Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Good Teacher

I am a first-year teacher. Over the course of the year I have discovered the following. Correct me if I'm wrong.

1) the absolutely most important thing in any school are the kids;
2) each child has his or her own needs, - academic, social, or emotional - all of which must be addressed in different ways for every child;
3) the good teacher doesn't just pay lip-service to caring for children; he or she realizes that sometimes the academics have to take a backseat because the well being of the child comes before anything;
4) the good teacher must balance the multiple demands of the School system with the very real, very every day, very down-to-earth needs of children.

Being a teacher is not limited to pedagogical theories. It's a hands-on, practical art. I care for whole people, not brains on a stick. These little people are the important thing. Everything else - including curriculum, expected practices, demands of principals, etc - is secondary to what the child needs. And, in my opinion, the best person in the school for knowing what a particular child needs is a good, caring teacher.

You can't generalize the needs of people because eventually you're going to have to apply these generalizations to particular people. And it's not going to work. Teaching needs to be adapted constantly. We deal with particular circumstances and particular people. We must have the space and freedom to say "I understand what the theories say, but right now, it's not doing any good for this or these kids".

I am a good teacher because my focus is always the child. I wish I could say the same about the school system.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shakshouka soup with poached eggs

I've been making Shakshouka for a while now. It's basically just a stew of onions, tomatoes, red peppers, and Harissa (a cumin spiced hot sauce). I made my own harissa not too long ago and have since used it to make several batches of shakshouka. Today, on a whim, I decided to blend the whole thing to the consistency of a soup. I also added some hummus. To add a bit of protein, all I have to do is drop in a few eggs and let them poach gently as the soup simmers. A fancy little drizzle of olive oil, a few dashes of paprika and Bob's your uncle, as the British say, whatever that's supposed to mean.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lobster Rolls!!!

As you may know, there are two seasons for lobster: spring and fall. Anyone who knows anything about lobsters will tell you that spring lobster is the best. Their shells are full and they have a sweeter taste. Though the lobsters we found on special at the grocery store isn't nearly as good as the stuff we'll have access to in a few months once we move back to the Maritimes, eating these crimson darlings definitely hit the spot.

Lobster rolls, an East Coast specialty, hell they even serve it at McDonald's over there, are as easy as preparing chicken salad sandwiches. Protein (lobster meat) + mayonnaise (as much as you think necessary) + chopped green onions and celery + salt and pepper + a few leaves of lettuce + good quality bun with its insides grilled as you would do with grilled cheese = lobster roll. Yummers!

Kale Chips

As you clean up your diet, it gets harder and harder to tolerate junk food. It just makes you feel like crap. One particular junky junk food is chips.

As you can see from the photo, I'm not entirely against chips. However, also notice from the photo that the potato chips are generously topped with a much healthier option: crispy, delicious, green kale chips.

Kale is apparently a super food. As far as nutrition goes, we should all eat more green leaf vegetables. Kale is great as is - in a coleslaw, wilted with onions, in a soup, etc - but they completely transform when tossed in a bit of oil and seasonings and then placed into a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. They go all crispy and delicious. Prepared at home, which, as you can see, is super easy to do, beats the bagged kale chips by a long shot.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chicken heart burger with sprouted pea pesto, roasted red pepper and Greek yogurt

I love offal. Not only does it have a depth of flavour which muscle meats often lack, it's also super cheap. Most people are turned off by offal but not I. I had a craving for a burger, saw chicken hearts at the store and voila! Chicken heart burgers.

The texture of the patty was more similar to a pate but they still held together nicely (the leftover meat I cooked as a pate so...). The taste was great. The heart has a subtle flavour similar to liver but milder. The condiments also went really well with the meat. Here's the recipe (sorry that I don't have any quantities):

- Equal quantities of chicken hearts and ground pork
- Good handful of black olives
- Tsp anise seeds
- Tbsp fresh rosemary
- Juine and zest of one lemon
- Salt and pepper
- Dry bread crumbs, about half the amount of the meat

1. Blend all ingredients together in a food processor, form into patties and then gently cook on the barbecue. The mixture is quite crumbly so if you have anything for the grill with smaller holes, use that...just to be safe.

Pea pesto
- 2 cups peas (I had sprouted peas but fresh or frozen peas would do)
- Half cup almonds
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 cup mint leaves
- Salt
- Olive oil

1. Put all ingredients in a food processor and blitz. Loosen the mixture by slowly pouring in olive oil as it blends. You should end up with a creamy looking, firm mixture. Think pesto.

Serve the patties on fresh, toasted burger buns along with some roasted red and greek yogurt (or sour cream).

River Cottage vegan chocolate tart (tastes like cheesecake)

As I mentioned in my post on the chocolate sauce, avocados make everything delicious and creamy without the need for actual cream. My wife is currently reading several books on dairy and gluten free diets. One is called "Go Dairy Free" and talks about all the reasons why limiting or eliminating our dairy consumption is good for anyone, not just those with food allergies. But what's great about these books is that most of us know that animal fats and other stuff like white sugar aren't good for us. However, I know that for my part, making the transition from dairy full food to dairy free food is like learning to cook all over again. When I go through all my cookbooks and look at recipes online, it seems that nearly everything has dairy or gluten. We put cheese on everything and rarely cook with other flours except wheat flour. It's a shame really because since we've been eating differently we've discovered that dairy and gluten free food is not only better for you (something abstract) but actually tastes just as good as the other stuff (something very concrete).

The recipe below is from my favourite show, River Cottage. Apparently, Hugh had a very bad results concerning his cholesterol levels and so he went vegetarian for a whole summer. This is the premise of the show River Cottage Veg. In one episode, he meets some people who cook only raw food; I'm not sure if "to cook" is an appropriate verb in this context. Regardless, the woman in this episode makes a chocolate tart using avocados and coconut oil for the filling; dates and pecans are used for the crust. It's completely dairy and gluten free but absolutely one of the best deserts I've ever had. Though this was something of a revelation, we've found that avocados are often used to give you that creamy texture without any of the cream. So it's cheesecake without the cream cheese. My gut and that part of my conscience which regulates health choices are both making a happy dance.

Below is the link to the whole recipe. Have a go at it and maybe you'll be slightly better road towards conversion than desert.

Mango, mint and coconut milk smoothie

It's Sunday morning and summer's finally arrived which means that I don't feel like making a huge, hot, heavy brunch. Smoothies are the perfect solution. They're quick to make and also so versatile that just about anything sweet you have in the fridge can go in.

For this smoothie, I blended a mango, some leftover canary melon, about 20 mint leaves, the juice of a lime and about 1 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Since the mango's so ripe, I didn't need to add any sweetener.

Easy, quick, delicious and dairy free. What more can you want?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dairy free chocolate sauce with tree sugar and a sexy vegetable

In case you didn't know, avocados are awesome. Now that we're avoiding dairy, avocados crop up everywhere to replace the creaminess of full fat dairy. Think about it, if you had to use one adjective to describe avocados, what would that adjective be? Creamy. No two ways about it.

Also, it's maple syrup season here in Canada and I got an awesome deal on something like a 4 year supply of maple syrup. Every can comes up to about $6 Canadian. If you don't feel like converting that, just trust me when I say that it's a great deal since here cans usually cost $9.

So here's a great, simple recipe for a versatile chocolate sauce.

Mix together 1 ripe avocado, 1/4 cup coco powder and 1/4 cup maple syrup. That's it. Now you can spread it on fruit, on toast (especially if you add a bit of hazelnut butter to the mix), on cupcakes, on your face and have your spouse lick it off. Go nuts! It only took like, what, 3 minutes to make?

Risotto Three Ways

We've recently had to cut back on our gluten intake. According to the science, overdoing gluten intake, as is the custom in the Western diet, does nothing good for you. Gluten gives foods a great, chewy texture but so far our experiences with the wonderful world of glutenless living hasn't made us miss the stuff much. Anyways, all this to say that since we are steering clear of gluten for the moment we've been experimenting with loads of stuff but also relying on some good old recipes which don't sound like a hippy chemist sat down to write it (just in case some hippy chemist cook is reading this, I have absolutely nothing against tapioca, coconut, rice, chickpea, almond or buckwheat flours...I'll even be sharing some recipes soon...imagine gluten, dairy free pizza!). So to get back on topic - again - the good old recipes I'm referring to are Asian foods which usually rely more on rice and soy than on wheat. In this case however, we're talking risotto. Gooey rice mixtures full of delicious potential.

I started off by making a monster batch of basic risotto from the ever-reliable Cook with Jamie book. The ingredients are:
- 1 and 3/4 pints vegetable or chicken stock
- 2 tbsp olive oil (something Mr. Oliver can't leave out of anything)
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 large, finely chopped onion
- 4-5 sticks of celery, also finely chopped
- 1 pound 6 ounces risotto rice (I used medium grain rice and it was fine)
- 9 fluid ounces of vermouth or dry white wine.

The preparation is long but well worth the effort. Basically, you sweat the vegetables, incorporate the rice and slowly add warm stock, letting the rice fully soak it up before you add more. You repeat this till you have something almost very gooey. I say almost because this is a basic recipe in which you will add more deliciousness and liquid.

For anyone whose ever made their own pasta sauce or mixture, risotto is very similar. Just put stuff that works well together and add to the risotto. The only difference with the risotto is that you have to be careful not to add too little or too much liquid or you risk ruining the whole texture which is the whole point of risotto. Because if you don't care about texture, just microwave a bag of instant rice with a can of mushroom soup and stop reading my blog.

Our first recipe was an adaptation from the same, previously mentioned book. We replaced spinach for kale (it's what we had on hand), chopped and sautéed the kale in some olive oil with garlic. Once cooked down, we popped the vegetables in a food processor till we had a very fine mixture; to this we added a touch of nutmeg. We then finished off half of the basic risotto recipe with 1 and 1/4 pints of vegetable stock, mixed in the kale mixture, added the juice of half a lemon and added cheese: parmesan and goat's cheese for me, daiya for my wife. The great thing about risotto is that it tastes as if you drowned it in cream and butter but is absolutely the healthiest stuff on the planet besides laughing children ;)

Since we still had half the basic risotto recipe left, we decided to make a mushroom risotto. We did the same as above but instead of the kale we put mushrooms, onions, shallots, fresh thyme, garlic, and loads of pepper. I then gave a generous splash of lemon to brighten up what could be something very un-springlike. Topped with a bit of parmesan (or daiya) and olive oil, this dish was quick and easy. Quick because it was made with leftover basic risotto mixture and easy because we'd succeeded once so the odds of failing were much lower.

So if you're counting, that's two variations of risotto which build on one basic recipe. Yet here comes something even more beautiful. With the leftover mushroom risotto - this stuff is like the Energizer bunny - we formed patties, rolled in chickpea flour and fried in coconut oil. This was amazing! The smooth, gooey texture of the risotto was given yet more texture with the crunchy outside. To be fair, it would have been better if we'd done some proper breading (i.e. flour, eggs and then the chickpea flour) but we're also avoiding eggs for the moment. We served the mushroom risotto croquettes - cute name, non? - with some beer butt chicken and a simple salad.

To wrap this whole entry up, I'd like to formally state that I love risotto. We're good friends now. Maybe we'll go on a picnic together this summer by the seaside and I'll see if it's as lovely cool as it is warm.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Kale Risotto with Goat Cheese or Daiya

There are two things, kitchen wise, which are causing a bit of a dilemma lately. One, we stocked up on lots of hard to find stuff (well at least hard to find here up in Kapuskasing) like shaohsing wine, gochujang, short grained rice in bulk, and a slew of gluten free flours. Two, we're moving back to Moncton in July which means that all of this stock either has to be consumed or trudged halfway across Canada. Since I don't like stuff lying around unused anyways, I opt for consumption rather than transportation. So at least as far as the rice is concerned there are quite a few tasty options including, but not limited to, sushi and risotto.

I can't say I've been a huge fan of risotto. It's not the first thing I'd cook if given a choice but lately we've discovered that my wife has serious intolerances to alot of food. She's had to cut out gluten, dairy, eggs, most fruit, and all protein except seafood and chicken. This makes cooking difficult but also kind of fun. It's much more fun finding and cooking a good, gluten-free recipe for pancakes which is not only edible but just as delicious as the gluten variety. By the way, gluten does absolutely nothing for us nutritionally. So in case there are others reading this who are in the same boat as us, one good blog and book is Spunky Monkey (Google it).

Anyways, for the recipe, it comes from my now aging Cook with Jamie book. In this book there is a basic risotto recipe which is used as the base for whatever risotto you want to make and also keeps in the fridge for up to a week which means that making risotto takes only a few minutes on a busy weekday.

The recipe I made was a spinach and goat cheese risotto which I modified to use kale instead. I love kale for it's intense green, almost nutty taste. Just wilt along with some garlic, blitz in a food processor, fold into the hot risotto and mix with parmesan and goat cheese. For my wife, I put daiya instead of cheese; if you're intolerant to dairy, daiya is awesome. We used it on pizza the other day and it was, incredibly, just as good as the brick cheese I had. I mean, most cheese is so processed now that something which contains no dairy at all can easily stand up to it. So kudos to Daiya and shame, again, on the industrialization of food.

Ranting aside, we now have enough leftover risotto to make all sorts of stuff. I want to have a crack at risotto croquettes which are balls of leftover risotto rolled in breadcrumbs and fried.

All of this means 4 cups of rice used. Now we just have to find something to do with the approximately 50 cups which are left.

Miracle Chocolate Sauce from Heaven

It's so fun to have simple recipes which emulate something like thick chocolate sauce but without the need for massive amounts of butter or some other fat. So get to the point, you say. What is in this sauce that makes it so miraculous. Well I'll tell you. Avocados.

We all know, I hope, that avocados are like the butter of the vegetable world. They're rich and creamy. They also don't have a super strong flavour which makes them perfect for this recipe. Here it is:

1/4 cup cacao powder
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 avocado

Blend everything together and use as you would chocolate spread or a thick chocolate sauce. Atop a cupcake? Why not! In a crepe and covered with fruit? Go nuts! Oh, speaking of nuts, it would probably be like Nutella if you added some nuts which means breakfast ever.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Baba ghanouj

I have an aversion to eggplant yet it seems that every where you turn cooks are using eggplant and gardeners are bending over backwards to grow the things. There has to be a reason why this uninspiring, bland vegetable is used so much. One thing I've always enjoyed is store-bought baba ghanouj. Yet like all things store-bought, I have a fervent belief that homemade will always be better. Either as a dip for fresh vegetables or spread out on toasted pita bread, baba ghanouj is great. But I'm also using it as just another condiment. I can use it in a sandwich along with some hummus and vegetables or as a sort of sauce in which to dip some barbecued chicken or fish. I like having a little assortment of all these types of sauces as well as some homemade pickles. There's nothing chemical, nothing mysterious about the stuff that are in these mason jars scattered in the insides of my fridge.

Here's a modified version of a recipe I found for baba ghanouj online. I used twice the amount of lemon juice that the original recipe prescribes as well as added a few spices.

1 eggplant
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
Dash of ground cumin and cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet.

2. Place eggplant on baking sheet, and make holes in the skin with a fork. Roast it for 30 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally, or until soft. Remove from oven, let cool and peel skin off.

3. Place eggplant and all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz. Chill before serving.


I've neglected my blog for - lets be honest - the past few years.  Yet I've been reading past comments and I'm so flattered by everyone's kind words.  I do enjoy food and writing so a blog is just a natural merger; I've made loads of great food that never makes it onto here.  I guess the reason for neglecting the blog is that it just feels like I'm throwing things out there into the enormous ocean of the internet.  But according to some of your comments, my blog can be entertaining and, at times, funny.  So...

Soda Bread from River Cottage

I am a really big River Cottage fan even though here in Canada the only way I can watch the show is by watching it online. Now I mourn the first three seasons where we saw Hugh experimenting with self-sustainability, yet I still love his approach to food.

This particular recipe comes from River Cottage Everyday. Hugh's baker friend makes a Guinness, apple and cheddar soda bread though this plain recipe is great, especially when you don't feel like waiting on yeast to do its thing. It has a dry yet almost eggy flavour. Perfect for a lazy Saturday morning.