lemon jelly

Good Excuses
August 10, 2008, 6:36 pm
Filed under: food | Tags: , , ,

There’s this charming man I know, who feeds me peanut butter and crackers late at night and gives me excuses to bake lovely things like blueberry tarts. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been looking for excuses like these for a long while. Happy birthday.


Distractions and a Salad
August 8, 2008, 8:13 pm
Filed under: food, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been reading a lot lately. I’m at 9 journal articles, 12 chapters from 4 books, and counting for my lit survey. That’s probably only about 500 pages at most, but give me a break – I’m a philosophy undergrad. I consider anything more than 30 pages to be a lot of reading. Of course, I’d have read a lot more by now if it hadn’t been for certain distractions.

Rather than reading Eamonn Callan’s Creating Citizens while at the library yesterday, I found myself browsing wistfully on the Anthropologie website. Isn’t the peacock dinnerware just adorable? The 3-D Toile Full Apron is quite fetching too. I don’t think I can quite justify spending the $108 or so it would cost to purchase just two sets of the peacock dishes, but I do need a new apron…

I’ve also devoted an unusual amount of thought to quinoa over the past couple of days. I’m not very keen on its natural nutty flavour, but, with all of its nutrients, it’s not something to pass up. I really liked the porridge I wrote about a few weeks ago for its use of cardamom pods, so I thought that maybe another spice infusion would be the trick to making quinoa a little more palatable. I also had a little bit of homemade peanut butter left from Heidi Swanson’s amazing vegan peanut butter cookies – clearly the beginnings of a tangy peanut sauce. Throw in a few fresh things from the farmers’ market, and you’ve got a salad with substance.

Summer Quinoa Salad

Note: The 1/2 tsp of chili flakes adds a touch of heat to the salad but isn’t necessary. I enjoy the kick. The vegetables I used were the ones I just happened to have picked up at the farmers’ market yesterday. I’m sure that a number of other summer veggies would work just as well – maybe some blanched broccoli florets or fresh corn kernels or cucumber slices.

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp dried chili flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, well rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • zest and juice of a lime
  • 1/2 a red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup green string beans, blanched and chopped
  • handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
  1. Heat oil in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add coriander and and chili flakes and toast until their flavours begin to release, about a minute.
  2. Add quinoa and water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to low and let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed.
  3. Meanwhile, stir together peanut butter, soy sauce, maple syrup, sesame oil, lime juice, and lime zest. Add sauce to the cooked quinoa. Stir in bell pepper and green beans. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  4. Garnish with cherry tomato halves and serve at room temperature or chilled.

Urban Brunch
August 4, 2008, 11:12 pm
Filed under: eating out, food | Tags: , ,

Not surprisingly, a visit to Toronto meant that I stuffed my face overmuch this weekend and didn’t do a jot of internship research. I had good intentions and a stack of book excerpts stuffed in my bag, but of course, the train ride proved to be a perfect opportunity for an extended nap.

I’m just glad that Rice Bar, my favourite spot in Kensington Market, is amenable to my vegetarian ways and still a treat, free-range eggs and all. I met a couple of good friends for brunch there on Saturday and savoured the La La – two poached eggs with avocado, hollandaise, and tomatillo salsa on toast. Just gorgeous. I recommend Rice Bar wholeheartedly – it’s cute, friendly, delicious, and principled. 319 Augusta, if you’re ever in the area. It’s a reasonable walk from Spadina station.

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.