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Monday, February 29, 2016

Don't Underestimate the Value of a Good Serrated Knife!

Lately I've been stepping up my bread-baking.

I've gotten pretty good at it, if I do say so myself, at least for an amateur.

I've recently discovered a new technique that is easier, faster, and actually better... which of course helps immensely.

So, as a result, and perhaps from having seen me struggle with my old bread knife, the wife surprised me and bought me a very nice, new and very sharp, serrated knife!

I didn't even know what I had been missing.

My old knife suited my needs just fine—or so I thought—cutting through bread.  I know many people recommend using serrated knives for other tasks (like cutting thin-fleshed fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes), but I find if you keep your other knives sharp they're better for those tasks, leaving the serrated knife just for breads.

The thing is... my old knife actually didn't work so well, and it was only after switching to this super nice, super sharp, super awesome new one that it dawned on me.

As for the brand, I admit I've never heard of "Anton Messerhersteller", but... it's German so it's bound to be pretty good!  ;)

Seriously though, it is really sharp, and very well built.  The handle is sturdy with a great heft to it, and counter-balanced I would say perfectly (sometimes a difficult thing to do with such long blades as bread knives).  The blade itself is extremely stiff and thick, and as sharp as any of my utility knives.

All-in-all, it's really great having a sharp serrated knife.  Like I say, I didn't even know what I was missing until I switched.

But, I noticed it right away, the quality difference; being able to slice through my rustic bread without even a single crumb waylaid!  That's impressive!  My old knife would kinda just massacre the bread into a pile of dust practically (not really, but relatively speaking, it made a mess of bread!)

Yes, that's my own home-made bread!  And, yes, that's my new knife!

Just look at those slices!!!!

And, no I didn't photoshop this pic—those cuts really were that clean!

So... if you were like me and didn't really place much value on a serrated knife... well, hopefully this might change your mind!

I certainly appreciate the change!

I think maybe the wife's motives were perhaps less altruistic than I thought at first, however, as I'm pretty sure she now expects more fresh bread, and more often.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Black Bean and Cumin Quinoa


I love beans.

And I'm actually not bad at cooking quinoa.  The trick is to treat it like rice, and use a flavoured stock.  Don't just cook your grains in water.  Use a nice vegetable stock or something.  Trust me.

Many people consider quinoa a protein.  While it does have some protein in it, I don't think of it as anything other than a grain... the protein quotient is not THAT high, after all...

So, I like to add beans to my vegan quinoa.

That's a protein source I can behind!



Anyway... It can be surprisingly easy to make up a quinoa bowl, and equally surprising how delicious they can be.

The quinoa is simple.

2:1 ratio of liquid to dry quinoa.
Mix together.
Bring to a boil.
Cover, lower temperature, and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed.

Fluff with a fork or something if you like, when done, and then cover again, and this cooked quinoa can sit for a while and stay warm.

The beans take a bit longer, especially if you use 'dry' beans like I do.  Canned beans take a little less time, but I don't like many canned products...

If using dried beans, rinse them in cold water until clear, and then soak them overnight in clean water.  Then rinse them again, and bring them to a boil with more clean water.

Boil them for a long time.

It's really hard to OVERCOOK beans like this.  So, I usually cook them for at least an hour.

Black beans are terrible for leeching their pigment, I find.  Don't be grossed out, that's just beans and clean water.

Anyway, while that's happening, get working on the flavour town.

The hardest part of this will be the 'sauce'.  Really it's not a sauce, but it's a mixture of intense flavours, including several vegetables and spices.

Most notably—for this particular dish, anyway—onion and cumin.

I love cumin in these types of dishes.  It's packs a lot of deliciousness.

Toast the cumin in a little bit of avocado oil, for a few minutes, until they start to brown a bit.

Then add the onion.

Stir it altogether, but then leave it to simmer for about ten minutes or so.

Add some dried oregano.

And some freshly chopped garlic.

Add a splash of liquid (water works fine here) and then cover with a lid and steam for a minute or two.

After that, take it off the heat, and carefully scrape everything out of the pan into a blender.



Chop up some green onion.  Mince it really... the finer the better.

Zest some lime too.  This shit is great.

Add everything BACK into the pan, including the quinoa and the recently blended veggie puree.


Now add the beans.

That simple.


Mmmm... this is delicious stuff.  You can serve it up in a bowl by itself, I promise you won't even need any toppings.

But... if you want a bit of extra zing to it, you can add it to a wrap.

I made a wrap with a homemade, vegan, roasted red pepper, chili, lime and avocado spread.


Here's how.

Roast the red peppers.

Peel the roasted peppers, and discard the skin.

Add to a blender, along with a tomato, a chili, and some lime zest.

Slice up an avocado.

Peel and de-pit.

Add to blender with other stuff, and puree everything together.

Zingy, zangy, tingly and tangy, this stuff is flavour-packed.  I didn't even need to add any salt.


I then spread it on a wrap.

And then used it to wrap up the quinoa and black beans.


You can even dip it in some hot sauce or something if you want, but it's actually really delicious on its own.

And a pretty good balance of nutrients.
Also, it's entirely vegan.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Ten-Percent-Carnivore Rants About Conceptualizing Diet

OK People, let's get ready to RAMBLE!

Heh heh heh.

Here comes some ranting.

I'll call it rhetoric just because it sounds better, and it is my aim is to be persuasive, after all...

Anyway, let's get down to it; I know you're dying to hear it!

So, if you've read much of this stuff you'll note that I am not vegan.  That doesn't stop me, however, from making vegan dishes frequently.

I like veganism.  It's laudable.  And in order to eat a healthy, balanced, diet, I think all humans should eat solely plant-based regularly, and often.  I do.  In fact, if you're like me, then if you do, you'll feel good about eating well so often that you don't feel guilty when you have some meat once in a while...

Myself, I try to go for a 2:4:1 ratio of days in any given week wherein I eat vegan:vegetarian:carnivorous.  Mind you, this is just 'days', and not 'meals'; if you assume 3 meals per day, then it is probably closer to 12:8:1 to maybe 10:8:3 kind of thing (out of 21 meals per week)...

So, in a very glib, barely empirical, sort of way, I suppose you could say I'm roughly 48 - 57% vegan, 86 - 95% vegetarian (48 + 38 = 86% - 57 + 38 = 95% --- vegan IS vegetarian obviously, so these get added together), leaving only 5 - 14% carnivorous.  Take the mean of that and let's just say I'm 10% carnivorous.  Also, that means, I am mostly vegan.  Hmmm... I find that interesting actually...

If you want to classify it at all.  And I actually don't.  I know it looks like I do, because I just did some introspective calculations there... but these are just my own observations after having adopted what I consider to be a relatively balanced diet.  I'm not policing it or anything, nor do I go around calling myself a 'ten-percent-carnivore'.

The (unfortunate) fact is, that these days, everyone seems hell-bent on labeling and classifying diet... so it's understandable—and I think entirely forgivable—for most of us to at least think about it this way once in a while.

Personally, in my humble opinion, I believe that the human stomach has evolved quite efficiently for our planet/environment over the past few hundred thousand years.  Such that it is actually ridiculously good at getting nutrients from whatever you put in there.  There are some exceptions of course... one of my favourites is cellulose.  That shit just goes right through us.  But I suppose not being able to get many nutrients from cellulose is a decent trade-off for not having 4 stomachs (I'm lookin' at YOU, ruminants!)

An example I am often reminded of, is Pandas.  Pandas are technically omnivores who just choose to be vegans... and they are not ruminants.  So their stomach anatomy is not too different from our own (I'm sure it is... but just for this purpose let's relax)... the point I'm trying to make is that -- in order for them to survive and get enough nutrients for their massive bodies with their 'not-suited-to-cellulose' stomachs like ours, they need to eat laughable amounts of plant matter.  Like all day.  Every day.

Of course, I'm not saying a plant-based diet is just cellulose.  In fact there are some pretty powerfully-packed plant foods out there.  Nor am I saying that in today's evolved and international food industry, vegans can not get all the nutrients they need... they can, if they're smart, and diverse with their sources.  But, I will say that, in order to get enough of all the nutrients we've evolved to need, vegans really should be eating a lot of food.  Large quantities.  If you can do that, good on you.  Personally I find that difficult.

Our stomachs are actually great at pulling stuff out of food, whatever that food is.  In fact, this causes problems because for a while there we started getting really stupid with how we process our foods.  Chemical additives, preservatives, stabilizers, hormones, antibiotics, etc.  I worry more about consuming that shit than any other dietary concern.

I feel like adding something here.  I do not want this conversation to deal overtly with the topic of GMOs... but I will say this and be done with it.  I do not feel that genetically-modified-organisms are bad, or unhealthy, inherently.  I mean, all of our crops and livestock are technically genetically modified.

It's called artificial selection, and we've been doing it for millenia.

It's what has led us to produce the huge amounts of agriculture we do today, and there's nothing wrong with it.  Just because we're smarter now than we were when we were tying desirable shoots of plants together, doesn't mean the principle (or effect, really) is at all different.

So, if we can make a plant more pest- or drought-resistant by altering its genome, I'm all for it.  Especially since this change is achieved naturally.  This food is organic and natural, and no longer needs huge amounts of man-made chemicals applied to it in order to reach decent yields or to remain sustainable.

So, what I am far more preoccupied with these days is not whether my food came from a plant or an animal, or whether that organism's genome got to its current state naturally or artificially, but in fact, what sorts of processes were involved in taking that food to table, and whether it should be considered "food" at all... (read ingredient labels, people.  PLEASE!!)

It is my opinion, therefore, that we should be more concerned with classifying diets based on 'natural' vs. 'processed'.  Actually, I believe that might be more important than the 'animal' vs. 'vegetable' debate.

Natural foods vs. unnatural (yes, I'm going to say that) foods.  If you need to add a stabilizer to keep your product from falling apart over the span of a few days, maybe that's not really supposed to be food.  And if you need to add preservatives to your food to keep it looking fresh, maybe you need to get smarter about transporting your food... or just live without getting your produce out of season.

Indeed, I feel like we should revert back to a more 'seasonal' approach to our foods.  I mean, I love raspberries, but if not eating them in January saves copious amounts of money, and jet fuel, I'm OK just eating them for the six months they actually grow locally.

So, 'natural' foods are 'organic' but 'organic' food isn't necessarily 'natural'.  Take for example, some 'organic' soup.  The ingredients could be 'organic tomatoes, organic cane sugar, organic red pepper, etc.  but at the end you might see something like... sodium benzoate... or potassium sorbate...  Don't think that that organic soup is 'natural'.  That "preservative" just ruined the entire thing, in my opinion.

Plus, it has always been my cooking style to make things from scratch.  This started as the need of a picky eater to see and touch everything that went into his food, but it has evolved to valuing a minimalist diet.  If I buy a can of processed pasta sauce, not only do I run the risk of some crazy shit being in there, but I also do not get to control what is in there.

I like control.  :)  So I like eating un-processed... or 'natural'.

But, in a conversation wherein people are calling themselves vegans and vegetarians, I would certainly receive some strange looks if I called myself a 'naturalist' or something.  Maybe I should come up with a term?  I don't know...

Again I'll say I don't really care about 'terms' or 'labels'... but I do care about eating healthily.  And the bottom line is that I consider processed foods unhealthy.

So, IMHO, the smartest thing the North American diet needs to adopt is not necessarily a switch to veganism, but rather a switch to only natural foods.  I think that would achieve the largest results the quickest.

That said, I think it would be in every human's and the planet's best interests if we started to cut back on meat consumption.  I would argue that the most compelling argument for veganism, at least for me, is the environmental impact of keeping that insane biomass sustainable.  The land-size and fuel required for livestock 'crops' is woefully inefficient.  So, re-conceptualizing how we farm animals is not just a question of 'if' but 'when'.  We just won't be able to support meat consumption for the entire planet.

I wish I could adopt a vegan diet.  Hell, for that matter, I wish I could adopt a RAW vegan diet.  I think that, on paper that shit is where it's at.  The unfortunate fact, however, is that I recognize that I do not have the willpower, determination, nor even the patience to sit down and eat several pounds of vegetables per day, just to get my nutrient quotient.

What I find far more manageable, instead, is to just be smart about what I eat.  Limit those things which are harmful, and maximize those things which are healthful.  Avoid man-made or artificial chemicals or processes.  And keep it balanced.

I don't feel bad about my ten-percent-carnivorism.  In fact, I feel like my diet is reasonably OK.  I get all the health benefits of a balanced diet (let's face it vegans, if carnivores are being fair to you, you should do the same, and admit that there are actually a LOT of great nutrients in meat, sure there's a lot of bad too... but let's be fair) without relying too heavily on any one source to sustain my system.


In order to remain fair and for due diligence's sake, I will also say that I like how animal products taste.  I have been known to love a cheeseburger.  I also have pizza like at least once a week.  Does that mean I should call myself a 'pizzavore'?

Life is too short to worry about 'what if?' or to accept correlative research data as causative.  But, even if we do accept it as causative, we have to accept that this research is still just dealing in probabilities.

If you eat a diet heavy in animal protein, will you die of cancer or heart disease?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  We all of us know that one old relative who lived to be 90 and ate absolutely terribly, surviving problem-free on a diet of meat and potatoes.  Some of us have several examples of this.

If you eat a diet low in animal protein, are your chances of developing cancer or heart disease lessened?  Yup, research has shown a correlation between these things.

If you eat a diet completely bereft of animal protein (veganism), are your chances of developing cancer or heart disease lessened?  Absolutely!  The data shows a very strong correlation of this.  But... does it mean you for certain will NOT get cancer or heart disease?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

So... playing the odds... you are absolutely better off avoiding animal protein in your diet.  But personally, I'd rather take the middle ground, and enjoy animal protein as a treat once in a while, all the while still enjoying a statistically lessened chance of developing cancer or heart disease.

Good enough for me.

Because you know what else life is too short for?  Living without ever knowing the taste of cheese.


If you made it all the way to the end of this rant, you're either procrastinating from doing some work you really should be doing, a family member, or you're insane.

But in any case, I'd like to thank you for listening to what really are just my own opinions (so please just take them as such), and encourage your own thoughts on the subject, so please comment below...

After all, a lack of education, awareness, and dialogue on these subjects is the largest impediment in re-conceptualizing the North American diet.


Shepherd's Pie

I've never made a shepherd's pie before.  In fact, for some strange (and truly unfathomable) reason, I never used to like it growing up.

And, although there appears to be some contention over the difference between shepherd's pie and cottage pie, I choose to still just call this a shepherd's pie.

From what little I can glean, it seems that one should only be used if it has lamb (shepherd's), whereas the other more universal moniker (cottage) can be applied to any meat filling.

Well... I'd never heard of 'cottage pie' before, so whatever.

This is what I've always known as shepherd's pie, so you'll just have to forgive me if you think I'm using the term incorrectly.


Phew.  Now that that's out of the way...

To the pie!

Firstly, this is not some healthy version of a Shepherd's pie.  Nor is it a 'quick' version of a Shepherd's pie.

This is a full-on full-of-awesome Shepherd's Pie as rich and authentic as I could make it.

So if you're looking for healthier or quick versions, look elsewhere.  If you want the most delicious version, well... I'd be flattered, but you could stay here.  No, honestly, there are few occasions where I think I've pulled off a dish masterfully such that I could point people to my own methodology/recipe... but this might be one of them.

So feel free to emulate this one.  It's got the Culinary Spatter stamp of approval.

For the uninitiated (or painfully un-British) of you, essentially a Shepherd's Pie is a meaty stew topped with a mashed potato crust, and then baked golden.

What's not to love about that right?

So let's get down to it.

First off, I'm using just some regular cubed chuck.  Stewing Beef it's called.


The chunks of beef are usually a bit larger than I prefer, so generally I like to cut them up a bit.  Make them all more uniform in size.

Coat them with a touch of avocado oil, a dash of salt and pepper, and then quickly sear them for as short a time as possible as is necessary to invoke browning.

Like 2 minutes per side kind of thing, I'd say.


Then dump them unceremoniously (or ceremoniously if you care to infuse pomp into your cooking... I do not... but "to each their own"...) into your slow cooker (or dutch oven if you don't have a slow cooker).

mmmm... still steaming...
Now we get working on the sauce.

The workhorse of this dish.

Do not skimp on this, and do not take any shortcuts.  I am a devout sauce-proponent, and I will defend, ardently, the virtues of making sauces from scratch, using all natural, non-processed, fresh ingredients.

So, we're going to start with a mirepoix, and saute that in the gribbly pan so as to soak up all that goodness.

Unlike many of my dishes and sauces, I do not want to mince these veggies.  We're just going to chop them nicely and neatly.  And uniformly.  If you can manage all the pieces to be roughly the same size, that's great.

Into the pan!

Because we're dealing with some firm veggies like carrot and celery, this gets a good deal of attention.  I'd say about 10-15 minutes on medium before everything is nice and softened.  Not mushy, or anything, just nice and tender.

BTW - the garlic you see above, I just added straight to the pot.  I didn't want it to get too 'nutty' in flavour, so I just minced that and threw it in as-is.

But, once the mirepoix is ready, that gets added and mixed in to the slow cooker pot.

And now to the FUN part.  At least, I consider this to be fun.


Roux-making time.

Generous pat of unsalted butter to the same pan.

Scrape it about (if you're using non-stick, obvs not to use metal utensils) to get any remaining gribblies incorporated.

Whisk in the flour.

I know I just admonished the use of metal utensils on non-stick, but here's the skinny: for one, this pan isn't super great anyway, and for another, I'm always scooper dooper careful with it.



Roux is done after a few minutes of 'cooking' the flour, and it gets nice and golden.

Now, I'm kind of cheating a little bit here, with this sauce.  You see, I have in my possession a rather delicious portion of leftover french onion soup.

This was really delicious, and all-natural homemade, so it's technically not cheating or anything, it just saves me a few steps.  The floaties are just a bit of congealed fat (this was straight from the fridge) and the reason they're green is just cause this was heavy on the fresh thyme leaves!

So, if you're NOT lucky enough to have some amazing leftover french onion soup, you're just basically using beef broth.  A couple cups of regular beef broth.  Don't go for reduced fat or reduced sodium broths people.  There's a time and place for healthy eating, and I'm the kind of cook/eater who would just far rather abstain than have a half-assed version of something.  So when I do use something that should be beef broth, I say just USE BEEF BROTH.


Anyway, that's what this was basically, just with a shit tonne of caramelized onion and fresh thyme.

Whisk that in over medium-low heat, and let it acclimate.

It usually takes several minutes for the roux to thicken the liquid.  Plus you'll want to keep an eye on the mixture to make sure your balance is right.  Too much roux to liquid and you'll be pasty, too little and you're runny.

A perfect balance is one where the sauce is velvety smooth and has a shimmery shine to it.  Just like this:


So that's ready.

Dump it into the slow cooker with everything else!

Add a (small) dash of worcestershire sauce and stir the whole contents gently.

Many people LOVE worcestershire, but myself I find it quite dominating, so I generally opt for the 'less is more' idea.

But I do like adding at least a little.  Especially to beef-based gravies and stews, as it adds some nice caramel colouring.

Anyway, put the lid on that and let it blip away for the afternoon (like 4-6 hours).  We want the beef to be nice and tender, after all.

So... <time passes>...  :)  About an hour before you're ready to serve, start making the potatoes.

Peel and chop a large amount of potatoes.  Myself, I think this was about six large ones.

Plop those into a very large pot of water and boil.

This takes a good while, I'd say 20 minutes at least.  When tender and fully cooked, drain the water and then put the potatoes back into the pot.

Now, I know you're already an expert on mashed potatoes.  Yes, I do.  You told me, remember?  That time... and then that other time...

But... we're not really making your average mashed potatoes here.  We're making a potato crust.  And it's a little different in a few crucial ways.

First, some seasoning.

Nutmeg is key here, and should be the dominant flavour, but I've also got some oregano, salt and pepper for complementary flavours.

Toss that in, and then add a generous amount of butter and half-and-half cream.  Like about 100ml.  Which seems like a lot, but there are a lot of potatoes there.

Mash thoroughly.

Now here's a tricky bit.  Separate an egg yolk, and stir that in.  Yup.

Once the potato topping is ready, take a minute to get a few other things prepped.

Preheat your oven to 400°.

Some peas (frozen is fine).

Some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.

And then a lightly buttered casserole dish.  A large one.  Mine was a bit too small, but the next size up I had would have been WAY too large, so I tried to make this do.

I love my Emile Henry bakeware.  I've made sure to colour coordinate as well, cause I'm OCD.  Whatevs.  Reference previously (and abundantly) mentioned penchant for kitchen porn.

Take off the stew and carefully pour it into the casserole dish, and then stir in your cup o' peas.


Give that a stir, carefully... and you've got a delightful stew if you want.  But, we're not done!

Potato Crust time!  <drool>

So, this is actually a little tricky.  Perhaps more than was needed in my case, because my vessel was inappropriately small.

But I read (and can confirm this works well) that you should begin at the edges and work your way towards the middle.

Basically, build up a little bit of a 'shore'.

This helps keep the liquidy bit where it's supposed to stay, and also prevents your potatoes from just joining the mix and essentially making one big bowl of potato soup.

After some careful spatula technique, I managed to smooth it nicely, and keep the edges (relatively) neat and 'tucked-in'.

You can see I've already guessed that my dish is going to boil over.  Indeed, a mindfully-placed baking sheet has gotten my oven out of many a potential mess over the years.  :)  Pun intended.

Top with that cheese.  Normally I'm such a rabid fan of cheese (yes, I said rabid.  Cheese is the only reason I can not fully adopt a vegan diet) that I don't like to dictate what type should be used for what purpose, but there are some exceptions.  This is one of them.  Parmigiano Reggiano people.  You might be able to get away with some Asiago or Romano here, but we want the dry and slightly nutty cheese here on purpose.

Don't forget to add another generous dash of black pepper.

Next step?  Bake the shit out of that for about 30 minutes, or until the edges get brown and golden.  It's OK at this point if the centre isn't totally browned yet.

You can see the epic boil-over action that happened here.  Can you imagine cleaning that from your oven? 


Now flip your oven to broil, and set the whole thing under the flames for a few minutes, but do not take your eyes (or nose) off of it while broiling.  Really this should go without saying, when broiling you can not divide your attention, but you really will feel like a schmuck if you mess this up.  So just don't go anywhere.  Watch that Shepherd's Pie people.

And after several minutes of careful and controlled broiling, you will be rewarded with an amazing-looking, perfectly browned meat-pie-of-decadence.

Mmmmm.... See how parmigiano reggiano 'melts' ?  It doesn't get all wet and greasy the way some cheeses higher in MF and humidity do.

Anyway, let that bitch cool down before cracking into it.

Really.  I know it's hard, especially if it's late in the day and you're hungry and tired and Bettie yelled at you again and you got three extra memos for attaching the new cover sheets to your T.P.S. reports and you just. absolutely. need. to shovel this comfort food into your gaping belly like yesterday.

You will get burned.  Just a few minutes more.

Trust me, it will still be very piping.  Can I use the word 'piping' as an adjective on its own, or does it only make sense when placed with 'hot'?  I mean, there is a verb form... like piping icing on to a cake... or piping a connection between Alberta tar sands and Chinese oil tankers (completely destroying the Great Bear Forest in the process, of course) kind of application... but I want to use 'piping' solely as an adjective.  


This is the kind of thing you can think about while waiting for delicious pie to fill your shepherd's hole.

Cause when it's plated...

There really WON'T be any time for much other considerations.