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Monday, November 30, 2015

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Despite coming to squash late in life, I do enjoy it.  Particularly roasted butternut squash.

Damn that shit is tasty.

Anyway, one of the easiest (and best, in my opinion) ways of cooking up squash, is to roast it and purée it into a soup.

And I figured why not roast a few other things in there too?

So, here's my delicious, completely vegan, roasted butternut squash soup!

So, what you see there is:
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1 habanero pepper
  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • 8-10 bay leaves
  • about a tablespoon of smoked hot paprika
  • about a tablespoon of freshly ground cumin seeds
  • about a tablespoon of smoked sea salt
That's it.

I don't know about you, but to me that has the makings for pretty much anything delicious.
So, the hardest part of this dish, and not really that difficult, is the prep and roasting work.
Not much needs to happen before roasting.  Quarter the squash.  Lightly oil the cut surfaces of the vegetables with a bit of canola or avocado oil and then place them neatly on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Roast these guys for about an hour at 350° or 375°.  At least the squash, anyway.  The smaller guys could come out sooner if you like.

While those are roasting in the oven, I got started on everything else.  The 'base' of the soup, if you will.

I chopped the onion and garlic loosely, and then sautéed them with a bit of vegetable oil, until the onion started to become translucent.

Next, I ground up the cumin seeds in my mortar and pestle.

And add that, along with the paprika and salt, to the pan.

Once that is nicely uniform, I turn off the heat and deglaze the pan with some stock.

I had a thing of vegan stock from a while back that I used.

But, because I was making a large amount of soup, I needed a bit more stock, so I added a carton of  organic vegetable broth.

Once all the gribblies come off the sides of the pan nicely, I carefully pour all of that pan into my blender.

That sits for now until the veggies have sufficiently roasted.

When they have, pull them out and let them cool a bit before handling them.

The skin on all of these guys comes off extremely easily once roasted, and it only takes a few minutes to get them all ready for the blender.

Don't use this stuff... in case you were wondering... ;)

Then add it all to the blender and blend!

It's that easy!

Once blended (it doesn't take much to completely liquify these guys after they've all been cooked), pour into your slow cooker, and add the bay leaves.


Then I let this simmer in the slow cooker for at least a few hours (I did about 5 or 6), but after that, a steaming hot bowl of hearty, healthy, vegan soup is ready whenever you like!

Feel free to tweak the spices too, while cooking, just don't lift that lid TOO often!  I added a bit more salt, just to take away some more of the sweetness imparted by the roasted vegetables.

And, when I served it, I added just a small piece of bread with vegan becel on it, just for crunch.  Many people recommend adding something crunchy (like toasted pumpkin seeds, or the like) on top when serving, but myself, I enjoy the uniform texture.  

The bread is there just to help spoon it in!

Unbelievably satisfying on a cold winter night!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sausage and Egg Breakfast Rolls

Cheese, eggs, sausage.  Not to mention the BUTTER puff pastry itself.  These are an extravagance to say the least.

So bad for you.

But sooo delicious.

Like scary how delicious they are.

The wife bought some sausage the other week, and rather than seeing it go to waste, I tried to come up with some good way using it.

Now... processed meat is super duper bad for you... you know that, right?  I just ranted about it, if you want to read that post.

But, once in a while I do enjoy things like bacon and any sort of wurst (I am German after all).

Anyway, I decided to make some eggy, cheesy, sausage rolls.

Now, you know me, I am a firm believer in not using processed foods, and if I can make something from scratch, I almost always choose to.  However, butter puff pastry is one of those very few items which it doesn't really hurt to buy the store-bought stuff.  Especially when weighed against the effort in making this stuff from scratch.

I've made butter pastry dough myself.  It's not too hard, nor is it too time consuming... but compared to just taking out a tube of frozen dough to thaw for a few hours?  It's comical.

So, I try to keep a tube of this stuff in my freezer at all times.  

It's great stuff.  Just make sure to get the 'butter' kind rather than the shortening kind.

Anyway, once I thawed one of those tubes, I rolled it out and cut it into 8 squares.

Separately, in a frying pan, I made a slurry of slightly undercooked scrambled eggs, some swiss cheese, and some chopped sausage.

Then it was just spoon in a bunch of filling, and then wrap them up.

Not all of them turned out beautifully.  This stuff is hard to work with after all, and I am not a professional pastry chef (much to my wife's eternal chagrin!)

But, I did manage to get them to hold together relatively well enough to bake, on a parchment sheet, for about 40 minutes at 375°F (20 mins then rotate pan, then another 10 - 20 mins).

When they came out, they were pretty messy (and greasy!  I suspect the cheese!) but ho man were they good.  Like... I should call them Breakfast Crack Rolls.

Just remember that these are super not good for you.

It can be hard to think about that though, when you're eating them.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rant on Processed Meat

So, this started off as a post about sausage rolls.  How innocent they seem, right?
Well before I knew it I got carried away on a self-stimulating, rambling rant about processed meat...  So, I changed the post title.  But before you close this page and look instead for the (inevitably delicious-looking) pictures of my admittedly delectable sausage rolls, please don't go!  It's not a long post...

In fact, I'll tell you what, if you stick with this post all the way until the end, I'll include a link straight to those yummy pictures!  :D

I don't eat a lot of processed meat.  Hardly any at all, actually.  I consider the recent clamour surrounding bacon and other processed meats, as just the most recent affirmation of something which we've all secretly suspected for many decades.

In case you haven't heard, or you've been under a rock somewhere, or you're one of those people who unintentionally prides themselves of the co-dependency of ignorance (you actually won't know who you are... but everyone else does)... the deal is that, this month, Bacon and other processed meats have officially (by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer) been declared a Class 1 carcinogen.  Same class as cigarettes.  And plutonium.

I mean, that's not really a surprise, but the fact that it's been made official, and in the 'for-absolute-super-duper-sure-definitely-causes-cancer' category has a lot of people incensed.  Not everyone of course, but a few.  Probably the same people who got upset when smoking was similarly labeled all those many years ago.  And bacon manufacturers of course.

Anyway... I won't get into the science of it, but I'll just say that, while all animal products have some degree of deleterious effect to humans when ingested, when it's been smoked, salted, treated, or any thing like that... it's real bad.

Again, without going into crazy detail, it largely has to do with those pesky N-Nitroso Compounds (NOCs).  These form when the basic building blocks of protein (amino acids) are exposed to oxides of nitrogen, such as happens when meat is smoked.  These NOCs are also there sometimes because the manufacturer literally put them there.  Yup.  Remember that big nitrite hubbub from last decade?  Meat processing manufacturers used to (many still do!) add these nitrates and nitrites on purpose, because they stop the growth of bacteria, most notably botulism... which, sure, is bad... but c'mon.

So, these NOCs are so good at messing with DNA that researchers actually use them to purposefully induce tumors in lab rats.

So, don't put that shit in your body, basically.

Cooking meat also causes some bad things to happen as well... harmful compounds that come out during the heating and such... 

It should also be noted that the IARC also puts regular old red meat into a carcinogen category of '2a' which while not as obviously carcinogenic is still "probable".

Sure your grandpappy survived for 98 years and ate bacon and eggs for breakfast every day and prime rib for supper every night.  What can intelligent, well-informed people say to that in argument?  Just this: it's probabilities people.  There is no direct causal relationship, but that's only because it's extremely intricate and complicated in there (your body), so there is a very real chance that you can eat bacon your whole life and never suffer ill effects.  Just don't delude yourself.  Every time you do that you are increasing your chance at some illness, disease, or death.  For every 50 grams of processed meat you eat, on average, per day, your chance of developing colorectal cancer increases by 18%.  (  

So, by all means, you can roll the dice and gamble, if you want to... I'm not going to stop you.  I will strongly encourage you not to, however... 

The bottom line? Meat is not good for you.  Processed meat... well that's just outright bad for you.

It's not a difficult concept, nor is it anything new.  But for a food-lover like me it is hard to just stop something entirely.

So, rather than consigning myself to the utter, dark desolate and despairing oblivion that would be complete abstinence, I opt instead for a strategy of infrequency... and mitigation.

Firstly, that means eating processed meat—or any meat in general, really—very infrequently.  I'd say I have it down to about one serving of meat per week, on average.  For processed meats, I'd say that is down to one serving a month.  Perhaps less.  Anyway, it's not vegetarianism, but it's pretty darn close.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I am a strong believer in the biological mechanisms behind our metabolizing and incorporating foods.  It is foolish to think of our bodies' relationship with food as a case-by-case individualized basis.  We are complicated and so is food. If, just as one example, you analyze a particular food and determine it has inflammatory properties in your tissues, I believe this analysis should also determine whether any anti-inflammatory properties might also be at play from those, as well as any accompanying, food molecules.  And that's just one aspect, there are countless molecules all interacting (and not interacting) with each other in the giant soup tank that is our stomach.  There are bound to be some favourable interactions amid all the unfavourable, and there are possibly some which might even counteract each other.  

Like eating pheasant in a blackberry sauce.  I'm not saying the one will completely negate the other, but I have to believe (not just from my own faith in science and nature, but from the laws by which they themselves are set) that there is going to be some larger picture happening... and perhaps... just's not unreasonable to expect some degree of mitigation.  

So, while I do eat a burger once in a while, or enjoy a good bolognese sauce here and there, I have to admit that I do feel some small measure of relief from balancing that out with a heavy reliance on a large quantity of richly coloured, anti-oxidant-laden fruit and vegetables.

Actually (and fortunately for me) if I am going to be honest, when it comes down to it, given a choice between a steak or a big bowl of fresh red raspberries, I'd choose the latter 99/100 times.  That's good, and not just because a diet of infrequent meat DOES save some money... raspberries are freaking expensive!


Anyway, if you stuck with this post all the way to the end, yay!  

And sorry; it can get pretty discombobulating up there inside my head sometimes.  :)

Also... remember that I am not an expert, and by no means do I have all the answers.  I, like most people, just try to do the best I can, with whatever knowledge I can assimilate, and try to build that into a lifestyle strategy.  Actually, I quite like that word: strategy.  It implies foresight, planning, adapting, and above all: critical thinking.  And that's always good advice.  Just be smart people.

Anyway, after all that talk about how bad processed meat is... here, as promised, is a link to my Breakfast Sausage Rolls.  Which—to be clear—should only be enjoyed once in a very slim while.


Monday, November 2, 2015

The Best Apple Pie

I love apples.

And who doesn't love pie?

So, it should make sense that everyone should love apple pies, right?


I had always grown up hating how slimy and huge the filling of apple pies can be, traditionally.  People would rave about someone's apple pie, I'd taste it, and then be like... 'meh'.

It's the filling.

Apples are hard to cook to a good consistency, so why did people ever think it would be a great idea to just throw some huge chunks of the stuff into some dough and bake it?  Did they expect it to be nice and cooked inside?

Or do people just not really care as much as I do?

Well... years and years went by, and I would always just opt for a nice berry pie or something instead of apple, whenever it came time for pie.

Then I met my wife.  Of course it didn't come out immediately that she ALSO has the SAME issue with apple pies that I did.  That took some time, but eventually it did come out, and we rejoiced!

Well, at first we just sort of commented on it, like 'huh!' and 'that's cool!'.

What am I getting at, you ask?  Why am I rambling, you wonder?

I made my first ever pie this week.

And it was an apple pie.

And I was bound determined to have the filling NOT be slimy, NOT be undercooked, NOT be woody, and just generally, NOT suck so hard.


Why apples, you ask?  Mostly because I had a crap tonne of them.

But also because I really was interested in the challenge of making a better apple filling.

I JUST posted my Culinary Spatter's All-Butter Double Pie Crust Recipe which turned out so well, it will forever be my staple pie crust recipe and a reference for me for all subsequent pie-making.

So, I won't go into how to make the crust.

Instead, I'll just use this post to talk about the apple filling.

First comes the hard part.  All the peeling, coring, slicing, and chopping of that fruit.


My apples were starting to get a little iffy looking, so it was definitely time for pie.

I picked 10 apples total, 5 tart green ones and 5 sweet red ones.

This balance is important.

Then I began the terribly arduous task of peeling them all.

And then cutting, and coring them.

Because apples suffer quite badly from oxidization, I used the trick of a bowl of water and lemon juice with a plate on top of it, to keep the cut apples from browning too badly.

And it worked well, I'd say.

Then I sliced them all.

Now, this is USUALLY the state in which I see apples in most every apple pie I've ever seen.  Those are way too big if you ask me.

So now we've reached step number ONE of how Culinary Spatter's apple pie filling is going to be better than traditional ones.

1) MINCE the apple.  Not quite apple sauce here, but pretty close, people.

I'll just breeze right into step two here as well, just to keep things moving along nicely.

2) COOK the apple filling.  Now, not every pie does NOT cook the apples... many of them do, but nevertheless this step is CRUCIAL.  Do not expect your apples to cook enough just inside a baking pie.

So, I cooked the crap out of my apples.  And I made the filling nice and flavourful

Brown sugar, Vanilla, Lemon Zest, star anise, cinnamon, and some freshly ground nutmeg.


That could be used to make pretty much anything taste delicious, I imagine.

Anyway, I coated those minced apples in that and then cooked it for close to half an hour.

Until they were maybe 2/3 their original size.  Which is the other reason you should always cook your fruit fillings before baking - the raw fruit will shrink and can leave a huge cavity or empty space under your pie crust!  Lame!

Anyway, once FULLY cooked (no raw apples in here, baby!), I drained the apples thoroughly.

So, point 3) Drain cooked apples of juice.

The resultant apple mixture was really sticky and gummy, but without any SLIMINESS to it at all.

At this point it's just assemble and bake.

So, take your double crust recipe that had been chillin' in the fridge, and roll out a piece for the bottom.

Fit it into your pie plate as best you can, piching the edge to the fringe of the plate (or pressing with fork tines, or what-have-you).  Also fix any weak spots (like I did there in the bottom) by pressing any excess dough over top.

Next, and cool point number four:

4) Blind Bake the bottom crust.  Many crusts can be undercooked on the bottoms, while the tops are all super golden.  In fact, it is really easy to burn the tops while the bottoms are still totally soggy and moist.  So... we bake the bottom shell just on its own.  If you want to, you can use pie weights, but I didn't.

25 minutes at 375°F, and then take it out to cool slightly.

At this point, it looks quite shabby, but it's only half-cooked, and not even remotely finished, so don't despair!

Once cool (ish), spoon in the filling, making it slightly convex.


Next, roll out your second dough disk, for the top.

At first I was grieving the fact that I couldn't seem to get it very thin, or very circular looking.  But I quickly learned it doesn't really matter too much.  This was more than enough for my 9" pie, and the circular shape can be 'fudged' afterwards, once on the pie.

Cut vent holes into the top, in order to prevent spillovers or explosions.

Pinch the edges as best you can.  I probably could have used some sort of decorative edging tool, but I kinda liked the rustic look.

Then brush the dough lightly (try to avoid pooling) with your egg wash or whatever wash you prefer.

I used one whole egg, beaten with one spoonful of 3.25% milk. 

Now for point five.

5) Preheat the oven to 375°F as well as a rimmed baking sheet!  Get that sheet hot first.  This gives a good head start to the pie in terms of a heat source.  Plus it is a good idea to not try to grab the pie itself, because... well... that crust is delicate man!

Once preheated, place the entire pie plate in the middle of the baking sheet, and on the bottom rack of the oven.

Bake for 25 minutes, checking to make sure the crust isn't burning.

Take the whole thing out, sheet and all, for a second.  Try to remember which way it was in there, because you'll want to rotate it 180° when you put it back in.  

And now we'll do the sixth and final of Culinary Spatter's excellent points for making apple pie filling better than the rest.

6) place a ring of tin foil around the edge of the crust.  This prevents burning the outer ring while waiting for the centre to cook fully.

If you find this difficult to manage, try just cutting a pie-shaped circular hole from the middle of one large piece of foil, and then using the outer shape to surround the edge of the pie.

Once the crust has been protected like this, put the whole thing (baking sheet as well) back in, making sure to rotate it 180° this time.

Bake for another 25 minutes or so.  Until the entire top is nice and golden, and there is steam rising from the vent holes.

Now, this being my first ever attempt at ANY pie, ever.  You can imagine my surprise at how well this turned out.

In fact, I think I'll just end this post with a gratuitous amount of pics, and have them speak for themselves.

The crust was delightful.  The filling was the best apple filling I'd ever had.  And together, that made this the single BEST APPLE PIE the wife and I had ever had.  Hands-down.


Don't forget to let the pie cool first!  And for a considerable time, too!  Don't want to burn yourself (or others!)

Here we can see the ghostly apparition of the wife's hand, impatiently reaching prematurely.

Just look at that filling!  So dry and fluffy and delightful!

So flakey!


Of course, it was no raspberry pie... but for an apple pie it was the best I'd ever tasted.