29 January 2009

Oil Podcast

New Episode is up and in iTunes. However, for whatever reason, it's only showing up to people who hit the subscribe button, and as an older show. Weird. Either way, you can listen to me ramble on about oils. There's a LOT of information to cover, so I took a fair bit longer than the usual 20 - 30 minutes.

25 January 2009


PDF Of the Chart

I got a recent email, asking me about the different sorts of oils out there.
I'm curious about what types of oil you like to cook/fry with. I typically stick with olive oil unless I'm baking something (other than bread). I haven't really tried any other types of oil and don't know what oil works best for what food, so I'm not really sure what to start with. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!!
I will have a podcast episode dedicated to this for sure, but until such point, I've made a little spread sheet that you can look at to give you a rough idea of where I stand on the different sorts of oils out there.

This is definitely not a comprehensive list, and it's not a substitute for my upcoming episode of the podcast, but I certainly hope that it'll tide you over until I do upload the new episode.

The difference between a cooking and a finishing oil is based on two things: resistance to heat, and price. For example, although coconut oil can technically take a lot of heat, it's expensive, so I personally wouldn't consider it to be a cooking oil. This is why I list it as a finishing oil, although I do put cooking as a possibility.

Why do I factor in cost? Because the more expensive oils should be used in such a manner that their full flavour is brought to the forefront, instead of being muddled by other factors. Every time you heat an oil, you change its chemical and flavour structure. Things break down, things interact with the ingredients in the cooking vessel and the vessel itself, and all sorts of things happen to the oil, so that it's no longer the same as before.

Just as I wouldn't dream of taking a perfectly ripe, juicy, succulent mango, and demolishing its delicate flavours and textures by cooking, I wouldn't dream of using a fine quality extra virgin olive oil and blasting it with a hit of heat. If it's a grocery store mango, on the other hand, whose origins are shady, and whose skin (and not flavour) is perfect, or in the case of an olive oil with equally shady background and "consistent" (how I loathe that word) oil all throughout (no sediment, and identical product form bottle to bottle), I wouldn't be bothered about using it for whatever.

If you're going to be spending that money in any case (as neither good mango nor good olive oil is cheap), you might as well get the best that you can afford, and enjoy the experience fully, rather than settling for a half-assed, bland, watered down version that isn't going to satisfy you. And then when you have the product which is the best that you can afford, you treat it in such a way so that you showcase the best of that product, and hide nothing. That beautiful mango, whose aroma wafts up from the skin to your nose, and fills your head with the sun-drenched, rain quenched soil in which it grew, should be served simply: sliced and peeled. MAYBE a tiny teeny touch of salt to bring out the flavours, but nothing more. You take your first bite, and the perfume envelops you in its warm embrace, and you are fulfilled.

It's the same with a good quality oil. You want to show off the fact that you have that oil in such a way that the flavour comes to the forefront. When I use olive oil, sesame oil, til oil, coconut oil, or any other fragrant and expensive oil, I use only the barest little amount, and in places where it'll shine. With the olive oil, I'll drizzle a tiny bit over fresh, sun-ripened tomato, liberally sprinkled with fresh basil. With sesame oil, I save it for when the summer cucumbers are crisp and cold, and loaded with flavour. I add a few drops to the thin slices of cucumber, and finish it off with a bit of rice wine vinegar. With the til oil, I add a few drops to the dosa that I'm frying, or use it for dressing up a bowl of steamy, fluffy rice. For coconut oil, that king of all oils, I use it on my skin and hair. If ever I use it in cooking, I add just a few scant drops to the boiled soups and stews (in each individual bowl) just before serving, so that the heady aroma can diffuse through the air.

In the end, I am able to save those oils for a much longer time than if I were to use them in cooking. Moreover, a tiny amount goes a long way, meaning that I won't have to use quite as much oil as most recipes call for, thereby reducing the total fat intake in general.

I hope that this gives you some insight into oil, and gives you some ideas as to what to do with it!

20 January 2009

"I'm broke" food.

Podcast Episode for this entry.

I've been watching the economy crash and burn. Then, I've been watching the people around me try to cope with said crash and burn, by doing incredibly stupid things when it comes to feeding themselves.

"Buy ramen."

Are you shitting me? If you want a grain that's cheap, filling, and easy to make, get rice. They're about three oz each package, and loaded with salt, fat, and white flour. None of these things will actually fill you up. In fact, because the white flour is a simple carbohydrate, you stand the risk of those sugar highs and lows that you'd get from chugging sugar.

Get. Rice. At my local store, the ramen runs about 6/$1. That means that 3 x 6 = 18 oz, which ends up being a bit more than a pound. If I'm paying for brown rice in the small packages (1 lb or less), the final cost ends up being about $1 per pound. If I have some sense, and snag a 20 pound bag, I end up paying far less. But, let's suppose that I do go and spend $1 per pound. One pound of rice can feed a LOT of people. It's packed with fibre (which is slower to digest, thereby keeping you full for a long time), magnesium and manganese, B complex vitamins, and only a small sliver of fat. They're also a source of protein, potassium, and complex carbohydrates.

"What about hot dogs."

What about chemicals, sodium, and "fillers." Frankly, the tofu ones are pretty foul as well (I guess tofu lips and anuses sort of taste as bad as the animal ones?) when it comes to bizarre amounts of weird crap they cram in there. Tofu, when bought in most of the country, still costs about $2.50/lb. Don't buy that either.

Get beans.

One pound of tofu can be finished by my husband very easily in one meal. If he makes a tofu scramble or something, it'll be gone. One pound of dry beans will easily feed him, me, and any guests coming over. If you feel like you're lacking in time, make Venn Pongal, and use split peas. There's your beans and rice.

While you're at it, avoid those tinned soups. It doesn't take but a few minutes of chopping, some fenugreek seeds, some aromatics, and dried herbs to make a wonderful soup. I have a three part episode based purely on soup.

All this stuff that I've been behind y'all to do wasn't just for my benefit; it's for everyone's benefit. Just because you're poor doesn't mean that you have to compromise your family's health. And while you're there, remember that eating produce and beans and rice is actually good for your body anyway. It tastes good. It doesn't require fancy equipment. You can keep an eye on exactly what you're putting in there.

Don't have time? Get other cheap ingredients that don't take as long to cook.

At my grocery store, I can get 7 plantains for a dollar. Plantains, when cooked with the skin, are extremely high in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They also require very little complicated cooking techniques. Wash them well, take off the top and bottom, and toss them with your favourite herbs or spices. I like cumin, coriander, turmeric, and a bit of salt and black pepper. Drizzle on a bit of oil, and sautee it on the stove, or throw it in the oven. When cooked this way, the skins become crispy and the plantain gets crusty and delicious. It only takes about 25 minutes in the oven at 350 (covered for the first 15 minutes). If you want it even faster, play around with the microwave, and nuke 'em for about seven to ten minutes.

Cabbage I can usually get for 4lbs/$1. If it's not on sale, it's closer to 2lbs/$1. That'll still feed a lot of people if you don't cook it. Grate the cabbage finely, along with some carrots, combine it with some chopped up onion, a bit of lemon juice (yes, the bottled is fine), some salt, and you're done. Because you grated it finely, you won't be wearing out your jaws by chewing it. The lemon juice adds a lot of flavour, and sort of softens up the cabbage nicely. Again, loaded with fibre and vitamins and minerals.

The point is that we should be working with what we have, at whatever amount of money we make, so that we're eating well. I don't recall any amount of time in my childhood (and we did grow up very poor) where I felt like I was eating garbage, because this is the sort of thing that my mother would make on a regular basis.

It's easy, and tasty, and very beautiful to look at. Give it a shot, and you'll be pleasantly surprised.