Grocery store inventory quirks

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

This weekend I was making a quick ingredient run to get pastry making ingredients together for a crazy afternoon of cake making. My smudged list included the standards- cream, chocolate, eggs, sugar and gelatin (for making the easy egg white free style of gelatin stabilized whipped cream mousse).

Much to my surprise I discovered that my neighborhood Whole Foods doesn’t carry gelatin. Having lived several years in Eugene with vegetarian grocery stores, this is a tactic that doesn’t surprise me. However, I was completely taken by surprise that a grocery store with a meat section wouldn’t carry gelatin!

“Not even kosher, fish-derived gelatin?” I whined.

In my argumentative way- I’d rather have the whole animal (hoofs and all) used if we are going to sacrifice it for food. Whole Foods right?

In a taste of my own medicine way- I really don’t like not being able to make my own choices regarding food ethics.

Have you run into grocery store peculiarities like this?

“I’m making magic shell for Allison’s birthday present!” I excitedly whispered to my coworkers all last week. Allison’s recent stories of indulging in this childhood treat as her comfort food had put this easily dismissed ice cream treat front and center in my mind.

“Oh wow- I haven’t had that since I was a kid!” was the most common reply I received. However, it was the question from my Chinese coworker that really made my brow furrow in an attempt at a reply: “What is Magic Shell?”

Beyond the mystery industry ingredients used by Smucker- what is Magic Shell’s functionality?

make your own magic shell topping Why not just melt up chocolate and pour that over ice cream? It will harden into a shell with snap, just like Magic Shell. One can do that, I definitely have. However, melting chocolate for ice cream tends to yield a topping that would be more accurately described as Magic Glop. The thick layer that melted chocolate over ice cream yields is a formidable force to your spoon- one that will squish the ice cream underneath- not exactly a thin shell.

Additionally, chocolate’s temperature range in which it remains a fast running syrup like liquid is a small window. One that a teenager at a microwave will likely have little patience to experiment with on a weekly (or daily) basis. A free flowing liquid like syrup is easier to pour on ice cream to achieve a thin shell easily snapped with a spoon. Hence, why there is such a thing as Magic Shell in the world.

All this translates into a good science lab example on melting points of mixtures. The melting point of a mixture will be lower than the melting point of mixtures components individually, a property exploited by this topping. Homemade magic shell will melt easier than chocolate, and stay liquid longer too.

How to Make Magic Shell at Home

Food blogger Naomi Poe has a recipe on her blog the Accidental Vegetarian that sounds like the best way to make magic shell. It doesn’t use butter, as a lot of other recipes online do, but instead uses coconut oil, our favorite multitasker! Theoretically, with the correct chocolate, you can even make Magic Shell vegan (the mind boggles at the discongruities in that statement).

Poe’s basic recipe is to simply melt together coconut oil (1 cup) and eating chocolate (1 – 2 cups), adding more chocolate than coconut oil.
At home, I found the following weights to work well for measuring out the ingredients for the Magic Shell recipe:

* I feel that using a touch of unrefined virgin coconut oil helps aid in the elusive “fake” flavor that store bought Magic Shell imparts. If you really want to go the nostalgia route, try out 80 g refined coconut oil + 20 g unrefined virgin coconut oil.

Combine the ingredients in a pyrex or glass bowl and melt in the microwave till almost, but not completely liquid. Stir to finish the melting outside of the microwave.

Pour melted mixture into a squeeze bottle or recycled pancake or maple syrup container. The mixture does not need to be refrigerated for storage. It will be liquid at room temperature in the warm summer months, and will be hard during the winter.

To reheat the Magic Shell to drizzle on your favorite frozen dessert, heat in the microwave (~ 40 seconds twice at 80% power), or sit the closed container in a cup of hot water for about 10 minutes.

Making different flavors and varieties of Magic Shell

Starting from the basic recipe format, several varieties of Magic Shell can be made in your kitchen.

Altering the fat affects flavor
Coconut oil comes in two basic varieties, refined and virgin. Refined coconut oil acts as a neutral fat with minimal flavor. Using virgin unrefined coconut oil imparts a light coconut flavor.

Altering the chocolate changes flavor
Any chocolate can be used in this recipe: bittersweet, semisweet, milk, or even white. Heck, you could melt your favorite dagoba bar or other high end gourmet flavored chocolate bar and use that in your magic shell. Xocolatl Magic Shell with chilies and nibs? Yes please!

Adding fat soluble flavors
Oil based flavors will blend easily with your Magic Shell since it is a mixture of mostly fat. Food grade essential oils are great for this project for that very reason, just use them sparingly as they are very potent. Some flavoring extracts found in grocery stores are oil based vs alcohol based. Just check their labels. I didn’t test alcohol based flavorings. They will probably work, though may run the risk of not staying in solution when the mixture hardens.

Natural sources of flavor (bacon) outside from extracts can be gently heated in coconut oil (bacon) and left in the cooled fat to imbue their flavor (bacon) This is a method used in perfume making as some scents are more soluble in fat than alcohol. Cinnamon, teas, and other whole spices may yield up different flavor notes under this method of extraction.

Adding color to your Magic Shell
Using your typical food coloring to make pretty magic shell colors with the white chocolate will be a bit frustrating. Average food coloring is water based, and fights combining with all that melted fat. If you can find a paste food coloring that is fat based, use it with the white chocolate magic shell for a special colored treat.

Different flavor ideas for homemade Magic Shell

I’m a sucker for variety, and this is a great recipe to play with. Simply toggling a flavor with different varieties of chocolate will yield nice variety.

See how tantalizing this project gets? One thing is certain, stock up on ice cream now before you resort to eating this off of frozen spoons.

Jar of homemade buffalo jerkyAfter an organic beef jerky binge last week, I found myself peering into an empty bag, not quite believing I was sold 3 oz as a supposed three servings.

That gobble session cemented my motivation to make Alton Brown’s box fan jerky with buffalo from our Farmers’ Market.

Strips of marinated meat are arranged in air filters and bungee corded to a box fan, where they dry for 12 or more hours. It works! The next day I had beautiful translucent strips of salty spicy jerky.

Next time I’ll try a sweeter marinade and make sure to keep my cuts thin (the freezing trick works excellently to help cut the meat thin).

More Jerky Ideas

from the New Season’s website:

New Seasons Market is honored to host cookbook author Deborah Madison as we celebrate the 10th anniversary edition of her book “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone,” on Thursday, Nov. 29, from 6:30 to 8:30 at our Cedar Hills Crossing store (map).

“Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” was named the Julia Child Cookbook of the year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals and received the James Beard Award.

“If you cook vegetarian all the time, it’s not so hard of course, because it’s a habit,” Deborah writes in the introduction to her book, “But if you’re a ‘vegophile’ like me – you love vegetables and cook vegetarian most of the time, but you also cook fish, an occasional rib eye, or roast chicken – it’s harder because you have to shift gears and mentally start from scratch each time.”

Join us as our Demo Department staff serves tastings of Deborah’s olive oil polenta cake along with warm cups of spiced cider. In addition, our Deli at Cedar Hills Crossing will be serving soups created from Deborah’s recipes. Deborah will give a short presentation and take questions before signing copies of her book, which will be available for purchase at the event.

Deborah and her recipes have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today Weekend, The Boston Globe Magazine, Vegetarian Times and more.

To sign up for this event please call 503.641.4181.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

…at the grocery store.

Mom to daughter (who is holding a package of deli sliced Tofurkey): No honey, there are no vegetarian Germans.

My friend Martin Golding is happy to report that deep frying is an excellent way to make up sufficient quantities of bacon for large gatherings of hungry campers.

One of his tasks this past weekend was to make breakfast for ~70 people in a camping environment. With a deep fry set up, Martin was able to crisp up 13 pounds of bacon in less than an hour.

Will deep frying bacon make it unnecessarily greasy? One person out of the 70 thought so. If this were a vegetarian free event, Martin would have addressed that issue by deep frying it in unhydrogenated lard.

I’m sorry- and you were still chewing on the concept of bacon being deep fried let alone in lard… I’ll give you a moment to digest the image of a bacon & lard melange.

As if crispy bacon wasn’t enough reward, the left over cooking oil picks up a smoky bacon flavor that is reportedly excellent for making potato crisps.

Deep fry update from Martin:
“Premium bacon contains less water, and cooks faster.
Eggs can be deep fried, but it’s not pretty. I’ll be working on that.”

More large scale cooking recipes and ideas

Best of Eugene Awards

Friday, October 27, 2006

Special best of Eugene cake Imagine my surprise to open up the Eugene Weekly and find that I got second place in the category of Eugene’s best blog.

Really, its an honor to be nominated- I’ll bake y’all a cake as soon as I get a chance! This pictured one is a Sweet Life cake made for the cover shot that displays cute little bits of Eugene. If you look closely, you can spot a tie dyed t-shirt on the bottom tier.

Now- on to the tasties: the Forkin’ Good category:


Continue reading Best of Eugene Awards.

Maturity and Changing Taste Buds

Monday, October 16, 2006

Openface Bacon Avocado TomatoNothing like a birthday to realize something you’ve been wrong about all these years. Sigh.

For 32 years I’ve been a proud and outloud tomato hater. Oooo, especially raw ones- my goodness!

So, what’s happening here?

As Sweets and I were traveling in Japan, we were also taking in Anthony Bourdain’s essays on eating in, the Nasty Bits. One point we couldn’t agree more on was our horror over travelers who refuse to partake in an offered food item by a host. Whether you may be a vegetarian or a staunch no mustard sort of person- we saw the refusal of food as a guest as very rude. Feeling so righteous in our absolutism we then found ourselves bit by bit being faced with these same opportunities to expand our own food comfort.

Sweets really got ambitious without making much fuss over it. First with an offering of homemade pickles at Chiiori (Sweets doesn’t do pickle- no way Jose). Then he took to ordering a beef tendon specialty in Osaka. Amazed and proud I almost lost my cool in a fit of giggles when he strongly considered a skewer of chicken cartilage.

Openface Bacon Avocado TomatoAnd then my turn unexpectedly arrived in the sushi bar Nobu in Hiroshima. Sitting at the swank glowing counter, we ordered adventurously including silly sounding creations like Mexican Sushi. What arrived with this order was a plate of sliced sushi roll piled high with glistening tomatoes specked with garlic. Sweets caught my sharp intake of breath as our conversation with the sushi chef halted to take in the food offering of she-who-musn’t-be-eaten: raw tomatoes! It came down to a sliver of a second long thought process: sushi chef = good sushi, therefore trust in sushi chef is high, therefore just try em. Plus, Sweets wouldn’t let me live it down if I didn’t.

I had to eat crow… they were good, especially so with the garlic. Like juicy spaghetti sauce in my mouth. It was earth shattering

- though something I left to Japan.

Until my coworker John gave me two of his heirloom tomatoes from his garden, like he was calling my bluff. Trusting his taste buds, I couldn’t back down from his challenge to try these out state-side. A slice of soft ciabatta spread with mayonnaise, topped with avocado and tomato sprinkled with bacon and salt… its sweet and salty and savory, like summer.

In all this food enlightenment, we’ve never been disappointed. I can’t help but wonder what will I relearn next?

Beefing it with the Baltic BBQ Boyz

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Proud RyanSweets and I were lounging around, contemplating our first weekend at home in two months, when we were given an invitation we couldn’t refuse.

My high school / college / survived our twenties- friend Ryan Ositis was looking for crew members to serve on his BBQ team, the Baltic BBQ Boyz. A special event was demanding his entry, the first ever Kobe Beef America BBQ Cook-Off in Bend, Oregon, and he was in need of friends not afraid of getting their hands meaty.

Sure I typically eat vegetarian, and flirt with veganism- but only because of its MacGyver-like charm… this all in no way trumps the curiosity over Kobe Beef! Having recently been spotted in Japan, we wanted our own taste of this loch-ness-monster of meat.

What ensued was a fun weekend of motorcycle riding, catching up with friends, pregnant belly patting, and meat festing.

Pork Shot

Made 4 briskets, wet smoked overnight. Ryan camped out with the smokers and babysat them all night long. The brisket was *excellent* juicy, beautiful smoke ring… 30 lbs of huge beef ribs were cooked the morning of, to be handed out to the crowd. We also received a last minute gift of three boston butts which we dry rubbed, pulled and dressed with a paprika based vinegar sauce…. deee lish.

Even though Ryan has won the Grand Champion title at this year’s Kansas City Barbeque Society Cookoff in Chehalis, and thought the brisket came out excellent, he didn’t place very well at this event. The scores were a bit dubious, esp after we heard that the judges received no direction or instruction. For example, the winner’s scores under “taste” ranged (1-10) from 2 to 9. So pretty inconsistent scoring from what we glimpsed, which makes learning from these events more difficult.

…but, we had a blast! Ryan’s attitude kept our weekend great- winning is not the goal, and really keeps the fact that he is a first year amateur in perspective with everything. We turned down several catering offers and pondered a couple marriage propsals, so all in all I think we did well :)

Really fun, but exhausting event.
Giving meat to hungry enthusiastic people is always a pleasure.

Camping Meals for Over 100 People

Monday, September 4, 2006

Our camping trip meal for over 100 took quite a bit of planning to make our dinner hosting possible. I have never assembled dinner for this many people before, but acting as an impromptu helper at a friends wedding wetted Sweets and my appetit for the job!

Our group of motorcycle friends we held this event with assembled a crew of bosses to help organize our group camp. For example, one boss was needed for supplying ice daily. Another boss role is emptying the trash containers. As my friend Shasta and I were new to this level of feeding, our menu idea was submitted to an email list composed of all the bosses and helpers to review for camp-worthiness.

In email discussions, we decided that this crowd is traditionally one that requires meat at a dinner, so no all-vegetarian meal like I would have liked in a camping situation. Grilled meat was going to be a center piece to the meal. Also, we wanted a meal that would be good to stomachs that have been in the heat all day and will be out riding their bikes all the next day.

Inspiration: antipasto dishes, light foods for picking at in warm weather, easy to eat with one utensil, good items for individually building a huge glorified salad. Good items with grilled meat.

Menu Deciding

We submitted to the email list our menu of

Two previous suggested items I struck from the menu for lack of inspiration on my part were tabouli and a marinated cucumber salad. The inclusion of tzatziki, a traditional yogurt, garlic, cucumber dip, was suggested by one of the email participants who was particularly craving it. My co-boss added a selection of cheeses and roasted garlic as part of a pre-dinner platter we could set out on the tables before the service line was put into service.

Dessert was already in the mind of my co-Boss and she took to the assignment of making baklava like a duck to water. We were told of an attendee who was sensitive to walnuts, so two sheets of cashew cayene baklava were made as well. Additionally, we were craving a dessert we had tasted at a previous motorcycle party that was a coconut milk and cream based panna cotta that was also low carb. We easily added that item on to the menu, with the aggreement from the dessert creator to prep it for us, and were ready to roll with the next step of planning!

Serving Sizes and Consumption Estimates

Our next step in planning was paying attention to serving sizes in a recipe. This is a detail to pay special attention to, as when a meal is ramped up to serve 100, serving size can become a huge issue. I made small versions of some of the recipes, the Marinated Onions being an example, and then measured how many servings I could get out if it. Making this item up ahead of time alerted me to two good points: 1) serving utensil often dictates the serving size, and 2) some items are better prepared at home and brought already made.

Presenting the menu items to the email list gave opportunity for the next round of feedback: consumption estimates for each menu item. This assumes that not every person in attendance is going to want 2 slices of bread, or 2 Tbs of tzatziki. Here are the estimates for the side items in the menu:

Shopping List

One of the planners for this event has access to using Costco’s business ordering to submit our whole trip’s food order to a local Costco for our ingredients. Each recipe was scaled up, our friday night dinner scaling up to serve 115. A shopping list was created, listing food items in quantities that corresponded to the units on food packages (oz, liters, etc). Also determined at this point is which items Costco may carry in their store, but not offer through business ordering. Our meal required picking up several items from different srores (dolmas, roasted peppers, pinenuts, greek yogurt, specialty cheeses).

My working spreadsheet of recipe quantities and shopping list is available here.

Written Prep

As a just in case measure, written out preps were created for each side dish. They included the folowing categories:

To facilitate the actual prep, I gathered all the ingredients, service containers, and preparation tools in groups by dish on the working tables available at the camp site. Each area also had with it the written prep instructions.

My written prep instructions from the meal area available here, as a Word document.

After Thoughts

Things I wish I had done for my crew:

Estimates on consumption:
We were close! My co-boss upped her amount of meats at the last minute being afraid we would run out of food. We ended up having alot of leftover meat, even after ransacking it for lunch the next day. The original meat amounts (as included in the spread sheet) would have been sucifient. As far as the sides went, we had extra: bread, salad, cucumbers, and tzatziki. We could have used more: hummus, dolmas, marinated onions. We had extra baklava too, but then again, that is never a bad thing with regard to camping munchies!

Having a good bunch of volunteers made this meal work out really well. Our planning paid off and we were able to easily prep our menu items with out being rushed. It was fun- as feeding hungry people generally has been in my experience.

I look forward to doing another meal of this size. Now what to put on the menu for next time? Hmmmm….

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