09 June 2020

Midweek Soup

Midweek Dinner.

04 June 2020

Pantry Staples

One of the old episodes that's not showing up on the podcast feed. Reupload.

16 April 2020

03 September 2018


There's always questions about what cookware to get, and how much to spend. There's a reason that more expensive doesn't always mean better. Let's consider the law of diminishing returns. Let me give you an easy example.

With wine, there will be crap wines. You're talking your Franzia, your Fetzer, and the vast majority of stuff sold as "white zinfandel". It's fine for making sangria, but you're not going to notice much except sugar, and whatever additives they've thrown in the vat to mask the shitty quality.

Then you've got your low rent ones, like Fetzer, Turning Leaf, that Kangaroo one. They're like $7 - $10 a bottle. Nothing to write home about, but it'll do to cook with, or with people who aren't huge wine drinkers, but can't really afford much better.

Then you get your /good/ wines. These vary by region and by brand, but you're looking to spend between $12 and $15 a bottle here. When served in a decent wine glass, you'll notice all kind of cool little subtle flavour profiles, and it won't be harsh on the way down.

If you've got some cash to spend, then there's those boutique wines that run you about $15 - $25. Around here, you're hitting very complex flavours and aromas. You don't want to pair it with anything that will challenge the wine, and you take care to serve it at the proper temperatures.

Once you cross this threshold however, you're looking at diminishing returns. The difference between boxed wine and the $25 wine is VAST. We're talking leaps and bounds of difference in experience, quality, and taste. But then once you've crossed about $28 - $32 a bottle, the difference between a $100 bottle and the $35 bottle isn't really that huge. Yes if you're in the top 5% of sommeliers or wine makers in the world, you'll notice subtle differences, and it's a nice intellectual exercise to figure out what those differences are, but the vast majority of us aren't really going to get that much more enjoyment or taste difference between the two. Then you start hitting the $200 and $300 bottles with pedigrees and all kind of marketing buzz, and you're like "I'll stick with the $15 bottle if it's all the same to you."

Think of your cookware the same way. The crappy TV Celebrity Chef set from the Walmart versus a standard brand is going to be massive. And the thin-bottomed dollar store pots compared to the standard brands will also be a huge huge difference. But once you hit about the $30 - $70 per pan range, you're not going to notice that much of a difference in your cooking experience to have warranted spending $300 on a freaking pan. I see you, Le Creuset.

Go into a store, and pick up as many pans as you can. If it's not comfortable in your hands, you won't use it as much. Look for something that has a good weight to it, but isn't too heavy for you to pick up. Look for something that has a nice balance to it. This has been my issue with a fair few of those restaurant cookwares: they're so bottom heavy that when I have to tip it over to get from cookware to serving dish, it's very awkward.

Get one piece at a time, not a set. Getting a set means that you'll have pots that you never use. Not good. Start with one piece (for example, an all-purpose pan).

https://www.amazon.com/Simply-Calphalon-Nonstick-Jumbo-Deep/dp/B001ASBBSG/ I reach for this thing every day. I'd consider it an all-purpose pan. I can cook pretty much anything in there. I've cooked pasta, curries, stir fries, rice dishes, delicate things that need the nonstick, potatoes, breakfast things, stews, soups, veggies, the list goes on. I've had it for a few years now, and it's been a champ. However, after having it a while, I realised I wanted a small pot for making ramen, or reheating leftovers, or small amounts of daal. That's when I sprung for a small saucepan. I got their 1-1/2 quart pot from the same line, because I liked how it felt in my hand.

Then, I saw that I wanted something in stainless, because when I make dosa, or other things, I wanted to use my Indian stainless steel utensils, and I couldn't do that on the nonstick. So I got myself a https://www.amazon.com/Tramontina-80116-007DS-Fry-Stainless/dp/B00JAP44MQ/ stainless steel pan from Tramontina. Then, I saw that I needed a stock pot, because if I'm using that 12" thingy on the stove, I don't want another large pot cluttering up the stove. I went to my restaurant supply store, and picked up the most squat 6 qt stock pot they had. I wanted metal handles, and a metal lid. Why? In case I start something on the stove, and want to finish in the oven, I want that to be seamless. I got something like this guy:

Point is that you don't have to spend like a millionaire to have cookware that's a joy to use, and that will produce good results, and you don't have to worry about getting a full set. Build as you go.

29 April 2018

Weekly food prepping

I was going to make a soup. I had some lovely leeks that I found at the market, along with these adorable little tiny white and red potatoes. I had some kale that needed using up. I had a couple of heads of garlic that would go in there too. Come to think of it, there were also like 3 lbs of large white potatoes that had been there for three weeks already. 

However, once I started chopping the leeks (3 of them, with the tough green parts removed), I noticed that I had a LOT of leeks. What if I wanted leeks in something else? Also, two heads of garlic is going to be such a waste if I use it in one soup. What if I need garlic for something else? I don't really have a ton of time during the week to go grocery shopping. 

FINE. Message heard, universe. I'll do that thing where I prepare myself for making a bunch of different dishes by doing the preparation of the individual ingredients, then cooking them separately. That way, I can use my prepared ingredients during the week when I want something fast. Bear in mind that I do also have some canned beans, some frozen veggies, and (as always) rice, ginger, onions, and coconut milk knocking about in my kitchen, so I can augment whatever I prepare here to keep things varied and interesting.

First I set a large pot of water to boil. I was going to boil, then roast the baby potatoes. It seems a shame to lose them to a soup when they're so cute. I also set my electric kettle on the boil with 1 1/2 litres of water. Then, I separated out the stems from the leaves of the kale. The leaves went into a bowl, and the stems I chopped into thin cross-wise slices. That went into a separate bowl.

I made a garlic confit. Not only does this allow me to be lazy, and use pre-peeled garlic in large quantities if I want (because whenever I buy pre-peeled garlic, I can never get through the entire amount before about 1/3 of it goes off on me. I'm one person. I like garlic, but not to that extent. But, in today's case, I had only the garlic inside the skin, so I peeled it, and submerged it in room temperature olive oil in a cold pan. I set it over medium low head (like a 2 on a 10 point scale), and got to the business of slicing the leeks. Since I was going to want a fair bit of sauteed onion product, I augmented the leeks with 2 medium sweet onions (I used vidalia, but you can use whatever you keep in the kitchen). 

Here's a picture of the garlic in the pan. It's ready to go on the stove, over the heat. The leeks and the sweet onions are also pictured here. They go in a pan, with about 3 - 5 tablespoons of olive oil (or however much you need to coat the bottom of your pan. By the time the garlic head was peeled, the electric kettle had boiled the first kettle full of water. I dumped it over the kale leaves, and put in another litre of so of water to boil. 

While I was chopping the leeks and peeling the garlic, I was already boiling the mini potatoes. Once the leeks were starting to sizzle in the pan, the potatoes were cooked to my liking (firm, but cooked through). 

I set the mini potatoes into a large bowl, and tossed them with garlic powder, onion powder, plenty of salt, olive oil, and za'atar.

By this point, the leeks were starting to smell nice. I went and gave them a quick stir. 

Once the potatoes were thoroughly combined with the spices, I laid them out onto a baking sheet to go into the oven at 425 for 20 minutes.
 The leeks took a few minutes to soften. The garlic was starting to bubble. I kept stirring occasionally.

By now, the kale had cooked through, so I strained out the water, and poured cold water over it. I used the rest of the boiling water to cook the stems. They needed to set in the boiling water for 10 minutes. The kale leaves needed like 5 minutes or so. Meanwhile, once the baby potatoes are in the oven, wash out the stock pot, and put it back on the stove with more water. 

I set the kale leaves to drain in the colander, and went to chop up the white potatoes into little cubes. I had around 3 lbs, give or take. 

If you aren't rushing and going quickly, but are taking your time like I was, go ahead and submerge the chopped potatoes into cold water, so that they don't turn weird colours. Once they're all nicely chopped up, your water should be boiling fiercely. Dump them into the cooking pot, and watch the boiling come to a screeching stop. It'll take a few minutes to come back to the boil. This was when I added salt to the cubed potatoes.

Once the water came to a boil, the kale was as drained as it was going to get. I squeezed out as much water as I could, because I planned on keeping the kale for about a week or two in the fridge in its cooked state. I chopped the kale leaves into very very fine pieces.


I wasn't going fast, just kind of taking my time. By the time I was done chopping up the kale into fine pieces, the potatoes in the oven were roasted, and the potatoes in the pot were cooked through (because they were little cubes of potato).

I put away the kale immediately, while the cubed potatoes were draining. I slipped in a dry paper towel and squeezed out as much air as I could. The paper towel will absorb any excess moisture, and keep the cooked greens fresher for a longer time.

I rinsed off the cubed potatoes with cold water, and bagged them up as well. The roasted potatoes cooled, and I put them into containers. My garlic was soft, and golden brown. I strained the garlic into a deli container, and saved the oil in a bottle. 


The onions and leeks were softened, and very light brown. They had considerably shrunken in size. I've been doing dishes as I've gone along, but they do pile up quickly!

Pictured here are clean dishes. If I had to face this amount of dishes during the week, I'd have to call a cleaning person to help me get it under control, because I don't have time on weekdays. However, since this is a weekend, I don't have to worry. 

26 March 2018

Depression Prepping

I used to live in Florida, and we'd get hit with hurricanes quite regularly. I can guarantee you that every dyed-in-the-wool Floridian has their own plan for hurricane preparedness, whether it means batteries and bottled water, or vodka and pop tarts. In the Frozen North (New Jersey now, but New York before) we get hit with massive amounts of snow every now and again. Apparently in NYC, that means that you must buy kale. I'm not even kidding. Go into any store in the five boroughs before a snow storm hits (OK, maybe not Staten Island, but nobody counts Staten Island) and you'll see the shelves emptied of kale, down to the last scrap of a leaf. In Jersey City, it's eggs and bread. The freaking bodega sells out of eggs and bread.

The point is that when we know disaster is about to hit, we prepare for it. Why is it that we don't treat mental health predictable disasters in the same way? I do. I know that every winter, the sun is going to be overcast (if not outright missing) when I leave for work in the morning, and be gone by the time I leave work 8 hours later in the evening. It throws me into a horrible spiral of depression, which then means that basic things that I normally do are impossible to sort out. This winter, I literally had a giant suitcase with all my laundry piled atop it from Christmas through about two weeks ago.

Again, because I knew this mess was headed my way (and always will head my way), I do a few things to prepare for it.


I love to cook. I wrote a freaking book about it. However, when I'm in the throes of depression, I'm going to lack the motivation to /eat/, much less to cook. I need to stock up on certain easy things that I can get into my system, so that I don't get hit with malnutrition on top of the depression.

- Frozen "steamable" veg. At my local grocery store, they sell these 12 - 16 oz packs of frozen veg that you can throw direct into the microwave, hit it with 4 1/2 minutes of heat, and it's steamed to perfection. I stock up on these guys big time before the winter hits, because sometimes I can't eat handle another stack of carbs (potato chips, bread, plain rice with salt), because that's all I've had the motivation to make. On those days, I can throw a steaming pack into the microwave, and get it down.

- Tofu & spice mixes. When I'm particularly too sapped of energy from being a sobbing mess on the floor, I sometimes don't have the energy to sort out even the 4 1/2 minutes in the microwave. Also, I've not had the energy to eat anything of substance in way too long. Also, I actually /do/ need a spot of protein, because I've been subsisting on potato chips and steamed veg for about three days. Enter tofu and spice blends. I will take a block of tofu out of the fridge, and liberally sprinkle on salt and a spice blend. Mrs Dash works. Berbere works EXCELLENT. And then I'll take a fork, and chomp away.

- Potatoes & margarine. Not to be funny, but there are times when I want something that'll fill me up, but not be too challenging to eat. I don't want al dente pasta. I don't want crunchy veg. I want something that's easy to chew, that doesn't taste too strongly of anything, and that I can bolt down quickly. I always have at least 5 lbs of potatoes on hand, because a microwave baked potato is 4 minutes flat. I'll pile on some margarine and salt, and go to town. If I have the energy for it, I'll also throw on some of my leftover steamed veg.

- Broccoli and/or cauliflower florets, chopped kale, chopped collars. The Trader Joe sells these veg already chopped and prepared. I have a hot water kettle. On nights where I am not in the mood for steamed frozen veg, and want something with more substance, I'll use these prepped veggies for a quick snack. 1 lb of veg takes about 1 1/2 litres of boiling water. I fill up my electric kettle, and let it come to the boil. While that's coming to a boil, I'll throw the veg into a large bowl in the sink. Once the water boils, I'll dump it over the veg, and let it all sit together for five minutes. I drain off the water, and then toss the veggies in olive or sesame oil, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, and sesame seeds.

- Nuts. Before the winter hits, I'll grab a few pounds of nuts, and toss them in oil, garlic powder, salt, and ground red chilies. I roast them at 350 for 8 - 12 minutes (depending on the nut), and store them in jars after they cool. There's times when I need a snack that has some fat, and some protein, because yesterday's meals consisted of steamed corn, seasoned tofu, and a saltine cracker. This ensures that I hit my calorie mark.

- Disposable plates. It seems obvious to me, but I'm stating it here: when you're too depressed to cook, you're sure as heck too depressed to clean. There are times when I've avoided eating anything, because I know that the cleanup is going to not happen, and I'm surrounded by enough mess that I can't handle adding any more mess to the growing pile of cleaning I need to do.


- Extra socks. Before the winter hits, I'll make sure to buy about 2 months worth of socks. Underwear I can figure out. Shirts I can re-wear. Jeans and pants, I /will/ re-wear. But socks are a different story. If they're not clean, I won't wear them. And unlike the summer, where I'll throw on a pair of sandals and move on, the winter /requires/ shoes. If I'm in a bout where I cannot do laundry, I'm going to need socks for sure. Not to mention, if I'm too poor to afford to heat my home, I'm going to need to get socks on my feet before I sleep, so that I'm not too cold at night.

- Black t-shirts. I'll buy about 12 - 15 black t-shirts as well. You can wear a black t-shirt with anything, and dress it up or down as necessary. Also, they don't show stains that much. Trust me, it's worth having a few on hand. By the time winter is done, I have to throw out a fair few pairs, because they've got holes in them from being worn so many times.

- Pyjama pants. In the winter, I'm not going out. In fact, I'm not even leaving my bed on my free time. I make sure that I have at least a few pairs of pyjama pants, so that when I'm too depressed to go for a full on shower, I can at least have a fresh clean bit of clothing on.

There are definitely other aspects that I prepare with, but I'm not remembering them at the moment, because my depression has cleared properly, and I'm happy right now. If someone has any requests, let me know, and I'll add to the list.

08 October 2017

Lemon Rice

I know that I forgot to include the lemon rice recipe in the book. Here is my apology to you all.

19 August 2017

Beet salad update

I keep meaning to update my beet salad recipe, but keep forgetting to do so. My friend asked me for the recipe, and I pulled it up here.


I've made that salad many times, and as she mentioned, it's extremely forgiving. You can happily cut this in half, and it'll be fine. When I wrote the recipe originally, it was a way for me to eat beets, and not hate them. Over time, however, I found that 3 lbs of beets was a bit much to get at once, and that buying a half pound of daikon is a bit of a ridiculous proposition. So I'd quietly cut back on the beets, and just bump up the daikon and apples, and the balance of flavours was much nicer for me. Also, over the times I've made it, I would sometimes not have daikon, so I'd use whatever was similar in texture that was lying around, and it worked out just fine. Sometimes, I'd have only odds and ends left, and I'd work it out with those odds and ends. Also, sometimes I'll throw in a chopped red onion, and it's a lovely addition.

2 lb beets
1 lb carrots
1 lb daikon, red radish, chayote, red cabbage, white cabbage, or any combination of these
1 lb granny smith apples (if you can't find granny smith, use the firmest apple you can find, and bump up the lime juice in the dressing)

Peel the beets with a peeler. Grate the beets. Don't bother peeling anything else, unless you're really that fussed about it. If the skin is gross looking, I'll peel the daikon or carrot, but never peel the apple. The skin helps it stay together.

1/4 - 1/2 cup peanut butter (this works with sunflower seed butter, almond butter, and cashew butter as well)
1 TB white miso (optional; if you use red miso, cut the amount in half)
1 1/4 cups apple juice
2 TB lemon or lime juice
Salt, to taste
1 TB Rice wine or apple cider vinegar
Knob of ginger about the size of the first joint of your thumb
Cayenne pepper, to taste

In a blender, combine together the miso, the apple juice, the lime juice, some salt, the vinegar, ginger, and a couple of pinches of cayenne pepper. Blend until the ginger is completely broken down and incorporated. Start with 1/4 cup of peanut butter, and blend to combine. If the dressing is thick to your liking, stop here. If you'd like it thicker, feel free to add more peanut butter.

Toss the grated vegetables together with as much dressing as you'd like (I use it all, because I like salad to be decadent), and let it marinate for about 30 minutes in the fridge. The flavours need a bit of time to mellow out, and combine well.

If you don't have or like apple juice, just use water, and add about 1 tsp of sugar. If you don't have miso, skip it completely, or sub it out with tahini. The dressing will definitely have no problems if you feel like adding a bit more ginger. You can blend in about 1 tsp of toasted sesame oil if you want the flavours to be more intense, but I wanted this recipe to be oil free. You can also add chopped onion and garlic, but I wanted the recipe to be free of onion and garlic as well.

If you don't like sweet with salty, cut back on the apples by about 1/2, and bump up the daikon/cabbage/chayote (or whatever you end up using) instead. They'll be able to mute some of the sweetness coming from the apples and carrots. I personally don't care for recipes that are sweet and salty together, but this was a good balance, and I enjoyed it.

This does make a good base to add to other stuff, but when you've got like 6 lbs of salad lying around, I'm not sure that you'll ever need to bulk it out. That said, if you do end up halving the recipe, still make the full batch of dressing. The dressing is quite delicious when tossed with noodles too.

The point is that the salad is very forgiving, and you'll be fine as long as you stick to the texture family of the ingredients I've listed.

16 July 2017

Blooming spices

I give a VERY short primer on blooming spices in fat.

13 May 2017

Vegetable Soup

It came out well. I also give you a mini mini mini tour of my tiny kitchen.

09 February 2017


Someone asked me how to get separate rice like you get in the Indian restaurants. I responded as I did below:

First of all, realise that restaurants frequently undercook 1/4 of their rice, and toss it through to give it the illusion of being even more separate. Also, they use enough fat to drown a whale. If we all did that, it would come out like the restaurant too, but we'd also turn so fat that we'd never walk again.

Here's your best bet.

You need a pot with tight fitting lid. You need rice that's a good brand of basmati. Not all basmati is created equal. If you want the best of the very best, get yourself Tilda basmati rice. It will always come out longer, fluffier, and better tasting than any other brand. While you practise, you can use whatever.

In a saucepan, add just enough oil to coat the bottom. You don't need huge heaping amounts, but just enough to lubricate the rice. Heat it up over medium heat, with the lid on, checking frequently for the state of the oil. The oil should be hot enough that a bit of smoke escapes the surface. Add in 1 cup of rice. If you really feel like washing rice is essential, feel free to do so before you heat the pot, but I've skipped that step, and my rice comes out lovely. Add a generous sprinkle of salt. Why? Because like any starch, rice absorbs salt from the cooking water, and tastes really good when it does so. If you're watching your salt intake, just do a couple of hefty pinches. Rice needs some salt to be its best.

DO NOT USE A SPOON ON THE RICE. In fact, don't use any stirring utensil if you can help it. Instead, toss the rice in the oil by making the tossing motion with your saucepan. Why? Because if you mess with the rice with a stirring implement, you risk breaking up the delicate grains.

Continue cooking and tossing until the rice is opaque. It will no longer be translucent, but become a brighter white than opaque. Once the rice smells slightly nutty, and has a uniformly opaque look, add 1 cup + 1/4 cup of boiling water, and crank the heat to as high as it'll go. Why boiling?

You want the water to come up to the boil as rapidly as you can. It seems to help keep the oil onto the surface of the rice, rather than washing off into the liquid, and making the rice stick to the bottom of the pan, or each other. As soon as the rice hits a full rushing boil, lift the pot off of the stove, and swirl it around for 3 seconds. Loosely drape a square of parchment paper, aluminium foil, or a damp towel over the pot's opening, and slam on the lid. This will ensure that the seal is tight.

Drop down the heat to as low as the stove will go, and place the pot back onto the heat. Set a timer for 12 minutes if it's an electric stove, or 15 minutes if it's a gas stove. Why? Because an electric stove takes a longer time to cool down than a gas stove. You will have the pot sat on the residual heat longer on an electric stove. The gas stove will only have residual heat on the metal parts, meaning that the rice will need direct flame a bit longer.

At the end of the cooking time, turn off the heat, and DON'T TOUCH THE LID OR THE POT. The rice is still cooking, and needs time to finish steaming. There will be a bit of water that needs to absorb into the rice. Set a timer for 12 minutes for electric, and 10 minutes for gas. Leave the pot alone, and walk away.

At the end of the waiting time, go ahead and remove the lid, and any tightening measures you've done. Dump it out aonto a large platter (I use my cookie sheet, because it's huge), and gently press it out into as flat a layer as possible with a silicon spatula. Let it cool for about 30 seconds, and gently toss with the silicon spatula. It will fluff up beautifully and the whole thing will smell awesome.

Or, use a rice cooker.

11 January 2017

Catching up with old friends

My friend Pete had a Monday evening off, and it was a flimsy excuse (but a good enough one for us!) to get together. He's the one who took the lovely picture of the food. Go say hi to him. He's a cool vegan guy. I suggested we get together for dinner. Mikeypod realised that he was also free on Monday night, and said he could come as well. Perfect.
cucumber and tomato salad, garlic sesame broccoli, red lentil daal on brown basmati rice, green beans curry
Photo Credit: Peter Teoh https://plus.google.com/+PeterTeoh

It's been a long time since we got together. Between scheduling and work, it's been almost impossible to coordinate a time when we can all hang out and eat. I knew that the meal had to be good and filling, while still tasting amazing. Pete had some green beans, broccoli, and red lentils. He also had  box of those campari tomatoes. They taste good all by themselves. 

I brought over the brown rice and the cucumbers. I generally dislike brown rice, but in the hands of people who know how to cook it properly, I quite like it. I especially like it if I have some kind of stew to pour over it. That way the texture isn't quite as much of a turn-off. 

The red lentils were a basic daal: mustard seed, cumin seed, sesame seed, turmeric, onion, garlic, and ginger. I fried some dried red chilies, but that's an optional step. You can skip it, or add it directly to the tarka, and it'll still be fine. Pete made the brown rice. He is without a doubt one of the people who is good at making brown rice. 

The broccoli was super simple. I peeled the stems and cut the florets into long pieces with the long stems attached. I blanched it in boiling water for about a minute or two. I drained off the boiling water, and rinsed it under cold running water. I then fried some garlic and sesame seeds in hot oil, and tossed the cold broccoli in that mixture with a bit of salt. I did this last step just before Mike arrived, so that it'd be hot off the stove. 

The green beans are a typical South Indian preparation. You chop them into small pieces, and stir fry them with a tarka made of mustard seeds, asafoetida, and sesame seeds. I didn't have any urad daal or curry leaves, so I skipped it. I didn't have any fresh grated coconut, so I skipped that as well. 

The salad is a basic combination of cucumber, tomato, onion, lemon juice, and cilantro. Since all three of us like cilantro, I put lots of it in. If you don't like cilantro, try basil instead. It's equally delicious. 

I think all three of us had second helpings of everything, because it all came out so well. I had help, so the whole thing took about 45 minutes to make. 

30 September 2016

Curry Leaves

There's been a lot of questions about curry leaves coming up as of late. I figured now is as good a time as any to answer them.

18 September 2016


As promised, here's the written instructions for the basic daal tarka: http://goonswithspoons.com/Daal_Tarka

The thing about daal is that there are so many different types out there that it's impossible to pin it down to one technique or recipe. I tried to give  general overview here about the regionality of daal, and how it generally works for most people. I ended up rambling a lot.

There's an excellent article (with pictures) about daal written here:


It gives cooking times and ideas of what to do with the various daal we use.

12 September 2016

Fat Free :(

In response to Margie, I've made a new episode, discussing fat free cooking. It's been difficult but I'm glad I tried it.

08 January 2016

DK Press's Herbs & Spices

This is a really great book in the same high quality that you'd expect from any book coming from DK Press. The pictures are beautiful and plentiful. There's also plenty of information on what exactly that spice pairs well with. This means that if you bought the spice for a specific recipe, but don't know what else to do with it, you can read the notes on what it pairs well with, and experiment with other recipes that contain those flavours. Basically, this is your roadmap to spices, and it couldn't be more pleasant to use.

This is a reference book that's rather useful to have on hand, especially if you're interested in trying new spices that you haven't tried before. There are times when a cookbook calls for a specific spice, and you're not sure whether you should bother going to the store and getting it, substituting something else that you have around the house, or leaving it out entirely.

The point is that recipes aren't always very specific on how to substitute, or even if you should. With Herbs and Spices, you've got a good understanding of how the spices behave. For example, the section on tamarind describes it as having a sour, slightly sweet taste. If a recipe calls for tamarind, but you don't have it, you can substitute based on that understanding. If there's a lot of tamarind in the recipe, you'd go out and buy the stuff. If there's just a little bit, you'll know what it is you're trying to reach with the addition of the tamarind, and can adjust as necessary.

What I love about this is that it's opened up my world to sharing different spices in my own recipes than the ones I normally ask people to use.

05 January 2016

Vegetable Butcher

I sometimes get questions from people about what to do with X vegetable, or who just need a bit of inspiration for what to do with a vegetable.

Vegetable Butcher is a book by Cara Mangini, a chef who's worked at Eataly in NYC at the vegetable butcher they have there. What is a vegetable butcher? It sounded ridiculous to me until I was talking with my friend Tasha about vegetables that are a pain to deal with: artichokes, fiddlehead ferns, etc. We both agreed that if we could go to the store, pick out the plumpest, heaviest, most stunning examples of artichokes, then drop it off at a vegetable butcher counter to have someone else trim the poky leaves, and scoop out the choke, and do all the rest of the "labours of Hercules" (according to Jennifer Patterson of Two Fat Ladies fame) involved in cleaning and preparing the artichoke to cook, we'd pay the premium price! Why? Because it'd still be cheaper than buying it at a restaurant!

The reason you buy Vegetable Butcher is for one reason alone: inspiration! And what an inspiring book it is! Stunning photos for each vegetable. Plenty of instructional pictures to tell you how to prepare the vegetable.

Beautiful pictures abound on every page. Practical, straightforward advice for preparing and cooking the vegetable. Just flipping through, looking at the pictures, and reading the compatible flavours sections of each vegetable will get you hungry, and ready to cook on your own.

If you're more of a novice cook, and need more guidance, there are slightly more detailed blurbs about what to do with the vegetable in question. If you need still more inspiration, there are imaginative recipes (many with full colour beautiful images to accompany them) that tell you even more in detail what to do.

This is not vegan, by any stretch of the imagination, but all the recipes can easily be adapted to become vegan. Every recipe I've read has been vegetarian. That's what I love about this book. Yes, there is a bit of cheese, or butter here and there, but that's not the focus, and you could well leave it out or substitute it! It's not like some books where the vegetables take a back seat to meat. Instead, there is no meat. It's all vegetables, with plenty of different kinds of spices and the like.

I love a book that I can flip through on a rainy day, hot cup of tea by my side, and just get inspired from. The best part is that it publishes in the Spring, which means that you'll have plenty of inspiration about what to do with the haul you get from your farmer's market, food co-op, CSA, or even manager's specials at the grocery store (I'm as broke as you are--I won't judge!) throughout the season of plenty. It'll take you right into the summer with all the bountiful produce coming into season then too.

I'm gushing so much about this because I was truly inspired to get out and cook different things. It broke me out of my mental rut. I hope when you get your hands on the Vegetable Butcher, it will do the same for you!

22 September 2015

Pie Crust

Apologies for the cruddy camera phone pictures.

There were a bunch of apples that needed to get used up. There's a bunch of recipes out there for apple pie filling (heck, you can even buy the stuff in a tin at the store if you're so inclined), but the vegan pie crusts out there make it seem like this long, boring, painful process. It's really not that hard, if you do a little preparation work beforehand. If you want a whole lot of crust, use the ratios in cups. For example, you can use 3 cups flour, 1 cup coconut oil, 1/4 cup water, and 1/2 cup sugar. Or, just use a small tea cup, and measure that way. Or, use tablespoons, and make the most tiny little crust ever. The ratio will work when you scale up or down.

It can be baked at 350F.

3 parts self rising flour
1 part coconut oil, in liquid form. Do NOT substitute with vegetable oil.
1/4 part water or vodka, reserved
1/2 part sugar, if sweet crust is desired
Pinch of salt

Freeze the flour overnight. You heard me right. Measure out your flour, and throw it into a bowl and freeze the whole mess.

The next day, add the sugar (if using) and salt. Mix well. Add the coconut oil. Mix through the flour well with your hands. Because the flour is frozen, it will immediately solidify the coconut oil. This is exactly what you want. Why? Because a good pie crust uses solid fat. By freezing the flour, which is the lion's share of the recipe, you ensure that the coconut oil will form into solid little lumps.

As you combine the oil with the flour, you want to break up the big clumps into smaller clumps with your fingers. Don't worry about overworking the flour. This recipe is forgiving. You want the flour and oil mixture to look like coarse sand. Once you have that consistency, add the vodka 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix to combine. You're looking for the whole thing to make a soft dough. Again, don't worry about overworking it. This is going to rest, and the recipe is /very/ forgiving.

Once you have a soft dough, lay down a sheet of parchment paper, wax paper, or plastic wrap onto your counter. Pinch off enough dough (roughly the size of a grapefruit) to make 1 crust. Lay another piece of parchment, wax paper, or plastic wrap on top. Roll it out to your desired thickness with a rolling pin. If you don't have any of those, just chuck the thing into a clean shopping bag, and roll it between those. I won't tell anyone.

Why do we roll it out in between things? Because you don't want to mess with the ratios. Add extra flour (such as by dusting your counter with flour, and rolling the crust on there), and you might end up with a dry, crumbly crust. Also, when you're done rolling it out, it becomes easy to transport it to the pie pan.

Roll out your top crust, and put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Then, roll out your bottom crust, line your pie pan with it, and freeze it for 20 minutes. While the crusts are chilling, make your pie filling of choice. Let it cool to room temperature. DO NOT SKIP THE COOLING OF THE FILLING STEP. Remove the bottom crust from the freezer, and dump the filling inside. Lay the top crust atop the pie, and cut some holes into it with a knife. This prevents the filling from bursting out of the pie. Then throw the whole works into the freezer for another 20 minutes.

The second chilling ensures that all the coconut oil is solid, and that water is ice cold. This will mean that your pie will take longer to bake (as it's really cold), but that's OK. You'll have perfect, flaky, tender crust. My apple pie took a little longer than 1 hour and 15 minutes. However, when I pulled it all out, the pie crust was super soft, tender, flaky, and perfectly cooked on the top and bottom.

I especially like this recipe, because most of the work is short steps, which are followed by long intervals. I can get everything for the crust ready a few days ahead of time, and just put them in the fridge if I want (because a couple of days in the fridge will do the same thing as an hour in the freezer). Heck, I can even make the filling, and put it in the fridge. Then, the day that I need my pie, I'll have it piping hot out of the oven that same day, and can let it cool before anyone's ready to eat it.

23 May 2015

How to Breakfast

Also known as, "The next time someone says that cooking simple things is always so easy, please smack them for me."

So husband and I wanted sandwiches. Easy enough. He'd just gone shopping yesterday (keep the date in mind, eh?) and picked up tomatoes, cilantro, and onions. Lovely. I figured we can nip into the kitchen, maybe fry up a spot of tofu, slice up the tomatoes, onions, and cilantro, and throw on a squeeze of lemon or something to perk it up a bit.

Just after I finish reading this bit in a book I'm in the middle of. Also, we're both tired, and didn't want to get up. A half hour later, we both mustered up the motivation to move. Out came the tomatoes, out came the onion, out came the tofus, and so on. Once the veg were sliced up all nice and thin, I got the pan ready for frying the tofu. Husband reminded me of the cilantro. "Yeah, good idea. Can you grab some for me, please?" He did. And there was half the bag of the stuff completely wilted looking.

"Steve, why's this cilantro wilted?"

"What the heck. I just bought it yesterday!"

"Just wash it up. We'll make dhania chatni."

He does so. And the stove smokes all over the place. Apparently, a thing dropped onto the pan underneath the coils (yes, we live with electric stove right now) and started smoking. On went the exhaust fan. It doesn't exhaust much, except for the cook, because it sounds loud and annoying, while not really sucking up all that much air. Sigh. Steve went to go get the blender, and the other stuff for the cilantro chatni.

I was babysitting the tofu, so it doesn't burn.

It didn't burn. But the smoke alarm had to say its piece anyhow. At 8:00 in the morning. While the rest of the floor is sleeping. I grabbed a long handled broom, and shut it off (the smoke alarm, not the stove). By the time I got back to the stove, the tofu had finished the cycle where it was releasing from the pan easily, and hooked back around to sticking. I scraped it off, and managed to flip it in one piece. Good gods, I hate low fat cooking so much. If I'd had enough foresight to dump in a 1/4 inch of oil, this wouldn't be an issue.

Steve got back with the stuff to make the chatni. He made it. It was amazing tasting. The tofu was finally done. All this took the better part of 40 minutes. FORTY MINUTES. It really shouldn't take this long to run into the kitchen, fry a couple of pieces of tofu, and slap it between two slices of bread with some veg.

It's now going on ten in the morning, and nothing's really gotten done, except a giant pile of dishes, the making of the cilantro chatni for later.

Those were some mighty fine sandwiches though.

14 March 2015

Throwing a large event.

So you’re getting married. What now?

First and foremost, schedule your panic time. It’s not realistic to say not to panic, because that’s silly. It’s more workable to know that the panic is going to come, and give yourself the space for that to happen. But, like I said, schedule the amount of time you’re going to allow yourself to wallow in those feelings.

Even if things are busy, and you have a million things on your plate, tell yourself, “I’m going to allow myself to whine, complain, cry, scream, and do whatever else it is to have the release of the emotions. These emotions are perfectly natural, and there’s nothing wrong with me for feeling out of control. I’m not crazy, and I’m not a horrible person for wanting things to go right.”

Once you’ve let yourself have those feelings, they’ll give way to a sense of relief for having been given the chance to just come out. However, if you don’t set yourself a time limit, you can very well start heading into self pity party, or endless negative feedback loops. My friend Dr. Melissa (you can find her on the twitter: https://twitter.com/melissalaughing) shared a story where she started feeling sad at a graduation ceremony. She looked at her watch, and gave herself 60 seconds to just feel those things, and let them happen. At the end of the sixty second mourning, she felt able to face the graduation, and truly celebrate the rite of passage that the students were participating in.

Find someone that you trust to be point person for the day of itself. You may not want someone to plan out the specific details of the wedding itself, but you will want someone who can answer the phone, and deal with coordinating the whole mess on the day of. Caterers will get lost, and be running late. The wedding hall will have issues with setting up the tables correctly. Someone drank all the wine, and one of the wait staff needs to make a run down to the store and grab a bit more. Whatever the issues are, let you and your (soon to be) spouse off the hook. Frankly, if you’re wearing a wedding dress, you likely don’t have pockets anyway.

Answering the phone to give directions to wayward folk isn’t really a thing you want to deal with. Having that point person be there to take those calls, and coordinate things is a huge help. Most of the successful wedding parties I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a LOT of them) are the ones where the point person is NOT the mother of the bride or groom, or a best friend or sibling. Why? Because those people will also be participating. It’ll be someone who’s able to nip out for a few minutes to get things done, while not pissing off the photographer, who’ll insist on photos with all the people, or make the marrying person feel abandoned. I’ve been best man (and man of honour) for a fair few weddings by now, and it’s hard for me to be out of sight at the critical moments. It’s when I wasn’t in the wedding party itself that I was able to be a good point person.

For food, variety IS quantity. The thing is that you’re not going to please everyone. That’s fine. What is going to happen, however, is that you’ll be given the ability to make a variety of choices when you’re planning on what to get. If I’m about to throw an event, and the things on a menu cost all different prices, I’m going to hedge my bets and order smaller quantities of ALL the things.
Why? Because then there will be an automatic desire to try different things, and nobody tries to fill up on any one thing. The most successful parties (wedding or otherwise) were the ones where they set up multiple tables with all different things on them. 

For example, there would be a table for dips and things to eat with the dips. Hummus, white bean dip, black olive tapenade, various spreads, tiny pickles (gherkins? Cornichon?), olives, cut vegetables, various crackers, breads, pita, spicy and sweet sauces, and so on. Then there’d be a table for salad and salad accessories. Various things of cut up vegetables, various proteins, beans, a few dressings, and a selection of greens. There’s another table for soups, like bean soup, vegetable soup, etc. There’s a table for grains, one for grilled or roasted veg, one for various proteins. But here’s the thing. You don’t need to order huge amounts of anything, because not everyone is going to eat everything.

There’s only so many things one can fill up on, and having a bunch of choices guarantees that if someone has dietary restrictions, allergies, or just plain doesn’t like certain things, you’re making it possible for them to find more things to eat. Even those who eat everything will still have their likes and dislikes. Also, by setting up all the food on various stations, you get the crowd control easier to manage. Not everyone will want to attack the same things at the same time. Some people will want to nibble for a bit before eating properly. Some prefer to only eat the salad. Whatever the case, spreading out where the various offerings are kept will keep people moving through the room, and mingling with people they’d normally not mingle with.

Figure on a total of 1 lb of food per person, from start to finish. Figure on 5 lbs of lettuce greens being enough for 25 people. Figure on about 1 lb of protein being enough for 4, as long as you have at least ¾ of a lb of other things to fill it out. Some people will want less of the protein, and others will want more. Figure on 1 baguette for 3 people. For drinks, get 1 litre of beverage per person, whether that be juice, sparkling water, or soda.

Try to explain the significance of things if they’re important to you. I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve been to, where there were all these lovely little touches, but nobody who attended knew how special those touches were, because the couple didn’t mention it in the program. I went to one wedding where the bride and groom bought beautiful centrepieces from a shop that they both enjoyed, and decorated them with flowers that meant something to the couple. I didn’t find out about the significance of it until well after the ceremony, when the meaning was lost on me. If I’d have known on the wedding day itself, it would have been so nice.

No matter how long-winded you think that the printed material is, I’ve seen it be a great conversation starter on the tables. If you’re holding a wedding ceremony that has traditions from both of your families, mention them! If you have decorated the space with little trinkets you’ve picked up as a couple, say so in the program! If you are honouring a particular culture with your wedding ceremony, mention what those traditions are, and why they’re important to you. Even the best planned weddings had plenty of hurry up and wait time. If your printed material has interesting little things in there about the couple, or about the wedding itself, it gives the guests something to do while they’re waiting in those boring moments. It also sparks conversations amongst the guests. I love a good wedding program.

This is just a few suggestions to help you get through the planning and execution of the party successfully. If anyone else has suggestions, feel free to weigh in! 

26 January 2015


There's an exercise I've both facilitated and participated in, called 4 corners. You split the room into 4 boxes. In each box, you write (with tape, on the floor, so it's nice and big) SA (strongly agree), A agree), SD (strongly disagree), D (disagree). Then, you read a series of questions to the group. While the question is being read, people move to the box that corresponds to how they feel about those issues.

Years ago, back in 1998, some of those questions would get extreme polarisation. One of those was "People should be allowed to be openly gay in the military." Back in 1998, there were some folk who thought (adamantly!) that it meant that people should be allowed to paint the rifles pink, and sashay around in makeup, until one of the ROTC kids spoke up and said, "Are you NUTS? If you think that's what it means to be gay, you need to check your stereotypes." Last year, when I attended a camp where the exercise was repeated (with the same age group of high school students), literally everyone was in the "strongly agree" box, because our concepts of what it means to be gay have evolved since 1998.

Some questions, however, still got severe polarisation.

"Should the children of people who immigrated to the USA illegally be allowed to go to public schools, regardless of where the children were born?" That one got people scattered all across the room. Some were wanting to straddle a line. The rules of the exercise is that it's not an option. There was a lot of really conflicting opinions, even from people who were in the strongly agree or strongly disagree boxes. People didn't always agree with each other.

Meanwhile, there was a large swathe of people who looked really torn, and didn't want to choose one side or the other, because their opinions weren't so cut and dry as the four choices we'd provided. They were more nuanced than that. There was shading to the black and white picture they'd drawn in their minds.

What does this exercise teach us?

For one thing, the voting process SUCKS. I understand that there isn't much better on a national scale, but frankly, what we're being fed is akin to the four boxes, only we frequently get just two. Both sides tell you, repeatedly, that if you don't make a choice for one of the two choices (neither of which you're completely comfortable with), you're literally worse than Chairman Mao, and you want communist fascist nazi overlords from Cuba to take over your country and enslave you, and how dare you question the validity of being presented two shitty choices that you feel uncomfortable making a stand on? This is the rhetoric coming from both sides.

That's what our voting system is, and it's not even got the strongly agree or strongly disagree. It's got yes or no. Look at ballot measures. They're frequently worded in such a manner as to obfuscate the actual message behind it. When proposition 8 was going down, half the people voting for the thing (in either direction) didn't know what their vote meant.

For another, it teaches us that just because someone voted in a particular way doesn't mean that the person is a monster who wants to kill your rights to _________. People's views are nuanced, and shaded. Unfortunately, the national dialogue about how to run things, how to care for people, and how to move forward with our spending, doesn't give people room to straddle the lines between the four (or two) boxes. You have to make a choice. You aren't given the chance to say "This is what is sort of in the neighbourhood of what I'm thinking, but I am not sure I understand all the ramifications of it," or "I can't say as I'd lean strongly in one direction or the other, because I see merits to both sides." The discourse is "You're with me or you're against me."

Bear in mind that the four corners exercise is done in a group of people where there are established guidelines about it being a safe space to voice your opinion, no matter how controversial it is. The fact that you have it is enough for you to express it, as long as you do so in a respectful manner. Ignorance is not a dirty word, but rather an opportunity to educate. If someone will not see your point of view, no matter what, you agree to disagree, and validate the person's willingness to listen. You remind each other that you care for each other as people, and that you respect the other's need to form and keep their own ideals.

With all those safeguards in place, people STILL had trouble making a stand for an issue. Now imagine how much harder it is, when all your friends seem to be leaning strongly in one direction, your family has its own direction, your spouse is saying something else, and there is no guarantee that your right to exist as a human will be validated or respected. In fact, you're getting the exact opposite. Both sides are calling the others a heartless monster, for whatever reason. The way someone leans on an issue often has consequences of his or her friends' opinions of the friendship.

Tell someone who's angry about the drug war that marijuana should remain illegal, and see how long you remain friends. Tell your gay son that you don't want to campaign against that hateful legislation, because your entire church group will turn its back on you, and see how long your son wants to be in your presence. We don't have those safeguards. We don't leave room for subtlety. We don't care about shades.

I think that I needed to commit this to writing, because I need to remind myself that my "opposition" is not made up of heartless monsters. It's made up of humans, who have moments of doubt, or where their views are nuanced. Whether or not they vote the same way I do, I have to remember that they're involved in the same shitty system that I am, and that they need to make the same shitty choices that I do.

20 January 2015

Visiting another podcast

The day before recording my own podcast, I was a guest on the Which Side podcast, with Jordan and Jeremy. They're a couple of activists working towards human and animal rights (whoo!) who host a show where they have a chat to people they want to hang out with. Instead of the bog standard stifling interview format, it's more of a free-flowing conversation. Of course, whenever I'm in the room (virtually or otherwise) the talk turns to food rather quickly.

Here's where you can find the link to the show, or just search for Which Side on the Podcast directory of your choice, and they'll be there.


Tell them Dino sent you.

18 January 2015

Cooking cheap greens

It's FINALLY hit above the freezing temperature here in New York, so I'm not as bummed out about cooking as I've been; the really cold weather makes it difficult to get up the motivation to do very much at all. To celebrate, I've put up a new podcast episode! Feel free to give it a listen.

05 January 2015

Give the help that someone asked for, or shut up already

I just had the experience of watching a friend of mine post a request from her more computer savvy friends to see if she was getting a decent deal on a computer. She posted a link to the computer. She mentioned that she wanted to do a bit of gaming, and didn't want to switch to a Mac, but would prefer to stick with a PC. However, the computer would be primarily for work. Simple enough, right?

Here's some appropriate responses:

1) Looks good for what you need it for. Get it.
2) Looks good for what you need it for, but I've found a better deal, and here it is.
3) This specific thing that you mentioned is going to run into trouble because of this other thing I've noticed about the specs on the machine you linked. (This isn't the case, because for her needs, the computer she linked was fine. In fact, it was more than fine.)
4) That particular computer/brand/store/warranty has given me trouble in the past.

Guess what responses never got posted? ANY of those. The first comment was a rant about how owning a Mac sucks. Then it went into how if you're going to be playing games, your machine can overheat, so go ahead and buy a fan to cool the thing. Then there was this thing about getting a Solid State Drive and switching out the drive that comes with the computer, because it'll enhance the performance of all the things you need it to do. It can take the boot time from 1 minute down to 25 seconds! WHOO!

Here's the thing. If you can't be of the help that the person asked for, shut up. She didn't want the dissertations on things that don't matter to her. She wanted to know if she was making a huge mistake by purchasing a computer, for her needs, all of which are pretty basic. Unless she's about to head in for disaster, OR you've found a better price, a simple "For what you need, that looks good" is more than enough.

This is why nobody wants to talk to the technically inclined.

10 December 2014

Peanut Butter Cookies

DRY INGREDIENTS (measure first, and whisk together)
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt (optional; usually, peanut butter has salt, so you can skip this if you want)

WET (microwave for 1 minute)
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter (lightly spray your measuring cup with cooking spray OR grease it with oil to make the peanut butter come out easier)
1 TB vanilla extract (if it's the really potent fancy stuff, you can use 1 tsp; I just like a lot of vanilla)
3 TB water OR coconut milk OR juice
1 tsp shortening (optional)

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Mix together the dry ingredients until combined. Whisk together so that you know all the baking soda is evenly distributed.

Combine the wet ingredients in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave for a minute. Beat the ingredients around for a bit until they're all combined. Add the dry to the wet, about 1/3 cup at a time. Mix thoroughly.

Drop by 1 1/2 TB spoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 11 minutes on the middle lower part of the oven (not all the way at the bottom, but towards the bottom).

THE COOKIES WILL FALL APART EASILY IF YOU TAKE THEM OFF THE TRAY NOW. Don't take them off the tray until they're cooled.

Yield: 21 cookies. You will need 3 baking trays, because they'll only fit about 7 comfortably on the tray. Let cool on the tray itself for at least 10 minutes. Eat

Based on the recipe written by Blissful Basil, found here: http://blissfulbasil.com/2013/10/06/soft-and-tender-peanut-butter-cookies-vegan-and-gluten-free/

Substitute out 2/3 cup of the flour for rolled oats, or ground rolled oats.
Add in 1/3 cup of coconut flour, and remove 1/3 cup of AP flour.
Add in 1 tsp almond extract.
Add in 1/2 cup of crushed roasted unsalted peanuts.

23 November 2014


Hi all! Today we're going into the foods you can make at Thanksgiving, whether you take it with you, make it for your own home, or suggest it to others.

Mashed Potatoes
5 lbs potatoes, boiled until tender
2 cups coconut milk (full fat)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes until tender. Mash them up slightly, until it's where you want it. Add the coconut milk, a little at a time, until it's as much as you like. Taste for seasoning. Season as desired.

Butternut Squash
Cut the butternut squash in half, lengthwise. Place it on a parchment, foil, wax paper, or silicon baking mat lined baking sheet. Set the oven to 350F. Bake for 45 minutes - 2 hours (depending on how long it takes you to remember that you have butternut squash in there. You don't need to preheat the oven.

Brussels Sprouts
1 lb Brussels sprouts
3 TB vegetable oil
3 tsp seasonings of your choice: sage, rosemary, cumin, coriander, fennel seed, garam masala, caraway seed (crushed), thyme (mix the seasonings in whatever combination you want)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Remove the stem ends of the sprouts. Toss in oil, and sprinkle on the seasonings. Toss to combine. Bake on a parchment lined sheet for 45 minutes.