13 March 2009

Thanks, Mrs. Hudson

I had a teacher in Middle School, named Mrs. Hudson. She had assigned us a drawing of the different layers of skin for homework. We were to take what they did in the book, and copy it, and make our own version of what was there. I came in the next day, with mine, looking fairly horrible. I'm an awful hand with a drawing pencil, and can't make what I have look anything at all like what's on paper. That being said, I did give it a valiant effort, and coloured it like it was in the book.

The next day, as the teacher was collecting our assignments, she paused at one student's desk, and said, "Now why didn't I ever think of that?" The student had coloured her drawing of skin (the surface, of course) a pretty chocolate brown. Looking back on those textbooks, it dawns on me that the "norm" was the beige coloured skin tones of my teacher, and a couple of other students in the school, whereas the browns and chocolates of the other students were never represented. I don't know what made me think of it, but I'm glad that my teacher called to task the book which was engaged in the Invisible Backpack, which was a term I didn't learn of until a few years later.

09 March 2009

Quickie Ramblings from Ask Dino

A couple of friends contact me via email, to ask me various things. In those cases, I'll hop onto a chat program, and we'll talk in real-time, and get the questions answered. Here are the results of some of those conversations. My friend Sz recorded it, and made it coherent. Sometimes, I type quickly, so I don't always make sense.

To do coconut cream
Get a tin of coconut milk. Store it in the fridge, right-side-up for 3 days. Then open the bottom of the tin very carefully. Then drain out the coconut whey. And then, shoomph. Wad of fresh, thick RICH coconut cream. It's about as thick as butter. My mother told me to use it in place of butter, when it's needed for spreading on bread or over noodles or whatever, and it's quite delicious.

The best way to toast nuts
EXACTLY 10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. And make sure the oven is perfectly preheated. This is the same for sunflower seeds to, for the record. Also, feel free to rotate the pan at 5 minute mark.

Pesto Spinach
Start with some olive oil in a skillet, put the WHOLE washed spinach into said skillet, liberally sprinkle with minced garlic. Sauté till most of the water is evaporated. Wait for it to cool to room temp. In the bowl of a food processor, add some chives, basil (STEMS INCLUDED), oregano and walnuts. If you don't like walnuts, cashews or pine nuts will do just fine.

(If you use almonds, blanch them in the microwave to remove the skins) Then pitch in the spinach. Then a few cloves of raw garlic. THEN just grind it down. It'll become a smooth fine paste. And you wouldn't have spent a forutne on all that basil, because the spinach extends it. And you wouldn't be wasting the stems. Then the next time you make it, cut back on the herbs. Continue to cut back until it's mostly just spinach.

It's woooooooooooonderful over steamed basmati rice or over pasta or mixed with bulgur and tomato and radish and cucumber or quinoa with black beans and grated carrots and a dash of olive oil to finish it.

Kale is really easy, when you have coconut milk. All you have to do is chop it up roughly (and chop up the stems finely).
Then rub everything with a bit of oil and curry powder. Then throw it in a large casserole dish. Then dump in a tin of coconut milk, and 1 tin of water (wash out the coconut milk tin, that is). Bake at 350, covered, for about 25 minutes or so, till it's tender. When it's tender through, top with minced garlic, chopped onion, and let it sit under the broiler till the onions are brown. So. Freaking. Good.

You can't just dump everything in. You have to sort of /rub/ the seasonings and salt into the leaves. Because you know how the edges of the leaves are crinkly and tickle your throat? Rubbing it HARD makes that stop doing that. You have to be very rough with the kale.

When you're doing beans, try this next time:
As they simmer, prep your veg.
Celery, onion, carrots, tomato, ginger, garlic, bla bla bla

Then about 30 minutes before the beans are done cooking, do a quick sautee of the celery, onions, and carrots. Add in a good heaping tablespoon of any of your favourite spice or herb blend. Herbs de Provence works well for me, but regular ol' mrs dash will do, right?

Then add another heaping tablespoon or two of chili powder (not the ground chiles, the one with the garlic powder and cumin and all that junk). Add in a bay leaf or two, and let the whole thing sautee for another 5 minutes, or till the veg are softened and browned well.

THEN add the garlic, onions, and tomato. You want to wait till the end on the garlic because then you get MORE garlic flavour.
It'll be much stronger, and you use up less. Ditto with ginger. (and it needs to be fresh ginger, plz)

So anycow. When the tomatoes have cooked down, add in a good slurp of vodka or red wine or whatever.

Once that's thoroughly cooked out, your beans should be done cooking. Then add that crap to the cooked beans.
If you're in the mood for it, feel free to pitch in some tinned or frozen corn too. And all will be well.
Let it boil for about five minutes to let the flavours mingle. Your house will most assuredly be smelling quite delicious.

06 March 2009

Stock for Risotto

My friend Chuck reminded me about risotto in the previous entry, which does certainly need a stock, because the whole darn thing /is/ just a rice that's cooked in fat, to which stock is added to make a sort of gravy. So, there are times when you use stock for cooking, but not use stock as a cooking liquid, which is an important distinction. I'm fine with people using stock in a gravy, or risotto, because it's a specific flavour component.

That being said, cooking stock over the low and slow method can be a pain in the butt. If you want to shortcut it, do the lazy way. Chop up a celery rib, an onion, and a carrot into fairly small pieces. In a pot, heat up some olive oil, and pitch in all your vegetables at the same time. Add in a clove of garlic, pitch in some italian seasoning, Mrs. Dash, fines herbs, herbs de provence, or a mix of sage, rosemary, and oregano. Suffice it to say, the herbs are immaterial. You can use whatever you have, or make up your own. If you feel like it, add a teaspoon (or so) of chile powder (the kind with all the spices in it) for extra flavour. If you have it, add a teaspoon or so of fenugreek, which you should start doing for any vegetable stock, as it lends that silky unctuous texture and savoury taste to any liquid.

Once all the vegetables are softened, pitch in about a litre of water, about a cup or so at a time, allowing the water to come up to a boil between additions. This shortens the amount of time that you're standing there. When the final addition goes in, let it boil for about five minutes, and you're pretty much done. Strain it if you wish, or leave it as is. It'll be fine either way.

If you want to turn that stock into a soup, feel free to throw in some peas, some chopped frozen veg, corn, spinach, collards, kale, what have you. Just make sure to brighten up the flavour at the end with a healthy dose of parsley. Hope that helps!

If you're really quick at chopping veg, the whole thing should take no more than about 15 minutes or so in total.

03 March 2009

Stock Rice

If you're cooking rice in stock: eff you. I can't tell you how many places I've been to, where the only ostensibly vegan thing on the menu was the rice, and they cook it in some dodgy stock. Meanwhile, next time you make plain rice, taste it, then taste your rice that you've cooked in stock. Tell me if that stock really added all that much to the dish, with regards to flavour, texture, or colour.

"Oh, but Dino! Stock isn't supposed to be strong tasting. It's supposed to be very mild."

Don't you love it when others make your argument for you?

I've ranted about stock long enough on the podcast, so I won't bore you again, but suffice to say that I think it's an utter waste of time, and vegetables. And, if you're talking food sensitivity, you really do want to avoid an ingredient where you've dumped a bunch of different things into a non-discriminate pot, and boiled it.

Here have been the results of my rice + stock experiments thus far:

Vegetable stock, fresh: No flavour, colour or texture change noticed.
Vegetable stock, from concentrate: Mild salty flavour, no colour or texture change.
Kombu dashi: No change in flavour, extremely mild change in texture (it became softer), change in colour was negligible
Kombu dashi with miso: Salty flavour, slightly softer texture, mild colour change

My point is, for my money, I'd sooner taste whatever it is I dumped into the rice pot to cook it. I can tell you right now that in those cases when I was fed rice where the host "forgot" to tell me that the rice was cooked in chicken stock, I really couldn't tell. So why did you do it in the first place? If you want to add more flavour to your rice, there's a couple of really simple ways to do it:

1. Add salt. When you add a bit of salt to the cooking liquid of any starch (rice, potatoes, pasta, noodles), it imparts a salty flavour that is consistent throughout the starch. This is doubly true when using brown rice, where salt in the surrounding food takes longer to penetrate the tough grains.
2. Toast the uncooked rice in a little bit of oil in which you've popped some cumin and sesame seeds. The cumin, because it's a spice, does best when it's toasted in a little bit of fat, and the rice will smell nutty while toasting, and have a more separate texture. That tiny bit of toasting imparts a more nutty flavour. It's quite pleasant to smell cooking rice that's been toasted.
3. Start your skillet off with a bit of oil. Pop some cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Then add a bit of onion and ginger. Sprinkle on some salt and turmeric. Sauté until onions are browned. As of this step, feel free to add some frozen peas or corn or those mixed frozen vegetables, and cook over high heat until they're not frozen anymore, and browned to your liking.

Add the uncooked rice, and toast the rice in the spices and vegetables (if you used any veg) until it smells nutty. Then add to your rice cooker, and cook as normal. Alternately, add water directly to the skillet, and allow the water to come to a boil. Once it comes to the boil, drop down the heat to as low as it'll go, slam on the lid, and allow it to cook for 20 - 45 minutes, depending on what kind of rice you have (brown, white, sushi, basmati, etc.), until it's tender and cooked through. Top with toasted nuts of your choice.

Rice is a flavour junkie, and will take whatever you can throw at it, and absorb it. Unfortunately, that means that you have to factor in that your rice needs to be flavoured strongly if you want for the flavours to show through. This means that those wimpy flavours, like stock or soup, won't come through. Look at any culture that knows how to eat rice, and how they cook their rice:
- Jamaicans love their rice and peas, which is a combination of rice, beans, scallions, allspice, thyme, scotch bonnet chili, and coconut milk. All of those flavours are very strong, and they come through in the end.
- Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans alike adore their gallopinto, which is a mix of ginger, garlic, onions, cumin, coriander, fresh cilantro, peppers, all of which are cooked together before adding the beans, and then the rice.
- Sweet pongal, which is eaten during festivals, is cooked with coconut, palm sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and clove, and then rice.
- Venn pongal (it's in the book) is the cumin, ginger, turmeric, split peas, and then rice.

The point I'm getting to is that if you want to have one-pot rice with plenty of flavour, go ahead and do so. But please, for the sake of my sanity, put the stock away.