Wednesday Oct 15, 2008

Vanilla Pudding

By special request I made cooked vanilla pudding from scratch last night. I've made custard from scratch before but this was the first time I've made pudding without a box. Here's the recipe I used: Vanilla Pudding Recipe.

As you can see the recipe isn't that difficult. It's not much harder than preparing packaged cooked pudding and it doesn't require any special ingredients. The result was quite good though perhaps a little sweet to my taste. It also wasn't perfectly consistent though I didn't stir it after chilling before serving. Having made scratch cooked pudding I now can't imagine buying boxed pudding again as it seems like a waste of money. Next time I'm going to try caramel pudding.

Tuesday Aug 05, 2008

Don't buy hummus!

Now before you start accusing me of hummus-hating listen up! Don't buy hummus. It's too easy to make yourself and the home made version tastes much better than any store bought hummus--even fancy speciality store hummus.

Dead Simple Hummus Recipe
1-22oz can     Garbonzo Beans (aka Chick peas, aka Ceci beans)
1 tbsp         Tahini - not "raw"
2 tbsp         Olive oil
1 tbsp         Crushed garlic
1/2 tsp        Salt - some people like more. Depends on the beans used too.
1/2 tsp        Cayenne pepper

Partially open the can of beans with a can opener and tip over in sink to let
them drain for 5-10 minutes. Put all of the other ingredients into food processor
and spin for a minute or longer until everything is well mixed and smooth. 
Add the beans and spin again until everything is smooth. Enjoy!

There are hundreds and hundreds of variations on this basic recipe you can make. I now make hummus about once a week and eat it for lunch with unsalted pita chips (generally home made from leftover pitas). I can no longer imagine myself ever buying someone else's hummus again.

Thursday Jul 10, 2008

TED Talk : What's wrong with what we eat

I just watched the best TED talk I've seen in a long long time, Mark Bittman : What's wrong with what we eat. It the most engaging talk on food I've seen since I originally saw "Diet for a New America" on PBS in 1992. "Diet" was shown on New Years day as part of a "make a healthy resolution" initiative and though I didn't intend to watch it I ended up getting sucked in part way through and then staying up until 11pm that night to catch the beginning when it repeated.

I didn't agree with everything that John Robbins said in "Diet for a New America" but it taught me to be thoughtful and respectful about the meat in my diet ever since. The most compelling part of John Robbins' message was/is the environmental implications of the industrial agri-business approach to food production. I now eat far less meat than I did growing up and I am much more sensitive to how my food is produced and where it comes from.

Yes, before you ask, I do know about Michael Pollan. I've enjoyed his books and his work does speak to many of the same themes, messages and statistics as Mark Bittman but I believe that Mark frames his core message more succinctly and it's a more direct call to action.

The most compelling part for me of Mark Bittman's talk is that he does nothing more than ask you to think about what you eat. He also provides a useful frame of reference with some important considerations for how you should evaluate your choices. That's it. If you want you delve deeper into the individual choices and possibly make better choices specific to your location and situation. For example, I currently live in Berkeley, California where living the "100 mile diet" would not be much a challenge nor would it have much of an impact on the way I eat or the effort required to feed myself. If I still lived in Peace River, Alberta where I grew up, living the 100 mile diet would require a significant change to my life style. The best food choices for any individual are dependent upon the context and the amount of effort available.

I'll tell a story because it's vaguely relevant. A lot of the kids in the junior high school I attended didn't get to eat much "store meat". The bulk of the meat that their families got was from hunting or fishing, moose, deer, goose, duck, pike, etc. I remember trading my crappy ol' baloney or boiled ham (barf!) sandwiches on white bread for delicious home smoked fish. Both I and my trading partner undoubtedly thought we were getting the best of the deal. We were each getting a special treat and unloading some boring mundane food on an unsuspecting dupe. Turns out we were both right.

Friday Dec 07, 2007

In Memorium : James Barber

James Barber, the Urban Peasant, died last week. He died peacefully sitting at his kitchen table reading a cookbook while attending a pot of soup on the stove. Very apropos.

I started watching the Urban Peasant TV show in the early 1990s around the same time I started cooking on a regular basis. I found the cozy, low stress, loving, and joyful world that James created in every episode very inviting. It was nearly the complete opposite of my super high stress, intense, demanding and occasionally hostile work life in a software startup. "The Urban Peasant" became my constant night time unwind program. Over the years I learned a lot from watching James but more importantly I adopted many of his attitudes and approaches towards food and cooking. A simple meal can be the best meal. Improvisation and creativity are as important as the ingredients. Let every trip to the framers market inspire you. Make joyful food.

I am not sure if James' background as an engineer and his way of thinking about the world were part of why his work struck such a chord with me, but, especially after hearing Don Genova comment that James was a bit eccentric in a nerdy sort of way, I've decided it must be the case. Don has two excellent podcasts about James on his site. Don says he learned a lot from James about food and was grateful for having known him. Though I did meet James once at the Calgary Stampede and spoke to him on CBC during a callin show I never knew him and Don should feel very lucky that he did. Don highlighted many of the same things he learned from and loved about James as I have. James made a lasting positive impact upon many people and that's the best thing to be said about someone's life, no?

My lunch today was a homemade pasta dish which I hope James would have approved of. A sliced smoky sausage, chopped onions and red pepper, frozen corn and a few brussel sprouts all sautéed in a single pan (of course) with a small amount of oil and paprika and black pepper for seasoning. I served it over rotini pasta. It was delicious, comforting, reasonably healthy, simple and took less time than going down to the corner for a burrito or nuking a frozen dinner.

Monday Aug 13, 2007

Fougasse

I've been on vacation for the last week. I normally devote a unreasonable amount of time to scouting, procuring, preparing and consuming good food and vacations provide even greater opportunities to "go nuts". We have had some our best meals on vacation and this most recent trip was no exception.

One of the trip highlights was the Phoenix Bread Company in Willits, CA. I knew nothing of this auspicious company before pulling into their parking lot. I was drawn by the sign reading "Home Style BBQ". I ended up sampling their baking rather than the BBQ. To quote the baker on duty, "Yeah, our BBQ's good, but you can get BBQ anywhere. You should eat the fougasse, it will blow you away." So I did and I was. It turns our that the Phoenix Bread Company is a long time chowhound favourite. The one I sampled was braised pork shoulder with onions and green olives. It was so good my mouth is watering writing about it a week later.

The best part of the whole story was that I challenged my wife to apply her bread making skills to creating her own fougasse. Last night we were rewarded with her first creation.

A large light brown oval loaf sprinkled with herbs on a wooden cutting board next to a chefs knife

The loaf cut in half revealing that it is stuffed with meat and mushrooms

And the verdict: As good as the Phoenix version. She was a little disappointed with this review until I explained that they have been making Fougasse every day for years and years. If she can do as well on her first attempt then it's a good sign that tasty times are ahead! With that in perspective she's said that she has several more filling and preparation ideas and promised that more fougasse will be coming my way. Yay!

Photo credit : Stephen Rutledge (iPhone with cool white fluorescent lighting)

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