Browsing Tag


Ale Cottage Pie

EAT, family meals By November 14, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , , No Comments

Apparently since 1885 in England, when the first mention of this dish hit literature, Ale Cottage Pie has been used to describe a beef dish covered in potato, whereas Shepherd’s Pie would contain lamb instead. (Shepherds care for sheep, not cattle).  The addition of a dark ale enhances the flavours and adds depth to this simple, kid-friendly dish.

Sautee a diced onion and garlic until translucent.  Add ground beef.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Brown the meat.  Drain fat off.  Return to pan.  Continue to brown.  Add mustard ( 2T) and dashes of worstershire sauce..  Put in 2 pints of beer, 1 pint water (beef stock), bring to boil.  REduce heat.  Simmer, uncovered.  Allow to reduce down at least an hour at a simmer.  Transfer to Shephard’s Pie dish.  Allow to cool.  Add mashed potato.  While boiling, put whole garlic cloves in the water – garlic will turn sweet when you boil.  Add Salt, pepper, grated parmesan, butter and cream.  Sprinkle salt on top.  Score with fork. Bake in oven at 400 degrees for 30-40 mins until golden brown.  Rest 10 minutes.


McDonald’s Q & A: Potatoes and French Fries

EAT, family meals By November 8, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

As a rule, fries are not a healthy choice as a diet staple.  They’re filled with carbs and are usually deep fried.  But they are also a great source of potassium – 20 x more than a banana.   You’re not eating organic spinach here. But for those who want to order a ‘French Fry’, I will tell you what I witnessed.  They are real potatoes, and have few added ‘mystery’ ingredients.  I’m not forcing you to order them or wanting you to feed them to your children on a daily basis.  But when you do treat yourself (I have always considered them a huge treat, and I have always loved the taste), just know that you’re eating real food.

Q: What’s the relationship between the farmers and the manufacturers?

A:  McCain has a team of dedicated agronomists to assist the farmers in producing the best crop possible.  It is truly a mutually advantageous relationship.  Kind of like ‘happy wife, happy life’.  Happy farmer, happy McCain people, happy McDonald’s business units, happy customers. Or something.

Q: Are chemicals used at the farm level in growing potatoes?

A: The big lesson about pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers?  Farmers have to purchase the stuff themselves out of their own budgets.  Chemicals are expensive.  If there is an opportunity not to spend the money on chemicals, they will obviously opt not to.  The agronomists help the farmers to determine the point at which fertilizers are required.

There are currently two programs in place that are part of McDonald’s specification that apply to safety and social responsibility for potatoes. One is the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audit, which through a number of established and documented surveys and audits assures the growers are meeting food safety, specific agricultural practices, and socially responsible people practices.

The second program, established in 2010, is the IPM/ICM (Integrated Pest Management and Integrated Crop Management) survey. This program assesses the use of various practices including approaches to minimize and optimize the use of any input from pesticide, fertilizer, and water.  There will be a quiz on this later.


The chemicals used on McDonald’s potato crops must be approved for use in Canada, the USA and any other country to which the fries may be shipped.  The levels need to be at or below the Maximum Residue Level of these countries.

Q: What’s up with the Youtube video where the fries never get moldy?

A:  Quite simply, the fries are so thin and contain so little moisture after being put through the dryer, there is not enough water contained within to assist in decomposition.  Further in the process, the flash frying and instantaneous freezing, and then at the restaurant level popping the fries immediately into the canola fry oil does not offer any opportunity for moisture to creep into the fry.  Believe me.  We saw what would happen if the process wasn’t followed and the result were grey/black fries that decomposed and stunk like old lunches in a high school locker.

Q: What ingredients are in the par fry oil?

A: The par fry oil is made up of canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, safflower oil, natural vegetable flavor, citric acid, TBHQ (a preservative) and dimethylpolysiloxane (antifoaming agent).

TBHQ is a highly effective antioxidant. In foods, it is used as a preservative for unsaturated vegetable oils and many edible animal fats.  The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada have all evaluated TBHQ and determined that it is safe to consume at the concentration allowed in foods.

Dimethylpolysiloxane is considered to be an inert, non-toxic, non-flammable ingredient used as a matter of safety to keep the oil from foaming and boiling over.   A review of animal studies by The World Health Organization (the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) found no adverse health effects associated with dimethylpolysiloxane.  (I LOVE saying that word).

The amount of both these ingredients is minimal in the oil and the amount of oil absorbed by the French fries makes it even safer.

Q: What tests and systems of check and balance are in place to ensure quality?

A: First, the ‘test kitchen’.  Every 30 minutes, one bag is removed from the line, analyzed for colour, diversity of size, blemishes and taste.  There is actually an identical frying station to those found in McDonald’s restaurants and fries are sampled every 30 minutes to check quality.  If there are too many spots or anything wrong, the whole system is shut down. I can say the fries I ate in this room – made from potatoes we’d seen harvested in the field the day before – were the absolute best I’d ever tasted.

In addition, there are metal scanners at the final stage before boxing the fries, so if a machine drops a widget or an employee’s gold tooth actually falls out into the line, the bag is rejected.

Q: Are the fries vegetarian-friendly?

A: This one was answered in my previous Q and A found here.


Kid’s Potato Latkes

EAT, holidays, snacks By September 26, 2011 Tags: , , , , No Comments

A traditional Hanukkah treat, potato latkes needn’t be reserved for the holidays.  A fantastic source of protein, they can be served with apple sauce or sour cream and are a perfect size for tiny toddler hands.  To reduce fat and calories, the latkes can also be baked in a 400 degree oven.


8 to 10 medium russet potatoes
1 large brown onion
2 rounded tablespoons jarred minced garlic
4 eggs
1 cup matzo meal
1/2 cup canola oil
coarse kosher salt

Peel and quarter the potatoes and onions.  Pulse in 2 batches in a food processor until the potatoes and onions are finely minced. Add 1 rounded tablespoon of minced garlic and 2 eggs and pulse again. Add half the matzo meal and pulse once more. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and start a second batch using the same steps. Heat 1 inch of oil in a large skillet. When oil is hot ladle 1/3 cup sized portions (or smaller for tiny hands!) into the oil and cook until golden brown on the bottom. Once the bottom side is brown use a fork to gently flip over the latke.  When both sides are golden brown, lift the latkes from the pan with a slotted spatula and place on a paper towel to drain. Repeat the process with the remaining batter. Add more oil if necessary. When ready to eat, sprinkle the top of each latke with coarse kosher salt (to taste) and serve with a dollop of apple sauce. Makes 12 to 15 latkes.


McDonald’s All-Access Moms: Off to see some Spuds!

EAT, family meals By September 26, 2011 Tags: , , , , , No Comments

As part of the McDonald’s All-Access Moms program, four Mom writers across Canada have been given the opportunity to see McDonald’s from behind the scenes.  September brings wooly sweaters and harvest season and I am now off to Grand Falls, New Brunswick to visit both a potato farm and the McCain french fry processing facility.  Born and raised in Halifax, the Maritimes are in my blood, and being back on the east coast is such a breath of fresh air.  There is a simplicity and an innocence that permeates the culture.  It will be so exciting to see these qualities juxtoposed against the huge corporation that purchases the french fries.  I can’t wait to don rubber boots and meet the farmers.  I can’t wait to ask gardening questions!  (My potatoes grow no bigger than a golf ball..)  I encourage you all to comment and ask as many questions as you can.

I started reading ‘Food Inc.’ and will be watching the film prior to my trip.  I feel that as an All-Access Mom I have a responsibility to educate myself about all facets of food production.  I don’t know if the potatoes are engineered and I am so excited to learn and discuss the issues.  Is there anything you are confused about?  Curious to ask?  Please let me know!

Photo: Hunter