Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Planet Earth is Beautiful

I'm not advertising this particular post.  It's a sensitive topic.  

I'm upset how us in the so called civilized world treat our home - planet earth.  We rape the land for parking lots, we drain the earth of oil, we murder our marine mammals and we all seem to think that if it doesn't happen in my backyard then it doesn't effect me.  If I don't know about it then it doesn't matter.  It does matter.  We get upset at the geese pooping on the grass but forget how we foul our own drinking water, we complain about the cost of food but forget about sustainable farming.

I am not perfect, but I sure try hard to be contentious about my choices in my life.  I know what fish species I should bypass at the fish mongers, I avoid produce that is imported from the other side of the world when that produce is available from local farmers and for the most part I avoid out of season fresh fruit, it's not natural and it's unnecessary to eat tasteless strawberries in February.  I can wait until June.

Think about where you food comes from.  I'm lucky that I know how to cook.  I have said it before that North Americans are quickly losing our talents for cooking meals from scratch.  I don't buy processed food.  That way I know the fresh tuna I'm buying is not Blue Fin Tuna, it's Yellow Tail, a much more healthy fish population.  I know my salmon is farmed.  I know my chicken is from a small farmer who doesn't have to cater to large operation food processors.  If my backyard had more sunlight, I would have a large vegetable garden, I grow what I can.  

There are societies in our so-called civilized world who murder dolphins.  The Japanese heard these animals into a cove, net them in then spear them over and over again until they bleed to death.  20,000 animals are taken each year, babies included.  The 'meat' from these animals are so high in lead and mercury that the effects are starting to appear in the organs and blood steams of those that consume dolphin meat.  I don't feel sorry for them.  No one needs to eat dolphin or whale or wear seal fur.

I am not preaching veganism.  I eat meat and I always will.   However, what I do differently is I know where my meat comes from, how it's raised and what the impact on the environment I cause by eating meat.

I have recently discovered the journey of the Sea Shepherd.  To me, they are heroes.  We can't all do what they do but we can help - even if it's just being aware of what human beings are doing to our planet - our home.  www.seashepherd.org  Captain Paul Watson is a unique being and I am proud to say he is Canadian.

We all need to do our part in some small way.  If we all take the time to learn about where our processed food comes from, then learn how to make a meal from raw materials, fresh - in season produce, we can make a difference for the future of our home.

I'm sad.  I see all these people rush home to just sit and watch their TV all night, not thinking.  On the train they play games on their IPhone or listen to their music, not thinking.  Even though I can't see out the train window because of the darkness at night, I can look at my reflection and compare my life with those lives around me.  

If we all just walked a little slower to our cars when it's raining out - fuck the umbrella!  The rain is part of our home.  If we take the time to feel the burning of the cold winter wind, we might be a little more thankful for our heated homes.  If we took the time to shop for groceries using our brains rather then buying processed foods marketing companies say we should buy - we would rest a little easier at night.  

I'm getting closer and closer to fucking off, selling everything and living off the grid.  It's time we re-evaluated our lives, stepped back and learned about our planet instead of taking it for granted.  We need to look after our home and every little bit helps.  Let's stop eating processed foods or eating burgers from fast food chains, none of those things are good for our environment and how dare we be so ignorant or so arrogant to ignore the impact the human race has on the planet and the animals with whom we share this earth.

I'm sad...that's all.  Planet earth is beautiful - the human race, not so much.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cooking 101

Since the boat is out of the water and yes it was snowing this morning, I can turn my mind to my other passion - cooking!

Yesterday one of my businesses gave a cooking class (Pandora's Bakery) at Black Angus Butcher Shop in Port Credit.  There were 8 students all hungry with forks and knives in hand.  The menu was Venison Striploin roast served with a potato and yellow beet 'cake' all brought together with a drizzle of cherry balsamic glaze.  Chef Claudia took over the class and demoed the potato beet 'cake' while I cooked the roast.  As the venison roast rested we talked about the benefits of game meats and their low fat content, how to properly sear a piece of meat and the beauty of duck fat.  Venison, like most game meats must be cooked no more than a medium - about 125 F when it comes out of the oven.  When it rests before slicing the temperature will actually continue to rise to that perfect 135 F.  After the heathens were fed, we talked about all kinds of herbs and spices that go with game meats.  Venison is a general term for the deer family and deer eat grass, pine needles, nuts, berries...etc.  The best pairings for venison - earthy flavours such as juniper, fennel, caraway, cardamom and fruits.

Next recipe - Venison Ragu (which is just a fancy Italian word for stew).   Chef Claudia talked about the magic of the pressure cooker while I filled it with tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, shallots, garlic, fennel, star anise, juniper berries and all sorts of great stuff.  While the pressure cooker top danced away we moved the class up into the beef cooler.  There we talked abut the virtues of dry aging beef and the benefits of aging beef.

The Ragu was served over gnocchi slathered in duck fat and I saw a few who really, really wanted to undo their top button on their pants.

The venison class not only introduced people to game meats but helped understand how easy it is to cook and reminded me how much North Americans have forgotten about how to cook.  A friend told me that North Americans are cooking for themselves less and less, more than any society on the planet.  It's a shame as cooking is our life.  I love eating out but I love cooking with friends and for friends even more.  Let's cook more.  Let's get those expensive granite and stainless steel kitchens dirty, let us fill the refrigerator with left overs that we made not what McCain made.  Let's use those food processors, mixers and knives that we all spent so much money on.  Let's open a bottle of wine while we stir our tomato sauce or watch the pot of pasta boil over.  Let's slow down and start living simply.  I love it!  I'm glad I could share my knowledge with others and remind them that cooking is fun - and the more wine you drink the faster the clean up will seem to go afterwards...hehe

Speaking of clean up - I was cleaning out my fridge last night and found 1/2 litre of egg whites...what to do - what to do?  We had a Cuban Dancer friend popping in for dinner so I decided to make a Pavlona - a light dessert made for a famous dancer about 75 years ago in Australia:

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar (very fine)
1 tsp. white vinegar
1/2 tbsp. corn starch

Preheat oven to 250 F.

In mixer beat egg whites to soft peaks.  Slowly add the sugar until the egg whites are glossy and have firm peaks.  Sprinkle vinegar and corn starch over the egg whites and fold by hand with a spatula.

On parchment paper lined baking sheet, spread the meringue in an 10" circle building up the sides just a bit (remember this will hold a filling).  Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, the meringue will crack and turn a bit brown.  Turn off oven and set the oven door ajar and let meringue cool in the oven.

Make up:  fill the well with real whipped cream, cut up your favourite fruit, or use cooked cranberries or your favourite tart jam and sprinkle over the meringue, filling the well.  Garnish with shaved chocolate or toasted coconut or whatever strikes your fancy. 

I love this dessert and it's easy to make.  Beware though - the meringue will soak up any moisture and you won't be able to keep any leftovers for the next day, I suggest you just eat it all!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The healing properties of Chocolate and Sweets

We are told everyday to watch what we eat then in the next instant we are told to buy processed food because it saves all our valuable time to do whatever we have to do and forgo healthy eating to do it.  We rush around, forget about eating at a table, without TV, with our kids, parents, nephews, cousins, friends, dogs, cats, hamsters.  We pop a tv dinner in the microwave and presto instant food.  What happened to spending time in the kitchen cooking with your kids, parents, nephews, cousins, dogs, cats and hamsters.  Sharing your time with them creating something that keeps us alive.

As a pastry chef and budding chocolatier I hear it all the time - not for me thanks, watching my weight, can't have sugar, not part of my diet, can't have butter - saturated fat.  But what do those people eat mostly - burgers, red meat, processed food, cereals, juice boxes, yogurt with out of season fruit, from God knows where.

People ask me all the time how I don't weigh 300 pounds, well my secret is that I do weigh about 10 pounds too much, sometimes 15 pounds too much, but for the most part, I don't eat processed food.  I don't eat man-made food like margarine.  I eat good quality food.  And I'm active.  I'm not perfect, there are days when I know I should lay off the bon-bons and the butter - and I do.   

When I do eat sweets, it's made with real butter, unbleached flour, quality dark chocolate (which is low in fat and sugar), whole eggs...etc.  Because I eat foods that are rich in whole ingredients, no fillers, I don't need to eat as much to feel satisfied.

I also buy my ingredients from a real butcher, a vegetable importer who just sells fresh fruits and vegetables, a fish monger, I get my flour and fresh yeast from a baker and yes, I get my chocolate from a chocolate importer.

I don't think there is anything wrong with eating dessert, in moderation, nothing wrong with eating fries in moderation.  And I believe if you are going to eat calories and fat in those amounts, make it good, don't settle.  I used to go down for a chocolate bar almost every day, doesn't happen anymore, because my palate tells me that the cheap Hershey's chocolate is mostly wax, palm oil and sugar.  I would rather wait until the new shipment of Ecuadorian chocolate comes in next week and eat the combination of pure cocoa butter, cocoa liquor and the hint of sweetness.

I say let's all start to say no to processed foods!  Let's learn to cook, just one meal a week and share it with our kids, parents, nephews, cousins, friends, dogs, cats and hamsters.  Let's all reconnect with humanity and partake in preparing a meal and eating that meal without tvs, ipods and Playstations.  I dare you.

Here's a recipe for a very simple tomato sauce to pour over any kind of pasta.  You can make a lot of it at once and freeze the leftovers.  
Tomato Sauce al a Heston Blummenthal

2 pounds     Ripe Tomatoes
3                Star Anise
1tbsp.         Whole Coriander Seed
3                Whole Cloves
2                Bay Leaves
2 tbsp.        Olive Oil
4                Shallots, diced
to taste       Salt and Pepper


Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cut a cross in the bottom of each tomato and drop into boiling water for 15 seconds.  Remove from water and the skin will come right off.  Cut tomatoes into chunks. 

Heat oil in large pot or heavy bottom pan.  Sweat the shallots.  Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Turn down heat to low.  Place all spices except bay leaves into a piece of cheese cloth or a coffee filter, tie with a string and toss into tomatoes.  Toss in bay leaves.  Cook on low heat for about 2 hours.  When cooked and very fragrant, toos out the spice bag (sachet) and remove bay leaves, season with salt and pepper. 

You can use this for soup (just put in blender and add chicken stock), over pasta, add to a meat sauce.  ENJOY.