Monthly Archives: December 2008

Healthful hints

Tasty news from the BBC yesterday:

Marinating a steak in red wine or beer can cut down the number of cancer-causing agents produced when it is fried or grilled, research suggests.

A six hour marinade was found to cut cancer-causing compounds by up to 90%. Definitely something to keep in mind when (if?) bbq season rolls around again.


Adventures in stuffing

Isn't she pretty?

Isn't she pretty?

Yes, I’m terrible at this food photography thing, but the roast chicken just came out too nice not to try.

But I’m really here today to talk stuffing. Three Thanksgivings ago I stumbled on the greatest stuffing recipe of all time. It was so good I’ve never been allowed to try anything else.

But I branched out on Thursday and stuffed the chicken with something completely different – couscous with oregano and feta. And because I’d slathered the chicken with a bunch of garlic and the juice of two lemons, the stuffing was also nice and lemon garlicky.

The stuffing was a breeze to throw together: I combined 150 grams of couscous with 1 tablespoon olive oil, a few stalks worth of oregano, roughly smashed/chopped, 150 grams of feta, crumbled, 2 roasted peppers chopped and a wine glass worth of warm water. Mix it all up and stuff it in the chicken, plugging up each opening of the bird with a juiced half a lemon.

I was a bit worried the couscous would turn to mush, but I think only using a bit of warm water allowed it to keep its shape.

Simple and delicious, despite the complete absence of pork products.


Fear of food

An evil scotch bonnet

An evil scotch bonnet

The wimpiness of the British palette is well known. Sure there’s the occasional heavy smoker and chili addict who’s burned off their taste buds who eats peppers by the handful, but for the most part they don’t do hot. So while the tameness of chilis I’ve found in supermarkets was not exactly a surprise, it has still been a bit of a disappointment.

Until now.

Sainsburys’ chili section was looking pretty spare today, but for the first time I’ve noticed they had scotch bonnets, so I bought some. Jesse chopped it up for a stir fry (more on that later), washed his hands and thought that was the end of it. Until he rubbed his nose. And I guess because it hurt a bit, he kept rubbing because 20 minutes later he was apparently in unbelievable pain. He washed with soap and water. He washed with olive oil. He washed with milk. And then stood in the shower for 10 minutes and rinsed his nose some more.

But some time in the middle of suggesting soothing liquds, I started to become afraid of dinner. I ran into the kitchen and scooped out some of the chilis. I even used a knife for fear of touching the little monsters. The chili was defeated at last and he went back to watching tv in peace. And now I have to live with the shame of being afraid of a cute little pepper.

(North)American food fun

So, I’ve been back from London for a week, mostly up in Fernie, British Columbia. And I’ve been getting very excited about things that are hard to come by in the UK. Embarrassingly, this means mainly meat products and Triscuits.

Bacon….yum! Despite Americans calling big chunky pieces of bacon “Canadian bacon”, the bacon we enjoyed in BC was the crispy American kind. Particularly good was a maple-smoked flavour. We also ate vast quantities of beef jerky…both the packaged kind from the supermarket and some more interesting stuff from Fernie’s local butcher. One of these was coated in a thick layer of spicy chili seeds…not for the faint-hearted or those with chapped lips from the -40 degree weather.

We also must have shared at least one plate of nachos every day. There are a couple of places in London that make vaguely passable nachos, but they too often seem to be served with chips in tiny little pieces from the bottom of the bag or with cheese that’s not sufficiently melted (come on, how hard is it to make sure all of the cheese is melted?). Not to mention the lack of toppings. Everywhere in Fernie delivered huge plates of nachos with beef, jalapenos, peppers, olives and lovely melty cheese. Plus guac and sour cream. Perfect for sharing with a few pitchers of beer after an afternoon on the slopes.


When recipes are wrong

For someone who’s constitutionally unable to follow a recipe, this gets me surprisingly upset. Last night I made split pea soup with chorizo. The experience was fraught from the start:

  • I couldn’t remember if I was making split pea or lentil soup, so had to buy both split peas and lentils.
  • I seem not to have read the recipe, so cooking was well under way before I realised (at a quarter to 8) that it wouldn’t be ready for 2 hours.
  • I also did not notice that the recipe doesn’t say when to add the chorizo to the soup.

I must have finally read the damn recipe 15 times before accepting it really was missing an instruction. I wound up adding the cooked chorizo with about 30 minutes of the stated cooking time left. After about 15 minutes, the balance of flavors was just right, but the split peas were far from being done. The peas were still far from being done at 10.30 when I just chucked the whole thing in a blender, and would up with a hearty sausage soup. Not quite what I was after.

The soup was a hit, though that could have something to do with the several bottles of wine I plied our dinner guests with while waiting to eat.


Eat food.

When I moved to the UK in 2005, I was impressed by the general recognition of food as a political issue. Seasonal eating was de rigeur on gastropub menus, ‘food miles’ was a phrase I’d hear on nightly newscasts, and I think something like 50% of the population knew what the Fairtrade mark was. I thought that was all pretty neat, and way ahead of American understanding of such concepts even after Fast Food Nation and ‘Supersize Me’ had come out. Even now the biggest names in the national movements towards rational eating – say, Jamie Oliver and Michael Pollan – are miles apart in terms of celebrity and name recognition.

But while Jame Oliver is exhorting the British public to pay more attention to what it feeds itself, Michael Pollan is calling on the US government to re-examine our entire national agricultural system. And the progressive foodie movement is gaining traction – Pollan’s had a few books on the bestseller lists, and Obama even referenced his article in the NY Times Magazine during the campaign. In November California voters passed a proposition banning certain types of animal confinement by a healthy margin, and this week Nick Kristof argued that we should rename the Department of Agriculture the Department of Food.

The US has a lot of food issues, to be sure. For starters, it probably isn’t very healthy that we refer to the food grown for human consumption as “specialty crops.” And surely the move towards rational eating in the US has not sparked the same level of public awareness as in the UK. But by targeting the root (or a root at least) of the problem – government policies – the US has a chance to make a critical and lasting impact to the way we eat. And by extension, to address a range of economic, environmental, public health and international trade issues that are all tied to it.

This petition forĀ  a sustainable Dept of Agriculture has nearly 40,000 signatures. That’s a start.


Bacon part two

Last night’s dinner was, I think, the most unhealthy thing I cook. And that’s saying a lot for a girl who can go weeks without eating a vegetable. But man is it worth the shortened life expectancy.

So, to use up the bacon left over from the lentil salad, I give you risotto with blue cheese and pancetta. Continue reading