Tuesday, February 23, 2021

How Social Media’s Move Into ‘Short Form’ is Changing the Food World

 How Social Media’s Move Into ‘Short Form’ is Changing the Food World

In the twenty years since it first made its way onto our monitors, social media has undergone such a remarkable transformation – both in terms of its significance in our day to day lives, and its capabilities and value in the wider contexts of the world wide web – that we could be forgiven for barely recognising it against its comparatively humble roots today. 

From Facebook to relative newcomer TikTok, the platforms many of us utilise on a daily basis in order to connect with friends, family and strangers from far flung places all appear – at least on the surface – to be incredibly different. There is, however, a growing sense among users and industry commentators alike that each of these entities is entering into a period of homogeneity – one marked in particular by ‘short form’ content. 

Instagram and Facebook each boast a ‘Stories’ feature, while TikTok is built entirely upon the notion of short form video and audio content. YouTube, while not a social media platform in a tradition sense, is also embracing this format – as is Spotify, which recently unveiled their own Stories feature with which creators can enhance their outreach to fans:

So, whatever your opinion on the differences – or lack thereof – between social media platforms, the trend toward short-form video content is plain to see. While almost every interest, genre, trope and style imaginable has been explored via this medium, the transformation that the world of food and drink has seen is, arguably, head and shoulders above any other genre. 

Food, Tech, and the Call for Creativity

It is a sad fact of life that, while we can utilise cutting edge technology recreate real-world places and experiences with stunning accuracy, even the most advanced gadgets and devices remain incapable of capturing the spirit of food for viewers. We are no closer to digitalising taste and smell than we were decades ago – much to the chagrin of food stylists and advertising creatives everywhere. 

As a result, transferring anything food-related onto the web calls for extreme levels of creativity. From filling digital recipes with award-worthy photography, to lacing popular games like casino.com/ca/slots/berry-burst-max graphical renderings more appetising than the real thing, truly evoking the spirit of food – and appealing to our passion for it – calls for a deceptively high level of skill, attention to detail, and technical knowhow. 

So, how does short form content fall into this?

Short Form and Food

Digital recipes, whether written or captured on film, are nothing new, but in the early days of amateur content creation, these videos tended to follow the format first created by television chefs. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this – while they may have had their heyday back in the 80s and 90s, television chefs remain staples on every network out there. 

Still, the internet is far fickler. It is famous for shortening our attention spans and, in order to keep up with audiences, creators need to be able to capture the essence of something much quicker – and in fewer words – than a forty-five minute television segment would allow for. 

Buzzfeed saw great success, for instance, in offering a sped-up, birds-eye-view of their recipes – something which achieved virality more than once in the early days of short-form:

With more and more people spending their downtime on content sharing apps like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, then, condensing entire recipes into their salient points, editing out extraneous details, and focusing only on what will catch the eye of the viewer – in this case, the food itself – has transformed the ways in which we offer our followers recipes. Creators can find their niche more quickly, whether that’s offering vegan substitutions or sugar-free alternatives, and they can focus on it without waxing lyrical just to kill time. 

Creators who do not have the space or funds to create lavish sets – or the stage presence to carry almost an hour singlehandedly – now have more opportunities than ever before to stand out, and to appeal to what it is that internet users truly want: succinctness, originality, and no wasted words. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Butter Pecan Thumbprints

These Butter Pecan Thumbprints were the perfect treat for my grandma's (low key) 85th birthday and were super simple to make thanks to a cake mix and the super flavorful @croftersorganic Wild Blueberry Spread. The spread has a great texture and a fresh flavour that isn't as sweet as regular jam.

Now that the end is in sight for my university courses, I've had the opportunity to clear out my pantry and try some things out that I didn't have time for the last few months. I stocked up on quite a few "shortcut" mixes for baking last year, one including a Butter Pecan cake mix that I intended to use as the base for N's Nana Cake on his birthday but promptly forgot about. That said, we don't let things go to waste here, and when Crofter's sent me a huge jar of their Wild Blueberry Spread I immediately thought about converting the cake mix into thumbprint cookies. 

Thumbprints have a long history in my family - I can remember many a bake sale, Christmas and Easter where these cookies would be laid out with their arrays of colourful fruit fillings. That said, most of the "cookie" portion of those treats was rather... boring. A relatively standard sugar cookie dough, not offensive but not spectacular either. Call me weird, but those are my least favourite cookie doughs. Give me something with flavour and texture that compliments the other ingredients! Since Crofter's sent me blueberry spread that tasted more like the fruit and not sugar (as can be the case with other jams), I wanted something rich and warm to compliment it. Spotting the cake mix gave me an instant idea, because not only does it have the rich nutty flavours built into the mix but a cookie dough can hold onto other tweaks (like adding ground pecans and nutmeg to the batter, which I did here). All I can say is once the cookies cool enough to handle and eat (a surprisingly long time given the fruit filling), the combination of aromas are beyond indulgent. If mom hadn't come across the rest of the jar and started using it daily on toast (including a bread I made with the jam baked in), I'd be picking up another cheap mix to try other flavour combos!

If you don't know the Crofter's brand of jams and fruit spreads, let me tell you - they are worth seeking out. Normally I see "normal sized" jars of their spreads in the grocery store, but they emailed to let me know that starting this month Costco is stocking HUGE 660mL jars of certain spreads, which is fantastic given the need for more packed lunches these days. Crofter's is a Canadian brand which is still family run, a rarity these days, and they seek Canadian fruit to make their products. The blueberries in the jar I got were all Quebec harvested and there were enough left whole to really hammer home the "fruity" nature of the spread. Crofter's Wild Blueberry Premium Spread also has 1/3 less sugar than regular jams, while adhering to USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project standards. With organic cane sugar and no HFCS it is also a sweet treat that you can feel better indulging in at breakfast.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Tofu Hakka Noodles

Tofu Hakka Noodles are a take out meal made better at home. Snow peas, carrots, peppers and onions marry with marinated tofu and chewy hakka noodles in a sweet, sour and savoury sauce for a meal that can be on the table in under an hour.

Throughout the last year or so, N and I began getting takeout from one of my local small restaurants in lieu of "dining out" for date nights. Luckily, this restaurant has managed (so far) to survive with delivery and curbside pick up, and we are happy to support them when we want something "special". One of the meals N always picks when we order (we get extra, 'cause leftovers) is Chicken Hakka Noodles - springy, yellowy noodles stir fried with veggies and chunks of chicken in a ginger-garlic sauce. The noodles soak up the flavour as they sit, and as like most Chinese food it tastes better after hanging out overnight in the fridge.

Of course, restaurant food like this is often pretty heavy with oil and lacking in veggies, and I was really interested in seeing if I could make a version of N's favourite noodles at home with some of his favourites, including snow peas and tofu. I'm lucky enough to have a few international grocers near work where I could pick up any ingredients I was missing (noodles and tofu, this time) for an insanely good price, and with N's help we sliced, julienned, cubed, tossed and whisked until we had a bright, flavourful pan of perfectly seasoned and sauced stir-fry. I'm always a little tickled that both N and my mom (who shared the meal and leftovers with him) pick tofu over meat most times they have the chance to, since when I first started cooking for them both tofu was a rather maligned ingredient! 

One of my favourite things about this recipe is that it is so variable in terms of additions. I had fresh veggies on hand this time, but a good frozen stir-fry mix is perfect (and affordable) too. By making sure the ingredients are julienned or diced, you can ensure the whole recipe is lightning fast and ready to go. If you do the tofu ahead of time (I often batch-marinate when I buy the blocks because they're large enough for multiple recipes) you can have everything done in an hour. Even if you don't marinate the tofu, this stir fry has enough flavour to get away with it! 

Cooking for N and I has become part of our "date night" routine, and I love it! How do you connect with others during these times? Have you tried to recreate any restaurant dishes at home? Let me know in the comments!

Notes about the recipe: Dark soy sauce is thicker and slightly sweeter than regular soy sauce. If you substitute, you may need to add a pinch of sugar. Hakka noodles are thin, springy, bright yellow noodles that are usually sold like fresh pasta in plastic packages. If you can't find them, substitute cooked spaghetti or even ramen noodles (without the seasoning packet). The Schezuan pepper is optional, but awesome in this recipe. Add any other veggies you like or want - the ones I chose are more traditional in take out here.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Multigrain Apple Sourdough

Multigrain Apple Sourdough is a giant loaf cooked in a Dutch oven for extra crusty goodness. Sweetened with apple juice and studded with local apples, it is a wonderful treat with butter or jam in the morning or with tea in the afternoon.

I cannot believe it took me so long to write about this wonderful bread. To be fair, December is always kind of insane around here, but since I've made (and refined) this recipe three times now I feel it is only fair to make it the first bread post of 2021! 

When N and I went apple picking in October, I knew this bread from Green Healthy Cooking had to be on my list of things to make. Normally, the apples we pick are firm and dense, perfect for baking because they don't ooze moisture - but this year they let me down in my first loaf. While the outside was beautifully burnished, the residual moisture in the fruit made the centre soggy and unsuitable for anything without a good toast. After figuring that out, though, I made sure to roast up a bunch of apple cubes and resolved to perfect the dough - I can't resist the combination of apples, maple and whole grains because it truly reminds me of my mom's apple squares. The roasting turned out to be the key! Not only did it remove the excess moisture in the apples, but it concentrated the sugars making them taste like pops of candy in the sourdough that surrounded them. I had to up the baking time as well, but don't worry - the slices are tender without falling apart, stand up to toasting or eating plain and keep extraordinarily well! The first morning she sliced into the most recent loaf, my mom topped it with old Cheddar and just snacked away, then for lunch spread it with peanut butter. If it had lasted, I'm sure I would have had some bread pudding perfection on my hands too in a week or so. 

The strangest thing for me, which I didn't notice until I was typing up the recipe, is that while I have apples and maple syrup going on, I didn't add any spice. No cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger to be found! That said, the loaf doesn't need them at all, but you most definitely could toss in your favourite (just note that cinnamon for some reason seems to antagonize yeast, so knead it in after the first rise).

You also may notice that this loaf does contain two types of yeast - regular active dry and instant. Normally, either will work, but because of the biga that is made for this loaf and the yeast spike after, they need different working times. If you use all active dry, the final dough will take longer to rise and may not be as robust, but if you use all instant I strongly suggest only using 4 g in the biga (you may not have to let it rest as long, maybe 8 hours or so). The combination I used includes a "gold" yeast intended for enriched doughs and really helps move the heavier flours in this loaf too.

Multigrain Apple Sourdough
Adapted from Green Healthy Cooking
Makes 1 large loaf 
2 large baking apples (I used Northern Spy), peeled and chopped
200g active sourdough starter
120 ml apple juice or cider
Final Dough
400 g multigrain flour blend (or 350 g whole wheat bread flour + 50 g grain cereal like Qia)
10 g instant yeast (I used SAF Gold)
480 ml water
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp salt 
  1. Heat the oven to 425°F. 
  2. Spread the apples on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  3. Bake the apples for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool.
  1. In a medium bowl, mix all the biga ingredients together until well combined. Cover with plastic and let rest at cool room temperature for 8-14 hours.
Final Dough
  1. After the biga has rested, add the flours, instant yeast, water, maple syrup and salt.
  2. Knead on low for at least 20 minutes until the dough is sticky and elastic.
  3. Cover and let rise 1 hour.
  4. By hand, fold in the roasted apple pieces until well mixed.
  5. Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment and place in a bowl (parchment side down). Cover and let rise 45-50 minutes. 
  6. About 15 minutes into the second rise, place a cast iron Dutch oven (I used my Staub) in the oven and heat to 475F.
  7. When the dough has risen, carefully lower it into the hot Dutch oven using the parchment as a sling. Place the lid back on top of the Dutch oven and return to the oven, immediately lowering the temperature to 450F.
  8. Bake (lid on) for 40 minutes, then remove the lid and bake a further 10 minutes. 
  9. Remove from the oven and cool in the Dutch oven (lid off) for 10 minutes, then carefully move the bread to a cooling rack and cool completely

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Chocolate Sourdough Zucchini Bread

Recipes like this Chocolate Sourdough Zucchini Bread can dispatch a bunch of either fresh or pre-grated frozen zucchini in short order! This whole grain, vegan loaf has a bit of tang from the starter discard (no waste!) and makes one large loaf - plus a few muffins!

Our fridge freezer's door broke about 2 months ago. While we are lucky enough to have a large, standing freezer, the shift of all the frozen goods to it meant that other things - like this past summer's stash of frozen, grated zucchini - had to go. Luckily, we love the squash and I could toss handfuls into cottage pie, soup and stew. However, I saved some just to make this delicious quickbread, because (like I'm sure many of you) I also have a sourdough starter that spends most of it's time just chilling out in the fridge and I hate throwing away perfectly good flavour!

The mixture of flavours in this bread is insanely good, almost like a red velvet cake with more chocolatey oomph. It is sweet, but not tooth-achingly so, and with all the liquid it stays tender and moist for days even though it is incredibly low in fat! I tossed in some Naked Rice protein powder just because I had it on hand and wanted to make this a little bit more breakfast friendly. If you make resolutions (I don't - I don't have the attention span for those :D ) this loaf is definitely one that supports any "cook more, eat more veggies, eat fermented foods, eat vegan, eat breakfast, eat more fibre... etc" ones! If not, then sit back and enjoy a slice with abandon - it's 2021 after all, why not?