A new low? New heights?

One of the more depressing outcomes of a post-infection fatigue is the things one is reduced, but lack of energy to do better, to eating. Come lunchtime, I was hungry, from a morning dutifully preparing my paper for the symposium: “Doing Theology in the Light of the Trinity“, later this week. But I have barely enough energy to prepare words, none to cook food. In the freezer there were some “Chicken Tenders”. I remember them, they epitomise the phrase “cheap and nasty”. That’s why there was still the remains of a small packet – after trying them I had not (previously) been desperate enough to have a second go.

I won’t shame the company that produced them by naming them here, but they taste and look like mechanically recovered meat from roadkill. I’m tired, lacking energy to cook, I grilled a few. The first was as bad as I remembered, mushy, mild and flavourless except for the excess of pepper, with the slight crunch (where they had not absorbed mushy softness from the “meat”) of breadcrumbs to redeem them.

In desperation I drizzled the remaining monstrosities with some decent olive oil. It was a revelation, the “Chicken Tenders” were still as unappetising as ever, but the zing of the oil made the meal quite edible, almost satisfying. No wonder chefs drizzle olive oil over everything! If it can almost redeem those cheap and nasty “Chicken Tenders” it must do wonders for real food.

Cooking mistakes

It’s the weekend :) Time to cook and eat :)

But, though we know better, we all cut corners. In cooking some corners can safely be cut (caramelising onions can be hurried – a bit – by adding a little salt and sugar and water from time to time, so allowing a slightly higher heat) but most can’t.

The image from "6. You over-soften butter."

There’s a fine list of mistakes we have all made (well maybe none of us has made all of them but all of us have made some) at Cooking Light in a post: The Most Common Cooking Mistakes Most instructive, especially since they explain the science behind the wisdom :)

For example I have been wondering why my poached eggs have been getting less and less well shaped. I’ve been putting more and more effort into getting the water really hot and fiercely swirling. Wrong move, have the water just simmering, that way there is less stress on the egg, better shape. It is so obvious once you know why!

 

There is something seriously wrong

I found this article from a post on Lifehacker, this is the picture they used.

The MSN Money website has an article How to eat when you’re really broke“. Author Liz Weston reckons an average American family should be able to save about $3,000 a year and could save much more.

 

She offers some simple and easy advice:

  • Eat mostly at home (a no-brainer if you want to save money ;)
  • Skip the processing (another no-brainer, processed foods cost more because they cost more to make) but what interests me, and I’ll come back to this, is that she starts the paragraph like this: “Steer away from foods with lots of additives, chemicals and packaging; they’re often not as good for you
  • Demote meat (this one will save you less in NZ but even here in the land of cheap meat the cost of protein from beans and such is way less than meat)
  • Promote veggies – she notes that buying in-season and local produce will save you even more
  • Go for the grains – noting that “offer more nutrients and fiber

I’ll  hold off mentioning the last suggestion from the front page for a moment and comment more on the ones above. (I’ll return to the remaining suggestion below, don’t worry ;)

What strikes me about the suggestions above is that:

  1. they could only apply to Westerners and the rich in the majority world, no one else could afford to eat other than this way
  2. these suggestions are practically identical with the proposals Western governments are making in order to improve their populations’ health!

So, the long and the short of it is: The way most of us eat is expensive, bad for us, and unsustainable on a global scale. Something is wrong somewhere. (If you want more discussion on this issue, and some great recipes to help you do something about it try, as well as Google, our blog: Repentant Carnivores.)

Oh, yes, that final suggestion:

  • Watch the waste – “Americans waste up to 40% of our food supply. If that’s the case in your household, you could save hundreds of dollars a year just by patrolling your refrigerator, freezer and pantry each day so you can use stuff before it rots.” Frankly that’s disgusting, if the figure is anything like that high in other countries there is something seriously wrong.

One simple ‘secret’ of better coffee

This cup is TOO full! (by Bjb-de, via Wikimedia)

OK this post is not for coffee snobs. You either know it already or you are beyond such mundane trivialities in your aesthetic appreciation of the finner things of life. But for the benefit of all the others, especially anyone pulling me an espresso in cafe or home, or making a plunger that I’ll be sharing, and because of all the horrible cups and mugs of dishwater or bitter ground acorns I have drunk over recent days, here it is: The One Simple ‘Secret’:

But THIS cup is just right (by Berthold Werner, via Wikimedia)

Take a leaf from the book of nature. Follow the Creator’s example. Be generous!

That’s it, it is really simple, though not really a secret. More coffee in the plunger, within reason (or rather – for the Scots-in-spirit among us – only a step or two beyond reason), makes better coffee. Again, if you are entrusted with an espresso machine, since more coffee would mean pressing the grounds too hard, run less water through. Again, within reason, the same principle applies, being generous with the coffee makes a better brew.

There, I’ve done it, revealed the ‘secret’. Now I wonder how many more Scrooge-coffees I’ll suffer this week ;)

Canapés au bout danois

Photo and original idea from MacSween

Here’s a simple, fairly quick, impressive finger food that foodies will love, and will convert (most) Black Pudding skeptics.1

Ingredients:

  • Slices of precut grainy bread (about one per person)
  • Black Pudding
  • Tomatoes (small ones you’ll need 3-4 slices for each slice of bread)
  • Blue cheese
  • Walnut pieces (not too small, but not whole halves)

Method:

Take a few slices of grainy bread2 wipe with garlic3 spray with cooking oil4 sprinkle with salt and toast5

While the toast is popping from the toaster slice your black pudding into enough thin rounds. Fry them, having ensured the fry pan is hot, so a water droplet dances, before spraying the pan with oil.

Meanwhile cut small tomatoes into slices.6

Cut small lumps of blue cheese, Kaimai Creamy Blue is ideal, a softer blue works better than the Stilton sort.

Cut the toasts into rounds by pressing the cutter7 firmly. Assemble by placing one slice of Black Pudding, one of tomato on each round, and top off with a piece of walnut pressed into the blue cheese.

Voila Canapés au bout danois!

And more people converted into Black Pudding fans ;) BTW the left over bits of toast can be warmed in the morning in the pan as you fry more Black Pudding, and with any left over bits of tomato, and some blue cheese makes a fine breakfast, Breakfast au Bouts Danois8

  1. “bout danois” which would mean something like a Danish end or a Danish leftover but to most non-Francophones just sounds posh and mysterious is a pun on Boudin Noir = Black Pudding. []
  2. You will get about 3-4 canapés per slice if you use an eggcup as your cutter. Four slices made  enough for a starter for four hungry people, and leftovers for breakfast for one :) []
  3. I dipped a teaspoon in crushed garlic let the lumps drip off and wiped that over one face of a slice. []
  4. For you do surely have a plastic spray dispenser like they sell for misting flowers etc. for $5 filled with Soya Oil, or some such, don’t you? If you don’t you should, aside from spraying stuff to get a very light misting of oil it lets you fry with less fat! []
  5. Yes, they will go in the electric toaster, no worries. []
  6. If your tomatoes are too big do NOT despair, just cut the slices in half later. []
  7. Or egg cup ;) []
  8. No, do NOT add walnuts this time, that would be greedy, what are you a pig? []

Sage advice

Sage is a great flavour for winter, last week I cooked a chicken for visitors down in Tauranga, and despite using a nice barn raised chook all the comments were on the stuffing. If you suffered from packeted dried “Sage and Onion Stuffing” as a child, forget it. Packet stuffing is like dried parsley, or instant coffee, not worth the time they save!

Stuffing is easy:

  • some bread cut into small chunks (or wapped briefly in a processor, but don’t make it breadcrumbs, they’re too fine)
  • zest of a lemon or two (add the juice later if it seems dry)
  • an egg
  • a handful of fresh sage leaves chopped into peices
  • a handful of bacon also chopped
  • salt and pepper

Mix together, if the egg is not quite enough to bind it all together then add lemon juice or another egg. Stuff the bird and roast.

That meant I had sage left over, and those little pots never really grow for me, and the NZ Herald had a delicious looking recipe for Pumpkin, Sage and Blue Cheese Fritters. We also had an unused butternut, and I love blue cheese :) So since I have sent “‘Exile away from his land’: Is landlessness the ultimate punishment in Amos?” off for what I hope is the final time, “The book of Amos and the Day of YHWH” to a colleague for criticism, and am getting on well with “Degrees of Presence” I celebrated by trying the recipe.

It too is simple:

  • grated butternut (I used a cup or so)
  • small red onion (also grated – yes, I grate them together in the food processor, do you think I like skinned knuckles?)
  • blue cheese crumbled – not much (unless like me you are a fiend for blue cheese ;)
  • a few Tbsp Rice Flour
  • a little baking powder (I used 1/2 tsp)
  • handful of chopped sage leaves
  • egg white (the yolk will make mayo or something later)

Mix them all up and fry :)

Easy as, and delicious.

No pictures because the kitchen gremlin seems to have put soya flour (or something) into the jar marked Rice Flour, and the recipe really needs the rice flour to make it crisp! So mine was a delicious fried mash instead of fritters, so no photo this time :(

Burmese noodle salad

Burmese noodle salad

Fresh, rich and delicious Burmese noodle salad Photo from Borderline

We’ve been eating less meat, since the kids are leaving home (they are all confirmed and voracious carnivores ;-) among the recipes I’ve found useful is this warm Noodle Salad from Burma. We watched it being prepared at Borderline in Mae Sot when we did a cookery course there. I wish I had taken a photo of the meal since their version looked a lot more appetising than the one I prepared over the weekend – in a hurry as we were reorganising the kitchen all afternoon :(

Ingredients:

  • wheat noodles (ideally from your local Asian store, not rice noodles, but almost Tagliatelle – which you could probably use if stuck, though it is not the same) enough for the number you are feeding I’ll give quantities for 4 as a main.
  • vegetables (ideally gourd, but corgettes work quite well and carrot is OK…)
  • cabbage 1-2 handsfull
  • spring onions a few
  • beansprouts 1.5 cups
  • hard tofu one block (depending on size)
  • corriander 4-5 plants
  • red onions 2 small
  • yellow bean powder 0.5-1 teacup (a mix of 50/50 soya powder and ground up peanuts works fine)
  • rice flour 5 tsp
  • chilli powder 1-2tsp
  • turmeric 1tsp
  • garlic 4-5 cloves (or if you can find it packeted crispy fried garlic)
  • oil for deep frying (in a wok is traditional) use 1/2 teacup of this later for the spices
Below my clumsy hurried thick cut version,
above Borderline’s delicate Burmese version!

Mix rice flour with water to make a creamy paste (if you use courgettes you should add extra rice flour to make the cream thick as courgettes are watery and risk going soggy not crisp in the salad).

Slice the cabbage, spring onions thinly, slice the onions and garlic even thinner (keep the garlic separate), and chop the coriander (roughly as you want some whole or nearly whole leaves as well as some cut finer.

Cut the vegetable into small (finger size) pieces. Cut the tofu similarly. Coat in the rice flour cream and fry till crisp and golden.

Mix the chilli, garlic and turmeric and pour over 1/2 cup of hot oil (the mixture will fizz up and the spices will cook to perfection) to make a dressing.

Dry fry the bean powder till it darkens, do not burn it!

Cook the noodles and drain, washing in cold water so they stick less.

Assemble by mixing the noodles, dressing, bean powder and salad, use the gourd (carrot or courgette) and tofu to decorate. Eat ideally while still warm.

How to fry

Frying Pan by Wikimedia

Frying Pan by Wikimedia

I’ve been cooking for years, off and on since my mum first let me collect and mix the ingredients for a “Dundee Cake”, on through the years when I introduced my long-suffering family to strange and exotic foods from around the world, cooked from a book that had no pictures to show you how the dish was meant to look (as well as making the book too expensive for a 12 year-old  they might have cramped by “style” ;) and then through the decades of children who imposed their own limitations… And all that while, I never learned to fry :(

Now, over the last months thanks to the brilliant RouxBe cooking school with its free online classes, and careful explanations of why we do what we do, as well as how, I’m learning :)

It’s quite simple really, basically

  1. get the pan hot (yes good and hot, before you add the oil) a drop of water should sizzle energetically otherwise it is too cool – RouxBe explains it all fully
  2. now, and not before, add the oil, usually just a little, and swirl it around the base
  3. add the food to cook, do NOT be tempted to add too much or the pan will cool and you’ll just steam whatever it is, and I like my aubergines or potato fritters crisp please :)
  4. now cook the rest (still patiently, a little at a time – it is all about heat, though not too much)