lemon jelly

A Pre-emptive Apology
July 29, 2008, 8:13 am
Filed under: food, recipes | Tags: , ,

I would do outrageous things to be in San Francisco for Slow Food Nation. It would be perfect: the weekend of my 21st birthday, the end of my internship, California, and a festival of food, thought, and action. Of course, I don’t have the money for that kind of weekend getaway, so I’ll have to rest content with beer, friends, cake, and mischief.

Between now and then, though, I don’t think I’ll be cooking and experimenting as frequently as I have. Instead, I foresee for myself many hours at the library devouring books and journal articles on civic virtue and public education and then writing, writing, writing. There is also the not-so-small matter of grad-school and scholarship applications to consider. Because philosophy is my first love, then, I offer my apologies in advance and a recipe to appease.

Buttery Stuffed Mushrooms

Inspired by Melissa Clark’s Squid with Snail Butter.

Note: You’ll end up with far more butter than you actually need for the recipe, but this just means that you get to be indulgent with your other meals for the next few days.

  • 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp basil, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/2 a medium shallot, diced
  • 3/4 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 slice of whole-wheat bread
  • 20-25 small button mushrooms, stems removed
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Combine parsley, basil, garlic, shallot, salt, and pepper in a food processor and pulse until minced. Remove half the mixture from the food-processor bowl and set aside.
  3. Add butter to the remaining herb mixture and pulse until soft and thoroughly combined. Remove butter from the bowl and set aside. This will keep fine in the fridge and can be done a few days in advance.
  4. Pulse bread slice in food processor until you have crumbs.
  5. Fill each mushroom cap with breadcrumbs and daub a bit of herb butter over the crumbs. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  6. Garnish each mushroom cap with some of the reserved herb mixture and serve immediately.

The Luxury of Choice and What It Affords
July 23, 2008, 1:40 pm
Filed under: food, philosophy, recipes | Tags: , , , , ,

Between chapters on consociation at work yesterday, I came across an interesting article in The New York Times entitled “A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss.” For the most part, it reports on the entrepreneurial activity that has sprung up recently in response to the sudden trendiness of locavorism. Such services as organic-fruit home delivery and backyard-organic-garden development/maintenance are being offered by a growing number of small businesses for people who would like to enjoy the benefits of organic or sustainably grown produce but can’t be bothered to visit the farmers’ market or start a garden of their own. However, the article also provides some analysis of mainstream motivations for eating locally. It identifies locavorism as a trend comparable to that of organic food – a movement popularised by food aficionados and environmentally conscious individuals alike.

Naturally, this got me thinking about the relations between luxury, morality, and choice. Adherents of ‘food movements’ like locavorism and vegetarianism are often accused of being self-righteous and overly moralistic. It is said that they fail to recognise the real problems of the world in over-complicating their own lives of privilege, that they are just being finicky about the details. Of course, this kind sneering antagonism irks me to no end. Yes, it’s true that the people who subscribe to these movements are the people who can afford to. Organic produce is significantly more expensive than its run-of-the-mill counterparts. I haven’t baked a single batch of cookies since beginning my little ‘vegetarian odyssey‘ because paying nearly $10 for four sticks of butter would be in my case just a bit outrageous. However, the fact that eating ethically is limited by the expenses associated with it, a luxury even, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a legitimate practice. What it does demonstrate is that moral action is constrained by choice, and that with respect to dietary practices, choice is a luxury. The people who can afford to buy organic/local and do so aren’t necessarily more moral than those who don’t. Rather, these locavores, vegetarians, and organic enthusiasts are simply meeting the extended set of responsibilities that come hand-in-hand with the privileges afforded by more choice.

This isn’t moral relativism. Moral obligations are only legitimate insofar as the people to whom they are prescribed can in fact carry them out. So, the fact that these new food ‘isms’ might only be realistic for a limited number of people right now doesn’t make them any less of an obligation for this number. The real point of contention is whether you, me, or Jones belong to the category of the exempt or the obligated.

Obligation isn’t so bad, really. Will another recipe persuade you? I didn’t grow these cukes myself, but I at least made it as far as the farmers’ market.

Cucumber Salad with Toasted Sesame and Ginger

Note: Cucumbers are pretty water-laden suckers, so this isn’t the sort of salad I would recommend making in advance. Cutting the cucumbers and letting them drain in a colander with a teaspoon of salt for half an hour might help, but I was racing to get to work when I made this.

  • five Kirby or pickling cucumbers cut into matchsticks
  • 1 scallion, green and white parts finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp mirin
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  1. Whisk together olive oil, mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, ginger, and sesame seeds in a medium bowl. Add cucumbers and scallions. Toss and serve immediately.

Tempeh and other adventures in the Modern Vegetarian Kitchen
July 19, 2008, 11:01 am
Filed under: food, lists, nutrition | Tags: , ,

With my internship and a smattering of other things going on, I haven’t had much of a chance to do anything particularly experimental lately, but I have been cooking almost regularly out of Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. It’s a wonderfully instructive and far-ranging volume that I’ve really gotten to love over the past few weeks since I got hold of it. It explains basic cooking methods and equipment, provides helpful and descriptive background information on ingredients with which the reader may be unfamiliar, and presents something like 300 well-written and mouth-watering recipes. I especially like how the Vegetables section is organised by season. It’s handy for figuring out what to look for at the farmers’ market every week. All in all, I find that it’s a fairly accessible book for the inexperienced cook and vegetarian and not at all intimidating.

Last weekend, my friend Steve invited me over to cook with him, and we made the most amazing dinner out of MVK. Though I was basically relegated to the role of prep cook for the evening, we did use something I’d never had before – tempeh. Prima facie, it seems quite possibly like one of the most unappetizing but edible things one could put on a plate. Berley describes it as follows: “Tempeh results from a method of inoculating soybeans with certain spores to make them more digestible. Whole cooked soybeans are mixed with Rhizopus oligosporus, a mold culture, and allowed to incubate for 18 to 24 hours…The result is a white, chunky-textured, nutty-smelling slab of tempeh that is held together by a complex web of white mold.”

I was fairly sceptical about the stuff, but Steve insisted that everything would be okay, reminding me that tempeh isn’t really any worse than cheese in how it’s made. Of course, he was right and dinner turned out beautifully. We made Tempeh and Vegetables Braised in a Lemon-Coconut Broth and Cucumber, Watercress, and Red Onion Salad with Mint that night, just in case you’re curious. Our tempeh soaked up the lovely broth of coconut milk, lemon, and spices and became just fabulous.

For the nutritionally minded, tempeh also packs more protein and iron than tofu.

I have an odd penchant for lists. They impose a little order in my otherwise scattered life. So, this is probably the first of many and one that I will update from time to time.

Tried and True Recipes from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

  • tempeh and vegetables braised in a lemon-coconut broth, p. 282
  • cucumber, watercress and red onion salad with mint, p. 84
  • garlicky braised greens with toasted pumpkin seeds, p. 135
  • balsamic glazed beets and greens, p. 115
  • mess o’ peas, p. 98
  • basil-almond pesto, p. 377

Simple Granola
July 16, 2008, 2:00 pm
Filed under: food, philosophy, recipes | Tags: , , , , ,

A couple of weekends ago, I made two bank-breaking purchases – an incredibly cute pair of heels and a food processor. Naturally, this led to a spate of bemoanings on my part about how I shouldn’t be spending so much money when there are arguably more important things like tuition and travel to consider. Keran, who was staying over at the time, had to put up with all of this, but she just rolled her eyes and told me bluntly that, though the shoes were definitely worth it, the food processor was completely unnecessary.

I protested, of course, pointing to my already mangled feet while enumerating on all of the wonderful things I planned to make with my new sexy, stainless-steel machine. However, she wasn’t very impressed with the possibilities of homemade hummus, nut butters, and various purees. Keran, dear though she is to me, just isn’t the type to bother with kitchen labours. She did make a memorable chicken curry for me once last fall, but you might say that our friendship has largely been built on meals at expensive restaurants and lamentations over boys. She appreciates great food but doesn’t see the (potentially) elaborate efforts behind it as worth her time.

I didn’t think much of our brief discussion at the time, but after considering how much went into our Friday-night dinner and the endless mounds of dishes I always seem to be scouring at, I began to ask myself why in fact I bother. I do spend a lot of time (at least during the summer months) in the kitchen, at the farmers’ market, and thinking about food. Maybe if I weren’t so intent on soups from scratch and interesting greens, I’d actually get around to reading things like that Adorno book I bought two years ago. Of course, I’d never really consider giving up on my kitchen adventures. It just took some thinking to say why.

What it comes down to is this: for me, at least, making food is in itself a worthwhile experience with its own rewards. I won’t deny that chopping vegetables is generally a torturous task, but there is something distinctly magical about how kitchen toils transform into something delicious. Maybe, at heart, I’m still five years old, or maybe, I just like to make my life more complicated than it need be, but I think that it’s quite possible that there’s something to appreciate in my painstaking, sometimes crazy culinary efforts. For me, the struggle is always part of the satisfaction. Food is a labour of love worth all the more because of the labour.

Of course, cooking isn’t for everyone, and sometimes, it just isn’t practical, affordable, or possible to do it all yourself. After all, I’m still happy to have someone else milk cows, make sourdough loaves, and ferment my tofu for me. Even so, I think that making some things yourself is worth a try, just once. Start with something simple, like granola. It’s hard to mess up and worth every bite.

Simple Granola

Adapted from The Tassajara Bread Book

Note: Granola is easy because you can make whatever substitutions you’d like as long as you abide by the ratios: 3 parts oats, 2 parts whatever else + 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 canola oil for every 5 cups of dry ingredients. I’ll eat this granola on its own, with some raisins or dried cranberries, with yogurt, with a little wheat germ for added nutrition, or added to whatever commercial cereal that happens to be lying around. It’s incredibly versatile stuff and so good. I suspect that substituting some of the honey with maple syrup (or just adding some in addition to the honey) would make for an even better granola, but I ran out of maple syrup recently and haven’t had the chance to try it.

  • 3 cups large-flake rolled oats (not the quick-cooking kind)
  • 1 cup chopped almonds, pecans, walnuts or some combination of these
  • 1 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add honey and oil, then mix until evenly coated.
  3. Spread mixture out in a thin layer on to a large, parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, stirring granola around at about the 20- and 35-minute marks for even browning.
  4. Let cool to room temperature and store in air-tight containers.

Chocolate-Almond Layer Cake
July 7, 2008, 9:54 pm
Filed under: food, nutrition, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Friends are good for a lot of things – comfort, laughs, moral support, and sometimes even the odd break-and-enter job. They give hugs, induce fits of hysterical and inappropriate laughter, reassure you that you’re not completely crazy, and drive get-away vehicles. This isn’t to say that we clambered up any fire escapes and into bedroom windows this weekend, but by late evening on Friday, everyone had developed a fair appetite, so I was happy to take advantage of another thing that friends are good for – trying out new things on in the kitchen.

I made Melissa Clark’s Double Garlic Soup, Peter Berley’s Garlicky Braised Greens (minus the toasted pumpkin seeds) from his book, The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, and a chocolate-almond layer cake, something half-improvised, half-adapted from an Ina Garten recipe. The idea behind the dinner was to introduce my friends to either new and unfamiliar ingredients or more familiar ones in an unusual way – all with nutrition and vegetarianism in mind, of course.

The soup was the dish I was most excited to make because instead of ordinary garlic heads it called for green garlic and garlic scapes, which I had read about in the New York Times earlier this summer and had found at the farmers’ market. The soup was good to begin with and even better two sleep-deprived days later when I remembered that there were leftovers in the fridge. Even so, I’m not really in a hurry to make it again because it was fairly labour-intensive with all of the chopping and a bit on the expensive side. Maybe I’ll have forgotten the pains of the process by next summer when scapes and green garlic are in season again.

I decided on the Berley recipe because I’d been wanting to cook kale (yet another dark, leafy iron- and calcium-rich green of the vegetarian arsenal) for a few weeks but wasn’t sure of how to approach it. Everyone enjoyed this dish too, and it was definitely the easiest of the three to prepare. It basically involved heating up a pot of water and doing some slicing and sauteeing.

The cake, however, seemed to be the real triumph of the evening. The original recipe involved a sugary, butter-heavy icing that I really wasn’t interested in – yes, even dessert couldn’t be entirely nutritionally void. Rather than going to butter for fat, then, I took the almond butter I’d made earlier in the day and turned it into a rich almond cream to separate the layers of fudgy cake. It was absolutely lovely. Seconds were had. Dishes were licked. I’ll be making this again before the end of the summer.

Chocolate-almond Layer Cake

Adapted from an Ina Garten recipe printed in The Toronto Star.

Note: the cup of coffee makes this cake batter alarmingly runny, but not to worry, you will end up with a moist, fudgy cake after 35 minutes in the oven.

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh-brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup half-and-half (10% m.f.) cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup chopped, toasted almonds

The Cake

  1. Butter two eight-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust with flour.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined, then slowly incorporate coffee into batter.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 30 minutes, then invert onto a rack to cool completely. Peel paper off.

Almond Cream

  1. Heat half-and-half in a saucepan over low heat until just about simmering – wait for the first few bubbles and remove from heat.
  2. In the meantime, whisk yolks and sugar into the almond butter.
  3. Gradually whisk half-and-half into the almond-butter mixture. Return mixture to saucepan on low heat until visibly thickened, about ten minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and chill in the fridge until ready to use.


  1. Spread half of almond cream over first cake layer. Place second cake on top of the first and spread with the remaining cream.
  2. Garnish with almonds and serve.

Almond Butter
July 4, 2008, 3:52 pm
Filed under: food, nutrition, recipes | Tags: ,

I’ve never been very good at sleeping in. Once my thoughts (even and maybe especially the trivial ones) get going, sleep just isn’t an option. So, with all the little things churning around in my head early this morning, I gave up on tossing and turning and decided to see what kind of magic I could conjure up with Gavin’s food processor. I made almond butter! I started out with somewhere between a cup and a half and two cups of chopped almonds and ended up with something like 200 mL of creamy almond goodness. It is magic.

A nutritional note: Summers and summers ago, I met une amie Americaine who remains dear to my heart though I haven’t seen her in ages. One of the first things I learned about her that July was that she was vegetarian. For the month or so that we were together pretending to speak and learn French, I would occasionally join her in her vegetarianism as an act of solidarity and because the cafeteria fare was pretty poor. I remember eating a lot of french fries, peanut butter, and crackers. We were sixteen – what did we really know? Anyway, there seems to be this popular misconception that peanut butter is an adequate and excellent source of protein. (At least, that’s my explanation for all of the peanut butter we ate that summer.) Peanuts do pack some protein, but if you’re going to spread something fatty on your toast, you may as well make it worth it – nutritionally, that is. Butters made from almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and the like offer way more in terms of iron, protein, calcium, and zinc than peanut butter. Just compare the labels the next time you’re at the grocery store.

Almond Butter

Note: Making nut butters requires more patience than effort. I probably spent close to 20 minutes with the food processor. The almonds will resemble a a coarse meal initially, but just keep at it, and a butter will form. I promise!

  • 2 cups raw, whole almonds
  • pinch of salt
  1. Roughly chop almonds and toast in a dry skillet on medium heat until slightly golden, stirring occasionally. Let cool for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Pulse toasted almonds and salt in a food processor until the fats release and a smooth, creamy paste forms.

Maple Quinoa Porridge
July 2, 2008, 12:23 am
Filed under: food, recipes | Tags: ,

There’s this notion that philosophers are an impractical bunch who are too preoccupied with figuring out whether Q follows from P to see that there’s a very real world right in front of them that usually doesn’t coincide neatly with their theories. It’s a silly notion, of course – you can’t do philosophy in any meaningful sort of way without having something to philosophise about – but, there are occasions when even good theory doesn’t play out well in practice.

My first experience with quinoa [pronounced keen-wa] was one of those occasions. For those of you who don’t know, quinoa is a fabulously nutritious pseudocereal loved by vegans and vegetarians for its high protein, iron, and zinc content. It’s not a challenge to cook – basic preparation involves boiling in a 2:1 ratio as you would rice – and though it has a distinctively nutty flavour, it’s still fairly versatile.

All of this was very good in theory – lots of excellent nutrients, no animal suffering involved – but I may have been a little overzealous trying to put quinoa into practice. I accidentally cooked far more than I had intended, forgetting that things tend to expand in water, and ended up trying to fit quinoa into my meals for a week. There were some tell-tale signs of gastrointestinal unhappiness as the week went on, but I really didn’t want the quinoa to go to waste, so I went on being creative with it. By Saturday, however, I was curled up in bed wishing that the world would just go away. Now, I’m not at all sure that my weekend of nausea and gastrointestinal rebellion had anything to do with the quinoa, but I’ve avoided it ever since.

After a month of quinoa phobia, however, I decided that enough was enough. Having another easy and inexpensive option for nutrient-rich meals would be worth one last effort. This morning, then, I put a simple quinoa porridge recipe to the test. It’s been fifteen hours, and I’m still quite alive. I think that that’s a victory.

Maple Quinoa Porridge

Adapted from a recipe originally printed in the Toronto Star.

Note: If you can help it, don’t skip out on the cardamom pods. They really make this recipe what it is. While the original recipe calls for dried apricots and figs, I didn’t have either on hand, so I substituted dried cranberries for one serving and raisins for another. I found that I actually prefer the porridge without any fruit. There are delicate flavours in it worth appreciating without any sort of garnish.

Addendum: The recipe I posted here originally called for 3 tbsp + more for drizzling maple syrup, but subsequent breakfasts have led me to believe that even 2 tbsp makes the porridge sweet enough, so I’ve adjusted the measurements accordingly below. Also, I’ve discovered that fresh blueberries work wonderfully with this porridge and don’t upstage the other flavours. 2008-07-10

  • 1/2 cup quinoa, well rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 1 1/2 – 2 tbsp maple syrup + more for drizzling
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2-3 tbsp vanilla soy milk
  • 1/3 cup fresh or dried fruit (optional)
  • a sprinkling of chopped almonds
  1. Combine quinoa, water, salt, and cardamom pods in a medium saucepan over high heat, cover, and boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the quinoa has absorbed most of the water.
  2. Stir cinnamon and 3 tbsp of maple syrup into quinoa, then simmer for 10 minutes uncovered. Remove cardamom pods.
  3. Add fruit and soymilk, then remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes to thicken.
  4. Serve warm, sprinkled with almonds and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Serves two.