part at first – I was a little intimidated by the instruction manual, but powered through – and once I actually paid attention (this can be hard for me), it was easy to get the hang of. You set the time you want it to go (seconds or minutes) and then the temperature, and the speed you want it to be gently stirred/aggressively mixed/blitzed. (Read: no standing at the stovetop stirring!) The blade can be set to go forwards (sharp!) or in reverse (dull!), which comes in handy when you’re kneading bread dough – but I’ll get to that later. I now know what all the buttons do – I can’t say the same for my camera or the stereo.

Thermomix Soup Collage1 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

So for example – you can put onions, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, ginger, garlic and curry paste in the Thermomix (even chop it in there first!!), set it to cook for 10 minutes, add stock and let it go a little longer, then puree the lot right in the machine and pour it into a mug. Seriously. I’m thinking this has huge potential for college students with no kitchens. (Or me a month from now with no kitchen.)

(I’m feeling a little like Vince from Slap Chop. Whatevs. I don’t think you have a boring life.)

I made another batch of sorbet – just to refresh my memory, you know – and without having the recipe, dumped most of a bag of frozen raspberries into the machine with some icing sugar and blitzed it to a brilliant pink, intensely tart sorbet. Realizing I had some cream in the fridge that needed using, I added that too – and in about a minute had some of the best ice cream I’ve eaten since Tofino.

raspberry sorbet Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

To explain – it doesn’t have freezing capabilities or a freezer insert, it’s just that the blade is powerful enough to process frozen berries into ice cream while they’re still solid. (Also in my freezer: strawberries, blackberries and mango, which I’m thinking I’ll turn into sorbet with coconut milk.) It comes out soft but scoopable; a recipe for chocolate ice cream in the Thermomix cookbook called for melting chocolate in the machine, then simmering and stirring it into custard (also in the machine), then freezing the mixture in a tray, cutting it into frozen cubes and putting it back in the Thermomix to process into ice cream.

Thermomix ice cream collage Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

I had heard it’s powerful enough to grind grains – and even dried beans, like chickpeas, into flour. (!!!) And it is. I think I’d kill my food processor by attempting this.

chickpea flour Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

Home grain mills can be pricey – it’s very cool that this has that functionality. It can even blitz regular granulated sugar into powdered sugar – which means I won’t be borrowing it from the neighbours anymore when I run out. (Also? Regular sugar is cheaper.)

Chocolava cookies 2 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

Knowing how powerful the machine was made me want to experiment with nut butters. You can make peanut/almond/cashew butter in a food processor, but it takes a good few minutes to get it past the point of really finely ground nuts. The Thermomix did it in seconds.

Thermomix peanutella 2 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive
Thermomix peanutella 3 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

I put in some dry roasted peanuts, turned it on for about ten seconds, and had this:

Thermomix peanutella 4 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

Another fifteen produced this – wonderful, pure nut butter. I did batches with pecans and almonds and cashews -all you need is pinch of salt and a drizzle of canola or nut oil if it needs to be coaxed along.

Thermomix peanutella 5 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

And then! Peanutella. Seriously. Just add cocoa and icing sugar.

Thermomix peanutella 6 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

The first blitz produced this thick, dough-like mixture that would have been perfect as a filling for homemade chocolate-peanut butter truffles. Or rolled into balls and nibbled in the middle of the night. But I added a splash of canola oil to loosen things up a bit, and in approximately twelve seconds had smooth, spreadable peanutella:

Thermomix peanutella 7 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

It took awhile, but once we were forced to spend a few hours in the same room interacting with each other, I fell in love. (Interestingly, I wound up with Mike the same way.)

Thermomix peanutella 1 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

Swap in the butterfly paddle and it can whip cream and egg whites like a boss.

Pavlova 6 585x340 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

Another thing I love: it has a built-in scale, so you can hit the tare button and add each ingredient right to the canister without need for measuring cups – and know you’ll have far more accurate measurements, especially when baking.

thermomix bread Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

I made a loaf of bread from the Thermomix cookbook – which is European, and so calls for some ingredients we don’t consider common here, and lists baking temperatures only in celcius – but is a good starting point to get a feel for what the machine can do. (Perhaps they need a Canadianized Thermomix cookbook. Ahem.) It has a dough setting – the same blades rotate backwards, on their dull sides. Even cooler – you can proof your yeast by putting it into the canister with water and a pinch of sugar and setting it on warm. You then add your flour – using the scale if you want – and let it knead the dough in a warm environment as well, which kind of kickstarts the rising process.

Bonus: the machine has grippy rubber suction cups on the bottom, which keeps it in place on the countertop as it works – no rocking or walking across the counter to the edge, as some other appliances are wont to do.

thermomix cookies 5 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

I thought I’d do a batch of chocolate chip cookies, just for research purposes. I loved that I could chop the chocolate and nuts for a few seconds, then grind a cup of oats into nutty flour.

thermomix oats Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

I was curious how it would beat butter, sugar and eggs. Two minutes on a low speed produced this consistency:

thermomix cookies 1 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

And another two made it even better.

thermomix cookies 2 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

Then all I had to do was add the flour, ground oats, baking soda, chocolate and nuts and set it to stir for ten seconds or so, and scoop the dough directly out of the bowl to bake. Hm.

thermomix cookies 3 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

I bet it makes whipped shortbread like a champ. As a food writer, I might keep doing dough in the stand mixer, but this is a great alternative – especially for home cooks who just want to make a batch of cookies from scratch with minimal mess.

thermomix cookies 4 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

And then! I made a batch of Meyer lemon marmalade entirely in the Thermomix – no stovetop required. It heated it, stirred it, and it turned out beautifully – without having to stir or worry about scorching or add pectin. It chopped and cooked in one bowl. I am all about minimal dishes.

thermomix marmalade 1 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

Roughly following this recipe, I chopped an orange and a couple Meyer lemons, added the juice and zest of a regular lemon (too much pith and membrane in that one to add it whole) and chopped it in the Thermomix (I chopped it a little more finely than I meant – I’m not used to this power – but then again, I do like it with this fine texture, rather than with enormous chunks of orange peel), then added some water and cooked it on high for 10 minutes.

thermomix marmalade 2 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

Added sugar, cooked it 20 minutes longer, and it came out perfect. No more heating.

thermomix marmalade Collage Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

If anything, when I pulled the jar out for breakfast this morning it was a bit too set – citrus membranes and seeds are a great source of pectin, so blending them in (rather than simmer them in cheesecloth) is ultra-effective. But hey, I can make jam in this thing! Then just pour it into jars.

thermomix marmalade 5 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

And yes – I made the biscuits too – after blitzing grains into flour. I feel like an instant homesteader.

thermomix marmalade7 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

I figured I should take the attachments for a spin – I don’t usually steam things, but had it in mind to pick up a stack of bamboo steamer baskets so I could make steamed pork buns. Turned out the Varoma attachment (the spaceship basket with a steamer tray insert) worked beautifully.

steamed pork buns 4 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

And because I used a Jamie Oliver recipe that called for 500 g of flour, I could add it directly to the bowl using the scale. I mixed up the dough (flour + baking powder + coconut milk), filled them (shredded chicken or pork + ginger + cilantro + BBQ or hoisin sauce), popped them in the steamer attachment and they were done in 20 minutes.

steamed pork buns 2 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

The only thing I would change, from a user perspective, is to make the little clear plastic plug in the lid – which is also, brilliantly, a measuring cup – somehow lock into place. On my blender, you turn it to open – having it loose makes it easy to take in and out to add ingredients, but when you take the lid off and put it upside down (because there’s usually food splattered on the underside) the middle part falls out. Totally not a big deal, just a little feedback for the design department. And because I feel like it’s all gushing here.

pork buns 2 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

The nitty gritty: Yes, the Thermomix has a hefty price tag – $1599, which is likely a deterrent for many – and one of the reasons I was hesitant to take it for a spin in the first place. (But on the other hand, people seem willing to pay for the performance of a Vitamix.) And I do love that it’s a firm $1599 – no sales, no fluctuating prices – it is what it is. Honestly, looking at new ovens and fridges for this kitchen makeover (which no, has not begun yet) is putting things into perspective in terms of what kitchen appliances cost. The Thermomix is kind of a mid-range machine – more than a food processor, less than an oven, and does all these other cool things. If it can replace my food processor and blender, my digital scale, hand mixer and potentially my stand mixer (although I do love my stand mixer – I think I’ll keep it, but I’m sure it will be put to work less often as I love the idea of kneading dough in a warm environment), acts as a grain mill and could do the job of my hand-held immersion blender and ice cream machine? That’s a bigger deal.

Saving myself counter and storage space is also a pretty big deal these days.

If you have questions about the Thermomix, blogger Valerie Lugonja in Edmonton is the rep for Alberta – she knows all, and has plenty of recipes on her website. She’s the one who gave me my skype tutorial, and can answer all Thermomix-related questions, including directing you to a rep in your area. Talk to her! And ask me too – I’ll be doing much more playing with this – I know it has far more potential (up next: risotto!) and I just may have it set up in the dining room once the kitchen gets torn out.

* Yes! Thermomix Canada sent me a machine at no cost to myself – although I was fully prepared to send it back if I didn’t love it. I can’t afford the counter space.

pixel Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive
button print gry20 Taking the Thermomix for a Test Drive

April 14 2014 | leftovers | 145 Comments »

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