28 December 2009

Just New Year after this.

This year, we had masses of people over at my apartment for the 25th. Usually, my husband would go to Chicago to visit his family, and I’d call up my friends to party in the city. This year, however, we were really tight on money, so that was flat out not an option. Even if our parents covered the costs of the flight, we’d still be out of luck, because then we’d both miss days of work (and thereby, the pay from said work). It was simply not at all possible to finagle it this year. Instead, I figured on having our friends come over instead, and cooking with/for everyone.

Honestly, it couldn’t have been better. We were all sitting about in two groups. Some at the dining room table, and some at the kitchen. I did the silly thing and forgot to snag extra cutting boards, even though I had plenty of knives. Fortunately, I don’t really care too much about the wooden dining room table, so I just had everyone cut directly on that surface.

In the kitchen, all four burners were going, as well as the oven. We polished off an entire bottle of sparkling cider between the three of us in the first half hour! So as before, I’ll recap a couple of things I learned at this event, and maybe we can all learn from my pitfalls and come out with a better understanding!

Sparkling cider is freaking popular! I didn’t realise how much it was popular until I had some friends over for Thanksgiving. I ordered two or three bottles for a small group of friends coming over. It was to be only two people in the group who don’t drink. The rest of us consume alcohol at parties. Fine.

I’m thinking that I’ll just get a couple of bottles of cider for the two non-drinkers, and wine and spirits for the others. Either because of the festive occasion or because not everyone wanted to consume much alcohol, the sparkling cider disappeared. This time, I ordered six bottles of sparkling cider, and three bottles of wine (and asked my guests to bring wine). Again, demolished in no time flat, by even the non drinkers! Next time, I’m ordering enough that there’s a little vodka to supplement the cider if people want something with alcohol in it, but the beverage of choice shall be sparkling cider. And I bet it’ll still get finished at the end of the night.

Don’t ask people to just bring wine or even a dish. If you’re having a large party, give people the option of bringing disposable Tupperware, zip top bags, or aluminum foil. One of my husband’s friends brought an enormous stack of the Ziploc containers, and it was priceless at the end of the night, with regards to sending out leftovers, and putting away stuff for our own. Heck, you could even ask folk to bring their own cutting board or knife, so that your resources aren’t stretched. That way, even those friends of yours (or family) who are coming up on hard times don’t have to feel left out.

Anything long-cooking, like beans or rice, should be done well in advance, so as to avoid last-minute head aches of the “But I’m hungry noooooooow” variety. In fact, come to think of it, have some kind of snack ready immediately as people are walking in, even if you’re all cooking together, because it means that they’ll be able to take that sharp edge off the immediate hunger, and gnosh on something while chatting and removing coats, taking off winter boots, and getting settled in. As the food and the wine start coming out of the kitchen, people can start eating what they’d like.

What I tend to do is boil chickpeas overnight in the crock pot, and have them ready in the morning. That way, if they’re not cooked through to my liking, I have time to let them cook at a full boiling the morning of. It’s not terribly much work, but it’s one more thing to do that’s out of my way. Then, about 10 minutes before anyone’s due to arrive, I whip up a quick hummus (tahini, lemon, oil, salt, garlic, more garlic, and toasted cumin seeds that I crush up in my pestle & mortar).

If I have time, I’ll toast off the pita bread or French bread that I’ve bought the previous day (or that day itself if I’m running a little late the day before!) but I’ve found that this step just makes it incredibly delicious, and isn’t strictly required. Any leftover chickpeas go into the salad (if there is a salad), or back in the fridge in the event of a chickpea emergency (i.e., you run out of hummus!).

Then, as people are nibbling that, I’ll start churning out the fried food, be it Indian (bajji, pakora), or from elsewhere (falafel, various fritters). Fried food needs to be eaten piping hot. Since I use my cast iron skillet for deep frying, it helps season the iron while I’m doing the frying, so that I can cook the next thing in there when I’m done frying. Of course, while I’m doing the deep frying, I tend to borrow oil from the deep fry pot, and don’t bother using the fresh oil. It imparts a delicious flavour to the rest of the food (because of the amount of spices in the Indian dishes, and the amount of garlic in the falafel!), and means that I’m not wasting oil, which is pretty expensive.

Once everyone’s been munching away at the fried food, it gives me time to churn out the beans dish, spice up the rice, cook the dark leafy greens, make the raw item (either carrot/cabbage/cilantro salad, or avocado/tomato/onion/chili, both of which are dressed with just lemon juice and a bit of salt), and start pulling the slow cooking dishes (casseroles, roasts, etc.) from the oven. When all is said and done, I’ve got a pretty impressive spread. And since nobody’s eating everything all at once, they have time to space out the food, and make plenty of room in there to eat more. The best part is that everything can be enjoyed piping hot, fresh off the stove or oven.

18 December 2009

I think I just got the nicest email today. I wanted to share it with you all.

Hey Dino,
I ordered another copy of your cookbook to give to a friend as a Giftmas present. I ordered it through tofu hound press and paid 11 dollars (gulp) for shipping, to get it here fast. I hope it can get here before Giftmas. I am going to wrap it up for her along with some cuman seeds, black mustard seeds, tumeric and corriander seeds in nice reusable containers (glass jars with resealable lids) I'm going to put ribbons and bows around the containers and label them. It will be perfect!

It's from my friend Shannon, who lives in the frozen north, AKA Canada. I think she's in Winnipeg? Something like that. Either way, it's one of those "I really care about you" type gifts, because she's providing pretty close to everything one needs to make pretty close to most of the recipes found in the book.

I hope Shannon's friend thoroughly enjoys the spices, and the book. If she hates the book, at least she's still got some awesome spices!

12 December 2009

Just in time.

It was a niggling voice of paranoia that made me leave the house at 2:15 to get to work by 4, but I certainly paid attention to it. Headphones in, wallet in bag, and shipment ready to post. I made it here by 3:30. Usually it takes me 20 minutes flat to get to the village, but as the fates were conspiring to make it a particularly crazy Saturday, I decided not to take any chances.

Off I went to the post office. I had to send a book media mail, and it should ostensibly take about five minutes flat to get in and out. Good thing I planned on giving myself extra time. The queue at the post office took a goodly 45 minutes to power through. What a mess! It looks like folk were shipping out their holiday goodies today at the same time, and there will be no chance of getting through quickly.

Fine by me. I had time to spare. Out I ran at 3:00 to see the bus roll up. I silently sent a prayer of gratitude to the man who had to get his wheelchair out of the bus, because it held up the bus for a few minutes, so that when I got to the bus stop, the bus was just starting to board. Panting, I slid my card in, and got on.

Onwards to the subway stations. "Ladies and gentlemen, there will be no Queens bound trains coming to this stop until Monday at 5 AM.

Score. I could still make it to work without taking that infernal tram (we live on Roosevelt Island, and when taking east side trains, I take the tram, and to go to the west side, I take the F train). Although the trip home might take a bit longer than usual, the crucial bit (getting to work on time) was well within my grasp. Just as I swiped my metro card on the turnstile, the lift was opening. I made a semi-sprint for it, and made it into the lift with plenty of time to spare.

Down the lift descended, to the bowels of the Roosevelt Island stop. The doors opened to show the subway just pulling into the station.


I got on the train, which went from stop to stop without a pause, drag, or "train traffic ahead" slow down. We pulled into West 4th almost exactly 25 minutes later. Very very nice indeed. I got out of the train station to walk past unresisting walk signs all the way through and sailed through the door at 3:35.

Which leaves me plenty of time to get on here, say hi to you lovely folks, and relax for a couple of minutes before work starts. One hopes that the rest of the day proves to be as smooth sailing.

07 December 2009

I'm reminded of a dinner I had at my place, when the guests were just coming in, and the only thing that was done was the rice. Bad. Also, there was only one burner working. Worse. Also, I couldn't find the cooked beans. Catastrophe.
I popped open a tin of chickpeas, threw in some tahini, some bottled (gasp!) lemon juice, garlic, and a splash of olive oil, and let the food processor rip. While that was going, I got a pan screaming hot. In went some oil, cumin seeds, and sesame seeds. When the seeds were popped, I dumped in a bag of baby spinach. I slammed on the lid, and turned around to open the food processor, and scrape down the sides. Again, off it went. I thinned it out with a bit of water, and let it keep going. I turned back to the spinach, and saw that it was barely wilted. Perfect.
I turned off the heat, and tossed it through a couple more times. I set out a loaf of bread, and the hummus and spinach, and encouraged everyone to tear off a piece of bread, spread on some hummus, and pile up the spinach. It was a novel (and delicious) idea, and everyone was raving about it. While they were distracted, I grated some carrots and cabbage into the food processor (without washing it; the hummus would provide a dressing!). I scraped out every last bit of goodness from the food processor, and tossed the cabbage and carrot with the hummus. Then into the microwave went 2 tins of black beans in a pyrex dish, along with a bit of cumin powder. Nuked that for 5 minutes. As soon as the microwave beeped, I threw in some chopped cilantro to round out the flavour.
Five minutes later, the main part of the meal was on the table (beans, rice, salad). For dessert, I sliced up some lovely fruit that I had lying around (apples and pears) and served them on a block of rock salt. It was lovely.
Point is that even when your best laid plans fall apart, if you can think on your feet, you'll still be fine. Just have a couple of things in your house (tinned beans, very quick cooking veg, some bread, fruit), and you're bound to be OK even when things are going nuts around you.

06 December 2009

Be yourself.

I was talking to my mother the other day, and we were discussing how she had a party for my baby sister’s (who isn’t such a little one anymore; the girl has a baby of her own now!) birthday. She’d made some noodles, lemon rice, potato curry, a few other dishes, and like a macaroni with pasta sauce. I was confused as to why they’d bothered with the macaroni drill, because there was so much other food, all of which would be quite delicious, and was distinctly Indian in both execution and flavour. She wasn’t quite sure why. I guess my sister thought that since the preponderance of people coming over were American, they’d be able to relate to it more.

Three guesses what finished first, and the first two don’t count.

She had all of one cup of lemon rice left over. She had none of the potatoes (and she’d made something to the tune of 12 lbs of the stuff) left, none of the other veg left, and pretty close to all of the pasta left over. Furthermore, the stuff that she kept mild (no chilli) was left over in greater quantity than the stuff she added the heat to. Why is this? Let’s think about it for a moment.

For one thing, people are coming to your house to have your company. Yes, the food is often a lovely bonus, but in reality, it’s you they’re there to see. Whatever you make is going to be a good thing. It’s much like going out for a meal with friends. Yes, there are times when the service or food are less than stellar, but for the most part, you’re there for each other’s company.

The other thing is that when you cook a unique style of food, people are going to your house to get stuff that they can’t get anywhere else. Think about it. If people come to my house, they know they’re going to get my special hummus that I make with obscene amounts of garlic and toasted cumin. They know that they’ll get an excellent daal. They know that they’ll get some kind of roasted vegetable, some kind of curried vegetable, and some kind of green cooked with coconut milk. It’s more or less a given.

At my mother’s house, you know you’re going to get a stewed veg, some kind of curried veg, some lemon rice (because it really /is/ that popular) and a raw salad. It’s pretty much a given. In fact, it’s so much a given that people specifically come to her house for it, since she does it so well. That’s what I had to talk to her about. People love her cooking, and can get pasta any old place. They don’t need to come to her house for it! And furthermore, they love her hot spicy food. Add the chilli! It’ll still be delicious, and if someone can’t take that much heat, they’ll eat more salad and balance it out.

The point I’m trying to make is this: be true to yourself. Yes, you can try to do things that are “accessible”, but it won’t be you, which is the entire reason that your friends are coming to visit in the first place. They want your food, your cooking, and your company. Yes, it’ll be different from what they’re used to, but that’s OK!

I guess part of it comes from her experiences in the past, where people thought that our food is “weird” and didn’t know what to do with it. But that was years and years ago, before the advent of the Internet, and before people were familiar with Indian cookery and spices. Nowadays, you can find cumin anywhere in the country. You can find turmeric in pretty much any grocery store. Heck, I even passed by a grocery store that had cardamom, and I haven’t seen that in a mainstream store before. Times are changing, and people are changing.

What would have been made fun of in the past is now looked upon with longing. It’s the same for your own culture (or another culture, if you’re given to borrowing). People aren’t so afraid of “unusual” anymore, and are fairly adventurous, if you just give them a chance. So give them a chance, and let them see the real you. They’ll thank you for it!

27 November 2009

25 November 2009

Step by Step

The kitchen is, as always, a hive of activity. Mind you, it’s for a different reason than usual, but it’s still a little crazed in there, with regards to the prep work. Of course, we’ve got people ordering the regular food today, as well as deliveries. Enter Boss Man and Laura Lady. Chef Laura Dardi came in to help us with the masses of food that we’ll be cooking today. You don’t realise what /scale/ means until your boss casually asks you to weigh out twelve pounds of pumpkin to make pie.

And that’s just for the gluten free pumpkin pies.

What I’ve noticed is that during all this prep work frenzy, things tend to work really well when you have a system. Either you tag-team, or solo it. If you solo it, it works really well to go assembly line fashion. For instance, if you’re going to boil some pumpkins to make pumpkin pie, you first peel all your pumpkins. Then you scoop out all the seeds from all the pumpkins. Then you chop them up into pieces. Then you tip it all into hot boiling water, to boil. Then you rinse and drain the seeds, and dry them off lightly. Then you toast the seeds in the oven. It’s not because you need to use the seeds for the pie, but why let perfectly good pumpkin seeds go to waste? The chef needs a snack too, right? Then, you do all the other steps, one at a time, to everything.

The reason? When you’re cooking in large scale, you want to be able to stop at a certain point, and put it off till later, if the need should arise. For example, when I’m preparing for a large quantity of people coming over, I tend to freeze the process in the middle for those things that take multiple steps. With mixed rice (lemon rice, coconut rice, etc.), I’ll cook the rice, then put it into gallon sized zip top baggies, and put them in the fridge, to get cold cold cold. Then, the next day, all I have to do is make the spice blend, and toss the rice through on top of the stove. This ensures that my rice is perfectly separate, while still heating through at the last minute, when I need it to be heated through. It avoids the aggravation of having the rice dry out in the oven, and it saves me a significant headache on the day of, because if the rice is mushy, I can make something else (VENN PONGAL WUT WUT!) and salvage it, rather than looking foolish on the day of.

Try it out at home. When you have a large amount of stuff to do, complete it in steps, a day or two in advance. Then, on the day of, just wrap up all the loose ends, and look like a superstar.

10 November 2009

Good Website, Good software

There's been a couple of computer based things that have been making me twitch with annoyance, and they stem from both web and off-line software. I may not get time to go into everything, but I'll hit the big boys.

Don't reside in systray (PC) or menubar (OSX). I put things in my menubar, because I want them there. I have very specific tools that I use on a daily basis, and want to have residing there. Else, it lives on the dock, and I ignore it until I need it. If you're going to take up space on my menubar (or in a PC, my systray), there had better be a damned good reason for it that makes it show up there, or else I'll be turning it off. I don't have to be reminded of software. When I want something done, I'll go to it, because I know exactly where I placed it.

If you make software that has to reside in my menu bar while it runs, chances are that I'm going to find reasons not to use it, and eventually uninstall it. I'm looking at you, Twitterific. I'm looking at you, every piece of software from Intego. In fact, I even get annoyed when software places itself in my menubar without asking, like Adium. Fortunately for Adium, it lets you remove it from the menubar, so I still use it.

You may think that you're being "clever" by forcing your presence in my menubar, but you're not. You're being a fucking twat. So enjoy your obscurity while I uninstall you, and never turn back. I'll either find a way to use another piece of software that'll do the same thing, and NOT shove itself in my face, or I'll decide that the task isn't important enough for me to be arsed about, and I'll continue doing it by hand.

NO PDFs EVER, unless you have text to back it up. This one's a big one. It used to be that you'd only get a PDF when the formatting mattered so much that having the raw text would outright make the content useless. Think of situations like instruction manuals with images, bookmarks, and all sorts of other useful features. If you're reading an instruction manual, you more or less expect a PDF, because without one there, everything jumps thither and yon, and you can't really do much about it, can you?

I even (to a lesser extent) understand the need for a PDF when you're doing something legally binding, like a form or other such thing, so that the content isn't easily altered. Few people have the software necessary to edit a PDF. So far, so good.

In the case of a menu, or catalogue, or any other such thing when you're simply browsing, and don't want to make too much of a commitment that comes with downloading the PDF, and viewing it, or waiting for it to try to load in your browser, and watching the browser crash and burn. Don't pretend like it's never happened to you! I know it has. I have a very nice machine, and even my browser crashes at PDFs. So when you're presenting data, like what's on the menu, or what's in a catalogue, have the bulk of the contents presented in plain text. If someone really does give a shit about your formatting, they can download the PDF at their discretion.

When I browse to a website, especially for a restaurant, and it takes me the better part of five minutes to wrangle through the PDF to figure out what you have, I'm going to just skip it all together, and try somewhere else. If I order from the place a lot, I'll actually download the PDF and print out the menu. However, it'll never get to that point if accessing the menu is damn near impossible.

No obnoxious splash screens (web or software). If it takes more than 15 seconds to load, you'd better be offering so much functionality with that load time that it's worth the wait. Even then, you're going to end up pissing people off. For example, those nightclub websites that have "fancy" flash splash screens that you want to skip anyway. The faster your home page loads, the more likely someone will be to stick around and check it out. If you entire navigation hinges on a single element loading, chances are that you're going to break someone's browser, and piss them off enough that they don't come back. Was that flashy splash screen worth it?

This goes double for splash screens for software. Unless it's a slow-loading software (I'm looking at you, Adobe), the splash screen is really not necessary. Neither are welcome screens. I don't want ANY of it. Just load the bloody thing, and let me plunge in head first. Don't ask me what sort of thing I want to do. Just load a blank page, and let me make changes as necessary. Think about it. Why are you going to invest time and money into a feature that most people will see as a nuisance (at best), may cause crashes (at worst), and be disabled by most of the people who trip past it (at least). When you're on a website, how many splash pages do you actually watch (y'know, instead of hitting "skip intro" if they give that option)?

There are very specific cases where flash is necessary, such as when the functionality of the site hinges on it (I'm looking at you, online games). But if the same thing can be done with simple pages, with a couple of very minor, tiny flash tweaks to make it look smoother, why not do that instead of making the whole entire page a flash environment? It's like those fuckers who ask you to use margarine in baking, and then promptly ask you to melt it.


Don't set obnoxious defaults, like loading up at startup. It's why I refused to run skype for so many years. I knew full well that I could disable this option but (1) it didn't used to be so blatantly simple to do so, and (2) it was the principle of the thing. I find it an insult to my intelligence when software assumes to know what's best for me, and sets obnoxious defaults, thus slowing down my machine. Your antivirus starting up with the operating system is one thing. Anti virus software is critical for a computer running smoothly. Skype and AOL instant messenger, are NOT crucial to my machine functioning. In fact, they will slow me down. For years, I flatly refused to use Skype or have it running on any of the machines I maintained. Even now, I only use it rarely, and that's only because there are specific people I have to contact, and I have no other way of contacting them. All because of that initial (and persistent) insult.

No "tag along" software. Say it with me: "If I downloaded YOUR software, that's the only thing I want to install." Google is pretty capable of running the world, but packaging that toolbar along with every software known to mankind was not only obnoxious, it made me boycott both the software that made it tag along AND the toolbar itself. Let me tell you how annoying it is to have to go through and uninstall that fucking thing again when you work in a computer lab. You have to go through and log out the current user. Then log in as admin. Then uninstall it. Then close the browser window asking you why you uninstalled it. Then scream and throw things. Then lather, rinse, and repeat about 49 more times.

Per. Room.

Don't use audio unless explicitly necessary. Youtube has a reason to access my speakers. I'm there to watch videos, whose content would fall flat without the audio. There's a couple of websites that use audio to enhance your game playing experience, so that you're not listening to the sounds of your crisp packet as you spend hours clicking the same buttons repeatedly. A website for a night club may get away with it if they have a "music player" up top that you can hit stop on. That's the end of it. All other uses for audio in websites need to be banned. No, Mr. Restaurant. You shouldn't be blasting crappy techno music on your home page. No, website for random person who's looking for "acting work". You have no reason for your street musician crap assaulting my ears while I visit your corner of the web. Turn it off, or I'll turn it off for you.

Point is that overall, you want to avoid annoying the people you're looking to reach. This past month has just been a stack of that, so I figured I'd rant, rather than take it out in little passive aggressive ways on the people who surround me.

I swear, it was an accident when I forgot to make more rice yesterday night.

07 November 2009

Creamy Hummus Every Time

Someone from the vegan forums that I'm on wrote in to ask about her hummus. Let's see what she had to say. Vegan K wrote:
Hi Dino!

Let me first say that I love your Podcast! I have been listening to them since you first started and I have really enjoyed them all. Many of your techniques and ideas mirror my own and so at last I don't feel so alone in my in my approach to the kitchen :) -- But believe me, you have touch me much as well.

My question is about canned beans, or tinned beans as you would say, versus dry beans.
I make a mean hummus, but whenever I use dry beans the hummus seems less flavorful and the texture is not as smooth. Mind you my processor is not that great so the texture difference is very noticeable.
I have added more liquid to the dry beans concoctions and have thrown in additional salt but it still doesn't seem to have the same texture and flavor that I get with canned beans.
Any suggestions?
I was thinking maybe it is something that I have to get used to, like when you change from "Skippy" peanut butter to the "Natural". When I eat the Skippy kind at a relative's house I want to gag nowadays.

But still, the questions is Why?!

Thank you for your wonderful shows... sometimes I listen to them if I am just in a crabby mood... your voice and demeanor is very comforting.

Kathleen (katieo - VeganFreak forums)
The thing about tinned beans is that they're consistent. The manufacturers have enormous cooking pots that clean, sort, and cook the beans to perfection. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to have happen at home. So. there's a couple of things you can do to ensure that your dry beans (especially chickpeas, as they take an extraordinary amount of time to cook) will cook all the way through. They're all fairly important, but there's a couple that are more important than others. When you've read through the procedure, you can either tweak your own method, or decide that it's all too much effort, and just stick to tinned beans! I'm kidding. In reality, this whole process is actually extremely simple. I'm just being detailed, so that you have a framework from which to work. Most of the "work" is leaving the beans alone.

Before working with any dried beans, always turn them out onto a cookie sheet, and check for any stones or other foreign material. Then, when you're ready to start the soaking, wash them under cold running water, until the water runs clear. Even if you're buying organic beans, you're still unable to know what's been going on in the processing plant, the storage warehouse, etc. etc. Best not to take any chances, and just get them rinsed clean. It only takes one or two washes anyway. Sorting and washing the beans takes about two minutes, and is well worth it.

1. Soak your beans well, for a minimum of 8 hours, in cold water. The "quick soak" method is fine if you're just using the beans for a chickpea dish, but for hummus, we're doing everything just so, and it's worth spending the extra step of properly soaking them in cold water. When soaked, the beans have a chance to slowly re-hydrate, and expand their volume. It also give a chance for any impurities and the like to leak out into the soaking liquid. It's best to set them in cold water before you wind up the kitchen for the night. Some people start just before they go to bed, but for me, giving it those couple extra hours before I even think of bed helps me to remember to soak them, and it gives the soaking a couple of extra hours.

Another thing to remember is that you're soaking your beans in a lot of water. If you start out with about two cups of beans, you're going to want 6 - 8 cups (or 1 1/2 - 2 litres) of water. There are many reasons for this, principle among them being that you want the beans to have enough water to "drink up". Aside from that, I just feel like my beans turn out better when I give them plenty of water to soak in. In other words, for every cup of beans you start with dry, soak them in 3 - 4 cups of water.

2. The next day, when they've been thoroughly soaked, drain off the soaking liquid completely. Place a pot of water on the stove, and crank the heat onto high. For every cup of beans (dry) that you started with, put in 3 cups of water into the pot to boil. As you wait for the water to come to a boil, rinse the beans off a couple of times. This is especially important if you're not using organic beans. Any of the chemicals or pesticides should be rinsed down the sink, and not go into your food. Anything in the water will inhibit the cooking process. This includes salt, the chemicals on the surface of the beans, or anything else. Keep things clean, and you'll be fine.

3. When the water comes up to a full, rushing, rolling boil, drop the soaked and rinsed chickpeas into the boiling water. Wait for the water to come back up to a full rushing boil. At this point, start timing about 10 minutes. Let them continue to boil at that high heat rushing boil for about 10 minutes. If you go over a minute or two, it's no biggie, but try not to go under 10 minutes. After boiling fiercely for 10 minutes, drop down the heat to as low as it'll go, and cook gently until they're tender (about 2.5 hours or so). Do not let the water come back to the boil after that initial 10 minute boiling. Cooking at too high a temperature will result in cooked but firm beans. You want your chickpeas to be so tender that you can easily mash them with a potato masher.
If you have a pressure cooker, let the beans cook according to the manufacturer's instructions. Exact times will be on the manual that came with the pot.

On mine, chickpeas take about 10 - 12 minutes, but your pot will have its own instructions specific to yours. Follow the instructions exactly, and cook towards the higher minute range listed. If it says 10 - 12 minutes, let it go for 12 minutes. Let the pressure come down by itself (don't do "quick release").

When the chickpeas are boiled completely, let them sit in the hot cooking water until you're ready for them. Because you've cooked them so long, chances are that you won't need to use too terribly much water in the hummus itself.

For the hummus, start with your very well cooked chickpeas. Beat them around a bit with a wooden spoon. If they don't easily mash up this way, the beans aren't cooked enough. They'll need longer on the stove. If they do, however, beat up fairly easily, you're just about where you wanna be. Combine the chickpeas with the olive oil, garlic, salt, tahini, and lemon juice. Toss the chickpeas and the other ingredients until well combined. Then, fill your food processor only half way full with this yummy chickpea mixture (which frankly, I'd be quite happy to eat as-is, because it's quite delicious all on its own). Pulse a few times until the chickpeas are broken down. THEN crank it up to full speed, and let the hummus grind down. Open the top, and scrape down the sides frequently.

The reason for doing this is two-fold. For one thing, you're thoroughly combining the ingredients and flavours together long before it goes into the food process, making it so that the food processor isn't working so hard. For another, when the food processor is only half full, it can really grind your hummus down without very much fat or water. Once the hummus is down to a paste, you add a bit of water, a couple tablespoons or so at a time, until it's the desired smoothness and creaminess.

This would not work if the food processor were full, however. It only works when you do the method I described.

Hope this gives you some ideas as to where to tweak your current procedure! Thanks for writing in.


29 October 2009

Midweek Over, time for weekend

As soon as Puppy got home with the CSA share, I decided to cook everything up the next day itself, because I've seen far too many veg go the way of the dodo, because I took too bloody long to get to them. This is good, because nothing spoiled. This is bad, because I now have 10 lbs of potatoes, some onions, 1/4 of a cabbage (which is what was left after making piles of cabbage soup, which is still making my tummy happy) and spices. This means that the next couple of days will be a bit ... interesting, unless I make a grocery store order, which would mean staying home until they come in with it. And what would I get from the store anyway? More cabbage, more onions, more potatoes. I think the cabbage and potatoes in my fridge don't really need the company.
So this means that I'll need to get a little creative. Fortunately for myself, I've kept my pantry rather well stocked. I've got various tinned and dried beans, noodles (thin and thick), pasta (spaghetti, macaroni, rotelle), rice (sushi, basmati, long grain), and of course, all the spices I'd need to cook all those things up.
Since we have been eating fairly healthy, I can go with something a little junk food-y. Enter beans and pasta. The tomatoes aren't strictly necessary, but I think they're nice, all the same.
The thing about beans and rice is that they're delicious, nutritious, and filling, but they can get monotonous, unless you've got a nice variety of vegetables (raw and cooked) to accompany. Frankly, I don't think that my potatoes and onions are going to do much for me on that account. However, if I put them on pasta, they do tend to feel like a break from the norm, and it's a nice enough change of pace that I can get away with (essentially) not very much else, since Puppy and I are both fiends about pasta.
We eat rice (literally) every single day, and it's our usual food. Pasta is a fair bit more expensive than rice, so I tend not to buy it very frequently, and when it comes on sale, I tend to go a little nuts, and buy like 10 or 15 boxes. This means that if it were left to us, said 10 or 15 boxes would be gone quite neatly in 2 or 3 weeks. And then it'd mean no pasta again until the stuff comes on sale. This is why I tend to get a fair bit, but stretch it out a little. Maybe over the course of two or three months.
So. What I do is that I start off as if I were making a very sturdy pot of beans. I boil them up in the slow cooker, stove, or pressure cooker (depending on whether or not I've soaked them), and drain off the cooking liquid. I rinse them off to remove all vestiges of cooking liquid. Instead of cooking them like a soup or a stew, I tend to do the dry roasting technique, like I've got in the book (dry roasted garbanzo beans). Essentially, you start off with popping of spices (I like cumin and coriander), add a touch of aromatics (garlic, onions, whatever), and then toss in the drained and rinsed cooked beans. I cook it off until the spices have melded nicely.
I tend to be a little generous with the oil, because I find that the pasta likes that little extra bit of oil. Then, I toss through some roughly diced tomatoes, and cook them with the beans until they're wilted and release a bit of a gravy from their juices. It's quite a savoury smell coming up from the pot at this point. To finish, I throw in some basil and parsley, and a bit of salt to taste. I toss it through with my short cooked pasta (rotelle, farfalle, macaroni, what have you), and throw in a splash of lemon if it needs it. You could serve it with some crusty bread and a green salad, but I don't because this is the sort of thing I make when I don't have the vegetables I need for greens, salad, or much of anything else.
If I did, I'd have made beans and rice.

27 October 2009

Amble in the Rain. Ramble on the Blog.

I may have mentioned it before, but I'm a fan of the sun. And right about now, this little fan is turned off, because it's rainy and cold and mucky. And of course, it doesn't help that I have to go out in said muck to get to work, back into the muck when I run errands, and back again to get back home. Trust me, as soon as I get home, I'm curling up with a steaming hot bowl of rice, and piling it high with roasted vegetables. Our CSA gave us a bunch of different beets (no thanks; I'll leave that for Puppy), potatoes (yes, please!), and celeriac (mmmmm). I strongly dislike celery, but the celery root isn't quite so offensive.

I find that if I treat it like a potato (with regards to cooking), peel off the knobby outside skin with my trusty vegetable peeler, and just roast it with a bit of oil, I'm golden (get it? golden? roasted?)!

Yes, it's simple, but I've found myself scaling back on the spicing and the aromatics (garlic, onions, what have you) when I've got such top-notch produce from my CSA. Yes, Indians love their spices, but they also really love clean flavours, where the vegetable comes out by itself. For most of my life, I couldn't really afford the organic vegetables. The CSA made it possible for me to discover those unsung heroes of the plant kingdom (I'd never heard of mizuna, used kohlrabi, had five different varieties of chard and kale in one sitting, or seen that many different kinds of potatoes), and really let the flavours come through. Thus far, for me, Kale meant that curly stuff that's ever so yummy with all the attendant spices and cooking in the oven.

You know the type. You add a bit of curry powder and salt and a head of garlic to 3 kg of chopped kale (stems and all, of course). Then you throw in a tin of cocounut milk. Then you wash out that tin once or twice with water, and pour that into your dish too. Then you pop it into the 350ºF oven for 25 - 40 minutes, until it's as tender as you'd like for it to be.

Well, as I started to get different varieties, I started to cut back on the amount of spices. Then, I cut back on the salt. Then I cut out the garlic. Before I knew it, it was just water, coconut milk, and kale going into the baking dish, and simmering away tantalisingly. It's not that I'd grown to dislike spices. Far from it, actually. It was more that I started to notice that I craved more of the kale's own taste coming through. I also noticed that doing very little to the vegetable made it "safe" for a wider variety of people.

I've had people eat at my house who can't have various spices, pepper, etc. Some are on low salt diets. Some are watching their caloric intake. All said and done, I still cook very flavourful food. It's just that I'm relying on different techniques from what I used to.

Take my daikon. All I did was julienne a large daikon radish, sprinkle it with black sesame seeds, and a bit of sesame oil, and popped it into the oven for about 10 minutes. That's really all it needed. I could have done it on the stove, but I feel like I would have ended up getting it mashed, and would have lost the texture of the julienne that I worked so hard to create (actually, it wasn't that hard).

By the by, if you find yourself the lucky recipient of lots of daikon, use it to practise your chopping techniques. It's the perfect shape and size to do any number of pretty cuts. Just peel off the outer skin real quick, and chop off the top and bottom pieces. Then, slice a thin slice from the bottom of the circle to give yourself a steady base from which to work. Then, slice the daikon into rounds. The thinner you slice them the finer your final chop will be. I sliced mine about 1/8 inch thick. Then, stack up the rounds, and make vertical slices, so you have a fine little julienne. If you decided to go a little larger, and make 1 inch rounds, you can then slice 1 inch vertical slices, and end up with 1 inch wide daikon "french fries". Just rub a little oil onto a parchment lined baking sheet (or use silpat, or use a nonstick baking sheet with a bit of oil), sprinkle a bit of black sesame, and bake at 350 for about 10 - 15 minutes. They're quite yummy on their own, or dipped in a bit of soy sauce combined with sriracha and a touch of ketchup.

Then, once you've got your stick shapes, it's just a few more cross wise cuts to make an adorable dice! Easy peasy. And because the daikon is uniform in width throughout (unlike those stubborn carrots and parsnips), you'll have a fairly easy time in keeping everything uniform. I actually had fun while dicing everything up the other day, because it looked sooooo cute when I was done.

Yes, I'm easily amused.

OK, let me be honest now.

I'm totally /not/ in the mood for roasted vegetables. I want soup, damnit.

When I get home, I envision that giant head of cabbage that Puppy brought home with that CSA haul. I'm going to pop some black mustard seeds, and some cumin seeds in some hot fat. Then, I'll throw in the sliced cabbage. In a separate pot, I'll boil up some udon noodles (the thick ones that I love so much). Once the cabbage is all coated in the spices, I'll add in just enough water to cover. By the time the water for my udon comes to a boil, and the noodles cook through, the cabbage will be tender and savoury smelling. I'll finish it with a bit of red chili flakes and salt, and pour it over a bowl of hot, freshly boiled noodles.

Or maybe I'll be lazy and have it with rice.

And then top it off with some shredded carrots. Mmmm. Carrots.

Ohh! Ohh! And a clove of minced garlic. And I stir it all through to combine the flavours and aromas. And then I shall promptly sink into a pile of fluffy pillows, cover myself with a few layers of thick fleece blankets, and grab a book to read.

And life will be good.

26 October 2009

Sift your Beans

They were fairly slammed today, so Cliff asked me to soak him some chickpeas, as we were out of hummus. He said, "And make sure to sift through to make sure there's nothing extra in there. You do sift your beans, right?" "Of course", I answered guiltily. The short answer is, of course. The long answer is, of course I do, when it's more than what I make at home (maybe one or two cups at a time). If it's that small an amount, I'm bound to catch whatever it is that's foreign, because I don't buy chickpeas in mass bulk (more than 10 pounds at a time would be too much for home use, and when you buy in very large bulk as restaurants do, there's going to be ... extras in the beans, regardless of how good your vendor is) either when I'm transferring the beans to my containers that I store them in (juice bottles, etc.) or when I pour the beans into the bowl for soaking, or when I drain them and transfer them to a pot. When you're using such tiny quantities, you'll catch on soon enough.

However, if you buy your beans loose, or in large quantity, or in bulk, or aren't constantly vigilant about everything, you'll want to sift through the beans. In fact, come to think of it, my saying that it's a small quantity at home is actually just an excuse for my laziness. I tried to justify my at-home laziness by saying that it's a small quantity. But who do I have to justify to? Not Boss Man. As far as he's concerned, when I'm here, I sift the beans. What I do or don't do at home doesn't make a difference to him.

No. I was trying to justify it to myself, because I know full well that I should know better. And I do know better! There are few things as unpleasant as being interrupted from a happy tasty food daze by a giant slab of stone cracking your jaws in half. No thanks! It's just that it takes all that extra time.

By the by, it doesn't take all that long.

Get your dry beans measured. Then, grab a cookie sheet. Dump the measured beans onto the cookie sheet. Ta-da! All the beans are in one layer! This means that giving everything a once-over takes all of 3 seconds. If there's any rocks, you'll find them now. Let me tell you from multiple personal experience, that it's far better to spend the all of five seconds it'll take you to sift through the beans than to chomp down on a big, painful rock, and feel your bridge work crack through, and your orthodontist silently cheer as he sees yet another year at the country club paid in full from your laziness. Then you have that bother of trying to figure out who's responsible for this, and you'll never talk again. Just avoid the trouble in the long run.

I spent the extra five seconds on it, and it worked out just great. No rocks, and no wasted time.

So why was I skipping that step all these years? Same reason you all do. You know in your heart of hearts that it's the right thing to do. And you expect (as you should) restaurants to do so. And we do. We're thorough about anything going into your food. All the leaves are washed and re-washed and inspected for ... special prizes that mother nature left behind, all the beans are sifted by hand, the fruit is carefully washed and inspected for more prizes from nature, and you're getting nice, clean food. So why don't we respect ourselves enough to do it at home? You're going to all that effort to cook for yourself. Might as well spend the extra five seconds on those minor details that save your teeth and your sanity.

The first time you chomp down on a bit of dirt in your food, you'll think back to this long, drawn out diatribe, and you'll thank me for reminding you (and myself) that it's important to pay attention to the details.

23 October 2009

Components make up the whole

"roasted yucca til it was crisp w lots a garlic, and folded it in2 the hummus of the day. yucca hummus y'all."

Boss man posted that on Sacred Chow's facebook yesterday. He let me try the roasted yucca. Damned if it didn't knock me off my feet, and launch me to the heavens! I'm a huge fan of yucca, mind you. It's one of those things that I could happily use in everything I make, and still not get tired of. The rest of the planet agrees with me. Cassava is so widely eaten that I can't really think of a country (with farmable land) off-hand where it's difficult to come by. It's seen in cuisines from South America, to Africa, to Asia (China and India and the islands in the south Pacific being huge fans of it) and any other place where money is a little tight from time to time.

But this isn't about the wonders of yucca. It's about flavouring things just so.

Your dish will only be as strong as the weakest component in it. This is why you see chefs seeking out the finest ingredients that their budgets can allow. They know that if one ingredient's quality is less than that of the surrounding ingredients, the end product will be compromised significantly. This goes double for flavour. If the components of the dish are highly tantalising and tempting, then you'll most likely wind up with a fantastic end product.

For example, there are many times when I'm about to make smashed potatoes with loads of coconut cream and garlic, but I stop myself, because the oven roasted potatoes are so delicious that I can't stop myself from eating half the tray before moving forward. For this reason, I've made mashed potatoes all of two or three times tops, and when I do, there isn't very much of it.

I'm so not joking when I say that potatoes are much beloved in my home. First I boil them off in the pressure cooker, because I can have them easier to handle in about 5 minutes (after reaching pressure, of course) as opposed to going through the grunt work of peeling and dicing the little monsters, only to smash them later. The hell with that. If I have a limited amount of time in the kitchen, you can bet your buttons that I'd sooner spend it having a glass of wine than doing make-work that's going to be for naught in any case.

But I digress, as you do.

The point is that the reason that my cooking is good goes beyond and above the fact that the final product is great; it's because the journey (to me) is really as important as the destination. It's why I can be so creative. While I'm cooking, there are multiple places where I can stop, even with simple dishes, like an aromatic vegetable sautee. You start off with popping the spices in oil, then add in your peppers, carrots, onions, garlic, what have you. Once they get tender, you can actually just stop, and use that as something (maybe to toss with pasta or rice, or in between a thick, crusty baguette, or add some water and make a soup, or add some beans and make a stew, or ...). If you choose, you can cook down some tomato in there, and stop at that point as well (add beans, make a daal, add leftover potatoes and other cooked veg with a bit of water for a veg stew, use the cooked tomato & aromatics as a spicy bruschetta thing ...). Then, if you have any, you stir in some beans (washed and drained), vegetables (in bite sized pieces), and a bit of salt and pepper, and cook the veg or beans with the aromatics and tomatoes for about five minutes. You could stop there and use the beans and/or veg with the aromatics and the rest as a sort of curry that you serve over rice, or add water to make a soup or stew, or throw in some cooked grain (barley, brown rice, large couscous), let it simmer for a few minutes, and have at.

See what I'm saying? At any point, you can stop, keep going, or take multiple diversions. That's the soul of good cooking. So there was boss man, in the kitchen, roasting up that cassava, and boiling up the chick peas. As I mentioned he let me taste the roast cassava. So divine. Then I tried a bit of the plain hummus. ALSO divine.

Then he blended them together.

Oh yes.

The whole was far superior to the sum of its parts, but the individual parts were quite tantalising on their own, thank you very much. I would have been quite content to eat that roasted yucca all by itself. Who doesn't like yucca that hasn't been fried, but tastes like it has (nothing at Sacred Chow is ever fried, ever, for any reason)? Who wouldn't want to just bury himself or herself in that mound of creamy dreamy hummus? ("What do you eat hummus with?" "A spoon!") Now that they're combined, you get little crunchy treasures that are enveloped in that creamy robe of protein.

Think of that the next time you're in the kitchen, and really take to heart how important it is to be intimately involved in every step of the way. Then get lazy can call for delivery.

18 October 2009

The prince arrived?

Either a really handsome prince in red tights stole a kiss from me this morning, or I need to check the locks on the doors. I'm too lazy to call the front desk, so we'll go with the former.

15 October 2009

So I'm at Sacred Chow, doing the thing where I pretend to know what I'm doing, with regards to techy stuff. You ask me to design you a flyer? I can do that in my sleep. You ask me to cook something? No problem. Tell me what you want, and I'll churn out something delicious.

You ask me to maintain a website? I'm going to cry and hide behind large objects.

So today, I realised that our site is a little ... behind the times. There's lots of places where they have very functional and useful features. We've got our facebook connect and twitter connect, but that's pretty ghetto as far as outreach goes. It means we depend on outside sources to make our in-house stuff get out there. It's fine for minor updates and the rest, but those features stunt your ability to get out the maximum information on the main website.

Enter, the event calendar. For anyone who's seen one of these before, you'll know how eminently useful they can be. You can set certain people to have posting access, sync it up to your outlook (to post, or to receive), and it makes the reaching out thing a lot smoother. Furthermore, it keeps you organised, and with it.

So I decided to use WebCalendar, because it would run natively on the server, since our hosting allows PHP and a database. What I didn't anticipate is that our server doesn't /have/ a pre-made database in there already, like ODBC, or what have you.

I looked a little green in the face, as I realised that I'd have to install some sort of database server.

At that very moment, I realised that I was way out of my depth, and would have to google around for ages to figure this stuff out.

Google around for ...


Google Calendars.

That was way easier than it should have been, and I'm silently kicking myself for being so dumb as to have missed that big giant "easy" button that Google tends to put onto everything. Oh. And the stupid easy part? Adding in all the Jewish and USA holidays to the thing, and having them automatically update. This way, when we add our events, it'll show up /under/ the existing day that it corresponds to, without us having to make a specific post. Ye gods, this promises to be quite useful, and I'm glad I finally thought to include the thing.


In case you're curious, go ahead and take a gander at the little calendar in her new home. Drop by and say hi.

13 October 2009

Part of Your World

When I'm walking long distances (to the subway station, work, bla bla bla), I tend to put on my ipod, not to listen to music, but to listen to podcasts. The endless chatter helps me to let my mind wander. I do my best thinking when I'm having conversations. I guess it's something about the spoken word (casual, not formal, like in an audiobook) that just gets the mental juices flowing. Unfortunately, with music, such isn't the case. I find myself getting distracted and side-tracked.

The thing is, the podcast doesn't even have to be particularly Important or Cerebral. I can do as well listening to Pottercast as I can to The Naked Scientist from the BBC. The point is that the show needs to be /chatty/ and not particularly formal. It does not work, for example, when the person is reading pre-written notes to fit a time slot. In cases like that, much like music, I find myself getting sidetracked, and focusing in on the performance more than letting my brain wander over the material presented. It's also why I can listen to the same episode a few times over. The first time, I'll have the information rattling around in my head, along with the rest of the flotsam in there. The second and third time, I get to think on it more deeply, and come to my own conclusions.

Yes, I'll listen to Pottercast episodes twice or three times sometimes. Yes, I am obsessed.

I'll wait for you to stop laughing.


Thank you.

I just wish it were as easy to podcast as it is to blog. Y'know, some form of thing where I could type out my thoughts, and it could be read, in my voice, and then easily (not the process I go through now) upload the content to a site that handles it. Hey Google. Mind getting on that? Thanks. You've managed to do everything else, so I figure this might be up your alley. You could very well take over the rest of the planet, and we'd all willingly go along with it.

Do you prefer blogs or podcasts? Which ones do you keep up with more frequently? With RSS feeds and the like, both should be relatively easy to keep up with, only iPods make podcasts easier on those of us with that technology. Wonder if the kindle will ever come down in price. I hear it does downloading of blogs too. Anyone own one that wants to weigh in?

01 October 2009

For NYC people.

Henry Westpfalz & Co, which is a machining company on 25th, b/w 6th and 7th, does the best knife sharpening ever. And they're relatively inexpensive. Costs about $6 for a standard chef's knife. I take my own knives there, as well as Sacred Chow's. You drop them off, and then pick them up when they're ready for you, usually two days afterwards. However, they're only open from 9:30 AM - 6 PM on weekdays. That means that if you drop off your knives over the weekend (say, on a Friday afternoon), you won't be getting them back until Wednesday evening.

So the nice lady at the counter told me the secret to making sure you get your knives back really quickly. Just drop them off on Tuesday or Thursday, BEFORE 3 PM. That way, when the guy comes back the next day to drop off the knives (around 3:30/4 PM), you'll have them done in a day. Just thought I'd share.

Also, they do really good work.

For those of you who live in Brooklyn, and don't mind schlepping all the way out to the middle of nowhere, ABC Grinding
does a damn fine job for INCREDIBLY cheap. I guess when you're located in guam, you kind of don't charge as much. It's right off the J Train (Cleveland St. Station) in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn. Yeah. I told you it's out there. But, the guy usually does it right in his shop, and you get your blades back in an hour or so. While you're there, you may as well pop in on one of the millions of thrift stores in the neighbourhood, and pick up actual thrift store bargains (unlike the ones in Manhattan, where they think that they poop gold, and can charge $30 for a pair of fucking used no-name brand jeans; yeah. fuck you very much, Salvation Army).

28 September 2009

Home again

I got home from CT yesterday. The people I was hanging out with (Tomereader, Bendicoot, MustngKate and Kate's manthing) were awesome fun. We cooked, we ate, we drank, we laughed, and told stories. I walked in around 9:00, handed Puppy the tin of cookies that Tomereader sent with me, and he was happy. And it was good.

So I go to sleep, and have a fitful night. I tend not to sleep when I've finished off a really fun trip. It's like summer camp. You complain about the drive (journey), but once you're there, you don't want to leave all the awesome people you've met. This morning, I get up bright and early at 9:25, have enough time to sip some water, use the ... facilities, and run out the door with my bag to get to work by 10, because boss man likes to get going early in the day, so that we have lots of time to plot our taking over the world expanding Sacred Chow's reach to the stars and the rest.

I walked down the stairs. I hear Chinese dance music. I swear, I'm not making this up. A few weeks back, I got sick of listening to the staticky Chinese radio station that Li Fang found, and would play during her shift. So I made a CD of some of the Chinese music I had on my computer (mostly Jacky Cheung, for the record), and gave her a copy. She played it, and was thrilled. So, I branched out a bit, and put on some of the more upbeat ones on another CD, and gave that to her after getting sick of listening to the first CD.

Unfortunately, when I'm half asleep, all these pieces of information are fleeting at best, and out of reach at worst (as was the case this morning). So for whatever reason, the disparate parts of my brain thought that I'd ended up in a Hong Kong night club. Imagine my (relative) surprise when I saw that it's a kitchen (as it always is), and that it was Li Fang, jamming along to the music, and chopping vegetables. My sleep-fogged brain finally caught up with itself around five minutes later, as I greeted the morning crew, and booted up the computer to get the day's work started.

For the record, because today is Yom Kippur (are we supposed to wish you happy Yom Kippur? From what I've heard, it's a sombre holiday), boss man wasn't in at 10, as his kiddo was home from school. Here's to hoping that anything you're atoning for is forgiven. Here's to also hoping that your breaking the fast will be delicious and filling.

20 September 2009

Pressure Cooker

I'm sure you recall that I've been against using pressure cookers. And now is the time for all pressure cooker owners to gloat at me. I can admit when I'm wrong. Mind you, I never said that using a pressure cooker is a bad idea. Rather, I just said that I didn't want to use one. Until I bought one.

There was a giant sale going down at an unnamed department store, and I asked Puppy to snag me a pressure cooker on a lark. The first night I had it in the house, I did a batch of split peas. What you want to do is bring the water up to a boil inside the pot, and then cover the lid. It supposedly speeds up the process. So I dumped in the split yellow peas, and let it come to the boil. On went the lid. 6 minutes later (I timed it), I turned off the stove. It still had a couple minutes of pressure left in it.

Last night, I soaked some chick peas. Those usually take 3 hours in a normal pot. Today? 12 minutes. TWELVE. MINUTES.

I don't know that I'll be using it for anything except beans, but come on, people. I'd consider that pretty magical. Imagine setting some beans to soak before you head out the door in the morning. Then, you come home, and have beans cooked up in less than 20 minutes. That's pretty awesome, I'd say. Then, spicing it up takes a minute or three tops, and you've got a yummy dinner ready to roll.

I don't often redact strong statements, but in this particular case, I really was mistaken about pressure cookers. Mine hasn't exploded on me, it hasn't made a mess on my stove, and it's consistently cooked everything to perfection. I'm pleased, and slightly creeped out to have been so stunningly wrong all these years. I guess that I can make up for lost time by cooking lots of food, and feeding anyone who'll eat?

14 September 2009


Do not install it yet. Wait for a few weeks, until they stop failing as hard as they are wont to do when releasing SP2. I recall XP SP2, and it was just as irritating and borked as is the Vista SP2. Back then, I was working in a computer lab, and had to deal with something to the tune of 30 computers taking the SP2 up the back door, as it were. This time, it's just a couple of windows laptops that I'm maintaining. Still as painful, slow, and annoying as before. Laptop #1 BSOD'd after trying to install the fucking thing. Laptop number two did not get the "update", because I'm not trying to have a home machine break on me like that. All this giant stack of fuck-up did for me is keep the computer out of comission for the better part of two hours. I got here at 11 AM, and started up the machine. It is now 1:35, and the machine has just finished rolling back the changes after the stunning failure of the SP2 to install.

Hold off on installing it.

06 September 2009

How to QUICKLY peel plaintains.

Plantains are cheap, and nutritious. They have a fair bit more structure than a potato, and are delicious boiled, mashed, fried, baked, curried, stewed, or however else you'd like to have them. For me, the biggest drag is always getting the darned things peeled, because I have to dig in there with my fingernails, and the tips of my fingers, and giant chunks of the flesh break off in pieces.

I filmed this video, so that you all can see a technique I came up with just tonight for peeling them rapidly and simply. I know that the lighting is terrifically bad. But try it the next time you get a green plantain. You'll be surprised at how easy it becomes. I'm going extremely slowly, so that you can see the process, and managed to crank out a plantain in about two minutes. The actual peeling time is closer to like 30 seconds or so. This means that you could power through a stack of 60 plantains in less than 30 minutes, once you get the groove of it. :)

28 August 2009

Why we need socialised health care.

Someone had to say it. So this guy did. :)

The idiotic thing is that when people that would benefit highly from socialised health care ramble on about how negative it would be for the country. Also, we already HAVE a form of socialised health care, in the sense that if you're elderly or desperately poor, you can go to any state hospital, and your costs are covered. Why not expand that to cover dental and optical and medical for all people? It just makes sense.

26 August 2009

Venn Pongal

Yes, I know I talk about this dish endlessly, but it really is magic. If you get my book for nothing else, get it for Venn Pongal, which is heads and tails the most popular dish in the entire book. I just got another message about it.

Alex, from the most recent podcast episode (talking about writing a cookery book) mentioned that when he got teeth extraction (I'm assuming wisdom teeth), he's been eating venn pongal. The reason that the dish is so popular is because it works for so many stages of your life. You can feed it to small children, the elderly, when you're having an upset stomach, or when you need something extremely cheap, but still filling enough to keep your energy up.

I know it's "just" beans and rice, but it's like magic food.

24 August 2009

Well Read poll from BBC

I saw it on the facebook, but facebook is a dumb head, and wouldn't let me post my list. So let me post it here. The list got me thinking, because I now remember reading some of them. How many have you read?

1 Pride and Prejudice - X
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien - X
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte –
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling - X
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee -
6 The Bible - X
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - X (But hated it)
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell - X
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman -
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens -

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott -
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy -
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller -
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare -
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier -
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien - X
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk -
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - X
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger -
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot -

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell -
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - X (Hated it.)
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens -
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy -
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams - X
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky -
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck - X
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - X
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame -

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy -
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens -
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis - X
34 Emma - Jane Austen -
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen -
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis - X
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini -
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres -
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden - X
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne - X

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell - X
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown -
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez -
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving - X
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins -
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery - X (And I cried blankets of tears. Went through a fair bit of kleenex that night.)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy -
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood - X
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding - X
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan -

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel -
52 Dune - Frank Herbert -
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons -
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen -
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth -
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon -
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens - X
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - X
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon -
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez -

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck - X
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov -
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt -
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold -
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas - X (Yes. Read it like 5 times)
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac -
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy -
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding - X
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie –
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville - X

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens - X
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker –
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett - X (Also cried like an infant when reading this one)
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson -
75 Ulysses - James Joyce -
76 The Inferno – Dante - X
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome -
78 Germinal - Emile Zola -
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray -
80 Possession - AS Byatt –

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens - X
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell -
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker -
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro -
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - X (And hated it. I hate Romantic Era lit.)
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry -
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White - X (Cried like an infant. Such a good read.)
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom -
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton -

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad -
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery - X (Read it /years/ ago when one of my mom's hippie friends left it at our house.)
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks -
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams -
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole -
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute -
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas - X
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare - X (One of the few Shakespeare books I didn't hate.)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl - X
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo - X

12 August 2009

How to write a Cookbook

1) Detail matters.
If you've seen my book, you notice how I'm careful to be highly specific when I need to be? That's because if the details are wrong, people get pissed.

You can never be ambiguous. Also, you can't guesstimate EVER. Because there will be that one guy out there who uses a measuring spoon. And who doesn't trust himself to cook, so he'll follow your directions to the letter.

2) Your work flow matters.
It may seem natural for you, but it's not to people who don't cook. For example, if I'm making a soup with cabbage, I'll start the water boiling, and have the slow cooking veg in the pot before I even touch the cabbage. Because the cabbage cooks fast, and goes last. So it's more efficient to get my pot going first, and then do anything to cabbage.

But people who don't cook? Will literally prep all the ingredients first, and have them laid out. And go through everything one at a time. Four hours later, a meal will be on the table, but they'll think that vegan food takes forever to prepare.

3) List ingredients twice.
Once in the ingredients list, and once again in the recipe itself. This provides a cross-check for you as well as the reader. Never say "the dry ingredients" or "the spice blend".

Re-list the spices, one by one, so that when you're done writing the recipe, you have a handy cross-checking tool. Also, never ever call for something that you didn't ask for in the ingredients list. It'll make your proof reader and recipe reader yell at you.

If you need 1 cup of water to boil the peas in, make sure that you list water as an ingredient. If you need additional water at the end, reserved just in case, account for that in the list, and say where you'd use it.

In cases when you'll need to add different amounts of the same ingredient in two places during cooking (add additional oil), list it in order.

For example: 25 mL canola, peanut, or sunflower oil, 3 grams cumin, 3 grams coriander, 1 aubergine, 10 mL canola, peanut, or sunflower oil, etc.

4) List ingredients in the order that you'll be using them. As in, if you're pouring oil into the pot to get things started, the oil you use to get stuff started goes first.

I'm also referring back to the point about being specific. If you want them to use canola oil, say so. If they can use peanut oil instead, say so. If you don't want them to use margarine, shortening, or olive oil in place of canola oil, mention it in the intro what recipes don't matter what the oil is, and which ones do matter.


You'll need to come up with a crack team of testers, either online, or in person. They need to be able to do a couple of things.

1) Be able to follow your directions to the letter.

2) Take specific notes on the process, and how it turned out for them.
take notes on timing, on measurement accuracy, and success of the instructions. Make corrections as needed (if they're a good cook), or follow through and fail (if they're a beginner) and yell at you.

3) Give specific feedback on taste, texture, ease of preparation, and total cooking time, including prep. You'll need that last bit of info for the top of the recipe.

And finally, they need to tell you if they'd make it again. If not, why not. Because recipes that are only used once and then never touched again will take up needless space.

Dino Cooks

They do this thing at Sacred Chow called a power bowl. I figured I'd try a version of it in my house, because the combination of protein and grain and vegetable is lovely. However, this is a far more involved operation, because I don't have a full complement of sous chefs, dish washing people, and assistants. It was just me in the kitchen.

First came the greens (kale). I washed and chopped them into manageable pieces, and drained off any excess water. Then, I popped some mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and sesame seeds (in that order). Then, I threw in some onions, and let them soften up. Then, in went the kale. Finally, I ground up some garlic, added some yellow mustard, and sriracha. I threw that sauce in at the last five minutes. That took (from start to finish) about an hour or so, because washing greens is a drag, but highly necessary.

Fortunately, I cooked the kale yesterday, so today, I just microwaved it. The next step was to make the beans. But then I realised that I wanted to use the vegetable leftovers (from squaring off the vegetables), because I wanted the salad to have a texture that didn't clash with the rice.

Usually, I just chop vegetables however, but this time, I wanted a perfect dice on the tomato, and a brunoise on the courgette, carrot, onions and cucumbers. Chopping the vegetables that perfectly took about 10 minutes or so. If I was being lazy with it, I could have done it all in a couple of minutes.

Much as I love home cooking, there are times when it's nice to do things perfectly.

Then, I chopped up the leftover carrot and courgette into a small dice, diced the other half of the onion, and popped mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds in a pot. I sauteed the onion until it's softened. I added in the leftover vegetables, and let them get softened. Then, I added a bit of turmeric (maybe a 1/4 teaspoon?), and let that get cooked in the fat for a short time. Then, I added in a tin of kidney beans. If I had tinned lentils, I'd have used those, but whatever.

Then, I layered it on as you see. Rice, beans, collards, salad. It was a fantastic combo, but rather elaborate. I made the plate version for my husband, and the bowl version for myself. It's quite filling.

07 August 2009

Mikeypod cooks

My good friend Mikeypod emailed me to let me know that he'd been cooking some stuff from my book. It is the basic broccoli, the dry roasted garbanzo, the generic accompaniment, and quinoa. Looks quite impressive there on that lovely white plate, and he said it tasted great too. Then, he sent me an email about a show I did on MeatfreeRadio:
Dino, Tim, and Mikey,

After hearing Dino on your show, I was much encouraged to re-establish my journey to healthier eating. I did the vegetarian thing for quite a while but I travel almost every week and live out of hotel rooms.. I always get hotel rooms with either a kitchenette or at least a microwave and a small fridge. After each week day being on my feet and having to talk most of the day, I found myself finding many excuses for just eating any and everything. The outcome has not been pretty to say the least. I am 52 years old but to be honest, I really am fortunate that I look like I am in my late thirties. Except for my big belly and butt.

Anyway Dino after your session on Meatfree radio, I was inspired to return to what I know to be the best thing for my extremely high blood pressure and out of whack cholesterol. After the episode I got on the net and ordered your book from Amazon as well as not taking the rationalization route of “I will begin the vegan route once the book comes in”. Instead, although continuing to travel, I am each day using the fridge and microwave in my hotel room. I even packed a large Rubbermaid container and a purchased a can opener to keep in my suit case. I know canned stuff is not the best but hell, it’s better than the crap route I have been on for the last two years.

I have increased my fast food intake ( this is referring to one of the jokes on Meatfree radio—something about there are fast food sections in grocery stores for vegans and vegetarians – it’s call the produce department. ) I am eating more fresh fruit as well. Thanks to you also Dino, I also have bottles of organic seasonings in the zipper pouch of the interior of my suitcase!!! I can not wait to get the cookbook. I am also so excited because I have tried to packed vegetarian stuff (boca burgers and the such) but to be honest, I could stick with it, but I hate that stuff. Plus, I do not have the time to look all over the place for exotic stuff to fit the vegetarian and/or vegan bill.

Next time I’m in NYC, I’ll let you and Mikey know so I can take you out for a cup of coffee or tea. I will keep you posted on my weight loss and as well as my lowered high blood pressure and cholesterol.

I will continue to be a fan of Meatfree radio and I am a new subscriber and fan of the Alternative Vegan podcast.

Allen Johnson
Rochester, NY
a mega fan of Ramble Redhead.com (say that fast!!!- ha! ha!)

Many thanks to Allen for the incredibly kind words. I love hearing about people trying new things, and am happy to help whenever I can. I absolutely agree that tinned beans are WAY better than the stuff you'd get from fast food restaurants, as it's a whole food, and it's still loaded with protein. That goes double for frozen vegetables.

If it means that you've got a choice between takeaway from a restaurant, or eating some tinned beans, some frozen veg, and some bread, rice or pasta, I'm going to steer you towards the latter option.

I can completely relate to your making excuses for eating everything at the end of a long work day. I feel the same way too, but I somehow manage to find that last scraping of strength, deep down in there somewhere, so that I can toss together some veggies and some oil and some seasoning, and dump it into the oven or microwave. I've seen some grocery stores that have made it even easier on those of you who don't have the time, inclination, knife or knife skills to chop veggies. They have little boxes of pre-chopped veggies, like courgettes, squash, onions, carrots, celery, and others. Some good ones even sell pre-washed, pre-chopped collard greens and kale (Publix for sure, if you live in Florida). Talk about easy! Yes, it'll cost a bit more money than the actual veggies, but you're paying for the ease of use (just as with tinned beans) and time saving. Besides, these are fresh veg I'm talking about, not frozen.

06 August 2009

Got up early

I'm surprised that I'm awake at this hour. Maybe there's something to be said for this whole early to bed early to rise nonsense.

02 August 2009

Back in NY

I went to visit my brother in Falls Church (a DC suburb) over Friday night and Saturday afternoon (we had to be back in NY to collect our CSA share). When we got there, my sister in law already had a giant truckload of food at the ready, as it was a Hindu holiday. She had dosa batter at the ready, sambhar, vegetable soup, potato curry, coconut chatni, and just when you thought that was enough, she even made vada and some sweet. The food just kept coming and coming and coming, seemingly endlessly. We ate and talked and really had a good time. This is why I love South Indian cooking so much: a lot of it is vegan already, and extremely tasty. It's such an excellent baseline to learn vegan food, and a really great jumping-off point.

Around 3 AM, we all trooped off to bed.

Everyone conked out. My sister in law had been awake since 5 AM that morning. My brother was up at 4 (his work starts at like 6 AM). I had come directly from work, so I was already tired enough to begin with, but the bus journey was another long drawn out thing, as we hit DC traffic HARD, so we were stuck in there for an extra hour. The next morning was still more food, and chatting, and eating and talking and eating and cooking and eating. Did I mention eating?

The niece and nephew were thrilled to meet their New York uncles after such a long time (I hadn't seen the two in about four years, and Puppy had never met them). The niece is eight, and quite a bright little girl. She's powering through stacks of books as fast as her mom can manage to find them. Nephew is a five-year-old bundle of energy who doesn't stop bouncing around from the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep at night. He eats apples (even though they're as big as his head) by the truckload, and absolutely loves them. They're lovely to visit with, but I don't think that my nerves can handle much more than measured doses. I don't quite do too terribly well with children.

So we get home, and I regale my mother with my adventures (as is my wont), and the best friend calls. I switch over, and she regales me with her adventures of the past couple of weeks. Finally, I notice that it's well past 1, and I'd been up since 9 AM after going to sleep at 3 AM the night before. I hastily bid everyone a good night, and crashed asleep.

I wake up today, and it's raining outside (again!), which made things cool, so I didn't even bother getting up for a few hours, so I could enjoy the soft breezes and the sound of the rain on the window. Puppy comes home lugging a GIANT thing of kale. When I say it's a large amount, you know it's huge. It was epic. There was enough for me to fill the turkey roaster three times. No, I don't roast turkeys, but that's what that dish is called, and I use it expressly for cooking ginormous amounts of leafy green veggies, because cooking those on the stove is a pain, since they require such a giant pot, only to wilt down, and make the pot seem stupid. Gods, I love that CSA of ours.

30 July 2009

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Fuck you very much, Paypal. If I'm able to log into my fucking account, it's me. Stop trying to protect me FROM MY OWN MEDDLING.

28 July 2009


Appa (the Tamil word for Father) and I have had a rocky relationship. We didn't always see eye to eye on many things, and there were times when I said things that looking back, were really douchey. It didn't help, of course, that for some time, I was questioning who I am, and had trouble reconciling with him on who he wanted me to be (a preist, a religious man, a "manly" man, etc.). I thought for a very long time that he wouldn't accept me and love me for who I am, but would forever be disappointed.

As parents are wont to do, he still did carry on loving me and being proud of all my accomplishments. When he talks about any of his children, his face lights up, and he can carry on for hours, because he's so proud of all of us, and what we've managed to achieve.

More than that, he was always present in my life. I can never recall a time when he or my mother told me that they wouldn't be there for me when the going gets rough. Amma (Tamil word for mother, as you may recall) reminded me yesterday that Appa's birthday is today, and that it would be nice if I could write a quick note to wish him. All these feelings and memories were coming to my mind as I wrote him my birthday note, so it took a little longer than I expected, but I feel that I showed him that yes, I do still love and care about him and his well-being.

We all have parents or other family members with whom we've had disagreements, but still care for deeply. I guess I'll let my letter do the talking, so that you can see where I was coming from.


Our relationship has changed over the years. In the beginning, I was the helpless little baby that you held in your arms. Then I became the precocious child, who was the light of everyone's eye. Eventually, I grew to understand your influence over my life.

Regardless of the situation, you were always present. I could always count on Appa to be there. To take care of things. When all my friends had divorced parents, I was one of the few who could always count on his father.

There is one particular incident I recall that cemented in my mind what it means to be a man. Amma had dropped a pickle jar on the floor. Everything splattered all over the place. She was very upset, and you came in, and cleaned it up. I asked you, "If Amma was the one to make the mess, why are you cleaning it?" You said, "Because we're family, and we take care of each other."

When I stop and think of the men that I look up to, you come to mind, because regardless of the adversity that came our way, you stuck by us. Through all the years of my bratty rebellion, you still loved and cared for me. I want you to know how much I appreciate that.

And then, when I brought Steve into our lives, you accepted him too, because you know that he makes me happy. I have heard so many stories of men who have been estranged from their fathers because of who they love. You never did that to me.

Because we're family. And we take care of each other.

Those words will guide me throughout my life, and be a comfort.

Thank you for being a wonderful father. A wonderful man. A wonderful person.


Happy birthday, Appa!

15 July 2009

Contest It

A police officer wrote me a bullshit ticket for a bullshit reason back in April. It's pointless to get into the details, but he said I was obstructing the flow of traffic during rush hour in the subway.

At 1 am.

In Queens.

Yeah. Like I said. Bullshit ticket, bullshit reason, bullshit cop.

I didn't even say anything to him, because that would have delayed me further. I got back down to the subway platform, and took photographs of the stairs, the platform, and the stop name, so that I could show how empty it was. The next month, we go to the hearing place, where the lady informs me that since the cop wasn't there, they were going to adjourn it. Fine. I go home, and it turns out that they adjourned it to 15 July (today).

Fine. In I go. Wait for an hour after arriving. Wait. Wait. Lady calls me in. "The burden of proof is on MTA. The officer never arrived to present his side of the evidence. The case is dismissed." Then she lets me know that I'll have to wait for the write-up. I sent Steve home to straighten up (more good news coming). I sat there for another half hour. Signed the papers and walked out. And didn't have to pay that ridiculous fine of $50 they had levied on me.

If I'm riding the fucking subway, how in the hell am I supposed to shell out $50 on a fucking bullshit fine? It's utter crap, and putting undue pressure on the poor. OK, rant over.

The other piece of good news is that someone is interested in the apartment. Please send good vibes our way. I want for our apartment to be taken over, our deposit to be returned, and for us to move to a smaller place in Manhattan proper (preferably below 34th, but a girl can dream, can't she?) that's going to cost less than half what we're paying now. Hopefully with utilities included into the rent.

Hopefully, the rest of the day is just as good.

10 July 2009

I've said it once, twice, a million times.

A friend on one of my forums asked a question.

Hey guys, I'm going to be in rural Oklahoma with a large party of omnis for a few weeks next month, and I'd like to make stuff for every meal to share with them (a main course, so I've got what to eat too, I'd make some desserts also, anything really). They're potentially wary of "weird" things (though I'll still make some things with tofu, just strategically hidden). I'm not asking you to do my homework (okay, I kind of am), just give me more ideas.

I'm pathetically a cooking rookie, but I'll tackle anything. Ideally, some simple, fairly quick (or slow but totally worth it) recipes that you think would have success with omnis. Also being in rural Oklahoma means I have limited access to exotic ingredients (...exotic here includes miso paste, tahini, and hummus...and vegan yogurt, and anything else really, you're stuck eating sprayed carrots and corn from a can -- I digress!). If you've got a killer recipe that calls for something less Wal-Mart-standard, there's a Whole Foods an hour's drive away -- I would sacrifice myself for cuisine!

OK here goes. I'm not going to tell you to get fake meats (big surprise) or weird spices (that actually is a big surprise). Use what's in the pantry, and what you can find at any grocery store, and that tastes good and people can easily make, so that when you leave, they may very well be tempted to try their own hand at it. I've discussed this technique so many times, but it's still not getting out there, so I'll keep at it till it does.

Start with vegetables of any kind. Get them into equally sized pieces. As long as they're the same size (roughly) you should be fine. Get a dish, and pour in some spices that you have. Paprika is good, dried herbs like basil and sage are both really good, and if they have curry powder, seasoned salt, chile powder, mrs. dash, or any other herb or spice blend, be lazy and use that instead. Add a bit of salt (to taste), a bit of black pepper, and oil. Mix the oil and spices together. Then, toss your vegetables in the spices and oil, and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until tender. Check them at 20 minutes, and if they're not tender yet, let it go for another 10. Then check every ten minutes or so till it's done to your liking. Quick cooking veg, like courgette or squash or dark leafy greens without stems (you heard right--this works for leaves too) can take as little as 15 minutes. Long cookers, like whole potatoes, yams, butternut squash, or sweet potatoes, can take as long as 1 hour. Most vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, dark leafy greens with stems, carrots, rutabaga, daikon, and other such high-water vegetables will take about 25 - 30 minutes.

I do not kid you when I say that the smells are fantastic. If you are going this route for dark leafy greens, go ahead and put some foil over the baking sheet, so as to allow the greens to steam themselves, and prevent drying out. While you're at it, don't make just one variety. If you have a bunch of different things, and you make the same (or different) spice and oil combos for each one, and bake them in their own little dishes, and then serve a side of rice and beans, you've got a very filling meal going down, with very little effort.

With just this basic technique, you're hitting gluten free, soy free, nut free, and pretty damn near every other allergen free, barring the freaky ones that people make up to be unique and special. And it's easy. And it's low in fat and calories. And it smells and looks fantastic. AND it works for frozen or fresh vegetables. You heard me right. Frozen works fine too. Just avoid tinned veg.

To round it out (with the beans and rice as mentioned), sautee some onion (a medium one, diced is great) in a bit of oil. When the onion turns brown, throw in some of those herbs and spices you used for the vegetables. If you have access to curry powder or turmeric, throw in a bit of that as well to make lovely yellow rice. Then, throw in the rice (about 2 cups), and toss it through with the onions, oil, and spices, until the rice gets toasty, and smells slightly nutty. At that point, dump in a tin of beans of your choice (with the liquid) and wash out the tin with water, and pour that in as well. Then add one more tin's worth of water, and let the water all come to a rolling boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, slam on the lid, and let it cook slowly for 20 minutes or so. Turn off the heat after 20 minutes, and let it sit there with the lid shut for 10 minutes, while you do other stuff. This is 10,000 times easier in a rice cooker, as you just have to dump everything in, and hit the start button. If it's not cooked enough, let it cook longer over low heat, with some extra added water. If you're using brown rice, increase the cooking time to 40 minutes.

He said that it seems quite doable, and accessible. Anyone else agree?