Archive for December, 2005

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Greta Learns to Be Brave, Then Responsible

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

Oh, the potlucks. This season precipitates the making and sharing of food like no other. Elsbeth and I were trading stories about food witnessed at these events and her top pick is Mormon Fluff, a.k.a. Ambrosia salad. (Apparently, in Southern Alberta, it is known as the former. Weird.) Green Jello™ mixed with canned fruit cocktail and cool whip; because it’s green, it totally counts as a vegetable. My top pick is a tie between the Mystery Meat Balls that someone always brings in a crock pot swimming in an unidentifiable gravy/BBQ sauce, and Boogers-on-a-Stick, which I have only witnessed once. B.O.A.S. consists of stick pretzels poked into watered-down Cheez Whiz™ made green with food colouring. I tried one on a dare and kind of gagged.

Anyway, Marc and I attended his department’s potluck xmas party last weekend. Everyone was assigned a course and I have to say that the resulting meal was pretty outstanding. There were many cheeses and meats, wine, breads and dips, “junior high” punch, salads, ribs, casseroles, butter chicken (I think), tiramisu, apples with caramel, trifle, cheesecake, cookies and port. And lots of other very good, very insulation-inducing stuff. The award for Out-Fucking-Standing goes to the maker of the slow-cooked spare-ribs whose name I don’t remember but which starts with a ‘V’. Out-fucking-standing, V. People were still eating spare-ribs long after dessert and that is the most telling sign of a potluck winner.

Once the ice was broken, the kids at the party, who were decked out in their xmas finery, all played together amongst the adults (and the not-so-adult). On the way to the party, I’m told that Greta proclaimed that she was very brave and was not shy at all which, it turns out, was a bit of an exaggeration. She was shy but learned to be brave, thanks to Carl and his challenge to a chugging content. Witness: Exhibit A, below.

These two were responsible drinkers because they both sat on their bums to drink, were careful not to spill and didn’t drive home.

In Which I Discuss Meat

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

I think it must be obvious by now that we are not shy about the meat.

In the course of our culinary adventures, we are, at the very least, dedicated omnivores. However, I took this a step further in my last post in which I made mention of the “responsible meatatarian”. Allow me to elaborate: I consider myself a responsible meatatarian; someone who eats meat but does so in such a way as to limit the negative impacts of doing so as much as possible. I work at making sure I know where my meat comes from, how it lived and ate and who is selling it to me. In other words, I’m pretty particular and am aware that any choice that I make to eat meat has the potential to make a broad eco-socio-economic impact. I don’t want to go off on a rant here but the minimum amount of research that I have done (really, tip-of-the-iceberg stuff) has helped me to make the decision not to capriciously consume food. I appreciate meat and, lucky for me, I also have the luxury of being able to make a choice about what I eat. (And for the record, I really appreciate the vegetable family, too. I respect the people who choose to eat them exclusively and who, in turn, accord me the same respect as an omnivore.)

That being said, I thought it would be interesting to look at irresponsible meatatarianism. (Plus, we didn’t cook last night so I’ve got no pictures and no recipes to blather on about.) Ergo, here is my list of (arguably) The Top 7 Most Irresponsible Meatatarians (That I Was Able To Find In A Couple Hours’ Worth of Google Searching):

Number Seven
Truly remarkable, this is a story about a 115-lb woman from New Jersey who ate 11% of her body’s weight in burger. I actually don’t consider her so much an irresponsible meatatarian as I do the pub and its owner who are responsible for creating this crazy-huge meat sandwich. So I guess it’s a tie: Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub and Katie Stelnick.

Number Six
Interesting that people choose to challenge themselves with the amount of food they can consume in one sitting. I think the description of this affair is what qualified it on my little unofficial list.

Halfway through the burger, I started to slow down. “Sweet Lord,” I complained, “This is like trying to eat a cow hit by a produce truck.””My plate looks like a roach coach exploded in a mustard factory,” Todd observed.

By this point, the burger looked like something out of a John Carpenter film. It was not easy to be eating mutant zombie flesh, even with the cheese.

“I’m having a hard time here,” I said a few minutes later.

“I’m getting the meat sweats,” Todd said, dabbing at his forehead with a filthy napkin.

This was a war. Covered in fluids and flesh, we determined to slog it through. With great difficulty, I finished the rest of the burger, including the quarter-pound of loose condiments that had dripped onto the plate. Scooping that mess into my mouth was the worst part: a greasy casserole of bacon, oily mushrooms, and fried onions.

To his credit, this guy wrote an extremely colourful description of the experience – especially the “greasy casserole” part which, even without the pictures, was enough to trigger a brief wave of nausea. (I can practically hear Chris suppressing the dry heaves as he reads this.)

Number Five
“Badlands” Booker eating a burger that is larger than his head.


Number Four
The Smoke Meat Marathon. While in Montreal, this guy challenged himself to eat as many versions of the smoked meat sandwich as possible. Tasty though these sandwiches can be, I feel pretty bad leaving behind so much food on a plate, let alone meat. I can only assume that he didn’t finish each sandwich he tried which would mean wasted meat which would point to an irresponsible meatarian.

Number Three
I think Hardee’s deserves to be Number Three on this list because not only do they make the largest, most calorie-laden fast food burger on offer today, but they target a most apathetic demographic. People! Fear the burger! Save yourselves!
(BTW, I totally looked up where the closest Hardee’s is. If I drove for, like, 8 straight hours, I could get one of these burgers in Montana.)

Number Two
Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas. I love that the people who enter the competetive eating circuit give themselves nicknames. Witness American greats like Eric “Badlands” Booker (a.k.a. Number Five on this list), Ed “Cookie” Jarvis, “Hungry” Charles Hardy, and Rich “The Locust” LeFevre. She holds a number of world records for eating and, incidentally, her inspiration for becoming a professional competitive eater is Number One.

The Hot Dog King himself, the champion and inspiration of irresponsible meatatarians everywhere, Mr. Takeru Kobayashi. Seriously. 53½ hotdogs. In 12 minutes. Seriously! How is he not dead? Of nitrate poisoning and/or choking and/or heart attack? Scientists should study Takeru and make sure that he isn’t a super villain. I can’t even be reprehensive here as I am overshadowed by sheer amazement. I am agog. And I kind of want a hot dog.

Disclaimer: I admit that I got pretty carried away on the burger theme but there is a mountain of evidence documenting the irresponsible meatarianism out there and the burger just seems to be the vehicle of choice for unadulterated gluttony. When/if I ever decide to make a list like this again, I promise to explore other forms of outrageous meat-eating.

No Pressure

Monday, December 12th, 2005

And now, we return to India – kind of – with Chicken Coconut Curry Soup. Hmm. On second thought, maybe this is Malaysian. At any rate, it’s authentic; I can tell because the recipe called for eight minutes in the pressure cooker. Those don’t see much use inside North America (relative to the microwave, anyway) but I understand that they are very much a staple tool of the non-Western world. Frankly, I’m not even sure I would recognize a pressure cooker if I saw one in real life. The first two words that pop into my mind are: dangerous and 1950’s. Like James Dean. Or drag racing. What does one even look like? [enter Interweb]

Clearly, this is the fancy-pants Paris Hilton of the pressure cooker world because it is shiny and coordinated:

And this is it’s ugly medieval cousin, Iron Maiden Pressure Cooker:

And crazy, old Aunt Betsy:

But I digress. Lacking a pressure cooker, Marc opted for a gentler method of simmering the chicken in cocount milk, chicken broth, lemongrass and curry. Chicken thighs are always a good choice for soup and they didn’t let us down. It’s true that the cooking time was a fair bit longer than if we had been using Old Besty, but it wasn’t unreasonable and affected a pretty mean curry soup. A quick squirt of lime before serving was perfection.

Incidentally, we polished off a bottle of La Vieille Ferme with a couple of healthy helpings of the curry. Again, with La Vieille Ferme. What can I say except that it is great and inexpensive and made even greater by the fact that we get a discount if buying twelve or more. Eleven more to go!

P.S. Notice, we finally got the macro function of the camera to work.

¡Feliz Navidad!

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

We return to Mexico this week with Spicy Roasted Vegetable Soup with Toasted Tortillas. Being responsible meatatarians, we try to sprinkle our weekly menu with more eco-socio-supportive (and cheaper) vegetarian meals and this one goes even one step further to be vegan.

On the surface, this appeared as though it might be quite a lot of work for a weekday but it was deceiving; with two of us working on it, it wasn’t half bad. Most of the work involved roasting the vegetables but pretty much everything else got a brief turn in the blender before joining the roasters and happily simmering away for a couple of hours to produce a marvelous, spicy, hearty soup. The small amount of chipotles that we added really went a long way and brought a tangy, smoky flavour to the rest of the veggies. The squash gets the runner-up prize for adding chunkiness and a little bit of sweetness to balance the spicy. And I always love a spritz of lime on top of Mexican flavours- it just brings such brightness to a dish.

Tasty as this meal was, I’m afraid I could never, EVER be a vegan. If forced, I might consider being vegetarian but, to quote local musician Kris Demeanor “I’d rather live in hell than live a life without cheese.”

‘Tis The Season

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

Somewhere along the way as I was growing up, the food element of Christmas overtook the excitement of the gift element. This shift occurred gradually until one year, instead of waking up anxious to see the presents, I woke up salivating with thoughts of Eggs Benedict. However, I have always, always looked forward to the Christmas cookies.

They’re as much a seasonal ingredient as any meat or produce and I would argue they are better than the year-round cookies for simply that reason. When the mammoth Tupperware containers sitting in the cold on the back deck were empty, that was it for 12 months. Savour the anticipation!

Through the years, Mom has developed a standard baseline of Cookies That Must Be Made Each Year. This includes Jam-jams, shortbread and butter tarts. There are also the Cookies That Generally Make an Appearance Every Other Year but do not qualify as bonified baseline: Twix-bar squares, hazelnut clusters, deep-fried sugar cookies and fudge. Finally, we have a mysterious category– the Only Mom Likes This and Makes It With The Assumption That We Will Eat It category. The lone item on this page is Mincemeat Cheesecake. (In my mind, there is no better way to ruin a perfectly good cheesecake than to put a layer of mincemeat in the middle. Why would anyone do this?)

This year marks a milestone in cookie history in my family because I audaciously suggested ditching the ones in the Generally Make an Appearance category and found three new cookies to try. I think we were all ready for a change because it was easy to convince the Matriarch and the Tasting Panel (a.k.a. Dad). So this year, on Ingrid’s advice, I combed the Christmas Cookie section of Canadian Living Magazine and selected Really Good Rum Balls, Eggnog Sugar Cookies and Double Ginger Drop Cookies. I abhor the cheesy titles so I let the ingredients make the decision for me. Love rum; love eggnog; LOVE ginger.

After nearly 6 [hung-over] hours, my mom and I were able to produce over 10 dozen cookies (including the Jam-jams as one of the staple items) and the results were brilliant. The drop cookies have both ground and crystallized ginger in them which made them marvelously spicy and chewy whenever biting into a solid chunk of ginger. We drizzled both those and the Eggnog Sugar cookies with the same simple icing (sugar and milk) and in similar, clean patterns. (Basically, we were too tired to ice each individual cookie so just lined them up on baking racks and streamed long strands of icing across them en masse. They actually turned out ridiculously well as very elegant and attractive treats.) The Eggnog recipe produced a wafer like cookie that reminds me of a delicately flavoured biscuit one might have with tea. The icing gave them just a hint of extra sweetness that was perfect.

Finally, the rum balls: rum, grated chocolate, ground almonds, icing sugar. I hope nobody else likes these.

Et voilà! A completely revised repertoire that has rekindled my love of holiday cookies and is guaranteed to add further insulation. Now comes the fun part: planning the Christmas dinner menu!

Pasta Vongola

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

Last year, I bought How To Eat, a cookbook by Nigella Lawson with GREAT anticipation. It is probably the most expensive and pretty cookbook that I own and it has some lovely, art-sy photos in it. It was purchased because it was the subject of one of my bookclub meetings, as kind of a variation on our usual theme of modern literature. I was really looking forward to sifting through this heavy volume of recipes, advice and prose but it has proved to be quite exasperating.

The recipes are kind of sorted according to course (i.e. Appetizers, Dinners, Lunches) but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of consistency between sections. Some, like the Lunches section, offer several lunch menus, referencing recipes, or parts of recipes from previous sections, like the Cooking-for-One section. And not every section is laid out as a series of menus, it’s kind of all over the place. Anyway, it gets worse because the recipes are quite often buried in the prose so that instead of instructions like, “Soak clams in cold water for 30 minutes”, it reads something along the lines of “If you bought vongole clams or some other large variety, soak them in cold water for awhile. If you bought a smaller variety of clam, add a little sodium bicarbonate to the water; if you are unsure of the species, ask your fishmonger.” How long is “awhile”? How do I know what kind of species I bought? Umm, “sodium bicarbonate”? That’s, like, baking soda, right? How much do I add? Who uses the term “fishmonger” anymore?!

Obviously, this book was geared towards the British, including all its references to 200g of this and 14g of that. And that’s fine, I can adjust to different terms and measurements but the prose style of writing a recipe has got to go. Marc and I actually had to reference one particular section of our Linguine with Clams instructions more than four times, and each time yeilded a slightly different interpretation. Nigella, dude– literature is for interpretation; recipes require clarity. My idea of a great recipe is a list of ingredients, with both metric and imperial measurements and bullet-point instructions. I give her props for the pictures though; totally classy.

At any rate, the pasta did turn out quite well. The clams, after soaking, were steamed with a little olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and white wine (gee, darn, we had to then finish that bottle of Sauvignon Blanc) before being tossed with cooked linguine and parsley. In the end, it was a perfectly straight-forward affair but you wouldn’t know it from the directions! It tasted pleasantly mild, something I might consider making again as a light first course or an entrée for a lunch. Though next time, perhaps an audacious salad next to it might make for a more boldly flavoured meal.

Let The Gluttony Begin

Monday, December 5th, 2005

Marc’s first ever attempt at utilizing yeast was a success! I was offsite for the Marathon Xmas Cookie-Bake-a-thon so he started making dinner on his own: Chicken Empañada with Chorizo, Raisins and Olives and a side of green salad. I arrived home to a pretty good smelling kitchen and some anxiety:

[before my coat is off]
“How do you know if yeast is good?”
“I don’t know, how do you know if yeast is good?”
“You don’t know? You’ve done this before..”
“Oh, that wasn’t a joke? Umm, the yeast should’ve frothed up in the bowl.”
“How do I know if it did that?”
[continues to knead the dough which contains the potentially non-active yeast]
“How? You would know.”
“In the bowl, it looked kind of like..”
“Like a lot of head on a beer? That’s would it should look like.”
“It looked like a lot of head on a Guinness. Is that right?”
“Yes. Guinness equals good.”

I don’t know how the rest of it was assembled or baked because my dogs were barkin’ and I needed a little therapeutic, one-on-one action with the DVR. (My exhaustion may, in part, have been as a direct result of the Xmas party-ing I had undertaken the previous evening with Ingrid. There was an open bar! They were handing out martinis! I abused those open bar privileges. There was also some utterly fantastic food, most notably the Alberta Bison Tenderloin which was cooked very rare and was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.)

The next time I saw the fruit of Marc’s labour was when a plate was set before me with this yummy, pizza-esque creation. The dough did, indeed, produce a perfect pocket for the perky, paprika-tinged filling. (Did I mention that I am an alliteration whore?) Quite miraculously, Marc liked the filling even though it contained two of his most-hated foods: olives and raisins. Cooked raisins, no less. The recipe did not warn us but, it turns out that empañadas are wickedly soporific. Not 30 minutes after having eaten them, we were both falling asleep on the couch. Do not eat and operate heavy machinery. I wish I had known this before I ate one for lunch today at work. Eyelids. Growing. Heavy.

Both of us completely forgot to eat our vegetables and thus, there was no green salad.

However, there were some pretty snazzy cookies to be had as dessert. The good news is that we will have enough cookies to last into the New Year. The bad news is that we will have enough cookies to last into the New Year. Though really, at this point in December, there is no hope of exercising any restraint. I have resigned myself to the delectables of the season and will be at their mercy until January; this is a battle I choose not to fight. Break out the eggnog. I surrender.