Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Making food in a house with roommates

I feel a tad guilty for not being very diligent with this blog. The truth, however, is that I used to cook alot more than what I do now. The reason why I don't cook as much now? Roommates.

Firstly, my girlfriend and I have a third of the fridge space we enjoyed when we lived alone. This drastically limits the size of our groceries which in turn limits the amount of recipes we can make since recipes tend to make for much larger groceries than every day food.

Secondly, my roommates have what I'll call "quirks" when it comes to the kitchen. My way of cooking is usually to take my time whilst listening to the radio or some music. Now with roommates, it seems that when I want to start cooking, they decide they would also like to start cooking. Too many cooks in the kitchen is a literal thing here.

Also, there's the issue of dishes and dirty countertops. There's always dirty dishes. Always. And it seems like an alien idea for my roommates that countertops can be quickly cleaned with a wet dishclothe once they're done in the kitchen. Unfortunately, there's always crumbs and patches of crusty who-knows-what on the countertops.

These factors make it so that making food is limited to what's quick and unimaginative. I don't like a dirty kitchen. I don't like living with roommates...these people who live their lives in what I consider to be my space (although recognising that they probably feel the same about me). The only advantage of having roommates is that it costs alot less for rent and bills. But I've made decisions justified by finances before and it never turned out to be ideal.

I can't wait till I have a real job...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Self-sufficiency and Happiness

It seems to me that self-sufficiency is not only reasonable but probably the best solution for turning away from a North American modern life structured as work to consume then work in order to consume even more ad infinitum. It has come to a point where even governments do not refer to their citizens as citizens but as consumers (i.e. you must consume in order to get us out of this recession!).

If we take into account graphs such as the one above which demonstrate, by association with production, trends in consumption, you realise that we've been consuming at an exponentially increasing rate. This, it goes without saying, is unsustainable. Not only will we achieve a point when we simply cannot produce enough stuff and find places to dump it all (see the satirical movie Wall-E...not just a cute robot movie) but unless you're the one selling the crap, the vast majority are not gaining anything and only paying with the destruction of our environment which, in case you hadn't noticed, is the thing we rely on for life itself. To prove that we're not gaining anything from it, there is a graph in the book Managing Without Growth which demonstrates that in the US, though the "real income per head" has risen from a bit below $15,000 per head in 1945 to almost $40,000 per head in 2005, people haven't reported being anymore happy; to be a bit clearer, about 30% of people are "very happy" at a level of $15,000 per year regardless of increased income above this level. So, why must we embark on this exponential path?

Regardless of the questions of corporate greed and infiltration of government, we all have one advantage over any "power that be"; we are decentralized communities who can be self-sufficient. We don't need their stuff. We don't even need that much government beyond the local. People lived perfectly content lives before the advent of Wal-Mart and the microwave. I believe that simple and comfortable lives are the keys to happiness; excess has nothing at all to do with it.

So what do I mean by self-sufficient? I mean a community of people who, despite almost any calamity, can fulfil their food, shelter, water, clothing and social needs. Think of a rural community before the Industrial Revolution; everyone had a trade which they could barter with in order to provide them with the necessities of life. Nowadays, we've exploded past the necessities and have ventured way too far into the unnecessary excesses. Because regardless of what you may think we only need food, shelter, water, clothing and a community. And, depending on which area of the globe you live in, you may not even need clothing ;)

In September 2010, I'm going back to university in order to become a teacher. I'm doing this because I need to have a decent paying job in order to pay off my student debts. Yes I enjoy working with youth. But I wouldn't have to work with them in the school system if it were not for the debts I'm a slave to. I am not going to be a teacher in order that I can buy myself a lifestyle with the very comfortable salary teacher's make. And once the student debts are gone, I'm reevaluating and deciding whether or not I want to say in the school system. I will have a choice which will not depend on debt; it will depend on what I want to do in order to be happy and it will factor in the minimum of funds I need in order to achieve that simple goal. Whatever the case, it will be a life which is as self-sufficient as possible.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

International Day of Climate Action in Moncton

Yesterday was the International Day of Climate Action. According to, the organisation behind what can only be described as a phenomenon, there were over 5200 demonstrations planned in over 150 countries! Wow! Really. That's quite a mobilisation of people who are demanding, peacefully, for delegates to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December to take action so that we reduce CO2 part per million below 350. We are presently at about 390 parts per million.

In New Brunswick, most people live on the coast. With the advent of rising sea levels and more vicious weather, it is crucial that this province does something to do their part. I don't know if we can rely on our federal government; not only are they generally incompetent but they are, I believe, too detached from individuals. What we need is action on the municipal and provincial levels. If every municipality in Canada does it's part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it really doesn't matter what the federal government does beyond slapping the wrists of the big industrial polluters. For now, however, we're being led by a shark of a politician whose the BFF of Canada's big oil companies. Stephen Harper's an idiot politician who couldn't care less about the lives of Canadian citizens. He represents the corporate pockets of Canada. Hopefully his time will be over soon.

On a different front, I think it's terribly important that people participate in any social efforts for environmental initiatives or other. It's like voting; you might not be able to see the immediate impact of your vote (ex: your candidate loses) but the actual act of being an active citizen and of encouraging others to be active as well means that there is a body of people demanding change towards a better world. Look at yesterday's activities for example. We were maybe 30 in Moncton which may seem meanial and irrelevant. But if there were only 30 people in each of the 5200 demonstrations which happened all over the world that's a minimum of 156 000 people. And ours was not nearly the largest gathering. If world leaders ignore these pleas the only result is that there will be disgruntled citizens and from there you're only asking for the radicals to gain a foothold. Plus, it's just idiotic to ignore the implications of climate change. Freak weather patterns. Millions of environmental refugees. Destruction of biodiversity. Desertification. Mass coastal flooding. These are only a few and are already all underway.

So action needs to be taken on climate change. Only by being active citizens can we ever hope that anything will ever be done to save this planet.

P.S. Thanks to everyone who came out yesterday! It was great!

Jamie's Warm salad of crispy smoked bacon and Jerusalem artichokes

The modern palate, it has been said, has been kept from bitterness. We love sweet, salty and at times sour. But that fourth part of our tongue is too often neglected. Except for really hopped up beer.

This recipe comes from Cook With Jamie. Once again, the recipes from this book are simple perfection. You can't mess up a Jamie Oliver recipe unless you're incompetent in the kitchen.

The crown jewel of this particular dish, for me, is that the Jerusalem artichokes come from my own garden. I hadn't tasted them yet since I don't often eat potatoes and what I heard about JAs is that you should treat them like potatoes. Maybe so, but they are very different. This recipe called for the JAs to be boiled. Their texture is softer than potatoes; more like rutabaga in that regard. Their taste is delicate, slightly sweet. Kept warm, they went perfectly with the radicchio, Boston lettuce, parsley, cooked smoky bacon from the market and fresh red onions. The vinaigrette is simple: olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I put the vinaigrette in with the bacon and onions, tossed in the JAs, warmed, tossed with the lettuces and served.

Topped with thin slices of parmesan, this was really a delicious salad. We ate it as a meal in itself which can get a bit much if you're not used to the bitterness of radicchio and the richness of the JAs. But it really is a gorgeous salad. Who knew warm salads could be so pleasurable?!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Culinary Paradise at L'Idylle

At the farmer's market every Saturday I cross Emmanuel Charretier, the owner and chef at L'Idylle. We visit the same merchants. We buy many of the same products. However, after going through the culinary experience that Emmanuel and his kind wife provided us with, I will no longer be able to look at the market in the same light.

My girlfriend and I decided that we would treat ourselves and go for the full Idylle experience; the dégustation menu with wine pairing. Now it's true that unless you've got heavy pockets, this is only something you can permit yourself on a yearly basis. But is it ever worth it!

The meal started off with a mise en bouche which consisted of a soft mousse of red pepper with a delicious little bit of lobster on top. This was paired with a light rosé which, we were told, would remind you of southern France.

The second course, was a marinated sole filet, crunchy on one side and slightly raw on the other. Along with this were pearls of raspberry vinegar, carrot oil, and a lemon gelé. The textures were perfect and the tastes were subtle but exquisite. A white wine complimented the dish beautifully.

What came next was truly a fall dish. Once again paired with a white wine, we were served pan cooked oysters from Shippagan with hazelnut oil and Jerusalem artichoke cream. The oysters were perfectly cooked and the little layer of nutty hazelnut oil which surrounded them was excellent with the rich but not too rich Jerusalem artichoke cream.

Next came one of my favourite dishes of the meal. Homemade ravioli stuffed with buffalo marrow and foie gras sitting on top of wild chanterelles mushrooms. The stuffing was absolutely exquisite. And it goes without saying that the chanterelles were the pure embodiement of autumn. For some reason, I can't remember the wine for this particular dish.

The next dish was truly beautiful for me because of its Pino Noir pairing. The wine smelled lightly of butterscotch but was a clean drinking. The aroma complimented beautifully the sesame crusted scallop which sat on top of a green tomato marmalade which bathed in some sort of sweet sauce underneath a green foam. This really struck it home that wine and food were meant for one another. I'd never experienced that before.

Main courses finished with a rich dish of veal sweetbread on risotto along with a drizzling of an orange reduction. Sangre de Toro, a full bodied red, was the accompanying wine. Now I love offal. My girlfriend, not so much. Especially after I'd asked our waitress where the sweetbread was sittuated. She also gave us the medical name: thyroid gland. This didn't turn me off. It was a wonderfully rich dish. And I also got to finish my girlfriend's sweetbread. Bonus.

After main courses came the end of the wine but the arrival of coffee. The trend I seem to be noticing is that more and more places offer you an allongé instead of percolated coffee nowadays. The coffee came along with the cheese dish. This was a simple chèvre brie from Au Fond des Bois on top of homemade apple compote served with a nut bread crouton. Simple and delicious.

After the cheese course came the fruit course. I don't know what I was expecting but it surely wasn't as ornate as what we were presented with. At one end of the square plate was a ground cherry followed by a homemade vanilla icecream dollop in the middle of the plate and concluding with a small cripy tower sitting on top of more ground cherries and stuffed with a light maple cream. Under all of this was an orange flavoured syrup and a crispy wafer sat on top. Gorgeous.

The last item before the end was the chocolate course. At the bottom of the plate was my favourite thing; chocolate sauce flavoured with szechuan pepper. This, for me, almost managed to outshine the mini eclair and the chocolate ring which was filled with yet another bit of cream.

The meal ended with a mignardise. We weren't told what this was since it was apparently a surprise. What it ended up being was candied rhubarb under a rhubard mousse. This was a great pallate cleanser. Unfortunately, it signalled the end of what was undoubtabley the greatest meal I've ever had.

Emmanuel then came out to chat with us. It's absolutely fantastic to be able to appreciate him in his element. We chatted informally but I was in awe of this man's talent and of his wife's wine pairings. They take everyday items that everyone has access to and transform them into something celebratory.

If you're in the Moncton area, it would be a sin not to save your pennies and visit L'Idylle. It's an experience you're never likely to forget.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Materialism in Generation Y

Apparently, I'm part of Generation Y. Whatever that means, I don't know. What I do believe though is that there is a shift in the attitudes of our predecessors. Let me elaborate.

My grandparents, the Boomers, had nothing. They were poor and worked very very hard to have a nice comfortable life. Their offspring, the so-called Generation X, started from this comfortable life and wanted everything. Not only did they want it all and more, like some perverted version of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, but they wanted it all by the time they were 21. Unreasonable? Quite. Barely possessing their grade 12, they wanted a family, two kids, a large house, two vehicles, a boat, two snowmobiles (in my neck of the woods at least), to be able to travel at will, and have a constant stream of high income pouring in at all times. Some achieved this. However, most of this generation have gone through divorces, have lost everything at some point, and work like their lives depend upon it.

Now you have my generation. They aptly named Ys. (Please be advised that the following are vast generalisations that may not be based on reality.) We are weary of embarking in relationships and having children unless we can have some sort of certainty that it'll work. We don't like to overwork ourselves; prefering to sacrifice certain material pleasures for more time to ourselves. We are aware of the fact that one cannot have everything at the tender age of 25 and that those things which our parents wanted are not necessarily desirable. We want to travel the world but not for the bragging rights of having the financial capacity to do so. It's about the experience. Maybe I can resume by saying that we're must more concerned about the experiences, the details of life and not it's decor.

Why should we work overtime for granite countertops?
Why should we bring children into this world which we cannot support emotionally?
Why isn't happiness enough of a goal?

What's the rush?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Coates Food Sovereignty Philosophy

I visited two farms on Open Farm Day this weekend. Nature's Route Farm in Pointe de Bute was one of them. Below is their philosophy on why they do what they do. I personally thought it was also great that they reused old schoolbuses as henhouses, that their 2 year old daughter could pick green beans strait out of the field and I could discuss with two older women about real food (they belong to the Coates' Community Supported Agriculture program).

I love farms! My farmer, back-o-the-woods, friend thinks I'm such a city boy. But I'm not. I swear...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

La belle verte

In following with my previous post, I must also highly, highly, highly recommend "La belle verte". This film is a powerful environmental and social critique. It's not, however, a heavy, finger-pointing piece. Rather, it is humourous and original in the way the story is told.

Arguably the best parts of the film are those which are set in the alien world some of the protagonists comes from. It is a utopia where everyone is equal, eats raw vegetarian food, and lives to be over 200 years old (they get three sets of teeth!). Their days are spent in physical exercice, communal gathering of food and education of one another. They have concerts of silence. As a community, they decide how many babies there will be, distribute the harvests, and send ambassadors to other planets. The story, therefore, mostly takes place when one of their people visits earth.

It's unnecessary to say what happens when the alien (who looks completely human by the way) arrives on earth. All that needs to be said is that it's a very simple and fair criticism of Western society: disconnectedness with others; pollution; going too fast to appreciate the small and countless beauties life affords.

In order for the utopia in "La belle verte" to exist, we would need:
- No individual property
- Communal and inter-generational sharing of food and knowledge
- A disposal of all things non-essential (electronics, cars, huge disjointed cities, and so on)

Basically, we'd have to give a damn about one another. Which is what I believe the message of most prophets boils down to.

L'homme qui plantait des arbres

I work in the environmental movement. It's emotionally demanding to see how people have spent their lives fighting for a better world and you, as a young person, embarking on a similar path. There are countless forces which seek not only to exploit the world and its resources, but its people. Call it socioecological. Call it a desire for sustainable development. Whatever it is, it's hard.

While doing some research, I came across this beautiful short film produced by my fellow countryman Frédéric Back called "L'homme qui plantait des arbres" (The Man Who Planted Trees). It's a true story about a man who lived in solitude in a desolate area and made a change in the world by planting seeds. One at a time. Persistently for years and years till he had made a forest. The streams flowed again. People returned to abandoned villages to live happy lives in the now beautiful country.

The beauty of this movie - besides the fluidity of its animation which is stunning - is that it shows how one person can have an impact on the world by making small, persistent, local efforts. Out of 100,000 seeds the man planted, only 10,000 survived. But those which did grow, restored the nature which had been dessimated. In a link which environmentalists too often ignore, the revitalisation of nature also brought about positive social change in the way people felt in that space. It also brought back prosperity. The environment is inextricably linked to society and both are linked to the economy. One cannot go without the other. They are all part of a whole.

I ask myself "What am I going to do to make a better world?" It's not about me. It's about something beyond myself which I don't fully understand. This life that exists, seemingly without purpose, that is so precious.

Maybe I'll plant a forest someday.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Canning Without Fear

Last year, I feared botulism. Then, a delicious pot of dill pickles cast down that fear. Canning is easy. Sterilise, make sure the rim is clear, the contents are hot and deposit into boiling water. If it doesn't seal, then you've got a problem.

So far I've made three things to can. The first were dill pickles. I bought a huge bush of dill, a few dozen small pickling cucumbers (small tastes better than big, the latter seeming to have all its flavour disolved), and fresh organic garlic. The garlic was really the highlight. It was so fresh that the paper around the individual cloves hadn't yet dried. I crushed them and they smelled totally different from the stuff at the supermarket. Almost like a medium strong cheese.

I then made a tomatillo and chipotle pepper salsa, trying to emulate the one from Frontera which is apparently inspired by Varacruz, Mexico. The ingredients read as follows: tomatillos, tomatoes, onions, water, garlic, salt thyme, chipotle chiles, sugar. I did exactly that, with proportions depending on the order in which they're written on the bottle. My error was in not roasting the garlic and tomatillos which is how the Frontera salsa was made. Instead, I pureed everything and then cooked it in a pot. Delicious but not true to what I was trying to emulate. For now, I've got 1500 milliliters of salsa canned and waiting to be eaten. Next time the tomatillos, those beautiful green apple tasting tomato-like individually wrapped delicacies will get a good roasting before they make their way into the canning pot.

Finally, I made apple butter. Those details can be read in the blog entry below (Wild Apple Butter).

One day, I'll have a crawlspace full of of canned goodies, mostly containing things from my own gardens, that will feed me and my family throughout the cold winters of Canada. Plus there might be a cask or two or six of beer and cider and fruit wines. It wouldn't be unreasonable to say that there will also be a root cellar heaping with vegetables, a few racks of ripening cheeses, and poles with curing charcuteries. And a passive solar greenhouse keeping the season going despite the snow. One day. In a hopefully not-too-distant future.

Wild Apple Butter

Near Moncton there is a village called Memramcook. Besides a wicked chiac accent, Memramcook is home to apple trees growing like weeds. They're everywhere you look. Literally. I think that when Johnny Appleseed was going around, he tripped in the Bay of Fundy and spilled his bag in the hills of the Cookers.

The unfortunate thing about wild food is that it's all too often wasted. I believe it's come to a point in North America where people would sooner trust over-packaged, chemical laden, perfectly perfect food than true food. If I'd give someone an apple from where I picked it and told them where I picked it, they would probably turn away in disgust. If, however, I told them it came from such-and-such a company and wrapped it in a plastic container, they would trip over one another to buy it. I even found a cherry tree that no one was picking from...cherries that were sold 4$ per carton at the market!

I have no such inhibitions. Wild apples growing on the side of the road with spots and worm holes and malformations are a beautiful thing. They are truly organic. No one has screwed around with them. They aren't genetically modified or caked in pesticides. Best of all, they're free (if we disregard the 75 cents it cost in gas to get there from my house).

With my free, wild apples, cultivated on a nice September morning by carefully shaking a few branches and collecting what fell to the ground, I took out the cutting board and a pot and proceeded to make apple butter. Here's what you need: four and a half pounds of apples; three cups of apple cider from a local orchard (I am not yet equipped to make my own...though I'd probably add with a bit of yeast and time if I was...wink, wink); 2 cups of organic free trade sugar; 1 and a half teaspoons of cinnamon; half a teaspoon each of allspice and ground cloves. Boil apples and cider for half an hour. Add the other ingredients and cook uncovered for an hour and a half. Can. How's that for simple!

Now I've got enough apple butter to last me the winter. If you're into cheap and easy, look out your window for food. No one else is going to pick it.

My Summer 2009 Garden

My previous landlord owns a large piece of land in downtown Moncton. Unfortunately, he doesn't use it for anything but mowing the lawn. I thought it was quite a shame to waste all that space so I asked him if I could tear up corner, out of view, and plant a garden. He agreed. I was surprised.

Now digging a new garden is quite the endeavour. The method I used is called "deep digging". What this consists of is removing the layer of sod (the real hard part), digging 12 inches down, and mixing that 12 inches of dirt with good organic dirt mixed with compost. In a phrase, it sounds easy. But it's quite demanding work when the soil below the sod is mostly clay and someone in the past thought it was a good idea to throw a window frame, a few dozen bricks and other random garbage underneath the top layer of dirt.

In addition to being difficult to start, the garden had a large coniferous tree on the east side, a garage on the west side and a 4 foot high fence on the south side. Really not ideal growing conditions. Plus, since I'd dug down in an already low spot, water pooled in between my rows. All summer I stressed about the water overflowing and drowning my plants. The bugs loved it. My vegetables weren't as enthousiastic.

The picture below was taken a few weeks ago. It's what I would consider the "big harvest" which, believe me, I know is sad. Captured in the photo are Early Wonder Top beets, Danvers carrots, one Costata Romanesca zucchini, one Lemon Cucumber, a small handful of Black Valentine bush beans, Baie Verte Indian pole beans and a few tomatoes. The tomatoes I grew (relatively successfully in the grand scheme of things) were Sungold cherry tomatoes grown from seeds I'd saved from last year, as well as Russian, San Marzano, Mennonite Orange, Toma Verde Tomatillo, and Tribe's Tobique all grown from seedlings I bought from Amarosia Organic Garden in the spring. I got a few tomatoes from each but none from the tomatillo. Unfortunately, I'd marked each variety of tomatoe on a piece of wood with permanent marker. It would seem that permanent marker is not so permanent during a whole summer in the rain and sun. So I don't know which tomato is which.

One of the mystery tomato varieties. Mennonite Orange or Russian?

These are Baie Verte Indian pole beans which I grew in the "three sisters" model of corn on which the beans climb and at the foot of which are planted squash to provide shade. I planted Golden Bantam sweet corn and Lester's buttercup squash. I know I'm not going to get any squash (due to the persistent cucumber beetles which destroyed anything with a yellow flower) but I might get one or two ears of corn. Not the best turnout but all part of the learning curve. At the end of the day, it costs less than tuition fees at university. And the quality of the education is far superior.

This beautiful yellow flower belongs to the Costata Romanesca plant. As previously mentioned, the cucumber beetles seemed to find these flowers beautiful too. In the background you can see the round zuchinni. They are really tasty. Not like the bland cardboard stuff they sell at the supermarket.

These are Love Lies Bleeding amaranth flowers. Aren't they pretty? I think these perfectly illustrate how edible landscaping is much better than conventional landscaping. They are nice to look at and edible.

Behind the amaranth tower the Jerusalem Artichokes I got from Wingate Farm and which we planted a row of at the community garden since they are a perrenial and make an excellent border. I have yet to harvest either the amaranth of the JAs. But I will.

Not included in these photos are the sweet peas (planted by the fence and quickly died from lack of sun and slug attacks), the strawberries (same predicament as the peas), the pickling cucumbers (beetles again), the cantaloupe (only produced a rock hard excuse for a melon), the variety of leaf lettuce (I got 4 servings of these), and the Taisai Chinese cabbage (slugs quickly killing the young sprouts). Also not featured are the dill, the cauliflower, the watermelon and the thyme which never had a chance to experience life.

Next summer I won't be planting a garden since halfway through the summer I'll be moving back to Ontario. But in two summers my garden will be back with a vengeance. No more shaddy, flood proned patches for me.

NOTE: All seeds were sourced from Hope Seeds, a New Brunswick organic seed company. See

A Change of Heart

On March 11, 2009, I had written a post entitled "The End". It was me throwing in the towel on a previous incarnation of this blog. Well, truth be told, it's been anything but the end. I've obviously kept cooking and have even diversified into gardening, scavenging, and environmental activism.

The reason for my change of heart - according to what I can identify based on the muddle that is my thought-flow - is twofold: 1) a lovely Seattle woman named Jenny wrote two very nice comments on my blog which stirred something in me, gave me a desire to keep writing and 2) my good friend Rowena's blog is simply vibrating with life and adventure which can do nothing but move one to keep fighting for good, healthy, environmentally sound, and socially responsible food.

So that's that. Don't expect that everything will have to do with food. I'm broadening things up from this being a food blog to something which attempts to be an umbrella for my multifarious interests.

And let me tell you that that's quite an umbrella.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The 200th post!!!

It's been almost 2 years since I started writing the Stone Spoon Food Blog. Alot has changed during that time. Much food was eaten. Many things were tried.

Just the other day I read back some posts and realised that this blog is like a journal in food. I read a post and it transports me back to that day or period. It's amazing the power food can have on memory. I'm sure many things would have been lost to time if not for this blog.

I don't know what my intentions are with food. I've been disenchanted with the idea of penetrating the food industry. Restaurants are a messy business and a restaurant owner does everything but the fun stuff (they mostly crunch numbers and figure out how not to get dragged under by astronomical and uncontrollable food and labour costs).

Maybe one day I'll have a little café. Or a sort of one day per month banquet where I can just make the food I want at the intervals I want. Who knows!

One thing I know is that from tracking the traffic on this blog, I have hits from around the world. I think it's great that everyone can see what's going on in my kitchen halfway across the world in a seemingly insignificant corner of nowhere. I hope my blog is useful even though I tend not to write down recipes in the traditional cookbook manner. It derives from the fact that I mostly don't follow recipes anymore. I just take the ingredients and go. Unless I'm making a dough or pastries of some sort. Those buggers are tricky.

Well here's to another 200 posts. Take a drink for me wherever you are. Cheers.

Cast-iron pan tomato, onion marmalade, walnut and blue cheese pizza

There's this Canadian celebrity chef called Bob Blumer. Bob's a bit of an excentric. But in a good way. He makes recipes like "coconut-crusted pork tenderloin lollipops" which are actually balls stuck on the tip of bamboo squewers which are themselves held in place by a watermelon. If you've ever seen his show The Surreal Gourmet you know that it gets ever crazier than that. So when I found a cookbook Bob cowrote called Pizza on the Grill it didn't strike me as odd.

I did a few pizzas on the grill this past summer but right now my grill is stuck behind a mound of snow. So the cast-iron pan was called in.

I started by preparing the ingredients. The most time consuming was the onion marmalade. For this you need to fry a mound of yellow onions in olive oil, butter and salt. You cook covered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You then cook another 20 minutes uncovered till the onions are golden and sweet. This is really good stuff. Almost good enough to eat on toast in the morning....almost.

I then made my basic pizza dough (see earlier posts), rolled it out, sprinkled with cornmeal and friend in some oil in the cast-iron pan. I think I was afraid of burning it but I really should have 1) let it cook a bit longer before flipping and 2) used a bit more oil. However, it worked. I cooked one side, placed the onion marmalade, halved cherry tomatoes (which were supposed to be roasted but I really didn't feel like roasting a handful of tomatoes for 2 hours in an oven...not very energy-efficient), and crumbled market bought goat blue cheese on this cooked side.

For the second side of the dough, I popped the whole thing in the oven for 15 minutes or so till the crust was golden, the cheese had melted and the tomatoes had cooked. You then sprinkle on some lightly toasted walnuts or pecans and enjoy. This is a really great combination for a pizza. Like the section in the cookbook it comes from, it's "Marvelous & Meatless".

Thanks Bob...and cowriter Elizabeth Karmel...

Fried Smelts and Buttercup Squash

The Maritimes are a wonderful place for seafood or any kind of fish really. I got a huge bag of smelts (beheaded and gutted) for only 5$. Now that's a bargain. Plus I wanted to see how adventurous I was when it came to whole fish.

First I did the easy part; the side dish. I'd never eaten buttercup squash before (not to be confused with butterNut) but it really has to be one of my favourites. I halved it, scooped out the seeds, smeared it with olive oil, butter, salt and pepper after which I roasted it in a 350 degree oven for a good 45 minutes. My girlfriend said that it's even better than potatoes or sweet potatoes or any other squash we've ever had. I have to say that I agree.

For the smelts, it was pretty simple though really hectic. First I patted the fish dry. Every single one. There were at least 30 of the little buggers. But that wasn't the hardest part. I then had to dip each one in lemon juice, shake in some seasoned panko breadcrumbs (you could also just use flour) and fry. There was alot to fry. And I kept having to add more oil. And there were burnt pieces of breading smouldering in the bottom. And there were alot of fish so after awhile I just grabbed handfuls, plunged them into the lemon juice and dumped them in the breadcrumb bag before frying them. I was getting burnt by popping oil and the whole kitchen was a mess. Plus the fire alarm was about to go off.

The juice, however, was worth the squeeze. Smelts are a nice light white freshwater fish that I find resembles the walleye from back home. Plus they're fun to pick apart since you've got to seperate the fins and the spinal cord from the meat...unless you feel really adventurous and you eat the fins...I did. Just squeeze a little lemon and enjoy. All that fish for only 5$! Someone lost money somewhere along the line.

Coffee Smoothie

Well there really isn't much to explain about this recipe. Any half intelligent person with eyes looking at the above photo and the title of this post would deduce that this is chilled coffee (leftovers from the morning), blended with sugar, cream and ice. It's as simple as that. But quite good and pretty different from it's hot morning counterpart.

PLEASE NOTE - If you give this to children, make sure to send them to the neighbours house after or something.

Chakchouka or Peppers with tomatoes and eggs

Apparently, this recipe is from the Greater Maghreb. I assume this is in Northern Africa since that is what the cookbook is; North African Cooking by Tess Mallos. There are photos of tagines and paper in purple and green. Really cool book and pretty good recipes.

This particular recipe couldn't be simpler but I did have to eat it alone since my girlfriend doesn't do bell peppers. But I got up early in the morning, sliced a green and red pepper, friend them in olive oil, added 2 cloves of garlic, 2 large chopped tomatoes, a good tablespoon of Harissa (one of the best sauces ever!), and a bit of chopped fresh parsley. You let this cook till everything's nice and tender - about 15 minutes - after which you crack an egg or two into the mix. Cook the eggs, sprinkle with paprika and eat with a nice hunk of bread.

Light, simple and delicious.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Goat Ribs

I'm being converted to goat meat. Once again it comes from my goat raising friends at "Au fond des bois". These particular delights have a nice lean quality with all the bone munching fun associated with ribs. You really have to dig your teeth in. As a bonus, you've got a nice little chunk of meat which - as the pork I've previously mentioned - is probably the tenderloin of the goat. Anyways I hereby endorse goat meat.

Gordon Ramsay's Lasagne

I've got a love hate relationship with Gordon Ramsay's recipes. Sometimes his food is out of this world and other times it's nothing to write on this blog about. This particular recipe from Kitchen Heaven is definitely in that grey zone.

Let me break it down for you. First, make your own pasta. I'm actually getting good at this so it really wasn't a problem. Here's where the problem was. I rolled the squares out and then had to blanch them before putting them on a baking sheet, covering them with a crème fraiche (sour cream) and egg yolk mixture and then spring sprinkling with parmesan cheese all of which got popped into the oven to broil. Sound complicated? Wait. It gets worse.

While I was blanching and broiling the pasta sheets, I had to fry beef steak chunks in a pan to the desired doneness. I also had to cook shallots and garlic in another pan to which I added cherry tomatoes to make a sort of quick sauce.

Now everything wasn't quite hot at the same time. I had to pull the pasta out so it didn't burn while making sure that the sauce was sufficiently cooked and the beef wasn't too sufficiently cooked. But the lukewarm ingredients wasn't the worse part. This decomposed lasagne had to be assembled.

I had to start with sliced of prosciutto topped with some of the tomato mix, a few pieces of beef, a square of baked lasagne square, and then had to keep going till I was out of ingredients. I then drizzled with olive oil and sat down to eat.

Like I said, nothing was very hot by the time I got to the dinner table. It was good but not great. I mean it was tomatoes with steak on pasta sheets. Nothing really original or with much wow factor. But I did like the texture of the baked pasta sheets. The were a bit crusty and had a good chew to them.

All in all, I think this recipe is a bit too finicky. Love hate sort of thing.

Pork Chops with Bubble and Squeak

There are two items to this recipe which I love. The first is the fact that I found out that pork chops don't have to be thin dry white hunks of meat that I was served as a kid. The second is the fact that I made "bubble and squeak" which bears the coolest name after "bangers and mash" in the culinary world. Those British sure know how to name their food (ooh by the way, I had steak and kidney pie the other day at my local Irish good!!!).

This recipe comes from Trish Hilferty's wonderful Gastropub Classics. As far as recipes go, this isn't particularly complicated. Like anything, it's mostly in the quality of ingredients. The pork was the first step. I bought local organic pork chops with the rib still attached. (I might be wrong but I think pork chops are actually the pork loin or rib steak of the pork...who knows...I'm no butcher.) These chops were simply prepared with salt and pepper and fried in a pan until cooked. Nothing magical there.

But now for the magical part; the bubble and squeak. First you've got to make mashed potatoes. Boiled potatoes with butter and milk. You then fry an onion with some bacon, add 5 times the amount of cabbage as what there was bacon and cook till the cabbage is tender. Now for the fun part. Add the cabbage, bacon and onion mixture to the mashed potatoes, shape into patties and fry till golden brown.

This meal might seam simplistic but it's really great. Bubble and squeak are definitely on my favourite food list now...both for name and flavour.

Oh and seeing as it's from Gastropub Classics you really do have to have a pint of the best real ale while eating this. Those who don't are just uncool.

Boudin Blanc

Boudin is french for blood sausage. Boudin blanc would therefore mean white blood sausage. However, whilst talking to my friendly market charcutier, he informed me that there is no blood in white blood sausage. The name, he says, comes from the fact that the same casing is used for blood sausage and white blood sausage.

The sausage is actually made of milk and chicken in a sort of sponge form which I found out fries really quickly. For this meal, I cut the boudin blanc into discs, fried them and incorporated them into what is becoming a staple tomato sauce and homemade ravioli dish.

The taste of the whole thing was pretty good especially when accompanied by a bit of Italian Chianti. However, I have to admit that white fat sausages are sort of weird. But I bought them anyways. Cause I'm just that crazy....

P.S. Sorry for the crappy photo quality. Not much sunlight during supper time up here in the northern winter. And the flash just makes food look disgusting.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Soup Therapy

While spending the holidays with family in Ottawa, I made a huge pot of nice soup. It wasn't really anything fancy but for a group of people who would only need a phone to order takeout in place of a kitchen, homemade soup is something of a treat. Plus I was getting sick of eating shitty food.
As one would expect, I started by caramelizing some onions after which I deglazed the pan with about half a glass of merlot. To this I added carrots, celery, garlic, a red pepper, a de-seeded jalapeno pepper, a can of organic chick peas, two boxes of organic chicken stock, a big can of tomato juice, cayenne pepper, celery seeds, bay leaves, salt and black pepper. Surprisingly the soup was really good. Maybe I was just hungry for good food though.
When we got back home, I replicated the recipe with the addition of salmon, halibut and mackeral. I also changed some of the ingredients such as vegetable stock in place of chicken stock and white wine instead of merlot. The results were different but both were pretty good.

Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA

When I worked at the Pump House brewery this summer, the brewer there was a great connoisseur of beers. He also loved things really hoppy. For those familiar with beer, it would come to no surprise that my brewer friend raved about Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA.

Now if you're used to mainstream beers, this would be like drinking liquified dandelion greens. But if you enjoy the taste of beer, as a wine drinker might, this beer is for you. I had to go to Ontario to find it but I was pleasantly surprised when I did find it (they also had the Japanese Asahi beer there).

Yes this beer is very hoppy and thus bitter. But the bitterness doesn't seem to linger. It washes away to leave you with a pleasantly light malty finish. Just remember, our tongues have four different zones: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. So go ahead, excite your palate.

Breakfast Crepe Panini

Chain restaurants are so easily imitated and surpassed it's ridiculous. I know that it's part of the whole marketing brainwash that people run to chain restaurants but I still think it's ridiculous. We were paid a meal at Boston Pizza over the holidays and I'd rather have gone without eating for a week.

At Cora's Breakfast, a breakfast chain that specialises in nice fruit presentations, they've come up with what you see above: ham, eggs and cheese rolled into a crepe and grilled in a panini press. This is ridiculously easy to make. I don't even need to write it out for you.

All I do need to mention though is that you shouldn't make your crepes too sweet. A nice contrast of sweet and salty is good but not too much. Unless you want to pour maple syrup over the whole thing in the tradition of sugar shacks...but don't say I didn't warn you.

The Difference Real Quality Makes

Here in Canada, Maple Leaf have commercials which say "You can taste the difference quality makes." This is the same company who had outbreaks of listeria in their products sometime in 08. So yes I can taste the difference quality makes, but quality is very rarely something I find in brand, mass-produced, space age food products.

I find that good food is making me difficult. You get used to something good, it's hard to go back to the same old crap you used to ingest so thoughtlessly. Take, for example, the pasta dish you see above. Homemade italian sausages which I rolled into meatballs along with homemade pasta both from the market. Now the tomatoes came from a can. That's not the bad part. It's the brand that really messed an otherwise good dish up. The culprit is Hunt's Tomato Sauce. It tasted like overly vinegrated (not sure if that's a word but...) ketchup. Disgusting. Completely ruined everything.

For canned tomatoes, I usually buy Eden Organic from my local natural food stores ( They have quality products that aren't only environmentally sound but also delicious.

So there is a difference between real quality and marketed quality. As far as food goes, always judge it by its cover. Because if it's all flash, beautiful packaging but the ingredients read like something out of a chemistry set, you will certainly taste the difference fake food makes.

Here's to real food!