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July « 2009 « Foodie and the Everyman

Archive for July, 2009

There Go(es) My Hero(es)

I think it goes without saying that Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and Mrs. Obama are some of my heroes.

I also can’t forget the guys behind King Corn, who have a new documentary coming out this winter called Truck Farm, that deals with their quest to grow a market garden in the confines of the flatbed of a pickup truck.  It’s such a stupidly funny concept that it’s got me wondering why I didn’t think of that.  But to my credit, I am growing most of my food in ugly kiddie pools.

All of these ongoing efforts to bring the campaign for healthy, local, sustainable food to North America are admirable in their dedication, and are definitely not going unnoticed.  More than ever people are taking an interest, whether by reading labels, shopping at farm stands or just growing their own food at home.  We’re witnessing a pivotal moment that could shape the way that food is mass-produced for the children of tomorrow.

However, a few recent articles have put me on to two other people whose goals I admire.  Over at NY Times, you can read about Will Allen, a former professional basketball player who is now putting his talents to use by growing crops and feeding people in urban food ghettos.  The man’s charisma literally oozes off the page, with an aw-shucks kind of quality to everything he says.  Not only is he changing the world, but he’s humble about it, too.

Building on the concept of aquaculture, there was an article about this guy in the Globe and Mail about two weeks ago.  I’m not a huge fan of most cooked fish though I adore sushi, and I would never have a use for one of these setups, but nonetheless, I think what he’s doing is amazing.  It’s that kind of fringe thinking that makes me optimistic that our global community can find a path to sustainability.

And then there’s Jamie Oliver; during the last 2 months The Food Network has been airing a whole slew of his programs geared toward food awareness.  First there was Jamie’s Ministry Of Food, which focused on teaching a town in England to cook.  It was so popular that it’s been picked up for a US version that will feature Ryan Seacrest (ugh!)  Then there was the kitschy, slightly game show-esque Jamie’s Eat To Save Your Life, in which the charming Oliver gets all bedecked in a ridiculous looking suit and perambulates around the stage, informing 18 Brits about the many ways that their terrible eating habits are quietly killing them.  Using shock and horror to poignant effect, one segment shows a woman sitting in a bathtub filled with all the fat she would consume in 5 years at the rate she was going.  The next one hour episode in the series, Jamie’s Fowl Dinners shows a room full of guests excited to have a dinner cooked by Oliver being educated on the vast differences between free range and battery farm chickens instead.  Jamie even manages to get an interview and inside look at one of these battery farmhouses, which is more than could be said for the guys behind Food Inc. It’s seriously disturbing, from the way the coops are extremely overcrowded, to the fact that most of the chickens can barely walk, right down to the end of the show where Oliver learns and demonstrates how to humanely dispatch a chicken.  It’s not something you’d necessarily want to see, but if you’re going to eat meat, you should be able to stomach how it happens.  As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also got an episode on pork (yet to air in Canada) cheekily named Jamie Saves Your Bacon.  I suppose if anyone can do it, Jamie probably can, although even I will admit that after a while some of the shock-rockery of his schtick gets a little bit old.

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The Mad Scientist

Stadtlander Swag

It’s been about a year and a half since the Everyman and I made our culinary pilgrimage to Eigensinn Farm.

That one short trip 18 months ago could have such a profound effect on me afterwards was something I had not expected.

The trip, given to me as a Christmas present in 2007, was a culinary curiosity that happened to hold some cachet.  Speaking of its impending date to a few coworkers revealed that the quaint, fancy dinner was more sought after than I’d anticipated.

Attempt one ended abruptly when our visit to Collingwood was cut short by a snowstorm that left us stranded at Blue Mountain for the evening.  In a sense it was a blessing in disguise, as an emergency wisdom tooth removal a few days prior had left me worried that I would be unable to enjoy the meal.  Graciously, Stadtlander’s wife Nobuyo managed to reschedule our dinner for the following weekend, so 7 days later we descended on Blue Mountain again for our chance at the culinary fireworks known as Eigensinn Farm.

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Mangia – Pane Toscano

Finale

Having spent a thoroughly frantic day preparing for guests on Saturday, when bread baking finally rolled around on Sunday morning, I was more than happy to settle on a recipe that was a little more hands off than usual.  Rushing to and from the market and standing on one’s feet all day tend to make this foodie grumpy, so I was on the lookout for an effortless endeavour followed by a crisp, cool glass of wine.

On top of all that, I planned to go out for dinner to research a restaurant review for my side job, so I knew I would not be around to tend to anything time-consuming (coming soon; August 6th).

After halfheartedly flipping through the pages of Local Breads and bypassing both the German and French sections, I paused where I often do; in Italy.  The pane Toscano, billed as a saltless Tuscan bread, seemed simple and rustic enough to pull off with a minimal amount of fuss.  The primary advantage in tipping the scales was that it didn’t require a starter more complicated than a biga.  I whipped the biga together in double time, then went about soaking my poor, aching toes.

Mix Mix Mix

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Flowers You Can Eat

Dinnah!

The Everyman and I had company over for dinner on the weekend, which necessitated an early morning jaunt to the farmer’s market to procure the appropriate supplies.

Whilst there, I came across some dainty squash blossoms at my regular heirloom tomato stand and though I knew they’d be too “out there” for our guests, I couldn’t resist picking up a clamshell for myself, anyway.

I’ve eaten the blossoms in restaurants before, but never bothered to prepare them at home.  After staring at them in the fridge for a few days, I settled on what I considered would be a complimentary, yet homey stuffing.  A lot of people will tell you that squash blossoms should be stuffed with cheese, or dipped in batter and deep fried, but I say no.  Instead, I modified a stuffing recipe that I often use for peppers, to produce these tiny morsels of delectability.

Blossoms

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Well… This Worked Out Better Than It Did Last Time

Eaten

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

For this month’s Daring Bakers, I decided that I wanted to focus on the “mallow” cookies rather than the milanos because a) I hate milanos and b) I wanted to take another stab at making marshmallows. In Canada, mallows (the cookie) are often referred to as puffs, and are generally sold with a layer of jam in between the cookie and the marshmallow.  Being as big a fan of jam as I am, I had initially planned to go that route, but the sheer mechanics of this recipe determined for me that I was being overzealous.

With that in mind, let’s get to the details, shall we?

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The Joys Of Buttermilk; AKA How To Get The Everyman To Eat His Chard

Oven Fried Chicken

The Everyman’s not a huge fan of the tougher, leafier greens that have become a staple of our CSA share during the past few months.  Some weeks that means they get turned into oven “chips” for me (FYI – I finally made the kale ones and they do taste like potato chips, oddly enough) while others they are relegated to the bottom of the compost bin.

It pains me to throw good food away, but there are only so many dried “chips” I can eat. This past week I drew a line in the sand, said enough was enough, and determined to make a chard dish he would love.

The immediate concept was to make a fried chicken-type dish, and then side it with some stewed greens, using chard in place of collards.  Being that I don’t care to fry things, I opted for oven “frying” instead of oil, because it would be quicker, easier and healthier.  On the rare occasions I make battered chicken, (I blame my teenage years working for KFC for my impartiality regarding fried chicken; some things once they are seen, can never be unseen, unfortunately). I also like to up the health quotient by crusting it with something more substantial than AP flour (not that we even keep AP in the house, anyway).  Usually it ends up being a crust of whole wheat flour, wheat bran and flax meal, but this time I had something slightly different in mind.

The Everyman’s mother has a gluten allergy, so I have a vast array of “alternative” flours in my basement freezer ready and at hand for any baking emergency or requirement.  The latest acquisition in my floury arsenal was a tub of spelt flour, which sounded like a good choice, so I poured some into a bag, added the requisite wheat bran and flax meal, some pimenton, salt and pepper, and shook it all around, after soaking the chicken legs in buttermilk for a few hours.  On it’s own it didn’t look overly appetizing, what with spelt flour having an almost grayish cast.  Once coated onto chicken legs it started to perk up a little, and by the time it was out of the oven, it looked sensational, as seen above.  In case you’re wondering, it tasted fantastic, too.

To side the “fried” chicken, I rough chopped my chard into medium-sized pieces, tossed it in a pan with some olive oil, salt, pepper and chili flakes, and let it sauté until the chard was limp and collard-like.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the Everyman eat any vegetable that fast before.  Our chard dilemma solved, it’s clear that I will definitely be making this again. (more…)

Salad Days

When I was younger, I was what you might call a hardcore carnivore.  But, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized the importance of living a more flexitarian lifestyle, not only for my health, but also for my wellbeing.  For the most part, the Everyman begrudges me on this.  Since I do all of the cooking, he really has no choice anyway…

That desire became part and parcel of my decision to grow much of our food on the roof.  Having a constant supply of freshly grown produce just outside the back door tends to make it that much easier to eat all those servings of fruit and veg, don’t you think?  Plus, I can feel comfortable knowing that the only things that assisted my plants’ growth were sun, rain and the occasional sprinkling of composted cow poop, rather than scary industrialized fertilizers that could grow me a third arm.  Although, I could use a third arm.  It would make it so much easier to smack the stupid people… hmm…

In warmer years, my various salad leaves would have long gone to bolt by now.  If you’re not familiar with that term, bolting is when the lettuce plants shoot up their flowers and start going to seed.  It typically happens when the weather gets too warm (high 20′s to 30′s), and for some reason causes the greens to get bitter and inedible (unless you like that sort of thing).

However, the cool and rainy summer we’ve been experiencing in Ontario has allowed the majority of the greens to remain lush and verdant well past their expected harvest date.

This unexpected overage of leafy veg has meant that we’ve had to get creative with our usages.  The greens are so (surprisingly) flavourful on their own that I usually do little more than salt, pepper, oil and balsamic them before eating.  But, sometimes the body craves a little variety.  And just in time for that, Mark Bittman has put out a list of 101 ways to prepare the humble salad.

I haven’t managed to read through the entire list yet (that’s a lot of salad, after all) but I’m sure there must be at least a dozen or two possibilities included that will work perfectly for dispatching the rest of our lettuce.  I wonder if he has any suggestions for all of those beet greens that are overtaking my garden…

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The Pervasiveness Of Food Porn

Nom

Years ago, the term food porn primarily referred to those glossy spreads of salaciously styled meals in culinary magazines or chef-authored cookbooks.

The food itself almost seemed to take a back seat to the implications that one could not possibly enjoy a meal unless it was as artfully arranged as that displayed between the covers.  As entertaining as it might be to flippantly peruse the pages of the latest foodie publications, all of this imposed perfection has the detrimental effect of discouraging home cooks from actually cooking anything, by setting them up for failure.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought twice about trying a recipe (on the rare occasion I use one) because the accompanying photographs left me with an uneasy sense of dread, knowing that whatever I made would never look like this.  To that end, I don’t subscribe to many foodie magazines anymore, whereas at one time I couldn’t move around my tiny apartment without tripping over a stack of Gourmet, Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, etc.  Now I tend to focus on magazines with a purpose that is more substantial than superficial or skin deep, like Edible Toronto.

Plus, now I have the internet when I need a fix of some food porn…

First there were sites like FoodPorn, then came Tastespotting, Foodgawker, Photograzing, and countless others.  The community-driven visual potluck (as Tastespotting calls itself) is page upon page of softly lit, flawlessly portioned food, each photo portraying fare that is more preciously unattainable than the last.  On several occasions I’ve submitted content to Tastespotting and Foodgawker, only to have the editors inform me that my food is not appealing enough.  While I suppose that charcuterie’s heyday has not yet hit its apex of popularity, I still think that my photos had some merit.  It’s nice to know that society’s consistent across the board now in judging food solely on it’s looks, as we do with just about everything (and everyone) else (sic).  Though I still keep tabs on a few of these sites today, I find that instead of being a place to share all manner of food photography, they’ve become an exercise in unrealistic one-upsmanship.

They say that you eat with your eyes first, and to a certain extent I agree.  However, throughout history there have been many dishes and even whole cuisines whose appeal goes far beyond their rustically plebian presentations.  One dish in particular that comes to mind is the Italian dessert brutti ma buoni, which roughly translates to ugly, but good.  The meringue-like cookies, which are typically chock full of pinenuts, hazelnuts, almonds and orange zest, might not have the visual fireworks of a New York Black And White, but they are quietly tasteful, and still pretty darn good.  And truly, if we only concerned ourselves with ingesting “pretty” food, we wouldn’t have sludge like Taco Bell, now would we?  As with people and all things in nature, just because something isn’t beautiful, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.  A well-prepared veal cutlet on a bun is a delicious treat, but in most cases is nothing to look at.  There’s no reason that visual blahness should invalidate its culinary significance.  At the end of the day, taste should be the overriding priniciple that we are striving to achieve.

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Food Of The Gods

Cheese!

Having been at the cottage this past weekend, the Everyman and I made a pit stop at Cheese Boutique before we headed up, as is customary for the two of us.

Shopping at Cheese Boutique is often fraught with stresses for me, because there is always so much I want to see, but only a limited time allotted to me while the Everyman procures the meaty end of our selections.  I am usually tasked with the cheese shopping, and our combined input determines the fruit, veg and bread.  We tend to go away with much more food than we’ll ever need, but miraculously, it still manages to get eaten (snerk!)

One of the things I look forward to after a Cheese Boutique run is the leftovers that accumulate in our fridge.  The fior di latte and tomatoes never last long in our house unfortunately, which in both cases is entirely my fault, what with them being two of my most dreaded forms of culinary Kryptonite.  Most times I am able to scrounge together enough remnants to assemble a tasty lunch, which I did for work yesterday.

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The Foodie 13 – CanCon Cookbooks

Yup, it’s about time for another gloriously informative Foodie 13.

Being such a proponent of local food, I thought that perhaps it was time to round up the best Canadian content cookbooks to go with all of that local food.  After all, who better to instruct you on how to cook local bounty than those who live in the same climate?

You may notice that the list skews heavily on the non-television personality side of things, and that is completely intentional.  With the exception of James Barber (who really was a national treasure) and Elizabeth Baird (who I don’t believe is actively on television anymore) you will not find any “brands” gracing this list.  Instead, it contains books that were written by artisans who inspired me, and masters who impressed me with their craft.  And in case anyone was wondering, Susur’s book was left off the list because I just don’t have enough hours in the day to cook his kind of food.

1Jamie Kennedy’s Seasons by Jamie Kennedy – As magnanimous in print as he is in real life, Seasons is jam-packed with the best of Kennedy’s local, seasonal, artisanal eats, including a recipe for his trademark frites.  The accompanying vivid photos make even the humblest of recipes seem absolutely drool-worthy.

2 – The Heaven On Earth Project by Michael Stadtlander – Part arthouse project, part beautiful story, this cookbook chronicles the building and usage of some of Stadtlander’s more esoteric statuary on his Singhampton farm/restaurant property.  A very intimate peek into the mind and heart of one of Canada’s greatest culinary geniuses.

3 – Fat by Jennifer McLagan – My favourite of McLagan’s two books (the other being Bones) even though I adore bone marrow, (which is both a bone and a fat) Fat unravels the stigma behind… fat.  A book filled with richly descriptive recipes, colorful photos and reasons why high quality fats (in limited quantities) should be a part of everyone’s diet.

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Pain De La Semaine

Crumb

Despite the fact that the Everyman and I spent the weekend at the cottage, the bread still needed to get made.

Knowing that I would not be around to babysit a biga, I intended to select a dough that could be assembled in one shot.  Complicating matters slightly, our organic grocer had gifted us with a massive bush-sized bouquet of basil as a thank you for being customers on his birthday last week, so I felt the need to incorporate some of that into the recipe as well, lest it go to waste.  There is, after all, only so much pesto one can make.  Our freezer is full of them; lemon artichoke pesto, sundried tomato pesto, roasted garlic pesto, garlic scape pesto, plain old pesto, etc etc.  If you can add cheese to it, I’ve probably turned it into pesto cubes at some point in time.

Flipping through my all-important baking bible, Local Breads by Daniel Leader, I came across a loaf that sounded slightly challenging that would also meet the above requirements; an herb twist.  Marking the page for later, I left the book on the counter and headed off to the cottage for a few days of summer relaxation.

Upon my return, I hunkered down in the kitchen and began to assemble the pertinent ingredients.  As with anything I make, I couldn’t leave the recipe as is, so I added a few scoops of red fife flour in place of some of the white flour, and omitted the coriander seeds, which I truly despise.

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A Is For Aleppo

Finished

After having talked up a storm last week to convince you that you should try aleppo, I started thinking it wouldn’t be a bad idea to explore other uses for this smoky and subtle spice.

Strangely enough, the July issue of Bon Appetit (unearthed while searching for aleppo recipes on Epicurious) yielded a Steve Raichlen barbecued chicken dish featuring aleppo, so I decided to test it out.

Coated

On paper the ingredients list reads tantalizingly; sliced lemons, yogurt, aleppo, oil, vinegar, garlic and tomato paste combine to form a fragrant and rosy-hued marinade.

Skewered And Sprinkled

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Are We Hooked On Food?

Growing up I often wondered if I had an addiction to food.

As I became an adult, I would jokingly offer it up for conversation when asked if I had vices.

Food has always seemed to hold a great deal more fascination for me than for most other people I know.  I relish eating it, I enjoy preparing it, and in my off time I take pleasure in reading (and writing) about it.  For a long time I naively assumed that most people felt like this, that there were 2 kinds of people when it came to food; those who live to eat and those who eat to live.  But, as I’ve grown older, I find the more I talk to others about food, the more I encounter glazed looks of incomprehension.  To wit, it seems I have become a “food geek”.

Over the years I’ve been all sorts of shapes and sizes too, owing to my complex relationship with food.  From the rail thin years, to the Rubenesquely plump ones, (again, thanks to Mr. Lee for searing those words permanently into my consciousness) my love affair with food has seen me at all points in between.  The worst was probably in 2003-ish, (what I fondly refer to as my binge-drinking bender years) when a friendly cashier who I often chit-chatted with at the grocery store inquired when I was due.  What made up for it was the sheer look of horror on her face when I sputtered that I was not pregnant at the time, and the back-pedaling that ensued.  A rule to live by when it comes to women; if you’re not sure, don’t ask.  You only risk making yourself look like an insensitive moron if you’re wrong.

At any rate, back to food.

It used to be that addictions were primarily the stigma of gamblers and druggies, but it seems like modern day psychiatry and psychology have expanded their definition.  Now we have addictions to sex, addictions to pain, addictions to just about anything you can dream up.  So why not food?

From personal experience I can tell you that while I happen to overindulge in certain kinds of foods (chocolate, great bread, charcuterie, cheese and Tempranillos, specifically) I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a food I felt inclined to eat so badly that I wasn’t able to stop.  I don’t suffer from Doritos-itis or Pringle-ocity, just the occasional bouts of rampant gluttony.  My brand of obsession is slightly more complicated; I have an affectation for diversity.  When I go out, I want to consume as many different flavours as possible, and I’ve often said that if I were to ever open a restaurant one day, it would be for those people who are just like me.  I envision a place specializing in tiny nibbles of all manner of things, from a duck confit sliver, to a fresh fig stuffed with cheese, to a chocolate covered strawberry, I want it all… just in minuscule portions.

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